A/N: Will probably be revamping the first eleven chapters. Since they're not quite up to par. And perhaps a title change- Real Smile simply doesn't cut it anymore as a title, and the story went way beyond what I thought it would have originally been.

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Ch 27. One Step forward

Allen talks and is blunt, Kanda does not want to get the point, and nothing is resolved other than the eminent fact having been established that they would have to put up with each other as it was. And that in itself is good enough for Allen.

Self-conceit. That was what he was thinking.

They dance- if it is dance at all- and that is just it, and the boundaries already are set and enforced by their wary circling.

Allen walked off from the waltz with a migraine twitching in her temples, a vague sort of shivery heaviness settling in her bones, and a ripped dress in need of some mending on Miranda's part- there was no way in hell that she was going to push a little piece of pointy metal through fabric for the next few hours or so.

-That was most definitely a streak of gold, a sliver of the sun that had transgressed on the otherwise obscured, darkened atmosphere of official order business.

Allen cocked her head, lifting an eyebrow. "..Edmund?"

--

The Beansprout sucked. He could have actively sucked a little less, but he lacked rhythm. Grace, certainly, was in Allen's favor; He at the very least more or less had found his center of balance, and would have moved fluidly if not for the fact that his lump of a dress trailed his every step and clung to his person in a uncomfortably tight way. So the brat was alternately clumsy and self-conscious, and both were less than winning traits to display on the ballroom floor.

But if Kanda had known in advance that they were going to dance, he would have hightailed it out of the Stephansdom to obligingly run some obscure errand a long time ago, pride be damned. Case being that he wasn't informed of the impending lesson, he deigned to delay himself in staying behind to have a few choice words with the imbecile accompanying him on his mission.

"I don't trust anyone. Especially myself." The Beansprout had vehemently retorted, obviously panning for something else to say, but only managing with a hissed declaration that at any other time he would have regretted saying.

Kanda had immediately heard the underlying edge of bitterness, the words slipping off Allen's tongue so easily, as though he truly believed it and had used it on more than one occasion. To whom?- Lavi? Or even Lenalee, since he did get on well with her and she looked to get on better with him, or so his observations had led him to conclude.

But it was the first time he had seen Allen admitting to inadequacy, as much as he himself scoffed at open displays like that.

"Regrets? You have time to think about regrets?" He wanted to say.

Or, "Your own demons are your own to slay-" Not that he ever waxed poetic in the tradition of angst as an art form. "-so don't make it anyone else's burden."

But the brat was already fairly close-mouthed about any of the numerous troubles that plagued him.

He should just convince Allen to take up Iaido, or some other such discipline that trained one's mental presence, or something along the lines to that effect. Or maybe mediatation- he wasn't exactly sure how Allen would fare with traditional Japanese weaponry.

Allen sighed a little, and broke their stare first; He caught his lower lip with his teeth, and Kanda watched the lipstick rub off bit by bit, tantalizingly subtly gently- the crimson in shocking relief against white, and the Japanese exorcist resisted the urge to make a comment about parasitic types being gluttons and eating makeup.

Allen didn't trust himself. Why was that a revelation? Inasmuch as the Beansprout seemed overly assuming at times, given his faith in humanity and his importance as an individual exorcist to save people...wouldn't common sense entail that he held as much stock in knowing that his own decisions were correct?

It would be worse than counterproductive, to do everything to the best extent, and still be indecisive on whether or not it was worth it in the first place.

He truly and deeply meant it, Kanda knew with the sudden shock of revelation. The twat was sincere and nearly sad, and the underlying pulse of resentment was too raw and strong to be fabricated. However, there was gain in presenting such a weakness to another party, so as to provide an obvious area to strike at. More devious purposes would be to deliberately expose it, for the enemy to take advantage of only to find that it was no weakness at all.

Was that Allen's true intention?

It was not. Allen was too committed to exorcism, and that in itself was not a front. That was the only thing that Kanda could possibly appreciate about the Beansprout, even if he could find fault with all else.

But Allen knew that he was wary, if nobody else was, and indeed Kanda was more watchful than an eagle and less deluded by polite niceties, and much more hardhearted against reason colored by maudlin regards.

And it boiled back down to the distilled and concentrated fact that no, he did not trust Allen Walker and that was not a good thing to occur considering that they were...partners.

"Hmph, as if I care. As long as I'm not the only one who distrusts you."

He could have nearly seen the wheels turning in Allen's newly dyed brunette head- it was tilted to one side, and currently immersed in the one activity that he'd been seeing the British exorcist do a little more of recently: thinking. (That in itself was very unusual, and it would be quite an improvement if it actually occurred a little more often- especially before the softhearted exorcist threw himself into the thick of fighting akuma.)

How absolutely convenient it was for Allen to be paired with someone who didn't care about him, so naturally he would have no obligation to care much for Kanda himself, even if he would want to play the martyr and be friends.

Obligation. Heh. Obligation.

Since when had Armageddon rolled around and Allen Walker, sensitive martyr of epic porportions, began to operate on obligation?

No, he was certain it was all misplaced heart that had the kid doing what he did. The sad thing was, Kanda wasn't at all skeptical of his good intentions- he really did mean for the very best, and that was just….sad.

"We don't have to be friends, you know, but we can be civil." The British exorcist said, hesitantly and softly, although Kanda suspected that he did actually want to be friends, that sickeningly sweet and honorary title he bestowed on just about everyone. To make another conquest, another addition to his collection of people who worshiped his heart of gold: they were in love with the idea of Allen Walker, not so much the person himself.

Good God, what a weakling, but it was necessary to work with him and he had just about that much grudging respect for duty.

Moreover, civility was overrated. He wasn't an advocate for brawn in any sense of the notion, but 'respectable' talk was irritatingly slow and ineffective, and caused little incentive for anyone to obediently oblige.

Upon what self-preserved and self-declared point of perfection did the little twat base his insistences off? Kanda thought that to himself as he made his own way out, leaving the younger exorcist standing there…alone and perhaps a little forlorn, although he could easily glimpse the relief there on his face and be disgusted by it.

This intolerable conceit did not lie in self-esteem, at the very least not completely. The boy must have given up most of his self-respect the day he made his father into an akuma, and yet he had such an ego- as understated it was with his polite demeanor- and never failed to flaunt that sense of righteousness and piety and goodwill and all that absolute bullshit.

It reeked, positively reeked, of moral superiority and that was unforgivable.

Who were they, who was he, this condemned child, to offer judgment and absolution in the same breath, upon everyone else?

Vanity, yes, human vanity- perhaps the biggest flaw that the Destroyer of Time possessed, and what most loved him for: that overblown sense of self-sacrifice. Love had no bearing on duty, and thusly expanding the definition of the motive to exorcise other than just simply because was preposterous.

That much was all Kanda allowed to muse upon, before Lenalee and Lavi enthusiastically ambushed and pounced upon him and seized his arms in vise-like grips, ushering him back into the room where Allen still was in.

"Shall we start with the waltz?" Lenalee suggested sweetly, being the complete devil that she was in lambskin, and Kanda noticed a look of abject horror pass over Allen's face. The look that the two younger exorcists exchanged was something that Kanda was unable to read, and he wasn't so bored as to ask Lenalee just what was going between her and Allen, since they had been acting a little…odd around each other ever since Lenalee had arrived with General Cross. Allen looked downright miserable, and Lenalee was just...Kanda just sighed.

"I think you're both obviously uncomfortable with physical contact with each other." Lenalee murmured softly to him, while Allen and Lavi chattered about instruments or some dratted insignificant topic along the lines to that effect. "Not that that can't be remedied."

(I didn't know you played the violin, Allen remarked uselessly to Lavi in the background.)

"He's a brat. And male at that.."

...And didn't she like him in her own fashion?

And no, he wasn't going any further down that particular trail of thought. It'd be too traumatizing and ridiculous for words.

Lenalee regarded him with amused, dancing dark eyes. "And I didn't mean it that way. Of course not. Did you think I did? You'd be disturbed if you did, not that you aren't already. So unfortunately for you you'll have to get over your innate revulsion of him."

("There's a lot you don't know about me, y'know." Lavi cheekily replied.)

He only grunted in acknowledgment, frustrated.

"Don't be so prickly- he's trying his best, really, to be nice, ever since you met him and threatened to slice him open." The accursed girl said kindly. "He doesn't like you any more than you like him, but he's trying hard not to hold that against you. So you should too- don't let him show you up as an exorcist."

"Appealing to my sense of competitiveness will not work, Lenalee. I have no intention of entering into any sort of rivalry with him."

He wouldn't lower himself down to that level.

("Unfortunately, I lack musical talent." Allen mourned. "My only talent is consuming food. I can win contests, really.")

"Well," Lenalee said, matter-of-factly, as if she didn't find it disturbing at the very least. "He's at the very least rather lovely in that disguise of his, so you're rather lucky."

If that was supposed to comfort him in the very slightest, that the boy was not hideous, Lenalee had failed very badly.

"Che. Do you think I even give a damn?"

("That's alright, y'know. We all have things we can't do." Lavi said, tuning the violin. "I can't sing for my life- Panda jiji says that I'm completely and irrevocably tone-deaf.")

"There's a reason so many people care about Allen, and not just as an exorcist."

"Che. Since he's sentimental enough to allow so many people to dictate how he acts."

"Not true. As much as he cares about everyone, he won't deviate from that unwritten code he's got tucked away, always at the forefront of his mind." Lenalee said. "People care for him because-"

("At the very least you can play something." Allen eyed the violin dubiously. "I'd be afraid of breaking it- it looks so fragile!")

"-Because he's the so-called destroyer of time?" It always returned full circle in a meaningless path, back to that one unpleasant fact that they were all going to die because their prophesized savior was a more-or-less incompetent idiot.

"No." Lenalee chuckled. "It's because he's Allen Walker and he's a gentleman because that's who he is and not because he needs to be nice."

"Che…He's incompetent." Kanda tried again. "I fail to see how being nice could be pertinent."

("How about something like a piano or organ?" Lavi suggested. "It's not as if you can carry or hold one of those. I don't think you'll break those easily, unless you tried to play it with your weapon invocated or somethin' like that…of course, why would you do that?")

"He keeps secrets and doesn't tell us because he feels that he needs to take on the responsibility. He holds grudges. He will eat the Order out of house and home." Lenalee said. "He's certainly not a perfect person. But I'm sure you can see some of his good points."

"…He looks and acts like a little girl?" Kanda said skeptically, with a snort of derision.

("An organ or piano? I simply could not." Allen confessed. "I don't honestly believe I'll be able to pick out the notes with both hands without being distracted or completely focused on one of them.")

"That's not a good thing in your book. Anyhow, just try to accept him." Lenalee said firmly and a little grimly, with something that sounded like a long-suffering sigh. She handed him the clothes that had been made up for him for the mission, and pointed in the direction of another room. "Scat, go change. Between the two of you, my poor elder brother is going to go bald and gray early in his life."

Kanda bit back a callous remark on how premature baldness and graying must run in the Li family, to avoid being smacked by that omnipresent clipboard that no doubt had accompanied Komui on his journey to Vienna.

("There's a reason the rest of us start small, y'know, Beansprout-chan. One hand at first, both bass and treble, before you move on to putting the two together. Then it'd be really easy. And practice always helps- I had to practice for hours and hours until I was able to form one coherent note. Panda-jiji hated it.")

He wasn't so shortsighted as to think that it was just about Komui and not so much Allen, and as much as he had been accused of being emotionally distant, he could recognize the hints of her little crush on the British exorcist.

…Or was it not?

In the obliterative, negligent agony of unrequited love, maybe Lenalee decided withhold the attentions that'd be best spent elsewhere than the oblivious Beansprout- she was a pretty girl, and he wasn't exactly sure how Lavi looked at her.

He had to be extraordinarily bored, to be so desperate as to involve himself in such sordid affairs, Kanda reflected as he pulled on the dress shirt and frock coat in the privacy of the room next door.

Lenalee had been like an elusive, subtle wraith in her attraction to Allen Walker; She had taken to only haunting where Allen was only when he had his guard lowered, and even then only when there was no onlookers to incriminate her later on of what Komui considered the crime of falling in love with someone who would take her away from her brother.

Needless to say, her methods were very...questionable if it consisted of lurking outside of said subject of admiration's room.

Of course Lenalee had possessed some psychotic tendencies in her earliest days as an exorcist, although Bookman had determined that they were more attributable to the coercive methods of the Black Order than to actual mental disorders of the medically correctable sort.

(Of course, Kanda had always been of the opinion that those in the Li family had remarkably poor judgment at times- Komui's flaw being his penchant for oversized mechanical contraptions, and Lenalee's in her poor taste in men.

And that comment on physical attractiveness on the part of the Beansprout was just one more example that Kanda was going to emphatically ignore.)

It was hard not to tune Lenalee out as she explained the useless minute details regarding the partner dance, such as its long and venerable history and places of origins. The lecture on the variations of waltzes, or rather the long winding explanations on how it all worked, was somewhat better- although the very clear and present lack of demonstration was something that he was more concerned about. There were certain types of music, certain beats to anticipate, certain rhythms….it all seemed quite frivolous.

In fact, Allen was yawning very much unlike the polite person that he usually was, having dropped the caged-animal look an hour earlier in favor of one of masked boredom. However, if one asked him to spontaneously regurgitate what he had learned from Lenalee's lecture- or even better, actually demonstrate it- no doubt he would be back to his frightened demeanor.

"…Allen?"

"Yes?"

"Are you listening?" Lenalee asked, looking exasperated as Kanda smirked.

"Yes, Ma'am." Allen replied dutifully. "I hear you loud and clear."

Kanda sighed.

"Whether you actually register it is something different altogether…That goes for you too, Kanda."

Music and countless forms be damned. It was the actual application of whatever bull Lenalee was trying to explain to deaf ears, that Kanda was actually concerned about.

"Well then, let's begin first without the music. Hand in hand- no, the other hand! That one goes on the girl's waist. The two of you really weren't paying attention, were you?"

Allen jumped and looked guilty, and if Kanda was even capable of the undignified and juvenile act of rolling one's eyes, he would have done so. He sneered as his bare hand came in contact with Allen's gloved left hand; The Beansprout was always so intent on covering up everything, even so large a flaw like that unsightly if useful parasitic weapon that leeched off his being.

As soon as their fingers grazed, an imperceptible flush crossed the British exorcist's face and he quickly withdrew, but not without a subtle hesitation lacing the action that immediately caught Kanda's sigh and caused him to heave an internal sigh. Considering just who the boy's master was, Kanda would have expected him to be not so wary as he was of physical contact.

"You're being useless, dimwit- like I said, we're both liable for failure, so get your fucking act together." He bent forward and snarled into the cluster of curls approximately where Allen's ear should be.

"I know." A small, flickering wry quirk of his red mouth. Allen inclined the shell of his ear away from Kanda, and the diamond earring in the lobe winked softly at him, catching the light. "I won't compromise anything no matter if-" He gave an indiscernible encompassing wave towards his garments."-I'm not wearing my exorcist cloak."

"Hmph. See that you do."

He reached down to grip his hand- strangely small and delicate under the glove, and strangely…human, when obscured by a patterned lace glove. The kid was human, human as Kanda had never realized he was before in the rush of the rationality in avoiding such a cursed specimen, and that made the experience all that much newer and unfamiliar.

He could practically feel the embarrassment radiating off the British exorcist, and feel the heated flush through his skin. Kanda could feel Allen's fingers curling tentatively around his, into a loose hold that seemed only temporary and less gripping, as if he was anticipating it being suddenly let go of.

"Put your hand on her waist."

" Hn. 'Her?'" Kanda drawled, turning to Allen. "Che. I'm actually quite convinced that he's female by now..."

"So 'm I..." Allen mumbled under his breath, with a great roll of doe eyes that were immensely blue and immensely matter-of-fact. "You have it much easier- you're not the one impersonating a dead girl."

"There's no point to the entire affair if you can't think of Allen as a woman." Lenalee said briskly. "Quite frankly, since Allen's supposed to be playing the part of a long lost daughter of the nobility, any slip-ups on his part would warrant unpleasant consequences. The nobility are cautious, even of their own, and what more suspicion could be cast on someone who just suddenly materializes out of the blue to lay a claim to the bloodline, and maybe even a share of estate that otherwise would have went to other relations-"

"-I beg your pardon, but I've never been informed about any potential legal repercussions or God-knows-what about imposting someone!" Allen yelped.

Kanda watched the slightest hint of something akin to anger, but still, pretty much unreadable, pass across Allen's newly feminine facial features- a softened, exquisite porcelain visage that was so much more expressive, as if his normal face was only but a mask.

He couldn't decide whether he hated it this way or not, inasmuch as it was pleasing to the eyes it reminded him to much of some painted marionette, some doll to be displayed proudly.

"My brother was going to give you some papers with information regarding that part of your disguise-"

Papers, Kanda noted. Not a personal briefing, not especially since Elena, whoever that poor unfortunate girl was, was still a matter of touchy contention with the Beansprout, especially since he had been grabbed and pronounced as someone's long-lost daughter just days ago. The subterfuge probably echoed a situation that Allen knew was impossible for him- to be reunited with a family he had never had the chance to know, and so to begrudge the Kingsley family that in Elena's stead-

"-any questions that you may have can be directed to him after you two finish learning the waltz. And the two of you just will have to work all the more harder with the deception, wouldn't you?"

Allen frowned, his hand tightening in an undoubtedly unconscious motion around Kanda's, before he suddenly realized what he was doing and let go, stepping away quickly with widened, discomfited eyes. "I apologize." he whispered, lowly and barely there.

"Che." Kanda had glimpsed enough within that one singular second, something that would have made all the difference in battle against any opponent whether it be akuma or human.

A most curious combination of expressions had been observed: shock, anger, and resignation. The first two were unusual, considering that it was the normally conforming Beansprout; however, it was the last that held his attention longer than it should have, namely because in all his time of knowing Allen Walker, the latter always had displayed an uncommon tenacity and willingness to comply with any stipulations in the line of duty. The only times when anything had surfaced that had him actually using his walnut-sized brain was when something deeply and truly disturbed him, on a deeply personal level.

"I suppose that we'd better present a unified, familiar front then in our appearance then." Allen was saying noncommittally, although he did direct a pointed look at Kanda. "If that requires you to think of me as a female all the time, by all means do so. We wouldn't be able to prepare better."

Kanda did not miss a second glance passing between him and Lenalee, either, signifying some sort of covert communication that he and Lavi were not to know of or comprehend. Lavi continued playing his violin, pads of his fingers skimming through various positions up and down the strings.

That time, that woman in the red who had called Allen her daughter, the one and same daughter that the beansprout was to impersonate- Had the appearance of such an unfounded spector called up something darker and more drastic than what Allen himself had mentioned about his past?

"This is harder than I thought." Allen remarked, one hand betraying his anxiety and coming up to spin out brunette curls with a finger. The human hand- manicured, pretty, buffed rounded nails separating strands from other strands, isolating an entire curl from the rest of the elaborate construction.

Allen's eyes were haunted, Kanda thought to himself.

And Allen played with his fucking hair.

"...Just shut up and pay attention, sprout." Kanda muttered, watching the curl go round and round.

Every person out there was someone's child, and Allen Walker- devil spawn as he very might well be- was no exception and probably had been goaded into remembering that, or rather the lack of thereof when regarding a coherent past with a family (if a single man could be family) that he had lost.

And that sentimentality led to the presence of the woman, the little boy Edmund, to resound deeply.

Kanda caught the start of a flinch from Allen as he put his hand on his waist, something that was caught in mid-reaction and quickly suppressed. To his credit, there was little expression on Allen's face, and Kanda's gaze shifted over the blank, doll-like countenance to find nothing whatsoever. Whatever had occurred the little exchange Allen had with Lenalee, it had caused the former to withdraw into himself, as he was wont to do when confronted with emotional turmoil.

"Sorry- it's not as if I've ever done this before." Allen's hand shifted in his.

Kanda didn't want to waste breath on telling him to shut the hell up and stop apologizing for the stupidest thing.

"I suppose it's also the first time for you, too..."

"Can't you be quiet for all of five minutes?"

It almost disturbed Kanda that he was able to recognize those signs that Allen was upset, even more so when the brat was rather...feminine-looking at the moment, overly so and even comfortably so. But he, admittedly, had the fault of paying such an undeserving target so much attention when it could be spend on other, more useful pursuits like katas or endurance training. (Neither of which were particularly applicable at the moment.)

("Awkwaaarrd..." Lavi distinctly muttered, running one finger all the way down the E string to just above where the fingerboard ended, to create a ghostly sound.)

"...Put your hand a little more towards her-his-back." Lenalee recommended. "You're the leader, Kanda- that's partly what the hand's for, to guide in the dance."

"And for God's sake, don't look so miserable, the two of you!" Lavi exclaimed extravagantly, tucking his fiddle under his chin and plucking a jaunty little repose that apparently was supposed to relieve them of their melancholy. Kanda forced his hand away from mugen's hilt. "Young and in love..."

...In love?

Lenalee intercepted before he had a chance to draw blood, and unhelpfully had him remove his sword from its rightful place at his side and place it elsewhere under the pretense that 'one can't dance with a weapon clinking away,' as if Mugen wasn't firmly sheathed and holstered.

"When the gentleman steps forward, the lady steps backwards with the opposite foot so as to accommodate the movement of the step- so Kanda, you may begin with the left foot, and Allen the right..."

A worser match couldn't have been possibly made, Kanda reflected a few seconds later as they heard a rip and promptly discovered that Allen's step had been too small. ("You try dancing in heels!" Allen had groused, tongue between teeth.) As a result Kanda had stepped too forward, in the process stepping on the hem of Allen's dress. Allen had wobbled precariously in the ridiculous shoes that he was wearing, backed away from Kanda, and ended up in a ungraceful, rumpled heap on the floor.

"Ow." He blinked owlishly at them. "Um, Lenalee? I don't think I'm doing this the proper way..."

"You're not, you silly ninny." Said exorcist moaned. "But you're only a beginner, so it's fine."

"Oh." Allen seemed morbidly fascinated with his dress, and plucked at it experimentally, wincing when it came apart. "I think I broke this, too."

Needless to say, regarding their ill fortune as of late, the pricey material of the dress had ripped and revealed the metallic structure of the hoop underneath, as well as the excessive underskirts.

"Allen, Allen, Allen, what are we going to do about you and the skirt malfunctions?" Lenalee wrung her hands.

The Beansprout gave a one-shouldered shrug. "I don't quite rightly know, but I'll merely have to get accustomed to moving around in one and not breaking anything. It's the one meter radius in every direction that I'm somewhat awkward with- I tend to forget that it's not just me moving around, but I'd have to worry about getting the width of the skirt of the dress around too. So every motion that I make is two times exaggerated..."

Kanda swore and hoped to heaven that the Beansprout managed to familiarize himself with the convoluted mechanics of hoop dresses soon.

"Be a dear and help your poor sweetheart up, Yuu-chan." Lavi evidently saw fit to also add his unwanted suggestions. "You're not being a gentleman."

Kanda uttered several more blasphemies, despite Lenalee's protests that they were in a cathedral, and a venerable one at that, and endeavored to haul his dance partner to his feet despite much protests. Allen was a lightweight by all standards, and the dress certainly gave him a little more substance than what Kanda had remembered from when the kid had passed out and he had carried him.

"I believe that I'm acting the part of a lady, not an invalid- and am perfectly...capable of being able to stand up." The unusually arch tone was all that betrayed Allen's obvious discomfort- that and the self-conscious flush that had crept up unnoticed onto the exorcist's cheeks.

The embarrassment was something that even the Destroyer of time was unable to ignore even with his own very blatant conviction.

"Although there isn't any distinction made between the two." Kanda commented.

But as always, there lurked a further shadow of near impropriety, the ease with with Allen Walker inhabited the disguise but yet wore it awkwardly- if almost on purpose. It wasn't overly exaggerated, since asking a boy to dress as a girl would be something that would give cause to make a ruckus about.

It was rather the unusual tenacity Allen had in seeking to 'master' his masquerade perfectly. Granted, the brat was extremely enthusiastic as long as it involved helping the more incompetent who needed his help. His willingness did not go unnoticed by Kanda, but there was something that he couldn't quite put his finger on, and if he had been a person to give much stock to speculation, he would have deemed it sinister.

But what seemed to be strange was that the Beansprout appeared to be holding back, and there was always a faint undercurrent of- if Kanda didn't know better, he would have called it 'fear.'

Fear. Unadulterated fear, secretive and always on guard.

Which was preposterous. Because Allen Walker didn't possess the ability or the will to fear, and moreover Kanda doubted his mental capacity in determining the logic of situations that certainly warranted it.

"Hmph. Try standing in those sad excuses for footwear, then, if you don't need my aid." Kanda retorted darkly to Allen's protests at his help. "Even if your dedication doesn't go so far as playing such an appealing role, don't agree to doing it in the first place!"

Lavi's idle plucking of the strings went silent. Allen's eyes widened slightly, and to Kanda's irate satisfaction he could detect a minuscule amount of badly-concealed hurt that suddenly leaked into the blue pupils.

"I did not mean it like that, in any way." The British exorcist said little to defend himself in his usual passive-aggressive manner of dealing with criticism, merely making his statement by settling into a ready position. "Well, then- shut up and lead me."

"Right," Lavi said, dispelling the anxiety with an inappropriate tune more suited to a country square dance rather than a formal ball. " You have to learn the waltz."

The set of Allen's jaw was determined, and to his credit he was able to repress the shudder that Kanda could see, no, not just see but also feel, run through his slim frame.

"The two of you can work on dancing a little closer later on in the fashion of more intimate couples, but for now just focus on keeping the stance like that- clasped hands at or above shoulder height since this is English, and not American waltz."

"Um, Lenalee...Closer?" The Beansprout hissed.

"Obviously. The two of you have a cover as a marri-"

"...Never mind, I don't quite want to know."

Kanda had concluded that despite his overbearing concerns with other people, the Beansprout rarely allowed anyone else lay a finger on himself with the exemption of Timcanpi, which was a golem that was more taken to biting than anything else. This was supported by the frustrated, frightened and nearly manic way the Beansprout had been rather adamant on not showing anyone his injuries, especially with that incredible protective reflex- trained, perhaps, or bred from desperation- when Kanda had previously pulled up just the lowest portion of his shirt to reveal his bruised stomach. (Also notable was Timcanpi's guard-dog-like demeanor when its master's ward was unconscious on the train- any time Lavi and Kanda had gotten near Allen, it would snap at them.)

Such an immense reaction that was so easily provoked by the slightest threat- because that was how the gesture had carried across, Kanda knew- to his flesh.

"Can you please avoid stepping on my dress?" The Beansprout hissed at him.

"Don't look at the floor- look at each other." Lenalee warned.

"Then how the hell am I supposed to coordinate my feet with him?" Kanda snarled.

One would have expected someone like the reputedly most kind-hearted exorcist in the order to enjoy fostering a more intimate, amiable connection of human contact with others. However, it was as if all attachments abruptly came to a halt for him and never progressed anywhere or would be shrugged off.

"You just do it." Lavi suggested.

Allen sighed and squirmed as Kanda adjusted his hand on his waist.

It was as if Allen was painfully and reflexively suspicious of human touch to the extent that he actively avoided it unless it were absolutely imperative or if not on his own behalf. The lattermost brought to mind how he had embraced Lavi and held him as the redhead cried, after that massacre on the Viennan train station.

Anything within the vicinity of his person was not to be approached- that was no doubt a vulnerability that could be exploited elsewhere. If an enemy invaded that personal bubble of seclusion that Allen kept around him, Kanda couldn't possibly imagine the consequences due to his lack of understanding of the younger exorcist, other than the fact they would be unpleasant and more likely than not at the expense of said exorcist.

"Allen- left, not right. Step in accordance to him. And Kanda- don't maneuver towards the wall. You're going to crash. Circular. Around the room."

Kanda obligingly navigated them in a different direction.

He could see the fear even better now, now when he can feel the rub of velvet under his hand and the puckering lines where it was drawn back, to fit hips that were slimmer and oscillated into an hourglass shape by artificial means. Padding, it had been said. Padding and a really good whalebone corset.

"There's going to be other dancers, so you'll have to watch out."

They could have fit a person in between them, so reluctant were they both to brave and surpass the distance between two more-or-less antagonistic colleagues and cross over into closer, more cooperative territory.

Nope. They danced so that they just barely touched, only allowing the smallest of contact and quickly removing themselves from anything that would have looked from an uninformed outsider's point of view to be a more daring move, something bred from familiarity- if not intimacy.

The kid had squirmed under his touch. Had fidgeted and shifted uneasily, slim form practically vibrating with tension under that burgundy velvet dress. He couldn't even allow himself the slightest smidgen of spiteful satisfaction in knowing that the twerp was just as uncomfortable as he was, as neither of them were so inclined towards their own gender. The younger exorcist kept the….artificial female appendages that disturbed the flat plane of his chest as far away from him as possible, thankfully.

--

Kanda was surprisingly good at the waltz, although it was probably attributed to his perpetual practicing of forms of a series of set movements like katas.

Regular, monotonous series of motions like that probably conditioned his body well.

Nevertheless, it only made Allen feel more frustrated, calling up unbidden feelings of inadequacy which did nothing to appease her anxiety, and, as a culmination, distracted her to no end.

Lord in Heaven, it was as if everything hovered on a knife's thin blade.

Or rather, less metaphorically, the edge of her own expanding awareness, that ever present consciousness that lay just under the borders of mind.

She literally trembled in Kanda's proximity, apprehensive that he might discover her secret. That yes, contrary to popular belief, she was female. A girl disguised as a boy disguised as a girl.

Fuck. What had she gotten herself into? Had Allen been inclined to rough language, she would have sworn like the uncouth sailors that she had once befriended while working on a schooner to repay her master's debt.

Her face was...real, for lack of a better word. They had forgone the clods and clods of pigments and powder that she normally used to make her face more defined and masculine. When all that had been removed, to her bare face kohl and rouge had been applied- that was a good touch, but the fact remained that it all still looked pretty darn much au naturale.

"Just don't let him look too closely." Lenalee had advised, uselessly. "Kanda Yuu knows next to nothing about cosmetics, that much I can assure you. And since you're going out with your face more or less bare now, you can just say that you're getting in character for your undercover disguise."

Her cleavage did not look fake enough, despite the fact that that wasn't really the point as Miranda had helpfully attested to an hour earlier. Granted, there wasn't that absolutely obscene little airspace between her breasts peeking out from the décolletage, but it appeared nearly revoltingly full and much heavier and obstructive than she'd ever thought they be.

They were heavier too. And they jiggled like a plate of pudding. 'Food comparisons, Allen?' Lenalee had asked in disbelief when the British exorcist had enlightened her on just what she thought about cumbersome feminine attributes in general. 'Parasitic types.'

"I made sure nothing would show." Miranda had said, holding up her sketches for deviations from the fashionable dress patterns. "And pockets. Mustn't forget the pockets."

Her hips were, once again, too realistic. It was bone, not padding. And if he moved his hand the wrong way he might just find out and no boy existed who had a distinct hourglass shape-

-Kanda's hand was at her waist, wrapping just under the lower portion of her ribcage and creating a self-conscious, frustrated blush to infuse Allen's face with heat as she looked down at her feet despite Lenalee's warnings not to do so.

"One, two, three; One, two, three." The pretty Chinese exorcist said over the strains of the music, tapping out each and stressing every emphasized syllable with a thump on the floor.

So Allen listened to the beat, taking particular attention to the inflections in Lenalee's clear voice as she measured out their beat in the air with her swallow hands, and pronounced their steps. Lavi's music was the silken, slow ballad of a warm moon, serenity incarnate in a violin with just the appropriate touch of an understated passion that never really crescendoed but rather lingered long after the notes stopped.

And that was when Allen tripped for the third time.

"..." Kanda looked down his nose at her, already reaching forward to grasp her hand.

"I don't need help." Allen snatched her hand away.

"Yes, you do. I'd like to at least be able to sleep better tonight knowing that you won't make an ass of yourself in Britain." Lavi said.

With all necessary having been said to Kanda just minutes before Lenalee had deemed it fit to begin them on their dancing education, it was ironic that Allen should find herself the hesitant, uncooperative one.

But on the dance floor, in a dress, she found herself afraid of who and what she was- not as an exorcist, but as a woman simply because the contrast of what she was pretending to be and what she truly was had been thrown into contrast.

And then there was that irrepressible intimacy of being so close to another person- something that she could not afford either physically or emotionally (although there was no chance in hell of that happening).

One, two, three-"

If Kanda had noticed anything, he kept most wisecracks and snide comments to himself, for which she was thankful. The more likely explanation lay not in sympathy, but rather the fact that he wasn't quite concerned, really. And for that, Allen was thankful as well, almost, although she wasn't quite sure on just how she had descended to a point in her life when she would actually have the maturity in her life to accept things as they were and actively manipulate them to her usage- which, when taken from context, she wasn't really sure that she liked the person that she was becoming at all. No, not if she could actually find it in her sickened heart to actually be relieved that he would expect nothing from her, even as much as she figured that he would otherwise still never do so.

That was selfish. That made her feel lower than dirt.

It was rational and would spare heartache as such trivial matters like ties and loyalties, according to her esteemed womanizer of a master, were superfluous.

Left unsaid was, 'for one who lives to kill, and then to die- because one is the destroyer of time.'

Yes, Allen could never forget that hand that moved of its own accord to slaughter her father, the same that had wielded dark matter like an akuma- was it really so much to blame her for, that she flinched away when Kanda had brushed his hand against that same tainted hand?

And he had told her: "You're being useless, dimwit- like I said, we're both liable for failure, so get your fucking act together."

Allen had reiterated the bland promise never to compromise the mission, and from there things had went downhill in a way that she had expected.

"Allen, you're completely and irrevocably amusical, am I right?" Lavi asked, putting down his violin.

"I've never had the opportunity to try my hand at music, but I daresay that it's be safe to assume that I am." Some things, like her nonsensical little songs that she sung with Mana, were best left unmentioned. "Why?"

Lenalee winced. "Because...Lavi?"

Lavi scratched the back of his head awkwardly, his hesitation easily visible. "Uh- it's because you're rather...well...you lack rhythm. Or, more specifically, you miss beats by a tiny fraction of a second."

"Oh." Was all Allen said. "I know about beats and everything- just not very good at it. Is that it?"

"Yes." Given the politely scandalized look that Lenalee was holding back, Allen concluded that it was an idiotic thing to assume.

"Dance is based off...matching, for lack of a better word, to the rhythm of the music. In which case, you'd probably be wholly dependent on Kanda to lead in a dance- which he's supposed to do anyway, but your lack of rhythm will just make matters somewhat more difficult. And the two of you have horrible chemistry-"

"'Horrible chemistry?'"

"Che."

"Potassium plus water equals an explosive mixture." Allen muttered, steadfastly paying no heed to the twinge in her heart that accompanied that revelation, and simultaneously the memory of how she had learned that lesson.

Glass shards, father, she thought. Glass.

"It's just a term for bad teamwork. Well, the two of you do not get along well, and that reflects in your dancing." Lavi explained. "Simply because neither of you are able to relieve yourselves of your previous attitudes and judgments about each other to engage in something like this that involves teamwork, especially since it needs to be incorporated with music and the movements of other pairs of dancers in a ballroom. The two of you need- really need to know how to get used to the nuances of the identities of your undercover disguises, or at the very least try to operate under the pretense of. With dance, you can tell everything since it is interaction between two people and peoples' bodies don't lie; It's a single, seamless flow, and not composed of many choppy movements strung together in any given combination. You would need to be able to just focus on the here and now, the moment and the dance- and both of you are doing anything but that."

"That's...fascinating."

Somehow, despite her great respect for Bookmen apprentices and their valuable expanse of knowledge and the breathless applications of...Allen was not quite so convinced that a dance was anything more than a dance.

Much less some indicator of character dynamics even when body language was taken in account.

"A cigar is just a cigar." Kanda pointed out, in an annoyed snarl.

"...And a cigar is not a dance, Yuu-chan."

The consciousness of a body could be quelled by conditioning; instinctive reactions contrary to popular belief could be overridden with frequent correction; habits could be trained not to surface through the isolation of and discouraging of.

But she could never be accustomed to thinking like a boy when it was always present in her identity and her body and her mind- even be it a tiny little mote of remembering the distinctions- the innate evidence that she was a girl.

"Teamwork." Kanda said flatly, countenance fully displaying his displeasure.

"Sa' right, Yuu-chan. Teamwork."

"Perhaps, the two of us have two sets of left feet." Kanda muttered. "I'd like to see you psychoanalyze that."

It was as close to a joke that Allen had ever heard Kanda crack, even if it wasn't exactly nice-spirited.

"I refuse to be 'wholly dependent' on him." She forced herself to say austerely. "Much of our teamwork depends on being able to function as individuals on the mission, with neither of us compromising the other."

"That's all very well," Lenalee noted gently. "but much of it is relying on how the two of you function together. Think of it as your collusion and confederates."

"But I can cheat on my own-"

"Not against Tyki Mick in his black form, and many other shrewd gamblers with systems of their own. Do you two not realize the situation that you two are in?"

Che- Kanda gave his usual monotone response, signifying or promising nothing, inasmuch as she knew that she in this matter was far more to blame than he.

They did know all too well, Allen thought with all the indignation that she felt was unwarranted, but under the pressure of her frustration that feeling had reached the point where it actually hurt.

With much trepidation, she pleaded fatigue and general consensus was that everyone call it a day and continue on at a more opportune time.

And so Allen found herself wandering among the various sacrosanct chapels, with not so much the beatific manner of a passing cloud but rather the malcontent silence of the wake of a storm that had expired. As always, given her lack of directional sense, she chose to wander not because she was curious, but rather that she was lost.

Her thoughts ghosted here and there, but neither of either, lingering mostly on her apprehension of the mission she wasn't so sure she could take.

She was intent on ignoring the personal and emotional connection she had to such a case, especially stirred up and renewed by the appearance of a child who had the same crystalline color of eye that stared back (alternatively bright or dark, pensive or enthused) in the mirror every day she looked to reapply her makeup...

She paused, and looked harder at the many shadows that clung to the walls where light couldn't possibly shine given the placing of the torches.

-That was most definitely a streak of gold, a sliver of the sun that had transgressed on the otherwise obscured, darkened atmosphere of official order business.

Allen cocked her head, lifting an eyebrow. "..Edmund?"

Tiedeur had most likely gotten deeply engaged in some sort of inspirational interaction with the beauty of the cathedral, and was happily painting away at a canvas instead of taking care of this poor little boy.

Despite herself, Allen found herself smiling like a fool, forgetting her previous concerns (like finding her way back through the large church) to give chase, and catching herself in time to giver herself a much-deserved mental wallop for letting herself get distracted. Even the reason that nobody other than Cross was acquainted with the blood connection between her and Edmund did not excuse the fact that personal affairs had once more intruded upon her resolve.

The child's grin was visible and obviously pleased even in the relative dimness of the ducal crypt- which was, ironically, an ideal place for a healthy curious child to want to explore. It was only then that Allen realized that Edmund had never seen her in female attire, and could possibly be unable to recognize her. With utmost care, the exorcist gathered as much of the fullness of the skirt as possible in her hands, and made her way along the aisles of tombs.

Ornate, bronze containers and sarcophagi - each housing the last remnants of a person of great significance and reputation, a true home for the great deceased. She recognised the chamber of being one right under the chancel, designated for an entire line of Austrian royalty. The name eluded her at the moment with the faintest impression that it began with a H, but Lavi would enlighten her later on it. Allen could only offer her regards and respect as her offering to the predecessors of the Order she knew so little of, as well as her promise to save their flock from the devices of the Millenium Earl.

"...Edmund?" She forced a smile onto her face, pleasantly stepping forward and extending her hand to him, deciding to introduce herself first before he got confused. "I don't know if you remember me, but I'm-"

"You're Allen." The boy said with conviction, and she smiled to hear that soft-palated lisp that was so present in the very young. "Kanda tol' me to come and botha you instead."

To bother her?

She repressed a knowing huff in regard to Kanda's expressed dislike for little children, and would only he would have to audacity and lack of heart to want to wish the responsibility of a child upon another as a sort of curse- as if he himself had not realized that he too once was young, and that children were the purest gifts God had ever bestowed upon the earth.

"Well, this is no place for a child to play, and you might want to-"

Allen stopped speaking, appalled at herself.

She would never want to patronize even a child-especially a child-because as much as she would provide guidance in some way to someone younger and more impressionable, she didn't feel as if she even possessed that right to even pretend that she had the best intentions for someone else. Once when she was young at heart and impressionable, she had made a mistake that cost her. If she hadn't unintentionally amended it, much more would have been paid in both blood and her own guilt.

"Never mind that- do you want to come with me elsewhere? It's rather dark in here." Allen gently suggested.

The suggestion was received with all the enthusiasm of childish caprice, as evidently Edmund had lost interest in the catacombs and had little idea of the significance of the place, how honored one should be to

"Are you scared of ghosts?" Edmund piped confidentially, as he slipped his play-dirty hand into hers with all the ease of one accustomed to being doted on. He was loved, loved as she wasn't, by the same family. Ironic how it was, how different their circumstances had been, and still even more that he would be the one to suffer more than her if anything happened to them.

And she? The Kingsleys were ghosts of the past, to her.

"Ghosts?" Allen said softly, morbidly amused.

How fitting, and yet so ironic, that this child speak of ghosts to her- one who would always be shadowed by the ones that populated her past, and who was unforgiven by the many she could not save, and then the ones that she could she did by killing.

Was this poor unfortunate child, the blood brother she denied, haunted by his mother who he saw getting cut down right in front of her? And, although it was of somewhat lesser impact at the moment, would he ever forgive her for being there and still being unable to intercept the blow?

"I know about ghosts." She told him quietly. "I know of more ghosts than I know of people."

"But are you scared?" Edmund pressed eagerly.

"Am I scared?" She said, miming thinking his words over carefully, with an exaggerated upwards roll of her eyes. "...No."

"Why? They're creepy and invisible and blood-sucking an'...an'..."

"Blood-sucking? Vampires do that, not ghosts." She briefly speculated on just how he had acquired his preconceived notions of the supernatural, and concluded that he must have taken his knowledge from bits and pieces of odd tales a mystic would say; The elite class that he hailed from were fond of the otherworldly and that which was not understood, and leisure allowed them to entertain themselves with false recreations, or on occasion the real thing.

"They're the same. Spooky." Edmund maintained.

"I know a vampire." Allen said. "He's a nice one, and he's an exorcist."

"Like you?"

"Like me."

"But don't exorcists get rid of ghosts? So how could a vampire be both a ghost and an exorcist?"

Allen resolved to introduce her little brother to Crowley, sometime.

Edmund pouted. "I still think ghosts are bad."

"Are you scared?" Allen teased gently.

"No! I'm a man, I'm not scared of creepy-crawlies."

Edmund did scuttle away from the wall where spiders crawled, Allen observed.

But she only said, "Ghosts can also be guardians, too. They haunt this tomb, where their earthly forms lie." They, spectors of my deepest fears that represent my incompetence, they guard my resolve.

"What about th' big uns? At the train-you had that hwugemongous arm...w-wit that 'ight."

That light, that unusual light that had felt nothing like the warmth of innocence; That dark stuff with the consistency of something intangible and ambiguous. It was dark matter, and that in itself brought to mind a wide range of speculations, the worst culminating in the progression of the curse. That recollection, spoken so easily, brought back feverish chills to run up and down her stiff spine.

"You needn't worry about that now." Not yet, not ever hopefully.

And the child had asked questions of something not to be touched yet by her in conversation with anyone yet, and phrased so innocently as well! And yet, that seeming nonchalance with which Edmund had elevated the topic to discussion, in that unbroken serenity.

All was right with juvenile games appropriate for his age level, but to the best of her experience the boy's mother's death must be addressed, preferably by the right people with the right judgments. There were plenty few of those in stock, although she wouldn't begrudge Komui his discretions, noble as they tended to be.

It was just concern that Allen would have given anyone, whether or not they were blood-related.

"I think you're scared." The child told her.

Edmund puffed his little chest out, such a little boy-terror already in his innocent confidence. He was too young to warn about the consequences of arrogance, and life could always be trusted to bring any preconceptions of youth crashing down, Allen reflected. So she could trust him to grow without her influence or interference, inasmuch as she would always unreasonably worry...over a little brother who was not hers. And damn bloodlines, would probably never be hers to be elder sister to.

"Oh, is that so, little man?" Was all she said.

She had denied being that girl, that abandoned girl. And so she had refused his bloodline in that same gesture, stubbornly attempting to gain closure by forsaking all attachments to whatever potential kin existed out there and becoming Mana Walker's child.

"It's all righ'." Edmund said, almost conspiratorially. His bouncing step practically vibrated with a glittering self-importance, high-strung energy that somehow had escaped the brutal corrective treatment from a tutor or whatever master of academics nobility normally called on to instruct their children. "It's all right to be scared if you're a girl."

Allen nearly jerked with surprise, deciding then and there on the spot that the child needed not to spend any more time with Kanda Yuu.

As it was, there was no need for him to learn even more misogynistic tendencies than what had already been imparted to him from observances of noble British society.

"I'll protect you." Edmund told her, sweetly.

His eyes were so guileless- she admired that naivety, thinking that she could actually remember a time when she might had looked like that. It was so easy to juxtapose the two of them, with their eyes so alike in color and form.

"So you think I'm a girl?"

"Mm. Yes. And no! I don't know whether to call you missus or mister."

He was obviously delighted with his cheek, and how a single answer refuted the other one. Contradictions were amusing, and he wasn't confused. Allen relaxed a little.

"Missus, for now, then." She replied, having had the foresight to consider the fact that no doubt he would accompany she and Kanda to London so as to be reunited with his kin, and thusly having him be privy to the subterfuge wouldn't be the best of ideas. For you I would be both elder brother and sister.

"You were wearing twousers when I met you, though..."

Now she had truly confused him, and she cursed her circular leading.

"I'm just...different." Let it not be known that it was the understatement of the century.

"Oh."

As Allen searched for a way back into the rooms that had been reserved for the exorcists' own use, Edmund chattered in his random prattle, being unable to hold much of a linear conversation before it was interrupted by things more interesting. It was just as well that his legs were shorter and as a result covered less distance. To accommodate the swaying, pinch-heeled limitations of her not-so-sturdy shoes, she was forced to take smaller, daintier steps- which was reasonably the desired result, as she could practically feel her hips swaying for balance.

"Can we go outside? Pweeease?" Edmund suddenly begged, turning a theatrically pleading gaze upon her that was intended to coerce her into agreeing upon pain of death by cuteness. "I wanna go outside."

She groaned inwardly at the look, and decided that not being his elder sister made up for never being on the receiving end of such...devious methods.

"It's boooorriiing heere..." He wheedled. The corridors were lit sparsely, in the practical fashion suited for large estates like the cathedral. The somber, oppressing atmosphere had only been enhanced by it having been turned into a temporary emergency center for medical attention after the train station had been decimated, slowing trade and communications nearly entirely down to s slug's pace.

"It is a crisp day, so not unless you have a coat." Allen compromised, full well feeling the strain of being cooped within, even if she was unconscious in a feverish state most of the time. "And even then, only in the courtyards. We can't stray outside the cathedral yet."

The Stephansdom would not be free of such a stifling miasma until the aftermath of the akumas' massacre had been dealt with by the generals, whom were more adept at public relations and peacemaking endeavors between the Black Order and the common populace enraged at what they considered a failure of exorcists.

"...Why were people outside?"

Allen smiled, at the child asking adult questions that demanded a simplified answer that did not remove all subtleties and accordingly, all significance. "They were mad."

"Oh." The child frowned. "I don't wanna them be mad. They're mean. Why are they mad?"

"They think we didn't protect them well enough, and they had thought that we would."

"So why didn't you?"

Again- why. That took the breath out of her well-intended explanations and her reluctance to breach such a subject.

"Hmph, stop asking so many questions and get out and grab your coat already."

Edmund obligingly got out to grab his coat.

Allen, startled and wide-eyed, turned her head slightly to glimpse Kanda out of her peripheral vision before her expression settled into a blank slate once more.

"I suppose you thought it a good pun to send the boy to find me. What if he got lost?"

"Che, I thought you could use the company. And only you could get lost here."

She completely disregarded what she thought might have passed as a sign of kindness or playfulness in others, and instead glared at him. "Shouldn't he be with Komui? Or someone who could help him cope with seeing his mother cut down by an akuma, right in front of his very eyes? You know what happens to the sorrowful."

"He looks-"

"Fine, yes, but it's all within." Allen waved aside his words. "We can't let him suffer alone, all because we could never visibly detect any signs of trauma." Just like nobody ever did for me.

"...And you could, because...?"

Allen sucked in a swift breath, at what she thought he had meant. Kanda's eyes narrowed, as he honed in on the slightest hesitation and because of that, acknowledgment, akin to a predator swooping in to make an end of the hunt for the prey.

"You of all people should know. That is why I sent him to you." Kanda maintained, tone hardening and features setting into harsh lines of displeasure. "You know all about grief, and the Millennium Earl's offer."

The blood rushed angrily to her face at the quiet barb. "So you taunt me with him?"

He couldn't see, she thought desperately. His view of her was obscured by his innate prejudice of her, and he wasn't able to recognize that she was trying to rectify that mistake. But Edmund should not have to bear that prejudice as well- it should not be incriminating. Just as the potential existed in the orphan, it existed in the beggar and the king and the merchant and the debutante and the choir boy and the barkeep and the swordsman...

"You do realise that anyone but you can create an akuma?"

"Che. Why would I want to?"

"The capability of making an akuma, not the action, Kanda. If you're able to do so, that means you care for someone."

Every single one of them had the potential to create an akuma, if they had a single shred of humanity within themselves capable of hurting for others.

She must have been severely impaired by the heat from her fever as of previous hours, to have even thought of the possibility of Kanda being someone that she could trust.

"Che, you flatter yourself too much."

"Yes. And you give me too much credit." Allen gave a small, two-shouldered shrug, feeling the seams in the tight sleeves of her dress protest and flex against her skin. "But remember that I am not at all familiar with the support system for grief that the Order provides now, to prevent people from making akuma. In fact, I wasn't even aware that the millennium earl existed, when I was little."

"But he answered your call. And he will do it again for others." Kanda said, and Allen squirmed to hear him sound so practical and mechanically indifferent. "This pathetic orphan is no different."

"Are you implying that he must be eliminated if there is a possibility that he will so much as intend to call his mother back from the grave?"

"Did you not suggest that something be done about him and his grief?" Kanda's gaze drew a bead on her, causing her to think of minutes and the many irreversible and contradictory nature of indecision and revision. Allen swallowed her offense, unwilling to let Kanda extort another reason to distrust and dislike her.

"It is as good a suggestion as any."

"One more word, and I will punch your stomach right out of your back." She promised wearily, although her threat had very little intent.

"Hmph. You are getting too attached to the brat, if you are so quick to jump to such conclusions."

The answer he left sounded deliberately vague, and intended to provoke with allegations. Now that in itself was puzzling at best, and worrisome at worst, considering that any conversation she had with him normally deteriorated into spats that left her drained, exhausted, and liable to quietly, spontaneously combust within the privacy of her own thoughts.

Allen didn't think that she could bear any more self-incrimination as of then. She was too exhausted to give it any more than a passing thought.

"You cannot stop people from crying. They need to grieve."She informed him, leaning against the wall and discreetly shifting her weight from one foot to another to alternately take the soreness of the balls of her feet from wearing the shoes.

"Would the Earl merely come a little later?" he scoffed.

"The Earl will not come if they are able to come to terms with their sorrow, and life as it is."

"You did not, Beansprout. Don't think you know it all."

"Like I said, you give me too much credit. And I was a child. And please- don't retort to that. You're going to say that I'm still a child."

Kanda was too self-sufficient (were it actually considered a bad thing) and self-absorbed in both his strength and weakness, and she had entertained that as the only quality that she could stomach in him- even if it were a selfish consideration on her own part, based off her own attempts to avoid closeness. Ironic how she managed to nearly court it at every single given opportunity, as if it were inbred in her nature as opposed to nurturing.

"Why are you so prejudiced towards me?" She demanded, not caring if she sounded unfair or not. "I offend your senses, obviously. I know, just like you know, that I can't possibly claim to be normal in any sense of the word."

"Dropping all pretense of being comrades in arms, I'd say what is most annoying about you is that you're stupid."

"I'm certainly not the brightest of bulbs in the lot, but I'd say that I think and speak coherently enough."

"You're stupid in your assumptions and your ostentations."

"I'm...arrogant?" The accusation of the pot calling the kettle black that had nearly followed was something that she bit back.

"You're singularly uncooperative, aren't you?" Kanda paused, and then amended that. "Hmph. Or rather overly difficult to work with because you're..."

"...How is being 'naive' making me uncooperative in any sense of the word?" Allen questioned, correctly guessing and following up on what he was going to say.

Of course, she wasn't going to inform him that he wasn't the first person in the past twenty-four hours to voice that particular dislike of that trait.

"You jump too fast to conclusions, idiot." He barked at her.

Allen concluded that he had cryptically meant that she was too defensive and touchy.

"I didn't think that we had anything more to say to one another than what we already said. You've made your point clear- you don't trust me. You don't want me as a partner. You clearly believe that I am somehow going to flub everything up. And quite frankly speaking, I'm not even sure at all we can interact civilly without being brainwashed first into it."

It was frustrating, to admit the lattermost part aloud for the first time, and to his face at that.

It wasn't so much actually telling it to him as it was to actually hear herself say it like that, so that she actually had to acknowledge it herself: that she honestly couldn't get along with him despite her very best efforts, which were for the most part pretty damned futile.

In the silence afterwards, she tried to focus as much as possible on how her heels nipped and bit at and unsteadied her feet.

"You don't trust me."

"I thought I said that a while ago, or are we repeating ourselves here?" Discreetly, the British exorcist toed at the floor.

And then she realised: it had been that way all along, and they were merely rehashing something that had never progressed first glance and mutual dislike, and that in a sense they were reliving the same battles and indignations and spats over and over and over again.

"I don't trust you. And you don't trust me...but it doesn't have to be like that." Allen whispered softly. "It doesn't have to be. I don't know why it is."

Drop dead silence, her little brother hadn't returned yet with his coat, she was feeling embarrassed, and Kanda's stony eyes were looking very intimidating indeed. And of course, she was facing death by fashion.

"And that is your own business."

"No. No. We both want to do well, don't we. It's our duty. It doesn't have to be a hateful thing to accomplish."

And last but not least, all her cards were-can she say stupidly?-revealed and on the table for him to see. (Which was something that she hoped that she'd impressed on him during their crash course on cards never to do in a game unless there was a reason.)

At last Kanda spoke. "You think that it doesn't have to be like that."

That tone was unreadable, much like the rest of him was except for the most minuscule details in his expression that she knew she missed because she simply wasn't paying enough attention to him as a person instead of some sort of antagonist.

"Yes." Allen sighed. And then, more resignedly. "But you obviously have made yourself clear that you don't care what I think. Not that I'm encouraging you to do that- it's not good for the mission."

Perhaps she'd better start impressing upon him that it wasn't the mission- there lay the mistake- but rather their mission, as competent if not friendly colleagues.

"And jumping straight into the fray of things when emotionally riled is good for the mission, according to you."

He just had to bring that up- unforgivable red, unforgivable blonde hair. Heaven, not that acerbic way of speaking again- familiar and no doubt ready to rip her arguments apart.

"Sometimes I can be...rash." Innerly seething, despite thinking that she could try to be self-critical like that, though she had been often complained about by others just for wallowing in said activity.

"..."

"But I honestly don't see why we can't be civil."

"Again with that foppishness. Civility is overrated. As is friendship." He spat the word out, as if it were akin to something foul.

"You say that about everything. Insignificant as you find connections to be...you know, forget I said anything."

"-You idiot."

"...Same to you."An automatic return, and she knew that was pretty childish.

"You want everything in words between us? As if they actually mean something?" The Japanese exorcist was shaking his head now. "They don't."

In fact, this was an unusually long conversation she was having with him, and for once that was actually the matter to deliberate over right now.

So that was what she had been doing wrong!

Allen's eyes would have comically widened in surprise if she weren't so preoccupied with keeping up appearances in front of him. One simply did not talk to Kanda Yuu. One acted. And that was it. Since he wasn't a man of many words and no doubt that in extension meant that he had very little patience for them.

So she didn't think, and instead stuck out her right hand. "Truce, then?" she offered.

Kanda eyed her as if she had suddenly mutated into Tyki Mick, or something just as unpleasant and bizarre.

"...A handshake? You're pathetic."

"How so? Excellent practice for English high society."

As her brother came rushing back, with his entreaty to make good on her duty and take him outside and a very welcome excuse for her to end the conversation, she would have sworn that he laughed through his nose at her.

She nearly giggled, like a girl, at that, and ran to catch up with the excited Edmund. The floor slipped beneath her shoes, and she grimaced as she lost her balance.

"Those shoes are made for no purpose whatsoever." Kanda groused, but she allowed him to help her to her feet.

One step forward. How many more could they take before they left for England? At the moment, neither knew that they would have very little time before that occurred.