Grell is assigned to filing cabinets after months of processing and subsequent detainment. It is a tragic comeback. Clearly the task is not meant for him – he was assigned to Collections for a reason, and as such it is entirely unethical that William punish him in this manner. He recites another litany about how he'd much prefer filing nails to filing papers, about how it's bo-o-oring and nobody ever uses these stupid old records anyway. Besides, Management's number one concern is getting everyone to do the job they are most suited to, in the best possible way. Grell need hardly remind anyone how he has always been better at the physical side of active duty.
"Stop calling me Will," is the only reply he gets, then the door is slammed and he's left to a stack of moldy envelopes and rusted paperclips.
For a moment he considers escape, then decides not to push too hard. Perhaps tomorrow Willy will be in a better mood, more inclined to listening to reason ("I mean, the last time I had to do paperwork, you remember those bitches from General Affairs? Yes, the crying ones. No, it wasn't my fault,") and making good decisions. Grell spends the rest of the day cutting strings of paper hearts out of the documents, and hanging them around the dim room.
The truth is – and Grell is nearly ashamed to admit this, because he isn't typically the sort of person who clings to hopeless cases, or enjoys remembering doomed romances (something he'd lost count of years ago) – the truth is, he can't get the memory of Sebastian out of his head, flung across the gravel and bleeding from the mouth, the hair swept across his forehead in the most agonizingly handsome way possible. Grell makes such a racket moaning from the memory that his roommate next door (Edward-something-or-other, who has a snub nose and ugh, a unibrow) thumps on the wall and tells him to shut his yap, to which Grell promptly replies, "Do kindly mind your own business, my fuzzy friend."
Which, inadvertently, reminds him now of the smooth velvet of Sebastian's jacket those few moments he had the chance to brush against him close enough. The demon's eyebrows had shot up just a touch past ruffled; Grell had clapped a hand to his mouth and giggled "Tee-hee, excuse me!" before scuttling away to the kitchen to take care of his suddenly very pressing needs. The boy Phantomhive spared no luxuries for his butler's wardrobe, and Grell could appreciate the finery of the clothing, but he was certain that what lay beneath it was of even more superior quality. If he was that good at sparring, Grell can only imagine how well his darling Sebby would do at other activities, with no cold London cobblestones to distract them.
"If you don't stop your...wailing in there, I'm going to report it to Housing!" Edward-something shouts again.
In reply, Grell merely elicits another shriek of pleasure.
It all started with Shakespeare, someone's dusty volume high on a shelf. It's the only beautiful story he ever needs. Or ever needs to tell. Some people call it a flair for drama; Grell calls it his life's mission. It's a shame that after all this time, he still can't find anyone to stand on the stage next to him.
"This is beyond disastrous, Sutcliffe."
"But Will! I told you I wasn't cut out for Organizing! It's simply not the right department for me and my...talents!"
"How on earth are we going to retrieve these documents, now? You've cut every single one of them."
"Well, technically we're not on earth right now. So that sort of question is difficult to answer, really -"
Grell jerks, his mouth assuming a pout as he stares dolefully at William.
"I'm not joking. In case you haven't noticed, people are supposed to be professional around here. Management has already made enough exemptions for you – your dress code, your unreasonable demands for salary, your utter disregard for proper work ethic. I don't know why they always let you off the hook."
Grell considers, for a moment, telling him how it's easy, a sweet word here and there and his gloves discarded on the floor. Then he realizes William is not the kind of person who would appreciate the fine art of sleeping with one's employers. Instead, he says, in his best stage whisper, "Actually, I've had something on my mind recently. It's keeping me from concentrating."
William shifts his glasses so that they reflect the light. "Good god, Sutcliffe. If you're so distracted that you can't work, then go take a day off. I'm sure you can wheedle it out of your connections. We're so shorthanded; we can hardly afford someone making excuses. Is that understood?"
There's a silence while William scans the heart-strewn ceiling with a minimum of despair, waiting for a reply.
"You know, I can make out with you, if that will make you feel better," Grell offers, and narrowly misses a clipboard to his face.
Not that he isn't used to getting his face banged around. In some other drama, a long long time ago, he'd gotten his face bruised every day, all shades of purple and pink and sometimes bordering on gray, ashen as he'd lain against the floor, snorting out blood for all he was worth. They'd torn off the panties he'd struggled so hard to fit into; the idea of it now was very comic. He only remembers that the violent tendencies would go away and return, always the same broken bottles, the same tongues flicking out. Grell grew his hair out and dyed it red and never listened when they called him names, patiently counting the grooves against his wrist.
It's funny how a death god is born, actually, formed in a way that suits him best. He has his scythe, his uniform, enough free time to do whatever he pleases, when Management hasn't got a job for him. And thanks to those bitches at General, he has all the cosmetics (and all the falsies) that he could possibly need.
It's more difficult to get the vacation than he expects, though eventually he has his work card stamped with the appropriate day off seal. The lady who does it for him has a bad perm and chewed fingernails; he smiles at her pleasantly, leaving as quickly as he can so that she doesn't have to witness him sobbing in pity because really, there are few things in life worse than a bad perm. He sighs deeply, wondering when they'll finally let him open up a proper Aesthetics department for the unenlightened (even in their business not everyone is blessed with godlike looks).
The difficulty was actually on account of someone (Willy?) having recorded him as unfit for both work and leisure in the common world, on the entirely unfounded basis that his workings with humans before had been detrimental to their whole organization. By tugging a little strings here and there he had managed to fix that nasty patch of misinformation. But he's not really thinking about that, anymore. What he's thinking is only sunshine, and freedom from that dank record room. He licks his lips as he steps out into the bright air, breathing in the sad smell of humanity with an eagerness further spurred by possibility.
After all, it's early morning on a Saturday. Which means all the househelp is in the marketplace, doing their groceries.
He went himself, before, still under his butler guise. Sebastian had come with him, forced to go (no doubt) by his cute little master. Grell had exclaimed loudly over the stench of pig blood, and when they had finally arrived at vegetables, the potatoes he picked were too small and the carrots were the wrong color. Sebastian had huffed in irritation. "No, you pick the ones without the dark spots. Obviously," he muttered, expertly selecting the largest and most orange in the bunch. Grell had sighed with admiration, but his dark-haired Romeo didn't notice, being much too concerned about getting home in time for tea.
"The young master's waiting," Sebastian had said. "Stop trailing behind, we need to hurry. Are you even listening to what I'm teaching you?"
"Of – of course!"
Sebastian had turned to look at him, one eyebrow cocked, as if he was not quite sure what to make of the stuttering simpleton before him (and how Grell had longed to show him what he was actually capable of, what a good bottle of dye could do); then he simply shrugged and let out a sigh, like he was used to inconvenience.
It must be hard, Grell thinks, to always have to consider someone else, to always put someone before you. It must be hard, and not rewarding, and tiring. Unpleasant. Bothersome. That whole demon business of making contracts is strange; humans, with their flesh and blood, their joy and despair, are the most fickle employers, and he can hardly imagine what compensation they offer when one has no need of material goods. To death gods, human souls are just another set of files, clipped and stored away for permanent safekeeping. He can hardly imagine feasting on them. It would be like chewing paper. And yet that was what their hellborn counterparts did.
When he first met Sebastian it had disturbed him beyond comfort, how the demon had willingly placed himself on a leash, a tightened collar, contentedly lapping at his master's boots. Slavering, nearly.
It occurred to him, once, to ask why. But he decided he would never appreciate the answer.
It's the most wonderful kind of déjà vu when he sees a dark head bent gracefully over a stack of imported beef. It takes Grell a great effort not to scream and suddenly discard all his clothing. Instead, he slithers up to Sebastian quietly, inching near enough until he can breathe a tender, seductive "Hello" without fear of not being heard.
"So this is really from Australia?" Sebastian remains in deep concentration; he doesn't even shudder at the sudden gust of air in his ear.
"Just came in yesterday," the seller proudly replies.
Grell decides it is best to stop being discreet (it's not possible that he was being ignored, simply not possible) and waves his hand lightly in front of Sebastian's face, not-accidentally letting his fingers touch the tips of the butler's hair. Sebastian swats his hand away, still inattentive, and looks up. "It occurred to me that my master isn't partial to beef and won't be having guests over, anyway. I'll pass for today."
"Sebastian!" Grell exclaims, unable to hold back any longer. "You still go by that name, don't you?"
"I'm sorry, I don't believe we've ever been acquainted before. Please excuse me." He moves away, but the smile is frozen on his face in what is most clearly a lie. Grell can see the twitch of displeasure on his lips that means he remembers their last encounter all too well; the idea makes him shiver with delight. It means a good deal that he hasn't yet been forgotten.
"I'm off duty today," Grell enthuses. "Let's get cocktails somewhere, Sebby, it's just too lucky that I ran into you today. It's not the sort of opportunity we should pass up –"
"Please move," and there's frost to the statement now. Grell remembers how the chainsaw hummed when it hit the demon's skin, the nice grinding sound it made. He doesn't mind tussling a second time, but for some reason it never occurred to him that denial would be Sebastian's first reaction.
"Stressed out from wearing that tight collar? I don't blame you, poor baby. The master making unfair demands as usual, I can see."
"I have no time for discussions at the moment. If you're lost, you can ask him for directions –" he indicates the butcher with a sharp flick of his head.
"Oh ho," Grell says, still keeping step with him as they start to hurry past piles of fruits. "You're frustrated, aren't you? I know demons. You're obviously not getting any. Out on a Saturday doing groceries for a little brat who doesn't even give you a proper paycheck?"
He finds himself against an alley wall before he has time to properly register the rushing of wind past his ears; the breath is knocked out of him and Sebastian is now dangerously close, close like how he'd imagined in his many dreams (though the effect was lessened rather because neither of them were naked). Sebastian's arms are stretched out on either side of him, pressed against the wall, baskets of vegetables hanging down from them so that the air reeks of agriculture. Grell finds himself aroused anyway.
"I'm not going to ask why you're here," Sebastian's voice makes it more of a purr than a growl. Grell can feel his shoulders hitching with anticipation because they're so damn close, just one mistaken tilt of his head and he'd have his fantasies ten times over. "Though I do hold to the fact that you seem to enjoy making me miserable. I think I can get on just fine dealing without your sort. And I think your subordinates will agree that this sentiment works in reverse."
Something clicks in Grell's brain and he moves, anyway, knows that he's being reprimanded but who gives a fuck, when did he ever care about pleasing anyone but himself? He bangs their faces together and finds the demon's mouth, mashing his against it hungrily, and is glad when all his calculations come to fruition because Sebastian, even if he seems to not want to, is reciprocating with some violent pressure of his own. It's clear, those dusty days in the manor, hands ghosting over his young ward's skin but not, never, touching. Like the filing cabinet and William always smacking him around with office supplies. It's simply not fun. They stay smushed against the wall like that for what feels like a long time (nobody's counting), Grell milking the kiss for all its worth, when suddenly Sebastian gets ahold of himself and pulls back, his mouth wrinkled like he wants to spit but can't for the sake of propriety.
"If I were not under strict orders to avoid murder, I can assure you, you would no longer be breathing."
"Darling," Grell moans. "You needn't bother. You've already stolen my breath away. And you shouldn't lie, I know you liked it too." He giggles. "Needed it, more like."
Sebastian merely glares, like he's trying too hard to compose himself.
"Don't tell me you're under strict orders to avoid screwing, too? How valiant."
"I'm not," Sebastian starts. Arranges the vegetables in his basket, eyes stony. "Needy like you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have tea to prepare. Good day."
In some alternate version of this story, Grell watches him walk away with a benevolent smile on his face, content with their last act of passion. It isn't a bad way to end the script, either; but he decides that for this version, he'll risk some hair-yanking by catching up to the demon and telling him, "I'll be waiting at the park next Saturday as well, if you'd like some consolation. Loneliness doesn't suit a creature like yourself." There's a sharpness to the silence in the air as he moves away. When Grell is alone in his room again later, doing things in his solitude that Housing (or whoever changes the sheets, anyway) would probably object to, he is excited by the idea that it could mean his offer was being seriously considered.
He does his work that week with little to no complaint.
Will's expression tells him that this is short of a miracle (the guys up there would be proud), but when he mentions he'll be taking the next Saturday off, too, Will snorts in a manner that clearly translates to oh, figures.
It's picnic with a checkered blanket, old-fashionedly romantic. He sits atop a hill with a view of the cemetery, inspecting the spread before him: wine, cheese, a tiny vase with a single rose in it, and an assortment of teacakes that will hopefully do nothing to recall what is clearly the main reason behind the demon's distress. He's wearing a dress he'd wheedled out of some chick in Accounting, completely impractical because he can't sit comfortably without ripping its bodice, but it's a suitable outfit for the occasion, if this will indeed turn into an occasion. If it doesn't, well. It's certainly not his loss.
Sebastian greets him with, "This doesn't mean anything except that I don't want to see you, ever again."
Grell tells him, "That can be arranged," then he reaches up and out, and suddenly they're crushed against the blanket and he feels very, very sorry, too sorry to separate what is a lie and isn't. When Sebastian murmurs a word that sounds like a name against his neck he thinks about beer bottles, about how ugly it is to be anything but a god. And a damn good one, too.
Jealousy is such an unattractive thing. It doesn't suit Grell, who is the most gracious heroine ever. This is enough, he thinks, for another stretch of lonely nights and a few more days working the cabinets until he gets promoted back to Collections, even if it leaves him with nothing but the sticky aftertaste of longing, of shared defeat.
"I suppose it would be futile to ask what constitutes this sudden and rather alarming change of heart," Will monotones, as Grell merrily tucks a sheet of paper into a purple envelope, slipping it into the drawer that is marked SA-SR.
"I broke up with my boyfriend," Grell explains patiently, pulling out another drawer marked U. "He was cheating on me."
"When you're done talking nonsense, go up. Management would like to have a word with you."
"Okay, Willy-Will," he singsongs.
The other death god drops a heavy stack of hardbound classifieds on his foot, uttering a muted 'Oops' as he slips out the door. Grell picks one up, brandishes his scissors, and makes a string of paper hearts. Then he rips them around the sides so that they seem frayed and veiny when he finally hangs them up.