AN: This piece is a small work of love for two of my favorite characters in Kuroshitsuji. Set in the manga-verse of course. Some minor spoilers for the manga chapters 24+ (Circus Arc). The rest of it is mostly made up. ~Tasukigirl/Tsusami

-- -- --

Imperfect Beauty

It is raining when the accident occurs. One moment she is dashing across the muddy street, eyes on her boots as she tries to raise the hem of her skirt above the puddles; the next she is looking up at the sounds of alarm. The horse is rearing, falling toward her in slow motion. She rushes forward with a scream and the pain, the worst type of pain, is immediate. It shoots through her leg and tears another scream out of her sharper than the sickening thud of hooves colliding with flesh.

She drifts in and out of consciousness, aware of the white walls around her and the adults murmuring like she cannot hear. She is looking at the bandage, the bloodied stump where a thin leg once protruded; a skinny leg once the target of names that will never be sing-songed again.

--

A new boy has entered the workhouse. She regards him warily, this creature with the shock of red hair and the spattering of freckles on his pale nose. His violet eyes are bright, crinkling at the corners as he smiles. The younger kids have taken to him, crowding around and tugging on his clothes. He is telling them a story when she approaches, and he pauses to acknowledge her. "Me name's Thomas," he says with a heavy accent. "Wut's yers?" He gestures to her with his left hand. She realizes it is his only one. Her left hand squeezes the crutch and heat flares in her cheeks. "None of your business," she says, and hobbles away as gracefully as she can.

--

Will clings to her skirt weighing down the garment on her right side. The stiff crutch she uses to hobble across the workhouse bites into the flesh rubbed raw beneath her arm. She ignores the pain, pretends it is nothing as she greets the man smiling down at her. She is suspicious of his smile and she hesitates. His hand is reaching for her, pulling her free hand into his own despite Will's protest. His touch is clammy, his fleshy fingers soft and warm. He is a doctor, the workhouse supervisor is telling her, pulling Will away and ignoring the boy's cries. He wants to help her, the supervisor says and introduces the Baron Gelwin.

--

Tom is sitting next to her as the Baron explains his invention. He holds the model in his hand, the disembodied limb bending at the knee. She tries not to glance down at her skirt, at the length of fabric hanging off the chair with nothing else to hold it. She wants to tell him what she thinks of his toy, angry that he is giving her hope. She glances at Tom, but the youth is riveted by the demonstration. She looks away in annoyance. The Baron demonstrates an arm.

--

She balances her weight all on one foot, putting one hand out to steady herself as though the air will hold her. She lowers the crutch and leans it against the wall closest to the chair. This protruding limb is foreign to her, too stiff, too unyielding. She tries to ease some of her weight onto the unused limb, but it will not bend. The muscles in her thigh are unaccustomed to the movement, to the strain being pressed upon them. Tom is encouraging as she slides the alien limb forward, scuffling along the wooden floor. He grabs her hand and she finds herself gripping his tightly, suddenly terrified of moving forward. Baron Gelwin is smiling, arms out to her like she is a babe just learning to walk. She feels like a child again, trying not to totter. She tries not to fall back on her good leg out of habit or sense of safety. Tom's hand squeezes hers tentatively and releases her just as quickly. His wrist turns and he offers her his arm, smiling at her despite the still empty right shirt sleeve. "Shall we take a turn, m'lady?" She does not appreciate his mockery, but she places her fingers upon his forearm gingerly. Her grip tightens while she pulls the artificial limb back toward her, regaining her center of balance. Tom makes no notice of the weight she is placing upon him. He keeps his arm steady and she is amazed to discover the strength in the deceptively skinny limb. She loosens her grip and returns it to the light touch in imitation of the ladies she sometimes sees in the park. She fortifies herself with a deep breath, tosses her black curls back over her shoulder and focuses on the motion between them.

--

The kids gather round, eyes fearful as they contemplate the beast in the cage. Joker, having so acquired that name for his nature, parades before the iron bars bravely and jumps back when the tiger bears its fangs. He exaggerates his fear, running to hide behind a freckle-faced girl. His red hair shines like a halo above her head. "Is no one brave enough to tame the beast?" the trainer asks. Everyone glances at each other silently. No one steps forward. She glances at Tom who stands taller than most of the crowd. He eyes the beast, but makes no move to stake his claim. Huffing, she raises her hand and declares that she will do it. The children view her with awe as she strides forward and takes the whip into her hand. The trainer shows her how to crack the whip, arching his arm high above his head and undulating at the elbow and wrist. She tries to mimic this movement, aware that her first attempt falls short. The whip does not sing through the air as it should. She squares her shoulders, lifting her arm again. She is aware of Tom's eyes on her as she propels her hand forward, in what she hopes is a perfect arch above her head.

--

The brush draws patterns in the tiger's fur. She is rubbing her hand down the thick pelt when the animal shifts and turns her powerful neck. She lifts her dark nose, pointed in the direction from which Joker emerges. A girl is walking beside him, hands clasped demurely over the skirt of her simple dun colored frock. "That there's Beast," he tells her, pointing in the tiger's general direction. Beast raises her hand in greeting and the stranger's eyes widen, mouth opening as she glances from Joker and down to the tiger.

"Surely that's not her Christian name," she says, scandalized.

Joker laughs, a rich sound straight from his belly and holds his waist. "Not at all. But she be the only one anyov us fear more'n Betty," he says behind his gloved hand, still loud enough to hear. Beast ignores him and continues to comb Betty's pelt.

"Who is Betty?" she hears the girl ask.

Joker steers the delicate looking stranger toward the other tents. "The tiger," he says, winking over his shoulder. She concentrates on Betty and not his gloved hand on the other girl's back.

--

He is telling a silly fairy story. The children huddle in the blanket, eyes wide with the visions of their imagination. Beast scoffs at his words, hating that the heroine is beautiful, hating that this is what makes the girl loved. She tries to ignore the tale but his voice is hypnotic with its soft lilting in each turn of the verse. She listens not because she enjoys the words, but because she enjoys the musicality of that voice. When he has finished, he turns to smile at her and she averts her eyes from that violet gaze. He tilts his head to see her better and asks her what's wrong. "Didn' yew like the story?" he asks teasingly. She tells him it's a silly story. That now the girls will think they have to be beautiful to get married, wincing at her own words as she says them. She tells him it is better for the beast to learn to live happily alone. He pauses and looks at her and his smile softens. "But the beast becomes beautiful too," he reminds her. Her stomach flutters and her insides squirm like she is being evaluated; like she is front of an audience for the first time. "Transformed by love." Her heart skips at that word on his lips. She turns and mumbles something about no time for this. She huffs and strides out of his tent, chin high and her cheeks ablaze.

--

Her body has grown again she realizes as she struggles to pull up the dark leggings. They fall just short and she tries not to panic. She tugs them back down, steps out and throws them on the bed. She wiggles out of her petticoat and grabs the black skirt that used to fall one inch short of her knee. She has grown an inch at least, she realizes from the additional exposure of her pale leg. She should have suspected when the Baron insisted on refitting her. She twists in front of the mirror and the fabric tightens against her hips. She views the left limb and frowns. She contemplates wearing pantaloons or asking Joker for an old pair of his slacks. Perhaps she can hide her femininity for the night until she can beg a new pair of stockings from father. She wishes there were more women in their company and returns to the open chest. Will's gift, or Dagger's as he likes to be called, is still sitting there wrapped in paper. He refuses to take it back despite her many claims that it's a waste of money. She picks it up hesitantly and pulls the small ribbon. The brown paper crinkles under her fingers and when she pulls it back, there are two delicate black gloves and matching stockings. She pulls up one glove and the fabric is fine, so very soft, and practically sheer, she notes with annoyance. The stockings are just as revealing. She is about to toss them back into her trunk angrily, when her eye catches a sliver of color against the black. She looks closer and notes the diamond shape and color; the same motif that runs through Joker's costume. She realizes that Dagger did not purchase this gift alone.

She puts on the items carefully and views herself in the mirror. The white shift under the bodice no longer matches. She thinks through her options, but is coming up blank. Time is running short. She will be late for rehearsal if she dallies any longer. Her fingers pull the laces of the bodice and she throws the shift over her head. She pulls the bodice back on and begins tugging things in place. Her breasts are pulled tight against her chest and she discovers another part of herself that has grown since last summer. She hollers for one of the girls to come in and help her. Doll appears, mouth dropping at the sight of her. She scurries back to the task at hand with minimal chiding. The laces are pulled and tied off and Beast feels like a package wrapped up in so much string and lace. Doll helps her into her boots and they are out the tent and dashing for the big top. When she enters, Joker is there giving orders to the new recruits. He pauses when the men all stop to look at her and follows their gaze. His mouth falls open, stunned, for what is the briefest of moments, a moment she will savor and draw out when she is alone. She turns her nose up like there is nothing to see, like her heart is not pounding as she strides toward Betty's cage. Her knees are not trembling and no, that is not a smile she sees from Joker out of the corner of her eye. This is not for him. She is Beast, she reminds herself. She is vicious and she is strong; and when men see her, they will see a beast and not the demure beauty of a fairy story.

--

The Baron is leaving them the circus. She looks into Joker's defeated eyes and it is only now, after these so many years, that she understands the terms of their gifts. She looks down at the limb shining through the small eye holes of her stocking. She grits her teeth and feels a fierce desire to tear it off. She has been branded like cattle and can imagine that seal burning into her phantom flesh. She refuses to accept this. She refuses to use their circus, all that they have accomplished for a sickening man's obscene desires. She voices her opinion and the room hushes. Joker turns his back to her. "'Av yew fergotten, sister, the debt we owe our father?" She reels back from this one word, this cold shoulder that stings like a slap in the face. She clenches her teeth together and wrings the whip in her hands until her palms begin to burn.

"If that is your decision," she says coldly.

"It is," he says, and his tone wounds her. But his glassy eyes lack all the fierceness of his words and she swallows the sudden lump rising in her throat. She can gather the words from the broken expression he has saved for her alone. It is vain to wait for him to speak those words aloud. He will never whisper the admission she so desires to hear.

She nods because she understands that to stay is to suffer, no more free than Betty in her cage. And she nods because she knows that, despite this, she will never leave him. He is the adored one, the one that keeps them together; the center of children and freaks trying to eke out the illusion of a glamorous life; the wielder of magic their world depends upon. She thinks of his fairy stories, of the many children sacrificed for the parent's sin; of the trial of those who choose to suffer for the greater good.

A tear slips down her cheek and his body stiffens. She turns her face, ashamed they will not stop. A gloved hand spreads the damp across her cheek--a hand, made of flesh and blood, and not the skeletal monstrosity he wears to remind himself of what he has lost. He tilts his head and his lips curve softly like he is nursing one of the children. He does not understand the nature of her grief. She wipes at her eyes angrily and his smile is blurry and beautiful through the veil of her tears.

She nods to affirm her decision to herself, knowing she cannot abandon the enchantment of the Big Top, nor her hopes of a transformation that may never come. She will stay because she loves him, her imperfect Beauty, and she will proudly be his Beast.