Title: And Fear Knocked
Pairing: Bookman, Lavi
Disclaimer: DGM belongs to Hoshino Katsura et al.
A/N: Slight spoilers for chapter 187. O the rare Bookman perspective (and speculation).
The kid is a vision of a pale and gawky scoundrel when Bookman delivers him from the broken down orphanage west of Moscow.
The kid's parents have died recently, the benefactor tells him in Russian. The kid has no relatives, no home unused, no destiny apart from the one he has now. The kid does not cry, the benefactor says, in English. The kid is touched in the head, I think, the benefactor says (with his face).
Bookman gives him the face of a hardened criminal. Touched. This is why they call it touché.
He will do, I'll waste no time in taking him with me, Bookman says in Russian.
The benefactor entreats to his sources and summons the kid from the hall of the broken down orphanage, stinking of wet laundry.
This is when Bookman sees the kid's eyes, drooping, cry-less. They contain murder.
I will take him now, Bookman says. The kid has a rat's nest on his head and doesn't seem to care that one of the other kids is trying to pick at it. The kid's rat's nest is the same color as his dead mother's. The dead mother is just another memory without the ink.
Bookman does not allow himself to feel sorry for the kid, or his mother.
They do away with the details (which, in Bookman's line of work, don't really exist), and they depart for lands unknown, the kid not saying a word.
Who are you, the kid asks one day, in a form of Russian that momentarily softens Bookman's face.
We have no name, Bookman says over their meal of crepes on the train.
The kid won't eat his crepe. He seems not necessarily repulsed but more like eerily unaffected by it. Like he'd turned himself off the moment his parents became worm food, the moment he left his home, the moment he realized he was alone. And this is exactly what Bookman wants. It's not too early to start.
The kid rubs his grubby hands together. We?
Yes, I have taken you on.
We will see the results in the future. For now you must eat to stay alive.
The kid runs a finger over the napkin, and then circles it around the melting crepe. He doesn't seem to know what to do with it. A normal response after a tragedy; pure textbook. The kid is perfect.
Eat, Bookman orders in Russian.
The kid licks the seedy jam from the corner. The stars and scintillations from the window pulse in and out of the cabin.
He might need to be weaned from his spoils, Bookman thinks, making a note to give the kid something to fixate on, maybe a bottle, maybe a sucker, as a consolation prize.
The next time the kid asks Bookman what his name is, Bookman has the heart to ask him if he would like a name of his own.
The kid already knows what his name is, slurping on a cold dessert.
We have time to think about it, Bookman reminds him.
Time has passed since the orphanage, and having arrived in southern Africa to take care of the aftershocks of the war (which had been recorded by a deceased Clan brother), he feels the kid will adapt very quickly. Internally, Bookman has already named him, but externally, he does not waver from calling the boy kid as if the boy is a mere baby goat, bawing because of his oral fixation and not knowing when to express himself.
They speak plenty of English here; he wants this to be the kid's second language.
But I like my Russian name, the kid says in English. He has to work on his accent.
I do not care how you like it. Use it for yourself, but when the time comes, you will lose it. Do you understand everything that I am telling you?
The kid mumbles something close to his Russian name - what sounds like a natural pertinence - and Bookman inwardly darkens.
The kid will adapt, but he will also end up fighting something much bigger than what he could ever be.
A year passes. The kid should be around five now, slowly straightening his bandy legs and growing like any other normal kid, up and around the tummy. He has the tendency to hop and skip and be generally annoying. He will have to work on this.
Be nobody. Be inhuman.
Bookman cuts the hair that grows on the kid's head, giving up on the cowlick; he makes sure the kid is washed and fed; he arranges it so the kid is able to be around adults at such an early age, and not around those other kids that will fill his head with fantasies that have nothing to do with him. The adults teach him what perverse reality is. And the kid seems to have a particular fondness for the women.
In southern Africa, the adults teach him when to end war with German taste.
In Sudan, the adults teach him how to like the heat and curse the Egyptians.
In the Caucasus, in Russia again, the adults teach him how to be at home again.
Which does not sit well with Bookman's intentions.
The kid, who calls himself an unlikely feminine name by default, no longer pesters Bookman about his prospective new name. Bookman reminds him, nonetheless, to think hard about the future, and where things could be going.
I forgot my real name, the kid says one night.
Have you, Bookman says.
No, but I still like my real name.
Bookman studies the kid's profile, deciding on what few things to mention. He puts down an empty book meant for words on worldly inventions. He swallows a notion to let the kid go out into the world, by himself. It is just a little slip inside, just a hardened heart, once again. In truth, he doesn't do all this for himself. None of it is for either of them.
Which name suits you more, Micah or Jonah, Bookman says suggestively, but absolutely not giving up his look of un-discovery. He doesn't think this would-be Micah or Jonah is qualified to know everything just yet.
The kid gives him a look of discovery, but characteristically hums and mumbles about it to himself, rolling himself into bed, stretching like an animal with his toes and fingers spread. He mumbles something about it being very close to his name, in Russian.
Bookman finishes his entry on the weapons used in common conflict around here, making a note to refine it later with the names of the wielders and so forth; it's not very important to him right now, honestly, and he's losing his desire to keep on tonight. He dates his work and seals the book shut.
The kid will probably want to sleep till noon tomorrow even though he doesn't need that much sleep.
The kid has had his sixth birthday. He had chosen it to be on the tenth day of the eighth month of the Western calendar, and Bookman silently approves because he thinks the kid is taking control of things in a positive light. At least he can approve of this. (In other words, he doesn't have to teach the kid about the kid's origins and whether or not Bookman is doing those dead parents a favor.)
I have chosen my name, Grampa Panda, the kid says. Bookman, also known as Grampa Panda to this ungrateful brat, grimaces and calls him brat.
The kid shakes his head fitfully and says so seriously for a six year old, My new name isn't Brat. I was going to choose Micah, because it reminds me of –
Yes, Bookman purposely interrupts, wanting the kid to refer to his given name no more.
Because it makes me think of Ma and Pa. But then, I can't see their faces in my head anymore! They used to be there, the kid says, hugging his head.
Bookman acts like this is uninteresting and un-wrong. Though, it is expected; it is a rule that the brain should adapt over time, eliminating and making room for everything else to come and ravage it. He has also realized, over time, that the kid-without-a-name-yet may have the same kind of brain Bookman has. Touched. Unique. In a way, he should be proud. Interested. And he is. The benefactor's words echo still.
The kid continues, walking on this dirt road into Asia with him. I don't think I should be apart of that anymore. I should be reborn.
It is possible, says Bookman.
Panda, I want to be you.
Are you forever denouncing your true name, kid?
The kid stops in the road. He removes his mitts, and then puts them back on for something to do. It is getting cold. The pants Bookman had given him a while back are already shrinking on him. He already needs new shoes. He already has an attitude that sometimes makes Bookman care too much. (If he gave the kid to a Clan brother, would he ever return to normal?)
This is final, Bookman warns him.
The kid nods and removes a mitt. I want to be called Dinah. And I will become Bookman.
Bookman does not ask why the kid is called Dinah now. He is bringing him to China to record the spoils of war. Keeping updated these days is a trial with a brat-now-called-Dinah in tow. They still have a long way to go, and Dinah will start sleepwalking soon. He thinks Dinah will have a lot to think about from now on, with a new name under his belt, for starters. Yes, too much to think about.
(They should have left by now.)
By age seven, Dinah is Ru, and Ru calls Bookman Shi. Shi Panda. Ru can curse in Cantonese and roll a mean rice ball. And Bookman would usually lower Ru's ego by putting him on food procurement duty. Ru had just lost another tooth about a month ago in his daily bread. He had been so smug about something so personal.
But much of that doesn't matter right now, because.
Bookman is hearing a lot of what Ru is thinking in bed while dying. It is as if the past is being erased again and Bookman is trying to wage war against the will of the earth. He is feeling many things, and he is regretting most of them. Moreover, he is living in the shadow of fear and loathing, with all the caring that he's ever felt.
Even as Bookman, even for Bookman.
There is so much fear to be had.
Ru thinks aloud again, moving his head back and forth, half his face covered in bandages and blood. A medicine man, who Bookman is keeping close for close-calls, supervises Ru, wiping the sweat from Ru's cheek and his own. He smears a eucalyptus salve across Ru's bare chest. It is heaving. There is an ugly sound of mewling. Bookman goes out for air.
They had taken cover in a nobleman's home which had been abandoned by the nobleman's family. It is obvious what has happened here. Bookman quietly wipes the black tar from his face by the stream, ignoring the flattened overgrowth and polluted water. He is thankful toward the Chinese nobleman; he is not very thankful toward himself.
He is thankful toward the medicine man with whom he has had connections for many years.
He is thankful that Ru had dropped to the ground when he had.
Otherwise there would be no more Ru or Bookman Junior or a brat to vie for his attention.
Bookman has never felt so much self-hatred before this, for it is at his very fingertips, black tar, dirty water. Mudd, soot, bone. He filters the water through a sponge as best as he can and squeezes it out into a bowl. He wastes no time in going back.
Bookman addresses the medicine man as comrade and slides into a sitting position beside Ru.
Then Bookman finds something strange. He shoves the bowl down to the floor and puts his life into waking Ru up rather than into his own art of deception.
Ru. Ru! When did he die?
The medicine man bows his head, and says in English, When you were out. It is time to pray for his passage.
Ru's one eye is still weeping, wetting the matted red hair and looking as if he is becoming nothing. That he will never be Bookman's successor; that he will end right. Here. Cobwebbed in tears and fear.
Bookman bows his head, unmoving. But his heart is moving too fast for his body.
The medicine man doesn't move, but Bookman can hear his heart.
He raises his fist and slams it against Ru's chest. He wants to raise the dead.
He wants to raise the dead.
He wants to raise the dead.
This isn't the first time he's felt something so heated. But he is sure of it. Like the art of deception that he's been so careful in teaching and treating Ru with, he is certainly not about to lose the greatest, the brattiest, the bravest pupil on this god-forsaken planet.
He slams his fist down, and breathes loudly, his brain going blank, and slams both fists down, and holds his breath, lip curling up. His mind is not his mind anymore.
The medicine man puts his hand out to, perhaps, stop something so miraculous. It's a miracle that Bookman should do this, would do this.
Bookman has to do this.
He thinks his face is falling off, all cold, and the medicine man (who has resigned) is placing his hand over Ru's face.
No! Bookman glances at Ru's chest and – No! - then his hand seems to slam a button, and Ru is shaking and spitting up blood and calling out names as if he hadn't fallen into an endless sleep.
The human inside watches as Bookman brings Ru back to life.
(He is responsible for Ru's life, once again.)
Sometime later, Ru changes his name at the border between France and Germany, thumping his feet into the floor of the carriage.
I will be called Ichabod now, Ru announces in French. Bookman wakes from his stupor.
And Bookman thinks, this one won't last long. He doesn't bother to ask.
Ru tells him anyway. I want to be scary. Then I won't be hurt again.
You were shot, Bookman says, almost showing his upset. It was once, and by sheer happenstance. Next time, you will know better.
What he thinks is, next time, I will know better.
Bookman has not told Ichabod about the incident-within-the-incident in China. He has learned from this experience, anyway, and will curse himself if it should ever happen again. There is no use in telling the truth, what with Ichabod in bandages and, thankfully, uncomplaining about the broken rib.
But these kinds of things are usually out of our hands.
As such, Ichabod has a naming problem; he spends much of his idle and non-idle time obsessing over the many possibilities.
Bookman sighs and closes his eyes. He nearly enters a black, black world when -
Maybe not. Maybe I am not an Ichabod. Since we are in France now, I should be called Luca. Panda, I am Luca, pleased to be riding with you.
Bookman does not remark on how this name is very feminine sounding to the English ear. The newest alias yet will have to do, he supposes, because Luca tends to get his way in these matters.
Bookman opens his eyes. When we arrive in Paris, I will deliver my recordings to the minister. And I suppose I had better buy you a new book. Take your time with this one. I will not buy you another one if you recite the book as verbatim to me. Understand?
Luca hails to him and snuggles down into his seat, pleased with himself. The patch over his right eye reminds Bookman how much Luca has, and will, suffer.
There is no point in bothering himself right now over this. He'll wait. He'll wait.
His hair is still growing back as a result of the far off incident. His hair is probably falling out at the same time, and he is getting old, has gotten old, and he's made himself into this irreparable family figure to –
Lavi, he addresses him with his mind.
Lavi (who was called Deak, who couldn't have waited any longer for the next naming opportunity) leans over the railing of the boat, tinged green around the gills. He's never liked crossing the sea very much. He would get anxious and start to remind Bookman of that far off incident. (He would get restless.)
It has stitched itself into his hardened heart, like wire into a leather ball.
Which does, in a sense, mean Bookman should be retiring soon. But not too soon.
You're supposed to say it with feeling, Lavi says with his mind, humorlessly, spitting into the sea and tiredly wiping his mouth. Then he says aloud, I thought I'd gotten used to this.
Over the years, Bookman has changed the Panda signature across his face. Slight changes. Whole changes. And now he is touching his eyes to see if the black spots have dried.
Lavi has started calling him Grampa Panda again, maybe for this very reason. As if he thinks alluding to the past will effectively move things along, moving like marching ants. It's happening; you just can't tell until you look down.
Grampa Panda, Lavi says. You don't look too good.
Bookman thins his lips into a disapproving line. I am an accomplished sailor, fool.
No need for the attack, Gramps, just thought you looked a lil'. . .
Bookman decides that he should interrupt. He's done this before, countless of times. It's engrained into their quasi-relationship. Of course, Lavi tends to imitate the same interruption, but he functions off of youth and eagerness. He is still learning. Possibly reluctantly. Possibly he has gotten in touch with what he is facing. Possibly, he is wearing the mask of a young man who has been conscripted and is trying not to talk about it.
After the interruption, they stand there at the railing.
They had gone to Rome for reconnaissance work and have ended up taking a detour to Britain so as to be fitted at the Black Order. Amongst other things. A General with whom they had corresponded said they were true contenders for a rebirth. Conveniently true.
And of course, Lavi had jumped all over her, overeager and unmistakably full of himself.
Bookman had to drag him back by the ear.
Though, suffice it to say, Bookman can hardly be daunted by this. Lavi not only chooses his names with obsession, but chooses which personal quirk to take on. Not something that has been brought into the open, exactly. It's simply Bookman's fault for reading into Lavi's swift shifts in character.
This time he had announced that he will be someone who is friendly and in-your-face. His words. Then he had appeared to turn on the charm; he approached a young woman on a street in Florence and slipped his hand into hers. Bookman had chosen not to witness the upcoming slap and stalked off, arms tucked into his sleeves.
(Where had he gotten this strike nonsense?)
Now, thinking it over, Bookman wonders if he had created a monster. Now, slumping to the deck, Lavi wonders aloud, This'll be the war that ends all wars, sure. Oh I just can't wait.
Lavi is not sixteen deep inside. He is sixteen going on sixty.
Bookman is not old deep inside. He is old going on olden.
And this is their life.
This is their life years later in Huang Shan, China.
Lavi is still Lavi, a feat in and of itself. Though Lavi is still Lavi, and thus should have kept the persona he had proscribed for himself, the persona has shifted into something muted and disturbing, perturbed. This persona is defective, and Bookman has been noticing this for a long time now, ever since Walker had lost his Innocence in the bamboo forest. He has tolerated it, has let Lavi deal with it on his own terms, has even gone on to almost lose Lavi again, to the Noah in Japan.
For that time he had thought he'd just lost a highly skilled apprentice. And then he'd gone quiet inside. Absolutely quiet.
Yes, that time.
Is a time Bookman feels a hungry vengeance for, and he knows he shouldn't.
He should retire.
Shit, he hears Lavi breathe.
Bookman turns his head to see an unfamiliar Noah standing there, looking even hungrier than Bookman will ever be. He can feel his skin turning white under the makeup and body thriving with hell. Knuckles turning white. Heart quieting, then beating with abandon.
Marie's voice blares on the golem, and Lavi says, Marie.
A Noah just showed up.
His voice is like an animal's, and Bookman can't keep himself from remembering and watching the stream inside his head go on and on with that kid screaming, screaming for his face back. It only takes a moment.
Bookman thinks it fitting that they should end up back here, in China, where all the trouble started. With a stray bullet.
But a bullet. Is a bullet.
I die before you, brat, remember that, Bookman says, smiling. The needles in his pack tremble. Tremble.
Lavi laughs, dark and mean, laughing as he starts to crouch, hammer vibrating in the air.
Bookman takes the first step and thinks that if he had created a monster, he's sure as hell done a good job at it.
Fight, says the human heart inside. Fight till we die.