This idea came to me after reading Retrace LXXIX (79) and it takes place right after Gil took care of those two Baskervilles after delivering that touching speech on how Oz was fine as he was, but before they meet up with Oscar.
Warning: I don't think I've included anything that spoils chapter 79 but it still would be best if you've read the manga up until this point.
"Oz..." sighed Gilbert. "I'm telling you, I'm perfectly fine!"
Oz turned to shoot Gil a look of incredulousness. "Honestly Gil, do you really think I'll believe you when your body language clearly tells me otherwise?" he said, before turning towards the door and peeking through the tiny crack of space.
Gilbert and Oz had been making their way down an eerily quiet corridor after taking care of the two Baskervilles that had ambushed them, but the silence had soon been broken by the sound of echoing footsteps and muffled whispers of more approaching Baskervilles who must've come to check why their comrades were taking so long. Gilbert was the first to react by swinging around and simultaneously cocking his gun in his right hand, but then he was promptly pulled back into sudden darkness.
Oz knew how exhausted Gil was, and that he needed more rest before he could summon Raven once more. So, he decided that they should hide for now rather than battle the enemy head-on. Luckily there was an unlocked door behind them so it was a simple matter of grabbing Gil by the coat and dragging him in; the man didn't even have the energy to resist.
Satisfied that the coast was now clear, Oz silently shut the door and sighed. "Gil, you know as well as I do that you couldn't have taken them on in your current state," explained Oz gently. Gil looked away with his eyes downcast and frown, prominent. Seeing this, Oz quickly added, "I appreciate that you're willing to fight, but rest is important too. Who knows how many more Baskervilles there are out there? If you don't rest, you'll get exhausted during battle and we'll both get captured."
Gilbert was silent, and Oz knew from this that his words were sinking in. He smiled kindly upon seeing it, then strode over to where Gil was leaning against the wall and placed a hand on his right shoulder. Gilbert started at the touch and looked up to find his master smiling up at him. It was a soothing sight and he could almost feel all his strength return thanks to the simple gesture.
"Rest for a bit. Okay, Gil?"
Gil returned Oz's smile with his own, slightly weaker one and nodded once. Then Oz gave the lightest of squeezes before retracting his hand and turning away.
He didn't notice Gil's smile drop upon the loss of that comforting touch.
"Hmm... This room looks familiar," murmured Oz mostly to himself.
"It's the conference room," explained Gilbert. "This is where you and Alice emerged after escaping Cheshire's Lair."
"Is that so?"
While Gilbert rested, Oz decided to have a look around since he didn't exactly get the chance to the last time he was here. The room was vast, making it seem more like a hall. The hall was dimly lit by the moon's clear, radiant light that streamed through gaps in the thick, elaborately woven curtains. In the middle of the hall was a massive, circular rosewood table with a surface so polished that Oz could see his own reflection on it.
All around the table were evenly-spaced ornate chairs with bronze fabric cushioned seats. Four of these seats however, were slightly different from the rest and they were placed at the four cardinal points; north, south, east and west. These chairs were reserved for the current heads of the Four Duke Houses, and had intricate patterns carved into the back rest of each chair while the fabric of the cushioned seats was gold rather than bronze.
Apart from a large, ornate crystal chandelier hanging dead-centre above the conference table, the rest of the room seemed sparsely decorated. It was, after all, a conference room and not a ballroom. But then Oz's gaze fell upon the northern wall, and suddenly it seemed like he forgot how to breathe.
There, displayed proudly behind the Vessalius Duke's seat was a modestly-large sized portrait. But it was not just any portrait.
It was a portrait of Jack Vessalius.
The man who was framed a Hero a century ago for the Tragedy that took the lives of too many.
The man who was actually the true instigator of that Tragedy
The man that resided within him at that very moment.
But what a portrait it was... There was a particularly strong beam of moonlight seeping through a large gap in the curtains near the wall, making it seem as if the very Heavens were shining their gentle light upon the canvas.
That thought brought a sardonic smile upon Oz's face. The very Heavens shining upon this devil? Maybe he was finally starting to lose his mind if those were the kind of thoughts he was having.
The light did serve the purpose of illuminating the portrait for closer inspection though, which was exactly what Oz felt compelled to do despite abhorring the man in the painting with every single fibre of his being. Slowly, Oz made his way around the grand table towards the portrait. It was as if his feet had a mind of their own, dragging him forward against his will.
When he was finally face-to-face with the painting, he stopped and stared. It soon became apparent that he couldn't tear his gaze away because of how the moonlight highlighted the beauty, intricacy and detail of each and every brush stroke. For a while it even made him forget exactly whose portrait he was gazing at. A seemingly impossible feat, but then again, everything that had happened up to date seemed impossible...
"Oz? What's wrong?"
Gilbert, who had closed his eyes for a while, opened them seconds ago only to find his young Master out of his line of sight. He frantically scanned the room for a few moments until he spotted the unmistakable glow of silky, golden hair at the far end of the hall to his right. When Oz didn't respond, Gilbert decided to approach him and see for himself what the matter was.
He spotted the portrait when he was about halfway across the hall.
Gilbert's lips twitched, as if they weren't sure whether to tilt upwards or downwards. But at last they formed a grimace instead.
"So it's that painting again... That would explain Oz's strange behaviour."
It was quite possible that he hated the so-called Hero with a passion greater than Oz's. In fact, he probably did, which would make almost anyone wonder why on earth Gilbert would even consider smiling because of such a portrait. The answer was actually quite simple, but it was only comprehendible by a select few who knew of the portrait's history.
The painting just had that effect on people. Obviously the painter was very skilled; you could tell from the beauty and detail of the painting. It seemed that whoever this mysterious painter was, they could make almost anything seem indescribably beautiful. And combined with the charming looks as well as fabricated heroisms of Jack Vessalius, it only served to reinforce that effect on the mind of those who were not burdened with the horrid truth about that man and the Tragedy.
It was, in a way, a deadly combination.
"It's... a beautiful painting, isn't it?" questioned Gilbert quietly, and perhaps a little sadly as well. Oz could do nothing but nod slowly, transfixed. Why? Why was it so hard to look away? Why was such a repulsive painting so...
As if reading his mind, Gilbert decided to ease his Young Master's nerves by explaining the history of the portrait to distract him.
"I... I had been there... During the creation of this portrait..."
This statement actually caught Oz's attention and he turned to stare at his servant; his features were clearly those of surprise. "You mean... from that time? And... You know who the painter is?"
Gilbert nodded. "Yes, from that time. And yes, I know the painter..." He sighed before lowering himself on a chair behind Oz. "That day is as clear as crystal in my mind right now," he began, sounding faraway. It was as if his voice had joined his mind in its journey to the past. "Jack had come once again on one of his frequent visits to the Baskerville Castle..."
'Master! Master Glen! Master Jack has arrived!'
The violet-eyed man smiled fondly down at his tiny raven-haired valet. 'Has he, now? No doubt it's to play with Alice again.'
A hint of annoyance flashed across Gilbert's face at the mention of Alice, but he quickly erased it.
'Where's Vincent?' continued Glen.
'He's already gone to meet Master Jack.'
'I see. Well, let's go join them before that idiot tramples the roses by mistake again.'
Jack would visit regularly to spend time with Glen and play with Alice. One would think that he would avoid them due to their strong connections to Lacie, but surprisingly it was the total opposite. He would often be found spending time in the Baskerville Castle during every chance he got, which admittedly, was not a lot.
'You should probably come back later.'
'Aw, c'mon, Glen~ It's so rare to see Alice's sleeping face. Let me stay for a while.'
'Surely this counts as invasion of one's privacy' muttered Glen under his breath, before striding towards where Jack was slowly poking a sleeping Alice's soft cheek.
'Amazing' breathed Jack, as though he were examining a rare specimen of some sort. 'She doesn't react act all!'
'Stop that, you fool," chided an annoyed Glen, but the twinkle in his eyes and the miniscule upturn of his lips betrayed his true emotions.
'Ne, Vince, wanna go play in the garden?' whispered Gilbert, though it was hardly necessary when Jack's merry laughter could easily drown out the boy's timid voice. 'It's rare for us to play together without Alice. Besides, we should leave Master Jack and Master Glen alone until they call us."
Vincent gazed at his older brother as if he had just discovered a treasure trove in his place instead. 'Really, nii-san? You really mean it? Just us two?'
Gilbert was mildly surprised at his brother's unexpected reaction but smiled sincerely nonetheless. 'Of course!'
Vincent and Gilbert had decided to leave Jack and Glen alone for some time. They played and played until their bodies started to ache, but Gilbert never once minded since he couldn't ever recall seeing his little brother as happy as he did that time. After a while though, Vincent insisted they go back and ask Jack to join them.
'It looks like they're busy," whispered Gilbert. 'Let's go, Vince, we shouldn't bother them.'
'Eeeh? Let's stay for a while. Don't you wanna know what they're talking about?"
'Vince! No way! That's like spying on them! Master Glen would be really angry if he found out. And Master Jack too!'
'Shh!' Vincent reinforced the command – even though he was the younger brother – by putting a finger to his lips. 'I'm trying to hear what they're saying.'
Little Gilbert groaned, but otherwise did nothing. Because what could he do? Attempt to drag his little brother away and risk the two Masters hearing the commotion that Vincent would surely cause? Absolutely not.
'They're talking about someone,' muttered Vincent slowly. 'It sounds like... No, it's... Lacie. They're talking about someone called Lacie.' Vincent turned to his brother. 'Ne, Gil, who's Lacie?'
Vincent hadn't known about Lacie yet, and Gilbert pretended not to know either. Glen only confided in him about her briefly one night, and after that he simply thought it wasn't something to be shared without his Master's consent. The brothers couldn't really hear what the two adults were saying since the conversation was hushed, so Gilbert had started insisting that they left. But then...
'That's it, I'm leaving. You can stay here and-'
'Oh, wow...' breathed Vincent. 'Nii-san...'
'What?' prompted Gil; his head tilting back towards his little brother and the door. 'What happened?'
'...Look,' was all Vincent could manage.
Gilbert quickly peered through the gap in the door and scanned the room, curiously looking for the source of his brother's awe-struck state. There was nothing prominent at first... But then he saw it.
It was Jack.
Jack was... smiling...
That smile had been simple yet magical, and Gilbert had been sure that Vincent could feel it too. Jack's features bathed in the soft, consistent glow of gentle sunlight streaming through the largest window in the tower... It made him look like an unearthly being.
And back then, they all believed it.
Oh, how wrong they were...
Gilbert had also been absolutely sure that Glen had felt enchanted by Jack's smile as well, and it wasn't long before he was proven correct. Later, after Jack had left, Glen hastily marched away and locked himself in his bedroom all day. He didn't even come out for lunch. Naturally his two young valets were very worried, but they were also too scared to check up on him. Finally it was dinner time, and that's when Vincent suggested that Gilbert go up with Glen's dinner as well as see if he was all right, since apparently he was closer to their Master than Vincent.
'M-Master?' Gilbert winced slightly at his wobbly, high-pitched voice, but pressed forward regardless. 'I have brought you dinner. May I come in?'
Gilbert was panicking. If he went in without consent – something he's never done – then there was a chance that he would finally find out what exactly the consequences of doing so were. But if he didn't go, he could be neglecting his responsibility as a servant to ensure his Master's wellbeing. What is Master Glen was sick? What if he needed assistant?
Gilbert gulped, before grasping at the shiny brass doorknob with a clammy hand and turned it at an excruciatingly slow pace, before carefully swinging the door back. He briefly thanked his luck when the door opened noiselessly, then silently wheeled the trolley carrying his Master's dinner inside.
The room was barely any different from how it usually was. All the oil lamps around the room that were usually unlit in favour for a single, simple candle were now alive behind their protective glass bulbs. A grand canopy bed that was fit for a king was up against the back wall; its sheets were perfectly made as if no one had ever slept there in ages. On both sides of the bed was a nightstand, and next to the right nightstand in the centre of the room was Master's antique grand piano that looked as though it had very recently been polished. To the left of the room stood Master Glen's armoire, standing quite tall and imposing for an inanimate object.
So far there was no sign of Master Glen, but Gilbert knew he was there, since he hadn't even glanced at where the man usually was. He took a deep breath, before directing his gaze to towards the right side of the room.
And then he stared, slack-jawed.
Gilbert had expected to find his Master sitting painfully upright at his desk, furiously scribbling away at some important parchment with his trusty, worn quill pen. He had expected to see Master's hand darting towards the little ink pot to his right in order to wet the tip every now and then. He had expected to see Master's desk surprisingly chaotic for such a neat man, littered with various important-looking documents which were in high-risk of bursting into flames because of the short, melted candle sitting in its holder at the corner of the desk.
He found, instead, that his Master's desk was for once in a state of peace. His quill was perched in the ink pot, leaning dangerously to the side but not enough to topple out. For once Gilbert could see the smooth, polished burgundy surface as whatever parchments that were usually scattered across the table lay in a neat pile on one corner of the desk. As all the oil lamps had been lit tonight, the candle – or what was left of it – was unlit in its holder.
He found his Master standing beside his desk with his back towards the door, and in front of him was a tall easel that had a large canvas on it.
Master Glen was painting.
It was somewhat common knowledge among those who knew him that Glen was an excellent pianist. However, Glen was also a stunning painter. But it was a fact not known to anyone apart from the previous Glen, Lacie, Jack, Vincent and Gilbert. At that time, Jack and the brothers hadn't known about Glen's talent and they probably never would've if Gilbert hadn't stumbled upon him that night. After that the raven-haired boy had quickly left the trolley by the foot of his Master's bed and turned to leave, but...
'Gilbert? Is that you?'
Uh oh. Of all the times for Master Glen to take a break, why now? That was the only thought Gilbert could conceive before he promptly turned and started spewing apology after apology.
'M-M-Master! I-I'm so sorry for intruding and- I didn't- Vince told me- I m-mean... I'm so sorry!'
After almost a minute of uncontrollable stuttering and apologising, Gilbert's voice finally died down when he was interrupted by... the soft sound of laughter? He worked up the courage to face his Master, and when he looked up, Glen was indeed chuckling quietly. For the second time in many minutes, Gilbert stared helplessly towards the older male who was starting to seem more alien by the minute.
'You need not be so nervous around me, Gilbert' said Glen once his laughter subsided, though there was still a very faint hint of amusement in his voice. 'Relax.'
As if the words were magic, Gilbert's shoulders instantly drooped and he released a relieved sigh. His eyes then trailed to his Master's lean figure. Glen's usual attire that consisted of black dress-pants, purple sleeveless vest, golden-lined coat and cloak were nowhere to be seen. Instead he wore a simple, white un-tucked cotton shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a pair of dark grey pants, both of which were surprisingly spotless from any stains of paint.
Who knew Master Glen possessed any article of clothing that wasn't formal?
Glen was currently stretching his tired arms, carefully balancing a thoroughly-used paintbrush between the fingers of one hand and a full paint palette in the other. When his arms had relaxed again, he stepped around the canvas, carefully put his things down on the window sill where Gilbert spotted several tubes of expensive-looking oil paints, then simply proceeded to gaze out the window where a luminous crescent moon could be seen surrounded by millions of tiny, radiant stars.
Gilbert badly wanted to see his Master's work, but kept his eyes trained on his figure instead. He hadn't received permission, after all. Instead, he mustered the courage to voice a query that had been nagging him since the moment he laid his eyes on his master a few minutes ago.
'M-Master Glen, you paint, too?' he asked, with clear surprise and genuine curiosity in his timid voice.
Glen had clearly anticipated such a question, for he responded calmly without even a glance towards his servant's direction.
'Yes Gilbert, I paint. It's a skill that I've developed over the years and a passion that was sparked thanks to my old Master. No one else knows of this habit of mine with the exception of him and my late sister. I... simply prefer if fewer people knew.'
'Oh... Then I'm really sorry for learning all this, Master. Vincent and I were really worried since you hadn't eaten lunch, so I thought I'd deliver dinner. I tried knocking, honest I did. But you didn't respond... I'm sorry. I should've stayed outside.'
In a rare moment of affection, Glen turned to his servant and gently ruffled his hair. 'There is no need to apologise. It's... quite relieving to finally have someone to share this secret with, especially since both my sister and my Master are now gone.'
'I'm honoured to hear that, Master' whispered Gilbert.
And he truly was.
He was abruptly pulled out of his momentary reverie when he registered a hand beckoning him. It was Master's hand. Master was calling him forward. Gilbert obediently scurried to where his Master was now standing – behind the canvas.
Was... was Master Glen giving him permission to see his sure-to-be masterpiece?
'I've only just begun, but... What do you think of it so far, Gilbert?'
Yes. Yes, he was. And he wanted an opinion too.
Gilbert turned to stare at the canvas – and he instantly knew whose portrait it was going to be, even though progress was little. So far his Master had only started work on what looked like an exquisite green and gold coat as well as a bit of the background. Rather than making the background as bright and colourful as it originally was, it seemed that Glen had opted to go for a simple dull grey, like the outer walls of the tower, instead. This portrait was being painted from the bottom up. That meant it could take a while before the face was complete.
He focused on what he could for now. Gilbert noted that his Master's choice of colours was very accurate. The shade of green used for the garments seemed as if a section of that very coat had been cut out and pasted onto the canvas. Gilbert couldn't even imagine how painstaking it must've been to blend the right amount of colours together. Another thing he realised was that the dullness of the tower's inner grey walls served to enhance the vibrant green of the coat, and briefly wondered if that was another reason why his Master chose that colour.
'It's going to be brilliant, Master,' answered Gilbert a little breathlessly.
He knew it. He knew his Master's work would be amazing. This much Gilbert could tell from just the minor details.
'It happened earlier today, while you and Vincent had gone to play,' started Glen. 'The lighting from the window had just been perfect that time so I couldn't resist. The sight has been engraved in my mind but I still want to finish it as soon as possible while the memory is still fresh.'
Gilbert started at the sound of his Master's voice, but he nodded once before turning his attention back to the canvas. Did that mean that Master had seen it too then? That moment of magic?
It was rare for Glen to engage in long conversations, but it seemed that tonight was a night of change for Gilbert's Master who continued to speak, now in a melancholic tone.
'We had been talking about Lacie. At that moment we were recalling some of her antics, and at one in particular, Jack smiled. Truly smiled... Out of all the memories, all it took was a memory of my sister doing something silly and unimportant. Something seemingly insignificant as compared to everything else. But even something so miniscule could trigger an emotionally enormous response from Jack...'
Glen turned away, as if Gilbert's gaze was searing him. 'Did you know, Gilbert? The smiles that Jack usually wears are simply out of habit. They are never truly from the heart. But back when Lacie became a constant in his life, albeit for a brief period... The change is obvious, if you knew him well enough. Only in her presence would he display true smiles. Only in her presence would he smile from the heart... No, from the very soul.'
'Th-then... What about now?' Gilbert asked tentatively.
'Now...?' repeated Glen, as if in a daze. 'Now... Now, he never truly smiles. Ever since Lacie died, those smiles stopped altogether. But today... Today was the first time we had a proper conversation about her, and it happened. He truly smiled for the first time after her death. I almost couldn't believe it at first...'
The Head of the Baskervilles released a weary sigh, before turning back to the window. He reached a hand out and placed his palm flat against the cool glass and gazed at the moon with unfocused eyes, not really taking in its ethereal beauty. 'I felt... Honoured... Honoured for having such a rare, beautiful smile displayed in my presence alone even though it was the talk of Lacie that instigated it. For once, I felt that I was truly being given a chance to see the real Jack Vessalius...'
Perhaps Glen wanted to say more or perhaps that was all he had to say, but Gilbert would never know for his Master seemed to have gotten lost in thought after that. So, with a quiet 'thank you' for having shared such intimate secrets with him, Gilbert took his leave.
There was a long, abrupt period of silence after Gilbert ended his tale. He was completely unaware of the nostalgic expression that he was sporting, but if he ever saw it then he would've been quite appalled at himself. A wave of tiredness suddenly washed over him and Gilbert leaned his head back against the top of the chair's backrest while closing his eyes.
After leaving Glen's room, Gilbert recalled rushing back to Vincent and telling him about all he had seen. He kept from telling Vince about the details of their conversation, however. Gilbert felt that it was something he should keep between himself and Master Glen, though he wasn't really sure why.
A few days later, Jack had come to visit again. It had all been fine at first and the portrait was the very last thing on his mind at that time, but then Vincent decided that it would be a splendid idea to tell Jack about it as well as Glen's talent for painting, which was supposed to be a secret between them, right in front of their very Master. Gilbert had been absolutely terrified, thinking of all the horrible punishments he'd receive since he'd surely gotten in trouble with Master Glen, who had clearly been embarrassed after the words left Vincent's mouth.
Amazingly though, the punishment never came. After the information sunk in, Jack laughed in delight and began pleading Glen to show him the painting. During this time Gilbert was doing his best not to faint on the spot at the sight of his Master's annoyed expression. But then, surprisingly to all, Glen finally agreed to Jack's wishes and took them all to his private bedchambers, since not even Gilbert had seen the finished piece yet.
Glen's pace was relaxed as he led everyone down the long hallway that led to his room. To a passer-by, it would've been a surprising sight; the Great Head of the Baskervilles leading two child-servants and a lesser noble, who all trailed after the man in single-file, to his private quarters. No one was allowed to enter Master Glen's quarters, not even his closest followers, unless he had summoned them. The only exception was his personal valets Gilbert and Vincent, but even then, they were rarely granted entrance apart from the times when their Master needed to be served.
But look at him now. He was leading a man that most people wouldn't even acknowledge a noble to the very place where his most trusted people couldn't enter. What's more, that man was his friend. His closest friend. His only friend. It led Gilbert to think how much Glen must've changed ever since Jack entered his life.
They finally arrived outside the grand double-doors, behind which lay Glen's room. Gilbert glanced first at Vincent, then at Jack. Vince looked calm but he noticed that Jack seemed a bit nervous. After a moment or two it struck him that it was Jack's first time venturing this far into the castle, and he was even going to enter one of its most sacred locations. Of course he'd be nervous.
Glen inserted the key into the little hole, unlocked the doors and swung them open. He entered first, motioning for the others to follow with his hand. Gilbert entered after his Master, followed by Vincent and lastly Jack. Jack slowed down nearly to a halt as his eyes travelled all over the place, taking in the neat bed, the tall armoire, his friend's piano and the unusually messy desk by the window. Finally, his eyes stopped near the window where an easel stood. A simple white sheet was draped over it, hiding the painting beneath.
While Jack and the two brothers huddled behind him, Glen approached the easel and took hold of the cloth. He did nothing else after while, probably because of hesitation. Seeing this, Jack placed a hand on his best friend's shoulder and offered him an encouraging smile. Glen regarded Jack for a while before turning back to the easel. Then, with a deep breath, he pulled the cloth off.
Jack's smile left him as the group beheld the portrait before them.
Gilbert was almost afraid of seeing the face first, and so he began observing the painting from the bottom up like he did that day. The Jack in the portrait had his hands in his lap, one on top of the other. His posture was tall and upright, but there was nothing stiff about it at all. It was evident that every little detail was paid attention to, for even the detail of Jack's earrings and cuffs, the texture of his coat and the ruffles of his blouse were all present. At that moment, Gilbert sneaked a glance at Jack's direction and was awe-struck at how sharp his Master's memory was.
Since the window was to Jack's left at that time, the portrait Jack's left side was mostly shadowed. The transition between the lighter and darker shades of each colour was so smooth that it seemed as though there were actual shadows falling on the Jack in the portrait rather than just painted ones.
Jack's beautiful, golden locks seemed just as rich and silky as it did in real life and the braid looked so soft – both in colour and texture – that Gilbert was almost tempted to reach out and touch it, before he remembered that it was just a painting.
All that was left to see was what Gilbert was most anxious to see.
The face. The expression. The smile.
Had his Master truly been able to see the magic of that smile? Would he have been able to portray it?
Gilbert silently took a deep breath, and looked.
Jack's skin was as smooth and the complexion just as healthy as it always was. Contrasted against the grey of the background, Jack's face almost had a fresh, soft glow even. His eyes were not looking to the side in embarrassment or pain like one normally would when remembering their passed loved ones. Instead he gazed dead ahead, as if those memories brought him confidence. Jack's eyes were slightly lidded which would have given him a sort of dream-like aura when stared it had not Gilbert received a start from his irises.
The emerald orbs were not clouded with the dark hues of melancholy or nostalgia, nor did they appear as usual; two pools of tranquil bluish-green. No. Jack's eyes were devoid of any negative emotion. They were crystal clear and vibrant and just screamed of a sureness and confidence that could only be portrayed by such a vivid shade of green.
And finally, the mouth. When Jack usually smiled, it was open and obvious. Sometimes his lips would part to show rows of perfect white teeth, other times his eyes would be heavily lidded and his mouth, closed but wide. But when Jack smiled from the heart, it was different. The curve of Jack's smile would be minor with only the slightest of upward tilts at the sides.
But it was a content smile.
A simple one that showed that the greatly adored Jack was just a normal person like everyone else, that he too found happiness in the simplest of things. Jack may have been amazing even at that time, but he was still only human.
Little Gilbert had closed his eyes, and a warm wave of excitement spread through him that brought a smile to his own lips.
Complex. Jack was surprisingly complex. So much could be said about the man, and yet not all could find the words to describe him. It made Gilbert's head spin just thinking about it, but Glen... Glen had understood. Glen was able to take the complexity known as Jack Vessalius and portrayed it in what appeared to be a very simple painting at first, but there was actually more to it than what met the eye.
Glen was portraying that complexity exactly as it was.
And then, Gilbert suddenly remembered the other occupants of the room. He opened his eyes again and glanced towards Vincent, who made no effort to conceal his awe. Then he directed his gaze towards Glen who, as suspected, had his eyes trained on Jack. Finally, Gilbert looked towards Jack as well.
Jack, like Vincent, was slack-jawed. Gilbert could see the man's eyes slowly wander over the portrait as they slowly took in each and every detail, and for a moment there was even a hint of... sadness, in them? But then the moment was gone and Gilbert was unable to read Jack's eyes at all. All of a sudden, Jack's gaze landed on Glen, who stared back at Jack with his usual impassive expression. Jack on the other hand smiled almost automatically, before unexpectedly pulling Glen into a tight hug while repeatedly praising the man for his amazing talent.
Gilbert and Vincent had gaped at the unbelievable sight before them. Glen, their ever-stoic Master that was known for keeping his distance with people, their Master that was rarely ever seen sharing any form of physical contact with anyone no matter how minor, did absolutely nothing as Jack embraced him. In fact, Gilbert could've sworn that Glen's stoic demeanour even cracked for a while since the man looked noticeably flustered, there in Jack's arms. After a while though, Glen returned to his normal self and began prying Jack off him while berating the man for being irritatingly clingy, at which Jack simply laughed.
After that, Glen had slowly begun opening up to everyone, particularly Jack, in regard to his paintings. He would allow Jack to watch him paint, and there even times where Glen accepted Jack's offer to pose for him. During the period of their friendship, Glen had painted quite a number of portraits of Jack and unbeknown to Gilbert, if it weren't for Glen then most people of recent times wouldn't even know what the 'Hero' of the Tragedy of Sablier looked like. There weren't many portraits made by the Vessalius artists to begin with, and the few that were painted were all lost when the city was dragged into the Abyss. After the tragedy, artists from all over the country yearned for a chance to paint the Great Hero but he never allowed it. The reason, which Jack never disclosed to anyone, was simply because it would be too strong of a reminder of the days he spent posing for Glen.
He didn't want to remember those days. It was too painful.
After Jack's death, his successors soon found a shocking treasure trove of paintings, amongst which there were many portraits of Jack. To them the existence of those portraits was a great mystery, especially since there was no artist's signature. How could there be portraits when Jack never allowed them? Thoroughly spooked, the portraits were locked away until many, many years later. Those who knew about Jack's refusal to be painted soon died out, so there was no one left to raise the issue of the mysterious portraits. Eventually Jack's descendants discovered the stash one day and instantly knew it was their ancestor, because many truths and facts about the day may have died out through time but the glorious description of Jack Vessalius was the one thing that lived on. And so, the portraits were proudly displayed from then on and some were even donated to the organisation of Pandora, which was how Glen's very first portrait of Jack made it to their conference room's wall.
Of course, those mysterious portraits belonged to none-other than Glen. The man had put honest effort and heart into all his paintings, particularly in the portraits of Jack. He had gifted most of them to his best friend while keeping only a few with himself. Which was why, even though he knew they were now enemies, he had instructed for all his best works including those portraits along with several other important documents and items to be moved to one of the many Baskerville hideouts scattered across the country before giving out the orders to kill everyone within the castle that fateful day.
Because no matter how much he tried, he couldn't bring himself to destroy them.
He also didn't know that the radius of the crater-to-be would be much larger than anticipated, and that the hideout he chose was not far away enough from the original headquarters.
When things had settled down long after the Tragedy, Jack had one day visited the crater that was once known as Sablier city. He knew that he was risking his life approaching the place where it had all begun and ended, but strangely it calmed him, going back there when the stress of being a hero became too much.
There really was something very wrong with him if that cradle of death brought him peace, he was sure of it.
The crater was much larger than one would imagine it since Sablier city had been the capital city. It was massive even. And as though that wasn't bad enough, the remaining areas of the city around the crater had been severely affected as well. Buildings were in ruins, the earth was barren and the place was just as deserted, making it as lonely as the grave for the few unfortunate souls that did still reside there, plagued by illness and grief.
It was in one of these ruins where Jack happened to stumble upon them, the paintings made by Glen.
They were tightly wrapped in a large piece of stained, white cloth that had been torn into shreds by debris, and the only thing holding the material together was a piece of sturdy rope tied in a cross that had snapped from one side. The bundle itself was trapped beneath a large, wooden banister.
Had it been anyone else, they would have paid no mind to the elaborately carved frame poking through the material. Had it been anyone else, they would have walked by without a second glance. But not Jack.
Because it was too coincidental.
He wasted no time in heaving the banister off the pile and ripping the rest of the material off. All the paintings had their backs facing towards him and the one on top had unfortunately been crushed by the impact of the banister, thus causing the broken frame's sharp edges to tear through the canvas. But from the looks of it, the rest were fine.
With shaking hands, he had turned over each frame one by one.
And with each familiar painting, his eyes gleamed more with unshed tears.
Thankful for his long, beige hooded-robe, Jack removed all paintings from their frames, carefully rolled up the canvasses and hid them below the folds of his disguise before making haste to his mansion...
Upon re-emerging from his thoughts, Gilbert opened his eyes and gazed at the ceiling, unseeing.
"Oz... I think... Only after sharing all this with you do I now realise something."
"I don't really know what I'm saying... or what the point in saying this is... but..."
"...What is it, Gil?" asked Oz, sounding small and distant.
"Oswald... He really..." Gilbert took a deep breath, using the pause to think through his next sentence. "...He really admired Jack. Cherished him, even..."
'Admired'? 'Cherished'? Really, such inaccurate synonyms... But he just couldn't seem to get the proper word out no matter how hard he tried.
At first Gilbert had always thought nothing of Glen's lingering gazes or restrained physical contact towards Jack, but in the passage of time he realised that the reason behind such acts was something far deeper than just simple admiration. No, it was probably...
And Glen himself had admitted it... When he said that 'even something so miniscule could trigger an emotionally enormous response from Jack', there had been a hidden meaning behind those words.
Would I be able to rouse his true emotions the way she did?
It was awfully ironic, thought Gilbert, how he was only able to realise all this after being in his old Master's shoes. The way that Jack smiled fondly at the memory of Lacie that time... It was just like how Oz would smile upon one of her antics. It wasn't long before Gilbert first noticed it and when he finally did, Glen's words hit him. Only, at that time those words didn't come in the form of a memory. They were picked up from the suppressed memories in his subconscious mind and manifested as his own thoughts and feelings by the conscious one.
Even something so miniscule can trigger an emotionally enormous response from Oz...
Will I ever be able to rouse his true emotions the way she does...?
"...Regardless of whether I can or can't, I will always be by your side, Oz. So please... Give me strength and continue to keep faith in our 'forever'..."
Gilbert's recollections and inner thoughts silenced him for much longer than he originally intended, but eventually the notion that he and Oz should start moving finally came to him. So, with a sigh, he got up.
"Let's go, Oz."
But Oz did not move. He remained standing where he was, gazing up at the portrait of Jack Vessalius. Gilbert noticed this and moved to the boy's left before gently touching his shoulder, after which Oz slowly hung his head.
Then he saw it. Oz's hair had fallen over his eyes, but it failed to hide the rivulet of tears streaming down his pale face. Gilbert instantly panicked and gently shook Oz's shoulder. His body moved effortlessly at the force, as though all the strength had completely left him.
"Oz? What's wrong?! Why are you crying?"
For a moment he didn't say anything, but then Oz tilted his head back to look at Gilbert with a small smile on his face.
And at that point, Gilbert could have sworn he was staring at the portrait of Jack's face rather than Oz's face, had it not been for the tears to mark the distinction.
"I don't know, Gilbert. I don't know."
Whether or not it's really Oz who's crying at the end is something I'll leave up to you guys to decide...