I'm sure you all agree that this took far too long to post. I'm really sorry, my friends, but here it is- - -Finale B, the final chapter of A Bullet With Butterfly Wings. Thank you all for your patience, for all the silent readers I'm only 25% sure I have, for all the ones who've reviewed and favorited and alerted both my story and myself. Just knowing you guys at least appreciate the time I put into this is great encouragement for me and my writing. XD as such, I'm horribly sorry it took so long, I had the hardest time figuring out an ending to this particular story. If this doesn't live up to your expectations, or the long wait it took to post it, I'm so very sorry, truly. XD as it is, it barely lives up to MY expectations, and I'm the author! XD haha
And so, read, enjoy, and don't forget to review!
Jasdero giggled quietly under his breath, his hands placed on the dirt ground under his partner in crime. Devitto was under the blonde as usual, the dark-haired boy placing his weight on his elbows as he created a space for the two of them to see in the bushes where they were hidden. In Devitto's right hand was a golden gun, its duplicate in the left hand of the blonde on top of him. They were gifts that had come along with their powers, the ones they had evidently gained as the Noah of Bonds. Their Jasdevi form was one they could use whenever they wanted (which they used to their advantage to play pranks on the castle members), their ability to speak to each other through their minds remained intact, and when they had come to the day after the battle, nearly a year to the day, they had awoken next to each other in their shared room, the barrels of the guns aimed at each other's heads. It had been a rather nasty surprise, but they had managed to keep them hidden from Rhode when they told her of Skinn's death.
And, as the days passed and time moved onward, everyone had slowly but surely gotten used to the semi-harmless weapons in the hands of the boys.
Ready, Dero? Devitto asked the other as Kanda and Allen appeared in the entryway, bickering as usual even as they scanned the horizon for who-knows-what.
Definitely, Devi. The blonde snickered.
All right. Devitto cracked his neck, Jasdero copying the movement gleefully. Three... Their guns cocked quietly at the same time, a soft click that never made it past the bushes, the barrels moving their aim slowly to new targets. Two...
Here we go, here we go! Jasdero giggled.
"BLUE BOMB!" They shouted together, jumping up and shooting a blue bullet at the couple. Instinctively, Kanda dodged the random attack, moving easily from his spot by the paler boy and managed to remain unscathed, though he shot them a fierce glare from where he stood.
Allen, unfortunately, didn't have the same samurai skills. As a result, he was covered instantly in the blue smoke, clouding his vision while Jasdero and Devitto cackled crazily. Kanda yelled something incomprehensible and both boys eyes widened in surprise when the infamous Mugen appeared. Sharing a brief look, Jasdero and Devitto stuck their tongues out at Kanda, delighting in the twitch that began in his eye, then bolted when the taller male rushed at them.
Giggling madly, they began a series of intricate dodges, shooting off a randomly colored bullet when they found the opening to (unfortunately, Kanda was far too skilled at avoiding the bullets), their challenge getting harder when Allen, covered from head to foot in blue dust, joined Kanda's attempt to capture the boys. They managed to stay out of reach until Allen grabbed Devitto's arm firmly, pulling the dark haired boy as far from his blonde partner in crime as possible. Jasdero's eyes widened, and moved to go after them when Kanda blocked his way with Mugen.
"You idiots are going to pay." He snarled. Jasdero's eyes widened in fake shock before a large grin covered his face, seeming to pull slightly at the stitched that covered his mouth.
Cackling an "I don't think so!" at Kanda and grinning at the slightly dumbstruck Allen respectively, the boys aimed the guns at each other and shot each other cleanly in the head. As smoke began pouring out of them and mixing together a good distance away, Kanda growled and tried futilely to slice at the vanishing body of Jasdero before him. The blonde stuck out his tongue, vanishing as the smoke pooled together and the familiar form of Jasdevi was found, perched on top of the door where Skinn had served as guard.
For a moment they paused, their hand on the side of the stone wall, before something caught their attention.
"Is that a carriage? No," they frowned, moving around to see better. "There are three...four? Yes, four. Four carriages. Who's coming?"
"What?" Allen scrambled up from where he had sat down on the steps to the entrance, his big silver eyes moving to Jasdevi. "Kanda, put that thing away! Are you sure the carriages are headed this way?" He yelled up as Kanda grumblingly obeyed. Jasdevi yelled out an affirmative just as the first carriage pulled up.
As soon as it did, Allen stopped rubbing futilely at his face (which only smeared the blue even more) and smiled politely. The door opened and a young woman stepped out, hair pulled back into a simple ponytail. Her dress was a light blue, hugging her petite figure; when she saw Allen and covered her mouth to hide the smile blooming on her open face, her dainty hands were covered by white gloves.
"Lady Tricia." Allen bowed, then paused as uncertainty rose in him- - -should he take her hand like he usually did, seeing as the blue powder dyed his hair and tainted his own clothes and gloves?
"Hello, Allen." Tricia seemed just as unsure until she removed one glove and placed it on Allen's head gingerly. Kanda stepped forward, grabbing the end of one of the trunks behind her. "Oh, and Kanda too! It's good to see you both, boys."
"Welcome back." The Asian grunted as he pulled the trunk forward. The weight dragged him down momentarily before the luggage, all of it, seemed to rise of its own accord into the air. :What the- - -?"
"Hello, boys!" A tall man with a strong resemblance to Tyki appeared, palm facing up as he maneuvered around the carriage. "Not too much happened while we were away, did it?"
"Lord Millennium is gone." The luggage nearly hit the ground; Sheryl's own dual eyes widened and he barely caught the falling suitcases in time. Allen smiled widely and carefully moved around Tricia to lend a hand, grabbing one of the floating suitcases in his hands. "Tyki's the ruler in the castle now."
"Where is he?" Tricia asked, her brown eyes wide with surprise and happiness. "Will he be back?"
"He's never coming back." Allen assured her firmly. "We haven't the faintest idea where he's gone. About two years ago- - -"
"Two years to the day!" They looked up to see Jasdero sitting on Devitto's shoulders; Devitto used one hand to keep them both balanced, Jasdero's hand wrapped around the darker haired boy's head to stay steady, their free hands waving their golden guns around. Devitto smirked in triumph, Jasdero giggling madly. "Don't listen to that dumbass, it's been two years to the day that this whole damn adventure occurred."
"Anyway," Allen said loudly, cutting the two boys off, "we were visited by the goddess Hevlaska, and she all but forced Lord Millennium out of the castle. He's gone." Allen moved to the side, allowing both of them to pass by him into the castle. "I'll explain as you settle in; it's a very long story, I'm afraid."
Rhode glanced around the hallway quickly, ensuring that no one was around her as she slipped down the enormous third-floor hallway. Her black skirt, stopping just below her knees and made from a material that never seemed to settle as she moved, allowed her footwork to be swift and silent as she walked.
Her hair, a little longer now than it had been when she had transformed completely for the last time, was pulled back into a tight braid thanks to Lenalee, several strands of it framing her face and highlighting her gold and violet eyes. She was a bit taller, her entire demeanor that of a young girl trying to grow into the body of a teen.
"Rhode!" Lenalee's voice echoed from the end of the hallway; she had an exasperated tone to her voice, as if she had been calling the young girl for a while now and the fifteen-year-old continued to slip away and ignore her. "Come on, Rhode, you can't hide forever!"
"I can try!" She yelled back, her voice echoing as well. Moving quickly, Rhode turned a corner sharply and, using her current speed as leverage, climbed up the ladder that lead to the attic where she had used to play. She pulled the old thing up just as Lenalee followed around the corner, running past her hiding spot. Rhode smiled before closing the trap door quietly, sitting up fully in the space around her.
It had been too long since she'd last been in the room. The books that littered the floor were old and dusty, covered in layer after layer of it. The window that opened to the main gate was slightly clouded over in dust and grime, and anything that had been worth anything was hidden away in tiny little spots Rhode couldn't be bothered to look for at the moment.
Instead, she moved over to the large window where she had once spent her time and, wiping the glass with her elbow and not caring about the dirt on her normal pristine-white shirt, she leaned against the dust-covered love seat to peer through the window.
Far below her, she could see a blue-tinged Allen and Kanda bickering while they unloaded one of the four carriages that had pulled up without warning.
Beside the two boys were two people: a tall, light haired woman who was wearing an elegant yet simple blue dress, and a taller, darker haired male with short wavy hair. Her upper lip curled slightly as she glared down at them, her glare intensifying as she watched the man help by simply outstretching his hand.
There was a slightly muted sigh, and the love seat dipped a little as warmth flooded Rhode's side; Lenalee had found the other, easier way in.
"What's wrong, Little Mistress?" The taller girl asked softly, her hand brushing a soft strand of hair behind her pale ear. "You were fine at breakfast."
"They weren't here at breakfast." Rhode responded petulantly, crossing her arms and glaring harder. Lenalee raised an eyebrow, but continued her soft petting of her hair. After a few moments, Rhode huffed and looked away. "It isn't fair!" She cried out angrily. "It isn't! They think that they can just come back after all this time and just- - -"
"You know that the...he sent them out everywhere- - -" Lenalee tried to reason, but Rhode cut her off abruptly.
"That's no excuse!" She snapped. "They haven't come back for seven years. Seven. And in that time, nothing! Not one word to let us know if they were all right or even alive! And now they think they can come back and just- - -ugh!" Rhode had started pacing as she ranted, and when she couldn't walk anymore she threw herself back against the love seat, her back pressing against the window and catching more dirt on her shirt. Her arms were crossed again and she glowered furiously.
There was another moment of silence.
"Why did they come back?" She asked quietly, pulling her legs up to her chest and placing her crossed arms on her knees. Lenalee smiled sadly and wrapped her arm around Rhode's shoulders, pressing a small kiss to her hair as she tried to comfort her.
"Please at least come say hi." Lenalee pleaded softly. "They're your parents, and they've missed you."
"They haven't missed me enough to send a letter on my birthday, or any letter at all." Rhode grumbled back. Lenalee offered a tight smile, though Rhode couldn't see it, and patted her shoulder.
"They cared enough to come back." Lenalee said softly. "And they cared enough to leave you in the care of your aunt and uncle, and not in the employment of that horrible man."
"I ended up doing stuff for him anyway." Lenalee rolled her eyes and shook her head, looking up at the sky in a mixture of amusement and exasperation.
"They're going to be staying for a few days, Rhode." She said gently. "At least try to talk to them? For me?" Rhode didn't answer, turning her head to look at the window and the people who had brought her to this place. Lenalee waited a moment before sighing and leaving the way she came in. Rhode uncurled slowly, turning a bit so she could continue to watch the outside world comfortably. Her hands moved to either side to balance her properly, and she felt soft fabric underneath her palm.
Rhode looked down and picked up the doll that had been laying face down beside her. It was just as dusty as the rest of the room, her pink dress faded and slightly threadbare. Her brown hair was in curled pigtails, the paint on her face chipped and washed out. Rhode's pale fingers trailed over the face and front of the dress of the doll she hadn't seen since she was eight.
"I bought this especially for my little princess." Sheryl was kneeling before a small Rhode, who was holding her hands out excitedly for the present. Sheryl handed it to her and the eight year old's eyes gleamed happily, hugging the doll tightly to her as soon as it was placed in her hands. Sheryl laughed, ruffling her short hair as he stood up.
"Ah, there you are, Sheryl." They both froze, Sheryl turning to face the shadowed face of the Millennium Earl. "I have another assignment for you. Come with me now so I can send you on your way immediately."
"Yes, Lord Millennium." Sheryl gave Rhode a strained smile and waved at the younger girl. "I guess I'll see you later."
"But you've just come home!" The eight year old protested when he turned to walk away, reaching forward and holding onto the taller man's shirt. "You can't leave yet!"
"Quiet Rhode!" Sheryl hissed when the Earl turned to see what was taking Sheryl so long to follow him. "I'll be home soon, I promise. I'll write, ok?" The young girl nodded solemnly, watching as he left.
As soon as they were both out of sight, she turned and raced around the castle, moving as quickly as she could to the third floor so she could get to the little room she played in during the day.
"It's still not fair." She murmured, using her other hand to twine the curly hair around her fingers. After a moment, Rhode huffed and stood, holding the doll tightly in her hand. "I can't believe I'm going to do this."
With a dark scowl on her face, Rhode slipped out of her attic hideaway and landed easily on the hallway floor, the rug on the stone floor muffling her landing. She examined her outfit before shrugging carelessly and making her way toward the front door, alternating the reality around her with each turn she made back to the main entryway. It amused her until she reached the main hallway, where the loud, boisterous voice of her adoptive father was heard echoing in the stone around them. Steeling herself, Rhode turned the corner and shut her eyes tightly.
"Papa!" She called loudly, halting everyone. Sheryl, who'd been having an animated conversation with Allen, turned slowly to see her standing in the hall, her doll still clenched in her hand. Her dual colored eyes opened and met familiar-yet-not gold and brown eyes, and before she could stop herself, Rhode was running down the hallway.
She jumped, wrapping her arms around Sheryl's neck and swinging them around once or twice before they stopped; she could feel her eyes well up with tears, and before she could stop herself, she felt the familiar rush of energy coursing through her as she switched realms with her adoptive father, dragging him into her dream world with her. Sheryl didn't notice or care for the sudden change in scenery, instead hugging the girl tighter to him.
"I've missed you, my darling child." He murmured against her hair, placing her gently on the floor and pulling away to look at her fully. "Look how much you've grown in our absence!" Rhode smiled back, unable to hold onto her earlier sour mood and instead rejoicing in having her father's company back with her.
"How long will you stay this time, Papa?" She asked curiously. "Or Mama?"
"We won't leave again, my darling, I promise." Rhode pulled back further, suspicion and hope warring in her eyes, before she smiled and threw her arms around Sheryl's neck again.
Lavi turned slightly from the bookshelf-covered walls of the library to face the man who had been leaning against the window, watching the gardeners below as they worked. Tyki had his head pressed against the window pane, his gold-and-brown eyes glazed over and far away. His arms were crossed, his entire body language screaming 'lost in thought'.
Taking a deep breath, Lavi quietly made his way over to the other, placing a warm hand on his arm.
"Penny for your thoughts?" He asked softly when Tyki's eyes met his own, the contact bringing the master of the castle back to the 'here and now'. Adjusting himself just a little to face Lavi better, Tyki studied the red head for a moment before he spoke.
"It's been two years since you've come here." He started conversationally. "Two years since..." Lavi could feel the wall between the two thicken slightly, and he leaned against the bookshelf in irritation.
Surely, surely, he'd proven his point? There was no possible way Tyki didn't trust him at least a little, especially not after the past year. After all, hadn't Lavi been working hard to try and regain the other man's trust, to prove that his love was strong and true, as strong and as true as the master of the castle's?
(Not that he'd need to have proven that; if it wasn't as true as it should have been, the castle would still be an enchanted mess. It was something Tyki rarely acknowledged, much to Lavi's annoyance.)
"It has." Lavi said shortly, crossing his arms and watching Tyki with a raised eyebrow. "What of it?" Tyki gave a half shrug, his gaze moving to the window. Lavi scowled darkly, fingers tightening on the book in his hands as Tyki seemed to dismiss him with his body language. "And what have you learned from the past two years, Tyki Mikk?" The surprised master of the castle turned his dual-gaze back to Lavi's piercing gaze in shock, though his face was impassive save for the rising of one eyebrow.
"You heard me." Lavi placed the book firmly on the bookshelf and moved towards Tyki and the window, situating himself across from the stunned master and mimicking his position. "What lessons have you learned in the past two years- - -your year of enchantment, and your year of being free once more, free to roam about in human form and leave the castle?" Lavi's gaze fell outside as well, his voice softening from its accusing tone. "Surely Hevlaska wanted some lesson to be learned." Out of the corner of his eye, Lavi watched as Tyki reached out to him; the past year of no contact from the slightly older male and the rush of memory- - -rush of adrenaline, ducking under a thrown vase and hoping Tyki wouldn't remember his new powers and shove his hand through the red head's chest like he had with Toma- - -had Lavi automatically wincing away from the oncoming hand.
"Love." Tyki responded after an awkward moment of silence. Lavi sighed heavily, mending the gap between them by reaching out as well and taking Tyki's still-outstretched hand in his own. The hand in his tightened minutely before he spoke again. "She wanted me, as the oldest male in the castle at the time, to find love so that I may rule this place properly in the absence of the Millennium Earl. And once I found it and it had changed me, presumably for the better, the enchantment would vanish." Tyki fell silent again, lost in thought once more, but Lavi watched him with curiosity. He felt that this lost in thought was different from the complete avoidance a few minutes prior, and he was right. After a moment, Tyki spoke again. "I wasn't sure how much of what you had told me was a lie at the time. And I definitely wasn't sure how long you would stay without being forced to, how long you would be content before feeling the urge to leave again."
"I wouldn't have- - -"
"The urge to leave is a strong one, not one to be ignored." Tyki interrupted smoothly. "Especially for one such as yourself, who is used to packing up and leaving whenever you fancied." Lavi winced as he thought of the massive internal debate that must have coursed through the older male during the past year, though his sympathy didn't go far when he remembered the way their last conversation had gone.
"Tyki, what's going on?" Lavi asked, confusion filling his voice as the older male all but dragged him down the hallway to a room; it was only after they had stopped and Tyki turned to close the door that Lavi was able to look around and realize that they were in one of the extra rooms, a simple room with a small bed and dresser, and two doors leading (most likely) to a closet and a bathroom; a servant's room, then, maybe for Lenalee or one of the gardening team. At least, that's what it could have been if it were not filled with extra decorations- - -random vases, emptied and scattered randomly about the room, candleholders and feather dusters. It occurred to the red head what the room was; the current resting place of the objects the household members had been transformed into before becoming human again.
Tyki didn't answer him right away, and Lavi's confusion turned to concern. Worried, even more so because he remembered that the master of the castle was, in fact, injured greatly, Lavi moved to place his hand on Tyki's shoulder, marveling at the feel of the human flesh before him. "Tyki…?"
"When were you planning on telling any of us the truth of your past?" Tyki asked quietly, not meeting Lavi's confused emerald gaze at his sudden question.
"I don't- - -" Tyki whirled around suddenly, startling Lavi into pulling his hand back; the feral look in his dual colored eyes was enough to make Lavi take another step back.
"Enough with the lies!" He snarled loudly, hands clenching and unclenching as he tried to keep his temper in check. "When were you going to tell us?" Lavi scrambled for an answer, but he took too long; Tyki lost patience and grabbed the nearest candle holder, flinging it towards the red head. Instinctively, Lavi ducked and the silver holder- - -must have been Allen's, considering it was the only silver one- - -crashed into the wall behind him. "If all you want to do is leave, then leave!" Tyki roared at the red head cowering away from him, scowl deeply lining his face. "No one stops you now, not Rhode or Skinn or Lulubell."
"Tyki, calm down!" Lavi yelled back, letting out a startled cry and ducking as a glass vase flew in the air towards him this time; he ducked under it and hit the ground on his hands and knees hard, grunting in pain. Without thinking, Lavi scrambled towards the door on his hands and knees, instincts taking over and getting him as quickly out of the room as possible. Another vase crashed over head as Lavi slammed the door closed. Leaning his head against the wood, Lavi took deep breaths to try and steady his pounding heart. "Just listen to me, dammit!" Something rammed against the door, and Lavi was jolted forward and slammed back against the door. "Calm down!"
The next morning, Lavi quietly sat beside Lulubell at the table, watching quietly as the now human members of the castle bustled about and did their chores. Lulubell regarded him quietly out of the corner of her eye, watching him intently as she sipped at her milk; across from them, Rhode played with her powers, alternately appearing and disappearing before Tyki placed his hand on her own and made her stop long enough to eat breakfast. The master of the castle himself refused to look at the red head, marking the start of another very long year.
"I had hoped, as the year passed, to take in her lesson fully." Tyki murmured quietly, recapturing Lavi's attention. The red head blinked as he realized that he was the one who had gotten lost in his memories, but the master of the castle seemed to show no signs of realizing he had interrupted Lavi's thoughts. "I fought to get over the fear of letting you in so close again. But at the same time, I couldn't allow you to get any closer on the chance you would leave when you wanted."
"Haven't I proved yet that I won't leave?" Lavi insisted, moving closer and wrapping his arms around Tyki. The warmth and build of the slightly taller male had Lavi's eyes close in surprise and bliss. He automatically tightened his arms, inhaling the scent that distinguished the other; Tyki reached up slowly, placing his hand on Lavi's and leaning his head back against the red head's.
"I suppose you have." He commented dryly. Lavi made a noise of victory, muffled by the sudden movement of Tyki swirling around and pressing his lips against the red head's. Lavi, startled at the sudden contact, relaxed and leaned against Tyki, re-wrapping his arms around the taller male's neck. After a moment, Tyki pulled away from the chaste kiss, pressing his forehead against Lavi's and sighing.
"Does this mean you'll start talking to me again?" Lavi asked. "Without snapping at me or glaring viciously at me?"
"I suppose, if I must." Tyki agreed, glancing out the window once more. The sight of his brother, home again after eight years, made him smile widely. He pulled away, grabbing Lavi's hand and dragging him down the hall. "Now, come- - -my brother and his wife have deemed it time to return home, it seems, and we must be able to greet them after Rhode does."
Hevlaska tugged the cloak tighter around her body, the magic in the cloth hiding her glowing form perfectly. The town, normally bustling with activity, was silent as its occupants slept in their homes. Night had fallen, and Hevlaska reminded herself once more of her assignment as she roamed the empty streets. She looked blindly though the shops, searching until she found the one she had been looking for. The bookstore before her had a sign in the window, the red 'CLOSED' print on the sign facing the street, but she reached out and effortlessly opened the door anyway.
The stacks of books looked just as they had four years previous, when she had first found refuge in the dusty shelves, and her fingers trailed longingly over the spines as she searched the store.
"May I help you, Lady Hevlaska?" Came the drawled statement, and the female goddess turned to find Cross leaning against one of his bookshelves, a wine glass in his hand. He peered at her from underneath his hat, eyes contemplative. "Were you searching for something in particular?"
"No." The goddess breathed loudly, her fingers still making patterns along the spines. "I merely came to thank you and Froi for your help with this group."
"Aah, they were particularly stubborn, weren't they?" The drunkard asked, draining the glass easily though his gaze never left the blind goddess'. "This group of brats."
"Indeed." She agreed, walking along the shelf until her fingertips touched Cross' arm. "Come now, Cross Marian. We must find Froi and help the next ones." The man hung his head and groaned, but allowed Hevlaska to take his hand in her own and lead him away.
"Work, work, work. That's all me and this damn artist seem to be any good for." He grumbled good-naturedly, rubbing his temples with his free hand and tilting his head from side to side, cracking the bones in his neck loudly. "That kid you seem so eager to dump on me better not be too much of a pain in the ass this time. He wouldn't listen to one damn thing I said this time around."
The goddess smiled mysteriously, still leading Cross out of the bookstore and into the streets. They walked silently until they reached the house that lay on the very outskirts of town; the last known place for the eternally-wandering Bookman. Leaning against the wall, facing the town and sketchbook in hand, Froi Tiedoll concentrated on his sketch of the buildings before him. He looked up as Hevlaska and Cross approached him, smiling jovially and waving once.
"I suppose it's time to move on then?" He asked, gathering the supplies around him. Hevlaska nodded once, releasing Cross when the red haired male was right in front of the artist. "I'll miss that boy."
"You say that each time." Cross sighed back mockingly. "And each time, you get the same damn pain in the ass. The same group of brats, actually."
"I can't help it!" Tiedoll smiled secretively. "You miss each Allen you take in, even if you won't admit it." Cross opened his mouth to shoot back an answer, but he was stopped by Hevlaska's hand on both men's shoulders.
"Calm, boys." She said soothingly. "Wait until we leave." The bickering stopped instantly, and Hevlaska smiled mysteriously. "Know this now- - -no matter what happens in the next reality, you mustn't interfere in any way." Her soft green light darkened and grew, surrounding the trio. Cross and Tiedoll glanced at each other in confusion before grabbing each other's arms, linking hands with Hevlaska's hand on their shoulders as it enveloped them all. After a moment, the light vanished and they were all gone. The house remained standing on the outskirts of town, the grass around it green and inviting. The townspeople continued to sleep on, unaware of the magic that had happened outside their windows.
The next morning, they would go about their normal routines. Children would run free in the streets, playing with one another while their parents worked. Travelers would pass through every now and then, though the older members were still distrustful and the younger ones were more open minded. Every so often, someone would wonder about the artist who seemed to have no home and no where to stay, with nothing but his friendly smile, welcome disposition, artist tools and sketchbooks; more often than not, they wondered about the bookkeeper and where he had gone. The flirting drunkard they had supposedly known all their lives, though any memories of him were hazy at best. They gossiped and wondered and questioned, then put the issue from their minds and went back to work. Soon, they all but forgot about it, passing by the spots where Froi Tiedoll would sit and paint, peering into the dark dusty shelves where Cross lurked and continuing onward without breaking stride.
The sign in the bookstore window stayed flipped to CLOSED, not to be touched again.