I've never really written fanfiction for the fandom before, and my thoughts are right now as scattered as the wind, so if this is a mess, be critical but be gentle.
Beyond the Winding Road
By Emori Loul
Advance I: ~Velveteen~
"That's right, sonny. You'll make a fine clerk in no time. The greener's thumb, you have."
"Thank you, Mr. West."
"That'll be 24.99€, sir—oh. Sir, don't forget your change!"
"Why thank you, young man."
"Now Oz—" Clacking, an accidentally dropped pen. "—this next customer has an orange tree. What's our procedure?"
"…They'll be needing help getting it into their car, Mr. West. But I—"
"Speaking of cars, sir, would you like us to help you to yours?"
"To mine, Oz?"—a flinch—"But I have a business to run! Don't go counting me out yet, sonny!" Boisterous laughter.
The click of heels. The slam of a hand on wood. "Do you need some help, sir?"
A young woman of pale skin and hair stood across the counter, palm angrily slapped against its surface, movement demanding the attention of the man next to the clerk. Next to her, the current customer—holding only a pot of satin lunarias—moved confusedly aside to give her some room.
The man her agression was directed towards, ancient and wrinkled and in a wheelchair but nonetheless lively of expression, nearly jumped. "Help? From you, terrorizer?"
The clerk next to him shot a sympathetic look to the young woman and sighed. "Mr. West, Hedia's right. Would you like us to call your family for you?"
Mr. West turned away from the pale girl and focused on the clerk. "Why on earth would I need them right now? Oz, honestly—" he continued, not noticing the boy flinch again "—sometimes you're very confusing."
"Mr. West, it's Lewis," the clerk corrected with all the airs of someone who'd said this a thousand times. "And it probably would be best if you let your family know where you are." Out of the corner of his eye, Lewis saw a whip of white hair and knew Hedia was going for the phone. "I'm sure they're expecting you."
"Expecting me?" Suddenly the man seemed to lose his certainty over where he should be. "Expecting me… yes, perhaps…" He lifted his left wrist to his face to glance at his watch, furrowed his eyebrows, and asked Lewis, "What time is it?"
"Late, Mr. West," the boy replied.
"Ah, yes, well then." Mr. West puffed up his chest as importantly as he could from his wheelchair. "I'll be taking home some Veronicas for my wife, and will leave closing up to you, Oz. Make sure you get the terrorizer out of here before you close up, though—you trust her too much."
"Would you like someone to walk you to your car, sir?" Lewis bit his lip, glancing apologetically at the customers still waiting in line. Most of them just smiled forgivingly. He glanced at the nearest glass wall instead. "It looks like rain. Hedia, can you get me an umbrella?"
A bell at the front rang as the entrance of the conservatory opened.
"Lewis?" he heard Hedia call.
"It's alright, you two, I can help him out," reassured the newcomer. Missus Hektor stood in the entranceway, leaning on the conservatory door with one glove-covered hand on the glass, another wrapped around the plastic handle of her dampened black umbrella. Hedia crouched off to her side at the umbrella stand, poised as if uncertain what she should be doing.
"Thank you, Mrs. Hektor," Lewis replied, knowing Hedia was probably uncomfortable with talking—and indeed, had now gone back to manning the register. "I hope it's not too much trouble."
"Not at all," she said. "It's what I'm here for."
She smiled at him, her earthy dark skin making the whites of her eyes twinkle, and pushed on the door until it opened, stretching her arm as the little man she had promised to help rumbled his squat electric wheelchair through the entranceway and out onto the covered patio.
"Phillipe," she called after him, "I'll be driving you home."
Once Mr. West was around the corner, she said in a more hushed tone, "I'm sorry he's been giving you trouble. His granddaughter called me and told me about him turning up here four times this morning already. She and I ask for your forgiveness; we can't find where he keeps hiding his keys to stop him from driving."
Lewis shrugged, smiling uncomfortably. "He's not a problem, really."
"Perhaps," Mrs. Hektor replied sternly, in a tone that said she doubted it, "but you're fifteen, Lewis. You should not have to watch out for a senile old man all day, not with as many problems as he has."
He avoided her eyes. "Mr. West isn't that bad." Truth be told, Lewis felt sorry for him. He had lived to see over a century of birthdays, a remarkable achievement for anyone, but he had such a severe case of Alzheimer's he was no longer quite able to remember what year it was, let alone that the conservatory no longer belonged to him. While Mr. West was often confused and sometimes even hallucinating, Lewis knew he was harmless. Really, Lewis' only problem with Mr. West was that he continuously referred to him as "Oz."
Mrs. Hektor sighed. "Please call one of us if this happens again."
"We were going to."
"I'm sure," she muttered. He smiled cheekily at her, and she scoffed.
By the time the pleasantries were finished and Missus Hektor had left with Mr. West, Hedia had already cleared most of the customers' purchases. Checking his watch, Lewis found that it was indeed almost time to close, as he announced to all those still browsing the rows of flora.
Finally, Lewis and Hedia closed up shop and began locking the conservatory, Lewis taking the right wing and Hedia the left, and when finished they met up at the register.
"You lock the front on your way out," he called to her from across the room, shutting off the lights as she gathered her items on the register counter back into her purse. "I'll lock the back. I've got to return the clay pots Mr. West moved back to the shed anyways. Just leave the keys with Andy when you see him."
She turned to him, lips curled and cheeks slightly puffed in concern. "Be careful when you leave. There was a strange man still in the subtropical section when Eh-I went to lock it." There went Hedia's odd nervous tick again. "Don't know how he missed our closing notice."
"Strange?" Lewis reiterated offhandedly, counting the number of pots Mr. West had somehow managed to displace.
Hedia nodded, her white bangs bobbing against her forehead. "He kept staring. He had eyes like those crazy people you always see in those movies about asylums, all too-wide and disbelieving at everything. And he had mismatching eyes, too; one red and one gold, so it made his expression look even stranger." Despite the fact that she seemed so disturbed by the man, Hedia's voice seemed to sadden at the end.
Lewis visibly froze. "A red eye?"
As if trying to judge his reaction, Hedia nodded again slowly—although it proved pointless, since Lewis was neither looking at her nor truly listening. "Something wrong?"
Lewis seemed to come back to himself, realizing that he had absentmindedly put a hand over his own right eye. "Wha-? Oh, no, I just… never mind."
Giving him one more judging look, Hedia and he exchanged goodbyes and she departed.
Lewis, now that there was no cute girl watching, went back to struggling with the pots. "How does a hundred year old man in a wheelchair pick up and move so many twenty pound pots?" he muttered (pouted), nesting two terracotta vessels inside each other and carrying them out the back. "And the shed is like, a foot off the ground!"
He trudged over to the shed and put the pots down on the steps, then unlocked the heavy barn-style doors. Grabbing the pots once more, he slipped inside.
As the storage area for Le Panier de Fleurs, his mother's conservatory-come-flowershop, the shed was always packed with horticultural paraphernalia. Even way back when their house and shop had been a summer home for the now-extinct Barma family to get away from the mainland, the shed had belonged to the head gardener—and Lewis was of the personal belief that, from how old many of the items looked, he'd never come back to reclaim his things.
Lewis dropped off the pots and returned to the back door—or attempted to.
And that was when he saw the man. It was that simple.
This was the man Hedia had spoken of, there was no doubt in Lewis' mind of that. He wore a nice dress suit, and although the fabric looked new Lewis noticed it wasn't cut like modern suits. Instead of emphasizing a masculine broad chest as the sometimes unflattering designs of modern-day did, his seemed deliberately made to highlight how graceful his figure was. This almost feminine appearance was not helped by his flowing blonde hair or dangling bejeweled earrings.
He indeed had piercing eyes, one red and one gold, although they didn't look nearly as disturbing to Lewis as they apparently did to Hedia. They didn't just look normal to Lewis—which was strange, because it had been a long time since he had met someone else with red eyes—they looked entirely familiar.
"Vincent." Lewis said aloud. The man said nothing, but he cocked his head and looked at him, as if wondering exactly what it was he saw. "You're Vincent, aren't you?"
The man waited a few moments before speaking. "Gil's waiting."
Lewis nodded, a soft smile growing on his face. He knew that much, at least. And more and more every minute.
Vincent crossed the remaining distance, and in an action that completely wiped the smile off Lewis' face, grabbed him by the chin.
There was a moment of silence.
"Appropriate. Honestly, we should have expected it. Reincarnations aren't supposed to keep their memories, but those with our eyes have never followed the rules."
Vincent let go of Lewis' jaw, finally. Pouting and puffing up his cheeks, the boy rubbed his face where he'd been grabbed.
"I suppose I shall need to speak with your… family."
Lewis was silent for a moment, considering. Then, to his guest's total surprise, he looked up and grinned mischievously at him. "Yes, Vincent," he sang, "that's what you do when you plan on taking away their child for whoever knows how long~"
"…Congratulations on somehow getting more annoying while you were gone," Vincent grumbled back. He began walking towards the gravel parking lot, now making a conscious effort to keep a few feet away from his smaller companion.
Seeing the world through rose-colored eyes and laughing more clearly than Oz had in decades, Lewis began to follow.
"…Oh, wait, shoot! Vincent, wait! I still have to lock up!"
A loud groan was all he got in response.
AN: Well, with PH ending like that, what did you expect? The path ahead is literally open for anything! (Except for Vincent; sorry Vincent). This won't really be a story story, but more like a bunch of little snippets whenever I get the inspiration. I'm probably next going to write about how Vincent and Oz went and collected Alice, and then I'll be free from the bonds of canon to write whatever I want about these characters! No one can stop me! *evil laugh*
I had fun bouncing ideas off Ryoura on tumblr; they're awesome! Although I don't have a tumblr and honestly tumblr confuses me, so I did it anonymously. So shout out to them and my fellow anons for helping me build a more detailed Modern setting!
Detail notes (more will be added at the end of every Advance):
*Modern!Oz's name, Lewis Tale, comes from both Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis, the latter of whom wrote the Narnia series. Like Pandora Hearts, Narnia features a magical dimension that warps time and space and is later revealed to have connections with the afterlife. The name Tale was originally a discarded possible name for Oz in the early drafts of Pandora Hearts, but why discard when you can recycle? Appropriately for a family named "Tale," every family member's name is a reference to a famous author. We'll be meeting them in the Adcances ahead.
*Though not mentioned by name, his mother's name is Beatrix, a reference to Beatrix Potter, the author of the Peter Rabbit series as well as many other fairy tales.
*Le Panier de Fleurs or "The Basket of Flowers," is the name of Beatrix's flower shop, but also the translated French name of Das Blumenkörbchen, an early 19th century book by Christoph von Schmid, who is considered by many to be the father of children's literature. Originally I planned the shop's name to be the original German title, but the society of Pandora Hearts seems to have more French influence than German.
*Modern!Echo's name is "Hedia Aidas," Hebrew for "Echo of God" ad Lithuanian for "Echo" respectively. Because I'm hilarious. I know that some people said she can't be reincarnated because she's a Chain, but Oz got reincarnated and so is he *sticks out tongue* Anyways, if you didn't catch on, her nervous tick "E-I" is her almost reverting to calling herself "Echo," even though she has no idea why she would even do that.