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The Countess

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Left alone in the Venician townhouse, Elizabeth found that she had nothing to do when Ciel was away. She’d found a book in English nestled in the small library, The Sylph, an old copy accredited to a ‘Young Lady’. The leather binding was worn, cracked and well loved.

She’d never read the novel, but she was delighted to delve into something to keep her mind and fingers occupied. She read while Paula carefully brushed out the tangles from the night before. She figured, since she had no plans to go outside their townhouse so long as Ciel was away conducting business, she had no reason to dress in the elegant fashions she’d had brought with them, or had purchased specifically for their tour. The heavy velvets and beaded gowns and coats, and the stylish bustles and horsehair pads would be left for another day. She donned instead a soft muslin gown, one that reminded her of the olden days.

Though its beetle-wing embroidery and the taught back fastened with buttons and stays kept it in modern fashion, the cut of the gown and the ruffles of the thin fabric hinted at its inspirations rather plainly. Drawing inspiration from olden ladies, fashion icons from days passed, tended to be all the rage no matter the decade one dressed for. Empresses of fashion plates like old French royalty, or Brits like Georgiana Cavenidish, tended to swoop in and push designers in one way or the next.

Filling similar roles in the world of fashion, Elizabeth took pride in knowing exactly where her seamster drew inspiration.

This particular one was meant to resemble the wears of the Princess de Lamballe, with its daringly low neckline and puffed up sleeves tied twice over before ending just beneath the bend of her elbow. The gown was meant to make it look like getting dressed was beneath her, she still wore the whale-boned stays beneath the fabric, the corset giving rise to her bosom and keeping her breasts high against the edge of her dress so that the tops could be seen over the edge. Though a fashionable lady, Elizabeth refused to overtighten her stays. She was slim enough, with a tight waist and stomach with only the most sensible layer of softness, and she thought the bulges on even the slightest of women that came from pulling the pair of bodies too closely together was terribly unattractive and undeniably uncomfortable. The silhouette given, despite the hundred-year-old inspiration, was undeniably modern.

“Paula?” Elizabeth looked over her shoulder to where Paula was finishing buttoning down the back of her gown.

“Yes, miss?”

“I think I’d like to leave my hair down for today,” She decided, returning her gaze to her form in the mirror. Elizabeth pulled a few shimmering curls over her shoulder, the brushed out hair twisting lazily down her form.

Paula finished, her dark brows coming together as if it was a request she’d never thought her mistress would make.

“Certainly, miss, if it pleases you.”

A nod, then Elizabeth looked to one of the jewelry boxes she’d brought from London. “Should I wear a ribbon ‘round my neck, or perhaps this?” She pulled a ribbon, plain and velvet, as well as a platinum necklace with a large lavalier embedded with diamonds and emeralds - a gift from Ciel for one of her birthdays.

“If I’m honest, I think you’d rightly get away with wearin’ both.”

“Now that is an idea - here, help me fasten them!” Elizabeth rested the necklaces both about her collar, lifting her hair out of the way so that Paula could hook the necklace together and tie the ribbon in place.

“Thank you, darling Paula.” She admired herself once more. Clothes were Elizabeth’s reprieve from the world. An easy way to distract herself from the fact that Ciel had abandoned her amidst their love making - and from the worry that his business would often call him away from their marital bed. He’d been head of Funtom longer than he’d been her husband, so perhaps it only made sense that he would value it more.

Or perhaps not, and she ought to read his easy abandonment as something else. Maybe he took more pleasure at his desk, buried in contracts rather than in her. She’d hoped that they might at least return to London before he became bored of her.

Tutting, Elizabeth plucked the book she’d been reading from the dressing table. Best not to think about such things. It would only cause wrinkles.

She left Paula to do her cleaning and made her way downstairs. Paula was a dreadful cook, and since it was only she and Sebastian here with them, Sebastian had taken the duty on fully. Unlike lovely Paula, Sebastian seemed to have all of the most delicious recipes locked away in his brain. Elizabeth wasn’t even sure she would find food waiting for her in the kitchen. Ciel had hauled his butler off with him when he’d left, likely before Sebastian had set to the task of making sure that his master and bride would be fed.

 

At least she wouldn’t be forced to go hungry, as she discovered a loaf of bread - likely made that morning. Though it was hardly a sufficient way to break her fast, she happily took a knife to the loaf and stole away a few sizable slices. Plucking one of the jars of fruit butters - this one smelled of allspice and pears - from a cabinet, she carried her makeshift meal into the dining room and settled into one of the chairs. For a while she sat and ate her pear butter smeared bread and read from the book she’d stolen from the library, then she went out onto the balcony, watching the people in their gondolas floating by.

Leaning across the thick rail, she saw a few people walking beneath along the narrow path, women and men and children, dogs barking and chasing after boys with sticks. It was a beautiful day, one which seemed shameful to be spent inside. The ladies and their hats only served to make her jealous. Had she a friend in the city, or were her husband home, she may have made her way into the grand floating city. But instead she was left waiting, watching with envy.

Her sighs were interrupted by the sudden presence behind her. She stayed put, hoping it was her husband, coming to sidle up beside her on the balcony. Instead, a dreaded voice spoke from the doorway behind her.

“Careful, My Lady, it would be quite the tragedy should you fall over the edge.”

Though harmless in its phrasing, she couldn’t help but shudder. Did everything he say sound so menacing? As if he would take a great deal of pleasure if she rolled over the handrail.

Elizabeth turned to face him, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. “I am sure you would be most affected. Is my husband home?”

Her dress suddenly felt much too revealing, if only because their early morning encounter. She held her hands in front of her, trying not to look as though she was intentionally shielding herself from his gaze - though he never seemed to look at her. His strange eyes always seemed to look straight through her, feeling as though he was staring into her soul, judging her every thought or desire.

Elizabeth wasn’t entirely sure when she became so uncomfortable with Sebastian’s presence. In the past, when she was still a screeching child who darted after Ciel everywhere he went like a bullet, Sebastian often stepped up to the plate, going to bat for her against Ciel’s boyish ignorance. She no longer needed his defenses and he no longer offered it. Now, he just watched her, waiting like a snake in the grass for her to trip and stumble and fall from grace. She knew he had dark intentions, she could sense it. The inhuman beast sharpened his claws for her husband, but now she’d joined the household, what would ever keep him from turning his sights onto her, even if just in Ciel’s absence. Her distrust remained in place, though she tried her best not to let any cruelty show through. It wasn’t in her nature.

And even so, she often found herself pushing it far off to the side. Sometimes, in moments of weakness, Elizabeth would forget herself and she would find herself drawn to Sebastian in the way that everyone seemed to be. He was enigmatic and frightening. So many people feared him, but all were desperate to know him better. Even if they were his superiors. Even if friendship was the sort of thing he was not allowed.

“No, My Lady, not yet. Though I suspect he will not be gone for much longer - he sent me to ensure you are well. Are you hungry?”

“I’ve eaten already,” Though it was the truth, she also very truthfully wanted a real meal.

As though he could hear her stomach rumble before it ever happened, he offered. “I cannot imagine whatever it was was very fulfilling. Shall I make an early dinner?”

Knowing she’d soon be betrayed by her own body, Elizabeth relented. “That’d be fine, yes.” A pause before Elizabeth spoke again. “Thank you.”

With a bow he started off. Unexpectedly, Elizabeth followed. Boredom was quite the powerful thing. Though every fiber of her mind told her that now more than ever she ought stay far, far away from him, she often found it was hard to deny that spark of vain attraction to him. Be it for sparring, simple inquiries (as his vast intelligence often quelled her curiosities), or a desire to watch someone do the work she knew little about herself.

She knew enough about food to prepare a proper menu, and she supposed if she were abandoned in a house with no option but to fend for herself she wouldn’t starve to death. Still, Sebastian seemed to be something of an expert. Everything he’d made in the stead of the Phantomhive cook was nothing short of a delicacy. It was always phenomenal, and she knew whatever he made today would be as well. So curiosity led her down the hall, trailing behind the dark butler down into the kitchen.

“May I watch?” Probably an unnecessary question, as what else would she be following him around for? He’d made no query into it, so it was doubtful he’d mind. Not that he was allowed to.

“Certainly, My Lady. Whatever pleases you.”

Propriety shifting, she hoisted herself up onto an unused counter, watching Sebastian from her perch.

“What would you like to eat, Lady Phantomhive?” His eyes twitched towards her for a moment, barely long enough for Elizabeth to even register the gaze, before his focus returned to his feet, dark lashes hiding ruby eyes.

“I am not picky.” She resigned, looking around for an idea of what was even available for the making.

“Shall I make you a proper breakfast, then? Since I failed to ensure you ate before I departed.”

“I would like that,” a nod. “Though, I don’t expect you to value my meals over my husbands own needs. You are his butler, after all. Not mine.”

Sebastian’s back was to her. She saw him pluck three eggs from an iron basket and wash them off with a wet cloth. “As I serve your husband, I serve you. Such was his order.”

“Oh? I didn’t know. Why would he order such a thing when I’ve got Paula?” The latter was mainly for her own thought, not for Sebastian to answer, and he knew that well enough.

“Would you like prosciutto, My Lady, or bacon?”

“Have we got a melon?” Before he could answer, she’d dropped off the counter and tapped her way through the kitchen, seeking out one of the white skinned fruits.

Once she found one, she held the fruit up victoriously. “Ah! Yes! Prosciutto it is.”

Sebastian reached for the fruit but Elizabeth quickly drew it in towards her chest, cupping it close protectively. “I’d like to cut it myself, if you don’t mind,” She explained, setting it across from him on the large preparing table.

“As you wish.”

“May I have a knife?” She asked, having not seen one laying out.

Sebastian seemed to produce one out of no where. It was large, longer than the fruit itself and curved like a sword of the orient.

“Must it be so big?”

“The blade ought always be longer than what you are cutting. The curve is so it can slice through fruit such as this easily,” He explained simply and she felt as though it was something she should have known sooner.

Carefully, she rocked the edge of the blade against the melon, pushing it into its flesh and slowly slicing through. It squished, juice bubbling up from its new wounds, and the smell which often accompanied summer quickly began to waft about her. She wondered if this was a scent which could be bottled. To smell like a ripe fruit, perfect for picking, seemed the most ladylike thing a woman could smell like. More natural, certainly, than the overpriced ambergris women donned these days.

The fruit snapped in half. Each side rolled onto its back, and though she had seen lives end at the beckon of her blade, she felt more success in this moment. Laughter bubbled up from her, a smile plastered across her cheeks.

Sebastian looked at her, though not in that eerie way that made her skin crawl, and it was a strange experience. The longest he’d ever looked at her, though all he did was that - look. She dared think there was annoyance in his gaze. Unsurprising, since she was after all interrupting what would normally be a routine procedure for him. But if he was actually annoyed he made no mention of it.

With a quiet clearing of her throat, she asked. “How should I cut it now?” Usually, when Paula or Sebastian sliced a watermelon or a honeydew for picnics, it was in slices or cubes, but paired with prosciutto it was almost always in perfect little balls. Elizabeth wasn’t sure how he expected such precision when he’d handed her the equivalent of a machete to get the job done.

He silently passed her a melon baller, finally turning his gaze off of her.

The prosciutto only needed to be cut which he did quickly in perfect, thin slices while the eggs cooked in a skillet over an open flame. He did everything impossibly fast. Everything was near done when she’d finished balling half the melon.

If impatience was possible with him, Elizabeth would have ran her course.