A/N: Hello, readership. Sorry for the lengthy silence. Between losing a job, and then finding one, and totaling my car - or I should say having my car totaled as I was deemed not-at-fault for the wreck - and then buying a new (to me) one, I've been pretty much booked. Long story short, here's chapter 10!
The pain in her side woke Lenalee before dawn. Before she could peel back her eyelids, she felt water gathered at the corners of her eyes. Her mouth was dry, her tongue tacky against the roof of her mouth, but she was not sure she could get up to retrieve a glass of water. She lolled her head to the right, looked at the alarm clock. It read five in the morning.
Through her clenched teeth, Lenalee's breath hissed as she tried to level herself up. She could not push herself far, however, and she fell back with a yelp. She looked at her clock once more. Lavi would be up in a few hours, she thought. She would have to wait for him to come find her. In the meantime, she closed her eyes and willed her mind quiet.
When a knock finally sounded from the door, Lenalee opened her eyes and almost sat up right. She quelled the instinct, though, before she could really hurt herself, but she regretted her eagerness to see Lavi just the same. Her heart was fluttering like a chickadee in a cage, and Lenalee closed her eyes. She gave herself a moment to swim in that feeling—relief, contentment, You still move like water—and then pushed it back.
"Come in," she said and glanced at her clock. She had lain awake for almost two hours.
The doorknob turned, the latch clicked, and the hinges squeaked, and Lenalee peered through the dim to see not Lavi but Giorgio slip into her room, the stripes of sunlight leaking in around the curtains cast across him.
"Good morning, Lenalee," he said, stopping in the doorway.
Lenalee winced as she pushed herself up onto her elbows. "Giorgio," she said, "Where's Lavi?"
He paused before answering, and Lenalee rather wished she could see his face better. "Lavi and Bill have left to see Karmenu."
"Lavi asked me to take you to a doctor."
Lenalee's mouth sagged. "What?"
Giorgio lingered respectfully in the doorway. "He believes you need to see a doctor, and I agree with him," Giorgio explained. "You need a translator to do this."
"So he ditched me?" she demanded, frozen and leaning back on her elbows.
Giorgio hesitated. He took two steps into the room. "Perhaps you will believe that no matter what I say, yes?" Farther into the room, Giorgio was easier to see through the dusty dim. Lenalee could make out his eyes, the whites almost luminescent against his brown skin.
Lenalee rolled her eyes and snorted. Abstractly, she knew that Giorgio was an unworthy recipient of her animus. Also, and rather less abstractly, she recognized where the hostility came from: she'd been waiting for Lavi.
"Perhaps he would benefit from a morning outside your company?" Giorgio hazarded sagely. From what she could see of his face, Lenalee could tell that Giorgio was venturing into territory that he found about as welcoming as she did.
Lenalee felt her cheeks heat up. She swallowed.
"Perhaps you would benefit as well."
She switched her gaze away and began pushing herself up painfully. "I don't know what you're talking about," she muttered between grimaces.
Giorgio stepped closer and placed a hand between her shoulder blades, applying just enough pressure to ease her up. "Neither does Lavi, I think." He slipped his hand into the pocket of his Finders robes and produced a tarnished flash. The cap squeaked as he unscrewed it. "A gift from the innkeeper," Giorgio said, holding the flask toward Lenalee. She flicked her eyes incredulously from Giorgio to the flask and back again. "It's a very long walk, Lenalee."
"Thank you," she said grudgingly and accepted the flask. She took one painful swallow and jerked the flask from her lips, coughing. Giorgio chuckled at her and slipped the flask from her hand, recapped it, and pocketed it.
"When I was your age," Giorgio said, putting an arm around Lenalee's ribs and hoisting her up. She acquiesced and took her time getting her feet beneath her, "That was all the medicine we had. That and the Mediterran."
Lenalee gripped Giorgio's heavy shoulders as she steadied herself. She laughed. "Whiskey and sea water?"
"If that did not cure you, you were in God's hands," he added wryly.
Lenalee smiled and wondered if that had been a comfort to Giorgio as a child.
The whiskey was like a coal in her empty stomach, heat trickling into her chest and out into her veins. It felt a bit like the bottled affection.
As she and Giorgio made their protracted way to the door and down the stairs, Lenalee thought of the men she had met who needed wine to sleep. There were more than a few of them in the Black Order. She had known men who could not hear the world over the noise in their own minds without the ataractic effects of a drink, those men who needed it to keep them from feeling. She wondered if there were similar men who would need a feelixir for the reverse. Giorgio's heavy, thick shoulder worked under her hand as he helped her along, and she considered the feeling, that alien notion, the odd sensation of a man. Perhaps there were men who would need Karmenu's tinctures to feel grief or joy or any of the gamut of emotions Karmenu had to offer.
She thought then of Lavi. Of Toshe. Whoever that may be. A man who needed humor to express his rancor with God, who needed flippancy to mimic the motions of getting close to someone, who needed his Bookman's cloister to find security. What, she wondered, could drive a person to that, to be so robbed of his trust as to feel safe only when alone? And how then, and why, attempt this facade of his? He feigned candor with her and everyone to keep them at a distance. And she wondered if he realized, just as she was beginning to realize, that it was not working. If he wanted to remain in his watchtower, so safe and high up, he should have forsaken a lot more than just his name.
But she knew his name. Lenalee knew his secret. And as much as she wanted to cup it in her hands and keep it safe, she also wanted to say it to him over and over and over again. Toshe Toshe Toshe. More than ever before. She wanted to see him so badly. She wanted to tell him.
Lenalee glanced up at Giorgio, across the breakfast table from her. She doubted that this was the result he had anticipated when he arranged for her to spend the morning away from Lavi.
Lavi wasn't aware that he was dragging his own feet until he caught sight of the annoyed glanced Bill was tossing in the direction of his shoes. Gravel cracked dryly as they made their way south, Lavi slipping a pace or so behind Bill periodically. The wind smelled of fish and minerals, like the sea was a big stew with all the ingredients of life kept on a low simmer. When gusts caught them up, Lavi noticed the way Bill's lip curled. He rather thought Bill looked like the sort of peaked, undernourished fellow—limby and limp like a plant grown without enough sunlight—who got seasick.
That was an awfully unfriendly thing to think, Lavi told himself. And Bill was certainly undeserving of his festering discontent that morning.
"You were a lot more perky about seeing the Tunisian guy in jail," Bill remarked.
Lavi scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, I got a lot on my mind this morning."
Bill snorted. "I bet."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lavi snapped.
Bill shrugged and held up his hands in surrender. Lavi snorted. He knew exactly what that was supposed to mean. The entrance to the street where Karmenu sold his tinctures was up ahead, and try as he might to drum up the thorough interrogation he had planned for the Spirit Doctor, Lavi was distracted. He couldn't stop thinking about that secret Lenalee had been about to tell him, the one she had brought up before the Ascension Day celebration had kicked off. It was bugging the hell out of him, and the only thing that helped was entertaining the notion of asking her what it was when he got back. Not that he would.
Maybe, he thought as they drew up to the entrance to of Nawguralek Fejqan ta' Malajr, she was going to tell him about her faith. She had been, after all, holding the hand of the Holy Mother when she had turned to him and asked cryptically for his permission. Perhaps she wanted to tell him something she thought only he would understand, a doubt or an insecurity?
Lavi hardily registered the heat of the brass doorknob against his palm, the jingle of the bell overhead. Maybe, he wondered, she was going to say something about the Order. Maybe she was thinking about retiring. He felt something in his chest clench excitedly at the thought. If she were out of the order... if she were just another girl...
The interior of Nawguralek Fejqan ta' Malajr was as dim and dusty as before, the muted light through the thin, green curtains seemed to drift, lambent and underwater. A man stood at the counter across from the door, his back to the entrance. From behind the man, glass clinked thickly against glass.
Maybe, Lavi thought, she was going to say something really personal. Something about the fact that they had rolled out of the same bed that morning. She could have been gearing up to tell him that she liked it.
He willed his head clear, pushed his thoughts out of the way like they were biscuits on a shuffleboard. He knew that allowances like that were dangerous. He couldn't let his mind wander, even if he was the only one to know about it. And it wasn't really hurting anyone. And it was kinda fun.
"Karmenu?" Lavi called out.
The man at the counter smiled briefly over his shoulder and turned back to the counter. "Young Exorcist," he said as he arranged and rearranged glass bottles on the counter.
Being called cleric, Lavi expected, but it was only an informed witness who called him exorcist. "Maybe I should call you Father Karmenu, and then we'll be even?"
Karmenu laughed good-naturedly and slipped around the back of the counter, revealing a small pyramid of stout, brown bottles and a folded paper sign with Maltese characters on it.
"You," Karmenu said, pointing at Lavi, "Have been investigating me, yes?" Lavi didn't respond. "I wonder who would tell you such a thing. I am a source of a great deal of shame, you know. The village apostate."
"Kind of ironic," Lavi said off-handedly as he came forward and leaned an elbow against the counter, "That the town backslider would also be an Innocence User."
Karmenu laughed again. "Perhaps you know everything about me, Bookman," he said and winked. "Where is your lady friend this morning? I heard that she sustained no small injury while defending the church."
"She's fine," Lavi said, picking the top bottle off the pyramid and turning it over in his hand. "She's at the doctor this morning." He flicked his eye up. "The real doctor."
The label on the front of the bottle had, like the others, a series of words in different languages, which Lavi could only take to be translations of the emotion stoppered within. He scanned through the Italian and Arabic, Maltese and Sicillian, and found the English. ATTACHMENT.
"One part affection to two parts loyalty. A spoonful of friendship and just a splash of lust," Karmenu explained as Lavi considered the bottle. "Perhaps I should credit you, Exorcist. I designed that one with you in mind."
Lavi rather thought he was being manipulated, and he did not appreciate it. He put down the bottle hard and glared at Karmenu. "All right. You got me," he said, part friendly, part firmly. "What is this stuff? What are you up to in here?"
"You want to know what happened when you tried the Affection that you stole from me?" Karmenu asked, cracking a bright, white smile. He was toying with Lavi, or at least trying to.
Lavi did not flinch. "What did you do?" he demanded. "What was that stuff?" And why was it not wearing off? Why was it getting worse?
Karmenu crouched behind the counter, disappearing. His voice carried up from the floor over the shuffling of objects being pushed around a cupboard. "You are not the first to ask," he said, "Although, I must admit, I'm surprised to hear such a question from you."
Lavi glanced over his shoulder at Bill, who was standing very still near the door. "Why's that?"
Karmenu popped back up, a basin in one hand and a clear glass bottle in the other. "Because," he said, setting the basin and bottle on the counter, "You are immune."
Lavi furrowed his brow.
"At first, I believed you were immune because you are a fellow Innocent," Karmenu said. He began rolling up his sleeves. "But your pretty lady friend was not immune, and she wears the same insignia you do. She is an exorcist as well?"
"Yeah," Lavi replied, suspicion creeping into his voice.
"So, then my assumption is incorrect. Your Innocence does not protect you from my influence. No, rather there is something about you personally, my young friend, that insulates you from my Innocence." Karmenu lifted his right hand to his face. He pressed the ring on his middle finger—a wide, flat, black stone—to the crease between his brows, closed his eyes, and began to draw his knuckles from his face. A strand trailed after his hand, linking his hand and brow, a thin filament of gold. With a quick switch of his wrist, Karmenu snapped the filament from his brow and tossed it into the bowl. He then unscrewed the cap from the bottle and splashed a clear liquid into the basin. The golden thread dissolved instantly.
"The hell is that?" Lavi asked, leaning forward to peer into the basin.
"As you manipulate that impressive hammer of yours, friend, I manipulate the emotions, mine and others." Karmenu pushed the basin toward Lavi, allowing him a better look. The liquid inside could have been water were it not for the strong aroma of grain alcohol. "For instance, in this basin there are a few doses of excitement. You see, I am excited to see you returned to my shop, and I harvested that notion. I must admit, you rather intrigue me, Mister..." Karmenu raised his brows at Lavi expectantly.
Lavi narrowed his eye, hesitated. "Lavi," he replied simply.
"Mr. Lavi," Karmenu concluded with a nod. "Yes, I was looking forward to your return." Karmenu lifted the basin with both hands and gave it a swirl. "I imagine you noticed your partner's distinct response to my attention during your last visit. This was, of course, my doing. A harmless practice, but, well, I am a businessman, after all." Karmenu shrugged. "Still, your indifference to my efforts was truly remarkable."
Lavi thought for a moment. "That doesn't many any sense," he said. "If I really am immune to your Innocence, why did the affection..." he hesitated, looking for the right words, "have any effect?"
Karmenu smiled. "Why, indeed." He crouched down a second time, and when he stood again, he held a funnel and two bottles threaded in his fingers. He set them all on the counter. "I suppose there were other stimuli at play."
Lavi switched his gaze away for a moment. Karmenu seized back his attention when he set his elbows on the countertop. "So what, do you suppose, shields you? I could compel your friend there," he gestured toward Bill, "to weep like he's seen his first daughter born or like he's seen his mother buried, but I could not make you blink without throwing sand in your eye."
"Easy," Lavi said, masking the gamut of other things flooding his mind, "I'm a bookman. Stoicism is our first precept."
Karmenu let out a bark of a laugh. "I suppose your lady friend would testify to this, too?"
She'd be lying if she did. "Yeah, she would, as a matter of fact."
"Pity," Karmenu said, leveling himself off the counter.
Lavi frowned. "What's got you so interested in Lenalee?" he asked, schooling his tone. He had the distinct impression that, while Karmenu could not manipulate his emotions, he certainly could read them very well. Whether that was another facet to the renounced priest's Innocence or simply a case of sharp intuition, Lavi couldn't be sure. And that ambiguity made him trust the man even less.
Karmenu raised his eyebrows. "Perhaps stoicism is a tenet to you, but surely even you, Mr. Lavi, can guess the answer to that question."
Had Lavi not been so practiced in quelling his knee-jerk reactions, he would have grabbed Karmenu by his thick, glossy hair and cracked his nose into the countertop. Instead, Lavi smiled. "Jeez, when you quit the clergy, you quit cold turkey, didn't you?"
Karmenu laughed. "For some men, the cloth is a lifestyle of liberation and simplicity. For others, it is fetters."
"I take it you're the latter?"
Karmenu set one hand on the counter and rubbed his smooth, square chin with the other. It seemed like the first honest gesture Lavi had seen him perform. "My relationship with the Lord is a complicated one. Just as all relationships are," Karmenu mused. "And the Lord, in all His business, does not require an intercessor on His behalf. The Church worked only to complicate this relationship more. Nothing steals the soul from a miracle like analysis."
That last bit sounded to Lavi rather like something Lenalee would say to him.
"As a man—and just a man—I am allowed the freedom to see God everywhere." Karmenu had been gazing toward the whitewashed ceiling, but at this, he dropped his eyes to Lavi. "And everywhere, He is." He smiled, and something about the lack of teeth, the unskewed expression of it, struck Lavi as sincere. "And now, I am granted the benediction of seeing the Lord in the sea. In the soil. In your fair friend, Lenalee."
"You know, most folks see the Church as a bridge for their relationship with God. It's got guidelines, sure, but those are supposed to direct you," Lavi countered for argument's sake.
"Do you have guidelines for your relationships?" Karmenu cut across Lavi. He paused then and blinked his dark eyes. "But of course you do. You're a Bookman."
"It's a disciplined lifestyle," Lavi said with a shrug.
"Then perhaps you are the kind of cleric who finds liberation and simplicity in his restrictions." Karmenu studied him for a moment, his brow furrowed. Then he said, "But I doubt it."
Karmenu did well not to let all the layers of that statement flake away immediately, and as Lavi peeled them back, he felt his hackles rise. There were far too many accusations there. Lavi said, cold and firm, "We're nothing alike, buddy."
Karmenu smiled at him.
"You look at self-control as a burden," Lavi said, "like an ox looks at a yoke. But you know what? You're still an animal, and even when you don't have that yoke on, you're still a slave to your animalistic impulses," Lavi snapped.
"And you are a slave to your deprivation," Karmenu countered calmly.
"Deprivation of what?" Lavi barked. "Do I look deprived?" He spread his hands as though presenting himself for Karmenu's scrutiny.
Karmenu leaned over the counter. "Yes, sir. Yes, you do."
"You look like a man who has tasted his own instincts and now he craves them. You look like a domesticant, a dog who goes to sleep at night and dreams of eating the hearts of lions. But now you've seen, my very young friend, that there are such things as wolves who actually do. I'll tell you this, before your dam breaks and you tear into the forest with the rest of the Bacchae, when a man starves himself until sundown, he gluts himself until he is sick; when a man enjoys his meals, he rests heavy and well at night."
Lavi felt his mouth pressed thin. "Well, I can see why you've bailed on the Church."
"And I can see why you haven't."
Lavi wanted to shout at him, explain that he hated the Church for what he'd seen it do to men, for what it had once done, a very long time ago, to him. He wanted to explain the differences between being a Priest and a Bookman, that they were nothing alike, that he would ally himself to book and pen and ink but never to anything as nebulous as words. He wanted to prove that he was the kind of cleric who relished in the freedom of his temperance, that he was not weak like Karmenu was, that he found his passion in dispassion.
But as soon as he reached that conclusion, he knew that he had defeated himself. He turned and strode past Bill, who was standing, motionless and stunned, by the entrance. Lavi slammed the door behind him, practically loosing the bells from their nail in the jamb. Dark clouds were curdling against the horizon in the distance, choking the collar of the sky and releasing gasps of jagged lighting into the sea. After a moment, Bill slipped through the door. Lavi took off down the street and did not wait for Bill to catch up.