Finny sprang off the tree stump he was sitting on and waved wildly as Maylene furtively slipped out of the manor's side door. She hurried over to where he was waiting, a grayish bundle clutched to her chest.
"Sorry I'm late!" she cried, ducking her head. "It took longer than I thought it would to prepare my part and—"
"Don't worry, don't worry!" Finny shushed her. "I haven't been waiting long. Now all we need to do is wait for Bard!"
Maylene beamed back at him, sunlight glinting off her spectacles. "And hope Sebastian doesn't find out," she added.
"Y-Yeah…" Finny deflated slightly. "Still! No need to worry about what hasn't happened yet, right?"
The two of them waited patiently as the minutes ticked by. Finny occasionally squinted up at the sun, wondering how you were supposed to tell time by watching it when watching it made your eyes hurt, and Maylene kept a nervous eye out in case a certain butler's wrath looked to become imminent.
"…do you think he forgot?" Maylene asked timidly. "Maybe he's busy with his art and forgot…"
Finny shook his head vehemently. "Bard wouldn't do something like that!" he declared. "I'll bet he's on his way right n—"
An explosion shook the ground beneath their feet. A huge bloom of black smoke puffed from a nearby wall, sending debris flying everywhere. One particularly large piece sailed right in Finny and Maylene's direction, landing with a graceless thump at their feet. After a moment, it started coughing.
"B-Bard?" The two of them crowded over the figure on the lawn.
The lump coughed a little harder and rolled over, lifting a hand to grope at his face before shoving the goggles out of the way. "Yo," Bard replied weakly. His entire face was covered in soot, except for the oblong rectangle where his headgear had been. "You two been waiting long?"
"Are you alright? What happened?" Maylene asked.
"Nothing I couldn't handle," Bard said dismissively. He picked himself off the ground, tried to rake his hair back into some kind of order with his fingers, before looking around the debris-strewn grass. "Though maybe I should've tried that last part on lowest setting rather than the highest—"
Finny looked around the lawn, puzzled. "What are you looking for?"
"I'm looking for the—aha! There it is!" Bard triumphantly scooped up a cinderblock lying nearby. He proffered it to the other two. "Eheheheh…cake?"
Finny and Maylene watched as the remains of the supposed cake silently crumbled to char between Bard's outstretched hands.
"Yeeeah…" Bard sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "I was just going to take a little nap and next thing y'know it was three-thirty and I was trying to put together a picnic basket and then I thought I'd speed things up a little with the flamethrower that arrived just last week and—"
"Never mind!" Finny grabbed both their hands. "We don't need food to have a picnic! Come on, I made a surprise in the gardens for you two. Close your eyes and follow me!"
Maylene and Bard obeyed, the latter with one last sorrowful look at the remains of what would have been his greatest masterpiece. They stumbled after Finny as he led them through the Phantomhive estate, Bard occasionally grumbling for a fresh cigarette and Maylene still firmly clutching her bundle under one arm.
It seemed like ages before Finny's bright, breathless voice sounded. "Okay, now you can open your—noooo!"
Bard's eyes flew open and he gazed around the clearing, which consisted of a dead tree in the center of a dead flower garden surrounded by dead grass.
"It's—It's beautiful," Maylene said bravely, elbowing the cook.
"What? Look at it, it's all—ow!" Bard glared back at Maylene, rubbing the back of his head. "Oh, uh—yeah. Beautiful. Very—uh—brown. I hear nihilism is very popular in Europe these days."
"I was so busy keeping it a secret I forgot to water it!" Finny wailed. "I wanted it to be a surprise for you guys—"
"Never mind, we can still enjoy the day!" Maylene insisted. "The sun is shining—and look, I cleaned a tablecloth specially so we could sit on the gra—I mean, ground and not get our uniforms dirty. See?" She unfurled the bundle she was carrying and proudly laid the cloth flat on the dirt.
Bard gazed at the cloth and then looked down at his sooty uniform. "Well, I guess it can't get much dirtier than this," he said.
"Huh?" Maylene looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Umm…" Finny dried his tears and crouched by the cloth, lifting it gingerly just in case the sparkling cleanliness had hidden on the other side. "Maylene…what did you use to wash it with…?"
"Oh! I used this!" Maylene rummaged in a pocket and pulled out a rectangular tin. "Polish brand Bleach! I'd never heard of it but if Sebastian bought it then it must be really good!"
Bard and Finny exchanged silent glances. Bard heaved himself off the ground and peered at the tin Finny had taken. "Uh—I don't know how to tell you this, but—"
Maylene's lower lip trembled. "I—I didn't use boot polish again, did I?"
"No! No!" Finny waved his hands. "It's very pretty! Very white! Right, Bard?"
"Yeah, it's fine!" Bard hastily plopped down on the ground. "See? I'm sittin' on it right now and I can feel my uniform getting whiter already!"
Maylene sniffed loudly and wiped away tears beneath her glasses. "It's okay, guys, you d-don't have to pretend for my sake."
"It's okay, Maylene!" Finny flung himself at her. "At least you tried, right? It's the thought that counts!"
Bard sighed and heaved himself off the ground for the second time that day, before grabbing the other two in a big bear hug. "We've still got each other," he said gruffly. "Ugh, I sound like a gift card."
Maylene hugged the two of them back fiercely. "Well—we can try again tomorrow!" she said. "Come on, we should get back to work before—"
A polite cough sounded behind them.
The three servants sprang into a petrified line, quivering with fear. "M-Mr. Sebastian sir!" Bard said nervously. "We, uh—we were just about to—"
"It's all my fault!" Finny burst out, "I made them come see my garden—"
"I fainted!" Maylene cried. "They were just trying to wake me up—"
Sebastian held up a hand. "I'm not interested in your excuses," he sighed. Walking over, the butler picked up the tablecloth and neatly folded it, eyebrows creasing faintly with distaste as the boot polish came off on the fingers of his immaculate white gloves. "All of you, please come with me."
He turned and walked off into the woods.
Finny, Bard, and Maylene exchanged nervous glances. "W-We're not going to be fired, are me?" Maylene whispered nervously, clutching her glasses tight.
"I don't know," Finny said anxiously. "Maybe the young master's waiting for us—"
"I said, all of you, please come with me." Sebastian's voice rang out over the dead clearing. Bard squeaked.
"C-Coming sir!" they chorused, and hurried after Sebastian in the direction he'd gone. They followed the shape of his black-clad shoulders through the woods, fighting brambles and bushes the entire way, until they stumbled out into a sunlit clearing.
"Young master!" Bard stood to attention as the other two stiffened on either side of him.
Ciel regarded them from his tree stump with a stern expression on his face. Then he sighed and said, "Look to your left."
Bard, being the one furthest to the left, cautiously opened an eye and turned his head the tiniest of fractions. There, sitting atop the lush grass, was a small table laid with a cheerful blue-and-white checkered table cloth and set for three. Sebastian was in the process of transferring plates covered with an artful arrangement of delicate French pastries, rows of colorfully iced petit fours, and pyramids of tiny little sandwiches from a small cart to the table, to say nothing of the silver tea service that gleamed in the afternoon sun, already awaiting their attentions.
The other two gradually joined him, all three staring in shock as Sebastian serenely rearranged the plates already on the table to accommodate a dish piled high with fresh scones and lined with little pots containing five different kinds of jam.
"S-Sir?" Maylene quavered.
"I knew you would mess it up so I asked Sebastian to arrange tea on the lawn for you," Ciel explained. He arched an eyebrow at them. "Or did you think I would forget it's been exactly one year since you started working for me?"
Sebastian straightened and cast them all an icy look that promised hours of scrubbing floors on hands and knees if profuse thanks were not immediately forthcoming.
Maylene immediately dropped a wobbly curtsey, followed by Finny's low bow. "Thank you, young master!" they chorused over Bard's startled yelp as Finny dragged him into a bow too.
"Yeah, uh, thank you, young master," Bard straggled behind them.
Ciel gave a lordly wave of his hand. "You may have the rest of the day off," he said. "But make sure to bring everything back to the mansion when you're finished."
"Thank you, young master!" they chorused again.
The moments after Ciel and Sebastian walked away were consumed mostly with consumption as the three of them eagerly fell upon the feast laid out for them. Bard tossed a handful of ham sandwiches into his mouth, chewed vigorously for a few moments before swallowing and saying solemnly, "Guys, we're forgetting something."
Finny paused mid-croissant, face already decorated with flaky crumbs. "What are you talking about, Bard?"
The cook eyed his tea cup with distaste before sighing and picking it up. "Should be something stronger…eh, but you guys are underage." He cleared his throat and raised it high. "To the young master!" he boomed.
Maylene raised her own cup. "A-And to Mr. Sebastian!" she added, blushing faintly.
Finny beamed at the two of them as he raised his own cup with two hands. "To the best job in the whole wide world!" he chirped. "Cheers!"
"Ho, ho, ho!" Mr. Tanaka added, and sipped his tea with a beatific smile.
Sebastian held the door open as Ciel stepped through the manor's front door. "That was unnecessary," he remarked.
"It makes them happy," Ciel replied dismissively, "and happy pawns are loyal ones."
He arched an eyebrow the barest fraction of an inch. "Oh?"
"I didn't ask for your opinion," Ciel scowled up at him. "Now go fix my afternoon tea, if you have so much time to stand around chatting."
Sebastian bowed. "Yes, my lord."