Liam-sensei (liam_sensei) wrote,

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Lifting the Mask

Title: Lifting the Mask
Summary: The reapers take part in a unique professional development day: a series of fighting matches between colleagues. While some fights are friendly, others give enemies like Grell Sutcliff and Eric Slingby the opportunity for payback.
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairings: Grell, Eric, William, brief appearances by Ronald and Alan
Warnings: Descriptions of bloody fights, some language.
Disclaimer: Kuroshitsuji and recognizable characters belong to Yana Toboso.
Author's Note: Written for the fic contest at GrellSutcliff-FC on DA. I wanted to take a different take on Grell's character: I wanted to write him the way I personally prefer seeing him. I haven't written Eric that much though so please be gentle.

Lifting the Mask

Management liked to hold these "professional development" days once every so often; updates, training, the usual rubbish. The higher-ups would use days where the death count was anticipated to be low and they could spare personnel on a rolling basis. Usually they were a bunch of meetings and seminars with the promise of a decent lunch. Once in a while, however, they had some really fun ones.

"Considering how many of you just arrived, I'll reiterate the rules. You should have read them thoroughly when you signed up for this, but pardon me if I don't trust any of you to remember them."

Such as professional development days that involved William standing over all of us wearing this lovely black and white striped shirt. That gorgeous man needs to wear short sleeves more often; his arms are so muscular.

"This is meant to be an exercise to hone your skills in hand-to-hand combat, especially should you find yourself without your glasses for any unfortunate, or rather idiotic reason."

He tapped the side of his spectacles for emphasis with this beautifully dangerous look.

"Combat can be unpredictable, that is why this exercise is not limited to certain forms. However we will have rules. You are all participating because this is your designated participation time, you have also completed the required workshop for low-vision training. We will call the participants by their age categories and combatants will be chosen at random according to the numbers drawn. If your name is drawn and you are not here then you lose your opportunity and another name will be drawn. It will only be the two chosen opponents to each match. Each match will have a single round lasting no more than ten minutes. The most unscathed opponent will be the winner. Should a contestant tap out or be knocked out, the session is over."

I counted around thirty in total gathered around the boxing ring in the athletic building. Some were coming in, a few others sneaking out, most standing comfortably around the ring in anticipation.

"Once called, you are to remove your shoes, socks, shirts, any jewelry, and of course your glasses. Long hair is to be tied back. Gloves are also to be removed and you're not allowed to use any form of glove or wrapping around hands, feet, joints, anything. Pockets are to be turned out as well. All styles martial combat are allowed, though you may not use any powers. There is to be no scratching, biting, spitting, hair pulling, or ripping of clothes. The use of any object, whether in this room or in your dimensional stores is strictly prohibited. All these violations will result in disqualification and prohibition from future events of this nature. If your scythe appears at all, even briefly, you will face disciplinary action."

The natives were getting a bit anxious: there was so much shifting and knuckle cracking around me with a few under-the-breath murmurs to the effect of "shut your trap and get on with it." The collective mood in the room changed once William's helper, some bloke from Assignments I think, took out a folio filled with envelopes. Each envelope represented a time block and an age category and were filled with the respective tickets.  

The helper, George I think his name was, opened the envelope for this respective time slot labeled "Junior" and chose two tickets. Everyone was supposed to have their respective tickets on hand, but Georgie did the service of matching the numbers with a list.

"Starting off with the Juniors; Number 27 Colin Wakely, Number 63 Daniel Hargrove."

The two first contestants were skinny scrappers. They got into their respective corners, undressed to their trousers, put their effects in a tray, and finally approached the ring. George was there with another small tray in which the two fighters put their spectacles. I suppose this carried some sort of heavy symbolism: you may be opponents in the ring, but you both wear the spectacles of reapers.

They entered the ring to a chorus of cheers, taking their stances. William stood to the side, a bell rang, then it began.

Fists flew almost instantly though it stayed strictly to fisticuffs. They were both pretty lively but stayed gentlemanly. You could tell these two were buddies: this was a friendly competition, they wanted to play a little rough but didn't want to bloody the other up too much. I think I saw a bloody nose on one, but that was about it. I don't think either of them were that used to being without their glasses; I counted so many fists that missed their mark, but these kids had an idea of what they were doing. Precision strikes are nigh impossible (well not impossible if you've trained like you're supposed to) though unaided reaper sight can still recognize the general area of a head or a torso. The Wakely kid was declared the victor and they both walked away with handshakes. They'd probably discuss this later over a few pints. Personally I found the match a bit boring.

A pair of Intermediates were called next, they were a bit rougher on each other. The calls were going in succession to age, a couple Seniors went against each other: one tall, beefy guy against a skinny lout though physique was but one factor in weighing the strength of reapers. It's all about one's own power and knowledge. This was clearly illustrated when Goliath's head dragged across the mat with a few swift kicks from our own little David.

The crowd ate this all up; all the manner of screams, cheers, taunts. A few boys exchanged coins on their chosen contestants. I saw Ronald at one point collecting a few bets before running off to his next client. I took a stance a few bodies back from the ring, keeping mostly still and quiet though grinning like a maniac. I wanted to savor all of this.

William was probably chosen to referee this match by the higher ups and he was doing such a wonderful job. Calling a scratch or a knockout was part of his duties, though when one junior painted the floor with his opponent even after he had tapped out several times, William sent the kid flying out of the ring with a flick of the wrist. Oh what a dangerous, cold man he is.

A few would pass by with some comments to the effect of, "Sutcliff's just loving all these half naked, sweaty men." It wasn't an inaccurate assessment. We do have some fit boys in the office, I wasn't minding seeing what they look like under their suits. All the sweating, grunting, and presses of flesh on flesh with each grapple were getting me a bit excited. However these were only aesthetic details; it was the savagery I was enjoying a bit more.

It was one show of violence after another; differing punches, kicks, holds, trickles to splashes of brilliant red. It was a savage symphony; a moment when all these workers, all these civilized psychopomps unleashed all hell on their brethren. It was bloody chaos in a little bottle.

The majority of reapers will pride themselves on how bloody civilized they are. We're all to wear a mask of civility in the face of the dying, that is an understandable standard though it goes a bit further. Reapers are an arrogant lot, our kind thinks itself above humans and certainly above any other piece of trash that walks the planes. Under that mask, in the heart of every reaper is a being of death incarnate: quiet death to bloody death, it's all the same. This force of death incarnate has a major weakness: human-born eyes cannot properly shift to see the planes in full, thus reaper vision is horribly blurred. Our spectacles address this little problem.

Imagine then an arrogant creature of death faced with his greatest physical weakness. Imagine this creature is given permission to unleash a storm of violence upon his friend, his neutral colleague, or perhaps his enemy. It was a double test for all contestants: giving an outlet for one's inhuman nature faced with one's innate weakness. The implications of all this made me giddy.  

I wanted to see the most civilized beings turn into savage brutes. Every match carried so many juicy revelations. You could tell who was friends, who was neutral, and who despised each other by the way they fought and screamed. Who were truly civilized men and who had a sleeping beast in their very souls? Masks were lifted a bit more, though who would be able to keep theirs on in a believable way after this.

I was fortunate to have a light schedule today, my first client wasn't until 2. I took a look at my watch: 11:55. I tried keeping my expression neutral; this round of Intermediates was ending in five minutes.  

A stocky fellow easily won over his lanky cohort and they left the ring with back-slaps. Georgie got up with the envelopes.

"In the Senior division," he said, choosing a number from the envelope. "Number 82, Eric Slingby…"

These little exercises were also a way to see the true mettle of colleagues, especially those for whom you bear little love.

"…And number 17, Grell Sutcliff."

And sometimes fate smiles upon you to get the chance to truly test them.

I approached the ring, savoring a few gasps, snickers, and claps around me. I wasn't going to partake in this beautiful occasion as only a spectator; this should have come as a surprise to no one. I came in my shirtsleeves — no tie, jacket, or waistcoat — for this very occasion. I even filed down my nails a bit too to keep a little more within the regulations. I knew my time slot would be soon but who knew it would be this soon.  

My opponent appeared through the crowd approaching the ring with this smarmy smirk. He stuck out a bit more, he altered half his hair blond most recently; a ham-headed brute's attempt at being stylish. He immediately made eye contact with me, upper lip curling into this little sneer. I smiled and waved back, thanking whatever divine intervention caused or names to be drawn together.

I took another look at that face, oh how I wanted to smash it in. I consider "hate" a rather strong word, though Mr. Slingby and I weren't exactly on the best of terms to put it gently. All right, perhaps mutual engagement in the trade of glares, snipes, and the occasional fist are a bit more accurate. It was hardly a blood feud, but it wasn't polite. I used to consider him neutral, just another colleague. Then I had a bit of disciplinary trouble and he decided to subtly share his opinion on my transgressions at any given opportunity mixed with a few personal insults. I can't exactly say I have taken the proverbial high road in this matter; I'll admit pushing his own buttons has been fun but hasn't earned me any friendliness.

I expected to see his "close friend" Alan right beside him coaching him on. Alan wasn't there, most likely he was on duty. Alas no wrappings were allowed so Eric couldn't bear his love's standard, not like he would do that in public anyway. Big, manly Eric Slingly wouldn't openly admit to that; he would just make obvious glances to his friend with a few subtle wrist rubs and mutual help adjusting each others ties. Oh no, nothing but close friendship, nothing but a senior watching out for his onetime junior. He could curse and tell crass stories and throw sideways molly comments in my direction with the rest.

I am hardly the offendable type, mind you; I just find blatant hypocrisy absolutely riotous. Naturally the best kind of buggerer is a tough boy and not a nancy boy, though the only difference between the two is angle and perspective. I might have said this out loud in his earshot once. I was going into this match with the advantage of knowing how hard he can punch. This time probation wasn't a hindrance to me; this was professional development. As long as I followed the rules of engagement, I could play as much as I wanted.

I walked toward my corner, unlacing my boots and kicking them off before removing my socks and throwing them down as well. I removed my wallet, watch, and chain whilst looking across the ring to see Mr. Slingby already unbuttoning his shirt. He was predictably meaty underneath, a weightlifter most likely; probably the most intelligent pastime he was capable of. I unbuttoned my own shirt and removed the garment. I personally would rather set eyes upon the forms of other men in admiration than comparison, though I was looking at my opponent with anything but a lustful glance.

I displayed my own taut physique rather proudly. It was nothing compared to his; he had to have outweighed me by a few stone but that truly didn't matter. He was throwing a few test punches whilst eying me. I found myself flexing a little as I reached into my pocket for a cord and tied back my hair. When one peacock unfurls his feathers, perhaps it's only an innate instinct the second does the same. Perhaps this could carry the more human equivalent of speculatively comparing size in the trousers, though judging by Mr. Slingby's charming disposition I was sure he would be a disappointment in that respect.  

He threw his legs over the ropes and jumped into the ring with a thud. I slid under the ropes and rose to a graceful stand. We locked eyes, then he looked me up and down with a sneer as if to say "Is that all you've got?" I could see William out of the corner of my eye giving us both wary glances, his last glance falling on me a bit harder. My love was standing right here, his standard a cold glance. Slingby's object of affection wasn't here right now, I considered myself at an advantage. George came out with that small tray; Slingy removed his spectacles and placed them inside. I unhooked the chain of mine from one of the arms and coiled it, then folded the arms, and placed my spectacles beside his. Georgie-porgie walked away.

My vision was rendered a blur, though I gradually picked out immediate shapes and was able to make out most everything around me. Using sight only for this challenge would be foolish; this was the measure of a reaper's overall ability.

"You both know the rules, I expect both of you to adhere to them," William said to both of us, shooting me another pointed glance.

I just threw a kiss in his direction and savored his eye roll, not to mention the little headshake from Master Slingby. William stood back and pulled his fist down, the bell went off.

"Sorry darlin'," Eric said. "I ain't gonna go easy on ya."

"I'd be sad if you did," I said.

He took a second to get into stance but was broken from it by my foot going into his stomach. I saw the shape of his form slide back. I got in a kidney shot though my fist was blocked with his hand before it could get even close to his throat. My other fist flew out immediately and grazed the size of his head before he swung it to the side. I managed to feel the whoosh of a kick coming toward by groin, but I twisted away in time for just his toes to brush against my side. The second foot planted right in my ribcage, though I managed to dodge so it was only a sting.

His fists were coming out next, I slid back but this whole defensive position thing was getting a little old. I ducked under and kicked right into his chest with both feet. He was caught unawares though I felt his hands try to take a grip on my ankles. Instead I reversed my trajectory slammed a foot into his chin. Slingby fell back a step, I gave him one last kick to the face and landed feet first on the mat. I could smell that sweet salty-metallic scent and barely make out a few crimson splotches on his face. Looks like I drew first blood.

I must have been a little too proud of myself to block his fist coming at my face. I didn't even bother blocking his fist going into my nose and the stinging heat. Now the blood I smelled was my own. I licked up a bit of it flowing from my nose before swinging a double punch into his ribcage. Apparently he was a little distracted as well as there was no dodges or blocks; only the feeling of hard muscle giving way to steel bone. Eric tightened the muscles of his midsection to repel my thrust and I felt the air around a kick aimed for my shoulder. I grabbed his foot and twisted it. I could make out the shape of him spinning around; his other foot probably following.

I threw my weight back, then lunged forward with my fists. His hands came out to block though he likely wasn't expecting both my hands to slam against his ears. His hands grabbed my wrists and twisted. I pulled them back, though not before he gave me a nice aching sprain. I would have to give my poor wrists a second to correct themselves, in the meantime I gave him a kick to the thigh. Eric tightened his muscles again, though not before I got a double kick that loosened them a little. His leg kicked out and tried to wrap around mine. Nice try, friend, but hate to disappoint you. I jumped over his leg, feeling the tingle as my wrists returned to normal.

I aimed a fist at his face, though he moved to block it. He fell for my feint and didn't notice the other fist that crashed into the side of his neck. He grunted hard and punched toward my head. I ducked out of the way and did a sideways kick into his stomach. My force and trajectory was supposed to send him flying, but instead he held his stance. I couldn’t hold back a snarl; the boy was solid brick and it was pissing me off.

Alas I gave him an opening for a fist to my side. The blow was well-aimed; my ribs were hard enough to take the punch but only just. I did lose my own footing for a moment, only getting half a second to realize it before that leg was wrapped around mine. This time I let him catch me and try to yank me down. I held my stance though only by straining my legs at the right time. Slingby may have had the advantage of strength, though I valued my agility a bit more. I did a pirouette in his grip and flew forward, fists crashing into his stomach in a rapid succession. He tried to dodge back though I wasn't giving him a moment. My fists flew, though it was a greater feint for my spinning kick into the side of  his head.

I saw a splash of blood and thought I saw his neck twist, that just beckoned me to kick him in the head again. I had the bastard now, but I trusted my wonderful reaper vision a bit too much. His head didn't twist, it dodged to soften the blow. He grabbed hold of my ankle and yanked me down. I tried to pull my foot from his grip though he held on like a bear on a ham. I sent my other leg out to brace myself, though he slammed a bit harder. My ankle went numb and I found myself crashing to the mat.

I landed on my side and twisted around before he could slam on top of me. Eric landed hard on the mat just as I pulled away, though I put my arms up in time to meet his attempt at a hold. His strength had be at a disadvantage; he had quite a good grip on me. I thrashed around to loosen his hold a bit and it was working. Focus was vital here; I wasn’t enjoying what direction this was going in but losing my cool now could be disastrous. I felt his arms let go from my midsection, my signal to fly to a sit. I should have remembered my previous thought about avoiding any hasty action.

I jerked upward only to feel the aching blows of his fists pounding against my face, my body slamming down hard. Blood burst from my nose and I felt it trickle down my throat. I tried to back away but he lay on strong; fists smashing one after another. It was the face, it had to be the face. He just knows how proud I am of my face and he had to be a brute and punch it in. I'd weep for my poor face later but I was in a bit of a position now.

His fists were going above and beyond the call of duty, the ache was now dull and I did all I pushed my concentration into moving if only a little to keep from blacking out completely. Through my ringing ears I heard William's voice scream, "Slingby! Lay off!"

The bell rang. It was done and I knew it. I fell back and lay there in a heap; every part of my head aching though my healing was keeping me conscious. I felt Slingby jump to his feet. I looked up and saw him towering over me, fists in the air and eyes to the audience. The crowd roared, though I did hear a few boos and jeers from a couple corners.

I rolled on my side, fighting off dizziness to come to a sit. I didn't want any extra attention from the ringmasters or even any member of the medical staff. I did look up and see William staring down at me, likely seeing if he should call one of the medics. As lovely as the thought was of him carrying me out of that ring and sweeping me to my bed, I had little desire for even him to tend to me now.

I found my bearings and came to a gradual stand. I waved to the adoring public like the blood-stained queen I was. I must have looked an awful fright, my vanity creeping back to weep buckets over my destroyed face. I wasn't giving it any voice though; I was savoring my aches, savoring the smell of blood, savoring having another reason to think a little less of Mr. Slingby. I got my proverbial arse handed to me, I was beaten down by a man I despised…and I was all right with this.

George came back over with the tray, I snatched up my spectacles, removed the chain, and gently positioned them on my face so I could see properly without aggravating anything. My muscles trembled but I felt glorious. I saw Slingby put on his own glasses then sneer at me before putting his hand out.

"Good fight," he said with this mocking tone.

"Yes, good fight," I said with just as much sincerity.

We exchanged a handshake, I scratched hard down his wrist whilst pulling away. He continued sneering at me then turned around and left the ring. I went underneath the ropes and flopped to my feet, taking one quick look into the crowd. Well who did I just happen to see in the audience; eyes locked on dearest Eric in irritation, then going back to the damage his dear love did on me.

Sweet Alan must have had a break in his shift, he probably just got here in time to watch his strong, gentlemanly suitor pounding my face in. Eric approached him, though poor Alan didn't look any happier. His dearest was just exposed as a savage brute, that civilized reaper nature broken apart to reveal the monster underneath. Let's see him try to mock me know for being a violent cad when he was exposed as one himself.

I walked toward my effects with a spring in my step against my dizziness. I had about two hours until my first client of the day, I would probably be fully healed by then. I slid on my shirt though didn't feel up to buttoning it. I did put my feet into my boots and collected my wallet and watch, forgetting about my socks. I really didn't care, instead I simply walked away.

I could hear two juniors called behind me as I walked through the crowd. I did feel a few pats on the back and hear a few words of concern and support, I nodded and thanked each of them. Others just stood back as I walked on, averting their gazes or looking upon me with these “There, but for the grace of God, go I” looks. There were some under-the-breath murmurs, I didn't even bother listening to other commentary. I just felt like floating on a cloud.

I wanted a bit of a rest before starting my shift. I wanted a bath now, maybe redo my nails.

Tags: fics, kuroshitsuji

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