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Link is sure he's seen it all since becoming Walker's "bodyguard", for lack of a better term. That boy somehow manages to find himself in the middle of every disaster they've faced, with Link an unwilling companion in his escapades. Yet somehow, even with all the odds stacked against them, the boy always ends up on top, usually through sheer willpower and strength that he can't help but admire - not that he'd ever admit it to anyone, especially Walker.

At least, until yesterday. Every one of their battles, their struggles, the near death experiences - nothing from the past compares to the events of that day.

-

That day starts as they always do, with Walker bursting through the doors of the cafeteria, a manic grin splitting his face in two.

He pants, bending with his hands on his knees to stabilize his body - another one of the boy's mysteries - how he's able to take surely fatal hits with ease, yet nearly collapses just from a short jog from his room to the cafeteria.

"Hey, Moyashi." a red-haired exorcists leaps from his spot at a table, food abandoned, and nearly bowls the other exorcist to the floor with the force of his hug. Walker cries out and shoves the older boy's arm off of his neck, but to his despair, it doesn't budge.

"Lavi, let go please. And my name isn't Moyashi, it's Allen." he whines, and makes another attempt to escape, but the boy just holds tighter.

"I haven't seen my cute Allen for the past week!"

Allen, instead of looking as touched as the apprentice may have hoped, makes a gagging noise and pushes with all of his strength. Finally, Allen jogs over to where Link is waiting in the breakfast line. He has to hold back an eye roll at their antics. Walker would never admit it, but Link has seen the way the boy's eyes brighten after any sort of interactions with his friends - even a verbal sparring match with Kanda.

"Allen, wait!" Lavi jogs over. Walker moves a little to the side as he cuts through the line to reach them, just in case.

Walker taps his foot as if to say "Hurry up, I'm starving!" even as a smile graces his face. As fake as always, of course. There's a good probability that none of them have ever seen a genuine smile from the boy, a fact he pushes to the back of his mind because thinking on it is pointless.

Lavi must catch onto the train of thought, because he backs up a little even as he speaks, "Komui said he wanted to talk with you. Something urgent, probably. He sounded serious for once." In Link's humble opinion, the man could deal with a little more "seriousness" in his otherwise frivolous life.

"But.." the boy stares with longing eyes at the trays of food lined up on the counter, and just as he starts towards them, is yanked back to reality.

"Allen, great to see you here. Now, now, come with me." Komui, tugging on the boy's arm with urgency, doesn't even spare him a moment to grieve over the lost meal.

"Thanks Lavi!" the Chief waves to Lavi with one hand, the other manhandling the confused exorcist out of the room. Link has to jog just to keep up.

"What's wrong now?" Walker asks the older man as they walk, who hasn't said a word besides calling them over. Then he adds with a pout, "I'm hungry."

"As if that ever changes." Link grumbles, and feels an odd sensation at the playful look of hurt sent his way.

"It's Lvellie," Komui interrupts - seemingly, he found his voice, "he wants something from you, but I don't know what."

Komui glances over to him as if he can magically conjure up an explanation to whatever goes on in the Inspector's head. He just shakes his head; the Inspector hasn't told him much of anything recently, much to his chagrin. Walker's face pales, the muscles in his good arm tightening an almost unnoticeable amount around Komui's grasp.

They walk the rest of the way through the halls as if with the ghost of an akuma trailing behind, cold and tense. Walker avoids both of their gazes - Komui full of concern, and Link simply observing - and he can't help but wonder what thoughts are racing around his head. It's no secret that both the Chief and his exorcists harbor not-so-favorable feelings towards Central, Link's existence included. He wants to say he can't understand it, but that horrible look on Walker's face when he found out just what his fate was refuses to leave his mind. Then again, he shouldn't be feeling pity for the Fourteenth. No, they can't afford to feel compassion for the enemy, even when the enemy is living inside the mind of a fifteen year old kid.

By the time he forcefully ends that dangerous train of thought, they've made it to the Inspector's temporary room - an empty room that once belonged to an exorcist killed in battle, or so they say. Lvellie had not hesitated to pile the former belongings to one corner and order them to be burned by his next visit. Link is once again removed from his thoughts when he meets a resistance. Walker has stopped at the handle, his hand hovering over the ornate brass. No one says anything, and after a few moments, it turns with a resolute click.

-

Inside is just about what Link expects, the CROWs arranged into a tight ring, creating a floating barrier that surrounded the man in the center; Lvellie. The CROWs don't move even an inch, still facing forward in their occult-ish formation, when they enter. Lvellie is under no such restriction, though, and his smile sends unwilling and unexpected chills down his spine. Lifeless, that's the best way he can describe it. Lifeless and pitiless.

Walker clutches the sleeve of his exorcist coat as if he's afraid it'll be taken from him if he lets it go.

"Fourteenth." Lvellie says in greeting, and smirks when the boy's face darkens.

"My name is Allen Walker, sir." he replies, a fake smile stretching his face until it reaches an unnerving shape.

"Not for much longer, if your Master is to be believed."

"That won't happen." Walker says. His voice is determined, leaving no room for argument. Lvellie raises his eyebrows.

"That's besides the point of our little meeting today anyways." Lvellie waves his hand as if brushing away tangible words, "It seems we may have discovered a method to receive answers to some of our most pressing questions."

"What?" Komui speaks up for the first time. The CROWs flinch at the tone of his voice, ready to attack at any notice. Lvellie just ignores them, however.

"Indeed." he motions Walker to an empty chair beside him, which he hadn't noticed before. Small and plastic, towered over by the satin throne Lvellie sat in. Walker moves over with cautious steps, and glares towards the ever-watchful CROWs once seated. "It's a potion of sorts, developed by the Central Science division. Never mind the details, but it essentially allows a person to return to a previous stage of their life for a few hours at a time, memories and physical body reverted."

Walker seems to shiver at the prospect, but he doesn't say anything - wisely; after all, he's running under a tight leash.

The room watches in a blanket silence as Lvellie grabs something - concealed by the sleeve of those long robes - from one of the C.R.O.Ws hands. The Inspector cradles it in his palms for a few moments, likely basking in the tense atmosphere. Link notices that Walker has started to tremble ever so slightly across his entire body, though he grips the material of his outfit in a feeble attempt to stop.

A few moments more pass before Lvellie flourishes the liquid like a Ringmaster at a circus, back and forth. It's a slim vial, no larger than an average finger, but the liquid inside is anything but average; a cloudy lavender, bubbling, frothing, swirling and splashing with every small movement.

Walker takes the vial in his firm grasp, clearly determined to get this whole thing over with, but the rim of vial hesitates, teetering precariously on the edge of his lips. Silver eyes show the first glimmers of fear, and Link's stomach clenches.

"Drink, boy." Lvellie commands. His expression remains stoic, more like a humanoid figure than one with a beating heart. The boy hesitates a moment longer, then jerks the vial to trembling lips and downs the potion in a single fluid motion.

Walker barely has the time to set the bottle on the floor before a catastrophic wind tears through the room. Link drops on his knees, a little surprised when the other C.R.O.Ws break their formation to do the same. Lvellie also crouches, but he keeps his eyes on the space where the exorcist is - though he's concealed by a flurry of robes, papers, and other miscellaneous objects. His eyes burn from the wind's fury, and so he has to look down.

Eventually, the sting against his cheeks lightens to a soft brush, and he looks up to see the last of the vital documents drifting down to the floor. He scans the room, scared for just a moment when there's no sign of the white-haired exorcist. But then something shifts underneath a stack of papers. All eyes are focused as a leg peeks out, then an arm, and finally, someone the size of a child emerges from the ruin. Impossibly, extraordinarily, the potion worked.

-

There's no way the potion worked. Some miscalculation from the science team - never mind that they're the top talents in the country, everyone makes mistakes - because there's no way that that kid, sitting on top of a stack of papers and glass, is Allen Walker.

This kid, who must be only 7 or 8 years old, has a tuft of red-brown hair featuring on his head, alongside dull gray eyes - the only similarity - but no scar. Not to mention, he's covered in bruises. Walker wouldn't allow himself to be bruised as easily - it takes a good 20 mph hit to crumbling concrete to give that boy a scratch. This non-Walker kid scowls up at them and spits to the floor, leaving a globule of blood sitting on the tiles.

"Who are ya' folks? An' how exactly did I end up 'ere?" the boy speaks with a heavy accent, possibly British. His voice is childish, yet gravelly, like he hasn't spoken in years. He couldn't sound farther from Walker, either.

Lvellie strides over to the figure, stepping across splintered wood, but the boy flinches back, "So you really don't remember anything, boy?"

He narrows his eyes, the dull gray whipping up to a storm, "Of course I don't. What the 'ell are you blokes on about?"

Lvellie doesn't even blink, "We're from the Black Order, an association of the Church. This is besides the point, though. We have some questions for you, Mr. Allen Walker."
Link notices the boy scowl at the mention of the Church, but any questions are wiped from his mind moments after.

"Allen? Who the bloody 'ell is Allen?"

The very atmosphere seems to chill, the only sound in the room a rapid scratching of pencil against paper. The boy furrows his brows, but doesn't press. He doesn't seem the type to ask questions unless necessary.

"Is the implication that your name is not in fact 'Allen Walker' a correct one, then?" Lvellie's voice sounds odd, almost like a dam holding back a flood of excitement. They're onto something. Though a part of Link still feels they brought the wrong kid back from the past.

"'Course it ain't. Kids like me don't get names. Now where did you get me from? Cosimo? The Ringmaster?"

"I ask the questions here, boy." Lvellie interrupts in his chilling voice, effectively silencing the kid. His respect for authority has certainly changed. "Now answer, what is your name?"

The boy chooses to be silent, picking at the ragged ends of his sleeve and avoiding the gaze of the impatient Inspector.

"Now, child."

He looks up, "I don't 'ave on, like I said." noticing the increasingly red complexion of his interrogator, he adds, "Some do call me Red."

"Red." the name rolls off of the Inspector's tongue. "Because your left arm, I presume."

Red flinches and tucks his covered arm under the rags of his shirt as if it would make a difference. His voice trembles when he asks, "How-?"

"I know you better than you likely know yourself. Or at least for your sake, you had better hope that's the case."

Red flinches back as the man reaches for him and balls his tiny fists to his face. They're black and blue and marred all over; not a threatening sight.

Lvellie pauses for a moment, then backs away with a grin. "I'm glad to have established that. Now, tell me, do the names Mana or Neah sound at all familiar to you?"

"I don't need ta answer that."

Evidently, not all of his spark has been stamped out. The words seem to touch a nerve, if his knotted brows are anything to go by.

"Yes, you do. Unless you wish to be accused of treason, that is."

The last bit of fighting energy seeps out from the boy, his face going slack with defeat. Even his limbs seem to weaken.

Red resigns himself to be content with that, and finally answers, "Heard of 'em, I s'pose. Though I dunno what the hell you mean by treason. Treason from what? The circus? The church? The entire goddamn country?"

Lvellie's silent, intense stare prompts him to stop his tirade.

"Well, I dunno about this 'Fourteenth' fellow - weird name, that is, though I've heard weirder - but I'm pretty sure Mana Walker works at the circus. Why, did 'e commit some horrible sin?"

"Possibly. Now, how did you come into contact with this Mana Walker?"

"Well.." Red looks hesitant to continue, which is why it's so surprising when he bursts into a rant, "This old clown Cosimo - right bastard - got jealous of the new clown, Mana. So 'e sent me to go and kill his dog, this wee thing named Allen."

Lvellie raises an eyebrow, but doesn't interrupt.

"An' I wasn't about to kill some helpless animal, not for that bastard, but it didn't matter in the end."

His voice goes deeper, darker. Something so unlike Allen. "But 'e killed him anyway. I watched as Mana Walker buried his dog, an' we got to talking a bit. That's all there is to it."
Lvellie 'hmms' and strides to the other side of the chair. He leans in until his nose could touch the edge of Red's cheek - who looks up with wide eyes - then backs away.
"No sign of the Fourteenth, yet. That's a shame."

"Are we done here?" Red interrupts. "'cos I'd like to get me bearings and such, being forced to some looney hole and all."

Lvellie can hardly maintain his composure when he says, "Not yet, boy. Patience. And speak proper, would you?"

"Sorry, sir." he stresses the last syllable, "Forgot to speak like a prissy."

Smack. Not even a second passes before Lvellie strikes the boy again. Once across the cheek, then the back of his head. Link turns away, though the cries of the boy echo through the chamber. It's what's necessary for their cause.

Link turns back in time to see the Inspector hauling the boy up by his hair, the red strands bunched together in his white-knuckled grip. He winces, and the boy does too. Then, he spits. A clear globule, interspersed with red streams of blood, all on the Inspector's face.

"You're done for today, useless brat." Lvellie growls, low and dangerous. He drags the boy up to his eye level. "You'd better prepare yourself for tomorrow." Red stares back, a red-hot defiance storming his gray eyes. Lvellie tosses him to the side, like a sack of garbage, and storms from the room.

Link walks over to the boy after checking that the other C.R.O.W members had left the room along with Lvellie. He glares up at him and spits, "What? You gonna toss me around too? Like I'm some sorta hackey sack?"

"You should be more careful when you speak to the Inspector." is all he says, but he offers a hand to the fallen boy.

To nobody's surprise, he snacks the hand away and sends a murderous glare to the floor.

"Jus' kill me already." Red growls, and turns his fiery eyes up to the guard dog. "It'll be easier for everyone that way."

But Link shakes his head, "Believe it or not, there are some people that would be rather upset if you died."

Red scoffs, and crosses his arms over his tiny chest, "Oh yeah? Cause last I checked, no one on this damn planet gives two shits about me!"

"Watch your language."

"Shut up." he growls, and clambers to unsteady feet. Meanwhile, Link ponders his words with a bit of growing concern - no, not concern, such trifles are beneath him. Intrigue, perhaps - He knows that the Walker kid had a rough upbringing, but for him to say that he has no one to care about him? It's unusual.

Then, as he reminds himself, it's not in his job description to care about the boy. Doing so would just create more complications than it would solve.

Luckily, the chief strolls over to where they're standing, though he wears a disapproving face. "I wouldn't make that man your enemy, Al-Red. At least, if you want to survive."
Red doesn't even look up, "Whatever. Stop pretending ta' care about me, an' just move on."

"Red.." but Komui can likely sense that nothing they say to the boy at this point will convince him otherwise. A lifetime of conditioning has taught him otherwise. Link can't help but wonder how this boy turns into the infuriatingly positive and loving Allen Walker.

Komui cuts through his musings with that obnoxious fake cheer, "Well, I believe there's a whole feast waiting for us in the dining hall. Why don't we go check it out?"
Neither of them notice the way the boy shrinks into himself.

-

The dining hall hasn't changed since they first dragged Walker from his meal - something that feels to be in the distant past, even though only a few hours have passed.
Komui, with a trailing Link, leads the boy to Jerry with a hand hovering a few inches over his trembling shoulder; at least the man has some sense of personal space. Red's chin barely stretches over the counter as he glances with wild eyes up to the grinning man and back down to the floor. The sudden nervous behavior is so unlike the boy they - admittedly hardly - have grown to know.

"I'll have what you have leftover, sir. If that's alright?" the sentence ends in a squeaky whisper.

Jerry's face softens, though his eyebrows pinch together. Red flinches back a little. "I don't have ta-"

"No, no dearie. You can have whatever your little heart desires." Jerry gives his most reassuring smile.

"Really, sir. No need to waste any resources, I'll only be here for a little while anyways."

"Come on Reddie, no need to be like that! Jerry, why don't you whip the boy up one of your specials?" Komui interrupts. Red shivers multiple times through the one sentence.

"You got it!"

Komui ushers the boy off to an empty table, though he gathers plenty of stares. It's not too uncommon for strangers to show up at the Order, but ones his age are certainly a spectacle.

Not long after Red sits, a crowd of exorcists surrounds the empty table. Komui tries waving them off with some frantic excuses, but as per usual, he goes ignored.

"Who's this lil' guy?"

"'e sure is a cutie."

Wherever there's a crowd, Lavi is sure to be close behind. And so he appears, a head above the crowd, with a wicked grin.

"Who's the cute kid, two-spot?"

Link growls, "That is none of your concern."

"Don't get your ponytail in a twist! Can ya at least tell me where Allen is? Haven't seen him since he got dragged off, and it's not like you to be apart from him."

Link isn't sure how to respond. Lvellie hadn't given any specific orders on to whom or how much information could get out. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Red takes the initiative.

"'parrently I'm this Allen bloke, though I think these folks are a bunch of loons."

Lavi drops his cheeky grin in an instant. "Huh?"

"Dunno, ask them." the boy jabs his thumb in their direction. Komui raises his hands in surrender.

"There's a good reason for this, I promise."

"There had better be." Lavi growls. Link is a little surprised at the fierceness in his tone. He knows the Bookman puts on a facade, but this sounded almost genuine.

"It's the Inspector's doing."

Apparently that's enough to calm his nerves, because the boy, though his face is pinched tight, nods.

"Well come on then." Lavi returns his attention to the young boy, who flinches. "I'll introduce you to the other exorcists!"

Link is about to protest, but the pair are off and away before he can even get a word in. This is an unfortunate situation.

-

"So, little Reddie. Meet the crew!"

Red is very clearly not pleased with the nickname, but he doesn't say anything. The confused exorcists look to Lavi for some sort of an explanation.

"Little Reddie is also known as Beansprout." Lavi adds, as if that clears any confusion.

"You mean.. Allen?" Lenalee is hesitant in her question.

"Apparently so." Red cuts in. "Though I've got no clue and I'd appreciate it if you all would leave me alone."

Lenalee leans over to whisper in Lavi's ear. He nods and gives her a grim smile.

"Red dear~" Jerry comes down the hall with platters of food stacked in his arms.

Red pales. "There's no way that's gonna fit in my stomach."

"You're moyashi, of course it's going to fit!" Lavi counters, and shoves the plates of food closer to the boy. Red leans back as if the plates are molten hot.
"I dunno what you lot mean when you say that, but I can hardly fit leftovers on a good day."

"That's awful!" Miranda cries. Tears have already made their way onto her pale cheeks, smearing lines of mascara on their journey down.

Red looks at her with a bemused expression that almost cracks Link's mask. And here he'd thought the boy only had two modes; defensive and annoyed.

"Did your parents not feed you a lot?"

It's an odd thing for Lenalee to ask, considering she knows all too well what it's like to be parentless.

At the raised eyebrows from her companions - and Red - she leans in, and in a quieter tone, says, "I know he said he had an adoptive father, but I thought he may have had someone else before that? I mean, Allen is so cheerful all of the time."

Again, not something expected from the epitome of that very trait.

"I have a feeling we don't know a whole lot about the little Beansprout." says Lavi, and frowns thoughtfully. "But I know a great way we can find out."

"How so?" asks Krory.

"We ask the little one right there, of course!"

Kanda huffs, and turns away, intending to walk out of the room, "Good luck getting anything out of that attitude."

"You're not going anywhere, Yuu." Lavi grabs the samurai's sleeve, who slaps his hand away. But Lavi is persistent, and wraps both his arms around the man.
"C'mon, you can't tell me you're not as curious about little Allen as the rest of us!"

The man still tries to wrench himself from the grasp, but when he finally breaks free, he doesn't make any move to leave.

"Hey, uh, Red?" Lenalee crouches to the eye level of the boy. "Why don't you come sit down, and then we'll talk, okay?"

By the scowl on his face, it's not okay, but he doesn't protest as he moves to sit in front of his personal feast.

He picks up a fork with his good hand - hadn't Allen said something about his other arm being paralyzed when he was young? - and pokes at the food.
"What's this?" he asks, voice quiet and unsure. He's poking at a mitarashi dango, his - or Allen's - favorite treat.

"It's a delicious dessert!" Lavi cries, "You have to try it!"

"Dessert? The hell is that?"

Link raises an eyebrow. And here he'd assumed nothing more about the boy could surprise him.

"Oh." says Miranda, small and shaky. Everyone else seems to agree, though they don't let it show in their expressions.

"There's a first time for everything!" Lavi says, only sounding a little forced. "C'mon!"

Red turns back to his food with a grim expression, still poking. He mutters something under his breath before bringing the dessert to his face, eyes darting back and forth between the onlookers, and then bites down.

Immediately, his eyes widen, and the food drops out of his mouth. "What..?"

Miranda leans over in concern, "Is there something wrong with the food?"

"It's.. sweet." he says finally. "I've not had somethin' as sweet as that before."

Miranda frowns, "What sort of stuff did- do you eat at the circus?"

Red shrugs, "Whatever leftovers the chefs are willing to give to rats like me."

"Rats?" Miranda gasps. "Don't call yourself that!" Then she pauses, realizing how loud she spoke. "Er, I mean, please don't call yourself that, Red. It's not nice."

"Since when do people care about being nice?" he grumbled.

"We do!" Miranda insisted, leaning forward with earnest speed. "Not everyone is going to hurt you."

He flinches back anyways, and Miranda's face falls. Then, surprisingly, it morphs into one of confidence.

"I'll show you, Red. Just like Allen did for me. I'll prove it to you."

Red seems a little taken aback by her insistence, but, to everyone's surprise, he nods.

"Good luck wi' that, lady."

And with that declaration, almost a challenge, he continues to eat at a slightly faster pace.

"So," he says after a while, through a bite of food, "Wha' exactly am I meant to be doing 'ere?"

"Nothing!" Lenalee says, a little too quick. "I mean, uh, we don't really have any jobs that match your - uh - qualifications?"

Red frowns, "An' what's that supposed ta mean?"

"Well, we don't have any quick jobs that need doing." Lavi steps in. "Not like what you're used to at the circus."

"An' how would you know that?" Red spat.

Lavi holds up his hands for surrender. "The work the Black Order does is a little different than what you may call 'normal'."

"Like?" by this point, the boy has abandoned his meal.

"It's.. sort of top secret." Lavi admitted.

"Then why the hell did you lot drag me here?" he throws his hands up, the fork shooting from his grip and landing with a clatter on the floor.

The entire hall goes silent. Noticing this, Red flushes his namesake and darts from the table out the door.

The other exorcists sit in a shocked silence that lasts all of a few seconds before springing up and dashing after the boy.

Lavi, true to his animal counterpart, made it to the boy first.

"Oi!" he called. "You're not supposed to run off without us!"

"Screw off!"

"Now now, we don't use that kind of language here." Lavi chided, not serious, but Red glared even harder.

"If one of you wankers would jus' decide to explain the bloody situation, then maybe this wouldn't be a problem!"

"It's hard to explain." Lenalee says. "Believe me, I would love to, but there's a good chance you won't even believe us.."

"Try me."

"Okay, fine." said - to everyone's surprise - Kanda. "We're exorcists. We destroy akuma with innocence. We fight Noah."

"Oh." Red says, but his pinched face marks his confusion.

"Told ya." Lavi teases. "Now why don't you scurry on back to the cafeteria and finish that meal?"

"Full." Red grumbles.

Kanda huffs, 'Fine, brat. Now what else are you supposed to do?"

"Dunno, that's what you're supposed to figure out."

"You're impossible, brat." Kanda growls. "Dunno which one of you is worse."

"And you're looney." Red quips back.

The samurai moves to smack the boy across the head. Red flinches back at the first sign of movement, hands protecting his face and glaring up through the gap between his crossed arms.

Kanda pauses in the motion, glares, then drops his hand. They're all silent after that.

Eventually Lavi clears his throat and motions them down the hall, in a direction that turns out to be Komui's office.

"Why ya taking me here?" Red asks, wary.

"Just shut up and walk." growls Kanda.

Red, to everyone's shock, complies. Link is hesitant to call it a win.

Lenalee knocks on the door, which opens to a beaming Director. "Lenalee! My dear sister! My sister sense told me it was you at the door!"

Lenalee dodges his flailing arms and slips into the office when he's distracted. The others follow suit.

"We have a problem, big brother." Lenalee said. She gave him her best pleading eyes, "And we need your help."

"I'm on it!" he jumped up with his hand to his head in a soldier gesture, "Now, what's the problem?"

"Red."

"Ah."

Everyone turned to the boy, who had his arms crossed and was staring up at them with defiant eyes. "I want work, that's all."

"You don't have to-" Komui tried.

"No, I do. Cause if I'm not working then I got no assurance that you lot are doing anything good with me."

"That's some weird logic, kid." says Lavi, then pats his head. "We don't need you to do anything like that though, really. Your presence is blessing enough!"

"Shuddup weirdo." Red says, and shakes off Lavi's hand that lingers on his hair.

"Red." Komui interrupted, shooting Lavi a glare. "What sort of thing would you like to do?"

"Work, damnit! Is that so hard ta get? I want an honest days pay or sumthin - doesn't have ta be a lot. Jus' enough to earn my keep."

"Well we don't have-"

"Bullshit you don't 'ave!" I don' believe that for a tick! I saw someone not much older than me 'ere. If 'e can do somethin' then so can I."

"He's different." Lenalee explained, as gentle as possible. "Red.. I don't know how to say this, but your abilities haven't quite developed yet."

"Aand let's stop here." Komui interrupted. "Red, why don't you go.. sort some files in that corner over there, m'kay? Reever will help you. " Said man waved.

Red looked at the group with a raised eyebrow, but he went over to join the spikey-haired man in a farther corner of the office.

Komui spoke in a low tone, "We can't risk him hearing stuff about the future. Who knows what affect Red knowing about his power before he was meant to would do to the time stream? We're not certain about the long-term effects of this potion. We assume there aren't any, given that our Allen showed no recognition when he first arrived, but the entire concept of time is honestly such a headache of uncertainty that we can't ensure that."

Lenalee looks repentant. "Sorry, brother. I wasn't thinking. I just.. I don't know how to act around him! He's Allen, but he's not."

Komui nods solemnly, and places a steady hand on his sister's shoulder. "This isn't easy for any of us. Lvellie messed with things he didn't understand."

"Do you really think he'll return by tomorrow?"

Komui sighed a deep sigh. "It's impossible to know, dear sister. For all of our sakes, though, I do hope so."

-

"Lvellie wants to speak with Red." Komui's assistant informed the group a few hours later.

They were gathered in the library, clustered together and speaking in low whispers while Red did some small jobs for the librarian.

"What?" Lavi asked. "Why?"

The assistant scoffed, "Dunno. Not high level enough to know that. Komui said he sounded pissed though, so I'd hurry."

The group shared a look, nodded, then called, "Red?"

The boy scampered over, shifting a pile of books that towered over his head. "Yeah?"

"Lvellie needs to speak with you." the tone of speak clearly indicated that speaking isn't all that this meeting entails. Link isn't even upset over the insinuation. He hardly has ground to stand on.

Red catches the same tone, because he frowns and drops the books to the floor in an undignified heap. "Do I have ta?"

"Yes." Link says, and grabs his arm. The boy flinches, which stirs the barest inkling of pity, but Lvellie does not take well to late arrival.

Link leads him to the directors office, where the man in question is sat cross-legged behind his large desk.

"Ah, little Red. How wonderful to once again make your acquaintance." his facial expression was all fake smiles and pleasantries.

"Mm." Red hummed. It looked like he wanted to say more, but held himself back. Link let go of a breath internally.

"Well, why don't we get straight to business?" Lvellie curled a pale hand over the boy's wrist, completely encircling it in his tight grasp. "Let's go, boy."

"What- hey, let go of me, old man!" Red yelped and clutched at his arm, now a bright pink that contrasted against his pale skin.

"Silence. I've been far too tolerant with you so far, but it does not have to be so."

"Okay, okay, geez." Red mumbled, and let himself be dragged along.

Lvellie led them back to the hallway, which they followed along until reaching the familiar empty room. The chair sat in the middle of linoleum floors, encircled by robe-wearing CROW members who made no acknowledgement of their arrival.

"Go on, sit." Lvellie gestured him over to the chair. Red sat, albeit reluctantly, with his hands tucked under his legs.

The CROWs parted to make way for Lvellie as he stepped right in front of the smaller figure on the seat.

"We have another potion to test, as well as some more questions, since you've been useless as of yet."

Red didn't say anything, so Lvellie continued. "The first one was provided to us by a scientist from another branch. It should theoretically open your mind, so that every memory you have of a time period can be recalled. I hear it's very painful, but effective."

Red shivered. "Whatever you're tryna get from me, I don't have it."

"I would lose some of that confidence, boy. You have nothing to base it on." then he waved over a woman in a bright white jumpsuit.

"Mrs. Wren, if you could please administer the shot."

The woman nodded curtly and pulled a long syringe from her chest pocket. Red flinched back so hard that the chair almost tipped to the ground, but the crisp lady grabbed his non-mutilated arm and yanked up the sleeve, exposing a pale blue vein. The green liquid slid from the thick needle to his vein. As soon as it made contact with his blood, Red screamed and thrashed.

He managed to pull himself away from the hand gripping his arm, but tumbled from the chair and collapsed into a ragged heap onto the floor. Link rushed to his side, kneeling and placing a gentle hand on his trembling shoulder. He shook the boy with the same amount of care, but he was met with a shrill shriek and a whining whimper. Clearly his intervention had done more harm than good. Useless idea. He stood back on his feet and marched back to his position, wishing he could block out the pitiful cries of the now writhing child.

"Do you feel the memories flowing in?" Lvellie asked. For the first time, Link truly understood why others despised his boss. Feelings of regret flowed through him, thinking back to all the times he had blindly obeyed orders in the name of Justice.

But what sort of Justice was to be found in the torture of a child?

Red screamed until his voice tapered out in a hoarse whisper. Lvellie clacked across the room with his steel-toed boots and once again knelt by the boy's side. He rested his hand on the boy's forehead, flushed red. Red flinched back, but his eyes, pinched tight, didn't open.

Lvellie hummed, then slapped him across the face.

Red's eyes shot open and he was on his feet in seconds. Before he had time to react, the boy stumbled and fell back to the floor.

"Hmph, useless brat." Lvellie muttered, and this time grabbed his arm before dragging him to his feet. He not-so-gently led him back to the chair.

Once Red was seated - or more accurately, slumped in the chair - Lvellie began his questions.

"Are you currently associated with the being known as the Fourteenth?"

Red shook his head. Lvellie pressed on. "You have been associated in the past, yes?"

"No, I haven't, ya big jerk." his voice came out strained, a flood of whimpers barely held back by sheer will and a grown up desire to appear stronger than he clearly was. Nice to know not everything had changed.

Lvellie took a chunk of Red's auburn hair in his grasp and pulled. The boy squeaked in protest, but couldn't do more than lift his still-shaking body enough to lessen the strain.

"Tell me the truth boy, or I'll do much worse than this."

"I am!" he shouted. "I dunno what to- ow - what to say!"

Lvellie huffed and shoved his head back down to the hard floor, where it impacted with a sickening crack.

"Shi- you crazy man! That hurt!"

"Sir.." Link hesitated, but Lvellie was looking at him. "It may be wise to avoid any potential concussions that would affect his memory."

"Fine. Then get this brat up, and we'll do some proper questioning."

Link complied and hooked the underside of his arms onto his forearms, then lifted him (gently) back into the chair. Maybe this time, he'd stay there.

Red groaned in protest, but Link counted it as a success since the boy allowed his touch.

"I'm sorry." he said, quiet enough so his boss wouldn't overhear. He said it more to appease his own guilt than anything, he knew. Still, the boy replied.

"Don't apologise, just get me away from this creep." Red muttered.

Link just shook his head, knowing the request was impossible. This would all turn out for the better. It had to. Lvellie was a cruel man, he could admit (at least in the safety of his own mind) but he was a sensible one. Sometimes.

"Knew it." Red growled. "Don't 'ave any respect for the children these days."

"Because you are a much better example of respect." said Link before he could think about it.

Red snorted, though it lacked the 'oomph' one might expect from the levels of sass the kid contained. "Huh, didn't know ol' Blondie had it in him to make a joke."

Before Link could reply - probably in indignantion - Lvellie growled, "My patience wears thin, Inspector Link. Step back from the boy."

"Of course, sir." He'd become careless.

Once he was situated, Lvellie went back to his questions.

"Have you ever come into contact with the group known as 'NOAH'?"

"NOAH?" Red repeated. "That's a weirdo name. But no."

"I don't believe you." Lvellie said cooly.

"Yeah, well, that's all you're gonna get."

"I knew you were hiding something from me, boy. Know that I am prepared to use every possible resource and method to extract it from you."

"Good luck." Red said. " 'Cause I'm not talkin'. Mainly because I don't actually know anything, you twit."

Link didn't know where this burst of defiance came from, and he didn't like it.

"You may have just incriminated yourself, child." Lvellie said with a smirk. "And I will do everything in my power to prove it."

"I don't understand your kind, Inspector." Red spat. "I say one thing, and from it you take something else completely. Ya remind me a lot of the Ringmaster, y'know? An' that's no compliment."

Lvellie was silent for a few tense seconds. Then, he stalked up to Red, who didn't even flinch when he leaned in close enough to touch noses.

"I will have answers." His hand darted out to grab the boy's neck. He squeezed so hard that Red's breaths came out in wheezes, and managed to lift him into the air. Red struggled and wheezed, but couldn't get out from his iron grip.

"I have power that you do not, boy."

Eventually Leverrier released his tight grip, the boy hacking and wheezing on the cold floor.

The interrogation lasted for hours afterwards, but Red refused to speak apart from the occasional nasty quip, and Lvellie knew that too much damage to the boy would be counterproductive.

“Tomorrow.” Leverrier hissed as the boy was dragged from the room with his hands cuffed behind his back. “You will tell me everything, and more. We have many more potions to try.”

“Good luck with that, old man. I look forward to it.”