"You're doing it wrong."
Battler froze and his hand let go of the wooden spoon he was using to stir the melting chocolate. Beatrice was sitting across from him, one elbow propped on the table and face resting in her cupped palm, while her other hand travelled from time to time to the table to pick a chunk of chocolate and bring it to her mouth.
She'd been watching Battler closely ever since she'd claimed that her arms were just about to fall off from the fatigue, leaving the other to do all the work. And perhaps Battler would have eventually gotten over this, motivated by his decision to humor the witch for a while (even though she didn't deserve it at all), if Beatrice hadn't been spouting irritating remarks all the while.
"What," he started, trying to keep all the anger away from his voice, "what is it now?"
Beatrice tilted her head and blinked, as if trying to figure out what was wrong with him.
"The recipe says that if you stir only the chocolate in the middle, it won't melt properly," she explained with a grin and the tone of an expert picking on a beginner. "If this batch turns out to be another failure, it will be your fault, Ba~ttler~"
"I... I can't believe this—!" Battler whispered. "If this batch turns out to be another failure," he said, raising his voice, "it will be only because you're eating all the chocolate and there's not enough left!"
Beatrice jumped to her feet. "T-That's not true! I just... I've only eaten a few of the smallest chunks," she pouted, averting her gaze from Battler. And maybe he even found her a little bit cute (just a little bit, mind you), seeing her like that. Except that this was Beatrice, and Battler couldn't allow himself to be fooled by the enemy like this.
"Liar!" he exclaimed with an accusing tone, walking around the table to stand directly in front of her, "Half of the chocolate is gone—you're going to get fat, you know,"
"Especially here," Battler said with a grin and pinched Beatrice's stomach, "and here," he added, this time pinching her hips.
Seeing Beatrice's face reddening from the anger and outrage made Battler laugh. "You should be careful, Beato, or it will get so bad that we won't be able to tell the difference between your cowtits and the rest of you anymore—Huh?" Battler lowered his head to have a better look at the witch's face, stunned by her unusual lack of response, but her eyes were hidden by her hair for the most part. He found himself wondering for the second time that day about the witch's strange behavior. "Beato...?"
But Beatrice didn't answer, and it was only then that Battler noticed how his hands were still on her hips and how close their bodies were. For some reason, his mouth felt suddenly dry. The whole situation felt strange, and Battler couldn't decide whether he liked it or not.
"Here," he said, reaching out to touch Beatrice's cheek. "You've got chocolate crumbs all over your face," he explained, trying to ignore how wide her eyes had become as his fingers brushed clumsily against her skin. "Honestly, you're just like a squirrel when you eat--a ravenous one, too. You... should learn to be more graceful, or nobody will ever want to marry you, you know?"
There were no more crumbs on her cheek, when Battler's hand had stopped moving to cup it gently. It was weird, and probably stupid, but for a few moments, he couldn't convince himself to take a step back and break that contact: the only image he could associate - right now - to the name 'Beatrice' was that of the young woman he had seen less than a couple hours before, trying to smile proudly even as tears ran down her cheeks.
Battler opened his mouth to say something, but he immediately forgot what he wanted to say when something - perhaps one of the tools they'd been using to make the chocolate - fell to the floor and broke the strange mood with a metallic noise. It felt disappointing, like waking too suddenly from a good dream to be able remember even its tiniest figment.
Beatrice laughed, and it was so loud that Battler almost cringed.
"I will make this chocolate on my own," she declared, "and it will be the best chocolate you have ever eaten!" Another cackle. "Nobody will ever want to marry me? Hah! I am the great Golden Witch, and as such I can do anything: if I wish for it, I can become the perfect wife! I'll show you with the chocolate I'm about to make!"
Battler could only stare, frozen, as the other laughed again, not quite sure of what to think or say. But deep down, seeing Beatrice being her usual self was somewhat of a relief. Battler's lips stretched into a small smile, and grabbed a pink, frilly apron that someone (could it have been Ronove?) had put on one of the small hangers protruding from the wall. Approaching the witch from behind, he raised his arms and let the piece of cloth slide in place against her body.
Beatrice's laughter died right on the spot. "W-What's with this thing?!"
"If you're going to behave like a good wife, the first thing you should be careful about is your looks," he replied quietly, tying the ribbon so that the apron would stay in place.
"D-Don't get strange ideas! This is merely another way to show you what I'm capable of—only fools believe in things like marriage and—"
"Yeah, yeah." Battler sighed. "But I guess you care too much about your appearance to want to look like a slob."
Beatrice chuckled and twirled to face Battler, reminding him of a child for a brief moment.
"Or maybe," she started with a mischievous grin curving her mouth, "it's just that you want me to look good as I present you my perfect, handmade chocolate?" Beatrice's smile grew with satisfaction, as if she'd just unraveled one of the biggest secrets of the universe. "I know I'm your type after all~ And you men always have these weird fantasies about coming home to your wives in frilly aprons..."
Whatever Beatrice said after that, went completely unnoticed. For once, Battler was sure that he hadn't meant it like that—actually, he wasn't even sure if Beatrice had meant it like that either, but the more he tried to drive the thought away (and he had been trying really hard - honestly), the more the image of himself getting home from work to be welcomed by a Beatrice clad in nothing but a pink, frilly apron became vivid in his mind. Battler had to ask himself what was wrong with him all of sudden.
He only understood how low he'd sunk when he felt the soft noise of something liquid falling onto the floor in thick drops: there was blood dripping from his nose, and Battler gasped, immediately slapping a hand on the lower part of his face to hide what was going on.
"What's wrong?" Beatrice asked, frowning.
"...Nothing." If she knew 'what was wrong', Battler would never hear the end of it.
"And why are you covering your mouth and your nose like that?"
"N-Nothing! I said it's nothing! I just... I feel a bit sick, so I think I'll go lye down on the couch for a while, okay?"
Beatrice blinked, and for a moment thought about retorting that Battler had promised to spend some time with her, but, she pondered, showing him what a perfect wife she could make was more important. And, anyway, she could always make him pay later.
"Okay then. I will wake you when the chocolate is ready, uhm," she paused, a bit unsure about what to say next. "I will pour all of my feelings in this chocolate, Ba~ttle~r~!"
Even though one of the first things that Battler had learnt in their endless game was that that tone of voice - deceptively sweet and totally different from Beatrice's true persona - meant that something bad was about to happen, that day, it melted into the fantasy filling Battler's head, making it more realistic and the whole situation much, much worse.
"I'll count on it then!" he shouted over his shoulder, rushing out of the kitchen. "N-Now sorry, but I really need to go!" ...And find a bathroom, he thought.
Beatrice stared at the heart-shaped pieces of chocolate resting on the table with a frown. The shape of some was rough to say the least, while others where outright unrecognizable as hearts, and Beatrice, even as vain and stubborn as she was, couldn't hide from herself that this was not a simple failure or mistake—this was ridiculous: she could already hear Battler say something like 'I didn't think you could mess up the shape when you're using molds'. Because he was rude like that.
She had even tried to decorate each heart with white chocolate, but now, looking at the result, she could tell it hadn't been a brilliant idea: the crooked letters and senseless scribbles were only contributing to the messy appearance. At this point, her only hope was that the chocolate would at least taste good: it was the only possibility left to show Battler what she was capable of, Beatrice reminded herself, and decided that, maybe, trying it herself would be a good idea—if the chocolate truly tasted as awful as it looked, the wisest thing to do would be to get rid of it before Battler could notice and—
And what?, Beatrice thought, looking outside, where the sky was already turning black. This really was her last chance: even if she decided to throw it away, she didn't have enough time to prepare more chocolate; the day was ending, and Beatrice was sure that she wouldn't be granted a third Valentine's day this year. With a frustrated sigh, she proceeded to wrap the chocolates in a lacy handerchief, and made her way to the living room.
Indeed, she found Battler sprawled over the couch, fast asleep, with his face buried somewhere in one of the armrests. Disappointed, she cleared her throat expecting him to jump into a sitting position and give her his unadulterated attention. Which didn't happen.
Puffing out her cheeks in irritation, Beatrice stomped her way to him, doing her best to make as much noise as possible, but Battler didn't wake, and he kept sleeping even when she plopped down heavily on the couch, her lower back brushing against his stomach. Another glance at his face, though, reminded her that Battler was probably still feeling sick; Beatrice looked at the small, lacy bundle resting on her lap, and wondered if eating her (probably horrible) chocolate could have made Battler's condition worse. She considered testing it herself again, but then, the thought of the other rolling on the floor with stomach pains wasn't too bad either: there was, Beatrice pondered as her cheeks flushed slightly, something definitely endearing about Battler's pained face. And she would have probably gotten lost in her own little fantasies, if the feeling of blood trickling from her nose hadn't brought her back after no more than a bunch of seconds.
"Oh, right. This stupid chocolate," she remembered biting her lip. A voice in the back of her mind (which sounded suspiciously like Virgilia's) reminded her that, actually, Valentine's day wasn't really that unimportant to her. The way in which she'd cried and complained about Battler being cold to her had been awfully undignified and embarrassing. Only an idiot would put herself in the same humiliating situation again.
Sighing, she unwrapped the handerchief and extracted a chocolate heart from it; after having fixed it for a few seconds, Beatrice finally bit into the chocolate.
Only to find that it was terribly bitter.
I've had enough of this, Beatrice thought. She was frustrated, and angry. Nothing angered her like being defied, and the fact that she was just about to be ridiculed because of a piece of chocolate with not enough sugar irritated her to no hand. The witch could feel her eyes sting for the umpteenth time that day, but decided that she wouldn't cry, and tightened her hold around the chocolate that was still in her hand.
"What are you doing?"
Beatrice blinked. Battler was awake, and he was staring at her. It was too late to hide the chocolate.
"I—" Insult him, she thought, say something mean and he will get angry, and it will be fine again. "I—"
"Wow! Is that chocolate?" Battler interrupted her, pointing at the pieces that were starting to melt into her hand. Without waiting for a reply of any kind, he simply grabbed Beatrice's wrist and opened her hand. It was without the slightest trace of hesitation that he put a particularly large chunk of chocolate in his mouth.
Beatrice watched with her eyes wide open, bracing herself for the other's reaction. They could go back to their usual bickering and it would be fine—and maybe she could even trick Battler into wearing that collar again if—
"Hey, this is actually good."
"I said, I like your chocolate," Battler shrugged. "Maybe you could really become a good wife, if you worked harder."
"I—Of course I can!" Beatrice answered with a grin. "The Endless Witch can do anything!"
"Ah, and," the other started slowly, "were you planning to eat it all on your own?" he asked, and Beatrice felt his fingers shift around her wrist as he spoke, noticing that he hadn't let go of it yet. "And here I thought this chocolate was meant for me. I was right, you must be some kind of voracious squirrel," Battler added laughing, "just, don't eat me too, okay?"
It was strange, and perhaps a bit stupid, but hearing Battler's compliments had almost erased the notion of her failure from her mind. Not to mention that hearing Battler praising her felt incredibly satisfying per se.
"Here," she said, jamming a full heart of chocolate into his mouth, "have more."
Battler looked like he was just about to choke for a couple moments, but started to breathe again when Beatrice helped him, holding the chocolate in excess against his lips until he could take another bite.
Battler, on the other hand, found himself staring alternatively at the hand that was feeding him and the apron that the witch was still wearing. Cowtits - he could still see them, regardless of the apron and, yes, his brain had decided that it was time for another trip to his alternate, imaginary life. He would feel guilty tomorrow: this was even enough to make him forget the horrible taste in his mouth.
After a very short while, he became so lost in his own little world, that it took him several seconds to realize that he'd eaten all of the chocolate. The first thing he noticed was that his eyes were still fixed on Beatrice's breasts; the second was that the tips of her fingers were still pressed against his mouth and the third... Well.
Battler straightened his back and crossed his legs as quickly as he could.
Beatrice was watching him with a slightly perplexed expression, and Battler was far too preoccupied with his current state to know that she was doubting the sincerity of his statement, rather than the strangeness of his actions.
Beatrice continued to stare and Battler swallowed, unable to avert his own gaze: he knew that doing so would make his behavior only more suspicious. He tried to remember the fear he'd tasted that one time when he was five and his family was spending the night on Rokkenjima: he had been walking around blindly in the dark hallways, desperate to reach the bathroom, but something must have gone wrong, and Battler had - unknowingly - found himself in front of his grandfather's chambers. He had then spent the rest of the night trembling in his bed, unable to fall asleep again.
What the witch did after this brief (and pretty uncomfortable) silence, however, was enough to nullify all his efforts.
Beatrice moved next to him, her hand accidentally brushing against his thigh. She was staring at him with a smug expression.
"W-What?" was all Battler managed to stutter.
Beatrice's grin got wider to the point that Battler almost believed that her face would split in half.
"You've got chocolate on your face."
Beatrice moved even closer and their knees bumped against each other; she had successfully trapped Battler between herself and the couch.
"Really," she repeated; her eyes were two laughing half-moons. "You shouldn't scold me for being a messy eater when you're no better, Battler~"
And Battler knew that when things got like this, trying to stop her would be utterly useless.
"H-Hey, it was you who fed—"
Beatrice, who was now kneeling on the couch, kissed the corner of his mouth. Her lips were cool, but the warmth emanating from her body was almost unbearable. Battler's hands moved on their own to curl around her hips, and the witch pressed closer.
"Don't get too friendly, now, Beato—"
And then he felt her tongue licking the skin right under his chin. Battler stiffened but didn't let go. It was Beatrice who broke the contact and slid against him, curling against his side like an oversized cat.
"It was just payback for earlier," she explained laughing. "Now, don't forget about my present next month~"
Battler swallowed again when she put her head against his shoulder.
"And just what are you doing now?!"
"I'm tired," was the simple reply. "Making chocolate for you required a lot of energies. You should be grateful, you know."
"Yeah, sure. Except that I did most of the tempering," Battler replied, slightly annoyed. "Actually, I think my help today could already be considered as a present."
"Don't you even think about it," Beatrice hissed, pinching his thigh. "You made a promise, and angering a powerful witch such as myself is not—"
"Okay, okay, I get it." Looking down on her, Battler could see the cute point of her small nose peeking beneath the golden fringe of hair, and, lower, the ample curve of her chest and then her lap. And unless it was just the gown making them look bigger, Beato's thighs must have been... delicious to say the least.
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Ushiromiya Battler~"
"W-What are you talking about." By then, Battler knew he was as red as a lobster, and sincerely hoped the other wouldn't feel the sudden urge to look at his face.
"I know what you were thinking." Beatrice yawned; from her voice, it was clear that she was sleepy. For some reason, this helped Battler calm down a little.
"You're lying, you can't read my mind."
"You're... forgetting that I'm a witch."
"Doesn't matter. You still can't."
"But," a yawn, "you men are always so predictable..."
"Hey, are you asleep?"
Sighing, Battler pulled her closer.
"Do you want me to get a blanket...?"
"N... No... Just stay here."
"And, don't molest me while I'm asleep."
"Hnnn... don't get angry, idiot," Beatrice murmured, snuggling even closer, to the point that one of her bent knees was almost resting on the other's lap. "If... you buy me a nice present next month, maybe I'll wear this apron again."
"Oh, that would be n--Wait a moment. You can't read my mind." No response. "You can't, right?! Beato!"
But no matter how many times Ushiromiya Battler called her name, the Golden witch wouldn't answer. She was too busy dreaming of redhead furniture wearing nothing but a collar and obeying her every order.
They woke up together the next morning, curled under the blanket that Virgilia had draped over them not too long after they'd fallen asleep.