A/N: Yeah I know the last chapter sucked, so I had to write an epilogue to wrap things a little more... neatly, I suppose.
This epilogue takes place two years after the events of the chapters preceding it.
Obviously, we now know that Lizzie is actually BAMF like nobody's business and that none of this was likely to happen, which kind of throws this entire fiction out the window, but I don't like to leave unfinished business. I will probably be writing another fic in the future that deals with Lizzie as we now know her: awesome beyond description. For all you Lizzie haters out there: If you don't like her, don't read this ff. Or read it and don't tell me how much you hate her w/o reason. I really dislike reading comments/reviews for this ff and having people badmouth Lizzie for no legitimate reason. I'm very fond of her character, there's a reason why she plays such a big role in my ff. To everyone else, thanks for reading!
"Welcome, my lady." Snake smiled and gave a small bow as he held out his hand for Elizabeth to take, assisting her out of the carriage.
"Thank you, Snake." She smiled delicately and gently took the hand that was offerd to her, stepping gingerly onto the carriage steps, shifting her weight carefully and with some difficulty. She laid a hand instinctively on her stomach as her feet touched down onto the ground. Her handmaiden, who had already exited through the other carriage door was swiftly at her side, taking her hand gently and helping her to steady herself. Smiling appreciatively at the woman, Elizabeth gave a small nod to Snake, then made her way up the stairs to the entrance of the Phantomhive mansion. Snake gave her a bow as she left him, then proceeded to do his job as footman and led the horses to the stables.
Tanaka was there at the top of the stairs to greet Elizabeth, and gave a polite bow as he opened the doors for her. That dutiful steward, Elizabeth couldn't help but wonder sometimes if maybe it was impossible for him to breathe his last breath until the mansion was torn down for good. His aged presence seemed as constant to the mansion as the very grounds it stood on. He had already survived one burning of these walls after all. Entering the atrium, she felt an immediate sense of unease wash over her. She couldn't help it anymore. Ever since that day over a year ago she had always felt nothing but unease whenever she visited Ciel. Although she was happy to see him, and although it still warmed her heart to know that he was all right, she hated being in this house. She knew now that every inch of it was nothing but deceit, she knew why it had been rebuilt and how and by whom. Just as the thought crossed her mind, a coldness seeped into her bones as she caught sight of the tall man, clad in black smiling at the stairway of the entrance hall.
Sebastian smiled his knowing smile and gave a bow of greeting, holding a hand insincerely to his chest. The silver lapel gleamed from his coat jacket, indicating his rank as head butler of this house. He was ever the perfect butler, the dutiful servant, and a demon to the core. Elizabeth didn't nod to acknowledge his presence, she gave no smile. Paula offered a small curtsy to Sebastian but mostly maintained her steady presence beside her mistress.
"Welcome, Lady-ah, I always forget," Sebastian gave the slightest chuckle then corrected himself. "I mean, welcome, Duchess Grosvenor."
Elizabeth almost twitched at hearing Sebastian say her name. It always seemed as though he was mocking her when he pretended to forget her new title. She felt he was doing it on purpose, to remind her of what she had been, what she had lost. Had she been able to marry Ciel, perhaps she would have remained Lady Elizabeth to her dying days, and maybe she would have been happier with that outcome. But she had left those days behind, and carried herself with a new title now. She bore the burden of a new name, a new life, a second life now even. She laid her hand on her stomach again, and Sebastian's eyes flickered to the gesture.
"You're positively glowing, my lady." His voice was warm to all else who listened. To Elizabeth, it was dripping with amusement and defiance to his station. He smiled and offered his hand for her to take. "My master is waiting you in the drawing room in the west wing."
Elizabeth did not take his hand, but began to walk there with Paula following swiftly behind. Sebastian's smile faltered slightly at the rude gesture, but made no comment and began to lead her up the stairs then down the hall.
When they reached the drawing room, Elizabeth let go of Paula's hand to dismiss her. Paula was always quite hesitant to be unable to be with her mistress at all times, especially in her present condition. But she obliged, as she was required, and stood by the door, content to wait outside on stand by in case she was needed. Sebastian then opened the door and led Elizabeth inside, following her in, then closing the door firmly behind him.
Paula watched them enter with a sinking feeling. She used to love bringing the mistress by this mansion and see the young miss and the young master play together. But ever since the events of a year ago, her mistress had stopped confiding in her as she used to. She was secretive and smiled less often. After her engagement with Ciel had been broken off, she was positively despondent though she tried hard not to show it. When she had been married to the Duke Hugh Grosvenor, she had grown happier, though she never returned to being the cheerful woman she had been before. Still she would take these trips to master Ciel's home every so often and meet with him and a few other noblemen. Paula was never allowed in to the meetings, and her mistress never informed her of the content of these proceedings, so she had little recompense than to worry about them. She felt that nothing good came out of these meetings. They weren't all that frequent, but it seemd to her that after every one, her mistress grew darker, lonelier. But she had no choice but to stand by the Duchess' side as she had always done, for that was her duty as handmaiden. It was a duty she would serve willingly to her dying days.
Once inside, Elizabeth walked through the room towards Ciel, passing by a few noblemen situated in chairs around the pool table. She offered him her gloved hand, which he took with a small smile and laid his lips gently upon her fingers. She smiled at the gesture and gave a very small curtsy in response.
"Lord Phantomhive." She said his name in greeting, hating the formality of it.
"Duchess." Ciel repeated only her title in response, knowing that she didn't particularly like her new name. He eyed the hand that lay on her stomach and stood to offer her his seat. She smiled at the polite gesture and took the offer, and he helped her gently into his seat. Looking around at the denizens of the dimly lit room, Ciel paced forward to the pool table, laying his hands on the soft green felt. Sebastian immediately stepped forth to hand him a pool cue and place the triangular arrangement of balls onto the table, pefectly aligned, perfectly centered. Ciel leaned forward, placing one hand in front of him on the felt, the other steadying his cue and spoke.
He gave one clean stroke, striking the white ball against the others with admirable accuracy and precision. The balls scattered, clicking against each other softly as they spun every which way around the table. A lone, striped purple ball fell away from the others, rolling slowly towards the corner pocket, then sinked gently in as the others settled in their place. Ciel's team was stripes. He passed the cue to Lord Randall, knowing how the man's mighty principles would make him hate being on Ciel's team.
"We are gathered here to discuss the newest matter of Her Majesty's Distress."
Lord Randall took the cue from Ciel's hand reluctantly, shooting the man his ever-present glare. He hated having to deal with the Earl. As insufferable as he had been as a child, he was even more so now that he was an adult. And while he couldn't deny that the Queen's Watchdog was effective, it was a blemish to his pride as the head of Scotland Yard to be incapable of solving these cases himself. No, not incapable. The Queen trusted this brat and his name. She woudn't even give the Yard a chance. And that irked him more than failure. Aiming the cue ball at a solid yellow ball, he struck it sloppily with his cue and missed his target hole by several inches.
In a moment the Chinese tradesman was at his side, clapping lightly at his missed mark. Taking the cue out of his hands, establishing himself as on the Earl's team, he gently scooted the grumpy old man out of the way as he strolled around the table, lazily trying to decide on which ball to aim for.
"Eh? What's the problem this time, Earl Phantomhive?"
A playful grin graced his features. Though it was meant to be lighthearted, it appeared as nothing but sinister in the dimly lit room. It certainly set Lord Randall on edge to be in the same room as him, and Elizabeth found herself fidgeting slightly as well. It was the smile of a trickster, as deceptive as the moon whose light is leeched from another source, who is fickle and changing and not to be trusted. Ciel had barely moved away from the table and was the closest to Lau and his jovial grin. Pacing slightly, he spoke again.
"The real problem is far too complicated for us to deal with." His voice was solemn, his eyes downcast. "The real problem is the poverty that grips a good portion of this city. It drives the desperate to thievery, murder, prostitution..." He paced around the table, his gloved hands grazing lightly against the felt. Lau nodded thoughtfully, as though these were problems he cared about. Mock concern graced his features as he decided on a ball to aim for. As Ciel continued to speak, he leaned down onto the felt to take a shot, and missed the striped ball he was aiming for, hitting nothing but felt as the cue ball skirted around the green, almost as if it were deliberately avoiding any of the balls.
"Still there are those who aim to take what little they have, thinking that the poor have so little to lose, it would surely go unnoticed."
The cue was passed to Mr. Aberline, who looked at the Earl with a sad expression in his eyes, clearly feeling every bit of sympathy for the unnamed victims in Ciel's words. Ever the hopeful optimist, he was working to make a better London, to protect every last person he could to the best of his ability. The man had a true sense of justice about him, and would only cooperate with Ciel based on that, not being as bitter or as cynical as Lord Randall. Ciel finally paused in his pacing.
"We have ourselves a sinister Jill the Ripper."
At the words, Aberline's cue slipped, lurching forward without any precision and jumping the cue ball up off of the table, colliding with a few colored balls before landing into a pocket itself. A scratch. Lord Randall gave him a disapproving look as the cue was taken from him, by the Undertaker, with his ever-present grin. Leaning in close to make Aberline uncomfortable with the invasion of personal space, he scooted the officer away from the table and reached into the pocket where the cue ball had fallen with his long claws. Pulling it out carefully, he turned the ball over in his hand slowly and spoke.
"Oh? But no guests have come my way, dear Earl."
Ciel shot him a tired look, then spoke again.
"She disposes of the bodies herself, only recently have any of them been found."
The undertaker tilted his head, his grin growing ever wider.
"Not even recently have any interesting guests come my way."
"Her victims are infants, most of them probably not more than two years of age and most of them are probably undiscovered."
Aberline let out a small gasp of disgust, and Ciel saw Elizabeth cringe slightly in his chair. The Undertaker's grin didn't falter, didn't move, he probably found the disgust of other people amusing. Death was all the same to him, whether the bodies were young women or infants, nobility or homeless. Once dead on his operating table, they were all of equal status. It made no difference who they were alive once their heart stopped beating. The Earl's information of who the victims were did not make the case significantly more interesting to the silver-haired man. But he at last relented that he had not seen hide nor hair of the most recent victims. Instead he leaned down low onto the table, his chin practically touching the felt as he aimed for a corner ball.
As he took his shot and landed a striped blue ball into one of the pockets. Letting out a small giggle, he passed the cue on without taking his second shot, handing it back to Aberline since he was the closest body. The man took the cue hesitantly, and gave the room a sweep with his eyes to see if anyone else cared to make a shot. When no one stepped forward, he held the cue tightly in his hands, clearly not in the mood to play a game while dealing with the case at hand. Turning to the Earl, he requested more information.
"How recently was this?"
Ciel waved a hand at Sebastian, seemingly tired of speaking, and his dutiful butler stepped out of the shadows into the light, speaking at them all with his honey-toned voice. Bowing slightly to his master as he passed by him idly, he gave them the details that had been passed to them by the queen.
"Last week, on March 30th, a package was recovered from the Thames river containing the body of a baby girl, who was later identified to be Helena Fry. The package was conspicuously spotted, as it had not been adequatey weighed down. On April 2nd, similar packages were found also in the Thames after a search, containing bodies, but these had been weighed down with bricks so that they would sink and not float. For some reason or another, our baby farmer was careless with the young Miss Fry and her body was easily discovered. From the address on the wrapping paper, a name and address could be discerned. Our culprit is a Mrs. Thomas currently residing in Berkshire, though it is suspected that Thomas must surely be an alias of sorts."
As Sebastian neared the end of his speech, Elizabeth's voice rang out from the far side of the room, her voice in shapr contrast to Sebastian's. The young Duchess had only one question on her lips.
"Yes, Duchess." Sebastian proceeded to inform her then of the problem of baby farming. "Since fathers of illegitimate children are under no legal obligation to provide financial assistance, and because bringing up children in a single-parent household is highly stigmatized in today's society, many women who conceive illegitimate offspring will opt to give up their children to adoption or fostering agents in place of abortion. Such agents or agencies will often also agree to provide assistance to the mothers in the birthing process, caring for the women until they give birth to their child. For a single, up-front fee, a woman of an illegitimate child could receive care until she delivered her baby, and also have the baby cared for afterwards. Many women, although they give up their children and will not raise them on their own, they will still check in with the agency to see that their child is still being cared for. But fostering agencies are rarely honest, and many of them will purposefully neglect the children for financial gain. By allowing the child to die from neglect or malnutrition, the fostering agents could keep the money that they were supposed to use to take care of the chid, then chalk up the death to "lack of breast milk" or "debility from birth." Mothers who suspected evil-doings could rarely tell the authorities of their suspicions out of shame or fear. They are, after all, mostly illegitimate offspring."
When Sebastian had finished speaking, Elizabeth found herself cradling her stomach once again, needlessly fearful for the tiny life held inside of her. She couldn't help but think of how fortunate she was. With only a slight turn of fortune, she could have been like Madam Red, losing her child in an accident, or she could have been born into poverty, with no other option than to entrust her child to murderers. When the child was first conceived, she had thought she had done it out of duty. But as the months had passed, she had come to care for the life inside her. She supposed it was the inevitable condition of motherhood that she would come to love the child she thought she didn't want.
Still she had to admit that there was no real reason to be surprised at what she had just heard. Logic told her that her empathy was misplaced, that it would do no good to anyone. If she really wanted to be of help to such women, she needed to do her part in this case.
"Please, let me help."
Ciel looked at her warily. Truth be told, he hadn't wanted to involve her in this life, but she had insisted. Perhaps it was habit, but he had trouble standing his ground against Elizabeth. He had grown so accustomed to allowing her what she wanted. But he had allowed her to do little more than gather information with him .
"I can go undercover, go to Ms. Thomas and tell her that the child is-"
Ciel cut her off before she could finish her sentence, and she shot him a small glare.
"Duke Grosvenor would have my head on a platter if I put you in such danger. So would the Marchioness, for that matter. The answer is absolutely and unequivocally no."
Not allowing Elizabeth another chance to argue, he began to speak again.
"Lau, may we enlist the help of one of your... sisters for this task?"
Lau let out a playful laugh and clapped the Earl on the shoulder.
"Earl, you're not planning on actually impregnating one of my-"
"Don't be ridiculous!"
The Undertaker giggled into his hand, and Aberline and Lord Randall fidged nervously at the crude humor. Elizabeth put down her head, disappointed that Ciel could not trust her enough to help out when it mattered most. But she supposed it wasn't really a trust issue in the end. He cared about her safety and well-being. It was only natural for him to veto her proposed course of action.
"She only needs to pretend for a little while in order to get information from Mrs. Thomas."
Ciel straightened his cravat as if it would help regain some order in the room, and Lau put up his hands in defeat.
"Yes, yes. Of course this can be done. Anything for the Earl."
Ciel then turned to Lord Randall.
"Lord Randall, I trust that you can keep the whole of Scotland Yard and the British police from mobilizing. If our famed Mrs. Thomas is who I suspect her to be, then she will surely abscond if she detects movements within the police. She must surely be wary of the authorities catching suspicions. You will move on my command."
"They move on my command, Earl-"
"And your command will be given when I give my command to you."
A mild staring contest ensued as Lord Randall shot a frightening scowl in Ciel's direction, who did not flinch, but merely looked at the old man as though he were simply beneath him. And in Ciel's mind, he was. Finally the Lord Randall relented and gave a huff of disapproval, which actually meant that he was giving his approval for the proposed course of action. Aberline's shoulders dropped as though a catastrophe had just been averted and the Undertaker merely giggled.
"If that is all, then we are concluded today, gentlemen."
Sebastian made his way to the door, holding it open for the denizens inside to exit. Lord Randall stormed out first, with Aberline closely behind on his heels, then Lau skipped out, followed by the Undertaker. At last Ciel and Sebastian and Elizabeth were the only ones left in the room. Paula, who had been waiting dutifully outside of the door the entire time poked her head in at last to see if her mistress required any assistance. But Elizabeth held up a staying hand, and Paula retreated back into the hallway.
Ciel approached the chair she was sitting in and offered his hand. She did not take it.
"When you agreed to include me in this circle, I did not expect to remain an accessory on your arm."
Her comment was biting and somewhat uncalled for, but Ciel had an equally provocative response.
"When you asked me to make you privy to my actions, I did not think you had a death wish."
"You never let me actively help in anything, I wonder if there's any point in my being here."
"You are a member of the underground within the conditions I specified. You are welcome to leave at anytime. No one is forcing you to be here, Duchess."
Elizabeth sighed, then took Ciel's hand at last, allowing him to help her to her feet. Laying a hand on her stomach, she looked at him remorsefully.
"You know I won't do that, Ciel."
"And you know I will never allow you to be put in harm's way, Elizabeth."
Smiling softly at the words that betrayed Ciel's stoic, uncaring demeanor, she began to move towards the door. Yes, she knew that she was cared for. In his own way, Ciel did the best that he could to care for other human beings. It wasn't a deep caring, most would call it selfish at best, but Elizabeth knew that it was the best he could do. She would forever love him as her cousin, her former fiancee, he was her first love. She had to admit, she was happy that he allowed this much in order to let her stay by his side. Despite being married to another man and living an entirely different life now, she was permitted this small tie to a past she couldn't help but treasure, despite its dark secrets.
"Until next time, Earl Phantomhive."
"Next time, Duchess."
The titles were back, it was time to return to the facades they wore in public. They were nothing more than cousins now, the proud Earl Phantomhive and the graceful Duchess Grosvenor. Her visit had been nothing more than a casual afternoon tea. She had come to tell him the happy news of her being with child. He had been the gracious host, glad to hear the news and would later surely invite her and her husband over for dinner to celebrate. They were keeping family ties intact.
Paula accompanied Elizabeth down the hall, where Tanaka was waiting to lead them outside. Ciel did not see them to the door. Instead he headed the opposite way to his office, and watched her leave from his window. She knew that he always watched from that view and that he preferred it to seeing her off in front of the grounds. She always looked back and smiled just for that reason, even if she couldn't always see him. Though she never saw it, she knew that Ciel always gave a small wave as her carriage pulled away. And that was enough.
Ciel's thoughts were interrupted by a silken voice behind him, from the butler that never left his side, like his own shadow on the ground.
"You seem displeased that the Duchess is with child."
Ciel gave no answer.
"She was positively glowing. Motherhood has afforded her an entirely new grace, do you not agree?"
"You're awfully talkative today, Sebastian."
"My apologies, my lord."
Ciel turned from his window at last and took his seat in the giant armchair that stood behind his desk. Entwining his fingers together, he placed his elbows on the desk and peered up at Sebastian from behind his gloved hands.
"I'm happy for her, truly. The child will keep her away from here. As she loves the child more and more, the more she will fear for her own life and the life of her child. She will be reminded of what happened to my family, and whether consciously or not, she will begin to keep her distance."
"How very kind of you, my lord."
Sebastian smiled his knowing smile. He was sure that Ciel wanted nothing more than to be as heartless as he himself was. Emotions and family were a hindrance to his lifestyle and the goals he pursued. But try as he might, Ciel was still human, still capable of caring, and still cared deeply for his cousin, the young Duchess. Such thoughts used to bother Sebastian, but now it simply amused him. It was the sort of deep caring that led Ciel to keep her at an arm's length at all times. To actually care about her happiness and safety meant keeping her away from him, which he tried his best to do. But what his master felt for him was something else entirely. It was a dependent, selfish kind of caring, if one could even call it that. He used him, abused him, relied on him for all his needs without giving anything in return. Somehow it pleased him. Sebastian preferred it to anything else Ciel could have given. Whatever he suffered now mattered not, because once their contract is completed, Ciel would give him everything. He nearly licked his lips at the thought.
Ciel could feel Sebastian thinking such thoughts and sighed. The demon was truly wearisome at times. Or maybe it had been because Elizabeth had been over. He wasn't really sure, he didn't really care.
"The time is soon, isn't it?"
"That all depends on you, my lord."
"Of course it does."
Ciel paused for a little while, knowing that certain things would have to be put into order before he allowed Sebastian the pleasure of consuming him. First things were first, however.
"I forbid you from contracting with Elizabeth after this."
"Such affection, my lord. Could you possibly love her?"
"We were betrothed once. I am honoring the commitment I broke in the only way I can. Do as I say."
The answer was not immediate, but when it came, it was the same as it always had been and always will be.
"Yes, my lord."
Elizabeth's new name belongs to her husband, Hugh Grosvenor who was the first Duke of Westminster, a title created by Queen Victoria in 1874.
Thomas was one of the many aliases used by Amelia Dyer, one of the most prolific baby farmers in history. She is suspected to have been responsible for the murder of around 400 babies over the years and is sometimes nicknamed "Jill the Ripper."