Grell frowned and stared at his reflection in a mirror. "Tch…" he ran his fingers through the long brown locks of hair that replaced his normally vibrant crimson tresses. His red glasses lacked his chain of beads, and his normally sharp teeth were straight and dull. He sighed and applied his normal day-to-day makeup. It helped a little; but he had never thought that he would ever—ever be back to looking so plain. He had good reason for using this disguise when he served as Madam Red's butler; it was to protect both his and Angelina's secret identity as the famous killer Jack the Ripper, and to throw off his fellow Gods of death to his illegal involvement of the killings, in case they showed up for collection early and caught sight of him. But this time…this time he just couldn't understand why he needed to look so plain. He had received special orders when assigned on this investigation to make sure he blended in and looked normal among the humans.
Well, He certainly succeeded there. So plain, so simple. But, then again, they had only told him to blend in. They hadn't told him he was required to wear a plain suit; though he supposed it had been assumed that would happen as par their request of his toned down appearance. He smiled at his reflection and started to braid a few locks together, then he pulled the rest up off his neck and twisted it into a bun, wrapping the braid around it and using an ivory hair pick with red stones in it to keep the bun up in place. He turned and skipped over to the nearly overflowing wardrobe in his room; pulling out a plain, but expensive white dress with black lace adorning the sleeves, neckline, and skirts. He slipped it on over his corset; garter belt, panties, and stockings. He stood in front of the full-length mirror and turned his back to it, looking over his shoulder so he could see as he buttoned up the back properly. Once finished, he spun around and smiled at his reflection. "There is a serious lack of red, but even the plain, boring brunet me cleans up quite nicely~" he giggled to himself, finally satisfied with the result of hours in front of the mirror.
William checked his watch for the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes. Sutcliff was taking forever - as usual - and they needed to get a move on. How long did it really take to change clothes, really?
In order to remain unseen, the assignment required that they fit in, so he assumed Grell was going to do the exact opposite of that. He couldn't resist gaining attention when he could which made him quite unsuitable for undercover work, but he was the only one available. Will, himself, had decided to go with a slightly more casual look so as to not stand out with his normal rigid darkness. He had donned a cream linen casual suit with a chocolate brown waistcoat, shoes and gloves. He even deigned to muss his hair and wear a bowler as the common folk did. Now all he had to do was wait for Sutcliff to show up and they could finally be on their way.
With a final spray of his favorite perfume, Grell pulled on a pair of white lace gloves and walked out of his apartment, spotting William waiting for him down the hall near a window. He giggled and put on his act as a proper, soft-spoken woman, quietly approaching the man, "William?"
William was getting impatient and he had been about to go pound on the red-head's door to tell him to hurry up, but the door opened and he stepped out.
If William hadn't seen which room Grell had come out of, he wouldn't have believed it was him. His demure attitude, the simple but tasteful clothing and styling of his hair...his brown hair. William had to blink at that and let it process for a moment.
He looked every bit the part of a simple and elegant lady. It wasn't something he was used to and it made him wonder what had caused him to choose something so flattering.
"You look...normal, Sutcliff." William said, unable to keep a little shock out of his tone. "What did you do to your hair?"
"Just a spell I came across in the library when we were students before Graduation. It's from when Reapers had to change their appearance before going out into the Mortal realm…I thought it'd be a nice thing to keep around in case of something such as this…But come on, Darling, ignore my terribly drab hair and tell me how I really look." He smiled, flashing his normal teeth before spinning around to show off his dress.
William raised an eyebrow in disinterest. The red- no, brunet, was fishing for compliments and the supervisor was in no mood...though he had to admit it was a very good disguise and almost worth the wait. But if Grell couldn't keep up the act, then it will have been for naught.
"It is acceptable attire if you can keep up the act of being a normal, polite lady. It is actually a good choice in this case as students are often more comfortable with a female dance instructor than a male one."
"That's not what I asked, Darling." Grell pouted, but then perked up, tempted to hang off the man, though he settled with stepping closer and winking, "Could it be you miss my normal look~?" he asked in a gentle, yet teasing tone.
William appreciated the fact that Grell wasn't hanging all over him as usual. He was doing a good job keeping up the facade.
"This will take some...getting used to," William admitted. "But if you can keep it up, then I see no reason why I should not lend credibility to your disguise."
He tipped his hat and politely offered his arm. "Shall we be on our way?"
Grell let out a light giggle, accepting his offered arm, "darling, there is no harm in liking what you see. I'll not hold it against you. Don't be so cold. You'll get the reputation as the heartless teacher, and no one likes that. Maybe crack a smile if a student answers a question correctly or something." His hand squeezed William's elbow lightly, "And keeping up my act is quite easy. I'm quite the actress, you know."
"Teachers are not meant to be liked, they are meant to pass on knowledge. I will be cordial but there is no need to be friendly," William said crisply. "And for once I agree with you, Grell, You are proving that your acting skills are indeed remarkable. If you could apply this demeanor more often you would not get into as many scuffles as you do."
Grell pushed his lower lip out, "It is not fair to ask me to be someone else all the time, William, acting is a hobby, not a lifestyle. Besides, if I had to hold myself back this much all the time, I may go mad. You wouldn't want that, would you? There'd be no telling what I may do without my sanity."
"I said 'more often', not 'permanently'," William corrected as he escorted Grell out of the building, ignoring the looks of disbelief on passing co-worker's faces. "Even I understand that there is a need to be true to one's own self, but there is a proper time and place for such expression. Landing yourself in the infirmary because you picked a fight with a demon is not constructive, nor is wearing flamboyant clothing when subtlety would be more prudent. But if it is the thrill of impropriety that feeds you, then I cannot gainsay it if it does not affect your work performance or cause irreversible harm to you."
The former redhead giggled as they approached an awaiting carriage that would take them to the private school they needed to investigate; "So you do care. It's nice to know~" he let a little more flamboyancy slip into his voice, but settled for pressing a soft, chaste kiss to his cheek before the carriage driver helped him up into the cab and tipped his hat as William followed him in, shutting the door behind them.
As the carriage started moving, Grell smiled, resting his chin daintily on his knuckles as he gazed across at William, "It's been far too long since we have been assigned to work together. It brings back fond memories."
William took Grell's behavior all in stride as usual.
"The reaper originally assigned to this was needed elsewhere. I was to be the substitute for dance and he was to be the substitute for economics. You are the only other available that is trained in dance," William said neutrally. "I can do either, but, as I said before, it is usually easier for students to accept a female dance instructor."
"Ah~ you missed the point." Grell reached over and grabbed William's hand, gently holding it between both of his and bringing it up to his lips, "We have not properly worked together since we graduated, Darling, I miss it."
William raised an eyebrow but didn't pull his hand away.
"There is good reason for that, Grell. Your behavior in my presence tends to get in the way or cause distraction. I could not very well pair up with you if all you were going to do was flirt."
"It didn't get in the way during our exam. I think we worked together rather wonderfully. Getting to flirt with you is just the lovely red cherry on top." He said, kissing the other's gloved knuckles.
"Indeed we did, but you have changed since then. I do not understand your fascination with me," William said as he gently pulled his hand back. "You did not like me at all when we were first partnered."
"Of course not. For one, I had worked so hard to get the best grades possible, and you were the lazy bastard who was satisfied with simply the minimum grades to pass. I hardly thought it fair to be partnered with someone like you after all that work I had done. And two; I was quite the little hot-head who had no time for any man after how my ex treated me the year before I met you. I had my reasons, as I am sure you had yours."
He chuckled and let go of William's hand, crossing his legs, "The change came when you opened up long enough to show me the passion you have hidden inside. You inspired me to be myself again. To follow my heart. However, while I opened up, you, sir, closed yourself again and hid behind your walls. I want to break down those walls you hide behind. Then maybe the rest of mine can come down." He leaned forward, his lace gloved fingertips brushing over William's cheek. "You can be too cold not letting me see behind those walls of yours again."
"I have never been lazy, thank you very much," William said with a slight twitch of his eyebrow. "And you did not see what you thought you saw, Grell. While it is good to know that I somehow had a positive effect on your attitude, you were seeing what you wanted to see. I had nothing to hide then because there was nothing to me at the time. Much has changed since then." He did not react to Grell touching his face and merely turned to look at the passing scenery.
"You don't show it." Grell said, ignoring William's first comment, "But I know there was a spark of something there in that lovely kick of yours. Just as I know that there is much more to you behind your icy walls that are supported by your work-a-holic attitude. I' m not caught up in a blind lust for you, Darling, there is so, so much more than that." He withdrew his hand and played mindlessly with the silver necklace he wore, "I'm just waiting for you to realize the same about me."
Grell moved the curtain aside to look out the window, "Ah, dear, this conversation has gotten quite serious and dull, hasn't it? And we still have such a long ride ahead of us."
Will watched Grell look wistfully out the window. Despite his normally disinterested nature, he actually felt the need to continue the conversation and explain a few things. He did not like having assumptions made about himself.
"That 'spark' you felt was irritation. Anyone is allowed that from time to time. And you are correct in assuming there is much more to me than I show anyone, but there is no reason for me to do so. My life has a very singular purpose."
Then he raised a questioning eyebrow at the brunette. "And if it is not lust, then what is it, Grell? You cannot possibly love me. You do not know me."
Grell shot a look close to a glare at William out the corner of his eye, "And just how am I to get to know you when you won't let me? It may not be pure love I feel for you, but my feelings are very real. And trust me, It is not simply lust. Lust does not last nearly a hundred years. You are such a hypocrite, Will. You tell me not to make assumptions about you, when you have your own assumptions about me. I'm willing to let you in to get to know me, but you never take the opportunity to do so. You just see me as a trouble-making annoyance who turns in her paperwork late."
"Because that is all you ever show me, Grell. This is the closest to civil conversation we've had...ever I believe. I cannot tell when you are being serious or when you are simply being flirtatious," William nearly snapped, but managed to keep himself in check, then adjusted his glasses. "But you are correct that it is unfair to make such assumptions about you. I have never made the opportunity to do so, but that is simply because I am not a social person."
"And what makes you think my flirtations with you are not serious?" Grell said, dropping the curtain back over the window and fixing his gaze on William, "Uhg, This is why I don't like serious conversations. I get so worked up!" he poked William's chest, "You're lucky we are stuck together in this carriage and I don't want to ruin this dress. White is so hard to clean properly!"
"Because you flirt with whoever catches your fancy, Grell. It's easy to dismiss," William said matter-of-factly. "And how would you muss your dress? Surely I haven't said anything warranting bloodshed."
"It's starting to rain. Blood would only improve this dress." Grell said, pointing to the window at the droplets of water starting to gather on the glass. "And you were the only man I flirted with for fifty years. I got tired of being ignored completely."
"If it is so troublesome or disheartening, then why do you continue to try? Or why not try a different method? This side of you... this calm, rational person I can relate to," William admitted. "Your normal wilder self, while admirable at times, is...difficult."
Grell suddenly laughed, "Oh~ William, do you think I haven't started finding new ways of attracting your attention?" he got up from his seat and moved over to sit next to the other reaper, leaning in close to his ear, whispering, "Do you honestly think I would actually sincerely throw myself at a demon?"
Will leaned slightly away from Grell.
"Are you saying you weren't? Because from what I saw of your interactions with Mr. Michaelis, it was hardly any different than how you have thrown yourself at me. And if you were not serious in those actions towards him, how could I possibly take any attentions directed towards myself seriously?"
"Because I was trying to make you jealous!" Grell said, frustration in his voice, "Honestly. You hate demons more than anything so I was trying to see your real reaction to seeing me treat one the same! Yes, he's handsome and strong, but the most lust I have for him is to see my chainsaw carving his black heart out of his chest and to see his blood paint the floor! But he is stronger than I am so I know that I won't get that from him unless I get lucky. So I turned him into a tool."
"I simply found it distasteful, though it is a relief to know you were not pursuing him in earnest. It is unseemly for a reaper to lust after a parasite,' William said coolly.
Grell fell silent, staring at William before getting up and moving back to his own seat, crossing his arms and looking out the window again.
William found himself crossing his arms as well, "What is it you want from me, Grell? To suddenly feel something because you tell me your flirting is genuine? That you feel nothing for the demon? Would that not ruin your image of me?" William said coldly. "You would not be half as interested in me if I acted differently."
"There you go assuming again! I already told you, didn't I? I know there is more to you hidden away. And I truly do believe you care for me back, at least a little. Why else would you come save me every time I mess up?"
William's eyes widened slightly. Grell had never called him out on that before and he honestly never thought he would. He opened his mouth to say something and found he couldn't.
The dress-clad reaper raised an eyebrow at William, "Am I wrong?"
"...not entirely," William replied after a long pause and somehow he couldn't look Grell in the face anymore.
"Which part was I mistaken on? Can you tell me, or are you afraid to admit I am right?" Grell asked, determined to get a straight answer. William had continued the conversation after he had tried to drop it…twice. So now he was stuck with it, even if it was uncomfortable for him.
"I...do care," William said incredibly softly and kept looking away.
The serious look on Grell's face faded into a soft smile, and his voice softened, "Was that so hard to admit?"
William looked over at Grell, surprised he hadn't been bowled over or that he was getting screamed at with horrifically uncomfortable proclamations of love.
"...Yes," William said honestly. It was incredibly difficult for him to say something so personal.
"…I must annoy you more than I thought, then…if it's so hard to admit to me, even if you care in a non-romantic way…Yet the clues were there…I just ignored them."
"You know I am not personal, Grell. To admit something like that is very difficult. Count yourself lucky to have gotten an honest answer at all," William said crossing his arms and looking away, feeling extremely uncomfortable as his cheeks felt hot. This was why he stayed away from emotion. It made him look a fool and no matter what he did, it was never enough. It was just better to distance himself.
"You're wrong." Grell said, eyeing William's blush, "If you were not personal, then you wouldn't bother keeping your emotions to yourself until you break down and go missing from work for a few weeks like you did a little over a year ago." He paused, looking at William and reading his expression, "I may not know what that all was about, but the look in your eyes when you finally returned told me what I needed to know. I just regret that you went through whatever it was alone."
For the second time in less than half an hour, Grell surprised him...though this was more shock than surprise. He didn't know that Grell had been watching him so closely, let alone that he knew Will had gone through something traumatic. William had thought he'd covered himself pretty well on that. He honestly thought Grell didn't care beyond what he wanted to see, but those simple words...
'I just regret that you went through whatever it was alone.'
It was weirdly touching. Everything was very surreal and his vision of Grell suddenly changed. He could hear an echo in truth in the reaper's words, as if that little bit of honesty nullified everything William had doubted in him for the last century. Maybe he really did care...when no one else had. His throat suddenly felt tight and he dared not speak.
It took him a few moments to gather his wits again, and he had to swallow hard a couple of times before he found his voice.
"I've severely underestimated you, Grell," he said, his voice sounding slightly rough. "For that, I am sorry."
Grell waved a hand in the air dismissively, "Everyone is guilty of such things. I don't…Oh~" The carriage slowed to a stop outside the large private school and men holding black umbrellas rushed out to the cab as the driver moved around to open the door for them, "It looks like we will have to finish this conversation later…if you would like to at all, that is."
The brunet's nonchalance about William's apology did not insult him as it normally might. Instead, it made him curious as to why he was so dismissive about it...perhaps Grell was hiding as much as William was. He'd never considered the possibility before, but then again, he'd never seen past his own perception of Grell before, either. Something in him was beginning to regret that.
He nodded to Grell.
"I...would like that," he said softly, an expression of slight confusion on his face.
Grell flashed him a smile and moved to the door, accepting one of the men's hands to help him down out of the carriage and under an umbrella. The man offered his arm and Grell took it with a smile, letting him escort him into the entrance hall of the school. The other man waited for William, walking him in after Grell as a few servants gathered their luggage and hurried away to the servant's entrance where they would take the bags to the rooms William and Grell would be staying in.
William followed into the hall where an unassuming young lady greeted both him and Grell with a warm smile. William removed his hat and bowed politely.
"Welcome! We've been looking forward to meeting you," she said kindly. "I am Sofia Wynstelle, the vice-principal here at Wethersford. I hope you will forgive the headmaster's absence. He is currently on a tour of India and I am overseeing things in his stead."
William raised his eyebrow slightly at that and Sofia merely smiled at him.
"I know that look, sir. It is highly unconventional to leave a woman in charge, but I assure you, this is a rather unconventional establishment. We are proud to be the first academy to admit both male and female students and permit them to attend the same classes. We hire men and women as instructors equally. You could say we are a social experiment. I hope you will find the experience enlightening. Now, you came here to act as substitutes for our economics course and for dance, who is who?"
"I am William Spears and I will be teaching economics," William said politely.
"Grell smiled and gracefully stooped into a curtsy, "Miss Grell Sutcliff, I'll be taking over your Dance classes." He said politely in a soft, feminine tone.
"It is a pleasure to meet you both. Shall I take you on a tour of the grounds before you are shown to your rooms? There is still plenty of time before afternoon classes."
"Yes, thank you, Miss Wynstelle," William said with a polite nod.
"Wait, Miss Wynstelle, We just got word that our third substitute is arriving a day earlier than he had originally said he would." A maid said, rushing a letter on a silver tray over to her, "He should be arriving any moment."
"Correction; He is here now." said one of the men who had escorted Grell and William into the building, the other man opening his umbrella once more to escort the tall man from his carriage through the rain.
The man removed his top hat, and smiled, "I am sorry for arriving so early, Madame, but I am Sebastian Michaelis; professor of Physics." The demon said, bowing low and kissing Sofia's knuckles lightly, but eyeing William and Grell, recognizing them both. His smile twitched in irritation and he walked over to them; maintaining his act, "Ah, It has been a while, Mister Spears… Miss Sutcliff. I must say, I am surprised you have returned your hair to this…style." he reluctantly took Grell's hand and kissed his knuckles like he had with the vice principal's.
William barely stopped himself from sneering at the sight of the demon.
"Mr. Michaelis," he said politely with a nod. He would hold his tongue to maintain his cover, but he was extremely displeased that now he had to keep an eye on the demon on top of seeking out the reason for the disappearing students.
"How wonderful that you all know one another. This will make your stay with us more pleasant, will it not?" Sofia said with a smile. "Mr. Michaelis, we were about to go on a tour of the grounds, would you care to join us?"
"But of course. Thank you, Miss Wynstelle." Sebastian smiled, offering his arm to her.
Grell glanced over at William, taking his arm as they followed Sofia on the tour of the grounds, learning the layout of the school itself, and the individual dorms for the boys and girls, then finally to the Staff's private quarters where they were shown to their rooms.
William escorted Grell around the school, unsure as to what he might have done had the demon taken Grell's arm instead. He realized it was ridiculous to think about and instead kept an eye out for anything suspicious, but everything was amazingly normal.
The maid from before greeted them as they reached the staff private quarters, "I'm sorry, we had not been told that you were a woman, Miss Sutcliff, so we had to rearrange rooming. The additions to the living quarters have not been finished so, Mister Spears, Mister Michaelis, You two will be sharing a room here." she said, motioning to one room.
William's eyebrow twitched as the maid told them that he and Sebastian would be rooming together. He physically had to bite his tongue to stop from saying something he would probably wind up regretting anyway and instead gave the maid a somewhat pained smile.
"That is fine. I understand. It will not be a problem," he said with a nod. Well, at least he would be able to keep an eye on the demon just as he had when they'd had to share the same tent at the circus. He suppressed a shudder at the memory. It was far less than ideal, but he could manage. If it became truly intolerable, he could probably retreat into Grell's room and sleep on the floor.
"Miss Sutcliff, You will have your own room here." she motioned to the room across the hall from the previous, and then handed them keys, "Your room mate is on a personal leave. Actually, she is the instructor you are filling in for, so you probably won't meet her until you are leaving us again."
Grell bit back a look of pure jealousy when the maid looked at him, replacing it with a smile, "Oh, I have no problem with my own room, thank you." He said.
"Well, I'll leave you three to get settled in before you begin teaching this afternoon. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to come to my office." Sofia said with a smile, leaving with the maid.
Once the three temporary teachers were alone, Sebastian rounded on the reapers, "I assume that your presence here is because of the missing children having some connection to your own line of work? Well, I would greatly appreciate it if you two would not interfere with my master's own investigation." His eyes narrowed as they slid over to look at William, "Like you did at the Circus, and," his eyes glared at Grell, "Like you do every time I am unfortunate enough to run into you."
"Ah~ Don't say it like that, Sebas-chan! You always end up satisfying your master's orders, whether we are around or not. Now…on to more important matters…how is your room set up?" he'd pushed past the two males and grabbed William's key, opening the room and looking around the small room. The room mirrored itself, a bed in the corner, a chest of drawers, and a desk. William's luggage had been set on the foot of the bed on the left, while Sebastian's was on the right; A single window in the center of the far wall. "Well, how quaint. Don't get too close, you two." He winked, walking in and sitting down on William's bed.
William sighed and followed behind Grell into the room and was not at all surprised by the size of it. It was only slightly smaller than the tent had been, but for some reason, it seemed downright tiny...likely because the walls were thicker. It did not have the airy feel the tent had. William resolved to spend as little time in there as possible.
"I assume the young Earl is here, then?" William said, adjusting his glasses and glaring coldly at the demon. "Then, sadly, I do not have valid reason to get rid of you once and for all. So long as our goals here do not conflict, there will be no reason to obstruct each other's investigations, correct?"
"Of course the young master is here. He arrived two days ago along with a few other new students." Sebastian said, walking in after the two reapers and eyeing them, "I have to ask…why is he in a dress?" He asked, pointing to Grell.
"With my hair like this, you ask about my dress?" Grell asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I assume undercover work for you automatically means you go back to your innocent, mousy look. Though you do look nicer than last time I saw you with such an appearance."
Why, are you trying to actually flatter me~?" Grell giggled, offering no answer to the question, "I'm touched." He wiggled his hips and then pushed up off the bed and walked over to William, "I fear the rest of our little conversation will have to wait a bit longer, darling. But for now, I'm going across the hall to powder my nose." He giggled and walked over to his own room.
William nodded to Grell and watched him leave, then turned to Sebastian.
"As before, Mr. Michaelis, I will be keeping an eye on you. Just because you and your master are present, supposedly for an investigation of your own, that does not free you from suspicion," he said crisply. "Now if you will excuse me, I have a class to teach."
William went to his luggage and picked a briefcase, quite eager to get out of the too-small room.
Sebastian rolled his eyes, "We both know that classes do not start back up for another hour. But," in a flash, he was over by William, pinning him down, "If you prevent me from following any of my orders, I'll make sure you will no longer pose a threat to our investigation." He hissed dangerously, then released him and walked to the door, "And keep Sutcliff away from me, if you would be so kind. There is no telling what may happen to him should he get too close again."
"Refrain from feasting on any souls and I will have no quarrel with you," William said with a glare. "I will advise him, but I am not Sutcliff's keeper. However, should you do anything to him, provoked or not, I will take action against you."
Sebastian raised an eyebrow, "…Interesting…I wonder…" he closed the door again and leaned against it, looking at William, "So, tell me, is Grell's self-control right now due to his act of being undercover, or have you said…or done something to make him act so calmly?"
"There is nothing interesting about it," William remarked coldly. "I will not stand by and allow a demon to harm one of my kind. As for Sutcliff's demeanor, I cannot speak for him, but I believe it is for his cover."
William honestly wasn't sure about the reason behind Grell's behavior. It could be because of the job at hand, or it might be consideration for William...but he was not arrogant enough to think that. Still, there was no need for the demon to get any ideas.
"I wonder then, how well he can keep up his act with so much temptation…Shall I test him?" he smirked.
"What temptation?" William asked with a raised eyebrow. "Surely you don't mean yourself?"
The demon's lips twitched upwards in a smile, pressing a gloved finger to them before he left the room, disappearing down the hall.
William frowned at the demon as he left, unsure as to what to expect from him.
Still, he could take this opportunity to investigate parts of the school before his afternoon classes.
He searched for clues and introduced himself to several students to garner some information, but it seemed that no one knew who the missing children were - as if they had never existed. It wasn't that unusual, really, but it wasn't a good sign.
To be continued...