The funeral of Elliot Nightray had been a very solemn one. What was left of his family attended, but very few of them knew the full, bloody truth behind his death. The same could definitely be said of his fellow Latowidge classmates who attended, most of them in shock and absolute mystification as to the circumstances of his death. The most unusual person to have attended was Ada Vessalius, a girl who had displayed a certain liking towards Elliot during their time together in Latowidge, but was only ever shunted by him. Accompanying her but eager not to be seen was a blonde boy and a girl with long, flowing dark hair. Both of them wore dark hoods pulled low over their faces and they lingered towards the back, never conversing with anyone. An undercover Pandora official attempted to remove them from the cemetery but a whispered word from Gilbert Nightray, Elliot's older adoptive brother, sent him scurrying back to the tombstone shadows. Whoever these people were, they must have been important to Elliot.
The crowd dispersed slowly after the coffin was lowered into the ground and the dirt was flung upon it once again. Gilbert and Ada were two of the first to leave, Ada in tears and Gilbert thin-lipped and sad-eyed. Soon everyone had left except the hooded duo, the blonde boy and his companion. He knelt next to the grave silently and brushed the dirt with his fingers, leaving little ditches in the soil. His hand curled into a fist, taking with it a handful of dirt, but he let it go just as quickly. He stood abruptly and walked past his silent companion who followed loyally. They trudged together to the cemetery gates, where the boy finally sank down against the bars and flung his hood back.
"Our carriage will be here in a moment," Oz told Alice distantly. "Uncle Oscar is still reluctant for the rest of the world to know that I am still alive and said that it would probably be best if we leave separately to the rest."
Alice nodded her silent understanding. Oz tipped his head back against the black bars of the cemetery gates and watched the sky blankly.
I am still alive…
Oz had never gotten to know Elliot that well. Loyal to his family to the very end, Elliot Nightray had shunted every attempt the Vessalius offered to become friends. Still, Oz couldn't help but to feel that they had become friends. Oz had admired Elliot. He was noble and true, everything that Oz still strived to be. He was still alive, yes… But for how long? Elliot's death had reminded him once more that his seal was moving. Gilbert had very briefly mentioned that Elliot's needle was three quarters completed when he rejected Humpty Dumpty, and Oz knew that he was well on his way to completing the full circuit. He cast Alice a brief side glance. Dismissing her would be no good- they would both die anyway, and Oz didn't really think that he could dismiss her. Alice just had a certain… light about her. Even now, when Oz was at his worst, he couldn't help but to feel that things were slightly better when she was around.
Alice sat down next to him and rolled her amethyst gaze to watch him carefully. "Are you still angry at the sky?" She asked bluntly.
Oz managed a faint smile, absently brushing his finger across the scab on his ear where Alice had bitten him not so long ago. "Leo wasn't allowed to come to the funeral," Oz told her. "I asked Gilbert about it. The Pandora officials are still investigating him and they said he's mentally unsound right now. They said that coming to Elliot's funeral would probably only set him off again."
Alice's expression didn't change. "That's unfortunate."
"It's stupid," Oz said. The anger that he felt in his heart never made it into his voice. "Leo was Elliot's best friend. Leo thinks that he killed Elliot because he forced him to sign the contract with Humpty Dumpty. They should have let him out if only to say his last goodbyes to his dearest friend. It just… It's stupid."
Alice stared at him a little while longer before reaching over and biting his ear… again. Oz gave a little strangled cry and tried to push her away, pressing his hand against her face, but the Chain was far stronger than her Contractor. Oz was pushed onto his side and Alice chomped down decisively on his face and neck. Oz winced and uttered quiet cries, struggling against her weight.
"Alice… Alice, get off me. Oww… Alice, stop it!"
She sat up straight again. Rubbing the side of his neck tenderly, Oz sat up too, looking at his Chain curiously. He hadn't intended to get angry at her, but she didn't look particularly hurt by his words either.
"On that night, at Isla Yura's house," Alice began slowly. "When B-Rabbit's power got the best of you. I got scared. When that Baskerville tried to kill me and you knocked me out of the way, you didn't get up again. I thought you'd died and it was all my fault, because my powers had consumed you entirely. You saved my life twice that night, you know? And a lot of times before that."
"Where is this going, Alice?" Oz asked curiously.
A cold breeze swept across the cemetery, ruffling Alice's cloak and toying with her hair playfully. Alice didn't meet his eyes when she spoke. "When we went to Sablier, we all got caught up in our memories. I never thought to ask you what happened to you and Seaweed Head, but I found Jack again. He was talking to me- the memory me- about a girl called Lacie that he once knew. Do you know that Lacie is an anagram of Alice? I didn't. I wanted to stay but then I heard you calling my name."
Oz remembered. That must have been when B-Rabbit's power 'got the best of him' before. "Did you hear me calling again at Isla Yura's house, then?" Oz asked wearily.
Alice nodded. "Yes."
She fell silent and Oz looked at her expectantly. "And…?"
His Chain shrugged uncertainly. "At Isla Yura's house, when I heard you calling my name- and every other time before that- I thought that too much pressure had been put on your body and you would die for sure. It scared me, because then I wouldn't be able to hear you calling out my name like that. I'd miss that."
Something clicked in Oz's head, because that made sense. When they were at Riitasu's house and he had tried to attack that maid, Alice had chosen to stop him because the maid was 'her prey'. She had told him once before, in Sablier, that she wanted him to call her name out like that.
Does she listen to me when I say her name like that because she thinks it'll be the last time…?
The church bells behind them rang out, heralding the official completion of the burial of Elliot Nightray. No sooner had their echoes died out did rain start bucketing down upon them. Oz pulled his cloak tighter around him as his hair was flattened to his scalp, but he was hardly surprised when he looked up to see Alice's cloak abandoned in the mud. Further investigation revealed that she was standing in the middle of the road, head tipped back and a wide smile lighting up her features as her dark braids dripped with water. Her palms were raised upwards and her chest was pushed outwards in absolute elation. Mud gathered at the hem of the funeral dress Sharon had gone through so much trouble to get her.
"You'll get a cold," He called out.
Alice looked at him and poked her tongue out playfully. "Chains don't get colds," She declared defiantly with that arrogant laugh she was so fond of. With that, she began spinning and twirling in the middle of the empty road, laughing as flecks of water and mud flicked up and plastered themselves to her face.
Oz watched this, mystified. This had happened once before under sort of similar circumstances that time in Sablier, but the captivation it held over Oz had not yet faded. He knew that everything wasn't OK- Elliot was dead, Vincent and Echo were missing, Leo was devastated and Gil was crushed- but somehow the light that radiated from Alice shone on everything and rectified them again. Oz forgot that he had just left the most depressing social occasion of his life, and that he was now sitting in a wide puddle of dark water and mud watching the girl that was both the life and death of him dance like there was nothing unusual about it. Still, as he watched, Oz sensed something wrong with Alice's laugh. There was something not quite right about her smile, something that not even his Chain's odd radiance could fix.
He figured it out eventually:
Alice is trying to be happy for my sake.
Her laugh was forced, her smile was held up by a whim. She would not yet cry- although, if she was, Oz wouldn't have known any different- but she was still sad. And yet she pretended otherwise for him.
It was odd, he thought. It was the same amount of sadness she often sank into after discovering a new memory, particularly ones about Jack. It was the same atmosphere he had felt when Alice figured out that she had been killed that night in Sablier- angry and sad and confused all at the same time, but she always tended to pretend otherwise and continue as she was before. It pained Oz to see her like this, it always did. With the sudden clarity of knowing that she was doing her best for him, he jumped to his feet and caught her mid-dance. She looked at him in alarm, eyes wide with questions.
When Oz smiled, it was only partially forced. He bowed formally and took his Chain's hand in his. Alice blinked once, confused, but her face brightened when he spoke again.
"May I have this dance?"
With a laugh that was only partially forced, Alice accepted and launched herself into the sporadic dance she had dragged Oz about the ballroom in that night at Isla Yura's house. Oz laughed and went with it, tripping and slipping in the mud or trampling Alice's toes. Eventually they both barreled each other over and fell back into the slick mud beneath their feet. Alice laughed and fell flat on her back, waving her arms around until she made a vague angel-shape in the mud. Sharon would die when Alice came home.
Oz watched her with a smile. Everything was most certainly not OK, but as long as Alice was around she would let him pretend otherwise. Oz's time was limited, but he would make the most of that time. He would find a way to stop his seal's needle and he would find a way to help Alice get all her memories back so she could smile again.
I won't die, he thought dazedly. Not as long as Alice needs to hear my voice.
He was pulled out of his daydream when a horse whinnied very loudly, very close. Startled, Alice leapt to her feet and squinted through the rain. Oz could just make out a horse-drawn carriage that had stopped before them. The driver, it had to be said, was none too happy at the hooligans had found mucking around in the street. Oz opened his mouth to apologize, but then he made out the face of a Pandora official- the very same who had been told to come pick them up after the funeral. Oz fetched his and Alice's cloaks and followed Alice into the carriage. His foot was on the first step when he caught the driver watching them in absolute horror.
"You'll get mud all through the carriage!" He exclaimed. Oz grinned back apologetically.
"Sorry!" He cried before bounding into the carriage, the door slamming shut behind him. He sat down and there was a few moments of hesitation; then the driver reluctantly urged his horses into movement and the carriage lurched down the muddy road.
Silence fell over the two of them, settling like a cold fog. Alice sniffed once or twice and Oz draped her shoulders with both their cloaks, though they were just as drenched as she was. After a while, Oz began with the question that had been burning on his tongue for a while now:
"What's wrong, Alice?" He asked. "Why are you sad?"
"I'm sad because you're sad," Alice confessed. "I can't explain it, but that kid used to make you smile. I miss that. And I'm trying to make you smile but I just don't know how." She smiled briefly. "It kind of pisses me off. That jerk could make you laugh but for some reason I can't. It annoys me."
Oz was stunned into silence. Alice was prone to mood swings like this, generally relating to Oz's current mood, but that particular speech had been a kind of emotion that Oz had rarely seen coming from Alice.
"Elliot was killed by his Chain," Alice continued. "So I get it if you're scared of me now. I'm scared of me now too. I didn't think we could do things like that. I mean, this is my first Contract and everything. It reminds me…" Alice paused for a moment, thinking about what she was about to say. "It reminds me of something from when I was human. No-one wanted to be around me and I was locked up. I was avoided, but I can't remember why…"
Oz leapt to his feet, then fell back again when the carriage lurched unpleasantly. He cleared his throat before continuing in what was hopefully a more dignified fashion. "Alice, I'm not scared of you," He said firmly. "I committed myself to this when I signed the Contract with you. Whatever happens next happens to both of us. We're in this together, right? We're both looking for something- I need to know why I'm here and you need your memories back. We'll find these things… together."
Alice smiled. "Yeah," She said softly. "Together."
The word didn't sound like one that she said very often.
Finally, the carriage pulled over outside the Rainsworth mansion. Alice stepped outside and Oz followed, a little slower. The rain was a constant drizzle now, and as Oz trudge down the path towards the mansion he paused when he realized Alice wasn't following him. He turned to see her standing just in front of the carriage, head upturned towards the sky contemplatively.
"Hey, Oz," She said softly, holding her hands out to touch the rain that kissed her fingers. "The sky is crying. Why aren't you?"
Oz hesitated before replying. "I don't know," He said softly, and he really didn't.
Alice's eyes closed slowly and she raised her arms, palms upturned to face that rain. "What happened yesterday happened yesterday," She said quietly. "Elliot is physically gone but you won't forget him, will you? It's all we can do to live up our lives as long as we have them and let him live through that. Smile like how he used to make you smile. I'd like that." She paused again, then added: "I think Seaweed Head would too."
Oz was dumbfounded. It wasn't like Alice to be this profound. Then again, it wasn't a clarity he would be missing anytime soon…
"The rain can wash away the mud," Alice continued. "So it can wash away the pain. Let it go, Oz. We'll be fine."
For a few seconds, she didn't move. Oz watched her, emerald eyes wide and astounded. When Alice's arms and head finally lowered and her eyes flickered open, Oz Vessalius, her first Contractor, stood before her, the wide grin she missed so much plastered on his features and his hand outstretched towards her.
"Sharon's going to kill you when she sees you," Oz grinned. "She went through a lot of trouble for that dress."
"What about Gil's hand-me-down?" Alice pouted, looking at Oz's hand doubtfully. "He'll not be happy about that either."
"It's a hand-me-down, Alice. It doesn't matter anymore."
Alice hesitated. A hand-me-down… What was Alice if not a hand-me-down? Once human, now Chain… Glen had locked her away for whatever reason when she was human and then she had been slaughtered like some animal. Did she really matter anymore?
Oz's laugh was all the answer she needed. "So… Let's go piss them off together."
Alice brightened at that. With a laugh she grabbed Oz's hand in hers, nearly crushing his hand with her grip, and together they ran up the walkway towards the immaculate Rainsworth mansion, soon to be riddled with muddy footsteps and a confused but elated Contractor and his Chain.