What can I say? Sorry for the really long delay on updating. This chapter proved to be way more difficult to write than I thought. But on the bright side, it's quite long, 19,492 words to read, so I hope that makes it up for it.
I know it took long, but trust me on this, this story, At least THIS ONE FOR SURE, I won't leave unfinished, and It won't be long now, so please bear with me!
Disclaimer: Don't own D gray man
Pairings: this story is not meant to have any pairings, there's only friendship intended, but you are free to interpret as you wish.
The inspector could feel, and that by default told him he was back on his senses. He grumbled in annoyance. He was used to Allen's clownish antics but that last stunt was too much. To throw the inspector into an endless pit! Preposterous!
Link slowly began to raise, eyes still tightly closed as he rubbed his nose. Apparently he fell headfirst. After alleviating part of his 'agony' he opened his eyes to inspect the surroundings. He was, apparently, at some kind of plaza of some unknown town. Surprised that the many people around him didn't care to offer any help even when he was obviously in pain, he tried to call to a child that passed running by him. That was when the recollection of the things that had happened finally kicked in. He had fallen from an endless pit… to a town's plaza? That wasn't possible. Not unless… the inspector seemed to connect the points. That's when he heard a soft clapping from behind him.
Turning around he saw just what he was expecting to see. The bored clown lay against some old boxes in what appeared to be an alley, clapping at him, almost as if mocking his sudden understanding of the situation.
"I'm still in a dream?" it was more a statement than a question, but the clown still nodded at it.
The inspector sighed in frustration. His day just kept on getting better and better.
The clown turned his attention back to his deck of cards. With that uncaring look he began to shuffle the cards. Every few times he would stop, take the first card, look at it, then place it back and shuffle again. Link felt almost mesmerized at the intensity that -strangely enough- the masked eyes seemed to convey at those simple actions. But after the fifteenth time he got tired and decided to approach the white clown. When he moved to the other, the dreamed Allen looked up to him, his white hand pointing to something behind him, and by the desperate way he was moving his arm, Link thought it was of great importance for him to turn around. And what a surprise he had at what he saw.
There, walking in a small squad were Madarao and his old partners of crow. All of them –though- looked way much younger, maybe in their early teens. Everyone on the squad walked in a seemingly disinterested fashion, but even then they held an aura that would make any grown up show respect. Such was their training, and they were quite proud of it, or so it appeared. Link felt a nostalgic feeling making its way into his heart. Madarao held his head high with pride for he was –already at that young age- the leader of their squad. The team moved with a quick tempo, never falling out of rhythm, each member moving like the next even thought they each had their own style at doing so. No one ever fell behind. Link felt proud of them… but then, something seemed to call Madarao's attention making the young crow raise his right hand to indicate his comrades to stop. Turning slowly, the whole group waited patiently till a small figure appeared from behind a corner. Link felt himself blush of embarrassment. There, panting slightly and with his tie done wrong was none other than young crow apprentice Howard Link, and by the way some of his comrades shook their head at his appearance, he was late.
Allowing himself to be pulled by an unknown force, Link walked closer to appreciate the scene, without him noticing, the clown disappeared from behind him. A weird shine in his masked eyes was present as he hid in the alleys of the memory.
"Howard, you're late," declared young Madarao. The comment showed clear disappointment, and yet it was laced with some concern.
"Excuse me," mumbled the ashamed boy. He was still trying to catch his breath for it was slightly ragged.
"Link… is your face a little red?" asked young Tevak with curiosity.
"Now that you mention it…"started Tokusa.
Link fiddled a little, trying to right his tie. "I…"
Madarao stopped him from continuing by placing a gentle hand over his forehead. Link was surprised by how cold his friend's hand was.
"You have a fever," declared the squad leader. "Not a high one but still…"
The boy grumbled a little, but knew better than to deny something so obvious.
"Might be because of the late training we did in the cold night, Link's always been kind of weak to the weather," commented Tokusa with amusement. Goushi grinned at the comment.
The soldier in training blushed in embarrassment; he hated being recalled about his current weaknesses. Clearing his throat, Madarao called young Link's attention.
"Howard, you think you can keep up with the rest?" he asked seriously. Link straightened his posture and nodded with determination.
"Of course, a fever will not make me falter, Madarao."
The squad leader analyzed the expression of his younger comrade and soon nodded satisfied.
"Good." He declared and turned to continue his way around town. Everyone followed him in complete obedience, no one mentioning anything about the sick comrade that followed them, as if nothing had happened.
Link marched behind his old squad watching silently how his younger counterpart was struggling with the effort of keeping up with the rest. The inspector used to be quite sensible to the weather when he was younger and because of that he tended to get sick a lot more than his peers. But it never stopped him, that was why he became stronger, or so he told himself. Somewhere in the middle of his musings, the inspector noticed he was missing a clown. Looking around he searched for the white haired pierrot.
"Walker? Walker, where are you?" he said in a moderate tone of voice. The boy was nowhere to be found. Link decided to keep following his younger self, after all, Walker brought him here, so he ought to come back, right?
Unknown to him thought, hidden in a dark alley, a disinterested clown watched his every move with more interest than his expression conveyed. His body leaned heavily against the imaginary wall, as he seemed to try to catch his breath, but was —sadly— failing. The clown could not enter the scene, not yet. He had to be the epitome of joke itself, being the bored clown and all, but for that he needed to recover his composure, and that was probing to be more difficult than he thought. Hopefully, with some luck, he'll be ready for the next scene of this act.
The group of young prospects for crow members reached the town's train station and formed a line outside, patiently waiting. Link saw his younger self fidgeting a little trying to make himself look slightly more presentable. The inspector found it weird though, he wasn't really sure what was going to happen, this whole thing seemed to be some kind of memory but he couldn't quite place which one.
Suddenly, he noticed that the young group straightened themselves standing straight, ready to salute someone. The inspector turned around and saw the cloaked figure of an elite crow member walking silently to the children. Link felt compelled by his training to stand in the line and stand in attention, no matter how silly it really was, he just couldn't help himself.
The cloaked man got closer to the young team. When he stood in front of them, they saluted him with respect.
"Good evening young soldiers," said the man with a hoarse voice. "Squad leader, please come forward." Madarao didn't think twice as he walked closer to his superior.
The man cleared his throat before continuing.
"I'm afraid the plan is been delayed. The higher ups are dealing with some important matters back at the order," the man then murmured something about a 'childish general' doing as he pleased. "Therefore, your final challenges for the crow initiation are to be postponed for the next two days." If the children were disappointed, the elite crow didn't notice, they were already good at masking their feelings. "For the next two days you shall remain in this city, you've got freedom to explore it. In fact, I highly recommend you start getting familiar with the environment, if any of you pass the test it'll become an advantage for your future missions." The man pulled a small bag from within his cloak and handed it to young Madarao. "This should cover your basic needs. On the evening of the second day I expect you to come here so I may take you back to the secret meeting place. Is that understood?"
"Sir, yes Sir!" exclaimed the children saluting their superior as he turned around without another word, leaving the children on their own.
When the elite soldier disappeared from sight, the children that were standing behind Madarao let out a sigh of relief; some of them wondered how Madarao was so good at handling that much pressure. Said leader turned to look at them.
"Now what?" asked Tokusa wondering what would be their next move.
"The superior recommended as using this time to our future advantage." Declared the squad leader. "Then we should do that exactly. We'll go and explore the city and make sure we know it like the back of our hands, next time we come here, we'll be crows."
Everyone nodded in determination as their leader began to walk down the street. Young Link touched his tie with unease; he hoped he hadn't made a fool of himself in front of the higher up. He was so distracted he didn't notice the group had stopped and soon found himself crashing into another body. Looking up apologetically, he noticed it was Madarao who was looking at him seriously.
"Ma-madarao?" he asked in confusion.
"Everyone may come, except for you Howard." Declared the leader.
"Bu-but…" Link started to say but was soon silenced by the elder's hand.
"You know better than to say 'but' to your leader's words," young Link lowered his head in shame. Madarao noticed this and placed a gentle hand over his friend's shoulder, softening his tone of voice as he added. "Howard, the last test is just around the corner, you need to be at your best, and right now you're hardly at it. Your body needs rest, so allow it to have it. We all know that soon, rest will be a luxury, take it now that you can." The younger looked at the strong soldier, feeling the truth in his words. "Now, go back to the inn and rest. If you're better tomorrow you may join the group, understood?"
Link turned to look at his friends and saw how they held caring gazes at him. They were the closest to family he's had in years. And he knew they were right. Link nodded in acceptance, he didn't want to but he knew he had to. The sound of feet retreating made him feel even more depressed.
"Damn this stupid cold!" he grumbled in anger only for his body to answer him with a loud sneeze. Sighing, the young soldier took a white handkerchief from his uniform's pocket and proceeded to clean up his slightly reddened nose. With nothing left to do and with the tiresome feeling of being sick on his shoulders, the boy began to make his way back to the inn he was staying at.
Adult Link watched pitifully as his young incarnation lazily moved foot after foot, making his way through the streets. The inspector remembered how annoying it used to be to get sick so easily. Fortunately for him, after two years of training at the order's crow unit, he gained a stronger immune system that kept him away from the hospital for years, except in case of a battle inflicted wound. These were the times he used to hate the most for he was separated from his squad, making him feel feeble and stupid. Stupid… stupid… mmm… something was bothering Link about that… was there something 'stupid' he was forgetting? And if so… then what was it?
At the other side of the street, a weakened white clown was spying on his current charge. Thankfully for him, Link was more than capable of following the schedule by himself, giving the clown time to put himself together. But, how was he supposed to react after he noticed a stain on his pure white sleeve. A STAIN! The bored clown rubbed with despair at the reddened stain wishing it away. The little dot seemed to be stubborn for even after a few minutes of doing so, it held strong. The poor clown let his head drop in silent acceptance. Taking a white cloth from one of his pockets he soon made a cute looking bow over the stain, hoping not to disappoint his audience for his silly mistake. After all, he was needed on the next part, and he wasn't about to stop the act for a stain! You know how the saying goes! The show must go on!
Young Link walked among the streets with little interest on anything that surrounded him, he was feeling a headache coming, it was small, but it was making his ears buzz a little. That's why he wasn't aware enough to avoid being pushed aside by a big boy.
"Sorry!" exclaimed the boy in apology before noticing he had pushed another kid. "Hey, you should hurry, it's about to start!" and with that, the child disappear around a corner.
Now, paying more attention at the street, Link saw a fair amount of children dragging their parents along with them to some unknown destination. The majority of the adults simply smiled and complied with their child's demands, they seemed to know it was alright to do so. Link, thought he knew he was supposed to go back to the inn and rest, couldn't help his childish curiosity from taking the best of him and soon found himself following the people.
The inspector frowned a little at his younger self childish attitude. Was he curious enough to defy an order from his squad leader? The soldier shook his head in disappointment. He was getting tired of all of this.
"Better find a way to wake myself up. I've got a lot of things to do in the real world."
Then just when he was about to turn around he felt an arm being placed over his shoulder and the weight of another person leaning close to his body. The inspector raised his gaze at the person invading his personal space and finally remembered what that 'stupid' thing he forgot was.
"Walker, fancy meeting you here," his voice was laced with annoyance as the bored clown looked at him with intensity almost as if asking 'and where where you going?' Link sighed. "Not that this isn't amusing, but I've got better things to do with my time than being asleep." The inspector felt the grip on his shoulder getting tighter, which made him nervous. "Walker, what are you-!" then without warning, the white clown pulled Link off his feet and proceeded to carry him bridal style after the younger apparition. This made Link blush hard.
"Walker I demand you put me down this instant!" The pierrot didn't pay him any attention. Link tried to escape his hold in vain, the clown was just as stubborn as he was. "I'm warning you Walker, put me down or else!"
At hearing the threat, the clown stopped and looked at Link with that boring expression, for some reason, Link saw a little shine of mischief in those dark masked eyes. "Oh no, don't you-!" but before he could finish what he was about to say he was 'let down' in a less than delicate manner, causing the poor inspector to crash against the cold floor. Looking back at his charge he noticed the clown looking at him with his head tilted to the side and his arms cross. If the clown could talk he would have been saying something like 'your fault, you asked for it.'
Link lowered his gaze to the floor as he felt his head heating up, about to explode in anger. But just before he began to rant about the younger's attitude a white gloved hand was offered to him. He looked up at the clown that was offering the hand with some eagerness. Link decided not overreact just for a dream. He took the hand and stood up, dusting his clothes off. "Try to keep this clown thing to the minimum, would you?" the clown shrugged but offer a few taps on the inspector's shoulder as if saying 'sorry, sorry'.
Link grumbled a little in annoyance before noticing his surroundings had changed.
The inspector turned around to see where they were and was surprised to see his younger self peeking around a crowd trying to see what made so many people gather in one spot. The older Link got his inner curiosity spiked by this and soon he was getting closer to see.
As the little apprentice of crow got closer to the growing group of people he began to hear the cheerful music that could only be produced when a way too old violin was played by a lower class–and slightly tasteless- musician.
It was town's music, and as mentioned before, not the good one. Just to allure people to get near to the player.
The crowd was mostly made up of children and their parents; everyone seemed to be smiling at something. Little Link's curiosity was getting the better of him. Pressing softly against some of the bigger adults, he managed to make his way to the front. The first thing that called his attention was the slightly overweighed man playing the (as he had guessed) old violin. He had a big smile as he sent some comments to the audience like: 'Come closer, come closer' and 'It's about to start'. Standing next to this man was a sign that read in elegant calligraphy: 'Big Joy and lil' mischief', and behind that sign, there was a small makeshift tent. His young but keen mind told him he was about to watch something his superiors would call a 'complete waste of time'.
The boy sighed in frustration, now that he was at the front he couldn't go back. He was trapped between the children that clapped excitedly, there was no escape. Carefully, he scanned the group of people to make sure that no one of his squad was close enough to see him in this predicament. Of course, if they were close, they would avoid such a precarious situation, another reason why he felt so embarrassed about it all. Just as he could feel his already hot cheeks become even hotter, the sound of loud claps and cheering brought him back to reality. Rising his head to look at the 'scenery' he was slightly confused by what he saw.
A big clown dressed in baggy clothes was balancing his weight over a big ball which he used to go around the 'scene' saluting the children with a brightly colored smile. The clown laughed along the children giving a signal to another, but smaller, character. A little clown, probably smaller than Link, dressed in the same fashion as the adult, was juggling five balls in his small gloved hands. At the signal, the boy began to pass them to the bigger one or 'Big Joy' (as he seemed to be called) one by one. The older laughed as he juggled them expertly making the crowd go 'Oh' and clap in excitement. All the while the music encompassed the act, making it even more hilarious to the audience. But little Link barely found any amusement in all of that. He saw his friends do even more complex stunts in a training session than that clown could ever achieve in his life. And they did it when they were the same height as the small clown, so it wasn't that impressive.
During most of the act, the small apprentice of crow placed his concentration in trying to find a way to escape the crowd and go back to the inn, but he found none. He could feel his fever getting worse… and that headache making itself more present by the minute.
Link watched as his younger self got even more flustered. He could connect with the feeling. Turning his head to the side, he saw how HIS bored clown made his own juggling session with his deck of cards, shuffling them in unbelievable –not to mention physically impossible- ways. Link could feel a headache coming… he let out a sigh… this was really a long dream…
Back with the act, the little clown walked among the children smiling at them as he bounced gracefully from foot to foot. The mob of children found it amusing that someone that seemed to be as young (or even younger) than them could be part of a clown's act. Link on his part, found it a little unnerving.
Big Joy clapped his hands to call everyone's attention and then began to speak with a fake but funny voice.
"Now, boys and girls, with the help of my dearest assistant, 'Lil' mischief'" the child clown stopped and saluted at the mention of his nickname. "I'm going to choose a volunteer from this merry crowd to help me with the last act. I promise my children, there will be laughs!" the children went ecstatic at the idea of participating. "Now, little one, would you do the honors?" the big clown handed a deck of cards to the younger one, who saluted comically before turning to the crowd. "Now, my dear assistant will hand a card to each child, then I'll call over one of the card's name, each card has their name written above in case anyone is not familiar. The owner of the card I call shall come forth to participate in the last round of laughs!"
The children agreed with enthusiasm… well, everyone but Link did.
As the younger clown got closer and began handling the cards, little Link tried his best to hide away from him so he wouldn't have to go through more embarrassing situations. Looking for a way out, he noticed some children showing off his cards, which allowed him to read the names on them.
The queen of hearts was dubbed "My heart's queen".
The ten of spades was the "10 swords of his majesty".
Now that he thought of it, every name seemed to have been made up to make the children feel important about having the card. 'Silly carnival tricks' Link thought. Soon, the children were whispering among themselves giggling and chuckling to their card's name. Link didn't find it very interesting, so he turned again to the 'scenery' and noticed the little clown looking around curiously with only one card left in his little gloved hand. That was the moment their eyes met for the first time. In just one second, the young soldier went from annoyed to utter panic for he noticed the clown was hopping joyfully in his direction. The other kids, eager to cooperate with 'lil' mischief', moved aside, clearing the path towards Link.
Link flinched at the idea of the clown hugging him, but was surprised when the boy stopped at the last second, avoiding any accidents.
The soldier lowered his gaze to look at the smaller boy who extended the card towards him with a big and bright smile. Link looked at the card that was currently upside down and shook his head 'no', refusing to take it.
The smile of the clown fell slightly as his expression turned into confusion, trying once more to offer the card. Link rose his hand to push it back at the boy, shaking his head and adding a 'no thanks', with a soft voice. He couldn't allow himself to participate in such a shameful act as a carnival game. His face was dead serious as he did this, thing that seemed to make the small clown slightly annoyed, but soon covered it with another big smile.
The clown boy took a handkerchief out from within his pocket and covered the card with it. Then removed it and the card was gone. The children that were watching applauded impressed at the magic trick while Link just kept his stoic expression. 'Mischief' made some movements with his hands and to Link's surprise, a small cloud of smoke puffed from his vest's pocket making him look at it. There, just as he had expected, was the card he had tried to refuse. The small group of children clapped again enjoying the private magic show; Link on his part was already annoyed. He was about to take the card and give it back to the stubborn clown, but before he could he felt someone place their arm over his shoulder and lean against him. Confused by this he turned to look at the person that had so aggressively violated his personal space, which turned out to be lil' mischief (By then Link understood why they had given that nickname to the child clown) who was looking at him with a really bored expression under his jolly make up. The younger boy was standing on the tips of his shoes as he leaned and whispered in the soldier's ear.
"Ya know, yer no fun," then added as he tapped on Link's pocket. "I'm only doing my job, so would you please play along?" the voice the clown boy had used made it clear to Link that he wasn't really asking, he was ordering him to play by the rules… it made him kind of nervous... like when Madarao handed an order that must not be refused. What the heck was with that boy?
To Link's surprise, the exchange between him and the clown was so fast, mostly none of the children even noticed it. The young soldier shook his head; he was really feeling the toll of his cold.
A small hand suddenly tugged on his coat's sleeve making him look down.
"Mister… I got the "Lucky damsel", what did you got?" asked a small girl while proudly showing her queen of clovers.
That made Link notice he hadn't even looked at his card. Taking it out of his pocket, he frowned a little. "Just my luck, more clowns…" he mumbled to himself. The clown was the picture of a happy jester better known as the joker. But over the figure another name was written in golden ink with beautiful calligraphy. Link couldn't help but think that by the attire worn by the joker the name fitted well. The soldier turned to the young girl that waited with curiosity and showed her the card hoping not to upset her.
"I got the "Crowned Clown"" he said feeling his cheeks turning a brighter red, which made the girl smile at him cutely. Link wasn't used to dealing with small kids…
Link turned to look at the white apparition with quite a funny expression (which was new on his normally serious visage).
"The crowned clown? Seriously? Crowned Clown?" Link wasn't sure why he was so surprised about it, after all, it was Walker who guided him into this dream… but then again, Link felt this was more than a dream… this environment felt like memory and that made him uncomfortable. According to his memory, this never actually happened.
The clown boy stared at him with his bored expression while shrugging deeply as if to say "I guess so" or "I don't know". Link was beginning to wonder if this clown knew anything at all.
It was then that the inspector, having the keen eye he had, noticed that something was different about his guide, there was a new piece of clothing that seemed to wrap around his wrist. Link was going to ask about it but his train of thought was interrupted by the sound of loud clapping, making him turn around, but not before making a mental note to ask Walker about it later.
Big joy clapped his hands calling everyone's attention back to him.
"My dear audience, it seems my assistant Lil' mischief, has finished his duty!" The small clown bowed gracefully at the crowd. "Now, we shall ask the stars for the fortunate one that shall participate in the final act!" The bit clown moved his hands around slowly as if casting a spell, the violin's music turned to a mysterious melody that fitted the intended purpose. The clown turned and raised his hands as he moved slowly. "Ummmm, unnnn, dunnn," he said while shaking his hips from side to side making the young audience laugh at his antics. In the middle of all the distraction, the children failed to see the little clown's assistant making signs to the bigger one. Everyone ignored this, everyone but young apprentice of crow Link, who didn't found the whole act so amusing from the beginning. Something about the signs of the small kid made him feel unnerved, especially since the boy was throwing conspicuous looks at him every few seconds while smiling mischievously. Yes, not nice at all.
Link decided that for his own well being, he had to get out of there, so he begun trying to push his way out of the tumult of people. But –sadly- in his desperate attempt at escaping, he didn't pay attention to the Big Joy's voice. He also forgot that he wasn't the only one that knew which card he had anymore, and that came back to him as he felt a little hand gripping at his coat's sleeve.
"Mister, it's you! They're calling for you!," said the little girl with shiny mirthful eyes, she was radiating excitement to be so close to the winner, but Link couldn't have felt more panicked. And when the older boy just stood there frozen, the toddler saw it fit to take the matter into her own little hands and make justice!
"The Crowned Clown, please come forward," called Big Joy for the third time.
"He's here!"" she exclaimed jumping and moving her hand making the older boy flinch internally at her high pitched squeal. "He's got the Clown! Over here Mister Joy!"
Suddenly, Link was the unwilling center of everyone's attention, adults and kids, all of them turned to look at him. Link felt sweat rolling down his face; his fever didn't make it any better.
"My, young boy, don't be shy now, come here, please?" asked the big clown with a delightful smile, behind him Link could see the little clown snickering.
The young soldier felt his face going a little pale as he noticed there was no way out off this. Not when everyone was looking at him with expectative. Being trained as he was, he would not run away from this challenge. Taking a deep breath to calm his accelerated heart, he turned and placed a poker face over his obviously disturbed expression. If he was going to endure this, he shall keep his dignity. The boy's body moved almost mechanically to the front.
"My, what a serious face young one. Here, let's see if we can help you with that!" said the 'Big Joy' making a funny face to the audience and receiving laughs as reward. "For you see, there is no child I can't make laugh!" declared the man, confident in his abilities as he presented to Link his best and funniest face.
Link felt confused at the clown's actions. H e was pressing his hands against his cheeks puckering his lips up. The people behind him laughed, children squealing in delight, but Link couldn't get the point of their laughs. That face was weird and to some point annoying, but definitely not amusing at all. After ten seconds, the clown backed away making a thinking pose… then threw another funny face to the boy… who looked with the same stoic expression from before. So the clown tried again! And again! And… again…? Well, by the tenth, the young soldier was already quite tired of this act and was planning on leaving; being in the front of the stage gave him new escape routes. Some of the people in the crowd were getting tired as well. Soon comments went flying. Things like, "No child you can't make laugh, huh?" or, "Man, is that kid's face made out of stone?"
The big clown then tried juggling, then magic, then with jokes, even tried to swallow a freaking sword! But Link's expression never even moved a little. He was simply —in everyone's opinion— bored.
Some people in the crowd soon became disappointed and, throwing a few coins to the scenery, turn to leave with their kids in tow.
At the sight of the retreating crowd other clowns would have given up, but 'Big Joy' seemed to take this as a personal challenge. He pulled every single trick he had ever thought, every joke, voice and face, but never got the boy's face to waver a little. A few drops of sweat fell down the clown's face… it was obvious he was close to giving up. Having noticed that the adult had —quite obviously— run out of tricks, Link tried to turn and leave; but just then, a whistle was heard from behind them, calling the attention of the remaining audience.
The big clown turned around slightly confused. There was 'lil' mischief' and he had a huge ball between his small gloved hands. A big smile adorned his face. The small clown winked at the bigger one's direction. Link heard the older clown whispering, "Are you sure?" to the boy who simply nodded with determination.
The big clown nodded back and turned to the crowd smiling pleasantly.
"Well, it appears that lil' mischief wants the chance to close our act, so why don't we all clap for him as he tries to help our little friend here find his smile?" People looked around with uncertainty before giving in and clapping at the rhythm of the bad violin music. Even the violinist seemed uncertain of this move. What could a clown boy do when his mentor had already been defeated?
The young soldier turned back to the small clown in time to see him jump over his oversized toy. Soon, the boy had complete control over his balance and began moving around the 'scenery' with it. People clapped impressed by his graceful display of skill, but Link noticed that the 'Big Joy' winced from time to time, moving his hands nervously as he watched the young one. Apparently, lil'mischief wasn't in as much control of the situation as the people of the crowd believed.
Then, the boy began pulling things out of nowhere —or at least it seemed so because Link couldn't explain exactly how he made some of them fit within his pockets— and started to juggle with them. A ball, a plate, a bouquet of fake flowers, a piece of carved wood and big cream pie (how it wasn't damaged in the least? Link would never know). And it was almost as if a magic spell had befallen the poor young soldier, for the moment that the pie made its entrance of the scene, little Link could not take his eyes of off it. The presence of the beautiful, perfectly baked, cream pie had made everything else disappear from existence. Link's eyes widened a little at the sight of his one greatest weakness, sweets. And soon he noticed that he was quite hungry, his watering mouth and growling stomach making it obvious.
In his distracted condition, the poor boy failed to notice the growing smirk on lil'mischief's face.
Suddenly, it was as if the little boy had lost control over his toy and began to go around the place wobbling wildly. Making sounds like "Woah!" and "Ohhh!" the confused crowed backed away from the boy hoping to avoid an accident, except for young Link, who was still in a trance like daze. Might have been his cold or it might have been pie!
"Boy! Move!" whispered the older clown with urgency as he avoided the "death ball".
Link blinked (a.n.: hehe, Link blinked xD) once as he noticed for the first time the incoming ball of doom. The poor soldier boy fell to the ground on his butt, still confused by it all.
"Ok… Mischief, that was enough!" said 'Big Joy' with a worried smile. People were beginning to complain.
That's when the child clown turned at the older one with a mischievous smile.
"OI, Big Joy! Catch!" and without a second warning, the boy bounced from the ball into the air, throwing his stuff to the older clown who made every possible attempt to protect the audience from being hit. All the while, the clown boy seemed to be falling gracefully over the poor shocked Link, whose eyes were wider than ever. Then, just when the small boy seemed to be about to crash against the older one, he flipped and out of nowhere —and to everyone's surprise— he brought out the cream pie. And landing kneeling besides the unsuspecting soldier, he moved his arms forward, throwing the pie directly into Link's flabbergasted face.
The crowd went silent. The violinist stared in shock. Big Joy's jaw was almost touching the floor. Lil' Mischief chuckled to himself before pulling the pie's plate away from his victim's face —who was looking at him with a confused expression covered in cream. With a gloved index the boy took some of the cream from the other's face and brought it to his mouth tasting the sweet flavor.
"Mmm," said the child pleased with the cream, and then looked at the other boy with an innocent smile. "Good?" he asked in good nature.
The soldier mimicked the clown's actions and brought some of the cream to his mouth. It was the sweetest pie he'd ever tasted. His stoic mask fell for he couldn't contain himself, and suddenly, a small smile replaced it.
"Good." He declared as both, he and the clown, inspected each other's smile. Soon, both —and to the crowd's and older clown's amusement— were laughing heartily.
The crowd erupted in cheers and claps.
The inspector was then overcome by a warm feeling, although, the situation was utterly ridiculous, he felt so welcomed right then by this small child. His tongue clothed with the memory of the sweet flavor of pie. The best pie he'd ever tasted then and even now. A smile broke on his face. It's been a while since he's felt this way.
Link turned to his clownish companion, eager —and surprised by it— to know his reaction to the scene. He was surprised to find the clown distractedly toying with the new ribbon on his arm. Link raised an eyebrow in slight concern.
"Walker… are you alright?" he asked, for some reason the ribbon began to look more like a makeshift bandage than a decorative piece of clothing.
The clown flinched at his charge's question; he had obviously been caught doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing. The bored clown moved his hands around dismissing the question in a frantic way. Link wasn't going to ignore it so easily.
The inspector took a hold of the clown's moving arm , his intention: to pull the ribbon, and would have succeeded if the white pierrot hadn't suddenly taken his cards out and pressed both ends of the deck so hard they went shooting at Link's face. The inspector recoiled at the weird attack. Walker could be really childish sometimes!
The clown straightened his white attire proudly and puffed his chest out at the inspector, claiming his superiority and making Link sweat drop.
"What's with you, Walker?" wondered the inspector; something about the clown seemed to be out of place, a feeling that became stronger the more the dream went on.
The clown summoned his deck with a magic pass, making them appear in his left hand. Link wasn't really impressed, less when the boy began shuffling the cards again.
"Repeating a motion is a clear sign of anxiety, did you know that, Walker?" declared the inspector with a strong voice. The clown turned his head away, choosing to ignore him. Then he brought a card up for the inspector to see. It was the 'crowned clown' or the 'joker' if you prefer. At the card's appearance, Link felt an alarm going off in his head, as if he had to remember something of vital importance, but what? He lacked the answer.
The empty eyes of the masked clown shone with delight as he swiftly threw the card at Link's head. The said inspector took longer to react than he normally would, which almost awarded him a pain in the eye from the card's corner that flew by his head, gracing at his cheek. Caught in the momentum, the inspector followed the card with his eyes till it disappeared on the street.
Link blinked one, two, three times. In his small exchange with the 'guide' the street's appearance had changed a lot. The crowd of people were gone and so was the sign in front of the tent and all the toys.
He noticed that the old clown and the violinist were the only ones in front of the tent; both seemed to be in deep conversation. His younger self was nowhere to be found.
The inspector felt a tap on his shoulder that made him turn to look at the clown that was quickly making signs to him to follow his lead. Having nothing to lose, Link went along.
By the side of a little fountain, a small clown and a young soldier sat, both still having slight chuckling fits. Link was astounded by his own reaction, to say the least. He had never laughed so much since before he became an official soldier. He wasn't sure to be either angry or confused at himself.
The clown took a handkerchief out of his pocket and dipped it in the cold water of the fountain. Then he offered it to the soldier. "Here!" he said. "Ya should take all the cream out before it gets too sticky!"
Little Link stopped moving at his words. Then proceeded to touch his face hesitatingly, feeling the soft sensation of fresh cream covering most of it. Link gulped and felt himself blush. The small clown erupted in laughter.
"No way! You actually forgot you had cream all over yer face? Hahaha, now that's a good one!"
The young soldier apprentice politely took the handkerchief from the other boy and began whipping the cream. The clown observed him all the way.
"Ya know? You're quite the quiet one, ain't ya?" he said placing his hands on the back of his head as he leaned against the fountain with a curious expression.
"My apologies if that's unexpected." Answered little Link.
"Yer weird," commented the boy as he looked to the slightly clouded sky. "Kid's don't normally speak like that! You talk like an old guy." The boy closed his eyes and offered a cute smile. "That's so boring!"
Link felt his eyes widen as his cheeks couldn't get any more flushed. He remembered once more the slight pain in his head that he had forgotten with all the laughs, Link placed the handkerchief over his forehead, the cool feeling of the wet cloth made the pain ease.
The clown boy looked at him carefully from the corner of his eye.
"Ya know? I'm sorry I made you uncomfortable, especially knowing you're kinda sick," Link turned to look at the boy a little surprised that he had noticed that. "It was kinda obvious. Other kids, they get red from laughing, but ya never laughed at all. So you were either hot or sick. It's been cold for a while now, ya couldn't be hot, so you must've been sick." The clown shrugged with a carefree expression. "In this business you got to look at people a lot, makes part of the trick." He added with a smile.
"Oh… " was Link's intelligent answer. "So you told the clown to choose me even knowing that?"
The kid snickered a little.
"Knew you noticed, yer face was priceless. But no, I didn't tell him to choose ya," he said closing his eyes. "'Big Joy', he told me what card he was going to choose from the beginning. I was only telling him it was goin' to be difficult."
Link scowled a little before placing a bored expression.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that 'magic' is not supposed to be revealed to the audience."
The boy froze for a second before cursing under his breath, then turned to Link with a nervous expression. "Don't you dare tell anyone! If ya do, I'll have to kill ya!" the serious expression only achieved in making the soldier laugh once more. Kill him? Link would like to see him try!
Looking at Link's amused expression, the boy relaxed and smiled gently before relaxing back against the fountain. Silence fell between them. It wasn't awkward; it was more of the peaceful kind of silence.
"So… where are your folks?" he asked out of nowhere.
"Excuse me?" said the soldier confused with the term.
"Ya know, mom and dad? I was kinda nervous they would get angry after this lil' clown dirtied your fancy clothes," the small child confessed with a cheeky grin. Link observed the sincere expression in the other, even under all the makeup it still felt real. The soldier felt strangely compelled to trust in this silly kid, more than probable because he posed no danger at all. He turned his face to the side and looked at his hands wondering about what the boy had said. If his mother and father were here… would they get mad at his dirty clothes? Were his clothes really fancy looking? All he could think was that his clothes were a normal soldier trainee uniform. While he pondered all of this, he didn't notice the other child scrutinizing his expression as if trying to read beneath it all. "Oi… could it be… that you didn't came here with yer mom and dad?"
The inspector turned to look at the boy, slightly surprised that he was so perceptive. The clown's young expression seemed to be laced with some uncertainty, as if he felt he's said something he shouldn't have said. It took only a second for young Link to connect the points and know what the other was thinking.
"I am not an orphan… not exactly if that is what you are thinking. I may not have come here with parents, but I did not come alone either," that seemed to make the younger child a little more at ease, but he seemed to have a question he wished to ask. The soldier beat him to that. "My line of work also requires me to pay close attention to those around me. I guess it is part of what you could call 'our tricks'".
The child blinked a few times, before bursting into a small laughing fit.
"Who would have thought? You can be funny too!" laughed the boy, making the soldier blush once more.
Link observed his younger self interacting with this small child that till a few minutes ago he didn't even recall. Somehow, he felt a small blush go to his cheeks at the happy comment the boy did. He could also be funny? Preposterous! He told himself. He was a good soldier, an inspector; he was not to be taken as a joke! And he was sure, in his memory, he hadn't said what he said to make the other laugh, but still that was the answer he got… was this boy's reaction mistaken, or was he the one in the mistake? Was there any mistake at all?
He really wished he could at least interact with one of them, after all, his guide didn't offer quite the good company.
The inspector turned with a small frown to see the clown that had lost any interest in the scene developing in front of them and was concentrating solely in playing with his cards, as if they had a mysterious answer the inspector failed to see. Frustrated, the older teen turned back to the scene.
Two boys sat down against the fountain. One boy laughing with mirth at the other's clueless face, the other… well, utterly clueless about the motives behind the other's laugh.
"Ya know?" said the clownish boy after he calmed down slightly. "Ya are too tight up for yer own good!"
The young soldier frowned at this. 'Tight up'? 'Serious'? He was too serious for his own good? Well, he thought he wasn't serious enough! At least not yet and here was a boy saying he's too serious. The boy was, indeed, a clown.
"I'm still not serious enough to be a good soldier," commented the child in annoyance.
"Soldier?" asked the clown with a frown of his own. "Man, ain't ya too little to be a soldier?"
Young Link noticed he had slipped a little too much information, but since it was already out and the child didn't seem to pose a threat he didn't mind much.
"You are never too young to serve others," he said as if it was something normal coming from a young lad.
"Oh…" mumbled the other boy. "But… don't you ever have fun?"
Link stopped to think about it. Did he ever? Training was fun… it was, right? Overcoming difficult obstacles…fulfilling your orders… it was fun, right? He found some kind of weird pleasure in the positive comments of his squad when he did well… so maybe it was fun in some way.
"I guess you could say I do have fun… just not your average kind of fun…" he said slightly unsure of how to explain it.
"'Average'? What ya mean 'average'? fun is fun right?" asked the child, now really confused as well.
Now Link knew he was making things too complicated for the poor boy. The child wasn't just younger, he was probably less cultured than him; maybe the concept of 'average' escaped him.
"I mean, I don't really get the gist of the common fun," the moment he said 'gist' he could almost see a huge question mark appear over the child's head. The poor boy brought a hand to his forehead in frustration. He had to paraphrase this. Clearing his throat he decided to try again. "I mean, I don't get the fun of a clown's act," he said simplifying his idea by using an example.
The little clown boy blinked once, then twice, and then, to the young soldier's amusement, the boy began to chuckle.
"Oh! Now I get you!" he said between chuckles. "Ya don't see anything entertaining in what other kid's call funny. You could 've said that ya know?" the small child held his tummy as he continued. "Sorry, I still find confusing some words; old 'Joy' tries to make me learn them but, geez! They are so weird!" after a few more chuckles, the child finally calmed down and looked at the other with a serene and strangely understanding gaze. "But you know? I kinda know what you mean."
The soldier was surprised again by this answer. "You know?"
"Yeah, it was really weird for me as well. Other children seem to find fun in really strange things. A weird face makes some laugh and others cry. A tumble exercise captures their attention as if it was a miracle act. The smaller you are, the more impressed they get. They laugh at silly comments that make, for sure, no sense at all. To me, it used to make no sense at least. I would be like you, looking around confused, waiting for someone to explain, or just wishing I wasn't there at all."
As he talked the boy placed his arms behind his head, his figure relaxing further against the fountain.
"Took me a while to get it."
"But… you're a clown, are you not?" asked the confused soldier.
The boy looked at him with a bored expression as if saying 'You dumb or what?'.
"Where you a 'soldier' all your life?" asked the child as if mocking the other.
Young Link felt himself blushing again, he was doing that a little too much for comfort. He made a really silly question. Once upon a time, Link was not a soldier, he was just a boy, a lonely abandoned boy. So obviously, once upon a time, the small clown was not a clown, he was just a boy himself… and maybe, he was also a lonely boy as well.
"I guess it's training, ya know?" commented the boy after a while. "You where trained to be serious, I guess, because you say you're still not serious enough. Well, I was trained to find the fun in these silly acts. It was complicated first; especially if you lack any sense of humor… but eventually you get good at it. I suppose being a 'soldier' wasn't easy as well."
The elder boy nodded slightly. "Are you still not 'funny' enough?" he asked softly.
"Don't mention it…" grumbled the child. "Three out of four tries I made something wrong and end up with crying children instead of happy ones… failing can be so annoying!"
Link felt a smile spread on his face.
"I… I get sick easily… and sometimes I also get restless… the other soldiers say I'm still too childish, even thought I try hard… I guess what I'm trying to say is: yes, failing is annoying."
The clown boy seemed to be thinking for a few seconds before he said:
"But you are a child, right? Being childish… I guess it's just part of what you are..."
"Maybe I'm young, but I'm a soldier! Not a child anymore!" exclaimed Link with weird determination.
"Mmm… I wonder… who told you that?" asked the boy with close eyes, he seemed to be slightly annoyed.
"Well, the hi-" he was going to indicate that his higher ups were the ones who thought them about being good soldiers… but he stopped himself in time. He was giving too many details. "It's just how it is." He said crossing his arms, somehow, he felt childish about it.
"Well, you are wrong."
The young soldier turned to look at his companion, the boy was declaring that the people he respected where wrong. Link wasn't sure what to think.
"How would you know?" demanded the soldier.
The child looked at him with piercing eyes from under all the makeup. Then, he went and snatched the still wet handkerchief from the other's side. The boy stood up and in a sudden move, he dipped his head into the water of the fountain. Link watched him dumbfounded at his actions. The boy then brought out his head and rubbed his face furiously with the white cloth. After a few seconds of scrubbing, he lowered his hands and proceeded to look at the elder's face. His blue gray eyes stood out from his now pale skin.
"What do I look like?" He said with intensity.
Link wasn't sure what the answer to that was… what did he looked like? Well, now he looked like a half dirty and weird dressed boy.
"Mmm… a weird boy?"
Ignoring the 'weird' comment, the boy seemed satisfied.
"A moment ago you said I was a clown."
"But now I'm a boy."
"Then what am I, a clown or a boy?"
Link felt uncomfortable with the barrage of questions… what was he, a clown or a boy? Well, he was…
"You are a clown boy."
The answer seemed to bring a smile to the other child's face. The boy took a sit and let out a sigh.
"Yes. You are right. I'm a child that learned to be a clown. But that means, I was a boy, before I was a clown… that must mean… I'm still a boy. Not old enough to be an adult, only a child. I can cover my face in makeup and I can learn tricks of magic and act, but I'm still what I am, a child," the boy looked at Link with a small smile. "'Big joy' taught me that I wasn't really good at being a 'child' and you know what? He was right. But with time, I've been learning, though not good at it still, I'm at least able to understand that I am one."
Link noticed that for some weird reason, the child didn't make so many mistakes in his talking as he did a few seconds ago. This made him wonder if he was pretending to make those mistakes… or if he was pretending now.
"You are a child. You get restless because you are one. You get sick because your body is still small. You are what you are. You can play being a 'soldier'-"
"I'm a soldier," said Link with a small pout.
"Yeah, ok, you are a 'soldier'… but you still are a child. You can learn fancy moves, fancy words and dress in fancy clothes, but inside you should know that you are something else. Even when you grow up, you will always be something more than just a 'soldier', you know?"
The young soldier looked at him with a thoughtful expression. No one had ever said that to him… why didn't they tell him this before? Were the higher ups unaware of this? Or was this child making it up?
"'Big joy' is a clown. But he is also a funny adult. Under his makeup he's got this small ticklish beard… he also got hair even though you can't see it under his wig. He likes to use his top hat so much he never takes it off! Almost like it's part of his head. He loves to have 'tea time', but his tea isn't always nice or drinkable. He is kind and a gentleman according to the old ladies that we met, and he knows so many things you would be impressed!" the soldier watched with complete attention as the child spoke, somehow, the younger's face seemed to light up at the mention of this person. "We are more than just what we do or what we look like; those things are what make our life interesting. You are more than just a 'soldier' and I can tell you that much!"
Link backed a little as the boy turned with a mischievous shine in his eyes and pointed at his chest with a gloved finger.
"You are a boy that likes to act tough but has weak body that gets sick too often, that makes you frustrated. You don't know how to act with little children, less if they are girls, proven by your blushing face to the little one that talk you earlier. You were never taught much about fun; for that you don't get the point in funny things. Oh! And overall, the most important thing about you! Mate, you can't resist something sweet!" with that statement, the boy raised the half eaten plate of the cream pie to the other's face. Link felt a little unnerved that this kid had apparently being watching him since the beginning, but couldn't avoid looking at the cream pie with some hopefulness, feeling like taking another piece.
"No matter what anyone tells you to do, if you don't forget who you are, life will always be more fun! If you want a piece of pie, don't wait till someone tells you that you're allowed one, just take one!" To emphasize his point, the child took a piece for himself. "Be serious if you have to, but allow yourself to have fun when you can, if you don't life will become so boring, you'll go crazy!"
"If you just do that, you can get in trouble," mumbled the young soldier as he moved his gaze away from the younger child.
"Ha!" laughed the boy. "What is life without some trouble in it? I'll tell ya what it is mate! It's BORING!"
The child laughed joyfully as he basically shoved the pie into the elder's hands. Link was confused at the boy's sudden use 'ya' instead of 'you' as he had been doing during his small rant… was the child aware of that? Link felt his headache bothering a little, but he had pie in his hands and he wasn't going to let a headache spoil that! With a simple nod to what the other boy had said, he dipped his hand into the creamy pastry and took a good piece. Maybe he didn't understand this boy's 'theory' about 'being who you are' and 'fun' but he did understood one thing quite well, a cream pie had never tasted so well.
Inspector Link felt some strange pressure on his chest. That boy's explanation, back then, he knew he had not actually gotten much of it. It was difficult. Link was not used to those kinds of thoughts. Those were rebellious thoughts. Free will inspired ideas that weren't encouraged within crow. But they sounded so sweet, just like the pie between his younger self's fingers. They were heartfelt and honest, coming from the mouth of a silly child that spoke with wisdom beyond his years, probably proof of all the obstacles that he had seen in his few years of life. Link wasn't stupid, even back then he had noticed that the child seemed mistrustful when the idea of adults came around, obviously evidence that at some point in his young life, this child had been subjected to some kind of abuse from others. And yet, there he was talking about being true to one's self… somehow… that seemed so familiar…
Suddenly, Links eyes widened a little as he began to place the pieces together. A soft gasp escaped his mouth. Could it be? Could that boy be…
A sudden clapping noise came from behind him. Link turned around to look at his 'guide' clapping his hands softly at him. Somehow, he could swear there was an impressed shine in those hollow mask eyes. The clown gave a soft bow to the inspector, praising him for his good insight.
"You… the… that boy is…" a soft white gloved finger was pressed against his mouth taking him by surprise. The praising time was over, and the gentle shine from before turned to something akin to suppressed anger. A threat. The inspector may have found out but somehow the clown was not happy by it. Maybe it was because Link had an unfair advantage? Link knew things about Walker that even Walker didn't know. He knew more about him than any other person in the organization, with the exception of secretary Leverrier. For instance, Link knew that Walker's hair used to be brown before turning white.
An accusing finger was pressed against his chest. Yes, the clown thought he was cheating; cheating at this weird game, because he came into this stage with previous knowledge. Link sighed and held his tongue. He didn't want to argue with a mute clown. He knew he was right, so he didn't need to voice it if that made things easier.
Suddenly a loud voice cut through the staring competition, making both, Link and the clown, turn to look back at the scene.
"HEY! You little rascal! Yer 'father' says to come back to the tent bout now!"
Link watched with interest as his companion's face turned sour at the violin guy from before.
"I'll be there in a sec!"
"Ya better! Not only did you risk the show today but you also threw away our food, ya better watch it before ya get it!"
"Got ya Mr. Sunshine sir, I'll be a good little urchin from now on. Thanks for the advice!" said the boy in mockery. Link watched amused as the man's face turned red. The boy laughed at him. "Hey Mister watch it before ya get an attack or something."
"You little-!" then his fierce glare turned to Link as he growled. "And what the Hell are ya still doin' there? Good for nothin' bastards, little scum, get lost, the shows over, unless you pay extra you better leave or ya'll get taste of my fist as well!"
Link kept staring, not really scared at the man, he could easily end this man's life without breaking a sweat even been sick, so he really had nothing to be afraid of. But the other kid didn't like the tone of voice he was using with his new 'friend'.
"Hey, bite that tongue Ben, ya don't want me to tell 'Joy' that ya insulted a client again. Next time you will turn black and purple!" threatened the child, impressively, the man seemed to shiver at an unwanted memory.
"Little street urchins…" grumbled the man as he turned around. "Ya better come quick!" yelled the man as he went away slowly.
The young soldier watched as the boy sat again grumbling to himself about dirty fat men that didn't know how to be polite.
"Sorry about that, Benjamin is a bother but he was the only musician we could get. Although…. He's not even good at it. Man, his violin gives me the creeps!"
Link nodded feeling the same about the really off key playing he heard. He was surprised though, he wasn't expecting this child to be one to understand music.
"Well…" said the soldier standing up and politely handing the plate back. "I think I ought to go now. I was supposed to be somewhere else. Thanks for the pie thought."
"You… already have to go?" asked the boy, his voice sounding a little dejected.
Link simply nodded. The clown sighed.
"Well… I guess it's fine. You're sick after all. Ya better rest…" he said looking a little uncertain. "Oh, yah. If tomorrow you are better, we'll be here as well, ya can come! I want to give ya something!" he said smiling again. Link wasn't sure if he should tell the boy that he shouldn't do that, but somehow he didn't feel like ruining his 'fun'. "And maybe I'll get some pie!"
Link was convinced.
"I'll see what I can do," he said nonchalantly. The boy happily offered his hand to the soldier. Link looked at the gloved hand and without really intending to, he smiled. Both shook hands and soon departed each their way.
The inspector saw how both children disappeared, each around a different corner of the street. He knew his younger self was going to the inn and deducted that the young clown was going to the tent he saw before.
The ex crow was a slightly annoyed that he hadn't remembered all of this back when he was researching for the secretary. If he had known he had known that child from before…
A poking finger roughly hit against his right temple making him jump from surprise. He turned to the clown that seemed to have that somber expression back on. It was as if the clown had heard his thoughts and was daring him to say that he knew.
"Well, I know. Why, is that wrong?"
The clown shook his head as if exasperated by the inspector, although his face remained masked in boredom. The whole street was deserted and Link thought that this dream had suddenly become pointless.
"Shouldn't I follow someone?" he suggested as if implying that his 'guide' had forgotten something. The clown's reaction amused the inspector for the apparition seemed miffed that he had even suggested that he had forgotten his own plot! "Well then, what am I supposed to do?" grumbled the older teen.
The pierrot stopped for a second and brought a finger to his chin as if thinking. Then crossed his arms and rubbed the chin of his mask, thinking harder. Link sweat dropped at the sight. "He did forget, didn't he?" wondered the inspector. The clown turned to throw him a menacing glare as if he had heard him. Then, as if a bulb had lightened up over his head, the clown jumped with enthusiasm. He brought a white hand inside his vest and took out the deck of cards he had been playing with.
With expertise he shuffled them and took the card in the middle, swiftly holding it up to the inspectors face. Link squint his eyes to try to read the old and slightly faded letters over the card he identified as the jack of spades.
"'The soldier of God'?" he said with confusion. Not knowing the purpose of the card in this whole act.
The clown pushed it closer to Links face and with a black gloved finger indicated him to look careful to the illustration on it: The twin knights holding a sword, one up, one down. Link was almost entranced by the beauty of the card, perfect lines and baroque style; it seemed to be the work of a great painter, definitely not the type of art that should be placed on a simple playing card.
Then, he saw… or more like, he felt that the card was being turned upside down twice; the downside figure slowly making its way to the upside part before going back to the downside once more. He barely registered how his environment slowly went dark and then slowly turned lighter again. Without him being aware, the whole scenery shifted around them. People moving around the street at fast speed, images changing, everything as if someone had pushed the fast forward button on a recording. Once the upper face had reached the upside once more, the clown made a swift movement, making the card disappear as if by magic right in front of the careful gaze of the inspector.
"Wha?... what happened?" Link asked bringing a hand to his temple, that headache was declaring its presence again.
The white apparition went to shuffle his deck once more while shrugging, not giving any importance to the confused state of his charge. Link felt the urge to close his eyes and lay down for a while, he felt as if the world were to be spinning. But before he could pursue the idea further, the clown touched his shoulder and pointed at the corner of the scenery. The inspector noticed by the light around the place that it was early, maybe around seven in the morning; it was his first indication that the time had change. The place was deserted and peaceful, that at least helped calm his agitated mind.
Suddenly, from the corner that the white pierrot was signaling him to look, a small figure appeared. There, walking slowly and with some uncertainty was young Link, looking around the deserted street, searching with his eyes for something that he –apparently- hoped to be there.
That's when the inspector noticed that they were in the street where the tent used to be in the last part of the act, but now it was nowhere to be seen. It had been removed. A few pieces of wood and clothes littered around, proof that it was done in quite the haste.
Intrigued by this, Link allowed himself to watch the events, trying to ignore his tired feeling.
The small soldier was not supposed to be there. Madarao said they should stay at the inn till middle morning before going out to explore the town together, sharing their findings with Link, who was feeling much better already. But the boy had sneaked out, not telling anyone, a really foolish move on his part, but a move he could not avoid. He really wondered what the child wanted to give him. And a piece of pie sounded really good too. He wasn't sure if the boy would be around by that time of the day, but it was his only chance so he took it.
But now, it seemed to have been all for naught. The child and his little crew seemed to have left town, and in quite the hurry… he wondered why he even dared to come…
With a sigh of dismay, little Link continue walking further down the street till he got to the old fountain where he had laughed with the clown boy the day before. He sat down on the fountain wondering how he was going to explain to his squad leader his reasons for leaving with no authorization. So concentrated he was that he didn't noticed the soft sound of small and light feet coming closer and closer. At least not till a voice brought him out of his musings.
"Whatcha thinking 'bout mate?" said a curious voice from behind him. Link turned around fast, almost too fast, almost fast enough to make him fall into the fountain but —luckily— not fast enough. Link took a deep breath as he looked at the small boy he had been searching for.
The child certainly looked different without the smears of makeup in his face and his baggy clown attire. He was sporting a simple white shirt with brown pants, a little too big for him, but still not so baggy, and he seemed to have kept one of his gloves. With such plain looking clothes, the child's blue grey eyes seemed to shine a lot more. He had a childish curious expression on his face that to others would have been adorable, but to Link it was just amusing.
"I was wondering where your act went," he said with ease. It was funny how he could actually speak so easily with this child; yesterday he barely wanted to be near him, today it was as if he was talking to an old acquaintance.
At his question, the boy's eyes seemed to lose some of their shine. Something had happened in the hours they had not seen each other. Link inspected the lad closely and noticed his hair was ruffled and he had small cut on his lower lip. Also there seemed to be purple bruises forming around the child's neck, by the sizes and separation between them, they were probably the result of a big hand pressing roughly on sensible skin. Link diverted his eyes to the cobblestoned floor. Someone had hurt the clown boy.
"Yesterday, Benjamin —the lousy musician— and 'Big Joy', kinda had a 'discussion'…" Link deducted from the child's demeanor that it was more than just a 'discussion' and by the child's haggard appearance, it seemed he was also part of it.
"Benjamin, that scoundrel… he took dad's tent and stuff and run away with them!" the boy seethed as his little hands turned into fists. Link's eyes widened a little as the boy suddenly mentioned this knew figure: dad. He wasn't aware that the boy's father was with them. The child shook a little with anger, but soon, calm down and let out a sigh of frustration. "We are going to be leaving today for another town… Joy's sad… so we might have stay off stage for a while. Still, yesterday I told you to come! So I came early to wait for ya!... but…" and he began to fidget a little as he said the next part. "I wasn't sure at what time ya were comin' so I kinda was here really early and… I… well…" His expression turned sheepish as he bowed his head to try and hide his blush. "I !" he said so fast that a normal person wouldn't have understood. The child's eyes glazed a little as his pitiful expression was completed with a pouting mouth. "Soooorry."
Link sweat dropped. The whole scene was really not necessary, it wasn't as if the young soldier was going to get mad at the boy (he was a little disappointed at the concept of no pie, but still). He really didn't know how to deal with little kids. Sighing, the crow apprentice did the only thing he thought he could do.
Slowly he placed his right hand over the child's small head and with a calm expression he said:
"Its fine," the same way Madarao did if he ever did something unintentionally wrong.
Both children looked into each other's eyes, there was a silent understanding, a sensation of belonging, a fleet idea of "If we could be together longer we'll be great friends"; and then, suddenly, both children began to laugh, each at the other's antics. Mirthful laughs filled the silent and empty streets. No need for more words.
The feeling of companionship that flourish within the inspector, the reawaken memory of a connection with a boy he didn't know back then at all, family… friend… somewhere along those things, it all came back to Link as if he was really part of the scene of his younger self with the clown boy. He truly had thought at that time, 'if only I could be here for a while longer, we could be good friends', but he also felt a huge sense of disappointment: no they couldn't, not now and not ever. He felt almost like crying (and that was weird from him), because a part of him knew he missed something great that day by leaving. And now, looking at this memory, feeling this warmth in his chest, he felt desperate to hold on to it for a while longer… just a while longer.
The two children sat on the fountain looking pleased and relaxed at nothing in particular.
"Oh yeah!" exclaimed the clown boy as he stood up, his hand quickly searching within his pants' pocket. "I was going to give you something!"
Young Link watched with interest as the child brought an all too familiar card from his pocket handing it to the soldier.
Link looked at it with wonder; he didn't hesitate in taking it this time. But as soon as he had it, he threw a curious look at the boy's face, silently asking for an explanation.
"It's for you," said the boy rubbing his nose, slightly pink cheeks decorating his all too pale face. "I'm leavin' town today, we might not see each other again… for… maybe… ever! So I'll give ya my special card!" the boy placed both his hands in his pants' pocket with a huge smile on his face. "That way, you'll remember me as the annoying clown that made ya eat pie! And ya'll also remember that you were a child that was more than a 'soldier' guy!" the little clown then hid his happiness with a bored expression and added. "I'm not taking it back, ya hear! So ya better treasure it! It was my favorite after all," he mumbled the last part as he crossed his arms over his chest.
Link wasn't sure what to say. He slowly scanned the clown figure and took a moment to read the beautiful letters that named it 'crowned clown'. He felt a warm feeling in his chest as he slowly thought to himself that this was the first 'treasure' he has ever had. Never in his whole life he had had any object to call 'treasure' and that brought a weird and childish smile to his face. He looked up to the boy and nodded happily accepting this gift. The boy's expression became impressed.
"Ya have a nice smile there, mate!" Link immediately blushed hard, making the boy laugh.
But every happy moment comes to an end…
"HOWARD!" said a booming voice making both children flinch in their positions.
Young Link turned his head slowly, already knowing who it was that called him and also knowing how deep in trouble he was. Standing up immediately, the boy made an effort to stand in front of the younger child, trying his best to shield him from Madarao's anger.
From the other side of the street, the squad leader stood, looking seriously at his companion as he said with a voice full of authority:
"Howard, come here, now."
Link felt the power of the command, years of conditioning moving old gears in his head, he had to obey. He turned slightly to look at the clown boy for a second. The boy's mouth moved slightly as if trying to say something but no words managed to get out. He was clearly nervous, a thin shin of cold sweat covered his face. The newly arrived boy was taller, stronger and scarier than Link could ever be, the child wasn't stupid, he wouldn't risk talking back to Madarao. Heck, he wouldn't risk even speaking at all. Maybe… he had a chance…
Link sighed at his own silly thoughts, Madarao wouldn't hurt a civil, he was clearly only upset with Link, so as long as the boy didn't do something stupid, he was in no immediate danger.
"Howard," warned Madarao as he waited for his comrade to come to him.
Link swallowed and took a step forward only to feel something holding him back. The child had taken a hold of his jackets sleeve, his little hand trembling a little. Link was surprised, why was he doing that? Was the boy scared that Link could get hurt? Or was he scared that he could get hurt? Link threw another glance at the boy that now looked much like a lost puppy. Yesterday that kid had talk back to an adult far bigger than Madarao, but now he was so scared…
The clown boy was really a mystery, one that Link —sadly— may never solve.
"Stay here," Link said vehemently. Then, with little strength he forced the lad to let go of his sleeve. Without looking back, he walked to his squad leader.
Once in front of Madarao, Link had no word's to defend himself, so he kept quiet. Madarao didn't have to say anything either, both knew what Link's mistake was. He disobeyed orders. He left without the squad leader's authorization. He spoke to a civil without care. He didn't act like the soldier he was, and had a superior seen him, Link would have received a beating for his insubordination.
As the younger lowered his head, Madarao let out a sigh. He knew Link understood his misdeeds. Only one thing left to do. The squad leader extended his hand and with the power of his authority he said:
"Give it to me," and he noticed Link flinching at his order.
Link tried to think about the things he was said yesterday, about the huge pressure he was feeling at that moment, at that order… he… he didn't want to… but… but…
He HAD to.
Without a single noise on his part, the apprentice of crow brought the card he so desperately wanted to hide out from his pocket. And without thinking about it anymore, he handed his one single treasure to Madarao.
The older soldier didn't even look at it. He simply took it and once in his possession he tore it.
And many more.
Link felt a shiver with every noise the card made as it was destroyed. He felt a bitter taste in his mouth and a burning sensation in his eyes. And a part of his mind wondered if the young clown was looking at this as well… looking at his favorite card been tore apart.
Once the card was reduced to smithereens of paper, the soldier let them fall to the floor, and ordered Link to look at him in the eye.
"I'm sorry Howard, but this is how things are. You are a soldier now, remember that."
With that, the older boy turned and began to walk. Link, stilled confused with the turmoil of his feelings within, allowed an stoic mask to cover it all as he followed his squad leader the way he knew Madarao expected him to do.
Link was a soldier.
Link looked as the young and submissive reflection retreated from the scene. He was aware that his squad leader had done nothing but what he thought best for him. He was not resentful at all. Had a superior ever found out about this, or the card he had been given, the young apprentice would have been severely punished. He could have been whipped or beaten. For his own well being, he needed to be reminded of his position and his mission. Madarao was only being a good leader; he simply took the right decision. And yet…
For some unknown reason, Link felt that something within him had been broken along with that card. His younger self felt confused and lost, and thought he did not resent his leader, he couldn't look at the elder in the eyes for a good while… till he eventually forgot…
The inspector now knew why he had forgotten. It was because of the training. The almost inhuman training every crow had to go through to become an active agent. During the whole year he was placed under that training, the conditioning, the physical torture, everything slowly erased every trace of weakness in his system. And just as he had forgotten about his days of physical illness, he had also forgotten about any possible rebelling memory he had. And if there was ever one rebellious memory he had to erase, this one had to be the most dangerous according to his superiors. Just as a light, Link simply turned it off and left it in darkness. As far as he was concerned, he never met a clown boy and he never got any card…
But that was a mistake… cause he was here right now… and the boy…
The inspector turned his head around so fast that had he been awake he would have hurt his neck. What was the boy's reaction? Was it anger? Or sadness for his favorite card?
Link saw the small child walking towards the place the pieces of his card were. The soldier saw how the white apparition walked behind the child, a hand hovering close to his head as if trying to give comfort.
The boy stopped and picked a piece up. He looked at it with what Link could identify as longing.
"Clown and pie… guess you can't save everyone," mumbled the child as a single tear fell down his cheek.
Link felt sad and wanted to say something… anything. He tried to get closer to the boy, but found out he couldn't move. There was a weird pressure in the air that made it hard for him to breath. Looking for the source, he found out that it seemed to emanate from the bored masked clown. The figure was throwing a lot of malice with a simple glance at him. Link was… dare he say it? … scared.
The white clown raised his hands and gave on single powerful clap. The whole place was bathed in darkness. Almost as if someone had turned off the lights, only leaving a small spotlight in the middle surrounding the clown, the boy and him. The small boy seemed to have been frozen for he didn't move at all. Link swallowed hard as the clown walked towards him.
The inspector took a step back before deciding to end with the whole ruse.
"So… I allowed your favorite card to be destroyed and now you're mad at me, Walker?" he said, his voice trembling a little, Link wasn't sure why he couldn't control his nerves like he normally would. "I know that boy is you, Allen Walker. Not difficult to guess, and it was confirmed when he reappeared with only one glove!" the clown suddenly stopped. He tilted his head to the side, his left hand scratching his white hair in a silly motion as if saying "Is that so? My… how sad."
That's when the inspector noticed the clown's sleeve, the one that had a new ribbon tied to it. And to his horror —although, he didn't knew why it terrified him so much— he saw a red stain spreading slowly over the cloth. The clown soon noticed where his eyes had landed and somehow the realization made his whole visage turn darker. Link feared that the clown was going to turn this dream into a nightmare. At least he did till a small voice cut through to them both.
"Gee, Mate. You alright?" to the inspector's surprise, the white clown seemed to flinch a little before turning to see the little boy's figure looking at him curiously. The clown hid his 'bleeding' arm behind his back and rubbed his neck with the other, looking as if he was apologizing to the child for something.
"Now, don't go faking, show me!" the white clown recoiled a little before allowing his hand to come to the front again. The boy shook his head with some disappointment.
"My, ya really ain't a good clown, are ya?" said the child as he crossed his arms over his chest looking at the other with bored eyes. "Well… we can't let ya ruin the act like that! A white Joy* must always present himself with pride!"
Walker nodded at the younger boy as he cowered a little to the side, almost like a child that was being scolded by his parents. The brunette child pulled his only glove a little to fit better on his small hand as he advanced towards the inspector throwing a gaze at the other clown making him recoiled once more.
"No other way I guess," he said as he stood in front of the inspector giving him a good mischievous smile. "I'll have to show ya how it's done!"
Links' fear had suddenly dissipated itself, all of it gone. The clown no longer presented a threat, not more than a scared kitty would. He turned his gaze to the boy in front of him who was skipping from foot to foot in excitement.
"Now, if you please give me your attention, Mr. Soldier Sir!" he said as he stopped all his movements and stood straight in front of him. Then with a strong voice the boy said: "Soldier! Stand straight!"
Link wasn't sure why he did it, but his body moved against his will. It forced him into position and nothing he could do would free him from there. It was as if a strong pressure had posed itself over him, as if he was tied to strings that this child was master of.
"Soldier, where are your manners? Salute!" the child commanded, making a fake salute himself before moving his hands to his back.
Link was forced once more to obey. He was trying to fight it, he was! But it just caused more strain to his body. He could feel sweat forming on his brow.
"Now soldier, to the floor and give two hundred!" laughed the boy with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Wha-?" and before the inspector could do anything about it, he fell to the floor and began making push-ups.
All the while the boy kept laughing and counting in a silly authoritative voice "One!Two! Three!" and adding things like "No, not good enough!" or "Faster!" or the most annoying "That one doesn't count!"
To poor tired Link it was a torture. Since he was trying so bad to resist following a child's orders, he found the common exercise to be three times more difficult than it should have been. It was till the point he simply surrendered and willingly followed the order.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Link finished the exercises. Too tired to stand, he stayed kneeling.
The command he had received held such authoritative power over the inspector that even after fullfilled, Link could not move at free will.
The child clown got closer to his kneeling and panting form.
"Gee... following orders sure doesn't seem fun,huh?"
Link raised his eyes to meet the boy's, who was looking down at him with a genuily curious expression, both hands in his pants' pockets balancing playfully on the ball of his feet.
"Why would you obey orders?" he asked softly.
Why? Oh, why? Link shook his head to clear his thoughts, but found his confusion growing instead. It was as if someone had placed him in some kind of Auto-pilot mode. His lips moved by themselves letting out an answer that he had not actually thought about.
"Because I'm supposed to."
The child's face made a funny expression as he stopped his movements.
"Why?" he asked again.
"Because that's what a soldier does," he answered automatically.
The boy pouted a little before whispering sadly.
"Even if they told you to do something you know is wrong?"
Link's mind froze for a second. Even if it was wrong? He's done that before: followed orders when they seemed wrong. But who was he to determine if they were good or bad? At the end, in war, sometimes you had to do bad things to achieve the greater good, right?
"A soldier never questions his orders." But the answer felt wrong. It was all he had been taught since he was a child, and yet, it somehow felt wrong.
"Who told you that?" asked the boy, obviously miffed by that answer.
Little Allen snorted. The inspector felt guilty by his words' effect on the boy, and also because he had always answered like that to this kind of questions. This auto pilot thing, was quite normal, part of the soldier mode, just to say what he was taught to say, nothing more, nothing less. Link closed his eyes tightly fighting his growing frustration. That was how it had always been and how it will always be.
A soft sound told him that the boy was getting closer to him. opening his eyes, he saw the child now standing right in front of him.
"But... you have your own thoughts too. You have more inside than just a soldier."
The inspector frowned sadly.
"I'm not a child anymore," he said feeling an intense pressure on his chest. "I grew up. I have to follow orders now."
The child puffed his cheeks in annoyance and turned around crossing his small arms over his chest.
"Yes, you are not a child anymore, but..." he grumbled before looking at the inspector in the eyes."Tell me Mr. Howard, when did you stop being human?"
Those eyes, those blue gray eyes, they had a weird kind of frozen fire shining in them, they burned deep into your soul and made you shiver at the same time, like a frostbite. Link could not answer to that, he was petrified.
"You are a person, are you not?" demanded the child. "You are a person that misses his friends, one that has quite the sweet tooth, on that -not knowing it- takes care of others with dedication. You are not a child anymore, but under that soldier pelt you hide in, you are the same person you were back then!"
The boy looked with expectancy at the teen's face, waiting for a reply. Link shook out of his astonishment. His confused mind only allowed him to register one emotion at the moment and it was anger. He was mad that this boy was consistently trying to destroy all he had always consider to be truth, he was not going to give in to that.
"Maybe. maybe I have all of that," he said admitting that that part might be right, but then glared at the child as he continued. "But the world requires me to take my mission seriously. To stop the akuma, to save innocent lives, WE MUST FOLLOW ORDERS!"
The clown boy, far from being afraid or annoyed at the outburst, simply looked at the teen with a bored expression. Letting out a sigh, the boy brought his hands to his hips and leaned his body closer to the inspector making them be face to face.
"So tell me, Oh! mighty soldier, have you stopped this 'akumas' yet?"
The inspector's eyes widened at the question. The boy was invading his personal space again, and that made him even more nervous.
"No... not yet," was his feeble answer.
The bored expression didn't change.
"Have you stopped innocent people from dying then?"
The inspector tried to come with an elaborate answer, but found none.
"No... I haven't."
The child huffed as he backed up crossing his arms again.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but somehow your little 'world saving plan' doesn't seem to be working very well."
"Still, I-" but the inspector never got to excuse himself for the boy shut him up with another question.
"By following orders, tell me, have you avoided hurting the people you want to protect?" he said accusiatingly.
"Are you able to say you have no regrets?"
"Were you never hurt by an order you had to obey?"
"..." the inspector bit his lower lip, he was really frustrated.
"The world is a cruel place. Trust me, I know it. People die, and you can die as well."
"That's why... I have to-"
"No. No you haven't got to." said the boy with finality.
"But-" a white gloved hand was held in front of his face to silence him. The little clown wanted no excuses, and Link knew that, but he could... he could not...
"Did you know?" asked the boy as he looked to the inexistent sky as if musing over his own words. "Orders are just words," the boy looked down at Link with a sad but gentle smile. "They are only a string of words given to you. It depends completely on you if they become something more. You decide to make then into actions, between making them real or not. There is no excuse saying that someone else told you to do it. You chose to do them. You can always refuse, but you chose to accept."
Link lowered his head trying to hide from the child's gaze.
"It's not that simple..."
"Yes! Yes, it is!" interjected the child in frustration. "You're a soldier! You live to protect, you go to battle to protect that which you consider worth of protection, isn't it?"
Link recoiled a little at the child's tone of voice. "Yes…" he answered feebly.
"So, what if refusing to obey gets you in trouble? What if they punish you? What if they kill you?" growled the boy, a knowing shine passed quickly through his cold eyes. "If you are so willing to die for that in which you belief, then why can't you die as easily to protect that which you wish to protect? If their orders go against what you want to defend… then… why do you let it happen?" the last part came out a little broken, the boy had a pleading expression as he begged the soldier for an explanation he could not —for all his existence— understand.
But the inspector had none.
The boy sighed, his expression saddening as he calmed down.
"You are not a child anymore. You are big now," those ice cold eyes began melting. Suddenly, the frozen fire became pure flames of conviction. "You should be able to choose your own path now. So… if you don't like their answers, if you are not truly convinced that they are right, then why follow?"
A small smile appeared on his pale face as he continued.
"If you want a piece of this life's pie, don't expect them to give you permission, don't wait for them to order you to grab it, just do it. If they get mad at you for that, let them rant all they want," then with a mischievous smile he said: "Besides, life without trouble would be utterly boring."
The inspector's mind tried processing all this information. The only thing that was clear to him was that this boy was indeed Allen Walker. The conviction he, in his young age, seemed to have was the same he had perceived in the young exorcist's desire to save. With or without orders, following or not the superiors wishes, Allen simply wanted to protect, and even if he had to get himself in trouble, even if he risked himself becoming a traitor, he never doubted in doing what he believed had to be done to save everyone (even his own enemies sometimes). But…
The inspector's hands clenched into tight fists. This was too much for him. He could not be asked to do this. He could not change a whole life of service to suddenly start creating a new path. Howard Link didn't know how to guide himself in a world without orders; his free will was so subdued that he could barely feel it. Only in counted situations had he allowed it to take over his actions… so few… so small… but there was always something in common: they had all been because of Allen Walker. It was so unfair!
His life made complete sense before meeting Allen Walker, everything was so calculated, so perfectly thought of. He knew exactly what to do, and now, now he knew nothing at all!
"It's so confusing!" he mumbled in despair as he lowered his head in shame. "If I have to doubt it all, then in what should I believe?" he could feel small irritated tears forming in the corners of his eyes. He felt so lost, so in need of saving.
And saving he got.
A small gentle hand fell on his shaking shoulder. He raised his head and saw the boy giving him a smile, a gentle genuine smile. It was the smile Allen gave them when he was happy or satisfied with any of his comrades.
"For instance…" said the child with a soft voice; "you can start believing this," the boy stood straight and said in command "Repeat after me soldier! I am Howard Link!"
The command was there, the need was there, but something was new: the warmth, the desire to do.
And he found himself repeating.
"I…I am H-Howard Link."
The boy smiled nodding.
"I'm a teenager!" he said with strength.
"I-I'm a teenager!" answered the soldier.
"I no longer get sick easily!"
"I no longer get sick easily!" answered the inspector, feeling motivated as he did. Without him noticing, he was slowly beginning to rise.
"I care for my comrades!"
"I care for my comrades!"
"I freakin love pie!" the inspector almost fell down while sweat dropping.
"I…I like pie," he offered.
"I said: I freakin love pie!"
"Soldier! I said: I freakin love pie!"
Closing his eyes and standing up, the inspector screamed.
"I FREAKIN LOVE PIE!"
The child looked at the panting teen with pride, then relaxing his posture, he said softly.
"And I am more than a soldier. I can make my own decisions and now that I'm aware of that, I'll try to do what I truly want for myself."
The inspector was about to repeat when the child raised his hand to stop him.
"You don't have to repeat if you don't want to, right?" he asked winking at him.
"No… I don't," answered the teen with a small smile of his own.
"Good!" said the child with a smile before giving a full command. "Now soldier! To the floor and give me twenty!"
But the inspector —to his surprise— didn't fall. Link stood for a second and notice he didn't feel the oppressing need to follow the order. A sigh of relief escaped from him at the feeling this freedom gave him.
"Excellent," said the child with a satisfied smile. "Now, don't forget our promise! As long as you're near the 'crowned clown'…"
"I'll try my best to have fun." completed Link with a gentle smile.
The boy cheered excitedly.
"I knew you could be fun!" he said between chuckles as he skipped his way back to the timid looking white clown that kept himself away from the scene all the time.
The boy raised his arms with joy as if showing something to the bored clown. The clown nodded silently to the boy and extended his dirtied arm to the little one. Link watched with amusement as the little memory covered the red stains with both hands and saying an 'Hocus Pocus' made a small cloud of white smoke appear before revealing a brand new and clean sleeve. "Ta da!" he chanted and the older white clown jumped back as if impressed at the little one's talent.
"See! This is how you make the act! Now you're ready, go back and finish it! I couldn't have made it easier for you!"
Link could only smile as the big white clown nodded with enthusiasm and took the hands of the small clown boy forcing him to take part in his small dance to nonexistent music. The little boy laughed mirthfully at this, the older clown kept his bored face but the movement of his shoulders was proof of his inner laughter. This peaceful moment lasted a few seconds, till a new sound appeared on the scene.
It was a clapping noise, the sound of only one pair of hands clapping strongly. The small Allen stopped in his tracks and turned to look into the darkness for the clapping noise. A bright smile appeared on his cute little face.
"Papa!" he said with joy. The child let go of the other clown's hands and ran to the border of the light. The big clown tried to catch him, but wasn't fast enough. The little boy waved at them before running into the darkness, laughing on his way.
For some reason he couldn't explain, Link felt a few tears falling from his eyes at this sight. As if something really sad had happened, but he wasn't sure what. He could only bring his right hand to touch the tears that had refused to fall during the entire dream but that this simple scene seemed to unleash. He sighed.
The white clown was looking at him, shaking his head and rubbing the back of his neck, the clown seemed just as uncomfortable as him. Link cleaned his eyes with his sleeve.
"Now what, Walker?" he asked with true curiosity. He would regret it later.
As soon as he had said that, the clown ran to him taking him by force into his arms, bridal style! Then walked to the border of the scenery and giving him a 'kiss' just as he had done before, he simply threw the unsuspecting teen out into the darkness.
The inspector blinked twice before registering what was happening. Since he already knew he was falling and that the clown wasn't going to stop him, he decided not to scream. Just so maybe, he could annoy that stupid Jocker.
Shaking his dizzy head, the inspector rose to his knees from where he had landed. It appeared that Walker had a liking to throw people around, a little too much. The soft sound of shuffling made him look up, just in time to see the bored clown shuffling his beloved deck once more.
The inspector stood up and noticed his surroundings had changed again; he was —apparently— back at the mirror stage. The unreflecting surface was there, behind him, just as broken as ever.
The clown looked at the inspector in the eyes before throwing him a card. The inspector's reflexes, now back to normal, reacted in time, catching it before it could touch his face. Turning it around, he saw just what he thought he would see…
The joker card with the "The crowned clown" inscription.
A small smile formed on his lips. The Inspector allowed his thumb to tenderly glide over the golden letters that were now present on it.
Looking up towards the clown, Link nodded, understanding the silent command, or petition, he had been made. In one swift movement he threw the card back to the clown who caught it and placed it back into the deck.
Then, out of nowhere Link felt the need to clap at the clown, who began making his weird little dance around the place. The inspector clapped, half forced, half wanting to. The clown danced and danced till he came to stop in front of a door Link hadn't noticed before.
The white apparition signaled Link to it, and the inspector nodded once more before going to grab the handle. Looking back at Walker's figure for the last time, the inspector opened the door allowing himself to be pulled to the other side.
When he woke up, he felt all the pain of his leg attacking him, proving that he was indeed awake. It was weird to think about it, but it actually made him feel relieved. He wasn't dreaming anymore.
The inspector slowly sat up on his bed. He was still moved by all the things this dream had brought back to him. But overall, he was intrigued about it all. The fact he had forgotten, the fact Allen had gotten mad when he connected it all, the fact the child's departure seemed to make him so sad, and apparently made the clown sad as well. He tried but could not place his finger on what it was that made him feel so uncomfortable about it.
That clown was both, amusing and scary: sometimes an annoyance, some others a deviant creature worth of darker nightmares. Link shook his head; he was thinking too much about it, no point in searching a dream for such deep implications, right?
Turning to the other side of the room, Link noticed the empty bed of his roommate. He was supposed to keep an eye on Allen walker at all times… but… was that the reason for his sudden need to see him. For some reason he wanted to see Allen, was it because of the order?
No it wasn't because of that, it was because of his orders that he had left him before. This time it was something else. It was a petition. It was that petition he had not fulfilled so many years ago. The small clown's silent petition as he took hold of his coat's sleeve.
"Please, don't leave."
That day, he had given up on something important, something that he was slowly getting back. But what was most important, was that he could now choose to follow someone's petition instead of obeying someone's orders. He could get in trouble but…
"What is life without some trouble?" he mumbled with a little amused smile. He could almost hear a small voice in his head saying "It's boring!"
Taking the crouches from beside his bed, the inspector pushed himself to stand. Taking a few seconds to find his balance, he began to walk to the door, and then to the dark hallways of the black order.
Once he was close to Walker's room in the medical wing, he heard two voices bickering softly, voices that became clearer as he got closer.
"I won't!" grumbled one.
"Oh, come one! It's your turn!" whined the other.
"No, no it isn't."
"Yes, yes it is!"
Then, there was a sudden noise of things colliding and some moaning.
"Would you stop acting so childishly?"
There was a low growling sound and a soft but whiny voice that said: "yes, mom."
Link found with no surprise that the room with the unconscious exorcist was already occupied with some visits. Lenalee Lee was looking quite mad at a scowling Kanda Yu and a laughing Lavi Bookman. It was something he was used to see. But the noise they were making was hardly welcome in the place they were at. Clearing his throat, everyone turned to see him at the door.
"I suggest lowering your voice; it could make the patients uncomfortable."
The girl exorcist stood up with a surprised expression.
"Inspector Link? What are you doing here?" she asked softly, although, he could see she was slightly nervous.
"Tch," Kanda threw him a glare as he crossed his arms. "The idiot beansprout's still unconscious; can't you stop following your orders for a while?"
Link was impressed that the samurai exorcist had said so much to him, normally he was quite silent.
"Yeah, two spot, leave Allen for a while, you can go back to stalking him when he gets better," suggested bookman Jr. but Link saw the annoyance in his uncovered eye. The inspector sighed, Allen may treat him with a weird kind of welcoming attitude, but his comrades weren't with him on that.
"Believe it or not," he began with a calm voice. "I'm here only to fulfill a promise, not following orders," with no more, he went to take sit on a chair on the side of the room, not paying any mind at the exorcists' confused expressions. He wasn't here to answer to them, he was here because he wanted to be here. Nothing more, nothing else.
There was silence as the exorcists seemed to think to themselves, sharing a silent conversation through mysterious gazes and gestures. Suddenly, Lenalee decided to speak to him, and what she said, or more like, asked took him by surprise.
"Link… did Allen-kun came to see you in your dreams?" her voice had a nervous edge to it, and the other to exorcists went from looking at her to look at the inspector.
Link looked at her with wide eyes.
And then he gave a nod.
The room fell in silence once more.
Back in the mirror room …
The poor clown lay sprawled on the floor; his body was covered by small little stains that made his elegant figure look so old and weakened. Like a toy that had been thrown to the bottom of an old toy trunk and forgotten for a long, long time.
He had to move, but he really didn't want to. He almost wanted to give up the next part. The show was almost over; surely someone else could finish it? From the darkness, music came and the soft whispers of the audience, all were encouraging the clown to continue, it was almost over and he was doing such a good job!
Crawling in his hands and knees, he made every single effort to reach the beautiful mirror. Taking his now dirty mask of he tried to place it in its rightful place… but fell down on his face, too tired to move. He was going to give up but… HE WAS THE MAIN STAR! THE SHOW MUST GO ON!
With on last effort he pushed the mask, but this time he could not stop himself from falling completely into the mirror. He disappeared from the sight of the audience that held their breath in contemplation. Then, after a while and without any warnings, a pure white figure jumped out of the mirror spinning in the air and falling to his knees making a wonderful pirouette. The audience clapped in excitement. He was back on the stage.
The clown bowed to them, and snapped his fingers making a new door appear. He could feel it: the climax of the story was near. He had to see that it was perfect. The stripped bow was rightly tied; the shirt was tidy and everything in place. Now he only had to prepare the stage, so everything went according to the plot. His last mask prepared, and his other props ready.
After a small interlude, the show will reach its peak.
Well, that was it, hope you enjoyed it. Don't forget to leave a review with your opinion. And hopefully I'll have the next chapter as soon as possible.
White Joy*: is the clown that dresses mostly in white, belongs to the group of White faced clowns known for their multiple abilities from juggling to magic, and their mischievous attitude on stage.
As always thanks to my dear friend Sazdx for helping me repair some mistakes in my writing.
See you in the next part!