Wretched Little Heart

When Lavi spits in Sheril's face and says, "Bring it on you sonnava bitch, I've seen worse from ten-year-old little boys," it's not false bravado. It's the truth.

When they bring him back they ask him as a matter of hopeful course, what happened to the hammer? Lavi stares blankly, as if they're transparent and there's something immediately transfixing about the wall behind them.

"They destroyed it." What did they think they would do?

They take him to Hevlaska. She looms ostentatiously over him. He stands quietly and respectfully before their grape-jelly cephalopodan goddess. Her glow feels spiritual, peaceful. So does her delicate declaration,

"He cannot synchronize with any other innocence. He is no longer an accommodator".

There are stifled groans from the gallery. They're used to miracles performing on command for them. Or near enough.

Lavi locks his gaze with the empty space where Hevlaska's eyes should be, if she had them instead of a tentacled cowl. He smiles apologetically, too wise to say anything while the Vatican officials are still present. But he hopes she understands. She retracts her feelers from his body and purses her beautiful purple lips.

She does.

They took his right arm clear to the shoulder, and for good measure, the thumb and the first two fingers of his left hand. They had made numerous threats about ripping out his tongue but fact remained that the whole point of having him was to squeeze out information about Allen.

But well, they hadn't quite been able to resist. Most of them masquerade as fancy pants inbred bluebloods on their days off. Lavi has a scar from a delightful idea one of them had, inspired by an equestrian hobby. Apparently some trainers will cut the tongue of a willful horse to make it more sensitive to the bit. Obedience through pain. Rich weirdoes and their kinky obsession with horses, honestly.

The tough patch of tissue means that he can't taste much of anything anymore, and his l's and s's sound different.

Lenalee holds her head high and resolute when he bumps into her for the first time. Surely she was been briefed beforehand so there would be no surprises. And he knows her. He fully expects her to deliver the "it doesn't matter" speech with enough sincerity to put a nun volunteering at a leper colony to shame. His, how should he put it, new 'accent' would be a dead giveaway anyways, so instead of saying anything, he rolls his eyes and sticks out his tongue at her.

"Oh Lavi," she says eventually, with enough feeling to break a thousand hearts.

Maybe he should move to a leper colony. It'd probably be the only place where he wouldn't get a reaction. He hears there's a nice one in Hawaii. He likes the sun. He thinks he does, anyways. Maybe just the 49th did. But who doesn't like the sun?

They tell him that he can join the researchers. He can't hold a test tube worth a damn but he's still a genius. He still has a perfect memory of everything he sees and hears. He can put that towards designing things, right?

They can't seem to grasp (ha) that he's the wrong kind of brilliant. There's a reason why the greatest minds of the humanities and the greatest minds of the sciences don't glance at each other through the book stacks of university libraries and proclaim lifelong love and collaboration.

He's a historian. He's not interested in conducting experiments in very, very controlled conditions (or as controlled as you can get with the madmen they have in R&D). He's good at taking in the raw chaos of mass human violence and distilling it into thoughtful conclusions. If Bookmen weren't neutral, they'd be great tacticians, since they have knowledge of every war and every outcome since some of the very first. Those Greeks sure did come up with fantastical cover stories for simple strategic failures. Whenever they failed to protect their women and children from kidnaps and rapes, it was always, wow did you see that herd of drunk Centaurs.

Really, he can think of a million ways to turn the tide of this war. In a lab, at best he'd occupy space while acting as a living record of the scientists' data notes, if they felt like dictating to him. He'd be a very poorly utilized secretary.

He does it anyways. He needs to do something to deserve the tasteless food they feed him.

So, apparently the invasion of HQ planned around awakening the thirds led to a lot of exorcists going out on extended adventures. Chaozii's not back yet. Lavi was the favorite, so they retrieved him first. Thanks, he really wanted that survivor's guilt.

Allen's gone, that's a mess. Kanda's back and he was actually a great success on his tour, he mopped up what could have been a very tragic romance with a happy-enough ending. He even put Allen's descent into darkness on temporary hold. That's where Johnny is, doing maintenance on Allen under Kanda's instructions.

Kanda is a goddamned hero, he deserves a parade float. They really should have a budget for nice things like that, to keep up morale. Instead they waste money on prosthetics that Lavi never wears. They're very expensive paperweights purchased from the mundane medical world of normals. Seriously. He uses them to keep his old Bookman notes from blowing around. It's a castle, it's drafty.

It takes several days for them to make contact. They don't share training sessions any more, and Lavi skips a lot of meal times because hey, food, not that interesting. But Kanda can be reliably found in the mess hall at dinner, so he goes just to say hi. They're still co-workers, after all. He's just like, an infinite number of ranks below Kanda now.

He taps Kanda on the shoulder with his two remaining fingers. Kanda turns around. Kanda looks fantastic. His general's uniform upgrades his military-dashingness well above the rest of them, including Lenalee still in her dancing hall riff on battle-gear. He's his pretty old self, with his hair grown out so it's even more flattering. Re-forged Mugen, sleeker than the first and second versions, sits on his hip. His sleeves are rolled up for his meal, and the crosses on his arm sparkle with power.

His scars sparkle. Good gravy.

Kanda has resting bitch face, but the default steeliness around his eyes melts into something more human when he takes in Lavi's appearance. In front of everyone, his hands come up and he holds Lavi's various stumps like he's learned how to cradle pitiful things with lots of tender compassion.

"Lavi," he says, just like Lenalee.

Great, Kanda even came back nicer.

Lavi withdraws his stubs. He sits down next to Kanda, eats some incredibly unsatisfying bread, and tries to make small talk. He can see realization dawning Kanda's face when the words come out in a different, clumsier inflection.

"Did they cut your tongue?"

So no one bothers to tell Kanda things ahead of time to spare his feelings or prep him for sensitivity training. It's clear in the dead silent, red-faced embarrassment of their tablemates. Lavi gives up, says "Yup" because he can still say that pretty clearly, and goes to his room.

One thing Lavi just cannot be a good sport about is the Holy Shit Phantom Pain. It jerks him awake without warning and makes him want to screech like a howler monkey. That would be pure selfishness though, because it'd upset the whole household for no good reason. Nothing can be done. It's his brain playing tricks in some deeply buried cortex where not even millennia of Bookman mysticism can't reach. If someone really were stretching out his tendons until they snapped like old rubber bands, he could astral project his way out of it til' he got to safety. But his subconscious is like, haha sucker I know you're in a safe place. Here's a mental cage anyways. You must not like yourself.

Gee, that hasn't been new in a minute.

So his life sucks but it's a tolerable suckiness right on through to Lenalee touching his side, all bare from armless-ness.

"Lavi?" she whispers in alarm because maybe the horrible cold sweats and fetal position makes it look like he's two seconds away from death. "I just got back and I wanted to…check on you…"

Lenalee may literally not be allowed outside when she's not working, but so maybe she's never encountered nature. But when you poke a wounded animal and it balls up further you should probably leave it alone. He can't even answer her so he's powerless to stop her from scampering off to the head nurse.

She shows up with her hair in curlers and oh hey, orderlies. Of course he knew they had them because someone had to force the blood-relatives-of-exorcists test subjects to their torture. He'd always just assumed Komui fired them for driving his sister to attempted suicide. That man was a politician. Empty promises for reform through and through.

"Young man!" the head nurse barks at him, because he's not her first double amputee. They burn through their Finders like kindling. The only difference is that when they're well enough to stumble around again they get sent home (the survivors). They just don't have a shipping address for Lavi. Anyways, the head nurse knows what to do, and she likes him. He knows this from back when she kept him and Lenalee from rushing off to their doom against the level 4, in her surly way.

"Relax yourself," she orders him. He can't, just like she'd expected. So the orderlies snap to and seize him.

"No, why," Lenalee cries incoherently because it looks terrible. Lavi knows they're going to forcibly massage him. It's meant as a kindness since it works for like a fraction of a fraction of phantom pain sufferers. But if it looks and sounds distressingly physical assault-y, it's because it is.

"What are you all doing in here? Get the hell out!"

Someone put out a bulletin that there's an unauthorized party in Lavi's room because now Kanda's joining the throng and kicking everybody out.

Lenalee must be sorry she started the whole thing because she runs out, believing in Kanda's ability to apoplectically rage his way to making things OK again. That's kind of his special talent. The head nurse has had this particular psychopath under her care too though, and while injured and extra ornery. So she's dry as toast as she says again

"Young man—"

"Lady, you've been good to me, but if you don't take those goons with you they're leaving through the window."

They go, Lavi supposes, because it's not like he can die from fake agony. Kanda sits down on the bed next to him. Since Lavi still can't move under his own power, he rolls over like a petrified log into the dip of Kanda's weight.

This, of course, presses him right up against Kanda's butt. Lavi has been punished way worse for way less. But Kanda is not a bitch about it because he's still a better man who now understands that people can't help the awful things that happen to them and how it makes them burdensome.

Like with Allen at various points of being tied up as the 14th, he just pushes Lavi back into place. Then he bites his lip because the by the third time he'd resurrected Johnny from Allen's stubborn neck-wringing habit, he'd learned that biting your finger just leads to a bruise, biting your arm open hurts, and lips are thin skinned, heal quickly, and bleed briskly.

"Oh God, did you really just spit in my mouth?" Lavi accuses him immediately after. Then he notices. "Hey, it doesn't hurt anymore." Kanda takes a loose corner of his pillowcase and puts it on his temple since Lavi's head is as wet as if it were dunked in a rain barrel.

"Are you shit—your blood's magic painkiller too?" he blurts out.

Lavi gets his own icebox to store about a pint of Kanda's blood whenever he's away. Of course Kanda's away a lot, so it's not uncommon for the blood to go bad before he gets back. This always leaves Lavi in the throes of untreatable pain so bad it makes want to bounce off the walls and compact into an infinitesimal speck at the same time.

There had been some speculation about transfusions and whether that'd last longer, but Lavi and Kanda aren't the same blood type. Ipso facto, it had been a hilarious process determining the expiration date of magic blood, to be taken orally. It had involved convening everyone in the research department, the hospital ward, and the kitchen.

A very confused Jerry had come up with the final answer of, probably no longer than one would keep pigs' blood. Two weeks. He wouldn't even cook with a batch older than one week, but that was because he prided himself on using high quality, fresh ingredients. And Jerry had been right, because at one point Lavi got desperate enough to chug a three-week old bottle, and it gave him nightmarish indigestion without doing anything to dull the pain.

So that was that. Except that if you're going to be donating fluids because it's a miracle cure, it comes with certain responsibilities. They're all technically Catholic, but they're all also technically way too valuable to risk losing to misinformation. The head nurse seizes upon the opportunity of necessity to carry out a program that Komui has vetoed for a while (which was not just about protecting Lenalee but the fact that up until a few months ago that particular subset of exorcists might have blown up the room out of nervous shenanigans. All this recent tragedy has really mellowed them out).

"... stop making those faces at once, you're all either at the appropriate age or well past due for this. It's very important that you know these things if you're going to go gallivanting around the world, " she scolds them amidst her diagrams propped up on easels.

Lavi finds this incredibly unfair, because he's only scrunching up his face because he's known all this stuff since he was like, approximately five. Sexual disease is a very important aspect of history. Sometimes you can calculate how quickly a war will be lost based on the number of camp followers an army has, because all the soldiers will eventually get funny junk. The head nurse's lecture is yawningly basic compared to Bookman's dense but straight-faced lessons, sandwiched between the ones on artillery and religion. Also, Lavi's not gallivanting anywhere anymore.

Kanda, to his credit, has the same neutral-to-cold look as ever, but seems mildly, maturely interested. After all, this is mostly for his benefit as a permanent blood donor who is no longer allowed to contract STDs at will. It's not like he can't heal other people if they need him to, it's just that Lavi's his only regular.

Timothy looks unhappy, slouched in his seat, but he's listening. It's only Lenalee who is so mortified that she has her ankles locked up like she's doing the pee dance. Her face is as crimson as her innocence bangles. It's probably because she's the only girl here more so than the topic. It's not anyone's fault other than maybe God's, because he prefers males to females 10 to 1 for his exorcists. Maybe she'd be more at ease if Allen were present, because Cross probably already gave him sex ed through osmosis. Allen'd be loose enough to crack jokes.

But if it were the 14th maybe he'd just look about languidly and put in smoothly, "I don't understand, why don't you just rip her head off and eat her afterwards?" like the mantid person he has become. Or just like, be seriously trying to kill them all.

So plus-minus for Lavi, probably plus for Kanda and Timothy, huge minus for poor Lenalee because Komui is going to ask her about this later. They take a snack break where Lavi sips on fresh-squeezed bottle of Kanda's blood next to Krory, who is despondently sucking on a bag of akuma blood. The company makes him feel a little better about being left out. The head nurse had handed him a book and told him to come find her if he had any questions.

Kanda has to give up a half hour after every mission to get a needle stuck in him and fluids drained out. They can't use his arms because they're green glittery pools of who-knows-what set in dinosaur skin. So they prick a vein in the back of his leg and stick a plaster over the hole. It's a stunningly unremarkable procedure on his end, but Lavi hates that he's become an addict who gets instant relief from that bottle being deposited in his icebox by a runner. He hopes fervently that Kanda does not think about this at all outside of it being another item on his duty list. Like, he doesn't press his nose against the windows of trains, worried that Lavi is in need of his return like a dog with abandonment issues.

Which, of course Kanda doesn't, but Lenalee does. While Kanda reports to the nurses, Lenalee visits him to drop off presents. It becomes a thing for her. Missions make her feel like flying to pieces, there's always something awful about them, even if there hasn't been another round of catastrophes on the scale of the thirds awakening since the thirds awoke. It becomes her zen place, finding beautiful, incredible things at her mission site for him. It's not that she's singling him out for special treatment. Only she is, because everybody else can travel, even the cleaning staff for vacations. Lavi can't even carry a suitcase.

Tiny origami animals in the most elaborate patterns (that she folds herself) on brightly colored string, enormous seashells with huge spines and mother-of-pearl insides that make the light watery, carnivorous plants that need to be kept in cloches and fed spiders (he gives those to Krory because, again. That guy needs attention once in a while, and he likes taking care of beautiful/ugly things with needs).

She doesn't get him books because she's smart and sensitive (and can't read any language other than English). Also they already have a decent library. But she does get him very pretty tins printed with mass produced artwork, and fills them with clever puzzles and games. She takes out the biscuits and candies that originally come with them, and eats them herself or shares them with the rest of the Order. She gains a few kilos, which looks great on her after all that grief weight loss.

Lavi's room becomes a fun place to visit, a museum of curiosities. Complete strangers visit to browse through his things, play a game, and chat. He politely keeps small cups of custard next to the blood in the icebox so he'll have something to offer as a host. Whoever's in charge of housing even moves him to a bigger place as Lenalee continues to add to his collection. On a daily basis he thinks, what is my life.

The weird thing is, on top of all the weirdness already, is that Kanda somehow enters a silent gift-giving competition with Lenalee. Even after the blood is delivered, Kanda will show up with a bottle of something. Which is well appreciated, because Lenalee is not a prude but she's not an enabler either, and has Temperance sympathies. Also, she wouldn't know the difference between swill and the stuff kings drink at their weddings.

Kanda does and springs for the choices closer to the high end of the spectrum. Lavi can't pick out those subtle notes of pine and freshly baked brick or whatever anymore, but he likes it when it doesn't burn like corrosive acid going down. The Noah already threatened him with that, but right, they needed his vocal cords, and aimed it at his now in-absentia arm instead.

One night they might both be kind of drunk because Kanda puts his hand on Lavi's thigh. Lavi stares at it for a second before shaking it off.

"Hey now," he says roughly.

"I like you," Kanda mumbles just as roughly.

"…I'm sorry?" which is meant in a nope, can't help you kind of way. But maybe Lavi's new mode of speech muddles it up and Kanda takes it as a need for clarification and Lavi is really drunk because he and Kanda are kissing. And kissing some more.

"I'm dying, Lavi."

"Good for you. I wish I were."

So the next morning is awkward. They'd slept together.

Meaning they probably drank more and said more stupid, illogical things before they both collapsed fully clothed on Lavi's bed. They don't remember any of it but it doesn't save them from what's coming next.

"Oh, Kanda," is their reproachful wakeup call when Lenalee comes by to drop off a rosebush she found in Corsica. "What is with you and falling in love with guys you hate?"

"I do not like Allen Walker, Lenalee Lee" (Oh god, her name is so stupid, why have they never noticed that before.) "I still think he's a bratty little worm. That was out of pity. And a debt of gratitude." He groans, throwing an arm against his eyes as if she brought in the sun. She takes offense to that because she most certainly did not, it's past noon already.

"You don't have to go with him, Lavi," she says, ignoring Kanda's grunt of indignation.

"I wasn't going to," Lavi tells her, or rather tries to tell her but addresses his pillow and Kanda's awkwardly positioned elbow instead. She might not believe him because she dumps the planter in between their heads and walks out. Now the first thing they'll have to do is go shower the dirt off, which actually sounds like a pretty soothing way to cope with their hangovers.

What is my life, he thinks.

"You know I'm unhappy like, all the time, right?"

Kanda looks up at him.

They're going to talk about it, while they're both fully sober and in the anticlimactic setting of the courtyard. Kanda is hanging out with Marie. Marie is like his foster brother, one that Kanda dug out blind and dying from a sewer ten years ago. Kanda consents to occasional socializing with him. Marie has genuine feelings of warmth and familiarity towards Kanda.

But Marie makes a hurried exit, because the last time Kanda had a maybe boyfriend, the Order exploded. Twice.

"You are?" but it doesn't sound like a question, it sounds like a spacer.


"Look, the arm and the tongue and fingers don't—" And just, just no. He thought it'd come from Lenalee, but if he evokes enough compassion from Kanda to trigger the "it doesn't matter" platitudes, he is going to throw himself on the ground screaming and pounding at it with the one sort-of fist he has left.

He sits down next to Yuu on the stone bench, taking over Marie's spot.

"It's not the stupid arm-tongue-fingers thing."

Kanda waits.

"It's the Bookman thing."

"Oh. Yeah."

"Not, oh yeah. You don't even know what I'm leading up to," Lavi objects to this irritably.

So, what went down was that they got a crack team of Crows and exorcists and possibly some mercenaries with experience in the occult to mount a rescue mission. Lenalee and Timothy and Marie had been there. They had engaged the Noah, but shallowly because it was a diversion, see. They'd kept the enemy distracted while the others rushed the extraction process, although to their annoyance and devastation Chaozii had to be left behind. He had been hypnotized and was about as cooperative with his rescue as a silverback gorilla. Lenalee had broken a solarium roof (Noah and their spoiled rich human lives, really) shooting out of there like a bullet, and Marie had body-guarded Timothy through some illusionary strategies.

Who knows why it had gone so smoothly. Bookman had been like a little stony Buddha in the interrogation chair, and a stony little Buddha in one of Marie's arms. In Marie's other arm had been his apprentice, deathly white everywhere that wasn't the solidly red right half of his body. When the Noah had caught wind that the Order was coming, they had furiously cut clean through Bookman's future by severing his successor's writing arm.

"Last chance, old man!" they had yelled at him, but then the good guys had bulldozed in. Which was funny, because that meant that they had assumed Bookman had a sentimental as well utilitarian attachment to him. And they had been right.

Because Lavi hadn't been conscious for it, but he's been told that Bookman patted his cheek as he was laid onto the table for emergency surgery.

"I am sorry, my dear boy. Goodbye," he had said.

Then he had turned around and disappeared into the night without further ceremony. No one stopped him. They were busy panicking about Lavi's dangerously low blood pressure and other bang ups distributed across the team.

At the time, Kanda had still been doing damage control chasing after the Allen-the-14th rampaging his way through Europe demanding his dead mother or brother or whatever. In fact, that might be why the Noah didn't fight that hard to hold onto their primary source of information on the 14th. Because their black sheep in question wasn't exactly in hiding, as much as Kanda kept trying to lower his profile. It was time to see if talking to him directly would be more productive. They'd just thought, initially, that it'd be easier to force answers out of two puny humans than a no-fucks-to-give half-god and his just-as-pissed-off quarter-god babysitter.

In short, Kanda hadn't been there. But the story of Lavi's leave of absence is about as secret as his own.

"I'm sorry Bookman left you behind. I know he was like a father to you."

"He had to. And it's not that I'm sorry that I'll never be the Bookman now. I had doubts about it already even before we were captured. Well I guess, I am sorry, a little. But only because…I regret that something I think is important might die out without me. Because I let it down."

"Bookman took a history student from Oxford," Kanda says, not to hurt but because Lavi is entitled to common knowledge.

"A triple philosophy, religious studies, and history doctoral candidate. He'll get the clan limping on to the next generation but…it's not even close to what I can do," Lavi taps his still-patched eye with a gesture that he gloomily thinks looks like a frog claw waving. "This is the dive into the dead end. There may not be a Bookman in another hundred years."

"You can do something else. You can still be valuable," Kanda suggests.

"Oh, that's easy for you to say, Mister Ace in the Deck. What are you, an archangel now?" Lavi snorts sourly.

"Lavi, you know every language on Earth and a million ways for a million people to die. You can be useful. Go talk to Komui."

"That's not the problem. Or, I don't know, maybe it is," Lavi flips over his wrecked hand and talks at it.

"I've seen little girls and their mothers get violated by soldiers at gunpoint. I've seen rows of men stretched out on racks with crows eating them bit by bit. I've seen whole peoples and tribes, in the thousands, get pushed into pits and buried. When I had an alias, none of that was part of my story. It was all just ink on the page. Memories trapped in identities I'd fade away. But I don't have an alter ego anymore. So it's part of who I am now. All that's my past. I'm just a sad man who's always thinking about sad things he's seen, how he didn't want to stop them, and knows he can't stop them now. "

"Hm," Kanda grouses, considering this for a moment. Then without another word he reaches over and lays his hand over Lavi's knob.

"Yuu, what are you doing? I just said—"

"I loved someone through reincarnation, a gender change, and insanity. Who tried to kill me. Twice. He killed a lot of people, people I cared about. He died." You'd think Yuu was talking about the weather by the unaffected tone of his words. "It didn't change anything between us."

"Oh Yuu. No. Noooo. That. That is just unhealthy. I really hope you're not saying you're okay with anything goes in your love life because…and I'm not trying to put you off with a cliché, I mean this from an objective point of view. You deserve better. Better than me, and better than whatever Alma was," Lavi pauses. "Leverrier and Genghis Khan would deserve better," he states emphatically.

Yuu smiles, which is simultaneously beautiful and sad and bothers the shit out of Lavi because it digs right at his reptile brain instincts of 'what the hell are you doing, you could tap that'.

"I don't know what I'm saying. But I know love is worth it."

"Hey, are we at love now? Because you said 'like' yesterday—"

"I'm dying," Kanda reminds him matter-of-factly. "I am asking if you'll let me find out."

As soon as the phantom pain goes away, Lavi moves out. Sea urchins don't have arms, they do fine by themselves. He is not more helpless than an echinoderm, damnit.

They buy him a whatchacallit, cottage, and he has a decent hedge and tea setting and kerosene lamp, which apparently are the staples of civilian life. He has normal neighbors who always ask if he's Irish because of the hair, but he says no because Ireland has some funny business going on right now. Most places in Europe do. He just says he's from London, to avoid trouble.

They're very nice to him. They honor him because he's obviously a war veteran. Not one of the war they're thinking of, but he lets it be because he's defended the lot of them in a war, in the abstract defending humanity from evil sense. And the things he fought could have inspired the more colorful chapters of their Bible. He knows, he's tracked the history.

But anyways, they always throw an extra roll into his basket or occasionally say the first stein's on them, although he seems to be made of decent money. That's more than can be said for some of the poor blokes coming back from the front missing limbs, unable to find work. Lavi hires them to weed his walk or clean a bit, whenever their disability can justifiably be less of an impediment than his. No housekeeper though, he is not getting into that whole master-servant thing.

He gets a pleasant reputation for his charity. The prevailing theory becomes that his father is a well-to-do tradesman, hence the lack of frills and steady money flow, and there is something difficult about his family life that made him move. Lavi neatly folds it all into a newly assumed identity where he had an intended and had looked forward to their life after the war together, but she went on to marry his whole-bodied younger brother. The little stinker also took his place as the successor of the family.

And holy crap he's old enough now for a story like that, inheritance issues and a failed engagement, to work. But it's generates just enough intrigue and gossip to cement his place in the village without becoming the standing scandal. And weirdly, it's not too far away from the truth.

Yuu ruins it all the first time he visits. Lavi doubts any of the villagers have ever seen an Asian before. He feels like he's in a bad movie when the barkeep actually cocks his head at Yuu and asks, "Is it true they eat cats and dogs where you're from, then?"

Blades should have gone flying for that, but instead Yuu deadpans "No, I was born in America. We eat oppressive monarchies and food that has seasoning." Yuu spending all that time with Allen was the worst thing ever.

After that he makes Yuu meet him at his place and pretty much stay put, no matter how inconvenient it is to have a guest. People accept that he's an old business contact, but they still get the heebie jeebies having an Oriental walking around. Lavi swears that one day they're going to blame Yuu for a pail of milk curdling as he walks by or sweet Rosebud giving birth to a two-headed heifer, and break out the pitchforks. And then Yuu will bust out the blood magic, so they'd be right by coincidence.

"You don't live in a Dickens novel, Lavi," is all Yuu has to say about that, but that only shows what he knows. Dickens's novels are all set in the city and about the wretched lives of the working class, not witch hunts. Some American transplant he is.

He's not that far from the Order. Lenalee delights in following herds of sheep into the village when she comes calling, still with trinkets to bestow after a mission.

"Look Lavi!" she exclaims in delight as she waves a lamb in his face. The shepherd boy next to her has a moony expression. That explains where she got it. She becomes Yuu's sister and it works up the neighbors because they've heard things, about those exotic Far Eastern women. But they tamp it down because she must be an American too, and therefore only funny on a Yank level, albeit an immigrant Yank woman who is now a travel enthusiast. It hurts Lavi's head that he's still maintaining aliases, now for his inconveniently ethnic friends instead of himself.

Also, he is now sure they have never let Lenalee close to another living creature before, because she is too excited to notice the fact that sheep are smelly and dirty and people do not like them outside of analogies about Christ's personality.

"Come in, then" he says, and she does, beaming, with the lamb and a little oil painting from Milan in her arms.

So it turns out that cooking is not impossible with one working palm and two fingers to curl around a knife. It's slow going, but Lavi's in no hurry. He gets most things delivered, but he can still make his own egg every morning and heat up his own soup in the evenings. Lavi has always been resourceful.

But then the butcher screws up his order and sends a duck that hasn't been dressed. Lavi tips the delivery boy anyways but he's left staring down at a fowl on his table that looks very far away from edible. And it's already getting dark out. No big deal though, he's bagged his own birds while traveling with Bookman and turned them into great field food too.

It turns out that plucking birds at a campsite, where you can just leave the aftermath to nature, and plucking birds indoors in your kitchen is very different.

"Lavi, what are you doing?"

Lavi is sitting in the middle of the floor in a fluffy storm, holding a half-naked duck, laughing hysterically. Because ever since he lost the ability to write there has been nothing else he hasn't been able to figure out how to do, eventually. Until now.

You can't, you can't, you can't clean up feathers with one arm. You need the other to run interference because even moving towards them makes them flee ever so casually away from you.

"Idiot," Yuu grumbles, and fetches the broom and dustpan.

They end up having bread, butter, and jam. And some feathers because it turns out not even superhumans can get those dusty little bits.

"Why were you trying to cook something so complicated? I thought you mostly stuck to vegetables and eggs, since you can't taste anything anyways."

"I do. But I was making an effort since I'm hosting and courting you."

Yuu pauses on his bite of bread "You're courting me?"

"Sure. I thought you'd like it, since all your other romances were battles to the death."

Lavi had meant to go slow, but Yuu, surprisingly, kisses like a filthy, filthy whore.

Yuu looks great putting on his uniform. Like a striptease in reverse. Lavi dressed over an hour ago. He didn't want to be the cliché of the disconsolate lover with a bed sheet pulled up, mourning a man heading back to the front. It all goes to moot because it feels the same way sitting at the dressing table in a fisherman's sweater.

"Don't be that way. I don't want you to be sad," Yuu tries.

"What way? Who's sad? I've seen little kids gutted alive, with little kids doing the gutting, remember? This is nothing. And you're a dead man walking anyways. You're always saying so," he shoots back stubbornly as Yuu buckles the last belt.

"Lavi, I'm going to come back."

"…you could, or I could just be sending you off with a last hurrah, and then someone'll bring me your uniform and badge, and I'll be sad a for a while, but turn out just fine, with a spouse and kids and everything. That's been around for a while. We could do that. Or, we could fight and then you march off to war without us making up and it'll be all tragic and inconclusive and shit when you die. I hear that's pretty popular too—"

Yuu cuts him off with a kiss. Lavi holds out for a second before clutching him close, but at the end he makes a small desperate sound into it.

"We are not going to fight," Yuu tells him firmly when they break apart. "I'm sorry you got attached. But so was I, through reincarnation and a gender change and two unholy grudge matches. It's not so bad. Cheer up."

Lavi surveys him with a wry eye. He just looks so good, in the clean lines of his uniform. It's times like this that he misses being part of the great martial machine. Yuu told him that Lavi'd caught his eye back in the day he wore thigh high boots and a hammer holster, even though Yuu was supposedly in a spiteful relationship beyond the grave with Alma and a ghost woman at the time.

"Be careful out there. I don't want to be a war widow. Their lives suck."

"Lavi, stop talking like that. I'm not into women. Not in this life, anyways."

They go outside but as soon as they're there Yuu tries to send him back because Allen is standing in the walkway. He's full-on gray, which means he's not even Allen, he's the 14th. It's a heart attack moment because it's like waking up to a lion waiting for you to come out of your house. Only worse, because it's the goddamned 14th.

Yuu actually clotheslines Lavi trying to block him from going any further.

"Lavi, get inside the house."

"Are you kidding me?! Are you freaking kidding me, like he can't just firebomb it with his mind or something—"

"Lavi, get inside the house!" but luckily Yuu forgets this in an instant when he demands of Allen, "What have you done with Johnny?"

"Nothing. He is immobilized and very scared, but unharmed. I like the fellow, don't go throwing about baseless accusations."

"What are you doing here, and what do you want," Lavi decides to intervene from behind Yuu's arm, taking a page from his Bookman playbook that knowledge is power.

His expression, best described as bored and unconcerned at Yuu's hostility, lights up briefly when he looks over and recognizes Lavi's face.

"I'm here to visit an old friend. And then I'm going to the Order to pick up my date."

Allen the 14th, with a Noah's smoky confidence, coal black curls, and open collar, is crazy hot. Even hotter than Tyki Mikk. Even possibly impossibly hotter than Yuu, although that's hard to make out once Yuu strolls up to stare him down. Their faces in profile are so close together they look like an illustration from an erotic novel of a very specific subgenre. Lavi has to struggle to remember why he used to think women are so attractive. And how to breathe.

"You'll never get to her," Yuu snarls. His swords gush forward from his arms and harden before he even fully assumes his striking stance. Allen raises his hand as if granting a benediction and crown clown materializes (well that's certainly interesting), threatening to wipe Yuu's existence from this quaint pastoral scene.

Meanwhile Lavi crosses his arm over himself from the sensation of being extraneous.

But then all of a sudden it's like they're in the middle of an awesome movie because a voice dramatically announces,

"Too late, she's already here."

And there's a reminder of his heterosexuality right there because Lenalee is standing at his open gate, eyes and feet ablaze with green light. She has a half-grown sheep on one hip and a fist on the other and Lavi has never seen her look so sexy and so mad.

If Lavi had thought Lenalee tried to keep a stiff upper lip when she first saw his post-war condition, it's nothing compared to her reaction seeing how Allen had embraced his transformation. Lavi has never seen a broken heart buried so deep under so many layers of nuclear fury. She doesn't even notice her sheep escaping through a hole in Lavi's hedge to rejoin its herd. But she does go up to him to slam a miniature telescope into his hands.

Allen is so smooth, so slickly handsome and persuasive like the devil. And Lenalee is how she always is, graceful and dolled up in her unnecessarily stylish uniform. Lavi watches them in his garden through his cottage window. Allen postures next to the tomatoes, and Lenalee is having none of it besides the peas. Yellow pest butterflies that are destroying Lavi's cabbages flutter about their heads. Yuu is ignoring them and going after the downy bits darting around the room with every slight change in air pressure. There is an awful surrealism to any of them being here, doing this.

"Is Rhode around here somewhere? Are we in one of her dreams?"

"Just let them sort it out between themselves," Yuu tells him. This turns out to be good advice because Allen comes in before there's any bloodshed. Lavi can see Lenalee sitting on the bench outside, her back to him so he can't see her face. But she is very stiff.

"Well that didn't go great," Allen admits, rubbing the back of his head with a hand capped with pitch-black nails.

"What did you say to her?" Yuu replies conversationally, and Lavi has to remind himself that Yuu is used to the ups and downs of being in the 14th's acquaintanceship.

"I asked her to come with me."

Yuu thoughtfully nods whereas Lavi feels like tearing his hair out because no, whatever your idea is of staying on good terms with Lenalee, it does not involve suggesting she leave her family and friends and home. She'd rather swallow arsenic than let it happen again. It is at the root of every fear she has. She checks the closet for it before she goes to sleep.

"She won't go with you," and yes, thank you, Lavi may not be a Bookman anymore but he will not sleep with someone that stupid out of principle. And that would have been a damn shame.

"She will, one day." Allen doesn't give Lavi enough time to soundly dislike his newfound cockiness before he lowers his lashes and becomes his sweet-natured old friend again. "I'm already afraid that she'll have to," and there is nothing good about the downturn of Allen's dusky mouth.

"Is she the heart?" Yuu asks him bluntly.

Allen looks away and says nothing.

"If you're going to protect her, do it right," Yuu consents to this mildly, making Lavi do a double take. And Allen turns back with fierceness in his eyes, still a shiny gray.

"I won't let anyone hurt her. I swear that they'll never even get close enough to make out the color of her eyes—"

"They're brown, she's Asian. No, you dumbass beansprout. I mean, do it right." Yuu jabs hard at Allen's heart with the non-pointy end of Mugen. And for the first time Allen is slightly ruffled as he doubles over coughing.

"I'll try," he finally mutters. As if suddenly thinking of it, he looks about the room and takes in Lavi's domesticity. Also, Yuu's neat fit into it, forgotten dishes from last night's meal still out on the table and Yuu helping with the cleaning.

"What are you doing here, anyways?"

If one can sidle up dryly to occupy a person's side, that's exactly what Lavi does. Allen looks a little surprised, a little interested, but he doesn't squall and wail about Lavi making the worst mistake of his life like he would have back when he was a younger, more resentful blonde.

"Oh. You two? Really?" is all he says. Then he turns to Lavi and drawls, "If you hurt him I will re-grow your arms and eye and make you eat them. I'll even restore your tongue so you can taste it."

"Wait, I'm getting the dad speech?" Lavi squawks, taken aback and blinking at the same time Yuu yells at Allen,

"If you can do that, do it already!"

"I can't. As you know, all my powers are cursed. It'd probably all come back riddled with cancerous tumors."

Through the casual sadism of his words and the sting of wow, Yuu is the 14th's favorite, Allen steadily holds Lavi's gaze for a few seconds.

"What? Why are you looking at me like tha— "

Allen throws himself at Lavi. Yuu starts, because with the one arm and bad balance, it almost knocks Lavi to the floor. But once Lavi teeters them back to equilibrium, Allen buries his head into his chest so all Lavi can see is an unruly cap of silky black tendrils.

"I'm so glad you made it through this war alive. And that you're free from the Bookman clan. And that you're happy. I'm so glad that you got out of this whole mess." Lavi bites his scarred tongue to stop himself from correcting Allen on a few points. He just takes the embrace until Allen is done with it and backs off.

"I'm sorry for everything," Allen says, smiling painfully with tear tracks on his cheeks. Because this war and everything bad that has happened is maybe 90% his fault. Then he vanishes in a flicker. Lavi doesn't know why his face is also wet until he realizes that no matter what else happens, with the Order and Lenalee, Allen doesn't intend for them to meet again.

Yuu wordlessly puts his arm around him.

Allen still hugs better than Yuu.

Lenalee cries her poor, wretched little heart out and Lavi lets her sleep in the bed with them like a little kid. They're lucky she's so tiny. If Yuu has any complaints about this, he keeps them to himself in hopes that no one will notice that he kept Allen and the 14th's secret about becoming one-one unsettlingly mercurial, powerful, and upsetting person. Lavi glares at him over Lenalee's weary head on his chest to let him know that someone most certainly has.

"Are you going to be okay?" he asks her the next morning over breakfast.

"What choice do I have?" she says hopelessly to her toast and cup of tea. "What choice have I ever had?"

"You have a choice," Yuu informs her, uncharacteristically helpful. "If you don't want to go with him, I won't let him take you. If you do want to go with him, I won't let anyone stop you."

She scowls and scrubs at her mottled face. "I can look after myself, thanks." But there is a subtle gratitude to the way she picks herself up and says, "Are you coming back with me, or are you going to stay with Lavi longer?"

Yuu glances over at Lavi. Lavi really hopes he's not grimacing. This is all just happening really fast, in a really weird way.

"I'll stay here another day, I think."

"Good. Spend as much time together as possible." Lenalee endorses this decision with ferocity. Her lip quavers, and then she leans over to kiss both of them on both cheeks.

"I'll come by with your sheep," Lavi hears himself promising. "I'm sure the shepherd will let me have it, I just need to find it."

"Thank you, Lavi," Lenalee smiles, then goes to the bathroom to wash up before leaving.

"What is my life," he addresses this to Yuu. Yuu, his new dying lover, who currently looks perfectly healthy reaching for the butter dish.

"Good enough."

Author's notes: I was writing this dark, heavy story about how Kanda goes searching for Lavi after the war but can't find him, and then I was like fuck it, let's do this instead. Also, while I was writing this, I mistakenly believed that Alma and Kanda were born in the North American branch, not the Asian branch. Oh well, just take it as Yuu running with a story that would most offend the British, that he picked up from Allen's English sensibilities while they were hanging out.