Just a Good Book
Lt. Commander Richie
Disclaimer: Not mine. After going back and reading the manga though, I kinda wish it was. I mean, isn't that odd? Some of the manga has actually scared the hell out of me, and it's made me cry three or four times now, even though the same events in the anime didn't. The original art style the series was drawn in was perfect for high-octane nightmare fuel. I kinda wish it was still drawn that way. Of course then we would have derp Kanda and ugly Tyki, and Lenalee would still be Bigfoot, but whatever.
Chapter is best read on 3/4 or 1/2 story width.
Through the biting cold and the dark and the stillness, Rachel Leon was afraid. She could see her breath in the air in her apartment. The heating was broken and the lights wouldn't turn on. The landlord said he would call a repairman the next day. But that wasn't what had put fear in her heart and mind. It wasn't what had shaken her to the core.
It was the emptiness.
Whoever it was she was trying to bring back was empty and cold and nothing but a void in the fabric of the universe. Whatever it was her Ink Speaker was touching, the feeling crept into her soul like a disease. The redhead blinked, and tears slid down her cheeks. Marked fingers came up and wiped at the liquid, confused as to where it had come from. To her eyes, everything seemed to move in slow motion. As if she was finally regaining control of her limbs, she slowly dropped the thick daguerreotype in her other hand. Like that the empty feeling was gone, and a rush of sound seemed to hit the girl's ears as she came back to what she figured was the world of the living. She sat cross-legged on her bed, half-covered by sheets and wearing a blue flannel nightie printed with stars.
"W-" she seemed to be having difficulty forming words, "what the hell was that," she finally bit out. The words were sharp in the cold darkness. With both hands Rachel wiped the tears from her cheeks, and then pushed her red hair up and out of her face. "What the helling hell was that, oh my god."
After a long time of reanimating spirits, Rachel found that each felt different. The Earl didn't feel like a vacuum- he was the warmth of family dinners and the hot forges of war. Cross Marian was a pleasurably sensual burn, though the redhead rarely talked to him because he tried to rifle through her cabinets for liquor. Road Kamelot was a crawl under her skin that made her itch for days, Jasdebi were a sudden feeling of paranoia that made her want to turn around and make sure there was nobody behind her. Lenalee was a wistful melancholy; Lavi was a distant feeling of remembered elation. Hell, Attila the Hun brought with him a sense of open plains as far as the eye could see- whatever she had just tried to bring back was in no way a soul.
Rachel gave in to the sudden urge to scratch at her arms, gooseflesh stinging under her longish blue nails. She left red lines on her skin, but in the dark she could barely tell. Her eyes fell on the shadowed form of the daguerreotype on the blankets in front of her, and she wrapped one of her hands in a blanket before picking it up again. Even just remembering the horrible emptiness- the absence of something that otherwise should have been there- made the short hairs at the nape of her neck stand on end.
Bringing about something without a soul was simple. Rachel could make baseball bats, chairs, forks, gloves, pencils- inanimate was much simpler than animate. It didn't even make her concentrate anymore; such was the level to which she had synchronized. Souls were simple as well- she had been able to do that from the very beginning. But as she grew to understand her power and shape its manifestation to her will, she began to get a handle on what summoning a soul actually felt like. When she first touched that daguerreotype, she was puzzled at the lack of manifestation. So she followed the feeling to its source to try and draw the soul out- but had been sucked in instead. There was a link there where a soul had once been. It wasn't there anymore.
Rachel forcibly chucked the antique portrait across the room, where it hit her venetian blinds with a loud clatter and fell to the ground. She cradled the hand that had held it like she had just been burned, and shrunk in on herself. Something had stolen the man in the portrait's soul, and she was very rightly afraid. With a shuffle she pulled her blankets over her head, huddling into a ball as she hugged her knees and tried very hard not to cry. The tears came anyway though, and the redhead blinked them away as best as she could in the darkness.
Eventually the redhead reached out of her blankets and tapped on the picture by her bedside table. Her hand darted back under the blankets and she pulled her knees closer, clinging dearly to the feel of her powers working correctly.
"Rachel?" the voice belonged to Allen, and for that Rachel was glad. She opened her mouth but words refused to form, and instead she finally managed to choke out something that almost sounded like a sob. In a rush of frigid air the redhead's blankets were pulled back, surprisingly solid hands pulling her to lean on a surprisingly solid chest. "Rachel, what happened?"
Rachel tried again to speak, but again only a shaky sob came forth. Instead she reached out and hugged the Exorcist, her fingers fisting in the smooth wool fabric of his uniform. The redhead took a few shaky but deep breaths before trying to speak again, swallowing thickly and blinking fresh tears from her green eyes. "I- I tried to bring…" she faltered, but steeled herself and tried again. "To bring someone back, but their soul-" again her voice caught as she remembered that sudden and all-encompassing void she had accidentally pulled herself into, "his soul was gone."
"Who?" Allen's arms tightened around her, and she could feel the sharp nails of his inactive Crown Clown hand digging into one of her legs. The redheaded girl took a shaky breath and blinked heavily, feeling fat teardrops slide down her cheeks into Allen's uniform.
"I- I don't know his name," she started. "Sometimes I look at daguerreotypes online to see if I can find Exorcists or members of the Order. T- the other day I found one of an Exorcist and I got it," here she paused, swallowing the lump in her throat before attempting to continue. "I tried- tried to use the Ink Speaker on it, but nothing happened. So I tried harder- followed the link I felt to the soul from the picture," here Rachel shrunk in on herself again, her numb fingers clenching harder into the black and red surface of the Exorcist's uniform. "I followed the link and there was nothing there, Allen. Not a simple nothing, like- like there was nothing to begin with; it was a void that tried to suck me in and… and drown me in silence. There used to be a soul there, but there isn't anymore."
Allen must have been looking for the daguerreotype, because he got up from the bed and crossed the room to the window. He crouched down and picked it up from the floor, holding the thick sepia-toned photograph up to the light of the city that filtered through the venetian blinds. When he couldn't make an identification in the wan light, he reached over and cracked the blinds open. The sallow light illuminated the stern gray face of a tall Germanic man, his black hair slicked back and his uniform sporting a high collar. When the white-haired boy turned back around, Rachel couldn't help but think that he looked immensely sad.
"He fell," Allen said. Confusion graced Rachel's face, and she used the heel of one hand to dry her eyes. Allen crossed the room and sat down on the covers next to her, the daguerreotype held flat so that it reflected the light from the window. "His name was Suman Dark, Rachel. He-" the boy Exorcist paused there, and it took a moment for Rachel to realize that he was shaking. "He betrayed the Order."
"Did you know him?" Rachel asked. To her surprise, Allen shook his head in the negative.
"I was only with the Order three months when he betrayed us. Before that, I'd never met him," Allen sighed and tilted the daguerreotype so that it became a reflective white with no details visible. Through her puffy eyes Rachel could see that the Exorcist looked wilted, his expression sad and wistful. Though she almost didn't want to know the answer, Rachel steeled herself to ask a question.
"What do you mean, 'fell'?" she asked. Allen's expression turned dark, and she could see his gloved hand clench on the thick old photograph in the dim light.
"Suman bargained for his life with the lives of his comrades. He got six Exorcists killed. God and his Innocence punished him for it," the white-haired boy spat out the words like they were poison. The transformation in the normally calm and cheerful Exorcist was alarming to Rachel, and she felt tears well back up in her eyes. She blinked them away and felt them slide down her cheeks. Before they could drip she wiped them off on the back of her wrist.
"Is that why…" she trailed off, unwilling to say what they both knew. "Is that what happens when you fall?" she asked instead. "Like… Like a Dementor's Kiss?" Allen shook his head and Rachel's eyebrows furrowed in tired confusion.
"You fall when you try to synchronize with an Innocence that isn't yours," he explained. His eyes looked weary and the smile that slowly crept onto his lips was bitter and sad. "Usually when you aren't synchronized with an Innocence you just can't use it- like an Equip-type. But Suman was a Parasite-type. When he couldn't synchronize he turned into a creature- a creature fueled by hate and rage. He wanted nothing more than to destroy."
"And when he turned into that creature-" Rachel trailed off again, her voice shallow and sad. She knew the answer, but she sought clarification all the same. Suddenly her fingers seemed foreign to her, like she no longer knew the substance that gave her power. She didn't, she supposed. Not really.
"Yeah." Allen confirmed.
In the creeping, frigid darkness of the bedroom Rachel held her hands out to look at them. She'd painted her fingernails a color called 'Police Box Blue', and it hid the bruise-colored skin of her nail beds. She turned her hands around and looked at the tips of her fingers- each one tipped with a small sliver of a black cross. She'd always thought they had been neat, interesting even. Now, in the darkness and the cold and the silence, they looked ugly and cruel. She started as Allen scooted over on the edge of the bed and wrapped an arm around her shoulders to pull her against his side.
"Why?" the redhead asked. Though she didn't look to see Allen's confusion, she still elaborated. "Why did he betray the Order?"
"He was a father, Rachel. He wanted to live so he could see his daughter again," the sad note in Allen's voice was painful and heavy. Rachel clenched her hands into fists hard enough that she probably left cuts on her palms. The two were silent for a while, listening to the screeches and horns of the city outside and looking away every time a car passed by the side alley and made the sallow light grow brighter. After what seemed like an eternity, Rachel unclenched her fists and held her fingers up so that she could see the crosses there clearly.
"The more I learn about Innocence- about Akuma and the Earl- about the Order- the less I want anything to do with it," she finally said. "I don't want to be part of your war, I don't want to fight a secret battle, I don't want any of it. Not anymore. Not if it means I can't even make up my own mind."
"Nobody was a willing participant," Allen sighed.
"Exactly," Rachel spat. She closed her hands into fists again, though this time she did it in a gentler motion that showed the pain she had caused herself. Her fingers were stiff from force, and they shook despite her best efforts. With one of those loose fists the redhead punched her mattress. Her angry huff was a cloud in the frigid room. Allen gave his own sigh and shook her cold and pale shoulder. Rachel shrugged his hand down to her elbow, not quite feeling like contact but also not wanting to exert the effort to get rid of it.
"…You were brave," Rachel finally said. The words were crisp in the darkness, punctuated by the flash of headlights through her window. "And I respect that. But neither side of your war was right. Evil might be subjective but so is good."
"Yeah, pretty much," Allen agreed. The resigned nonchalance he had as he said it gave the redhead pause.
"…So then why did you fight?" she wasn't usually a 1AM philosopher, but the skinny college girl was feeling achingly melancholic. Allen sighed again and shrugged, the motion making Rachel shift from side to side.
"The Akuma needed saving too," he reasoned. Rachel nodded absently, accepting the answer despite the weight it carried. The two fell back into a companionable silence, the redhead's momentary snap of rage quickly forgotten as she began to succumb to sleep. But the frigid silence unnerved her- kept her awake and thinking.
"It was just so empty," she muttered into Allen's side. The Exorcist leaned to look at her, a sad expression that was almost a smile gracing his features. "So empty and dark. I don't think I could ever side with something that did that to those that didn't agree with it." Allen nodded and rubbed her bare shoulder with his gloved hand. She shook the limb halfheartedly to dislodge him, but it didn't quite work.
"You're lucky," he sighed. "You'll never have to fight. You'll never run the risk of falling."
"Thank you," Rachel suddenly said. The words were without preamble and a bit rushed, and Allen looked confused as Rachel shakily sat up and turned to look at him. Her pale arms were without gooseflesh, and she was cold as ice from her exposure to the frigid apartment air. "And I'm sorry. Yuu was right back then- I shouldn't ever want to fight in your war. Nothing good came from being on either side."
Allen made a face at the mere notion of Kanda being right about anything, but he dropped it when he saw Rachel shiver violently. Instead he pulled her comforter up around her shoulders and closed it in front of her, making her into a human pile of blankets. The redhead smiled at him, but it was shaky and frigid and without much life behind it.
"You're still our comrade, though," Allen assured with a smile. The expression was kind and warm, even in the frigid darkness. It gave Rachel a sudden ache in her chest that felt like horror and acceptance and old wounds. Her frigid smile gained a painful edge, and she felt hot tears well up in her green eyes as she looked at the smiling Exorcist.
Unable to say much else, she simply nodded and ducked further into the blankets she'd been wrapped in.
Innocence is not happy fun time with wings. It is cruel and strange and fickle and sees only in black and white. I do not like it one bit. The manga, now that I've actually read all of it, is surprisingly frightening and wonderful and tear-jerking. I wish I'd read it before, all my DGM fiction before this could have been a thousand times better.
I know I promised Lenalee or Cross, but I just love Allen so much and Seshat was hissing in my ear to write about Rachel trying to bring back Suman Dark and I just had to do it and writing this felt just like writing older chapters of this and other DGM fiction I did years ago and it was only two years why am I nostalgia tripping oh my god.
Reviews are love.