Chapter Three: His Butler, Scent of Lavender

-Part II-

Ciel barely heard a word Sebastian had said, his eyes fixated on the man's lips rather than the words they were saying. He hated that such obscene thoughts refused to relinquish their hold on his mind. He found himself actually relieved by the catastrophic state of his manor as Sebastian opened the door. As good a distraction as any, Ciel thought, breathing a sigh of relief before he stepped inside, agape in shock, putting back on his mask.

"What's the matter?" Sebastian asked, peeking inside, before surprise took over his features as well. So much pink, bows and frills, and horrible cute little animals infesting everything in Ciel's beloved home.

"My mansion!" Ciel exclaimed, looking with disgust from long colorful streamers to pink hearts to fluffy bunnies.

"What happened to this place?" Sebastian asked, wanting to know who was responsible for such a mockery that he would undoubtedly be in charge of cleaning up, "Why, it's a disaster."

All at once, the three servants came bolting out of the drawing room. Finny, who wore a pair of bunny ears, and Mey-Rin knelt down beside Sebastian, as if cowering from some unspeakable terror. Bard was dressed up as a maid, and he remained standing, clutching Sebastian's trench coat in both hands, "Sebastian!"

"What is going on here!?" Sebastian asked, eyes wide and not nearly thrilled that Bard was about two inches away from his face, "And why on Earth are you all dressed like lunatics?"

Bard, the American...self proclaimed fearless chef and firearm specialist shook as he pointed to the kitchen, "She's crazy!"

"Who is crazy?" Ciel demanded, stepping in as a serious look came over his features, the relief of a distraction waning and the gravity of the situation sinking in. When he heard a gargled sound coming from the drawing room, he immediately went to investigate.

Upon his entrance, he found Grell dangling like a pinata from the ceiling, in a noose, decorated in frilly yellow bows. "What are you doing?" Ciel asked angrily.

"I do believe I'm in the process of dying, Master Ciel," Grell choked.

Ciel's tone was becoming more displeased and agitated by the moment. He looked down, scoffing, "Get him down, Sebastian."

"Yes," Sebastian agreed, going to take Grell down.

Before he had even reached him, a blur of orange rushed by. "CIEEEL!" Lizzie screeched as she pounced into Ciel's arms, "Ciel, you're back! I missed you so much!"

"Elizabeth, what a surprise," Ciel said, taken aback, as he went rigid in her arms.

Of course, the fiancé, Sebastian sighed, cutting down the Grell piñata, How could I have almost forgotten? An unexpected visit…just when I thought I didn't have enough to do with an additional idiotic servant, more incompetent than the three I am already in charge of. Now I have all this pink to contend with, festering what was once my master's pristine manor.

Seeing the young Lady's arms around his master filled him with a new feeling, a sickening coldness filling his stomach. What is this? There are a great multitude of complex emotions that human beings were capable of. Demons can feel too, just as strongly, but living for centuries has a tendency to harden the heart, leaving only deep cardinal feelings like hunger, anger, and lust. Now, I find myself rediscovering old feelings, forgotten long ago. He tried to put a name to it. Could this be…jealousy? Whatever it is, I find myself not liking it. Not in the slightest.

"How many times do I have to tell you? Call me Lizzie! You really are just the cutest thing ever! Aren't you, darling boy? I could just eat you up!"

"Lady Elizabeth?" Sebastian said, holding up the Grell piñata.

"Oh, hello Sebastian," Elizabeth said, turning to face the butler, "How are you?" She looked at Grell and her eyes saddened, "Aww, you took him down?"

"Yes, well he distracted from the beauty of the room," Sebastian offered with a smile.

" But I made such a lovely decoration out of him," Elizabeth pouted.

"A decoration?" Sebastian questioned.

"YES! Just look at it all! Isn't this salon so cute now?"

"Ugh, my mansion," Ciel said, in utter exasperation, "It's so pink."

"From now on only the cutest things belong in the Phantomhive manor! Wouldn't you agree Antoinette?" she asked, looking to poor Tanaka, who sat in a curly blonde wig.

"Oh, and Tanaka…" Sebastian said, with pity.

"And I have a present for you too!" Lizzie said, delightedly as she placed a flowery, pink bonnet on Sebastian's head. "You're always dressed in black, so I thought this might be a nice change. What do you think?"

The other three Phantomhive servants snickered at such an absurd sight, but they were quickly silenced by one look from the head butler.

As foolish as he felt in a pink hat and even with the sickening coldness in his stomach, for some reason he couldn't be angry at this overly cheery, bright eyed girl. "I am deeply honored that you would go to so much trouble for a humble servant. Your generosity overwhelms me," Sebastian said, with a bow.

"Happy to help," Elizabeth beamed.

"In any event, Lizzie, what are you doing here?" Ciel asked, "Auntie didn't let you come alone."

"I sneaked away, because I wanted to see you silly!" Lizzie said, throwing her arms around Ciel once more.

"You sneaked away?" Ciel asked, feeling his ribs being crushed, his blood going cold, "Don't you think you'll get into trouble?" Moreover, would he get into trouble? His Aunt Frances wasn't well known for tolerance or generosity to such behaviors, and would likely think Ciel had something to do with it.

"I know!" Lizzie continued, ignoring Ciel, "Now that the mansion is decorated so prettily why don't we have a ball tonight! Then you can be my escort and we can dance around all night long! Isn't that a wonderful idea?" Lizzie asked, spinning Ciel around.

"A ball? No!" Ciel said, in protest.

"You wear the clothes I picked out for you, won't you? Pretty please! They'd look so cute on you!" she said, eyes shining.

"I don't want…"Ciel continued to object.

"And of course I'll be dressed to the nines as well!" Lizzie proclaimed, before running up to Grell, "You come with me! I want to make you look even cuter than you already are!"

As Lizzie raced down the hall, dragging Grell with her, Ciel yelled, "WAIT I SAID NO BALL!"

Ciel looked at the closed door with absolute disdain, wishing his carriage had never stopped and kept on riding across the country side. It would have been less of a headache than this ordeal, and he could have been alone with…

"Sebastian," Ciel said, through gritted teeth, "My scones. Now."

The Earl stormed off to his study, not daring to glance back at his butler lest his heart skip another beat.

It's been nearly an hour and Sebastian has yet to bring me my scones. Bastard. Who the hell does he think he is? Ciel's stomach growled as he drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk. But, it wasn't his stomach gnawing at him that troubled him so. His heart was screaming at him and his head reamed. It would be easier to blame it all on hunger, but no matter how many scones filled his stomach, when the plate was empty there would still be…Lizzie.

There was a time that Ciel looked forward to his fiancé's visits. Now, just like the boy outside the Funtom shop in town, she served as a painful reminder that he was forever changed, stained. Lizzie had retained the sweetness of innocence, and somehow assumed he could come through everything and return to the bright eyed, happy child she had first met. He wasn't that boy anymore, nor could he ever be. She didn't know everything that had changed him, nor would she. Even if his own innocence had been corrupted, he would at least do everything in his power to preserve hers. He owed that much to her at least, even if he would never have the chance to be the husband she deserved.

That innocence, that utter joy, a part of him hated her for it, resented her even. He never looked forward to her overly cheerful ways, of trying to make him smile, or worse, calling him her fiancé. He knew that even if he lived long enough to utter such dishonest vows, that it would just be another part to play, another act before the final chapter. He would never be able to make her happy, and she'd spend what short time they had together with a husband who could never love her the way she so desperately craved, and the rest of her life as a widow mourning the boy she had once known, rather than the man she knew nothing of. He did care for Lizzy, regardless of in what way or how he chose to show it. He didn't want her life to be built on empty lies, like his own. He wouldn't wish the life he had on anyone.

He was fifteen years old, so young, and yet so tired, wearied down by fake smiles and sugar-coated lies. His life felt hollow. He almost felt as if he were drowning. While other kids attended school, playing practical jokes and attending social events, blissfully happy in their innocence...he sat at his desk going through paperwork for the company he created, socializing with England's elite, and taking orders from her Majesty, as the Queen's guard dog. All of it an act, meaningless. It didn't matter how many toys his company sold, how many people knew the name of Phantomhive, how much crime he cleaned up. His revenge would be completed soon. He would be dead. His soul would be devoured. For Ciel Phantomhive, there was no future to plan for, and it was pointless to think about such things.

He should have been like them, happily innocent, focusing on school, friends, and girls, instead of paperwork, crimes, and revenge. His father should be here, taking the time to show him how to fulfill his duties. His mother should be here too, and though he'd never dare admit it aloud, he wanted nothing more than her sweet voice reading to him as he drifted away to the land of dreams. But he couldn't even bring himself to dwell on should-have-beens. Not only did it make him feel weak, but even that dim glimmer was too much to hope for, when all that he had to look forward to was an imminent demise and an eternity in the flames of hell, nothing more than a demon's meal.

So he walked among them, but was never part of them, like one of the many tragic poems of Poe. His past was a tortured memory, his future nonexistent, but it was the present that made it all so painful. Having to keep up the act in order to fulfill his revenge, but never having anything in life to truly look forward to. An engagement to Elizabeth, he hadn't chosen this, for either of them. Like so much of his life, he had had no choice in the matter, everything had been chosen for him. It was probably best that way, after all the first time he was able to make a decision for himself he had traded his soul to a demon. Sebastian…the only thing that he had chosen to have in his life.

Ciel crumpled up the letter he had been writing to thank a potential investor in Germany for their interest in his company. He tossed it in the wastebasket across the room, before it bounced out. He sighed, getting up out of his chair. He locked the door to his study. Judging by the smell penetrating the entire mansion, Sebastian was still hard at work, baking, and there was a little bit of time to allow him some small comfort.

Pulling one of the armchairs over to the door, he climbed up, fumbling at the top of the door frame, until his hand closed around a silver key. Stepping carefully down from the chair, he pushed it back to the place it had been, angling it just a bit differently, knowing Sebastian would have to put it back in its precise location once more. He loved tormenting Sebastian's need for perfection, or else pointing out such careless errors. Just another one of the games they played.

He knelt by his desk, using the key to unlock the bottom drawer. Inside the drawer was a bit of Funtom candy, most of which was being tested and unreleased to the public, underneath which was a series of important documents. When he lifted that bit of the desk, on the bottom sat a small wooden box. Ciel lifted the box gingerly onto his desk, looking beneath it, and turning a gear. When he opened the box, soft music began to play as a strawberry-blonde figurine twirled with a raven-haired man, beneath whom sat a glittering diamond ring set. Mother. Father. I wonder if things would have been different if it had stayed like this for you. Without...without...

Hot tears stung Ciel's cheeks, staining not only his face but his paperwork as well. The music box was one of few relics that Sebastian had reclaimed from the ruins of his manor. This was the legitimate thing, and one of few things that held comfort to him anymore. From his top drawer, he removed the copy of Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe that he had brought over from his room, in case he needed a break from his work while he waited for his snack.

He opened the book directly to the page with one of his favorite pieces, "The Raven" which he could almost confidently recite by memory. Betwixt the pages sat Sebastian's feather. Just seeing it sent heat rushing directly to his heart, where it burned and ached, pounding hard as if losing a fight. It almost felt like an asthma attack, which was both annoying and frightening. He didn't like the way he felt when he looked at it...or thought about last night.

Sebastian was no angel. He would never do something so uncharacteristically kind for his master, nor would Ciel stand for it. So why? Why had this feather ended up in his bed as though the Gods in heaven knew that he had needed that comfort from his nightmares? Gods. Such a foolish notion. He had given up on any God before he'd sold his soul to a demon. If there was a God in heaven, he'd given up on Ciel Phantomhive for some reason when he was twelve, and lost his parents, his manor burned, and a cult abducted him, using him for their own pleasures, before attempting to sacrifice him to the very demon he now held a contract with. His body was rigid with both embarrassment and fear, that someone should see the small token that somehow had wound up in his bed with him.

He looked to the window. The trees in the courtyard were blowing in the breeze. He could easily just toss it out the window, nonchalantly and let the wind take it away, plaguing him no more with such persistent thoughts, like the "Tell Tale Heart" that had driven its owner insane with its dark secrets. It was just a simple feather. His hand closed around it, protectively, as a knock at the door made him jump.

"Young master?"

His heart raced fast, as the box fell to the floor. Ciel scrambled to pick it up, tucking the feather safely inside without much thought. He closed the box and jammed it in his drawer quickly.

"Just a moment, Sebastian," he said, sure he'd noticed his pitch elevate slightly.

Trying to regain his calm, he hid the key away in the top drawer, beneath a few pens and envelopes. He double checked to make certain the bottom drawer was secured, straightening his shirt, before walking to the door, and unlocking it. Sebastian waited a few moments before wheeling the serving cart in. Ciel couldn't meet his gaze. He knew Sebastian was questioning him on why he'd locked the door in the first place, even if he didn't address such concerns out loud.

"It's about time," Ciel said, putting on his best voice of irritation as he walked back to his desk, sitting down in his plush chair.

He's acting very peculiar again. Very uncharacteristic of himself. I wonder what he could be hiding this time. Sebastian mused.

"My apologies, young Master. I had to help the Lady Elizabeth lace Grell Sutcliff into a dress, which gave Bard just enough time to obliterate the kitchen. I swear no matter how many flamethrowers I take from him he manages to find another, though I suppose that's best lest he just start throwing gasoline around the kitchen and do irreparable damage," Sebastian said, moving the armchair back to it's proper location before going to the cart. "I've prepared you a few extra things as you were unable to eat breakfast. I've brought you Cornish pasties and chips, as well as an orchard fruit cake and of course your chocolate chip scones. For this afternoon's tea I've selected an oasis mango tea."

Sebastian set the plate of Cornish pasties and chips on the desk, before pouring the tea and setting the cup and saucer down beside it.

"What the hell is this?" Ciel said, adamantly, glaring at his butler, "I asked for scones, not...this...rubbish." His heart was still rushing from adrenaline, "Give them to me."

"Young master, I must insist that you eat something a bit more substantial before moving on to your sweets. You haven't eaten all day, and it will be quite awhile before the ball and later still for dinner. You cannot simply live on sugar, my lord."

"If you had done your job and kept an eye on that idiot, my breakfast would not have eluded me. It was not a request. My scones, Sebastian."

"No," Sebastian retorted without hesitation, "You really must eat something of sustenance. As for this morning's incident, you know perfectly well that I could easily have stopped Grell, but it was you who explicitly forbade me from using my powers in front of other humans…well, humans that we plan on keeping alive."

He smiled before adding, "Now, if you'll please, try your pasties and chips."

"So you'll punish me for not allowing your fun, then?" Ciel asked snidely, giving in, his stomach not allowing him to protest further as he cut into the pasty. It wasn't bad. Nothing Sebastian made was ever bad. Two bites in, he tried again, "Now, may I have my scone?" he said, crossing his arms in utter displeasure.

"I hardly consider that sustenance. Have patience. I assure you, your scones aren't going anywhere. You may have them afterward, and your Orchard Fruit Cake as well. That should keep you sated until tonight's ball. I have several hor d'oeuvres planned that I think you'll enjoy."

"Fine," Ciel groaned, continuing to eat, avoiding Sebastian's gaze.

When he was done, he'd given up on the scones, instead, resting his head against his desk in irritation, letting out an exasperated sigh.

Not partaking in scones? This must be serious. I hope it has nothing to do with…that feather.

"Is something wrong, master?" Sebastian asked.

"What am I to do, Sebastian? About Elizabeth?" He wanted Sebastian to get rid of the girl. Any excuse would do. It wouldn't have been the first time that he was 'sick' or 'had a meeting' or some other miniature disaster had befallen that sent the Lady Elizabeth on her way.

Hmm, Sebastian pondered, Perhaps it would be best if the master went through this hardship. He must learn to be more sociable to fulfill his duties as a nobleman. As for the Lady Elizabeth, maybe some time with his fiancé will help focus his attentions on something, anything, other than…Poe.

"I believe the wisest course of action is to go along with her plan," Sebastian said, as he replaced the teapot on the silver cart, "I don't think she's going to listen to reason."

"Can't you just give her some tea or something and get her out of here?" Ciel whined, feeling both childish and rather guilty the second the words passed his lips. "...I...I don't have time for a stupid ball," he added, trying to make his previous words sound less harsh.

"My lord," Sebastian said, facing his master, "the Lady Elizabeth would like a dance. You cannot refuse her."

Disdain crept over Ciel's features once more, abandoning all pretenses of kindness in his last statement. He put his tea to his lips, inhaling the aroma; but not taking a sip before he looked away, cheeks flushing slightly with embarrassment.

Sebastian worked hard not to smile, "Master..."

"What now?" Ciel asked, the humiliation evident in both his faltering voice, and the fact that he looked at his desk rather than Sebastian, far more interested in his teacup's contents than his butler's words.

"I know I've never seen you dance before, but, I assume that you can?"

Bastard. Just with the way he's looking at me, I can tell he is enjoying this too much. It is going to be another game where Sebastian hits hard, leaving me vulnerable, humiliated. His favorite type of game, no doubt...leaving me feeling nothing but fury. I hate losing any game, and the only time I do is against that damn demon. I refuse to give him the satisfaction. He can't beat me if I refuse to play. Ciel raised the papers he'd been working on to cover his face and avoid the question that Sebastian would keep moving him into check with.

"Oh, I see," Sebastian said, any amusement leaving his features as he continued by cutting the exquisite looking cake he'd prepared, "That explains why you're such a wallflower at social engagements."

"I have too much work to do. I don't have time to waste on dancing," Ciel protested from behind his paperwork.

Sebastian snatched the papers out of his grasp, coming no more than half a foot from his face, plate of cake in hand "With all due respect, dancing is a necessary skill for a person of your position to possess in your line of work, master."

Ciel looked away as Sebastian continued. The more this carried on, the less he liked where it was going. "Social contracts are important to maintain. The world expects any noble gentlemen to possess at least rudimentary dance skills. If you turn down too many invitations simply because you cannot dance, your reputation in high society will suffer greatly," Sebastian insisted.

His butler's face so close to his own was making Ciel shift uncomfortably in his chair. "Fine, I'll do it!" Anything. Anything to make Sebastian move before Ciel's face flushed any brighter.

"Now stop the lecture," Ciel demanded, taking the cake; but, as hungry as he was, he barely looked at it. "Call in a private tutor or something. Mrs. Bright or Mrs. Rodkin should work well enough..."

"We don't have sufficient time to call in a tutor for you, my lord," Sebastian explained, checking his pocket watch. Still very behind schedule for today, and this ball was certainly not on today's agenda. No matter. It is most certainly necessary. And if I couldn't do all of this…well, what kind of a butler would I be?

"There's only one option," Sebastian continued, "With your permission, I will be your dance instructor."

That cheeky Cheshire cat smirk. I should have known. Damn him. Damn him. Ciel slammed his fists on his desk, silver fork still in hand as he protested rather audibly, "Don't be ridiculous! I'm not going to take dancing instruction from a man!" Least of all you. He held his hands up in objection, "Besides, do you even know how to dance?"

"The Viennese waltz is my specialty. I was a guest at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna from time to time."

Now the bastard is just gloating.

"Now if you would do me the honor, my lady," he continued, holding out his hand, "May I have this dance?"

Ciel's teeth grit together, "Who are you calling a lady?"

"Pardon, my lord it is merely an expression, though I must admit you are doing a fine job at playing the part."

"I said NO," Ciel continued, glaring into Sebastian, "Absolutely not. I refuse. Are there any other ways I can say it to get my point through your idiotic skull?"

"Very well then, sir, if you don't mind being the laughing stock of high society, by all means I shall leave you to your…paperwork." Sebastian turned and walked to the door.

"Wait, Sebastian," he groaned. Ciel couldn't let anything soil the reputation of the name of Phantomhive, least of all something as trivial and mundane as dancing. Why do the well-to-do of England take such value in such a meaningless thing?

"Can't I at least finish my cake first?" he protested, needing at least some small consolation prize if he wasn't going to win the battle. The cake was extremely moist and cooked, as always to perfection.

"Do hurry, my lord," Sebastian said with a sigh, checking his pocket watch once more, "We are terribly behind schedule as it is, and seeing as how you have never so much as attempted to dance I fear you have a great deal to learn."

"Must it be you? I scarcely believe there is no one we can call in..." Just the thought of Sebastian's hands so lewdly placed on him, pulling him close, their bodies pressed against each other. Ciel felt his stomach clench at the thought, his body growing hotter, his shorts becoming uncomfortably constrictive. He found himself thankful that he was sitting behind his desk, able to hide a blatantly visible sign of such shameful pleasure.

His heart is beating so fast, his face flushing a bit, and a distinct detection of pheromones in the air, Sebastian noted, Surely he isn't…aroused? There is certainly nothing arousing about this situation. Then again, I forget how easily aroused young men can be. Yes, that's all.

"It would take far too much time for them to arrive to teach you such a lesson that the ball would have already begun before you had even learned how to dance. Honestly, my lord, you are being rather stubborn on the matter for no reason."

Sebastian couldn't help but smile in spite of himself. He did enjoy teasing his young master, even when he wasn't aware he was being teased.

That smirk. He couldn't possibly know? Could he? Ciel's eyes were once again on the tea in his hand, rather than the demon's. He couldn't bear to meet his gaze if he did know such a thing. "It's humiliating. It's improper to dance with someone below one's station...a man at that. Especially someone like you. And for that matter, I will take my time, Sebastian. In case you'd forgotten, I asked you for these scones nearly two hours ago, and I've yet to try them."

"I'm afraid you haven't the time for scones, my lord. We really need to get started. You wouldn't want to keep the Lady Elizabeth waiting now would you?" Sebastian insisted as he took the plate of half eaten cake and set it back on the silver serving chart, before collecting the cup and saucer as well.

"How dare you?" Ciel hissed, irate that his meal had once again been stolen away from him. He went to stand, only to think better of it at the last second, and clench his fists at his desk.

"So you would rather show up to your own ball late because you haven't had sufficient time to prepare yourself all because you had a craving for chocolate? How terribly uncouth. I'm beginning to think that you care nothing of your position in society. I am merely trying to help you keep from disgracing yourself, my lord. Now if you'll please," Sebastian said, offering his hand to Ciel.

Ciel felt his heart stop. He couldn't get up now. In one swift motion he got up, going to put his walking stick against the wall. It wasn't something he ever cared about. It was fine resting against his desk; but, he needed an excuse...something...anything to allow for the chance to readjust himself into a less conspicuous position. He hoped that by not taking his hand and turning his back to Sebastian, made a good show that he was still angry at his butler for taking away his food and putting him in such a ridiculous position, rather than let on to any of his true emotions he wanted nothing more than to be rid of.

"I apologize for the lack of music, but it's a little hard to play violin and teach you how to waltz at the same time," Sebastian smiled, "Are you quite ready yet?"

Ciel turned to face his butler, his ever present scowl firmly intact, masking any hint of lust. "I suppose we should get it over with, then."

"Let's begin. To lead, you start the first step on your heel. Be sure to keep your hand firmly upon the lady's back," Sebastian said, placing Ciel's hand on his waist. Ciel felt something hitch in his throat again, his entire body freeze.

"When the music starts, lead with your left foot."

Ciel looked down at their feet, nervous and uncomfortable, and realizing Sebastian was moving. By the time he'd processed that fact, he'd already knocked into Sebastian's foot with his shoe. His face was crimson. He was uncoordinated. He wanted to let go. Sebastian was holding him too firmly, ignoring Ciel's misstep as though it hadn't happened at all.

"Next, we'll try a natural turn. Slide your foot forward, like this."

This time, Ciel's foot dug into Sebastian's ankle, knocking him forward, and into his butler's chest, his hips pressed for a moment against his butler's. Sebastian's own lust stirred in him and before he even realized it, he was contemplating how quickly he could bend his master over the desk quenching both of their evident insatiable desires.

As if capable of knowing such promiscuous thoughts, Ciel pulled away quickly, his breathing erratic, heart pounding, and his face stained with utter humiliation.

Sebastian sighed, suppressing such thoughts. He was a butler foremost, a tutor secondly, and neither of which allowed for such distractions.

"Your natural ability for dancing isn't so much lacking, as it is non-existent, my lord. You cannot simply cling for dear life onto your dance partner."

"You're too big, it's not working!" Ciel protested, trying to hide his embarrassment with anger, as was so often the case.

"Sebastian, you're too big," Ciel moaned, after being bent over the desk, "There's no way you're going to fit inside of me."

"Come now, Ciel, there's so much more you have to learn. Here, let me show you."

Sebastian ripped himself away from such thoughts, his blood rushing, as he continued. "Most importantly," Sebastian said, pinching his master's cheek, forcing his mouth into a smile, "you need to wipe that gloomy look off of your face. The lady will take it as an insult. Now, let's have a smile. Pretend it's fun."

"Let me go!" Ciel yelled, slapping Sebastian's hand away.

"Master..."

"I can't smile... " he said, turning away and running his thumb gently against the blue diamond of his ring. "I forgot how...I don't know how to pretend like I'm having fun... not anymore."

What is he thinking? I...don't like these games. He's acting incredibly odd...almost humanly erroneous. And yet...he looked up, his heart pounding as he met Sebastian's eyes. He shook his head, clearing it of such fuzzy thoughts, offering his butler his hand once more.

"Are you just going to stand there like an idiot, or shall we continue?"

His fluttering heart, its blood flowing below his belt rather than his head, it meant nothing. He knew what had to happen. He had to learn to dance...for Elizabeth...his fiancé. Sebastian's body so carefully placed against his own was a tool, an object of education, and not lust. These touches of a tutor were from one who enjoyed seeing Ciel's pain...not of a lover who relished in the closeness. It meant nothing.

"Very well, my lord," Sebastian answered, clearing his throat, "From the top then, shall we?"

After a few more attempts, Ciel was still terrible, but it was still a great improvement from their first attempt. Sebastian checked his pocket watch again. "I suppose this will have to do, my lord. You still have a great deal of work, but you should be quite capable for tonight. I have to go make preparations for the ball, but I shall be up to dress you shortly."

Sebastian grabbed the silver serving cart and opened the door to the study.

"Sebastian," Ciel said softly, taking his seat behind the desk once more. Something in the softness of the way he called his name made Sebastian's heart clench.

"Yes, my lord?"

"Leave the scones."

"Of course, young master."

As the door closed, Ciel couldn't stand to think about it any longer after that kind of humiliation. His mind was racing, wondering what Sebastian was thinking about, right now. His scones remained untouched, and his tea was now completely cold.

Gritting his teeth in irritation, he ripped the drawer containing the music box open, grabbing only the feather from its contents before shoving it back in its place within his desk. It twirled beneath his fingertips, soft and pristine, not unlike a bird's feathers.

Warmth flooded him again, radiating from head to toe. What would it be like to be completely encased in a demon's wings? His heart pounded, clutching the feather. These thoughts, these lewd and inappropriate 'affections' were destroying him. He didn't know why, or when, or where they had started. The most important of those questions was why. Why did he lust after his butler...cling to his approval, and yearned for those "Good morning, young master, let's get you dressed" slips of the fingers?

Slips of the fingers...he thought, prying the window open, still clutching the feather. It was this easy. He held the feather to the wind, watching it blow gently in the breeze as if just the feather blowing somewhere far away, would take his emotions with it.

"I believe this one is the one she wants you to wear for tonight," Sebastian said, pulling out a crisp blue outfit, as he began undressing his master.

Sebastian couldn't suppress his thoughts from earlier. His lord sat on the edge of his bed, half dressed as Sebastian's hands deftly unbuttoned his shirt, pulling off one article of clothing after another. He couldn't stop thinking about laying him back on the bed, greeting his lips softly with his own.

"Sebastian, don't stop. Don't ever leave my side."

"Never…Ciel…I will never leave your side."

Why can't I make these incessant thoughts stop? I have duties to attend to. I haven't the time for these matters. I don't know why I can't make them go away, why he continues to plague my mind. I don't like it. How crass of me to think such things when his fiancé is here, downstairs waiting for him no less.

Why is he looking at me like that? Ciel thought, feeling flushed again, his head a bit dizzy, and his stomach jolting with nausea. He rest his hands in his lap, lest he have a repeat of this afternoon's previous embarrassment. He scarcely dared breathe as he stole glances to his butler, trying to fathom what could be going on in the demon's mind. It was a few moments before he pulled himself together.

"Yes, she said she'd bought it in London. Though, I scarcely see what's wrong with my clothes. How ridiculous to go through so much trouble."

"I believe the phrase is that your clothes are 'not cute, not cute at all.' She really does mean well. She's just trying to take care of you, to assimilate into her role as your future wife. It is what society expects of her."

Ciel sighed, standing up so that Sebastian could dress him, "You know as well as I that there is no truth to statements about the future. Meaning well, or not, I find this fruitless." He had to admit that she'd chosen the color well. His personal tailor had always chosen darker colors for him, as was fitting...but this bright blue looked quite nice. "Meaningless like every other aspect of my life," he muttered.

A fine choice indeed from the girl. The color really brought out his eyes, well the one that still retained the color of innocence. His master's other eye bore the seal of their contract, binding them together. It was his eye, just as his soul belonged to him as well, and he found it rather beautiful.

"Do you not find any amount of comfort in these things? Your revenge will be completed soon enough, the contract complete. Do you not find joy in the present, knowing there is no future to behold?"

"Why should I? I have but one purpose. Everything that happens in my life until the contract is fulfilled is simply another game," he smirked, "Another dance. Twisting and turning to put my affairs together, and leave everyone happily ignorant in their perfect lives."

"Yes, but aren't games suppose to be fun? If you have no eternal paradise to hope for, should you not at least enjoy yourself here on Earth, while you still have time?"

His soul, so sweet and savory, a glorious feast comparable to none other. Sometimes I forget that it is his delicacy of a soul that binds us together. I would do well to focus on the matter at hand, rather than what can never be.

"I didn't come back to have fun." Ciel said firmly, looking at himself in the mirror.

He would allow Lizzy her fun. It certainly wasn't her fault his soul was damned to hell, or that his life had been shattered. The girl had done nothing but try to make him happy. For that, though he would never admit it, he'd be forever in her debt. Even if he could never smile, never be happy...she still tried, when the rest of the world had given up on him...the little girl in pretty pink bows was still there. At the same time, he felt callous for allowing her hope of something that could never be...the thoughts tore away at him, even as Sebastian finished dressing him with a tiny blue hat. When he held up the ring, Ciel came back to reality.

"Leave it," he ordered, running a finger over the blue diamond ring again.

"Yes, my lord," Sebastian answered, putting the ring back in its box, and grabbing the walking stick instead, with a smile, "Best not to keep the Lady waiting. She might find some surface she has yet to cover in hearts and frills and remedy the matter."

"Remove it all the moment she leaves. I will not tolerate such tactless clutter in my mansion. Let's go," he said, standing at his door, and waiting for Sebastian to open it. "Oh, and Sebastian. I want her on her way as soon as this ball is done. Send Grell Sutcliff to escort her back to Auntie, and return to Madame Red. I think he's proven himself to be more of an inconvenience than he's worth. I'd like to have a quiet evening when this is all over, with my mansion still intact."

Sebastian's Cheshire cat smirk appeared, "Oh? Does this mean you are through punishing me?"

"I told you it was a favor to Madame Red, and not a punishment," he smirked for a moment, but let it fade to a frown as Sebastian opened the door, "I rather enjoy my morning tea and scones being uninterrupted. An inconvenience to you is amusing, but certainly not worth inconveniencing myself. I don't need any more havoc than the other three already muster. Peace and quiet would be a nice change."

"I shall see to it then, my lord," Sebastian replied, walking behind his master as they set off down the hall.

"What the hell...?" Ciel muttered, his face falling into his hand, as he watched Lizzie doing her best to attempt to make a terrified Mey-Rin look adorable. "Just leave her alone!" Ciel demanded, adamantly to Lizzie, before continuing down the stairs, Sebastian, as always, in his wake.

"Ciel! You look adorable!" Lizzie squealed, more than pleased with herself as she tackled Ciel again, spinning him around in circles, "That outfit is absolutely perfect!"

She tries so hard to make him happy, Sebastian mused, Maybe one day she'll succeed. I think he deserves that at least. I think I would like to see him happy. Though to have a happiness and then be ripped away so prematurely, maybe he is right to close himself off and never know that which he is missing rather than having it so briefly before the end.

As Ciel spun, he caught that stupid grin on Sebastian's face again. That demon was having too much fun today.

Grabbing Ciel's hand, Lizzie glared at the ring on Ciel's thumb, "Ciel, why aren't you wearing the ring I bought you? It matches your clothing perfectly, now where did it go?"

Ciel pulled his hand away indignantly, "The ring I already have on will work."

"No!" she whined, sinking to her knees, nearly in tears "I went to so much trouble and that ring isn't cute at all! Oh, why wouldn't you wear the ring that I picked out specially for you?! You're so cruel! I just want everything to be perfect for our lovely-"

"That's not it," Ciel continued to protest, explaining gently, "Lizzie, this ring is-"

"Ha! Fooled you!" she said, snatching Ciel's ring, holding it away, adding triumphantly, "It's mine now!"

"Lizzie," Ciel growled, stepping forward.

"This is far too big for you! The one I bought will fit perfectly. Just put it on, and..."

"Give it back!" Ciel demanded, his voice dropping the false-sugar. The servants' mouths dropped open, seeing such an aggressive side of the young master towards the Lady Elizabeth. "Give me that ring, now, Elizabeth." His voice was frantic, yet firm and demanding at the same time.

"Wh-Why are you so angry at me? I just... wanted..."

Ciel's eyes narrowed and Lizzy backed away, surprised to see Ciel so...angry…

"What's wrong...?" she continued, "I just wanted to make everything look adorable, that's all...so why... why are you so angry?! I hate this ring! Take it!"

She threw it full-force to the floor, where the metal band broke, the stone chipped.

Ciel saw red, anger flooding him, as he gritted his teeth. Much like the music box, and his parent's wedding bands...this ring...was his father's.

How dare she. How dare she be so careless, so childish. My father's ring…I'll make you pay most dearly. He shook, not thinking before he rounded on her, his hand flying up to strike her.

Such a spoiled, selfish child, Sebastian contemplated, She deserves many things, but not this. A ring, I can repair, my master's reputation is less easily fixed.

"Master..." Sebastian said, grabbing Ciel's hand mere inches from Lizzy's terrified face, and placing his new walking stick firmly in his hand, "You forgot the walking stick we went to so much trouble to get."

Ciel's eyes widened in shock. What was I about to do? To Elizabeth? She's...crying, afraid of me...I never wanted her to feel like this, ever, especially not because of me.

Sebastian bowed to Elizabeth, attempting to rectify his master's error, "Forgive my master, Lady Elizabeth, but that ring was something very important to him. It's a precious heirloom passed down to the head of the Phantomhive family. He's grown quite attached to it; it's truly one-of-a-kind. Please try to understand why this upset him."

Ciel barely heard his butler's words, striding over to pick up what was left of his beloved ring, staring at it in his palm. My father had been wearing it the day he had died, just like so many Phantomhives before him. I'd always pictured I'd be wearing it when Sebastian…It's foolish really to hold on to a meaningless inanimate object. What does it really matter whether or not I am wearing a ring when Sebastian takes my soul. I'll still be dead either way.

"I-It was that important..." Lizzie sniffled, "and I just destroyed it? Oh Ciel, please, I...Ciel..?"

Ciel walked to the window. Foolish indeed, he thought, as he coolly tossed the ring into the courtyard.

"Wait, what are you doing?!" Lizzie said, horrified as she ran to the window.

"It doesn't matter. It was nothing but an old ring, after all. Even without it..." he said, regaining the pride in his voice, "I'm still the head of the Phantomhives, and that won't change!"

That fire. Such conviction. It's what I love about him, about…his soul, Sebastian thought, his eyes widening before his features softened into a smile.

He watched Ciel maintain such unwavering conviction, as he strode over to Elizabeth. He knew how much the ring had devastated his young master, one of few things that was actually considered precious, yet he put on such a brilliant show for them all, a flawless performance, it was like watching a Shakespearean play performance front row, center stage.

He pulled out his violin, Such a remarkably beautiful soul, the kind of feast most demons can only dream of having a taste of. I believe no one has, nor ever will compare to this bountiful feast in store. This is as it should be. He is my prey, and I am his demon, nothing more.

"How long are you going to cry?"

"I-I'm so sorry..."

Ciel put on his hat, withdrawing a handkerchief and dabbing at her eyes, as though there were no reason at all for tears.

"Your face is a mess, completely unsuitable for a lady." His features gave way, finally softening into what seemed a genuine smile, "How could I possibly ask a lady with a runny nose and puffy eyes to dance?"

"To dance?" She'd no more uttered the words, than the smooth flow of music began from the top of the stairs. Sebastian had began playing his violin; and, Grell, had began to sing. He's not half bad, Ciel thought to himself, Apparently we've found a use for him after all. "So then, we are agreed?" Ciel asked, offering his hand to a now blushing Lizzy, "We'll forget our cares and dance the night away. It's decided."

"Yes!"

Ciel spun Elizabeth out onto the floor, trying his best to remember the steps Sebastian had taught him. At least he hadn't stepped on Elizabeth's foot. His gaze kept darting to the top of the stairs to Sebastian playing violin. He couldn't stop thinking about the dance lesson, the feel of Sebastian's body so close to his. Why didn't he have the same feeling with Elizabeth in his arms now? She was, after all, his betrothed, who he was supposed to be with. He looked up at her, those doe eyes filled with…love. No. Please, no. She can't love me. No one can. It's too cruel a fate, for either of us.

They danced until Ciel's feet were sore, and Lizzie's eyes could barely stay open. Sebastian more or less had to carry her to the carriage.

"Don't worry. I'll make sure she gets home safely," Grell said, with a smile "You can count on me."

"Are you sure?" Bard teased, just as thankful to be rid of the catastrophe that was Grell Sutcliff.

"Indeed. I'm more deadly efficient than I appear."

He went to Sebastian, instead, grasping his hands in gratitude, though Sebastian seemed far less amused, "Thank you so much, Sebastian. I'm in your debt, you've taught me a lot about what it means to be a butler! They say that before a person dies, his life flashes before him. I know that when I see the light of death, this momentous evening is what will appear to me in my dying vision."

Sebastian's lack of interest took a turn, as he cocked his head to the side, "Interesting that you would say that."

"That's true. He hasn't been very good at dying so far, has he?" Mey-Rin laughed. She didn't mind Grell, too much. Like the rest of them, he seemed a bit hopeless.

"Indeed, he hasn't," Sebastian agreed, "No matter. I'm sure that you'll find something you are good at one day. Harvest time will be here before you know it, perhaps you're more of a gardener than a butler, what with the fine job you did on our shrubbery."

"I've always been deadly efficient with a pair of shears, though I actually used a chainsaw for the hedges. For fall, I plan on planting twin rows of apple trees for Madame's walkway. It will add a festive shade of red to the dreary old landscape, and I've always been rather fond of apples."

"Do make sure to take good care of the Lady Elizabeth," Sebastian reminded him, getting back on track, "Should anything happen to my master's fiancé because of your negligent hands, well, I shall hold you personally responsible and kill you. Good evening, drive safe." Sebastian smiled at Grell with this last statement.

The carriage set off for the main road before Sebastian wheeled on the other three, who cowered slightly, expecting some repercussions for the day's disasters. Strangely Sebastian's smile remained in tact. "You three."

"Y-yes, Mr. Sebastian, sir?" Mey-Rin asked.

"There are left over hor d'oeuvres in the kitchen. Go ahead and enjoy yourselves. I'll see to cleaning the manor after I've put the young master to bed."

"Did you here that?" Bard said, victoriously, "We get to eat and not clean!"

"Mr. Sebastian's so nice, yes he is!" Mey-Rin said, excitedly, blushing a bit.

"I can't wait!" Finny chimed in.

"Don't get used to it," Sebastian said, his smile fading, and his usual sternness returning to his voice, "Grell Sutcliff has merely proven that you three are not completely as useless as you seem. Besides I haven't the time for any more mistakes tonight, and the best way to ensure that is to keep you three out of the way. We are still very behind schedule. The young master should have been to bed hours ago."

As the three filed into the house, Sebastian remained in the courtyard. It was easy enough to find the ring, the silver glinting in the moonlight. He picked it up and held it in the palm of his hand. He used his teeth to take the glove off of his other hand. He simply ran his finger over the ring and it was repaired, not new of course, but just as his master had remembered it. "There now. That's better. I'm sure he'll be pleased."

"It's finally over. What a horrible day it's been," Ciel said, finally getting to drop the act. But it wasn't over. Sebastian was buttoning his nightshirt...and he felt his cheeks burning, much as he had as he had been bathed and dried.

He began to wonder if he should hire a butler to simply bathe and dress him...or if he should just learn to do so himself. Keeping Sebastian doing these tasks was seeming like a less plausible option as the days went by.

"You seemed to be enjoying yourself for a while there, my lord."

"Don't be so foolish."

"Am I the fool here?" Sebastian asked, kneeling and taking Ciel's hand in his own, "I know the importance of this ring."

Ciel's heart nearly stopped, when Sebastian took his hand. It did stop, when he realized his father's ring was back in its rightful place. He gasped, his eyes widening, and catching Sebastian's. He found he could not look away, and his heart burned yet again. It tortured him.

Sebastian's own heart clenched, feeling his master's hand in his own, seeing the look on his face at the sight of his precious heirloom returned.

Strangely, this clenching was becoming less bothersome, almost pleasurable. Strange…very strange indeed.

"And yet you put on that act for Lady Elizabeth," Sebastian continued, "If I couldn't do this much for my master, well then, what kind of butler would I be?"

His hands were still closed around Ciel's, not really wanting to let go. "But you should take care. It is precious, this ring. It has seen so much."

"That is true..." Ciel said, as Sebastian let go of Ciel's hand and began to take off his eye patch, "It's always there. This ring has seen the deaths of many masters. My grandfather, my father, and eventually the ring will witness my own death as well. It's heard the dying screams of the Phantomhive family for generation upon generation."

Ciel's eyes closed, as his hands wove into his hair, "When I close my eyes, I hear them too. Voices echoing in my head, if I throw the ring away, I won't have to listen to them screaming anymore. At least that's what I believed. Ridiculous. Yes?"

His mind is so troubled, undoubtedly another night of nightmares is in store. Perhaps reading some Poe will give him some small comfort, if he hasn't gotten rid of… "My, look how high the moon has risen. You must get some rest, sir. Don't want to make yourself ill, do you?" Sebastian asked, avoiding the question and pulling the blankets up over Ciel's shoulders. He had reached the door before Ciel worked up the courage to say his next words.

"Sebastian. Stay with me, until I fall asleep."

Those words…hearing them spoke consciously, sent a cold chill up Sebastian's spine. His heart beat a bit faster, still clenching in a mix of pain and pleasure.

"Goodness... are you displaying weakness in front of me now?"

Ciel stiffened for a moment, wishing he'd never asked, before he retorted, "Just a simple order."

Sebastian walked back to the bed, setting the candelabra on the nightstand. "I will stay here. I'm by your side forever, master. Until the end..."

Sebastian couldn't help but glance at the nightstand. It was tempting to casually open it and begin reading Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. No, he would keep his master's secrets, for whatever reason he wanted to keep them hidden. He walked over to the bookcase, pulling out a collection of Shakespeare's plays, sitting in the armchair near the window, as he began reading aloud.

As Ciel rolled over onto his side, closing his eyes, he reached into his pillowcase. His greedy fingers wrapped guiltily around something soft, a feather.

It hadn't been as easy as he thought to let go of such a meaningless token after all. No, not meaningless. He's seen me as I really am, when I am at my weakest and most vulnerable state, and yet he doesn't turn away. He was there when no one else was, protecting me, even when I am fighting an imaginary battle he remains my shield, guarding me even from my own tormented mind. This feather is proof of that, and it makes it mean almost more than this ring I wear. Even now, Ciel was unable to let go of the feather, holding it tightly, his hand still inside the pillowcase.

Sebastian couldn't see, could never know. He might die if Sebastian began mocking him, humiliating him more than he already had been.

The scent of lavender found Ciel, combining with the feel of the feather and enveloped him, making him feel like he was drowning in something that could scarcely be called anything less than…love.

His heart beat harder, just admitting such a forbidden word even to himself. As his eyelids got heavier, he was not being held down on a table or branded, nor raped or tortured. Instead he found himself, standing in a garden...filled with lavender, and delicate roses.

Sebastian wasn't wearing his tailcoat, and his sleeves were rolled up. It was the way he always looked when he bathed Ciel. He smiled at him, before wrapping his arms around Ciel. "I've got you, my love. I'll always be here to protect you. Always."

He was halfway through "Much Ado About Nothing" before he realized Ciel had fallen asleep. He was smiling, slightly, but it was the happiest he'd seen him in months. He was rather beautiful when he slept. He contemplated for a few minutes about laying beside his master, holding him in his arms like he had last night, but there were no nightmares, no panic attacks, to blame such an embrace on in case his master should wake.

Instead, he gently brushed away hair from his master's eyes. "Sleep well, my…Ciel. Sleep well Ciel. Sleep well, my Ciel." The words felt foreign on his tongue, trying to find the right emphasis.

His heart clenched again, his blood flowing fast. He couldn't help but feel that the words belonged on his tongue, and couldn't help but picture other things his tongue seemed to be made for, using it to part his Ciel's lips in a kiss.

As he closed the door to Ciel's bedroom, his words rang in his head. Sebastian stay with me.

This clenching in my chest, my heart beating so fast. Yet another long forsaken emotion. It has a name. Is this called love? No. Not love. Some other name, I cannot recall. Love is the most dangerous and unpredictable emotion of all. I can't afford to be so careless. Taking his soul is one thing, but there are fates worse than death, and I refused to put him in such a crossfire. Not for something so foolish as love. This bothersome clenching in my chest, it will pass.

His head fell into his palm. A low laugh escaped him at such thoughts, before he continued down the hall. "Now, I must prepare for tomorrow."