She fell in love with him through his clocks.
They were the first thing that caught her eye in the market her first day in Bern. It was not the smells that wafted through the crowded streets that called to her; it was not the lively music that attracted her attention; no, it was the lacquered brown of a cuckoo clock that drew her (e/c) eyes to his wares.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Soft, in sync beating of the internal gears beckoned her closer. There were other clocks, too—silver pocket watches meant for those richer than she. The closer her feet took her to his stall, the faster her heartbeat went.
When she was at his stall at last, all she could do was gaze at the menagerie of clockwork before her.
“May I help you?”
(E/c) eyes rose up to meet ones the color of the evergreen forests dotting Switzerland. His voice was gruff, hardworking; the voice of someone who earned his keep and would take no nonsense. His face—plain yet handsome, with smooth blonde hair and a mouth stretched in a thin line.
His hands were the delicate instruments of a clockmaker, stained with oil and the results of many hours of precise tinkering.
(Name)’s voice was lost in her throat for a moment as she gazed at the young man opposite of her. The hustle and bustle of the market was lost in the calming ticks of the clocks, creating a symphonic wonder around her. The young man looked to be a couple of years older than her eighteen, but that did not stop the way her chest suddenly tightened.
“E-Er,” she stammered, feeling her cheeks heat up. “I was just…admiring your fine craftsmanship. I’ve just arrived in Bern from the country, see, and…”
She trailed off, feeling foolish. How did you tell someone that their clocks had called to you?
“Big brother!” A different voice saved (name) from permanent embarrassment, and she turned around to see a young girl racing towards the stall. She looked like the boy, with the same shade of blonde hair and soft features; a kind face and smile with green eyes. “Big brother, I sold some!” In her hand she held a few francs, her face bright with happiness.
It was then that (name) noticed the state of disrepair their clothes were; the sallow cheeks and worn-down shoes.
“Lily,” the young man said in a firm but not unkind tone, “I am with a customer right now. But I’m glad—you worked very hard on those toys. Make sure you save your earnings.” The stern line lifted upwards in a semblance of a smile and he nodded towards her.
The girl named Lily lit up even more and nodded. “Yes! I will, Vash! I’m going to bring it home right now!” And with that, she was racing away again.
(Name) found her voice once more. “Ah…Vash, is it?”
He nodded, the warmth she had detected earlier now gone with his sister. “Yes. Would you like to look at something, miss?”
She pointed to the first thing her finger could find—a small pocket watch, silver with an edelweiss flower engraved in the metallic surface. “May I have a look at that, please?”
It wasn’t like she could afford it. The only reason she was in Bern was to look for work. Come winter, (name) would return to the countryside where her family lived with her earnings. But it was not as if she could just walk away—the clocks had called to her. Their gears inside groaned against one another in a way she found fascinating, and their maker’s austere manner even more so.
Vash carefully handed her the pocket watch, green eyes firmly set on the way her calloused fingers ran over the edelweiss etching. (Name) smiled fondly as she opened up the watch, her face reflected in the shine of the glass protecting the hour and minute hands as they slowly made their way around the clock face.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick…tock…
“How much?” (Name) blurted out before she could control what she was saying.
“One hundred francs,” Vash answered easily, his eyes still trained on her. “No more, no less. My work is quality, and I expect the pay to be as well.”
One hundred francs was all she had with her. It was to be her room and board, for her food! But…
She needed this pocket watch.
She needed to help this boy who had made it.
Her heart told her so.
(Name)’s fingers slid into her coat pocket, pulling out the bills and coins. Without hesitation she handed them to the young man opposite of her, the other hand still clutching the pocket watch. “My name is (name),” she added before he could shoo her off. “I…think I may come back here soon. Your work is lovely, and the clocks…”
Again, she said it before she could control herself.
“They call to me.”
Instead of the reaction she expected—for Vash to claim her a lunatic or some other insulting title—the clockmaker merely smiled. A true smile that was as perfect as freshly oiled clock gears.
“Ah. I know what you mean. They call to me as well.”
(Name) returned to the market two weeks after she had begun working in Bern. It was a simple job, serving beer and food at a local pub, but it paid well enough. The pocket watch remained around her neck on a chain at all times, its ticking a soothing presence.
Life in the city wasn’t as grueling as (name) had thought it would be. She managed to keep up a decent lifestyle with her salary. Even with a war going on in the rest of Europe, Switzerland was still doing well. The neutrality they maintained did more than just protect them from the bullets of guns.
Her second time in the market was similar to the first. Only the soft tocks of Vash’s clockwork beckoned her like nothing else. The astringent yet good-natured young man and his friendly, warm hearted little sister were always selling their wares, clocks and toys alike.
She returned a third time.
And a fourth.
Each time (name) came to Vash’s stall, the beating of the clocks’ gear-like heartbeat brought them closer and closer.
The fifth time she came, it was only Lily at the stall, her petite features drawn with exhaustion and utter worry.
“…Lily? Is something wrong?” (Name) asked cautiously, brushing a strand of (h/c) hair away from her face.
“…Vash is sick,” was all the young girl could say, staring down at the meager wares in the stall. “He…can’t make clocks anymore. And we…don’t have the money for medicine.”
Those words seemed to stall the pocket watch around (name)’s neck.
No…they did stall it—the ticks suddenly stopped, and the cold metal felt dead against her skin. All the other clocks’ ticking suddenly sounded lonely; sad, desperate, reaching out to (name) and begging for her help.
Wordlessly, (name) grabbed Lily’s hand and shoved all the francs she had with her into the girl’s small palm. The world had gone blank—time had stopped and there was no such thing as other people besides her and her tumbling thoughts.
Vash…is he going to be all right? I should go see him. We’re friends—I have to! Vash…Vash…
(Name) knew she wouldn’t be able to.
And so she ran, blocking out the cries of the clockwork hearts that screamed after her—and her own.
Winter came and went. (Name) returned home with her earnings from working in Bern, much to her mother and father’s delight. Able to live comfortably off their daughter’s salary, they fared much better in that winter than they had in most of their lives.
Vash’s pocket watch still did not tick. (Name) dare not take it to the nearest town to their tinker to have a look at it—a stranger seeing the watch’s internal gears was like baring Vash’s heart to someone who did not deserve it.
When spring came again, she returned to Bern for another year of work, the silent and cold pocket watch still around her neck. The city had never felt so suffocating as she managed to drag her way through the market to where Vash and Lily’s stall.
But it wasn’t there.
The space that was usually filled with the beautiful chimes of cuckoo clocks and the sonorous ticking of pocket watches had been replaced by none other than a run-of-the-mill produce stall.
“Excuse me,” she swallowed the lump in her throat, approaching the stall. “I remember last year there being a clockmaker’s stall here…has it been moved?”
It was too damn hard to keep her voice from trembling.
The man shrugged nonchalantly, looking annoyed that she was not asking about his produce. “I heard the lad died from influenza and his little sister had him buried before she moved on from Bern. Now how about you take a good look at these apples and—”
But (name) was already rushing away as fast as her feet would carry her towards the direction of the cemetery, tears stinging in her (e/c) eyes.
No. No. No! You gave Lily money! She should have been able to buy medicine! Vash is alive!
…but if he is, then why won’t the pocket watch tick anymore?
Everything went numb when she finally made it to the cemetery. Loneliness clutched at her chest like an icy hand as her eyes scanned over the names etched into the gravestones. The air stopped flowing from her lungs when she at last found the name she was looking for, carved crudely into a small and unimpressive marker.
Vash Zwingli. Big Brother. Clockmaker.
(Name)’s knees buckled and she slowly dropped to the ground in front of the grave, staring at it with hollow eyes. The pocket watch felt like it carried the weight of the world on its silver surface, and with trembling hands she slipped it over her head.
It wasn’t fair.
Vash had been her friend.
She had wanted to be more than just friends, even.
But here he was.
“…oh, Vash,” she whispered in a voice hoarse with held back tears, “I should have stayed. I should have continued working to support you and Lily. And now…”
Out of the corner of her eye (name) noticed something white tucked in between a crack in the stone. She pulled the fragile piece of paper out as cautiously as she could, unfolding the thin material and reading the uncertain penmanship, as if the writer wasn’t comfortable with the process of writing.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard. Big brother didn’t make it. Your money bought us medicine, but it wasn’t enough. Vash had been sick for a long time, and it finally got too bad for us to take care of. It’s not your fault, (name). You were a good friend to both my brother and I. Vash appreciated your friendship and your love for his clocks.
I’ve gone away to try and become a clockmaker like Vash. Maybe we’ll see each other again.
Don’t be sad. Everything happens for a reason. I’m sure he’s happy that he got to meet you—I know I am.
There were words smeared by what appeared to by drops of water having dried on the ink. Some of the words looked shaky, as if the fingers that had held the pen had been quivering as they wrote the letter.
(Name)’s movements became mechanical. She set the letter down and turned her attention to the pocket watch, opening it up and staring at the still and silent clock face. A thumb stroked the glassy surface, as if willing the gears inside to begin moving again.
Mute and shivering, she rested the watch on top of the grave marker, closing her eyes and sending up a silent apology to wherever Vash might have been.
When she heard the methodical tick-tock of a pocket watch, those eyes snapped right open.
It was ticking again. The second hand was moving around the clock face like it once had, counting down the moments that began minutes and the minutes that became hours. Those hours would become days; those days would become weeks; weeks, months; and months, a year.
But (name) would never be able to forget Vash Zwingli, whose heart had been as meticulous as his beloved clockwork.