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The Countess

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Sebastian knew well just how wonderfully Elizabeth could hold her own in a fight. He remembered her defense of her then-fiance aboard the Campania, remembered their own few past tussles, and with that knowledge, knew that he likely didn’t need to keep a façade of restraint while they sparred.

That had been years ago now, though, and Sebastian was surprised to find that Elizabeth’s strength had only grown. She’d disarmed him thrice now, despite his own valiant efforts, and he was determined to best her once again. Perhaps it was inappropriate for him, no more than a mere butler to her, to consider truly taking on the challenge of beating her ladyship. But in the same breath, concern must be had for a lady of their family. The lot of them were hardly to be considered ‘normal’, and if she could be useful when both he and her malfeasant groom were absent or otherwise indisposed would be valuable beyond recognition.

So he sparred with her, wooden swords clacking loudly with each measured moment. She didn’t spar now like she did when she fenced. This was a dance less lovely.

Elizabeth grunted and lunged again, her weight flung behind her arm as she pushed forward. But this time Sebastian managed to shift just out of the way, instead getting nicked only on the white-sleeved shoulder. This was one of the few times the butler had opted out of his traditional liveries, donning instead a white poet shirt, though his pants and cumberbund were the same.

He slipped his own wooden sword up, placing the blade against Elizabeth’s slim throat. “Your loss, My Lady.”

“You did not disarm me, Sebastian.” She referred to the earlier set rules, but Sebastian immediately chided.

“Armed, but dead, is dead nonetheless, yes?” Sebastian gave her one of those grins that danced on the edge of frightening. Sharp and too upturned, like some thoughtful owl waiting for its prey. It reminded her of a story that the indiginous bride of a wealthy American business man had told her while her family was in Chicago. She couldn’t remember many of the details, and it had never dawned on her to ask what tribe the girl had belonged to before marrying into society, but she’d listened then with interest. It only now dawned on her, with his eerie birdlike smile and thinned eyes looming over her like some great threat she’d never taken seriously in the past.

“Writing poetry of my defeat?” Elizabeth breathed, her voice dipping lower than usual, miffed to have lost, but not sore about it. Countess Phantomhive was many things. A sore loser was not to be put on that list, privately or otherwise. “Have you no shame?” She stepped away from his blade, composing herself. A few shaky breaths steadied her, and she fixed the waistband of her short skirt, one that had been made for cycling, though she never used it as such. Elizabeth had never been comfortable on the things, though she often saw couples bicycling together and envied them.

“Certainly not, My Lady.” A joke. Sebastian had made a joke. He was probably more proper, and more knowledgeable of propriety than either her or Ciel.

Elizabeth laughed. “None? Then won’t you do me a favor?”

Sebastian nodded. “As you wish.”

“My stocking has fallen, fix it won’t you?” Had her cycling skirt not been the typical versatile pair, with matching trousers under, she’d have never had the gall to request it of him. She’d no intentions of making it seem as though she might be flirting with her husband’s butler, and if she were to take an interest in the help, it certainly wouldn’t be in Sebastian. But in her corset, bending over so far was terribly uncomfortable, and there was no place here for her to brace her leg to bring it nearer.

He knelt before her, patting his knee. “Here.” She placed her foot on his knee. “Did Paula not give you a garter?”

She blushed at its mention. “I didn’t have one to match this outfit. Do not scold Paula over my silliness. She doesn’t…” Elizabeth stopped herself before she mentioned her underclothes any more than she already had.

“It’s getting late. Ciel will expect his evening meal soon. Send Paula up to the room for me. I should change into my evening dress.” She went to hang the wooden sword in its place, watching as Sebastian deftly replaced the sparring gloves with his normal ones.

“Sebastian, why do you wear gloves? Wouldn’t you consider them beneath you?”

“Ah, so it’s true!” Sebastian replaced his own wooden sword. “Ciel mentioned to me you’ve attempted coup of staff management. Shall you start with my state of dress?”

“Perhaps I ought. Though I won’t press you not to wear your gloves, should you wish it. But I think it silly how terribly understaffed we are. Perhaps there was no issue when it was just Ciel in the manor, but he’s a proper Earl now with a duty to host, rather than just attending parties. He’d best believe I have every intention of doing as a Countess ought, and that includes being Lady of the house. A true lady of the house. I shan’t allow it to be amiss no more than you would want your own abilities as butler to be doubted because we are understaffed and you are simply… making do. Though if you insist to continue to play the part of valet and butler, I might have half a mind to insist upon the hiring of an underbutler.”

“Heavens, Your Ladyship, you intend more change than I think my old brain can manage.”

“I believe you perfectly capable, Sebastian. And it won’t be all at once, don’t you worry. But I hope you understand.”

“It’s not my place to question it, if I didn’t.”

At this Elizabeth smiled and left the room, going through the halls of this rented manor towards her bedroom. This, more than the first, felt more like the Phantomhive manor where they would live upon return. Ciel and Elizabeth had their separate rooms here, though they still spent most of the nights together. Still, it was much easier for them to have their own dressing rooms. She had a great deal more storage, though she hadn’t used most of them. She’d had only a few garments made by an acclaimed tailor in town, and the milliner had sent over a few hats as a gift, hopes that she’d wear them in society and attract foreign customers. The London high society was so willing to spend money to catch up with the trends.

Not long after she’d gotten to her room had Paula joined her to dress her for dinner.

They’d decided upon a pink silk gown and matching coat, quarter sleeves dripping with lace and pinned at the elbow with sapphire pendants. String of pearls clipped at each button across her chest, though the deep-v of the collar dipped past the swell of her breast, the pile of lace there hid her cleavage from sight. There was hardly anyone in the house who would take offense to the spreading of the lace, should they catch a peek of her breast, so she bothered not with a fichu or tied collar.

Paula, who had been practicing new hairstyles she’d seen in magazines, did her hair up with pins on either side that held the hair back flat above her ears, then curled the hair and pinned it so that it looked loose and short, uniform in its perfect shape. Along the curled shape, several floral shaped sapphire pins were stuck. It wasn’t a hairstyle Elizabeth had seen before, though it reminded me of the vintage sort seen in photographs from before she was born. It seemed fashion was always a callback to some time deemed prettier than the current state of things.

“Thank you, Paula. This is beautiful. Though, I’ll like to get Ciel’s opinion of it before we do it again,” She noted, touching the heavy almost-bun at the back. “Rather strange, isn’t it? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think my hair was loose and simply beautifully curlled and pinned. And it looks so shiny.”

“‘Cause you’re so healthy, M’Lady. You’ve such a glow about you. Marriage is doin’ you very well, if you don’t mind my sayin’ as much.”

She smiled genuinely, “No, I don’t mind. You’re right, I’m a bit glowier than I was before.”

“Ain’t that what they say happens to mothers, Your Ladyship?”

“I suppose,” Elizabeth’s bright eyes glinted with the thought. “Though, I assure you, there’ll be no need for a nanny any time soon. I’m quite positive.”

Paula fastened a bracelet about Elizabeth’s thin wrist, then helped her clip on her earrings. “Does that disappoint you?”

“I don’t think so. I think it should, but we’re both so young. And it’s so scary. I think I’d rather first settle into my duties as countess before I bother navigating the trials of motherhood.”

Elizabeth stood and stepped into her shoes, “Well, I’d say I ought to get down to Ciel. Best not to ever leave him waiting, hm?”

“Surely not, M’Lady.”

Paula escorted Elizabeth down to the dining room before going herself down to assist Sebastian.

“Good Evening, my love,” Elizabeth acknowledged, catching Ciel on the side of the mouth before going to sit at his right. “Have you done anything exciting today?”

“While you were sparring with my butler? Hardly. Did you win?”

“I’d never bring us such shame as to lose. Though he did pin me once, I ended it before he could make a tie of it.”

Ciel laughed at this, lifting a glass of wine that Sebastian had poured for them to his lips. “My heart swells with pride. Tomorrow I plan to go into town - a gem fell from my cane and I had it sent in, but I thought a trip into town might do me some good. Should you go with me?”

“No, I don’t think I’d prefer it, we travel out soon, so I figured I should get a bit of rest. Such a trip is so exhausting and I’d not want to be tired at home. I was thinking of calling on Mother when I got home, and perhaps having a few friends for tea. I’d like to show them what being a Lady of the House Phantomhive looks like.”

“So early? We’ve only just married. You’d start hosting the moment we returned to London.”

“I’d like to. I’ve so much to brag about now. I’m hardly the first of my friends to marry, but I do think I’ve got the best match, the better estate, and a better relationship with the Queen. I want to begin my bragging with expediency.” She was joking, of course, she simply missed them all very much. She was far too social a creature to continue without them for longer. She had no friends here, and writing letters and having callers during your honeymoon was hardly fashionable.

“My, aren’t you a vain fiend. I didn’t think you had such a bone in your body.”

“Of vanity? Do you know me, husband?”

“No, of fiendishness.”

“Oh, not a one. I am still quite pure of mind and spirit.”

“Certainly.” He smiled playfully at her, a rare sight and one Elizabeth was very glad to see.

“I should like it if you dined with us, you know.” She suggested with a perched eyebrow. “I want to dispel any rumors that I’ve not married someone kind.”

Ciel’s brow quirked, the door opening behind him as Paula and Sebastian brought in the trays containing their already-portioned meals. Though this was maybe an improper way to dine, it was easier with no footmen. Another reason why Elizabeth wanted to pad the forces. “Is there such a rumor?”

“Certainly is!” Elizabeth sighed, looking over their meal. A soup was handed first, not chilled to spite the icy weather. Taking a sip, she watched her husband doing the same. “And I’d so hate for them to continue. I’d love to show them all how welcoming you are. How kind and giving.”

“I doubt anyone would say such of me.”

“I would. I do. I insist.”

This made Ciel smile as he lifted his spoon back to his lips. “Well, as I said. Whatever pleases you.”

“Whatever?”

Ciel considered the danger of the grounds he was now treading. He placed his hand over hers, giving it a light squeeze. “Within reason, my love, within reason.”

 

After dinner, Sebastian accompanied Ciel upstairs. He waited for his master to tell him what he needed, the grown man having no desire to simply allow the butler to begin undressing him the moment he went up to bed.

Ciel was standing in the mirror, fussing with his collar.

“Everything alright, My Lord?”

“Yes,” Ciel sighed. “It’s only that… I fear Elizabeth has found a position which she finds most pleasing. I’ve told her to tell me how to be a most suitable husband to her and she’s found plenty of ways to instruct me.”

Sebastian moved to assist him, setting his wing collar along side the others and placing his bowtie nearby. “You know what they say. Give them an inch and a mile it’d rather be.”

“Is that how it goes? She’s certainly taken hold of this inch and stretched it to a mile.”

“Shall you attempt to rein her in, my Lord?”

“If I must. I can hardly afford to spend every day at her beck and call. When we return to London, I will need to return to my work and to the Queen’s watch, which I’ve already neglected in fear of being labeled an ass once more.”

In his bedclothes, he tied his robe about his waist. “Thank you, Sebastian. You’re dismissed for the night. Wake me at the same time tomorrow.” He sighed again, watching his butler take his leave. It had been strange, the last few days the pair had had nothing nefarious to discuss. Sebastian hadn’t even pressed the matter. Usually if there is too much rest, Sebastian shows it. If they were not working then it was only longer to collect. How frustrating it must have been for the demon to have set aside his intentions for the sake of his masters new bride. Though Sebastian hadn’t even perked a brow in complaint.

Once Sebastian had left, Ciel went to his dressing table, considering whether he should remove his eyepatch. Elizabeth had not yet come, and usually she’s arrived much earlier than it was now. But almost as soon as he’d untied the ribbon was there a knock at the door. “Come in,” He called, and in stepped Elizabeth wearing the laciest, perhaps even raciest, negligee he’d ever seen.

“I thought if I waited long enough you’d come to me, but I got impatient.” She admitted, a cheeky smile appearing.