A/N: Shitty chapter is shitty. I'm sorry for the wait for such a disappointment. /head desk/
Hand on sill, Ciel stared with mild interest and genuine calm at the streets below. His chamber window sported a wonderful view of the land his father so justly ruled; from such a vantage point, the young Prince could see families going about their daily chores, vendors selling their wares and potions. Lovers enjoying a stroll through the late-summer morning. For once, as Ciel looked down upon the varying lives presented before him, he did not resent them for their freedom, rather he basked in the wonder of life as the people of his country battled through daily routine in the golden sunlight of the dawn. He listened with earnest at the rough, metallic beat of hammers and nails, at the idle, contended chatter and birdsong that enveloped the village, and for once marveled at life with the eyes of a child.
Only to be expected of someone who'd brushed hands with Death only one day prior.
He heard his chamber door open and close from behind him, but didn't turn to greet his visitor. "Ah, wonderful, you're already awake, my Lady." Ciel offhandedly nodded in affirmation at the observation, preoccupied with a mother managing two young boys running ahead of her through the slowly crowding streets. "Let's ready you for breakfast, shall we?"
Without another word or comment Tanaka helped Ciel slip into dress similar to the colour of his dark tresses. Once the guise was in place, Tanaka took a seat with a look that meant a long discussion was ahead. "How are you feeling, Ciel?"
"Well enough." The young Prince sat delicately on the edge of his bed, chin in hand. "I. . . I feel better than I have in months, really, perhaps years."
Neither spoke for a long moment, Tanaka idly occupying himself with the pristine uniform gloves adorning his hands, as though unsure how to proceed. "I'm glad to hear so, my Lady. For a short spell we all worried that you weren't going to recover. Even the Physician was clueless."
"Is that so?" Tanaka nodded to Ciel, expression placid. "Mr. Michaelis was the one who had found you. He brought you to the Servants wing and requested to see me. He said he found you in the hallway, unconscious." Ciel looked away at this, pondering the information himself. He had no recollection of meeting Mr. Michaelis, let alone leaving his room. His memory ended at him waking from a nightmare, grappling for his breathing medicine. The thought of Sebastian having touched him made him flinch with worry and sickness. It was best to give a safe story they would want to hear; sugar with the medicine, as his mother would say.
"What can I say?" Ciel began amiably, "I was in a spell of fever-induced lunacy. I remember waking and leaving to seek you out, but nothing more. To be frank, I'm not even sure why I was searching for you, really. Impulse, I suppose."
"And you have no memory of anything else?" Tanaka tried, dark eyes urging him to speak now should there be anything else to the story. Ciel nodded slowly, worrying the headpiece that covered his right eye with one hand. The elderly servant stared for a long moment, hands clasped in thought, before he stood with his typical grandfatherly smile. "Let's join the rest of family for breakfast, shall we?"
Ciel slipped his arm into Tanaka's softly, feeling uncharacteristically at ease as the older man lead the way to the Dinning Hall. Not even his lapse in memory could damper his well-to-do placidity; not even the thought that Sebastian might know everything.
Throughout life, as Ciel had long since learned, there would always be awkward moments presented when you were dealing with the social-elite, specifically people who were above you in the system of wealth and ranks. Ciel had his fair share of moments from various dinner parties and balls he'd been forced to attend over the past sixteen (almost sixteen, he reminded himself) years of his life, but nothing seemed to compare to the awkwardly. . . friendly atmosphere accompanying breakfast that morning.
His father was in even higher spirits than usual, welcoming Ciel to the table with a charming, albeit relieved, smile and inquiring as to how the young Princess felt. Ciel answered offhandedly, uncomfortable with his parents sudden affection and concern. He smiled back warily, occupying himself with his meal and the few servants who dared give their greetings to the temperamental Princess.
As breakfast came to a close, Ciel stood from the table gratefully, handing his plate and cutlery to a waiting servant. Arlen had been quiet throughout breakfast, expression far off. With the kindness befitting an older sister, Ciel offered to escort Arlen to his lessons himself, taking the young boys' hand with a soft smile. Vincent seemed taken aback for a short second, before waving the two away from the grand table with his usual grin.
As the two siblings traversed through the castle corridors, the younger boy said little, clinging to his older siblings hand silently. The world seemed backward today, Ciel being the first to speak. "I'm sorry I missed your birthday, Arlen."
"'S okay," the boy muttered, eyes trained on the tile and stone beneath his feet. Ciel worried his frosted bottom lip, mulling over possible reasons for his younger brother's sudden, uncharacteristic melancholy.
"Perhaps one afternoon we can convince father to allow us a trip into town, so I can make up for missing your real birthday. How's that sound?"
Arlen lifted his head, fixing his sister with uncommon, thoughtful expression. "That'd be fun. I don't get to spend much time with you, Celly. I always have something else I have to do. I don't like it."
Ciel couldn't help himself, his brother's pout was simply too adorable. He settled his free hand on his golden locks, ruffling the tresses with a good natured laugh. "Nor do I, little brother."
Arlen's first lessons of the day were swordsman ship, hence why the two found themselves outside the training area after their short stroll from the Dinning Hall. Ciel grimaced at the thought of Sebastian being on the other side of the doors, sword in hand and preparing to teach Arlen how to properly defend himself. He didn't like that man, truly, and he surely didn't like that man spending copious amounts of time with his impressionable younger sibling.
Keeping a strained smile in place for Arlen's sake, he opened the door ahead of his brother, the hinges creaking sharply with the movement and making Ciel grit his teeth. "Good morning, Mr. Michaelis." Arlen raised one dainty, calloused hand in a jovial wave, spying his teacher from across the room. Ciel pretended to be busy fixing the Family tapestry on the other side of the door, avoiding the older man's stare.
"Good morning, Master Arlen. Oh, and good morning to you as well, Princess." Sebastian swept into a bow at the heirs' appearance, and Ciel couldn't help but feel that the motion was mocking. As Sebastian straightened, Ciel eyed the man's calm expression warily, wondering how much he knew. On a passing whim, Arlen leaned into his sister's side in a halfhearted hug, one arm wrapped around the lace and frills of his skirts. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Celly."
With that said, the heir to the Throne left his sibling's side and made his way towards the racks of armor and training swords. The moment felt dreadful, watching Arlen walk away from him. He almost felt as though he was being left behind, and the stinging aftereffect of unfairness settled itself in his breast.
"Have fun," Ciel called, nodding tersely in Sebastian's general direction. The heir turned, heading from the room as he heard Sebastian speaking to Arlen in low tones behind him. Caught up as he was in his facade of bored composure, he failed to notice the dark-haired Knight approaching till he was standing at his elbow, a good natured smile seemingly fixed permanently upon his lips.
"How are you feeling, my Lady? You look much better than you did when you were collapsed in the hallway." Ciel rounded to face the taller man, far shorter even with his heeled boots adorning his feet. He was torn between thanking the man and taking his leave, and inquiring as to just how much he knew.
". . . thank you. If it wasn't for you, I probably wouldn't be standing here now. Thank you, truly, Mr. Michaelis." Ciel lowered his chin in respect, refusing to meet the man's amused stare. Sebastian chuckled from above him, and Ciel could practically hear the trademark smirk in his voice as he spoke, "It was my duty and pleasure, my Lady. What kind of servant would I be if I couldn't do such a thing for my Lord's beautiful heir?"
Before Ciel could speak, reprimand him for saying such an embarrassing thing and fight back his blush, Sebastian dropped to one knee, ever the epitome of grace, and brought Ciel's pallid left hand to his lips in a chaste kiss.
Ciel felt his lower mandible drop, the shock he felt showing clearly on his countenance. The man glanced up from under his lowered eyelids, a devil-may-care smile tilting his lips upwards at the corners where they were still pressed to Ciel's flushed skin. All thought of questioning Sebastian's knowledge forgotten, the blue-eyed youth tore his hand from Sebastian's grasp, catching a glimpse of the rubicund colour of the man's eyes before stalking off down the hallway, leaving Sebastian alone on one knee with an expression of sincere hurt in his eyes.
"The audacity of that man!"
Ciel strode down the empty stone and tile corridor, a whirlwind of sapphire and ashen tones, with all the fury of a woman scorned. His right hand cradled his left against the laced bosom of his azure dress, face twisted in angelic rage.
To be honest, Ciel wasn't even sure himself why he was so suddenly angry. Perhaps it was the surprise that pushed him over the edge, but he dared not ponder it. Breathing deep, he allowed the clicking of his heels against the shining floors to guide him to Tanaka in the kitchens. By the time he reached the entrance doors, he had calmed himself, his acidic feelings bottled for later use. Tanaka was aiding the Triplets in washing and arranging the golden-designed plates from that morning's breakfast. Maylene was the first to notice the Princess' uncommon presence.
"Good morning, my Lady! Can we help you with something?"
Tanaka turned at Maylene's greeting, dark eyes glittering with curiosity and suspicion. "Princess Ciel, whatever are you up to?" Tanaka's tone held his common grandfatherly jest, but Ciel could hear the sharp edges underneath.
"I was hoping for another training session, Tanaka," Ciel stated, turning from the bustling kitchen scene, "But I see that you're busy."
"Nonsense." The elderly man laid the dish rag that had been clasped between his aged palms down, flashing a kindly smile. "Surely you all can finish up here without an old man such as myself?" The three Triplets nodded, giving varying stages of wary smiles. Maylene agreed, cautiously placing a dish on the storage shelf.
Ciel led the way to the outer gardens with a pace that left Tanaka meters behind in his leisurely stroll, anger still controlling his actions. Mindful of his hands, Ciel drew two tarnished swords from the old training shed, handing one to Tanaka and taking a defensive stance.
The white-haired servant weighted the sword in his right hand, muttering about it feeling off balance before pointing it in Ciel's direction with the skill of a Knight. After an elongated moment of hesitation, Tanaka gave the green light and Ciel rushed forward, his sword hooking an arc to the left and clashing against Tanaka's with a loud clang.
Tanaka moved nary a step, blocking each of Ciel's attacks with ease and grace, left arm folded behind his back. The epitome of composure and self-confidence. Meanwhile, Ciel was working out all his demons against the older man, struggling to keep his footing in the ostentatious clothing. He made sloppy moves meant for power rather than tactics, just as Tanaka had taught him not to do. Ciel had known he wouldn't win against his mentor, and it came as no surprise when Tanaka side stepped him, twisting his weapon from his grasp with his own and sending Ciel sprawling backwards.
Ciel stayed there for a moment, back to the grassy earth with one arm thrown over his eyes, before shifting into a tired sitting position. Tanaka took a seat next to him on the grassy plain, folding his coat tails beneath him. Above, the sun shone golden tones and the skies boasted fair weather, the world at peace.
"So, do you care to talk about what's bothering you, my Lady?"
Ciel drew his knees to his chest, smooth his skirts before resting his cheek against the material. All the good natured happiness he'd felt that morning, waking alive and well, had vanished. All that was left was worry and distrust, and he wasn't sure where to go from there.
"What of him?"
"I don't trust him."
"Nor do I, Ciel."
". . . do you think he knows?"
Tanaka considered his question for a long moment, watching a pair of nearby bluejays thoughtfully. "It is likely. But, I don't think he means to take any action with the information at the current. Perhaps waiting for a more opportune moment. A bargain of sorts, I suppose."
"So, what do we do? If anyone finds out. . ."
"At the moment, there isn't much we can do," Tanaka rose, proffering a hand to the young Prince, "we can't be sure he knows, but it is safer for us to assume that he does. All we can do right now is keep our composure and go about our daily routines as though nothing is wrong."
Ciel slipped his hand into Tanaka's gloved one, stumbling to his feet. "Acting as though nothing is wrong? Surely I'm a master at that by now, I'd wager." Tanaka began to lead the dark-haired boy out of the back portion of the gardens towards the front of the castle, arms linked and expressions solemn.
"Indeed, I'd wager as well."
Ciel resisted the urge to bury his face in Tanaka's coat arm, groaning at what was quickly becoming an all too familiar voice. The older man patted Ciel's hand reassuringly. Sebastian Michaelis descended the castle's front steps, seemingly in a hurry. His onyx fringe was plastered to his forehead with sweat, his clothes damp and fitting in the midday sun. He stopped before the duo, breathing slightly ragged as he bowed.
"The King wishes to see you in the Throne room. Consulting."
"Ah. Inform the King I shall be there soon. I must escort the Princess to her quarters first."
Tanaka moved to step around the young man, but he held up a hand in warning, his expression apologetic. Ciel felt ice settle in his stomach as Sebastian spoke, "Pardon, but the King said it's urgent."
Tanaka's dark eyes glanced between Sebastian and Ciel helplessly, his grip on Ciel's small hand tightening ever so slightly. Sebastian seemed oblivious to the two's discontent. "I will escort the Princess to her quarters, if you wish," Sebastian bowed once more, head ducked to hide his expression from view.
Ciel sighed to himself, realizing that he wasn't the one in control here. Sebastian wanted to walk alone with him, for whatever reason, and he would have it. He noticed the determination set in his earth-and-blood eyes when he'd met them at the bottom of the stairs. With visible reluctance, Ciel released his hold on Tanaka's arm, giving the elderly servant a cloying smile.
"Go ahead, Tanaka. I have faith that Mr. Michaelis can manage to escort me to my quarters without incident." Ciel caught Sebastian's disbelief at his words, one dark brow rising in incredulous amusement, but said nothing. Tanaka watched Ciel's expression thoughtfully for a moment before nodding and leaving the two with a brusque parting.
Sebastian offered an arm, devilish grin in place on his handsome countenance once more. "Shall we go, my Lady?"
"I've just realized," Ciel began, all sugary smiles and false tones of flirtation, "that I know nothing of you, Mr. Michaelis." They were strolling leisurely in the shade of the castle corridors in the direction of Ciel's chambers, and Ciel resolved to use this time productively. To him, productivity meant wheeling information out of the new Knight.
"I suppose I could say the same, my Lady," Sebastian returned after a moment, expression almost smug in the midday light.
"Married? Children?" Ciel added a curious giggle for good measure, but Sebastian's face remained placid and uninterested. "I'm afraid I'll have to answer no to both the former and the latter, Princess."
"You've never married? Or at least thought of it?"
"No, I'm afraid I have not."
How odd, Ciel mused to himself. Sebastian was- undeniably- handsome and obviously educated. The life of a sworn Knight wasn't a glamorous one, but the pay was a healthy sum and there were many advantages to working for the ruling Family. He was the type of man most women would die to marry.
"How old are you, if you don't mind me asking, Sebastian?"
The older man seemed to falter, caught off guard by the question. He took a few moments to gather his bearings, the patter of their heels the only sound in the heavy silence.
"I turned 24 just this past Spring season, my Lady."
"Ah," Ciel turned his face away, feigning disinterest in the subject, "getting on in your years, aren't you?"
Ciel swore he saw a muscle in the Knight's face twitch, but his smile stayed in place none-the-less. He even added a kindly bout of laughter. "I suppose so, Princess."
They continued on in silence, their footfalls the only accompaniment once more, and Ciel grew aware of how short his time had become as they passed his father's study. "Do you plan to marry?"
Sebastian shook his head, one hand reaching back to ruffle the dark strands plastered to the back of his neck absentmindedly. There was no hesitation in his answer this time. "In truth, I do not. The married life isn't for me, my Lady." He turned, giving Ciel a provocative, all-knowing smile. The young Prince turned his head, fighting back the rush of heat to his cheeks at the devilish look.
"Thank you for accompanying me, Sebastian," Ciel turned away, one hand on the brass handle of his door. Once again, Sebastian broke boundaries and caught Ciel off guard; one gloved hand reached around and rested on Ciel's gracefully, preventing him from opening the door or moving away. His other hand slid upwards, resting on the Prince's shoulder as he leaned flush against him, and Ciel forced himself to repress his shiver at the proximity. Honestly, the man's gull. . .!
The older man's breath ghosted across his neck, soft and teasing, as his lips came to rest against his left ear. He could feel the Knight's smile against his skin, and gulped back his tremors.
"Have a good evening, little Prince," he muttered, pressing a light kiss the to the cartilage of his blushing ear, "And remember who you belong to."
As suddenly as he had been there, Sebastian's extra weight vanished and Ciel was left there, clutching the door handle with white knuckles and straining tendons. The young heir whirled, looking for a sign of the Knight in the corridor, but Sebastian had completely disappeared. Slowly, cautiously, he pressed his back to the door, face the colour of Sebastian's exotic eyes and a warning coiling in his stomach.
"Remember who you belong to."