This Immortal Coil
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of Yana Toboso and Square Enix, Co. Ltd. I don't own them; I just examine all their possibilities.
Part 1: And then everything went wrong
14 March, 1890
Reaper Dispatch Offices-London
The note had been placed in his mailbox late that evening. It wasn't there when he checked it in the afternoon, though the cream-colored envelope labeled simply "Mr. Grell N. Sutcliff" was there when he checked his messages for the last time before clocking out for the day.
It now rested on the bed table, leaning against a white vase of irises. Grell glanced at it for a moment before putting his magazine down. While he tried to avoid business right before bed lest it bother his sleep, it was best to give this one more read through to fully understand what was being expected. He placed the issue of The Athenaeum on the table, crossing his legs under his red silk nightgown and delicately picking up the envelope. Grell pried out the letter with his red nails, tossing the envelope aside and reading.
By now you have examined your list of deaths for tomorrow. No doubt you have read the entry for Matilda Cornwall — scheduled to die at 11:22 a.m. from massive organ trauma and blood loss — and seen in the preliminary narrative who will also be present. As with the previous cases, you have been given this one for a reason.
Though we of course do not know the exact play of events, though it is assumed the demon will act before his master.
Tomorrow we would like you to pay special attention to the following:
-A few more details on the demon's fighting style.
-Any specific otherworldly powers.
-If possible a clearer description of the contract mark on his hand to decipher any specific scripts or symbols.
At this point we are asking for only minute details for clarification. We are very close to knowing the true identity of this creature and that is all thanks to your intelligence. You will receive £1 for your efforts as usual, but, as promised, we will give you an additional £10 as a final reward once our researchers confirm the identity of "Sebastian Michaelis."
We await your report tomorrow evening.
Grell smirked, placing the note back in its envelope and tossing it on the bed table. He took off his glasses and placed them on top of the envelope before blowing out the candle. Grell pulled the burgundy covers over his form and settled into bed with a wide smile.
It was best to get plenty of rest now. Tomorrow would be a busy day; a busy but wonderful day. He would be seeing his demonic prince tomorrow and receiving a pretty amount of coin for his time.
Tomorrow would be a grand day indeed.
15 March, 1890
Reaper Dispatch Offices-London
William could have easily paged Ms. Thompson for a pot of tea right now. He had been doing that on at least an hourly basis since getting to his office at 3 in the morning to take care of the blasted quarterly reports. At that time Ms. Harmon was finishing the evening shift and got him his first pot of coffee, a job that fell to Ms. Thompson when she came on in the morning. Since then she had performed this job admirably, not to mention bringing his toad-in-the-hole in at the right time so it was still hot.
Now he was actually walking to the dining hall for his tea, risking some small talk and sideways glances from subordinates passing by him in the corridor that would only put him in a fouler mood than he was in at the moment. This was, however, but his own choosing; at this point he just wanted to get the hell out of his office. William knew that his predicament was mostly his own fault.
He could have easily blamed a steady stream of cases and new reporting requirements for tripping up his attention to these important documents. The truth was though he just didn't feel like looking at them and put them off to the last minute. As much as he scolded himself now for not doing his due diligence and putting himself through this mess, he knew this wasn't the first time this had happened and probably wouldn't be the last. Fortunately they only wanted these once every four months; he had another four after this to put them off.
William walked into the dining hall, seeing a number of reapers of various departments sitting around small tables covered in white table cloths with a different flower vase planted on the middle of each one. He took a teacup from a table on the side and put in a simple teabag, adding boiling water from a pot on a side counter. Loose tea was always better than the bagged variety, but this was quick. He took the cup and walked around to find a nice empty table in a quiet corner somewhere. William only noticed the mane of red hair off to the side when it was too late.
"Care for a breakfast date, Will darling?" that voice said.
Sutcliff crossed his legs and raised his own teacup to get William's attention. His red coat was draped over the back of his chair, naturally he would have blended in a bit better. The thought of having to listen to this one's yammering for the next hour made William's head ache a bit more. However the though of spending the next hour with figures bouncing through his brain was a less pleasant thought, if it was even possible. It was a matter of which was the lesser evil at the moment; having somewhat of a distraction, though, sounded a bit more appealing.
"Might as well," William said with a huff, pulling out a chair and sitting down across from Sutcliff. "Though don't call this a date or any other of your lewd suggestions."
"My, my, William's a cranky boy this morning," Grell said.
"William has been doing actual work all morning, quite a bit of important work," William said, settling his saucer on the table.
"And you think I've just been lazing around," Grell said. "You should know I've been about since 7. This is my first break of the day."
"You poor annoying thing."
"You really are in a mood this morning. How about I give you a massage tonight." He leaned across the table closer to William. "You always used to love it when I did that."
William rolled his eyes, so he was bringing this up again.
"Well I'm going to be up with these bloody reports through the evening and last I checked you have a full schedule," William said, dunking the bag in his tea before taking it out and putting it on the saucer. "There will be no room for frivolity today."
"Sadly for you," Grell said, sipping from his cup. "Though I have a hot date later this morning."
William spooned some sugar from the porcelain bowl on the table and stirred it into his tea with a grimace.
"Dearest Bassie will be at my 11 o'clock," Grell almost hissed, leaning over the table again and leaning on one elbow. "Perhaps I should put on a bit of perfume before I go."
"Usually running into a demon during an assignment is not something to celebrate," William said, taking a sip. "If we happen to lose a soul…"
"Oh perish the thought," Grell said with a wave of his hand. "He's just there to support Earl Whelp."
Grell took a look around and leaned in a bit more. Time for some "juicy gossip," though William already knew what this was about.
"You know all the clerics we have been collecting in the past few weeks, ones who have been dying nastily," Grell said in a low tone. "Well my next client is the one who's been doing it. She looks like an innocent old bag, but she's vicious. Not to mention the bitch is amazingly strong despite her illness. You've seen the ways some of those bodies have been hoisted up."
"I've just had breakfast, I'd rather not think on it," William said.
"Well this is merely a lesson not to underestimate the strength of women," Grell said with coy smile.
"Especially real women," William said, ignoring the small slap across the shoulder he received.
"Anyway, I believe the earl has been investigating her and they're doing the final confrontation today," Grell said. "And I will be there for all of it. This is going to be so exciting. I'm still trying to guess how she's going to go, perhaps the brat will put her to her final end. Bassie might rough her up a bit but he'll leave her for the kid to play with."
Considering how many people Earl Phantomhive "played with" at Baron Kelvin's manor, it probably wasn't an inaccurate assessment. It sickened William to think on how Sutcliff was looking forward to this, then again Sutcliff was mad pure and simple. One did not question too much of a lunatic's reasoning lest one fall into his madness.
The thought occurred to him that Sutcliff had been given quite a few assignments as of late involving the earl and his horrible butler. This was the fourth one in the past six months that he was aware of. Reapers did not choose their own assignments, for some reason Sutcliff was receiving regular exposure to the nephew of a woman he killed horribly; a nephew who was nearly successful in getting him killed. What the hell were the bosses thinking? Maybe it was a form of rehabilitation, or maybe redemption by having him work amicably with someone he so wounded. Or perhaps they wanted Sutcliff to get killed.
It was a ridiculous suggestion and most impractical. If the higher-ups wanted a reaper gone, they would sack him plain and simple. Only in the rarest of cases was outright elimination even considered and only for the most horrifying of offenses. William pried his thoughts away from one recent case involving an elimination order on a senior reaper. The name of said reaper and his ailing companion were whispered like a haunting secret through the halls of dispatch: Eric Slingby and Alan Humphries.
William never carried out the order; Sebastian Michaelis did, though the end results were still the same according to the Council. William did not care to ponder whether he regretted not carrying out Eric Slingby's execution or whether the demon did him a favor. Killing one's own kind was a horrifying thought; the death of one's own kind was tragedy enough. The deaths of two reapers had cast enough of a pall over the Association. The thought had crossed his mind a hundred times if killing Slingby at that opera would have saved Humphries' life. It was a wasted thought; Humphries was going to die anyway, perhaps Slingy did one last good deed for his lover by killing him. A scythe wound to the neck had to be less painful than the Thorns of Death.
William shoved aside his bleak thoughts and back to the question at hand. No, the Council never ordered suicide missions. There had to be a reason why Sutcliff was being sent out on these cases; likely to keep an eye on the demon or perhaps it was nasty business best left for him than any self-respecting reaper.
"You're taste in entertainment leaves a lot to be desired," William said.
"At least I take pleasure in my job," Grell said, shooting a look over to William.
"No, Sutcliff, you take pleasure in the foulest of business," William said, taking a long sip.
"I see no difference between the two. Perhaps I simply take joy in all things, you should try it sometime."
"Unlike some people I have taste."
"Unlike some people I actually have some humor."
"Your humor frightens me."
Grell interlocked his fingers and rested his chin on his hands, flashing a charming, pointed-tooth grin.
"Are you jealous of Bassie?" Grell said. "Does it rile you up that I've been spending some hot, violent time with him?"
"Yes, I'm jealous of a rotting carrion crow," William said. "What the bloody hell do you think? Besides I am plagued enough by your presence already, I'm jealous that demon doesn't have to deal with you as much as I do."
"Oh you have such a way with words, Will darling," Grell said, clutching his chest dramatically. "You're a man after my own heart."
"Honestly," William said, adjusting his glasses and focusing back on his tea. Fortunately a thought occurred to him that would change the subject. "On more important matters, I will be summoning you for your one-year review within the next week."
It had been nearly one year since the completion of Sutcliff's 90-day suspension order following the "Jack the Ripper" incident. The Council wanted a review as to how he had progressed in the past year.
"Oh God," Grell said with a groan. "And you will find I have been nothing but a good girl this whole year."
"Well those particulars shall be reviewed," William said, suddenly remembering something else. "I am also curious as to why I was asked to review your renewal form for Gray Metal handling certification. You know you're never going to get that certificate back following that certain incident."
Authorization forging and forming Gray Metal, or the steel infused with death energy that made all scythe blades, was only given to the weaponsmiths in the Procurement Department. Dispatch members could go through the training and safe handling instructions to do repairs and authorized design work on blades. Sutcliff had such a certificate, though it was naturally revoked after he was charged with using a modified scythe without authorization. Apparently he was trying to get it back for whatever reason.
"That actually depends on my one-year review, I was told as such from on high," Grell said.
"I can guess why you got that certificate in the first place, though why the hell do you want it back," William said. "You know another infraction is going to cost you dearly."
"Relax, I've learned my lesson," Grell said, swirling the tea in his cup. "I simply like having the option, especially since I've been looking out for some of the young ones. It would be easier for me to do some tinkering if they have a loose blade than go through all that paperwork and wait to get it fixed, or hunt down someone else with a certificate."
"I'd think the threat of breaking a nail might hold more sway with you."
"That's where you're wrong. I enjoy doing things with my hands in more rougher respects."
Grell gave a little smirk, William could only respond with a slight shake of the head.
"I'm not that much of a delicate flower, you know," Grell said, lightly tapping William on the arm.
"That fact is hardly lost on me," William said, drinking down the last of his tea. "Alas, I have more important things to attend to."
"My sympathies," Grell said.
William rose from his seat and gave Grell one parting nod. Yes Sutcliff's presence was a nice distraction, but it was overstaying its welcome. Time to get back to actual work.
"My offer for a massage still stands," Grell said a bit louder, getting a few glances in his direction.
"I'll keep that in mind," William said, walking away.
He took one more glance back to see Sutcliff waving at him with a smile before looking forward with a shake of his head.
William drew his pen back and stared at the seemingly endless series of numbers he had had just written on his worksheet. It was best to have these expenses calculated now before he typed them up. He lightly dipped his pen in the inkwell, mentally processing a few figures before continuing.
A shrill ring from the phone on his desk made him jump slightly, spilling a few drops of ink onto the desk. He threw the pen down with a curse and glared at the ringing phone, picking up the receiver. Whoever was calling him had better have a damn good purpose.
"Spears," he said.
"Spears it's Henderson from Watch," the voice on the other end said. "We have a situation, you need to get down here fast."
The hair on the back of his neck bristled for a moment.
"I'm on my way," he said, putting down the phone.
He got up from his seat and walked out the door toward Central Watch. Calls like this were never good even if they were the result of someone's screw-up. Central Watch monitored spiritual movements around the city, especially the activities of reapers in the field. Calls like this meant either someone was in trouble or there was a supernatural phenomenon with disastrous implications. Even if no mass of deaths were predicted such phenomenon could have other nasty results, or worse create unscheduled deaths.
Sometimes an impending threat was more minor than perceived on the monitors or a reaper bounced back easily from an attack of some sort. It was not unheard of that the Watch got overzealous or didn't pay attention to a certain detail and any supposed threat was actually nothing. Regardless, it was best to take these calls seriously. William was no less annoyed by the interruption; this had better be a legitimate concern and not some apprentice reading the monitors wrong again.
William took a quick walk around a corner and opened the door into the Watch area. Reapers sat in front of wide boards showing different parts of London, dots and lines of different colors moved around on the boards; mostly orange for humans, green for reapers, light blue for collected souls, white for ghosts, and yellow for fae creatures moving about, though he caught a few red dots for some minor demons lurking around. A large group gathered around the monitor for the Stockwell area. Christopher Henderson, the reaper who called him, looked back and got out of his chair.
"What's going on," William said.
"In the past 10 minutes there has been a high rush of energies near Stockwell Park, demonic and angelic all clashing together with one reaper in the midst of the fray," Henderson said, rushing back over to the monitor with William following close behind. "Less than a minute ago, there was a massive burst of angelic energy and a reaper was caught right in the middle of it."
Henderson pointed his finger right at the center of activity, touching on the screen to magnify the area. A small area that looked like it was inside a house was washed in a swirl of red, overcoming a wide swath of bright blue. William's mouth dropped open. Off to the side was a small dot of green; the brightness fading by the moment.
"Bloody hell what happened," he said, concentrating on the dot.
"That took all the patterns of an angel blast sir," Henderson said.
William's eyes widened.
"You are absolutely certain," William said.
"I wish I could say no, but it was clear as day," Henderson said, lifting a paper off the desk and handing it to him.
It was an image from the screen in question; a massive ball of blue spread through the inside of the house, one green dot caught in the middle. It was indeed an Angel Blast, or a "Voice of the Almighty" Attack; a powerful sonic blast angels could emit when in dire need. Such an attack killed almost everything in the immediate blast radius. Human heads would explode instantly. Reapers caught in the middle of it would suffer a massive, irreversible brain hemorrhage; invariably killing them in a few minutes to an hour.
"We need to get that reaper out of there now," William said, picking up the phone off to the side.
"He was in the middle of the blast radius, I don't think there's much we can do for him now," another reaper said off to the side.
William dialed a number, seeing the green dot continue to fade.
"Dr. Sutherland said there are ways reaper can be saved from its effects, but only if treated immediately," William said, hearing the voice of an operator over the phone. "This is Spears in Dispatch, I need a rescue team immediately to Stockwell Park Road in Stockwell. We have a gravely injured reaper in the midst of a mess, possible Voice Attack."
William took a closer look at the monitors, his finger going up to the green dot to get an identification on the reaper. He touched the dot, a small white box appeared with the name "G. Sutcliff." A piercing chill went through his body.
Sutcliff was caught in the middle of that. He took a closer look at the building; likely Matilda Cornwall's house. The assignment was in Stockwell if he recalled. Sebastian Michaelis was supposed to have been there, accounting for the mass of red. The small orange speck to the side was Earl Phantomhive. But how the hell did an angel get involved? There was nothing in the ledger about an angel. Regardless, Grell Sutcliff was in grave danger.
The green dot suddenly took a gray border and vanished from the screen.
"Hold that," William said, staring at the screen.
"He's come back to base," another reaper said off to the side. "Still moving but his energy is fading fast."
"Where is he now," William barked.
He looked back and saw reapers rushing to another monitor at the back of the room showing the Reaper Dispatch offices.
"He just passed through south reception and looks to be headed toward the end lounge," a reaper said.
William breathed a sigh of relief; Sutcliff was at least in a condition to return to the offices and he was still walking. Perhaps they read the patterns wrong and it wasn't an actual angel blast. Such an attack was rare in the extreme; maybe he was knocked around a bit by something more innocuous. His energy was too low for it to have been a few blows, he needed immediate attention.
"Scratch that last order, I need a medical team to the south lounge now," he said.
William slammed the phone down and took a swift walk, visualizing the south corridor. His body turned to mist for a moment and re-formed in the reception area. A few more pockets of mist formed into two more reapers off to the side and he heard the footsteps of another two running in his direction. William took a swift walk down the corridor, fists clenched to his side. He would walk in to see Sutcliff sitting in a chair, head on the table, groaning lewdly about how he had a rough morning. That's what he would find, that had to be what he would find. Maybe he was laying on the couch reading the paper and wanting to know what all the fuss was about.
At last William reached the open doorway of the small lounge, hesitating for a second before looking in. The first sight he caught was those red, high-heeled boots dangling off the arm of a brown leather couch. Calves cased in a tight pair of black trousers were resting on the plush arm. The rest of his form was sprawled on the couch. William wanted to see his hands behind his head and that pointed-tooth smile firmly in place. That was not the case now.
Grell's arms dangled limply off the side of the couch; eyes closed, mouth slightly open, complexion deathly pale, and his long red hair was scattered all over. William walked up to the couch and looked down.
"Grell Sutcliff," he barked. "Grell Sutcliff get up now."
No response, not even a stir. William leaned own and grabbed the collar of his waistcoat.
"Didn't you hear me, this isn't a time for a nap," William said, gently shaking him. "Get the bloody hell up now."
Sutcliff's body slightly moved with the shake, though nothing more from there. He was just being stubborn, he was being a layabout; there was no other option. William tried to stop his lower lip from trembling. He slid to his knees and grabbed Sutcliff by the shirt, shaking him hard.
"Grell Sutcliff get up now, that's an order!" he shouted, leaning into his face and shaking him. "Wake up you lazy, worthless wretch!"
It was like shaking a sack, or rather a corpse; no movement, no stirring, he was completely still. His eyes remained closed, face expressionless. William went numb, feeling a set of hands yank him up to his feet and back a few paces.
"You'll only make it worse like that, Mr. Spears," a Scottish brogue sounded in his ear before moving away.
A man with short dirty blond hair and a thick moustache shoved him aside and knelt down to Sutcliff: Dr. Ian Sutherland, the head physician for the London office. William watched as he put two fingers on his neck and leaned into his face.
"Mr. Sutcliff, can you hear me," Dr. Sutherland, said loudly in his ear.
He removed Sutcliff's glasses and let them hang by the chain down to his chest, a finger opening his eyelids while another hand produced a small light and shined it in his eyes.
"He's still alive, but barely," the doctor said. "We need to get him to the infirmary now."
William took a further step back, watching a few more reapers from the medical team rush over to Sutcliff. One pulled the tie from his neck and unfastened the top buttons of his shirt, another removed his red coat from his arms. William felt his legs turning to rubber, he subtly steadied himself by grabbing onto a nearby chair. He pried his gaze from this scene and took a few harsh breaths. There was an answer to this, there was a reason why this was happening and he needed to investigate immediately.
He shoved his resolve back into himself and walked away, allowing himself one look back to see two reapers lifting Grell from the couch before he turned his attention forward. He tapped three reapers on the shoulder to put their attention on him
"I'm going to need a team to accompany me to Stockwell," he said to them. "We need to find out what happened."
They nodded. William pushed past them and marched down the corridor toward the receptionist desk. Caroline Wallace leaned on her desk and looked down at the commotion down the hallway. William grabbed a phone from her desk and dialed another number.
"I need three more reapers to join me in Stockwell, senior level preferable given what we might be dealing with," he said.
He heard an affirming voice on the other end and put the phone down.
"It's Mr. Sutcliff isn't it," Ms. Wallace said.
William looked at her with furrowed brows.
"He walked in few minutes ago; he looked rather ghastly, seemed a bit run down too," she said, voice shaking. "I asked if he was all right, he just said it was a rough collection. I knew there was something more."
He stared at her for a moment.
"Is he going to be all right, Mr. Spears?" she asked.
William paused to summon some words.
"Mr. Sutcliff is in capable hands now," William said. "Now If you'll excuse me."
William walked forward, shifting between the reception area to the human world.
-This story takes elements from the manga and the second musical, but really doesn't follow any particular canon. In this respect, it can be considered slightly AU.
-According to a currency conversion website I found, 1 pound in 1890 was worth about $120 in current US dollars. 10 pounds was around $1,000, so that is a lot of money.
-For anyone paying attention, Grell's middle initial stands for Nils. I gave him this middle name in my fic Bloody Red Doll.