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The Chosen Path

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Four months and sixteen days: the time that had passed since Allen had left the Order. He knew it almost instinctively, not needing a clock or time of day to remind him, nor a calendar to mark the days gone by. He knew, and with each day it became more painfully apparent that the time would only lengthen.

There was no going back.

Kanda and Johnny had briefly tried, and he could only marvel at their attempt to stop the forces pulling him away from everything he held dear. He even briefly entertained the thought that, perhaps, he could go home with them. But Apocryphos was a tireless pursuer, and the Earl knew not the meaning of time. In a crowded alleyway Allen Walker met his fate, mind shattering bit by bit into unrecoverable pieces, a manic grin and memories not belonging to him marking the end of his time on the run.

Or so he thought.

For when he awoke the Earl, Johnny, and the handcuffs tying them together were gone. The city was quiet, empty, the air heavy with a silence that seemed almost unnatural. When he rose to his feet, wincing, something felt wrong. With unsteady steps into dying sunlight, breaths light and quickened by fear and pain, Allen entered a town square full only of the dead.

Feathered eyes and mouths greeted him, creatures of horror and fancy, lives taken so painfully and so very easily. Allen did not then know that these people had died while filled with wonder because oh, an angel from Heaven itself had graced them with its presence.

He did not then know that his lifetime companion, and the friends who’d tried to take him back, were all gone.

His feet moved as if they simply knew only to walk forward, so with heavy steps Allen stepped over the festering dead, eyes focused only ahead. He ignored the feeling of soft flesh beneath his boots, ignored the way his arm throbbed in memory of those feathers filling his eye sockets. Later he would cry, later he would scream and lie listless and sleepless with eyes wide open, but for now he knew he had to leave, though he knew not where he would go.

Allen scarcely comprehended that the scenery had changed from urban to country, that the sun had long since set behind darkening clouds. Blinking, lowering his right hand from where it had been gripping his left so tightly his fingers had gone numb, he realised he had been walking for miles in a form of stupor. He became aware of the ache in his legs, the hardened road beneath him that his boots did nothing to soften for his tired feet, the dizziness that lack of food and water brought. Throat parched, stomach growling, every muscle in his body screaming for rest, Allen felt as if he could lie down on the side of the road and sleep as deeply as if he lay upon a feather-filled mattress.

Weeks had passed since then, but he was still weary, still aching and still full of hunger and thirst. He now knew the meaning of being on the run, how Neah must have felt when he betrayed the Earl, for wherever he went there was no place to rest and nowhere to flee to. Every day since he had last seen Johnny and Kanda had been an endless stretch of running, hiding, running, hiding. Sleep came whenever his body gave up on him, when he couldn’t bring himself to get up from where he’d fallen, be it on a city’s dirty pavement or a damp dirt road in the countryside. Food and drink came whenever he could muster the strength to perform, though he resorted more often to starving. He couldn’t use his Innocence due to the lack of food and Apocryphos’s attack, his cursed eye kept him aware of Akuma, and the near fever-like heat and blurred vision that accompanied Neah’s excursions warned him of what he could only assume were the Noah. Most normal humans avoided him, for his bedraggled appearance and empty gaze said more than enough that he was to be left alone.

Which was probably for the best, since enough innocent people had died on his part.

Johnny and Kanda’s fate was unknown to him, and he almost didn’t want to know, for how would he cope with the deaths of more people who had died protecting him from himself? Just the thought of it caused Allen to shudder, to draw his tattered coat more closely around his frame. Cross’s words on Neah’s outcome rang clear in his mind, that he fought and ran until he died, and Allen couldn’t help but tremble at the idea that, perhaps soon, he would be lying dead against a wall somewhere with no-one to help him.

Which was probably for the best, since enough innocent people had died on his part.

No longer even able to cry, for the tears had long since stopped flowing, Allen simply kept walking from place-to-place, eyes set in front of him, mind playing memories that did not belong to him on a loop. Timcanpy was nowhere to be found, and Allen missed the company for he was wretchedly alone.

Which was probably for the best, since enough innocent people had -

The sound of distant thunder rooted Allen to the spot. Looking up to the horizon, he spotted lightning dashing itself upon faraway hilltops. Soon a storm would come, which meant another night of either squatting in a damp abandoned barn, or fleeing sightless and exhausted through the rain. Gritting his teeth, pulling his coat even tighter around himself, Allen prayed to whatever God would take mercy on him to let him rest.

Every night he prayed, and every night his prayers were not answered. But he could only keep praying.

As the rain started to fall the heavens opened to release a storm of such fury Allen could hardly walk straight without toppling over. He mustered whatever strength he had left and ran, the sound of his boots hitting hard earth hidden by the onslaught of raindrops and thunder. Sight soon became useless, water dropping from his eyelashes over his vision, hair stuck to his clammy skin, clothes drenched and full of cold.

At first Allen thought the heat was from the sudden movement, since his body was so near exhaustion he could barely put one foot before the other, but with gut-wrenching fear he could feel Neah begin to surface, vision clouding over even further, the sensation of his boots hitting ground and the rain drumming upon his skull fading. Either a Noah was close or…

Allen couldn’t finish his thought, for something was running towards him. He faltered, losing purchase on the slippery mud beneath his feet, consciousness crumbling, and before everything faded to black he saw a hand reach out for him.


The first sensation he felt was warmth; indescribable, comforting, bone-seepingly pleasurable warmth. It filled every part of his body from crown to heel, seeping into him so deeply he felt happy to lie that way forever and never wake again. But then other sensations became apparent to him: aching pain, exhaustion, hunger. He felt a hard floor underneath him, a bunched up piece of clothing beneath his head that smelt so strongly of the Order Allen felt his eyes fill with tears. Then the sound of a fire crackling, the smell of burning wood, the sound of metal clanging against metal, the sound of someone sighing

And with that Allen sat up wide-eyed, instinctively trying to activate his Innocence and failing, scrambling to his feet in a state of panic.

“Oh, you’re finally awake! I was beginning to wonder if you’d need some beautiful princess to kiss you awake or somethin’.”

It was Lavi. Lavi sat, spoon in hand, stirring a pot full of something that smelt so good Allen could practically taste it.

“I must be dreaming…”

And then Allen began to laugh, sinking to the floor with his head held in one hand, lips pulled into a weary smile. When his gaze met Lavi’s confused one he laughed even further, nearly hysterical, for how could this night, of all nights, be when his prayers were answered.

The smile died on Allen’s lips. Hand falling to hang loosely in his lap, he realised that he wasn’t dreaming, which meant Lavi was in danger. There was no time to question, no time to wonder how he’d found him, no time to rest or eat or laugh and enjoy the company of someone other than himself. He stood, giving a shaky smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“I’m awfully sorry Lavi, but I have to be going.”

One step. Two steps. Silence broken only by the rain continuing to pour outside, and Lavi’s wide-eyed shocked gaze rooted onto Allen’s painfully fake smile, and how he headed straight for the door and opened it.

“W-wait, Allen - !”

One step. Two steps. The rain hammered on his skull a drumbeat that soon tuned out Lavi’s cries for him to stop. But before he could take another step a hand grabbed his arm so tightly it hurt, and he was wheeled right back into warmth and the smell of food and a jade-green eye so full of emotion Allen couldn’t breathe.

The door slammed shut and he soon backed himself into it, spine digging painfully into hardened wood. He wanted to find the words to say that he had to leave, that he had to keep running lest he be found, because as long as Lavi was around him he would either be killed by what hunted him or he would kill him. But the feeling of Lavi’s hand trembling against his own, the sight of the eye that was fixed on his with a myriad of emotions, the sound of his voice breaking as he said his name - Allen felt himself topple forwards into a warmth that dragged him back deep down into unconsciousness.

And, when he awoke, it was daylight.

Eyelids heavy with sleep, mind sluggish and detached from his body, Allen struggled to pull himself up from the slumber that still clung tightly to his very being. Eventually his body reacted to his thoughts, mind scrambling itself together to put time and place into order, eyes fluttering open to a ceiling of wooden beams.

With a groan he pulled himself up, vision bleary, to a room filled with afternoon sunshine.

It was small, most likely an abandoned stable. The ground was littered with straw that had somehow embedded itself onto the stone floor, and in a far corner was a pile of rusted horse shoes. Motes of dust filtered through the hazy sunshine flooding the room, drifting from the small window opposite him to the dirty ground. And across from him, curled up under a jacket, was Lavi.

Memories came to mind in fragments; the rain, the smell of cooking food, the fingers gripping onto his arm, and then nothing. Getting up as best he could, Allen noticed he was no longer dressed in the clothes he’d arrived in, and his hair hung loosely past his shoulders. Wounds he hadn’t even registered last night were bandaged and cleaned, and his feet were wrapped with bandages that smelt strangely medicinal and felt slimy to the touch. His tattered coat and shirt were draped neatly over a nearby bench, his trousers repaired and stitched. His body, which had become so accustomed to aches and weariness felt oddly relaxed; when he stood he no longer felt dizzy, and his fingers clenched and unclenched without numbness.

Allen realised, rather quickly, that he had probably been asleep longer than a night.

Sudden fear gripped him tightly in its claws: how long had he been asleep? Had Lavi been hurt? Had someone come for him? Urgency in his steps, Allen rushed to Lavi’s side and knelt down, breathing unsteady and panic-stricken. But the redhead seemed to be fine, sleeping soundly with his chest rising and falling, slowly and steadily. Allen sank back, relieved. But the fear didn’t fully abide, for he knew that he had rested far too long, that he hadn’t made enough progress to keep him ahead of his tireless pursuers.

He had to leave, and he had to leave now.

Grabbing his shirt, coat, and trousers, Allen dressed as quickly as he dared without waking his sleeping companion. Tying his hair back with a ribbon, he attempted to put his feet into his boots but found himself unable to bite back the cry of pain that escaped him; his feet were in agony. Now he knew why they were bandaged, and with panic rising like a wave inside of him he realised he couldn’t run away.

Lavi stirred with a groan.

Frozen in place, Allen did nothing but stare wide-eyed as the redhead sat up, rubbing his eye with the back of one hand. When he turned his bleary gaze towards him he didn’t seem surprised or shocked at Allen’s dressed state, nor that he was attempting to leave. Instead he yawned, so deeply his jaw clicked, and stumbled to a pot sat in the far corner. Upon opening it Allen smelt something akin to stew, now cold, but it smelt so good he felt his mouth water. Lavi turned towards him knowingly, smiling in a way that made it rather clear he knew Allen wouldn’t leave without food. He laughed as Allen stumbled over to the pot and stared eager-eyed at what seemed to be the dinner from the night before.

“I didn’t know when you’d wake up, so I made enough for two. Or five, knowing your stoma-”

He didn’t even have time to finish, for Allen had already discovered a bowl beside his feet and was stuffing meat and vegetable into his mouth so quickly Lavi wondered if he’d choke. Soon enough the pot was empty, and a very satisfied Allen sat back with a hand on his stomach.

“I haven’t eaten that well in months.”

Lavi didn’t know whether to laugh or feel concerned, so a quiet chuckle seemed like an appropriate enough response. Allen paused before guilt entered his expression, hands raised in apology.

“A-ah but I am sorry, there’s not any left for…”

“Ah don’t worry about it ‘sprout, I ate last night anyway.”

“The name’s Allen.”

A frown and curt voice accompanied Allen’s words, causing Lavi to laugh. It was a sound so joyous to Allen’s ears he couldn’t help but smile; laughter, cooked food, and sleeping as much as he needed were things Allen had learned to live without over the past few months. Regardless of how much he had missed it, he knew he probably shouldn’t get used to it.

After a brief moment of silence he turned his gaze towards his companion, confusion showing in his features.

“Lavi… What happened to…? I mean, what…?”

“If you mean your feet, I haven’t even seen soldier’s feet look that covered in blisters and sores. You also had frostbite, you’re lucky I didn’t have to cut your toes off.” Allen poked his foot with a finger and deeply regretted it, wincing. “And as for how long you’ve been asleep, it’s been nearly three days.”

Allen looked up, eyes wide.

“Three…”

“Yep. You must’ve been pretty exhausted, huh.”

Eyes downcast, Allen let the silence answer the question for him. Running a hand through his hair, Lavi pretended not to notice the fear veiling Allen’s gaze, nor the way he tapped his fingers nervously against the stone floor.

“And as for what I’m doing here… Well…”

When Lavi didn’t continue Allen forced his gaze upward, to which he saw an expression he’d never seen before on his friend’s face. It reminded him awfully of his own expression when he first found out about the 14th, about Mana’s connection to him, so when Lavi put on a smile and scratched the back of his head with a bashful glance Allen knew something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.

“Let’s just say I really wasn’t expecting to see you come falling into me and send me flying down the hill.”

Allen grimaced. “A-ah I’m sorry…”

Lavi shook his head. “Don’t sweat it, I should be the one sayin’ sorry for injuring you.”

“Injuring…?”

Lavi faltered, refusing to meet Allen’s gaze with a pained expression. “Well… When you got up you weren’t…”

And then Allen knew. He didn’t want to imagine what he, no, Neah had done while he had been unconscious.

“I’m sorry…”

“It’s fine.”

They were silent for a while until Lavi continued with a cough, fiddling with the hem of his shirt with a faraway look in his eye.

“He said I should’ve run. But he looked like a gust of wind could be the end of him, so when he put up a fight I fought back. It didn’t take much to knock him out but I probably did more damage than I meant to. I took him inside a place where I’d been stayin’, and I didn’t know if… well, if you were gonna come back… but, you were pretty beaten up and exhausted so…“

Silence befell them. Allen, unable to think of a reply, simply bowed his head and eyed his bandaged figure. Neah’s excursions had become common place for him over the months; sometimes they lasted a mere few hours, other times a few days. The slip in consciousness was frightening at first, more so when Allen realised it had happened before at the Order, in Paris, at the North American branch. But eventually, when he concluded that who he was, ‘Allen’, wasn’t consumed and erased upon each take-over, he simply accepted Neah’s control over his mind and body as a fact of life.

He couldn’t change it, so worrying over such a thing would be a waste of time and effort.

But Lavi had been missing, if Allen remembered correctly, for a few weeks before he himself had left the Order after Apocryphos’s attack. Though his memories of that time were hazy at best, more due to the interrogation and Neah’s awakening than anything, he briefly recalled Link commenting that Lavi and Bookman had been kidnapped by the Noah.

Which meant Lavi would not have known if ‘Allen’ would return if Neah was in control.

So, when Allen returned his gaze to his companion it was with curiosity, and a pang of guilt. How did he escape? Why was Bookman not there with him? Why had he helped Allen if he thought ‘Allen’ was gone? Seeming to sense the questions Allen wished to ask, Lavi simply shrugged before leaning back, palms resting on the dirty ground. Ask away, his gaze implied, resting on a spot near Allen’s bandaged feet. But Allen couldn’t articulate his queries so instead settled for silence.

Minutes passed, and with each moment the atmosphere filled with an awkward tension that you could almost taste; it was sour to the tongue, hard to swallow, and left your stomach and chest aflutter with an anxiety that could consume you. Unanswered questions lingered, and both Lavi and Allen knew that they could not be answered. Or, perhaps, they simply did not want to answer them, at least not in that moment when one had barely given himself a day’s rest for weeks at a time, and the other could no more speak of what had happened than choke on the lump that refused to leave his throat.

They sat, uncomfortably quiet. But it seemed other forces were at work to end the discomforting silence between them, for the familiar change in Allen’s left eye signified Akuma. Needing nothing to be said, Lavi jumped to his feet, reaching for the Innocence strapped to his thigh. It was only then that Allen noticed two things, leaving two previously unanswered questions answered.

Lavi’s Innocence had changed, and there were stigmata on the palm of each hand.

“How many?”

Allen got up in a daze, trying to focus. “Five… wait, no… more but I can’t seem to see them all properly…”

“That’s fine. Can you tell how far away they are?” Lavi’s voice was sincere, calming Allen’s nerves.

“Too close for comfort.”

And that was enough, for Lavi simply nodded before hurriedly packing items into a large duffel bag, moving methodically and quickly. When he turned around and saw Allen trying and failing to activate his Innocence, shaking from the effort of it, Lavi shook his head.

“We can’t fight them, not with your injured feet. If I was alone I might be able to take them on but…”

He paused, gaze flickering from the unactivated hammer held in his hands to the burning marks on his palms. He could practically feel his Innocence come to life in his tightening grip, the thoughts and processes that he wasn’t quite used to yet whirring in his mind, the power that left adrenaline flooding through his veins so fast his head was spinning.

But he couldn’t, and Allen knew that. He knew all too well.

“So I guess we’ll be running then.”

In better circumstances Allen would have laughed at the irony since he could scarcely walk, nevermind attempt to flee from a group of Akuma. But nevertheless he gathered himself together, pulling himself upright with a deep breath.

He would do his best. That was all he could do, after all.

But Lavi shook his head once more, smiling this time. He extended a hand towards Allen, stigmata facing toward him, gaze resolute and firm with an emotion Allen couldn’t quite figure out. And so he took hold of the hand before him, his left in Lavi’s right, two crosses and marks of a doomed fate entwined.

A few steps forward and soon they were stood outside in mid-afternoon sunshine. Five was a poor estimate; more than twenty Akuma were gathering around them, fast approaching. With a quick glance Lavi counted several Level Ones, even more Level Twos and Threes, and 4 Level Fours with their mockery of angel wings outstretched. A part of his mind whispered I can do it, a quiet confidence that stated, perhaps, he was stronger now. But it was a risk he couldn’t afford to take, not with the boy by his side weaker than he’d ever seen him, even though his light still shone just as brightly as it ever did.

Lavi brandished his weapon, fingers and palms sliding across hardened iron - no, crystal - and with the smallest thought, the tiniest rush of feeling rippling down his neck and spine to his arms, his hands, the tips of his fingers,  he activated his Innocence with a call of its name. And it answered, aglow and burning with purpose. But there would be no fighting for it today, no souls to exorcise.

“Extend!”

Gripping Allen tightly with one hand, and his Innocence with the other, Lavi swung himself over his hammer as it changed shape accordingly, more fluid than it had been before. With a single command they were off. Allen had thought Lenalee was fast, the day they fought their first Level Four, but Lavi’s Innocence was fast, so fast Allen’s hair and clothes whipped about him painfully. And yet again he felt himself marvel at the change in power from Equip type to Crystal, the change in speed and ability.

Looking over his shoulder he could see pursuing Akuma, but they struggled to keep up. The Level Ones and Twos were soon lost behind the retreating horizon, and eventually the Level Threes also seemed to fade into the distance. The Level Fours were another matter.

Lavi cursed under his breath, also looking over his shoulder, and the Innocence seemed to respond by moving even faster, so fast even Lavi was struggling to notice his surroundings. But it was almost intuitive, like riding a bike or stretching out one’s arms to balance; what he thought and felt was echoed by the bond to his Innocence, and with each urge to go faster, to move quicker, it replied and responded. When he thought he had noticed a tree too late, or not avoided a house quick enough, the weapon held in his hands almost knew what to do.

And despite everything, amongst all the misgivings and all the doubts, Lavi felt a thrill of being alive so strongly it hurt.

However neither of them would live for much longer if they didn’t lose the Level Fours pursuing them. If Allen had not been so injured, so exhausted, and if his Innocence could function then perhaps they could stay and fight, but Lavi knew that he could not take on those Akuma alone and protect Allen at the same time.

They had to keep moving.

Just when Allen thought they could go no faster they did, so fast now that the world around them was a blur of colour, and he noticed with a jolt that behind him Lavi’s Innocence was crumbling. Fearing it was breaking from the strain he nearly turned around and warned Lavi of the danger before realising that it was not, in fact, crumbling at all; it was as if the weapon had left an after-image in its wake, crystal returning to its original state, to blood, frozen in the path they had taken. But where was the hammer’s head? If it wasn’t fixed on the ground outside of the stable they had just left, where was it? He wished he could ask but the noise of the wind and the intense concentration on Lavi’s face left him unable to speak, and so he remained silent, confused and concerned but silent and trusting in his companion to lead them to safety.

Suddenly the range of colour disappeared to an endless blue and it took Allen a while to realise they were crossing a lake or ocean of some kind, a wide expanse of water that left sky and earth blurring together into a disorientating array of colour. It left him feeling nauseous and dizzy so he buried his face between Lavi’s shoulder blades, fingers digging into the fabric of his coat. Lavi, concerned, turned his head.

“Allen, you doin’ alright?”

He had to shout to be heard above the wind and Allen could feel Lavi’s voice vibrating against him as he spoke. Pulling away, meeting Lavi’s gaze, Allen nodded.

“I’m alright, don’t worry.”

Lavi smiled before his expression faded to one of grim seriousness.

“Good. Are the Akuma still tailin’ us?”

Allen turned, keeping a firm grip on Lavi’s back so he didn’t fall, and tried to focus his eye on the Akuma’s souls - though he wished with all his heart he never had to look at another Level Four’s soul because it was horrifying - and found nothing. At first he felt relieved, but then he saw them: one, two - far too close for comfort - then three, but where was the fourth one?

“Lavi, I can’t find the last on-”

Shit!”

He had no time to react because suddenly the world was spinning, endless blue blurring into one, and then he hit water hard, so hard all the breath was knocked out of him and he couldn’t move. Shock overtook instinct and it took far too long for him to realise he was sinking, but he felt too weak to swim for the surface and the coldness of the water was so blissfully numbing, so dark and calm and free of toil and he felt as if he could simply close his eyes and - but his lungs were burning from the lack of air with his entire body screaming at him to breathe and if he lay down and died here he would be forsaking Mana and everything he had tried so hard to live for - but did that really matter when he wouldn’t exist soon anyway - he had to keep moving but -

The decision was made for him as a firm arm wrapped itself around his middle and dragged him, partly unwilling, to blinding sunlight and fresh air. He gasped for breath, throat and eyes burning until he was coughing and spluttering and unable to brush neither water nor tears from his eyes.

“Allen. Allen! Come on, listen to me you idiot!”

He heard a voice; Lavi’s voice, full of urgency and worry. As he opened his eyes he saw that they were in the middle of a large lake, land faraway on the horizon, and with one hand Lavi was holding him up as the other held onto the Innocence suspended just above his head so tightly his knuckles were white from the strain of it.

“Allen, listen, I can fight on water but not that well, we have to get out of here.”

He sounded panicked and it made Allen’s heart flutter with worry. Heaving, trying hard to breathe and focus, he reached for Lavi’s Innocence and painfully hoisted himself up, Lavi following suit. As they sat, regaining their bearings, they saw that the Level Fours had surrounded them, wings spread wide, a circle of death and destruction and maniacal smiles.

“Hand over the Noah, boy.”

“I am no Noah!”

Allen’s rebuke was full of anger and petulant denial, yet all it did was make the Akuma laugh. Lavi gritted his teeth, anger flaring within him.

“You want him? Come get him.”

And off they went like a bullet fired from a gun, the sudden rush of movement leaving Allen clutching at his stomach and resisting the urge to vomit; Lavi’s Innocence was moving as if the hounds of hell themselves were chasing them and, ironically, it wasn’t too far from the truth. His left eye showed the Akuma were matching their pace, however, and there was no comfort to be found in being over dry land once more either. It was dawning on the both of them with each passing second that they could not outrun them, and yet the prospect of stopping and fighting left them both anxious and concerned for each other’s safety; they were surrounded on all sides by an expanse of trees and there was so little space to fight.

But they had been in stickier situations before, and they trusted each other’s ability to fight and survive so faithfully that nothing could break it. As Lavi brought them to a halt over a clearing, cursing, Allen placed a hand on his shoulder and his smile said it’s okay, don’t worry about me. Despite the paleness of his skin and the way he trembled as he sat behind him he still shone as brightly as ever, and Lavi knew that whatever happened they had each other’s back.

They always had each other’s back.

And so they descended, hitting ground softly, and Allen noticed as they landed that the head to Lavi’s hammer had reappeared and the weapon seemed sturdy and firm once more. There was no time to speculate however, and as each Level Four landed onto the ground with a loud thud it sent adrenaline pumping through their veins, sent their hearts thudding wildly against their ribcages until their eardrums thudded in time to each heartbeat.

“Give up the Noah.”

It was not a request this time; it was a command. Lavi simply moved so he was stood back-to-back with Allen, smiling grimly. Before he could throw a retort their way he noticed something was wrong, very, very badly wrong for Allen was shaking, shaking in a way that was not out of fear but out of restraint. Lavi’s heart sank.

“… Allen?”

No answer. As he turned to look at his friend’s face he froze, horror flooding through him. Allen’s skin was darkening to a deep russet brown, his eyes cat-like slits of amber, and that was not Allen’s face, not an expression he would ever wear and it was horrifying, like someone had ripped off Allen’s face and put a bad imitation of it back on.

“Good afternoon, Akuma.”

His voice was like velvet, soft and sultry and altogether not Allen-like at all and it made Lavi’s skin crawl. He had seen this happen before, but he knew no matter how often he was cursed to see this happen it would always leave him feeling uneasy and somewhat disgusted. He had no time to react for Allen - not Allen - raised his right hand and all four Akuma froze into place, eyes bulging. Allen - not Allen noT ALLEN NOT ALLEN - cricked his neck, once, twice, before fixing his gaze on the Akuma with a frown.

“Now now Akuma, you should think better of attacking one of your masters, hm?”

He clicked a finger and the Akuma shuddered, eyes dancing wildly about from floor to sky to floor to sky and it was dawning on Lavi far too late what was happening.

“W-we don’t have a choice! The will of the Earl is above yours, 14th, we can’t -”

Another finger clicked and the Akuma were in agony, held in thrall by a power higher than their own and it was horrifying to behold. Allen’s very aura had changed to something dark and rancid and all the dazzling brightness and goodness that he normally held was gone, replaced with something that was inhuman.

“That’s not a very good excuse now, is it?”

Black stars appeared on all four Akuma’s foreheads.

“N-no please we beg of you don’t -”

“Don’t what?”

One Akuma exploded, decorating the forest floor with gore. Then another, then another, until one was left and Allen - NOT ALLEN NOT ALLEN NOT ALLEN NOT AL- stepped forward, all fake smiles and fake kindness and as he cradled the Akuma’s head in his hands his expression darkened.

And then there were none.

Chapter Text

Silence, heavy and burdensome, surrounded itself around the forest clearing where Lavi stood, shaking, eye wide and full of horror.

Bits and pieces of what were once Akuma littered the ground at his feet, and standing but metres away from him was a person that was no longer ‘Allen’. Disgust filled him, because Allen would never cause an Akuma to self-destruct, and the person stood before him was so completely different to the person he knew it was distressing to look at.

And so he stood, shaking, gaze fixed on the back of a person that was not his friend, not his companion; this person was a Noah, and that thought tore his resolve to shreds. But as he slid a palm over his Innocence, torn between fighting and fleeing - and little did he know that only a few months before this Kanda had stood in a shadowed bedroom, holding a weapon to Allen’s neck, feeling exactly the same thing - the figure before him fell to his knees with a gasp.

He began to retch, coughing painfully and gasping for breath, and Lavi could do nothing more than watch with building confusion. Anger and fear faded and soon all Lavi was left with was a feeling he did not want: pity. Pity for Allen, who had no choice or say in the path he’d been forced upon - and god did he know how that felt - and pity for the Noah who did not ask for this either. It was this feeling, amongst many others, that spurred Lavi on to walk forward, hand raised, and to speak.

“Are you… okay?”

The figure before him froze, and the unnatural resounding silence of the forest bore down upon them both, heavy and unwanted. Allen - not Allen - turned his head, skin pale once more with silver eyes squinting back at him, pained and wary, and managed a grim smile before wiping his mouth.

“I would be if I never had to see those godforsaken souls ever again.”

Lavi shuddered, remembering all too well how that sight made him feel oh so long ago at Krory’s castle - the horror, the stomach churning nausea, and pity for the one who had been cursed to see this nightmarish sight time-and-time again. And so he smiled, somewhat pained.

“I know the feeling…”

Silence; tension-filled awkward silence, and yet again the very air became heavy with unanswered questions and doubt and everything neither of them could voice. Lavi was wary, and horror still clung to the pit of his stomach leaving him feeling light-headed and sick, but even if the person before him was not Allen all he could do, for now, was co-operate and hope he did the same.

And so, full of uncertainty and doubtful resignation, Lavi extended a hand, took a deep breath, and met the gaze of the person before him.

“I’m Lavi, we’ve uh, met before I guess.”

Silence, then quiet laughter; that smile was not Allen’s, not at all, but it reached his eyes in a way that radiated amusement and playfulness and it soothed Lavi’s frayed nerves, if only by a little. Neah brushed aside his hand, pushing himself up with a slight wince.

“I believe we have, though I know your weapon a lot better than I know you.” Lavi flinched, smiling sheepishly. “And I suppose... you can call me Neah.”

“Neah… Walker?”

“Campbell. You should know that already, being a Bookman and all.”

Lavi flinched but this time it was not from sheepish embarrassment and Neah saw right through him. As Lavi stared back at an expression of sardonic amusement and playfulness that reminded him far too much of another Noah - smiles and candy cane candles and having his mind completely and utterly broken - he felt a tinge of fear that had far too little to do with the person sat before him.

He swallowed, audibly, before smiling - fake fake fake - and placing a shaking hand on his Innocence.

“We’d… we’d better be goin’. Don’t want the other Akuma to get here.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

Neah smiled and Lavi looked away, stomach flipping and heart twisting, and all of that resolution was gone to be replaced with an anxiety that left him trembling and sweating and he couldn’t stop thinking about it and his breathing was erratic and his heart was beating far too fast and those eyes were seeing right through him he knew too much already -

“Oi.”

He froze, turning his head, eye wide and chest heaving from panic he had nearly succumbed to, but that awful smile had gone and all that was left was a grim seriousness that calmed Lavi down, gradually, until he could breathe again.

“We need to go. The least you can do if I have to be stuck with your shitty presence is be useful.”

A scowl, tinged with the remnants of panic. “Oi, I know that.”

“Then let’s go. We can… talk later.”

Lavi swallowed thickly, unable to speak. He nodded, activating his Innocence and keeping his eye glued to the ground before him. The hammer changed form effortlessly with a fluidity that Neah would have admired, if not for every single inch of his being screaming at him to destroy the accursed thing, and soon the hammer’s head was gone leaving a staff in its stead. Neah was shaking from the effort of resisting the instinctive urge to destroy it, and he began to question how well he could handle being so close to the damn thing. But there was no other choice, and Lavi was stood, waiting, staff in hand, refusing to meet his gaze.

Shuddering, placing himself behind Lavi and ignoring the weapon beneath him, a seal appeared as staff hit ground and then they were gone, moving quickly and purposefully through the trees and away from danger. It was a long and quiet journey and they spoke little; Lavi was panic-stricken and full of worry, Neah was tired and equally uninterested in conversation. Day passed into night, and it was long after sunset by the time they found a place Neah deemed safe for them to stop; far from Akuma and far from any nearby towns, Lavi noted. As they hit ground and dismounted Lavi deactivated his Innocence, returning it to the holster on his thigh, and observed the building before them with a mixture of relief and concern; it was an abandoned farm house with its front door ajar and a garden consumed by weeds. It had been left empty for a very long time and intentionally so, for the entire building was empty of most of its possessions bar the occasional piece of furniture, but the roof was mostly intact and it was shielded from the wind. It would do.

As Neah walked around the lower floor, hands behind his back and whistling as he went, Lavi checked the upstairs floor. The stairs nearly broke under his weight, the hallway floor just as insecure, but the rooms were empty. Lavi took a moment to compose himself, heart fluttering anxiously in his chest as fingers tapped idly against his thigh in a repetitive pattern, mind swaying from turning tail and running to confronting the Noah downstairs for answers to worrying if this meant Allen would not come back after all. It was that thought among all others that made his heart twist painfully and his stomach flip until he was left nauseous and dizzy from it all. But he reminded himself, repeatedly, that there was no other way and despite how… malevolent Neah seemed beneath the surface, for the most part he seemed agreeable and willing to co-operate.

That would have to be enough.

The stairs creaked in protest as Lavi walked, slowly, down to a dimly lit hallway with mould growing in each of its corners. He turned rightwards, towards the wavering amber glow of a candle from a nearby room, the sounds of metal clanking and wooden drawers opening and closing. As he entered a small shadowed kitchen he saw Neah stood with his back to him, nosing through a cupboard full of grimy porcelain dishes.

“Upstairs is safe.”

Neah flinched, turning around with wide eyes and his right hand raised as if to defend himself. But upon seeing Lavi, stood with a narrowed eye and folded arms, he lowered his hand, wariness still evident in his expression.

“That’s… good…”

“Hm.”

Silence, heavy and awkward, and they found themselves unable to meet each other’s gaze. Knowing standing in uncomfortable silence would solve nothing Lavi sighed, walking towards a nearby cupboard and searching for a few minutes before taking a large metal pot out and placing it on the counter before him.

“Find any food?”

Lavi’s voice was quiet, but firm. Neah leaned against a counter and watched him, carefully.

“Some vegetables, some mouldy bread, couldn’t find anything else.”

“Pass the vegetables over would ya?”

“Sure.”

It was courteous and polite, this exchange, and Lavi tried his hardest to avoid looking at the man stood behind him. He did not want to share the warm familiarity he held for Allen with him, not while distrust and uneasiness still clawed its way deeper and deeper into his heart. But as he was handed a few miserable-looking potatoes he turned and gave a curt smile, and Neah acknowledged it and walked away, keeping his distance.

As he busied himself with preparing a measly stew, something that would hardly count as food but would at least put something warm in their stomachs, Neah simply stood and observed the person before him with curiosity. The way Lavi held himself was a strange balance between cold reservation and warm camaraderie and Neah could not figure out which of the two was an act. He would have to be careful for the Bookman Clan all held eyes like hawks, seeing through each and every pretence until you were laid bare before them, vulnerable and unable to hide anything as they endlessly watched. But he knew he was injured, all thanks to Allen’s stubborn desire to walk for miles and miles until their body was broken, and the company and help, if only for a little while, would be welcome to him.

However, rationality conflicted with the dark writhing thing that clawed at the corners of his mind, whispers of doubt and paranoia leaving him on edge. Could he trust the person before him? No, he couldn’t; not until he either proved he was useful, or proved he was too weak to be of any concern to him. Neah had soon learned that any member of the Bookman Clan was not to be taken lightly, often hiding a frightening amount of hidden strength behind reserved smiles and a veil of false truths, but the man before him was merely an apprentice, going by the recordings Tim had stored within itself, which meant he was safe to some extent.

He was far better off on his own, but for now keeping Lavi within arm’s reach would be the safest option until he could figure out his motives and find an easy way to either lose him or get rid of him; whichever was easier. For now, he would play the agreeable companion. And if he could glean some answers from the apprentice at the same time, if Lavi was inclined to speak, then putting up with the stranger’s presence would be of some use at least. But it seemed Lavi had his own questions to ask, and he spoke quietly while he faced forward, peeling and chopping and heating water over a tiny flame.

“How long have you guys been on the run then?”

“Over four months.”

Neah accepted Lavi’s use of plurals, curious to see how he would react to his wording. A small tilt of the head, a change in how he held himself; he would be easy to bait. His companion continued to speak, voice quiet.

“Any contact with the Order in that time?”

“No, but we did before. A man with glasses, and a man with a katana.”

Lavi resisted the urge to turn, surprised, and ask further questions. “And they stopped following you?”

There was concern in Lavi’s voice that clashed with the apathetic ideal the Bookman preached; Neah felt his eyes narrow, curious about why exactly the man before him cared in the slightest.

“Apocryphos showed up, trying to fuck up everything as always. So did the Noah, strangely enough, but I don’t know how we got away. We’ve been alone since then.”

A tiny lie, but it was not in Neah’s interests to share that particular encounter with anyone. Lavi shifted a little, scraping chopped vegetables into a pot with restrained frustration, knowing he was not in control of the conversation.

“And if I asked Allen what happened, would he know?”

“Perhaps.”

Neah’s voice was laced with amusement and Lavi found himself smiling, despite everything, for this exchange was full of hidden intentions on both their parts and they both knew that. It was a performance Lavi had acted since childhood and rarely had he met someone who could match it. Allen did to an extent, hiding intent behind polite smiles and gentle gestures, but the boy rarely did so with any malevolent intent. Neah, on the other hand, was firmly making sure Lavi did not know more than he should. If he needed any further proof that the Noah in front of him had dealt with the Bookman Clan before - or at the very least people as persistent and watchful as the Clan - then this was it. He felt curiosity rise within him, a tiny flame building and building, but he dimmed its light and pushed it out of his thoughts. He placed a lid on the pot before him and turned, resting against the counter behind him, meeting Neah’s gaze with resolute determination.

“Here’s the deal. We both want answers, and this forced politeness ain’t workin’ for either of us, so if you ask your questions, I’ll answer ‘em, and you do the same. That alright with you?”

Neah blinked before laughing, a surprised and somewhat amused smile working its way onto his features.

“Well that all depends on what information you’re offering.”

His smile only widened at the concealed frustration in Lavi’s gaze. It was clear the other was impatient; yet another thing that clashed with the Bookman ideal. He felt curiosity rise, feeling a burning need to find out how exactly Lavi had ended up here, and what had happened to his ageing master.

As the silence continued to extend in the wake of Neah’s statement the Noah shrugged, leaning casually against the counter behind him.

“I suppose I don’t have a lot of choice. You go first then.”

“Alright. What’s the third side?”

Neah paused and then he laughed, clutching at his stomach with eyes screwed shut and Lavi remained quiet, fingers digging painfully into the wood behind him.

“Oh, oh that’s funny. The first question you ask and it’s that one, you Bookmen intrigue me to no end.”

Lavi gritted his teeth. “Answer the question.”

“Why the fuck would I do that?” Lavi threw a glare his way and Neah returned it with an incredulous smile. “You seriously think that I’m going to sit here and tell you everything you need to know? Give away my life story so you can write it down and send it back to those old bastards who’ll do nothing with it?”

Lavi remained silent, eye narrowed, frustration and anger evident in his expression. Neah shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with a quiet laugh.

“At least the old man had the good sense to figure this stuff out behind my back, though I guess you asking upfront is a nice change.” Lavi froze, eye widening, fingers clutching the counter behind him so tightly his knuckles went white. Neah paused before looking up with a smile. “Well I suppose I’ve gotta give you some credit there. The third side is…”

Silence, and Lavi’s eye twitched in barely disguised irritation. Neah smiled, widely, before clapping his hands together.

“I don’t know.”

Lavi groaned. “Oh, cut the bullshit, would ya? If you ain’t gonna be serious I’ll leave you for the Noah.”

Neah gave a wide smile. “Ah but will you really do that, leave Allen to flee and die alone somewhere, with no-one to help him?”

“No, I wouldn’t. It’s in my best interests to keep him alive, for my record.”

His voice was firm, but detached, and Neah knew without a single shred of doubt that even if there was some truth to what Lavi had said he was also lying. He had tried to disguise how he had flinched at Neah’s words, and succeeded well enough that most wouldn’t have noticed. But Neah did and all he could think of was that this was leverage, leverage he sorely needed. After a while Lavi spoke once more, voice quiet.

“So it’s in both our interests to work together, even if you act like a difficult annoying bastard.”

He smiled then, a fake strained smile, and Neah laughed, amused.

“So I have to put up with you otherwise you’ll do… what exactly? Leave me to do what I’ve been doing just fine on my own up until now?”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t call starving yourself and wrecking your feet doin’ just fine, ya know.”

Neah scowled. “That’s not my fault. If this stupid fucking kid would just let me take over like he’s meant to then neither of us would be in this mess.”

“Oh, I don’t think Allen’s gonna do that anytime soon.” Lavi gave a knowing smile that only widened as both frustration and anger flashed in Neah’s eyes. “He’s the most stubborn guy I’ve ever met, you’re gonna be stuck in this mess for a long time.”

Neah exhaled sharply, looking away and settling into a stony silence. Lavi watched him carefully, noting the myriad of emotions flickering in silver hues - anger, frustration, impatience - and wondered how exactly he could come to an agreement with the Noah that stood before him. After a moment of thoughtful silence, he smiled.

“Alright, I have a lil proposition for ya.” Neah looked up, eyes narrowed in distrust. Lavi’s smile widened. “You need to get away from all these Akuma and Noah that are tailin’ you, right? But while you and Allen are playin’ tug of war over who gets to be in control you ain’t doing much more than ruining both your chances of surviving.”

Neah remained silent, but it was evident that he was at least listening to Lavi’s proposal, so he continued.

“You need someone around who isn’t gonna turn you in to the Order or the Noah and can keep you alive until either you or Allen come out on top, right? Otherwise that nice ol’ plan of yours ain’t ever gonna work out, is it?” Neah’s shoulders tensed up, eyes widening. “I get to continue my record and you get to survive long enough to figure somethin’ out. We got an agreement?”

For many long arduous minutes there was no reply. The Noah watched his companion carefully, trying to see past the playful exterior and find out what hidden intent this apprentice had. There was some truth to what he had said, and he knew enough about the Clan to understand that they were duty-bound to persist with their records until they were ordered to do otherwise. But there was something else too, most likely a deeply hidden concern for Allen’s safety; it was an annoyance, but both curiosity over this very unBookman-like apprentice and the knowledge that he could use this concern to his advantage let Neah make up his mind.

“Alright then, I guess we have an agreement. If you promise not to stab me in the back then I’ll… behave.”

“Agreed.”

Neah’s tone turned mocking. “Shall we shake on it? Or do you want us to pinky promise that we’ll be best friends forever and ever?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

The tension had eased between them and, despite the unanswered questions and lies on both their parts, there was more warmth and familiarity to this exchange than either of them had experienced in a very, very long time. Even if the playfulness would most certainly drive Lavi insane it was far, far better than dealing with a madman; Neah still had some humanity left in him, and that was enough for him to feel more relaxed, if only by a little.

After a moment of silence Lavi spoke, resignation clearly evident in his tone.

“So, will you answer my question? Or will I have to force it out of you?”

Neah smirked. “I’d like to see you try but, sadly, I’m not in any condition to fight you. Maybe another day, perhaps.”

“Perhaps…” Silence; Lavi seemed focused intently on counting each and every kitchen tile as Neah stood and watched him, eyes narrowed. Eventually Lavi continued, voice quiet. “I was wonderin’… where’s Timcanpy? I haven’t seen it around.”

“I… don’t actually know…” Neah looked away, genuine concern and sadness entering his expression. “It’s been gone since…” since we encountered the Earl “… since we ran into the Noah. I haven’t seen it since. I’m worried it…”

Lavi shrugged. “Maybe it’s gone to find Cross?”

Neah shook his head. “I doubt it, Cross gave Tim to Allen after he disappeared, and Tim wouldn’t leave our side if that was the case.”

“Then it could be…”

Silence; Neah seemed pained at the thought of his beloved companion no longer existing, and Lavi knew that Allen was also feeling that pain, dreadfully so, and he felt sympathy for them both. It was this feeling that made him realise that, perhaps, Neah and Allen were not as different as it first appeared, and that let Lavi make up his mind on exactly who he was helping. But Neah’s voice, quiet and sombre, interrupted his thoughts and brought him to an uneasy, lurching stop.

“Speaking of Tim… I saw its recordings, and you were there, but not for a long while. Where’ve you been all this time, huh?”

It took far too long for Lavi to find an answer that he felt able to voice aloud; far, far too long.

“I… was with the Order. Me and Gramps, we…” the silence was unbearable and Lavi’s hands were trembling “… were there as part of our record. But now… now I’m here.”

Neah froze, eyes narrowing with distrust. “Did Bookman order you here?”

“… Yes.” And no.

Silence befell them, and Lavi felt as if he had become transparent, if only for a moment. That burning silver gaze left him shaking and sickened by his inability to keep his composure, but it was still too soon - far too soon - and he wasn’t ready to speak of it, not yet, not when there was still so much he did not understand.

He did not know if Neah had realised he’d raised a sensitive subject, or if he felt satisfied that he’d not been ordered by the Church, but regardless of his thoughts on the matter he remained silent; watchful, but silent.

“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted -” Neah yawned and Lavi felt too detached to care if it was even fake or not “- so how about you take first watch, hm?”

Lavi looked up then, eye narrowed, and was met with a small smile and it bothered him. But the man before him did, indeed, look exhausted - his eyes were rimmed with dark circles, face drawn and pale, eyelids drooping and limbs heavy. And so, despite the uneasiness he felt, Lavi nodded and watched as Neah walked away, stretching as he went. He waited until he heard the creak of each stair - ten, he’d counted - before burying his face in his hands and counting each second that passed until his body stopped shaking.

637 seconds passed, and as his body became still he stood in the shadows of that abandoned kitchen and grimaced.

It was going to be a very, very long night.


Allen woke up to timid morning sunlight.

As it filtered through the cracks in the roof above him he listened quietly to the sound of songbirds, the wind whistling through broken doors, quiet daytime noises that left him feeling at peace with the world; a rarity, these days. But the world would not wait for him, and he did not recognise the room he had slept in - though falling asleep in unknown locations had become commonplace due to Neah’s influence - so, begrudgingly, he stood and stretched and walked out of a door hanging off its hinges to the dimly-lit space outside.

The hallway was in shambles; floorboards were snapped and broken, and mould was living quite happily in each and every dark damp corner. But the house would have been pleasant before, homely even, full of light and sombre colours and an air of comfort that meant you felt happy to return to this place when weary of the world. And yet it was empty, abandoned, and it left a bitter taste in Allen’s mouth as he stumbled, carefully, to a staircase that he doubted would hold his weight.

One step forward and the wood screeched in protest and so he waited, nervous, one foot poised before him and the other placed on unsteady ground. Another step and, again, the high-pitched creak of wood about to break and his tiny gasp for air were all that filled the silence surrounding him. Seconds passed and he waited until he felt ready to move before stepping forward, but the ground gave way and he was sent, plummeting, through splintered wood onto a hard unforgiving floor in a cloud of dust.

As he sat, coughing and brushing splinters off of his clothes, he heard rushed footsteps and saw Lavi, standing by a nearby doorway with a concerned expression that soon gave way to relief and a tired smile.

“Mornin’ clumsy.”

Allen hesitated. “Good… morning…”

“Sleep well?”

A shrug and awkward expression were all Allen could give as a reply. Lavi faltered, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away before speaking.

“Well there’s… food in the kitchen for ya if you want it, it’s cold now though.”

“Ah… thank you I, uh, appreciate it.”

It was awkward, this exchange, far more tense than it should have been. But they were both tired, and despite the cold weight settling in their stomachs it was nice to admit that things weren’t the same, if only for a brief moment. And so Lavi smiled, quietly, in a way he never would have done back at the Order, and Allen understood: they didn’t have to pretend they were fine.

Allen gave a small smile. “Let’s eat… shall we?”

Lavi nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

They headed to the kitchen into warm sunlight, greeted by motes of dust drifting aimlessly from an open window to grimy flagstones. A pot of something-or-other that Allen hardly cared to name sat on a nearby counter, and after a brief search for a spoon he was happily eating to his heart - or stomach’s - content. After he was finished Allen gave a satisfied noise before leaning back, frustration evident in his expression.

“What does this guy do, purposefully starve himself? I feel like I haven’t eaten in weeks.”

Lavi shrugged. “He went to bed pretty early, was thinkin’ of waking him up for food but he slept sounder than a log.”

Allen paused and looked up at his companion, eyes narrowed. “Did anything… happen?”

“Apart from him being an annoyin’ little shit?” Lavi paused to think over what to say, quickly deciding to leave out certain events from the day before, in particular how Neah had defeated the Level Fours. “Nah, we got away from the Akuma and talked before he slept, and then you made a dashing entrance by breaking the stairs.”

Lavi grinned and Allen looked away, embarrassed. After a while Allen pulled a face and wrung his hands together.

“I’m glad he didn’t…”

“Didn’t what, hurt me?”

Allen nodded, gaze fixed on the floor. Lavi rubbed the back of his neck and sighed.

“We didn’t talk much but… I honestly don’t think he’s a bad guy, Allen. For now, it’s convenient for him to be on my good side, so I don’t think ya need to worry.”

Allen didn’t reply, quiet and unsure. It made sense for Allen to be worried, since his only knowledge of the person sharing his body was that he was a Noah determined to achieve his own aims no matter how much blood he spilt. But to Lavi it seemed less that Neah was a madman eager for death and destruction and more that he wanted an end, an end by his own hands.

Lavi could understand that much.

He sighed, voice soft. “Listen, I understand it’s probably really weird havin’ that guy around. I ain’t gonna tell you to trust him or whatever, but I won’t keep things from ya either so while he’s there and you’re not I can tell you what happens, if you want me to.”

Allen looked up and was met with a strange mix of both seriousness and understanding, and it was odd, seeing Lavi like this. It showed how much had changed since they’d last seen each other, and Allen wasn’t sure how he felt about it. But it was more advice than he’d been given so far, and the fear that had been gnawing away at him since the Ark gave way, if just by a little.

“I’d… I’d like that, thank you.”

Lavi smiled, and it set Allen at ease. The warm sunshine finally seeped itself into his bones, and he felt relief settle itself there, too. If only for a little while - until he had the strength to walk away - he had someone to rely on.

After a moment of silence Lavi spoke, interlacing his fingers behind the back of his head.

“So… what’s the plan, then?”

“Hm?”

Allen looked up, confused, and Lavi met his gaze with a serious expression.

“What do you think we should do?”

Allen didn’t reply for a long while, gaze fixed on the dirty floor beneath his feet. He had spent so long simply running, giving no further thought to his situation than necessary, that being asked for a plan instilled a deep unsettling fear within him. Putting one foot before the other and thinking of nothing beyond don’t stop, keep walking; that had been his life since he’d left the Order. The idea of a plan, when all he could really do was run away from the inevitable, seemed laughable.

“I don’t… I don’t know. There isn’t really anything more I can do but…”

“But what?”

“Keep running.”

Lavi paused. “From what?”

“From everything.” There was an edge to Allen’s voice now, and his words seemed full of desperation and bitter weariness. “Lavi, I can’t do anything. At some point Neah will… and I won’t be… here anymore, there’s nothing I can really do but keep going until -”

“Until you no longer exist, right?”

Allen swallowed thickly, eyes downcast. Lavi sighed and looked away, and after a few minutes of tense silence he spoke, his voice quiet and full of sympathy. But there was something else, hidden behind his words, that left Allen feeling unsettled.

“I don’t know if you’ll make it through this -” Allen’s heart twisted, painfully “- and I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do my best to help you however I can. Talk me through what’s happened, since you left the Order.”

Allen faltered before answering, and the day swiftly passed from dim morning sunlight to an afternoon of orange and scarlet skies as he detailed the journey he had taken since leaving the Black Order. It took a surprising amount of time to cover what had happened, since to Allen it felt like an endless blur of fleeing and hiding. But Lavi had frequently interrupted him to ask him questions, and at points it felt less like a heart-to-heart and more like an interrogation, though he supposed it was in Lavi’s nature as a Bookman to be that way. By the end he felt exhausted. But it had been helpful, and simply talking it through eased some of the weight that had made itself at home on his shoulders, and so despite the tiredness seeping itself into his bones, he felt better for it.

Lavi took a moment to sift through everything Allen had told him before pushing himself forward from the counter he was resting against.

“Well, that took longer than I thought, but I think I know what we should do now.”

“You do?”

Lavi nodded, smiling. “Yep. I thought about us going back to the Order, but I don’t think you or Neah wanna do that, huh?” Allen pulled a face and Lavi laughed. “I thought so. And from the sounds of it that… what’s its face…?”

“Apocryphos.”

“Yeah, that scary bastard. You haven’t heard from it since you escaped the Earl, so it’s probably stopped tailing you, but you still can’t activate your Innocence can you?”

Allen sighed, raising his right hand to grip at his left arm with a bitter expression.

“No… Back then it would activate, but all those feathers would cover it and it was painful… Now I can’t activate it at all, but the feathers don’t appear either.”

Lavi frowned. “Hm. Then I’d say we’re safe from it for now, though it’s weird for it to just stop tailin’ you… But we don’t have those answers right now, so there’s no use thinking too hard about it, though we should be careful in case it comes back. The Order hasn’t made contact in that time either, so I’d say right now our biggest worry is the Noah and Akuma huntin’ you down.”

Allen paused before speaking, voice quiet and full of unease. “What do we do about that though? As long as Neah’s here with me they won’t ever stop, and without my Innocence working I can’t fight without…”

“Without me here, right?”

Allen nodded, fear settling itself in his heart until it hurt to breathe for the last thing he needed, and the thing he needed most, was a companion; a companion that could help, a companion he could hurt.

He faltered, stumbling over his words as he spoke. “But… surely you need to return to the Order, they probably need you over there more than I do.”

Silence befell them before Lavi responded with a darkening expression, voice sombre. “Maybe, but as far as they’re concerned I never made it out of the Noah’s headquarters alive.” Lavi laughed, bitterly. “Or maybe I abandoned my record to do whatever the Bookman Clan wanted of me. I was never there to…”

He stopped with a sigh, eye closed and expression pained. When he looked up to meet Allen’s gaze he seemed tired, full of resignation.

“To be honest with you… I don’t know what I’m meant to do. But all I do know is that I found you, and you’re in a bind and could do with a hand, so I’ll stay and do my best to help, if you want me to.”

“… You sure you don’t mind?”

“’Course not. It means I get to annoy you with my presence like I used to.”

Lavi smiled brightly as he spoke; it was an offer of kindness, of help and sorely needed company. But, again, Allen could see something obscured behind his smile and it left him feeling uneasy for reasons he could not explain. But despite this uneasy feeling Allen laughed, and despite the uncertainty Lavi felt at staying, it warmed his heart to see hope in his friend’s eyes once more, to see the dazzling brightness he had come to associate with him still shine brightly underneath so much fear and pain.

Even though Allen was terrified of having someone around, knowing that someone would be by his side was also comforting. Despite the fear and doubt, the knowledge that they were no longer alone was enough to make them take another step forward.

Chapter Text

The house was lit up with gold as daylight brightened around them.

They had left the next morning, as rested and ready as they’d ever be to begin what they knew would be a tiresome and dangerous journey. The phrase ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ crossed Lavi’s mind as they began to walk, very well aware that every step of the way Noah would tail them and Akuma would try to kill them, and if they ran into Apocryphos or the Order they’d be lucky to make it out alive. It didn’t help that there wasn’t necessarily a plan, per say - until Allen’s Innocence recovered from the lack of food and Apocryphos’s attack, there wasn’t a lot they could do to take action against the Noah or Akuma but keep moving.

For the moment all they could do was what they had been doing all this time; keep walking.

Their progress was slow. Although Lavi’s body was well-fed and in good shape, in comparison Allen and Neah’s was not; they had spent many months on their feet without food or water or rest, and whatever they got of that was few and far between. Even after nearly four days of rest they were still in very poor shape, and their feet were still recovering. As Allen walked, he stumbled, and many times Lavi had to help him up and keep an eye on him. Although Lavi’s Innocence would allow them to travel faster and ease their tiredness, with no destination in mind it was pointless to use it unless they had to escape to safety, which happened far more often than they would have liked.

Their first battle after leaving the house was short and sweet: a few Level Ones came towards them, and within seconds they were destroyed with a Fire Seal. The next battle and the ones following it were longer and far more difficult, and often they had to make an escape before the battle’s end. Level Fours rarely appeared, which was a small blessing, but Level Threes and hordes of Twos and Ones were still tough opponents to face. Allen watched Lavi’s back, doing as much damage as he was capable with his bare fists - which, considering his physical state, was impressive - and Lavi fought, and he fought brilliantly.

Allen found himself, over and over, marvelling at how much the transition to Crystal Type changed everything. He hadn’t had time to observe Lenalee fight since he had barely had any missions with her after the Level Four attacked the Order, though her monstrous increase in speed during that fight alone said more than enough. Kanda’s newly acquired strength, also, was unknown to Allen since his Innocence evolved after he had left, and he had barely spent a day in his company since he had been unconscious for most of his time with him.

But with Lavi he had the time to observe, admire, and almost fear how strong Innocence could become. Speed, strength, durability - these were all things the three wielders of Crystal Type Innocence shared. Their weapons were able to deal more damage, take more damage, and move faster and more efficiently in battle so that their user seemed near untouchable. Before this change Lavi had been slow in battle - though he dealt incredible damage even back then - but now it seemed his Innocence had accounted for that weakness; the way it moved was fluid and graceful, and no matter what its size, it moved faster and with more accuracy. The seals it produced were stronger also, and two new ones that Allen didn’t recognise had appeared alongside the others: Water and Earth.

But despite the admiration he felt, there was also jealousy, and fear. Without his Innocence working, Allen felt useless, like unwanted baggage, and the fact that his arm simply didn’t work was frustrating beyond measure. At least, back when it was nearly destroyed by Tyki Mikk, it had been missing from his body until it reformed. Now it simply existed, unusable and useless, and despite trying many, many times to activate it refused to listen.

Apocryphos may have stopped following him, but its presence lingered and it left a bitter taste in Allen’s mouth.

The thought that Neah could take over completely, since his Innocence refused to work, also made Allen feel more and more uneasy as time passed. In the days after leaving the abandoned house, Neah hadn’t taken over at all; either that, or Lavi hadn’t been entirely honest when he promised to inform him if he had appeared. Allen had coped with the minimal amount of sleep possible during his time on the run, since falling unconscious often signalled the change in control, but Lavi had forced him to sleep. Your body’s in a shit enough state as it is, the last thing you should be doing is addin’ lack of sleep to the mix. Allen had grumbled, but Lavi was as fair as he was stubborn and, ultimately, he was right. If Lavi was correct, Neah had no intentions of causing any trouble yet. And so Allen slept, begrudgingly, but he woke often and felt no better for the sleep he’d had.

The recurring nightmare of sinking endlessly into darkness, never to appear again, refused to leave him be no matter how much Lavi reassured him.

During the coming days Allen also had time to think about the friend he, by happenstance, had started to travel with. At times he was tiring in a way that left Allen irritable and on edge; he had forgotten how infuriating Lavi’s teasing and immature humour could be when he was in a bad mood. But, at other times, he was a source of comfort and advice. Whenever Allen woke from a nightmare, shaking and sweating and breathing hard, Lavi would hand him a flask of water and offer to swap places so Allen could keep watch, knowing full well sleep would be hard to come by. He wouldn’t question, he wouldn’t force him to talk; he was silent and watchful in a way that wasn’t imposing, and it reassured Allen. But he also felt guilty, for he didn’t intend to keep him around for fear of him - no, not him, Neah - causing any harm, and so he had decided from the start that he would leave as soon as his Innocence recovered.

Or, at least, that was what he intended to do.

For it seemed, despite the confidence and strength Lavi exuded, something was deeply wrong. Even if he hid it well, Allen was around him long enough for that mask to slip, and it worried him greatly. Lavi had never shown any sign of thinking too hard about things, at least in front of Allen and the others, and he had always seemed like a laid back and easy-going sort of person. But when Allen found sleep hard to come by, he would see Lavi sat in the dark of their temporary abode, shaking, tapping his fingers restlessly and counting under his breath to calm himself. At first Allen had wondered, with guilt, if it was his - or perhaps Neah’s - presence that was causing his friend so much distress. But, as the days passed, it became obvious that something had happened during Lavi’s time with the Noah; the lack of Bookman’s presence said enough.

But Allen knew grief, he knew it all too well; it was dark and heavy, it left you empty and altogether numb to the world. And Lavi showed it, sometimes, when it became too much to bear. But the anxiety he was showing, alongside a deep uncertain fear of something Allen didn’t know of, made Allen worry more than he would’ve done if Lavi was simply grieving.

He walked, and watched, and worried, and hoped that in the end he would have the courage to leave for Lavi’s own good, before he - no, not he, Neah - hurt him, though he wasn’t entirely sure if it was for his own good or his friend’s.

And so the following days passed in an endless cycle of running and fighting and hiding and worrying. In that time they hadn’t met anyone from the Order, or Apocryphos, or any Noah, and it did nothing to reassure them; it felt like the calm before a storm, and it left them tense and uneasy. Allen’s Innocence still wouldn’t activate, and despite Lavi’s increased strength all the fighting was taking its toll on user and weapon. Both had born witness to Cross’s words, back then on a cold rainy night at the Order. His life was hellish after he tried to kill the Earl. The question of how long they could last was forever there, always at the edge of their thoughts.

But Allen knew he had no other choice, that he would rather die than give up and forsake what he had promised Mana all those years ago. Even if it was pointless, even if in the end he was erased and taken over by the 14th, he would disappear knowing he had at least never given up. But the one thing he couldn’t understand, during the days that they hid and ran and fought, was why Lavi was even there.

The day they left the house he had asked him, quietly, the reason why he wasn’t returning to the Order. And he had replied that as a member of the Bookman Clan he had to record what happened to Allen. No hard feelings, it’s just… my job. It had hurt, those words, but in a way it would make things a lot easier for Allen when he eventually had to leave. He supposed Lavi would try and find him, then give up and be tasked with something else to do. But, then again, it didn’t feel right. Lavi had shown him care and compassion, had always been worried about him and kept an eye on him. They had fought alongside each other for so long that it seemed silly to think that, beneath all that, it was just a job.

But, he supposed, Lavi was good at hiding things and, perhaps, he didn’t know him as well as he’d thought.

As time passed, they lapsed into speaking very little, barely more than they needed to. They walked mostly in silence, which was unusual for Lavi; he would usually talk incessantly about God knows what until Allen’s head hurt. When they rested and took turns keeping watch they spoke little, and even when Allen attempted to talk about something - the Order, the scenery, his hunger, idle thoughts and feelings - Lavi rarely gave anything more than tired and blunt replies until Allen gave up and settled for silence. He hadn’t realised until now how much he appreciated how easy Lavi was to get along with. His usual warm familiarity, with his smiles and teasing jokes and nicknames, was irritating at times but it was also reassuring.

Despite all their trust in one another, these secrets and unknowns were making what would have previously been easy and light-hearted into something difficult and awkward, and it left them tense and exhausted.

And then Neah returned.

It had been in the middle of a fight - a few Level Ones and Twos, nothing to be concerned about - and just as Lavi prepared to destroy the final Akuma with a Fire Seal a black star appeared on its forehead, its life ending by its own power puppeteered by another. Lavi turned and saw brown skin turn pale, golden eyes return to silver, the distrustful and playful countenance that Neah held coming to the forefront.

Lavi lowered his weapon, deactivating it and returning it to its holster, watching Neah carefully. The Noah shot him a glance before brushing himself down and looking around, eyes narrowed against the harsh light of the sun. Lavi paused before shrugging, heading into the direction he and Allen had been aiming for before they were attacked, a resigned sigh escaping his lips when he heard footsteps follow behind him.

Allen had always been a quiet travelling companion, settling for a comfortable silence with small comments about their surroundings or where they were heading. But if Allen had been quiet then Neah was quieter so, at least for the moment; the Noah barely spoke, following behind Lavi with a resigned apathy towards his unwanted company and where they were headed.

Lavi refrained from asking questions, relieved to finally lower the pretence of friendly cheer that he had struggled to maintain in Allen’s presence. It was tiring enough to keep up the mask of ‘Lavi’ normally, but when he was already exhausted from other matters it was both irritating and impossible to keep it up. It was strange to think that he felt so little resentment towards Neah’s presence over Allen’s own, but there were benefits to being around someone who knew so little about who he pretended to be. However, it came with the added downside of Neah knowing who he was meant to be, and he was consciously aware that he was doing just as badly at keeping up the pretence of the faithful duty-bound apprentice as he was the cheerful Exorcist of the Black Order.

He knew far too well that it would not take long for Neah to question whether his proposal to aid him and Allen was out of duty or care.

Neah did not comment on the other’s silence, glad to pass the time without any unneeded false friendliness. It was a temporary arrangement, as far as he was concerned; he was stuck with the Bookman apprentice until he had the chance to get rid of him. Killing him was something he wished to avoid, knowing full well that Bookman would cut all ties with him if he did so. The third side, as well as the neutrality of the Bookman Clan, were the only things he could semi-rely on - though his paranoia doubted even their apparent faithfulness to him - and with the state of his supporters being unknown to him it would be… unwise to cause any problems between the Bookmen and himself for now.

He decided that he would treat Lavi as he did nearly all the humans who had followed him and offered assistance; wariness. He wasn’t useless - he was good in a fight, though Neah felt disgusted towards his Innocence nonetheless. He was also used to living away from civilisation, which made finding food and shelter easier than if he’d been around someone less able to survive in such conditions. Lavi asked few questions, having learned from their conversation a few days prior that Neah would not willingly give him information, and for the most part he was at least tolerable to have around.

There was also leverage if he did start to cause Neah any trouble. As well as the evident concern and care he felt for Allen - a friend, how laughable that a Bookman would succumb to such a thing - there was something else, something that left Lavi constantly uneasy. At first Neah wondered if he was causing such a feeling to arise within his unwanted companion, greatly amused and somewhat pleased that his very presence could instil fear in others. But he discovered, with a small amount of disappointment, that it was for another reason.

Something had happened, something that Timcanpy had not observed and Allen did not know about either; he felt curious to find out exactly what it was, eager to have the upper hand. It took a day or so for Neah to remember how Lavi had reacted towards the mention of his master, and so he took every opportunity to subtly mention Bookman to his companion, noting how easily it both angered and distressed Lavi to hear it. However, after a day of poking and prodding him to snap and reveal what had happened, Neah was instead greeted with a fist in his face and a broken nose.

Lavi punched hard, which was something worth noting.

After making a comment on how little reluctance Lavi seemed to have towards hurting him, and how much he actually cared about Allen if he was so willing to punch someone who looked exactly like him, he was met with stony silence. The Bookman seemed to have a surprising amount of restraint on occasion, and after trying and failing to get his companion to lose his temper again Neah grumpily resigned himself to silence once more.

That night Lavi took first watch - a recurring habit, it seemed - and after Neah reluctantly slept it was not he who awoke. Sitting up with a groan, hand raised to gently touch the swollen and broken skin at the bridge of his nose, Allen winced before turning towards Lavi, who was sat facing away from him with his back against a nearby tree.

“Lavi… why is my nose broken?” Greeted with silence, Allen scowled before standing up and prodding the side of Lavi’s head. “Hey, you shouldn’t be asleep if you’re supposed to be on watch, stupid Lavi.”

Wordlessly his companion stood, grabbing him by the arm and directing him back towards the now-extinguished campfire which Allen - or rather, Neah - had fallen asleep beside. Before Allen could speak Lavi relit the fire with a match and some kindling, bringing some illumination to the otherwise dark woods they had taken shelter in. He turned to face him, expressionless and detached, placing firm hands on Allen’s shoulders to sit him down. Allen blinked, watching Lavi carefully as he sat down in front of him and looked at the injury he had caused, gently touching the broken skin and the area around it.

“Well, your nose doesn’t need straightening.”

Allen scowled. “Why do you sound disappointed about that?”

Lavi paused before looking away, both guilt and lingering irritation evident in his expression. Allen sighed before prodding Lavi’s forehead, eyes narrowed.

“You forget this is my face too, asshole. Next time you feel the need to hit something maybe go for an Akuma inste-”

“I’m sorry.”

Allen paused, expression softening as he noticed Lavi would not meet his gaze, visible regret in his eye as it fixed on the nearby campfire. Allen sighed, bringing his fist down lightly upon Lavi’s head before speaking in a quiet tone.

“It’s fine.” He paused before attempting to cheer up his companion, smiling brightly. “I’ve had way worse than a broken nose, so you shouldn’t worry about it.”

Lavi grimaced, though his lips pulled up into the smallest of smiles regardless, and Allen brought his fist down on Lavi’s head once more, concern filtering through into his words.

“Is he… causing you a lot of trouble then?”

Lavi paused before shaking his head, rubbing the back of his neck with a strained smile.

“Nah, he just doesn’t know when to back off sometimes.”

Tiredness and frustration were evident in Lavi’s expression, and it did little to ease the worry that had arisen within Allen since he had noticed the state his friend was in. Though, in Lavi’s defence, he hid it well most of the time at least. Knowing that asking unwanted questions would do little to make Lavi feel better, Allen settled for moving back to his previous spot by the campfire, warming his hands by the flames before offering Lavi a smile.

“You get some rest, I’ll take the next watch okay?”

Lavi hesitated before nodding, standing up to move to the other side of the fire. Taking off his coat and folding it up haphazardly before using it as a makeshift pillow, Lavi turned to face away from the fire and settled into silence. He felt relieved that Allen hadn’t asked him for the reasons why he lost his temper, and it eased some of the tension that had kept him awake and uneasy since they had settled in the woods for the night. It did not take long to fall asleep, exhausted from a day of walking and having to ignore the emotions he was trying so hard to restrain, particularly in the presence of the Noah who would undoubtedly use whatever he could to get what he wanted from him.

And across from him Allen watched the flickering flames before his eyes, every now and then reaching up to touch his nose and wince, failing to ignore the bitterness welling up within him.

Things were already changing, perhaps more than he could ever hope to fix.


The morning arose with all the timid gentleness late autumn could offer. After rubbing at his face tiredly, wincing as he temporarily forgot about his injury, Allen took a moment to observe the surroundings, unknown to him by the light of day due to Neah’s presence.

The woods were giving their last attempt to persist in the wake of the approaching winter, leaves of flame and fire falling to fade into the mud beneath. Bare branches adorned with dwindling leaves, wisps of fog and the smell of wet earth; it was peaceful here, surrounded by nature in its dying days. Since his time on the run had begun, Allen had found himself taking moments like this often, as if seeing the world around him for the first time. No, not the first; it was as if it was his last. The bitter chill seeping into his bones, the array of colour amongst the darkened bark of dying trees; it was a stark reminder that he was still here, still living and breathing. It left him feeling sombre, a strange combination of both bitterness and reverence. This world would exist whether he was in it or not, and though that caused him pain, it was also comforting. For now, there was a world to live within, places to observe, things to see and smell and taste.

Until the day the world ended, or he ceased to exist, there was a place for him under these endless skies.

A quiet groan and shifting of fabric brought Allen out of his reverie, gaze drifting from the sky and leaves above his head to the other side of the now extinguished campfire. He watched as eventually, with a stretch and slight wince, Lavi sat up, running fingers through fiery strands as he sleepily observed his surroundings. It was strange, how exhausted Lavi seemed despite having slept - as far as he knew - since Allen had kept watch. Though, perhaps, it was simply that at times like this his friend’s guard was lowered, the mask slipping just enough to show what was hidden beneath. Allen knew he was the same, often having to fake a smile and lie every time Lenalee or Link saw him wake up and questioned if he was alright back at the Order, nightmares and persistent exhaustion making it all the harder to keep up the act of being fine.

But it would do no good to dwell on it, so Allen stood up, stretching his arms above his head, giving his companion a smile when Lavi’s gaze met his own.

“Morning. Sleep well?”

Lavi paused before yawning, rubbing at his eye with clumsy gestures. “Well enough, I guess. Anythin’ happen while I was asleep?”

Allen shook his head. “Nothing. A few rabbits were curious about the campfire just before dawn but they didn’t stay for long.”

“Should’ve given them one of the carrots we stole the other day.”

Allen tilted his head. “We stole food?”

Lavi had to take a moment to register that Neah had been the one to assist him in finding food, and he offered an awkward smile in apology. If Allen had been hurt by his lack of tact, he didn’t appear to show it, making his way to Lavi’s bag to check on their supplies with a neutral expression. Lavi rubbed the back of his neck, making a mental note to be more careful about how he referred to what had happened while either Allen or Neah weren’t present. Allen sifted through the bag’s contents, stealing an apple - and resisting the urge to take the other three as well - and biting into it before standing, picking up the bag and flinging it in Lavi’s direction, who glared up at him.

“Oi, be careful, ‘sprout. This has gotta keep us goin’ until we find another abandoned house or unwary farmer.”

Allen scowled. “Th’ name’s ‘llen.”

“Len? I didn’t realise you used that nickname.” Lavi grinned widely at the glare thrown his way. “So what’s better, Len or beansprout?”

“Neither. I have a name so use it, stupid Lavi.”

“Alright, alright, no need to get grumpy. All ready to head off?”

Allen nodded. “Sure. Whereabouts are we anyway?”

Lavi took a moment to root through his bag before taking out a worn map that looked as if it had seen better days. Finishing off his apple before throwing the core at the base of a nearby tree, Allen sat by Lavi’s side and peered over his shoulder.

“We’re around here somewhere -” Lavi pointed to a spot on the map with a finger “- probably… a few days out from Brioude?”

Allen paused before pointing northeast of the place Lavi had pointed out. “So, we’re going to keep heading in this direction?”

Lavi nodded. “Unless we get blocked off by Akuma, that’s the plan, yeah. It’d probably be a good idea to cross over into Germany when we can, might use Iron Hammer to throw anyone off our trail and head a bit further north than expected.”

“Alright, sounds like a good idea. If we head up towards Aachen, I know a good place where we can lay low for a while.” Lavi raised an eyebrow in reply to Allen’s words, who simply gave his companion a bright smile. “Someone owes me a favour.”

Lavi paused before shrugging. “Well, I probably shouldn’t ask why knowin’ you. It’d be great to sleep somewhere other than shitty stables or outside for once though, ain’t missed it much.”

Allen gave a quiet laugh. “Agreed. I thought I’d never be that comfortable sleeping in a proper bed when I got to the Order, but now I’m too used to it.”

At the mention of the home the both of them had been forced, for one way or another, to abandon, they lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, thoughts of their friends at the Order prevalent in their minds. Lavi was the first to push such thoughts away, far too used to ignoring whatever reminded him of things he ought to place out of sight and out of mind. He stood, folding up the map and returning it to his bag before gesturing to his left and starting to walk. Allen took a moment to take a deep breath, exhaling softly before following behind him, trying to ignore the lump that had formed in his throat.

Initially it was slow going, traversing through mazes of trees and roots determined to trip them up. Allen nearly lost his way multiple times, and within the first hour Lavi forced him to walk in front so he could keep an eye on him, muttering about how his sense of direction should have improved by now. By midday they had left the confines of the small forest, greeted by cloud-obscured sunlight and endless fields. The prospect of coming across farmland - which meant crops to steal from and potential places to take shelter for the night - spurred Allen and Lavi onwards, the burning ache at the base of their heels dimming in comparison to the need for small comforts.

Within a few hours they’d managed to steal some cabbages and potatoes, narrowly avoiding being spotted by a rather disgruntled farmer and his two sheepdogs. Lavi felt satisfied by what they’d managed to get, but after walking past an open window with the delicious smell of freshly baked pastry wafting towards them Allen insisted they try and barter their way into a bed for the night - and for more food, of course. All it took was a story as fake as the tears Allen mustered up - in surprisingly perfect French, no less - to persuade the woman stood in the doorway before them to allow him and Lavi to stay the night. Stew and an apple pie so good that both Allen and Lavi barely resisted the urge to ask for more, as well as a warm bath and a proper bed to sleep in, left the both of them dreading the eventual goodbye, knowing they would have to leave the comfort of this abode after spending the night.

But wherever Allen - and Neah by proxy - went Akuma would soon follow, and risking the lives of the people who were giving them shelter was out of the question.

As night drew upon them, Allen settled down into soft bedsheets, falling asleep quicker than he had expected; he was more exhausted from the day’s walk than he’d been aware of. Flashes of images passed over his vision as he slept - stone walls, a warm hand on his back, the smell of food, familiar voices, the feeling of home - and it stirred him into wakefulness as dawn’s early light filtered through the gap in the nearby curtains.

For a long while he simply stared up at the darkened ceiling, gripped by a feeling he didn’t want to acknowledge. Leaving the Order had been harder than anything he’d ever done. To have finally gained a home, a family of various people who treated him with kindness and respect, only to lose it because of something - or rather someone - outside of his control was almost too much to handle. He still couldn’t ignore the memories in his mind, of suspicious glances and muttered words behind raised hands, whispered words of the 14th; people had stopped seeing him as ‘Allen Walker’, for in their eyes he’d become a threat in their midst. Most of the other Exorcists had still shown him warmth and compassion, but it had been tinged with a nameless emotion that left Allen feeling isolated and alone, even amongst friends.

It reminded him far too strongly of days that were better left in the past, days that should be long since forgotten about and left to fade into dust. His childhood had been characterised by endless years of distrust and fear, surrounded by people who either cared not for his existence, or used him in whatever way they saw fit. Whenever he walked past, strangers would comment in whispered tones just loud enough for him to hear - What happened to his arm? What a disgusting-looking child, how unseemly - until he felt self-conscious and paranoid, painfully aware of the burden he’d been born with. Until Mana had come along he’d been dreadfully alone, trusting no-one and relying only on himself, and to return to those darkened days because of his father’s brother was bitterly ironic.

But it would do no good to think of it, he knew; thinking about such things did little but make his heart hurt, leave him feeling bitter and resentful and terribly alone.

Such things were better off left in the dark, where they belonged.

Shaking his head where he lay, Allen pushed himself up with a sigh, trying to push away the cloying feeling of bitterness that clutched at his heart. Stretching a little, he turned his head and noticed that Lavi was perched on the side of the bed across from him, head lowered, a small leather-bound book in his hands.

“Lavi?”

No response. Allen faltered, a frown forming on his features. It felt different somehow, the way Lavi was sat, the blank expression on his face, and with concern rising within him Allen reached forward and placed a hand on Lavi’s shoulder.

Lavi flinched, moving backwards sharply and banging his head on the wall behind him. Rubbing the back of his head, Lavi stared wide-eyed at Allen for a moment before giving an uneasy smile.

“Ah, I -” Allen continued to frown at him, and it did nothing to ease the panicked beating of his heart. “I, uh, was in a world of my own there for a moment.”

He managed a quiet laugh, and it comforted Allen enough for him to settle back, a sigh leaving parted lips. For a moment they sat in silence, an awkward tension rising within the both of them, before Allen raised a hand and pointed at the book in Lavi’s lap with a smile slowly appearing on his face.

“You keep a diary?”

Lavi faltered, almost as if he’d forgotten the book was even there. He pulled a face. “Why do I get the feelin’ you’re makin’ fun of me when you say that?”

Allen’s smile grew. “What makes you think that? I’m sure most people keep diaries.”

Lavi huffed. “Yep, you’re makin’ fun of me.” He leant forward and tucked the book into the bag propped up against the nearby bedside counter, before lying back on the bed with a sigh. “Anyway, diaries are for shit like ‘today I saw a cute girl and she smiled at me’, that old thing is boring.”

“Why’s that?”

Lavi paused. He turned to meet Allen’s gaze, seeing genuine curiosity in his face, and wondered for a moment whether he should say anything. A strong feeling welled up within him, something he couldn’t define, before he turned away a little and shrugged.

“It’s a… personal record, kinda, somewhere to write some… important things down.”

Allen gave a wry smile, tinged with bitterness. “Important things such as ‘today the 14th pissed me off and I punched him’, I’m guessing?”

Lavi froze. Guilt wormed its way into his heart, leaving him feeling uneasy. Despite feeling Allen’s gaze fixed on him, he couldn’t look up and meet it, not in that moment. A tense silence descended upon them, leaving Lavi feeling more and more agitated, until Allen gave a loud sigh and fell back against his bed with a thunk.

“Well, can’t say I blame you. He probably deserved it.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t.”

Lavi’s voice was quiet, filled with an emotion that made Allen falter for a moment. He looked over and saw guilt in Lavi’s expression, face illuminated by the pale light of dawn, and wondered exactly how much of what he’d been told had been the truth. No hard feelings, it’s just… my job - how true were those words? For someone who was purely meant to be there to record him - or rather the 14th - surely it mattered very little how Allen felt. He felt hope rise within him, wanting to hold on to the thought that Lavi truly meant what he had said when they’d left the house only a few days prior, that he wished to help him.

There was still so much that Allen didn’t understand, and he knew that his doubts about Lavi’s reasons for accompanying him, and the implications those reasons held, would not fade any time soon, but knowing that Lavi seemed to care, at least in the sense that causing him any harm or inconvenience made him feel guilty or regretful, was enough for now.

Regardless of his doubts Allen still trusted him, and only time would tell whether he was wrong to do so.

As the silence extended between them, Allen felt the bitterness that had risen within him fade. He gave a sigh and spoke, voice soft.

“I forgive you, Lavi.” He saw Lavi’s gaze meet his own and smirked. “It just means the next time we’re in town and a pretty woman walks past, I’ll tell her you keep a diary and drool while you sleep.”

Lavi couldn’t help but laugh at that, shaking his head a little with a smile. “Fair enough, I kinda deserve that.”

They settled into a comfortable silence, and the tension that had arisen within the both of them since they had reunited faded into the backs of their minds. As Allen busied himself with getting ready to leave, hurriedly rushing downstairs to say his goodbyes - and to find more food, in all likelihood - Lavi followed behind, lost in thought.

He felt relieved more than anything, though he wasn’t entirely sure whether it was because Allen hadn’t asked any more about the book he carried with him, or because Allen didn’t resent him for losing his temper.

Allen had all the reason in the world to be angry, and it was discomforting, in a way, how quickly Allen had accepted the situation as it was. But he had always been like that, he supposed; a dim memory of a day long since passed, shortly after they had returned from Noah’s Ark, came to mind. When there’s something you can’t understand no matter how much you think about it, you can’t let yourself just brood over it forever. It almost brought a smile to Lavi’s face, how Allen was still following that same mentality even now. It was a lie to hide behind, but a comforting one nonetheless, and he knew that better than most.

He shifted, feeling the corner of a book dig into his back through his bag, and winced.  It was a burden, something he wished he could forget about, bury in the ground and leave the earth to claim it. Though Allen had been scarily close to the mark, he hadn’t in fact written in his personal record for months, not since before that night. Endless empty pages, reminding him that he still had a duty to fulfil, no matter how much he wanted to pretend it didn’t exist; all he had done for months now was run away from everything that brought him pain, and he knew he couldn’t do it forever.

But it would do him no good to think about it, he knew, and as he left through the front door, dim morning sunshine warming his skin, he let out a deep sigh and pushed away his thoughts. Allen turned to face him, talking with a mouthful of bread, happiness showing clear as day on his face - food still did wonders for his mood, it seemed - and it brought a smile to Lavi’s face. He hoped that no matter what the days brought, Allen wouldn’t lose that positive streak he’d managed to keep alive all these years.

There were just some things neither of them could bear to face, not at that moment in time, and hiding behind a lie was all either of them could do, for now.

Chapter Text

The pale light of dawn became flecked with colour as the morning arose, rose pink and orange shades making the strengthening sunlight soft and hazy.

With a significantly heavier bag than when they had left, with the remnants of yesterday’s pie wrapped in cloth as well as a loaf of bread added to what they’d managed to steal the day before, Lavi and Allen set off down a dirt road between two fields of wheat, a weak autumn sun illuminating their way as the morning arose. A decent night’s rest had raised both their spirits, amiable conversation that had been all but lacking the last time Allen had been present giving some sense of normality to the day’s travels.

Of course, this normality was fleeting. After settling down at the side of a road to rest, finishing off the pie they had been given, the contented expression on Allen’s face suddenly shifted to one of disgust. Lavi watched, eyebrow raised, as his companion swallowed the mouthful of pie as if he’d been forced to eat dirt. Coming to the conclusion that either Neah had awoken, or Allen suddenly found something rather unpleasant in his food, Lavi made a judgment call and reached over to take the slice from the outstretched hand before him.

“Not a fan of baked goods?”

Neah shook his head, eyeing the pie in Lavi’s hand with a vehement expression. “How can you eat that shit? The texture’s disgusting.”

Lavi paused, shaking his head a little before wrapping up the remaining slices of pie and throwing an apple in Neah’s direction. The Noah caught it with his right hand, looking it over before taking a bite, evident relief showing in his expression.

Seeing Neah react in such a human manner was strangely comforting, giving a stark comparison to the impression Lavi had gained of him since he had first been informed about him. Neah was dangerous, harbouring a dark malevolence that left Lavi unable to feel at ease in his presence, but he was also a person beneath that and Lavi was slowly coming to learn who exactly ‘Neah Campbell’ was. He seemed similar to Road at times, showing a mischievous playfulness that bordered on sadism on occasion. He also reminded him of Tyki, with his complete disregard and persistent apathy towards certain situations.

Lavi also learned, rather quickly, that Neah could also be very, very annoying. Despite any comfort he’d gained from seeing this more human side to him, Lavi couldn’t help but feel irritated as Neah took the other four apples from the bag and ate them in quick succession, turning to stick out his tongue before resuming his eating. Allen could be a brat on occasion, particularly if someone had annoyed him - or if Kanda was standing two feet away from him - but Neah was far, far worse than his host. It was like dealing with a petulant stubborn child, so used to getting their own way that being told ‘no’ was equal to telling them to stop breathing.

Of course, Neah was far more dangerous than a spoiled little brat.

Toeing the line between avoiding physical injury at the hands of his companion, and keeping some level of control over him, was exhausting beyond belief. Whatever the good night’s rest had done for Lavi’s state of mind soon dissipated after Neah mentioned, yet again, the broken nose Lavi had inflicted upon him. The urge to give him a black eye or smack him into the nearest tree with his Innocence was sorely tempting, but Allen’s expression after Lavi had apologised - a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, a falsity that fooled no-one - stopped him from causing Neah any further injury.

Instead Lavi settled on ignoring him, focusing on keeping an eye out for enemies and walking as many miles as possible before stopping for the night. After hours of failed attempts to either make conversation or annoy his companion, Neah gave up and the two of them settled into a tense and uncomfortable silence as the day faded into evening.

By the time dusk grasped the world in its darkened claws, they found a place to shelter them from the cold grip of a cloudless autumn night, exhausted from a day of walking and ignoring each other’s presence. Already familiar with Lavi’s need to take first watch - whether it was out of habit or distrust, he didn’t care either way - Neah threw off his coat and positioned himself in the far corner of the damp stable that constituted their ‘shelter’. Lavi barely resisted the urge to comment on his companion’s grumpiness, the need to vent the frustration that had been gnawing away at him all day ever so slightly less than the need to sit down and rest. Shrugging off his bag and coat, he sat with his back against the wall, exhaling sharply before rubbing at his face with clumsy gestures.

Keeping up the cheerful act for Allen, both out of habit and worry for causing his friend even further stress, was almost less exhausting than the constant irritation that continued to build in Neah’s presence. He knew that the Noah was trying to get him to lose his temper, to give him any form of excuse to get rid of his pesky ‘companion’ and continue on his way without him as an added hindrance. Hurting him was out of the question, even if the desire to beat him black-and-blue was getting stronger by the day; he knew the look Allen gave him far too well - the resigned acceptance to being hurt by another, learned from those who used violence as their way of controlling others - and he refused to be the cause of it.

At least it would give him plenty of motivation to fight Akuma, or anyone else who decided to either take Allen and Neah with them or end their lives.

As that thought came to mind he felt his shoulders slump, eye fluttering shut, pure and utter weariness sinking its claws in deep. Both Neah and Allen’s questions - demanding why he was there, his reasons for helping them - came to the forefront, followed by a sickening uneasiness. How could he explain that he didn’t know? That coming across them was pure happenstance? That he had spent his days before finding them endlessly walking, purposeless and driven by the simple need to have a distraction, to ignore the whirling swarm of thoughts and emotions threatening to overwhelm him?

Was this what Bookman wanted? Was this what he wanted? He had no answers, only the persistent feeling that he could not abandon the two of them. A quiet voice in the back of his mind questioned whether he truly wished to aid Neah as well as Allen, and all he could do was internally shrug, unknowing of even his own intentions. He annoyed Lavi beyond belief; Neah was stubborn and childish and took every opportunity to make an annoyance of himself. Lavi knew that he was doing it intentionally - at least for the most part - as a way to either get him to leave or resort to violence, giving the perfect excuse to use ‘self-defence’ to rid himself of the Bookman apprentice in his presence. But this knowledge did little to ease the tension eating away at him, nor the burning need to get Neah to stop either through a fight or some other method.

But people were never what they seemed, hiding behind a mask or defence of some kind to protect the person underneath. Lavi knew that he and Allen had their respective masks, hiding behind fake smiles and a cheerful countenance to protect what lay beneath. And so he couldn’t help but wonder if, behind the paranoia and need to test those in his company, there was more to Neah than he had first thought.

His question was somewhat answered later that night as dawn came creeping upon the world with its gentle light. Still refusing to swap with Neah and allow himself to sleep - he doubted he would ever trust him enough to do so - Lavi went through his usual nightly routine; ignoring his thoughts, his memories, fingers tapping repetitively as he counted under his breath. As the room began to brighten he noticed an ache at the centre of each hand, building until he had to break his repetitive movement to rub at his palms.

Ever since he had gained his evolved Innocence the marks had refused to heal; a persistent semi-open wound, throbbing and aching ever presently as the days passed by. Lavi had become accustomed to it, able to ignore the pain for the most part, but sometimes - particularly when memories of that night strayed too close to the present - it was increasingly hard to ignore it.

He gave an audible hiss as his palms began to burn, fingers digging into skin to try and relieve the throbbing pain his Innocence was causing him. It took him a while to notice silver eyes peering back at him from the semi-darkness and he nearly flinched as surprise - and slight alarm - flooded through him. For a while Neah - or was it Allen? - said nothing, staring back at him with narrowed eyes. Lavi frowned, exhaustion evident in his expression, as the silence continued to stretch between him and his companion.

A quiet laugh, followed by words tinged with an emotion Lavi couldn’t name, broke the silence.

“It’s funny.”

Lavi tilted his head. “What is?”

“That for all the apparent faith you Exorcists have in your God, It still continues to hurt you.”

Lavi faltered before smiling, disbelief tinging his words as he replied.

“You think any of us believe in God? I’ve seen enough dying men to know It doesn’t exist.” Neah shot him a sceptical look and Lavi’s smile widened. He continued to speak as he raised his palms, stigmata facing the Noah before him. “This? It doesn’t prove God’s existence any more than you Noah do.”

Neah’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean by that?”

“Exactly what I meant by it, moron.” Neah growled and Lavi did little more than give a tired smile before lowering his hands, rubbing at his palms with a downward glance. “You guys are just as cursed as we are. We’re just being fucked over by different Gods.”

Silence befell them as Lavi became lost within memories of burning palms and bloodied battlefields. Neah watched his companion for a while, gaze fixed on the cross-like wounds on Lavi’s hands; they were the same ones he carried upon his forehead, like all his siblings, hidden from view until he fully awakened. He realised with some discomfort that despite the divide the Noah had established between themselves and the humans they fought against, they were not as different as they hoped to be.

We’re just being fucked over by different Gods. Lavi had no idea how true his words were, and Neah had to resist the urge to laugh, consumed by bitterness. Memories he wished to forget clutched at his heart - of days when that agonising ache upon his and his brother’s foreheads was too unbearable to handle, when they could do little more than run from their fate - and Neah found himself unable to discern any difference in the weary resignation on Lavi’s face from the one his brother had shown all those long years ago.

Neah looked away, hands clenched into fists, replacing all emotion felt with anger, with hatred; his Mana was gone and nostalgia would do little more than hinder him. He felt the desire to direct it at the person sat across from him, simply for reminding him of his brother in such a way, but the expression on Lavi’s face bothered him and so as his gaze met his own, Neah scowled. Lavi tilted his head, confused, but his companion refused to offer any explanation. Neah returned to his previous position on the floor, turning so his back was faced to his companion. With a shrug Lavi resumed staring off into the encroaching dawn with a distant expression.

And unbeknown to him, Neah’s mask fell, if by just a little, to allow him just one small moment to think, to feel and be human, to remember the brother he had lost.


The morning proper arose a few hours after dawn gripped the world in its grasp. Lavi felt exhausted, the urge to sleep chased away by both the threat of the Noah lying nearby, and the memories and thoughts that refused to leave him be. As the room brightened he considered trying to sleep if only for a few minutes, but a quiet shuffling and groaning noise deterred him from giving in to his tiredness.

Hoping Allen would be the one to awaken, if only so Lavi could sleep at some point that day, he felt both disappointment and frustration flood through him as it became clear that Neah was still present. The prospect of enduring another day of ignoring and resisting the urge to punch his companion left Lavi with little motivation to get up from his perch on the floor, though he knew he had little choice. The persistent ache in the palm of each hand, exacerbated by hours of being pressed against and rubbed at, only added to the irritation rising up within him.

He stood with a heavy sigh, rubbing at his face tiredly and regretting how it only furthered the pain he felt in his hands. Picking up his bag and leaving the dilapidated hut that had been their shelter for the night, Lavi stepped outside without a word, wincing as the bright light of the morning sun flooded his vision. Feeling a headache arise behind his temples, it took all of his restraint to resist voicing his irritation as a piercing screeching noise - caused by Neah shutting the hut’s door as he exited the building - further aggravated the throbbing in his head and hands.

Before Neah could consider speaking, Lavi inhaled and exhaled sharply before heading forward, uncaring if Neah followed him or not, knowing far too well that the only way the day would pass would be through some form of progress. He focused his thoughts on the path they were taking, the slow ambling route they were taking through France’s countryside that was, he hoped, keeping them from being discovered by their pursuers. They had made their way slowly towards Roanne, intending to reach Lons-le-Saunier before crossing the Franco-German border and using Iron Hammer to head further north. It had been slow going, the combination of fighting Akuma, and avoiding major cities for fear of being discovered by agents of the Order and Noah family, hindering whatever progress they could have made without these limitations. Lavi knew they could travel faster if they used his Innocence but he had been afraid to use it too often, both out of fear of making them an easy target for Akuma and being spotted by those wishing to capture the 14th.

Travelling on foot was safer for the meantime, even if it was slow and exhausting.

As the day pressed on Lavi almost didn’t notice how strangely quiet Neah had been. He hadn’t said a word since they’d left their nightly shelter, and Lavi was too tired to find out the reason why. Midday passed them by, clouds beginning to obscure the light of the sun as they settled down to eat. It was a miserable lunch, constituting semi-stale bread and apples close to going soft, but Neah’s usual complaints about their food resources were missing, instead eating a few apples with a slight grimace in silence. Again, both exhaustion and a steadily worsening headache drove all desire to ask his companion about his change in behaviour from Lavi’s mind.

Night befell the world, light diminishing as they made their way through open fields. An abandoned stable became their shelter for the night, devoid of any sign of its previous purpose apart from a few lone rusted horseshoes. Lavi settled against a wall opposite the door with a sigh, rubbing at his face tiredly. Neah appeared to consider speaking before he shook his head, deciding to say nothing as he made himself comfortable on the floor.

Silence settled itself upon them as the hours trickled by. Lavi dug his nails into various parts of his arms to keep himself awake, leaving indentations and broken skin in their place. As early morning hit he felt his eye begin to flutter shut, body so heavy he could scarcely move. Though fear and years of training usually kept him from succumbing, he couldn’t keep himself awake any longer, too exhausted to push his body any further. However, unbroken sleep was something he had not experienced in many long weeks, dark crawling things eager to cast his mind into painful memory.

Nightmares of blood pooling underneath him, the snapping of bones, the sound of his own muffled cries for help, threw him into wakefulness so often he felt no better for whatever rest he had managed to get.

It was only when the room began to brighten at dawn’s touch that Lavi noticed Neah had moved and was asleep beside him, propped awkwardly against the wall to his right. Too exhausted to question it Lavi rubbed at his face before getting up to walk around, trying to bring his tired limbs back into resigned activity. When Neah woke up an hour or so later he let his companion awaken properly before asking him why he’d moved to sleep beside him. Force of habit was the answer he was given after hours of bugging Neah for a reply, leaving him more confused than he had been beforehand.

Unbeknown to Lavi, as they walked in silence that day, memories of frightened sobs and cries for mercy - please don’t let it take me, Neah, please I’m begging you - left his companion on edge and consumed by bitterness.

Endless hours passed in a monotonous fashion, fields and patches of trees blurring into an infinite loop of greenery and farmland; a world devoid of any other living thing but the two of them. But, as the sun began to sink behind faraway hilltops, the whir of cogs and a sharp intake of breath from Neah signified approaching Akuma. Head and hands throbbing, limbs heavy from nightmare-ridden sleep, Lavi activated his Innocence with a pained hiss and hoped the fight would be easy.

It wasn’t.

A lone Level Four and three Level Threes were their main opponents, accompanied by a few Level Ones that lingered in the background. Lavi dealt with the Level Ones first with a Fire Seal, a snake of flames devouring them in an instant. The other Akuma had swiftly made their way towards Neah, eager to take the traitorous Noah back to his family; whether he was alive or dead when they brought him back was no concern of theirs. Increasing his hammer’s size Lavi knocked them out of the way, quickly summoning an Earth Seal to trap them in rocky fists. It didn’t take long for them to escape and the situation soon descended into a chaos of bullets and fire, clods of earth falling to the ground as hammer met both earth and machine. Two Level Threes were taken out by their own dark matter, an outstretched hand ensnaring the Akuma that dared to attack one of their masters, traitor or not. The last Level Three fell after colliding with Lavi’s hammer one too many times, leaving just the Level Four to deal with.

“Two on one is nothing, let’s end this quickly.”

Lavi regretted his words near-instantly as a quiet curse to his right and the thud of bullets hitting the ground signified more Akuma approaching. Gritting his teeth, wincing as the marks on the palm of each hand throbbed in time to the pain behind his temples, Lavi left the other Akuma to Neah and focused his attention on the Level Four before him. It grinned down at him, wings outstretched, eager to dispose of this human annoyance and claim the credit for bringing the 14th back to the Noah family; it would rather die at the hands of this Exorcist than return to that person empty-handed.

A single Level Four was a challenge but not a threat; at least that would’ve been the case if Lavi had slept properly in the past few days. His movements were sluggish, eye half-lidded as his exhaustion worsened with each attack. All it took was one wrong move for Lavi to be thrown backwards into a tree hard, winded and dazed as he fell to the ground. Wheezing, clutching at his chest, as his vision cleared he saw the Level Four make its way to Neah who had his back turned towards his opponent, distracted by what was ahead of him.

Panic gripped hold of Lavi and without thinking he brandished his Innocence and extended it forward, throwing himself between the Noah and the Level Four as it fired a bullet. He used all the momentum his sudden movement had given him to change its course, hands slashed open by the bullet’s path. It took a moment to register the second bullet that ripped through the side of his abdomen, to notice the black stars slowly appearing on his skin.

His vision and hearing dulled, the sounds of the battle and someone’s voice dimming in comparison to the violent thudding of his heart. Lavi knew he had mere seconds to save himself from crumbling into dust. But his Innocence reacted almost intuitively, twisting itself out of shape to enter the stigmata on each hand. His blood burned - a memory, of splitting palms and angered voices and a hand outstretched over his chest - and with a rush of feeling from the tips of his fingers to the core of his being he felt the virus spreading from his pierced abdomen diminish.

Slowly the world regained its focus, and as the sight of Neah destroying the Level Four came into view Lavi brought himself to his feet, shakily. Remnants of machines - what was once human, now consumed by tragedy - littered the ground, scorch marks from bullets and Innocence leaving black stains on what was once green and growing.

Silence befell the battlefield; a momentary peace. Lavi gripped at his side so tightly his knuckles were white from the strain, chest heaving, and he dimly noticed Neah walking towards him with an infuriated expression, speaking words he couldn’t hear.

Before he could react a fist met his face and all descended into darkness.

He awoke to the sound of wood crackling, the smell of smoke - tobacco and pipes and burning bodies - and a stinging pain in his abdomen and hands, as well as a throbbing ache around his jaw. Sitting up with a groan, Lavi gripped at his side with a wince before speaking, voice hoarse.

“Where…”

Silence; he was alone. Lavi knew that Neah - or was it Allen? - would not be far, since the fire appeared to have been recently rekindled, but where was he? Taking a moment to observe his surroundings - a wooded clearing, not far from nearby fields - Lavi sighed before moving closer to the fire, hands outstretched.

It was then that he noticed his hands were bandaged.

Lavi lowered his hands and looked down, touching the fabric with a frown. The marks his Innocence had left barely ached, at least in comparison to the burning cuts across his palms and the pain in his side - which was also bandaged, he noted. He paused before he felt both confusion and curiosity rise within him, thoughts on who exactly bandaged him up racing through his mind.

Approaching footsteps interrupted his thoughts, and as a cold apathetic glance - and was that a tinge of embarrassment too? - met his own, he felt his lips tilt into an incredulous smile. Before he could speak an apple was thrown at his head with enough force to crack it open slightly before it fell into his lap. Hissing with pain, clutching at his forehead, Lavi glared at his companion.

“What was that for?”

Neah did not reply, dropping apples into Lavi’s duffel bag before sitting with his back turned to him. It reminded Lavi of a petulant child unwilling to admit they had been caught red-handed, and he couldn’t help but laugh quietly to himself. Neah turned to face him with a scowl.

“What’re you laughing about?”

Lavi grinned. “Oh nothing, just wondering how long you’ve been pretending you hate my guts.”

Neah faltered before standing, silver eyes afire with anger, stepping forward to grip the front of Lavi’s shirt with a snarl.

“I’ve not been pretending to do anything, Bookman.”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “So why didn’t you leave me to die, or at least leave me behind so you can go take over the world or whatever it is you want to do?”

“I should be asking you the same fucking question!”

“Which question? Why I didn’t leave you to die or take over the world?”

Neah groaned before shaking Lavi slightly. “Not that you fucking idiot. Why did you do it?”

Lavi paused before giving an innocent smile. “Do what?”

“Don’t play dumb, so help me Bookman I’ll -”

“Oi.” Neah glared down at him and Lavi met his gaze with a firm expression. “If you mean taking a bullet for you, don’t let it get to your head. Doesn’t mean I’m suddenly gonna be kissin’ your ass or anythin’ now.”

Neah faltered, confusion entering his expression. Lavi blinked before shaking his head a little.

“Listen. Don’t get me wrong you’re a pain in my ass and this world would be a better place if you’d never risen from the grave.” Neah gritted his teeth, infuriated. “But I don’t exactly wanna let you get yourself killed since Allen kinda needs this body too. Akuma bullets are no big deal for him since he can use Crown Clown to purify the virus. But you probably can’t use it to purify yourself so dark matter’ll still fuck you up won’t it?”

Incredulous laughter bubbled up within Neah’s throat, thoughts clamouring in his mind - is this a trick, is this to manipulate me, why did he - gaze fixed on Lavi’s lone eye, trying to figure out if there was any ill intent within it. After a moment of silence he let go of Lavi’s shirt, turning away before whirling back to hit him. Before Lavi could speak he pointed in his direction, eyes narrowed.

“You’re scary!”

And, without another word, Neah turned and walked away, making himself comfortable by the fire with his back turned to his companion. Lavi took a moment before rubbing at the side of his face, voice quiet as he muttered under his breath.

“And I thought I was bad with this kind of thing.”

Neah hissed. “Shut up.”

Lavi shrugged and decided to say nothing more, falling to lie on his back and rub the bandages wrapped around his middle with a thoughtful gaze. Had he thrown himself in the way of the Akuma’s bullets to save Neah? Was it simply because he reacted on instinct, believing in the heat of battle that it was Allen he was fighting beside? He had quickly come to differentiate between them, picking up on the subtleties that told him who was in control of the body they shared. However, he still found himself slipping up on occasion, found himself seeing a familiar face and forgetting every now and then that it would never be ‘just Allen’ ever again. Perhaps he simply wanted to preserve the body that the two of them shared, perhaps he was not quite as used to Neah’s presence as he thought. But there was also the possibility that despite how irritating, exhausting and dangerous his newfound companion was, he could not so easily dismiss the idea that Neah was more than a necessary annoyance to him.

He was not a friend; no, such a thought was ludicrous. But he was also not an enemy either, nor someone that he felt nothing but apathy for. The Noah was interesting, in his own way. His past, his role in the war, his ties to the Bookman Clan and all that had happened before Lavi had been born; he wanted to know more about him and his motives, about the Third Side. But perhaps it was simpler than that. Perhaps it was simply the knowledge that Neah was human beyond all that mystery, beyond the mask and countenance he wore like armour. Neah was a complication; Lavi knew that. If it had just been Allen, running from Akuma and God knows what else, Lavi would have helped him. Would Lavi have helped Neah if it had just been him? Would he have helped someone using Allen’s body for his own means? Would it be out of the vain hope that his friend would return or would he have genuinely wished to help the 14th? He didn’t know.

It had been so easy before, to lump every human being he had ever met together into the same endless mass of hateful, destructive beings that disgusted him more than words could ever express. Counting corpses of men who died for reasons so petty he questioned why they willingly died for such a cause, listening to countless monarchs and politicians speak of conquest and riches and power as if everything was a game; he had long since made up his mind that humanity was not worth saving.

But since joining the Black Order his beliefs had changed ever so slowly, even beyond his own acknowledgment and understanding. Before he had even realised it, he had been casting aside the jaded Bookman apprentice and gaining something he thought he had lost; his humanity. And now it was nearly impossible to disregard those that he met, to feel no sympathy towards them and their plights. A boy caged by a destiny he had never agreed to, a man so exhausted by this endless war that he wanted nothing more than for it to end; neither Allen nor Neah were people he could ignore, people he could cast aside and walk away from.

They were both determined to stick to their chosen path, even if it spelled the destruction of either themselves or the people around them, and he could understand that much.

Lavi looked over at his companion, at silver hair and a tattered coat, at someone who may look like Allen but did not feel like Allen. The usual dark malevolence that Neah held was there, but Lavi was starting to see behind the mask. The question remained as to why Neah had not left him to die, had decided to not only bring Lavi’s unconscious body to safety but treat his wounds. He briefly imagined Neah stating it was so he would still have the upper hand, that Lavi now owed him despite Lavi having saved him from being riddled with bullets, and smiled to himself.

Either that or it was some form of debt to Bookman, which made the smile drop from Lavi’s features.

Lavi turned to face away from the fire, wide-eyed, refusing to get lost in a spiral of darkened thoughts. Praying to whichever gods would listen for dreamless sleep, Lavi closed his eye and breathed out heavily, using his training to calm his mind, soothe his thoughts. A vivid image formed in his mind of a darkened room and the smell of tobacco smoke, quiet words speaking of torture and duty and the protection of secrets; he shoved it away as quickly as it had arisen with a wince.

It was hard to gauge how long he had fought off his thoughts before managing to sleep, eventually too exhausted to spiral further into pained memory. Snapshots of moments from the past filtered into what would otherwise have been blissful nightmare-free rest, pulling Lavi back from sleep with a jolt before he could sink back into it once more.

While he attempted to rest Neah sat and stared into the darkness, too lost in thought to feel tempted to sleep himself. Lavi’s words had gotten under his skin, something akin to trust flickering in his expression, leaving Neah uncomfortable and paranoid. Whereas his usual response would be delight at having yet more leverage over his companion, he instead felt ill at ease with what had transpired over the past few hours.

Despite what Lavi seemed to think, he had not bandaged his wounds out of any sense of goodwill. Although he knew it was not enough for Lavi to die from it - even if it eventually became infected - the thought of having to deal with Lavi’s complaints, and the risk of being overwhelmed in their next encounter with Akuma, was the only reason he decided to bandage his companion’s wounds; he ignored the quiet voice in his head that questioned whether force of habit from back then had anything to do with it.

But that was not what was troubling him. He felt certain in his motives for doing what he had done, but Lavi taking a bullet for him was another thing entirely.

He knew enough about the Bookman Clan to know that their lives were always paramount over that of whom they were recording, so for a Bookman to put himself in harm’s way to protect him, of all people, left a bitter taste in Neah’s mouth. Mistrust crept in, thoughts of lies and deceit crawling their way to the forefront of his mind until his fingers were twitching, the urge to rid himself of his companion growing with each passing second.

He knew, rationally, that Lavi was in all likelihood either telling the truth about protecting the body Neah shared with his host, or his care for Allen had overridden any sense of duty towards Bookman Code. It was obvious that Lavi was a failure of an apprentice; Neah knew this. It was hardly surprising that he would succumb to such things as emotion and instinct over rationale and duty, especially in the heat of battle. But it had surprised him regardless, especially since Bookman had - as far as he knew - kept this boy as his apprentice despite his failure to abide by the code they lived by. Had Bookman really ordered Lavi to find him? Why did he put his trust in his apprentice to do what he had asked if he was so easily swayed by emotion?

The thought that there was a chance Lavi hadn’t really been ordered by Bookman grew stronger by the minute, and he would not give him the time to reveal his reasons why.

Neah stood and took a step, footfalls light against the leaf-ridden ground beneath him, silver eyes wide and focused intently on red hair, shoulders rising and falling slowly, the flicker of shadows upon his back. Hands reached forward, fingers grasping at the fabric around Lavi’s throat. If anyone had been around to see it, the expression he wore upon his face at that moment - unbridled murderous intent and wide eyes - would have caused any who knew Allen to feel horrified. Neah prepared to increase the strength of his grip, eager to cut off Lavi’s air supply and leave him half-asleep and gasping for breath, but he found himself unable to do so.

The memory of black stars appearing on skin, the knowledge that his plans would have gone completely awry if not for that simple act of being protected, the frustration - and fear - of his host’s body destroying him, left him frozen in place. He felt a glimmer of a presence, the quietest of words, urging him not to hurt the person lying unaware beneath him, as well as a feeling he did not want; guilt. He tried to tighten his grip on Lavi’s throat, paranoia and distrust briefly overriding every other thing he felt, but a rising feeling of discomfort built inside of him until he had to pull away, disgusted with himself. With a muttered curse he walked away, hands clenched into fists, before sitting and burying his head in his hands.

None of this was meant to have happened. He was meant to have taken over his host long before now, to have had Cross guide and protect him through his awakening until he was able to fulfil his goal of finding and eradicating the Mana that was not his. To be stuck in a body that was refusing to accept him, to have spent so much time alone and unable to properly defend himself, to be forced to rely on others to assist him when he could not trust anyone but himself and a man that had dropped off the face of the Earth; it was almost too much to bear.

But he knew he had no choice but to keep Lavi around until he fully awakened. He could not trust him, not until he knew the truth about his reasons for being there, and he knew he would have to be extremely wary of him in the meantime, but his chances of accomplishing what he needed would only get slimmer if he went back to being alone.

Eventually he would know how Lavi had found him on that stormy night. Eventually he would know his reasons for being there. All it would take was a matter of time and patience.

Chapter Text

Dawn cast its presence upon the world, daylight filtering through leaves and casting a speckled array of light and shadow upon the ground.

Awoken by the world brightening around him, Lavi stirred into wakefulness with a groan. He had barely managed to get more than a few hours of broken sleep, disturbed by memory and a feeling of fear at one point while he slept, but it was better than nothing. His whole body ached from his jaw to his forehead, the burning sensation of his injuries on his hands and abdomen only adding to the discomfort he felt. The prospect of having to get up, never mind walk endless miles until it was safe to take shelter for the night, caused Lavi to groan and bury his head in his hands. He wanted nothing more than to sleep, though he knew with bitter disappointment that the kind of sleep he needed was near-permanently out of reach.

Partly out of sudden paranoia, partly to procrastinate sitting up, Lavi turned his head to see if Neah had remained at his spot by the fire. He noticed with a mixture of both amusement and irritation that his companion had fallen asleep, mostly obscured by the tattered coat he was using as a makeshift blanket. Finally motivated to move, Lavi forced himself to sit up, teeth gritted as a sharp pain shot through his side. With a wince he got to his feet and stumbled forwards, taking a moment to find a pointed stick from the ground and poke the person at his feet with it.

“Oi.” No response. Lavi scowled and poked harder. “Oi.”

A quiet groan filtered through the bundle of fabric and messy hair, hands reaching for the coat with clumsy gestures before a bleary silver-eyed gaze met Lavi’s own.

What?

The sharp tone and seething glare thrown his way confirmed that Neah was still present. Lavi sighed, making no attempt to hide his disappointment, before prodding his companion’s forehead.

“Do you know what keeping watch even means dumbass? What if we’d been attacked?”

Neah reached forward and snapped the stick with an expression that made Lavi take a few steps backwards - breaking bones, blood pooling beneath him - gripped by a sickening and intense feeling of panic.

“Be glad I didn’t leave you for dead you piece of shit. Now back the fuck off.”

Lavi faltered, forcing himself to ignore the memories that had just passed before his vision, hands trembling, before sighing, irritation showing in his expression. The urge to complain about Neah using what had happened the day before as a way of having the upper hand completely dissipated as he realised just how angry the Noah before him actually was. Knowing that he would have to tread extremely carefully to avoid being mortally injured, Lavi turned away to pull on his coat with awkward movements and prepare to leave, making sure the campfire had definitely died out before grabbing his bag. Neah appeared to make no indication of attempting to leave, but before Lavi could point it out he was nearly left behind as his companion trudged off with a fast pace deeper into the trees, fists clenched and shoulders hunched.

Walking in tense silence became commonplace as day passed into night, Neah infuriated with both himself and his companion, Lavi too injured and exhausted to do anything more than walk and keep heading forwards. Gripped by distrust, a strange kind of standoff resulted when they found shelter for the night, neither wishing to lie down and sleep while the other watched over them. Eventually Lavi caved in, more due to his injuries than anything else, and it did little to ease the building anger inside of Neah that Lavi seemed to trust him enough to forsake his usual habit of taking first watch. After hours of being trapped by his own thoughts, Neah was less than forgiving when he awoke Lavi a few hours after midnight, kicking him into wakefulness before lying down on the opposite side of the room, Lavi’s irritated remarks falling upon deaf ears.

As dawn arose, the structure of the day before repeated itself - walking in silence, discomfort and resigned acceptance towards each other’s presence filtering into every interaction - until both Neah and Lavi wished for anything to break the dreary cycle they’d become stuck within. As day passed into night once more and the need for shelter arose, the discovery of an abandoned house - the first they’d seen for miles - gave them something to focus on.

Lavi explored the garden outside before entering through a broken kitchen door, nosing through cupboards with disappointment at the lack of food. The rest of the ground floor was just as desolate and empty, but it would at least provide them some shelter for the night. A sudden cry of delight emanated from below - the cellar which Neah had gone to check - and with building confusion Lavi headed down the dilapidated stairs into semi-darkness, silver hair and the dim glow of a candle coming into view.

“You, uh, alright over there?”

For a moment Neah did not reply but, with an expression so at odds with the anger Lavi had become accustomed to that it was hard not to laugh, he eventually turned to reveal a box full of bottles in a variety of colours and sizes. Stepping forward, curiosity mounting, Lavi swiftly understood his companion’s delight as he realised it was a box full of alcohol. Spirits, beer, wine; it was a treasure trove, to those who enjoyed such things. Lavi enjoyed drinking on occasion, though after a few slip-ups with both pretty barmaids and pretty barmen he stopped allowing himself the chance to do so, and it was clear Neah was pleased with his find, carefully taking out bottles and placing them on the floor with an appreciative hum.

Eventually he appeared to have separated the contents of the box into two groups, and Lavi knew one of the piles of alcohol likely consisted of things Neah did not want to drink, which meant he would not have to deal with him sober. Delighted by the prospect, Lavi crouched down and eyed the two evident piles with a contemplative gaze before turning to Neah with a grin.

“So let me guess you’re a… wine kind of guy?”

Neah turned to him with a raised eyebrow.

“Why do you say that like it’s an insult?” Lavi laughed in reply and Neah scowled at him before taking off his coat and folding it up before placing bottles from one pile onto it. “And the answer’s no, wine’s for posh bastards like Marian.”

Lavi shrugged before picking up the bottles from the other pile, pleased that he’d been left with what seemed to be mostly wine and whisky.

“Me, I prefer spirits more than anythin’. Wouldn’t usually go for…” he paused before reading the label on one bottle with a snort “… an 1820 rosé called Working Girl Belle, but I don’t really care.”

Neah stood and shot him a look before making his way upstairs. Lavi soon caught up with him, but before he could attempt to head in the same direction as his companion he was met with a vehement expression.

“Go drink alone, I don’t wanna put up with you sober, never mind drunk.”

Lavi pulled a face. “But drinkin’ alone is boring, don’t be such an asshole. Plus I’ll have you know I’m a delightful drunk.”

“I don’t care how delightful you think you are Bookma- hey where do you think you’re going?”

Lavi walked past Neah, ignoring him as the depressing image of drinking alone came to mind. Refusing to ruin his night - and reasonably good mood - with such a thought he made himself at home on the kitchen floor, back resting against the wall. Neah appeared to consider going elsewhere before sighing and settling down across the room, tucked between two wooden counters.

Taking a moment to filter through the bottles he’d taken with him, Lavi almost didn’t notice that Neah had started chugging down a bottle as if his life depended on it. After he gave an audible sigh that seemed to be both out of relief and a need to breathe, Lavi shot him a look.

“I shouldn’t be surprised that you use alcohol to cope, but still, maybe slow it down over there?”

Neah glared at him before throwing the bottle in his direction. It smashed a few feet away from Lavi, much to his relief, and Lavi simply shrugged before picking a whisky to start with. Deciding to enjoy his drink slowly he took a small swig, eye fluttering closed as comforting warmth spread through his chest. He breathed out slowly, lips pulling up into a smile.

“Man, I needed this right now.”

Neah, who had already started on his second bottle, gave a hum of agreement. He downed the rest of its contents, uncaring of what it even was, hell-bent on getting rid of months of persistent frustration and anger. As he placed the now-empty bottle down beside him, and took several minutes to appreciate the warmth spreading through him, he gave a surprised noise as the room started to swim uncomfortably.

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “You okay over there?”

Neah blinked before squinting over at his companion, stumbling over his words. “Wh-what’s this stupid kid’s tolerance of alcohol?”

Lavi paused before giving him a huge grin. “He doesn’t drink. Says it reminds him too much of Cross. Also because he’s a lethal drunk, apparently.”

Neah buried his head in his hands with an audible whine, speaking as if to himself alone. “I haven’t got drunk since before I died, can’t I just enjoy this without this bullshit happening?”

Lavi chuckled before taking another gulp of his drink, amused by his companion’s pain. “So you’re a whiny drunk, gotcha.”

Neah looked up and pointed a finger at a spot a feet or so away from Lavi, speech slurred. “Shut up! I wouldn’t need to do this if you hadn’t been such a fucking pain in my ass.”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “I’m a pain in your ass? Surely both you and Allen have the same ass?”

Neah groaned, head falling back to hit the wall behind him. “Shut up.”

They lapsed into silence, Lavi slowly getting through his bottle with a contented expression, Neah looking down at his feet with an expression of resound disappointment. It was a strange atmosphere, the one that had descended upon them; they had both been so at odds with each other since they had first met, particularly since Lavi had saved Neah only days prior, and yet they were able to sit in relatively peaceful silence, content enough with each other’s company to do so.

Lavi was not fond of Neah, but he’d had far worse drinking partners during his years of travelling with Bookman, and he knew that Neah was just as fed up as he was with the situation they were in. After finishing his bottle of whisky and cracking open another bottle he moved closer towards Neah with quiet shuffling noises. When his companion appeared not to react to his presence he extended his leg forward and poked the other with his foot, earning a slightly dazed glare thrown his way.

“What?”

“You look miserable, and I have the answer to that problem.” Neah raised a questioning eyebrow and Lavi simply grinned and shook his second bottle of whisky in response before speaking. “Shots solve all problems.”

Neah paused before shrugging, reaching for the bottle and taking a swig with a resigned expression. He pulled a face when he gave the bottle back, and Lavi couldn’t help but laugh.

“Hey, it’s better than that horse piss you’re drinkin’.”

Neah huffed. “I don’t care. If beer does its job then it’s fine in my books.”

Silence befell them, and as the minutes passed they wordlessly passed the bottle between them. Lavi could hold his liquor well, though getting through most of two bottles of whisky was bringing him close to his limit, but Neah was in a state that Allen would never forgive him for; with his cheeks flushed and his eyes half-lidded he seemed so different compared to his usual demeanour.

Neah had not let his guard down despite that, Lavi knew, but it seemed like a good opportunity to try and figure out more about his companion and, hopefully, find a way to make travelling with him more bearable.

“So…” Lavi’s voice was quiet, but Neah seemed to hear him regardless, silver eyes hazily focusing on him. “What’s the thing you miss most about your old life?”

Neah raised an eyebrow.  “You think just cause I’m drunk I’m gonna play 20 questions with you?”

Lavi gave a winning smile. “It’s worth a shot isn’t it?”

“Why do you even care?”

“I’m tispy and bored, it’s better than sittin’ here in silence isn’t it?”

Neah took a moment to mull it over before sighing, reaching for a nearby bottle and opening it before speaking.

“Being able to handle more than a few bottles of beer, definitely.” Lavi snorted and received a foot in his stomach in reply. “And having better company than your annoying ass.”

Lavi paused to wheeze for breath. “Oh? There were people who actually wanted to put up with you?”

Neah kicked him again with a scowl. “Oi.”

Lavi coughed and held his stomach before speaking. “So, who were they then?”

Resounding silence as Neah shot Lavi a pointed look. “I’m not nearly drunk enough for that, Bookman.”

Lavi gave a huff before reaching for a bottle of wine and attempting to open it. Glaring down at the cork stopper, he tried to pull it out with his teeth and failed. After a few minutes of having to watch Lavi practically eat the stopper, Neah made a noise of discontent and snatched the bottle from him.

“Oi that’s mine, plus you said you don’t like wine any… way...”

Lavi faltered when he saw Neah use the nails on his left hand to pull the stopper out. Neah handed the bottle back to him and scowled when he noticed Lavi’s confused expression.

“What are you looking at?”

“Nothin’ really. Just didn’t know you were okay even using that thing.”

When Neah realised Lavi was referring to the Innocence that made up his left arm he pulled a disgusted expression.

“I wish I didn’t have to be, but winners can’t be choosers.”

Lavi snorted. “It’s beggars can’t be choosers, dumbass. Plus, I wouldn’t call Mr. I Came Back From The Dead Only To Be Trapped With A Stubborn Sixteen Year Old a winner anyway.”

“Do you want me to kick you again?” Lavi shook his head and Neah gave a satisfied smile before resting his head against a counter and huffing. “I don’t get why he’s so fucking attached to it anyway. You’d think he’d hate the damn thing.”

Lavi took a moment to think it over before smiling gently. “I think it’s more that the ‘sprout needs it to do what he really wants to do, ya know? If it’ll help him with that he’ll do whatever’s needed.”

“And what’s that?”

“Hm?”

“What does he need this thing for?”

“To keep his promise to Mana, duh.” Neah froze, eyes widening. Lavi appeared not to notice, taking a deep gulp from his bottle before sighing and continuing. “He’s determined to save as many Akuma as he can to make up for turnin’ Mana into one. It’s kinda sad really.”

“And what did he promise him?”

Neah’s voice had gone awfully quiet, laced with a serious undertone that sobered Lavi up slightly. He sat up straighter, watching Neah with a careful gaze before speaking.

Don’t stop, keep walking. Or somethin’ like that. That’s the promise he made, and he’ll do whatever he can to keep it.”

Neah didn’t react for a long time, eyes wide, lost in memory. His own words, his own promise to Mana all those long years ago, passed on to the person who became his host, the person who was resisting him with every ounce of strength he had; the irony of it all made him laugh. After being shot a quizzical look, Neah spoke, almost more to himself than anyone else.

“What a fucked up cycle of bullshit the three of us ended up in, huh.”

Lavi tilted his head, confused. “Huh?”

Neah refused to speak, downing the rest of his bottle before resting his head against the wall behind him, eyes closed. Knowing he was no longer going to get any answers from him, Lavi resigned himself to drinking in silence. Minutes trickled by, feeling more like arduous hours, the endless quiet broken only by the sound of breathing, the occasional clink of glass. Eventually it became too much to bear and Lavi let out a frustrated whine, placing his now-empty bottle on the floor with more force than was needed.

“Now I jus’ feel depressed. Why did we decide to do this again?”

Neah sighed, giving a mumbled reply. “Because we both hate being stuck here with each other?”

Lavi paused before shrugging. “I guess. If you let go of the whole paranoid asshole act, I think we’d get along jus’ fine ya know.”

Neah tiredly extended his leg out to kick Lavi and missed, eyes still closed, expression set into one of drunken exhaustion.

“And if you just let me take over this stupid brat and leave I’d at least feel less like I wanna kill you.”

“Hey, don’t blame me for Allen gettin’ in your way. It’s not my fault.”

“It probably is. Your stupid presence is probably giving him hope or some bullshit like that.”

Lavi snorted. “Nah, Allen’s got that hope thing covered just fine on his own. Plus -” he paused to half-heartedly kick Neah’s side “- I found you covered in mud, half-starving, and too exhausted to do anythin’. You didn’t and still don’t have your shit together.”

Neah attempted to kick him in reply. “Shut up.”

“Not gonna.”

“Fuck you.”

Lavi huffed. “You should be grateful I didn’t leave ya there to die, you little shit.”

“And you should be grateful I haven’t killed you yet for lying about why you’re here.”

Lavi fell silent, uncomfortable under the sudden serious gaze of his companion. He reached for another bottle and downed half of its contents, trying to ignore the unanswered question he was inadvertently given. Neah leant forward and smiled, speaking in a mocking tone.

“I shouldn’t be surprised that you use alcohol to cope but -”

Lavi kicked him before he could finish with a scowl. “You’re a fuckin’ asshole, ya know that?”

Neah gave a winning smile in reply and Lavi made a noise of disgust, downing the rest of his bottle before casting it aside. He buried his head in his hands with a heavy sigh.

“I can’t tell if I’m too drunk or not drunk enough to deal with this righ’ now.”

Neah scowled over at him. “How am I meant to know?”

Lavi whined. “Shut up. Just shut up, okay? I don’ know why you’re here either, so we’re even.”

“I haven’t lied about why I’m here. I just haven’t told you.” Lavi gave Neah an incredulous look and all he did was smile over at him. “Plus, what’s the worst thing that’ll happen if I betray you? That old man will be pissed at me?”

Lavi’s expression darkened as he muttered something almost too quiet to hear.

“Who fuckin’ knows, I sure don’t.”

Neah paused before leaning forward with a pleased grin. “Wow, you really have problems with him don’t you?”

Lavi froze and for a brief moment Neah wondered if he was going to hurt him, but instead he was faced with a mocking smile and cold spiteful anger.

“And you have big brother issues, so unless you want me to start mentioning Mana every five fucking seconds, why don’t you shut up.”

It took a moment for Neah to register what had been said, and all Lavi did was drink from his bottle with his eye fixed on Neah’s own, gaze full of spite. It was as if he’d become a different person, if but for a moment, and it made Neah feel uncomfortable for reasons he couldn’t name. The urge to cause severe injury to his companion was mounting with each second, but he knew that it would only be returned to him. The thought of getting into a fight with Lavi was pleasing on the one hand, on the other hand he wanted nothing more than to sleep.

Instead, Neah gritted his teeth and looked away.

“Touché.”

Silence befell them, and as the minutes passed them by, the initial relief and comfort the alcohol had given them was replaced with anger and a discomforting feeling that sat at the bottom of their stomachs. Lavi realised, rather bitterly, that the main reason he disliked Neah’s company was his insistent need to piss him off. He was playful and annoying and aggressive, but he could handle that as long as it wasn’t being directed at him 24/7 for the pure purpose of getting him to lose his self-control. Whether it was due to paranoia and an extreme lack of trust, or some other hidden reason, Lavi still couldn’t understand why Neah so resolutely wanted to shun the help he was being offered.

Though how much of his resentment was from his need to have some sense of purpose, Lavi didn’t know, and didn’t want to know.

A part of him felt alarmed at the thought that his main reasons for disliking his companion had so little to do with the fact that he was sharing Allen’s body, that Allen might disappear because of him. A deep pervasive guilt wormed its way into the forefront of his mind until he felt sickened by it, but he knew, even if it was just a vain attempt at reassuring himself, that he was more used to the life Allen and Neah were leading than most.

The sudden idea to tell the both of them this fact arose within him, as well as the realisation that perhaps most of Neah’s actions were fuelled by frustration more than anything else, spurring him on to turn to his companion and speak as soberly as he could manage.

“Ya know, I get why you feel so shit about things right now. If you stop pissin’ me off so much I could probably…”

He faltered as he looked over and saw that Neah had fallen asleep, head propped at an awkward angle between the wall and a nearby counter. Sighing heavily, Lavi leant his head back against the wall behind him and scowled up at the ceiling. Maybe, in the morning, he could figure out a way to make things easier not just for himself but for the two people beside him, even if one of them perhaps didn’t entirely deserve his help.

Even if it was just to give him a distraction and futile purpose more than anything else.


Allen noticed two things when he awoke to timid morning sunlight. One, his head had obviously been cracked open several times considering how much it hurt. Two, he was going to violently throw up. Groaning, he pushed himself upright using the counter beside him and managed to crawl forward towards a nearby corner before emptying the contents of his stomach.

After it was over and the near-painful nausea dissipated, Allen blearily cast his gaze around the room, disorientated and confused. He was in a kitchen with a number of empty bottles piled haphazardly on the floor, surrounded by shards of glass from bottles that had been broken. A boot poking through a mess of empty bottles was the only indication Allen had of having company, and when he felt able to walk he propped himself up using the wall in front of him, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand before stumbling forwards.

Lavi was tucked away in an awkward position between a counter and the far corner of the wall, bandanna covering his eyes, mouth hanging open. If Allen was in any state to have memorised such a sight to use as blackmail he would have done, but the pounding headache drove all thoughts but one from his head.

He was going to kill Lavi for putting him in this mess.

Without any shred of hesitation Allen brought his fist down hard on the top of Lavi’s head, expression set into one of pained irritation. A sharp hiss of breath then a loud groan of pain escaped the person sat before him, and with clumsy gestures Lavi pulled up the bandanna obscuring his vision and squinted up at Allen.

“… No.”

Lavi turned to face the counter with a whimper, head pounding and stomach swirling uncomfortably. Feeling no sympathy, Allen brought his fist down again with a scowl.

“Don’t you ‘no’ me. Why do I feel like you’ve smashed my head in with your hammer?” He paused to look over the bottles before turning back to Lavi with anger tinging his words. “Did you drink all of these yourself?”

Lavi gave a shaky smile. “If I could handle that much alcohol I’d win prizes, beansprout.”

My name is Allen.”

“Okay, okay, just stop yellin’ at me. Fuck my head hurts…”

Allen scowled and flicked Lavi’s forehead. “So does mine, and I want you to explain why that is before I -”

“Me and Neah sorta got drunk. Maybe a little bit.” Allen raised an eyebrow and Lavi gave an uneasy laugh. “M-maybe a lot.”

Anger rising, Allen didn’t know whether he was more angry at Lavi for letting Neah do such a thing, or Neah for doing such a thing to his body. But a sudden thought came to mind, one that replaced all anger he felt with sickening unease, and before he could say anything he stumbled back over to the other side of the room to vomit again.

When it was over he couldn’t move, head resting against the wall in front of him, eyes wide. His hands and legs shook from far more than just nausea and lack of food, and before Lavi could speak, he stumbled back over to where he’d awoken, picking up his coat and leaving the room with unsteady footsteps.

“Oi, Allen, where are you…?”

The sound of a door slamming shut made Lavi wince, head throbbing from the sudden noise. Although his stomach was as unsettled as Allen’s was he knew he could avoid having to throw up, at least for the time being, and when he felt able to stand he pushed himself up, clasping his head with one hand and grabbing hold of his duffel bag with the other before following Allen outside.

For a moment he couldn’t find him, panic flooding through him until he questioned whether he could avoid being sick after all, but eventually he saw a figure crouched a few metres away, head in hands, shoulders rising and falling far too quickly for normal breathing. Alarmed, Lavi hurried forwards as quickly as he felt able to before crouching down beside Allen and placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, are you okay?”

Allen said nothing, eyes wide and unfocused as he tried to stop hyperventilating. It took a few minutes for his body to listen to him, and when he felt able to breathe normally, he inhaled then exhaled deeply and slowly, eyes fluttering closed. Lavi stood by his side, completely at a loss at what to do, unsure about why his friend was panicking. Arduous minutes passed, and just before Lavi tried to speak Allen pushed himself up and turned to him with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“Don’t worry, I’m fine. It’s not a nice way to wake up, I’m sure you understand.”

His words did little to hide what lay beneath; Allen was lying to him, badly. Lavi paused, meeting Allen’s gaze with confusion, before sighing and looking away.

“Sorry ‘bout that. If you’re okay enough to walk, we shouldn’t stay here.”

“Agreed. I should be fine, so let’s head off.”

Allen turned and started walking immediately, and Lavi could do little else but follow after him with a frown, filled with concern and confusion. It was slow going, and Allen had to stop a number of times to retch by the roadside before he felt able to continue. When they happened across a stream they stopped to drink in silence, and when Lavi topped up two flasks from his bag he was nearly left behind as Allen walked off without a word.

He tried many times to talk to his companion, but Allen wouldn’t respond. When he gently touched his shoulder to get his attention at one point, Allen flinched and turned to him, wide-eyed and panicked, before nodding and continuing to walk. He seemed to walk in a daze, putting one foot before the other on auto-pilot, unresponsive to nearly everything around him, and Lavi had no idea how to help him.

Lavi’s concern only worsened as the day passed over into night. Both he and Allen felt too shaky and exhausted to continue, stopping for the night long before they would usually have stopped to rest. They had also run out of food supplies, and it soon became clear they would be going to bed hungry. After finding a small alcove of trees to take shelter within, Lavi set up a campfire as Allen stood and stared out of the trees as the world darkened around them. After he was done he looked over at Allen with a frown before standing and walking over to him.

“You should stay by the fire, it’s gonna be cold tonight.”

No response. Lavi sighed and raised his hand to place it upon Allen’s shoulder, but before he could react he was pushed backwards onto the ground.

“Woah, hey what’s -”

Allen was shaking, shoulders heaving, hands clenched tightly into fists. Lavi looked up at him, worry gripping its claws in deep. He tried to speak, but Allen cut him off with a shake of his head and a pained expression. Lavi took a moment to breathe in and out slowly before pushing himself up. Allen took a step backwards and it hurt.

“Allen, you’re not making any sense. What’s going on?”

No response. Lavi gave a frustrated sigh before taking a cautious step forward, wincing as Allen took a step back. They stood like this for many long minutes, the sound of crackling wood the only thing to break the heavy silence that had descended upon them. Eventually, with a voice so quiet Lavi could scarcely hear him, Allen spoke.

“I just need some time alone. I can’t, I can’t talk about this. I’m sorry.”

Lavi paused before sighing and giving a shrug in response before turning back to the fire and sitting down beside it. He watched as Allen walked outside of the alcove of trees, briefly considering warning him about being careful before cursing and saying nothing.

Allen didn’t stop walking until the campfire was but a tiny glow in the distance, the only visible light amongst the darkness. He sat down and leant against a fence post behind him, eyes fixed hazily on the clear night sky above his head. It all felt so unreal to him, so far away from his grasp; reality was slipping through his fingertips and it terrified him. His thoughts strayed back to that morning and his chest became tight, a lump forming in his throat. A part of him felt as if he was overreacting, as if he was making assumptions about what had happened. But he couldn’t let go of the thought that Lavi would be fine if he stopped existing, that Lavi was growing to prefer Neah’s company, that Allen was truly nothing more than a thing to watch and record until it wasn’t required anymore, that he was going to keep slipping further and further into darkness until it was too late.

He felt himself descend into quiet sobs, months of fear and exhaustion escaping from the deep, deep hole he’d buried it in. He felt empty and numb, as if his body was no longer his own; he was losing his grip and it was more terrifying than anything he had ever felt in his entire life. The stars blurred as tears obscured his vision, and as he bowed his head and gripped hold of the grass beneath him with his fingertips he didn’t know how much longer he could keep going.

His future had always been uncertain, and he had accepted long ago that his life ultimately meant nothing. His promise to Mana had kept him going, had urged him away from the dark, consuming thoughts of giving up when things were too much to bear. He had forced himself to continuously pick himself up from the ground, over and over again, no matter how many times he fell and wished to end it all. Now should be no different, but the thing that had kept him going - that glorious promise, the memory of the man who had loved him when everyone else had shunned and hated him - was so far away, so distant. Ever since Cross had told him the truth about Mana and the 14th, he had been unable to get rid of the idea that Mana had loved Neah all this time and not him. His entire existence, his entire reason to keep going, was firmly rooted in Mana’s love for him, and the doubt that had been eating away at him ever since he began questioning it was all but consuming him.

He was disappearing, just like Neah wanted.

As this thought came to mind, he felt his body slowly become still and calm, and a burning anger arose within his heart; it was the anger of his childhood, when he had been bitter and alone and hated the world and everyone who lived in it. When Mana had taken him in that anger had faded over time, or at the very least it had retreated into a dark corner of his heart. After Mana died, that anger came back every now and then, but Cross had taught him to let it go, to not fight Akuma with hate. And so he had done exactly that, and the anger simply buried itself deeper inside of him until he could scarcely feel its presence. But now he could feel it strongly, heart gripped tightly by resentment.

If he was doomed to disappear then so be it, but he wasn’t going to let Neah take his body without fighting tooth-and-nail for it.

Allen stood, hands clenched tightly into fists, silver eyes afire with both anger and determination. His promise to Mana was no longer enough to keep him going, his promise to himself that he would fight for both Akuma and human beings was pointless without his Innocence to aid him. And though he was terrified of the dark writhing thing inside of him that was fuelling the anger he was feeling he knew he needed something, anything to keep him grounded in reality, to keep him firmly rooted in who he was, in being ‘Allen’.

It would have to be enough.

He looked back over at the tiny orange glow in the distance, to where Lavi was undoubtedly sat waiting for him to return. He knew he needed to go back but he felt gripped by sudden hesitation. The promise he had made to himself when Lavi arrived, that he would leave as soon as he could to protect his friend from being hurt - from both Neah and himself - came to the forefront of his thoughts, leaving him conflicted and anxious. He took a step away from the campfire, knowing that Lavi would not find him for many days, if at all, if he left now. He could finally go on to do… what? He had no purpose but to keep running from his fate, to keep trying to protect those he loved from himself and the Noah eager to erase him. But he could not so easily reassure himself that Lavi would be safe if he left - he was still having nightmares for reasons he refused to share, he was so fragile compared to how he’d been before - nor that Lavi would so easily let him go off on his own, especially now that he knew just how badly he needed the help. Allen froze, forced into an inward tug-of-war between what he needed and what he assumed others needed. For many long minutes he stood there, filled with indecision, unable to either abandon the help he had found or so carelessly accept it regardless of the dangers of doing so.

In the end, what he perceived as selfishness won; he would stay with Lavi, for now.

Eventually, after taking a moment to simply stand and breathe and calm himself down, Allen made his way back to the alcove of trees that constituted his and Lavi’s shelter for the night, preparing himself to apologise to his friend and hopefully avoid having to talk about why he had behaved the way he did. When the crackle of burning wood and a warm ember glow spread over him, and the sight of Lavi sat half-heartedly poking the fire with a stick came into view, Allen gave a quiet noise to signify he was back. Lavi looked up sharply, standing up with quick but clumsy gestures once his gaze met Allen’s own.

For a few moments they stood there like this, eyes meeting, trying to gauge how the other felt without putting it into words, unsure how to ask. Allen was the first to break away and turn his gaze towards the ground with a conflicted expression, hands clenched into fists. Eventually, with a quiet sigh, Lavi stood and walked towards him. He moved slowly and carefully, making sure Allen was comfortable, before stopping close by him and bringing a fist down onto his head with little strength to even warrant it hurting.

“If you need space just tell me next time, ‘kay?”

There was evident concern in Lavi’s words, and it conflicted with the doubts that still wandered in-and-out of Allen’s thoughts. He paused, eyes widening, before giving a small smile.

“I’ll try. I’m -”

Lavi brought his fist down again, shaking his head. “Don’t apologise.” He paused before continuing softly. “You should get some sleep, beansprout.”

“It’s Allen.”

Lavi laughed. “Okay, okay. You should get some sleep, Allen.”

Allen gave a quiet laugh in reply, and it eased the tension that had been eating away at the both of them since the day had begun. Lavi ruffled his hair gently before walking away to sit by the campfire once more, and for a brief moment, Allen stared over at his friend, emotion flickering in his eyes, before heading to a spot near the campfire to lie down and attempt to sleep.

One day, if he had the heart to tell him, he’d talk about his fears. But, for now, it would have to remain hidden until he felt ready to let it go.

Chapter Text

It had been a long night.

After only a few hours of keeping watch, Lavi had to wake Allen up to swap before throwing up at the base of a nearby tree, hours of stomach-churning worry aggravating the nausea he already felt from the night of drinking. Allen gave him a sympathetic pat on the back before moving to Lavi’s previous spot by the campfire, feeling better for the brief amount of sleep he’d managed to get.

Hours passed, and as dawn arose timidly above the treetops, and Allen prepared to get up and find something edible, he heard quiet shuffling noises, a yawn and stretch of limbs. He cast his gaze over to his companion, hoping he’d slept well despite periodically needing to vomit, and noticed something that he had missed when he’d retaken control of his body; Lavi was injured.

“Hey, when did you get hurt? Are you alright?”

Concern filtered through into Allen’s words, and it took Lavi a few moments of blinking sleepily over at Allen before he realised what he meant.

“Ah, I’m fine don’t worry. Me and Neah fought off some Akuma and -” he paused to yawn, rubbing at his eye clumsily “- I was an idiot. It’s nothin’ to worry about.”

Allen gave a quiet hum of disagreement before lapsing into silence, standing up to stretch with a wince. Sitting for hours on end was not doing his back any favours, or his body in general, but he knew somewhat begrudgingly that hours of walking would soon distract him from the discomfort the night had brought him. He walked around the alcove of trees to try and get rid of the numbness that had set into his limbs, giving Lavi some time to properly wake up and prepare himself for the day ahead.

When he returned he noticed Lavi was rooting through his duffel bag with a worried expression. Allen quickly made his way over with a frown.

“Is there a problem?”

Lavi smiled grimly. “We’re completely out of supplies. No food, got enough water to keep us goin’ for the moment but that’s it.”

Allen whined, clutching at his painfully empty stomach. “I’m gonna die.”

Lavi gave a quiet laugh. “You’ll be fine. Just means we need to either steal some supplies or make enough money to buy some.”

Allen knelt down to rummage through Lavi’s bag for the map, opening it up and trying to gauge their location with a hum of concentration.

“How far did you get while I was gone?”

“We got detoured a little, but we’re still on track for reaching Lons-le-Saunier soon. I’d say we’re…” Lavi paused before pointing to a spot on the map. “… around here probably?”

Allen turned to him. “That’d put us pretty close to Mâcon, correct? If we need supplies, that’d probably be the best place to head to.”

Lavi frowned. “I don’t know about that. Cities are a great place to get ambushed, ‘sprout.”

Allen huffed, bringing his fist down on Lavi’s head. “It’s Allen. And I know that, but we don’t have a lot of options. We’re probably not even a day out from Mâcon, so it’s the closest place we could head to that’ll have what we need.”

“Yeah but it’d be risky, nearby towns could give us enough supplies to keep goin’.”

Allen grinned, expression darkening. “Yes, but they won’t have the kind of prey we need to get money.”

Lavi faltered, edging away from him with a mortified expression. “Allen, you’re scarin’ me over there buddy.”

Allen chuckled, clenching his fist with a grin. “Those suckers won’t know what hit them.”

While taking a moment to give him a worried look something dawned on Lavi, spurring him on to speak. “Ah, but you’re forgetting something important, Allen.”

His companion turned towards him, the dark expression on his face dissipating. “What’s that?”

Lavi gave a grim smile. “If Neah awakens at any point while you’re card sharkin’, we’re screwed.”

Allen faltered. “M-maybe he’s also good at cards?”

“I doubt it. I’m decent enough at cards but nowhere near as good at bluffing as you are. However -” he turned to Allen with a grin “- luckily for you I have my own ways of gettin’ money.”

Allen raised a questioning eyebrow before giving a deceivingly innocent smile. “Well, I’m sure we can find some decent brothels in Mâcon that -”

Lavi swiftly interrupted, pointing a finger with flushed cheeks. “What?! Th-that’s not what I meant!”

Allen tutted, voice stern. “Now, now, Lavi, it’s a very skilled profession.”

Lavi blinked, expression incredulous, before speaking in a quiet voice. “W-well, okay sure but…” He paused, scowl forming on his face. “… Ya know, I worry about you a lot, Allen. You shouldn’t know this shit.”

Allen laughed, shaking his head a little before standing and stretching.

“Lavi, you’re forgetting who my master is. Those kinds of… establishments became as much a home as anywhere else, considering how much my master frequented them.” Allen pulled a face before shaking his head a little, a gentle smile forming on his features. ”I owe a lot to the people who worked in those kinds of places, protecting and practically raising me.” He shrugged. “They did a better job than my bastard master ever did, at any rate.”

He adjusted his coat before turning to Lavi with a raised eyebrow. “Are you going to just sit there or are we going to attempt to head off anytime soon?”

Lavi stared up at him for a moment, realising rather suddenly that he’d never heard Allen speak about his past so openly before, before shaking his head a little and pushing himself up. After folding the map up and placing it in his rather empty bag, he walked ahead of Allen and turned north-east from their location, using a battered compass for reference.

Allen’s estimate of how long it would take to get to Mâcon was not quite as accurate as they’d both hoped; it took nearly two days to reach the city’s outer borders. Being without food for close to three days had taken its toll on the both of them, and the grim realisation that they were likely in no state to do much of anything was a difficult one to swallow. With a lot of reluctance, Lavi sold his Exorcist jacket in bits and pieces to various pawn shops across the city, which he had been hanging onto for a reason he refused to tell Allen - though it was rather obvious he didn’t want to lose his last physical tie to the Order - which gave them enough money to get food and shelter for a few nights.

Or, at least, it would have lasted them if Allen hadn’t eaten triple his weight in food at the inn they had chosen to stay at.

Lavi knew, rationally, that Allen’s Innocence had always given him a monstrous appetite, and days - if not weeks, months even - of starving when usually he would have eaten ridiculous amounts of food was a very valid reason for eating without thinking. But regardless, the temptation to use the money from his jacket to pay for his food and leave Allen to his own devices as punishment was strong. Allen using his infamous charm to prevent them from being chucked out on the street, however, stopped him from going through with it.

They managed to get a room despite what had happened, all thanks to a rather dramatic sob story from Allen - and occasional nodding and pitiful whimpering from Lavi - and having the opportunity to sleep in a proper bed with a roof over their heads did wonders for both their states of mind when they awoke the next morning.

It was going to be a long day of earning enough money to buy supplies that would tide them over until they crossed the border into Germany, and after spending close to half an hour debating whether they should split up or not - in which Lavi argued that without their golems it was too risky to separate, and Allen insisted it would be fine and they shouldn’t waste too much time - they decided to stick together in their endeavours to earn money.

The first few hours of the morning were devoted to scouting the city; finding useful locations and exits, checking that there were no members of the Order lurking around, no Akuma or Noah waiting to ambush them. When all seemed clear and midday reared its head, they made their way down a set of alleyways from the city centre to the river. Much to Lavi’s relief, there was a group of people gathered around in a circle by the bank, with more people stood smoking under the shelter of temporary wooden shacks; it was exactly what he was looking for.

As they came to a stop a few metres away Allen leaned towards Lavi and spoke in quiet undertones, eyebrow raised. “Why are we here?”

Lavi turned to him and grinned. “Take a guess, beansprout.”

“It’s Allen.” He paused to look over the group of people carefully. “Well, it’s obvious they’re betting something, but I can’t tell what. Is it animal fighting?”

Lavi shook his head. Before Allen could ask more questions, he heard loud cheers as a man stumbled backwards before falling to the ground, clutching at his stomach with a pained expression. Another man stepped forward to pull him up and clap him on the back before turning towards the crowd of people with a grin.

Allen looked over at Lavi with a concerned expression. “Please tell me you’ve done this before.”

Lavi gave a winning smile. “You could say that. Now hang back here, and try not to get us into any trouble, ‘kay?”

Allen started to tell him to be careful, but decided against it and settled for a nod and shuffled backwards into the shadow of a nearby shack. Lavi took off his coat and threw it towards Allen - who hastily caught it with a hand - before walking forwards, turning to give a thumbs up before facing the man at the centre of the crowd. They appeared to exchange words, though from his position Allen could not hear what was said, and as the crowd encircled them Lavi faded from view. Cheering started up, fuelled by bloodlust and the desire for entertainment - as well as the desire for money, since bets would be made on whoever won each fight, undoubtedly - and Allen almost missed the sound of fists meeting flesh, choked breaths and stumbling footsteps in the mud.

Less than a minute in and Lavi’s opponent was sent flying into the crowd of people, who parted just in time to avoid a collision. Allen gave an audible sigh of relief that Lavi appeared to have won the fight, and despite Lavi’s warning to hang back he felt curious about how exactly he was winning. He’d never seen his friend in unarmed combat, and though he knew Lavi was a powerful fighter using his Innocence, he had no clue about his talents without it.

He walked forward, making sure to hunch his shoulders and appear as unapproachable and uninteresting as possible, finding a spot between two rather large men that meant he could see the fighting happen but left him mostly hidden from view. Another man approached the centre, and after he and Lavi sized each other up the match began.

The man made his first move almost instantly; a rookie mistake. Allen knew enough about street fighting to have realised that sizing up your opponent and finding their weaknesses was the best strategy, and luckily Lavi knew it as well. With a quick step forward and a powerful forward push of his right palm, the man was sent hurtling towards the ground. A man dressed in finer clothes than the rest of the crowd stepped forward and raised his hand; it seemed that losing constituted hitting the ground first.

The crowd descended into disappointed chatter, money passing between the hands of those who had bet wisely and those who hadn’t. After a few minutes of discontent, a sudden hush fell upon the crowd as someone entered the centre of the circle to be Lavi’s third opponent; a woman with short hair and a definite look of experience about her.

Those watching began talking excitedly among themselves, and Allen picked up enough from the slang-heavy French to know that this woman was a professional. Lavi recognised as much, giving a respectful nod before raising his fists. The man organising the event called out and asked for bids, and in the chaos that resulted Allen found himself pushed out of the crowd. As he tried to shuffle his way back in he spotted two children a few steps behind him, craning their necks to try and see above the mass of adults in front of them. With a friendly smile, Allen offered out his hand and after they nodded eagerly he pulled them in front of him, protecting them from any unfriendly elbows and making sure the three of them could see what was happening in the centre.

One of the children, a boy with messy blonde hair and crooked teeth, reached up to pull at Allen’s coat. “So, who’re you bettin’ on?”

Allen smiled down at him. “I don’t have the money to bet, but if I did, it’d go to the redhead over there.”

The child on the other side of him, a girl with red hair and freckles, gave an appreciative nod. “I’d bet on him, too.”

The boy turned to his friend and gave her an incredulous look. “But that woman over there is Mâcon’s champion of savate! No-one’s ever beaten her.”

Allen had heard the word savate before; it was a form of French boxing that was popular in Paris, particularly with sailors coming in with their cargo from the north-west. He’d never taken part in it, but had heard enough about it to remember hearing about broken bones being commonplace. As a deathly quiet befell the crowd, he turned to face forwards, hoping that Lavi was skilled enough to avoid being seriously injured; the last thing they needed right now was a complication.

The two opponents circled each other, watching each other’s movements with careful glances. Initially, it seemed that the two of them were at an impasse, neither wishing to make the first move. Eventually, the woman moved, extending her leg out in a kick too fast for most to pick up on, aiming for Lavi’s stomach. He moved aside in time and blocked with the side of his arm, pushing her foot away and maintaining his position. She smiled over at him, evidently pleased that he would be somewhat of a challenge. For a while they exchanged what seemed to be introductory blows, as if it was a form of getting to know each other.

And then the real fight began.

Quick movements, constituting heavy kicks and forceful palm strikes; savate was a battle of patience more than anything else. Biding your time for the right moment to strike and the right moment to defend was crucial to avoiding having your bones broken. Within mere moments, Allen had gotten his answer on Lavi’s skill in hand-to-hand combat; he was frighteningly good. He was fast, but there was a surprising amount of hidden strength in his movements as well; he matched his opponent’s pace, dodging whatever they threw his way and using his speed to an advantage to move in for the kill.

His opponent was not as fast as he was, leaving her at a disadvantage in terms of speed, but she very easily outmatched him in terms of strength. After finding an opening she shoved her foot into Lavi’s chest hard, sending him back a few paces as he gripped at his ribs, wheezing for breath. She tried to place her winning blow - a brutal hit to the back of the head with her hand - and failed, pushed back by Lavi’s palm colliding forcefully into her shoulder.  She stepped backwards with a wince, trying to roll her shoulder and hissing as pain shot through her body; he’d dislocated it. With a quiet curse she gritted her teeth and retained her defensive stance, watching Lavi carefully as he breathed in-and-out before straightening up. They circled each other again, gauging how injured the other was and if there was something to take advantage of, and then they were off again.

Allen watched with a steadily building uneasiness clutching at his heart, and he didn’t know if it was out of worry for his friend being injured or something else. He had noticed a change had come upon Lavi; a cold analytical aura that contrasted sharply with the usual warmth he gave off. It was a strange combination of both fear and déjà vu, and it took him a long time to realise he’d seen Lavi like this before. On the Ark, he had fought someone who at the very least looked like Lavi, but was not ‘Lavi’ at all. How much of it was Allen trying to ignore the thought that it could have been who Lavi ‘really was’, he didn’t know. But he knew that he had seen this before; the style of fighting, the ruthless, tactical way of attacking that Lavi was exhibiting. When he fought using his Innocence he was brash, often relying on emotion as motivation to keep fighting. But the way he fought now was completely different, as if he was a different person.

Lost in his thoughts, Allen almost missed the change in pace unfolding in the fight before him. Things had sped up, taken on an almost desperate edge, and he realised that both Lavi and the woman he was fighting were close to their limit. Lavi kept grasping at his ribs, wincing whenever he breathed in too heavily, and his opponent could no longer properly use her right arm and was limping. Allen knew from his limited experience that the match would only end when one of them surrendered or was defeated.

It ended within seconds; Lavi made one misstep, placed too much weight on one side, making him unbalanced enough for the kick aimed at his shoulder to send him crashing to the ground. The crowd descended into a mess of shouts and cheers, people eager to claim their winnings. Allen took it as a cue to move backwards, taking both children beside him to safety a few metres away, and watched the crowd of people carefully for Lavi making his exit. After a few minutes he saw his friend limp towards him, and he immediately rushed forward to put an arm around Lavi’s side, helping him towards a crudely made bench so he could sit.

“I thought you said you’d done this before.”

Allen’s voice was filled with barely disguised concern. Lavi gave him a weary smile, leaning into him a little.

“I’ve done it before, if I hadn’t I would’ve been knocked out before I could even say ‘salut’.” He winced as Allen forced him to sit down, left hand placed gently over his ribs. “Though it’s been a few years, gotta admit.”

Before Lavi could say anything more, the two children Allen had befriended immediately surrounded the both of them, firing off excited question after question. Allen nearly considered telling them to give Lavi some space, but it seemed like his friend didn’t mind the attention.

The sound of approaching footsteps caused the children to fall silent and turn around. The woman Lavi had fought was stood, extending out a hand with a number of notes in her grasp.

“Here, it’s for you.”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “I lost, that’s all yours. You won it fair and square, didn’t ya?”

The woman gave a short, sharp laugh. “Well, at least you’re not a sore loser.” She paused before shaking her head. “Winning and losing, it doesn’t matter. You gave me a good fight, and I think you deserve enough of this to ignore your injuries with some good beer.”

Lavi stared up at her for a moment before shrugging and taking the money before shaking her hand with a grin. “If I happen to be here again, I’ll make sure to kick your ass.”

The woman laughed, squeezing his hand tightly before pulling away with a smile. “You can try, boy. Now -” she turned to face back towards the crowd and shouted over at them. “Who’s next?”

As she walked away to find another opponent the two children excitedly ran forward, waving goodbye at Allen before weaving their way into the crowd. Allen and Lavi sat and sighed heavily before exchanging quiet laughter, relieved that they had somewhat left the entire thing unscathed. After taking a moment to sit and relax, Lavi eventually flicked through the notes in his hand and gave an appreciative whistle.

“Well, this’ll definitely get us enough supplies and then some.” He turned to Allen with a grin. “Fancy living it up tonight, beansprout?”

Allen laughed and shook his head. “It’s Allen. And I don’t think you’re in any state to do that, you idiot. Come on, we should get your injuries sorted out.”


After heading to an inn across the city, using as many side alleys as they could along the way, Allen and Lavi paid for a room and made themselves at home. Lavi promptly collapsed onto a bed, grasping at his side with a hiss of pain. He took a moment to gently press against his ribs with two fingers, trying to gauge if any were broken. Allen, who had perched himself at the end of the bed, gave him a worried look.

“How bad is it?”

Lavi looked up at him with a relieved smile. “None of them are broken, just bruised. But…” He paused, smile dissipating into a slight grimace. “I, uh, might have reopened the wound I got from that fight a week ago.”

Allen sighed, shaking his head a little before standing and reaching for Lavi’s bag to grab bandages and move to sit beside him. With clumsy gestures and sharp intakes of breath, Lavi sat up and lifted his shirt, revealing blood-specked bandages, which he unwrapped with a pained expression. He gave a quiet laugh before speaking.

“The funny thing is my ribs hurt way more than this thing does.”

Allen made a tutting noise. “If you’d have just let me rip some people off this wouldn’t have been a problem, stupid Lavi.”

Lavi huffed. “And if Neah had taken over while you were ripping these people off we’d both be dealin’ with a lot worse than some bruised ribs, moron.”

“Stupid Lavi.”

“Idiot beansprout.”

Allen scowled and flicked Lavi’s forehead. “Oi, my name is Allen, so use it.” As he finished speaking, the last of the bandages unravelled, so he simply shook his head and leant forward to inspect the injury, expression fading into one of concern. “That’s such a messy wound, how’d you get it?”

Lavi rubbed the back of his neck with a strained smile. “I might’ve, uh, got hit by an Akuma bullet.”

Allen froze, eyes widening, panic flooding through him as he looked up at Lavi in shock. “What?! But you -”

“Should’ve turned into a load of dust, I know. Luckily, goin’ Crystal Type seems to have its advantages.”

Allen faltered before shaking his head vehemently, hands clenched into fists. “But you didn’t know that! You could have died, why weren’t you more careful?”

A tense silence descended upon them for a brief moment. Lavi sighed before patting Allen on the shoulder with a weak attempt at a reassuring smile.

“Hey, if it makes ya feel better I’d have been dead whether I’d fought that Akuma here or with the Order. Unless Krorykins was with me I’d still be -”

Allen’s voice rose in pitch. “Lavi, that’s not helping.”

Lavi paused before speaking, defeated. “Right, uh, I’ll stop then.”

“That’d be a good idea.”

Allen’s tone gave no room for argument, and as the tense silence returned to grace them with its presence Allen carefully bandaged Lavi’s wound, ignoring any protests from him as he did so. He also insisted on checking the ones around his hands, though Lavi stated they should be fine, and shot him a look when he saw the same messy grazes across his palms.

“And this is from…?”

Lavi gave a nervous laugh. “I may or may not have pushed a bullet out of… the way of Neah…”

The uneasiness from a few days ago hit Allen like a punch to the stomach, and he visibly paled before he started wrapping new bandages around Lavi’s hands. Uncertain on what to do or say, Lavi took a moment to take a deep breath before speaking in quiet tones.

“Listen, I don’t… see him as a friend, you know that right?” Allen paused in his actions before continuing with an unreadable expression. “He’s an annoyin’ bastard and I only did it because it was necessary. Your Innocence doesn’t work right now and -”

Allen stopped completely before muttering under his breath. “Wow, thanks for the reminder.”

There was a bitter edge to Allen’s voice and it made Lavi wince. Irritation built within him, but it sat uncomfortably beside the guilt he had been feeling since Allen had reawakened. He sighed heavily, shoulders slumping.

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Allen. Maybe things are a lil confusin’ with him right now or something, I don’t know. I just -”

“I’m sorry.”

Lavi froze at Allen’s words, feeling his friend’s hands tremble against his own as he attempted to continue wrapping bandages around Lavi’s hand. After a minute of heavy silence, Allen sighed and withdrew away from him, wrapping his arms around his middle.

“I shouldn’t be taking this out on you, it’s not fair. I’m sorry. I’ve not… been dealing with all of this, with Neah and the past few months. I’ve been so scared he’s going to hurt the people I care about…” His voice broke a little and it was painful to hear. “What if I can’t fight him off? What if he takes over one day and I’ll… have disappeared? I don’t…” He took a deep shuddering breath in, shaking his head before exhaling. “I don’t know how to deal with this.”

“No-one should be expectin’ you to be dealing with this.” Lavi’s voice had turned surprisingly gentle, and Allen found himself looking up to see sympathy and understanding in his friend’s gaze. “To be honest, I’m surprised you managed to keep goin’ this long without snapping. Anyone else in your position would’ve done that months ago.”

Allen couldn’t reply, lowering his head and choking on the lump that had formed in his throat, speechless and gripped by emotion. Lavi watched him for a few moments before deciding something, swallowing audibly before speaking, heart fluttering anxiously in his chest.

“You know… If I hadn’t been dealin’ with this since I was a kid I probably would’ve snapped too.” Allen looked up, eyes wide. Lavi faltered a little but he kept going, forcing himself to continue despite the sudden panic taking hold of him. “You had this dropped on you with no time to really process it, ya know? Everyone just expected you to handle it. But it’s hard so you shouldn’t -”

“So it wasn’t you, back then.”

Lavi paused at the words spoken, tilting his head with a frown. It took Allen a few moments to realise he’d spoken aloud, and he quickly moved backwards a little and raised his hands in defence.

“Ah, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have -”

“What do you mean, ‘back then’?”

There was an edge to Lavi’s voice, a building sense of alarm showing in his gaze, and Allen knew he had to explain himself whether he wanted to or not. He lowered his hands and wrung them together nervously, refusing to meet Lavi’s gaze.

“Ah, I meant while you were fighting earlier, but also… back on the Ark, it wasn’t… it wasn’t you back then, was it?”

Lavi frowned, unsure of what Allen was referring to, before he tensed up, eye widening, snapshots of memory passing before his vision in quick succession; Road Kamelot, darkened waters, a knife in his heart, the dim sensation of fists meeting flesh, desperate words that he couldn’t quite make out, he had felt so far away… He took a deep shuddering breath and released it, head bowed, fingers digging into the bed sheets beneath him.

Allen said nothing, watching the way Lavi had tensed up with a concerned expression. But amongst the worry he felt there was something else, too, something he couldn’t name that gripped hold of him so tightly it was hard to breathe. Eventually Lavi took a sharp intake of breath, looked up, and met Allen’s gaze with a strained smile.

“Can’t imagine that was the best way to meet him, huh?”

Allen faltered for a moment, seeing nothing but honesty and emotion in Lavi’s expression, and felt his lips pull up into a smile, a quiet laugh escaping his lips; he was no longer alone, someone actually understood. There was also a deep sense of relief flooding through him, that the words spoken to him back then - I am not your friend - were not Lavi’s words, that Lavi had not been the one to hurt him.

Lavi laughed along with him, and for a few moments they did nothing more than laugh, sharing this mutual feeling of relief. When his laughter died down, Allen found himself looking over at his friend as if for the first time, his entire perspective changed on the person he thought he knew; and yet, strangely, he felt like he had known all along. After the events on Noah’s Ark he had suspected - and hoped - that it had not been Lavi who had attacked him, and small moments since then that he had shrugged off slotted neatly together now that Lavi had confirmed he was not ‘just Lavi’. A weight Allen hadn’t realised he’d been carrying slipped off of his shoulders, giving him a deep sense of relief that permeated through his entire being. He took a moment to relish it, the weightlessness he felt, before speaking, voice soft and full of gratefulness.

“Thank you for telling me, Lavi.”

Lavi found himself unable to respond for a moment, struck by the genuine gratitude shown in Allen’s smile, the gentle way he was looking at him. He knew that the news about the 14th had been a burden for Allen for all these months, and he had considered sharing his experiences long before they had sat upon this bed, miles away from the place they used to call home. But, in a way, he was glad he’d waited until now, distanced from the burdensome duty that had suffocated him after escaping Noah’s Ark alive. Lavi returned the smile he had been given, the anxiety that had risen within him dissipating.

“No problem, beansprout.”

Allen shot him a look, though the smile did not fall from his features. “It’s Allen, stupid Lavi.” He took a moment to think of how to word his question before speaking. “Does this mean that… sometimes you won’t be ‘Lavi’?”

Lavi paused before replying, shaking his head a little. “Sort of, but not in the same way you and Neah work, at least. I mean -” he shrugged, bitterness showing in his expression “- lately it’s been a bit different… But you don’t need to worry or anythin’.”

Allen nodded; Lavi didn’t need to explain why it had been different in recent months. It was the first time he had been even remotely open about what had happened to him, the state he was in, and Allen appreciated it more than he could express with words, that Lavi trusted him enough to say even this much.

Lavi rubbed the back of his neck, visibly awkward. “I’d rather not get into it, but all ya need to know is the guy from earlier’s called Junior.”

Allen frowned. “So he’s… the person from the Ark as well?” When Lavi nodded, he gave a confused noise. “But… don’t you also go by Junior sometimes, or was that…?”

“Ah, I mean to everyone else ‘Lavi’ and ‘Junior’ are the same, right? But he doesn’t actually have a name, ‘least neither of us remember it, so Junior just works better than -” Allen gave him a confused look and he simply shook his head, knowing it would be too difficult to explain. “- never mind. Anyway, he was there more than I was earlier cause we were fightin’ that lady.” Allen frowned and Lavi gave an understanding smile. “I mean, your impression of him is probably that he’s a scary piece of shit, right? But he’s not like that, just a bit… over-protective, and when he doesn’t have context for somethin’ it can get a bit out of hand, ya know?”

“I… think I sort of understand. So, on the Ark…”

Lavi grimaced, expression darkening. “That was different. It was mostly Road’s fault that things… happened the way they did, but I really don’t wanna talk about it. Plus -” he poked Allen’s forehead with a smile. “This ain’t about me.”

Allen pushed his hand away with a wry smile. “Oh? I thought you were taking a moment to be the centre of attention.”

Lavi scowled. “Oi, don’t get sassy with me. And I mean it.” His voice softened, full of gentle understanding. “The reason I told you about this was so you’d stop beatin’ yourself up for not dealin’ well. Now you know that I know what’s going on and I know that you know that… uh…”

Allen laughed, shaking his head a little. “Alright, alright I get it.” He paused before clambering off the bed, heading towards the door while looking over his shoulder with a grin. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

Lavi shot him a look. “You’re always starving, Allen.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t change that right now I’m particularly hungry.”

Lavi sighed and pushed himself up with a wince, following behind Allen with limping footsteps. “Fine, we’ll get somethin’ to eat, but if you blow away all our money like yesterday, I’m gonna strangle you with spaghetti.”

Allen snorted. “I’d like to see you try.”

Lavi shook his head, knowing better than to start an argument with Allen no matter how playful it was in actuality. Allen started to turn and face forward to open the door, but as his eyes met Lavi’s own, he felt himself fall still.

They exchanged glances, then, both gripped by a strange sense of seeing each other - who they really were - for the first time. Allen seemed so much older than he had been all those long months ago, aged beyond his years. No longer was he the seemingly naïve boy, so full of hope and faith that he blinded those around him; now he was wiser, tired and bitter, but filled with a fire that refused to die out no matter what was thrown his way.

And to Allen, Lavi had lost the friendly cheer that had initially been tinged with falsity when he had first met him, greeted with a smile that left Allen on edge as he sat in a hospital bed, bandaged and bruised after meeting with Road Kamelot for the first time. Since then, Lavi’s mask had been shattered, leaving behind a person Allen had come to get to know in recent days; bitter and fragile, weary of duty and even wearier of being without it.

They had both become different people during their time away from the place they called home, forced by cruel circumstance to abandon the relative security they had gained from the Black Order’s walls. Whether either of them would come out of their trials stronger than they had been before was yet to be decided, but in that moment they knew for certain that things had changed, within themselves and between the two of them. There were fewer hidden secrets now, no masks guarding what lay within; at least for the moment. It was a somewhat vulnerable sensation, and neither felt particularly comfortable with such a feeling, but the shared understanding they now had of each other’s experiences had solidified something important, something that spoke of trust and support and everything the both of them had needed in recent months.

Lavi was the first to break the exchange, gaze drifting to the floor, expression difficult to read. After a few seconds he pushed Allen forward a little with a smile, urging him outside the room and towards the sounds of clinking glass, the smell of cooking food. Allen considered blocking the door, if not just to annoy his companion - and to break the strange atmosphere that had descended upon them - but his growling stomach said otherwise.

He would have time to ponder on what had just happened later. For now, food was far more important than anything else.

Chapter Text

That night Lavi and Allen went to bed feeling like kings.

Having stomachs full of food, falling asleep on feather beds, having clean skin finally rid of dirt and blood; it was heaven compared to the days they had spent semi-starving and sleeping in clothes that they had both walked and fought in for miles. Lavi took first watch, as he always did, finding a comfortable spot by the door where he could sit and peruse through the books he had found on a nearby shelf. After a few hours he gently awoke his companion to swap over and attempted to sleep himself, knowing that despite his good state of mind nightmares had been ever-present since he had left the Order; proper sleep was always hard to come by.

After swapping over, Allen half-heartedly read through the books Lavi had left by his previous spot on the floor before giving up an hour or so in, bored of squinting down at inked pages with the glow of a streetlamp outside as his only way of reading the words before him. He politely ignored Lavi’s muttered words, the way he gasped for breath when he woke up from what was clearly an unpleasant dream, how his shoulders shook when he tried to calm down enough to return to his slumber. Although their earlier conversation had eased much of the tension that had arisen between them since they had started travelling together, there was still the mystery of Lavi’s sudden appearance and what had happened to him and Bookman hanging over them. It was obvious that it had been deeply traumatising, leaving Lavi a nervous wreck compared to the person he had been at the Order. Allen wanted to help him in whatever way he could, but he knew from bitter experience that he would have to wait for Lavi to allow him to help.

Hours passed, and dawn slowly cast its presence upon the world. Lost in his thoughts, it took Allen a few moments to notice the hot feeling rising up from deep within, to acknowledge the sudden blurring of his vision and numbness setting into his limbs. He felt himself slip away and tried to hold on and maintain his control, gripping the book beneath him so tightly the pages ripped, but it was in vain. His presence faded, silver eyes falling shut, slumping against the wall behind him.

Minutes passed. Amber eyes slowly opened as Neah’s presence came to the fore, skin darkening to a russet brown. He felt Allen’s presence dwindle, a tiny flame flickering in the darkness. He wished he could put it out, to rid himself of his host and his pathetic attempts at resistance, but as always nothing happened; he couldn’t do it. After arduous minutes passed by, amber eventually faded to silver, skin pale once more; the Noah of Destruction would not arise this night.

Although Neah had maintained his control he had failed - yet again - to fully push Allen away.

Neah pushed himself up, rubbing at his face with slow gestures, feeling exhausted. It took a moment for him to register the room he was in, that he was no longer sat surrounded by bottles on a cold kitchen floor. Neah froze, searching through the last memories he had before awakening; he had gotten drunk with Lavi, desperate for some kind of release after days of exhaustion and irritation. He inwardly reproached himself for letting his guard down in such a way, knowing that if Lavi had needed any excuse to betray him he’d given him such an opportunity on a silver platter. However, as that night pieced itself together, he was struck by a sudden realisation and all feelings but one dissipated into nothingness.

Despite the frustration he felt at the impasse between Allen and himself, the knowledge that he had escaped what had probably been a gruelling hangover was a beautiful feeling.

As dawn’s first light filtered through the windows above the bed, and Neah had just begun looking at the ripped pages in his hands with a confused expression, the sound of stirring blankets brought his attention towards the bed across the room. After a few minutes of groaning and refusing to move, Lavi eventually sat up with a pained expression, blearily looking around the brightening room. As his gaze eventually settled upon Neah, and the realisation kicked in that it was indeed Neah and not Allen any longer, Lavi sat up a little straighter and attempted to gather his wits together.

They sat in silence for a while, both feeling unsure of the other’s intent, but eventually Neah shot Lavi a look as the sight of his bandaged side and the bruises dotted across his body came into view.

“As always, you’ve disappointed me as soon as I’ve woken up.” Lavi scowled over at him, confused, and Neah simply sighed dramatically. “I would’ve loved to watch someone beat the shit out of you, I miss out on all the fun.”

Lavi scowled. “Oi, gettin’ the shit beaten out of myself got us enough money to tide us over until we get to Germany you asshole.”

Neah paused before giving a winning smile. “Well, at least you’re good for something. Maybe you should get yourself beaten more often, if not just to keep me entertained.”

Lavi briefly considered throwing his nearby boot at Neah’s face but resisted, just about. He settled for an exasperated sigh, regretting it near-instantly as his bruised ribs twinged painfully in response, and fell back against the mattress beneath him with a whine.

“Man, I feel almost as bad as when I sparred with Lena.”

Neah frowned. “Who’s ‘Lena’?”

Lavi propped himself up with a hand and grinned over at his companion. “She’s an Exorcist at the Order, probably the strongest person I’ve ever met. She kicks hard, you better hope we never run into her, otherwise you’re gonna be coughin’ up blood for a while.”

Neah raised an eyebrow in disbelief, memories of watching Tim’s recordings surfacing; a young woman, begging his host not to leave.

“You mean her? If it’s the person I’m thinking of all I have to hope for is her not crying all over me.”

Before he could continue speaking or even react, a boot hit Neah square in the face hard. When he pulled it away and prepared to throw it back, he noticed the furious expression on Lavi’s face and faltered. He was livid, almost as full of anger as when Neah had kept mentioning Bookman to him. After a minute of tense silence, Neah threw the boot in Lavi’s general direction and muttered something under his breath, almost too quiet for Lavi to hear.

“Some Bookman you are.”

Lavi shot him a warning look, hands clenching into fists. Neah considered throwing another insult his way but the memory of his nose being broken came to mind, and he decided against it. He pushed himself up to his feet, stretching with a slight wince before walking around the room. He inspected it now that he was able to see it more clearly, allowing Lavi to get dressed without any undue awkwardness. After spending a few minutes glaring at the tacky wallpaper, he heard a quiet cough and had but a few seconds to turn and catch the coat thrown his way. He glared at his companion.

“A little more warning next time?”

Lavi smirked, tone mocking. “Aw, are your reflexes that shitty? Some scary Noah you are.”

Neah stuck out of his tongue. “Cut me some slack, this isn’t my body. You try having to get used to using a body that’s completely different to the one you remember.”

Lavi paused before grinning. “Ya know, I think the mental image of you trippin’ over your own feet just made my morning. Thanks for that.”

Neah hissed. “Fuck you.”

Lavi laughed in reply, picking up his bag from the corner of the room and making his way out the door. Neah followed him, expression set into one of almost childlike irritation. After a quick conversation with the landlady downstairs, during which Neah was silent and glared at whoever looked his way, they eventually stepped outside into dim sunlight, greeted by a chill late-autumn morning.

The city was quiet, slowly awakening under the light of the sun. The rooftops were alight with gold, wisps of smoke and steam from nearby houses the only thing obscuring the clear blue sky above their heads. The nearby call of seabirds and the horns of faraway river boats broke what would have been an unnatural silence, and without the bustle of people on the city’s cobblestoned streets it was peaceful, devoid of life in a way that was a source of comfort and not unease. Neah took a moment to watch his breaths billow out before him, pale wisps against his surroundings, and gave a contented hum.

“It’s nice.”

His voice was quiet, thoughtful even; it was so at odds with how he usually spoke. Lavi turned his head towards him and looked at him carefully, noticing the calm expression on Neah’s face, the way he looked up at his breaths drifting into nothingness with something akin to reverence.

“What is?”

Neah either appeared not to have heard him, or had deliberately ignored him, and turned to smirk in his direction as if Lavi had not spoken.

“You know, I was gonna bash your head in for getting us drunk, but since I don’t feel like I haven’t eaten in months, I’m gonna let you off just this once.”

Lavi paused, thrown by Neah’s sudden change in countenance, before sighing and shaking his head, lips pulled up into the smallest of smiles.

“Thank the gods for small mercies.” He took a few steps forward before turning towards his companion, irritated. “Also, you were the one who found the alcohol, don’t blame me for your lack of self-control.”

Neah stuck out his tongue in reply, walking ahead and ignoring Lavi’s remarks with a careless disregard that irritated him. Regardless, there was something different about their interactions, something that made Lavi feel less resentful of Neah’s presence than before.

Neah also noticed the difference and wondered exactly why he felt more inclined to put up with Lavi’s company now that he had reawakened. Memories of the last night he had spent with him came to mind in bits and pieces, a haze of disjointed conversation and conflicting emotion. He didn’t remember it as well as he wanted to, but he knew he had angered Lavi enough to see either a different side to him or another person entirely, if that was even possible, and was reminded strongly of someone he used to know.

As Lavi walked ahead of him, hands interlaced behind his neck, Neah watched him with a thoughtful gaze. What he really felt about the person he’d been stuck with… he hadn’t particularly thought about it before. He’d categorised Lavi as a semi-necessary annoyance, at least until he had the chance to take over his host and carry on with his plans unhindered, but he had tolerated Lavi’s presence far better than he thought he would. It was a strange feeling, one that felt oddly familiar to him. After a few moments he realised, rather suddenly, the reason why.

It was the same feeling he had gotten from someone else, a person he had grown to trust despite everything he stood by; the previous Bookman apprentice. Things had been chaotic before Neah had died; it had been a mess of fighting and running until he and his brother were sick of it. But they had not been alone. The apprentice had helped them, abandoned his duty to aid them in their goals, protected and guided them when things seemed hopeless. He and Lavi were alike in more ways than Neah felt comfortable with, but it reassured him nonetheless. He knew now why he’d treated Lavi’s injuries, why he didn’t leave him behind when he had the opportunity to. He was still an annoyance to him, yes, but he’d felt the same way about the previous apprentice also. It was a strange combination of both resigned acceptance and vehement irritation, the need to have either of them in his company. But the way the two of them held themselves was at least bearable enough to Neah that he could resist the urge to strangle them, and neither of them had been useless to him, though Lavi still had a long, long way to go before he proved himself in that regard.

The previous apprentice had done a lot for Neah, more than he probably ever realised or let on. Humans were fickle, prone to betrayal and abandonment if it suited their purposes. But the Bookman Clan raised their members in a way that both amused and somewhat disturbed Neah; they did not choose sides, they stood by and watched the world burn and did nothing more than record that it had happened. It bred a curious form of apathy that, when broken, led to a severe shift in the world view they harboured. The previous apprentice had left behind his duty in favour of helping him, and Neah remembered the way he threw himself into whatever he could to forget that mere fact. The words he had spoken to him the night he abandoned his life as a Bookman had always stuck with him; he had been forced to realise that he had an effect on people, and that if someone was persistent enough about helping him, he was an idiot for turning them down.

The thought that he may end up having taken away two potential Bookmen from the Clan brought a smile to Neah’s features; how ironic that he, who cared very little for followers or support, ended up being some strange kind of target for people who needed purpose. It annoyed him, and he would much rather go about his day without a trail of people following him and needing him to give their life meaning, and he had learned the hard way that no-one could be trusted. But he had also learned just as painfully that he could not do what he needed to do alone; his death was proof enough that he alone would not be enough to take down the Millennium Earl. Other people would have to serve as his stepping stones, and the sooner he accepted that and pushed aside the paranoia his death had given him, the quicker he could achieve his aims and end this pointless war.

The only thing in his way was his host.

“Ya know, it’s kinda rude to ignore someone when they’re talkin’.”

Neah snapped out of his thoughts, attention brought back to reality as Lavi’s hand waved in front of his face. He pushed his hand away with a scowl, walking ahead with a huff.

“It’s also rude to interrupt someone while they’re thinking, so fuck off.”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “What, you continuing to plot world domination or something?”

“Plotting your murder, actually.” He turned to Lavi with an innocent smile. “So, how would you like to die? Strangulation? Drowning? Bleeding to death?”

Lavi tutted. “You’re really uninventive, at least pick an interestin’ way for me to die.”

Neah scowled. “Pick your own way to die then, idiot.”

Lavi paused before giving a serene smile. “I’d like to die bein’ chased off a cliff by beautiful people.”

Neah felt his lips twitch into something resembling a smile, though he refused to admit it. “I have… several questions, but if it means you’re dead then I don’t really care.”

Lavi shook his head with a quiet laugh, turning his attention back to his surroundings. He headed down a nearby side street before Neah could lead them out of the city, taking them in the general direction of the market square. The money he had obtained from the fight would give them enough supplies to get food for close to a week, if they rationed it well enough. Lavi doubted it would last them that long, though he wanted to be optimistic about it. Allen had gotten used to limiting his foot intake, even if he complained about it a lot, but despite the two of them sharing the same insatiable appetite, Neah was far less accustomed to it than Allen was. It meant Neah was far more likely to eat through all of their reserves quicker than Allen would, and as an added downside it was also a lot harder to tell Neah to stop eating - or to stop doing anything for that matter - and often resulted in Neah eating whatever they had left out of spite, even if it would put him in just as bad a position as it did Lavi.

But things did seem different between them, though Lavi couldn’t quite explain the reasons why, leaving him more hopeful about the days to come than he would’ve been before they’d reached Mâcon. Something had changed, though whether it was for the better or not was another thing entirely, but it seemed that for the moment Neah was more inclined to be agreeable and less of an annoyance to him. The guilt that had settled itself upon Lavi’s shoulders since Allen had awoken had diminished, leaving him less conflicted about how he viewed and acted with Neah while Allen was gone. He was a necessary annoyance, but he didn’t resent it as strongly as he had done even days beforehand. He was starting to become accustomed to Neah’s presence despite all his misgivings, and he felt enough at ease in his presence that travelling with him was not a constant source of stress for him any longer.

He knew, undoubtedly, that Neah’s good mood was probably due to how well-fed he was, and as soon as they returned to sleeping in damp stables and living off of whatever they could scrounge up from their surroundings, Neah would be far more irritating. But Lavi would be a hypocrite if he said he was any different; being without proper food or rest or comfort was stressful for anyone. He had spent most of his life living as a nomad, but he and Bookman rarely ever starved or continuously slept in poor conditions, and from what he knew of Allen’s upbringing, he had been able to use charm and bribery to get access to food and shelter. Neah, too, was probably used to it in some capacity, since he and Mana had spent a lot of time on the run, but Lavi knew very little about his past apart from what Cross had shared with Allen all those long months ago.

Now it was his turn to be pulled away from his thoughts, with a kick to the shins far more forceful than was necessary. With a scowl at his companion, Lavi drew away from his mind and focused on buying what he needed, and getting them out of the city before anyone caught onto their trail. They had spent too long in one place, and he was uncomfortably aware of that fact as he stood in the market place, surrounded by more and more people as the morning wore on. Neah appeared to have noticed the same thing, and was watching the crowd warily as Lavi exchanged coins for food. For a while they seemed in the clear, but a movement against the push of the crowd alerted his attention; people cloaked in black, moving with purpose.

Initially, he thought they were heading for him, but it seemed they had another target; Akuma.

Neah’s left eye activated with a flourish of moving cogs, and with a curse he yanked Lavi away from the stall owner he was bartering with and into a nearby alleyway, shielded from the light of the sun by towering walls on either side. Lavi turned to him with a scowl, a question already leaving his lips. Neah shoved his hand over his mouth with a shake of his head and a warning look, gesturing outside of the alleyway just before an explosion answered Lavi’s unspoken question for him. The sounds of people screaming and the crash of debris against the ground filled the air, followed by the all too familiar sound of Akuma bullets firing. Lavi pulled down Neah’s hand and turned to him, speaking as quietly as he could to be heard.

“How many?”

Neah took a moment to look around, cogs whirring around his left eye. He cursed under his breath.

“A fuck ton of the usual bastards in the city, and some of those bigger guys forming outside of it. We stayed here too long.”

“I know, I told Allen it was a bad idea, but…” Lavi ran a hand through his hair with a sigh “… well, it doesn’t matter now. What’s the plan?”

Neah scowled at him. “What do you mean, ‘what’s the plan’? We leg it out of here before those Exorcists spot us!”

“Wait, the Order is here?!”

Lavi immediately edged as close to the exit of the alleyway as he dared, gaze darting from place-to-place, trying to locate black uniforms amongst the smoke and dust. After a few moments he spotted a spherical force field at the east exit of the market; it looked stronger than the Order’s barriers, which meant Miranda was present and protecting something, or someone. The sight of a rather strange creature took out a Level Three by the river, disintegrating its metallic body and letting its dust float over the water confirmed what Miranda was protecting; Miranda was protecting Timothy’s unconscious body while he used his possession ability. For a while it seemed that no-one else was present, though Lavi knew that both a General and another Exorcist would need to be there to help Timothy fight, according to the Order’s usual rules. He turned to Neah and attempted to speak, but the familiar sound of someone’s voice yelling commands from nearby cut him off. His gaze turned sharply upwards, and stood atop a rooftop across from him was a person he’d missed far more than he’d realised.

Krorykins!

Neah scowled over at Lavi, squinting at the delighted expression on his face. “Who the fuck is ‘krorykins’? What is it with you and your stupid nicknames?” Lavi didn’t answer, almost moved to tears at the sight of his friend and previous comrade. Neah shook him by the shoulders. “Oi, this isn’t the time to get emotional. We need to leave.”

He faltered as Lavi’s expression changed to one of confliction, and a pang of both fear and paranoia crept up on Neah with sickening unease. It was the first time the Order had crossed both their paths, and the realisation that Neah was outnumbered if Lavi attempted to betray him to the other Exorcists left him feeling on edge, like he was slowly being shoved into a corner. He took a step backwards, deeper into the alleyway. Lavi did not notice, attention utterly focused on the fight before him and his own self-doubt.

A golden opportunity had presented itself, and Neah was going to take it.

Without a moment’s hesitation he slowly picked up the duffel bag Lavi had left a metre or so into the alleyway and took steady steps away from him, obscured by shadow the further in he went. As soon as he felt it was safe to do so he turned and ran, footsteps heavy against the stone beneath him. The Akuma were focused on the Exorcists in the market square for the most part, though the massive 3.5 Akuma waiting outside of the city was going to be a problem. Neah ducked in-and-out of alleyways, caring not who saw him as he made his way towards the northern exit of the city.

He felt no guilt for running, knowing that between the hesitant trust he’d developed for his companion and the deep-set paranoia that had kept him alive, he would always choose the latter. And, without Lavi as an added hindrance, getting rid of Allen would be all the easier once his host had no-one to support him.

The sight of an Akuma soul out of the corner of his eye abruptly drew him away from his thoughts, and he quickly vaulted over a nearby low wall and hid behind it, panting for breath. It was a lone Level One; nothing to worry about, but drawing its attention would be unwise. He raised his right hand, focusing on the weak bond he had with the dark matter residing inside of him. The Akuma turned to face him, raising its guns to fire, but exploded into a mess of metallic debris before it could do anything. Neah watched its soul disintegrate, sickened by it; something about it always made him feel incredibly uncomfortable, though he had no idea why. He shook his head, ignoring the nausea rising inside of him, and began running once more, knowing that the explosion would attract too much undue attention towards him.

Akuma and Noah alike were drawn to his presence due to his awakening Noah memory, which meant he could not hide whether he wanted to or not; his only option was to get out of the city as quickly as he could, and hope that the Exorcists were enough of a distraction to let him make his escape unhindered. It relied far too much on luck; if he had his powers back in their entirety none of this would be a problem. He would finally be able to fight, be able to hold his own against what was chasing him. But in the state he was in, all he could do was cause far too limited a number of Akuma to self-destruct. Even that was exhausting beyond belief to do, and he was reminded all too painfully that on his own he was little threat to the non-human beings hunting him down.

Memories he wished he could forget crept up on him; a building sense of inevitability, knowing that he was running out of time, that Mana was running out of time. It had all been pointless, there was always so much more fighting to still be done, but he was so exhausted, he couldn’t keep going. Neah clenched his fists as he continued running, shaking his head and denying himself the chance to get lost in that all too familiar feeling of hopeless dread.

He’d been given his second chance, and he refused to waste it by succumbing to the same things that had caused him to lose his life before.

The sight of the city’s northern gate drew his attention back to his surroundings, and with a sigh of relief he saw that it was open. A carriage was blocking the way out, and a man was stood arguing with a guard as an increasing number of panicked people built up behind them. A slope downwards towards the gate extended before him, and with a deep breath he took off at a run, making his way downhill towards freedom. He weaved in-and-out of the crowd of people surrounding the gate, and with graceful movements pulled himself atop the carriage and shoved the man sat at the front out of the way. The man turned his attention away from the guard and began to yell, but Neah was already gone, ducking away from the horse now panicking because of his sudden presence, and taking off at a run towards open country. The crowd, outraged by the fact that he’d managed to get away while they were trapped, forced the gates open wider despite the guard’s protests and followed his lead, upturning the carriage in the process.

They soon stopped as the sight of what they could only call a monster came into view.

As they froze and debated re-entering the city, feeling rather like they had not escaped danger whatsoever by leaving, Neah cursed loudly. The 3.5 Akuma that was causing the people behind him to panic, perched atop a nearby hillside, was not what concerned him; the glint of gold in the distance and a strong presence of Innocence meant a General, and he did not want to deal with them right now. He didn’t want to deal with either of them, of course, but a General would be a lot harder to run away from, especially if the other Exorcists were contacted. On instinct, he almost turned to look over his shoulder and demand that Lavi get them out of this mess before realising he was alone. He sighed heavily, rubbing at his temples with his right hand.

Despite getting away from his unwanted company, and escaping the potential risk of being turned in to the Order, the knowledge that he was in a bind and without help left a bitter taste in Neah’s mouth.


Lavi was not happy.

It had taken him a few minutes to realise Neah was gone and when he realised, regardless of the need to be hidden and silent, he let out a rather loud - and rather colourful - set of curses and buried his head in his hands. The last thing he needed while the city descended into chaos was Neah deciding now was the time to up and run, abandoning him in the process. Despite knowing exactly why he’d done it without even needing to ask, and that it was only a matter of time before Neah pushed his luck, he couldn’t help but feel a rising sense of both anger and fear well up within him. He turned away from the fight ensuing in the market place and took off at a run, turning his back on the people he had once called friends, knowing that his chance to return to the Order was soon to be lost.

His duty towards the Bookman Clan conflicted with his heart - the heart he should not have, the heart he should never have had - and both feelings clashed horribly with the attachment he had formed towards helping both Allen and Neah. Unable to commit himself to the future he had signed his life away to, or the role he had been living as nothing more than a means to an end, the thought that without his two companions he would be without any kind of purpose frightened him. Wide-eyed, running with desperation fuelling his movements, the suffocating fear that had been torturing him since he had escaped the Noah rose up so strongly Lavi felt trapped by it; he had to find Neah and he had to find him now.

As he crossed a busy main road and weaved between horse-drawn carriages, ignoring the angered shouts that followed in his wake, he told himself that he had to find Neah for Allen’s sake, that without any kind of support he may so easily give in to the fear of erasure. He felt conflicted about helping the both of them, but he felt less conflicted about helping Allen than he did Neah. He cast away all notions of duty, ignored the quiet voice from Junior in the back of their mind that told him he was doing this for his own sake, regardless of the comforting lies he told himself, and focused on nothing more than his feet hitting ground, his lungs filling with oxygen, the burning purpose coursing through him. A sharp pain from his ribs made him flinch, exacerbated by the stitch he’d given himself with the sudden exercise, and it was difficult to ignore the pain in his right leg as he put one foot before the other. But he had to keep going, regardless of how much it hurt.

He calmed himself as much as he could, feeling Junior’s presence drift towards the forefront of their mind, allowing him to distance himself from the cycle of suffocating thoughts coursing through him. He focused on his surroundings without emotion, thinking of nothing but the task of finding Neah before he slipped through his fingers, gaze trailing from nearby rooftops to side streets to the sight of the city’s outer borders as the street started heading downhill. Despite leaving the marketplace behind, the sound of fighting was getting increasingly louder; the Akuma were moving, as if drawn somewhere else.

Undoubtedly, they were drawn to the Noah in their midst.

Keeping his attention focused on the direction the battle was heading, raising his hood up in case the other Exorcists suddenly dropped in on him - not that it would disguise his presence for all that long, considering the Innocence strapped to his thigh - Lavi continued to run, ignoring the rest his body was demanding of him. He saw a gate come into view on the horizon and made a beeline towards it, ignoring everything else around him. An upturned carriage, with a rather disgruntled man and horse stood beside it, blocked the exit out of the city, but without any hesitation he vaulted over it and found himself surrounded by grasslands desecrated by clothes and dust; more casualties in a war with far too many deaths to account for.

Cursing under his breath, he drew his attention away from the remains of what had once been living breathing people - once of flesh and blood, now nothing more than dust - focusing on the movement of nearby Akuma heading towards a hilltop on the horizon. He knew he had a very small window by which to find Neah and get him out before the Exorcists realised what was going on, but he wished to avoid the Order knowing that Neah had assistance, especially from a member of the Bookman Clan no less.

Lavi came to a standstill, looking around with a careful gaze, breathing heavily, trying to locate the nearest places that Neah could have taken cover. There was a wooded area to the northwest, but it required crossing open country for a length of time that was in all likelihood not worth the risk. Apart from re-entering the city there were no other places to hide, though he had realised rather quickly that there was never anywhere to hide for both Neah and Allen; Akuma and Noah would be drawn to them no matter where they were. The Akuma leaving the city were heading en masse towards the hilltop on the horizon, drawn to something… or someone.

Without a word Junior let his presence subside, leaving an unspoken warning to Lavi to not be seen, and with a deep breath Lavi activated his Innocence and extended it forward, knowing he had very little time to find Neah before someone else did, unless they had already found him; the thought of it made his stomach turn. He resolutely ignored it - he had to - and with gritted teeth he sped towards the concentration of Akuma, following the curve of the hillside to give him some cover. Once it seemed safe to do so, he leapt off of his Innocence, returning it to its normal size before crouching down and making his way as close to the top of the hill as he dared. He raised his head over the top and abruptly ducked back down; Klaud Nine was stood atop the remains of a 3.5 Akuma, a small monkey made of Innocence looking this way and that from her shoulder.

They were facing away from where he’d exited the city, focused on a location further east; Lavi gave a silent sigh of relief. Heart jackhammering against his ribs, aggravating his bruised ribs, Lavi waited as long as he could before slowly sliding down the hill, trying to place where the Akuma from the city centre had been heading to. After spending a minute or so looking around, anxiety rising, he heard more than saw the Akuma a mile or so east of the hill; the thunk of bullets hitting earth, the sound of bricks smashing. Regardless of how careful he was, he would be seen by Klaud if he dared to move from the cover of the hillside; he’d have to think of a way to distract her attention away from him, or lower any visibility she or her Innocence had.

Plan forming in his mind, Lavi carefully extended his Innocence and went as far away from the hill as he could, making sure to avoid Klaud’s line of sight, and headed towards the patch of trees he had noticed earlier. As soon as he entered the shadowy embrace of the small wood he hit ground and immediately raised a finger upwards, calling forth a Wood seal. It glowed brightly beneath his feet, forming a pillar of light towards the sky. He focused on the bond he held with his Innocence, closing his eye and picturing the sound of thunder, the smell of wet earth.

It was a risky plan, he knew; both Krory and Miranda had seen him use the seal before, and if they thought long and hard enough, or asked someone at the Order about it, they would undoubtedly know Lavi had been there. It would prevent him from ever going back, at least out of choice, but he had made his decision and he could not go back; if he did not do this, both Allen and Neah’s chance of escaping would only get slimmer.

The sky darkened above him, Mother Nature answering the call of his Innocence. And as a clap of thunder burst overhead and rain began to pour from the heavens, Lavi lowered his hand, opened his eye, and extended his Innocence to head as fast as he could towards where he hoped Neah would be.

Rain hit his skin so hard it was painful, obscuring his vision until he could barely see more than a metre in front of him. It would make finding Neah all the harder, but it also meant he would not be seen and would make escaping easier than under the natural clear skies from before. Using his sense of hearing over sight, ignoring the sound of rain hitting earth and the crash of thunder and lightning from above, he focused on any other sounds he could hear, following the intuition of his Innocence and hoping it would lead him to the right place.

Without any warning, Lavi felt himself crash into something hard, flinging him off his Innocence and onto the wet ground. Wheezing, he pulled himself up and found himself face-to-face with a confused and rather annoyed Level Three wondering what had hit it. He raised his hammer and hit it as hard as he could with an Air seal, adding to his hammer’s momentum and flinging the Akuma as far away from him as possible.

Lavi turned and quickly gauged his surroundings, eye darting this way and that, seeing nothing but vague darkened shadows amongst the rain. For a moment he heard nothing, felt nothing, and fear gripped hold of him so tightly he couldn’t breathe. But a familiar voice, full of anger and desperation, filtered through the rain and thunder and without a moment’s thought he ran towards the source of it. A sudden explosion a few metres away made his head hurt, dulling his hearing down until he could hear nothing beyond his own heartbeat and a high pitched ringing. He kept running, heading straight towards the remains of a now-destroyed Akuma. Lightning flashed, giving him a brief moment of visibility; a Level Four, raising its guns to fire, cloaked figures fighting off Level Threes in the distance, white hair and a tattered coat. With a sharp intake of breath, Lavi reached out and grabbed hold of fabric, heard a voice call out in alarm, and sent the both of them hurtling out of the line of fire and as far away as he could possibly take them.


Rain, falling down on him in an endless cacophony of noise, fleeing sightless and without guidance; an all-abiding fear held onto Lavi’s heart until it was consuming him. He felt disorientated, gripped by panic, but a hand grabbing onto his shoulder so tightly it hurt grounded him until he realised where he was, the reason he was there. Lavi forced his Innocence to stop, collapsing off of its hilt and onto the muddy ground with heavy breaths. The sound of someone else hitting the ground drew him away from emotion, away from the adrenaline flooding through his veins, and with unsteady footsteps Lavi raised himself up and walked forwards to sit down beside the person in his company.

Minutes passed, an otherwise tense silence broken by the sound of the rain and faraway thunder. The storm eventually subsided, no longer answering the call of Lavi’s Innocence, and as darkened clouds began to part and the world brightened around them, Lavi gave an audible sigh of relief that Neah was lying down in front of him, shivering face-down in the mud, white hair plastered to his skin.

“Don’t you… ever do that again… you moron.”

Lavi’s voice was hoarse, tinged with an emotion he could not name. Neah pushed himself up and raised his head to look up at him. Lavi met his gaze and held it, gripped so tightly by a feeling of both fear and relief and everything he could not speak of, not to the person before him, that he could scarcely breathe. After a few seconds of tense silence, Neah’s eyes fluttered closed and he flopped onto his back, rubbing at his face with a quiet groan.

“I could say the same thing to you. What the fuck were you thinking? I couldn’t see a goddamn thing with all that rain.”

Lavi brought his fist down lightly atop Neah’s forehead. “If I hadn’t done that we both would’ve been seen, so shut up. You’re the one who attracted an entire horde of Akuma out of the city.”

Neah lowered his hands and glared up at him, but there was relief amongst the anger in his gaze. He forced himself to sit up, rubbing at his right shoulder with a pained expression, and looked around him blearily. All he could see was grass and mud with a few trees lining the horizon; the city was nowhere to be seen. Lavi, too, looked around him with a weary expression, noticing with much relief that there was no-one else in sight.

For a moment they both remained silent, neither knowing what to say or how to voice what they were feeling. Neah was angry, far more at himself and the situation he’d been forced into by his host than anyone else, and he felt both relieved and extremely uncomfortable that Lavi had found him so quickly. He wanted to insult his companion or make some kind of joke about something, anything, to break the tension that had descended upon them. He wanted to leave, to run as far away as he could, but he also wanted to remain where he was and accept the company he’d been given once more. It left him tense and uncertain, and the building look of anger in Lavi’s expression was something he felt too battle-worn to deal with at that moment.

“Where’s my bag?”

Neah faltered, thrown by the sudden question. “Huh?”

Lavi stood, looking him dead in the eye with an expression that left Neah frozen to the spot.

“I asked where my bag, with all the supplies I spent all our money on as well as our only way of knowing where the fuck we are, is at this moment.” Neah stood and backed away slowly. Lavi stepped forward, anger rising. “You took it before you ran, didn’t you? So where is it?”

Neah raised his hands to defend himself, feeling his own anger mount with each step forward Lavi took towards him.

“An Akuma ripped the strap and I lost it when you decided that making a storm happen would be a good fucking idea. So it’s your -”

Lavi’s eye flashed dangerously. “If you say it’s my fault I’m going to -” he paused and took a deep breath in-and-out, coming to a standstill and rubbing at his temples. “You know what? It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Without a single word he holstered his Innocence, ran his hands through his sodden hair with a conflicted expression, and began to walk. Neah faltered for a moment, finding himself in two places at once - take responsibility for your own actions - unable to move or speak, gripped by indecision and remembrance of another man, another apprentice who had cast aside his duty for him - you either want help or you don’t, make your choice - before he raised his voice and called out to him.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

Lavi stopped and turned towards him. “Do what?”

Neah sighed heavily, running a hand through his hair with a frustrated expression; he hated doing this.

“You could’ve just fucked off and gone back to the Order. I wouldn’t have been able to take on all those Akuma and the Exorcists too, and you could’ve just stood there and let it happen. So -”

Lavi paused and then he laughed, looking at Neah with disbelief tinging his words. “Is that your attempt at an apology after running off, getting yourself in a fight, and losing all our supplies?”

Neah faltered for a moment before scowling and muttering under his breath. “Take it or leave it.”

Lavi shook his head, utterly bewildered by what had just happened, and sat down in the mud with an audible sigh.

“You know, you’re one of the most annoyin’ and indecisive people I’ve ever met. You either wanna leave and get yourself killed in a stupid pointless attempt at provin’ you’re not someone to mess with, which I mean come on you rose from the grave just to take out the Earl, as if that isn’t scary enough.”

Neah found himself laughing despite everything. He sat down and joined Lavi in the mud, burying his head in his hands. “You try spending months being hunted down and then literally dying, before waking up and realising everything you planned had gone completely fucking wrong. Don’t blame me for being paranoid.”

“I don’t.”

There was a surprising amount of understanding in Lavi’s voice, and it confused Neah to hear it. He looked over at him, eyes narrowed, before sighing and shaking his head.

“You don’t make any sense either, you realise that right? You act like you’re doing this because that old man told you to when really you’re just doing this because -”

“Yeah, well, we’re both doing this for our own selfish reasons aren’t we? Back off.”

A heavy silence descended upon them. After a while, Neah pushed himself up and stood. As Lavi raised his head to look up at him he met his gaze and held it.

“You know, I think I prefer it like that.” Lavi raised an eyebrow and Neah gave a winning smile. “You’re just a selfish bastard who needs purpose just like all those other pathetic people who insisted on following me around.”

Lavi growled. “Oi.”

“I’m right though, aren’t I? It’s better than you having some weird convoluted sense of duty, or trying to save your ‘friend’.” Neah raised his fingers to form quotation marks with a look of disgust, and Lavi glared up at him. “You just wanna feel like you’re not a waste of space, and I mean if you stick around, at least it means I get to poke fun at you for it.”

Lavi squinted up at him in disbelief. “So you’re not gonna run off and get yourself killed after I saved your ass yet again?”

Neah scowled. “I wasn’t gonna get myself killed, fuck off. If you were gonna turn me into the Order, I had to do something, didn’t I?”

Lavi sighed heavily. “I know, I know, shut up.” He forced himself to stand, stretching with a wince. “And just so you know, this isn’t just because I’m a ‘selfish bastard’. Now let’s get out of this place, before I change my mind.”

“Change your mind about what?”

Lavi grinned. “Beating you up until you can’t move.”

Neah started walking forward, looking over at Lavi with a raised eyebrow. “So not only did you make my host deal with a hangover, you’re gonna make him wake up like that? What a friend you are.”

Lavi walked behind him and shoved him to the side a little with a huff. “It’s got nothin’ to do with Allen, so fuck off. And if you had your own stupid body, I could beat you up without a problem. It’s your fault.”

“Well, sorry to disappoint but I can’t do that, so get used to not being able to beat me up, moron.”

“Maybe I’ll just find a way to beat you up with my brain, that’ll show ya.”

Neah squinted over at him. “… I think that’s the most stupid thing you’ve ever said, I’m actually surprised. You’re more of an idiot than I thought.”

“Hey, if Road can do it, why can’t I?”

“Because you’re not a goddamn Noah, now shut up.”


Trust was a strange thing to have gained after the events of that day.

After traipsing through the mud for hours, exhausted beyond measure, Lavi and Neah collapsed outside of the ruins of what was once a farmhouse, now derelict and abandoned by its previous owners. A nearby well let them clean themselves of most of the mud - and, in Neah’s case, blood - from themselves, leaving them cold and shivering but free of dirt. Although there was a risk of them being tailed by both the Order and Akuma, the risk of dying of pneumonia was higher, so Lavi lit a fire within the ruins of the building despite his concerns.

He and Neah sat, illuminated by firelight as the world darkened around them, enjoying the warmth the fire brought them in silence. The events that had transpired that day had left them both exhausted beyond measure, and without a single word, Neah shuffled away from the fire and fell asleep on the floor, huddled in his tattered coat. He seemed so small and unthreatening at that moment, so dissimilar to the person so many had grown to fear in recent months. Lavi felt a surprising amount of sympathy for him then, watching shadows flicker against Neah’s back as he fell asleep. He was one person against the world, so hell-bent on fulfilling his goals that everything fell by the wayside, even his own well-being. He was as bad as Allen was in that regard, refusing help; but it was out of paranoia instead of the fear of hurting others.

Lavi knew he would never be able to let his guard down around him; he was unpredictable, rapidly switching from the apathetic but agreeable companion, to someone very willing to do whatever it took to keep going along his chosen path. But in that moment, in a silence broken only by the crackle of burning wood, he knew a part of him genuinely wanted to help the person asleep across from him.

In so short a time Lavi had nearly lost his entire reason to keep going, his only way of ignoring what had burdened him since escaping from the Noah Family, and it seemed laughable that after Neah’s attempt at leaving him behind, he trusted him more than he did before. Perhaps it was because he’d been expecting it. Perhaps it was because Neah’s behaviour after treating his injuries had seemed so at odds with the cold ruthless demeanour he was wishing to give off, leaving Lavi unknowing of where exactly he stood with his companion. He did not, and probably would never, completely understand why Neah had accepted his help so willingly after rescuing him from what would certainly have led to his capture by either the Order or the Noah. Though, if it was a choice between semi-freedom in Lavi’s company and a complete lack of it - as well as a high risk of being killed by his captors - in the hands of the Black Order or the Noah Family, it seemed to be a choice based far more off of survival than of trust.

But, in a way, Lavi preferred it that way; Neah trusting him made him feel uncomfortable, uneasy, as if he was being manipulated in some way. A person with such a large amount of paranoia and trust issues would not accept help so willingly, especially from someone aligned with the Order in some manner or fashion. And yet, could Lavi call himself an Exorcist any longer? He had been given the opportunity to turn Neah in, to return to the Order and resume his role as both an Exorcist and recorder of history. He didn’t even understand his own reasons for choosing not to go back, though he knew with some amount of uneasiness that it had far more to do with his own selfish need to ignore the inevitable than anything else.

There was so much he did not understand, and he hated it.

With a shake of his head and a heavy sigh Lavi attempted to shut out his thoughts; a well-practised way of coping with what troubled him. With nothing to occupy him, he simply stared at the moon and the endless array of stars above his head, peering their way through a blanket of nightly cloud. It reminded him strongly of another night, one that had set him on a path he was steadily regretting more-and-more as time passed, and with a sombre expression Lavi reached inside of his shirt pocket for a tattered playing card. He lifted it up to the sky, the light of the moon illuminating the ace of spades he held in his hand, and remembered the words he had spoken to himself back then, aboard a ship taking him and his companions towards Edo. A Bookman has no need for a heart - those words still hurt, no matter how much he wished they didn’t. The confliction he had felt that night had remained with him ever since, making him doubt the path he had undertaken since childhood, and with his future as a Bookman hanging from so tenuous a thread it hurt more than it had ever done to think of it.

Lavi smiled bitterly to himself, knowing that no matter how hard he tried he could not ignore the thoughts plaguing him, and slumped against the stone wall behind him with a resigned sigh, lowering his hand and clutching the card held between his fingers tightly. Hours passed, night slowly heading towards early morning, and eventually the shuffle of fabric and a shift in breath signified that Neah - or would it be Allen now? - was awake.

Lavi pocketed the card he still held in his hand, opened his eye and looked across the now-diminished campfire at the way the person before him was moving. He had sat up, slowly, running a hand through his hair and yawning; Lavi knew instantly that it wasn’t Allen, for the way Neah held himself was far more relaxed, a sort of laid-back impoliteness that contrasted sharply with Allen’s careful demeanour.

Lavi cautiously straightened himself up against the wall he was leant against, and held his breath. When Neah spoke his voice was heavy and full of tiredness.

“… How long?”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “A few hours, what were you expecting?”

Neah appeared not to have understood his response before he sighed heavily and fell back against the ground.

“So it’s still me, huh? Great… just great…”

“You really like leavin’ Allen with all the shitty situations, don’t ya?”

Neah looked up at him with a scowl. “Of course I do. It’s his punishment for putting me in this mess.”

They swiftly fell into silence, Neah waking himself up with slow stretches and deep yawns, Lavi watching him with a heavy-lidded eye and exhaustion in his gaze. After noticing the way Neah dealt with his left arm, the awkward way he moved it above his head to stretch and the disgust crossing his expression, Lavi found himself voicing a question he had wanted to ask since he had first started travelling with Neah.

“Ya know, I’ve been wonderin’ why you don’t just get rid of that left arm if it’s causin’ you so much trouble.”

Silence. Neah met his gaze and held it, eyes narrowed. “… Because I can’t.”

Lavi paused before shrugging. “Guess that’s for the best. You’d be in a bit of a shit situation if you tried.”

Neah scowled. “And why’s that?”

“Well I mean, there’s the obvious hole in Allen’s heart that his Innocence is -”

What?!”

Lavi faltered at the surprise and panic showing in Neah’s expression. “Wait, you didn’t know? One of the Noah did that to him a while back.”

Neah’s voice raised in pitch, clearly bothered by the information Lavi had given him. “How the fuck was I supposed to know about that? I’ve only got my own memories and whatever Tim showed me, if neither of us were there for that particular encounter then I couldn’t have known!”

Lavi rubbed the back of his neck, a sheepish smile working its way onto his features. “Well, uh, sorry ‘bout that. Guess you gotta find a way to get by without getting rid of that thing.”

Neah gave him an incredulous look before shaking his head and sighing, muttering under his breath about stupid Exorcists and his stupid unwanted family. As a somewhat tense silence descended upon them, Lavi spoke up again, too curious about the topic to let it go.

“Just wonderin’, why can’t you destroy it anyhow? I’ve seen ya take out Akuma just fine.”

Neah’s tone instantly became confrontational. “Wow, Bookman, you sure know how to talk to people huh? Why does everything have to be an interrogation with you guys?” Lavi gritted his teeth, fists clenched - don’t call me that don’t call me that - “And the reason’s fairly obvious you dumbass, how am I meant to destroy something when I don’t have the power to do so yet?”

Lavi frowned. “I don’t get it. How can you make Akuma self-destruct but not be able to destroy Innocence?”

Neah gave him a wide smile. “Why, hoping I can get rid of yours for you?”

Lavi stiffened, visibly uncomfortable. “Don’t go there, and answer my question already.”

Neah hesitated for a moment before raising his left arm, expression difficult to make out.

“Akuma are made of the same thing I am, manipulating it to achieve what you want with it isn’t hard. But destroying something made of something else? That requires a little more than a bit of manipulation, doesn’t it?”

Lavi shrugged. “I guess.”

Neah paused for a moment before giving Lavi a sceptical look. “And I thought you’d know more about the Noah. Didn’t that old man tell you anything?”

“No, he didn’t.”

Lavi had spoken louder than he’d intended, the edge to his voice bothering him, and all Neah did was sit, and stare, and wait. Lavi sighed, running a hand through his hair and looking intently at the mud caked on his boots. Eventually he spoke, voice quiet.

“He didn’t… tell me anything. I didn’t know he was with the Noah Family before, or that there was someone before me.” Neah sat up straighter, eyes narrowing. “There was so much he didn’t… and now I don’t know what…”

“The old man’s dead, isn’t he.”

Lavi flinched painfully, hands clenched tightly into fists. He didn’t dare look up, not when his every breath was determined to choke him. Hearing those words when he had spent all that time trying to forget - that body, lying there, the sound of bones breaking echoing in his eardrums - sent his entire body shaking with fear and panic and every horrible thing he had been trying to forget. His entire body had burned and his blood writhed inside his veins and that tongue with those eyes staring back at him - he couldn’t breathe and his chest was constricting and he couldn’t stop shaking and - that dark ruin of a house and the ever growing moon and his body slumped against the grass in a pool of his own…

It took a long time for Lavi to calm down. Neah did nothing but sit and watch with narrowed eyes as his distressed companion counted under his breath. When Lavi had stopped shaking and could breathe once more, he rubbed his face tiredly with a hand and sighed.

“… Too soon.”

Neah raised an eyebrow at him. “I… see...”

The silence left Lavi on edge, but he was too tired to do anything more than stare at the floor, detached, body numb. He knew undoubtedly that Neah had obtained all the leverage he could ever want and need, and that if he wanted to he could break Lavi’s already shaky composure until he was reduced to a meaningless pile of disgusting human emotion. But, to his surprise, Neah simply sat in silence, waiting until Lavi was composed. And then he spoke, so quietly that Lavi barely managed to hear his words.

“I’m sorry.”

Lavi blinked a few times and stared over at him in disbelief. “… What?”

Neah’s eye twitched. “So you’re stupid and deaf, gotcha.” Lavi’s expression darkened and Neah gave a frustrated noise before continuing, visibly awkward. “I said I’m sorry for your, ah, loss. That’s what people are meant to say at times like this, right?”

Lavi laughed bitterly. “Hey, don’t expect me to know, I don’t understand people either.”

Neah rubbed the back of his head. “That makes two of us…”

An awkward silence descended upon them as Lavi smiled sadly and wrapped an arm around himself.

“I don’t get it at all… I’ve spent my entire life ignoring my emotions and I was doin’ so well, now look at me. It’s pathetic.”

Neah sighed. “But that is the curse of all human beings, isn’t it? To suffer and feel pain.”

Lavi shook his head, expression pained. “… I’m not…”

“Not what, a human being? Look in a mirror dumbass.” Neah’s voice was filled with anger and frustration, infuriated with Lavi’s perspective. “Your clan’s stupid attempt to ascend above the pit of filth called humanity was always a pointless exercise in intellectual authority. You should know that by now.”

Neah was met with a vicious glare, words directed at him with a mocking edge to them, instantly taken back to glass bottles and angered words and a person Lavi was not.

“Wow, where did you learn all those fancy words from? And to think I consider you an idiot.”

Neah growled, narrowing his eyes as the person before him did nothing but stare with a cold anger in his gaze, leaving him on edge. After a few moments, with a shake of his head, Lavi seemed… more himself as he spoke, resignation showing in his tone of voice.

“None of that changes the fact that I’ve spent my entire life training to deny myself all that makes someone human, and now I have no clue how to handle any of this, not one bit.”

Neah made a disgusted noise, pinching the bridge of his nose with a scowl. “Ugh, you and him are both the same, trying to act like you don’t feel anything like some cold emotionless robots. Get over yourselves.” Lavi looked up then, eye wide, and Neah stood, averting his gaze. “I’m going for a walk. If you’re still crying when I come back I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“I’m not crying you piece of -”

Neah ignored him and left, walking outside the ruins of the building that constituted their shelter for the night, leaving Lavi alone in darkness. He took a deep breath in, closed his eye, wrapped his arms around himself and let a shaky breath out, over and over, until his body was still and his hands stopped trembling.

When Neah returned Lavi was calm and composed, but far from alright. He looked up, stared blankly at him, and resumed staring at his boots and absentmindedly picking off dried mud, counting each flake as he went. He had reached 64 when Neah eventually spoke.

“Does my stupid host know about all this?”

Lavi faltered before looking away guiltily. “… Nah, don’t need him worryin’ about me. He’s got enough on his plate as it is.”

“You mean me, that is.” When Lavi refused to reply, Neah let out a frustrated sigh. “And were you telling the truth when you said you were ordered by Bookman to be here?”

Lavi laughed, bitterly. “You hadn’t figured that out by now? Of course I wasn’t. What were you expecting? Just you mentioning him caused all this -” he gestured to himself with a disgusted expression “- stupid bullshit. I had to say something other than the truth.”

“Did the Chur-”

“No, they didn’t. I’d have joined up with the guys at Mâcon if that was the case. I haven’t been at the Order since before we were all ordered on our separate missions and apprehended by the Noah Family, and that’s the truth.” Neah scowled and Lavi shrugged. “Hey, don’t give me that look. Bookmen may lie to protect their asses but they also tell the truth when it isn’t a hindrance to do so.”

Neah pointed an accusatory finger. “They also tell lies disguised as truths to protect their asses as well, don’t they?”

Lavi groaned, frustrated. “Fine, I’ll give you that one.”

Neah sighed heavily before speaking. “So, if that was a lie, what is your reason for being here if Bookman and the Church didn’t order you?” He shrugged. “I mean I’ve already guessed, but hearing you admit it is good blackmail material.”

Lavi didn’t rise to meet Neah’s obvious attempt at riling him and a silence, heavy and full of tension, rapidly descended upon them. Lavi refused to look up, gaze fixed on his feet and the tiny flakes of mud littering the floor around them. He could feel Neah’s eyes on him and it made panic flutter deep within him until he felt sick from it, but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth and the lump in his throat was choking him and he didn’t know what to say or how to explain it at all and his mind was blank and devoid of all thought but one - I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.

Neah sighed loudly, running a hand through his hair with a frustrated expression. “Fine, keep your secrets, Bookman -” Lavi’s stomach lurched and he felt sick “- but understand this: if you double cross me I will kill you. In case that wasn’t obvious already.”

Lavi shook his head and laughed quietly to himself. “… Then why haven’t you already? Surely if there’s a risk of me betraying you it’s not worth keeping me alive.”

Neah was silent for a long time, watching the dark look in Lavi’s eye, the way he had drawn into himself. He contemplated his answer before smiling, gesturing with a hand as he spoke.

“Well, yeah, that may be true, but as I said before, you having your own selfish pathetic reasons to follow me is way better than you being some duty-bound idiot.” He paused before adding to his words, the slightest hint of gentleness showing in his voice. “Plus, that old man saved my ass so many times I’ve lost count, and if he deemed you worthy enough to be an apprentice then you’re worthy of at least some of my trust, even if I think he’s an idiot for picking you of all people.”

Silence; Lavi couldn’t breathe, staring wide eyed at the Noah before him with his heart jackhammering in his chest until it hurt. After a while Neah sighed, ran a hand through his hair - a nervous gesture, it seemed - and lay down.

“Don’t get big-headed. You’re a nuisance and as soon as I don’t need you, you’re gone. But you’re at least -” Neah pulled a face “- tolerable compared to other people.” He stretched, wincing and rubbing his shoulder before rolling away from Lavi. “I’m gonna sleep a while longer. Prove your worth, Bookman. Night.”

Silence, heavy and suffocating; Neah’s breaths quietened, and the ruins became still and devoid of nightly noises. When the feeling of shock finally left his body, Lavi slumped against the wall behind him and clutched at his chest, pained, voice breaking as he spoke too quiet for anyone but himself to hear.

“I’m not… worthy of anything…”

Chapter Text

The next morning arose quietly and sombrely with a grey dawn, the rising sun hidden by approaching rain clouds.

Lavi had kept watch all night, knowing sleep would be impossible after his talk with Neah. Despite this strange newfound trust, he still did not feel comfortable sleeping in his presence. As the sun began to peer its way above the ruin’s walls, Lavi watched as Neah stirred into wakefulness with a groan. He sat up and rubbed at his eyes sleepily, left arm limp and stiff by his side, and Lavi knew it to be Neah still. It was relieving, in a way, since he didn’t have the strength to explain the night before - never mind the events of the past day or so - to Allen.

“Rise and shine.”

Lavi’s voice was hoarse - an unwanted reminder of his sleepless night - but he tried his best to sound cheerful. Neah ignored him and stretched, joints clicking, before letting out a groan as his muscles twinged painfully in response. Lavi raised an eyebrow.

“You ain’t a morning person, are ya? At least you and the ‘sprout are the same on that count.”

Neah scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t test me, I will fight you and win…” he yawned, so deeply his jaw gave a loud click. “… Once I’ve woken up.”

Lavi grinned, his voice taking on a mocking tone. “Oh, I’m so threatened.” Neah growled and took a menacing step forward. Lavi raised his hands defensively. “Hey, hey, I was joking. Plus, we should really get going. We can fight later, ‘kay?”

Sighing, Neah turned and picked up his and Allen’s worn and tattered coat, shrugging it on with clumsy gestures before making for the exit. Lavi debated poking fun at him yet again for his sleepiness, but considering Neah was in a bad mood he could lose his head, quite literally. He put on his coat and ever-present scarf, following Neah out of the ruins into bleak grey-tinged daylight.

The ground was damp from nightly rain, which Lavi had listened to as he sat and stared into the darkness, and their boots squelched beneath them as they walked. As they trudged through the mud, Lavi found himself looking over at Neah as he walked ahead of him. Neah had used Allen’s ribbon to tie his hair into a messy ponytail, and his shirt was unbuttoned and crinkled. Lavi couldn’t help but smile - Allen would never dream of looking so dishevelled.

They were like complete opposites of each other, in speech and manner and appearance.

Lavi had spent a considerable amount of time with Neah, but he’d never properly observed him beyond particular personality quirks and trying to figure out his motives. In that moment, Lavi made an effort to observe and analyse Neah properly for the first time, more for a distraction than anything else.

He saw that, despite their differences, there were some things that were the same between Neah and Allen, though they would both hate to acknowledge it. They both had a stubborn tenacity towards life that meant they would rather die than give up what they had promised, and the idea of surrendering to someone else’s ideas was inconceivable. It was this similarity that both connected them and pitted them against each other, for neither of them were willing to back down when so much was at stake.

It seemed strange to Lavi that the two of them weren’t talking to one another, though he wasn’t surprised by it either. It was a standoff neither of them could win, and if mere exhaustion didn’t end it, nothing else would. But, he supposed, talking to one another would do nothing more than end things on ‘better’ terms.

Those who called themselves ‘Noah’ could not exist any other way but taking over the body of their host, and their hosts were doomed to be erased from existence when this happened. But something about this fact bothered Lavi, and it wasn’t just the thought of Allen disappearing someday, all his dazzling brightness faded, like a snuffed out candle flame.

If Neah was going to take over his host, it should have happened already. Months had passed since he had first awoken, and the war was moving at a fast pace towards an unknown end, and if Neah wished for his end to occur he had to do something quickly. The longer he and Allen played tug-of-war over ownership of their currently shared body, the more likely Neah’s - and Allen’s - aims would never come to fruition.

And the only thing Lavi could think of that was keeping them at this stalemate was Allen’s Innocence; Crown Clown.

Lavi had never heard of a Noah having an accommodator as a host before. He had read through Bookman’s lengthy archives on the Black Order before the two of them had arrived there and had found nothing on the topic, so perhaps the Order had simply never encountered such a thing. Though, then again, considering how little Bookman had been willing to share on his knowledge of the Noah, perhaps Lavi was simply ignorant. Lavi did know that it normally took only a matter of days, at the very least a few weeks, for a Noah to take over their host. Neah had been sleeping inside of Allen for years, and despite being able to control their shared body periodically, Neah had made no moves to completely erode his host.

There had to be a reason why this had happened. Neah did not seem like the type of person to wait and twiddle his thumbs while the world crashed down over his head, and that reason could only be Innocence in Lavi’s mind. A power equal and opposite to that of the Noah… Innocence and dark matter inhabiting the same space would undoubtedly create a stalemate until either power was stronger than the other. Neah’s powers were unknown to everyone, even to the Bookmen - unless, again, that information had been withheld from Lavi intentionally - but Crown Clown was strong; it had withstood a lot of damage and still remained in existence.

The thought that so much had been kept from him left a bitter taste in Lavi’s mouth, and reminded him yet again that he was completely and utterly in the dark on the third side, Neah Campbell, the truth about the war; so many things that he should’ve been told before he could become Bookman. And, without this knowledge, or access to Bookman’s private records, he would remain unknowing of it all until he made a decision.

And, without this knowledge, he couldn’t make a decision.

Committing to a path of isolation and separation, a life where he would exist separately from the rest of the world and simply watch it, hands stained with ink, heart long since buried in a hole in the ground and forgotten about - that future, which he had spent so long idolising and wanting, was now an uncertainty in his mind and he hated it. Duty conflicted with emotion. He was torn between two very separate futures and he couldn’t choose between them. Despite telling himself it was never supposed to be a choice, he felt unwilling to simply abandon his autonomy and accept one of these futures of his own volition.

Lavi knew that Junior felt a stronger connection to the idea of being a Bookman, simply due to a matter of identity, but he too felt indecisive and ill at ease. Lavi could feel those emotions and doubts sitting uncomfortably alongside his own fears, and it meant the very topic of their future left the both of them desperately trying to think about anything else.

If Bookman had told them to accept this role, they would have done it. They would have abandoned their heart with great pain and emotional torment, but they would have done it to uphold the tradition and duty of the Clan and make Bookman proud. But Bookman’s death was sudden, unexpected. Neither of them thought it would end so soon. Lavi would never forget the look on Bookman’s face when he died; shock, horror, sadness. It was not the face of someone who had died willingly, and Bookman hadn’t prepared Lavi for that eventuality whatsoever. It was a mistake, a fool’s mistake, and Lavi could not understand why Bookman hadn’t considered the risk of him being killed by the Noah. Their roles as Bookmen meant they were seen as important and valuable informants, but they were still Exorcists, they were still human; their status could only protect them so much. But, in a way, that’s what accidents were - unplanned, unexpected, something you couldn’t prepare yourself for. Yet no matter how much Lavi tried to rationalise it, he came out of it with nothing. All he felt was a growing sense of dread and uncertainty, and it was becoming too much to bear.

“Hey, are you even listening to me?”

Lavi was startled out of his thoughts and brought back to the present by a hand gripping his head tightly. Neah’s face, full of objection and irritation, loomed in front of him. Lavi gave a meek attempt at an apologetic smile.

“I’m, uh, sorry?”

You better be.”

Lavi gulped audibly and Neah let him go with a sigh, walking ahead and grumbling to himself. Rubbing his head, Lavi caught up with Neah and tried his best to placate him.

“I was, uh, kinda lost in my thoughts there. What were you sayin’ again?”

“I was saying -” there was a violent edge to Neah’s voice and Lavi took a few steps back “- that we’re close to a town and we should get some food if we can.”

Lavi sighed. “We don’t have any money, dumbass. I already sold my Exorcist jacket when we were in Mâcon.”

“Then we’re going to have to earn some, aren’t we?”

Lavi glared at Neah, practically seething. “If someone hadn’t lost all our supplies, we wouldn’t be in this mess, would we?”

Neah turned towards him with an indignant expression, hands clenched into fists. “Well, sorry for being thrown into the middle of a storm that was, oh wait, your fucking fault. And what, you’d rather starve? We need supplies, and if you’d stop bitching about me losing your stupid bag we’d be on our way to that town already.”

Lavi pinched the bridge of his nose before looking up with an aggravated expression.

“My point is we’d better be careful with people around. The town looks isolated but -” Lavi pointed a finger at the distance, hovering over a line of dark grey that wound its way around the town “- that’s a main road, and there’ll be a lot of people stoppin’ by this town for supplies and shelter, so it’ll be busy. It’s a perfect place for an ambush from pretty much anyone. Considerin’ the mess you put us in before, we gotta be more careful.”

“We don’t have a lot of choice, kid.”

Lavi gave an indignant noise. “Don’t call me that! You’re not older than me in the first place!”

Neah smirked. “I’ll call you whatever I want. I can add ‘little’ to it if you keep bitching at me about it.”

Lavi scowled. “No you can’t, you’re shorter than me! Wait…”

He faltered, stepping closer towards Neah and raising a hand above both their heads, pulling a face when he realised Neah was only an inch or so shorter.

“No, hang on… You can’t be that tall.”

Neah pushed Lavi away with a grin, a flash of amusement showing in silver eyes. Lavi blinked, hand frozen in place mid-air, before muttering to himself about how it couldn’t be possible, the two of them couldn’t have caught up to him that quickly. Any amusement Neah felt swiftly faded into irritation, and he aimed a kick at Lavi’s leg before sticking out his tongue.

“Oi! Stop drifting away in cloud cuckoo land and get your shit together.”

Lavi scowled as he followed behind Neah, but he was right; this was not the time for getting lost in one’s thoughts. As they headed down the hill leading to the town, he shoved all doubts and fears away and focused on the task ahead.

They had been without supplies for two days, leaving behind the ruined farmhouse and walking through open country without a single piece of civilisation in sight. This was the first urban area they had seen for miles, and they urgently needed food and a way of knowing where they were. Without Lavi’s map, it was impossible to tell what their location was, or if they were still heading in the right direction towards the Franco-German border. Until they could re-orientate themselves, it would be the next stop in their journey.


The commune Neah had spotted was larger than it had first appeared, much of its expanse obscured by trees. All the houses were built in a circular fashion around a central church with gothic spires and stained glass windows, roads of paved stone weaving around houses like rivers of molten rock. A sign posted at the commune’s outskirts stated it was called Montchanin, which meant they were off-track from where Lavi had been intending to lead them; he wouldn’t know for certain until he got his hands on a map, however.

As they entered the commune proper, Lavi soon became enraptured by each and every detail he came across - the colour of the bricks that each of the houses were made of, tiny plants growing in cracks in the road, the smell of food and smoke and the noise of people talking and walking and laughing and shouting. Compared to the silent isolation that had accompanied him since leaving Mâcon, all of this bustling activity was an overload to his senses, and despite his initial excitement - having something to focus on other than his troublesome emotions was very needed - it soon became too much and he felt exhausted from it all.

Neah, also, gained a headache as soon as he became surrounded by people, and looked more and more uncomfortable as they headed to the centre of the commune. Although he had suggested they go there, he was regretting it the more they walked. He had forgotten how loud and irritating human beings were when they gathered in one place. It had been relatively quiet in Mâcon; he knew the time of day had played a part in that, but by the time the city started coming to life he was far more focused on not being captured to notice anything else. Neah missed quiet open pastures, where you could stand atop a tree branch and not see civilisation for miles around, endless fields of corn and barley and wheat and his brother calling to him from the ground far below. But that time was lost to him now, so he tried his best to ignore those feelings.

The smell of food soon became agony as both their stomachs grumbled, and the warm glow of candlelit inns called to their aching and weary feet. But before they could stop and find somewhere to stay, they had to obtain a way of paying for that shelter, and fast.

Lavi came to a standstill on the outskirts of a busy market square, turning towards Neah and speaking just above the noise of the people around him.

“So, what’s the plan?”

Neah looked over at him and shrugged. “Dunno.”

Lavi scowled. “What do you mean, you don’t know? You were the one who suggested we come here! I thought you had a plan.”

“Nope.”

Lavi stared at Neah incredulously. “Can’t you, ya know, swap with Allen instead?”

Neah crossed his arms with a huff. “That brat spent the weeks before you came along starving himself and sleeping on the side of the road, like hell he’d know what he’s doing. The only reason we’re both alive is because I stole food and saved our asses from Akuma.”

“That’s because you’re making his life a living hell, he’d be fine if you just -”

“Just what, Bookman?”

Lavi winced. “Don’t call me that.”

Neah glared at him. “I’ll call you whatever I damn well fucking please, now would you just stop whining and think of something?”

“Fine, give me a break, jeez.”

Lavi stomped ahead, hands clenched into fists, quietly fuming and muttering under his breath. Days without food, the near-constant reminder that the supplies Neah had lost would have kept them going, as well as lack of sleep and troubled thoughts on Lavi’s part, had left the both of them on edge. Any trust and understanding the two of them had gained for each other had swiftly become overshadowed by their own frustrations, and it was exhausting.

It took a few minutes of aimless walking and counting of cobblestones beneath his feet before Lavi felt able to think clearly once again, and once his mind cleared he turned around to his now silent companion with a scowl.

“You any good at poker?”

Neah shrugged. “Never played it.”

Lavi sighed and rubbed at his temples. “Great. Any way you can, ya know, fuck off so Allen can make us some money?”

Neah poked Lavi’s forehead with a scowl. “No, I can’t just ‘fuck off’. This isn’t something I can control, idiot. Plus, what does poker have to do with anyth-”

Lavi cut in, shoving Neah’s hand away. “It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna have to earn us some money, then. Follow me, say nothing, and so help me if you do anythin’ stupid I’m gonna hit you with my hammer.”

Neah glared but kept his mouth shut, following his silently fuming companion as they headed towards the side of the commune nearest the main road. Lavi took them away from the busy market square, knowing he was in no state to fight for money even if he wanted to. It left him little choice in what to do to garner supplies, but he had one other option that would work if he played his cards right, quite literally.

As they headed further and further away from the centre of the commune, Neah noticed the buildings became more dilapidated, and the safe-looking inns from before were replaced with seedy bars and dark alleys where suspicious eyes glared back at them. The sun began to set, and Neah barely resisted the urge to ask if Lavi knew what he was doing. Eventually they entered a dimly lit and shady-looking bar full of people with dark eyes, cloaked in malicious intent.

The air was so full of smoke that it was hard to see more than a few metres ahead, and each step caused wisps of smoke to burst upwards in sudden streams around their feet, rising up to the darkened ceiling above their heads. After peering through the smoke for a good few minutes, Lavi made a quiet noise of acknowledgement and pulled Neah towards a small rickety table in the far corner of the bar, where a group of undesirables glared at them from behind their playing cards.

“What do you want?” one of them asked, voice hoarse from years of smoking, evident from the still-lit cigarette held between his fingertips. Lavi simply smiled and pointed at their cards.

“I want in.”

The man with the cigarette raised an eyebrow. “What’ve you got to bet?”

Lavi grinned sheepishly. “Not got anythin’ to bet with.”

“What about that hammer there, strapped to your leg?”

An old man sat at the far end of the table pointed to Lavi’s Innocence. Everyone at the table turned to stare at him. Lavi faltered, raising his hands with a strained smile.

“Ah, I can’t bet that, it’s -”

The previous man chimed in, voice raised in irritation. “It’s what? If you haven’t got anything to bet, you can’t play.”

Lavi faltered, knowing if he mentioned ‘Innocence’ someone or other would hear it and their location could be revealed, and dealing with Crow or Noah at that moment could be disastrous. So, with fake bravado and trying hard to avoid thinking about the consequences, Lavi took out his hammer, activated it, and showed the weapon to the group with a smile.

“It’s, uh, a magic hammer.”

The strangers stared back wordlessly, wide-eyed and all thinking no doubt of how much they could sell it for, before one of them made room for Lavi and let him sit down. Lavi placed his weapon back in its holster and sat down, with Neah stood behind him with his arms crossed, glaring at anyone who so much as glanced in his general direction. He strongly reminded Lavi of Kanda in that moment, and the thought of telling Allen this was so amusing he had to resist the urge to laugh. Neah leant down to his shoulder and whispered quietly in his ear.

“Won’t you fall or something like that if you lose that hammer?”

Lavi replied, deadpan. “Yep.”

Neah raised an eyebrow. “So, what will you do if you lose?”

“I’ll think of somethin’.”

“This is a bad idea.”

Lavi elbowed him in the stomach. “I know, now shut up and keep glarin’ at people.”

Lavi turned to smile up at him but it didn’t reach his eye. Behind his confident exterior, he was yelling at himself for getting them into such a stupid situation. Junior was equally as displeased with him, which wasn’t helping. He turned back to the table with a shaky grin, watching as a man in the far corner with dark hair and a scraggly beard - the dealer, it seemed - pushed 10 cards in front of him on the table, 5 facing downwards, 5 facing upwards, and also gave him a hand of 5 cards he could play with.

Lavi frowned before asking, “What’s the game?”

“Shithead.”

Lavi bristled. “Hey, I was just askin’. No need to be rude.”

The dealer laughed, shaking his head. “No, no, it’s literally called shithead.”

“Oh.”

The dealer grinned. “Alright newbie, listen up. Rules are -” he pointed at the cards in Lavi’s hand “- you play with those cards for most of the game. Put a card down on the face up deck in the middle, take another card from the face down deck, and play until that face down deck in the middle is gone.”

He gestured at a pile of face down cards in the middle of the table, and a small pile of face up cards beside it.

“You gotta put a card that’s higher than the one someone put before, but you don’t have to do that with all of them. 3’s are the shit cards, same with 4’s, 5’s, and 6’s. But 7’s are a glass card - it means the person next to play has to put down a card to beat the one below your one. 8’s make the next person miss a go, 9’s mean the next person’s gotta play a card lower than 9, 10’s burn the deck, and jacks, queens, kings, and aces are the highest cards in the game. 2’s are the highest though ‘cause it resets the deck and can be placed on top of any card. Got that?”

Lavi blinked a few times, trying to take in all the information he was being given. “What happens if you can’t play the right card?”

“You pick up the entire face up deck and keep playing.”

Lavi nodded to indicate he understood. Neah simply stared, open-mouthed, hardly following. The dealer grinned, baring a set of yellow teeth, before continuing.

“Once the centre deck and your hand are gone you play with those cards.” He gestured now to the 10 cards in front of Lavi. “You know what those 5 face-up ones are, and you play those first. But you’re not gonna know what the face down ones are gonna be, so you better be a lucky kid or you’re gonna lose that nice shiny weapon of yours.”

Everyone laughed and Lavi smiled, eye closed.

“So, you win once you’ve lost all your cards, right?”

The dealer nodded and Lavi opened his eye, met the gaze of each of the 5 other players, and took a deep breath before putting on his best mask of confidence and grinned.

“Fine, let’s go.”

The game was fast-paced and tense, and even after having it explained and watching the others play Neah had no idea what was going on except it seemed like Lavi wasn’t doing too badly. After getting used to the rules and making a few rookie mistakes, Lavi was tactically getting rid of low cards and saving high cards for when it counted, but not too late as he soon found out when one of the players was faced with a 9 and all he had were high cards. He looked less than happy when he had to pick up a rather hefty pile of cards from the middle.

A hooded player from the corner got down to his face down cards first, and the mood of the game instantly shifted to a tension so heavy it was hard to breathe. But, luckily for them, he had a very bad set of cards and soon had to pick up enough cards to give the rest of the players a chance to win. Lavi was the 3rd person to get to his face down cards, while the person most likely to win - an old greying man with two missing fingers on each hand - only had 3 cards left.

With his heart jackhammering in his chest and adrenaline pumping through his veins, Lavi watched attentively as the person to his right played a queen; bad, but not impossible. Looking down at his 5 face down cards with a serious expression, he debated between them with no real gauge of how to pick, other than praying for good luck. Eventually he picked the second card from the right; a 2. He let out a quiet sigh of relief as he placed it on the face up deck and leant back in his chair. It was then the turn of the player to his left, who had been unlucky towards the middle of the game and had the most cards left; he seemed thankful for an easy card to beat.

Another round passed, and the old man only had 2 cards left when it was Lavi’s turn to play. The man to his right played a 9, which meant he had to play a card lower than a 9. Lavi spent as much time as possible deciding on a card before going with his gut feeling and playing the card furthest to the right.

An ace of spades.

Neah groaned and slapped a hand to his forehead. “Shit, you’ve lost! Look how many cards you have to pick up!”

Lavi didn’t respond and stared at the upturned ace in front of him with an odd expression. It wasn’t until Neah shook his shoulder lightly that he seemed to come to his senses and pick up the entire face up deck from the middle - 8 cards in total. It placed him in 4th, unless the old man managed to lose his hand and gain whatever cards appeared in the middle before his turn.

But lose Lavi did, quite spectacularly, as two rounds passed and the person next to the old man played a face down card of 3 - the lowest card in the game - securing the old man’s victory as he placed his winning 6 of hearts card.

“You all lose! Gimme your bets!”

Everyone grumbled, reaching into their pockets for their various worthy belongings; gold, stolen watches, a compass, other odds and ends that seemed worthless but were valuable as bets in themselves. The old man gathered his winnings into a pile before him with a grin. It was then that he turned to Lavi, who hadn’t made any moves to give his weapon away, and scowled.

“Oi, you haven’t put your bet forward.”

Lavi gave a shaky smile. “C-can we play a best of three?”

Silence, then incredulous laughter until the winning player slammed one hand on the table and extended his other hand to Lavi, who closed his eye and took a deep breath.

“Give me your bet. Now.”

The tension around the table built considerably the longer Lavi sat, eye closed, hands placed on the table. Neah looked from Lavi, to the angry winner, to the rest of the players who all seemed torn between wanting a fight and wanting to leave before things got ugly. After a while, Lavi slowly slid his hammer out of its holster, placed it on the table, and slid it towards the old man across from him. The old man reached forward to pick up the weapon, expression set into one of pleased victory, but as soon as his fingers touched the crystalline exterior of Lavi’s Innocence he collapsed backwards, holding his head with a pained gasp. The others all stood and went to help him. Lavi hurriedly reached for his hammer from across the table and holstered it before anyone else could touch it, knowing how badly Innocence could affect non-accommodators, particularly those who tried to take such weapons for their own. Lavi’s hammer audibly scraped against the tabletop before he secured it against his thigh. Everyone turned to stare at him, wide-eyed.

“Wh-what the hell…”

“How did…?”

“What is that?”

Lavi met their shocked gazes and gave a cheery smile. “Whoops, did I forget to mention I’m cursed to have that weapon? Looks like I can’t give it to ya after all.”

He stood and edged his way to the door, arms raised, grin plastered across his face to disguise his anxiety. The others simply stood and watched, wide eyed, until the old man pointed at him, teeth gritted, hands shaking.

“You lying cheat!”

The man stormed towards him and grabbed him by the shirt, eyes blazing. Lavi gave a nervous laugh before looking over his shoulder at Neah with a desperate expression.

“Little help, please?”

Neah gave a nonchalant shrug. “You told me not to make any trouble.”

Lavi stared at him until he spoke with a hysterical edge to his voice. “Yes, but that was before this happened so do me a favour and give me some help.”

Sighing, Neah walked forwards, curled his right hand into a fist, and slammed it into the old man’s face. The old man fell to the ground, curled up in pain. Lavi turned towards Neah, open-mouthed.

“Th-that’s not what I meant, you idiot!”

Neah stuck out his tongue. “Well, maybe specify next time you ask for hel-”

A fist flew in their direction and they both dodged. The man who tried to hit them crashed into a nearby table, sending drinks shattering to the ground. More people stood and began to yell and reach for weapons. In a matter of seconds, mass confusion and an itch for violence led to accusations and thrown punches until it was unclear who exactly was fighting who. Lavi and Neah edged towards the door, dodging punches and throwing some of their own. Just as they reached the door, Neah made a noise and went back into the fray, much to Lavi’s frustration.

“Wait, what’re you doing?! We need to go!”

“Gimme a sec.”

Neah pushed and shoved until he reached the man who would have won Lavi’s hammer, punched him hard in the face before ridding him of all the coins he’d gained from his win, and fought his way back to the door with a smile.

“Now we can go.”

Lavi stared at him incredulously. “I can’t believe you sometimes.”

They’re getting away!”

The man Neah had just punched, blood flowing from each nostril, made his way towards them with a knife in hand. Lavi un-holstered his Innocence and activated it with a call of its name. With a flourish, he increased the hammer’s size and knocked everyone nearby into a far corner, throwing himself out the door before they could get up, Neah following close behind.

They began to run when they heard angry yells behind them. A few attempted to follow them but came to a scrambled halt when they realised they’d disappeared from sight, a mysterious seal imprinted on the ground the only thing left in their wake.

Most of the crowd soon dissipated, already disinterested, but a hooded old man remained where he stood, head raised towards the sky, a black star swirling into view on his forehead.

Chapter Text

The sun had long since set by the time Lavi and Neah found shelter.

Their escape from the bar had been rushed, fuelled by panic and the fear of being followed. It would not take long for the Order or the Noah to hear word of a brawl and the mention of Innocence. By the time they found anywhere suitable to rest, they were tired, sore, and hungry. Any use for the coins Neah had stolen soon dissipated into nothing as they - very begrudgingly - accepted there would be no food for them that night.

Pushing the thought of comfy inns and warm meals out of their mind, they settled into their shelter of choice - an empty hut, dilapidated and abandoned. As the sun fully set behind nearby hills, shadows crept over rotten timber and broken shale, branches creaking, air heavy with moisture; a storm was coming. Lavi flopped onto a dry patch of floor, looking up at the broken rafters above his head with a grimace - sleeping somewhere dry was out of the question too, it seemed. Neah slumped against a nearby wall with a groan.

“I’m so hungry.”

Lavi sighed. “Whinin’ won’t make it any easier.”

Neah threw a glare his way, tone wreathed in sarcasm. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s not like we could’ve stayed in a comfy inn if a certain someone hadn’t gotten us into a bar fight.”

Lavi dragged his hands down his face, exasperated. “You started it! If you hadn’t punched that guy we could’ve resolved it another way!”

“And if you hadn’t bet your Innocence and lost I wouldn’t have needed to punch anyone, you fucking moron! We could’ve bet our clothes, or offered to fight people, or something other than a weapon you can’t afford to lose!”

Lavi made a frustrated noise, anger steadily rising within him. “Well, sorry for bein’ an idiot and not thinking straight! In case you’d forgotten, you’re the reason we don’t have any supplies. Next time I’d like to see you try and do somethin’ to get us food and a room for the night!”

“And I’d like to see you try and shut the fuck up!”

Lavi didn’t reply, knowing better than to argue with Neah in such a bad mood. He settled for cold, stony silence. Minutes passed, and the tension dissipated into a weariness that ached and weighed heavily on their shoulders. Lavi longed for sound, anything other than the quiet, heavy emptiness that surrounded him. He got his wish when Neah began to speak, voice low and full of frustration.

“Look, I can’t hang around here like this. I can’t keep getting stuck with no food and no way out when I have so much to…” Neah paused, hands clenched at his sides, a desperate edge entering his voice. “I can’t keep fucking around and doing nothing.”

Lavi was silent for a while before he began to laugh. There was no malice or mockery in his laughter, but it angered Neah nonetheless. He spoke with gritted teeth, eyes narrowed.

“What’s so funny?”

Lavi shook his head with a smile. “It’s nothin’, it’s just… you’re so like him when you talk like that. It’s kinda a weird contrast to you being an annoying little shit most of the time.”

Neah scowled at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Lavi remained silent until he gave a soft smile and said, “I dunno, makes me think you and Allen aren’t all that different from each other.”

Neah laughed, bitterly. “Oh, I think we are.”

“You’re not, take it from me. I’ve been observin’ Allen since me and Gramps were tasked to watch him and write the hidden history he created. At first I thought he was a naïve idiot, ‘cause he was so horrified at the thought of fighting the Noah.” Lavi laughed. “It was so stupid! I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But then we fought together, and I saw what he saw through that left eye of his, an’ my first thought was the world as he sees it is hell. He’s gone through so much shit, and he just… keeps going…”

Lavi lapsed into silence, gaze faraway, lost in his memories. He turned back to Neah with a grin.

“That’s why you two are so similar. You’re both hell bent on stickin’ to your path and keepin’ your promises, no matter what happens. Makes me think you guys could figure something out, ya know?”

Neah stared, open-mouthed and incredulous, until he laughed and rubbed at his temples. “Work something out? But that’s… that’s not how it works.”

“Who cares!  Since when did you give a shit about that?”

Lavi’s voice suddenly had a hard edge to it, and for a reason Neah couldn’t explain it irritated him. He barely resisted the urge to take a hand to Lavi’s throat, shaking from the effort of holding himself back, teeth gritted.

“There is no other option. Noah inhabit a host, take over, and live in that body until they die. We repeat it over and over until the ends of fucking time.”

Lavi shot him a look. “And yet you can’t take over, funny that.”

Neah’s voice rose in pitch. “I didn’t know he had Innocence, did I? If he hadn’t ended up with it since I last saw him, we wouldn’t be in thi-”

“Wait, since you last saw…”

Neah and Lavi both fell silent, one wide-eyed and full of confusion, the other regretting his words.

“It doesn’t matter.”

Neah was far too quick to say it and Lavi jumped on it instantly. “Oh, I’m pretty sure it does. How the fuck could you have met Allen before now?”

Neah hissed. “It doesn’t concern you.”

“It concerns my record, doesn’t it?”

“Don’t -” Neah pointed a finger, full of anger “- don’t pull that card on me. You can’t tell me not to call you Bookman, and then use that to lord it over me for information. Make up your fucking mind.”

Lavi remained silent, jaw set. A nameless feeling welled up inside of him, slowly building, cloying and disorienting. Neah stood and took a few steps forward, practically seething with anger. Lavi’s vision went hazy at the edges.

“And speaking of which, since when were you an expert on this bullshit, huh? Why should I listen to you about other options when you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about?”

Lavi didn’t respond, head lowering, shoulders tense. Neah mistook it for restrained anger and took another step, gripping Lavi by the shirt and forcing his head up. Neah was met with a hand pushing him back, cold, calculating anger and someone that Lavi was not.

“Do you ever stop whining? How does anyone stand you at all?”

Neah narrowed his eyes, disliking this new tone even more than the hot-tempered anger from before.

“You want some advice? No-one told you there wasn’t another option, so make one. You’re standing there in a pointless stand-off where neither of you can win and it’s really irritating.”

Neah frowned. “I don’t get it. Why are you acting so offended over something that isn’t anything to do with you? Since when did you Bookmen start giving bullshit life advice?”

A smile with no warmth, forced and strained. “You misunderstand. I’m not doing this to help you. I’m doing this because you’re annoying the hell out of me, and I don’t want to listen to the two of you fight anymore.”

Neah raised an eyebrow, confusion rising, ready to speak but interrupted by a finger jabbing into his chest, hard enough to hurt.

“Neither of you can win, you know that, right? As long as you exist, and as long as you have that left arm, you’re gonna be stuck here until you both end up dead somewhere.” Neah tried to interrupt but was immediately cut off before he could get a word in. “Giving Walker some credit, he doesn’t know anything about this. But you know what you’re doing, don’t you? Are you talking to him? No, because you’re a self-righteous bastard!”

Neah spluttered over his words. “Wh-why the fuck would I help him like that? There’s no need t-”

“Why? Because you’re stuck here with him, so you might as well get used to it. If you’re so damn annoyed about the situation you’re in, put on your big boy pants and talk to him.”

Neah was shoved aside and heavy footsteps made for the door. Neah gave an exasperated noise and called out.

“Where are you going?”

Silence, and the abrupt sound of the door slamming shut, was the only answer he got in return.


Thick, suffocating air, the whistling of the wind through nearby branches, the patter of rain as it descended from the heavens in soft, tentative drops before falling in a roaring chorus of sound. The ground was damp underfoot, cloying mud and thick undergrowth and wet leaves stuck to Lavi’s boots. Rain trickled down his neck, cold and immediately grounding him in the present.

Lavi froze, blinking rapidly, looking at his surroundings with confusion. He had been arguing with Neah, driven to anger by hunger and exhaustion. Neah had started walking towards him, and then… haze, cloying and disorientating. He had a vague recollection, something that felt far more like a dream than a memory, of raised voices and the sudden humidity of the outside world as he…

No, it hadn’t been him.

Realisation kicking in, Lavi sighed and rubbed at his temples with damp fingers. He turned inward, eye closed to the dark and the rain, and at first… nothing, then a lingering feeling of anger, and a squirming, uncomfortable feeling of shame from somewhere deep within himself.

Junior had shoved Lavi’s control aside in a moment of impulse, it seemed. A sudden feeling of fear curled itself into Lavi’s insides - a sense of having lost control, picture-perfect memory for once obscured and hazy - before the feeling dissipated.

Lavi ran a hand through his sodden hair, conflicted. He didn’t feel angry, not necessarily. He disliked it when his control was shoved aside in such a way, especially without warning, but he knew it was a long time coming. That burning frustration, wanting to say I know but knowing it wasn’t his place to comfort, to reassure. Both Lavi and Junior had observed Allen and Neah’s suffering and wanted to make it stop, but whether it was for Allen and Neah’s sakes or their own, they didn’t know. They didn’t want to know.

Lavi opened his eye and let out a frustrated noise. Going by the heavy weight of his clothes against his skin, he’d lost enough time for Junior to mope in the rain and soak them to the bone. The thought that Allen and Neah would both understand this feeling of frustration brought a bitter smile to Lavi’s features. He turned his head, seeing the darkened silhouette of the hut in the distance, and wondered if Neah had taken his chance to run off, finally free of his unwanted companion. Lavi’s smile dropped, a sinking feeling curling itself inside, digging its claws into his heart.

He took a hurried step forward before hesitating. Even if Neah hadn’t run off, he would have to explain what had happened, and ultimately what it meant. Allen had taken the news well, but that didn’t mean Neah would. The last time this kind of situation had occurred in front of someone, it had been Junior beating Allen within an inch of his life on Noah’s Ark, puppeted by Road’s strings. It was not something Lavi wanted to think about, in any way whatsoever, but Neah would demand answers, or at the very least he would be confused about what had transpired.

Where Lavi reacted with emotion and heated words, Junior was all logic and calculating insults, knowing exactly what buttons to press. Lavi knew that no matter what he said, or who had said what, he was likely going to get his head bashed in, and that was only if Neah hadn’t taken off into the darkness, starving and alone. He let out a sigh, shoulders slumped, trying to focus on the rain upon his skin instead of the turmoil inside his head, failing to do so.

Lavi had set things into motion with Allen and Neah and he shouldn’t have done, according to the code he lived by at least. He had expressed sympathy and warmth where none should exist, revealing things about himself that he had kept secret for many long years. Lavi didn’t know what Junior had said to Neah - Junior was avoiding him as thoroughly as possible - but things had clearly gone too far.

A Bookman was a simple observer, stood on the sidelines, devoid of anger or misleading emotion. A Bookman did not get invested, a Bookman did not involve themself in the lives of others, particularly when it came to their records. Neah’s comment about Lavi abusing his status as a Bookman for information had been intended as an insult, but he wasn’t wrong either. Lavi was being a hypocrite, avoiding the burden of his duty while still hoarding whatever information he could get his hands on.

Equally, it was hard to stay impartial when the topic matter was such a personal one to everyone involved.

Lavi knew his circumstances were different, but he still deeply understood the frustration that was swallowing Neah and Allen whole. There were many differences between them, but the main thing that separated Lavi’s situation from theirs was the co-operation and understanding he had developed between himself and those he shared his body - and his life - with. Bookman Junior, as Lavi had come to call him - neither of them could remember the names they had been given, or given themselves as children - had always been there to protect him, regardless of their opposing interests, and that had eased any tension between them as the years passed them by. That understanding had given Lavi a perspective that was completely different to Allen and Neah’s.

Allen and Neah remembered being separate. They had no idea how to navigate their current situation. Allen was scared, Lavi knew that. He was mortally afraid of disappearing, that his already flimsy grasp on reality was slipping through his fingertips. Neah was scared too, but for a very different reason. He had so little time to do what he needed to, and the longer he did nothing, the slimmer his chances got.

It was obvious Neah had not considered the idea of his host rejecting him, and Lavi could scarcely comprehend what he had said about Allen not having had Innocence before. It was frustrating to see the two of them refuse to accept their current way of living, though Lavi didn’t blame them for it, and he knew painfully well that even if Allen attempted to accept the situation and propose an agreement that Neah was very unlikely to accept it, even if he was ruining his own chances of getting anywhere with his goals in the process.

Lavi had no idea what Neah was planning, other than he intended to kill and replace the current Millennium Earl. He had overheard the Noah discussing it in hushed tones before they had interrogated Bookman, and the fear and uncertainty in their voices said enough about how severe the consequences would be if Neah achieved his goal.

But surely Allen of all people would be willing to help him defeat the Earl? If it benefited the both of them, why couldn’t they work together? Lavi and Junior had done that exact same thing, knowing that for all their differences they still shared the same insecurities and fears, that working together was the better option by far. Lavi hadn’t been afraid of him in years - Road’s influence from the Ark being an exception.

If they could do it, why couldn’t Allen and Neah do the same?

Lavi rubbed at his face tiredly, lowering his head and feeling drops of water trickle down his face and patter onto his boots. He was far too invested in the two of them and their struggles, trapped in a messy situation that was leading him further and further away from the future he’d been forced to choose. If he wanted to become Bookman, he would have to abandon the both of them, regardless of whether he managed to convince the two of them to work together for their own good or not.

He was also painfully aware that he shouldn’t be convincing the two of them of anything in the first place, and the fact Junior had lost his temper and stepped in was a bad sign. Junior’s role was keeping Lavi in line with what being a Bookman meant; to be an unbiased observer, standing on the side-lines and watching events play out as fate dictated. They were both directly involving themselves in something that was affecting history, they were changing what they would be writing in their records, and that was the exact opposite of what a Bookman was meant to be.

Between Lavi’s own selfish desires for a purpose after Bookman’s death, a deep sympathy and understanding of Allen and Neah’s situation, and both his and Junior’s long-term bitterness and indecision towards their future, they were stuck in a situation where they were unable to forsake their duty or accept it, and it was torture. They had been avoiding this decision their entire lives, ignoring every single red flag that had come their way, determined to make it work.

All they wanted was to be free, and yet it was such a difficult thing to achieve.

Lavi raised himself up, taking in a deep breath, and letting it out slow and steady as the cold settled itself into his bones, clothes wet and cloying against his skin. He looked out into the distance, eye fixed on the darkened hut amongst the trees, and sighed.

“Well, time to try and fix this mess.”


The door slammed shut so loudly that Neah winced. The room lapsed into a heavy silence, interrupted only by the sound of the rain and the quiet drips of water through holes in the ceiling to the ground below.

Neah leant back against the wall behind him and slid down, sighing deeply before running a hand through his hair. The anger he felt faded away, and he was left with a feeling he didn’t want; guilt. Neah had spent his entire life running from that feeling, running from the weight that refused to leave his shoulders.

Lavi’s words had stuck, though the end of their little ‘confrontation’ had been somewhat… strange. Uncertainty and confusion consumed Neah until his stomach was twisting in pain from more than just hunger.

Neah had made a promise to himself, and to Mana, that he would defy fate and save the both of them, no matter the cost. He had been so certain that his plan would work, but everything had gone wrong, and now he was stuck in a body that was rejecting him. The only options he had were remaining stuck or dying and finding a new host, and he couldn’t go with either of those options.

But were they truly his only options? He had never questioned the nature of his existence as a Noah before. He’d been so certain that Timcanpy would ensure his takeover, since the less Allen felt like ‘Allen’, the more the lines would blur until there was only ‘Neah’. But with Timcanpy gone - which still left Neah pained and consumed with worry - Allen had no way of seeing Neah’s memories, and he was stubbornly and resolutely keeping a hold of his existence.

They were both stuck in limbo, unable to progress, unable to do anything more than take a step forward, even if the other took a step in the opposite direction. Neah had wondered many times why he could not take over, why he was stuck like this. He’d so strongly wanted to destroy the Innocence attached to his body that at times it brought him physical pain. But if it was destroyed, he would die; at least, if what Lavi had said about the hole in Allen’s - and by proxy Neah’s - heart was true. Unless he found a way to overcome its power with his own, he was stuck in this body with his host until they both died from exhaustion, or at the hands of their enemies that ever increased in number.

Or he could find another option.

Despite his lingering irritation towards the Bookman apprentice in his company, a part of Neah knew Lavi was right; neither he, the Allen he had once known, or the ‘Allen’ he had come to know accepted the fates that were thrust upon them. They all wanted to find their own paths in life, to tread on unpressed ground and find a future that they wanted to live. Neah had been so caught up in running and hiding and simply surviving that he hadn’t given a moment’s thought to the person he shared his body with, to the person he had once called a friend.

The person he had so easily called an enemy.

That thought pained him, so deeply he clutched at his chest and winced. He had become so used to calling those around him enemies, distrusting and expecting betrayal everywhere he went. Every waking thought since his death had been to destroy the Mana that was not his, the Mana that no longer remembered the golden fields of their home, the promises they had made, the memories they had of each other - the Mana that had become his enemy.

If he couldn’t trust Mana, then he couldn’t trust anyone.

Or so he’d thought. He had become so good at shoving aside his emotions in favour of purpose, his self-proclaimed duty, and yet for all his criticisms on the Bookman Clan he was being a hypocrite. If he held no trust in Lavi, he would have killed him outright, or left him injured and made his escape. He would not be sat, moping in the dark, waiting for him to return if he did not trust him in some regard. He could not do it alone, Neah knew that. In a way, it was easier trusting someone who was as conflicted as he was, and that irony made Neah smile, bitterly.

Footsteps and the creak of the door opening made the smile fall from Neah’s features. The sound of the rain was so loud and so immediate that for a moment it was all Neah could focus on. Lavi stood soaking wet and dripping rainwater in the doorway would normally be a sight that Neah would have poken fun at, but he found himself unable to speak. Lavi’s footsteps were heavy as he entered the darkened hut, gaze fixed on the dirty floor beneath his feet, eye narrowed.

A tense, heavy silence descended upon them. Both were unsure of what to say, knowing that there was so much they could say but did not know how to express, or were too secretive to reveal. Lavi was the first to break the silence, shifting awkwardly where he stood and rubbing the back of his neck.

“I’m -”

Neah raised an eyebrow. “If you’re going to apologise, don’t bother.” Lavi made a disgruntled noise and Neah resisted the urge to smirk. “And I mean, hey, at least you have the balls to say what you think. It means I have an excuse to beat the shit out of you sometime.”

Lavi sighed, shoulders slumping in obvious relief, before he sat down a few metres away from Neah. “You were pissin’ me off too much to sit back and let you be a little shit.”

Neah stuck out his tongue in response. Lavi shook his head with a smile, slumping backwards to lie on the floor with a sigh. He debated whether or not he should try and raise the topic from their earlier conversation, but he knew that if he didn’t say it now he never would.

“I just… can’t sit here and listen to you talk about all that as if you’re the only one.”

Neah watched him carefully for a moment, eyes narrowed. Moments added up - seething glares and the taste of alcohol, the sound of rain and angered words - and when it finally clicked, Neah ran his hands through his hair with a resigned noise.

“So, this is when you tell me you’re a host for a Noah and I get to kill you or something, right?”

Lavi laughed. “You wish.” He faltered for a moment before continuing, voice quiet. “Nah, for me it’s a little different. I told Allen about it before you woke up in Mâcon, and before you get all huffy with me, I was gonna tell you soon after, but you decided to run off and be a fucking moron.”

Neah scowled down at him. “When are you gonna let that go? Jeez...”

“As soon as you stop being an A grade asshole.” Lavi paused before stretching where he lay, grimacing at how clammy his skin felt under his wet clothes. “Explainin’ it to you would take too much effort, so all ya need to know is if you ever try and tell me I don’t know what I’m talkin’ about again, I’m gonna lose my shit at you.”

Neah shot him a look. “Since when have I ever cared about your feelings, Bookman?”

Lavi tensed up. “Stop calling me that.”

“Why?”

Neah seemed genuinely curious, so Lavi decided to give him an honest answer. He sighed before speaking in a low tone, expression pained.

“It doesn’t… feel right, not right now.”

Neah paused before asking, “So what do I call you instead?”

Lavi looked up at him incredulously. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten my name, you dumbass.”

“I haven’t. ‘Lavi’ isn’t your name, is it? And you’re not on your record right now, no matter how many times you insist that’s why you’re here.” Lavi shifted uncomfortably and Neah sighed. “Ain’t you got another name?”

Lavi pulled a face. “Why’ve you gotta be so difficult? I guess… Junior will do.”

Neah frowned. “Junior?”

“It’s short for Bookman Junior, but just Junior’s fine.”

Neah paused before speaking, disbelief showing in his expression. “You got mad about me calling you ‘kid’, but ‘Junior’ is fine?”

Lavi scowled. “They mean completely different things, you ass.”

“Ugh, fine, Junior it is then.”

Lavi fell silent for a few moments before laughing. “Ya know, even if I’ve gone by that before, I’m so used to bein’ called ‘Lavi’ it’s kinda weird that I’m the one being called ‘Junior’. What’ll you call the other guy now?”

Neah gave him a confused look before understanding what he meant and shrugged. “Who cares, he can just be ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ for all I care.”

Lavi snorted. “Yeah he, uh, isn’t happy about that. But I guess we can’t really expect anythin’ better from you.”

Neah stuck out his tongue and Lavi simply shook his head, staring up at the ceiling with a contemplative expression.

“You know, from all the records I’d read on you, you seemed like a difficult bastard who would kill anyone who got in his way.” Neah scowled in reply and Lavi laughed. “Hey, you know it’s true. But even if the records are right on those counts, you’re also not that bad of a guy. I’m surprised.”

Neah faltered. “Oi, is that an insult or a compliment?”

Lavi smirked up at him. “Since when have I ever cared about your feelings, Noah?”

“Fuck you.”

Lavi laughed, closing his eye and taking a moment to enjoy the silence that had befallen them, one that lacked the heaviness from earlier. For many long minutes, he and Neah said nothing, feeling the tension dissipate between them, though there were still many unanswered questions and things that neither of them knew how to voice. After a long while Lavi spoke, almost too quietly for Neah to hear.

“I don’t care what you do. Keep tryin’ to take over Allen, do nothing, I really couldn’t give a shit.” He faltered, guilt showing in his expression. “Well, actually, maybe I do care. A little bit.”

Neah snorted. “A lot.”

Lavi glared at him before continuing. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter. All I’m sayin’ is if you’re that desperate to get a move on and go kill the Earl or whatever that Allen may be more up for helpin’ you than you think. And -” he interrupted Neah before he could speak, giving him a knowing look “- before you say ‘but he definitely wouldn’t’ how’re ya gonna know if you don’t ask? People will do a lot to surprise you if their future is on the line.”

Neah remained silent for a while before muttering under his breath. “Look at me, taking advice from a cry baby.”

“H-hey, I didn’t cry!”

“Yeah, yeah, doesn’t matter what you say, you’re still a cry baby to me.”

Lavi scowled but said nothing, preferring Neah’s light-hearted teasing to the fight they had earlier. Neah seemed in a better mood, but pensive, and the air he gave off was one of both stubbornness and agreement. Even if Lavi and Junior had both said too much - far, far too much - it seemed their words had done something good after all, and the apprehension and anxiety that had settled in Lavi’s chest gave way just a little.

Lavi stretched and yawned before sitting up. “Anyway, you should probably sleep, I’ll take first watch.”

Neah glared at him. “Who are you, my mother?” Lavi shot him a look and he sighed, shaking his head a little. “Alright, fine, I’m tired of talking to you anyway. Though…” he paused and looked Lavi over, raising an eyebrow at his wet clothes and how exhausted he looked. “You really gonna handle taking first watch?”

Lavi smirked. “Who are you, my mother?” Neah growled at his obvious teasing and he laughed. “Plus, it doesn’t matter ‘cause I’m takin’ first watch whether you like it or not.”

“Fine, but if you catch pneumonia and die, or fall asleep and let us get attacked, then I’m leaving you for dead.”

Lavi raised a middle finger at him in response and watched as Neah moved to lie down in the centre of the room. All fell silent as he lay down to sleep, coat folded underneath his head. Just as Lavi shuffled backwards to sit by a nearby wall, the room settling into silence, he heard Neah speak, so quietly it was as if he’d imagined it.

“Goodnight, Junior. Kick me awake when it’s dawn.”

Lavi paused before smiling, voice full of amusement. “Sure thing, Neah. Now shut up and go to sleep.”

Silence; enshrouded by darkness and the quiet rustle of leaves outside. As Lavi settled into a comfortable position, gaze fixed on the grimy window and the moonlit outside world with his thoughts elsewhere, Neah lay for several minutes in silence, eyes open and full of thought, before sighing and eventually falling asleep.


The morning arose, golden and full of sunlit intentions. It was going to be a beautiful morning, with only small wisps of cloud obscuring the otherwise endless blue sky.

Lavi would have stayed true to his word and kicked Neah awake, if not just for his hilarious reaction, but he seemed so peaceful and exhausted that Lavi didn’t have the heart to wake him. Instead, Lavi went back to his position in a corner of the room and hummed quietly under his breath. Hours passed, and the sun drifted higher into the brightening sky, sending rays of light through the grimy windowpanes until flecks of golden dust floated among it. Lavi watched with a content expression on his face, counting each mote of dust as it fell to land by his feet, until he heard the sound of someone stirring with a groan.

“Wh… what time is it?”

A voice muffled by sleep, a tired yawn and a smooth stretch of both arms above his head - Allen had returned. The particular way he held himself was very distinctly ‘Allen’; the way he used his left arm was the main giveaway. Lavi rubbed the back of his neck, fighting off the urge to yawn.

“No idea, probably nine or ten in the mornin’.”

Allen blinked sleepily in the brightening daylight before having another stretch and yawn, standing up with a wince. “You’d think I’d be used to hard floors by now. Ouch.”

Lavi smiled. “Don’t think any amount of doin’ it is gonna make it easier, beansprout.”

“It’s Allen, stupid Lavi.” He paused before holding his stomach with a groan. “God, how long has it been since that bastard ate something? Wait…” He froze, a hard edge entering his words. “Wait, how long was I…?”

“A few days.”

“And did anything… happen?”

Lavi paused, unsure of how to explain the events that had transpired while Allen had been gone. “Well we, uh, had a bit of a dramatic exit from Mâcon, let’s put it that way.”

Allen tensed up, alarm showing in his eyes. “What do you mean, ‘dramatic’? Did anything bad happen? Are you alright?”

Lavi faltered a little before sighing heavily, head lowering. “Akuma and the Order turned up, Neah tried to run away, I had to -”

“Wait, wait, wait, slow down. The Order was there? Neah did what?!”

Lavi gave a weary smile. “I’ll fill you in, don’t worry.” He paused before continuing, a curious edge entering his voice. “Did Neah… say anythin’ to you?”

Allen scowled, confused. “No, of course not, why would he - ?”

“Never mind, I’ll get you up to speed as we walk. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.” Lavi stood and stretched, cricking his neck with a wince. When he noticed Allen was staring at him with narrowed eyes he frowned. “Is somethin’ wrong?”

Allen paused, taking a moment to pick the right words. “Nothing really, you just seem… a bit different. Are you sure you’re alright?”

Lavi nodded with a smile. “Yup, same ol’ Lavi right here.”

Allen stared at him for a few seconds longer before sighing and looking away. “Well, if you say you’re fine, then alright. Shall we get going?”

Lavi nodded, feeling apprehensive over Allen catching on far too quickly to the cracks in his mask. He had kept quiet about his own troubles for far too long, and it wasn’t fair on Allen for Lavi to keep him in the dark when he already knew so little about everything, but Lavi didn’t know if he was ready for that honest of a conversation, not yet.

With little reluctance, they left the grimy shack that had been their abode for the night, starting down a path through thick fir trees. The forest floor was damp and squishy beneath their feet, thick with leaves and undergrowth, and they hardly made a sound as they walked; they would be but ghosts if their breath didn’t leave little clouds of air behind them.

As they walked, Lavi filled Allen in on what had happened - the arrival of the Order and their fight with Akuma, Neah running and Lavi later having to get him out of a difficult situation, Neah losing their supplies - which earnt a very loud and exasperated groan from Allen - as well as his thoughts on Neah and the flight from the bar, which had both amused and enraged Allen - you could so easily have cheated, I can’t believe you lost - before finally explaining what had happened the night before. It took Allen a long time to find his words once Lavi had finished explaining.

“So you… told him about you and the others…”

Lavi nodded. “I did. It seemed like he seriously listened to me, though knowin’ him it won’t count for much.”

Allen remained silent for a long while before he spoke, hope showing in his expression. “Do you think… we could keep going like this? Where neither of us have to…?”

Lavi looked over at him, watching the emotions flickering in Allen’s expression, before interlacing his fingers behind his neck with a thoughtful hum. “Well, that’s kinda up to the two of you to decide. We’ve managed it, so I don’t see why you two couldn’t. You and Neah are different to us, but you’re on equal footing with each other right now, since neither of you can properly use your powers.”

Allen looked away, trying not to hold on to the hope building in his heart too tightly for fear of it fading away. Lavi watched his reaction carefully before continuing, curiosity tingeing his words.

“Ya know, I was wondering… well, if you get your Innocence workin’ again, the ball would be in your court, figuratively speaking. Would you get rid of Neah, if you could?”

Allen faltered a little, unsure. “Well, I don’t… like living like this. Ah -” he turned to Lavi quickly, waving his hands with a worried expression “- I don’t mean to say that the situation you’re in is bad or anything, I just -”

Lavi laughed, shaking his head a little. “You couldn’t offend us if you tried. Plus, your situation’s completely different. What were you gonna say, before you interrupted yourself like a moron?”

Allen scowled at him before rubbing the back of his neck. “Ah, I was going to say that… well, if I could go back to how things were before the Ark, I would. But…” he sighed, conflicted “… I realised when the Third Exorcists appeared that I had started fearing and hating things without even thinking about it. I feel like it would be a bad idea for me to just… get rid of Neah, even if I’m scared of what he can do and what he wants to do. So, maybe Neah and I can come to… some kind of understanding…”

As Allen spoke, Lavi felt the same feeling he had gotten in Mâcon, when Allen had seemed like a different person to him. He had changed a lot in the months since Lavi had been gone; he was a person that bloomed in the face of adversity, and watching Allen battle his fears and put them aside so he could keep going was incredibly admirable, in Lavi’s mind.

A soft laugh from beside him brought Lavi’s attention away from his thoughts.

“You know…” Allen turned to look up at Lavi with a bright smile. “I don’t think anything could completely get rid of my fears about this, but I… feel better than I have done for a long time, so truly - thank you, Lavi.”

His words and the smile he had given caught Lavi off guard, making him falter a little as he walked. Allen’s eyes radiated gratitude and happiness and Lavi found himself unable to meet that gaze, cheeks burning.

“W-well, he might still decide not to work with you, ya know, so take whatever he ends up doin’ and sayin’ with a pinch of salt.” He faltered, rubbing the back of his neck. “And it’s… really nothing, Allen. I’m just glad he’s at least listening to me about this, ya know?”

Allen shook his head with a smile. “It isn’t just ‘nothing’, Lavi. It’s important, what you’ve been doing for us both.” His own choice of wording threw him for a moment, making him fall silent. Eventually he continued, voice softening. “So, what about you? Are you sure you’re alright?”

Lavi gave him a questioning glance and all Allen did in reply was look at him as if he could see right through him, if but for a moment. It made Lavi feel incredibly vulnerable, that gaze, and he immediately looked away and tried to shut out any emotion that had started peeking its way into his expression.

“Well, it’s been a shit few days, but I’ve had worse.” Way worse. “So, don’ worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

He felt guilty for hiding his panic over Neah - and, by proxy, Allen - leaving, as well as the tense conversation he and Neah had over Bookman’s death, but he did not wish to tarnish his friend’s hopeful mood, or make him feel as if Lavi was any sort of burden.

Allen seemed to consider his response for a moment before sighing. “Okay, if you say so… But Neah really didn’t do anything to hurt you, did he?”

“He didn’t. May have been an irritatin’ asshole on more than one occasion, but I can handle that. You don’t have to worry so much about it. As long as I don’t do too much to piss him off, I think I’ll be fine.”

Lavi grinned and it reassured Allen, even if it was by just a little. After a moment of silence, interrupted only by their footsteps and the sound of crushed leaves beneath their feet, Lavi spoke quietly.

“We just… need some time to get our head sorted, ya know?”

It was the most honest response he had given so far, and Allen picked up on it. After looking up at him for a moment with a careful gaze, he spoke quietly.

“That goes for the both of us…” Allen paused before continuing, voice resolute and determined. “But, you know, if you ever need to talk about anything, I’m here.”

Lavi didn’t meet his eyes, gaze fixed ahead, and nodded. He was thankful of those words more than Allen would know, more than his words could express. But he knew that he couldn’t speak of it yet, not when he still understood so little about what was even wrong in the first place. But as Allen caught up to him and gave him a warm smile - brightly shining, like he did back then - Lavi managed to give a nervous smile back and felt a little of the weight leave his shoulders.

From then on, they walked in amiable silence, boots leaving imprinted footsteps on the forest floor in their wake. The wind hardly stirred the leaves of the trees that loomed above them, and as they felt the heat rise on their backs they began to swelter under the midday sun. The forest was huge, larger than they had imagined, and the deeper they ventured into it the more hot and stuffy the atmosphere became. Soon, they were forced to carry their coats, sweating and panting for breath as the ground began to rise. After hours of walking, they found an alcove atop a small hill, devoid of trees and undergrowth, where the sun shone brightly down on emerald grass. They walked up the incline and gulped down the fresh air, relishing the feeling of cold wind on their sticky and overheated skin.

After enjoying the cool air for a few minutes, Lavi stood at the tallest point of the hill and looked around, hand poised above his eye to protect his vision from the glaring sunlight.

“Man… this place is bigger than I thought, must be a good ten or twenty miles across. We seem to be nearly out of it, though.”

Allen stretched before looking over at him. “Will we make it out before nightfall then?”

“Hope so. Though…”

Allen titled his head as Lavi’s voice became full of apprehension. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, just… not been an Akuma attack since we left Mâcon.”

Lavi didn’t need to say anything more; Allen nodded and stood, coat in hand, nervous but determined. As they made their way off the hill and back into the sweltering shade of the forest, they felt tension mount with each step. Each and every sudden noise left them unsettled. Daylight had begun to fade as the trees began to thin, casting long impenetrable shadows as the sun nestled itself slowly behind nearby hilltops.

It was then that Allen’s eye activated.

Lavi’s voice was full of urgency and bitter irony when he spoke. “Speak of the devil. How many?”

Allen sighed, moving to activate his Innocence on reflex with a pained expression. “Too many.”

Taking a deep breath, Lavi slid his Innocence out of its holster and activated it, expression settling into one of resigned determination. He looked over at Allen and nodded, receiving one in return. They began to run, making for open space as quickly as they were able. But the Akuma had caught up with them far quicker than they thought they would, and before they were able to exit the expanse of trees, a large fir came crashing down a few metres before them with a Level Four floating above it. It shrieked triumphantly and waved a hand to its left.

They’re here!”

Allen followed the Akuma’s gaze and saw the souls of others fast approaching; Level Fours, Threes, Twos and a few Ones; far too many for comfort. Instinctively, he raised his left arm to activate it and was met with dull sensation and a silent response. Gritting his teeth, he stood with his back to Lavi’s, fists raised, prepared to fight as hard as he was able without the aid of his Innocence. The Level Four hovering before them laughed.

“Fighting without your weapon again? You really are stupid, 14th.”

Allen bristled, voice brimming with anger. “I am not the 14th.”

The Akuma laughed again. “But you soon will be. That is, if you manage to escape here alive.” The Level Four gave a warning shot a few metres to Allen’s right, hands raised and eyes glinting with malice. “We’re not letting you get out of this one.”

They were far from hollow words. As the rest of the Akuma descended upon them, every living second became blood and pain and toil. Allen’s knuckles were soon torn and bleeding from the force of his punches, and his body ached from the effort of fighting. Lavi, despite the aid of his weapon, was also struggling. His seals picked off the easy targets, and deterred those who were more difficult to defeat, but soon exhaustion and several minor injuries were slowing him down - the worst being a cut just above his left eye, leaving him partially blinded. The longer he fought, the more the swing of his hammer became less and less potent. Looking over his shoulder to see how Allen was faring, and feeling his stomach twist in worry as he noticed Allen’s numerous wounds, Lavi began to follow his escape plan; fire seals to obscure them with smoke and flame, and a speedy exit using an air seal to safety.

But in all the fights prior to this one they had escaped without serious injury, and they were rarely ever followed. The element of surprise and Lavi’s speed had always worked in their favour, and the only Akuma that could rival that speed were the Level Fours, which they had barely encountered during their battles. But, it seemed, the Noah were tired of waiting for Neah’s head, and they wanted him brought bloodied and battered to the Earl for trial and tribulation.

Their upper-hand had rapidly disappeared and Lavi cursed his lack of forethought; they had been lulled into a false sense of security deliberately, and that thought left a bitter taste on his tongue. He immediately cast several fire seals around them, flames obscuring them if only briefly from their assailants, and grabbed hold of Allen’s arm tightly before extending his hammer up and away from the carnage. The world blurred into a mess of green and red before an endless blue arced above them. Lavi looked over his shoulder and swore loudly as several Akuma began to follow them in deadly pursuit. He looked down and felt his heart sink at how battered and exhausted Allen looked.

“Hey, hey, come on. We’re not out of the woods just yet, you’ve gotta stay with me, ‘sprout.”

“It’s… Allen.”

Allen’s voice was hoarse and heavy, but a small flame of defiance was still there, and Lavi felt relief squash his fear, if only momentarily. But they weren’t going to be let off so easily, and as they made it to another expanse of forest they saw a line of black shapes on the horizon, and their hope sank as swiftly as it had arisen. ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire’ rang clear in Lavi’s mind as it had the first day he had started travelling with Allen and Neah, and as he brought them to a halt and scanned the ground below for an open space, a sudden cry from Allen and a burst of light was all the warning he had before being sent spiralling down to the forest below.

After crashing through each and every branch, Lavi hit ground so hard he was winded by it. Wheezing, his entire body aching, vision blurred, ears full of white noise, Lavi tried to stand and found himself unable to move. All of his thoughts screamed at him to move, to find Allen, to keep fighting, but his senses had dulled and reality felt hazy around the edges as he fought to come to.

Lavi’s gaze trailed slowly from the muddied ground at his fingertips, to his Innocence lying just out of reach, to the hazy outline of treetops and broken branches over his head, to a Level Four floating but a metre above the ground with its hands wrapped firmly around Allen’s neck. Horror and panic washed through him, but his body failed to respond and all he could do was watch. Lavi groaned, every part of him aching and in great pain, his gaze fixed on the blurry image of Allen and the Akuma until the fog began to lift. The sound of choking and laughter tuned out the white noise until in a sudden rush reality crashed down upon him.

Lavi’s vision cleared, and the sight of Allen, choking and struggling to breathe, the enemy before him grinning malevolently, made his chest constrict and his heart twist in pain. If he didn’t do something soon, Allen was either going to die or be taken to certain torture and death - bones snapping, blood pooling below him, Sheryl Kamelot’s wrath - and he had to do something, he couldn’t just lie there and watch. But that was what he had spent his entire life doing, watching as other people died, and yet here he was, another soldier fighting another pointless war. Lavi’s limbs were numb and his fingers shook from the effort of extending forward and upward, outstretched to the person he was losing - just another corpse imprinted in ink on paper - and his body was burning and all he could think of was I don’t want him to die. He couldn’t breathe and his body felt light and horror washed through him so vividly he felt sick - I don’t want him to die - and he had to do something but all he could do was stare and memorise the exact way Allen’s arms slumped at his sides - I don’t want him to die I don’t want him to die I don’t

And, in that brief moment, Lavi felt a sudden clarity, as if the entire world had stopped and time had frozen still. As despair flooded through him, Lavi watched as Crown Clown activated in a flash of heavenly white light.

Allen fell to the ground with a heavy sound. The Level Four floating before him gave a shriek of pain at the white light extended out from the body at its feet and through its heart. Allen rose and silver eyes burned with resolution and power. The Level Four quaked at the sight of this shining Pierrot, arms extended to welcome it to salvation. A cross burned brightly before it, and the last thing it remembered seeing was the kind smile of a boy, battered and bruised, and its soul fading away into blissful nothingness.

Standing in silence, arms raised to guide the fading soul up towards the heavens, Allen seemed so angelic in that moment that the image of him standing there, aglow with heavenly purpose against the darkness surrounding him, burned itself deeply into Lavi’s heart.

His body and mind felt so light he could hardly feel the ground beneath him, or the hands that had pushed themselves under his back to tilt him towards a face, stricken with worry and haloed by light.

“- av - La - Lav - Lavi - Lavi, Lavi wake up.”

The world came into focus once more. Burning pain washed through Lavi until he cried out with a grimace, Allen’s concerned expression coming clearly into view.

“Lavi, we need to get out of here. I need you to stand up, come on.”

Allen pulled him to his feet and placed Iron Hammer in his hands. Lavi groaned as his body protested at the sudden movement, stumbling and shaky on his feet. The only thing keeping him upright was Allen’s steady hand on his shoulder, as well as the pain burning through his body and the weapon burning with purpose between his fingertips. As more Akuma landed - two Level Fours, five Level Threes, a single level Two - Lavi re-activated his Innocence and tried to muster whatever strength he had left to fight.

Allen outstretched his left hand, pulling up and around from his wrist until it transformed into a broadsword, which he swung and held before him with a flourish. He turned to look over his shoulder at Lavi and smiled, radiant and aglow with determination, before turning back and dashing forward to fight for the first time in months.

Finally, the meaning to his existence had returned.

The Level Twos and Threes were no match for Allen’s recovered strength, but the Level Fours put up a hefty fight. Allen may have regained the use of his Innocence, but he was riddled with wounds and exhausted beyond measure, and Lavi was still shaky on his feet and teetering on the edge of consciousness. It took far longer than it should have done to dispatch their remaining enemies. Eventually a mighty earthen fist from Iron Hammer’s Earth seal, and numerous Cross Graves from Crown Clown, spelled the end for the remaining enemy, and the final Level Four faded out of existence.

Not wasting any time, Lavi extended his hammer’s staff until they were high in the sky and dashing rapidly away from the battleground to safety. Nothing followed them in their wake, and they put as much distance as possible between them and any remaining Akuma before imminent collapse - especially on Lavi’s part - forced them to come to a halt a few dozen miles away.

Lavi hit the ground with a loud thud, lying face down and battered in wet, moonlit grass. Allen joined him, staggering off of Iron Hammer before collapsing at Lavi's side, gaze fixed on the stars and the moon shining brightly above them. Exhaustion and tiredness overcame them as the adrenaline from earlier faded into nothingness. The quiet swish of wind through tall grass, and faraway waves at a nearby lake rising and falling, were the only things to interrupt the silence surrounding them. Eventually, Allen began to laugh, voice full of weary happiness.

“Talk about timing. I was wondering if this stupid thing was ever going to activate again.”

Lavi laughed quietly. “We’re lucky it did. We would’ve been goners otherwise.”

“You can say that again…”

Silence befell them for a moment before Lavi spoke with a strange edge to his voice. “I wonder why…?”

“Hm?”

Allen turned to look at him in confusion and noticed that Lavi was now lying on his side, gazing at Allen’s left arm with a frown. Allen sat up and winced, rubbing gently at the numerous bruises appearing on his neck before shrugging.

“It’s always been like this, saving me when I need it most. It’s just good timing.”

Lavi sighed and rolled over to look at the starlit sky, voice quiet and thoughtful. “I suppose…”

They remained like this for a long time, finding themselves revelling in the tiny feelings that proved they were still alive; the cool breeze brushing against their skin, the wet grass poking between their fingertips, the sound of water, the burning ache of their many wounds.

After a while, Lavi sat up and winced, raising a hand to the side of his head and poking a large lump there gingerly. “We should find some shelter and bandage ourselves up, it’d be a shame to be dyin’ of infection after all that, wouldn’t it?”

Allen laughed and stood, extending a hand and helping Lavi up with a smile. “It would. I can imagine it would make for funny reading in a history book, though.”

Lavi snorted. “You have no idea how many times I’ve laughed over the stupid ways people have died. Did you know a guy called Hans Steininger broke his neck by trippin’ over his own beard?”

Allen pulled a face, laughter rising up within him. “What? That has to be a joke, Lavi, come on.”

They began to walk, limping as they went, arms around each other’s shoulders to steady themselves.

Lavi continued adamantly. “No, no, I’m serious! There was also Adolf Frederick, who died from eatin’ too much. You should pay attention to that ‘sprout, you don’t wanna end up like that guy, right?”

Allen punched him lightly in the shoulder, and Lavi gave a playful wince before continuing.

“And then there was Clement Vallandigham. He accidentally shot himself while defendin’ a man accused of murder by demonstratin’ how the victim could’ve shot themself.”

Allen laughed, shaking his head a little. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I know! I laughed so hard at that one I nearly choked on my coffee.”

Allen looked over at him with a fake-serious expression. “You should be careful, Lavi, don’t wanna end up in some book somewhere as the person who laughed himself to death.”

Lavi elbowed him in the side with a wink. “Thomas Urquhart already beat me to it.”

Allen soon couldn’t stop laughing, and Lavi joined him until they were both fighting back tears and their stomachs hurt from more than their injuries.

Allen wheezed. “Oh no, we have to stop. What if we end up like that Urqi - Urqu - what’s-his-face?”

Lavi staggered a little and tried to hold back his laughter. “C-can you imagine the others finding out we died by la-laughing and Yuu getting angry and -”

They both pictured Kanda’s infuriated expression and laughed harder until they had to stop walking and wrap their arms around themselves. Lavi lost his balance and fell with a yelp, and Allen laughed so hard he was wheezing and wiping tears away with a shaking hand.

“Lavi s-stop, I can’t breathe. We have to go.”

Lavi gave a defeated noise. “I’m not moving. I’m gonna sleep right here, I’ve decided.”

Allen smiled and shook his head. “Oh Lavi, come on.”

Lavi looked up at him with a grin. “Alright, alright, I’ll get up. Gimme a hand, would ya?”

Allen pulled him up and staggered a little, nearly falling backwards into the tall grass behind him. Lavi placed a steady hand on his shoulder and stood beside him, bent over and catching his breath. They stood like this for a while before Lavi stood upright and started to walk, swaying slightly from exhaustion, Allen walking beside him with a weary smile on his face.

Chapter Text

The pale light of the moon illuminated the thatched cottage before them, garden encased in shadow, the soft whistle of the wind finding its way through blades of tall grass. Battle-weary and hampered by their injuries, Allen and Lavi had little choice but to spend the night there; it was far less abandoned-looking than they would have liked, but it would have to do.

The cottage was empty, a visible layer of dust coating every available surface; whoever lived there had been gone for a few days at least. They made themselves at home, wanting nothing more than to sleep, but their injuries took priority. They washed the blood and dirt from their aching bodies and dressed their wounds, using the last of the bandages Lavi had on him. When they were done they were both too tired to find an available bed, and promptly fell asleep where they were sat, backs leaning against the wall behind them, heads resting on each other’s shoulders.

Lavi was unable to sleep properly, Junior internally prodding him every hour or so. He nearly lost his temper before realising with concern that his injury could have left him concussed. Resigning himself to wakefulness, he half-listened to Junior’s remarks to him in their mind, trying to ignore the warmth emanating from Allen beside him and the heaviness of his limbs. At first, he kept his eye open to distract himself, but the persistent swimming of his surroundings and the painful throbbing at the back of his head left him nauseous and disorientated. Lavi kept his eye shut in the end and fought off sleep as best as he could. He failed in the end, too exhausted from his injuries to hold on and remain awake any longer.

Lavi awoke many hours later, warm and comfortable despite the persistent ache of his injuries. It took him a long time to motivate himself to get up from Allen’s side. He stood up, cricking his neck with a wince, and opened his eye to see the entire room swim uncomfortably before him. He clutched at his head with a groan, eye screwed shut. After standing as still as he could, fighting off nausea, Lavi eventually opened his eye and gave a sigh of relief as the room before him returned to normal.

After he had recovered enough to move, he stretched his legs a little by walking around the room, almost tripping over Allen in the process. Lavi turned to look down at him and saw the dark, painful-looking bruises that had appeared on his neck. Lavi found himself staring with an uncomfortable tightness building in his chest until he tore himself away. More for a distraction than anything else, he decided to explore the rest of the building.

The cottage was small but homely, a place where you could be happily separated from the rest of the world. Lavi took note of a small bookshelf in a corner of the kitchen, full of musty cooking books and a set of maps. He took the most recent one and tucked it inside a trouser pocket, knowing it would be needed when they eventually set off once more. After raiding the nearby cupboards for bread and fresh vegetables - worryingly fresh, this place hadn’t been empty for long - Lavi put them to good use and prepared something that would at least fill their stomachs. After a brief moment of guilt, he decided to leave some gold coins - the ones Neah had stolen from the bar - on the kitchen counter as thanks for the stolen food.

A newspaper lying on the kitchen table caught his attention, so Lavi sat down at the table in the dim morning sunlight, reading through it to the sound of bubbling water and Allen’s quiet mumbling from the next room.

The newspaper was dated to a few weeks ago, by Lavi’s reckoning, and it didn’t bear good tidings. The political tension in France was rising. Félix Faure was becoming more and more unpopular due to his - and many others - cover-up of the Dreyfus affair. Despite a boom in the economy, things were starting to destabilise due to tensions with the colonies. Unsettled by it, feeling the weight of his ignored duty sink upon his shoulders, Lavi quickly moved on and skimmed through the rest of the paper before pausing, wide eyed, at the sight of the Rose Cross. Someone had taken a photograph of Finders from the Black Order, stood before the doors of a small church. The photo had been taken in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, and a short paragraph about a ‘strange problem’ with the church being rectified by a ‘subsect of the Church’ was detailed below it.

By order of the Vatican, any newspaper or journal was forbidden to reveal the true nature of the Black Order. Of course, this didn’t stop people from hearing about the so called ‘black priests’, as the Exorcists were commonly referred to. But, to most, they were simply a bunch of weird religious zealots cloaked in black who turned up to save them from some unknown evil.

Lavi hadn’t seen or heard any news connected to the Order since he had left. Even if the article was short and inconclusive, telling him nothing of the state of the Exorcists or the war at large, it was still something. Lavi found himself staring down at the words before him with a soft smile and warmth in his heart. But, as always, the thoughts that had been haunting him for months arose in his mind - failure, they whispered, disappointment to your kind and to the person who raised you - and he soon found himself folding the newspaper away with a guilty expression. He turned his attentions back to the near over-boiling stew, and after taste testing and burning his tongue he went to wake Allen from his slumber.

“Allen, food’s ready.”

His voice was quiet and soft, and he gently poked Allen’s cheek until he stirred awake with a grimace and a hoarse groan.

“Wh… what?”

Lavi smiled down at him. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. You should eat somethin’.”

“Food?”

Allen’s voice was so hoarse and painful-sounding that Lavi physically winced, a worried expression on his face.

“Damn, Allen, that Akuma really did a number on you, huh.”

Allen wheezed, pushing himself up with a pained expression. “You can… say that again.”

Allen coughed painfully into a hand before getting up and stumbling into the kitchen after Lavi. As soon as he saw the stew he made for the nearest cupboard to find a bowl and spoon. Soon he was shovelling vegetable into his mouth so quickly that Lavi, for the umpteenth time since he had known him, was concerned he would choke. But Lavi was also starving, and he didn’t eat all that much slower than Allen did, and soon they were both sitting back with contented expressions and patting their stomachs.

“Oh, before I forget.” Lavi flung the newspaper at Allen and resisted the urge to chuckle as it hit him square in the face. “You should read what’s on page nine.”

Allen frowned before opening the newspaper and flicking forward to the right page. He immediately inhaled sharply, wide-eyed, before a soft smile graced his features.

“It’s… been a long time since I’ve heard about the Order.”

Allen’s voice was quiet, sombre in tone. Lavi faltered for a moment, feeling the same sense of loss in his heart, and tried his best to ignore it, keeping his voice steady.

“Same here. Nice to know they’re still out there doin’ their job, huh?”

Allen didn’t reply, letting out a soft exhale before folding the newspaper away, focusing his gaze on the nearby window. Lavi said nothing, head lowering, feeling his hands clench into fists beneath the table. A frustrated noise from Allen drew his attention, giving him a much needed distraction from his bothersome thoughts.

Allen was rooting through his pockets, blowing away a piece of hair that was stubbornly falling into his eyes. Lavi grinned.

“Time for a haircut, beansprout?”

Allen huffed. “It’s Allen. And no, it isn’t, I just seem to have lost my hair tie after yesterday’s battle.”

He continued rooting around in his pockets, visibly frustrated, before faltering when a hand was extended his way. In the middle of Lavi’s palm was a white ribbon, bordered with lace; it was a little worn and dirtied, slightly yellowed by time. Allen looked up, eyebrow raised.

“Where did you get this?”

Lavi didn’t answer initially, looking down at the ribbon in his hand with a gentle expression. He rubbed the ribbon with his thumb, lips pulled into a pained smile.

“I’ve held onto it for a while. You’d make better use of it than me.”

“Are you sure? It… means something to you, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, it does, but it’s not doin’ much good sitting in my pocket, is it?” Lavi tucked the ribbon into Allen’s hand before closing his fingers around it. He gave him what was likely a wink, though with his eyepatch it was hard to tell. “Can’t have ya fightin’ blind and gettin’ in my way during battles, can I?”

Allen rolled his eyes with a smile. “Fine, if you insist.”

He raised his hands and tied his hair back, making sure the ribbon was tight enough; even if Lavi was happy to give it to him, he’d rather he didn’t loose it by accident. They fell into a comfortable silence before Allen couldn’t help but ask what was on his mind.

“The ribbon… who did it belong to?”

Lavi faltered, shoulders tense, before he seemed to settle down. He focused his gaze on a nearby wall, voice quiet.

“It belonged to a… friend of mine. He was a Finder at the Order. You kinda remind me of him, actually.” Lavi gave a soft smile. “You’re both way too kind for your own good.” Allen pulled a face but didn’t say anything, noticing the sombre look in Lavi’s expression. Eventually, Lavi shrugged, face pained. “Doug… didn’t make it. The person who was meant to have that ribbon didn’t either. I held onto it after what happened.”

“I’m sorry, Lavi.”

Lavi shook his head. “Nah, it’s alright. It comes with the territory of fighting this war, doesn’t it?”

They fell silent, a heaviness weighing on their shoulders, both thinking of their lost friends. The price paid in war was a heavy one, and both of them had paid that price more than most. Allen looked up, saw the pain in Lavi’s expression, and felt the need to reach over and comfort him. Allen tried to speak but coughed instead, face pained as he raised a hand to his throat. Lavi gave him a sympathetic look.

“Hey, you should save your voice while you still have one. Want me to heat some water over the stove so you can drink somethin’?”

Allen nodded with a strained smile. “Yes, please.”

Lavi stood and found a saucepan before exiting through the front door to the nearby well, relishing the feeling of the cool breeze on his skin. He pulled on the ropes tied to the bucket at the top of the well, tipping it into the murky water below. He drew it back up and carried the bucket inside, muscles protesting at the effort. He poured the water carefully into a saucepan and put it on the boil to purify it.

Lavi turned, back pressed against the counter behind him. He noticed Allen had fallen back asleep, head resting against the kitchen table. Lavi smiled and ruffled Allen’s hair softly, turning back to watch the water as it boiled before turning the stove off and returning to his seat. Lavi leant back, eye closed, enjoying the feeling of warm sunlight filtering through the window and across his skin.

It had been a long time since they had a moment of peace like this, a time where they could sit and take things easy. After all, they deserved it; the past few weeks had been an exhausting cycle of running and fighting and hiding, and it was only now that Lavi realised how tense he had been all that time. His entire body felt like it weighed of lead, and as soon as his eye fluttered closed, he once more fell asleep.


Wind, feathery sheaves of wheat against his fingertips, a shadow of a tree looming over him; Allen felt completely at peace here, but also at odds with it. It was as if the world no longer wished for him to be there, rejecting his presence, and it startled him into opening his eyes, taking in the expanse of what surrounded him; a house in the distance, a deadened tree without leaves, and a man sat upon one of its branches.

Allen froze, taking an instinctive step backwards. Neah sat with his back facing him, dark hair moving with the wind, a gloved hand resting against the tree trunk. For a few seconds, it seemed he hadn’t noticed Allen’s presence, but eventually he turned his head, golden eyes meeting silver. It had happened before, this encounter. A sense of panic nearly always pulled Allen into sudden wakefulness. But this time he held his ground, clenched his hands into fists, and met Neah’s gaze with a strength that surprised the both of them.

Neah smiled. “Look at you, defying me like this. Bookman’s idiotic apprentice sure did a lot for your self-confidence, huh?”

Allen took a deep breath in then out before speaking. “You’re not getting rid of me either, so you’re not the only one who took his advice.”

Neah faltered, pulling a face. “I didn’t take anyone’s advice, brat.”

Allen smiled up at him, giving him a knowing look. “Of course you didn’t.”

Silence befell them, broken only by the sound of the wind ruffling through the wheat field surrounding them. Eventually, Neah turned away from him, gaze fixed on the horizon.

“You have no idea where this is, do you?”

His voice was quiet, full of an emotion Allen couldn’t quite figure out. He answered just as quietly.

“I don’t, but I remember seeing it in your memories. Your mother died here, didn’t she?” Neah tensed up, fingers digging into tree bark. Allen continued, voice rising in pitch. “The Earl said it was Mana’s fault. Why - ?”

Neah cut him off. “Don’t. Don’t talk about Mana.”

Allen faltered for a moment before re-finding his confidence. “Mana is important to us both, isn’t he? I have just as much of a right to talk about him as you do.”

Neah turned to him, anger showing in his expression. “You’re entering dangerous territory here, Allen. Don’t push me.”

Allen shook his head, frustrated. “No. This is the first conversation we’ve had since you first told me your name. I’m…” he paused, sighing heavily. “I’m tired of living like this, Neah. I know you are too.”

Neah remained stonily silent, teeth gritted, strips of bark torn beneath his fingers. Allen took a moment to compose himself before he stepped forward, cautiously, gauging how Neah would deal with it. He managed to bring himself within Neah’s field of view, noticing the conflicted expression on his face. Allen closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again to meet Neah’s gaze as firmly as he was able.

“I have the power of my Innocence back.” Neah froze, alarm showing in his eyes. “But I don’t want to fight you. I want to understand, about you and Mana and what happened before.”

Neah gave a bitter laugh. “So, you’re threatening me into doing what you want? Just great.” He leapt down from the tree, glaring at Allen with vehemence. “I do what you say, otherwise you destroy me. Isn’t that right?”

Allen gave a frustrated groan. “No! You’re not listening to me! I don’t want to get rid of you. I don’t want to destroy you!”

Neah hissed. “You’re lying.”

“No, I’m not!” Allen was shouting now, anger showing in his expression. “If I wanted to get rid of you, I would’ve done it as soon as the power of my Innocence came back. Don’t you understand? I’m stood here -” he paused, inhaling sharply “- I’m stood here because I want to talk to you. Take it or leave it.”

A tense, heavy silence befell them. For a moment, they simply stood and stared at one another, Neah seeing someone with strength and determination in his eyes, Allen seeing someone full of anger and fiery hatred. But they were both tired of this, they knew it as clear as day, and as the world around them shifted, Allen knew that his dream was coming to an end. All he could hope for was that Neah would listen to him.

Allen felt his eyes open slowly, a room alight with sunset orange colours coming into view; he was awake. Allen pushed himself up, wincing at the throbbing ache coming from his throat and the crick in his neck from the awkward angle he’d slept in. He looked up and saw Lavi was asleep across from him, head lolling against his shoulder, snoring quietly with his mouth hanging open. Allen gave a fond smile, a quiet laugh escaping him. When he felt motivated enough to move, he stood and inspected the stove to his right. The water Lavi had obtained was still in the saucepan on the stove, lukewarm and clear, and Allen drank it as fast he was able without aggravating his throat.

For a moment, Allen stood and enjoyed the quiet peace surrounding him, but the need for fresh air and the space to think drove him to discard his used bandages and find his coat from the other room. He stepped outside into the approaching dusk and took a deep breath.

His conversation with Neah had been exhausting. The prospect of Neah refusing to talk and remaining as stubborn as always was incredibly frustrating. But it was progress, Allen reminded himself. It had been the first conversation they’d had since Alma Karma had awakened, not counting the dozens of times they had crossed paths in their dreams and when their thoughts wandered during the daytime. They had never said anything to each other until now, avoiding each other’s presence with both anger and fear. It was undoubtedly going to take time, and a lot of patience, and Allen questioned whether he even wanted to attempt talking to the Noah he shared his body with. But Lavi’s advice and Allen’s own feelings on the matter bid him to wait, to give Neah time to think over his proposal.

Allen would be lying if he said he’d not considered getting rid of Neah. Months of fear and despair and frustration would drive anyone to such extremes. But there was so much that he did not understand, so much that he wanted to know about Mana and Neah’s past, and getting rid of Neah - if that was even possible - was not something he wanted to do.

For now, he was going to enjoy the feeling of security his Innocence had returned to him. Allen raised his left hand, clenched and unclenched it, and activated it with a feeling of joy swelling within him. As a white cloak formed around him, he stretched, moving his arm around before summoning his sword and swinging it this way and that. To be able to fight again, to finally have his reason for living back; it was relieving in a way that Allen could not express with mere words. He smiled as he gave practice swings of his sword, stepping backwards and forwards and revelling in the power coursing through his veins.

He was finally strong enough to fight on his own.

The realisation that he could so easily leave, now that he had his Innocence back in working order, made Allen falter. He looked back at the small cottage in the distance, knowing that Lavi would not be able to catch up if he left now. Allen stood, gripped by indecision, wondering whether he had the strength to leave Lavi behind.

Neah had made no attempt to hurt Lavi, from what he’d been told at least. Allen knew neither of them would have gotten this far without Lavi’s help, but that ever-present fear remained; what if Lavi got hurt because of him? What if Apocryphos came after him again, now that his Innocence was back in working order? Images flashed before his eyes - blood, feathers, Link’s desperate voice and the crash of bricks against concrete - and Allen winced. He’d already lost Cross and Link, and Timcanpy was still nowhere to be found. If anyone at the Order knew the truth about Apocryphos, they would start losing faith in their goals, in their weapons, in God. Lavi had taken the news of Apocryphos well, but how would he react if he saw it in the flesh?

Allen couldn’t risk losing anyone else.


Darkness and nothingness; it was a dream where he floated, aimlessly, surrounded by endless blackness. The usual voice was missing - it seemed no demands of his future would be required today - and so he drifted, eyes closed, comforted by the eternal void of nothing surrounding him. Then a light - soft, white, gentle - illuminated him slowly amongst the darkness. He opened his eyes and saw a person, back turned to him, stood in a glade of emerald trees. They turned to face him but…

Lavi awoke with a jolt, eye wide, sweating and gasping for breath. The kitchen was dark and full of shadows, and the remnants of his dream lingered in his mind. He couldn’t stop shaking, and it took several minutes before he felt calm, chest heaving, hands tightly gripping the table’s edge. He took a deep breath, held it, and exhaled before looking around him in dazed confusion. The two saucepans were sat on the stove as he had left it, though the water was gone from one of them, leaving behind a trace of dirt and minerals from where it had been purified.

Allen was gone.

Panic rising, Lavi stood and sent his chair screeching backwards, looking around and trying to differentiate the sound of the wind from the quiet noises outside, but he heard nothing. Heart thumping hard against his rib cage, he walked from room to room, lump forming in his throat as he met only shadow and darkness. Allen’s coat was missing from where they had slept, and a pile of used, dirty bandages lay in a pile in the corner of the room.

“He… he wouldn’t have…”

The thought that Allen might have left him behind made Lavi feel sick to his stomach. He gathered up his things with shaky hands and left the cottage, consumed by worry. To think Allen would leave as soon as his Innocence had recovered… It was so very like him, to up and leave as soon as he could survive on his own, but it also hurt. His thoughts were a mess of anger and denial until he could hardly hear his own footsteps through the tall grass as he walked. He raised his hands to his mouth and yelled.

Allen!

Nothing. It shouldn’t hurt this much. Eye burning with tears, Lavi kept walking with his hands clenched into fists, shaking from the effort of remaining calm and berating himself for being such a fool. A part of him almost relished the thought of Allen and Neah being gone - it shouldn’t hurt this much - but the heavy weight of duty crushed him until he could hardly take another step, vision blurring. Panic began to swell inside him until he couldn’t breathe, and all efforts to calm down were in vain. It shouldn’t hurt this much, it shouldn’t hurt this much, it shouldn’t…

“Lavi?”

Lavi froze. Allen was stood a few metres away from him, looking at him, confused and worried. Lavi took a deep heaving breath and stepped forward to slam his fist onto the top of Allen’s head.

Ow, what’re you - ?”

“Don’t…”

Allen pushed Lavi’s hand away with a frown. “Don’t what? I just went for a walk, you were asleep and I just -”

Lavi let his hand drop to his side and lowered his head, grimacing. “I thought you’d…”

Allen gave a frustrated sigh. “Thought I’d what? Lavi I don’t under-”

“I thought you’d left. You got your Innocence back, and now there’s no point to me being here.”

Allen faltered and felt thankful that Lavi couldn’t see his guilty expression. Shame and anger at himself left his heart twisting painfully in his chest until his eyes burned with tears.

“I’m… I’m sorry Lavi, I didn’t intend to…”

Silence, until Lavi sniffed and rubbed at his eye clumsily with the back of his hand. “It’s fine. I should be the one sayin’ sorry.”

Allen frowned. “Why?”

Lavi laughed, bitterly. “I’m being selfish, and pathetic. That’s why.”

Unable to find the right words, Allen settled for silence and frowned when Lavi refused to meet his gaze. Eventually Lavi closed his eye and walked past him, shoulders hunched, until Allen grabbed hold of his scarf and yanked, hard, stopping him in his tracks with a gasp.

“Hey, what do you think you’re - ?”

“You’re not selfish for wanting the company.”

Lavi turned and froze when he saw the tears running down Allen’s face.

“I…” Allen paused, voice quiet, unable to think of the right thing to say when so many things needed to be said. Eventually, he took a deep breath and managed a shaky smile. “I’m glad you’re here, Lavi.”

Those words would have to do. Even if it hardly covered the gratefulness and relief and hope that Allen felt, it would have to do. Lavi hardly dared to breathe, frozen in place, struck by the emotion in Allen’s voice, in his eyes. He wiped at his face with a hand, a soft smile gracing his features.

“We should go, don’t wanna wait too long in case Neah comes back and kicks my ass for cryin’.”

Allen laughed. “I think you’ll be fine. If anything, he’s gonna kick my ass for making him look bad.”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “Surely you both have the same ass? Unless you meant it figuratively.”

Allen smacked Lavi lightly and shook his head, wiping away his own tears and laughing.

“Of course I meant it figuratively, stupid Lavi. Now shut up and start walking, before I kick your ass.”


The days that followed were quiet and full of contemplation, and they took it as slowly as they dared with the threat of an imminent attack forever looming over their heads.

The wounds Lavi and Allen had suffered from the fight with the Akuma took a while to heal. Allen’s throat remained sore and immensely painful well over a week from the attack, and Lavi’s head injury left him dizzy and nauseous for a few days before it subsided. But they got back up on their feet and kept going, more out of worry over being sitting ducks than anything else, and attempted to re-orientate themselves after days of being without a sense of direction.

Using the map Lavi had taken from the cottage that had been, however briefly, their shelter from the outside world, they discovered they had strayed off course. After Lavi and Neah had reached Montchanin a few days previously, they’d ended up diverting even further north-west from their desired path, heading back towards central France when they had intended to do the very opposite. Knowing that back-tracking would be a bad idea, they decided to make their way back east and head further north than intended to reach the Franco-German border. They had planned to head to Lons-le-Saunier and rest up there, but there was too much risk involved. They had to avoid any cities or towns, making do with what little food they could obtain from abandoned lodgings and orchards along the way; obtaining proper shelter and food was not worth the risk of an ambush.

As winter began to take a hold of the world, the days became shorter. The wind and rain soon became more unwelcome than the Noah or Akuma could ever be as night after night, sleeping with a roof over their heads became a rare occurrence. Allen had made do with such conditions occasionally during his life, but he’d usually begged people for shelter with the best fake tears and charm he could muster. Lavi, however, had slept rough for most of his life while travelling with Bookman, and could make a waterproof shelter from just about anything.

It was tough going, and both their injuries hampered their progress, but the recovery of Allen’s Innocence had lightened his burdens considerably. He took over Lavi’s role as the support of the group. His strength and confidence returned with each day that passed;no longer feeling useless in a fight improved Allen’s mood by leaps and bounds.

Lavi had taken an opposite turn.

Even if his physical wounds had healed quite quickly, the fight, creeping reminders of Bookman, Allen’s perceived abandonment, and everything that had led up to it, had left a significant crack in Lavi’s resolve. The dreams, too, did not help, and each day they got worse. Lavi hesitated to call them nightmares, for they always started and ended the same; darkness, a garden, then a face. The first part of the dream was something that had plagued both his waking and sleeping moments since he was a child, and it was a dream that he and the others he shared his body with all suffered from. Darkness, and a voice demanding of them who they were, relentlessly asking ‘who are you?’ until one of them woke up - they had learned to reply by reciting Bookman Code, which Bookman had taught them to do once he’d found out about the dreams. Over time, the dreams had lapsed into obscurity.

But this dream was different. It was still something shared - Junior was just as unnerved by it as Lavi was - and the way the dream ended left them both shaken in ways they could not explain. Lavi could never quite remember the face or person he saw, only that it horrified him for reasons he could not name.  Lavi couldn’t speak of it to Allen or Neah, not when he barely understood why it filled him with such nameless dread, and even if Junior shared these dreams - seemingly - he refused to talk about it. And so Lavi suffered, quietly and alone, wondering why he was so shaken over something he did not at all understand.

His instability only worsened as the days passed, the composure he had managed to keep and cling to out of desperation since his escape from the Noah slipping away from his grasp. Persistent insomnia left him paranoid and on edge, unable to relax even when Allen told him he was safe. He became irritable and easy to anger, and it made conversation incredibly difficult to sustain without it descending into an argument, the two of them falling into stony silence.

Junior was also becoming more and more present as the days passed, and Allen often found himself sitting beside someone he barely knew, someone who had little interest in talking to him. Initially, Allen felt resentful of this sudden change in Lavi’s behaviour, as well as Junior’s increasing presence; the hope and joy he carried from regaining the use of his Innocence was clashing with the dark place his friend had fallen into.

That resentment very quickly faded into guilt.

A few days after leaving the cottage, they found themselves hiding in a forest near the outskirts of Lamargelle, avoiding the commune as best they could while still heading in the right direction. The forest was full of deadened trees, floor littered with fiery-coloured leaves and fallen branches.

Allen and Lavi had made scarce conversation since starting off that morning, and a feeling of tension rested uncomfortably on both their shoulders. They passed like ghosts among the leafless trees with only the sound of their footsteps on the ground below to disturb the silence. Spotting a rabbit hole nearby, Allen took a step sideways to avoid it. He felt something far too hard underfoot to be ground before a large snap shattered the silence. He flinched, unsettled by the sudden noise, but swiftly calmed down.

Allen nearly moved on before he noticed Lavi was stood still, hands over his ears, chest heaving, wide-eyed and shaking. Immediate concern flooded through him. He rushed over, raising a hand to Lavi’s shoulder, before a hand grabbed his wrist, so tightly it hurt.

Don’t.”

Allen moved away, rubbing at his wrist with a slight wince, watching as Lavi’s breaths slowed, head lowered, hands resting on his thighs. Eventually he raised himself up, and Allen found an irritated look thrown his way.

“It’s rude to stare, Walker.”

Allen pulled a face. “Since when have you ever -” he faltered, noticing the indifferent look being thrown his way, and put two-and-two together. “Oh, you’re not… I’m sorry.”

An awkward tension descended upon them before Junior sighed, giving Allen a look that made it clear they should keep moving before walking ahead. Allen followed behind, apprehensive. Allen found himself at a loss. He didn’t know how to navigate things when Junior was there, made more difficult by the ever-present reminder that the first time they met, Junior had beaten Allen within an inch of his life. It made it somewhat… difficult to make casual conversation.

It was also difficult getting used to seeing someone that Lavi was not. Junior was less emotive, less talkative, more inclined to remain silent and keep his thoughts to himself. Allen realised, with more surprise than he expected to feel, that this is what it must be like to everyone else, seeing the person they would call ‘Allen’ but finding Neah there instead. The body may be the same, but the person inhabiting it was different.

Like in Mâcon, Allen found himself feeling a strong sense of connection. Sharing a body with Neah had left him feeling isolated from everyone else, and knowing that someone else shared this experience in some way helped to drive away the lonely feeling that had pervaded his waking moments since first playing the song of the Musician.

This realisation bid Allen to speak, driven by a need to break the silence.

“Is… is Lavi okay?”

Junior didn’t stop walking, remaining silent for long enough that Allen thought he was being ignored, but eventually he responded.

“He’s fine.”

Allen waited for him to elaborate, but got nothing else in response. He wondered if it was the sudden noise in itself, or if the specific sound of something snapping was the issue. Realisation kicking in, Allen realised he didn’t want to know why a snapping noise would distress Lavi so much. Sighing, feeling frustrated, Allen prepared himself for more silence before a quiet voice drew his attention.

“He’ll be back later. Stuff like this happens sometimes if one of us gets set off by something.”

Allen didn’t know what to say at first, shocked that Junior would even try and explain. Feeling guilty - and ever so slightly awkward - Allen caught up with Junior so they were walking side-by-side, taking a moment to think of the right words before speaking.

“Thank you… for explaining.” Allen faltered, unsure what to say. “I… suppose it happens with Neah and I sometimes too.”

“How so?”

The response was so quick Allen couldn’t help but turn and look over at him. He was met with genuine curiosity, and it surprised him. He looked away, stumbling over his words.

“I… well, sometimes during battles or tense situations, I won’t… be there anymore, not until days later.”

Junior gave a satisfied noise, seemingly content with Allen’s response. They both fell silent for a while, silence broken only by the sound of their footsteps, before Junior spoke up again.

“Do you remember what happens while the Fourteenth is out?”

Allen faltered. “I… don’t remember, no.” He frowned. “You’re… awfully talkative all of a sudden.”

Junior pulled a face, visibly awkward, and Allen couldn’t help but laugh. Junior said nothing, watching Allen laugh with an embarrassed expression.

“Wh-what’re you laughing about?”

Allen shook his head with a smile. “It’s nothing, you’re just… not what I expected.” He faltered, raising his hands up defensively. “In a good way, I mean.”

Junior raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you come across as if you’d rather be anywhere else than here most of the time.”

“That’s true.”

Allen pulled a face. “My point exactly. So what I meant was it’s… nice to finally have a proper conversation.”

Junior scowled. “You say that like we’ve never talked before now.”

Allen raised an eyebrow. “If you think calling me ‘Walker’ and occasionally telling me to keep walking is a conversation, you’re more socially inept than Lavi is.”

Junior bristled, opening his mouth to argue before shutting it and letting out a resigned sigh. Allen grinned, content with the comfortable silence that surrounded the both of them, before something came to mind, making the smile fall from his features. He spoke, almost too quietly for Junior to hear.

“I would… prefer it if you didn’t call me ‘Walker’, actually.”

Silence, tense and uncomfortable, coiled itself around them until Junior broke it, tone of voice hard to place.

“Why is that?”

Allen felt himself tense up, gripped by a sudden feeling of grief. He managed to get a response out, voice quiet, hands clenched into fists.

“Someone I… someone close to me used to call me that. I don’t want to remember that.”

Junior let out a sigh - Allen couldn’t tell if it was one of frustration or not - before responding with a surprising amount of sympathy in his voice.

“What should I call you instead?”

Allen faltered, turning towards him with a confused look. “You know what my name is, don’t you?”

Junior pulled a face, visibly awkward. “I… yes, I do. I just thought you might want to be called something different to what Lavi calls you.”

Allen smiled. “Lavi calls me ‘beansprout’ more than he does ‘Allen’, so I think you’ll be fine.”

Junior sighed, sounding defeated. “I’ll never understand his need to give nicknames.”

Allen couldn’t help but laugh at that, and Junior shot him a look before continuing.

“It’s not funny! He uses so many I lose track of them.” He started listing some off, counting on his fingers as he went. “Little hammer, big hammer; beansprout; Lenalady; Krorykins; Panda -”

Junior immediately fell silent, faltering as he walked. Allen noticed and said nothing. The silence was uncomfortable, but it was necessary, and Allen did nothing more than walk ahead and give Junior the space to deal with that all too familiar feeling of grief.


Lavi came back later that day, quiet and subdued, and Allen said nothing. The feeling that it was somehow his fault rose within him, but Allen tried to ignore it - now was not the time for self-blame. Needing a distraction from both his internal feelings and Lavi’s troubles, Allen focused on what he had already spent a number of days working on; building what would likely be a tense and uncertain ‘friendship’ with Neah.

After leaving the cottage, Allen had heard nothing from Neah, and he wondered if he was going to come back at all. But, after making an internal comment about Neah sulking, he heard an angered response from the back of his mind, and it had shocked Allen so badly he nearly tripped over his own feet. In the days that followed, they maintained occasional conversation, mostly snide comments from Neah and retaliations from Allen back at him, but it was more than they’d ever spoken before.

It took a few attempts to finally have a proper conversation with Neah once more. Still nervous of irritating him - or getting an even worse reaction - Allen was distanced and wary, but the burning need to find out more about Mana and Neah’s shared past motivated him to push boundaries he was usually afraid of stepping over. At first, Neah gave him the cold shoulder, but after days of persistence from Allen he eventually gave up and put up with his presence. Allen bombarded Neah with question after question - somewhat deliberately, so he could get revenge for the suffering Neah had put him through, but also to gain some much needed answers - until Neah lost his temper.

Knowing that Neah was not a person to underestimate, even if Allen had the upper hand for the moment, Allen carefully put as much mental distance between the two of them as possible, letting Neah calm down before approaching him again. An apology was met with a string of rather rude curses - though Allen had been called far worse before - but after a few more failed attempts, Allen finally managed to bring up the topic of Mana without Neah pushing him away.

Specific memories of Mana were painful for them both. Though Allen wanted answers on many things concerning his father figure, he didn’t know how to phrase such questions, or if he wanted to know the answers after all. He settled for asking about his mannerisms, the particular way he talked, how he dressed, the jokes he told and the way he smiled. Neah seemed to ignore him at first, using all of his self-will to remove any emotion from his expression, but Neah couldn’t help but divulge his own memories on occasion. Allen would listen avidly, a widening smile gracing his features, gripped tightly by an emotion that was bittersweet in nature. After Neah finished speaking, he would always have a look of surprise on his face, as well as the slightest hint of fear at sharing more than he initially wanted to.

After a few days of this, Allen decided to ask about what Road had said before she disappeared.

They had been sat under the familiar tree, deadened branches remaining still in the wind, the endless wheat moving in tandem with the permanent breeze. Allen felt tense, hesitant. He and Neah were nowhere near comfortable with each other, and he knew it would be a difficult thing to bring up, but he felt a burning need to ask about it nonetheless. He took advantage of the sudden silence, knowing he could return to the world outside if things escalated.

“Can I ask you something?”

Neah immediately pulled a face, resting his head in the palm of his hand. “Every time you ask that I get closer and closer to smacking your head into the ground.” Allen said nothing, a serious expression on his face. Neah sighed, exasperated. “Fine, what is it?”

“Road told me something, before she disappeared.”

Neah immediately tensed up. He knew what Allen was going to ask - he had watched Timcanpy’s recorded memories, after all - and wanted nothing more than to get up and walk away. He had expected it, however, and did his best to keep his voice steady when he responded.

“And you want to know if it’s true?”

Allen opened his mouth then closed it, looking away with a sigh. Neah would normally have poked fun at him for being so unsure of himself, but it wasn’t the time or place for it; he wanted this conversation over and done with.

“Why does it matter if it’s true or not?”

Allen seemed surprised, as if he was expecting another response, before he finally spoke up, subdued and ill at ease.

“Because if it’s true, I don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve with all this.”

Neah froze. He looked up, met Allen’s gaze, and saw a burning curiosity in his eyes. Unease curled itself into his insides. He looked away again, trying to focus on the wind and the feeling of the ground beneath him, anything but the answer he was supposed to give.

It wasn’t out of a sense of care. No, that wasn’t why. It was the simple knowledge that Allen was going to take the news badly - very, very badly - and Neah didn’t want to deal with the aftermath of it. Perhaps he could take advantage of it, make a move to take over while Allen was distressed, but for some reason that thought left him feeling… uncomfortable.

In the past week, he had slowly gotten to know Allen. He was scarily like Mana in a lot of ways, but his true self shone through on occasion - he was a petulant brat at heart, no matter how much he wanted to deny it - and he was less of a wimp than Neah had initially thought. He didn’t like him much, or particularly respect him, but he was starting to see a way forward, if not just to achieve his own ambitions.

If he told Allen the truth, how would they move forward from there?

Neah sighed, leaning back on his hands and looking up at the sky above - not real, not like that sky, with the wind whistling through the fields and his brother calling out to him - and spoke as firmly as he was able to.

“You made a promise to him once. It’s the same with me. That’s all.”

He didn’t know if that answer would be enough, but Allen seemed to accept it regardless. It resolved something between them, that one single moment. The knowledge that deep down beneath the masks they both wore, beneath the pain and fear and all that had warped their true intentions even from themselves, that the both of them were fighting for the same person, even if it was for very different - and somewhat polarising - reasons… it made them realise that despite all their differences, they held one very important thing in common.


The change in how Allen and Neah saw each other, and the evident relief it brought Allen in particular, became obvious to Lavi after that conversation.

Lavi had wondered if something had changed between them before that point, picking up on Allen’s constant control of the body he shared with Neah. It had taken him a few days to notice it, mind clouded with fog since leaving the cottage. He had managed to obtain some semblance of composure as the days went by, mainly from Junior’s continued presence alongside his own. It had given him some space to take a step back from the world and his own feelings, and Junior seemed happy enough to take over and complete the bare essential tasks while Lavi attempted to recover. Now that his mind was clearer, and it had become increasingly obvious that something had changed between Allen and Neah, Lavi couldn’t help but ask about it.

They had set up camp only a short while beforehand, sitting in relative silence with only the crackle of firewood to break it. They normally didn’t risk lighting fires at night, but it was getting cold, and some risks were necessary. There was still an evident tension between them, and Lavi felt strangely awkward about speaking. Eventually, the silence became unbearable. Lavi found a nearby stick and prodded Allen in the leg with it.

“Hey, ‘sprout, I’ve been meanin’ to ask you something.”

Allen scowled. “It’s Allen. And sure, just don’t poke me with a stick.”

“Have you and Neah finally figured things out?”

Allen faltered, confused, looking as if he’d been expecting a different question altogether. He leant back, looking at the flames dancing before him with a gentle expression.

“Not yet, but we’re… getting there.”

Lavi felt a deep sense of relief, but there was something else there, coiled in his insides, twisting uncomfortably. He had to take a moment to think of the right words.

“That’s… great. I’m glad he’s finally stopped bein’ such an asshole about it.”

Allen laughed. “He’s still an asshole, he’s just… a little more willing to listen to me before he kicks me.”

The tension eased a little between them, bidding Lavi to look over at Allen, watching the flames colour his hair, cinders dancing among the darkness. Allen noticed his staring and raised an eyebrow.

“Something wrong?”

Lavi faltered, unsure how to explain, before he gave an awkward shrug. “Not really, I was just… wonderin’ what you were gonna do now.”

Allen said nothing for a while, staring into the fire with a sombre expression. Eventually, he spoke, voice quiet.

“I… I don’t know. There’s still a lot to figure out.” He looked over, noticing the way Lavi’s shoulders had tensed up, and seemed to pick up on his discomfort. “We won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, that’s for sure.”

Lavi froze, feeling painfully transparent for a moment, before giving a nod and turning away. He heard Allen sigh behind him, and the tension piled up on his shoulders once more. Despite the free and individualistic spirit he knew he had beneath years of hardship, Lavi had never dealt well with abandonment of any kind. The fear that his two companions could now so easily leave him behind made it hard to stabilise himself, throwing him off-balance and rendering him incapable of maintaining control over his emotions.

Hidden amongst the feelings of relief over Allen and Neah’s newfound progress, Lavi began to feel more and more uneasy as time wore on. Allen and Neah were making progress, but he had made none. All Lavi could hope for was some sense of stability, that he would regain his ability to keep going as time passed, and that Allen or Neah would not leave him behind if he became too much of a hindrance.


A week after their near escape from the Akuma, Neah returned.

It had been a day of walking in silence; Lavi hardly present, Junior focused on putting one foot before the other, Allen distracted by his internal conversation with Neah. They had all settled in for the night, Junior taking first watch, Allen falling asleep within minutes, exhausted from the day’s walk. But it was not Allen who awoke many hours later, during the early hours of the morning.

With a quiet groan, Neah sat up and ran a hand through his hair. Junior didn’t seem to react, staring out at the dim pre-dawn light without emotion. It took Neah a few moments to figure out that it was not Lavi sat there beside him, and he faltered, unsure on what to say, how to hold himself. The person Lavi called ‘Junior’ had chewed Neah out on three separate occasions now, and Neah wasn’t in the mood for another round.

Eventually, unable to stand the silence, Neah coughed awkwardly into a hand.

“So, Junior’s fucked off, has he?” Neah paused, realising his mistake. “Wait, I didn’t mean you, I meant -”

“I know.”

It wasn’t an angry response, not necessarily, and Neah thought he saw the slightest upturning of lips before that blank and expressionless mask came back. After a few seconds of tense silence, Junior turned and raised an eyebrow.

“You’re not at all like how Lavi says you are.”

Neah scowled. “Wh-what’s that supposed to mean?”

Junior pushed himself up, and Neah swore for a moment he saw a flash of sardonic amusement in his gaze. “He says you’re an annoying loudmouth who spends every living second trying to piss him off.”

Neah huffed. “Hey, that’s not fair! I’m a charming person, that idiot’s just got no tolerance for it.”

Junior gave a smile, however slight, and stretched before walking around the corner of the wall they’d made camp behind, disappearing from sight. Neah took a moment to let out a steady exhale of breath, strangely relieved that particular encounter was over. Lavi didn’t intimidate him in the slightest, despite how explosive his anger could be on occasion, but Junior was a different story. He wasn’t a scary person as such, but it was hard to tell what he was thinking or feeling at any given moment. There was a heavy level of emotion kept chained and barred behind a passive exterior, and it was something Neah had always disliked about how the Bookmen trained their clansmen.

Allen made a snide comment about how Neah must respect Junior a good deal to not want to purposefully anger him, and Neah pulled a face, giving a disgusted noise in response. Before he could get into an internal argument with his host, Neah heard approaching footsteps and saw a strained smile, a flash of emotion that was hard to place; it was Lavi, exhausted and somewhat unhappy about having to be present.

Neah pulled a face. “What’s with that face, Junior? Not happy to see me?”

Lavi faltered, immediately disorientated. After pushing that feeling away, he responded as apathetically as he could.

“’Course not, why would I want to see your sorry ass?”

Neah growled. “Oi.”

Lavi ignored him, trying to hide his tired expression by peeking his head over the nearby wall. He gave a quiet hum of concern.

“We better start walking soon. Those rain clouds look pretty bad.”

Neah sighed, rubbing at his eyes tiredly before standing up. “Whatever. Got any food?”

“Some stale bread and a squishy tomato.” Lavi turned his head and saw Neah pulling a face, and sighed. “Hey, it’s better than nothing. You can eat as we walk.”

As Neah clambered out of their makeshift shelter he glanced at it with a disdainful expression. “Can’t you do better than that?”

Lavi scowled down at him. “Oi, be grateful we have any kind of roof over our heads. This part of the country’s pretty devoid of people.”

Neah considered arguing further but decided against it, looking away with a quiet huff.

“I guess that’s something…” Discarding the tomato by throwing it over the wall, glancing at his left hand with a disgusted expression as he did so, Neah claimed the bread and bit into it with a frown before speaking with his mouth full. “How’s the little brat been?”

Lavi tensed up. “You’d know that better than me.”

Noticing the hard edge to Lavi’s voice, Neah took a moment to think of the right response before speaking.

“I guess you’ve not been around much, huh? At least that’s what the brat kept complaining about.”

Lavi noticeably stiffened, a hard-to-read emotion showing in his face. Neah raised an eyebrow.

“Hey, quit looking so pissed off. If anyone should be pissed, it’s me. You’ve not had to deal with that idiot badgering you on and on for days on end.”

When Lavi didn’t respond and began to walk, the silence swiftly becoming unbearable, Neah headed off after him, finding a different topic to speak about.

“Also, what’s ‘sprout’ supposed to mean? He was muttering it to himself a few times.”

Lavi paused for a moment before sighing, turning to Neah with a small smile. “It’s short for ‘beansprout’, Yuu gave the nickname to him and now it’s stuck. Allen hates it.”

Neah frowned. “Wait, what? I didn’t call him that. You’re the one who gives stupid nicknames, not me.”

Lavi shook his head. “No, not ‘you’. I meant Yuu Kanda, the grumpy asshole who aimed a sword at your throat?” Neah pulled a face and Lavi couldn’t help but laugh. “He’s great when ya get to know him, just takes a while.”

Neah raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure he’s real pleasant company. I’ll have to remember that nickname, he hates ‘little brat’ for some reason.”

“It’s ‘cause Cross called him that a lot.”

Neah faltered a little before continuing to walk, voice quiet. “I wonder how that bastard’s doing… Without Timcanpy I can’t tell if he’s…”

Lavi shot him a look. “Wow, you actually care about people? Who are you and what have you done with Neah?”

Neah slammed his fist down on Lavi’s head. “I do not care about that womanising bastard. He’s simply…” he faltered a little, visibly awkward “… more convenient and useful than most people.”

Lavi snorted. “Right, so you decide how much you like people by how useful they are. What a surprise.”

Neah scowled at him. “Shut up, Junior. Last time I checked you Bookmen also did the same goddamn thing.”

Lavi gave a disgusted noise, audibly bitter. “Yeah, ‘cept we’re not meant to like them in the first fucking place.”

Neah narrowed his eyes. “Jeez, you’re really touchy right now, huh?” He paused, disappointed that Lavi wasn’t giving him a reaction, before his voice took on a mock dramatic tone. “I’ve been gone for ages and you don’t even wanna talk to me.”

Lavi glared at him before walking ahead, wishing to avoid continuing down the line of conversation Neah had raised. Neah somewhat begrudgingly lapsed into silence. They kept a fast pace, since Neah walked faster than Allen did and Lavi was happy to match it, but the constant fields of tall grass and rabbit holes and puddles of mud meant it took them all day to travel a distance they could usually cover in half that time. Lavi had been happy to stop as soon as the sun began to set, but Neah kept insisting on somewhere dry to sleep for the night until Lavi gave in. They kept going long after nightfall.

Eventually they found an abandoned ruin of some kind, and after stumbling around in the dark they found relatively dry corners and made camp, Lavi taking his customary first watch in the darkness while Neah slept. Lavi kicked him awake around three in the morning, earning a swift kick in the shins before he attempted to sleep. The usual dream haunted his waking and sleeping thoughts, and he woke up shortly after dawn feeling as if he hadn’t slept at all.

Sitting up and stretching, Lavi looked over at Neah and began to speak before he faltered, eye wide.

“What’s your problem, Junior?” Neah yawned, jaw clicking. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Lavi stood, unsteady on his feet, hands clenched into fists. Everything had suddenly become too much, too fast, and the smell of smoke from Neah’s now burned out campfire and wet earth and the must of old books overwhelmed him.

They had found the remnants of an abandoned library, completely by accident. It had fallen into ruin, long since forgotten about by people who no longer lived near its walls. Books in varying stages of decay lay scattered among shattered brick and mortar. Bookshelves sat, sagging under the weight of damp-infested books, ruined by many years of rain and poor weather.

Lavi stepped around Neah, gaze fixed on a nearby bookcase, and trailed a hand against it before stepping on something and looking down at his feet. It was a book bound in red leather, pages aged yellow and ridden with mould. Lavi bent down to pick it up, and wordlessly he stood and looked at the bookcase in front of him, his face blank and expressionless.

Neah scowled. “What’re you doing, you moron?”

“Gotta tidy this up.”

Lavi’s voice sounded distant, almost monotone. Neah gave an incredulous expression before laughing. “This place would need more than a tidy up. What’s the point?”

Lavi remained silent, organising the books according to the dim numbers and letters he saw gilded and faded on their covers. The recurring dream - that face, that horrible, horrible face - and weeks of tension had built up until all he could smell was smoke and old books and - he coughed as smoke was blown into his face, Bookman laughed pipe in hand, and - the need to calm down and do something methodical was so strong he couldn’t resist it. He couldn’t concentrate - and the library was so big and there were so many books and so many faces peering down at him in disapproval - and his hands were shaking, books dropping out of his hands with a loud thud that made him flinch - and that golden field, with that approving smile and a hand in his and - suddenly he couldn’t move, chest tight, each breath forced. The numbers didn’t make sense, he couldn’t remember where any of the books went - and his face when he died was so full of surprise and the smell of blood was so strong he felt sick - and he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Junior? Hey, what’s the matter with you?”

Neah stepped forward and took a book from Lavi’s shaking hands and dropped it on the floor before starting to speak. He was shoved so hard he fell backwards. Before Neah could stand, Lavi teetered and fell to his knees. He wrapped his arms around himself, violently trembling. All Neah could do was sit and watch and fail to understand what was wrong.

Lavi didn’t move for a long time. Many minutes passed, and when Lavi eventually looked up, gaze full of fear, he saw Allen was sat before him now, lips pulled into a soft smile. Lavi’s face fell before he grabbed hold of Allen’s coat tightly, refusing to let go. Eventually, Lavi released his grip on Allen’s coat, pale and visibly shaken. Allen faltered, unsure what to say, before speaking in a quiet tone, voice full of concern.

“Are you… alright?” Lavi shook his head, unable to speak. Allen frowned. “Okay. Neah is… sorry for going. He’s, um, not good with stuff like this apparently…”

Lavi gave him a blank, slightly confused look, as if the name meant nothing to him. Allen faltered a little, searching Lavi’s face for some amount of recognition or understanding and found none. He took a moment to find the right words.

“You don’t… remember him?” A shake of the head answered his question. Allen paused, unsure what to do. “Do you… know who I am?” Another shake of the head. “Oh. Okay. I… hm…”

Allen took a moment to collect himself, concern rising within him. He tried to remember what Lavi had said about himself in that quiet room back at Mâcon, but nothing came to mind that would explain what was happening. The only frame of reference Allen had were his own experiences; that people Neah met while Allen was gone would be but strangers to Allen himself, since he would be devoid of any memory of them. Allen tried a different angle, hoping it would help.

“Do you know where we are?”

No response. Allen sighed and leant back, stretching and wincing at the ache in his muscles from sitting in one place for so long. The person before him seemed calmer, but they refused to move, head lowered, and it worried him.

“Is there… anything I can do?”

No response. Rubbing at his temples, Allen stood, only to be pulled back down roughly by a hand gripping the ends of his coat. With slight frustration, he sat back down and stayed where he was. Eventually the person before him let go, rubbing at their face tiredly, and when they spoke their voice was hoarse.

“What…?”

The person looked up, and as soon as their gaze met Allen’s own he knew it was Lavi; there was recognition in his expression, without a shadow of a doubt. Allen gave an audible sigh of relief. Lavi seemed to be considering something for a moment, confusion showing in his face, before he shook his head and spoke.

“I’m… sorry…”

“Sorry for what?”

Lavi gestured at himself and Allen raised an eyebrow.

“You just pointed at all of yourself.” Lavi shrugged in reply. After a moment of awkward silence, Allen eventually spoke, voice quiet. “Do you… want to talk about it?”

Lavi shook his head. “Not really.”

Allen sighed. “It would help though, wouldn’t it?”

Lavi pulled a face before attempting to stand, uncertain on his feet. Allen helped him up and smiled, even though Lavi refused to look at him.

“Come on, we’ll go sit over there, okay?”

Lavi nodded, apprehensive, and was dragged, partly unwilling, to where they had made camp. The smell of smoke was still strong, however, and Lavi froze, hardly daring to breathe. Allen noticed and continued walking, firmly holding onto Lavi’s hand, taking them as far away from the ruins as he could while still keeping their camp in sight.

He sat down with Lavi by a low wooden fence. Allen observed Lavi carefully as he sat down beside him, gaze fixed on the ground below. Knowing he had to ask, regardless of how difficult it may be for Lavi to answer, Allen took a moment to find the right words before speaking.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t really do anything to help you.” He paused, wringing his hands a little. “You weren’t… you didn’t know who Neah or I were, I wasn’t sure what to…”

Lavi’s shoulders tensed up for a moment before he sighed. “Sorry ‘bout that.” He paused for a long moment before rubbing the back of his neck, visibly uncomfortable. “It wasn’t… me earlier, or Junior.”

“That was my guess.”

Lavi pulled a face. “Sorry. He’s just a kid, he never usually… I didn’t think I’d need to say anythin’ about this before now.” He gave a bitter laugh. “Wasn’t expectin’ this mess to happen, guess I’m an idiot for thinking like that.”

Allen shook his head. “No, it’s okay. You don’t…” he paused, unsure how to express what he wanted to say. “You don’t have to explain anything if you don’t want to, either.”

Lavi looked up at Allen and saw both sincerity and concern in his expression. He couldn’t help but smile, albeit shakily. He gave Allen’s arm a nudge with his own and managed a quiet laugh.

“You’re too nice for your own good, ‘sprout.”

Allen smiled with a shake of his head. “It’s Allen.”

“I know, I know. Old habits die hard, right?” Lavi paused for a moment before leaning back a little against the fencepost behind him. “Well, all I’ll say is it shouldn’t happen again.” Not in front of you or Neah, at least. “If it does, whatever ya did was probably the best thing to have done.”

Allen nodded. “Alright, I understand. Do… do you mind telling me why it happened? All Neah would tell me was you were really upset about something.”

Lavi gave a wry smile, tinged with bitterness. “Pretty sure he wasn’t that nice about it.” He paused, looking away from Allen with an uncomfortable shrug of his shoulders. “Guess I can’t really keep you in the dark about this anymore…”

Silence descended upon them, with only the sound of the wind finding its way through sheathes of grass to break it. It took a long time for Lavi to speak, and when he did he had to pause often to collect himself.

“You… probably already know somethin’ bad happened when me and… and Gramps were with the Noah. It’s been… fuck, I can’t even remember how long now…” Lavi shook his head with a grimace. “I was wandering around for ages before I found you, things were so blurry and Junior kept havin’ to take over and keep us alive ‘cause I wasn’t…”

He swallowed thickly, trying to ignore how emotive his voice sounded, afraid of everything he had been trying so hard to ignore for countless months. He wanted to keep pretending, to hide and say look, I’m doing just fine, leave me alone. But he knew it was impossible to do that, not with Allen sat by his side, not after what had happened earlier.

“I wasn’t… We’re not doing okay, Allen.” Lavi’s voice broke and he flinched, turning away from Allen with a guilty expression. “This whole thing is so fucked up, I don’t know how to… We don’t know what we’re meant to do or how we’re meant to deal with it and I can’t -”

“Lavi, it’s okay. Take a deep breath.”

It took Lavi a moment to realise he was breathing too fast, gripped by panic, and with shaky breaths he forced himself to slow the rise and fall of his chest, to ground himself no matter how painful it was to do so. Allen raised a hand, wanting to place it on Lavi’s shoulder to comfort him, but lowered it again, afraid of making him feel even worse. Taking a steady breath, Allen spoke in a quiet tone.

“What… what happened before you found Neah and I? All I was told, back when I was at the Order, was that you and Bookman were taken by the Noah.”

Lavi stayed silent for a long time, gripping at the fabric of his coat so tightly it hurt, before taking a shaky breath and continuing.

“We all went on our missions. You went to Jordan, we went to China. That gross Noah with the tongue -” Lavi pulled a disgusted expression “- he was there, and he got me and Chaoji. Gramps and I were captured. I managed to make my hammer small and swallow it before anyone saw. I don’t… know why I did that, Gramps told me that I…” Lavi faltered, looking distressed, before shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. We were taken to the Noah, and nothing happened until the 4th Disciple arrived. He was really mad about Neah, that the Noah were ordered to find and protect him.” Allen’s eyes widened. “He played nice at first, but then…”

Lavi was silent for a long time, eye wide, hands shaking as he tightly gripped at his coat and tried to breathe normally. After he calmed down as much as he was able, he continued.

“He was really mad ‘cause… Road had been attacked by Apocryphos, Gramps wouldn’t say why she would wanna protect you or Neah. He got really angry…” he swallowed thickly “… I was… We were so close to dying and Gramps said something, I don’t even remember what it was, and Sheryl turned round and -” his voice raised in pitch and he couldn’t stop shaking “- and that was it, he was gone and he looked so…”

Lavi’s voice broke, too consumed by emotion to speak. Vision swimming with tears, shoulders shaking with every breath, he could scarcely do anything for fear of breaking down in the face of everything he had been ignoring for endless, torturous months. Allen reached out to him, then, placing a hand gently onto his shoulder. Lavi turned to meet his gaze, saw the sympathy in Allen’s expression, and lost all ability to hold back.

“He’s gone. He was never meant to…” he was crying now and it broke Allen’s heart to see it “… he’s meant to be here, I can’t… we can’t do this if he’s not…” He turned away, holding his head in his hands, tears falling quietly onto his coat. “We never got to say goodbye. I don’t know what he wanted of me. We can’t… I can’t do this, Allen.”

“Yes, you can.” Lavi shook his head, panicked, and Allen tightened his grip on his shoulder. “Just breathe, it’s alright. I’m here.”

Lavi curled up into himself and wept, bitterly, into the palms of his hands, and even with Allen’s reassuring grip on his shoulder, he couldn’t stop shaking. It took a long, long time for him to calm down. Wiping at his face clumsily with a sleeve, Lavi sniffed and wrung his hands together.

“There was… so much he wanted of me… of us. And I wanted, shit, I still want him to be proud of me. But I, we made so many mistakes. I got close to people. I didn’t… I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. I went Crystal Type and I’m so fucking scared that…” he faltered, chest heaving, eye screwed shut. “I just… don’t know what he would’ve wanted us to do, after all that. Whether he was actually…”

“I think he’d be really proud of you, whatever you did.”

Lavi looked over at Allen, wide-eyed. Allen smiled softly, full of sympathy.

“You… you all dealt with what happened by getting back up and walking forward.” Allen’s choice of wording left Lavi wide-eyed and breathless, heart jack-hammering against his rib cage. “Even if it took a while, and even if you still aren’t sure what you want to do with your future, I think he’d be proud of all of you for not giving up.”

Lavi pulled a face. “But what if we end up - ?”

“Even if you end up not becoming Bookman, I don’t think he’d be any less proud of you for it.”

Lavi made a distressed noise, shaking his head again. “He would, it would mean I failed him and -”

Allen interrupted him, voice firm. “If you became Bookman simply because other people wanted you to be, surely you’d be failing yourself more than anyone else?”

Lavi gave him a bitter smile before looking away. “You don’t get it. It’s not as simple as that.”

Allen sighed. “I know, but you’ve got to work through it somehow.”

“I know…”

Allen stood and ruffled Lavi’s hair softly, leaving his hand there and smiling when Lavi looked up at him with his eye red-rimmed and face stained with tears.

“That’s what people like us have to do. We work through it, and make the people we lost proud of us.”

Allen’s smile became pained then, at his own words, and Lavi felt closer to him then than he ever had before. Allen moved his hand away and walked back to their camp, leaving Lavi to sit and think and recover from the emotional intensity of everything that had just come to pass.

Allen spent a good few hours tidying the ruins while he gave Lavi some space, putting books back on shelves and organising them as thoroughly as he felt able to. Lavi sat for a long time, consumed by memory and grief, before he stood and touched each fence post and counted them as he went, attempting to comfort the young child who shared his body with him, frightened and burdened by the past.

When he reached the ruins, he saw Allen stood by a bookcase, squinting at a book’s faded title and trying to guess its name. Lavi smiled softly.

“We should get going.”

Allen jumped a little and looked over, eyes wide, before relaxing and smiling, placing the book on the bookshelf before him. “Sure, let me get my coat.”

As he walked back to the burned out campfire, coat in hand, he looked up to see Lavi standing before him with an embarrassed expression, gaze firmly fixed on his feet. Allen tilted his head.

“Something wrong?”

“Ah, well, not really, but…” Lavi fumbled over his words, rubbing the back of his neck until he found the courage to look up and speak. “Thank you, for earlier.”

Allen smiled. “Any time. Now, shall we go?”

With a nod, Lavi followed behind as Allen began to walk. As the landscape lit up with rays of sunshine through parted clouds, he felt the beginnings of hope stir within his heart and sit itself alongside the drudgery and fear that had made itself at home there.


Lavi cried often over the coming nights.

Allen respectfully ignored it, giving him the time and space to mourn the person that had been like family to him, and offered comfort when he felt it was needed. Neah seldom appeared, which was hardly a surprise. When Neah did appear he said very little, and that helped Lavi in a way that he didn’t quite understand until he realised, quite painfully, that Neah’s silent but watchful companionship reminded him strongly of Bookman, of days when he had struggled with the world and its horrors, and Bookman had simply sat and watched and his company had been more than enough comfort.

Lavi was immensely tired - so, so very tired - but getting all of it out, after all those long months… he felt better for it. Months of shutting his thoughts and feelings away had taken its toll, and it was only now that he was letting it out that he realised how much of a burden it had become.

The following days were hard, and full of anger and frustration, and a deep sadness, but there was hope too, and acceptance. However there was tension alongside all of those emotions, for as the days continued passing them by, no attempt on their lives had been made since Allen had recovered the use of Crown Clown. The lack of anything beyond walking and sleeping was taking its toll on both Allen and Neah.

They were restless, and it seemed Allen had discovered something greatly unpleasant that he felt a burning need to resolve.

It had happened a few days after they left the abandoned library. The day had been uneventful, the scenery uninteresting - acres upon acres of farmland, crops already harvested in preparation for the coming winter - when Allen suddenly came to a halt, frozen where he stood. Lavi, who had been walking behind, caught up with him, concern rising within him.

“Hey, you okay?”

Lavi almost regretted asking, because it was clear that Allen was most certainly not okay. Skin pale, visibly shaking, eyes wide and full of horror, the word no coming from parted lips over and over; Lavi had never seen Allen like this before. Allen raised his hands to grip at his hair, gaze unfocused, and he remained like that for many long, unbearable minutes. Lavi could do nothing but watch, uncertain and ill at ease. He looked around, seeing nothing but empty fields around them. He still felt uneasy, and found himself laying a hand on Iron Hammer, not wanting to take any chances.

Allen suddenly took a sharp intake of breath, hand rushing to his mouth before he keeled over and vomited. Lavi took a step backward, nose wrinkling, before concern overrided any discomfort. He held Allen’s hair back with one hand, rubbing his back with another, and felt his heart twist in his chest when he felt more than heard Allen cry.

It took a long time for Allen to calm down. Lavi had let go of his hair when it became clear Allen wasn’t going to be sick again, but kept one hand on Allen’s back, trying to offer whatever comfort he could. Eventually, Allen turned and patted Lavi’s arm with a shaky hand, trying to get up and nearly knocking the both of them over. Lavi held him up, wrapping an arm around Allen’s middle, unable to keep the concern out of his voice.

“Come on, we should find somewhere to make camp.”

“No. We should keep walking.”

Allen’s voice was hoarse, trembling with every word, an emptiness in his eyes that set Lavi on edge. Lavi shook his head.

“No offense but you look like shit. We’re making camp.”

Allen was too tired to argue, and they stumbled off the farm road they’d been using into a small alcove of trees not far off. Lavi set up a fire, keeping an eye on Allen as he washed his face and hands nearby. Allen finished washing and stood still for a moment, gaze fixed on the horizon beyond the trees, and nearly took a step forward before Lavi got up and pulled him towards the fire.

“Don’t be stupid, Allen. Sit down.”

Lavi’s tone was firm, but not unkind; he knew that spacey out-of-it look far too well, and it wouldn’t help if he was impatient. Allen stared into the fire, eyes hazy and unfocused, arms wrapped around his legs, head resting in the crook of his knees. Eventually, when the warmth from the fire and the crackle of burning wood began to ground him in the present, Allen seemed… more himself.

“I’m -”

“If you’re gonna say sorry, don’t. What’ve you gotta apologise for?”

Allen shrugged. “It just… feels like it’s needed.”

Lavi didn’t reply, unable to focus on anything but the haunted look in Allen’s eyes. Something was wrong, very wrong. His only guess was that Neah had told Allen something, but as for what had been discussed, he had no idea. He had to ask - Allen looked too awful not to - but quiet and utterly painful words cut him off.

“Do you ever find out something so bad that you can’t keep going anymore?”

Lavi froze, heart twisting in his chest. Allen looked so broken. Wordless tears fell down Allen’s face, falling soundlessly to the floor below, and he did nothing but stare into the flames before him with a hollow smile. Allen buried his head in the crook of his knees and laughed.

“I… I can’t…”

His laughter turned into sobs, and Lavi could do nothing more than put a hand on Allen’s shoulder and listen to him weep.


Allen went to sleep that night, numb and unfeeling. He woke up screaming and crying more times than Lavi wanted to remember. Lavi didn’t sleep that night, offering whatever comfort he could give when Allen was awake, keeping watch while he slept. He tried asking what had happened, but Allen refused to tell him. It hurt that Allen didn’t feel able to tell Lavi what was causing him to suffer so badly, but at the same time he knew he would be a hypocrite for complaining; he had, after all, spent the better part of a month or so hiding his suffering over what had happened to Bookman.

After the initial shock seemed to have worn off, it became clear that Allen was even more restless than before, wanting a distraction or some sense of purpose. Lavi knew that both Allen and Neah were itching to get back into the fight, to do something, anything, and it made him feel anxious. He knew that, eventually, he would have to pay attention to the decisions he had to make, the choices that were forever lurking in the back of his mind. And it wasn’t just his decision to make, either. Lavi couldn’t blindly do what he wanted for himself. He had to take into consideration that this decision would affect more than just him, and he had to find a way to balance all of the doubts and fears and feelings that were more than his alone.

Days came and went, and Lavi found himself thinking more and more that the thing he wanted most, above all other things, was an answer. He had spent the better part of half a year struggling with indecision and frustration and fear, and in the end the conclusion he and the others had all come to was that it was impossible to make a decision when they didn’t know what they needed to move past what had happened. Bookman’s death, Lavi’s Innocence evolving, the dreams, the horrible fear building as each day passed; they needed answers, and if they had those answers they knew, or at least hoped, they could finally come to a decision.

As for where to get these answers, Lavi was unsure. His Innocence going Crystal type in itself wasn’t a problem, so returning to the Order would do nothing more than trap him there. The thought of going back there when Bookman’s loss was still so strong in his mind… No, he could not return there just yet, even if he longed to go back to the place a part of him called home.

The dreams, and the unknown fear that refused to leave him… speaking to anyone about it and looking for an answer was near impossible when he was still so unsure on why he was even frightened of these things in the first place. He would have to wait until he better understood it.

Lavi was left with one path he could take, one solution that he hoped would steer him in the right direction, even if he decided not to commit to that path at the end of it all - the Bookman Clan.

He had been given Bookman’s earrings just before they had both been captured by the Noah. At the time, Lavi couldn’t process why he’d been given such a thing. In the weeks that followed, he had been too out of it to think about it. He had almost forgotten he had the earrings at all, since they’d been hidden in his trouser pocket for months. His normally perfect memory had become riddled with gaps, too burdened by the sheer immensity of Bookman’s death to be aware of anything else. But now that his mind had cleared, he remembered the significance of being given such a thing by his late master.

The earrings were the key to his succession, proof of his tutelage under Bookman’s wing. It seemed insignificant, holding very little meaning beyond simple tradition, but such things were important to the Bookman Clan. Even if Lavi wasn’t sure whether being a Bookman was what he wanted, if he and the others wanted answers they would have to find the rest of the Clan.

Nearly two weeks after the last Akuma attack, Allen asked to speak with Lavi after endless days of uncertainty.

“Neah and I… we’ve decided that we can’t run from this anymore.”

Lavi looked up, seeing resolute determination - and guilt - in Allen’s gaze. He smiled as reassuringly as he felt able to.

“So… what’re you both gonna do?”

Allen paused, pensive and thoughtful, before sighing. “We… don’t know yet. But we do know that we need guidance, and Master is probably the best person to go and see right now.”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “Wait, isn’t that what you were already doing before I ended up bumping into you guys?”

Allen scowled. “It’s what I was trying to do, but it was impossible to make any progress because of Neah.” He paused before pulling a face. “I guess the constant Akuma attacks didn’t help either.”

“So what made you guys decide to go after him again?”

Allen faltered before replying, visibly uncomfortable. “He knows more about…” he swallowed thickly, expression briefly darkening before he shook his head and continued, voice quiet “… about things that neither of us understand. So we’re going to try and find him. It’s going be hard without Tim but… we’re going to try.”

Lavi nodded and turned away, gaze fixed on the ground beneath him. After a moment of silence, Allen took a deep breath in before continuing to speak.

“Would you… would you like to come with us? We’d both be thankful for your company.”

Lavi looked up and raised an eyebrow. “Neah’s okay with that, is he?”

“He is.”

Allen’s reply was too quick, and his eyes refused to meet Lavi’s own; he knew Allen was lying. Lavi smiled and shook his head.

“I… appreciate the offer, a lot actually, but it’s about time me and the others get some answers of our own about… about everything.”

“So, you’ve decided?”

Allen’s voice was quiet, and when Lavi tilted his head and frowned he looked away quickly, gaze fixed on a patch of dirt by his feet. Lavi sighed.

“No… we haven’t.” Allen looked back up with relief in his gaze, and Lavi smiled. “We can’t decide when there’s so much we don’t understand, if ya get what I mean.”

“I understand.”

They both fell silent. It felt strange, to think they would be going their separate ways from here. Travelling together had become so normal for all of them that the thought of leaving was painful, unsettling even, but it was the right thing for them to do. Lavi stood up, met Allen’s gaze, and smiled. Allen returned it, even if it was slightly pained.

“So I guess this is…”

“Goodbye then.”

Lavi faltered, voice thick with emotion. “Tell Neah I… say goodbye, and if he gives you too much of a hard time, I’ll kick his ass.”

Allen laughed. “Sure, I will. And…” he paused, voice unsteady, tears blurring his vision. “… Since he’s too much of an ass to say it, I’ll say it for us both.”

Lavi found himself pulled into Allen’s arms. When those arms wrapped around his back in a tight embrace, he felt his heart skip a beat. Allen spoke quietly from a spot near his shoulder.

“Thank you for everything, Lavi. We both wouldn’t be here if not for you.”

Swallowing thickly, Lavi hesitantly wrapped his arms around Allen before trying to relax, eye closed, heart pattering nervously in his chest. When Allen eventually pulled away, hands gently placed on Lavi’s shoulders, Lavi did his best to smile as his vision blurred with tears.

“It’s… no problem. I, uh, thank you too, for everything.”

Allen laughed at Lavi’s awkward reply, wiping his tears away with the back of a hand. Lavi couldn’t help but laugh alongside him, smiling shakily through his tears. He dropped his hands to his sides, head lowered, unable to meet Allen’s gaze. After a while, Allen spoke, voice thick with emotion, and when Lavi looked up he saw all the bright dazzling resolution he admired in Allen’s eyes, despite his tears and the way his hands shook against Lavi’s shoulders.

“Please, Lavi, take care of yourself. That goes for the others too.”

Lavi paused, moved by the care and concern Allen was showing, before smiling and nodding, wiping away his tears with a hand.

“I… We will. Same goes for the both of you, if I find you guys haven’t been sleeping or eating again, I’ll kick both your asses.”

“We will, don’t worry. I think… I think we’ll be fine.”

They fell silent as their eyes met. Allen managed a shaky smile, and Lavi returned it. After a while, Lavi looked away and spoke, voice hoarse.

“Come on, let’s go. Otherwise we’ll be stood here all day, cryin’ like idiots.”

Allen smiled and nodded. “Sure, let’s go.”

After putting out the fire and gathering their things together, they eventually stood on the side of a muddy road, surrounded by fields with a cloudy grey sky arcing above their heads, patches of sunshine peering through the clouds. Their eyes met and they smiled, full of warmth and tentative hope and everything that remained unsaid between them. They waved goodbye as they headed their separate ways, to a future where they hoped their chosen paths would cross again.

After a couple of footsteps, Lavi activated his hammer, watched as it fluidly changed to a staff, before placing it on the ground and shooting away, vision blurring with tears as the wind hit his face, cold against his skin.

He soon became a tiny dot among the endless grey sky above. Allen looked up and behind him for a very long time, gaze fixed on the spot where Lavi had disappeared among the clouds, before turning away and walking down the road with a smile on his face.

They would get their answers, they would meet again, and they’d be all the stronger for it.


“You told me his Innocence was out of commission!”

The room resounded with a loud snapping noise. Sheryl Kamelot was seething, golden eyes burning with anger and frustration, and the person - no, not a person, it didn’t deserve that kind of recognition - before him gave a smile and met his gaze with lofty superiority.

“And I was correct in that fact, until now.”

“What do you mean, until now?”

“Exactly what I meant before - Allen Walker’s Innocence recovered its strength, and I did not expect this event to have occurred. He is a very formidable Exorcist, isn’t he?”

Apocryphos’s voice became full of fondness and Sheryl’s stomach twisted with disgust.

“You try my patience. The fact we were ordered, ordered to -” Sheryl paused, eyes wide, gripped with an impatience and hatred so strong he was shaking. “- to keep you alive, as if you are of any use... I don’t know what the Earl was thinking.”

“Not of any use? I very much doubt that. All known pieces have been accounted for, have they not? You want to know where that piece is, don’t -”

Apocryphos’s neck snapped violently, and as its head lolled backwards it laughed until Sheryl’s stigmata throbbed.

“You Noah always disgusted us with your human emotions, to think we consider you our enemy.”

“You’d do well to keep your mouth shut, unless you wish to return empty-handed.” A murderous edge entered Sheryl’s voice and he met Apocryphos’s gaze with fire in his eyes. “Even if he disapproves of it, I can and will dispose of you if you don’t prove your worth.”

Apocryphos laughed. “Prove my worth? If anyone needs to prove their worth it is you, Noah. To kill someone so important…” it tutted, shaking its lolling head in disapproval. “No wonder you’ve been demoted to petty torturer and interrogator. And sending out your little creatures without his permiss-”

Sheryl gritted his teeth and snapped Apocryphos’s arm into several pieces, stepping forward and smiling.

“Quiet. I shall prove my worth, if you so desire it. Now tell me, where is the Heart?”

Chapter Text

The sun awoke slowly, rising behind snow-capped mountains and rocky hillsides, sky flecked with colour as the pale dawn gave way to a day of golden intention.

The snow lit up as daylight shone down upon it, all the colours of the dawn illuminated within it in hues of pink and red. Boots crunched down through the snow, leaving behind a trail of footprints up the mountainside path, the wind hardly stirring the heavy cloak of the traveller making their way up towards the summit of a small mountain, hidden between its larger counterparts. By the time the sun had fully risen, the sky was a perfect shade of blue, cloudless and endless, stretching from one side of the world to the other. The traveller was up so high they could see the curvature of the Earth, wisps of fog obscuring the forests and tiny villages nestled between the mountains, a tiny wisp of smoke dancing up from the summit to the endless blue sky.

It was beautiful, and as the one named ‘Bookman Junior’ made his way up the mountain to his final destination, he felt moved by the beauty of the world around him, seemingly untouched by the stains of mankind. It was here that the Bookman Clan had made themselves at home, above the toils of the world in a place of eternal peace and solitude.

The midday sun bore down on Junior’s back as he finally reached the summit, and he took a moment to stop and catch his breath and appreciate the sight of the monastery before him. A wooden arch, painted red and decorated with many torn pieces of cloth, stretched from one side of a rocky outcrop to the other, and behind it sat a small and ancient building that had existed long before the Bookman Clan had decided to reside beneath it. Made of stone, it had the same colour and texture of the mountainside around it, and it looked unmarred by time.

Junior felt a strong sense of familiarity, gazing upon this ancient building. It had been fourteen years since he had seen this place, and a feeling of both foreboding and anticipation curled itself into his heart.

Junior pushed back his hood, took in a deep breath, and walked under the arch, coming to a halt at the bottom of the monastery stairs. It was here that he waited, leaning against a stone pillar, arms folded and eye closed, trying to savour the quiet peace that surrounded him.

Sometime later, the large wooden doors of the monastery opened and a man, clothed in red robes with his head shaved, stepped forward and stopped at the foot of the stairs. Junior moved to stand and face him, placed his palms together in greeting and said namaskāra. The man did the same before smiling and moving aside, extending a hand toward the monastery entrance. Junior walked forward into the shade of the monastery, taking off his boots as he stepped inside. The man followed him and shut the wooden doors behind him.

They were stood in a large room, held up by pillars of stone. Wordlessly, Junior’s guide stepped forwards, beckoning for Junior to follow. They walked in silence, coming to a halt at the entrance to a dimly lit corridor. The man extended a hand towards the corridor. Junior placed his palms together and bowed slightly in thanks before heading down the corridor alone.

The corridor was very dark, extending into the depths of the mountain by many metres. At the end of it was a pulley lift with metal gates and a single lever. Junior stepped into it, closed the gates behind him, and took off his socks, putting on soft cloth shoes from his bag. He took a deep breath in and pulled the lever downwards.

And so he descended into the heart of the mountain, to the home of the people who called themselves Bookmen.

As the lift descended, Junior became surrounded by darkness and endless stone. Suddenly, piercing amber light illuminated his vision. As Junior raised a hand to ward it off, he gasped at the sight before him and remembered, vividly, the first time he had seen the treasured library of the Bookman Clan.

The cavern he had entered was huge, so huge he could not see from one end of it to the other. Covering each and every wall were bookshelves upon bookshelves, filled with books and papers until they were overflowing with it. As Junior descended into the centre of the cavern, he felt as if he were a child again, rendered speechless with wonder by this seemingly infinite collection of knowledge.

After several minutes he reached the bottom. As he opened the gate and stepped out, he was met by an ancient and greying man, bearded and clothed in grey. Junior bowed first, as was customary, and when the old man returned it he hardly moved; Junior was lower in ranking, despite his status as a Bookman’s apprentice. When the old man spoke his voice was gravelly and hoarse - from years of smoking, no doubt, since it was a popular pastime of the Bookmen - and he spoke in the language only the Clan knew and used. It sounded formal to anyone who knew the language, and sounded more formal still when translated.

“Long have you not stepped forward here, young one. Greetings and good tidings to you.”

Junior bowed his head respectfully. “Greetings and good tidings. I have come for guidance, and I bring news.”

“We were made aware, but you may speak of that later. I am an Archiver, and many years have I watched over the records that we keep. Now come, you may eat with me and inform me of your travels.”

They walked among the endless bookshelves, passing by endless numbers of people who sat reading or speaking quietly with one another in hushed tones. A strong sense of connectedness and familiarity gripped at Junior’s heart, so tightly that he felt moved by it. Junior and the Archiver stepped into a lift, similar to the one Junior had ridden earlier, and descended until they reached yet another corridor with yet another lift. In silence, they travelled deeper and deeper into the heart of the mountain. Eventually they reached a quiet and brightly lit room, where people sat and ate at small tables in quiet voices.

Several people turned to Junior in greeting, bowing their heads respectfully before turning to the person beside them and resuming their conversations. Platters of food were placed in a circle around the middle of a central table. Junior waited as his elder filled his plate with food, and only after he was finished did he then serve himself - dal bhat and tarkari, with a side of roti and achaar.

Junior followed the older man to an empty table, and they sat on the pillows provided with their knees under them and ate with their right hands. It was only after they finished and served themselves tea that the older man began to speak.

“Come, speak of your travels. It has been a long time since I last stepped outside to see the world.”

And so Junior did. He paused often to drink his tea and recollect the things he had seen and done in the fourteen years since he had last stepped foot there. He could feel Lavi itching to join in, since Lavi shared most of his memories of their travels as a Bookman’s apprentice, but it had been a long time since Junior had been able to be present, to control the body he shared with the others, and he wanted to enjoy it.

Trying to ignore Lavi’s presence, Junior continued speaking. He did not talk about his records, as it was considered bad superstition to speak of the dead, but instead he spoke of the comings and goings of human beings and the world that changed around them. Technology, science, culture, literature, the arts; these were the things he spoke of at great length. After he felt he had spoken enough, he stopped and finished his tea. Archiver paused before speaking, voice full of contentment.

“Ah, the world still moves so quickly despite its age. There is much that has changed since I last left this place, so I express my gratitude at your tales.” He paused before continuing. “I do not wish to rush our meeting, but the Council is impatient for your news, and the reason for your coming here. I am afraid we must bid farewell for this moment and speak more at a later date.”

Junior nodded. “I understand, I will go and see them now. Thank you for your company and patience.”

Junior stood, bowed, and walked away, heart pattering anxiously as he entered the nearest lift and descended to the lowest point of the Bookman Clan’s home. The Council resided in the deepest part of the mountain - huge fires had to be maintained to keep the place warm and habitable - and it was here that the Clan’s records, and of the wars written in ink within them, could be discussed.

Junior walked down a long and brightly lit corridor, illuminated by flickering torches holstered to the wall, and felt nervous and uncertain about what lay ahead. But he knew that this moment had been postponed much longer than it should have been. Even if he was afraid of what the future might hold, he was also relieved. Finally, the indecision and doubt would come to an end.

He could feel Lavi’s presence alongside his own - he had to be present, since what they were about to share with the elders of the Bookman Clan was Lavi’s experience and his alone. Junior came to the end of the corridor and was met by two large and bolted doors that spanned the entire width of the corridor. In the imposing shadow of the doors, he sat cross-legged on the floor and waited, eye closed, trying to calm his mind of all fear and bad feeling.

Sometime later a loud screech of hinges, accompanied by the low creak of doors opening, bid Junior to stand and turn. He met the gaze of a woman known only as the Door Keeper. He bowed and she returned it with a slight downward tilt of her head. She stepped aside and let Junior through to the antechamber beyond. He changed into the customary green robes of an apprentice, and the contrast between the green of his robes and the bright orange scarf around his neck made him smile. Bookman had always insisted he couldn’t wear his scarf to such meetings, but it was an anchor for Junior and the others as well.

It was the one thing they had brought with them from their previous life, and it had kept them grounded through all that had happened. It was worth any glares or scathing looks.

While Junior waited, the Door Keeper bound his hands - and therefore his Innocence - with bandages and seals, similar to the ones used by the Order’s CROWs. There he would have to wait until he was permitted to enter the cold dimly lit room where the ancient elders of the Bookman Clan resided.

The antechamber was silent, and memories that both pained Junior and brought him happiness came forth unbidden - memories of a time where he had sat, fidgeting endlessly, humming under his breath. Bookman had scolded him and told him to wait patiently to be seen. But Gran’pa, why can’t we just go in anyway, he had said, voice petulant and full of complaint. That had earnt him a smack to the back of the head. He had pouted but continued tapping his fingers against his leg, humming quietly as he waited, despite Bookman’s irritation.

Junior smiled at the memory of it, despite the sadness that gripped painfully at his heart. When a quiet knock signified he could enter the room beyond, he stood and with calm acceptance entered the main chamber of the Council.

The room was circular in shape, lit by several torches mounted on the walls. Sat in the centre of the room were six people, knelt on pillows, all of whom were wise and aged beyond measure. Junior bowed as deeply as he was able to each of them in turn then knelt down on the lone pillow positioned before him. He averted his gaze from any of the people before him out of respect and custom, for they were the highest members of the Clan and it was rude for someone of such ranking as him to look them in the eye. He remembered vividly that when he was a child he was thankful that this was the case, for back then he had struggled to look people in the eye and found himself spending an awful lot of time staring at people’s feet. He forced himself not to smile despite the memory, and waited patiently for one of the elders to speak. The third person from the right spoke; a woman with a voice cracked and aged.

“Greetings and good tidings, young one. Many years it has been since you last stepped foot before us, and it fills us with gladness to see you once more. Come - speak of your purpose for coming here.”

Junior hesitated for a moment before replying, voice calm and steady. “Greetings and good tidings, elders. I am here to bring news, and to seek guidance from the Clan on a matter that I have been unable to resolve on my own. I ask for your patience and knowledge.”

He bowed his head, and waited a moment before continuing to speak, voice low and as devoid of emotion as he felt able to manage.

“I bring the news that my master is dead. Here are the earrings he wore as proof of his death and of my ties to him.”

Wordlessly, he took the earrings out from his robes and placed them before him. The people before him said may his soul pass on quietly and in unison before the second person from the left nodded and permitted Junior to continue. He took a deep breath, letting his presence subside so Lavi could come forth and speak.

Lavi couldn’t speak for a moment, disoriented by his surroundings. When he became aware of the elders staring at him, he spoke up, voice wavering a little as he spoke the Bookman Clan’s mother tongue.

“I was… there to bear witness to my master’s death. He was killed by those known as the Noah Family, and -”

“Forgive my interruption.” A man in the centre spoke, voice low but alarmed. “That is grave news indeed. We were aware something was wrong. We had not received any updates from your master for many long months. Your master was old, even by our reckoning, and if he had died a peaceful death as he was meant to then we would not feel unease at his passing. But for the Noah Family to have killed him… that is a surprise to us.”

A woman to his left spoke. “Indeed. We have long since held neutrality with that family, ever since we as a Clan came into being. For them to commit this act, why, it breaks the bond that we have with them. They would never willingly break that bond, for we hold information they greatly rely on. Tell us, how did this happen?”

Lavi resisted the urge to wring his hands together, trying to hide how nervous he felt as he replied.

“Our last record was with the Black Order, and we fought as soldiers for their cause in aid of our own. Eight months ago, we were captured by the 6th Disciple and brought to the Noah’s base of operations by the 4th Disciple. He demanded information from my master on the 14th Disciple and his relation to the 2nd Disciple, and after my master refused to speak of it, I was used as leverage through torture and threat of death.”

A woman furthest to the left spoke, confusion in her voice. “We have never denied the Noah Family our information, so for your master to refuse to speak of the Fourteenth…”

A tense silence descended upon them. Lavi felt his heart beat so fast he felt sick from it. Eventually, the same woman waved a hand for him to continue. Lavi tried to keep any anxiety out of his voice.

“When I came close to death, my master informed the 4th Disciple of the truth behind the 2nd Disciple’s actions. Upon hearing it, he lost his temper and killed my master. I barely escaped with my life.”

The man from the centre spoke once more. “They spared your life?”

Lavi paused before speaking, voice wavering slightly. “No, they did not intend to do that. Before our capture, I hid my Innocence inside of me. When they attempted to kill me after taking the life of my master, my Innocence evolved and I escaped.”

“We have read the records that your master provided us on that which is called Crystal Type Innocence. It would explain why your hands are sealed, young one. Although this worries us greatly, we do not blame you for saving your life in this way. Be at ease.”

Lavi hadn’t realised he had been shaking. With slight anger at himself for being so transparent, he took a deep breath in and tried to remain calm as the elders before him spoke in turn.

“We do not understand why your master would behave in such a way, and it disturbs us greatly to hear of the manner of his death.”

“We will have to cut our ties with the Noah Family, as they have broken the pact of neutrality that we made with them.”

“But we will need time to speak of it and ponder on what has happened. We will not ask you to speak of this more than you have already, young one. Thank you for informing us of this news.”

“Now, you spoke of needing guidance. We will do our best to aid you, as you and your master have aided us. Speak, young one.”

Lavi closed his eye and waited a long time before speaking quietly, hands clenched into fists.

“Since my master’s death, I have been uncertain of the future that lies ahead of me, for he had not prepared me for what his death would mean, or what would be required of me. I have found myself conflicted at the thought of it. I wished to ask for guidance on what options are open to me, and what you would advise me to do in this position.” He faltered for a moment before a hissed remark from Junior in their mind reminded him of courtesy. “I… ask for your understanding and wisdom.”

There was a long moment of silence before a woman spoke, voice gentle and full of compassion.

“We are glad you have come to seek our counsel, young one. We will need to discuss your situation with each other, and come to a decision on what paths we see open to you. Please place your personal record before us. Have patience and faith.”

Lavi stood, took out a worn and tattered leather-bound book from his robes, and placed it next to Bookman’s earrings.

They then spoke in unison. “We give thanks for your words this day.”

Lavi hesitated for a moment before bowing to each of them in turn, before speaking. “I give thanks for your guidance this day.”

He turned and left. The Door Keeper closed the doors behind him, unbound his hands, and carefully observed as he picked up his travelling clothes and belongings before leaving through the large double doors of the antechamber. She shut the doors behind him. Lavi waited a moment before sighing loudly. He visibly relaxed, muscles aching from tension and stiffness.

Lavi began to walk, making his way back to the lift. Lavi could feel Junior’s irritation towards his hesitation and awkwardness, but Lavi knew he had tried his best. It had been a while since he’d needed to speak in the Bookman Clan’s tongue - in his defence - and he had never really needed to put it into practice until now. It was also still difficult to speak of Bookman’s death, and after muttering that internally Junior fell silent, knowing he had crossed a line.

Shaking his head a little, Lavi focused on making his way back up from the mountain’s depths. He felt heavy and exhausted. By the time he made it to the sleeping quarters, he could hardly walk without stumbling. After asking for directions, he was directed to a small and plainly furnished room no more than a few metres wide, where a small sleeping mat and blanket were neatly folded in one corner. After undressing and settling down, he was asleep in minutes.


Darkness, emerald leaves, a garden shielded by silence, draped in eternal light, a face, a feeling of horror - he could never remember, why could he never remember that face - then the loud, sudden gasp of his own breath as Lavi sat up, wide-eyed and breathless.

It took a while for Lavi to ground himself, heart jack-hammering in his chest, staring wide-eyed at the dark ceiling above. He let out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding, let himself relax, and rubbed at his face with a groan. It was the same dream that had haunted him since travelling with Allen and Neah, waking him at regular intervals every night without fail. It was a reality he was bitterly used to at this point.

Lavi sat up and rubbed at his eye, feeling no better rested than before he had slept. Devoid of motivation to get up, still shaking off the remnants of fear and uncertainty that his dreams always left him with, he settled for staring at the ceiling. He almost forgot where he was for a moment, surrounded by dimly lit rock and no possessions aside from what he travelled with. He felt uneasy, like the very walls were closing in on him, trapped within rock and stone.

With a groan, he buried his fingers in his hair and tried to focus on anything else, anything but that dream. It was only then that he noticed a quiet presence beside him internally. He looked inward and felt more than saw a tentative hand clutch at his clothes. A small, anxious face peered up at him from the darkness. A dim memory came to mind of darkness and water, a child stood before him, tears falling to the water below and a plain playing card at his feet. Lavi shook his head, trying to dispel the memory from his mind. He let out a sigh, trying his best to smile.

“You scared?” The child nodded. Lavi gently patted his head. “It’s okay, nothin’ to be scared of, is there?”

I don’t like this place.

The child’s voice was quiet, tentative. Lavi sighed. “Well, it ain’t so bad here. We’re gonna be stuck here for a while, so -”

Where’s Gran’pa?

Lavi felt his heart skip a beat. He took in a deep breath, held it, and then let it out shakily.

“He’s - he’s not here. Junior explained that to you, didn’t he?”

But where’s he gone? He’ll be back soon, won’t he?

That statement was said with such innocence that Lavi couldn’t bear to admit the truth. He gave a poor attempt at a smile.

“He’s… gone away to… to do Bookman stuff. We’ll see him at some point.”

That answer seemed good enough. Everything was still and quiet for a while before that quiet voice spoke once more.

Where’s the boy from before?

Lavi frowned. “Who’re you talkin’ about?”

The boy with the white hair.

Lavi remembered the library ruins, Allen’s concerned expression, the smell of smoke, and a child’s shaking hand in his own. He sighed.

“Allen’s not here either. We gotta do stuff on our own for a little while, ‘kay?”

Lavi pushed himself up, shrugged off his blankets and stretched a little. When he realised he still wasn’t alone, he let out a quiet noise of frustration.

“Listen, I gotta get up, Milo. You go and play or somethin’, okay?”

He ruffled the child’s hair and gave him an encouraging push into the darkness of their mind. That seemed enough to get him to leave, allowing Lavi some breathing room. He buried his fingers in his hair and sighed.

Even after all these months, it still hadn’t sunk in for Milo that Bookman was gone. He was a child, and children couldn’t always process things like this. Lavi knew that, but it didn’t make it any easier. He felt a lump settle in his throat. He wanted, more than anything, to have Bookman here with him. He almost expected to hear a knock on his door, smell tobacco smoke, hear his old master’s grumpy voice insisting he get up and make himself look presentable. That thought brought a small smile to Lavi’s features, but it also hurt.

Lavi tried to push the memory of his late master away, trying to focus on something less painful. His mind drew towards Allen and Neah instead - which was no less painful for him, but that was often how the mind worked, drawing connections between similar feelings - and he found himself missing them more than he could put into words. He remembered, vividly, his last moments with Allen. The tears in his eyes, his bright smile; he had looked hopeful, more hopeful than Lavi had seen him look for a long, long time.

He wondered, with a heavy heart, if Allen and Neah were doing okay. Had they found Cross yet? Had the Noah found them first, or the creature called Apocryphos? The thought of the two of them fighting alone against so many adversaries made Lavi’s heart hurt.

It would do no good to think of them, Lavi knew. He had to focus on the here and now, on his own life, his own goals. That was why he had left their side, after all.

Taking in a deep breath, holding it, and letting it out slowly, Lavi pushed himself up onto his feet and dressed himself in the robes he’d been given the day before. He couldn’t help but smile at the green colour of the fabric. After spending years dressed in the blacks and greys of the Order’s uniform with only his bright scarf to alleviate the lack of colour, it was nice to wear something colourful for once.

Not wishing to dwell on the Order more than was necessary, refusing to allow that all too familiar feeling of loss to creep up on him once more, Lavi wrapped his scarf around his neck, left his bag and travelling clothes with his sleeping mat, and left to explore the cavernous halls of the Bookman Clan.

As he walked, it finally sunk in that he was finally here, after months of indecision and aimless wandering. The people he had spent his whole life hearing about, but never interacted with aside from Bookman, were all around him. Lavi felt a rising sense of connectedness build within him.

With a great deal of curiosity, Lavi wondered if Junior was going to let him roam free through the Clan’s halls. When his questions were met with silence, he shrugged internally and focused on his growling stomach. Exploration could come after food.

Time seemed to hold little meaning within the home of the Bookman Clan, since the mountain caverns were devoid of windows or clocks or any indication of the state of the outside world, but it made sense for his first meal to be breakfast, since he had just woken up. After reaching the meal room, he chose soup and roti, with chai tea to drink.

Although the Bookman Clan had members from all around the world - a network of cultures and religions and customs - they had long since called Nepal home. Out of respect to the country they resided within, many of their customs and cuisine were Nepalese in origin.

After eating and contemplating on what to do when he was done, strangely excited to be given free rein in this new environment, Lavi decided to travel upwards to the endless cavern of books at the highest point of the Bookman Clan’s underground network. With no small amount of excitement, Lavi ascended into the large cavern, wide-eyed and full of wonder. He spent what felt like an eternity walking past endless shelves, undecided on what to read with so much choice available to him.

For most of that day, he spent his time reading and talking with the people he came across. Every person he spoke with gave a customary bow and the phrase I ask for your worldly knowledge. The colour of his robes indicated his apprenticeship, and many of whom he spoke with spent little time above ground. One of the main privileges of being a Bookman was the nomadic lifestyle they led, the ability to see the wider world. Lavi spoke often of his travels, of all the cultures and experiences and people that he had seen, with those who had committed themselves to preserving the world of the past. Junior was ever present, making sure to keep an eye on how Lavi spoke and how careful he was around those of a higher rank than him.

It was strange to see how people reacted to his status as a Bookman’s apprentice. It had always confused Lavi that he held a role that was the namesake of an entire clan, and yet Bookman had only ever talked about Lavi and himself as being ‘Bookmen’. Bookman had always spoken of their roles with reverence and respect, constantly referring to it as a ‘necessary sacrifice’, and Lavi had never understood why until he spoke with other members of the Clan.

There were those who expressed what could almost be called hero worship, excitedly asking question after question about Lavi’s role and how lucky he was to see the surface, how they had always dreamed of succeeding in their chosen field and gaining the chance to become a Bookman proper. It took a few comments from Lavi, increasingly more scolding in quality, about the death and destruction he was forced to record, before the admiration he was being given swiftly faded into what was likely pity.

He didn’t know what was worse.

To be told repeatedly, with either reverence or pity, of his ‘sacrifice’ and its necessity for the Clan and how he was brave to have chosen such a role, made Lavi feel a level of discomfort that he had never felt before. He couldn’t understand it, how someone could place his ‘necessary sacrifice’ on such a pedestal, or call him brave for having suffered through it. He didn’t know if it was due to a lack of understanding on what it truly meant to leave the Clan’s halls, or if people were wilfully blind to the truth. The bitter reality that it was a path he hadn’t even chosen for himself only made matters worse. After an entire day of it, he wanted nothing more than to walk into the nearby elevator and leave the Clan behind.

But Lavi knew he couldn’t leave. He still had to receive advice - though it felt a lot more like judgement - from the Elders. He needed answers, no matter how arduous his stay with the Clan could end up being.

After a somewhat snide internal comment from Junior about whether the Clan was what Lavi had expected, he almost let loose a string of rather colourful - and altogether not Bookman Clan approved - curse words in more languages than one, before he remembered where he was; still stood in a room full of people, some of whom had taken notice of his discontent.

After taking a deep breath, trying to regain his composure, Lavi decided to call it a day and started to make his way back to the accommodation hall. A quiet voice from his left made him stop, however. He turned to see a person with a gentle presence, clothed in a brightly-coloured hijab and the grey robes of the Archivers, looking at him with an amused expression. Lavi frowned.

“Can I… assist you?”

The person faltered a little, visibly awkward before they gave him an apologetic smile, bowing their head as everyone else had done for Lavi that day.

“My apologies, I saw the colour of your robes and I wished to… I-I ask for your worldly -”

“No.”

The person raised their head with a frown. “Wait… what did you say?”

Lavi scowled, unable to hide his irritation, lapsing into English.

“You and everyone else here has been sayin’ that every five seconds, give it a rest already.”

The person before him hesitated, genuine confusion showing in their expression, before they did something Lavi hadn’t expected: they laughed. For a few moments, Lavi could do nothing but stand and stare. Without fully understanding why, a weight left his shoulders at that moment.

Eventually, when they had regained their composure, the archiver stood before him wiped away their tears and tried to compose themself before speaking, also dropping the use of the Bookman Clan language.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, but… that was amazing.”

Lavi faltered. “Wh… what was amazing? I don’t get it.”

The archiver gave a bright smile. “Rejecting my request for one, never mind choosing to say it so… impolitely.”

Lavi rubbed the back of his neck, cheeks burning. “H-hey, in my defence there really isn’t a way of speakin’ casually in the Clan’s language, ya know.”

The person groaned. “Don’t I know it! It’s...” they paused, seemingly embarrassed to admit such a thing. “… actually very refreshing to speak like this, to be honest with you.”

They faltered before offering a hand, brightly smiling. “My name is Bisma, it’s nice to meet you, um…”

“Lavi, the name’s Lavi.”

Bisma smiled all the brighter. “Lavi, huh? That’s Hebrew for ‘lion’, is it not?” They paused, an amused glint in their eyes. “Guessing it’s because of the colour, no? It’s rather fitting.”

Lavi raised a hand to fiddle with his scarf. “I’m guessin’ you mean this thing.”

Bisma laughed. “Either that, or your hair. You’ve got a whole ensemble going there, my friend.”

Lavi couldn’t help but smile at that. The tension that had settled upon his shoulders dissipated as if it had never been there to begin with. After a moment of silence, Lavi’s newfound companion seemed to realise their place, and gave an apologetic nod before attempting to walk away, no doubt to resume their work. Lavi, feeling a strong sense of kinship with them, hurried forward to place a hand on their shoulder.

“Hey, are you always up here?”

Bisma turned before nodding, confusion entering their expression. “I… yes, I work here at the archives for a few hours each day before being left to my other studies. Why?”

Lavi gave an awkward smile. “It’d be nice to, uh, talk some more. Not about any ‘worldly knowledge’ or anythin’ like that. You’re the… first person to seem any amount of normal in this place.”

Bisma paused for a moment then laughed, unable to hide the amusement in their voice.

“The fact you see this as normal is… strange, but refreshing.” They paused before offering a friendly smile. “Sure, why not? It’d be nice to not have to speak in the Clan’s tongue for a little while, and it’s been far too long since we had anyone new turn up around here.”

Lavi gave a pleased smile, and after waving goodbye the two of them went their separate ways, leaving Lavi free to head back to his room for some much needed peace and quiet. While walking, he could feel Junior’s discontent towards him - no doubt about his breach of ‘decorum’, he supposed - but nothing could tarnish the fact that despite all the trepidation he felt towards being with the Clan - and what it meant for his future - he could at least say that at the end of his first day there, he’d made a friend.

A friend he was allowed to have.

Chapter Text

In the days that passed, Lavi often found himself Bisma’s company.

Their bright enthusiasm towards life was heart-warming to him, and contrasted sharply with the polite but borderline-apathy that other people seemed to express towards him. They became fast friends, and Lavi spent most of his time in their company as he awaited the Council’s verdict on his fate.

Because they were both frustrated with the polite language of the Bookmen, they spoke in Arabic during their conversations. It was the language Bisma felt most comfortable with, and Lavi knew it well enough. It was refreshing, being able to speak more freely. It reminded Lavi of his time with Allen and Neah, which he tried to ignore as best he could.

Lavi focused on filling his time as best he could. A few days after first meeting Bisma, the two of them went to get food after spending a number of hours toiling away in the archives. Once they had settled down, Lavi found Bisma looking at him with a curious glance. He tilted his head, confused.

“What’s up?”

Bisma gave an awkward smile. “Oh, nothing in particular. I wanted to ask if you needed any assistance preparing for your initiation exams.”

Lavi frowned. “Initiation exams?”

Bisma tilted their head with a frown. “You don’t know about them? They’re held every year for apprentices in every field, though you might be a little different since you’re a Bookman’s apprentice and all.” They sighed. “I heard they were hard. I’m pretty nervous about taking mine.”

Lavi paused for a moment, not knowing if his lack of knowledge on any form of initiation was due to his lack of memories from his early childhood, or if both he and Junior were unware of it. Junior’s somewhat disgruntled reply made it clear it was the latter. After trying to avoid having an internal argument about why exactly Junior had no clue about the topic, Lavi tried to clear his head a little before giving a warm smile.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen if you have to try again?”

Bisma wrung their hands together. “Well, I’d have to keep trying until I passed, of course. But my master would be disappointed in me…”

Lavi paused, chest constricting, before looking away with a sigh. After a moment of silence Bisma spoke, voice quiet.

“But I have to try, so I can make him proud, right?”

He looked up and was met with a smile - so bright, like his smile - and he felt his entire body freeze up. Bisma looked away, embarrassed. They sat in silence while Lavi tried to calm himself. A voice speaking in the Bookman Clan’s tongue drew their attention.

“Bisma, this is where you have been hiding?” The Archiver that Junior had met on their first day with the Clan stepped toward their table and lightly flicked his apprentice’s forehead. He turned to Lavi with a smile. “I hope they haven’t been causing you any bother, young one.”

Lavi watched carefully as Bisma shuffled awkwardly, and when he tilted his head at them they refused to meet his gaze. Bisma turned to their master with a forced smile.

“He was sharing his worldly knowledge with me, master, but I will return to my studies now.” They stood and bowed their head towards Lavi. “I give thanks for your words this day.”

They left, following their master with a bowed head and hunched shoulders. Lavi sighed. It was clear Bisma was trying hard to mould themself into a person their master would respect, a person that would never quite fit how they saw themself. As Lavi watched them leave, he tried to ignore the lump in his throat, the feeling of sadness that welled up within his chest.

Lavi spent some time staring dejectedly at his food before he gave up trying to finish his meal. Thoughts of Bookman hovered in the forefront of his mind, leaving him feeling anxious and ill at ease. He decided to head back to the archives, eager for any kind of distraction, anything that would take his mind off of duty and the feeling of grief.

He had barely returned to the archives to read when a soft tap on his shoulder signified the presence of his newly-found friend. He turned and smiled.

“What’s up?”

There must’ve been something in Lavi’s smile that wasn’t as genuine as it should’ve been. A frown immediately adorned Bisma’s features.

“Oh, I - it’s nothing to worry about. Would you like some privacy?”

Lavi shook his head, trying not to look overly desperate. “Nope, I’m good. Won’t your master get mad at me for interruptin’ your studies though?”

Bisma gave a strained smile and wrung their hands, gaze fixed on their feet.

“Well, you’re not wrong on that count. But he actually sent me on an errand to go and retrieve some supplies from a nearby town, and -” they paused, visibly awkward “- and I wanted to ask if you’d like to join me.”

Lavi immediately nodded. Bisma smiled, uncertain. “I’m not bothering you, am I?”

Lavi practically beamed. “No way! I’ve been wantin’ to get out of this stuffy place for ages now. Let’s go.”

Bisma returned his smile. They left the archives together, making a stop at Lavi’s room so he could retrieve his travelling clothes and change. Then they were up and away, walking through the quiet monastery above the hidden caverns of the Bookman Clan and out into the bitter cold of the mountainside.

Bisma, now adorned in a thick winter coat, stopped and stretched, breath forming wisps of cloud before their delighted expression.

“I haven’t left that place in months! It feels so good to breathe open air for once.”

Lavi sighed wistfully. “I know the feelin’. I don’t know how you guys put up with being underground for so long.”

Bisma gave a sad smile. “It’s the life we chose.”

Silence descended upon them, broken only by the sound of the wind finding its way through snowdrifts. Curious about his companion, Lavi couldn’t help but ask more about them.

“Say, how’d you end up with the Clan anyway?”

Lavi’s question was met with silence at first, and he worried he’d overstepped some kind of line. He had always had a poor gauge on social cues such as this, and had unintentionally made many a person uncomfortable in the process. After a while, Bisma spoke, tone thoughtful.

“Well, I’ve been here for about… five years now, I think. It’s hard to keep track of time down there.” They paused, sticking their hands in their pockets, watching their breath fog before their eyes before continuing with a sad smile. “The Clan took me on after I ran away from home. My family were… not understanding about... who I was, how I wanted to be seen by others.” They faltered, turning to Lavi with an anxious expression. “Ah, I hope it’s alright to -”

Lavi nodded, giving a reassuring smile. “’Course it is, why wouldn’t it be?”

Lavi knew his statement sounded naïve, but there was anything but naïveté in his gaze when he met Bisma’s own, and they recognised that. With a sigh of relief, they took a moment to collect their thoughts before continuing.

“I couldn’t handle living in a place like that, so before they could marry me off to some ignorant bigot, I packed up all my things and left. I made my way towards Tehran, begging for food along the way. When I got there, I had nowhere to live, no money; nothing.” They laughed, bitterly. “It was… very rough at first. I did odd jobs for a while, mostly at the capital’s biggest library. My work there got noticed by one of my superiors, and I moved up in the world.”

Bisma paused, a fond smile gracing their features, before they turned to Lavi, smile widening.

“Two years after that, the Clan found me and I’ve been locked up in that mountain ever since.”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “You sound like you hate it.”

Bisma laughed and gave him a wink. “I don’t, but we don’t have a lot to bicker about apart from our lack of contact with the outside world, so you get into the habit of complaining about it.”

“Is it better?”

Bisma tilted their head. “Better than what?”

“Your previous life.”

Lavi’s voice was filled with an emotion Bisma couldn’t place, and after a while they turned away, gaze distant.

“Yes, in many ways. I am… accepted here, by most people, at least.” They faltered, a look of pain flashing in their eyes. “My master does… not quite understand. He is very set in his ways. But he is old, so I can’t blame him.”

Lavi frowned. “That’s no excuse.”

Bisma pulled a face, conflicted. “I… I know. He is still tied to his roots, he told me once. But it, well, it’s rather irritating.” They shook their head, frustrated. “We are Bookmen first and foremost, that is what I was told when I arrived here. Our previous lives are in the past, and all our ties to a particular faith or nation or way of life are meant to come second. Whatever customs we were used to before, they are to be left in the past.”

“Doesn’t that cause problems, though?”

“What do you mean?”

Lavi took a moment to think of the right way to word his statement before speaking. “Well, most wars are over things like faith, or which country you belong to. There must be fights between people over stuff like that.”

Bisma shook their head. “But because we are Bookmen first and foremost, we hold ourselves differently to those outside of the Clan. There is no reason to disagree or fight over differences when the core of our identity is collectively shared.”

Lavi said nothing in response, frowning as he walked. Bisma looked over at him with concern, worrying that they had done something to anger him, before coughing into a hand and speaking in a quiet tone.

“I hope I haven’t offended.”

Lavi turned, startled out of his thoughts, and blinked a little before offering a reassuring smile. “Nah, you haven’t, don’t worry. It’s just… a little weird to me after seein’ so much shit started over stuff like that. Though…” he paused, voice becoming quieter. “… I guess the Black Order’s pretty similar, come to think of it.”

Bisma gave him a curious look. “How so?”

“Well, a lot of the Order’s members come from all over the world.” Lavi gave a bitter smile. “Akuma don’t care about who they kill.”

A tense silence descended upon the two of them. Bisma gave a hurried apology. “I’m sorry, that must be difficult to speak of.”

Lavi shrugged, brushing off the statement with a forced smile. “It’s fine. So, the Clan’s a lot better for you then?”

Bisma faltered, knowing Lavi was purposefully changing the subject, before they replied. “Yes, in a way. The Clan is such a huge melting pot of people, cultures, faiths; it would be impossible to limit or constrain any of it.” They paused and raised a hand to touch the fabric of their hijab. “I am allowed to keep my ties to my faith alongside being a Clansman, and the Clan is respectful of it. I have also met people similar to myself, who share the same feelings about personhood and identity, and that has… helped me a great deal. But above all, my duties to the Clan come first.”

Lavi gave a resigned noise. “Sounds like a pretty ideal life.

Bisma shook their head. “It isn’t as idealised as it sounds, though.” They fell silent, eyebrows knitting together, before continuing with a hard edge to their voice. “We are… separate from the rest of the world, and that comes with its own problems.” They gave Lavi a bitter smile. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we have very little idea about what it actually means to exist alongside this world. Keeping that many people trapped in a mountain can be… unbearably claustrophobic sometimes, which is why we revere people such as you. You bring back the knowledge of the world, and we keep it safe. We tell ourselves that it is a worthy role as long as that balance is kept in place.”

Lavi couldn’t speak, eye wide, gripped by a strong sense of duty. What Bookman had spent all of Lavi’s life teaching him - it had sunk in at points, but it truly hit him in that moment just how important his role was, just how important others perceived his role to be. It came with a sense of pressure - something he was used to feeling - with something nameless lingering behind it.

“Are you alright?”

Bisma’s voice was filled with concern, and it brought Lavi away from his thoughts, grounding him in the present. He gave them a reassuring smile.

“Yeah, just got lost in my thoughts a little, don’t worry.”

They both settled into a comfortable silence, Lavi resolutely trying to ignore the weight of memory, Bisma trying to reassure themself that they had not caused their companion any pain. They continued down the mountainside path, Bisma humming as they went, Lavi walking in silence beside them.

He tried to focus on the feeling of cold air against his cheeks, the expanse of sky above his head, the sheer immensity of his surroundings. He had always had a restless spirit, or so Bookman had said, and being trapped in any place for too long left him unsettled and longing for open spaces. He knew Milo in particular was the same, and the contentment he felt from him towards being outside lifted Lavi’s spirits greatly, easing him away from the dark place he had briefly been drawn into.

After minutes of silence, Bisma raised their voice to speak, curiosity in their tone.

“So, what were you doing before you joined the Clan?”

Lavi came to a halt, heart twisting in his chest a little. He swiftly tried to regain his composure, plastering a fake smile on his face.

“Uh, I don’t really remember. I’ve been trainin’ to be a Bookman since I was six or so.”

Bisma frowned. “You were that young? That must’ve been hard.”

Lavi rubbed the back of his head. “I… guess, yeah. It’s all I’ve ever known so it’s… whatever, ya know?”

“So you don’t remember anything from before you started training?”

“No.”

Bisma picked up on Lavi’s discomfort and swiftly moved the conversation on, which Lavi was thankful for. They began asking general questions about the countries he had visited, the food he had eaten; harmless questions, for the most part. Lavi didn’t mind their curiosity and answered with a quiet and contemplative tone to his voice, and often he had to reassure his companion that their curiosity was not an irritation to him.

Bisma seemed like a bright and passionate person to him, full of a seemingly infinite amount of curiosity, tempered by a fear of being overbearing. They tried hard to hold themself back, but when Lavi mentioned his Innocence, showing it to them with a grin, Bisma could hardly control themself.

“You’re an Exorcist too?! I guessed it from those marks on your hands and your knowledge on the Black Order, but… oh, I’ve never seen Innocence before in person. Can I touch it?”

Lavi laughed, showing Bisma his hammer but being careful not to let them touch it, knowing how harmful it could be to someone unused to the presence of Innocence. He barely suppressed a laugh at the fear and reverence showing on Bisma’s face.

“It’s so small, but it looks so heavy! And you carry this around with you everywhere too?”

Lavi shrugged. “Yeah, it’s not that heavy to me, I don’t even notice it half the time.”

Bisma stared at him for a moment before turning back to his Innocence, excitedly firing off question after question until Lavi could scarcely keep from laughing. After nearly tripping over their own feet multiple times, complaining about the ache in their heels, Lavi gave a devilish grin.

“Hey, back up there for a second.”

“Oh, am I about to step in something unpleasant?”

Lavi raised his hands and smiled warmly. “No, no, nothin’ like that. Now, come here and take my hand.”

Bisma faltered, cheeks burning and mouth hanging open. Before they could voice their sudden embarrassment, Lavi simply grinned, activating his Innocence with a call of its name. He grabbed Bisma’s hand, jumped off the nearest outcrop of stone and then they were gone, hurtling away from the mountainside, leaving only a trace of footprints and a brightly shining seal in their wake.

Bisma’s fearful cries soon gave way to shocked silence then awed laughter. Lavi brought the two of them to a stop, letting Bisma admire the surrounding mountainside, daylight illuminating the snow and rock around them in bright hues of gold. Bisma stared and gripped Lavi’s shoulder so tightly it hurt. He turned to them and grinned before taking them further down, slower than before so they could admire the world around them from such a different perspective.

After spotting smoke drifting up between two rocky hillsides, Lavi sped towards it, skin numb from the biting wind and the flakes of snow sent hurtling towards him. He halted near an expanse of trees and jumped to the ground, laughing as Bisma barely managed to stagger to their feet. They tidied their hijab from its messy appearance. After staring at the ground, wide-eyed and in shock, they eventually turned to stare at their grinning companion and slammed a hand down hand on Lavi’s head with a scowl.

“H-hey! What’s that for?”

“Give me some warning next time you decide to throw us off the mountainside, hm?”

Their scathing tone reminded Lavi so strongly of Lenalee that it took him a few moments to think of something to say. After receiving another furious glance, Lavi smiled and apologised meekly, rubbing his head as Bisma walked off with a huff.

After entering and leaving the nearby wood, discovering nothing beyond a dying campfire and a lone argali, Lavi gave a sheepish grin before offering to take them to the right location. Bisma nodded, trying to hide their excitement by scowling and commenting on his ‘bad driving’, and soon they were moving swiftly over trees and rock and snow to the town Bisma’s master had asked them to go to.

It was a small village, consisting of no more than a few dozen wooden huts and pens for animals. They descended to solid ground a good few miles before the town - Lavi had no desire to explain what Innocence was to any superstitious locals. It was well past midday before they finally reached the outskirts of the small mountainside town.

After gathering their bearings, Bisma stepped inside a small hut near the centre of the town. They talked in a friendly manner in Nepali with a woman behind a wooden counter, who turned and left to gather the items Bisma had requested. Lavi admired a nearby stack of books, running a hand along the leather bound covers and peering through yellowed pages, before a quiet cough and a smile from his companion - as well as a heavy bag in their arms - signified they had to leave. After they headed outside, Lavi turned to Bisma and pointed at the bag in their hands.

“Food supplies?”

Bisma shook their head. “No, it’s for the archives. This village has supplied us with parchment and leather for generations, and they always seem happy to provide what we need. I’m just collecting an emergency top-up. Usually they deliver our items in bulk by taking carts up the mountain.”

Lavi gave an appreciative whistle. “Damn, I can imagine that’s quite a trek for them then.”

“Hm, I suppose. But we pay well for their services, so we’ve not heard any complaints from them about it.”

They lapsed into silence. The two of them walked quietly back towards the mountains. Eventually, Bisma turned to Lavi with a curious expression.

“Can I ask you something?” Lavi looked over at them and nodded. Bisma paused before continuing, voice quiet and unsure. “The people you mentioned earlier, your fellow Exorcists… what’re they like?”

Lavi frowned. “Why are you askin’?”

Bisma faltered before giving an embarrassed laugh. “It’s silly really, but I’ve… not heard anyone speak so emotively of people since before I joined the Clan. So -” they smiled then, full of warmth “- I’d like to hear what they’re like.”

Lavi faltered, footsteps slowing until he nearly came to a complete halt. After regaining his composure he spoke, quietly, hands pushed into the pockets of his cloak as he began walking once more.

“Well… the first person I met was a guy called Komui. He’s the Chief of the European branch of the Order. He’s tall, stupidly tall. He can be really irritating and scary at times, but he’s also pretty serious and he cares too much. Though -” Lavi laughed, bitterness creeping into his voice. “I’m probably not a good judge of that…”

He fell silent for a few moments and only spoke when he felt he had squashed the sadness creeping into his heart.

“And then there’s Lenalee. She’s… kind, too kind for her own good, and scarily smart - I was stumped on something and she solved it in a few minutes, it was amazing! And don’t ever make her mad, she hits harder than any Akuma I’ve ever encountered. She’s not a person to mess with.”

Bisma smiled brightly. “I like the sound of her already.”

Lavi grinned before continuing. “Then there’s Yuu. He’s even prettier than Lena is, I don’t know how either of them manage it.” Bisma laughed and gave him an amused look. “He’s a lot more bad-tempered though, and pretty scary, but he’s really great when you get to know him.”

Lavi paused, a fond smile gracing his features, before he continued, counting on his fingers as he spoke of his companions.

“Then there’s Marie, probably one of the gentlest people I’ve ever met. Oh, and Johnny, he’s great but gets a little too excited over things. Then there’s Krorykins, he’s probably the most naïve guy I’ve ever met, but he gets really cool when he fights. There’s Miranda too - she pushes herself way too hard, and she gives great hugs. Then there’s… Chaoji, we haven’t talked much but he seems like a nice guy. And there’s Timothy too. That little kid has some serious balls, lemme tell you. If I tried anything he did, I’d be dead by now. And then… there’s Allen.”

Lavi fell silent for a moment, expression softening, before he continued with a warm smile.

“He’s probably one of the silliest people I’ve ever met. He seems really naïve and unaware of the world, but he’s also really bitter and… don’t ever challenge him to a poker match, he’s scary as shit. He throws himself into battles as if his life means nothing, and he’s also kind to a fault and - hey, what’s with that look? Is there something on my face?”

Bisma was practically beaming. They smiled widely and shook their head before urging Lavi to continue. He sighed and gave them a pointed look before continuing.

“And though he ain’t with the Order, there’s also… Neah… I only met him properly for the first time a few months ago. He’s an annoyin’ little shit who makes me wanna pull my hair out, and he’s also pretty scary sometimes. But he’s also really loyal and he sticks to his promises, so he’s not that bad of a guy.” Lavi paused, expression thoughtful. “They’ve all… taught me a lot, the people I’ve met. They’ve made me question whether…”

“Huh?”

Lavi smiled, full of bitter amusement. “Whether I wanna keep doin’ this.”

Bisma blinked, shock showing in their expression. “Wait, you mean… being a Bookman?”

“Yeah, bein’ a Bookman.”

Bisma faltered, sounding uneasy. “But… why would you ever give that up? I mean, they all sound really great, but… that life…”

“It’s not as great as it sounds.”

Lavi’s voice had a hard edge to it. Bisma lapsed into silence, watching with a frown as Lavi walked faster. Hurrying to keep up, they felt concern grip at them tightly after seeing Lavi’s darkened expression. After a long moment of silence, Lavi turned to them with a smile - fake fake fake - and gestured towards the sky.

“We’d better be getting back. It’ll be quicker using my Innocence, so…”

Bisma nodded, hands curled tightly into fists when Lavi looked away, smile falling. The two of them made their way quietly back to the home of the Bookman Clan with only the wind to break the silence between them. It wasn’t long before they reached the mountainside monastery and began to make their way deep into the mountain. Before Bisma could thank Lavi for the company, he gave a quick wave and walked away, shoulders hunched. All Bisma could do was watch him leave and sigh.


After a night of restlessness and a heavy feeling settling itself on his shoulders, Lavi gave up on trying to sleep and resumed waiting for a verdict on his fate.

The initial excitement - and fear - towards visiting the Bookman Clan dissipated into a restless apathy that clutched at Lavi’s heart. He let Junior take over so he could retreat into their mind, unable to figure out a way to ease the tension building in his heart.

Eager to find some sense of purpose, Junior headed to the archives and happily accepted a request to help an Archiver with their filing. Analysing records, fixing books, organising them by name and number; it gave him a deep sense of contentment. Junior had always loved patterns, especially numerical ones. It was something he didn’t share with Lavi, who often used counting to cope when burdened by a troubled mind, but his interest in it never went beyond that.

As Junior worked alongside the archivers, he began to wonder if he could live his life like this; surrounded by knowledge, organising it bit-by-bit. He was happy as long as he had a purpose. Aspects of being a Bookman’s apprentice had been tolerable, even enjoyable. Writing up the logs of each war they recorded, passing through different places, never being attached to anything or anyone; it was something Junior didn’t mind. Other aspects of his apprenticeship had been difficult and mostly traumatising; observing battlefields was something no-one could do unscathed. But ultimately it didn’t matter. As long as Junior had a purpose, a reason to live, then it didn’t matter.

Junior remembered Bookman telling him once, back when he was a small child with so little knowledge of the world, that they were privileged due to their way of life. We are not bound to one place, we have no home and we may go as we please. That is the gift we are given as thanks for the sacrifices we make. He had not understood those words back then, and had shoved it aside and filed it for later thought. But he understood it now, the gift and curse of being a Bookman. He could see the world in all its horrific and beautiful glory, but he was also bound to a life of solitude; a life where he would never belong anywhere, a life where he would never be remembered by anyone.

Except being here, among the Clan, was different; these people would remember him. He belonged here. Junior never felt as if he had needed such a thing before, but he found himself trying, in his own way, to form connections with the people he spoke with. Lavi had always been the sociable one, and it was harder than Junior thought to navigate conversations when the goal wasn’t to get information out of the person he was speaking to. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the conversations he had, for the most part.

While trying to keep himself busy, Junior came across Bisma, hard at work in the archives. Feeling uncertain, and more than a little awkward - Lavi was the one who had made friends with Bisma, after all - Junior avoided them as best he could. It was rather hard to avoid them entirely though, and eventually Bisma noticed Junior sat surrounded by masses of parchment.

“Oh, Lavi! It’s good to see you.”

Junior faltered, knowing from past experience that he couldn’t successfully imitate Lavi for the life of him, and did his best to look focused on his work.

“Ah, yes. I’m… rather busy.”

Bisma didn’t seem to notice anything was different, offering a sympathetic smile. “The Archivers are keeping you rather busy, I see. Good luck with it.”

Junior nodded, hoping Bisma would leave him be. Lavi didn’t seem to be present, and Junior would rather not inadvertently ruin Lavi’s friendship with Bisma. It seemed as if Bisma had left, and Junior let out a sigh of relief before focusing on his work once more. Mere minutes later, however, Bisma returned with their master in tow. Their master placed a firm hand on Junior’s shoulder.

“You’ve been here for many hours, young apprentice. I think it is time you took a break from your studies. My apprentice can join you, yes? You’ll keep them out of trouble.”

Junior tried to hide his irritation as best he could. He bowed his head at Bisma’s master. “I will do so, thank you.”

Bisma seemed to pick up on Junior’s mood, following behind him in silence as they exited the archives and made their way to the food hall. It wasn’t until they sat down with food in tow that Bisma spoke up, eyebrows furrowed into an anxious frown.

“Would you rather be alone right now? It’s alright to ask for such a thing.”

Junior looked up from his food, unsure what to say, before nodding and resuming eating. Bisma seemed to take that as a sign that they should leave. It wasn’t until they’d lifted their tray and begun to move away that Junior realised he should probably say something.

“You haven’t… done anything wrong.” Bisma turned to face him, a confused expression on their face. Junior did his best to smile. “I’m just tired.”

That seemed to be more than enough for Bisma. They gave Junior a bright smile and gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder.

“That’s fine, my friend. Get some rest after this perhaps?”

Junior nodded and turned away, feeling his cheeks burn. It was only after Bisma walked away that he realised Lavi was beside him inside their mind, laughing.

“What?”

Junior’s irritated tone just made Lavi laugh all the harder. Junior huffed, doing his best to ignore Lavi and focus on his food. Eventually, Lavi settled down, letting out a shaky exhale and wiping away internal tears.

Watchin’ you totally fail at social interaction never gets old.

Junior didn’t reply, pulling a face and ripping apart his roti with more force than was necessary. Lavi’s teasing was well-meant, however, and Junior wasn’t all that angry with him. After the tension of the past few days, it was nice for things to feel calmer between the two of them.

Junior left the food hall intending to return to his room, but felt too restless to try and sleep. Instead, he found himself wandering somewhat aimlessly through the mountain halls instead. Lavi had explored a decent portion of the mountain since their arrival, but it was a large place, and there were still many places they’d yet to visit. After descending through a number of lifts, Junior came across what looked like a training hall.

A number of people of varying ages, clothed in white robes, were doing what appeared to be martial arts training. Junior stood in the entrance way to the hall, observing those training with curiosity. Bookman had been the one to teach him martial arts; he’d never done any kind of group training.

Maybe ‘cause Bookman trainin’ is different? We’re the ones on the battlefield.

Lavi sounded bitter, but Junior didn’t comment on it. He turned his attention back to the training hall and found himself face-to-face with a rather stern-looking woman, staring him down with a look that made him feel as if he should be apologising. The woman grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him towards the group, who had stopped what they were doing to turn and stare.

“You should not be standing and observing. There is much you could teach these apprentices, is there not?”

Junior frowned. “I am not sure I understand.”

The woman let out a frustrated noise, gesturing at Junior’s robes. “You are the successor to Bookman, are you not? Your worldly knowledge would be of use here, yes?”

Junior tried to interject, but the look he was given made it clear there was no room to argue. With a sigh, Junior turned to face the group before him - who had all bowed their heads in respect - and did his best to look like he knew what he was doing.

It was easier than he thought it would be. The apprentices were well-taught, and Junior remembered his training with absolute clarity. He found himself correcting stances, giving practical advice to those who had never been in a real fight. Lavi observed quietly from the background, seemingly amused by the whole thing. Junior did his best to ignore him.

Junior found himself focusing on one of the younger apprentices. He was probably no more than fourteen years of age, and he had a stubbornness to him that made Junior understand why Bookman had developed such a short-temper. He would correct the boy’s stance, and he would immediately change it back to his original position, even if he’d then fail when faced with an opponent. Junior tried his best to remain patient.

“That stance is not correct. You should hold yourself like this, to better keep your balance.”

Junior showed the boy the correct stance, who scowled in response. “I like my stance.”

Junior felt his eyebrow twitch. “It is not about preference, young one. You -”

“Why’re you calling me ‘young one’? You don’t look much older than me.”

The woman from earlier - who went by the title of Tutor - caught the end of the conversation and made her way over, giving the boy a stern look.

“Because, Daya, you are less experienced. He is your teacher here, and you should show respect for his worldly knowledge.” Tutor then brought a hand down on Daya’s head, hard enough to make him wince. “I also already told you to speak more formally, did I not?”

Daya gave his teacher a dismissive look but didn’t argue any further. After that, he did exactly what Junior asked. He seemed more and more subdued as time went on, and by the end of the training session Junior could tell the boy was unhappy.

Lavi, who had been quietly observing up until this point, decided to step in. Junior bristled at the loss of control but didn’t argue. After the apprentices bowed to both Tutor and Lavi, they made to leave. Lavi caught Daya before he disappeared into the maze of corridors outside, who gave him a confused scowl.

“What? Did I do something else wrong?”

Lavi shook his head. He looked over at Tutor, who was observing the both of them with a curious glance.

“Can I keep this young one behind for a moment?”

Tutor raised an eyebrow but nodded her approval. Soon it was just Lavi and Daya, stood alone in the otherwise empty training hall. Daya’s scowl deepened.

“Why’re you keeping me here?”

Lavi gave the boy a bright smile, ignoring his question for the moment. “What would you use other than the Clan’s language?”

Daya looked at him blankly. “What?”

Lavi repeated his question. Daya didn’t respond for a moment before rubbing the back of his neck, looking more than a little awkward.

“Maithili.”

Lavi nodded, altering his language appropriately. “That better?”

Daya stared at him, dumbfounded for a moment, before grinning. Lavi sat down, cross-legged, and Daya did the same. Lavi observed the younger boy for a moment before explaining why he’d kept him behind.

“It’s okay to do stuff differently to other people, ya know?”

Daya looked at Lavi as if he had grown a second head. “Then what was all that stuff about my stances being wrong?”

Lavi hesitated, not wanting to explain the situation with Junior and himself, and decided on an alternative explanation.

“I had to look all proper in front of Tutor, didn’t I? She’d kill me if I taught you the wrong thing.”

Daya seemed to understand, giving a nod in response. Junior observed all of this with building frustration, but he let Lavi be, for now at least. Lavi raised himself up, urging Daya to do the same. He chose one of the stances from earlier, then altered it to what Daya had been insisting on using.

“See, this stance of yours still wouldn’t work.”

Daya scowled. “Why not?”

Lavi urged the boy to take his stance then swiftly knocked the boy over. Daya looked up from the floor with a huff.

“That’s why.”

Daya pushed himself up, brushing himself down with a frustrated expression. “Fine then, I’ll use the proper stance like you want. Happy?”

Lavi shook his head. “I didn’t mean it like that. Look -” he adopted Daya’s stance and changed it slightly “- the stance just needs a bit of work, right? If it works, it works. Doesn’t matter how proper it is.”

Daya stood and stared for a moment before copying Lavi’s stance with a grin. “Like this?”

Lavi beamed. “Yeah, like that!”

Daya’s mood immediately brightened up, and Lavi felt content enough to leave the boy be. He made to leave and was immediately stopped by a hand grabbing his robes. He turned to Daya with a raised eyebrow. The boy hesitated for a moment before giving him a determined look.

“Hey, can you teach me more stuff?”

Lavi hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “Not sure how long I’m gonna be here.”

Daya frowned. “What do you mean?”

“It’s complicated.” Daya seemed forlorn, so Lavi ruffled the boy’s hair and did his best to look encouraging. “If I’ve got time, I’ll come down here again, ‘kay?”

Daya gave a bright smile, bowed his head respectfully, and then left Lavi to his thoughts and Junior’s criticisms.

His teacher will scold him if he doesn’t follow proper form.

Lavi huffed, leaving the training hall with his hands interlaced behind his neck. “Does it really matter? The kid just needed to know he could do stuff how he wanted to, as long as it worked.”

There’s a reason the proper stances exist.

“Yeah, and the proper stances don’t mean shit in a real fight anyway. You know that.”

Junior fell silent, noting the bitterness in Lavi’s voice. Lavi said nothing for a while before smiling. “I wonder if taking on an apprentice will be like that.”

Junior frowned. Like what?

“Like with Daya.”

Junior huffed. I think we’d lose all of our hair dealing with a child like that.

Lavi laughed. “Guess we know why Gramps ended up goin’ bald.”

They both smiled fondly before grief settled its way into their hearts. Lavi faltered, coming to a stop, a frustrated sigh leaving his lips.

“I’m sick of waitin’.”

Junior felt Lavi’s apprehension, his frustration, and sighed. I know. So am I.

Chapter Text

The room was dark, filled with smoke and noise and people who wished not to be seen by prying eyes.

People in various states of disarray, clothes dishevelled with vision blurred from opium’s sweet lingering presence, lay on plush leather couches while others beckoned to them with parted lips, voices whispering sweet nothings into their ears. Everything was still, sluggish. The thick smoke gave it all the appearance of a dream.

Neah Campbell walked forward, weaving his way between people who hardly noticed his presence. He made his way towards a dimly lit centre stage where a man sat and watched with his eyes sharp amongst the darkness. The man hardly blinked, wordlessly tapping his cigar over the floor where glowing ash fell and disappeared into nothingness. He raised an eyebrow at the now-motionless person stood before him.

“What do you want? You’re not meant to be here if you don’t have membership.”

Neah smiled wryly. “The people here are awfully lovely, but I am not here for entertainment. I’m looking for a man. I wonder if you’ve seen him?”

The man frowned. “I’m not some information broker, who says I know anythi-”

“His name is Cross Marian. I heard he passed through here.”

“Why’re you looking for him?”

The man’s voice had a sudden hard edge to it. Neah watched carefully as the man slowly placed his cigar in his mouth and tucked a hand behind his back. Neah smiled and folded his arms.

“He owes me some money.”

The man gave a short, sharp laugh. “I think he owes us all a bit of money, kid. Who sent you?”

“I sent myself.”

The man scowled and leant forward, poking a finger hard into Neah’s chest. “Stop playing with me. The only people who come looking for that bastard are debt dealers or the Church. You don’t look like either of those things to me.”

Neah gave a wide smile. “Well, you’re on the money there. All I’m asking is if you’ve seen him. If you have seen him -” he reached a hand into his coat and pulled out a wad of notes, waving them before the man and grinning as his eyes widened with greed. “- you’ll be rewarded. We got a deal?”

“Deal.”

The man’s reply was so quick Neah scarcely heard it. The man snatched the notes greedily into his hands before tucking them away into his suit jacket, blowing a cloud of pungent smoke into Neah’s face.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him. Tall bastard, red hair, attracts the ladies like a fucking champ?” Neah pulled a face, trying his best not to laugh. The man continued, signalling behind his back with two fingers. “He passed through here a couple of months ago, had a good time. Left us in a… rather bad spot, shall I say?”

The stillness of the room was disturbed as men with weapons in hand walked purposefully through the mass of bodies. Neah smiled, watching the man’s eyes flicker from spot-to-spot over his shoulder.

“Leaving people in ‘bad spots’ is a trademark of his, you’re not the first or last person he’ll screw over.” Neah clapped his hands together, eyes glinting menacingly. “Now, where did he go from here, do you know?”

The man before him laughed. “No, I don’t. But why don’t you help us out a little, huh?”

Someone grabbed hold of Neah’s arms from behind and the club owner stepped forward, grinning.

“He lost us quite a bit of money, and since it seems you’re his lackey why don’t you pay up for hi-”

The club owner keeled over as Neah rammed his leg hard into his stomach. Neah watched with satisfaction as the man wheezed and fought for breath. The room fell deadly silent as dazed customers looked up from their shadowy corners to watch with building confusion. When the club owner looked up, livid and full of anger, Neah stuck out his tongue.

“We owe that bastard enough money as it is. Pay your own debts.”

“Why you -” the man straightened up with a wince and glared at the men stood before him. “Oi, what’re you waiting for?! Beat the shit out of him!”

The men had all of two seconds to react before Neah slammed his head back into the chin of the man behind him and broke free. Neah stepped backward then paused, feeling a hand grab at his ankle. He brought his other foot down hard on the club owner’s head. The man let go with a pained gasp. He looked upwards and froze, eyes wide, and let out a scared whimper. Neah gave a wide grin, eyes turning black, skin darkening.

I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

A man rushed forward, knife raised, and found himself on the floor, writhing with pain as his skin began to darken. He gave a pained scream, eyes wide. Those around him simply stood and stared, mouths hanging open. Someone screamed and the room began to empty, people fleeing from the ensuing fight with fear in their eyes.

Neah’s outstretched right hand crackled with dark matter. He watched with great pleasure as the man began to crumble into dust and nothingness. It was only when he heard a voice yell loudly in his mind - don’t, you can’t kill him, you promised, stop - that he lowered his hand with disappointment. The other men took the opportunity to rush forward, weapons raised, and Neah let out a loud frustrated groan before defending himself, limited to fighting with his bare hands.

It took a long time for the last man to fall to the floor, groaning and writhing alongside their fallen companions. Neah took the wad of notes out of the whimpering club owner’s coat before walking away, stepping on those too incapacitated to flee. In his mind, he could hear Allen’s voice berating him. Neah slammed a fist hard into a nearby door, eyes returning to normal.

“How many times do I have to tell you?! I get it already, you stupid little brat. I wasn’t going to kill him anyway!”

He winced at Allen’s furious reply. With a loud sigh, he tuned out his host’s voice and walked outside into darkness and rain. He raised his head, eyes fixed on the stormy night sky above.

“Come on Marian, where are you?”


Twenty five days: the time that had passed since Allen and Neah had left Lavi’s side to search for Cross.

In that time, they had hardly scratched the surface of where Cross had hidden since his flight from Apocryphos. Allen had spent as much time as he could, before Kanda and Johnny’s arrival, tracking down Cross through his numerous debts, but he had hit a brick wall nearly two months in from his escape from the Order, where all traces of his master had all but disappeared.

Now, with Neah helping him, they were at least making some progress in finding Cross, but without Timcanpy it was difficult. They often found themselves at dead ends with no sense of where to go so many times they’d lost count.

Despite how unfruitful their search for Cross had ended up so far, they hadn’t been idle in the time they’d spent chasing him down. Since parting ways with Lavi, they had stuck to their original plan of crossing the Franco-German border. They had followed the Franco-Swiss border north-eastwards, taking refuge in Mulhouse before attempting to cross the border. It had been hard crossing over - France and its empire were at war with various colonies, which meant resources were stretched thin. The government was trying immensely hard to stop any incoming traffic from other countries, hoping to avoid civil unrest as much as possible. Trying to exit the country during such a tense time had been immensely difficult, and it had taken all of Allen’s charm and Neah’s ability to threaten for them to cross safely.

It had taken every waking second of those twenty five days to learn to work as a team. They had to communicate and be honest with each other, which was hard for the both of them. Allen appeared forthcoming when it came to working with others, but he was a very guarded person. He wasn’t used to having to communicate so openly and honestly with someone. Neah was even more guarded, always playing his cards close to his chest, hiding his true feelings behind a façade of haughty independence. However, both he and Allen were fuelled by a desire to figure out the mechanics of their shared existence, and they both knew that if they wanted to achieve their individual goals, they would have to work together.

One thing that had helped was establishing boundaries. One of these boundaries was ‘no killing’, on Allen’s insistence. Neah had objected initially, but he knew he would never hear the end of it from Allen if he broke that rule, so he begrudgingly stuck to his promise. Allen did not come to regret that rule being put in place, but it did make it difficult to get by without putting themselves - or others - at risk.

It was not so much the people they encountered by happenstance that were the problem, it was that they were being tailed. By whom they didn’t know, and without an additional person to keep watch while one of them slept, Allen and Neah found themselves relying on as little sleep as possible in order to survive. Lavi’s words before their parting came to mind - if I find you guys haven’t been sleeping or eating again, I’ll kick both your asses - and though the memory of it made them smile, it also reminded them rather painfully that they could have done with his company.

Both Allen and Neah - though the latter refused to admit it - often found Lavi in their thoughts. Allen had never seen his friend in such a state before - tired, afraid, unbearably fragile and burdened by duty - and he found himself wondering on many lonely nights if Lavi had succeeded in finding his Clan, if he would return as ‘Lavi’ or ‘Bookman’. That thought made Allen’s stomach turn unpleasantly - his memories of Junior and that supposed ‘Bookman’ side would never truly fade from his mind. Neah had reminded him rather firmly that this was how they worked. They stay, they leave, and they never come back, Neah had said, with a noticeable hint of bitterness to his words.

Despite missing Lavi’s company, Allen comforted himself with the thought that if they never saw each other again, he at least had no regrets. All he could hope for was that Lavi would find a path in life that made him happy, even if that meant they never saw each other again.

In an attempt to distract himself from his own feelings, Allen took any available opportunity to tease Neah about his supposed care for the Bookman apprentice, how that feeling was shared between them. Allen was more often than not met with stubborn silence, or a string of colourful curses. It was a comfortable kind of bickering, however, and most of the fear and tension that had built up between them since Allen’s flight from the Order had dissipated into nothingness.

Despite the rising concern within the both of them at their unknown pursuer - more likely pursuers, considering how many different people wanted their head on a spike - they were growing in strength and solidarity with each day that passed.

It had been difficult at first. Despite Allen’s eagerness to form some kind of ‘friendship’ with the Noah that he shared his body with, Allen was still frightened of what Neah could do - what he wanted to - if he let his guard down. He was confronted rather suddenly with those fears when, two weeks in from leaving Lavi behind, they had discovered quite quickly that despite Crown Clown’s reactivation, Neah’s powers had not disappeared.

After ending up in a fight with some Akuma, Neah had found his own powers to have reawakened. It seemed the resolution formed between Allen and himself had left him free to use at least some of his powers. He held abilities similar to an Akuma’s poisonous blood; destroying matter, crumbling it into dust. Allen had stopped him, rather violently, from completely destroying the Akuma they were fighting, insisting with immense amounts of desperation that the Akuma’s souls would not be saved if Neah destroyed them with dark matter. Neah almost made a comment about how he’d been making Akuma self-destruct for months already, but remained silent, knowing he would never hear the end of it. He let Allen give the finishing blows using his Innocence, any feeling of irritation swiftly overshadowed by satisfaction about his regained powers.

Allen was left feeling a deep sense of fear over Neah’s regained powers, just as Neah had done when Allen’s own powers had reawakened before. It made Allen feel afraid. He found himself unable to stop thinking about Neah getting rid of him and pursuing the Earl alone, unburdened by his host. Allen could practically feel the urgency and restlessness coming from Neah.

That thought had indeed crossed Neah’s mind, left him shaking with anticipation at the prospect of reducing the Earl and the rest of his unwanted family into dust. He finally had the strength to do what he needed to. He wasn’t restricted or bound anymore; he was free. But, despite the hatred burning deep within his heart, he stayed his hand.

There was so much that he couldn’t understand or make sense of. He needed more information before he or Allen could take that final step and confront the Millennium Earl. Neah wanted to charge right in, blind to everything but his hatred, his desires, but he was no fool. He knew one misstep would place him and his host in deep water, and he did not wish to die for a second time. As before, as it always had been, they both needed Cross Marian’s guidance before they could continue along their chosen path.

Allen needed that guidance much more than Neah did, shocked to his very core over what Neah had told him about, in those few days before they left Lavi’s side. Neah had already been aware of Mana’s life with Allen, raising the abandoned boy as if he was his father - Timcanpy’s stored memories had told him more than enough - but Allen had been completely in the dark about Mana’s true identity.

It still horrified him, left him shaken and nauseous and staring out into the darkness, wide-eyed, unable to sleep at the mere thought of it; Mana, the Millennium Earl? No, it couldn’t be possible. He had killed Mana. Mana had died, right in front of him, twice; once as a human, once as an Akuma.

The Mana who was not ‘their Mana’; Allen denied it vehemently at first, violently rejecting the idea of Mana being the one behind the Earl’s comedic façade. It took several long conversations with Neah for him to, at the very least, see it as plausible. But so many things did not make sense, namely how Mana could have ‘died’ and been turned into an Akuma by Allen, and neither of them could figure out how Mana had seemingly been in two places at once.

They decided before they parted ways with Lavi that they needed to know for certain. They needed Cross to confirm that what Neah believed to be true was, in fact, the truth. Neah stated, with some amount of restlessness, that they could simply go after the Earl and see for themselves, but Allen was hesitant. Not only was the Earl immensely powerful - he had levelled an entire city all by himself, after all - but Allen didn’t feel ready to confront him either, eaten away by denial and fear, insisting time and time again that he had to speak to Cross before he decided anything.

It was frustrating on Neah’s part, but he was also hesistant to rush into things, despite the restlessness he felt. He also wanted to do something important before they went after the Noah Family, something that even took precedence over finding Cross.

When Neah eventually asked Allen if they could head to the Campbell mansion - demanded more than asked, but he at least gave Allen the chance to say yes or no - Allen was unsure on what to do or say in response. Neah hadn’t said a word about his ancestral home during the entire time he and Allen had travelled together, and Allen felt suspicious. Neah explained that he hadn’t been sure if he wanted to go back to the place that used to be his home, but that he had finally decided he wanted to say goodbye to it before they found Cross. It’s in the area, he had stated at the time, and Allen almost wanted to laugh at the comment.

The Campbell mansion resided in the very north of Italy, under the shadow of the Alps in the Aosta Valley. Getting there was going to be immensely difficult and time-consuming. The Ark was not an option, not with the Black Order breathing down the backs of their necks. Allen knew the Order were likely still using the gates he had opened during his time with them, and the Ark would be heavily guarded, since they would likely expect Allen or Neah to use the Ark.

Walking right into a trap would be the worst thing they could possibly do to themselves, which meant they would have to get to the Campbell mansion the hard way; on foot.

At this point, they had already crossed through into southern Germany, which meant they would have to immediately turn south into Switzerland, cross the entirety of the Bernese Alps, and successfully cross the Swiss-Italian border before they could then reach Neah’s ancestral home. They would have to spend at least some of that time gathering supplies, as well as staying on top of Cross’s trail, which also put them at risk of being caught.

Allen saw some logic behind it, however. If they successfully managed to navigate their way in secret, it could put whoever was after them off their trail, at least enough to give them some extra time. It would be hard to track them through the mountains, though there was also a high level of risk involved nonetheless. If they got caught in an ambush while crossing the Alps, escape would be highly unlikely.

We have the Ark for a quick escape, Neah had stated, refusing to be swayed by Allen’s doubts. Allen had insisted it was too risky, and he still wished to hold to his promise that he wouldn’t use it, not until he returned to the Order - if that ever happened, he noted to himself somewhat bitterly - but nothing he could say would steer Neah away from his convictions.

Eventually, Allen gave his ultimatum. He would accept this new course of action, but only if Neah promised he would give some much needed answers about his past, about Mana’s past. Neah wanted to say ‘no’, knowing there was much about his past that he couldn’t share with anyone, but he knew if he refused, Allen could very easily keep them off-track from where he wanted to go.

After wasting several days arguing back and forth, they came to a decision; Allen hoping for answers, Neah keeping his hopes to himself.

For now, all they had were each other through the tiresome days that followed. It seemed laughable that they could get on as well as they did now, especially compared to the fear and aggression that characterised their first few months on the run together. Allen found Neah to be irritating at times, and he was frightened of his hatred and the ruthless attitude that he held. Neah, in turn, found Allen’s supposed naïveté, his love for Akuma and human beings, as well as his bizarre need to be a martyr, annoying and confusing. But they had discovered that they were both strong, in their own ways, and despite their differences their shared convictions burned all the brighter now that they were working together.

It was a situation no-one could have expected. Though they did not know it at that moment, when the time would come to put up their banner and fight, their strength would instil both hope and fear in the people they would meet.


Allen hated Neah with a burning, fiery passion.

Four hundred miles and two weeks in from leaving Germany, and Allen wished with all his heart that he’d told Neah to stick his plan where the sun didn’t shine.

Things had gone smoothly at first. They rested at Lörrach before making their way to the Swiss border, taking with them as many supplies as they could charm their way into possessing. Crossing the border had been relatively easy, especially compared to how difficult their previous border-crossing experience had been. After arguing about it for a number of days, they decided to head to Bern - the recently established federal capital - for supplies and information. If they wanted to cross the Alpine mountain range safely, they would need both a mode of travel and a guide. Allen was well-travelled, but traversing mountainous areas was not his area of expertise. Neah, likewise, had travelled much during his previous life, and he had lived near the Swiss-Italian border for most of his childhood, but he had never had to cross the mountains.

Expecting some kind of ambush - or at the very least some close calls with the Noah Family and the Black Order - Allen and Neah made their way to the capital and found, to their dismay, that it was under attack. Switzerland was a country of armed neutrality and had not been to war for decades, so it was not an attack from other humans but from the enemy Allen and Neah had expected from the start; Akuma.

Visiting the city itself was out of the question - the Order were bound to turn up, if they hadn’t already, and such a major assault meant it was likely members of the Noah Family were supervising the attack - so they made their way south-east alongside refugees escaping the city, hoping their travel-worn appearance would let them blend in with the crowd.

It pained Allen to leave without fighting, more than he could express with words; so many would die, more than the Order could ever help to rescue. He had not been there to see Barcelona burn a year or so prior, but he remembered the heavy weight of grief, the feeling of dread, the knowledge of being hopelessly outnumbered.  He felt guilty for fleeing when he felt as if he should stay and fight, but he knew he couldn’t.

It was hard not to resent Neah at that moment, for putting him in the position they were currently in. His life as an Exorcist was lost to him, his reason for existing - fighting Akuma, saving their souls, making up for his sin - forever stolen from his grasp. Allen found himself thinking if only he hadn’t awoken, if only this hadn’t happened, over and over again.

Neah heard those thoughts and remained silent, for once not all that eager to start a mostly-pointless argument with his host over fault and blame. It was hard not to feel solemn, seeing the bloodied and exhausted people fleeing their homes, clutching at children, leaving the dead behind. Neah felt like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, surrounded by people who had no idea what was going on, oblivious to the war raging on right under their noses. He did not pity them - it was irritating, hearing the same ignorant comments over and over - but it was hard to feel anger when surrounded by so much mindless destruction.

Destruction that was, in part, because of him.

Neah shoved that thought away as quickly as it arose, well-practiced at ignoring guilt when it wormed its way out of his heart. He left Allen to his own guilt - a pointless feeling, too strongly tied to notions of martyrdom, to Neah at least - and focused on getting him and his host to freedom and relative safety.

When the refugees stopped at the nearby town of Rubigen, Allen and Neah left them behind and continued heading south, getting closer and closer to the imposing shadow of Stockhorn’s mountainous slopes. They were entering territory that they had no idea how to navigate. Urban areas and open country were easy enough, but the mountains were a dangerous place at the best of times, never mind this close to the onset of winter. They needed a way through the Alps without putting themselves or anyone else at risk - at least, more risk than was necessary - but it was going to be difficult.

They had to avoid any large towns and cities. The Black Order would be stationing Finders nearby to root out any Akuma that had escaped the assault on Bern, and it wasn’t worth the risk of being caught. It was a comfort that whoever had been tailing them since crossing over into Germany had seemingly lost sight of them, but Allen and Neah felt uneasy nonetheless.

They followed the main road, staying a good distance to the east so they would - hopefully - be out of sight of any prying eyes. By the time they reached Lake Thun, they were exhausted and nearly out of supplies. They had barely stopped for rest since leaving Germany, but rest would have to come later; supplies mattered more. After finding a shop in the nearby town of Thun, they discovered - more by happenstance than anything - someone who would be willing to take them to their destination, or as close to it as could be managed.

There was a seasonal supply run between Thun and the hospice at the Great Saint Bernard Pass, and they had managed to make it to Thun in time for the last supply run of the year. The supply cart would carry its goods - mostly root vegetables and salted meats, food that would survive the bitter winter without spoiling - and make its way from Thun to Aigle, then to Orsières, and to the hospice at the pass from there. It would take them right to the Swiss-Italian border. All it took was a promise from Allen that he would protect the supply cart as it made its way through the mountains - which had been difficult to prove without relying on his ex-status as an Exorcist - and a small amount of money for the rather stern man organising the supply run to agree to take them.

The mountains were perilous. Even before winter truly hit, the constant snow and icy temperatures made it risky to travel. The road to the pass was reasonably well-maintained - it had been used by Napoleon to cross into Italy at the start of the century, the supply man had told them more than once - but it was still dangerous, especially with winter right around the corner.

It was going to take a number of days to reach the hospice. Most of the time would be spent hiding out in the back of the cart, watching the world disappear into a haze of white and grey. It would be boring, tedious even, but it was the safest way they had to reach their destination. Any monotony would be worth tolerating.

The man at the front of the cart - Luca was his name, if Allen remembered it right - politely left them alone for the most part. He was stern and focused more on keeping the cart from upturning in snowdrifts than entertaining his ‘bodyguard’. Allen and Neah kept to themselves, taking turns to control the body so neither were overly tired, speaking little even to each other. The time passed in relative silence.

They reached Aigle by the next day, stopping to rest briefly before continuing. Any amount of waiting left them feeling tense and on edge. Wishing to avoid anyone knowing who they were or where they were going, Allen and Neah kept to the cart - saying they were ‘guarding’ it was good enough for Luca at least - and waited out the time before Luca returned so they could set off once more.

Orsières was within sight by the end of the day. They stopped to rest, and Luca came back the next day informing them that the pass might be closed by the time they arrived at the hospice. There was heavy snowfall coming, and the pass couldn’t be safely maintained if the snow was that bad. Allen remained silent externally, but internally he asked Neah what they were supposed to do if the pass was closed. Neah remained silent, but Allen knew neither of them would be content waiting out the winter at the hospice.

They set out, tense and anxious, watching the sky darken with apprehension.

There was a stillness to the air, an eerie sense of calm that did nothing to ease Allen or Neah’s anxiety. Immense walls of rock encased them on either side, snow falling in quiet perpetuity from the grey skies above. Even Luca seemed ill at ease, shifting in his seat, looking over his shoulder with narrowed eyes. All sound became muted; the sound of the horses’ hooves, the scraping of wooden boxes against the bottom of the cart, the squeak of leather as Luca’s fingers curled against the reins.

Allen removed the glove from his left hand, feeling the call of his Innocence, eager for battle after many long weeks without use. He felt Neah’s hand on his shoulder internally, felt his fingers dig in, and knew without words that he had to ready himself.

Rocks crashed down before the cart as the wall to their right suddenly collapsed, sending a flurry of snow over the top of the cart. The horses panicked, rising back on their hindquarters. Luca failed to calm them, spitting snow out of his mouth, turning to speak with Allen and finding he had already gone.

Innocence activated, cloak billowing out behind him, Allen raised himself up above the cart, Crown Clown’s ribbons rock-hard and buried in the snow below. Allen felt his left eye activate, saw the souls of five Akuma lying in wait atop the crumbled rock - all Level Twos - and smiled.

The first fell to one of Crown Clown’s ribbons, soul fading before Allen’s eyes with a sigh of relief. The rest tried to muster themselves, but with a flick of Allen’s wrist they all fell with a blinding flash, four crosses fading into nothingness as their souls rose up into the grey sky above.

Allen lowered himself back down, boots pressing into the snow with a dull crunch. Luca hadn’t noticed, too focused on calming the horses who were trying their hardest to break free of their reins. Allen ignored them, looking ahead at the rocks blocking the path, and sighed. He began to walk forward then came to an immediate halt.

Something had appeared beyond the rocky debris, obscured by the snow falling ever harder from the sky above. A sudden feeling of dread overcame Allen. Heart jack-hammering between his ribs, he squinted, trying to make out what the shadowy figure was. His eye hadn’t activated, so it couldn’t be an Akuma, but it looked too large to be a person.

He heard a heavy footstep upon the snow. Allen took a hesitant step forward, then another, breathing heavily.

“Who’s there?”

Allen got his reply, but not through words. His eye activated as an onslaught of Akuma suddenly appeared before him. He raised his left hand, readying himself to change it to his sword, before Neah let out a shocked cry and pushed his control of their body aside.

Allen began to ask what was wrong and then he saw, amidst the Akuma and falling snow, a perpetual grin, a flicker of light upon round glasses, trailing sleeves.

Allen could no longer move, feeling his hands shake at his side, eyes wide, heart thumping in his ears. He felt Neah take off at a run, one foot before the other, snow flurrying behind them. The Akuma stood before them tried to stop them, but they didn’t stand a chance. With a raised hand, they fell like wood turned to cinder, limbs blackened and twitching before their ashy remains drifted up to the sky above. Allen screamed internally, watching helplessly as the Akuma’s souls disintegrated before his very eyes. Neah felt blood fall down the left side of his face, but he ignored it, letting the droplets fall soundlessly to the ground below.

Everything became still. The air felt heavy, suffocating, snow falling so thickly Neah could hardly see in front of him. But he could still feel it, sense its presence, sending every single instinct in him into overdrive. He quickened his pace, hands clenched into fists, teeth gritted.

The Millennium Earl did nothing more than stand still, impassive, watching as Neah bore down on it with murderous intent. Allen watched, imagining a face behind the Earl’s gaping grin, torn between denial and despair.

Then it was as if the Earl had disappeared, leaving nothing in its trace. Neah faltered, looking about wildly, before the sound of steel and a sharp pain in his shoulder told him more than enough. Neah fell backwards, blood arcing onto the snow behind him. Stood above him was the Earl, a sword gripped within its sleeves. It raised its sword, slowly, that grin ever present, eyes filled with no emotion at all.

Neah couldn’t move, frozen by fear, stuck between the past and the present - someone was screaming - watching that sword come down, those golden eyes widening - Mana was screaming, why wouldn’t he stop screaming - hardly noticing that Allen had shoved his control of their body aside.

Allen rolled out of the way, watching the Earl’s sword hit snow with a heavy thud, heart beating wildly in his chest. He brought his right hand to his left wrist, twisting his fingers around it, left arm changing within his grasp. The Earl bore down on him, raising its sword once more. Desperate and afraid, Allen did the only thing he could think of. He threw his sword forward with a cry, watching as it went right through the Earl’s middle and out the other side.

The Earl looked down, almost comically, at the hole in its middle. Allen looked through the hole, watching his sword fall with a dull clatter into the snow behind the Earl. There was no body, no blood, no guts; just an empty hole. Allen had no time to process it. He summoned his sword to his grasp, watching it arc around the Earl’s immobile form and catching it with a wince, feeling blood trickle down from his shoulder.

Just as the Earl began to move, Allen felt his control slip aside as Neah began to sing.

A white gate appeared below them. Allen tried to stop Neah, but he could do little more than watch as their body sank down below the snow, the Earl staring down at him.

All disappeared and became replaced by summer heat, white-washed buildings, the far-away cry of gulls.

Neah staggered backwards, sliding down a nearby wall, blood leaving a messy trail behind him. Sword falling with a clatter to the paved floor, Neah closed his eyes and took a minute to catch his breath. Allen observed all of this anxiously.

It occurred to him that they’d left Luca behind, and that he was likely dead. Guilt wormed its way into his heart, but there was no way they could go back, not with the Earl there. But was it really the Earl? Allen replayed his memories - that gaping hole, the emptiness inside the Earl, how passive and silent the Earl had been - but he couldn’t make sense of it.

There was no time to process it, however; not in that moment. Allen mentally prodded Neah, urging him upwards.

We can’t stay here, it’s not safe.

Neah groaned in response. He pushed himself up nonetheless, using the wall for support. Hand shaking, he looked down at the sword at his feet, trying to deactivate his left arm and failing. Allen made a frustrated noise.

Let me take over.

Neah shook his head. He leant down to pick up the sword, wincing as he did so, and took a shaky step forward, then another. The Ark was deathly quiet, Neah’s footsteps sounding unbearably loud in the silence. Allen almost asked if Neah knew where he was going before he realised that if anyone knew the Ark, it was Neah.

Minutes trickled by with a sluggish heaviness. Tension mounted with every step Neah took. They reached a square with a fountain in the center of it. Neah looked around before taking a decisive step forward, aiming for a thin alleyway between two buildings. A raised voice nearby, far too close for comfort, made Neah come to a brief halt. Someone dressed in the livery of the Black Order was stood on the roof of a nearby building, looking at Neah with a distinct look of shock before turning to call behind him.

Neah cursed and took off at a run. Allen wanted more than anything to look over his shoulder, but all he could do was watch through Neah’s eyes as they stumbled into the alleyway with gritted teeth.

Neah wound his way through what seemed like a maze of alleyways, never stopping for a moment, moving with such surety that Allen didn’t even dare to ask if they were lost. The voices were getting closer, however, and Allen knew that Neah was in no mood to respect the ‘no killing’ boundary they’d established before. Not wishing to watch Neah murder someone with his bare hands, Allen prepared himself to take over if he had to.

It seemed he didn’t have to; Neah burst out of an alleyway into bright sunlight, heading towards a large house no more than a few metres in front of him. Neah reached for the large wooden door and opened it, revealing a field of wheat.

“There he is!”

Neah turned, and Allen watched with dismay as three CROWs and a number of armed guards approached from the alleyway. Neah smiled, gave a mock salute, and stepped backwards into the doorway before shutting the door.

His pursuers raced forwards, opened the door, and watched with confusion at the endless abyss stretching out before their eyes.

Chapter Text

The Ark gate disappeared with a resounding crack.

Particles of light drifted up to the sky above before fading into nothingness. Neah took a step backwards before losing his balance and falling with a dull thud onto the ground below. For a disorienting second, Allen could no longer tell if he was simply observing or if he had control of his body once more. He bid his eyes to open, and they did. He turned, looked at his outstretched hand, and curled then uncurled his fingers, feeling the physical sensations of his body with clarity.

Allen pushed himself up with a wince, raising a hand to his left shoulder and feeling the damp warmth of blood beneath his fingertips. He sighed, ignoring his wound in favour of the sword beside him. He grabbed the hilt, placed the tip of the sword against his shoulder, and watched as the sword changed back into an arm once more. He rolled his shoulder and immediately regretted it, gritting his teeth as pain shot through him like wildfire.

Allen shrugged off the heavy winter coat he was still wearing and ripped at the hem with his teeth, making as best a makeshift bandage as he could manage. Carefully wrapping it around his shoulder, Allen secured the bandage with a knot, pressed one hand against his shoulder, and used his other hand to push himself onto his feet.

It was then that he realised where he was.

Soft feathery sheathes of wheat, brushing softly against outstretched fingers - it was like a dream come to life, a memory resurrected from the past so viscerally that it lived within the present. It was a place Allen had never seen apart from in his dreams, a mere mimic of the real thing, brought forth in remembrance by someone who had not stepped foot there in nigh on four decades.

The Campbell mansion had both changed and not, trapped in the past as if time had never touched its stone walls. The endless wheat fields that surrounded the mansion seemed to persist of their own accord, maintained by the gentle touch of Mother Nature, with a lone leafless tree acting as a sentinel for the empty house of its masters long since passed. Allen stood still, closed his eyes, and heard nothing but the soft swish of the wind through the field.

It was peaceful here, in a way he never expected. In his dreams he had always felt as if he did not belong there, stood before towering stone, completely and utterly alone. A world that did not want him, a world that had rejected him; it had always been such a desolate dream, at least until recent days. But now that he was stood in the same spot, gazing up at the empty mansion before him with his own eyes, he felt as if he did belong.

And this time he was not alone.

Allen took a step forward, then two, looking up at the dead tree looming over him on his left. He watched with a curious gaze as his hand reached forward of its own accord, fingers trembling as they brushed against the bark’s rough exterior. He felt indescribably at home, but terribly sad, and it took him a few moments to separate himself from it, to know that these were not his feelings.

He gave a quiet sigh, lips pulling up into a small smile, amusement in his voice as he spoke as if to himself alone.

“You don’t want to deal with this yourself, do you? Lazy bastard.”

Allen laughed as the expected response rattled inside his brain, feeling a sense of irritation - and nervousness, though Neah tried his best to hide it - make itself known. He shook his head, looking up at the stone walls looming in front of him, taking a moment to ground himself, to feel the earth beneath his feet, the wheat brushing against his midriff.

This was the place he and Neah had been aiming for. This was the place where Allen would be given the answers he needed, or at least he hoped that would be the case.

With a deep breath, a soft exhale, Allen stepped forward, leaving the wheat field behind and embracing the cold shadow of the house before him. The outside of the mansion looked untouched by time, but time had not been so kind to its insides. The front door sat ajar, and the hallway within reeked of damp and mildew, the full extent of its ruination hidden by shadow.

Allen shivered as he stepped inside, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the darkened interior. Neah’s feelings bled into his own, and he felt the strong need to sit down all of a sudden, gripped by an overwhelming feeling of… something nameless, though nonetheless unbearable. He took a moment to let his sight adjust to the dark, breathing deep, nose wrinkled at the smell of rot.

“It’ll be fine.”

Those words were as much for him as they were for Neah. After trailing through endless dilapidated hallways, Allen reached a large hall, ceiling stretching upwards seemingly without end, obscured by shadow. Curtains ridden with mildew sagged in front of grimy windows, colour sapped away by the endless battle with time. Bookshelves sat mostly untouched, at least on first glance, but upon closer inspection the smell of rot said more than enough. Sat in the centre of the room, covered by a thin white sheet, was a piano.

The feeling of loss rising up within Allen at that moment was unbearable. Tears came to his eyes unbidden, and with a deep shuddering breath he raised a hand and ran a hand through his hair - not his feeling, not his nervous gesture, not his - then looked down at his dirty boots, vision blurred. He closed his eyes, clenched his hands into fists, feeling the dull pain of his nails digging into his skin through his gloves, and pushed aside all feelings of loss, of pain. With a sigh, he wiped at his eyes and looked up, managing a shaky smile.

“Can’t even cry yourself, huh? You really do owe me.”

Allen’s words sounded weak even to himself, voice hoarse and full of emotion as it was, but he felt his body and mind relax nonetheless.

The minutes trickled by in relative silence, broken only by the sound of the wind whistling its way through gaps in the stone walls. When Allen felt all emotion dwindle into nothingness, he took a step forward, then two, the sound of his footsteps against the floorboards breaking the silence that surrounded him. He raised a hand and gripped the thin sheet that obscured the piano beneath, slowly pulling it away and wrinkling his nose at the smell of mildew.

Despite how bad of a condition the rest of the room was in, the instrument sat before him was in as good a state as it could ever be, considering how much time had passed. Allen brushed off the dusty seat by his feet and sat down, coughing as the movement disturbed the dust that had managed to settle itself onto the piano’s keys. Allen waited a moment before pressing a finger against one of the ivory keys, anxious for a reason he could not explain. The gentle sound that resulted from his action eased any feeling of trepidation within him, and with a deep breath he played the only song he knew.

The piano was slightly off-key, his voice hoarse and lacking in practice, but it meant very little with the knowledge that this ageing house had not heard this song in years, had been left empty and abandoned in the aftermath of everything that had happened.

Allen felt Neah’s presence alongside his own, and the two of them performed a duet that to anyone else would sound like one man alone, both of them gripped by emotion and a rush of feeling that was overwhelming.

Without any warning, Allen saw his hands suddenly falter before coming down hard on the keys with a loud discordant noise that made his body flinch. His mouth moved and a voice that was not his own, words that were not his own, spilled out.

Stop.”

Limbs trembled, fingers shaking against the keys, head bowed. Neah had hoped he could distance himself from it all, to watch through Allen’s eyes as he walked through Neah’s childhood home, to feel nothing, but he could not do it. He had to breathe the dusty air, to feel the keys of the piano he and his brother had shared, to take in the dilapidated sights before him. It was not out of concern for Allen; Neah wasn’t that considerate. It was simply that he could not avoid it, that this past was his own, that this house had once been his to call home.

Neah felt himself settle, feeling the keys beneath his fingers, heart jack-hammering against his rib cage. Allen’s presence remained, seemingly concerned with how Neah was feeling. If it was out of worry for his wellbeing, or fear of what he would do, Neah did not care.

Neah leant back, tipping the chair beneath him, feeling a bitter smile work its way onto his features. He had always been scolded for doing such a thing, and had gained many a bump on the back of his head to add to it. Neah tilted the chair forward, running his fingers against the full set of piano keys, taking care not to make a sound, a soft sigh escaping him.

Neah turned to face the nearby window, seeing the reflection of the piano upon the glass, his dusty blood-spattered boots, and the chair he was sat upon, but instead of his own face, it was Allen’s, gazing back at him with a scowl.

Please tell me we aren’t here just for you to mess around with that piano.

Allen’s internal tone was almost petulant. Neah couldn’t help but laugh.

“Sure, we travelled hundreds of miles just for me to fuck around on a piano.” He pressed one of the keys, wincing a little at the slightly off-key sound it produced, grinning before continuing. “But hey, guess it wouldn’t matter to you either way, being the talentless hack that you are.”

Allen’s response was exactly as Neah had expected it to be - a raised middle finger, a stuck out tongue, just like a child - and he tuned it out with a wide smile. Stretching his hands above his head - and wincing at the pain in his shoulder - Neah lowered his arms and placed his fingers upon the keys once more. He played a tune he knew almost as well as the Musician’s Song, a little clumsy in his movements since his memory did not correlate with the body he now resided within.

What are you playing? I don’t know this tune.

Neah felt tempted to continue ignoring his semi-unwanted host, but knew that he had to uphold his side of the bargain, even if it was with inane questions he felt no need to answer. He continued playing, voice just loud enough to be heard over the notes.

“It’s a song I made up.”

He heard an indignant snort in his mind. Guess I should call you the next Mozart, huh?

Neah shook his head, still playing, using it as a distraction from the inevitable conversation he knew he would have to have, whether he wanted to or not.

“I was never that good at coming up with things, actually.”

Oh really, what a surprise.

Neah ignored Allen’s jibe, voice softening with a touch of bitterness to his words. “Mana was always better at it than me.”

It was a subtle gesture, one that Allen picked up on. Neah had opened things up for Allen to ask what he needed to ask, at least until Neah had enough. Neah could practically feel Allen’s hesitation. He stopped playing and rested his hands on the keys without a sound, waiting. After a while, he heard the words within his mind, could feel the tension rise within him.

What happened?

Neah faltered for a moment before regaining a sense of composure, voice irritated. “Gotta specify a little more, idiot. Can’t answer your questions if you’re as vague as a -”

How did Mana become…?

Allen didn’t need to finish his sentence. Neah already knew what he meant, and it was as if a cold weight had settled into the pit of his stomach. Silence stretched out before him, settling itself upon his shoulders heavily, and it took him a moment to figure out what to say and what to withhold, knowing that the full story was something he could not reveal to anyone. When he spoke his voice was quiet, trembling at points, sometimes cold and hard and full of bitterness.

“Me and Mana were… raised by a lady called Katerina. Our childhood was pretty normal at first. We ran around in the fields, messed around on the piano; usual kid stuff. But eventually, Mana got… really sick.”

Sick? How?

Neah sighed. “We didn’t know at first. He was tired all the time. He wouldn’t eat. Mother got all these doctors to take a look at him. None of ‘em knew what was wrong. I was a real pest about it.” Neah laughed, half out of fondness, half out of bitterness. “I was so bored, stuck playing on my own all the time. Mana was asleep whenever I came to see him. Occasionally he’d get more energy, but not for long. He was like that for years. Then, when we were around 12…”

Neah lapsed into silence, head bowed. Allen watched and waited, trying not to pester him too much, knowing all too well that Neah could refuse to talk to him and he wouldn’t get the answers he needed. Eventually, Neah let out a sigh and leant back a little in his chair, smiling sadly.

“The Noah Family turned up.”

Allen immediately wanted to ask questions, but Neah spoke before he could muster the words.

“They just turned up without warning. Mother seemed to know who they were. I didn’t know anything.” Neah’s voice turned bitter, full of resentment. “They introduced themselves as the Noah of Wisdom and the Noah of Dreams.”

So you mean… Road and that weird bandana guy were there?

“Road was there, but the Wisdom guy was… someone else back then.”

Allen frowned but said nothing. Neah continued when it became clear Allen wasn’t going to ask any questions.

“They said Mana was sick ‘cause there was something missing from his soul, said they could make him better but it’d be a hard choice. They asked me -” Neah faltered, a bitter smile on his face “- if I was willing to make a sacrifice to save him. I didn’t get what they were asking. Said yes right then and there ‘cause he… he was my brother. I would’ve done anything.”

Neah’s voice broke a little. Allen said nothing, watching as Neah’s head lowered further, hands clenched into fists, teeth gritted. Eventually, Neah let out a hard laugh.

“They took us both with them. They didn’t tell either of us what they really meant for years. We spent years on that fucking Ark, being taught all about the Noah Family and their great leader, how he had disappeared. They took their sweet ass time telling us why.”

Neah fell silent, expression darkening. Allen could feel the tension rise within him, could sense Neah’s trepidation. This was the part Neah didn’t want to talk about, the part Allen didn’t want to hear, but it had to be done.

“Me and Mana are… two halves of a whole. We’re not really twins; we’re two parts of the same person. Before we were born, the Earl was one person, but for some reason he split apart, and… me and Mana were born.”

Allen had no idea what to say to that. He tried processing it, working through what he’d been told, what he already knew, but he still didn’t understand. He shook his head internally.

I don’t get it. How can there be two Earls? Are you saying you’re - ?

“There can only be one.” Neah’s voice had turned painfully bitter. Allen fell silent. “Road told me that when she explained things to me and Mana. That’s what the big sacrifice deal was all about. Mana was sick ‘cause we weren’t meant to be separate. It had to be him who became the Earl, so I was the one that had to…”

Allen said nothing but he understood what Neah meant. Neah’s bitterness, his conflicting love and hatred for his brother; it made sense to Allen now.

They wanted you to die so Mana could be their Earl.

Neah laughed bitterly. “Yeah, you could say that. I… I wanted Mana to get better, but I hated it, all of it. That house, that family. I hated that they got involved, saying it was their right. They had no right!”

His last words were practically shouted, voice echoing through the empty room. Neah stiffened before attempting to relax, head bowing before resting against ivory keys, a discordant noise resulting from it. He rotated his head and looked out into the darkened room, eyes faraway. He almost missed Allen’s response, quiet and hesitant as it was.

So Mana… Mana never had a say in it.

Neah stiffened. He didn’t speak for a while, seemingly far off in his memories instead of the present. Eventually he sighed, an emotion in his voice that Allen couldn’t place.

“Mana refused to work with the Noah. Said he’d rather die or be sick forever than let me die for him. The Noah weren’t too happy about that. So we… ran.” Neah laughed without humour. “You know this part, don’t you?”

Master told me. You… you both ran, and you killed most of the Noah Family along the way.

Neah smiled bitterly. “Yup. We met up with Marian soon after we left. Didn’t trust the guy for shit at first, what with him being…” Neah faltered before shaking his head. Allen wanted to ask more but let it be for now. “… but he proved himself along the way. At first we thought we could win. We had an Exorcist on our side, and I wasn’t exactly a pushover. But Mana…”

Neah’s voice fell quiet, sombre in tone. He sighed, curling up into himself a little.

“Mana got worse. We were all messed up from the fighting, the running, but Mana was at death’s door. He could barely walk towards the end. When Road was the only one left, she said Mana wasn’t gonna make it. She said she just wanted to keep Mana safe. I considered killing her then and there but… I couldn’t leave Mana to die.”

Neah fell silent. Allen took the opportunity to go over everything he’d been told, putting the pieces together. The more he processed it, the more he didn’t like what everything seemed to add up to. Eventually, he spoke up, tentative and uncertain.

Is that… how you died then?

Neah flinched before settling down, voice quiet, a hollow look in his eyes.

“Road knew Mana would never work with her if he found out I’d offed myself so he could live. She came up with a… solution so everything would work out.” Neah laughed, bitterly. “I was too tired from all the fighting to ask too much about it. It was only when I saw it that I -”

Saw what?

Neah smiled grimly. “You saw it earlier today; the suit.”

Allen didn’t understand what he meant at first before he realised. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. The Earl had always looked like some kind of strange puppet come to life, but it didn’t entirely make sense, not yet.

So Road… made the suit?

“Yup, she made it using her weird reality-bending powers. Don’t think she realised how out of control everything would get though.”

What do you mean?

“Road couldn’t control the suit. It was able to just… do its own thing, like it had a mind of its own. When I saw that thing for the first time, I took Mana and ran. It… hunted us down.”

And the suit…

“… Got a hold of Mana, yeah.”

Allen thought about it, being trapped within something that would do whatever it wanted, whatever it took to achieve its aims, and shuddered. Neah wrapped his arms around his middle with a bitter smile.

“We went looking for Mana. Didn’t have to look far; the suit had one little problem before Mana was all taken care of.”

Allen didn’t even need to ask. He reached a hand forward internally, wanting to comfort Neah, feeling his pain. He retracted his hand when it occurred to him that there was something that still didn’t make sense. Allen hesitated before raising his voice to speak.

Then how did… how did I end up with you in my head?

Neah shrugged. “I have no idea.”

Allen faltered before scowling. Really? You have no idea?

“Look, I never said I had all the answers. Ain’t all of that enough for you?”

Allen got the strange feeling Neah was hiding something from him, but he knew he wouldn’t get any answers from him, not in that moment at least. Allen let out a frustrated sigh, letting the matter drop, before finding other questions he needed to ask.

The one thing that still doesn’t make sense is how Mana ended up at the circus.

Neah groaned. “I don’t know anything about that either. I was dead by then, remember?”

So we still need to find Master, to get the answers we both need about Mana.

“If we can find the bastard, yeah. If anyone would know, it’d be him. Guess he never got the chance to tell you, what with that Apocryphos bastard turning up. And no -” Neah cut Allen off before he could speak “- I don’t know anything about that thing either.”

Allen let out a huff but otherwise said nothing. Neah pushed himself up, gently sliding his fingers against ivory keys before replacing the white sheet over the piano. He took a step forward then came to a halt, head tilted so he could look up at the immense blackness above his head.

“I should burn this place down.”

Allen raised an eyebrow internally. Why?

“It’s not like anyone’s living here anymore.”

Taking out your childhood trauma on your old home is a bit much, don’t you think?

Neah smiled despite himself. “It ain’t about that. I never liked this place anyway. A big empty house owned by a stupid guy only interested in my mother’s money. None of the Campbell family are alive to own this place anyway.”

You’re alive, aren’t you?

Neah snorted. “Right, yeah, ‘cause people are definitely gonna believe I’m the long lost heir to the Campbell estate.”

I’m not gonna complain if it means we get money.

Neah laughed. “Sure, sure. Guess we could use it to bribe Marian out of hiding.”

Allen didn’t respond, seeming despondent. Neah internally poked him.

“We’ll find him. He’s good at hiding, but he’ll be somewhere.” No response. Neah huffed. “What, gone all silent on me? Why weren’t you doing that when I had to talk about my traumatic past, huh?”

Allen sighed. I’m just…

“Worried?”

Allen pulled a face. No, I’m not worried about that bastard! I just… we need to find him.

“And we will, so quit your worrying.”

Allen scowled, but the friendly banter was a lot better compared to the heavy conversation from earlier. Neah seemed in a better mood, as if he’d rid himself of some burden or another; he had gotten a lot off his chest, admittedly. It was probably one of the few times he’d ever talked about his past with anyone. Allen didn’t know whether to feel privileged or not. An internal poke from Neah drew Allen away from his thoughts.

What?

“I got a question.”

Allen’s eyebrow would have twitched if it could. What, are we exchanging life stories now?

“Nah, not quite. Do you know why Mana took on a different last name?”

Allen faltered. He took a moment to think before shaking his head.

No, I have… no idea. When he introduced himself to me, he said his name was Mana Walker. Maybe he forgot?

“Maybe…” Neah fell silent for a moment before smiling. “Guess I should do the same as him, huh?”

Allen blinked. What?

“Neah Walker has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”

Allen had no idea what to say to that. He could feel something coming from Neah; a feeling of freedom, of being unburdened. Allen thought of the name he had taken on, what it meant to him, and smiled.

Sure, though it doesn’t change anything between us. Just because we’re technically family doesn’t mean I have to be nice to you.

Neah laughed. “Oh? I think it means I get to boss you around, since it’d make me the older Walker.”

Allen internally bristled, already preparing a furious response, and all Neah could do was laugh. It broke the heavy silence that surrounded the both of them. It was as if for a moment like no time had passed at all. No rot or mildew or heavy silence; just two children running and laughing and hiding behind curtains. Neah’s face fell, grief showing ever briefly in his expression, before Allen spoke to him, voice determined.

We will find my master. We’ll get those answers and we’ll… we’ll deal with the Earl. We’ll save Mana.

Neah didn’t reply for many long moments, lowering his head and closing his eyes, taking in the silence enveloping him, the smell of rot, the sound of the wind whispering its way through the wheat field outside. Eventually he raised his head, determination in his eyes.

“We’ll end it, one way or another.”

Chapter Text

Another day passed with no news from the Council.

Lavi was beginning to feel incredibly restless. Sleep became even harder to find during the night, plagued as he was by the usual dream and the building tension on top of it. The longer he didn’t hear from the Council, the more anxious he became. He wasn’t used to being stuck without anything to do but wait. At the Order, there had always been something to do; training, assisting the Finders or Science Department, preparing for missions. Being on the run had been a constant effort. Being left somewhat aimless reminded Lavi too much of the days soon after he had escaped the Noah Family, soon after Bookman had died.

Trying his best to push those memories away, Lavi tried to keep himself distracted by working in the archives, but it did little to help. After a few hours of trying to focus, Lavi was nearly beside himself. Bisma, sat beside him, offered him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

“It will be alright. You’ll hear from them soon.”

Lavi groaned, banging his head against the table. “I’m gonna go insane like this! Why’s it takin’ them so long?”

Bisma shrugged. “They probably have other matters to attend to. Now please, if you continue banging your head like that, our ink is going to go everywhere.”

Lavi gave Bisma an apologetic smile before raising his head and leaning back into his chair, a heavy sigh leaving his lips.

“It’s just… frustrating.”

Bisma patted his shoulder again. “I know, but you will hear from them eventually. There’s nothing you can do about it now.”

Lavi groaned, dragging his hands down the front of his face. He looked as bad as he felt, and Bisma felt nothing but pity for him. They gave him their best attempt at an encouraging smile.

“Perhaps all you need is a walk. I’m sure no-one will mind if you go -”

Bisma was interrupted by their master approaching from behind with a man in tow. The man was dressed in travelling clothes, with a distinct yellow sash around the waist. The man bowed his head at both Bisma and Lavi. Bisma’s master turned to his apprentice with a look of frustration.

“Bisma, young one, this Seeker here needs the updated files for the Yihetuan Movement.”

Bisma immediately jumped to their feet, giving a hurried nod and urging their master to come with them. The two of them left, leaving Lavi with the Seeker. Lavi gave him a curious glance but said nothing. Bisma returned with a handful of papers, presented them to the Seeker with a quiet apology, who then left with Bisma’s master in tow.

Bisma returned to their seat with a sigh. Lavi gave them a sympathetic smile.

“You doin’ okay?”

Bisma sighed. “Yes. I just finished those updates a few hours ago. Those Seekers have had my master and I running back-and-forth across the archives for most of the entire day over this.”

“I’m guessin’ they need the most accurate info we’ve got to stay on top of things, right?”

Bisma nodded. “Yes, that’s right. They fear things are going to escalate into something big, what with the Kaiser getting involved after those missionaries were murdered.”

Lavi groaned. “Always gotta give a show of strength. It’s always the same.”

Bisma gave him a curious look. “I suppose you’ve had to deal with a lot of these things first hand.”

Lavi gave a bitter smile. “Yup.”

He refused to say anything more than that, so Bisma left the topic well enough alone. They did, however, have a question they wanted to ask.

“May I ask something, Lavi?”

Lavi turned to them with a curious glance. “What’s up?”

“I’ve never seen a record from a Bookman in these halls. Do you know why that is?”

Lavi frowned for a moment before replying. “Far as I know, our records are sent directly to the Council. Our true records are kept in our minds at any rate.”

“True records?”

“Yeah. We write down our records to be archived by the Clan, but our true records are right here.” Lavi tapped the side of his head with a smile. “I had to go through a lot of training for that. It’s hard to develop an eidetic memory from scratch, and you’ve gotta be able to resist any kind of torture so that information stays safe too.”

Bisma blinked, looking down at him in amazement. “That’s… incredible.”

Lavi grinned. “Well, there’s some Clan ritual stuff involved in all of that, so it ain’t just hard work or skill, but it was still a lotta work.”

Bisma nodded. “I see. Can I ask another question?”

“Shoot.”

“May I ask how much you’ve interacted with the Seekers before?”

“Why’re you askin’?”

Bisma shrugged. “Simply curious. We deal with them frequently in the archives, but I wasn’t sure how much you saw them while out on your records.”

“We saw them every now and then. Gramps did most of his own research when it came to where he felt we should go for our next record, but we’d occasionally get Seekers picking up logs from us, or giving us orders from the Council if we were needed somewhere specific.”

Bisma raised an eyebrow. “’Gramps’?”

Lavi gave a fond smile, tinged with sadness. “It’s a nickname for my old master.”

“The previous Bookman?”

Lavi nodded. Bisma waited a moment before speaking, unable to ignore their curiosity. “So that’s what you’re waiting on the Council for? Something to do with your succession?”

Lavi nodded again, visibly tensing up. Bisma sighed, giving Lavi a gentle pat on the shoulder.

“I’m sure everything will be fine. You’ll become our next Bookman before you know it!”

They had said it to be encouraging, but for a reason Lavi didn’t entirely understand it left him feeling sick to his stomach. He pushed himself up, muttering something about needing a break, before walking off, head bowed, feeling as if his sense of duty was a literal weight upon his shoulders.

It was on his way out from the archives that Lavi spotted someone gesturing for him to come over. Hoping it wasn’t someone asking for his ‘worldly knowledge’, Lavi tried his best to look forthcoming. It was a Seeker, one who looked as if he was trying to do several tasks at once, by the looks of him.

“You are Bookman Junior, correct?” Lavi nodded. The Seeker gave a pleased smile before continuing. “You’ve been summoned to see the High Elder. You must go at once.”

Lavi felt as if his heart had stopped. He stood, dumbfounded for a moment, before nodding and walking away. It was only when he had already entered the nearest lift that he realised he had no idea who the High Elder even was - he’d only ever heard about the Council - and he had no idea where the High Elder’s chambers were either. Lavi hurriedly went back to the Seeker, obtained the relevant directions, and started off once more.

Once he was alone in the lift, he heard Junior speak up inside their mind.

Do you need me to take care of this?

Lavi shook his head. “No. I… I got this.”

Are you sure?

Lavi gave a slightly hysterical laugh. “Nope, but I have to try.”

Junior let out an exasperated sigh but left Lavi to it, observing from the background as Lavi followed the Seeker’s directions.

They took numerous lifts, walked through endless stone corridors, feeling as if they were no closer to their destination. Eventually, Lavi found a well-aired and brightly lit room close to the top of the mountain. It was barely furnished, yet it gave the air of comfort and home. It was well-lived, this room, and it held many memories. Sat at a low table across from him, knees bent crookedly beneath her, was a woman so old that Lavi could scarcely believe she was alive.

Lavi stood awkwardly in the doorway, wringing his hands, until the High Elder motioned with a hand for him to join her. Before he did so he bowed, so deeply he had gotten on his knees to do so. He heard laughter that crackled like a spitting fire.

“Sit, young one. Time is short, and time is even shorter still when one spends all of it bowing.”

Lavi took a moment to exhale a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. He stood and made his way to the table, sitting down with his knees beneath him and his hands placed on his thighs. The old woman leant to her side and picked up a tea kettle with shaking hands and placed it on the table. Lavi feared she would scald herself with water due to how violently she was trembling.

“Ah, High Elder, let me help yo-”

A hand lightly smacked the one he had raised toward her. Lavi withdrew his hand with a confused expression. The High Elder laughed once more and, slowly and calmly, poured hot water into two mugs full of tea leaves. She let them stew while she placed the kettle shakily back by her side. When she spoke her voice was low and cracked with age, but full of humour and goodwill.

“Young one, you have much to learn about the capabilities of your elders. We may be old, but we are still able to do many things you would be surprised by.”

She smiled as she said this, and Lavi returned it with slight uneasiness; her casual tone was not at all what he had expected. The High Elder waited a moment before continuing.

“I am sure you know why you are here, yes?”

Lavi gulped audibly. “Yes.”

“Do you actually know why you are here?”

Lavi faltered for a moment before hesitantly replying. “… Yes?”

The High Elder laughed before giving Lavi a pointed look. “Explain to me why you feel you are here.”

It felt like that question held much more meaning than the High Elder was letting on, but Lavi did his best to remain calm and answered as best he could.

“My… master was murdered by the Noah Family. I am now seeking guidance with regards to my succession.”

“Why do you need guidance?”

Lavi didn’t know what to say in response. He opened his mouth to speak, found he had no words, closed his mouth then tried again.

“I… became a Crystal Type accommodator due to what happened while my master and I were held captive by the Noah Family. I am unsure what that means when it comes to my succession. I also…” Lavi hesitated before shaking his head. “Never mind, I need -”

“No, go on. What you think is very important here.”

Lavi faltered, uncertain, before continuing, voice low. “I also… feel as if my master kept me in the dark when it came to many things. The Third Side, the true nature of Innocence, the Fourteenth… there was a lot he did not tell me.”

The High Elder remained silent for a moment, observing Lavi with a curious gaze, before speaking.

“So, to summarise: the reason you are here is you fear your evolved Innocence will prevent you from becoming the next Bookman, and you also feel as if you lack the required knowledge to maintain your record. Is that correct?”

Lavi nodded. The High Elder gave a contented noise, as if that response was more than enough to tell her what she needed to know.

“Well, there are some things I can tell you, some things I cannot. I think, most of all, you wish to know whether you can become the next Bookman, yes?”

Lavi tried to speak but found he couldn’t. He nodded instead, clenching his fists in his lap, heart thudding wildly in his chest. Within his mind, Junior watched closely, tension rising within him. The High Elder observed Lavi’s trepidation for a moment before continuing, tone of voice devoid of emotion.

“We cannot permit you to complete your succession.”

It was as if someone had stabbed a knife through Lavi’s heart. His shoulders slumped, head bowed, breaths shaky. Within his mind, Junior shook his head, unable to accept what he had heard. The High Elder did nothing more than watch for a moment before continuing to speak.

“The reason for that is… more complicated than you think. If you can calm yourself enough to hear that reason -” Lavi looked up, eye brimming with tears “- then I will make it clear why that is the case. Is that understood, young one?”

Lavi faltered before nodding, wiping at his eye with a trembling hand. The High Elder bid him to drink his tea, so he did, trying to focus on the warmth emanating from the cup, the swirl of tea leaves in the water. Eventually, the High Elder continued speaking.

“I do not know how aware you are of this, but we did not approve of Bookman taking you on as his apprentice, not initially. Were you aware of this?”

Lavi shook his head, unable to hide the shock in his expression. Junior remembered more than he wanted to from that time and flinched, pained by the sheer mention of it. The High Elder shook her head a little.

“I can assure you it is nothing personal on our part. Normally, an apprentice has to train within the Clan’s walls for a very extensive period of time. Bookman, for reasons that eluded us, insisted he take you with him from the outset. He said he could train you perfectly well out on the field. And, may I make it clear; he has trained you extremely well. Your personal record is something to be proud of, young one.”

Lavi couldn’t feel any pride in it, not in that moment. He gritted his teeth. “So why…?”

“Why can we not let you succeed? Well… as I said, it is rather complicated. And -” the High Elder cut Lavi off before he could interrupt her “- I will explain that to you now, worry not.”

They both fell silent for a time before the High Elder continued.

“Initially, we were concerned. Then, as we observed the records you and your master produced, we let the matter be. You had both proven yourself in our eyes. That only changed when the both of you became accommodators.”

Lavi frowned. “Wait… I don’t understand. My master told me it was approved by the Clan.”

“That wasn’t the case.”

Lavi felt his blood run cold. “But… why…?”

“As I said earlier, I cannot explain everything. There are some things even we do not know, but I can assure you - the two of you obtaining Innocence was a shock to us. If one of you had become an accommodator by accident, then it would have mattered less to us, but for the both of you to become accommodators at the same time…” The High Elder paused before continuing, curiosity showing in her voice. “Do you remember how you both became accommodators, young one?”

Lavi faltered for a moment before replying. “I… we were recording the Sino-French war at the time. I went by the name of Deak. We were observing one of the battles when Akuma appeared. We knew about them already; they’re common occurrences in war. They’d never really bothered us before then but we… ended up caught in the crossfire between them and members of the Order.”

Lavi sighed, looking to one side with a frown. “I remember getting hit but -” he shook his head, visibly frustrated “- my master said I must’ve gotten confused. It doesn’t matter. All I remember is when I woke up, I had a strange blunt object in my hand, and my master had a bunch of needles in his. We were told we had both bonded with Innocence a nearby General had been carrying.”

“And it was at that point that Bookman took the both of you to the Black Order to begin your next record, yes?” Lavi nodded. The High Elder sighed. “He did not report back in, not at first. He made sure he was already accepted within the Black Order before he informed us of what had happened.”

Lavi frowned. “Why?”

“We do not know. Initially, we tried to call him back. We nearly considered excommunicating him, but we had been lacking information on the Holy War since Bookman’s last record with the Noah Family. He assured us that the both of you would be able to record as Bookmen, as unbiased observers, without it affecting your ability to perform as Exorcists.”

“’Recording as soldiers’ - that’s what he told me at the time.”

The High Elder nodded. “I’m sure he explained it as such. You see, there is a reason why we do not permit Bookmen to record as soldiers. There is no way you can remain unbiased when fighting for a single side. Bookman assured us that since he had recorded alongside the Noah decades previously, he would remain without bias, but you had not done the same. There was no guarantee that you would remain unbiased in the face of all you would come to experience.”

Lavi felt guilt worm its way into his insides, coiling uncomfortably in the pit of his stomach. He swore he felt the sharp point of a playing card, digging into his chest. Junior felt his guilt and narrowed his eyes. The High Elder continued.

“Regardless, there was little we could do. Bookman had served us for many years, and we needed the information. We permitted it, but with the warning that if either of you became too close to your Innocence, or otherwise proved yourselves as unreliable observers, we would have to do what was necessary.”

The High Elder sipped her tea, took a moment to watch the leaves dance about in the disturbed water, and resumed.

“We had already had concerns about Bookman’s loyalty before. When he recorded with the Noah, he showed signs of swaying from his path, particularly when he lost his previous apprentice. His actions when the both of you obtained Innocence concerned us, and for him to choose his loyalty to the Fourteenth over his loyalty to the Clan before his death… even if he had survived, we would have cut our ties with him.”

Lavi said nothing; he was stunned into silence. He couldn’t make sense of it. He wanted to express that feeling, that sense of confusion, but he couldn’t find the right words. He swallowed thickly and settled for silence. The High Elder continued.

“As far as we are concerned, Bookman’s death was of his own making. He withheld information that could have let him keep his life, and yours also if you had not managed to become a Crystal Type accommodator and save yourself.”

Lavi felt anger rise up within him at the High Elder’s words, but kept himself in check, clenching his fists so tightly his nails dug into his skin. The High Elder ignored his response and continued.

“As for you… you did what was necessary to survive. There is a way you could complete your succession -” Lavi felt hope rise within him “- but it would require the destruction of your Innocence, and it would require you to record on the side of the Noah Family.”

“I can’t do that.”

Lavi’s response was instant, said without any hesitation whatsoever. The guilt came after. Junior gave a noise of disgust and turned away, leaving Lavi to deal with the High Elder alone, who shook her head before speaking.

“This is what I was afraid of. You see yourself as an Exorcist. To abandon your Innocence, your ties to the Order, and record from the other side… you would see it as betraying your comrades, would you not? In addition, you would likely Fall if you tried to reject your Innocence at this point.”

Lavi couldn’t say a single word, but the truth was written in every inch of his face. The High Elder did not reproach him, only looked on him sadly.

“Sadly, it is not an option for you regardless.” Lavi looked up at that, confused. “We have had to cut our ties with the Noah Family. The murder of your master was not permissible. Even if we disregarded that, due to your connections with the Fourteenth, and the swiftness with which things are progressing, the Noah Family would not accept you. At best, they would use you as bait to draw out the Fourteenth.”

Any hope that had come alive within Lavi dissipated as swiftly as it had arisen. He looked down at his clenched fists, closed his eye, and let out a shaky exhale. The High Elder watched and waited until he seemed calm before continuing.

“It is… unfortunate that all of this means what it does when it comes to your succession. I am truly sorry to stop you on your path as a Bookman, young one. You have shown incredible skill with your previous records, and it is a shame that your master had as much to do with this as bad luck did.”

Lavi couldn’t say a word, head bowed, shoulders shaking. He felt angry, frustrated, betrayed, and totally and helplessly lost. The High Elder watched this, and Lavi would have seen pity in her eyes if he had looked up to meet her gaze. Eventually, the High Elder coughed into a hand, raising her voice to speak.

“When I say you cannot become Bookman, I mean that in all seriousness. However, that does not mean you cannot continue to work with the Clan, at least once the war is over.”

Lavi froze. He looked up, full of apprehension and confusion. “What… do you mean?”

“We currently have no informants for the Holy War. We have Seekers working amongst the Order’s Finders, and a few that will continue to observe the Noah Family from a distance despite our cut ties with them, but you have a direct link to the Fourteenth Noah, do you not?”

Lavi nodded, not liking where this was going. The High Elder continued.

“It will take us time to find a replacement Bookman. I have a feeling the war will be over before then. We could not treat your information as we could a log coming from a Bookman. You are going to have a biased perspective of what you experience, what you observe. However, it will still be of use to us.”

“So you want to use me.”

Lavi’s voice was so audibly bitter that the High Elder found she could not reply for a moment. She sighed heavily.

“It could give you a sense of purpose, and make you feel as if your training was not entirely wasted.”

“But it was wasted. All of it was to become Bookman.”

Lavi couldn’t keep the emotion out of his voice. He couldn’t stop shaking. The High Elder observed him quietly, but not unkindly.

“An experience is still an experience, regardless of what it could have added up to, but I can see that you are grieving too much for that to make sense to you right now, young one. All I am proposing is this - once the war is over, if you wish to help us, we will happily take whatever observations you have. Aside from that, your ties with the Clan are no more.”

Lavi hesitated. “What… does that mean exactly?”

“It means you are, as far as we are concerned, no longer a member of the Bookman Clan. We will treat you as we do our other informants. That is all we can permit, I am afraid.”

Lavi turned away, pushed himself up, and made to leave. The High Elder grabbed hold of his left hand and bid him to wait.

“Before you go, young one, these items are for you.”

Lavi looked down and watched carefully as the High Elder took out a scroll bound with red ribbon, as well as the earrings Bookman had given him before they had been captured by the Noah Family. She placed the items in his hands.

“As is Clan custom, these items are yours to keep, for the moment at least.”

Lavi couldn’t speak for a moment, eye wide. He looked down at the scroll and swallowed audibly, voice shaking.

“Is this… his will?”

“Of a sort, young one, it is. He sent us this around a year and a half ago. Here, it is yours now. Do with it as you will. If you wish to accept my proposition, let the Council know.”

Lavi took the scroll and earrings in his hands, uncertain. He started to speak but stopped, thinking better of it. He bowed before heading towards the door. He walked away and returned to his room, trembling every step of the way.

Chapter Text

Lavi didn’t touch Bookman’s will for many days.

He didn’t dare look at it. Every time he even so much as glanced at it, he felt his hands shake, felt a lump form in his throat. He hid the roll of parchment and Bookman’s earrings in his travelling clothes and tried to forget about it.

He couldn’t forget about it.

The conversation he had with the High Elder replayed itself in his mind, over and over again. We cannot permit you to complete your succession - those words repeated themselves until he wanted to rip his hair out.

The sheer immensity of what those words meant didn’t sink in, not at first. Initially, Lavi felt as if he was living out of time. Everything felt slow and sluggish, like a waking dream. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate. He found himself staring into space and not realising where the time had gone for what felt like an eternity. He spent most of his time lying on the floor of his room, staring up at the ceiling, stuck on a merry-go-round of words and memories, over and over and over again.

Then the nightmares about Bookman began. The usual dream - that bright emerald garden, the obscured face, the feeling of horror - was ever present, but in addition Lavi found himself dreaming of his master’s death, every night without fail. These nightmares had been a constant for the first few weeks after he had escaped the Noah Family, but they had faded over time, especially once Lavi had begun to travel with Allen and Neah.

But now Lavi would wake up, face wet with tears, feeling his insides burn, the snap of bone, the wet sound of his own breath as he choked on his own blood. The only relief he would get was fading out of reality enough for it all to become a dull numbing thing. Anything was better than the horrifying agony of reliving the worst thing he had ever experienced.

After what was likely only a day or so of this torture, though it felt like much longer, Lavi practically begged Junior to take his place, anything that would let him get some semblance of rest. Junior had been extremely quiet since the meeting with the High Elder. He hadn’t spoken a word, nothing at all. He took over without saying anything.

While Lavi retreated into the relative comfort of their mind, Junior did what he did best; he focused on other things. He went to the archives. He worked. He pushed aside the inevitable. He turned to practicality, to logic. They couldn’t remove them from the Clan’s premises, not yet anyway. As long as he remained busy, as long as he was of use, they would let him remain… for now.

It was a lie, he knew; a comforting lie that only delayed the inevitable. Eventually, he would have to process things, but it felt like facing a tidal wave and wilfully watching it swallow him whole. It was so much easier to look the other way, even if he was going to be consumed regardless.

Bisma came up to Junior at one point, saw the look on his face, and let him be. Bisma was more perceptive than Junior gave them credit for, but he couldn’t process it, not in that moment. There were papers to sift through, books to repair, ink wells to fill up.

Eventually, even the archives began to feel small and constricting. Junior left for the training hall, hoping he could distract himself there. Daya was delighted to see him, but quickly became downtrodden when it became clear Junior wasn’t going to entertain him.

Eventually, Tutor had to tell Junior to leave, stating she did not need an assistant before ushering him out of the training hall. All Junior could feel was dread. Every step back to his room felt like walking through treacle. The walls seemed to move. People seemed to stare at him wherever he went. It was like losing his mind.

He was losing his mind.

Junior reached his room, sat on the floor, and buried his head in his hands. Lavi’s voice inside his mind - quiet, subdued, hollow-sounding - made him flinch.

Not doin’ good, huh?

Junior took in a deep shuddering breath and said nothing. He felt alone in that darkened room, at least at first. Then it felt as if Lavi was sat right beside him, mere inches away. It was comforting, more comforting than Junior could ever express with words. Lavi didn’t say anything for a long time. Eventually, he gave a quiet sigh.

What… do we do?

Junior laughter bordered on hysteria. “Do you really think I have the answer?”

Lavi gave a bitter laugh. ‘Course not. I just… don’t know what else to say.

Junior shook his head, digging his nails into his skull. “None of this matters, Lavi. All of it, everything we have ever done; it has all been for nothing.”

I… I know. But we have to do somethin’. We can’t stay like this.

Junior’s voice became louder, full of anger. “You don’t understand! There is nothing to do. Everything we worked towards means nothing.”

Lavi couldn’t respond, not at first. He had never seen Junior so emotional before. So… what, we just stay here? Pretend this all ain’t happenin’?

Junior let out a frustrated groan. “What else is there to do?! When we leave here, what could we possibly do?”

I don’t know. We could… go find Allen and Neah… or somethin’.

Junior smiled, voice full of bitterness. “Wasn’t that the problem from the start?”

Lavi faltered. Wait… what?

“You were always bad at not becoming attached.” Lavi fell silent. Junior gritted his teeth. “No matter what I said, no matter what I did, you always got attached to someone, didn’t you?” No response. Junior buried his nails into his head, so much it hurt. “If only we’d tried harder, done better, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Lavi winced. I… I tried, didn’t I?

Junior let out a derisive laugh. “Did you? Does this look like someone who tried?”

Junior reached into their travelling clothes and pulled out a shirt. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a playing card; an ace of spades, well-worn and torn in parts, blood-stained in others. Lavi let out a pained noise, frustration mounting.

Don’t do this, come on.

Junior took the playing card and ripped it in half. The sound of it was deafening. Lavi watched and felt as if his heart had been ripped out. Junior didn’t need to say anything else; his actions spoke more than enough on their own. For a brief moment, it felt as if there were hands at his throat, a knife in his heart. Lavi’s anger was so palpable that Junior flinched.

What, I should’ve been a heartless bastard like you?

“I… I shouldn’t have…”

Sorry I didn’t try hard enough! Sorry I was too much of a fuck-up to -

“Lavi, I’m sorry.”

Junior was crying now. It was such a rare sight that Lavi was stunned by it. Neither of them said anything for a while. Eventually, Junior wiped at his eye and let out a shaky breath.

“I have… nothing else besides this. Why else would I be alive? Bookman found an unwanted child, saw potential in us, and gave us purpose. As long as I - as long as we were useful, we wouldn’t need to worry.”

Lavi did nothing more than listen, hearing the emotion in Junior’s voice, feeling it in his heart. Junior looked down at the ripped card in his hands and sighed heavily.

“I was always… terrified that your attachments would lead us to ruin, that Bookman would throw us away as soon as we weren’t useful to him.” Junior laughed, bitterly. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now. None of it does.”

Lavi remained silent for a long time, so much so that Junior almost didn’t pick up on when Lavi had begun to speak.

You weren’t always a Bookman. At least you had a life before this.

Junior let out a hollow laugh. “That wasn’t a life, Lavi.”

Probably not… but the point is you haven’t always been a Bookman. The person you’ve always been is someone who protects, right? You’ve been there to keep us in line and make sure we don’t get ourselves killed as long as I can remember.

Junior sat up a little, lowering his hands, blinking away tears with a shocked expression. Lavi let out a bitter-sounding laugh before continuing.

I’ve… only ever been a Bookman, and a bad one at that. Sure, I was great at charming people and gettin’ information out of ‘em, but I always sucked at following the rules.

“But you have a life you can call your own now. You have Walker, the Fourteenth, the others at the Black Order.”

Lavi groaned, frustrated. That’s the entire reason we can’t be the next Bookman. I fucked up! I got attached, just like Gramps told me to never do, just like you told me to never do! It’s my fault we’re in this mess!

“No, it isn’t. I’m just as much at fault.”

Lavi let out a derisive snort. Right, so we’re playin’ a game of ‘who has the most self-hatred’ now, are we?

Junior smiled bitterly. “No, we’re just avoiding blaming Bookman.” Lavi fell deathly silent. Junior laughed, pained, shaking his head a little. “We put our faith in him all our lives. He took care of us, gave us a purpose. Now look at us.”

Lavi said nothing, couldn’t say anything. Junior looked over at the pile of clothes across from him and sighed.

“Even if we read that will, it won’t change anything, will it?”

Lavi let out a shaky sigh. Probably not... No use in avoidin’ it forever though.

“But what do we do afterwards?”

I… don’t know. We’ll have to think of somethin’, but hey - Lavi let out a shaky laugh - at least we’re in this mess together, right?

Junior couldn’t help but laugh at that. They both fell silent for a while before Lavi raised an internal fist and punched Junior hard in the face. Even if their outside body was unharmed, Junior raised a hand to his cheek regardless.

“I… suppose I deserve that.”

Lavi let out a huff. You really fuckin’ do. Allen’s gonna kill me for messin’ that card up.

“Does he even know you have it?” Lavi faltered, giving a pained laugh in response. Junior shook his head with a smile. “Well, you need to return it to him at some point, don’t you?”

Lavi didn’t respond, but Junior could almost see the smile on his face. They both took a moment to feel calm and more at peace with themselves. After a while, Junior let himself fade into the background, leaving Lavi to sit, disoriented and confused, in the dark of their room. Lavi looked around, dazed, before rubbing at his eye with a groan.

“Don’t tell me you’re leavin’ me with this mess.”

No, I’m still here. We need to… deal with that, don’t we?

Lavi looked over at the pile of clothes in the corner of the room and sighed. He reached forward, pulling out the roll of parchment with a grimace. He held it in his hands, felt it tremble in his shaking fingertips. He felt exhausted, deep down to the core of his being. He felt sick, light-headed. More than anything, he wanted it all to be over; the stress, the tension, the indecision.

He had already been given an answer - the answer he had never wanted - and now he had to come to terms with it.

Lavi took a deep breath in and, with shaking hands, untied the string that kept Bookman’s secrets hidden away from the world.

The scroll was long, written in the scrawling script of the Bookmen. The smell of ink was so strong that Lavi was taken back instantaneously to his memories; dimly lit rooms, the scratching of pens against parchment, the smell of ink and smoke. It overwhelmed him. He screwed his eye shut, body trembling violently.

After a few deep breaths, with the reassuring grip of Junior’s hand on his shoulder within their mind, Lavi opened his eye and began to read, hands gripping the wooden container of the will so tightly his knuckles were white from the strain.

If you are reading this, it means I am dead. Don’t start celebrating too soon, brat. Even if I’m gone, it doesn’t mean I can’t kick your ass from the afterlife.

Lavi and Junior both laughed, vision already blurring with tears.

I don’t own anything of worth to give to you, and all I can pass on is what I have taught you, and what life may teach you from this moment onwards. As I’m writing this, you’re asleep, snoring like the moron that you are. Right now, you don’t look like the apprentice I entrusted my teachings to, but you are, and despite how frustrated and irritated you have made me feel during your time with me, you have continuously surprised me with your efforts.

Tears fell onto the inked parchment, blurring the letters a little.

I could not have picked anyone better, but this is not the life I wished for you to have, and I believe you already have your answer on what you wish to make of your own future. I am sorry for failing you. I have lived a long life, and it has been a life with many regrets. I regret placing you on this path knowing full well that it would never end the way you wished it to.

Lavi and Junior both winced, shoulders hunching.

But I am sure of one thing, and it is that I have complete faith in you and the future you choose for yourself. I am not a man of emotion, and these words do not come easily to me, but I truly mean it when I say that I am proud of you.

Lavi couldn’t read anymore. The scroll fell to the floor with a loud thud. He raised his hands to his face and wept, and Junior wept with him. It was overwhelming, the most overwhelming thing either of them had ever felt. It was as if their heart was breaking into millions of tiny little pieces, shattering beyond recognition.

It took a long time for the storm in their heart to cease. When each breath settled and no more tears would come, Lavi slumped forward, wrapped his arms around himself, and rested his head upon ink-stained parchment.

As the tiny candle flame in the corner of the room flickered and died, Lavi and Junior sat among the ruins of the future they had spent their entire lives working towards and wept.


The halls of the Bookman Clan were empty. The flicker of flames in holstered torches and the sound of wind whistling through the corridors were the only signs of life. Through these corridors, someone walked, cautiously and quietly.

Bisma made their way to Lavi’s room - or where they’d been told his room was, at least - with no small amount of concern. They hadn’t seen him for days. No-one else had seen him either. Something was clearly wrong, and they had no intentions of leaving Lavi to whatever misfortune had befallen him.

Eventually they reached the final lift, the final corridor, the final door. Bisma hesitated before knocking on the door before them; nothing, not a single sound. Wondering if Lavi was asleep, or if he wasn’t in his room after all, Bisma nearly turned away. They hesitated.

“Lavi? Are you in there?”

Their voice sounded far too quiet, as if the corridor had swallowed up their words. Still no response came from the other side of the door. With a sigh, Bisma began to turn away. The creak of hinges made them turn back, however.

Lavi was stood, looking worse than Bisma had ever seen him before. Eye red-rimmed, dark bruising beneath it, robes dishevelled; Lavi looked far from alright.

“You look awful.”

Bisma realised as soon as the words left their mouth that it was a rude thing to say, and they immediately tried to apologise before stopping. Lavi was laughing. Bisma’s embarrassment quickly faded to confusion.

“Are you… are you alright?”

Lavi paused, seemingly trying to think of the right words to say. He started to nod his head and then abruptly shook it, left-to-right, and then shrugged. Bisma raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll take that as a no then. Is this because of the Council?” Lavi’s face visibly fell, head lowering, shoulders hunching. Bisma sighed and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Do you… want to come get some fresh air with me?”

Lavi looked up, surprised, before he managed a shaky smile. “Yeah, I could... I could do with that.”

His voice was hoarse and cracked. Bisma winced a little, wishing they’d brought some water with them. Wordlessly, they took Lavi by the arm and led him upstairs. They walked towards the top of the mountain via endless winding corridors dimly lit by torches. Lavi looked around, not recognising his surroundings, and turned towards Bisma with a frown.

“Where’re we goin’?”

Bisma looked over their shoulder and smiled. “Somewhere nice. It’s where the Archivers go to smoke when they get told off for doing it downstairs.”

Eventually they came to a heavy wooden door, bolted closed, with a series of thick winter coats hung beside it. Bisma bid Lavi to put on a coat, donning one themself, before unlocking the door and opening it. The cold outside air immediately assailed them. They stepped outside, and after his vision adjusted from the darkness of the corridors behind him, Lavi found himself taking in one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen.

They were stood on a small balcony of rock, hewed out of the mountainside. All around them were snow-capped mountain tops. Tiny twinkling lights of nearby houses were dotted amongst the dark of forest and rocky hillside. The night sky was alight with stars, and a full moon shone down on the landscape below it until all was bathed in its ethereal illuminance.

Lavi stood and watched, taking in the beautiful immensity of the world around him until his heart and mind had quietened within him.

“I come here sometimes, when things get too much…” Bisma’s voice was quiet, so quiet that Lavi could scarcely hear them over the sound of the wind. “And you looked like you needed it, so -“

“I… I did, yeah, thank you.”

Bisma hesitated before asking, “So, what’s wrong? Did something bad happen with the Council?”

Lavi paused, unable to find the right words at first, before he looked up at the sky and sighed. “They won’t let me complete my succession.”

Bisma couldn’t respond at first, shocked into silence, before they managed to speak. “Why? Why won’t they let you?”

Lavi opened his mouth to speak, wondering just how much he could comfortably tell his companion, before he gave up. He sighed and shook his head.

“It’s… complicated.”

Bisma saw the way his shoulders had hunched up, the pain in his expression, and decided not to pry. Silence enveloped the both of them; a comfortable silence, one without tension. Lavi broke the silence first, voice so quiet Bisma could scarcely hear him over the sound of the wind.

“I don’t… I don’t know what to do.”

Bisma raised a hand towards him, thought better of it, and retracted their hand with a sigh. They waited a moment to find the right words before speaking.

“Would you like… some guidance?”

Lavi turned towards them, saw nothing but calm sincerity in Bisma’s eyes, and managed a shaky smile.

“Yeah, guess so.”

“Well… I know you don’t wish to speak of what happened, and that’s fine -” Bisma raised a hand to cut Lavi off before he could interrupt “- because I don’t need to know. I’m happy to simply listen to whatever you want to say, and do my best to assist you. That’s -” they hesitated before smiling “- that’s what friends do, isn’t it?”

Lavi returned their smile, vision swimming with tears. He turned away, wiping at his eye with a sniff, before sitting down and looking up at the sky above, pensive and uncertain. It took a long time for him to find the right words.

“I don’t remember my life before becomin’ a Bookman. No name, no family; nothing. All I’ve ever known is my master.” Lavi smiled, pained. “I felt proud to be a Bookman at first, ya know? It was like bein’ part of some secret club or something, but it’s… pretty hard watchin’ people kill each other every day of your life for years.”

Lavi fell silent, gaze distant, before he shook his head and let out a heavy sigh.

“I knew it all had a point to it. ‘The hidden history’ - that’s what Gramps always called it. We were makin’ sure all that knowledge wouldn’t be forgotten about. That felt important, a good purpose to have, ya know? It was difficult, havin’ to follow all these rules, never being allowed to stay anywhere for too long, not being allowed to have friends.”

“You couldn’t have friends?”

Bisma sounded forlorn. Lavi smiled, bitterly. “Yup. ‘Bookmen have no need for a heart’ - that’s what Gramps always said. Attachments weigh you down, skew your perceptions. I had to be an unbiased observer, writin’ down the facts and only the facts, and moving on when my job was done.”

“That sounds… incredibly harsh.”

Lavi laughed without humour. “It really was, but it was all for a reason and I owed Gramps everythin’. Being a Bookman was the only thing I had. Well, up until we ended up with the Black Order anyway.”

Lavi lowered his head, looked down at his scarred hands, and sighed.

“I wasn’t… supposed to get attached to all of ‘em, or get attached to the idea of being an Exorcist, but I did. Now Gramps is dead and I got stuck with this -” Lavi rubbed at the stigmata at the centre of his palms with a grimace “- and my whole future’s gone up in flames. I have… no idea what to do anymore.”

Lavi’s voice broke a little. Bisma winced, feeling sympathy for his pain. They sat down beside him, not close enough to make him feel suffocated, but close enough for Lavi to not feel alone. Lavi didn’t say anything for a while, staring up at the sky with a pained expression, but eventually he continued, voice low and full of emotion.

“I thought… I thought I knew what he wanted of me, what I wanted of myself, but I… I guess I was wrong.” Lavi gave a bitter laugh, eye welling up with tears. “I came here for answers and I’ve ended up with more questions than I had before.”

Bisma didn’t say anything, not at first. They sat and watched Lavi carefully before finding the right words.

“Well… it seems to me you still need those answers, don’t you?”

Lavi groaned, falling back to lie down with a frustrated expression. “That was the whole point of comin’ here! I don’t know where else to get answers. Maybe I should just accept how things are.”

“Can you?”

Lavi winced. “I… don’t know. It feels like the more I try and make sense of all this, the more I don’t understand what the fuck’s goin’ on.”

“I would say you should try and focus on something else, but these questions are eating away at you.” Bisma poked Lavi in the chest, a sad smile on their face. “Even if you tried to focus on another task, another purpose, I feel it would serve more as a distraction instead of a solution.”

Lavi sighed, looking away from them. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

They both fell silent for a moment before Bisma spoke up once more.

“I think… more than anything, you wish to feel at peace with yourself. You are battling between different parts of yourself -” Lavi thought of Junior and pulled a face, knowing Bisma had no idea how true that statement was “- and in the end, all you need is a united purpose.”

Lavi gave a frustrated noise. “I don’t know what that’d be. Part of me wants to go back to the people I left behind, but I feel guilty for considerin’ it. I was never supposed to get attached to them anyway. And then another part of me wants to find out more about Gramps. There’s so much we -” Lavi winced and quickly corrected himself “- so much I don’t know about him.”

“Can you do both?” Lavi turned to face Bisma. They met his gaze with a resolute expression. “Is there a way you could go back to the people you care for, but also get the information you need about your master?”

“I… don’t know…”

“The people you wish to return to… what was their goal, when you saw them last?”

Lavi paused, thinking back on what Allen and Neah had told him before they went their separate ways.

“They were… lookin’ for someone. They needed their own answers about something, so they were gonna go search for this guy.”

“Could you also get your answers from this person?”

Lavi frowned. Would Cross have those kinds of answers for him? Did Cross even know Bookman that well? After a minute or so of introspection, it occurred to him that there was a common link between them; Cross had been a supporter of Neah around the time Bookman had been observing the Noah. The High Elder’s words replayed themselves in his mind - when he lost his previous apprentice - and Lavi found himself sitting up, staring out into the mountains - for him to choose his loyalty to the Fourteenth - with the dawning realisation of what it meant.

Lavi turned to Bisma with a smile. They returned it, eyes full of warmth. Lavi took their hands, clenched their fingers tightly, and grinned.

“Bisma, you’re a genius.”

They laughed, shaking their head a little. “You did all the work, my friend. Now, go get the answers you need.”

Lavi pushed himself up and headed for the door. Bisma hesitated before calling out to him.

“Wait!” Lavi turned back. Bisma faltered for a moment before giving Lavi an earnest look. “Please, come say goodbye before you leave, yes?”

Lavi nodded with a smile, and then he was gone, leaving Bisma to turn back towards the mountains, towards the night sky, left alone with their thoughts.


Lavi was called to the Council of Elders the next day.

He made his way to the council chamber with trepidation. He had not quite come to terms with the Council’s decision; what it meant for his future, how he saw himself. The conversation with Bisma had helped. It had given Lavi some idea of where he could go from that point onwards, but he was still uncertain. He had no guidance from Junior in the matter either, which made things difficult. Junior had withdrawn completely from the outside world. Lavi had no choice but to focus on the task at hand and hope that Junior would eventually reach out to him.

The Door Keeper greeted Lavi just as she had done on his day of arrival at the Bookman Clan. His Innocence was bound, and he was left waiting in silence for many long moments before he was let into the council chamber beyond.

Only three of the elders were present this time; a man and two women. Lavi bowed respectfully to each of them in turn before kneeling on a pillow in the centre of the room. One of the women bowed her head and began to speak.

“Greetings and good tidings, young one. We apologise for the delay in bringing you here. You spoke with the High Elder about our verdict, yes?”

Lavi nodded. “I did. I am… still unsure as to whether I will take the offer I was presented with, but I accept the Council’s decision.”

That answer was sufficient enough, it seemed, and the elders nodded in approval. The male elder coughed into a hand and gestured towards Lavi with a firm tone to his voice.

“If that is the case, we must begin the exile ritual at once.”

Lavi blinked. “The… exile ritual?”

The man nodded. “Yes. There is much knowledge that you have about our Clan that we cannot permit you to retain. This ritual will rid you of that knowledge so we can safely let you leave our halls.”

Lavi swallowed thickly. “What… does that mean exactly?”

The woman who had first spoken to him tilted her head in confusion. “What are you concerned about, young one?”

Lavi hesitated for a moment before replying. “Will I… remember anything from my time as a Bookman?”

The male elder nodded. “You will not be rid of all your memories, only that which pertains to the intimate details of your records.”

“So I won’t forget…?”

The male elder frowned. “Forget… what?”

The other female elder observed Lavi carefully for a moment before smiling. “You will still remember your old master. Do not worry, young one.”

Lavi gave a visible sigh of relief. He was content with that answer initially, but something else occurred to him.

“What about my current log? Will I forget those details too?”

The elders exchanged a glance amongst themselves before the male elder spoke up. “We feel you can retain those details, since they will be needed for you to continue your work with the Black Order. If you agree to our proposition, also, we will need you to retain those memories.”

Lavi nodded, feeling a deep sense of relief permeate through him. The elders observed him for a moment before continuing.

“This will be a long and extensive process. Are you ready?”

“I…” Lavi paused, heart fluttering, before speaking with tentative resolution in his voice. “I am ready.”

“Then follow our directions, young one.”

The three elders got up to stand at three separate points around Lavi before crouching down and placing their hands flat on the ground below them. Lavi looked down and noticed a faint light was emanating from the ground below his feet, arcing in thin lines from point to point, forming a circular seal around him. He looked visibly anxious, enough so for one of the elders to speak up.

“Please, calm yourself. This will not hurt you.”

Lavi took a deep breath in, held it, and then slowly released it. He closed his eye and tried to keep himself calm. One of the female elders spoke from his left.

“Come to the place within yourself, the place where the records are kept.”

Lavi felt a heavy pressure weigh down on him. The darkness behind his eyelids and the dullness of his senses slowly gave way to reveal the sound of rippling water, the smell of candle smoke, the must of old books. The voice of the elders broke through the silence surrounding him, echoing from a place above him.

“Are you ready, young one?”

“I am.”

The ritual was long, and arduous, and the longer Lavi spent in his mind, the more he felt lost within it. It had been a long time since he had perused the library of his mind, the place where he kept his mental records, his memories. The last time had been when Road had fought him - slurred cries, metal sinking into flesh, Allen’s voice, ink dripping down his fingertips - but he tried to push those memories away, focusing on the task at hand.

He stood among the towering bookshelves, the rippling water. The weight of all his wasted years lay heavily against his shoulders until he could scarcely breathe. He took a step forward, then two, before he realised he had no idea what he was doing. He heard one of the elder’s voices echo from above.

“Burn it down.”

Lavi looked up at the bookshelves before him and hesitated. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder and another hand gripping his own. He turned and saw Junior stood to one side of him, Milo on the other. Milo smiled up at him. Junior said nothing as he passed a flaming torch into Lavi’s hands.

Under the elders’ watchful gaze, they burned it all down.

It took hours for the ritual to be complete. By the time Lavi returned his attention to the outside world, his mind and body felt heavy with tiredness. He opened his eye but his vision was blurred. He rubbed at his eye, feeling as if someone had taken a scrubbing brush and used it at length on the inside of his skull. He groaned, tried to stand, and failed. One of the elders, sounding as exhausted as he felt, spoke up from Lavi’s right.

“Be seated, young one. You are in no state to move right now.”

Lavi fell backwards to lie on the ground, keeping his eye shut as he tried to ground himself. Eventually, when he felt able to, he opened his eye and pushed himself up. The elders offered him some water and he took it gladly. The three elders looked exhausted; it had been an arduous process for them also, it seemed. Eventually, the male elder placed a hand on Lavi’s shoulder.

“Are you ready for the ritual to be completed?”

Lavi hesitated. “It isn’t finished?”

“There is one small thing to be done.”

Lavi nodded. The elder moved his hand to the back of Lavi’s neck, sending a shiver down his spine.

“As by our code of conduct, we hereby exile you from our Clan from this moment onwards. Never again shall you step into these halls. This brand seals our words, and so it is done.”

A burning on the back of Lavi’s neck made him wince. When the elder moved his hand away, Lavi raised a hand to touch his skin gingerly. He felt raised flesh that was sore to the touch. One of the female elders gestured to the door.

“Once you leave this place, you will escorted to your room to collect your belongings, and then you will be taken outside. Once you leave this mountain, you will lose all memory of this location. Do you understand, young one?”

“I understand.”

A steady hand directed Lavi outside the Council chamber. The Door Keeper awaited him. She unbound his hands and gave a deep bow to him, which Lavi returned with a smile. Lavi pushed open the heavy antechamber doors and found himself greeted by a warm smile, grey robes, and a gentle embrace. Lavi returned the embrace with a weary smile.

Bisma walked with him back to his room. Awaiting Lavi were new travelling clothes, folded neatly upon his sleeping mat. Bookman’s earrings were there also, but his will was gone. Lavi changed into a plain heavy poncho, a blue cotton shirt with black markings along the hems, white trousers, a bandana, and the orange scarf he had carried with him since childhood. His limbs felt heavy from tiredness. When he pulled on his boots, he could scarcely tie up his shoelaces. He pocketed Bookman’s earrings, pulled his bag onto his shoulders, and then exited the room.

Bisma awaited him with a smile. Together they walked up spiralling corridors, passing by people who bowed their heads to them as they passed. Eventually they came to the heavy wooden doors that led to the balcony Bisma had taken Lavi to the night before. Bisma turned to face Lavi, opened their mouth to speak then closed it again with a shake of their head. They pulled Lavi into a tight hug, mumbling words into his shoulder, voice thick with tears.

“Take care of yourself, Lavi.”

Lavi nodded, patting the top of Bisma’s head gently. He gave them a warm smile before pushing the heavy doors open and standing before the cold blistering wind of the outside world. He stepped out. Without a single word, Bisma locked the door behind him. Lavi looked down at his hands, rubbed the stigmata on his palms with a pensive expression, before activating his Innocence with a call of its name.

And then he was gone, leaving nothing behind but a shining seal in his wake.

Lavi couldn’t remember how far he had travelled before he realised he had no idea where he was. He came to a halt, mind clearing all of a sudden, so much so that the world shifted into focus in a disorienting lurch of colour and sound. The wind was cold against his skin. The sky was a steel-grey full of dark snow clouds. He and his Innocence were hovering above a snow-topped emerald forest that was several miles beneath him.

Lavi had no idea where he’d just come from. Why was he here? Where had he come from? He didn’t know. He patted himself down, wondering if there was some clue to his destination on him. He felt something cold and heavy in his shirt pocket. He pulled it out and found himself holding a talisman hung on red ribbon. The talisman was smooth and circular in shape. Chiselled into it was a message in Arabic - ‘don’t give up on your dream’. Images passed before his vision - a kind face, a bright smile - but he found he couldn’t clearly remember this person. Little bits and pieces of information did come back to him, however, and soon he remembered where he was going at least.

After many hours of howling wind and bitingly cold snow, Lavi found himself over a large expanse of water. The lake was partially frozen over. All sight of land was obscured by approaching nightfall and snow. Lavi came to a halt and took a moment to simply watch the falling snow drift aimlessly down from the darkening sky to the water and ice below.

He reached into his pocket and felt the sudden cold of iron against his fingers. He took out Bookman’s earrings and held them within the palm of his hand. After a long moment, he travelled down to the icy expanse below him. He stopped over a patch of unfrozen water and raised himself up to stand upon his hammer’s hilt. The world became still and devoid of sound in a single moment of clarity.

The sound of Bookman’s earrings dropping into the water broke the still and heavy silence that surrounded him. He urged his Innocence back up to the grey sky above him and left behind the last remnant of his old life at the bottom of the lake, moving onwards to the start of something new.

There was no going back.

Chapter Text

[Path A]

The hustle and bustle of city streets was a strange sight after days of traversing the wilderness.

Lavi made his way with purpose through the street, observing the stalls on both his left and right, hoping he could find the supplies he needed for what was going to be a long and arduous journey.

Finding Allen and Neah was going to be difficult. They had no goal other than to find Cross, as far as Lavi was aware, but God knows where Cross was. Lavi knew he had last left Allen and Neah in France, but as for where they had gone in the weeks since they had last seen each other, he had no idea. If they had used the Ark or public transport of any kind, it would be even harder to find a trail for them. In addition, due to the exile ritual he had been put through, Lavi had forgotten more than he wanted to acknowledge about the world.

He would have to head back towards Europe, that he knew, but how exactly he would manage that, he wasn’t sure. He had managed to pick up a map soon after reaching town, and found out he was in the city of Bagaha, just south of the Indian-Nepalese border. If he was travelling by traditional means, it would likely take him weeks, if not months, to reach Europe from his location.

Luckily for him, he had his trusty hammer to help speed up the process.

It was going to be an arduous journey even with his Innocence, however. It was no mean feat to cross most of Asia - and potentially most of Europe - on a flying hammer. If he travelled as the crow flied, he would have to cut through the western part of the Himalayas, enter Russia from the south, and make his way up to Europe from there; at least, according to the wizened old man speaking in a language Lavi could barely understand anymore. It would, at the very least, involve travelling through mostly unpopulated areas, but he would be an easy target for any Akuma that found him.

Having enough supplies to last through such a journey was essential, so Lavi used the money he had found in his travelling clothes - a gift from someone or other it seemed - to buy what he needed. Once he felt satisfied, Lavi made his way towards the nearest inn. He was going to need as much rest as possible before he set off.

Just as he placed a hand on the door, he heard a quiet voice within his mind, sullen and reproachful.

There is no point to this.

It was Junior, sounding about as depressed as Lavi had expected him to be. Lavi let out a frustrated sigh, pushing open the door of the inn and wincing at the onslaught of noise before replying.

“We can’t go back. Might as well find Allen and Neah and find a way forward from there.”

To do what?

“Get some answers about Gramps from Cross, or Neah if he knows anythin’.”

That won’t change anything, though, will it?

Lavi set his bag down with more force than was necessary, startling the person sat next to him. He rubbed at his temples, trying to be as patient as he could manage. Junior was depressed over their failed succession, and Lavi wasn’t coping with it as well as he wanted to either. It was going to take a long time for either of them to accept what had happened, but Lavi knew he had to do something practical with his time or go completely insane.

“Listen, I know you ain’t dealin’ well with this, and that’s fine. Leave shit to me for a while, ‘kay?”

Junior seemed to accept that; Lavi didn’t hear from him after that. Lavi met the gaze of the person next to him, realised he had been talking out loud to no-one, seemingly, and gave an awkward smile before moving away.

As long as he had a purpose, he would be fine, Lavi told himself with an insistence he knew bordered on denial. Finding Allen and Neah wasn’t just for selfish reasons - Lavi self-consciously patted his shirt pocket where the ripped halves of Allen’s card were stowed - but also to obtain some closure about Bookman and the future that was now lost to him. He told himself repeatedly, like a mantra, that he could accept his fate if he had the right answers. A quiet voice in the back of his mind questioned whether it would truly help him accept anything, but he ignored it.

Lavi busied himself with gathering information. It would be a good distraction while he stayed at the inn, so he stowed his belongings in his room upstairs before returning to the bar area and listening to the conversations taking place around him.

Most of the conversations were in languages he couldn’t quite understand - his skill as a linguist hadn’t quite disappeared despite his lost memories, but he’d forgotten enough to be mediocre at it - but he managed to pick up bits and pieces. The British Empire was doing what it did best in India and had left many people destitute and struggling to cope. There was something more serious going on in the East, in China, but Lavi wasn’t sure of what exactly was going on. Most of what he heard was what he had expected; tired, work-weary people taking the evening off, venting out their daily troubles to anyone who would listen.

One conversation did capture his attention, however. A group were sat at a nearby table, dressed in travelling clothes, talking amongst themselves in hushed whispers. They were speaking in Mandarin, which Lavi could still understand as well as he did English. He moved closer, unable to smother his curiosity.

“What do you think happened?”

The man who had spoken exchanged a glance with his companions. A woman beside him responded, gesturing with a drink in hand.

“No-one knows. The town was alive and well mere hours before. My sister’s cousin passed through on his usual run and he said everything had been normal then it’s all in ruins by the end of the day.”

Another woman nodded in agreement. “It’s happened elsewhere too. Places turned into ghost towns, no survivors to speak of, buildings left in ruins.”

“Do you think it’s because of the war?”

A man shook his head. “No, no. The Yihetuan movement wouldn’t have such aims. As for Europe, I don’t see what they’d gain from it either. They want China back in their greedy hands, after all.”

“So who could it be?”

The group fell quiet. Lavi took his leave, heading upstairs with a frown. He lay down on his bedroll, stared up at the ceiling, and wondered if the Noah had tightened their hold on the world. Lavi shook his head and attempted to sleep, images of ruins and dust filling his dreams alongside the ever present emerald garden that haunted him.

Lavi set out the next day with a heavy heart. He left the town behind, travelling on foot for a few miles, not wanting anyone to see him set off on his hammer. After passing by various farms and small villages, Lavi eventually found a grove of trees, far from any nearby settlements.

Lavi hoisted his bag up higher and activated his Innocence with a call of its name. He willed it to change to a staff but faltered, feeling something strange deep within himself; it was like a string attached to his heart was being tugged.

“Somethin’ up, buddy?”

Lavi observed his weapon closely, seeing nothing different, before shrugging. Within a few seconds he was off, a bright seal left in his wake, his only companions the whistling wind and the horizon ever out of reach.

It was less fun than Lavi realised to travel long distances using his Innocence. He got the feeling he had done it before, dim memories of mountainsides and the biting cold of the wind etched upon his heart, but it didn’t tell him much when it came to dealing with the discomfort. His eye was left constantly stinging, vision blurred by wind-bitten tears. Even with his thick poncho on, he was left shivering from the cold. Lavi thought, rather too late, that he should invest in a pair of goggles.

His surroundings were soon distracting enough for him to forget about the biting wind and the cold. Initially the scenery was what he could only describe as ethereal; endless mountain ranges, snow-topped peaks reflecting the colour of the sun above, picturesque beauty as far as the eye could see. Lavi found himself thinking, time and time again, that all the burdens that came with his Innocence were nothing compared to seeing the world in such a way.

The sights soon became far from beautiful. The further north-west Lavi went, the more he noticed the empty villages and ghost towns the group at the inn had spoken of. Lavi landed in one of these villages, hearing nothing but the whistle of the wind through broken buildings. He brushed the dust beneath his feet with the side of his boot, saw black stars etched upon the ground, and felt his heart sink.

Even if he lacked the details of his time as a Bookman, Lavi could never forget the memory of war. It was the same story, over and over, every war playing the same tune as those that had come before. Lavi knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he would always feel pained by it. He left the village with a grimace, trying to ignore the unsettling feeling settling itself on his shoulders.

The days came and went with little incident. Lavi stopped as little as he could manage, resting in secluded spaces outdoors or inns when he could find them. He hadn’t encountered a single Akuma, which concerned him up until he realised that he was no longer a target to them. Lavi remembered one of his first conversations with Allen, speaking of the uniform he wore as if it fit him, and gave a bittersweet smile in remembrance of it.

Lavi’s luck ran out a few days after crossing the Russian border. He got caught mid-air by a Level Four that had spotted him from somewhere below. Lavi didn’t attempt to descend, hoping he was up high enough to avoid smacking into the ground below. He took hold of his hammer’s hilt with firm hands, raised it above his head, and watched as the hammer’s head reappeared. With a quick Fire Seal, the Level Four was sent crashing into the woodland below.

Lavi fell a few metres before he was off once more. He looked over his shoulder at the dented trees and wondered if he was in the clear. He nearly turned back to face forwards when he saw smoke, heard the sound of screams. Lavi’s first instinct was to keep going before he realised with a wince that he was no longer the apathetic Bookman watching from the side-lines. All he was now was an Exorcist; one duty exchanged for another.

Lavi turned, bid his Innocence down towards the ground, and landed at the outskirts of a decimated village, alight in the approaching dusk from both sun and flame. He saw someone sat, cowering on the ground, a Level Two floating above them. Without hesitation, Lavi used his hammer to propel himself forward, bringing the hammer’s head around to crash into the Level Two with as much momentum as he could muster. The Akuma went flying, giving Lavi some time to summon an Earth Seal so he could crush it. The Level Two exploded and Lavi gave a satisfied nod.

Lavi turned to the person behind him, who was staring up at him as if he was some kind of angel. He had quite literally descended from the heavens, so he wasn’t far off, he supposed. Lavi gave the man an encouraging smile, who returned it shakily before running into the cover of nearby trees.

There was a brief moment of silence. Lavi gripped his Innocence tighter, looking around him with a careful glance. The sound of a branch snapping, a mechanical-sounding click, then the loud thud of bullets hitting ground; the Level Four had returned with fury in its eyes. Lavi increased the size of his hammer to block the bullets, boots digging into the ground below. When the hail of bullets stopped, Lavi swung his hammer round and knocked the Level Four into a nearby building. It fell in a cloud of dust and splintered wood, but it was soon back on its feet, teeth gritted, raising its arms to shoot at Lavi once more.

“Wait!”

A Level Three had called out to Lavi’s right. With a frustrated huff, Lavi brought his hammer down hard on the ground below, using a Fire Seal to summon a snake that wound its way through the Level Three and around to the Level Four. Lavi knew it wouldn’t be enough to destroy either of them, but it gave him some time to weigh up his options. It was only when he stopped to think for a minute that he realised the Level Three had even said something.

When the Fire Seal dissipated into glowing embers, the Level Three gave a pained hiss before pointing at Lavi with a burned finger.

“We need this one alive.”

Lavi felt his heart skip a beat. Lavi watched with a frown as the Level Four scrambled its way out of the debris and gave the Level Three a disdainful look.

“By whose orders? Yours?”

The Level Four spat out the last word with a sneer. The Level Three let out a warning growl.

“The Noah, you fool. Master Sheryl said if we ever found the one with the hammer alive, we have to bring him back.”

It was as if time had come to a halt. Lavi knew that name somehow. The Noah kept arguing, ignoring him for the moment.

“What if it’s the wrong Exorcist?”

“We’ll take our chances. What if we leave him alone or kill him and Master Sheryl turns us into scrap metal?”

Lavi looked back and forth between them before stepping in. “Who’s Sheryl?”

Both Akuma turned to Lavi and blinked. The Level Three gave a haughty laugh.

“None of your business, human. Now lie down and let us take you.”

Lavi gave a short, sharp laugh. “In your dreams.”

He raised his hammer above his head, twirled it in a wide circle, and called to the bond with his Innocence. Instead of the normal response, he felt once more the tug at his heart, pulling ever tighter, and he faltered. The Level Three laughed and sprung forward. Gritting his teeth, Lavi dodged to the left, gripped his hammer tightly, and swung upwards, sending the Level Three hurtling into the air. Then he brought the hammer’s head down with a loud thud, summoned an Earth Seal, and trapped the Level Three in a rocky fist. Lavi took a cautious step forward, resting his hammer’s hilt against the ground with a sigh.

“Do I have to beat it outta you? Which Noah wants me alive?”

The Level Four took the opportunity to fire at Lavi once more, but with a flick of his wrist Lavi summoned another Earth Seal, the Akuma’s bullets thudding into earth instead of flesh. Lavi groaned, shoulders slumping.

“Do I really have to fight the both of you? Just tell me who gave those orders and I’ll let you go.”

The Level Four rose up above the rocky hill Lavi had created, eyes glinting with malice. Lavi huffed and summoned another rocky fist to encase the Level Four in. He looked up at the two Akuma with frustration. Lavi couldn’t contain them both for long, but he couldn’t outright destroy them either. He needed that information.

The name the Akuma mentioned tumbled around in his brain. He knew the name, but his memory felt foggy, indistinct. Lavi groaned, frustration mounting.

“I’m losin’ my mind! I know that name from somewhere.” He started counting on his fingers, ignoring the Akuma before him completely. “There’s Road, Tyki, the bandana guy, the Earl, the twins, the big guy - wait, he’s dead - and the gross guy with the tongue, and then there’s…”

Lavi froze, eye widening. Images flashed before his vision - bones snapping, muffled words, a body hitting the ground - and he realised, with a cold feeling rising within him, exactly who Sheryl was.

He was the one who had killed Bookman.

Lavi brought the head of his hammer down hard upon the ground, sending both Akuma crashing down in a heap of rock and dirt. Neither had a chance to react before Lavi summoned a Water Seal, water cascading into both Akuma and pushing them back. Lavi bore down on them with a fiery rage that instilled fear in their hearts.

“Where is he?”

Both Akuma watched as Lavi’s weapon flashed in his grasp. They could almost feel the pressure of it, the power of Innocence bearing down on their shoulders. They turned towards each other, turned back towards Lavi, and shrugged. He gritted his teeth and stuck his hammer’s hilt into the ground, summoning a Heaven Seal. Lightning flickered before crashing down on the drenched Akuma with all the fury Lavi could muster. The Akuma screamed, limbs twitching. The Level Three disintegrated with a sigh of relief. Lavi turned to the Level Four with such intensity that the Akuma scrambled backwards.

Where’s Sheryl?

Lavi’s tone left no room for argument. The Level Four gave a frightened squeal. “H-he’s in Poland. The Noah are there to capture the Fourteenth.”

Lavi felt his blood run cold. He hesitated for a moment before bringing his hammer’s head down, a Fire Seal appearing beneath the Level Four. It tried to scramble away but failed, caught up in a fiery inferno rising towards the sky, taking its screams up with it. By the time the flames had faded away, the Level Four was nothing but charred flesh. Its blackened form disintegrated, leaving a pile of ash in its wake.

Lavi turned, gripped at his hammer’s hilt so tightly his knuckles were white from the strain of it, and brought his hammer’s staff downwards before hurtling into the sky above. Ever present was that string tugging at the core of his being, beating in time with his heart.

He would help his friends, he would get his answers, and he would get his revenge on the person who had inadvertently robbed him of his entire future.


[Path B]

All traces of Cross had all but disappeared.

After stopping at Neah’s ancestral home in Italy, Allen and Neah made their way north-east towards Austria-Hungary, hoping they could resume the trail they’d found for Cross since leaving Lavi’s side all those weeks before, but it was as if Cross had disappeared. They crossed the border, spent what felt like an eternity searching for rumours while heading further north-east, but they found nothing. No debts, no brothels, no angry inn owners complaining about his brash and careless manner. They found no sign of Cross at all.

Cross Marian had disappeared off the face of the Earth. The only reason Allen could think of was Cross knew he was being followed. That, or he was dead, but it wasn’t an option as far as Allen was concerned. It wouldn’t be surprising if someone other than Allen and Neah had decided to find Cross - the Order could do with an additional General, especially one with knowledge about the Fourteenth, and the Noah were no fans of Cross either - and Allen and Neah both knew how paranoid Cross could get. All they could do was keep searching, keep trying, until they either found him or encountered yet another obstacle.

They both feared the latter greatly.

The Akuma attacks were increasing. There had been no sign of the Earl’s suit since Switzerland. Neither the Order nor the Noah had appeared before them, but they both knew that it wouldn’t be long before someone came after them.

Neah had been exceptionally paranoid since they had left the Campbell mansion behind. He refused to sleep, forever looking over his shoulder, expecting to see that dreaded grin, the glint of a sword in the darkness. Allen tried to be the voice of reason, but it was hard to reassure Neah with threats mounting all around them.

The pieces were moving. The Earl’s suit was chasing Neah down. Apocryphos was likely still hunting for Allen. The Black Order were trying to capture them. The Noah Family wanted Neah’s head on a silver platter. In addition, they had learned from a rather talkative Level Four that all possible pieces of Innocence had been accounted for. What wasn’t bonded to a person, or been kept safe by Hevlaska’s protective embrace, had been destroyed by the Noah Family. The Heart had yet to be found. It’s only a matter of time - the Level Four had told them with great pride. Allen responded by removing it of its head.

The more time that passed, the more they felt as if they were being surrounded. It wouldn’t be long before they would have to fight their way out, all to find someone who had all but disappeared off of the face of the Earth. He could be dead for all we know, Allen had told Neah, and all Neah could say was he doubted Cross would’ve given up that easily. It was a small comfort, but not enough for Allen to feel reassured. They were on a wild goose chase with no end in sight. The longer they wandered, the more they put themselves at risk.

Allen and Neah had no backup, no friends waiting to defend them with their lives. They were as defenceless as they could possibly be. Searching for Cross felt fruitless, but going after the Earl directly with no support and no guidance on what had become of Mana was equally as fruitless. They were completely stuck until they gained more allies or finally found Cross.

They had just begun to give up when they heard the faintest of whispers, a rumour of a rumour. Cross had been seen in Warsaw.

It wasn’t much to go by, but it was better than nothing. It was going to be immensely difficult crossing the border to Poland, however. Allen and Neah made their way to the town of Bardejov, hoping to find a way to cross the border. They found, to their dismay, that tensions were high between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires and security at the border had become incredibly tight. Getting through on foot was going to be nigh on impossible.

The Ark was their only option. It was going to be risky using it again, but their chances of being spotted at the border were likely higher than using the Ark. Allen had passed through Warsaw while training under Cross, which gave them the best possible chance to pick up Cross’s trail from there.

Allen and Neah packed up their camp on the outskirts of Bardejov and together sang the Musician’s song. It had been a clear and peaceful night in Bardejov, but in Warsaw it was raining. Allen felt the heavy thud of raindrops upon his head, blinked away water, and tried to orientate himself.

He was stood in a quiet city street; devoid of people, thankfully. Allen quickly closed the Ark gate and looked over his shoulder at the alleyway behind him. He thought he saw something, heard the faintest of sounds from the darkness within. Readying himself, Allen stepped into the alleyway, breathing heavy. Suddenly, a flash of movement - Allen activated his Innocence with a cry of its name. He nearly jumped out of his skin at the cat that scrambled its way between his legs.

Clutching at this chest, Allen let out a relieved sigh before turning back towards the cat. It came when he beckoned, rubbing its cheek against his knuckles. Allen smiled. He half-expected to see Timcanpy sticking out of the cat’s mouth, which made the smile fall from his features.

It was then that Allen heard movement behind him. He turned but it was too late. Someone grabbed him from behind while an unknown figure, obscured by the rain, raised a brick and brought it crashing down onto Allen’s head.

Chapter Text

The first thing Allen noticed when he awoke was pain.

He opened his eyes, felt the entire world lurch, and swiftly shut his eyes again with a groan. His head felt sore and tender, and he could feel dried blood against his scalp. Allen tried to raise a hand to touch his head and discovered, rather quickly, that his hands were bound. He opened his eyes, looked down, and saw a blurry mass of paper around his wrists. Each piece of paper had some kind of symbol on it. He couldn’t make out what the symbols were, but he already knew what it meant.

Allen felt his blood run cold. He immediately sat up, eyes wide. He felt dizzy and disoriented, scarcely able to hold himself up, but fear and adrenaline flooded through him, giving him the strength to keep himself upright. He was in a metal cell, illuminated by a single torch holstered against a wall opposite, a wooden door right beside it. Stood across from him were two men who shook a small bag of coins with satisfaction before leaving. Sat in a chair to the right of the cell was a member of the CROWs, clothed in black, obscured by darkness.

“So, you’re awake.”

It wasn’t a voice Allen recognised. He took in a deep breath, held it, and then let it out in a slow exhale. The CROW stood up from their seat and made their way towards the bars of the cell. Allen looked up, vision swimming.

“Why… am I here?”

Allen’s voice was weak and hoarse. The CROW said nothing, not at first, observing Allen with an apathetic gaze. Eventually they replied, no emotion to their voice.

“You are being held prisoner. As an enemy to the Church, you are to be taken to Central’s administrative office in Vatican City to be judged.”

Allen thought of how he could get himself out of this situation, drawing more blanks than he wanted to. He tried to look as desperate as he could manage, which wasn’t hard, considering the circumstances.

“Please, you have to help me. I’m not the Fourteenth. I’m still me, Allen Walker.”

Neah, observing this within Allen’s mind, gave an annoyed huff. The CROW said nothing. Allen, trying not to be dissuaded, shuffled forwards, voice pleading.

“You have to help. Please, take me back to the European Branch. I can -”

“I will do nothing to aid you, Fourteenth. Pretending to be someone you are not will not help you here.” Allen slumped, ignoring Neah’s laughter, and watched in despair as the CROW walked away. “We leave in the morning.”

And with that, the CROW left. Allen fell backwards with a groan, immediately regretting it when his head came into contact with the brick wall behind him. He tried to rub his head, felt the paper constricting his hands, and let out a frustrated groan.

Need some help?

Neah sounded as if he was having the time of his life. Allen scowled, turning his attention inward and grabbing Neah by the front of his shirt.

“We’re both stuck in this situation, you dumbass!”

Neah grinned. Oh, I know. I’m just having too much fun watching you suffer.

Allen scowled, inches away from punching Neah in the face, before giving up, turning his attention back towards the outside world and the utter catastrophe of a situation they were stuck in. He went over everything in his mind; the Ark gate, the quiet street, the news they’d heard in Bardejov.

It was a trap, idiot.

Allen paused, realised that fact, and sighed loudly. “Of course it was, how could we be so stupid?!”

Neah settled himself beside Allen within their mind and shrugged. We were desperate for information. We’d have gone straight to Noah HQ if we heard Marian was there.

“True.”

They both fell silent, Allen focusing on his sore head, Neah focusing on the room he could see through Allen’s eyes. Eventually, Neah spoke up with a serious tone to his voice.

It’s gonna take them some time to get us to Vatican City. We’ll have a few chances to fight our way out.

Allen gave a bitter smile. “Not unless they force us to use the Ark to get there within a matter of minutes.”

Well, I’ve never been to Vatican City so we’re fine.

“I have.” Neah faltered, tried to counter with something, and then gave up. Allen looked down at his bound hands and let out a heavy sigh. “I was always scared this would happen. What do you think they’re gonna do to us?”

Neah gave a derisive snort. Torture, probably. They won’t kill us, not when we’re such an important bargaining piece.

Allen frowned. “You think they’re gonna use us as a way to bargain with the Noah?”

Maybe. Most of the Noah don’t give a shit about me, or would probably leave me to be tortured and killed by the Church. The Earl though? Well…

Neah fell silent. Allen could sense the tension in him, and sighed. “Well, if he’s really Mana, he wouldn’t leave you to die. Tyki and Road broke me out because I’m your host, remember?”

Neah laughed, bitterly. Even if they were following the Earl’s orders, the suit wants us dead anyway.

Allen couldn’t respond to that. He let out a sigh, rested his head against the brick wall behind him, and tried to think of a plan. After a few minutes, he looked down at his bound hands, turning his wrists this way and that, and wondered something.

“Hey, Neah?”

Yeah?

“Could you destroy this with your dark matter?”

Neah didn’t respond initially. It was only when Allen felt his control slip away that he got the response he needed. Neah looked around the cell for a moment, gathering his bearings, before looking down at his bound hands with a grin.

“Piece of cake.”

Skin darkening, pupils glinting with gold, Neah called upon the power deep within himself and directed it at the seals around his wrists. Almost instantaneously, he found himself being electrocuted. Neah let out a pained yelp, let his powers dissipate, and slumped against the wall behind him with a groan. Breathing heavy, Neah turned inward with a growl.

“You knew that was going to happen!”

Allen raised his hands defensively. I didn’t, I swear! I really thought you’d be able to disintegrate the seals.

Neah let out an irritated huff. “Sure, sure.” He paused, looked down at his bound hands, looked up at the cell around him, and sighed. “Well, looks like we’re stuck.”

Neah immediately tried to hand back to Allen, who placed an internal hand on Neah’s face to stop him from leaving.

Oh, no you don’t.

Neah pushed away Allen’s hand with a scowl. “You ain’t leaving me in this mess, it’s your fault we got caught!”

Allen grabbed hold of Neah’s shirt with gritted teeth. My fault?! We were both stupid enough to fall for that trap!

“I’m not talking about the trap, I mean the alleyway.”

I thought it was a cat!

“Yeah, a cat and a bunch of thugs working for the Church, great going, idi-”

Neah fell deathly silent. Allen blinked, felt the tension rise up within Neah, and frowned.

What’s wrong?

Neah didn’t say anything, not at first, head cocked to one side as if he was listening to something, then he abruptly cursed and shuffled as far right as he could manage just as the ceiling caved in.

Debris fell upon them in a hail of dust and rubble. Neah coughed, eyes stinging, blinking out dust. The cell was still intact - unfortunately - and stood to one side, observing them with a happy smile, was a Noah that Allen didn’t recognise.

Who’s this guy?

The Noah brushed down his clothes with a carefree hum. Neah sighed. “Some guy called Fiddler.” Neah faltered, eyebrows furrowed. “Fiidora? Feedla? I don’t fucking know.”

Fiddler turned towards Neah with a delighted expression. “Fourteenth! What are you doing in there?”

Neah smiled widely, eyes closed, voice radiating sardonic amusement. “Oh, having the time of my life, dear kindred of mine. How are you doing on this fine day?”

Fiddler, not understanding the joke, frowned and tried to respond before two more figures descended from the ceiling. Allen let out a loud despairing groan within Neah’s mind.

“Boy! How many times am I gonna have to bust you out of prison, huh? Unless…” Tyki took a step forward with a frown before huffing. “Oh, right. Long time no see, Fourteenth.”

Neah paused for a moment before grinning widely. “Oh hey, I remember you!” His skin darkened, eyes turning black. “You’re the useless bastard I cut in two way back when.”

Tyki faltered, eyes widening. His shock swiftly turned to satisfaction when the CROW’s seals electrocuted Neah. Tyki reached into the cell and grabbed hold of Neah’s head with a grin.

“Careful, Fourteenth. Witty banter’s not gonna get you out of this one.”

Another Noah that Allen didn’t recognise stepped forward, reached into the cell, and removed Tyki’s hand with a dissatisfied sigh. Neah didn’t recognise the Noah’s outward form, but he knew what Noah Memory he carried, going by the large sword clasped in his other hand. Neah gritted his teeth.

“Judgement, right?”

Tryde, the Noah of Judgement, looked down at him with an apathetic nod. “Fourteenth.” He turned towards Tyki with a sigh. “Let’s not waste time. The CROW are going to be here any minute.”

A resounding crash from the door behind them brought a smile to Tyki’s face. “Speak of the devil.”

Tyki and Fiddler turned to deal with the approaching CROW, leaving Tryde alone with Neah. Allen observed anxiously, unable to do anything but watch. Without a word, Tryde raised his sword and slashed through the metal bars of the cell with ease. Neah let out an appreciative whistle.

“Nice, nice, not as good as my sword though.”

Tryde didn’t respond, grabbed Neah by the back of his shirt, and dragged him towards the open door, now littered with corpses. Allen wished he could turn away, but Neah looked on without emotion. When Allen felt able to speak, he tried his best to sound full of resolve.

What do we do?

Neah looked around with gritted teeth. “Working on it.”

If Tryde heard Neah speak, he gave no indication of it. He threw Neah towards Fiddler, who had half of a person hanging out of a second mouth where his stomach should be. Neah grimaced.

“Keep him here. We need to have a clear way out before we leave.” Tryde turned towards Tyki. “Come with me.”

Tryde left with a seemingly reluctant Tyki in tow. Tryde had spoken with enough authority for Fiddler to understand the seriousness of the matter. He swallowed up the rest of his apparent ‘meal’ and turned to Neah with a grin. Neah did nothing, said nothing, watching Tryde and Tyki leave with narrowed eyes.

Fiddler sat himself down, facing away from Neah, humming to himself and picking bits of clothing out of the teeth of his second mouth. Neah looked up at him, looked around the room at the Akuma who were stood, observing with apparent boredom, and sighed. He turned back towards Fiddler, saw the teeth jutting out of his torso, and smiled.

“Oi.” No response. Neah huffed. “Oi, you good for nothing sack of shit.”

Fiddler turned his head, eyes wide, confusion etched into every line of his face. Neah almost laughed but managed to hold it in. He gave the other Noah a wide smile.

“How’s the war going? Good?”

Allen observed all of this with a frown. Neah, what’re you doing?!

Neah ignored him. Fiddler blinked for a few seconds before pouting. “I’m not supposed to talk to you. They said you’d try and trick me.”

Neah smiled, fake friendliness beaming out of him with an almost sickening intensity. “Oh, they’re just being mean. I just wanna have a friendly chat before they cart me off to my doom.”

Fiddler, already seeming convinced, did his best to look apathetic. “No, I’ll get in trouble. I don’t want the Earl to get mad at me.”

Neah felt his heart twist a little in his chest at the mention of the Earl. He ignored it, leaning towards Fiddler with an ‘innocent’ smile.

“He won’t get mad. I’m his favourite. He’ll be so happy you made friends with his favourite family member, right?”

That was enough for Fiddler, who gave a satisfied nod before turning his body towards Neah. There was a brief moment of silence before Neah sprung forward, biting Fiddler’s nearest hand as hard as he could manage. Fiddler let out a yelp, and before he could react Neah brought his arms forward and used one of Fiddler’s stomach teeth to cut the seals keeping him bound. Fiddler fell backwards, watching with dismay as Neah rubbed at his wrists.

“No! No, no, no. They’ll get…” Fiddler faltered, watching as Neah raised himself up fully, skin darkening. “Mad at me…”

Neah looked him dead in the eyes, his own darkened to pitch, and grinned. “What’s wrong? Don’t wanna be friends anymore?

Fiddler pulled a face before pushing himself forwards with a cry, the mouth upon his torso opening. Neah raised his right hand, called to the dark matter within him, and grinned all the wider. He heard the Akuma behind him begin to move, and without hesitation he extended his hand before clenching it shut. He turned and watched as the Akuma disintegrated before his eyes.

Neah tried to turn back towards Fiddler but found he couldn’t move. He was frozen in place. He watched as his own hand raised itself up before punching him in the face. Fiddler watched, utterly confused, as Neah fell to one side. Neah turned inward, saw Allen’s furious expression, and groaned.

“What was that for?!”

Allen didn’t respond, unceremoniously kicking Neah out of the way and regaining control of his body. He raised himself up, took in a deep breath, and yelled at the top of his voice.

You know why! How many times have I told you? Don’t use your powers to kill Akuma! Their souls can’t be saved, you know that! What, do you enjoy watching their souls fade away like that?! You’re such a -”

Allen realised he was being stared at and stopped speaking. Fiddler blinked, blinked again, and then pushed himself up with a frustrated noise.

“Stop being weird! I didn’t do any of those things!”

Allen pulled a face, sighed, and then activated his Innocence. Fiddler flinched away from him, confused for a moment before he realised what it meant. He pointed a shaking finger.

“Y-y-you can’t use Innocence! That’s not fair! You’re a Noah!”

Allen took a step forward, then two, and let out a frustrated sigh. “I’m not a Noah. Now -” he curled a hand around his left wrist, pulled away, and pointed his now-summoned sword at Fiddler’s outraged face “- get out of my way!”

Fiddler responded by opening his second mouth and taking a deep breath in. Allen looked down with a confused expression as his sword started to be sucked into the bottomless cavern inside of Fiddler’s stomach. He held onto his sword tighter, teeth gritted. The sudden sound of footsteps distracted Fiddler enough for Allen to kick him in the face and pull himself away. He fell backwards, watching from the floor as two CROWs entered the room from a broken section of the wall. Fiddler raised himself up, letting out a childish whine.

“Stop getting in my way!”

The CROW didn’t seem deterred, using their seals to imprison Fiddler in a mass of paper. Every time he moved, he was electrocuted. Allen observed this for a few seconds before he pushed himself up. The CROW turned towards each other and exchanged a glance before one of them made their way towards Allen.

“Don’t resist, Fourteenth.”

Allen groaned, raised his hand, and used Crown Clown’s ribbons to pull the CROW to the ground.

“I’m not the Fourteenth! Why won’t anybody listen to me?!”

The CROW tried to respond but an infuriated scream interrupted them. Fiddler had broken free of the other CROW’s seals and was intent on swallowing the CROW whole. Allen ran forward with a yell and buried his sword in Fiddler’s back, shoving it all the way in until it came through the other side. Fiddler stopped dead, looking down at the sword through his middle with a comical expression, before falling to his knees, skin turning pale, stigmata fading. Allen pulled his sword out and had all of a few seconds to react before the CROW he saved raised a hand and covered his body in paper. Allen fell to his knees, sword falling from his hand. Neah, observing this, let out an infuriated groan.

Why’d you save him, dumbass?!

Allen responded with gritted teeth. “He’s a member of the Order, and I’m still an Exorcist!”

Neah let out a disgusted noise in response, leaving Allen to deal with the current situation on his own. Both CROW stepped forward, looking down at Allen with the kind of apathy that made his blood run cold. He knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter what actions he took, whatever side he was on, they would never recognise him as an Exorcist ever again.

Before despair could consume him, a raised voice from outside drew Allen and the CROWs’ attention. Tyki had poked his head into the room, seen what had happened, and was bearing down on the CROW with a kind of expression that Allen knew painfully well.

“Run!”

The CROW didn’t listen, raising their hands to summon seals. The paper left the pockets at their waist, circled around Tyki, and settled upon his skin. Instead of sticking to him like glue, they simply fell right through him, floating to the ground without a sound. The CROW had no time to defend themselves. Tyki stepped forward, pushed his hand into one CROW’s chest, and ripped out his heart without hesitation. The CROW fell to the ground, dead. The other CROW took a step backwards.

Allen tried to get up and failed, seals electrocuting him. He closed his eyes, letting out a pained yell. By the time he opened his eyes, the other CROW was lying on the ground, eyes open but unseeing. Allen watched with rising fear as Tyki made his way over to him. Tyki crouched down in front of Allen and looked down at him with a smile.

“In a bind, Fourteenth?”

Allen gritted his teeth, raised himself back, and head-butted Tyki hard enough for them both to see stars.

“I’m not the Fourteenth! I swear, if someone else calls me the Fourteenth one more time, I’m gonna lose it!” Tyki rubbed at his forehead, saw the anger in Allen’s eyes, and laughed. Allen pulled a face. “What’re you laughing at?!”

“Nothing, nothing.” He poked Allen’s head with a frown. “Is that really you in there, boy? Though it isn’t much of a surprise, I guess.”

Allen grimaced. “Don’t try and flatter me, it doesn’t suit you.”

“Still as unfriendly as ever, aren’tcha boy?”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Right, right.”

Tyki used one of the CROW’s daggers to cut the seals off of Allen. He pulled away, giving Allen just enough room to pick up his sword and unceremoniously ram his knee between Tyki’s legs. Tyki keeled over, watching from the floor with a grimace as Allen took off at a run. It was then that he noticed Fiddler lying unmoving on the ground a metre or so away. His expression darkened.

Allen ran out into what he could only describe as hell on Earth. Noah, Akuma, CROW, and Finders were all fighting. Allen hardly had any time to register what was happening before a Finder crashed into the wall beside him, immediately falling unconscious. A Level Four descended upon the Finder, raised its arms, and tried to fire. It found, to its confusion, that the ends of its arms were curiously missing. It looked to the side, saw Allen lower his sword, and screeched.

Allen decapitated the Level Four with a grim expression. He watched its soul - its horrible, twisted soul - fade up into the heavens before turning his attention to the Finder. He was still breathing, which was all that mattered. Allen raised himself up, looked around, and realised that the chaos all around him was more than enough cover for him to leave. Neah, who had been watching all of this in silence, finally spoke up.

Are ya gonna leave or what?

Allen hesitated. “But I…”

They don’t consider you an ally. That Finder probably would’ve raised the alarm or attacked you if he was able to. All the Church wants is our head on a pike. Fuck them.

Allen shook his head. “But leaving them to fight like this makes me just as bad as the Noah!”

Neah let out a disdainful laugh. They already see you like that, you realise that, right? You’re already a Noah to them. What does their opinion matter anyway?

Allen faltered, looked over at those fighting, heart filled with indecision. He knew what Neah said was true, but it wasn’t what stopped him from running away. He closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, and gave a shaky smile.

“It doesn’t matter. I’ll still fight for what’s right in front of me, I need to -”

What a load of horseshit.

Neah pushed Allen’s control aside, turned away from the battle, and ran. Allen watched, utterly helpless. Neah ducked behind a broken wall, looking out behind it for a moment, before darting into a side alley. He noticed Allen’s discontent and sighed.

“Get a grip, will ya? We’re not here to save everyone we come across, idiot.”

Allen gritted his teeth, voice thick with frustrated tears. I can’t leave them like this, they need me! I’m a destroyer who saves!

Neah gave a derisive snort. “You’re a what now? Those guys really don’t need you, and if you thought for a damn second, you’d realise they’re fighting over who gets to capture us anyway. Now, let me save our asses. I’ve had enough of your martyr bullshit today.”

Allen fell stonily silent, watching as Neah ran through deserted city streets. Both of them were unaware of the figure watching them from a nearby rooftop, following behind them without a single word.


Warsaw was practically deserted. The sound of fighting became quieter and quieter before eventually fading into nothingness. Through empty city streets, Neah ran. He wanted to use the Ark, knowing it would be the quickest and easiest way to leave the city, but it was no use stopping and making himself a target. He needed somewhere secluded, somewhere he could concentrate.

He found what looked like the same alleyway Allen had originally taken them to mere hours before. Neah smiled. He stepped into the shadow of the alleyway, closed his eyes, and sang the Musician’s song. With a flash of light, an Ark gate appeared before his eyes. Neah didn’t look behind him, too focused on the gate. He stepped forward. He was halfway through the gate before he heard footsteps. He turned, but it was too late. Someone crashed into him, hard enough to send the both of them tumbling into the Ark gate beyond.

They fell in a mess of tangled limbs into the Ark. Neah pushed himself up and ran, refusing to look behind him, knowing even one stolen glance would cost him precious seconds. He heard footsteps following behind and cursed. After a few desperate seconds, he came to the door he needed and pushed it open. Arms grabbed him from behind and, with a cry, Neah and his attacker fell into an empty field.

It was raining in Bardejov now, and the only companions Neah had were the mud, the rain, and his unknown attacker. Neah raised a foot and kicked hard, earning a pained noise from his attacker. Neah pushed himself backwards, scrambling in the mud, and took a moment to find out who had followed him.

A man with long, dark hair, dark skin, a row of stigmata upon his head, a broken monocle falling with a clatter onto the ground below, and golden eyes peering over at him with malice. Allen recognised him immediately.

I know him! He was at the North American Branch.

Neah said nothing, pushing himself up and looking down at Sheryl with disdain. “It doesn’t matter who he is. He’s a Noah, which makes him no friend of mine.”

Sheryl heard this and laughed. He raised himself up, brushing himself down with the kind of countenance that made him look as if he was brushing away tiny motes of dust, opposed to the already caked-on mud covering the front of his body.

“Well, well, you do live up to the rumours. A rude, incompetent child, fighting a war he cannot win.” Neah smiled, giving a mock bow in response. Sheryl gave a derisive laugh. “Well, it doesn’t matter now.”

Something unseen brought Neah crashing to the ground, leaving him winded. Struggling to breathe, Neah looked up and saw Sheryl stood over him with a pleased smile.

“I thought you would try and escape. You see, I’ve been observing you for months now, biding my time, waiting for the right moment to strike.”

Sheryl took a step forward, then two, bringing a foot down hard on Neah’s ribs. Neah wheezed, pain flooding through him. Sheryl laughed, bitterness tinging his words.

“My idiot brethren think they need to protect you. The Earl thinks he needs to protect you. Foolish insolence!” Sheryl raised his foot and brought it back down, watching Neah struggle to breathe with satisfaction. “You murdered us! Betrayed us! You deserve to die like the cur you are!”

Neah coughed out blood, each breath coming out in a pained wheeze. Sheryl gave a disappointed tut.

“I must say, you’re not living up to my expectations. Where’s the wrath? Where’s your furious anger?”

Neah closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and grabbed hold of Sheryl’s lower leg. His skin darkened, and when he opened his eyes they were black as pitch. He grinned.

You want anger? Wrath? I can give you that and then some!

Neah pushed Sheryl back using his dark matter. He gave a satisfied smile, but suddenly found he could no longer move. Initially, he wondered if Allen had forcefully taken control of his body again, but it was different, as if he was bound by invisible strings. Neah, rather suddenly, realised exactly who Sheryl was. He groaned.

“You’re the Noah of Desire?” Neah paused, looked Sheryl over, and sighed. “Of course you are.”

Sheryl smiled widely. “A pleasure. Now, if you don’t mind…”

Sheryl walked forwards, giving a satisfied smile at Neah’s helpless state. An extended arm and a fist hitting him right in the face caught Sheryl by surprise, sending him flying. He pushed himself up from the ground, teeth gritted. A smile, very unlike Neah’s own, and a raised left hand, emanating a soft green glow… Allen looked down at Sheryl with amusement.

“What, you weren’t expecting that?”

Sheryl faltered, confused for a moment, before he gave a haughty laugh. “I’m surprised to see you still exist, Allen Walker.”

Allen grinned. “I’m nothing if not stubborn. Now, if you don’t mind -” Allen summoned his sword, raised it before him, and resolutely stared Sheryl down “- leave your stupid family reunion for another time!”

Sheryl observed him for a moment, eyes narrowed, before sighing. “I suppose two-on-one is as even as your odds are going to get.”

“You bet. Now come get us.”

Sheryl sprung forward and the fight began.

Two-on-one didn’t seem like an accurate description, not at first. Sheryl fought with all the haughty pride he could muster, seeing himself at an advantage, but despite being of one body, Allen and Neah more than made up for it with their combined strength.

Sheryl knew Crown Clown - he had observed Allen fight as Alma Karma brought the North American branch crashing down upon their heads - but Neah’s powers were new to him, even if his Noah memory remembered how it felt to be destroyed by him. Whenever Allen’s sword was knocked away and Sheryl lunged in for the kill, a raised right hand would leave him pinned to the ground and convulsing in agony from the dark matter eating away at his body. Sheryl’s strings saved him too many times to count, but the time he wasted recovering enabled his enemies to recover their weapon, and so it repeated. Sheryl’s strings were fearsome, and Allen’s Innocence could do little more than be a minor annoyance, but Neah’s powers ate away at everything he touched. The more Allen and Neah became used to Sheryl’s abilities, the more frustrated Sheryl could feel himself becoming.

It was strange, seeing the two of them fight together. Allen’s bright resolution was there in all its glory, but Neah’s hatred was there also. It was a horrifying combination. Allen retaining control was fearsome enough, and Neah taking that control from him equally so, but for them to combine their strength and convictions… it was terrifying to behold, and more than once Sheryl truly felt fear towards the people he was fighting.

The longer they fought, the more exhaustion took a hold of them. Sheryl brought himself to a halt, breathing hard, watching as the person across from him did the same.

“My powers are much better suited to torture, I must admit.” No response. Darkened skin and eyes told him more than enough about who was present. Sheryl smiled. “Ah yes, there’s your wrath.”

Neah smiled widely, extending his arms outward. “So, when are the other bastards coming to join the party, huh? Or did you want me all to yourself?

Sheryl tutted with a shake of his head. “Now, now, why would I let the others ruin such an enjoyable encounter? They can have their fun with you later.”

Neah smiled wider, eyes glinting with malice. “Who said there’s going to be a later? I’m going to rip your still beating heart out of your body, you disgusting piece of trash.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

Neah moved suddenly, right hand coming dangerously close to Sheryl’s stomach. Sheryl moved aside, only just, and the fight resumed with fervour.

Whenever Neah began to lose himself to his hatred, Allen pulled him back, full of grim determination, shining brightly despite the dirt and blood he was covered in. Whenever Allen lost his footing or stumbled, Neah would spring them both forward, fuelled by his hatred. More than once, Neah nearly fulfilled his oath of ripping out Sheryl’s still beating heart, and as the battle wore on the only thing playing in Sheryl’s favour was exhaustion.

Soon, Sheryl was making headway, pushing them back and cutting them with his strings until they could hardly stand. Allen’s determination and Neah’s hatred were the only things keeping them standing, but that alone would not be enough. They fell to their knees, tiredness etched into their expression.

Sheryl stood over them and bound their body using his strings, smiling widely. Neah made to destroy them, but found he was unable to. Shock flickered in his eyes. Sheryl laughed.

“There’s one thing you have forgotten, long lost brother of mine.” Sheryl leant forward and held Neah’s face tightly. “You have not properly awakened as a Noah, so unlike me you have a dwindling source of power and it’s all gone now.”

Sheryl hit Neah’s face, relishing the feeling of power that flooded through his veins. Allen tried to destroy the strings himself, Innocence responding to its user’s call, but it was not enough. Sheryl smiled wider, eyes glinting with malice. He raised his hands and stretched his strings around Allen and Neah’s neck, pulling until they were choking. He watched with delight as blood trickled down their neck, the life beginning to fade from their eyes.

A loud crash in the distance drew Sheryl’s attention. His grip around Neah and Allen’s neck slipped, just enough for Neah to come to the forefront and push Sheryl away. Sheryl wavered on his feet, turning to Neah with a furious expression.

“Don’t think you can get away that easily!”

Neah wheezed, clutching at his throat with a low groan. He looked up, saw a faraway tree fall with a distant crash upon the ground, and frowned. He turned to Sheryl, voice hoarse.

“Are you doing that?”

Sheryl huffed. “Does it look like I’m doing that? No, I’m just as confused as you are.”

Neah pushed himself up, for a moment united in confusion with Sheryl. They watched as a series of dark spots in the sky made their way towards them. Soon they became recognisable as Akuma. Neah turned to Sheryl with an irritated scowl.

“I thought you said you weren’t doing that!”

Sheryl turned to face him, flustered. “They’re not my Akuma! The others likely found out where you are and sent -”

The loud thud of an Akuma hitting the ground beside them cut Sheryl off. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, with a cry, a figure descended from the sky above, bringing a large hammer down onto the Akuma’s face, which exploded in a blinding inferno of light and noise. When the light faded, Sheryl and Neah looked up and saw Lavi, staring down at them from atop his hammer with a shocked expression. Lavi pointed at Neah.

“Neah?”

Neah blinked a few times then pointed at Lavi. “Lavi?”

Sheryl stood, looked between the two of them, and pointed at Lavi with a wrathful expression. “You!”

Lavi pointed at himself. “Me?”

Sheryl took a step forward, torn between disbelief and utter fury. “I knew you must have survived!”

Lavi abruptly realised what that meant. He pointed a finger at Sheryl, anger rising. “You!”

Neah looked between them, opened his mouth, closed it again, and sighed. “I don’t get what’s happening.”

Lavi kept his gaze focused on Sheryl, teeth gritted. “That bastard killed Gramps!”

Neah nodded. He turned to Sheryl, who looked over at him with a despairing glance. “He should have died with his master!”

Neah nodded again before slamming his fist into Sheryl’s face with as much force as he could muster. Neah watched Sheryl fall to the ground with a grin.

“Now it’s three-on-one, you little shit.”

“No, it ain’t.” Lavi stepped down from the hilt of his hammer and raised his weapon, a cold look in his eyes that Neah had never seen before. “He’s mine.”

Neah hesitated for a moment before shrugging. “Normally I’d approve of revenge, but I want to kill him too.

“Tough shit. Deal with those guys, this bastard is mine.”

And with that, Lavi ran forward, bearing down on Sheryl with as much fury as he could muster. Neah tried to argue but the thud of bullets hitting earth drew his attention. Lavi had brought what looked like an entire army of Akuma with him. Neah groaned.

“You just had to make life harder for me, didn’t you?”

Lavi wasn’t listening, far beyond paying attention to anything other than the Noah before him, who was observing him with a grin.

“Well, well, looks like all my problems can be solved in one moment.”

Lavi didn’t respond, flourishing his Innocence before him in one swift movement. With a cry, he swung forward, barely missing Sheryl’s smirking face. Sheryl gritted his teeth, using his strings to rip at Lavi’s arm.

“You and your master cost me everything!” Sheryl brought Lavi to his knees, peering down at him with a curled lip. “My position of power, the faith the Earl had in me - you took it from me, but I’ll regain it now! If I kill you and the Fourteenth, my honour will be restored.”

Lavi heard those words, saw the bitterness and rage in Sheryl’s eyes, and narrowed his eye. He summoned an Earth Seal, raising the ground below Sheryl’s feet enough to make him stumble, before extending his hammer into Sheryl’s stomach, hard enough to wind him. Lavi gritted his teeth, blinded by his hatred. He didn’t notice the invisible string coiling around his leg, not until he found himself crashing to the ground. He looked up, furious.

Sheryl bore down on him with a smile. “Where’s all that power gone, Bookman? Weren’t you going to kill me?”

Lavi gritted his teeth, eye narrowing. “Shut up.”

Sheryl tutted and wagged his finger before Lavi’s face, fake concern in his voice. “You’re not really doing your master much justice now, are you?”

Shut up!

“You’re proving yourself such a disappointment, aren’t y-”

Lavi extended his hammer, sending it smacking into Sheryl’s face. Sheryl barely faltered, turning back towards Lavi with a wrathful expression. He grabbed hold of Lavi’s Innocence, wrestling it from Lavi’s grasp. He curled his lip, filled with disgust.

“I think I’ll get rid of this nuisance.”

Lavi felt sheer and utter panic flood through him. Desperate, he tried to reach out. Then he felt it; the tug at his heart. It was as if time had come to a slow, halting stop. He no longer felt the rain, the cloying mud, the pain in his body; all he could feel was the bond with his Innocence. Sheryl, oblivious of it, extended his hand and called to the dark matter within his body.

Sheryl stopped when he felt the hammer in his hands melt before his very eyes. Neah, who had been focused on his fight with various Akuma, stopped and turned. Lavi didn’t notice, mind filled with a series of numbers, a rising sense of power building within him.

Far away, miles and miles from the rain of Bardejov, Hevlaska keeled over and groaned.

Sheryl withdrew his hand with gritted teeth, skin burning, and watched as the once-solid Innocence poured down to the ground and coiled itself around Lavi’s outstretched hands. Lavi curled and uncurled his fingers, feeling his Innocence solidify, before raising himself up and slamming a fist into Sheryl’s face.

Sheryl hit the ground hard. Neah smiled before looking away, turning his attention back to the Akuma surrounding him. Lavi looked down at his hands, saw the red crystallised gloves that had formed, and gave a satisfied smile.

“Looks like I broke Critical point, huh?”

He had no time to ponder on it. Sheryl raised himself up, rubbing at his face with a wince. Lavi looked over at him, wonder replaced by wrath. He took a step forward, fists raised. Sheryl scoffed.

“Oh? You think this changes the outcome of this fight?”

Lavi responded by pulling back a clenched fist and hitting Sheryl hard enough in the chest for a rib to snap. Sheryl pulled away, grasping at his chest with a wheeze, and found himself flung backwards by another punch, then another. Any attempt Sheryl made to dodge was in vain. Lavi was a fearsome opponent with his hammer, but slow. The initial form his Innocence had taken limited him at points, but now, with its new form, he could make up for his lack of speed. Sheryl would have been impressed if the very presence of Lavi’s Innocence didn’t fill him with utter disgust.

Sheryl soon tired of it.

Enough.”

Lavi came to a sudden standstill, invisible strings keeping him poised in place. Sheryl smiled, eyes glinting with malicious intent. Lavi’s right arm snapped with a loud crack. Lavi screamed in pain, trapped between the past and the present - blood burning, body aching, Bookman’s snapped neck - and before he could do anything, he felt his awareness of the outside world completely fade away.

In his place, Junior fell to the ground, clutching at his arm, eye screwed shut.

Neah heard Lavi’s cry, drew away from the Akuma he had slowly been whittling away at, and gritted his teeth. He tried to make his way towards where Junior was lying on the floor, but was flung backwards by a Level Three who blocked his view of Junior completely.

Sheryl took a step forward and looked down at Junior with a curled lip, voice filled with malice.

“Now, to get rid of this annoying little pest.”

Sheryl crouched down, observed Junior’s expression for a moment, and then extended his strings, winding them around Junior’s clenched fingertips. Junior’s Innocence changed back to its hammer form and fell with a clutter at Sheryl’s feet.

“Before I snap that irritating neck of yours, tell me…”

The fingers on Junior’s right hand snapped, one by one. Junior bit down on his tongue, trying not to cry out. His mouth filled with blood. Fear gripped at him so tightly he couldn’t breathe. Sheryl smiled even wider.

“How did you survive what we did to you? Fiddler’s parasites should have ended your worthless life.”

Junior froze, eye wide. Sheryl’s smile turned murderous. Junior’s wrist snapped with a sickening crack and he couldn’t help but cry out. Neah turned, felt sheer and utter desperation from somewhere deep within him, and found his control of his body shoved aside.

Allen staggered, disoriented for a moment, before he changed his Innocence back to its usual form, using Crown Clown to throw the Akuma around him to the side. He ran forward, hand extended. Sheryl looked up and, with a wide grin, broke Allen’s lower leg with a distinct snap. Allen cried out, falling to the ground heavily. The Akuma nearly bore down on him before Sheryl raised a commanding hand. The Fourteenth wasn’t to be killed by them, after all. Sheryl turned his attention back to Junior, filled with satisfaction.

“If you spit it out quickly enough, I might make your death that little bit less painful.”

Junior gritted his teeth. “What does it matter? I’m going to die either way.”

Sheryl smiled. “Loose ends are loose ends. Can you blame me for wanting a nice tidy end to you?”

Sheryl moved his strings to Junior’s shoulder. Fear shoved its nails in deep. Junior met Sheryl’s gaze, panicked.

“I don’t know what happened.”

Lies.”

Sheryl extended his strings, past Junior’s shoulder and up to his neck. Junior found he couldn’t breathe, an invisible force choking the very life out of him. Sheryl watched, smile widening. Allen tried to crawl his way forward, eyes filled with desperation.

Junior wondered, as his vision blurred at the edges, whether he wanted to die. What point was there to his life now? A lost purpose, a ruined future; what reason did he have to go on? He saw the wrath in Sheryl’s eyes, heard the distant crying of a frightened child in his mind, saw memories of Bookman pass before his eyes, dim and hazy at the edges, and felt angry.

A tattoo circled itself under Junior’s eye. Something from deep within him rose up from its slumber, and all he could do was watch as his hand raised of its own accord. Sheryl raised an eyebrow.

“Oh?”

Sheryl’s strings snapped with an audible crack. Junior teetered backwards and fell to the ground with a splash, body writhing in pain. Sheryl stepped backwards in shock. Allen tried to raise himself up, panic rising. Sheryl’s eyes darted in Allen’s direction. Allen cried out as his leg snapped further, sending him tumbling to the ground once more.

Sheryl gritted his teeth and stepped forward, placing a foot over Junior’s rib cage and applying pressure until he heard a sharp crack. Junior cried out in agony, face crumpling. As if in response, the tattoo under his eye began to glow. Sheryl tilted his head with a manic grin.

“Is this your little secret then?” Junior couldn’t speak. The tattoo upon his skin glowed all the brighter. Sheryl followed its path from under Junior’s left eye towards what lay beyond. “I wonder, what’s under that eyepatch of yours?”

Junior’s eye snapped open. He tried to scramble backwards, every single inch of him screaming at him to move. He could not move away from Sheryl’s outstretched hand.

“Stop.”

Sheryl plucked at the strings keeping Junior’s eyepatch in place and pulled them aside in one swift movement. Junior trembled with fear.

“Stop, you can’t.”

Two eyes stared back at Sheryl Kamelot. He moved away, expression filled with horror and then disgust. Junior could scarcely breathe. Sheryl raised a shaking hand over Junior’s exposed right eye, expression filled with hatred.

“Why don’t I take that Innocence off of your hands?”

Junior’s eyes widened. Allen heard, looked up, and watched as Sheryl extended his fingertips outward. Junior felt horror wash through him.

“DON’T!”

Sheryl’s hands crackled with dark matter. Junior screamed in agony, voice breaking. Allen, desperate and afraid, tried to push himself up then stopped, crying out in pain. His left hand hurt. He looked down, clutching at his left arm as the cross embedded in his hand flickered with bright energy, just like it had done all those months ago in Tyki Mikk’s grasp.

Cold, fervent panic flooded through him. Sheryl saw the flashes of light, looked back down at Junior, and realised exactly what it meant. He grinned, triumphant.

This is where it’s been hiding, all this time?! Well, no ma-”

Sheryl was cut off by an audible crack. A field of pressure formed around Junior, pushing Sheryl backwards. He hissed out a pained breath, watching as crystal formed before his very eyes, encasing Junior within it. Sheryl was almost mesmerised by it. He sat and watched with a horror-fuelled curiosity as the light around him grew brighter. A heavy pressure bore down on him. He couldn’t move. He saw, in his mind’s eye, a person with many faces stood before him, wings outstretched, hands reaching out to him. Deep within him, he heard his Noah memory scream, felt it writhe inside of him.

Allen watched, clutching at his Innocence, helpless and afraid. A high-pitched screech filled the air. All Allen could do was surround himself in Crown Clown’s protective embrace as all around him faded into blinding nothingness.

White noise, blurred vision… Allen could scarcely feel the ground beneath him. He heard Neah cry out, felt his pain, felt his presence fade away with despair. Allen drew himself up with a cry and limped forwards, a glowing crystal and Sheryl’s body fading away into dust coming into view.

A bright seal formed below the crystal before him. With desperation, Allen reached forward with his left hand and felt cool crystal beneath his fingertips - an emerald garden, a person with many faces, so many horrible faces - and, with a flash, the crystal disappeared with Allen alongside it.

Chapter Text

Rain, cold and endless, fell from the darkened skies above to a forest full of shadows.

The drip of water and the sound of faraway thunder broke the heavy silence. In a flash of light, a crystal and a boy cloaked in white came into being in the forest’s darkened sanctuary.

Allen teetered on his feet, hand outstretched. He fell to his knees, coughing painfully, blood spattering his hands and the leaf-covered floor beneath him. Desperately, he tried to call out for Neah; nothing, not even a trace of a presence, only silence. Panic and fear gripped tightly at his heart.

For a moment, Allen did nothing but stare at the ground, at his blood-spattered hands, frozen in place. Then, slowly, he looked upwards, eyes trailing from the leaves crushed beneath his bloodied fingertips, to the crystal glowing before him, to the shadow of a person trapped inside of it.

Allen reached forward with his left hand and trailed his fingers down the crystal, smearing blood as he went. The memory of what he had seen flickered across his vision - a garden, green and growing and illuminated by golden sunlight, and a person with a face that - and he froze, trembling, a nameless dread filling him. He found himself unable to remember the face he had seen nor why he was so horrified by it.

As his hand fell to his side, he winced, clutching at the cross embedded in it with twitching fingers. The sudden memory of its destruction all those long months ago left him shaken and fearful. He looked up when a sudden light flooded his vision. He raised a trembling hand over his face, gazing through narrowed eyes at the blurry outline of a person falling hard onto the ground. His vision cleared. He felt his chest tighten at the sight of Lavi, bloodied and bruised, lying before him with eyes closed, chest rising and falling slowly and deeply with each breath.

Lavi!”

He reached forward, lifting Lavi’s head gently with a hand. He saw the tattoo under his eye, watched it slowly fade away, and found his mind playing a memory unbidden - a large room, with his sword raised to defend himself, an emotionless eye staring back at him as he - and he winced, heart twisting painfully in his chest.

When his body stopped shaking, and the cold numbness of the rain began to seep itself deep into his bones, Allen carefully put Lavi down and tried to stand. He immediately collapsed, leg burning with agonising pain. He looked down and saw blood, reached down to feel the hard point of a bone poking through the open wound, and fought off the urge to vomit.

He activated his Innocence with a wince, a spasm of pain emanating from the cross in his hand. He summoned his sword, tried to lower himself to grab Iron Hammer - which was sat dejectedly by Lavi’s side - and failed, crashing to the ground with a cry of pain. Gritting his teeth, vision blurred by tears, Allen grabbed Lavi’s Innocence, tucked it into the holster on Lavi’s leg, and used his sword to push himself back up. With a great deal of pain and effort, he hoisted Lavi onto his back using Crown Clown’s ribbons and began to half-walk, half-drag them out of the wind and rain.

Allen fell over frequently, struggling to keep his balance as he limped through the undergrowth, strength giving way, consciousness fading. Repeatedly, he had to cling to pain, cling to fear, reposition Lavi on his back, push himself back up, and carry the both of them onwards. They needed a place that was sheltered from the rain, somewhere that was safe. Allen knew he couldn’t manage things as they were for much longer, not in his condition, and the thought of shelter urged him on, footstep by stumbling footstep.

After what felt like an eternity, he found a train track. He walked beside it for a little while, aimless and reaching his limit with how far he could push himself, before he noticed an abandoned train carriage, rusted away and full of shadows, tucked away under some nearby trees. Allen spent several minutes painfully clambering over the tracks, near-crying from pain and exhaustion, before managing to slump against the side of the carriage. Carefully, he let Crown Clown’s ribbons loosen and let Lavi fall gently to the ground.

Allen stepped into the carriage, gripping his sword so tightly his fingers were white from the strain, fully aware that he was in no state to fight. With a sigh of relief, he found nothing beyond a few rats that scattered away in his presence.

It barely constituted as shelter, but it would have to do.

Allen picked Lavi back up using his Innocence and placed him down gently on the cold metal floor of the carriage. He tucked his tattered and bloodied coat below Lavi’s head, leant back against the nearby wall with a sigh, and winced as the numbness the rain had set in began to fade, his leg already throbbing in pain. He needed medical help - the threat of imminent infection worried him - but he was alone, at least until Lavi awoke.

He had no strength left to keep walking.

Allen slumped, head propped against rusted metal. Exhaustion overcame him, and despite the fear gripping tightly at his heart, he found himself unable to stay awake. He deactivated his Innocence and passed out.

He had no idea what time it was when he next awoke. It was still dark, still raining, and Lavi still hadn’t moved from where Allen had left him. His whole body ached. His leg had started to go numb - which wasn’t a good sign - and every time he moved, he hurt. Allen couldn’t keep himself awake, too exhausted to do anything more than close his eyes. The fear and anxiety clutching at his heart darkened his dreams. He woke often, coming in-and-out of sleep to the same backdrop of water pattering against the metal ceiling and Lavi’s motionless form before him.

Allen found himself unable to go back to sleep by the time dawn hit. The darkness had lifted, making way for a sombre grey dawn. The rain had stopped, and the smell of wet earth made the very air seem heavy.

Allen shifted a little, every inch of him aching, and tried to focus. His mind was dulled by pain, hazy at the edges. It was hard to think, but Allen started with the basics. He had no idea where they were. He didn’t remember seeing a forest or any train tracks from when he and Neah had scouted the area around Bardejov. The endless rain was the only indication that they couldn’t have gone far, which both reassured and terrified him.

The Noah Family had undoubtedly felt the disappearance of one of their own - though Allen didn’t remember him or Neah feeling anything at all - and would come and find whoever had taken away their kin with all the murderous wrath they were capable of. Allen was in no state to defend himself or Lavi.

Memories from earlier came to Allen suddenly - Sheryl’s strings, Lavi’s screams, the fearsome power of Innocence - and it drew his attention towards his unconscious companion. He could scarcely process what had brought them there, hazy memories filling his mind, but he knew something was wrong. Something had changed. He felt a deep sense of worry, of fear, and a strange kind of pity that he didn’t entirely understand. His left hand flashed with pain once more. He rubbed it gingerly with his right hand, heart pattering anxiously within his chest.

When Allen felt able to stand, he pushed himself up with a hiss of pained breath and limped outside, using the carriage walls to support him. Everything was still; no sound, no movement, not even the stir of leaves in the wind. It felt foreboding, like the world around him was taking a deep, bated breath. Allen cast that thought away, ignoring the heavy thud of his heart, and returned to the carriage’s interior.

Lavi still hadn’t moved. Allen carefully lowered himself down, trying to ignore the throbbing pain of his wounds, and checked Lavi over. He was covered in cuts and bruises. A fair few of his fingers were bent the wrong way, and his right wrist was extremely swollen. His skin felt clammy to the touch, pale, caked in dried mud. His eyepatch was missing. It was strange to see both of Lavi’s eyes, and Allen found himself unable to stop staring, noting the paler skin where the eyepatch had been, how both eyes looked exactly the same when closed.

Allen felt a deep sense of dread rise up within him, but he didn’t know why, not until he remembered; Sheryl’s outstretched hand, Lavi’s screams, the bright flicker of dark matter and that which it destroyed. Allen froze, eyes widening. He raised his left hand and gently touched the skin around Lavi’s right eye. Innocence, his right eye was Innocence, but…

“… Why would you hide that?”

Allen scarcely registered he’d said that thought aloud, words muttered and instantly swallowed up by the heavy air. It wasn’t until he felt the cross in his hand twitch that he put two-and-two together.

Allen’s heart dropped into his stomach. He shuffled backwards a little, not registering the pain in his body, not registering anything but the panicked beat of his own heart, memories playing out before his eyes. It didn’t make sense. Allen scrambled through his thoughts and memories, desperate for anything that would make all of it make sense. Lavi had always avoided questions about his eye, always uncomfortable, always on edge, always playing it off with a laugh and changing the subject, but there was no way. There was no way this was what he had been hiding. It didn’t make sense.

A sudden realisation stopped Allen dead in his tracks, gripped by fear. If his Innocence had reacted to what Sheryl had done to Lavi, what if the other accommodators had felt it too? What if they knew what it meant? The Order had been searching for the Heart for a long time. They would be desperate to find whoever carried it before the Noah Family did. The Noah Family were coming for them because of Sheryl’s death. The Black Order were coming for them for the Heart. It wouldn’t take long for the Noah to find out the truth.

That thought filled Allen with a monumental sense of dread. He couldn’t stop shaking. He felt his left hand twitch in pain, remembered shadow and light, a hand outstretched before him, a glimmer of dust fading before his eyes and that wide smile, that horrible smile before he - no, he didn’t want to go through that ever again. Never again; he refused to lose his reason for living like that ever again.

Allen gave Lavi one last hesitant look before shuffling back to the carriage wall, watching the slow rise and fall of Lavi’s chest with trepidation. He didn’t have any answers, and maybe Lavi didn’t either. All he could do was wait.

Sleep was beyond Allen now. He anxiously watched Lavi sleep, felt too restless to sit still, pushed himself up and struggled with the pain of moving before giving up and sitting back down again in an endless cycle. He reached a point where he had to try and wake Lavi up, desperate for a distraction from his thoughts, desperate for answers.

Allen shuffled his way towards Lavi, settling himself down awkwardly by his side, left leg splayed out as comfortably as he could manage. He gave Lavi a hesitant look before gently shaking his shoulder.

“Lavi, wake up.”

No response. Allen took in a shaky breath, held it, and then let it out. He tried again, firmer this time.

“Lavi, you need to wake up.”

No response. Allen gritted his teeth. A pang of guilt rose up within him. He wondered if he should leave Lavi be, wait until he woke up of his own accord. The memory of his Innocence being destroyed, the Earl’s beaming grin, Lvellie’s hard eyes… that fear overrode any guilt he felt by a landslide.

It wasn’t safe enough to wait.

Allen took in a deep breath, grabbed Lavi’s face in his hands, and called out as loudly as he dared.

Lavi!

Lavi jolted awake, eyes wide, chest heaving, looking up at Allen with so much fear that it made Allen’s heart twist in his chest. Allen smiled, trying to look reassuring, tentative relief flooding through him.

His smile fell when he noticed it.

Allen’s eyes widened, shock flooding through him. Lavi gazed up at him, too shell-shocked to do anything more than stare. Allen looked down, saw Lavi’s exposed right eye, and found he couldn’t look away. It was beautiful, in its own way. The light of the encroaching dawn glinted upon crystal, rose pink against pale blue. It made sense to him, why Lavi had hidden it behind an eyepatch; it could never have passed as a normal eye, unlike Allen’s own when it wasn’t activated, at least.

It occurred to him that Lavi might have hidden it for more reasons than just that, and felt his heart sink.

Allen knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Lavi wouldn’t have wanted Allen to see it, for anyone to see it. Allen felt guilt and shame flood through him. He placed a hand over Lavi’s right eye, head bowed.

“I’m… I’m so sorry, Lavi.”

Lavi didn’t seem to process it, not at first. Confusion crossed his face before it sunk in. With a look of horror, he tried to push Allen away and cried out, clutching at his right hand with his left, pained tears in his eyes. He scrambled backwards, keeping his right eye shut, chest heaving. Allen reached out, expression filled with pain.

“It’s - it’s okay.”

Lavi didn’t seem to hear him. He shook his head, shoulders hunching, breathing far too fast. Allen remained where he was, concern flooding through him. Lavi’s head bowed, left hand raised to clutch at his right eye, chest rising and falling in rapid succession. Allen had never seen Lavi look so distressed before. He didn’t want to make him feel worse, but he couldn’t help but feel concerned. He pushed himself forward.

“Lavi, you need to breathe slower, you’re going to…” Lavi’s eyes rolled before shutting, head sinking into his chest, body slumping to one side before hitting the floor with a dull thud. Allen sighed. “… faint.”

Allen crawled his way forwards. He placed a gentle hand on Lavi’s shoulder, looking him over with a worried expression. Lavi was breathing slower now, albeit shakily. His shoulder trembled beneath Allen’s grasp. He rubbed it, slowly, gently, trying to be comforting. When he felt more than heard Lavi cry, he winced, empathy flooding through him.

The two of them remained like that for a long time. The sun fully rose up into the sky, brightening the world around them. The rain began to fall once more, creating a chorus of sound against the carriage roof. Eventually, Lavi became still, seemingly asleep. Allen wasn’t surprised; he looked exhausted. Allen, too, was immeasurably tired. He settled himself beside Lavi and almost immediately fell asleep.


Hours later, Allen awoke to yet more rain, the sky darker than it had been before.

He blinked sleepily, forgetting where he was for a moment, before he heard muttered words. He turned and saw Lavi sat up, head in his hands, both eyes open and staring out into the darkness of the carriage. It was as if he was talking to someone unseen. It didn’t take long for Allen to realise what that meant. He debated whether he should speak up or not and ultimately decided it would be rude to listen in, even if it was only half of a conversation to his ears.

“Are you… okay?”

His voice sounded quiet, hesitant, almost drowned out by the rain. Lavi flinched, moving away from him, eyes wide. Allen looked away, trying to be respectful. He saw, out of the corner of his eyes, that Lavi had settled, a raised hand covering his face. Allen looked up with an awkward smile.

“I guess it’s a… stupid question to ask…”

Lavi blinked, confusion etched into his face. “I don’t… understand…”

Allen realised, rather abruptly, that he wasn’t speaking to Lavi at all. He knew that formal tone, knew it well enough to realise what it meant. He rubbed the back of his neck.

“I asked if you were okay, and that’s… a stupid question.” Allen hesitated before continuing. “Do you… want me to give you some space, Junior?”

Junior sat up a little straighter, eye widening. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, and then sighed. He turned to look out at the rain and gave a bitter smile.

“I can’t exactly ask you to sit out there in that, can I?”

Allen grinned, sheepish. “Yeah, not really.”

They both fell silent. Allen watched Junior carefully, noticing how tense he looked, the hollow look in his eye. He needed answers, desperately so, but he didn’t want to cause any further distress. Junior seemed to notice Allen’s hesitation and spoke up, weary irritation in his voice.

“If you’re going to say something, say it.”

Allen winced. He wrung his hands a little, looking away with a conflicted expression. He tried to find the right words, but knew there was no right way to ask such personal questions. He sighed.

“I don’t… understand.”

Junior tensed up. “Understand what?”

Allen faltered for a moment before shrugging. “Everything, really.”

Junior didn’t respond. There was an emotion showing in his face that Allen couldn’t quite place. More than anything, he looked tired, deep down to the very core of his being. Empathy clutched at Allen’s heart, so tightly it hurt.

If it had been any other situation, he wouldn’t have asked. He would have laughed it off, focused on something else, but they were quite literally trapped; trapped by the rain, trapped in that carriage, trapped by the circumstances they were in. If Allen didn’t find out the truth, he wouldn’t be able to help, and he had to help somehow. Their situation was too dire for him to leave things as they were.

Allen almost missed Junior’s response, his shaky words drowned out by the rain.

“I don’t understand any of it either.” Junior’s head lowered, left hand clenching into a fist. He let out a bitter laugh. “I don’t understand a goddamn thing.”

Allen didn’t respond, not at first. He watched Junior’s shoulders shake, feeling his heart twist in his chest. He looked down at his left hand, felt the dim throbbing pain emanating from it, and sighed.

“I don’t really have any answers, but…” Junior looked up. Allen met his gaze with a grim smile. “What I do know is we can’t stay here.”

Junior smiled, bitterly. “We have nowhere to go.”

“They’ll find us if we stay here.”

“So what if they do?!”

Junior’s voice was raised now. Allen saw the anger and desperation in his expression and frowned.

“I… don’t…”

Junior curled up into himself, burying his left hand in his hair. “None of this matters! It matters even less than it did before!”

Allen shook his head a little. “I don’t… understand…”

Junior gripped at his hair tightly, hand shaking. “It doesn’t matter.” He laughed, sounding hysterical. “It doesn’t matter at all!”

Allen reached out, concerned. “I… I know you’re upset. I would be too, but…”

“Upset?” Junior smiled widely. “You really don’t get it.”

Allen let out a frustrated noise. “I know! I don’t get it at all! So please, talk to me.”

Junior fell still. He looked up at Allen, saw nothing but desperate sincerity in his eyes, and felt his resolve shatter. He brought his knees up, buried his head between them, and trembled. Allen pushed himself forward, hesitant at first, before placing a gentle hand on Junior’s shoulder. Junior tensed up for a moment before relaxing. Allen wrapped his arms around Junior’s back, buried his head in his shoulder, and spoke as steadily as he could manage.

“I just want to help you, all of you.” Junior’s eyes widened. “You’re suffering so much, and I just want to help. We’re…” Fear entered Allen’s voice, making it shake. “I can’t keep fighting if I don’t know what’s going on.”

Junior didn’t say anything. Several minutes passed. Allen continued to hold him in his arms, hoping it was comforting somehow. Eventually, an arm wrapped around Allen’s middle. A head buried itself into the crook of Allen’s neck. He heard Lavi’s voice, shaky and thick with tears, words muttered into his skin.

“This… it’s all so messed up.” Allen held Lavi tighter, rubbing his back in slow, gentle motions. Lavi tensed up, trembling in Allen’s embrace. “I… we didn’t know.”

Allen faltered. They hadn’t known? He would’ve felt disbelief, but Lavi sounded so genuinely scared and uncertain that Allen knew he was telling the truth. He held Lavi tighter. He wanted to ask questions, find out exactly what that meant, but it told him enough. Empathy clutched at Allen’s heart, bringing tears to his eyes. He raised a hand, gently stroked Lavi’s hair, voice full of emotion.

“I… I can’t even begin to imagine how hard this is for you, all of you.” Lavi stared over his shoulder, wide-eyed. “But… it’ll be okay. Everything will be okay.”

Lavi shook his head. “How the fuck is this going to be okay?! Junior’s losing his mind, sayin’ our whole life never mattered. Milo won’t stop crying, keeps sayin’ it’s all his fault. I don’t understand what the fuck’s going on and they won’t tell me anything!”

He faltered for a moment before continuing, voice thick with tears.

“I don’t… I don’t understand anything. I went all the way to the Clan to get answers and all I got was more questions than I started out with! Now I’m an exile -” Allen’s eyes widened at that, shock flooding through him “- and I feel like I don’t know Gramps anymore, and now this happens?!”

Lavi laughed, almost hysterical. “How… how could it have been there all this time?! I - we - we got checked by Hevlaska like everyone else does at the Order! She never said anything about it being Innocence of all fuckin’ things!”

Allen didn’t respond, not at first. He thought over everything he had ever heard about the Heart, about what it was, and spoke so quietly Lavi almost didn’t hear him.

“Maybe it didn’t want to be found.”

Lavi laughed, voice filled with disbelief. “What, so it hid itself? Can Innocence even do that?!”

“Maybe it can.”

Lavi laughed, hysterical. “Great, just great, so it’s not just Innocence, it’s special Innocence. That’s just -”

Lavi fell deathly silent. What Allen had already realised slowly dawned on him, a tidal wave of sheer and utter despair filling him from head to toe. He swallowed thickly.

“I… it… it can’t be. I… I don’t even remember how we… and the others said they didn’t… and Gramps, he - he never said it was -”

Allen cut in with a frown. “If you didn’t know, there’s no way Bookman could’ve known.”

Lavi didn’t respond, body falling almost deathly still. Concern wormed its way back into Allen’s heart. He continued to rub Lavi’s lower back, trying his best to be comforting. Several minutes passed. Lavi hadn’t spoken a word, had scarcely moved a muscle. Allen became too concerned to leave it be.

“Lavi?”

He pulled Lavi away a little. His expression was blank, his eyes unfocused. Allen waved a hand before his eyes; no response. Allen felt anxiety take a hold of him. He almost placed a hand on Lavi’s shoulder before he realised, rather painfully, that he knew exactly what was happening.

He remembered, with painful clarity, how he had been after Mana had died. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak. He had remained like that for what felt like time unending. He had been lost in a place far removed from the outside world, as if his mind had shut down. Allen saw that same hollow emptiness in Lavi’s face and felt his heart twist in his chest.

Without a word, Allen moved away, leaving Lavi to sit and stare blankly into space. Fear dug its claws in deep, writhing around in Allen’s insides until he felt sickened by it. Lavi was in no state to move and neither was Allen, but he knew the longer they stayed where they were, the more they were running the risk of being found.

Allen buried his head in his hands, desperately trying to think of something, anything that would get them out of this situation. He never thought he would miss Neah’s presence, but he did then. He called out to Neah, needing advice, any kind of company. He heard no response, didn’t even feel a glimmer of a presence.

It was as if Neah had disappeared.

That thought would’ve brought relief and joy to Allen’s heart once, but in that moment it brought him to tears. He cried into his hands, fear and worry and weeks of tension flooding through him until he felt suffocated by it.

He didn’t notice Lavi had moved until he felt arms wrap around his middle. He blinked away tears with a sniff, leaning into the embrace with a shaky sigh. Eventually, Lavi pulled away. He gave Allen a bright cheerful smile, making no attempt to cover his right eye.

“It’ll be okay!”

Allen stared at him, dumbfounded. The way he was smiling, the cheer to his voice, the mismatched eyes staring back at him - it didn’t make sense. It was so at odds with how both Junior and Lavi had acted that Allen felt ill at ease. Allen took in a deep breath before speaking, trying to keep his voice steady.

“Are you… are you feeling okay in the head there, Lavi?”

Lavi blinked at him for a few moments before giving an awkward smile. “Oh, I’m not…”

Allen faltered, confused for a moment, before he abruptly understood. He laughed, relief flooding through him.

“Oh! That’s - that’s fine.” Allen hesitated before continuing, trying his best to sound friendly. “So you’re… Milo?”

“Yup!”

“Is Lavi… is Lavi okay?”

Milo’s face fell. He looked away. “No… not really…” He looked back at Allen, despair in his eyes. “I didn’t mean to make him upset, I promise!”

Allen couldn’t respond for a moment. It truly hit him he was talking to a child. Milo looked like an adult, looked just as Lavi did, but the way he spoke, the way he thought… it was just like a child. He didn’t just act like a child, Allen realised with a sinking feeling in his heart; he quite literally was a child. He felt the sudden need to pull Milo into a tight hug, but decided against it. Instead, he gave a reassuring smile, trying his best to sound calm.

“I - I know. It’s not your fault.”

Milo shook his head. “It is my fault! I didn’t tell him about it.”

“About what?”

“About this.”

Milo pointed at his right eye. Allen found himself staring and forced himself to look away, trying to keep his voice steady.

“Could you…” a pang of guilt rose up within him, but he couldn’t help but ask. “Could you tell me about it? Maybe I…” Allen tried his best to look reassuring. “Maybe I can help?”

Milo seemed hesitant at first. He looked at Allen, looked out at the rain, and fidgeted a little. Eventually, he rubbed the back of his neck and spoke, voice so quiet he was almost drowned out by the rain.

“We didn’t… we didn’t always have it.”

Allen frowned. “You mean your eye?”

Milo nodded. “It was normal before. It was only after…” he shuddered, fear flashing in his eyes “… after the bad thing happened that it changed.”

Allen almost asked what he meant by ‘bad thing’ but it felt wrong, somehow, to ask about it. He sat in silence, watching Milo’s expression fall.

“Mama made me hide it, so no-one would treat me different.”

Allen tilted his head, confused. “I thought… I thought Bookman was your only family.”

Milo blinked a few times before nodding. “He’s like a grandpa, but he’s not really our family. We had a proper family before, but…” he rubbed his arm, expression pained “… not anymore.”

Allen frowned. “Wait, but… Lavi said he never had a family… that he’d always been with Bookman.”

“That’s ‘cause he doesn’t remember. Me an’ Junior do because we were around back then.”

“How can… how could Lavi not have been around back then?”

Milo shrugged. “I don’t know. Our brain’s weird.”

Allen sighed and shook his head a little. “It… it doesn’t matter. So, after that, um, ‘bad thing’ happened, your eye was different? Did it… do anything?”

“Not really. It just looked weird more than anything, though…” Milo raised a hand to cover his right eye “… sometimes, when we get hurt, it’s like… it’s like it keeps us safe.”

Allen thought of Lenalee, of the way her Innocence had protected her, the way his own Innocence had protected him, and knew there was a connection, there, to what Milo had told him, to what he had seen while fighting Sheryl.

Innocence was, more often than not, hidden from its accommodator until something changed. Most of the Exorcists Allen had met had been accommodators for days, months, or even years - in his case - without knowing what they were bonded to. It was more complicated than that, though. For Bookman to not have known Lavi and the others carried Innocence, for it to have gone unnoticed even after joining the Black Order, hidden from Hevlaska… Allen looked down at his left hand, felt it twinge with pain, and sighed. He thought of Bookman, of Cross, of secrets kept hidden, and felt his heart twist in his chest.

Whether Lavi really carried the Heart, Allen didn’t know. All he knew was the threats were mounting and they didn’t have a lot of time to do anything about it.

“Listen, Milo. I need you to get one of the others. It’s…” Allen didn’t want to say it wasn’t safe, knowing it would scare him. He gave a hesitant smile. “I need to talk to one of them. Is that okay?”

Milo faltered. “I… I don’t know if they’re…”

“It’s okay. Just try for me, okay?”

Milo hesitated before nodding. He pushed himself backwards, turned around, and fell silent. Allen tried his best to give him some privacy and turned his attention to the world outside.

The rain was still falling, the sky dark and full of storm clouds. Allen pushed himself up using the wall for support, unsteady on his feet. He poked his head out of the side of the carriage door, blinking water out of his eyes, looking at his surroundings with unease. It was hard to see much of anything, but nothing stirred beyond the train tracks. No sudden movements, no loud noises; nothing but the endless rain as it pattered against the ground.

Allen sighed, trying to squash down any feelings of fear or anxiety. He closed his eyes, focusing on the feeling of the rain upon his head and shoulders. It was relaxing, in a way. At the very least, it would rid him of some of the blood and mud he’d ended up covered in. He debated whether he should go out into the rain fully, but decided against it; his broken leg was already at risk of infection.

Knowing he would need to look at it at some point, Allen drew away from the open door, settling himself down against the carriage wall. He leant forward, inspecting his left leg with a sigh. Blood and mud had matted his trousers, and a large hole revealed an open wound, the white of bone. Allen gritted his teeth, pulling the fabric of his trousers away, just enough to see how bad it was.

It was bad.

He needed someone to push the bone back in place. After that, the wound would need stitches, and then it would take many long weeks, if not months, for the fracture to heal. Allen thought of all the fighting he would inevitably have to do and clenched his fists, frustration flooding through him.

Even if he made it to a doctor, he had no money. His chances of being caught out in the open by the Order, by the Noah, by Apocryphos, by the Earl’s suit - it was maddening to think of it. A cold, cloying feeling of fear crept up Allen’s spine, settled itself around his throat.

The sound of movement and a heavy sigh drew Allen’s attention. He looked up and was met with a tired smile. Allen wasn’t sure who was now in control, but the raised hand and covered right eye made it clear Milo was no longer there. Allen gave a hesitant smile.

“Hey.” He hesitated before continuing. “Are you… are you Lavi right now?”

“Yeah.” Lavi rubbed the back of his neck, a distinct look of discomfort in his face. “I’m… sorry about earlier. I’m… we’re not…”

“You’re not doing okay, I know. I wouldn’t expect you to be.”

Allen’s voice held so much empathy that Lavi felt moved by it. He gave a shaky smile, looking away for a moment before pushing himself forwards with a wince. He looked down at Allen’s leg with a frown.

“That’s…”

“Pretty bad, I know.”

“You need a doctor.”

Allen gave a bitter smile. “We have no idea where we are. We’re not going to make it far on foot. You’re too injured to use your hammer right now, and it’d paint a huge target on our backs too.”

Lavi flinched at that, the hollow look from earlier returning. Allen quickly continued, trying to sound hopeful.

“It’s fine. No-one knows we’re here, for now at least. We’ll just have to… sort this out ourselves.”

Lavi didn’t reply, not at first. Eventually, he muttered out a quiet, tentative question. “How did we even get here?”

Allen tried to think of the right words, not wanting to freak Lavi out again. “After… after what happened, we were teleported somewhere else. I carried you to this abandoned train carriage.”

Lavi frowned. “Teleported? Did you use the Ark?”

Allen hesitated before shaking his head. “No… You don’t… you don’t remember?”

Lavi stared at him for a moment before looking away, sheer and utter dread in his expression. Allen knew what it meant and didn’t pry any further. He did his best to look cheerful, straightening up a little.

“Well, nothing for it. I’ll sort you out, and you can sort me out. Then we get out of this place and find a proper doctor somewhere.”

Lavi didn’t respond at first, the blank look from earlier returning to him, but he managed to shrug it off, just enough to turn to Allen with a grim smile.

“Okay.”

Allen reached for his abandoned cloak, left tattered and blood-stained in the middle of the carriage. He activated his Innocence and flinched, letting out a pained hiss. His left hand was throbbing. Lavi looked away, visibly ill at ease. Allen tried to ignore the pain, using his Innocence to rip his coat up into a series of makeshift bandages. He handed a length of it to Lavi with a hesitant smile.

“Here. It’s not quite an eyepatch, but it’ll do.”

Lavi froze, eye widening, before he looked down at the torn fabric and nodded. He turned away, wrapping it around his head as best he could manage with his left hand, using his teeth at points. He tried to secure it in place but couldn’t, right hand utterly useless to him. Allen pushed himself forward and tied the bandage at the back of Lavi’s head, who muttered a quiet ‘thanks’ in response. Lavi turned back to Allen with a shaky smile.

“How do I look?”

The fabric covered Lavi’s right eye well enough to hide it completely. Lavi looked worse than Allen had ever seen him, but he seemed more at ease with his right eye covered. Allen smiled brightly.

“You look like shit.”

Lavi couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Yeah, guess I do.”

Allen laughed with him, easing the tension between them. He turned his attention back to his leg and sighed.

“Do we.... set it back into place?”

Lavi shook his head. “The bone’s the only thing stoppin’ you from bleeding out right now.”

Allen grimaced. “Great. What do we do then?”

Lavi gave a low hum before replying. “All we can really do is splint it and bandage it up. A doctor’s gonna have to re-set it and stitch you up.”

“What about you?”

Lavi looked down at the broken fingers on his right hand, his swollen wrist, and felt the twinge of his broken arm and ribs with a grim smile.

“Can’t do much about it. We can splint everything up but that’s about it. Anyway -” he gestured at Allen’s leg. “Let’s get you patched up first.”

Lavi raised himself up, exiting the carriage with a curse when the rain immediately soaked him to the bone. Allen heard the snap of branches and hoped no-one was around to pay attention to it. Several minutes later, Lavi returned with a bundle of sticks of varying lengths and thicknesses. He set them down with a huff.

“It ain’t the greatest way to splint somethin’, but it’ll do.”

Allen nodded. The two of them set about patching up each other’s and their own injuries. They didn’t speak, wordlessly cleaning each other’s wounds, bandaging each other up with the kind of fluid grace that came with practice. By the time they were finished, Allen was covered in bandages, left leg as securely splinted as could be managed. Lavi’s right arm hung in a makeshift sling made from his poncho, his broken arm, wrist and fingers splinted. Allen looked down at himself, then over at Lavi, and smiled.

“We’re a right pair, aren’t we?”

Lavi managed a grim smile. “Sure are. I’d say we should wait ‘til the rain stops, but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen anytime soon.”

Allen looked out at the world outside and sighed. “We can’t stay here.”

“I know. We better get goin’ then.”

Lavi pushed himself up and offered his uninjured hand to Allen, who took it in his left. A memory from months before, of seeing Lavi’s scarred hand, the matching cross on the back of his own hand, brought a smile to Allen’s face. He let Lavi pull him up, unsteady on his feet. Lavi wrapped his arm around Allen’s middle, letting Allen lean on him as they limped out into the rain.

They had no idea where they were, no clue where to go, but for now all they could do was keep walking.

Chapter Text

The forest seemed infinite, endless.

The rain was a constant backdrop, occasionally easing up, leaving the world feeling heavy with silence, before the onslaught began once more.

Through this eternal rain-drenched forest, Allen and Lavi made their slow, painful way forward.

Allen had been through many difficult things in his life. He had learned to endure pain, to survive through any ordeal. In that moment, he felt a steadily building fear, a doubt in his mind, of just how far he could carry himself through this. Most of Allen’s injuries began to heal as time went by. His leg, however, only got worse. Walking was agony. Allen wanted nothing more than to lie down, or have his leg removed from his body so he could be free of the sheer torture of it.

Lavi had been helpful at first, supporting Allen physically, doing his best to make light of the situation. Within hours, however, he had lost himself to the numbing, cloying grasp of his own mind. Allen found himself unable to keep his balance, Lavi’s grip on him diminishing. Lavi was barely able to put one foot before the other, moving as if he was hardly aware of his surroundings; the blank look in his eye said it all.

Allen bid Lavi to stop, finding a somewhat sheltered enclave of trees. He had to forcefully push Lavi down so he would sit, noting the blankness of his expression with ever building concern. Allen lay down, ignoring the cold wetness of the undergrowth beneath him, and fell asleep before he had a chance to think.

Allen awoke to the same surroundings he had left himself in; Lavi blankly staring out into the rain, the sound of water dripping through the leaves above. It was as if he hadn’t slept at all. Allen drew himself up, looked over at Lavi, and sighed. He knew there was very little he could do. From what Lavi had said, too much had happened to him in too short a time. He had lost everything - his sense of purpose, his future, his faith in Bookman - and now he was burdened with something Allen could scarcely process himself. All Allen could do was be there for him, but he could scarcely take care of himself.

Neah still hadn’t returned, and Allen had already reached his physical limits long before he and Lavi had left the abandoned carriage. He considered asking Lavi to use his Innocence to take them somewhere, anywhere but this accursed forest and its endless rain, but he knew it wasn’t possible, not in that moment. Lavi was injured, and whatever dark place he had fallen into mentally was very much here to stay, regardless of how inconvenient it was.

Allen wondered if Junior could take over in Lavi’s stead - he dimly remembered Lavi saying he had done such a thing before, in the time after Bookman had died - but he soon found out that Junior was even less able to cope than Lavi was.

Lavi would come out of his blank moments on occasion, trying to focus on the present as best he could. Eventually he would succumb to numbness once more, and after blankly staring out into the rain, Junior or Milo would take over in his stead. Junior would pace back and forth, agitated and distressed, ignoring Allen at best and throwing his frustrations at him at worst. Milo would run ahead, delighted at the freedom he had, before he would inevitably notice Allen had fallen over - which happened often - and would panic until Lavi or Junior took over. Sleep brought no solace to any of them, seemingly; Allen woke up to the sound of their screams more times than he could count.

This cycle repeated itself, over and over again. It was dizzying for Allen to watch, and he could only imagine how disorienting and distressing it was for Lavi and the others to experience. He could see, plain as day, that they were falling apart. Whatever stability they had retained since Bookman’s death had completely disappeared. Allen had never seen Lavi in such a bad way before, and he had no idea how to help him.

He had to focus on himself, that he knew, but he had no idea what to do in that regard either. He couldn’t fix his injured leg. He couldn’t find Neah, no matter how hard he tried. All he could do was put one foot before the other, pick himself up when he fell, and keep walking.

The bitter irony of Mana’s words were not lost on Allen in that moment.

With every hour that passed, Allen felt fear build within him. He knew it wouldn’t take long for the Black Order or the Noah Family to find them. His leg had become incredibly painful. He felt a fever begin to build as time went by. He found himself struggling to sleep. When he managed to rest, he was plagued by nightmares. Over and over again, he relived the destruction of his Innocence. He would wake, gasping for breath, the sudden movement making his entire body flare up in pain. He would grip at his left hand, trying to calm himself.

Lavi and the others were of little comfort. They could scarcely hold themselves together. Allen knew this couldn’t go on forever. He was reaching his limit. He needed help. That thought created an almost hysterical feeling of vulnerability within him.

He needed help, but there was no help to be had.

Allen turned inward, desperate, wishing more than anything for Neah to appear and carry them both onward, but it was as if Neah had disappeared. That thought filled Allen with such visceral agony that he could hardly stand it. Months beforehand, he would have rejoiced, but he felt no joy, not in that moment. He wondered, with a twinge in his heart, if Neah had simply abandoned him. Allen was in an awful situation. Maybe Neah didn’t want to deal with it and had left Allen to deal with it alone. Pain became burning rage.

Allen felt as if he had once more become the wrathful child of years gone by, wishing the world would burn.


It reached a point where Allen couldn’t go on anymore.

He collapsed and couldn’t get up. Lavi - thankfully in one of his clear-headed moments - immediately went to Allen’s side and carried him as best he could to the shelter of a nearby tree. Allen could scarcely keep his eyes open, chest heaving, body burning. Lavi placed a hand against his forehead and drew it away immediately, feeling the heat there with concern in his heart.

They were no closer to civilisation. Lavi had no idea where they were. He had no idea how much time had even passed since they had left the train tracks. Hours? Days? Weeks? It had all blended together into a disorienting haze of walking and sitting and repeatedly disconnecting from reality.

Lavi realised, with an agonising sense of clarity, that Allen could quite literally die if he wasn’t seen by a doctor soon. Allen could no longer walk; that much was obvious. Lavi couldn’t carry Allen, not with his injuries. He would have to use his Innocence.

The very thought of it was enough to make Lavi lose himself to cloying, suffocating numbness. It was as if his mind simply could not work, shutting down as soon as things became too much. Any sense of frustration or fear he felt was overshadowed by a numbing emptiness. It wasn’t as if he didn’t care. The thought that Allen could die was so agonising it was as if someone had taken hold of his heart and wrenched it right out of his chest, but he could not push through the haze in his mind. He was trapped by it, suffocated by it.

Junior came to in Lavi’s stead in a disorienting lurch of colour and sound. He almost didn’t process the sight of Allen lying before him. He rubbed at his face, head throbbing with pain, dizzy from lack of food and sheer exhaustion. He looked down at Allen, saw the sheen of sweat upon his skin and knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were running out of time.

The sheer and utter pointlessness of it all was almost enticing. What would it matter if Allen died? What would it matter if any of them died? It would only be a matter of time before everything they had been running from crashed down upon their heads. Junior’s mind fell into dark places - Sheryl’s outstretched hand, agonising, incomprehensible pain - and for a moment he could do nothing but stare down at Allen with a blank look, unable to process anything beyond the suffocating haze of his own mind.

It was only when he heard a muttered word fall from Allen’s parted lips that reality crashed down hard upon him.

“Help.”

Allen’s voice was quiet, barely heard above the rain. He sounded vulnerable, scared. Junior blinked water out of his eye, fully processing the state Allen was in; the feverish heat of his skin, the trembling, agonising pain in his expression. He placed two fingers against Allen’s neck, noting the erratic beat of Allen’s heart. Junior drew himself up, looked down at the hammer strapped to his leg then back down at Allen once more, dimly remembered words coming forth unbidden.

The person you’ve always been is someone who protects.

The rain cut against his skin like glass as he sped across the treeline, Innocence beneath him, Allen held tightly in front of him with his good hand. Junior had no idea where he was going, but he could at the very least get them out of the damned forest they’d been trapped in. It was grounding, having something to focus on. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the futility of it all consumed him once more, but at least in that moment he could pretend otherwise.

It took more than half an hour to find any sort of civilisation. Junior spotted a lone hut, situated in a sheltered hollow amongst the trees. Smoke was rising into the sky above from the chimney below. The prospect of shelter, of food, of any kind of help whatsoever, filled Junior with hope. He descended below the treeline as carefully as he could, landing a mile or so from the hut. He somewhat haphazardly positioned Allen on his back, trying his best to carry him the rest of the way.

By the time they arrived at the hut, Junior reached his limit. He fell against the wooden door of the hut, Allen falling to the ground behind him, and lost consciousness.

It was not Junior who awoke, many hours later.

For a moment, Lavi felt as if he was back at the Order. The smell of smoke, the warmth of blankets; it was indescribably soothing. It was only when he shifted in place and felt his right arm and right eye flare up with pain that he remembered.

Lavi sat up, fast enough to make himself light-headed. He groaned, clutching at his forehead with his eye screwed shut. Eventually, he dared a look at the outside world, noting the dimly lit candles on the floor beside him, Allen lying on a nearby bed, and a stranger stood beside an open door, cigarette smoke drifting its way outside to join the endless rain.

The stranger seemed to notice Lavi’s movement and turned; an older woman, dressed in what looked like hunting gear. She stepped forward, looked Lavi over, and spoke.

For a moment, Lavi didn’t process she was speaking Polish. It took him even longer to process that he no longer understood the language well enough to know what the woman was saying to him, beyond the basics. The knowledge simply wasn’t there, missing alongside the intimate details of his Bookman records. Frustration and helplessness rose within him, as well as the cloying haze he kept succumbing to. Lavi shook his head with a sigh.

In halting and broken Polish, Lavi managed to get across that he couldn’t speak the language very well. The woman seemed to understand; she gave a sage nod and moved away. She pointed at Allen and spoke very slowly, gesturing with her hands as she spoke. Lavi recognised the words ‘sick’ and ‘doctor’.

Lavi, thinking she meant the two of them should leave, made to get up. The woman immediately sat him back down with a scowl, speaking quickly and making it rather clear he had to stay where he was. Lavi raised his uninjured hand with a placating smile and got back into bed. The woman smiled and nodded before pointing at herself.

“Zyta.”

Lavi nodded, giving his own name in return. That seemed enough for Zyta, who turned away and resumed staring out into the rain, returning to her cigarette. The smell of smoke made Lavi feel disoriented for a moment, memories of Bookman coming close to the present. He distracted himself with moving to Allen’s side, observing him with building concern.

Allen was unconscious, a wet cloth resting against his forehead. He was sweating and trembling beneath his blankets, expression occasionally scrunching up into one of pain. Lavi felt his heart twist in his chest. He took the wet cloth and placed it in the bowl of water beside Allen’s bed, laying it gently against Allen’s forehead with a sigh. Zyta looked over and made some comment Lavi couldn’t understand - something about him acting like a mother - before gesturing outside the open door and moving aside.

A woman with a large leather bag in hand, utterly soaked by the rain, stepped into the hut and began talking hurriedly with Zyta. Eventually she turned to Allen, giving Lavi a quick glance before shooing him away. Lavi stood anxiously for a moment before returning to his bed, watching the doctor examine Allen with a heavy heart.

The doctor checked over Allen, saw his injuries - giving a sharp intake of breath at his broken leg - and looked over at Lavi with what looked like accusation. Lavi looked away with a wince. The doctor tutted and turned her attention back to Allen. She drew the blankets away, opened the bag at her feet, and got out a variety of instruments.

Lavi watched as the doctor painstakingly attended to Allen’s leg. She got out what looked like a bottle of mead and forced most of the contents of it down Allen’s throat before placing a thick wad of cloth into his mouth. Lavi nearly intervened before the doctor turned to him with a grim look and gestured for him to come over. She grabbed hold of Lavi’s uninjured hand and placed it on Allen’s chest, holding it there firmly before letting go and moving to Allen’s leg. Lavi abruptly understood and gave Allen a sympathetic look before holding him down.

The doctor grabbed hold of Allen’s foot with one hand, the back of his leg with another, and with a deep breath and one swift movement re-set Allen’s broken leg with an audible snap. Lavi almost let go of Allen, immediately brought back to the past - the smell of blood and Bookman’s lolling head and the thud of his corpse as he - before he heard Allen let out a muffled scream and did his best to hold him down while he struggled.

Lavi did his best to be comforting, meeting Allen’s terrified gaze with a pained smile. Allen’s eyes rolled back before he slumped and fell unconscious. The doctor gestured towards the bottle of mead without looking in Lavi’s direction. He sighed and raised Allen’s head up enough to make him drink it. Allen hated alcohol - for good reason, considering who his master was - and Lavi had only seen him drunk the once, which was one time too many. Shuddering, Lavi watched the doctor work with trepidation.

The doctor inspected the visible wound in Allen’s leg with a shake of her head. She turned to Zyta, spoke a few murmured words, and turned back. Zyta gave Allen a distinct look of pity that did very little to comfort Lavi. The doctor cleaned Allen’s leg and bandaged it up. Lavi nearly asked why she wasn’t stitching the wound closed before he realised it was quite likely infected. Lavi wondered, with a thrum of panic, if Allen would lose his leg. The doctor made no attempt at amputating, however, leaving Allen’s leg bandaged and re-splinted before moving away.

After she was finished, the doctor removed a number of small bottles from her bag and handed them to Lavi, rattling off a list of instructions he could barely understand. He understood enough, however, to know Allen needed to take whatever was inside, probably to treat the fever and pain he was likely going to experience.

Lavi then found himself pushed back onto the bed behind him, the doctor focused on his injuries now that Allen had been seen to. After inspecting his right arm, with very little warning she snapped his fingers back into place, leaving his wrist and arm alone. Wheezing from the sheer pain of it, Lavi scarcely processed the doctor re-splinting his broken bones. When she was done, she gave his right eye a curious look, muttering a question Lavi didn’t understand. He moved away from her outstretched hand, fear visible in his face. She shrugged and left the matter well enough alone.

When she was satisfied with Lavi’s physical condition, the doctor nodded and held out a hand - a universal gesture of asking for something. Without a word, Lavi looked around for his bag and realised it had been missing since the confrontation with Sheryl. He turned back to her with a sheepish grin. The doctor gave a disgusted noise before shaking her head and speaking with Zyta in hushed tones before leaving the hut entirely. Zyta sighed and told Lavi to lie down, giving him a look which left no room for argument.

Lavi tried his best to get some rest. It would take some time for his injuries to heal, and he would need every ounce of energy he could muster if he wanted to get back on his feet. The knowledge that there was more fighting to be done - likely sooner than he wanted or needed - filled Lavi with a persistent feeling of fear.

He was starting to process what had happened; the fight with Sheryl, the near-destruction of his right eye, what it all meant. It was hard to think about it without succumbing to the cloying haze of his own mind. The very thought of it - him, the accommodator of the Heart - filled him with utter terror. Lavi clung to denial, desperately, hoping it was some kind of misunderstanding. They had all thought Lenalee was the Heart after her Innocence had protected her. Perhaps it was simply the same thing with him, but he knew, deep down, that something was wrong.

His hidden eye being Innocence all that time, the truth obscured from even himself, left him feeling unbearably ill at ease. Maybe it didn’t want to be found - Allen’s words tumbled around in Lavi’s mind, making him feel nauseous.

Lavi found himself, almost without wanting to, going over everything he had ever heard about the Heart. They had all assumed that it would be a powerful piece of Innocence, on par with a General. That’s why the Order had gone out to search for the Generals, hoping they would find the Heart in the process. Lavi tried to comfort himself with that fact, reassuring himself that he was nowhere near on par with a General. He soon realised, with a sickening feeling, that he’d broken Critical Point in the fight with Sheryl.

He also realised, with a shudder, that he had no idea what power his right eye even held.

Moments from the past came to mind unbidden - the reactivation of Allen’s Innocence, the dreams - and it soon became too much. Lavi curled up in bed, eye wide and glazing over.

Junior came to in his stead, unable to recognise his surroundings. He pushed himself up, noting the clean bandages on his body and Allen asleep to his right. He lay back down and tried to sleep.

The usual nightmare darkened his sleeping moments, more vivid than it had ever been before. An emerald garden, feathered wings, many eyes in many faces - Junior could almost make out the figure that had haunted his dreams. He found himself taking a step forward, then two, hand outstretched to the twitching thing before his eyes. Without warning, a hand reached out to him, grasping at his arm so tightly it hurt.

Junior awoke with a shuddering gasp, body flaring up with pain. He stared out into the darkness, wide-eyed, heart jack-hammering against his rib cage. Zyta was asleep in a nearby chair, head lolling against her shoulder. Allen hadn’t moved from the other bed. Junior tentatively pushed himself up, wincing at the throbbing pain flooding through his body. He got out of bed and padded to the door, opened it, and looked out into the darkness outside.

The rain had slowed down to a gentle patter, falling softly against the roof of the hut. Nothing stirred outside. Junior looked out into the rain and wondered how much time they had before they were found. It mattered very little if it was the Black Order or the Noah Family at this point; he wasn’t safe either way.

Junior raised a hand and gently touched the fabric covering his right eye. A visceral feeling of dread crept its way into his heart, settling itself between his ribs like some half-dead thing, writhing around in his insides.

He remembered more than he wanted to of the past. Abuse and neglect had made him who he was. The one that protects - Lavi had meant that in the context of their life as a Bookman, but it was true for the time before that too. Junior was the one that observed, a spectator long before it was demanded of him by Bookman. He watched and waited and stepped in when things became bleak. It had been a wretched life - no, it barely counted as living - and Junior was glad that Lavi didn’t remember.

Bookman taking them all in had been life-saving. Now, years later, they were having to cope without him.

Junior’s head lowered, tears falling to mingle with the rain. In that moment, he wished more than anything for Bookman to be there. To comfort, to provide answers - anything would do. Bookman had been old, and it would have been no surprise if he’d fallen ill and died a mostly peaceful death, but he hadn’t. He had died violently and unjustly.

In his stead, Junior had to guide those he shared his mind and body with, but he had no idea what to do. He knew he was ‘the one who protects’, but in that moment he wanted more than anything to be the one who was protected.

Junior turned back and closed the door behind him. He got back into bed, stared up at the ceiling, and wondered just how much longer he could keep going.


Daylight filtered through the open window, casting its light upon the hut’s interior. It was still raining, tainting the sunlight a sombre grey.

Allen awoke to the light of dawn and the smell of food. Stomach rumbling, he pushed himself up with a wince. Groggy, vision blurred, it took a few moments for Allen to process where he was. He was in a wooden hut, with an older woman stood with her back to him, busying herself with a pot of some kind of stew or another. To his left, Lavi was asleep, curled up under the blankets.

Allen tried to get up and found himself immediately vomiting. The stranger turned away from her food, gave a despairing groan, and came to his aid. When the heaving stopped, Allen realised he had been sick all over his blankets and gave a sheepish smile.

The woman rolled her eyes a little and muttered something in Polish - Allen understood the language well enough to get by, and winced a little at the rather colourful curse she’d thrown his way - before casting aside his blankets and heading outside.

Allen looked down at his exposed leg and sighed. He dimly remembered it being re-set - Lavi’s concerned expression, the burn of alcohol in his throat, unbearable pain - and noted his leg had been bandaged and re-splinted. The fever was still there, but lessened in intensity. He was in no state to walk, never mind fight, and the reality of his situation crashed down hard upon his shoulders.

Zyta returned to find Allen with his head in his hands, trembling and fighting back sobs. She came up to him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“It will be alright.”

Her tone was kindly, sympathetic. Allen lowered his hands, vision blurred by tears, and managed a shaky smile. Zyta patted his shoulder again before walking away. She returned with a bowl of stew - mostly rabbit and potato, by the looks of it - which Allen wolfed down fast enough to leave him gagging. Zyta reprimanded him under her breath and retrieved a bedpan - thankfully empty - which Allen immediately retched into. He groaned, hanging over the side of the bed, wiping at his mouth with a trembling hand.

Zyta gave him some space, turning her attention to Lavi. Allen raised himself back up and watched as she shook Lavi awake, handing him a bowl of stew and telling him none too patiently to eat slowly. Allen managed a shaky smile when Lavi looked his way, who returned it just as shakily before eating. When Lavi was done, he raised an eyebrow at Allen.

“You not gonna eat?”

Allen grimaced. “I tried, but my stomach rejected it.”

“Your stomach rejectin’ food? Who are you and what’ve you done with Allen?”

Allen managed a laugh at that, which eased the tension in the room considerably. Zyta turned to the both of them and placed a hand on her hip.

“Now that you are awake and fed, would you mind explaining what happened to the both of you?”

Lavi frowned, visibly confused. He turned to Allen with a questioning glance. “What did she say?”

Allen blinked. “You… don’t understand what she’s saying?”

Lavi gave a pained smile. “My memory’s not been great lately.”

Allen sighed before turning to Zyta, switching from English to Polish. He explained as best he could what happened, leaving out the major details and telling whatever appropriate lies would cover up the truth. He explained that they’d gotten into a fight with a gang, who had beaten them within an inch of their life and left them for dead. They had wandered the forest for a while before coming across Zyta’s hut.

Lavi only understood the occasional word or sentence, mostly lost as Allen and Zyta conversed with one another. When Allen was done, Zyta gave a nod to show she understood then sighed.

“I cannot help you. I am happy to provide you shelter, maybe for one more night, but I am moving on from then.”

Allen smiled. “You’ve been more than kind enough to us already. We’ll find our own way from tomorrow.”

Zyta raised an eyebrow. “And where are you planning to go?”

“I’m… not sure. We need to figure out where we are and find a city with a doctor and somewhere to stay while we recover.”

“Well, I can tell you where you are at least.” Zyta reached into a nearby bag and handed a map to Allen, pointing at it with a finger. “We are a day or so out from Gręzówka. If you head in this direction -” she moved her finger along the map “- you will reach Łuków within a few hours or so, depending on your pace.”

Allen nodded. “That’s as good a place to start as any.” He gestured at the map. “Can I keep this?”

Zyta nodded her approval and handed the map to him before giving Lavi a curious glance. She leaned closer to Allen and murmured words for him to hear alone.

“Are you sure your friend is alright? I am concerned for him, and for you.”

Allen did his best to sound reassuring. “He’s just shaken.” Zyta gave him a doubting look. Allen continued, tone firm. “We’ll be fine.”

Zyta shrugged, moving away and busying herself with packing up some supplies. She opened the door and turned back to Allen.

“I will be gone most of the day. Stay here, and don’t break anything.”

And with that she was gone. Allen took in a deep breath, held it, and then let it out slowly. He turned to Lavi, who was looking down at his hands with a bitter expression. Allen sighed.

“We’ll be okay, Lavi.”

“Will we?”

Allen hesitated before responding. “I… of course we will. We’ll spend today getting some rest then tomorrow we’ll head for Łuków.”

“And then what?”

Allen sighed, frustrated. “I don’t know. We find a doctor who can make sure my leg’s healing okay, and then we find somewhere to stay and figure out where we go from there.”

“Even if we make it to Łuków, sooner or later someone’s gonna catch up with us.”

The apathy in Lavi’s voice was palpable. Allen felt his heart twist, worry creeping up his spine. He did his best to ignore it.

“I know, but we can’t give up now.”

Lavi met Allen’s gaze, saw the tentative hope in his eyes, and managed a shaky smile. “Always gotta be positive about everythin’, huh?”

Allen smiled. “Yup.”

They fell into a comfortable silence for a moment. After a little while, Lavi spoke up, voice quiet.

“I don’t know how much I can… keep goin’ like this.”

Allen didn’t say anything initially. There was so much dread and hopelessness in Lavi’s face, enough for it to be concerning. Allen wrung his hands together and sighed.

“I know, but you’re not going through it alone.” Lavi turned to him and Allen managed a tentative laugh. “With this stupid leg and Neah still being gone, I can’t do much, but maybe I can vomit on our enemies and scare them away.”

Lavi laughed at that, though his smile quickly fell when he picked up on what Allen had said. “Wait, Neah’s… not here?”

Allen closed his eyes with a grimace. “He’s been gone since… since we fought Sheryl.”

“What, he fucked off and left you with this?”

Allen wrapped his arms around himself. “I… I don’t know. I think something’s happened to him. He seemed hurt by what happened after Sheryl tried to…”

Lavi fell deathly silent. Allen looked over and saw the palpable dread in Lavi’s face. He raised a hand and placed it on Lavi’s shoulder, gently.

“It’s not your fault, Lavi.”

Lavi laughed, more than a little hysterically, before he shook his head and turned away from Allen, putting distance between them. Allen withdrew his hand, giving Lavi one last look before he turned away with a sigh.

The rest of the day passed in silence.

Lavi didn’t speak after their conversation. At one point, Allen thought he noticed Milo’s presence, but if he had been there he didn’t make himself known. Allen tried to focus on himself. His leg began to hurt more and more as the day progressed, and his fever returned with a vengeance. He found a number of glass bottles by his bedside, filled with various liquids and chewable substances. Allen took small amounts of each before trying to sleep.

His dreams were darkened by memory; Tyki’s wide grin, his Innocence disintegrating before his eyes. If he didn’t dream of that, it was the Earl who haunted his dreams; Mana’s tear-stained face, sinking into darkness as the Earl’s suit trapped him within. Allen would wake with a trapped scream in his throat, or tears upon his cheeks. Either way, it left him shaken and exhausted.

Zyta returned at dusk, mostly ignoring her guests and focusing on skinning two rabbits instead. At one point, she bid Lavi to stand and asked him to help her prepare dinner. Allen watched them work, noticing the blank apathy in Lavi’s face with anxiety writhing around in his insides.

Allen managed to eat without throwing up; his fever had eased up, helped by the medicine the doctor had left for him. Sleeping that night was unpleasant. Either his dreams woke him up, or the pain in his leg did.

All he could do was take more medicine, cast aside his memories, and try and sleep once more. He knew it would only be a matter of time before they would have to fight again. He knew Lavi and the others weren’t going to keep up their thin veneer of composure for long. Allen could do very little else but rest and hope he’d survive the coming storm.

Something was going to break, sooner rather than later. Whether they would be ready for it or not was another thing entirely.

Chapter Text

The next day dawned as somberly as the last.

Zyta was gone by the time Allen awoke. Junior was already awake, dressed and packed with a few supplies Zyta had apparently left for them. He helped Allen get dressed without a word, leaving Allen tense and on edge.

The two of them left Zyta’s hut behind. It was still raining outside, and within minutes the both of them were soaked to the bone and shivering. It was too risky to use Junior’s Innocence, so they made their slow, ambling way on foot to the village Zyta had mentioned.

It was slow going. Junior had to help Allen walk, which aggravated his own injuries, enough for him to be constantly gritting his teeth. Allen said nothing, feeling guilt worm its way into his heart. All he could do was focus on putting one foot before the other, or keep an eye on his surroundings. Occasionally, he turned inward and wondered if Neah was ever coming back.

The rain was a constant backdrop, obscuring their surroundings in a haze of water and sound. Allen’s condition worsened the longer they travelled. By the time they stopped for a break, a few hours out from Zyta’s hut, he was shivering from more than just the rain. Junior handed him some medicine and a chunk of bread before turning away, leaving Allen to eat and look out into the rain with trepidation.

They set off once more, Junior’s arm around Allen’s middle, Allen leaning on him as he painfully limped his way forward, one agonising step at a time. By nightfall, Allen could no longer walk even with Junior’s support. Forced to stop for the night, Junior left Allen in a leaf-filled hollow at the feet of a large tree, where he fell unconscious almost immediately.

Junior sat down on a tree stump and looked out into the rain with a hollow emptiness in his heart. The rain that fell upon his skin almost went unnoticed, senses dulled, limbs heavy. Memories replayed themselves over and over again - Bookman’s stern words, the smell of smoke, corpses by the river, Sheryl’s outstretched hand - until Junior could scarcely think.

A twig snapped in the distance. Junior didn’t notice. The rain swallowed up the noise almost immediately. A few minutes later, another snap, closer this time - Junior noticed it, lifting his head up a little. Silence befell the world, broken by the endless rain, nothing stirring in the undergrowth. Thinking it must’ve been a small animal of some kind, Junior sighed, rubbing at his temples with a grimace.

Snap. Junior’s head shot up, hand immediately going to the hammer strapped to his thigh. He raised himself up, looking around with a narrowed eye, heart thudding a panicked rhythm between his ribs. He looked over at Allen, saw he was asleep, and positioned himself in front of him. It was then that he heard a voice from inside his mind.

We should take Allen and go.

Lavi’s voice, filled with concern. Junior looked around once more, blinking water out of his eye, before sighing.

“It might not be anything.”

Lavi gave a derisive snort. Yeah, sure, just a friendly animal sayin’ hello. It ain’t worth the risk.

Junior looked back at Allen, indecisive. “If we use our Innocence, we’re just making a target out of ourselves.”

What other options do we even have? We’ll burn ourselves out carryin’ Allen on foot.

Junior ran a hand through his hair, teeth gritted, before he activated his Innocence with a curse. Snap. Junior turned, eye wide, seeing nothing but the rain. He leant down to pick up Allen, trying not to jostle his injured leg too much, before he heard the sound of rain falling on something metallic.

Junior rolled out of the way, just fast enough to avoid being riddled with bullets. He landed awkwardly, right arm flaring up with pain. Gritting his teeth, he looked up and saw a Level Four looking down at him with a pleased grin.

“Found you.”

Time came to a slow, shuddering stop. Numbing panic flooded through Junior like wildfire. He watched the Level Four raise its arms without processing it in the slightest. All he could do was watch as the Level Four prepared itself to fire once more.

The Level Four fired, but the bullets never reached their mark. A length of white fabric retreated back from whence it came, uncurling itself from Junior’s middle. He looked around and saw he was now several feet back, head resting against Allen’s chest. Allen, breathing heavy, looked down at Junior with a shaky smile.

“Now really isn’t the time for daydreaming.”

Junior nodded, pushed himself up, and raised his weapon. Allen used his sword to push himself up, unsteady on his feet, shaking from head to toe. Junior sighed.

“If I tell you to sit this one out, you’re not going to listen to me, are you?”

“Of course not.”

The Level Four looked between them, scoffed, and immediately began firing once more. Junior deflected the bullets using the head of his hammer, waiting until the firing stopped before extending his hammer forward, sending the Level Four flying into the undergrowth. Allen extended Crown Clown’s ribbons forward, picking the Level Four up from its haphazard position on the ground, lifted it up, and flung it into the nearest tree trunk.

Leaving a dent in its wake, the Level Four fell to the ground with a heavy thud. With gritted teeth and a visible look of frustration on its face, it prepared to fire before stopping with a grin. Junior frowned before turning around a little too late.

Another Level Four kicked him to the ground, placing a foot on his already broken ribs and applying pressure. Wheezing, pain flooding through him, Junior extended his hammer into the Level Four’s face, throwing it off balance enough to scramble backwards.

A choking noise drew Junior’s attention away from the Level Four - who was pushing itself up with a look of fury in its eyes - to where Allen was being held up by two hands around his throat, feet barely touching the ground, the second Level Four grinning down at him with malevolent intent. Junior tried to get up but couldn’t, hands buried in his hair, yanking him backwards so sharply it brought tears to his eye.

It was almost pitiful. Junior watched - you have to do something - as Allen grew quiet, arms slumping at his sides. The sound of metal and a heavy pressure against the back of Junior’s head - you have to do something, why aren’t you - told him more than enough what fate befell him. He closed his eye, surrendering himself to apathy.

The sound of a body hitting the ground bid him to open his eye. Allen was lying on the ground, coughing and curling up into himself, while the Level Four before him looked down at the steadily growing hole in its middle with confusion. Its skin turned to ash, blackening before disintegrating.

The Level Four behind Junior was confused enough to lower its arms. Allen - no, not Allen - Neah raised himself up, eyes glinting with gold, skin darkening as he raised a hand and clenched his fist. The Level Four was soon nothing more than ash and dust.

Silence - broken only by the sound of the rain pattering its way through the leaves above to the muddied ground below. Junior remained where he was, eye closed. He heard Lavi’s panicked voice - why didn’t you fight back, why didn’t you fight - and tuned it out. Neah groaned, rolling onto his back and looking down at himself with a grimace. He coughed, painfully, before speaking up, voice hoarse.

“You owe me one.”

Junior said nothing. Neah pushed himself up, looking down at his injured leg with a disgusted noise. Limping, he made his way over to Junior and slumped beside him with a huff. Neah looked Junior over, noticing the sling around his right arm, the splinted fingers, the bandage around his right eye. Neah raised an eyebrow.

“You look like shit.”

Junior gave a derisive noise but didn’t say anything. Neah hesitated, knowing Junior had never been one for conversation, before raising his voice to speak, confusion showing clearly in his voice.

“You gotta catch me up because I have no idea what the fuck’s going on.”

Junior shook his head. “It’s not safe. The Akuma will… there will be worse coming for us.”

Neah wanted to press the subject, but the dark look in Junior’s eye said more than enough about how willing he was to talk. Without a word, Junior raised himself up and helped Neah to his feet. Neah sighed, unhappy with the lack of control he had over the situation, and begrudgingly let Junior help him walk.

They made their slow ambling way forward. Junior knew it wouldn’t take long for other Akuma to find them, or worse. If they continued on foot, they would never get away fast enough, not with Neah’s body in the condition it was in. However, using his Innocence would draw unwanted attention to them. They had no idea what lay in wait for them outside of the forest’s shadowed embrace. Members of the Noah Family or Black Order could very easily be waiting for them.

The futility of it all consumed him. The night wore on. Neah refused to complain, trying his best to look strong, refusing Junior’s help unless he had no choice in the matter. In the end, it didn’t take long for Neah to no longer be able to walk, face drawn and pale, eyes filled with pain.

They came to a stop in a sheltered enclave, ground slightly raised, the open sky above their heads circled by rain-drenched leaves. It didn’t take long for Neah to ask the questions he had been - surprisingly patiently - waiting to ask for hours. Junior didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to acknowledge what was happening, but he knew Neah wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“So, you finally gonna tell me what the fuck is going on?”

Junior didn’t reply at first. When the silence became too unbearable, he sighed, looking away with a dark look in his eye.

“Can’t Walker explain it to you?”

Neah shook his head. “Nope, he’s out for the count by the looks of it. You’re gonna have to do it.”

Junior said nothing. Neah huffed, frustrated, leaning back against the tree behind him and looking out into the darkness with a scowl. Silence befell them, broken only by the rain. Eventually, a voice rose above the patter of raindrops.

“Things are real messed up, Neah.”

Lavi’s voice, quiet and tainted by a palpable feeling of dread - Neah looked over at him, saw the horror showing in his face, and knew something was wrong. He pushed himself up a little, wincing as his leg throbbed painfully in response. Lavi drew into himself, looking out into the rain with a blank look in his eye. Neah waited, trying to be patient, before giving up.

“Listen, Allen isn’t here to fill me in. What happened to Desire? Where the fuck are we? How long have I - ?”

“Sheryl’s dead.”

Neah fell silent for a moment before giving a frustrated sigh. “Well, that’s good, but I should’ve been the one to kill him. Was it you or Allen?”

“Neither.”

Neah raised an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”

“Junior did it.”

Neah gave a quiet huh. There was so much dread in Lavi’s voice that he knew there was more to it than that.

“You upset at him for that or something?”

Lavi shook his head. He opened his mouth to speak, shut it again, opened it, and then gave up, burying his left hand in his hair with gritted teeth. Neah looked over at him with steadily building suspicion crawling its way up his spine and clutching at his heart.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Lavi flinched, turning away from him a little. Neah leant forward and grabbed Lavi’s chin, forcing him to look back at him. “Either you tell me or -”

“When… when we fought Sheryl, something happened.”

Neah rolled his eyes, visibly frustrated. “You’re gonna have to be more specific than that.”

“He… tried to destroy my Innocence.” Lavi hesitated, noticeably horrified. “Both of them.”

Neah blinked a few times, confusion rising within him. “What do you mean ‘both’?!” Lavi raised a hand to touch his right eye, dread showing in his face. Neah’s eyes widened. “Wait, your right eye is Innocence?!”

“Guess so.”

Neah scowled. “What do you mean, ‘guess so’?! You say that like you didn’t know!”

“I… we didn’t know.”

Lavi’s voice had become quiet, so palpably filled with dread that it made Neah’s blood run cold. He blinked, once then twice, not entirely processing what Lavi meant. Neah took in a shaky breath, held it, and then let it out.

“There’s more you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

Lavi groaned, despair in his voice. “I don’t wanna talk about this, just -”

“No.” Neah grabbed Lavi, so tightly his knuckles went white from the strain of it. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Lavi took in a deep breath, shoulders trembling, before letting it out in a shaky exhale. “Sheryl… he tried to destroy our right eye and… and your… your Innocence reacted.”

Neah let go of Lavi, moving away a little, eyes wide. Confusion gave way to paranoia faster than Neah could even process. He laughed, disbelief etched into every word that came out of his mouth.

“That’s not…” Lavi lowered his head, shoulders shaking. Neah raised himself up, voice growing louder. “You can’t be. You’re telling me that -” he pointed at Lavi’s right eye “- is the Heart, as in the Heart, the source of all Innocence?”

Lavi said nothing, a blank, empty sort-of look building in his eye. Neah blinked, dumbfounded. He turned it over in his head, over and over again, before he fell deathly still.

Paranoia gave way to rage.

Neah grabbed Lavi by the front of his shirt, teeth gritted. Lavi didn’t react, looking at a spot somewhere over Neah’s shoulder with an apathetic look. It was infuriating.

“Have you been hiding it all this time?” No response. Neah gritted his teeth, pulling Lavi closer, fingers buried in his shirt so tightly it hurt. “Did you know all this time and say nothing?” No response. Rage gave way to all-consuming wrath. “You meant to hurt me, didn’t you? Whatever took out Desire must’ve hurt me too, and you -”

Neah fell silent. Lavi was laughing. It wasn’t the kind of laughter that was pleasant to hear. Neah let go of Lavi a little, wrath diminishing enough for some sense of rationality to kick in. Lavi shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter either way, does it?”

Lavi pushed Neah away and got up, leaving Neah to sit and gape up at him with narrowed eyes. Neah tried to get up and failed, body weaker than he remembered it being, leg throbbing with pain. He hissed out a pained breath before looking up at Lavi with gritted teeth.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!”

Lavi looked down at his scarred hands with a widening smile. “It doesn’t matter.”

Neah narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?! If you have the Heart, and if Desire tried to destroy it, then the Order are gonna come after you! The Noah are gonna come after you!”

Lavi laughed, hysterical. “Yeah, I know.”

Neah blinked, unease worming its way into his heart. “Right, yeah, that’s a healthy amount of concern for your situation.”

Lavi shook his head, burying his head in his uninjured hand with a wide smile. “It’s all fucked up! All of it! None of it matters! What are we even doing out here?!”

“Trying to survive.”

Lavi shook his head again with a laugh. “We’re screwed. We’re so screwed! You really think we’re gonna make it through this?!”

“We can’t just lie down and die, can we?”

Neah’s voice had become quiet, an emotion in his eyes that Lavi couldn’t place. He shook his head, voice raised, unable to hold back the unbearable feeling of dread within his heart.

“There’s no point! I can’t -” Lavi faltered, voice growing quiet “- I can’t do this. I...” he looked down at his hands, vision blurring at the edges. “… I don’t want this. I don’t want this!”

A sudden, heavy silence loomed over them. Something was very, very wrong. Neah could feel it, deep within himself; an alarm blaring in the darkness, a red flag hoisted up in the wind. Lavi fell to his knees, body trembling, his Innocence losing its form to re-enter the stigmata on his palms. His stigmata glowed white, the power of Innocence building until it was suffocating.

Neah watched all of this with a rising sense of panic, dimly remembering a night many decades before the present when Cross Marian had explained to him what Falling meant.

Neah scrambled his way forward, ignoring the pain in his leg, the fatigue clutching at his heart. He winced as his left hand all but throbbed in agony. He pushed himself forward, feeling the heavy weight of Innocence upon his soul, and buried his fingers in Lavi’s shoulder. Lavi didn’t respond, expression blank. Neah gritted his teeth.

“Junior.” No response. Lavi’s eye fluttered shut. “Junior, you gotta calm down.”

No response. Lavi’s body started to sway, unsteady. Fear clutched at Neah’s heart so tightly it hurt. As white light built around them, growing in intensity until it was all-consuming, Neah took in a deep breath, grabbed hold of Lavi’s face, and made him face him directly.

Lavi.”

A faint light - soft, green, and glowing - emanated from Neah’s left hand. Lavi opened his eye and looked up at Neah, vision blurred by tears. Neah let out a frustrated sigh before speaking, voice low and steady, gaze never leaving Lavi’s own.

“You really think Falling’s gonna solve all your problems, that dying’s gonna save you from all of this?” Lavi didn’t respond, expression contorted by pain. Neah gave him a weary smile. “Trust me; death won’t save you from a goddamn thing.”

Neah pulled Lavi into his arms; slowly, gently. Lavi buried his head in Neah’s shoulder, fingers digging into Neah’s side so tightly it hurt. The light faded, the pressure of Lavi’s Innocence dissipating into nothingness. The rain stopped just enough for silence to descend upon them, broken only by the soft patter of water from the leaves around them.

Lavi’s voice was thick with emotion when he spoke, body trembling. “I can’t do this.”

Neah sighed. “’Course you can.”

“But I - I didn’t know.”

Neah couldn’t respond. Disbelief clouded his mind, just enough for him to feel on edge, but the way Lavi shook, the dread in his voice, the sheer vulnerability he was giving off… Neah cast aside paranoia, cast aside fear and doubt, and let out a steady exhale.

“It doesn’t matter, does it? Either way, you’re stuck with it now. You can hate that fact all you want, it’s still the truth.”

Lavi didn’t respond, letting out a shaky sigh into Neah’s shoulder. Neah hesitated a moment before continuing, voice softer now, full of an emotion Lavi couldn’t place.

“I don’t know what happened. I’ll get all the details from Allen later. Right now, you gotta get your shit together.” Lavi raised himself up, meeting Neah’s gaze, wide-eyed. “Whatever happened doesn’t matter, I’m still…”

Neah fell abruptly silent. Lavi frowned as Neah’s expression steadily became more and more awkward-looking.

“You’re… what?”

Neah huffed, visibly embarrassed. “I’m… I’m still on your side. Now, shut the fuck up and let’s get going.”

Lavi couldn’t respond at first, dumbfounded, and then he laughed. It was the kind of laugh that was good to hear. Lavi looked up at Neah with a weary smile.

“Allen will never let you live that down if he finds out you said that, you realise that, right?”

Neah grimaced in response. He tried to push himself up and failed, falling to the ground with a pained groan. Lavi helped him up, a shaky and tentative hope in his eye that was a million times better than the blank, empty look from earlier, as far as Neah was concerned.

Neah tried to take a step but Lavi stopped him. He extended his arms, palms facing upward. Neah watched as what looked like blood left the stigmata on the palms of Lavi’s hands and formed the familiar hammer he always carried with him. Lavi activated his Innocence with a call of its name before giving Neah a sympathetic look.

“I know you hate it but we don’t have the time to keep walking.”

Neah pulled a face at the choice in wording, not knowing if it was intentional or not, but complied nonetheless. Within seconds, they were off, hurtling above the tree-line and out into the free air above it.


By the time the sun peeked its head above the distant horizon, they reached the city of Łuków.

Lavi set them down a mile or so out from the city itself, hoping no-one had noticed their descent. It was early, scarcely past dawn, but it would be in their favour to be overly cautious. They made their way on foot the rest of the way, Lavi helping Neah walk with a supportive arm around his middle. By the time they reached Łuków, they were exhausted.

Knowing Neah’s leg needed medical attention once more, they began the long and tiresome search for a doctor. Neah couldn’t speak any Polish at all, and Lavi’s knowledge of it was incredibly rusty due to his exile from the Bookman Clan, so it took longer than either of them wanted to find out the location of the nearest doctor.

By the time the sun had fully risen above the city’s rooftops, they were directed to a small and dimly lit clinic on the far eastern side of the city. A receptionist greeted them at the door, and Lavi soon found himself sat alone as a doctor saw to Neah.

After an hour or so, a short stocky man with greying hair came to speak to Lavi. He explained himself in English, which made Lavi breathe a sigh of relief.

“Are you this young man’s companion?”

The doctor gestured at Neah, who was holding himself up with wooden crutches. Lavi nodded. The doctor sighed, removing his glasses and wiping them clean using his shirt.

“The wound in his leg is infected. I’ve given him some more medicine to take, but he will need close monitoring. If the infection gets worse, we will have to amputate his leg.”

Lavi’s blood ran cold. He exchanged a glance with Neah, who looked more tired and frustrated than Lavi had ever seen him look before. The doctor coughed into a hand, asking without words for Lavi’s attention once more.

“He needs rest. Any prolonged movement will only make this worse.”

Lavi sighed. He knew as well as Neah did that there was no way they’d have the time to rest. There was also no way Neah could fight if he lost his leg, which left their options rather limited. The doctor ushered the two of them out, leaving Lavi stood, rubbing his temples with a grimace. Neah shifted his grip on his crutches with a dark look.

“I’m gonna bring Desire back from the dead and kill him all over again for this bullshit.”

Lavi gave a grim smile. “Don’t think that’s gonna make your leg heal up any better. Let’s go find somewhere to stay.”

The streets outside were nearly deserted as they made their way towards the city centre. By the time they made their way to the nearest inn, they were exhausted.

The inn was small, but well-furnished. An elderly woman sat behind a wooden counter, hardly looking up from the book she was reading as they walked in. They hobbled their way to the counter, which drew the innkeeper’s attention away from her book, just enough for her to look up and raise an eyebrow.

“You both look like you’ve seen better days.”

Lavi, who understood her well enough to get what she meant, glanced down at himself, at Neah. They were both covered in blood and dirt, clothes ragged. He smiled awkwardly back at the innkeeper, who’s eyebrow rose even further.

“You do have the money for a room, don’t you?”

Lavi, knowing the word for ‘money’ at least, reached into his bag and pulled out the small amount of coins Zyta had given him days beforehand. The bag was significantly lighter after seeing the doctor, and all Lavi could was hope they had enough to pay for a room. The innkeeper sighed and took the money before gesturing upstairs.

“That’s enough for one night. Take the first room on the left.”

Lavi nodded before helping Neah hobble his way upstairs. Once they entered the room, Neah found the nearest bed and fell upon it, crutches falling to the floor with a loud clatter, before immediately falling asleep. Lavi looked over at him with a fond smile before falling on the nearest bed with a yawn, having enough good sense to remove his boots before falling asleep himself.

When Lavi awoke it was late afternoon, sunlight filtering through parted curtains upon his face. Squinting, Lavi pushed himself up, forgetting where he was for a moment. He looked around, groggy, rubbing at his eye with a tired yawn.

Neah still hadn’t moved from his position on the other bed, half-falling off of it with his head face down on a pillow. Lavi smiled, clambering off the bed to shake Neah awake with a gentle touch. Neah opened his eyes and groaned, waving Lavi away with a hand.

“Tired… need more sleep.”

Lavi laughed, crouching down so he was at face-level with Neah. “Sure, but you should probably go get cleaned up and eat somethin’ first.”

Neah placed a hand on Lavi’s face and pushed him away before raising himself up with a grimace. He tried to get up on his own and nearly fell off the bed in the process. With a roll of his eye, Lavi helped Neah up. He guided him to the nearby bathroom, opened the door, and left Neah to lean against the door-pane.

“You gonna need any help?”

Neah blinked before pulling a face, taking an unsteady step backwards, and slamming the door in Lavi’s face. Lavi shook his head with a smile before stretching with a wince, broken ribs flaring up in the process.

Knowing he needed something to eat, Lavi left the bedroom and wandered downstairs, using the sound of voices and the clatter of plates to guide him to where he hoped he could get a decent meal.

At the end of a hall, he found what appeared to be a kitchen of some kind. A cook looking as if they wished they had multiple sets of arms busied themself with a stovetop and several plates. Other than an old man sat asleep at a nearby table, newspaper half-opened in his lap, the tables were empty.

Lavi nearly sat down at a free table when something caught his eye. A small object was sat on the chair he had just started to pull out. Eyebrows furrowed, Lavi pulled the chair out fully and nearly dropped it in shock.

Sat on the chair was one of the Black Order’s golems.

Lavi turned, heart jack-hammering in his rib cage. He came to a standstill when he found himself face-to-face with the last person he had expected to find in a quiet inn on the outskirts of Łuków.


The bath water was blissfully soothing, easing away the pains and aches in Neah’s body as if they had never been there to start with.

His leg was the only thing that continued to hurt. He shot it a dark look, wrinkling his nose at the sight of it. The open wound on his leg was stinging, bleeding a little into the water. The doctor’s words from earlier came to mind, and Neah tried his best not to think about the prospect of losing his leg in the coming days.

Eyes closed, head resting against the lip of the bathtub, Neah thought back over the fight with Sheryl, Lavi’s appearance, the gaping void where he lacked any memory of what had happened. Then it was blinding rain and an Akuma’s hands around his throat, Junior’s apathy and Lavi’s near-Fall. Neah opened his eyes, remembering Lavi’s confession with a twinge of paranoia-fuelled doubt.

Lavi, the Heart? The very thought of it was enough to make Neah feel as if his trust in Lavi stood on shaky foundations. He knew it was likely Lavi had been telling the truth, that even he had not known until Sheryl had tried to destroy his right eye, but there was doubt there, in Neah’s heart. A whispering voice, a lingering paranoia, a rising fear that Lavi had known, had lied, had hidden it from him… Neah clenched his hands into fists, expression darkening. But then he couldn’t get the image out of his mind, of Lavi clinging to him as if his life depended on it.

His life had depended on it.

Neah shuddered at the thought of it, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that if he hadn’t intervened, Lavi would have Fallen. Neah’s knowledge of Falling was limited to what Cross had once told him, but it was more than enough.

Neah sighed, trying to rid himself of the memory of it. Whatever had happened in his absence had clearly been the tipping point. The knowledge that their situation had become all the more complicated brought a bitter smile to his features. Everyone would come for them now. The Noah Family, the Black Order - whether it was to eradicate the Fourteenth or capture the Heart, it mattered very little.

They would be facing the coming storm on their own all the same.

Just as that dark thought came to mind, Neah felt a stirring of a presence within his mind. He pushed himself up a little, head cocked to one side as if to listen to something, before he heard a tentative voice speak from within his mind.

Neah…?

“Who else would it be?” Silence, for a moment, before Neah heard what sounded like sobs. He frowned. “Are you… are you crying?!”

Allen’s response was to raise an internal fist and hit him, hard enough for Neah to feel as if his outward body had been harmed somehow. He raised a hand to rub his cheek.

I thought…

“Thought what?”

I thought you weren’t coming back.

Neah blinked, eyes widening a little. He faltered before giving a haughty laugh. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

He could almost see Allen’s shaky smile, see the hand wiping away internal tears. Neah shook his head. A comfortable silence descended upon them before Allen spoke up, confusion evident in his voice.

Where… are we?

“An inn in some place called Łuków.”

Allen gave a sigh of relief. We made it, good.

“I wouldn’t get too hopeful. If this stupid thing gets worse -” Neah gestured at their injured leg with a grimace “- we’re gonna lose it.”

Is it that bad?

“Yeah.”

Allen sighed heavily. We can’t afford to lose a leg at a time like this.

“You can say that again.” Neah hesitated before continuing, voice lowering a little. “Lavi told me, by the way.”

Allen didn’t even need to ask what Neah meant. He didn’t respond, not initially. Neah swore he saw Allen wring his hands a little. Eventually, Allen spoke up, voice quiet and filled with concern.

Is he… okay?

Neah gave a grim smile. “What do you think?”

Are you…?

Neah frowned. “Am I… what?”

Are you okay with it?

“What, with Lavi being You Know What?” Allen nodded. Neah sighed, gesturing with a hand, watching as steam danced around his outstretched fingers. “I didn’t believe him at first, then I wanted to kill him, then…”

Then…?

Neah stretched his arms above his head, tone light-hearted. “Then he tried to kill himself by Falling, but it’s all good.”

He did WHAT?!

Neah couldn’t help but laugh at that. He almost missed Allen’s infuriated response; the thud of footsteps and the bedroom door slamming open caught Neah’s attention more. They both fell silent. Neah carefully began raising himself out of the bathtub. Just as he got his bad leg out, he heard a voice, a voice he recognised.

It was instantaneous. Neah’s control was pushed aside. Allen, disoriented and light-headed from the hot bath water, from the shift in control, fell over with a cry. He hit the tiled floor with a dull thud. Teeth gritted, he grabbed the nearest towel, wrapped it around himself, and pushed himself up using the edge of the bathtub. The door opened and Allen found himself looking at Lavi, who looked shocked and ill at ease.

Allen pushed him aside without a word and limped forward to see Howard Link, stood by the bedroom door, very much alive and well.

Chapter Text

Silence descended upon the room, heavy and full of tension. The quiet noises of the city outside were the only sounds to be heard.

Allen, one hand clenched around the towel at his waist, the other clenched into a fist, opened his mouth to speak and found he couldn’t speak at all. Link looked him over and sighed.

“Sit.”

Allen, too shell-shocked to argue, sat himself down on the edge of the nearest bed with Lavi’s assistance. Link stepped forward and crouched down, inspecting Allen’s injured leg with a scowl. Allen blinked, mind whirring too fast for him to process what was happening.

Without a word, Link removed the glove covering his right hand. A tattoo, aglow with purpose and radiating power, covered the entirety of the back of Link’s hand. He poised his hand over Allen’s wound. A wisp of smoke drifted away from Link’s chest, twisting its way up to the ceiling. It formed a circular ball, teeth forming.

Memories came back to Allen suddenly - a collapsing building, Alma Karma, an old man and a strange catfish-like wisp - and as the wisp descended, it placed its teeth around Allen’s leg. Allen cried out, leg burning with a sudden pain. Lavi stepped forward, concerned, before Link raised his free hand to stop him.

Before their very eyes, Allen’s leg healed. Allen blinked, touching his lower leg with wide eyes. There was no pain, no throbbing ache. He raised himself up and stood on both legs with ease. He looked over at Lavi, then back at Link.

A brief silence descended upon them before Allen finally found his voice.

“What...?”

Link raised himself up, putting his glove back on as if nothing strange had happened. “I healed you.”

“How…?”

“It’s called Atuuda.”

“Why…?”

Link sighed heavily, frustrated. “Look, I know you’re confused, but -”

“I must be dreaming.” Allen sat back down on the bed, a shaky smile on his face. “Link’s walking around as if he never died, I’m only in a bath towel, my leg’s healed, I must be -”

“You’re not dreamin’.” Allen looked up at Lavi who gave him a hesitant smile. “That’s really Link.”

Allen looked over at Link, eyes wide, mouth hanging open. He took in a deep breath, eyes brimming with tears.

“You’re… but…”

Link sighed. “There is much we need to talk about. If you could…” he hesitated before gesturing at Allen vaguely. “… compose yourself and get dressed, I can explain everything.”

Allen faltered before nodding, wiping away his tears with a trembling hand. He pushed himself up and walked to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. By the time he was dressed and had splashed his face with water more than once - with Neah commenting on it sardonically in the background - he found Lavi being tended to by Link, Atuuda swirling its way around his body, healing as it went.

Lavi looked over at Allen and grinned. “This thing’s real convenient, ain’t it?”

Allen nodded, dumbfounded, looking at Link as if he still couldn’t quite believe he was real. Link moved away from Lavi once he was done, fatigue showing ever so slightly in his face. He gestured to the free bed and bid Allen to sit down.

Allen looked up at Link, torn between a feeling of utter joy - Link was alive, he was truly alive - and a feeling of utter confusion. He had last seen him, bloodied and battered, feathered eyes and fading heat in his limbs and something inhuman staring him down in the darkness. It was not a pleasant memory, and the knowledge that Link had not perished that night left him feeling confused and ill at ease.

Link’s voice brought Allen back from his memories.

“Can I ask a question?”

Allen faltered, noticing the tense way Link was holding himself. “Yes?”

“Who are you right now?”

Allen frowned, not understanding until the meaning of it registered in his mind. He sat up straighter, feeling a deep urge to flee, before he met Link’s eyes. There was no distrust in his gaze, no cold intent; he simply needed to have an answer. Allen blinked, feeling the tension melt away inside of him. His voice was quiet when he spoke.

“I am Allen Walker.” Link shot him a look and tried to interrupt before Allen cut him off, smiling now. “I was once an Exorcist of the Black Order, but now I fight for… I fight for myself and my friends alongside the Fourteenth.”

Link sat up abruptly, eyes wide, seeing only conviction in Allen’s eyes. No malice, no cold manipulation; he was Allen as he always had been. Link let out a sigh of relief, feeling a weight he hadn’t realised he was carrying leave his shoulders. He gave a small smile.

“I suppose if anyone was going to fight off erasure from a Noah, it would be you, Walker.”

Allen raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Link smile widened. “You are stubborn and tenacious enough to pull it off.”

“I can’t tell if you’re insulting or complimenting me.”

Link shook his head. “It does not matter. I am just relieved I do not have to tolerate the Fourteenth’s acting a second time.”

Allen blinked in confusion before he realised what Link meant. “Wait, what?!”

“Do you not remember? I suppose you wouldn’t. When I saved the Fourteenth from the Millennium Earl, he re-payed me by pretending to be you; rather badly, I might add.”

Allen shook his head. “No, wait, hang on. When did this happen? How did you -?”

Link sighed, frustrated. “Look, it does not matter. We must -”

“Why are you here, Inspector?”

Lavi’s question brought an abrupt silence upon them all. Allen turned to look at Lavi - there was unease in his gaze, his hands clenched - and realisation hit him like a punch to the gut. What if Link was not there for Allen and Neah at all but for Lavi? Allen turned back to Link, picking up on Link’s sudden sense of composure with a rising feeling of dread.

“I am here to -”

The door slamming open cut all of them off. They all turned, Allen and Lavi immediately getting to their feet, while Link simply sighed, rubbing at his temples. Stood, hands on his knees and gasping for breath, was Johnny Gill.

“Th-the lady downstairs told me you were up here, I looked… all over town but I couldn’t find… them…”

Johnny fell silent, raising his head and finally noticing Allen and Lavi stood before him. He blinked, unable to process it for a moment, before he scrambled forward to pull Allen into a tight embrace. Allen winced, uncertain and unknowing of what to do. When Johnny started shaking, sobs muffled by Allen’s shoulder, Allen gave a sigh, wrapping his arms around Johnny with a sad smile.

“It’s okay.”

For many minutes they sat like this. Lavi stood nearby, looking between Allen and Johnny, then over at Link, and then the open door mere footsteps away. Eventually, Johnny pushed himself back, raising his glasses to sit on his head, rubbing at his eyes with a smile.

“I’m so glad you’re… you’re still you.”

Allen smiled. “I wasn’t going to let Neah win that easily.”

Johnny frowned, confusion showing in his face. “Neah?”

Allen nodded. “That’s the name of the Fourteenth. He doesn’t like that title much, actually.”

Link huffed. “We will call him whatever we damn well please, considering the wild goose chase he’s put us both on.”

Excuse me?!

No-one but Allen heard Neah’s infuriated reply. Allen laughed, only realising a few seconds later that he was being stared at. He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

“Oh, Neah wasn’t too happy about that and it was… funny…”

A tense silence descended upon them. Allen realised with a sense of shock that he had become incredibly used to this new way of living; sharing a body, sharing a mind, with someone else. He’d forgotten that other people wouldn’t be used to it at all. A dim sense of fear - of being rejected, of being misunderstood - crept up Allen’s spine and sunk its claws into his heart.

Link’s voice, low and steady, drew him away from his thoughts.

“Is it… possible for us to speak with the Fourteenth?”

Allen hesitated. He looked over at Lavi, seeking reassurance. Lavi did his best to smile. Allen took in a deep breath, held it, and then shut his eyes. Even with his eyes closed, he knew he was being stared at. He pulled a face and pushed himself up with a huff.

“I’ll… I’ll just be a minute.”

Allen left and entered the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Johnny turned to give Lavi an awkward smile, who returned it just as awkwardly. Lavi’s smile fell when he met Link’s gaze.

Link raised an eyebrow. “Is there a problem, Bookman?”

Lavi flinched. Link tilted his head a little, confused, to which Lavi gave a bitter smile. “Ex-Bookman, actually.”

Link opened his mouth to speak, decided against it, and let out a heavy sigh. A tense silence descended upon them, broken by the bathroom door opening. All turned to look, watching as Neah shut the door with the back of his heel and sat on the nearest bed with an air of haughty irreverence.

“What do you want?” Link didn’t reply, not at first. Neah turned to Johnny with a raised eyebrow. “And why are you here? Didn’t I smash your head in way back when?”

Johnny didn’t reply, unsure how to react to the relative stranger sat in front of him, before he finally found his voice, stammering as he spoke.

“I-I, uh, G-General Kanda healed… me…?”

Neah sighed, gesturing with a hand. “Such a shame, I was quite happy I managed to crack your head open that easily.”

Before anyone could respond, Lavi cut in, voice raised. “Wait, did you just say General Kanda?!”

Johnny nodded. “Yes, he was made a General shortly after we…” he faltered, turning to look up at Link with a squint before realising his glasses were still sat atop his head. He brought them back down towards his face and smiled. “Well, I suppose it’s best if Howard explains.”

Link pulled a face. “Yes, I was just about to explain before you made your entrance.”

Johnny gave a sheepish grin. “Oh, sorry.”

Neah looked between them for a moment before sighing, irritation showing in his face. “Listen, I’m sure you guys are just waiting to have a touching reunion or whatever, but you haven’t explained why you’re here.” Neah narrowed his eyes. “If you’re here to drag us back to the Church, I will kill you.”

Allen bristled internally, readying himself to push Neah aside if need be, but Link seemed unfazed by Neah’s threat. He shared a glance with Johnny before meeting Neah’s gaze, calm and composed.

“My first orders were to tail you, the Fourteenth, and pledge myself to your cause.”

Neah made a disgusted noise. “Yeah, and I told you exactly how I felt about that.”

Link ignored him. “After you… kindly rejected my offer, and then promptly got yourself knocked out in that alleyway with the Noah Family barely kept off of you, I initially intended to tail you in secret. However, a certain someone -” Link shot Johnny a glance, who gave an embarrassed laugh in response “- made things complicated. I would have left him behind, but a concern was raised that made me… reconsider my actions.”

Neah tried his best to ignore Allen - who was internally seething, saying without words how angry he was at being kept in the dark - and focused on Lavi, who had spoken up.

“What concern was that?”

Link visibly tensed up. “The human-shaped Innocence, Apocryphos.”

The room fell silent. Link shook his head, trying to dislodge any unwanted memories that had arisen - bloodied feathers, memories that were not his, that horrifying smile - before meeting Neah’s gaze as resolutely as he could. He began to speak when Johnny interrupted him, voice quiet but firm.

“That… that thing was after Allen; after both of you, I guess. The Noah left with it, and the Order… if they’d caught you, things would’ve been bad. A creature like that… the Order must’ve known about it. What if the Exorcists found out and became Fallen Ones just like… just like Suman did?”

Allen felt a twinge of guilt - even now, Suman’s death still left him shaken - and watched through Neah’s eyes as Johnny wrung his hands.

“I… I convinced Howard to talk to the General - Tiedoll, I mean - to try and find a way forward. The General found us before the Finders did, but we convinced him to leave you behind. I…” Johnny looked away, voice breaking. “I didn’t want to leave Allen all alone, dealing with everything without anyone to help, but he… neither of you were going to stay with us anyway, I knew that, but...” Johnny gave a pained smile “… but I wasn’t going to let the Inspector tail you both like some wanted criminal. If we couldn’t travel with you, we could at least help you in some other way. That’s… that’s the path I accepted.”

Johnny fell silent. Neah scoffed, while Allen could do little more than be consumed by guilt. When the silence became too much, Allen spoke up within Neah’s mind, unable to hide the emotion in his voice.

I still don’t understand.

Neah sighed, knowing he would have to play messenger owl. “Allen still doesn’t get it. You gonna keep explaining yourself or what?”

Link closed his eyes with a sigh, looking out the window to his left, before speaking up, voice pensive.

“I made a compromise with the General. If he let you go, let me go, I would do what I could to find out more about Apocryphos and how deep that corruption lay within the Church. If I refused, he would take you back to the Order with the revelation that the Chief Inspector had lied about my death and was acting on his own. My hands, and my superior’s, were tied. I reviewed it with the Chief Inspector and my orders were changed. I was still to keep an eye on the Fourteenth, but I was to find out more about Apocryphos.”

Allen frowned. That doesn’t explain how the Order disappeared.

Neah huffed, rubbing at his temples, frustration mounting. “Now he wants to know how the Order disappeared.”

“The General gave a false report that you had escaped via the Ark and that Johnny had gone with you. I was not mentioned. The General returned to the Order with Kanda, the city was evacuated due to a lingering threat of Akuma, and I was left to my work with my… added baggage.”

Johnny bristled. “Hey! I’ve been very useful! You have no idea how to talk to people at all.”

Neah looked between the both of them with an irritated expression. He turned inward, saw Allen’s conflicted expression, and let out a groan.

“Okay, I’m done with this shit. You deal with this.”

And, with that, Allen unceremoniously resumed control. He blinked, disoriented, clutching his head for a moment. Lavi looked over at him, concerned.

“You okay, ‘sprout?”

Allen sighed, rubbing his head tiredly. “It’s Allen.” He looked up at Link, uncertain, before looking away. “So, what now?”

“I am to take you and the - ah - ex-Bookman to see General Cross.”

Allen sat up straighter, Neah attentive in their mind. Allen hesitated for a moment before speaking, tentative hope in his voice.

“He’s… he’s alive?”

Link nodded. “Yes. I have been working according to his orders for months now.”

“Wait.” Lavi interjected, eye narrowed. “I thought you were taking orders from Lvellie.”

“I was. The Chief Inspector has been working with General Cross, and so I have been following the General’s orders.”

Lavi shook his head a little, disbelief in his voice. “So you’re telling me Lvellie’s teamed up with Cross? The Church would have a field day with that.”

“It has very much been kept under wraps, I can assure you.” Lavi gave Link a doubtful look, to which Link sighed and shook his head a little. “I would explain it all to you now, but we don’t have the time.”

“So, we’re supposed to go with you to see Cross? How are we supposed to know you’re tellin’ the truth?”

There was a hard edge to Lavi’s voice. Allen looked over at him, saw the tense way he was holding himself, and looked back at Link, who spoke with a steady tone to his voice.

“I have come here to bring the Fourteenth and yourself to Cross.”

“Cross askin’ to see Neah and Allen makes total sense, I ain’t disagreein’ with you on that, but why did he ask for me?”

Link faltered for a moment before replying, meeting Lavi’s gaze as steadily as he could manage.

“You carry the Heart, don’t you? Why else would he ask for you?”

Silence, heavy and tension-filled, enveloped the room. Lavi couldn’t speak, wide-eyed, mouth hanging open. Allen stood up and placed himself protectively in front of Lavi. Link sighed.

“Sit down, Walker.”

“Are you really taking us to see Master?”

“Yes.”

“Why wouldn’t you take us back to the Order?” Allen gave Link a hard look. “You… you’ve always been faithful to the Church. Why would you take us to Master when - ?”

Link sighed heavily, placing firm hands on Allen’s shoulders and forcing him to sit. “I see I have to explain this in order for you two to trust me.”

Link fell silent for a moment before pulling up a nearby chair and sitting down. Johnny watched and said nothing, gaze shifting between Lavi - who was shaking where he sat, hands clenched into fists - and Allen - who was staring Link down with a look of uncertainty. Link sighed before speaking.

“The reason why the Chief Inspector and I have been following the General’s orders is because we no longer trust nor work for the Church; not entirely.”

Neither Allen nor Lavi could speak, stunned into silence by Link’s words. Link continued, gesturing with his hand as he spoke.

“I already told you that my job, while still monitoring you from afar, was to figure out just how deep the corruption went with regards to Apocryphos and the Church. The Chief Inspector had made contact with General Cross before… before Zhu Mei saved my life, and we followed his orders closely.”

“Is that how you inherited Atuuda?”

Lavi seemed genuinely curious. Link hesitated, placing a hand over his chest, feeling the scar ache a little, and sighed.

“Yes, it is. I would be dead otherwise.”

Allen saw the pain on Link’s face, remembered Apocryphos’s cloying embrace, and shuddered. He faltered for a moment before raising his voice to speak.

“How did… how did Master contact you?”

Allen sounded tense, confused. Link hesitated before continuing. “Through a modified Akuma of General Cross’s making.”

Allen blinked before narrowing his eyes. “A modified what?!”

Lavi interrupted before Link could speak. “I met one of them before, actually.” Allen turned to face him. Lavi smiled. “Around the time you ended up with the Asia Branch, one of Cross’s Akuma came to help us get to Edo.”

Allen sighed, rubbing his temples. “So, Master can somehow control Akuma? I don’t… I don’t like the sound of it.”

Lavi and Link shared a look, both knowing the fail-safes Cross had in place to control Akuma and bind them to his will. Link sighed, changing the subject as swiftly as he could.

“As I was saying, the General initially made contact with the Chief Inspector shortly after your disappearance from the Black Order. He became radio silent for a time after that before making contact once more. That was a month or so ago. After that, our orders changed. We were ordered to find you - well, the Fourteenth - and bring you to General Cross.” Link turned to Lavi. “We were only asked to find you specifically a few days ago.”

“I don’t get it.” Lavi’s voice was unsteady, brimming with suspicion. “How did you even know I… how did you find out? How did you know where I was?”

“Up until a few days ago, I assumed you were either dead, missing, or back with your Clan. That was all any of us thought. However, we were informed a few days ago that there had been a mass chain reaction with all holders of Innocence. Hevlaska was able to pinpoint your identity but not your location.”

Lavi’s blood ran cold. Allen spoke up, voice raised and full of concern. “The Order knows?!”

Link nodded. “Yes, but they have no idea how to find you.”

Allen sighed, seeing the dread in Lavi’s face and feeling his heart twist in his chest. He turned back to face Link.

“How... how did you find us?”

“We knew the Order had planned to capture you in Warsaw. The Noah also knew about the plan, evidently, and made their own plans to capture you. We were ordered to use you as bait to fully confirm your location before intervening.”

Allen huffed. “Master is such a heartless bastard.”

Link smiled a little. “Yes, that’s one way of putting it. By the time we got there, you had already escaped. We were then given multiple pieces of news at once. One - that the Noah known as Sheryl Kamelot had been killed. Two - that a chain reaction had occurred amongst all accommodators of Innocence. Once we knew the identity of the Heart’s accommodator, and were given the added context that Sheryl Kamelot had been the one to kill the previous Bookman, we simply put all the jigsaw pieces together.”

“That still doesn’t explain how you knew I’d be with Allen and Neah.”

Lavi’s voice was quiet, subdued. Link shrugged. “That was a guess on our part. You could have gone your own way, but it seemed likely you would end up in the company of the Fourteenth. We went with our hunch, and we were right, evidently.”

“So…” Allen sighed, shaking his head a little. “You’re under Master’s orders to bring us to him, so we can do… what?”

“So you can fight for the Third Side.”

Lavi and Allen shared a look before looking back at Link, who was smiling a little. Allen blinked a few times before speaking, disbelief etched into his face.

“You’re… what?”

Link sighed, frustrated. “It’s very simple. The Church cannot be trusted. The Noah Family are still our enemy. Under General Cross’s guidance, we have formed an additional side by which we can hopefully win the war.”

“And you’re gonna do that… how?”

Lavi’s voice was filled with skepticism. Johnny cut in with a smile. “Well, with the accommodator of the Heart and the Fourteenth on our side, we could do a lot, really.”

Allen smiled at that. Lavi, still distrustful, shook his head and sighed. “I don’t… I still don’t trust either of you or any of this bullshit, but…” He raised himself up, voice becoming firm and steadfast. “I need some answers from Cross.”

Allen looked back at Lavi, saw the determination - however hesitant it was - in his face, and smiled. He turned back to Link, feeling Neah’s anticipation build alongside his own, and grinned.

“Let’s go find Master.”


They left Łuków behind as the sun set behind shadowed rooftops.

Link informed them before they left the inn that Cross had left instructions to meet an ‘assistant’ in the city of Białystok; a two day walk from Łuków, depending on their pace. From there, they would be directed to Cross’s location.

The thought of seeing Cross again filled Allen with both hope and trepidation. He still held an appropriate level of fear towards him - which Neah teased him about endlessly - but he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he would be glad to see him.

Their goal for many long months was finally within reach. Finally, they would get the answers they needed. Questions Allen didn’t quite want the answers for, but needed answers for all the same, came to the forefront of his mind. Neah repeatedly told him to leave the matter be until they found Cross. Agonising over it now’s not gonna help, is it? - it had been said with some amount of frustration, likely because Neah was sick of hearing Allen go over the same set of questions and potential answers for hours on end, but it was meant sincerely.

All they could do was wait.

Both for the distraction, and out of curiosity, Allen spoke with Johnny as they walked and caught up with him. He hadn’t seen him since their reunion in Arles, and he’d missed the excitable scientist more than he realised. Johnny seemed bright and full of purpose, so at odds with the confliction Allen had seen in him when last they’d met.

Johnny spoke little of his work with Link, saying it was ‘best to wait until they found the General’ to go over it in detail. Allen was in no hurry to think of Apocryphos and the significance of its existence, so he settled for minor details about Johnny’s travels. Link occasionally chipped in, only to be teased by Johnny over one such thing or another. The mood of the group was light-hearted, jovial even. Allen felt full of hope, despite the trepidation that clung at his heart.

Lavi, however, was struggling to believe in this newfound hope.

While the others talked, he kept to himself, walking ahead in silence. Allen frequently broke off from his conversations with Johnny or Link to catch up with him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder and offering a tentative smile. Lavi would force a smile before turning away again.

Allen knew that no amount of support was going to change the reality of Lavi’s situation. Allen thought back on his own struggles, knowing it had taken him many long months to accept his new way of living once Neah had made his presence known. Nothing could have changed the reality he was living, but he knew that the reassurance and constant company Lavi had given him in those early days had gotten him through it, no matter how difficult or agonising things became.

Allen knew Lavi needed him, needed anyone to help ease him into what was likely going to be one of the most difficult periods of his life so far. Allen couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like, to carry such a heavy burden. No-one really knew what the Heart could do, other than destroying it would eradicate all Innocence on the planet. That thought made Allen’s blood run cold. The image of Lavi being hurt, being sought after by both the Church and the Noah Family for malicious means… no, he wouldn’t let it happen, couldn’t let it happen.

Allen stayed by Lavi’s side near constantly from then on. Link and Johnny observed this and made no comment, exchanging glances and small smiles when Allen wasn’t looking.

They stopped for camp later that night, taking shelter beneath the branches of an old, withered tree, standing in solitude in an empty field. Lavi almost immediately made for the tree, sitting out of view. Link tried to intervene before Allen placed a hand on his shoulder, giving him a look that said without words that Lavi needed to be left alone.

Shrugging, Link let Lavi be, focusing on setting up camp. Allen busied himself with helping Johnny unpack supplies. In the process, he saw a pile of fabric, tucked away at the bottom of Johnny’s bag. He turned to Johnny, unable to keep the curiosity out of his voice.

“What’s that?” Johnny immediately closed his bag, doing his best to look nonchalant and failing rather miserably at it. Allen smiled. “It’s alright, I won’t pry.”

Johnny pulled a face then sighed. “Good. It’s not ready.”

Allen raised an eyebrow. “What isn’t ready?”

“You said you wouldn’t pry!”

Allen waved his hands before him. “I won’t, I won’t. I’m just curious.”

Johnny hesitated for a moment before leaning in a little with a bright smile. “It’s a secret, but you’ll find out later, I promise.”

Allen’s practically beamed, curiosity ablaze. Johnny shook his head a little, still smiling, settling back against the ground and looking up at the star-strewn sky above with a gentle expression. A comfortable silence descended upon them, settling itself upon their shoulders.

It had been a long time since Allen had been around anyone other than Lavi, or Neah for that matter. It reminded him of days long since passed, when he had a home to go back to. Allen drew into himself a little, smile falling. He hesitated for a moment before breaking the silence.

“Johnny, can you tell me something?”

Johnny turned, head tilted a little. “Sure, what’s wrong?”

“How… how are the others doing? The… the other Exorcists, I mean.”

Johnny faltered, turning to look at Link who gave him a rather pointed look. Johnny gave an awkward smile.

“I can’t… I can’t tell you right now.”

Link cut in. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

Allen huffed, frustrated. “All these secrets! This cloak and dagger business is getting annoying.”

Johnny laughed at that, ruffling Allen’s hair affectionately. “Even now, you’re still just a kid.”

Allen pulled a face, but he wasn’t all that annoyed, not really. He smiled, fondly. “I… I really missed this.”

His tone was heartfelt, so much so that it was moving to hear it. Johnny withdrew his hand, a soft smile on his face. Allen laughed a little, almost to himself, before something occurred to him. He sat up a little straighter, smile falling once more, tone taking on a more serious edge to it.

“Can… can you at least tell me about what happened to Tim? I haven’t seen it since… since back then.”

Johnny and Link exchanged a glance before Link crouched down, preparing a camp fire with practiced gestures. Allen thought he wouldn’t receive an answer before Link spoke up, voice almost overshadowed by the crackle of wood and flame.

“Timcanpy is… with Cross right now.”

Hope flared in Allen’s heart. He could feel Neah’s relief alongside his own. Allen sighed, voice shaky.

“That’s… that’s good. I was so scared something bad had happened to it.”

Allen missed the glance Link and Johnny exchanged with one another. All he could think of was the tentative promise of being reunited with his childhood companion, with the man who had raised him. Link and Johnny left Allen to his thoughts and busied themselves with setting up camp.

Allen felt more hopeful than he’d felt in a long time, and the thought that soon all of his days spent agonising over the unknown would be over was uplifting. The only thing that worried him, that clutched at his heart and drew his mind away to dark places, was Lavi and the ever-building fear that he would not handle what was to come.

Allen remembered what Neah had told him, of Lavi’s near-Fall. He remembered more vividly than he wanted to the dark look in Lavi’s eye, the hopeless dread showing in his face when he thought Allen wasn’t looking, Suman’s tears and his body disappearing into nothingness. He knew what it was like to dread the future, to wonder if it would be easier to stop walking. His promise to Mana had steered him away from that path, though it had been incredibly hard to keep faith in that promise after Cross had disappeared, but he knew what it was like to wish for death all the same.

Allen’s gaze drifted to the tree nearby, to where Lavi was suffering in silence on the other side of it, and knew without a shadow of a doubt that the only person who could draw Lavi back to the light was Lavi himself.

There was only so much he could do to save someone that didn’t wish to be saved.


The quiet rustle of leaves against the wind and the crackle of flames, the scent of burning wood and damp earth - Lavi focused on these things, trying to drive out the panic and terror and clamoring thoughts in his head.

It was hard to keep himself grounded. Whenever his breathing slowed, and his heart stopped racing, a flash of memory would leave him trembling and struggling to keep himself together. The process repeated, over and over until he felt sickened by it.

So many different fears were calling to him, trying to trap him in their clutches and keep him there, forever bound to and afraid of what was to come. It would be so easy to succumb to it. It was the strong urge to jump, staring down the abyss and wondering how simple it would be to take a step and fall endlessly into nothingness. Nothing but a vague, nameless feeling kept him from letting it claim his heart, his sanity, but how long could he keep this up?

Rather bitterly, he wondered how long he could keep running from it all.

Lavi opened his eye, body numb and shoulders sinking, a heavy feeling of despair weighing down upon him. He had never felt so lost. Laughter bubbled up within him. The only thing keeping him together were the last vestiges of his sanity and composure, but even that was slowly failing him. Words and memories rattled around in his head. Chest tightened, panic fluttering within his heart, the only thing he knew for certain was that he had two choices.

Give up, or keep going.

One choice would be easy, as simple as stepping off a tall cliff-face and falling endlessly to oblivion. It called to him, the desire to end it all, to stop fighting and give in. Part of him - a very large part of him - wanted it to be over. Weeks of mind-numbing fear and despair had all but claimed the very last of his strength. He had regained it, bit-by-bit, after he had travelled to the home of the Bookman Clan, but now? Now that strength was gone. He could no longer remember what it felt like to be a person of conviction.

“Here.”

Lavi jumped, startled. He looked to his right to see Link stood with a bowl in hand. He hesitated before taking the bowl in hand. He felt warmth seep into his fingertips, wisps of steam dancing before his eyes. He tried to ground himself in these small sensations.

Link sat down beside him. For a moment, they sat in silence. After many long minutes, Link sighed and spoke quietly.

“You’re no use to any of us, least of all yourself, if you can’t keep going.”

Lavi gripped the bowl in his hands tighter, expression darkening. Link’s glanced at Lavi then looked away once more, watching the wind dance idly through the tall grass before them. Silence surrounded them, heavy and burdensome. When it became unbearable, Link spoke once more.

“When you feel lost, what do you turn to?”

Lavi stared ahead of him and curled his fingers tightly into the wood of his bowl, unable to speak. Link sighed, trying to think of a way to help.

“What about Bookman? Didn’t he - ?”

Link immediately stopped when Lavi’s expression darkened considerably. He berated himself inwardly for making such a foolish mistake, and watched with growing awkwardness and frustration as Lavi drew more and more into himself. Link coughed into a hand, voice wavering.

“W-well, if not other people, what about yourself?”

“Huh?”

Lavi turned his head to meet Link’s gaze, confused. Link looked away, pensive and full of thought.

“What I mean is… if others cannot give you the strength you need, then what about your own strength? Surely you have had to bring yourself out of bad places on your own.”

“I - I don’t -”

Link sighed heavily and walked away, leaving Lavi alone. Staring down at his cooling bowl of food, devoid of hunger, Lavi placed it beside him with a sigh and drew into himself, full of bitterness and misery.

Senses dulled, Lavi leant against the tree trunk behind his back and barely felt the hard bark dig into his skin. It was then that he heard a voice - Junior’s voice, quiet and tentative - from inside his mind.

What can I do?

Lavi shrugged. He heard a sigh within his mind, felt a presence beside him. It was as if Junior was sat right there by his side. It was comforting, more comforting than Lavi could ever put into words. He sighed.

“Gettin’ answers isn’t gonna help us with this, is it?”

Junior sighed. No, not in the way we want it to, but we need those answers all the same.

“I don’t… what if…?”

What if…?

“What if Gramps always knew about… about that?” Junior didn’t reply, couldn’t do anything other than fall silent, gripped by a terrible feeling of fear. Lavi continued, voice shaking a little. “I don’t know if I… I don’t know if I can take it, if he knew and didn’t…”

It doesn’t change anything, does it? We are stuck with this either way.

Lavi let out a heavy sigh, frustrated. Junior could feel Lavi’s unease and knew that the same doubts and fears were also within his own heart. He raised an internal hand, placing it on Lavi’s shoulder as gently as he could manage.

I am no closer to accepting this than you. I would much rather stop than keep going, but we don’t have a choice.

“Don’t we?”

Bitter apathy tainted Lavi’s words. Junior sighed. We both tried and failed to end this, didn’t we?

The memory of it came back unbidden - cold, unfeeling apathy, a hopelessness that went so deep it was suffocating - and left Lavi curling up into himself. He buried his head in the crooks of his arms, head turned to one side to look out into the swaying grass. He remembered Neah’s arms, wrapped around him so tightly it hurt, a sense of being grounded so suddenly it was agonising. It nearly moved him to tears, to remember it.

Neither of them are going to let us give up. You know that as well as I.

Lavi smiled a little. “Yeah, I know. It’s just -”

Hard, I know.

They both fell silent. The wind danced its way through the tall grass, softening what would have been an uncomfortable silence. Lavi leant back, feeling the bark behind his back. A dim memory came to mind of a stormy night, mere days after Bookman had died - wood and splinters pressed against his spine, the tapping of his fingers, thunder, the endless drumming of rain - came forth and surrounded him. Lavi became so immersed by the memory of it that he flinched at the imaginary sound of thunder and the heavy thud of raindrops. He remembered, so strongly his entire being felt gripped by it, the salt taste of his own tears, his trembling heartbeat, and an immense feeling of despair as it claimed him.

Or, rather, it nearly did.

A nameless feeling crept up like a wave, at first tumbling silently against the shore, then crashing down again and again, building endlessly until Lavi was shaking from the effort of not succumbing to it. He remembered picking himself back up, he remembered all of them picking each other up, from all of that burdensome guilt and regret and despair. Together, they had taken a step, then two, then three and forthwith until…

Vision blurred by tears, Lavi took a deep shuddering breath and clenched his hands into fists, feeling the sharp feeling of his nails against his skin, the feeling of his heartbeat thudding against his rib-cage.

A weight against his side drew his attention. Lavi reached into his pocket, fingers brushing against cold metal. He pulled out the talisman he had found in his clothes after leaving the Bookman Clan. He dimly remembered a kind face, a person that radiated curiosity and utter sincerity in everything that they did. He could not remember Bisma, not clearly, but their kindness was emblazoned upon his heart all the same.

He sighed, leaning back a little, and felt the sharp edge of a piece of card against his skin. With a frown - ignoring the comment from Junior about being a walking storage box - Lavi pulled out two halves of a worn, tattered playing card with its ink faded. Lavi raised the two halves up to the moon peering its way through the clouds above and remembered rocking waves, the smell of salt spray, a keen sense of loss.

In that moment, Lavi had made a decision to hold on to the nameless feeling buried in his heart, to push aside dread, to conquer fear, and place his faith in someone else’s hope. Now, months later, he would do it again.

Lavi had no idea how much time had passed - it felt simultaneously like a mere few minutes and the heavy weight of several hours - but once the fog in his mind had cleared, he stared out into the darkness and sighed. He heard nothing but the quiet noise of the wind passing through the treetop above, the buzz of insects, the quiet stirrings of the night.

With the darkness as his only witness, Lavi took a deep breath, resigning himself to the tiresome climb back up towards the sun.

Chapter Text

Sleep was hard to come by for Allen that night.

His mind was filled with thoughts, all clamoring for attention. The person he had been searching for was within reach. The person he had spent many months travelling alongside felt so far away. It was hard to calm the disquiet in his mind.

Allen watched Link return from his attempt to comfort Lavi with a heavy heart. He tried his best to sleep, to ignore the worry clinging to his heart, but in the end he gave up. He raised himself up with a wince. He looked over at Johnny, who was asleep within arm’s reach, glasses askew upon his face. Allen smiled before turning his gaze toward Link, who was sat looking out at the darkened countryside surrounding them.

Allen stood and walked forward a few steps. Link didn’t turn his head when he spoke, voice quiet.

“I hope you’re not attempting to run away, Walker.”

Allen scowled at him, closed the distance between them, and poked the back of his head. “Hey, I take offense to that.”

Link turned and raised an eyebrow. “Considering the events of the past few months, do you blame me for thinking you would?”

Allen gave him a sheepish smile. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

A comfortable silence descended upon them. Allen looked down at the man he hadn’t seen for many months, the person - no, friend - he thought had died. His smile fell a little, tinged by sadness. Allen’s voice was quiet when he spoke.

“I really thought you were dead, you know.”

Link didn’t respond, not at first. He looked up, saw the pain showing in Allen’s eyes, and turned away with a sigh. He rubbed at his chest, the scar there aching a little, before responding.

“I thought I was too.” Allen sat down beside him, observing the emotions in Link’s face; confusion, relief, and fear. “If not for Zhu Mei’s help, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now.”

Allen recalled the old man he had met, though he hadn’t given him much thought at the time, or at all since then. So much else had happened - Alma Karma, Kanda’s memories, Neah’s awakening - that the memory of the old man and his catfish-like wisp very much left his mind. Allen looked up at the stars, thinking of death, of scars and what it meant to heal. He turned to Link and smiled, voice gentle.

“I’m glad you’re okay.”

Link gave a quiet huff and turned away a little to hide his embarrassment. Allen couldn’t help but laugh at his reaction, and it eased some of the tension that had taken root inside of his heart. A glance at the nearby tree brought the tension back with a vengeance, however, and bid Allen to raise himself up, tentative and full of hesitation.

“I’m going to… go check on Lavi and make sure he’s okay.”

Link looked up, eyebrow raised. “Why?” When Allen refused to reply, Link gave a quiet sigh. “I’m sure he’s fine. He needs the rest. Leave him be.”

Allen instantly looked away, unsure how to express the anxiety clinging deeply to his heart. Link took a moment to scowl up at him before sighing, turning away and waving his hand in the direction of the tree where Lavi was - hopefully - still sat behind.

“Fine, but do try and get some rest yourself at some point. It’ll do you no good to be awake all night.”

Allen groaned. “Yes, mum.”

He walked away before Link could comment, a smile gracing his features. The smile quickly faded as he peeked his head around the large tree Lavi had taken shelter beneath, anxiety mounting - what if he’d run away, how long would it take them to find him again, what if - and immediately let out a deep sigh of relief when he saw that Lavi was sat, head tilted to one side, fast asleep.

Allen took a moment to reassure himself, to ease the worrisome thoughts plaguing his mind. Neah’s voice within his mind drew his attention away from worry, from fear.

You think he’s gonna make it through all this shit?

Allen looked down at Lavi’s exhaustion-lined face and sighed, heart twisting in his chest a little. “I really hope so.”

I mean we’re fucked if he doesn’t so guess he kinda has to.

Allen gave a grim smile, shaking his head a little. “I guess.”

Not wanting to think of fate, of what consequences lay in wait before them all, Allen gave Lavi one last glance before stepping backward, knowing he should try and get more sleep. He turned but a glint of white among the darkness caught his attention. With a frown, Allen stepped back toward Lavi and leant forward.

Held loosely between Lavi’s relaxed fingertips was a playing card.

It was an ace of spades, worn beyond belief. It had been ripped in half, edges tattered, one side covered in specks of what looked like dried blood. Allen stepped forward and crouched down, carefully pulling the card out of Lavi’s hand and holding it close. He turned the two pieces over and felt his heart skip a beat when he saw the pattern on the back of the card.

It was the same as the others he’d been given by Tyki Mikk, all those long months ago. It was the same deck that had been retrieved by Fou and cleaned by the scientists at the Asia Branch after he’d nearly died.

Allen froze, eyes wide, shoulders rising as he took a sharp intake of breath. Neah observed his reaction with confusion.

What’s up with you all of a sudden?

Allen didn’t respond, not at first. He looked down at the pieces of card in his hand, rubbing a thumb against it with a shocked expression. He took a moment to gather his thoughts before replying.

“Ages ago now, when we’d just found Krory, we met Tyki Mikk on a train.”

Neah scowled. What’s that got to do with anything?

“He gave me a set of playing cards after I cheated him of all his clothes.”

Neah laughed, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice. That’s great. Remind me to throw that in his face at some point.

Allen didn’t respond, gaze fixed on the playing card in his hands. He tensed up, enough for Neah to notice.

“When he nearly killed me in China, he dropped the cards over me and left.”

Neah remembered what he had seen in Timcanpy's memories - Allen, trying to be strong despite the fear in his eyes, Tyki’s malevolent presence - and knew it was something he was glad he hadn’t been around to experience. Neah waited for Allen to respond, curious despite himself.

Allen swallowed thickly, trying to push aside his memories, and continued.

“Fou - a guardian at the Asia Branch - picked up the cards when she found me and took me back with her. They never found one of the cards.” Allen held the two halves up, voice quiet. “I never thought about it. They replaced the card they couldn’t find and I went off to Edo through the Ark.”

And this is the card they never found?

Allen sighed. “It’s the same design, but…” he looked down at Lavi, eyebrows furrowed “… I don’t know how Lavi got a hold of it, or why he’d hold onto it for so long.”

Kinda goes beyond simple forgetfulness, doesn’t it?

Allen didn’t respond, lowering his hands and looking down at the card held between his fingertips with a frown. So much time had passed since they’d made their safe return from the Ark. Lavi had been given countless moments to return a simple playing card unless, of course, there was another reason why he’d held onto it.

With the tattered playing card in hand, Allen knew that regardless of how Lavi had managed to get hold of it, he’d held onto it for a long, long time. It clearly meant something; the card was worn, well-loved almost. Allen looked over at Lavi, eyes wide, heart thudding between his ribs, as something nameless built within his heart.

Minutes passed, the silence broken only by the sound of the wind passing through sheathes of grass, illuminated by the gentle touch of the moon. When Allen felt his hands stop shaking, he stood and looked down at Lavi. He was still asleep, face lined with exhaustion. Allen felt his lips pull up into a soft smile.

He placed the two pieces of card back into Lavi’s hand and leant forward. He hesitated, heart thudding a nervous rhythm within his chest. He sighed and pulled away, heart twisting in his chest, shaking his head a little as he walked back towards camp.

Link watched Allen as he walked, eyes narrowed. Allen ignored both him and Neah - who was giving him a rather pointed look - and lowered himself down, lying upon his coat with a sigh. Allen hoped as silence descended upon him that Link would let things slide, but he didn’t.

“You were gone for a while.” Allen didn’t reply, shrugging where he lay. Link hesistated, scowled over at him for a moment, and then sighed. “I understand your worry, but we all need a clear head to get through this period of time.”

Allen huffed. “I know that. I just…” he hesitated, expression full of emotion as he stared out into the darkness. “A lot has changed.”

Those words held more meaning than a simple acknowledgement of the time that had passed, and Link knew Allen well enough to pick up on it. He saw the way Allen had curled into himself a little, the tense rigidity of his shoulders, and wished he could do something to ease his suffering. He shook his head, not knowing what to say. Silence enveloped them both. He assumed Allen had fallen asleep, but Allen’s quiet voice broke the quiet peace surrounding them.

“I want… I want to help him. It must be so hard to deal with, knowing that…” Allen didn’t need to say it aloud for Link to know what he referred to - the Heart was undoubtedly a heavy burden. “… I guess I’m used to being the one other people have to comfort.” He gave a bitter laugh. “For once, I need to pick up someone else’s pieces.”

Link gave a wry smile. “Not a nice job, is it?”

Allen raised himself up and turned around to stick his tongue out in response, which earned him a shake of the head and a smile at his immaturity. Allen turned to lie on his back with a huff, focusing his gaze on the cloudy night sky above his head, voice turning sombre.

“He’s done so much for me, Neah too. I… I owe him so much. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been there for me. So I… I wish I knew what to do, to make this easier for him.”

Link faltered, unsure what to say. The emotion in Allen’s voice showed clear as day how much Lavi meant to him, as well as how much recent events had put a strain on him, though that was hardly a surprise. The discovery of the Heart was always going to be terrifying, never mind with the additional fear of it being bound to a friend.

Link had watched Allen slowly fall apart over the Fourteenth in the time he had known him. He knew that even if his duty dictated that he give no comfort, there was no comfort he could have given to make those difficult months any easier to handle. Allen was in the same position now, wanting to ease Lavi’s suffering but knowing no way of easing such a significant burden. Link gave a heavy sigh, running his fingers through his hair before he spoke, sympathy showing in his voice.

“I don’t think anything will make this particular burden any easier to bear.” He turned and looked over at Allen, feeling pity stir in his heart at the pain showing in Allen’s expression. “The fact that you have persisted through this and continued to help is a valiant effort considering the circumstances, Allen.”

Allen froze for a moment, wide-eyed, before shaking his head a little, a gentle smile adorning his features.

“Thank you, Link.” When he heard an embarrassed splutter from his companion, he grinned. “Guess you’re still just a piece of furniture to me, since I can talk so easily with you, huh?”

“I - I’m - excuse me?”

Allen couldn’t help but laugh and it eased the tension within him. He ignored Link’s indignant remarks, shook his head a little with a smile, and tried to push aside whatever thoughts were occupying his head so he could sleep.

Maybe someday he could confront what his feelings meant without fear.

Maybe someday he could talk about what exactly he meant to Lavi without the world crashing down upon both their heads, but for now he could do nothing more than wait with an anxious heart.


Allen awoke as dawn hit.

The morning arose softly as he pulled himself back into wakefulness, sunlight peering through the clouds and treetop above until the world became shrouded in light. After spending a few minutes trying to regain feeling in his arms and legs, shivering from cold, Allen stood and stretched, body creaking in protest. Weeks - months even - of sleeping rough were taking their toll on his body, and he doubted he’d ever recover from the strain he’d put his body through since he’d left the Black Order.

Allen looked around, eyes half-lidded as he struggled to keep himself awake - he noted Link’s position nearby, observing the countryside with a cup of coffee in hand, Johnny asleep close by - and realised he could hear nothing but the stir of the wind through the grass. Neah was awfully quiet. He’d said nothing since their conversation the night before, and usually it would be no cause for concern - in fact, Allen would normally take great joy in teasing Neah about it - but after recent events it almost felt in bad taste to do so.

Allen ran a hand through his hair and sighed. His thoughts drifted swiftly to his missing companion. He walked toward the tree Lavi had hidden behind and hoped, yet again, that he had not run away, still unable to shrug off that fear.

He had no reason to worry - Lavi was still asleep against the tree trunk, face still lined with exhaustion. A full - now cold - bowl of last night’s meal was sat beside him, which Allen had missed earlier on in the night, too focused on the discovery of the playing card to think about anything else. As the memory came to mind, Allen smiled softly, trying to ignore the way his heart twisted in his chest.

After a long moment, he sighed and walked away, taking Lavi’s uneaten meal with him. He nearly ate it for breakfast but Link threw him a glare before he could even attempt it. With a sigh, Allen put it down. Link immediately took it and poured it away, much to Allen’s horror.

“How could you! I would’ve eaten that!”

“I know. You should not eat food that’s been left out like that. It’s bad for you.”

Allen gave a derisive snort. “After the past few months, eating left-out food is hardly going to kill me.”

Link ignored him, stretching and rubbing at his face tiredly. Allen did not know if he had forsaken sleep out of fear or something else, but Link was stubborn and he knew that asking him to rest would do little else than earn him another glare. Allen decided to walk around a little, staying in Link’s field of vision but keeping himself just out of earshot.

Neah finally spoke up as Allen began to walk.

What time is it?

Allen shrugged. “No idea, probably early still.”

Neah didn’t respond at first, giving a tired groan before falling silent. Eventually, Neah - awkwardly, almost tentatively - raised his voice to speak.

You, uh, gonna explain last night to me, or do I just have to guess what it means?

Allen pulled a face, cheeks colouring a little. “It’s nothing.”

Neah raised an eyebrow. That really wasn’t ‘nothing’.

Allen huffed. “Fine, it was… it was something. Happy?”

Neah couldn’t help but laugh at that. Allen sighed, feeling frustrated and more than a little embarrassed. He almost missed Neah’s response, quiet and hesitant as it was.

Are you gonna talk to him about it?

Allen froze. He thought of it - how awkward it would be, how difficult, how stupid it was to talk about something like this considering the circumstances - and grimaced.

“Nope.”

Neah grinned. Guess I’ll just tell him instead then.

Allen blanched. “You wouldn’t dare!”

Neah’s grin widened all the more. ‘Course I would, or maybe I’ll just steal him for myself.

Neah didn’t seem to realise what he’d said. It took a few moments to process it. Eventually he spluttered, waving his hands before his face, embarrassed.

Not like that.

Allen raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Not like that? It sounded like that to me.”

Nope, not like that.

Allen smiled, practically beaming, tone radiating fake innocence. “Oh, I see. I guess it doesn’t matter if I talk to him then.”

Neah groaned. I don’t care, do what you want.

Allen couldn’t help but laugh at that. By this point, he’d come close enough to camp for Link to hear his laughter, to see the content smile on his face. Link saw this and felt the last of his doubts about the Fourteenth fade away as if they’d never existed to begin with. He spoke, more to himself than anyone else.

“It’s been a long time since I saw you look so content.”

Allen turned to him, startled, so lost in his internal conversation that the outside world had faded from his thoughts.

“Huh?”

Link smiled. “Nothing. Shall we go wake up the others? We should get going.”

“Oh, sure. We’ll go wake them up, won’t be a moment.”

Allen walked away, leaving Link alone with his thoughts for a brief moment. It was strange - no, not strange, he just wasn’t used to it yet - seeing someone who was no longer just ‘Allen’, and yet he kept thinking that Allen seemed more whole and content than ever before.

Lavi, on the other hand, was in pieces, and the comparison between them was striking. Then again, Lavi’s smile wasn’t as forced as it had been the day before. As they all gathered up their things and set off, Link thought he saw a dim glimmer of some kind of hope in Lavi’s expression. The thought that his words had done some good kept Link’s spirits high, despite the uncertainty and doubt within his heart.

They made good progress as the sun continued to rise, traversing their way through the Polish countryside unhindered. Any signs of civilisation were few and far between - a few isolated farms and houses, nothing more - and the more they travelled, the more they felt nervous. Though the occasional trees provided cover from rain and ill weather, the open spaces did very little to hide their presence from any watchful eyes.

Persistence could only take them all so far, and as time made its endless way toward an unknown end, they all felt the pressure of fate bear heavily down on them. All was still and silent. The very air felt heavy. No Akuma had attacked them, no CROW had discovered their location and demanded they return to the Order, no Noah had attempted to exact revenge for their fallen brother.

It was the calm before the storm, and it was only a matter of time before things came to a head.

By the end of that day, they reached Białystok. They made their way to the location Link had been given in his orders; a quiet inn on the outskirts of the city. Warm rooms, soft blankets, feather beds and a bath; it was heaven, and it took much yelling from Lavi for Allen and Neah to leave the bath once they’d gotten comfortable in the steaming water. The food was plain and homely, but it was high-class cuisine after weeks of nearly starving. All of them went to sleep feeling full and clean. It was something Allen, Neah, and Lavi had all but forgotten they needed.

But some things were ever present, despite such comforts. Lavi woke up as he always did, shaken from the nightmare that still haunted him. The bed was so comfortable and warm that he found himself easily lulled into a state of near-sleep, but every time he felt himself start to fall unconscious, a flash of memory would pass before his eyes - masks, feathers, emerald leaves - and he would be tugged violently back into wakefulness, full of horror.

After many failed attempts at falling back asleep, Lavi gave up and groaned, sitting up and rubbing at his face. The light of a wavering candle flame drew his gaze upwards, and he looked up to see Neah sat directly across from him.

The shadows falling across Neah’s face flickered, his hair alight with orange hues. It softened his features, making him look as if he was asleep, but a glint of silver eyes in the candlelight said otherwise. Lavi sat up with a jolt, looking anywhere but Neah’s confused expression. He turned his attention to his left, where Johnny was fast asleep in the bed beside him, Link asleep on the floor close by.

After a brief - and somewhat tense - silence, Neah stretched in his chair, stifling a yawn before speaking.

“Is it time to swap already?”

Lavi shook his head. “No, not yet, just… can’t get back to sleep.”

The room fell silent. Lavi propped up his pillow against the wall behind him and leant back with a sigh. He knew this was as good an opportunity as any to finally speak to Neah about what had happened when he nearly Fell. It seemed like so long ago; fear had cast a fog in his mind until he held little recollection of the days that had passed him by. Lavi had been given opportunities to speak to Neah before now, but it had never felt like the right time.

Neah seemed to notice Lavi’s unrest and spoke up with a quiet voice.

“Something on your mind?”

Lavi met Neah’s gaze and looked swiftly away again, choking on his words, unable to voice what he felt. After a few moments, Neah sighed and spoke.

“Well? You gonna speak?”

“Back then, why did you…?”

Neah frowned. “Why did I what?”

“Why did you stop me?”

Silence befell them. Neah found himself unable to speak, looking at Lavi with a dumbfounded expression before giving a frustrated sigh.

“You’re so fucking stupid.” Lavi grimaced. Neah shook his head a little, voice softening. “You really think I was gonna let you kill yourself like that?”

“You would’ve done before.”

Neah winced a little, smiling sheepishly. “Probably, but things change, don’t they?” He fell silent for a moment before continuing, visibly awkward. “I… look, you’re clearly going through a hard time. And yeah, I’m still not convinced you didn’t know about that thing -” Lavi winced a little, unconsciously rearranging the bandage hiding his right eye with a grimace “- but I… I meant what I said.”

Lavi smiled. “What, about being on my side?”

Neah huffed, embarrassment showing clear as day in his expression. Lavi couldn’t help but laugh at the reaction. Neah huffed again, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. Lavi shook his head, fondness creeping into his voice.

“Who're you and what've you done with Neah Campbell?”

Neah ignored the playful insult and shook his head a little. “It’s Walker now, actually.”

Lavi blinked before raising an eyebrow. “Allen’s okay with that, is he?”

“Doesn’t matter what he thinks. It’s…” Neah faltered before continuing, voice softening. “It’s something I had to do.”

Lavi grinned, practically beaming. “You’ve turned into such a big softy, it’s great.”

Neah pulled a face, cheeks burning. “I will kill you if you keep this up.”

“Sure, sure, ‘course you will.”

Before Neah could interject, a quiet knock cut him off. Without a word, Neah stepped forward and stopped in front of the door. He turned his head to look over at Lavi, and after checking Lavi had readied his weapon and gotten up to wake their still-sleeping companions, Neah leant closer toward the door.

“Who is it?”

A foreboding silence descended upon them. Link got to his feet, tense and alert. Johnny rubbed at his eyes, still half-asleep. A voice, so quiet all of them had to strain to hear it through the closed door, eased the tension that had arisen within them.

“I’ve been sent by Cross Marian. Open the door.”

Neah hesitated before doing what was asked, cautious and wary. He looked through the open door and his left eye activated with a flourish. He saw the bound soul of a Level Two floating to the right of a little girl, stood with her arms folded in the hallway. Allen’s presence joined his own, and they nearly activated their left arm before remembering what Link had told them.

They let the Akuma in with a scowl, watching her carefully - her soul was chained but quiet, why wasn’t it begging them to - before shutting the door and leaning against it, arms folded.

After a moment of silence, the Akuma spoke.

“My name is Ellena. I’ve been sent by Cross Marian to bring you to him. He cannot find you himself, and it would be unwise to simply send directions, so I shall be your guide.”

Neah and Allen snorted derisively. “Of course he can’t, he’s probably up to his elbows in wine and lovers.”

“He’s currently indisposed keeping the being known as Apocryphos captured, and he is the only reason you’ve escaped relatively unscathed.” The tone to the Akuma’s voice was laced with curt irritation, and the others would have smiled if they were in any other situation but this one. “We do not have time for conversation. Follow me.”

Allen and Neah moved aside, reluctantly. After the others collected their things, they followed close behind Ellena, all eyes watching her closely.


The city was quiet, lit up with soft twinkling lights from parted curtains and the soft ember glow of streetlamps.

It did not take long for them to leave the city’s borders. They made good progress under the clear night sky as they followed their newly-appointed guide. Lavi felt little reluctance in following the Akuma, having met and grown to trust Chomesuke before he had sacrificed himself to save Lavi and the others. The thought of soon finding Cross and obtaining answers to long-held questions filled him with purpose, clearing the numbing fear from his mind.

Link and Johnny held no doubt in their mind, following behind the Akuma with ease. Neah, despite his doubts, was eager enough to find Cross to see the modified Akuma as a means to an end.

Allen, however, felt conflicted. He did not know if his growing discomfort was due to the imminent reunion with his wayward master, or if it was because of the Akuma trailing ahead of them. Allen was more comfortable than most with Akuma - after all, he had spent nearly his entire life wishing for their salvation - so it was not Ellena’s existence as an Akuma that bothered him; it was that she was obeying someone other than the Earl. For a reason he could not name - though he could guess, and he really hoped he was wrong - he felt uncomfortable in the Akuma’s presence.

As the sky brightened around them with the approaching dawn, Allen found it hard to ignore the unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Ellena led them north, pace never faltering. By the time the following day came to an end, they came to a halt a few dozen miles short of Puńsk at an isolated house, surrounded by overgrown crop fields. The house had long since fallen into disrepair and it set a foreboding atmosphere.

Ellena positioned herself by the front door, eyes closed, face devoid of expression. Neah and Lavi walked past her and up to the front door hanging off its hinges. They could not help but feel unsettled, stood in the imposing shadow of the house that represented the end of their journey so far.

Neah was the first to move, driven by a nameless emotion that drove its claws deep into his heart. He pushed the door forward, rusted hinges screaming in protest, gaze flickering from the dusty floorboards to the mould-infested ceiling. He heard the quiet creak of wood underfoot and stepped into shadow without a single shred of doubt, heart thumping hard against his rib-cage.

Link and Johnny followed after, comfortable and at ease. Lavi came last, more cautious than the others.

Neah looked around, gaze trailing from one place to another as he tried to place the noise he had heard. He froze, foot suspended midair as silence descended heavily upon him. He took a step forward. The silence thickened.

Neah saw a movement in the darkness and tried to defend himself too late. Something cold and sharp pressed against his throat. Neah tried to break free, teeth gritted, before Link’s voice cut through the darkness.

“It’s alright, General.”

Neah squinted, not recognising the silhouette in front of him. It was only when the figure stepped back that Neah knew who it was.

Kanda Yuu stood before him, expression hard to place. The sound of a sword being sheathed broke the otherwise tense silence. Neah found himself losing control faster than he could even process, pushed aside by Allen so forcefully it was dizzying. By the time Allen adjusted to his surroundings, Link had scrambled around in a nearby room before returning with a lit candle.

Allen took a tentative step forward, heart jack-hammering between his ribs. Kanda put a hand on his weapon, eyes narrowed, before he faltered, noticing the way Allen was smiling, the way his eyes were brimming with tears. Kanda sighed, shaking his head a little with the faintest trace of a smile.

Allen began to speak but was cut off by the sound of footsteps. Lavi had stepped forward, eye wide, shock showing clearly in his expression. Kanda turned and scoffed.

“Wow, you look like shit.”

Lavi gave a delighted laugh, pulling Kanda into a tight embrace. Allen joined in on the laughter, wiping away his tears with a trembling hand. Kanda tried to break free, muttering curses under his breath, but ultimately relented, giving Lavi an awkward pat on the shoulder. Lavi pulled away a little, voice bright, tears in his eye.

“What’re you doin’ here?!”

Kanda nearly responded but the sound of footsteps from further down the corridor cut him off. The light of additional candles grew brighter, held by two figures slowly coming to light from the darkness of the corridor behind them.

Lavi let go of Kanda, taking in a sudden, sharp breath. Allen stepped forward to stand by Lavi’s side, eyes wide. Light built around them, soft and golden, casting aside the darkness. Stood before them, eyes wide and full of tears, was Lenalee. Krory stood by her side, a shaky smile upon his face.

For a moment, all they could do was stare at each other. Silence, tentative and short-lived, was broken by the sound of footsteps, a pained cry.

Lavi and Allen both rushed forward, vision blurred by tears, and pulled Lenalee into their embrace. All three of them fell to their knees, clinging to each other as if their lives depended on it. Loneliness, longing, the sheer and utter agony of being apart - it left their hearts and spilled out in their tears.

Lenalee pulled away, face stained by tears, smiling despite the pain showing clear as day in her eyes. She held the side of Lavi’s face with one hand, Allen’s face with the other.

“I missed you so much.”

The fondness in her voice was so audible that it hurt to hear it. Allen and Lavi bowed their heads, smiling through their tears, comforted by each other’s presence and Lenalee’s gentle touch. Link, Kanda, Johnny and Krory politely stood a little way away, observing the reunion with soft smiles.

When he felt ready to stand, Lavi pushed himself up and pulled Krory into a hug, Allen not far behind him. Krory, after trying rather admirably not to cry, began to sob, clutching at the both of them so tightly it hurt. Allen patted the small of his back.

“It’s alright, Krory.”

Krory shook his head. “No, it isn’t. You look awful!”

Allen pulled away a little, mock outrage in his voice. “Hey!”

Lavi raised an eyebrow. “He’s not wrong. We really do look like shit, ya know.”

Allen huffed, pulling a face. “I know, but that doesn’t mean he should say it!”

Lavi laughed. Lenalee laughed alongside him, Johnny also, until all but Kanda and Link were laughing through their tears. Kanda rolled his eyes a little, unable to hide the smile on his face despite himself. He turned to Link and exchanged a quick glance with him before placing a firm hand on Allen’s shoulder.

“You should probably head upstairs.”

Allen faltered, confused for a moment, before he realised what Kanda meant. Neah, who had been observing the reunion impatiently and awkwardly, came to the forefront. Before anyone could say anything, Neah turned away, clambering up the nearby staircase so fast the floorboards nearly buckled beneath him.

He turned and saw a single door to his left, stood slightly ajar with soft amber light spilling out to the darkened hallway outside. One step, then two, Neah’s entire being coiled like a spring. He took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

The room ran the entire length of the house, narrow and full of darkening shadows. Furniture sat haphazardly about the place, but a bed tucked away in a corner did not look so out of place, neither did the desk with a lone candle illuminating its surroundings, or the chair pulled to with someone sat upon it.

Cross Marian turned to face him and smiled.

“Took you long enough to get here.”

Chapter Text

Neah scarcely dared to breathe, gaze fixed upon the softly-lit figure of a man, smoke billowing out from upturned lips to fade into nothingness above their heads.

He took a step then froze, hand reaching forwards. Cross Marian stood and smiled, full of warmth, the slightest hint of regret showing in his expression. Neah found himself unable to move, nostalgic memory creeping up from deep within until something else completely overshadowed it.

“Do you…?”

Cross tilted his head. “Do I… what?”

“Do you have any idea how long we’ve been looking for you?!”

Outrage - pure and utter outrage spilled forth from parted lips, expression darkening into something that made Cross take a surprised step backwards. Just as Link and Lavi stepped into the room behind Neah, with hardly any time to process the words spoken, Cross found himself faced with all the fury Neah and Allen Walker could muster.

“We searched for months, literal months, you stupid bastard!” Cross blinked repeatedly, hands raised in defense as a finger jammed itself hard against his ribs. “At first it was fine. We tracked your debt and saved your ass from collectors. You can thank us for that later.”

There was no mistaking Allen’s curt tone. Cross was taken back instantaneously to times long since passed, of times where a small child would argue with him outside of brothel doors.

“And then, what, you just decide to stop fucking people and live the celibate life? God fucking dammit Marian, you left us in such a bind -” and that was undeniably Neah, voice wavering with pent-up, frustrated rage “- and don’t even get us started on the places you went to, you’ve lost so much class the past three decades that I could kill you.”

Allen and Neah stepped backwards, trembling and unable to speak. Cross watched with complete and utter shock and confusion as the person - no, people - before him scowled through their tears, hands clenched tightly into fists.

After a long moment of silence, Cross reached forward, gloved hands resting on Neah and Allen’s shoulders. Cross took a deep breath and, without even hesitating, shoved them aside, walked towards Link and Lavi - who were still stood in the doorway, unsure of what to do - and pointed back at Neah and Allen as if they weren’t present.

“Who the fuck is that?”

Allen and Neah gave their master and confidant a look of outrage. Cross looked from the two of them to his other companions, expression devoid of emotion. Allen and Neah stomped forward, practically seething with anger. Lavi stepped past Cross and held the enraged pair back before they attempted anything more serious than glaring.

They argued and fought against Lavi’s grip to no avail - after all, Lavi had spent a good portion of the past few years holding Allen back from snapping Kanda’s neck and vice versa - while Link pinched the bridge of his nose with a heavy sigh and inhaled sharply. It was only after Lavi ended up nearly losing his only good eye, Allen and Neah’s twitching fingers grasping at his face, that Link stood up a little taller. With a well-practiced movement, he stepped forward and slammed his fist down hard on Neah and Allen’s head.

“Stop fighting this instant.”

“Fuck you! Did you hear what he just said?! That ungrateful bastard!”

“Did you even - hey, listen to me!”

They were given no room to argue. Though Neah was more than willing to goad Link into violence, Allen knew the look on Link’s face well enough to restrain himself and Neah also, gaze seething.

Silence descended upon them. Allen and Neah sat down upon Cross’s now abandoned chair, glaring up at the man in question. Lavi let out a heavy sigh of relief and collapsed onto the nearby bed, rubbing his face with a grimace. Link stood in front of Cross and raised his voice to speak.

“We are here, General Cross Marian, at the request of your modified Akuma. We have been -”

“Yes, I know about all that. Evidently it’d be a bit fucking stupid to send out someone to find you and not know about it.” Cross’s tone was scathing, and it took all of Link’s composure not to flinch, expression kept devoid of emotion. “My question is -” he pointed towards Allen and Neah, who stuck out their tongue in reply “- who the fuck is that?”

“You could just ask us, you know.”

Allen and Neah’s tone was accusatory, and slightly bitter, but Cross refused to acknowledge them. Link sighed and waved a hand in their direction.

They are the Fourteenth and his host, Allen Walker.”

Cross paused before shaking his head. “No, that’s not possible. Allen should be -”

“Dead? Thanks, nice to know you want me around.”

Allen’s voice was laced with bitterness. Cross stepped towards him - or was it them, he didn’t understand how - suspicious and confused.

“It’s been well over a year since this all started, and you’re telling me that somehow -” he turned back to Link, eyebrow raised as he pointed a finger at Allen and Neah “- my stupid apprentice is still in there?”

Link twitched a little. “Yes, he is.”

Silence descended upon them, heavy and full of awkward tension. Cross stared at Allen and Neah in shock for a moment before bursting into laughter, much to the surprise of everyone else present. Allen squinted up at Cross, still seething, who settled down enough to give Allen a wide smile.

“Well, guess I trained you better than I thought.”

Allen couldn’t help but smile at that. He shook his head a little. “You don’t get to take credit for that.”

A comfortable silence enveloped the room, easing away the tension felt by its inhabitants. The sound of fluttering and a familiar gah noise made Allen stand up so fast he tipped his chair backwards. Eyes wide and brimming with tears, a delighted gasp leaving his lips, Allen took a step forward and grabbed hold of Timcanpy, who had just poked its head around Cross’s shoulder.

“Tim! I’m so glad you’re okay!”

Allen’s voice was thick with tears. Almost instantaneously, Timcanpy bit down hard on Allen’s hands. Wincing, bringing his now bleeding fingers to his mouth, Allen watched as Timcanpy flew back to Cross and settled itself on top of his head. Cross turned to Link with an irritated expression.

“You didn’t explain the situation with Tim, did you?”

Link pulled a face, refusing to meet the General’s gaze. Allen frowned, confusion setting in.

“What do you mean?”

Cross patted the top of Timcanpy’s head, being careful to avoid its teeth. “Tim was destroyed, months ago now. Apocryphos did it.”

Allen’s heart sank. He blinked a few times, unsure what to say, before asking, “But it’s...?”

“I remade it, but I couldn’t bring back Tim’s memories. It’ll have to get reused to you again.”

Allen said nothing, couldn’t say anything. He could feel Neah in a similar state of distress. Allen blinked away tears with a sniff.

“So it doesn’t…?”

Cross sighed. “No.”

Allen looked away, head lowering. Lavi raised himself up, wanting to comfort Allen, but he knew there was nothing he could really do. Lavi nearly flinched when Cross shot him a look suddenly.

“I need to talk with him.” He gestured at Allen then faltered. “With them.” He sighed, frustrated, turning to Allen with a scowl. “You always have to make shit confusing, don’t you?”

Allen couldn’t help but laugh at that. Lavi pushed himself up and patted Allen’s shoulder gently before heading out the door, Link in tow. Allen watched them leave, knowing Lenalee and the others were only just downstairs. He wanted to talk with them all, more than he could ever express with words, but he knew he needed answers, first and foremost.

Let me talk to him.

It was a quiet request, full of an emotion Allen couldn’t quite place. He rolled his eyes a little before closing them. Cross watched this without speaking, observing as Allen’s body language eventually changed. When his eyes opened, Cross could see something else behind them, something familiar, something he hadn’t seen in a very, very long time.

Neah smiled, full of warmth. Cross sighed and discarded the now burnt out cigarette between his fingertips in favour of a new one.

“It’s really fucking weird seeing you in that body.”

Neah couldn’t help but laugh at that. “You’re telling me! Being shorter’s been such a pain in the ass to get used to, lemme tell you.”

Cross laughed, taking a long drag of his cigarette before speaking. “So, that little brat’s still managed to keep a hold of his identity, even now?”

Allen, observing this from inside Neah’s mind, gave an indignant huff. Neah smiled. “Yeah, he’s not too happy with your reaction to that.”

Cross shrugged. “Hey, I’m not surprised he managed it, I just wasn’t expecting it.”

Right, right, you just have no faith in me, you stupid bastard.

Neah laughed at Allen’s words, shaking his head a little before beckoning to Tim with a sad smile. Tim crept forward a little, hesitating for a moment before jumping into his outstretched hand. Neah’s smile brightened.

“See, he may have forgotten me, but he knows who his real master is.”

Timcanpy responded by biting Neah’s hand, hard enough for it to hurt. Cross laughed, nearly choking on cigarette smoke in the process. Cross grinned, amused by the pout on Neah’s face.

“Sure, he respects you just as much as he should.”

Neah huffed, folding his arms and looking away. “Fine, whatever. I’ll make Tim get reused to me, no problem. Who cares anyway?”

Cross couldn’t help but smile at that. He grabbed a nearby chair and settled back against it, realised Neah had his gaze fixed on him, and raised an eyebrow.

“What?”

“I seriously thought you were dead for a while there, Marian.”

Cross gave a derisive snort. “Like I’d just roll over and die.”

Neah smiled, full of warmth. “I know, but you did kinda disappear off the face of the Earth for a while. You had me worried.”

Cross raised an eyebrow. “You? Worried? You’ve gotten soft since you died.”

“You can blame your stupid apprentice for that. He’s not good for me, Marian.”

There was no bitterness in Neah’s tone; in fact, Cross thought he heard a trace of affection in his voice. After a long moment of silence, Cross began to laugh, quiet chuckles escalating to full-stomached laughter. Neah watched with a raised eyebrow.

“And I thought I’d lost my mind.”

Cross smiled, wiping at his left eye. “I can’t get over Allen still being here. He actually held his ground with you, I’m impressed.”

Neah huffed. “He’s a stubborn asshole. I was close to getting rid of him, but…”

Neah fell silent. Cross raised a questioning eyebrow. “But what, Neah? You’ve been waiting nearly forty years for this, and you’ve never been one for mercy either.”

Neah leant back in his chair and gazed up at the ceiling, a weary smile adorning his features.

“It’s not about mercy, Marian. That kid just refused to lie down and die. That stupid Bookman friend of his made me realise that, well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If Allen was willing to help me achieve what I wanted then I was prepared to put up with his sorry ass until it was all over.”

“And is he?”

Cross’s tone was full of surprise - and suspicion too, as if he still could not believe the explanation he had been given - and Neah gave him a hard look.

“He is, once we both get some answers.”

“Answers about what?”

“About Mana.”

Cross’s single eye widened, and it took many long moments of silence and a newly-burning cigarette for him to speak, voice low and quiet.

“So he found out, then.”

Neah gave a derisive snort. “Of course he did. Didn’t like what he heard, of course, but neither did I. I spoke to Mana, soon after you contacted me through Tim. He’s forgotten who he is, but I know he’s still in there somewhere.”

Allen shot Neah a look internally, irritation radiating off of him in waves. Neah knew he should have told Allen sooner, about the reunion he’d had with the Earl in Arles, and the contact he’d had with Cross, but it had never come up in conversation. Ignoring his irritated host, Neah kept his attention focused on Cross, voice laced with frustrated concern.

“The one thing I don’t get is how Allen knows him. He said Mana was his father, that he took care of him and taught him the score for our Ark, that he died. Allen turned him into an Akuma and then destroyed him, but -” Neah met Cross’s gaze, confusion etched into his expression “- how can Mana still be the Earl if he died? How could the Earl turn himself into an Akuma? I don’t get it.”

Cross remained silent, inhaling deeply for his cigarette before sighing, smoke billowing before drifting aimlessly upwards. Just as Neah began to speak, Cross silenced him with a raised hand.

“First of all, I don’t know everything. I kept an eye on Mana after you died, though it took me a while to find him after what happened.” Neah looked down at his hands, morose and full of pained memory. “I found Allen shortly before he started travelling with Mana and kept an eye on the both of them. Not that he was called Allen back then. I thought he was just some idiot kid, but it turned out he was a lot more than that.” Allen thought back on those dark days, the loneliness, the abuse he’d suffered, and shuddered. “I wasn’t there for Mana’s ‘death’ or his ‘transformation’ into an Akuma, so I don’t know for certain if the person called the Millennium Earl is also the man named Mana Walker.”

Neah began to interrupt but Cross spoke over him, voice raised.

“All I do know is they have the same face. There is a connection between them. Isn’t that enough for you, for both of you?”

Neah faltered, conflicted and ill at ease. Allen couldn’t respond either, feeling equally as uncomfortable. Eventually, Neah ran a hand through his hair with a sigh.

“It’s gonna have to be enough. Either way, we need to defeat the Earl. The suit will never leave me alone otherwise.”

“It’s been hunting you again?”

Cross’s tone had a hard edge to it. Neah gave a grim smile. “Yeah, nearly got the best of me when we fought it in Switzerland, but we got out in the end.”

“Had a lot of close calls the past few months, haven’t you?”

Neah sighed. “Yeah, just a little. It’s been…” he ran a hand down his face “… really fucking exhausting.”

Cross saw the tiredness etched into Neah’s face, the way he held himself, and gave a grim smile. “I can imagine.”

Silence descended upon them. Neah observed Cross for a moment, deliberating over something, before speaking up.

“So, we’re here. What’s the plan?”

Cross let out a deep exhale, smoke obscuring his features for a moment before he smiled.

“That depends.”

Neah frowned. “Depends on… what?”

Cross shook his head. “Not what; who.”

“Us?”

Cross shook his head again. “No, not you or my stupid apprentice. Well…” he shrugged “… Allen might not be all that happy with some of it, but mostly it depends on whether Bookman’s brat is gonna be… forthcoming.”

Neah tensed up, enough for Cross to notice. Allen felt equally as tense. Cross saw the visible concern in Neah’s face and raised an eyebrow.

“Are you… worried about him?”

Neah pulled a face, waving his hands in front of him. “No, no way. I’m not worried, why would you say that?” Cross squinted at him, which made Neah feel all the more awkward. “Look, listen, I’m just saying, he’s been through a lot of shit recently so if you’re gonna start -”

“He’ll be fine.”

That was enough for Neah to relax, just a little. Cross smiled at Neah’s visible embarrassment - Allen also smiled, though Cross couldn’t see it - and shook his head a little before continuing with a more serious tone to his voice.

“First, we gotta get Bookman’s brat down to the basement to have a little chat with someone.”

Neah scowled. “I thought you said he was gonna be fine.”

Cross laughed. “Oh, he isn’t gonna like what he’s gonna hear, but he’ll be fine.”

Neah let out a sigh, shaking his head a little. “Just… take it easy with him. He’ll probably insist on talking to you first, you know that, right?”

“Sure, and I’ll give him even more answers he won’t wanna hear. Either way -” Cross got up, stretching a little “- we don’t have all the time in the world. We should get things moving.”

“Allen will wanna speak to you too.”

Cross hesitated for a moment, just enough for Neah to notice. Allen observed this, tense and anxious. Cross shrugged.

“And I’ll give him answers he won’t wanna hear either.”

Neah smiled, grimly. “Guess it’s your job to be the bringer of bad news today, huh, Marian?”

Cross gave a short, sharp laugh. “Looks like it.” He paused before giving Neah a pointed look, an emotion in his eyes that Neah couldn’t place. “Come on, idiot. We won’t have time to get drunk and remember the good times, but we can pretend we have the time to do that later.”

Neah scoffed. “What good times?” Cross couldn’t help but laugh at that. Neah smiled, warmly and fondly, before getting up. “Let’s go ruin Lavi’s day, shall we?”


Many months spent apart made things altogether similar but different; that was how things felt to Lavi in that moment.

The silence that had descended upon the room was comfortable, and yet there was an edge to it. Lavi sat at a table in what he could now recognise as a kitchen, the room brightly lit by several candles. Sat across from him were people he hadn’t seen in so long that it hurt to think of it, to remember all those long months spent apart.

Lenalee was looking at him with both fondness and concern in her eyes. Krory was busy catching up with Johnny, who was talking animatedly with his hands. Kanda was stood, back against a nearby counter, polishing his sword with steady, practiced movements. Link sat beside Lavi, observing his nervous countenance with furrowed brows. Lavi noticed that Lenalee, Krory, and Kanda were all wearing a uniform he didn’t recognise. They were wearing sleeveless shirts with red ties tucked into black waistcoats. Kanda had long gloves with buckles adorning it, Lenalee a skirt and long red socks, and Krory a cloak, black on top and red underneath.

Wanting to break the silence, Lavi pointed at Lenalee, trying his best to sound light-hearted.

“The new uniform looks good, by the way.”

It was awkward, tentative, but it was relieving in a way Lenalee wouldn’t have been able to put into words. She looked down at herself with a smile.

“Johnny put a lot of time and effort into it.” Lenalee raised her head. “Didn’t you, Johnny?”

Johnny halted his conversation with Krory to give a bashful smile. “It felt fitting, really, since we were forming our own side and all.”

Lavi leant forward a little, unable to keep the curiosity out of his voice. “Yeah, Link mentioned that. What led up to all that? Ain’t the Order gonna come for all your heads for ditching ‘em?”

Lenalee exchanged a glance with her companions, hesitant, before giving an awkward smile.

“We should probably wait for Allen.” She faltered for a moment before continuing, voice wavering a little. “Is he… is he really still…?”

Lavi smiled. “He’s still Allen. I mean -” he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck “- Neah’s there too. They’re both there, ya know? Allen’s the same as always, maybe a little stronger compared to before, and Neah really isn’t that bad, so you don’t have to worry about him or anythin’.”

Lenalee listened to Lavi speak with a building smile on her face. Lavi noticed and tilted his head a little.

“What’s up?”

Lenalee shook her head a little. “Oh, nothing really, it’s just…” Her smile softened. “I really missed you, we all did.”

Lavi couldn’t reply for a moment, moved by the emotion in Lenalee’s voice. He smiled, shakily, feeling his eye burn with tears. Not wanting to cry more than he already had done, Lavi changed the subject, resting his elbows on the table before him and interlacing his fingers together.

“So, we gotta wait ‘til Allen and Neah are done talkin’ to Cross to hear about your escapades, huh?”

Lenalee couldn’t help but laugh at that. “That’s one way of putting it. Since we have some time…” She hesitated before continuing, visibly anxious. “What… what happened to you?”

Lavi faltered, unable to reply. Lenalee wrung her hands together and looked away.

“We… none of us know what happened. You…” Lenalee’s voice became thick with emotion “… you were gone for so long. I thought… we all thought…”

Lavi reached across the table and held Lenalee’s hands in his own, gentle and reassuring. Lenalee looked up, eyes brimming with tears, and saw a shaky, tentative smile on Lavi’s face.

“Sorry for worryin’ you.”

Lenalee sniffed, rubbing her thumbs against Lavi’s hands with a gentle expression. “I know you… I know you probably don’t want to talk about it, any of it. I’m -” Lenalee looked up and smiled, as warmly as she could manage “- I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Lavi sighed, smile falling a little. He patted Lenalee’s hands before withdrawing, settling back into his chair and looking up at the ceiling with a pensive expression. Lenalee was more than happy to drop the subject, not wanting to make Lavi feel even more uncomfortable than he already felt, but Lavi’s voice cut through the silence.

“Me and Gramps were kidnapped by the Noah in China. You know that part already, right?”

Lenalee nodded. Everyone else in the room had fallen silent, listening in on the conversation, also eager to find out where Lavi had been for all those long months. Lavi hesitated for a moment, realising he had more of an audience than he first expected, before continuing.

“Well, the Noah wanted information out of Gramps about Neah, about the Fourteenth. He…” a look of pain flashed across Lavi’s face, visible to the others, before he sighed “… well, shit went wrong. They… they killed Gramps. I got out but only ‘cause of this.”

Lavi raised his palms, revealing the stigmata embedded into his skin. Lenalee gave a sad smile.

“I’d say ‘welcome to the club’, but it’s not a fun club to be a member of.”

Lavi couldn’t help but laugh at that. Kanda watched Lavi rub at his palms with a bittersweet smile, looked down at the stigmata etched into his forearms, and sighed. Lavi tucked his hands into his trouser pockets before continuing.

“After… after all that, I wandered around for a while. Didn’t really know what to do with myself, gonna be honest. Then I bumped into Allen and Neah -” Lavi laughed, remembering Neah sending him flying down a muddy hill with a fond smile “- literally.”

Lavi fell silent for a moment before he realised the others were waiting for him to continue speaking. He shrugged, leaning back in his chair a little more.

“I travelled with them for a while. Nearly bumped into you, Krorykins, come to think of it.” Krory tilted his head, confused. Lavi gave a sheepish smile. “Me and Neah were in Mâcon when all those Akuma attacked.”

Krory pushed himself up, shock in his expression. “You were there?!”

Lavi nodded. “Yup. All that rain was my fault too. I had to -” Lavi faltered, awkward and tentative “- we couldn’t let you guys find us, not back then.”

Krory lowered himself back into his seat with a sigh, shaking his head a little. “I suppose… I suppose back then we wouldn’t have been able to help you.”

Lavi saw the confliction in his face and decided not to pry any further, not in that moment at least. When it became clear he had to continue his story, he raised his voice to speak.

“Well, apart from nearly gettin’ caught in Mâcon, once I got my head screwed on right, I decided to go find the Bookman Clan to get some answers.”

“Answers about what?”

Lenalee could hardly keep the curiosity out of her voice. Lavi gave a grim smile. “About Gramps and whether I could be the next Bookman or not. There are… a lot of complicated rules to follow with those guys.”

Lavi faltered for a moment, feeling fuzzy-headed, before he continued. “I don’t… remember shit all that well from when I was there. All I know is they exiled me in the end.”

Krory gave an indignant noise. “That’s terrible! Why would they do such a thing to you?”

Lavi gave a pained laugh and shrugged. “Rules are rules.”

Lenalee saw the pain in Lavi’s face, heard it in his voice, and sighed. “I’m so sorry, Lavi. Losing Bookman must’ve been so hard, and to lose your future with the Bookman Clan too…”

Lavi pulled a face, trying to sound light-hearted. “It’s fine. It’s not like my whole future’s gone down the drain or anythin’.”

Lavi realised, a little too late, that he sounded more self-deprecating than anything else. He sighed, avoiding the looks he was being given with a grimace. He continued, trying to change the subject as best he could.

“Anyway, after I left the Clan, I found out that the bastard who killed Gramps was goin’ after Allen and Neah. I made my way there and uh -” Lavi laughed, a touch of hysteria to his voice “- you know about… about that already.”

Lavi didn’t need to ask what ‘that’ was. Lenalee and the others exchanged a glance with each other before Lenalee spoke up, extending a hand and placing it gently on Lavi’s arm.

“It doesn’t change anything.”

Lavi tensed up. “Of course it does.”

Lenalee winced a little, knowing her words had likely sounded dismissive. She shook her head a little, tightening her grip on Lavi’s arm, just enough for him to know she was there.

“What I meant was… just like before, I’m here by your side.”

Lavi faltered at that, eye widening, remembering the patter of rain, arms around him, and similar words, said with similar intent. Lenalee smiled, full of warmth.

“All of us here are going to support you through whatever comes next. What the Black Order wants, what the Noah Family want - it doesn’t matter.” Lenalee leant forward a little, earnest and filled with determination. “We’re on our own side now.”

Lavi blinked, vision swimming with tears. He managed a shaky smile, raising a hand to wipe at his eye with a sniff.

“You guys just love makin’ me cry, don’t ya?”

Lenalee couldn’t help but laugh at that. Lavi shook his head, patting Lenalee’s hand gently before getting out of his chair, stretching both arms above his head. Just as he did so, he heard the creak of floorboards from above. Anxiety rose within him, knowing he would soon get the answers he needed, but not the answers he wanted. Lenalee watched Lavi tense up and exchanged a glance with Kanda, who simply nodded before looking away.

Cross and Neah descended the stairs and entered the room, greeted by a somewhat tense silence. Neah looked over at Lavi, saw the anxiety in his face, and gave a grim smile. Cross met Lavi’s gaze, saw him flinch a little, and grinned.

“So, you need to speak to me, do you?”

Lavi clenched his hands into fists, trying to hold Cross’s gaze without flinching again. “Yeah, I do.”

Cross laughed. “And here I thought I’d gotten away with not being interrogated by leaving that shitty place.”

He began to walk away, but after noticing Lavi had not made any moves to follow him, he turned his head and scowled.

“Well, are you gonna follow or not?”

Lavi gave a quiet oh. He offered his companions a shaky smile before following Cross upstairs. Lavi felt both anticipation and fear clutch tightly at his entire being, leaving him breathless and trembling. As he walked, he could feel Junior’s presence join his own. Cross didn’t know it but this conversation was for the both of them, not just Lavi alone.

They entered the same room where Cross and Neah had their reunion. Cross sat down on the bed, leaving Lavi to shut the door and lean against it. Lavi’s gaze fixed itself on the floorboards beneath his feet, his fingers tapping in a repetitive pattern against his thighs. After a moment of silence, Cross spoke, voice curt.

Well? What do you want?”

It took Lavi a long time to think of what to say. Just as Cross began to feel impatient, Lavi spoke, quietly and full of serious intent.

“You were the previous apprentice.”

It was not a question, merely a statement of fact. Cross lit another cigarette, lips upturned into a smile.

“So, Neah gave that little secret away, did he?”

Lavi smiled. “Not quite. It took me a while to figure it out. Now you’re stuck with me botherin’ you about shit, sorry ‘bout that.”

Cross didn’t reply at first, inhaling deeply from his cigarette, eye closed as he relished the taste of nicotine and the way it eased the tension inside of him. Eventually he spoke, gaze fixed on the flickering candle flame across from him.

“I’m guessing you want to know if he knew about the Heart or not, right?”

Lavi froze, finger poised mid-tap. Junior, observing from within his mind, tensed up. Cross smiled.

“Right on the mark, aren’t I? He should’ve told you all this when you were ready, but he went and got himself killed.” His tone turned petulant, though there was a trace of fondness in his words. “That old bastard still manages to make things difficult even after he dies. How annoying.”

The silence swiftly became unbearable. Lavi resumed tapping his finger against his leg, counting each movement as unease clawed its way out of his heart to choke him. Unable to remain quiet any longer, he began to speak, but Cross interjected.

“He knew.”

Lavi froze, eye widening, a mix of emotions flooding through him - anger, betrayal, confusion. He felt Junior beside him and saw him bury his head in his hands. Lavi took in a deep shuddering breath before speaking, voice and body shaking from restrained anger.

“He… he knew and didn’t… he didn’t tell me…”

Cross gave a derisive snort. “Of course he didn’t. If he’d told you, things would’ve gone to shit long before now. It was -”

“If you say it was for my own good, I’m gonna beat the shit out of you.”

Lavi’s tone was cold and full of fury. Cross shot him a look that said just try it, but ultimately he did not berate the younger man for his anger - he had been betrayed by the one person he had trusted most, after all - and so he let Lavi compose himself, watching him carefully. Silence, heavy with tension, broken by Lavi’s voice, words spoken so quietly Cross could scarcely hear him.

“When did he find out?”

Cross paused before speaking, a shred of sympathy entering his voice. “Do you really wanna know the answer to that, kid?”

Lavi clenched his hands into fists. “No. No, I don’t, but I have to know how long he -”

“He knew from the start.” Lavi looked over at Cross, expression pained. “He checked with me soon after he took you on as an apprentice, and he didn’t have any reason to speak of it again until that girl, my stupid apprentice, and their Innocence acted out of line. He’d hoped he was wrong.”

Lavi couldn’t speak, choking on the lump in his throat, body trembling. Junior couldn’t comfort him, equally distressed - if not more so - by what Cross had told them. Cross watched Lavi bury his head in his hands and sighed heavily, throwing his cigarette in a nearby ashtray.

“Listen, kid, that old man had two choices. He could have let you go your own merry way, hoping that he’d been wrong about you, and later you would have been captured by the Order and subjected to their… kind services -” Lavi knew exactly what the Order would have done to him and shuddered “- or the Noah would have found you and given you a warm welcome before they destroyed the Heart and killed you. Or, he could have kept you around, to keep an eye on you and -”

“That doesn’t change the fact that he knew and he lied to me.” Lavi’s voice was shaking from anger, eye ablaze with emotion. “I thought it was somethin’ else all this goddamn time and he told me it was true. I thought…” his voice broke, crushed by the weight of truth “- I thought he actually…”

Cross sighed, leaning back against the wall behind him. “He did care, you idiot, but that old man has always been a stickler for the rules. He thought he did the right thing by taking you in despite knowing he was dooming you to a future you could never have.”

Lavi gritted his teeth, shoulders hunching. “So he… was he ever training me to be a Bookman? Was I being raised for - for this instead?” He gestured at the room around him. “The Third Side, right? Is that what he was preparing me for all this time?”

Cross sighed. “As I said, he hoped he was wrong. He knew if he was right, he couldn’t just leave you. If training you to be a Bookman meant you got to succeed him ‘cause you were normal in the end, great. If it turned out you were the Heart though, it meant he’d kept you safe from the people who would’ve destroyed the world through you.”

Lavi buried his head in his hands, voice so loud he was practically shouting. “That doesn’t make it okay! He lied to me! I thought - I thought I was gonna -”

Cross paused before laughing, bitterly. “Trust me, it isn’t easy lying to a little kid’s face about shit like this.”

Lavi looked up, saw the pained look on Cross’s face, and thought of Allen, young and vulnerable and doomed to a fate he’d never asked for. Cross sighed and shook his head a little.

“If it was a choice between you hating him someday and the world ending, he’d pick the former every goddamn time.”

Lavi didn’t reply, head bowed, arms dropping to hang loosely at his side. When Cross began to speak once more, Lavi looked up, vision blurred with tears.

“Hate him for it, if you want to. Resent him for putting you through all this bullshit. Be glad he’s dead. If it keeps you going, then go for it.” Lavi tried to speak but Cross spoke over him. “But don’t give up because of it. I hate to say it, kid, but we’re all riding on your ability to keep going right now, and you’re no use to us if you’re just gonna lie down and die.”

Lavi took a step forward, outraged. Cross smiled widely. “There we go, that’s it! You’ll be surprised how much bitterness and anger can get you through shit.”

Lavi couldn’t argue with that statement. He stood and stared at his feet, hands clenched so tightly into fists that his knuckles went white from the strain. Cross raised himself up and tied his hair up into a loose ponytail before walking towards the door. Lavi stepped aside and watched him as he walked. He caught a glimpse of a scar on the back of Cross’s neck, a mirror to the one he bore; a mark of exile, though it was not the stark white of his own.

He thought of fate, of abandoning duty in favour of something else, of the Third Side and all that he and Cross had - more than a little ironically - cast aside for the exact same person.

Cross opened the door and came to a halt. When he spoke, he spoke quietly, using a tone of voice Lavi had never heard him use before. It could hardly be called gentle, but it was as close as Cross could get to such a thing.

“Sleep, eat, punch a wall - I don’t care. Do what you need to move past it. I’ve gotta check on my… test subject.”

Cross left the room and shut the door behind him, leaving Lavi alone with Junior, with his memories, with the ruins of his future and all that he had lost.

Chapter Text

Neah’s gaze followed behind Lavi as he left.

The room fell silent, the tension in the air becoming noticeably heavier. Allen, observing things through Neah’s eyes, couldn’t help but feel anxious. Allen trusted Neah enough to know he wouldn’t hurt his friends - though he might irritate them a fair bit, he noted with an internal smile - but he felt anxious nonetheless.

Neah didn’t notice Allen’s anxiety, didn’t notice the looks he was being given. He wasn’t aware of the visible concern on his face, or how that concern did more to ease the suspicions his companions held than his words ever could.

When Lavi reached the landing above, falling out of Neah’s line of sight, Neah turned his attention back to the room he was in. He noticed he was being stared at and narrowed his eyes.

“What?”

Lenalee exchanged a glance with Kanda and Link, who both gave her the same reassuring look, before managing a tentative smile.

“Nothing really, you’re just -” Lenalee faltered, trying to find the right words “- you’re not what I expected.”

Neah raised an eyebrow. “What were you expecting?”

Lenalee gave a hesitant laugh. “Oh, I guess… something along the lines of what Kanda told me about before.”

Neah huffed. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Kanda, observing the conversation somewhat apathetically before this point, cut in with an irritated tone to his voice.

“You cracked Johnny’s head open.”

Neah paused, looked over at Johnny - who was resolutely staring anywhere but at him - and shrugged.

“Yeah, well, I had no idea who he was. He could’ve been trying to kill me.”

Kanda raised an eyebrow. “You really think that guy could hurt anyone?”

Neah looked at Johnny again, who gave him a sheepish grin, and sighed. “Yeah, well, whatever. I’m sorry, I - I guess.”

The room fell into stunned silence. Neah looked around, saw the creeping smiles on the faces of those around him, and pulled a face.

“What? What’re you staring at me for?”

Lenalee smiled, unable to keep the amusement out of her voice. “Definitely nothing like what I expected.”

Neah didn’t respond, trying and failing not to look awkward or embarrassed before Krory spoke up, curiosity evident in his voice.

“It is very strange, seeing Allen’s face when you’re not at all like him.” Krory stood, leaning in to peer at Neah with a frown. “Is he… is Allen still here?”

Neah leant back, pulling a face. “You never heard of personal space?”

Krory ignored him, leaning in further. “I wonder if he can hear me. Hello? Allen, can you hear me?”

Allen, observing all of this, couldn’t help but laugh. Neah shot Allen a dark look before placing a hand on Krory’s face and pushing him away.

“Seriously, you’re weirding me out. And yes, he can hear you, and he’s laughing his ass off.”

Krory, satisfied with that response, gave a smile before sitting down. Neah sighed, resolutely ignoring Allen, who was laughing so hard he was crying. Lenalee saw the discomfort in Neah’s face, hesitated for a moment, and then spoke up.

“I can… I can imagine this is strange for you too.”

Neah blinked a few times, confused. Allen fell silent, curious about what Lenalee meant. Lenalee raised her hands in a placating gesture, voice tentative.

“I, well, what I mean is… um… it must be weird, having to work with us like this.”

Neah raised an eyebrow. “Sure, I guess.” He paused for a moment, arms crossed, expression contemplative. “I was expecting you to be horrified or something, or demand I bring Allen back, or say something like I won’t ever trust you.”

Kanda scoffed. “We definitely don’t trust you.”

Neah turned to give him a beaming smile. “Good, the feeling is mutual.”

Kanda gave a disgusted noise but ultimately said nothing. Neah, satisfied with that reaction, turned back and noticed Lenalee was staring up at him, expression hard to read. Neah scowled.

“What?”

Lenalee blinked a few times before shaking her head a little. “Oh, nothing, it’s just…”

Allen saw the conflicted expression on Lenalee’s face and felt concern rise within him. Neah said nothing, waiting for Lenalee to continue with steadily dwindling patience. Eventually, Lenalee spoke, looking down at her hands with a sad smile.

“I thought a lot about how I’d feel if I ever met you. I thought I’d be upset or angry. I thought to myself there’s no way I’ll be okay with it.” Allen shifted uncomfortably, enough for Neah to notice. “But Allen… he’s still here. That was… that was what I was scared of more than anything, that I’d never see him again, that it’d only be you who was left.”

Lenalee’s voice had become strained, hands clenching into fists. Allen wanted to reach out, to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. Neah felt that urge, felt his hand twitch a little in response, and pulled a face. He nearly spoke up, but Lenalee cut in before he could say anything.

“Lavi said that you were both here.” Lenalee looked up with a smile. “I don’t trust you, not yet, but I trust Lavi, and I trust Allen too. I’m… we’re all comfortable working with you because of that.”

Neah couldn’t reply, not at first. Both he and Allen were stunned into silence by it, the way Lenalee was smiling up at them, the faith in her eyes. Neah turned away just enough to avoid her gaze and ran a hand through his hair with a sigh.

“Sure, whatever. See it however you want, I don’t care.”

His half-hearted, disgruntled response eased the tension in the room considerably. Lenalee laughed a little, shaking her head as she did so. Before Neah could voice his irritation, the sound of footsteps and the creak of floorboards drew his attention.

Cross was stood, leaning against the doorframe with a curious glance. He saw the awkward way Neah was stood, the smiles on the faces of everyone else in the room, and grinned.

“Looks like everyone’s making friends. How touching.” Neah scowled at that, making Cross laugh. He shook his head a little before continuing. “I’m gonna go check in on our unwanted guest.”

Neah thought of what was lying in wait beneath him, bound and trapped, and grimaced. He could feel Allen’s anxiety, the tension within him, and knew Allen wanted to talk to Apocryphos and never speak to it again in equal measure. Neah had no desire to follow Cross into whatever horrifying place he was keeping Apocryphos.

When Neah noticed Lavi wasn’t following behind Cross, he frowned and spoke up. “Where’s Lavi?”

Cross sighed, visibly frustrated. “Upstairs. He’s probably sulking or something.”

Neah knew Lavi well enough to know he was likely feeling far worse than something as petty as ‘sulking’. He took a step forward, then two, heading upstairs without a word. Cross exchanged a glance with the others then looked up at Neah, who was stood with his back to him at the top of the landing. He shook his head with a smile before disappearing down the corridor.

Neah was blind to all else, staring at the closed door to his left with narrowed eyes and hesitation clinging at his heart. He felt Allen’s presence grow stronger, more insistent. Neah sighed, knowing without asking what Allen wanted.

A few minutes later, when Allen had adjusted to his surroundings, he took a tentative step forward, knocked on the door before him, and pushed it open.

Sat alone in the darkness, knees tucked up towards his body, was Lavi.

Timcanpy had perched itself by Lavi’s side, looking up at him with something that could be recognised as curiosity. Allen smiled at the sight of it, though the empty look in Lavi’s eye made his smile fall a little.

Lavi didn’t look up when Allen entered the room, didn’t move when Allen sat down beside him. The mattress dipped under both their weights with a creak of protest. Timcanpy flew up and perched itself on the nearby table, looking over at Allen and Lavi with disinterest before settling down.

The silence that surrounded them was heavy, full of burdens and hidden thoughts, but there was an air of comfort there too, of something nameless that bid Allen to sit closer to Lavi than he normally would have done, right arm brushing against Lavi’s left.

Allen knew that Lavi had a lot on his mind. He did nothing but offer his silent companionship at first. It was how the two of them had always worked; when they’d been at the Order, when they’d started their journey together. Silent understanding was often far more comforting than words for the both of them, but some things were better said aloud, if not just to free oneself of its burden.

“Do you… want to talk about it?”

Allen didn’t receive an answer, not at first. Eventually, he heard Lavi speak, so quietly he thought he had imagined it.

“He lied to me.”

Allen sat up a little straighter, consumed by worry. “Who did?”

“Gramps did.”

Allen fell silent. Empathy bid him to gently place his hand atop Lavi’s own, to give it a reassuring squeeze that said I’m sorry without words. The knowledge that someone you trusted had kept such an important part of you locked away in their minds, only to reveal it to you far too late… the breach of trust, the betrayal… it was a feeling Allen knew all too well.

Lavi interlaced their fingers together and it was reassurance for them both. When Lavi resumed speaking, voice full of bitterness, Allen felt his heart twist painfully in his chest.

“I just… can’t bring myself to hate him for it. I tried imagining talking to him, asking him why, but…” Lavi faltered then sighed, resting his forehead on his knees “… it doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Allen couldn’t reply, gripped by empathy. They had both been forced to acknowledge that their lives had been a lie, nothing but a play-thing of puppeteers, forced to move according to a hidden agenda that they wanted no part of. A dim feeling of anger - and something else, something nameless that burned like fire and clutched at his heart - rose within Allen, and when he spoke his voice rang with emotion.

“He shouldn’t have lied to you. It’s not… it’s not fair.” He paused, left hand curling into a fist. “Both of us, we… we deserved the truth, even if we weren’t ready to hear it.”

Lavi laughed, bitterly. “But the world’s more important than us, apparently.”

Allen turned to him, eyes ablaze with an emotion that burned and consumed. When Lavi turned to look at him, he felt the same feeling he had felt on the Ark, when Allen had spoken of strength and a safe return home, when Lavi had realised how brightly Allen radiated hope.

“What’s good for the world doesn’t matter. What’s good for everyone else, it doesn’t matter.” Allen placed a hand over his chest, over his heart, and spoke with passion. “We’re going to make our own choices. We’re going to follow our own paths, I promise.”

Lavi could do little else but stare, enraptured by the emotion in Allen’s eyes and the feeling that clutched painfully at his heart. Allen smiled, soft and full of affection, before turning his head and gazing thoughtfully up at the ceiling.

Lavi hesitated before closing the distance between them, resting his head gently against Allen’s shoulder. It was comfortable, the silence that passed over them. Allen rubbed a thumb reassuringly against the back of Lavi’s hand, which brought a soft smile to Lavi’s face. When Lavi spoke, his voice was full of warmth and gratitude.

“Allen?”

“Hm?”

Allen shifted slightly to gaze down at him. Lavi mirrored Allen’s movements to look up at him and give a genuine smile, soft affection in his gaze.

“Thank you.”

It was not Lavi’s words that had caught Allen off guard; no, it was his smile, one he had never seen Lavi give before. He knew he should speak, accept the words of gratitude and say something, anything at all, but the words caught in his throat. Allen found himself staring, lost in Lavi’s eye and the rapid beating of his heart against his rib-cage.

When Lavi leant forward, so did he.

It was a soft, gentle kiss, one that expressed far more than words ever could. It spoke of time, of longing and hidden feelings, of shared burdens and understanding, of love. When they drew apart, eyes meeting, no other words could describe what had just passed between them but that it felt right - more right than either of them had felt in a long time, more right than they thought they could ever feel in a time in which so much else felt wrong.

Allen pressed his forehead against Lavi’s own. There they both remained for many long moments, enraptured by this nameless emotion that had suddenly spilled forth from parted lips, from hearts that had long since kept it hidden. Lavi tilted his face up slightly, nose brushing against Allen’s own, and both of them couldn’t help but smile at it, this new intimacy and the way it left their hearts racing.

It dawned on them, slowly but surely, what had transpired. They realised what it meant with a sudden rush of emotion that clutched at their hearts, left them breathless. Allen pulled Lavi into a tight embrace, head buried in his shoulder - yes, this is what it meant - and Lavi wrapped his arms around Allen’s trembling frame, rubbing small circles against his lower back.

Lavi felt it too; the same wonder, the same fear. It was a bittersweet thing, to realise you loved someone. There was no turning back, no way to deny that this was the feeling that had been there this whole time, sleeping in darkened corridors of their hearts. It was with both wonder and fear that Lavi raised his hands to Allen’s shoulders to pull him away a little, to look into his eyes and cup his face in his scarred hands and smile, full of uncertainty. He felt uncertain, but he did not doubt this feeling, not anymore. Allen mirrored his actions, lightly holding Lavi’s face in his hands. The affection that spilled forth from both their hearts was so strong they felt moved by it.

It was okay, and it was that thought above all others that brought tears to their eyes. They had spent their entire lives refusing love, denying themselves care and emotion. In that room lit by candlelight, the weight of all those long years of loneliness came crashing down on them. They rubbed away each other’s tears with a gentle touch, smiling and trembling and laughing because they had finally found it - a safe haven, a place to call home - and there was no way to explain it, the weight of what it meant to the both of them. They had spent their entire lives fearing it, but it felt okay. It felt right to the both of them despite everything.

It didn’t need to be named, this feeling. They knew, could see it in each other’s eyes without a single shred of doubt. Lavi tucked a strand of hair behind Allen’s ear and smiled so widely it hurt when Allen leant into the gesture with closed eyes and a quiet hum. Allen opened his eyes and looked into Lavi’s own and smiled so brightly that it was dazzling. Lavi knew that would always be how he would remember him; the boy who shone so brightly that he could not help but feel awed by it.

There was so much the both of them wanted to say, so much they had kept locked away and hidden inside of their hearts. Words tumbled out all at once, in a rush of feeling.

“I should’ve -”

“Sorry for -”

They both paused then laughed. Lavi gave Allen a look that said you first, but Allen shook his head and smiled in a way that Lavi knew all too well.

Lavi gave a wry smile. “Always gotta be polite, huh?”

Allen laughed. “Of course. Would you want me to be any other way?”

Lavi made a quiet noise of contemplation before flicking Allen’s forehead lightly with a grin.

“No, I wouldn’t. Though -” he paused before laughing, cheeks flushed “- seein’ you be a rude little shit is just as nice.”

Allen smirked. “Oh, really? I’ll be sure to be rude to you more often.”

Lavi pulled a face and pinched Allen’s cheeks in protest. When the same gesture was returned to him, they both laughed at the ridiculous expressions on each other’s faces. They let go of each other and, after a moment of silence, Lavi seemed to struggle with deciding something before reaching into his shirt. He pulled out two halves of a worn playing card and extended the card forward, refusing to meet Allen’s gaze, clearly embarrassed.

“I… this is, uh, this is yours.”

Allen paused for a moment, pretending to look surprised. He took the card from Lavi’s hands and leant forward with a grin, practically beaming.

“All it took was a kiss to motivate you to give that back? That’s cute.”

Lavi froze, cheeks burning. “I - w-wait, how did - did you just call me cute?”

Allen burst out laughing, falling backwards onto the bed and grasping at his stomach. Lavi pulled a face, becoming more and more flustered. He pulled Allen back up by his shirt, indignant.

“This isn’t funny! This is serious!”

Allen halted his laughter, wiping away tears before giving a sheepish smile. “I know. I’m sorry, Lavi.” He looked down at the card in his hands, soft emotion in his voice. “You held onto it all this time without telling me, so it means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”

Lavi forgot how to breathe, for the briefest of moments feeling as if he was back on the Ark; water around his thighs, Allen’s blood pooling in front of him - you held onto it all this time, without telling Bookman - arm raised as ink trailed down to drip soundlessly below. Allen picked up on how Lavi had tensed up and pulled away a little, placing the two halves of the playing card back into Lavi’s hands with a gentle smile.

“I’m glad you held onto it. Before you panic, I only found out recently you even had it.” When Lavi gave him a confused look, Allen flushed a little, an awkward laugh escaping him. “When you were asleep a few nights ago, I went to check up on you and saw you holding it. I should’ve said something, I’m sorry.”

Lavi paused for a moment before sighing, a hesitant smile gracing his features. “It’s okay, I should’ve said something ages ago.”

Allen shook his head. “It’s okay.” He hesitated for a moment before continuing, curiosity evident in his voice. “By the way… how did it end up ripped in half?”

Lavi gave an awkward laugh. “Oh, uh, me and Junior had a fight and it sorta just… happened.”

Allen raised an eyebrow but ultimately said nothing. It didn’t matter to him either way - the fact Lavi had held onto it was more than enough for him. He began to speak but a mumbled internal statement from Neah distracted him, making him laugh. Lavi raised an eyebrow at him, confused.

“Somethin’ funny?”

Allen grinned. “Let’s just say Neah’s getting a little… grumpy.”

Lavi smirked. “Oh? What did he say?”

“He said if you two don’t hurry up being disgustingly lovey-dovey, I’m gonna punch Lavi in the face and leave.”

Lavi laughed. “What a mood killer.” He leant closer, cupping Allen’s face in his hands with a grin. “He’s probably just jealous.”

Allen smiled, knowing Lavi was joking, and delighted in correcting him. “Oh, he definitely is.” He paused, observed Neah’s outraged - and extremely embarrassed - response and smiled all the wider. “How did he put it the other day… something about stealing you away from me?”

Lavi pulled a face, cheeks colouring a little. “Hey, I ain’t bein’ stolen away from anyone!” He faltered, only then registering what Allen said, eye widening. “Wait…”

Allen watched as Lavi’s expression shifted from one of shock, to one of disbelief, to one of sheer and utter embarrassment. Cheeks flushed, mouth opening and closing repeatedly - Lavi’s expression was a sight to see and Allen couldn’t help but laugh at it. Knowing Neah had his head buried in his hands internally only made him laugh all the harder.

Lavi pulled a face, voice strained. “H-hey, it’s not funny! Are you serious?!”

Allen wiped away his tears, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice. “I’ll let you two figure that out.”

Lavi rubbed the back of his neck, awkward and hesitant. When he spoke, there was uncertainty in his voice.

“You’re… okay with that?”

Allen tilted his head a little. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Lavi faltered, not knowing how to phrase it. “I… well, I dunno, I just…” Lavi’s tone of voice turned awkward. “I’d, uh, want it to be okay with you too, ya know?”

Allen gave a quiet oh, finally understanding what Lavi meant. He had long come to terms with what he felt for Lavi, though he didn’t quite know what it meant, and he’d already had months to come to terms with Neah sharing those feelings in some capacity. He knew that whatever Lavi felt for him was different to what Lavi undoubtedly felt for Neah. They were different people, regardless of the body they shared with each other.

Lavi had always treated them like individuals throughout the months they’d travelled together - Lavi lived such a life too, after all - so Allen felt no fear or confusion. Allen expected some sense of discomfort - once upon a time, Lavi becoming close to Neah would have upset him, scared him, terrified of erasure as he was - but instead he felt comfortable and perfectly at ease.

He knew it was going to be new, and somewhat difficult, for all three of them. They would all need to talk about it, and there certainly wasn’t time to do that now, what with war edging its way onto their doorstep, but in that moment all Allen felt was a sense of content understanding. This is what it meant. Finally, after months of uncertainty and confusion, they all knew that this is what it meant, and it was okay.

Allen let out a soft sigh and shook his head. “You’re an idiot, Lavi. Of course it’s alright.”

Allen held Lavi’s face in the palms of his hands, a soft smile upon his face. Lavi breathed out a sigh of relief and pressed his forehead against Allen’s own. The immediate sense of happiness and contentment that rushed through him was overwhelming.

Lavi knew it was going to be complicated and somewhat interesting, to say the least, figuring out how to manage it all with any sense of grace, but he knew without a shadow of a doubt that what he felt was right, that the love he felt for them both was okay.

Lavi pushed those thoughts aside, focusing on the gentle way Allen was looking at him. It was strange to think that he could feel so comfortable being this close to someone. He knew that later he would worry about it, he would toss and turn and spend long hours wondering if it was the right thing to do, to open up his heart to the people sat in front of him, but then… hadn’t he already opened up his heart to them long before now? The moment Lavi had picked up a bloodied ace of spades, the moment he had pulled Neah up by the hand under shadowed trees, he had resigned himself to accepting that they both meant more to him than they should.

Allen kissed Lavi again, fingers curled around the back of his neck, and Lavi knew that he could not run away from it, not any longer. Whether it was the right thing to do in the long run or not, only time would decide for all of them, but in that moment he felt content to hold Allen close, to kiss him and think of nothing else but that it felt right.

“Oh, I should’ve… knocked…”

The two of them drew apart with a jolt, turning to stare at the doorway. Lenalee stood, staring at them wide-eyed. A tense and awkward silence descended upon them before Lenalee gave a bright smile, so bright she was practically beaming.

“I know you’re busy -” Allen and Lavi both pulled the same embarrassed face. Lenalee could scarcely keep herself from laughing. “- but we need you downstairs.”

“We’ll be right there.”

Allen’s voice was firm despite the trembling of his hands. Lenalee nodded before giving them both a wink.

“I’ll leave you two lovebirds to it.”

Allen and Lavi both groaned, and Lenalee couldn’t hold back her laughter any longer. She left and shut the door behind her. They could hear her laughing to herself as she went downstairs.

The silence that enveloped Allen and Lavi in that moment was full of awkward tension, but when their eyes met they both laughed, and it set them at ease in an otherwise uncertain situation. Allen drew apart from Lavi, clambering off the bed to stand and stretch with a wince. He noticed Timcanpy was sat, looking up at him with what looked like a knowing grin. Allen realised Timcanpy had observed everything that had taken place, grimaced, and lowered himself down so he was at eye level with it.

“You tell anyone what happened and I’ll never forgive you.”

Timcanpy gave a delighted noise and stretched out its wings. Allen laughed, patting Timcanpy’s head before turning to Lavi, who was looking up at him with a fond smile. Allen returned the smile before noticing the ace of spades card was lying, temporarily forgotten, on the bed by Lavi’s side.

Allen reached forward and tucked one hal