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“Mr. Walker! I’m so sorry for the wait!”

The man stood as the principal came out of his office to greet him. He did look worn, the first few days of the new year surely giving him their worst. “It’s all right,” Allen assured the other man with a smile, shaking his hand. “I haven’t been here long.”

“Good. I’ll show you to your office,” he smiled. “I’m Albert Sanders, by they way, nice to meet you, and I’d normally ask another member of staff to show you around, but there’s going to be a little girl in to see you, Leah Anderson.”

The hallways were abandoned, occupants occupied in their respective first class of the day- it still seemed inappropriate to talk about a student like this, even in a hushed tone.

“She lives with her mother, who, unfortunately, is very busy with her job. Leah sees that as her mother not having time for her, lashing out and purposefully trying not to fit in and get along.”

“Lashing out how?”

“Talks back, starts arguments, and worst of all,” the other said the last as if it were a closely-guarded secret. “Insists she’s a boy. Isn’t that terrible?”

“Has anyone considered her side of things?” Allen asked, ignoring the question and grateful they were already coming on the door marked ‘Guidance Counselor.’

“We’re tried reaching her. She just won’t listen.”

The seemed unlikely. “How are her grades?”

“Above average, mostly. Her problems with authority can stretch to staff.”

“I see. Do you know what time she’s due in?” he asked, hand on the knob.

“We didn’t think you’d be here until tomorrow, so it was during her free period then. I can have a message sent to her to come see you today, if you’d prefer.”

“I would like to meet her, if nothing else.”

“Of course,” the principal chimed, turning and heading back to the main office. Show him around. Sure.

Allen exhaled. This place was a terrible environment for a budding spirit. He’d felt it the second he’d entered. Leah must need help, but he doubted very much it was the kind of help the adults in her life thought she needed.

In any case, there was a knock on his door just as the bell for second period rang. Allen called her in.

The girl had short red hair, black clothes, lipstick and nails… but this was no gothic princess. She wore a skirt, but even Allen could tell she didn’t like it, and matching black shirt. And her eyes. Green, and most of the determination burnt out.

She offered no greeting, plopping in one of two chairs along the wall.

Allen knew those eyes, even dead inside. “Lavi.”

The other’s expression didn’t change. “Leah,” was the drawled reply. “Little trouble organizing yourself?”

Rude, but not outright disrespectful. Feeling him out. And apparently didn’t remember their past, not any of it, not even with his own self-initiated name change.

“Sorry, you remind me a lot of my nephew,” he replied, standing from behind his desk to sit beside her. “Leah, yes. Do you know why you’re here today?”

“Everybody and their brother thinks I’m a fuck up.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” That attitude, that face- this was Lavi. The real Lavi, anyway, not the fake smile he’d worn to get information. “You’ve been maintaining good grades; fuck ups don’t even try to do that.” Those brows lifted at the cuss. One might say she looked impressed. “From what I’ve come to know, it’s just how you address your mother and some of the teachers here. Do you just not like to be told what to do?” He knew he wouldn’t be surprised.

The teenager chewed her lip; she seemed to be deciding whether to answer with honesty or sarcasm. “What the hell,” she finally sighed. “Your reaction can’t be any worse than the ones I’ve already gotten. I’m a hermaphrodite. Both parts, I guess. Mom picked a gender for me, but I think she picked wrong. I’ve always felt more like a boy, but won’t stop making me say I’m a girl. The teachers I’ve snapped at have tried pushing me to see her side, since she knows practically fucking all of them. Even if I didn’t have a penis, I don’t think I’d want to be a girl. There. Pass your fucking judgment and let me out of here so I can grab a fucking smoke out back.”

“Smoking’s a terrible habit.”

The other’s brow furrowed, attention jerking back up to him. “What?”

“Smoking. There’s absolutely no benefits to it other than the temporary relief of nicotine, especially for someone so young.”

“…Did you hear any of what I told you?”

“Yes. But it’s easier to start with ‘smoking’s bad’ than ‘your mother is misguided.’”

Stunned shock etched the other’s face, staring at him slack jawed. “I’m not the crazy one. That’s a first. Anyone else I’ve tried giving that tirade to either tells me it’s a phase or that it’s not natural or that I should listen to my mother and be grateful she didn’t drown me after I was born.”

There was so much wrong there it took Allen a couple seconds to figure out where to start. “Unfortunately, many people do think that way, but you have the right to identify as you wish.”

Leah stared at him, unable to reply.

“You’re not crazy,” Allen repeated. “They are.”

A gasp left the teenager’s throat, and Allen swore he could hear the seventeen years of suppression that left the poor thing with it. This child, nearly an adult, told for the first time it was perfectly fine identify exactly as she- he saw fit. “W-What did you say your nephew’s name is? Lavi?”

“Yes. A good name, I think. ‘Heart.’”

“…Yeah. A good name.”

“Well, before you start using it or anything else, we should try talking to your mother again. I know you don’t see eye-to-eye on this,” he added to the other’s sigh. “But I’ll help you. Do you know if there’s a time she’d be available to come in?”

“Fuck if I know.”

“It’s important to set aside a time that’s good for the both of you, so neither of you is distracted from the discussion.”

“You’d have to try and reach her. I really don’t know. We kind of avoid each other.”

“All right. I can call her afterwards. What don’t we work on what to say to her?”

The redhead chewed his lips. “It always ends in fighting, but you… might be able to help.”

“I’ll certainly do my best.”

&

Allen tried several times that day to get a hold of Ms. Anderson, calling first her work after her child left and then in the afternoon, then at home in the early evening. He had found himself hoping a little to hear Lavi’s voice again, but no one picked up. If things were as bad as the poor thing said, he probably spent as little time at home as possible. Such a shame. If there’s one place one should feel protected, it’s at home.

When the gray-eyed man finally left for the day himself, having even given the woman his personal cell line, and Lavi wasn’t the only troubled kid the school had, just the only one he was personally interested in, he found the subject of his musings leaning against his car, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. “That really is a bad habit.”

“I’m a tightly-wound ball of bad habits, Allen. Get a hold of her?”

“Not yet, no.”

The other scoffed. “She won’t be home for a few hours yet, and even when she is, she won’t call you. You’ll be lucky to hear from her in a few days, let alone hours. I’m not exactly top priority.”

“You should be,” Allen told him. “Planning on hitching a ride home?”

“Only if I can go home with you.”

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t make my intentions look very good.”

Lavi scoffed, walking up to him, so close. He could smell the cigarettes on the redhead. “If I told you I remember everything between us, was fucking with you earlier, then would you let me go home with you? Or would you be too disgusted by me?”

“The only thing I’m disgusted by is that you think I would ever reject you. By today’s standards you are underage-”

“Just barely. Birthday’s still in August. I doubt she’d even notice. And there has been one person who took my side, and she was fired. Made her life hell till she moved. That’s how much they need everything to be ‘perfect’ around here.” His eyes were wild, afraid, even- he needed to leave. “I had every intention of running away tonight, maybe even something worse. Then your fucking ass showed up. If you’d been a fucking day later…”

“I was supposed to be a day later. Something pushed me so I got here today. Now I know why. But Lavi, I can’t just take you home with me. Your mother will worry-”

“No, she won’t. I’ve not come back lots of nights; she’s never cared. Just- for a few hours? Then drive me back to her house. I won’t be a shit, you can tell her you found me on the street somewhere, and you’ll get your chance to talk to her. Please.”

The larger man sighed. “I haven’t unpacked yet, so I don’t want to hear about what a slob I am.”

The teenager scoffed. “Cause I‘m one to talk. There’s a pretty decent Chinese place that delivers around here.”

This time, he smiled. “Sounds good.”

&

Lavi did seem to mean to keep his promise. The short car ride was pretty quiet, the freckled man telling him about random places of interest in the area, and when they arrived, was fairly diligent about getting to organizing the boxes strewn out on the floor.

Allen ordered the food and sat on the couch to review some files, the only space he really had to do any such thing.

Without warning, his companion slid into his lap, immediately grinding against him. “Lavi, this really isn’t- Ohh,” he moan when that devilish mouth licked and nipped his jaw. The lewd touch went right to his groin. “You really do remember everything,” he murmured.

The other only increased his efforts mouthing against the bone, thrusting against the older man. “Give it, Allen, please,” he breathed in the older man’s ear. “I need you. Now.”

“Th-The food’ll be here soon. Wouldn’t do to be in the middle of something when it arrives.” Stark gray eyes searched the redhead’s face. “But I think I have a compromise. Lay back.”

Lavi did, flushed gaze still fixed on the older male. Allen turned his gaze towards his lover’s thighs, gently lifting the skirt. Boxers underneath. He smirked, and gently pulled them away. A half-hard length and slick entrance greeted him. “Lavi,” he groaned, lowering himself further to swallow the length.

The redhead grabbed a throw pillow to moan into while the gray-eyed man sucked him, and louder still when he felt lithe fingers reach in to use his juices to stretch him open and pliant. “God dammit, Allen,” he breathed.

“Was that a complaint?”

“Don’t you fucking dare stop.”

With a chuckle, he started pleasuring his lover again, increasing his efforts- the food was going to be here soon, and he really didn’t want to leave Lavi hanging, so to speak. He was already so close, so it shouldn’t be long.

Lavi was clearly losing it, even with the pillow muffling him. Allen wished he could see his face, but seeing how thoroughly affected his body was by himself was a pretty epic second.

Suddenly, the pillow was thrown aside, Lavi gasping for air, whining, “I’m so… gonna… Fuck, Allen…” before shooting (and spilling) his release.

Wasn’t that just a sight?

The doorbell rang. Well, it could’ve been worse timing. “Hold on, you have a bit on your cheek,” Lavi told him, pulling his shit off to wipe it away. Allen had considered Lavi might be reincarnated with breasts and a vagina, but he never thought the freckled man would look so good with them.

He stole a kiss, and went to answer the door.

&

The need for food sidelined further activity, and by the time they finished, it was nearing sunset. “I should be getting you home now,” Allen decided, packing up the leftovers. “Did you want to take any of this with you?”

“…Can I take you with me?”

“Lavi.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he sighed. “I’ll keep the lo mein. And I promise not to take you all over the neighborhood before directing you to my house.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity,” the auburn head assured him. “Your address is in your file and my car will give me directions.”

Lavi made a face. That liar.

Again, the car ride was quiet, sans for a cheery robotic voice telling them which roads to take and where to stop. The freckled male’s demeanor soured further at the sight of the average-looking house. “I’m still going in with you, and I’ll talk to-”

“She’s not here,” the other interrupted, pointing to the driveway, then returning his gaze to his companion with a sly smile. “So we’d have the place to ourselves.”

“Lavi, no. Not happening. Even just one of your neighbors seeing me go in without your mother home could get me fired- or worse.”
At that, he did give a reluctant nod, the harsh realities of the world no doubt crashing in on him.

A brand-new, freshly-washed white car pulled into the driveway. “Is that her?”

“…Yeah.”

“All right; let’s go then.”

Lavi stayed silent, but left the car with him. The woman was walking up to the house, then saw her child leaving a car with a man she didn’t know. “Excuse me, just who are you?” she asked as if offended by his presence.

“Mrs. Anderson? I’m Allen Walker, the new guidance counselor at-”

“Ugh, what did she do now?” came the draw now, glaring at the teenager.

“What? Nothing. I met Leah earlier today; saw her walking and offered her a ride, since I live nearby.”

“…Oh.”

“I would like to schedule a meeting with you as well, at your earliest convenience, of course. I’ve left you a couple messages-”

“That I’ll get to when I have the time,” she sighed. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Walker. Come along, Leah.”

The redhead gave him a small, sad wave before following the woman inside.

“Wow,” Allen muttered, getting back into the car. “He wasn’t kidding.” Starting up the car, he headed back to his own apartment, already looking forward to seeing Lavi the next day.

&

But not an hour later, Allen saw he had a new text- from an unknown number, but a single image was sent- Lavi blowing him a kiss. “When did he…? Of course. When I went to piss before we left. The little asshole swiped my phone and got my number.” He looked at the shot again. “At least he’s fully clothed,” he sighed. ‘Don’t you have homework?’ he typed back.

Lavi sent back an emoji sticking its tongue out. Oi. He didn’t send anything for a while after that, and Allen hoped he was doing as asked- until his phone dinged again. Sighing, he did go for the device, but found the sender to be a completely different person.

‘Hey Boy, you there? Or did you drive the moving truck into a ditch?’

Gray eyes narrowed. Tyki was concerned, but he couldn’t just be concerned like a normal person. ‘Sorry to disappoint you, but I got here safely. I was just exhausted last night, and went right to work this morning.’

‘A day early? Masochist.’

‘It’s a good thing I did; Lavi’s here, and in a really bad place.’ Just after the message sent, the phone started to ring. Ah, hit a topic the raven head wanted to actually talk about. Joy. “Catch your interest, did I?” Allen answered.

“Geez, I would’ve thought finding Eyepatch would put you in a better mood, but you sound like I just ran over your cat.” There was a long exhale that had to be cigarette smoke, and the paler man was glad he didn’t have to deal with it.

“Like I said, he’s not in a great place.”

“Care to elaborate?” came the request when he didn’t continue.

“He goes to school here, was raised as a girl but wants to identify as a boy but no one will listen to him, and he told me that he actually had plans to kill himself tonight, but thankfully I went with my instincts over your shitty advice, so those plans were derailed.”

Another slow exhale. “Damn.”

“Yeah. And my dumb ass let him talk me into coming over-”

“Wait. Is he still there?”

“No. I brought him home after feeding him.” He was not mentioning the other activity. Tyki’s sexual tunnel vision focus on it and only it and this conversation would quickly become pointless. “Met his mother. Hate her.”

Tyki laughed. “Is he graduating soon?”

“He’s in his last year, yeah, but that’s months away.”

“He legal?”

“Tyki.”

“Answer the question, Walker.”

“…No. But- No, stop laughing!”

“I will not,” the darker-toned man continued to snicker. “’Fess up. What really happened when you brought him over to your place?”

“Dammit, Tyki…”

“Did you seriously fuck him?!” He sounded overjoyed.

Allen fell back on the couch. “Tyki.”

“No sex, huh? That sucks, but I’m guessing that at least one of you got the other off.”

“Tyki…”

“So Eyepatch got the orgasm. You definitely haven’t come in the past twenty-four hours.”

Allen thudded the phone against his forehead, annoyed that the conversation had been sidelined despite his best efforts. But then Tyki did something unexpected- he was helpful.

“So you just gotta wait it out till he’s eighteen, move back here, and everything’s hunky dory.”

“…Is that legal?”

“Yup.”

“…Are you sure?”

“If he’s eighteen, he’s an adult, and anyway, you only moved out of some bullshit bout feeling like you should.”

“Bullshit that was completely on-point,” the auburn headed man interrupted, but his friend was kind of right. If Lavi would allow it, and it seemed like a pretty safe bet that he would, that was actually a really good solution.

“Whatever. The both of you get your shit together there, then move back here.”

“Aw, miss me, Tyki?”

“No one’s as fun to fuck with as you, but I’m betting Eyepatch would be a pretty close second. Curiosity- does he still have the eye patch?”

“No, but I don’t expect a detail like that to stop you from using that asinine nickname.”

“Good.”

Allen’s phone buzzed, and the notification showed a text from Lavi. Another picture, but this one exactly what he’d hoped the teenager wouldn’t do. “Fuck,” he softly cussed before he could stop himself.

“What’s wrong now?” the other end of the line drawled.

“…Lavi keeps texting me… pictures.”

“Nude pics? Forward that shit.”

“What, exactly, is your asexual ass going to do with nude pics?”

“I can still appreciate a body. And I’m not completely opposed to sex. We know this.”

“Too well,” Allen returned. “Say ‘good night,’ Tyki.”

“Good night, Tyki,” he cheerfully retorted, and Allen hung up with the intention to text Lavi to knock it off. He made to delete the picture first, but once he’d seen it full-size, couldn’t bring himself to follow through.

There wasn’t anything lewd about it, exactly, just a grinning topless Lavi looking up at the screen, probably lying down. His chest couldn’t be seen, but the millions of freckles across his shoulders were plenty enticing. And at the bottom, a small request. ‘Can I have picture of you too? I know this is a sketchy area, but please, I just need proof today happened while I’m stuck in this house.’

Allen sighed, straightened out his hair, and snapped a quick picture that was in the vicinity of decent. ‘Happy now?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Now do your homework.’

‘Yes, Sir.’

&

Lavi was in and out of his office for the remainder of the school year, at first because he was still being a mouthy little bitch, but Allen assured him he didn’t have to act like that to come visit. If people thought counseling was working, they weren’t going to make him stop coming- just the opposite. Luckily, this cheered him into a more positive attitude and approximately three weekly visits.

They did text still, but the redhead neither sent nor requested any more pictures. He did know better, but seeing someone so important you, especially when you hadn’t even been sure if they were real in the first place, can have a bad effect on your reasoning when said person wasn’t around.

And of course there was tension. It was a massive elephant they danced around every time they saw each other. Usually it was pretty easy to diffuse, keeping the conversation on either past or current events, but there was a soft kiss here and there when no one else was around. Every time, both agreed it was a slip that shouldn’t happen again until the younger male turned eighteen. It still happened at least once a month.

Mrs. Anderson continued to not understand her child, nor did she seem to have any actual desire to understand her child. Allen managed a couple meetings with her, but once she realized he wasn’t going to spend the whole time blindly agreeing with her, she quickly became a ghost.

The rest of the staff was starting to give him odd looks. They’d been friendly enough when he’d first arrived, but as time wore on, they had as much distaste for him as Mrs. Anderson. That was fine, thought. It wasn’t as if he’d never endured a little animosity. And for Lavi, he could keep going till August. He got more done sitting on his own anyway, and he was really helping all the kids he saw, not just Lavi, and wanted to do all he could for them before the end of they year.

A few weeks before Summer Vacation, Lavi came to his office with a question he wasn’t sure how to answer. “Can I come over to your apartment over the summer?”

He hadn’t been back since that first time, and having him over at all at this point could go very badly very quickly, and Allen begrudgingly told him so. “Even if we weren’t daydreaming about mauling each other, everyone here is making it very clear how they feel about me, so-”

“You’re leaving.”

“Not without you.”

“…Huh?”

“We talked about this. A few times. Remember?”

“Yeah, but… you said everyone’s turning against you.”

“And? I’m still not leaving here without you. I am sorry we’ll probably have to live with Tyki for awhile, but I swear, he’s not as bad as he was back then. Mostly.”

Lavi snorted. “I hope so. So I can’t come over. I hate that, but it makes sense. Texting?”

“As long as they stay… mundane. I shudder to think of what would happen if your mother got a hold of your phone.”

A laugh now. “She’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers first. And I’ve been deleting anything that could… cause trouble.”

“Oh.” he made a mental note to do the same. “Well, just the same, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Agreed. Can… we leave on my birthday?”

“Absolutely.”

&

The next two months were excruciating. And Lavi, the little shit, found a loophole in their agreement. He didn’t come up to the apartment, no, but was suddenly very into Pokemon Go, which allowed him to walk all over the neighborhood- Allen saw him at least twice a day.

Until he wasn’t. The auburn head knew he was probably overreacting, but that freckled face had been going out of his way to walk by so often the past few weeks that by the second day without it, he was calling Tyki.

“Hel-lo, Dahling,” came the greeting.

Allen rapidly explained what was going on and how worried he was, but before he could get to how he was probably overreacting, Tyki interrupted. “What name is he under?”

“L-E-A-H Anderson.”

A pause. Typing. The discovery of computers and their systems had opened up a whole world to the taller man- he was actually a very gifted hacker, probably already in and out of the records of several of the area’s hospitals and… ‘Not thinking about that.’

“He was admitted to Memorial Hospital the other night. Looks like he got the shit kicked out of him.”

Fuck. “How badly?”

“I don’t know a lot of this medical jargon… It looks like they got him stable, but he’s still in the ICU. Lemme see if his room’s near a security camera.”

Allen waited.

“Sorry, no-go.”

“Thanks for trying. Dammit. I can’t even visit him.”

“He’s been practically living in your office, hasn’t he? Would it really be so inappropriate for you to show come concern for him?”

“…I guess not, but how would I have found out about it? And ICU- that usually means only family.”

“Fuck, that’s true; I forgot about that bullshit. Well, I can keep you updated, at least. You two lovebirds still texting each other?”

“Yeah, but if I text him now, it’s too likely his mother becomes aware we’re texting each other and promptly loses her shit.” Even if Lavi had been deleting certain messages, she didn’t need to know how often they were talking.

“Fair enough.”

“Anything on how or why he was beat up? If he was beat up?”

“I was just going off his injuries and that he was found on the side of the street.”

Hell. “What are his injuries?”

“Don’t torture yourself, Allen. He’s stable, and seems to be doing well. Take that.”

“…You’ll keep me updated?”

“I will text you every time this file gets a single mark.”

“Thank you.”

“Did you get dinner yet?”

“Um… no. No, I didn’t,” he realized.

“Get some food. Try to relax and trust me.”

“See, the last time you said that-”

“And the million times before that?”

“Yeah, okay. Fair.”

“Go get your scrawny ass fed.”

“Sorry we can’t all be built like a fucking house.”

“I mean it, Allen. Eat. Starving yourself won’t do him any good.”

“Okay, okay, I’m going. Talk to you later.”

“Yep. Bye.”

“Bye.”

&

Despite knowing Tyki was right, Allen did not eat that night. He numbly flipped through channels, mostly, grasping to find something that would hold his attention. Unsurprisingly, nothing was sticking- until he landed on the local news where a familiar-sounding story was airing. They didn’t report anything he didn’t already know, but now he had an excuse to call Mrs. Anderson.

She didn’t answer, but he left a message anyway, praying he didn’t sound as desperate as he felt for a call back.

And while the woman would normally take a week or more to reply, his phone was ringing the next morning, not ten minutes after he’d gotten up from a fitful sleep himself. “I do hope I haven’t woken you,” the woman spoke hesitantly.

“Not at all,” he returned as pleasantly as he could muster.

“I… got your message. Leah… has been talking about you a lot, that you’ve really been helping her, and I wondered, if it’s not too much of an imposition…”

“Leah’s a good kid.” It hurt to use a name he knew the other hated, but it would’ve hurt more to misgender him. “If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“The doctor… It’s probably silly, but she keeps telling me that even though she’s unconscious, Leah can still hear what’s going on around her.”

“I’ve heard that too; it’s my understanding it’s been proved a few occasions.”

“…Would you mind coming down here to talk to her for a little while? She was moved from the ICU this morning so the doctor said it’s fine for a couple visitors, and Leah thinks so highly of you…”

“It’s not a problem,” he replied, spirit soaring. “I can come down after I get dressed, if that’s not too soon.”

“That would be wonderful! Thank you so much, Mr. Walker!”

“Allen, please,” he replied sweetly. “I’ll call again when I get there.”

“All right. Thank you again.”

“You’re most welcome.” He hung up, let out a happy yell, and set a new record for getting dressed.

&

Gratefully, Memorial Hospital wasn’t far (only about a half hour), and he sent a quick message to Tyki (who was probably still passed out), to let him know about the development, and called Mrs. Anderson again from the parking lot.

She came down to meet him at the door. “Thank you again for coming.”

“It wasn’t a problem,” he told her again. “May I ask what happened?”

“We still don’t know, exactly. Someone saw her unconscious on the side of the road. She might’ve been hit, or… I don’t know. There’s so many bruises, but the doctor says there’s not internal injuries, so they let her leave the ICU. She just… won’t wake up.”

Her eyes were watery. “I’ll… do what I can, but…”

“Of course. I know not to expect miracles, but given how highly she thinks of you, I figured it couldn’t hurt.”

“Thank you for trusting me.” He didn’t know what else he could say, but it seemed to be enough.

The woman gave a nod. “She’s in that room there. Would you like some coffee? I’m going to get one myself, I think.”

“Thank you; that’s very thoughtful.”

She gave another polite nod, and headed further down the hall.

Allen’s breath caught in his throat at the sight that awaited him. Mrs. Anderson had said there were bruises, but that was a massive understatement- discolored patches of skin covered almost half of what was visible of his pale skin, and his right arm was in a brace. It was bad, yes, but Allen was grateful it hadn’t been worse.

A padded chair sat empty near the head of the bed; he swallowed hard and sat down. “I wanted so much to see you, but now that I’m here, I have no idea what to say,” he spoke softly. “I’m so happy you’re alive, Lavi, and you better fucking stay that way. You’re so close to living freely, don’t you dare give up now.”

A smile tried to form on the redhead’s face. “I… th-thought you might s-say something… like that,” Lavi’s tone croaked.

“You shit. Have you been awake this whole time?”

“I… don’t think so. Opened my eyes for a bit earlier… not sure when…”

“Rest, Lavi. I’ll get the doctor- she should have a look at you. And everyone’s very interested to know what happened to you.”

“They… don’t know?”

“You were found on the side of the street; no one knows what-”

“She awake?!” Mrs. Anderson’s ecstatic tone came. “Leah! Leah, love, are you okay? What happened to you?”

“Perhaps we should get the doctor first,” Allen suggested again, and thankfully, the woman agreed, rushing out to the nearby nurse’s station. She came back with one of them, who promptly checked the freckled male’s pupils and asked a couple common sense questions, which were answered correctly. She smiled and said she’d be right back with the doctor.

“Leah, I’m so glad you’re all right,” Mrs. Anderson cooed, patting the teenager’s admittedly-oily hair. “I was so worried. What in the world happed to you, Darling?”

“It’s… kinda fuzzy. Sorry, I think my head’s still sorting through stuff.”

That was probably a lie.

“It’s okay, Leah,” the woman smiled. Here, she seemed to care so much for her child. Why did that change just because a different set of pronouns were preferred? “I know the police want to talk to you, but that probably won’t be for a couple days.”

More likely a couple hours.

“Okay,” was the numb reply.

“Would you like to rest some more?” Allen asked him, and got a nod in return. “All right. I should go,” he added, standing.

“Will you come again?” came the weak request.

“Sure. And you can text me if you need to.”

“You’ve been texting her?” Mrs. Anderson asked, suspicion in her tone.

“Only because school’s out, when Leah needs to talk.”

“…I see. Even if I don’t agree with your methods, I can’t deny the positive change in my daughter. So thank you for that.”

It must’ve been the relief that the redhead was okay; she had never been so cordial to him. “Of course. As I said, Leah’s a good kid; it would’ve been terrible to let all that potential go to waste.”

“Agreed,” she smiled, looking at the teenager again, who was trying to smile but was still clearly fatigued- and probably wanted the woman gone. Allen wanted nothing more than to curl up with him.

“Your birthday’s coming up soon, isn’t it?” he decided to remind the freckled male. “I do hope you’re able to get out here before then.”

Lavi did brighten at the words, his smile becoming more sincere. “Yeah, in a couple weeks. Me too, believe me.”

“Do keep me posed on your recovery.”

“I will,” the redhead promised, and Allen forced himself to leave the room, then the building.

Two weeks and one day, and they could leave all this shit behind them.

&

When he got home, there was more shit waiting for him. His apartment door was covered in graffiti and raw eggs. Wonderful. In all honestly, it this was in their arsenal, he was surprised it took them this long to get to it. Luckily, his key still worked despite the goo, and he had plenty to clean up the mess with inside.

He didn’t let himself process why it had happened. It was a mess and it needed to be cleaned and that was all.

It took a good few hours, but the eggs ick was gone, as well as the majority of the graffiti. The darker colors you could still kind of see if you squinted. ‘Or I’ve been staring at it too long,’ he realized. Whatever. Task done, he went inside to watch some TV and call Tyki.

Lavi was texting him again late that night, saying he’d just gotten up again. They’d made him eat, his mother had gone down to the cafeteria again, and he was already groggy again. ‘But I just wanted to message you before I passed out.’

‘I’m very glad you’re still doing so well,’ Allen wrote back. ‘But you do still need rest. Don’t fight it.’

‘Yes, Sir.’

&

It took all the self-restraint Allen had not to text Lavi every hour and wait for the redhead to contact him instead. In an effort to distract himself between messages and visits, he did his best to focus on other things, like his other students (who were less and less able to talk to him when their parents were around, poor things), and his summer job at a café (the staff were growing increasingly rude). It’d be a wonder if he still had either employment come September. Not that it mattered, but… Oh. No, they wouldn’t fire him. Then they’d have to admit o being the guilty ones. But if he quit…

Assholes.

One and a half weeks.

One week.

Lavi sent random ‘I’m still okay’ texts over the next few days, while Tyki provided a more in-depth look on his recovery. Those were the only communications that kept him going.

Leaving his apartment was starting to become hostile. None of his coworkers would help him with anything, barely bothering to hide their distain now. He was cleaning his door every couple days or so. If not for such a bright light at the end of this dark-as-shit tunnel, Allen was loathed to think he might be tempted to move, or worse, seen things from Lavi’s previous point of view. But it was less than a week now, and he could make it. He would make it.

He had to. For Lavi’s sake, if not his own.

Two days before Lavi’s birthday, the teen was cleared to go home. He wasn’t completely healed, the harder hits to his skin still clearing an arm fracture still healing, but well enough to start going about normal activity. He was ecstatic about it, texting Allen about every minor milestone along the way.

Allen wasn’t complaining. He was at his wit’s end with this fucking town. When he’d arrived, he’d thought it began and ended with Mrs. Anderson, but she couldn’t be responsible for all this now. Lavi still hadn’t said one way or the other, but the gray-eyed man was as certain as Tyki that Lavi had gotten beat up. This place was diseased and actually, Allen hoped, Mrs. Anderson might be starting to break free of it.

But his first priority was Lavi. As long as he still wanted to leave, Allen was going to help him. He was starting to worry about whether or not that was still true until the redhead texted him the night before the blessed day. ‘We still on for tomorrow?’

‘Of course,’ he replied, breathing out more tension than he’d realized had been existing inside him. ‘Would you like to spend time with your mother first, or…?’

‘I should,’ was the reply, and Allen practically heard the accompanying sigh. ‘When do you think would be a good time?’

‘I never actually unpacked, and whatever did find its way out of a box has found its way back in. Whenever you’re ready, so am I.’ he actually planned on leaving with just Lavi, and sending Tyki back for his stuff or something. The raven head lived for bitching out the ignorant and, in this case, had nothing to lose.

‘Okay,’ came the return after a moment. ‘I’ll walk up after lunch, say I’m meeting a friend. It’s not a lie. Then we’ll go.’

‘Just out of curiosity, do you plan on telling your mother about this?’

“Once we’re a good distance away and our phones’ GPSs are off, yes.’

Allen snorted. ‘Fair enough.’

‘This is really happening! I’m so excited!’

‘So am I, Lavi. I can hardly wait to see you.’

‘Me too.’

&

Allen could scarcely sleep that night. Lavi texted him a couple random emojis, which he returned in the same way. It was ridiculous, really, how you could now have a whole conversation with someone using just those stupid little things.

He did manage to nod off at some point, groggily pulling himself out of bed the next morning- after sending Lavi a ‘Happy Birthday’ text.

Coming out into the living room, he was greeted with soft thuds on the front door. That wasn’t knocking, though. By now he knew the sound of eggs hitting the wood. They were getting bolder, coming while he was home. It was definitely time to leave.

After making himself a light breakfast, he cleaned the mess for the millionth time, and packed everything that he wasn’t immediately bringing with him. He’d already texted Tyki with his request for the raven head to help him out, and through his usual sarcasm-veiled concern, had agreed to come up in a couple days with a moving truck.

Once all that was done, there wasn’t much else to do but wait. He couldn’t hold enough focus to read, but the TV managed to kill a couple hours. He double- and triple-checked his phone on the half hour to be sure he hadn’t missed anything. Finally, just after three, there was a new message from Lavi.

‘I’m on my way.’

Allen grinned ear to ear. ‘I’ll wait till I see you in the window, then head out?’

‘Yeah. Sounds good.’

A thought occurred to him. ‘You have everything you need/want?’

‘Yes, and that’s not a lot. I hate most of my clothes, and I hope it’s not too much to assume you can get me a toothbrush and shit.’

Scoff. ‘Of course not. We can certainly get you clothes you want to wear as well.’

‘Don’t wanna make you broke, lol.’

‘Pft, we aren’t using my money, we’re using Tyki’s, and he has plenty, trust me.’

‘LOL,’ was all Lavi replied, and Allen kept watch for the redhead by the window, a lump growing in his throat with each passing minute. What if someone hurt him again? He still hadn’t recovered completely from the last time… “I should have picked him up, fuck the consequences,” he muttered, but it was too late now. He wondered what bullshit the redhead had needed to spew to get his mother to let him go out.

When he finally saw him walking up the street with a small shoulder bag, he broke out into a bright smile. Lavi did as well from the sidewalk, and Allen grabbed his own bag to fly down the stairs.

Lavi hugged him hard on sight, and Allen couldn’t help but return the gesture. “We can leave now? Like, right now?” the freckled man asked.

“We certainly can. But as soon as we’re over the state line, I want you to text your mother. Maybe even call.”

“Yeah, okay. So let’s go?”

Allen smiled again, feeling as happy as Lavi looked. There were probably more obstacles ahead, but for Lavi, he’d gladly face all of them. “Let’s go.”