Chapter Twenty-Nine

Part Three: Ciel

AN: warnings: violence and death, as per usual. enjoy!

'There'll be time in the gardens scheduled for the weekend,' Agni said haltingly, staring ahead as he led Ciel back from the visitor's room, 'The weather is taking a turn for the worse, so no one was really expecting to use that time, but... well, I'm on duty that day. It won't be proper, but we could do something small. A service, of some sort. For him.'

Ciel could see why Soma was so fond of Agni. That sort of pointless tenderness reflected Soma's own. A service for Alois in a frost-encrusted garden, a bodiless funeral without a single flower or song. A sham of a goodbye, exactly the sort one would expect from St. Victoria's.

'Mm. That'd be nice,' Ciel replied blandly, watching the ward door draw nearer and nearer.

It didn't matter. He'd be long gone by the weekend.

Leaving Sebastian behind and returning to the ward was harder than Ciel would have thought. He couldn't shake the feeling that they had made a misstep by committing their plan to words. Leaving Sebastian behind, no longer in his line of sight, and the feeling was amplified. Paranoia was natural given what they were intending to do, but he hadn't expected it to be so immediate.

No one could have heard. They had been alone in the room, speaking only a breath apart, and there were no cameras in the institute. Their secret was safe. Yet Ciel felt unease wash over him, a sickening chill.

'You're not coming in?' Ciel asked as Agni opened the door for him, making no move to follow him inside.

'No.' Agni glanced within at the solemn group of patients. From where they stood outside, the room seemed swarmed by an oppressive grey. All the colour had been leeched away by that morning's discovery. Even Soma, ever bright, faded into the dullness. 'I... think you all need some time to yourselves today.'

With a curt goodbye, Ciel stepped inside the ward, the door swinging shut behind him. Feeling the gust of air sweep past his ankles, hearing the slow clanking slide of the locks, he considered the fact that it may well be the last time he would enter the ward like this.

It wasn't something he would miss.

What will I need? Giving Soma a brief nod as he crossed the room, Ciel assessed his few belongings. His mental inventory was barren of practical things. Books, toys, pointless trinkets. They'd be beyond useless in escaping St. Victoria's. Unless the chain of Sebastian's pocket watch could somehow pick a lock, it looked like he would be taking only the clothes on his back.

Ciel paused at his bedroom door.

Well, and one more thing. Just as useless as the rest, but he wouldn't feel right leaving it behind for others to see. The things Alois had written in his journal, as indecipherable as they were, deserved to be safe from any more prying eyes. There may not be a body to lay to rest, but once they had safely made it away from St. Victoria's, Ciel could at least give Alois' troubled thoughts the burial they deserved.

Stupid. What difference does putting a bunch of scribbles in the ground make?

Clearly all the difference, if he was considering it. He couldn't even pretend there was a point to it. It was sentiment, pure and simple.

When had he become so soft?

Even as he thought that, he found himself backing away from his bedroom. The group on the sofas were quiet, biting the bullet for the sake of normalcy. It was oddly uncomfortable to see them so... flat. What conversation was going on was forced. For whose benefit, Ciel wasn't sure, since there was no one but them on the ward. They should have been saving what little energy they had until they had an audience. Unless this show wasn't for the staff, but for the patients themselves.

Ciel could understand that. He didn't like it, but he could understand it.

He took a seat between Soma and Snake. Drocell was missing, and he was glad for it. Drocell's accusations had been tiring enough before, but now they hit rather too close to home. It was a silly thought, but Ciel wondered if Drocell would be able to tell. Just from looking at Ciel, would he see his suspicions becoming true?

Ciel dismissed the thought, growing annoyed with himself. Where was this baseless paranoia coming from? It was unlike him. If he wasn't careful, it could lead to missteps, could ruin everything. He needed to calm down. He needed to maintain normality.

'Where's Joker?' Ciel addressed Jumbo, the most likely to know.

'In his room. He's not feeling too great,' Jumbo replied. 'I've been thinking - I ran it by Joker before and he seemed to think it was a good idea - maybe we should sleep in pairs from now on. It might mean some of us sleeping on the floor but I think it's wise for the time being.'

It was a struggle to keep the frown from his face. The prospect of sharing his room would have been displeasing enough on its own, but with that night's plan, it took on an entirely different angle of nuisance.

Normality. But Ciel would have kicked up a fuss about it normally anyway. No added attention. The last thing he needed to be doing was attracting more attention than necessary. Get in there first. He couldn't deny Jumbo's logic without starting an argument, but he could choose the lesser evil.

'Mm, sounds wise. You with me?' Ciel turned to Soma, nothing but casual. Soma slept like a log and wouldn't try to take his bed. Win, win.

There was a noticeable pause before Soma agreed with a glowing grin. Normally Soma would have been ecstatic for the slightest show of friendship from Ciel. He was still pale from the morning, eyes red-rimmed, distant. Finding Alois had hit him hard, so Ciel didn't take that pause personally, turning to address Snake.

As glad as he was for Drocell's absence, it also made him uncomfortable. If they'd both been absent, it would have been fine, but for Snake to have braved the leisure room alone, something wasn't right there.

Ciel had barely opened his mouth before Soma bumped against his shoulder.

'So who was the visitor?' he asked, voice low.

Ciel bit back a sigh. Not turning to face Soma fully, he gave the answer he had prepared before coming back to the ward.

'My Aunt. They were trying to send her away - she didn't call in advance, as usual - but Agni got me half an hour with her. Tell him thanks for me, by the way.' Enough detail to give the lie life, with the subtle distraction at the end. Now Soma would start rambling about Agni, scolding Ciel for not saying thank you himself, and -

'Oh?' Soma cocked his head. 'What's the latest? She's pregnant, right?'

Ciel almost scowled at Soma for not following his mental script. He didn't usually press for details when it came to Ciel's visits, knowing better than to pry. What details had Ciel given him in the past? He had to be careful not to repeat the same thing. For all that people thought Soma was stupid, and to a certain degree Soma liked to encourage that misconception, he was actually very perceptive when it came to some things.

Stop it. Ciel ended that train of thought. He's not trying to catch you out.

'Yeah, and showing. I think she's... six months gone? I got an earful about that, but she was more concerned with the wedding.' Ciel cast his mind back to Ann's last visit and pulled his answer from there, even as the meeting with Sebastian was fresher in his memories.

'Wedding?' Maybe it was Ciel's paranoia casting a shade over his perception that day, but he felt something off in the way Soma was looking at him. He didn't like that blankness. From the others, he expected it, but not from Soma. 'I thought she already got married earlier in the year.'

He knows I'm lying.

A stupid thought. There was no way for him to know.

But he does. And if he knows, who else?

'Not her wedding. My cousin's. It's sometime this month,' Ciel replied shortly, a firm end to the conversation. If nothing else, that was very much himself. He had felt his footing becoming slippery in that conversation, so backing out was the best thing to do. Even so, maybe that had only made him appear stranger to Soma?

It was ridiculous. There was no way for Soma to know he had met with Sebastian, never mind what they had spoken about. Yet he had seen real distrust in Soma's eyes. Or had he? Was he just seeing what he expected to see? Nothing Soma had said was odd. Just small talk. Was he projecting his own panic onto Soma, or rather, his guilt?

If everything went according to plan, Ciel would escape St. Victoria's that night. The rest of the patients would wake up, still in captivity, still vulnerable to the worsening threat bearing down upon them. Ciel could intend to send help back for them all he wanted, but it didn't change the fact of what he was doing.

For his own sake, Ciel was abandoning them all.

It was far later than Ciel expected when he finally heard his bedroom door unlock. Waiting in the dark, listening to Soma snore on the floor, his anxiety had ample time to overshadow all else. That paranoia he had been feeding all day was a third person in the room. As the moon became starker in the sky yet no sounds came from the ward, It spoke to him. All the niggling thoughts, all the pitfalls in their plan, It whispered them in his ear maliciously.

He's not coming.

He's been caught.

He's left without you.

They know.

And It didn't just echo his worries. It was a spiteful little thing, knowing just which wounds to salt.

Ciel was ruthless, even when it came to himself.

They'll be dead before help comes, or worse.

Alois was a fluke. It wasn't in the staff's repertoire to simply kill. Besides, Ciel was hardly a shield for everyone to hide behind. If they were going to be hurt or killed, it would happen whether he was there or not.

You could take them with you, if you really wanted to.

Because a group of eleven people, ten in matching clothes, skulking around the countryside in the dead of night wasn't at all cause for alarm. Very inconspicuous.

They'll worry for you. They might do something stupid for your sake.

Entirely their own problem. Between Drocell's less than favourable outlook towards him and Joker's willingness to butt heads, Ciel couldn't imagine them organizing themselves into anything more than a fist fight. Besides, Joker surely knew better after losing most of his arm for Peter.

You'll never forgive yourself.

He already couldn't.

The sound of his door unlocking was a welcome escape from It, and himself.

Through the dark of the room, Ciel crept. What little light spilled in from the high window barely lit the way, not helped by his halved sight. Of all the things to trip over, it was the one he was most avoiding that almost sent him flying.

'Shi -!' Ciel bit down hard, catching himself on the corner of the desk.

Silence. Hope that Soma slept through the boot to his shoulder.

'Owwwwww.' Soma gave a long whine, the quilt rustling as he rolled onto his side. Ciel couldn't tell no matter how much he squinted, but it seemed like Soma didn't even open his eyes, settling back down to sleep.

Ciel gave it a minute.

Everything was still.

So he continued towards the door. The question was already burning on the tip of his tongue, what the hell took you so long, a helpless sort of anger heavy in his chest that only Sebastian was around the bear the brunt of. That anger listened to Soma's restless shifting behind him, wishing he'd go back to sleep, hoping he'd wake up, knowing both were as bad as the other.

Ciel opened his door slowly, ready to hiss that question, only to find that there was no one there to hear it.

The ward was bathed in black. Even without trying to see, Ciel could feel that nobody was there. The chairs were empty, all the other bedrooms locked, and even the ward door was shut.

Ciel's palms grew damp around the door handle.

He stepped into the ward, not believing his own instinct. Someone had to be there to have opened his door. It couldn't have opened by itself.

Once curfew began, the doors could only be unlocked by the skeleton key. Only Ash and Angela had it. But the ward had been silent all night, not a footstep or a whisper to be heard. So if Ash hadn't been on the ward as usual, then Sebastian couldn't have taken his key and let Ciel out.

Ciel's blood ran cold.

Sebastian hadn't opened his door.

'Ciiiiiel, what're you doin'? If you're not using the bed, then -'


No sooner had the sound left his lips did three beeps resound across the ward. Independent of any force, the ward door swung open. The darkness was diluted as a dim light flickered to life far down the empty corridor. No one stood at the electronic panel with their keycard at hand. No backs disappeared through the door to the stairwell. No footsteps to be heard at all. Even though the door had only just opened, there was no one there who could have opened it, yet no time for them to have made their exit.

'Ciel.' Soma's voice was sharp, not a hint of lingering sleep. 'Come back in.'

Ciel hadn't realized how far he had strayed from his bedroom door. He needed to go back to his room. The rooms were safe. The rooms were off limits. And yet he stepped further into the ward, searching for someone, anyone. Whoever was doing this had to be there. They just had to be.

'Ciel,' Soma repeated, more insistent. His voice sounded louder now.

'Soma, it's fine.' Ciel turned back around. Soma was halfway out of the door, reaching for him shakily. Even in the dark, Ciel could see how scared he was. He waved his hand, gesturing him back inside. 'Stay there.'

Soma didn't get to make a choice either way. With a struggling creak, the bedroom door began to swing shut all by itself.

Ciel's heart stopped.

Not out here.

He ran for the door.

Don't leave me out here.

Soma had lunged for the handle, fighting against the pull, but it was useless. Even as he put all his weight into dragging it the other way, the door closed over, the lock clicking into place just as Ciel reached out for it.

He forgot how to breathe.

Soma beat on the door, the heavy reverberations rumbling against Ciel's fingers. He was screaming, choking out Ciel's name, smashing his fists against the wood. But all that carried through was the trembling aftershock. He had no hope of opening the door, and Ciel had no hope of getting back inside the safety of the room.

'I - I'm fine,' Ciel forced out, sounding strange even to himself, 'Don't panic.'

Unable to bear the sensation against his fingers any more, Ciel backed away from the door. His shadow became starker against the wall and he turned to look over his shoulder, through the ward door. The light out there was no longer quite as dim. Another fluorescent row had blinked to life, casting the ward into a deeper darkness.

Ciel recognized an invitation when he saw one.

'Stay there, promise!' Ciel ignored the plea, drifting further and further from his bedroom. If the choice was stay on the ward and wait for god knows what to happen, or follow the lit path and find its source, it was really no choice at all. 'No, no, don't go looking, just stay there!'

Because the person on the other end of those lights had more power over the patient's freedom than even the skeleton key, and for whatever reason, they were using it to summon Ciel.

The fear he had felt when his door swung shut slowly bled away. In its place, a familiar sensation grew.

A mystery to be solved. Curiosity rekindled.

Ciel began to grin, an old warning coming back to mind.

'"You're in trouble",' he echoed Finny's words to himself, '"Everyone, but especially you."'

As Ciel stepped out into the hallway, the lights over his head shut off, and another row of bulbs near the stairwell door turned on. He followed the path lay out for him, unafraid even as the ward door closed once more behind him.

'"The Third Chairman."'

The lights led the way. As soon as Ciel stepped into the orb they cast, the bulbs would switch off, the next set ahead taking their place.

For those few seconds he was left in the dark, a dozen different scenarios would play out in his head. Hands reaching for him, the beds of their nails torn and bloody. More doors opening for him, mirror-lined rooms with only his reflection inside. Figures appearing as the lights returned, a skeletal hand pointing towards him in condemnation.

But then the lights would turn back on, nothing but an empty corridor before him. The dread would fall away and Ciel would continue to follow the Chairman's path.

Wandering the institute at night, his thoughts went back to the only time he had done so before. Searching for Finny had been an entirely different beast. Together with Sebastian and Agni, panic and suspicion had been rife. No knowledge of where they were supposed to go, Ash always just around the corner to chase them into hiding, discord between them as they were continually split up. It had been a shitshow from start to finish, a wonder they had ever found Finny at all.

This time was different, in every aspect. The way was being shown to Ciel, though he had little idea just what he would find at the end. For all that his imagination was working overtime, at least he was free of company he couldn't trust, no fear of being stabbed in the back if he let his guard down. As much as he disliked being hand-led rather than choosing his own way, he followed the lights without hesitation.

Ciel knew, with a certainty he usually would have questioned, that answers lay on the other side of those lights.

The corridor of the sixth floor went black as a door to the right of Ciel beeped. As it opened, the lights inside of the room flickered on.

Ciel stayed outside, though not from any sort of fear. Watching the electronic panel, the little blinking numbers counted down the thirty seconds a door would stay open before automatically closing, but even after those numbers hit zero, the door remained wide open for him.

Inside the room, there was little of interest. A few aged sofas, a rickety old coffee table, a stained whiteboard stretched across one of the walls. A meeting room like any other. No one waited within, but as he lingered outside of the room, there was another faint beeping and the whoosh of a door.

At the far end of the room, another door opened for him, as though showing him he wouldn't be trapped within.

Ciel stepped through, his mental map of the institute in utter shambles.

All these years, even after the search for Finny, he had imagined the structure of St. Victoria's as fairly straight forward. Six floors, ten doors on each floor, each room a dead end. He'd been inside many rooms, on a number of floors, and never seen anything to prove otherwise. Until now.

Through the back door and into a smaller, much more cluttered room. Building materials lay gathering dust. Overflowing toolboxes and dismantled bits of scaffolding rested against the wall. Remnants of an abandoned renovation?

Ciel lingered in this room for a time, trailing a finger across the hollow metal pipes of the scaffolding. The dust he collected was thick enough to paint his fingers grey. He weighed a few in his hand, deliberating between their heaviness. As he did so, the door that had opened for him beeped again.

Ciel almost panicked, whipping around to check it was still open.

The timer on the panel had restarted, climbing its way back down to zero.


Ciel's lip curled. Not wanting to risk being stuck in the abandoned room, he grabbed the heaviest pipe he could carry and strode through the door, just as the timer ran out.

The sound of his footsteps were different now.

His toes clenched against the wooden floor, a significant change from the cold linoleum that usually lined the ground of the institute. It wasn't professionally done laminate wood, however. Beneath his bare feet, he could feel the uneven groove of the wood, roughness that promised a splinter. From that room to the corridor, the floor had changed, as though whatever refurbishments had been taking place had ended right there.

Winding ahead, the building was ancient.

Cracked paint. Creaking floorboards. Transparent dust covers strung from the ceiling. Rickety wooden stairs. Very faintly, the crackle of music, the hum of a familiar tune drifting down from up above.

Ciel's hand clenched around the pipe, gritty dirt pressing into his palm.

There were no more electronic doors besides the one he had just come through. Even that one looked out of place, an anachronism amongst the wood and dust. And the lights above his head were just single bulbs dangling down like hanging spiders. They didn't switch off as he moved beyond their glow, no longer needed to show Ciel the way.

With no more doors and the music coming from above, there was only one way for him to go.

That song... I know that song.

Pipe in a white-knuckle grip, Ciel made his way up the stairs.

The song was coming from a record player. An old thing, even compared to its surroundings. The sound was popping. The breaking pin skittered over the vinyl, interrupting the little tune every few seconds, as though about to give up entirely. But it kept going, cycling the wordless song as it built up tempo but always looping back just before it hit its peak.

Ciel knew that tune, waited for the ending he recognized, but it always jumped backwards just before it got there. Of all the things to bother him about the room he entered, it was the endless song that first set his teeth on edge.

At the top of the stairs, there had been no more lights. A small hallway reached out to a doorless entrance, though another dust cover hid the room from his eye. There was light within, flickering constantly, and the faint murmur of voices amidst the music.

Ciel wasn't sure what it was at that moment. The lack of distinct light, the multiple voices, that unnerving song. Something, whatever it was, got under his skin. He wouldn't call it fright. Pride aside, the word didn't describe the sense of foreboding he felt as he stood at the top of those stairs. He didn't know just why, especially after his eagerness to follow the path he was led, but every instinct in his body screamed out at as one; don't go in there.

And that voice was his own voice, but not the one he knew. It was higher, softer, knowing.

Ciel's mouth was suddenly dry, his palm damp around the pipe.

The door back down there is locked, he reasoned, trying to dismiss the hollow clenching in his stomach, I can finally get the answers I've always wanted.

But even with those facts, it had been so difficult to force his feet to move. When they did, they were embarrassingly unsteady. He blamed it on the cold in the air, would never admit to actually trembling.

Beyond the dust cover, the lights were brighter. A dull white glow crept into every corner of the small room, shadows stretching from the few bits of furniture. An unmade bed, the failing record player, a single wooden chair.

It was what that chair was facing that made Ciel freeze. The pipe dropped from his hand with a loud clunk. Unconsciously, he moved towards them, mouth no longer dry. He barely managed to clamp his hand over his lips before he retched.

Between his own dry-heaving and the music, Ciel didn't hear the soft footsteps behind him. The first he knew of his companion was when he was struck across the back of the head with the metal pipe.

He was out cold before he even hit the floor.

"Tom, he was a piper's son,

He learnt to play when he was young,

And all the tune that he could play

Was 'over the hills and far away';

Over the hills and a great way off,

The wind shall blow my top-knot off."

A woman's voice, rough around the edges but sweet to his ears nonetheless. The lyrics and the fingers brushing softly through his hair seemed to come as a pair, every slow stroke matching the lilt of her voice. If her nails began to scratch uncomfortably against his scalp when the music ended and the raised voices were no longer masked, he gave no indication, keeping his eyes shut and cuddling closer to her side.

'You've got to! You're the only one we can trust!'

The man's voice sounded so distressed, as it often did these days. Not long ago and it had only ever sounded content.

'I - I,' the other man's voice was weaker, trembling, 'You don't know what you're asking. You'll only make them angry. They'll hurt him if you do -'

'They already have!'

She began to sing again, without the music. It sounded infinitely sadder than before.

'I'm sorry, I can't.'

'So you're just going to let it happen?' No longer distressed, there was only rage there. He cringed to hear that voice so angry, curling up as small as he could go. She began to sing louder, trying to drown the shouting out, but it failed as a lullaby. 'We trusted you!'

A crash. The unmistakable sound of skin against skin. A low yelp of pain.

Her song ended in a wavering sigh.

Her hand left his hair.

'I'll be back, sweetheart. Try to sleep.'

He kept his eyes closed tight, cold in her absence. Sleep couldn't have been further from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried. The promise of tomorrow rang hollow in his ears and staying awake was all he could do to ensure that tomorrow never came. If he stayed awake, the day could not change, and he would be safe, at home, with them.

The voices drifted away and someone returned to him, but not the someone he wanted.

Fingers stroked gently through his hair, a touch so hesitating it was barely there at all.

'It's alright.' That voice was neither angry or singing. It still sounded afraid. 'I won't let them hurt you.'

The fingers trailed down the side of his face, feather light.

'I... won't let them take you.'

Ciel woke slowly, feeling as though he was below water, his own weight pulling him down just as his fingers broke through the surface.

As he came back to himself, the pulsing pain at the back of his head was the first thing he felt. Waking up with a headache wasn't something he was unfamiliar with. Waking up with his hair matted against the pillow, scalp split and crusted dry, that was a new one.

Flickering white light. The tinny, skipping music. A man muttering to himself.

This was not Ciel's room.

The realization hit him and he forced himself still. Thankfully, the man had not noticed his movements, too busy with whatever he was doing.

Breathe, slow.

Head hazy, body sluggish, panic spiking. He needed the reminder to breathe.

It all came back to him slowly. Sebastian didn't come for him as planned, but this man had led him down the rabbit's hole. The music he had recognized, sang to him a lifetime ago. This room, a hidden den within the institute, one more of St. Victoria's lies. The flickering white light's source. This lie, unforgivable.

From ceiling to floor, a wall of monitors stood. On every screen, a different room, a different scene. An interactive map of the institute. From the leisure room to the visitor's area, to the infirmary and the psychiatrist's offices, even an assortment of empty meeting rooms. They were all upon that wall, recorded in monochrome. For all that that had stolen Ciel's breath, it hadn't been what knocked him sick.

The middle row of monitors broadcasted a familiar scene. Switching from one room to the next every minute or so, the patient's bedrooms were displayed for someone's viewing pleasure. He had seen Soma knelt at his bedroom door, head against the wood. He had seen Freckles panicked, mouth moving, words lost on the screen. He had seen Joker and Jumbo, gesturing grandly. The others slept on, unaware of their spectator, of their breached privacy.

And seeing those screens, seeing his once safe space shown for whoever cared to see, Ciel had thought of every shameful moment he had experienced in his bedroom, comforted by the thought that he was alone and no one would ever know.

Moments of weakness; clutching his father's ring, waking up with his hand outstretched for no one to take, hiding beneath his quilt as though it would keep the monsters out.

Moments of lost control; broken things, bloodied hands, a throat screamed raw.

Moments of shame; tearful dreams, Sebastian's mouth on him, Sebastian soaked in the blood of a patient in his bed.

Knowing that someone had seen him at his worst, had watched him like some performing monkey, turned Ciel's stomach to the point that he had forgotten where he was, forgotten that somebody had called him there, forgotten that he was in more danger than he had ever been before.

A cracked open skull was fair retribution for that loss of control, Ciel decided, forcing down the urge to be sick once again.

With his eye closed, he listened to his attacker shuffle about. It was hard to make out just what it was he was saying, mumbling as low as he was, but after a few minutes, Ciel managed to pick up a few fragmented sentences.

'The state of the place.'

'What must he think.'

'Had him walking into filth like this.'

'How could you have let it get this filthy.'

With every word Ciel picked out, his hackles rose that little bit more. The voice... it had a familiar edge to it, but he couldn't quite place it. The tone was throwing him off. If he had heard the voice before, he had never heard it sound so scattered.

The urge to open his eye and look at the man's face rose.

The man fell silent, his awkward steps drawing near. Ciel relaxed as best as he could, keeping his breathing slow and even. However, as good an actor as he considered himself to be, even he couldn't help but flinch when rough fingers prodded around his head wound.

Unable to stop himself, Ciel hissed, body stiffening all over.

The man made a joyful little noise.

'You're awake!' he exclaimed giddily, ''Oh, I'm so sorry, I - I, I just panicked when I saw you. You were getting yourself all worked up. You were even sick! So I just, well, anyway, you're alright now, so that's what matters.'

The fingers stopped probing his injury, stroking clumsily through his knotted hair. Even when he got caught up in the snaggles, he kept going, tearing some of Ciel's hair from his scalp. He didn't seem to notice he'd done it, petting Ciel as one would a dog.

Ciel cringed away from the strange hand, eye still scrunched shut.

'G'off.' His words slurred, tongue working slowly, thick in his mouth. He swallowed, trying to dampen his too-dry mouth. He tried again, blindly batting away the man's hand. 'Gerroff.'

'S-Sorry.' The hand disappeared, the man taking a step back by the sounds of it. 'Um. Ah! You must be thirsty! I'm being so rude, I'm sorry! I'll be right back!'

His footsteps became more distant, the dust cover rustling as the man left the monitor room.

Ciel exhaled heavily through his nose.

As soon as he had moved, his head felt as though it was pierced right through. Every pulse of pain, keeping time with his heartbeat, made his body feel weaker. He knew he had to sit up, had to open his eye, had to get away from this man. But he couldn't bring himself to move, too comfortable upon the bed. He knew when he did move, the agony would be unbearable.

Shouldn't have let him get behind you then, Ciel clenched his jaw, tensing, with a weapon you brought, no less.

Ciel pushed up on his elbows, a low groan slipping through gritted teeth. The black behind his eye swam as his head lolled, chin falling to his chest. He could see his pulse in his eyelid, hear it thundering in his ears. Bits of caked blood pulled at his hair, stuck to the cotton of the pillowcase, making the sting even worse. But for all that his arms shook holding him up, they held steady, and he managed to push himself into a sitting position.

Bile flooded his mouth and he choked it down, refusing to let himself be sick in front of this man again. The man had seen him vulnerable far too many times. The monitors were proof enough of that.

You have to look.

Opening his eye was the last thing he wanted to do, knowing the light would only exacerbate his nausea. More than that, he didn't want to look at the monitors again, to be in any way complicit in the perverse peepshow he and the other patients were unknowingly a part of.


But he had to, if only to see just who this person with the vaguely familiar voice was.

Ciel opened his eye and knew he was in a bad way. The world was out of focus, everything a hazy double. No matter how many times he blinked his eye, his sight didn't become clear. The more he tried to bring something into focus, the more the pain thrumming through his head intensified.

Shit. How hard did he hit me?

Which brought to mind a dozen more questions. How long had he been unconscious. How much had he bled. Would he be able to even stand, never mind defend himself or run if he needed to. Was this attack intentionally debilitating or a panicked mistake like the man claimed. If he was hit so hard that he couldn't see straight, assumedly hours later, then was the damage to a dangerous extent.

The dust cover rustled again, the man returning. Ciel squinted towards him, trying to make out his face, his clothes, anything identifiable, but all he could see was a blurred silhouette.

'Here you go. I'm sorry it's just tap water. I can make you some tea, if you like?' The man didn't sound as nervous as he had before, stumbling over his words less. His confidence was definitely growing, as he pushed the rim of the glass against Ciel's mouth without a word of warning. It clacked harshly against Ciel's teeth, water spilling down his chin as he spluttered, jerking back. 'No? You want the tea, then?'

The glass was put on the floor. The man wiped his sleeve across Ciel's mouth, cleaning away the spilled water.

'Still so messy,' he chortled fondly.

Ciel leaned further back, knocking away the man's arm. He didn't like that tone. He didn't like that familiarity. Still? He couldn't place the voice, but he knew he had heard it before, and what the man had just said only confirmed that.

Ciel struggled to think through the thought-scattering pain. From his first day at St. Victoria's, he tried to bring to mind the names and faces of staff members, the ones who had come and gone for whatever reason, the ones who had disappeared in the night like unnecessary patients. There had been a few, though not nearly as many as the patients. Of the ones who had been, in a word, friendly, Ciel could only think of Chambers. And this certainly wasn't Chambers. He couldn't make out much of the man, but he could see his shape, and Chambers had been tall and elegant. This man was short, rotund, bumbling. The voice was all wrong too.

Had he been a patient then? But of the patients Ciel had known to have vanished, none were nearly as old as this man seemed. St. Victoria's was a children's institution, after all, even if they were kept contained far beyond their adolescence.

This man, the third Chairman, had never been a patient or a member of staff. Yet Ciel knew his voice, and the man certainly seemed to think he knew Ciel.

The man began to hum happily, keeping time with the skipping vinyl. There must have been a little kettle in the corner as he wandered over there, pouring what was left of the glass of water into it.

As the minutes ticked by, Ciel noticed the world beginning to right itself. Slowly, the doubles melded together, returning to their solitary selves. The record player became distinct as he stared at it, the curve of the turntable and the details upon the brass horn. He blinked a few more times, willing his sight to hurry up.

'Here.' The man offered a dirty mug, steam rising from its brim. 'It's just the cheap bags. If I knew that we'd be seeing each other, I'd have gotten something better. Ah! You'll want sugar too, right? Lots of sugar. Just how you like it. I think I've got a few sachets in the cupboard. Hold on.'

Ciel held the cup, looking hard at it. Chipped rim, faded gold lining the edges, the white stained brown. Each detail was clear, becoming fuzzy less frequently. Slowly but surely, his sight was stabilizing. But until it was one hundred percent, he knew he had to stall whatever the man wanted to do, talk or otherwise.

Ciel bit the bullet, keeping his focus on the cup.

'You didn't know we'd be seeing each other?' he asked, words still slightly slurred, 'Weren't you the one who invited me here?'

The man made that noise again, a happy little chirp.

'Yes, it was me! But I meant in advance. I'm so sorry for the mess, by the way. I didn't have much time to clean up, or to even get in proper teabags, or any snacks. I'm being a terrible host, aren't I?' The man laughed, a high-strung sound. 'It was all so last minute. When I heard you'd be leaving, I was terribly upset, y'see. I couldn't let you just go without seeing you properly first.'

Ciel's eye finally focused, but he hesitated to look up, to see the face of the man. Instead, something else caught his eye on the floor, not far from his feet.

A string of wooden blocks, crudely carved in the shape of a train. Each block was a different bright colour. Yellow, green, red, blue. It had little wheels too, the kind that stuttered when the toy was trailed around the floor, at risk of coming loose if pulled too rough. At the front, a tiny conductor was painted in, his wooden smile chipped.

It wasn't the only toy. As Ciel raised his head, he saw the floor was cluttered with them, like a child's messy playroom. Lego bricks were spilled from their container. Jigsaw pieces in a complete disarray. Action figures with their limbs crooked. A rainbow xylophone with a few teeth missing.

Ciel didn't know what to think. Those toys hadn't been there when he had first entered the room. With their addition, the already creepy security room took on a more disturbing edge.

'You can play with them, if you like.' The man caught his stare. He snatched up one of the actions figures, approaching Ciel without caution. 'I bought them for you.'

Ciel's grip on the cup tightened.

'You said...' Ciel wet his lips, his mouth still parched despite the clumsy bit of water from before, 'You said you "heard I'd be leaving". What did you mean by that?'

For a reason he couldn't quite place, Ciel wanted to veer away from the subject of the toys. Even so, he couldn't bring himself to stop looking at them, the bud of a realization beginning to take root at the back of his mind. The man's voice and toys were linked somehow, though he couldn't place just why yet.

'What did I...? Well, I heard.' The man laughed, like the tinkling of a bell. 'But that doesn't matter. We have so much more to talk ab -'

'No, let's talk about that first,' Ciel interrupted coolly, 'You heard? So these cameras have sound too?'

'Eh? Why do you want to...' The man sounded a little upset, his feet shifting awkwardly in Ciel's view. 'Not all of them do. The ones in the bedrooms don't, of course. That would be too vulgar. But the others do... Ciel, why - Ah!'

The man had stepped closer. Too close. Without thinking, Ciel had thrown the cup at him, the boiling hot tea slopping all down his front.

'W - Why did you -'

'Eavesdropping is rude,' Ciel remarked, raising his head bit by bit. The man was not dressed in the uniform of the patients, nor the uniform of the staff. He wore smart black pants, though they were clearly old, worn at the knees. Not to mention now stained by tea. The shirt had gotten the brunt of it, however, the yellowing white ruined. He was a large man, as Ciel had thought, but not particularly tall. Ciel wagered he had a few inches on him, but in terms of power, the man would have the edge.

Look at his face.

Ciel still hesitated, lingering at the loose white bowtie he wore, tied in haste. His clothes may have been old, but he had obviously attempted to dress up. The few times Ciel had seen Tanaka, he had always been immaculate in suit and tie, as befitting a Chairman. Clearly, this man was taking a page from Tanaka's book, as opposed to Undertaker.

But Ciel thought about what the man had told him so far, his palpable excitement at having Ciel there, the toys he had set out in the hopes of pleasing him. He began to wonder if the man had dressed up for him.

'I - I'm so sorry.' The man was back to stuttering, his voice thick with emotion. Ciel still didn't look at his face, but he saw that the man's hands were shaking, his fingers wringing together restlessly. 'I can understand if you're mad. I shouldn't have... B - But I've used it to help you, Ciel. I helped you find your friend!'

'Finny.' Ciel wet his cracking lips, not nearly as excited to think back to Finny's words as he had been only hours ago. 'Finny mentioned you. Seemed to think I was in some sort of danger from you. What exactly did you do to him? To everyone else? And why?'

'What? No! No, no, no. I didn't do anything. It wasn't me!' the man cried in distress, reaching out for Ciel's hands. When Ciel moved out of the way, he made a despondent little groan, going back to wringing his hands. 'I promise, I wouldn't! I was really happy to see that you'd made a friend. E - Even if he was just a gardener,' he added, darkly.

Ciel almost looked up at the sudden shift in tone.

'"Just a gardener"?'

'W - Well, I mean, I'm sure he was very nice. But a bit old to be playing with you. There's always something odd about older children playing with younger children, don't you think? Besides, he ... he was always grabbing you with his dirty hands. I didn't like that. I didn't like that at all.'

Ciel couldn't avoid it any longer, desperate to see the expression that came with those foreboding words.

Tentatively, Ciel raised his eye, looking his host in the face.

'But really, I didn't hurt him. I never even wanted to, not really. A - And you were so upset when you found out he'd gone, and you and those men went to find him. And I'd seen where they put him! So I tried to show you the way, but you wouldn't listen. You kept going the opposite way to where I was showing you. It was frustrating. I was just trying to help. Why wouldn't you let me help? And - wh - what's wrong?'

The man trailed off, concerned. What little colour Ciel had had, it drained from his face. The bud of realization finally blossomed as he saw his captor, his host.

The man began to blush.

'You're staring,' he stated shyly, ducking his head.

Thinning brown hair and eyes to match, looking down coyly behind rounded glasses. The facial hair was new, something he had not had when Ciel had known him. It was overgrown and tatty, a visible show of the man's neglect of himself. But everything else was the same. In all those years, he had changed so little, as though lifted directly from Ciel's memories.

'Kelvin,' Ciel breathed, chest tight.

Kelvin's blush only worsened, dimples pinching at his round cheeks as he smiled.

'It's embarrassing to be all formal with you,' he said, 'Call me Noah.'

Ciel vomited at his feet, unable to stop himself in time. Kelvin cried out in shock, immediately rushing to his side, gently rubbing Ciel's back.

'Get it all up,' he cooed, like a doting parent, 'It's a nasty bump on the head. I'm sorry I don't have any ice to give you.'

With every slow stroke on his back, the urge to retch became stronger. Ciel's skin crawled, the disgust leeching through his entire body. Clumsily, he shoved up off the bed, away from Kelvin's unwelcome touch.

'You ... Why are you here?' He wished he could be calm. He wished he could be collected. He wished he didn't feel ten years old again. But all of that vanished in Kelvin's cloying presence. He needed to get away. Out of the playroom, beyond the locked doors.

This wasn't the answer Ciel had been looking for. Kelvin didn't belong there, now, in St. Victoria's. He was from before. He existed in the before. He had no right to be in Ciel's present, to meld the two together when Ciel had tried his hardest all those years to keep them separate, distinct.

'Why?' Kelvin blinked owlishly, reaching out to steady Ciel as he wavered dizzily. 'Because you're here. Where else would I be?'

The door down the stairs was locked, even if Ciel were steady enough on his feet to make a run for it.


He pushed through the nausea, the disgust, the song getting louder in his head.


Ciel breathed in deeply through his nose, trying to ignore the sickly smell around him.

'How... did you get hired here?' he eventually asked, when he was sure his voice had lost that hysteric note. It was hard to force a distance between himself and the situation, a sickening sensation he refused to call fear casting a shade over his calm. But he had to. The more he let his younger self take the reins, the more risk he put himself in. 'Did you buy your way in?'

Kelvin had clearly lost his footing, confused at the change of subject. That child-like quality he had always carried was as strong as ever, Ciel noticed, though much more disturbing now that Ciel was old enough to recognize the dissonance.

'Why do you want to talk about that?' Kelvin asked, eyes flickering around the room. 'I'm... I'm here. Isn't that what matters?'

Avoiding the question. Bringing it back to sentiment. Ciel saw the man's reluctance and dove on it like a predator catching its prey.

'What matters is the why and how of you being here.' It wasn't entirely intentional, but Ciel found himself adopting a deeper voice, further distancing himself and Kelvin from the child they both knew. 'Did Tanaka hire you? Or Undertaker? Did you buy your way in? Because you knew I was here.'

The last part wasn't a question. That, if nothing else, Ciel was certain of. The question was how had Kelvin known. Even wealth couldn't get a person information such as that. Ciel didn't know much about the founder of St. Victoria's, but he trusted his own judgement enough to know that Tanaka was not a man to be bribed. Going from his clothes alone, the man did not want for money, and had too much pride to be bought.

Kelvin flustered at the interrogation.

'I - I don't understand why you want to know all that,' the man admitted, somewhat embarrassedly. 'Wouldn't you rather play with these?'

Kelvin got off the bed, offering Ciel the little action figure in his hand, gesturing to the rest on the floor. When Ciel's only response was a cold stare, Kelvin became even more ruffled, dropping the toy carelessly.

'I have something better! You'll like this!' He strode past Ciel, stepping over some of the toys. A link between two blocks of the train broke under his foot. 'Of course you wouldn't be interested in those. They're baby's toys. No, no, I shouldn't have... But you'll have missed this. You never used to sleep without it. That's what she told me. I was so happy.'

Kelvin dug through the small chest of drawers in the corner of the room, throwing clothes out of his way mindlessly. He soon found what he was looking for, turning back to Ciel with a beaming grin.

'You remember this?' In his hands was some sort of cuddly toy. That was as much as Ciel could make out, as ruined as it was. It was blackened, one of its legs entirely burned away. It had a putrid smell to it. Kelvin clearly hadn't seen fit to have it washed at any point over the years. His hands were coated in crumbling black dust as he held it, offering it to Ciel. 'It was your favourite, she said. I got it made for your seventh birthday. You always loved that dog so much, and you were terribly upset when they made you get rid of it, so I got you the next best thing. Remember?'

Ciel stared at what was left of the cuddly dog, not recognizing it in the least. He'd had many toys growing up. None of them had a glowing spot in his memory. Still, seeing the hope in Kelvin's eyes, Ciel conjured up a smile. He knew an in when he saw one, as distasteful as the prospect of playing into Kelvin's playroom fantasy was.

'Of course I remember it.' Even as his skin crawled to touch something so filthy, Ciel accepted the ashen remains of the toy. He held it to his chest in an awkward embrace, trying to let as little of it as possible come in contact with his bare skin. 'I was so upset when they said we couldn't keep the dog anymore. When Mother gave me this, it really cheered me up. I never realized it was from you.'

A bare-faced lie. His mother had never given him anything resembling the thing. She had always been politely distant with Kelvin the rare times Ciel remembered them associating. To think she had even intercepted his attempts at gifts. How sharp had she been, Ciel considered briefly, how much of Kelvin's disturbed mind had she identified? Not that it had mattered in the end.

Kelvin shone with happiness, his smile splitting his face.

'I had it custom-made!' he exclaimed, eager to cement his involvement in Ciel's past happiness. 'The same breed and everything. The finest materials. I had to travel to the city to find someone to make it. When it was in the fire, I was beside myself... but I managed to get it back for you!'

Ciel watched his gesticulations, looking closely at his hands. The skin of his palms was rough and misshapen, poorly healed scars. Burns. Exactly how far had he gone to get the ugly old toy Ciel had never even touched back from the flames?

Not far enough if he's still here.

Ciel hid the dissatisfaction from his face, holding the toy closer. Its smoky scent stung, his eye watering.

Play along. How many times had Ciel pushed down his true character in the name of survival? Not as often in the last few years, but in those early years, after he had shed his naivety but not yet regained his pride. In the name of survival, he had learned to be what he needed to be. So long as a person's sense of self was strong enough, a personality was a malleable thing, easily moulded to suit a purpose.

Ciel's nails dug into the ruined cloth of the dog, trying to remember how to forget himself.

'Thank you,' he said, raising his voice to a higher note. As he did, he watched Kelvin's face, waiting for any sort of reaction. It was slight, but he knew what he was looking for. A dusting of red across Kelvin's round cheeks, a sparkle of satisfaction in his eye, a hitch in his breath.

Ciel looked down to hide the disgust he couldn't quite restrain. Although he had suspected it, to see the proof so plainly was a little more than his frayed nerves could handle right then.

He still sees me as a little boy. So desperate to have him play with the toys. The reaction to a voice that matched Kelvin's memories more closely. It was all a part of the fantasy Kelvin had built around Ciel, that had founded his obsession all those years ago. Despite the obvious fact that Ciel was almost a man grown now, Kelvin blinded himself to it, clinging to any shred of the child who had stolen his heart. He still looks at me like he did back then.

How vile.

Ciel only looked up again when he was certain his expression was neutral. The fine hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. His stomach clenched emptily, rippling like disturbed water. His hands itched to throw the filthy toy aside. Yet his expression was serene, not a hint of how he truly felt there.

'I'd still like to know about you,' Ciel began, maintaining that unnatural high note to his voice. He couldn't remember exactly how he had spoken as a child, was loathe to imitate those embarrassing speech patterns, but it seemed the voice itself was doing the job. Kelvin was still reacting the same, weak to his own perversion. 'After everything that happened back then, I got put in here... but how did you find me?'

Before, Kelvin had fought the questions. Now, he was putty in Ciel's hands.

'The police came to Renbon the day after you disappeared,' Kelvin explained, returning to the bed and patting the empty space beside him. Ciel pretended not to see the invitation. 'The smoke had gotten so high, the neighbouring areas had reported it. Well, there wasn't much left for them to find, but those of us left explained what we could. They... didn't understand.' His expression turned dark, eyes blank. 'People like them would never understand. Plebeians, all of them, judging us, unable to comprehend -'

'Noah.' The use of Kelvin's first name brought him to an immediate stop, his expression clearing instantly. He chortled.

'Sorry, sorry! As I was saying, we had to give reports to the police. I told them all about you. I told them to look for you. They promised they would, that they wouldn't rest until they found you and the other children. Even though I told them not to bother with the others, they still wasted their time.' Kelvin shook his head solemnly, getting derailed again. A short clearing of the throat from Ciel had him back on track. 'It wasn't until a few weeks later that I found out just what had happened. Nobody would tell me anything. They said I had no rights to the information. That I wasn't related to you. As if that mattered. As if the bond we have has anything to do with that...

'A - Anyway, I had to part with some of my funds before they would tell me anything. Even then, all they said was that you had already been claimed. That you were the sole survivor of the fire. I was so happy; you were alright! You were safe! I thought I would be able to come and get you, to take you back home, but... They wouldn't tell me anything about who had claimed you, beyond the fact that it was a doctor. That you were hospitalized under their care. Even when I offered them more money, they wouldn't say anything. So I began to search myself.'

Ciel felt his legs beginning to buckle under him, the dizziness becoming worse the longer he was stood. Avoiding the invitation to the bed, he took the chair by the monitors, wilfully ignoring what was shown upon them.

Propped up against the bottom row of screens was the pipe Ciel had brought from downstairs, the end crusted with his blood.

'You were successful, obviously,' Ciel said, trying to move the conversation along, 'Did you find me through my Aunt?'

'No, of course not!' Kelvin replied, affronted, 'After how they treated your parents, no, no, I wouldn't talk to them for anything!'

Ciel bristled at the offhand insult. To think, this man thought himself somehow above Ann. But he pulled back on his temper, the answers he wanted still beyond his reach.

'Then how?' Ciel prompted.

'It certainly would have been faster to ask that woman,' Kelvin laughed, scratching the side of his mouth. The laughter died as soon as it started, his mood turning abruptly once more. 'No, I shouldn't laugh. If I had just asked her, I could have found you so much sooner.'

'Noah,' Ciel interrupted softly, 'When did you find me?'

'I searched for a long time. I never stopped looking, you have to believe me. Though I... for a time, I admit to being discouraged. I started to think you really were gone, just like them. To have lost all three of you... I couldn't bear it.' Kelvin's voice thickened, his eyes glistening. 'So when I got their letter, I almost didn't believe it. That after all that searching, looking through the patient lists of all the hospitals in London and beyond, to just have the answer given to me so easily.'

'What?' Ciel forgot himself for a moment, the unexpected answer pulling him from his childlike act. The reaction soon had him realizing his error, Kelvin's eyes flashing, something eerily close to anger there. 'W - Who sent you a letter?'

Ciel quickly pulled it back, throwing in a stammer for added effect. It placated Kelvin instantly and the moment was forgotten, but not by Ciel. The fantasy was deep, he had known, but he saw now that if he slipped up again and ruined the illusion, Kelvin's anger was simmering just below the surface. For all that the man had apologized, he had readily enough split open Ciel's head. What would he do if Ciel actually angered him?

'They didn't sign their name. They said they needed to remain anonymous, but they were so worried for the children, they just couldn't keep silent any longer. They needed my help. They couldn't help the children by themselves, or their identity would get out.' Kelvin frowned. 'I don't understand it myself, but since they told me where you were, I did as they asked. Thanks to them, I found out you were here. But when I tried to visit you, I couldn't even get inside. No one would open the gates for me, and I couldn't find a phone number to call.'

Ciel's patience was wearing thin, Kelvin giving details in all the wrong places. Ciel wanted to know how he had been hired, for how long he had been watching Ciel on those screens, why he had been content with just that at all.

Considering Kelvin's past dependence on the Phantomhive couple and their son, it seemed odd that he had kept his distance. He had never known the meaning of the word before, always interfering, showing up unannounced, shoehorning himself into their home. He had mistaken their gratitude for his help as an open invitation, one that they attempted to rescind far too many times. So why, after searching so long for Ciel, did he settle for just a screen?

'After some digging, I managed to find the phone number of Mr. Tanaka. The poor man was in a very bad way. In and out of hospitals himself, very poorly,' Kelvin tutted, 'Well, we spoke often. A very agreeable man. Particularly interested in my philanthropic work. But then his health became even worse, the poor man, and he asked me if I would be interested in helping him with St. Victoria's. Can you believe it? So easily! I was going to see you again!'

Ciel saw his chance.

'Then... why didn't you?' It came out more accusatory than he had intended, his impatience seeping into his tone. Again, that dangerous glint returned to Kelvin's eye, the Ciel before him veering from the Ciel he had envisioned. It took more to set it right this time, but Kelvin wanted to believe, and so even if Ciel lay it on a bit too thick now, he was only too happy to play along. 'I was really lonely. I'd have been happy to see you.'

Kelvin blushed once more, answering with ebullience, 'I wanted to! So badly! But the rules were strict, Ciel. There was no reason for me to meet the patients directly, and whenever I tried to, he thought it was strange. Undertaker. H - He misunderstood, y'see. I don't like that man...' Kelvin gritted his teeth, a muscle jumping in his cheek, 'Just like those policemen. Looking down on us. Well, I know what he's been up to. When I show Tanaka, there'll be no question about it, he'll have to go -'

As intriguing as whatever Undertaker had been up to was, Ciel had more pressing matters on his mind.

'So, then... how long have you been here, Noah?' He was getting sick of hearing himself like that. Simpering. Infantile. It was disgusting to have to play into such a role, but it was working. Kelvin was easily moved by it.

'About four years,' Kelvin replied, 'You were almost fourteen by then. We lost so much time, didn't we, Ciel? I'm sorry I couldn't find you sooner. I'm sorry I left you alone that long. Never again, I sw -'

Ciel's stomach roiled.

'Four years?' It was little more than a whisper, but a far cry from the voice he had been putting on. Kelvin wasn't angered by the shift this time. It seemed that as long as Ciel didn't show forcefulness, the fantasy was not disturbed. It was a wonder he hadn't reacted more dangerously to the thrown tea. 'You've watched me for four years?'

'No, no, I came here four years ago,' Kelvin shook his head, 'But it wasn't until two years ago that this was built. They didn't ask for this until then.'

Two years, four years, it was all the same. What answer could have been given that wouldn't have repulsed him, Ciel didn't know. Years, months, even minutes of that man watching him without his knowledge, seeing him entirely unguarded. It was too much to take.

Once more, Ciel's eyes drifted to the pipe. His fingers spasmed.

'They?' he breathed.

'The one who sent the letter,' Kelvin replied, as though his vagueness should have been obvious, 'Now that I was here, they wanted me to keep in touch. They were so worried for the children. I had to send them letters every week. But... well, they said it wasn't enough. I don't know why, I told them everything I knew. So they asked for this. But since then, the letters stopped.'

'Tanaka said there were no cameras here,' Ciel said, voice low, 'When I came here, he promised there were no cameras.'

'There weren't then.' Kelvin frowned. 'Ciel... what's wrong?'

The ruined toy dropped from Ciel's hands, falling to the floor with a dull fwump. His hands were black in its absence, stained by soot. He wiped them clean on his shirt. Meeting Kelvin's eyes, all pretences were gone.

'So what have been the highlights for you, Kelvin?' Ciel asked, confidence bleeding back into his voice. He didn't pretend to sound older like he had before, knowing full well the reality of who he was now was enough to shatter Kelvin's precious illusion. He towered over the still seated man as he stood, liking the way Kelvin had to look up at him now. 'Did you enjoy watching me like this?'

Kelvin's joviality faded, a blank confusion taking its place.

'C - Ciel?'

'Let's think back... what are my highlights?' Ciel raised his chin. 'Having my eye gouged out was a treat, but oh, you weren't here then. Shame. It was quite a show. Ooh, you'll have seen this one. Faustus holding me down in a tub of water because I refused to call myself a murderer. What did you think about that, Kelvin? Did you think I was right to deny it? Do you think it counts as murder when the ones dying are barely human?'

Kelvin was having trouble drawing a proper breath, fisting the bedsheets. There was no comprehension in his eyes. Hearing Ciel's angry words, feeling his condemnation in every hissed syllable and the way he narrowed his eye. This wasn't how their reunion was supposed to go. This wasn't what Kelvin had wanted, not at all.

'It only seemed fair,' Ciel continued, barbed wire sharp, 'They were the ones who told us fire cleansed.'

'I - I,' Kelvin swallowed thickly, choking on an aborted breath, 'I just watched out for you, like they asked me to!'

Ciel's tirade paused, scowl deepening.

'They asked?' He shook his head, even as his scalp twinged, 'No, that's not what they asked. That's not what they wanted from you. The only thing they wanted from you, you fucked up.'

'I had to! They were going to take you away!'

This pause was a genuine one, born of surprise.

'What?' Ciel blinked, empty hand clenching. 'You had to... what?'

Kelvin realized his error too late. His eyes glistened with guilt, too bright. No words were forthcoming, even as his mouth moved mutedly.

The dream drifted to the front of Ciel's thoughts. No, not a dream. A memory, dredged up from the depths of his mind by that saccharine song, still skipping on the archaic record player. His father pleading with Kelvin, to help them, to help them steal away into the night. Kelvin refusing, afraid - but was it fear? Was it the consequences that would befall them all if Ciel was spirited away the night before that day that kept him from aiding them? Or was it something else, something selfish, that had brought their only hope crashing down in flames?

Ciel felt the phantom stroke of his mother's fingers through his hair. Her soft voice trying to drown out his father's begging, his hopeless anger. That voice warped with terror, pushing him through the snow, telling him not to look back no matter what he heard, promising they would come for him.

'Kelvin,' Ciel had never sounded calmer, 'What did you do?'

'They were going to take you away.' Kelvin stared, wide-eyed. His hands shook in his lap. 'They didn't understand, Ciel. What an honour it was for you to have been chosen. You were going to transcend the filth we're all trapped in. Because they saw what I saw. That you were pure. That you were innocent. That you deserved to be more.'

When Ciel remained as still as stone, Kelvin paled, rising clumsily from the bed.

'They were going to steal that away from you, Ciel. Their ignorance was going to rob you of the chance you'd been given. I - I couldn't let them!' he explained desperately, gesturing without rhyme or reason. He couldn't seem to remain still, so frantic was he to make Ciel understand, to break through that icy veneer to find the real Ciel, his Ciel. Because his Ciel would never have looked at him like that. So frigid, so far away.

'They asked for your help,' Ciel stated. The accusation was intentional now. 'They thought you were their friend.'

'I am!' Kelvin cried despairingly, 'I had to stop them, for their sakes too! I di - didn't think it would end up like that... I didn't.'

'You told them that Mother and Father were leaving with me that night,' Ciel said slowly, enunciating every syllable, 'And so they murdered my parents.'

Tears were streaming down Kelvin's face now. He fell to his knees, clinging to the legs of Ciel's pants. Even separated by the layer of fabric, the touch was nauseating. Regardless of his lingering dizziness, Ciel reeled back, a stronger stance in which to fling Kelvin away from him.

The back of Kelvin's head hit the frame of the bed harshly, a wretched little moan spilling from his lips. He was sobbing now, trying to crawl back to be at Ciel's feet.

'That's why I have to l - look after you,' he snivelled, trying to get back up, 'It's what Vincent would ha -'

Kelvin's words were lost in a mouthful of blood. He screamed, a burbling screech. The pipe had struck him against the side of his head with such force that his mouth had been forced shut mid-word, driving his teeth straight through the flesh of his tongue. Blood and spit and a chunk of meat spilled out as he keeled over, heaving half of his own tongue onto the dirty floor.

'Don't you dare say his name.' Ciel gripped the pipe tightly, looking down at the vermin at his feet. 'Vulgar. Ugly. Perverted.' Each word was punctuated by a step towards Kelvin as he looked up at Ciel, agonized. 'Men like you. You don't get to say his name. You don't get to say her name. You don't get to say my name.'

Each word was a carefully chosen dagger, puncturing Kelvin with precision. The insecurities Ciel hadn't recognized as a child. The infatuation he had placed in the entire Phantomhive trio as some paragon of beauty, of Ciel as some quintessence of purity and innocence. His desperate struggle to force his way into their world, even as Rachel watched him with keen mistrust, as Vincent pushed through to difference social circles he could never hope to reach. Ciel weaponized each realization, each failing in the scum at his feet.

He saved the best for last, his bare feet slick with Kelvin's blood as he loomed over the cowering man.

Ciel slowly shook his head, raising the pipe once more.

'Men like you are the lowest form of human life,' Ciel spat, face contorted with disgust, 'You never had any right to exist in our lives.'

And he brought the pipe down upon the crown of Kelvin's head.

Long after Kelvin's blood grew cold between his toes, Ciel's chest still heaved for air. It wasn't fear that was choking him, but something worse, something he had always had more trouble controlling.

The moment Kelvin had said Vincent's name, Ciel's vision had gone red. To hear that name, uttered for the first time in almost eight years, eight years Ciel had spent forcing the name and the one that came with it down to the darkest depths of his memory. He had known then, ten years old and locked in a ward, that no matter how loud he screamed those names, they would never come for him again. Despite their promise. Despite waiting in the snow until he had forgotten how warmth could feel.

Ciel could have coped with discovering a great many things in the security room. That it was all some elaborate trick. That it had been a prison all along, the penalty for the crimes he had committed when he was hurt and terrified and burning. Even Sebastian, the secret third chairman, the last two years together a long con. It wouldn't have been beyond the realm of St. Victoria's cruelty.

But to walk through that doorway and find himself thrown into his past, face to face with the man who had taken their pleas and plunged them like knives into their backs, it was too much. No matter what the present threw at him, Ciel was confident he could face it. But he had spent too much time, too much energy, denying his memories and those two names to suddenly find them waiting, watching, the shadow behind the curtain.

Ciel's throat burned, hand cramped around the pipe. The blood was drying on his feet, crusting him to the ground. The putrid smell of death emanated from Kelvin, swarming around him, pushing down on his shoulders.

Ciel didn't recognize the sound of his own scream. It had been so long since he had last heard it.

The pipe came crashing down onto the monitors. Glass exploded, shards glittering through the air like the sparks of a firework, crackling upon the ground. The larger pieces snicked his skin, tore at his feet, but Ciel didn't seem to notice. He continued his assault on the screens, destroying the evidence of his weakness, of his desperation, of his shame. Any screen that could have held an image of him, projected for Kelvin's peeping eyes, was shattered until all that remained was black.

His face, his neck, his hands and his feet. Covered in tiny scratches, weeping cuts, glass still caught in larger tears. But even when no screens remained, Ciel's skin still itched, oozed, crawled. It wasn't enough. The anger was still there. The shame. The guilt. So he lashed out again, bringing the pipe down onto anything he found, destroying all the panels, all the little flashing lights, all those ugly cheap toys.

Gradually, the sound drifted through the haze, going on for a time before Ciel registered it. Only when the anger began to seep away, shed bit by bit in every ruined thing, did Ciel truly hear the sound screaming around him.

A siren.

Calmly, Ciel wiped off the pipe on the bedsheets, stepping carelessly over the debris. He made no move to clean himself, bathed in Kelvin's blood and his own, but the pipe was near spotless by the time he straightened up again.

Pipe hanging at his side, Ciel stepped through the dust covers, making his way to the open door at the bottom of the wooden stairs.

AN: whoo, finally done! omg a 30k chapter, i really need to learn to shut up at some point.

so it's probably gonna be a whiiiiile before another update. i had hoped to get the story all boxed off and done by the end of summer, but between holidays and one chapter becoming three chapters and trying to get some original writing done before going back to uni, that didn't happen. i was also waiting for kelvin's debut in the anime to air, so this chapter wouldn't be too much of a spoiler for non-manga readers. (seriously need, like, three showers after writing kelvin. i hate him so much uuuuuugh)

as always, i promise inertia creeps will be finished! there's only one chapter (probably split into two parts) and the epilogue left, so the finish line is in sight. i'm tentatively hoping for a christmas finish, fingers crossed :D thanks as always for sticking with it, guys, your feedback means a lot and is the only reason IC will ever see a finish, haha.

until next time!