Author's Notes:

Here I am, back again from my holiday in France, not tanned and not burnt. I haven't really been able to write much while there. But I have been able to mostly fight the inspiration slump that always follows a holiday. Still I took my time. The chapter was difficult to write because of its content which is in part the aftermath of a death…

Sometimes I feel like I'm teasing you; I finally let Kanda and Ellen take a big step towards each other only to tear a deep gulf between them again within the same chapter. I don't mean to be so capricious, but I want to be able to write myself through the challenging downs (and ups) of their ever changing relationship. I hope you're not rolling your eyes at me and still have patience to see how it develops!

To show you how sorry I am I refrained from cutting this chapter where I first wanted to – consequently this chapter turned out to be quite long! :D

P.S. Oh, this is already chapter 30! I am surprised!

Disclaimer: D. Gray-Man belongs to Katsura Hoshino


From the cold, frost covered earth, from the snow falling from a grey sky, a bitter and biting chill entered Ellen's body. Her fingers had gone numb again, the white ones discoloured red and burning, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Her knees were the same. She hadn't moved much since Kanda had gone in. The tear trails stung her cheeks and her vision was blurry. Still… Still she couldn't go inside.

A heavy coat was dropped on top of her.

"You're of no use to us when you freeze to death…," Cross said casually, scratching the back of his head with his index finger.

"I won't die," Ellen replied quietly. The General groaned, shaking his head in annoyance. "Marian, I did something terrible…"

"Tell me something I don't know yet," the man said, bending down to grab a hold of her upper arm. She didn't resist when he dragged her inside of the house not too gently. After sitting in the cold night for an hour or two the warmth of the mansion made her feel ill, her head spinning uncomfortably. Still, she found the voice to speak to him.

"I've caused Hanako Kanda to die," she whispered and Cross didn't turn to look at her while he dragged her through the corridors. "I've kept Yu Kanda's sister alive so she'd die in his stead…" Cross stopped, his hold on her upper arm quite painful and Ellen winced.

"Okay. That was new. But not unexpected. So what about it?" the man asked and fixed his intense glare on Ellen. She turned away from it and Cross finally knew for sure that this woman was different. What he had attempted, Kanda had finally managed, though he didn't know where this change would lead them. She was not exactly like Cross had hoped; a human Ellen Walker, he wouldn't have believed it! He almost laughed at the irony of it.

"How can you even ask? This is terrible! I feel so sorry for her and for him too… Their pain was not necessary… And still… Knowing that I haven't stopped it from happening. I've been so selfish…!"

"Oh? Have you been selfish, Miss Destiny?" Cross asked mockingly and Ellen couldn't help looking up at him, her brows drawn down in barely hidden displeasure. "Can you feel the guilt for your actions? Hah, guilt! Savour it, Ellen!" Ellen involuntarily flinched at the loudness of his voice and the mocking tone his cruel words were spoken in. "You messed up and you probably caused a few cracks in the pretty boy's heart. So you'd better not turn into an icicle now to save you some pain, but show him how sorry you are. And promise not to do it again!"

"How can I promise such a meaningless thing? He hasn't got more family members that I can lead to ruin," Ellen whispered and Cross laughed, shaking his head. "You don't care about this, do you…? You're terrible as well…!"

"If I care or not doesn't change anything in this situation. Besides, humans come in many flavours, my dear. Which is nothing new to you…" Cross told her, wiping her hair out of her face. "I think you'd be quite compassionate if you're given the chance." Ellen looked up at him, a doubtful expression in her clear grey eyes. "Things have changed, the times have changed… Even though I bet you started doubting your course of action, this unfortunate girl's path had still been paved by Destiny. Now, what will you do?" Ellen lowered her head.

"I don't like this distinction… She's me and I am her. This is who I am – this despicable person. If you and Yu Kanda insist on dividing me then I constantly have to be afraid of myself…," she confessed and Cross patted her head.

"But you know that this distinction is necessary. You know that within you something bigger, something older lives. For this power – the Noah – you are of no importance. You are, after all, just a human vessel. You stopped caring about that, you became just what you were meant to become – a pure Noah without a real white, human self. Now…" he looked at her with a meaningful expression, hand heavy on her shoulder, "it is time to acknowledge the change. You need to recognise that you – Ellen Walker or whoever you actually are – become your own person. It is time for you to make your own decisions instead of just letting yourself be governed by Destiny. This is too easy, Ellen!" He grabbed her chin and lifted her head a bit. "Lift up that head of yours. Be an adult. Make decisions, suffer the consequences. Practice what you preach!" He let go of her chin and Ellen held his challenging gaze for a while, before she lowered her head again.

"I understand… Of course I understand… But the Noah of Destiny is far more powerful than me."

"Not if you control her. But I think this is not your main concern now…," he said and Ellen studied him indecisively. Control the Noah? That thought seemed ridiculous…! "You've got a man that just realized that there's something different between you and him than fate's bonds. I wonder what you think about that?" Cross tousled her hair then he left her alone. Yu Kanda… Ellen balled her hands into fists, staring at the floor. She closed her eyes for a moment, relaxing. But nothing came to her, no soft tug showing her the direction, no gentle whispers in her ear telling her what to do. She could not see, she could not hear. It was just her and she didn't know what the consequences would be if she went to him or if she kept away. Ellen lifted her hands to her chest, her heart beating painfully. Certainty did not exist for humans, at least not in affairs such as these… So she had to try and hope for the best, whatever that might be…

-o-

Ellen gently and quietly opened the door to Kanda's room and stepped inside. His window had been pulled open and it was rather chilly thanks to the clear and cold winter night outside. She slid the door close behind herself and stepped over to where he was lying on his futon. He was lying on his side, his back was turned towards her and a thin blanket was drawn over his body. Ellen hesitated, but then she kneeled down, her hand hovering over his shoulder. Then she put it on his skin. It was warm under her touch.

"Yu Kanda…," she whispered, gently rubbing his shoulder. He snorted silently and Ellen knew that he was awake. She bent down, her forehead touching his shoulder where her hand had been shortly before. What should she tell him? Her guilt was silencing her again. How should she tell him that she was sorry? That she deeply regretted what happened? Finding the right words was so terribly difficult. "I'm… sorry about your loss… She shouldn't have died…" Was that all she could say? Was that the amount of words that she managed to wrap her emotions in? How meaningless it all seemed! She felt tears slip from her shut eyes. Kanda could hear them hitting the futon, but he didn't react to her. "I'm so sorry…!" He sighed, then he shifted, looking over his shoulder where he could only see the top of her head.

"Stop apologizing," he told her and she lifted her head just slightly. She gazed at him through the long hair falling into her face.

"I don't know how to stop… I don't know how to make you feel better. Apologizing is all I can do…," she told him and Kanda thought about that. "And even that will not make any difference."

Kanda sighed and sat up, forcing Ellen to sit back on her knees again. He flipped his hair behind his shoulder, trying to gather his thoughts. He didn't feel like looking at the girl next to him and the only sound to be heard was the silent call of a night bird outside and the irregular noise of her tears hitting the floor.

The general tried to think back, he tried to figure out what he had felt when his entire family except Hanako had been killed. He'd been blinded by grief and his own shame for not being able to protect them. He had forced the pain and his powerlessness down by replacing it with rage and revenge to ponder upon. But he had been young then, he had been thoughtless. But how should you take a death? How should you deal with it if not with violent emotions? Should they, adult as they were, talk it through? Try to make sense of it? Try to figure out why it had to happen? What greater goal it served? Kanda felt this to be as pointless as rage or lament – nothing would change the fact that Hanako had died.

"Words are meaningless," Kanda started and finally directed his eyes towards Ellen. She was slightly hunched over, her long hair pooling around her on the floor, like silver threads of expensive silk. "No matter what you say or do, Hanako will still be dead." He studied Ellen for a reaction, but she remained silent and he could almost feel how tense she was. He sighed yet again into the heavy silence between them. "Why are you here?"

"I don't know…," she confessed and he could see her reach out her human hand, red from the cold, and place it on top of his knee. He didn't flinch at the touch, he didn't even know if he wanted her hand to be gone or to remain there. "I just… don't want you to hate me!" Kanda pulled his mouth into a thin line at that, staring at the top of her head.

"Why?" he demanded and his voice had come out far colder than he had intended it. Her fingertips dug into his thigh, not painfully, but it made him unable to ignore her touch.

"Why…?" she repeated and finally lifted her head. Her eyes were still wet and puffy, tear trails on her cheeks, her nose was red from the cold and crying and her white hair clung to her face. She looked like a mess – the cold, statue like beauty she had possessed, a beauty Kanda had both marvelled at and hated at the same time, had gone. "I know this is all my fault… I have understood that I deserve all the painful emotions in my heart. I know that you hating me for what I did would be perfectly reasonable… But… to be hated by you again…" She dared to look up at him, but his eyes still held the same question. Why? She wanted to lower her eyes and to escape the look on his face, but she forced herself to resist. "In all the years I have never been afraid of other people's thoughts and feelings about me. I knew that they were of no importance. I knew that whatever they thought about me would just fall off me without harming me in the slightest. I knew that I was different, that I moved through the world detachedly. Nothing could reach me, nothing humans did or felt made a difference to me. I was just playing along, my body reacting to other people's fleeting passions. Love was a shallow, fuzzy feeling, just like hate was or despair. It just never could reach me… But you…" She averted her eyes now that Kanda's expression changed from a cold mask to surprise. She put both of her hands on Kanda's knees now and dared to look up again. "Somehow you pierced right through this veil separating me from the world and you tore down the indifference. It happened slowly, yes, but now you're here…," she said and took his hand into hers, guiding it to her chest. He let it happened, slowly watching how his fingers closed around hers, then he looked back into her face. "I feel… intensely…" She shook her head. "Not just with my body. My head and my…" she found it difficult to say it all of a sudden, but she pulled herself together. "My head and my heart are touched by you… I haven't felt this in a long time…" she looked at him, a pained expression in her eyes. "Maybe I have never felt this before…" She lowered her head, her face disappearing behind a veil of white hair. "This love…" Kanda gave a start upon hearing her whisper these words. He wanted to say something into the ensuing silence, but before he could find the right words to start, she strengthened the grip around his hand. "It's painful and it's terrifying. Love that makes me cruel. That makes me not care about the world and other people's pain for as long as you are safe…! I don't know if you want it… I don't know if I shouldn't better lock it away… I… don't know what else I'll do…" her voice, which had turned from barely a whisper to something that filled the entire room, broke again. "I don't want to be hated by you…!" Kanda, not forgetting, but pushing everything else to the back of his mind for a moment, tugged at her hands and pulled her against him.

"I don't want to hate you either, Ellen! I don't want to go back to where we started!" he said bitterly, pressing her against his body. She put her arms around him instantly. "I don't want to push you away, but you continue doing these stupid things…! You don't even give me the opportunity to put my trust in you. Whenever I think we've made some progress you shatter it again." He put his hands on her upper arms and gently put some distance between them. "Do you understand? You don't trust my abilities and think you need to act for me. You don't. But if you don't trust in me I can't trust in you and tragedies like Hanako's death will continue along our path." He lowered his head and shook it. "I don't want to feel like this again. It's too painful."

"I… Yes," was all that Ellen managed to reply and Kanda looked at her again. Her face appeared to be composed and understanding, but he could see the doubt and fear so close underneath the calm surface. "I don't want any more sacrifices either… But I don't know if they can be avoided…"

"No. They cannot be," Kanda said and Ellen widened her eyes slightly. "This is human life. People die. Especially in war. Tragedies will happen, but not like Hanako's… I won't allow it to happen again." He looked at her sharply and she nodded. "Good." He let go of her and both of them didn't quite know what to do or say now.

"Is there anything I can do…?" Ellen asked after a while, backing off slightly when she saw that Kanda was uneasy. "About Hanako I mean…" Kanda looked at her doubtfully and she shook her head apologetically. "I just don't know what to do to make you feel better… I don't know how to deal with this situation…" Kanda twirled his fingers, feeling unsettled again now that the topic had resurfaced.

"Neither do I. There is no universal way to deal with loss… I probably just need time…"

"Do you… want to talk about it?" Ellen asked, forcing herself to say it because she didn't really feel like talking about it either. Kanda shrugged. "Not necessarily with me… I would understand…"

"That's not it…," he started, then he reached out his hand and drew it through her hair. He thought about suggesting her to cut it. He disliked how it always fell into her face, he wanted to see her expressions. But it was not his place to require her to change anything about her look… And now was not the time for it anyway. "Say… When Mana died, what happened then? What did you do? What did you want the Earl to tell you?" Ellen seemed puzzled by these questions, but she pressed her lips together shortly before she replied:

"He said that everything would be better now. That things would be like they were supposed to be. Everyone said that. They wanted normality to return at once. So I played along. There were no words of apology or pity. It just was what it was; Mana was in the way, he got killed."

"And what had you hoped to hear? What did you need then?" Ellen shrugged, forcing the memory of these days back into her mind. It wasn't difficult to recall these days, but it was still painful.

"Nothing… I needed nothing…," Ellen said in a whisper. "But for him to return." She put her hand against her forehead, shaking her head at herself. "That's why I brought him back. I knew that it was not meant to be, that it would not work like I hoped it would. But I was, in a certain way, overwhelmed. After I lost him again I accepted that he was gone…"

"You didn't think about revenge, did you…," Kanda asked and Ellen shook her head.

"Revenge, you must have noticed, is pointless. It takes you mind off your grief, it gives you purpose and with it stability. But it is pointless… It won't bring those back that were lost… In the end I was calm and collected, almost untouched. But only almost…" She looked at him, a small encouraging smile on her lips. "It is as you said… maybe it's just time you need to think about it… In the end we humans are capable of dealing with death simply because we have to… This is bitter reality, especially to us who are not mortal like them…" She fell back into silence and Kanda did not feel like disturbing the quiet that had entered the room. Some minutes passed like this, but Kanda thought they were less tense and less uneasy than just before. There was something there in the room, something unspoken that would need to be voiced, but it was patient. Both lacked the right words, both didn't know the right time for it.

"I will deal with it…," he finally said and Ellen looked up at him, "I'm sad and angry. But I'll deal with it."

"Good," was all that Ellen managed to reply, then she straightened up before actually getting back on her feet.

"Good night," he told her. Ellen nodded, a sad expression in her eyes. She didn't want to leave him, she wanted to tell him more, but as he had said – words were meaningless in this situation. She had broken his trust, something she hadn't known she actually wanted. She walked out of the room, closing the door behind herself.

Time was what he needed, what they needed. And time was what they lacked.

-o-

Consideration was not one of Cross' strong points. He called them out of their respective uneasy sleep to continue their journey.

"You look like shit. Both of you," he commented dryly, studying them standing in the court. "We'll arrive in Edo later today. We'll travel straight to the capital. Don't even think of taking a rest, don't even think of letting your guard down until we're in my closest stronghold. And even then," he told them, his tone commanding, "you'd better watch yourself very closely. You won't be safe anymore, no matter where you are." Kanda nodded, while Ellen merely looked at the sky overhead.

"I hope you've been listening," Cross said irritably, punching Ellen's shoulder and she looked at him. "Is anything the matter?"

"I'm trying to read the signs," she answered and Cross shook his head, then he pushed her towards the gate.

"Not necessary. You just alert us if there are Akuma or Noah. Nothing else. Focus on not getting left behind or straying!" Ellen eyed him with an almost disgruntled expression. They left the hideout through the gate, stepping out into the even colder air outside.

Kanda could hear the light humming sound of gears and the clicks and screeches of machinery, but it was like the rustling of the leafless branches overhead. Neglectable. He truly hoped it would stay this way.

-o-

Edo lay in the distance, dark and gloomy. Kanda sat on the porch of the little house they were in. It was far less splendid than any other of Cross' dwellings, but as far as protection was concerned, it was better than to be out in the open. The day's march through the forest and villages, trying to keep in the shadows, trying not to leave trails despite the freshly fallen snow, had been difficult. They had passed many abandoned villages, infested with Akuma, or completely fallen into eerie silence, left to be broken down by time. Humans they had met none, not that Kanda had expected it to be otherwise. But he had hoped. Ellen had kept to herself, not saying anything unless she spotted Akuma on the way. Kanda turned his eyes away from the not so distant capital to look at Ellen sitting close to a pillar that was part of the protective barrier around their hide-out. Cross had withdrawn and with him the tension had returned to the silence between General and pupil. He wanted to say something to her, but he didn't quite know where to start and what to say. He was slightly worried about her, worried about her silence and the distant look in her eyes the closer they got to fulfilling their mission in Japan.

"Hey," he finally spoke up, trying to sound as casual as possible. Ellen looked up at once, an expectant expression on her face. Had she waited for him to speak to her? He hesitated and her expression wavered, but she didn't say anything so the silence returned. Kanda hissed at himself, touching his fingers to his forehead, then he got up. "That's ridiculous, we're adults." Ellen looked at him, her brows lifted in confusion. "We should just stop this embarrassing silence."

„I would. But I don't know what to say," she confessed and got up, slightly shaking the fabric of her kimono to get off the powdery snow. She didn't look at him afterwards. "Maybe I already said too much." Kanda frowned at that and walked over to her, stopping in front of her, within arm-reach.

„No," he said. „I don't think you did." He lifted his hand and drew it through her open hair. She closed her eyes shortly, only opening them again when he let the strands drop down again. He sighed and turned towards Edo lying in front of them.

"Are you nervous?" Ellen wondered, but when Kanda looked at her again, there was no playful smile on her lips, but a genuine concern shining in her eyes. He first wanted to shrug, but then he decided to be honest and nodded. "I understand."

"It would be too good to be true if everything went according to plan," Kanda said and Ellen heaved a deep sigh, crossing her arms in front of her chest and looked into the distance. He did the same, silently gazing.

"I don't even know what the plan is anymore. It feels like everything has slipped out of my hands when I left for Japan. Maybe even earlier," she said, but somehow a calm expression settled on her face again. Kanda turned towards her, studying her profile. Now that she was composed, her natural beauty and grace had returned to her. Though she still seemed young and vulnerable, so much more like her human appearance than mere months ago. Kanda was not sure if he was happy about the change. Ellen had not yet come to terms with not only playing, but being human. She had not found out who she wanted to be, not picked out the various pieces out of the many, many roles she had played for such a long time. Kanda wondered if she ever would do it… Who knew how long Destiny would keep in the shadows. Who knew if this actually wasn't one of her roles as well? Kanda squeezed his eyes shut, disgruntled about the direction his mind had led him to.

"Disregarding General Cross, what was your plan?" he asked and Ellen looked up at him with a puzzled look. "You knew we'd head towards Japan. You must have had a plan the moment you showed yourself to me in China… What was it?" Ellen remained silent, holding his gaze, then she turned her eyes downwards, studying the floor with a silent hum.

"This is actually hard to answer…," she told him, looking up at him again. "Me and you – it had always been a bit of a gamble. There had been so many opportunities for things to go wrong." Kanda raised an eyebrow, but let the girl continue. "However, the plan was that I would help you get stronger. I would help you get to a certain point…"

"And which would be?" Ellen smiled now, a smile Kanda couldn't quite place.

"To the point where you would be able to win this war…," she answered and Kanda groaned silently, shaking his head. "Do not make that face at me, Yu Kanda."

"Don't speak to me like that, Ellen Walker," Kanda replied in irritation and she laughed slightly. "So it still boils down to the same thing; you want me to continue Mana's legacy."

"Yes and no. Maybe it was that before, but Mana would never have been able to win. I know that now. I don't know the constellations of the decisive, final confrontation, but you have to be in it. Without you and the power you gained and the decisions you have made and will still make there is no way that humanity will not be destroyed."

"So, actually," Kanda started, sighing, "what you did was obey the rules of the ancient pact. You've set the chess board accordingly." Ellen hesitated, but then she nodded.

"I would not exactly disagree with that. But I don't know if that is all there was." Kanda studied her. "I have wondered before; I will get you to Japan but what will happen then? Will I follow and aid you from the shadows as I've done before? Will I just patiently watch destiny unfold? On which side will I stand on?" She laughed gently, shaking her head. "But I have never quite worked like that. I have not sat down and planned ahead. My power certainly doesn't work that way."

"You just react to cues around you…," he said and Ellen nodded, "you see and feel and know… and then you manipulate." The white haired girl nodded yet again and Kanda uttered a sigh. "And you no longer do."

"I no longer do… I look at the battle ground before us and I don't know what to do…" she told him quietly, gazing at Edo. Then she turned around, looking up at him with a gentle and calm expression "And I look at you and I don't know what to do." Kanda reached out, taking her hand into his, squeezing it lightly.

"We will figure it out…," he said calmly, "what happened yesterday… And what you said yesterday… Things have changed between us… It is as you said before. There are so many opportunities where things between us might have gone wrong. Things did go wrong… And maybe more things will go wrong in the future…"

"I don't want things to go wrong," Ellen told him, closing her fingers around his defiantly.

"But maybe we also don't want things to go right," Kanda argued silently and Ellen looked up to him, her eyes slightly widened in surprise. He returned her look and Ellen bit her lips. "Maybe the roles we need to play do indeed end in a tragedy for us..."

"Please… Don't say that," Ellen told him bitterly, "I know you are right… But I still care less about the fate of the world than-" Kanda lifted his fingers to her lips and she stopped. He looked at her almost sternly and she sighed trough her nose. Kanda's expression changed again and he moved his fingers down to her chin. Then he bent down, placing a kiss on her lips. A frustrated sob almost passed Ellen's lips when Kanda withdrew.

"It is our duty to try to protect what is worth protecting," he told her, "and sometimes we can't have what we wish for, for the sake of something more important…" Ellen felt like protesting, she felt like telling him that certain things did not matter, but she said nothing. "You too have changed people's lives for something that had nothing to do with them." She said nothing because she knew that she had no right to.

"I know…," Ellen finally said and Kanda nodded at her. He turned his back on Edo and walked to the door of the house.

"We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow… We should better be properly rested," he told her, then he looked back at her. "Good night." Ellen rubbed her forehead, exhaustedly and feeling frustrated.

"I understand. Good night…" The door shut noiselessly and Ellen looked up at the blinking stars in the clear sky.

-o-

The dark hours before dawn made the almost abandoned city of Edo appear like a vague scenery from a nightmare. Fog was soundlessly gliding through the empty streets, blown by a chilly wind carrying dry snowflakes. The city was not silent – Level Three Akuma were patrolling the streets, making it exceedingly difficult to move forwards.

Ellen was shivering, holding her hands to her chest while they were waiting in the shadow of a high wall for some Akuma to pass. She wore her hair in a braid pinned to the back of her head and the kimono had been replaced by her exorcist uniform. For this mission, all of them had changed into their uniforms, the golden buttons and embroidery of the two Generals dully reflected the sparse light. Kanda didn't have the time to worry about possible doubts his pupil might have had, he had to blindly trust her now. It was as Cross had said; they couldn't afford to worry about her turning against them, they were too busy trying not to be spotted.

But Kanda too had troubles moving around this ghost town. It was painful being here, not the level of Akuma noise, he could deal with that. No, it was the memory of what had happened long ago. His late master had sacrificed his own life in exchange for Kanda's. The fear of repeating this mistake made Kanda's fingers clench painfully around Mugen's hilt. There were so many things that could go wrong now!

Cross turned towards the other two, speaking in a harsh and commanding tone that broke the tense silence:

"The actual entry to the Ark is located in a shrine. We're almost there but we can't let our guards drop." Kanda looked past him and could see the vague shape of the gate in the fog ahead.

"Why couldn't we just use one of Ellen's gates? Wouldn't that have been safer?" Kanda hissed in reply, following Cross as he left the shadow of the alley. He didn't look back to find out if Ellen was following, but he could hear her hurried steps behind him.

"What we want is to terminate the main connection to Edo. This shrine is the only direct door leading to the Ark. It has been caused by Mana, so that the Earl is unable to move the Ark around. He doesn't know the location of the real gate. This is our chance at secrecy and it is my chance to check out the properties of the magic spells," Cross explained.

"Akuma," Ellen warned, „four ahead. It's the next patrol. We should go left." They moved into another narrow alley and through a hole in a wall surrounding a mansion. They could hear the Akuma talking and the heavy sounds of their steps. When they passed, the sounds of their gears and the whispers and wails became louder, but it was over as soon as they passed. He darted a look at Ellen, who held her chest while pressing her lips together. Traces of her curse were still inside of him, but Ellen had the real curse. If what she always felt in their vicinity was only half as bad as Kanda had felt before Cross had taken care of the problem, being here must be terrible for the girl. But she didn't complain, she never had complained about it.

"When we're inside," Cross continued, not facing them as he scanned the streets, "we'll have to split up. I'll take care of the Akuma Egg, I doubt that Ellen's able to destroy it. You two," now he looked over his shoulder, "you'll terminate the connection to Edo and secure the Ark for us." Kanda nodded and they left the garden again. Ellen walked behind, letting her hand travel along the rough surface of the wall. Dawn was still an hour away, but the darkness was becoming less dense, but the streets were still covered by layers of mist and snow was lightly falling around them. The gate of the shrine got closer and Kanda could already see its peeling red colour. Nothing looked out of the ordinary when they stood in front of it – the stone path leading to a small shrine was covered by dry earth and snow, tiles from the roof had fallen. It was abandoned, purposeless in this city void of human inhabitants.

"Okay, here we are," Cross said and Kanda almost wanted to doubt him, but seeing as Ellen didn't contradict him he refrained from it. They passed the gates and the cold and dark disappeared. They stood in the shadows of a building. Kanda turned around, behind them was a white washed house with a wooden sign attached to the wall – it seemed to be a tavern. The sky overhead was clear and blue and it was agreeable warm. "Come on, let's get moving," the older General insisted and walked out of the shadow. They seemed to be in a lower part of the town, Kanda could see it extending before him, rising to its highest point; the tower.

"Do you know where the Egg is?" Ellen wondered and Cross snorted. "There are Skulls guarding it. You better be careful."

"No need to be careful with weak scum like them," the red-haired men countered and Ellen turned her head away from him, shaking her head. "You don't trust me to be able to deal with their magic? Don't be ridiculous. But if you worry so much, why don't you join me?"

"You know I cannot do that. I can't stand being near the Akuma Egg for extended periods of time," Ellen answered and Kanda looked at her with confusion. "And I also think it'd be too hazardous…"

"Yes, yes," Cross said in a bored tone, scratching his head with a finger, his eyes turned skywards. "No meeting point. But you have to be fast. If you make it then we'll see each other again in the Black Order. If not, well…," he left the sentence open, but then he fixed his eyes on Ellen for a short while before he looked at Kanda. "Better pray you'll be successful." He lifted his hand, waving, then he turned around, disappearing around a corner.

"Where will we head to?" Kanda asked and Ellen lifted her hand, pointing at the tower. "Not the piano room?"

"The main control room has to be disconnected. If we want the Ark then we want it without Rhode Camelot being able to open doors to it anymore… Afterwards we disconnect it from Edo."

"And can't you just open a portal to it?" Kanda wondered and grabbed the knob of the nearest door. He pulled it open and the scent of the sea and the sound of roaring waves hit him at once. Ellen put her hand on the wood and slammed it shut. When Kanda looked at her, she frowned disapprovingly.

"There is no time to play, Yu Kanda," she reminded him and he returned her frown. "The problem with the main control room is that it belongs to the Earl. I do not doubt that there are many barriers, maybe even guards." She started walking ahead and Kanda followed. "There is no trust between the Earl and me, at least not when loyalty is concerned…" He watched her back, straight, with a white cross sawn into it. He stopped and Ellen, when she noticed that the sound of his footsteps had ceased, slowed and turned around. "What is it? We don't have any time to waste," she told him. Kanda looked at her, studying her, thinking.

"I want to-," he started, but then a sudden sensation of danger went through his body and he jumped to the side. The floor next to him exploded and a cloud of smoke whirled up into the otherwise undisturbed sky. Ellen widened her eyes when Kanda got to her side, Mugen drawn and invocated.

"What is it?" she shouted, but then she felt it too, a presence. She put her hands to her chest, holding her Innocence close to her.

"Well, well," a voice spoke up and Ellen squeezed her eyes shut. The familiar scent of tobacco filled the air around her and her stomach clenched with a wave of anxiety and nausea washing over her. Kanda took a step in front of Ellen, shielding her from the figure stepping out of the smoke. "Vermin in our beloved city again… We can't have that." Tyki wiped his long hair out of his face, grinning darkly. "Can we?" A moment of silence reigned while he looked at the opponents in front of him, then he widened his eyes and groaned. "You again?" Kanda widened his eyes, for a moment all his senses were blown away as he recognized the man in front of him, only to be replaced by ferocious rage that made his fingers tremble around Mugen. Tyki shook his head in disapproval, then he lifted his hand, dark sparks engulfing it. "How many times do I need to kill you until you disappear?"

"Yu Kanda! Calm your senses!" Ellen hissed when she saw the state Kanda was in and Tyki turned his eyes towards her. When he saw her, saw the uniform she wore, an expression of pain and frustration took hold of his handsome face.

"Ellen…!" he hissed, but then he placed his hand over his face. When he drew it away again, his lips were drawn up into a dark grin. "You're a new exorcist, aren't you, girly?" Ellen froze, taking a step back. "Don't be afraid of me, I'm a really nice guy."

"Stop this game, Tyki Mikk. What are you doing here?" Ellen asked, trying to keep her tone loud and calm. She put one of her hands on Kanda's shoulder and pushed him back. This time it was her who would step in front of him. She didn't want Kanda to fight Tyki.

"The Earl knew that sooner or later you exorcists would try to get your hands on the Ark. But did you really think you'd be able to do it?" He took a casual step towards them, one hand in his pocket, the other holding his locks out of his face. "Or is this a trap?" Kanda, despite the anger that made it difficult for him to think rationally, darted a look over his shoulder. Ellen's face was calm, but her brows were drawn down. "In any case, this will be the end of you, pretty boy! For good!"

"Shut up, you bastard! I'll make you pay for what you did to my sister!" Tyki stopped advancing and raised an eyebrow.

"Oh! I see! Your sister!", he repeated, whistling loudly. "And I thought that she was rather weak for the famed General Kanda! Why, I wondered, doesn't he draw his Innocence?" Kanda narrowed his eyes, glaring at the man with a look of pure hatred. His Innocence flashed and a second blade appeared in his other hand. "But she fooled me rather well! That look in your eyes! Exactly the same that she wore when she died! You can be pretty proud of her. For a woman she was quite brave!" Kanda didn't listen to him anymore, but jumped from where he was directly towards Tyki, slashing at him with his Innocence. The Noah lifted his hands, blocking his attack.

"Hah! Yes, that's what I know from you! Can you remember? We already fought like this the last time we met in this Ark! Exhilarating, isn't it? Two fighters clashing with the full intent to erase the other's very existence!" Ellen stared at the two, flinching when Tyki slammed his hand against Kanda's Innocence, making the other man fall back.

"Damn you!" Kanda roared, standing back up, but Ellen grabbed his arm with her Innocence hand, effectively holding him back. He glared at her over her shoulder. "You can't prevent this fight! I'll kill him!" Ellen shook her head and strengthened her hold on Kanda's arm. Tyki started laughing loudly, putting his hands on his hips with an amused grin on his face.

"Ellen is wise, she knows that you cannot win," he told Kanda and the General tried to pull his arm free, but without using force he couldn't shake Ellen off. The Noah looked at the girl.

"Yu Kanda. I know that you want to fight, but this is not the time for it!"

"Well, she is right. There is no time," Tyki said and lifted his hand. A grumbling sound was to be heard somewhere in the distance and soon after that the ground started shaking. Ellen gave a start as the trembling of the floor became more violent and some of the nearby walls started to fall apart. "You are trapped. Both of you. For exorcists, this Ark will be a grave, like it was supposed to be the last time you were inside!"

"What is going on?" Ellen called over the noise and Tyki chuckled.

"Did you really think the Earl had no idea of what the order had planned? Did you really think he'd let the Egg fall into the hands of the exorcists? Come on, girlie, you're not that naïve!" Ellen narrowed her eyes. "Placing the Egg back on the Ark was the only way to lure you out. We knew that one of the generals had the mission to get the Egg. Didn't you think it was too easy?" Tyki jumped on top of a building, lighting another cigarette. "The download has started." Ellen widened her eyes. „We don't need this Ark anymore. This is a little present for you, from the Earl." Ellen looked up at Tyki with a puzzled expression, just like Kanda did. But then the ground started pulling apart underneath them and Kanda grabbed the girl. He started running, trying to find a safe place, but Ellen was still staring at Tyki. "You don't need these things that continue holding you down. Don't worry. We'll take care of everything." She could hear his voice clearly, even though there was so much noise from the earthquake and the crumbling of buildings. Tyki lifted his hand and waved, then he was gone.

Kanda set her down further up in the streets, on a huge stair leading upwards. He panted, then he glared down into the city. It was crumbling; bit by bit of the city was falling off, disappearing into the nothingness that surrounded the space within the Ark.

"This is bad," Kanda hissed, then he grabbed Ellen's arm, pulling her upwards. "Let's move!"

"Wait, Yu Kanda!" Ellen shouted, resisting his tugging when they had moved up some steps.

"We're running out of time, we shouldn't let ourselves be held up!" Ellen shook her head and pointed to the houses.

"It's best if we leave! Even if the Ark is in the process of being downloaded, not all links to the outside world should be gone yet! But they will be if the download continues!" Kanda looked at her and considered their options, but then he shook his head, which made Ellen groan in frustration. "Please! This is not the time to argue!" She moved again, running up the stairs until she found a door that opened. She could see streets illuminated by red lanterns, but Kanda pulled her away, closing the door again.

"I agree that we should not argue right now. But we are not going to abandon our mission. We'll have to try to stop this download somehow!"

"Stop this download? I can't do that!" Ellen shouted, as the noise of the city falling apart got louder again. The door in front of them creaked, then it cracked. Ellen balled her hands into fists when she didn't manage to open it again. Kanda was walking away, continuing on the way up to the tower. "Don't you understand the situation we are in?" Kanda ignored her and Ellen had to run after him. "We are trapped here! The core part of the Ark is already gone and even though I have another piano for the control of the Ark, I don't think I could do anything to reverse this! We should escape as long as we still can!"

"The Earl carefully planned this. He has you exactly where he wants to have you," Kanda said, when they reached the square in front of the tower. When he looked around, more than half of the town had already disappeared. Ellen just shook her head and Kanda grabbed her hand. The look in his eyes was angry and Ellen winced at it. "I'm sure that he will not let you die. For you there will always be a way out. Now is the time to decide – will you just watch the Earl take your role as Musician and as exorcist from you, or will you resist and actually try to fight back just once?" Ellen seemed insecure at that and lowered her head. Kanda put his hands on her shoulders, then he pulled her close, his lips next to her ear. "I know that you can get us out of here Ellen. You'll be able to fulfil this mission. It is like that bastard said; it's time to get rid of the things holding you down. Severe your ties to the Earl. Be defiant for once!" Ellen lifted her hands to Kanda's back, grabbing the fabric of his uniform.

"I… I will try…," she said, then she let go of him, wiping her face. She seemed very uneasy, she was afraid. She turned around, facing the tower, she tried to put on a confident look to mask her fear and insecurities. Was this really the moment where she would decide for good? Was this the final crossroad where one single step into a certain direction would make her unable to go back and pick the other road? She wanted to turn around and just run, but Kanda was standing behind her, his hand on her back while they walked up the stairs. She dared to look over her shoulder, but all she saw was the brilliant white city being reduced to nothingness. Everything behind her was crumbling.

She was running out of time.

To be continued

-o-

Notes:

Okay, nothing to add right now! It'd be nice to hear what you think about the chapter! :D