CHAPTER 5 : Petit Fours
You've made it clear I don't belong with you…
…So do I belong under you? On top of you? Behind you? Around your neck? Between your legs? Spread over your body? Bent over your lap? Pinned beneath your chest? I imagine it in all ways. The possibilities are endless. I see now; it is hopeless to let go of you. I give in to despair over and over again, knowing before and after that I can never have you. Yet I have no choice but to love you; despicably, completely, pathetically.
Alois lay on his huge four-poster bed, staring up at the ornately carved decorations that made up its ceiling. He had been awake for hours already, lost in his daydreaming. He turned his dazed head towards the window, and judged by the incoming light that it was almost midday. As the sun hit his sky blue eyes, he cringed them shut and stubbornly twisted his body away.
"Today cannot start. It's impossible for me to face him ever again," Alois muttered into his pillow determinedly.
But he was fighting a losing battle; any moment now, Claude would come through his bedroom doors, just as he had everyday since the first morning after their contract had begun. In fact, it was a wonder the butler had not arrived hours ago…
Alois flung himself up from the warm comfort of his blankets and gasped, "What if he's up and left me?"
Wild panic threatened to seize him, but as his wide eyes darted around the room he spied the tell-tale signs of Claude's daily presence.
"No…the water stand and my clothes have been set out in exactly the way he always does them," his voice sighed as he calmed, "…Oh…."
It seemed Claude had come before schedule and left everything to Alois to handle for the very first time. Alois wondered nervously what this meant. Was Claude going to avoid dressing his master from now on?
"He can't do that. I'll make him return to me. He can't disobey an order. But…do I want him that close? ...That bastard will drive me insane with his blank stares!"
Yesterday was terrible, but it seemed today might be just as difficult for Alois. Never before had Claude failed to show up for him in the mornings. It was an unspoken duty that even simple human butlers performed without faltering. For a demon contracted to a soul to ignore this requirement was absolutely disgraceful. Was it an act bourn of defiance, or of the wish to not cause another argument?
But Alois' thoughts did not stop there. The more he contemplated Hannah being the one who prepared his room this morning, and she telling him that Claude had left at dawn and by now had most likely traveled miles away, the more Alois fidgeted in unease. Inevitably, he felt the urge to abandon his anti-butler post to venture into the mansion. Even if that meant he had to put his own clothes on.
"Now…let's see…shirt is first…" Alois inspected the neatly folded pile of garments resting on a wooden stand in the corner. He made short work of the pile, withdrawing a silken ivory shirt with long sleeves, buttoned down the front. There was a black pair of his favourite type of shorts (he liked to call them booty shorts, which always made Claude give a look of discomfort), and a blue vest a few shades deeper than his eye colour. He slid on a mutely-toned burgundy frock coat along with his customary black stockings that rested up to his thighs, but when it came to tying the ribbons, he met his match. Both his knee-high boots and black neck ribbon mocked him as he struggled vainly to perfect their presentation in the mirror.
"Why won't you go straight? Honestly..."
He sat on the edge of his bed and stretched one leg up against a post. He steadied his heel and reached up to secure the ribbon, but the glossy thread were so slippery that he resorted to leaning forward and biting the ends between his teeth as to hold them in place.
Truly, Alois had no clue.
He was used to dressing himself in simpler clothes, but it seemed Claude liked to make things complicated for him. Alois saw the fussy little knots his butler tied within moments, and how pleasingly well the bows had formed between his dexterous gloved hands. Their ends were at perfectly even lengths, down to the millimeter, and the wings of the bows were fat and nicely ridged at their centers. Alois' uneven, lumpy bows were nothing like Claude's.
Disgruntled, he tossed the black neck ribbon aside and yanked at the front of his ivory shirt, so that his creamy white skin peeped from behind the unbuttoned front. He smiled slyly. As for the matching burgundy ribbons on his boots, Alois settled for them resting lopsidedly below his kneecaps, and neatened his hair briefly with a large silver hairbrush.
Finally ready, and slightly disheveled, Alois cautiously opened the double doors of his room. Except that they wouldn't budge. He was so used to Claude doing everything for him, that he didn't even know how firmly the door handles had to be turned. Muttering darkly, he wrenched the doors roughly open. But instantly, he regretted announcing his presence with so much noise, lest he attract a certain demon's attention. Alois wasn't ready for it yet.
"…Why am I… Oh, don't be such a fool!" Alois chided his nerves, and at that moment his stomach rumbled. He had missed breakfast, and dinner besides from yesterday. He had been to shy to have Claude serve him anything.
With a determined air about him, Alois strode down the corridor and down a flight of wide marble steps, and found his way to his private dining room all on his own. On bursting into the large blue room, the Triplets looked up from their work; they seemed to be repairing the deep dent he'd made in the cherry hardwood floors after Hannah awoke him from his daydream, and he kicked out harshly with his boots.
Who was she to intervene? She was mocking me with her calm façade… trying to destroy my only moments with Claude, as if she were doing me a kindness. Bitch.
"Don't tell me it took you three this long, and you still haven't fixed that tiny scratch? This is truly laughable," he fixed the Triplets with a cruel smile, "The three of you aren't worth even half of Cl-…Get a move on, damn you!"
They stared at him for one uncomfortable moment, then exchanged a quick, knowing glance and got back to their task. Alois curled his lip in irritation as he watched them. It seemed all his servants had turned on him in one way or another.
"Hannah!" he cried, and in moments the demoness bowed her master a greeting in the doorway. He turned away from her coldly, speaking over his shoulder, "Bring me lunch."
Hannah was hesitant to reply. Both she and Alois were thinking the same thing; this was something Claude usually did. For the first time, Alois was depending on her instead, and to Hannah this was an honor. A small smile crept onto her lips, "…Yes, Your Highness."
Alois made himself comfortable on a lounge at the side of the room. He kicked up his heels onto one arm of the lounge and laid his head down on a seat, and stretched his arms back over his head to touch the other arm of the lounge. After ten short minutes Hannah returned with a cart laden with goodies. Alois observed her re-enter the room with skepticism, like a spoilt cat glaring half-heartedly at its human. He slothfully rose from his back to approach the table she was setting for him. As he stood he motioned to her to back down, and so she bowed and kneeled, waiting for his judgement.
"Let's see if you're any good at cooking…" he ran a cursory glance over the spread before him, "What do we have here? Sandwiches? They're the best you could come up with?"
"And petit fours, You Highness," Hannah replied meekly. She would try to appease him, if only to gain less of his usual hatred.
Upon the table was a large selection of miniature, finely-cut rectangle sandwiches, with numerous combinations, including; cucumber, lettuce and tarragon butter, honeyed ham, watercress and cheddar cheese, roast beef, mint and Dijon mustard, cold chicken, sliced pecan and avocado, smoked salmon, dill, capers and cream cheese, sweet crab meat, mayonnaise, pepper and lemon; these delectable fillings were jammed between soft, snowy-white slices of bread. Crusts off, of course, and each ingredient cut to even perfection.
Alois seized one and rudely thumbed through it, exposing the delicate fillings within, "I doubt I can stomach anything made by your dirty hands."
"Please, Your Highness, for you my cleanliness standards are of the highest level. I have also prepared you two types of tea: Darjeeling and Jasmine."
"Jasmine? I don't consume flowers."
"It's delicately sweet and fragrant, you might enjoy it…if you try it…" she trailed off, hoping she hadn't pushed her moody young master too far.
A tense moment passed between them. The fact was, Claude had wounded Alois and left his side this morning. The young teen felt discarded and lonelier than he cared to acknowledge. And he was also afraid. He hated Hannah even more than he ordinarily hated demons, but at the moment his loathing towards Claude was king. He wasn't sure how much he needed some semblance of warm company, and whether that could override his eternal repulsion towards her.
Instinctively Alois raised an arm, and Hannah waited without flinching for the slap that was to come. He brought it down with a startling shout, but as it neared her face, he slowed his hand and cupped her cheek in his palm. It was an eerily gentle act; not something Alois was prone to. Tilting her smooth visage to peer up at her master, a cold smile formed on his lips.
Alois used his eyes to motion towards the food she had prepared, "I think this will do. Just don't you ever think you can take Claude's place. Understand?"
"Absolutely, Your Highness," she whispered, and Alois released her carelessly. Without word, he took to his chair and she rose to tuck him in.
Two ornate teapots housed the Darjeeling and Jasmine tea. Both were infused with floral essences, and had light body and colouring. Hannah selected the Jasmine tea for Alois and began pouring it out into her master's cup, hands steady and nimble. The pool of transparent gold liquid steamed up to Alois, surrounding him with a gentle luring sweetness. It reminded him of something else familiar, promising, and unfathomable.
"…Where is Claude?" he asked, a hint of danger sharpening the end of his tone.
Hannah settled the teapot onto its stand with a slight falter, "Claude has left on a mission of great importance, Your Highness."
"What? Where is he?" Alois' cold façade crumbled away as he automatically slapped his hands down on the tablecloth.
"He has gone to spy on the Phantomhive mansion. He left this morning after preparing Your Highness' room. He said you had expressed a wish to be alone when he attempted to wake you, and so explained we were not to disturb you unless you called for us. I didn't expect Your Highness to dress without aid."
"I don't remember saying anything to him…" Alois muttered doubtfully. He snapped, "Never mind. When will he be back?"
"'By dusk', he said. He is taking in visual information on the target of your contract, 'Ciel Phantomhive'. Of course, you may call him back sooner if you so wish-"
"No. I'd rather leave him where he is…to further us along our goals," Alois enforced his false reasoning, "That is a part of his contract, after all."
"Contact…it is strange that while some obligations require one to remain beside one's master, others demand one remain at a distance…"
Alois simply frowned at this; he didn't care for Hannah's mindless chatter. Turning his focus towards the mighty spread of sweets and sandwiches, an idea struck him.
"Sit, Hannah," he motioned to the opposite side of the table.
Hannah blushed, "Maids cannot dine with their masters, You Highness."
"I said sit. You will eat what I will eat. And if it tastes like total crap, we'll only have you to blame. Sit," Alois again directed her with his hand. A stubborn frown now overhung his sky blue eyes.
She obediently pulled up a second chair and sat quietly with her head bowed. Alois stared at her from across the table, bemused but without true malice, "Is this how you plan to entertain your master? Honestly, it was more interesting when I beat you."
Hannah's lips trembled, "If that is what would please my master…"
Perhaps I should scald you with hot tea?" Alois smiled and reached towards a teapot handle casually, "Ah, but that would ruin everything here, and I am very hungry. Well then, maybe later."
He began helping himself to a small salmon and dill sandwich, and was silently pleased with the taste he discovered. Using slender sliver tongs, Alois selected glazed thin slices of orange and pink grapefruit that were layered alternatively in a circular pattern on a plate, like segments of bright crystals. Hannah remained still and silent.
"Hannah," Alois insisted, this time in an almost friendly manner, "Take something, will you? I can't eat all this by myself."
As her master continued sampling the spread, Hannah struggled internally. Servants were never to eat beside their masters. Why was hers insisting upon it when he hated her so? But servants, above all, must never neglect a direct order from their master. And so, carefully she selected a spare plate, cup and saucer from the serving cart and prepared herself to feast.
The Triplets had finished work, but were hanging in the background just to see what Alois would do to Hannah. And now they were fixated by the scene of maid and master dining together, almost pleasantly. This was not their usual Alois Trancy. But, what was usual in Alois to begin with? They watched curiously as Hannah selected a miniature sandwich.
"What's in these?" Alois prodded the silver tongs at the cake stand of petit fours.
"Silky vanilla sponge cake and a layer of strawberry jam. I have noticed your partiality for strawberries."
Well, Alois did like his strawberries. He chose a square petit four covered in blue icing adorned with a white edible bow, and took a bite at the edge of the gift box look-alike. It was delicious. Not willing to praise Hannah in the slightest, he set aside the blue petit four for a heart-shaped pink one with the decoration of a red heart on top. It too, was delicious. Alois reached lustily for a third, it being round, white and tall, casually lashed with lines of hard chocolate sauce and featuring a tiny handmade strawberry resting cutely in its centre. He took nips of one of each style on the cake stand, of which there were several. Each style of petit four Hannah had made was different from the last in flavour and design, but was each equally as satisfying. He could stand to eat these more often.
"I wonder why Claude never makes these? They're so sweet."
Hannah thought it best not to answer, and so offered something else in the way of conversation, "I am very happy that Your Highness finds them satisfactory to his tastes."
Alois stole a glance from over the fat vase of camellias in the middle of the table to glare at her.
Damn you. Don't try to suck up to me. Demons and demonesses alike. All are liars and traitors.
Even though on one level he was beginning to enjoy himself, too much had scarred Alois to ever let his guard down. And the fiasco with Claude yesterday was enough to make him never forget that. He watched his maid carefully, his caution masked by a cold gaze. The Triplets watched anxiously at the sight. But Hannah seemed content in enjoying what little pleasure he had allowed her. She bit into the corner of a yellow petit four with a small purple rose and savoured its lavender aroma.
Deeming her no current threat, Alois reclined lazily and let out a soft sigh. It didn't matter that Hannah looked up at this moment; he could pretend he was being bored. He took a small sip at his tea, and quickly returned for a longer taste, as the aroma filled the back of his throat warmly and soothingly.
Hannah looked back down to the spread, and, boldly, she felt, took a honeyed ham sandwich and a little Darjeeling tea for herself. The master heard her movements but was swirling the golden liquid of his teacup absentmindedly. He did not seem to mind, and so she continued sampling her fare. Timber, the middle triplet, caught her eye from behind Alois, and she returned it with a small smile. Alois started up from his reverie and caught her line of sight. He abruptly twisted around and laid an arm across the back of his chair to face the Triplets.
"Oh, and what do you three want?"
They lowered their heads silently, knowing they could not please their master even if they tried. Or, was it that when they tried he grew angry? No one could tell with Alois.
"I guess you fools are hungry too, huh? …Get over here." After that strange demand, Alois turned his back to them without a care, and began munching on the end of a roast beef and watercress miniature.
The Triplets hung in the background whispering to each other, not sure what was to become of them. Hannah forced herself not to form the expression of surprise she felt within, and beckoned the Triplets with her eyes to approach. They came quickly and bowed before their master.
Alois didn't bother turning to face them, "Sit where you are. That's right, cross your legs. All good dogs must sit when they are told."
The Triplets sat on the hardwood floor of dark cherry and waited, hoping dearly that they would not be bathed in boiling hot Darjeeling.
Alois selected a petit four with the tongs, a caramel-coloured one adorned with a cream-coloured butterfly, and held it above the heads of the Triplets, as if they were animals waiting for a feed, "…Hannah, which one is Cantebury? I can never tell."
"Cantebury is Your Highness' servant with a fringe on the left side of his face," Hannah explained politely.
A lover of entertainment, Alois began to grin cheerfully, "Get ready to catch this. Oh, and don't you dare use your hands."
Cantebury blinked and exchanged a look with his brothers, but obediently rose to snap the petit four butterfly into his mouth as it was tossed to him. Alois giggled at the sight.
"Yes, that's it! You too, Timber, Thompson. You all get one," Alois tossed one to them in turn, "And where would we be without sandwiches?"
The Triplets turned to each other in attempt to form a suitable answer.
"Ugh…No where. So, here!" the boy threw a miniature sandwich at the middle brother's face obnoxiously, but Timber seemed not to mind. It bounced off his nose, but he caught it before it reached the ground and began to chew at the leafy lettuce and cucumber within.
Alois laughed louder and sent two sandwiches carelessly at Thompson and Cantebury, who followed their brother's lead. And with that, all in the room were contentedly feasting in a pleasant silence. Alois sat amongst the demons he despised, for the moment without passion, and took another sip of his jasmine tea. He no longer harbored the desire to scald them all half to death with a teapot this afternoon, and that was good enough for him. Hannah passed Alois a style of petit four he hadn't tried, and the Triplets rose up to the table to sneak more sandwiches.
What a strange sight it was.
Note: When Alois threatened to scald Hannah with hot tea, I was reminded of YuGiOh! The Abridged Series, when Bakura was sending up the Dark Knight moive with his "Why so Brittish" line. Look it up if you don't know what I mean. Alright, Claude returns next chapter, and Alois is overjoyed...but he can't erase the awkwardness between them. Claude pretends nothing has happened, but he begins a game that Alois is helpless to put an end to...this is going to get scary.
Rate and review! See you next time!