In retrospect, cutting through this forest was probably not the smartest choice Kanda Yuu could have made. Growling and swearing to himself, Mugen's blade flashed dangerously as it sliced through the thick vines and undergrowth blocking the General's way. "Fuck this," he muttered, hacking away at a rather persistent creeper vine. He'd hoped this route would be faster, but as it turned out, it was nothing but a pain in the ass.

To make matters – and his temper – worse, the sun had disappeared behind the trees not to be seen again until morning, and the moon wasn't up yet. The forest was rapidly becoming pitch black. Rapidly losing patience, Kanda yanked his black cloak with the gold cross on the back free of a thorn bush and pressed onward. The sooner he was out of this God-forsaken forest, the sooner he could rest.

Just my fucking luck he thought to himself, grimacing as he stepped on something that squished unpleasantly. I should have stuck to the road.

However, what had originally driven Kanda off of the road were the passer-bys who stared at his coat and the badge on it, who jeered at the cross on the ankle-length cape, who occasionally threw more than insults. The war was over and had been for three years, and the general public had never known who it was that had saved their collective asses – but, regardless, in this part of the world the Catholic church was looked down upon. Not that Kanda gave a rat's ass about the church's doctrine – he still wore the uniform and carried Mugen because there were Akuma remaining that needed to be dispatched. Without a leader they wandered aimlessly, and most Exorcists had been sent off around the world to deal with them.

Kanda, though, had left without a word after the final battle was over. In the bag he carried were the very few things that meant anything at all to him – a couple changes of clothes, which were necessary, a book or two, a journal, and his lotus. Everything else had been left behind, not as though there had been much to begin with. Turning his back on that life had been very simple.

He still had to find that person and his time was growing short thanks to the battles waged against the Earl and the Noah.

As though to remind him, the tattoo over his heart ached swiftly. He grimaced and lifted a gloved hand to his badge, worn over the tattoo, as though that would help (it never did). A scowl twisted his features as he once again hacked at a creeper vine threatening to wind around his ankle. "Fuck off," he snarled, though the underbrush certainly couldn't understand him – and if it could, chances were it didn't care anyway.

He would need to stop soon, as much as it galled him. One of the reasons he'd left the Order immediately was that he didn't want the others fussing over him. After being made a General he'd been in battle more often than when he was a simple Exorcist, which of course led to more injuries… and more petals fallen off of the lotus. There were eight in the bottom of the glass and five remaining on the flower itself… a sight which never failed to disturb him when he saw it. It was a visible reminder that his life was nearly over.

Another creeper vine met its end, and Kanda found himself at the end of his patience. The forest, the lotus, the curse, that person - they could all merrily go to hell and fuck themselves. Snarling curses under his breath and now viciously cutting any foliage that dared get in his way, Kanda pushed onward until he reached a clearing.

Finally.

In the clearing was a small home, which was more of an aggravation than a help. That meant he wouldn't be able to camp there without risking the owner's ire unless he actually spoke with them – assuming they'd allow it. If not, it was back to the forest and the creeper vines. His lip curled at the very idea, and that more than anything motivated him to march up to the house and knock on the door. For all he knew, this forest extended for miles upon miles.

After a moment, the door opened. Kanda opened his mouth to speak, but the words died on his tongue before he could make a sound. The owner of the home looked just as startled… though for a different reason entirely.

Finally, he smiled sadly. "So, the Order found me at last," Allen Walker said, his voice holding a gentle regret. "Hello, Kanda."

Kanda's mouth moved silently for a number of seconds. "Walker," he finally replied, slamming the wall of ice that had always been there back up around himself. He hid his surprise easily with narrowed eyes and sharp words. "So this is where you've been holed up all these years."

Allen nodded, that sad smile still on his face. "Come in," he offered, stepping back. "You must be exhausted, going through that forest."

"You certainly picked a fucking wonderful place to live," Kanda replied coldly, walking inside as invited. Unconsciously, he unbuckled his boots and slid them off before proceeding into the home – it was ingrained in him. Tradition, discipline, honor – Kanda held these things around himself like a regal cloak. They certainly helped in keeping intruders away.

"I like it here," Allen replied cheerfully, walking into the sitting room and gesturing at an armchair. He sat in his own, and when Kanda sat as well, he continued. "It's out of the way. I don't get many people coming by."

Kanda snorted. "I wouldn't have if I hadn't tripped over it," he said, crossing his legs and arms with a slight scowl. "How long have you been hiding here? I thought the Earl finished you off." He paused. "We all did."

Allen blinked, surprised. "What? … no, he didn't." The smile returned, but his eyes were haunted. "After the battle ended, I left. I didn't want to face what might happen."

"You ran," Kanda said, scowling a bit. "What the hell did you think would happen, moyashi?"

That nickname got a surprised look and then an honest laugh from Allen, who stood and winked. "Really, Kanda, you can't get away with calling me that anymore. I'm nineteen now… and taller than you."

Kanda raised an eyebrow and stood… and, sure enough, Allen topped him by a couple of inches. He smirked a little. "You're still scrawny, and I'll call you moyashi until you earn your way out of it."

Allen just rolled his eyes and sat back down. "I'm not surprised to hear that from you." He paused. "The Order didn't send you here?"

"No." Kanda sat as well, shrugging. "They all think you died a hero. I stumbled upon you myself… and don't give me that look. I'm not going to run back to them to tell them, mostly because I don't care."

"Of course you don't." Allen looked wistful for a split second, then stood up with that falsely cheerful smile. "You must be starving, though. I'm afraid I don't have any soba, but I do have a lot of food… maybe something will whet your appetite."

Kanda paused a moment, watching him warily. Allen had changed, and he wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. Whether it was a good change or not… only time would tell, most likely. He inclined his head slightly in thanks for the offered hospitality. "My rations ran out two days ago. I'd appreciate something to eat."

Allen's silver eyes widened. "You haven't eaten in two days? God, Kanda, you should have said something sooner!" He hurried into the kitchen, which was open into the living room. "You must be starving."

Kanda sighed softly. "I am." He was exhausted on top of that, and the chair he was sitting in was comfortable. He found himself relaxing, which was unusual – he hadn't relaxed in months. It was the security of being with someone who understood, someone who'd been through the same things he had – someone he could trust to have his back.

It was a little while later when Kanda came back to his senses with a start. Allen was standing next to him, looking worried, holding a bowl of soup. "You fell asleep," he said with that gentle smile of his. "Here… eat this, then you can go to bed. You can use the couch… it's really comfortable."

Kanda accepted the soup with a nod. He was very tired, now that he was sitting down and not struggling his way through the forest. He took a bite, then another, and another – and before he knew it, the bowl was empty and he was a little disappointed. He frowned at his own brief display of vulnerability and stood, taking the bowl back to the kitchen.

Allen looked up and smiled brightly, busily preparing his own dinner. "How was it?" he asked.

"Edible," Kanda muttered. He set the bowl in the sink and washed it out, then glanced at Allen again and nodded slightly. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." The younger boy smiled brightly, then blinked. "Oh! Hang on." He ran into the back room, then came out with his arms loaded with pillows and blankets. He put them on the couch, then smiled. "Sleep as long as you like."

Kanda nodded again. It took him no time at all to get ready for bed in the washroom, and as soon as he hit the couch and burrowed beneath the covers, he was fast asleep. It would be the first time in four months he'd slept in anything remotely resembling a real bed, and the first time since being in the field with any of his comrades that he felt secure enough to get a restful sleep.

He hardly moved until he felt sunlight streaming gently onto his body beneath the blankets. With a soft groan, he stretched and sat up, looking around in brief confusion. Where – oh. Allen's house. The place was silent, which told him that Allen was either not awake or not home – but either way, Kanda had a routine of his own that he was determined to stick to as closely as possible.

A little while later found him outside in the early morning sun with Mugen, going through his forms methodically. It was easy to lose himself in the familiar routine, to let his mind go and think of nothing at all while he swept the blade through the air. Each movement was crisp and precise, each turn well-practiced… and yet somehow, he was instantly aware of eyes watching him. He finished the set and turned, seeing Allen smiling faintly, sitting on the stoop and watching.

"Still as exact as ever," he said, standing and walking over. "I shouldn't be surprised that you still do this every day, should I?"

"No," Kanda said curtly, sitting down and crossing his legs, setting Mugen across his knees and closing his eyes. "Lack of discipline leads to mistakes, which leads to things happening that shouldn't."

Allen hesitated, then sat down next to him. "It's good to see you again, Kanda," he said, his voice soft and honest and everything Kanda had always despised about him. "It's good to see you still carry Mugen."

Kanda snorted and opened one eye slightly. "Why the hell wouldn't I? Mugen is mine."

Allen nodded slightly, then sat back on his hands – not gloved, for once, not hiding the black left arm that whirled into a pattern on his shoulder. "How are the others?" he asked curiously. "Lenalee… Lavi… Komui…?"

"How should I know? I left when you did." Kanda exhaled. "I haven't heard from any of them."

"Ah…" Allen shifted a little and looked up at the sky. "… then you're…?"

Kanda glanced at him coolly. "Looking for someone."

Allen blinked and tilted his head. "Looking for someone?" He paused, then shifted so he was crouching down in front of Kanda and peering at him. He sucked in a deep breath, now truly seeing him with no cloth in the way. "God – Kanda…!"

The swordsman glanced down at his chest, then rolled his eyes. "Quit being so fucking melodramatic," he muttered. The tattoo, once a simple 'om', had gone to having a nearly completed circle around it with flared tendrils after fighting Skin Boric. Now, as the petals fell and Kanda recovered, the tendrils extended… down his stomach, around his torso, curling down his left arm, over his shoulder, up his neck.

Allen reached out unconsciously, brushing his fingertips against the om and causing Kanda to jerk back in surprise. "Ah! S-sorry!" Allen pulled his hand back, blushing fiercely. "I just… it's… changed so much…"

Kanda scowled at him. "Of course it has, it's been three fucking years and I didn't run off and hide in a forest to ignore the rest of the world. I've been fighting the whole time."

"I had my reasons," Allen shot back, eyes full of fire. "Since when did you care what other people do or say?"

The swordsman shrugged curtly. "I don't. It's a statement of fact."

Allen looked away and shrugged. "Of course, Kanda. With you, it always is." He stood and stretched, then walked a few feet away and gracefully flipped over so he was standing on his hands. "It's good to know that some things never change, though."

Kanda snorted. "I'm sure it is," he muttered. He rose as well and turned to go back into the house. "I've imposed on you long enough. I need to be on my way."

Allen dropped back onto his feet and followed Kanda inside. "Already?" he asked, and it might have been a brief illusion, but Kanda could have sworn he heard a wistful note of regret in the younger Exorcist's voice. "Well, I suppose that makes sense… if you're on a journey, I shouldn't hold you up." He smiled and walked into the kitchen. "Let me pack some food for you to take with you."

Kanda went into the washroom and shut the door behind himself, then paused and frowned into the mirror. It had been a long time since he'd seen Allen… a long time since the last battle and the business with the Fourteenth. He'd wondered, on occasion, if Allen had fallen to such a fate… but it seemed like he hadn't. That didn't answer the question as to why he'd run off and let everyone believe he was dead, but in Kanda's mind, it was none of his business.

After washing his face and cleaning up a bit, Kanda stepped out and finished buttoning up his shirt. Allen smiled and offered him a sack filled with rations. "Here you go," he said cheerfully. "If you go northeast through the forest from here, you'll reach a little town called River's Edge… well, that's what it is in English, I still can't pronounce it otherwise. You can get a room there, it's about a day's journey from here."

Kanda nodded once in thanks and took the sack, packing it into his bag. He put on his coat and cloak, fastened Mugen to his belt, and slung the bag over his shoulder. He paused, unsure of what to say at that point. "… I appreciate your hospitality. I'm sure we'll meet again."

Allen smiled, but that sad, haunted look was back in his eyes. "Of course we will. Have a safe journey, Kanda."

At the very least, leaving wasn't as awkward as he feared it might be. Allen waved cheerfully from the doorstep as Kanda vanished into the forest, and he paused to glance back once before moving on. "Allen fucking Walker," he muttered to himself as he drew Mugen to cut through the brush again. He didn't need it, as it happened – there was a trail, small and difficult for the untrained eye to catch, but Kanda recognized it immediately. He sheathed Mugen and stepped onto it, and found that the creeper vines left him alone for the most part as he walked.

True to Allen's word, Kanda arrived in the small village of River's Edge at dusk. He found the inn without much trouble and got himself a room for the night, and once he was in it he locked the door and leaned against it, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. He was furious, and for the simple reason that the entire way there he'd kept thinking about Allen and that last battle – along with all the battles before.

"I want to save them," the boy in his memory said, crying on the steps of a ruined temple in the abandoned city of Martel. "I want to be more than a destroyer!"

Kanda pushed himself away from the door with a snarl. "And how did that work out for you, moyashi?" he asked out loud, walking to the window and staring outside. "You're all alone."

Somehow, he knew he wasn't going to be spending much time sleeping that night. It wasn't that he cared, right? … no, of course not. The very idea was ludicrous. Still, several hours later as he lay staring at the ceiling, he kept picturing those haunted gray eyes and sad smile.

When morning came, Kanda was already halfway back to Allen's cabin. He wanted answers, and he knew he wouldn't be able to stop fucking ithinking/i about it until he got them. Well, then, he would simply have to deal with this the same way he did everything else – blunt, to the point, and with razor-sharp swiftness. Otherwise, it would plague him until it threatened to drive him mad – and, he thought angrily, he had no time for that. There were still things to do, and he wasn't going to let this get in his way.

--

A/N: It's been a while since I've written anything, so I figured I may as well go ahead for another. - Standard disclaimers apply - I don't own D. Gray-man or the characters therein (though it would be nice if I did). Much thanks to my lovely beta reader, Folded. I hope you all enjoy this story as it progresses!!