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a turned in compass

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It starts like this:

There are four thieves, taken in as children by the Black Order of Thieves (also known as BOOT). They train together, live together, steal together and, eventually, desert BOOT together.

Now they huddle together in a cheap motel, the kind with staff that doesn’t ask questions if the tipping is good enough. The room the four thieves have sequestered themselves is has only one twin bed, but there is just enough floor space to fit three additional bodies. They face each other, each of them like a point of a turned in compass, and try to decide what to do next.

They’re free of the Black Order, free of being worked past exhaustion in BOOT’s ceaseless competition with the Noah Thieves Guild, free to do whatever they please.

None of them, before this moment, thought freedom would feel so much like a roadblock.

“What are we going to do now?” one asks. “Live normal lives?

“Normal lives,” another scoffs. “Don’t be naïve Lenalee.”

“Don’t talk to her that way!” says a third.

“I’ll talk however I want, beansprout.”

“My name is Allen!”

“It’s fine, Allen,” Lenalee says calmly. “Kanda didn’t mean it that way.”

“Yuu’s got a point, anyway,” the fourth and final person says. “We can’t just start working mundane, nine-to-five jobs. We don’t have the skills. We don’t even have high school diplomas.”

“We wouldn’t be able to integrate,” Kanda says grimly. “And don’t call me Yuu.” He raises a fist threateningly.

Lenalee puts a hand on Kanda’s fist and presses down on it gently until he lowers it. “What do you think we should do then Lavi?”

Lavi shrugs. “Dunno,” he says unhelpfully. “Allen?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“It was your idea to defect from BOOT in the first place, stupid beansprout,” Kanda says.

Allen frowns at him. “It’s not like I forced you to do anything. You guys didn’t have to come with me, you know that right?”

Lenalee rests her hands on her hips and sighs. “Don’t be silly, Allen. Of course we know that. I think what we’re trying to say is that, well, considering this whole thing was your idea we figured you had something planned for . . . after.”

Allen chuckles sheepishly. “Um? Yes? That’s understandable. . . .”

“You don’t have a plan,” Kanda states.

“Er. . . .”

“Allen,” Lenalee and Lavi groan in unison. Kanda looks insultingly unsurprised.

“I thought we’d just continue to do the same sort of stuff, okay?” Allen says defensively. “Still stealing, but stealing what we want and when we want – without a ninety percent tithe of our hauls taken away.”

“Huh,” Lavi says.“That’s not a half-bad idea.”

“You don’t have to sound so surprised,” Allen mutters.

“Fine with me,” Kanda says indifferently.

“I don’t know,” Lenalee says, biting her lip. “What was the point of leaving if we’re just doing the same thing on our own?”

“Money,” Kanda deadpans.

Lavi stifles his laugh with a snort. Allen coughs.

“Kanda,” Lenalee says reproachfully, whacking his shoulder and repressing a smile. “I just mean that I want to do better – be better. Does that make any sense?”

Allen’s face is always kind, but he looks at her when she says this and seems to gentle even further. “It makes perfect sense,” he says. “And I agree.”

“Maybe we could only steal from people who deserve it?” Lavi suggests.

“I guess. . .” Lenalee says, lukewarm at best.

“Then after we fence the stuff we can donate all the money we don’t need to charities and stuff. . . ?” he trails off uncertainly, then visibly brightens when Lenalee claps her hands in excitement and beams at him.

“Perfect!” she exclaims. “You’re brilliant, Lavi!” She looks between Allen and Kanda. “What do you guys think?”

“I love it,” Allen says immediately.

“As long as we steal from BOOT and the Noah bastards,” Kanda says.

“Then we’re agreed,” says Allen. “Together, the four of us will create our own group of do-gooder thieves.”

“To steal from shitheads,” Kanda adds.

“To steal from shitheads,” Allen repeats.

Lenalee and Lavi exchange looks and start giggling.

“What?” Allen asks.

“Swears sound weird coming from you, shortstack, that’s all,” Lavi says, grinning.

“I don’t know why. You have known me since I was a child,” Allen points out. “We all know what I was like back then.”

“You mean before you started putting on your gentleman act?” Kanda says.

“There wasn’t enough soap in the entire world to clean tiny Allen’s mouth out,” Lavi says solemnly. “Well, tinier Allen.”

Kanda lets out a huff of amusement.

“Aw, Yuu,” Lavi says teasingly. “I knew you were hiding a sense of humor somewhere under that solemn samurai vibe you have going on.”

Kanda growls, “Keep calling me that and four will become three very quickly.”

“What are we going to call ourselves?” Lenalee asks, only a little louder than her normal volume. “What will our group name be?”

“Who gives a fuck?” Kanda says.

“It’s important,” Lenalee insists. “Like something that unites us or . . . or a calling card. How about Exorcists? Because we’re trying to rid the world of evil by stealing from rich dicks.”

Ooh,” Lavi whispers. “Lena said a naughty word.”

Lenalee gestures to Kanda, who rolls his eyes but obediently cuffs Lavi upside the head.

“Behave,” Lenalee says sternly, wagging a finger at Lavi.

“When you put it like that, though, we sound more like Robin Hood. How about the Robin Hoods?” Allen muses aloud.

Kanda groans in disgust.

Allen glares at him. “I thought you didn’t care.”

“I care just enough to not want to be associated with that dumbass name.”

“What about the Red Hair Pirates?” Lavi says, eye glinting.

“That’s mixing franchises,” Lenalee says dismissively.

“And we don’t all have red hair like you, in case you hadn’t noticed,” Kanda says.

“That’s what would make it so brilliant,” Lavi argues. “Nobody would suspect you guys.”

“No.”

“What about,” Allen says slowly, “the Red Crest?”

“That sounds badass,” Lavi says. “I like it.”

“And we could all have uniforms with red lining and accents,” Lenalee enthuses. “Maybe even a red crescent moon as our emblem?”

Allen, Lavi, and Lenalee turn to Kanda.

Kanda shrugs. “Yeah, okay.”

The name doesn’t have any special relevance to them at all; there is no secret, clever meaning. Lavi only wants it because he thinks it sounds cool, Kanda knows, and Lenalee looks good in red and knows it; what made Allen think of it in the first place is a mystery that Kanda frankly can’t care less about, and Kanda agrees to it simply because he doesn’t feel the need to knock himself unconscious on a brick wall with embarrassment at the thought of admitting affiliation to the name.

Lavi whoops. Allen and Lenalee high-five.

“Anything’s better than ‘the Robin Hoods,’” Kanda says.