Due to a lack of interest on the part of my readers, I wasn't really motivated to publish another chapter of this. However, after a rather enthusiastic review, I'm not content to just let this die. So, Heavens Crow, this is for you :)
Thanks also to Pandeleski and The Darkest Wizard for their support, and The Amber Raven for betaing the chapter for me.
I spent literally weeks working on this chapter, so I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor of love :3 Please review when you finish reading- reviews are my inspiration *hint hint*
I'm never quite sure if I'm spelling Michaelis right ._.
~Ciel Phantomhive and Sebastian Michaelis, Whitechapel Road, London~
Ciel couldn't restrain himself from gawking at the glass buildings and swift vehicles rushing by carriages that had no horses.
"The city has changed so much," he says softly.
"And yet, not much at all, Young Master," Sebastian added with a nod. "There are still buildings still standing from the last time we were here."
"I know that," Ciel growled. "I don't care, anyway. There's only one building we're looking for, anyway. None of the others matter."
"Quite right, my Lord."
Sebastian regarded the swarming people with disdain. Humans were such disgusting creatures; trashy women and charmless men, going about their useless, pointless lives as if they were worth something. It took a great deal of effort to suppress his laughter. They dared to turn their heads to gawk at them, when they were the real freak shows- at least, in this demon butler's humble opinion.
"We're nearly there, young master."
The building was one of those that hadn't changed at all. Still just as dark and foreboding, still with the word Undertaker displayed in faded paint above the door.
Ciel heaved a sigh and shoved the door open, the bell jingling its ironically cheerful tune. The familiar wicked, chilling laughter rang loudly through the dimly lit shop.
"My, my, this is an unexpected surprise, my Lord. It's been ages, hasn't it?"
Ciel smirked, and nodded.
"Over a century, if I remember right. I was surprised to hear you were still in London after all this time."
Undertaker, still wearing those heavy black robes and that tall top hat, emerged from the shadow of a forsaken shop corner, giggling to himself.
"I like it here, my Lord. I tried to leave, but things got far too boring for me to not come back here. This shop is my home, and I have all of my happy memories here."
Undertaker touched a tarnished old crucifix lovingly, like a mother might touch her sleeping child.
"All that aside, it's good to see you, Earl Phantomhive. You haven't changed a bit."
Ciel harrumphed in irritation, but it was true. Ciel was still slim and small, with the same silky, alabaster skin. He wore the same Victorian style clothing that had gone out of style over a hundred years ago.
"I want some information, Undertaker. I was wondering if you could be of use," Ciel said, tapping his foot impatiently on the unswept floor.
"Some things never change, do they, Earl?" Undertaker sighed, shaking his head. "Well, you know the price. Let's hear a joke."
"I believe I can help with that," Sebastian says, going up and whispering something in his ear. After about three seconds, Undertaker burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter.
"Oh, that's good, that's really good, I haven't laughed so hard in decades! Good show, Butler!"
"I'm glad I could provide," Sebastian said humbly, bowing a little.
After that, Sebastian took a place beside the wall, standing straight and stoic as a statue, waiting for his Master.
Ciel cleared his throat.
"Now then, Undertaker. I would like to know everything you know about this person called 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.' What is it about him that has every wizard running scared?"
Undertaker rubbed his chin and thought.
"Let me think...ain't he the one who's convinced he'll take over the world and fill it with pure blooded wizards?"
"Hell if I know. I'm asking if you know anything about him?"
Undertaker went and turned on a light, illuminating the trinkets and occult knick-knacks.
"I've had to reconfigure my business, you see. My brand of funeral service was no longer required, so now I just sell these toys," he explains, gesturing to the mock voodoo dolls and astrology books in disgust.
"That's not what I asked you about, Undertaker!"
Undertaker twirled around once and giggled.
"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named- Lord Voldemort, rather, is gathering a massive army of people who think like he does. He wants to take all the normal folks and either kill 'em or make 'em slaves. 'E's gettin' ready for somethin' big, but I dunno what it is."
Ciel narrowed his eyes, taking it all in. A smirk was spreading across Sebastian's handsome face, a wicked glint in his eye.
"Some people think there's this boy named 'Arry who's gonna be able to defeat him, but I ain't so sure some scrawny little kid's gonna stand a chance," Undertaker said with a shrug and a snicker.
"Alright. Is there anything else?" Ciel asked.
Undertaker absentmindedly examined one of the dolls on the shelf, brushing away an accumulation of dust on a delicate porcelain figure, which wore a black, lacey dress with a little silk ribbon in the back. Her curly blond hair and soft, round face stirred up a long-forgotten ache in Ciel's heart, like pressing against a half-healed bruise.
"Well, there is one thing."
"What? What is it?" Ciel demanded, stepping forward and drawing himself up to his full, if less than impressive height.
Undertaker's Cheshire grin grew wider still.
"'E's trying to get help from some Shinobi."
Sebastian cocked his head in surprise. Ciel raised a slim blue eyebrow.
"What are Shinobi?"
Undertaker scratched his chin.
"Well, since you're the first laugh I've 'ad in a long time, I'll let you have this one on the house."
Undertaker moves in uncomfortably close to Ciel's face, still grinning from ear to ear, shaking with silent mirth. Ciel forces himself to look into his gold eyes, no matter how awkward he felt in the situation.
"A Shinobi, basically speaking, is a person who trains in certain types of martial arts, combining their abilities with superhuman speed. An' some of 'em can do more than that. There was a whole clan that could literally breathe fire at one point."
"Well, they died out. Rumor 'as it they were killed by one of their own, too, now how about that?"
Ciel narrowed his eye, stone silent. He spoke again after a few moments, his tone icy and seething with anger.
"A man who would destroy how own flesh and blood. How disgusting."
"I wouldn't exactly call 'im a man," Undertaker said.
"And why not?"
Undertaker giggled, shaking with glee.
"Well, mostly because 'e was only thirteen when 'e did it."
He revels in Ciel's wide-eyed, horrified expression.
Thirteen? He was as old as Ciel had been... before he'd turned. How could a mere boy have his heart so steeped in darkness that he no longer cared who he hurt? Even Ciel had people he had loved, who he'd never dream of harming.
"I've heard that the kid's one of the people Voldemort's trying to recruit right now. Just thought you ought to know."
"Thank you, Undertaker," he said, softer than he would have liked. "We'll be going now."
Undertaker showed Ciel and Sebastian to the door and waved to them as they left, thumping his cane against the ground violently.
"Come back any time, Earl! I'll always be open when you come around, as long as you have a joke for me!"
Ciel brushed past people on the street, his mind working furiously as he did. Sebastian followed two steps behind, trying not to lose him in the crowd of bustling people.
After a few minutes of fighting through the people, they break free to a mostly deserted location in between two buildings. Ciel is visibly trembling with rage.
"Well, young Master? What now?"
Ciel's pretty, pale brow furrowed.
"We go after them. Both this Voldemort character and the Shinobi he wants to work for him. We find them, and we snuff them out."
Snuff out the Unclean. Snuff out the Unnecessary. Snuff out the Unwanted.
Ciel's tiny hands curl into fists.
"No matter what it takes, we will end him. We will find a way to humiliate him and destroy everything that he is. That's an order!"
Sebastian broke into a devilish grin, the promise of excitement making his skin tingle.
"Yes, my Lord."
~Itachi Uchiha, Malfoy Manor~
Itachi paused in front of a pair of heavy, ebony doors; he took a deep breath to try and steady his nerves.
Just one meeting- an hour at the most. Then all Itachi had to do was report back to Madara, and wait for his decision. If he said no to the alliance, he would be allowed to come home with the others. And if he agreed, the others would be here soon. He wouldn't be alone anymore.
Itachi swallowed his nerves, wrapping his fingers around a silver doorknob. It turned with a soft click, and the door opened with a slight creak.
There was no turning back now.
"Come in, boy."
The high, cold voice reached down into Itachi's soul and turned his blood to ice as fear swelled within him. He suppressed a shudder and obeyed the order.
The door swung and slammed shut behind him of its own accord. Itachi jumped half a foot in the air, but he gathered his wits quickly, and bowed low.
"It's an honor to meet you...my lord."
Itachi put his hand on the edge of the long table to guide him in the dimly lit room, not trusting his lousy eyesight to help him.
He took the seat Voldemort gestured to, brushed his hair from his face, and forced a stony, carefully schooled expression, deliberately avoiding looking at the man.
"I'm glad you could come," Voldemort said, in a tone that was more of a hiss than anything. "Though I would have preferred your master to come in person."
"My master is currently involved in an important operation," Itachi replied. "He felt that I would be sufficient for this task."
"He must put a lot of faith in you."
Itachi wasn't quite sure what Voldemort meant by this. He had to think over a few responses before settling on one.
"My master puts a certain amount of trust in each of his subordinates. However, I think you'll find that it's far from absolute."
Itachi looked at Voldemort for the first time, truly looked him in the eye and had to suppress a yelp.
Voldemort reminded him quite keenly of Orochimaru, with deathly pale skin and a soft, sleazy smile. His long, spidery fingers drummed against the table lazily.
His red eyes seemed to bore into the core of his being, seeing everything that he was and every fear and insecurity. He had to clench his hands into tight fists to stop their shaking.
Voldemort cocked his head, much like a curious puppy- though the gesture was far from cute. He kept eye contact until it was far beyond merely creepy- it was profoundly disturbing. But Itachi didn't look away again, a silent admission of defeat. He kept looking straight at those red eyes; it was like staring at the face of death.
Finally, after several painful eternities, Voldemort broke the silence.
"You're difficult to read," he says, half intrigued, half exasperated.
Itachi raised an eyebrow.
"What do you mean?"
"Normally, it's very simple for me to read a person's mind. But yours isn't so easy."
"It's in the job description. We're trained from birth to hide our emotions."
"Ah, how very intriguing. It must be very useful."
"It is. Particularly when I need to kill."
"Of course. They don't call you the clan killer for nothing, after all."
Itachi's eyes narrowed. He swallowed the blood rising up in his throat and grimaced, but he gave away no other emotions. Emotions were, after all, nothing but a sign of weakness... especially in front of this man- this monster? Itachi wasn't so sure anymore.
No, he wouldn't show his emotions. His father had beaten those out of him years ago. When he imagined it, he could still feel his calloused fists bruising tender skin. So his face remained blank, inscrutable.
"I trust you already know why I've asked you here."
Itachi forces his mind from the past to the present, bringing his attention to the matter at hand.
Madara-sensei is counting on me. I have to do well.
"You want an alliance with Akatsuki."
Itachi brushed a wisp of hair out of his face with the back of his hand to try and see better.
"My master would like to know what exactly you had in mind. What are the terms of the agreement you are proposing?"
"They are simple enough. I want allies. Your organization is formidable, and it has caught my attention. And you inspire a good deal of fear, don't you?"
It was an accurate assessment; Akatsuki wasn't exactly known for its charity work.
"That would be correct." Itachi answered in assent, carefully considering his words.
"Well, then, there must be a reason for their fear. In recruiting Akatsuki's assistance, I will be gaining powerful allies... as well as adding to the fear already instilled within my enemies. It would be helpful toward my goals."
My head hurts...
"I see," Itachi muttered, before speaking up, "And what, exactly, are you asking of us?"
"Nothing much, other than support, endorsement for my reign."
Itachi felt disgusted, though he didn't show it; this man was nothing more than a power-consumed megalomaniac bent on getting as much control as he possibly could. But he was far from a fool.
And, as horrible as it was, Itachi should be used to it by now... after all, he'd seen many monsters like this, not the least of these being his very own clansmen. He had seen good people become consumed with the quest for power, trying to be better than anyone else.
"Obsessed with the organization. Obsessed with our lineage. The clan, the clan. You overestimate your own abilities, when you have no idea of the depth of my own. And look at you know- groveling in the dirt."
But he didn't say any of that.
"I thought this world you were planning to create was only for your kind," he said instead.
"I'm willing to offer a place in my perfect world for those who have served me well. I can make a place for you and your people."
Itachi had to admit to himself that Voldemort was a convincing speaker- he almost found himself buying his snake oil, pardon the pun.
"I think it's more than a fair offer. I'm sure my master will accept it."
Very well. You may go."
Itachi stood up and bowed low, then left the room as quickly as he can. He could feel blood and bile rising in his throat; he can't keep up this facade any longer.
He hurried up the stairs and slammed the door to his bedroom shut and doubled over. He clutched at his chest and trying to muffle his hacking coughs in his free hand. It feels like his own Amaterasu has been turned against him, setting him on fire from the inside.
Just wait it out...
Eventually, the hacking subsides, and he can breathe again. He wiped the blood away from the corners of his mouth and stripped out of his stained shirt. Madara wouldn't be able to talk to him until tonight, so he was planning to lay down and rest for a while.
His entire body ached- a deep, heavy ache that went all the way down to his bones, a tiredness that infected his blood.
He sighed, cast his bloodstained shirt away and rubbed his hurting shoulder. His arm had been losing sensation lately, leaving him with the constant feeling of pins and needles in his skin. He'd ask Sasori about it later- he seemed to know everything about the human body.
He slipped between the warm silk sheets, breathing in the delicate scent of vanilla and lavender. It was soothing on his ragged lungs, and reminded him of his mother.
He fell into a fitful sleep, with his brother's betrayed face haunting him. He woke drenched in sweat, with his long, slender fingers twisted in the blankets, his jaw taut and his heart throbbing in his chest.
~Edward and Alphonse Elric, King's Cross Station, London~
Edward stepped out onto the noisy station platform, dragging a heavy, wheeled suitcase along behind him as he weaved his way through the crush of bustling people.
He wriggled his way through until he broke free into the cold, snowy world outside. He took a deep, grateful breath of the crisp late evening air, regarding the steely gray sky with his bright, gold eyes and a hopeful smile.
"I've got a good feeling about this Al," He tells his suitcase. The suitcase makes a muffled protest and rattles angrily.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Keep yer pants on, I'll get you out."
Edward sloshed through the slush on the streets until he found a cheap hotel. He checked into a room and threw his damp, coat carelessly onto the floor. He kicked the suitcase onto the ground and dropped to his knees, clicking it open and pulling out pieces of armor laying amongst his clothes.
"You put my head right next to your underpants!" Alphonse whined.
"Oops. Sorry," Edward muttered absentmindedly, sticking one piece into the other until his brother began to take shape again.
"Why couldn't I just ride the train like normal? I always ride the train with you, big brother."
"These people aren't like the people at Amestris. You show up on a train with a giant suit of armor, and they get a bit suspicious," Edward half jokes. "They wouldn't exactly believe that my little brother's a hollow suit, either."
Alphonse huffs, but doesn't protest.
"I'm gonna wait to go to the library until tomorrow. I need some sleep."
As if to emphasize his point, Edward yawned.
"Can you bring me a book to read when you go, big brother?" Alphonse asked.
"Yeah, sure thing, Al."
Alphonse would have smiled, if he could. Edward got out some clean clothes and changed.
"I'm honestly surprised that Mustang let us come all the way to London without any supervision," he says around another yawn. "He's always so anal about us going out of the country."
"He's just trying to protect us, brother," Alphonse says softly. "He doesn't try to be mean to us."
"I don't need his damn protection!" Edward snapped. "I'm not some stupid kid he has to look after!"
Alphonse shrinks back, his metal clanging together.
"Sorry, Al. Didn't mean to yell."
"It's okay, big brother," Alphonse insists, in his typical longsuffering way. "You just need to get some sleep, is all."
"That's a good idea."
Edward flopped down on the bed and fell asleep on top of the covers, leaving Alphonse alone. All he can do is look around the dirty room, and touch his big brother to comfort him when he whimpered in his sleep.
He knew that his big brother liked to pretend to be strong. But when he was asleep, Alphonse didn't feel guilty comforting him.
Edward let out a pained mewl.
"It's okay, brother. You don't need to apologize."
He believed in Edward. He believed that he would get his body back, and he could be the way he was before. He had to. Otherwise, he would have nothing to believe in at all.