"I've come undone,
But you make sense of who I am
Like puzzle pieces in your eye.
Then I'll see your face, I know I'm finally yours
I find everything I thought I lost before
You call my name, I come to you in pieces
So you can make me whole."
The carriage pulled short before the entrance of Kensal Green, horses whinnying as Sebastian reigned them. He swung from his seat and held open the door, offering his hand as first Ciel and then Soma stepped out onto the cobblestone street of Harrow Road. They stretched the stiffness from their limbs and marveled at the giant arch of the entrance lodge, alabaster white and flanked with doric columns. Beyond, one could see the twisted wrought iron of the fence, spear tipped in gold, casually segregating even the dearly departed.
Sebastian had been to The Green on multiple occasions during his tenure as Phantomhive House Steward. The site had enjoyed the patronage of volumes of aristocracy and poets, famous names dotted among the various headstones and wept over by marble angels in repose. The services were always the same, Protestant in nature with lengthy scripture readings bemoaning the sins of human existence while black veiled mourners gathered about a freshly dug grave, heady with tears and soil and the priest's musty and worn Bible. His master never cried at these events, staring impassively ahead as the coffins were interred – distant relatives, business partners, the aging ladies of society – lost, it seemed, in his own dark memories.
But there were no bystanders and the quilted sky warned of the coming rain. The acres of flat land remained undisturbed, the damp chill of the air spiced only with the earthy tones of evergreens and scattered flora made sparse by the onset of winter. All was still, unnervingly still, with no witnesses or possible aid: the succubae had done well in clearing the area. A steady flicker came from a low window of the entrance lodge, the only indication of the fidgeting funeral director within, undoubtedly bracing himself from the cold and the supernatural beings converging on his property.
"They must have bought him off or threatened him." The demon noted. "I wonder how many services he was forced to cancel today; surely Undertaker would never have submitted to such petty threats." He glanced over their ragtag group: a caulist and three humans, two of which could protect themselves to some moderation. It was a dismal realization. "We could really use him right about now: what all could a paper knife truly amount to?"
Agni drew to his side as fat raindrops rolled from the sky, pattering against the drive in an unsteady rhythm. "I know it isn't of much consolation," he said in a low undertone. "But should it come to it, I have your back."
The demon turned, wide-eyed. "While it's appreciated, I certainly don't –."
"I don't doubt your skill, my friend." Agni interjected, and Sebastian noticed how tired his eyes looked so close up. "But this is a matter worth giving my life over, should the situation call for it. We're all at risk here, and you'd be blind to think you're the only one who cares for Master Ciel, or that he is the only one who cares for you." With a small smile he parted from the demon's side, placing a hand on his master's shoulder and leading him towards the cemetery.
Sebastian stared after him a moment, uncertain of the feeling in his chest. "Now isn't the time to worry about sentimentality, even if I am beyond grateful that I have his support." He chided himself, rejoining the group as his mate adjusted his Smith and Wesson, shielding the ammunition from the elements with his coat as he locked the pistol with a snap. "I wish that toy were more of a reassurance." He thought a bit distantly, forcing back the multitude of horrid images creeping into his mind's eye. "Undertaker was right; at the most it will delay them for a few seconds. But if it can buy enough time…"
"How far is the Anglican chapel?" Ciel asked, stormily observing the arch.
"It can't be too far!" Soma cut in with a hopeful smile. Sebastian allowed him to continue, pitying the friendly display of bravado. "It's all flat and you should be able to see it once we get in there; it's the one in the middle, right? Shouldn't be too much of a wa –."
"Shut up." The earl barked, affixing the prince with a murderous look. "Have you any idea what I'm risking bringing you along?"
Soma recoiled against his butler's side, averting his eyes from the enraged Phantomhive. Agni glanced to Sebastian and placed a sympathetic hand on his charge, snapping open an umbrella over their heads as the drops pitter pattered with greater earnest. "Perhaps we should remain outside?" he ventured, easing at the demon's apologetic look.
"It would be unwise." Sebastian returned, pushing open his own umbrella, from whose shelter his master soundly denied. He sighed, watching as Ciel resolutely approached a lodge door, scanning for hidden attackers beyond the reach of his limited human senses. "Clever of you, my darling." The demon silently praised, gently turning the earl back under the protection of the umbrella. "They're empty." He softly assured. "As is the rest of the cemetery."
Casually he inclined his head and sampled the air for his mate's peace of mind. "I smell no one other than us and several other presences within," A dark thought crossed his mind and he scowled. "Unless the succubi have taken extra precautions to mask the scents of any potential allies, they have done well to keep this place free of all onlookers."
"How fortunate for us." The earl bit back, fingers winding and unwinding small knots in his clothing. Gently the butler loosened the kneading palms, smoothing them still with the pad of his thumb. He curled an arm about the younger's shoulders, turning him towards his chest to whisper against his ear.
"You should relax, darling." He soothed. "You have done wonderful so far when dealing with Mademoiselle Brun; hold your head up high, do no buckle below their words and above all else," he pulled away, speaking as much to his mate as the others. "Do not let them know you are afraid. Your confidence is key." He smiled briefly as the earl joined his side, brushing the back of his hand in a subtle gesture of support against his leg. "Well then, my lord – shall we?"
Stiffly the quartet made their way beyond the broad entrance, traveling past the rows of privet hedge and wrought iron, heading westward towards the Anglican segment of the lot.
"Mujhē ḍara laga rahā hai." Soma whimpered, pressing close to his butler.
"Mata ḍarō, mērē pyāra." Agni returned quietly. "Maiṁ tumhārī rakṣā karēgā."
Sebastian allowed a small smile, detecting the word he had come to understand as 'love' and nuzzled the side of his mate's hip with a finger. The earl brushed nearer as the path bled out to gravel and dirt, softening beneath their feet as the rain seeped into the loose soil. The Centre Avenue stretched before them, smoothing over acres pocked with crooked gravestones and obelisks, spires extending towards the overcast heavens. The plots spread out at random; veins of markers coagulating in one area or another, stray headstones standing solitary beneath a young chestnut tree or near a copse of hemlock. It was chaotic, yet still beautiful, the silent marble angels and maidens casting oblong shadows as they observed the small procession. The Green rolled on ever still, stretching to the banks of the Grand Union Canal, and scurrying the other direction against the main road, it's placid blanket of lawns innocently sheltering the array of catacombs below.
As they drew nearer, the footpath split off for a third time into northerly and southerly arms, beckoning them to stray from their mission and stroll amongst the dead a bit longer whilst they still had the chance. The graveyard grew thicker then, Grecian goddesses bearing guardian to family vaults, flowers blossoming at their feet and teeming around the bases of their landlords. The cemetery was only a scant sixty years old, yet nature had claimed its hold, gentle tendrils of ivy embracing the walls of noble sepulchers, wind-blown leaves strewn across their checkered floors, silken spider webs dressing their ornate doors like delicate lace.
The rain fell heavier and the Centre Avenue turned to mud beneath their shoes, squelching loudly in the silence of the graveyard. The indications of recent life washed away under their assault: the pointed tracks of ladies boots, the mottled press of horseshoes, and the heavily traveled divots of hearses who left behind ruts from their wheels. The rain erased it all, stranding them with nothing but the already immortalized and resting.
They made their way around the central circle, intersected into neat quarters by the crossing paths, drawing them in towards the chapel looming straight ahead. Wind buffeted its impassive face, alabaster and elegant, a model of something ancient and noble. A simple set of steps led up to colossal Grecian columns that ran along the length of the building, extending to the wing-like colonnades that bent back into two giant L's. Its pointed roof punctured the sky, as though in its inanimateness it too was supplicating a god.
The circle broke as the path breached towards the chapel, a single weathered oak standing sentinel beside them. The tight grip on the earl's cane faltered as he detected movement in the sweeping branches, scent pricking with fear and alarm. Sebastian stared straight ahead, steadying his mate with a firm grip as he paid no mind to the harpy casually observing them from the tree. The combined efforts of the wind and rain carried away the scent of rotting carrion, leaving only the soft clatter of its beak as indication of its presence.
A fresh wave of orange petal drifted to him as the slight form of Cosette appeared from between the chapel's giant wooden doors. A small pink smirk scrawled over her lips as she took them in, folding an edge of her golden skirt over a lace covered hand. "He's happy to see you!" she called, drawing the rest of the group's attention. Sebastian arranged his features into impeccable indifference as she flashed a smug look his way. "We've missed you, dear earl!" she winked, the heels of her boots clicking over the white stone steps as she came to greet them. Ciel sneered at her display, showing the repulsion his butler equally carried. "La, I hope you don't mind that we took cover in the chapel?" the succubus continued, undeterred. "My parasol was getting terribly wet and I didn't want to risk sullying my skirt – Ooooh!"
Soma ushered a near inaudible whimper as Cosette rounded on he and his butler, noticing their presence as if for the first time. He locked his legs and grit his teeth in determination, visibly trying to puff himself up against her innocent façade. She giggled at him and twirled her sopping wet parasol, flinging water droplets everywhere from its impracticable lace covering. "And you've brought your friends straight to us!" she crooned. "How kind of you, earl! It surely does save us the trouble now, doesn't it?"
"And she says it all with that cruel little smile." The demon internally raged. "If I'm lucky I'll get to personally twist them into screams of pain."
"As if there was any way we'd let you use us as pawns in your game, you demon woman!" Soma cried out in defense. The coquettish smirk fell from Cosette's face immediately.
"Publically spurned yet again, I see?" Sebastian commented, eyes sparking with demonic glee. "Mn, it's delightful to see how these words seem to tear at your psyche."
Agni was already reaching forward, uttering soft Hindi pleas for his master to remain silent. The prince ignored them, emboldened by his own passionate declarations. "I don't care what you're capable of, you witch! I'll do my best to protect my friends until the very end!"
The succubus gaped at him, an odd flush creeping over her cheeks before she threw back her head of brunette ringlets and laughed, peals of high pitched giggles raking shivers down the demon's spine. She threw the heel of her lace covered palm to her mouth, stifling the majority of the sound, but drawing with it the needle thin tang of blood. Sebastian stilled, watching the strange woman convulse with laughter as peculiar waves of anger rolled off of her shaking frame. She threw her hand aside – "She bit it, the wounds are just now closing." – smiling thinly at the prince. The scent of blood receded as she balled her hand and brought it to her face, resting her cheek upon the upturned palm. "La! H-how charming!" she jeered through dying laughs. "What a sweet display of affection, my little friend."
Soma squared his shoulders and met her with a glare, abandoning his reason for bravery. "Master Soma." Agni pressed, unhinging the tenseness of the prince's shoulders with gentle hands. He continued in whispers that just reached Sebastian's acute senses. "It would not be wise to make such retorts in the presence of this woman…"
"Your butler is right," Cosette crowed, grinning pretentiously as the Indian duo gave a small start. Heavy wing beats drew their eyes from the succubus as the harpy emerged from its oak, turning in a graceless arc over their heads to settle behind its mistress. It landed haphazardly with a loud screech, ruffling its molting feathers as it regained balance, still handicapped from losing its eye to Sebastian's claws. Inwardly he smirked at the injured creature, the mere shell of its former glory, yet even more dangerous in its dilapidated state. He watched it settle its curved beak over Cosette's shoulder, dwarfing her by comparison, as though urging her to continue. She offered it a motherly pat, slightly spryer as she turned her attentions back on the group. "We have no time for such exchanges at the moment. My Leona is a busy woman and would like to finish the matter at hand as quickly as possible. Now, then!" she cheered, discarding the parasol with a clap of her hands. It rolled down the great steps and landed in the mud unimportantly. "If you'd please, earl?" she asked with the politeness of a hostess, indicating to the wide chapel doors. "Miss Fitzpatrick would like to have a word with you."
Out of the corner of his eye, Sebastian saw his master give a curt nod, looking up to ask for accompaniment. But the caulist refused to return the look, carefully examining the proud succubus. Ciel eased out of his tense stance and proceeded forward, and Sebastian instantly ghosted beside him, busy calculating.
"She's smiling now." He registered as they mounted the stairs. "They planned to split us up all along; they don't think Ciel will be able to protect himself without my aide. And if that's the case, then are they leaving our friends to the snatcher? Surely Agni can handle that overfed turkey, after the number I've done on it. Please let him notice this too, let them prepare themselves before –."
But his train of thought derailed as Cosette brandished an open palm, creating a barrier between him and his mate with her arm. "Alone." She enunciated slowly, pink lips pulling into a thin sugared line. The earl froze at the word and Sebastian nearly snarled. It was as he had anticipated, but their close proximity quelled his own anxieties, knowing at the least that he could bash her skull against the marble walls of the building.
"Out of the question –."
"Unless you'd like me to open him up here, dearest?" hissed between closed teeth, pricks of scarlet darkening her stormy irises as she returned the demon's glower. As if in emphasis, the protesting pops of lace slitting open announced the extension of her claws, darker and thinner than Sebastian's own, glinting as beads of rain rolled off their pointed tips. His lips twitched into an automatic snarl, and the succubus snickered at the small sign of anxiety, tugging the earl roughly by the shoulder to separate him further from his demon.
"You'll be talking to me." She crooned madly, nodding eastwards where the Dissenter's chapel stood. "In there. And Miss Fitzpatrick will be conversing with our dear earl in there." She shrugged a shoulder to the building behind them, darkened grey eyes never leaving the demon's face.
Ciel cocked his chin, staring ahead towards the wooden doors, prepared to face the woman whom Sebastian had never even seen. "I'll go ahead inside." He announced evenly, lips tightening at his companion's sounds of dismay. "I'd like to meet Miss Fitzpatrick once and for all."
"Of course." Cosette replied, quivering with anticipation. Silkily, she dropped her hold on the earl and wound herself about Sebastian's arm, half-exposed breasts pressed to his stiff form, kittenish smile never leaving her lips as she stared down the teenager in triumph. "Well then, Sebastian?" she crooned, not bothering to look to him for confirmation. "Let's begin."
With a surprising amount of strength she began to tug him down the steps, hand still laced through his arm in a mockery of ladylike behavior. Unable to defy her whims, he caught up to her pace, placing a firm hand over hers and squeezing it roughly, taking control of their pace. She giggled in delight, not at all put off by his intentions to harm her, and pressed closer against his side. He watched warily as she tucked her soggy hair of brunette curls to his shoulder, lost in some vision where they were taking a pleasant stroll through a park rather than a forced exile through a rainy cemetery.
He sent a last look over his shoulder, eyes instantly locking with Ciel's.
"Be brave." He willed. "You can survive this, we both can."
With a small nod of finality, the earl turned away from him and looked to the doors. A jealous tug and Sebastian tore his eyes away, glaring down at the woman attached to his side. The black chiffon of her dress clung to her breasts, golden bodice already streaked with ugly stains of water. "Interested, are you?" she smirked, catching his glance.
"Not in the slightest." He grit back.
"Oh?" she countered, tipping her head to the side and letting her hair fan about a shoulder. "I thought you might have been reconsidering, assessing what I – what Leona and I both – have to offer."
Sebastian remained silent, deciding it in his best favour to let the childish woman assume whatever she wished to as he felt the earl's scent grow fainter and fainter. The rain hadn't let up, plastering their hair and clothes to their bodies uncomfortably as they wound their way through the muddy paths. Again, the angels watched them pass, but now the rain trekked down their dirty cheeks, looking as though streaming from their pupil-less eyes. Unnerved, the butler averted his gaze, intent on finding a loophole in the situation.
"If I can shake Cosette, then I can make it back to the chapel unhindered. Then there's the harpy to deal with; I've not heard any sounds of battle, so I can assume that it retreated back to its tree. That also means that no other beings are present, otherwise they'd have taken Soma and Agni by now: the snatcher is the one keeping an eye on them. If I force them to divert the bird's attention, then I can slip in easily before either it or Cosette has a chance to attack, leaving me to deal with Leona one-on-one. If I'm quick enough –."
"What's on your mind, dearest?" the succubus piped up, humming the term of endearment with sickening fervor. "You seem all moody and distracted, it's most unbecoming of a handsome face such as yours, you know."
"Is it?" he replied thinly. "I wonder what reason I could have to feel that sort of way."
"Well I don't know!" Cosette retorted, bottom lip curling into a pout. "We're doing everything in our power to help you, you insufferable man. Dealing with that wretched human pet you've been keeping. Really now, there's no need to punish yourself like that because things got all complicated. It was chivalrous to stay, certainly, and yet," her grip tightened uncomfortably and Sebastian knew she could very well snap his arm in two. "You denied a golden opportunity to free yourself of such obligations! When Leona and I so kindly invited you to stay in the very lap of luxury – not to mention it would have spared the life of that stupid little earl." She sneered as the demon turned his face from hers, taking it as introspection. "Do you regret it now? Now that it's too late? I told you that you'd regret your very words. Did I not? You do now, don't you?"
"I have some regrets, yes." He replied vaguely.
"I regret not killing you when I had the chance, I'm sure Undertaker would've taken delight in winding that lovely hair of yours into wreaths and my, wouldn't your intestines have made lovely food for the worms? I wonder what sickening things would have bloomed out of you, it would have been certain to make an interesting garden. Such a pity I missed the opportunity."
"See!" Cosette trilled, giggling with manic triumph. "Oh, you're sorry now, aren't you? You men are all alike, all pigheaded! I knew what was best for you, and you–! Oh what did you do? Called me trash, I believe? A rodent? You should be groveling for forgiveness now, house cat! Perhaps if you do a good enough job I can get Leona to forgive you as well and you can stay with us – experienced women who won't wither away with age like your human pet would have done."
"Would have done. You dare to speak about my mate like he's already dead, as though you are some replacement I should be grateful for. I will bleed you dry, you miserable whore."
"I believe you to be confused." He spoke evenly. The succubus quirked her head towards him, wide eyed and looking like a drowned porcelain doll. "As you've so eloquently pointed out, I am a cat, and therefore I am above begging. That aside, if you're so inclined to have me for yourself – beg pardon, for you and Leona – then would you really want me without my pride? If I merely tossed that aside and groveled, as you so put it, then I would not be the same creature at all. What satisfaction would there be to you in that? You'd simply tire of me and cast me aside. Such a waste, don't you agree?"
The cogs began turning in Cosette's mind as her brows knitted into a frown. Pouting lips jerked upwards into a fanged grin as her spirit returned. "Valid point, mon cher, it would be far more exciting to break you myself." She shivered against him out of either anticipation or cold. "My, all of the house rules you'd have to learn, and all of the routines. We'd be sure to keep you busy, of course."
"But not only at night, of course: I've missed having a proper wake up call." She chuckled, tucking her lips to his bicep and planting a kiss to it. The landscape fell away to fields of rolling lawn, the arch of the entrance lodge looming ever nearer as they made their way to the dissenter's end. The decorative fence slid further into focus with each step, still needle thin and wavering with distance.
"Not much longer, and I'll make my move." The demon determined, scanning for an escape route. "There must be something here that I can use to my advantage, to give me a bit of a head start."
The chapel crouched behind a stand of tall trees, smaller in stature than its brethren with shorter colonnades fanning out to the sides. Ionic pillars with iconic swirled Grecian heads flanked its exterior, a sad Parthenon parody standing guard over a scant collection of headstones, shepherded in by the dividing gate of The Green.
"I could use some strategy and wisdom about now, Athena." Sebastian thought dryly, casting about. "I'm running out of both time and land. Something, there must be something around here." The squat headstones stared back at him, utterly uninviting and baring no place to hide. To hide. "That's it! Thank you, you crazy bastard, else I'd never have thought of it."
It had been at a smaller cemetery, an hour or so after a service for some noble man or woman the demon hadn't known or bothered to remember. The mourners had dispersed, stepping up into their own private carriages, horses bedecked in black swags fit for the occasion. Ciel had managed to be relatively sociable, thanks in part to a mission ordered by the Queen, his shrewd words double edged as he pressed subtle details from the guests. Lizzie had yet to return home, clinging to his side with every step, doing her best to look mature and wife-like, and to his credit, Ciel had kept his patience with her. Otherwise distracted, this had allowed Sebastian the unusual chance to wander about of his own accord, never too far in case of danger, but distant enough to gain of a sense of freedom.
The particular cemetery had been rife with family tombs, great marble sepulchers fitted with stained glass and decorate gates or burnished doors. They perched between the lesser graves, some atop hills, and others looming beside small benches and fountains. At his side walked another man, a familiar to the grounds, and for a time they said nothing, simply enjoying the mild April weather. "Tha' is a good avenue." Undertaker had motioned, jabbing one sleeve-covered hand to a winding lane of crypts over which a grassy hill had grown, creating a narrow little alley. So the pair had turned and ventured down it, edged in from either side with a Brown here and a Davies there, sometimes by the usual Edwards or Lewis.
Sebastian had been admiring the bronze cupids inside a lover's crypt when the mortician had paused curiously, head lolled dramatically to one side. "What is it?" the demon asked absently, examining the dates inscribed.
"People, I think."
"Yes, there do tend to be people about when it comes to cemeteries. Dead ones, too."
"They're comin' this way." Undertaker insisted, and that time the demon paused to listen as well, picking up on the heavy footfalls of a group of men hurrying towards the lip of the alley. "Tha's curious, don't you think? Who needs t' run in a graveyard?"
"Shall we find out?"
"No' like this, we aren't." the embalmer chuckled, ramming his palm against the gates of the crypt and pulling the butler inside by the front of his vest. Dazed, Sebastian brushed flat against the wall, now quite able to see the cupid's detailing, along with the cobwebs stretched over it. Undertaker has deftly pulled the gates back closed until they appeared undisturbed and mimicked the butler against the opposing wall.
"How did you know it would open?" Sebastian asked lowly, attentive to the oncoming rustle of men's feet.
"I didn't." Undertaker replied gleefully.
"We're inside someone's crypt." The demon said, suddenly aware of his company. "Doesn't that bother you of all people? You're eccentric to be sure, but what exactly makes this alright?"
"Well they're dead, aren't they?" the other shrugged.
"But you're –."
"S'alright s'long as you thank 'em afterwards."
"But you just said –."
"One," Undertaker hissed back importantly and the steps came right up beside them. "Must never overlook cemetery etiquette."
The two had waited inside the musty space while the ring of businessmen discussed particularly illicit transactions in what they had believed to be privacy and confidence. A troublesome rival company to Funtom Enterprises, they said more than enough to provide the butler leads of inquiry that would eventually end their corporation in financial ruin and a generous cheque of gratitude from the Queen. Undetected for the entirety of the hurried conversation, the demon and his companion had slipped back towards the gravesite in time to greet Ciel who shot them questioning glances as he had let Sebastian lead him to his carriage.
"Crypts. That's the key. If I can–."
"It isn't sincere, you know." Cosette spoke up, voice surprisingly soft. Sebastian started, focus temporarily broken.
"Oh? What angle is this?"
"You really are a fool; you're allowing yourself to be one. Perhaps," a fragile smile quirked over her lips and blew away almost as quickly. "Perhaps you are one simply because you wish to see things as you want to see them."
"What do you mean by that?" he asked cautiously.
"There, the last crypt in sight before we reach the Dissenter's Gallery. I'll only have this one shot, else risk losing my chance to reach Ciel unhindered."
"You stayed." The succubus answered simply. "You think you love him, don't you?"
"Yes, think. That's what you want to believe, isn't it? That's why you've been so stubborn. It hurts me that you do this, you know. It truly does. I understand you, dearest, I do. He's your mate so you feel you must love him, even if it hurts you. It isn't reciprocated though, and you know it. Deep down you do. He may be a human yet, but that child of yours feeding off of him, it has your blood in it. Caulist blood. That's strong blood, dearest, and it should have poisoned him a bit by now, let the instincts set in. He wouldn't have known what he was doing, sure, but all the same – if his feelings were the same as what you want to feel, surely he would have mated you in return?"
Sebastian halted, throat constricting unpleasantly as the words seeped in. The rain fell heavily about them as Cosette turned to him, a near genuine embodiment of the innocent woman she had first approached them as. Something legitimate and sad flickered in her eyes as she forced his to meet them, a lacy hand cupping his cheek.
"It hurts, dearest, doesn't it?" she whispered, warm body pressing to his front. "You don't need to fight that any longer. You needn't tie yourself down to someone who doesn't love you back. Forget all I said about begging. See? I understand you better; I know why you reacted so unlike yourself."
"Love me back?" the demon repeated slowly. "Do you mean to suggest…?"
The succubae's eyes lit up with understanding, and she nodded excitedly. "Yes, dearest, you and I, we can forgive all these silly past transgressions. There's a place for you here, in your own natural world beside Leona and I. And the two of us, well, we know the sting of betrayal and hollow promises, do we not? Surely we can find that with one another?"
"Find love?" Sebastian clarified, hesitantly brushing a lock of brunette hair back with a claw. "You've really had the right intentions, haven't you?"
"Yes!" Cosette replied breathlessly, lips hovering beneath the demon's own.
"Then…" he began lowly, fingers curling about her waist. "How do you suggest we go about it?"
"Well," the coy smile returned, ushering out the heavy lidded eyes and the scent tendrils of the succubae's allure. "I do know one way – OH!" She gasped as her back met soundly with granite, the weight of the demon crushed against her front. Lusty growls met her ear as Sebastian worked his fingers up her torso, cupping a breast with a rapturous palm. A free hand worked its way around the back of her neck, possessively pulling her along as they stumbled blindly into dark corners, mindless of their surroundings as they exchanged quick bites and touches.
Cosette moaned as she was pressed against a cool wall, silenced quickly by the demon's lips, kissing her deeply as fingers cinched up the hem of her skirts. A slender leg wrapped about his hip, letting the butler corner her erotically in the unusual space. "Where," she panted as Sebastian recaptured her lips. "Where are we?" Suddenly the fingers at her neck tightened painfully and she winced, biting at the other's intruding tongue, instantly rewarded with fresh blood. She spat it out and glared suspiciously at Sebastian, wriggling in his grip, crimson spokes growing thicker within her irises. "Where. Are we?"
"In a crypt, it seems." The demon smiled pleasantly, claws sinking into the underside of the woman's thigh. She hissed in discomfort as the pressure increased. "Don't you enjoy that dearest?" he chided, letting blood freely flow across his hand and drip to the stony floor. "And here I thought you might be a kink, my mistake."
"What are you doing? Let me go." The succubus hissed, still writhing against the pressure at her neck, cheeks flushing with the effort. She lashed out wildly, sampling the demon's blood on her fingers, smearing it across her body as she fought to regain control. "Let me go now."
"Certainly." Sebastian hummed, turning sharply and throwing her against the opposing wall. Something cracked, and the sound reverberated in the small space. Cosette groaned, about to right herself from her heap on the floor when the demon was at her again, dragging her upright by the hair. "I believe you were trying to teach me something regarding 'love'." He reminded, wrapping the soaked strands about his hand, pulling viciously at her scalp. "And you see, I disagree with your theory." With a jerk, he bashed her skull against the stone, appearing a split second later beyond the entrance of the vault.
Watching in sadistic satisfaction as the woman reeled in pain, he clanged shut the thick iron gates and twisted the metal bars in a complicated knot, barring her from exiting the makeshift cell. "I hadn't been mistaken when I had called you trash before; you're no more than some parasite that feeds off of another, it is all you can do. Flutter about until you find something sustainable and take from it all you can and cast it aside. You use selfishly. Truly it's no wonder you're always alone – do you really count Leona as a friend?" the demon broke off with a cruel laugh as the woman sat up sluggishly, sending a poisonous glare his way that didn't quite reach his form. "You need your control, don't you? That's what your perception of love is: manipulation. But you can't bend Leona to your will, can you? She's too smart, too powerful for that, and you're a coward. So you tag alongside her like vermin, try to suck up her glory, vicariously experience her wealth. It's despicable. What do you know of loyalty or trust or sacrifice? Of empathy? You've torn out all those complicated things, haven't you? You were right – it is easier to believe the world is as you wish it to be. But that isn't reality, dearest. You threw out every last scrap of goodness in you because it got in the way of your delusions. Living beings aren't dolls you can just force to do and say as you please. What right do you have to try and fuck with me? What right do you have to call into question the things I know to be reality, what I've been allowed to cherish? What do you know of 'love'? The only thing you've ever loved," he sneered, dropping into a mocking bow, "is yourself."
The scene dropped away behind him as he raced back to the Anglican chapel. Delayed screams of fury and expletives drowned out as the cemetery dashed by in one wide green blur. A shadow eclipsed his path, buffeting him with wind. He narrowly ducked, hissing in pain as a single talon nicked the side of his face, a razor thin line of blood welling from the cut as the harpy winged past. It twisted back to croak angrily at him, flying straight for his caged mistress.
Sebastian laughed aloud, a strangled cry of relieved mirth as he vaulted off the tops of headstones, keeping free from the mud that would only pull greedily at his feet and slow his progress. The blood roared in his ears and he knew that his pupils must have reduced to feline slits, endorphins crashing through his body in jittery bursts, spurring him onwards. "It worked and there's still time. There's still time. He'll be safe. He's just ahead, I can smell him, just a stretch farther –."
Soma and Agni were before the white steps, staring back down The Green to where the snatcher had retreated, slack jawed and uncertain how to proceed. Sebastian thought to warn them of the creature's return, but thought the better of it, wrenching free a twisted bar of wrought iron gate, the metallic screech sounding not unlike the gigantic bird. The pair spun back around, eyes meeting open air as the demon dashed past them, already through the front doors of the chapel, dimmed scene focusing before his eyes.
They stood before a wooden slab, barren of a casket, Ciel to the left and a tall buxom blonde to the left. A sneer distorted her beauty, emerald irises hardened into jeering slants, painted red lips curled back to reveal straight, pearly fangs. Dark peals of laughter still bubbled from her mouth, soft waves of hair cascading down her chest, only intent upon her prey. "How cheeky, Earl Phantomhive." She muttered in a disarmingly dulcet tone. "Though I should have expected nothing less of such a lowly whore and his bastard child –."
Sebastian snarled and slid behind her in one graceful motion, lunging forward with a sharp thrust. For a moment her body wavered, suspended by the shaft piercing through her back, before crumpling against the earl with a contorted gasp. "Don't." he thought fiercely, watching with pleasure as the woman rose slowly from her shock, the swell of blood encroaching on her scent. "Don't you dare endanger my mate and don't you think you can insult our kit and get away with it." With a growl he tugged the rod back, tearing it free of her body and audibly cutting through organ and muscle.
Leona gasped, choking as blood filled her mouth, spilling over the sides of her lips as she stumbled back, jarring against the butler's chest, her legs threatening to give out beneath her. The makeshift weapon clattered to the ground as cold fingers clasped about her neck, forcing her chin up as she struggled to breath, the puncture to one lung slowly healing from the surprise attack. The demon smiled down at her, a thin sheet of calm covering a tempest. "It would be in your best interest not to insult the integrity of my master, Miss Fitzpatrick." He suggested, smoothing clawed forefinger along the bulge of her jugular, delighting in her writhing as he toyed with it, increasing pressure as he cut into the skin –
– and moved away, thinking the better of it and squeezing hard over her wind pipe, slowly suffocating the succubus, letting the pressure build up. Her spine creaked in warning and she released an earsplitting scream, snapping fingers on both sides as she wrenched his hand from her throat. She struck hard, thin claws dragging across his scalp as disjointed fingers collided with his cheek, the force knocking him aside for one crucial moment. The tussle knocked the gate pole further away, clanging metallically against the slab floor as warm blood began to mat in the roots of the demon's hair, overwhelming him with the proximity of the scent.
A sharp knee met his gut, knocking the rest of the wind from him as Leona set the entirety of her weight against him, fingers latching about his neck. He thrashed, securing his claws back against hers as the doors groaned and splintered, bursting forth to reveal two forms. Ciel was just turning to recognize them and true, icy horror seized Sebastian, coiling around his heart, knowing he wouldn't be able to intercede. A burst of adrenaline and he had reversed positions with Leona, surprising her as her body healed over entirely, strength returning to her limbs "Young mast –." He called, but Cosette and the harpy were already upon them.
Leona snarled and bit at his arm with feral rage, determined to keep his eyes on her. Behind them came the rustle of fabric and animalistic snarls, met with fresh blood as Cosette's screaming filled the cavernous chapel, shrill voice echoing about their heads.
"What do you think you're doing, darling?" It screeched, matching pitch with the sound of scraping talons. "You think that little thing will stop me?"
Sebastian twisted, desperately trying to see what was going on. "Don't forget who you're fighting, wretch." The blonde spat, flipping them yet again and throwing the butler sharply against the stone tile. Black spots danced across his vision, grip loosening just briefly enough for Leona to heave his hands from her neck and latch into his own, laughing manically as he gagged against the deepening intrusion.
"Go ahead, Ciel." Cosette whisper reverberated about, intensifying in the demon's ears as he struggled to shake his attacker, clawing mercilessly at her exposed stomach as they squirmed on their sides, swiping lines of blood across each other's struggling form.
"I apologize, mademoiselle." A distinct voice called from the busted in doorway. There was a scuffle of feet indicating that Cosette had been successfully distracted. "I usually would never lay a hand on a woman."
Air rushed to Sebastian's lungs as Leona seemingly disappeared, the shapes of the world coming back to the demon as something made impact with a sickening crunch. Still on his side, Sebastian watched as the blurry figure stood his ground, making motions with his hands that produced… snow?
"Bandages." He realized. His previous gratitude had not been misplaced. "Agni."
"… this is a special circumstance." The other butler said, bare palm facing forward. Muscle and cartilage contracted in one brief second, and Cosette leapt into the attack, flanked by the harpy as they charged the Indian. The shriek of the bird dizzied Sebastian, but he shook off the effect, straightening just as the brunette reached Agni, small feet suddenly beating the air as she was bodily lifted and flung aside to crumple, boneless, against her benefactress. A second later and he was embracing his mate, encircling his waist and tearing out of the chapel.
The harpy and Agni stood before them, then flashing past them as the demon whipped around and yelled, "The heart!" He saw the widening of his friends eyes just as they barreled out into the cemetery. Unrelenting rain doused them, driving the streaks of blood from Sebastian's face and washing it of his hair, staining the collar of his dress shirt. Soma was yelling something anxiously, receiving the earl and checking him for damages, but Ciel was seeing none of it, glossy eyed and in shock. "I'm sorry, darling." The demon whispered, caressing a frigid cheek.
Twin screams rent the air, one a chilling whistle of a dying tea kettle, the other a trilling soprano. A conspiracy of ravens took wing from their roost on the roof, flocking to the trees beyond as their brethren staggered from the chapel steps. Agni darted out ahead of it, right hand tucking against his chest as he ran, leaving the demon torn between emotions.
"So you understood."
"I'm sorry, my love, I must." He whispered hurriedly.
"Watch him." He instructed brusquely to the prince, nudging the catatonic Ciel in his direction. Anxiously, Soma seized him, dragging them both under the shelter of a large tree, protectively placing his body before the earl's.
Quickly the demon whirled about, rejoining his fellow butler. The whistling screams of Cosette and the bird continued, crashing about in his head and overwhelming his senses. "Good work!" he yelled over the din. Agni shot him a pained smile, the tumorous heart oozing blackened blood down his arm. The harpy cawed and descended sharply, diving into their path, the succubus charging from behind. "TURN!" Sebastian called, jerking the other back towards the chapel by a stained sleeve.
Cosette followed their movements, boots caked in mud as she dug her heels into the path, blood lathered and snarling. Crimson swathed against her face and neck, painted there by slicked curls that tangled askew. Her eyes flashed red entirely, and Sebastian tensed, readying as her aura expanded, electric and angry. "Keep her distracted." He directed lowly as his friend nodded and ran ahead. Cosette sprang, tattered skirts flying about her as she aimed for the retreating Indian. Pained sounds rang out behind the demon as he propelled forward, shooting past her and searching for the weakened harpy.
"SHIT. Shit, NO." he cursed, trembling as the hulking form of the avian descended upon his mate, talons outstretched and reeling in something silvery and opaque. "His soul." The word plummeted like ice down to his gut. Fear unlike he'd ever experienced coursed through him, and for a moment he stood stock still in genuine shock. Ciel moaned aloud, flailing about as his knees buckled beneath him. Watery mud splashed from the impact, and he writhed about still, convulsing as his soul was slowly pried from his body. In seconds he could be dead. Their kit could be dead. Or worse, he could survive as some pitiable creature, completely unresponsive to the world about him, existing without thought or emotion. An empty shell. And Sebastian would have to kill him then, out of mercy, even though the act would utterly kill him.
He knew, he knew all along. He had feared it, and Cosette herself had pointed it out. Ciel was still human, still just a speck of life against their immortal canvas. A bad chill, a broken limb, a fall – any of it could snuff out the fragile existence, and there would be nothing the demon could do to prevent it. Nature would always win out, would always take back the life it bestowed. "Not this time, not yet. I can't let him go just yet."
The resolution unstuck his limbs, fear and anger making an unstable emotional cocktail within his demonic blood. The air was whipping past him, biting cold and burning his skin. Muscles cracked and popped as fingers stiffened, claws extending to deadly black needles. Then a flurry of feathers and the world was spinning in dizzying arcs, dark plumage and grey clouds and skeletal trees, all tumbling about as the overpowering scent of coarse blood and decaying animal and oily feathers assaulted him, warm fluid seeping through his sleeves, slicking between his fingers, a deafening scream in his ears.
Sebastian jostled to the ground, back slamming into the hard packed earth, the sky above swinging about in a multitude of images, slowly settling into one dim picture. He rolled to his side, looking back at the scene: not a foot from him was the harpy's monstrous head, beak frozen agape, tongue puffed and lolling out the side of its face. Metres away lay the rest of its mangled body, convulsing with the last impulses of fight and shivering to a stop, bowels releasing as death stole over. Ciel was pushing himself upright, hair streaked with mud, his once elegant outfit cut up and smeared with blood and dirt, a large streak across his chest from where Sebastian had kicked him away, breaking the snatchers hold on the younger's soul.
Shakily Sebastian rose, world eerily quiet, a faint ringing about his head. Ciel had convulsed and was throwing up in the mud, trembling as tears ran down his face unchecked. He became aware of Soma, not quite certain where the teen had been in the duration of his fight with the snatcher. The prince looped his arms about the earl and drug him away from the sick, lips running at full speed, words that the demon couldn't quite hear falling from them. The pair had turned their eyes to him and suddenly Soma's mouth rounded into what had to be a scream. Why was he screaming? Then, oh.
Splitting pain as claws sunk into his skin, tearing his arm viciously to the side and wrenching it free from the socket. A low roar filled his ears and he realized that the succubus was growling, blonde hair splayed out about her as she lunged and slashed out again. It felt as though her claws were still lodged into him, ripping at the nerves with pinpointed pressure, trying to detach the limp arm completely. Pushing the pain from his mind, Sebastian spun about, swinging out his leg and delivering a sharp kick to Leona's face, her neck snapping back painfully as his heel met her jaw. She stumbled back from him, clawing at her face as blood trickled steadily from her mouth and nose.
His palm met the juncture of his shoulder, quickly assessing the damage. It would still heal. He grit his teeth and grabbed the useless limb, popping it back in place with an agonized wince, fire lancing through the entire side of his body, stiffness setting in. He glanced to Leona in time to see her cracking her neck back into place, sliding the discs back into a proper alignment, but her attention had wavered, pinned instead on Ciel and the prince.
There was a piercing noise, and Cosette and Agni barreled into the blonde, launching them into a flurry of hair and flailing claws. Screams began to form in his head as his hearing slowly returned and he headed into the fray. Cosette had pulled herself up, Agni grappling with her. With a shriek, she set her claws against a deep wound that ran diagonally across his chest, throwing him away from her. Sebastian snarled and charged her, ducking around her flailing limbs and laying neat incisions across her exposed torso. Her bodice groaned, boning and inflamed skin peering between the slashed fabrics. A sharp elbow collided with the crook of his neck and he gasped, dodging away as she pressed a hand to her bleeding abdomen.
Agni had launched attack against Leona, and the demon could dimly hear them tussling about around them, green and blue flashes of their clothing dancing among the crooked headstones, bodies slamming with jarring cracks. Sebastian straightened, only to be blown back down again as Cosette's heel collided with his jaw, slicing into his skin and staining the white leather with crimson. Feral growls fell from his lips as his composure slipped away and he strode up to her, blocking her wild swings with ease as the pain ebbed away from his consciousness, replaced instead by the return of his faculties and raw determination. His fingers fisted through her hair, a genuine reenactment of his prior performance, claws grazing across her scalp as he pulled her from her huddled ball on the ground. She screamed as her feet left the ground, kicking about and smacking against his knees. She laughed coldly and shook her, her body waving about with loud snaps and going limp like a doll. Amused, he flung her from him, watching her body careen through the air and smash against the chapel steps brokenly.
The bloodlust faded as the danger receded, adrenaline having already repaired the worst of his injuries. Revitalized, he wiped away the plastered locks of hair on his forehead, smearing blood – he wasn't even sure whose blood – across his skin. He sought out Soma's hunched form and relaxed instantly, his mate curled up in the prince's arms. He appeared at their side, quickly assessing the pair for damages and finding none. "Young master." He instructed, uncertain if his words were even registering. Soma looked up in his stead, silently begging for direction. The demon continued to direct to his catatonic mate. "Now would be an opportune time to seek cover along with Master Soma."
Ciel released a low moan, an almost-reply to the butler's suggestion. Soma whimpered at the lack of response, gathering the earl in his arms and giving Sebastian a curt nod as he drug the other teen away. The demon spared a moment to ascertain that they had sought shelter in a large vault, ivy encroaching its broken iron doors, hiding their escape from view. Another howl tore his attention back to the fight and he was off again, flying blindly at the assailant.
This time it was Leona, her hair wild and matted with mud and blood and twigs, claws caked with a nauseating concoction of the three. They flailed about, landing blows where they could reach, her fingers grappling to find purchase on his face. A single claw sliced through his brow and he threw her just before it connected with his eye. Blood bubbled up and blinded his vision as he rounded on the woman. She swore loudly and picked herself up from the ground, cracked obelisks littered around her in jagged pieces.
Sebastian pawed furiously at his eye, thrown off balance by the loss of vision. Leona was already upon him, diving for his midsection and driving him bodily to the ground. Thighs clenched around his sides, pinning him beneath her weight. Again her claws sailed for his eyes, then the hands were skittering away into open air, a shadow descending over the demon's prone form as Agni cracked a headstone across the succubae's back. Winded, she crumpled sideways, and Sebastian was back on his feet, using his friend's offered hand as leverage.
Together they dove for the blonde, who rolled out from under their attacks, narrowly escaping towards a stand of evergreens. "Aim to kill!" The caulist yelled as bandages flew out around them. Agni's palm thrust forward and Leona froze in her tracks, body bending unnaturally backwards before crashing into a trunk, flipping about so her chest lay exposed to them. Sebastian rushed towards her, fingers crushing about her throat as fingers tore deep ruts into her neck, threatening to sever it. With a pained grunt, she freed her legs from Agni's assault, curling them up and plunging them against Sebastian's body, forcing him away.
"I'm not some petty bird, you cretin." She spat, claws narrowly missing his kidneys as they spun about. "You can't just decapitate me."
"Oh?" Sebastian jeered, slicing down her back, tearing open the delicate fabric of her dress to the stained underclothes beneath. "You keep the French as company; I assumed it was your style." She snarled in reply, biting savagely at his wrist and ripping the skin to shreds with her fangs. Sebastian knew he was yelling, voice lost in the fray, and desperately he drove his elbow into the back of her neck, making an awful cracking noise that made her gasp and let go. She doubled over and the demon drove a knee into her stomach, flinging her up into the air.
She twisted about and found purchase in the boughs of a chestnut tree. She laughed shrilly as she crouched, pouncing like a wild animal and tangling her limbs about him. Metres from them, Sebastian could hear Agni's deep bellows as he staved off attacks. "Cosette must have recovered." He wrangled Leona from his body, driving his knee upwards repeatedly until she had shaken free, still howling like a banshee and slashing furiously at his face. She jerked her chin upwards and yelled out as rivaling claws sunk into her cheek, piercing through the thick skin and grazing over her tongue.
Something was stirring, the air was growing stagnant as Agni and Cosette's fight dimmed down, the blonde before him still deaf to the change and hissing madly at her failure. "Stop fighting." A firm voice ordered. The willpower drained from Sebastian's limbs and he turned as best he could to see Ciel standing before them, not really staring at anything. The fighters froze, watching him intently. Blood stained the torn front of his dress shirt, and something dark – his coat – was bundled up tight against his abdomen, dripping as fresh blood spread down the front of his pants. "Stop fighting." He repeated. "It's over."
Something was wrong, horribly, tremendously wrong. The glazed over eyes, and bundle at his stomach… "There's too much blood, too much. His skin is so pale, he's shaking. There's too. Damn. Much." Something dark and terrible entered his mind and he forced it away. "It can't be. Please no. Please. Speak darling, say something else. Please."
Leona was gaping at the earl, hair flattening back down as her eyes flickered back to green. His eyes didn't reach hers, still settling over The Green and the carnage of the harpy. The blonde sputtered in disbelief, completely forgetting about the claws lodged into her cheek. Sebastian forgot them as well, only able to look at his master. His mate. Dread filled him.
"Young mas –."
"It's dead." The earl said bluntly. The breath rushed out of the demon's lungs, a tingling numbness taking over.
"No." he thought resolutely. "Why…?"
A dark smile twitched over Ciel's face, lusterless eyes turning between the two succubae. For a moment he didn't say anything, tears coursing down his grimy cheeks. "I made sure of it." he laughed humorlessly, head lolling forward as he stared down at his feet, at the thing clutched before him. He shifted, pressing the cloak tighter against himself, and the blood spilled forth, puddling at his feet. It was all the demon could smell. Fragrant blood, drenched in sugar and what had been pregnancy and what gentle things could have been their kit. Another dry laugh as the earl clutched harder at the bundle, shaking hands white knuckled. "It's in here."
"Why? My love, my darling, why? This fight wasn't lost: there was still a chance to win so why did you throw it away?" The dread petered out, replaced with hollow acceptance. The foolish dreams he'd had, the hopes he'd let hold sway over his mind and heart. The image of the rosy cheeked child with dark swathes of hair… he swallowed hard and willed it all away. It hurt too much to just think. "I should be grateful." He thought numbly. "He's alive and this… well they can't justify killing him. They made a promise. At least there's that."
A low moan and Cosette crumpled to her knees, skirt spread about her in muddied golden tatters. "Damn it. Damn it!" she screamed, tearing at her gnarled hair and beating the ground like an overgrown child. "DAMN IT ALL!" Leona scoffed at the fit, fingers curling around Sebastian's wrist and wrenching his claws free from her face, pushing away from the unresponsive demon as she wheeled suspiciously on Ciel.
"Why would you –?" she queried, cocking her head and wrapping her arms about her chest. Her bloodied lips curled into a sneer decided the answer wasn't worth it. She could smell the blood, and the baby's blood, still pouring freely from the wound. "Worthless brat." She hissed, storming over to Cosette.
"My… My baby!" the brunette wailed, scampering towards the headless bird on bloody palms and knees. Her skirts tangled up in her heeled boots and she fitfully tossed about, snagging them further with loud rips as fat tears cascaded down her cheeks. "My baby… mon petit ange noir…!" She reached the head first, dragging it to her bosom by it paralyzed beak and wrapping her arms about it, already dragging herself over to the reminder of its body, moaning and whining piteously as she crossed through the sick and mud to rest by its side. Gross sobs wracked her body as she swooned over the mottled creature. "I wanted to kill it! I wanted to! But they took that away from me, mon ange! And they took you, too!"
"Get up." Leona hissed, striding over to the defeated woman and seizing the scruff of her neck, giving her a fierce shake. Cosette whimpered and allowed herself to be jerked about, shivering and collapsing in the woman's grip until the blonde give up and disgustedly tossed her against the base of a tree. The brunette choked back a cry and skittered back over to her pet, rocking childishly as she mourned over it in babbling streams of French, torn between little ditties and sentences that all flowed together without end.
Sebastian tore himself from the scene, remembering himself. His master still stood bracingly before him, watching the display impassively as he hugged the… "Don't think about what it is, don't imagine, just stop, stop." … cloak to his stomach, the cobalt fabric splotchy with brown-red patches of fresh and drying blood. "Surely he'll pass out soon, it is only adrenaline that's kept him upright. If he pushes himself too far… no, I can't lose him too. I refuse to."
Gently, he placed a hand to Ciel's shoulder, hoping he only imagined the way that the teen seemed to shy away from his touch. "Why won't you look at me?" he wondered, half begging with despair. "You know that I love you, don't you? Do you fear now that our… that without the kit, my feelings will change? Please acknowledge me, darling." But the earl refused to budge, watching stonily as the furious blonde stormed up to them both.
"You think it's this easy? Hmmn?" she asked irately. Hair kept falling in her eyes, enraging her further as she pushed it back repeatedly, smearing blood – and the demon suspected it might be his own – over her waning beauty. Something had cracked, deep down, and traces of madness gleamed in her cold green eyes. "You think you can drag it out this long and merely get away with it?"
"I believe our deal of the bargain has been met, Miss Fitzpatrick." Sebastian replied coldly, a dangerously amiable smile pressing over his lips. "Unless you'd like to further discuss matters? However, I don't believe your companion would be in the best of situations to do so."
The group paused and threw a collective look over at the deplorable Frenchwoman, her arms still latched about the decapitated head. Leona hissed in contempt, speaking lowly through bared teeth. "You may have held up your end of the deal. But don't believe for a moment I won't return to collect your debt." With a sniff she wheeled about, fixing her coconspirator with a glare. "COSETTE!"
The brunette flinched, burying her nose in the feathers as if awaiting some nasty impact. When none came, she blinked up with red rimmed eyes and colourless cheeks. "Quoi…?"
"Move, you worthless cur." Leona barked, crossing over to the woman in a few short strides. The smaller flinched once more, quickly dragged to her feet as the blonde jerked her upright by a bedraggled sleeve. She careened at the sudden movement, cradling the snatcher's head possessively as her heels dragged against the torn-up ground.
"We're leaving." Leona snapped, and Cosette simply nodded whimpering into the other's breasts as she stared back at the creature's body. In a violent movement, Leona had shaken the brunette and then wrapped her arms about her as massive, leathery wings unfolded from her back. With a massive beat, then two, then three, they had lifted off the ground and grew smaller and smaller against the grey sky.
Then they were gone, a single black harpy feather flittering down in their wake.
At once Ciel collapsed, wheezing and coughing as tears welled up in his eyes. Sebastian cried out in alarm and knelt beside him as the teen curled up, doubled over in apparent pain, curious laughter choking out through his gasps. At a hesitant touch, the earl rolled over to one side, staring up at his butler with a thin smile and shining, albeit tired eyes.
"My lord." Sebastian stated, taken aback by the curious behavior and uncertain how to proceed. "I'm just so thankful that you're alive." Wordlessly he lowered himself to the muddy ground, taking the earl by the shoulders and embracing him tightly, placing a small kiss to his cheek and just breathing. He took in everything. The sweat, the soppy mud, the still drizzling rain, the blood, so much blood, the musk of his mate's skin, the clotted grass, the dust of old graves, and beneath it, all of it, the very essence and sweetness that was Ciel. Alive. Breathing.
As he broke away, the hazy sun parted through the clouds as dusk approached, a chalky rainbow just visible through the silver white clouds and evening showers. "It's surreal." He thought, cupping his mate's head in his hands and thumbing small arcs across pale cheeks. "It's all surreal. And I love you, so, so much. I just wish…" His throat clenched tighter as it had before and he realized that it was tears that threatened to fall. Ciel read his gaze and squirmed against his touch, something akin to guilt flashing through his eyes.
The demon frowned in confusion as the earl dropped his gaze briefly, and he followed the glance to the teen's stomach, where the bundle was gently being removed. Sebastian stared. A shallow gash ran horizontally against the lily stomach, caked with blood but benign. Genuine shock crashed through the demon. He could still smell the kit; the scent still clung to his mate's body, which meant –
"I lied." Ciel whispered triumphantly, smiling as the butler continued to stare back, completely dumbfounded. "I couldn't meet your eyes, or else I'd give it away. Since the child's scent is mixed in with my blood, I was certain I'd be able to fool them by keeping the cloth close to me." He continued tiredly, the sheer mirth and relief never fading from his eyes.
"So you made a bluff, bled yourself on purpose and used our senses against us." Sebastian thought with dawning realization. During the battle his senses had been overwhelmed on numerous occasions, up until the point he had lost his hearing. "I never thought to do the same to either of them; they must have also suffered as I did."
With a soft hum the earl continued, voice growing softer as his body relaxed in Sebastian's arms. "The rest was acting. However, I knew that in order to fool them, I would have to fool you as well, Sebastian. If you weren't convinced, then they would obviously be unconvinced as well. Not to doubt your acting skills, of course." A delirious laugh escaped his lips, and the demon couldn't help but to smile, overwhelmed with appreciation and pride and gratitude.
He curled his fingers beneath his mate's chin, stroking his face affectionately. "How clever of you, my lord." He replied lightly. Ciel smiled at the words, lids flicking shut as the rest of his body went limp, out stone cold with blood loss and exhaustion. Gingerly Sebastian curled the prone form to his chest, lifting him up from the filth bridal style.
Soma and Agni watched from a distance as he approached, unable to wipe the giddy smile from his face. The prince sunk against his butler, their laced fingers just visible through the folds of their clothing. "Will he be alright?" Soma asked, anxiously peering over at the earl's unconscious face.
"He should be, yes." Sebastian breathed. "They both should be."
The duo looked at him in wonder. "Both?" Agni repeated, staring at the bloodied shreds of cloth matted to the teen's body.
"I'll explain later." The demon replied serenely, turning and heading back down the Centre Avenue as the sherbert coloured sky peered over the horizon, the sun setting behind the hulking rise of the chapel. "It's truly all over now." He called. "It's time to go home."
The following days passed by in a blur.
Life, in a way, had returned to normalcy, and there were always chores to be done. Sebastian had bathed and clothed his mate and laid him to bed, and there the earl remained in comatose sleep for many long hours. The night had come and went, bringing a painted peach dawn to the quiet chamber. Since returning home the demon hadn't left the other's side, bathing quickly and toeing off his shoes to join his mate under the covers.
He watched over Ciel as the time drained by, caressing his face and licking the small visible wounds until they became thin and pink and eventually disappeared from sight. His fingers rubbed and messaged over the other's abdomen, carefully stroking along the sensitive scarring flesh. Something within him kept him from bathing that one away, leaving the puckered flesh visible.
The first spokes of dawn had crept through the shutters when the earl finally began to stir, moaning sleepily as fatigued limbs begged him to return to his dreamless rest. Sebastian smiled, watching with affectionate pride as Ciel's fingers reached for his middle, stroking the sacred area with relief. His hand eclipsed the earl's and their fingers twined together, their bodies naturally pulling together, tired limbs tangling into a close embrace, kissing slowly and deeply. They laid together for a beautiful eternity, languidly caressing each other's face, petting soft locks of hair and just breathing, feeling one another, gratefully and purely.
Sebastian was the first to pull away, fatherly instincts keeping him from simply lying there forever. When he came back with a mild plate of food, the earl was already fast asleep. Affectionately, he crawled back onto the mattress and gently prodded his mate into wakefulness, letting him lay against his chest as he spooned chicken broth to his parted lips.
The next three days Ciel spent recuperating, wrapped in a multitude of sheets and pillows. He slept often and slowly built up a voracious appetite, much to the demon's amusement and chagrin. Time after time he patiently reminded his mate of what he was and wasn't allowed – chiefly that he must stay in bed for his own health and that no, for the time being he was not permitted a mostly-sweets-based diet.
The house was cleaned, the remaining evidence of damages repaired. Sebastian tended to the garden to pass the time, slowly turning it back over to Agni's care. It wasn't long before he noticed his fellow butler out among the flowers with his charge, pointing out the various species and teaching the prince about the various kinds of plants. He went out to the shops of London in two short trips, anxious to leave his master alone for too long. He placed the earl's holiday orders and returned to the tea shop, generously buying bulk supply of English Breakfast and Earl Grey. The mortician had teased him about the later when he had stopped in to chat, but the butler was too genuinely content to bother with being provoked.
Whenever he could afford to, he curled up in bed beside his met, showering him with affection that was always returned with gusto. It was to be understood that the master bedroom was in fact their room, a turn of terminology that Soma was happy to use as frequently as possible. He begged Sebastian morning and night to be permitted in to see his friend, but the demon kindly denied him, saying that the stress would be too much. After a third night of near as tying Ciel to the mattress to get him from leaving of his own accord, he let the eager prince in to see him the following morning, shortly after which Ciel announced that he wished to depart for the main estate.
On the fifth morning, the first flakes of snow began to fall from the feathered grey heavens, wispy clouds drifting about in the chilled London air. Clothes were neatly pressed and folded, tucked into carpeted steamer trunks and secured to the top of their carriage. Early morning lamplight still flickered up and down the streets and Sebastian made his goodbyes.
"My lord?" he called from their bedroom doorway, leaning casually upon the frame. Ciel sat tucked upon the velvet window seat as downy flakes gathered in the corners of the window panes. He turned his head slightly, watching their clear reflections. The demon smiled and fell into his habit; smiling all the while he bowed. "Your carriage has arrived."
"Are all the preparations made?" the earl asked, padding over to his butler and shrugging into a heavy black cloak as Sebastian secured it about his shoulders. The demon gave a knowing smile, and Ciel couldn't help but smirk in amusement.
"What would I be if I could not perform such a simple task for my lord?"
Together, they wound their way through the manor, calmly proceeding past the ghosts of the last several weeks, the memories skirting about from two different perspectives, dressing the estate in things they knew were better left off behind them.
Soma and Agni were waiting by the carriage, bundled in fur-lined coats as snow clung to their hair. The prince trembled and flung himself at the earl, sniffling into his shoulder and embracing him tightly. Sebastian sighed at the display, willing the teen to ease up so as not to accidentally injure his mate. His fellow butler sniffed in wry amusement and understanding and with a smile, Sebastian shook his hand in parting.
"Ciel! You have to promise that you'll visit soon!" Soma cried, half dancing in place and still hugging the earl. "I want to see your baby, Ciel! It's going to be the most beautiful baby in the world!"
"Why thank you. Of course they will be."
"And I want to see you and Sebastian get married, too!"
"Are you an invalid?" Ciel balked, but Sebastian didn't miss the blush that crept over his cheeks as he tried to wriggle free of his friend's grasp.
"Well, are you interested?"
"And I'm going to miss all of your insults, too!" Soma heaved a heavy sigh. The earl rolled his eyes but relented, returning the embrace at last and giving the prince a small squeeze. A small smile perked his lips before he regained his usual expression of annoyance and stepped free of the other's arms, striding over to the awaiting carriage.
"Well then; Agni, Master Soma." Sebastian smiled, offering a small bow to each as he helped Ciel up into the carriage. The earl settled onto the plush bench and the demon followed, securing thick blankets over his lap, gently rubbing his stomach before turning back to their hosts. "Thank you for your hospitality. We shall be sure to visit in the near future on business."
Agni bowed in return as Sebastian pulled the door closed, Soma crying after them, "Be sure to write!" Then the carriage was in motion with a slap of reigns and the soft whinny of the horse, the London landscape beginning to roll by. Ciel nestled into his seat, passing a hand before his eyes with a sigh.
"Are you glad to return home, my lord?" Sebastian asked softly, brushing a hand over his mate's thigh. Ciel shrugged dismissively and balled up the blankets in his hands, carefully standing as the carriage bumped along the cobblestone streets. Unsteadily, he shuffled across the space, lugging the coverings with him as he made his way to the opposing bench.
Be careful, darling." The demon asked gently, guiding his master as he sat down beside him, pulling the blankets up over their laps. He turned and nuzzled against his lover's shoulder, humming contentedly when Sebastian wound an arm about his waist, drawing them closer together. Lazily, he pet the earl's arm and shoulder, enjoying their relaxed proximity. Their lives had changed so dramatically in every aspect. In three short months everything had turned on its head, and the dividing lines between them and their destinies were smudged out. He placed a kiss to the crown of his mate's head.
Ciel sighed happily and reached for Sebastian's hand, drawing it up over his abdomen. The demon began to stroke the warm skin and paused, the weight of the past few days crashing down on him. He had nearly lost everything. They didn't live in a perfect faerie tale: life was still fragile, still uncertain. Ciel had bluffed and saved them, all three of them, in a way. For that he was beyond grateful. Yet uncertainty stayed his hand: Ciel had played the part beautifully. In the end was he truly forcing this fate upon him?
"It is easier to believe the world is as you wish it to be. But that isn't reality, dearest." His own enraged words crashed about him, and for the first time in many weeks he felt guilty.
"Are you certain you wish to go through with this?" the demon asked quietly. At once the earl frowned, drawing into himself in indignation.
"What do you mean, Sebastian? Have I not made myself clear?" he shook his head, almost like an aggrieved wife, shooting the butler a cross look. "I've said in the past that this is what I want, and with those two out of the way we can –."
"They are still very much alive, my lord." Sebastian calmly interjected. "And they will be watching. You will have to be confined to the manor until the child is born, and even then they will come to discover its presence eventually – even beings other than our aggressors. Humans may be blind to such things, but there are many others who are bound to notice its presence eventually. While I refuse to let any harm come to you or our child, I know there will be hardships throughout our lives."
Hazy images of his childhood flickered through his mind's eye: the difficulties of growing up being considered lesser than those around him, living in a household of beings who barely thought him worthy of existence. He had known since then that his children would share the same hardships, the same burdens. That they would have to shoulder it and be strong. "It isn't fair, little darling, and for that I am sorry." He thought to their child, delicately taking Ciel's chin between his fingers and staring into his eyes.
"And trials." He continued softly. "But not only for you, darling." He gazed down to his mate's stomach where his hand was still cupped. "Knowing this, do you still intend to finish what we have begun?"
"Knowing that the quality of our child's life may not be as we would wish? Knowing that we may never find a place in this world, nor escape from the ceaseless hate? Would you shoulder that life with me, and still raise our kit to love and to be happy?"
Ciel sat in silence, mulling over the implications. At length, he turned with a small smile, pressing his face against the butler's shoulder. "Yes." He breathed. "Yes, I do."
Immense joy flooded the demon, driving all sensible words from his mind, filling him completely and utterly. They would have a child. A family. With those few words, they had become a family.
"However," Ciel continued, pulling away slightly. "I would still feel guilty."
"Oh?" the demon hummed, quirking his brow as he leaned in to caress his mate's cheek. "And why would that be?"
A dark blush burned across the earl's cheeks and he glanced away, the sentence no louder than a soft mumble, "I will become your burden."
The demon's eyes widened as he translated the simple words.
You protected me when you didn't have to. You stayed by my side throughout it all, even though it hurt you.
He embraced his mate, crashing their lips together in a passionate kiss, filled with gratitude as he realized what he was being told for the first time: