The last battle is over, and Allen is all too willing to offer his life to save humanity. For Rinali, it's a struggle to find an alternative. Allen/Rinali.
Then, on the other side of the broken village square, she saw Ravi and Miranda staggering through the rubble, leaning on each other, and she saw them stop as they caught sight of Allen's face. Ravi looked away first, grave, as if he knew what it meant. Miranda stared a moment longer, but in the end she looked back at Ravi and followed his lead.
When Allen finally turned to look away from the dust and, smiling, into Rinali's eyes, she didn't think she'd ever be able to look away, or that she'd ever be able to move or speak or breathe again.
A dark script, arcane and unreadable, grew from his cursed eye, its outward tendrils caressing his upper cheekbone, the bridge of his nose. Rinali could see them growing almost imperceptibly, spelling out ancient words for death that she had not known until just now.
It was over, then, although the world wouldn't yet know it for some days or weeks. As they made their way back from the Holy Land to the Black Church, the five of them slipped through scared cities where the mood was only slowly going from dread to relief.
Rinali watched the slow, fragile smiles on the faces of the people around them, wishing she could join in, but she was afraid that the black tendrils slowly creeping over Allen's face had found her heart as well.
Their lodgings proved to be a bit of a problem. The Black Church safehouses throughout Europe and the Mideast had been ransacked before the reckoning had begun, and they had little money for hotels. They considered paying for one room in a higher-class hotel, but Ravi thought this a bad idea. "It's no good winning the battle for the souls of humanity if we kill each other in our sleep afterwards," he said. He'd mostly been looking at Kanda (with perhaps a little too much fondness) as he said it.
So on the first night, they tried staying at a decent inn where they could afford two rooms. Ravi stayed with Miranda, and Allen, Rinali, and Kanda took the other. This turned out to be a mistake.
"Why don't you fight it?" Kanda demanded of Allen as soon as they were alone.
Allen turned to face him. It had only been a day since their great victory, and the dark runes on his face had spread to the upper reaches of his cheek, and almost to his other eye. "The fighting is done," he said quietly. "And I'm glad."
"As long as you have enemies in this world, there will be fighting," Kanda said. "And that thing is going to destroy you." Somehow, though none of them had said anything, they all knew that the curse slowly swallowing Allen's face was death itself.
"It's not the enemy," Allen said. "And I will not fight it."
Kanda curled the corner of his mouth into a sneer. "Coward. I should strike you down where you stand." He reached to draw his sword from its sheath.
But Rinali's hand was around his wrist. "You will not draw that in here," she said, and it was over for the night.
After that, they stayed in the cheapest inns, so that they could afford three rooms: one for Ravi and Miranda, one for Allen and Rinali, and one for Kanda.
This gave Rinali the privilege of watching and listening as Allen said his prayers at night. He would light a candle, and then he would kneel at the bedside, his expression somehow solemn with the faintest hint of ecstasy, and he would speak. He did not whisper his prayers--he said them strongly, without a hint of shame.
He praised God, he asked God's forgiveness for the acts of violence he had committed, he asked God to take care of the recovering world, and strangest of all, he thanked God.
Rinali could not imagine thanking God. Truth be told, when she was little and the Black Church had first explained the Christian God to her as she lay bound and tied after her latest escape attempt, she had cursed him. She did not think she would tell Allen about that.
On the third night, the dreams began.
Rinali had told no one of the gift of insight that sometimes crept into her dreams. She had said nothing of the dark visions of Allen that had first plagued her. She had not told anyone of the dreams she'd had of the bits and pieces of the Final Demon coming slowly together in the shadow of the Wailing Wall. She had used them to prepare, but she had not explained them to others. They were hers and hers alone.
Unlike the others, however, these dreams were of the past. They were of the last battle--the different parts of it that she had not seen.
The first one was of Kanda, racing through the narrow market streets of Jerusalem after the Guardian of the Dark, Mugen shining in his hand. He had told them nothing of his personal fight at the heels of Armageddon, but Rinali knew that this was it.
Kanda cornered the demon at last, pressed up against a holy wall that it could not break through. "This is the end," he said. "You die here, and you and your kind will never trouble me or this world ever again."
The great demon spat something unintelligible back at Kanda, then swiped at him with a giant claw, but he lifted Mugen to deflect it. The power given him by their ritual flowed through the sword, and the demon's entire hand shattered, its remnants fusing to form a useless lump of bone.
The demon roared, and it lunged down, opening its toothy maw. But before it could tear him in two, Kanda had run his sword through whatever passed for its heart.
"It's over," Kanda said.
"You're wrong." The demon's voice was thick. Blood bubbled up around those huge teeth. "The door from Hell has been opened. There is no stopping us now."
She only had that dream for three nights. Then it faded, to be replaced by an endless empty room with a closed door in the middle. Something--no, some/things/ were hammering desperately on it from other side, and a woman she could not see murmured in Rinali's ear, "He is holding the door closed with everything he has. He only needs to do it for a little while longer."
Day after day, the curse crept further across Allen's face, and then it spread to his body. The runes remained as inscrutable as ever, but somehow, it was impossible not to see what they meant.
Beneath the black markings, Allen grew paler. After a week of traveling, when he took off his shirt before bed, Rinali could count his ribs. The dark shadows beneath his eyes were nearly obscured by the black script above them, but Rinali could see them anyway.
"Should we stay here for an extra night, so you can get some rest?" she asked Allen as they settled in at a town not far from Constantinople.
He lifted his head to look at her, and she thought that she could see something strange in his eyes. Not fear--he wasn't afraid--but perhaps a little regret. "I don't need rest," he said. Then, at her skeptical look: "It wouldn't help."
They set out again as usual the next day.
They'd made it as far as Germany when Rinali's dreams changed.
For one night, she didn't dream of the closed door and the woman's voice. Instead she saw Ravi and Miranda as they fought the tearer demon which had sought to break down the temples of the Holy City and crush the people who had huddled within them.
Miranda was manipulating her Innocence, turning the ravages of time on their enemy and holding its absence like a shield around herself and Ravi. She had grown to be amazingly skilled, these past few months.
Ravi, meanwhile, was on the offensive--he tore after the demon, swinging his hammer every which way. But then he slipped, and the demon had an opening.
Instead of going for Ravi, though, it plunged a scythe of a talon into Miranda's heart.
She staggered back, pulling herself free. For a moment, it seemed like she wouldn't gather the power of her Innocence in time. Then the wound closed up as time turned back again.
But Ravi was pale now and grimly determined. While the demon was still staring in puzzlement at Miranda's unbroken body, Ravi lunged at it, his hammer huge. The weapon connected squarely with the demon's skull, and its head exploded all over the street. Its body teetered, then fell backwards, and Ravi dodged away just in time.
"Miranda," he said, distraught.
She looked up at him, wordless and apologetic, and reached for her Innocence.
"No!" he said. He fell to his knees, and he grabbed her wrist. "Don't release it." Rinali had never heard such a tone of distress in his voice before.
"I can't keep time turned back forever," Miranda said. "But we got the demon, didn't we?"
He looked down. His grasp on her wrist slackened.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I messed up again, didn't I?"
She released the spell of her Innocence, and the blood began to flow.
Ravi looked down into her eyes as they began to glaze over. Then he looked up and into the distance. "Sorry, old man," he said. "I know I'm not supposed to use this one unless the course of history is threatened. I guess you shouldn't have trusted me with it."
He leaned down and touched his forehead to hers, and light arced out from the two of them. When it cleared, there was no more blood, and Miranda was blinking in the afterglow of the light.
After that night, the dreams went back to the solitary door once more.
The night before they made their way back to the Church, Rinali woke up in the middle of the night. There was a weight on her lower arm, near her wrist. She opened her eyes just enough for her to peek out through her lashes, thinking that perhaps Allen had rolled over during the night--although he was normally very good at keeping to his side of the bed.
He hadn't. He was sitting on the bed, his shirt still off, one hand curled lightly about her lower arm. In the almost invisible near-morning light, she could make out his lowered chin framed by all that white hair. His own eyes were closed. She opened her eyes a little wider, and she could see that the runes had now crept down to his shoulders, caressing his starkly outlined collarbones along the way.
There was nothing she could do for him except stay there, still and calm. She had been unable to help him during battle, and she was unable to help him now. She closed her eyes and surrendered herself once more to her troubled dreams.
By the time they returned to the Black Church, Allen had grown very quiet. He seemed to be conserving energy for something within him. As they stood before the gates, Rinali had to suppress an intense urge to grab hold of his face, look into his eyes, and dive in to join the battle inside his head.
She wouldn't have been able to, anyway. When the doors opened and they walked inside, she wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed to the point of despair.
She sought Komui out before anything else. She knew he'd drop everything to see her. It was a bit of a selfish thing to do, but at this point, she didn't care.
"Allen is dying," she told him.
"I know," he said, staring down at the papers on his desk.
"Something has...activated the curse in him, and it's spreading to--" She stopped as his words finally hit her. "You /know/?"
"It was in the prophecies," he said, "and I've known for a while now that Allen is the one." He lifted his gaze to her. Something was aching behind his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"You /knew/?" Rinali felt tears collecting at the corners of her eyes. She forced them back down into a hot lump of anger in her throat. "Why didn't you tell him? Tell me?"
"Telling you would have only hurt you," he said. "I know--" He paused. "I know how you feel about him," he said quietly. "But have you looked at him? Really looked?"
Of course she had. But she'd tried not to think about it. But that her brother had seen him just once upon their return and figured out what she'd been trying to deny for the past three weeks--
"This is what he wants," Komui said. "He's dying on the cross and it's what he's always wanted."
She knew, of course. "But what about what I want?" Rinali found herself almost yelling. She took a huge breath and swallowed the rage enough for her to speak normally. "I want to see him hold a hand of cards close to him as he outbluffs men twice his size, not one more time but ten, twenty, a hundred times. I want to watch him pray at night even though I sometimes I think I hate his god. I want to listen to his voice when he tells me all the places he's been--"
She stopped. She couldn't go on, because she'd just remembered his smile, and it rendered her mute.
Komui exhaled slowly. "We don't always get what we want," he said. She looked at him sharply, and she was struck by how much older he seemed. There were lines around his eyes and a strand of grey hair in his bangs. "For example," he said, "I wanted you to be happy."
It was enough to break the dam Rinali had made to stop her tears. She started to sob, but at least her brother was there to hold her until she stopped.
In the morning, Rinali woke up with a promise on her lips.
I will stop him.
But as she sat there, she realized she had no idea how to do this. She pulled her knees up to her chest and she sat in silence for a long moment, thinking over her options.
Finally, she went to Ravi.
"You have to heal him," she told him.
"Are you crazy?" He was staring at her as if he believed that this was, in fact, the case. "I can't heal! I can smack things up, but I can't heal!"
"I know you can," she said. She stared steadily at him. "I've seen it."
He laughed. She just kept staring. After a moment, he trailed off. His smile faded. "How..."
"I can't tell you," she said. It wasn't exactly true, but it was close enough. She'd never told anyone about the visions, and if she started now--
--she might tell Allen if he asked, though.
"You have to heal him," she repeated.
He looked down. "I've already violated the principles of being a Bookman," he said. "Once is enough."
"For /Allen/," she said, and she couldn't understand why that wasn't enough.
"Besides," he said quietly, "I couldn't. It takes certain emotions to use that ability, and--" He shook his head. "Don't you remember? He gave his word."
She looked at him blankly. "But you weren't even there," she said. "When I woke up I saw you arriving."
"...you really don't remember," he said. He looked puzzled.
"I was unconscious," she said. "The Final Demon knocked me out, and when I woke up, Allen had defeated it." Something twisted in her gut as she said it. She didn't want to admit her uselessness. Just thinking about it hurt.
"Oh," Ravi said. He was looking at her strangely.
And then she knew why she'd had the dream of him and Miranda. It wasn't because of the ability he'd used--it was because of the fact that he'd used it. "You saw something," she said. "Tell me."
He shook his head. "I made a promise to Bookman," he said. "When the last battle was over, I would do nothing to interfere with its aftermath. It's what I am now."
She stared at him again. "When your battle was over, you interfered. Without that interference, Miranda would be dead."
"I couldn't--" He choked up. "I couldn't let her die! Not after--not knowing--" He couldn't say anything more. He cast his gaze down at the ground.
"You understand how I feel about Allen, then," she said.
After a moment, he admitted, "I'm not even supposed to be with her. I haven't told her that yet, but I think she knows."
"Tell me what you saw," she said.
He sighed. "We got to the battle just as the Final Demon knocked you down. Allen was about to rush it in a rage--"
"Yeah," he said. "We could see there and then, it was going to kill him. But then you reached up a hand, and you grabbed him by the ankle. He half-turned to see you, and then he dropped to his knees. It was just for a moment--the demon was too close to waste any time. But...something was different around the two of you, for a moment. You looked up, and your eyes were entirely black. And then he nodded, and he promised to give himself to save the world. You fell back down again, and he got up and--his power was suddenly so overwhelming, so destructive. Miranda and I had to make a run for it."
For a long moment, Rinali couldn't think of anything to say. Finally, she realized what she should say. "Thank you," she said.
He nodded, and she got up to leave.
On her way back to her room, something she hadn't been expecting happened.
Rinali felt someone grab her arm, and she whirled around. Allen stood there, his face covered in the dark runes, his whole body emaciated. "Rinali," he said. His eyes were wide, and--maybe he was stammering just a little. "Rinali, would you do something for me?"
Anything, she thought. "Tell me."
"I..." Some of the jittery nervousness went out of his eyes, replaced by quiet determination. "I'm not afraid to die," he said.
"I know," she said. She felt her throat growing hot and tight again. "No one has ever said you were."
He nodded, his expression grave. "But..." He hesitated. "I think I am afraid to die alone."
"What?" Rinali felt the breath knocked out of her. What a funny thing for Allen to say.
"Please," he said. "Stay with me for now. It shouldn't be long. I want...I want to be looking at your face when I go."
She couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't move. She wasn't sure to be grateful or absolutely furious. When her shock released her, she flung herself at Allen, and she grabbed hold of him and pulled him close to her, her fingers digging into his back. "You idiot," she said. "You unbelievable /idiot/." She wanted to say that she hated him, but she couldn't quite do it.
"You won't?" He sounded worried.
"I will," she said.
She slept at his side that night, one hand cradling his bony shoulder, because he wanted her to. He slept quietly, as she had learned over their journey back from Jerusalem, but he was even quieter now.
As she closed her eyes and fell away to sleep, she begged her dreams to tell her how to save him--or at least to explain what Ravi had told her.
"He is holding the door closed with everything he has," the woman's voice said. "He's almost done holding it."
It was that same dream again. Rinali couldn't handle it anymore. For the first time, she spun around and grabbed hold of the woman who was speaking to her. "Wait!"
Then she stopped.
It was her. She had long hair and she wore a trailing lacy dress like some kind of dusty, tattered wedding gown, but it was her.
"What are you doing here?" Rinali whispered.
"He wants me to be here," said her double. "He wants me to be the one to take him through in the end."
"I don't want him to go through at all," she said. She was crying now, and it shamed her even though there was no one but herself to see it. "I want him to stay with me."
"I know," said the other version of herself. "But he's made his choice."
"Show me," Rinali said suddenly. "Show me what happened when he made it. I have a right to know. I was there."
"Ravi has already told you," said her double.
"Not what happened on the outside," she said. "What happened inside."
"...all right," said the other Rinali after a moment. She reached up, and she pushed aside an invisible curtain. A window stood before the two of them. "Look through there," she said.
Rinali looked, and she saw Allen there.
He was standing on a cliff with a pale crescent moon above him. Approaching him from behind was the other Rinali.
"I'll jump," he said as she approached. "If that's what it takes."
"I know," she said, reaching out to lay a hand on his shoulder.
"I want to save the world," he said. But then he turned a wide, puzzled gaze on her. "But I want to save you too. I want to save you more than anything. I don't know if I can do it."
"You can take down the Final Demon," she said, "if I lend you my strength. And you know I will always lend you my strength."
"...Rinali?" But he was frowning.
She shook her head.
"I know who you are," he said quietly.
Death nodded. "You do."
"The Final Demon," he said. "I need your help to take it down. But--" He stopped. "I don't think it's the only threat."
"You're right," she said.
(/The door,/ Rinali thought. /The door the demon Kanda fought spoke of. It was still open at this point. But the world is still here, so it must have been closed. How?/)
"With his last breath, the Earl opened the door to Hell," Death said. "The demon armies are pouring out of it onto the plains of Megiddo now. It won't be long."
"I'll take them," Allen said suddenly.
Death watched him closely.
"The door inside me," he said. "The cursed door. I've known about it for a while now. If you'll help me--if you'll lead the demons in there and lock it behind them--I'll cut my own throat and take them down with me."
"No," she said.
"What?" He stared at her in disbelief.
"If you kill yourself once they're inside you, you'll just free them again," she said. "Suicide is hell's domain, after all."
"But--" He looked distressed.
"But I can help," she said. "I'll unlock the final stage of your curse. If no one else locks it up again, it will kill you in a matter of weeks. You just have to keep the door closed until then."
"Do it," he said.
"Give me your word," she said. "That you'll wait for me until then, and then you'll die."
And then the view snapped out, and Rinali was looking at the ruins surrounding their fight with the Final Demon. Allen was looking down at her--but it wasn't her.
"I promise," Allen said, quite steadily. "I will see the world purged and saved, and then I will go to death. You have my word."
In the vision, Rinali slumped back to the ground, and Allen turned back to the demon. He was smiling.
Rinali woke up in the morning with a phantom sickness in her stomach. She wasn't ill, but she couldn't shake a certain nauseous dread as she watched Allen get up. The cursed runes had spread over his chest and now they snaked down his stomach. She wondered if they'd wait until they covered his entire body before they killed him, or if they were too impatient for that.
She didn't see how he could survive much longer. He was nothing but skin and bones and the legions of hell now.
Rinali walked the halls of the Black Church alone that day. She sat down in a small garden, and she told a flower: "You were wrong, Ravi. He didn't give his word that he would die. He gave his word that he wouldn't kill himself immediately."
But no matter what, he was going to die.
She slept at his side again that night, but this time, she curled an arm around him and hoped he would still be there when she woke up.
Allen did not vanish from the bed that night or the next. He waited until the following night.
When Rinali woke up, it was several minutes afterwards. There was still a fading hint of warmth in the bed, but his shape was gone from it.
She didn't hesitate. Still in her nightgown and bare feet, she raced from the room and ran down the hall. She didn't know how she knew where to go, but she knew.
He was on his knees in some forgotten hallway. No one would have thought to look there for him. She had.
"I'm sorry," he said at the sound of her approach. He was wearing only the pants he slept in. He wore no top, and the dark runes were thick all over his visible body. "I thought I wanted to be with you when I died, but in the end I was too much of a coward. Anyone else, I would have smiled at them as I died. But I didn't want to hurt you."
"You've already hurt me," she said, unable to stop herself. Nobody could make her angry quite like Allen could. "...I'm sorry," she said after a moment. She sat down in front of him. His eyes were sunken and his face was white. She reached for his throat, thick with the black markings, and felt his pulse. It was slowing.
"/No,/" she said.
He looked askance at her.
"I won't let you die like this," she said.
It was too late. She was already inside his head.
Rinali pushed her way through an endless forest of thick trees, darkly twisted into the fatal shapes of the same script that marked his body. Anyone else would have gotten lost--but she found the door in a clearing at the center of them.
Death stood there, waiting. "You're not the one I expected to see here," she said.
"I don't care," Rinali said. "I've come to lock up his curse again. It's not too late."
Death shook her head. "You won't be doing him any favors. He'll get better for a while, but he'll always be struggling to hold the demons in. Eventually, they'll break him, and then they'll come out and break the entire world."
"Then I'll go in there," Rinali said, "and I'll destroy the demons myself." She walked up to the door. "Every last one of them."
Death stared at her. "Do you really want to die here like that?"
"I'll find others to go with me, if I have to," Rinali said, but she had the feeling she was the only one who could come here other than Allen himself.
Death was shaking her head. "You can't. But--" She paused. "There's one more thing I can unlock inside Allen. No--you can unlock it." She gestured at one of the trees, and suddenly there was a keyhole on it--and the tree was straight and healthy, the last tree to be so in this entire forest.
"What is it?" Rinali asked.
"It's his heart," Death said, and she held out a key, huge and ornate. "It's lucky for him you're in here. You're the only one who can open the lock."
Despite everything, Rinali felt a smile tugging at her mouth. "That's sweet," she said, taking the key. "But how will it help me defeat the demons?"
"You're inside his heart," Death said. "A you that could defeat as many demon armies as she ever needed to, smiling the whole while."
"Don't waste time with questions like that," Death said. "Hurry."
Rinali lifted the key and slotted it into the hole on the trunk. The tree cracked open, and from within stepped her own self--vibrant, smiling, beautiful. She had never seen herself that way before. She had only seen the scars she'd broken herself with in her younger, lonelier days.
Then her better half, the one that had been locked inside Allen's heart, embraced her, and she thought that she could do anything.
And she could.
She pulled open the door which held the demons, and she threw herself in as they tried to claw their way past her. There were so many of them--she almost reeled at the sheer number, but to be taken aback like that would have been fatal. So she fought. She had a new strength she'd never imagined before, and it kept her one step ahead of the armies of hell. That one step was all she needed to put a boot in their faces.
And then it was done. She was breathing heavily. She thought she might be bleeding in more than a few places. But none of that mattered now. What mattered now was that there was a curse she had to close up again--and soon. She could feel the mind around her starting to tremble, preparing to dissolve.
Rinali opened the door behind which all the demons, now destroyed, had been hiding. She stepped back out into the twisted forest. Death was waiting, and at her feet was a grinning skull. There was a lock on its forehead, but it had been unlocked, and the skull was open. Poison poured from it in a great cloud.
Not even stopping to catch her breath, Rinali launched herself at the curse, and she clamped it shut with both hands.
"Well," Death said, "I suppose I'll be going now." And she leaned down and rested a finger on the skull's lock. Something clicked inside it.
Rinali let go of the skull. "Now go," she said. "Get out of Allen's head."
Death smiled at her. "I don't think so," she said. She leaned down and picked up the skull. "I'm his Death. I live here. But I think I won't be seeing him for a while longer." She turned and walked away into the forest.
Slowly--Rinali felt it more than saw it--the trees began to straighten up. The blackness began to fade from the air. And then--
Then Rinali was sitting on the floor in the Black Church again, cradling Allen in her arms. He was breathing normally, and there was just a hint of color to his face.
On most of his body, the script of death remained--but over his heart it had vanished, leaving him pure and alive.