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+ Title: Desolation Row - Chapter I

+ Fandom:
D. Gray-man, Godchild, Kuroshitsuji

+ Characters:
Ciel Phantomhive, Sebastian Michaelis, Lau, Cyril Kamelot, Tyki Mikk, Rhode Kamelot, Cain Hargreaves, Riff

+ Rating: T

+ Word Count: 3669

+ Author's Notes:
This is the first thing I have really written in about a year. It's also the first story I've ever had beta'd, which has helped me improve points I normally wouldn't have noticed. More chapters will be coming as time allows with school, but please leave comments to let me know what you think. All of this is coming together in a generalized Victorian universe, though basically all aspects of the individual canons remain intact.

To the Godchild fans; I apologize that Cain only makes a brief appearance in this preliminary chapter. I promise he will be showing up more soon, and playing a large part in the story. There is also momentary Riff in this chapter, if you have a yen to see butler crossover.

To the D. Gray-man fans; I'm sure you can sort of stab at where this takes place on the manga timeline. It certainly won't fit perfectly, due to being a crossover, but more characters will be appearing in the future to join the fun.

To the Kuroshitsuji fans; You guys get a treat, just because you get to start with some familiar ground here. I plan to shake that up a bit later on, but for a few minutes you can make yourself at home.

Brace yourself for some humor, mystery, Victorian antiquity, and darker powers! This is going to be an unforgettable ride.

 

A dark-haired boy and a tall shadow made their way through the streets of the East End at a brisk pace, shining and clean in a hovel of dirt and smoke. The boy's nose was slightly wrinkled, as though the stench of human filth and decay offended his sensibilities; his companion seemed content to watch the shadows, expression a mysterious ghost of a smile. Their shoes clicked sharply on the damp cobblestones, announcing their presence with echoing sound.

Ciel Phantomhive and his butler stood out like a pair of peacocks in a chicken coop. The boy was wearing a top hat and a woolen cloak, blocking out the chill air and covering the rest of his attire save his shining leather boots. His companion was dressed in the simple tails of a butler, though covered by a dark coat. His presence seemed to create a ward against the surrounding peasantry, discouraging any ill-intended approach. The boy did not seem concerned, despite the looks they were receiving. A few nasty calls were the only verbal response to his fine dress, and several women bobbed in mocking curtsies as he passed them by. The lord of this place had made sure the boy would not be bothered on his visits, but there was always the man drunk enough or the newcomer with a bone to pick against the upper class.

The slums were teeming at this time of night. Prostitutes waved and lifted their skirts suggestively in the butler's direction, while the working men drank and found their paramours to help forget the day's labor. The raucous noise of a pub ahead made the child in the lead hesitate, but the sensation of the man's eyes on the back of his neck made him move forward once more as he shot a spiteful, one-eyed glare over his shoulder.

The stairs to the opium den were lit as dimly as they always were, though the business seemed to be good. Lau's girls were taking care of their customers with their usual acts of naivete, slipping valuables from pockets and resupplying opium as they went.

Ciel made a disgusted sound as he saw a girl sitting inappropriately in a man's lap, the two engaging in some carnality he did not care to have specified. Sebastian's polite smile gained an edge of amusement as he watched the boy's reaction, but any silent commentary was interrupted by the softest of female voices.

"Oh! Mista Phantomhive!" These petite chuugoku never ceased to fascinate Sebastian; though they were without a doubt as human as any other, Lau seemed to have gathered a collection of dolls who had eerily feline mannerisms. The girl who greeted them- Xi-wei, Sebastian recalled- looked abnormally flustered by their appearance, hesitating before speaking and shifting the tray she was carrying between her hands several times. "We didn't have word y' were coming, sir."

Ciel glanced straight through the girl, tone dismissive. "Please tell Lau I need to speak with him."

Xi-wei's voice lowered slightly, her mix of light Cockney and heavy Chinese lilting her tone. "He's gone out this evening, m'lord. There's a grand ball at the Minista's manor, and 'e left not two hours ago with Mista Mi-"

Ciel's irritated sigh cut her off, earning the girl a mildly apologetic look from his butler. "Fine, fine. I'll simply have to go find him." He turned on heel, starting up the steps once more with a swirl of his cape. Sebastian's soft replies to the boy's barked inquiries echoed even as they reached the street, and Xi-wei watched the dark doorway for a long while after they had gone.

"Xi-wei! What did the little earl want?" Kai-ying came up behind her with a soft giggle, offering her pipe to Xi-wei as she leaned on the girl's shoulders. Xi-wei inhaled slowly, letting the opium fill her lungs and head before exhaling.

"He's looking for Lau. Think it's what Lord Mikk was talking about before?" She clicked disapprovingly at the sound of breaking glass, though she still didn't look away from the door. "Something's amiss, with all these men coming in and out."

Kai-ying playfully slapped her arm, shaking her head with no small amount of exagerration. "Lau would tell us if there was a reason to worry! We serve Qingbang's Executive, remember?"

Xi-wei was silent for a long moment before shrugging, taking another puff of opium and calling over her shoulder in harsh Mandarin. "Xiao-Xiao! Clean up that mess!"

"Shi de, shi de!"
 
 ❦
The Queen’s Minister of Foreign Affairs was renowned for his parties. Beyond his charisma as a host, Minister Kamelot had a large repertoire of entertainments at his balls, and the guests were always able to leave with some new story of wonder to share over tea for weeks to come. His estate was a sparkling example of what many nobles only hoped to obtain through the Queen's favor, and some attended only to see the latest fashions of decoration that were implemented throughout the house.

This particular party had been announced a month prior, and the city had been abuzz with excitement since the delicate, gold-leaf invitations had been delivered to every worthy door. Ciel had refused the invitation, despite Sebastian’s recommendation that he attend. His declination had involved some excuse of business, and so the doormen seemed quite surprised when he swept through the entry.

Ciel didn’t bother with the airs of taking the stairs slowly as his name was announced, briskly descending with little care for those watching him. Sebastian followed, as near as a shadow, providing some sign of the young earl’s approach as he moved through the crowd of guests.

“Do you see him?” Ciel kept his voice low, though his tone betrayed his irritation at his inability to see over the adults surrounding him. Sebastian was scanning faces, however, and he did not reply until he was certain of his answer.

“They are not in here.” He glanced upward at the sensation that he was being watched. Sebastian locked eyes with a child no older than Ciel, sitting on the banister of the upper level and watching the dancers below her as a princess watching her kingdom.

She tilted her head to the side slightly, granting Sebastian the smallest of sweet smiles.

“Odd,” Ciel remarked, still trying to gain some sort of vantage point. “Where might they be?”

Sebastian watched the girl for a moment longer, until she finally broke their gaze to look at a door across the room. The glance was meaningful, and she nodded in that direction. The butler, courteous as ever, gave a little bow in return. She seemed quite delighted by this, smile brightening in the instant before a woman who Sebastian presumed was her governess manhandled her onto solid ground and away.

“Well? Where are they!” Sebastian felt some level of annoyance at his master’s tone, but he put on his mild smile and directed the boy where he was to walk.

The room they found themselves entering was apparently a gentleman’s retreat; The air was clouded with the smoke of cigars and cigarettes, and a decanter was being floated around by a servant to the various guests. It was a dark-wood room made for entertaining, with a billiards table and several other varieties of sport lying about. A fine chess set had been set in a corner to discourage its use this evening, though another had taken its spot near the fireplace.

Ciel coughed a bit, eyes watering at the sudden strength of the atmosphere. Even Sebastian had to admit the air was noxious, though it was more the scent than the smoke that bothered him. Tobacco was never a smell he had found pleasing. As he spotted the group of seated men in the next parlor, the butler placed a hand at the small of Ciel’s back- A slight motion to draw his attention to the grouping about the card game there.

There had always been word of Minister Kamelot’s father entertaining a mistress. In earlier days, it had been nothing to concern society at large. The rumored bastard child had been sequestered somewhere far from the public eye, and that was how such things were to be dealt with. When the gentleman had appeared, following the elder Kamelot’s death, he was well-darkened from a long stay in the East, and still recovering from some wound he had managed to incur while there.

Sebastian had paid no attention to such whispered scandals, but his recollections came together as he watched two similar yet very different men exchange verbal darts over their chips. Minister Kamelot was as pale as any proper Englishman should be; His brother had skin dark enough to pass him for a Spaniard, and the facial structure to support the theory.

Very classically handsome, dark, and nonchalant, Lord Mikk leaned back in his chair, contemplating his hand and puffing almost nervously at his cigarette. “Now, see here, Cyril. If you keep bragging so, good old Lau here shall win out of principle and poor Trisha will have to spend the night drying your penniless tears.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Kamelot tapped his cards with one finger, radiating confidence. “This hand is unbeatable. Save the money you inherited and fold, brother!”

Ciel had made his way through the mess of observers to stand just beside the table, watching the men argue and waiting for the slightest pause before trying to speak.

“Minister Kamelot, I-“ The boy was completely ignored, overpowered by the sheer gusto of the men before him.

“Full house, my boy!” The Minister slammed his hand to the table, spreading the cards with gusto. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Mikk looked troubled for a moment, rolling his cigarette between his lips before slowly tossing his cards down. “That is a shame, brother.” The cards were quite shocking, apparently, because Kamelot was sputtering and speechless. “Straight flush, sirrah.”

The sly Oriental laid his hand out with his usual ceremony and grace. “It seems I have been extremely lucky this evening, as well. A straight flush.”

“Now, Tyki, you should be nicer to your brother,” the fourth member of the party laid his cards down with a slightly sheepish shrug. “Not everyone can move fast enough to shift the cut and palm cards at the same time.”

Mikk scoffed, feigning injury. “Now, Cain, I wouldn’t start that sort of argument unless you have the proof of it.”

Lau’s smile didn’t fade a bit as he glanced down at the table once more. “Ah, Lord Mikk. I will confess to doubting such luck if it hadn’t befallen me, as well. Perhaps it is jealousy?”

“Or perhaps you’re cheating the Earl.” Ciel’s voice finally managed to cut into the conversation, and all four men at the table turned their attention to the boy. Sebastian was beginning to wonder if he ought to interfere before the young boy imploded with rage at being dismissed, but the angry flush creeping up the back of the child's neck began to fade as the Minister finally addressed him.

“Hullo, Ciel, my boy!” Minister Kamelot could barely contain his enthusiasm to see the young earl, losing interest in the game immediately in favor of this new guest. “You’ve gotten so much bigger since I last saw you! I daresay you should meet Rhode, she’s just your age, and she’s such a lovely little dear! You two would get along just famously-“

“She was the one to direct us here, my lord,” Sebastian interjected, bowing slightly to the men. “My master has something he would like to discuss with Mr. Lau, if it would not be too much trouble.”

Lau brought his hands together within his sleeves, looking up to the ceiling with his usual, complacent smile. “It has been far too long since I heard such words from you, Ciel. And with something so important, I had expected you sooner.”

Cyril glanced at the rest of the company, most of whom were leaning over to try and hear the conversation between the men more clearly. “I suppose it’s time we give the table to someone else, lads. We’ve been here all night and nobody else has had their turn!”

Tyki leaned forward, grinding his cigarette butt into a convenient ashtray as he stood. “Your office, Cyril?”

Ciel stiffened slightly. “This is a private conversation, I’m afraid.”

“Lord Mikk has word you would like to hear, I believe.” Lau was as charming as always, and Cyril just stood there expectantly with a smile on his face. Ciel and Sebastian simultaneously looked to the silent fourth player, who was watching the exchange with interest apparent in his gold-green eyes.

“I won’t try to join in where I'm not wanted, Cyril.” He laughed a bit, standing and holding out his arms. “I have business of my own at home. Thank you for the lovely evening, Minister.”

"Don't leave so quickly! I'm sure the young ladies Tyki has abandoned would enjoy your company." Cyril reached out to shake his hand in farewell, all the same. "Thank you for coming tonight, Cain. It's a pleasure to have you. You need to come have tea soon! I'm sure Rhode and Merry would love to play."

A butler that Sebastian had failed to notice moved forward, placing a coat onto the young man’s shoulders and straightening it carefully. His hair was as white as ash, and the eyes that met Sebastian’s held a protective flair of loyalty. Sebastian found himself nodding minutely, acknowledging the silent fellowship, before watching the pair take their leave.

Cyril finally moved away from the table, physically pulling his younger brother into his entourage with a hand around his arm. “Well, then! Right this way, gentleman. It’s just off in the north wing.”

Ciel and Sebastian followed silently behind Lau.
 
 ❦
Cyril Kamelot’s study was a large room with expansive windows. The moon was visible past the glass as they entered, and its glow gave the furniture in the room a ghostly sheen. The Minister rushed to light the lamps in the room, apologizing for the mess as he went. When he moved to illuminate his desk, however, something came flying out of the chair and attached itself to his neck. Sebastian didn’t flinch, but Ciel had taken a step back. As his eyes adjusted, the boy could see what the problem was. There was a heavily petticoated girl who had been sitting in the dark, waiting until just the right moment to jump out. Sebastian recognized her as the child from earlier in the evening; Ciel could not recall ever having met her.

“Rhode! You certainly surprised me, jumping out like that!”

“I was trying, I was trying! Did I scare you?”

“Very much, my dear! I nearly jumped through the wall!” The Minister swung the girl around, setting her on the ground at last with a soft noise of exertion. “Well, then! Earl Ciel Phantomhive, I would like you to meet Miss Rhode Kamelot!”

The girl looked Ciel over with alarmingly blue eyes, seeming to critically analyze each part of him before meeting his equally analyzing gaze. “Hullo,” she held out her hand with a confident expression, little nose in the air as she waited for his response.

Ciel seemed to have missed his cue, however, for he reached out to shake it. Sebastian couldn’t quite think of a way to amend this social error quickly enough, and Rhode saw the boy’s hesitation. “Haven’t you ever been introduced to a lady before?”

Her tone was dripping with condescension, bringing a rush of heat to Ciel’s face. Tyki, who had settled down in one of the room’s chairs, made a warning sound in her general direction.

“I beg- your pardon.” Ciel let the apology out through clenched teeth. “I was distracted by- your charms.” He wanted to throw something very hard at Sebastian right now, especially for teaching him that line to use in just this kind of situation. It was beyond asinine, but the girl seemed quite flattered. She held out her hand once more, and when Ciel finally managed to rest his own palm beneath hers and brush his lips against her hand, she tightened her fingers just a bit. The adults were moving to arrange the chairs before the fireplace, and Sebastian was being cajoled into light said fire. It was only a passing moment, but Rhode’s grip sent an odd chill through Ciel’s body.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter, Minister.” Ciel spoke a bit too loudly as he released the girl’s hand, or rather, managed to release his hand from her.

“Call me Cyril, boy! We’re in private company now.” He glanced at Lau as if doubting whether his words applied, but the moment passed. “Trisha and I adopted her several years ago. She’s our little angel!”

Rhode ran over to her uncle, delighted as she jumped into his lap and started chattering excitedly at him. Tyki’s pained expression as she accidentally elbowed his ribcage set off a round of rapidfire questions, which only seemed to put the man in more pain.

“What’s this?” Rhode’s hand had found something inside the sleeved arm Tyki had just wrapped around her waist, and after a very brief struggle that she barely managed to win, she had a card in her hand and a very flustered uncle underneath her. “Oooh, Tyki, you’ve been cheating again. The Earl won’t be happy to find out about this!”

“If you tell him, Rhode-“ Tyki grabbed the card back with an angry snatch, pulling her back into his lap and whispering something in her ear in a tone low enough that even Sebastian couldn’t hear it. Whatever it was, it made the girl settle down. 

Ciel settled into the chair Sebastian pulled up for him with an impatient air, one leg crossed over the other and chin resting on one hand. "What is it you know about these illnesses?"

Lau took his sweet time before answering, shifting until he was perfectly comfortable. "Now, now. Illness..." He trailed off, looking upward with a thoughtful expression before smiling. "What is it you have come to ask me about?"

"You had no idea what I was talking about-" Ciel started, reigning himself back with a deep breath and a soft growl. "The illnesses, Lau. They've been reaching the slums, and the Queen is worried for her subjects' welfare."

"Not just the slums, boy." Tyki was pulling a fresh cigarette from his pocket as he spoke, holding it carefully between two fingers as Rhode produced his lighter. She knew exactly how to produce the flame, setting the end of her uncle's cigarette aglow with the efficiency of an expert smoker. "Last week, the Duchess Benfleet suffered an attack of the 'vapors' that put her in bed for two weeks." He held up four fingers, taking a deep breath of smoke and exhaling before continuing.

"She went into hysterics. Screaming, throwing herself about, trying to harm herself." He put one finger down, leaving three in the air. "Then, she began speaking in tongues, according to the doctors," another finger down, "and after that, she-" Tyki paused, putting his cigarette between his teeth and covering one Rhode's of ears, blocking the other by pulling her against his shoulder. "After that, she tried to seduce the surgeon, in front of her own husband. He caught them in bed later, and not in the proper manner. As dry as the Duchess is, I never imagined she'd even be able to bend-"

Cyril cleared his throat before Tyki elaborated, keeping the man on track as Ciel tried not to show his complete disgust for the man's descriptions. Sebastian seemed mildly amused by his master's reaction, turning his face aside in an attempt to hide his growing smile. "As it were, she seemed to have lost her sense completely. Tried to convince her husband to kill himself, that it was all his fault that she was ill, and then-" He put the third finger down, holding the fourth as if it were especially important.

"She started crying black tears. Two days straight, and then..." Everyone seemed to lean forward slightly in the silence, waiting for the climax to the story. "She died!"

"How unexpected," Ciel couldn't keep all of the cynicism out of his tone.

"I don't believe that kind of nonsense, Tyki." Cyril sounded rather cross with his brother's tale, resting his head on one hand. "Benfleet would have mounted a celebration for the woman's passing. You know as well as I do that he was keeping a mistress in London."

"That's the strange thing!" Tyki sounded a bit excited, leaning forward and ignoring Rhode's sound of protest. "Benfleet killed himself the very next day. He hung himself, and all of the money and titles went to his children." He sat back in his chair, looking quite satisfied with himself.

"And how do you know all of this?" It was obvious that Ciel didn't believe a word the man was saying.

"From the mistress, of course." His smile was cocky enough to make lesser men ache with inadequacy. "I've been keeping her company in the Duke's absence. She's had to pack up all her things from the city house and go back to her family in Wendover."

"Tyki Mikk, you should not be allowed in polite company with such vulgar habits," Cyril's disapproval was scathing, with a tone quite reminiscent of the beginning of a preacher's sermon. "Even if Ciel is an Earl, he isn't at any age to hear about that kind of thing. After all, he's no older than Rhode, and you still cover her ears!"

"I believe Mister Lau has something to contribute." Sebastian's voice was onobtrusive, slipping into the conversation as if he had belonged there all along. His young master's face was shadowed, but Rhode could see the shadows of a scowl. Doesn't like being treated like a child, she noted, before wrapping her arms around Tyki's neck and snuggling in to stifle a giggle. The smile she flashed at Ciel a moment later was glowing with pride, though the boy seemed to ignore it completely.

"I have heard rumors of such an illness, but the word came from the few who spend time in the farthest of hamlets." Lau shrugged slightly, as if discounting the origins completely. "They were nothing more than superstitious rumors, as any witch or demon. First it was a sorceress, then a curse, and then the plague returning through the rats. I doubt it will move beyond city borders, if the Queen can keep the gates shut and her subjects from panicking."

Ciel's frustration was apparent, fingers tapping slightly at the arm of his chair as he thought. "I don't see why the Queen would ask my assistance if she believed it was only a plague. There's something missing in your stories, gentlemen, and I would like to know what it is."

Tyki sighed, tapping the ash from his cigarette with no care for his brother’s flooring. “I thought you were looking into those disappearances on the End, Earl. Solve the case already?”

“Don’t avoid my question, Lord Mikk.” The boy’s tone was harsh, his gaze challenging.

“Now, Ciel, I don’t see why there is any reason to doubt Tyki’s account. Despite his tasteless habits, he does have a way with information.” Cyril gestured in the air with his hand as if soothing an invisible cat.

“I don’t deal with vapors and suicides, Minister. If the Queen wished to stop a plague, she would call on one of your number, or Parliament. I need to hear facts, not ridiculous fancies from a wronged mistress…”

Rhode stiffened a bit on Tyki's lap, pushing herself up to stare at the wall as if she had just heard something.

Sebastian watched her slight motions with interest, saw her calculations, the decision- All in a single moment. The demon was catching an odd sensation, putting his senses on high alert. There was a feeling that some silent transmission was occurring on a channel just beyond Sebastian's frequency; He could feel its presence, but the grasp of any content was beyond him. All the same, he was at the ready when the girl pushed herself out of her uncle's lap.

"Something is happening downstairs." Rhode spoke loudly, her voice echoing slightly in the dim light. "Someone's going to die in the ballroom."
 
 ❦

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