Author: chocolate-moosey PM
Desperate to experience love, Ciel makes a rash decision that leads him down a path of intruige, murder, and the unnatural. Burdened with the repercussions, the earl plays into the hands of two of the cruelest beings that he and his butler have encountered. Sebastian/CielRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Ciel P. & Sebastian M. - Chapters: 12 - Words: 79,621 - Reviews: 324 - Favs: 366 - Follows: 403 - Updated: 12-23-12 - Published: 04-21-10 - id: 5914579
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
By Chocolate Moosey
"Spare me your judgments and spare me your dreams,
'Cause recently mine have been tearing my seams.
I sit alone in this winter clarity, which clouds my mind.
Alone in the wind and the rain you left me,
It's getting dark darling, too dark to see,
And I'm on my knees and your faith in shreds, it seems."
—Mumford and Sons, "Thistle and Weeds"
Although a fine layer of snow covered the roof of the Phantomhive manor's greenhouse, the contents flourished like they had not in many years. The vast number of exotic ferns and trees that populated the atrium blossomed with flowers of vibrant, jeweled colours. Birds of paradise craned their necks around thick, green leaves; hibiscus glowing vivid scarlet accented the low-growing palms; and red-tipped golden roses climbed the delicate arched trellises, flushing by the accompaniment of prominent yellow orchids.
At a table situated by a massive stone urn sat Earl Ciel Phantomhive, having his afternoon tea.
The young man—for he was now very much a man, at eighteen years of age—was resting his chin upon an open palm, twirling a rolled wafer between the fingers of his spare hand. His eyes were glazed over in a soft trance as he watched a small head of black curls maneuver through the thick of the greens.
Ophelia Rachel Phantomhive was rapidly approaching her first birthday, and at nine months old had just managed to perfect the concept of running her parents ragged—quite literally. As quiet and reserved as the child was wont to be, the gift of locomotion had not been kind to either of her parents. The crawling, months earlier, had proved to be enough of a problem; demon children—as their title implied—were quite adept at getting into all sorts of trouble that Ciel had previously considered unfeasible for ones so tiny.
For instance, when she had first learned to crawl her way across the floor of the drawing room months ago, Ciel had been presented with the lovely gift of a decapitated mouse unfortunate enough to have snuck into the line of site of the infant. Ophelia had presented the body of the dead rodent to the earl with an all-gums bloody smile and proceeded to crawl over to her father with the head, where she was relished with many praises.
"What a fine huntress you shall be one day, Ophelia!" The demon had remarked cheerfully, using a cloth to wipe the blood and various mouse entrails from his child's tiny claws. "But we do not track blood into the house, my love. Hunting is an outside activity."
Ophelia gurgled happily at her father, who had swept her up and proceeded to take her off for a bath before her mother became ill.
As she grew, the baby had become more adventurous than Ciel had ever recalled himself being in his youth. Even under the watchful eye of the impeccable Sebastian and four semi-competent servants, she could manage to cause more trouble in a day than Ciel had caused his entire life (watchdog duty included). Ciel quickly learned that Ophelia was as placid as a lamb when she was allowed to play, but any attempt to end her exploring and merrymaking prematurely would inevitably result in some of the worst tantrums the earl had ever seen (his own included).
It certainly didn't help that Sebastian treated her like a princess and had an awful tendency to spoil her rotten.
Currently, Ophelia was toddling out of the thicket of bushes she'd found herself traversing through, her tiny voice lilted into some half-song composed of infantile babbles. Clutched in her hand was a yellow rose, the base shredded into thin fibres by her baby claws and imprecise extraction. Ciel turned towards his child, extending his arms towards her; smiling two crooked teeth at her mother, Ophelia made her way into his embrace, where she was pulled up onto his lap.
"What a pretty flower, darling." He observed, extending his nose towards the layers of silky yellow petals. Ophelia responded to the compliment by smashing the flower closer to his nose with a drooling giggle. Ciel bit down a laugh and pulled her back.
"Gentle, Ophelia." He chided softly; the baby burbled happily, waving her chubby little arms and the rose within her fist before a look of most extreme sadness crossed her face. Tears bubbled into her auburn eyes and she began to whimper.
Before Ciel could respond, Ophelia had been extracted from his lap and was sailing through the air into her father's arms. Gloved hands ever gentle, the elder demon plucked away the rose, revealing a red stain streaked down the side of the flower, born from a small thorn that had been crushed into her finger.
"There now, my love. No need to cry." He said very softly, pressing his lips to her finger. He set the rose down on the tea table and removed a small handkerchief from his lapel, which he wrapped about the wound. Ophelia sniffed, having forgotten about the prick upon her finger, and now seemed much more concerned with the rose. Twisting in Sebastian's arms, she reached for the flower with her uninjured hand, releasing a noise halfway between a squeal and a mewl. Ciel smiled softly and picked up the rose; careful to avoid the thorns, he held the flower out to Ophelia who—with a tiny hand—ripped the petals from the stem and thrust them at Sebastian.
"Are those for me?" He asked, looking down at his kit with an expression of utmost amused tenderness.
Ophelia responded with a pointed: "Ah!"
"Why thank you, little one." Having secured the kerchief around her finger, he accepted the offering of yellow petals with his spare hand.
"Is it best to encourage these destructive tendencies?" Ciel smiled a bit wryly, taking to his feet. Pressing close to Sebastian and Ophelia, he snuck a quick kiss against his daughter's cheek.
Sebastian countered with a pleased hum, "She has a good eye, my lord. She merely observed that the petals are just as beautiful as the intact rose—and quite devoid of nasty thorns."
Ciel fought down the urge to snark back in reply, but figured that Ophelia did, indeed, deserve at least a bit of credit for her ingenuity. "She has your taste." He retorted instead, brushing a stray black curl from her eyes.
Time had changed the earl. Ophelia had changed him. Ciel was still very much himself on the surface—callous and occasionally even wicked—but the child had undoubtedly morphed his core in a way no other being had been able to. News of his pregnancy had shaken the foundation of Ciel's very life, but Ophelia's birth had managed to mold him into a much softer version of his previous self. Ciel had always been attentive, even in his youth, but he began to take attention to much smaller nuances as time progressed. Tidbits such as Sebastian's warm gaze reflected in their daughter's eyes, or even a cool breeze rolling in on a hot day managed to become engraved deep in Ciel's mind, where before only horrid, haunting images had made themselves known. His past had been beaten into his brain, leaving harsh imprints in its wake, but recent events soothed him in a way.
Slowly but surely, Ciel was healing.
It was evident even in his interactions with his servants. While they were socially inept at best—and generally absentminded, as a rule— they were not idiots. The excuse of his "ailment" could only go so far when the four were in his company so often. Fortunately, they seemed to be unfailingly loyal to both himself and his lover and—bless their hearts—had never questioned Ciel's condition beyond a cock of the head and silent acceptance.
The patience parenthood was slowly but surely granting him was reflected even in the smallest of exchanges with them. Maylene had been the first to receive his bizarre affections, having played nursemaid to Ophelia since the moment the child was born. The sniper had never so much as held a baby before the moment Sebastian made to hand the infant Ophelia over to her, and she had broken into hysterics at the thought of accidently dropping or harming the baby. Once Bard and Finnian had managed to pacify her, Ciel had summoned the maid to the side of his bed. Maylene had kneeled there, shoulders shivering as her braced herself for the verbal lashing Ciel was about to bestow upon her.
"Maylene," Ciel said, his voice still raspy from hours of screaming. He reached out towards her, fingers caked brown with dried blood, and Maylene flinched as he touched them to her cheek—a fleeting caress. "You are the one woman I would ever trust with this task."
The maid had nearly toppled over in shock at this declaration, and had even gone so far as to be driven to tears by Ciel's kind words. After a quarter hour of hysterical sobbing and thanks from the redhead, Sebastian had managed to extract her from their exhausted master's chamber and guided the oblivious maid to Ophelia's nursery.
As it was, the whole lot of them were perplexed on how to raise a child at first. Sebastian had undoubtedly read every volume of both human and demon parenting and child-rearing literature that he could get his hands on, but application had proved to be surprisingly challenging, even for someone as adept as the demon (much to Sebastian's chagrin and Ciel's vast amusement). Maylene had never even cared for a child before, let alone be knowledgeable on how to induce lactation. This was much better than Finny, who had not even seen a baby up close before. Tanaka was little help with the matter, never having fathered children. Ciel was outright perplexed. Chances were that the earl knew more about potato-farming than childcare.
It was Bard—eldest of six—who had been the unanticipated expert on child rearing. He'd been the one to eventually show the entirety of the household—even Sebastian—the proper way to hold the baby, wherein the demon had been instructing a book-strict way to hold Ophelia that had seemed more stiff and impersonal that it was natural.
"That's the problem with you Brits, everything's all business to you. Ya don't have to hold her like a stack of lighted dynamite; it's a baby." He said, swaddling the child up in the provided satin sheets waiting in the bassinette at the foot of Ciel's bed. "And don't roll her up too tight like you just were—she'll get overheated and fussy."
Sebastian's eyebrows had nearly shot into his hairline, "I was not aware you possessed such an ability to instruct."
Bard flinched—quite clearly being called out on his officious behavior. Smug, Sebastian had plucked up his daughter and inevitably fallen into the natural position of cradling her that Bard had demonstrated. Ciel had then glanced over at the cook and nodded in approval, eliciting an exasperated glare from his lover and a sheepish smile from Bard.
Finnian had refused to come within three feet of Ophelia for the first several months, for fear of breaking the infant. This had changed soon after she'd began to crawl. One morning, Maylene had been in charge of the baby for all of three minutes and managed to lose her glasses. In the process, the maid had bumped into a side table and disturbed a priceless vase that had threatened to tumble over and break to pieces upon the innocent Ophelia, who was scooting around the table's legs on her belly. Fortunately, Finny had been walking by the room just in time to spot the situation, and had sprinted in to guard Ophelia from the shards of the vase at the last minute.
Unfortunately, the contact with Finnian had resulted in the vase becoming smashed to bits upon his shoulder, but Ophelia had been safely protected in the confines of his arms. The baby had then thanked him by breaking his nose in a flurry of flailing limbs as she attempted to escape his arms and resume her playtime. Upon learning that Ophelia was indeed more indestructible than himself, the two had become inseparable. It was not uncommon for Finnian to be seen walking through the gardens mid-day in later summer and early fall, Ophelia strapped to his back in a linen sling. Through this, the demon child had quickly learned to love flowers—Ciel was vastly impressed to come across them one summer morning in the garden, Finny chattering to the earl's child blithely.
"—shame I'm not allowed to touch them. And those are chrysanthemums; Mr. Tanaka says they're very special flowers where he comes from. They mean 'joy', and I think that's why your papa planted them." He turned towards another set of flowers, hitching the baby farther up his back. "Aren't these pretty, Ophelia? They're pink carnations; they mean a mother's love," He smiled, his eyes pinching in fondness. "And these white carnations next to them mean 'innocence' and 'the purest love'—."
Ciel cleared his throat softly, causing Finny to start. The gardener wheeled around, Ophelia blinking at Ciel over the blond's shoulder, having already been aware of her mother's presence.
"Finnian." Ciel said softly, crossing the courtyard to gently stoke his daughter's cheek. "Do you talk to Ophelia like this every day?"
Finny made a tiny noise like a wounded animal, recoiling away from Ciel, who now towered a threatening two inches over the gardener. Ophelia sensed the tension and began to wriggle in her sling, beating Finnian's shoulder with her palm. The blond licked his lips, eyes darting away from Ciel. "Y-yes?" He squeaked, more of a question than a response.
Ciel smiled. "Good. It's wonderful that you're helping to educate her this early on."
And with that, he strolled on through the garden, shuffling a handful of business documents and leaving a perplexed Finny in his wake. Moments later, the soft sounds of Finny explaining the meaning of the magnolia trees carried over the gardens.
Ciel was not the only one who had been altered over the months—there'd been a pronounced change in Sebastian as well. Even the demon's threatening aura could be quelled by Ophelia's presence, and the servants took every chance that they could to abuse this fact. Gone were the days of twisted limbs as payment for smashed windows; if one of them could maneuver Ophelia into the room while Sebastian was seething, all rage would inevitably seep from the demon the moment he caught his daughter's scent. He quickly caught onto this trick, however, and all disciplining was done whilst Ophelia was napping, though the chastisement was more often than not verbal in place of physical.
Sebastian was particularly different when it came to intimate moments with his family. Once they had officially kindled their romance, the butler was always particularly straightforward with his emotions—little flickers of feelings passing over his eyes and quirking his lips. He'd always been a surprisingly gentle and considerate beau, but Ciel had never seen him so unabashedly affectionate as he was with his family.
Sometimes they would lay in Ciel's bed at night, Ophelia fast asleep, tucked against the earl's chest and Sebastian curled protectively around them. His caresses were unfathomably gentle, the backs of his fingers passing over Ophelia's curls, his thumb smoothing over Ciel's cheek, followed by feather-light kisses. This was something Ciel had only felt long ago, a fluttering in his chest that had been smothered by pain and by time, but recalled with the union of this small and precious family to call his own. Happiness. This was happiness. This was true bliss.
And although bliss clouds the mind, it does nothing to deter the harsher realities that constantly loom on the precipice of thought. Although he was happy, although he was changed, Ciel could not allow himself to be completely illusioned.
Yet fate is a cruel mistress, and strikes the moment one shuts their eyes.
She sat in the corner of a weathered old library, a feeble candle on her left.
The flickering light was cast over row upon row of bookshelves, their spines emblazoned in golden and white dancing alongside its fleeting glow. Everything smelled of parchment, old and heavy. The bookshelves around them jutted two metres into the air, creating a tiny box around the hooded waif and the brunette who loomed over her with widened gray eyes.
The smaller woman's hands were shaking as she held the red volume in her lap, pen dashing over the pages as she whispered something under her breath, quick and fierce in an accent so thick she could barely discern her words. Every now and then she would duck beneath her cowl in order to wipe at her cheeks; although her face was obscured within the black hood of her heavy mantle, it was clear that she was sobbing. The succubus watching over and her jutted out her lower lip, folding her arms beneath her breasts like an impatient child.
"Hurry it up, Paddy." She ordered, her accent lilting charmingly over the slur. Her lips drew thin, patience waning.
"My soul's healer: keep me at even, keep me at morning, keep me at noon." The other hissed beneath her breath, her hand darting out to collect ink upon the nib of her pen from a small pot at her side. "On rough course fairing, help and safeguard my means this night. I am tired, astray and stumbling,"
Cosette released a sharp scoff, kicking the woman roughly in the knee. "Fermez la bouche!" She ordered in a low snarl.
The woman stopped, trembling violently, and reached into her cloak, removing a tiny silver charm displaying a fanciful Celtic knot and bringing it to her lips. She then took a deep breath and continued. "Shield me," Said she, her voice low and tremulous. "From snare and sin."
Falling silent, the woman set her pen down beside her, sucking in yet another gasp of air and holding the book out before her for inspection.
Cosette smiled sweetly, and proceeded to break her neck.
Ciel awoke slowly to the feeling of something warm upon his face. Reaching up, he brushed the thick liquid from his cheek, frowning as he rolled it between his fingers. Strange. He usually did not suffer from nosebleeds in the dead of winter. Sitting up, his brow furrowed as he felt the damp cling of his sleeves, a fleeting feeling of frustration, and then concern as he finally opened his eyes, raising his clean palm up to rub away the sleep—
Even in the palest sliver of moonlight, the substance upon his hand shone greasy black, wet and fresh. The sleepy annoyance within him quivered dangerously towards horror as Ciel's gaze traveled up the sleeves of his bed shirt and over his chest—all tainted with the same shade of black.
"Black blood?" He whispered tremulously, slowly raising shaking fingers to his face, where they pressed upon his cheeks already slick with the stuff. He had to be dreaming. This must have been another one of the vivid nightmares that had plagued him since his youth—however; the smell pervading the air about his head was something very real. It did not taste sharp and metallic, but old, bitter, and deep.
"Ink?" Ciel inquired to himself and without warning, pain shot through his eye like hot lead. The earl reeled, as if struck, his head connecting roughly with his wooden headboard as his fingers dug into the ink-stained sheets, gripping the damp linens and squeezing more of the thick substance over his fingers. His marked eye throbbed madly, as if it had come alive with a pulse of its own, something within struggling to escape as his palm crushed over it, filling it with a handful of the warm, stinging ink.
The pain fought back into his skull, crashing and swelling violently within his head before constricting. It then shot down his spine, liquid hot metal, and Ciel arched off of the bed, gasping violently as ink gurgled up from his throat and leaked from his eyes, filling him with the stale flavor as his feet and hands twitched violently, bound by the electric ribbons of stinging heat.
And as soon as it had begun, it was over. The bindings loosened their grip and dropped him onto the bed, like a toy— discarded and numb. Something like lead and cotton was filling his limbs as he coughed out the remainder of the ink and laid there, spread-eagle and dumfounded until—
"Sebastian!" Ciel's body jerked into waking, sheets and duvets tumbling off of his shoulders as he groped around the soft folds of his bed for the demon. The linen parted beneath his hands smoothly, still the same innocent shade of white that they had been before—completely unmarred by the ink within his dreams. However, the relief was short-lived as Ciel's half-sleeping search of his bed yielded no sleepy demon, and the horror began to set in.
Something was wrong. Even as Ciel climbed into consciousness, there was a strange sense of… fullness within the room. As if a black curtain had been raised from his vision. Fingers tightening in the comforter, Ciel raised his fingers to his eye, intent on summoning the absent demon.
'If he's out chasing birds, I'll kill him—.' The thought was frozen within Ciel's mind as pink clouded half of his vision. Slowly, he pulled his fingers away from his eye, watching in sick fascination as he wiggled them and saw the digits writhe clearly.
He glanced left.
And then right.
Realization curled around the base of his stomach as he threw the sheets from his lap and climbed from the bed, wincing as his bare feet came into contact with the freezing air.
There must have been a mistake.
A mistake. Something. The contract—
Into the bathroom he plodded, resting one hand on his chest as he approached the empty washbasin, mind numb.
His eyes darted up to his reflection in a quick movement and he raised his fingers up again, squeezing his left eye closed. Still, everything around him was fully visible from his flushed and horrified reflection to the intricate designs upon the titled walls.
"Sebastian. Come to me." Ciel whispered, pressing his fingers below his right eye. He stared back at himself, horrified as the violet eye remained pale, no longer glowing with the mark of the beast. Numbly, he dropped his hands to his sides and began to retreat from the bathroom, crossing through his closet and into the front room. He stopped to admire the grandfather clock for several moments, mind blank, before he turned back to the decorative mirror opposite it. Two wide eyes—lapis and violet—stared back. His vision full. His mind blank.
Slowly, Ciel lowered himself to his knees and looked down at his hands, thin fingers still trembling, and still very bare of ink. He traced every line, licking and worrying his lips as he attempted to force the thoughts to come.
But they never did.
Merely an empty pang in his chest; a hollow, acidic squeeze; and—
Ciel did not realize he was screaming until Maylene burst through the door into his entrance room, pistol cocked and ready to fire as she scanned the room for intruders. The maid's eyes fell upon Ciel's trembling frame seconds later as she lowered the gun, slipping her glasses back into place.
"Young master?" She inquired urgently. "What happened? Where is Mister Sebastian?"
Ciel looked up at her, still curled around himself tightly as he shook his head, lips moving aimlessly as no sound was emitted. "I… I don't know."
"Young master…?" The redhead's voice dropped to soft tones as she clicked the revolver's safety into place, kneeling by his side. Ciel released a hollow little laugh, shaking his head.
"The contract." He mumbled, bowing his head and pushing himself from the floor, stumbling forward to break through the doors. Gasping down air, he traveled on shaky legs to Ophelia's nursery, where the baby was already fussing from her mother's earlier outcry.
"What do you mean by that?" Maylene asked from the hall, voice low. Ciel did not reply, merely stumbled farther into the room, coming to rest beside the crib. Ophelia was scrubbing irritably at her eyes, one hand flailing through the polished wooden bars for her mother.
"It's been broken," Ciel said to himself, Maylene's presence all but forgotten. He extended a finger towards Ophelia and she gratefully seized it and began to gnaw, pacified by his presence. Ciel vaguely realized he was chewing his lips as he began to tremble, the sting of his heart falling into his stomach. "Sebastian is gone."
"Gone?" Maylene repeated breathlessly, propping the gun against the door frame as she entered the nursery. She brought a tight-fisted hand to her face earnestly. "What happened?! Did he leave? Did he—?"
"Maylene." Ciel ordered, his lips tilting into a pleasant smile as he turned upon the maid, now resting his hand upon his shoulder. "Leave."
Blinking behind her owlish spectacles, Maylene shrunk into herself and nodded, apologizing quietly before backing out of the door, pausing before she closed it. She cast an anxious look at the young man crumpled beside his daughter. "Please tell me if you need anything, young mas—."
"Go." He demanded, his voice rising barely above a snarl, glaring hard at a patch on the floor, fists clenched so tightly that they began to tremble. Ophelia whimpered and the maid uttered a quiet apology before she closed the door behind her, leaving Ciel. Of course she would alert the other servants to his strange actions and—above all else—the lack of Sebastian's presence, and despite his demands they would be huddled around him within moments, fussing and worrying and—
Ciel pitched forward, his knees nearly giving out beneath him as he brought a hand to his mouth, stifling a sob there. Ophelia started and began to wail, her face instantly breaking out in patches of red. Choking down his own cries, Ciel pulled himself up on the side of her crib and leaned down, gathering his baby up into his arms and pressing her tightly to his chest. Sniffling, Ophelia gripped a lock of his grey hair and began to suck on it anxiously, spare hand scrambling for purchase upon his night shirt.
Ciel was numb; the world seemed to spin and tilt about him. There were people, he was crossing the hall back to his room, and then there were words—ones of comfort that never quite reached his mind, barred off from the outside world to contain the single thought humming there:
'Sebastian is gone.'
He remained there for too long, the spiral gaining speed, eventually throwing Ciel from its center and sending the earl colliding back into awareness with an awful shock: the infectious wounds he had acquired, but never addressed, all stinging and creeping into him, holding reign over his body and mind.
Could it have possibly been to protect his family from the outcome of the contract and was merely unable to be summoned as he went about his daily business? This hope shone brightly in the earl's mind, but was overcast by heavy doubt. Did Sebastian even have the ability to break the contract? If not, what outside force could have been acting upon it? Leona? Did she have the ability to break the contract and, if so, why had she not done it sooner?
'My use could have been spent.' The dark notion rose from his mind, unable to be smothered down by the other thoughts. Ciel bit down upon his lip, holding Ophelia closer to his chest where she released another anxious mewl. Leona's words carried back to him with cruel intent: words that he had ebbed away so easily before flowed back up onto the shore of his thoughts, causing Ciel to curl around his child, hand softly flexing around a head of soft, black tresses.
"A quick, meaningless fuck with something delicious is only something to tide him over until he receives his end reward." The blonde woman's words echoed hollowly, every lift and tilt to her dry, mocking tone played back crystal clear, almost as if she were standing beside him. "His kin is but another convenient addition to his side of the bargain. He'll fill you with his seed and his lies and his so-called love. But the only thing you'll ever be to him is a vessel and a meal—and once he's done with you, you'll be empty—."
Ciel jumped, displaced from his thoughts as the door from his entrance room creaked open, Bard poking his head in and forcing an apologetic smile. He held a single plate and a cup of tea, the fine china looking so horribly out of place in his calloused hands as he crossed the room to Ciel's bed. Usually the intrusion would have guaranteed a fit from the young earl (especially considering who his bedmate had been for the past several months), but Ciel remained mute in his bed, watching while Bard fidgeted with the plate of toast laden with red jam.
"Its lingonberry." He explained, reaching up to scratch at the back of his head awkwardly before setting down the tea on his master's night stand. "I know it's nothing Mister Sebastian would cook, but I made sure not to burn it this time—ya really should eat."
Ciel blankly obeyed the request, cringing as he bit into his toast, chewing the sourdough bitterly like a child would gnaw upon his unwanted vegetables. Ophelia flailed for the toast, long having since forgotten the delicacy that was a lock of her mother's hair.
He refused to believe that his loyal Sebastian would leave his side intentionally—would abandon his child and lover— those moments had been too precious. Too sincere. They meant too much and held a weight and a purpose so heavy in Ciel's chest that he would be damned if the demon had lied.
Damned if he had not.
Ciel all but ignored the interruption of Finnian bursting into the room, reporting something urgently about Takana's phone calls to several nearby establishments and how they had wielded no sign of the butler. The earl was far too enraptured within his thoughts, his head turned away from the commotion and the toast and transfixed upon Ophelia's face as she smeared lingonberries over his night shirt.
"—thinking about calling that Undertaker fellow. Do you think that would be a good idea?" Finny was asking Bard, shuffling from foot to foot nervously while he worried his lip between his teeth. "I mean, I never knew if he and Mister Sebastian got on well, but I think it would be worth a try, don't you young master?"
"Right." Ciel nodded, nearly unsure of what he was agreeing with. He turned his attention back to the toast, pushing around the lingonberries with the tip of his finger. He scoffed, pressing one of the jellied berries beneath his finger in annoyance. "If anyone has answers to obscure questions, it would be that old bat—."
His body jerked in sudden realization; both Finny and Bard leapt back, startled by their master's sudden start and Ophelia began to cry as Ciel dropped the toast on the bedclothes. Suddenly, the earl was bombarded with their inquiries whilst he gripped the plush sheets before him, squeezing tightly but eliciting no ink. Those vague, trilled words that had saved his life alongside the gift of the paper knife—damn all if that bastard didn't know more than he let on. Not to mention the heavy tome he had read from in the parlor, and the other books there that most likely held the secrets of Sebastian and others of his kind. Struck by inspiration, Ciel released the sheets and held his hand aloft, silencing the two men at his bedside.
"Tell Takana to prepare a carriage." He explained, climbing from the other side of his bed and entering the closet.
"Young master?" Finny inquired, cocking his head to the side as Ciel stood, rocking Ophelia's little whimpers away. Once she was properly lulled into silence, the earl turned towards the two as determination set in.
"I'm going to pay Undertaker a visit."
The winter had clung to the earth late into the year; even in early February, snow fell over London and its surrounding neighborhoods in soft blankets every night. Ciel shifted under the heavy covers within the carriage, hiking them up to bury his nose. As they made their way down the narrow, crooked cobblestone paths into the underbelly of London, the fine carriage jerked and jolted upon the uneven pavement, drawing the eyes of the queer passer-by. Every strange stare that shot into the creases on the curtains made the earl squirm and huddle further beneath the covers, hoping his mantle was thick enough to conceal the scent of Ophelia still clinging to his frame.
Despite the oddity of the thought, and how—for lack of a better word—uncomfortable it caused Ciel to feel, Undertaker knew about Ophelia; and while the cockney bastard thought it was hilarious since the very beginning, he had no apparent qualms to the situation. It was the witches and the gypsies amongst those twisted streets that made Ciel's stomach flop—could a demon be hiding amongst them? Could a wiff of a cambion child pique their curiosity? Was it not here in the depths of these ally ways that rumors were born and the aristocracy was torn apart?
Shaking away the thought, the earl winced as the carriage was drawn to an abrupt stop, peeling back the curtain to check for any onlookers. The storefront of the funeral parlor was devoid of any life, save for several diseased-looking pigeons roosting on the eaves. His vision was soon obscured by a head of blonde hair as Bard pulled the door open, offering a hand to his master with a friendly smile.
"Would you like me to go in with you, young master?" He inquired as Ciel took his hand, making certain to keep the front of the billowing cloak clasped shut as the cook helped lower him to the ground. The earl shrugged coldly, adjusting his top hat while he skimmed the streets with wary eyes.
"It would be better if you three were to remain out here." He informed the cook. "Make certain that no one else enters the shop, is that understood?"
"Yes, sir!" Bard replied with a quick salute. Fighting the urge to roll his eyes, Ciel removed a handkerchief from the lapels of his blazer and brought it to his nose, stifling the pungent scent of embalming fluid as he pressed into the shop.
A bespectacled man behind the counter turned towards him whilst the door jingled in its macabrely cheery way. Ciel faltered when he caught sight of the unfamiliar person, nearly shying away towards the door. "I apologize. I'll return when there aren't any customers…"
"Customers?" The man quipped in an oddly familiar voice. Ciel looked up at the tall, finely dressed man, eyes narrowing in confusion before they widened in realization. "I don't 'ave any customers at the moment, Earl. Just closin' up early for the day."
"Undertaker?" Ciel gaped openly at his old family friend, void of the same robes and hat and other oddities that he adorned himself with since the younger man could remember. He was now dressed in a long black waistcoat lined in similarly-colored ruffles. The white fringe was swept from his glowing eyes, long hair tamed into a sensible plait at the nape of his neck. "Why are you dressed like that?"
Undertaker blinked, removing the thin-rimmed glasses from his eyes and allowing his bangs to slip back over them. "Business is business, 'ave to see over my funerals. Your family may'nt complain 'bout my usual garb, but others are much more picky."
"I see." Ciel nodded, all but shrinking back into himself. The funeral director propped his elbows up upon the counter, setting his chin upon the bridge of his fingers.
"Wot can I do for you today?" He asked. Ciel glanced over at the bookshelves pressed flush against the walls, each of them covered in thick volumes, urns, and other small displays that proved to be grotesquely charming.
"I don't have a joke prepared." The earl muttered quietly. Undertaker shrugged, surprisingly subdued from his usually erratic and crazed behavior.
"'S fine," The thick grin splitting his face spoke otherwise of his demeanor; he tilted his head to the side, bangs giving way to manic golden-green orbs. "Besides, the laughs you gave me all those months ago were enough for several favors."
Ciel's face quickly developed a ruddy blush and he averted his eyes, scoffing under his breath when the embalmer's tiny giggles reached his ears. "Cockney bastard…"
"Oooh, don't be that way, dear Earl." Undertaker heaved a sigh, batting away the notion with a flap of his wrist as he pushed off of the counter. He reached beneath it to unearth his usual robes and peeled away the waist coat to slip the heavier coat over the cassock beneath. "Have yourself a seat; I'll make you something to drink and you tell me all about sweet Ophelia. Where is she today?"
Safely hidden within the bowels of the Phantomhive mansion with the most competent sniper the whole of Russia had to offer and a fiercely strong and protective gardener to watch over her.
Ciel was not about to bring Ophelia out into public—not after the nightmare that the scent of his pregnancy had caused.
"She's well—and it's quite alright, I'm not in the mood for tea." Ciel insisted in reply, but the undertaker was already ripping his usual pot of biscuits and tins upon tins of fine tea from beneath his counter.
"I've got black wif rosehips—which is lovely this time of year, mind you—white jasmine, peppermint, mortician's wax, breakfast tea, green wif orange peel," He rattled off, sliding the tins down the counter whilst he worked through them. Ciel winced, watching the container of wax sail across the counter and crash into the other tins roughly. "Scrumptious tea from t'orient tha' they call oolong; I think I may 'ave a special pot for the stuff—."
"What do you know of Faustian contracts?"
Undertaker froze, popping up from beneath his counter, drawing a hooked black nail to his lips. "Uhu," He giggled softly, his frame giving a slight convulsion with the laugh. "Would this inquiry… 'ave something to do wif why your butler isn't 'ere wif you today?"
"Just answer the question, Undertaker." Ciel pressed darkly, taking a seat on a dark-wooded casket opposite the counter, watching as the man in question hummed and rolled his head this way and that.
"Enough." He replied after some time, sliding out from behind the counter and crossing the room to the bookcase. Ciel followed the spindly man's every movement as he fluidly swept his long fingers over the spines of the books, slipping out a suspiciously thin book bound in black leather. "'Nough to know when one is broken as well. Tell me, Earl, when did your seal disappear?"
"The mark, you mean?" Ciel asked, eyes dashing from the embalmer as he stalked back to the counter, spreading the book out before him. Twisting arrays depicting satanic symbols and pentagrams sprawled over the worn pages, marked with ancient text that even any modern historian would never have been able to decipher.
"Mmhmm." Hummed Undertaker, flipping through the pages before glancing back up at Ciel. "Lesse it, then."
Hands trembling, Ciel reached up to the useless patch covering his eye, blinking as it adjusted to the dim light, warbled images quickly coming into sharp view. Green eyes peered into the discolored orb before the elder of the two raised a thoughtful finger to his chin, tapping it several times and flipping through the pages. "Describe what 'appened when it broke."
"I was—I don't know, exactly. I woke up in the middle of the night, and the bed was wet with what I first thought was blood. And then I…" He shuddered, remembering the thick sludge covering his face and body. "It was ink. All over my body and head—and my marked eye… it began to throb as if it were to explode, and then my entire body began to ache. Soon after, I passed out. When I awoke, the ink was gone." His eyes opened and he stared at Undertaker, shaken despite his barriers. "As was the contract."
"Hmm." The white-haired man hummed thoughtfully, flipping several pages of the book and clicking his tongue lightly. "Sounds to me as 'f your contract was broken by an outside force. Could've been done by a number'f things: reaper, 'alf reaper, morrigan, banshee…" He numbered off with a shrug. Ciel merely stared, deeply shaken by Undertaker's confirmation, yet simultaneously relieved of his earlier doubts and stresses. Sebastian had not broken the contract himself. However—
"So, it's broken then?" He whispered.
"Broken." Undertaker replied flatly, turning his head once more as a curious expression dawned over his features. Ciel raised a hand to his mouth, biting back the awful tears that crept up upon him, checked only by his dignity.
"Is there anything I can do?" The teen pressed, his eyes locking with white fringe. The mortician made a flippant gesture.
"You can always find a new demon." He suggested jovially, his wide grin causing Ciel to scowl, wounded by the humor.
"You know that isn't the case." Ciel retorted darkly, feeling the strong urge to slap the grin from the mortician's face. "Where has Sebastian gone?"
"Where 'as he gone?" Undertaker giggled airily. "I believe only you would know the answer to that, Earl."
"I don't have time for this." Ciel snarled, standing from the casket and heading towards the door abruptly before pausing on the threshold, glaring back at Undertaker over his shoulder. The man was resting his elbows on the counter, running his fingers through his bangs in a surprisingly human gesture as he released a deep, exhausted sigh. A melancholy smile bloomed over the mortician's pale lips as he shook his head.
"You look so much like your father." Undertaker quipped softly, pushing up from the counter and reaching beneath it once more. "Too much... reminded me of a promise. Stay right there fer a cock linnet."
With grand flourish, he extracted a grand ebony mourner's mantle from the endless depths within his desk, crossing the shop in several neat strides and plopping the thick, heavy cloak over Ciel's shoulders. The earl flinched towards the door, wincing when the heavy cowl obscured his face. "There we are. Now," Pulling his tailed top hat from the lapels of his coat, Undertaker set it upon his head and opened the door for the befuddled earl. "Would your cabby mind dropping us off in town? We'll 'ave to look into this further an' I'm afraid we don't 'ave the proper resources."
"Of… of course not." Ciel nodded, pressing towards the carriage, watching Bard hop down from the reins to open the door.
"He comin' with?" He asked, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at Undertaker, who was still looming pleasantly before the shop door, locking up with a ring twenty keys thick. Ciel glanced at the cook, seeing the uncertainty flashing over his eyes. It was clear that Undertaker's presence made him uncomfortable, due both to their master's well-being and his own. Holding back an exasperated sigh, Ciel nodded.
"Undertaker is a very trusted friend of the family." He explained, allowing himself to be helped into the carriage, the ends of the oversized mantle still dragging on the ground as he stepped up onto the side and finally hoisted himself into the seats with a much greater deal of effort than he usually would have preferred, draping the folds of his two cloaks and the many blankets over his lap. The mortician followed seconds later, sitting placidly across from the earl, glancing about the carriage and smiling.
"Where are we going, then?" Ciel asked as Bard shut the door, blue eyes still wary of the strange man.
"Up the frog and toad to where t' John Lew's used to be." He explained, pushing back the velvet curtains to glance out the window, green eyes darting this way and that. "There's a shop front right there; that's where we're lookin' for." Ciel nodded and rapped on the wall behind him.
"Bard; take us to where the department store used to be." He instructed calmly.
"On Market Street?"
"That's the one!" Undertaker affirmed with a cheerful chuckle. Ciel scowled, slumping into his seat like a spoilt child as he arranged and rearranged his blankets, shuffling heavily. Though the knot of anxiety twisted within his chest had been considerably alleviated, it was still harshly present, squeezing upon his heart with brute force and causing it to shudder violently. The man opposite him began to whistle a merry tune, picking though his own pockets and spreading the contents over the cushions beside him. Trinkets ranging from silver lockets to pewter cats, vials filled with tiny rolls of paper and suspicious liquids, and finally a stiff parchment card. Clicking his tongue cheerfully, the man began to pocket his belongings, tune morphing into a hummed rendition of a funeral march.
Quicker than Ciel had expected, the carriage was drawn to a halt, the horses whinnying softly as Bard called out a gentle "woah".
"That'll be our stop, then." Grinned the mortician, kicking open the nearest door with a booted foot and would have sent Bard flying if the chef had not sprang from of the door's path. Ciel growled, pinning Undertaker with a glare.
"I'm in no mood for your shenanigans, Undertaker." He frowned as the tall man hopped out of the carriage like an excited child, offering a scarred hand to Ciel for assistance. The earl ignored the outstretched appendage and climbed from the carriage, wincing as Undertaker adjusted the hood of the cloak over his face.
"Now, then." He began, turning towards Bard. "You should take the carriage down the toad to the teashop and get y'self something t'eat. Earl," he rounded on Ciel, still grinning in his usually insane manner. "You'll come wif me. I need you to keep that mantle on at all times, and try not to say anythin'. If you see anyone you recognize, don't show your face, right then?"
"Fair enough." Ciel agreed, far too anxious and fatigued to argue against the mortician's demands. Undertaker clapped his hands together, smiling pleasantly.
"Excellent!" The tall man declared, spinning Ciel gently towards their destination. "Now then, if you would—."
"Undertaker." Ciel interrupted quickly as he stared at the storefront. It was a tiny shop set at the head of an abandoned department store, the latter's windows boarded up in wood from years of misuse. Through the windows, rows upon rows of fresh fudge, peppermints, Valentine's boxes, tiny cakes and Funtom candies peeked back innocently. "That is a candy shop."
Undertaker turned towards Ciel, his mouth a confused line. For a moment, Ciel spotted the flutter of blinking lashes behind his bangs. "Yes?"
"Why," Ciel began, reaching up to massage his temple. "In the name of God are we going into a candy shop to conduct research?"
The mortician merely grinned in his usual toothy way, releasing a tiny chuckle as he gripped a bit of loose fabric on Ciel cloak and steered—or, more appropriately, dragged— him forward.
The nauseating scent of chocolate and sugar hit Ciel full force as soon as the two entered the confectionary shop, Undertaker looking comically misplaced amongst the pink and red streamers festooned across the ceiling in celebration of Valentine's. Young people—whose hands were closed around heart-shaped boxes filled to the brim with candies—shied away from the oddly-dressed man who stunk of embalming fluid and his companion clothed in a similarly-suspicious manner as the two fought towards the front of the shop. There, a slender young woman was standing behind the counter and adjusting her glasses with a bored expression upon her face. Undertaker grinned and offered her the stiff parchment card. The young woman received it, unphased by their odd appearances, and dropped her golden-green eyes upon the text there. They suddenly widened and she glanced up towards Undertaker as if she had just realized she was eye-to-eye with God himself.
"I'm interested in speaking to the manager." He said conversationally, drumming his long fingernails on the counter. The young woman gagged, blushed, and sputtered, gesturing for the tall man and his companion to follow her behind the counter where she groped around her pocket before extracting a silver key.
"I-it's a pleasure to have you back, Mister Fehr." She whispered, bowing deeply as she opened the door. Ciel cast a suspicious glance at Undertaker, but the white-haired man seemed just as confused himself.
They then slipped through the door into a long, narrow hallway accented by elegant candelabrums and two simple doors opened to reveal a supply closet and storage room. However, the door at the end of the hall was a deep shade of green, the knob heavily polished brass. Undertaker took the card in his hand and slid it over the knob, grinning at the satisfying click that sounded throughout the hallway and he pushed the door open.
A lavish lobby decorated in shades of deep red and brushed brass fixtures sprawled out before them, a young man seated at a dark-wooded desk before a grand fireplace sprang to attention as the two entered, nervously adjusting his glasses. "M-Mister Fehr!" He cried, face lighting up bright red as he bowed several times, crossing the highly-polished floor towards them. "I dare say it's been quite a while. Twenty years at least? What brings you here today, you couldn't have possibly heard so quickly about the—." The words died from the brunette's mouth as he sniffed the air, narrowed green eyes landing upon Ciel as the receptionist's lips curled back into a curt smile. Ciel lowered his gaze immediately, feeling shamed for having to do so.
"A demon." The other man said flatly. "And here I thought you were done with demons, Mister Fehr—."
His words died in his throat, becoming a strangled squeak as Undertaker seized his tie, pulling him close to his face as his grin grew to insane measures, something dark and positively threatening dashing over his eyes as his bangs spilled to the side.
"Do you 'ave any children, Elijah?" He asked darkly, giving the tie a swift pop. The receptionist made a low, horrified noise in the back of his throat, brow already beginning to gleam with sweat as his face reddened.
"Y-yes; I have a little girl named Morgan, she's only four years old—." He began, but was quickly silenced as the mortician swiftly released him, shoving him back towards the desk with the tips of his fingers.
"Be sure to tell your poppet a bedtime story tonight, Elijah." He directly coolly, smoothing down the front of his robes. "And thank her."
Elijah nodded, quickly dashing the cuff of his wrist over his brow before settling back behind his desk, glaring at Ciel warily before he produced a black ostrich plume quill and thick guest book from the drawers. "We'll need your guest to sign in. Print your name and the date and sign beside them. I'll remind you, Mister Fehr, that the procedures concerning emergency situations are in full effect—guests are currently only allowed entry to the upper floors and should be appropriately checked into each floor as well. Any and all entrance to basement levels or mirrorside is strictly prohibited."
He thrust the plume at Ciel, scoffing just loud enough to hear as their fingertips brushed, wiping it with great vigor on the front of his blazer. After glancing around for an ink pot, Ciel stared down at the blank page, learning that the two other guests before him had signed in glossy red ink. Wincing, the earl raised the sharp tip of the quill to his wrist just as Undertaker snatched it from his possession and drove the tip into his finger, and handed the loaded quill back to Ciel, still smiling at Elijah.
"You can't do that, sir." The brunette replied flatly as Ciel scribbled down Sky Michaelis alongside the date. "It must be written in the demon's blood for—."
"My friend 'as a very fragile reaction to metals, so I'm afraid my blood'll 'ave to do." The white-haired man waved his hand distantly, sliding the bloodied book towards Elijah as Ciel set the quill down upon the desk. "Thank you for your time, Elijah."
"Of course, Mister Fehr." The brunette nodded, settling down into his seat as Undertaker slipped an arm around Ciel, guiding him through a set of double doors.
"A demon?" Ciel repeated Elijah's words as they advanced through the dark halls, a set of young workers bowing deeply as the pair passed.
"Later." The tall man hummed pleasantly as they turned sharply down another hallway, this one lined with several abnormally high doors, through which Ciel spotted neat lines of bespectacled teens, each awkwardly gripping a lawn tool in his or her hands.
"You're a grim reaper, aren't you?" Ciel asked suddenly, turning his eyes onto Undertaker, who smiled placidly. "These are your headquarters, are they not?"
"Precisely." He confirmed softly as they twisted around yet another corner, this one leading to a crowded hall. As soon as Undertaker emerged around the corner, the chatter fell silent. A young woman dropped a handful of files she was carrying, sending the papers floating along the floor. Still oblivious, Undertaker lead Ciel along, maneuvering through the group as excited whispers began to stir the air. Again, they went down a flight of stairs, this one flanked by a set of guards.
"You need clearance, sir." One with a head of half-braided hair lazily remarked. "Can't bring your guest down here, either—someone just found a body in the library."
Ciel's eyes widened, and Undertaker turned towards the two men, one of whom was obviously quite enthralled with a book he was reading, emblazoned with silver: Legend—An Unofficial Biography winked back at Ciel and his host as the young man shifted and peeked over the top of the tome.
"Your card, sir?" He quipped, extending a hand. Undertaker complied, extracting his card once more. As it passed from him to the boy, the mortician's head cocked to one side.
"You're Lily's boy, aren't you?" He asked with a smile.
The younger reaper blinked. "Yes, Alan Humphries. Have we met—?"
His mouth shut with a pronounced click as he observed the name upon the card, gaping up at the reaper, who continued to smile blithely.
"Mister Fehr." He said, voice barely even a whisper. His partner started, wide green eyes passing from the embalmer to Alan.
"No fucking way." He choked, pointing at the reaper unabashedly. "You're—." He stalked over to the undertaker in three quick strides, offering a gloved hand.
"Eric Slingby, sir." The reaper introduced himself formally. Undertaker hesitated, but extended a pale hand to the young man, who gripped it earnestly. "You worked with my father."
"Reg, head of health. Yes." The white-haired reaper nodded, carefully extracting his hand. Ciel caught Alan's eyes flicking to his briefly before returning his full attention to Undertaker.
"Sir, is there anything we could help you with?" Alan asked, returning the card with trembling hands. Undertaker's head lulled this way and that, tasting the words in silence.
"Wot's all this about a body?"
"Robert Coel was doing his rounds in the library this morning—it appears as if there's been a break-in." Reported Alan. "No identification on the victim as of yet. Would you like to—?"
Undertaker promptly cut him off by turning on his heel and steering Ciel down the hallway. Eric made a noise of surprise and jogged down the corridor, motioning to Alan over his shoulder.
"I'll take you to the library." Eric said earnestly, although he was trailing several steps behind Ciel and his host. "It's mostly cleared out by now, though. Dunno if they've removed the body by now."
Undertaker was silent, pale lips pursed closed as he pressed along. Ciel's knees were nearly bucking under the pressure of the reaper's hands, and his head was spinning with anxieties and questions that could barely even managed to articulate themselves, even in his own mind. Instead, he kept his breathing steady and his head down, shrugging away from the energetic youth pursuing them and toward the cloaked man leaning them down the rabbit hole. At one point, the earl even went so far as to brush against the embalmer's side before recoiling almost instantly. He'd been cowering. As he shook the distain, he noticed a flash of chartreuse from underneath the white fringe obscuring the reaper's bangs, and the hand pressing down upon his shoulder drew Ciel just a bit closer.
Before Ciel could question this, they took a sharp turn into a long hallway that ended in a set of ornate double doors carved from redwood. They were most obviously ancient, their worn surfaces depicting ancient carvings of runes and pictures of hooded figures wielding scythes amongst tiny orbs. Undertaker released an almost-relieved sigh, removing his hand from Ciel's shoulder to draw the card from his pocket once more, wiping it before the great, old brass handles. Eric made to open the door for them, lunging awkwardly towards the clutch, but Undertaker beat him to the chase. Ciel's face was hit with a wave of cool, musky air that carried with it the scent of ancient paper and something sharp and distinctly important. The reaper turned towards him, gesturing into the dark room before them.
"After you." He said, bowing his head a little. Ciel intoned a low note of thanks and stepped onto the great landing before them, the walls flanked with heavy glass cases displaying frayed and withering books and elegantly wrapped rolls of parchment. A narrow staircase before them lead down into a darkened area, up from which a blonde reaper was stumbling.
"Ello Eric!" He greeted his coworker cheerfully, bowing his head to reveal black undertones beneath the blonde as he tipped his skewed glasses back into place.
"Ronnie." Eric nodded towards his junior, still displaying an ever-professional appearance. His eyes twitched anxiously towards Undertaker. "What're you—?
"That ass Laraux had a handful of guys from Dispatch down there combing the shelves for any more missing volumes." The younger reaper groaned with a flippant gesture. "I'm already behind on my cases, didn't need to be wasting my afternoon playing detective." He shook his head, turning towards the pair of newcomers.
"Don't believe we've met! I'm Ronald Knox." He thrust his hand forward, grinning when Undertaker accepted it.
"Ronnie, that's—." Eric began, holding his hands out in warning, only to drop them when the white-haired reaper's lips split into a crooked grin.
"You must be new 'ere, Ronald." The mortician assessed, sizing up the young man with a look of amusement.
"Fairly new! I've actually been working one of my first field jobs." He flashed a bright smile and subsequent hand gesture oddly reminiscent of a certain red-headed reaper, making the corners of Ciel's mouth twitch uncertainly. "You visitin' from abroad? Don't think seen you around head quarters before."
"Ron—." Eric attempted to intervene once more.
"No. I've retired, actually." Undertaker explained with a polite smile, the young reaper's own expression turned bright and excited.
"Really?" Ronald chirped, gripping his hands before him excitedly like a child. Ciel half expected the young reaper to begin bouncing in place. "Oh, awesome! I've never met a retired reaper before—you must be really old!"
Eric made a garbled noise somewhere between a grunt and the sound of a dying printing press. The senior reaper chuckled pleasantly while the mirth died from his junior's face, Ronald paling whilst his words registered. He then flushed the color of a tomato, holding his hands before him in surrender. Ciel's eyebrows nearly jutted off his head as he shuffled beneath the heavy folds of his cloaks, far from being able to read the young grim reaper's erratic actions.
"Ah! That came out really wrong, Sir! I'm real sorry!" Ronald flapped his hands nervously, shuffling from foot-to-foot.
"Quite alright." The embalmer held a single hand up while Ronald giggled nervously, the reaper's eyes falling upon Ciel as he shrunk against Undertaker. The earl quickly braced himself, expecting the same judgmental expression from Ronald as Elijah—yet meeting only a friendly grin.
"Who's this?" He quipped pleasantly, cocking his head to one side. "A demon?" Now he was frowning, turning to Undertaker as confusion now blossomed over his features. "Wait… aren't demons forbidden in the lower levels?"
"Ronald." Eric snapped at long last, forcefully inserting himself between the smaller reaper and their elder. "This doesn't concern you. This is Mister—."
"We'll be off, then!" Undertaker cut over the introduction. "Y'two enjoy yourselves! It was a pleasure." Undertaker nodded, sweeping his arm back around Ciel, ushering him towards the stairs. "You take care, Ronald, Eric—'ope to 'ear from both you soon."
"Sir!" Eric called after the pair as they descended the staircase.
"It was a pleasure meeting you as well!" Ronald cried cheerfully as he moved through the heavy double doors at the other end of the landing. Eric glanced from the distant pair, back to his junior, and then tore after Ronald with a low curse, leaving Ciel and Undertaker in the cool silence.
Author's Note: Happy Father's Day! I thought today would be a pretty appropriate day to post this, given the content. I hope you're all enjoying the re-write thus far! The response for the aside and the intermission has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm not gonna lie- I was almost crying from joy due to the amazingly kind feedback I received just moments after posting the aside with Lizzy. Broken Pieces has been in the works for over two years now, and I've received nothing but kind words of encouragement; I can't tell you all how much that means to. I'm always extremely flattered and overjoyed to see my readers enjoying my work to the extent that they do. I've always set out to produce work that people can love to read as much as I love to write it, and I think that I've truly been able to accomplish that with this story. Thank you all so much for your kind words, your encouragement, and for sticking with Broken Pieces and I for two whole years!