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14 June 2008 @ 09:20 pm
Fic for sailormac  
Author: arivess
Recipient: sailormac
Pairings/Characters: Lavi/Allen, also includes a large helping of Road
Rating: 14-A ish for blood
Warnings: Torture~ And a little bit of, ah, language, but only a little
Disclaimer: I don't own D.Gray-Man or any of the characters.
Author Notes: This turned out... a lot longer than I planned. And is more hurt than comfort. >.>; I tried? (And thus, I learn that I fail at mushy.)


Ace of Spades
by arivess

“How would you like Allen Walker…” came the question that started their little competition. “…broken?”

It was the perfect present, of course, for a perfect day; after all, it was not very often that one broke a millennium. And even if the Earl of the Millennium broke many more than one, by now, it was still a special, special celebration, and they were the special, special people chosen to attend it, this era’s Noah’s Clan. The best era’s, perhaps.

“That sounds wonderful. ♥”

That brought many a smile, and a toast, glasses of wine, and one of sweet milk. There was no surprise there. And—

“I want to play with Allen first!”

No surprise there, either.

“You can play with him for as long as you want. ♥”

There needed to be a plan, and a diversion, of course, but that was okay. They had more than enough Akuma to spare. It wouldn’t take many to draw the Black Order’s attention, not at all.

And when Allen was alone, it would be a simple matter to see how much his steel-strong spirit could bend before it broke. This was for their beloved Earl, after all; there was no question that even Allen Walker would break.

---

It was a bad time for a mission, to be sure. The Headquarter was in shambles, the anti-Akuma weapons had just been reforged and were still untested, and not everyone had recovered yet. Still, they had a job to do, and when towns were attacked by Akuma and rumors of Innocence fragments surfaced, they could not very well ignore it. Not even if it seemed just a little too suspicious, multiple places in the world attacked all at once.

But, then, when had the Earl’s actions not been suspicious? They could not afford to take a chance.

So it was that Allen found himself in China for the second time, with only Lavi to accompany him. Lenalee, her new Innocence a subject of much fascination, was detained at the Order, and the redhead claimed that he could speak Chinese. Though Allen wasn’t sure if that was true – he hadn’t heard any display of it last time, after all – it wasn’t entirely out of the question. After all Lavi’s previous travels, not to mention his training as the future Bookman, Allen learned not to be surprised by anything he knew.

But there were things Lavi didn’t know, like why what happened that day… happened. Maybe it was stress, and maybe it was exhaustion, but it appeared that even Allen Walker was capable of getting annoyed.

“Allen.” Lavi’s voice was patient, just bordering patronizing as he sighed. “We’ve passed this intersection three times in the last hour.”

“How would you know?” Maybe they have, but Allen wasn’t going to admit it so easily. “Everything looks the same everywhere. We could have just been somewhere that looked similar!”

“Because, Allen,” and there came that tone again, a slow drawl that was all the more infuriating for its patience, “I remember everythin’, yeah?”

There was a limit even to Allen’s patience, and wandering around for hours only to be told that they were going in circles more than touched that limit. No one was sure the mission was genuine to begin with, and he was hungry, and most definitely sick of walking. “But it has to be this way. There isn’t anywhere else to go except back where we came from. Unless you know another way and just didn’t tell me.”

“Well, it’s not so much that I didn’t tell you.” Lavi shrugged, an easy grin on his face. “You just didn’t remember it right. The old man said to turn left at the old shrine.”

Allen stopped walking. He vaguely remembered an old shrine, hours and hours ago. He not-so-vaguely remembered turning right. And furthermore, he remembered Lavi following along, most definitely without protest.

“You knew.” Allen crossed his arms, just a little irritated. “You knew where we were supposed to go. And you never told me.”

“We can go there now, yeah?” An apology, a nervous chuckle. Lavi took a few steps, and stopped when Allen didn’t follow. “C’mon, Allen. No harm done.”

“Lavi, we wasted hours!” Lavi had but rarely seen Allen angry, and never at him. After this outburst, he decided he never wanted to again. “There were Akuma sighted. People could have been in danger while we were wandering out here!”

It was always about the people. Lavi almost smiled, unsurprised. That was just how Allen was; anything else, and he would be someone entirely different. And there was a tinge of guilt, too; he knew just as well the danger the Akuma posed. “Look, Allen. Let’s go now, yeah?”

“I’m going by myself.” Allen didn’t know what drove him to say it, but once the words were out, he couldn’t take them back. And why not, anyway? It sounded like an easy mission; he was more than strong enough to handle level three Akuma, the strongest ones reported. And if there was anything stronger… well, he doubted Lavi’s presence would really make a difference.

“You can’t—”

And Allen knew it was irrational, knew, but couldn’t stop himself from turning and walking, running, bolting from Lavi’s footsteps and his calls. When the only sounds he heard were his own breaths and footfalls, Allen slowed and leaned against a wall, panting as he tried to figure out where he was.

An alley. A dead-end. And, of course, he had no idea where.

It felt familiar, just a little.

And when three Akuma surrounded him, and he peered into the face of a smiling girl, he knew it was more than a little.

---

Lavi was a little worried when Allen didn’t return to their room that evening. So the younger Exorcist got annoyed and ran off; still, Lavi didn’t think he’d miss something as important as dinner. He’d even ordered extra food in preparation, certain that whatever happened, he could apologize and smooth out the ruffled feelings. They had been through far too much together to let a little argument ruin their friendship, after all.

What he didn’t quite know was what to say when the time came, and he needed to give an explanation. “I just wanted to spend more time with you” might have been true, but it sounded more than dorky, and far less than believable.

Of course, he needed Allen to return before he could say anything at all.

“Damn, Allen,” Lavi murmured, sitting by the window and gazing out, “were you that upset?”

But, then, he should think the answer was fairly obvious. Of course Allen was that upset; he wouldn’t have left, otherwise. After all, Allen’s greatest concern was for the people, both the humans and the Akuma.

Sometimes, Lavi wondered about how jealous that thought made him, and brushed it off.

A golden ball landed on Lavi’s head, floppy wings reflecting his mood. It was too quiet without Allen, a silence ominous and nerve-wracking. They might call Lavi the loud one, but not without someone to accompany him, not without someone to entertain.

“Hey, Tim.” Words for the sake of words. Lavi reached up a finger, prodded the golem in his hair. “Think you can find Allen for me?”

There was, after all, the possibility that Allen was just lost; it wouldn’t be the first time it happened, and certainly not the last. That thought brought a small smile to Lavi’s lips, lasting for a moment until he remembered what happened the last time it happened, just earlier that day.

Lost, however, was better than other alternatives.

Timcanpy, however, only gave a half-hearted flutter to the window and settled back down, restless but stationary; if a golem could fidget, Lavi was sure this was how it would look.

“You can’t?” Not that there were many other interpretations available. The redhead glanced outside, nightfall blanketing the streets. He could catch a few dim lights through windows not quite closed: candles, he was sure, like the one half-burnt on his table. Here, even primitive lamps were a luxury only the wealthy could afford. If he went out, now, he would barely even be able to make out Allen’s snow-white hair a few meters away.

Guess we’ll look tomorrow. There was no help for it, he knew, and told himself again and again. He’ll be fine. He’s Allen, after all. He’s strong.

But it was Allen who got hurt, time and again, Allen who held the interest of all their greatest and most dangerous enemies, and Allen who smiled and lied and told them that he was all right.

It happened in China last time, too.

The criminal always returned to the scene of the crime, so they said. Did the victim?

A gold flicker; Timcanpy flew to Allen’s bed, burrowing into the pillow, and Lavi followed suit, sitting on his own bed and raking a hand through his hair. “Yeah, Tim, I know. We can’t do anything right now. We’ll look tomorrow, yeah?”

And if they couldn’t find him tomorrow…

Well. He’d rather not think about that just yet.

---

Familiarity after familiarity; Allen woke up in a place that was not quite a place, a dream that was too real. He shifted, and froze when pain shot through his body. But, then, that was not quite a surprise, either, nor the stakes through his left arm, pinning it against a wall that should not quite be there.

“Lavi?” Allen squinted into the darkness, willing his eyes to adjust and knowing that they would not, that he would only be able to see what she wished to show him. There was the shape of a chair there, tall and ornate; a throne. Light touched its edges for just a moment, silvery and unreal as it traced over the shape of a face and dusted over long, black hair.

He shuddered, gasped and clenched his teeth against the pain, and tried his best to stay still. Too familiar.

“Lenalee?” he tried, when there was no answer. He didn’t know whether it was a good thing or not, whether Lavi was still away and safe, or paralyzed to the point of not speaking the way Lenalee had been. And she shouldn’t be here, couldn’t be, but who was it in that chair if not her, a doll again, helpless and all his fault? “Anyone?”

“Allen!”

A small body came flying at him; Allen felt the breath driven out of his lungs and struggled to keep from screaming as the movement jostled him, sending sharp stabs of pain through his arm.

It wasn’t the same. Last time had been a game compared to now.

“Does it hurt?” Road murmured, deceptively gentle as she trailed a finger over Allen’s face, nail scraping against his jaw. He didn’t answer, and couldn’t answer, and she laughed as he turned his face away to hide his expression. Cheerful, cheerful, she threw her arms around him, squeezing and tugging, and giggled in delight when she heard a sharp gasp of pain.

“Does it, Allen?” The question again, more pressing, a gentle tone belying its nature, a kiss pretending to take out the sting. And of course it hurt; of course, and Allen would never admit it.

“No.”

One word, all he could muster, and he knew, and knew that Road knew. Letting go, a brief reprieve, she laughed, half-rolling, a happy child without the very adult restraints of modesty. Everything she did, she did on purpose. He knew.

“Then you don’t mind if I do more,” and Allen learned, maybe, to fear her innocent smile, “do you? Allen?”

There was no answer, but, then, Road didn’t wait for one. Of course he didn’t mind, so said her reason; and of course he minded, so they both knew. That didn’t make a shred of difference. After all, the very world was hers, here.

Allen felt the floor drop beneath him, and bit back another scream, just barely, a strangled sound escaping his throat. His world exploded in flashes of pain, and he had a second that lasted forever to wonder if his arm was going to get torn off.

Again. Was it an “again”?

Eyes fluttering closed, Allen saw Road smile, a slow, Cheshire Cat grin in his stilted vision, before everything turned dark.

---

Lavi could have sworn he had just about covered the entire city, every single inch of it. He had checked in all the buildings, asked everyone he came across, and there was still not a hint of Allen. It wasn’t as if he would have blended in; white hair and black Exorcist coat were rather difficult to miss, here. Not even the restaurants and food vendors saw him, and Lavi could only imagine his state. It had been almost an entire day since they last ate together, and he doubted Allen had anything more.

And, by that argument, Allen couldn’t be wandering all over the place.

“Any ideas, Tim?” Lavi didn’t expect an answer, and didn’t get one. He was nearing the city gates, now, and even Allen would know that the inn wasn’t that way. He wouldn’t go there. Unless, of course, he wasn’t looking for the inn.

Spotting a pair of guards standing at the gate, Lavi headed over. He supposed it’d be useless questioning them, since guard duty changed, but if someone had seen, and if they had heard…

“Hey, got a question.”

A guard glanced over, quizzical and a little bored. “What can we help you with?”

“Did any of the guards see a boy with white hair?” At the blank looks, Lavi sighed inwardly, reminding himself to smile, to appear polite. “He’s about this tall,” there, Lavi held up his hand, “and wears a coat like mine.”

“I don’t believe so.”

Then again, Lavi didn’t think they would. Just as he was about to leave, however, the guard called him back.

“He said that one of his friends mentioned something about a strange-looking kid.” The guard jerked his head towards his companion, who gave a small nod. “He’ll be on guard duty again later this evening.”

“Yeah? Thanks.” Lavi pushed down a wave of impatience, followed by a wave of worry, and gave another smile. That was what he was best at, after all.

He supposed there was little point in staying inside. He had asked everyone he possibly could, and repeating wasn’t going to help him any. If they had seen Allen, maybe he did leave the city. Lavi had to remind himself that, unlike him, Allen could see the souls of Akuma; what if he found something and followed it?

With Tim out front, Lavi eyed the forested area around the city, trying to decide how best to search. With a whole night, Allen could have gone fairly far, and, if he had been following an Akuma, who knew if he’d ever manage to find his way back.

“Oi, Allen!”

No answer; but, then, Lavi supposed it wouldn’t be this easy. It was slowly turning into the mission from Hell, and he wondered how he was ever going to make up for it.

Whatever he did, Lavi didn’t think he’d ever let Allen out of his sight again.

---

“Allen,” came the voice, soft and tender and female, and Allen slowly stirred awake, instantly regretting it as pain seemed to envelope every part of him. “Are you awake?”

“Le…” Voice rough from disuse, Allen coughed and bit back a groan. His chest felt crushed, his arms were nearly numb now from pain, and he was certain there was blood running from his shoulders. He tried again, barely managing to gasp out a “Lenalee?”

He was met with laughter, and Allen’s eyes snapped open, alert as he struggled, and, pain, pain, pain shot through his body. Everything came rushing back: the argument with Lavi, the Akuma, Road, the stakes.

There was no floor beneath him. And somehow, realizing his position made it all the more terrifying, held up by nothing but sharp stakes in his arms and shoulders, stabbed through skin and flesh and tendons, little wax candles that were so much more.

“How rude, Allen.” Road laughed again, spinning in the darkness, her dancing feet leading her to a small throne, a porcelain doll of a woman sitting in it. Black, velvet dress, long, dark hair falling in soft curls and caught with ribbons; the familiarity struck him again, moments of déjà vu haunting him without end. “Saying another girl’s name when you’re my guest. Wouldn’t you agree, Lenalee?”

She had been there earlier, Allen knew, or thought he knew: a flash of light on a silhouette. She had been there last time, here, like this, her face so clearly devoid of emotions, her hair long again. It should not be. She should not be here, could not be, but, then, why not?

Allen couldn’t think through the pain.

“L-Lenalee…”

There was something missing, and Allen tried to remember. Last time, they had been able to get loose.

…Last time, there had been Miranda.

“What did I tell you about saying another girl’s name?” This time, Road pouted as she turned back, though her eyes spoke differently, that she had known he would, that she would have been surprised if he didn’t, and maybe a little disappointed.

Closer, she clasped her hands behind her back and leaned in, watching, face openly curious with a child’s sadism that pulled wings off of flies. “Maybe I should punish you, Allen. Does it hurt yet?”

“No.”

“I knew it wouldn’t.” She knew that he spoke through clenched teeth, and smiled, all delight and innocence. With deliberate slowness, she reached over, pulling out the stakes, one by one, her swirl-candles caked with blood, bright red over dried and dark.

Gravity was all too prominent. Allen sagged, and wished he didn’t, and longed for the candles pinning down his shoulders, wished for something to take the weight off of his arms, and then wished for the ones in his arms when there were only two left, on in each wrist, stretched out, a human cross.

It was a position they knew too well; they were a part of the Vatican, after all.

“This was what the Romans used to do at executions.” Road’s voice seemed to come from far off, now, and Allen didn’t feel shame at his scream, not this time, as his ankles were pulled together, crossed, another stake driven through them both. It kept him alive – no, delayed his death, that was all – and gave him something to push against, and he concentrated on breathing, on living, on keeping his heart beating. “It was reserved for the worst ones. But you’d know all about it, wouldn’t you?”

“What…” He couldn’t speak, not really, didn’t have enough breath to waste, but he wouldn’t let her know, not even if she already did. “What are you trying to do?”

“Do?” Laughing again, Road twirled away, back to her occupied throne, and threw her arms loosely around Lenalee’s shoulders. “I’m just going to play with you. Why don’t you tell him, Lenalee? I bet he won’t believe me.”

“Allen.” Allen looked up at that voice, gasping in surprise and in pain, eyes searching Lenalee’s face, still just as impassive as a doll’s. Slowly, a smile curved on her lips, sweet and kind and hers, and somehow cold. “I’m sorry, Allen,” and she softened, meeting his eyes for a moment before looking away, “but we finally came to an agreement with the Earl.”

“Wh-what?” was all he could get out, and Allen briefly wondered how long he had left to live, remembering, vaguely, that crucified prisoners took hours to die, and wondered more whether or not he wanted to wait out those hours. If he could move his arm, if he could rip it through the stakes…

But, then, there was another arm, and his ankles, and every movement felt like a step closer to death. He was a butterfly under glass, pinned and still alive and utterly helpless.

“You were the price.” Finally, there were tears, and Lenalee stared at him for a moment longer before burying her face in her hands, crying. “I’m sorry, Allen. We didn’t want to do it, but we have to protect the Order. One person’s life… can’t be weighed against everyone’s.”

Allen felt his heart clench, the physical pain the least of his worries. “Wh-who else knew?”

“Everyone.”

“L-Lavi, too?” He didn’t need to see the nod to know, but confirmation rolled over him like a freezing wave, and he shivered, and wished he didn’t. “Then yesterday…”

“I’m sorry.” With another sob, Lenalee turned away, ignoring the hands stroking her hair, and smoothing down her dress. “I’m so sorry.”

“Will they… be safe?”

This time, it was Road who answered, her voice lilting and happy. “That depends on how well you entertain me, Allen Walker. Make sure you don’t die too quickly, now.”

---

It was Timcanpy who found the clearing, and Timcanpy who led him there.

Blood, and a card.

This time, Lavi couldn’t push back the memories, couldn’t deny the heart that beat and loved and hurt. And this time, he doubted the Asian Headquarters had managed to find Allen just in the nick of time. Coincidences didn’t happen twice, not like that.

No matter how he looked at it, it was his fault. He couldn’t save Allen again.

And all his second chances were used up already.

---

Allen didn’t know for how long he had been unconscious, didn’t even realize that he had been unconscious at all until he woke to pain and memories. Groaning, he rolled over, sick to his stomach and throwing up all of nothing, his mouth tasting of bile and his stomach not feeling any better, before realizing that he was lying down, and that he could move.

“You shouldn’t make such a horrible mess, Allen.” Road’s voice, he knew now all too well. Ignoring it, he tried to push himself up, hiding a wince as his wrist gave out and he fell back down.

“Are you hungry?” the voice continued, and of course he was, but he wasn’t going to admit it, not here, not to her.

“Leave me alone,” Allen managed to say, and knew that his attempts only served to amuse her; knew just as well that he couldn’t not try.

There was a pause, and then Road’s fingers were on him again, tracing the pentacle over his left eye, following the lines of his curse, the other hand stroking his hair, gentle and all the more worrisome. Allen resisted the urge to pull back, knowing that it would be useless, that it would mean she had won.

“You know I can’t do that, Allen.” The fingers strayed to his chin, giving a sharp jerk up, forcing his gaze to her face. “Tyki said I have to take good care of my toys, or they’ll break.” But, then, she wasn’t expecting him to not break, not when it was her whole purpose. “And I want to play with you more than that.”

Allen closed his eyes, wishing he was still asleep and dreaming, wishing this was only a dream. And it was, he remembered, but he doubted he could wake from this one.

“Allen~” came the call again, all smiles and honey-tongued sweetness, and Allen opened his eyes to a bowl held out to him, soft porridge steaming. “Why don’t you have some of this? You’re hungry, aren’t you?”

Ignoring the groan from his stomach, ignoring the way it tumbled and clenched at the smell of food, Allen pushed the bowl away. An offering, strings attached, no doubt. “I don’t want it.”

“Yes you do, Allen. I know all about parasitic Innocence users like you.”

And it was that hard to argue against, because yes he did, and his stomach gave another growl.

With deliberate slowness, Road put down the bowl – where did that table come from? – and circled behind him, one hand on his shoulder to keep him from turning. She paused, and Allen tensed, wary and barely able to move. A moment later, he felt the ropes around his wrists, wrenched behind his back, tied more and more tightly and cutting into the wounds not yet healed, and he didn’t even notice the hand leaving his shoulder, rejoining the other to give another mighty tug.

When Road stepped back to admire her handicraft, there was a thoughtful look on her face, considering, before she smiled. “See, Allen? Toys that don’t obey their masters need to be punished. I didn’t want to do it, you know. This is all your fault.”

Waiting until Allen finally stopped gasping and adjusted to the pain – she’d have to fix that, really – Road held up a spoonful of porridge, playfully prodding it against Allen’s lips, waiting, sure of her victory.

Soon, he opened his mouth, hating her, hating his own weakness, and ate.

“Did you know, Allen,” and he was pretty sure he didn’t want to know, “that they feed this to horses in these parts? It’s a good source of energy, but considered unfit for human consumption.”

Pride, out the window. And he kept eating, knowing that his face wasn’t nearly as calm as he imagined it, as he wanted it, knowing that Road was watching and enjoying his expressions. But he couldn’t die, not yet. He had to keep walking, even if this was the path, and remembered that his friends’ safety depended on him.

What kind of friends were they? His mind far removed, he thought back, detaching himself from the pain, from the humiliation, and found something worse. Were they all crying, the way Lenalee had been? For how long? Or did they cheer, that the war could be ended – at least for now – so easily, with one casualty that they hardly needed to worry about? After all, he had no family, no friends but the people of the Order, and they had each other, had had each other for far longer than they knew him.

It made sense, all of a sudden, between mouthfuls of too much sugar and too much milk: the Akuma reports that seemed too orchestrated to be real, Lavi’s unconcern for their mission, even Lavi, everything Lavi.

He forgot all-too-easily that “Lavi” was a construct; forgot, whenever he saw that bright eye and cheerful grin, or thought to their banters and arguments. And, of course, that was why Lavi was the perfect candidate to drive him into this situation.

Allen didn’t want to believe it.

“What’s wrong now, Allen?” Road’s voice brought him back to the present, not much better than his thoughts, demons of imagination becoming demons of reality. “You’ve stopped eating.”

“Did Lavi really—” Not a question to ask, not to her. Allen shook his head, hammers pounding in his skull, and lipped the spoon, and felt even hungrier than before.

“The Bookman brat?” If Allen expected anything other than laughter, again, mirthful, he would be very disappointed. “Are you really that worried about him? Don’t worry, you’ll get to see him soon, and you can ask him for yourself.”

Allen’s heart missed a beat, and he knew only that he didn’t want to hear the answer.

---

Evening found Lavi sitting in his room, head in his hands, all candles unlit. He had found his answer, and found it useless, tantalizing and just out of reach.

“I remember feeling as if I was asleep,” the guard’s words went through his mind, again and again, “but I was certain that I wasn’t! I saw a young girl go out the city, dragging something black behind her. I was going to stop her, but I found I couldn’t move. It happened again a while later, and this time, I could tell that it was a boy with white hair, covered in blood. I mentioned it to my partner, but he didn’t see anything.”

It could have been a dream. Lavi was almost tempted to believe that it was one, but, then, he knew he would be doing no one any favors, not himself, and certainly not Allen. There was only one little girl who could control dreams, and only one who would have such an interest in Allen. She must have known what had happened the last time. The blood outside was proof.

Lavi was not sure whether he was relieved or more worried that it was she who had gotten hold of Allen instead of Tyki Mikk.

He gave a bitter snort. “Out of the fryin’ pan and into the fire, yeah?”

Timcanpy stirred, hopeful at the first hint of activity from his temporary master. Sitting around wasn’t going to help, and Lavi knew just as well as him, but he had searched the city over and managed to learn nothing but that Road was there, right there, and somewhere unreachable.

“Well, let’s go, Tim.” Resolution hiding despair, Lavi stood, reached for the door a little too quickly, a little too eagerly. Even if it was night, and dark, even if he had no ideas, if he didn’t do something, and soon, he was going to go insane. Maybe there was something he overlooked; and he ignored the voice that snickered at him, that reminded him that the Bookman’s heir had eyes that missed nothing.

---

“Why don’t you activate your Innocence, Allen?”

For a moment, Allen wondered, too. He knew there was an answer, but he couldn’t figure it out, hung by his wrists still bloody and raw, dressed in vines dotted with thorns. He wished he could slip back into unconsciousness, but there was that spoon, giving him food once every few minutes, enough to trick his body into thinking it was getting much-needed sustenance, and the velvet-soft voice that demanded answers.

“Of course,” Road continued, “if you try to fight me, we’ll just wipe out the Order. Every single one of them.”

Ah. Of course. That was why. “I won’t let you.”

“You can’t stop me, Allen.” Through a haze of pain, he could see her smile. “But do you really want to protect them that much? After all, they were the ones who sold you out. They took a vote on it while you were busy, and not one person spoke on your behalf, not the Chinese girl, not the sword boy, and especially not the Bookman brat.”

“They… did what they… had to.”

“Really?” If it had been a challenge, Allen would have argued, but the look of incredulity on Road’s face felt like cold water washing over him. “I thought they looked relieved. Maybe you interrupted something when you joined, Allen!”

He could picture it. They had all known each other, had all been friends. How much easier was it without him?

“No one really believed you, you know,” Road continued, taking Allen’s silence for agreement. “That you weren’t one of us, I mean. They knew that as long as they kept that front up, they could use the Ark through you, but beyond that, they never trusted you.”

Maybe there was an argument, but Allen couldn’t think of it. Or maybe there really wasn’t, and he was just deluding himself. Setting himself to surrender to the pain again, he felt the spoon at his lips, and ate, and felt fingers stroking his cheeks and his hair, down his arms and over his chest, the ground coming up and lifting him, easing the pressure on his wrists, gentle, sweet, until it all disappeared again in a sharp burst, and he wondered if Hell itself could be any more cruel.

---

The innkeeper was still awake when Lavi went down the stairs, and looked up as he passed the front desk.

“Sir Exorcist!”

“Yeah?” Lavi stopped, quizzical, wondering if the Order forgot to pay for them, or, heart thundering, if he had seen Allen.

“You didn’t come down for dinner today.” The innkeeper looked nervous, and Lavi waited, impatient, until he spoke again. “Someone left a note to give you. At least,” he quickly amended, “I think it’s for you. It’s all in a foreign language, but she drew a picture that looked like you.”

She, and foreign. Lavi clutched at the desk, knuckles white. “Show me.”

When he saw the note, his face turned just as white. “Did you read any of it?”

The man’s eyes widened, and he stammered in protest, “Sir Exorcist, even if I understood the language, I would never—”

“Thanks, pops.” Lavi dug around his pockets and pulled out a handful of coins. “I’m gonna be out for a while. If Allen—if the guy that came here with me shows up, tell him to wait, yeah?”

“Yes, Sir Exorcist.”

Lavi took off running, raking his mind for an answer, trying to remember anything he had seen that could give him a clue to Allen’s whereabouts.

The Ace of Spades sleeps in his crib and dreams of a hopeless future.

---

“Allen~”

With a groan, Allen opened his eyes, blinking blearily. He didn’t know when he had fallen asleep, and, really, wasn’t sure if he had been asleep at all, hanging in the cusp between dream and reality.

Road was there, ever-present and ever-cheerful. But, then, that didn’t surprise him, not anymore.

“I brought you a visitor!” Gliding, twirls between her steps, she opened a door – when had it gotten there? – and laughed, giving a mock bow as she ushered in the newcomer.

The breath caught in Allen’s throat.

“You wanted to see me?” Familiar, unfamiliar, without its laughter or its usual drawl. Allen shivered, and only remembered to breathe again when he gasped, the rope digging into his wrists.

“Lavi…”

The redhead took a seat, and of course there would be two chairs there, and a table; Road sat beside him, chin in her hands, and swung her feet as she watched.

“I am not ‘Lavi’.” Allen knew he wasn’t, knew that there was nothing of Lavi in his demeanor, cold and formal, all business and barely-veiled annoyance. “If you must call me something, you may use ‘Bookman Jr.’ Road has informed me that you have a question for me. Ask it, and stop wasting my time.”

“Why did you—” But he couldn’t ask that, didn’t know the words, didn’t even know the question. “How could—” Or maybe he had a different question in mind, now. “Why are you like this now?”

“I would assume that is not your original question,” the redhead raised an eyebrow, “seeing as how you seem surprised at seeing me ‘like this’ at all.” When Allen didn’t reply, he shrugged, contemplating his answer before speaking. “For the time being, there is a truce between the two sides of the war. Therefore, Bookman deemed it unnecessary to stay with the Black Order any longer. At this moment, we are a neutral party between the Exorcists and the Earl. You do, of course, remember that ‘Lavi’ is not real, and has never been real, do you not?”

“Lavi is… real.” Useless to argue, maybe, but he couldn’t not do it, even if all he received in return were disdainful looks from the face he knew so well.

“Isn’t this such a lovely reunion?” Road sighed happily, all smiles as she stood and flitted over, and Allen felt himself lowered, touching solid ground, and freed.

“Why don’t you take a seat, Allen?” she continued, and, unsteady, he stumbled his way to her vacated chair, trying not to rub his wrists, barely anything beyond blood and bone now. “I have some business to take care of, so I’ll leave the two of you alone. Bookman Jr., you can leave whenever you’re finished, of course. And Allen,” there was another smile, dangerous, “don’t you dare try.”

Allen stared as Road skipped out the door. It was more than suspicious, but, then, he couldn’t figure out just what game she was playing, had already given up knowing long ago. Alone with Lavi, he wondered if she wanted just that – a chance for him to talk to the Lavi that was no longer Lavi, and learn that it was impossible to bring him back.

It wouldn’t be impossible. It couldn’t.

“Lavi—”

“I told you. I am no longer Lavi.”

“You are.” Tentatively, Allen brushed his arm, fingertips lingering over the redhead’s skin, comfort and relief at feeling. “You can’t tell me all of it was a lie, Lavi! You can’t…”

“I am not Lavi.”

When Lavi jerked his arm away, Allen flinched, and had to remind himself again that it wasn’t Lavi, not now. But that wouldn’t do, either; he wanted it to be Lavi, needed to know that his friend was something more than a mask.

“Is that why you were fine with it?” Allen regretted the question as soon as it was out of his mouth, but he couldn’t take it back now. “Why you let them have me?”

The redhead gave a small shrug. “The Black Order’s business does not concern me. What they decide to do with one Exorcist has nothing to do with me.”

“Did you really leave the Order?” Allen grasped for words, for something to say, and almost wished that Road were still there. With her, at least, he knew what to expect. Even when his body burned, he could be detached, and could, in a way, fight. But not like this, not against Lavi, not when there was no target. “It was just…” How long was it now? “…Just a few days ago when I saw you. You were… still Lavi.”

There was that disdainful look again, alien on Lavi’s face. “Tell me, Allen, how long does it take to put on and take off a mask? I knew you were dense, but it can’t be that hard to grasp, even for you. Or,” he smirked, just a touch, “are you still too afraid to admit it? Still clinging naïvely to your beliefs?”

Standing, following on unsteady feet, Allen wrapped his arms around the redhead’s chest, holding on as he felt Lavi tense against him. “Lavi, I know you’re still there. Lavi, please…”

“He doesn’t exist anymore.” Another smirk; Allen heard this one in his voice. “Even your voice can’t reach him anymore. Give it up.”

And it was far too easy to push him away, to watch the once-strong Exorcist fall in a crumpled pile and slowly push himself up, inch by agonizing inch.

“That’s not true.” Half-trembling, Allen lifted his head, meeting eyes surprisingly filled with tears. “L-Lavi?”

“Allen…!” Dropping to his knees, Lavi pulled him close, much to his confusion. “Allen, you gotta stop him! I can’t hold on for long.”

“Lavi, what are you—”

“I don’t wanna go back to being that.” Arms wound tightly around Allen’s shoulders, Lavi buried his face against Allen’s hair, breath ragged. “I’d rather die like this. Allen, please. I didn’t wanna ask you, but you’re the only one who can.”

Allen felt cold. Lavi’s request left no room for misinterpretation, for pretending he didn’t understand. “You can’t ask me to kill you. You can’t, Lavi.”

“You want me to turn into that guy again?” One green eye searched Allen’s, wild and desperate. “I don’t wanna turn my back on my friends. On you. Dammit, I helped them condemn you. Allen, you’ve gotta do it!”

It was the kiss that sealed it, lips pressed against his for a quick moment, and Allen opened his eyes wide, staring in shock. “Lavi, what…”

But when he looked up, the redhead was expressionless again, pulling away with a disgusted snort and continuing his way to the door.

For one moment, he stopped, and his hand quivered as he reached for the doorknob. “Allen, promise me you’ll do it next time.”

When Road came back, she saw an Allen Walker on the floor, crying, and smiled.

---

Playing cards were innovative in this part of China, games printed on tiny pieces of paper, portable and cheap. They should have been popular, and a warehouse had been built to store the imported cards, projected sales promising a fortune to the lucky merchant. After all, what else did the poor townspeople have, to occupy their time?

After a lukewarm welcome, sales went down even more. Some families wanted a deck, the novelty enough to warrant some interest, and some could find better ways to spend the time they already had too little of, working instead of playing.

A year later, the merchant gave up, and the warehouse stayed, a dusty ace of spades still painted on its double doors, home to empty crates and, some believe, ghosts, though no one could say what type or why.

“Ace of Spades, check.” Lavi could only hope he had found the right place. There was nothing else even close to matching. “Sleep… well, Road’s probably got him in a dream. Hopeless future, check. Let’s go, Tim.”

It could be a trap. It could easily be a trap. With Allen’s life on the line, Lavi didn’t really care.

And besides, he was already through the door.

---

It felt a little different the next time Allen woke, more painful and less, with Road nowhere in sight. That in itself was a surprise, though he wondered if maybe he shouldn’t think too deeply on it and try to rest as best as he could. He wasn’t tied up this time, at least, and didn’t seem to have more injuries, either.

It was completely dark, darker than ever before in Road’s dream world, and he could feel a cold floor beneath him, and rough structures around, labyrinth walls that shifted as he pushed. Or maybe he was just so dizzy that he thought they did.

Everything hurt.

Allen froze when light washed over the space, faint and far and still painful to his eyes. He blinked, and again, waiting for them to adjust, catching the play of light on wooden crates and dust motes fluttering like fairies.

At the sound of footsteps, Allen drew back, trying to be silent as he shivered, confused. It wasn’t Road, that much he knew, not with such heavy, cautious steps, and he wondered how anyone else managed to find her realm. Another Noah, maybe, and he shivered at the memories, Tyki’s hand through his heart, the Tease…

Allen cringed as a crate moved out of the way and light hit his eyes, too bright, still, silhouetting a figure: tall, male, with hair that shone like flames.

And familiar.

“Allen, promise me you’ll do it next time.”

Innocence, acti—


But instead…

“La…” Allen swallowed, licked his lips, and tried again, his voice hoarse, even more so than before. “Lavi, Lavi,” he managed before the other knelt, enfolding him in a bone-crushing hug that made him gasp.

“Allen!” And a returning gasp, surprised. Lavi loosened his hold, cradling Allen this time as if he were made of paper-thin glass. “Allen, I’m sorry. I… I thought I’d lost you. Thought I’d never see you again. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

This Lavi was different, somehow, and Allen could only nod numbly and lean against him, his head on Lavi’s shoulder, too exhausted to think.

It felt safe there, a memory from what seemed like an eternity ago, before the other Lavi, before Road, before—

“Road…!” Allen jerked up, wincing, his throat raw. “She’s… We need to… out…”

For a moment, Lavi froze, and Allen could feel a shiver run through him before the redhead scooped him up, trying to be careful of his injuries.

“I won’t let her get to you again,” came the murmurs, reassuring in Allen’s ears. Smiling, he closed his eyes; and if every step jostled him and every movement hurt, it was still the best he had felt in a nightmarish forever.

---

For the first time in far too long, Allen woke to something more than the eerie darkness of Road’s dreams. There was a bed beneath him, softer and more welcomed than anything he could remember right now, and blankets swathed around him, warm and smooth. Light streamed in through an open window, and Allen could see trees outside and hear the call of birds.

It was the feeling of reality.

A sound startled him, and Allen half-jumped, struggling to free his arms from their blanket cocoon as the door opened. At the familiar sight of Lavi, he breathed a sigh of relief, leaning back, heart still pounding in his chest.

“Allen, you’re awake!” There was Lavi’s usual, carefree grin, but Allen could detect a hint of worry. Coming closer, followed by the scent of food, Lavi sat beside the bed and put down a bowl of what smelled like chicken soup, running one hand through Allen’s hair, lightly teasing through tangles matted with dried blood. “Hey, feelin’ any better?”

“A little…” Allen closed his eyes, smiling at the touch, Lavi’s voice, and even the rumble in his stomach at the smell of food. Everything felt so normal, all of a sudden, and he wondered which one was really the dream.

Waiting a moment longer, Lavi trailed his fingers down, arm snaking behind Allen’s back and easing him up. There was a frailty to Allen that he never noticed before, something tiny and fragile under the strength that managed to fool all of them.

And maybe Allen was the better actor of the two of them.

“Mm…” And actor or not, the look of contentment was unfeigned as Allen sipped at a spoonful of soup, and Lavi felt his heart clench. It was nothing more than a simple broth, but by Allen’s expression, it might as well have been ambrosia. Then again, heart aching or not, Lavi knew he shouldn’t have been surprised; Allen looked as if he hadn’t eaten for weeks, bones showing through sinewy muscles and scarred skin. It had only been a few days, he knew, but with Allen’s parasitic Innocence… the effect was devastating.

“Slow down, Allen,” Lavi murmured, pulling the spoon away. The look Allen gave him was like a wounded puppy, and he sighed, giving Allen’s shoulder a squeeze. “You’ll get sick if you eat so much so fast, yeah?” But, then, that almost sounded silly; Allen was Allen, after all, and Allen’s pace of… consumption… was legendary.

“I’m hungry.” Allen gave a small pout, childishly resentful, before slumping, his strength sapped. His stomach made another helpful sound, emphasizing his situation.

Lavi laughed, and maybe it was a little weary, and maybe a little desperate, but it was there, at that one thing that never seemed to change. “Yeah, I know. I’ll get you more after you finish this.”

There was silence, and Lavi wondered what Allen was thinking. When the younger boy trembled, Lavi pulled him closer, rubbing his arm. “What’s wrong?”

“Is it really true, Lavi?”

There was something in Allen’s voice that made Lavi frown, caution filling his senses. “Is what really true?”

“The Order…” Allen started, swallowed, and tried again, though a part of him wondered if he should tell at all; after all, hadn’t Lavi been a part of the conspiracy? But, then, Lavi had been the one to save him. “Did they really… sell me out to the Noah?”

“What are you talking about?” Lavi’s tone was wary, this time, almost sharp, and Allen wondered if he had made a mistake. But, then, Lavi must have known already, because wasn’t he there, and didn’t he already confirm it?

“Lenalee said—”

“Lenalee is back at the Order,” came the interruption, and Allen felt Lavi freeze, still and tense against him.

But it was too late now. Allen shook his head, continued without daring to look at his friend; “Lenalee said that the Order handed me to the Noahs for a peace treaty. And… I saw you later, but you said you weren’t Lavi anymore. And when you changed back, you made me promise to… kill you the next time I saw you.”

“It’s not true.” When Lavi held him more tightly, Allen didn’t complain, instead leaning closer, feeling warmth and tenderness and realness. “We’d never let them do that. You know that, Allen. If the Order tried to get rid of you, Lenalee and I would be the first ones to complain. Hell, even Kanda would, even if he doesn’t admit it.”

“I… I know.” Allen felt foolish doubting, and he knew, he really did, but it felt better hearing it from Lavi’s mouth.

“And I’m not gonna change into that again,” Lavi continued, pulling Allen against him, dusting fingertips over his cheeks and arms. “I’m gonna be Lavi forever, and stay with you, so if I make a mistake again, just tell me, yeah?” And softer, with an emotion that Allen couldn’t quite place, “Don’t run away like that again.”

“Sorry.” Fingers curling around Lavi’s shirt, Allen leaned against his chest, feeling the steady rise and fall of his breath, listening to his heartbeat. Slowly, his eyes fluttered close, and, for once, he didn’t want to sleep, didn’t want to lose this moment.

“Shh, it’s not your fault.”

Allen wanted to say that it was, but there was a finger at his lips, hushing him to silence, and a pair of strong arms that held him close and secure. “Get some rest, Allen. I’ll still be here when you wake up.”

And maybe there was also an, “I’m never leavin’ your side again”, but Allen couldn’t tell if he imagined it.

---

When Allen woke up again, it was dark. A wave of panic washed over him, and he looked around, frantic, trying to find Road, trying to see, trying to move.

“Allen?” There was a hand on his arm, and it took him a moment to realize that it was large and calloused, a man’s, and the touch gentle.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Allen shivered, following the hand to an arm, a warm body welcoming him, and he pressed his face against Lavi’s shoulder. Still trembling, he arched into the hand that stroked his hair, gently, over the nape of his neck and down his back.

Calmer, Allen murmured incoherent words, heard them repeated and soothing, and closed his eyes again.

In the dark, it was all right, and they were only two friends, giving and seeking comfort.

---

It was safer in the morning, when sunlight flooded the room and nightmares were laughable fears of the past.

Allen wasn’t sure whether he was relieved or disappointed to wake up alone in the bed.

It hurt a little less, maybe, and at least didn’t hurt more, and he knew he was on the road to recovery. His stomach grumbled, but even that was a good sign; it felt almost as if it had given up until Lavi had found him.

“Mornin’, Allen!” Alerted by the sound, Lavi looked up from his book, seated at the table, bowls of soft foods set before him in preparation. “How’re you feelin’ now?”

“Fin—” At Lavi’s look, Allen gave a sheepish smile, changing his answer to, “Better. I… ah… I think I’m just hungry…”

“Good!” And it was smiles, smiles, smiles, on both sides, and Lavi hid another look of worry, bringing over a bowl of soft rice, still warm when the cover was removed. Wielding a chopstick with exaggerated concentration, he brought clumps of rice to Allen’s lips, barely-visible relief flickering over his face each time a bite was swallowed.

Allen smiled – of course he would – and ate, the food disappearing at an alarming pace. Lavi almost wondered if Allen might be eating too quickly, worried about him choking, or about his stomach rebelling, but the younger Exorcist showed no signs of either, and he grabbed another bowl.

Halfway through a bite, Allen froze, his eyes questioning. “Lavi, the mission…”

Lavi almost laughed, a bitter little snort. He was surprised, and at the same time not. This was Allen, after all, and if he had even thought to look for proof, that would have been it. “I called Headquarters when you were sleepin’. The other guys already reported back, and it was all a dud set up. Probably to get you.”

And it had succeeded. That didn’t need to be said.

“I’m sorry.”

“Idiot.” Shaking his head, chuckling now, Lavi shoved another clump of rice into Allen’s mouth, balancing the bowl in his lap to tweak Allen’s nose. “I told you it’s not your fault, yeah? This is why you’re still just a bean sprout.”

“I am not a bean sprout!” Another touch of normalcy. For a moment, they looked at each other, before bursting into laughter, real and unfettered.

Laughing until his sides hurt, Allen leaned back again, happy despite the soreness. “Ah, what else did you talk about?”

“With who, Headquarters?” Lavi draped an arm idly over Allen’s shoulders, different from the night before, and reminiscent, all the same. “Told them we got into a little trouble and we’ll be late gettin’ back.”

Allen lifted a hand, fingers brushing against Lavi’s, a shy gesture that seemed almost out of place in the light. “We should warn them about Road…”

“She was after you, Allen.” When Allen started to protest, Lavi shook his head, gently covering his mouth. “C’mon, it’s not that hard to see. And remember what you told me yesterday? The ‘me’ you saw wanted you to kill him, yeah? I bet she thought you’d really do it to me.”

“I wouldn’t, Lavi…” Allen murmured, lips brushing against Lavi’s fingers in an almost-kiss, his cheeks darkening. “I don’t think I could have, even if you really asked me to.”

“Even if you thought I betrayed you?”

“I… I wouldn’t believe that, either.”

“…Yeah, I know.” And even if Lavi knew that people always believed what they feared most, even if he knew that Allen had believed deeply enough to ask him about it, it was better to smile and to pretend that he wouldn’t.

Food done, there was something awkward about their silence, and Lavi untangled himself – was that regret in his movement? – to lug over a large basin, seemingly unconcerned about the water that spilled out of the sides. Dipping in a folded towel and wringing out the excess water, Lavi wiped Allen’s face, removing tracks of blood and sweat and what may have been tears. Allen looked more like the Allen he knew, now, though still far too skinny and just a little haunted.

Allen flushed at the administrations, feeling all-too-clearly Lavi’s gentle touch. “I, ah, I can clean up by myself.”

“Allen… let me?”

At the tone, and the sight in Lavi’s emerald-green eye, Allen nodded, leaning back with his eyes half-closed. He could hear the splash of water, the towel getting washed before it returned, removing the last traces of the past few days from his cheeks, his hair, down to his neck, and he could imagine the water turning a muddy red. He winced when Lavi peeled the blanket down farther, blood dried onto it and stuck to his skin.

“Sorry,” came the apology, though Lavi didn’t relent, working inch by slow inch to wash away the grime caking Allen’s body. “You’ll feel better once I’m done, yeah?”

“I… I know…” Really, Allen knew, this was nothing compared to the pain of receiving those injuries, and there was something soothing about the touch, a rough cloth and a gentle hand leaving in their wake a refreshing trail. It seemed to be over almost too quickly, and Allen blinked, lulled into an almost-sleep.

“Think you can get up?” Lavi was there, holding out a hand.

“Ah… yes.” After a moment’s hesitation, Allen nodded, taking his hand and scooting closer to the edge of the bed, his legs unsteady as he tried to stand, glad for Lavi’s other arm sliding around his waist, though blushing for his state of undress and the intimate touch. He gave a grateful smile when Lavi draped his coat around Allen’s shoulders, watching as the redhead stripped the bloodstained sheets from the bed.

Lavi didn’t let go, not this time. Taking a deep breath, he let go of Allen’s hand, instead wrapping both arms tightly around the younger boy. Allen was even more injured than he had originally thought, and, while the blood was gone and the water in the basin a nearly solid red, there was something not quite right about a tiny 15-year-old covered with scars.

“I’m the one who should apologize, yeah?” Voice almost muffled by soft, white hair, Lavi sat, slowly pulling Allen down against him. “I should have told you where we were goin’ from the start. If I’d know this…”

“You didn’t know.” When Allen looked up, there was a smile, brilliant as the sun, and appearing for all its worth just as real. “Lavi, I’ll be fine. And… you were the one who saved me…”

“Dammit, Allen…” But what could he do but sigh, and shake his head, and smile? “You liar. You can charm a waterfall to flow up.”

“I’ll be fine,” Allen repeated, head resting against the crock of Lavi’s neck, arms slowly coming to a rest, draped around Lavi’s waist.

“Yeah.” And, smiling back, Lavi gave him a gentle squeeze. “You’d better be. I’ll make sure of it.”
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Arivess: allen - jokerarivess on June 16th, 2008 03:11 am (UTC)
Thank you! ^^

I had trouble starting Road, but once she got going, it actually worked out. Evil little girls are more fun to write than I expected. XD

*nods* I was originally planning to torture Lavi instead, but then decided Allen would be more fun, because he has such high tolerance. And thus, fic turned into a billion pages...