Thanks again for your patience, guys! Enjoy the new chapter ^_^
Lacquer - 12
At first, it is only Kanda who sees the signs, but soon they become obvious enough that Allen picks up on them as well, and they both go through the days tensely, holding their metaphorical breaths as if awaiting the guillotine's fall.
"Lavi, what are you upset about?" Allen asks one time, when they're huddled in Lavi's bed for warmth, the embers in the fireplace dying down and no one willing to venture onto the cold stone floor to stir them. He thinks to himself that it would be so much easier if he could see Lavi's face, read the clues he is sure are there on his face.
"Nothing. I'm not upset, what are you talking about?"
But his voice is too flat, a sun-scorched field where there used to be valleys and hills of intonation and melody.
Allen pays attention to Kanda's meaningful touches, tuning in to Lavi's words more carefully when Kanda signals for him to do so. Lavi seems to be avoiding them lately. But it is not in physical presence—though granted, he seems to spend a good deal of time lately in the many libraries about the castle. But even when he is with them, there is something missing, and his absence is as keen as if his physical body were not there. He seems to speak mostly when he is spoken to, and otherwise absorbs himself in his books and in whatever tasks they are set out to do, and it is all done with a single-mindedness that frightens them. It becomes painfully clear that Lavi is running away from something.
"There's nothing wrong, guys," he says with a smile that if Allen could see, would recognize as hollow as his own. Kanda is on the verge of making that connection.
Kanda had never been much of a talker, even before his mind decided to disconnect his tongue from his mind, but he's learned to appreciate how far the ability to say even a few words can take him. He's learned to cope, and the combination of his hands and Lavi do an admirable job for most everyday situations. But when things stray past the normal… that's when Kanda wishes most, closes his eyes and grits his teeth and wishes, God, he wishes that he could say just a few words. Just a handful, that's all he asks.
He's sad, he's depressed, there's something wrong, he wants to tell Allen. He wants to say look at his face, how it becomes completely closed-off, look at his eye, the way it stares everything down, and how he doesn't see anything else except whatever he's involved in.
Allen has begun to smile more. They are not honest smiles, however. His smiles serve a double purpose: to lift Lavi's spirits, and to conceal his own dampened ones from him and Kanda. But it is in that deceit that he discovers a truth that astounds him with its strength and simplicity.
He sits on the stone fence in the gardens, wrapped in a cowl to ward off the ever-increasing chills of autumn, and he feels the wind on his face and thinks of mounting a horse, and running through fields among gunshots and the whistle of swords and thinks I'll never go home.
Allen jumps, and his widest, falsest rictus spreads across his face in immediate response to being caught in the middle of his despaired longing. And maybe Allen is too good a liar, or Lavi has been far too distracted lately, because Lavi does not seem to notice. But it is because he does not notice how artificial Allen's smile is that he responds to it as if it were real. And Allen hears his reaction to his smile in the sudden softening of Lavi's voice, and a certain warmth, glowing yellow and rich, that resonates through his voice when he says, "You're out here alone? Come inside."
Allen gapes, and this time, his suspicions are confirmed when the real smile that blooms across his face results in a quiet, but honest laugh from Lavi, golden yellow and warm like butter.
The ironic thing is that in wishing that he could see so that he can once again connect to people, Allen misses the way he can touch Lavi and feel the tension in his body, and the way he can feel the air ripple when Kanda is furious and barely holding it. He can tell so many minute things from just listening to people's voices— the pauses, the intonation, the cadence itself would tell him so much if he only listened. He misses the way he can sift through the sounds that people take for granted and know if it's sunny by how many birds sing outside, or how he can hear the faint rumbling of coming carriages long before the nurses spot them on the roads outside, or get the porridge before it burns by catching the faint smoky smell while the nurses have to peek inside and check.
It's not an easy transition to make, but Allen has yet to see how much easier it could become were he to stop fighting it.
Allen yelps, and when he raises his hand automatically to suckle his finger, Kanda slaps it quickly away, sending him a sharp glare.
"Oh, right," Allen cringes, and Kanda heaves a long-suffering sigh and turns his attention back to his own bushel of thorn apples. The plants are leafy, with a prickly apple-like fruit that cuts sharply if one is not careful in stripping it away. They are also highly poisonous, and the three of them have been set to remove the fruits, which will be diluted into painkilling potions while the leaves are used for decoration.
"Though I don't think just licking my finger would do anything," Allen mutters after another minute, carefully feeling the plant with his fingers and awkwardly prying the fruit away with his single hand. His pile of fruit is rather pitiful, and Kanda rolls his eyes at him and scoffs. Better safe than sorry is his motto.
Kanda glances to his right and blinks when he sees the surprising mound of fruits that Lavi has already picked. He turns to Lavi and suddenly stills, hands freezing, stomach clenching at the sight of Lavi's single eye focused intensely on his hands, so much so that he doesn't seem to even be aware of them, or of the bloody scrapes across his palms, a myriad of crisscrossed scratches, swollen and unsightly and oozing blood.
He stands up so fast he almost threatens to overturn the bench the three of them are sitting on, and he grabs Lavi's collar and would rip the thorn apple from his hands without regard for his own skin if that weren't counterproductive and slightly hypocritical. Allen stills to listen, ears tilted towards them.
Kanda lets go of Lavi's shirt roughly, letting him stagger off-balance for a moment, taking advantage of the utter bewilderment on Lavi's face to sign Enough! What are you doing?
Kanda has been watching Lavi disappear little by little in front of them, his mind flying to a place that seems much too distant for them to reach. This is enough, and Kanda may not know how to stop it, but he knows he will not sit idly by and let it continue to wear away their Lavi little by little.
"I… I wasn't," Lavi begins, voice dropping almost helplessly as he stares from Kanda to his own hands.
"What's going on?" Allen asks nervously, and Kanda whirls around and takes his hand, pulling him forward despite his yelp of surprise, and presses his hand against Lavi's palms. And Kanda, despite his abruptness, can be gentle, his touch normally akin to the lapping of lukewarm waves, so this rough handling is alarming.
Allen's eyebrows furrow deeply as he pieces together the sensations of his skin and he runs his fingers along Lavi's palm, jerking his hand back when Lavi hisses in pain. His hand comes back streaked in red, the vestiges of a masochist's artwork. Allen doesn't need sight to tell it's blood - the smell is as natural to him as that of baked bread and smoke.
"Lavi … you have to be more careful," he says slowly, rubbing his sticky fingers together as a troubled frown sinks into his face, but he still doesn't grasp the larger picture. Kanda slams his hands on the table and wishes he could communicate with Allen somehow.
"It was an accident, alright? I just got really into it and didn't notice," Lavi snaps, finally standing up and glaring back at Kanda, "They're just scratches, no big deal."
Tell him. Tell him right now that I want him to speak with you.
Lavi's gaze turns from angry and defensive to confused and disbelieving. Kanda pushes him, sending Lavi almost sprawling backward. Do it now!
Lavi relents under the fury of the onyx eyes boring into him, mumbling, "Kanda wants you to talk to me," he seems to want to put up a fight, but everything about him is tired, too tired to keep it up. This is not the same Lavi they know, and Allen cannot see it in his eye, but he can hear it in his weary voice.
Do what I can't, Allen, Kanda thinks, hands fisting until his arms tremble.
The wind ruffles Allen's hair as he climbs out of the trapdoor of the tower. The castle grounds are all visible from here—the untamable forest grounds, the creek that runs across the field surrounding the castle, the overgrown gardens in the back and the center courtyard. The parapet stones are growing dark with age, little tufts of twigs visible in the various pockets meant to be air holes for those walking inside, but which have now become bird nests. Allen can't see any of this, but he can hear the whistle of the wind through those holes when he climbs the tower, and he can feel the chilly wind and the weak sunlight on his cheek and smell the coming rain from afar. He tucks the strands back behind his ear and stands at the center of the tower, unsure of where Lavi is. He opens his mouth, but remembers almost belatedly that it makes no difference. He almost backs down— he can't gather any courage from glancing down at Kanda's face, climbing up to meet him, and so is left in the dark with his own insecurities. Like always.
But then small, tight fingers grip his shoulder, encouraging, and Allen remembers Lavi's fingers and the course feel of the bandages around them.
Kanda pushes him forward, and Allen lets him do so, until he hears a surprised, "What – what are you guys doing here?"
Allen shrugs, both shoulders rising even though only one hand follows the motion. Kanda will never be able to get used to Allen's body and its missing appendages. The effect is macabre and disconcerting, akin to looking at a hand missing a finger. "You always come here when you're… thinking about things."
Kanda almost rolls his eyes at the euphemism, but controls himself. He will let Allen do this in his own way, because Kanda has no idea how to do it.
Lavi seems to realize that there is something going on, and his eye nervously lowers back down to his book, and he mutters, turning a page, "I'm not thinking about anything. I'm just reading."
Allen approaches, and Lavi reaches his hand out automatically to guide him down to kneel next to him, and Kanda follows suit and sits behind Allen, wrapping his arms around his knees and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. "We know, and there's nothing wrong with that, but… Lavi," and here Allen's voice suddenly becomes serious—soft and concerned, and not about to back down. Kanda is always surprised at the mettle hidden behind Allen's sweet smile and weaved inconspicuously within his gentle aura, "You've been reading a lot lately."
Lavi shifts uneasily, and Allen, sensing the urge to bolt, places his hand on Lavi's, holding it carefully and feeling the gauze rub against his palm, "There's nothing wrong with that," he says quickly. "But I get the feeling you're doing that because there's something bothering you, Lavi," his hand slides along Lavi's arm until he find his fingers, and he wraps his hand around Lavi's, leaning forward, and even though his eyes are nothing but blank silver slates, Lavi doesn't understand how they're able to transmit so much feeling. Kanda is similarly in awe— he has only ever been able to be soothing to animals. He has no idea how to handle people. And yet it seems to come so effortlessly to Allen that Kanda is nearly envious.
Lavi wants to tell, but he's scared of reaching into that one part of his mind that holds all the truth. He wants to run away and keep ignoring his problems, because surely, after enough time they'll become insignificant and dwindle into nothing, right? It's already been six months. If he waits one, two, three years, it won't really matter at that point, right? But there's another part that wants to cry so badly, and not by himself like he did before, in this very same place. That part is so tired of running.
"I—" he chokes a little, unsure of where to start, unsure of how to turn on that light that will reveal everything he has been trying to hide from. "It's nothing," he tries again, but Allen frowns and shushes him, thumb brushing the roughness of the gauze as he scoots closer and leans his face forward so his forehead bumps into Lavi's.
"'Nothing' doesn't leave you with bandages on your fingers, Lavi."
Lavi swallows, looks past Allen as if he could really see him and Lavi can't take the look, even though Allen's eyes never meet theirs, and sees that Kanda is watching him, quiet and waiting, and not about to offer him any sort of escape. He's surprised at the way Kanda's fingers are gripping the edges of his sleeves, stretching the material thin.
Lavi bows his head, fingers tracing the words on his book as he lowers his legs to lie flat on the ground. And he breathes in and turns on the light, and it reveals an onslaught of thoughts clamoring for attention, lying there neatly for him to pick up and rifle through. So he does. "I think… it's just. I think I was fooling myself. I was pretending that my grandfather didn't die, and I didn't get separated from my family. I— I knew he was dead, and I didn't deny it, but I ignored it. I didn't let myself think about it, even though I knew it was a fact," despite the rational monologue, his voice is breaking so badly it's hard to understand, and he would be horrified if he could hear it. "And… I think I've been pretending this is just a weird, endless dream, and that someday I'll see him again and go off traveling, but then—"
Allen rubs his shoulder in a steady, unfaltering pattern, ears tilted toward him, and Kanda watches, eyes wide. Lavi, despite being the chatterbox of their group, rarely is forthcoming about personal information, and glimpses into his mind are rare and sobering.
Lavi wipes his sleeve across his face, watches it come away damp and continues, "S-Sometimes I realize it though. That I'm not fully there," he stares at the book in his lap. It makes it easier to say these things that have been flitting around in his head like frantic caged birds looking for escape. Now he only has to guide them to the exit, "I don't think about it most days, but then sometimes it hits me, especially lately," he takes a gulping gasp of air, as if his thoughts are too much to allow him to breathe properly. A wave of helplessness rises through him, threatening to drown him, and his voice rises as if scrambling away from it, and the birds flee, "And I keep thinking - He should have known better! We shouldn't have gone to observe that battle, and now he's dead! He wasn't done teaching me yet. He —he knew everything, he would have known how to fix me, and you, and he would have known what to do now," He grips his book and stares at it, unseeing, "But he left me alone. I don't know what to do anymore. There's nothing out there, not like this! I can't go traveling again without him, and I don't know where my family is anymore, and— and, I can't ever hear his stories again…" Allen's fingers rubbing his shoulder press down with more sympathy and worry, but Lavi only barely feels it. His mind is whirling, and he realizes what the most disappointing part of it is, what makes him the most angry, "He… he told me he was preparing me. And he taught me so much— about books, and people and history and science and philosophy and politics. But he didn't teach me the most important thing. He didn't teach me how to live alone!"
The first true sob breaks out at that point, and a part of him sees himself as he must look from afar, nose red and hands pressed against his eyes because he can't bear to look at Kanda and Allen with the ugly grimace he must have, his mouth twitching downward without his consent. Where is his self-control? He folds his legs up to curl up into himself and the book closes and slips to the ground between his legs, but he doesn't care. Tears slip out from underneath his scarred eye, soaking the eyepatch and making it chafe his cheek.
Allen's hand has ceased its movement, frozen there, and Lavi wonders what he's thinking. There's not much that can be said that isn't a lie or false comfort.
"You're not alone, Lavi," Allen's lips mouth, and Lavi wishes he could hear his voice, wonders if it's as comforting and soft as his eyes and hands. Allen slowly eases his arm around Lavi and despite the incompleteness of Allen's one-armed hug, the warmth of his body is something that can't be taken away, and it is so real and so strong and Lavi buries his face in Allen's neck and sobs harder. Allen holds him, rubbing the same soothing pattern as before onto his back in wide strokes, and Lavi feels his Adam's apple vibrating against his cheek, but he can't hear what Allen is saying, and can only hope they're empty nothings. He thinks about trying to control his crying, but it feels so good to let go and not care about what he looks like. Allen pushes him away after a long time, when the spasms of Lavi's back have been reduced to mere tremors, and bends his head down so that his lips are visible to Lavi.
"I'm sorry," he says, gripping Lavi's shoulder.
Lavi shakes his head, raising one hand to put on Allen's hand on his own shoulder and squeeze it, thanking him as well as he can for the sympathy he sees in Allen's face. And pity is one thing, but with Allen, it's not pity, it's heartfelt understanding. Allen's face relaxes.
"I'm glad you're not ignoring this anymore."
"But it's so much easier to do that," Lavi hiccups, shaking his face to dislodge his hair, now sticking to his wet face uncomfortably. The wind blows, cold and biting, but the chill is refreshing to Lavi's overheated skin. Above them, the pure and cloudless azure sky has gained mauve and gray shades towards the horizon, and the sun has been dipped in gold paint, warmer and richer as it settles over the mountain peaks than its blinding midday counterpart.
"Lavi… you could ignore this forever, if you want. But what you don't realize is that you're ignoring other things too in the process. You're ignoring us, and you're ignoring the good parts of life. Things are hard, but we're getting used to it, aren't we? Not every day is that terrible – we still laugh and have fun, don't we?" Allen smiles at him, sweet and sharing his belief and his faith, and Lavi stares, transfixed at the brilliancy of his expression, "There's still things out there for us, Lavi. We just have to find them. The sun still shines, and we've found each other, and we're alive. I'm sure your grandfather would say that's the most important thing as well."
Allen places his hand on Lavi's chest, looking at it as he says, "Promise me you'll tell us things, instead of ignoring them?"
Lavi gives him a shaky smile, rimmed in salty tears, "I'll try," he says, and at Allen's pout, adds, "I really will." And he will, but he doesn't know if he can guarantee that his mind won't just follow the established escape mechanism without Lavi's consent. Still, now that he has faced it once, and now that he sees how much the two of them care, he thinks he might be able to keep himself from shoving things to the back of his mind without facing them.
Lavi breathes in deeply, leaning back and pushing his eyepatch out of the way to rub his eyes and dry them. Finished, he curls up against Allen again and replaces his head on his shoulder, nosing the soft skin of his neck and closing his eyes. Everything about Allen is comfort and warmth, and even though Lavi has only been able to see how out-of-place and useless they would be in society if they tried to approach it, when Allen says that there's still something out there for them, Lavi wants to believe it.
Lavi ends up asleep in Allen's lap, curled against his chest with his face nestled on Allen's collarbone, and at Kanda's shaky exhale, Allen reaches out, searching until he finds Kanda's hand, and pulls until Kanda relinquishes his spot and crawls next to him, hesitantly running a hand through Lavi's hair. Finally, he takes Allen's hand.
We're working through their issues little by little! Though I still have some important ones I haven't touched one. Thanks again for all the support and the loving and amazing and detailed reviews I've gotten. It's very touching, and I'm glad I can give you something nice in your day.