When one crossed the line that separated the realm of dreams from the one of consciousness, memories fussed with oneiric images with ease. Kanda knew that sensation.
The Mater he was seeing in his sleep was terrifyingly similar to the one where, so long ago, he and Allen went on their first mission together. It was accurate to the last detail, and it felt absurdly real even though he wasn’t really in Italy, but sat on the sofa of their room in the inn that Johnny had chosen for Allen to rest.
It might be a dream, but the stink of blood and death was as strong as he remembered it. Alma’s body rested between his arms, cold, broken, and empty. His soul was already gone, Kanda knew it, but he still clung on to the body with all the strength he had left. Tears rolled down his face, falling onto Alma’s dusty body and leaving small, dull circles all over the broken skin. It didn’t matter if Kanda closed his eyes, his eyelids were not able to stop his crying, and he didn’t make any further effort. It would be pointless too.
“We are free,” he muttered to himself, since no one else was there to listen anymore.
But something made him raise his gaze and his eyes met a human figure that was standing there, several meters from him.
Allen Walker was looking at him with the softest smile Kanda had ever seen on his face. His white hair was disheveled, messy thin locks of hair all over his face. He looked just as he did when he had sent him and Alma to Mater through the Ark, his clothes all torn and bloodstained, his body covered in wounds. And despite this, the same gentleness of his smile sparkled in his eyes. His, not the Noah’s.
It might be a dream, but his heart ached at the sight so much that it felt like he was awake.
And the pain only worsened when Allen reached out his hand to him.
“Kanda,” he spoke softly, the name echoing in the empty place.
Kanda wanted to call for him too, but he couldn’t find his voice at the moment, as if it had run away from Allen’s presence. Instead, the swordsman just hugged what was left of Alma’s body closer to his own while trying to undo the lump in his throat.
Allen’s eyes looked pained.
“Kanda…” he called again, but his hand fell to his side, and Kanda could bet that there was a glimpse of gold in his eyes.
And then Kanda woke up.
He blinked several times, trying to chase away that heavy somnolence from his mind. He had fallen asleep where he was sitting, watching over the fugitive exorcist while he rested. As soon as his senses focused on reality again, he heard the weak voice of Allen calling for him. And this time it wasn’t a dream.
His voice was barely a murmur, the exhaustion and pain that tormented the albino were clear in it. He sounded sleepy, too, as if he had woken up not long ago, like Kanda.
“Beansprout?” Kanda replied quickly and stood up from his seat to approach the bed where Allen lay. He looked honestly terrible. Allen always had a small and slim constitution that, despite the completely irrational strength and resistance his body hid, made him look like he was about to break into pieces any time soon. But this was probably the worst state in which Kanda had ever seen him, even though Kanda had witnessed Allen taking more than one serious injury. He was even paler than usual, and the skin of his forehead and neck was shiny from sweat, presumably because of the fever that Johnny said Allen was suffering from just an hour ago. Allen not only looked physically exhausted, but mentally too. And that was what made it so shaking. “...What’s wrong?”
Allen’s eyes fixed on his face for a moment, but then he looked around the room nervously, searching for something, or rather someone.
“Where… Where’s Johnny? Is he okay?” he questioned, appearing quite disturbed by the fact that the scientist was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s fine,” Kanda assured, and his answer seemed to tranquilize the other since his body relaxed enough to rest his full weight on the bed again. Kanda took a seat on the chair next to Allen’s bed, the one that Johnny placed there for himself when they first arrived. “He went to buy some medicine for you. Don’t worry, he took Timcanpy with him. We would know if something’s wrong.”
“Thank goodness…” the shorter one let out in a sigh, closing his eyes for several seconds before opening them again and staring at Kanda’s blue eyes. After a brief moment of silence, Allen smiled weakly, but his eyes looked pained, just like in the dream. “You’re alive…”
“Did you think that I would let myself get killed that easily, beansprout?” he replied bluntly and Allen snorted in contentment at his response, but didn’t answer back at the nickname, which was proof enough that his mental state wasn’t the best.
The white-haired exorcist squinted, lowering his eyelids. Truth be told, he seemed to be on the verge of tears, and that made Kanda feel an uncomfortable pressure in his chest.
“No,” Allen finally answered, managing to pronounce the word despite it sounding as if half of it had gotten stuck in his throat and refused to come out. “No, I didn’t.”
Kanda pressed his lips together until they were only a thin line as he watched Allen averting his eyes from him. Something was troubling, torturing the exorcist, something that could be spoken up to lessen the burden, and he seemed to be deciding if it really was okay for him to open up, even if it was just a little bit. Kanda wouldn’t mind hearing him out. Actually, he wanted Allen to speak about what was hurting him so much, about what was making him run away from everything and everyone. But Allen had always been much more evasive than he appeared to be. He locked it all under sweet smiles and polite words, swallowing the feelings of fault and responsibility to the point that his stubbornness had made Kanda despise him at first. But sooner than later, he noticed. And he despised it in a different way now.
“I just… didn’t know,” Allen’s voice filled the silence after what felt like an eternity. “I didn’t know if you were going to be okay. I didn't know what would happen to Alma. I…” His words were cut short then, his hands closed in fists and his eyes shut too, prompting the tears accumulated in his eyes to roll down his face at once. “Not knowing is a scary thing, isn’t it?”
It truly was, Kanda could tell.
After all, not knowing was what made him come back to Allen.
Kanda wanted to tell him — there were many things that he wanted to say, but he had never been one to express his feelings openly. And this time wasn’t an easy situation to start with. Not when Allen was crying like that. He wasn’t used to comforting other people; Lenalee would surely do a better job, probably even Lavi could do it decently. Damn, Johnny was much more suited to it than him.
But neither of them was why Allen was crying right now. It was him. He, who disappeared and everyone thought to be dead. He, who Allen decided to help and protect even if it finally made the Order consider Allen a total menace, an enemy.
The albino opened his eyes and looked at him, his right hand making a motion as if he wanted to reach out to Kanda but decided not to.
“I’m so happy that you’re alive,” he whispered, but he seemed so hurt that it was hard to see his happiness even if it wasn’t possible to doubt it. “But… why…? Why did you come back? You were free from all of this…”
It wasn’t the first time that Allen had said that. Just before he lost consciousness and they brought him there, he had asked the same. But instead of being sad like now, he had been angry. And Kanda had gotten angry at his attitude too. But now, he couldn’t bring himself to get angry at his confusion. He only closed his eyes momentarily and sighed quietly.
Kanda himself grabbed Allen’s hand, much to the surprise of the latter. His fingers closed carefully around the other palm in a mild yet firm grip. The younger one looked at him with his eyes slightly more open, clearly surprised at the unexpected action, but didn’t remove his hand, welcoming the contact.
Allen’s hand was cold.
“I promised Alma and myself that I would live freely from now on,” Kanda started talking after a moment. He had Allen's complete attention, so he continued, “That doesn’t mean staying away from the Order, but living without regret. For that, I have to be true to myself, to what I want and what I feel. That’s why I returned. Because I didn’t know what would happen to you, and I regretted not being by your side once Alma was truly gone.”
Allen’s eyes were weepy again as if Kanda’s voice had just made him want to cry once more. Probably it was exactly that. But he had still things to say, there was still a lot he had to express to Allen. It probably wasn’t possible for him to convey everything now, but it was at least a start.
“You gave Alma and me the possibility of freeing ourselves. And I don’t think I can’t ever repay you for that, but I know I have to do the closest thing possible — and that’s helping you here and now.”
Allen had started crying as quietly as he had done earlier, as if concealing the sounds would make him not look so helpless. Kanda squeezed his hand weakly, trying to reassure him, to let him know that he wasn’t alone.
“So forget the Church, forget the Noah. I despise both of them. I came back for you.”
Allen couldn’t contain his sobs any longer and he finally yielded to his tears. He still looked troubled, and Kanda could imagine why. The price the swordsman had paid to recover his Innocence was high, and he had no idea if it would turn against him for betraying the Church and helping Allen. He didn’t know, but he had made his decision no matter what would happen from now on.
If the price was his life, so be it. The only reason why he was still alive was that cursed boy, after all.
“I-I…” Allen mumbled between soft sobbings. He tightened his own grip on Kanda’s hand as if he didn’t want to let him go now that they have reunited after all those hard months. “I was… so lonely…”
But it wasn’t Kanda who was likely to run away.
“I know,” he replied in a low voice, trying to sound as gentle as he possibly could. “I know.”
“But…” Allen closed his eyes, slightly shaking his head. He needed a few seconds to arrange his thoughts and find the strength to keep talking. He looked so tired that Kanda was afraid he would just drift off in the middle of the conversation. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt anymore. I want to protect them, and you, but this Noah that’s inside me… The 14th won’t…”
“It’s okay,” the black-haired man interrupted, forcing him to go silent. “We are here to support you, it will be okay if you let us help. So stop being so stubborn for once and accept our help.” They couldn’t be sure if it was really going to be okay, but if they didn’t help him, it obviously wouldn’t be.
“I don’t know anymore, Kanda.” Allen opened his eyes, glassy and slightly red, to look at him. “If he ever… If I’m gone…”
“That won’t happen, you damn beansprout,” he blurted, gaining a resigned, bittersweet smile from the other exorcist. He frowned in response.
Stay. If only Allen would stay and let them help him without messing everything up trying to run away again. But he knew him too well at this point, Kanda knew that Allen would eventually flee once more. Because he thought it was for their sake, because he wanted the people he cared about to be safe even if it meant sentencing himself.
He had always been like that, and Kanda hated it more than ever. He definitely wasn’t going to let him run away.
“We can’t be sure,” Allen pointed, still smiling faintly. His eyes were watery and barely open. Sleepiness was crawling into him. “If it happens... don’t let him do as he pleases.”
Kanda’s frowned expression deepened at the implication of those words. He knew very well what Allen was asking him to do. The worst part was the fact that he understood it, he understood that it was a logical request to make. It was easy to tell anyone else that he was ready to slay the Noah should it be necessary, but saying it to Allen himself… in this situation...
“Please, Kanda. Promise me.”
Kanda moved his free hand and placed it on Allen’s forehead, which was worryingly hot from the fever. The albino seemed to melt into the touch, and Kanda felt a light squeeze on their joined hands. As he moved his fingers to push aside the locks of snow-like hair that were stuck to that pale skin, he bit his lower lip, angrily. Life was not fair to any of them, wasn’t it?
“...I promise I will stay with you.” He could read in Allen’s eyes how much he had longed for words like those, but at the same time, he could see how much they hurt him, how much he was pleading for Kanda to make the promise he had asked him for. “But if you reach a point where the only thing left in your body is that Noah, I’ll be the one to kill you. Or rather, kill him. I swear.”
Once those words had left the taller man’s mouth, Allen nodded his head almost imperceptibly, in an approving gesture that seemed to be his way to thank him without using words. His eyes shut close and a heavy sigh escaped him through the nose. Kanda retreated his hand from the other’s face as Allen fell asleep, but he decided to let their hands hold each other for a bit longer.
“So don’t give up, Allen. Don’t let him overtake you.” Kanda allowed himself to close his eyes, listening to the sound of Allen’s slow-paced breathing. “Don’t make me kill you.”