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The Countess

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Ciel didn’t return from his business until late, though Elizabeth was still awake. She’d yet to change into her night clothes, her hair still hanging around her shoulders, and when he came into their rented abode, she was standing in front of the set of bookshelves, still scouring the shelves for more things written in a language she understood to add to her small but growing collection.

She could hear his voice through the wall, but she couldn’t quite make out the words. Instead of trying to listen in, annoyance got the best of her and she threw open the door, stomping out to stand before him.

“Where have you been?” She asked, jaw clenched.

“I had a meeting. It was business,” He told her coolly. “I sent Sebastian to stay with you and make sure you were okay. I assume you’re fine.”

“Bodily, perhaps, but I can’t help my annoyance at you. I understand that you seek work every where you are, perhaps for the convenience of already being here, but I’m admittedly a bit miffed you thought staying out all day after leaving me so early in the morning was the best of plans.” Elizabeth crossed her arms in front of her chest and Ciel looked like he might move to say something. “No, I don’t want to hear it. There’s no excuse or reason you could give me that would make me feel less of what I’m feeling, whatever it is.”

“Elizabeth-”

“No, darling. I am your wife. I have promised my obedience and submission to your will, I have promised my understanding and my devotion, but I am your partner as well. Whatever that means to you, I do not want to be lesser to any of the things in your life. I do not wish to come second to your business. Do not put me beneath your business partners. I don’t even wish to be on the same level as them.”

“Lizzy, listen. Had I known you felt so strongly about me leaving this morning, I wouldn’t have. You voiced no objections so I saw no reason not to do my job.”

“You did not ask! Should I have sent an angry letter demanding your return?” She already regretted snapping at him. Having let her emotions get the better of her, she turned her gaze downwards. “I’m going to step out for a moment, if you don’t mind.”

Ciel looked simultaneously confused and distant, as though her aggravation was only a minor thought to him in the moment, and he stepped aside so that she could pass.

Elizabeth went up to their bedroom to change into appropriate walking attire, with Paula, leaving Ciel and his butler where they were.

Ciel’s jaw clenched visibly, loosening at the same pace that his hands balled into fists.

“Are wives always like this?” He asked. Ciel knew Elizabeth had always had qualities about her that many might find insufferable, but he saw no reason why she might be so angry with him.

“I am unmarried, My Lord. I’ve naught an idea what wives are meant to be like.” Sebastian replied with obvious disinterest. “But perhaps her frustration stims also from the way which you left her this morning?”

Ciel’s brows furrowed. “Whatever do you -” A blush crept up his neck as he remembered, looking towards the stairs. “Oh… Push that from your memory, Sebastian. I’m not a fan of the idea of you having such an image of Elizabeth in your mind.” He chastised and, with a thoughtful smile, Sebastian shrugged.

“As you wish, My Lord. I won’t think of her in that position any longer.”

 

Upstairs, meanwhile, Paula helped Elizabeth undress, tightening her corset about her waist and adjusting the shift beneath it.

“I should have listened to every warning about husbands,” Elizabeth complained, looking herself over in the floor length mirror. She ran her hands over her form, over the fashionable curve of the corset.

“What do you mean, M’Lady?” Paula asked, laying out a green walking dress, combing over the fur lined collar in search of any flaws which would make it unsuitable for her lady.

“It takes a bit of fighting to make a man see being his wife is more than just the willingness to roll over.”

Paula’s brows shot up at her surprising vulgarity. Elizabeth noted her surprise in the mirror and laughed, a contagious one that seemed to be the permission Paula needed to join her, her own giggles bubbling up before they both erupted in a fit of giggles.

“You’re not too angry, then, I suspect?” A familiar voice broke through the laughter.

The girls both halted, Paula becoming much more rigid and bowing her head at her impropriety, thinking she might get scolded. Ciel had never scolded her, but he’d certainly had Sebastian do it. Perhaps it was because Ciel didn’t want his bride to know he found Paula displeasing, due to their closeness. Surely finding them like this meant she’d suffer yet another scolding at the hands of that butler.

Elizabeth cut her eyes at him in the mirror. “I certainly am.”

“Not enough to keep it up when I turn around, though?” He was still standing in the open doorway, watching Elizabeth’s reflection.

“Let us see. Turn around.”

“Lizzy,” He scoffed, rolling his neck. “Don’t be like this.” He started to walk toward her, reaching out to touch her elbow.

“Like what?” She didn’t make a show of moving away from him, letting his fingers dance over her bare elbow, curling around its slimness. “We’ve not even seen London since we’ve wed and already you’re tossing me aside for business prospects. Should I be content while left in the cold, ignorant of all that you do? Left at home with your butler like he’s my guard dog.”

“Such anger, Lizzy,” She could feel his breath against her shoulder, “All for me?” He kissed her shoulder. Here she flinched, unsettled only a little by his statement.

The door clicked as Paula made her hasty escape, and Elizabeth turned to Ciel. “Don’t think your attempts at seduction will faze me. If anything it gives me more to be angry about.”

“Does it?”

“Certainly,” His presence had stomped out her intentions for a walk, sighing at the dress Paula had sat out.

“And why is that?”

“Because you - you- you’re acting the part of an ass, Ciel. We’ve not even met our twenties, so perhaps it’s childishness that makes it so, but I won’t stand to be brushed aside every time something exciting calls upon you. Certainly not for the rest of our lives. I’ve hardly the mind to stand for it.”

“You seek to correct my misbehaviour?”

“I do,” She pulled her arms behind her to start loosening the string of her corset.

Ciel watched, thinking to offer help but knowing he hadn’t the slightest idea how one would even begin. “And if I apologize, will you accept it?”

“If you meant it, perhaps,” she undid the front busk and set the corset in one of the armoire drawers.

“Well, I do mean it. Lizzy, I’m sorry.” Something flashed in his eye, then dissipated and swam away, leaving only the glittering gaze she was used to. “You must teach me to be a good husband to you, or else I’ll have no idea how best to please you.”

-----

Elizabeth made no more mention of it, simply watching and waiting and correcting him where need be. And over the coming days, Ciel showed her his abilities as a husband were broader than he’d previously expressed. They’d gone out to some countryside villa in a town with a name that Elizabeth could neither spell nor pronounce and would stay their final days there, riding horses and playing games and soaking in the pleasant weather.

It was there, while picnicking with her husband in a field filled with icy grass, that Elizabeth voiced an inquisition she’d never thought before to make. It hadn’t rained or snowed dreadfully since they’d arrived on their tour, and though the winter month wasn’t the best for any tours, it hadn’t meant any delays in their enjoyment of the aesthetics. And out here, in this chilly weather in the country, the air was calming.

She’d sat beside her husband in a pair of chairs that Sebastian had brought out for them, having finished their lunch they now sipped a white wine while they sat.
“Ciel, my love,” She looked over at him, placing a gloved hand over his, “Might I ask you a question. About the estate?”

He looked over at her, recognizing the oddity of the inquisition. “If you wish. What is it?”

“Is there some issue with our financials which you are afraid to share with me?”

Ciel looked offended at the question. “Whatever do you mean? Our financials are impeccable, be not worried about it.”

Elizabeth tried to rectify. “Don’t fret, Ciel, I don’t mean to insult you - how silly that’d be, since I’m under your financials now as well. But I’ve always thought it rather odd you’ve so small a household. The estate is much too large for only one maid, and to have your butler acting as your valet -”

“I’m not fond of you insulting the way I live,” He puffed up, his brows furrowing to watch her, while all she did was laugh.

“It’s how we live, and darling I think you will find that you insult me! My husband keeps his butler as his valet and his footman, and hosts only one housemaid and almost no kitchen staff? Makes me feel that I might have to lend Paula to the gardens! It’s improper management, and I beg you, if we can afford it, we must hire a larger staff. It is cruel, and our own staff won’t be young and able for ever. I should think Mey-Rin would be rather proud of the promotion, anyways.”

Ciel bristled, and he seemed to struggle to challenge her.

Before he could, Elizabeth continued. “It would make me very happy, My Lord. To have a house filled the way it ought to be. Operating as it should.”

“Certainly.Then I shall have Sebastian look into it.” Ciel looked away from her and lifted his glass to his lips, finishing the wine that was there before Sebastian stepped forward form somewhere - Elizabeth hadn’t thought he’d been there the whole time, but who’s to say? - and offered him more from the crystal decanter.

He accepted, though Elizabeth had hardly worked on her first glass.

“Another serving, Lady Phantomhive?”

“No, thank you, Sebastian. I’m quite full. Shall I help you take everything in? I know it’s quite a lot for one person.” She stood from where she sat and smoothed out the back of her magenta faille. Sebastian began to deny her assistance, but she held up her hand, “I insist. I ought to make myself useful. Out here in the country, oughtn’t I behave like a proper country girl?”

Sebastian chuckled, measured and slightly false, but Ciel sighed. “Elizabeth, there’s no need. Sebastian is quite capable.”

“Capable is irrelevant when I’m volunteering my assistance. I’ve done it plenty in the past, haven’t I, Sebastian?”

“Has she, Sebastian?”

“Certainly, My Lord. She’s insisted upon my teaching her things. Cooking, and the like.”

“You’ve been teaching my wife to cook?”

“You told him to do as I pleased, and it pleased.” Elizabeth smiled, then leaned down and planted a kiss on his shocked lips. “Don’t worry, I’ve no plans to run off and join the scullery any time soon. I’m rather fond of my position.”