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Eternal Jewel City

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They are sent to Bangkok, and Kanda doesn't like it. He doesn't like the smell, ripe with too many people and rotten fish from the rivers. He doesn't like the colors, too gaudy, bright in his face and bright inside his eyes. He doesn't like the dust, kneeling in it and spitting up a mouthful of blood, a vivid splash of red on the pale road that Allen Walker is lying on. Allen Walker, who is white with heat and nausea and pain.

"Where was it?" Allen asks, when he can breathe again. Kanda wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

"I don't know," he says.

 

***

It has to be here; they both feel it, a sense memory of clean green light in the midst of all this filth, this city that never sleeps and is instead walking, walking, calling their names as it swishes by in a rustle of silk and gardenia. Kanda Yuu, it says in its soft, high voice, Kanda Yuu, it giggles, what is your name? Allen grips the sleeves of his shirt with sweaty fingers and yanks him backwards into himself. What do you think you are . . .

"There's nothing there," Allen says nervously, and Kanda looks around. Dingy rooftop, empty sky, and a sea of lights below them. Edge like a precipice, air shoving them back and forth sluggishly.

"You were sleepwalking," Allen says. "You were going to—"

"I'm fine," Kanda snaps, and that is the end of it.

 

***

Where does this heaviness in the air come from? From this sea of people, who press in on all sides, thick with moisture and noise? The rise and fall of their ridiculous language grates on Kanda's nerves and he regrets the loss of their Finder, as obnoxious as he was, because at least he knew how to speak it. The men in the market stalls smile at him, white teeth flashing, talk in rapid-fire pidgin English; those who can, and those who can't just let him point and hold out their hands. He's being cheated and knows it, but grits his teeth, buys the food and heads back to their tiny rented room.

Allen makes a face at the beetles but Kanda crunches them down impassively; they're not so bad, once you get over the legs, and as decadent as the fruit may be it won't help them keep their strength up. Juice runs down Allen's chin as he bites into something round and red that Kanda doesn't know the name for, too translucent to be blood, sweet and sticky on his fingers.

That night Kanda dreams of akuma shaped like giant insects, skittering their legs down his face and his sides; of Allen strung up by something invisible across a yellow sky, hanging like their absurd martyr of a Christian god, glassy eyes and a thin trickle of blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. He twists in panic, love squeezing his lungs like a disease, and there Allen is again, red smeared across his cheek, holding out that same fruit in one hand and whispering, please. Please.

He wakes with a jolt and Allen's head heavy on his stomach, fingers tangled in his shirttails to keep him from walking. It's happened this way every night since that first and neither of them will say anything about it in the morning, but now Kanda can brush the hair away from Allen's face with shaking hands and run the pad of his thumb across Allen's juice-stained mouth, messy and soft like a child's.

 

***

The heat wave hits directly after and Allen doesn't do well in it, deathly pale, sweating, two blotches of color high on his cheeks like some painted whore but that's it, that and the jagged red line that cuts through his eye. They both lost their jackets long ago but it doesn't help him; even with his sleeves rolled up and shirt unbuttoned he crumples to the floor in the middle of the day, loose and pliable when Kanda props him up against the wall and strips him to his underwear. Kanda buys a block of ice from a wrinkled old man on a bicycle; it comes dear, and the insignia that they bear has no weight in this city, so long civilized that it has become wild again, feral from the inside. But he buys it and brings it back and chips off long slivers into a bowl, which he then wraps in a dirty rag and presses to Allen's face, his temples, the pulse points in his neck and his wrists.

Water skims down Allen's chest in thin raised lines and Kanda's eyes follow, then his hands, mopping up after it, feeling the temperature of his skin fall, his breathing even out. Kanda's own hair sticks to his face and his neck in clumps but he isn't an idiot; he hasn't been pushing himself like this, in this stifling city.

Allen cracks an eye open at Kanda's fingers sliding around the back of his neck to tangle in the damp hair there. "Drink," Kanda orders, and Allen does so reflexively, throat working, dribbling lukewarm water from the sides of his mouth in his clumsiness. Kanda sets the cup to the side when he's done with it and wipes Allen down, maneuvering him until he is flat on his back on one of their pallets, and sits down next to him for the long vigil.

"The akuma—" Allen whispers, thin in the air.

"Have all been destroyed," Kanda reminds him. Allen nods, almost imperceptibly.

He does better at night, but not by much, still shaky on his feet. Night is when they invert, Allen ghostly and sly like the moon, Kanda black like sun-scorched earth. No one else understands this, but Kanda is a creature of the sun, heat and anger, relentless in it. He marks these differences on the parchment of his mind, tucks them away to examine later, somewhere peaceful and quiet where the immediacy of it all does not threaten to overwhelm him.

 

***

After two weeks, they narrow it down to a single building, in the center of the city, one in red and white and gold with paper lanterns strung from the eaves. The insides are painted in green, unidentifiable creatures in golden headdresses climbing the walls, and Allen's hand on Kanda's arm is all bone and sinew and apprehension. Kanda remembers a term from his homeland, water business, and sees the truth of it here, where silk flows like the rivers outside and diaphanous veils curl in the air around them.

"What do you know of places like this?" Kanda had asked, not so long ago, and Allen's eyes on his own then were weighted with something Kanda didn't recognize, his mouth bent in a funny way. He didn't say anything, not then, doesn't say anything now, when Kanda demands to speak to the owner and they're led to a low-lit room in front of a bearded man reclining on embroidered pillows.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," he says in a voice like watery whiskey, an unpleasant twinge to his pronunciation but they're just grateful enough that he speaks English. "Though I must say I am indebted to you for stopping the attacks," and here a long drag on the fluted pipe he keeps between gnarled fingers, fingernails curved and yellow, "as are my girls. If you would—"

They stay; there is nothing else to be done, in another room that smells like perfumes and narcotics with two girls whose wide brown eyes take up entirely too much space on their faces, skin and bones and tiny pink scraps of fabric. Kanda doesn't look at them but Allen smiles encouragingly, says something in halting and angular Thai that makes Kanda glance at him sharply; the girls giggle. "Pretty face," one of them murmurs back, tugging on Allen's hair, but her eyes are on Kanda's and he scowls back at her. "Come," says the other, and then they both have Allen by the hand and are pulling him from the room.

 

***

Twenty of the longest minutes in Kanda's life before he hisses to himself and follows, down winding corridors and past closed doors, instinct carrying him to the end of the hall where soft voices rise and fall with the cadence of birds. There are moments when there is comfort in fury, burning bright and hot in the pit of of one's stomach. Kanda finds it now, when Allen has been poured over pillows and silk sheets, women winding around him whisper-slick and pressing kisses to his temples. "Kanda," he slurs, "Kanda," and someone takes advantage of it to push Kanda forward, bringing him to his knees between Allen's legs. "Kanda," he repeats, winding his fist in Kanda's shirt, some kind of glass beetle gleaming greenly in his hair, paint across his cheekbones and above his eyes. "They said they would help me find what we were looking for."

He speaks in the sing-song of the city, insidious, the voice from Kanda's dreams, moon-eyes impossibly old, pupils shot and heat rising from his skin the same way it did through the worst of the heatstroke. Kanda shifts forward reflexively, toward the precipice, sees the sea of lights reflected in Allen's eyes. "Fuck," Allen says, and brings their mouths together, breathing rotten fruit and something like sex, smoky and ill, into Kanda's lungs. His hands are everywhere, skimming down Kanda's sides, through his hair, one leg wrapped around Kanda's back and pulling them closer together, rolling his hips against Kanda's desperately.

Kanda wrenches himself away, one hand on Allen's shoulder pinning him to the floor, women moving uneasily behind them, back and forth, back and forth, like waves along a shoreline, and Allen, his red lips parted, eyes rolling back into his head, because he is hot, too hot, and the worst kind of idiot.

 

***

He left his sanity somewhere, back in a black tower where grey skies rained chill water on deep green forests, and now he's trying to find it again within himself while Allen sleeps off whatever drug they gave him. It is an exercise in futility, a thin clear madness woven into the very air they breathe; you can feel it around your fingers and in the sweetness of the black rhizome wine on the lips of a pale English boy. In the depths of his eyes, where desperation outlined by colored powder flowers in the nights and lucidity stifles during the day.

Kanda jerks awake in the darkness with Allen's head on top of his ribcage and Allen's body between his thighs, Allen's hands clutching at his shirt and Allen's breath coming in strangled gasps. "I'm sorry," he says, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. Please. Don't go back. Don't leave me in this place." There with sudden clarity is the invert again, the misunderstanding at the core of it.

That wasn't where I was walking, Kanda thinks helplessly, I am just as lost as you.

"Please," Allen says, one more time. When Kanda's arms come up around his back he opens his fist, deep purple in the dim light. There, glowing in his hand among shards of green glass beetle, is what they came here for.