A/N: Next will be a new instalment to "Stumble, Stride," I expect, followed by what will hopefully be the final chapter of "Heaven & Hell."
Kanda was standing on the roof of their hotel, overlooking a moderately vast view of the city of Barcelona. By day from a high place, as opposed to night from hidden alcoves below, the city was calm and welcoming. Still, he and Marie weren't ever going to forget they lost a teammate here. Marie, undoubtedly, would be paying his respects on site. Kanda saw no point. There was no way the spirit of an addle-brained optimist misfit like Daisya was going to cling so morbidly to the spot he died.
That they had been brought here of all places, on a wild goose chase…
And that Luke character got it into his head it was all about Lenalee now. That it was Lenalee whom the Brat Innocence had called 'a lone human surrounded in feelings of love.' That she was the Exorcist they were after, if 'half the rumours' he's heardof people having crushes on her are 'true.' What an ass!
No, not just him. The whole situation was a pain in the ass.
Speak of the devil, he quipped to himself in his mind.
"I've got my sewing kit out now, so if you—"
"Yeah, let's get this over with."
Kanda sat at one end of an iron bench, at the edge of a small rooftop vegetable garden. A neat pile of black clothing soon occupied the opposite end, atop the lap of a Moyashi.
"It's still bothering you." Allen Walker's grey eyes narrowed. Timcanpy was nowhere to be seen. "Isn't it?''
"What?" Kanda stared straight ahead at the garden, but still caught a head of white hair bobbing around at the periphery of his left; now setting out needles and thread.
"Come on, Kanda. It's obvious that you… don't like this business with err… 'free-agent' Innocence… or that Luke is suggesting Lenalee is at the centre of this mission now. Heck, I don't care for the idea of it all myself."
"I know you wouldn't, Beansprout. The only one who would is that Finder—"
"My ears are burning!"
What. The fuck.
"Oh L-Luke! We were just talking about your err… theory!" Walker tested, wearing what Kanda supposed was a reasonably disarming smile as he hopped to his feet to approach the latest arrival. Kanda glared a moment as if to compensate for the idiot's kindness, then stood up and returned to the railing to take in more of the city.
"Oh? Any new thoughts?"
Instead, he ended up listening in.
"Not… really." Allen evaded. "Sorry we've made you travel all this way and—"
"Oh no, not to worry. I am headed to station in Northwest Africa, after all. That's why they sent me; in case you had to go to Marrakech or Dakar or something. Well I could go as far southeast as Kenya, really. Great safaris. You know."
Allen suddenly sounded ill: "Please don't make me think of safaris."
"Oh poor baby. Did you have a bad time?" the rumour-mongering Finder cooed.
Kanda's head whipped around to face the other two. Walker only appeared tired as this 'Luke' guy patted his arm at the shoulder…
"You should come visit me sometime," the Finder prattled excitedly, with a light shove to Allen's shoulder. "I'll make sure things go—"
"Beansprout," Kanda began in a sharp hiss. "Get to work already."
He watched Walker raise his eyebrows and shrug, miming a cheerfully exaggerated 'Can't be helped!' as they reclaimed their same seats on the bench. There, two damaged uniforms directed their attention away from the Finder's (shrinking) presence.
Allen picked the clothes up, separating them so Kanda got his and he got Kanda's. The way they worked things out for the day of the card tricks demonstration, they were fixing each other's uniforms after all. Kind of a way to pay each other back… or something like that. Same thing as mending their own, as far as he was concerned. No difference except to that bean sprout who insisted.
The occasional soft breeze passing by was refreshing, however. It was quiet too, even if some neighbouring roofs were occupied by aproned men and women hanging up laundry. The hotel's white sheets would surely be pinned up to clotheslines to billow in the wind soon, too. He should have used this place to meditate, when he had the chance—
Back to the task at hand.
It wouldn't have surprised him if Walker was decent at sewing, but what if he actually couldn't do much of a sewing job? Kanda immediately envisioned big, obnoxious red stitch marks, X-ing all over the immaculate blackness of his right sleeve. A hypothetical disaster he could attribute to a certain English moyashi, were it to happen, and were someone to ask. A bad omen too, to some. Despite himself, he smirked at that.
Allen sighed, having just threaded his needle with ease. "I was just thinking… wondering…"
"Tch! Damn needle's all—" Kanda was listening, but the needle Walker had just given him was kind of narrow and didn't want to stay between his fingers as he threaded it. "What is it, Moyashi?"
"You're, um, okay there…?" at Kanda's vigorous nod, he continued: "I was uh… wondering… like I said…"
"Yeah?" Kanda urged, albeit distractedly.
"What if Lenalee's not the one?"
"Not the one what— Damnit, I need a different needle, Moyashi. This is too small."
"S-sorry." Allen put down his sewing to swap needles for Kanda, fishing out a larger one and even rapidly threading it for him in advance (with gloved fingers, no less). "I just mean… Lenalee is involved with someone already, and so— it sounds so incredibly awkward to um…"
Allen trailed off, straightening out the fabric of Kanda's inside-out uniform sleeve. He may have been aimlessly babbling, but he had already perfectly anchored his thread with a carefully set knot.
"Well," Kanda began, slowly and competently knotting his own thread; "It wouldn't change that she's the best lead we've got right now."
"—I just… I don't get it. If she's the one they want then why didn't they just go see her themselves? Why would they bring us way out here? And poor Marie, he's had to—"
"Hmm?" a serene baritone issued from the far end of the clay tiled rooftop.
Allen (but not Kanda) nearly jumped out of his seat in surprise, barely managing to look up and spy the man himself, looking back over his right shoulder at them from the opposite corner of the garden. And Timcanpy was perched on his left. At least that goddamned Finder was nowhere to be seen.
"What about me?"
"Um… we were just talking about how things have taken such a strange turn." Allen smiled nervously this time. "Have you heard anything new on your end, by the way?"
"No I haven't, Allen. In fact it's gotten strangely quiet since that… interlude… at breakfast. It's been rather unnerving, to be honest."
"Lovely," Allen sighed. There were a few moments of silence before he began again. "They didn't say it was romantic love, but I mean we all care for our fellow Exorcists, just like Komui and the Science Department and Jeryy and everyone… so, well, couldn't it mean just about anybody?"
"Anybody that's an Exorcist," Marie corrected.
"Tch," Kanda scoffed.
Walker's deplorably embarrassed expression countered: 'Yes, you too, Kanda.'
Damnit, Walker had a point a minute ago. Lenalee was involved with someone, and that idiot rabbit and various other people were probably attracted to her and all, but maybe the person who was at the centre of it didn't have to love anyone at all?
Or what if that Exorcist isn't the one that loves or is loved, but is simply 'surrounded' somehow? Did they ever even say that Exorcist has to be loved by anyone? No, never mind. Kanda decided to return his concentration to the needle and thread rather than dwell on this senseless and confusing topic any further.
"What if," Walker pressed, "What if it's someone who is loved but doesn't love back? The 'surrounding' love could be one-sided so…"
Walker paused now, briefly inspecting his stitching job for apparent defects.
Shit. Upon reflexively checking his own work, Kanda discovered his own stitches weren't uniform, and he still had a bit left to go. What was Beansprout getting at?
Marie yawned even in the bright daylight: "Lenalee's as good a guess as any to start with though, so… Well anyway, I just came to tell you I'll be away for a short while."
Just as Kanda would have expected, the towering Exorcist had ironed every last wrinkle out of his uniform and groomed himself carefully today. He took honouring the deaths of his colleagues very seriously, after all…
"Sure. Please take care, Marie," Allen nodded at their colleague. Then, as if he had been an active part of the conversation, he turned to ask Kanda: "Isn't 'surrounded' a strange way to put it, though? Or at least I think so. Why not the 'human' who 'is loved'? Or who 'loves,' or who 'loves and is loved back'? It's just so… so vague."
"I don't see why you—" Before realizing it, Kanda winced at the sewing job he'd just completed. He thought about starting over… "We'll figure it out in Sète."
Marie nodded at them both before taking his leave, Timcanpy still tagging along.
"You're such a perfectionist! It's fine, I can wear it just like that! The gap is gone and no one's going to care how evenly spaced or how straight the stitches are. Don't worry." Walker smiles. And he means it. "I'm not going to be pointing at it and hollering 'Look what a shit sewing job Kanda Yuu did on my uniform!' …or whatever you're thinking."
Their eyes connected, and for some reason Kanda noticed Allen's smile fading.
What was with him today? "You alright or what, Beansprout?"
"Hm? What?" A poor mimeograph of that earlier smile. "I've… never been better, BaKanda."
"Something on your mind?"
"Persistent, aren't we? What makes you think that?"
"Just answer the question."
"I was talking about the mission!"
"There's something else. On your mind."
"What? No, no there isn't. Thanks for worrying about me though," he grinned, impish.
Kanda glared, exasperated. He could feel something was wrong; knew it had something to do with whatever Moyashi had been dancing around. He didn't like it, whatever it was. Maybe if he asked about the mission some more… "Okay how about this: If it's not Lenalee, then who do you think is the Exorcist we're supposed to find?"
Walker's mouth worked silently, half-formed words dying on his breath. Eyes roaming the farthest guardrails now, he half-heartedly mumbled: "I… I honestly don't know. Just… I feel we shouldn't be so sure Lenalee is the one."
"Okay," Kanda agreed.
Now, all at once, Allen seemed amused for some reason!
"Luke…" Kanda tensed in distaste just at the name. "Was he actually—?"
"That jerk?" Kanda cocked a thumb in the direction of the staircase running down the outside of the building. "Probably fishing for more gossip to peddle back at HQ."
That's right. Their only guess also just so happened to come from that bastard Finder.
"Oh?" Allen was smirking now. Not good. "What kind of gossip?"
"Idiot. You know damn well what I'm talking about."
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I've no idea, really." The cocky ass was outright grinning now.
"Beansprout," he warned.
"Allen." That grin wasn't going anywhere. He'd be snickering next, unless—
Allen Walker gasped inelegantly. Victorious Kanda Yuu snorted only just a little.
A nearby clock struck ten.
"This is great!" Lavi cried out— again— for perhaps the sixth time? Or was it the eighth? His firebrand Innocence reared back in a silent roar as if in agreement, before taking out yet another swarm of airborne Level Ones. Actually, the entire cloud of them was thinning out incredibly fast, based largely on his efforts alone. "Just send 'em all to me!"
"I'm glad it's not too hard this time around, but don't forget I'm here too!" She shouted back toward the roof where he was perched, before flying after some straggler Akuma at the edges of Lavi's sightline that could cause problems if they wandered out of view.
Lenalee was tackling as many Akuma as she could with deft kicks and well-timed whirlwinds, but found she really had to struggle to keep up with Lavi's speed today. It was a good thing though, or so she supposed. Lavi was a ranged fighter for the most part, Lenalee reminded herself. She didn't have to worry about him quite as much as Allen, for example, yet his current recklessness was still recklessness, all the same—
Actually, as she understood it, Lavi could have used his Heaven seal to take out or incapacitate much of the sky's hordes of Akuma in one go (since they were only Level Ones), but instead he tenaciously took his time, roasting small groups at a time with Fire seal. It was slower… but still effective, she had to admit as each took out their last one.
"That's all they've got? I could take on a lot more than this…"
"Lavi, I think—"
Lenalee froze; her blood ran cold as a Noah's familiar, disturbing laugh pealed out.
"Oh. I'd thought it would be more fun to see the boy, but I remember you," the voice drawled, amused. "We had some fun in Edo back then too, didn't we? Not so long ago now, actually…"
Floating on the ledge at the far end of Lavi's rooftop was— "Tyki Mikk?!"
Lenalee wordlessly rushed to the shocked Lavi's side. If he was to fight a Noah, it would be as part of a team, together with her. Thanks to Kanda, they had hope they could maybe win. Maybe.
No… we will win. I won't let you die here, Lavi!
Lenalee's nails dug into her fists as Raphael and Imelda burst onto the roof to join them, both panting 's eyes glanced over them for a split second's appraisal before passing them over entirely.
"Just now, weren't you enjoying yourself a bit too much, junior Bookman?"
"What do you want?" she demanded, before Lavi could get sucked into the smirking Noah's head games.
"See, there are some Innocence we have to find. Not the boring primitive ones you Exorcists are synced to— for now at any rate— but others that have evolved into quite the collective pain in the ass. I know they've been here. I'm certain they've made contact with the lot of you. It's simply a matter of sussing them out," he gestured toward the town with one palm up. "So where are they, Exorcists?"
"What—?" Lenalee was thoroughly perplexed. "What on earth are you talking about?"
She felt a warm, light pat on her shoulder. "Lenalee, maybe this guy knows something we don't. Err… I think."
Though he faltered, Lavi's hand never left her shoulder blade as he spoke. She found this reassuring somehow. Even though he appeared vaguely stricken at the derisive head shake he'd just earned from their extremely unwelcome acquaintance, she knew how determined her fellow Exorcist was to fight by her side…
Assuming there's no escape…
"Oh of course. I suppose it's to be expected… that you wouldn't know about them. They are a slippery sort, this type. Still, you're our best leads right now, all the same." He waved his hand about his wrist in a carefree gesture that seemed to say he had all the time in the world, shaking back one thin silk shirtsleeve to reveal a gleaming gold watch. He promptly checked that watch. "Tell you what: we'll give you a little break for now. Have some extra time to get yourselves up to speed, since you so plainly have no idea what I'm talking about. It'll keep things entertaining!"
Tyki Mikk laughed. Lavi and Lenalee shared a mutually perplexed side glance.
"But after that— Well," he snapped his fingers and all at once, Ark gates oozed across the sky, ushering in just as many Akuma to occupy the area as they had initially started with… except this time all appeared to be at least Level Two. "It's ten o'clock now. Let's meet again in the evening hours, say— eight o'clock at night? If you haven't assembled them all by that time, we'll strike this town… every hour, on the hour? And with stronger reinforcements, I might add. Those three hundred Level Ones may have got your attention, but that was just the beginning."
Lenalee noticed Lavi scanning the skies, looking thoughtful. What's he thinking about?
"Yes," Tyki continued as if in response, "We're having an unexpectedly easy time raising Akuma with the new Egg… and they level so quickly, the Earl has been delighted! …So I can easily afford to have some fun with you in this little burg."
"Mikk," Lenalee seethed, almost through grit teeth. "Why do you think we would surrender Innocence to you?"
"Except I don't, though. You've got the wrong idea, Exorcist," his lip curled with a disdain that made small hairs stand up on the back of Lenalee's neck, "…about who is surrendering whom."
She was about to make a face, but stilled upon spying Lavi's.
He was absolutely livid. The reassuring hand was tensing into a fist.
A/N: Thanks for reading. Your kind yet honest feedback is always appreciated!