Well. Here it is. The last chapter.
I'm sorry it took so long for me to get it out again, you guys. I have a bunch of excuses (my computer died again, I have finals, it was the holidays, etc.) but the biggest reason it took so long was that I was having a really hard time writing it. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but the words just wouldn't come. I'm finally pretty satisfied with what I have now, so I hope that you guys are too. I'll talk about possible sequel stuff at the end of the chapter. Don't want to ramble on too long just yet.
I hope you enjoy :)
Disclaimer: I do not own D Gray-man.
It was very frustrating, Allen decided. And, ultimately, quite anticlimactic.
The white-haired boy had been ready to pour his heart out to Lavi right there in the car as they drove to the restaurant, but the redhead would not stop talking. Allen was so busy psyching himself up and waiting for his friend to pause for breath so he could interject that he didn't even listen to whatever it was Lavi was chattering on about. Unfortunately, they pulled into the parking lot of a place called Number 65 before Allen could get a word in edgewise. They spent the meal talking about other things—mostly Lavi's increasingly elaborate plans to crash the Beauty and the Beast cast party—as Allen had no desire to discuss something so private in such a public place.
"So whaddaya think, Sprout?" Lavi asked as they finished the last of their dessert.
"Hmm?" Allen said around a mouthful of strawberry cheesecake. "Wha'?"
"Dude, don't talk with your mouth full," Lavi chided.
Allen swallowed quickly and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
"It's all good," Lavi said, grinning. "So, what do you think? Do we crash this party those losers were lame enough not to invite us to or what?"
"You can," Allen said, setting his fork down. "I'm feeling kind of tired. I think I want to go home." Maybe I can get Lavi to take me home, and then I can lure him into my house in order to execute my plan, Allen thought critically.
"What?" Lavi said in disbelief. "It's only 10:15! On a Friday, even! How old are you, eighty?"
"Shut up!" Allen said defensively. "And why do you want to go to this party anyway? You're not even in the theatre department!"
"I want to go to every party," Lavi explained. "Especially ones I haven't been invited to."
"You're insane," Allen said, shaking his head. "But whatever. Do as you like. Just take me home first?"
"No can do, little buddy. Sorry." But his grin was anything but apologetic.
"Why not?" Allen demanded.
"Because," Lavi said simply. At that point the waiter came to their table and dropped off the check. Lavi thanked him and took it before Allen could even think about reaching for it. He glanced at it quickly, dug his wallet out of his pocket, and slid out his credit card. He placed the bill and the card at the edge of the table, and the waiter came and took them both away.
Allen watched these events unfold with a growing frown. "What are you doing?"
"What?" Lavi asked, tilting his head in question.
"Are you paying for my food?"
"Yep!" the taller boy said brightly.
"Because I have a job and you don't," Lavi said easily. "I have more disposable income."
"I have money," Allen said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his worn leather wallet.
"Here you are, sir," the waiter said politely, handing Lavi his card. "If you'll just sign this top copy; the one on the bottom is yours. Thank you for stopping in this evening."
"Thank you," Lavi said, writing in a—rather generous, in Allen's opinion—tip and scribbling his name on the small slip of paper. He stood and stretched, looking down at Allen with a grin. "Let's go, pal. I bet that party's starting soon, and we still have to steal hats from Domino's!"
Allen rolled his eyes and stood as well. "Lavi, I refuse to pretend to be a pizza delivery boy. If you want to go to the party so badly, why don't you just go? Lenalee will welcome you, surely." He followed the taller boy as they wove between the other tables and booths on their way to the front of the restaurant.
"What's with all of this 'you' stuff, huh?" Lavi asked, opening the front door and zipping his jacket against the late November chill. "You know you're coming too."
"But Lavi," Allen whined.
"But Lavi nothing," Lavi said dismissively. "Come on, beansprout. It'll be a blast!"
"My name is Allen," Allen grouched. His shoulders slumped in defeat as he realized that, at the moment, Lavi was much too hyper to sit down and have a serious conversation with him about relationships and feelings and other equally serious things. He'd have to corner him at a later date. Lavi would calm down eventually, right?
He glanced at the redhead, who was currently doing a cartwheel across the parking lot as he sang the chorus to "Be Our Guest" in a terrible impression of a Russian accent (for some reason), and grimaced. He had a feeling that this whole thing was going to be a lot more complicated than he'd originally thought.
Then again, life with Lavi always was.
This was just getting ridiculous.
It had been nearly a week since Allen's resolution to admit his feelings to Lavi, and the infuriating redhead had thwarted him at nearly every turn. Unknowingly, of course, but still. At this point Allen was nearly tearing his hair out in frustration.
In the days following the ridiculous cast party—at which Lavi made many new friends and fans while Allen sulked in the corner eating pretzels—Lavi had claimed to be far too busy to hang out with him.
"Sorry pal," Lavi had said as he rushed past Allen on the sidewalk that Monday afternoon. "I have three papers due before Thanksgiving break and they've doubled my hours at the library. I'll see you on Thursday, okay? Make sure to wear something nice!"
And now it was Thursday, Thanksgiving Day to be precise, and Allen was struggling with the cuffs of his pressed white button-down shirt and cursing Lavi Bookman to hell.
"Stupid Lavi," Allen grumbled, trying and failing to do up the tiny buttons at his wrists. "Why can't he just sit still for one second and listen?"
Even though Lavi had said that dinner wasn't until eight-thirty, Allen thought he'd take the opportunity early that morning to try on the outfit he was planning to wear to make sure it still fit him correctly. He didn't often have occasion to "get all spiffed up" as Mana used to say (Allen's heart twinged painfully at that passing thought before he carefully brushed it aside) so he didn't own many articles of clothing that could be considered "nice." He was actually wearing the same outfit he'd worn under his high school graduation robe, but nobody needed to know that.
He was still grumbling under his breath about stupid buttons and even stupider neighbors when Allen heard his front door slam open. Confused as to who could possibly be visiting him so early on a holiday morning, he stopped what he was doing to listen to the quick, heavy footsteps of someone bounding up the stairs. His bedroom door flung open and Lavi galloped in, grinning from ear to ear.
"Neighbor!" he cried, slamming into Allen with an exuberant hug. "Happy Thanksgiving, dude!"
"Uh, yeah," Allen said, patting Lavi's back a little awkwardly. "You too."
"Oh man, you have no idea how freaking excited I am that you're coming with me to Gramps' place today," Lavi continued, pulling away to ruffle the shorter boy's hair. He took a step back and regarded Allen with his head cocked slightly to the left. "You look great!" he finally concluded.
"Oh, thanks," Allen said, looking down bashfully.
"Having trouble?" Lavi asked, indicating the stubborn buttons on Allen's cuff.
"A bit," he admitted. "It's hard to do with one hand."
"I feel ya, man," Lavi said, waving around his own sleeve. "I was having a major issue this morning. And Yu and Lenalee went home yesterday so I didn't even have anyone to help me." He pouted a bit.
"I would have helped you," Allen pointed out.
"Oh, yeah, dude, I know you would've," Lavi agreed. "It's just that I got up really early this morning and you were still sleeping. Didn't wanna wake you up."
"How do you know I was sleeping?" Allen wanted to know.
"Your curtains were closed," Lavi said, pointing at the now-uncovered window.
"Oh," Allen said, a little surprised that Lavi had noticed something like that.
"Yeah. Now, let me give you a hand with that." And Lavi seized his wrist and fastened the buttons without waiting for Allen's reply.
"Thanks," Allen said, enjoying the redhead's closeness.
"No prob," Lavi said distractedly. When he was finished, he stood back and surveyed his handiwork with satisfaction. "There! White looks good on you," he said sincerely. "Goes with your hair."
"Oh," Allen said again, tugging on a lock of his hair before tucking it behind his ear. "Thanks." He took note of Lavi's sage green button-up, which was tucked into his slate gray dress pants, and offered him a shy smile. "You look good too."
"Aww," Lavi said, grinning. "Thanks dude! 'Course, I always look hot, so that's nothing new."
"Humble as ever," Allen mumbled. Lavi just snickered. "So what are you doing here? I thought you said dinner was at eight-thirty?" He glanced at the clock on his wall, which read 8:57 AM, and raised an eyebrow. "You're about twelve hours early, aren't you?"
"Change of plans," Lavi said, scratching the back of his neck. "Gramps just called and said that he's having the food delivered at noon instead, so it'll be more like Thanksgiving lunch instead of Thanksgiving dinner. Hope you don't mind."
"That's fine. Why'd he change it, I wonder?" Allen frowned thoughtfully before adding, "Also, delivered? Don't families usually make Thanksgiving dinner themselves?"
"Yeah, well, Gramps can't cook for shit," Lavi said, chuckling. "Neither can I, for that matter. We always order the food from this local catering company. They give us a good discount because the owners are University alumni, and the food's always really good! They put this really delicious whipped cream on their pumpkin pies…" he trailed off dreamily.
"If you're going to drool," Allen said, after a moment of silence. "Please don't do it on my carpet."
"Huh?" Lavi said, blinking. "Oh, whoops! Got a little distracted there."
"Uh huh," Allen said, smirking.
"Anyway," Lavi said, giving the white-haired boy a playful shove. "I don't know why Gramps changed the timeframe on us. He was being pretty mysterious about the whole thing, which is never a good sign."
"Should we be worried?" Allen asked, apprehensive. He'd never met the Chancellor before, and he was really hoping to make a good impression today. Not only was this man Lavi's grandfather, he was also the person who had authorized Allen's academic scholarship and had allowed him to live off campus as a freshman.
"Nah," Lavi said, waving a dismissive hand. "Gramps just likes to mess with me, I think. Revenge for all the times I've messed with him, probably."
Allen grinned. "All right. But even if din—well, lunch, isn't until noon, why are you here now?"
"Don't you want me here?" Lavi said, giving a dramatic, obviously fake sniff. "I was gonna take you to Gramps' early, give you a tour and then maybe watch a little bit of the parade on TV. But if you don't like spending time with me…"
"Oh, get over yourself," Allen huffed, crossing his arms.
"Never!" Lavi crowed, grinning like an idiot.
"You are a ridiculous person," Allen said, shaking his head.
"And by 'ridiculous' you mean 'awesome', right?"
Allen just smiled. "Are we going or aren't we?"
"Yeah yeah," Lavi said. He was still pouting a bit, and it was probably the most adorable thing Allen had ever seen.
They made their way out into the hallway and down the stairs. Lavi's good mood returned almost immediately, and Allen grinned as the redhead jumped the last few steps and spun on the balls of his feet.
"Hey beansprout," he said, walking backward through Allen's living room in order to maintain eye-contact with the object of his teasing. "I bet you don't know what—"
"Lavi, look out!" Allen interrupted.
But it was too late. Lavi tripped backward over the coffee table he hadn't realized was behind him and went sprawling to the floor. An Introduction to Psychology: a Contemporary Approach, a yellow notebook, four different-colored highlighters, and a half-full can of Pepsi that had been abandoned when Allen decided to give up studying the night before also fell to the ground in a jumbled mess. Allen watched in dismay as the Pepsi seeped into his rug.
"Ow," Lavi said weakly as he sat up and rubbed his head.
"Are you okay?" Allen asked, moving to help him up.
"I'm good," Lavi said blearily. "Since when has that coffee table been there?"
"Since always," Allen said crossly. "And now look what you've done, you delinquent."
"What?" Lavi demanded.
Allen pointed at the damp, steadily-widening spot on the rug as the can continued to leak sluggishly.
"Gah!" Lavi exclaimed. "Oh no, I wrecked your rug! Here, here, let me fix it!" He dashed over and righted the can, then proceeded to tear some blank pages out of the yellow notebook and attempt to use them to soak up the spill.
"There are paper towels in the kitchen," Allen informed him, amused. He wasn't too worried about the rug, as it hadn't been special to him or anything. In fact, he's picked it up at a garage sale for twelve dollars, which was actually a pretty good deal for an area rug, now that he really thought about it. Having a large brown spot on it was bound to annoy someone like Allen (who tended toward what Lavi referred to as "clean-freak behavior"). Still, it wasn't nearly as big of a deal as Lavi was making it out to be.
This, of course, made the whole display rather hilarious, in Allen's opinion.
"Oh, right, of course! Here." He thrust the sodden mess of paper into Allen's hands and darted into the kitchen. The white-haired boy could hear him opening cupboards and drawers and rummaging noisily. "Where are do you keep the damn paper towels, sprout?"
"It's Allen," Allen said calmly. "And they're in the cupboard under the sink."
"Gotcha," Lavi said. Allen sighed and sank to his knees, dabbing at the spot with the damp notebook paper and wondering idly if college-ruled was any more absorbent than wide-ruled. He thought probably not.
It was then that Allen realized that perhaps his chance had finally come. He was alone with Lavi for the first time in nearly a week, and they had a bit of time to kill before they were expected at his grandfather's. He wasn't sure if he should say anything today, in case Lavi rejected him—Allen's head spun for a moment at that thought before he was able to collect himself—and the whole holiday was ruined. Perhaps he could try to delicately broach the subject, maybe drop a hint or two to gauge his reaction…?
He looked up with a frown when he realized that Lavi had been silent for a solid minute, which was probably a new world record for the redhead.
"You alive in there?" Allen called, wrinkling his nose at the wet paper as it began to tear. "Notebook paper isn't exactly known for its absorbency, Lavi." After about thirty seconds of still more silence, Allen called out again. "Lavi?"
There was a shuffling, as if the redhead had given a start at the sound of his name, followed by the dull clink of what sounded to Allen like glass. Lavi appeared in the entrance to the room with a roll of paper towels in his hands, but he made no move to give them to Allen. Instead, he stared at the shorter boy as if he were a particularly difficult puzzle that Lavi was intent on solving.
"Um, hello?" Allen asked.
"Here," Lavi said faintly, tossing the roll to Allen. "I found them."
"You okay?" Allen inquired, worried.
"I don't know," Lavi said, tearing his gaze from Allen and shaking his head. "I'm not sure."
"What happened?" Allen demanded. "Did you hit your head when you fell? Do I need to take you to the hospital?"
"No, it's nothing like that," Lavi said distantly. "We should go."
"Lavi, I…" Allen began. He wasn't sure what he wanted to say, exactly. He was starting to think that maybe the confession really would have to wait, now that Lavi was suddenly acting like a space cadet.
"Yes, Allen?" Lavi said seriously, leveling him with a searching stare.
"Um, never mind," Allen said, unnerved by the intensity in Lavi's single green eye. "You sure you're not hurt?"
"Uh huh," Lavi said, looking away. "We should go."
"Right." Allen trailed after him as he led the way to his Mustang, frowning worriedly at his back.
Lavi's grandfather's house was a stately Tudor that sat on the very edge of campus—near the administrative buildings and away from the majority of the much shabbier student housing. A large granite plaque on the front lawn declared it to be the Chancellor's Mansion. Allen felt a little intimidated by the ornate architecture, but Lavi just calmly pulled the Mustang into the curvy driveway as if he visited fancy estates every day.
"This is it," Lavi said, in that same subdued tone he'd adopted back at Allen's house. "Pretty impressive, huh?"
"Yes, it is," Allen replied. He frowned a bit, leaning toward the taller boy in concern. "Lavi, are you sure you're all right?"
"Hmm?" Lavi said, looking at Allen but not really meeting his gaze. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"You're acting a little strangely," Allen murmured.
"I don't think so," Lavi said distantly. "Come on. Let's go inside, 'kay?"
"Okay," Allen agreed, still frowning. He opened the car door and slid out, his feet crunching a few fallen leaves that skittered across the driveway as they were carried by the crisp November breeze. The two of them trekked up the winding walk and climbed the short flight of stairs onto the sweeping front-porch. Allen waited for Lavi to ring the doorbell, but the redhead just turned the knob on the front door and let himself inside. Allen followed warily.
Inside it was just as beautiful as it was outside. The floors were all a dark hardwood, polished to a slightly slippery shine. The walls were papered in intricate patterns or painted in rich tones of burgundy and gold. A spiral staircase stood off to the left, its mahogany banister gleaming in the light from the chandelier. To the right, an elaborate archway led off into some other room Allen had yet to identify. Looking around at the general splendor, he decided that if he hadn't been intimidated before, he certainly was now.
"He's probably through here," Lavi said vaguely, wandering toward the archway. Allen made to follow, but stopped short when Lavi suddenly went flying backward and crashed into the wall.
"Don't you knock?" an irritated old voice demanded.
"What the hell is wrong with you, ya crazy geezer?" Lavi snapped, sitting up and rubbing his head where it had collided with the wall. Allen was pleased to note that the spacey attitude from earlier had gone, though he was a bit disturbed that this was the second time today that Lavi had gone sprawling.
"I won't have you just barging in here like you own the place," the voice retorted. Its owner stepped into the room, and Allen realized that this must be Lavi's grandfather. The old man was a lot shorter than Allen had expected, shorter even than Allen himself, and what little hair he had left was pulled up into a strange-looking pony-tail at the top of his head. He shuffled over to Lavi—who was still slumped on the floor—and glared. "Stupid brat."
"Mean old panda," Lavi grumbled. "You didn't have to hit me, you know."
"I didn't hit you, I kicked you," the man sniffed. "Don't you know the difference?"
"It's the same thing!"
"No it is not!"
"Um, hello," Allen interjected, raising a timid hand in greeting.
The old man turned and eyed him critically. "So, you're Allen Walker, are you?"
"Yes sir," the white-haired boy said politely. "Pleased to meet you, Chancellor." He held out his hand, which the Chancellor shook firmly.
"You can just call me Bookman," he replied.
"Okay," Allen said, smiling.
"You're a very well-mannered boy," Bookman said approvingly. "Stupid grandson," he barked, rounding on Lavi, who was still on the floor. "Get up you lazy thing."
"All right already," Lavi griped, grabbing onto a nearby coat rack and pulling himself up with a wince.
"I'd hoped that some of this boy's politeness would rub off on you, seeing how much time you spend with him. But you're still as disrespectful as ever. Now get your ass in here and help me set the table." He spun on his heel and stalked back through the archway.
"Love you too, Gramps," Lavi sighed.
"He seems, um…" Allen trailed off.
"Like a crazy old coot?" Lavi supplied.
"I was going to say 'interesting,'" Allen insisted.
"Always the diplomat, ain'tcha?" Lavi said fondly. He reached out to ruffle the shorter boy's hair but stopped halfway; his hand hung in the air for a moment before dropping back down to his side. He was looking at Allen with that intense stare again, like he was trying to figure something out that was just beyond his comprehension.
"Lavi?" Allen asked, concerned.
"Come on," Lavi said, the distant tone creeping back into his voice. "Better go help Gramps before he decides to kick me through the wall." He sidled through the archway with a thoughtful look on his face, Allen following closely behind.
The dining room was magnificent. The polished wooden table was large enough to seat twelve people comfortably, and the complicated carving on its legs and chairs was obviously done by a skilled hand. A long, glass-fronted china hutch lined the far wall. It was filled with long-stemmed wine glasses, porcelain serving bowls and trays, silver utensils of every kind, and other delicate pieces of colored glassware. It was all so fancy that Allen was terrified to touch anything.
"Hey, give me a hand with this, willya?" Lavi asked quietly, holding up a crisp white tablecloth.
"Sure," Allen replied, moving forward to grasp a corner.
"How inconsiderate of you," Bookman admonished, whacking Lavi on the head with a wooden spoon. "He is a guest."
"Ow," Lavi muttered.
"It's okay, really," Allen said, taking up the tablecloth Lavi had dropped in favor of rubbing his head. "I can help."
"So thoughtful," Bookman said, nodding sharply. "What are you doing, boy?" he demanded, turning to Lavi. "Don't just stand there." He whacked him with the spoon again, smirking in satisfaction when the redhead whimpered. "It's just a spoon. It doesn't hurt that badly."
"Says you," Lavi pouted.
Allen didn't know whether to be disturbed by this clearly dysfunctional relationship or to giggle madly at their antics. He decided upon the latter. He had, after all, spent the majority of his formative years with Cross. That was enough to warp anyone's perception of familial interaction.
"Neighbor!" Lavi whined, turning the full force of his pout on Allen, which only caused him to giggle harder. "You're supposed to be on my side!"
"Sorry, Lavi," Allen said, grinning. "It's just funny for me to see someone who can consistently get the better of you."
"Mean," Lavi said, snatching the tablecloth away from him and spreading it over the table. Allen just chuckled and began setting out the plates and utensils when he realized that he was setting places for four people.
"Is someone else coming?" he asked, turning to Lavi inquisitively. He found the redhead gazing at him with his head tilted to the left in thought, his right hand in his pocket. "Um, Lavi?"
"Huh?" he said, shaking his head. "What did you say?"
"I asked if someone else was coming," Allen explained, indicating the extra place-setting.
Lavi frowned in confusion. "Not that I know of. Hey Gramps!"
"What?" Bookman answered from the next room.
"Is someone else coming?" Lavi wanted to know.
"Yes," Bookman said flatly, coming into the room to inspect their work. "He should be here soon. It's why I had to move the delivery time for the food to earlier in the day. He apparently has somewhere to be tonight. Such a troublesome man," Bookman said, shaking his head.
"Who is it?" Lavi wanted to know.
The doorbell rang.
"That's probably him now," Bookman said. "What perfect timing."
"That's kind of freaky, actually," Lavi muttered.
"Go answer the door," Bookman commanded, nudging Lavi a little.
"All right, I'm going," Lavi said. His curiosity apparently overwhelmed his annoyance, however, as he left without further complaint.
"He's not very happy with you, you know," Bookman said quietly.
"Sir?" Allen said curiously. "Lavi is angry with me?" It would explain the redhead's strange behavior, but Allen couldn't think of what he'd possibly done to annoy his friend.
"Not him," Bookman said dismissively. "Although that boy has been acting a little oddly today." He threw Allen a suspicious glance.
"Then who are you—"
"No freaking WAY!" Lavi shouted from the foyer.
"Is that any way to greet a guest?" answered a horribly familiar baritone.
Allen turned to gape at Bookman, clearly frightened. "You invited him?"
"Of course," Bookman said easily. "We've known each other for years."
"How?" Allen demanded.
"Brat!" Cross Marian bellowed, stomping into the dining room.
"Master," Allen groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Thought you'd have Thanksgiving without me, did you?"
"You hate Thanksgiving."
"Prove it," Cross said. "It's the time of year to spend with the people you care about, or whatever. You can't just ditch me, you ungrateful brat."
"Master, you don't care about people. The only things you care about are your truck and your gun."
"Yeah," Cross sighed, plopping down in a chair and putting his dirty boots up on the clean white tablecloth. Lavi, who'd followed him into the room with a look of distinct horror on his face, made an indignant sound. "Well. This old geezer wouldn't let me drive Maria into the dining room."
"For obvious reasons," Bookman muttered.
"But I did bring Judgment along!" he said happily, pulling the gun out of the pocket of his black trench coat and setting it on the table. Lavi eyed it warily. Allen just sighed.
Then Lavi shook himself and rounded on his grandfather, scowling. "What the hell, Gramps? Why did you do this?"
"Well, when you told me about the encounter you had with Allen's godfather, I thought the man you described sounded awfully familiar. Then of course you said his name was Cross Marian and I knew it was the same man I'd known years ago."
"You know each other?" Lavi and Allen said together. "How?"
"We both worked at Rose Cross College, one of Black Order University's sister schools," Bookman explained.
"That place was a dump," Cross put in, making a big show of patting his pockets as he looked for something.
"No smoking in here," Bookman said imperiously. Cross stopped his search, grumbling. "Anyway, we were both faculty there about ten years ago."
"Before I took your ungrateful ass in," Cross said to Allen.
"Oh," Lavi and Allen said, again in unison.
"I thought it might be nice for Allen to have some family this holiday as well," Bookman said innocently. But there was an amused light in his eyes that Allen was highly suspicious of.
"Plus, I get free food," Cross added.
"This sucks," Lavi griped.
They all spent an awkward hour loitering in the formal sitting room while they waited for the food to arrive. Cross and Allen spent most of their time arguing about bills, funds, and Allen's scholarship money and how Cross wasn't allowed to use it to buy wine. The disagreement culminated in Cross withdrawing a mallet from an inside pocket of his trench coat and raising it threateningly until Allen abandoned his argument and hid behind the sofa. Bookman sat in a richly upholstered armchair and pretended to be disinterested, but Allen caught him snickering into his rather voluminous sleeve on more than one occasion. Lavi spent the entire time staring thoughtfully at Allen, even when the white-haired boy was cowering behind the couch. It was so conspicuous that Cross just had to comment on it.
"You sure you don't have a crush on my godson?" he said abruptly, snapping Lavi out of his torpor.
"Eh?" the younger redhead said intelligently.
"You've been staring at him for an hour," Cross said pointedly.
"N-no I haven't," Lavi said, looking around shiftily.
Allen, who had finally deemed it safe to begin creeping out from behind the sofa, blushed and ducked behind it again.
"Uh huh," Cross said, smirking.
Lavi cast a somewhat frightened glance at Bookman, who merely raised a curious eyebrow.
The doorbell rang.
"Oh, that must be the food!" Lavi said, jumping up from his seat with a relieved smile. "I'll get the door, okay?" And he scampered off.
When Allen crawled out from behind the couch, he found himself on the receiving end of two equally suspicious stares. He blushed again before innocently inquiring "wh-what?"
"I knew it," Cross said gruffly. Bookman just smirked again.
"Hey Gramps?" Lavi called. "Wanna come tell these guys where to put all of this stuff?"
Bookman slid out of the chair, cast one last glance at Allen, and made his way into the dining room—presumably to yell at Lavi some more. Allen was left alone with Cross, who fixed him with an unimpressed stare.
"What?" Allen said again.
Cross just shook his head. "Let's go get some of that food. Wonder if the old geezer has any Merlot?"
When Allen walked into the dining room, it was all he could do not to gasp like an idiot. Piled onto the dining room table was a ridiculous amount of food for only four people. The turkey sat in the middle of the table, its golden skin tearing only a little as a caterer in a tall white chef's hat carved it expertly. A large bowl of mashed potatoes sat to the turkey's left, steaming. Other dishes full of stuffing, green bean casserole, yams, and other Thanksgiving staples were scattered around the tabletop. The caterer finished carving the turkey and laid the cut pieces on a silver serving tray just as another one set down a wicker basket filled with soft, white rolls. They nodded to Bookman, who signed the slip of paper they held out to him, and wished them all a "Happy Thanksgiving."
"Mmm!" Lavi said happily, sliding into a seat. "They really outdid themselves this year!"
"I don't think I've ever seen so much food in one place," Allen commented, taking a place next to Lavi and across from Cross.
"I told them you were coming," Lavi teased. "And that we'd need about twice as much food as usual to keep up with your appetite."
"Hey!" Allen said indignantly.
Lavi just chuckled and reached for the nearest dish. Allen was happy to see that the redhead was finally acting like himself again.
"Wait a minute," Allen said, as everyone else began serving themselves. They all stopped and looked up at him, expressions ranging from curious (Lavi) to annoyed (Cross). "Isn't this the part where we all go around the table and say what we're most thankful for?" Allen queried.
"Jesus Christ, what are you? A woman?" Cross said, exasperated. "I refuse to participate in some stupid, Hallmark card shit like that."
"We don't really do that here," Lavi said apologetically. "But I guess we could start if you want—"
"No," Cross and Bookman said flatly.
And they left it at that.
The dinner itself was really rather nice. At least, Allen thought so. He could have gone without Cross' presence, but actually being around other people for the holidays put him in a cheerful mood nonetheless. He wasn't even aware of the huge grin on his face as he helped himself to more food than could technically fit on his plate until Lavi pointed it out to him. Lavi's own smile was weak at best, so Allen gave him an encouraging nod and started babbling about their history class in order to get Lavi to cheer up and actually engage in some conversation. Which he did, slowly shedding whatever melancholy he'd picked up that morning until he was joking and laughing like always. Allen's smile got a bit brighter after that.
Once all of the food was consumed, Cross and Bookman remained at the table, arguing about one thing or another. Allen wasn't really listening, as his focus was already divided between Lavi, his returning resolve to confess his feelings, his pounding heart, and the nervous queasiness rising in his stomach.
"Come on, Allen," Lavi said to him cheerfully. "Let's let these old guys talk about politics or whatever. I never got to give you that tour!"
"Oh, right," Allen answered. He and Lavi rose from the table, drawing the attention of the men across from them. "Might we please be excused?" he said politely.
"But of course," Bookman replied, just as politely, with a small nod.
"Priss," Cross snorted.
"Why you—!" Allen began indignantly.
"Come on, Sprout," Lavi interrupted and pulled him out of the room.
"That man…" Allen growled as Lavi dragged him out into the hallway.
"He's something, all right," Lavi agreed. He had his hand in his right pocket again, and Allen could see him fiddling with whatever was in there almost nervously.
"So where are we going?" Allen wanted to know.
"This place is huge," Lavi said, starting forward. "I'll show you all of the rooms. Gramps has some really cool old stuff around here."
"Okay," Allen agreed.
Bookman really did have a lot of interesting things filling many of his unused rooms. There were at least three libraries, each filled with many old, obscure books. Lavi explained that a lot of them were first editions and actually worth quite a bit of money. A lot of the extra bedrooms were used to store things that Lavi had owned as a child. Allen saw—among other things—the poster board for Lavi's third grade science fair project ("I got first place, of course," Lavi had boasted), his first tricycle ("Ran that into the back of old Mrs. Norville's leg when I was three—she wasn't too happy"), and a dusty, leather-bound photo album that was by far Allen's favorite find. It was filled with pictures of Lavi as a child, smiling happily at the camera. Allen got to see Lavi's parents (he noticed that the redhead looked a lot like his father) but the most striking thing about them was seeing Lavi without his signature eye patch. Allen really wanted to keep one of the photos but thought it would be weird to ask, so he wistfully closed the album and slid it back onto the wobbly old bookshelf he'd found it on.
After wandering around for a while longer, Lavi led him to a small TV room on the third floor.
"What's in here?" Allen asked, looking around.
"I bet it's probably too late to watch the parade, but let's see if we can catch the end," Lavi said, plopping down on the brown leather couch that sat in front of the large TV on the wall. "Stupid Panda just had to make me miss it this year," he grumbled. He pressed a button on the remote and the TV hummed to life.
Allen walked over and sank slowly onto the couch next to the redhead as he flicked through the channels before finally settling on a broadcast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"Oh sweet, it's still on!" Lavi said excitedly as he watched a marching band from Oklahoma strut past on the screen.
"That's good," Allen said quietly.
Lavi glanced at him out of the corner of his eye before turning his attention back to the parade. Allen sat very still, breathing slowly and collecting his thoughts. After all of this time—after all of the stress and uncertainty, the planning and confusion—the moment was finally upon him. He had built his resolve. He would be firm. He would tell Lavi how he felt about him or he'd die trying.
Well, maybe that was a bit dramatic. But Allen was determined nonetheless.
"Hey Lavi?" he said at length, reflexively curling his hands into fists.
Beside him, he thought he felt Lavi stiffen. "What's up, neighbor?" he said calmly.
"Um, I uh…" Allen said, his mouth going dry. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I wanted to, um, talk to you. About, uh, you know. Something."
Lavi muted the TV and turned to face him. That intense, unreadable look was in his eye again, but Allen refused to be daunted this time.
"I actually had something I wanted to talk to you about, too," Lavi said, tilting his head a bit.
Oh hell no. Lavi was not going to change the subject on him now.
"Me first," Allen insisted.
Lavi looked a bit surprised, but then he smiled softly and nodded. "All right then, you first."
"I just wanted to say that…uh…well…"
"Um." Allen valiantly fought the blush creeping up his face as he unclenched his fists and twisted his hands in his lap.
Lavi's smile turned a bit bemused as Allen just sort of sat there. "Hello?"
"Huh?" Allen said, looking up into Lavi's green eye. "Uh, yeah, I'm here. Sorry."
"That's okay," Lavi replied.
"So you know how we're best friends?" Allen blurted.
"Best friends?" Lavi repeated softly.
"Yeah," Allen said. "Well, I just wanted to say that, um, I really value you, Lavi. Really. You're the only person I've ever felt like I can connect with. You have no idea how much that means to me."
"As friends," Lavi said lowly, as if he was confirming a suspicion.
"Yeah," Allen agreed. "But, Lavi, what I really wanted to—"
"It's okay Allen," Lavi said, interrupting. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and handed the small object that had been inside it to the white-haired boy. Allen frowned as he took it. It was small, blue, and round, and when Allen turned it over in his hands he saw the words Bombay Sapphire printed on it in elegant script. It was the cap to the bottle of gin Allen had taken from Lavi on Halloween.
"I found the bottle under your sink when I went to look for paper towels earlier this morning," Lavi explained. "I'm pretty sure I know where you got it, Allen."
Lavi's earlier behavior was beginning to make sense now. Allen gave him a helpless look and opened his mouth to explain, but Lavi cut him off.
"This is from Halloween, isn't it?" Lavi asked, still smiling softly. "It all makes sense now. God, I'm such an idiot. The way you were acting right after the party, avoiding me, the way you've been sort of skittish around me lately. I hit on you, didn't I?"
Allen nodded slowly, then opened his mouth to say something, anything, to let Lavi know how he really felt about this situation, but the older boy—once again—would not stop talking.
"I'm such an idiot," Lavi repeated, scrubbing at his eye with his left hand. "It had to have been something really bad; otherwise you would've just thought it was a joke. Did I try to kiss you? Oh God, I bet I tried to kiss you. I can't believe I would…and then you were probably so weirded out…and then of course the way I've been…ugh! Well. I know that you just want to be friends, Allen. I mean, I should have known all along that… It's just that … and I shouldn't have… God, I knew it would be like this, so why did I…?"
Through his disjointed ramblings, Allen could see Lavi's genuine distress. And was that sadness in his emerald eye? Well, that simply wouldn't do.
In a moment of what Allen would later insist was temporary insanity, he pulled Lavi's hands away from his face and softly pressed his lips to the taller boy's own. He pulled away and found Lavi staring at him in shock. Allen offered him an awkward smile that quickly morphed into a horrified wince when Lavi continued to stare at him without saying anything.
"Oh no!" Allen groaned, smacking himself on the forehead. "Should I not have done that? I mean, of course I shouldn't have done that, because you wouldn't have wanted, um, crap…"
Then Lavi started laughing, effectively silencing Allen's embarrassed rambling.
"Hoo boy," Lavi said, smiling his signature grin. "Remember when I said we needed to work on our communication skills, neighbor? Looks like we still need a bit of work in that area."
"Um," Allen said, a little disconcerted by Lavi's sudden change in mood.
"Apparently I misjudged this whole situation. I'd feel really stupid, but I'm too busy feeling happy, so I won't bother. I hate feeling stupid anyway, mostly because I'm used to feeling like a genius. So why don't you tell me what I now suspect you've been trying to tell me all day?" He was looking very pleased with himself, which was getting on Allen's nerves.
"More like all week," Allen corrected grouchily. Lavi's eye widened a fraction, and then his smile increased in brilliance as he motioned for Allen to continue. "Anyway, Lavi, I…like you. A lot. And, um, I just wanted to know if you, you know. Felt the same way?" Allen looked up hopefully.
"Of course I do," Lavi said happily. "I've liked you for so long now… I don't know what I said to you on Halloween, but I can guarantee I meant every word of it."
"Really?" Allen asked, taken aback by the redhead's frankness. "But what about, you know…?"
"What? All of my fans?" Lavi asked, smirking. "It's like you said, Allen. You're someone I feel like I can really, genuinely connect with. That's something I've never really had either. Till now, of course."
Allen realized a bit belatedly that he was grinning like an idiot, but he found it difficult to care. "So what happens now?"
"Well, for starters, this," Lavi said. He leaned forward and cupped Allen's face in his hands. He stroked his cheek with his thumb, just as he had that Halloween night, before tilting his head to the side and kissing Allen tenderly. Allen threaded his fingers through Lavi's soft red hair and kissed back, so happy he felt like his heart was going to burst. When they finally broke apart, Lavi gave him the warmest grin Allen had ever seen and wrapped his arm around his shoulders just as he'd done so many times before. But now the gesture felt less friendly and much more intimate.
"So, what?" Allen asked, as he laid his head on Lavi's shoulder. "Are we dating now?"
Lavi laughed, hugging Allen close. "I'd say that's a pretty accurate statement, there, dude."
"Good," Allen said, satisfied. Lavi chuckled and reached for the remote. He turned the sound back up just as the parade was drawing to a close.
"Aww," Lavi said dejectedly. "I missed it."
"Sorry," Allen said.
"Eh," Lavi said, tossing the remote on the floor. "It was definitely worth it."
Allen felt a little cheesy as they cuddled together on the couch, but he was far too glad to care.
The tender moment was rudely interrupted, however, when Cross came barreling into the room. He took one look at Allen and Lavi, rolled his eyes, and said "I knew it. I fucking knew it. Didn't I tell you?" Then he demanded that Allen give him all of his money, which he was refused, and left in an indignant huff.
"I hate him," Allen sighed.
Lavi just chuckled and kissed the top of his head.
"Hey babe, where the hell do you keep the popcorn in this place?" Lavi demanded from the kitchen.
"In the cupboard next to the fridge," Allen answered as he sifted through the collection of DVDs Lavi had brought over. Then he grimaced. "And I wish you wouldn't call me babe."
"What? Why not?" Lavi asked, poking his head into the living room, a green plastic bowl in one hand.
"You know I don't like nicknames."
"Come on!" Lavi whined. "That's not a nickname. It's a term of endearment!"
"Still don't like it," Allen said dismissively.
"And here I was hoping you'd get over your irrational hatred of nicknames," Lavi pouted. "I thought I'd finally get one, now that we're together."
"Well, you thought wrong," Allen replied, smiling innocently.
"Mean," Lavi grumped, disappearing back into the kitchen. Allen heard a lot of general banging around, followed by some beeping as Lavi put a bag of popcorn in the microwave.
"I feel like all of these movies have exactly the same plot," Allen said, scowling at the generic action titles. "And why do they all have Steven Segal in them?"
"Because Steven Segal is awesome!" Lavi shouted over the hum of the microwave.
"Steven Segal is ridiculous," Allen deadpanned. He held up a case and read the description on the back. "Hmm, apparently in this one he takes on the entire Yakuza all by himself. Well, that's realistic."
The microwave beeped again and Allen could hear Lavi shaking the bag into the green plastic popcorn bowl he'd been carrying around. He sidled into the room and set the bowl on the table before flopping down next to Allen on the couch.
"Duh, kid. It's 'cause Segal is a badass," he insisted. "He carries around a samurai sword, you know? Just sort of has it at all times, just in case."
"So does Kanda," Allen pointed out. "And I don't think he's a badass. I just think he's crazy."
"Why you bein' so crabby today, babe?" Lavi wondered, tossing some popcorn in the air and catching it in his mouth. "Oh shit, did you see that? Bow before me and my mad skills!"
"Get over yourself," Allen said, amused. "And really, stop calling me babe. How would you like it if I called you honey or sweetheart or sugar bear or something?"
"What? Sugar bear? Where the hell did that come from?" Lavi asked, raising an eyebrow. "That's definitely not one of the standard pet names, dude."
"You know what I mean," Allen said, pouting.
"No, you know what, I kinda like sugar bear," Lavi said, mock-thoughtfully.
"Well, I'm not going to call you that," Allen said huffily.
"That's okay, 'cause I'm gonna call you that," Lavi said with a grin.
"What? Kanda?" Allen said, misinterpreting. "Why would you do that? He'll slice you in half. And I rather like having you alive, you know," he pointed out.
"No, no, not Kanda," Lavi said, rolling his eye. "I mean you as in you, Allen Walker."
"Dammit," Allen cursed.
Lavi cackled. "But if you want to call me honey or something I'm totally okay with that."
"No way," Allen said.
"Oh, you will," Lavi said, tapping his nose. "I'll bring you over to the dark side of pet names yet!"
"Just pick a movie, you crazy thing," Allen said, whacking him with a throw pillow.
"I'm all for the Yakuza," Lavi said, snatching the DVD case out of Allen's hand. "Those guys are some sketchy bastards. Segal will show them what's what."
"All right," Allen said amicably, leaning back comfortably as Lavi fiddled with the DVD player. The redhead shot him a grin and then joined him on the couch. While the previews played, Lavi slid closer, bringing his face within inches of Allen's. The white-haired boy let his eyes slide shut, grinning in anticipation of what was coming next.
Lavi's lips had barely brushed Allen's when an ear-splitting wail rose up just outside the living room window. Lavi jerked back in surprise and Allen groaned in frustration.
"Still haven't given up, have they?" the white-haired boy said, rubbing his temples.
"You'd think they would have realized by now," Lavi replied, amused.
"How many are there?" Allen wondered, sitting up a bit to peer out the window and into the bushes in his front yard.
"Dunno," Lavi said carelessly. "Sounds like quite a few."
"Chomesuke's really got them out in force today, hasn't she?" Allen said, leaning back. "She wants to kill me, you know."
Lavi laughed. "Yeah, well, I won't let her."
"Don't worry, I won't let her either," Allen said, narrowing his eyes.
"Oh Allen, I never knew you were so badass," Lavi teased, leaning toward him again. "We shouldn't let them ruin this for us, yeah?"
"Yeah," Allen said softly. "But just one second, okay?"
And he walked to the window, gave a wink and a jaunty wave to the girls who were not-so-inconspicuously camped out in his bushes, and drew the shade.
The End! I hope you all liked it. Drop me a review to let me know how I did, yeah? :)
Now, on to sequel news. I have decided to do one, though it may not be out for a while. If any of you have checked my profile, you'll know about it, but if you haven't I'll mention it now. It is (tenatively) titled "Stalking Allen Walker" and it'll still be told in third person limited, but this time more Lavi's POV. I was thinking about this layout earlier and then Ninja Trio's Best mentioned it in a review so I knew it was a good idea. I'm still working on plot elements, but I have a few ideas so far, so no worries. Let's just say that Lavi's fans won't give up on him that easily, Tyki Mikk is still hanging around, and Lavi has a lot more ideas for "adventures" he wants to drag Allen along on. I'll be working on a shorter chaptered fic in the interim (the idea for which I am ridiculously pleased with myself about), and then you can expect the sequel to be out in early to mid-January.
Hope to see you all then!