Ciel wrinkled his nose as he stepped gingerly over a mangled rat covered in flies. "Isn't it somebody's job to clean up things like this?"
"I believe most of the local inhabitants of this particular district are so used to such sights that they no longer notice them," Sebastian replied, fingers poised to remove a glove. "Shall I dispose of it?"
"You might as well. We don't want some hungry prostitute contracting the black plague."
Ciel didn't bother to try and follow the demon's movements with his eyes-- if Sebastian wanted it gone, it would be gone, whatever that meant.
They were in Whitechapel again, this time on the trail of a kidnapping ring. Ciel had done his best to forget the exact alley in which Madam Red had taken her last breath, and so he had no idea if the dried blood on this wall belonged to his aunt or some other unfortunate. She might have been a half-mad murderer, but the moment of hesitation that killed her had also partially redeemed her in his eyes. He preferred not to dwell on her crimes.
Sebastian replaced his glove. "We should make haste. I can sense the children, but we have only forty-five minutes until their relocation."
"According to Lau, at least," Ciel said dryly. Lau was a valuable asset, but he didn't trust the man further than he could throw him. Metaphorically speaking.
"If I may make a small suggestion, we would travel much faster if I were to carry you."
"I'll walk," Ciel growled, increasing his pace. He had recently suffered a sprained ankle, and was deeply sick of being ferried around by other people. It still pained him slightly, but the discomfort was worth the restoration of his dignity.
Sebastian sighed. "If you insist on putting your pride before your health-"
"Hurry up, or I'll leave you behind."
The children were being kept in the basement of a rather run down looking church. There was a back entrance to the basement in a narrow alley, half concealed by some rubbish.
"This rather tragic attempt at camouflage suggests our culprits are familiar with this entrance," remarked Sebastian.
"Which doesn't mean they actually use it," pointed out Ciel. "There's probably a less conspicuous route through the church. We should split up and watch both doors."
"Where shall I wait?"
He didn't need to think about it. "Back here. I'll be in the church. If they come your way, return to me after you've incapacitated them."
Sebastian bowed. "Yes, my lord. But if they should choose the church entrance, do not hesitate to call for me."
With that, he slipped into the shadows and Ciel walked around to the front of the church.
The stairway inside that led to the basement was behind the altar. There was a time when Ciel might have felt compelled to stop for a brief prayer, even in a place such as this, where it seemed unlikely that any higher power with good intentions was listening. He didn't even consider it now.
It was a spiral staircase, so Ciel sat a little bit above the ground floor, where he could keep an eye on the door and a hand on his pistol. While he had no description of the kidnappers to go on, it was safe to assume at this hour no one without sinister motivations would have access to the building, let alone an interest in the basement.
He didn't have long to wait.
The door creaked open slowly at half past. Shadowy, bulky figures crept through it and began to descend. Ciel waited for what appeared to be the last of them, and then slid carefully down a couple of steps and leaned over, aiming a shot at what he hoped was either the last one's shoulder or the space beside it.
He pulled the trigger and flattened himself against the stairs as the criminals started at the noise and one of them yelped in pain.
"What the hell was that?"
"All right, which of you bastards is playing around?"
"Something got me in me arm! I think I'm bleeding! And there's nobody behind me!"
"Not quite," Ciel said. "All of you, put your hands up, or next time I won't miss."
A few obeyed instantly, including the one Ciel had shot, but somebody made a derisive sound and said, in a distinctively rich baritone, "Nice trick if you can manage it, mate. Unless you're a cat, I'd wager you're about as blind as we are in this darkness."
Ciel gritted his teeth. He could call for Sebastian now, of course, but it still seemed that he had a chance of subduing them-- half were already obviously frightened, and fear had a way of spreading in crowds. "Do you really want to take that chance?"
"Yeah, I think I do, actually. Particularly since, pardon the observation but you don't exactly sound like some burly policeman type."
The key, Ciel thought, was to keep him talking. He turned his head and shifted so he could angle his pistol at roughly where it seemed like the chatty one's voice was coming from. "You don't say."
"Yeah, more like a girl or a kid's voice. Of course, you could be a lumberjack with a high voice, but I'm willing to gamble otherwise."
Ciel fired another shot, but before he could assess whether he'd hit his mark, a thick hand closed around his leg and yanked him down.
"Boss, I think I've caught the bugger!"
He landed with some force, pain shooting up his leg from his compromised ankle. It left him momentarily disoriented, and that was enough time for the goons to seize him about the neck and disarm him.
"Hey, it is a kid! Kid, what are you doing out this late, huh?"
"I dunno, maybe it's a short flat chested girl in trousers."
Ciel ignored them, reaching for his face. If he could just get the bandage off his eye--
"Don't try and get away now," his captor rumbled, catching one of his wrists and sliding his arm down to further restrain Ciel.
"Girlie, you picked the wrong gang to sneak up on."
Ciel closed his eyes and pushed down his frustration. He couldn't overpower them, not without Sebastian, so there was only one option at this point, and that was to play scared little boy. "Please," he whispered, affecting a nervous tremor, "please, I'm so sorry, I didn't realize there were so many of you. If you'd just let me go-"
"Ha!" The man holding Ciel loosened his grip. "What do you know, Boss, we found one with a sense of humor!"
If he'd held a higher opinion of their general intelligence, Ciel might have attempted to cry or shiver consistently. As it was, he settled for a sort of half-whimper and went limp, forcing the burly one to drag him down the stairs.
"At least we won't need to drug the little shit, he's already out cold."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that, but lucky for him, we ran out of the stuff this morning," said a voice that Ciel recognized as belonging to the skeptic, probably also the one they called 'boss'. "Make sure to tie him up securely-- this is some fancy toy he's got. Stands to reason he's got nimble fingers."
The opiates were no piece of luck-- they had been supplied by Lau, who had tipped Ciel off in the first place. Still, he was glad they'd assumed he was a common thief, since a common thief was assumed to have no reinforcements.
There was a jingle of keys, and a curse. "Can't see a bloody thing in this pitch black. Hasn't anybody got a match?"
Evidently someone had. After Ciel blinked his eyes at the flood of light, he could at last make out the hoodlums' faces. The man holding the match said, impatiently, "Get on with it, Jim, we haven't got all bloody night."
They dragged him through the newly opened basement door, and he saw the children, most dozing fitfully, with one pigtailed girl staring blankly at them. There were no visible bruises or signs of violence, at least, at a cursory glance.
The match flickered out, and another one was struck, this time held by a wiry fellow with a thin mustache. "Good thing we've got all this rope. Remember to do his hands behind his back first, then his feet. Not like he's got anywhere to go, but little things can deliver some nasty kicks to the face. I should know."
How convenient, that their leader's face was as distinctive as his voice.
Ciel made a token attempt at struggling while they restrained him, though he didn't have to feign pain when they handled his compromised ankle roughly. When they were finished, one of the burly thugs who had probably seized him in the first place asked, "You think he'll sell? Folks might be put off by his only having one eye."
"Let's have a look, then," the wiry one said, striking another match.
The bandage was removed, and Ciel's fringe pulled out of the way so his eye could be fully examined.
"Well, it's not oozing or bleeding or anything nasty. Never seen anything like it, really. Guess he can't see out of it, though."
"Pretty, really," the leader remarked. "I'd say it adds to his value. Put him with the posh kids over there."
He was unceremoniously dumped beside the hollow eyed pigtailed girl, who only seemed to faintly register this change to her environment. He wouldn't have to roll very far to be right against the door leading outside.
The wiry man shook his head. "Looks like your luck's run out, kid. Any final words before one of my mates here knocks you cold?"
Ciel smiled. "Just one." He raised his voice. "Woof!"
The door nearly flew off its hinges to reveal Sebastian. Someone fired at him, possibly with Ciel's gun, and in the ambient light from the open doorway Ciel saw Sebastian snatch the bullet out of the air and hurl it back at the assailant, who let out a pained grunt.
A couple of them charged Sebastian while one raced towards the stairs, apparently intent on escape. The first two were thrown to the ground, and the last one appeared to suddenly stop and collapse to the floor
Pandemonium broke out.
Tuning out the screams and shouts and sickening bone crunches, Ciel attempted to stand up. It took some doing, seeing as his hands and feet were still bound, and it was agony putting weight on his right foot. He was still trying when he saw Sebastian seize the wiry man with the thin mustache by the collar. "Stop! Untie me first."
Sebastian bowed his head in acknowledgement, pushed the wiry man against the door and planted a silver knife in his shoulder, nailing him to the wood. "Try not to wander off."
It was the work of a moment for Sebastian to remove the ropes and lend Ciel a hand to help him to his feet. "I see you've hurt your ankle again, my lord. And some of these ropes appear to have chafed your skin."
"Never mind that now," Ciel said impatiently. He made his way to the gang's leader, who was staring at them with horror.
Ciel flicked the knife, and the man winced. "Looks like your luck's run out. You really shouldn't have gambled against me. You see, I never lose."
They left the thugs and the children for the police to find.
"I can't walk on this," Ciel said finally, after limping outside. Because he could already see the edge of Sebastian's smug 'I was right and you were wrong' look, he added, "I was perfectly capable earlier. I would still be perfectly capable if I hadn't been pulled down a flight of stairs."
"In any case, I believe more bed rest is in order."
Ciel made a face at that, and at his butler's barely concealed amusement. "You needn't be so gleeful about it."
Sebastian gently hooked his arm underneath Ciel's knees and lifted him up. "As I have said before, there is no reason for you to take unnecessary risks. You go too far because you assume I will always be behind you."
"And as I have said before," Ciel said crossly, "I know that you will always be there, so I can go as far as I damn well please."
Sebastian did smile at that. "Yes, my lord."