Italics = PresentLavi speaking
He couldn't remember. He was a Bookman and it was painful but for the life of him he could not remember
When it began.
When his apprentice began to lose himself.
He would not say "lose his mind" or "go insane" because those just seem so final, so no-going back, so point-of-no-return. And he refused to believe that this couldn't be fixed. It had to be.
Somehow he had convinced himself that if he could just remember the exact moment this had started, it would somehow be better. He remembers instances, times where something just wasn't right. More and more often he caught his apprentice wandering the halls aimlessly, eyes glazed, frosted, and he just seemed so not there. But he couldn't remember the first time it happened, only when they increased in frequency.
He remembers knocking on the boy's door and not receiving a response. He remembers entering anyways. He remembers finding the red-head staring blankly at his hand as he dipped it in ink, watching morbidly as it dripped down his fingers, his palm, his wrist. He remembers hitting him on the back of the head and yelling at him for wasting ink.
He remembers how the student had blinked, his eyes coming into focus. He had looked up at The Bookman, as if seeing him for the first time, before smiling sheepishly.
"Heh, sorry gramps. Guess I was bored and got distracted."
The old man had glared, growling slightly, before exiting the room with parting words of "Don't waste supplies!"
He remembers noticing out of the corner of his eye, how his apprentice piled food on his tray at lunch. He remembers how the boy had stealthily, so no one but his master noticed, pushed his tray beside the numerous others surrounding the white-haired exorcist, where it was devoured, unnoticed with the rest. He remembers noticing for the first time how thin the boy was getting.
He remembers finding the boy in the library, head down and seemingly asleep. He remembers moving to wake him up only to find that his eyes were wide open and his mouth moving rapidly in silent ramblings to himself. He remembers exiting the room, deciding that the red-head just needed a break.
All were ignored at the time, remembered now. Still the beginning was lost. But alas, he could only believe that this was important for so long. What did it matter when it began? Clearly, if he had even noticed, he had ignored it just as he had all the other instances. What was important was what was happening right now.
He knew when this started. This had started that night, when his apprentice had walked into The Bookman's room. Eyes…not blank, but not right either. He had walked in, ignoring his master, who was sitting on the only bed in the room. The old man had waited, looking at the boy expectedly for some sort of question or statement, but none came. He had walked over to the bookcase against the wall, eyes scanning until he pulled out an old notebook.
It was ratty and torn, having been passed down for many generations. It was essentially a bookman's handbook, filled with tips, rules, guidelines. The Bookman did not care for it so much any more due to it's less then perfect condition, and had rewritten it in a new book a few months earlier. This was the only reason he did not completely blow a gasket when the boy uncaringly tore a page out.
Instead, he raised an eyebrow, looking at his apprentice questioningly. But he received no answer. The boy merely dropped to the ground, sitting Indian-style on the floor, slightly hunched over, facing away from him, and began to tear the paper up. As he tore off small pieces of the parchment, he mumbled. Quietly enough that The Bookman knew he was talking to himself, but loud enough for him to still hear.
One becomes two, two becomes three, three becomes four becomes five becomes six…
He could not ignore this. As much as we wanted to (and oh, did he want to), he could not.
A shiver went up the boy's spine, but otherwise, no response.
Eighteen becomes nineteen becomes twenty…
He had seen so much in his life. Too much, really. Horrible wars, filled with the most horrific battles in history, had been recorded by his hands. Through it all he remained unbiased, neutral. But this…he did not know what to do with this…
Thirty-three becomes thirty-four becomes thirty-five…
The old man stood, desperate to do something. But what could he do? It made him a bit nauseous that the first thing that came to his mind was "write it down". It was the first time his job ever made him sick.
He shook his head. Now wasn't the time to be questioning his occupation. He took a step towards his apprentice.
Forty-seven becomes forty-eight becomes forty-nine becomes…
The boy looked down. In front of him was a small pile of the torn paper. In his hands, there was none left. For a moment, he continued sitting, eyes looking nowhere.
He choked a bit and quickly gathered up the bits of paper, standing a walking briskly out of the room, mumbling still.
The Bookman stared after him. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Past experiences had taught him to never ignore those feelings. So he walked, slowly, fearfully, after his apprentice.
The old man's room was on one of the highest levels of headquarters. So when he stepped outside his room to find the red-head standing on the railing, looking down over the edge to the bottom of the pit that was the Dark Order, it was understandable that he almost had a heart attack.
He opened his mouth to call to the boy, but hesitated. What if he startled him and he fell? What would he do? What would he do without his…apprentice.
Because that's all he was right? The clenching in his chest told him otherwise, but he ignored it as the boy started speaking again.
A single piece of paper was tossed down.
Followed by another…
Four, Timothy. Five, Arthur. Six, Mark.
One by one, bits of paper were dropped. Fluttering down, down, down, into the darkness. And The old man watched. And he was scared. Because he recognized every name.
Twenty-six, Adam. Twenty-seven, Gabriel. Twenty-eight, John.
Past names, past lives. Gone. All being thrown away, just like before. But something about seeing those names being physically discarded, made it all just a little more painful to watch. Until finally…
Forty-seven, Jacob. Forty-eight, Deak. Forty-nine…
The boy looked back at him, eyes glazed over with unshed tears.
Lavi, Lavi, Lavi…
He giggled, but something about it made the Bookman compare it more to sobbing.
Lavi doesn't want to be here anymore.
He looked down. Bookman didn't want him to look down.
…I don't think I do either.
The old man was thinking, which was not the best thing to be doing at the moment. Because he knew that while right now he thought of the past, soon his mind would skip the present and dwell on the future.
I can't do anything anymore…
He shouldn't have taken the boy in. That was his first mistake. It went against every rule he'd ever been taught. Every rule scrawled on that piece of paper that had been torn up and tossed away.
I don't care enough…
But the child had just looked so… hurt. So lost. He was such a casualty of war, one eye crying tears, the other crying blood. His heart had stirred and he had taken the child in. Raised him, taught him.
…to be a good person.
Oh no, now he was thinking of the future. When Lavi, Junior, his apprentice, his family, jumps. If, IF, he jumps. He could not jump to conclusions. Jump to conclusions about this boy jumping down. Because if he did, if this child jumped…
What would he do?
But caring at all…
Again, his mind said "Write it down. Record it. Put it in the footnotes of some paragraph in history." How could he think like that? But then again, how could thinking like that make him so upset? It was his job! It had never bothered him before, with others. Why this boy?
Means I fail as a bookman…
'You and me both, kid.'
I'm as torn up as that paper.
Ink on paper, ink on paper.
The boy opened up his hand, revealing the final paper. The 49th.
I had no problem discarding the others…
He closed it again.
Why can't I let go of this one?
His body swayed and The Bookman felt sick.
I'll have to eventually…
He looked down, then up. Staring at the ceiling as if it would answer him.
…Maybe I'll go with him…
The Bookman's heart clenched. That's a contradiction. Bookmen don't have hearts. Right?
He immediately questioned his choice of words as the boy's head snapped around, so fast it seemed painful. With a smile so large, so fake, stretched across his face. Painful, painful, painful.
Who are you talking to?
So maybe they both failed. Maybe they were both bad people and bad bookmen. Maybe it was time for The old man to revise that handbook...
He laughed again and it sounded even more like hidden sobbing.
I don't know who that is.
How did he answer that? Thinking about it, Bookman wasn't entirely sure who he was either. He had never really cared before, but he supposed now was as good a time as ever to find out. But, child first. Himself later.
Now was not a good time to be swallowing his tongue. But, a question like that… Who was he? Bookman, Jr.? Lavi? One of the other forty-eight names and personas that were now lying in the dust?
His newly re-discovered heart was pounding loudly in his chest. The boy was swaying again. And looking down. Bookman did not want him to look down. He couldn't afford to not answer. His heart, which he couldn't tell if he was grateful for or resentful of, was speaking. Shouting at him. Apparently years of repression had made it a bit outspoken. Regardless, the old man decided to, just this once, listen.
"You are…my family."
Both exorcists were surprised by the words. Bookman supposed it was true. Whatever his name was, the boy had become like a son to him. Part of him said he knew that all along, but had been too stubborn to acknowledge it.
The boy laughed. He laughed and laughed until he was crying, sobbing. And then…he started falling. But not over the edge, as The Bookman had feared. He started falling backwards. Moving quickly, the man ran and held out his arms, catching the kid before he could collide with the floor which, while thankfully not fatal, would still be painful.
The old man held the laughing, sobbing child in his arms, similar to how he had held him when he first found him in that broken home. They stayed that way for what seemed like hours but in reality was probably more like a few minutes. Until finally, the boy looked up into the man's face, and smiled.
…I'm ok with that.
Hmm, I don't know what I think of this. I've had the idea for awhile, and I like the beginning, but I have mixed feelings about the ending. Oh well. First D Gray Man fic, so please let me know what you think because I have some others planned too. Thanks for reading! ~BFMS