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Gone too soon

Chapter Text

Hey there now,
Where’d you go?

Prologue

Dear xxx,

Rain.
Just like fourteen years ago.
It wasn’t a full-on thunderstorm – actually it were just a few raindrops, dropping onto the now slightly wet pavement, making the leaves of the trees rustle just a bit.
It was nothing compared to the storm that had been going on when he had stabbed his best friend and helped said friend’s father to cast him into Abyss-
“Gilbert!”
He knew that it had been Doldy who had controlled him, but he had never really forgiven himself for it. Without him, this disaster wouldn’t have happened. Nothing would have gone according to Jack’s plan since Oz wouldn’t have met Alice and signed that contract with her.
Those thoughts were stupid, and he knew it himself. After all, they had met new people and made new friends, but Oz, the most important person he had ever met, was lost.
“Gilbert, come on, you’re spacing out again. We’re almost arriving anyways! Aren’t you excited at all to see Reim and Sharon and Lily? I’ve really missed them. And now that they’re married, they have enough political stuff to handle and… god I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with normal human stuff.”
Gilbert just looked at Lottie, not really knowing how to respond.
He couldn’t really be honest to her and admit that he, indeed, wasn’t too keen on visiting them.
Of course, he liked Reim and Sharon. They had gone through a lot together and were one of the few survivors of the failed repetition of the tragedy of Sablier, but he also had started to hate seeing… happy people.
Sharon and Reim probably weren’t the best example for happy people; both of them hadn’t gotten over Break yet and Gilbert was well aware of that fact which was probably overshadowing the otherwise happy parts of their relationship and new-found family with Lily.
“Yeah, I just… got distracted. Sorry.”
“That, my dear Gilbert, I noticed”, Lottie laughed and shouldered her bag.
The carriage came to a halt.
Everything in Gilbert’s body screamed to just stay in this very carriage and ask the coachman to drive him right back to the Nightray manor, but he forced himself to stand up and follow Lottie through the rather big garden of the Rainsworth manor.
The silence between the two of them was awkward, but Gilbert didn’t know how to break it.
He had known Lottie for more than half of his life time. Surely, they hadn’t really interacted before the tragedy of Sablier had happened, but they had worked together with Doug and Glen for four whole years by now and really, this silence shouldn’t be there.
Or at least it shouldn’t be that awkward.
“Lottie!”
Gilbert immediately recognized the voice of the girl running towards them.
She had grown a lot taller – back then she had barely reached Sharon’s shoulders; now she was already a few centimeters taller than her. On top of that, she had grown out of all her dresses once again.
Lily jumped at Lottie who had quite a problem to not fall to the ground.
Gilbert had the strong feeling that Lily hadn’t quite gotten used to her height even though she was growing like any normal human would – for now that was.
He still had to smile at the two of them being so happy to see each other, just to curse it in the next moment once again.
It wasn’t as if he was particularly angry at them; the anger was more or less directed at himself, for feeling bad that others were happy, simply because he was jealous.
That had always been one of his weaknesses. Four years ago, he had been jealous of Alice like that. He didn’t even remember how often he had complained to Break about how angry he was that she was ‘stealing his master’ and now this jealousy had spread to… everyone around him.
“Lily, you’ve grown again, haven’t you?”, Lottie raised the bag in her hand and grinned, “I hope the dresses fit.”
Part of Gilbert was happy for Lily getting new dresses because she always loved them, another part of him was really concerned about her getting too spoilt by Sharon and Lottie at once.
“Oooh, you’ve brought dresses? That’s great! Anyways, come in, Sharon and Reim have prepared dinner already! And I bet Sharon will get angry again if you’re or… especially if I’m late. Oh, hi Gilbert! Haven’t noticed you, sorry!”
The girl jumped over to him and shook his hand.
Maybe it had been good to go with Lottie after all. Sure, seeing all those happy people didn’t cheer him up, but maybe, just a little bit… it did after all.
“It’s ok. Now let’s get in before Sharon really gets angry. I still recall… the treatment of Break after not treating her like he was supposed to be.”
Lottie raised her eyebrow, obviously not knowing what Gilbert was talking about, but Lily started to grin.
“Oh yeah. Her harisen. She’s put it down by now, though. I’m very glad about that.”

Gilbert hadn’t even tried to count how many glasses of wine Reim and Lottie had drunk by now.
He himself had refrained from doing so, since he knew exactly what would happen if he did and he wasn’t up to being the talk of the Baskervilles for at least a week again – in the last four years, this had occurred often enough.
“Oh, god Reim”, Lottie suddenly started, her cheeks slightly red.
Her voice was still clear and so were her gestures, but she was definitely laughing more and talking with less inhibitions; the topics Lottie chose when drunk weren’t always the best, though.
“Hm?”, he said, definitely the most sober one of them all – together with Gibert and Lily.
“I still remember when I first really talked with you. That must have been… shortly before we travelled back in time, right?”
Gilbert silently acknowledged that Lottie didn’t mention how Break had died then.
Some topics didn’t need to be talked about every single day.
Especially not death. Gilbert knew for a fact that everyone was still holding Break and all the other victims of Jack Vessalius’ tragedy in best memory.
“Ah… no, I think it was still right in Sablier when I told you to stop fighting us. What about it?”
“You already were so in love with Sharon back then! It was so cute! And you must have totally impressed her by that speech you gave! Although you did look a little bit pathetic, standing in front of us without a chain.”
Gilbert didn’t really know whether he should laugh at the image of a trembling Reim standing in front of three Baskervilles who had Chains for fighting, or whether he should wonder, once again, how he had not noticed people being in love.
He decided for the latter one.
“Reim already… was in love with her back then? Wait, wait, was that really the case or are you fooling me again?”
Lottie turned around to him very slowly, as if to emphasize how aghast she was.
Gilbert and Lottie had had many conversations concerning the topic of love and how oblivious Gilbert was to it; most of the time they had spoken about Ada and Vincent.
“Why exactly do you still think I’d lie to you?”
Gilbert didn’t notice the tone of Lottie’s voice, that slight edge that sounded truly… as if she was in pain.
“Uhm… no, it’s like… I’m more shocked at myself, kind of…”
“Reim proposed to me when I was a kid, Gilbert. It was obvious to anyone, but to you”, Sharon interrupted, and Gilbert was glad about it, even breathed out audibly that this awkward tension between him and Lottie was gone just because of that woman.
He had to admit it – Sharon was simply a very observant person and that had already helped him lots of times, hurt him lots of times.
“Oh”, he breathed out, “uhm… I guess I… should pay a little more attention to my surroundings, I mean-“
Lottie moaned out, burying her face in her hands, then grabbing the glass of wine and downing it in one go.
“Lottie-“
“Yes, Gilbert, you should definitely pay a tiny bit more attention to the people around you. But you are forgiven. That’s just who you are, I guess”, she snickered and stood up, “sorry Lily, I’m tired, I’m going home for now. If Gilbert does get drunk in the end… don’t send for me. Keep him. I’m not in the mood for him screaming at my poor plant again.”
“Hey, that was not… intentional!”, Gilbert complained and heard Lily and Reim start to laugh behind him, “I was just… the plant uhm… said bad things!”
Reim’s quiet laughter suddenly turned into full-on, loud, wholehearted laughter.
“Gilbert…”, he started, but his sentence was a bit broken by chuckles, “I’m really glad that you are one of the few people who still really stayed who they are. Thank you… for this.”

It was shortly before midnight when Gilbert finally decided to go home.
At first, he had thought about going home with Lottie, but Sharon, Reim and Lily had made him stay since he hadn’t visited in some time – to be exact, the last time he had seen them was at their marriage, and there had been so many people that they hadn’t spoken too much.
As soon as he slumped onto the seat of the carriage, he noticed how heavy the rain had actually become by now.
Just like it had been at the coming-of-age ceremony.
It was splattering against the streets and the carriage by now, resounding in his ears caused by the sheer noise of it, the wind had become strong enough to rip the leaves off the trees now, truly making the new fall begin now.
A fourth fall without Oz and Alice.
Ninety-six falls without them, still.
Gilbert shifted in the seat, close enough to look out of the window.
It really felt just like fourteen years ago.
This time, however, there were no strings making him hurt his best friend, no curse inflicted on his left arm anymore.
A slight smile came onto his face at the memory of Oz repeating the word idiot over and over again just because he had decided to burn off his arm, an egoistic act so that his own heart wouldn’t be hurt another time; so that the person the most precious to him wouldn’t make him feel this pain again.
Maybe it hadn’t been that egoistic after all; he hadn’t decided on an answer for that one yet.
The carriage passed more houses, more alleyways that Gilbert had most probably strolled along before, when he had tried to forget how long he would still have to wait, when he had gotten lost because he had thought that Oz or Alice had been there, walking, shouting for him to follow; he couldn’t be more than absolutely glad that those illusions had stopped after just some months.
They reached a crossroad and had to stop because of another carriage coming from the left.
And there was something that caught Gilbert’s attention.
A bundle of clothes and hair, cowering just in one of those sketchy alleys that he himself had always lived in as a child, with his brother, when they were still being beaten up simply for Vincent having a red eye-
“Don’t drive any further!”, he yelled, hoping that the driver would be able to hear him.
He didn’t know just why he had done that.
Why had he said this?
Why did part of him think this was a good idea at all?
He grabbed his jacket and left the carriage, his right hand trembling, breathing going harder than normal.
This would end in a disaster.
“Mister, what is wrong?”
He flinched at how similar the figure looked to Vincent, the skinny legs sticking out of the dirty clothes, the hair dirtied by the dust on the paving, wet because of the rain.
Maybe those were instincts from his early childhood, screaming at him to protect this child simply because he had always done the same before.
But maybe, maybe it was this… part inside of him wanting to be needed.
“There’s a child on the street.”
“It is probably just a beggar. No need to be concerned like this.”
And at the coachman’s words, the condescending ‘it’, he snapped; it was like a string had been cut with a pair of scissors that truly brought him back to reality.
“I don’t care. You may leave. I’m taking care of the child, no matter whether they’re a beggar or not. It doesn’t matter. People… like you… don’t know how it is to live on the streets and be cold and hungry and alone.”
But he knew.
He knew how hard it was, knew what could and someday inevitably would happen to the child, knew how it felt to be beaten up and used like some kind of doll for purposes that were simply disgusting and made him want to vomit.
After reluctantly giving the coachmen money, Gilbert walked into the dark, rainy alleyway.

Chapter Text

You left me here
So unexpected

Chapter 1

It's been a few years.

As soon as he arrived at the small, way too skinny kid, he knelt down onto the wet floor.

The rain was quickly soaking the clothes covering his back and his knees, as well as his hair, but he just didn’t care about it one single bit in that moment.
He brought his hand to his mouth to pull off the glove as quickly as possible so that he could properly feel her pulse.
He had only been able to judge her gender by the long, dark brown hair covering her face in sticky strands, thinned out by the water, clutching onto the skin.

He brought his index and middle finger to the point between throat and neck, only to be left with devastating thoughts of how she could already be dead or even worse, die right in his arms when he was just about to save her.
It only took a few seconds for those thoughts to vanish when he felt her slow, but steady pulse beneath the skin.
Good.

She was alive. So far, this was enough for him. She was alive; everything that counted.

For a moment he wondered whether Jack had asked himself the same thing when finding them, just to remember that this man had been too broken to judge his own feelings – not that he was any different, really.
Those days, it had become hard to tell apart whether he felt sad or angry, whether he felt jealous or was happy just for once.
Oz would probably slap him for those thoughts and he was well aware of it. He would come over, give him one soft slap against the cheek and tell him that he would always be able to catch him just when Gilbert needed it.

It wasn’t the case.
Oz was gone.
It was time he learned to pull himself out of this pit.

He put the jacket which he had previously laid down onto his legs to her body and wrapped her up in it as best as he could, then he took the two sleeves and knotted them together.

Knotting things with one hand was something Lottie had taught him just a few weeks after living in one house with him. He had desperately tried to make a knot and a ribbon out of string, around Leo’s birthday present, but it had ended with him almost kicking the plant next to him.
He had felt terribly useless and stupid for not being able to do such a simple thing.
Lottie had heard the angered scream and had entered his room, just to laugh at how worked up he was getting over a simple thing like this, after which she explained how to do it.
Gilbert had asked why she was able to do it, until he noticed himself that Lottie wore wristbands made by Lily or Doug all the time and she obviously had to knot them together.
He had felt even more stupid and useless afterwards because of how angry he had gotten.

“Good”, he sighed out loud, “and how am I supposed to carry you with one arm, exactly?”

Lottie wasn’t here.
That was something he had to figure out himself now.

He heaved her onto her legs first, to get a better grip on her; somehow he was afraid that he would drop her somewhere along the way and hurt her just like he had hurt Vincent and Oz without intending to do so-

This was definitely not the time to get caught up in thoughts like those. He had to save a human being.
It took quite a while until he was properly holding her, thin arms dangling next to his own arm, head lulling back and forth on his shoulder.
It was the best he was able to do for now.
Gilbert stood up, his legs shaking.
He only realized now how exhausted all of this was making him – and this wasn’t physical exhaustion, it was exhaustion caused by worrying over some stranger kid in a dark alley in Réveille and about how she might die.

He wouldn’t be able to deal with someone else dying on him – first it had been Oswald, then Alice and Oz and he couldn’t get around to not blame himself for Elliot’s death, too.

Sometimes, at night or in the early morning when he himself wasn’t feeling good and went to the kitchen to cook or bake or make breakfast, he stopped by Leo’s room just to listen to the quietly sobbed name, reassuring him that he wasn’t the only one suffering.

None of this mattered now, he kept telling himself, there’s someone who you can help now.

The walk to the Nightray mansion seemed way longer than it normally did when he was shopping in the city, but he was more than willing to take it.
He didn’t know her name or her age or her origin, but he did know how devastating it was to see the world from below, sitting on cold paving stones, hoping that people would leave a coin or two out of pity, hoping that someone would come and either kill or save you instead of making you suffer even more.

She wasn’t moving, nor was she waking up, even though he was sure that being carried in one arm was not the most stable position to be in and it worried him.
Her pulse had been there.
But what if it was going to fade out?

Gritting his teeth, he walked faster, not quite running, but definitely being close to it.
What she needed now was a warm bed and a warm house with a roof and, as soon as she woke up, warm food.

“Listen”, he whispered, hoping that nobody else was in the streets, thinking that he was talking to himself, “you’re someone who won’t die on me, ok? You just have to stay strong for now. We’ll be home soon, I promise. I’ll wrap you up in some blankets and you will sleep and then you will wake up and be fine, except for a cold, maybe.”

He felt stupid, so incredibly stupid for only thinking that a person wouldn’t suffer by being with him for once, felt so unbelievably stupid just because he was worried.
The cold pavement stones were changing to the way smaller pebbles which were scattered all along the way to the mansion.
He had walked this way often enough since being taken in by the Nightrays – if someone blindfolded him, he could still do it.

Never before had he been more glad than in this moment that he had proposed to take the Nightray manor as the head quarters for the Baskervilles since it belonged to him and Vincent anyways; Leo had agreed, since they could not possibly operate in Sablier after everything that had happened in this city.
In Réveille, they hadn’t lost anyone.
In Sablier, they had lost Break and Oz and Alice, Oswald and Lacie, in Sablier, Leo had formed the contract with Humpty Dumpty in Elliot’s place to let him live for a few more months.
Nobody of them would have been able to live in a city that had taken the life of so many people, but in the Nightray manor, only Elliot’s brothers had died.
Gilbert did feel guilty about those feelings of his, but he couldn’t care less about Fred and Ernest. They had never accepted Vincent or himself, nor had they accepted Elliot’s wish to have Leo – a friend – as his valet.

“We’re there soon, ok? You can have my bed. I don’t think I’m going to sleep tonight anyways. And if I do, I still have the sofa. But I really doubt it. I’ll… be way too worried for that.”
Gilbert wasn’t one to easily admit feelings like those (and really, later on, he probably wouldn't anymore) if it wasn’t to someone he trusted like Oz, or someone who needed to hear it at their worst, like Vincent.

Vincent.

Gilbert could only guess where that idiot was now. He had said that he was going to visit Rufus Barma’s country and travel around for a bit, do sightseeing, maybe even look for a job for some time.
It had already been one year since he had left and Gilbert had to tell Ada that he was dead.
God, she had not believed him and he was aware of that. Ada, however, had just cried a little and smiled, as if it was ok.
A part of Gilbert had always admired her for becoming such a strong woman. And he couldn’t deny that he did have a thing for her in the past, but that was long ago. Oz had always teased him about it.

The pebbles below his shoes were making crunching sounds, reminding him of what really was important now.

“Maybe we can find your parents in the morning”, he added, finally seeing the Nightray manor more clearly now, despite the darkness and the rain and the bit of fog which was starting to linger between the trees and houses now.

Really, he was wondering what Vincent was doing right now. Was he out partying? With girls? Was he thinking of Ada and what she had done for him? Was he thinking of Elliot?

“You remind me way too much of my brother to leave you in those streets, kid.”

Suddenly, he thought that her hand that was hitting his arm from time to time gripped it for a short moment, but that was probably also one of his hallucinations.

He was more than glad when he arrived at the door. He set the kid down onto the dry, but cool stone floor.
Otherwise, he wouldn’t really be able to open the door anyways.
The others were sleeping, Gilbert reminded himself, he probably shouldn’t wake them up at this time, so he should probably try to be quiet.

“Good. Here we are.”

He picked her up again, now looking a little closer at her. Her mouth was opened a bit, her chest was still rising and falling, proving that she was alive and hadn’t died.

Had he saved someone?
Had Gilbert really saved someone?

As soon as he walked through the door, he noticed how actually cold it had been outside. His hand started hurting because of the warmth that was now seeping through his skin and his clothes.

God, how long had she been in the cold?

He closed the door mainly with his elbow, then made his way up the stairs to his room.
It was still the same room he was in.
The same room Elliot had always come into, after making the contract with Raven, after complaining about his brothers because they wouldn’t accept his decision to have Leo as his valet.
Just the memory of it broke Gilbert a little bit more.

Seeing Oz and Alice again was simply a utopic thought. He wouldn’t even like to think about seeing Elliot ever again, with the thought in mind that, when he did, Leo’s conscience would long be buried within the one of another Glen.
Leo and Elliot had probably been as fond of each other as he and Oz and Alice had been.
That was visible even to him.

“It’s warmer here, isn’t it? You’ll be ok, really. Don’t worry. I’ll put you into warm clothes and a warm bed in just a few minutes.”

Just when he reached his room, he felt her move, just a little bit for real now, her head bumping into his shoulder.

“Where…”, she breathed out, a whisper of a weak voice that had experienced far too much for her age.

Even her voice sounded like Vincent.

“Somewhere safe. Don’t worry. It’s going to be fine. You need to rest now.”

Her head had already sunk onto his arm again, lulling back and forth just like before.

“Yes”, he repeated, a smile almost touching his lips, “you really need to rest.”

Lottie was in the room Leo had originally lived in, which was right next to his. For a moment, he reflected whether it would make sense to wake her up and get her to help, since she still had two arms and was a woman, but he immediately forgot about the idea. She was probably already asleep. There was no way he could just go and knock on her door like a little kid after a nightmare.
He would be able to take care of her for this night. He could still ask Lottie for it in the morning.

It took Gilbert quite a few moments to decide where he was supposed to set her down, because her clothes were wet and the bed was supposed to be dry.
The sofa. Only he would maybe sleep on that one, so it was probably the best decision.
Dry clothes. His shirts would be way too big for her tiny body, but they would still be better than nothing – if he had only listened to Lottie for once about where she had stored Lily’s old clothes. It would really be useful now.

He opened his wardrobe and sighed. There were way too many clothes he didn’t even wear. He flipped through the different shirts and pants in the hope to find something usable and in the mess that was the right side of his wardrobe where he stored things that he really, really wouldn’t wear anymore, he found… Alice’s shirt.

He frowned.

Alice had not even been in this room, so how had her shirt made it all the way here? Someday, while doing the laundry, it had probably been caught in another shirt or a pair of pants or he just hadn’t paid any attention to it at all.
Really, even after her not being here anymore, she was still everywhere possible.

“Better than nothing, stupid rabbit”, he murmured, not being able to stop the tiny smile on his face from happening now.

She had been stupid, but she had not been a rabbit.

He walked back to the sofa she was lying on and changed her shirt with Alice’s shirt, then got a towel to dry her hair a bit at least.

Drying hair was also something one would think was not going to be much harder with only one hand. Gilbert had found out how terribly long it did take though.
And her hair was much longer than his.

“Good that I don’t have a child”, he muttered to himself.

He wished that his parents would have thought the same and just stayed without children.
He had just been kicked out with Vincent because of his brother’s red eyes at a way too young age to be kicked around like this girl too, probably.

Gilbert began rubbing her head with the towel in the desperate hope to just get it dry in some minutes so that he would be able to put her into the bed so that she could properly rest and sleep.
He wasn’t even sure if she was sleeping or faded out by hunger, thirst or the cold and it made him somewhat angry at this stupid world that thought it could beat up children just how it wanted.

What did the Jurys even think of that story? Why did they let it continue in the end? Yes, Oswald had made it interesting to them again.
Oz and Leo surely had, too.
But why did they need to let a girl like her suffer?

The colour of her hair got lighter and lighter when he rubbed the towel against it more thoroughly. He would have guessed that it was almost black at first, but it was a dark brown, almost looking like coffee beans.

It was unfair, he eventually decided, the Jurys looking onto this world were unfair to not let anyone be truly happy without waking up because of nightmares every night, dreams about the past that haunted them, dreams about being hit and used and spit at.

Maybe there was another reason why she had been lying on the street. Maybe she had run away from home on her own like Lacie had, because of an argument with her parents or something.
If that was the case, he would try to find them with her and maybe talk to them.

Stupid.

What was he supposed to talk about to parents? What did he even know about parenting? Nothing. He hadn’t had good parents, neither was he a father himself.

No.

He would just say that he had found her and wanted to bring her back for obvious reasons.
That would do.

“Good, your hair is at least a little drier now. Let’s get you into bed and then find someone from your family tomorrow. I’m tired myself, I really need some sleep too.”

Gilbert pulled back the blanket, then got the girl and slowly put her down onto the mattress. Her cheeks were slightly pink now, which definitely was a good sign. With her hair not clinging to her anymore and a dry shirt, she also didn’t look that terribly fragile anymore. Still too skinny, but not as if she would break apart by being touched.

That would do for now.

Gilbert himself then sat down onto the sofa.
He was tired, but he did not sleep this night.
In theory, he knew that it was because he was worried; but he wouldn’t admit it for now.

Chapter Text

You changed my life
I hope you know. Cause now I'm lost, so unprotected.

Chapter 2

I hope you can read this letter if I put it onto your grave.

At first, Gilbert didn’t really hear the knock on his door; his thoughts about whether he should put a carrot into the soup or not were simply more important right now.
Of course, his room shouldn’t have had a herd. It hadn’t been planned to have one. But everyone of them had known how Gilbert always used to cook or to bake when upset, so they made this change in the house over which Gilbert was still more than glad about.

When it became a lot louder and a lot angrier though, he did answer.

“Yes?”, he said, pouring some noodles into the water. He personally hadn’t ever gotten why people only ate soup broth. It didn’t satisfy his hunger at all. Yes, it may taste good, but it wasn’t what he would call stilling hunger.

The person who entered was a very annoyed Leo, only sporadically having put on his clothes. His tie was crooked like it had used to be when Elliot had still been alive – before he had become Glen.

Gilbert had always considered Leo to be some kind of… brother to him, just like Elliot had been. Of course, he was technically his master, but he had burned the vow to the Baskervilles along with his arm, so really, he still considered Leo a younger brother.
Leo, however, would probably start screaming and kicking him if Gilbert ever were to say those thoughts out loud.

Really though, Leo did have some kind of a growth spurt as soon as he hit the age of seventeen, which was merely half a year after all the events. Leo had always been about the same height as Lottie, Gilbert remembered, but now he was definitely a little bit taller than Elliot had been – part of him wanted to know how Elliot would have reacted to the fact of his servant growing taller than him
His voice had also gone deep; not nearly as deep as Gilbert’s or Reim’s, but still deeper.

“Leo?”

Leo yawned, covering his hand with a mouth.

“I woke up to the smell of goddamn soup coming from your room at seven in the morning, Gilbert. And that is because your window is opened and my window was opened, too. So now my room is the Antarctic and on top of that, smells like vegetable broth. Thank you for this one. I know, I know, cooking is your coping mechanism. But at this time I’d like you to take the kitchen downstairs just so… my room doesn’t smell like this first of in the morning!”

Leo’s gaze started wandering around the room only now and Gilbert noticed only now that the girl was still in his bed and part of him feared what Leo would think.

“Gilbert.”

His voice was quiet. Kind of… threatening. Which actually worked with his voice by now and with his height also. Really, he was almost reaching Gilbert’s eyes.

“Do you have any explanation for this… that makes sense or should I just assume that this was one of your strange whims you sometimes have? I’ll not question you any further if that’s the case. Just make sure she gets home.”

Gilbert almost dropped the spoon into the soup with which he was stirring it. He grabbed it in the last moment, burning his hand a little with the hot steam slowly filling his room.

“What do you mean by ‘whim’?”, he asked eventually, after catching his breath.

He had never been good at social interaction. Especially not when being under a judging gaze like this one.

“I don’t know. You already brought a flea-pelted cat with you one day. A cat on top of that! Weren’t you the one with that terrible phobia of cats?”

Gilbert only dimly remembered this dark, dark day of his life.
It must have about one year ago when he had gotten drunk to the point of being hangover for three whole days after.
He had probably thought that this cat had been a dog, even though it had clearly started scratching him up which a dog wasn’t really able to do since their claws naturally weren’t as sharp as a cat’s.
A thing he did remember was him telling Leo ‘hehe, I wanted to save it, master’ and the ultimately disgusted gaze he received in return.

He felt himself shivering.

“Yes, but I promise you that I didn’t drink anything yesterday. Listen. Lottie – what are you grinning like this – so, Lottie went home earlier because of headache or something.”

“I’m sure you were the one to give her that headache”, Leo sighed, closing the door as quietly as he could, then leaning against it.

“Huh?”

“Ah, forget it. Just go on. Your explanation better be good, man.”

Gilbert noticed once again that Leo did indeed talk like a normal guy at the age of twenty would – rebellious against everyone and everything.
Not that he himself had been any different those eight years ago.

“Ok, whatever. So like, I went home at about midnight. In a carriage. And I was looking out the window. And there I saw her lying in one of those streets, so I eventually told the driver to stop. I didn’t want her to die, you know? I couldn’t have born with someone else dying on me, Leo. If I can only save one single person, I’d just…”

Just what? Be happier?
He knew fully well this would not be the case.
He had shot his best friend.
Had Oz ever forgiven him for that?

“Ok. Whatever. Just make sure to bring her back to her parents. If she… has parents, that is. Where exactly did you find her?”

Gilbert hadn’t drunk any alcohol, but he still found it a little hard to remember.

“Around the fifteenth arrondissement. About a twenty-five minutes’ walk from here, I think. Leo. She was lying on the floor all covered in dirt and totally wet. It was raining so much, and it was cold. I couldn’t possibly have left her there. If she does have parents, I’m not sure if I want to return her to them, really.”

Leo’s face got softer.
Overall, he didn’t really look twenty. Maybe seventeen or eighteen, but not twenty. Gilbert suddenly felt incredibly old.

“I know. Has she talked to you?”

“For some seconds. She asked where she was, but then she fell back into sleep again. Well, she was terribly cold. No wonder. I don’t want to know how long she had already been outside at that point.”

Leo walked over to him now, awkwardly standing next to him.

“I… we both know what it is like to be alone, right? Save her if you think that’s your redemption. I don’t think you need one, though. You have saved the world Gilbert, why I gladly gave up my whole body just for Glen-“

“Hey”, Gilbert interrupted him, his breath hitching in his throat for a moment, “someone”, a quiet smile on his lips at the man who used to pester him with candy all day, “once told us that you can never see what’s coming for you in the future. And you really can’t. Ask the me of three years ago and tell me that I’ve brought a cat home, Leo. Me of three years ago will not believe you.”

Leo eventually smiled.
Gilbert thought that he was truly… beautiful when he did, with his pitch-black hair reaching way past his chest by now, the tips slightly curled in.
He had long stopped questioning why Leo had never tried to pick up any girl. He did have the looks for it.

“No, he wouldn’t. Ok, back to the actual topic. No use thinking about the past now, anyways. Should I call a doctor for when she wakes up? I think it’s better if she gets checked on. She might be sick or something. I’m gonna go then, write a letter and send it with a servant, yeah? Gilbert… I’m glad you’re here, really. Sometimes… when I can’t think of anyone- anything else I just… your cheesecake is good, ok?”

Gilbert had to laugh at that last awkwardly stammered sentence. Yes. He was fairly proud of his cheesecake and definitely had every right to be so when even Leo considered it good.
Leo never did make a fuss about food (the orphanages probably didn’t have any really good food anyways), but he was always one of the first ones to show up when Gilbert made cheesecake.
It was almost as if he had a sixth sense for it.

“Thank you very much. I’ll just finish cooking the soup now and hope that she wakes up.”

 

Leo was back in less than five minutes.

Gilbert could only guess that it was because he didn’t want to be alone now. Gilbert knew those moments; had known them for all his life.
At moments like those, he would usually find an excuse to be around Lottie, since she had become some kind of anchor for him.
Her personality was strangely calming because she always just said what came to her mind, she didn’t lie and Gilbert didn’t have to think too much when being with her, didn’t have to figure her out.
And if Leo needed him now, he could only try to help him.

“If she leaves over any of that soup, I’m sure I’ll get some?”

Gilbert could only laugh at that.
Only sometimes, Leo was honest and straight-forward like this. It had been hard for every single one of them. But sometimes, they almost smiled and laughed as if Elliot and Oz and Alice were still here.
Gilbert would be able to spend a hundred years like that, for sure.
In the mansion that had once seemed huge and scary to him and had now become his home simply because Lottie, Leo and Doug were here with him.

“Of course. I’ll just eat toast with jam later on. I’m not hungry for soup. And I doubt she’ll eat all this. I’m so bad with making a decent amount of soup and noodles.”

Leo sat down on the sofa after some time, the newspaper in his hands, just flipping through the pages, not really reading it.
Leo hadn’t been so absorbed in reading anymore as he had once been. It probably hurt him, remembered him of the person closest to him.
Gilbert understood. He hadn’t been able to make Oz’s favourite chocolate cake until now, either.

“My mom used to have the very same problem. I don’t think anyone can make a decent amount of noodles. And if anyone does, they’re a witch.”

Gilbert could only imagine what it was like to have your mother dying.
Really Leo had lost so much, and here he was, having a rather pointless conversation about cooking noodles.

“Agreed”, Gilbet sighed, turning off the herd with a soft clicking of the switch.

And it seemed as if it was that soft clicking that brought the girl to finally wake up.

It was only a grumble, a tired moan, so quiet that Gilbert almost thought it hadn’t even happened.
But then it was there again and he finally snapped back to reality.

“You’re awake!”, he said, not being able to hold himself back.

He looked at her, shifting in the sheets of his bed, slowly opening her eyes.
Leo and him had walked over to the bed in seconds, but that had probably been too quick; she basically jumped upwards, sitting on the bed, pressed against the wall behind her, eyes wide open.

Red.

Her eyes were red, just like the one Break had, just like the one red eye that made people beat up Vincent.
A child of misfortune.

Gilbert almost felt tears in his eyes and at first he couldn’t quite pinpoint as to why, but really, he knew it.
This felt like he was given a second chance to save someone who was cursed, just like his brother.
To not even have a single thought of leaving her like he had thought of leaving Vincent.

“S-sorry”, he stuttered, “really, we didn’t want to startle you. We’ve just been kind of worried. How-“

“Where am I?”, she demanded, sleep and exhaustion still clinging to her voice like the frost had clung to her the night before, but still, it was fierce.

“Nightray mansion”, Leo said immediately, “Gilbert here found you and brought you here. You’re pretty much safe, I guess.”

Gilbert glared at Leo for that ‘I guess’ because he was more than sure that didn’t really make the girl happy in the slightest.
Gilbert knelt down in front of the bed on instinct.
Probably to seem a bit less intimidating. He knew his height sometimes overwhelmed kids.

“Night…ray? The… duke family? But I thought they were dead… let me go! I don’t know what you people want from me but please just let me go!”

Gilbert hadn’t really thought about how she would react to waking up in a house she didn’t remember being carried to. Of course she wouldn’t react in a nice way and thank him for saving him.
There were tears in her eyes.

“Leo, do you have a tissue with you?”, he asked, keeping his voice as calm and quiet as he possibly could.

Leo reached for his pocket and pulled out a blue tissue with a black Nightray sign stitched into it.
It was probably Elliot’s.
He stretched out the hand with the tissue to her.

She didn’t take it at first, but when the first tear began to roll down her cheek, she took it, just with her thumb and index finger, paying attention not to touch Gilbert.

“Calm down first, ok? It won’t help any of us if you cry.”

This whole thing gave him a headache. She looked just like Vincent, but with dark brown hair.
She slowly raised the tissue to her face and wiped away her tears – to no avail. They just came back a second after.

“Alright? I’m Gilbert and this is Leo. But you can also call me Gil, if you want to. Just so… you have names and stuff. You don’t need to tell us yours, though, if you don’t want to.”

She nodded, her sniffle being interrupted by a growl in her stomach.
It did cause Gilbert to smile a little.

“I’ve made soup. Do you want some?”

She shook her head at first and Gilbert realized why she was unsure of it.
He himself hadn’t really trusted the Baskervilles at first, thinking that their food was poisoned.

“Ok, I’m gonna get it anyways. I know, you must be afraid, so I’ll just get the pot and eat something from it straight, so you won’t have any doubts.”

“What the-“, Leo interrupted himself, obviously having wanted to say ‘fuck’, “as if your soup is poisoned or something.”

Gilbert stood up, walked over to the pot, took a wooden tablet with him to be able to place it down and three spoons. He may as well let Leo have some of the soup.

“Leo, you have no idea how cautious you get if you’ve been poisoned only once”, Gilbert explained, dimly remembering one of the men who had taken him and his brother in back when they were kids, “it’s ok. I’ll eat from it and I’m convinced Leo will too because he already asked me for soup. But you need to eat. You’re hungry and you were outside for I don’t even know how long. A soup is always good.”

She nodded again, sitting up a bit more, still holding the blanket close to her body as if it was protecting her.
Gilbert was the first one to get a taste of the soup.

“Not enough chives and carrots. Sorry for that. It’s really not too good.”

Leo rolled his eyes, glancing at the tissue in her hand as if he kind of regretted giving it to her – it was Elliot’s, after all. Gilbert didn’t really want to know how often Leo had cried into it.
In the next moment, Leo also took a spoonful and rolled his eyes again.

“Listen, kid. Our Gilbert here is a master cook. Don’t believe him when he says it’s bad because there’s only like a one percent chance that it is bad. And now come on, you must be hungry."

One thing that Gilbert often forgot was that Leo had lived in an orphanage with other children for years and that he was used to scared children probably far more than himself.
He was glad to have him here.

“O-ok…”, she whispered, her voice having gotten a little more sure now, a little more… steady.

Gilbert gave her the spoon.
She still avoided touching him, but she did glance up for a moment.

“It’s hot. Eat slowly”, he said and waited for her to finally start eating. She was so skinny, she needed it.
And it would maybe give him some time to think.

“Gilbert”, Leo said, walking towards the door now, “I’ll wake up Lottie. She needs a bath and I think it’s better to have Lottie do that. Also, where did you get this shirt from?”

At that, the girl jolted up, only noticing now that those were not her original clothes.

“Alice. Don’t ask me how, but somehow, her shirt has gotten into my laundry and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive her for it.”

Leo grinned, nodded just a bit and left.
Gilbert sank back into his chair, pretty much exhausted. He hadn’t slept all night. How was he supposed to sleep at night when there was a girl in his room who could have died anyways? But she was awake now. And she seemed fine. So it was ok.

“How’s the soup?”, he asked, ignoring the churning of his own stomach. He could still get something to eat when Lottie was bathing her.
What would Lottie even say to all of this?
Leo had reacted well. But that was because he had been living in an orphanage.
Lottie however, had not. Gilbert remembered how happy she had been for Lily, but Lily was also a Baskerville, this girl was certainly not.
She had red eyes, yes, but Break also hadn’t been a Baskerville.

“It’s… really good. Seriously I… haven’t had food like this… in months.”

Another tear dropped down her chin, onto her spoon, but she put it into her mouth nonetheless, as if she didn’t care about that anymore.
Something inside of Gilbert… melted.
Having a first real meal after living on the streets for a long time had always felt good. Even when the people in charge for this meal hadn’t had good intentions. Having a full stomach after months of not having one always felt truly good.

“It’s ok now. You’re safe here. I know, we may seem a little strange, but all of us are really nice… or at least I guess so. Finish eating first though. That’s the most important thing.”

 

She had almost eaten the whole pot when she sat back into the pillow, still crying.
It hurt to see her cry. Not only because of Vincent, but because she was merely eight years old or something around that and she was already so terribly hurt that she got all worked up about soup.

“Can I ask you for your name?”, Gilbert asked, paying attention to keep his voice calm again.
She looked at him now, which was already an improvement.

“Charlene”, she muttered, “I’m… sorry for causing all those… circumstances… Sir."

“Please just call me Gilbert. I’m only twenty-eight, this is not old. Ok, to you it probably… seems old but… for me it’s not… I guess. And ‘Sir’ really does make me feel old. There’s no reason to speak formally to me, really. And you’re not causing any circumstances, I would have had to make breakfast anyways, so… it’s ok, really.”

He couldn’t have this girl… Charlene, worry about causing him trouble because that was not what happened. If anything, he had caused her trouble.

“But you… took me in and cooked me soup and… the only one who has ever done that…”, her sentence broke off, for a moment, Gilbert thought that there was going to be another tear, but there wasn’t. She just wasn’t able to speak out loud what had happened.

And he knew this feeling; knew the feeling of being strangled by your own memories to the point of throwing up or fading out because it felt as if you couldn’t catch your own breath.
It felt like drowning.
Like dying.

“It’s ok. Believe me, it really is. The only circumstance you have caused me is only having woken up so late that I thought you wouldn’t make it.”

Charlene looked at him for some time and Gilbert didn’t know what to do anymore. He felt so lost.
He didn’t even know this person and yet… it felt as if he was responsible for her, now that he had taken her in. And it seemed like she had no place to go.

“How old are you?”, he added, deciding on putting his hand onto the bed at least.

“I… I’m seven…”, she stuttered and then it seemed as if the wall was broken, as if her tiny body couldn’t keep anything inside of her anymore.
Her eyes started watering again, tears falling down her cheek, onto Gilbert’s hand now, her mouth started quivering, her hands started trembling.

“I… got thrown out by my grandparents three months ago”, she cried, clutching onto the bed sheets again, “before I- I lived with them because my parents died and- I barely even remember them, I think I was- three”, three years ago, in the second tragedy, Gilbert just knew. He had saved people there. Lots of them.

But one of the people he hadn’t been able to save had apparently been her parents.
If he had only…

He slowly placed his hand on the little shoulder, afraid to break it just by touching it. She didn’t back away, so he assumed that it was ok.
He couldn’t just leave her crying like this.

“But… I wasn’t enough for them… I wasn’t enough of a help and then they… my… my eyes… and they told me I was only bringing misfortune upon them and-“

“I know”, he simply said, nothing more. Just two words. Because he knew.

“I know”, he repeated, “don’t believe them”, his voice almost broke away, too, “I think your eyes are beautiful. They look exactly like my brother’s.”

Chapter Text

In the blink of an eye
I never got to say goodbye

Chapter 3

I miss you. Everyone does. Me and your friends.

Gilbert had started tidying up the kitchen in the hope that Charlene would calm down if he left her alone for a bit.
He had never known how to really deal with crying children. Idly remembering how Oz had compared him to Reim, Gilbert shook his head and just quietly acknowledged the fact that he was closer to Break than to Reim, personality-wise.
He turned around and looked at her again. She looked terribly lost in that big bed of his.

“Hey”, he whispered.

The tears were still running down her cheeks, they weren’t stopping and Gilbert didn’t know how to make her. It hurt seeing her like this.

“Can I do something for you?”

She wasn’t allowed to answer because there was a really energetic knock on the door which was a lot louder than Gilbert wanted it to be; in fact, his ears hurt.

Charlene shot up in the bed, grabbing the sheets and clenching her jaw.
She was afraid of loud noise.
Just like he had been.

“Lottie, just come in!”, he said loud enough for her to hear.

Lottie always knocked like that. Energetic and loud like she seemed to be, but she wasn’t.
Gilbert sometimes asked himself if he was the only one who knew how quiet Lottie sometimes went; how often she held back her tears just for others not to worry.

She opened the door and for a moment, Gilbert was genuinely shocked.
Her hair was in a ponytail.
Lottie was wearing her hair in a ponytail and that was a sight he was absolutely not used to, but it looked good. Better than he would have expected it to.
Of course Lottie couldn’t really look bad. She was pretty. He’d just gotten used to her wearing her hair open that seeing her like this was… strange.

“Gilbert, are you even listening? What’s wrong with you?”, she sighed, slowly closing the door behind her, “usually you’re not that dense. Dense, yes, but not as bad as this.”

“I-“, he cleared his throat, noticing how dry it suddenly was, “sorry. I haven’t slept at all. Just repeat what you said, I’m sorry. Really. I’m listening.”

He looked at Charlene who seemed to have calmed down a bit. That was good.

“I asked you why you brought some random kid from the street with you, Gil.”

She stepped closer to him, directing her gaze at Charlene, too.
Part of Gilbert thought it was very funny to see how Lottie’s expression changed in a moment.
Her frown that had just been there turned into her mouth opening slightly and her eyebrows seemingly relaxing, her eyes diverting to the floor.

“Never mind. Just wait here for a moment.”

Lottie walked past him again and for a second – Gilbert could swear that it was not just his weird imagination – she brushed his hand with hers, then with her thumb, then she walked out of the room again.
Of course that had been on accident. What else would it have been.
He cleared his throat again, then sat down onto the bed next to Charlene.

“Who… was this?”, she asked, peeling herself out of the sheets now, then standing up with her legs shaking.

“Hey, take it slow”, Gilbert murmured, kneeling down in front of her now to at least somehow be at the same height as her.

The tears hadn’t stopped.

“I have… to go. I mean… I can’t just- Thank you… for the soup.”

“No! This is completely out of question. You’re staying. You need to recover. And… if you don’t have anywhere else to go, then I want you to stay. You’re not strong enough to survive on your own for too long. I’ve done this too.”

He felt like he really needed to tell her at least some parts of why he was reacting like this. She had the right to know.
Yes, she was a child. But children knew far more about the world than what most adults might think.
He remembered hating others treating him like he knew nothing about the world, while Gilbert himself had experienced far worse things than most.
Abused by his parents and people he didn’t even know.

“I don’t remember how long I’ve lived on the street, but I was younger than you. I’m not letting you out there again. It’s ok for you to stay. Lottie didn’t really mean that, I think.”

Charlene slowly stumbled back to the bed, burying her face in her hands.
Her sobs and sniffles still broke through, making Gilbert’s heart break just a little more than it already had.
It almost sounded like Oz when he had left them. When his body had been carried away by light.
Gilbert shook his head; Oz had been in the past and he would be in the future. But he was not in the present.
Charlene, however, was.
It was her he should be thinking about now.

“Seriously. Lottie didn’t mean that. Give her some days to get used to you and she will probably be overprotective of you. She’s really a good person. Energetic, but… she’s good.”

There was no need to tell her about how Lottie had basically tried to kill him and his friends multiple times and how she had already killed other people by following orders without questioning them…
No, he really should not tell her.

“But- I’m just disturbing all of you!”, she cried out once again.

It hurt. Gilbert slowly raised his hand.
She didn’t move. She didn’t flinch. Was that a good sign?
He knew how she could have reacted to touches – like he did. Lashing out, crying, pushing the person away.

She didn’t do any of this; she did the exact opposite.

Her little hands grasped at his, clinging onto it just like he had once clung to Oswald and then to Oz.

“Stay here. I’m sure Leo and Lottie don’t mind. Really. You can even ask Lottie as soon as she comes back and I’m sure she’ll fall in love with you in no time-“, he heard steps outside of his room, “this is most definitely her. Really, don’t worry about her.”

Lottie slammed the door open and stared at both of them, her gaze softening once again.
Was he supposed to tell her that the ponytail looked good on her?
Probably not. She would not get how he had meant it.
How did he mean it? Well, it looked good on her. That’s exactly how he meant it. No more, no less.
Lottie would so misinterpret it that he decided to just forget the subject.

“We can’t have you crying like that. If you continue crying like this, I bet that Gilbert is going to start crying, too”, her voice had also gone soft, quiet, way more careful than it had been before.

She moved closer to the bed, her hands hidden behind her back, then she sat down next to Gilbert, looking at him with that absolutely judging gaze he hated.

“You’re such an idiot. I bet that all you ever do is make her cry even more.”

“No-“, Chalie tried to interrupt her, but Lottie just grinned, bumping her shoulder into Gilbert’s.
The shoulder that he actually had.

“Gilbert here is like… a really sensitive egg. I don’t know if that’s a good comparison, but-“

“Did you just call me an egg… for real?”

He let go of Charlene’s hand when he saw a tiny smile on her pale lips, lightening up her whole face.
She definitely looked better when she was smiling.

“And like… I sometimes buy really random things on impulse. So, uhm… take this.”

Gilbert only remembered now that he could have looked behind her back all the time, so he did.
His heart went still.

It was a black rabbit plushie. Yes, it was smaller than the Oz he still had in mind from his early childhood, just black cloth stuffed with cotton, two black buttons as its eyes…
But this one had blue buttons as eyes. And white, fluffy ears as well as white and fluffy paws.

When had she even bought that? Most of the time Lottie went into the city, it was with him or with Leo and he doubted that she would buy something like this with Glen around.
Every time someone only mentioned something loosely connected to Elliot, Leo’s hands would form themselves into fists, his fingertips would begin to tremble and he would just look so miserable that you couldn’t possibly go on saying whatever you wanted to say.
Over the course of those four years, that had gotten a lot better. Right after returning from Sablier, Leo had taken care of everything that needed to be done and Gilbert had thought that this was a good sign, but after the country and the government had calmed down, all he ever did was disappear for hours or days and sometimes even weeks, just to come back either completely skinny and dirty or packed with random souvenirs from other countries.

Gilbert had always thought that he was running away from his problems – and he had, in some way. He still did. He avoided thinking about many questions, like what he would do in the following ninety-six years or what his feelings towards some people were.
He didn’t want to continue thinking about this.
Yeah, obviously. That was the source of most of his problems.

But still, he did not literally run away. Not like Leo did. Leo had probably gone to other countries without them knowing often enough. Sometimes, they had found him at Elliot’s grave, sobbing and weeping like a little child that had lost their parents, sometimes, even, they’d find him close to a town in Sablier at the grave of a woman who had probably been his mother.
Leo had gone through far too much for the tender age of twenty.

Not that Gilbert himself was any different, of course, but his coping mechanisms at least didn’t involve hurting himself, be it emotionally or physically.

He barely ever went to Oz’ and Alice’s grave. Only to put some flowers onto them sometimes, or water the ones that were planted there.
He knew Sharon and Reim went there. They always visited Break, so they also went by all the other graves of the ones who had died during the second tragedy.
The sole thought of Uncle Oscar made him almost cry.

“Thank you.”

It was only Charlene’s quiet, quivering voice that snapped him out of all the memories and all the death surrounding him, the death that was yet to happen around him since he would easily get older than one hundred years.
He felt like he was definitely going to cry right there.

“Lottie”, he said, felt his lip trembling already, how his voice sounded broken.

Really, hadn’t he just complained about Charlene crying? And what was he doing now? He surely wasn’t that big of an example for her.

“Huh?”, Lottie asked, then staring at him in shock, “what are you so whimpy all of a sudden? Just because it’s a black plush rabbit? You need to learn to stand over those things-“

“Thank all of you”, Charlene repeated and really, Gilbert couldn’t do more than reach out for her tiny hands holding the rabbit, holding it closely just like he would have held on to Oz if he had survived.

How he had held onto him just before he had disappeared into those disgustingly beautiful golden lights right after telling him how happy he was.

What was the fairness in all of that?
Taking away a boy’s life right when he was finally who he had always wanted to be despite having learnt about his past?
There wasn’t fairness in it – there wasn’t fairness in life.
Never had, never would.
Gilbert was a Baskerville. He should know better than that.

Her hands were still cold between his, despite the soup and the blanket.

“Lottie?”, he eventually asked, swallowing down his tears, barely even noticing how Charlene’s fingers were clutching onto his in return, holding on to someone who would save her.

“Hm?”

“You go and bathe Charlene before the doctor arrives. And please, please bring me a ciga-“

“I’m surely as hell not bringing you a cigarette, Gilbert, you stopped that more than a year ago”, she snarled, standing up and brushing the few grains of dirt off her skirt that were to be found on Gilbert’s floor.

“But I-“

“Smoking is disgusting”, Charlene agreed, “so… as long as I’m here, please… don’t. It makes me feel kind of sick.”

Lottie patted her shoulder, then extended her hand to her.

“I like you, Charlie.”

Chapter Text

Like a shooting star
Flying across the room

Chapter 4

We miss you for everything you've done for us.

“This will be your room”, Gilbert said, Charlie just nodding shyly at the pretty huge room – or at least it must have seemed huge to a seven years old girl.

The curtains had long been changed into fresh, green ones. They did remind him of Oz’s eyes.
Or Ada’s.
A thing he had not yet gotten over was Vincent and Ada being in some kind of deeper relationship. He may have said that he didn’t love her in a romantic way, but even Gilbert hadn’t believed any of that. He was dense, just like Lottie had said. But after this display, after Vincent allowing someone to hug him and then telling Gilbert quite literally ‘our different life-spans won’t allow this’, even he was convinced that Vincent was in love with her.

Really, why was his brother such an absolutely weird guy? He was more than glad that they had resolved most of their issues between each other. Sure, not everything would work immediately, so it was probably good Vincent was out of the country, taking new breaths, possibly forgetting about Ada, too.
It would probably be better for Vincent anyways. Gilbert had never had any good experiences with love (being in love with the sister of his childhood friend who preferred his brother and then being offered to a cult just couldn’t be called ‘good experiences’) and he wasn’t too keen on trying.

Luck was never something he had easily gotten.
That was just proved by how he always made way too many noodles. Really, how did anyone manage to make a proper amount of noodles that wasn’t far too much?

“Uh… thanks. It’s great. Really.”

Charlene neatly placed the black rabbit onto the bed, covering it with a blanket.

What would Oz say to this? What would Oz think of him… adopting a girl he found on the street and rescued on an impulse, like Leo had already said?
Probably call him a softie again.
Gilbert couldn’t even argue with that. He really was a softie and he had always been.
Well, then he was adopting a kid now. What about it? It was probably good for the both of them.
The only living being he would truly never adopt was a cat.
Hopefully Charlie would never bring one back to the house.
That was something he needed to pray for.

“It was my brother’s room. But he’s currently not here, so you can use it. He actually… hasn’t been here in months, so I don’t assume he’s coming back any time soon. And if he does, we still have tons of guest rooms. But I f-“, this was still really awkward to him, “I figured that it would make sense if you were in a room close to mine. Just in case you need anything.”

Gilbert Nightray becoming an adoptive parent?
Who would have thought that?
He himself surely not.

“Yeah. I’ve… never had a room like this. I mean- you guys must be super rich and I… never was. I lived in the Slums of Sablier for some years… and then right next to them and just- I don’t know what to say.”

Gilbert put his hand to her shoulder again, having noticed that this motion did indeed calm her down.

“It’s ok. I know how overwhelming it feels at first. And how empty. But you’ll get used to it in no time. I have a camera standing around somewhere. We’ll just use that and make some photos to brighten up the room. It’s pretty good. Belonged to my Uncle.”

The words ‘my Uncle’ rolled off his tongue pretty easily now that Oscar wasn’t there anymore. When he had been alive, it had been terribly hard to admit just because Oscar might not have wanted this.
He knew what nonsense that was.

‘Please become happy.’

A smile tugged on his lips.

“He would have wanted that we take loads of photos, believe me. And I need one with Vincent. I mean, my brother. His name is Vincent. I don’t have a single photo with him.”

Charlene strengthened her grasp on his hand a little.

“Can I really… stay?”

Gilbert gave in to the thing he hadn’t done in years. He patted her head, his fingers lingering in her hair, just like they used to have rested in Alice’s and Oz's hair. It felt calming even to him. Touching someone he would hopefully consider “family” soon. Just like they had been. And he was responsible for not having saved her parents back in Sablier, when the black town had shot out of the earth in the course of minutes.
Part of him hadn’t stopped blaming himself for what had happened at the coming of age ceremony.
Why did he always fail protecting people?

“Of course. Unless… you want to go. I’d be very worried then, though. None of us here are related by blood. All of us were rejected by society once. You fit in just well."

“I can’t… pay or anything.”

At this, Gilbert had to laugh out loud. Why was a seven years old girl thinking about paying him? That was really not what he had expected.

“We are just fine, Charlie”, he had already adapted to the nickname Lottie had given her the day before, “believe me. We will go into the city later to look for proper clothes. And maybe we can find some decoration for your room. Vincent never really liked this sort of thing. He's… quite an eccentric, to be honest.”

The tears in her eyes were obvious, but she swallowed them down. She was braver than he had been at her age.

“Is… Vincent the brother… who also has… the eyes of misfortune?”

“Yes", he answered, “only one of his eyes, though. But I had another friend with red eyes, too.”

The Gilbert at the age of seventeen surely cursed him for calling Break a ‘friend', but right now, he couldn’t care less. Ultimately, Break had been the one to teach him how to deal with his feelings towards Oz, since he had gone through the very same thing at the very same age.

“How many people live here?”, she asked, still looking around the room as if she couldn’t believe any of it; as if it was a dream that she was warm and safe and not hungry.
“There’s you, me, Lottie, Leo and Doug. You haven’t met him yet, but he's a genuinely nice person. Lottie exaggerates often, so don’t always take her too seriously. And- please don’t tell her I’ve said this, she would probably try to kill me. And well, Leo is more or less… moody. But he always means well. He's absolutely not a bad person. He does get angry really often though. But he stopped beating people up, so we are completely safe.”

A thing he would probably never forget was when Leo and Elliot had that quarrel at Yura's mansion about who was in the wrong.
He really wondered if those were the last words they had ever said to each other.

“He… didn't struck me as a very aggressive man", Charlene said, letting go of his hand and opening one of the drawers just to cough at the dust.
Gilbert needed to clean this room properly after looking for clothes.

“Yeah, that’s because you haven’t mentioned any touchy topic in front of him yet. Are you ready to go and discover the rest of the house? I’d take Lottie into town with us because she knows more about clothes than I so for sure.”

“Yep! I… also want to thank Leo again. For calling a doctor, I mean.”

 

The first person they met was situated in the corner of the kitchen, grabbing an apple out of the basket which was neatly placed on the counter.
Gilbert tried to remember a time when Doug wasn’t wearing the red Baskerville cloak, but he couldn’t. Even now, he was wearing it, the hood on, most probably looking scary to a little girl like that.

He was right.

Charlie almost immediately grabbed the cloth of his black shirt and tucked her thumb into the suspenders he had gotten used to wearing.

“Don’t be afraid. That’s Doug. I told you about him, he's really nice.”

Doug turned around, as if he had only noticed them coming in now, then shot a smile at the young girl.
Her fingers just strengthened their grasp at that.

“…Hello", she murmured, ashamed of looking at him like some children were sometimes. Gilbert still remembered the phase in which he was too ashamed of everyone and himself to the point of not being able to say a simple ‘thank you', causing Glen and Jack to sigh often enough.

Those had been simple days – when he hadn’t known about Jack casting the world into the Abyss because of the girl he loved and hated at the same time, when he hadn’t known about Oswald wanting to kill his own sister to prevent that exact thing from happening.

“Hello! I’ve heard of you! Your name’s Charlene, right? Lottie already told me loads about you and how much you liked Gil's soup. All of his food is excellent.”

“It’s not", Gilbert objected before Charlene would be able to answer, “you know very well that I cannot make anything related to oatmeal at all. Not pancakes or porridge or anything. It always starts burning.”

Doug started grinning and then tried to make himself seem smaller to look less intimidating. Gilbert was tall, yes, but compared to Doug he looked like a child next to an adult. If he already felt small, how did this girl feel who only reached up to his own hip?

“Gilbert keeps saying he's bad at everything, but he's not. You'd better get used to it and just accept him the way he is. But really, don’t trust with anything involving oatmeal. It won’t taste as wonderful as the rest of his food. Still, I’ve eaten worse porridge. Lottie once tried to make some. She's an absolute disaster at cooking.”

Another dark day Gilbert did not want to be reminded of. The whole kitchen had burnt as if Raven had been inside.

“O-ok… I… quite liked his soup. He… uhm … he told me that you… draw?”

Curiosity did get her to be more opened up, after all.

“Yes! I like drawing people, but also nature. I can show you some of my stuff if you want to. Just come over to my room then!”, he leant down as to tell her a secret, but his whispering was so loud that Gilbert would have understood it from the other side of the room, too, ”And if you bring Gilbert and his chocolate cookies, I’ll draw something for you.”

When had he last gotten to eat one of his own chocolate cookies anyways? Most of the time the others had already devoured them right after baking and had then complained about a stomachache.
Gilbert’s pity had been very limited.

“I got the message, Doug”, Gilbert said, actually smiling now. He was glad about staying with the Baskervilles and not alone. He wouldn’t know what to do if he lived alone with nothing to distract him from Alice and Oz and the rest of them being gone.

“Very good. Now hurry up, you two, Lottie has already been searching for you because she found some of Lily’s old dresses and wants to give them to Charlene.”

“We’d better not make her wait more than necessary then – Doug, this grin is creepy. Why is everyone grinning creepily at me these days? Lottie will just get annoyed if we make her wait. Let’s get going, Charlie.”

She nodded, shyly waving goodbye at him.

“Is she not patient?”

Gilbert had to refrain from laughing. Yes, Charlie clearly didn’t now Lottie yet – everyone knew that she was one of the most impatient people. Maybe placed right below Reim.
Everyone always thought that Reim was a quiet and collected person, but after all, he had kept proposing to Sharon even when she kept saying she didn’t want to marry him.
One might call it persistence, but to Gilbert, it did seem impatient, too.

“Absolutely not. We’ll visit Leo first though. Annoying Lottie can also be fun, trust me.”

 

Gilbert knocked on the door leading to Leo’s bedroom, waiting for an answer like usually, but instead, Leo opened the door, his hair almost as messy as it had been when Gilbert had first met him in the hallway of this very same mansion, teasing Elliot about getting angry because he had ranted about a spoiler from Holy Knight.
Really, Elliot and Leo… had matched. Their personalities had perfectly complimented each other.
There was no one to replace that kind of friend though. Gilbert knew that all too well.

“I just wanted to head out to the graveyard”, he said, “you can come in, though. I’m looking for money for flowers, maybe you can help me. I just keep losing everything as if we had a ghost in the house or something.”

He yawned.
Charlene was the first one to step in, looking around the room with this childish curiosity none of them would ever experience again, probably.

“Oh, you can play the piano?”, she asked as Gilbert walked into the room himself, leaning against the wall next to the entrance slightly uncomfortably.
It was rare that someone was allowed to enter Leo’s room.
The room was clean as it had always been, except for some books lying around – probably unread.

“Yes. It’s gotten a bit hard though, since I’ve only got one hand. Maybe you could help me play someday?”

The only person who was allowed to play with Leo had been Vincent when he hadn’t gone travelling yet.
For him to propose such a thing was… uncommon.
Maybe Leo just needed someone to take care of. So that he, too, would feel a bit like his fault would be lifted.

“Yes, please! I’ve always wanted to play the piano and… learn it, but we… never had the money when I was small and my grandparents… never really… listened to what I wanted-“

“It’s fine, shortie.”

Gilbert had to laugh out loud now, he simply couldn’t resist it anymore.
Leo was acting a lot like Elliot right now. Going around and calling people shortie just because he had grown a little.
It was… cute in a rather strange way.

“I’m… not short!”

Leo cut the tiny smile from his lips that had just passed him, a smile so tiny yet so big that it had made his whole face shine.
He should do it more often.
And maybe Charlene would give him a reason to do so when none of them had ever been able to.

“Sure, sure. Well, you can come here and play if I tell you so. Please knock before coming in. If I don’t tell you and you still knock, we can also decide if work or music is more important.”

He brushed his fingers against her shoulder, then knelt down to pick up three coins below his wardrobe.

“There they are. Gil, I’ll bring Alice and Oz some flowers too. You should come next time. I’m sure they miss you. And Elliot would beat the crap out of you for not visiting his grave if he was there.”

Gilbert swallowed, feeling those damned tears in his eyes again, right on his eyelids; he quickly brushed them away with his thumb.

‘If Elliot was there.’

That was, without a doubt, the first time Leo had said something of the like. All the other times he would have stopped at the ‘if’, not being able to finish the sentence.
Yes.
After four years, he was finally growing, too.
If anyone deserved happiness, then it was Leo.

“Yeah… he totally would. I’m coming with you the next time, promised. I don’t think we ever went together, right?”

Leo was still patting Charlie’s back, then ruffling her hair a little.
If Elliot had been able to see Leo being kind to a girl he didn’t know for more than a day, he would probably have fallen in love with him.
Not that Elliot or Leo had ever been like that, of course. Gilbert would have noticed. He had been closer to Elliot than he had been to Vincent, so of course he would have noticed – right?

No, there was no way Elliot and Leo had been in love. Of course not.

Soulmates, yes. Best friends, without a doubt. Irreplaceable, surely.
But nothing more.
Why was he even thinking about this? It wasn’t important at all.
Still, Gilbert did question if Elliot really had been interested in girls.

He remembered Vincent talking about dates sometimes or Ernest and Claude bringing girls home with them (to everyone’s suffering), but Elliot? Not even once.

Gilbert wasn’t one to judge people because of whom they loved – he wasn’t used to boys loving boys or girls loving girls, but he didn’t think it would be something that disturbed him.
Elliot’s family would surely have gone wild.

Maybe he would ask Leo someday. Maybe Leo would tell him someday, by himself.

“No, we haven’t yet”, Leo answered, putting on his black, long coat.

At the age of twenty, Gilbert’s style of clothing had been about the same.
Black. Just black, maybe a white shirt underneath.
Now the colours of his shirts ranged from dark red to dark blue to grey to black.
An improvement, at least.

“Charlene, Lottie and I’ll go into the city, so we won’t be coming back until later this afternoon. Just so you know and don’t worry or something.”

Charlene turned away from Leo and walked to his nightstand, glancing at the picture of Elliot and him, in their Lutwidge uniforms, Elliot holding the black sword that was now hanging on Leo’s wall in one hand, in the other hand Leo’s shoulder.

“He looks really nice.”

Gilbert was, once again, so close to losing it and breaking out into tears.
This… little girl just went and said things that would have gotten her killed by Leo some years ago, but which made him smile melancholically nowadays, causing him to walk over to her and brush her hair and shoulder again.

“He wasn’t, though. Kept screaming at almost everything I did.”

“Tell me about him when you teach me how to play piano, ok? You look happy when you talk about him. And Gilbert said that you are angry most of the time so-“

Leo began chuckling now, a low, quiet giggle that soon developed into a laugh.

“Did he? Interesting. Gilbert, tell me more. Or better, tell me more at dinner. I’ll be going now before the definitely angrier one of us comes out of his grave because of me being late. I’ll bring bread and something else to eat, you don’t need to bother.”

Gilbert knew that Leo didn’t care about him having said that he was angry.
He was maturing, slowly, but surely.
And getting more self-reflecting for sure.

“Alright. Lottie will most probably come in screaming any mome-“

“Gilbert, where are you again? I told you to meet me with Charlie at ten so we could go and- morning, Leo.”

Lottie stepped into the room, three dresses in her hand that were obviously too big, but would be enough for now. They would buy her proper clothes today.

“Lily was twelve back then and even though she was small, they’re much too large. But they’ll do for now, right? Charlie, come with me, we’ll get you changed.”

And with this, Lottie was already gone again, pulling Charlie out of the room with her.

“Lottie is totally obsessing over her”, Leo said, “even if she says she’s not, she so is. I know I was really skeptical yesterday and like, I still am, but… thanks for bringing her here, Gilbert. This house needs some fresh wind to blow so that we can all move on a little. Have fun with them, yeah?”

Leo was still smiling.
It suited him so, so well. He looked good.
Sometimes, Gilbert did wonder why the girls weren’t after Leo like they had been after him and Vincent.

“Yeah, I will. Tell him about Charlie, will you?”

Chapter Text

So fast so far
You were gone to soon.

Chapter 5

That you stayed strong while some of us couldn't.

Charlene was clinging to his hand and shivering.

“Lottie, go a bit slower, please”, Gilbert said to Lottie, who turned around at that and scowled.

“I’m older than you, Gil. If anything, I should be-“, she immediately stopped herself when she saw Charlene trembling like one of the leaves in the autumn wind currently also blowing through Réveille.

The city was full this day; vibrant.
People were walking down the streets, busy with their shopping tours or birthday preparations, buying sweets for their kids just like Gilbert had once bought meat for Alice, enjoying the vivid colours of red and yellow leaves dangling down every few seconds.
A day he would surely never forget was the last time they went to Réveille together. When Leo and Vincent had come to the little café they had been sitting at, just to begin a fight in the midst of town.
That had surely been… something.

“Maybe we should get out of all the people for now”, Lottie said, walking back to them.

“Yes. I think that would be good. Charlie, shall I pick you up?”

The girl nodded, Gilbert knelt down and she more or less climbed onto him, putting her hands onto his shoulders so that he would be able to pick her up with his one arm.
Two arms would be better to have, but that had been his own decision and it had been a good one.
Burning the arm on which his whole sin was marked into was a decision he wasn’t ever going to regret.
Except for those little occasions and he wanted to pick up Charlene or cut a carrot into pieces.

“We’ll just go to a tailor who isn’t in the core of the city, it’s a lot quieter there”, Lottie explained, looking at the child in Gilbert’s arm, still trembling against his body, her fingers gripping his jacket.

Lottie reached out to Gilbert and eventually grabbed the loose sleeve dangling of his shoulder, “just so you don’t lose sight of me.”

This was the closest to an apology anyone would ever get from her, probably.
Her hair was in a ponytail again, except for some strands that had loosened up when walking and brushing against different people. Was he supposed to tell her that it looked good or not? He really wanted to do it, so that maybe she would wear it like this more often.

Shoving those thoughts aside, he decided to concentrate on Charlene or the houses around him – anything that would be enough to distract him from those damned thoughts that had been haunting him for months now.
Thoughts he didn’t want to face, not now.
It was not the time for it now.

“Charlie, everything’s fine. Everything’s ok. We’re here for you.”

It took a few minutes for him and Lottie to reach an alley which wasn’t flooded by people to the point of having to walk into the same direction as them.
Gilbert himself had never liked crowds either. Loud and noisy and so many people that you felt even more alone than you already were anyways. He had always hated being alone despite everyone technically being there.
The feeling of loneliness would never truly leave him until he would find Oz and Alice again. Until he would see Oz cry just like he had right before he disappeared-

“Gilbert”, Lottie said, reminding him that she was there, reminding him that he was right here, in the present, with an anxious child in his arm.
If it weren’t for Lottie simply being there to pull him out of those thoughts that sometimes consumed him, he truly wouldn’t know what to do.

“Sorry”, he mumbled, setting Charlene down on the floor and kneeling down in front of her then, putting his hand to her arm to steady her.

He knew how it felt to be that lost.

And he still knew how Glen had always tried to calm him – the attempts had been miserable so that Jack had always ended up being the one to cheer him up, but he had been glad about Glen trying at least.
It had made him feel loved.

He heard Lottie sigh and her heels clicking on the floor until she was leaning against the wall next to Charlene.

“I know, too many people aren’t that good for you. I’m sorry we dragged you through this.”

In contrary to Glen, he was a little bit better with words and how to put his feelings into them – one advantage because of overthinking and imagining conversations with people who wouldn’t be there for another ninety-six years.

“No, that’s my fault for… being that whiny and…”

Her lips were trembling just like her whole body. He brushed her thumbs against her shoulders.

“No, it’s not, Charlie”, it had taken him long enough to admit that his parents abandoning them wasn’t entirely his fault. Vincent’s red eye surely was, as he had been supposed to become the next Glen. But his parents could have still let them live with them. They could have loved him and Vincent even with his red eye.
Charlie had gone through the very same.

“We’ll stay here until you calm down, then we’ll go to the tailor, yeah? You really need some proper clothes. We’ll practice this. One day you’ll be just fine walking through a crowd, I promise you. Breath in deeply and then sigh, ok? That always helps me.”

He heard Lottie giggle above them and decided to ignore it. That was one of the few problems he had with her. Sometimes she didn’t take things as seriously as she should. And this was one of them.
Charlie did as she was told, drew in a deep breath, held it and then sighed.

“That’s good”, he said, “continue. You’re safe. You’re not living on the streets anymore. You’re like a visitor now. A visitor to someone else’s house who is a nice person to be around. Réveille has been pretty much safe in the last few months. I think the only bad thing that happened was that a little girl was all alone on the streets.”

She smiled a little at that, eventually grabbing his hand again, taking in another breath. Her trembling stopped.

Gilbert felt strangely… light. For the first time in years. As if a light had been lifted off his shoulders and his back which had been pressing him down all this time, not allowing him to look into the near future, but only into the past and to the day when he would see them again.
Maybe this girl was supposed to be the salvation he had been looking for.
It was finally the time to make up a little for everything else he had done.
He just wanted to move on so badly. He didn’t want to forget them – of course not, how could he? But maybe he would be able to… live a little more.

“I think we can go on. I just… don’t want to go back through all the people for now if that’s ok.”

“No, don’t worry, it’s this way”, Lottie said, pointing to the rest of the alleyway, “we can also take another way back. Or simply get us a carriage. But we can still decide this later. Leo probably doesn’t want us back too late, not when he…”

‘Not when he was at the graveyard.’

Gilbert could easily read her lips. He had gotten so used to Lottie, it was incredibly.
Grasping Charlie’s hand a little harder in fear that he could lose her, he started walking into the direction Lottie had pointed at.

“Gilbert, can you please wait?”

She rushed after him and he laughed. Not as loudly as he had laughed when Oz had called him an idiot over and over again although Oz himself had been the greater idiot at that time, but at least it was a laugh.

“You’re going insane now”, Lottie sighed, catching up to them and crossing her arms, a smile on her lips.

Gilbert would never admit how beautiful she had looked in that moment.

“Maybe I am. The ponytail looks good on you.”

He felt good enough to admit that, though.
His cheeks felt hot of embarrassment and he knew that he would regret having said that later on. But for now, it was ok.

“You’re definitely going insane.”

If he had looked her way, he would have seen her carrying an even more beautiful smile on her lips.

 

He already regretted it when they entered the tailor’s store, so he tried to distract himself by inspecting the little store.
The girl sitting inside looked about nineteen or twenty years old. But not older. Her hair was ash blonde, almost the shade of Elliot’s hair colour. She was wearing red glasses that hid her blue eyes.
She was wearing a simple, white shirt and a red skirt with ribbons all over.

“Hey, Lottie, it’s you! Did you finally bring your husband?”

It took a few moments for that sentence to sink into Gilbert’s conscience. To understand that he was, in fact, the only man in this room and that it was him the girl with the almost disgustingly high-pitched voice meant.
Him.
Husband.
No.

“Wait!”, he said, looking at Lottie who was equally as shocked and then at Charlene who just looked entirely confused by the whole world.

“He’s not my husband, Val! I’ve told you often enough I’m not married, and I don’t even have a boyfriend or something! Haven’t had one in years!”

“But I thought you-“

“Val, you’ll shut up right now”, Lottie snarled, marching over to her and slamming her hands into the table Val was sitting at.

“Uhm… you’re not married?”

Something inside of Gilbert wanted to die at that. It wasn’t Charlene’s fault for not knowing, but it surely was his fault for coming off like wanting a serious relationship with the woman who had tried killing him and his master once and who didn’t look as if she would regret it one bit – what kind of sense would that even make?
Yeah, she looked good and-
Stop, don’t think that, he told himself, desperately trying to get his cheeks to cool down. He hadn’t succeeded doing that since he had said that Lottie’s ponytail looked good, but nothing would be achieved without trying.

“No, we’re not even in love or something.”

“Really?”, Val asked, smirking at Lottie whose eyebrows twitched slightly at that, something that often occurred when she was angry and trying to hold back.

“We’ve come here for a dress for Charlie, not to brag about my love life. We can do that some other time, if you so desperately want to leave your opinion on that. But Gilbert is not my husband, nor my boyfriend, nor is anything happening between us. Now show us your damned dresses or I’m never returning again. And I know fully well that you like it when I pay you.”

Val was the first one to give in to the staring contest going on between the two women.
Gilbert felt so out of place for a moment.
That was so not good and he wished he hadn’t come here for a moment, but when he saw Charlie lighten up when looking around the clothing store, he forgot about it right away.
He would endure his own suffering if it was for her good.

“Fine”, Valerie said, “for the little lady here, I suppose? Or does Gil want a dress?”

Gilbert was too close to losing his mind by now, but he would refrain from doing so. What was wrong with this woman anyways? And what did she even think when she just started using his nickname as if they had known each other for years? Gilbert was seeing her for the very first time.

“Come with me, Charlie”, Val added, looking at the kid next to Gilbert who was still seemingly intimidated by the dresses hanging around the shop.

She immediately followed her.
As soon as they were gone into the next room where Val had smaller dresses fit for children, Gilbert moaned out loud and slumped against the wall.

“Sorry for her”, Lottie said, sitting down on that awful woman’s chair, “she’s always like that. Her name’s Valerie. I found her tailor shop when I was strolling around the city with Fang one day. She was fifteen back then. Just a tiny kid who knew nothing about life. She hasn’t changed a bit, but believe me, she’s a decent person on the inside. Just a little special and weird.”

Gilbert buried his face in his hand, ruffling his hair to the point of it being completely destroyed. He couldn’t care less about it.

“Weird is an absolute understatement. What even was that? I mean, we definitely don’t look marri-“, he stopped mid-sentence, then continued after a break that took a few seconds, “well, I guess we do, walking around the city with a child like that. Still, Charlie doesn’t look like us at all.”

Lottie nodded, grinning and obviously hiding a laugh from him.

“Val reminds me a little of Sharon, she always did. Just that Sharon is a lot more egoistic than she is. That’s for sure.”

Gilbert was so glad that someone finally agreed on that matter.
From the outside, Sharon might seem selfless, having done everything possible for Break, the man she had apparently valued more than her own life – something Gilbert couldn’t understand at all because that had been Break.
But really, he knew that most of her moves had revolved around her own wishes, about staying at Break’s side, about avoiding his death because she didn’t want to experience the loss she had once experienced when her mother had died again.
It was the same for him.
‘I’m doing this for Oz’ was not what he had actually lived by. In the end, everything had been for his own good. Burning his arm to not be loaded by guilt anymore.
Calling him by his name because he wanted to do that, felt the longing to see him as an equal and not as a higher-up.

“I know.”

“Thought you would disagree with me on that”, Lottie laughed, going through the many papers on the desk by now, frowning here and there at how many pages there were of unedited documents and letters.

“No. I’ve been friends with Sharon for fourteen years now. And I knew Break very well, I knew Oz very well. And me. All of us are egoistical when it comes down to it, don’t you think?”

Lottie looked to the side.
Another strand fell out of her ponytail.

“I like to think that sometimes, we truly do things for the other just because we want them to be well. Maybe that’s just some kind of irrational wish of mine, but I’d really like to think that we can be selfless. I’m not, obviously. But in my eyes, you always were. And I admire you a lot for it. Don’t understand this wrong now. I just liked to see you do everything for Oz and Vincent. You did a great job raising those two brats, you know?”

Again, he had to laugh. Partly because of the irony of the situation – him having had this conversation with Break just some years ago, several times on top of that – and partly because of her way of expressing that he had somehow taken care of them.
‘Raising’ was not the right word.
Vincent had been raised by the law of the street and then by Jack, Oz had been raised by the absence of his father and the loneliness it had brought.
Gilbert had simply done his best to keep them alive.

“I guess.”

He stroked away a strand of his own hair, watching Lottie as she tightened her ponytail with both hands.

Valerie entered the room again, shooting a deadly glance at Lottie going through her personal stuff, then she grinned.

“Charlie has found a perfect dress. It needs some adjustments, but please look at it. She’s absolutely adorable! Oh, I’d adopt her if I could, I swear!”

Valerie motioned at Charlie who was still hidden by the door.

“Here comes the next queen or something”, Lottie murmured, causing Gilbert’s smile to grow a little wider once again.

He still felt strangely light. Still, the weight was gone. It felt… good.
Even though the conversation had put him into a more melancholic mood again, seeing Charlene in that red dress which had about as many bows as Valerie’s skirt totally made him forget it.
It matched her red eyes. Vincent had never worn anything that could have drawn people’s attention to his eye.
Gilbert hadn’t ever complained either. Not after rejecting him like he had done without the intention to, anyways.

“Charlie, this suits you so well! Valerie can take my soul just so I get her dresses, ok?”, Lottie squealed, walking over to the two of them and patting Charlie all over, eyeing the few places in which it was still a little too big for her – mainly her stomach and arms. But maybe that would change soon, maybe she would gain weight now that she wasn’t living on her own and without food anymore.

“You have to pay though”, Valerie said, smirking again, already pulling at Lottie’s bag.

Gilbert just wanted to leave this store because of this terrible woman, but who was he to complain? He had never been interested in clothes and mostly just bought clothes once a year if the old ones needed to be replaced. And now, standing in this store with Lottie, a little girl he had somewhat adopted and a woman who had thought that Lottie and him were married… was way too much for him.
Charlie walked over to him and eyed Lottie and Valerie who were fighting again now.
How exactly had they become friends? He really did need to wonder, considering Lottie looked angry enough to call her chain any moment.

“Uhm… is it really ok for me to… have that dress?”

Gilbert knelt down again, patted her head and then tugged on one of the bows slightly.
Lottie had always worn bows and her red cloak back when they had still worn them. Of course she would love this dress for Charlie.

“Yes, of course! It suits you and you like it! We’ll just have Valerie make a few adjustments here and there. Money never really was a problem for us. I did have money problems, but that was when I was about your age, so you really shouldn’t worry about it. “

“Uh… are you and Lottie really not married?”

Gilbert clenched his fist and accidentally opened the ribbon because of it, he felt his jaw muscle’s do the same, then he sighed.

“No, we’re not. Where do all of you even get that idea?”

A little voice inside of him screamed that maybe, just maybe he wasn’t hiding it as well as he thought he was.
He shut it up mid-sentence.

“Uhm… you do act like a couple somehow”, Charlie explained, “I mean… she held your… sleeve. And all.”

Another low chuckle escaped his throat as warmth flooded through him again, filling him even more with that feeling he had rediscovered after having lost it for years.

“That doesn’t mean anything, though”, he’d been telling him the very same thing for months now, so he was also able to say it out aloud without being too sad about it, “it really doesn’t. Now get out of the dress for Valerie to sew it and then let’s fetch some food, yeah? I’m sure you’re hungry. I am, at least.”

She nodded, still smiling at him, then ran to Lottie and Valerie again.
Charlie and the tailor disappeared once again and Lottie giggled in the corner she was standing in.

“Forget everything I said yesterday, Gilbert. That girl is an absolute sweetheart and I’m glad she’s around.”

He finally knew what that feeling was.
It was simple happiness.