ETA: Sorry about the extra chapter mess-up! It was late and I don't know how I clicked on 'add new chapter' instead of 'replace' even though oen has a drop-down menu and everything -_-;; I blame it on lack of sleep.

Finally the next chapter, right? Thank you guys for your patience and your reviews. This chapter is a tad shorter so I could actually get something to you while I work on what the next scenes are.

Enjoy!


No Backing Out Once Inside - 8


By the time Kanda reaches the Arbiter's office, an immense courtroom-style building nestled in the less-traveled, but still well-to-do business areas of London, Kanda's indignation and general disorientation has turned to wariness. He eyes the imposing, ornate doors, feeling the first hint of trepidation at the fact that this is the first time he has visited without Lavi.

He pushes open the door, surprised at its easy yield under his hand, and walks in. The front hall is wide and spacious, most likely to inspire awe or intimidation in its visitors, and the floor is made of swirled marble. Likewise, marble columns line the hallway all the way to very end, where there is another set of doors mirroring the outside ones. Kanda knows from personal experience what lies beyond that second set of doors. A courtroom with no seats for a jury, because the one who decides the verdict is the judge, the Arbiter himself.

"May I help you?"

Kanda glances at the receptionist and she meets his eyes with her own calculating look. This is not a place where Kanda's usual intimidation tactics will work, so he doesn't even try, "I'm here to see the Arbiter."

The woman gives him a once-over with cold eyes, "On what grounds?"

Kanda barely keeps the scowl from him face. This is the way they do business in the Arbiter's world. Kanda recognizes the receptionist—he's been here often enough to do so, and he knows that she recognizes him as well. Anyone working for the Arbiter must have impeccable observational skills, as well as the sharp mind to analyze them. But they also have to be completely impartial, a quality which, while admirable and necessary in their line of work, Kanda sometimes finds repulsive. They see other humans as nothing more than records on paper.

"On behalf of Arbiter Junior."

The woman smiles with just a hint of canines peeking through meaninglessly stretched lips, "I trust you know the way."

0o0

Kanda knocks on Arbiter's door, waiting until he hears a gruff 'enter' from inside and then does so, waiting for acknowledgement before moving forward.

Arbiter is a diminutive man, weathered and aged like wine, in a way that has not deteriorated but rather enhanced him, sharpened his tongue and polished his cunning. His face sneers at nonsense with the set of his jaw and the frost gleaming in his eyes. He wears the austere garments of a judge, black and understated, but there is no underestimating this man's position, for it is something that emanates from the rigid set of his shoulders and the penetrating gaze Kanda has had the misfortune of experiencing firsthand. Kanda's eyes flicker past the old man to the nondescript wooden door at the corner of the room, behind which all the records of cases lesser Arbiters all over the world have settled are stored. There exists only one key to that door, currently hanging from a pendant around the Arbiter's neck.

Kanda knows the truth. Lavi's goal is not truly to be the next Arbiter, but to be the possessor of that key.

Arbiter doesn't even glance up before saying, "Where is my idiot apprentice?"

Kanda tears his gaze from the door and steps forward, "Gunshot to the shoulder," there is no need to add anything else, since were it anything serious, the conversation would have begun very differently, "This is for you, sir," he hands over the envelope, which Arbiter opens and studies closely, eyes flitting across the pages. Kanda has seen the letters Lavi writes to Arbiter before and cannot discern any recognizable language from it, not that he'd know much with his Japanese and half-hearted English. The world of the Arbiters is another, separate and very selective.

Finally, Arbiter raises his eyes to Kanda's, "And you, boy? How goes your mission?"

"As well as can be expected, sir."

"Will you make your deadline?"

Kanda's gaze becomes steel, and his voice cuts through the air with no hesitation, "Yes."

The corner of the Arbiter's mouth quirks upward, "Good luck, then."

0o0

Kanda opens the door with intention, marching back into their flat with a good mind to bitch Lavi's ear off about sending him there. But when he peeks over the couch and finds the redhead sound asleep with a sheet of paper haphazardly tucked between his hand and stomach, the rest of the pile in a flurry of white on the carpet, Kanda lets his shoulders drop fractionally in resignation. He reaches out, notes Lavi's temperature is nearly back to normal and sighs, grudgingly admitting relief. He sheds his coat and tosses it over Lavi, hoping he'll get tangled in it and choke. It would certainly make up for all the other crap he's gone through today thanks to him.

0o0

"Allen, stop feeling guilty about it!" Lenalee says for the fifth time that day, lowering the sheet she is hanging to dry to glare half-heartedly at Allen. It's hard to be mad at the boy when he mopes so convincingly, but he's also completely wrong.

"But you slapped him, Lenalee! In the face! Twice, almost!"

"And he almost killed you," she retorts, flicking the end of the wet sheet to straighten it out before clipping it up to dry. The line hangs heavy with the weight, and from the corner of her eye she sees Allen's dejected figure tossing a ball, Daysia's, she notes, up in the air over and over.

"He thought I took it," Allen adds morosely, eyes never leaving the rattling ball, "And I provoked him."

"You have such a ridiculous guilt complex!" Lenalee fumes, the tendons in her forearms bulging as she wrings the sheets desert-dry. Usually, she thinks it's beautiful, it's a sign of a pure heart, of Allen's infinite goodness, an admirable characteristic. So she usually doesn't call him out on it. But all she can think of is the hideous bruise, now a mottled, grayish-green, underneath Allen's scarf. No one treats her family like that.

Allen's guilt about the whole business allows her to overlook the fact that Allen has not given a second thought, much less a twentieth, to any of his clients in several years.

0o0

They leave for France.

Kanda follows Lavi, idly watching his lips move in unfamiliar patterns as he sweet-talks the gossipy old men and women that run the market stalls. The air is still light, the sun's rays morning-pale and providing just enough warmth to offset the faint chill left over from night, but not enough to feel hot.

Lavi talks, throat working gutturally and voice rising in peculiar pitches as he seeks to gather information. Some of the old women nod eagerly, making Lavi's body lean forward with the inklings of hope in his eyes and Kanda's attention to focus back on the conversation. But inevitably, the people shrug and Lavi sighs and gives them a hearty goodbye as they walk off through the crowded streets in search of other informants.

"So they've all seen him, but they don't know anything?" Kanda bites out, feeling restless from this fruitless and boring search.

"They think they've seen him," Lavi corrects, tugging a freshly-harvested green grape from its cluster and popping it in his mouth, making a motion for Kanda to take one as well. Kanda shakes his head, and Lavi continues, tongue working around a full mouth, "It fits the description perfectly, except for one thing, which is the markings on the forehead. Shit!"

Lavi jumps to the side to avoid a pile of horse manure, while Kanda calmly steps around it, wrinkling his nose in mild distaste, "Can't he be wearing a hat?"

Lavi rolls his eyes, "You don't think I asked that already? I'm the brains of this team for a reason, Yuu," Kanda scoffs but doesn't deny it, "It may be that he has a way of hiding it. I mean, he can apparently walk through walls," Lavi rubs his head, the first hint of frustration seeping into the lines wrinkling his forehead. His hand moves to his shoulder, rubbing gingerly, "Damn, the soreness is almost as bad as the bullet itself."

"It will lessen within the week," Kanda mutters absently, watching the people bumping, burbling and hovering around them. How many of them are dark souls, hiding under the guise of good small-town citizens?

"You're thinking something creepy again," Lavi whines, pulling a lock of Kanda's hair, "Stop it."

Kanda scowls, lips pursing as he focuses back on Lavi, "What would you know?" Lavi shrugs and walks ahead, boots scuffing the ground carelessly. Kanda follows, stepping quickly to catch up to him, "So what is your plan now, genius?"

Lavi pops another grape in his mouth, making a wet crunch when he bites it. Kanda studiously avoids looking at the juice glistening on Lavi's lips, "There's an inn nearby, where some of them said they'd seen him. Presumably, that's where he was staying. So that's the next best place to investigate."

They arrive at the inn a little before lunch, so Lavi decides it's a good idea to buy lunch from the inn, warm themselves up to the bartender and his cute daughter, who brings them their lunch.

Kanda chews slowly, "How did you know to come here?"

Lavi blinks, pork-laden fork halfway to his mouth, "I told you, I found out from a witness. They told me he mentioned this town."

"But how did they find out? A member of the Noah Clan would not be careless enough to tell a witness about his next step of action."

"It was a bit of a fluke, really," Lavi says, putting bits of carrots on his fork and pretending to aim at Kanda.

"I'll kill you."

"As if, you—"In a flash, Kanda has the tip of his sword pressed against the side of Lavi's thigh under the table. Lavi gulps, "—are completely right, I was just being facetious. Please let me keep my leg."

Kanda sheathes his sword again, and sips from his water, "You were saying?"

"Um, right. Like I said, it was a fluke. We got lucky. I mean, you've seen the crime scenes, I am convinced this guy has got to be bipolar or something."

Kanda nods, remembering. There had been several incidents where, were it not for a few bits of unmistakable evidence, they would have said that there were two different perpetrators. Sometimes, every potential witness within the area had turned up dead, sometimes they had all been left alive, even when it was obvious he had known they were there.

"Anyway, so we got lucky. He was in a good mood, and apparently—how did I not tell you this? I was sure I'd told you."

"You just told me we were going to France. You'd stayed up through the night, and obviously got these news while I was out training. When I got back you were too tired to give me more than a 'France, next week,' if I remember clearly," Kanda says.

Lavi scrunches up his nose, "Oh, now I remember. Right, so he was in a good mood and left the witness alive. According to the witness, while he was rummaging through the room, he suddenly slapped his forehead as if remembering something and said, 'Damn skin,'—whatever the hell that means,— 'I forgot I have to go to La Baule'. I'm assuming the reason he didn't kill the witness was because he said this in French, and auspiciously enough, our witness speaks French, which he surely wasn't expecting. So that's why we're here," Lavi suddenly looks thoughtful, worrying his lower lip, "I also assume he's no longer here, since the townspeople haven't seen him in a couple of days, so that's good, but I'm a bit worried about what will happen when we finally run into him."

Kanda snorts, and says very simply, "I run him through with Mugen."

0o0

Allen wakes up with a start, mouth open and dry as he pants for breath, blood pulsing almost painfully through his limbs. He nudges his legs apart, trying to relieve some of the discomfort brought upon by the image of coal-dark hair enclosing them like a drape and onyx eyes boring into him with the impassivity of a mountain.

He's not sure whether he's glad or not to be having dreams again.


Hahaha, but Allen won't be the only one having some problems to take care of :)

Thanks for reading! And for my reviewers, thanks again for taking the time to review. Your reactions and thoughts are always fun to read.