-This Mess-

At least these giant baths were good for something. Allen found trying to drown himself in them the best thing he could be doing with his morning. What better way to enjoy the hole you've dug for yourself than to fill it with water?

What am I going to do? Allen wondered miserably, bubbles trailing from his mouth. There wasn't much of a choice. He and Lenalee had to talk, but he wasn't sure what he could say at this point. His gut was telling him to run for his life. His lungs were telling him to surface.

Allen sat up, the hot water rolling off his head as he gulped more air before he laid back down in the bath. Idly, he controlled the flow and size of bubbles from his mouth, mulling in his stupor.

I'm going to die, aren't I? Allen realized. This secret was way too big for him to handle. If anyone caught any wind of it… If it made its way to Komui…

Every bit of air in him escaped with one rough push. Allen marveled in the feeling of his lungs collapsing, deciding that would be a much more comfortable way to go than what Komui would do if he found out.

Something big pulled painfully at his hair. Allen gasped in shock, water flooding his empty chest. A giant hand pulled his head to the surface, and Allen sputtered and choked on the new oxygen. When he was able to open his eyes, he couldn't bring himself to be relieved that it wasn't Komui.

"We need to talk."

Yes, they probably did, but Allen really didn't want to. He already felt bad enough leaving Lenalee in her room alone, sleeping peacefully, unaware that the end had come. He didn't need Cross to make him feel that much worse.

Cross pulled him out of the water and onto his feet. Allen stared blankly at him for a long time—Cross stared back, of course, not one to be intimidated by his own apprentice—until he stepped out to grab a towel, trailing water behind him. His drying pace was very lazy and uninspired, especially as he leaned over to squeeze his hair out. He dressed just as slowly, not bothering to put on his vest or tie. He had a feeling they would get dirty very soon if he did.

His master had been watching him patiently, probably with the intent of making sure Allen didn't try to make a break for it. Allen knew better, even if he wasn't sure why his mind was telling him to escape. He wouldn't get away anyways.

When Allen was finished, Cross walked out and down the corridor. The silent Allen knew he was expected to follow, so he did. Disconcertingly, he felt like he was walking a death march.

It was very early. Most people weren't awake yet, so Allen didn't understand why they had to go so far to find some privacy. But Cross led him to a large storeroom on one of the lower levels. It was a little chilly inside, not helped by some of the steel paneling in the walls. But it would do. There weren't any golems here.

Except for the golden one resting on Cross's shoulder.

Allen eyed Timcanpy uncertainly. He suddenly realized that he couldn't remember where Timcanpy had been the day before. Had he been with him? Allen's eyes widened. Did Timcanpy follow him to Lenalee's room?

Cross's face betrayed nothing, no answers or emotions. Allen was very worried. His master's face might have been a blank sheet in its lack of expression. With every passing minute of silence, he was sure that the pressure he was feeling was Cross's attempt at making Allen snap and spill everything. Allen would tell nothing about it, too afraid that Cross already knew all the details.

"A storeroom, Master?" Allen asked, doing his best to not shiver in the stale air. He was still wet from before.

Cross did not smirk as Allen expected him to. "Is there a problem with this room?" His voice was uncharacteristically calm and soft. Allen's shaking might have increased in a newfound terror.

"No, it's fine."

Cross watched Allen for another long time as if making Allen try to guess what he was thinking. Allen hoped to be guessing what Cross was not thinking.

"What was it you needed to talk to me about?" Allen braved. He might as well get whatever it hopefully wasn't over with.

Timcanpy left his perch on Cross's shoulder and flew about in several circles before settling on Allen's head. Allen tried to keep his eyes on Cross, ignoring the golden distraction nestling in his hair. Cross finished lighting a cigarette, looking clearly stressed. An emotion at last!

"Seems I always gotta bail you out of your shit, my stupid apprentice," Cross remarked, taking a long drag. Allen waited patiently for more, and he received. "There seems to be some electricity between you and Miss Lenalee. Anything you care to tell me about?"

Allen's eyes narrowed into a full-out glare. "I'm sure if you want to say that much then there isn't anything to tell." He swatted the golem off his head, leaving Timcanpy to flutter to control itself in the air.

Cross nodded. "Saw everything I needed to see."

Timcanpy was flying sullenly around Allen's head, begging silently for forgiveness at betraying his secrets. Allen hit Timcanpy away again. "You pervert. Whatever happened to privacy?"

If Cross had been smiling, he would have had the same effect on his student. "Ah, don't worry about that. 'S not like I have a problem with you bangin' the ladies. You can get all you want, for all I care."

Allen's eye began to twitch in anger. A large urge to punch Cross in the face was swelling inside him. He clenched his fists tightly.

Cross eyed his apprentice's hands, crushing the end of his hardly-spent cigarette in his fingers. "Of course, I do have a problem with whatever plans you may have to woo her. You've got a big job to do, idiot."

"I'm not wooing anybody!" Allen snapped. "Though I don't see how that's any of your business!"

The walls echoed with the slow steps Cross took as he moved closer to Allen. Allen never blinked once. "I think I've reasonable cause to be concerned, Allen." Cross's voice was very low, making him sound more dangerous than before. "It's one thing for you to have a fun night. Go ahead, be my guest. But you're such a little prick, aren't you? You're so damn immature that you think you can get away with whatever you want with whoever you want, and if you ever feel so inclined to run away with some fancy in mind, then it becomes my fucking business." Cross was looming over his student now, making the mood horribly dark. It took all the willpower in the world for Allen to merely swallow his saliva rather than spit it in Cross's face.

"You don't have to worry about me." Allen tried to keep it civil, because the only other words he had on his mind were anything but so.

Cross chuckled lowly. "Of course I do." He was done looming, content to stew in arrogance instead. "You're the kid who wanted his daddy back so badly that he followed the Millennium Earl. How do I know you won't do it again?"

Something inside Allen was suddenly very heavy. The thought of turning Lenalee into an akuma was…

"I would never…" Among the other things, Allen was now shaking with rage.

But Cross pretended to not hear him. "And how do I know Lenalee wouldn't do it herself?"

Dying in battle was something they were all prepared for every time they strapped on their uniforms. They had lost many comrades, and Allen knew how much it tore Lenalee apart when any of her family was killed. Somehow, he had never imagined what could happen if someone she was really close to like Komui or Lavi or Kanda or…

Allen swallowed involuntarily, cursing himself for showing an opening to Cross. Nervously, he jumped to defend Lenalee. "Lenalee isn't me," he tried. "Don't compare her to anyone but herself."

Cross raised his eyebrows as though he was smiling. "Of course not. Just like I won't compare anyone else in the world who ever grieved for a loved one. Any other human."

Lenalee wasn't any other human, Allen wanted to say, but found that smug look on Cross's face to be nauseating and decided to keep his mouth closed. Cross sighed and raised his hand out, a black monolith rising from the ground to meet it. The chains surrounding it scattered, and from its confines, a pale corpse of lace emerged. Maria turned to face Allen, eerily silent. Allen could only stare up at her gray face.

Cross turned and began walking to the exit. "Where are you going?" Allen called, spite lingering in his voice.

Pausing, Cross turned back and said, "To clean up this mess," as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Allen glared and gritted his teeth, jumping after his master. "We ended it last night!"

Cross narrowed his eyes and faced Allen fully, adjusting the cuffs on his jacket as though he was bored. "You idiot, that was a beginning if I ever saw one."

Allen was unable to think of a response. He had decided that it had been the end between him and Lenalee long before it even happened. Who was Cross to say such a thing?

"Don't worry. I'll do my best to let you stay friends, even if it might be a while before it gets back to that. Your night life might go down the drain, though," Cross remarked, turning for the door once more.

Utterly disgusted, Allen found his legs moving on their own. He raced across the room and socked Cross in the face before he or the general had any idea what had happened.

Cross was still, reeling from the shock that came with his apprentice's new gall. Allen was panting heavily, marveling at how his fist tingled and how the satisfaction welled within him.

"You aren't my father," Allen gritted out, still pumped from the adrenaline. "You leave us alone, you bastard!"

Cross fingered his red cheek, getting over the moment quickly before kicking his apprentice in the gut. The force sent Allen to the ground where he clutched for the breath he had suddenly lost. Cross kicked him over onto his back before grabbing his lapel and hoisting him into the air.

"I'll do whatever the fuck I want," Cross growled mercilessly, pulling Allen's shirt tighter. Allen grabbed the general's arm, intent on trying another punch, but Cross beat him to it. He backhanded the younger exorcist before planting his fist into Allen's already collapsing stomach. Allen sunk to his knees and hacked for oxygen, resisting the urge to throw up. He only managed to look up when the room became very dark as Cross closed the door and left Allen in the storeroom.

Allen crawled to the door, Timcanpy coming to rest on his shoulder halfway. The door had indeed been locked. Allen shoved against it with his free shoulder several times, but it didn't budge.

"Damnit," he seethed, climbing shakily to his feet. His left hand scraped against the metal surface as he struggled to synchronize with it. Just as light was being emitted from the cross on his hand and he could feel the ghostly wisps of his cape, something strange invaded his mind. He found his synchronization thrown out of whack suddenly and he lurched forward, losing control of his body. The feeling immediately left him as his forehead slammed into the door, his black arm still in its dormant state. Allen turned around and saw Maria watching him intently.

Allen's back hit the door and he sunk again, this time in frustration. He pounded the floor with his fist, startling Timcanpy.


Cross would have to wait a while before he could do anything. But that was part of the plan anyways.

Lenalee ordered rice for breakfast, even if the time might have implied it was more like a brunch. It had taken her a good fifteen minutes to decide what to put on her unsettled stomach. But only three grains of the meal into it, she felt nauseous. It somehow tasted buttery and strong. She pushed the meal around with her utensils, contemplating how to make it disappear without eating it. Just looking at it left that obnoxious taste on her tongue and her throat closed up. Lenalee walked inconspicuously to the trash can, taking a nervous glance around before emptying the contents of her bowl into the garbage. She left the bowl on the counter, making eye contact with no one. Talking wasn't very appealing.

Allen had not been in the cafeteria, something that might have surprised her if she wasn't too busy feeling ill. She knew she needed to find him. There was something she was feeling that had been left unresolved, though she couldn't put words to it. That didn't matter. Her brain—common sense—was telling her to see him. But he was no where to be found.

Somehow this relieved her. Just because she had to see him didn't mean she wanted to. She didn't know what she'd do when she'd see him after that night. She didn't know what he'd do when he saw her. That was the more frightening prospect.

"Hey!" a bright voice called. Lenalee's vision was assaulted with bright red and she tried to smile. She hoped it looked convincing.

"Hi, Lavi," she responded calmly, letting the red-head come up to walk along beside her. Her eyes were trained on the floor, but she did her best to not exude the uneasiness she was feeling.

Lavi might have noticed something, but Lenalee couldn't know for sure.

"Kro-Kro and I were gonna try playing that game with Kanda today. Wanna join?

In her daze, Lenalee took a few seconds to process what had been said. "Game?"

Lavi grinned. "You know, the card game we were teachin' him yesterday."

Lenalee didn't remember teaching anyone any game, until she remembered that blur of a day for what it was.

"Oh, with Allen. Whist, right?"

"Yeah. Never thought Allen'd play a game that wasn't Poker, hm?"

Now she remembered. Lavi had been the one teasing Allen for not really knowing how to play cards after inviting him to a game of Picket. Not fond of the game, Allen indignantly pointed out that he had played Whist several times, which was far more popular in London, and a much better game than his silly French one, thank you very much. Krory, stuck in the audience during the exchange, had wondered aloud how to play these card games (his experiences with Poker anything but enjoyable), hence the lessons of the day before.

"I guess. I don't know if I'm really up for it today, Lavi. I'm not feeling very well. Did you ask Allen?"

"Nah, can't find him anywhere." Lavi raised an eyebrow, throwing his arms behind his head. "Feeling sick?"

Lenalee put on a smile and laughed light-heartedly. "No, not really. I just don't feel like I'm really with it today. You know what I mean?"

She didn't actually expect him to, but Lavi smiled knowingly and nodded. "Man, I get that feeling all the time. You do your thing. Guess I'll go find Johnny or somebody, then. Lemme know if you need something, 'kay?"

As Lavi made to turn into the next corridor, Lenalee felt oddly happy. Lavi never really said all that much that wasn't a joke, and for him to say something so…considerate, well it lifted her spirits a bit. Lavi's a nice guy, she said to herself, smiling at his back.

Her smile fell into a curious frown when Lavi was stopped dead in his tracks. A much taller man accompanied by the light scent of tobacco stood in his path—Cross Marian. Lavi was pushed out of the way as the general made his way past him, idly smoking a cigarette he had nicked off a finder.

"Hello there, Lenalee," Cross greeted nonchalantly, tapping at his cigarette to loosen the ash. "Fancy meeting you here."

"General Cross," Lenalee breathed. The man was undeniably tall, much taller than her. His presence often took her breath, usually because she was lost in his giant shadow.

"Actually, that's good. Would you come with me, please?" the general asked, continuing his stride down the hall. Lenalee blinked, meeting eyes with Lavi before realizing how far behind she was falling.

"Y-Yes!" she called, rushing after him, flustered. Lavi blinked, suddenly finding himself alone with options.

Sure, he could go find a partner for his game like he had originally planned. But noon was also creeping up, and he could definitely go for some ham or something.

Yet, both of these courses of actions were quickly discarded. Leaving Lenalee by herself with the Order's most infamous womanizer seemed like a really bad idea…

And really interesting to watch.

Hours and hours had gone by, a fact Allen could only be sure of due to the steady increase in his stomach's growling. That his master would take so long to let him out without bringing him a meal only served to infuriate him further. Not to mention he was definitely dirty again—it was terribly dusty, no one had been in this storeroom for a long time. The prospect of another bath would not have weighed so heavily on his temper in any other situation.

Actually, as Allen mulled it over, another chance to drown himself was probably a good thing, assuming he could make it to the bathroom before the repercussions of whatever Cross was doing caught him first.

This sickened Allen more. It was just like Cross to butt into his personal life when he wasn't wanted, but did he have to leave Allen feeling so powerless? Normally he'd just play out his newly hatched scheme in front of Allen's face, or at least when he was younger. Allen never was able to do anything about it. If Cross's scheme now was so meticulously planned that Allen had to be left out of the picture, that could only mean really, really bad things for the young exorcist.

He had to get out. Of course, Allen had already scanned the entire room for equipment that could help him. Unfortunately, every time he got up to look around, Maria's head would turn to follow. Never had his master's necromancy pissed him off so badly (sure it was kind of disgusting, but it never really had been turned on him like this). To have her used to the point of breaking Allen's synchronization felt like a violation on a new level for Cross. Allen wouldn't have put it past him to begin with, but to have him actually do it…

Allen was making a steady habit of pounding his fist into the ground to relieve stress, his bruising knuckles an assurance of this fact. After calming down a little, he held his fist before his face and fingered his digits where they were turning blue. Timcanpy hopped down his shoulder to settle on them, almost in a repentant way.

The golden golem was met with another fierce glare. Allen had yet to forgive the little ball for betraying his secret. In reality, Allen was well-aware that Tim, assuming the golem was indeed sentient, probably had had no choice in the matter. However, having not been presented with such evidence, and since Tim was incapable of helping Allen out of his little predicament, the fluttering golem was just another distraction that fueled Allen's anger.

Allen considered, for a moment, grabbing Timcanpy and flattening him into the ground. Yes, it would be very unfair, for both of them actually. Timcanpy would just piece whatever had fallen off back together and be good as…

Good as new.

Allen's heart began to pound. Chancing a glance at Maria—the corpse only continuing to stare—he tilted his head ever so slightly to the side, rolling his eyes to look at the bottom of the sealed door he sat against. Slowly, inconspicuously, he brought his free hand to finger at the bottom crease, and to his joy, there was a gap. The door didn't quite reach the ground, even if the gap might have been a little small for Allen's idea. He only had one shot, and he would have to make it count.

He curled his knees up and set Timcanpy on them so the two were nose to nose. His breathing was excited, so he took a moment to calm down. He didn't know if Maria could hear him, or even understand him, but he couldn't take that chance. Timcanpy seemed to understand that Allen wanted to say something to him. It waited very patiently, happy that maybe it wasn't in so much trouble anymore. When Allen opened his eyes again, Tim gave off the impression of straightening up.

"Tim," Allen whispered very lightly. Tim fluttered its wings a little. "Listen, I don't have time to make a message. I need you to find Lenalee and bring her here as quickly as you can. Can do you that?"

Tim nodded so vigorously that Allen had to grab it before it drew Maria's suspicions.

"Don't let Master Cross see you," he warned, taking the golem in his left hand. He positioned his body so that Maria wouldn't be able to see his left arm before it was too late.

As he brought his fist to a ready near his face, Allen hesitated.

"Sorry about this, Tim."

Allen felt the golem crush into thousands of tiny pieces in his palm as it collided with the floor. Wasting no time, Allen flipped over, supporting himself with his knees as he shoved as many of the pieces he could beneath the door and onto the other side. He scooped at little piles that had not made it through, pressing them desperately into the crack as Maria began to sing again. He managed to get a particular large piece in when his fingers fell slack and he was suddenly on his feet before he could think twice. Maria had him walk away from the door this time before she released his mind. Allen whirled around to watch the door, praying enough of Tim had made it to the other side.

Several of the remaining pieces shuddered, leaving Allen with bated breath. After a few agonizing seconds, the golden bits crawled their way under the door. At his lucky success, Allen felt hope rising inside him when he wasn't sure if there was anything good that could come out of this mess in the first place.