Our first mistake was asking for directions.
My husband Tom said, “We don’t need to ask for directions. Any idiot can find the Eiffel Tower when he’s standing in Paris.”
Maybe so. Maybe we’re not just any kind of idiot, but some specially bred-to-be-lost kind. I don’t know, but I didn’t want to spend the entire afternoon wandering around insanely crooked streets looking for huge bits of modern architecture over the rooftops. Besides, there were people just down the road speaking English. We’re English. Surely they were placed by fate just so that we could ask them directions. It seemed a perfectly good idea to ask.
It was not a good idea. My husband apparently intends to remind me of this until we die of old age or I kill him with a skillet, whichever comes first.
The people speaking English were young men. I thought they seemed benign enough. Tom claims he thought otherwise, but he didn’t say a thing about it at the time, did he? So I dragged him over to the young men, and got as far as “Excuse me” before my mistake became obvious.
The Oriental boy had a sword to my throat and the eyepatch boy had a hammer pinning Tom to the wall before we could blink. It seemed a bit excessive as a response to “Excuse me.” Perhaps more appropriate if I’d opened with, say, “Your mothers are whores and also you smell.”
The Oriental boy, now I was seeing him up close and over several feet of steel, did have something of a hostile—even homicidal—look to him. Didn’t I feel silly. Homicidal maniacs are the very sort that my mother warned me not to take directions from.
“Good morning,” I squeaked, thinking politeness could hardly make things worse. Tom made that little tsking noise he makes when he’s finding me embarrassing. The one that makes me want to break a plate over his head.
“Would you mind awfully telling us the way to the Eiffel Tower?” I ploughed on, ignoring Tom. “Only if you know it, of course. We don’t mean to be a bother at all.”
A moment of silence, then the eyepatch boy said, “I dunno, Yuu. That’s a new one on me. Directions. I think they’re probably human.”
What in God’s name he thought we might otherwise be, I don’t know.
“Keh,” said my boy with the sword. Yuu, I suppose. “So you’ll just trust that they are and see what happens? Idiot.”
“You’re kinda suspicious, Yuu,” eyepatch boy said with what I considered thoroughly inappropriate cheer. “I dunno if anyone’s mentioned that to you before.”
“Shut up. You haven’t let yours go either.”
“Well, no. Mine is probably married to yours.” If there’s anything more upsetting than being referred to as an object by people with weapons, I don’t want to know about it.
“So if I let him go,” eyepatch boy continued, “he’ll probably attack you, and then I’d have to hurt him. Wouldn’t that be awkward?”
“Or you let him go and he transforms and kills you. How’s that for awkward?”
“So what d’you suggest, Yuu? We cut ‘em open and see if they’ve got metal bones? I heard that was your plan for Allen.”
Oh, there. That was definitely more upsetting than being referred to as an object. I was right; I didn’t want to know.
“The beansprout,” Yuu said, nonsensically.
“Yes? Allen?” eyepatch boy prompted.
“We should wait for the beansprout,” Yuu snapped. “Where the hell are they, anyway?”
“Excuse me,” said Tom, apparently forgetting the effect those words had had the last time. “Have we…offended you in some way? Do you want money, or—”
“Shut the fuck up,” Yuu snapped. If it hadn’t been for the whole sword problem, I might’ve been warming to him. Truly, there’s nothing more irritating than Tom’s groveling.
“Anyway—” the eyepatch boy started, but was interrupted by an Oriental girl (related to Yuu? Violent Oriental gangs in Paris?) appearing behind him and asking what was going on.
I was wondering myself.
The girl didn’t seem inclined to take our part, unfortunately. In fact, she looked tempted to drop her bag of—groceries?—and join in. She had a suspicious expression. Insanely suspicious.
“We’re waiting for Allen,” eyepatch boy said with a happy smile. He seemed confused as to when it was appropriate to look happy. It is not appropriate while pinning innocent passerby to the wall. Someone should explain this to him.
“Ah,” said the suspicious girl. “He’ll be here soon. He was chatting with the shop owner, you know how he is.”
Yuu rolled his eyes in apparent disgust, and eyepatch boy laughed.
“Allen?” I asked quietly, because I was starting to feel left out, or maybe because my sense of self-preservation was taking a walk. Tom tsked at me again. I briefly, violently wished that eyepatch boy would just crush Tom’s face with the hammer.
“Allen is the one who’s going to decide what to do with you,” the girl said in a tone that wasn’t comforting at all.
It seemed an awfully long wait for Allen after that, though I’m sure it wasn’t really. Something about waiting for the person who’s going to decide your fate does strange things to time.
The boy who finally came around the corner didn’t look the judge and jury type at all. Neither did he look entirely trustworthy. He had an alarming scar that went right through his eye, such that it was a miracle the eye had survived, and he had alarming white hair caused by who knew what. Then there was the unfortunate association with the homicidal maniacs. That said, he wasn’t nearly as grim as I’d expected. Though he was awfully young to be deciding “what to do” with us. I thought.
“Oi, beansprout,” said Yuu. “What are they?”
The Allen boy looked up from his groceries and sharply toward us. He held the look for one terrifying moment, and I could see the judge and jury there after all. Then he rolled his eyes, and became just a strange boy with groceries again.
“They’re human,” he said. That again. How often do they run into things that aren't? “And you’ve had them pinned against the wall for how long? You didn’t think they’d do something if they were really akuma? What was your plan, to stand there all day?”
“Shut the fu—”
“Oops. This is like that time with the bishop,” eyepatch boy said, interrupting sweet Yuu (who was reluctantly lowering his sword, but still staring at me in an unfriendly way). "But they asked directions to the Eiffel Tower, Allen. You have to admit that’s suspicious."
“It’s not that suspicious!” Allen, bless him, insisted. “Paris is a big city! People get confused! It’s not like we’re standing on the Champs-Élysées!”
“This is stupid. You don’t think it’s weird because you’re always lost. They walked right up to us. What did they think we’d do?” Yuu asked. He still looked disgusted. I was starting to wonder if it was his default expression.
As for what we thought they’d do, I don’t know, but certainly not attack had been high on our list of expectations.
“Most people don’t know about the Order, Kanda,” Allen snapped, setting down the groceries and marching over to us. “They don’t get warned, ‘Say, don’t talk to those people in the black coats because they’ll attack with swords.’”
“It’s lucky you can afford to be so soft. You’d have died years ago if you were normal, beansprout.”
“ALLEN. And if you consider yourself normal, Kanda, then we have a real problem.”
“Not hard to be more normal than the kid with old man hair.”
“We’ll see how you measure up once I shave you bald.”
“Stop that,” said the girl. Wonder of wonders, they stopped. Almost a shame, really. It had been funny. Besides, the silence just left something for Tom to witter into.
“What was that?” Tom wanted to know. “What on earth was that!? Attacked! Unprovoked! Hooligans! I can’t believe—I should report—I will certainly call—”
Oh, Tom. So brave once he’s sure no one’s going to kill him.
“I’m so, so sorry, sir,” Allen cut in, changing his attitude rather abruptly. In fact, he looked so sincere that he shut Tom up, which was a miracle in itself. “My colleagues are…we’ve spent a lot of time being attacked recently, and it’s made us a little high strung. That’s no excuse for attacking you, of course! I know it’s unforgiveable. But we really have been afraid for our lives, so that’s the reason. But it’s no excuse. Are you okay? Are either of you injured?”
Tom blinked. “Ah. No, I think we’re alright… Mary, how are you?”
“I’m not hurt.” Not my body, anyway. Only my brain.
“Are you sure you aren’t hurt?” Allen asked, and was he actually looking teary? “Don’t be afraid to tell me if you are. If we can do anything at all to help—”
“No, no, really!” Tom said in some panic. Tears alarm him. “We’re fine, truly fine! Don’t worry!”
“You’re sure?” Allen asked pitifully, threat of tears still clearly present.
“Perfectly sure,” Tom insisted. “Please don’t trouble yourselves.”
I’d obviously just witnessed a kind of evil genius at work. The boy had somehow made Tom apologize for being attacked.
The girl, I saw, was smiling a little. Eyepatch boy was smirking. My Yuu, unsurprisingly, looked disgusted.
“Lavi will draw you a map,” Allen said earnestly. “It’s the very least we can do.”
“Uh huh,” said eyepatch boy. Lavi. “Why don’t you and Lenalee take the groceries back, Allen? Kro-chan’s gonna think we abandoned him.”
“Ah, of course,” Allen said, and bowed to us, apologizing one more time. He and the girl started to leave, then Allen turned and stared at Yuu. Yuu stared back. This went on for a while, until Yuu eventually shrugged and followed Allen and the girl out of sight. Strangely, I was a little sorry to see his scowling face go. He and I shared an opinion of Tom, for one thing.
Eyepatch boy—Lavi—drew us a map. Clear, quick, and, we would discover, extremely accurate.
“There you go,” he said, handing it to me. Not to Tom, to me. Interesting choice for a boy to make.
He started off, but paused and turned back—to Tom.
“You’re lucky we had Allen with us, loud guy,” he said with a cold smile. Not at all like his earlier cheerful smiles. Downright eerie, in fact. “If he hadn’t been around, you’d be maimed at least. The rest of us, we really believe in ‘better safe than sorry.’ When it comes to us, that is. When it comes to you lot, there’s only so much time we’re willing to waste making sure.” He eyed us both as we stood in petrified silence. “Consider this your warning about the guys in black coats. Don’t talk to us unless we talk to you first.”
“But…I thought you meant to let us go, and my—Yuu?—was the one who didn’t,” I said. Arguably I shouldn’t have said anything. I wasn’t thinking clearly; I was confused.
“No,” he replied indifferently. “It’s just that I’d prefer Yuu to think I’d have let you go. Allen’s the only one of us you’re safe with. The only one.”
Once he’d decided the message had really sunk in, he grinned. If he thought it was comforting, he was quite, quite wrong. “Take care, then,” he said.
We never saw any of them again.
Tom and I have developed something of a phobia about people in black coats. We have also agreed—and it is one of the very few things we have ever agreed on—that we will never go on holiday in France again.