A/N: When you write Noah fic, you start realizing how silly their names are. A big thanks to all my LiveJournal friends for reading it over, and especially to annieberry for catching all my errors.
Disclaimer: I don't own D. Gray Man. The line, "I know why the caged bird sings," is the title of a poem by Maya Angelo.
Poison at Teatime
"Why does the cuckoo bird sing?"
Lulubell looked up, meeting Road's eyes evenly. The Eldest smiled back at her, pixie face sharp and wicked. Her heels bounced against the legs of her chair. Her feet didn't quite reach the floor.
After a moment, Lulubell set aside her tea, tapping perfectly manicured nails against the fine china with seeming boredom. "I don't know," she answered dispassionately, and traced the ripples. "It's only a bird, why should there be a reason?"
Road's everlasting smile stretched, and her head tilted to pillow in the frills of her dress. "Of course," she grinned, almost in spite, "There's always a reason."
Lulubell shifted her gaze from the crook of Road's knee and the pale, pale slope of her thigh down and away, almost guiltily, the remains of herself squirming in self disgust. "You should ask the Earl, then," she said, perhaps a shade more softly. Road only shook her head, midnight hair swishing across her brow.
"But I think you know the answer, Lust." With an almost sinisterly smooth wriggle, the not-child swung from the plump armchair she had rested in and came closer to Lulubell, peering obtrusively into spectacled eyes. She kept her face very smooth, mouth dry.
"When you find the answer, promise to tell me," Road ordered, soft, and searched Lulubell's face, alabaster skin flawless around her large, golden eyes. Lulubell breathed in twice, slowly.
"I'll do that."
Road's question nagged at her for the rest of the day, week, month. She never knew the time, it was inconsequential when she never ran out. It snuck up on her like some great predator, always catching her at the unaware. Sometimes in the chink of fine china, hidden between the lines of the tomes, or in the moments she pretended to sleep.
She thought of rotten eggs hidden between hatchlings; of changelings in the cradle.
She concentrated on the metronome her heels made on the marble floor, and tried to put such thoughts from her head.
Lulubell looks up, tongue in cheek with her polish chipped. Tyki sprawled out against the bookcase, smile sharp as his suit. She cast her eyes down from long ago habits, and rose, smoothing the creases from imaginary skirts.
"Is it?" she murmured distractedly, and brushed past him, arms and shoulders touching.
"Yes. It was our wedding, three hundred years ago." He chuckled at that, and glanced at her as invitation to the joke.
Lulubell didn't look up from the shelves upon shelves of books, stacked and alphabetical and full of words as immortal as she. "It didn't last very long."
Tyki chuckled, eyes closed and face relaxed. She kept an eye on him, stealthily, though it made her need grow. "Till death do us part. That was a cold wedding bed."
She turned her head, abandoning any pretense of browsing. She didn't need to impress this man. She didn't need to lie with him.
"Why didn't you sleep with me, that time? Is it because I'm a woman?" Lulubell asked, and couldn't help the spark within her impassiveness. She kept her gaze trained levelly on his face, awaiting his answer. Tyki's arms unfolded and fell smoothly to his sides, serpentine grin growing thoughtful as he paced towards her. She watched the way he moved, and swallowed down her hunger.
"It might have been, once," he said slowly, nodding a little, "I'm too old for that now."
She didn't understand. He shrugged, snugly jacketed shoulders rising and falling. "The lines began to blur, I suppose. I don't see gender anymore, only beauty."
Lulubell had always been very beautiful. It was not a matter of pride, but more the careless luxury that those physically flawless have; the nirvana of vanity.
She met him halfway, her incomplete hunger wanting, but never taking, and shrugged aside his inviting embrace coolly.
When she reached the hall, she realized that he hadn't answered her question.
In the dark forest, the plants were lush and steaming in the silent damp. Alone, Lulubell turned her head back over her shoulder like a guilty child, then slipped away into her human form, feeling her muscles weaken and her skin soften as she did so. Her golden hair caught and played with the light.
Her heart hurt, but the air breathed more cleanly this way. This way, she could bleed.
She set forwards still, her steps slower, and in a matter of minutes her breathing had grown heavy. Lulubell licked her lips, tasting the sweat on them, and stared silently at the dusty motes of sunlight, eyes burning.
A bird was singing. She turned, eyes tracking the noise to its origin. An explosion of feathers shimmered at the corners of her vision, red and green and blue melting together as the pair of birds took the sky.
She watched the two of them fly until she couldn't see them any longer, throat closed. Almost against her will, she crept back to the tree and peered up into the branches, eyes squinted and peering into the harsh shadows. Three mottled purple eggs shone, sweating, in the harsh light that broke the canopy.
Her stomach burned.
Road had the ribbons wound in perfect crosses up to her knee, her small toes curved and mashed into the mold of a ballet shoe, feet turned naturally out. She brushed her short, ebony hair back from her face, and offered Lulubell a teasing grin. "Are you here for an autograph, Lulu?"
The yellow gas lamps had bleached her hair to copper. Lulubell wound a lock of it around her fingers, straining the strands. "The Earl wants me to accompany you," she said quietly from her place at the door. "He'd like us back by tomorrow."
Road planted one hand on her hip, then stretched down, down to the floor and her toes, curling her fingers over the cusp of her foot easily with her knees locked and straight. "Such a silly. He worries too much."
Lulubell shifted, but said nothing, watching the curve of the smaller girl's neck. Road's large, golden eyes darted towards her. "And what face shall you show them tonight, little deceiver?"
Struck up as if by a challenge, Lulubell found herself stalking closer, "And what face should you like?"
Road considered, "You could be a copy of me. And we could be the twins taking the stage tonight—they'll never have seen anything like it. The audience will love us."
The thought appalled her, for some reason she could not explain. "But the audience will love you regardless," she pointed out, and Road let the subject drop, through her eyes winked with knowing.
"Then pick a face," she shrugged candidly, and minced from her dressing room, "The first one that comes to mind."
Lulubell ran after her quickly, strides lengthening powerfully, until she had drawn even with the night's prima ballerina, catching the door as it shut on her shoulder, and slipping through after her.
The City of Lights looked its best at the night, dark enough to hide the urchins but bright enough for the wealthy to glow against it.
Road was tossing out pennies to the gutter rats jovially, watching them scurry and dig at the ground, hunger all over their eyes. Lulubell looked away, sickened, and lay a gloved hand against Road's slight shoulder. "You'll be late." She blinked at the memory of the low, smooth voice coming from her own lips.
Road looked up questioningly, and then smiled in delight. "You wear that face well," she purred, and ran off ahead. Lulubell glanced down at the dark skin of her wrists, the flat chest and long legs, and then walked after her.
When she caught sight of Tyki in the window's reflection, her breath stopped and she stared. And then the rock was in her hand then, wasn't, as the glass rained down like some wicked parody of rain to shatter again against the gutter, and the crash resounded around the street and the people had all turned to stare at the well dressed gent who was suddenly gone.
Lulubell, blonde and human and feeling suddenly naked, slouched back against the trash of the alley and sobbed until she thought her heart might shatter. When the tears didn't stop she crawled back to Noah, and let the ashen skin embrace her weak, collapsing humanity, and rock it down to sleep.
She stepped from the alley with Miranda's button-booted shoes, and set off down the street cool and confident and calm and not really Miranda at all.
Road made it look flawless, dancing on the blisters with impartial grace that made her almost otherworldly, and the audience was a kind of hushed awe as they watched The Eldest play at human.
Lulubell reclined against the plush blood velvet of her chair, and calculated how many people she could kill if she were to set the theatre on fire. She studied the strong, shaved jaw of the man next to her, and the arm he had nestled over the young woman next to him. Something brutal in her sneered at the flaws on their faces, and something else watched quietly as their matching rings winked.
On the stage, Road collapsed artfully, her tragic death captured in the way her chin tipped towards the ceiling, body flung back and limp in the arms of the man who had caught her. His face was frozen in horrified recoil, and the audience sighed with satisfaction.
In the dark, and with every eye caught on the stage, Lulubell turned back to Tyki, feeling her shoulders broaden, curves falling away into casual muscle.
She took off a glove, closed her eyes, and laid a hand against her cheek.
Lulubell met Road after the show, and the one-night ballerina raised her eyebrows, but said nothing about the new form she had chosen. Together, Miranda and Road went back down the street, following the pull of the Ark.
Miranda's soft, hesitating voice only leant to her insecurity when she asked, "You don't think I'm the cuckoo bird, do you?"
Road laughed aloud. Miranda was a small woman, but the wisps of Road's hair only just reached her shoulder. Road walked with her shoulders thrown back, hands swinging loose at her sides, a little hum drumming against her lips.
"It's not so bad to be one," she mused gaily, "But if you haven't found your song, then I suppose it must get lonely. Poor little bird ate all its family. Just like the Akuma. They're all alone now."
Lulubell ground Miranda's teeth, frustration bubbling under her usually passivity, "I don't understand."
Road's expression was challenging, and she never watched her feet as they walked over the uneven cobblestones. "Or is it that you just don't want to look?"
With a final, tinkling giggle, she sauntered to the Ark's door and slipped inside.
Almost as soon as they were inside, Lulubell slipped back to being a cat and padded away from Road, arrogant tail held high and swinging.
The twins called a greeting when she passed their room, but she didn't pause to return it, and darted through to the dining room, leaping elegantly onto the table and trotting towards where her Earl sat. She perched on the edge of the table, tail thrashing, and stared towards her master with great, animal eyes. The Earl's jack-o-lantern grin greeted her, tinged with an edge of affection. The tilted yellow eyes gleamed behind his small round spectacles.
"Did you have a nice time tonight?" he asked fondly. Lulubell ignored the grandfatherly question, staring intently.
I need to know why I was chosen. She thought, knowing that he would hear her. I want to know why this duty was given to me. I never asked for it. A part of me still wants to die on schedule, instead of never.
"Ah…" the Earl sighed, and stroked down her spine with a soft, gloved hand. "My little Road has been saying strange things, hasn't she?"
Lulubell didn't bother to hide it. Instead, she only waited.
A tear fell from the Earl's eyes. "Has it been so painful, my child? Do you hate us for doing this to you?"
I don't hate you. Lulubell thought truthfully. I just want to know what it is that I feel I'm missing. The human in me is always crying. I want her to stop.
But the Earl offered no advice for this, only laid a comforting hand against the base of her skull. "I forget that you are so young, sometimes. I don't know all the answers, the human in me and Road has been quiet for so long." He scratched at her ears thoughtfully, "Maybe you'll just have to listen to her."
"I want to talk to you." Lulubell told Tyki, and shut the door to his room behind her quietly. He raised his head slightly, fully dressed and reclining back atop his bed. He shrugged carelessly.
After a moment, she let herself melt back into golden hair and pale, bruising skin. "I meant the human in you," her voice was just a little bit softer, "I know you can still hear him."
Tyki sat up, looking curious. "What for?"
It felt strange, to move these lips, "Because I need to make her be quiet."
Tyki still looked at her strangely, but he shrugged after a second, his dark elegance falling away to reveal a man imperfect. He was thinner, paler, with unruly dark hair and a shabby smile.
Her chest was aching. She set a hand over it reflexively, grimacing. Tyki tilted his head in question, dark bangs tumbling across his face.
"So, what's this about?"
After a moment, Lulubell let out a sigh, slowly, noticing that her hunger seemed to be gradually seeping away. She turned to him, human eyes as hard as she could make them, and opened her mouth to speak.
She couldn't seem to make the words come.
"Well?" Tyki asked again after the silence had stretched. Lulubell shook her head, her temples throbbing, and backed out of the room.
"Nothing," she said, and shut the door with a click.
"I know why the caged bird sings," Road whispered in her ear, some hours later. Lulubell swung her tea in lazy waves around her cup, eyes cast down and skin as ashen as her heart, gradually crumbling away.
"Then why did you ask me in the first place?" she murmured. She felt heavy, and impossibly naked. Road propped herself on the arm of the chair and leaned her head onto Lulubell's shoulder.
"Because Lust and Love walk hand in hand," Road said dreamily, and then suddenly more serious, "And because I am old, and even if you know the answer, sometimes you can't understand it."
Lulubell tilted back her head, and swallowed the whole cup. Road was quiet, watching. Her elfin face was cast down, in mourning for mourning. "Do you know the answer yet?"
"Why do you like Allen so much?" Lulubell countered instead, eyes hot, "He's just a boy. And he will age and grow and die, unless we kill him before all that but in the end, the result's the same. He will move on, Road, while you are kept a prisoner of time."
Road stared back at her calmly, "It doesn't matter," she said simply. "Because he was here for the moment."
She tried again, and this time, to his darker half. It was the side she'd followed, after all. He'd led her to the blackness.
But it just hurt the same, and as she stared at him, she felt the river of time rush past her, but never taking her along. Her throat closed, and again she left the room, Noah enveloping the agonized, immortal girl. It was like some form of exquisite torture, and every time pushed her human counterpart a little nearer the breaking point.
Lulubell wondered if perhaps she'd disappear completely, one day.
For some reason, the thought unnerved her, and she held the fractured girl close.
She was so close to finding the answer, but suddenly, she wasn't sure she wanted to know. She lay awake in the dark counting cracks, listened to the door open and his footsteps cross to where she lay. Her human surged to sudden life, flying into being, as she turned and rolled to face him.
"She's still in love with me, isn't she?" Tyki asked, his hands in his pockets. Lulubell nodded wordlessly, words again locked up somewhere. Tyki sighed, turning his face to look out the window.
"She was perfect," he said lowly, "Exquisite. It would have been a crime to have taken anyone else as Lust, but tainting such loveliness felt like a sin as well." He sat comfortably on the edge of her bed, shifting his amber eyes to brown. Human to human, they stared at one another, hungrily.
"You never told me," she said suddenly, quietly, "Why you never lay with me. It seems strange."
He regarded her carefully, apparently weighing how much to tell her. "It would have been a lie," he said after a moment, "And while a part of me wanted to mar such beauty, another part didn't."
When he blinked, his eyes were gold again, and she was forever wanting for the wicked. "I wouldn't have minded," she said honestly, and the corrected herself, "She wouldn't have."
Tyki unfolded, and was on his feet again, tracing the edges of her face with one hand then backing away to the door, an amused smile crossing his handsome features. "I still can't." he said, and left.
She watched the splinter of light from the crack in the door, and wondered if there was anything more tragic than the sound of him walking away.
The cuckoo bird turned on her side, and sang herself to sleep.