Title: Of Concord
Disclaimer: Don't own.
Summary: Where Allen learns that not every answer necessarily requires a question.
They called it the Toy Train.
The engine was something that one might see in a museum, royal blue and red, resplendent in ancient magnificence. It chugged its way uphill through the wilderness, and once or twice, Allen felt a leaf, thick, wet and broad, slap him in the face while he was pressing it into the metal rods of the window. It was green like he had never seen before, green in various shapes and sizes, wet green, vivacious green, green smelling of dew and honey and waterfall and earth.
He caught his breath when the forest became sparser, and he saw them - jutting out like steps on the jade hillside – the tea gardens.
They climbed up the rise of the mounds, like stairways with a destined peak. Neat, methodical patches of bushes, with women in vibrant clothing moving among them, carefully handpicking leaves to be collected in baskets almost half their size.
Their finder, Rajkumar, had suggested that they take the train, even though a carriage would have been faster. 'On the train,' he had said, teeth chewing slightly at his thick under lip. 'You meet people. You talk to them, and you'll be surprised at how much information they give you.'
A young boy, with rough, sun burnt skin, and small glittering eyes tugged at Allen's sleeve, dragging his attention away from the landscape of the Shivalik hills. He was carrying a few paper cups and a steaming kettle.
'Tea?' He said, in broken English. 'One cup, four rupees only.'
'Thank you,' Allen smiled at him. He turned to Kanda who had been studying the scenery outside with great distaste. 'Kanda?'
Kanda turned to the boy and glowered. 'No. Stop wasting money, idiot. We haven't even reached yet.'
'It's just tea,' Allen protested, before taking a sip and closing his eyes. The liquor was light on his tongue, and the flavour pleasantly brisk, edged with the lightest hint of copper.
The truth was that the climate, the harmony in the greens, the clear cut precision of the tea estates, the pictorial charm of it all soothed Allen, made him want to lean into cloth and comfort and indulge himself, just for a few seconds, a few minutes, before he stood up and started running again.
The air rushing in through the open window was cool and nipped lightly at his skin, but it kept him awake and that was important.
'It won't last, you know,' Link said. 'Enjoy as much as you want now, but eventually it just becomes cold and tiring.'
Allen breathed in the unsullied space, and wondered how that could be true.
Rajkumar walked up to them sipping his own cup of tea, and leaned his hip onto a seat.
'Enjoying yourself?' Kanda asked scathingly.
'Collecting information,' Rajkumar replied succinctly, looking as though he was restraining himself from pouring the hot drink down the exorcist's coat.
'Oh?' Allen said. 'Do they know anything?'
Rajkumar nodded, frowning. His hands cupped the warm base of the paper container.
'They say that sometimes, at night, there's a …singing,' he narrated. 'From higher up in the hills, way above the town. Most of them think it's the ghost of a lady mourning the early death of her husband in the forests.'
'So she sings?' Kanda snorted. 'Of course that makes absolute sense.'
'I'm just saying it like it is,' Rajkumar said sharply. 'People in the hills like stories.'
'It sounds like innocence,' Allen murmured, before looking up at the finder. 'Up in the forests?'
Rajkumar nodded grimly. 'Tonight, we pick an inn. Tomorrow we buy tents.'
Darjeeling was bound by spiraling, cobbled streets, which twisted around the town like snakes holding their prey together. Allen couldn't see large expanses of the tea estates from the district like on the Toy Train, but every once in a while, they would take a turn and catch an unexpected glimpse of stretching green from the hills below. To make up for their rarity, however, mountains loomed up like protective guards, hidden most of the times by a blanket of clouds, but edging closer to the civic in the fading light of the evening.
'It's so colorful!' Allen exclaimed, watching the red smudge of sun sink into obscurity over diners with their multihued posters, low, flat roofed houses, embroidered shawls and yellow raincoats.
'And the calm,' Rajkumar added, excitedly. 'Can you feel it?'
He could. Even amidst the low buzz of life lay a kind of stillness. Like a coverlet which smelt of milk and childhood.
'Come on,' Kanda snapped. 'Stop wasting time. Fucking idiots.'
The inn was warm, crowded, and bathed in soft yellow light.
'Only two rooms,' Rajkumar explained after conversing with the innkeeper in fluent Nepali. 'They're adjoining and have double beds so it should be alright.'
Allen nodded and turned to Link, who had reached out for a key. 'Can I speak to you for a moment, please?'
Later when he stepped into a room with Kanda, the latter narrowed his eyes.
'How come you're not with your keeper?' he asked brusquely.
Allen frowned. 'Link is not my keeper,' he said, but didn't offer any further explanation, and if Kanda noticed, then he didn't say anything.
The night was wet and chilly, and Allen went off to sleep, buried in the warmth of the comforter, inhaling the scent of rain, clean sheets and Kanda's soap. It made him smile, and he hid his face into a pillow to avoid another fight.
It was perfect, but Allen was too content and too warm to let that scare him at the moment.
He was dreaming again, of dusky skies and ruins and a sword through his chest.
'Only that which is evil?' A familiar voice crowed. 'Why, then, are you in such pain?'
A dream, he thought, and oh – Mana.
Mana smiling and glowing and telling him to hurry up because there was somebody waiting for him.
And calling him something something…strange. He thought he recognized it.
'What?' he mumbled. That wasn't what Mana usually called him in the dreams. Mana called him –
'Oi, BEANS SPROUT.'
Kanda's face swam into his vision, his eyes bright and angry, and his hands gripping Allen's shoulder hard enough to stop all circulation. In the dark his lips looked pale, bloodless, and they parted each time he exhaled. Warm breath washed over Allen's nose and mouth, bringing him back to himself.
'Thank you,' he whispered, recalling his reason for begging Link to let him share a room with Kanda. 'Thank you.'
Kanda released his hold on him. He moved back abruptly, and Allen was brought back to the room which had become cold now that the fire was out in the hearth. The warmth remained only where Kanda's fingers had dug into his skin, almost like a brand.
'Thank you,' he said again, for the lack of anything else.
'Stop saying that,' Kanda barked. 'Just…shut up. What the fuck –'
'I don't know either. It's just a dream I get.'
Kanda narrowed his eyes, making Allen want to turn away from the scrutiny. 'It's not just the dream. Your eyes were open and you –'
Then they heard it. Drifting in the night like a solitary cloud, the sound of soft, melancholic singing.
'Shit,' Kanda said and threw aside his cover. 'Shit.'
They both ran to the balcony. Allen clutched the cold railing and stared up into the darkness.
'It's definitely above us,' he said quietly. 'It sounds like innocence.'
The door to the next room was flung open and Link stepped into the balcony in his pajamas.
'We start early tomorrow morning,' he said. 'Rajkumar told me to tell you that before he went back off to sleep.'
'We're heading towards the Ghoom station,' Rajkumar told them. 'That's the highest railway station in India. Only, we're not taking the road, but trekking through the forests.'
Link frowned. 'Why is that?'
Rajkumar rolled his eyes emphatically. 'Well, you don't expect to find the innocence lying in the middle of a road, now do you?'
The man who sold them the tents gasped when he heard where they were headed.
'That melody,' he warned them in a low voice. 'Invokes the evil in men. If you go near it, you will be seduced by the devil.'
Allen smiled at him reassuringly. 'We'll be fine. Thank you for your concern.'
He studiously avoided Kanda's heavy gaze.
The trek uphill through the forests sounded a lot simpler that it was. There was nothing but jagged footing, insects and snakes, beautiful flowers which Rajkumar identified as poisonous, and inconvenient waterfalls. They spent more time on fours than their feet, and by the end of the first morning, Allen's hands were raw and bloody.
In spite of it all, Allen thought it was beautiful; exotic in a way that was unique to this hill station tucked away in the south of Asia. And then there was the calm, the comforting untouched calm, which spoke of contentment and accord.
It cleared Allen's mind, and the breaths he drew were fresh and sweet. So he couldn't understand why Kanda scowled at everything around them with a vengeance threefold the magnitude that was his standard.
Then without warning, something jumped onto his back with the force of a falling branch, and before he could manage to invocate his arm, it slid off his shoulders, onto the ground in two neat slices.
'A monkey,' he said in surprise, and looked at Kanda who was staring down at it, Mugen brandished. 'What – '
'Shut up,' he said. 'Shut up and move.'
'You didn't have to do that,' Allen said in dismay. In the heart of this forest, he had found a sort of harmony that he didn't want to encroach. 'You could have just –'
'I said MOVE.' Kanda shoved past him, sheathing his sword again.
They set up their tents on a mercifully flat piece of land Rajkumar had spotted while taking a leak. They kept the fire lit outside and when Allen crawled into the tent after Kanda, he wasn't asked any questions.
It was cold, in spite of the fire. The chill in the air was biting, and Allen's nose and cheeks were chapped. When he touched them, they burnt.
'It's really beautiful here,' Allen sighed, burrowing deeper into his cover. 'And peaceful.'
Kanda glared at him. 'You're a fucking idiot,' he said. 'A fucking, naïve idiot.'
Allen raised himself up on an elbow, momentarily forgetting all about the cold.
'I am not. Why would you say that now anyway?'
'Because any moron knows,' Kanda replied, before turning to his other side. 'That it's important to be twice as suspicious in a place which seems too harmless.'
The melody was closer now, much closer, and Allen heard it while being impaled with his sword.
'Yours is a soul in need of salvation.'
The song was so heartrendingly sad that it made Allen want to ask Mana why he was smiling. Couldn't he hear the pain?
Instead, he said. 'Call me Allen, would you?'
And then he was being shaken awake, and he opened his eyes to white, hot pain.
His head was splitting apart, and the scar on his chest was burning with the intensity of a thousand scalding needles piercing into his skin. Almost absently, he noted the sweat running down his temples and chest in tracks, and that there was a hand pressing into his mouth.
Then strangely enough, the pain vanished. Everything vanished, and there was just him and stillness and fear.
It felt heavy, as though he was underwater.
'Idiot,' he heard, soft as a ripple. 'Idiot, do you want me to slice you?'
Kanda. He felt so relieved. Kanda
Then he was opening his eyes all over again, and the ache was back, like a reminder of his identity. His nose felt broken. Kanda had punched him.
'Thank you,' he muttered against Kanda's palm, and felt tears stinging the back of his eyes as the searing pain in his head elevated.
Kanda was pressed into his side, and Allen turned so that he could bury his face into the crook his neck and stifle his groans with a collar. Kanda stiffened, almost comically, and Allen took the opportunity to fist the material of his shirt and press them closer, because this, he felt sure, would keep him awake and sane. This was something. This was real, and it would help him keep….himself.
Kanda smelled of the wind and the forest, and maybe a little bit of the rain, and Allen finally realized why the green and the wilderness didn't impress him. Kanda was the earth and the waterfall and the occasional tiger striped butterfly – he took his milieu and made it blend into him, yield to his step and command, because he was too proud to have it the other way round. Unlike Allen, who would always be the observer, the foreigner who found the hills exotic because it would never really be a part of him. And the peace enchanting, because it wasn't his to embrace.
He had been admiring the view from the sidelines, pitying Kanda for not being able to appreciate its magnificence, without realizing that the man was already a part of the beauty. Had, at some point, become the driving force behind it.
Kanda's hand came up, rough and strong, to rest firmly at the back of his soaking neck.
What, Allen thought desperately. What is this salvation?
They lay like that till the singing stopped.
'At least we know that it's definitely the innocence,' Kanda said gruffly, as Allen peeled himself off afterwards, his face hot. 'You're reacting to it, like you did to the Crown Clown. And your eyes –,' he stopped. 'Fuck.'
'I won't lose to him,' Allen said in a hard voice. 'I won't lose myself to him.'
He knew Kanda understood that he wasn't talking about the Earl by the way his face lost all expression.
They didn't talk about it the next day.
Rajkumar asked, crouching beside a small stream and splashing water onto his face. 'Did you hear it last night? I'll say we're getting closer.'
Kanda grunted while Allen concentrated on swallowing his apple.
Allen didn't know how things could have changed overnight, but it had. The stillness gained a superficial quality to it, one that made the hair stand up on his forearms whenever a circling crow cawed above them, or the leaves rustled out of sync with each gust of the northern wind.
The climate could lie, he realized, the forests could lie and the mountains could lie, but they would all go one day, and Kanda would remain. Kanda who didn't lie, except for when he pretended to care for nobody, and Allen had learnt to see through that a long time ago, so it was okay.
It was strange, but Kanda would stay, and knowingly or not, pull him out of the water.
Then Allen would stand up and fight.
Night came along with a heavy downpour.
'Shit,' Rajkumar swore over the crash of thunder overhead. 'The tents are too flimsy, they'll be washed away.'
Allen missed his footing in the sliding mud, and almost fell flat on his face. He found himself pivoted, almost in mid air, as Kanda caught hold of his wrist and tugged roughly.
'Er, thanks,' he said, his ears suddenly very hot. 'For, um, yeah.'
When the music started, Allen gasped at how close it was.
Kanda's fingers tightened on his wrist. 'Bean sprout,' he said warningly, with a jerk of his head towards Link.
Allen closed his eyes and focused on the point of heat encircling the thin skin above his pulse. When the pain launched itself with the swiftness of a bullet, he made a split second decision and dragged Kanda further into the forest.
'Idiot,' Kanda hissed, when Allen walked blindly through the overgrowth, stems and thorns biting deep into his flesh. 'Where the fuck do you think you're going?'
It was louder now, haunting, over the thick slash of rain, and Allen thought that he might erupt.
'We've got to find it, now,' he panted, tugging Kanda closer. 'Make sure Link isn't following.'
The melody was like a black hole, drawing in the cheer, and the sounds and the rain, and it blocked out every dimension, everything Karmic, except for Kanda's voice, which sounded strained as he said. 'How do you know where to go?'
Allen drew in a great shuddering breath and came to a stop. A clearing.
It was a bird, startling blue, lying at the centre of the empty space, wing twisted horribly. Dying.
Kanda slit its neck with one clean stroke.
That was all he remembered before sinking again.
When he came to, he was being held roughly against a tree.
'What the –' Kanda shouted, his face furious. 'This. It has to stop.'
Allen gasped. His cheeks felt wet. 'I'm sorry. It will. I'll make it.'
'What the fuck is this?'
'The fourteenth,' Allen said, closing his eyes. 'He reacts to this innocence. I don't know why. Maybe because it's a new kind, something about the song affecting anything that's evil. Like the Crown Clown.'
There was a short pause during which all he could hear was the sound of the whipping wind. Then Kanda struck him, hard across the face.
'You're such an idiot,' he snarled. 'Do you think it's just going to get okay like this? That it'll all sort itself out?'
Allen took in the angry twist of his mouth, the droplets clinging to his eyelashes, Kanda's eyes, bright and flashing, and the stiff line of his jaw.
He leaned forward and kissed him.
Kanda went absolutely still. Then he jerked back, his face white.
'No,' Allen said, and tried to keep his voice steady. 'No, it won't be okay. I'm sorry. I really am.'
No one said anything for a long moment. Then Kanda made a frustrated noise and yanked Allen forward.
It was rough and clumsy and painful as teeth slid over skin and tongue. Kanda tasted of rainwater and rage and Allen let his tongue sweep in almost frantically to taste more of it, more of him. He buried his fingers in the long black hair, angled their faces so that he could find more of the warmth and wetness. Kanda made another sound, low and irate, and slid his hands, ungentle and seeking under Allen's shirt.
Kanda was hot against him, unbearably so, and alive, and moving, and Allen moaned and slid his tongue up a sharp jaw line to the spot behind his ears, to lick a quick circle there. Kanda grunted, and shoved him into a wooden trunk, coarse wood and splinters sinking into his back.
Then they were impossibly close, and rocking, hard hipbones digging painfully into soft flesh, and Kanda's finger nails clawing their way down his sides. Allen panted, open mouthed and harsh against the erratic pulse in the hollow of Kanda's throat, while the slow coiling heat played at the edges of his vision. He drew his fingers down the length of Kanda's wet hair, and heard him hiss when his nails caught knots. Then he moved, impossibly rough, cock and fabric hard against Kanda, and a roll of thunder drowned his loud, hopeless groan.
When he finally came, he turned his face into Kanda's hair, pressed his tongue down on a temple and breathed, really breathed in the essence of the moment. And that was all that mattered anymore, really, not the forest or the concord, or the peace of any land, just Kanda and this moment, and the fact that they had all gone crazy and nothing would ever be okay.
Because when Kanda stiffened against him, and bit hard into his shoulder, Allen could tell that in spite of all the madness, this would remain. And that, in itself, was kind of okay.
'An Indigo Bunting,' Rajkumar said, incredulously. 'That contained the innocence? Who would've thought?'
The rain had ceased to a soft drizzle around them. Allen said, feeling a little sorry. 'The innocence wasn't compatible with the bird. It was still a baby, didn't even know how to fly.'
Link narrowed his eyes at them. 'Why did you have to run off?'
'I'm sorry,' Allen smiled, and brushed his fingers along the back of Kanda's hand. 'Let's head back, shall we?'
Kanda's scowl deepened, but he didn't pull away. Twilight