In Peace, In Pieces
Everything was swimming before his eyes, turning hazy.
The chapel adorned with melancholy flowers, filled with the heady scent of the eerie, meaty, thick-stemmed lilies and white roses scattered over the casket, began to run like water.
The walls, the floor, the wooden pews- all of it mixed together and melted like black sludge.
Will couldn't see Lion anymore. The young, golden-haired successor had been stood by his side, Will was sure of that; respectfully silent, as the pair of them listened to the tragic tale of the slowly dying 'witch'.
Clair was a vision in white, just like the flowers that adorned her coffin. Her dress was an array of cool, cold greens and creams, hair gently curling over her shoulders the same soft shade as mint ice-cream and adorned with shimmering pearls.
Maybe it was only natural that the spectral figure of Clair that faded first when the universe began to shift. She was so wan and pale it seemed almost impossible such a girl could exist at all; as though one stray gust of wind would scatter her fragile form in one thousand softly fluttering butterflies.
And then everything went black.
When Will finally opened his eyes, he found himself in a universe quite different to the one he had just left- not by his own choice, of course. It was a small, white room encased on all sides by darkness. When Will strained his ears, he felt sure he could hear a soft hissing and spitting emanating from the shadows. Once or twice his narrowed eyes caught flashes of red, the twitch of a tail, sleek black fur.
He was seated at a circular table, also white, and laden with an array of food: cakes, cookies, pastries, just like something from a fun tea party.
Will knew it wasn't.
No respectable host of any halfway decent tea party would chain the legs of their guests to the ground.
Will couldn't move. He couldn't escape. He could only sit there, staring bitterly at his host.
Bernkastel smiled back.
They weren't the only two people at the table. There was a third- though she was sitting with her hands in her lap, head bowed, eyes glassy like blue marbles and curiously empty. If it wasn't for the steady rise and fall of her chest, Will might have assumed she was stuffed, like some macabre sculpture.
It was Clair.
Well, wasn't this cosy, thought Will sardonically. A detective, a witch, and a dead girl. They all sit down for tea. Huh, now it sounds like some awful joke. What's the punch line?
Will didn't have enough time for this.
"Hello, Willard," said Bernkastel pleasantly. "Would you care for a cup of tea?"
He shook his head. "No thanks. I'm not like Alice. I won't drink or eat anything just because I'm told to."
Something ugly flickered across Bernkastel's face for a few moments- but she was soon able to drag it back down underneath her mask of affected calm and serenity. She tapped her fingernails against the white table for a few moments, considering.
"...Hm. Well, I suppose that is a sensible policy. It's good that you're not the type of idiot who'll blindly trust anybody. Not like Ushiromiya Battler… haha~"
At the casual mention of that name, Clair's shoulders stiffened slightly- though she didn't lift her head.
"I'm not Ushiromiya Battler," said Will coolly. "I'm just his replacement."
"That's right. That foolish prince wasn't able to rescue the princess in time… was he, Beato?~ Or, ooh, no… that's right. You don't want to be reminded of how pathetic you are, do you? I'll be polite, then. I'll indulge you. You can be Clair for now."
Clair didn't reply. Will didn't think she could.
Bernkastel smiled sweetly, running her finger oh so slowly around the rim of her teacup as she thought. She kept tracing out that small 'o' over and over again.
"Well, isn't this nice. Beatrice couldn't be here, so we have Clair instead. And Battler couldn't make it either… So we have Willard H. Wright- our slightly hesitant hero... who would rather be at home with his pet cat than help the poor princess. What an interesting collection of characters assembled on the stage."
"I'm not a hero. I'm just doing my job."
"If you keep saying things like that no girl will ever like you, you know. You have to be a bit more romantic."
"I can't. Diana will get jealous. Stop flirting with me, I'm taken."
"... ...Ku. What an impudent man."
"I don't have any pleasantries to spare on you. I don't want to be involved in this... ... this farce of a friendly tea party," said Will coldly. He shifted slightly in his chair, making the chain round his leg clank. "I thought you wanted me to solve Clair's mystery? I was listening to her story. Take me back to the chapel. I want to finish this properly."
"Ha! You dare say such things to me, Bernkastel, the cruellest witch? You should show me some more respect, Wright! Where are your manners?"
"I left them at home. I thought they would be wasted on a person like you."
"Ha... haha... You're still refusing my hospitality? How tiresome. I should feed you to my kitties for that; slowly and painfully, maybe a joint at a time, until there's nothing left... What do you think?"
"I think you're a psychopath."
A cruel little smile played across Bernkastel's lips. Her youthful face, so deceptively innocent and childlike on most occasions, now shone with a strange kind of insanity that made even Willard H. Wright feel uncomfortable.
Will had never liked witches. They were fickle, cruel and untrustworthy; all hiding behind flimsy masks of sanity to cover their overpowering, overwhelming bitterness and boredom. They tortured humans for fun, just as children would snap the heads and arms and legs off dolls- again and again and again, without mercy, for no real reason other than to give them something to do before tea time.
Will had been a member of the SSVD for a very, very long time, and he knew witches.
He knew how cruel they could be.
Even though Bernkastel was playing the role of a sweet, civilized host, smiling at Will from across a table laden with tea and pastries, Will could see the malice behind that expression.
"Ahaha~ A psychopath? Me? Your lovely host?" Bernkastel giggled, and ran her hands through her beautiful blue hair. "Well, maybe that's true. But I think, in some cases... handsome men like you are far, far crueller. Don't you think so, Clair?"
Clair, silent and still like a mannequin, didn't reply.
"Don't you remember what that man said to you, hmm… Clair?~" Bernkastel pressed, a sick smile on her face. "Don't you remember that promise he made? Don't you remember?~ Don't you remember how much that hurt?"
In her lap, Clair's fingers twitched slightly; hopelessly. Her lips parted. Her pale lashes trembled.
She couldn't talk- but still, she made a sound.
A small one.
A pitiful one.
Bernkastel's smile widened. "Yeah. Handsome men are all horrible. I'm not like that, though. I don't make promises I don't keep. If I'm going to torture somebody slowly, painfully… I'll always tell them how much it will hurt." Giggle, giggle. "Eventually."
Clair was trembling just like a singular snowflake in a storm; a baby bird. It looked as though her blue eyes were glazed over, listless, lifeless… brimming with tears… …?
It made Will grit his teeth together.
"Be quiet. You're pissing me off," said Will coldly. "This kind of bullying is too immature for a great 'Lady' of the Witch's Senate such as yourself. It's the same as pulling hair."
"Oh? Does this bother you? Can't stand to see a cute girl cry?"
"I don't get off on that kind of thing, no."
"Ufufu~ I'm not doing anything wrong, you know. I'm just stating facts."
"You're mocking her for no reason. Keep your prying fingers to yourself and mind your own business. If you want to cause somebody pain bite the inside of your own mouth or whatever- but stop acting like a petulant two year old."
"Ha? Aaaaaaah?~ What's thiiiiis?~ You're calling me a petulant child? Me? Ahaha… ahahahaha!~ Whatever happened to manners?"
The hateful witch tilted her head to one side, hair pooling on the table before her. Some silky blue strands trailed in her cup of umeboshi tea, though she paid it no heed.
Perhaps she didn't even notice.
It would have been quite amusing, seeing Bernkastel dip her hair in her tea as though it were some kind of biscuit, but the witch's wide-eyed gaze made the atmosphere was so tense Will couldn't even manage a small smirk.
Will's smirking days were long behind him. He wasn't young enough to pull it off anymore.
"That poor girl has been talking for such a long time. Hours and hours, even. Time doesn't have much meaning in that chapel anymore, cut off from the rest of reality and floating in a beautiful sea of fragmented kakera, so perhaps you didn't notice- but that girl with the oh so tragic tale just wouldn't shut up. I thought she might be thirsty from talking so much, and maybe she'd appreciate a cup of tea. I was being thoughtful, asking for a break right now."
"…How kind of you," said Will dryly. "I notice Clair's not drinking, though?"
"I reconsidered. That girl isn't worth wasting good tea on."
"Ha. As expected of a fickle witch."
"Mm. Yes. Her story was beginning to grate on my nerves anyway. Melancholy people like her are so dull, when they only talk about themselves... Aaah, it was so boring for me to watch all that exposition I just wanted to smash my head against a table, you know? Ufufu~ And then I thought, why smash my own head?~ Why not smash hers'? After all, she's just a doll."
Clair sniffed softly; hands still folded in her lap, eyes directed at the table top.
Her blue eyes were watery.
The uncaring, apathetic cruelty behind Bernkastel's voice was enough to make Will grit his teeth together in frustration.
"So you took a brief break to have a cup of tea because you were bored?"
Bernkastel remained unmoved. Still smiling, she said carelessly, "People who talk a lot about their baaaw so saaaaad and tragic pity me baaaaaaw sad sob stories are always dull. It's amusing to listen to them at first, but after a while it gets boring. And I hate being bored."
"Then why are you interested in this game board if you find the heart of this tale so dull?" Will asked coldly, disdainfully, glaring at Bernkastel over the slalom of prettily arranged cakes and the beautiful china teapot. "If you called me here to investigate this tale then, on my name of Willard H. Wright, I won't let you laugh at that child's heart."
Bernkastel made a great show of yawning; her lacy sleeves trailing on the table as she pressed one hand to her mouth.
"Oh, calm down, Wright. This kind of self-righteous anger gets tedious, too. Don't try and act like such a martyr. People like that always end up dead. Although… I suppose that would be slightly interesting? Better than this girl's dull story, anyway."
"The whydunnit of a mystery is never 'dull', it's the most important part. Even though I don't know Clair very well, I will continue to defend her heart from anybody- even from you," said Will, his eyes resting on the trembling form of the ghostly young girl. "I might be your piece, but I am not going to scorn Beatrice, or Clair, alongside you, and refuse to help you 'tear out the guts'. I'm not a butcher. I'm a conductor of last rites. Take us back to the chapel. This is a waste of time."
There was a moment of dreadful silence. You could have heard a pin drop.
Bernkastel's voice was no longer masquerading under a fine film of forced politeness. It was soft and quiet- but darkly menacing.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up."
The witch's face had contorted horribly into something hideous, grotesque, inhuman. The witch who so often looked like a pretty doll, blue hair and elegant clothes, had monstrous fissures running across her face- pulling her lips into a snarl mixed with a smirk, her pupils into pinpricks and her eyes far, far too wide- almost too huge for her head to hold them.
In the background, the hissing of her cats grew louder and louder.
"You're really pissing me off with that condescending attitude, you know- it's really pissing me off! Who the hell do you think you are? You think you're some handsome prince who's going to sweep this ugly, pitiful, pathetic, unlovable thing that isn't even a real human into your arms and dry away her tears?"
Bernkastel kicked her chair away in frustration and marched over to Clair; fingers fisting her mint green hair- and though Will instinctively tried to get to his feet, he couldn't. The chains were binding him tightly, and he couldn't move.
He couldn't reach Clair.
He could only watch as Bernkastel, in a fit of temper, smashed the poor girl's head against the table.
The china things were scattered; plates of beautifully arranged macaroons thrown to the floor and ground under Bernkastel's heels.
"Do you think by giving this girl-" a sharp tug on her hair "-a handful of pretty words and bit of disgusting, disgusting, filthy false sympathy you'll wash away all that pain and misery and self-loathing she feels- that she SHOULD feel-" another sharp twist of that beautiful hair "-because she's unlovable and pathetic? Do you think, by conducting her last rites, you can actually help her?"
Clair's head was smashed against the table once more; upending the ornate teapot. One of the cups fell to the floor; shattering upon impact with the ground. The flower-print tablecloth shifted slightly.
"I hate that foolish optimism, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it all! Her story's pathetic, isn't it? Why don't you realize how pathetic it is? You should be laughing at her! I'm laughing at her!"
Smash, rip, tear- hair pulled out of Clair's scalp in handfuls.
Clair was sniffing.
"That girl cannot be helped, she can't be helped- all you can do is let her die. That's all. And I'm getting really, really sick of you trying to act kind to her, and understand her, as though that can make a difference! I already know that girl can't be saved! Why don't you admit it, too? Tell her she can't be saved!"
Bernkastel let Clair go, throwing her back against her chair with so much force she nearly overbalanced.
Then, the witch leant forwards- slamming one pale hand so hard against the table the teacups trembled. It sounded painful- as though she might have used enough force to break her own fingers; but Bernkastel hardly noticed.
"Clair. Is. Going. To. Die. And. You. Will. Kill. Her. That is your job in my story! You're nothing more than an executioner who will expose her pitiful form! So stop acting like you care so much, it's making me want to vomit! You really HAVE lost your edge, you pitiful, useless, washed up ex-witch hunter! Aaaaah, maybe you're just as pathetic as that miserable girl. Maybe somebody will be conducting your last rites soon, Wright~ Ahaha... ahahahahahaha...!~"
Clair's trembling fingers ran through her messy hair slowly, falteringly; trying to brush it down into some kind of order. Her face was badly bruised. It had been smashed into one of the china teacups- and now bits of beautifully colored china were embedded into her pale skin.
It must have hurt.
It must have hurt a lot.
She was bleeding. Bright red blood dripped down her pale cheeks, like something from an impressionist painting.
Will's heart filled with pity for the small wraith of a girl in her beautiful, elaborate outfit. She didn't deserve to be treated like that. She had already suffered enough. There should have been a limit to how much people could suffer.
Her tears mingled with the blood dripping down her china-embedded, doll-like cheeks.
But… Will couldn't help her.
She flinched away when he reached out his hand.
Bernkastel, meanwhile, had shouted herself into a state of hysteria nearing madness; spittle hanging from her open mouth, her usually expressionless eyes livid and filled with a maelstrom of emotion.
She was trembling almost as badly as Clair.
It was nice she'd finally shown her true colors. Things were a lot easier when people were honest.
"... …So. You really did descend to hair pulling. I'm disappointed, but not surprised," said Will, after a small pause. "Have you finished having a tantrum now?"
Bernkastel recoiled as though she'd been punched in the face; her cheeks burning bright red.
"W-what did you just say?"
"You're acting like a child. It's not suitable behavior for a host, treating your guests like that. It's disgusting- and I'm just getting a headache listening to you whining. Can you let me go so I can finish this job properly? Diana is waiting for me back home." A small pause. "... ...I suppose Clair is waiting, too. Waiting to die tastefully. In peace."
"In pieces," Bernkastel retorted back, her voice acidic. "Didn't you understand what I told you? I'm tired of watching you run around with that stupid child, acting like Holmes and Watson; acting like you're NOT a murderer, when that's all you are, it's all you ever will be, Wright! I'm sick, I'm sick, I'm sick. I'm sick of it all!"
"Yeah. You're sick. It's obvious you're sick. I wasn't going to talk about that piece of deduction given it's not exactly polite, but you brought it up yourself. And I bet you've shouted so much you've given yourself a headache."
"...Shut the hell up."
"No. Not this time."
Will hated that witch.
But, at the same time... he might have pitied her- with her blue hair still coiled up in her cup of untouched umeboshi tea, and that expression of insanity still distorting a face that had, once upon a time, probably been quite beautiful.
Will didn't like witches.
They were cruel, malicious, underhanded; torturing people, torturing each other, for their own entertainment- just to give them something to do before tea time.
But they were sad, too.
Witches like Bernkastel, who hated everything... who hated people who still tried to be happy... were so sad and pitiful.
When she had smashed Clair's head against the table, trying to grind that girl's snub face into a bloody pulp, or put out of those beautiful eyes with bits of broken china… there hadn't only been hate in there.
Bernkastel… was probably in pain, too.
Even if she had convinced herself she was too numb to feel it.
If she wasn't in pain… then why was she filled with so much hatred and anger?
"I might be your piece, but I'm not an executioner. I know I'm going to kill Clair- but I'm not going to scorn her feelings, or destroy her heart. I won't humiliate her," said Will softly; turning to give Clair a look of… sympathy, maybe?
Clair's face flushed- or maybe that was Will's mistake, given the scarlet blood smeared across her cheeks- and she turned her head away.
"I won't tear out Clair's guts," said Will, with conviction. "I'll lay her to rest with respect- because that's what she wants. I'm not a gentleman, but even I'm not tactless enough to laugh at another person's misery. And, if I tried..." A slightly complicated smile rose to Will's face. "Well, that upstart little aristocrat would probably pinch me."
"... ...Ha. Your Watson? That child... ... pisses me off too."
"Everything does. But, listen. You hired me to do a job. I'll do that job. But I'm going to do this my own way, if I'm going to do it at all. So you just sit back and watch with the other Theatergoing witches. Make sure you get the popcorn ready."
Bernkastel's shoulders trembled. She was breathing heavily. Her face was waxy. The end of her blue hair was damp from being soaked in the cup of umeboshi tea.
That brat had probably never been spoken to so roughly in her life.
She blinked for a few moments, trying to get her bearings; trying to calm her nerves.
And then... she smirked. She looked like a dead frog with that smirk.
"...Ha. Ahaha... ... Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you do have sufficient skills to charm a girl after all. What do you think, Clair? Are you going to fall in love with this pitiful ex-inquisitor now, all because he was a little bit nice to you? Maybe that would explain why Lion is so besotted… … ufufufu… … You pathetic waste of space."
Clair didn't reply.
She hung her head.
But her pale face had turned light pink.
Will clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth in irritation.
"...Don't call Clair a waste of space. She's not. The only pitiful person I see right now… … would have to be you."
a/n: A pointless oneshot somebody requested me to write a while ago because they wanted some Will/Clair interaction. Cross-posted from my tumblr. I hope everybody is IC enough, though I do have some vague doubts…