Please do not read this until you've read Chapter 70 of the manga. Regarding a certain point in this story, in Chapter 70 on page 27, top left corner near Miranda's crazed face you see Jack with little Gilbert hugging Vincent from brutes. My mind saw that picture and happily clung onto it.
Beta'd by Murasaki B, who is extremely patient with my sudden onslaught of stories.
Written for 50 Prompts: Underneath.
The rain heavily pelted down against the top of his umbrella and Jack stopped, shoes sinking into the soft mud as he held out his hand to feel the cold fat drops of water. He had never given much thought to the weather before. It was simply weather. It changed as it pleased and worrying over such trivial matters was pointless. Yet Jack could finally understand what those poems meant now when they imprinted a piece of nature's turbulent personality in them because he could not help but notice that the sky had become so much more grey since that day and the rain and cold that had not cut into his skin since long ago drove daggers into his flesh once more.
"What terrible weather," Jack mourned, letting out a sigh as he continued onwards through the forest that encased the Baskerville estate.
He had no need to enter the compound in such a way any longer, had been given access to a passage that would lead him directly into the mansion itself, but Jack loved the sense of adventure he got when he would transverse in his former ways. It seemed more exciting, as if he was crossing through a foreboding jungle towards some grand castle to free a princess with his group of ragtag friends.
Jack shook his head, willing the thought to leave his mind as soon as it entered. He clenched his teeth, scaling the normally easy slope as the soft mud gave way under his weight, his free hand gripping a low hanging branch for balance. This all would have been easier without the rain and he nearly slipped as he made it to the top, his umbrella falling from his hand as he quickly clung onto the wet bark of the thick tree before him, legs giving way.
"This way again? Master Glen gave you passage to the secret entrance, didn't he?" a familiar voice asked and Jack released a short laugh against the rough bark, his right hand readily reaching out to grasp the one he knew was being offered.
"Ah, but then I would deny you the pleasure of–" He cut himself short when his fingers gripped nothing, but air and Jack looked up, swallowing odd disappointment when he saw nothing but the looming Baskerville estate ahead. Pushing away from the tree, Jack frowned down at the state of his clothing. Bits of bark and wet spots littered his front and he could feel the present he had stuffed into his frock coat soaking with rain against his skin. Reaching inside, he pulled it out and gently touched its lifeless black eyes, imagining the look on its new owner's face once he presented it to them. He smiled at the thought. "Getting a bit dirty would be worth it to see her smile, don't you think?"
The puppet did not answer, but Jack was sure that if it could, it would have agreed. With that happy thought in mind, he hurried forward towards the lonesome tower at the side of the estate, leaving his umbrella behind. By the time he reached its entrance, his coat was thoroughly drenched, his braid was hanging heavily against his back and he was shivering so much he was certain his bones were rattling. Even so, he dutifully made his way up the winding stairs and, before pushing the door open, he flicked off the few remaining bits of bark from his shoulders and pants. He should at least try to be a presentable gentleman before her.
The door creaked on its hinges as Jack peeked inside, green eyes glancing to and fro for the only occupant in the room. He found her easily staring out the only window and when he called out towards her, Alice spun around, greeting him happily with a grin.
"Jack! I saw you! You were playing in the rain!" She chortled as she ran towards him, her eyes gleaming. "You're so odd, Jack."
He wilted a bit under her glee as he stepped inside, hiding the puppet behind his back. "I wouldn't call it odd," he said defensively with a weak smile.
"Then what would you be?" Alice pushed.
Jack hummed thoughtfully, eyes turning skyward. "Spontaneous," he concluded.
"I like odd better," Alice insisted, her tone leaving no room for argument and Jack could only laugh a bit, knowing he could never win against her.
"Odd it is, then," he complied. Then he sneezed. Loudly.
Alice proceeded to play nurse for him after that, ordering Jack to sit down as she ran about gathering towels to throw over him until he was suffocated by soft cotton. He happily played the sick patient, allowing Alice to dry his hair roughly, smiling all the while as she pulled on his braid. When she was through and decided that Jack was well on full recovery from a dire sickness, she informed him that they were behind on tea time and ordered him to help her set out the appropriate pieces.
When they had settled down on the floor once more, Alice pouring make-believe tea into his cup, Jack raised a free hand to stop her when she started to ask if he wanted any sugar.
"Three please," Jack answered and quickly added, smiling brightly as he turned his head to the side in mischief. "I have a surprise for you, Alice!"
The young girl blinked widely, dropping the tea pot to lean forward on her hands and all of the manners Jack tried to teach her during tea time went out the window. "What is it? I want to see it!Jack, Jack, you have to let me see it!"
He tried to withhold the gift a little longer, wanting to tell her that a lady such as herself should not be behaving in such a way, but who was he to tell someone else how to conform to the rules of society? And she was, after all, Alice.
He could deny her nothing.
Chuckling softly, he nodded, holding up a hand to calm her down. "First, you need to sit back down. He's a little shy, I'm afraid."
Alice bounced a little as she sat back, hands clenching and unclenching in her lap, unable to hold in the excitement in receiving a gift. The sight should not have made his chest ache. All children became like that when they were teased with the promise of a reward, but because she was Alice and the fact that she was not like all other children ate into his soul.
He hid his thoughts behind a gentle smile and pulled his gift from under his coat. He placed it down in front of Alice and the doll looked up at them from the ground, plush and dry. "I recently had him made," Jack explained as Alice carefully picked up the stuffed rabbit, her small fingers brushing against its eyes, ears and stomach. "He will spend time with you when I can't and he will listen to whatever you have to say. He's very obedient!" He watched as the wondrous expression on Alice's face melted into a smile, her cheeks flushing in a soft pink as she wrapped her arms around the doll.
"I love him! Out of all the dolls, I love him best because Jack gave him to me!" she proclaimed pressing her cheek against the rabbit's and Jack could not help but smile. "Does he have a name yet?"
"Mm." Jack began as he sipped his pretend tea. "He does, but you can rename him if you don't like it."
"What is it?" Alice inquired, running her hand down the rabbit's back in a soothing manner.
Jack looked down at his cup as he answered her. "His name is Oz."
"Oz," the young girl repeated, lifting the doll up to look into its eyes. "Oz," she said once more, then nodded as if her approval was the final word on everything and, Jack supposed, in this little room it was. "I like it. It suits him."
"Should we drink tea with Oz then?" Jack asked, raising his eyes from his cup as he tilted his head with an unreadable smile on his lips. "I'm sure he would like that."
Alice laughed. "Right! Everything I do, Oz will do!"
The older one of the pair watched Alice as she took out a few more cups for their new tea partner, conversing with Oz and telling him the etiquette of tea time. They sat on the floor, enjoying their tea as the rain dried itself out and Jack had finished telling made up stories. He rose finally, thanking Alice for the amazing pot of tea, telling her that her brewing had improved immensely since his last visit and that he needed to pay a visit to the master of the house now.
"You like Glen a lot, don't you?" Alice asked, Oz in her arms, as she watched Jack open the door from her spot on the floor. The young girl smiled, fondly looking down at the doll. "I like Glen too. He always brings me meat when he visits."
Jack had paused at her question, his expression neutral as he repeated it in his mind. No, he wanted to say. The person he liked was not Glen, but Jack had long given up people's assumptions on him and his view of others. It was easier to let them believe what they wanted to believe. People were easier to handle when they thought they knew him well. "Yes," Jack confirmed, turning back to Alice with a gentle smile. "He is my best friend after all."
He left Alice as he had found her, looking out from the only window in her lonely tower. Only this time, when he looked back to wave at her, she held Oz snug in her arms.
Trekking carefully across the still wet and muddy grounds, Jack made his way to the massive gardens, stopping briefly to release a long sigh as his eyes closed. Perhaps it was the rain, the weather, that had made him so weary suddenly. Though his clothes had dried in his time spent with Alice, Jack could still feel the thickness of the drenched fabric and shuddered involuntarily. Eyelids opening again, he tilted his head back to gaze upon the structure of the estate before him.
The Baskerville dukedom commanded a vast land around the estate and the mansion itself was a thing to behold. Jack understood very well why the other noble houses wished to be in good graces with such an imposing name, but such things never mattered to him and less so when she was around. Everyone else saw this structure as wealth and power, but Jack saw it as a place he could have truly loved when she was still with him.
To Lacie, however, it meant even less.
He knew nothing of Lacie. Revis had revealed that he knew even less still, but the one thing Jack did know about Lacie from his short time with her was that the Baskerville estate was nothing more than a cage to her. He had no need to ask Lacie to know that, since it had been easily visible in her eyes when they were alone and Lacie thought she had distracted him with something silly. Her eyes would darken when they gazed upon the mansion and she would seem to retreat a little into herself, pulling her shawl tighter around her shoulders. He had ignored that look. If Baskerville was a cage that kept Lacie locked inside, all the better, for it kept her grounded, kept her where Jack could see her.
If only he had known it kept her for something sinister. Yet what would he have done then, if he had known? Could he have saved Lacie? Could Oswald have?
Maybe, perhaps he could have. He could have taken her away, could have taken Oswald with them. They could have gone somewhere far where no one cared about things that shouldn't matter and things like Children of Misfortune were nonsense. Someplace where Lacie was just Lacie and Oswald did not need to carry about with the burden of having to be the next Glen Baskerville and he could have his place to belong back again.
But Lacie was gone and Oswald…
Oswald… He closed his eyes as thunder boomed overhead and the sky opened once more. Ah, how typical. He smiled at the sky, letting the raindrops slide down his face, soak through his clothes and make his bones ache once more.
When the rain suddenly stopped hitting his face, Jack could not help but laugh at the voice that followed it.
"I should just let you freeze out here, Jack Vessalius!" Charlotte huffed as she looked up at him, a hand on her hip and mud dragging the ends of her skirt down. "I should just let you catch pneumonia and be done with it! Then we would at least have one less person bothering Master Glen!"
He really could not help it and perhaps it was because he was odd like Alice had said or it was because he had caught a cold, but Jack's shoulders shook with unheeded laughter before he calmed himself down. The last fits of his chuckles escaping him, Jack raised his head a bit, eyes moving from his mud caked shoes to look at Charlotte from under his heavy bangs as rain trickled down his skin like tear drops.
"I'm glad you didn't," he whispered and for once, did not tease the young woman when she blushed and remained docile as she turned away, grabbing his left wrist to drag him inside.
He did complain, however, when she roughly shoved him down into a wooden chair saying she would not damage her master's expensive couches just to save his butt from being sore. When she had noticed the mud tracks Jack left behind, she had raged even more and Jack had to fake a coughing fit to save himself from having every inch of his life beaten out of him for daring to ruin her master's priceless rugs. It wasn't as if it was his fault that she didn't notice the state of his belongings when she had dragged him in. But Jack wisely kept that remark to himself.
Charlotte left him alone in the mud room so he could remove himself from his frock and Jack sighed in relief as its heavy weight left his shoulders. The pink-haired Baskerville was kind enough to give him a blanket before she had gone off to order some of the servants to fetch dry clothes for Jack. He pulled it closer as he tossed his cravat on his coat and huddled in on himself as his toes dug into the soft rug, its fabric playing through his toes. Outside, the rain pelted against the windows and he looked out at it, wondering if Alice was all right.
The sound of quick footsteps hailed Charlotte's return and an unbidden smile tugged at his lips as Jack turned his eyes towards the stairs as she descended.
The young Baskerville stopped at the end of the stairs, eyeing him with a bundle of clothing in her arms. She approached him cautiously and Jack's smile curved higher.
"Your gentle looks never cease to ease the heart, Lottie," he tempted, ducking a bit under the safety of the blanket when she tossed the bundle at him.
"Servants clothing," Charlotte confirmed, choosing to ignore his remark even as she blushed. "There is nothing else for you and I refuse to let you touch Master Glen's clothes."
"I'm sure he wouldn't mind…" he began as he picked at the simple shirt and pants. Glen's clothes would be too long, of course, but Jack liked being difficult when he could. He stopped when he dared to glance up. "Ah, this is good enough. Thank you, Lottie." He waited for a minute then, when Charlotte still stood there, he smiled. Leaning forward, letting the thick blanket slide from his shoulders, Jack purposely revealed the line of his throat and collarbone to her as he spoke softly. "Not that I mind, but if you wanted to help me undress, Lottie, then by all means…"
He'd expected the blush, the widening of her eyes and the slap, but Jack wasn't expecting Charlotte to use that much force behind it. Sprawled out on the floor after being toppled over by the smack that resounded off the walls, Jack hissed as he touched his right cheek. "I guess I deserved that," he muttered to himself as he sat back up. He changed into the new set of clothes gratefully, not truly caring if they were mere servant garments as long as they were dry, the rest of his clothes set in a pile, knowing Charlotte would sneak back in to have the others clean up. He left shoes behind, knowing if he left tread marks all over the mansion, Charlotte would hunt him down and tan his hide for doing so.
And so Jack went about the estate, easily moving from corridor to hallway to rooms as if it were his second home and the maids thinking nothing strange of seeing him. They had long gotten used to their blond visitor, understanding that if Jack ever did anything out of line, Charlotte would be the one to sentence the punishment when their Master would not.
And just where was the elusive Master of the Baskervilles anyhow?
After Jack had searched high and low in the places he knew Glen liked to hide away in, he finally took his search in the hall that lead to the piano room. It was the last place he could think of because while Oswald had spent quite some time in there, Glen had avoided it entirely. The person he found standing guard outside, however, wasn't who he had been expecting. He had assumed that Charlotte would have gone ahead and stalked through the mansion in search for him in order to impede his intent on disturbing her master having known full well where Glen would be. He figured, however, that this person seemed more suiting. He looked quite adorable as he fretted before the door, much better than a glaring Charlotte, in any case.
"Gilbert," Jack called out, waving at the young boy, laughing a bit when he jumped where he stood and turned around to face him. He crouched down once he reached Gilbert, a beguile smile on his face. "Is he in there then?"
Gilbert worried his bottom lip, golden eyes sliding back towards the closed doors of the piano room as he nodded. "Master has been there all morning and ordered for no one to bother him. He… He hasn't eaten anything so I wanted to bring him some breakfast but… but he said not to bother him, so…"
Such a sweet boy, really.
Jack frowned as he observed Gilbert's expression. The boy was clearly distressed, torn between caring for his master and following his absolute order. It was amazing that he could have survived so long in the slums with his brother. It was pure luck that Jack had stumbled by, witnessing two brute men beating Gilbert and the dreadful name Children of Misfortune being uttered that had reminded him of his own incident. And how could he have turned away then to let beasts have at innocent children who did not know any better? How could he have turned a blind eye to someone being shunned simply for being born with red eyes much like hers?
So he had saved the two brothers, all but willing to pay the price to have the Children of Misfortune as the two men made off with their heavy reward. He had wanted to take them back to his home, but Gilbert, innocent, clueless Gilbert, had refused, pleading Jack instead to take them somewhere else, that there was someone who needed them. When Jack had asked where, Gilbert only pointed in a direction, only able to tell Jack that much.
And it had been in the direction Jack had headed towards, Baskerville.
It was too cruel, Jack had thought, still thought, as he continued to watch Gilbert fret. This poor boy did not know what he had dragged his brother into, but Jack was no hero. If Gilbert felt it was best for him and his brother to be with the Baskerville, to be a Baskerville, far be it for Jack to argue. He had not been able to save what had mattered to him, so who was he to save two children willing to enter the mouth of the lion? And now, wasn't Gilbert also living blissfully unaware of what had been sacrificed like all other Baskervilles?
But no, Gilbert was innocent, just as Vincent was innocent, just as Alice and Lacie were innocent. They did not know any better and those who did choose to ignore it.
And Jack hated them all the more for it.
Smiling fondly, he laid his hand on Gilbert's head, ruffling the dark hair gently. "Where is Vincent?"
At the mentioning of his brother, Gilbert's shoulders slumped and he looked down. "Vince has been sick since last night. He's still in bed."
He was such a dedicated child, willing to ignore his brother in order to serve his master. Had Oswald been like this, Jack wondered, but no, Oswald wouldn't have left Lacie alone had she been she sick. Jack was sure Oswald would have stayed by her side and Revis would not have begrudged the siblings for tending to each other.
"Gilbert," Jack started, catching the boy's attention, "go to Vincent. You shouldn't leave your brother alone when he's sick and I'm sure you want to be by his side, right?"
"But…" Gilbert began, distraught by his desires between master and brother.
Jack surprised him by pulling the boy into a sudden embrace, one arm wrapped around his small body and the other cradling his head as Jack rested his chin on Gilbert's shoulder. "You're a good boy, Gilbert. I hope this part of you doesn't change," he whispered, truly meaning it as he tightened his hold.
"Master Jack?" Gilbert whispered, sounding confused and fearful and Jack had to laugh softly, pulling the boy away to look at him from arms-length.
"Don't worry. Let me handle him," he inclined his head towards the closed doors before them. "He used to sulk like this back then too."
"Master Glen sulks?" Gilbert said, as if testing the words at how uncharacteristic they sounded. His brows furrowed, a hand rising to his mouth as he mused it over. "Master Glen sulks."
And there it was again. The assumption that he meant Glen Baskerville when he spoke of fond memories and friendship and Jack wanted to shake Gilbert. No, he wanted to say. Not Glen Baskerville! But Gilbert didn't really know, did he? Gilbert would not realize the man he followed so faithfully was the man who will one day take Vincent and shove him into darkness to allow the hounds of Baskerville to live blissfully, knowingly, in ignorance.
I hate him. I hate him. Why would I like him? Why would I be his friend? Alice would never know that the Glen she adored was the same man that had sentenced her mother into the Abyss. That that same Glen had taken two lives away when he sealed Lacie and that she would never see her only relative ever again because Oswald had died that day as Glen Baskerville slipped into his skin and stole his face.
And Jack Vessalius had lost all that he had ever cared about and he hated them. Hated every one of the Baskervilles. Hated them for living on, for acting as if nothing had gone missing. Hated them for their ignorance and their readiness to send another innocent life into the Abyss once more when Gilbert came of age.
Most of all, he hated Glen Baskerville.
For Glen had taken away his life and killed his only friend.
And Jack would never forgive Glen Baskerville for what he had done.
"That hurts! Master Jack!" Gilbert cried out, flinching in Jack's grip when short nails dug into his arms. Jack released the boy as if he burned green eyes wide as he recoiled from Gilbert.
"I'm… I'm sorry," he apologized just as shocked as Gilbert was, raising a hand to his face, his breath short. "I'm sorry, Gilbert. I was just remembering a bad dream."
The boy only frowned, lifting a tentative hand to feel Jack's face, careful of the visible handprint on his right cheek. "I think you might have caught something." Gilbert murmured, eyes becoming worried.
"I'm all right!" Jack promised easily, removing Gilbert's hand. "Adults don't get sick easily. Now go take care of your brother and leave Glen to me."
Gilbert hesitated, cutely frowning towards the door that shielded his master away then back at Jack before he made his decision. "Please take care of Master Glen, Master Jack." He requested and Jack could do nothing, but agree nodding before Gilbert ran off.
Once the boy was gone, Jack let out a loud sigh, digging his hand through his thick hair, hissing when his fingers accidently brushed his cheek when he dropped it. Standing straight, he looked over towards the neglected tray of assorted fruits, jam and two slices of bread Gilbert had placed on the small table before picking it up. The toast had long gone cold, but a promise was a promise and Jack knocked on the door once before he entered.
The piano room within the Baskerville estate was usually untouched. Jack wasn't sure if Revis had gotten the piano made for Oswald or if the previous head had it there before, but his friend had been the only one to sit at it the few times Jack had been in the room with Lacie. It was a spacious room, made to entertain though it was hardly used for such. The only song the resident pianist ever played had been dedicated to someone whom no longer existed.
Pushing the door closed behind him with his foot, Jack headed towards the sitting area to place the tray down on the coffee table before looking around for Gilbert's master. The piano stool was empty and when a flash of lightning struck outside Jack finally took note of the lone figure seated at one of the window seats in the far corner of the room. Half seated against the window was Glen Baskerville, resting his right side against the cold surface of the window with his dark mantel covering him.
Moving quietly towards him, Jack watched the Baskerville head as he slept. No, this couldn't be Glen Baskerville. The master of the hounds would not let his guard down so much so that he would not react to someone approaching him, much less Jack Vessalius. The person who was resting before him now could not be Glen as Glen did not trust him, had not trusted him in even knowing Alice's name until Jack had asked.
Oswald? Jack thought, hoped, and he reached out, intending to wake Oswald up, but he jolted suddenly, pulling away and taking a step back. He couldn't. He couldn't wake Oswald up because Jack knew if he did then Oswald would go away and the man in his place, wearing his face, would be Glen Baskerville and Jack did not want to face that man yet. Not when he could have Oswald. Not when he suddenly needed Oswald to be here with him instead of Glen.
So Jack stepped away, a tiny smile on his face as he looked away from Oswald and around the room. Eyes resting on the piano, he turned and walked towards it, pulling his braid over his shoulder and silently undoing the braids as he sat down on the stool. He worked his fingers slowly, carefully, through his hair, flinching every time he pulled at a knot as he gazed down at the keys. He was no master pianist like Oswald, but he could manage a few songs. He was far better at the pipa, erhu, guzheng and matouqin all of which were taught to him by Miranda during his younger days as he learned the arts in which one could seduce the minds of others.
Jack frowned, expression darkening as he chased the thought of that woman from his mind. Letting his hands drop to his lap, he tilted his head back, sighing once more.
It must be the weather, he concluded. The rain was doing weird things to his mind. The lightning casting shadows where he did not wish to see.
Straightening his back, Jack tilted his head, gazing down at the keys. He lifted a finger, pressing down on a few keys to see if it had been tuned yet. He then chuckled softly. Of course it had been tuned. Even if he did not touch it, Glen Baskerville would keep everything within his possession in top condition. Satisfied with that knowledge, Jack settled towards the center of the stool, closing his eyes as he played a song he had only played once within the same room to two people.
He really was never as good as Oswald with the piano, able to compose wonderful music for Lacie to sing to, but this piece was his most cherished song because Lacie had said she loved it and even Oswald...
"I remember this song," a soft voice broke Jack's concentration and his fingers stilled, eyes opening wide as he recognized who it belonged to. Glen? his mind provided and Jack found himself filled with sudden anger at allowing someone like Glen Baskerville to taint the memory he had of Lacie and Oswald.
"May I…?" the man behind him asked and Jack nodded mutely, not trusting himself to turn to look into that face yet, unsure of what he would see there and it was Oswald who leaned forward, chest against Jack's back as his longer slender fingers stretched out to play a few notes of Jack's secret song.
Only then did Jack dare look, green eyes unsure as they settled on Oswald's solemn expression and his friend leaned back slightly, turning so he could look down at Jack with quietly curious violet eyes and Jack whispered "Oswald?", waiting for Glen to frown down at him because there was no longer any Oswald here anymore, but only Glen Baskerville and Jack should be careful to not make such a mistake. When no reproach came, Jack could not help the silly smile that eagerly came to his face. Oswald, his mind whispered in unsuppressed glee. "I'm sorry if I woke you! It's been so long since I last played the piano, you see—"
Cold fingers touched his right cheek and Jack flinched, hissing at the contact as he jerked away, his head thumping lightly against Oswald's left arm. The cool hand followed, though more gentle now as knuckles grazed the swollen skin. "Charlotte…"
"I asked her to marry me after she saw my maiden skin, but she refused," Jack offered easily, grinning up at Oswald as the hand fell from his face and his friend merely gazed down at him. The hidden amusement was there though and Jack laughed softly when he saw it in those violet eyes.
"What of your hair?" Oswald questioned, his left hand brushing against Jack's ear as he pulled on a long strand, letting go before he could cause any knots.
"I decided to try out those scenes in the romance novels." Jack provided, crossing his arms and twisting a lock around his finger. He winked up at Oswald. "You know the ones where the dashing and handsome male protagonist rides on a stallion with his long golden hair and shirt blowing in the wind."
The look Oswald gave him in turn said clearly that he did not know, hadn't wished to know and hoped Jack wasn't going to tell him why Jack knew of those scenes and, as one man to another, he hoped Jack did not continue to partake in reading silly romance novels.
"How else am I supposed to sweep Lottie off her feet?" Jack questioned.
Oswald chose not to respond. Instead he let his eyes trail down to Jack's choice of clothing. "That would explain your clothing, however." He paused, eyes lingering on the collar Jack had failed to button up completely. "Servant's clothing?"
Jack laughed, tugging at his shirt and looking down at himself. They were a better fit than Oswald's clothing would have been. Still, the pants were a bit snug around his legs. "Lottie said these were far more suiting for someone like me."
"Only you would look happy when told something like that," Oswald noted softly, standing tall and still against Jack's back.
"It's only clothes," Jack murmured, though he smiled as he leaned back just a bit more against Oswald, oddly content. And for the first time since he had set foot onto Baskerville grounds, Jack felt as if each laugh, smile and word he spoke was truly from him. From the real Jack Vessalius who had been reunited with Lacie and not the one she had found in the streets or the one who had been left behind in the woods, but the one whom finally held her in his arms.
He found he had missed that Jack as that Jack knew what it really felt like to be happy.
"Why did you stop playing?" he was asked, Oswald's voice vibrating against his back and Jack found himself closing his eyes as he smiled.
"You frightened me!" he confessed. "Sometimes I forget how silent and sneaky you can be."
"I could say the same for you," Oswald shot back, not missing a beat. He shifted behind Jack, making a move to step back to give Jack room. Unprepared for the sudden shift in balance, Jack found himself falling backwards, hitting the hard ground and gasping out in pain.
"Ow! You could have warned me!" Jack wailed, tears biting at the corner of his eyes. His hair fanned out beside him, locks becoming tangled as he turned back and forth, rubbing the back of his head and making a grand show of being so suddenly wounded. It had smarted, but the slap from Charlotte far exceeded it in levels of pain.
Oswald loomed above him, patiently waiting for Jack to finish his act, leaning down just so as he held out his hand. "You never paid much heed to warnings. Your encounters with Charlotte can attest to that."
"You're so cold." Jack muttered as he sat up, ignoring Oswald's hand as he gingerly touched the back of his head, a stray tear falling from his eye when he blinked.
"Jack…" Oswald called to him and Jack paused, green eyes looking up slowly, silently reading the look in those violet eyes. Quietly, he gave in and reached up, holding onto Oswald's hand as he pushed himself up. As he straightened, Oswald's free hand steadied him and slid slowly, carefully, from between his shoulder blades to the small of his back. And though Jack couldn't stop the flinches when Oswald's fingers would pull at the knots now in his hair, he knew what that gesture meant: a silent apology.
"My hair will be impossible to manage now," He mourned when Oswald's hand lingered where it rested against his back before falling away. "Take responsibility for this."
"I will help you brush it," the taller man complied, watching as Jack gathered his hair over one shoulder. Observant as Jack sighed heavily as he looked down at the thick blond strands, already envisioning the pain he would endure should each brush stroke catch the tangles.
"Promise you'll be gentle," Jack pushed.
"I will be gentle," Oswald agreed.
"Promise you'll stop if I say so."
"Jack," Oswald warned.
The shorter man grinned a bit. "You're no fun," he complained lightly.
A moment of silence settled in the room interrupted by the sound of rain and rumbling thunder. Jack looked out the windows, wondering if Alice had settled down with her new friend and if Gilbert was asleep at Vincent's side. For some reason, the rain seemed less cold now.
Oswald's voice beckoned him with a quiet, "Jack."
"Hm?" he hummed, looking back to see Oswald had returned to the piano, standing beside it now. His friend brushed his fingers across the keys and Jack could easily picture Lacie standing beside him, her arms circled around one of Oswald's as she beckoned her brother to play one of his many songs for them.
"Would you continue?" Oswald asked slowly and Jack couldn't hide his surprise even if Oswald could not see it. "It was always one of my favorites."
Jack could not help but be inexplicably pleased even though he had known because Lacie had secretly told him so when they were alone. That Oswald had tried to replicate the piece, yet stopped short before he could finish and Lacie said that it was because it was Jack playing the song that made Oswald enjoy it so. Rounding the stool, Jack took his seat beside Oswald, glancing up to give his friend a quick smile before he began his melody anew.
Soon, he knew, Charlotte would come to check up on her master and soon Gilbert would return once he was satisfied Vincent was all right without him for just a few minutes and the man beside him would leave and only Glen Baskerville would remain. Jack found that he could deal with that. He would be able to deal with Glen and the rest of the Baskervilles as long as he had this moment with Oswald sitting beside him and Lacie dancing to their tune within his mind.
Soon he would have to pretend to be the best friend of Glen Baskerville.
For now, however, he would be the one true friend to Oswald.
And Jack was content to let the rest of the world be blissfully unaware of the differences.