Hi everyone! Look! A big long chapter! :D Thank you to Affablekiwi who not only beta reads these chapters but also acts as my feels guinea pig. Sometimes I poke Alois just to see what she does. _ Her enthusiasm for this story is in part why it stays alive.

All hail the sweet and effusive reviewers for chapter 9! *bows down* Thank you to Yami Kit and Kat, NAnon130402, MourningMemories7, drouqht, kuroshitsujiluver123, kheelwithit, Narutopokefan, Crystalbutterfly04, ILoveFanfiction-Animeadik, itsbritneybitch0, Thepandahat, Windspiral.

NAnon130402, the answer to your question is they're both nearly 14-years-old. :)

Thank you so much, readers. Honestly, it's the reviews and the follows that remind me that people want to know how this ends and that it's selfish of me to just keep it in my head. I admit that it was really fun this summer to come back to this, and I will try very hard during the school year to bring a chapter as often as I can. You guys are great, seriously. Thank you!

As a little aside, many of the chapter titles of this fic are taken from the special St. Sebastian's playlist I've had for nearly three years. O_O This chapter is named after a song called "The Wicked Ones" by the band 10 Years. If you know the song or look it up, you will find that it is quite appropriate.

Anyway! I'll stop rambling now. Thank you again a million times! This is my longest chapter ever, so please enjoy!

*edited 8/24: Thanks to Lotti and a guest for reminding me about the castling move! It's been so long since I had someone to play. Thank you very much!

-CaladriaHaru


There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

-Nicolo Machiavelli


Ch 10: The Wicked Ones

Alois is impatient even in the toilet. He pushes it all out in a fast stream, not even willing to savor that lovely sensation of post-piss relief because Ciel is sitting all by himself in the courtyard. "All by himself" is the worst possible phrase in the English language. He hates it. No one should ever have to think it let alone be it.

Yes yes finish okay. Shake shake done!

Alois sprints away and almost passes up the washing. Almost. His feet are in front of him when he jerks his body to a stop and turns to stupidly regard the ceramic basin. If he touches Ciel with these hands that just touched his...well...it's a dirty thing. It's dirty and Ciel is his little lord and God, the look on his face if he knew he'd touched it and didn't wash afterwards...

Alois wants to touch him with his dirty hands...

"Oh heathen barbarian...wash thy fucking hands!"

Fine fine! Shut up stupid little voice in my head. You don't even sound like him!

Alois splashes in the water. He murders a bar of soap with slippery fingers, and then he's dousing them and drying them on his shorts as he runs out of the lavatory.

Three steps from the entrance and almost at full tilt, he slams into a tall, unyielding body. The collision is hard enough that the boy with the blond hair is thrown back a pace or two. The wall of a gentleman he just hit reaches up a hand to smooth the front of his coat, and the gaze that Alois sucks in as a gasp is yellow and annoyed.

They are both annoyed until that very second their eyes meet.

Claude fucking Faustus.

Alois takes another step back because holy shit. Holy fucking hell here he is, the fucking bastard himself. Right here. Right fucking here. Emotions inside him slide all around like the soap through his fingers and they all vie for attention: hot I'll kill you rage, fear, glee, fuck you, asshole. Goddamn asshole! His right hand dips automatically into his blazer pocket for a killing thing but it isn't there. No, that's not one of the things he has anymore. And then Ciel's face and voice and weeks of all of Ciel's hurt peek up from the protective place in Alois's heart where he has been keeping them.

The little general's voice orders him to retreat. Because this is something Ciel has been dreading, Alois knows. This is something that Ciel has flat out feared with his rules and his orders and...

Fuck that. Never. I'll never run from this asshole...

No one in the corridor. Everyone's doing something else. This is fine. This is just perfect.

Alois stands up straight. He coughs lightly into a fist, and then he curtsies low with his eyes never leaving that piss yellow.

"Good afternoon, Headmaster Faustus...you evil fucking son of a bitch." His tone is polite and his smile is broad, crazy, oh my because I would so kill him now if I could. If he could. Could he?

The headmaster's eye glitter. They shine and don't look in the slightest bit concerned, but they should. They will.

"An interesting salutation, Mr. Macken. Your reputation as a foul-mouthed uncouth brat precedes you. I would take care to school that unruly tongue, or you may find it gets you into quite a bit of trouble."

His voice is soft but deep. Almost bored, but not. Edged like a hidden blade. Threatening without a threatening tone. Alois hates it. It's crawling with bugs and worms and snakes and demonic things and, frankly, this man is not like the dozens of others he's had trade with. He's getting that now. Faustus is not a fool, and there is a sinister aura around him. Alois shivers, but he is not afraid. Not of this bastard, not ever.

"Oh, yes, you'd probably love to know all about my tongue, wouldn't you? Because that's what you like-little boys and all of their bits. This whole school is your buffet table and you think you can pick up tongues and eyes and souls and walk away dabbing the corners of your fucking mouth with a full belly, but not anymore."

Alois swallows because I just said that and clenches his fists because he will definitely not run. He wants to be braver in this space, more intimidating, standing eye to eye with Claude fucking Faustus. He wants to be grown up already so that he can look down on him-so he can laugh at him while he gouges his eyes out. But now that Alois is in his presence, he can feel it, the weight of this bastard's sins, the broken souls of his victims, and they are all but moaning and calling and begging and this man is truly terrifying. In spite of that or perhaps because of it, Alois will not move from this space until he has won this round in some way; he has his pride.

When Faustus raises an eyebrow at the blond-haired boy, Alois can see himself being regarded in a new light. Or, more accurately, a new darkness. The atmosphere changes immediately. No longer is he simply a bratty whore to this man...and maybe it would have been safer if he could have remained just that forever.

Fuck "safer."

"You have an interesting way to achieve your ends. That is, if your desired end is in solitary confinement at best."

Alois was committed and he didn't care because he was here goddammit, and this bastard had been getting away with too much. He didn't trust adults, especially men, but like hell he'd just let this fucker breeze by him. The fact that he was within ten miles of the home meant that Ciel was in danger, and that was un-fucking-acceptable.

"My desired end is to bury you, and if you lay one fucking finger on Ciel again, I'll tell everyone. I'll fucking climb the walls and shout it from the rooftops just how much the headmaster loves his little boys." Alois's voice is quiet but shrouded in this kind of giddy half laugh because he's so goddamn happy to finally say these words. He's delirious with joy.

When Claude takes a step forward, however, the laughter is forgotten and Alois moves a step back soberly. He's not stupid-he won't get within arm's reach of this long-armed fucker. He stares him down, those yellow eyes behind twin panes of glass.

"Interesting. And who are you to Ciel, pray?"

Alois smiles. "I'm his fucking white knight and he's my little black king. You don't understand yet, do you? But you will. My name is Alois Trancy now, not Jim Macken, and Ciel is mine, Claude Faustus. Ciel Phantomhive is mine."

He likes the narrowed glare. That narrowed glare is a point to him, he knows it. He's gotten under that headmaster's skin with that. Yes. Ciel's warm presence, his feverish little brow, his thin arms and small torso and his precious lips and his eye, that one eye that can feel a million things and hide it all from everyone but his white knight. It's all and only for him, for Alois. Just for him.

"Chess references from a low-born whore child? I will give you this, Mr. Macken, you have some creativity and bravado." The headmaster's expression has become a poker face and impossible to read. It makes him more dangerous, and Alois knows it, but he's not stopping until this round is his. Entirely his for sure. His own pride demands it.

"Creativity? You haven't begun to see creativity." He smiles, "But you will. And I'm learning about chess, enough to know that taller and stronger and more powerful does not mean shit in game of wits."

"A game of wits? Interesting. Then you should be aware of this simple fact..." Faustus moves fast. He is really fucking fast. In a blink his hand has a grip around Alois's shirt front and the boy with the blond hair is hoisted at least two feet into the air. And now he can see the headmaster eye to eye as his low, venomous voice continues. "...you are nothing but a pawn in my game with Ciel, Jim Macken. And pawns are meant to be sacrificed..."

Alois's eyes shimmer with joy. He's pissed him off. Claude Faustus is fucking angry at him. This is the greatest day of his whole fucking life. When Alois laughs it is maniacal but at the same time light and childish. A weight comes away from his chest even as he grabs at the hands tightening at his throat.

"You're right. You are fucking right, except I'm not your pawn, you fucking moron. I'm not your pawn, at all, and I know the goddamn rule. I may just be fucking expendable now, but if I can make it to the other side of the board, then I can be any piece I want."

Alois smiles as he watches the headmaster's eyes narrow further.

"Did you forget that little rule? Don't forget it, because you know what piece I'm going to be when I get there? I've already decided and you can fucking laugh at it, I don't care." His voice becomes soft. "You'll have to Queen me. And believe me, once I have the power she has on Ciel's side, it'll be check-fucking-mate."

Robin egg blue eyes spark and shimmer with electricity, boring into that sickly insectlike yellow.

Alois grabs Claude's hands and digs his fingernails into them, but the Headmaster does not relent. He is silent. It's stealing the wind from Alois's sails. His perfect victory is suffering an unforeseen setback..

"Put me the fuck down, asshole. And stay the hell away from Ciel."

The headmaster's words are very soft. "It is imprudent to claim something that already belongs to someone else..."

Shit. Maybe I won too fucking much...

"Headmaster Faustus."

A voice approaches from the other end of the hallway but Alois cannot see the speaker from his vantage. Nevertheless, the headmaster releases him as if he had suddenly been burned and turns to face it.

"Michaelis." It is not a pleased tone.

Alois edges to the side and unconsciously rubs his throat. The stranger is as tall as the headmaster with hair just as dark but his eyes are red. What the fuck is with these men and creepy eyes? Alois is not disappointed with the interruption. He had gotten what he wanted and then things became a little...scary. Alois knew crazy. He was crazy, but the headmaster was not right on more levels than the blond-haired boy could count. And maybe he should have known that, because even Ciel couldn't stand against him forever. In fact, in three minutes Alois wonders how Ciel has managed to maintain his sanity for so so long confronted by six feet of such darkness...

Ciel! He needs to get back there. He needs to sneak away and get fucking back there, to safety, right fucking now.

The stranger continues. "I've completed my inspection."

"Of course you have. And the verdict?"

"St. Sebastian will continue his vigil. Discomforting news to you, I'm afraid."

It is Alois's turn to narrow his eyes. There is something strange about this encounter, but he doesn't know. It feels almost dreamlike and unreal...

"Your personification is misplaced, Mr. Michaelis. St. Sebastian is merely a statue in the courtyard and it is powerless to do anything but stand and be a pathetic martyred symbol of weakness."

For some reason, the stranger smiles at this. What the fuck is going on? Alois inches away from the pair, perfectly happy to yield this freaky stage to another.

"And speaking of martyr, on behalf of my employer, I am distressed at the condition in which these boys are attired in this chill. One of them has taken leave of his senses in the courtyard as a result of overexposure, no doubt."

The boy with the blond hair suddenly stands up straight.

Fuck! Ciel!

Screw this. He left Ciel alone for too long. He left him alone! What was he fucking thinking, having his showdown with the headmaster when Ciel...

Alois takes off down the hall at breakneck speed.

"I carried the young man to his bed." The stranger begins his next sentence overly loudly, as if he knew Alois needed to know ! Not important now. Instead of the courtyard, Alois makes a beeline for the dormitory, his heart pounding, heating his head, bringing a wave of self-loathing over him.

Never again. I'll never leave you again, Ciel. I swear to God. I swear swear it. I'm never leaving you again. Please be okay!


Crushing weight.

Smoke.

Pain.

Three things that he can feel and smell. Three things his senses can give him even though he can't move. He can't move because of the weight and he can't breathe because of the smoke and he can't yell because he has no breath. The pain...the pain is so secondary. It's mostly in his head, the pain. It's big and foreign and utterly wrong, he knows that. And if he can't breathe and he can't move then he is going to die.

I don't want to die! Someone! Save me!

"Over here!"

Loud voice. Father? No. Not father. He can hear movement but he can't see anything and he can't breathe to say, "yes! Here I am!" but it doesn't matter because the darkness is lifting slightly. Air. But only a little.

"Crikey, it's a kid." The voice is close now. He finds nerves that go to his hands. He makes his brain move it, reaching out for that voice, holding onto it with everything.

"Get a stretcher! Get the medics! A little boy. He's still alive. Hurry!" That was fainter-towards someone else. No. Bring the voice back to me. I need it.

Things are shifting. There's a grating sound all around him. His head really hurts. Maybe he's still dying.

"Can you hear me, sonny? Hey, can you hear my voice? Listen to my voice." There's some air here and the smoke is rolling out of his lungs. They seize. He coughs.

"Oh God. Thank God. Thank you, sweet merciful Christ. You hang in there, young man. We're getting you some help. Just stay with me."

Hands are on him. His body is moving. He hurts but someone is here. Maybe he will live. He was fighting to live. Maybe he will live. Where is Mummy?

"Holy Christ, he's...his...head..." A stranger's voice. Not the kind voice.

"Shut it, Peters. Just...don't say anything. All good, yeah? Just help me here. Gently."

"M..."

"Can you hear me?"

"M..mum. Father..."

A pause.

"You're Mum and Dad are waiting for you. They want you to listen me and let us take care of you, okay? My name is Fred. You can even call me Freddy if you like. I'm a policeman, a good guy. You're hurt, but you are going to be okay. Talk only if you can, all right? Just relax for me and we'll get you fixed up."

He's weightless. There are light and dark blurs. His body feels weak but there is a kind voice. A policeman. He's supposed to trust the policemen. Fred. Mum and Dad are waiting. Take a deep breath now. It's not smoky anymore at all.

"C-Ciel."

"What? Ciel? Is that your name?"

"Yes."

"All right then, Ciel." He can hear the voice smile. That's nice, to hear a voice smile. Has he ever noticed that voices can smile? But...so sick. He feels sick. Head hurts.

"H..hurt. My head."

Loud sounds of water rushing and men shouting. Where is the voice? He panics for a moment. He finds his fingers again and they are attached. He reaches up to his face, to where it feels the most wrong. But he does not touch his face...is this his face? It feels too hard. It's not his face then. What is this on his head? Ah! It hurts!

A hand suddenly grabs his hand, but it is not hurting him. It is holding his hand. And then another hand clasps it gently and his own hand is swallowed by the warmth.

"No no. Don't try to touch it. Relax, Ciel. I'm here, all right? You've got a bit of an owie on your head, I won't lie to you, but you're a strong boy, right? You're a strong boy. We'll get you some help for it. Will you trust me?"

Ciel blinks. It's fat and wrong and hurting his head. That strange thing on his head (in his head?) feels like it's growing, feeding on him, taking root in his brain, living there without permission. It's not right at all. His head feels ten times too heavy. He blinks again. So wrong. But he can see a little now out of his left eye. A face. He sees a man in blue. A familiar hat. A bobby. He's smiling softly like mum would if she were here. Ciel is on a stretcher. Then he's in a carriage of some kind and Fred is telling the driver to be quick but smooth. Take a good route, please.

Fred Aberline.

Too kind for his own good. He'll never make it past constable if he spends so much time at the bedside of half blind orphans telling them that they will be all right.

Ciel picks up his teacup.

And he promised to write to me, but he was a liar, clearly. Adults all lie. None of them can be trusted. They are pathetic and ignorant and do whatever they want when it suits them...

Ciel takes a sip of his tea..

Oh. Tea could taste like this too? Not just the thin version he had been choking down for three and half years? Yes. Once upon a time, it had tasted good.

"This morning's tea is Twinning's Earl Grey..."

As if Ciel could have misplaced this taste. He wants to berate the warm voice for such idiocy...and then it all strikes him finally.

Sebastian, that man, is at his bedside with a tea tray in hand and a smile. He is attired as the butler of a nobleman. His smile is congenial but always with that hint of a secret. Annoying.

"Not all adults destroy what they touch...but many of them are ignorant, I suppose."

Who gave this butler leave to be inside his mind? To know his thoughts? Does he know them? Does he know this butler? He has met him once. Only once. Under the statue...

"The memories...this...I'm dreaming." It is a statement. And saying it finally drags Ciel into an understanding that none of this right now is real at all, except It feels like a shadow of truth. The boy with the charcoal hair takes stock of this dream world.

The room is large, doubly so the bed he is reclining in. The windows are tall. The drapes have been pulled aside to let in the morning sun and it sprinkles his crisp white coverlet with a warm golden glow.

"The fire is in the past. It is gone. Who are you? Are you merely a dream form of a stranger I saw once or is it truly you taking advantage of my sleep to pester me with thoughts of things I cannot change?"

"Asleep? I must beg to disagree; you've been 'awake' for some time, young master."

"Do not toy with me, Sebastian." Ciel is confused and yet he isn't. Funny how a dream can turn the most outrageous fantasy into the closest facsimile of reality. He sets his cup on his saucer with a tiny clink and looks up with his one good eye. "You're late."

"Quite the contrary. If you will pardon me, you are the one who is late, young master."

"Ridiculous. If I am the master, then I decide when I am late and when I am not. What are you playing at, Sebastian? You've kept me waiting for years. I order you to give me a straight answer."

Sebastian's smile broadens but it is not pleased nor secretive at all. It is sad. Pitying.

Do not pity me!

"The truth then?"

Ciel sits up, his heart pounding. "Yes. The truth. Tell me."

His butler places the tray back on the tea cart and then smoothly approaches the bed. His red eyes are fascinating and deep. Blood of martyrs. Blood of the fallen. Blood of life.

Sebastian speaks one sentence. In this dream his words fall like silver threads that loop and pool upon the coverlet...they land about Ciel's fingers and settle there just out of reach. The young master with the charcoal hair swallows and then dares to touch them. The words he does not want to hear twine around his fingers and he pulls...

"This will not be easy, but nothing that is worth obtaining is ever easy...and if it is, then you have made the wrong kind of deal..."

Darkness...endless darkness...


When Ciel opens his eye, Alois's bright, shining hair is on his face. A softness and a wetness on his forehead. He moves slightly.

"Ciel...I'm sorry. God...please wake up."

Soft pressure on his eyebrow, on his cheek.

The boy with the charcoal hair takes stock of himself. He is in a bed, but this is his own true bed. Moreover, he feels much clearer, refreshed, as if he has just experienced a long and restful night's sleep. When was the last time that had happened? When he moves his shoulders he becomes aware of something in his hand. Smooth and flat. A paper card.

That was not a dream. That part...but how...

"Ciel, say something."

He glances up at Alois and rubs his thumb over the enigma in his hand.

"Where is my book?"

Alois blinks.

"The fucking book?"

"Is it here?"

"How should I know? What do I care about your-"

"Look for it, Alois." Ciel's face is set as he moves slightly to sit up.

"Really?" His companion lets out an exasperated sigh but he looks down stupidly at the ground and around the bed. "I don't see it."

"Then it was left at the statue."

Alois stomps a foot on the ground. "Then it can stay at the goddamn statue. I'm not leaving you here to go find it. You fucking passed out and I was only gone a few minutes!"

Ciel gives him a sour look and silently slides the card from his hand into his blazer pocket. Sebastian brought him here, right to his bed. He knows it was Sebastian. A thousand thoughts race in his mind. One question is chosen from the cacophony and brought to the microscope to inspect more closely.

Can the divine have a physical presence on this earth?

It feels so long ago now, but Ciel remembers a rainy morning when he had gazed at the lifeless statue in the courtyard and thought If you don't help me, then I refuse to believe in God, and demons are the only things that exist in this world.

He pulls another question from the maelstrom that spontaneously appeared with the inspection of the last one:

Could angels and demons exist? The card in his pocket burns him slightly, the unreality of that coincidence. And then: If they do exist, what ridiculous rules do they play at?

The silver words from the dream play across his memory like a secret code-never uttered, but present, nevertheless. "But nothing that is worth obtaining is ever easy..."

"Enough." Ciel ignores the streaming fury of his questions for the time being, turns himself and stands up. He feels strong. No fever clouds his judgment and he has a book to collect and something to ponder. "Do not postpone your war, young master."

Impossible. He will do this the only way he can to insure that he has what he needs. What he wants is irrelevant. He has been living without things he wants for years. They hardly matter. His first step to the door, however, is impeded by a pair of hot arms that fling around his shoulders and squeeze him, surprising him utterly.

"You're...you're okay? Really? You're not sick?" Alois presses his forehead to Ciel's and holds it there.

Ciel sighs and lets the boy do as he wants. Some of the tension in his shoulders dissipates, but when Alois tries to kiss him, Ciel pushes a hand at his mouth and collects himself a pace apart.

"I am...better. If you insist on shadowing me, then come. I want my book."

As Ciel stalks off, Alois quickly outpaces him to take the lead. When they get to the door, he stops, holding the smaller boy up, and looks both ways down the hall.

"Okay, let's go."

Ciel's eye narrows at Alois's back.

"What are you about?"

"Checking the coast. The headmaster is wandering around somewhere." Alois says it nonchalantly, but Ciel stops in his tracks.

"What?"

Alois halts and then turns slowly, pursing his lips. "Well, he is."

"Did you see him or did you hear this news secondhand?"

"You could say...I ran into him..."

Ciel's face goes ashen. "Alois..."

"What? Nothing! Nothing happened. I'm unarmed, remember? Nothing happened...and this other tall man interrupted us anyway and said you had passed out and I just ran to find you." Alois is casual about it. Flippant even. Ciel's heart is racing. At all costs, those two must not have an encounter. There was no telling how Alois's actions and words would put him in jeopardy. The blond-haired boy takes his arm and tugs him.

"I love that book. Did I ever tell you how much I do? Let's go find it. You don't want anyone else to take it, right?"

"You hate the book, if I recall."

"Yeah, I hate it, but I love you, so I think I'm starting to love things you love."

"If that is so, then heed my warning and stay far away from Faustus..."

Ciel ignores the expression on Alois's face as he puzzles it out, as he picks apart Ciel's words of potential sentimentality, looking for what he wants. His proof.

"Ciel...you mean..."

But Ciel has pushed him aside with his shoulder and is already several paces in front of him before Alois can catch up.

Let him do what he wants...except that. Do not let him find Faustus, because that foul creature cannot be defeated, only endured. And Ciel has new, growing, and specific fears about the impossibility of even enduring the headmaster now.

The blond-haired boy is a bright contrast of thoughts to Ciel's darkness. He is not mentally encumbered by the mystery of Ciel's dramatic improvement. Not at all. He is distracted by the joy of having just been told indirectly kind of in a way that Ciel loves him.

Ahh. Sometimes things Ciel says have a tendency to get lodged into his brain and then he just wants to do nothing but play with them and poke them and put them in his mouth. He has no time to waste energy on other thoughts, but if he did, he'd be forced to listen to the inner voice that says "You should probably tell Ciel about what happened outside of the lav..." But Ciel's reaction just to the idea of crossing Faustus's path made him look like he might be headed back to bed.

And that was not okay. No. Why? Because there were other thoughts in his head like "Luca died when he was alone" and he was getting used to the idea of being able to shake that voice off completely at least where Ciel was concerned. Ciel couldn't die like that-Alois would never ever allow it.

As they look for (and find) the precious book, all Ciel will tell Alois about what happened in the courtyard is that a man came out to inspect the statue and then he lost consciousness, presumably due to fatigue and illness. It matched up with dark-haired, red-eyed stranger's account to Faustus at least. By all accounts, nothing else had happened to him, and Ciel appeared to be refreshed when he awoke. It didn't stop Alois from feeling and accepting a healthy dose of momentary self-loathing for having left Ciel alone in the first place. When he says, "that bloke didn't do anything to you while you were unconscious, did he?" Alois is rewarded with a sound of disgust. That would just have to do for a "no."

Fuck. Thank God.


At exactly 8 o'clock that night, Ciel and Alois leave the common room with a candle stub. They must dodge a few caretakers and a cleaning woman to avoid being questioned, but in a few moments the two are standing in the north corridor of the west wing.

"Well? Which room do you want?"

Ciel taps a door. "Are you certain you can open it quickly?"

Alois giggles and fishes a brass skeleton key from his pocket. "My lord, I can open any classroom you want."

The boy with the charcoal hair blinks.

"How did you come by that?"

"How did I come by it? I stole it, of course, from my reading professor. Weeks ago. I feel naked without plenty of bolt holes and hiding spot. This key only opens the classrooms, so I didn't know how useful it would be, but he just...left it out so brazenly every single day. It was like he was asking for it. The poor bastard thinks he just misplaced it." Alois smiles deviously at the recollection. "I can pick locks, but this makes it so much easier."

"Hmm. Well done." He purses his lips together. "But do not get caught with it on you."

Alois is practically glowing as he giggles and unlocks the room. "I've got places for things. This isn't like prison-I can practically go anywhere I want when I want. As long as you're here, this place might as well be all of England for me."

The lock turns and the door opens. Alois mock bows and gestures to the interior with a dramatic flourish and smirk. Ciel ignores the theatrics and the two slip inside darkly, and this is why they brought a candle stub. Alois lights it and Ciel instructs him to leave it on the professor's desk away from the window and closer to the clock.

"Hey, Ciel, this is perfect..." The tentative glow of the small firelight highlights Alois's hair as he looks around the room.

"Perfect in what way?"

"Well, obviously...you brought me up here so we could do indecent things among the shadows, right?"

The boy with the charcoal hair rolls his eye at the pleading note in that voice.

"We are waiting for the post."

"The post?" Only dim features can be made out as Ciel navigates his way to the window casement, Alois creeping behind him curiously. "Why the post?"

"I want to know exactly when it arrives and who handles it."

"That is the lamest excuse for getting me alone into a dark room I have ever heard."

"If you do not wish to stay, you may find your own way to the door."

Completely defeated on one front, Alois's makes an exaggerated sigh of defeat. However, there is plenty of interest in this clandestine operation to keep his curiosity invested. He leans over the windowsill on his elbows, close enough to Ciel that they are hip to hip, taking care to stay out of view from below.

"Fine then. What is so important about the post all of a sudden? Are you expecting a letter?"

"No."

There is half a moon tonight. As his eye grows accustomed to the darkness, Ciel can see the metaphorical ribbon of moonlight stretching from the front of the building down and around a small hill and off into the nebulous distance where a pitch black treeline rises. St. Sebastian's Home for Boys is at least an hour outside London and there is practically nothing between it and the busy city-a perfectly isolated little world. Ciel vaguely remembers the facade of the building, recalls the engraved lintel over the door that read St. Sebastian's Home for Boys est. 1776 the day he was escorted through those front doors, and he has not seen them since.

This fact and Robert's words have been tumbling around along with the growing collection of questions in Ciel's mind.

"You don't know what happens here, do you?"

Those words, said and proved so matter-of-factly, sting him. He is studying a book about ruling men, and yet he has been missing the heart of Machiavelli's text: to be a good ruler one must first have a perfect grasp of the population and environment of the country he wishes to rule.

Ciel is not entirely at fault for allowing a literal blind spot to become a figurative one. He had been vulnerable and young and recently orphaned when he arrived, trying to put himself back together from tragedy and then...and then too many things happened too quickly. The boy with the charcoal hair and the one good eye and the too-thin body had become entangled in a web cast by the headmaster before he could get his bearings. And his life since that time has been immersed in a personal and exclusive drama which isolates him from others even as he walks among them. Looking back upon it now, surely the headmaster had planned for even that.

Ciel slips his hand into his blazer pocket and feels the card there. It contains a scant few lines of an address he knows.

"If you desire further contact..."

For too long Ciel has confined himself to a frigid and solitary existence. It is not that he wants or needs attention, but if he is going to rule the world then he must have contact with it. And the world needs to know that he is here and that his existence cannot be dismissed even if he cannot legally escape this place before he is sixteen.

"Hey, hey." Alois whispers. He sticks his finger against the glass and Ciel watches a carriage with a lantern wend its way up the road. "Is that it, do you think?"

Ciel squints one good eye into the distance and speaks softly. "Alois. I want you to observe everything you can from this. Pay close attention. The method and time of this transaction may become critical."

He feels the blond-haired boy's head swivel towards him. "You want to sneak a letter out of here, don't you?"

"Watch." Ciel hisses.

Alois is trembling with excitement yet becomes silent and obedient.

Ciel marks the time by the faintly-lit clock: 8:50 pm. England has the finest post system in the world, Ciel has known that since he was old enough to walk. If the post comes at 8:50 tonight, then it would come at 8:50 every night.

A postman in uniform drives the carriage to the side door just below them and both boys press the tops of their heads to the glass to watch. There is a congenial greeting by one of the caretakers (Ciel takes note of him) and then two bags are exchanged. The one handed over from the home has the outline of a circle on the side of it.

"Mark those bags in your memory," Ciel whispers. The transaction takes scant seconds, a moment at most from the time the carriage stops until it is on its way again.

When it finally disappears, Alois turns to the side and attacks Ciel. He presses the smaller boy against the wall and candy breath comes in little pants near his own lips. "Ciel, you're making some kind of plan, aren't you? Aren't you!"

"You are...too close," Ciel complains but Alois disregards his need for personal space entirely.

"What are we doing? Maybe we'll smuggle you out in the bag? You'd fit, I'd say. That would be brilliant!"

"Ridiculous." Ciel intercepts Alois's hands that try to snake around his waist and slides away from him and the wall at the same time.

"Come on, Ciel. You can't leave me like this." Alois words are practically a moan. "You can't just be bloody brilliant and form secret post plans and not let me have a little kiss. I'm so hard right now making spy plans with you. Come on, please. Pleaaaase! We have this whole room to ourselves..." Alois makes another move but Ciel resolutely snuffs the candle stub making it much harder for Alois to find him let alone pounce upon him. The boy with the charcoal hair uses the precious seconds of almost complete silence and darkness to smugly make it to the relative safety of the hallway.

He believes he's alluded his shadow and exited first until Alois suddenly presses against him from the front, lips on his ear. "I'm going to have you make this up to me, Ciel. Consider yourself forewarned." Alois's voice is a purr of promise and then he laughs loud enough for his companion's heart to race in the dim and dark and silence of the hallway.

Ciel makes a mental note as he catches his breath: Alois Trancy is bloody good at this.


"Checkmate."

"What? No it's not! It absolutely is not checkmate. I mean I know you've only got one eye so it might be hard to see the board clearly and everything..."

"Now you are losing poorly."

"But I am telling you, it's not over. It's check, Ciel. I'm only in check. I can make one move to get my king out of check and if I can, the game goes on, right? Right?"

Ciel surveys the board. From his vantage there is not a single move Alois could make that will...

Wait.

"Do you see it now?"

Ciel does not move his head but his gaze travels up to Alois's flushed face, red with frustration, excitement or any number of extreme emotions. Something has placed the bit firmly in this boy's mouth tonight and there has been nothing aimless or casual about his moves. Ciel had placed trap after trap in his path and he had not fallen for one. Not yet. Alois lost the last two games not to childish errors, but to an inability to predict Ciel's own offensive drive when the black king had finally gotten bored of baiting and getting no bites for his trouble.

Alois was, in fact, learning.

"What I see is a checkmate if you cannot make a move."

Alois reaches onto the board. He slides his king one square and places his right corner rook in a blocking position to the white king's left.

Ciel blinks.

He just "castled" and saved himself from my rook.

"Fuck you, Ciel. You didn't think I was going to do it, did you?"

"No, seeing as how you had yet to do it correctly once, even in practice."

"I'm fucking full of surprises. Was that whole post-watching adventure earlier part of the plan, maybe? Are you getting ready for it because you know it's only a matter of time until I have your little black king over here?" Alois leans back and pats his crotch with a knowing smile.

Ciel makes a face at the rude gesture and even ruder insinuation: That he could lose to this undisciplined, unschooled brat. Really now.

"There is only one problem." Ciel begins blandly.

"Oh? What's that?"

"You cannot castle out of check."

"What? When was that a rule? That's not a rule! Now you are just making things up as you go." Alois stares at the board incredulously and back to Ciel with a mixture of anger and defeat.

"It is a rule. Your instinct was good, but you should have made this move much earlier. To be sporting, I will consider it legal for just this game."

His blond-haired companion blinks and looks up. "What? You will?"

"Why not?"

"Because if I end up winning you still have to honor the deal..." Alois's face is suspicious but hopeful.

"I said I'd count it as legal. I will honor the deal if you somehow manage to win."

Suddenly with his mistake behind him, Alois is back to his familiar self. He smiles smugly and sits back. "Then come, Ciel. See if you can beat me."

It is Ciel's turn to grin darkly. He pushes his black queen across the board, smoothly disarming Alois of his last bishop and his only defence from that angle.

Alois's smirk is replaced with an expression of exasperation as he stares at the black queen all silent and superior and practically preening. "You fucking bitch whore," he breathes malevolently.

"Checkmate. Any objections now?" Ciel smiles smugly and sits back.

"Fuck how did I not..."

"You were focussed on finding the opportunity to show off, Alois. It would probably be prudent for you to wait until you actually have something to show off. Such displays in the face of a superior opponent only make you look childish."

"Fuck you, Ciel. I'm getting closer." He sweeps a hand down and scoops up the black queen and purses his lips.

I told Claude Faustus to his face to fuck off. I told him that this piece, the black queen, is what I am going to become. And yes, there it is, that dark, quiet realisation pulsing in the back of his mind: Claude Faustus is not just a simple pervert who can be choked to death or stabbed to death or have his throat cut in a moment of distraction. He can't be casually burned up and tossed into a river where no one would miss him. His fucking darkness practically shelters this entire home and how did Alois not feel it before? That bastard is evil in ways that stupid men were not evil. He is wrong in ways that defy Alois's understanding, and that is saying something.

Earlier that day he had made a big deal about fucking castling the headmaster, thought he had won, when the game wasn't done. No, not nearly done.

Claude Faustus was a superior opponent with everything that entailed. Ciel was right, goddammit.

I have to beat him. I have to figure it out and soon, fuck!

And then Alois cannot sit still any longer. He drops the queen back onto the table and thinks he is smiling brightly at his smaller companion. Ciel is well now. He looks alert and suspicious though. His eye says "what are you up to, Alois?" and it takes a second for the boy with the blond hair to realize that it's because he's not swearing or having a fit or trying to kiss him or doing any of the other things he normally does after a game.

Ha!

Fuck.

The chess table suddenly feels huge in this room. It's this big monstrous thing that holds the key to Ciel's salvation or damnation and he doesn't see it. He doesn't recognize how heavy it is because to him it's a useless game to pass the hour. But every time Alois loses it gets bigger and Claude fucking Faustus gets closer and the minutes, the seconds, they have left disappear into that gigantic gaping blackness that's sucking on his lord's little soul.

Fuck fuck!

Suddenly Alois needs to get out of the library. Needs it. Ciel doesn't hear the chess board mock him. He's been living in this darkness so long, been so accustomed to having his veins opened to it, that it's fucking commonplace now. Hurt and despair and everything is just life and yes, it is life, yes, Alois knows it is, but he's also known how to stay above it. Ciel was sick and got better, and Alois succeeded in pissing the headmaster off, but it doesn't matter if they can't get out of here. It's all just more fucking castling, all right?

Fuck! Fuck Fuck!

Alois hops down from his seat and he knows that he must look extraordinary right now because Ciel's face is scowling at him, but his eye says something is wrong and maybe it's amazing that Ciel can look into his soul. But he can't win at the Alois game so easily, no, and they have to get out of this room where this chess board is telling Alois that he can never win and that Ciel is going to eventually walk back to the headmaster and never ever come back as Ciel again.

"Let's go on another mission," Alois grabs his hand. Plays it off. He's fine, right? He's fine.

"What are you talking about."

"Come on, I've got the perfect mission. You can't say that you didn't love it, sneaking around and knowing things and doing things you aren't allowed to do. You fucking loved it. I loved it. Let's do some more."

"I am not..."

But Alois has to get them both out of the library now. That chess table is already too big to fit inside it. Pretty soon it will smother them both. He grabs Ciel's hand and pulls him from the chair and won't let him go because he's going to take him somewhere, and it will feel like they are escaping and that might be enough to calm Alois down for now.

Once they get into the hallway, Ciel must become compliant and quiet out of necessity so that they aren't discovered. The irony of it is funny to Alois and he laughs. He's so fucking obedient at the wrong damn times. He ignores Ciel's whispered demands for an explanation because he is the one leading this mission and he has to concentrate, avoid the squeaky boards, count the doors, find the stairway down.

Eventually Ciel no longer has to be pulled which is good. Maybe he feels it for real, the chest- tingling, shoulder-shaking thrill of being an unruly little bastard. When they push the door open to the kitchen in almost complete darkness, Ciel does not hide his dismay.

"What are we doing here?" He demands airily. Alois can't really see his features but he knows the tone.

"I'm not afraid of the dark." Alois declares. He doesn't have to do it but he likes to say it out loud because then it's more real. He can believe words that come from his mouth.

"We are in the kitchen," Ciel's voice fades and Alois knows he is looking around, trying to suss out recognizable features of a room in which he has never set foot while brightly lit. A few coals in the fireplace continue to give off a little heat and light and Ciel instinctively moves towards it. "What are we doing here, Alois?"

"We're getting a little snack, of course." This is Alois's arena. This is Alois's chessboard and he knows how this works. He's a fucking master of thievery and sneakiness and he's going to be the superior opponent and show off something he can show off. "I've run out of candy."

"What?"

Ciel's heart is pounding so loudly in his ears that Alois's gigglingly soft words are actually difficult to make out. The fire is nothing but a useless collection of orange jelly beans though Ciel finds he does not miss the heat. The lack of light, however, is distressing to a boy who is already half in darkness. What is he doing here? What if they are caught here? It is unlikely due to the hour but...

And then the muffled sounds of cloth and flesh moving bring his attention back to the blond-haired boy who is, he thinks, climbing on top of a counter.

"She hides it here. A stash. The cook loves sweets, you know. That's why all of her teeth are black and rotting and her breath smells like burned sugar with pipe tobacco." He is perched in front of a cupboard and there is a sound of cabinets creaking open. "I can't take the whole bag. Learned my lesson there. She moved her stash and it took me a bloody week to figure out where."

Ciel shakes his head. This is ridiculous, but every sense is open, aware. He is breathing hard and it scrapes the back of his throat. Is this what it feels like to be alive? It is not unpleasant.

Still.

"Hurry."

"Hell no. I want you to bask in my glory."

"Alois."

"Am I impressing you yet?"

Ciel finally hears Alois drop down nimbly from the counter. He feels better, safer, slightly relieved when Alois's presence is near again and laughing, completely free of worry.

"Open your mouth."

"No. If you are finished, then we are leaving."

"This is my checkmate, Ciel. Eat my fucking candy and just let me have this, okay?"

The boy with the charcoal hair purses his lips. There is a tone here, a new one. It is insistent and raw. Desperate, not joking.

"Fine." He opens his mouth.

Alois puts his hand on Ciel's cheek gently and he realizes this is because his persistent companions cannot see whether he is obeying or not.

"Hungry birdy." Alois's voice contains an audible smirk. The blood rushes to Ciel's face and he closes his mouth out of spite, but not before Alois manages to put something sweet in it.

Sweet and sugary. It has the taste of vanilla and it melts a bit and Ciel, who secretly loves sweets, savors it. Enjoys it. Everything about it. The richness of the flavour is compounded by the danger, and his senses are at their breaking point without his eyesight.

"It's good, right? You deserve it, you know. You deserve all the sweetness, Ciel..."

The lips on his cheek happen softly, like the fingers earlier.

Ciel cannot speak.

Alois suddenly stands up straight. That is the first cue. And then Ciel hears it-muted feet shuffling. His head swivels to the crack of the door and with their dark vision it is easy to see the glow of candlelight approaching.

Ciel goes stiff. To be caught here. To be caught here...everything would be over. There was no way...

Alois disappears.

Ciel considers this moment. If that figure enters the kitchen, what will they do? If Alois is found out, they may lock him up, send him away, or...or worse. There have been worse things done here. He cannot allow that to happen.

"Ciel." A whisper.

Of course there is only one option. He must allow himself to be caught, and then when he is being escorted from the room for disciplinary action, Alois can sneak away. Ciel is already formulating the script that will help him mitigate the punishment or allay it entirely. He can talk his way out of this as long as Alois remains unfound. Safe.

"Ciel!" The whispered yell gets his attention. He turns towards it.

"Quick. Here, hurry. We can hide."

"We cannot..."

"Shut up, Ciel! Bolt holes, remember?"

Ciel licks his lips. If he trusts Alois then he must forego his own plan, and that is hard. To give what little control he has to another is almost unconscionsable...but the feet and the light are coming and his pride tells him that he does not want to be caught either, bloody hell!

The boy with the charcoal hair skitters towards Alois's voice. He feels with his hands and finds the opening. It is an empty cupboard by the shape and position, and then Alois's hands are on his and he is pulling him into it where it is close and cramped with his own hot body. Alois is on his hands and knees and he practically drags the other boy in feet and legs first so that they are sandwiched, Ciel the bottom slice and Alois the top. The second Ciel gets his arms inside Alois closes the cupboard, leaving it open just a crack. Two blue eyes, one above the other, watch the kitchen door open as the huge shape of the cook's burly adult son, John, enters smacking his lips sleepily and scratching at his behind.

Ciel holds his breath. The full candlelight is like a beacon in his brain. It must surely show evidence of their presence and expose them. He can hear both their heartbeats in this close space and it drowns out all noise.

John opens a cupboard and rummages. He removes something, puts it into his mouth. The bloody bastard takes his time with his midnight snack. Ciel and Alois do not move. They make no sound. The smaller boy does not mind the compression of Alois's body over his. He does not mind the closeness of their quarters because stillness and silence and darkness is safe. Nothing matters but to mentally and physically become one with this cupboard and to arouse no attention...

After what feels like an eternity, John puts things away, his lips smacking noisily. He takes a deep breath and then burps loud and long. Ciel freezes, fearing some giggling noise from his companion that might give them away, but Alois is silent and unmoving and the moment passes. Even when the light is gone and John is clearly well on his way to his bed, the two boys remain frozen.

Ciel is first aware of the heat. He is almost never hot. Ever. The trickle of perspiration that slides down his back feels like a fingernail and he shivers in spite of it.

"You're safe," Alois whispers.

"That was too close."

"What? No. That wasn't close. It's been much much closer," Alois is still whispering but the laughter that trickles with it is real. "What in the hell were you doing just standing there?"

Ciel bristles. He tries to move but he is essentially pinned. This cupboard was not designed to hide one boy let alone two.

"Nevermind that. Let me out."

"What were you going to do, Ciel? Give yourself up?" The amusement in his voice disappears utterly.

"There seemed few other options."

"Don't. Don't ever give yourself up. Never, okay? Fuck. Never give yourself up. I can't have you doing that ever ever. Please."

Pain.

Ciel feels a stab through his heart as Alois levers down into him, wraps an arm around his back and presses a forehead into his shoulder.

"You're heavy."

Alois's voice is muffled by Ciel's neck. His lips make featherlight brushes against his skin as he mumbles, "Don't care. Shut up. I put you here, so it's safe, okay? I put you here. You let me do it, Ciel. You let me keep you safe and I will always do it, I swear it. Please don't just ever give yourself up. Not again. That's not a fucking plan, Ciel..."

The boy with the charcoal hair lifts a hand up. He can't see anything but he still feels and Alois's hair is incredibly soft. He imagines its golden light. Lying here with everything crushing against them, he can do nothing but absorb the sadness from this shaking frame. He cannot move to wipe away the hot, wet tears on his neck that tingle and slide and do not feel like fingernails down his back.

It's the kiss on his neck that probably does him in. It is not Alois's usual brand of annoying pawing and amused pucker faces. Ciel only knows it is a kiss because Alois's lips are closed and his voice is silent and he wrings a shudder from Ciel's spine so easily. When the smaller boy gives an inch and slides his hand to the back of Alois's head in some instinctive motherlike gesture of comfort, he knows he has done them both in. Alois is crying fiercely, helpless, asking for nothing. He cannot articulate his sorrow, but Ciel is not a fool-he knows. Love is hot and wet and a sob. It is not a balm and a comfort for Alois-it sentences happiness to death.

Somewhere someone moving the pieces has just declared checkmate. Ciel has lost and he is lost. He is a terrible boy to want this thing called love that can squeeze the light out of his sunrise...

There is so little space here that it is difficult to tell where Alois begins and where Ciel ends. Nevertheless Ciel finds both hands and lifts Alois's face. What this boy wants is a poison, but Ciel has never been known for his kindness. When he brings their lips together he proves how vile he is, but he cannot stop. He cannot stop because the candy Alois gave him earlier was not enough. It would never be enough. He had developed a taste for the flavour of this mouth and it is all he wants. He must have as much of it as he can before it is taken away from him forever.

It is only a matter of time...

(to be continued...)