A/N: I am not new to fic, but am new to the PH fandom, and this is my first PH fic. Normally in this fandom I ship Break/Gil and Break/Rufus (yeah, I know) but I like my Break/Sharon too, and wrote this by request for a special someone. It felt good to get my feet wet with a ficlet—I'd really like to write more of my favorite pairings (and some nice M fic) for this fandom in the future.

Spoilers for ch. 43 onward. PH and its characters belong to Jun Mochizuki; I just take them out for writing funtimes.

Hope you enjoy.

Rii


"Ojou-sama."

The lilting, teasing tones drew Sharon Rainsworth's gaze away from the window of the carriage to the man perched across from her. She arched a delicate brow. "Yes, Break?"

He smiled: an inscrutable curve of lip that was by turns merry and bitter and melancholic, and just now all good humor and delighted mirth. The moonlight gleamed on his ivory hair, gilded it with silver. "Perhaps you'll find a suitable boyfriend tonight," he suggested playfully.

"Break," she replied sweetly, with a tone of dulcet reprimand that promised the eventual appearance of her fan, "I think we'll be quite preoccupied with other things this evening." Still, she couldn't help a faint girlish flush in response to the words; she always flushed when he teased her.

"Always all business, ojou-sama," he teased, and relented with an exaggerated sigh.

Beside them, awkwardly settled in the far corner of the carriage, Gilbert sighed at the exchange. He looked alternately fearful and uneasy, tugged repeatedly at the cuffs of his sleeves and the careful ruffles of his cravat. "Can't he take anything seriously?" he grumbled under his breath.

In reply, Break bit deliberately with sharp white teeth into the lollipop held aloft in a gloved hand and examined Raven's contractor with one bemused red eye.

Sharon, smiling, returned her gaze to the window. It's not that he can't, Gilbert. He won't. Break's relentless teasing, his sly jokes and arbitrary pronouncements were his gift to her, to both of them: his way of making their shared burden a little lighter, a jester's mask to hide the fallen knight beneath.

Gilbert reached absently for a cigarette that was not there and then sighed heavily as Break produced a small tin of sugar cubes with a jarring rattle and offered them forth. "No, thanks," the brunette replied heavily.

"So gloomy, Gilbert-kun," Break chided, and delicately plucked out two of the cubes for himself. Perched securely on his shoulder, Emily chimed in, sly and mocking: "He's pouting over Oz again."

Gilbert stiffened and turned to the small, crudely-made doll, then back to Break with a glance that said you're a lunatic, and I'm a lunatic for listening to you. For a moment he even opened his mouth to respond—no doubt defensively, because Gilbert was always defensive where Oz was concerned—and then, confronted with the indignity of whether to speak to Break or to Emily, simply sighed and closed his mouth.

As the unrepentant crunch of Break's chewing filled the small space, Sharon reached out and gave Gilbert a gentle pat on the knee. He started and then gave her a grateful glance; she smiled.

She wished she could explain. Wished she could say that Xerxes Break's seemingly-infinite idiosyncrasies—his habit of appearing inside cabinets and from beneath beds, his love of sugar, Emily's constant presence, his blithe and careless sense of humor—simultaneously revealed and concealed the very real insanity that lurked beneath the surface.

Sharon's smile faded at the thought. Who wouldn't lose their mind, really, after becoming a willing murderer in a desperate effort to change the past? After being subjected to the whimsy of the Will of the Abyss, after spending time in that broken toybox of a world? After losing an eye and then suffering the indignity of blindness? After controlling not one, but two separate chains?

He hides madness with madness, Gilbert, but his madness will never hurt you. He's the one who suffers. Always.

"Ojou-sama?"

She glanced up to find Break's smile still firmly in place, but heard the solicitous concern in his tone. Even blind he could read her moods precisely. And just now, dressed impeccably, he looked every inch a gentleman: pale hair neatly pulled back, a small brooch gleaming at his throat, slender frame striking in black.

You're as handsome now as you were when we first met.

"I'm fine," she assured sweetly. Had she not been, she knew, he would have done his best to correct the situation through whatever amounts of good humor and deadly force might be required. Despite all his melancholy bitterness and mad cheer, despite what he might profess aloud, he remained in some aspects the knight he had once been.

You're always protecting me, aren't you?

Though it hadn't always been that way. As a child, she'd deemed herself his protector, had looked up to him with wonder and no little tenderness; she'd adored with the unrelenting affection of girlhood this handsome man with ivory hair and handsome features and bandages that swathed the gaping red wound where his eye had been.

She'd given him flowers and gap-toothed smiles then, tiny trinkets, scraps of earnest handmade things that had softened the haunted sadness in his gaze and tugged an almost-smile from a soft mouth set in constant melancholy. I helped you during those long days. Sharon's small hands tightened imperceptibly on the fabric of her full skirts. I made a difference for you. And now…

The carriage came to a jarring halt; Gilbert sighed heavily.

"Ah," Break noted lightly, as he glanced out the window of the carriage, "I see Oz-kun standing out there all alone."

Gilbert's golden eyes widened and before Sharon could reprimand Break for teasing—you know very well Oz isn't here and that when he does get here he'll be with Alice—the young man had scrambled over both of them, wrenching the door of the carriage open and tumbling out with Oz's name on his lips.

"Break, he'll be upset," Sharon chastised gently. "He doesn't like it when you tease him."

The hatter closed his eyes and leaned his head back for a moment against the seat. "You're too serious, Ojou-sama," he replied merrily, but the set of his mouth was soft and serious. "Besides, he deserves it. Pinning all your hopes and loyalties to one person? Creepy."

You're worried about him, aren't you?

Certainly Xerxes Break was capable of immense cruelty, even in his teasing. Sharon had seen him in those sly and mocking moods, wielding the Mad Hatter's power, lost in the grip of his own bitterness and resolution.

She also knew, better than anyone, that he was capable of immense kindness. And he teased Gilbert with a dedicated mindfulness that bespoke affection and growing concern. You take care of all of us, and I know that you don't want him to make the mistakes that you've made. But who takes care of you? And what will happen when—

The traitorous thought made her ill; she dismissed it immediately. Nothing would happen. Not now. Possibly not ever. They still had time, quite a lot of time. They would always have time.

"Ojou-sama?"

Break offered his white-gloved hand to help her from the carriage; Sharon glanced at it and then hesitated. "Break…"

Memories of recent days jarred her, then, with a poignancy she hadn't expected: the way Break's fingers walked towards cakes and sweets when he couldn't quite locate them, the way he seemed sometimes deep in thought when she spoke to him, glancing up startled in the wrong direction at the sound of his name. And always the memory of him falling, that awful hacking cough and blood smeared at the corners of his mouth, the Mad Hatter looming in the background.

She willed away the warmth in her eyes and reached out, hesitantly; he blinked when she did not take his proffered hand, then went very still when her fingertips delicately and deliberately caressed the curve of his left cheekbone. He did not pull away or flinch, only accepted the touch with a quiet permissiveness that she knew extended only to her. I will never hurt you or pity you. Carefully she let her touch trail farther up his cheek to the wound that had long since healed and brushed her fingertips over absence, over the black emptiness and void he sought to hide with a swoop of ivory hair.

He closed his good eye and said nothing, accustomed to such ministrations, but Sharon's world stopped for a moment when, hesitantly, he leaned his cheek into her hand. Such a simple small thing, barely even a gesture of need, but it moved her deeply that he would share even that much vulnerability. She stroked his cheek with her thumb.

"We're going to figure everything out," she announced in the tone of voice that she knew would brook no argument. Everything. The Abyss, and Glen Baskerville, and Oz and Jack…and you, too. Somehow, we'll make everything right.

His smile, quiet and wistful when it was genuine, warmed her. "Sharon," he said softly, a simple acknowledgement of her presence, and the unguarded intimacy of the term—so rarely used, for they were rarely alone together in this manner—made her blush.

She noticed that he didn't agree with her. No of course, ojou-sama or certainly, ojou-sama. The realization might have made her sad in other circumstances—but she was a contractor, too, and understood the nature of who they were, what they'd done, the price of the pledges they'd made and the power they'd gained from it.

We can never leave death behind, can we?

She'd made her peace with that a long time ago and opened her mouth to tell him as much—but just then Break stirred and opened his eye at the sound of noises outside the carriage. Straightening, he pulled with some reluctance away from the warmth of the touch. He would never compromise her honor in the eyes of others, no, not in the slightest, however much he impugned it of his own volition with relative good cheer. "Shall we, ojou-sama?" he asked solicitously, and stepped outside the carriage to escort her.

Sharon smoothed her skirts. With a smile, she disembarked; Break's gloved hand on her own guided her down from the transport. His fingers pressed gently, imperceptibly, against her palm—a small habit they'd developed over the years, a gentle and mutual comfort.

Before he could release her, she tightened her grip. I won't let you go. As long as I can be of some use to you, nothing else matters.

Break paused and glanced back to her. As though he could feel the force of her resolution through the touch, his eyes softened and his head dipped in a simple nod of acceptance and understanding. A faint smile curved his lips.

"Break!" Gilbert sounded scandalized, so buoyed by the weight of his own indignation that he forgot his customary self-consciousness. He issued an indignant huff in the hatter's direction, flushed with embarrassment and his golden eyes narrowed. "Oz is not here and that stupid rabbit is—"

"Yes, yes," Break said blithely, ignoring the rant entirely, and squeezed Sharon's hand before releasing her. All smiles and merriment, with Emily on his shoulder pronouncing judgment on the unfortunate who crossed his path, he accompanied her as she stepped away from the carriage and returned to their initial conversation as though Gilbert were not still complaining behind them. "As I was saying, ojou-sama, perhaps tonight you'll find a boy who interests you."

She hit him hard with her fan, pretending an indignant rage, and hid a smile at the sound of his laughter.

No one could be more interesting than you.