Title: We All Fall Down

Fandom: D.Gray-man

Author: su-dama/tempusfugit3

Pairings: Allen/Lenalee, Lavi/Miranda

Rating: PG-13 for language, implicit sexuality, and mentions of character death

Words: 22K

Disclaimer: DGM belongs to Hoshino Katsura et al.

Author's Note: My attempt at jumping from chapter 166 and into Lavi's adult life is as follows. A mix of domestic and angst. Looked over by fallia on LJ.

-We All Fall Down-

The world like this, it is how things will always be. Bookman never thinks of it this way, however. He, actually, doesn't like to think of it at all.

But he wonders if that would surprise them.

Bookman steps off the train, into the crowd, smiling under his hood despite late summer.

London, England welcomes him back.

--

He is wary and weary of traveling, especially by foot with a bag containing his most precious items, along with his new boots making those clunking sounds against the cobblestones. Off on a dirt road, it is better. There are hardly any pedestrians in these parts, and the sun is just right. Leaves are prematurely on the ground. It looks like nothing has changed; he's never walked this part of it until now.

Industries are at full steam, many people will not have their tea. The world goes round and about him, city-life teeming in and out of his peripheral vision. They are not even ink on paper, nor will they ever be unless they become heroes, each and every one of them. He could do for a hero at this time, the atypical kind.

When the sun reaches high in the sky, banked by the clouds, he treats himself to bad habit, resting on the grass somewhere in the midst of everything. It no longer smells of coals, but comfort. He lies there with the brown cigarette protruding up from his lips, watching and yet ignoring the blue. He hears a sudden growl; time to feed the old stomach.

Loaf of bread, sack of wild berries and goat cheese, skin full of milk. He's always been fond of this combination. He eats and smokes at the same time, of which has earned him a few words of admonition in the past from his predecessor. Maybe indigestion.

Bookman is staring at his hand, his joints that haven't been working too well lately, when a girl is calling, "Mister, reckon you move off now? This is private property, me mumma says."

"That so?" Bookman says, and leaves. He is pretty politic when it comes to manners. As he is, he looks back to check, and flings the stubbed cigarette far from sight.

He has a good arm.

--

"Miranda, I'll be all right."

"But Bookman."

"It's fine. I have business to attend to."

"Hurry back?"

"Fine. Did you look into what I asked of you?"

"Yes."

"Report?"

"You won't like it."

"That's what I want to hear."

And the signal is lost.

--

He had gone through connections in order to get what he wanted, which was an address.

An address, specifically, to where he might find them.

He hasn't seen them in years, not since the End, disbandment, their separate fortunes or misfortunes.

A lot has happened, too much, and he's afraid, slightly, that this matters too much.

He smiles. So. His assistant has news waiting for him as well. It can wait, for he can wait.

--

At length he has reached a simmering village, the merry market of that village, a place where there are children running around with leather balls and mothers running after them, sweeping their peasant frocks up. The street is padded down dirt and rock, the pavement boards and slabs of stone. The gutter is running with dirt water parallel to the pavement, among other things, various litters lining between random stones. Grass and weeds. It could be called primitive, if one dared to dream.

He's focusing on both sides of the street. He's guessing that this is, indeed, the market where they must be living, untraditionally. Connections had told him that they are now living in a store, or shop, or shack, considering.

They can't be too worse off, observing the homey feel of the village. It's not too primitive as to be devoid of signs, and he follows them, reading them with both eyes and ignoring the stopping and staring.

For all he knows, this pinprick on the map may be London's backbone.

Oh Meriwether, how doth your merry jewels.

He stops himself as he feels a few children watching him. Yes, little children, Bookman is a man wearing a robe in this heat. He is also a man who smokes and throws cigarettes into the trees, or here, the gutter. He drops the remainder of said cigarette into the running water, and realizes that this is sort of a hill he's on.

He wonders if they use water holes or pumps, if they entertain themselves by the pagan maypole.

They live on a hill in a village acres outside of London where the children are rowdy and there are no lamps.

Okay. One lamp. Two lamp. Three.

He's here; he knocks.

The person who answers isn't one of them at all. Moreover, the person is completely unfamiliar.

"I must have the wrong house," Bookman says, scratching his head sheepishly.

"No bother. Who ya lookin' fer, mate?"

"There is a couple—the boy is maybe nineteen now, white—

"Ah, I see ya thar, o'er thar."

The robust man thumbs the air, pointing toward Bookman's left.

"You should probably fix your numbering system, sir," Bookman advises. He tips an imaginary hat in the man's direction and walks on further.

Sweat suddenly drips from his brow. He hadn't realized he was becoming nervous. This anxiety must be unhealthy. He really can't have any of that; it's detrimental to his guise.

Once he's there, again, at a door that has a board nailed to it, chalked upon, there is no need to knock or intrude.

Because the boy (or man) he's been looking for is busy with his stall.

Bookman drops his traveling bag. He squints to memorize his profile, and then remembers that he'd done that in the hospital room years back.

"Allen."

Allen doesn't hear him, speaking to a customer and holding out his palm for the coins.

"Allen."

And this time Allen looks up, eyes darting around to determine the source. He wobbles his head a bit before settling on Bookman's figure. Allen is a man now, it is evident; a man with hair in a tail, not a ribbon, but a regular string that implies more than it should. Bookman can see the sting as Allen stares on blankly from his position. Then Allen seems to come to his senses and finish up the purchase.

"Have a good day," he cheers, smiling fully.

They are alone for a moment from the bustle, and someone must speak.

After a moment, Allen's voice cracks and he clears it. "Lavi." His smile has weakened, thinned. He remains frozen.

"It's Bookman now," Lavi says, finally shrugging off his robe to stuff it into his bag, glad to be free of the hood and wool. He must stink of travel.

"Bookman?"

Lavi nods, clearing his fringe away from his eyes. His hair is even damp, waves forming at the base of his skull and sideburns, which itch from new growth.

Allen is still gathering himself, stiffly at first, then relaxing into the kind of relief of seeing an old friend pay a surprise visit. He puts a gloved hand to his own face, laughs disbelievingly, and removes it to look up at Lavi once again, solemn.

"I'm so sorry."

"It was a while back." After it all.

"I must tell Lenalee. I'll—I'll fetch Lenalee."

He does this, calling out for her, stepping past the threshold of his stall, backing into the door when he turns around to face Lavi. It's as if he cannot. Allen blushes and stammers and chuckles, and Lavi can imagine Allen's got a damn right for feeling dazed.

"Um," Allen begins, pawing the handle with his other hand, backward. "Lena, Lenalee!" he calls again, pursing his lips tightly as Lavi puts his hands into his pockets to keep himself from hugging the shit out of Allen. In public, where Bookmen must never show affection. It's a personal belief.

"I can hear you, I'm not deaf, I've only been in the loo for the past hour, it's this heat, you know, and my back is…"

Lo, there she is, after too long, older and prettier and—

As big as a whale.

Lavi has seen whales; he knows.

He drops his jaw just as he had dropped his bag before.

Lenalee is standing in the doorway to their home, holding an Asian fan over her extended belly.

"You see, Lavi, er," Allen says, maybe to rectify the situation.

Whatever the situation, Lavi can see it quite clearly.

"Oh, Lavi," Lenalee breathes.

"You're pregnant," he breathes.

He has never imagined her pregnant until this moment. Even though she had been so maternal, and caring, and loving—before he had left them for his destiny, he had never seen this in his mind's eye before today. Thou art redeemed, right?

She snaps to, moves past Allen, and offers her arms for an embrace of old friends. He takes it, absentmindedly, and feels her belly mash his bellybutton.

"It's so, so good to see you," she says.

"Don't cry, Lenalee," he warns, bringing out his handkerchief for good measure. She is definitely going to cry.

"I can't help it, I'm pregnant!" Wail.

Yes, he sees that much, make no mistake.

"She says that every time," Allen mouths from behind her, having gotten over Lavi's sudden turn-up. Then he coughs and puts his hands on each of her shoulders so that she doesn't collapse in her joy. "And you know my wife, Lenalee, don't you, Bookman?"

"Why, yes I do. She is the loveliest sight to behold."

"Hah, for heaven's sake, Lavi, don't say that," she sobs, crying harder into the kerchief.

Her hair is in a bun, flyaway strands sticking to her neck. Her dress, or something of a smock, is loose and thin, and he can see how her breasts have filled out over her belly.

He renews his smile. What's in a name? "Just call me Lavi for now. I had changed it to something else after I'd left, but Lavi is appropriate." He is about to say why, and why Allen doesn't have to call him Bookman just because he's taken on the official title, but he stalls at Allen's look of: If you say anything else depressing she'll seriously dissolve, best not to push it.

"I hope your trip wasn't too terrible. The weather's been rather off lately," Allen says, waving Lavi inside with Lenalee waddling behind them.

"Lenalee, do be careful," Allen adds to her. Lavi turns to watch her come alive again.

"I'm fine-fine, Allen. I was just surprised, like I should be! Oh Lavi, you idiot."

Lavi blinks. "Wha—what? Wha'd I do?" And it's not like he has no idea. If they sat him down for an interrogation, they could pit against him all his sins of woe and he'd have to advocate every one.

She shakes her head at him, huffs, and goes to slide into the nearest chair.

They're in the kitchen of their home. Or, moreover, first floor. Their own private water pump installed in the corner.

"Nice home," Lavi says.

"Oh, it's a shop, really," Allen says.

"Nice shop."

"Well, it's more of a factory. That's what I like to call it."

"Allen, you never call it that," Lenalee says, laughing.

"In my head I do. Like, this is our factory work area, and that above is our living quarters." Allen points to the ceiling, making that self-serving smile from childhood.

"Ah, it's bigger than I thought."

"Only slightly. We practically sleep in storage."

"The babies have got to be made somewhere," Lavi says, grinning and adjusting his collar. He's wearing too many layers. (Spending too much time in Russia has its effects.)

Allen hides his blush and Lenalee doesn't say a word except for an exasperated sigh.

"Anyway, what brings you all the way out here," Allen says pointedly, gesturing for Lavi to make himself at home.

And this is where Lavi seizes up, back muscles pulling into place. He sucks in his breath a little, maybe to filter out the dust in the air, maybe to calm his lungs and to avoid shouting those bottled-up obscenities he's been longing to shout out to the sky or to anyone who would listen.

He very much doubts that is what they want to hear.

He paces himself. "I," he swallows quietly, "I just came to see you."

It is a lie. But this is okay. For now. That's okay. No one shouts obscenities at a pregnant woman, and that's only common sense. Lavi is a sensible man.

"Where were you before?"

Lavi can feel the hair on his head stand up, as if it can, being longer than ever. "Nowhere."

"Oh, pray, Lavi, tell us," Lenalee says.

"A…round."

"Around," Allen says.

A bell rings from the front, and just as this happens, three beasts come barreling through the back door, laundry—smelling of flowers—flying all over the rug. Lavi is essentially molested.

"Boys!" Lenalee hollers, towering over Lavi on the floor, where he has landed, hard. The beasts are apparently boys (he can tell), and in reality, plain slobbering dogs.

Lavi mumbles something from under all that fur.

Allen is saying something about a customer and how he forgot to write up the sign. He'll go do it now.

"Sorry about that," Lenalee says, trying and failing to usher the dogs away from new company.

This is going to be one hell of a day.

--

The first start of the day has calmed down, after the fresh laundry and vegetables and shortened chats, leaving the three of them with a sense of strangeness. Lavi gets the feeling of being a very red stick in the mud. Or that his conscience is growing bat wings from his shoulders.

"I can't believe you're gonna have a baby," Lavi says, to ease that feeling, coming back into his own charade.

It doesn't do much good.

"Is it so hard to believe?" Her eyes widen. She sits up in the church-like bench against the wall, a wreath of flowers lying on her chest. She says she does it for the kids. Weaving natural things, like lavender and baby's breath, for their amusement.

A clue.

Lavi avoids staring at her chest. Leans back and crosses his legs in the opposite bench beside Allen. "What would you consider this?"

"Eh?" Allen stops wrapping their leftovers in parchment.

"This layout you have here. Lower class?"

"Now, Lavi, when did you start speaking so properly, and so demeaning? We may be poor, but we're saving and working up to the best," Lenalee says, finishing her second wreath of flowers.

"I didn't mean anything by it." He's shuffling through his inner personas.

"That's all right, Lavi, we understand," Allen says, patting him on the shoulder. "We know we're poor, but I've been doing well in the city, and if I get a better role—"

"Oh Allen, not that again."

"Lenalee, it's true."

"But we don't know for sure, and surely, we still have our responsibilities and contract here with the farmers."

"But Lenalee."

"No. I'm sorry, but no."

"What…is exactly the problem here?" Lavi asks tentatively, glancing between them as they glare at each other. He's seen those exact same expressions before. He re-crosses his legs in an attempt to distract them. Lavi's knee, meet Allen's knee, two of a kind.

"It's not a problem, Lavi. It's just that Lenalee disagrees. You know, dear, you've been disagreeing with me a lot since you started to show."

"And what's that supposed to mean, darling?" Lenalee says, crushing the tiny sprigs in her hand.

"Erm," Lavi says.

"Uh," Allen says.

"Oh, I'm so, so sorry, Lavi. Forgive me. I'm so, so…" she trails off, remembering herself.

He can see she's uncomfortable. He waves his hand around. "Nah, no problem. You've always been—"

"I haven't always been this big," she says, frowning.

"Uh," Lavi says.

"Erm," Allen says.

"Oh, don't mind me! I just don't know anymore." Lenalee covers her eyes with grass-stained fingers.

"At least you're not the size of the house. I'd have to worry," Allen tries.

"Allen, maybe you—"

"What did you say?" says Lenalee, quietly from behind her hand.

"I mean! You're not that big, dear! Really! I can still put my arms around..."

Lenalee removes her hand to stare at him, her eyes heavy-lidded and lips turned down. She begins to dust off her dress to keep herself busy and most likely to keep herself from flattening him.

Lavi decides to forego the dangerous dialogue and fishes out his, seemingly, last cigarette from his boot. What a pity. He gets up to light it inside the iron hearth-stove near the center of the room, being careful to avoid burning himself again. It's nerves; he's never been so clumsy. Except for that time his assistant seduced him with her own clumsiness.

Stick to lip, and Lavi is a happy man.

"You," Lenalee starts.

"Smoke," Allen finishes.

He catches their astonished gazes. They couldn't tell just by the stench of his clothes?

"Wha—? Didn't think I wouldn't, didja?"

"And now he starts with that," Allen says, throwing up his hands.

"Really, Lavi, don't smoke in front of me. I am having an aversion to it, I think. The other day…" Lenalee puts a hand to her mouth.

Lavi thinks of her legs in boots up to there.

"Lenalee, go upstairs and rest. I'll take Lavi into the garden. We'll prune."

"Is that what you call gardening?" Lavi asks, amused.

"How did you know?"

Lenalee bites again. "Allen, you never call it that."

"How many times must I tell you? In my head, in my head."

Lavi says around the cigarette, "A catnap will do you some good, Lenalee."

"You're right, I know. Oh tsk. Boys, be good. Allen, if the children come by, or, well, wait. If one of the neighbors comes by—"

"Come on," Allen says, leading her toward the ladder-like stairs. Lavi wonders how she can balance on that sort of thing. Or, if the wood is actually the kind found in the pockets of rich philanthropists.

--

"Do you have a patron?" Lavi asks when Allen steps outside with him, wife-less. Chainless, and perhaps ball-less. Sure.

Now there can be no interruptions.

"A patron? You mean the kind Cross used to have? No."

"So you helped put this house together, yourself?"

"Er, Komui. And some higher-ups, to secure us. I realize that, financially, we're not too well off."

Lavi laughs and coughs on smoke.

"I know. Komui, right?"

"I bet he nearly skinned you alive." That goof didn't even bother to tell him the finer details of the special occasion. But, if he had, Lavi wouldn't have come.

"He did. It was scary. It was," Allen pinches the bridge of his nose, "perhaps the most mortifying thing I have ever been through, including that of my apprentice years. He was explicit in his lecture of what will—would—happen if I so much as thought of betraying Lenalee in any way. You missed out on how fabulous the execution would be.

"Furthermore, you missed out, and luckily weren't there, when he nearly killed me with his speech about the, umm, marriage bed. He was not joshing me one bit. And he said things that were so scientific, it got me thinking of my years with all those, um, scarlet women, I couldn't even touch Lenalee on our wedding night. She might've hated me for it."

It transpires that Allen is waiting to expire from it all. He's evidently been holding in this suffering since the dawn of man.

Lavi leans against the fence they have constructed as a divider from other homes and discovers that he shouldn't do this.

"I'm sorry, this house is sort of falling apart already," Allen says.

"It just requires more work." He takes a long drag, turning to study the vegetable patch which is more impressive than he would have thought.

"Um," Allen says, pausing.

"It's quaint. Domestic. I always pictured you as the type." Lavi looks forlornly at his rapidly smoldering cigarette. He sees Allen is doing the same.

"Um."

"What?"

"Could I? I mean, could you—? You know. Spare?"

Lavi blinks at him, shaking his head slowly. "You know if Lenalee catches you…"

"She'd completely take my head off. She'd call it treason and paint the walls with my blood. I know. Just one drag."

"Ah right."

Lavi passes it to him, licking the debris of tobacco from his lips. Maybe he's been smoking too much. Maybe Miranda is right when she says it'll kill him. He's got that deep gravelly voice these days, and Allen can probably detect it. His chest constantly feels as if it's fluttering. Allen can probably detect that, too.

Allen takes a moment of letting the smoke flow through his nostrils, startlingly handsome at eyeing Lavi from the side. Lavi is startled, a little bit. Somehow, he expects something to erupt.

"You look good, Bookman." Allen's tone is flirtatious persuasion.

Lavi is not fooled. "What."

"It suits you," Allen says.

"It had better suit me," counters Lavi, wanting his cigarette back. He straightens one vertebra at a time.

Allen nods. "I can see that."

"Gimme my fag back or the fence gets it."

"Good God, here."

"Aww, it has your spit on iiit."

"Nothing of the sort!"

Lavi laughs and winks at him with his right eye, no longer conscious of it.

Allen stills. Sighs. Smiles sadly.

"Lavi."

"Hmm?"

"What's the real reason you came to visit? I very much doubt it has singularly to do with seeing us."

Singularly is just like saying I'm so posh.

"Haha, whatcha talkin' about?"

"Don't give me that crap." Allen puts his fists on his hips and looks like a farmer in those clothes. All he needs is a wicker hat.

Lavi doesn't say anything, watching the smoke swirls disperse the farther they climb.

"Lavi."

"How about them kids Lenalee talks about, eh? There must be an explanation."

"Lenalee already said. They're neighbor kids who come around to see us. Just to see us."

Lavi can take a hint. As he's about to stub the remainder of his cigarette into the soil, Allen tells him to bury it. They are quiet for a while, listening for sounds of a restless Lenalee or the callings of mothers for their delinquent offspring. They instead hear the dogs in their makeshift doghouse gnawing on the cured meat Lavi had given up to them earlier. Literally given up.

"Sooo." Allen stands there, hands clasped together in front of his crotch.

"Just to see you," Lavi tells him.

Allen continues to clasp his hands.

"It's the scar; you attract all the weirdoes."

"Laviiii."

"What? It's understandable."

"Lavi. Please. I like to think they come over for my mere pleasantness and not because of my flaws."

Mere what?

"They love you because of your flaws."

They fall into a powerful silence once again. Lavi is thinking.

"What was that earlier, when Lenalee got her knickers in a twist? She looked like she wanted to do you into an early grave."

"It's her condition. She can be so ruthless sometimes."

"Ha, I got that."

"Honestly, this one time, she threatened to sit on me."

"That sounds about right."

"And, I mean, that would hurt."

"Yeah, it would."

"I'm clever, though. I brought up baby names, and she was so nice after that. Well, until I botched the biscuits."

"Biscuits, eh?"

"Then she would have bashed the pan into my head, with her bare hands, if I hadn't—"

Allen breaks off into another blush, this time a glowing red.

"You married her," Lavi says, snickering around his teeth.

"That I did."

"Fit of insanity."

"Hahaha, hush. Just don't say that around her. I love my wife, I mean, I love Lenalee." Allen taps his toe into the ground, musing. "She's just…"

"Definitely more than you can chew. Young chap, it seems to me you've signed up for some harsh combat."

Allen's face sags.

"I'm joshin' ya, Allen. She's a real looker. You've got it made."

"I swear, Lavi, if you ever get married—"

"Don't count on it."

Allen furrows his brow, concern etching his forehead. He tilts his head and then nods. "Right."

Lavi might as well confess, and fish for a reaction.

"No. I don't see myself getting married. Miranda, on the other hand, she's a real hard-ass when no one's lookin'."

"Miranda. Miranda Lotte?"

"None other."

"She's seeing you?"

Lavi laughs. "More than seeing me. She's my self-proclaimed assistant. It's snazzy."

"Um, Lavi."

"What?"

"I wasn't aware that Bookmen…"

"It's not official. I don't know what to call it except that she assists me in my work."

"I guess that's possible."

"It's plausible. She's especially randy when no one's lookin'."

"Lavi!" Allen cries, covering his gaping mouth. He averts his eyes to the window above.

"You're still the same, Allen."

"And so are you! You, you gonna marry her?"

"Miranda? Who knows. Probably not. I simply can't stop thinking about you," he coos, winking and laying a kiss on Allen's eyelid like a strange badge of courage. Allen recoils slightly, as if to absorb it, and then shakes his head, punching Lavi on the arm.

"You ass."

"I know, it's nice, ain't it." Lavi strikes a pose to show it off.

"Don't tell Lenalee, and yes, but my ass is far nicer." Allen does the same.

Suddenly the window above is unlatched and Lavi bobs his head up to see Lenalee's head sticking out of it, glaring daggers at them.

"There are some people who dare to sleep, you two."

"Well, it is only after noon," Lavi says.

Allen makes a gesture that is quite telling. Ultimately, if Lavi continues down this spiral, Lenalee will—

"Lavi, I love you and all, and I know you're our guest. However. I would not be afraid to sit on you."

She slams the window shut and pulls the drapes.

"I guess it was bound to happen." Lavi looks at Allen and gives him a hard pat on the back. "Good luck, mate, you're gonna need it."

--

It is all a lie; they have all changed. Painfully. For the best. And yet?

--

The letter is still in his bag. He doesn't want to touch it. Lavi cannot begin to imagine touching it and handling it and handing it over to them, so he doesn't. He'll stew in it, for a time, deciding when and where.

How is it that this letter has come to be of such importance, of such high-scale thought, when really all it—supposedly—is made of are words and phrases meant to explain something, something that Lavi knows about and is not willing to read too much into it.

The letter doesn't belong to him, anyhow. He is only the messenger.

He has a scare when he notices his cloak has been moved; he searches briefly before coming upon it folded neatly and sitting on top of his bag. Where he would have noticed it in the first place if not for the uncharacteristic panic.

"What's wrong?" Lenalee says. She's about to leave, tying a kerchief around her neck.

"I was just…looking for something."

"Oh, Lavi. It's habit of mine to fold everything."

"That's fine. You do it really well." He almost thinks to bow.

She smiles kindly, unlike earlier when Allen suggested he himself prepare supper. She smoothes down, around, her front. "I'm off to see the midwife. Allen! Don't burn the meat."

Then Lenalee the Force is out of there.

"Oh. My. Gonads. Allen. How? How do you survive?" Lavi slumps against the wall.

"Well. I'm the one who commutes to London and Lenalee is the one who hates the idea of it, and you know, maybe she wants to live there. But in order to do so we must have the funds. I'm sorry, do you see any funds around here? Money doesn't grow on trees, you know. We could make candles to scrape by, might be less messy, better than farming stuff and I dunno, I could do everything… And I can't help it if we have no money. It's not like I want her brother's help, and no thank you do I ever want to work for the Church again. Sorta—damn it. I've cut myself." Allen sucks on his finger for a moment, blowing through his nose. "I'm not built for this, maybe."

"That? Coming from you?"

"All right. It's nothing. She's just…"

"Big as a whale."

"And very mean."

Lavi grabs the butcher's knife from him and slices the meat. He puts the bone aside for the dogs, and Allen nods in approval.

"I'm surprised she can eat this stuff."

"She doesn't. She eats like a sparrow."

"Being as big as a whale?"

"Lavi! Don't say it like that. She's not yet due."

"Then she still has some growing to do. Maybe you should start worryin'."

"The town midwife says it's a good omen, for Lenalee to get so big. Like, she'll have a big baby, and that it won't starve in the early months. I think it's a joke, though."

"Ya think?" Lavi drains the blood into a bowl.

"It might be a boy," Allen says, smiling softly at his finger.

"Congratulationsss. The Walker name shall carry on."

"But."

"But?"

"Don't tell my wi—Lenalee I said this, okay?"

Allen, apparently, is used to this kind of talk.

"Don't tell her what?" Lavi shuffles the meat into a clay pot, guessing to pour the pitcher of milk into it. He wonders where the butter is. Or if they churn it themselves. Or if they have to commute for that, too.

"Just a little."

Lavi pours just a little milk.

Allen then pours some water following it.

"That looks…"

"It's good for the baby," Allen says resolutely.

"Keep tellin' yourself that," Lavi says. They grab some wood from the garden and throw some chips into the oven of the stove. "What are we making exactly?" he asks, anticipating.

"Stew."

"I knew it." He's not sure if Allen can cook. It looks like sludge.

"It's not so bad. I kinda like it."

"As I said, keep tellin' yourself that."

While the stove and the room get hotter, Allen stirs the pot idly, sniffing it. He frowns.

Now Lavi also anticipates Lenalee's fearsome wrath for later. May God's angels be on Allen's side, to serve and protect, to shield and evade Lenalee's evil ways. Innocence, unite!

Lavi creaks open the side window with the narrow alley and something catches his eye.

"Allen."

"I know. The smell will get better with time."

"No." Lavi turns to him slowly, smiling wider and wider. "If you had smokes, why didn'tcha say so?"

"Eh? Whatever do you mean?" Cough, cough.

"I'm surprised she hasn't caught you yet."

"Oh, that. That mess? Um."

"You're very naughty."

"Please don't tell her I did, um, do that—"

"Then I suggest you pick up after yourself, or she'll be comin' after ya with a bat before long."

"It wouldn't be a bat," says Allen.

"You're right. It would be a giant poking device, hot from the hearth, ready to burn your ass."

Allen makes a sob face and throws his tail of hair behind his shoulder.

"Anyway, sorry for spotting the evidence. I won't nark."

"Thank you."

"What were you saying earlier?"

"When?"

Wood sparks in the oven. Allen blows into the pot, capping it with a lid that doesn't fit.

"We thought she was barren," he says, so quietly that it's hard to hear over the lid clanking.

Lavi chews the inside of his cheek because how do you respond to that sort of thing?

"We thought, I thought. She was so sad, different from those other times when we were Exorcists. She didn't really… She didn't want children right away. And I, it was just difficult. Especially after Komui chatted me up."

Lavi swallows a laugh. He appreciates the honesty, anyway.

Allen slouches in his stool by the fire, board on his lap. "It took a while, for, you know."

"I don't know."

"Lavi."

"Women are usually prone to pregnancy, Allen. Otherwise, there wouldn't be women, or us, for that matter."

"Yeah, but, she really wanted it."

It is now that Lavi starts to laugh, and he is grateful for the excuse.

"It's not funny! And don't think about Lenalee that way!"

"Okay." And Lavi laughs some more.

"I am serious."

"Okay. I'm done."

"No you're not."

"I am."

Allen sighs. "I was saying she really wanted a child."

"I don't blame her. After all that hell, 'course she'd want to start a family. Miranda's the same way." Lenalee's a lucky lady; she had beaten her Innocence's biology.

Allen does a double-take. "What?"

Lavi blinks and licks his lips. "Nothing." An eye-patch would be brilliant right now.

"Miranda, our Miranda, from the Order, wants to start a family with you?"

"Did I say that?"

"You did."

"Oh, I think you're hearing things, dear boy. All of Lenalee's yelling has damaged your ears."

"And whenever did you start courting her? You never mentioned before in the past—"

"There was no need. I wasn't courting her in the past. What's with this courting business? It's nearly the twentieth century."

"So you're absolutely seeing her?"

"When I can. It's not important."

"What are you—? Of course it's important."

Lavi smiles lightly at the compliment. "I can't be discussing work with you, Allen."

They sigh together.

--

It occurs to Lavi, when he's chucking bones into the doghouse, that…

"Hey, Allen."

Allen stops sweeping the cigarette butts in the alley. He flushes himself against the broom handle and the wall. "Yeah?"

Lavi will have to remember to buy him more.

"I never said. Either way, you're gonna make a great father."

"When Lenalee's not yelling at me, she says the same thing." Grin.

Lavi nods.

--

While they're eating the boiled meat, vegetables, and potatoes, the tableside is warm and cozy and familial. Lenalee the Force chews on the meat chunks with a calculating jaw, looking as if she's about to starting humming to herself. Allen picks at his stew, and upon realizing that Lavi is watching him, picks up his bowl to gulp the broth down. He ends up placing the bowl back onto the table with a horrified expression.

Lavi goes back to ogling Lenalee on and off, particularly her well-endowed assets.

Allen knocks Lavi's knee pointedly.

"Bookman."

"Walker."

"Boys," Lenalee says, closing her eyes.

Lavi ignores the eye-twitch from Allen.

"Lena-gem, all right there?" Lavi teases.

"It might be a fever. Mistress Mary said—"

"That's the midwife's name?"

"Yes. She said I must be careful."

"Well, look at you. As big as a—" Allen kicks him now, and Lavi amends. "As big as a woman nearing the end of her pregnancy." Smile.

"But I'm not." She looks at Allen like an innocent little girl, whatever could she have done to deserve this? "I'm only seven months in, barely."

"Why are you looking at me?"

"Allen, this is your fault. You of all people must have something to say about it."

She has a point there.

Lavi sits back, readying himself for a lover's spat. He never has these with Miranda, to his credit. Not that they call themselves lovers. Not that they are truly a couple, as lovers. And Miranda's not the disagreeable type. On the contrary, she does anything she can, for him, and it's almost bothersome.

"How is this my fault?" asks Allen, quite stupidly.

It is the most obvious thing in the world, that dingbat.

Lenalee holds in a gasp. "Allen."

"Whaaat?"

"Do not whine at me. I'm the one carrying your child."

This could get quite bothersome, as a matter of fact.

"Lenalee, I don't think…" Allen tilts his head in Lavi's direction.

"What, what?"

"I simply do not think this is…the best time?"

"It's as good a time as any."

"Uh, really?" Allen laughs nervously, splaying his hand out on the table for her to stab it with a fork.

"You must be joking," she says. "Don't think about the time, but about your unborn child."

"I do! I am!"

"Could've fooled me." She crosses her arms over her belly and dramatically looks away to put her nose up at the back door. She makes a sound that is not worth arguing.

Allen chooses to do it anyway. "Aww, Lenalee. I care."

When she doesn't budge, he tries again. "Darling?"

Lavi makes a mental note: never call Miranda, or any other woman he may meet in the future, darling. Of course, he may have no choice in the matter. Whatever, Lady Luck.

For if Allen can get away with it and avoid getting the ol' Iron Fist, Lavi may be able to do the same, but better, and with style.

Allen only winces at nothing. "Where're you going?"

"To bed!"

"Lenalee, don't be like—"

"Do not tell me how to be, Allen Walker. You are not the man I married, you're not even my friend right now. Right now, you are a bug! Living in my house!"

"A bug," Lavi says to himself. Never has he felt so humbled for Allen.

"A bug," Allen repeats, after Lenalee has waddled out of the room to climb the stairs. He waits a moment. Then: "I was your best friend last night!"

Lavi, however, does not believe a word.

The stairs creak under her added weight and Lavi makes a face. "Ya know, Allen."

"I know."

"They say boys take after their mothers."

Allen hangs his head in defeat.

--

Lavi is considering his options. He could, on one hand, get away from here. On the other, he could stay and suffer along with Allen.

Though currently, Allen doesn't sound like he's suffering too much up there. In fact, Lavi would have to say, emphasize, that Allen is enjoying his time up there.

Specifically in bed.

Which is located above Lavi's head.

And the ceiling, to his chagrin and presumably dry humor, is very thin. Thank God for humor.

So maybe the wood isn't as tough as nails, and maybe the floorboards were laid down by Allen himself. Just maybe, Lavi is having a bad dream concerning his two married friends.

He should have turned down Allen's offer.

At first it had been nothing. Simple arguing sounds. Vague mutterings through the floor. Footsteps, then a bed accommodating one or the both of them. He had thought he heard a pan banging around; then he put two and two together and thought that Lenalee might have been frantic due to the child pressing into her bladder, and nothing else.

He heard grumblings, silence.

They were quite dogmatic with each other, until a certain point was reached.

A very spectacular point in unwritten history.

Well, if Lenalee could pee in front of Allen, no wonder she was pissed off at her husband's supposed lack of candor.

Lavi had been lying in a makeshift bed pallet near the warm stove, the rain falling outside, feeling rather restless, covered by his cloak and sleeping on an extra pillow, when he heard them.

So now, feeling rather mystified, he's sitting, resting his elbows on his knees like he always does when he is studying. And now, he cannot believe it.

Albeit, at least they're not in the same room.

"Weren't you about to kill each other?" he says to the ceiling.

Sure, they had closed their door. Not that it makes any difference.

Lavi breathes out, closes his eyes, and counts to ten in Gaelic. Then he runs through his mental list of things to do for once he leaves. Early preparation is the way to go. Yeah. What must he do? Oh yes, that letter. Well.

Shit. Great.

He can't do it. There are too many reasons to count, thus, he cannot.

Fuck.

He pulls out some of his hair and bites down on the pillow. He pushes it into his face, wraps it around his head for coverage. This is better. Yet he doesn't wish to die a slow death in this manner. So he goes with the back of his head, and waits. The sounds are better: no sound.

But he may have a slight problem. He can hear his heart beating, feel his temples pulsing, and knows that he is, sadly, turned on by all of this.

He kind of expected it.

Lavi sighs and flings the pillow across the room. He can feel himself burning, in the face.

The only cure is to call his assistant.

The golem is let out of its confinements within the bag, activating automatically. He grabs it by the wing, whispering.

"Miranda. Are you there?"

He hears static and someone maybe doing a face-plant.

"L-Lavi? Bookman?"

"You're there."

"I-I—yes. What…?"

"I need you."

"Wha—?"

"I need you. Now."

"Why? It's in the ungodly hours of the morning. What do you need?"

"You know what I need."

"Ehh?!"

"That's right, mmm, something like that."

"Are you in trouble?"

"Yeah, right, like I'd be in trouble at such ungodly hours."

"You would."

"True, that."

"And why do you need me?"

"Miranda, you don't question things that be."

The line is static again.

"Miranda? Miranda, can you hear me?"

"I…hear you."

"You fazed out."

"I did? I'm sorry."

"How did work go today? Did you run into any technicalities?"

"Mm, you never contacted me after this morning. I thought something had happened to you."

Ah, turning the tables.

"Er, erm, I reckon something did happen to me. I got side-swept and ended up on the wrong side of the tracks."

"Eh? Of the train? Are you okay?"

"Haha, you should catch up on your slang, Miranda."

"Hahaha. And what of it?"

"Well, you won't believe this."

"What's the matter? Are you in the hospital? Don't joke with me, Lavi. It's too early in the morning for that."

"No, no, I'm at Allen's."

"I'm glad!"

"But he's busy taking very good care of Lenalee right about now."

"I'm glad!"

"Yeah, I never would've thought he was this good in bed. Beats me."

"I'm—what?!"

"I told you."

"Oh, poor Lavi."

"That's what I've been thinking for the past hour. He must be very good, if he can carry on this long with a pregnant lady, not to mention."

"Allen is… Lenalee is… Wait a moment, Lenalee's with child?"

"Yeah, with a big baby, according to Mistress Mary over here in Pleasantville."

"That is…"

"Shocking. Yeah."

They are dying silently. Lavi thinks, Hump the bump, and he dies some more. It's so terrifying, he could cry.

"Miranda? You're too quiet again."

"But Komui didn't mention it to you?"

"Hell no, he deliberately left it out. He probably wanted to shock the daylights outta me. When, I s'pose, the last time I saw him, I did sorta hit 'im." Some miscellaneous moment in time.

"Yes, you did. No need to remind me."

"It's okay. Don't have to think about it."

"I'm not."

"Don't think about the other thing."

"About Allen and Lena?"

"No, the other, other thing."

"Oh. Oooh."

And truth is he doesn't need her anymore.

Lavi laughs, fingering the wing of the golem.

"What is it?" she asks, sounding very close.

"I was thinking I'd get an inn. Or find one, in this storm."

"It's storming? Is that what that was?"

"Yeah, hitting the panes."

"What else?"

"I was thinking that…"

"Yes?"

"I can't show them that. The letter."

"No, Lavi."

"What?"

"No, you must. You must, for him. If you don't, that's like…"

"Don't say it."

"Treason."

"And don't be so melodramatic."

"I don't know what that is, but all right. It would be treason to Kanda."

"He would never know."

"What if he asked? For what they said? Could you face him afterward with an honest face?"

"Don't ask me that."

"Could you?"

Lavi gets up to step over the sleeping dogs nearby. They lay in crisscrosses, like a maze that is surprisingly easy to manipulate. He jumps over limbs and watches as one of the dogs has a bad dream.

Lavi feels a special camaraderie with it.

"Lavi, could you?"

"No, never."

"Exactly."

"Aren't you the high and mighty one."

"You're the one who woke me up."

"But," he continues, "if I had to protect them."

"Lavi, that's something…"

"Let me be Bookman for a moment."

Miranda groans.

"As someone who is Bookman, and has friends, I believe I cannot tell them. I can withhold any information as I so wish."

"Bookman, you know that's ridiculous."

"Is not."

"Is so! And it's not your wish. It's Kanda's."

"And I have the power to withhold it, like I said. Kanda will never know."

"What if he asks?"

"He'd never ask that. He'd die first."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

The ceiling stops thumping just as the sex noises dissipate. Lavi's ears may stop bleeding now.

"What. Was. That?" Miranda says, sounding as if she's feeling waterworks of shame.

"The infamous ceiling."

"That was them?"

"Why, yes."

"Oh guter Lord."

"Seriously."

"You've been hearing that for the past hour?"

"Hmm, sorta."

"Dear Lucifer! Lavi!"

"When you say it like that…"

"I feel such sorrow for you."

"Thanks."

"I-I mean it."

"I had another plan, aside from sneaking out for the night. I was gonna keep you on the line, sneak out into the night, but into the loo outside, and have my way with myself as you stayed on. Unfortunately, I've lost my libido speaking to you like this, and now, I think they're done. There's hardly any encouragement left."

"Lavi."

"Yes?"

"This is why we cannot elope."

"I know, I'm a pig."

"No, that's not it. It's just, it's just this."

"That makes no sense, Miranda."

"It does. You have your work, and I have…"

"We share it, you know we do."

"Lavi, that doesn't sound like you."

"I've always been pushy. I thought you wanted something like marriage, like kids. Admit it. Eloping is totally romantic, according to the adolescents of this age. I'd bet my best quill that Lenalee would say the same thing."

"It's not the eloping."

"What is it?"

"Your heart."

"What?"

"Never mind it."

"My heart?"

"Never mind, I said."

"You can't be talking about that part of it."

"I'm not, it's nothing."

His heart. The one Tyki Mikk aimed to take, and nearly succeeded. There was nothing special about being the Heart, in the End. And there was nothing special about being the ailing, the dying.

There is a scar in the center of Lavi's chest. In it, there was once broken bone, and his future had been dark. It would have been symbolic, if the Noah had meant to steal it perfectly. Nothing is ever perfect. People die. People suffer and die for others. And that was what had happened.

He scrubs an eye, fed up, and listens for footsteps. The rain is coming down harder, and thunder rumbles through to his bruised knees. He does not want nor care. He thinks about it for a time that passes unseen; there are earfuls of slow breathing. The pulse in his crotch had cooled several minutes before. The pulse is currently residing in his throat, where there is hot constriction.

It would be possible to cry like this. So suddenly. It would be a relief.

That he could do without.

"Miranda."

She has fallen asleep.

--

The next morning arrives with Lavi lying back on the floor, stretched unceremoniously across the knitted blanket that Allen had given him. This will become a key point as he snores unbidden. But, as he hears someone opening a door and dogs barking, he's rudely awakened to find one of the dogs biting the tip of his nose.

"What the holy hell!"

"Oh dear, Lavi, are you all right? This one likes to bite, it's a love-bite, it won't hurt you," a voice is saying, bare feet stopping in front of his bitten nose once the dog has been reproached.

He rubs the crust out of his eyes, checking to see he hasn't lost any body parts throughout his sleep. He's surprised he'd fallen asleep, at that, what with the whole vicarious post-coital thing, in addition to his practiced dialogue toward an imaginary Miranda about so-and-so and what the hell will they do?

"It's all right," he says, laughing if off. "Morning."

"Good morning," she says cheerfully, cherry-cheeked and glowing.

He can't blame her. And a part of him, very small of course, is slightly jealous. Slightly.

"I was just about to do the wash. Don't worry about the dogs coming to attack you again. I've told Allen time and again to get those dogs a home, and I, frankly, don't think he's taking me seriously."

Lavi doesn't quite know what to say to that.

Lenalee adjusts her dress—the sash that cuts her dress in half just below her breasts—and turns to carry the basket outside. The bow in the back is made of pink irony. Lavi sits contemplating this and is too soon interrupted by Allen's skipping footsteps into the house.

"Allen, your ass is grass if you don't obey your wife," Lavi says, thinking of the deceptive bow.

Allen looks up from the table from where he's lain out the picked vegetables and herbs. "Mm, I don't think there's anything to worry about," he says contentedly, sighing and dipping the herbs into a pail of water on the floor.

Lavi gets up and folds his arms, debating whether to poke a hole through him or to stay quiet.

"Allen. You have a decent ceiling. Really, you do."

"I do?" Allen studies it, confused, like a lost child.

"But I must say this. It is not decent enough. More like, it is so indecent that I, as your friend, would recommend a better ceiling."

"Why? Is it bad to look at?"

Here, Lavi keeps himself from bursting and smiling condescendingly at the same time. "No, it's rather thin."

"Thin."

"Yes. Thin."

It dawns on Allen. All the way, inch by inch, a royal flush. He drops his jaw, mouths a few words. He is man enough to clear his throat. "I, uh, I'm…"

"Don't be embarrassed." Lavi smirks.

"Ah, r-really?"

"No, be very, very, very embarrassed, for I've never heard anything like it. In all my travels, and all the people I've met, I've never had the opportunity to witness, or technically, hear, such an event. In all actuality, you should be rewarded for your efforts."

Allen looks at him in woeful horror.

"She is as big as a whale. And if you can get around that, you're a true sport. I applaud you."

Allen flares his nostrils and ducks his head as he pays mind to the very, very busy cleaning. "I'd—I'd forgotten you were down here. I apologize."

Lavi rolls up his pallet, sure that he would never forget this experience. No one could. Ever.

"Look, Lavi," Allen says.

"I was on the wireless with Miranda last night," Lavi says.

Allen sighs in relief. Then. He chokes. "Did, she…didn't hear. Anything. Right?"

He sounds like he's pulled the wrong lever.

Lavi drawls, "Oh, I suppose. I wouldn't count on it, though. The thunder wasn't too, too loud to deprive her of your sportsmanship skills." He winks at Allen, who looks as if he's not very far from committing suicide.

"Oh my God, oh my God."

Lavi takes the wilting stems from Allen's hands. "It's all right, let it out. It's not good to bottle it up."

"Oh my God."

"That's right, just like that."

"I have never. Been. So embarrassed. In my entire. Life."

Komui's speech is probably echoing around Allen's head, dulling in comparison.

"Should we tell Lenalee?" Lavi ventures teasingly. Then again, he is a tad serious—for his own sake and sanity.

Allen puts on a firm expression. "No. It was her idea to begin with! Not mine! Oh my God."

"I never knew you had it in you. No, wait, I never knew Lenalee was this adventuresome. Phwoooar."

"Lavi, please."

"Miranda didn't either, most definitely." Smile.

"Lavi!"

"What are you two rowing about?" Lenalee says, flinging the door open and practically looking like Mother Nature herself right then and there. Her hair hangs down to her elbows, half up and pinned. She is babe material, pun unintended.

"What timing, Lenalee. I was telling your husband here how well he does his job."

"Bookman!"

Lavi notices Allen's fist balling up in front of his body where Lenalee cannot see.

She narrows her eyes. "Is that so?"

Or maybe she has the sharpest eyes in the country.

"Yes," Lavi and Allen nod together, one smiling toothily and the other grinding his teeth, still red in the face.

"Hm, I would have believed it, if Allen had found the dogs a home when I asked him to. You know, dear, I'm not looking forward to four children two take care of. We need all the space we can manage."

Allen continues to watch Lavi and says, hesitantly, "And that is why I work for the company in London."

"That's hardly working," Lenalee snips.

"It's not playacting," Allen snips back, glancing at her.

"Oh Allen," she says darkly, in contrast to just a few minutes earlier.

The door slams shut behind her as she returns to the wash.

Allen chuckles humorlessly to himself. "You know…"

"I'm afraid to know."

"Maybe telling her wouldn't be such a terrible idea. Then we wouldn't have to make love ever again. At this rate, I really don't care."

Allen can bluff his way through a round of cards, and Lavi, having lived through it, knows when to call him on it. Though, he doesn't now.

Instead, Lavi whistles. "Make love, haha, is that what you kids are callin' it these days?"

"Hey. Then what do you call it?"

"Ehh—fucking."

"What, Lavi, that's—"

"Crude, yeah."

"Eck. This is none of my business, but I don't see why Miranda would like hearing that."

"She doesn't. It's in my head."

And he reaches over to knock some sense into Allen's.

--

Some time later, Lavi follows Lenalee outside to observe her domestic nature. For a while she is organized in her washing, almost militant in timing every shirt and pant and piece. She glowers at a stain that won't budge, splashing soapy water all over the earth. She takes a break and tucks her hair behind her ears, sliding her hands to her lower back, relaxing against them while standing.

"Are you going to watch this whole time," she says.

"No, I could help."

"Please do."

"But I'm not the helping type."

She makes a displeased sound.

"Joking, Lenalee, let me have it." He motions for the stained shirt.

"Like my husband just did?"

Allen does have a solid fist, which he's not afraid to use, even on a houseguest.

"How'd you know that?"

"I'm his wife. I know these things." She harrumphs and smiles despite herself. She eyeballs Lavi.

"C'mon, Lenalee, you're gonna pop. Move aside and lemme do it."

"That's nice to hear, coming from you," she says dryly. But she does move aside for him. And she does seem more relaxed. Thus, they may speak openly. And Lavi can stand at ease.

Lavi is quick to wring out the sheets, after the realization has hit him that these sheets might have been under them. Last night. Not to mention whenever, every night. Perhaps they did some really dirty deeds on these sheets.

"Lavi?"

"Yeah?" He hides his cringing and prepares to hear something along the lines of Allen's the one who made me do it, honest, he's a horny beast.

"How's Kanda?"

"K-Kanda?"

"Yes, you remember that one Exorcist, don't you? You know, the one with the long dark hair and temperament to match?"

"That sounds like Kanda."

"Is he…? How is he?"

Lavi has been chewing the hell out of his lip, thinking quickly of how to distract her.

"Like I told you, he's getting along out there." He laughs once, doesn't look at her, and hangs too long on the laundry line. He picks up a fallen stocking and sees past it into memories he's never going to share. There must be a conclusion to this story. He cannot find it.

He remembers that he is holding Lenalee's stocking, guessing where it has been and will go once her legs have lost their weight.

"Sorry. What did you say?" he asks, trying not to show anything that'll give up his determination to remain mum.

"Kanda's all right, isn't he? How well is he doing? He's not in trouble or anything? He's eating all right?"

"Maybe not his soba, but he's getting what's good for 'im." He's lying. It's an awful job, but one must do what's in their best interests. Lavi, not Bookman, must do. (Bookman has a weird relationship with humanity, otherwise.)

"Oh?"

"Why?"

She doesn't move nor speak. A bluebird lands on the laundry line, as silent as she.

Lavi sighs. "Don't tell me. You're in love with him."

"That was a long time ago," she says stiffly.

"Hmm."

"Don't hmm me! Lavi. That was a long time ago, before Allen joined the Order, end of discussion."

"Okay, okay, don't have a baby."

"Ha. Ha. You're so funny, Mister Bookman Sir."

"Sinfully."

He admires his work.

She inspects his work.

"How did you get that out? It's taken me ages to scrub it."

"I'm a master in the obscure." He salutes her. "At your service."

"Too bad you're not a launder. The town would love you."

"No thanks, miss, I've already got me a booked schedule. You should see how I rough it in them libraries."

His jokes will eventually run out.

She blushes over the sheets that are hanging, staring at them. Lavi should keep his mouth shut. Wiping her cheeks, she kneels down to lift the basin.

"Lenalee, you're insane. Didn't the midwife warn you against this?"

"Don't you start on that, too. Allen was ranting about the same thing early on, and—"

"Yeah, with good reason."

"You're taking his side in this?"

"Uh, Lenalee, if you haven't noticed? You're thiiis big. Which means. Biiig baby. That makes sense, right?"

"Oh, you men. Fine. If you think I'm not strong enough."

"That's not the point. I'll dump it."

"Tip it beside the privy. Please."

"There. What else on your plate?"

"Come to think of it, where's Allen?"

Because one would naturally associate Allen Walker with kitchenware.

"He said he had work."

"He went into the city?"

And here is where Lavi discovers that Lenalee can tut-tut like an expert.

"Seems so. He also mentioned something about your rabid pack of wolves." Otherwise known as the homeless dogs Allen brought home to his dear wife, one after the next, when he felt sorry for them roaming the fields.

She smiles, and he smiles back. He feels warm. He feels droplets. On his bitten nose.

"I cannot believe it," Lenalee says, about to go raging over the laundry. "This is so not funny at all."

"It's just a little rain, Lenalee."

"Lavi, you do the laundry, and then tell me it's just a little rain."

He compares the notion to something else. "But…I just did."

They scramble to collect the wet laundry.

--

Storm clouds are approaching. Lenalee has let the dogs in from their doghouse and prepped the stove. These summer storms are an oddity. And so is Lenalee, all bent over and blowing alcohol from her mouth into the crackling fire like a fire breather at the circus, well-trained and with good form. Lavi puts his hands in front of his face to block the coming explosion. (He remembers somebody's words: What I see may be…as startling as fire in water.)

Yet there isn't an explosion of any kind. Just a bigger and better fire to heat the house and its damp occupants.

"Now where in the world did you learn a thing like that?" he asks, stunned. What he would have said otherwise is censored for her ears—not that they could be considered innocent.

She straightens. She is almost demure in the way the flames glint off her eyes, casting shadows across her lids. His jealousy wavers. "Allen wanted to join the circus after we married. He tried convincing me that I've got what it takes to be a tightrope walker. Yes, a Walker. It was his own little joke."

"That's Allen for you. Um, Lenalee."

"What?

"Are you going to drink that?" Since she hasn't safely stashed the liquor from the fire just yet.

"Oh no, I was preparing to toss it into the alley, where Allen buries his cigarettes."

Lavi's eye twitches. "So you know about that."

"Yes I know about that."

"Ha."

"It is rather funny. He thinks I don't see him making desperate leaps to smoke a few while I'm off in the loo and whatnot. It's the smell. The odor is dreadful."

She could be omitting a few precious details about how the odor is also sherry on cloth.

"Am I to presume you're taking it in stride and letting him get off without so much as a slap to his esteem?"

She nods perfunctorily, sitting on her hands on the stool in front of the fire, bottle placed behind her. "He's an idiot, but an adorable idiot, and I can't keep myself from even loving that part of him. No matter if it's yucky. Unless, like, it's, God forbid, perverted, then—" She sticks out her tongue.

"Perverted, eh?"

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, I do. Perverted as the sky is blue?"

"Huh?"

"Because the sky is rarely that." And because, he is traumatized and is owed restitution.

"Lavi, that's nonsense."

"No, it's true. The sky is not truly blue. Neither is it true-blue, according to what's outside."

"It must be the moisture in the air. The—"

And there is thunder crashing right outside their door.

Lenalee shakes the nerves out of her skin. "Dear Lord, that was loud."

"Aren't you worried about your adorable idiot who might be running like a madman through the storm? What if he trips and drowns in a puddle? What if he gets struck by lightning? What if he gets a craving for a smoke, forgets himself, and decides to go his own way, during which he trips into a puddle just as lightning strikes! Suddenly, you are a widow. Without an adorable idiot husband to have and to hold till death do you part."

She merely shrugs. "Meh. He's been hit by worse."

"Allen was right! You are unfeeling!"

"Bah." She pouts.

"You're too unfeeling."

She picks at her cuticles. "And what about you? What goes on in that head of yours? Any plans?"

"Plans for what?"

"Plans to have any children of your own?"

"I'm sorry, Lenalee, but I just don't carry that kind of equipment."

"Lavi."

His smile melts. He attempts a shrug.

"Lavi, I know you can't marry. What you said before about the rules, yada yada. Sometimes, rules can be broken, are meant to be broken, as they say. Nothing stops you from going for what you want, isn't that it?"

"It's not what I want."

"Then what is it?"

"Miranda doesn't know."

"She may know and is just too tetchy of it."

"Ya think she's…not saying it?"

"It?" Lenalee rubs her belly, lips parted, as well as her knees. "You mean marriage?"

"Or whatever it may be." Lavi averts his eyes.

"It's probably marriage. She might be frustrating over it right now. She might be desperate to say, Lavi, oh Bookman, marry me, you idiot! Wouldn't that wake you up?"

"Similar to the incident of the husband in the rain?" he argues lightly, to change topics.

"Lavi, watch where you're standing, the rack will fall back. Come here, sit with me."

"Tha's okay."

"And no, I told you. Allen has triumphed over tougher adversaries, as you may know."

"I'm thinking lightning, for one, would kill him on the spot."

She makes a face, motions for him to sit in the bench, or to perhaps have a taste of liquor to put him right again. Right as rain, eh?

It's not like his husband's out in the storm.

"I don't drink," he says.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Are you gonna tell me Allen drinks?"

"Haha! As if I would let him. No. I've learned a few things from the locals about housekeeping. For instance, liquor for sanitation and easy fire upstart," she gestures and nods at the stove, "flower wreathes to mask the odor of children loath to bathing," she shakes her head sadly, "and last but not least, for instance, getting your husband to volunteer for the more domestic institutions usually bestowed upon us women."

"Yeah?"

Lenalee swishes her hair. "Allen has nimble fingers."

"Wow, Lenalee, you're one lucky girl."

"Oh hush, Lavi. That innuendo of yours is where Allen gets it." She struggles up, not too disapprovingly, from the stool and waddles over to the trunk against the opposite wall. He watches the bow on her back as she lifts the heavy lid and retrieves something.

"Look! Isn't he comely?"

"Allen…makes baby clothes." Lavi will have to let him have it if Allen doesn't get struck by lightning.

"Isn't he the sweetest?"

"What precision. I never would have thought he'd pick up a needle."

She twirls with the nearly completed baby chemise. Lavi must let him have it no matter if Allen gets struck by—

Crash, bang!

Lavi and Lenalee turn their heads to stare at the intruder in their midst, both having been in the middle of loving Allen's knitting patterns.

"Allen!" Lenalee shouts.

"Lenalee!" Allen shouts, just as the thunder crashes down again.

Lavi dives out of the way as Allen stomps across the floor, dripping all over the place, bag of supplies left in his wake. His shoes make squelching noises until he stops in front of Lenalee.

"Allen, what is that?" she says seriously.

He is breathing unevenly and nervously. That in question is a furry head peeking out of his untied blouse, two yellow eyes wide with wonder.

Lavi starts to laugh.

Lenalee stares back at the yellow eyes, and furry head, and pointed ears, and—

It's a cat.

"Allen Walker," she says, arms akimbo to her hips in that No getting past me manner.

Allen laughs with Lavi, although begrudgingly, like he's too tired for it and just wants to help another out. "Lenalee, see? The poor kitty was in the rain, see? And I couldn't bear to leave her. She was crying like a baby."

Lenalee is not falling for it.

One would think she'd be grateful to have her husband, unharmed, back in her life.

But Lenalee is also a person to hit men and blow alcohol into the stove, vindicated in her wiles.

"Please, Lenalee? She's soaked."

"And so are you. You'll catch cold, then I'll catch cold, then our baby will catch cold."

"Aww, Lenaleeee."

"Don't."

"But! The poor kitty! And that's not the worst of it! She had a master, but it was a child! A child. They were like two babies out in the storm, I had to save them."

"Them. Them? Oh God, Allen, you didn't bring home the child."

"No! I didn't! Um."

"What."

"The child was homeless."

"A homeless child?"

"Yeah!"

Lenalee tightens her shoulders and gingerly rests the vest on top of the trunk lid. She is slow in mulling this over and deciding whether she should heed Allen's wet banter.

"Hey, mate?" Lavi says, scratching his neck.

Allen looks at him.

"Where's the kid?"

"Oh. It's—I left him at the midwife's, when I got back into town."

"Ah man."

She surprises them by lifting the cat out of Allen's soaked blouse. "Darling, you're absolutely drenched," she says, very softly, and her meaning, supposedly, is addressed to both the cat and Allen.

"I was going to leave her with the boy, but the midwife says she gets the snuffles around pets," Allen replies, in the softest tone to mirror her softening face.

Lenalee eyes him through her lashes; then runs her finger down the bridge of the cat's nose. It goes cross-eyed. "The dogs won't like this."

"They'll be fine."

"We can't keep her forever, Allen."

"I know. I'll find the boy a home."

"No, I'll find him a home. I'll pay another visit to the midwife tomorrow. You keep searching for the dogs' sake, and now, this one's."

Lavi coughs, swallowing. "Er, welcome back, Allen. We thought you were a goner."

Allen smiles to the cat in Lenalee's arms. "Mm—never." Removing his wet gloves, he massages the cat's spine with his black fingers.

--

Lavi learns that the baby kicks at the oddest of times. For instance, it tries to communicate its jealousy when others move in on its family-to-be, something like, Just wait till I come out there. It may even be a delayed reaction to all the sex.

It's probably not a good idea, but Lavi keeps it to himself, like everything else.

--

Allen hadn't made it to London, needless to say, before he had met the homeless boy and kitten in some wild bushes.

Which meant his boss had been expecting him until the storm had hit.

Which meant Allen hadn't gotten paid for the weeks of stage art or rehearsals over the past month.

Which means, now, that Allen is penniless and busy stroking a recovered feline by the fire, the dogs growling quietly in their circle in the corner.

And that Lavi is letting him have it:

"I see that you knit, Allen."

Allen automatically loses his concentration and turns purple. "I!"

"Knit. Yeah."

"It's not knitting! It's crocheting!"

Like he's that French.

Lavi gives him a crooked smile. "Interesting."

Lenalee hums while stirring the meat into the porridge.

Lavi makes a whiplash sound against his cheek, flicking an invisible whip through the air so that, hopefully, Lenalee will not notice.

Allen scowls. "If you even dare tell Kanda—"

"I'll be sure to tell him, dare or no dare."

"Why you bas—"

"Boys," Lenalee says, humming, although they will not contradict her, the tone only a prelude for what's next to come.

Allen bobs his head to mimic the kitten, both orphans dry and overall comfortable. Allen does not fool Lavi; moreover, Allen gives him a sharp glare and says, "If you tell Kanda, I'll tell Miranda."

Lavi would love to see that happen.

"Tell her what?"

Empty threat is empty.

"Oh I'll tell her."

"What?"

Allen points to Lenalee's swollen bosom with his pinky finger, implying an immediate threat that Lavi will not put past Allen if he knows what's good for him.

Lavi thumbs his nose at him, promising. Humor him.

Lavi is not sure what he is promising, and he's not sure, nor will he ever be, of how he himself will walk out when all is said and done. How he will smile and return to being Bookman, day by day, looking forward to certain nights when Miranda may or may not be there to wait on him, give him those unpardonable kisses and touches and feelings.

Tyki Mikk had only made him feel harder years ago.

--

There is always so much to remember, total recall of one-eyed times.

He could question himself. What is death? He would do this, and he does it now, thinking up ways to misguide these questions into obscurity, as he remains obscured to the world.

He stands in the privy, forehead pressed to the door to look out between the cracks.

Lavi hears it pounding in his head:

Lavi, mind where you're going.

Sorry, Gramps.

Hmph. Don't think it.

I'm not.

Don't feel, either. Look past the faces, they do not exist anymore.

--

After an early supper, during which Lavi loses his appetite and Allen more than makes up for it, they converse like adults about current happenings and Do you remember when this happened?; and then they part for bed like children, saying Nighty-night and Don't be scared of the doggies, they won't bite. Lavi sees Allen pat Lenalee on the ass as she ascends the stairs with their new pet in arms, and she giggles and says for him to mind his manners.

Well, hohoho, look who's talking.

Lavi is feeling feverish. The ground floor is too hot; his shirt is too heavy. He undresses to his drawers, senses how it feels to have his skin grow colder and hotter simultaneously. He runs a comb through his knotted hair that tickles his shoulder-blades, flipping naturally. He sneaks out to visit the privy, and then sneaks back in, all the while half-naked.

Due to the storm, the sky is darker tonight and hovering in the meantime. He stands by the back window, open palm on the drape, feeling the coarseness of it and seeing the currents above, wanting to call Miranda and not doing it.

He organizes his time wisely and jots a few notes down into his unofficial log, pupils dilating as the fire in the stove shrinks into flecks that will not give up warming him. He wants to sponge himself, to inhale and exhale this couple's life out of his own.

He wants a cigarette so badly that he wonders—and this is being reasonable—if he hits the ceiling with a broom to get Allen's attention, will Allen agree to buy him some in the morning?

Lavi is about to pick up the broom when he suddenly hears, like the door banging open earlier, arguing that rises in pitch. And nothing as deep as philosophy either.

Mumbling. Fumbling. Footsteps. Something falling to the floor.

Lavi fakes resuming his sweeping as footsteps pound down the stairs. He glances up, casual in his drawers and half hoping, in such minor detail, that it's Lenalee, so he may judge if he should talk at all.

But it's Allen, red and affronted. His hair is loose around his shoulders.

"H-hi," he says.

"Hi," Lavi echoes.

"I, uh, I'm sleeping with you tonight, if you don't mind."

"And Allen! If you do as much as creep up here in the middle of the night, I shall know about it!" Slam!

Lavi, momentarily distracted by the thunderous ceiling, sizes Allen up. Allen puts his hands behind his back, clothed in his undergarments.

"Looks like your ass is grass."

"I don't understand it," Allen sneers. He drags a blanket behind him.

"There's only one pillow," Lavi warns him, carefully.

"Care to share?"

"No. You can suffer."

"Bah." Allen spreads his own pallet beside Lavi's for whatever reason Lavi is not going to figure out right now. "I guess…you heard all that."

"Not totally. Should I mention what preceded it?"

"You heard that?"

"No, I was lying. What did I not hear?"

"Lavi, be quiet."

"I'm kinda curious. It was wild last night, it might've been wild this night."

"Shuddup."

"Don't be like Kanda now. Do tell." Or he'll grind him, he'll grind him good.

Lavi lies there for a minute, breathing, and listens to Allen breathing in the ensuing darkness. He is blank; Lavi rolls over Allen then, hands planted firmly on both sides of Allen's head, the edge of the rug poking into his palms.

"Lavi?"

"Tell me."

"It's dumb."

"When we look back, we all say that. That funny shit. But now, tell me now."

"I said something awful to her about…those days. It wasn't me, it was her, really. She thought I was calling her a—"

"Whore. I heard."

"Yeah. And I told her that it was ridiculous for her to think of it as such, and that she must understand how it was—how awful it had been for me in my apprentice years. And then…when she wouldn't listen, I told her the ceiling—the floor is thin, and she thought I was calling her fat."

"I heard that part, too." Yes he did.

"She thought I was calling her fat. Isn't that just…?"

"No."

"Lavi, that's horrid. So, she kicked me out, saying she'll be a fat whore in peace."

"She's one hot-tempered pregnant lady."

"You don't need to tell me twice."

"You married her."

Lavi hovers like a raincloud over Allen's chest, arms getting sore. The fevered feeling has tapered into a gut feeling, body measuring the distance between them as small, reading it as astronomical.

"It's funny, how telling someone something important can change all things, or most things," Allen whispers.

"Don't beat yourself up over it, mate," Lavi says. "Forget it."

"It's not that. I was going to say, this, this of what I have, is what I'm happy with. I appreciate her answers toward me—er, untoward me, because they show some sort of passion."

Lavi opens his mouth. "I wonder."

"I wonder, too—for she could have chosen Kanda over me."

"You know?" Lavi's leg rubs against Allen's.

"Yes, because she told me that it was a long time ago, and if you pestered me with it, that I not believe you. I know, though, I know she, in her way, loved him."

"That's not meant to hurt you. She did love him to—well, a lot, until you came along."

To death, to death, to death. Lavi cannot muster up his courage to say it, one word that can be taken in jest, as a passionate metaphor.

Allen shivers beneath him. "She probably loved you at some point, assumedly."

"She might've, if Komui had let us go on missions alone together, like I would have hoped. Hang on, now I see why Lenalee would misinterpret you."

"Shuddup," Allen whispers, the happily defeated one. He is more confident than he lets on.

"Now don't go on misinterpreting me, Allen. You're a fine catch. Face the fact you're wanted, and needed, and loved, and then you'll get on all right." And nobody, nobody's objecting.

Lavi watches as Allen's tongue pokes out to lick his lips, how Allen fidgets, adjusting his angle to reach up and touch Lavi's cheeks with his hands. For fuck's sake.

Lavi wants to laugh, to break the silence, the whisperings of would-be ghosts and real fire, would-be memories and real expression; and finally, allowed, unstopped, Lavi can lower, lower his lips to Allen's, without a hand to block him, nothing, nothing, nothing in between them but reality and easy configurations that mean there is, and there will be.

Allen's hands are there, but they are not.

"Lavi," he whispers. Fingers drift over Lavi's chin, release. Touch and release.

"I had to do it," Lavi says, voice cracking.

And even though it's not clear, it's candid, and if Lavi, Bookman, has to leave, then he's leaving with some answers.

All along, in the pit of his stomach, he's been wondering when they'll be expecting those kinds of answers from him, and if he'll be able to open his mouth again, intended this time, and say it.

--

The next thing he is aware of is the licking, maybe of a dog's tongue, against his nose. Wet on his forehead. Wet on his hair, hairline, something wet against his earlobes, where his metal earrings weigh them down. He realizes that he hurts. He breathes as if he's been dead all night, and someone is sponging, actually sponging his neck.

"Shhh," she says.

"Lenalee?"

"I'm here."

Lavi cracks his eyes open, wider, to see her kneeling beside him with a cloth in her hand, poised to wipe his eyes. A cold compress, just for him.

"You were having a bad dream?" she asks.

"No. I don't dream."

She sighs under her breath, perhaps beyond asking, combing the hair away from his ears with her nails. "You're hot in the head."

"I've always been hot in the head, you know me."

"I meant," she smoothes his eyebrow with a finger, "you have a fever."

"I don't get sick. I'm not ill. Don't even think abou' bleedin' me."

Lenalee purses her lips, apples of her cheeks straining in suppressed amusement. "They don't do that anymore, and if they did, not in these parts."

"Isn't that a relief," he says dryly, taking the cloth for himself to press it into the underside of his chin. The hard floor comes back to him, the pallet in disarray beneath, legs challenged by the blanket wrapped around his lower half.

"I told you, you have a fever," she says, and he has to remind her that he never gets sick and refuses to be. "You're sick now," she says.

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Are—Lavi. Stop."

"Am not," he adds. He attempts to kick the blanket off, but Lenalee blocks him.

"You are, and you're not leaving this house, when you choose to do so, while you are. Do I make myself plain?"

When he chooses to forsake them, that is, which is by far plainer in her tone.

"When did you get to be so—?" He stops, letting her reposition his pillow.

"I'm pregnant."

"I got that."

"Allen's drawing you a bath."

"Nah, he doesn't have to do that. You don't have to do anythin'. Lemme—get up." Prop.

"Lavi."

Unprop.

For a moment he expects to hear Bookman.

Lavi doesn't forsake; Bookman does. Two parallels within one person; he needs two hearts, not one. This is not the main, nor is it the problem. Either way, he'll be in the wrong, and he wants to know, someday, that his actions are pardonable, have to be pardonable for someone with one heart but two lives, warring and trumping each other.

"What are you thinking?" she asks, standing up to massage her backside.

"I'm thinking…I don't get sick." Both Lavi and Bookman do not get sick, end of story.

It takes Allen a while to pump the water and heat it to a decent temperature, and during which, Lavi remains quiet, watching them move about, speaking to each other as if he's not there on their floor, trapped and with fever. He watches listlessly, uncharacteristic of him, as they mumble about work and if they should have a proper discussion about it; they are married and suddenly, it seems unfair. Like there's something to miss, that he's missing every single second.

It's not the love, no. It's not the almost-guaranteed sex, no. It's not the…

Maybe it's the dependence.

He's been independent for so long, he's curious about the other side of it. The side Kanda would spit on.

Oh Yuu.

Take this to him, with that inside, you fucking stalker. If you lose it, I won't care. But don't lose it.

"Lavi, wake up." Lavi, don't forget.

Lavi covers his eyes with his arm, moaning. Lavi, take this to him. Them.

"You fell asleep. Up, up you go."

"Allen. I can walk."

Lavi grows dizzy and nearly slides back down to the floor. Allen's fingers catch under his arms.

"I've drawn the bath for you."

"So?"

"So, you're gonna use it. I've used Komui's design, the kind with the coals on the bottom. I had to let the bottom cool off. He had wanted to build an outdoor bath for Lenalee when we first started on the house."

"Those outdoor baths, they'll be popular, you'll see," Lavi grunts, awkward on his feet, fists rubbing his eyes because he feels that coddling that comes with the territory of having friends wait on you. Allen is leading him to the corner of the house with the room divider, where the metal tub comes into view, inviting him to drown himself in lukewarm water. He immediately begins to unbutton his drawers.

He drops them, scratching himself listlessly.

"Ermmm," Allen says, who Lavi has absolutely not forgotten, never ever. Lavi puts a foot into the water, plunging to the knee.

"Allen, if I drown, tha's okay, I'm prepared to die."

Allen is laughing, Lavi is pleased to hear. "Why does that sound familiar?"

"It might have been what I said that time."

"Oh. Um. Get in, and sweat it out."

"What?"

"The fever."

"I don't have a fever." Lavi listens in spite of his own denial, sinking up to his eyes, gurgling the water, hair floating on top, earrings sinking him deeper, back into the womb, where he may live on its fluids.

Allen touches Lavi's head above the water, staring at him behind lashes that don't even flutter. His eyes are demanding something.

Lavi doesn't want to know. He shivers despite the water, body made of grog.

"See?" Allen says.

"I see nothing."

"Lavi."

"I see nothing."

"What are you saying?"

"Nothin'."

"Does this…have to do with…me?"

Lavi holds his hand out above, palm flat. Allen guesses that he'd like soap, and Lavi's given just that, although Allen looks like he's on the verge of Invocation, given that he can still do it. Lavi creates a good froth of foam to keep himself from answering. It's that time, though. The time has come, the time is now, this time shall pass, replaced by a new time, et cetera. And all the while, there is a kind of affectation denied, none the wiser.

The heat and chills surround him in the womb.

Lavi shakes his head, to stave off the questions that are bound to happen.

Allen is on his knees, to stare Lavi down into the bath.

"Where's Lenalee?"

"Out."

"Shouldn't you be out yourself?"

"I'll manage. You're my concern now."

Lavi swallows, reflexively letting go of the soap. He feels it beat against him on the waves of the water. Fire in water.

He's going to go crazy, he knows this. He'll go crazy if he doesn't pick up his pieces and go. And soon.

A headache winds around his head as fast as a bullet through headcheese. Allen becomes a blur, and Lavi must get his bearings. Damn him, damn him, damn himself.

"Are you all right? Are you gonna pass out?"

"It's just a fucking fever," Lavi says, flaring his nostrils. It's more than a fucking fever.

"If that's the way you feel about it," Allen says. Lavi doesn't feel anything about it on the contrary. Allen fills their silence with a pot of water.

Lavi pushes him away with the last of his strength, sputtering through the water washing over his face. He's being picked on, this is grand.

"Tell me, or you're getting another douse," threatens Allen, as if Lavi had truly wanted to drown, and that Allen's doing him a favor. He dips the pot-from-nowhere into the water for that purpose, Lavi shrinking away from it against the sting of the metal. Or is it porcelain?

"Listen, Allen."

"I've been listening. Lavi, you're an idiot."

"Don't call me an idiot, you ingrate."

"What did you call me?"

"You heard."

They scowl.

Splash!

"Al—Allen!" Lavi sputters, accidently kicking the side of the tub. He goes under for a second until Allen drags him up roughly by the arm.

"I've been listening to you, Lavi, but you're not telling me what I need to hear!"

"What? What do you need to hear?"

Allen's undershirt is soaked from all the splashing, white transparency clinging to his nipples. Lavi catches his breath and looks away.

"Tell me the truth."

"I'm telling you the truth," Lavi growls, flicking water into Allen's face.

"No you're not!"

"Well, are you accusing me of lying to you?"

"I see more than you think, Lavi. Don't take me for a fool."

"But you are."

"I may have been a fool before, true, true—"

"Allen, let me wash alone. Go away."

"No. Tell me first."

"I said, sod off."

"And I'm saying, hell no."

Lavi tightens his jaw, the urge to gawk kicking in. He doesn't know how to turn his back without looking, and acting, like an immature brat. How convenient it must be for Lenalee to be out. How convenient it is that Lavi is cornered, in the tub, pruning already and itching to scream his heart out.

It's just the headache.

It is Lavi's turn to hang his head, to say, "I'm not a liar. I'm not lying."

"I can tell you are."

"I'm not."

"We're not gonna do this, Lavi."

"Then let's not, shall we?"

Allen huffs, standing, kneeling, standing, going to kneel and then bending over, hands gripping the rim of the tub. He lifts his head, his gray eyes with the blue specks in them, to Lavi's eyes, imploring.

It's bad, isn't it? his eyes say.

"What the fuck, will you let me be, I'm trying to bathe here," Lavi says, defensively trying not to be on the defense. He'll defend his fort of lies till the last truth.

"I will not move until you tell me."

He has to leave. This is Allen's house, this is Allen's tub, this is Allen's water, this is Allen's will. This is not correct, because Lavi has a will of his own; he can love it, he can hate it.

It's all coming down to this. God-fucking-damn it, let him go.

"Are you my friend?" Allen asks.

Lavi looks at him. Are you my friend? Are you? You see nothing, and I see a hypocrite.

Allen is waiting for him, like Miranda in the south.

"I'm taking…a bath."

"Are we friends?"

Lavi breathes, in, out, in. That mirthless piece coming down has fallen into place.

"Kanda's dying," he says. No take-backs.

"What," Allen says sharply.

"He's dying."

Allen is quiet, unmoving like a rock. Somehow, though, he's rising to his feet, sidestepping nothing, not giving a backward glance. He breezes past the divide closest to the front door, leaving the house with a slam of the front door.

Shows how much he knows.

Lavi remains in the cooling water for what seems like forever and a dying day, breathing through his nostrils, puff, puff. He thinks about the letter and bracelet.

--

When Allen returns, Lavi has left the bath alone. He is sitting on the bench, envelope in lap, barely dressed for this encounter. They don't say anything when Allen closes the door behind him, nor do they say anything when Allen takes long strides across the floor toward him.

"I've brought you food," Allen says. "It's dried stuff, for your journey."

"You were gone a long time."

"How does it feel?" Allen says snidely, then sighs. "Lavi, I don't want to fight about this."

He is serious, more than usual from what Lavi's been acquainted with. Either Lenalee is rubbing off on him, or it's the other way around, and Allen is the root of Sharp Tongue.

"You're right. Kanda dying is a ridiculous thing to fight about."

Allen gets a glare in his eye, putting a fingertip to the corner of one, presumably to scratch out dust. "He's really…?"

"Yes. As far as I know."

Lavi stands up to receive the parcel of food. Allen holds it aloft, daring him. "Let me see that."

Although Lavi is still taller than him, he feels smaller.

Lavi thinks that this is not a game. And if it is, he doesn't want to play anymore. He concedes to Allen, slipping the unsealed envelope into the awaiting palm.

"Don't read it until I leave," Lavi warns.

"No, don't leave." Wise Allen keeps the parcel for himself. "Don't leave yet."

"I have to."

"Don't leave."

"I have to." Because inevitably, Lavi is Bookman, and Bookman must always leave. Bookman can do without a stupid parcel.

Allen now holds the parcel in one hand and the envelope in the other, both behind his back.

Lavi fingers the handle of his bag. "I've done my job."

"What? No. Don't, don't leave. If you leave, Lenalee will worry. She'll be upset. She'll want to say her goodbyes."

"I might come back someday," Lavi says, as if uninterrupted.

"If you leave, I'll…" Lavi waits for Allen's voice. "I'll miss the death out of you."

This is exactly why. This is exactly why Lavi hadn't wanted to return; he would have been better off doing his job elsewhere, minding his own business, stalking Kanda when it occurred to him to wonder about him, and then go back to minding his own business.

He had been right to stalk Kanda.

He had been wrong to find him.

And he had been wrong to find them.

Lavi gets ready to throw his bag against the wall but freezes at the last moment, getting his anger under control. He grits his teeth at the sight of the baby chemise poking out of the trunk, painful threads.

"God, Allen. Don't tell Lenalee."

"I won't, I'm not that much of a fool."

"'Cause if you tell her, she'll seriously go into labor. We can't have that."

Allen runs his fingers through his hair. Pain.

Why is there pain, Lavi?

It is not the question of why, but if we are allowed the luxury.

"If you tell her at all, wait. Wait till it's necessary. Maybe you shouldn't tell her at all."

"What does…Kanda want?"

Lavi shakes his head. "Read the letter." It's a fucking letter. That, and a bracelet that had adorned Kanda's wrist for years and years of life, beads miraculously unmarred.

Allen is careful not to crumple it in dismay. He, in all his love for others, and particularly that small ounce of what he feels for Kanda, is crumpling, crushed. "I just want to protect her."

"I know." Lavi knows. He wants to protect Kanda like there is nothing more to protect; and it hurts that Kanda might be gone by the time Lavi gets around to him again, in the highlands of China.

Not to protect. No, that's far too easy.

To keep him alive.

--

Miranda, as Bookman's assistant and closest friend, guards him, supports him.

Miranda, as his lover, loves him, or so he surmises.

Miranda, as his elder, advises him when he needs her; how, what, when, where, why. It is not as if he needs these directions from her.

It is as if he could not imagine life without those directions.

Bookman, without his assistant, is helpless. He has a fever, he has offended Allen, and he, apparently, wants to forsake Lenalee without a word to the wind.

Because he is Bookman?

For that, it cannot be a crime.

For that, Lavi is the only one capable of committing said crime.

But he will not commit it. Yet.

--

That evening they are joined by the boy from the bushes. He's on the small side, with curls and a button nose. The first thing Lavi says when he sees him holding Lenalee's hand at the doorway is, "Damn he's tiny," Lenalee tugging his hand gently to follow her to the dining table.

"He tells me he's eight," she says.

Allen bends down at eye level to the eight-year-old, hands on knees. "What shall we call you?"

Lavi watches as the boy's eyes reflect Allen's, a flash of similarity. It's gone.

"Lu…ke. Luke."

"Luke, is that it?"

Luke nods.

Allen puts a hand over Luke's head, like a benediction between father and son. "Would you like supper?"

Luke shakes his head quickly, a no. Shakes his head quickly, a yes.

Lenalee jostles his hand. "Luke? You want supper?"

He reaffirms it with the smallest nod.

"Supper it is," Lavi sighs, far from hungry. He can't get his appetite back.

They've decided to wait to tell her. She's a big girl, she can withstand bad news.

But she's a big pregnant girl who loves her friends dearly. Lavi is aware that his arrival alone has been demanding on her. She just hides it quite well. Too well, that it kills.

Allen seats them all and serves them soup. Allen and Lavi are choosing to act like normal, like nothing is wrong. Lenalee bites her lip, engaging the boy in more personal talk. There is a sort of tension in the air, the spaces between them, individual by individual.

"Has your fever calmed?" she asks.

"I am calm," Lavi says, shredding a roll of rye. He hates rye.

Allen isn't touching his own.

"No… I asked you if your fever's gone away," she says, speaking to him as if he's the same age as the boy.

He stops shredding it, not looking at her. She's caught him, dead.

Not yet.

"Good soup," Allen pipes up, stirring it and not slurping it like he would have.

"But…Allen, you haven't tried it yet," Lenalee says, seeming amused by his boyish behavior.

"Oh, right, um. I know it's good, it always is."

Lavi should have never told him. He speaks up. "Is Luke staying with us tonight?"

"Hmm, I don't know. He needs a place to sleep, and he can't stay at the midwife's forever. I've been walking around with him and asking practically the whole of the town what I can do for him, and everyone hasn't been much of a help. It's sad, really, he's run away from home. From the western parts of London."

"Not an orphan?" Lavi studies the boy.

Allen pushes his bowl forward, a sign of no appetite as well. "Thank God."

"Still," Lenalee says, "it means he's run away from his parents, which means he doesn't…want them."

Lavi wants to say, Too bad, send him back. Like this Luke kid is something they can send right back with a no thanks attached to it.

He grows very hot. Shame. "I'll take him."

"What?!" Allen spouts, scaring the daylights out of Luke. He jostles the table as he stands up, the basic grain of Lavi's brain saying, The Gospel according to Luke, watching this transpire. Nothing about it.

Lavi finds himself trying to swallow his voice-box. "I will, I'll take him with me."

"You can't," Lenalee says, soft as she is wise.

"I can, and I will." He's asking himself whether he's being a stand-up citizen. The only thing that ruins it is the fact that both Lavi and Bookman hardly exist.

"You cannot be serious," Allen pleads.

"He's just a child. I'll take him back with me, drop him off." Simple as pie.

"You can't simply drop him off," Lenalee says, as if reading his mind.

"Yeah, mhmm, listen to her," Allen says, nodding along.

She rolls her eyes at no one. Then she sets her spoon down. Waits. "Lavi. No. Allen." Allen's eyes swing in her direction, narrowed and suspicious. "Darling? I think, perhaps, you know? Luke could stay with us, for a while, until we can…find him a home?"

She rhymes just like the rest of them, when they've got a bundle of nerves firing away.

"Lenalee, you were saying last night how we don't have the room. We're going to be parents, have our own child to take care of, isn't that what you said? You happened to stomp on my foot?"

"I said that but—"

"I can take him with me," Lavi says.

"No, you won't," Allen says, pointing at him.

"Don't point, it's rude," Lavi says, grinning and pointing at him for emphasis.

Lenalee gives an aggravated sigh and pats Luke's hunched shoulder; the boy is literally cowering at the sounds of their voices.

They must deal with this later.

In the present, however, Allen has hidden the envelope from Lavi, so that Lavi cannot steal it or trash it, and Allen was very smart to do this, because Lavi is at his wit's end. He's never been so delirious with this sort of emotion, before paying his Visit of Doom and Dismay.

All in all, though, he's done what he's come to do; he's finished it, telling the truth. It was a harder task than any, and it doesn't stop there. It goes and goes, reporting in as a fever and meditating as a hairball from hell, as if he could cough it up and it'd be out of his system within a week. The easiest, meatiest piece of sadness once you tell the truth.

Sometimes he wonders if it's sadness; if he's confusing it with some other feeling he's never experienced. The ones at the top are the worst. Can he honestly say he's at his worst?

He's not, yet he is with everything he's got.

The last time he had felt this onslaught of horror gripping his insides was, apart from meeting Kanda months ago, the time he thought the world had gone flat, his body with it, their bodies under him. Downright knowing Kanda is dying—

It makes his palms sweat profusely, cold sweat caking his skin.

"I'm taking Luke for a walk," announces Lenalee.

Lavi hears buzzing in the silence, crickets, the stove, bad feelings; suddenly there is a full frontal assault by the enemy, his friend, the kid Walker. He thinks of this apathetically before he can un-think it.

They stand apart, cleaning up.

"You have no idea what it takes to care for a child," Allen whispers, hiding his face behind his loosened hair.

"I'm not gonna raise it," Lavi says, letting Allen do all the cleaning, including that of the bath from earlier. He lies down along the bench, cheek resting on his fist.

"Care for him, care. There's a big difference."

"You're taking this too personally, Allen."

"No, I—! I…don't know."

"As a person, all I want to do, or am obliged to do, is give him to the best of the best."

"Orphanages aren't…"

"I know, they're filth, the lot of 'em."

"Where would you take him?" Allen traipses back and forth with a pail of dirty water, dumping the refills outside the back door onto the vegetation.

"Somewhere, anywhere. I've come across some rich well-t'-does. They'd be more than happy to have 'im."

"How on earth do you know rich well-to-does?"

Lavi smirks darkly. "How on earth do I track down a dying man?"

Allen halts in his tracks, pail swinging, water splashing against his trousers and onto the floor. His expression says nothing.

Nothing says all.

"That's…not funny, Lavi."

"It's as funny as a bird with broken wings. Fly away, birdie, fly away."

"That is not funny."

"Was I laughing?"

Allen forgets the pail and loosens his tie. Silence. He begins, and there is no escape.

"You will never know how much we've thought of you, out there, after you left us. It will be impossible for you to ever fathom how it is possible to miss someone so much, to fight with them, and then to see them walk away like there's always a chance of coming back, like you'd ever do that. We understood—understand it's your job, I know, we had to move on, hope to see you someday, God willing, and then oh God forbid, we realize that you're never coming back.

"We thought that, after we married. I thought that I was never going to see you again? And Lenalee, she—mind—had it in her head to come find you, wherever you could've been! We had no way of contacting you, no one would tell us shit of you. Has anyone ever said you're like a rogue? Pardon me for saying this, but you're a stupid rogue, Lavi, and if you didn't want to be with us, that was fine. People come and go, but you never gave us a chance to—I wanna say before I forget. There was nothing. Was there nothing between us? Not even a fucking goodbye."

This is true.

Allen is picking up the pail by the handle and rushing out the door.

--

It would be impossible for it to hurt. It's not supposed to.

Then. Then why does it?

Lavi is left in a state of zero, wet eyes going dry as he lies there, inhaling nothing. Why does it…? His throat prickles, and he remembers he is a living being with lungs. Inhale, inhale, inhale.

Why is there pain, Lavi? Why do we feel pain?

And he remembers he must exhale what he inhales, lest he hyperventilate, which he does. He puts his head between his knees, knowing this will not solve anything; he paces to alleviate the muscle pain. Acid rises and falls, and he wishes he could cough up that hairball.

An idea finally becomes foolproof, like this will solve anything-everything that Lavi has said and done to him.

It's all he can do right now.

He walks out into the garden, into Allen's line of fire, for what he assumes to be. Allen is standing with his back to him, evening sun illuminating the horizon and slanting off of Allen's head, rearview in shadow. Lavi walks to him, barefoot, one step at a time, counting and listening to Allen's body language. There is that fear of being finally turned away, out of all their lives.

One point is at Allen's back, a foot away; another point is at Allen's arms, hugging himself; the third point is at the top of Allen's head, where Lavi kisses him. He proceeds to wrap his arms around Allen, testing him, making him feel the world is on his side. It's okay, you're gonna have a child of your own, it's okay that someone, maybe Yuu, is gonna die and that child will come into this world. Wailing. Because if it's wailing, it's a good sign it's alive.

"It's okay," Lavi says. He tries his hardest not to choke up, or to throw up, or to crash and burn.

--

Lenalee asks him, before bed, if Lavi needs anything.

Yes, he needs something. Should he give her a list? Let's see.

What should this list entail? How should he make it out? Should it be in order, or should it read like a mystery? Simplified, or outlined? Should he include the things that hurt, or leave that out for her to decide? And lastly, does he want her to know?

He pulls his toothbrush out of his mouth. "Eh?"

"You need anything? I've neatened your bed for you. Do you smell it?"

He sniffs and fails. "Smell what?"

"Lavender! I put a fresh bunch beside your pillow."

"That's…nice, thanks." He smiles with the toothpaste coating his teeth.

"By the way, Allen's sleeping with you tonight again. Luke is with me. For some reason, he won't—"

"Allen's… Can't he find a corner or somethin'?"

Lenalee frowns. "Uh, that's between you two. You do have the first floor to yourselves. You're not burly men, are you?"

"I'm more than burly, love. I'm burlesque." Of course, Lavi is a master with his words. Usually.

"Are you flirting with my wife, Lavi?" Allen says, padding down the stairs. "Lenalee, I've put Luke to bed. He's kinda in a, erm, bashful mood."

"Well, you're putting him to bed with a large albeit beautiful woman, who wouldn't be?" Lavi counters, brushing his tongue at the water bowl on the shelf. He inspects his mustache coming in, wanting a nice shave instead of lavender by his pillow.

Lenalee flicks his elbow and goes up to bed.

"By the time you're gone, she's going to have sat on you at least once."

Lavi ignores Allen, crawling beneath his blanket.

"I mean, she's done it to me—and I'm her husband."

"That's why. She can abuse you and you'll have to endure it 'cause life's a bitch, you're tied to her by the marriage contract, and her goofball of a brother's fist. Ha, not that the he wouldn't actually hammer you to a cross. Anyway." He has to stop himself from rhyming.

"We shouldn't talk about this, it's not polite." Allen puts on his poker face while curling under his sheet that fits over him like a glove. He faces away from Lavi in a polite gesture of enough, period.

"Sorry, that came out wrong," Lavi says.

He blocks all the memories bombarding the back of his eyes. They bombard, in an assembly line, and he knocks them off, one by one. Ticking time-bomb. He blows out the oil lamp.

"Ya know," Lavi tries, "Luke reminds me of you. That willowy physique." Allen digs his head deeper into his pillow, hair in a braid for bed so nice and neat. "You understand? He's a deviant under all that goo-goo eyed glory. I bet he'd give you a run for your money in a high-stakes poker game, what d'ya think?"

"I think… He reminds me of you."

"Nah."

"Yeah. I don't want to talk about it, but… He doesn't know where to go."

Lavi's face falls at the veiled jab, however veiled it may be. He swallows the affront: Lavi doesn't know where to go. (Bookman does.)

Allen doesn't look at him. "I will remember you—he wrote."

"Who?" Lavi already suspects.

"Didn't you read it?"

"No. The letter? No. It was for you."

Allen's voice is throaty, muffled by the pillow against his cheek. Lavi lies down away from him, straight as a board, but heavier, bulkier. "I will remember you. And, remember me. That's all."

"Read it, didja?"

"Earlier."

"Where'dja put it?"

"You can't, you can't have it."

"I'm asking you where you put it."

"It doesn't matter. It's for Lenalee's consolation, later. You absolutely, positlutely cannot have the letter, or his…"

"You're hardheaded," Lavi whispers, to himself. "Don't cry." What a baby.

--

As Lenalee would have it, Luke stays with them for the rest of the week, until Sunday morning, when the town's chapel bell rings for worship and not because it is noon. They listen.

Luke does not like the bell, so he hides under the couple's bed upstairs; they spend a considerable amount of time searching for him, from which Lavi gets the idea that Luke is, rest assured, a miniature version of Allen Walker. (Allen does not agree.)

"Oh Lenaleeee!" Lavi yells at the top of the stairs, Luke's earlobe between his fingers.

"Leggo!"

"What, you found him? Don't tell me he was up there under the bed." She sits on a stair, wagging her finger at the boy and gesturing for him to come closer. "We'd thought you ran off!"

"Leggo, tha' hurts!" Luke says, swatting at Lavi.

"I believe you owe them an apology? You're steppin' on their hospitality, kid."

"Lavi, don't say that to him."

"You're late for church."

"It's not a big deal. We only go once in a while for Allen to play the piano."

What else is new?

"He remembers that?"

"No, he—come here, Luke, I'm not mad—he doesn't remember…that. He remembers how to play it normally, and the way he plays it, people seem to like it."

"Under his spell, eh?"

Allen approaches with a shawl for her slung over his shoulder. His garb is not fancy, and neither is Lenalee's. She wipes a few fingers across Luke's baby hairs that are frizzing.

"Eww, that's your spit," Lavi says.

She laughs and hums, Luke tolerating it with an evident sourness. "It's better than naught."

Lavi watches Allen's feelings surface and then dissolve like salt into boiling water; Allen smiles.

Lavi cuts himself off from stating the obvious.

--

There are people who like to return to those times. Those times of nostalgia, when things take place and grip the person remembering, active and alive. Like a bounty-hunter in a field of plenty, you may hold onto those memories, because that's all you are allowed, capable of, indebted to.

But when you only have the memory, what is there, not left, but there? Just that.

And when you don't want just that, you don't want to accept them; or accept them, you may, love them, you may not.

Lavi is fickle with his love. He is fickle with what he likes. Therefore, he is fickle with his memories, those memories, and what may exist in his head.

Besides, he only wants to remember his comrades.

It is like no one else, nothing else, exists.

Somehow this corresponds to the boy's hand in his own, small in his own, callused but moistened by Lenalee's lotion and mothering spirit.

As they stand in church, kneel in the pew, sing the hymns, hold each other's hands, Lavi realizes Luke is coming with him, and that he is and is not like Allen, and that, soon, he will be departing with Luke's hand in his.

He imagines that this is what Mana had done, and he'd rather not imagine it. It's too much of a nice thing. No more.

Hair wispy in the tiny breeze blowing through the double doors, Lenalee weaves her arm through Allen's left once he joins them back in the pew, another player with another instrument taking the stage. They mouth something to each other.

Lavi hopes Allen will get paid for that performance, the one on the stage. He's mighty fine; he undermines his own playing.

Though Lenalee whispers, Good job, and Allen answers, scarcely blushing, Aha.

Lavi also realizes that as far as memories go, he is no longer allowed to protect Allen. He may not and cannot. Lavi is out of luck with that part of his life—it's over.

He tightens his fist around Luke's. Luke blinks up at him, closing his eyes to smile something akin to trusting.

Not yet, it's not over yet.

--

Is this what it means to finally grow up? Growing pains, in Lavi's wrists, as he tucks the food parcel and necessities into his traveling bag. Growing pains, in Lavi's knees, as he bends them to clean up after himself, move on, move forward. His hands shake a little, not too noticeably, and his heart thumps, not too audibly.

He'll have arthritis in the joints before long. He'll have wheezes from all the smoking he does.

It's already happening, it's too late, there's no more to go back to.

How does it feel?

"Lavi."

"Y-yeah?"

"Please stay a while longer."

He smiles at Lenalee, full of rue to the lines in his forehead. It's from all those eyebrow raisings over the past week; they surprise him too much, after all. He might remember this in the future and want to keep these memories from hurting him. He'll do fine. He passes that notion onto her through his eyes, like a gypsy. Calm.

She denies it. "Stay." Her hands are meeting in a prayer between her breasts, cheap wedding ring shining in the sunlight at the threshold.

"I can't."

"Please?"

"Lenalee."

She gives up at the demolished look on his face. He is void, he has learned this skill. "Would you like some tea before you go, then? Something? Coffee? I can make coffee."

"I know you can."

"Will you…?"

He nods. He knows.

"Come back, yes?"

He nods. He lies, because he will never know this much of it.

"You'll come back?"

He nods again, for the final time, throat going dry as chalk.

Her pupils seem to spread across her irises suddenly. In order to disguise her incoming tears, she does what any sort of housewife would do for a departing friend: she gives him flowers.

Of course, she is awkward when hurrying to gather them, tying them into a thick bundle, pushing-shoving them into his hand without any sort of semblance or courtesy of personal space. He accepts her kiss to the cheek as she stands on her toes, then the kiss to the curve of his jaw. It tickles, and he feels blessed.

Which might mean that she wants to believe he'll be coming back.

He is still holding Luke's hand.

Lenalee doesn't make another sound as she disappears to the upstairs, stairs creaking.

Allen has been present, standing flushed against the wall with the shelf and mirror. He's been quiet.

"Lavi."

"Allen." Lavi begins to give a nod in acknowledgement, but Allen touches a hand to his chest, to a button. He stares for what seems like too long, though Lavi is not counting at all, and he is most certainly staring back, Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. Like if he doesn't, he'll forsake him.

"When the baby…" Allen says.

"Don't."

"When the baby comes, would you, um, mind?"

"I don't know."

Allen barely nods his understanding. "You can't help it."

"It's my job."

"Who am I asking?"

"What do you mean?"

"Bookman," Allen whispers, lips unmoving, going to say something else, but stalling, then turning to wax, suspended. He changes tactics, message boring into Lavi's ears. "I'll remember you. Remember me."

God, sentimental bullocks.

Which might mean Allen is never going to believe that Lavi will never come back.

And that Allen could cry.

From that point on, Bookman's eyes hurt so badly from welling up that he cannot hide it from the people nearest him. He looks from Allen to Luke, back and forth, before appealing to leave, heart-racing and speed-chasing his will to escape. No one will ever understand. He can't even understand himself.

Damn it. Damn him.

"Come on, kid," Bookman says, choking on his words and damn well trying not to. Oh God, oh fuck.

"You'll have to return someday!" Allen calls, once Bookman and Luke are trudging along the street, sweating in their mad rush. "We'll never let you go, you hear?! We'll hunt you down! We'll burn down cities to find you! Do you hear me, Bookman?!"

Sentiment shall burn with the cities, then.

Bookman walks on, flipping his hood over his head to put Allen behind him. The voice follows despite his efforts.

Do you hear me?

Yes, and he doesn't want to.

--

"Mister?" Luke murmurs when they are finally out of earshot, tugging on Bookman's bag. He holds the bundle of Lavender aloft toward Bookman's nose like a flower-girl on a drug-induced jog down the aisle. "Mister, I'm tired."

"You're tired?" Bookman barks.

"Ah!"

Bookman comes to a halt, his newfound traveling partner tripping on both their heels and plunging to the ground with his hand still in Bookman's. They are done with running; Luke's arm is pulled, probably stretched beyond its baby capabilities.

"Aww, c'mere, you gotta watch it," Bookman says, knowing it is his fault. He corrects his other half's idiosyncrasies with, "Kid, can you walk?"

"I want my kitty!"

"You'll get a new kitty when we make it."

"I dun wanna make a kitty, I want my own back there!" Luke shrugs away from Bookman, pointing with all his fingers in the distance behind them, as if to summon the cat, pouting, needing a hug by the looks of it. Bookman can't bring himself to give just one.

"Listen, kid, we'll find you another one, if we can. Tell me where I can deliver you."

"No!"

"No?"

"No!" Luke starts to cry big crocodile tears, mop of curls sticking to his lashes.

"Kid. Luke. We can't travel with a cat. Where can I deliver you? Tell me."

"No, no, no, no!"

"Is that how it is?"

"No!"

"Fine."

Bookman stoops down to gather Luke into an embrace, a real embrace, unplanned, surrounding him in a coat of warmth that Bookman has trouble accepting for himself. Catching Luke off-guard, Bookman has the chance to lift him off the ground and into his arms, fitting the small body over his hipbone.

"What do you want, Luke? To go home?" Bookman asks quietly. Luke sobs into Bookman's shoulder. "Do you want to go back?" Luke doesn't answer. "Do you want your kitty? You're too old for this. Stop crying, you baby's baby. Buck up, what do you want?"

Bookman waits patiently in the middle of the road by a field, with the kid sobbing into his shoulder, and he thinks that this is only the beginning. He readjusts the kid's body, hands turning into sweat. Nobody's watching; Bookman may feel what he wishes, as he wishes.

"What do you want," he repeats, "when you cry like that?"

My peace.

Luke puts his arms around Bookman's neck. He asks something into Bookman's neck.

"What?"

Luke swallows his sobs, button-nose snotty. "Can I ride your back?"

Bookman hasn't laughed this hard in a long time, and that is putting it mildly.

--

For Lenalee, he will have to come back.

For Allen, he will have to keep his promise.

For Kanda, he will have to save him.

For Miranda, he will have to be himself.

And for Luke, Bookman will always remember that the name was once an alias, the name now a reality for someone else, someone like a scared ruffian who is presently getting on his nerves from all the bloody emotion. God, Bookman's got a lot to think about.

--

He decides to be optimistic for the sake of being young and indecisive, before walking into the smoke of London. A factory reminds him of cigarettes, and he decides this, too, will be the optimism he needs. He is careful to collapse onto all fours for Luke to sleepily climb off. Luke, like an animal, lies down on the weeds and closes his eyes again. What a pitiful thing, he doesn't realize there is a dead rat rotting nearby.

Bookman makes a quick call to his assistant, feeling as light-headed as the skies are grey mixed with blue.

Hmm.

"La—Bookman, is that you?" Miranda squeaks, sounding odd even over the wireless. Her voice cuts in and out.

"You bet," he whispers, walking away from the sleeping boy.

"La—Lavi."

"Wha—? I can't hear ya, love, speak up."

"I—I'm here."

"You're where? Wait, where are you? Miranda? The transmission—"

"It might get—Lavi—he's—"

"He who? Miranda, he who?"

"Ka—Kanda—mountains—I—the transmiss—the priests—go—back to the—."

"Miran—"

"To the—bottom."

"—da."

He supposes she's not in an area with reception, so he represses these kinds of memories without a second thought. Turning to Luke, Bookman watches with through inhuman eyes, unseeing. Horns and chirping. He snaps to, dragging the boy to a standing position. Gets a Lemme sleep in response. Bookman may have half a mind to leave him there, curled up and alone, but he is neither cruel nor irresponsible.

The air is thicker, tasting of ash and making Bookman think of pins and needles, the licking of a silver spoon. What is it?

Allen should have never been angry with Lavi's forsaking of him, without a goodbye. He never got a goodbye from Kanda, did he? Did any of them?

Did he?

Yuu, you are incorrigible.

Did he say goodbye, even to me?

No.

And I'm incorrigible, that's fucked up rubbish. Here, stop nagging me and take this to him. Shuddup, don't give me that look.

What else do you expect?

My peace.

What an easy way to die.

--

The next day, Miranda calls in just as Bookman and boy are unloading from the boat onto the dock, Luke helpfully holding the map by each side, almost shrouded by it. He has been a good little boy since the train, and this is probably because he knows he is in safe hands, so far, encouraged to think nothing can befall him in Bookman's presence.

This boy has a lot to learn, apparently, as the unofficial map-holder.

"Hold it right," Bookman says.

"I am!"

"If I'm going to go in the proper direction, I don't want to somehow end up in the Arctic."

"The where?"

Bookman flicks the transmitter on, as he can already hear Miranda's voice, loud and clear and practically booming to all and sundry. Nice to hear the woman's got vocal chords, because she as hell muffles them in bed.

"Er, Miranda, lower your voice now."

She squeaks. Talks to herself. Coughs. "Lavi—Bookman—um."

"Lavi is fine. What's goin' on?"

"Oh, I was, I'm sorry, I was in the mountains before. Kanda, he's up there now."

"In the mountains."

"Yes!"

"What a stickler. That ass's taking chances."

"What ass?" Luke says, forgetting to hold the map up.

"Who's that?" Miranda says.

"A good question," Lavi says blithely, putting a finger to his lips. He immediately changes his tone to a more gallant disposition. "And Kanda? He can't breathe at such a high altitude."

"He is."

"You saw him?"

"I met with him."

"I'm sure he gladly welcomed you."

"Oh, danken Sie Gott, he did, however little. Which was surprising."

"And demented of him."

"I thought you wanted me to meet him up here?"

It's a happy day knowing she can read a map after all that practice, right down to a dying man's mark somewhere in Tibet. Moreover, how in the hell, she is fast.

"No, I didn't think you'd—Miranda?"

"Yes?"

He could propose to her right here, right now, and feel over the moon about it.

"Remember when I said somethin' about kids?"

"Oh no."

"Oh yes."

"Oh no."

"Love, I've got a surprise for you as well. It's half your size, skinny, missing tooth and nail, conveniently located at your Bookman's side."

"Lavi, you didn't."

"He's a stray. I'mma bring 'im with me as far as he wants to go. What say you to this plan?"

Luke is rolling up the map and batting Lavi with it on the leg. Lavi is drunk with power, he may rule the world. At the top of the world, he can save the people in it.

Miranda sounds as if she is shaking. "What does that mean?"

"It might mean I'll have a traveling buddy, you'll have an assistant of your own, or that Kanda is gonna be a single pappy till the end of his days."

"Lavi, you wouldn't, you can't."

"If that's what it takes for his energy to kick in, so be it. I'm not gonna let him go." He snatches the map from Luke, holding it above his head.

"Gut, we'll be waiting."

They sign off, Lavi becoming Bookman again.

"Lavi?" Luke starts, eyeing the bat-like golem. His baggy trousers are falling down and his collar hasn't been fixed since that morning.

Bookman corrects him, and Luke doesn't like it, except for, "Let's go, kid, we've got a job to do."