A Mile In My Dark Boots
Lt. Commander Richie
A/N: I wanted to write something LaviLena. So sue me. Oddly enough I got the idea for this at a birthday party, and the notion of it was cemented while looking for a good pair of boots for a Lavi cosplay. Mmmmmmm, knee-high combat boots with belts. So hot.
Disclaimer: If I owned DGM Lavi would be shirtless more often. And doused with water. Probably just fanservice in general, really, but if I was Hoshino that's what would happen. Mmmmmmm, wet redhead.
The first time she ever saw him, she wanted him to run. She didn't even know his name, that boy she would later know as Lavi, but she wanted him to go and never come back. The Order, she knew, shouldn't be for anyone. He should go while he still had the chance. But she couldn't scream out through the cloying smell of antiseptic and the light perfume of the decomposition that was already setting in from the multitudes of coffins that lined the Black Order's chapel, couldn't find it in herself to do much more than look at him with tears running clean trails down her dirty face. He wouldn't run, she knew, and she couldn't trust herself not to follow if he ever did.
The first time he ever saw her, she was crying. Before that the Bookman Junior had never felt anything he didn't need to pretend to feel, didn't say anything he didn't need to say. But the look he locked on to from the girl in the black dress, blending and contrasting with the chessboard marble floor, made something in him that was so foreign, so strange, appear. Through forty-eight lives he had never felt for the people he recorded. But that look so full of tears, so full of sadness and resignation and desperation seemed to make the forty-ninth grow a heart. No matter how small it was. He knew he couldn't leave those eyes behind. That was a problem.
"Lavi," she said once as she looked up at the sky, long pigtails blowing in the breeze and a cloudless beautiful blue endless ceiling overhead. The two of them were in South Africa, looking in on a series of disappearances that were more than likely Innocence related, like so many things are. In every direction around them was a field of yellow flowers, the mountains in the distance majestic and mind-boggling. "If you could walk a mile in my Dark Boots, would you?"
He looked down at his own boots, laced up to his knees with large eyelets and four massive buckles around the top, thick and worn soles having seen the length and width of every continent on the planet. He knew every scuff, every scratch, every nick and tear and discolored patch on the leather like the back of his hand. Then he looked at hers, the small and cold black metal flats just barely glinting in the high African sun, then up her legs until he reached her face with a one-eyed smiling gaze that spoke of apologies.
"Probably not." He said, a hand behind his head in a slightly universal gesture of nervousness. "They'd be a little too small, and I don't think those stockings would look good on me." She looked down from the big blue sky and the breeze seemed to die, her purple gaze falling to the worn dirt road that wound down through the field of flowers like a brown river. Lenalee looked just a little dejected.
He learned later just what it was that she had been put through. Lavi learned every atrocity, every wrongdoing and injustice performed against her from a terrible young age. He had to record them impartially, like he recorded the burning of Noise Marie's small village in Congo and the slaughter of the family of Kanda Yuu by demons. But that pesky heart, that foreign knot of things he didn't know what to do with, still settled just inside his chest and in his stomach, wouldn't let him simply write every atrocity she had been subjected to. Every time he put pen to paper to record, he couldn't bring himself to write more than a few words before he began to scratch it out with vehemence. That was a problem.
For a while, Lavi wished he could take back what he said. He wouldn't, couldn't, walk a mile in Lenalee's Dark Boots. They wouldn't fit, they would never fit in a thousand years. They were too big to fill.
"Lenalee," he said once, his one eye a flat and serious green through the rain and mist of the dark London street. They stood together on a street corner in the shopping district, a single lamp lit overhead with a wavering electric bulb. Dirty rainwater collected in the stopped-up cobblestone drains at their feet, and as he looked down he saw that her stockings were soaked through and her Dark Boots were making a squelch with every step she had taken. As they had walked to the corner, she had peered into the window of every shoe shop they passed. "Do you own any other shoes?"
Her bangs plastered to her forehead in a forlorn-looking deep black curtain, she looked at him and gave him a cold smile run through with a shiver. She wore a cloak over her revealing uniform, but it was an English winter, damp and mist-laden and dreary and gray in every sense. The damp permeated even the thickest of wools in every layer imaginable, leaving the wearer no better off than they had been without it. They had lost their umbrella when they had been separated from the Finder that was guiding them to the church, though how they managed that Lavi wasn't quite too sure. With a wet sound, she shook her head.
"No," Lenalee replied, wiping stringy wet bangs from her eyes and slicking back stringier wet ponytails in a vain attempt to get them to behave. They refused, plastering themselves to her hands, to her cheeks, to her clothes in a wet mess that she didn't want to deal with in the dark and the rain and the muck. "The Black Order won't let me. They say I only need the Dark Boots." She finally gave in to her hair and pulled her fingers away from the messy strands, leaving a rats nest of black in places and thick black lines stuck to skin in others. He wanted to brush all that hair from her face, let the flickering and fading yellow street lamp light up her eyes the way the African sun on a cloudless day could. He wanted to see her really and truly smile like she could when she was happy. This was a problem.
More than anything, Lenalee wanted to know what it was like to be warm. She could surround herself with every down comforter in the Order, every feather pillow and fleece blanket and heating pad she could find. She could spend all day in her brother's comforting embrace until she fell asleep and dreamed of happier times, dreamed that she woke up from a dream, a horrible nightmare, and that everything she knew was a lie. But then the goosebumps from the cold black metal that encased her feet would wake her up, and she would know that there was no acrid stench coming from the kitchen, but instead from the science labs several floors down. That her shoes weren't slippers, they were metal flats and she couldn't wear anything else.
Her feet would squelch through mud, through rain and snow and cold and more cold and heat and rivers, her shoes filling with every substance that managed to worm its way into her stockings. Every time she stepped the mud, the dirty water, the freezing snow melt, would squish up between her calloused toes and behind her raw red heel and all around her foot in a perfect square only to be sucked back down again until her foot hit the ground once more. It was a horrible feeling, having cold metal shoes fill with even colder water. She was only glad that her feet didn't blister from the metal anymore, or else they would get infected.
Lenalee couldn't help but hate the Dark Boots for everything they put her through, everything the Black Order had subjected her to because of them. She couldn't help but hate that her feet were never warm.
"What's it like?" She said once, the two of them in a gondola in Venice being steered by a native man that didn't speak any English to begin with. They were on the way to the hotel where they would meet the Finder, maybe flaunt the Rose Cross if they had been given a single room with a single bed so that they could get two separate ones, and then sleep off the long journey they had just completed. The day was beautiful and sunny, light reflecting off the water into funny designs on the shadowed sides of buildings and the undersides of bridges where little boys would drop mice into the boats passing below. She was looking up again, towards the clouds that dotted the sky in little wisps and the birds that flew from building to building. Then she looked at him, smiling. "Having boots like yours, I mean."
Lavi, for lack of better terminology because even in his vast repertoire of knowledge he didn't have the answer to that one, was thrown for more than a small loop. He blinked at the girl sitting there in the front of the boat, facing him, smiling innocently at him with wide eyes that told him that he really had heard just what it was that she had asked, and now he was damned if he didn't answer. Carefully, he wriggled his toes in his boots for a moment as he looked down at the buckles around the tops near his knees and pondered. These boots had protected him from live ammunition stuck in the ground in the middle of a war zone that had nothing to do with Akuma, had let him run just fast enough to outrun an entire angry African village, had kept his socks free of leeches when he sloshed through the Everglades. They stayed on when they were grabbed and tugged on by Level Two Akuma, they fit like a well-worn, scuffed and thoroughly loved pair of gloves.
"They fit?" He said, more a question than an answer. He wriggled his toes again in his socks, feeling the impression that his feet had made in the leather insole after years of loving use. Lenalee looked down at his shoes, with the scuffs and the chunky deep-grooved soles and every scratch caused by every mile the had walked. The smile slowly slid off her face as she focused her attention on the metal flats she wore, the outside a pristine black surface without a single blemish."They're pretty watertight, too. The insides are still soft and I can wear 'em all day and my feet won't hurt too bad." He watched with his one green eye slowly loosing the shine it had for her happiness as she fisted her hands in her short skirt and bit down on her lower lip. He shouldn't have kept talking, shouldn't have continued beyond the fact that they fit him better than she had ever wanted the Dark Boots to fit her. His eye went from her face to the floor of the gondola, watching the wood grain because he couldn't really look at her. "They're warm, too."
"I shouldn't have asked." Lenalee bit out, her knuckles a contrasting white to the black part of her skirt. Behind Lavi the gondola operator scowled, fixing the boy with a glare. They may have been tourists, and he may not have spoken any English, but that boy had made that poor pretty girl cry and she certainly didn't deserve to. With a yell and a splash and an admonishment in Italian, the redhead was kicked into the Venice waterway. He surfaced with a splutter and curses directed at the man that had pushed him in in flawless Italian as he tread the murky water. But Lenalee was still silent, still vengeful in not helping him back into the boat and wallowing in self-deprecating hatred for simply bringing the subject up as the two angry men bantered back and forth.
That knot of feelings, still foreign to one who had gone almost half a hundred lifetimes without them, resurfaced and bobbed there like the redhead was doing just then in the murky Venice waters. It hurt him that he had made her this sad, that he hadn't reigned in his tongue before she was crying because she felt sorry for herself. In their own minds they both felt like they were stupid, but Lavi felt doubly so. He hauled himself back up into the gondola with a little trouble from the operator and a few more Italian curses, and sat down in front of her with a wet and grimy squelch. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, just enough to make her stop crying and maybe make his own hurt stop. That he hurt when she did was one of his many problems. But he pushed it aside to be her friend, to say he was sorry.
As they passed under the next bridge, a little brown mouse dropped down into the boat accompanied by laughter from above as both Lenalee and Lavi shrieked in surprise.
He avoided her for a while after that, feigning interest in other things. He threw himself into memorizing the libraries of the order with a passion, reading from sun-up to sun-down in an attempt to spare both himself and herself any hurt he might bring by opening his mouth and saying something so stupid yet again. It went on for weeks, his self-imposed sequestering, until he couldn't hardly stand to look at another book or put pen to another piece of paper at all. He memorized every book in every library in the Order twice it seemed, spending so much time in the dark that he didn't even remember what it was like to have those foreign things bubble up in his chest again. He spent so long that it made even his impressive Bookman memory fail on the subject. He had no more problems to worry about.
He never went to Bookman on the subject of the heart that he had inadvertently grown. If it ever made it to his Grandfather that he had broken the rules, had developed a bias, had begun to look at the people around him as not only history but also as people, he would never see Lenalee again. That wasn't the part that tore at him on the inside, the part that made that little heart that was slowly but surely growing ache and scream. The idea that if he left, then she would cry, that's what made him loathe to broach the subject. He would always have a weakness for the tears that she shed. He would always hate himself for causing them if he ever did.
But eventually the Bookman Junior was forced back out into the light. He had chewed through every single document the Order had to offer, had gotten finished with every bit of reading he could find, and could no longer hide from the outside world or from the idea that he could make her hurt again. He couldn't escape being an Exorcist for the time being, couldn't get away from the duty he had to perform until further notice. So it was with dragging feet and a downcast eye that he made his way to the paper-carpeted office that Komui kept, resigned to his mission no matter where it went and already ready to go. So when he turned to leave, the mission folder under one arm and all the given intel already memorized, it came as a surprise when Komui stopped him.
"Lenalee is going with you." He said, and Lavi turned around fast enough that he almost slipped on the papers strewn all over the floor. The dark circle under his visible eye looked terrible in the electric light, made him look like the living pasty white dead. "Keep her safe." The irony in the statement came in that no matter what he did, Lavi had a feeling that if he opened his mouth he could make her cry again. Dwelling on the positive of her smiles wasn't a realistic option since it seemed like all he ever managed to do was the opposite.
"She causes problems for me." Behind his glasses and steepled fingers, Komui's eyes narrowed. The redhead knew he had made a stupid mistake in saying that, it sounded like he was too cocky and figured Lenalee for a hindrance. She was much better than that, he knew, she had saved his skin more times than he had saved hers.
"She's more than capable of taking care of herself." The Supervisor said, his tone level and controlled in the kind of dangerous way that you just knew concealed some kind of hellish anger. Idly, and then with more urgency, Lavi realized that the plans laid out all across the Chinese man's desk were those of a super robot. He swallowed thickly, a hand coming up to scratch the back of his neck in the kind of nervousness you really only get when faced with an angry relative of someone you've slighted.
"Different problems." He said, and made his way out the door as quick as he could without seeming like he was turning tail and running.
If it wasn't the problems Lenalee caused, it was the ones that everyone but her did.
Her smile was radiant even in the blackness of the underground waterways, full of unbridled happiness simply at seeing him. She even ran forward with her metal flats clicking across the stone dock and enveloped his chest in a bone-crushing hug, holding on tight to his uniform coat with both hands. That little heart he wasn't allowed to have did a jump and a hop and a skip that she was this happy, glad to see that she was no longer crying because of him. He didn't know what the sudden smile on his face meant, couldn't understand that little knot of feelings that were so foreign to he who had lived his life without them. They confused him to no end, but as long as she was happy he supposed he could be too.
"Lavi," she said once, as she looked up at the fresh blue cloudless sky that framed the newly-rained-upon Great Plains of the American West. Ahead of them, across the massive expanse of the Colorado River where the bridge was washed out and the puddles were deep in the road, a herd of Buffalo grazed. Just on the other side of the river was a Native American reservation, the mountains in the distance pristine and snowcapped and the rolling hills of grass a majestic sight. She turned and twirled all across the road, her feet leaving deep impressions in the mud next to his surprisingly light ones. Eventually she paused at the top of a small rise, overlooking the washed-out bridge they would eventually have to overcome. "If you could walk a mile in my Dark Boots, would you?"
He paused, looking down at the small pair of metal flats that slowly but surely were sinking into the soft mud the road had become. Then he looked at her, and the smiling eyes and the pigtails blowing in the breeze that smelled like fresh grass and rain, and he couldn't help but shake his head. She looked dejected, like she had missed the chance of a lifetime to rid herself of the flats that plagued her calloused feet and her raw heels. Her gaze focused on the mud and the grime and the water that was beginning to make its way into her Innocence, to squeeze between her toes and under her feet in the most disgusting way that she was so frightfully used to.
"I'd never be able to fill your shoes." He said, his smile wide as her purple gaze snapped up to lock onto his green one. The slight misting of the beginnings of tears were forming at the corners of her eyes, and he reached out a hand and wiped away the one that managed to get away and make a track down her cheek. "They're too big. You'd probably fit in mine, though." And she smiled and she laughed until he sat down on the side of the road and got covered in mud and undid every buckle on his boots and pulled them off. He sat them next to each other, the pair looking a little sorry for themselves all undone like that, and Lenalee really started crying. She slipped her feet out of the Dark Boots and picked them up out of the mud, then sat down right next to her redheaded comrade and pulled on the careworn boots that had seen every square patch of every little bit of dirt on every corner of the world.
She wriggled her toes in the extra space as she buckled up every buckle until the boots fit onto her legs, then grasped the toes of the boots with both hands and let out a laugh. Tears escaped her eyes at the novelty of a simple pair of shoes that weren't a cruel and cold metal, and she laughed a little louder, a little higher, until she was crying and holding onto Lavi's shoulder as she sobbed. He felt stupid again, with his bare toes squishing in the mud and the cuffs of his white pants getting stained along with the rest of his uniform. He had made her cry again, and he felt horrible for it. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, to try and get her to maybe stop crying so he could take away the object of discomfort, because he would be damned if he didn't know how to really work in society let alone comfort a girl, and she finally spoke.
"They're warm!" She said, like it was the most revolutionary thing she had ever encountered. She kicked her feet up in the air with sudden abandon, and she laughed like the carefree teenager she should have been all along. "And they're so light!" As if to test that theory she pushed herself up to her feet and jumped as high as she could. It wasn't as high as her normal and beautiful twisting jumps that were trailed behind with green fire, but it was still fairly high. She twirled around twice and looked up at the sky, laughing. She was still laughing as she offered a hand to her comrade on the ground to pull him up. He took it carefully, standing on bare feet and toes curling into the deep and red-tinted clay-based mud of the Great Plains.
Silently, but with a smile, Lavi leaned down and picked up the black metal flats Lenalee had left behind in her carefree dancing. They were monstrously heavy, he realized, and he needed one hand each to pick them up. The metal, black and cruel-looking with a dull sheen, was ice-cold. Even coated in the muck they looked dangerous. A shiver, involuntary but still there, ran down his spine at the feel of the cold metal. He had never touched them before, had never been curious enough to know just what it was another person's weapon was like. He had no hardships, no qualms, between himself and his mallet. It gave him to trouble and he gave it no trouble. But now he knew what she meant by his boots, even though they were large and solid leather and rubber and metal and weighed a good six or seven pounds apiece, being light.
The Dark Boots were like a pair of heavy black metal shackles, chaining her to the Order and to the cruelty it inflicted upon her. But even though they were heavy they couldn't chain her to the ground, and his light boots were like a temporary reprieve from the heavy and cold metal and the oppression she had known her whole life. A pair of thin arms wrapped around his chest again, and Lenalee was sobbing into his chest once more. Between hiccups and laughs she sobbed, like she didn't know whether or not to be hysterical or to be happy.
"Thank you so much." Lenalee finally said, standing on tiptoe in his old worn boots with the belts cinched as tight as they would go to fit snugly around her thin legs. Even then her head only came up to his chin. "I could kiss you for this, I really could." The little knot of emotion in Lavi's chest, at those words, rose up to choke him of every word and every smart thing he could have possibly said to her right then. It made his stomach twist and his head feel light, and he didn't like the sensation one bit. He didn't like it or understand it or even want to. It was foreign and strange and he didn't want that feeling to happen to him ever again. He didn't want the heart she had given him, it broke every single rule he was supposed to keep up to be Bookman Junior. If it made him feel this way, there was no point in keeping it.
And she did, actually. She kissed him right on the lips, right there in the muck while still wearing his shoes and stepping on his bare toes that were worming their ways into the red clay mud. It was only a peck, chaste, fast and nervous, but the point where her lips touched his felt like fire and the moment seemed to stretch on forever. He almost leaned into the kiss, to keep that fiery flavor on his lips for a longer moment, but she jumped back embarrassed and blushing and scratching the back of her neck in the universal sign of nervousness that Lavi usually displayed so well. His stomach twisted again and he still couldn't get a single word out, his head lighter than ever. He was vaguely aware of the flush creeping over his ears and neck, across his cheeks and all over until he was almost as red as his hair. Lenalee giggled and he made a somewhat-choked noise that sounded more like a squeak, and he immediately closed his mouth again. But that laugh, that smile, the perfect happiness she was exuding for just a little while, it made him happy too.
In the mother of all realizations, a name for that little knot of feelings slowly strangling the life out of his vocal cords, and tying his stomach in knots, and emptying his mind and fuzzing his vision came to him. It seemed like the right one, and as Lavi put everything into the perspective of that one word he realized that it made sense. That little heart he had grown swelled to twice its size, empowered with a name and acceptance of the fact that the Bookman Junior couldn't escape. It took up every inch of every space in him, and he found himself sporting a massive toothy grin.
Lenalee Lee didn't create problems for him, didn't make him feel horrible and tie him up in knots and make him guilty that he made her cry by saying something stupid because his mouth couldn't quite work. She wasn't problematic at all. In fact, he didn't have a single problem pertaining to Lenalee Lee and he never did.
He was in love with her. That was the word that made every action make sense. He was in love with her and she could wear his boots and he would carry hers for as long as she wanted. He didn't care if she felt the same way. She didn't need to, as far as he was concerned. Letting him have a feeling for the first time in his life was just fine with him.
So I started this at midnight last night, wrote about three or four pages worth of it, got up this morning and worked on it all day. The end result, less than 24 hours later, is this fun little ditty of six and a half pages in length. I really think wearing one of my Lenalee cosplay skirts actually helped quite a bit with this. It might just all be mental, though.
I've not got much to say 'bout this, oddly enough. It's not really the greatest thing I've ever written (in fact, I don't even know what a lot of it says because I kind of zone out when I write, and then I go back and I'm like "WOAH! I wrote THIS?") but I still think you should all be subjected to it because really, it's a barefoot Lavi and lenalee in knee-high combat boots with bigass buckles on 'em.
Oh, and I like the gondola guy. He's cool.
There's no definite amount of time between each conversation, so just make believe. It's all pre-Allen, though, so they're probably what, fourteen (Lenalee) and sixteen (Lavi)?
Now if you'll all excuse me I need to go melt my mind with copious amounts of Kagamine Len and Kamui Gackupo. VOCALOID2 FTW.