Written by xmystorytime
Full Summary: One-shot. "I don't know where you picked him up from Mana, but he should go back there. He's only causing trouble for us and you." A snippet into life between Allen and Mana, before the akuma, before the war.
Warnings: Fluff. Hints of child abuse. More fluff. A tiny bit of cursing. Some more fluff.
Disclaimer: If you seriously think I own D. Grayman, you're really really weird.
When the thunder rumbled in the distance, Mana Walker raised one eyebrow and looked upwards. Above him, thick grey clouds encompassed the entire sky, blocking out necessary sunlight. He'd been in this world long enough to know that, undoubtedly, it would rain soon. And judging by the thunder, there wouldn't be a shower - it would be a thunderstorm. Always the best ones, personally.
But until it did start to rain, he couldn't take shelter in his caravan. He had to get his technique perfected before the next performance, and he knew he was nowhere near mastering it.
He moved the clown costume so it wasn't as tight on his throat and then held his arms high. He narrowed his eyes, focusing only on the piece of grass in front of him, and took several calming breaths. On the third, he did a running start and then threw himself onto his hands, cartwheeling around the grass again and again. On his tenth one he paused, balancing on his hands and staring without really seeing the upside-down world.
Now came the hard part. He had to push off from the ground and land on the small blue ball without losing his balance. When said ball was inflatable and rather bouncy, that made it pretty hard to do. Fortunately, he'd mastered harder things and he would master this.
He blinked, his concentration shot to hell, and squinted at the person running towards him. It took him a few seconds to realise who, and when he did he felt a smile grow on his face.
"Jonathan," he greeted the star of the gymnasts. "How may I help you?"
"You can start by keeping an eye on your bundle of terror," Jonathan snapped with his hands on his hips. "He's disturbing the lions again, and I don't know how much longer Birling can keep them under control." Mana sighed and flipped himself over so he was the right way up.
"Thank you Jonathan, I'll get right on it," he said, rubbing at his forehead wearily. "Although I wish you'd be a bit more courteous. Allen is only a child-"
"Aye, but he'll soon be cat kibble if you don't teach that kid the rules!" Jonathan frowned. "I don't know where you picked him up from Mana, but he should go back there. He's only causing trouble for us and you." Mana stared at Jonathan, horrified at the words.
"How can you say that?" he asked, frowning. "He's six! He grew up on the streets! Of course he's not going to be the best behaved kid!" Jonathan sighed, shaking his head.
"A circus isn't the best place for a kid to grow Mana," he said, a touch softer than he had before. "I don't have a problem with him, but then the gymnasts are the only ones he hasn't terrorised. I don't know how much longer it'll be before people start going to the master." Mana grimaced, knowing that Jonathan was right even if he didn't want to admit it.
Once people started going to the master, the leader of the circus, he and Allen would be kicked out of the group no matter how good they were, and Mana would be out of a way to earn money to live on. He was lucky they hadn't already gone to the master.
"I just... I couldn't leave him, Jonathan," he said, spreading his arms out and palms up to the sky. "You weren't there when I first saw him. He..." Mana's throat tightened as he remembered the bruises that decorated Allen's thin, frail body and the broken look in the boy's eyes. "All because of something he couldn't control, those monsters thought they had a right to beat him..." he clenched his fists.
He'd sworn there and then he'd never let Allen go back to that type of life, and he would keep that promise.
"Mana..." Jonathan rest a hand on his shoulder. Mana looked at his friend and saw the small smile on his cracked lips. "I get it. You don't need to explain, however... talking about it here isn't helping Allen now."
"You're right," Mana admitted, pulling out of his friend's grip. "Thank you, Jonathan." With a nod to the blonde, he started in the direction the lions lived, trying to figure out how to speak to Allen. He had to handle the boy in a delicate way, for if he said the wrong thing the boy would only get in a temper and run away again - but if he did it right, he was usually rewarded with a very tiny smile and a promise to try and be better.
The latter didn't happen often, but Mana was still learning. He didn't have experience in raising a child before Allen, just as Allen hadn't had experience with a father, so half the time neither of them knew what to do.
But at least they were in their ignorance together.
Passing by the acrobats and the gymnasts, and waving to the trio walking around on stilts, he finally reached the 'animal' part of the circus. The lions were always closer to the end of the group, needing to be separated from the gorillas and the birds in case they got a desire to kill. Their resident tamer, Birling, had tried to explain the thrill of danger he got from the possibility of being eaten at any moment, but no one had really understood.
Mana eventually reached the lions just as Birling was clambering out of the cage with a wince.
"Birling!" he called and the young brunette turned, making an 'o' with his mouth when he spotted Mana. Mana walked up to the shorter boy, raising an eyebrow. "I hear you have something of mine?" Birling grimaced and shook his head.
"I did, but thankfully Lucy came and took him away to practice some acrobatics. Not before he caused a bit of trouble though," he rolled his shoulders and hissed in pain. Mana frowned.
"Are you injured?"
"I'll be fine," Birling gave a half-smile. "Nothing worse than a normal day's work. You should probably go find him, though, and explain to him why lions are not 'just big cats'," he quoted, rolling his eyes. "Honestly Mana, if he keeps this up I'll have no choice but to go to the master."
"I know having Allen around is tough," Mana kept his voice level, not betraying any of the panic he felt inside. "Just give him a few more weeks, okay? I promise, I'm working on it – and he's getting better, isn't he?" Birling snorted.
"Yeah, he only comes once a day now where it used to be five times," he grinned. "Maybe you should show him some discipline-"
"No," Mana hissed, surprising himself as well as Birling with how fierce his voice sounded. He cleared his throat and looked away, watching as the lions, obviously agitated, paced up and down the cage. "I-I rescued him from hell, Birling, and I won't bring that hell back to him. Give him time, okay?"
"Whatever," Birling sighed. "I'll pass the message along to the others, but don't say I didn't warn you." Mana swallowed and nodded, giving a relieved smile to Birling.
"You're a good man, Birling," he said. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Get eaten by the lions," Birling grinned and then gestured to the large expanse of tents to their left. "Lucy took him over there, though whether he'll still be there I don't know." Thanking him, Mana turned and followed the direction Birling had directed, keeping his eyes peeled for a multi-coloured woman with blonde hair. It was never that hard to find Lucy, if you knew what to look for.
Mana jumped at a sharp crack of thunder overhead, and then with an enormous roar the sky opened up and deposited its load. He inhaled sharply at the sudden downpour and quickly ducked into the nearest tent for shelter. He gave an apologetic smile to the jugglers he'd startled, and turned to watch the sudden activity outside. All the performers were scrambling around, hastily grabbing their bits and bobs and fleeing to shelter before they got too soaked. It would be a disaster if any of them got sick; in the circus, every single person was needed to help make the show a hit. If even one went down with a cold, it would spread to others and then the circus would be missing a key ingredient.
It never happened that often, but each time it did everyone promised to never let it happen again.
"Mana!" Mana blinked, focusing on the person running towards him. Even through the downpour he could see the sparkling decorations of her costume, glittering from the raindrops, and he reached out to catch Lucy when she tripped in her haste to reach him. "Thanks," she breathed, regaining her balance. "Have you got Allen?"
"Allen?" Mana blinked. "I was told he was with you..." Lucy shook her head, her thick hair sending water everywhere.
"I left him in the clearing practising a few new moves, and I meant to go back to check on him but then this downpour started and I got caught up helping out packing away. I don't know if he's still there or..." she trailed off, looking sorry, and Mana swallowed.
"It's okay, I'll look for him," he said, trying to reassure her. "Stay here, okay?" Lucy nodded, and Mana didn't hesitate to walk back out into the downpour he'd been so frantic to get out of. His make-up was running, trickling down his face and chin and feeling rather disgusting, but he could put up with it. Right now, Allen was more important than his make-up.
He started to jog, wanting to get to the clearing quicker and praying with all his might Allen was there. Afterward, he prayed Allen wasn't there and had had the sense to get under shelter. He needed more time to deal with Allen in a normal capacity before he started getting sick.
Dismay and relief mingled when he reached the clearing and spotted Allen in the middle. He was absolutely drenched but he didn't seem bothered by the rain. Mana came to a halt and, forgetting what he was supposed to do, just watched the boy.
Allen screwed up his face in determination, the clown costume looking far too big on him, and started a run. He threw his tiny arms on the ground and Mana blinked when Allen did a perfect cartwheel. Just the other day, Allen had refused to do one because he called it 'stupid' and didn't want to break his neck. Lucy must have done something, he realised and smiled to himself. He'd have to thank her later – she'd saved him a task he'd been dreading.
He blinked as Allen tried a new technique – a flip. The brunette ran forward, landed on his hands and vaulted into the air... and landed on his feet. This wasn't as perfect as the cartwheel, because Allen landed awkwardly and off balance, and a few seconds later tumbled onto his back.
"That's my cue," Mana mumbled, taking a deep breath and striding forward. "Allen! What are you doing out here?" the young boy jumped. He snapped his head towards him and then scrambled to his feet, mud smeared all over his costume.
"Mana! Look what Lucy taught me!" he said, making Mana pause. Allen then did another cartwheel, before turning to Mana with a beaming smile. "She said that it's not so scary once you try, and she was right!"
"It's nice to know you listen to some people," Mana smiled, reaching out to ruffle the younger boy's hair. Allen flinched, although it seemed more instinct than actual thought, and Mana froze, before swallowing and completing the action. "You're completely soaked. Why are you still practising?"
"... you mean I can stop?" Allen blinked up at him beneath the bangs Mana had just disrupted with surprised brown eyes. "I don't have to work in the rain?"
"Of course not," Mana frowned and then crouched down so he could see Allen's face more easily. He wanted to get them out of the rain, yes, but he sensed that this was more important right now. "Why would you think you have to?" He realised a second later that was a mistake. Allen hated to look stupid and although Mana hadn't meant it that way, Allen had taken it.
"No reason," he spat, looking away. "Sorry I'm not as clever as the rest of you." Mana winced.
"That's not what I meant Allen," he said, trying to keep his voice warm. "I'm just curious. Any circus performer goes inside when it rains because no one wants to chance getting sick. It was just assumed you'd do the same."
"I don't get sick," Allen muttered, still not looking up from the ground. Mana raised an eyebrow.
"Everyone gets sick Allen," he smiled. "Especially kids who decide it's fun to keep working in the rain." He'd meant it as a joke, but Allen didn't smile. Instead, the brunette tipped his head back and gazed up at the rain. He kept blinking as rain droplets fell in his eyes but he didn't move. Mana frowned. What is he-?
"I..." Allen whispered, his voice barely audible over the pouring rain. Thunder rumbled above, choosing one of the most awkward times to make itself known, but thankfully for Mana Allen had paused and waited until it had finished. "I... hate the rain." It was the first tidbit of information Allen had volunteered about himself, and it was something Mana would never have guessed on his own – especially after today.
"Then let's get you out of it," he whispered, equally as soft, and Allen turned to look at him. Mana's heart pulled at the mixed emotions in the boy's eyes, and he couldn't resist reaching out and wrapping his arms around Allen in a gentle hug. The boy stiffened, obviously not used to the contact, but Mana knew he was making progress when Allen didn't push him away. In one swift movement he slipped his hands under Allen's arms and picked him up. Allen squeaked, eyes widening, and started to panic.
"Shh, it's okay, you're fine," Mana whispered reassuring words until Allen had calmed. The brunette wrapped far too thin arms around Mana's neck and buried his face against his chest. Allen doesn't like heights either, he reminded himself, absently stroking the sodden hair. That's something he'll have to grow out of, unfortunately.
Shaking his head, he turned and started the long route back to his camper caravan. It was their home, small though it may be, and it was the best place for them right now. They had to clean up for one, and he suspected the younger boy was hungry. He always was, although he never made it known when he was hungry and when he wasn't.
"So, I hear you were greeting the lions again today," he kept his voice light. Allen pulled back and looked up at him, a tiny grin on his face.
"I always took care of the cats on the streets," he said. "They were homeless, just like me, and no one deserved to feel like that so I always took care of them. I... I miss them, sometimes..." he trailed off, frowning. "But the lions here are really different! I thought they were just big cats, but... the cats never tried to bite me..."
"That's because they're dangerous Allen," Mana shifted Allen's weight until he had an arm free, and then he flicked the boy's forehead gently. "You shouldn't go near them."
"Birling goes near them!" Allen argued.
"Birling is well trained and knows what he's doing," Mana said firmly. "You're not only putting yourself in danger when you go to them, Allen, you're also hurting Birling when you do it. Do you want him to be hurt because of you?" Allen's eyes widened and then he glanced away to the soggy ground.
"No..." he muttered. "I don't mean to hurt anyone..." Mana sighed.
"I know you don't. We all know you don't, but sometimes..." Mana paused to squint through the rain, trying to figure out whether he should go left or right. Eventually recognising the caravan to his left, he figured out the route he had to take and continued. "I'd just really appreciate it if you did what you were told."
"I always did what I wanted before!" Allen scowled. "You can't make me do any damn thing!"
"No I can't," Mana's lips quirked up in a smile. "Though goodness knows I've tried. And I have no doubt that no one will ever make you do anything you really don't want to do," he pressed the same finger he'd flicked Allen's forehead with against the soft mouth, forestalling any possible protests. "However, if you'd just think about other people before you do something, that would be enough."
"... so I can't go near the lions?" Allen sulked. Mana huffed a laugh, finally reaching the caravan he called home, and pulled out the set of keys in his pocket. If he likes them so much, maybe...
"How about I talk to Birling and see if he's willing to train you?" he offered, the idea coming to him in a flash. Allen's mood seemed to do a 180, and he sat up with a huge smile and wide eyes.
"Really?" Mana unlocked the door and then opened it, grimacing as he then tried to figure out a way to get through the doorway with Allen in his arms and his costume on.
"However, you'd have to promise me something," he said, sucking in his stomach and squeezing through the door. It took a bit of jiggling around, but eventually he made it through. He breathed a sigh of relief, pleased to be out the rain, and shut the door behind him with his foot.
"What? What?" Allen asked, tugging on Mana's top to get his attention. "Mana!" he snapped, and Mana finally looked at him to see him pouting. "What promise?"
"That you won't go to the lions without Birling, and you do what he says no matter what," Mana walked along the floor, grimacing at the wet trail he left behind, and took hold of Allen with both hands again. "If you promise me that, I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you thank you thank you!" Allen breathed, a huge grin on his face. "I promise! I do! I really promise!" Mana smiled as he bent over and dropped the wet boy onto the broken sofa. It creaked under Allen's weight, but it had been the best Mana could afford, and over time he'd grown attached to it. Although he'd had to patch up the loose spring when he got Allen – it could've hurt the boy.
"Alright. When it stops raining, we'll head back out and go see Birling," he grinned and went down on one knee. "But first, we have to get you out of these wet clothes." He started pulling off Allen's shoes, grimacing at the wet, sweaty socks beneath.
"Why?" Allen asked. "They'll dry out eventually."
"You'll get sick if you stay wet," Mana explained, attempting to pull off the second sock. "I don't want you to get sick."
"But you're wet too!" Allen pulled his foot out of Mana's hands and frowned. "I don't want you to get sick!"
"I don't get sick," Mana said, trying to re-capture the lost limb. Allen suddenly grinned.
"You said everyone gets sick!" he repeated. Mana's eyes widened and he felt like hitting himself. Kids are too damn smart, he groaned, and decided denying it was the best cause of action.
"No I didn't," he lied, starting to tug on the ruffled collar around Allen's neck and tried to avoid Allen's hands which batted him away.
"Yes you did!" Allen cackled. "You said 'Everyone gets sick Allen, especially kids who decide it's fun to keep working in the rain' – and let go damn it! I can do it myself!" he slapped at Mana's hands and Mana pulled back, raising his arms in surrender. Allen tugged and tugged at the ruffled collar, eventually pulling it off and throwing it across the room. Mana watched it go, sighing in resignation.
"You would remember it word for word," he muttered, shaking his head and standing. If Allen wanted to undress himself, than Mana would let him. "Allen, you know better than to use that language." Allen flushed as he pulled off the tight-fitted t-shirt.
"It's not my fault," he muttered. "I'm trying! I really am! You believe me, right?" Mana nodded, slipping out of his costume with ease. Allen gave him a dirty look, and Mana grinned.
"You'll get it with time. I can do it this easily because I've done it a lot of times before." He noticed that Allen's make-up had pooled at his neck, looking like one big disaster, and sighed. He never realised tidying up after someone would be so much work...
"Mana?" Allen asked suddenly, breaking the silence that had descended between them. Mana, who had just pulled on a pair of trousers and was now hunting for a shirt, paused and looked at the boy. He recognised the tone the younger used. He's going to ask something extremely heart-breaking, really really soon, he thought with a sinking heart.
"You won't – you won't send me back, will you?" Mana's eyes widened. Bugger.
Allen looked extremely small and vulnerable just then, and a blush crept up on his cheeks when he saw how intently Mana watched him. "I-it's just, I heard, there were people complaining about me, and saying I caused too much trouble and should be sent back, and that the master would deal with me and I don't want to go back to the streets! Please don't make me go back!"
"Allen," Mana murmured, striding across the room and sitting next to the boy. He didn't hesitate to pull Allen on his lap and hold him close, and to his surprise Allen's arms wrapped around his chest, hugging him tightly. He was so small his arms didn't reach all the way, but that didn't matter. Mana pressed his lips against Allen's hair, shutting his eyes. "You won't go back Allen, not if I have anything to say about it."
"Promise?" Allen whispered against his chest. Mana tightened his grip. It was moments like this that he knew he'd made the right decision in taking Allen with him, despite what everyone else said, despite what his younger brother said...
Nothing felt more right than this moment.
"I promise," he said. "You're stuck with me." Allen was silent for so long afterwards that Mana was positive he'd fallen asleep, but just when he was considering picking him up and putting him to bed, Allen spoke again.
"I can think of worse people to be stuck to..." he whispered.
Mana's smile could have brightened up the world.
A/N: Okay, shoot me. I couldn't stop this, especially after the latest D. Grayman chapter. I just - I fell in love. Allen was adorable at the end, and of course I squealed at Link's shock XD And from that, this was born. Along with the desire to write Allen's childhood, which probably isn't a good thing. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed! Leave a comment - I'd be interested in what you think of Mana. And little Allen. I'm not that good at writing kids...