A/N: Faster than usual, eh? I made my goal. :D Enjoy this next chapter-- it went several times through the rewriting process, but I think I finally nailed it.
--Dead Like Us--
There was coughing and sputtering and the falling of dust, and Allen's mind reverberated with the sounds of his own heartbeat . Disbelief crippled his thinking process.
He had saved someone.
The boy Leo wheezed a little from underneath the reaper, and Allen lifted him up carefully. He was surprised to find that he himself wasn't out of breath at all, nor did he feel any pain from where he had fallen.
"A-are you alright?" Allen questioned, concern leaping into his eyes-- Leo Loneth was dirtied, and he seemed in good shape. But when you're death, you can't be too careful.
The boy nodded weakly, his wide, watery eyes tracing the outline of the enormous cement tube that loomed overhead like a morbid fence post. Allen could imagine the faintest of shadows lingering about the cement tubing if he tried hard enough.
"I'm--" Leo began.
"Leo!" The boy's aviator-hatted friend rushed up to him, embracing the other boy in a hug choked with tears. "Leo, Leo-- are you okay? I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I really am--"
"It's okay, John, it's okay...I'm okay," Leo responded, his midsection squeezed tighter by his friend.
Dusty chaos reigned for some minutes as the workers tried to figure out what had happened, and the dirt kicked up by the falling cement veiled everything in a cloak of further confusion.
Allen backed off from the scene, his mind still in the cool grip of adrenaline, disbelief, and astonishment.
Could this really be happening? Could Death really save someone from dying? A cold sweat marred his brow now that he took the time to notice, and his hands shook slightly from the adrenaline rush.
Various workers bustled around them, making sure no one else was injured-- a sea of yellow hard-hats and hunter-orange vests. Someone had pulled out a cell phone, and another big bear-of-a-man had called up some head honcho on his radio.
Allen couldn't stay here. At any minute, he expected to be incriminated for this almost-crime; the sticky note that read L. Loneth was somewhere still on the grounds, and with a little bit of modern forensics, a murder attempt could be pointed towards him.
He turned on his heel-- Allen didn't know where to go, but he couldn't stay, wouldn't stay. He longed to return to his apartment, to school, to anywhere that this could never have happened-- and then something caught his sleeve.
Startled, he looked downwards, and Allen found himself looking into the teary eyes of the boy John.
"You," he rasped, a slight hiccup interrupting his speech. The workers at this point had gathered around the cement tubing to investigate what had caused it to fall. Allen hoped that there wouldn't be some ectoplasmic essence-of-death lingering there. "You saved him."
The white-haired boy's eyebrows rose, and something almost like fear jumped into his veins, as if saying it aloud sealed his fate. "Y-yeah." He managed through a dry mouth with a tongue that felt like it had turned into cotton.
"Thank you," John whispered. "Thank you."
Allen didn't know why he felt the need to protest, but he couldn't stop the words tumble from his mouth. "No, no, I--"
"Allen." The voice made him freeze. A figure had come up behind them two, and in the light of the new day, his shadow stood tall, towering over them both.
Allen could feel Komui's polite smile radiating off of him. Did he already know that the death hadn't been executed?
Komui stepped forward and bent down to address John eye-to-eye. "Hello there, good sir. May I borrow your friend here?" John nodded timidly, shrinking in the shadow of the taller man. "Much obliged."
Komui gave Allen a pointed look, and he was spurred on to follow the older man with as much gusto of that of a man walking toward the guillotine.
They walked backwards to the parking lot again-- Komui with an extra spring in his step and Allen with a fiery guilt in his stomach.
"So," Komui began, setting a lazy pace, smiling. "How'd it go?"
"It..." Allen began, fumbling for the words to explain. "It didn't."
Komui stopped altogether. "What did you do?"
His tone was dangerous, but Allen continued. "I...saved him."
The man heaved an exasperated sigh and removed his glasses, pinching the crook of his nose between two fingers. "You really take words to heart, don't you, Beansprout?"
"You said...you said that we save, Komui, you said that we could--" Allen began, raising his voice above the hoarse whisper it had been.
"No," Komui interrupted forcefully. "No, that's not what I meant."
"W-what does it matter if I took his soul or not?" Allen half-shouted. The anger boiling inside him mimicked that that had occurred in the park with Lavi, but this time it was laced with a resentment that Allen felt was well justified. "He's alive! He'll live a long life still-- unless you people foresee another accident with him!"
The word people he spat out, contemptuous almost, making sure to put as much space between him and Komui.
But Komui continued on, and something like hurt and a little like shame flashed across his face, stopping to linger in his eyes. "That's eighty years that he won't want. That's eighty years he'll be dead at heart."
Anger boiled down to nothing but marrow and the memory of a feeling. Allen blanched, and let his shoulders fall. "What...what are you saying?"
Komui's eyes met Allen's steel-gray ones. "Death is nontransferable, Beansprout. You're in no place to be giving and taking. Leo Loneth's name was on the post-it, and his soul wasn't taken. But his soul has still expired. The moment he got up this morning, his fate was sealed." His brow momentarily creased, and Komui spoke his next words slowly and carefully. "His soul will wither and rot inside of him. He will be worse than dead. Do you wish do condemn him to that?"
"No," Allen croaked. "No-- you said that we could save them!"
"I didn't mean it that way, Allen. I'm sorry. We save them from something far worse than death. But from death itself-- Allen, you can't save them. You can't save any of them. You have to take his soul."
"I...I can't..." Tears stung at Allen's eyes. He closed them to hide this fact from Komui-- he wasn't weak. He hadn't even shed a tear at his own death. "It's not...That's not fair, Komui..."
"I know. I know..."
A quick look back to the construction sight showed John still hovering over Leo, triple-checking that he was really really alright. A silent sob wracked Allen's body. He looked Komui dead-straight in the eye, trying to rationalize, pleading, but he couldn't -- wouldn't-- let even one tear fall. "He's so young, Komui...too young. That's not fair...It's cruel."
At this point it wasn't just about Leo. It was about him. About Allen Walker, who died at the hands of a dinosaur skull, at fifteen years of age. That was too cruel a joke for even the universe.
Komui put a hand on Allen's shaking shoulder. "I don't decide who gets to live and who has to die." Komui stole a breath. "I'm sorry Allen. So sorry. But...you have to do it. I can't. No one else can."
Allen shrugged Komui's hand from his shoulder. He neither made eye-contact nor gave the man another sign of acknowledgement again. His mind was resolved.
Quietly, slowly, Allen made his way back to the construction site.
A cool kind of calm settled over the place and Allen. Everything slowed. Construction workers still drifted from place to place, but they were after-images, ghosts, and the grim reaper walked passed them.
Allen was hit with the sudden recognition that all these men would die one day. Of course they would. They had to. They would all grow old and die, and he wouldn't. Maybe he'd be the one to take their souls when they finally passed on, and maybe by then, he himself would be moving on. Everything was an uncertain and terrifying blur at this point.
But he knew what he had to do in this moment.
By the time he reached Leo, sitting alone in the dusty place, it seemed as if ten minutes had passed from the parking lot to where he stood now.
The blond looked upwards as Allen came nearer. His eyes were much duller than they had been previously, and they contained a something that prickled at Allen's spine like a dozen moths beating their dusty wings, like the sensation that something had been lost, but you can't ever remember what.
Someone had given the boy a blanket in the reaper's absence, and he appeared even smaller than before as he wrapped himself in it.
"Hello," Allen's voiced cracked. Leo didn't respond to his greeting, but nodded slightly in recognition. Vaguely, the Exorcist wondered where his friend John had wandered off to, and silently berated the other boy for not being here to stop him. "I'm...I'm..."
What could he say? What could he say that would make it alright?
Allen blinked, holding back tears again, and his eyes remained closed for a brief moment. He could feel Leo's questioning glace at his front and Komui's awaiting gaze at his back. Allen was trapped. There was no way out.
Allen crouched at Leo's eye-level, like Komui had earlier, but with a much more somber expression etched on his face.
"Could you do me a favor, Leo?" Allen asked, and the boy said nothing, but an air of affirmative gave Allen the incentive. "Would you close your eyes?" Leo complied, and the complete and total trust in his actions broke Allen's heart in two. "T-take a deep breath, Leo. Like it's your last one." He watched the boy's chest rise and fall.
Allen took a hold of the small boy's hand; the one that didn't clutch at his thin emergency blanket. It was cold.
A wisp of something white traveled up Leo Loneth's hand where Allen gripped it, like the breeze of a windy afternoon that swept you away.
Without opening his eyes again, Leo Loneth died.
Again, slow-motion set in, and the body of the blond child fell back, as cold as it should've been when the cement tube should've crashed down upon his world.
A shout brought the body of the boy to the entire site's attention-- it was John who had seen him fall. John, who had left to get them both drinks. John, who dropped two sodas on the ground as he rushed to see what was the matter. John, who gripped his friend's body by the shoulders so hard Allen could see his knuckles turn white.
Allen seemed to fade away after Leo fell, and no one again noticed him. Tears swam in his eyes, but still they didn't show on his face. He bowed his head.
It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair.
A ghostly hand slipped into his, startling the boy, and he gasped a breath of cool morning air.
"Sir?" Asked the sweet and almost-lyrical voice of Leo Loneth-- ghost-- at Allen's side. His hand was transparent against the Exorcist's. "Can I see mommy now?"
Allen choked back a sob. "Y-yeah, Leo...y-you can." He took a step forward, squeezing Leo's hand reassuringly, even though he was sure that the boy couldn't feel it.
He pulled back from the site.
The ghost of Leo hesitated at the scene of his death for a moment. "John's really sad, sir. Will you be his friend? I don't think that I can anymore."
"Y-yeah," he resolved, but he couldn't make eye-contact. "I will."
Leo smiled a ghostly smile. "Thank you."
There was a very bright light that fell from the heavens as Allen led Leo away, and Allen was reminded strongly of a shooting star, and if he had the presence of mind, he would've wished on it.
He had a lot of things that he could've wished for.
But this was Leo's star, and as it exploded into a firework-display that revealed itself to be Leo's lights, Allen could make out the delicate shape of a woman in the bright lightshow, welcoming her child into the beyond.
Leo let go of Allen's hand, and Allen reached out again to him, afraid to let go. But Leo was already disappearing into the lights.
With another bright flash, he was gone.
Salt stained Allen's cheeks now. A single drop made its way down his cheek and onto the dust-dirty ground.
The bar room was choked with the smell and taste of tobacco smoke, the hazy pale lights overhead drifting like ghosts in a thick fog. The real ghost in the room swirled his half-full glass absently, humming a song long-forgotten.
"Are you ever going to order something alcoholic-- something that's not water in a shot glass?" The bartender snarled, a scowl on his face as he dried an old glass mug with a rag.
"Ah, but Yu-chan," Lavi purred, staring into his glass. "That would be under-aged drinking. Serving minors, don't you know? You could be arrested."
Kanda growled dangerously, setting the mug he had been cleaning down on the water-stained counter. "I've warned you before Lavi-- do not call me that. And don't get started on that lawful crap. You've been dead long enough to buy a drink."
Lavi laughed. "You think? I can't seem to remember if it's been ten years or twenty." He shook his head.
"Fourteen for you, thirty-one for me."
"Ah," he paused to sip his water, and then raised his glass in mock-toast. "Kudos to you, then."
The bar was quiet except for the clashing of billiard balls as some men played pool in the corner somewhere. Absently, Kanda began to wipe the mug again, even though it was already dry.
"...you worried about the Beansprout?" Kanda asked quietly.
"Yeah. A little. He's a good kid-- Fate dealt him a bad hand."
Kanda scoffed. "If you believe in Fate. He'll be fine."
"I'm glad you're so certain," Lavi smiled up, one green eye filled with a bitter mirth.
The reaper-bartender scoffed again. "I'm always certain."
Lavi decided to down the rest of his water. "Well, que sera sera, right?" He got up to go, the barstool scraping against the hardwood floor, and started to hum again as he turned on his heels, leaving behind the smell of smoke and alcohol.
Lavi hummed again. "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die..."
Ambulance red, blue, and white danced across the dirt in the mid-morning sunshine, the cheer of the weather betraying the somber atmosphere.
The howling of sirens echoed in Allen's head. He lingered on at the site, even when Leo's soul had moved on, even when they called the ambulances to make positive it was indeed Death that they were dealing with.
"The shock," they mumbled as police took notes and white-clad hospital-workers went around. "It must've been too great for his little body..."
Perhaps they would convince themselves later that their eyes had lied to them, that the cement tube had actually crashed down on the boy like it was fated to.
It didn't matter to Allen.
For John, it did. It mattered a lot.
The boy cradled himself in the blanket previously worn by his friend, sitting on some steps out of the way, unmoving in the hustle and bustle of the halted site.
Allen couldn't leave here. Not yet. Leo's ghost might've been able to move on, but the reaper who took his soul still felt that a duty needed to be done.
Komui was behind him again. "Allen--"
Before the older man could continue, the white-haired boy interrupted him. "Komui...Give me...give me a couple of minutes. Go back without me."
Komui eyed him warily. "...Alright. Don't do anything rash. I'm sorry it...turned out this way, Allen."
Allen didn't respond. And Komui was gone.
The teenaged Exorcist wavered for a moment, conflicted. Before he knew it, Allen had sat himself on the cool gray stone, next to John.
The boy's head was buried in his knees, his arms wrapped tightly around his legs in a vain effort to stop the barrage of sound, to make it all stop, perhaps. It was something that Allen knew well.
Whether or not John even knew who he was talking to, Allen did not know. But the boy was speaking to him anyway.
"...my fault, all my fault..."
Allen's heart throbbed painfully. "I-it's not your fault, John..." It was awkward using the boy's name-- periphery meant that he wasn't supposed to make contact, let alone comfort.
John lifted his head from his knees, his cheeks tear-stained and his eyes red. "I-is!" he hiccupped defiantly. "It's all my fault-- if I hadn't...hadn't convinced him to go to Dad's site, Leo would've--! He w-
w-wouldn't have..." Tears choked his last words, and he shook with the effort that it took to stifle his sobs.
"It's not your fault, John," Allen repeated firmly, his silver eyes swimming with emotion. "It...it was an accident." He hoped he sounded convincing.
"No, no, no! If it hadn't been for me..."
Allen closed his eyes. He had made a promise, after all. "John...Leo wants you to be happy."
He shot Allen a look at this, and the Exorcist almost regretted saying it. "How would you know?"
"He..." Allen took a breath. "...he'd want you to be happy, wouldn't he?"
"Happy?" John snorted. "How can I be happy?"
"I don't know-- I'm sorry. You just...we try. All the time."
"I can't try anymore," John said, and his arms went around his head again, buried in his knees.
There was a moment or two of silence, filled only by the empty howls of sirens. A breeze swept through the site, picking at the dust and blowing right through Allen.
"Do you believe in Heaven, John?" Allen spoke again, unsure of what exactly he was doing. John didn't respond. "I don't...I don't really think that I do. Leo didn't...he didn't want to go, he shouldn't have had to go, but he didn't feel any pain, John-- I can guarantee that. I'm not going to tell you it was all part of Someone's Master Plan, because I'm not sure that I believe in that either. Leo...he can't be anything right now-- not happy, not sad, not anything. But John, if you're happy, then Leo's got to be happy, too. It's all he can be."
There was nothing again but the howl of sirens. "...He's sorry that he had to go."
"Are you..." John hiccupped, his voice muffled from his arms. "...an angel?"
Allen smiled a small smile, and his eyes hardened from the cloudy misty-fog to sharpened steel.
"No," Allen croaked, and he let his pale bangs move to cover his face. He gave a tired little chuckle. "No, I'm not."
"That's okay," John looked up, and tears once again ran down his face to drop on the cement steps.
Morning drifted along the street, the sun high enough that it peered over the skyscrapers and other tall buildings. Refracted off a dozen windows and through the dusty haze of afternoon work, the sunlight appeared less golden, and much more silvery, like the twilight sparkle of a fallen star.
"That's alright. I'm alright. And I can be happy. And I'm sure Leo's alright, too, where ever he is," John looked up, his face still tear-stained, but now a lop-sided grin crossed his face. "Right, Mr. Angel?"