Better Than Laughter.
William T. Spears had finally fallen asleep when an annoying tapping pulled him from the depths of his slumber. He tried to ignore it, but it persisted. With an irritated groan, he sat up, shoved on his glasses and groggily searched for the source of the sound. His eyes finally fell upon his window where a pigeon pecked at the glass insistently. It wasn't just any bird, though...
"Clancy?" William said aloud. This was his favorite amongst the carrier pigeons he used, the one he had personally trained, and he'd been missing for days. "I had thought you were dead, you lazy bird. But it is a relief that I will not have to train another in your stead."
William opened the window and allowed the bird to hop onto his arm and immediately noted the scroll about his leg. He took the parchment, set the pigeon back on the window sill and read the message.
This night I am returning Snake to you in good health as requested. It seems he had a bit of a parasite problem, which has been passed on to myself. It seems it was a long time issue. Might I suggest better surveillance of those in your employ? As such, the shop will be closed for business.
Love From the Mortuary,
"Apparently the man doesn't understand that these messages are supposed to be short," William criticized as he turned to Clancy. "Well done with your reconnaissance, bird. Though I have to seriously question why he is corresponding with the Phantomhive butler."
The Undertaker, though a highly respected retired reaper, was under observation for suspicious activity. It was a known fact that the man used carrier pigeons from time to time to send and receive messages as an informant of the London underground. William had planted Clancy in amongst the elder reaper's other carrier pigeons in the hopes that he could intercept messages indicating any strange activity. Insofar, William had only gotten the typical bits of information about illicit shipments, assassination plots, large heists, all mortal business that did not concern the realm of reapers. This, however, was certainly something to consider. It seemed highly suspicious he'd claim illness. Reapers were inherently immune to human diseases, including parasites. Michaelis might not be aware of the Undertaker's true identity, but the fact that he would try to play that card was odd. Even stranger still was his claim to be closing the shop without any indication of when business might resume. The man never closed his shop. That, combined with the lateness of the hour, as one only ever sent a carrier pigeon as night if one was desperate, reeked of suspicion. In everything left unsaid seemed to be the real message of: Stay away. Why was he attempting to keep others away? What was he up to? It could very well be William's steadfast hatred of the creatures, but he could not in good conscience let Undertaker's late night correspondence with a demon go ignored. He dressed quickly and left to go retrieve Knox. If William was not getting any rest tonight, then neither was he.
As they neared the gates of the manor, Undertaker halted and held them back momentarily. "I believe this is far enough for us," he said with a quiet laugh as he squeezed Snake's hand. "I'd rather not risk Mr. Michaelis' tongue lashing tonight. He should be waiting for you, but if not, see if you can sneak into your room without being noticed, my dear. Mr. Damon will be staying with me to make sure I don't skip out on my punishment."
In truth, while there would be no fight if the pigeon delivered the message in time, he did not want to be there when Snake discovered he'd been lied to.
"Come here, Snake," he said softly as he pulled the young man into another tight embrace. "Everything will be turn out for the best."
The mortician pulled back slightly to put a little space between them and unlatched his belt of charms then looped it around the boy's hips and hooked it in place. It was his dearest possession, a symbol of everyone he had ever loved over the years, a tangible representation of his heart and he would not want anyone but Snake to have it. Though the boy would never know the true deep significance of the lockets, at least Snake could have some bittersweet memory of being given a token of affection, or if he succumbed to sorrow and anger and decided to destroy them out of spite, well, at least Undertaker could leave something to aid in catharsis.
"Take these," he said with a fond smile, petting the lockets as they lay against Snake's hips. "This way, you'll have something of mine with you..."
As he pulled Snake into a final hug, all he wanted that moment was to say three little words.
Tell him you love him once more.
It would be appropriate. He had every right to say it...
Say it. This is your last chance. Ever.
Don't break his heart any more than you have to.
"Goodnight, my dear," he said in as chipper a tone as he could muster as he ushered Snake towards the gate. "Pleasant dreams."
Snake nodded, a little confused over why the Undertaker would give him such a thing. He looked up at the reaper, "Uhm
can I...?" he gathered his courage once again and leaned up, pressing his lips to the other's. He pulled back, "G-goodnight...says all of us." and with that, he hurried away towards the manor.
The older man had been sorely tempted to prolong the kiss and it took all of his willpower to stop himself from doing just that.
He smiled as he watched the boy walk away, watching his back grow smaller and smaller until he disappeared from sight into the mansion. Though he was saddened by the circumstances, he felt a great swell of relief knowing Snake was now safe. It would not do to face his fate with a heart full of sorrow, and so he maintained his grin and turned to the demon.
"Well, Mr. Damon, considering you've fulfilled two parts of our bargain already, I believe it is time I make good on my end," Undertaker said as he approached the demon. "So long as you do not pursue the boy or cause him harm, I'll not fight you. Much. I'm sure your kind appreciates a little token resistance, right? So, what would you have of me?"
"A soul such as yours does not need to be seasoned or flavored. I'll just take it now." he said, eyes glowing a bright red as he charged the reaper, pinning him to a nearby tree, licking his lips as his fangs extended.
"While I've been known to make a few gentlemen have parts of their anatomy lengthen out of hunger, this is new," the retired reaper smirked and tapped the demon's fangs, not at all shaken by being attacked so suddenly. He wiggled slightly, testing how much room he had and finding he was effectively pinned, he merely kept smiling.
"Making your kill on the fringes of another demon's territory? You certainly are a cheeky fellow," Undertaker chuckled. "Honestly, I'm surprised you wouldn't want to savor this. It isn't everyday you have a reaper at your feet willingly. Do you know how many of your kind I've slain? How many souls have you been denied because of my doing? It's not often you get a toy that can take a beating."
The mortician knew he should just keep his mouth shut. It would be far less painful if he just let the demon devour him...but part of him could not help but antagonize the creature. Perhaps it was a bit of malice for having threatened Snake's life. Despite the fact it was denied it's initial target, it was still getting a soul and that seemed like rewarding bad behavior. Or maybe he was seeking punishment for himself for lying to the boy...
"Oh, trust me, I'll enjoy you like a fine wine, Reaper. But one does not spill such a treat. I shall drink you in slowly." he said, leaning in to begin to suck the reaper's soul from his body, lips hovering over the reaper's
"Now wait a-AGH!"
Undertaker pushed at the demon's shoulders to try and keep him away a moment longer, but it was to no avail. As soon as the demon began feeding, he was caught off guard by the shocking pain. His body was paralyzed, he couldn't draw breath and a horrific coldness made itself known as it pulled through every bit of his body, making him want to shiver, but he could not even do that. The ache and cold grew worse and perhaps the most tortuous moment was the sensation of his memories being ripped away. He suddenly couldn't remember parts of his childhood, things he knew should be there no longer were...All he had was his memories and to feel them pulled away, even insignificant ones, was worse than any pain he could have ever imagined.
After successfully rousing Knox to bring for back up (though the younger reaper wasn't exactly thrilled to be dragged out of bed for overtime work) and informing him of the situation, William headed straight for the Phantomhive estate. It had only been perhaps a half hour since he'd intercepted the message so whatever suspicious dealings were going on might still be occurring. He did not intend to engage the Undertaker unless there was obvious reason to. If the message was entirely truthful, then there would be no reason to bother the Dispatch, and he would only observe. However, if the Undertaker was participating in illicit deals, the sooner he was stopped, the better.
He ported them to arrive just outside the manor grounds to avoid detection.
"Remember, Knox, we are here to observe first," William nodded towards the manor. "As he was supposedly escorting a servant back, they might be at the service entrance. I will investigate there first. You take the main gates. If you discover him, come find me. I will do the same should I find him first. Do not engage unless it is necessary, understood?"
"Yeah, yeah, I get it..." the young reaper yawned, "I should have gone to the pub after work...I wouldn't be here now..." he muttered to himself, turning towards the main gates onto the property.
Hearing a strangled scream, he picked up his pace to a run, leaping into the trees to keep out of sight. He peered through the darkness at the two figures outside the gate, Upon realizing what he was seeing, he nearly fell from his perch. No way...there just was no way...Some random demon was actually...consuming the soul of the legendary reaper that currently was known as 'Undertaker'?
"Julio" he muttered quietly to summon his Feathered familiar and messenger; a Baltimore oriole who he was quite fond of. A moment later there was the soft fluttering of wings and the orange and black songbird perched on his shoulder. Ronald took a slip of paper and quickly wrote what he was witnessing and tied it to the bird's leg. "Quickly, take this to William near the house." he whispered and the bird took off. He didn't send the message himself because he didn't want to let the two out of his sight...and he couldn't just let it happen...he dropped down from the tree and took off towards the demon and older reaper.
William had surveyed the area of the service gate and even chanced nearing the house at the servant's entrance to glance through a window to see if they'd moved inside, but everything was still and quiet. He stealthily moved away from the building to search elsewhere only to be greeted by a bright little songbird. Recognizing it as Ron's, though he could not recall it's name, he paused and allowed the bird to perch on his hand. If Knox had sent the bird instead of coming to get William himself, it meant something had happened and there was no time to waste. Taking the scroll wrapped about it's leg, he read the message quickly, dismissed the bird and sped off to the main gates, readying his scythe as he ran and prepared himself for a possible fight.
All the experiences of Undertaker's lifetime could not have prepared him for this. He'd thought it'd be a simple thing. Quick, numbing, something he could detach himself from as he usually did with anything remotely unpleasant. But everything that made him who he was being forcefully ripped from him was amazingly painful. Though he felt himself weakening slightly, it was hardly an anesthetic. And if this was just the demon sipping his soul, how much more agonizing would it be once he moved on to serious consumption?
Ronald knew he had to break the connection before too much of the undertaker was sucked out, He reacted without thinking, grabbing his knife from his back pocket rather than summoning his scythe and tackling the demon, digging his knife deep into the beast's side, sending all three of them spiraling to the ground.
The demon roared, turning on the young shinigami and flinging him around into the ground under him, "What the bloody fuck is this?"
Undertaker gasped as the horrible pain halted and he was allowed to breathe again. He felt gravity taking him to the ground and everything was out of focus, but he distinctly heard the demon yelling. He shook his head to clear it, though a strange foggy sensation kept everything surreal. Someone else was here, he knew that much. But who? He struggled to his feet, heart pounding with fear that somehow Snake had become embroiled in this...
"Knox, I told you not to engage unless it was necessary!" came a stern and familiar voice.
Undertaker looked up and managed to take in the sight of William T. Spears, his scythe at the ready as he stared down the demon who was hunched over another body, the hilt of a knife protruding from it's side.
"Demon, you will unhand that reaper and explain yourself," William said crisply.
Undertaker had no words.
"But it was, Sir! He wa--" Ronald insisted before the demon wrapped his claws around his neck, cutting off his words.
"This boy has interrupted my meal, god or not, I do not take kindly to such interruptions."
"That was not a request, demon," William said coolly. "I said unhand him."
William shot his scythe forward to stab into the demon's shoulder and simultaneously ran forward himself. He thrust his spear as hard as he could and kicked at the demon's arms to loosen their hold. And though he doubted Ron would thank him for the scratches and bruises later, he grabbed the younger man by the back of the collar and forcefully pulled him out of the demon's grasp and dragged him away a short distance. He pulled Ronald to his feet, retracted his scythe, and stood in front of him in a defensive stance to allow the younger reaper a moment to ready himself again.
"Scythe, now," William said in a completely no-nonsense tone.
Gathering his wits about him Undertaker stumbled forward and put himself between the demon and the reapers.
"William, leave," the elder reaper said hoarsely. "This is not an attack. This was entirely willing."
William narrowed his eyes.
"It is never willing, sir."
"In this case it is. I made a deal and now he's claiming payment. Now leave."
"I do not know, nor really care, why you would make such a deal, but I cannot let the soul of a death god fall into the hands of a demon. There are far too many secrets that could be revealed which it could share with it's foul brethren. As we cannot be sure how much of you has already been consumed, we cannot have such a security risk."
Still keeping his eyes locked on the demon, William spoke to Ronald.
"This does not end until the demon is eradicated. Are you ready for this, Knox?"
"Extremely." Ronald grinned, Leaning on the handle of his scythe, "Lets get this party started." He ran at the Demon, his mower roaring to life.
The mortician couldn't help but grin as he stepped out of the way, "If you insist. But I cannot aid you in this fight," he said to William and the young reaper with him before he turned to the demon. "My only promise was not to fight you, not that I wouldn't allow others to interfere. But I assure you, this was not my doing, nor my intent."
William joined Ronald in rushing the demon, his scythe shooting forward again to stab at it, distract it from Ron's oncoming attack.
The demon dodged the attacks, leaping back out of the way, "I am not amused. You two may just join the old reaper as my dinner!" He moved to charge them, his horns curling out from under his long black hair, when he suddenly stopped and looked down at his feet.
A large black poisonous snake had it's fangs deep into his ankle, "What...? Annoying thing..."
"L-Leave them alone...Says Ives." A quiet, yet determined voice cut through the air. Snake had gotten back to the manor without seeing Sebastian at all, and had been nearly to his room when a distant sound caught his, and his serpent friends' attention. His eyes widened, It...sounded like fighting. Growing worried over the Undertaker, he had turned around and ran back towards the gates, countless snakes following him.
Though Undertaker had been slightly enjoying the battle, knowing the demon had his work cut out for him taking on William and another reaper, the familiar voice cutting through the night made his blood run cold. He immediately searched for the source and spotted Snake too close to the melee for comfort. Though the demon technically still couldn't hurt the boy, it wouldn't stop him from using one of the other reapers to cause "accidental" harm.
"Snake, no!" Undertaker yelled as he attempted to rush forward. His strength had not yet entirely returned and the rush of adrenaline made his head spin and his chest ache. He moved towards the young man as fast as he could and attempted to gain focus again.
"It seems quite a few people want you dead, demon," William said coolly, leveling his scythe. "Do the courteous thing and acquiesce."
William sent his scythe forward again, intentionally missing to dig the head of the spear into the ground and use it as leverage to fling himself over the demon and land a kick against it's back to turn it's attention to Will so that Ron could attack.
The demon kicked the snake from him and charged William, colliding with him as his claws dug into the supervisor's shoulder. Ronald kicked out, his white shoe connecting with the side of the demon's head.
William grunted as the demon's claws sank into his shoulder. While the demon was temporarily distracted by Ron's kick, he quickly retracted his scythe, switched it to his other hand, and stabbed forward, driving the head of the spear into the demon's body. He was too close to know whether or not he'd hit anything vital, but even if he had, he doubted just one stab would do the job. He hoped Knox was coming back for another hit or William knew he was going to get a nasty blow.
Snake noticed that the man he had fallen for seemed to be slower and weaker than he had only moments before when they had parted. He ran over to the man and hugged him, "What's going on, Undertaker?" he asked, his voice barely audible over the roar of Ronald's scythe.
Snake's touch was like a balm to his aching soul, but he didn't savor it long. He firmly gripped the boy's shoulders and held him at a distance as he tried to push him back towards the manor.
"Please go back inside," Undertaker said sounding a little breathy. He was frustrated by his dizziness, yet he still managed a grin, even if it was somewhat pained. "It's just a territory squabble. You needn't get involved. Please, just go back. I couldn't bear to see you get hurt."
He tried to sound as congenial as possible so as to not arouse the boy's suspicion. If he truly though everything was in hand, he just might listen.
Snake shook his head stubbornly, "You are hurt! Come...come with me if I have to go..."
"I am not hurt, my dear, but I cannot come with you. Please, just go back until this is over," he said a little more firmly, trying to convey to the boy how important his request was.
There was a chance he might get out of this alive now, but in case he didn't, he would not want Snake present for the demon's wrath. And there was still the danger of the fight itself. As it was, he wasn't even sure if the boy's reptilian friend was all right.
Snake shook his head, "I...I'm not blind...You...you don't want me hurt...and I don't want you hurt!" he stubbornly hugged him.
The demon reared back to deliver another blow on William; one that never hit it's mark, black claws barely scraping Williams cheek as Ronald's lawn mower came down on his head.
William sneered feeling the slight pressure of claws against his cheek and he jumped back before a gout of demonic blood could hit him. Ronald had dealt a nasty blow and he could take advantage of it for at least one more himself. He swung his scythe and jabbed it into the demon's chest, aiming for the heart and hoping his hit was to the correct place and if so, that it went deep enough.
The demon died rather quickly, his cinematic records playing before disappearing and his body turning to ash.
Undertaker, about to protest once more and pick up the boy to drag him back into the house himself, looked up when he heard the familiar sound of reels. He turned to see William and his partner standing over the quickly disappearing remains of the demon. He sighed in relief and relaxed his hard grip on Snake's shoulders, attempting to regain his composure again.
William methodically looked through the creature's record and gave a small sniff of disdain as it came to a flickering end.
"It seems we had nothing to worry about. It had not gained any vital information. But, the world is less one demon, which is beneficial," he said coldly as he flicked the demon's blood off the end of his scythe, reset his shoulder, before he turned to Ronald.
"Well done, Knox," he said with a crisp nod and moved to approach Undertaker. He recognized Snake from the circus and knew the boy had become a part of the Phantomhive household. Undertaker showed a significant amount of concern for him, and putting two and two together from the letter, he could only assume the "parasite" mentioned had been the demon they had just dispatched. Combined with the fact that the elder insisted his pact with the demon was consensual, he had taken the demon upon himself to save the boy's life at the cost of his own. But why? William was incredibly irritated by the man's stupid action and was not going to let him off easily.
"You, sir, will explain yourself. An experienced reaper such as yourself knows how large a risk it poses for a demon to devour one of our kind. Not only could it access your memories, it could have also gained use of your scythe, putting all of the Dispatch in danger."
He pulled the message he'd intercepted earlier from his pocket and tossed it at the man.
"What is so special about this mortal boy that you would give yourself over to a demon?"
Snake looked between the two reapers, "...Demon.?...S-says Emily" He looked up at the undertaker, confusion all over his face, "Undertaker....What...is Suit talking about...says....Says myself."
"Ah, that wasn't so bad for being unexpected overtime..." Ronald said, walking over to stand next to William, "As long that is the only surprise tonight. You aren't bored and sending out any more of those Bizarre Dolls again, are you? Who's the kid?"
The elder looked at the letter with curiosity, completely bewildered as to how William had gotten a hold of it. Of all the people in the world, it would be William T. Spears that would accidentally come to the rescue, but he had honestly expected to meet his end alone. Obviously, fate had other plans in store for him.
"I could ask in turn what it is you're doing here, but I can assume why. The Dispatch is most distrustful...understandably," Undertaker said softly. "You've been trailing me."
William dismissed the retired reaper's words and turned to Ron. "The boy is the only surviving member of the Noah's Arc circus. He knew me by the name Suit. He came into the Phantomhive household's employ after that disaster. Though how he wound up with Undertaker is anyone's guess. We are waiting for an explanation, sir," William said crisply taking note of Snake's obvious confusion. "I believe all of us are."
Undertaker shook his head and laughed softly at himself. This situation was turning disastrous but he did owe them all explanations.
"I suppose I at least owe you the truth considering you've saved my life and his, even if it was unintentional," the mortician sighed as he prepared to spill the truth. "Sebastian brought Snake to me in order to cure him of an unknown illness. In that short time, I bonded with him...far more than I ever intended to. It was only earlier this evening that I discovered the true nature of his illness. That demon had possessed him, taken control of his body, and threatened to consume him. I did the only thing I could at the time and offered myself in the boy's stead. I was desperate. I could not think of a better alternative considering it was holding him hostage. And considering my soul is mine and mine alone, the Dispatch was honestly the furthest thing from my mind."
William narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "So why didn't you kill it once it was out of the boy?"
"Because I had to ensure that Snake would be safe. Part of the agreement was to let the demon have me. Had I gone back on that, it could have gone after him again."
"You would do that?" William asked with a quirked eyebrow. "For a mortal."
Undertaker laughed outright at that.
"You know the demon said the exact same thing? 'For a mortal'," Undertaker scoffed. "What sort of thinking is that? Were he immortal or demonic or divine himself, it would not make me love him any less and I would lay my life down again if it meant saving his! Is that reason enough? I'm not exactly proud I was playing into the hands of a creature of pure evil, but I do not regret saving Snake!"
Snake's golden eyes widened as the undertaker explained everything, His emotions were a mix of happiness, sadness, and anger. The fact that the man loved him so much, that he would save him from a demon, by taking his place....
The boy let tears pool in his eyes and he hugged him, "Wh-who says you can do that? You....You can't die on me either!"
William was slightly taken aback by the older reaper's passionate confession. The man rarely said anything seriously nor had William ever seen him remotely angry. He watched as the boy hugged the older man and noted that he was wearing Undertaker's belt of charms.
If nothing else validated the elder's claim, that was enough to make William take it seriously. Anyone who had known the reaper knew he never parted with those charms under any circumstances, let alone allow anyone to touch them...and he had sent the boy away wearing them.
Even William, the reaper notorious for being immune to emotion, could tell this was a genuine sacrifice made in good intentions. It was an incredibly rare act. He felt his throat tighten a bit, but dismissed it.
"It is enough," William replied softly and adjusted his glasses. "Come, Knox. Our work here is finished," he said as he nodded towards Ron and turned back to Undertaker for a moment. "You are still under surveillance, sir, but considering this turned out to be a personal matter, it shall not be reported to the Dispatch." He turned to walk away.
Undertaker looked up from Snake momentarily, "Thank you, William," he said softly as they walked away. "And you, Mr. Knox. Thank you very much."
William didn't say anything as he kept walking.