I'm sorry it took so long for me to update. I kind of forgot about this story since I'm working on several others... -.-; Hope you enjoy this chapter.
Today's task was polishing the floors. Sebastian had been extremely thorough in explaining to Ainslee exactly how to get the job done, including showing her each of the rooms and pointing out each of the floors' individual characteristics and how to properly deal with them. It was clear that he would have to compensate for the lost time, but it was easier to prepare her than to correct her mistakes later.
After receiving her instructions, Ainslee had glanced (somewhat inquiringly) down at her tools, curtsied, and gotten to work. About ten minutes into it, however, she paused and peered acutely at her fingers. The sheen on them was marred by countless tiny scratches and scuffs, the porcelain unaccustomed to being worn down by manual labor. Pensively returning the rag in her hand to its scrubbing motion on the floorboards, Ainslee wondered if Lord Ciel would have her fixed. For some reason she recalled that he had personally suggested that she scrub floors, but promptly brushed it aside; the young master's wishes were not to be questioned, only obeyed.
Ainslee looked at her fingers again.
"Crafted porcelain: twenty-one pounds," she said to no one in particular. No one in particular heard her or answered.
Ciel happened to pass by her later in the morning. Upon his entrance, the doll immediately flourished a curtsy and greeted him with, "Good morning, Lord Ciel." He grunted and went on his way. Each time he passed by, it was "Good morning, Lord Ciel," or "Good afternoon, Lord Ciel," and later "Good evening, Lord Ciel." It was a humble, respectful salutation, yet her eyes watched him expectantly, almost hungrily, each time he went on without a reply. It sent unpleasant tingles down his spine to know they were upon him. Ainslee went unknowing of this discomfort, although if asked, she would not have known herself why there was hunger in her eyes when she greeted him. She was merely a servant. That was all.
Or was there more?
Ainslee paused in her work again to place a hand over her chest. There was no beat, but she knew something was in there. It was. Like a fragment of Vincent Phantomhive.
It was not unusual for Sebastian to glide silently through the halls after dark, long after his master and the other servants had passed into the ethereal world of dreams. His footsteps were felt more than heard, and the shuddering dance of a set of candles leapt from his gloved hand to invade the dark hallway, the black shadows leaping back indignantly; although he did not need the light, Sebastian was faithfully a "mere butler," even when no one was there to see him so. A kind of velvety silence was layered thickly over the mansion so that each small sound—the building creaking, the wind outside, the tap of a branch against a window—was both muffled and magnified until it all sifted into a dull hum. It could be said, essentially, that every house has its own particular brand of this low orchestra of faint noise such that any occupant of said house could pick out a sound that does not belong in the composition. It was this kind of disturbance that made Sebastian stop and turn to stare piercingly over his shoulder at something far down another hall and up one floor.
Tap. Whirr. Tap. Whirr. Tap. Whirr.
Murmurs. Glass eyes rolling in porcelain sockets.
And then: Tap. Whirr. Tap. Whirr. Tap.
One hall and a flight of stairs later, the candles' sharp light cut into a sharp feminine silhouette. Ainslee was still, too still even for death, because it was as though life had never existed in her to begin with and she was, after all, an empty doll. Sebastian held the candlestick up to her face, noting how the light reflected angularly off of her glass eyes, as well as how it made the crack running down her cheek even darker and more prominent, before addressing her. There was something else reflected there, too—something that, although she was generally expressionless, was clear and recognizable, a strange variety of dread and vulnerability.
"Miss Oakheart, what are you doing here so late?"
One of her lips twitched, just a whisper of a movement.
The rest of her body remained absolutely motionless, but her lips fluttered again and a faint sound slipped from them. Leaning closer, Sebastian could make out further murmurs escaping her carefully sculpted mouth. Only a few scattered words were audible, even to his sharp ears, words like "help" and "no" and "don't…us." Sebastian caught the barest scent of something he knew well, very well—so well the ghost of its flavor teased his tongue. He pulled back.
"Strange," he remarked, although Ainslee gave no sign that she heard him. "How strange that a doll has a soul."
And the key in her back spun slowly as she whispered, "Save us."
Please, Ciel Phantomhive begged silently of the higher power he did not believe in, please get it through her head that I am not my father.
He was ignored. Ainslee Oakheart remained standing in her soldier-straight, prim and proper posture just inside the bathroom door, steel blue eyes holding him with the calm expectancy that neither of them understood. Sebastian, straightening from the side of the bathtub, where his young liege was slick with soap and water, hid a grin of amusement behind mock concern.
"Miss Oakheart, I'm afraid the young master does not require your presence as you say his father did." Ciel heard the laughter in his voice and shot his butler a scathing glare, which was ignored as Sebastian continued, "you may wait outside if you so desire."
Again came the sour, unfamiliar feeling that twisted Ainslee's proverbial stomach as the butler dismissed her. Why did she dislike him so much when he took his place at her—their—master's side? Never had she experienced such distaste when Mr. Tanaka had carried out his duty. But then, Mr. Tanaka had never brushed her off for Vincent Phantomhive.
Pushing the feeling aside, Ainslee curtsied elaborately and said, "I understand. Enjoy your bath, Lord Ciel."
As she turned away, Ciel started to settle back into the bubble bath but paused as his gaze landed on the clock key jutting from her shoulder blade. It was not turning, but something occurred to him and he suddenly stood up in a flurry of startled splashes.
Ainslee stopped and turned her head, her eyebrows raised slightly in silent inquiry and hand still on the doorknob; she did not seem fazed by his bareness and her eyes remained steadily on his face, even as Sebastian wrapped a towel around his shoulders. Stepping out of the tub, Ciel approached her with light slaps of wet feet on tile. His face, although youthful, emanated the resolved power of a master, and Ainslee found herself strangely entranced by it. His slick fingers wrapped around the key and pulled.
A metallic click echoed between the marble walls of the bathroom as the key came out, ringing decisively in the pale shell of Ciel's ear. Ainslee was still. Both Sebastian and Ciel stood as still as she was for a moment with bated breath, and for a moment, relief pooled in Ciel's consciousness. Then she spoke.
"Is something wrong, Lord Ciel?"
His face fell briefly, but he quickly collected himself and turned away. "It's nothing."
Her eyes flicked to the key in his hand and then to his face, and then she left.
As she stood silently outside the door, Ainslee glanced down and lifted the hem of her skirt slightly to reveal a spider's-thread fissure creeping from her right knee up to the midsection of her thigh. It was a souvenir from crawling on hands and knees to clean the floor. The knees of her silk stockings were also looking a little ragged. Pondering the damage, Ainslee let the edge of the skirt drop.
"Silk and crafted porcelain: forty-two pounds." Her voice was clear, but no one heard. No one was there to hear like Vincent Phantomhive.