Ciel awoke with a frightened start and shot up in his bed, panting. His body was bathing in sweat and his heart pounding painfully against his rib cage. The cool light of dawn cast shadows across the walls of his bedroom and filled the corners far and near with a grisly darkness from which something seemed to be lurking at him. He called out, his breath vaporizing in the cold air and his voice at first barely above a whisper. It echoed through the massive and empty bedchamber. He called out again, and again. The name his lips produced rang in his whizzing ears and pounded heavy in his aching head but he did not stop until the door was opened and footsteps came his way, and even then he was sure he called out at least three more times.
"My Lord, I am here."
Tanaka stood by the foot of Ciel's bed. After years of having served the Earl he knew better than to sink down by the young man's side to try and comfort him. Ciel's boundaries did not allow anyone to come near and make him feel better. Since the day his parents died he had ceased being a young man and he had become the head of the house, heir to the empire. There was no room for him to show his weaknesses. So Tanaka kept his distance, allowing his presence to help the Earl calm down in silence.
Ciel shivered in his shirt and he had already dipped his chin to his chest to hide his face with his slate looks before his butler had come in. He did not speak and embraced the comfort knowing his faithful servant was at his side. When he did finally raise his head the look in Tanaka's eyes was the comforting solace he needed to speak.
"Has Elizabeth arrived yet?"
"Not yet my Lord." Tanaka replied. "Shall I draw you a bath?"
Ciel pushed the thick duvet to the end of his bed and let his legs dangle over the edge of the mattress. His toes barely touched the cold marble of the floor. It caused a shiver down his spine. In the adjacent bathroom he could hear the water running and the footsteps of Tanaka going from the bathroom to the bedroom and back, gathering the necessities the Earl needed during and after his bath.
The warm water did not wash away any of his worries, but it did warm his body that had been cold to the bone. Hints of the orange blossom and grapefruit bath oil caressed Ciel's nostrils, and he rolled his head into his neck and tried to clear his mind. It was fruitless.
Tanaka helped Ciel into a pearl green suit with a matching tie. He brushed invisible hairs of the jacket with a brush and polished the noses of the Italian leather shoes. He waited in the background while Ciel inspected his reflection in the full length mirror. When Ciel approved of the ensemble Tanaka excused himself to go and finish the preparations for breakfast. When Tanaka opened the door, he had to jump aside to clear the way for Alois who stomped in.
"Did you really invite that vulgar woman over for breakfast?"
"And a very good morning to you too Alois," Ciel replied, not even looking up as he slightly adjusted the silver cufflinks on his sleeves.
"Stop acting aloof and answer me," Alois's reflection appeared behind Ciel in the mirror, "did you invite that big mouthed woman over or are your servants playing tricks on me?"
"I have indeed invited Elizabeth over for breakfast," Ciel confirmed, and his eyes looked back into Alois's through the mirror. "Is that a problem?"
"You know I cannot stand her, especially at this early hour," Alois fumed. "She's obnoxious and loud."
"Kind of like you are being right now," Ciel pointed out, and could not help but chuckle at the face Alois drew at this notion.
"Even if I tried my hardest, I could never be as insufferable as her. The thought alone is enough to give me a splitting headache," Alois wailed. "What possessed you to invite her over in the first place? She's useless!"
"I have my reasons," Ciel said and turned towards Alois. "And that is all you need to know about it so let it go. I am hardly in the mood for your petty fretting," he concluded and started walking towards the door.
"Not likely Ciel," Alois shot back and followed Ciel out of the bedroom and down the hall. "The last word has not yet been spoken on the subject."
"It has for now," Ciel said over his shoulder while the two started to descend down the wide flight of stairs that lead towards the main hall. "So you can either join us for breakfast and hold your tongue or go and eat with the servants in the kitchen."
Alois stopped dead in his track for a moment. "Go and eat with the servants?" He whispered. "Go and eat with the servants?!" He repeated himself at a much louder tone. "Me. Eat with the servants? Why don't you tell her to go and eat with-"
The doorbell rang before Alois could finish his sentence. Ciel shot Alois a look that kept him from finishing it out loud all together, and only his jaw twitched while he spat intelligible words of hatred. Tanaka came walking in from the left wing and opened the door. Ciel took a deep breath and pushed aside his opinion on Elizabeth. Then he put on his most charming smile and walked down the steps to welcome her.
"Ciel." Elizabeth wrapped herself around him before he could even speak and held him close in what could only be described as a desperate attempt to feel him near.
Ciel patted her on the shoulder. "Elizabeth," he acknowledge, and peeled her off him and kept her at arms length, "it has been too long."
"Only because you never invite me over anymore," Elizabeth pointed out with a pout.
"He has a reason for that."
Both turned to the voice and Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at Alois whom was now standing directly behind Ciel, a look as cold as ice in his pale blue eyes as they wandered over the blonde woman's petite frame. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose at him and turned all her attention back towards Ciel.
"I see your taste in company is still horribly wrong. However do you manage to continue listening to Alois is beyond me. Does he still keep busy with those silly chemical projects?"
"Silly chemical projects? Why you-"
Ciel shot him a look that stopped Alois from finishing his insult. Like before, only his jaws twitched as inwardly continued with intelligible curse words. Ciel almost felt sorry for him but had no time to deal with him at the moment. He turned back to Elizabeth, apologized for his companion and told them they should retreat to the dining hall to start their morning with a home cooked breakfast.
"I was ever so delighted to get your invitation this week." Elizabeth pressed the point of her silver knife in her poached egg. The yolk oozed from the small cut, coating the lettuce and toast underneath it. The bread crunched loud through the quiet hall when as she cut off a piece and put it in her mouth. "It was ever so sudden," she continued and peered at Ciel from under her lashes, "any alternate motives?"
The chewing of her jaws made Alois cringe, and he was pulling faces in a most theatrical manner, his own jaw twitching at every move she made.
Ciel saw him acting up from the corner of his eye, choose to simply ignore it this time and gave Elizabeth a warm smile. "Whatever gave you that idea my dear? Can't I invite a childhood friend without getting frowned upon with suspicion and being accused of having a hidden agenda?"
Elizabeth squeezed her eyes until they were no more than slim slits and scrutinized Ciel closely. "You? No." She replied flat and held up her empty cup, asking Tanaka for some more tea. "Which reminds me to tell you once more that I have no legal grounds to defend your actions, nor do I have any intention to do so should you need a lawyer."
"Should there ever be a time when we need a lawyer we'll need a good one, so that rules you out by definition," Alois pointed out without bothering to sugarcoat his contempt.
"However," Elizabeth continued, completely ignoring Alois's harsh words, "should there ever be such a time, I would be willing to consider defending you if you're willing to increase your chances in court by dropping your chemical waste," she said and shot Alois a look. "I could not lie to save his sorry person."
"You must be one lousy lawyer then," Alois concluded.
Ciel covered his eyes with his hand when the two blonds continued to shoot low insults across the table, one more graphic and harsh than the other. The headache he woke up with this morning rapidly increased and centered above his left eye, throbbing painfully with all the shrill noises that echoed through the hall. In the end, when he had had enough, Ciel made both Alois and Elizabeth jump in their seat when he slammed down his hands on the table.
"Enough," he said and gave them both a look. "Enough with the verbal slaughter. I have had about a belly full of it and that is even without touching any of this delicious food. Now the both of you, eat, and at least try and act civilized before I have you both thrown out of here for good."
Alois and Elizabeth both stared at him and did not say a word. Alois's gaze was cool and collected, where Elizabeth's was more frantic and apologetic. She did not know like Alois that Ciel would probably never follow up with that threat, but then again Alois knew him better than anyone else did. He might even knew him better than Ciel did himself.
They now ate in silence, the sound of knives and forks clattering the only thing to cut through the tension. It bothered Ciel even more greatly than the yelling had done. He first turned his eyes to Alois whom was shoving his food around his plate, looking at it as if he were conducting and experiment. Ciel then turned to Elizabeth. It seemed she was much more enjoying her food as she took another scone from the tray Tanaka was holding out for her, and she thanked him with a short nod and a silent smile.
"How are things at work Elizabeth?"
She stopped scooping cream on her scone and looked at Ciel with lips pursed in surprise. Her eyes briefly shot to Alois, who was looking at her with dull disinterest. She then looked back at Ciel and put her scone down and folded her hands in her lap.
"Work has been awfully busy with all those burglaries and robberies." Elizabeth fell silent for a moment and looked at Ciel from under her lashes. When he remained unmoved she continued. "People who want to sue banks. Banks who want to sue the Yard. It's an unruly chaos of finger pointing and putting blame where it does not belong."
"Then where does it belong according to you?" Ciel asked, not unkindly, and held up his cup so Tanaka could pour some fresh tea in it.
"Oh I don't know.. elsewhere," Elizabeth made hand gestures in the air. "I am absolutely positive the Yard is doing everything in its power to solve these crimes accordingly."
"If they are, they've been failing horribly at their jobs," Alois said coolly.
Elizabeth did not reply to this. She had put her hands back in her lap and was staring at her plate in front of her. At the scone that stood on it and the clotted cream that was smeared atop the scone. Ciel watched her closely. He knew that she knew Ciel and Alois had something to do with the crimes that had been keeping the rich bastards on their toes, but she still carried too much affection for Ciel to intervene. He would've found it endearing if it had not been so incredibly dimwitted of her. Ciel leaned forward and laced his fingers together and rested his chin on them
"Surely you have other cases that keep you occupied than that band of robbers."
"Of course," Elizabeth exhaled audibly and smeared rhubarb compote on the other half of her scone and mashed the two halfs together. "Lots of aristocrats and nobles getting into trouble without thieves riffling and looting half of London's finest." She took a large bite from her scone and wiped the corners of her mouth with her cotton napkin. "I have a lady client and she is absolutely sure her husband is screwing around with floozies. She is set to clear him out, and since he is one of the aristocrats that has not been robbed yet, she might end up with half of his belongings. They did get married with a prenupt with a clear clause on forfeiture of assets in case of adultery. Men are such cock centered idiots," she concluded and licked the remnants of compote of her thumb.
"And you actually wonder why nobody ever bothered to drop down on one knee for you?" Alois sneered, and mumbled a meaningless apology after Ciel shot him another look.
"Don't mind Alois." Ciel said with a warm smile. "Please continue," he said with a kind hand gesture.
"I shouldn't be discussing such details," Elizabeth confessed a little ashamed. "But I always end up running my mouth to everyone around me. Someday soon it will most likely get someone into more trouble they can handle."
Ciel frowned, and exchanged a quick look with Alois. On his turn Alois shrugged his shoulders in a nonchalant manner that indicated that he was impartial to the words.
"What do you mean Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth noticed, inhaled and put on one of her fake perky smiles. "Look at me, I am doing it again, and look at the time. I must take my leave." She finished the tea that was still far too hot in four quick sips.
"Already?" Alois did not bother to sound disappointed.
Ciel got to his feet when Elizabeth did and took her by the elbow. "Why leave so sudden Elizabeth. Please stay, let us enjoy the pleasure of your company a little longer."
His words made Elizabeth blush. She dipped her chin to her chest to hide her red cheeks. "As much as I would love to take you up on that invitation I mustn't, I still have a lot of work to do." She raised her head and looked Ciel straight in the eye. "And I am sure that you have other matters to attend to as well," she said and nodded towards the newspaper Tanaka just brought in. "Thank you for the lovely breakfast though." Elizabeth kissed Ciel's cheek and walked out.
Alois finished his tea and set the cup down with a quiet gesture. "That was your reason to invite her over? To see how much she knows?"
"Indeed." Ciel confirmed. "And she knows a lot more than she cares to share."
"How runny is that mouth of hers?" Alois got to his feet and turned the newspaper towards him. The headline spoke of the new inspector that had taken over the robbery case, but no word was mentioned of the Earl or the Count. "I can easily silence her with the right mixture of ingredients."
"No need to get vile. Yet. We need not worry about her for now," Ciel said and snatched the paper up from under Alois's nose and quickly let his eyes fly over the front page until they landed on the announcement of a circus coming to town. "Send for Joker." Ciel murmured as he turned his back toward Alois and made for the doors. "I need to speak with him. Urgently."