Thanks so much for dropping by to read my story. It's just a little idea I formulated at ten at night when I was supposed to be asleep. Ah... such good old times...
Anyhow, please read and don't forget to review!
He'd almost forgotten what it felt like to climb a tree.
The simple fact startled him as he gripped the solid girth of the next branch above him and hauled himself up, rough bark scraping his palms. His arms protested as he reached upwards over and over again, slowly pulling himself nearly to the top of the tree. There, he leaned back against the wide trunk and inhaled the fragrant scent of apple blossoms. Closing his eyes, he could almost forget the horrors he had seen.
His teeth clenched as he fought off the memories. Blood soaked the floor where he had stood minutes before. The heads of the people he had just met lolled on the floor. Eyes wide and vacant as they stared at him. He stood frozen, the image shattering before his eyes, like the very mirrors he had broken trying to find Marie an hour or so previously. He struggled to breath as the apple blossoms were tainted with the smell of blood.
Unconsciously, his fist clenched the piece of shirt covering his heart… and his Seal. The Seal wasn't even halfway through it's revolution and yet… he could already feel himself slipping away. He had told Marie he wasn't Jack. He had named himself. But the confidence was fake, as was the smile. Some days, he could barely tell up from down, much less who he was. WHO AM I?
Roughly, he shook his head, warding off the evil thoughts. He glanced around; luckily, no one was in sight. He let out a sigh of relief. If any of them had seen him in such a state… after all, he was Oz Vessalius! They were concerned enough already. If they'd seen him that panicked… Gil would fuss, Sharon would fret, Break would tease, Ada would worry and Alice…
Oz tilted his head back and stared at the blue sky through the green leaves. He let thoughts of Alice take him away from the tangled mess his sense of self was, although the gloom deep inside of his mind persisted.
Alice. She was a conundrum, alright. At first, she had seemed so predictable. Strong-willed, temperamental, and single-minded, once one spent enough time with her, they could easily comprehend her. And Oz had spent more than a little time with her. They had a blood Contract, after all.
However, the more he got to know her, the less Oz was sure about. For she had all of those traits, and more. He'd seen her celebrate, rage, and even cry. But… the most surprising ability of Alice's was her strange empathy. Most days, she was easily frustrated by people's emotions, struggling to understand certain feelings and the reasons behind them. But sometimes she would look at him with those clear purple eyes and see.Maybe she couldn't quite recognize the underlying cause, but she did see the emotion itself. And then, Alice would do the oddest thing of all. She would comfort him.
Sometimes, her comfort came in the strangest ways. Oz almost grinned, recalling the bite on the cheek he had received, the Alice version of a kiss. But he could also recall her yelling at him when he was fretting about reuniting with Ada and leaning up against him as she spoke gently about loneliness. That piece of Alice, the lonely piece of Alice, was one of the first parts of her Oz had been fascinated by.
Oz started, almost toppling out of the tree. He peered down cautiously. He could just make out the distinctive flowing black hair, ruby coat, and violet eyes that went along with the husky voice. He felt his face shift naturally into a smile. Amazingly, he was happy to see her. And here I thought I wanted to be alone.
"Alice!" He waved a hand. "What're you doing out here?"
Her face was wearing its usual huffy, aggravated look. "Searching for you, idiot manservant," she informed him, sniffing. Her lower lip jutted out in displeasure. "Really, you ought to be more attentive towards me. You didn't even tell me where you were going. What if I had needed you to fetch me meat?"
Oz tried to keep from laughing. Above all, Alice did not like being laughed at, and she would never understand that he was laughing because he found her actions cute. Of course, she probably wouldn't take cute as a compliment either. Then again, with Alice, you never could tell.
"Was there something you wanted, Alice?" Oz called down to her. It was unusual for her to seek him out. She didn't like being apart, because to her, he was her 'manservant' and she didn't particularly care for the company of other humans. Still, if he went off for a few hours, she rarely followed, although she'd unfailingly express her disapproval on his return.
She shifted from black boot to black boot. "I just… I didn't want to be alone, okay!" she snapped, blushing. Oz's eyes widened. Once again, she had caught him off guard. She crossed her arms, glaring at the tree trunk as if she wanted to rip it to shreds. "After all, you've been locked in your room for the past week and no one else paid attention to me. I've been bored." Oz barely caught the words "stupid manservant" that she muttered under her breath.
"Well," he said, trying to seem normal and not depressed or shocked out of his mind. "You can come up, if you want. I think there's room enough on this branch for two." Especially because you are so tiny, he thought, but he didn't add that. Alice was the smallest person in their little group, but even mention it and she'd rip your head off. Oz winced as he thought of rolling heads.
Alice didn't respond, simply leaping up the tree with inhuman grace. She settled beside Oz wordlessly, kicking her feet and glaring at the horizon. She kept her eyes carefully averted from Oz and the Rainsworth mansion.
She really is acting odd today, Oz noticed, considering her. He hadn't really seen her in a while, of course. He'd been recovering from the trauma of seeing the headhunter's blood bath. He flinched again. To be honest, he still was. But Gil, Break and Sharon had pretty much forcibly pulled him from his room. Alice had not participated. He knew she had sat outside his door for hours on end. Maybe she had wanted to help, but not known how. But that did not seem like Alice. Blood was not a tragedy to her. She did not quite understand why he had had such a reaction to the scene. If that was the case, why had she stayed?
A memory surged before Oz's eyes, a memory from before the Abyss. Gil was gone, locked up by Oz's father. Oz was confined to his room, alone. Even the maids did not enter, slipping the food under the door. For days on end, Oz sat alone in the oversized reading chair Uncle Oscar had brought into the room for him years before. He was full of pain and anger… His own father thought of him with hatred. If his father did not want him, what was the reason for his existence? He sat alone in turmoil and self-hatred for days. There was an aching in his chest, hurting more than anything he'd ever felt before. He was unwanted, unloved and alone… Always alone…
Oz blinked, the pain of the memory triggering a realization. He stared at Alice. How must it have felt to sit outside a room for endless hours, curled up in a ball, watching people pass you by, yet never being acknowledged? He swallowed shakily, realizing the similarity in what they had felt. They had talked long ago about how Alice had felt, locked up in the Abyss. He had empathized then, and internally sworn he would protect her from any such future loneliness. And yet, here he had been the very cause of the same pain. Suddenly, strong, capable Alice seemed vulnerable to him, just like the apple blossoms decorating the tree they were in. Although he knew they would survive the gusts of wind that sought to tear them from their home, he couldn't help but worry. He wanted to wrap his arms around Alice and protect her, but that would be an insult to her pride. Still…
"Alice?" His voice was rough.
She turned around to look at him, her face calm and content. "What?" Even when she was in a mildly good mood, she was still snappish.
"I…" Oz struggled to find a way to apologize without making it appear to her like he was looking down on her. "I think-"
"-that I would like some meat," proclaimed the small, dark haired girl. Oz blinked at her in surprise. Normally, she at least let him finish his sentences, even if she didn't heed his words. He opened his mouth to speak again…
And promptly snapped his mouth closed. With a flash of joy, he understood. She had understood. That strange empathy of hers was at work again. She was giving him a way to apologize without out right saying it.
He smiled at her, warmed by presence. His soul shook of the dark gloom like a dog shakes off lake water. "I'm sure the cooks won't mind if we borrow a little from the kitchen." He tried to appear absentminded as he took her hand. "We can eat early, just the two of us. If you want, of course."
Alice's eyes studied him shrewdly. Finally, she huffed. "I suppose I can do that for you." She peered at him out of the corners of her eyes. "But don't expect this sort of thing all the time."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Alice," Oz told her.
She never removed her hand from his.
Thank you for reading! And thanks so much to my beta! B, you are the best!