Life happened. But enough said about that. Moving along now.

- o0o -

Action, Inaction, Reaction

- o0o -

The affair; it had all started normally enough with a case involving a phantom thief, stolen jewellery, and a bunch of finders that had been implicated for the crime through means unknown. In other words, a normal Tuesday or whichever day it had been, because truth to be told, Allen hadn't exactly seen the point of keeping track of the days as it was all the same tedium.

They had spent the night prior to that on a Parisian rooftop, on the lookout for the elusive and highly annoying Phantom Thief G, who to the dismay of some ‒ and the secret delight of others ‒ had continuously managed to evade capture.

However, though the capture of the thief had at that particular point in time not yet occurred, they ‒ well, Noise Marie ‒ had managed to track the thief down to local orphanage at which doorstep they had turned up in the morning that had followed, and upon which some very interesting things soon came to occur.

First and foremost, Allen mentally congratulated himself on his decision not to be up at the very front of the group, seeing that such a position would not have been to his advantage. Secondly, he not so subtly admitted the amusement that he found in the rather curious situation that had arisen from this, seeing that it had not been him but Kanda who ‒ despite keen reflexes ‒ hadn't been able to dodge the humanoid projectile as it had been flung out the door, seeing that the aforementioned exorcist had been too busy glaring in Allen's general direction to notice it and react to it in time.

Thus, they had ended up in the aforementioned situation wherein Kanda had ‒ however briefly ‒ been possessed by the spirit of the brat that was Timothy Hearst, the one behind the elusive phantom thief. Allen made a mental note of asking Timcanpy to replay the recording later on and repeatedly at that. Hell, even with most of the people in the Order regarding him with clear suspicion and disdain, Allen was sure that there had to be quite a few people out there who were willing to look past all that at least temporarily if he offered to show them the recording, seeing that he was fairly certain that no other golem had managed to get the angle just right.

Naturally, the small incident did not sit too well with Kanda who was obviously more than ready to drag the kid back to the Order kicking and screaming if need be, and preferably by the hair as well. Hell, the guy even voiced something to that nature, though the mutter was only overheard by Allen himself, Link, and Marie, and by the kid as well if the glare served as any sort of indication.

Though Allen could by no means fault the young brat for his reaction, both at getting himself caught and at being faced with what was ultimately an ultimatum, he found his attention slipping. Rather, though watching the situation unfold before him was admittedly interesting, seeing that young Timothy did give off an impression of being the headstrong type that would rather wreak havoc than give in to intimidation, Allen found his attention wandering elsewhere.

Initially, he had great trouble pinpointing just what threw him off. Gradually though, he was made aware of a rapidly escalating sense of wrongness about the whole situation; barely noticeable at first, but growing more pronounced by the minute.

In hindsight, he knew that he ought to have taken the hint when he had first experienced the chill of someone staring coldly; there had been a nun, with cold eyes, that had taken one long look at them and at him in particular before turning on her heel and disappearing to who-knew-where.

Afterwards, he would come to learn that she had gone out to make a call, alerting the Earl to their presence at the orphanage and to young Timothy's subsequent status as an accommodator.

At that point in time though, Allen hadn't known; perhaps spending too much time with those people from the Order had managed to lower his IQ after all, considering the fact that the thought had barely even crossed his mind beforehand and had left him virtually unprepared for the situation that then arose as the world outside the window darkened suddenly.

Whilst the others began to move, Allen ‒ overcome by a sickening feeling of realisation ‒ attempted to summon the Ark, confirming what he had feared; a barrier had been set up, trapping them within it.

To Allen at least, it was a somewhat foreign sensation to find himself as blind as the rest of them with the lack of reaction from his cursed eye; the barrier obviously played a part in this as well as in choking off his ability to summon the Ark, and if not for the direness of the situation, then he would have applauded the Earl on employing some excellent strategy. After all, with him and his cursed eye being around, sneaking up on them with akuma was hardly possible without running interference.

Really, it was as though the spell had been crafted just to deal with him, putting them at a disadvantage.

A Level Four was the first to launch an attack, blowing a hole into the wall of the building.

Surrounded by his Innocence, Allen had opted to cover those not protected in their own right, seeing that none of the others, barring perhaps Link, were particularly geared towards defence.

The prioress mistaking the Level Four for an angel would have had Allen laughing at the sheer irony of it; he would have laughed about it afterwards, but afterwards, there had been little to laugh about.

Leaving Marie and Kanda to deal with the Level Four, he along with Timcanpy and Link had attempted to get the orphanage's inhabitants out of the way, at which point Link had warned him against summoning the Ark, seeing that doing so unauthorised would leave him at risk of being branded a traitor.

If not for the fact that Allen had already been made aware of the fact that his inherent abilities had been disabled due to the barrier, then he would probably have argued and made a point about how little he actually cared about their rules. Knowing what he did however, he gritted his teeth and remained on his guard as Link gave the kid a somewhat abridged version of Innocence and what this would mean for his future.

The latter, along with the fact that he did not automatically dash off back to the Level Four, meant that he was there to witness of the prioress and the children becoming affected by the special ability of some lower level akuma that Allen ‒ present at the scene as he was ‒ swiftly dealt with.

After all, leaving the lot without anyone capable of wielding Innocence just to go deal with the Level Four would have been to ask for trouble. Besides, Kanda and Marie had dealt with Skin Bolic; they had managed to kill a Noah, and a Level Four was definitely beneath that, as long as one did not screw up completely.

However, fully expecting more akuma to be there as he was, he was still somewhat caught off guard along with Link, the woman named Emilia, and Timothy as they came to engage an enemy that was not all that expected.

The fact that it ‒ or rather she ‒ was not a Noah was both relieving and somewhat disquieting.

The fact that she had a gun however…

Thankfully, half of them knew how to play it by ear, with Link dragging Emilia along out of the line of fire and Allen doing the same with Timothy, who made a slight sound but voiced no other protests; a bit on the shell-shocked side, if the brat's demeanour served as any type of indication. As for this, Allen could very much relate; at one point in time, he would probably have reacted in a similar if not identical manner. After all, though the akuma had been destroyed, there were still no movements from those who had fallen victims to its ability; poisoning, no doubt.

If anything could be done about the latter, then it still had to wait, seeing that there was a nun firing repeated shots at them; a broker, no doubt.

Soon thereafter, she even admitted to the fact, after one of her shots had actually managed to graze Allen's right cheek.

Ducking back down, Allen's attention shifted briefly towards Link, who made a slight move out of the corner of his eye, eyes narrowing; no mercy for the broker, eh?

Obviously though, Allen was not about to stay in the way of that; rather, he found himself perfectly willing to perform the act himself if need be, and particularly in the offhand case of her having as much as an inkling as to his true identity. However, before he could proceed, Timcanpy alerted him to the approach of other akuma. Throwing a quick glance to confirm this, he rapidly came to a decision, using his Clown Belt ability to snatch the gun from the crazy nun, retrieving it before turning his full attention towards the akuma that he knew to be coming.

Obviously though, this had been a mistake; he ought to have paid more attention again.

He only caught a yell from his side ‒ a warning, perhaps? ‒ before another shot rang out; the broker had had another gun on her, and since he had so graciously provided her with the opportunity, she had gotten him in the shoulder this time around.

Momentarily, he sank to the floor in what was presumably shock, only vaguely taking in Link dashing off to disarm and permanently deal with the gun-toting nun whilst Timothy and Timcanpy, and soon also Emilia, fretted over him whilst he struggled to breathe; to grasp the situation and to determine the severity of the wound.

Thankfully, his Innocence opted to make itself useful, though it stung quite a bit as a piece of it entered the wound and sealed it up temporarily. Thus, no longer facing as much of a danger of bleeding out within the foreseeable future, Allen regained his footing with some degree of effort, trying to keep from swaying unsteadily as he did so.

Beside him, Link had stepped up, pulling a bunch of paper scraps covered in spells.

The location of the hit was definitely less than ideal, but was definitely preferable to other alternatives; judging from the pain and the amount of blood, the bullet had managed to nick an artery, and Allen was also fairly certain that there was no exit wound, meaning that the bullet was still lodged within him. Either way, there was a need to put an end to things quickly, seeing that Kanda and Marie likely had not managed to finish off the Level Four either, if the semi-distant noises of an ongoing battle served as any type of indication.

"Link."

The assigned guard dog shifted his gaze towards him, momentarily. "Yes, Walker?"

"Go make sure that the others haven't gotten themselves killed…" He felt a smile tugging at his lips, in spite of everything. "This won't take very long."

Barring the Level Four, the rest were Level Twos or possible Level Threes. In the end, their level was irrelevant; they all fell victim to the Sword of Exorcism in the time that it took for Link to get back to him with an update on the general situation. Despite their special abilities, the akuma were weak in comparison to those that he had faced time and again; it was as though they had been sent in to deal with Timothy and the others, presumably whilst Allen, Kanda and Marie would have been busy engaging the Level Four. Speaking of the latter…

Whether it was due to his mind being afflicted by pain and mounting exhaustion or otherwise, a rather peculiar thought occurred to him from his vantage point where he stood in the massive hole in the wall, looking out at the still ongoing battle with the Level Four. He looked to his sword and then back at the situation as the crazy thought gradually began to define itself.

The process hardly took more than a few seconds, and even before it had run its course, Allen had snapped his head around, fixating briefly on Link. "I've got an idea."

"What?"

"Step back for a bit."

Admittedly, improvising a makeshift hammer throw with only one useable arm did prove a bit of a challenge, but the appropriate amount of spin, speed and luck in combination with sheer will accomplished it. Reminiscent of a bulky boomerang, the Sword of Exorcism hit home, inflicting some damage but by no means enough to take down the Level Four, but still enough to distract it and to draw its attention towards Allen, who soon had the sword returned to his grip, having summoned it back.

The Level Four ‒ perhaps a bit too confident for its own good ‒ mocked him then, about being so late in joining the game. This act of mockery however resulted in a brief lapse in attention which allowed Kanda to slice off one of its arms. It had begun to slip; that much was perfectly evident, and soon thereafter, a joint effort did away with it altogether.

"You're late," Kanda snorted, returning the sword to its sheath now that all threats had seemingly been dealt with.

"I got shot…" Allen responded evenly, cancelling the Sword of Exorcism but not his overall invocation. "Besides, I…" He trailed off slightly, his gaze falling upon Noise Marie where he sat with a slight smile but two of his fingers ‒ the index and the middle one ‒ missing from one hand, wrapping a cloth around the stumps that remained.

"The others are alright," Marie said, seemingly responding to his unspoken thought. "If a bit weak, they are all alive."

Judging from the tone, there was an implied thank you in there somewhere, but Allen opted not to comment on it as they made their way back towards the orphanage.

"Link," he greeted the other as they had finally reached their destination. "You wouldn't happen to have any experience in treating bullet wounds, would you?"

Receiving a sharp nod in return and noting that a medical kit had already been assembled, he allowed tension to drain from his body, dropping as his invocation cancelled out completely, and remaining out for the remainder of it, coming to only briefly afterwards to the sensation of being hauled onto someone's back, gathering a few disorienting fragments of information before passing out again.

It was only afterwards, when he fully regained his senses back at the new headquarters, that he came to learn about the apparent interference of the so called Third Generation Exorcists who had arrived at the scene soon after his collapse and brought down the barrier from the outside.

For whichever reason, their appearance had a profound effect upon Link, who despite earlier misgivings appeared to be teetering on the edge of abandoning his guard duties in order to stage some sort of confrontation.

Minding such a prospect very little, Allen did nothing in order to oppose this, though neither did he indicate his support of the other embarking on such an endeavour. After all, doing so would likely call attention to the matter and to the issues concerning it, and Allen would rather not be implicated for anything more, seeing that some seemed very much intent on dragging his name in the mud as a traitor.

Hah. In a way, they were entirely correct, because he was a traitor, just not to them primarily. It was the Earl and the Noah that he had betrayed ‒ he along with the Fourteenth ‒ and he had never sworn himself to the Order and to acting in accordance to its policies. Admittedly, being an accommodator of Innocence might have been viewed as a pledge to some, but in the end, though occasionally aligned, the interests of the Order and the interests of Innocence generally diverged and particularly so in matters into which he was in any way involved. Also, if one added in the Central Agency as a player separate from the Order, the divergence showed all the more clearly.

Then again, he supposed that it was just as fair to presume that he had been the one who had misread the intentions of the Innocence dwelling within him; perhaps it truly disapproved of his general existence ‒ as the host of the Fourteenth Noah and all ‒ but couldn't kill him before he had outlived his usefulness. Then again, considering the fact that the Fourteenth had-…

He swiftly dismissed the thought, putting his head back in the game in a quite literal sense, seeing that he had found his deck of cards ‒ originally Tyki's deck of cards ‒ stacked neatly within an arm's reach of his bedside, a tad bloodier than he remembered them but otherwise relatively unharmed, and had then been mobbed by the orphans that had been brought into the Order along with the orphanage's prioress to recover from Dark Matter poisoning.

Having attempted and failed at teaching them to play poker, he settled for playing Go Fish with them, even allowing Lavi to join when the one-eyed bandana-wearing Bookman apprentice turned up to see how he was doing.

Then, when Link finally fell to the temptation to sneak off and the motherly matron was out of earshot, Allen casually opted to cut to the chase. "What are they?" he asked quietly in-between switching back to French to ask one of the girls in the bunch for all her aces.

Lavi shot him a momentary look before tending to his hand. "Third Generation Exorcists; manmade," he responded just as quietly, shifting his cards around. "No details so far."

Allen surrendered his own nines to a boy who received them with a cheeky smile. "In other words, they've done this before?"

"Yep," Lavi responded just as quietly, as Link stepped back in through the door and made his approach.

Knowing better than to press the matter any further with this new addition to their audience, Allen extended the invitation of joining in to Link, who in accordance to expectations declined and in return gave him a look heavily imbued with a message of "We need to have words".

Considering recent developments, Allen readily agreed though he hardly gave more than a slight acknowledgement of the fact. He left his bloodstained deck of cards with the children and followed along with Timcanpy in a tow, walking beside his human guard dog in silence until they reached his room and shut themselves in it.

Allen walked up to the window, which had quite a nice view actually now that he was beginning to pay more attention to it, opening up into a seaside garden of some sort, in which Timothy Hearst seemed to be having a heart to heart with the Prioress, a fact which explained the pair's absence from the medical wing. Allen reasoned that they might as well, seeing that the pair was highly unlikely to be able to meet so casually ever again, Black Order policies and everything.

He averted his eyes from it, turning so that he leaned his back against the windowsill instead, directing his eyes towards Link, who appeared to be frowning down at whatever was written on his notepad. "Well?"

- o0o -

A while later found him brooding; that was at least what Lavi had labelled his emotional state once he had turned up, finally having been chased out of the medical wing by the staff. The aforementioned redhead had also insisted upon dragging him along to the training grounds, since apparently rumours had spread about a huge spar going on, involving Kanda, among others.

Truth to be told, though Allen certainly found that he would pay to see the aforementioned exorcist having his arse handed to him, he doubted that there were any people both capable of the feat and motivated to accomplish such a thing in the first place. Rather, with the other always viewing him and his actions with a healthy amount of suspicion, he could hardly say that he was particularly opposed to trying his luck at accomplishing such a feat if it all came down to it. However, it was also just as much of a fact that Kanda ‒ assisted or not ‒ had taken down Skin, who despite having been a bit lacking in the intellectual department had still possessed a great deal of brute strength; enough to overwhelm most. Naturally, brute strength and resilience could be overcome by carefully applied strategy, but…

Seated as they were next to a tea-drinking Marie whilst watching the ongoing spar, Allen couldn't help but recall the events back at the abandoned City of Martel. It seemed like such a long time ago, back when the world was still relatively simple, with him working for the Earl, knowing what he was, living life with simple goals and desires, like killing Cross and playing the Order like a fiddle.

If he recalled things correctly, then…

Allen watched as Kanda proceeded to beat the crap out of a bunch of finders and in hand-to-hand combat at that, before the latter had his hair tie stolen by Bookman of all people. If not for the fact that there had been other things at the forefront of his mind, then he would definitely have cracked a smile at that. Now he just kept watch on the general situation, his mind at least partially occupied elsewhere.

The lotus in the hourglass…

The growing tattoo that he recalled seeing in connection to the Ark incident…

The seeming healing factor…

He averted his eyes from the spectacle.

Third Generation Exorcists…

Possibly…

He considered it briefly. Then, he opted to think no more of it, and rose to his feet.

"Hey, are you joining the fight?" Lavi quipped a tad surprised or at the very least feigning it.

"Are you?" Allen responded somewhat rhetorically, stretching his limbs best he could without aggravating his healing injuries too much. "Hey, Link?"

The other's attention immediately snapped to him.

"We're headed for the cafeteria."

The other gave a slight nod and moved to follow, as expected. Lavi made a slight face at this, but Allen paid neither of them much heed in particular, his attention temporarily stolen by a group of people headed past them at some distance in the opposite direction. The attire ‒ along with the way in which Link stiffened ‒ clearly labelled them as members of the Crow unit. However, there was something else as well, something that rang both foreign and eerily familiar within him.

Truth to be told, it was just a feeling; a hazy but gradually clearing realisation stemming from instinct along with deductive ability.

In hindsight, it became quite apparent as to what had been done.

He stopped in his tracks, drawing attention to himself from his two additional tagalongs. "On second thought," he said, turning with a forced smile as he firmly clamped his hand onto Lavi's shoulder. "Let's spar."

Coming to think of it, Allen could not recall having sparred with anyone for a very long time. Rather, he actually found himself missing it, and besides, what better thing to do as a means of distraction now that he no longer had any appetite for anything besides the blood and guts of Link's superiors?

- o0o -