You are 19, Lavi is 30
“Hey, Lavi. What would you say this is?”
“What would you say what is?” he asks, and you can’t tell if he’s playing dumb or if he really doesn’t understand, and either way, you choose to explain.
“This.” And with a sweep of your hand, you encompass the world around you, the universe, the here and now. “Is this the past? The future? The present? It’s all tangled up and I can’t tell anymore, so sometimes I have to wonder…”
“Only sometimes?” He laughs when you pout at him, and he reaches over to ruffle your hair. It’s displeasing, but you suppose he’s allowed to do it. Today he is older than you by at least a decade, though he won’t tell you how old, nor the year he is from so you can calculate properly. He always tells you it’s because it makes him feel old and he’ll never hear the end of it from you if you know how much older he really is. Something about being a lolicon…
“If you only wonder sometimes,” he continues, snapping you out of your train of thought, “I’m not doing it right.”
“…does that mean I should just give up on making sense of it all?”
“When did I ever say that?”
It’s more of a gleeful exclamation than a question, and you roll your eyes. He really is impossible. “It’s just… really confusing. This is the future to you, isn’t it? But it’s also my present. And some of the yous I’ve met were definitely older, so it’s like it also already happened, and it’s set in stone, so it’s pretty much also the ‘past’…”
You stop when he knocks you gently on the head with his fist. “Don’t think on it too hard,” he tells you. “You’ll just get a headache.”
“Are you speaking from experience here?”
“Something like that,” he says, and laughs. “Look, don’t worry about it. All that matters is that we’re here together now, right? Not when ‘now’ is relative to, uh, every other time.”
You sigh. “I guess that’s true. It just feels like a really shallow way of looking at it, that’s all. It’s weird.”
“Well, no one ever said we were normal,” he points out lightly. “If we were…”
“…we never would’ve met, right?”
You are 15, Lavi is 22
The first time you meet Lavi, you are younger than him.
He likes to tell you that he was younger than you too, the first time he met you, so it all evens out. It’s hard to tell which of you is older, really. You’ve seen him as young as sixteen and as old as “undisclosed,” though if you had to guess, he would probably be in his thirties. If you really want to get technical, you could just compare birth years, but that gets depressing quickly and so you don’t really try.
“You’re a really, really old man,” you like to tease him, because if you take the easiest route and just think of when the two of you were born, it’s true. Lavi was born, not even last century (since you remember celebrating the “turn of the century” and how it was a big deal and all), but from the century before that, too. If he was anyone else, you wouldn’t believe him when he said, as nonchalant as you please, that he is from the 1800s. Then again, Lavi introduces himself as a time-traveling Bookman the first time you meet him, with that easygoing grin that eventually becomes so familiar to you.
Of course, at the age of fifteen, you are not that easily impressed. “Prove it,” you say.
“You can’t say things like that and expect people to believe you without any proof. So go ahead. Prove it.”
Lavi looks more than a little nonplussed at your behavior. Well, it’s probably better than trying to haul him off to the loony bin without a second thought. “And how do you want me to do that?”
It only takes you a moment to decide. “Take me to the future.”
Your feelings are only a little hurt when Lavi throws back his head and laughs.
“Can’t,” he says when he manages to recover. His hand is wrapped around your sleeve, keeping you from turning and walking away, even though you try to tug out of his grasp. “I can’t control when I go, and I can’t take anyone with me. S’all I can do to hold on to what I’m wearing.”
You cross your arms and glare down your nose at him. “You mean you wouldn’t just be some creeper falling out of my closet, you would be a naked creeper falling out of my closet?”
“Well, it’s a closet,” Lavi says helpfully, “so I wouldn’t be naked very long. I have that much decency.”
“…okay, so you would be a creeper in a skirt falling out of my closet. My skirt. That’s loads better.”
He shudders. “Nah. I’d go for the pants.”
“…a creeper in jeans too tight for him falling out of my closet. With no underwear.”
“You’re really determined to make me into some kind of pervert, huh?”
“Well,” you say, “you did just fall out of my closet. Which pretty much automatically makes you a pervert of the highest order. How did you get in there, anyway?”
“I told you. Time travel.”
“…so sometime in the future, you’re standing in my closet, and you just happened to get transported into my time. That’s still pretty creepy, you know.”
“I’m not from the future,” Lavi says, because that’s just about the only argument he can begin to make. “I’m from the past.”
“…so sometime in the past, you were standing in my closet—”
“Way, way back in the past,” he corrects, and you stare at him.
“How far back are we talking?”
“Almost two centuries. Give or take a few decades.”
“And how would you know that?”
“I’ve met you before,” Lavi says. You raise an eyebrow. “But it doesn’t seem like you’ve met me yet.”
“…that’s still creepy.”
Lavi shrugs. “Time travel. These things happen.”
You’re still highly suspicious. His story just doesn’t add up. “…so you’re telling me that two centuries ago, you were standing in a closet…”
“Your house isn’t even two centuries old!” Lavi snaps, and it’s your turn to laugh, because this whole thing is just so ridiculous. “I have met you. You want me to prove it?”
“I did say that,” you reply dryly. “So go ahead. Tell me what you wouldn’t know unless you know me.”
Lavi doesn’t even have to think for a moment before he smiles, and you start feeling like this was a very bad idea. He proceeds to list off facts from memory that only support the fact that he’s a stalker. Your birthday, the names of your friends and family, your favorite food and color… he even begins on your life story before you stop him. You have no desire to hear him recount everything that’s ever happened to you. Why would you tell him that, anyway?
“So that I can prove to you I’m a time-traveler.”
“I’m still not convinced,” you say.
Lavi shrugs and glances at your clock. The digital numbers read 4:32 PM.
“I’ll be going in about three minutes,” he says easily. “Wait for it. It’s pretty convincing.”
“Can’t you, you know, go now?”
“Can’t. I can’t control when I come, or when I leave, or when I go to.”
“Sounds inconvenient,” you remark, settling yourself on your bed. “If it’s, you know, true. And you’re not just some sort of pervert.”
“Yeah, it is,” Lavi says. “Anyway, after I leave, you’re going to realize it’s all true. And then you’re going to eat that whole pint of ice cream in the fridge to cope with your shattered worldview.”
“…uh. That sounds pretty unhealthy. And a bad way to cope.”
“Hey, you’re the one who tells me all this,” he informs you cheerfully. “Then you’ll be so distracted you won’t be able to study for your math test on Monday.”
“…I don’t appreciate that, you know.” Not least because you all know this test is going to be killer. The teacher believes in curving, which is great, but kind of necessary because the class average is hanging around a seventy.
“Nothing I can do about it, right?” Lavi spreads his hands, grins. “Anyway, good luck. Try to get higher than a sixty-fi-”
Between one second and the next, he is gone.
You rub at your eyes. You’re not sure if you blinked. You’re not sure if you’re seeing things, or if that was all in your imagination. “…Lavi?”
No answer. The clock reads 4:35 PM.
Unsettled, you walk to the kitchen, open the freezer, and dig out the ice cream.
You are 15, Lavi is 18
“I believe you.”
Those are your first words to him the next time you see him. Well, your first actual words. The first thing you do when you see him is shriek and throw a book at him, because he has just stumbled out of your closet again, completely unexpectedly, and, well, how else are you supposed to react when confronted with a weirdo falling out of your closet when you didn’t even know he was in there?
The book knocks him back into the closet again, and he falls ungracefully and just lies there for a few moments. You stare at him, and then, as stated, your first words to him are, “I believe you.”
Lavi groans, picking himself up and pushing his way through the various pieces of clothing. He’s knocked a few things to the ground. He looks at them but doesn’t bother to put them back, which mildly annoys you. “Is that all?”
“I’m sorry,” you add, a bit belatedly.
“Forgiven,” he replies instantly, with a large grin. “So, uh. What do you believe me about? That you won’t find anyone hotter than me?”
That gives you pause. “…what are you talking about?”
The grin fades slightly. “That’s what we left off on last time. Am I wrong?”
“‘Last time’? I’ve only met you once.” You take a closer look at him, frowning. Now that you look properly, he seems to be a little bit shorter than you remember, a little older, maybe in his late teens instead of twenties. “…I think you were older the last time I saw you.”
“And you were definitely older,” he concludes, with a brilliant smile that catches you off-guard and makes you stare at him. “It’s one of those weird time things, I guess! If this is only the second time we’ve met, I guess the conversation I was thinking about hasn’t happened.”
“Time things… right.” You tilt your head to the side, confused. “So have you met me? Yet?”
“I’ve met you for the first time,” Lavi says, “or else I would be asking who you are. But I don’t think you’ve met me for the first time for me. It happens in my future.”
All of this is just making your head go round, so you let out a long, dramatic sigh and flop out over your bed. After a moment, Lavi comes and sits on the edge, looking down at you. His single green eye is sparkling with amusement.
“This is why we don’t think about it too hard,” he says. “We can’t make it make any sense, so why try?”
“We… really want headaches, I guess?”
“Or something~” He brushes the hair out of your face in a gesture that is at once both comfortable and too intimate. He’s much, much more familiar with you than you are with him. “So hey, what were we talking about? That you believed me about?”
“Being a time-traveler,” you say, and sigh. “How can I not? You disappeared right in front of me.”
“You hate it when I do that,” Lavi says, and laughs.
You growl, rolling over onto your stomach and hitting your pillow repeatedly. “It broke my worldview, you know! To think that this weird guy coming out of my closet was really a time traveler from the past, and that these things can actually happen and everything! I ate a whole pint of ice cream!”
“Yes! A brand new pint of ice cream from the freezer and I ate it all because I was so disturbed!” you wail. “And it’s all your fault!”
“Sorry, sorry,” Lavi says, but he doesn’t sound sorry at all, just amused, and you’re continuing.
“And then I couldn’t concentrate on studying and I failed my math test!”
“I got a sixty-five!”
“Oh,” Lavi says vaguely, and, again, “Sorry.”
Actually, that was what convinced you that his time-traveling story had to be true. He guessed your grade on the test before you even took it. There’s no way that would happen unless a later you told some earlier him so that he would know—
Wait, didn’t you just do something like that?
You groan heavily. When Lavi looks at you inquisitively, you explain, “You knew all these things. When I met you. Is it because I told them to you?”
“Well, you did just now,” he says.
“Yeah, but will you remember them a few years down the line? When I meet you for the first time? Or… whatever it counts as…”
“A Bookman never forgets,” Lavi informs you with a trace of smugness in his tone. “I say this all the time, but I guess it hasn’t happened for you yet, huh?”
“A Bookman…” He’s said this word before, you realize, except you didn’t pay much attention then. You were more concerned with the fact that someone had just fallen out of your closet than with the person’s actual identity, or who they claimed to be, anyway. “What’s that, anyway? Some kind of librarian?”
His face falls for reasons you can’t even begin to understand. It seems like he takes his job pretty seriously, whatever that is. He runs a hand through his hair and says, a lot of his cheer gone, “A Bookman is someone who records history.”
“Um,” you say. “You mean you write… textbooks…” But he’s already shaking his head. “No? Then what? Is it sort of like being a journalist… so you write down things that will become history…”
“Actually,” Lavi says, “we don’t write down much of anything.”
“…that sort of makes the ‘book’ part a lie, doesn’t it?”
He smiles ruefully. “Not as much as you’d think. What we record is the unwritten history, the stuff that’s not in the books.”
“…doesn’t that make you a Not-Bookman?”
He shakes his head and then taps it with one finger. “I memorize everything I see and hear. If you think of it like that, I am the book.”
“Everything?” you question, because that seems a little impossible to you. If you were unable to forget anything, wouldn’t your brain get overloaded pretty fast? And on top of that, every one of your bad memories and embarrassing moments would be in your mind forever, just waiting to be called to the surface.
“Everything,” Lavi assures you. Something in your expression must give away what you’re thinking, because he continues, “It’s not that bad. You remember all the good things too.”
“Are there a lot of those?” you ask. A shadow passes over his face, and you have the feeling you’ve hit a sore spot. He was the one who brought it up, but you change the subject anyway. “You said the ‘unwritten’ history. What does that mean? The stuff that didn’t make it into the history books?”
“Yeah,” Lavi says. “More or less. It’s not in the textbooks because the people who wrote the history books don’t know it.”
“Then why don’t you tell them?” you ask him, your voice heavily laden with sarcasm. “It might make history more interesting, unless the unwritten stuff is unknown because it’s uninteresting. It would make history more accurate, anyway.”
“There are things the general public isn’t meant to know,” Lavi intones.
“…you sound like a politician.”
“Ah, great, the last thing I ever wanted to be.” He sighs dramatically. “No, but I mean it. That’s the answer. You know, stuff that’s supposed to be top-secret, things that would cause chaos if the public knew, stuff like that.”
“…still a politician.”
Lavi leans forward, his green eye amused. “Haven’t you ever wondered what’s up with Japan?” he asks. You blink, and he continues, “Of course you have. You’re always asking about it. And things like, what’s up with those weird ruins and destroyed and abandoned villages. They say they were destroyed in a war a long time ago, but isn’t it weird that there are places like that all over the world? And if it was so long ago, how come it looks like they were torn apart with rockets or something?”
“Do you believe in conspiracy theories, by any chance?”
“Nah, but they’re interesting,” he replies without missing a beat. “I’m just repeating what you told me, anyway. Well? Haven’t you?”
You hesitate, but at the very least, it seems like he has some interesting stories to tell, whether or not they’re true. And besides, if you’re going to believe him about the time-traveling thing, then he already knows your response, and you might as well listen to what else he has to say, right?
“‘Course you are.” Lavi leans back on his elbows on your bed; you shift so he isn’t too close to you. “Let’s see, I guess this is the first time you’re hearing all this, so we’ll start from the beginning. I’m the apprentice Bookman, and the forty-ninth record carries the name of ‘Lavi.’ It’s the record of the Black Order, an organization under the Church created for just one reason…”
“And that would be?” you press, when he trails off invitingly. You’re attempting to play the good audience to his storytelling skills.
“To defeat—” Lavi begins, and gets no further.
You blink and reach out your hand to where he was just a second before. There is only thin air there now, and as realization dawns on you, you scowl.
“That was completely not fair.”
You are 18, Lavi is 16
It’s really kind of strange that you don’t even bat an eyelash anymore when you hear the sound of someone fumbling around and cursing in your closet. Instead, you set your textbook to the side and look expectantly at the door. You know better than to open it yourself, because the last time that happened Lavi all but fell on you, and as enjoyable as that was in some ways, it also brings up some things you’d rather not think about. After all, you are a perfectly normal girl living in the twenty-first century, and Lavi is… anything but. You don’t even know where to start with Lavi.
The sounds inside the closet stop suddenly, as he realizes that it probably isn’t in his best interest to make too much noise. If he ends up drawing attention, there will be a lot of awkward questions to answer, and it’s best if he goes unnoticed until he goes back to when he came from. It’s always like this, when he visits and if he’s young enough to not be completely used to it yet, and you wait patiently for him to decide, as he always does, that he’d rather take a few risks and come out instead of sitting in a closet for however long the time trip will last this time.
The closet door inches open, more slowly than usual, and stops. You watch, a grin tugging at your lips. It opens a little bit more, then even more, just enough to let a tall, lean redhead through. Lavi steps out, a look on his face like that of a hunted animal, and glances around the room until his gaze alights on you, sitting at your desk.
“Oh,” he says awkwardly. “Uh. Sorry about this. Don’t mind me. I’ll just… be going now…”
“Hi Lavi,” you say, just as he’s making to retreat back into the closet. What he plans on doing in there, or if he actually thinks anyone would believe he’ll just enter and disappear again, you’re not sure.
Lavi pauses, one hand on the door to close it behind him, and gives you a strange look. “Sorry, do I know you?”
You glance meaningfully at the calendar on your wall, the same place it’s always been hanging for the past few years, and he follows your gaze. November, it says, and just to be helpful, you add, “The nineteenth. Not April Fool’s. And it’s a pretty bad April Fool’s joke if you were trying.”
Lavi rubs the back of his head, looking troubled. “But I don’t think we’ve met~ I would definitely remember such a lovely lady.”
You feel your cheeks heating up, but you don’t respond to the compliment. “You say that like you’re capable of forgetting things.”
Lavi shrugs, his eyes flitting once again to the calendar. He mutters something to himself, which you don’t quite catch: “Two thousand…”
It takes you a moment to realize he’s talking about the year, and you tilt your head, starting to feel suspicious. “Well, yeah. This is when I live and all.”
“I went a lot further than usual this time,” he says. “Into the future, too.”
That cinches it for you.
“…Lavi. When you said we haven’t met before, you really meant it, huh?”
It’s the only possible explanation. You’ve known him for two years, but for him, this is the first time he’s met you.
He’s taking it rather better than the first time you met him. Then again, that’s only to be expected. He’s used to his strange time-leaping ways, while you were not. Still, it’s not often that you know more about what’s going on than he does, and so you’re quick to introduce yourself and explain. “This is the twenty-first century. You, the apprentice Bookman, have jumped forward some hundred-plus years to get here. You’re a time traveler, though not really by will, and it’s the first but not the last time you’ll meet me.”
His eye sharpens as he understands. “We run into each other in the future?”
You nod. “A lot, actually, in your future. My past. Though I hope we see each other in my future too. This is really confusing.”
“I’m kind of used to it,” Lavi says. It doesn’t look like he entirely believes you, but you suppose this is all a little too much to take in. At least you’ve proven you know who he is, which is a step in the right direction as far as convincing him goes. From what you’ve seen of Lavi, the younger ones that you’ve run into, at least, it takes quite a bit for him to trust you. You’re never quite sure where you stand in that aspect, because he’s always changing ages and changing experiences and it’s hard to put it all together when your time doesn’t flow the same way his does.
You spread your arms out. “You’ve been telling me about the time you come from, so I guess it’s only fair if I answer all your questions too. Well? Where would you like to start?”
“So this is a long way in the future,” he says. You nod, discomfited by the expression on his face. Though he’s wearing a slight smile, it doesn’t reach his eye, and there’s something analytical, distant and cold about his gaze. You’re used to the Lavi you know being warm, funny, impulsive. “More than a century in the future. I wouldn’t even live to see this time, normally.”
“The best part about time travel,” you say. “You can find out how the world will change after you’re gone.”
Lavi grins, acknowledging his insatiable curiosity. “But all this is a bit hard to swallow, you know.”
“So says the natural-born time-traveler from the past.”
“Next you’ll tell me I’m not in Prussia anymore.”
“Besides which, Prussia ceased to exist as a country a while ago.”
Lavi groans, and you laugh, standing up so you can clap a hand on his shoulder. “A hundred years of history to catch up on. Where do you want to start?”
“Do we have time?” he asks, and you shrug, because you don’t know any more than he does when he will disappear.
“I owe you,” you say simply. “And if you leave, we can always continue later.”
“You mean if I come back,” he says, and tilts his head to the side, with just a hint of that familiar grin.
“You’ll come back,” you assure him. “If you come to my future, I’ll tell you even more.”
“Deal,” Lavi says almost instantly. He is a Bookman, after all, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and this is knowledge he can’t get anywhere or anywhen else.
You shake your head, smiling slightly. “All right, I’ll ask again. Where should we begin?”
“Hmm.” If you look at it the right way, history is much like a story, or countless stories all twined together. There’s really no simple beginning or end. Lavi knows that as well as you, knows that there’s no good place to start, and so he just picks the first one he thinks of. “What’s all this about Prussia not being a country anymore?”
“Well, empires come and go, right? It’s the way of things.” You’ll have to brush up on world history if you want to teach Lavi everything, you think wryly. Either that or teach him how to use the Internet. “But in answer to this particular question, I guess it starts with the unification of Germany.”
“S’already happened,” he interrupts. “In my time. But Germany’s pretty much dominated by the Prussians.”
“Oh, well, so I guess you’re looking for the time the Prussian identity started to dissolve? Or the power of the German Empire started to weaken?” You sit on the edge of your bed, kicking your heels against the mattress as you think. “…I’m not sure, but a lot of things trace back to World War I.”
“There was a worldwide war? Between countries? And people?”
You’re about to ask what other kind of worldwide war he can think of, but you stop when you remember all the stories he’s been telling you. Still, Lavi doesn’t seem that surprised. Hearing all this is probably just diminishing his faith in humanity a little more. “Yeah, there were. Two actually. But, well, the world’s still in one piece, and we’ve recovered since then. It was a long time ago.”
His gaze is focused thoughtfully on the ceiling. “How long are we talking?”
“Within your lifetime, probably,” you say.
“If I live that long,” Lavi says, a Lavi younger than any of those you’ve ever seen and ever will see. “If the Akuma don’t get me first.”
You are 16, Lavi is 32
The man who appears today is surprisingly composed, compared to all the other times you’ve had someone step out of your closet. There’s barely any noise to signify that there is someone there before it all quiets down. You might have thought it was all in your imagination if you didn’t know better, and besides, you’ve learned that it’s better to pay attention to possibly imaginary noises from your closet than to ignore them. If you pretend you heard nothing, there’s always a chance it will end with Lavi sneaking up behind you and scaring you witless and laughing like it’s the funniest thing in the world.
So when you hear what might be the sound of someone moving around in your closet, you look away from your computer screen and wait. A moment later, the door edges open, just a little, and you cough. You have always wondered why he doesn’t simply stay in your closet and wait for you to acknowledge him, instead running the risk that he might be seen by someone else not you, but you suppose it’s not in his nature to wait docilely for something to happen. “Hi Lavi.”
There’s a momentary pause before the door opens the rest of the way, and the familiar redhead steps out, a rueful grin on his face. “Hey. What’s up?”
“Mm, nothing much.” His eye flicks to the calendar on your wall, taking in the month and year without you having to say anything, and you helpfully tell him the day as well. He blinks at the year, which you take to be an expression of surprise. That’s one of the things about the older Lavis that you’ve noticed. They tend to show more emotion. They’re more genuine about what they’re feeling and less distant. It’s nice.
This one looks older than you’ve ever seen him, and you’re not sure if that’s because of the exhaustion that lines his face or because he is, physically, older. You tilt your head, studying him, and he gives you a weak grin, seeing your scrutiny and not wanting you to worry. “…how old are you this time?”
“Thirty-two,” he answers, without thinking about it, and frowns when you chuckle. “You’re… sixteen?”
“Right,” you say. “You don’t usually tell me how old you are unless it’s kind of close to my age.”
“Huh, well, this time’s an exception.” He smiles roguishly. “You’ll need it for later.”
You file that information away in your head. Thirty-two. What you’ll need it for, you aren’t sure, but when it comes to timelines, things that have happened and will happen and the intersection between them, you just have to trust that he knows what he’s talking about, especially when he’s older.
“So what’s been going on lately?” you ask, studying him. He smiles and shakes his head, perching himself on the edge of your bed. “Anything you want to tell me?”’
“Not really, no,” he says lightly. “Sorry, I won’t let you spoil things for me.”
“Can you at least tell me if you’re still Lavi?” you demand, and the redhead grins and doesn’t respond. He will always be “Lavi” to you, because that is who he was in the forty-ninth record when you met him and he met you, and if he tells you he’s suddenly someone else, you know that will have changed. He will be on the fiftieth record, with a new identity and a new life, and everything “Lavi” will have done will just be pages in an unwritten book.
That much, you have gathered. That is what he has told you about being a Bookman, in the minutes and sometimes hours, that he has spent talking with you, when no one else is around to overhear and wonder who this man is and where he came from.
You sigh, giving Lavi a grumpy look, and he shrugs. “Sorry,” he says, completely insincerely.
“Will you at least tell me what it means to be Lavi?” you say. “What’s the Black Order? What do you do? What’s all this about an unwritten history?”
“I haven’t told you?” Lavi asks blankly.
“I don’t remember you telling me.”
“I don’t either.” You laugh, because if Lavi doesn’t remember, then chances are it just hasn’t happened yet.
“So tell me. I want to hear about it.”
“Where to start…” He falls silent for a moment. “I don’t think you’ll have heard any of this before, and it gets real complicated later, but what I was told when I joined up was that the Order existed for the purpose of fighting the Millennium Earl and the Akuma.”
You wonder briefly what kind of name “Millennium Earl” is, but there are many other questions you can ask, and you suppose they’ll all answered in due time. “What’s an Akuma?”
“A demon,” Lavi says. “That’s what the name means, anyway. It’s what happens when someone tries to call back a loved one from the dead. The Earl fixes their soul to a metal skeleton, and then the Akuma kills the human who called their soul back and wears their skin. After that they obey the Earl’s orders, kill humans mindlessly to grow stronger, that sort of thing.”
You shudder. Even though it’s a warm day in midsummer, you’re feeling strangely cold. “Are you lying to me?”
“Why would I do that?” Lavi asks, with a smile. It is pointed, meaningful, and you know what he’s getting at. If you can’t believe him about the time travel, why can’t you believe him about this?
“Then where are they now, in this time?” you question, when you regain your voice. “These things you fight against. I guess it’s too easy to wait for… this Earl… to die, and all the Akuma too?”
“If it were, there wouldn’t be an Order,” Lavi says regretfully. “My guess is that they’re all gone by the time you’re born. We succeeded! Congratulations!”
You don’t congratulate him, not just yet, because even though you’re starting to get some idea of the importance of what he’s doing, the magnitude of it all hasn’t hit you yet. “And why is this all secret? Unwritten history and all that?”
Lavi shrugs. “Because the Akuma can hide themselves, I guess,” he says. “So you don’t know who is one, if it’s your best friend or your mother or your next-door neighbor. And they’re not easy to kill, either. Only Exorcists can really hurt them. An Exorcist is someone from the Black Order, who can use a weapon made of Innocence. That’s the only thing that works against them.”
“…and I guess it’s too much to hope there’s an army of you?”
“An army of Exorcists? Depends if you think of a number barely in the double digits as an army.”
You shake your head, not disbelievingly, but in wonder. “Are the odds really high against you?”
“You have no idea,” he says gravely. “A lot of the time, I thought it would be a miracle if I lived another year.”
You are 18, Lavi is 18
“So wait,” Lavi says, looking from the calendar on the wall, to you, with astonishment. “You’re how old?”
“Eighteen,” you reply, glancing over at the calendar as well. You’ve told Lavi your birthday before, and of course he remembers it, just like he remembers everything. “What’s so strange about that?”
“I’m eighteen,” Lavi says, with an odd note to his voice that says he finds this unbelievable, somehow.
“What?” you question. “We’re not allowed to be the same age? Well, I guess in the normal course of things, we wouldn’t be, huh. I would be eighteen, and you would be one hundred and…”
But Lavi is shaking his head, and you trail off. That isn’t what he means. “No, it’s just weird when you think about it,” he says. “Have we ever been the same age before?”
You think about that, and it’s enough to give you pause. Have you been the same age? You remember meeting him for the first time: Then, he was in his twenties, some six or seven years older than you. You remember him meeting you for the first time: Then, you were eighteen, and he a few years younger. You remember, not quite as clearly but snippets of what actually happened, meeting him several times in the three years that you’ve known him. And now that you think about it, you haven’t actually been the same age. Perhaps it is because Lavi, in your mind, has simply become ageless. Relative to you, he is older, younger, both and neither, and so it’s easiest to think of him simply as Lavi and not worry about things like age. You wonder if it’s the same for him.
But if Lavi says you’ve never been the same age, at least not as far as he’s experienced in the two years since he’s met you, that must means it’s been on his mind and it must be true. You wouldn’t go so far as to say that Lavi’s never wrong — he is wrong, often and hilariously — but if it’s a matter of memory, you do not doubt him.
“We’ve known each other for three years, and I’ve never let you see outside of my room,” you say.
“Two,” Lavi corrects, and grins when you glare at him, “and you have, a few times.”
You wonder if he’s talking about the “future” or about sneaking out to take a look around when no one’s here to entertain him or notice him leaving. If it’s the latter, you haven’t gotten any awkward questions from the neighbors about redheads who most probably don’t live here, so at least he’s been careful. “Well, why don’t we go now? It’s a nice day. We shouldn’t just spend it sitting in my room talking. And no one’s here to see you leave, and your clothes are fine, won’t attract too much attention, and…”
“And I’m not twice your age?” Lavi guesses, with a sly smile, and you nod with some embarrassment. Yes, it would be much less awkward than you going out with a thirty-year-old, especially if you run into anyone you know and are then forced to explain what, exactly, your relationship is. (“Yeah, so he pops up in my closet now and then… is he a pervert? That’s what I asked when I met him too.”) And he has said before that he kind of wants to see what else there is to this time other than your room and the limited view from your window, but you’ve always been too busy or it would be too hard to sneak him out or, simply, he wasn’t wearing the right clothes for it. There’s more than just the weather to consider. If he’s going to be walking around in public with you, you don’t want him to be wearing his Order uniform. The eyepatch is odd enough as it is, but there’s nothing you can really do about that.
You look at Lavi seriously, really look at him, and he returns the gaze. He is a tall, redheaded eighteen-year-old with a single green eye and his hair kept out of his face with a bandana. He’s wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, pants, and boots, as well as having a tiny hammer strapped to one leg, and you wonder if what they wore in the nineteenth century was really this similar to today’s clothing, but you don’t question your good fortune.
“Bandanna,” you order, and Lavi blinks.
“Take it off. Let your hair fall free.” He does so, a bit puzzled, and you study the result. His hair is longer than you expected, but he looks more or less normal, now, if you ignore the eyepatch.
He shoves the bandanna into his pocket and says, “So, hey. Since we’re the same age, how ‘bout we go on a date?”
It’s a mark of how well you know him that your only indication of surprise is your eyes going a little wider. “A… date?”
He nods eagerly. “A date with a pretty girl I’ve known for years! Come on, it’ll be fun.”
You didn’t say it wouldn’t be. You didn’t say you didn’t want to, either. In fact, saying that would just be a lie. Still, you hesitate. “Is it okay? I mean, will you be here long enough… to…”
“I don’t know,” Lavi says honestly. “But we can try. I really wanna try.”
Something about the way he says that makes you look away, biting your lip. He really can be quite the charmer when he wants to be, huh?
“And I’ll know if I’m about to go,” he continues eagerly, “so I can warn you or hide so no one sees me. Please? I want to go on a date with you.”
He sounds so sincere. Even though you know it might be a bad idea, even though you can think of so many ways it can go wrong, you can’t say no, not when you want to too. Besides, who knows when the next chance like this will come along? It might be a while; it might never happen. After all, you’re eighteen, and you won’t be living in the same room in the same house forever. There’s college, for one thing, and you’ll be moving out, and who knows how long you’ll be able to see him?
So you say, “Sure. But I feel kind of ripped off.”
“You haven’t got any money,” you point out, and Lavi blinks, starts to laugh as he realizes what you’re getting at. “At least, not any they would take. Probably. So I’m going to have to pay for it all.”
“Promise I’ll go easy on you,” he says, and grins roguishly. “I don’t have Allen’s appetite.”
You don’t know Allen, and you never will, but some things are the stuff of legends. “Yeah, well, you’ll owe me. Big time.”
“Of course,” Lavi agrees easily. “I’ll pay you back whenever you want me to.”
At some point later down the line for both of you, he means, and you roll your eyes. Lavi extends his arm to you, in a way that’s probably supposedly to be gentlemanly, but it strikes you as nothing more than a mockery of high-class nineteenth-century sensibilities.
“Well, milady?” he asks formally, and you know your first impression was right. “Shall we go?”
You rest your hand in the crook of his arm. “Yes, let’s,” you say, and he smiles and opens your door with unnecessary grandiosity.
“…but honestly, Lavi, if you act like this in public, I will smack you and leave you to figure out the buses by yourself.”
You decide to take him to the mall. It’s possibly the best place to find a lot of people doing what people do on a weekend, given enough time and money, and observing people seems to be both Lavi’s job and a sort of hobby for him. Thus, it would be best to show him what normal people do on normal days, some hundred years past the time when he fights just so that you can live a normal life.
He’s tense when you step into the building, maybe because of the sheer number of people there are. You glance back at him, knowing exactly what’s causing his hesitation. “It’s all right, you know. There aren’t any Akuma in this time. And anyway, you said they target you because of the uniform you wear, right? So if you’re not wearing that, even if there were any Akuma, they wouldn’t know you’re an Exorcist and they wouldn’t attack you.”
“This many people in one place together is just asking for trouble,” mutters Lavi, looking wary as you lead him past multitudes of stores, heading straight for the food court.
“Remind me to take you to a concert next time,” you say. “Or a convention. If you think this is bad, you’ll have a nervous breakdown at one of those.”
“…sounds like fun!”
“Then again, it might be tough. Tickets aren’t exactly cheap, and if I don’t know when you’re coming or how long you’ll stay, it might not be worth it to buy them…”
“Hey, important question,” Lavi says, interrupting your musings. “What’s a McDonald’s?”
“Place that serves cheap, greasy food,” you dismiss. “Like hamburgers and fries and stuff.”
“…that sounds delicious!”
You laugh and obligingly get in line. “You really don’t want me to spend that much, huh? What do you want?”
“Ummm.” He has a dopey grin on his face, placing a finger against his chin as he studies the menu. “…that one!”
You can’t tell what he’s pointing to, and you’re fairly sure he knows that. Still, you don’t rise to the bait. “Which one?”
“The expensive one!”
…he really is doing this just to spite you. Especially since you mentioned having to pay for everything. You roll your eyes and say tonelessly, “Fifty chicken nuggets it is.”
“…that sounds like a lot.”
“Hey, you wanted the most expensive one.”
“Also, chicken nuggets?”
“They’re nuggets. Of chicken.”
You’re not sure whether to laugh or facepalm. You settle for shaking your head. “Just go grab us a table, Lavi.”
You do end up buying the fifty-piece chicken nuggets, though you’re fairly sure Lavi won’t be able to finish them all, and pick a few sauces almost at random. You order your own food as well and bring it all to the table when it’s ready, and Lavi eyes the five boxes with some suspicion.
“I promise it’s edible,” you tell him with an encouraging smile. Edible, but not necessarily good for him.
He opens one of the boxes and stares at the food inside. “…nuggets of chicken, huh?”
He shrugs and pops one of them into his mouth and chews. You push the sauces toward him, a bit belatedly. “Not too bad. But it’s got nothing on Jeryy’s cooking.”
“Yeah, well, it’s McDonald’s,” you tell him dryly. “If you wanted quality food, we could’ve gone somewhere else.”
“…if your idea of quality is take-out Chinese, sure.”
It’s not like any date you’ve ever been on or expected to be on or even considered being on. After all, Lavi is fundamentally different from every other guy in this time, and maybe even from every other guy in existence. He knows nothing about shopping malls, the food or the fashions or anything else. He gravitates toward the bookstore, of course, and flips through a few of the bestsellers on display and stares with unexpected interest at the books on how to do everything from grow roses to learn Nigerian in three days, at least until you drag him over to the manga section and proceed to give him an introduction to the entertainment form known as Japanese comics.
He’s staying for a surprisingly long time; you’re not sure if it’s because he’s doing his best to keep himself here until after your “date,” but you don’t ask, and Lavi seems to be enjoying himself. He stares at the huge black-and-white picture of a man in the entrance to Abercrombie and cracks a joke about how good he would look up there on the wall instead. You smack him upside the head and, while he’s whining about abuse, proceed to drag him to your next destination.
“Yes,” you say simply.
Lavi peers inside curiously, at the walls and shelves covered in boxes and a few screens set up around the room. “Uh, so, hey, I don’t really know what kind of games you play… you know, in this century and all…”
“Video games,” you answer devoutly, and head straight for where the Wii is on display. “Listen, Lavi, because this is possibly the most important thing you will hear me say today. Or maybe even ever. Video games are the most important achievement of the twentieth century.”
“No. But they’re one of the ones I care about the most.” And then, remembering that Lavi doesn’t even have TVs where he comes from, much less Super Nintendo systems, you begin to explain. “So. Television. Moving picture boxes with sound. They show videos… which can be recordings of people acting out movies, or the news, or anime or something. And then you can hook up video game systems to them and play games, like shooters or RPGs or DDR or puzzles, but you can play on portable systems too…”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
You shrug, resigning yourself. “Oh well. Come on, they have Mario Kart set up. I’ll show you what I mean.”
And you do, when you beat him in the first round, and only the first round. He picks up the controls fairly quickly and proceeds to show you that he’s a natural , not only at Mario Kart, but at just about everything they have set up for demos. You’re grumbling by the time you leave, and Lavi is snickering, pleased with his victory. You’re walking back to the bus stop together, and it’s getting late enough that you’re worried about how long Lavi will stay, and if he’ll need a place to sleep for the night. You can always try to sneak him back into your house and give him floor space, but that’ll get awkward really fast and you can think of so many ways it can go wrong.
Something brushes against the back of your hand; you ignore it the first time, but then it happens again, insistently, and you look over. Lavi is grinning at you, and you roll your eyes. This time, you catch his fingers and squeeze and don’t let go.
“This was the most un-date-like date I could’ve imagined,” you say, and Lavi laughs and doesn’t seem at all offended. “No, really. It’s definitely way more on the side of casual outing than date.”
“Sorry I don’t know anything about this world,” he says cheerfully. “And that I can’t pay.”
“Well, I guess it wasn’t a terrible date, either. Not the stuff of nightmares or anything.”
“Want me to make it better?” Lavi suggests. You turn to stare at him, about to ask how, except he is close to you, too close and leaning closer, and you open your mouth but no words will come out, and heat is rising to your cheeks and your heartbeat is accelerating in your chest because you know what he is about to do, and you close your eyes and…
…and nothing. After a few expectant seconds, seconds in which nothing happens, you open your eyes again, a frown settling on your lips, and find that there is nothing there.
You are alone.
It takes only a moment for you to realize what happened, and then you scowl, incensed. You are going to kill Lavi when you see him again.
…well, you’ll steal your rightfully deserved kiss, first. And then you’ll kill him.
You are 18, Lavi is 16
The first noise you hear from your closet is a muffled curse, followed by the sounds of someone struggling, and then silence. You raise an eyebrow and wait for your least favorite redhead to show his face, as he always does. That’s right, least favorite. You still haven’t forgiven him for skipping out on the best part of your date.
When he doesn’t exit immediately, you frown and lean forward. “Lavi?” you venture, loudly enough for him to catch, but not so much that the rest of the house will overhear and think you’re going crazy. You think there’s some kind of response, but you can’t make out the words, and you stand up and open your closet door, beginning to feel concerned.
The first thing you notice is the spots of dark red on your floor, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what they are. It’s going to be a pain cleaning those out of the carpet, though at least it’s in the closet where most likely no one will ever think to look.
All of that goes through your mind in an instant, and it’s quickly eclipsed by another, more important consideration. That’s blood. Lavi is bleeding. You glance at his face, see that he’s paler than usual, one hand clutching his side. His fingers are covered in crimson.
“Lavi?” you yelp, too loudly, before you remember where you are and your fear of being overheard. You lower your voice, but the urgency doesn’t leave your tone as you ask, “Are you okay?”
He’s panting, and it takes him a moment to answer, but he responds, “Does it… look like I’m okay?”
You’re already turning away for him, digging for something you can use to stench the blood flow. “Shh, don’t talk.”
He chuckles weakly. “You were the one… who asked, you know.”
You shake your head, because it is true, after all. There’s something in your hand, dark cloth — you can’t be bothered to figure out exactly what it is, in your state of mind, but something you read once sticks out to you. If it’s dark, you can’t tell if there’s blood on it. You move back to Lavi and hand it to him, and he takes it and presses it against the wound. You catch a glimpse of a nasty-looking gash in his side, long and deep. You wince and look away.
“How long will you be here?” …no, wait, there’s no point in asking. He doesn’t know. “No, never mind. Was it the Akuma?”
“What else?” Lavi asks humorlessly. And then, “How do you know about them?”
“You tell me, of course. Sometime in your future.” You sit back on your heels, regarding him.
“So I live past this, huh.” The grin on his face is sardonic. He isn’t impressed. And you are not pleased.
“Of course you do. You know you do.”
“And I’ve still got years… and years… ahead of me. Being a Bookman.”
“Working for the Order,” you say, and maybe it’s the wrong thing to tell him, because he shoots you a sharp look.
“I’ll still be there… years from now? With the Order?” You shrug, because it’s not like you know when he stops being an Exorcist, if he ever stops. There are some things he never tells you, because he doesn’t want his past selves to know. Lavi tilts his head back, resting it against the wall. “Long record.”
He shakes his head, still trying to catch his breath. “Forty-eight before this. In… sixteen years.” Right, when you do the math, he probably didn’t stay in one place for very long at all, did he? “…long record.”
“…I told you to stop talking. Stupid.”
“Can’t… help it. ‘S in my nature.” You think he winks at you.
You sigh, remembering the last time you saw him, the wicked twinkle in his eye and the mischievous grin on his face. You wanted to kiss him.
You still do.
Now isn’t the time.
“Idiot. Just close your eyes and rest and be assured that you won’t die.”
That makes him laugh. “Ever?”
“Not for a long time,” you amend. “You’ve still got a long time ahead of you. The you who told me about the Order was twice my age when I met him.”
“So…” Lavi’s eye looks past you and scans the room, finally landing on the ever-present calendar. “…I live ‘till at least thirty-eight, huh.”
“Thirty-two,” you correct without thinking, and realize — maybe this was what he meant by having to tell you. “I’m not sure about beyond.”
“Mm. That’s… good to know.” He closes his eyes, a small, true smile lingering on his face.
You kneel next to him and finally give in to temptation, brushing a few strands of red hair out of his face. He tilts his head so that his skin brushes against your fingers, and you close your eyes.
“…‘m scared. You know.”
You reopen your eyes and glance at him. “Anyone would be scared in your place,” you say softly.
He laughs hoarsely. “Don’t think… I told you. I’m sixteen. Just joined. And I’ve… seen a lot, but…”
But it doesn’t compare to the Akuma, to the ruin they leave in their wake or their single-minded focus on killing him, an Exorcist. “…it’s terrible for you.”
“Mm.” He sighs. “Not s’pposed to be scared.”
“Why not? It’s only natural.”
“I’m a Bookman,” Lavi says, with certainty and resignation and pride mixed in his voice. “We’re not… supposed to feel.”
You can make no answer to that for a long moment. Then Lavi smiles, knowing what you’re thinking, and you feel you have to respond. “…that’s stupid.”
“You’re saying that a lot… today.”
“That’s because you’re being dumber than usual today!” you snap, and he snickers. “…it’s only human to feel. If you take that away, what do we have left?”
“Then I guess I’m not… human.”
“You’re trying not to be human.” You move into your closet to sit beside him, staring out at your room.
“…don’t think it’s working.”
“Yeah. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It would be weirder if it was.”
There’s a sudden weight on your shoulder, and you look over. Lavi is using your shoulder as a pillow. Red hair brushes against your neck, and his eye is closed, but he’s not asleep yet, nor even trying to pretend. You hesitate for a moment, and then you lean your head to the side, your cheek lying against his hair.
“This is a long way away from where you come from,” you whisper. “So just be whoever you want to be. No one will judge for you it. And if you’re scared, or sad, or worried, or if you just want to talk, I’ll listen.”
Lavi doesn’t answer. Slowly, his breathing eases up, becomes deep and regular, and you know he’s asleep. Still, you stay there, sitting in your closet with its open door, until you are alone once again.
You are 18, Lavi is 24
Your closet door opens again two days later. It’s sooner than you expected, though it’s not like there’s ever really a set time between his visits. Sometimes you have to wait weeks; once, it was barely three hours. And it’s not like you’re always here to meet him, either. Lavi likes to regale you sadly, almost every time you see him, with stories of how lonely it is sitting all alone in your closet with nothing to do.
But in this particular case, you only have to wait two days, and then there is someone walking casually out of your closet like he owns the place. You really do hope Lavi doesn’t own your closet.
“Hey,” he says, with that familiar grin on his face. “What’s up?”
You open your mouth to respond and find that you don’t even know where to begin. Lavi waits, looking vaguely puzzled, until you finally settle on, “You’re looking well.”
“Yeah, life hasn’t been too bad lately.” He peers closely at you, a bit troubled. “Uh, hey, what’s the matter?”
You shake your head. You’re still unsettled by the last meeting, and kind of upset at the one before that, but this Lavi is older than both the ones from before. He must be well into his twenties at least, maybe about twenty-four, wiser and more experienced than the others.
…well, at least as wise as Lavi ever gets, which is to say, not very.
“The last time I saw you,” you blurt out, “you were getting blood on my carpet. And it was a pain to clean up.”
Lavi looks sheepish. “Oops. Sorry? How old was I?”
“Sixteen, maybe,” you say. “You seemed pretty young. You were new to the Order, too.”
“Ahh, that time. Yeah, I was sixteen.”
You nod, a little smug at having gotten his age correct… and then something else hits you. “What do you mean, ‘that time’? That’s not gonna be the last time you come here half-dead?”
“…uh, anyway!” It’s a really poor attempt to distract you, and you don’t fall for it at all, but you let him change the subject. If it’s already happened, for him, that means it will happen for you, in the future, and there really isn’t anything you can do about it. “So, um, what else is new?”
“The time before that,” you say calmly, “we went on a date.”
“And you disappeared right when we were about to kiss.”
“Oh,” Lavi says thoughtfully. “I remember that.”
You cross your arms obstinately. “Don’t you think that’s a jerk thing to do?”
“Yeah,” Lavi agrees without thinking. “It is.”
“So are you going to do anything about it?”
“Hey, I’m not the eighteen-year-old who ran out on you.”
You give him a pointed look.
“…okay, maybe I am,” he concedes. “Come here.”
You do. This time, when you move to stand beside him, you meet his gaze without a hint of hesitation, though you can feel your heart rate speeding up all the same. Lavi smiles, slightly, and leans down — you wonder if he’s taller now than he was at the age of eighteen — and this time, he kisses you, properly and sweetly and eagerly, and you think, this is definitely worth the wait.
You are 16, Lavi is 25
“That was way too close,” you mutter, leaning against your closet door and breathing out a long sigh. The door to your room is closed once again, and you’re seriously considering barricading it so no one can come in until you’re good and ready. It would be nice to have some privacy in here, by which you mean the ability to do whatever you want without anyone coming to investigate the fact that you seem to be talking to someone, and someone seems to be answering.
“…can I come out now?”
“Shh.” You tilt your head, listening intently for signs that any of your family is nearby, possibly eavesdropping to see if you’ll continue “talking to yourself.” Unless someone is holding their breath with their ear pressed against the door, you don’t think anyone’s there, so you allow, “I think you’re fine.”
Lavi’s head pokes out from under your bed. His nose is wrinkled. “It’s dusty under here.”
You stare at him. “You must be right at home, then. You and the dust bunnies.”
“What, are you calling me old and dusty?”
You were thinking of him more as a rabbit, but you don’t say that aloud. Instead, you just smile. “How old are you today, Lavi?”
“Twenty-five,” he says, and then stops to think about it. “Why?”
“Nine years older than me,” you muse. “And that doesn’t stop you from hitting on me…”
“Hey, I appreciate women. Age is irrelevant!”
“…I think I should be feeling sort of creeped out.”
“I know,” you correct. “You’re twenty-five. And I’m… a minor. So yeah. Sort of creepy.”
Lavi is frowning at you. “It won’t be creepy in a few years. Or, well, even the next time you see me. Or the next time I see you, even. Maybe.”
“Are you sure you won’t be thirty the next time I see you?” you question.
“…uh. ‘Course not.” He shrugs. “I’ll never get older than twenty-five. Next year, I’ll still be twenty-five. And then the year after that. Then you can catch up to me so it’s not creepy anymore.”
“…that’s cheating.” You stare at him, your eyes narrowed. “Besides, you’re twenty-five now and I’m sixteen now and this totally counts as being a lolicon.”
“Lolita complex,” you say. “Attraction to young girls. Pedophile.”
“You’re not that young!” he protests.
“Says the guy who was born in the nineteenth century. xkcd says it’s creepy if I’m less than n/2 plus seven years younger than you.”
“Hey, I’m younger than you… sometimes…”
“Then that should be the only time you’re allowed to hit on me,” you tell him primly. “When you’re younger than me. Or when we’re the same age.”
He’s oddly silent at that, and you tilt your head, curious. “…what is it?”
He snaps out of it. “Oh, nothing,” he says easily. “I was just thinking you don’t change much as you get older.”
“Uh-huh. Except when you’re demanding a kiss from a guy seven years older than you.”
“I would never do that!”
“Wait a few more years and you’ll see.”
You doubt it. You will definitely never fall that far. You will definitely…
…what kind of twisted person is your older self anyway?
You are 25, Lavi is 16
…and sometimes it is all reversed, and the boy sitting on your desk chair and watching you warily is just that, a boy, and one who has not yet experienced what you know you will share.
“You’re pretty lucky,” you tell him, kicking your heels idly against the leg of the desk while you wait for the computer to boot up.
Lavi looks at you suspiciously. He’s sixteen today, and this is the second time he’s met you. It explains why he doesn’t seem to trust you, and why he’s so uncomfortable in this time, but you don’t mind. Seeing a younger Lavi like this is all right once in a while. It’s cute, and kind of nostalgic, but it makes you feel a little bit creepy when you think of the last few times you’ve seen him.
“Why am I lucky?”
“That I’m here,” you say, and smile. “You would think I’d have moved out of my old house by now. Well, you’d be right.”
Lavi glances around the room, and you know what he’s thinking. It is rather impersonal, furnished nicely but without all the possessions you’d gathered in your eighteen years that had occupied this room the last time he was here. There is still the calendar on the wall, though, for his benefit. You won’t allow it to be taken down, nor will you allow it to become outdated.
“Yeah,” he says. “I guess that’s pretty lucky.”
“Mm.” You lean your elbows on your knees, peering over at the screen. “There, it’s just about ready.”
“What are we doing?” Lavi asks, and you can’t tell if he’s feigning interest or genuinely curious.
“I’m teaching you important survival skills for this era,” you say, and laugh when he tenses, because “survival skills”, to him, are to be taken literally. “And a way to amuse yourself when I’m not here.”
“Does that happen a lot?” he asks, and you shrug.
“From the way you talk, it happens all the time. Okay, let’s get started. This is a laptop. It’s one kind of what we call a ‘computer.’ We use them for a lot of things, like playing games or writing documents or watching videos or listening to music or communicating with each other. Computers are really useful. They do lots of things for us.”
“Can they make food?” he wants to know, and, surprised, you shake your head. “Huh. So they can’t do everything.”
“They’re useful for finding information on just about anything, though,” you reply. “History, too.”
He perks up at your words, ever the eager historian, and you chuckle. “Well, not everything you find on the Internet is accurate. It’s written by people, after all, and people aren’t always right. Sometimes they put wrong info up just to screw with you, too. Anyway, we’ll start with the basics. The button I hit turns it all on. The thing with all the buttons is the keyboard. You use it to type… um, put text in boxes…”
Lavi is already poking at letters, with his index finger, experimentally. Your desktop stays unchanged. “…nothing’s happening.”
“It only works in certain… modes, I guess you could say. Like if you open a text file, or click in a text box, or something. Then you would see words appear.” He looks doubtful, and you decide you can leave off your lesson on the Internet for a little while. “See that square down there? With the rectangle at the bottom? That’s the touchpad. Put your finger on the square and move it around, and watch what happens on screen.”
He does, and you get the satisfaction of watching his eye widen as the cursor moves in response. It doesn’t take him long to figure out to correlate it to his own finger movements, and then you explain clicking and double-clicking to him. Then it’s on to keyboard usage, and he opens a text file and learns the usage of all the non-obvious keys: shift, backspace, enter…
Lavi is a fast learner; of course he would be, as one who stores all the information he sees and hears into his memory. You’ve never given him a lesson on computer usage before, but he’s always seemed to manage just fine, except for the few times he’s managed to crash yours epically. It was because you taught him how, he would say if you asked, which you always assumed to mean, correctly, that you would teach him at some point. And maybe you’ll never need to teach him again, after this: a single lesson, given enough time, seems like it will be enough.
“Okay,” you say at last. “Just one more thing to entertain you and keep you from clicking anything you shouldn’t.”
“What happens if I do that?” he asks, and you’re sure that’s honest curiosity he’s displaying now.
“Then you delete my entire music collection or all the photos documenting the last few years of my life or something that the computer actually needs to function and you turn it into a useless hunk of plastic and metal. And then I get mad and punch you and never speak to you again.”
He seems to take the threat seriously. You suppose it’s important to have allies, when you’re a time traveler that can easily end up anywhere and anywhen completely unexpected.
“Anyway, you should be connected to the Internet now. That’s this huge information network that connects computers all over the world and lets them communicate. So double-click on that icon — yeah, that one. This is what we call a browser. Click in that long bar at the top and type in… well, let’s start with… www.wikipedia.com.”
“WWW dot… what?”
“Oh, the part you usually care about is the part between the dots. The www and dot-com bits are kind of standard. That’s not to say they’re always there, but… anyway. Welcome to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge. It’s an encyclopedia where users can create and edit articles, which means it grows really fast and has tons of information on all the most ridiculously esoteric subjects and occasionally gets vandalized, but you can always change it back to the way it was.”
“Um,” says Lavi, and you’re not sure he caught most of that, but it seems he focused on the important bit at least. “An encyclopedia, you said?”
“Yeah. But think of it as an encyclopedia that would kill several rainforests if someone actually tried to print it out and mass-produce it.”
Lavi has already navigated the cursor over to the search bar, and he sits there, staring at it. You wait to see what he will do, and you’re not disappointed, because after a second he types in “Roman Empire,” and then it comes up. “The Roman Empire (Latin: Imperium Romanum) was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization…”
You watch in silence as he reads through the article with amazing speed, clicks on another one he finds interesting when you mention that the blue text is a link to another page. You explain to him then the concept of the “back” button, of new tabs and windows, and smile to yourself as the number of pages open increases rapidly. For every article he opens, he pulls up three more, and you’re forced to inform him that if he gathers too many tabs and windows, your computer will slow down and eventually crash.
Finally he sits back, looking at you with undisguised wonder. It’s an expression you’ve only rarely seen him wear, and it makes him look younger than he is, still full of innocence instead of the jaded, cynical teenager who’s seen too much. “I could spend all day on this.”
“You sound like me and TV Tropes,” you muse. “But I think that’s an underestimate. Give it a few days at least, if not a week.”
Lavi looks at the open window, now on a page on the Greek pantheon. With noticeable effort, he begins to close all the other tabs. “…is there anything else you wanted to show me?”
He’ll get back to this later, you realize. If he doesn’t know when he’ll leave, it is better that he learn things that will be useful now, and then he can enjoy everything at his leisure afterward. “Just one more thing, and then I think you can find everything else yourself. It’s called Google.”
“Google?” Lavi asks, his fingers poised over the keyboard, and you tell him exactly what to type.
“It’s a search engine. That means it looks all over the Internet for pages that match your query. So, say, you could ask it how to make a certain dish, or the easiest way to travel across the country, or for even more detail than you can find on Wikipedia…”
“Anything?” he says, his expression unreadable.
“Anything!” you tell him. “Google is the source of all knowledge!”
Lavi hesitates for only a moment more before he begins typing.
“tell me about the black order”
You don’t get the chance to tell him that’s not a proper query before he’s hitting enter, and the list of results comes up. There aren’t too many pages, and as he scrolls down, it’s clear that none of them are at all relevant.
“Not everything,” Lavi says, and his voice is quiet.
“No,” you agree heavily. “Not everything.”
You are 19, Lavi is 19
“We’re the same age!”
“…you know, I feel like this has happened before.”
“It has,” Lavi says, without missing a beat, “except that time, you were the one saying we should go out.”
“Yeah,” you say, remembering now. It wasn’t that long ago, not even a full year, but it feels like it’s so rare that the two of you are physically the same age. It hasn’t happened since then. In terms of what you’ve experienced, you’ll never be even: Just as you’ve seen Lavi much older than you, you know there will be times, years from now, when you meet him even younger than he is now. This, then, is the closest you’ll ever get to standing on equal ground.
“Last time it happened, we went on a date.”
“Yeah,” he says, with a mischievous grin. “We did.”
You can’t help but wonder what’s happened since then, for him. You’ve been passing different times, with different ages of each other, and you know that some six years from now for him, a very annoyed eighteen-year-old you will demand a kiss from a confused twenty-five-year-old him, to make up for the date he accidentally ruined. What has happened in the year he’s spent? Has he been growing closer with some future versions of you? The thought makes you oddly uncomfortable.
“What are you getting at, then?”
“What do you think I’m getting at?”
“I’d say you want another date. But you’re acting like you think I’ll give it to you after you ran out on me last time.”
“Yeah, uh, sorry about that. It won’t happen again, I swear.”
“You say that like you think I’ll agree.”
“You got your kiss, didn’t you?”
“How did you know that?”
Lavi smiles. You realize you just gave it away and groan.
“Sometimes I talk to myself,” he says casually.
“…if you were anyone else, you realize that would be enough cause to get your head checked out?”
He ignores you. “You got what you wanted, right? So it’s fine. Let’s go.”
“I’m going to be really annoyed if you disappear before we’re done again, Lavi,” you say.
“Especially if you disappear in the middle of a meal and leave me to pay for more food than I can eat.”
“I’ll try to take some back for Allen instead.”
“But mostly if you leave without a proper goodbye again.”
“I won’t,” Lavi says. “If I do, you can break up with me.”
You blink. “…since when have you been my boyfriend?”
“Oh. Uh. I guess that hasn’t happened yet.” But he doesn’t look at all sheepish, only amused. “So? Will you?”
“Will I what?” you ask, because you’re not sure anymore what you’re talking about.
“Go on a date with me again,” Lavi says, and you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief, because you were sure he meant—
“And be my girlfriend,” he continues, and you choke.
“How?” you sputter. “What? Why?”
“‘Cause I like you and think you’re hot,” he says simply. “Isn’t that why any guy asks a girl out?”
Maybe not always with the “hot” part, you think vaguely, but you’ve got more important things to consider right now. “Don’t you, you know, have girls in your own time you could ask out? Where you haven’t got the awkward centuries-in-between thing going on?”
“I don’t like any of them as much as you,” he tells you simply.
“You’ll probably be dead before I’m even born,” you point out, but much to your surprise, Lavi just grins and shrugs.
“Yeah, but I’m here now,” he says. “And we’re both alive. Isn’t that good enough?”
You stare at him, not quite sure what to say, before you turn away. “Yes,” you say. “To the date, first. And if you don’t disappear before it’s done, then I’ll consider being your girlfriend.”
Lavi punches a fist into the air and whoops. You laugh, despite yourself, and go to collect everything you’ll want for this outing.
There’s nowhere in particular you want to go this time. You can’t very well take a day-long vacation to places Lavi knows and show him how they’ve changed in this time; there’s Wikipedia for that, and Google, if he just wants to search up pictures on the Internet and compare them to his flawless memory. Instead, you show him more about people. You take him downtown and just walk the streets for a while, peering into shop windows, stopping to read restaurant menus, talking about culture and politics and whatever else comes to mind. It isn’t bad, but you find yourself wishing you could go somewhere with him and be a tourist, do something that can only be done in this time — but you know that would be asking the impossible.
Lavi seems pleased all the same as you head back, idly licking at an ice cream cone in one hand. His fingers are twined through yours, and you try to pretend, try to convince yourself, that you’re nothing more than an ordinary couple on an ordinary day, and you could do this at any time if you so wished. He’s nibbling at the cone as you stop by the side of the street, waiting for the bus, and you check the schedule and groan as you find that you’ve just missed it. A few more minutes, and he’s throwing away the paper that was wrapped around the cone, and he says your name and you turn to him.
He tastes like mint and chocolate. That’s the first thing you think, almost before you realize he’s kissing you, and you remember the black-studded green of the ice cream he asked for, chose out of the thirty-one flavors they had for sale. He is eager, almost too much so, taking this chance because he doesn’t know when the next one will come — but so are you. It is awkward and desperate and tastes of ice cream, and when he breaks away you giggle, because there isn’t really anything to say.
Lavi smiles self-deprecatingly, and you know, even if he doesn’t make it all the way back to your home, it’s all right, because that would be the end of your date. “So?”
“Minty,” you say, and laugh again, and listen to the sound of your own voice on the wind.
“Not what I meant.” He’s pouting, trying to get you to be serious, and you shake your head. “You said you’d decide on the boyfriend thing after the date.”
“Hmm. I did, didn’t I?” You consider your answer. Now more than ever, this feels like a turning point. You are standing on the edge of a precipice, one that has always been there and one you’ve always walked along. You can continue following the edge. You can walk away from it. Or you can throw yourself down, in a dizzying, exhilarating fall, and pretend you’ll never hit bottom.
“It would be something like a long-distance relationship, I guess,” you say.
“Long-time might be more accurate,” Lavi says.
“The longest,” you say, and sigh. “Hey, Lavi. I’m nineteen.”
You reach up and tuck your hair behind your ear. “I’m not always living at home. College and all that. The place you show up won’t always be the closet of my room, and at some point, it won’t even be my room anymore. I’ll move out.”
“Yeah, I know,” he says. “You told me a long time ago.”
“What will you do then?” you ask, and he shrugs.
“It’s not like I keep getting drawn back because I like that closet, you know,” he says. “I get pulled back ‘cause there’s something I care about here.”
“What does that mean?” you ask.
“I’ll come find you,” he says, and he is serious, and there is a lump in your throat you can’t quite swallow down. “No matter where you are. So don’t worry, because I’ll keep seeing you.”
You can’t ask for any more than that. “Mm. Thanks.”
You fall silent, looking down the street. In the distance, you can see yellow lights, spelling out a number and a place. The bus is finally coming.
“So,” you say. “You’re my boyfriend.”
“Yeah,” he says.
“I guess you were right,” you say. “That I would say yes, and this would happen.”
“Aren’t I always?” he jokes, and you roll your eyes and shove him. Lavi pretends to stumble away, weaves back and forth, actually loses his balance…
And then he is gone, and you pay the bus fare for one.
You are 21, Lavi is 19
“Happy birthday to me,” you murmur, aligning shotglasses on your desk, one next to the other in single file parallel to the edge. “Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday, dear…”
And then there is the sound of a door sliding open, and you stop, somewhat embarrassed. You glance back, half-expecting to find your roommate looking at you oddly, and it’s a moment before you realize that the door opening was not the door to your room.
“Happy birthday to you,” he says, a hint of a grin tugging at his lips, and you blush, because he was definitely not supposed to hear that. He shoves the closet closed and stumbles forward, and you exclaim, reaching out to him instinctively. He manages to catch his balance before you reach him, though, and straightens up, leaning heavily against the wall. He jerks his head toward the only other door in the room and asks ironically, “That’s locked, right?”
“Yeah, it is,” you reply. “But my roommate has the combo. Anyway, Lavi—”
“Happy birthday,” he says again, with what is definitely a strained expression, and you shake your head, unamused.
“You can’t say something that and show up looking like… like that.”
“Is there something wrong with the way I look?” he asks playfully, but you don’t laugh.
“Sit down. Sit.” He obeys, sitting down at your desk chair, and you go to rummage around in the space underneath the sink. “What happened?”
“Do you really need to ask?” Lavi replies, and you sigh. It’s the same reason that’s led him to you, broken and bleeding, so many times over the past few years. You don’t like to count them. You don’t like to remember, but you’re sure he does.
“Is it bad?” you ask, and Lavi shrugs one shoulder. The motion makes him wince, and you tug insistently at his coat until he gives in and removes it. Next is the long-sleeved black shirt that he always wears underneath, and he pulls it over his head with an effort. You cringe at the sight of the bruises that cover his upper body, the nasty slashes here and there as if from a blade, and of course, the scars. You grab a wet hand towel — white, possibly for the last time in its existence — and begin to mop up the blood so you can see properly, trying all the while not to inhale. You feel like you’ll be sick.
“Any broken bones?”
“Few cracked ribs, I think.” There’s not much you can do for those, and you can’t take him to a doctor, not without awkward questions being asked about his injuries and his inevitable disappearance. “It looks worse than it is, I swear.”
“You’re just saying that,” you murmur. Maybe it has something to do with having high pain tolerance, or it’s the result of being thrown around and abused until the pain sensors are shot, but you think it’s always exactly as bad as it looks and that, to him, isn’t really that “bad.”
“Thanks,” he murmurs, and you shake your head, your lips pressed into a grim line.
“How old are you?” you question. It’s become a routine question for when he’s not significantly older than you, when you need to distract him somehow and you want to determine when he’s from, what he might have experienced, if he’s strong enough to take it or if he’s tired of it all.
“Nineteen,” Lavi says, and laughs, hollowly. He cuts off with a wince. “I went on a date with you the other day.”
“Oh, so that makes you my boyfriend,” you muse.
“And you’re twenty-one,” he continues, his eye focused vaguely on the calendar on the wall. “Happy birthday.”
You sit back on your heels and shake your head, only half-listening. He’ll probably need stitches for the cut in his arm, and the one that runs from his collarbone down, but there’s nothing you can do. “If you wanted to make it memorable, you’re succeeding.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Can I have a drink?”
“Huh?” You glance up from the bandages in your hands. He’s looking with longing at the bottle of vodka on your desk, a gift from a friend earlier in the day.
“You know,” he says. “To drown the pain. Or my sorrows. Something like that.”
Just a little probably won’t kill him. Actually, it won’t kill him at all, because you know he lives past this. “Yeah, sure.”
“Thanks,” he says devoutly, and pours himself a shot. He’s quiet then, save for occasional whimpers of pain, but you think he’s exaggerating and so you ignore him.
“You know,” you say, when you’ve at least managed to stick gauze pads on everything that’s bleeding and it’s all under control for now, “twenty-one is legal drinking age in America.”
“Is it?” he asks. “That’s pretty late, isn’t it?” You shrug. “Well, congratulations and all that. A toast to your health!”
“Let’s toast to yours instead,” you retort, and Lavi laughs, winces again. He downs another shot with astonishing speed, and you think wryly that such things as drinking laws have probably never mattered to Lavi. “You’re underage. In Japan too. It’s twenty there.”
“Ah, Japan,” Lavi sighs theatrically. “It’s out to get me. I’ve always hated Japan. Land of death and all that.”
“I would think minimum drinking ages are in place to prevent death,” you say. “Or something.”
“Or something,” he agrees. “Hey, sorry I have bad timing.”
“It’s not your fault,” you say, because it’s true. Even if he does do this weird time-hopping thing, it’s never on purpose, so it really isn’t his fault. …well, maybe it is, but you would feel bad blaming him right now. “Besides, I wanted to see you. Maybe I should’ve been, um, a bit pickier about what condition I wanted to see you in.”
Lavi laughs. He sets the shotglass down on your desk and reaches over, running a hand through your hair, letting his fingers drift up your neck and across your cheek, and you draw in a sharp breath.
“I brought you a present,” he says, entirely too casually, and it takes a second for you to process what he just said.
“How’d you manage that?” you ask, not really believing him, and Lavi shakes his head. He reaches for his Exorcist coat, drapes it over his lap, and fumbles in the pockets.
“It was hard,” he complains. “I’ve seen you with it, so I asked, and then you told me I gave it to you for your birthday, but of course it hadn’t happened for me…”
He pauses, and when he looks at you, it’s with a pout on his face. “You told me I was nineteen,” he says. “So I’ve been carrying this every day since I turned nineteen because I didn’t know when it would be your birthday.”
“That’s dedication,” you say. “Should I praise you?”
“Yes. Praise me!”
“Mmm… I don’t feel like it.”
Lavi groans, and you laugh, reaching up and pushing a few floppy strands of red hair out of his face. “So?”
“So I bought you a present,” he says.
“From your measly Black Order paycheck that isn’t even enough to live on?”
“Hey, they definitely aren’t paying me enough.” But he withdraws his hand from his coat with a flourish and proffers it to you. “Here.”
“…a box? And not even wrapped.”
“That cedar box was made in France in the 1880s!” Lavi protests, and you giggle, because of course that would make it almost new when he got it. “And look inside the box.”
Well, of course. You undo the clasp and freeze. Lavi laughs, reaching out to catch your hands before you can drop the box, and only then do you regain your wits and begin to stammer. “Something like this — how much did it cost you?”
“You’re not supposed to ask that,” he says easily. “And remember, inflation happens over time. It wasn’t that much.”
“Put it on,” he says, and when you make no move to obey, he takes the necklace from the box and reaches up to put it around your neck. You let him, feeling his fingers ghosting against your skin as he fastens the simple gold chain, and then he sits back, looking pleased with himself. The emerald pendant catches the light, and you notice, dazedly, that it’s the color of his eye.
“Well?” he says.
“I can’t tell whether you want to make this the best or the worst birthday I’ve ever had,” you say.
“The most memorable,” Lavi says, with a sparkle in his eye, and then he’s leaning forward again and catching your lips and you think that you don’t mind this, as your arms encircle him, gently, mindful of the bruises covering his back.
“I really hope no one interrupts,” you murmur, when he pulls away to let you breathe.
“No one will,” Lavi says, and you want to ask if that’s the surety of knowing your future, but you don’t get the chance.
He is gone long before the last few seconds of your birthday tick away, leaving you with an unfinished bottle of vodka and a black long-sleeved shirt, torn and ruined and sticky with blood. He left without warning again, you think as you pick it up, and wonder if there’s any point holding on to it. It still carries his scent, mixed with iron and sweat, and you bury your face in it and think of his smile.
You want to see him. You want to see him any time you want, not unexpectedly. You want to be able to call him in the middle of the night and wake him up, just to bother him, just to talk to him.
The door to your room swings open, and you sit up, blinking back tears. Your roommate doesn’t seem to notice.
“Hi,” she says, and glances at the bottle of vodka. “Been drinking?”
You shake your head, think better of it, nod. “My boyfriend was here,” you say. “You just missed him.”
“Huh,” she says, and glances on the picture on your desk. In it, you are twenty, and he is somewhere near twenty-three. You happened to have a camera, and it happened to be a nice day, and he happened to appear in a picturesque location where you could convince some passersby to snap a photo. “I’ve never met your boyfriend.”
“Yeah, I know,” you say. Almost no one in this time has.
“He’s older than you, right?” You shrug. He wasn’t today, but in an absolute sense, you guess he is. “You know, it’s weird. It doesn’t seem like you ever really call him or anything.”
“Mm. He’s hard… to get in contact with.” You pause and laugh a little. “It’s a bit like a long-distance relationship.”
“He must really be worth it, then,” she says.
“Yeah,” you say, and something twists within you. You want to see him. “He is.”
You are 27, Lavi is 27
“Why are you from a different time?” you murmur. It comes out muffled, barely audible, because you’re speaking into Lavi’s shoulder.
He shifts position, just a little, and laughs. “Because if I was here all the time, your time would implode from how cool I am.”
“Nice try.” You prop your chin up on his shoulder. “I’ve just thought, you know, for years now, how much more convenient it would be if you actually lived here.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I wouldn’t bleed all over your stuff so much if I was from here.”
You smack his side, lightly, and he jumps. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. What good is a boyfriend when I can’t call him up and dump my problems on him whenever I want?”
“Uh, if that’s all there is to it, why would anyone wanna be a boyfriend?”
“Aren’t you just supposed to be here so I can cry on you whenever something goes wrong?”
“Do you want to?” Lavi asks. “I wouldn’t handle it very well, you know. Maybe I’ll pat your back and go ‘there, there,’ and, uh…”
“That’s better than what some boyfriends can do, I think.” You sigh. “Anyway, it’s not really a big deal. You’re still my boyfriend even though you haven’t been here for me to cry on, aren’t you?”
Lavi pats your back helpfully. “There, there.”
You shove him away from you, laughing. He falls to the ground dramatically, but he too is grinning.
“It’s more that I was wondering,” you continue, when you calm down. “What would we do if we had all the time in the world together?”
“Not fight Akuma,” he mutters, from his place still on the floor. “There are better things to do in life. And anyway,” he rolls over, “even if I was born twenty-seven years ago the way you measure time, it wouldn’t be all the time in the world, would it?”
“It would be close enough,” you say. “Compared to what we have.”
“Oh yeah, that. It feels like we’re stealing moments from the goddess of time or something.”
“Moments we were never meant to have,” you say. “I guess they really are stolen.”
“But they’re worth it,” he says with certainty.
“Definitely,” you agree. “I guess there’s no point in asking for the impossible. But if you could maybe control when you left, or how long you stayed, or when you jumped to…”
“Then I would stay with you forever,” he declares dreamily, “and never leave.”
You hesitate. Lavi picks himself up and brushes himself off like he’s just said nothing out of the ordinary. “Really?” you ask hesitantly, and he beams.
“Well, it’s not like I stay for the Earl,” he says. “Or to be shot at.”
“Being a Bookman…”
He shrugs. “There’s unrecorded history to be found everywhere, not just in the past. I can do my job here just as well.”
“You’d have to go looking for it,” you say.
“I would,” he says. “It would be exciting. Would you come with me?”
You laugh. “I would go anywhere with you.”
“Do you mean it?”
“Not really. I draw the line at active volcanoes.”
Lavi sighs theatrically. “So you don’t mean it,” he concludes. “So you don’t really love me.”
“I didn’t say that,” you say. “You know I do love you. We could live a life of adventure and danger.”
“And strip clubs?”
“Only sometimes. You’d have to bribe me to come.” You pause. “Hey, Lavi. Do you have a girlfriend? Back when you come from, I mean.”
“‘Course not. That would be cheating on you.” He sounds indignant, and you smile, because girlfriend or not, you’re sure he hits on every female in the right age range who so much as looks his way. Lavi probably knows exactly what you’re thinking, because he glowers but doesn’t deny it. “Anyway, it’s not like it would work. Bookmen can’t get attached. We’re moving around too much, risking our lives too much, and I guess in the Order a lot of people we meet won’t last that long…”
That’s a pretty cold way to put it, and he realizes it, because he stops there. “You’re one of the only things in my life that’s stayed constant, and I appreciate that. S’all.”
“And you appreciate it enough that you’d run away with me…” Because that’s what it would be if he were to stay here with you indefinitely, without going back to his own time. They would never hear from him again, so it would be close enough, right?
“If you put it like that, it sounds sort of like eloping,” he says.
You smile. “So then would you elope with me?”
Lavi is silent for a moment, long enough that you begin to realize how afraid you are to hear his answer. You turn to him, about to tell him that it was a joke, he doesn’t have to take it seriously — but then you catch sight of the thoughtful expression on his face.
“It would be cheaper than a traditional wedding,” he says.
“Is that really all there is to consider?”
“No, well, there are things like flowers and rings and paperwork and it’s really a pain…”
You sigh. “I guess I’m never marrying you, then. It wouldn’t work out.”
“No. There would be no point in having a wedding if I don’t know when you’ll be here or for how long. Besides which, you don’t have a birth certificate anywhere, probably, so the documentation is impossible too.”
“I guess we’ll just have to elope, then.”
“I guess,” you say, and are quiet, because there’s no way that would happen either. It just wouldn’t work.
Some things really are impossible.
Lavi’s hand sneaks out, finds yours, gives it a squeeze. “Okay, it’s never gonna happen,” he admits. “But we can pretend.”
You snort. “I’m sure that would go over well. ‘Yeah, I skipped out on work because I was pretending to elope with my boyfriend. But then he disappeared, so I figured it was time to go back…”
“Or we can pretend to be married,” he says lightly. You shake your head, because you can think of few things you want to do less than explain away a mysterious always-absent husband. It’s hard enough with a mysterious always-absent boyfriend as it is. “You know what marriage was originally supposed to be, right? Not all about weddings or filling out paperwork or anything?”
“Selling off your daughters to wealthy husbands to improve your own social standing?” you suggest.
“No, not that.” His free hand makes motions in the air that are probably supposed to be significant. “It’s just sort of a promise, right? To love each other forever, till death do we part, all of that.”
“And will you promise to love me forever, Lavi?” you ask, though you’re struggling not to laugh, because it’s just so sappy—
“Not forever,” he says. “I don’t think I can promise you forever. But how ‘bout till the day you die?”
He means long past his normal lifetime. He means hundreds of years into the future, that no matter how much time or distance separates you, this is something that won’t change.
“Even if I don’t see you tomorrow,” you say, “know that I love you.”
Not just tomorrow. Next week, next month, for years into the future. Even if you never see him again, the strange time-traveling Bookman with a penchant for ending up in your closet has wormed his way into your heart. He is unforgettable.
“Of course,” he says. “I’ve known that for years.”
The days when you can’t see him, the days that you have no choice but to pass without him, are painful. You want to see him. You want to hear his voice. But in the end, simply having met him makes up for all the waiting.
“…hey, if we’re going to pretend be married, I want a ring to show for it.”
You are 27, Lavi is 18
He is poking around your apartment with interest, sticking his nose into every corner. This is the first time he’s been here, in his timeline, and so you suppose you can allow him to get oriented. You follow him, making sure he doesn’t break everything, and once he’s ascertained the location of the last broom closet, he looks at you, and only then does he seem to seem to notice that you don’t look exactly pleased to see him.
“What is it?” he asks, and you fold your arms and try to hide your grin.
“You promised me a ring the next time we met,” you intone. “Where is my ring?”
“Sometime in the future,” he says blankly. “Probably. How many years are we talking?”
“A non-zero number,” you say. “Anyway, this is the next time we meet.”
“Not for me!”
“So I want my ring.”
Lavi groans. “At least let me get old enough to figure out what you’re talking about first,” he complains, and you shrug. “What’s it for?”
“A wedding ring,” you say. “Proof that I’m not available.”
“Huh. Yeah, I guess that would stop people hitting on — wait a second!” You have to turn away so that he doesn’t see you laughing, but you’re sure your shoulders shaking probably gives the whole game away. “You want me to marry you? And I say yes?”
“No, I’m just saying this to mess with you.”
“Not funny,” he says. “I just went on a date with you and you drop this on me!”
“A date?” you ask, as something occurs to you. “And you’re eighteen? You wouldn’t happen to be talking about the date where you ran out on me, right?”
“Ahahaha…” He looks definitely guilty. “No, why would I do that?”
“…you totally are. We only go on one date when we’re eighteen.”
“Yeah. The next one is when we’re nineteen. That’s when you ask me to be your girlfriend…” You trail off. You still have a few more years until you’re thirty-two, the oldest you’ve ever seen Lavi. You wonder what happens after that. Does he visit you at some later time at an older age? Does he keep appearing in your life as unpredictably as he does now, except always younger than you, with the age gap continually growing? Does something happen to him? Do you never see him again? You’re afraid to think about it.
Instead you say, “I can tell you the progression of our relationship for the next nine years if you want. Do you want spoilers?”
He shakes his head vigorously, eye wide and innocent, and his mess of red hair flies in all directions. “No! I already told you not to ruin things for me.”
“If you’re sure,” you answer.
“I am.” He grins, widely, and then promptly goes against what he said not ten seconds ago. “So we get married, huh?”
You roll your eyes. “Figuratively,” you say.
“Only figuratively?” He ponders that for a moment. “Doesn’t that mean I only owe you a figurative ring?”
“Look, we’ve been over this. I won.”
“Mmhm. Don’t you think your future self would react the same way?”
“Yeah, but… a ring…”
“Can’t you just take me at my word for once?”
“That would be too easy,” he says. “Anyway. Marriage, huh…”
You look away. “We were mostly just talking about what it means, beyond the wedding and everything,” you say. There’s no need to burden him with this, not long before it’s really on his mind. “It’s impossible even if we wanted to. Look, don’t worry about it.”
“But you already mentioned it,” he protests. “I can’t forget it now. Anyway, isn’t marriage supposed to be about more than just the wedding?”
“That’s exactly what you said,” you say. “I’ve already heard it all, so…”
He’s ignoring you and continuing. “It’s more that you want to be with each other no matter what happens, right? So it’s kind of the same. This is so far away from the time I’m supposed to live in it might as well be another world. I can do anything I want and it won’t matter, ‘cause there aren’t any consequences for me. You know I really wanna be here because I keep coming back.”
You snort. “You’re just interested to know what happens in the future.”
Still, Lavi only smiles. “Then why do I keep coming back to you?”
There’s no easy answer to that, nothing except the obvious, so you stay silent. Lavi nods, just as if you’d said something, and continues, “Maybe you won’t marry me, but it’s not that different. I’ve seen it, you know. I keep coming to see you for a really long time, years and years into your future, and you’re always happy to see me.”
You shake your head, your throat tight. For a second, you can’t answer. “If something happens to you, back in your time, I’ll never know,” you say.
He shrugs. “I won’t know either, so you don’t have to worry about it,” he says practically. “For all you know, if I ever stop visiting it’s because Bookman found some ancient panda medicine to stop time travel that he shoves down my throat.”
You laugh. “Shoves down your throat?”
“Yeah. I’m not ready to end my fun yet. ‘Sides, if there was an ancient panda medicine to stop time travel, I would wait until I got here and then take it.”
“In other words, you would ditch everything you know just because this time’s more interesting. And less death-ful, I guess.”
“In other words, you would never escape me,” he says. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure there are much worse things than being stuck with you forever.”
Lavi pouts, like being stuck with him forever should be a privilege or something. “So, a ring,” he says. “You really want one? I can try to bring one.”
An idea occurs to you, and you shake your head. “No, don’t give it to me outright. Bury it in the ground or something.”
“I mean it. Look, I have an idea…”
You are 30
One day, completely unexpectedly, you get a call from a historical society in Austria. The man on the other end of the phone attempts to explain to you, in English with a heavy German accent, that they have recently unearthed a time capsule from the late 1800s that includes your name, address, phone number, and a present for you.
The present is a ring, he says. The note that comes with it is genuine and dates back to roughly the year when the time capsule was buried. They’ve checked and rechecked, just to be sure. Diamonds are forever, and a woman’s best friend. Or something. I’m making good on my promise of a ring to my now and future wife. Love, Lavi. September 1891.
From the frustration in the historian’s voice, it’s clear he wants some sort of explanation. You laugh and ask that he send the note and the ring to you, just as requested by this mysterious man that lived long ago.
And when he tells you, angrily, that they don’t understand and it simply does not make sense, you just ask if they don’t believe in love that spans hundreds of years and overcomes impossible obstacles.