-This Way-

There is a really tight feeling just below her throat when she sees him. It must be like asphyxiating slowly, because she doesn't think she has the strength to bear it. All over her body she has been pounded into bruises before. She has bled from the sharp and the blunt. But this tiny, barely noticeable weight is surely crushing her. It is so gentle that it mars. It is so ignorable that it rankles.

She is irked more than she has ever been in her life. Not at the burden, and not at him, but at herself. There is—nothing, no one—else to be angry with. This situation is driving her mad.

In the room there were four of them. He was sitting on his knees, gathering the cards littering the floor into a pile. Lavi eagerly grabbed a few and handed them over, even if it would have clearly been easier if Allen himself just handled all of them at once. Krory was leaning over, an air of excitement making him glow as Lavi and Allen continued to show him examples of a new card game.

Lenalee was only pretending to pay attention. On some basic level she was probably aware of what game it was and what strategy she would use in Krory's place, but that wasn't important. She sat in a chair a few feet away, the most comfortably set of all of them. Thankfully, the others hadn't noticed how uncharacteristically quiet she was being.

"Ah," Lavi said awkwardly. Allen imitated the sound as he and Lavi juggled the positions of their hands. "Here," Lavi forced at last, managing to awkwardly give Allen the cards he was holding. It was a simple dance that should have meant absolutely nothing, but it made the weight inside Lenalee that much heavier.

She had no reason to be jealous, if this was jealousy. It probably wasn't. All she knew was that she didn't like this. She didn't like Lavi and Allen talking. No, that wasn't true. She didn't mind them talking. She just wished she could be talking with them, if only so that she could say she was talking with Allen. If only that she could say Allen was looking at her, smiling at her, paying attention to her.

These thoughts were, as usual, maddening, and Lenalee knew she couldn't take it. Without a word, she stood up and left the room, disappointed when the others didn't really notice. This feeling was stupid, she realized, because if they had noticed, it would have only been out of worry—which did qualify as attention, which meant she was craving it—but that worry would lead to questions she really didn't want to answer.

She wanted to be able to let it all go. She wanted to feel happy when Allen looked at her, and then feel just as happy when he turned to the next person. However, deep within, she knew that these levels of happiness were unequal.

Lenalee wandered around Home for a good twenty minutes, not bothering to stop by her brother's lab. She didn't want to see him, because he certainly would pay her attention, and he wasn't the one she wanted to notice her. He always noticed her, and there was nothing satisfying about that. It was probably the same feeling a daughter would feel when her parents told her they loved her artwork—of course they would.

So instead, she idled around other busy places, like the scientists' workrooms and the kitchen. No one noticed her, which was to be expected since she was utterly silent the entire time.

The twenty minutes she was gone for felt like much longer, and she was put off when she learned just how much time had not gone by. With no other options, she returned to her chair by the silly card game. They looked up when she entered, no one really greeting her more than Lavi's tiny "Yo." Still, their eyes rose. Lenalee only looked at Allen, and found the weight was still there when their eyes met. Somehow, as he gazed at her in that brief second, the weight seemed more bearable by the smallest of increments.

Nothing really happened for the next several hours other than they had all gone off to do something else.

I love him. I love him. I think I love him. I love him. Yes, I love him. I really…I think I love hi—no! Of course I do! Stop being stupid. I love him. Lenalee attempted to repeat the same phrase over and over and over in her head for the rest of the day, but it was constantly interrupted by a little string of doubt. And she had no idea why. It was very obvious she loved him. She at least liked him. Yes, she loved him.

She even meditated with Kanda to reinforce this fact.

What is this stupid weight? Is it here because I love him, or because I'm not sure that I love him? But I love him. I look at him and the weight is there. I love him. It keeps getting heavier. No, it's just uncomfortable. I love him. I need to tell him. I love him. Will that make it go away? I'm not sure. I want it to go away. It's just uncomfortable. Is it here because I love him? I love him. I'm not sure I love him. I have to love him. I love him. I need to tell him. I have to tell him. He needs to know. I need to know. I need to tell him.

These thoughts made her want to cry. When she wanted to cry, she walked, so she did. She wandered around again. She stood in doorframes for short seconds before proceeding to new destinations. It was a cycle that repeated itself every dull day.

Despite having wandered to this room countless times before, it was different today. She couldn't loiter at the entrance this time. Allen was here, and above all places, it became the most desirable.

It took her a few seconds of staring at him to decide what to say. He knew she was there, he looked up at her and smiled and the weight was back. But his smile made it a good weight, not an enjoyable weight, but she didn't want it to go away so badly.

"What are you doing?" she said at last. Sure, it was phrased like a question, but she wasn't actually looking for an answer. It was obvious that Allen was reading. This was a library, and Allen was on a couch, and there were books on the short table in front of him, nevermind that he wasn't holding any of them.

Allen shrugged at her question. Lenalee took this to mean that she wouldn't bother him if she stayed. It could have been an assumption. She had recently become worried that every time they were together, Allen would be bothered by her presence.

Lenalee wasn't sure when but she had taken the seat next to him, pulling her legs and arms inward so as to give Allen all the space he needed. She hoped she didn't look as awkward as she felt. Allen didn't notice if she did.

There was a book labeled "Italy" in a large font on the table.

"Looking at the pictures?" It wasn't even a half-joke—more like a quarter-joke, if it was even a joke.

Allen hummed through his grin, though it grew smaller gradually. It was quiet again for a little while.

"Ever been to Italy?" He broke the silence this time, albeit hesitantly. A valiant yet useless attempt.

"No." She was the master of simple answers, if only for this encounter.

"I have." Yes, he had. Twice. Once with Cross, and once on a mission. Neither experience had been very enjoyable.

"Really?" Her response was soft, yet still excessive. It would have sufficed if she had just made some kind of noise.

"Yeah, I went with Master Cross one time when I was thirteen." There was a moment in which he paused, deciding what to say about the incident. He couldn't think of anything appropriate. "I also went there on my first mission."

"Oh, yeah."

"Yeah. It was with Kanda."

"Oh, yeah." She repeated herself, which was not a good sign for either of them.

Allen wasn't liking how awkward this conversation was, but the only thing he could do was continue to fill the silence.

"They've got pretty good food there." Allen could have hit himself. Was food the only thing he could think about?

But Lenalee didn't mind. Food was a passion of his that she liked about him. She liked a lot of things about him.

"What kind of food?" She nodded through his list, waiting for his lips to stop moving long enough for her to conclude that he had finished. By the end, she felt ashamed that she hadn't listened. Didn't she love him? She should have listened. It was because she didn't listen that they fell into silence again.

"Wanna go get something to eat?" Allen should have hit himself. It wasn't even near dinner time. The lack of response in the first three seconds of the question's aftermath reminded him painfully of this. In his embarrassment, he jumped to explain himself. "Uh, it could be something small. I mean, like a snack. Or how about something sweet? I'd like something like that about now. You don't have to if you don't want to. I mean, we could do something else. Just whatever you want to do. I could really go for anyth-"

After several attempts at trying to answer him, Lenalee giggled. Though it was genuine laughter, she felt like she might have forced it a little bit. "You're rambling." She didn't know why she pointed that out. She could have said it in a better way, at least.

Allen blushed, clearly having made things worse for himself. He stood up quickly so she couldn't see him turning red with humiliation. "Come on, let's go then." She hadn't accepted his invitation, but he was going to make her so they could forget about this already.

"Wait." Lenalee didn't know what made her say it, but she knew why she had, and it was filling her with uncertainty and a tinge of fear. However, some part of her decided that it was now or never, and never wasn't an option. "Wait, I…here. Sit down for a moment." Allen looked at her, not curiously. He just looked, and not for a long time either, because she quickly explained, "There's something I want to tell you."

Rethinking this, Lenalee realized that his sitting down wasn't very necessary. She was making this too intimate, too awkward. It was being built up too much. It wasn't big enough of a deal for all this. But there was no turning back.

There were many ways she could build this up, all of them very stupid, but she had to pick one. Allen waited until she worked it out, obliviously.

"My brother gets really worried, doesn't he?" she started, hoping it didn't sound too lame. She would build this up because that would be fair. She had to give Allen a chance. "I mean, you can only wake him up by telling him I'm getting married. Kinda sad, right?" This was definitely not going to be about Komui.

Allen said nothing. Lenalee swallowed.

"See, I never thought he had a good reason to be that way," she continued. It was getting more obvious now. It had to be. "I've never really thought about that sort of thing. Never really had a reason…before."

Lenalee couldn't look at Allen, but his eyes were locked on her face.

She couldn't find a way to connect it, so after a long, long pause, she just said it. "I like you." She couldn't even say his name, and she didn't want to use the word "love" because that would be too big of a commitment. That would leave her with no where to run.

It was out there now. Allen stared at Lenalee while she stared at her knees. He was not shocked at all, but neither had he expected it. In all honestly, he had never fully considered this to happen. He could either return the feelings or reject them, the classic decision.

Those would have been his only two options were they normal people. But they weren't.

They were in more pitiful circumstance than any of the priests. They had pledged their lives to God and to war, willingly or not. They were exorcists.

Allen had never considered it because he didn't think he would ever have to. He wasn't even sure if he would survive the war, even if they won. He was a parasitic accommodator, wasn't he? He didn't think he would have the strength to be more than a warrior, especially after the final battle. If this meant love…to be a lover seemed unfathomable. But that was jumping ahead of himself. She had only said "like."

But it sounded like "love."

He couldn't let her run away.

"Lenalee," he said tenderly, but not patronizingly. Though she didn't look up, he knew she was listening to every word. She had to be at this point. "Lenalee, we can't…"

"I know!" she cried. "I kn-"

Allen grabbed her wrist, and something made Lenalee finally turn to face him. Their gazes brought the weight back, but this time, his eyes weren't soothing the pain.

"We can't," he repeated firmly, as though he had to make sure both of them heard it. They stared at each other for a long time, the weight dropping lower and lower inside of Lenalee with each moment. Her eyes grew wide and bright with realization of the truth dawning on her, but she wouldn't let herself cry, yet.

Her lips opened a little, but she didn't know what she was supposed to say.

"I'm sorry." Allen frowned, truly meaning it.

Lenalee understood what the weight was now. It was gravity. It was reality.

Night fell, and Allen wasn't sure if he could claim to feel worse than he was sure Lenalee felt, but he felt pretty bad. He had decided to retire early. Dinner had been terrible. The giant pit in his stomach was growing rapidly, and all the food he ate only served to make it a giant pit filled with food. Lenalee brought her food to the laboratories, much to Komui's delight, even if her smile was very hollow. Komui wasn't being very observant. Allen tried his best to act normal with Lavi, Bookman, and Krory, but he thought maybe Lavi noticed something or Bookman might have shot him a glance. He was thankful when Miranda came over and managed to distract them all from his depression—her gloom completely overshadowed his, even if it was routine. She was very good at exuding it.

But Allen wasn't getting any more rest from his early bedtime. His movements were slow as he washed his face and undressed, making him take far longer than normal to even get under the covers. He could only toss and turn in his sheets, thoughts nothing peaceful. There was no way he could ever fall asleep like this.

Around one o'clock in the morning, he simply gave up. He couldn't stand his own tortured thoughts being his only company, so he threw on a shirt and some pants before going for a stroll. He didn't want to go outside—it would be freezing. He wanted to talk to someone, to do something to get his mind off things, but no one came to mind. There was really only one person to talk to about anything at this point.

He felt sick to his stomach, staring at his shadow cast on the door to Lenalee's room. I shouldn't be here. Oh, how he shouldn't. He brushed his hand on the door, tracing down it with his fingers. He really shouldn't.

The doors there were thin enough. He tapped strongly on the door with his fingertips. He was pretty sure it was loud enough. There was no response, so he knocked lightly instead. Lenalee did not answer, but Allen was sure he heard the faint rustling of bed sheets. He felt strangely calm and courageous, so he opened the door and peered inside.

Lenalee was sitting up on her bed against the wall, staring out the window at the moon. Allen had never really answered her statement. Sitting there all that time, she realized that she didn't know how he felt. She didn't look up as he entered, but she knew he was there, and he knew she knew. He stepped inside and closed the door softly, standing there for a long time. Neither said a thing.

We can't.

Allen picked up a deliberate stride, coming to a stop before her by the bed. She turned her head but didn't really look at him. She wasn't depressed. Both of them were just lost in thought. They couldn't be normal.

He leaned over, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her head against his chest. It was a terrible hug, so he bent his knees to make it better. But that wasn't comfortable, so he sat down next to her. She slid her arms between his and grabbed his shoulders. Even for a man of his size, Allen's arms seemed large enough to hold the whole world.

Neither of them had ever kissed anyone. Lenalee had kissed Komui before. They were siblings after all. Allen had been kissed on the cheek by some of Cross's lovers who found him adorable. There might have been a drunk or two who had gotten him once on the lips. Neither of them had ever kissed anyone.

They were still somewhat in each other's arms, but their heads were raised, watching each other. Neither could really be sure of what the other one wanted—that was the poisonous nature of the word "like." Allen might have moved his head forward an inch once or twice. He didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to do it. Lenalee didn't want to move at all.

Allen had to settle for it, even if it was pointless and meaningless and everything they didn't want. He pressed his lips against hers softly in a kiss children might share. There was no real passion of fiery lovers, but it was just as intense.

It was short. They settled for resting their cheeks against each other now. Lenalee was huddling against him, almost in fear. Allen was trying to cover her like a blanket, holding her like a newborn.

Eventually, he led them both to lie on the bed together in that same embrace. His arms pulled together more tightly, now too afraid to let go. Lenalee's arms snaked down his back to reciprocate his new need. With his face buried in her shoulder, she threaded the fingers of one hand through his hair and cradled his head.

Despite the overwhelming need to, neither of them shed a single tear. Being together, the desire to cry dissolved, replaced by the want to somehow be even closer together. There was no distance left between them, yet they still pulled tighter.

In this comfort together, Lenalee could only think about herself, and Allen could only think about himself. They could only think about what they wanted, about what they could never have. They were alone. They were the loneliest people in the world.

Allen turned his head into her neck, his lips pressing there. It was no kiss, but he still felt the softness of her skin on his lips. Lenalee found it comforting. Allen's nose was being smashed, but he still took deep breaths through it. Lenalee smelled fresh, and nice, and that he found comforting. Maybe this was how a mother would smell. He never had a mother, not in anyone.

Lenalee was really the only woman in his life.

They pulled back, each settling on the single pillow. Allen was frowning at her, but not because of her. He let his arm rest over her body as she continued to stroke his hair. Despite what had just happened, she still didn't really understand what his feelings were. But she was overflowing with her own.

She pulled herself forward and rested their foreheads together, closing her eyes when their noses touched. Allen's eyes stayed open, watching her face. His fingers dragged up her back to the base of her neck, but he didn't find a place where he wanted them to stop, so he decided to continue the motion down and then back up again, over and over.

Lenalee found no shame in enjoying everything he did. She didn't even feel obligated to return any of it, but she still wanted to. She massaged his neck strongly, working out the kinks knotting there. His fingers became lighter as he forgot to move them, eyes becoming half-lidded with the kneading. Her fingers tired out quickly, so she ran them through his hair again. After quick rest, she rubbed his scalp. Allen could have fallen asleep like that, but he didn't want it to be over.

He turned onto his back, pulling her to lie across his chest. His left hand now came to rest along her back, the blackened fingers finding the bottom of her nightshirt. The long nails traced lightly against her skin, and she felt very good. Neither of them considered this to be crossing any line. It was harmless physical contact.

Lenalee could think of nothing to do in this position, so she just held him tightly. Allen held her close with his other hand while his other grazed her body. Though it was uncomfortable, Lenalee decided to turn her head to look at him. Her right hand came up to hold the side of his head while her lips touched his jaw line. Allen didn't move, not sure where to lean in.

Lenalee scooted up to kiss his cheek lightly. She was worried that she was crushing him, and she was. Regretfully, Allen sat up, supporting her back with his right arm. Lenalee remained in his arms like that, gazing at his face. When Allen had made himself comfortable against the wall, he pulled her up for another small kiss. Lenalee turned over to straddle him, her arms against the wall, trapping his head. Allen's hands came to rest around her waist gently.

Lenalee opened her mouth and pressed harder, surprising neither of them. Allen let her deepen the kiss, too afraid to take control of it. Neither of them had ever kissed anyone. He didn't move at all, worried she might pull back if he did.

There was air to breathe now. Lenalee was slightly out of breath, watching Allen's eyes for any answers. Allen felt words—nonsensical words—welling up in his throat.

"Lena-" She kissed him again, and this time, as he closed his eyes, his body pulled off the wall. Lenalee's arms grabbed at his back while he squeezed her tightly—their first act of foreplay. Allen remembered that he shouldn't be here, doing this. But he couldn't stop now.

The kiss was becoming rougher, more desperate. Allen was actively participating now, caressing her tongue with his. Lenalee was still the one in control, though not really understanding what she was doing. Allen found it gross, not sure why so many people were into it. It was wet and strange. But it was Lenalee, so he ignored the new development and let her continue. He was going to have to give a little to get.

They were both panting now, feeling the breath of the other in their close proximity. The comfort was all gone, but neither would admit it. Had they gone too far? The thought was unbearable.

Lenalee fingered the buttons on Allen's shirt, not sure if she should do it. Allen misinterpreted this and unbuttoned them himself. Lenalee, somehow feeling expectations welling up inside, traced along the curves of his developing muscles. The toughness of his chest surprised her, but the expectations were still there. Lenalee bent down and kissed his neck lightly, barely brushing her lips there and making him shiver. The warmth of her mouth returned as she gingerly bit and sucked at the same spot. It was sure to turn red.

Allen put a hand to her head and pushed lightly. Lenalee came up and looked at him, expectantly. Allen frowned. He couldn't say, "We can't," anymore. They already were.

"Lenalee," he whispered. "How far is this going to go?" He didn't know where he wanted it to go, but he knew he wanted it to go.

Lenalee stared at him, having thought he already had decided where this was heading. It dawned on her that both of them were uncertain.

"We only have now, don't we?" she said at last. It was a terrible statement.

Allen nodded, waiting for her to decide. He started to consider what he was feeling, and he was scared of what he found.

"Now is our only chance," Lenalee said, a tiny sob hiding in her words. She was afraid. She didn't want it to go too far. This was too fast. But it couldn't continue after this night. "How far do you want to go?"

That was her answer.

Allen pulled her down and started another kiss, hoping Lenalee would make it into one like their previous kiss. He was letting her do what he thought she would want from this since he felt so guilty about doing something he was sure only he wanted. He would fool himself into making her happy.

In the end, Allen felt despicable. He hadn't paid her any attention, had no idea what she got out of it, could not remember if she screamed or cried, whether it was with joy or pain. He was so selfish, so guilty of ignoring her, and he would continue to be so in the aftermath. He was horrified.

He held her to him again, trying to bring back the comfort they had bathed in before. It was gone, he couldn't even remember it. In the darkness, Lenalee could have been crying, and he wouldn't have known. She was so still that she might have been dead.

Somehow, with everything else she was feeling, Lenalee was able to feel at ease. She wasn't happy—she could never be. This was the end, and they had made the most of it. Or had they made too much of it?

They were sick of questions. They were sick of words. They were sick of the world. So they ignored it and thought only of themselves as they had for the entire night. They would enjoy their last moments together, no matter what mistakes they might have made.

It was their only night. Allen held on tight throughout it, knowing it would have to end with the sun. He resented the morning that was quickly coming.

What they were doing wasn't right, he knew. He shouldn't be there with her. They shouldn't love each other. They couldn't. Even so, he was content to stay this way, if only for one night.