When He Comes Home: Chapter One
The baby, with his tiny nose and wispy red hair and chubby cheeks, did not understand much.
He was nearing a month old. At this period of time in the baby's life, his daily activities consisted of sleeping, eating, and passing occasional gas. He didn't cry very often. It was a good thing; the woman who had borne him abhorred his cries. She abhorred him. Though the baby did not know it yet, he had an abnormal arm that disgusted his mother. This arm would bring him immeasurable hardship in the future years of his life.
The baby did not understand much. He slept on, not waking up when he was shoved into a man's arms, not even when his mother's heated words grew in volume and cruelty so that they drew the attention of passerby around the trio.
He did not understand that he was an accident.
The baby's father hadn't known about the child until two days ago, when he received a letter from the mother asking him to take the infant. At the moment, the father's world was a nervous wreck, while the mother was cruelly attacking both him and his offspring.
"The thing is yours," the woman hissed. "I want nothing to do with it."
"I— M-mine?" the man said, his voice trailing off in a whisper as he stared down at the little bundle of blankets in his arms. He'd received her letter explaining the situation: that through their single meeting one night, ten months ago, she had fallen pregnant with his child. It was one thing to read the words. It was another to be faced with the baby.
"You do not want him?" he said, the first question coming to his mind.
"It's unnatural. His arm." Another shudder. "He is yours. I'll have nothing to do with it."
The baby did not understand much. He did not understand that though the shade of his hair was from his mother, he would grow up to look very much like the man currently holding him. They would have the same blue eyes, the same smile.
He was asleep. The baby didn't understand much.
In the course of two days, Mana D. Campbell's life had been flipped upside down. He hadn't ever planned to revisit the city he stood in, for multiple reasons (one of which was the woman he had a moment of weakness with). He'd thought he could leave the place behind with no lasting consequences, but as fate would have it, a child had resulted from their brief coupling.
Her cruel words still echoed in his mind. "I do not want it."
The streets were filled with pedestrians, who weaved around horse-drawn carts and the occasional carriage. The background noise was a cacophony of voices. Minutes after she'd left him standing there, holding the baby, Mana hadn't moved. The throngs continued to move and flow around him. No one noticed the overwhelming turmoil the poor man felt.
The full meaning of her words was still coming slow to Mana. I accidentally got a woman pregnant. She had a baby. I'm a father. I'm a father. I have a son.
Neah is going to kill me.
Thoughts of his brother and the rest of the Noah family's reaction to finding out about this little baby made Mana feel even more nervous. When he'd received her letter, he hadn't told anyone, only left the Campbell manor as soon as possible. Still standing on the street's edge, he peered down at the mess of blankets in his arms. Didn't fathers usually feel warm and soft and cry when they first met their children? He observed the tiny features of his baby, waiting for the fuzzy feelings.
It was a cute baby, to be sure. The red hair was still waif-thin but stuck up slightly in a way that promised to be as rebellious as Mana and Neah's hair had once been. Still, no improvement on the fatherly emotions. Mana felt mostly fearful. There was no doubt that he was his child, due to certain timings, but shouldn't he feel something?
The baby's eyes opened slowly, peering up at Mana. They were the dark blue that most babies had when small, but were very bright. He yawned, showing off toothless gums, and then went back to sleep.
Holy stars above. Mana's heart melted at the sight. I'm this little child's father, he repeated to himself. He's mine. We're family. How had something so cute and small ever come from him?
When he thought of the child's mother, something akin to anger arose in him. She'd referred to the baby as "it." She'd wanted nothing to do with him. At the time, he'd been too overwhelmed with the fact that he was a father, but now he realized how cruel she had been. I'm not guiltless either, he knew, for causing her pregnancy. However, he had never met a mother who would refer to her own flesh and blood as "it." He could see that one of the baby's arms was wrapped up in a mess of cloth and bandages. Was this the disfigurement she referred to?
A mere arm. More anger boiled in him.
Mana D. Campbell was usually a kind, mild-mannered man. When it came to things like family and those he loved, though, he would easily give up this kindness in exchange for the will to protect them. As he looked down at his child, he swore he'd never let any disfigurement affect his love.
"I'll become a better father for you," he whispered to the baby. "...Allen."
Thus, Allen Campbell was loved.
"It's a letter from Mana," Neah noted, going through the mail the postboy had just delivered on horseback to the manor. "I wonder how his trip is going. He left rather suddenly."
"Earl should be back in the next few weeks, riiight?" Road whined, hanging over his shoulder. He didn't react to her usual antics.
Mana, more commonly referred to as "the Millennium Earl," was the head of the Noah family. When the previous Adam reincarnated he had turned into twins; Mana and Neah. However, the Millennium Earl was only ever meant to be one person. Mana had inherited the original Memory of Adam, and due to the nature of them being twins, Neah had been cursed with something called "the fourteenth."
Not something Neah wanted to remember. The fight to rid himself of the fourteenth's curse had nearly cost both twins their lives, and he was grateful that it was over.
"Yeah, he should be back soon," Neah said, tearing open his brother's letter. He scanned the brief words.
"What did he write?" she asked, as he held the letter out of the reach of her grabbing hands. "Neeeahh, tell me!"
"It's only two sentences long." Neah blinked, not understanding the message. "It says that he's—"taking an extended vacation.""
"A vacation? But he's the Earl." She made another grab for the letter, and they both tumbled across the couch.
"Who's going on vacation?" Tyki asked, entering the room to see his two siblings wrestling like children on the furniture. "Can Noah even take vacations?"
"Earl is! Neah won't let me see the letter!"
"Fine, fine! I'll read it to you but you have to get off me!" Road obligingly crawled off her Noah-brother's chest, allowing him to sit up. "This is all it says."
tell the family I am going on vacation for a little while. I am safe, everything is fine. Don't try to find me. You are head of family until I return.
"He says you're the head of family? Does he know you don't have Noah powers?" Tyki said sarcastically. Since the incident with the fourteenth's curse, Neah had been left without any sort of inhuman abilities. He had permanent gold eyes and gold-gray skin, the inhuman immortal lifespan, but no powers.
"Shut it, Tyki," Neah said. "You heard the letter. I'm in charge now." He grinned at them both, running a hand through his ever-spiky hair. "I would now like to be called Millennium King, instead of Earl. I think it sounds nicer." Road rolled her eyes, sucking on her lemon candy.
Tyki scoffed. "You know he'll probably be back in a week or two."
The first few months were easy. After figuring out what to feed Allen (and the whole diaper situation) Mana decided that traveling back to the Campbell manor with a baby as small as Allen was unsafe. He found a little apartment in a neighboring city that had one room but plenty of room for Allen to crawl, once he learned low. The infant did not cry much, but loved to be rocked by Mana and have his toes tickled. Mana spent hours in the apartment talking to Allen, reading him books, and attempting to find toys that he liked.
Being a single father wasn't easy. He couldn't always take Allen wherever he went, especially when there was the danger of exorcists being nearby. Akuma, as such, made rather excellent babysitters. Especially when they obeyed Mana with absolute loyalty. Allen never showed any fear when an inhuman demon (complete with black eyes, horns, and other assorted dark marks) picked him up or fed him dinner occasionally. In fact, he seemed to love playing with level-threes and twos.
"M-master, are you sure the human infant is suitable for our company?" one akuma had asked, looking horrified as Allen sucked on its horns.
"Quite," Mana had laughed in reply, feeling a little bit of pity for the monster. Baby drool wasn't that bad, though.
He tried to be home as much as he could. Surprisingly, Neah and the rest of his family had respected his wishes and left him alone, although Mana wasn't sure how long this peaceful time with Allen would last. He loved his Noah family, and he knew they would adore Allen. However, Allen wasn't quite ready to meet the rest of them.
Mana needed the time. He wanted to first figure out how to be a good father to his son, before letting the family do the same.
"Here comes the elephant!" Mana said, bouncing the stuffed animal he'd bought that morning towards the baby. At five months old, Allen looked adorable in the tiny jumper he'd been dressed in. His red hair (as incorrigible as Neah's) was pulled into a tail and tied with a bow. He gave Mana a deadpan look.
Mana snorted. It was like looking at Neah's trademark "are-you-serious" expression, albeit with chubbier cheeks and a different hair color. I suppose Allen looks like both of us, since we're halves of the same person.
"Elephants aren't that exciting?" he asked Allen, who gazed back at him. "No, it looks like they're not."
The baby sat on the rug across the living floor of the apartment. He was learning how to crawl, but still fell on his face often. It made Mana's heart beam with pride every time Allen lifted his head from the ground and gave him a triumphant smile, as if to say, "I can still get up!"
"What do you want to do? It's too early for bedtime." Allen continued staring. Mana brightened. "I know! I'll show you how to juggle!" He stood and rummaged around in one of the drawers in the kitchen, pulling out a couple red balls. `Then, he demonstrated to Allen a simple juggling trick.
More staring. A hint of a smile at his son's mouth? "Here, you try," the father handed his son one of the balls. Allen held it in one chubby hand, paused, and then chucked it back at Mana.
"Good job! That's exactly how you start," he said, trying to be positive. Maybe Allen was too young to learn how to juggle. After all, he was only— five months?
"I just realized, Allen," Mana sat down from across the chubby baby, "I don't know what day you were born on." He patted his son's head. "I will have to give you a birthdate. You must've been born in December sometime," he trailed off, thinking. Allen babbled a couple noises, as if they were having a conversation. "Yes, yes, I agree," Mana nodded. "How about Christmas?" It was the first date that came to mind, and he realized that Allen and Tyki would share a birthday as such. "That way, there will be worldwide celebrations on the same day!" Tyki will be jealous, he thought with humor.
"Yhaaa," Allen clapped his hand against Mana's shoulder.
Allen Campbell was still just a baby, but he was starting to understand things.
The man who was nearly always at his side, that was Father. Though his mouth was unable to shape the words yet, Allen tried his best to say the name. Father was wonderful. Father loved to play with Allen and give him kisses and make him laugh, and his hands were always soft and warm when he held Allen.
Allen loved to make Father laugh, too. His dad had long, beautiful hair pulled back in a long ponytail, and Allen loved to play with it. Father's eyes were blue and they always twinkled when he smiled. He wore hats that Allen thought were dumb, but that was okay. Sometimes, Father's skin would turn darker and his eyes would become the color of sun. Allen didn't mind this. It was the same Father, just with different colors.
He loved Father.
Mana was awoken by the sound of Allen's crying. He arose from his bed, stepping across the room to where his son's crib was. "Hey, hey," he whispered, picking up the small infant. Allen rested his face against the crook of his father's neck, whimpering. "Did you have a bad dream?" He slowly rubbed his hand in circles on the child's back.
Allen held his arm tightly against his little chest. Mana knew that the deformed limb sometimes caused his son pain, although he didn't understand why or how to fix it. He closed his eyes in the darkness, wishing for the thousandth time he had a better understanding of humans and how to help Allen. The arm was kept wrapped, because he knew it helped the aches to have bandages around it. The skin was ridged and red, and the wrist and fingers were perpetually thin from lack of use. Allen was unable to move anything past his elbow on the limb.
He hummed a lullaby, singing the words quietly to Allen. "...then the boy fell asleep, breathing, flames among the ashes..." it was a song that his own adoptive mother Katerina had sung for him and Neah when they were children. " Slowly, the child fell back asleep. Mana laid him back down in his crib and tucked the blankets around the little red-haired boy. "Sleep well," he whispered, kissing his son's forehead.
"It's ugly," Allen said, quite clearly. Mana stared in shock. The child was just past eighteen months old, and had only said a few words ("Father," "'kuma," "yes" and "no," and "dog"). They had recently celebrated his birthday, and Mana had been excited to dress him in new clothes.
"It's a little circus outfit," Mana said, as if that would change Allen's toddler opinion.
"Ug-ly," Allen repeated. He gave Mana an irritated look. How does a one-year-old know how to make that expression? the Millennium Earl thought. "Fadder, no." Even with his toddler-lisp, the words were said very seriously.
"I think you've been spending too much time with akuma."
"kuma yes. Fadder, no."
Mana sighed. "You're just like Neah. He would be proud."
Allen nodded, his red hair bouncing.
It was a surprise when Timcampy appeared in the apartment one morning while Mana and Allen were eating breakfast. Mana stood up out of his chair, expecting his brother to appear with the golem at any moment.
"Bir!" Allen cried, waving his oatmeal-covered spoon towards the flitting golden orb. "Bir!"
"Not a bird, a golem," Mana corrected. "It is named Timcampy."
The golem, more magically alive than a metal object should've been, showed surprise at seeing Allen. Mana grabbed it from the air. "Did Neah find us?" It shook its body, then opened its mouth to show pointy teeth. "You have a message?" The recording projected into the air. Mana released the golem, allowing the message to play. Allen clapped his hands excitedly at seeing the shimmering image.
"Mana D Campbell, it has been twenty-one months since you left." Neah sat at a table, his hands crossed as he stared directly into the picture. Mana's mouth quirked. It was wonderful to see his brother's familiar face, with that ever-messy hair and playful golden eyes. "This is not a vacation. This is absconding from your duties as the Millennium Earl."
Neah was suddenly pushed out of the picture as Road shoved his chair over. "HI EARL! Wisely says you've probably joined another circus troupe!"
"HE BETTER HAVE DANG WELL NOT," Neah's voice yelled from off-screen. Mana could see the room they'd recorded from, and a pang of homesickness stung in his heart. It was the living room of the Campbell manor.
"Well, we were just checking in to make sure you're doing all right! There's been several new akuma arriving here, so we assume you're still alive and making new ones." Neah's hand appeared and shoved Road's face away from Timcampy, and he appeared in the video again.
"I've told Timcampy to find you and deliver this. If you don't send a message back, I'm assuming you're in trouble and I'll go find you." Allen giggled as Neah's face took up the entire frame, his golden eyes glaring at them. "You stupid brother."
""Stupid" is a bad word." Mana told Allen quickly. "We don't use that word,"
"Fadder?" Allen asked, pointing to the message.
"No, that's Father's brother. We're twins. His name is Neah." The boy's eyes flicked between his uncle and his father. "Uncle Neah."
"Unkul Nay," Allen pronounced. Mana nodded.
The message ending, Timcampy closed his mouth. "I suppose I should send a message back to him."
He felt guilty from still hiding Allen from the rest of his family. Yet, he didn't think he was ready to introduce his son to the Noah. He was scared that once he returned as the full-acting Millennium Earl, the Black Order would find out about Allen. His heart tightened at the thought of his son being in danger.
"Timcampy, please record me. But make sure Allen doesn't get in the picture." Mana looked at Allen, who kicked his feet happily in his small kitchen chair. The golem bobbed its head. He took a deep breath. "Neah, I'm doing fine. I am still on vacation, so please continue to leave me ... to have my space." Mana coughed awkwardly, unsure of what to say to his family. "I should be home soon? Perhaps in another year. There have been some complications which require my time." One complication. Having a son. "N-nothing serious!" he added. "Just time-consuming. I think that's it. Goodbye!"
Timcampy ended the message. "Bye!" Allen repeated, pounding his spoon for emphasis. "Unk Nay!"
Neah paced back and forth in the large living room of the manor, irritated beyond measure. His dark hair was even messier than usual. "Neah," Tyki started, unsure of what to say. "I'm sure he just needs some time."
"Time away from what?!" Neah shrieked, throwing his hands in the air. "I'm the perfect example of a perfect brother. He doesn't need time away from me."
"Being the Millenium Earl is busy. Maybe he just wants to take a really long vacation," Wisely offered. Neah angrily sat back down at the table, stuffing his face with the pie they'd been sharing.
"It better be a dang good reason," he mumbled, cheeks stuffed full of food. He paused. "Don't tell Boric I ate his pie."
"I think you need a haircut," Mana said, as Allen played with the wooden train set he'd gotten for his second birthday. The boy's red hair, when down, went past his shoulders. However, it was very thick and Mana kept it pulled back so it wouldn't get in Allen's face.
"No," Allen stated, continuing to push the trains around.
"It grows back, Allen. You don't want a cute new haircut?" Mana crouched in front of his son, brushing his bangs off his forehead.
"Father, no cut." The boy's fingers reached up around Mana's neck, tugging at the long ponytail he kept. "Be like Father."
Mana sighed ruefully. He did, indeed, keep his dark hair long. Physically, Mana D. Campbell looked to be in his late twenties. In his human form his eyes were blue and overly-pale skin (which was a cause of Neah's endless teasing), but in his Noah form he had golden eyes and golden-brown skin, with stigmata across his forehead.
In actuality, Mana was around forty years old, since that was when the previous incarnation of Adam had split into twins. Of course, it was harder to pin down his actual age. "Adam," the figure who was both a father and the source of his Noah memory (and the source for Allen's name) was supposedly 7,000 years old. However, Noah could control their physical age, and he'd always preferred this one. Both him and Neah looked relatively young.
"Neah's hair was like this when he was younger, so perhaps yours will be tamer when you grow up," Mana said. Allen nodded.
"Unk Nay. No hair."
"We won't cut your hair. For now," he added, giving Allen a serious look. "But if it gets past your waist I might have to intervene."
Mana held onto Allen's good hand tightly as they walked down the street. At nine in the morning, the window shoppers and bustling crowds were occupied with running the daily errands. Keeping a toddler's attention in such a bright, exciting place was easier said than done. For the countless time, Allen tugged on Mana's hand and pulled him towards on the numerous shops. In the window of the little boutique, beautiful candies and caramel pastries were on display. Allen stuck his nose against the window.
"Pease." Please. Mana tried to not smile. If he gave into every little thing he wanted to buy for Allen, his son would be very, very spoiled.
"Not right now. We have other places to stop at. We need fresh fruit and vegetables, remember?" The red-haired boy looked up at his father, big blue eyes wide and pouting. Mana cried internally. "Maybe on the way back, if you behave yourself."
"Okay. Only you like vegg, Father. Vegg are ugly." Allen's adorable child voice was matter-of-fact.
"If you don't eat your vegetables, you won't grow any taller."
The red-haired boy frowned. "I just need to be taller than Father."
Mana reached down and picked up the boy, swinging him up onto his shoulders. Allen squealed, patting his hand on Mana's top hat. In his tiny coat and shorts, he was the perfect image of a wealthy noble child. The Millennium Earl was pleased. He wouldn't have his son look any other way. "Now you're taller than me!" The small boy giggled.
If any passerby gave Allen's limp arm a second glance, they both ignored it.
Allen opened his eyes, staring into the darkness. Father had just left the apartment, thinking that h was still asleep. One of the akuma stood sentry near the door. The little boy crawled out of his bed, tiptoeing across the floor. The akuma made no move to stop him as Allen pressed his nose against the glass of the apartment window overlooking the street. Far below, Father, in a dark coat and top hat, passed under a street light.
"Young master, please get back into bed," the akuma said in a gravelly voice from behind him. "The Earl won't be pleased to find you awake at this hour."
"Why you call Father "Earl?""
The akuma fell silent. "Tell me," Allen repeated.
"He is the Millennium Earl. The father, the leader of all Noah and akuma."
The red-haired boy took this in, thinking it over. "But Father is my father."
"You are his first human child. We call him Father because he makes all the akuma from other humans who have died."
"Ohh." Allen nodded, as if that was a perfectly normal answer. "What is Noah?"
"Noah are the ancient leaders of the akuma, who watch over humankind."
Allen didn't really understand, but nodded anyways. He turned back to the window, looking down at the street. The night was dark and cold, but he knew his father was strong and that nothing could hurt him.
"The Millennium Earl," he carefully pronounced. "Father."
The boy loved the park. There were lots of other people there, but the greenery of the grass and shrubs allowed plenty of room for him and Father to walk. Mothers stepped carefully in corsets with little laced umbrellas, boys and girls raced around playing with cloth-covered balls, fathers laughed and held their wives' hands.
Even though playing ball looked like fun, Allen preferred to walk with his father. Having only one arm that worked made things challenging.
"Allen," Father started, after they'd been walking for a few minutes along the stone path, "are you ever sad that you don't have a mother?" His voice was hesitant, nervous.
Allen had noticed that usually other kids his age had two parents. Mothers seemed wonderfully soft and kind. However, he loved Mana and knew that having just a father would be enough for him. He shrugged, holding tighter onto Father's hand. "Not too sad. Father is girly enough."
Mana made a choking noise. "Excuse me, young man! I am very manly."
The red-haired boy looked up at his father, smirking, and then pointedly rolled his eyes. "Sure, Father. I heard Misses Neighbor across the hall say that your hair is as lovely as a woman's." He giggled to himself. "I don't think she want me to hear that, but I didn't tell her."
"It's scary how much you sound like Neah," Father murmured, then started laughing. "We should both get haircuts, then, eh?"
"No." Allen looked away from Mana to gaze over the beautiful, sprawling greenery of the city park. "When will you take me to meet Uncle Nay? You talk about him a lot."
"Soon. Uncle "Nay" and the rest of our family can be very crazy." Mana stopped walking, meeting Allen's gaze, and smiled. "I just want to cherish you as much as I can before you become even sassier to me!" He reached out, playfully squishing Allen's cheeks, and then pulled him into a tight embrace.
"Hey! No kissing me!" Allen yelled, fighting his father's hug even though he couldn't help the happy smile that broke out on his cheeks. Mana pulled back, staring into his son's blue eyes, which were nearly the same shade as his own.
"Never stop walking, Allen." Allen stared back, unsure of the meaning of his words. Father leaned forward, resting his forehead on Allen's. "Even if everything around you seems hopeless, you must never lose hope. Always continue forward."
The red-haired boy was silent, feeling the weight of his father's words. He felt warm, safe inside Mana's arms, and it felt easy to say yes. "Okay, Father. Even though that sounds dumb."
Mana laughed again. "I remembered it's what Neah always told me when we were children, because I was sick a lot and had trouble staying happy." Allen remembered when he'd had a cold the previous month, and nodded in understanding. Being sick was not fun. "It's gotten me through a lot of hard things," Mana continued. "I think it will help you too, my boy."
"You better listen to your own advice and get out of the path, Father, because I think that carriage behind us is about to run you over."
The first months with Allen had turned into a year, two years, and suddenly four years had passed and Mana hadn't visited the Campbell manor. As he watched the yearly message from Neah, his heart tugged. It was nearing time. He needed to return home. Allen would meet his family.
"Mana, this is Neah. Nothing's changed. We've gotten the two level-four akuma you sent last month. I hope you're doing well." Neah sounded tired. Mana bit his lip, the guilt of how long he'd left his Noah family piling up. As the message ended, he could've sworn Timcampy was giving him a disappointed look.
He sat down at the single couch in the living room of the apartment, musing at the differences between the Noah home and the home he and Allen shared. Allen's toys were scattered around, along with several papers and maps of local exorcist sightings. I think it's time to return. Allen is growing quickly, and certain things I can't teach him very well on my own. He closed his eyes, breathing in and out. It is time.
"Start recording," he told the golem. "Hello, everyone. I have made the decision to return home in a month's time. I have missed you these past years, and I apologize for the time slipping by so fast. Neah, I hope you haven't done too much damage to the house. Please expect me near the end of January. I have—"
"Sir!" Mana jumped as one of the sentry akuma he always left around the house entered the room. "Two of the level-threes on the other side of the city have been killed!"
"Exorcists," Mana said the word like it was a curse. "Are they heading this way?" The akuma shook its gigantic, machine-like head.
"They are seeking another shard of Innocence, but do not know where it is."
That was good. The Black Order was obsessed with finding crystals of a poisonous substance called Innocence, which Mana would never understand. When used, it caused its wielders extreme pain and sometimes disfigured them physically. However, it was the only thing that could kill akuma and harm his family. "Timcampy, end the recording!" he called over his shoulder as he tugged on his overcoat. "Watch over Allen while I'm gone," he told the akuma, and then left. The apartment door locked behind him.
Allen heard Father leave. He poked his head out of the bathroom, where he had been getting dressed for the day. Father said he was a big boy now, because he could get changed all by himself (even though doing up buttons with one hand was hard). "Where'd Father go?" he asked the akuma.
"He had to help others of our kind."
Allen noticed the golden golem flitting around in the living space of the apartment. "Birpy!" It visited once or twice a year with a message from Uncle Nay and the rest of Father's family. Usually, Father made it leave right after it came. Maybe I can play with Birpy this time.
He reached up and caught Birpy's tail, tugging it down so he could look at it in its face. What does Father always say when he wants to send a message?
"Start recording'" he told Timcampy. The golem looked very uncomfortable, but bobbed its little head in a "yes."
Now, what should I say to Uncle Nay?
Neah D. Campbell was an excellent brother. Their adoptive mother, Katerina, had told him so when they were young. It was still true. He still was absolutely amazing at pranking Mana and irritating his brother to no end, forty years later (which Neah considered a sign of skill).
However, he had his limits. Their extended Noah family was crazy. As in, family-members-literally-losing-heads-over-small-arguments kind of crazy. While any bloodshed wasn't permanent (Noah genes were wicked strong at regeneration), it made the atmosphere of the Campbell manor rather tense without Mana to diffuse the feelings.
Neah's brother, the Millennium Earl, was probably an angel in their past life. He dealt wonderfully with all the little tussles and arguments that broke out between the other residences of the household. He made amazing food. Even though he did nerdy circus tricks all the time, he had a warm smile and Neah was glad to have him as a twin brother.
Back to the issue at hand, though. Neah had his limits as Mana's brother. Mana had very few flaws, but one major flaw that was becoming more and more noticeable was that Mana had not been home in four years.
"Neah, don't think too hard, it'll hurt your brain."
Neah, pulled from his thoughts, gave a scathing glance to Tyki, who sat across the breakfast table. "At least I have a brain."
"It's too early for you two to start fighting," Road sing-songed as she entered the dining hall. "It makes Boric cry."
Skinn Boric was a gentle, youthful soul put inside the body of a hulking giant. Neah winced, recalling last week when the man had walked in on the food fight Neah, Wisely, and Tyki had been participating in. Boric had, indeed, cried tears of sadness at "seeing his brothers so angry at each other."
"What did Cookuma make for breakfast?" Wisely asked, coming in behind Road. The white-haired Noah had his usual bedhead and looked half-dead inside (which might not have been too far from the truth).
"Eggs benedict," said Lulubell, from the other side of Neah. The servants of the manor were mostly akuma, since average humans had troubles dealing with Noah and all the problems that came with the family. The cook of the house was a level-three they all fondly called "Cookuma."
Neah ate more eggs, forcing himself to ignore his annoyed feelings. In past years, his brother would be sitting next to him. Neah could almost imagine Mana's voice, worriedly telling him to be more positive. The dining hall was long, to fit the gigantic oak table they all sat at, and had tall windows along the far side. Something golden flashed near the ceiling as it entered the room from a window. Neah looked up, then grinned. "Tim! You're back!"
The golem caught everyone's attention as it flitted down to its maker. "Another message from Earl?" Wisely asked. Tim obediently opened its mouth, projecting Mana on the far wall for everyone to see.
His brother was unchanged, Neah was relieved to see. When Mana first disappeared four years, he'd been worried that something had gone wrong or that Mana had been hurt. However, his worries had been assuaged by the yearly messages sent back to them.
"Hello, everyone. I have made the decision to return home in a month's time. I have missed you these past years, and I apologize for the time slipping by so fist. Neah, I hope you haven't done too much damage to the house. Please expect me near the end of January. I have—" In the video, Mana jumped up as another akuma entered the room. There were exorcists in the neighboring city. Mana ended the message in a hurry, waving his hand to Tim to shut off the recording. Tim shut his mouth, then busied himself with consuming some of Neah's silverware.
"He's coming back!" Road cheered, waving her spoon in a triumphant dance. "Earl is coming back!" Murmurs and happy sighs echoed around the table, as everyone visibly relaxed. They had all missed their Millennium Earl very much. Even Neah couldn't hide his pleased smile. It's about time, Mana.
"A month's time will approach fast," Sheryl said, probably thinking of all the damage Tyki and Neah had caused to the beautiful house that had yet to be fixed.
"It better," Neah agreed. "Four years was too long for Mana to hide from us without giving a reason. Tim, was that the end of the message?" Mana had left the apartment in a hurry, so he wondered if there was anything after that.
Tim gurgled down a little bit more silver and flapped his wings, shaking his body "no." Neah would've turned back to his eggs and continued eating happily, except he paused, staring at Tim. The golem looked— guilty.
"...Tim...?" he asked again. The other Noah looked up at hearing Neah's suspicious tone, also observing the golem. "Is there something you're hiding?" Timcampy covered its face with its wings. "You are! Come on, Tim, I'm like your dad. I made you. If you don't show me, I'll have take you apart," he playfully threatened.
Tim made some angry machine noises and threw up the chewed-up silverware back onto Neah's napkin, but finally opened its mouth and projected the rest of the message. At first, it showed an empty apartment. Then, the top of a child's head poked into the picture. "Birpy, are you recording? Okay, good." The image zoomed out as Timcampy must've moved backwards.
A small child sat on the couch, staring at the golem. He had spiky red hair, and was dressed in well-tailored little jumper and white shirt. "Um, hello Uncle Nay!"
Instantly, there was dead silence in the dining hall.
"Father says I'll meet you soon, but since Birpy sends messages, I thought it'd be okay to send you one just like Father. I'm Allen!"
Neah dropped his fork onto his plate, utterly frozen. "Holy stars," he whispered.
The child kicked his feet, obviously thinking hard of what to say. "Ummmm... I hope you and Aunt Road and Uncle Tik and Uncle Shurl and everyone are doing good. I haven't met you yet. But I will soon!" he repeated, as if to remind himself. "And then we can go on walks together and draw together."
Golden eyes ran back and forth over the boy's features. Everything Neah saw confirmed the nagging suspicion in his mind.
"Okay, I think that's it! Bye bye!" the boy decided, and grinned at the camera. The message went dark. Tim closed his mouth, whirring nervously. The room was still completely silent.
"That was.." Wisely started, but didn't finish. They all knew exactly who it had to be. "Do you— think Earl knew he sent that message?" It was doubtful.
"They have the same smile," Sheryl whispered.
"He has Mana's blue eyes," Road said, her voice serious and not its usual playful tone. There was no doubt in any of the Noah's mind as to who this little boy was.
"I'm—" Neah said, and then slammed his hands on the table. "I'M GOING TO KILL MANA!" The dishes rattled across the wooden surface and Timcampy hopped away. He started doing summations on his fingers, counting up the months and figuring out how old the boy had to be.
"Neah, that's a bit—" Sheryl started, but Neah interrupted.
"NO, SHERYL, I'M MAD! HE'S ALREADY CHEATED ME OUT OF FOUR YEARS OF BEING A COOL UNCLE!"
The twin's mind was racing over everything that had been revealed in the past minute. Mana had a son. MANA HAD A SON. Neah had a nephew named Allen, who had Adam's trademark incorrigible hair—though it was a russet red, probably from the mother—and blue eyes and smiled like just Mana and holy stars above I'm an uncle.
"We have a new member of the family," Lulubell said in a mild tone. "It's been a while." She smiled at Neah. "The rest of us are in line as well, to be "cool" aunts and uncles to his child."
"I'm first," Neah announced, folding his arms. "If you get specific, Mana and I are two halves of Adam, the same person, which makes Allen my child too. So I get first dibs."
"That's not fairrrr," Road whined. "I want to squish his chubby cheeks first." Neah waved his fork threateningly at her, as Tyki flicked eggs towards the both of them.
"I-I'd like to share my sweets with him," Boric whispered, a shy smile on his huge features. Everyone laughed, and Lulubell told Boric that would be just fine.
For the first time in months, the dining hall felt bright and happy.
Allen Campbell knew much more than he did when he was a baby.
He knew how to read the alphabet, how to draw with the pastels Father brought him, how to button up his own shirts and tie his boots. He knew how to juggle, and could even balance on a ball like his father did. He knew that it was the beginning of December, which meant he would be turning five years old soon, and he could count to that number on his fingers. He knew how to make Father laugh.
There were two major things that Allen Campbell didn't know about.
The first was the source of the odd dreams he sometimes had. They all started with him in a large, abandoned place surrounded by deep puddles and the wreckage of old buildings. In the dream, Allen would look over the edge of stone he stood on, into the deep black water to see another person looking at him. Even though nothing else happened in the dream, when he woke up he always felt a sense of unease. He never told Father about them, because they didn't make much sense and he was afraid of sounding childish.
The second thing that he didn't know about was that in a few days Allen Campbell would be dead.
"It's too far past your bedtime," Mana sighed, trying to appear the stern parent. In the crisp December air, both his and Allen's cheeks were tinged red with cold. However, he had made sure Allen was wrapped up with scarves and mittens and thick woolen coat so the boy didn't get chilled.
"Father, look at the snowflakes!" Allen said, gesturing to the night-black sky. In the light of streetlamps around them, the falling flakes were lit with a golden yellow before they landed on the icy cobblestones. "It's the first snowfall!" It was around ten at night, a rare time for the two of them to be out on a walk.
"It is," Mana mused, recalling all the years of first snowfalls he had shared with his mother Katerina, and Neah. It was wonderfully strange to be sharing a first Christmastime snowfall with his own child.
He picked up Allen and blew warm air on his face, making Allen giggle. "Are your cheeks warming up?"
"They're fine, Father," Allen's blue eyes were framed by lashes covered in tiny, melting snowflakes as he gazed back at Mana. "I'm happy to see Uncle Nay and the family in a week."
"Are you sure it's really a week?" The dark-haired man said, playfully making a confused expression. "I think it might be another month or two."
"No!" Allen smacked Mana's cheeks with his mitten. His other arm was tucked into his coat, to make sure the cold didn't give it aches. "Don't try to trick me. You promised that we get to go to your big house and meet Father's family."
Mana laughed, his cheeks smarting from the tiny impacts. "You're right, I'm sorry." He set Allen back down against the stone street, patting the woolen hat he'd forced onto the four-year-old.
"Master, this is level two number 0814. Some exorcists are giving chase to us." One the akuma Mana had placed at the other end of the city sent him a message into his Noah mind.
"If you believe them to be above your level, retreat and double back to our neighboring city as soon as possible. Do not kill the exorcists if you are able to," Mana mentally instructed the level two.
"Understood." The buzzing noise in his mind that always accompanied an akuma's call went silent.
"Are you tired, Father?" Allen asked, staring up at him. Mana blinked. He was tired, in fact. The Black Order's activity in a nearby city was costing him hours of finding willing human souls to become akuma, as well as time away from Allen. Whenever there was even a hint of Innocence crystal, the horrid organization went into a frenzy to try and find it.
"A little bit," Mana admitted. "Some bad men have been hurting the akuma, which makes Father's job harder."
"They don't know that akuma are really good at playing with me," Allen said, in a serious tone that didn't fit his childish voice.
"They are giving chase," the akuma voice appeared again. "There are three from the cursed Order."
"Leave them alone," Mana repeated. He tried to focus on Allen, feeling the weight of his Millennium Earl duties lift as he remembered what a beautiful place they were standing in. The akuma would be fine. Exorcists were annoying, but he tried to avoid any confrontation with them so he wasn't forced to end anyone's life.
"They don't know how good a babysitters akuma are," he agreed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his son yawn. "It's definitely time for your bedtime, Allen."
"Master, the exorcists…"
"N-no, I'm not tired—"
In one moment, the entire street was lit up with fire. Suddenly, all Mana could see was ash and explosion and the flashing light of akuma guns. A long black exorcist cloak fluttered in front of him, and he saw the ugly green of their Innocence weapon being activated.
Allen. Where was Allen?!
"Father!" The sound of his son's voice, more scared and desperate than he'd ever heard it, made his blood freeze in his veins. The smoke cleared slightly, and he caught sight of the now-burning buildings in front of him and realized Allen was a few paces away, crouched in fear. More bullets tore up the cobblestones as the akuma tried their best to hit the exorcists. They were good soldiers, and none of the weapons came close to hitting the small child. The exorcists had some kind of gun-type innocence as well, which completely sliced one of the akuma in half.
The acrid taste of Innocence crystal being activated burned Mana's throat. He smelled the green, glowing substance before he spotted it across the street, fallen onto the side of the street, a foot away from Allen. The thing the exorcists have been looking for.
"Allen!" He cried, getting the red-haired boy's attention. "I'm coming for you!"
The street in between them was a mess of akuma blood-oil and burning timber that had been blown from the empty shops. He didn't know whether the explosions had come from the akuma or exorcists, but he was grateful none of the shards had hit Allen.
"Father!" The boy tried to stand from where he'd fallen, but slipped on the oil beneath him. Another blast from one of the exorcist's weapons hit the second floor of the building directly over Allen and the Innocence crystal. Mana's heart fell into his stomach as he saw the timbers begin to fall. The entire thing happened in a second, but with his inhuman Noah genes, it lasted a century to him.
He started forward, even while knowing he would never make it to Allen in time.
He saw one of the exorcists dive towards his son, arms outstretched, ready to protect from the burning wood and embers.
He saw the exorcist, instead of protecting Allen, grab the crystal of Innocence and leave his son defenseless.
He saw Allen's wide blue eyes meet his in a frantic, frozen second.
The sound of his son's pained scream was a sound that Mana D. Campbell would never, in his life, ever forget.
The building crashed down atop the boy and the exorcist, though it was clear Allen had the worst side of it. One of the timbers cut directly down his face and the sound of his cry cut off in a chilling silence. Mana suddenly realized that the person still screaming was himself. He was beside Allen's fallen form in a second, shoving burning embers and wood off his son and cradling his head. Oh, stars. Blood. There was so much blood. It coated his fingers and wrists and knees as he held Allen's broken body, searching for signs of life.
"Allen, Allen," he sobbed, the tears on his face feeling hotter than the fires around them. "Please—don't die."
"Fa…" Allen rasped, trying to raise his good arm. The force of the blow had hit the right side of his body, and Mana saw with horror that his right eye was completely torn apart. A furrowed wound ran from his forehead down to his chin, and from the wet sound of his breathing, Mana knew at least one of his lungs was punctured.
"I love you," he whispered desperately, brushing back Allen's red hair. "I love you." His voice broke, but he forced himself to speak. "Father will always love you."
"Lo- ve Fa—ther," Allen slurred out. His good eye was filled with tears as he tried again to raise his fingers to Mana's face. "It —s o-kay." Slowly, the rasping breaths slowed. Mana's sobs came quicker. The little boy's mouth tilted up in what might've been a smile, as he attempted to show his father I'm okay I'll be fine—
His son stopped breathing.
Allen Campbell had died.
There was no way to describe the agony that ripped Mana's chest apart. As he laid Allen's small body back down to the cobblestones, his Noah form overtook him, and he turned to face the exorcists with eyes of burning sun. "I got the shard!" the man who'd protected the crystal when the building fell cried triumphantly, holding up the glowing object. The other exorcists shouted happily.
"My son," Mana said, and even though his voice was deathly quiet, it echoed throughout the wasteland of a street. "He was killed."
The exorcist caught sight of him. He lowered his hand. "This crystal will save many more, sir. I'm sorry that your son was killed by those monsters, but you should be happy that you're alive." He smiled, and it sickened Mana to see how pleased he was. "Tonight is a wonderful victory for the Black Order!"
"I will show you victory," Mana hissed, and raised his hands.
Many miles away, twelve other Noah reacted as they felt their brother's pain. Neah, although having the Noah genes, didn't understand why Road suddenly went deathly pale. "What's wrong?" he asked, sitting up slightly on the couch. Her late-night snack of chocolate fell from her fingers as she half-stood, then collapsed back to the chair.
She couldn't speak. There was no way to explain the immense pressure of hurtpainsadnessanger that the first apostle was unconsciously sharing with the rest of them. It was like being drowned in the depths of the ocean with pure emotion. She lifted her hands, as if to say something, but then only tears came. He looked up to see Tyki leaning against the doorframe of the living room, gripping his chest. It was alarming to see the cool-witted Noah of pleasure look so much in pain.
"What's wrong?" he demanded again. Above them, there was the sound of heavy footsteps and then a crash. Through the ceiling Neah could hear Boric sobbing. "What is your Noah hearing telling you?"
Tyki turned away, his golden eyes dark. Road wouldn't meet Neah's gaze either. "The Millennium Earl's son has just died," she whispered, "and so he is killing all the exorcists."
Once he had done with the exorcists what he had wished to, Mana bent next to his son's fallen form. "I'll be back for you, my dear boy," he whispered, his voice breaking on the last word. "Father has some things he needs to take care of."
The Black Order would never forget the havoc that was wreaked on it the night of his son's death.
A dark street. The fires that had previously burned were all out by now, and the snow fell more heavily. All the streetlamps had been blown out. It was nearing one in the morning, and few souls were venturing out to see what had happened to the section of street that was obliterated. There was no sign of the man with the top hat, or the strange machine-like weapons that followed him.
A small, broken boy lay on the street, near the edge under the broken eaves of a shop. Though no one was around to see it, a bright light began to glow on one of his hands. The light was a stark green color, contrasting with the dark red of the drying blood across his body and on the street underneath him. The green light pulsed. Pulsed again.
Slowly, the boy's body began to mend. Underneath his burnt and torn clothes, the tissue of the lungs repaired, and then the broken ribs, and then the shattered bones of his arm and spine. Within a few minutes, one would be able to see the small rise and fall of his chest as he breathed normally.
The face didn't heal perfectly. When the green light reached his cheek and eye, it hesitated. The deep cut mended over after a moment of deliberation, and then the light continued on upwards across his scalp and finish back in his right arm. Left behind on the child's face was a strange marking. It was like a shooting star, rising upwards across his cheek and resting above his eyebrow. His hair was now a bleached stark white, as white as the snow around him.
The green light, though healing him, had also marked him. He was a child of the Millennium Earl. He would always bear the scar of a demon, as the Innocence had deigned.
The world felt utterly quiet when he woke up. Allen opened his eyes, staring up into the pale darkness of the nighttime sky. He distantly realized that the snow was starting to cover up the street around him, and it felt cold against his cheeks. His head felt fuzzy, like everything he was experiencing was far away.
He rolled onto his side, realizing that even though there was a puddle of drying blood underneath him, he had no wounds. He forced himself to his feet, frowning. His right arm… it moved. He rolled up the sleeve, noticing that the skin was a deep red with a little green cross embedded in the back of his hand. For some reason, he felt like his arm hadn't worked before.
He couldn't remember.
Three mutilated bodies were strewn across the broken stones in a mess of snow and human blood. Allen stepped carefully around them, observing the bloody mess someone had made of them. Father did this, he thought, and then felt a pang of sadness at realizing it. Father is supposed to be good, so why—
Who is Father?
He felt something pale white and green with a name Innocence brush his mind, whispering for him to forget. It told him it would be too painful for him to remember everything that had happened. He felt tears come to his eyes, burning hot as they fell down his cheeks. "Father," he cried again, even as his memories of this person faded further.
Never stop walking, Allen.
It was the one memory that came clear to his mind. He couldn't even remember who had said it. Allen blinked furiously, trying to get rid of his tears. He needed to continue forward. He clenched his fist, feeling the pulsing of the gem in the back of his hand, and swallowed hard.
In awakening the Innocence, the memories of his past were being forced into sleep.
One Month Later
"What happened, Neah? The Order has been in complete lockdown for a month."
A static-y sigh came through the phone. "If Mana knew I was talking to you, he'd kill me." Cross frowned. Neah Campbell didn't sound like he was kidding.
"Half of their exorcists in the England branch were killed in a single night four weeks ago," the red-haired man said, "and more akuma than ever before are walking the streets. I don't know whether to stay in hiding or follow through on the missions they're giving me."
Another long beat of silence followed. Cross closed his eyes, trying to not grow irritated. He had known Neah for a long time, and he knew his friend deserved some benefit of doubt. "Mana had a kid," the Campbell said, his words careful and slow. "He was killed by Black Order exorcists."
Cross swore. "Neah, I—" he fell silent again. "I'm sorry." The words were shallowly inefficient to describe how he felt. The Black Order was a craphole of an organization, and Cross hated to be associated with them. If he didn't have Innocence, he would have stayed far, far away from them.
"Lay low for now. Mana's declared all-out war on the Black Order, and the rest of the Noah are right behind him. Do whatever you feel you need to for the Holy War, but don't let Mana catch you. He won't hesitate in killing any exorcist he finds." His friend's voice was nearly a monotone. Cross' hand tightened around the receiver, realizing just how much the loss of Neah's nephew must've been hurting him.
"I will. What you're describing— Mana was the gentlest of you all. I don't understand how he could have changed this much." Mana D. Campbell was the ever-loving, kind brother, and in the few times Cross had met him, he'd seemed to harbor no ill-will. Towards anyone, even with his role as the Millennium Earl.
He caught the sound of Neah's heavy breath. "My nephew… he was only four years old." His voice became choked. "I think it's better if we don't talk for a while. Goodbye, Cross."
The line clicked. Cross set the receiver back in place, his red eyes dark and heavy. Goodbye, my old friend.
This Holy War was costing them all. The only way he kept his sanity was forcing himself into long missions, and traveling far away from the Black Order. His golem buzzed, and he glanced at the incoming message that was displayed.
Concerning England Mission Changes (Marian Unit Mission #1.07.80)
Changes as of January 4th
Possible parasitic Innocence wielder reported (location 51° 30' 35.5140'' N/"Southside Orphanage and Monastery')
Investigate and report to superior Komui Lee (ID ENG944). Deadline January 30th, of same year.
Cross shut off the golem. Another mission to keep him busy. Usually, though, reports of parasitic Innocence wielders were fake or misinformed. He didn't expect this one to come through either.
It was, in fact, not a false lead.
"You're here from the Holy Order?" the nun asked him, glancing up and down with distaste at his clothes and face. She would've been hot, if she didn't maintain that ice-stone cold expression constantly, Cross thought.
"Yeah. Where's the kid?" After another doubtful pause, she finally sighed and turned.
"Follow me." They went down a long hallway, with doors on either side leading to children's rooms. Cross could hear happy shrieks and sounds of kids chattering away. He shuddered. He had never handled children well. The hallway opened up into a wide courtyard behind the monastery church. Even though the stones of the garden were old and broken up, kids of all different ages laughed and played on them, heedless of their new visitor.
"He's right over here," the nun said, gesturing to a corner directly to his right. He turned, spotting the child she referred to.
A small, white haired child sat on the mossy rock. He absently flicked around some pebbles by his feet, looking utterly bored and alone as the other children played around him. His cheek was marred by a red scar that looked like an akuma's inverted pentagon. A curse scar? As he picked up one of the rocks, Cross sucked in a breath, spotting his arm. It was blood-red and oddly textured, like a dragon's scales. Set into the back of the child's hand was a glowing green cross.
It was Innocence.
The child looked up, sensing his approaching. Cross was taken aback by his wide blue eyes. They were rimmed with dark circles but as bright as the sky. "Hey kid."
"Hi," the boy said in a quiet voice. He stared at the strange mask across one side of Cross' face, but didn't say anything else.
"Do you know what's in your arm?"
The kid glanced at his hand, flexing the fingers. "Not really."
That's an odd answer, Cross thought absently, but continued. "It's a weapon. It fights demons. The holy Black Order would like to adopt you so that you can learn how to use it."
Usually people would start giving him weird looks at this point, but the kid only nodded. Cross only felt mildly disappointed in the calm reaction. "What's your name?" The kid opened his mouth, shut it, and then opened it again. The red-haired man internally sighed. Is he retarded? "Well? What is it? You look like a gaping fish."
"My name," the white-haired child said slowly, carefully, "is Allen Walker."
Next Chapter: Ten years later, Allen Walker is already head-deep in the Holy War between the Black Order and the evil "Noah." The boy faces problems from all sides: he can't remember anything before age five, the Noah are bent on killing him, and he's having a ton of weird dreams about someone called "the fourteenth." There's also the issue of why some of the Noah look familiar. He's never met them before—right?