It's the last thing I wanted to say.

Part One: Until you asked me if I…

One of Kanda's first clear memories of him was from when they were teenagers. It might just be in his head, nostalgia makings things out to be better than they really were, but in his memory they were young and bright. He remembers that he was willowy like a debutante, which was so humiliating for him at the time that he refused to have his weight recorded even for official physicals.

As for Lavi, he had had his adolescent fitness. It was only Kanda's acute senses that had recorded the visual details for him. Kanda thinks that Lavi had a narrow waist that suited his young-man sized shoulders, and skinny hips. Lavi had been wearing a plain white cotton shirt underneath his black half-jacket uniform, which wrinkled in the bend of his stomach when he leaned over to look into the town square's fountain.

It had been a sunny summery day and they had been out on their first solo mission--meaning no clucking bush-headed Generals or scolding balding mentors at their shoulders, reciting tips for akuma recognition and how to avoid stomach ills on the road.

Kanda and Lavi had been something of a trial case, being the first "children" to be given an assignment for themselves. The three of them, Kanda, Lavi, and Komui, had held a brief meeting in his office beforehand. Back then, Kanda had only known Lavi as the noisy, eye-patched existence dashing through the hallways. He chattered like a manic monkey to many people but had never really bothered Kanda before. But during the mission briefing the redhead had been quiet in his seat, obediently absorbing Komui's orders and his short introduction of Kanda.

The next day Kanda had met the other boy at the train station. Lavi had stood in front of a train billowing steam and smoke behind him. His olive bag had been slung over his shoulder and there had been a shockingly orange scarf looped around his neck, plus a sea-green band wrapping his fiery hair. It had all clashed horribly. Kanda, impeccably unadorned in his black uniform, had snorted without comment. This had made Lavi shrug.

During the train ride, Kanda had heard the words "Bookman apprentice" and "Yuu" for the first time. He let both slide because, for the first matter, he didn't particularly understand or care what a "Bookman apprentice" was. For the second matter, Komui had carelessly used his full name to introduce him, and Lavi had looked to be as much of an ignorant foreigner, oblivious to manners, as the rest of them. Although vaguely disgusted, in small part because he was a motion sick, Kanda had left both alone, figuring it didn't matter much. Both turned out to be lifelong mistakes.

But even with those memories, Lavi looking into the fountain left a far more vivid impression. The town they were staying in hadn't been particularly wealthy, but it had been clean and pleasant. There were blooming flower boxes in the windows of stone house fronts, which all opened up to rustic kitchens. Dried meats hung from the ceiling, hand-knitted lace tablecloths were laid on hand-carved tables, and local pottery sat on the counters. The fountain had been a modest one, a simple stone circle with a burbling basin in the center and spotlessly clean water jetting in arcs behind him and catching the light.

What Kanda remembered was Lavi's face coming up to this background. His green eyes had been bright in the day, and he had had a close-lipped smile and small imperfections on his skin. The white of the houses' stones were bleached so clean that they glowed under the sun, and all the overbearing colors he had in his clothes and himself had come together with the backdrop of the town.

The mission had been as much of a disaster as possible without being an outright failure. During their first fight Kanda hadn't watched Lavi's back. Lavi had ended up with a limp that took weeks to go away. After they barely recovered the innocence from an abnormally cunning porcupine, Lavi took it for safekeeping.

Kanda helped him hobble back to the inn, but he still mostly forgot to look after his injured comrade. Lavi hid with their prize in the room while his partner battled the rest of the akuma in the streets.

When their leader came for Lavi in aproned human form, (Kanda let her pass with a weepy story about her missing father) Lavi had climbed to the roof through the window, bad leg and all. He'd shouted for Kanda when he saw him down below, but Kanda hadn't heard him because he was recovering from his first ever akuma bite and unhappily stabbing the lot of them. Lavi had gotten himself down by slamming his hammer right into the fountain and sliding down in a shower of white marble bits.

That was a long, long time ago. Komui had bleakly let it go as rookies' mistakes, but they weren't rookies' mistakes. They were soldier's faults that never got fixed. Kanda still left people behind. He almost let a clown eat Allen on his debut mission. Lavi was an incorrigible destroyer. When he first met Allen he wrecked half the town rendezvousing with the rest of the Cross group.

Kanda wrote it off as Allen being a bad luck charm. Lavi laughed, but he never made any excuses.

Kanda knew the Order was still working on shushing up anyone who still remembers that little town.

---

Lavi has always liked Kanda in one way or another. Blasé admiration at first, because he was a lot of things. A prodigy swordsman. Foul-mouthed with a terrible temper and with no restraint in anything he did, like he feared nothing.

Lavi always held back--at his worst, he could go into a snit of I'm-above-this politeness. Hell, when he was pissed he had the most vulgar curses available in fifteen languages. But Bookman taught him better than that. He told Lavi, only two types of people get into passionate fights. Enemies, and friends. Lavi knew better than to rack up the first kind, and the other kind…well, his friendliness was so perfect that he never fought with his "friends". That was what made it artificial. He didn't have to consider anyone his friend or enemy.

Kanda, however, was natural in his open disdain for everyone. One part of Lavi was vain, the Bookman in him floating proud above screaming human nonsense. The other part hates how he feels like such a coward from backing down from too strong of a display. That part noticed Kanda right away.

And of course, one could never discount being unreservedly handsome. They're the same age, but Kanda never lacked for the incredible good looks that could have easily reeled in the snooty girls. They were the knowingly beautiful kind that made faces at Lavi when he was in his bad complexion and overgrown feet stage.

Lavi supposes he's okay now; plenty of people tell him he's "cute". But Kanda's beauty is like the sun. A million words have been spent describing it, even though it is so basic, so taken for granted.

So it's perfectly understandable that Lavi has always found him interesting. All that baiting his ego and Kanda has never once fallen for it. He's mean. In fact, he's horrible. But there's too much about him that strikes right at the heart of people's weaknesses. Because he is strong, other exorcists have tried to surpass him; when that inevitably fails, they try to befriend him, so they can feel like they are a part of something powerful. Because he's lovely, people make up excuses for his behavior so they can keep admiring him without guilt.

It's easy enough of a trap to believe these compliments, which are at their core, lies. Kanda could have been an idol. He could have let some girl convince him she loved him. But Kanda cursed at those weaker, sneered at his admirers' shallowness. What Lavi recognized as discipline the others called cruelty so that they could pretend that they'd always known that. They would maintain that they never sought him out, but that he had made victims out of all of them. Word got out that he was hunting them down one by one.

People were so incredibly pitiful. Lavi has dissected and accepted this since he was a child. For Kanda, Lavi's senses that it's always been innate knowledge. He hates people too, the very idea of them. The difference is that Lavi's training has given him mastery over it. He can hide his disgust behind a smile and, rarely, let himself love something. Like knowledge. Like the poetry of a fleeting tender moment adrift in the waves of monsters. But Kanda's wordless frustration makes him lash out in ways that are ugly to everyone else. This too, Lavi has always seen.

That's the reason why he alone always got along with Kanda. Kanda had been soundly convinced that he was a moron from the very beginning--at least, in any way that'll matter. There were times, when Lavi was sitting quietly, listening to him shout about another shortcoming of the people around him, that Kanda would stop and stare. Nothing else, just a moment's pause. Lavi would let those times slip by because he knows Kanda's instincts are animalistic; far better a human's, but incoherent.

Lavi would like to think the closest verbal description for what happen in those moments is Kanda realizing that someone actually understands him--but it doesn't matter in the least because it goes unsaid. Lavi hopes that this never changes, because sometimes he's a bit bratty for a mere apprentice and oversteps Bookman's teachings. He likes to think that these things--intangible, inexpressible exchanges--are really what makes people friends.

This ended when he found out about Kanda.

---

Lavi was having a horrible night. The ark was finally up and running; it was a secret boon for the Bookman clan, having two insiders with full access to the very latest in travel technology. Exorcists were free to use it as they wished, and Bookman wasted no time sending him out to those once exhaustingly far centers of wisdom. Unfortunately for Lavi, he was going a bit crazy at the moment for it.

He had just come back from memorizing the libraries of Washington D.C when Komui all but caught him by the collar coming out of the ark and threw him on a boat with Kanda for a mission in Spain. Bookman had had but a minute to yell at him from a second story window that if he didn't have all "the government workings of a critically avant-garde country" transcribed by the time he came back, his hide was forfeit.

So Lavi ran in and out of doors, slaughtering level twos like a madman with Kanda before dashing off to stack more writing on the temporary work station in his room. Kanda would scream at him to be of more help cleaning up the small fry. Bookman would scream at him over a golem to start sending research through mail if he had to. The potent local coffee made him both industrious and nervous. His sleep cycle being severely disrupted from instantly crossing the world didn't help things.

By the third day, the situation on site had become a little less dire, but Bookman was getting increasingly agitated over the phone. The upshot of it was that Lavi decided to ditch patrol. Kanda stuck his head in through the doorway well after midnight to say some choice words before slamming the door so hard it shed dust. As for Lavi, he found that he had gotten sick of the inn's resident rooster scaring him witless at seven am every morning, when he got his best work done. So long before sunrise, unbeknownst to the innkeepers, he snuck the bird in and stuffed it under his unused bed to trick it into thinking that day was never coming.

Unfortunately, the rooster had its own plans. It wriggled out from the bundle of sheets well before dawn. Since Lavi had at least seven candles in lamps burning, it decided that it was plenty bright enough to be day. Lavi nearly fell out his chair when the animal started crowing hysterically at, according to Lavi's watch, four instead of seven.

Lavi lost a sheet of parchment to an uncontrolled streak of his quill, but instead of lamenting he doubled over laughing. He was giddy from his wildly beating heart, the caffeine, and a very upset animal bouncing off the walls of his room. After he calmed down, he chased the poor bird through a storm of glossy feathers and tossed it out the night-dark window. He watched it fly back to its precious hens, settling on the top of the chicken house. It seemed very uneasy about where the sun had gone.

After Lavi pulled the shutters closed, the guilt started kicking in. The insanity of the rooster had practically given him a heart attack, but it also broken him out of his Bookman work trance. He'd have to apologize to the owners for the inn for waking them up so early. But first, it was undeniable truth that he really had been being an ass to have as a partner for this mission. Kanda had already been out late covering for him, even if he had gotten mad about it. Now the aforementioned ungrateful co-worker had unleashed unholy racket on him while the stars were still out high in the sky. Kanda was going to kill him. Lavi was surprised he wasn't already hewing chunks out of his room door.

To preempt the murder attempt, Lavi plodded barefoot down the halls to Kanda's room, figuring he might as well pop in and tell Kanda that he didn't have to disembowel him because he knew what he did, and would make up for it by finishing the rest of the mission himself so Kanda cold just sleep in, blah blah…The town they were in was relatively large this time around, so the inn was nice. Big. Kanda's room was up a floor.

When Lavi reached Kanda's door, he heard a few soft words in sleepy Spanish. Lavi wrinkled his nose. It was more his thing than Kanda's to pick up the local language. He tested the door, and since it was unlocked, didn't bother knocking. It would only give Kanda the heads up to prepare sharp and pointy things. Lavi was just going to say his piece and run.

The person lying on the side the bed that Lavi could see was not Kanda. He was a native with dark skin and darker curls, big eyes lidded with drowsiness. He looked young. Younger than Lavi. He rubbed at his face, squinting through the darkness and muttering quiet questions. Lavi cringed at his mistake and was about to shut the door with an apology when he noticed a lily-white arm draped around the young man's waist.

Lavi was paralyzed for valuable seconds. He couldn't stop himself witnessing Kanda sitting up to stare at him, the stranger rising with him with a yawn.

Through some unconscious sense of self-preservation, Lavi began backing out. Then he began to run. He was halfway down the stairs before he felt Kanda grab him by his hair from behind. Kanda always was inhumanly fast. Lavi sat down against the wall hard, throwing trembling hands up to his mouth. Kanda had Mugen in his free hand, the sheath left behind. The blade shone with it's own light, illuminated in the pitch black of the sleeping house.

"Aa….aah." Lavi gasped in wordless terror.

"Not a sound." Kanda hissed at him. Lavi could feel the sword edge pressing into a vital vein in his neck. His eye widened. The slightest bit more pressure and he was a dead man. This was no joke.

For several long moments Kanda's eyes glinted at him while Lavi shook, lowering his gaze. He could feel the uncontrollable rash of heat starting to spread across his face. Kanda's grip tightened in reaction. Finally, Kanda took the katana away, but his hand viciously jerked at Lavi's hair so he couldn't avoid looking at him in the eyes.

"You tell no one." he whispered, his voice deadly cold. When Lavi said nothing, he slid his hand around Lavi's throat in warning.

"No. I won't." Lavi blurted out, startled at how loud he sounded.

"Shut up!" Kanda snarled at him lowly.

"I-I'm sorry! M' so sorry! Y-Yuu…" Lavi stammered, but keeping it quiet. Kanda threw him off violently, so that Lavi hit the wooden paneling with a thump.

He stood. In the dim lighting Lavi could see the sculpted shapes of his back--the long curve down the middle, the sharp shoulder blades. He was wearing sleeping shorts, which he must have quickly pulled on. Without another word, he started climbing the stairs, leaving Lavi sprawled on the steps.

"Y-Yuu?"

Kanda stopped halfway to the top. "What is it?" his words carried toneslessly.

"W-who was that?"

Kanda's chin moved to the side, almost as if looking back, but Lavi couldn't see his face.

"I don't remember his name, if that's what you're asking."

Then he had went back to his room. Lavi sat on the steps for a long time, biting his lip and thinking about what he didn't understand. It was only after he heard the rooster crowing again that he picked himself up, went back to his room to grab his hammer, and went outside to make the last of the mission rounds.

Kanda didn't join him.

---

Afterwards, things were sickeningly normal. Lavi silently listened to Kanda's calm explanation as he sat on Kanda's bed back at headquarters. Kanda was surprisingly frank.

Twenty-six. The two of them this year. They were twenty-six. Lavi gnawed at his fingernails and looked out at nothing.

Kanda didn't actually say it but it was close enough.

"I've never liked women." was how he put it. This prompted an internal review of every female encounter that Lavi has been there for. He recalls nothing like revulsion or awkwardness. Just cold-hearted, unreceptive….sexless…Kanda.

Lavi glumly spat a chewed-off cuticle into his hand. "How long? And…how?" Lavi asked him queasily, unsure of whether he wanted to hear any more.

"Christ." Kanda muttered. He braced his arms on the window sill and glowered out. "I don't know. Years now. I only do it on missions, and not every mission. I meet them, and then--" Kanda's mouth twisted into an expression of spite as he tossed contemptuous eyes over his shoulder. "Fuck, Lavi. How do you think I do it? How do you do it?"

Lavi stared meekly at his toes. "I don't."

That wiped the menace completely off of Kanda's face for the first time. Lavi wrapped his arms around himself and looked to the side.

He talked a good game, but the thing was, the Bookman clan was actually a monastic order. It was simple fact that sex made things complicated. People remembered you because of it. They started problems with you because of it. An ironically large portion of Bookman training was spent dealing with something that was supposed to be absent from a majority of their lives.

Most who joined the order had already known carnal knowledge, Bookman said. Few minds could be discerned to be worthy at an age when it could be reasonably expected that the candidate was a virgin. Youth itself was foolishness and daring. Men learned with age, but despite that the craving for the old pleasures of the flesh tainted the clarity of their minds.

But there were methods. Lust was a supposed irrepressible human problem. They sought to overcome those, just like the rest of it. Violence. Greed. The like. Bookmen were human but they aimed to surpass as many petty human limitations as possible. They did this by through mental discipline. Mental discipline could triumph over intrinsic vulgarities.

Lavi had been practically a baby when he came into the clan, making him unique. He had been special, with his eye that seemed to see everything and understand everything in its entirety immediately. They had to take him on. Bookman had been practical and made abstinence an objective lesson to learn, like any other. After all, at that age Lavi hadn't known any better. It was slightly different story when Lavi hit puberty, but not significantly so. After all, hadn't Bookman taught him serenity and contentment when he was at an age when he should have been throwing tantrums about sweets? Hadn't he learned neutrality and justice when normal children were banding together into factions and waging private wars? Such impulses could be soothed with the right kind of meditation.

There were, Bookman had told him thoughtfully, ways to have intercourse. There were…special men and women, associated with the clan. Enlightened. Made wise, through much study and training, with strict codes and a long-standing internalization of the grave importance of the Bookman creed. The body is not an enemy, Bookman had elaborated. Such people helped Bookmen understand their physicality without draining their mental energies. They understood Bookmen priorities and were usually scholars themselves.

They weren't numerous. But they existed, and they could be found. The Bookman seeking them had to properly trained, and not stupid enough to do something ridiculous like get attached. It was considered a privilege to meet with them. But it was an unspoken rule of sorts that no one could have separated emotion from sexual desire before a certain age. In the clan, your thirties made you young. But your twenties made you a baby.

"Still," Bookman had said. "I understand if you feel unhappy there is no one else like you in the clan in this aspect. This may not be a comfort to you for some time, if ever at all, but know that you won't always be the odd one. Those who understand our clan do not judge things like experience."

And this had been enough for Lavi at age eight, ten, twelve, when he was only just starting to understand it, but only as a mysterious, surreally distant thing. The promise of being included someday was enough for him. In the meantime, he meditated like he had been taught.

And then they had joined the Order.

The problem with interacting people outside the clan was that they didn't understand this philosophy. Bookman had warned Lavi that the Order had many young people who would understand in some rude form that a being that wasn't sexual wasn't really human. They needed to blend in without actually blending. Incorporate it in your personality, but don't believe it, had been his orders. It would be a gruesome challenge.

"This" he had said grimly, "Might be the most difficult obstacle you ever encounter in your training." Lavi had bowed his head humbly, but something in him had actually wanted that to be the case. Bookman saying it would be hard was practically an invitation to experiment, since some failure would be forgiven.

Only, it wasn't like that. When he came to the Order, everyone and everything was so very, very sad. Everyone he met was a living tragedy, a masterpiece like a Shakespearean play.

There were times when he was mad with himself. He tried to make himself feel something. He overcompensated with sexy remarks. He had moments of raging want for beautiful Lenalee, for voluptuous akuma women. There was always the initial surge of excitement. (Sometimes, he wryly thought that he'd come up with a way to mediate himself into desire, not out.) But his mind always overrode it when their stories came out. Their histories.

There were a million things to learn, see, admire and pity in the Order. And he found, to his shock, that sex wasn't such a big deal. It never was.

When he had told Bookman this, Bookman had only nodded. But Lavi had caught the gleam in the old man's eye that only came around with an especially exciting nugget of knowledge. Lavi had rested his hands during their break in the library and sighed, wondering about the old man's story and how Bookman once told him that the word prodigy was carefully avoided when speaking of any Bookman, since they were all exemplary. "You…" he had started, and then abruptly changed the subject.

Of course, Lavi didn't tell Kanda all this. He mumbled something about being raised by monks, which was true enough. His face was burning. Kanda was staring.

He'd never been ashamed of this before. But he suddenly felt so childish before his childhood friend, who turned out be anything but a child. But Kanda shook his head at him.

"So." Kanda raised an appraising eyebrow at him. "You don't care about sexuality?"

Lavi grappled for moment whether he meant sexuality, lust sexuality, or sexuality, gender preference sexuality. But the he decided that it didn't really make a difference. In any sense. The answer was the same.

"No." he answered. He didn't think his blush could get any worse. If Kanda was asking the right question, Lavi had just outed himself as…not really normal. A pure Bookman, which right this second made him sad about the loss of his humanity. This was Kanda, his so-human, so-admired…whatever he was. Lavi didn't fight with him or understand him, so who knew about being friends? Who knew about anything now that he knew about Kanda?

Kanda evaluated him with a long, hard, look. But in the end he let Lavi go without another word.

More time passed. Kanda started doing things when he was on missions with Lavi. Nothing that Lavi could call obscene. Maybe not even definitively real. But Lavi was uneasily aware when Kanda put coins straight into the hand of the merchant with the high cheekbones instead of on the countertop. That he nodded curtly at the one street performer with the piercing hazel eyes even though the entire colorful group shouted warm hellos to everyone in the street.

He sometimes got separate rooms for them even if one already had two beds.

Lavi didn't say anything.

---

It was Kanda's guess that probably someone knew about what he did. But it was also his guess that the days of the Church of raining trails and executions on heretic soldiers were over. Somewhere along the way it had accepted its desperate need for sound, innocence-compatible bodies. As long as the sodomites and et cetera sinners in their fold were inconspicuous about it, they remained on the payroll.

For example, when Allen and Lenalee started having pre-marital sex, nobody cared.

Maybe it was because their romance was far from mesmerizingly pretty. When it fell far short of storybook perfect, people were a little surprised. Not so surprised either, because Allen and Lenalee were too old by then. Not by much, but their chance for a magically stupid sixteen-year-old and thirteen-year-old Romeo-and-Julietesque youth-driven affair had passed them by. (Likely during the period they were all being chased base to base by particularly fickle Earl.)

Komui had staged dramatic hair-tearing seizures at first, but after being efficiently ignored by his sister and her boyfriend, that had stopped. While they were in their early twenties, they had quietly admitted to being together to the rest of the Order, apathetic Generals and Vatican representatives included. They still formally had their own rooms, but no one ever checked to make sure both beds were occupied at night, even if Lenalee's was always suspiciously neat.

So for the past few years, Kanda had known them as unmarried husband and wife. No probing investigations so far. No one seemed very interested in tracking how their relationship came about or how it was going. Kanda thought that this was probably the for best and least embarrassing for Allen and Lenalee anyways, because it hasn't always gone that well.

Kanda supposed that it might be because Allen finally lived up to his supposedly Anglo-Saxon bloodline. Once he grew up, you could finally believe that he really was descended from one of the war-burly Norman invaders that crossed the English channel to seize it for their William-the-Bastard turned William-the-Conqueror commander. He lost the bizarre same-build same-sweet-faced-innocence matched aesthetic he'd had with Lenalee when they were teenagers. It had always made things too weird, like they were real life versions of raggedy Anne and Andy. Supposed to be a romantic couple but looking like they were brother and sister dabbling in childish incest.

Allen became dashingly tall and strong and as soon as he did he acquired a petite Asian doll lover that he led around. Lenalee was so little next to him that it couldn't look like anything else. Even early on Kanda noticed that sometimes her face would be wary or cross when they were like that. But Allen has never talked about it as far as Kanda knew and Kanda wasn't interested in being the one to ask.

There were good times for them, like the times when she would entrust a china-delicate lady's hand to Allen's much bigger one to go out for nights on the town. Those times were marked by sparkling, swishing white skirts of Allen's favorite white and late night returns. They'd come back bowled over the threshold, tumbling with kisses and laughter even if Kanda was reading in the common room connected to the bedchambers.

But Kanda chooses mostly to think as how premature aging would sometimes wrinkle the corners of Lenalee's narrowed eyes over breakfast plates gone cold. Her mouth would be thinner and older than when she glittered on Allen's arm with a gleam of teeth and rose painted lips. If she had any rosiness during those mornings, it would be in the rims of her eyes and nose.

As for Allen, it would vary. Sometimes he would occupy the chair next to her with the same war-faced stoniness as the English suits of armor in the halls, looking like a stern British king. Sometimes she would be all alone with her cold meal and stiffness, and he would be laughing loudly several tables over with the newer male exorcists, stuffing his face. Kanda would be the only one quietly eating during these tense breakfasts that became less and less infrequent.

---

Lavi had taken up smoking. He'd almost hacked up a lung the first time he'd tried it, even though he had been expecting it. It was common sense that inhaling smoke and ash into your body was a bad idea, and Lavi had his own theories on how it must impact breathing over time. But he just needed something to do. He was getting restless.

There was still plenty to record. Plenty. The Order kept him busy with its day to day disasters, and the miraculous ark was still getting him shipped to all corners of the Earth. Missions came and went. Sometimes with the younger exorcists, who bored him with their dog-pack antics, tripping all over their feet and barking at each other unintelligibly. Sometimes with Krory, who liked to talk about the old days, back when he had been with Miranda before she died. (Nothing related to the war, although she had been on a mission. The traffic in the big cities were getting worse and worse.) Sometimes with Allen, or Lenalee, which would be fun. Sometimes with the two of them together, which could be a real chore. Sometimes with Kanda, which always went fine as long as Lavi minded his own business, and why wouldn't he?

But whenever he was home, he got the disquieting sense that there was nothing to do. Things had become such routine that he was often driven to get out of it. When he tried to settle down to his work, sometimes he had to get up again and pace aimlessly through all the halls and turrets. He would take some papers with him, so things got done, but he would always end up staring at something eventually. The sky out the window, a tapestry he's already committed to memory down to the last thread, the rainbow heads of the young ones squabbling out in the yard. Once in a while he ran into Lenalee doing the same thing, but she would always give him a warm little half smile and say something about nesting instincts.

Sarcastically, of course, and Lavi would smile back at her, but even though he liked her she honestly depressed him a little. He was, no way to avoid it, discontent. He wasn't sure what it was. It would have been grim indeed if they were both hitting their midlife crises already. Lenalee, he knew though, was just living the complexities of her relationship with Allen, which was grey business enough. But Lavi, he felt like he was a journal being kept shelved somewhere while an invisible presence still wrote in the closed pages.

It didn't make sense. He was recording the most important war taking place at the moment. He wasn't bored of it. Wars were fluid enough without helpfully stimulating wildcards like fantastical monsters and holy relics thrown. He knew he 'd been doing it for a long time, but…What had Bookman said? "I wanted you to find out about this by yourself through writing many records, but this war has gone on for most of your life. When it finally ends, every form of you that existed during it must vanish. But remember that when you close a record, you mustn't be afraid. It is only like going to sleep, and you will wake again."

Lavi's energy had been sleepy in general lately. This worried him, because the war, as far as he could tell, was far from done. He felt discouraged, and despite what Bookman had said, scared. His life was this war, and the war was his life--when "he" died, his body would only be the words he wrote for this war. He didn't have the right to kill the record just because his mind was weakening.

Wandering kept him alert. If he didn't do it, he would sometimes sit at his desk, breathing, just breathing, blink and find that hours had gone by. But if he stalked the halls of the Order, the history would seem to yank at him imploringly with fingers grown out of the walls.

So he started smoking to plant that need to get up and out. The Order had new rules about stinking up the place, since their latest HQ was castle was technically on loan from one of the local lords.

Bookman didn't quite approve because he saw it as a crutch. He smoked a pipe, but there was hardly such a deep rationale behind it. Lavi argued him down about how all the great masters had had their quirky aids. Like Bookman's panda spots. But then, Lavi thought as he lost another centimeter on his cigarette with an inhale, this wasn't so much quirky as…sullen.

"Junior." Bookman's age-ravaged voice creaked at him from down the hall. Lavi lifted a hand to show that he heard him, and would be over as soon as he was done. Bookman was old now--no, ancient, even if his mind was a clear as glass and tongue sharp as a new shard. Lavi wanted to spare him any unnecessary movement.

"Lavi. The Kanda boy. He's brought in someone you need to meet."

Lavi ground the stub underneath his boot, biting his tongue. Somewhere in his brain where things used to be funnier, he had a vision of Kanda holding hands with a similarly gorgeous young man, the two of them flashing big smiles and engagement rings before the rest gang. For some reason, the image just made him feel dour. Yeah. Maybe even Kanda would find a steady boyfriend when this was all over, and they would go to Japan and set up a dojo and rut underneath the cherry trees. Kanda's always had direction and decisiveness, so once he decided to be happy he'd get the job done. Not like Lavi, the slacker. Pft.

"Lavi…"Bookman seemed nervous, swaying slightly like there was no time for Lavi to wrap up his thoughts. This concerned Lavi. Bookman had always been a stalwart pillar of stiff posture, no matter what the circumstances.

"What's going on, Bookman?"

Bookman's head twisted and his shriveled mouth, sunken in now, moved convulsively over his gums. He raised his arms.

"…Gramps?"

"You are going to have to sneak in." Bookman's eyes had lost much of their color. They were milky and damaged now, yellow where the whites should be and spidery veins clumping. He didn't like looking his apprentice in eye the anymore because of this, because being a Bookman was about sight. The eyes, when clear, can be peered through like a water pass to see the contents beneath. It was hard for him to lose this.

Lavi hadn't seem them directly for years now, but now they steadily held his, the phlegm-y, expired things unflinching. "You must not be afraid." Bookman said, slipping a piece of paper between his claws into Lavi's outstretched hand.

Tyki Mikk was waiting for him. Much about him was the same. The wide, lascivious mouth. The feathery dark hair. He was dressed only in bandages from the waist up and had the languid movements of a heavily injured man, but Lavi instantly read from the muscles of his face that the pain was meaningless to him.

Their last encounter, Tyki Mikk had primed his mind to break by telling him a fairytale about Allen Walker's death. Then his sister had finished the job by cutting his heart from the inside out. Bookmen knew to read the eyes. Tyki Mikk's were a beautiful black nothingness, pits that lacked even for walls in their perfection. Nevertheless, Lavi told himself not to be afraid.

Two days later and the Order was on high alert after Tyki Mikk escaped from his cell. When he disappeared without further incident, no one slept for a long, long time because they were sure he had left some kind of a time bomb catastrophe within their walls. Everything from missions to vacations went on freeze in anticipation of a Noah trick. It took a month for everyone to calm down enough to get back to business, albeit with an underlying wariness that emergency would come again.

Meanwhile Lavi gave intense answers to Allen's under the table hypothetical questions about how he would feel about best-manhood. He went on missions. He helped out after Lenalee kicked a hole in the wall in frustration, and then took her on a shopping trip a few months later to pick out a Christmas present for Allen. Kanda quietly acquiesced to a joint birthday party on the roof, which was nothing but the two of them drinking gin until Lavi passed out. Lavi went on several information-seeking expeditions on the arc, furiously stacking high the bundles of research until he needed a new room just for storage. Bookman retired with some withering remarks about wanting to die in peace and quiet. Lavi gave Kanda a hair cut because it got ridiculously long to the point that people couldn't sit next to him or risk sitting on it. He set Krory up with the shop-girl he always bought his inks from on St. Valentine's Day. He organized an autumn football tournament for the new exorcists and made Chaoji the referee. And he quit smoking.

He left letters for Krory, Komui, Allen, Lenalee, and Chaoji.

The were all the same. Some form of

"Dear X, I deeply regret having to leave so suddenly, I have come to an impasse in my life and will miss you dearly… I will keep fighting in my own way… I know you are strong and will win…I will see you at the end, but I hope to write to you in the meantime..." etc, etc. And then, always the kind-hearted afterthought,

"I love you."

Except for Kanda's, which didn't say anything of the sort. Lavi ended his letter differently.

"Be careful."

---

MUST-STOP-COMING-UP-WITH-FIC-IDEAS-MUST-STUDY-MUST-STOP-EATING-CHOCOLATE-COVERED-COFFEE-BEANS.

Switching to past tense is hard. Pardon the mistakes for now, please, I was in a rush and I haven't written in past tense for…a very long time. But please point them out to me so I can fix them.

Welcome to the last big push before winter break is over. I was looking over my KandaLavi fics when I realized…they're never a happy couple in any of them. Either they don't get together, or get together and break up, or so something really sick and twisted to each other by the end. (Murder, date-rape…ugh, is anyone surprised to hear that I'm a happy person in real life?)

So this is my attempt to write a real love story. (No, really this time.) It takes a lot from what I've learned from life recently. It's always uncertain, and sometimes you're not sure of what matters and what doesn't. It can be agonizingly slow. I'm not deliberately doing role reversal with their sexualities. Coming into adulthood is never a predictable process, and here Kanda and Lavi arrived at it differently.

It's going be broken up into three parts. The chapter titles are lines from the song "Home" by Intercept, if you want to look it up.

This first part was marathon of six hours straight of writing and getting very jittery hands while writing the chicken scene. Lavi's state was clearly my own.

It might take a while to get this done. Just saying.