Sons of Heresy and Error
Regarding death: Allen has seen corpses reanimated, souls twisted beyond recognition, the gleaming black constructions that are their shackles, but what he remembers most clearly is poppies and a roadside grave, sitting safe in the circle of Mana's arms as the rest of the players filed past a stone marker on top of freshly turned earth. Each one dropped a flower until the rudely carved name was entirely obscured by red, shifting to the lament of the violins. Flowers that were common but beautiful in their own way, vibrant petals, soft in Allen's good hand.
Death is also. And Mana pressed a kiss to his forehead. Often terrible.
"Heresy," Komui repeats.
The room that they are in contributes to Allen's sense of déjà vu: the desk strewn with papers at the front, the map on the wall behind it, the splotchy coffee stains on the floors. Kanda, sitting across from him on the couch and not looking at him. The print is different. Allen spreads the blackened fingers of his left hand over it.
"But I never," he says.
"I know," Komui says. "It doesn't matter. It didn't matter in Spain four hundred years ago and it doesn't matter now, contrary to what they would like you to believe. I'm sorry."
When Allen can't think of anything to say to that, Komui continues:
"They're moving too quickly for me to keep up with them. And there are more now. I've been trying, and I thought I'd be able to find enough people on this side, but I haven't. I don't have the support structure I need to stand up to this. I can't protect you anymore. The inquiries are starting again." His gaze shifts to Kanda. "Either of you. I'm sorry. You're going to have to run."
"Run where?" Kanda asks quietly. No challenge colors his words, and it is that acceptance rather than anything Komui has said in the past fifteen minutes that constricts Allen's chest in a helpless panic. Komui's knuckles gripping the edge of his desk are completely bloodless, and Allen notices for the first time how tired he looks. Tired, dark smudges under his eyes, much older than his twenty-nine years.
"Theodore has a cabin in the Carpathians. I'm the only one who knows about it. You'll stay there until I deem it safe for you to come back."
"But we will come back," Allen insists.
Komui's eyes flash. "Yes."
Kanda stands and in the same fluid motion drops to his knees. He places one palm on the floor, then the other, fingers forming a neat triangle. Allen has no idea what he is doing until his forehead joins them, hair pooling in inky puddles next to his shoulders. They make a disconcerting tableau, Komui with his impossibly straight back and skewed glasses, eyes to the ground in tacit acknowledgment, Kanda bent over in a bow that Allen knows instinctively speaks of some deep debt.
Allen's breath catches, and he wonders, not for the first time, but more immediately than he ever has before, if he's in over his head.
"I'm not going to let it happen again. It will take me some time, but I will break them apart. If that is what it will take."
Kanda lurches to his feet again.
"The information is all here," Komui says, touching the yellow envelope on his desk. He brings that hand up in the next moment and makes a face that is not quite a grimace, passing his knuckles over his forehead. "Be careful."
"We will," Kanda says, accepting the envelope. His eyes drill into Allen's, and Allen has to swallow around a sudden lump in his throat.
"Okay," Allen says.
"It's," says Allen.
"A dump," Kanda says, dropping their packs on the floor. A thin layer of dust coats everything. The climb had taken them a good four hours from the village at the foot of the mountain.
Kanda prowls around, checking the doors, the windows, and finally the cabinets, which are almost all bare, except for a few blackened pots and pans. There isn't much to see, two rooms that aren't even properly rooms, a moldering curtain that is supposed to serve as the partition between them, a sad little shed through the back window, and
"There's only one bed," says Allen.
"He married her," says Kanda. He rips down the curtain and shoves it into the fireplace. "You didn't even read the briefing, did you?"
Kanda squints, then rolls his eyes. "Jesus Christ."
"I'm not." But then Allen realizes he doesn't even know what he's protesting, so he shuts up. "Are you hungry?"
Kanda makes a noncommittal noise.
"Good for you."
"Are you even going to make an effort at all?"
"An effort at what?" asks Kanda, voice low.
"Not being an unmitigated asshole."
The silence is long, and Allen's hands fist tightly in the fabric of his pants.
"If you want to eat something, you're going to have to go kill it," Kanda says finally. "I doubt anything that might be still here is any good anymore."
"Fine." Two shotguns and a pistol sit tucked away in Allen's packs, all of them gifts from Cross Marian. Allen is no mean shot himself; he's just never liked it very much.
"I'll go back to the village for more supplies tomorrow," says Kanda.
It doesn't feel exactly like a fight, but Kanda is still glaring at him when Allen shoulders one of the shotguns and steps out the door and into the afternoon sunlight, breathtaking over the mountain vista.
Darkness has descended by the time Allen makes it back, dragging the carcass of some unfortunate woodland creature, which he dumps on the table behind Kanda in the kitchen. Kanda doesn't give any indication that he is aware of Allen's presence besides lifting the spoon out of the pot he's set to boil. It smells mouth-watering, and Allen's stomach grumbles audibly.
"Did you skin it properly?"
"You're covered in blood," Kanda points out.
"Shut the fuck up," Allen says, inexplicably irritated. He deflates when Kanda crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow.
"I'll go wash up."
"Good," Kanda says, inspecting a newly-sharpened knife.
The only place to do so is an ice-cold trickle of a mountain stream maybe fifty yards from the cabin, but Allen washes his hands and his face and scrubs the blood from his shirt as best as he can. It hadn't been as simple as he remembered, Mana's deft hands skimming over the rabbit caught in the snares they set, made golden by the glow of the fire.
What did you do to me? Allen asks his reflection silently, water moving too quickly for any shadow to form behind him. He presses the heels of his hands against his eyes.
When he steps back through the door he notices that the cabin is marginally cleaner than it was when they arrived; the kitchen, at least, and the sheets on the bed seem less dusty. Kanda is already eating, silent and methodical at the table. The carcass has been cleared off to who knows where. Another bowl sits next to him.
"This is good," Allen says, surprised. Kanda snorts.
"Not all of us possess the singular talent of imbuing our cooking with slimy sentience."
"That's not fair."
"My soba was looking at me."
"It was not!" Allen's spoon clatters against the side of his bowl. "I'm just not very good at cooking."
"I thought that was obvious."
"Mana always did it for me before." To hide his face, Allen gets up to grab a second helping. "And Cross always had someone to cook for him, or we ate in pubs, or restaurants." I don't know why I feel like I always have to explain myself to you, Allen thinks as he sits back down. He risks a glance up at Kanda. Kanda's expression is carefully blank, almost thoughtful.
"There's something you'll probably need to see," he says. "When you're finished."
"What is it?" Allen manages, peering behind the dresser in the bedroom. It looks like a broom, but it's made entirely out of metal, jointed in odd places and covered in dust like everything else.
"I don't know."
"Have you touched it?"
Kanda looks at him.
"Okay, okay, God." A pause. "I think we should touch it. I mean, it's kind of like something Komui would make, right?"
"You see where I am reluctant to touch it."
"Prudent." Allen turns to him just in time to see a flicker of something like pain cross Kanda's features, but then it's gone. Kanda's right hand twitches up, an aborted gesture in the direction of his heart. "It's rare that anything good comes from rushing into things thoughtlessly."
Allen sets his jaw. "But sometimes there's nothing you can do but take the plunge," he says, and pushes the protuberance at the bottom that seems like it could be a button.
The machine comes to life with a clicking whirr, a light flipping on at the top and eight long, spindly legs unfolding at the bottom. It stands up on them, looking for all the world like an overbalanced spider, and the handle creaks around to face them.
"Oh, good," comes Komui's voice from it, indistinct and full of static. "I wasn't sure if this was still going to be operational. It makes communication much easier, though."
"What the fuck," Kanda says.
"Mm, well, you know how I told you the wireless golems wouldn't do you much good at that altitude? That's still true, but the bigger problem was that the Vatican has been keeping a careful eye on golem production ever since Cross was able to modify his in a way they couldn't track it. I would have sent you with Timcanpy, but that would have been too obvious. And this will do just as well. It's an old experiment of mine, but the signal's much stronger. Most importantly, no one knows about it."
"So we can talk to you?" Allen asks.
"No," Komui says sharply. "I don't want you contacting me at all unless there is an emergency. I will do likewise. It's too much of a risk."
"Oh," says Allen. Disappointment closes his throat.
The crackling silence lasts for about five seconds before Komui speaks again.
"Don't worry; I'm working as hard as I can. We'll bring you home soon."
"In the meantime," Komui continues brightly, "be sure to keep this thing on at all times. It runs on dust bunnies and lint, so it should also probably be able to help with the cleanup I'm sure you're going to have to do, considering how old that place is."
The next silence lacks the telltale pops and hisses of dead air on the radio, which means Komui has cut them off. Allen reaches a tentative hand to the handle of the machine and it curls against his palm, cold and gritty. He forces a smile onto his face and turns to Kanda in triumph.
And falters at Kanda's expression, blotchily furious. Kanda's nostrils flare, eyes trained on Allen's forehead.
"Whatever," he says. "I'm going to bed."
His departure ruffles Allen's hair as he stomps around and yanks the covers off the mattress. In the flickering candlelight, he looks much older as well, tired and brittle, shoulders hunched up defensively.
The first time Allen thinks Kanda is beautiful it is in an Italian ghost town built into a mountain when he is half-delirious with the pulsing pain that makes up his entire arm. Kanda stands above him with his sword held high, bleeding into the ground.
Later, Allen sits on the stairs, listening to the death song of a doll who had somehow managed to forge her own soul and then lose it again, watching the wind slide the hair back over Kanda's shoulder. "This is not who we are," Kanda says. Allen sees: the hard line of Kanda's jaw, the twitch of the muscles in Kanda's neck, Kanda's dark eyes looking off into the horizon but not focused on anything.
I don't know who I am, Allen thinks, and the song stops.
Allen wakes up alone in an unfamiliar house and very nearly has a panic attack before he notices the scrap of paper on the other pillow. Kanda's print unfolds along it, clear enough, but Allen still stutters through like he would have during the worst days of Cross Marian's tutelage, ignorance and terror conspiring against him in incomprehensible black squiggles.
Back in a few hours, it says, and Allen finally remembers. Back in a few hours, the rest of the soup is cooling in the stream. Making an effort. Allen rolls off the bed.
The day passes slowly.
Allen explores the house; not that there's much to explore, but he finds Komui's strange little machine hiding behind the dresser. It clicks happily, if a little weakly, when he runs a hand over it. Upon further inspection, he finds another button near the bottom labeled 'FUEL' and presses it. A number of shiny metallic appendages unfold out of seemingly nowhere and it starts off across the floor with a whirr, leaving a line of polished wood in its wake.
Allen is hungry again.
Locating the pot Kanda left him doesn't take very much effort and if there's one thing Allen can manage in regards to cooking, it's reheating some soup, so he fusses with the fire until the smell of food fills the whole house. It makes his mouth water; not just the meat but whatever else Kanda put in there, what looks like wild roots and herbs, possibly some mushrooms. Briefly, Allen wonders where Kanda learned how to do this.
Rather than think about the things about Kanda that he does and does not know, Allen decides to set up a few rudimentary snares; bullets are a finite resource and he'd seen several rabbits while out yesterday, eyeing him with the perfunctory caution of the unfamiliar, but as of yet unafraid. Rope is easy enough to come by, and rigging the traps doesn't take him more than two hours. He wonders if he should get started on something to eat for when Kanda gets back, but decides against it.
Komui's machine has finished with the house by the time Allen is done, quiescent in the corner again. The blankets in the dresser smell like dust and camphor, but also faintly of herbs, echoes of a woman Allen only knows by a name on a piece of paper. Shaking one out makes a colored handkerchief fall to ground, knotted up at the ends and full of tiny dry leaves that crinkle against Allen’s fingers. He takes the blanket and the handkerchief outside with him on the porch, wraps the blanket around himself and the handkerchief through his fingers, and waits for Kanda. The mountains are dotted with yellow trees.
The second time Allen thinks Kanda is beautiful is inside a crumbling figment of a world, when Kanda splits his sword in two and turns away from all of them. The last thing Allen sees: the curve of Kanda’s back, arms strong and loose at his sides, a grace of movement that Allen could never hope to emulate.
Allen offers to stay but Kanda shakes off the words like a dog shaking off water, a roll of the shoulders: "This is my mission," he says. "My general."
What Allen remembers of General Theodore is: a shock of graying hair, soft eyes and a sad smile. There is strength there, a kind of strength that Allen has been told not to acknowledge. When Cross Marian appears in the guise of a grinning death's head Allen thinks incongruously of his hands, always immaculate underneath their gloves, and then of Theodore's, stained with paint and dirt. Allen has seen mud under Kanda's fingernails as well, over the grip of his sword, and wonders what kind of strength is to be found there.
Sleep slips away from Allen's mind reluctantly, even as his eyes open at the hand on his shoulder.
"Wake up," Kanda says again, jostling him harder. "You."
Kanda straightens up and lets out a long breath through his teeth. The fading sunlight catches in his eyelashes when he closes his eyes, soft shadows on his face. Allen realizes he must have dozed off while waiting.
"You can't," says Kanda. "You. It's dangerous," he bites out finally, shouldering his pack and turning on his heel. Allen flushes.
The pack sits open on the kitchen floor by the time Allen has managed to detangle himself from his blanket and follow Kanda inside. Kanda lines up his purchases on the counter. "Kanda," Allen starts.
Kanda whirls. "Shut up," he says, then when Allen flinches: "Just. Shut up right now."
Allen does, snapping his mouth shut and shifting his weight uncertainly where he stands. Kanda finishes emptying the pack, tools and supplies, tins of things that Allen doesn't recognize.
"I'll go um, check the snares," Allen says.
He comes back with two rabbits, skinned and clean, and walks in on a near-perfect repeat of the night before, Kanda bent over the fire stirring something that smells mouth watering, this time a hint of pepper on the air and two loaves of yellow bread on the table on top of a square of cloth. Lifting the pot off, Kanda takes them from him without a word, spitting them through.
On the seventh rotation, he speaks.
"Go inside and close and lock the door if you're. Going to sleep."
Allen scrubs a hand across his face. "I'm sorry, I—"
"It's fine," Kanda says, and frowns. "You can't ever assume you're safe, not even places like this."
The question sits on the tip of Allen's tongue but he swallows it down again, opting to fuss with the flatware instead. Once the rabbits are done, there's nothing but the clink of silver on dishes for a long while.
"How long have you known General Theodore?" Allen asks.
Kanda tears off a piece of his bread. "Seven years."
"Did you know he was married?"
"Oh," Allen says, looking down at his plate. He twists the napkin between his fingers. "When did—"
"He used to paint this place," Kanda interrupts. "I recognize it. The view from the porch, mostly. He wouldn't ever say anything about it. There was only a figure in them once, standing over that place downstream where the water drops off over those rocks into the pool." Abruptly, he cuts himself off and grimaces.
Allen doesn't want him to stop; it fills the empty spaces, the empty air that has been making Allen uncomfortable all day, though he hadn't realized it until Kanda came back.
"Do you think he built it?"
"I doubt it. He couldn't even build a house of cards."
Kanda sighs. "On the trains. Daisya used to fidget a lot when he was little, so Theodore would try to build him card houses to keep him entertained. He never got more than three cards up without them all falling in on each other."
Allen looks at his hands; flexes the fingers of his left and remembers the feel of an entirely different house of cards, just as flimsy but nowhere near as innocent. "Well, it's. It's hard to build when you're always moving." Kanda grunts. "I mean, the train must have been shaking. At least he tried."
Kanda starts gathering up the dishes instead of replying, and for a while there are no sounds except for the quiet ones of him straightening up. He passes a hand over his face where his hair sticks to his temples and scowls. "It's definitely a house he would pick. Completely impractical. Go for a supply run and the whole fucking day is shot. Four hours, Jesus. Snow is going to make it impossible."
"Do you think we'll be here that long?" Allen asks, afraid of the answer. Kanda, characteristically, doesn't say anything.
Quiet pervades this place the same way the mountain mists do, alien to Allen's experience and sensibilities. It's never absolute; birds trill out their warnings as he passes underneath their trees, twigs snap under his feet, the cabin itself creaks and groans like an old man, irritated at this imposition. Desperate, Allen asks Kanda,
"What do you think happened to her? Do you think she went back home, or—"
"She's dead," says Kanda.
Everything else is just audible solitude, white noise that may as well be silence for all the good it does. Unlike the mountain mists, it does not evaporate with the sunlight, sitting low and heavy in the atmosphere as Kanda salts and hangs the extra meat.
"How do you know?"
Kanda turns around and gives Allen a look eerily reminiscent of the one he gave Allen on the train during that very first mission, when Allen was still stupid with nervousness and unfamiliarity. "It's Theodore," he says, as if that explains everything.
Death is their business and because of this they are more familiar with it than most, Allen perhaps more than anyone. He can feel the truth of Kanda's conjecture in the wooden bones of the house, the dusty softness of the abandoned handkerchief he still has wrapped around his fingers.
Sometimes when Allen watches Kanda out of the corner of his eye the air seems to shimmer, transparent and black. Whenever this happens, Allen thinks of dying, of the veil over a corpse's face. Kanda had come back from out of time with jagged black lines seeping from the corners of his eyes in a mockery of tears and the same poison curling in a supernova around his heart.
Why are you here with me, Allen wonders at his impassive profile. What have you done?
But these are not the kinds of words he wants to fill the silences with. These words lurk heavy and terrifying at the root of the silence; they are what make him afraid, though he does not understand this yet.
"I'm sorry," he says. Kanda frowns at him, then shrugs.
Frost curls over the ground in the mornings now and Allen wakes up with Kanda curled against him more often than not. He remembers something Komui used to say about slow blood: low blood pressure and irritability, an inability to get sufficiently warm. Kanda's hands are warm only because he's curved his arms around and under Allen, a solid presence against Allen's back, heart beating sluggishly but steadily through the thin cotton of their shirts. These mornings, Allen wakes up with his heart beating as rapidly as any bird's, stifling and much too warm.
Kanda shifts and Allen can feel the outline of Kanda's cock against his ass. He stays as still as he can until Kanda wakes and rolls off him with a grunt. Kanda is incoherent in the mornings until he gets up and starts moving around, exercises that bring the blood back into his face and wipe the film of sleep from his eyes.
First Kanda stretches, limbs long and taut, breath coming out in faint puffs of fog. Allen has never had the opportunity to watch him before; he knows Kanda does this every morning, has seen Kanda walking across the grounds through the windows of his room at the Order, tracks of sweat drying under Kanda's open jacket at the breakfast table. But it's never been this close, close enough that Allen could stretch out his hand and skim it over Kanda's back if he wanted. Instead, he curls his fists into the sheets under the blanket and tries to will his own erection away, eyes the thinnest of slits as he tracks Kanda across the room when Kanda finishes his stretches and goes to bank the fire.
The slide of Kanda's hair over his back when he bends over reveals the pale line of Kanda's neck. Cross Marian had a fondness for Japanese brothels, tiny porcelain women with thin hands swathed in silks, silks that slid down their shoulders with a slick whisper. They had the same kind of hair Kanda does, long and thick, so black that it refracts all colors. Everything Allen knows about sex he learned from Cross Marian in those places with those women. They watched his master with dusky eyes, pupils much too wide, their bodies soft and pliable under his hands. Those places always smelled of flowers, undertones of spices and something else, cloying and smoky.
Kanda's eyes flash clear and dark, and the only thing he smells of is sweat and outside, the sharp mountain air, grass and forest and dirt. No part of him could ever be called soft; he's all hard planes and sharp angles. His hands are wide and callused, cracked in places over the grip of his sword. He picks it up when the fire burns hot again, giving the bed one last glance over his shoulder before he walks out.
Allen knows these things and still he has difficulty separating the fall of Kanda's hair over his shoulder from the memory of black strands feathering over delicate skin and colored silks. When the door bangs shut, Allen rolls out of bed, mouth full of saliva.
Talk peters out; Kanda doesn't volunteer any more information about his past and Allen doesn't ask for it, feeling uneasy about the prospect without being able to put his finger on why. He doesn't talk about his own for the same nebulous reasons and by the end of the first fortnight even Allen has to admit he has said everything about the weather that there possibly is to say and Kanda has taken to sighing heavily every time Allen opens his mouth.
Allen replaces words with the bubbling of the soup pot, the rustle of clothing, the soft sounds Kanda makes in his sleep. They aren't ideal but they work well enough for his purposes. Every once in a while Komui's machine will come to life and skitter around their feet, cleaning up the dirt they track inside and the ashes from the fireplace. Allen busies himself with his snares and his guns; after Kanda shows him what kind of plants to look for he keeps an eye out for those, too. It takes him several days to reconcile with the fact that Kanda is stocking up for the winter.
By the end of the first month, he gets so used to Kanda's wordless noises that when Kanda actually speaks, the deep tones of his voice send something startled and hot curling up Allen's spine. His face reddens with surprise.
Kanda is frowning into the bottom of one of the tins he brought up with him on the supply run. It's empty.
"There has to be a better way to do this," he says.
Kanda leaves two more times for the bottom of the mountain. Allen doesn't sleep; locking himself inside the cabin alone makes him feel claustrophobic. Instead, he sits on the porch and watches the winds move through the valley, mind carefully blank. The first time, Kanda comes back with a cart and a mule that he'd convinced someone to loan him and it takes him significantly longer than eight hours; it noses its way into Allen's hand and Allen says,
"I could have gone with you."
Kanda grimaces, opening his mouth like he wants to say something but then closing it again, finally settling on, "It's not necessary." He looks at the sky. "We have everything we need."
The second time is because Kanda needs to return the mule and the cart and he comes back with nothing. Allen spies him walking over the crest of hill, the lower half of face covered by the collar of his coat. The wind whips his hair back and forth and when he walks up to Allen; some of it is caught in his eyelashes. His cheeks are colored with exertion.
"I am going to plug up the cracks in the wood," he says, "otherwise the house will lose all the heat the fire generates in the winter."
But it's already freezing overnight, Allen thinks. He wills down the flush on his face.
Kanda pauses. "We need to stock up on wood as well. I'll get you the axe."
"Wait, why do I—"
"Because of your arm," Kanda explains slowly. "You can haul the big logs back here."
"Stack them next to the storage shed when you're done."
The axe is new, one of the things Kanda brought back with him, and it takes Allen several tries and several near misses to figure out how to work it without cutting his own hand off. He drags the log back with his first invocation and sees Kanda through the windows, shirtless, clay from the streambed smeared on his fingers. A pail full of the same clay sits at Kanda's feet.
Allen can't tell what he's doing until the wind picks up and Kanda turns toward the direction it's coming from. His eyes, closed, open again and he hefts the pail and walks with it toward the wall, scooping out a gob of clay and pressing it into what Allen assumes must be a crack in the wood.
Allen doesn't think of himself as a particularly good Catholic, or even Christian really; Mana never put much stock in the church. Even so, he says his prayers every night. Instead of counting sheep he would fall asleep counting the beads on the rosary, simple and rhythmic, silent verses, and was usually out before the contemplation of the third mystery. He lost his rosary sometime during the first year after Cross picked him up.
Mana used to tell him that God was complicated, just as most things are. What that meant about God was up to Allen to decide, but what that meant about things was that there is never only one aspect to them.
Allen has prayed for many things over the course of his life: guidance, strength, forgiveness. He prays for all of them now, kneeling on the cold floor while Kanda sips tea at the kitchen table, prays for stillness in his body and peace in his heart. Kanda never says anything but Allen knows he is watching; he doesn't try to hide it, meeting Allen's eyes when Allen looks up.
Finished, Allen climbs into bed quickly. He has several long moments before Kanda follows, tea cup clinking on the counter before the bed dips on one side.
Soon, the pile of logs is nearly as high as the shed itself. Allen drags in what he hopes will be the last one and glances through the windows again.
Kanda sits on the bed and Komui's machine sits on the floor in front of him, handle bent. Kanda's mouth moves as he talks into it. It takes several moments for Allen to figure out how he feels, and by that time Kanda has already stepped outside. He frowns when he looks at Allen.
"Was that Komui?"
"Is there something wrong?"
The frown deepens, and Kanda makes an aborted move toward Allen, his hand falling back against his side. "No."
"Some new information has come to light in your heresy case. He was updating me on the progress of things."
"What new information?" Allen asks. "Why couldn't he talk to me?"
Kanda's hesitation is slight, but noticeable. "He wouldn't say."
Calm. Allen feels very, very calm. His arm starts to hurt from holding the log, so he drops it and reverses the invocation, hand going small and black again. "You're lying," he informs Kanda. "Excuse me."
Allen finds himself walking south and he continues until he reaches the stream. At that point he turns and walks with it, weaving through the trees until they thin and the stream widens before finally dropping off the cliff face in a sheet of sparkling water. He doesn't know why he's never bothered to follow it before; this place is no more than two hundred yards or so away from the spot closest to cabin and it's beautiful, sheer cliff face and the whole valley unfolding underneath. He stumbles on something.
Kneeling, he brushes some leaves away and sees that it is a stone marker, simple and crudely carved in a way that tugs on his memories. A body lies here, beneath a familiar name and Beloved Wife. The darkness that has been slithering around the edges of his consciousness this entire time blooms sudden and oily in his mind. He scrambles backwards.
Even in this place, he thinks frantically, and wonders if he is visible now. If Theodore had ever been visible, ever been tempted. How the Earl knows. How everyone seems to know, at least about him, while Allen runs ignorant with this darkness at his back.
Kanda has dinner ready by the time Allen gets back, still shaky on his feet. He looks up when Allen enters, his face carefully blank again.
"Oh, that's nice," Allen says, voice thin. "Very domestic. Thank you."
Kanda's jaw clenches: the only sign he's heard because he doesn't say anything, just sets Allen's portion down in front of him and moves back to make a plate for himself. Watching him, Allen feels a hot flash of anger—anger at Kanda, at this surreal, strained peace, insult to injury on top of all other strangeness. He picks up his spoon and realizes he's itching for a fight.
And if Kanda won't push, then Allen will just have to push first.
"Did Theodore teach you how to do that?"
Kanda eyes him warily. "Do what?"
"Cook. Did you bake cookies together? You make a great fucking housewife."
"He taught me how to survive." Kanda's voice is low, dangerous. A thrill runs up Allen's spine.
"Really, all that's missing is an apron. And one of those, what, handkerchiefs? For your hair. I'm not surprised, really. Theodore's never been the most masculine of people, what with the painting and the weeping." They're Cross Marian's words, coming out of Allen's mouth, but Allen can't bring himself to care.
There's a long, tense silence, where the loudest sound is Allen's breath, coming harsh and quick. Finally, Kanda speaks:
"He may be a blubbering idiot, but you will shut the fuck up about my master."
"Or you'll what?" Hit me, Allen thinks. Do it.
And when Kanda stands up, Allen thinks that's exactly what is going to happen. He braces himself, knuckles going white on the edges of his chair, but all Kanda does is brush past him, pick up his coat, and stomp out the door.
He doesn't come back the first day, or the second. Allen's anger doesn't fade, either; it changes, from hot and impulsive to cold and measured. He burns his lunch and ends up throwing it out, the clatter of the dishes on the counter obscenely loud. He doesn't bother making anything else.
Cross's guns sit in the corner and Allen picks them up and spreads them across the kitchen table. He spends an hour taking them apart and cleaning every last piece of them. Cross's guns: Cross Marian, who taught him how to shoot but never had to aim himself, bullets flying blindly into his targets. Because I already see, he'd said, finger tapping against his temple. Sunlight tilts across the floor at Allen's feet.
Because I already see, Allen thinks, and the barrel of the pistol goes flying out of his hands and across the floor. Komui's machine clicks in alarm. Because he already saw, while Allen fumbled and missed. I still don't see, Allen thinks, and leaves the guns on the table, scattered, as he stands up and steps outside.
Allen sees the sun, harsh and bright in his eyes, his shadow stiff beneath him. In the corner of his vision, another shadow shifts, hazy and indistinct. What is it that you saw? Allen asks silently, what is it that you saw that had you standing above me just minutes after I killed my father the second time, what is it that he saw when he picked me up off the streets and took me with him? What were you both waiting for?
Sick of it, Allen crouches at the ground and holds out his hand. The shadow twists and rears before touching against it, shy, and then there is nothing but the deafening rushing in Allen's ears and the taste of corpse dust in his mouth.
On the afternoon of the third day, Kanda comes back. The shadows under his eyes are deeper, his lips thinner, and there is mud crusted on the bottom of his coat, but he doesn't offer any explanations for where he's been and Allen doesn't ask for them.
"Have you eaten?" is the first thing he says.
"Yes," Allen answers, even though he hasn't. He hasn't even gotten out of bed yet, mouth dry and blood pulsing slowly through his veins. He raises his right hand, expecting to be able to see the throbbing, but his hand is pale and still, and he lets it drop back down. Kanda frowns at him but makes no comment. He clears the guns from the table and starts rummaging through the cabinets to fix something up for himself. The fire is dead.
Kanda starts it up again when he gets back from the shed. The smell of meat frying fills the little cabin, then the whistle of the teapot, and Kanda flips his hair back over his shoulder. The play of the muscles of his back is visible through the threadbare cotton of his shirt. When he sits down, Allen swings his feet off the bed and pads, bare-legged, to the table.
"You said you'd already eaten," Kanda says.
"I don't want any food," says Allen. He sits as well, across from Kanda, and watches him eat. An idea begins to form in his mind, bits and pieces, half-remembered shards of something he might have dreamed, the memory of Kanda pressed against him, the afternoon sunlight catching the curve of Kanda's collarbone.
It slithers, shadow and smoke, and Allen smells flowers.
"I think maybe we should fuck," says Allen.
Kanda chokes around his mouthful of food. "What?"
"You heard me." Allen contemplates his fingers and licks one of them experimentally. The slow rasp of his tongue of his tongue feels good; not as good as he is sure Kanda's would feel, but still good enough to have his eyes sinking shut and his knees nudging apart underneath the table. "Well?"
"There's something wrong with you."
"Do you think there's something wrong with me," says Allen, snapping his eyes open, "Kanda?"
Kanda stares stonily back at him, color rising in his cheeks.
"I just think it would be a good idea. I mean, we're stuck up here for God knows how long, all alone, for fuck's sake we're sharing the same fucking bed. I've woken up with your dick against me more than once. What, did you think I hadn't noticed? That you want me?"
Very deliberately, Kanda puts his spoon down, balanced on the edge of his bowl. He pushes back out of his chair, back and up, stalking over to Allen's side of the table. Allen tilts his head up and smiles.
"Well?" he says again, this time a whisper.
Kanda backhands him.
"Ow," Allen says. He brings a hand up to his face, feeling gingerly. His eyes meet Kanda's. "Or are you just going to run away again?"
"You," Kanda says, furious. His fingers dig into Allen's jaw, wrenching Allen's head around. Allen sucks in a breath; he can see now, see the death hanging over Kanda like a veil, not just out of the corner of his eye but fully visible in the waning afternoon sunlight. It ripples, curving in his direction. Kanda's eyes widen and Allen's stomach churns. "You—"
Stumbling outside, Allen drops onto his hands and knees in the yellowing grass, sharp and brittle under his fingers, and starts vomiting. He starts vomiting and can't seem to stop, whole body convulsing painfully, a thin stream of black bile coming from his mouth. It has the consistency of tar and where it touches the grass shrivels up and breaks apart.
Is Kanda's voice behind him and Kanda's hand on his back, sweeping down in soothing motions, over and over, from between his shoulder blades down to the spot just above his tailbone.
Allen whimpers. Kanda's hand is a welcome warmth leaching into spasming muscles and he leans into it, there, until Kanda shifts around and lifts his head up.
"Allen," he says, and brings up a damp rag to wipe away the bile on the corners of Allen's mouth.
"I don't know what's happening," Allen says helplessly. "I don't know what's wrong. I—"
Whatever Allen was going to say is muffled into Kanda's shirt, because Kanda has somehow managed to lift Allen up and around, rearranging Allen within the circle of his legs, pressed up together chest to chest and Allen's face tucked into Kanda's collarbone. Kanda rocks them both back and forth, as if Allen were a child.
"Shh," he murmurs, "shh, shh, shh," and something else, nonsense syllables, nothing, while Allen takes great gulping breaths that are not exactly sobs. Fingers tangle through Allen's hair, long and rough, tilting his head up.
Allen's breath stops when Kanda presses a dry kiss to the middle of his forehead, in benediction, and then Kanda's thumb, in that spot and right after on Allen's lips, then one cheek and the other. Allen only realizes he's crying when the tears smear across his face. He starts shaking again.
"Can you pray?" asks Kanda. When Allen nods jerkily, he tucks Allen's face back into his neck. With the hand that was just tracing over Allen's face, he tugs something off his other wrist and folds it into Allen's hands. A makeshift rosary. "Show me," Kanda orders.
So Allen does, one bead at a time, thumbing them through his hands in an endless miniature loop, reciting his prayers to the rhythm of Kanda's pulse until his mind drifts backwards into the welcoming darkness of sleep.
Allen wakes up back in the bed; Kanda must have carried him inside. He can make out Kanda's form dimly, seated on one of the chairs from the table, pulled up next to the bed. At Allen's tiny moan, he jerks awake.
"Are you going to throw up again?"
"No," Allen whispers, then, "yes," because he is, but Kanda is ready with a pail, helping Allen lean over the side and retch quietly into it. Allen recognizes it as the one he used to carry the clay from the stream bed.
"Go back to sleep," Kanda says when Allen is finished, touching the back of his hand to Allen's forehead, so Allen does.
The next time Allen wakes up it's because of Kanda's hands on his shoulders, nudging him awake and upright while the early morning sunlight filters through the house.
"Are you going to—" Kanda says. Allen shakes his head. "All right."
Before Allen can figure out what he's doing, Kanda has tugged his nightshirt out from underneath him and is pulling it off. It slips over his head easily enough, though Allen has to fight a fresh wave of nausea as it does. He shivers, skin tight in the chill air. Kanda's arm moves up behind his back.
"Can you walk?" Kanda asks. Allen thinks about it, assessing the way his legs seem to be entirely numb, and shakes his head again. "Will you let me help you?"
After a moment, Allen nods.
Kanda slides his other arm under Allen's knees and lifts him up easily, waiting for Allen's arms to settle around his neck before walking the short distance across the floor where a bathing tin sits in front of the fire, half-full of water and steaming gently. Allen whimpers as he's lowered into it, the heat just as much of a shock as the cold air had been, but Kanda shushes him again, stroking one hand down Allen's arm.
He starts with Allen's legs, running a soapy washcloth over them, one after the other, wiping away grime Allen hadn't even known was there, sweat and something else Allen doesn't want to think about too closely. The washcloth moves higher, brisk, businesslike, Kanda's hands brushing his thighs, and then Kanda shifts around behind him so he can reach Allen's chest and back.
When he slides it over Allen's left arm, carefully between each finger, Allen gasps, dizzy and a little bit sick again. Kanda lets Allen's head loll back on his shoulder until Allen's breath evens out again, nose pressed into the spot below Kanda's ear.
"All right?" Kanda asks, and Allen nods.
Kanda finishes with Allen's face, wiping away the tear tracks, lifting Allen out of the water and rubbing him down. He sticks Allen's arms through one of his own shirts, oversized and smelling faintly of the same soap that was in the bath.
"Your nightshirt is filthy," he explains, and holds a cup up to Allen's lips. "Rinse and spit."
Allen does, into the dirty bathwater. Whatever Kanda gave him is bitter, minty, and leaves his mouth tingling, but at least it doesn't feel like something has died in it anymore. Satisfied, Kanda carries him back to the bed.
"Do you know what this is?" Allen asks.
Kanda passes a palm over Allen's eyes. "No."
"Then why are you helping me?"
Kanda doesn't answer, but flips the covers up. Before Allen can ask again, he falls asleep.
"Drink this," Kanda says later, and Allen swallows obediently. It's broth, warm and good, and he manages to keep it down without too many problems. Kanda steadies the bowl when Allen's hands start to tremble and takes it from him when he is finished, setting it down on the little dresser next to the bed.
"Wait," Allen says, grasping at his sleeve. "Wait, can you. Not go? I mean just, stay?"
Kanda looks at his sleeve and Allen almost lets go, but his hand seems to have a mind of its own and he doesn't, urgency flaring up as his breath catches. After a pause, Kanda sighs. "All right."
"In. In here," Allen says.
Kanda sighs again, heavy and tired. Allen swallows. "Fine," he says.
The bed creaks when Kanda climbs in, settling against the headboard. Tentatively, Allen leans back as well, startled when Kanda grumbles something unintelligible and pulls Allen against him, into the curve of his arm, Allen's head resting in the hollow of his shoulder. Allen clutches at Kanda's bracelet, which he had found tangled up in the bedclothes.
"You do know what this is," Allen says, ignoring the way Kanda stiffens. "Not. I mean, not exactly." He thinks of the way he can still see the veil, the way the air is somehow different in direct vicinity to the space around Kanda's chest where the tattoo is. "But you do."
"Yes," Kanda admits.
"I'm afraid," Allen says, and then he can't say anymore.
Kanda shifts restlessly. "Stop it."
"Things change," Kanda snaps. "Sometimes it's not your fault and sometimes—sometimes you do something incredibly stupid, but you can't be afraid to face it."
"Deal with it," Kanda says. "You can't fucking ignore it, so deal. It happened."
"But I don't know—"
"Who are you?" asks Kanda. "Who are you?" again, when Allen doesn't answer. "Allen Walker. You infuriating little idiot. Don't you dare roll over and give in."
So Allen sleeps. Fitfully, mostly, snatches of half-remembered dreams that tear him awake, panting and terrified, pain prickling across his forehead in a familiar pattern and sweat dripping down his face and back. He wants to ask Kanda if he sees anything when he slides the handkerchief, cool with water, across Allen's face, but can't bring himself to ask.
One time he does not wake up this way and it is such a rarity that Allen holds himself very still and tries to determine what it was that did pull him out of sleep. He gets his answer when he hears faint splashing. He opens his eyes and then slits them nearly closed almost immediately, because the splashing is Kanda kneeling over the bathing tin and washing himself. Kanda glances in Allen's direction but drops his eyes after a moment, washcloth sliding up and water sliding down his skin. He should look ridiculous, all his hair piled up haphazardly on the top of his head, but he doesn't. He looks pale and haggard, tense around the mouth but otherwise without a single blemish on his skin besides the black mark on his chest.
It's Allen's fault, he knows; even after the bath Kanda gave him he keeps sweating, sickness and smears of black, and Kanda has had to change the sheets out from underneath him more than once. Guilt wells up, followed quickly by humiliation. Filth, Cross Marian used to say when Allen came back exhausted and streaked with dirt.
Allen had started wearing gloves in his twelfth year, to hide his hand but also for this other reason, but they were always dirty at the end of the day.
Mana, he remembers, wore gloves as well, but they were yellowed with age and stained in places. He took them off before he ate, along with Allen's mitt, which he never liked. That hand had always been clumsy with the knife, especially when it was slick with rabbits' blood. Easy enough to wash off, he'd said at Allen's faces, and rubbed away the smudge of dirt on Allen's nose with the back of his hand.
Easy enough to wash off, Allen thinks now as he watches Kanda shake his hair out, combing through it with his fingers. Allen sees the shadows curl around him, but underneath them Kanda stands, hard and proud and alive.
Allen dreams again later and wakes up hitching with pain. Kanda barely has time to get the pail underneath him before he is vomiting again, the same black bile but this time also bones, hard and dry, countless tiny scraps of them, entire pieces of fingers, bones that rip his throat and make him spit blood when it's all over. He chokes on them, chokes on the taste, eyes streaming, but Kanda wipes it all away and turns Allen into him, not even flinching at the blood and snot that gets smeared on his collar.
That night, Allen's fever breaks, and snow starts to fall.
It's been three days since Allen has been able to get out of bed by himself. He watches Kanda through his lashes, fingers curled around the bowl of soup Kanda has fixed him. Steam rises gently to the ceiling.
Kanda has a cup of tea and he seems to be completely engrossed in it. Firelight plays across his features, making them seem softer than usual. His eyes are hooded and dark. Allen draws a breath.
The steam over Kanda's cup scatters on his sharp exhale, but he doesn't say anything. Allen's stomach dips.
Kanda sets his cup down carefully.
"I want you," says Allen, and closes his eyes. That isn't what he meant to say. That isn't at all what he meant to say, but his vague intentions of expressing gratitude got tangled up somewhere en route from his mind to his mouth with the sense memory of Kanda's lips against his forehead and Kanda's hands sliding wetly over his bare thighs.
"Get a fucking grip, Walker," Kanda hisses.
"It's not like that!" Allen shouts. "It's not! Holy fuck."
"What's it like, then?"
"It's," Allen says. He can't look Kanda in the face so he looks at Kanda's hands on the table. Kanda's fingertips are blunt and dirty, trembling slightly. "It's different," he finishes finally, glancing up, seeing the lean redness across Kanda's cheeks. And it is, he realizes; completely different, because it's Kanda, and everything that encapsulates, everything that has happened. Somehow, that makes it worse. "Forget it."
"Walker," Kanda says.
"Forget it!" Allen shouts, then quieter: "I'm sorry."
When it's time to go to bed they both climb in silently, Kanda careful to stay on his own side, flat on his back and stiff as a board. He's no more than a foot away but it feels like a great gulf, the distance from one end of the valley to the other. The low light makes his hair gleam blackly on the pillows. Allen feels his chest constrict again.
"Kanda," he whispers. "Kanda."
Kanda exhales through his nose and rolls over onto his side. "What."
"Please, I." Allen has to swallow around the lump in his throat. "When I said . . . what I said before, when you had to. When you had to help me, I didn't mean—I know that you don't, that it's. That it's not like that," he finishes helplessly. "Please. I know it's just. You get cold."
"I get what?" Kanda asks, furrowing his brow. But he doesn't seem angry.
"I know you get cold. When you sleep. You're freezing. That's why you . . . that's why you always end up around me. It's not like what I said. You're not like that. I know you don't want me—"
"I know you don't want me," Allen says louder, "and I'm sorry I said that. And I want you to know that it's okay. Just because I still. I can't help. Because you're." So strong, Allen thinks. Kanda's eyes are steady on his and he chokes that thought back down. "I understand. So if you—I'm not going to do anything. I promise. I know when I have to—"
"See?" Allen says. "See? Your hands are freezing." And they are; at least, the right one is, ice cold sliding up Allen's side. Goosebumps rise on Allen's skin in its wake. Kanda shifts closer and Allen turns into him involuntarily, close enough so their foreheads touch and their noses brush together. Kanda's nose is cold, too. Allen's heart hammers.
"You always make things so difficult," Kanda says, breath gusting out hot over Allen's face.
"Complicated. Everything you touch, you complicate. You make me so angry." Kanda's eyes slit nearly shut, so there's nothing but a thin, glittering line through his eyelashes. His hand has warmed up already, sitting on the small of Allen back, firm through the thin cotton of Allen's nightshirt. His lips part. "All we were supposed to do was stay here until we could go back. I tried."
Allen realizes he's shaking; shivering, really, and he's fisted his hands in Kanda's shirt. His breath comes in quick gasps. "Are you going to—" Kiss me, he finishes in his head, and squeezes his eyes shut. Kanda's hand twitches on Allen's back. Shame turns Allen's face red.
After a pause, Kanda sighs. "Yes."
It's not much of anything; they're already so close that all Kanda has to do is nudge Allen's face up with his own and press their lips together, soft and dry. Allen makes a sound into it, a quiet, desperate sound, all his loneliness and despair audible in it, and opens his mouth. Kanda's tongue slides inside.
He tastes like nothing, like snow, and his tongue is warm and wet, sweeping gently through Allen's mouth, over Allen's teeth, against Allen's own tongue. When he pulls back, Allen starts to move after him, but he threads his fingers through Allen's hair and rests their foreheads together again. Slowly, their breathing evens out.
"You—" Allen starts.
"Everything will change," Kanda murmurs, voice tight. Allen's breath catches. "You have to—"
"Okay," he says, "okay, okay, okay, please," and kisses Kanda, and then does it again, pulling Kanda down on top of him, between his legs so Kanda's hips press against his cock. They rock together, through their clothes, and Allen thinks that he could probably come just like this. But he doesn't want to; he wants Kanda, he wants to touch Kanda and he wants Kanda to touch him. He yanks up his nightshirt and suddenly Kanda's hands stroke across bare skin, only faltering slightly on their path from Allen's side down to his ass.
It's still not enough, so Allen flips them on their sides and pulls back to fumble at the fastenings of Kanda's pants. He manages to get them open and tug Kanda's cock out, hard and hot in his hand, his knuckles brushing against the coarse hair on Kanda's belly. "Fuck," Kanda breathes, pulling Allen flush against him again. Allen's hand, still trapped between them, wraps around both their cocks and starts jerking, arrhythmic, unsure, but then Kanda's fingers curl around the back of Allen's head and Kanda kisses him, over and over, lips trailing over Allen's face while they move into each other. Bits and pieces of Allen's grip on himself slip away under the barrage of sensation until there is nothing but this, the coiling tension between his legs and the tension of Kanda's body. Allen comes with his mouth open against Kanda's, not even managing to kiss anymore, just breathing Kanda's air. He feels Kanda come too, silently, teeth catching on Allen's lip.
After, Kanda sits up to shrug his shirt off, wiping them both clean with it before dropping it over the side of the bed. It's cold without him, but he settles back in easily enough, and Allen tucks himself into the curve of Kanda's arm and falls asleep.
The smell of tea, earthy and pungent, nudges Allen into wakefulness. The bed is empty, but when he opens his eyes he sees Kanda setting the tea pot down on the counter, two cups steaming gently next to it. When Allen gets out of bed, he has to tug his shirt back down, a stripe of creases on his skin under his armpit. Kanda stands bare-chested, peering down at the tea, goosebumps rising on his back. Allen doesn't know what to say.
Eventually Kanda's gaze shifts from the cups to Allen's forehead. Allen gets the absurd urge to try to pat his hair back into order. Instead, his hand jerks forward involuntarily and Kanda grasps it on what looks like instinct.
"Um," Allen says.
"I'm supposed to kill you," says Kanda.
Allen flinches, but Kanda's grip on his hand is firm even if he won't look Allen in the eyes. "What?" Allen says.
"That was what Komui was telling me. That day. If anything happens with you, or you start acting out of the ordinary, I'm supposed to kill you. Before you can . . . "
"Before I can what?" Allen murmurs. The wind outside whistles hollowly. He thinks about it. "So why didn't you?"
"Because," Kanda says.
"Because," Allen repeats. He steps into Kanda's space, close enough that he can feel the heat rising off Kanda's skin in direct contrast to the cold air. When Kanda's arm slips around the small of his back, he tilts his face up and their lips meet, closed in a chaste kiss.
"The tea should be ready soon," Kanda says, running a hand roughly through his hair. "If you wanted a cup."
"Thank you," Allen says.
No one touches them up here, despite what Kanda said. Sometimes now it seems like Kanda has forgotten to worry, sitting in front of the fire, looking into the flames. In those moments his mouth relaxes, his eyes dark and sleepy.
"I want to taste you," Allen says, and Kanda looks up, startled. Allen wipes his hands on his pants. Even now, he still can't quite believe that Kanda will give, that Kanda won't get fed up and leave. "I want to s-s-suck you."
He's terrified that Kanda won't let him do this, will bat his hands away when he kneels and molds his hand over the front of Kanda's pants. But Kanda doesn't do anything but unfold his legs, eyes wide with surprise. Allen lets Kanda's cock slide along the inside of his cheek, heavy in his mouth while Kanda's hand is light on his temple. Allen loves it; he loves the feeling of Kanda's cock against his tongue, the noise Kanda makes when Allen thumbs down the vein on the underside, the way Kanda says "fuck" when Allen licks over the slit at the head and then "Allen" as he comes in a flood in Allen's mouth.
When the last tremor in Kanda's thighs shudders out Kanda pulls Allen up by the shirtsleeves and kisses him, open and messy. Kanda brushes knuckles over Allen's cock and Allen comes hard in his pants. "God," Allen says, opening his eyes, and Kanda lets Allen sink into him, one arm around his back and the thumb of the other smoothing over the corner of Allen's lips. Allen tangles his fingers into Kanda's shirt, as if holding on to him would accomplish anything.
But Allen has always been good at pushing where he maybe isn't supposed to, so for now he'll just have to hope his luck holds.
"Three years ago," Kanda says on a different evening, over Allen's head. Allen slides his hand over the left side of Kanda's chest, up over his shoulder and into his hair. The beads of Kanda's bracelet click quietly around Allen's wrist. "Theodore. He wouldn't let me die."
Kanda's hair is thick, much thicker than Allen's, and it slips heavy and cool over Allen's fingers. When Allen brings it to his face, he smells their dinner.
"I was stupid," Kanda says.
"The way I'm stupid," Allen says. Kanda blows air through his nose.
"I made a promise," he says.
The first time is awkward because neither of them really know what they're doing. Allen has to dredge up half-forgotten conversations overheard in smoky rooms long ago, red-faced when he explains. It hurts, because Kanda is still clumsy with many things and pushes inside too quickly.
But then he stills and waits, breathing harshly in Allen's ear, trembling with the effort. His body curves against Allen's back, solid and warm, and his hand slips down to wrap around Allen's cock, gentle. Gentle, despite the calluses on his fingers; gentle despite his clumsiness, careful over and inside Allen. Yes, Allen thinks as he pushes back against Kanda, nearly sobbing, yes because he recognizes this, yes because this is Kanda.
In the morning Allen crouches on the floor and traces lines in the ashes with his fingertips. After the snow started falling the tar evaporated away, leaving nothing but the bones, loose and sun-bleached. Kanda threw them out and the snow swallowed the sound, but Allen heard what it could have been in his mind, the dry rattle of divination.
"What are you doing?" Kanda asks, kneeling beside him,
Allen looks at the ashes; he's drawn a lopsided rabbit, like something a child might make. It stares lifelessly back at him, hollows where its eyes should be. Allen thinks of sounds: of Kanda's noises, of the wind creaking through the trees and against the house, of the cacophony of tones he heard when he held his hand out to the shadow, the everything that nearly liquefied his insides.
"It's the resonance," he explains. "The universe it's—like music. Like the piano on the Ark. I could make it move because I knew the song. Where it—resonated. I could." Animate, Allen thinks, crossing his arms over his knees. He looks at his drawing and picks three notes out of the cacophony, the first three notes of a song Mana used to put him to sleep with, humming high and clear. The ash-rabbit shakes itself and hops unsteadily over to the fireplace, its feet making tracks in the ash still on the ground.
The song, Allen remembers, was about love; but then, nearly all songs are.
The ash-rabbit, having satisfied its curiosity, bounds back over to them, studying Kanda with its hollow eyes. Its ears twitch. Kanda passes a hand over it and it collapses into a puff of dust that swirls up and around.
"On the first day," Kanda murmurs, "I tried to walk back, and the birds just—the birds just fell out of the sky. It took me the whole day to realize that even though my wounds were gone I was bleeding—something else. And I had to figure out how to—bring it back to me."
Allen reaches for him and ends up smearing ash across Kanda's forehead, over Kanda's clothes and later on Kanda's chest, where Allen puts a hand on Kanda's heart and feels it beat. Resonance, he thinks, frequency, vibration, movement, and Kanda's long legs wrap firmly around his waist, helping Allen to keep from shaking apart with it.
Happiness is a cautious thing and for a long while Allen doesn't recognize it, or perhaps is reluctant to. Snow keeps falling, feathery and white; it piles up in drifts against the walls outside but the house manages to hold its heat. Allen watches it through the windows, and later trots outside after Kanda who is grumbling something inaudible about wood and the shed. Kanda almost makes it before a ball of snow breaks against the back of his head. Allen's face is a study in careful blankness.
"You—" Kanda says.
It turns out that Allen squeals like a girl and Kanda is much more agile than his fat coat would lead one to believe, which Allen doesn't consider strictly fair. But Allen has better aim, a fact he consoles himself with until he loses sight of Kanda and is about relent when Kanda tackles him face-first into a drift and stuffs a handful of snow down his collar. It's cold, and shocking, and heralds a sharp kind of clarity when they finally stop struggling against each other and Kanda's body weight holds Allen immobile against the ground.
Allen draws a surprised breath. "We should go back inside."
"Walker, just because you—"
"I think," Allen says, pressing his nose against Kanda's cheek and then tilting his head up so that when he speaks, his lips brush against Kanda's face, "we should go back inside."
Inside Kanda meets Allen's eyes; his pupils are already shot and Allen's stomach tightens in response. When he leans forward Allen only has time for a short, quick breath before Kanda's tongue eases into his mouth. It moves slowly, lewdly, sweeping over Allen's teeth and tongue. Allen can't wait anymore.
"Okay," he says. "Okay, okay, come on." He tugs on Kanda's hand and leads him to the bed, shedding the rest of their clothes on the floor on the way.
"How do you want—" Kanda asks into Allen's neck after they've tucked themselves underneath the covers, running his hand down Allen's side.
"Fuck me," Allen pants. "Hard. Please, Kanda."
Kanda shudders and gropes for the jar of oil, rolling back over between Allen's legs. The first finger goes in easily, as does the second, and by the third Allen is gasping and grasping at Kanda's hair, his shoulders, any part of Kanda that he can reach.
"Come on, come on," he implores. "Like this, like this, so I can see—"
"Jesus," Kanda mutters, kneeling over Allen and slicking himself up. He grunts when he pushes inside, stilling for a second and pressing a kiss to Allen's knee, hooked over his shoulder. Allen digs the heel of his other foot into Kanda's back to urge him forward.
The fuck starts off slow, deliberate, but Kanda picks up his momentum fast and soon Allen's back is arching off the bed. He keeps his eyes on Kanda's face the whole time; there's nothing like being able to see the flush creep up Kanda's features, the way Kanda starts to bite his lip, Kanda's eyes tightly shut and the furrow of concentration on Kanda's brow. Sweat trickles down Kanda's temple and his hair hangs over them in a curtain, soft on Allen's skin.
"Kanda," Allen moans, reaching up to kiss him, "Kanda, Kanda, Kanda—"
Suddenly Kanda's eyes are wide open and his hand covers Allen's mouth. Their harsh breathing fills the room. Underneath that, there's the sound of static crackling.
"Kanda?" comes Komui's voice. "Allen? Are you both there?"
Kanda drops his face into Allen's shoulder and takes a deep breath; Allen clears his throat.
"Yes, um. Yes. We're both here," he says in an approximation of his normal voice.
Komui's machine comes clattering across the floor in their direction but appears stymied by the bed, bumping against it twice before giving up and settling back on the floor. It gives Allen time to try to die of mortification.
"Allen? Is that you? And Kanda is there with you? Wonderful! I have wonderful news for the both of you! You can come home!"
Allen's heart stops; he seizes up, making Kanda hiss. "What?"
"You can come home," Komui repeats happily. "I've finally gotten this whole mess sorted, and I can bring you home. Now, a train will leave for Poznań at approximately this time tomorrow, and I want you to be on it. I'm having someone meet you there to escort you the rest of the way." He sighs. "It will be good to have the two of you back."
As soon as the transmission clicks off, Kanda rolls off Allen, cock sliding out roughly. Allen winces at the sensation. He's still trying to get a grasp on his feelings, which are whirling through him at ridiculous speeds; happiness, astonishment, hope. Kanda sits on edge of the bed, feet on the floor, hair obscuring his face. Allen feels the beginnings of an unpleasant uncertainty curdling in his stomach. "Kanda?"
"We should get started packing," says Kanda, not looking at him.
"We don't have to leave until tomorrow."
"There's no reason to put it off."
Allen looks at him, still flushed across the collar, cock still hard and shiny with oil, breathing carefully even, and feels the uncertainty slide into anger, hot and sick. His jaw clenches.
"You bastard," he says quietly. Kanda doesn't respond. "You just want to go back and pretend like nothing ever happened."
"In situations like this—" Kanda starts.
"Shut the fuck up." Allen surges up on his knees, blood thundering roughly, and yanks Kanda backwards onto the bed. Kanda hits it with an oof, flat on his back, eyes wide. Allen swings a leg over his body and sits on him. "You hypocrite. I can't believe you would."
"No, I said shut up." Tears prick the corners of Allen's eyes, but they only serve to make him angrier. Panic blossoms with them, tight and hard in Allen's chest. He takes a deep, steadying breath. "You were the one who told me that this changes everything. That you can't go back. You told me."
Kanda makes a noise, fingers clenching on Allen's thighs. Allen looks down at him, blinking rapidly, and realizes that Kanda is scared. He's terrified; it's written in the tension in his fingers, his wide eyes, his lower lip caught on his teeth. Allen takes another steadying breath, anger subsiding into something he doesn't have a name for. He touches Kanda's face.
"Even when it's frightening. Even when you don't know what to do. Please, Kanda. I'm not going to be able to forget this."
"God," Kanda groans. His hips try to twitch up, but Allen's weight holds them pinned to the bed.
"I can't forget it, and I don't think you can forget it either. When you—" The words get caught in Allen's throat. He exhales shakily. "I need this."
And there it is, everything Allen has experienced, distilled into three raw words. He almost wants to swallow it back up again but he can't; won't, so he sits like this, exposed and waiting, wanting, hoping. He closes his eyes.
After an endless silence, Kanda's hands skim up his sides, shaking a little. "It can't be the same," he says. "It's going to be different. I don't—"
"I know," Allen says. "I know, but we don't have to—We can. Figure it out."
Another painful silence, then: "Okay. Okay, Allen—"
But Allen's mouth crushes against Kanda's, cutting off whatever Kanda was going to say. He guides himself back onto Kanda's cock and straightens up, starting to move, until Kanda lifts his hips to meet him. "Kanda," Allen says, and picks Kanda's hand off his thigh to wrap around his cock, placing his own over it.
They stay like that, suspended, for what seems like an eternity, Kanda's eyes on Allen's. Allen can't decipher his expression, so he jerks their joined hands faster over his cock, biting his lip. He bears down on Kanda and then something breaks, Kanda taking a great gasp of air and coming, head thrown back and throat exposed. Later, Allen slides his nose against the pale, vulnerable line of it and presses his lips to the spot just underneath Kanda's Adam's apple, where he can feel Kanda still struggling for breath.
Civilization is a disconcerting experience after three months at the edge of the world. Kanda herds Allen through the crowds, swift little touches, makes sure Allen gets where they have to go. At Poznań, General Theodore meets them on the platform before they change trains. Allen doesn't know what to say to him but it turns out he doesn't have to say anything; Theodore takes one look at him and bursts into tears. The next thing Allen knows, he's crushed up against Theodore's chest with Theodore snuffling into his hair.
"I'm so glad," Theodore moans. Kanda rolls his eyes and Theodore beams at him. "I hope you boys had fun," he says when they sit down. "That is, despite everything. It's a beautiful place; the view is breathtaking."
"It was—" Allen starts, but Theodore waves him silent.
"I remember," he says dreamily. "It was such a long time ago. Sometimes I felt like the only things we did up there was eat, sleep, and fuck."
Kanda chokes, then stares studiously out the window and Allen slumps down against him in the seat. Theodore lapses into a silence peppered with sporadic bursts of tears. The train chugs along rhythmically and the last thing Allen remembers before drifting off is following Kanda's line of sight outside, where white fields slide by and poppies sleep under the snow, waiting for the spring.