Author's Note: I'm not quite sure how I feel about the content of this fic… But regardless, it was an interesting exercise. (Plus, it felt great to get this idea out of my head.) I hope you enjoy!
PS. E Caelo Nobis Vires translates to "Our Strength Comes from Heaven." Just thought ya might like to know that…
Warnings: Religious themes. Shouta. Follows the manga more than the anime. And I'm not goin' for historical accuracy here, so give me a little leeway on that, please? ^_^;
Ten is a little old for bedtime stories.
But Ciel is desperate, and his mother is lenient, and his father is away for the evening. What's the harm, what's the bother? The child chirps with joy as he scrambles atop the canopied bed, sapphire eyes as bright as the sky for which he was named. A story, a story! To be read to until sleeping. Even his mother's refuse to allow a fairytale (You should already be asleep!) cannot dampen his mood; the boy watches with delight as she sets the family Bible upon the mattress, allowing its yellowed pages to fall solemnly open.
"Why do we read the Bible?" the child inquires, crawling closer to pore over illegible cursive print; his mother recites a Psalm (like a song, like a poem) from both the pages and her memory. "Why do we pray at night?
"Why?" The young woman grins as she kisses the round of her son's forehead, smoothing back wisps of blue-gray hair. "We read the Bible and pray to say our thanks to God. To show that we believe in Him."
"And why should we believe in Him?" Ciel wants to know, blinking innocently upward as his fingers slip down: running over parchment and ink and fine leather binding.
"Because if you believe, He will take care of you," his mother informs, yanking the boy and the Bible into her waiting lap. There is giggling and struggling and a tickle or two; soon, both tot and tome are trapped in loving arms. "He will help you through the good times and the bad, and when you die, He will see that you make it to Heaven."
"And what is Heaven?" the little one presses, allowing himself to be coddled and petted and pulled under blankets. The world is warm, there; safe and full of hope—he can think of no place better than this room, here, now. Why bother with Heaven, whatever it is?
"Heaven is a place of joy," the woman returns with a beam (a sunny smile as bright as her hair, as warm as the summer, as sweet as a rose), leaning forward for an Eskimo kiss. "A place where you will be happy forever and ever and ever amen."
Ears seem to perk.
Happiness forever? Bedtime stories forever? Cuddling with mother under cozy winter coverlets, pampered with kisses and hugs and pats on the head… forever?
"God will help me?" Ciel demands, surprising his mum with his sudden enthusiasm — his sudden, peaked interest. Small hands form fists around clumps of a nightdress; he tugs as if to emphasize his desperate need for answers. "God will make sure that I go to Heaven?"
Wide eyes soften with affection and laughter; delicate fingers slip through gray-silk locks.
"Yes, love. He will," she breathes, and every word aches with conviction. With faith. With the passion of a believer—the sentiment of her feelings penetrates his very soul. "God will protect you, and save you, and help you reach Heaven. God and God alone."
And her (poor, naive, soon-to-be-orphaned) son does not doubt her for an instant.
His mother had lied.
Another relative. Another woman. Another tear-moistened face burrows into the small of his neck, as quivering lips whisper and murmur and gasp and sing praises of appreciation to the all-powerful Almighty. "Thank God," his aunt breathes, choking on air and love and a dark, resentful gratitude; "Thank God," Elizabeth weeps, in a voice so small and broken that he almost can't hear her at all.
"Thank God," they whimper. "Thank God."
Thank God? Thank God?
But why? Ciel wonders, face flat and eyes did nothing. Nothing at all. He watched, from some comfortable vantage point high above, as one of His children (helpless, screaming, pleading, begging) was brutally raped (clothing gone, voice gone, consciousness gone, innocence gone—), and tortured (pain that rips and sears and burns as skin turns black and flakes to ash…), and sentenced to die (on an altar, as if a bloodied gift for the great deity himself)...
Unforgiveable. In some distant, hidden, and half-dead portion of Ciel's mind—the childish corner that even a month of cruel reality hasn't been able to properly quash—the young earl feels as if he should correct his visitors: force them to give credit where credit is due.
But the devil beside him smiles and says nothing, so he remains as silent as the grave.
The Earl of Phantomhive hates parties. Which is, of course, a polite way of saying that he hates people—for really, what is a party if not a large gathering of vainglorious gentry suffering under the constraints of too much time and wealth? More looks than sense, and more money than looks…
The child sips amber Champaign from a tall crystal flute, and tries to mask his distaste for his current company. In spite of the Masquerade Theme, he finds this surprisingly difficult to do…
"Young Ciel Phantomhive! It has been far too long," an older man— a nameless duke— drunkenly greets, his red, bulbous head half-hidden behind a horrible concoction of sequins and peacock feathers. A meaty hand reaches out to clap the boy's fragile shoulder, but the patronizing gesture is stilled by a graceful sweep of gloved fingers; a black-clad butler offers the portly fellow a smile as sugar-sweet as the desserts that laden the buffet table.
"This humble slave begs a thousand pardons," the raven-locked gentleman murmurs, bowing low as hands drop to their respective sides. "But my Young Master is a delicate creature. Not unlike a pretty trinket in a museum, I'm afraid. Look, but do not touch. Who knows what might break if you do?"
The servant's smile lengthens three teeth on each side, and his master knows that the broken parts being referred to would not be found on his body. Their companion the duke seems to have reached the same conclusion; his silly grin slips, the condescending aura that had encircled him pops. His panache suffers likewise. And in the blood-shot depths of his watery eyes, the young count can see his anger rise—the man wants to retaliate against this eleven-year-old upstart and his smirking guardian.
But there have been whispers, these past few months… Tales of horror from the Phantomhive's phoenix-like Estate: stories of ghosts and goblins and ruby-red eyes—screams that echo from nowhere, and guests that come for supper, but are never seen to leave.
Everyone knows better than to cross the Earl of Phantomhive.
So the duke swallows, hesitates, and tries his luck again.
"I have not seen you around, my boy," the elderly man decrees, taking a slosh of liquor as the small count slowly nurses his own glass. "Do you do anything but work, work, work?"
"Work keeps the mind sharp, the brain focused, the hands full," the child drones in response, no longer bothering to hide his boredom. "And as idle hands are the devil's plaything…"
The butler beside him—like a statuesque shadow—suddenly supports an amused sort of leer. The duke worries that he has missed a joke; he forces a laugh, just in case.
"You are still but a boy, dear earl!" he croons, moving as if to attempt another pat on the shoulder… But he catches himself at the last moment (Ciel's servant almost looks disappointed), and changes the gesture into a sweeping motion of the arm. "Surely you can spare a bit of time for fun and relaxation! Look at you! Even now you appear to be wishing for a quill and some ink! Why, at this rate, I have my doubts that you even break for church on Sundays!"
He guffaws again, so loud and obnoxiously that he almost misses the expression of bland indifference on the child's pale face, the soft sigh that accompanies the nonchalant swirling of his half-empty flute. "An astute observation," the young count drawls, crossing his free hand over his stomach. "I hardly would have expected it from you."
"I—" The duke's chortles vanish. He pauses, starts. "What, now?"
"You are correct," Ciel clarifies, watching the bubbles in his glass float lazily to the surface of the carbonated liquid. "I do not attend church on the Sabbath. I generally work the whole day through."
This, more than anything else (the boy, the butler, the strange cruelty in the eyes of both…), makes the duke gawk. "But child," he stammers, shocked into monotone, "this is church we are talking about. Attendance is expected of every citizen—most especially young and proper noblemen, like yourself. Are you not a God-fearing Englishman?"
The petite earl—to the astonishment of all who hear it—releases an elegant snort, grinning coldly at his amber reflection. "And why should I be?" he flippantly questions, handing his drink off to his scraping slave. "In a world as horror-filled and terrible as this one, why would I possibly waste my time and energies 'fearing' a being who pays humanity no mind? My dear duke, it is simply not rational."
Ciel graces his companion with a charming, pointed, ice-chilled smile. It makes the duke splutter, his nose twitch with indignant outrage.
"You call me irrational?" the gentleman huffs, drawing himself up to his most impressive height. The feathers of his mask tremble with fury; the rose-tints that dye his face can no longer be attributed to drink. "Irrational, to pay tribute to the God who has blessed me? Irrational, to want to lead my life as a Christian? Irrational, to fear for my immortal soul? If that is true, my good sir, than allow me to remain irrational all of my life! Better to be perceived as irrational, rather than a man so caught up in vanity and hubris that he cannot see his own shortcomings!"
The count cocks a graceful eyebrow; it accentuates the twisted expression of delight that has eradicated his previous boredom. The duke is torn between fear and disgust. "Shortcomings?" the boy echoes innocuously, his voice disturbingly silky in his amusement. "Whatever do you mean, my friend? Surely you are in no position to be smearing my position, my crest, nor my personal integrity. Though I suppose you would not know very much about 'integrity,' would you, dear duke? How many bastard children have you sired with kitchen maids? Eight? Or is it nine?" Here he breaks for a giggle, grinning at his elder like a demon in the dark. "My my, integrity does seem lost on you… as does the meaning of the seventh commandment, it would appear."
Righteous indignation is replaced by bewilderment. Within moments, the duke's puffed chest has deflated, and the flames in his weak, glassy eyes have been put out. Instead, he seethes silently, rippling with a rage that now extends deep, deep, deep into the well-like depths of his psyche.
"Mark my words, boy," the corpulent nobleman quivers, forgoing all decorum as embarrassment morphs into hatred. "You'll get what's coming to you, someday. Your end will be sticky, one way or another, and His wrath will most certainly fall upon your overinflated head!"
A snarl, a spin; Ciel blinks slowly, unconcerned, as he watches the incensed duke storm off, his sparkling cape swirling in his wake.
"…will I, now?" the child murmurs thoughtfully, carefully removing his own disguise: a modest mask of cobalt and lapis lazuli, made to match his mother's earrings. Like the Champaign flute, he hands the gaudy bauble to his butler, throwing him a sardonic leer while he's at it. "What think you, Sebastian?" Ciel says, almost teasingly, as he and his silver-tipped cane click-clack across the marble dance floor. "Should we clean up our act? The wrath of God might prove somewhat troublesome. Do you think you would be able to save me from the horrible things He has planned for me?"
A dark and silent chuckle— soft, bitter, addicting, like so much melted chocolate. "But of course, my Lord," the devil soothes as they leave, slipping through the double doors as if they were nothing more than summer daydreams. "I have before, haven't I?"
The room smells of candle wax and rose petals and formaldehyde.
"I'm surprised that you can venture into this place," the twelve-year-old sneers. Behind him, his shadow has lengthened to meet the distant wooden entrance, blotting out key players in the kaleidoscope of reflected Biblical passages that shine down from above. Ciel looks away from the looming stained glass just long enough to cast his butler a one-eyed taunt. "Aren't demons supposed to be made helpless by holy places?"
Sebastian hums, claret eyes glittering like the blazing autumn sunset. "Typical human naivety," he informs, pausing beside his master in the sanctuary. His own silhouette now helps distort the colorful scene on the floor. "Do priests not preach that God is everywhere? If so, would He not be outside the church as much as inside? And as I can clearly venture outside…"
His voice trails off, meaningful and soft, as his little lord tilts his head to the right, gaze locked on a hanging crucifix. A face contorted in pain is not an unfamiliar sight, and yet, this one seems to fill Ciel with a vague curiosity. "…or perhaps He is nowhere," the child returns as he stares, conversational and flat. "If He did not exist, then the same would be true, would it not? You could go where you please, and suffer no ill effects."
A murmur, a sigh—the sound of fingertips on leather. The eye patch falls like a tear…
"Everywhere and nowhere," the count drones into hallowed silence. Twin contracts blaze like the fires of Hell. "Either way, the result is essentially the same."
"…the Young Master is unusually astute for a mortal peon."
The earl shoots his servant a warning glower; Sebastian returns the expression with an unfazed sneer. "I mean that as the most sincere of compliments, of course," he pacifies, reducing the sarcasm in his voice to just the faintest of sprinkles. "But more importantly, does this mean the Young Master does not believe in God? Many humans would find such blasphemy… distasteful. As your loyal butler, I worry I am not nurturing your spiritual growth— that this might hinder my quest to see you become a well-rounded adult."
"And what sort of hypocrite would I be, then?" Ciel counters dourly, rolling his eyes at the sheer idiocy of it all: this place, this conversation, this pretense of a powerful master and a submissive servant, all played out before a world full of gullible fools. (All the world's a stage…) "If I pretended to be some omnipotent puppet master's plaything… as a butler, I'd think you would care less about my piety, and more about my sincerity."
"Your 'sincerity?' Ah… meaning that you could not act as the game board's King if you acknowledged a King above yourself, correct?" Sebastian ventures quietly, bending to scoop up the discarded eye patch. It dangles between two fingers like a squirming animal: spinning and swaying and writhing like a rat. Just another helpless creature caught in the demon's grasp…
"…perhaps God does exist," the boy mutters, turning his gaze away from his slave. The tip-tap of wooden heels reverberates off of the high arches and stone buttresses; thin white fingers whisper over the equally-pale silk of the marble altar's decorative covering. "If there are devils in this world, then I suppose the possibility of a supreme deity is not too far-fetched. But if I have not been able to garner His attention yet—" (shrieking and pleading and blood-bathed oaths, scars of all colors decorating his contract-christened body)— "there is very little else I can think of doing to earn His notice and discover the truth."
Ciel pauses, then: hand clenched in the altar cloth. And Sebastian can hear the cogs in his head turning, his crimson blood racing, the straining squeak (notes sung as if by violin strings) of each unseen tissue and brittle ligament. A finger lifts, crooks, beckons (I order you to join me), and soon the boy's back is flush against the sacred table, spine grinding into the frozen marble as his neck strains, strains, strains upward, meeting the devil's glittering gaze.
"The Young Master has a plan, I take it?" the butler murmurs, feigning ignorance. For he knows where this is going—has known since he walked through the entry of the chapel, holding the last red rose (a tempting scarlet apple) in a cupped, gloved hand. He knows, and he is enjoying every minute of this charade.
"As one who solves mysteries, I have to know the truth," Ciel snaps, sensing the demon's amusement as if it were some sort of tangible being. And perhaps it is: slithering around their feet like the snake of Genesis, breathing ideas of lust and depravity into the heavy air— further tainting the count's mind.
"You are not the first human to try," Sebastian retorts, voice velvet with condescendence. "Though, perhaps, you are one of the first humans to go to such lengths intentionally…"
"Well," the boy returns—and now, his voice, too, is soft and sweet, full of seduction and sin and oh, the demon arches an eyebrow, intrigued as he leans closer, allowing his charge to pull him down, down, down… "I figure if committing the sin of homosexuality with a demon upon sacred ground does not earn me immediate divine punishment, nothing will."
"I see…" The devil purrs, and smirks, and lifts his contractor upon the marble table: splayed and perfect and all for him, a Last Supper of doughy bread and unripe wine. "And if He does not smite you, that means He does not exist? That's quite the gamble, Young Master."
A grunt—or rather, something that begins as a grunt, but what soon becomes a heady gasp, morphing into a moan as skilled fingers dance across bare knees, tickling their way up porcelain thighs. "That's what life is, Sebastian," the little one decrees, his dark gray tuxedo looking more and more like a stain upon the holy cloth. (Best to rid him of its garishness, the demon thinks with a leer…) "A gamble. A game. But I will not be His playing piece."
"Oh?" True laughter, this time: the kind that bubbles up from the depths of (do demons have?) a soul. "How very much like my Young Master!" the butler coos, ember eyes crackling with glee. "To be so arrogant as to challenge God—you are a rare find indeed. A gem among stone…"
Buttons slip and pop and vanish from sight; above him, the demon continues to murmur encouragement and corruption and all forms of beautiful baseness. In this growing haze of verbal possession, it takes Ciel a moment to realize that the world has gone black: the looming devil has blotted out the sun. There is no more light, nor color, nor space for air— hellfire licks his hip, and throat, and consumes his parted lips…
"Everywhere…" he commands his slave, wrapping frail arms around the gracefully arched back. "Everywhere—!"
"And nowhere, my Lord," the creature reminds. But the time for philosophy has long since passed, and soon neither one is fit to remember their previous discussions at all: clothing swapped for timing and rhythm (the slap of flesh on flesh sounds so much sweeter without confining fabric in the way), courtesy exchanged for lingering bite marks (teeth and talons raking down pale skin, leaving blood he wishes he could pour into a chalice), and discourse traded for shameless cries of wanton desire, shrieked orders of "faster!" and "deeper!" and "more!" replacing the more elegant directions of the recent past.
In the end, the altar cloth is still white, but in a number of different shades.
He has seen the horrors of Hell.
His mouth tastes of acid, his clammy skin burns; around him, the vigorous fires grow higher, hotter—so bright that they blind him, cast the world into darkness. And the rushing of blood screams of murder, murder, as bodies hiss and dead skin sizzles and pops and whistles sound and grease burns and all the tiny teenager can hear is the resonance of his own rasped panting: sour wheezes of "Seba… Sebas… Sebastian…!"
In response, the devil's arms tighten around Ciel's shivering body: comforting, possessive, overpowering; a thousand million spider threads, trapping him, saving him, as their souls are twined more and more tightly together. "I am here, Young Master," the butler whispers, long fingers rubbing calming circles over his quivering back. Each gesture sears like a minute flame, echoing the lines and curves of their shared contract; the seal burns again, fresh and renewed in his uncovered eye.
Breathing steadies as the ceiling collapses.
Cinders rain and eyes open.
There is scarlet everywhere: blood-red, fire-red, apple-red. But nowhere does crimson burn more brightly than directly above him— demonic eyes watching the boy with such devoted intensity that the child cannot breathe.
Yes, the earl has seen the horrors of Hell— the lakes of spilled blood; the smell of decaying bodies; the sound of helpless begging; the unbearable heat of the pits. But he knows (Ciel knows) that such sights are trivial: they can be found anywhere (everywhere, nowhere) on Earth. No, he has seen the real horror of Hell— the true terror of the Place of the Damned.
For now, it goes by the name of Sebastian.
And knowing this, he cannot bring himself to believe in Heaven.
The count does not make it a habit to frequent churches.
In fact, this is his first time stepping into one since the death of Madam Red. The passing of two years, however, has not done much to change the building's décor, nor the boy's attitude. Ciel may be taller (somewhat), thinner (slightly), and prettier (more so now than ever before), but he remains acerbic in nature and bad-tempered in expression. Most notably on a day like this, when contrasted with his companion.
Beside him, dressed in clouds of white silk and pearl-pink, his cousin beams and blushes, casting her intended doe-eyed glances over her bouquet of roses and baby's breath. As always, the earl's scowls do nothing to dampen Lizzie's own delight; bright green eyes look upon Ciel with dewy reverence, blonde ringlets quivering as happy tears cascade down artfully rouged cheeks.
The priest before them speaks of faithfulness. Of respect. Of God and this holy union.
But one child is not listening.
For Elizabeth is not stupid, will not be stupid, has never been stupid— realizes her beloved will never acknowledge (let alone honor) a bond made in the name of the Almighty he loathes. She has heard the stories, the rumors, the gossip; has heard her fiancée spit on religion, scoff at the pope; has heard her betrothed's muffled groans in the night, the creaking of bed springs and his butler's velvet laughter…
"You may kiss the bride."
She knows, he knows, they know. God has never played a part in her feelings, in his actions, in their relationship before; she does not expect Him to start interfering now. She does not want Ciel to be who he's not.
Lizzie accepts this, and him, and the chaste kiss he places upon her cheek, and does not ask for anything more.
Ciel Phantomhive is fifteen, and he is tired of living.
He does not want to be dead, exactly, and has no desire to end things deliberately— too much pride, too much work, too many things that he still needs to do. But hatred and revenge (ambrosia of the soul) leaves him weary of the world, even as the past taunts him and teases him and spurs him on into each tomorrow.
Day in and day out, he trudges through mindless drivel, meaningless missions: wears fake smiles to pacify his wife, utilizes waning patience when dealing with his servants. Papers and notes and letters (never the news he wants to hear) make messes of his study; he swallows desserts he does not taste, scalds his tongue on tea he does not want.
Thinking exhausts him. Existing exhausts him. He longs for emptiness, oblivion.
Yes, my Lord.
And soon he is exhausted for other reasons (reasons? Reason? Reason has flow out the window, discarded with the clothing that lies higgledy-piggledy on the floor; tormented by thoughts no longer— unable to concentrate on anything but the slide of a serpent's tongue, the glide of reckless fingers, the pull and tug of need and want and in and out and) there is nothing in the world but the twilight of the butler's quarters (the drawing room, the linen closet, the library) and the feel of fire curling around his skin (inside his skull, within his loins, eating him alive) as the devil above him smiles, smiles, smiles…
A thrust, a groan, a scream in the night; the world is inverted, reverted, converted— his body bleeds red, but his vision bleeds white. For a moment, Ciel floats in wonderful, blissful, irrepressible nothingness…
And for that moment (in that moment alone) he is happy.
They pass the wintery afternoons as a young couple should: attractive and composed on separate, straight-back chairs, sipping tea from china cups and focusing on separate projects. In Ciel's hands, a newspaper rustles; Elizabeth sets aside her cup and saucer so as to re-immerse herself in delicate needlework.
Her gold thread is becoming a cross. The silver, a crown of thorns. There will be crimson roses, and emerald greenery, and E Caelo Nobis Vires stitched across the top in looped violet. It is a birthday present for her Uncle, and a pleasant way to while away the snowy hours.
But the endeavor makes her pause, and think, and glance up at her pensive husband, a question on her painted lips.
The earl hums. He also turns the page of his paper. She can't be sure if this means she has his attention, but that has never stopped her from speaking before.
"Have you ever considered that all of the horrible things that have happened to you have occurred because God willed it so?"
If the girl did not have the count's notice before, she certainly has it now: Ciel starts, and seethes, and tosses his reading aside—snapping upon his wife a glare that would send anyone else (except, perhaps, Sebastian) running out the door, whimpering. But Lizzie simply tilts her head, inquisitiveness in her adoring green gaze.
Eye contact made. Acknowledgment noted. Her husband has no choice but to speak with her now; he realizes this, exhales loudly, and massages his temple with two ringed fingers. "And why, might I ask," he demands curtly, never in the mood to discuss spiritual philosophy, "would He do such a thing?"
"So that you would become the person He wants you to be," she answers, drawing back on years of religious tutelage. The elegant stitching is placed atop her lap; small hands fold over it, clasped as if in prayer. "So that you would fulfill the plans He has for you."
The sixteen-year-old snorts, rolling his eyes (one eye, at least; no one sees the other but for the privileged butler) as he barks a brief, unpleasant laugh. "You're saying that God wants me to be a resentful cynic? An embittered noble who is fueled by hate?"
It is a sarcastic drawl, and a simultaneous outburst. Elizabeth is understandably startled by this abrupt display of vehemence: she blinks slowly, long lashes fluttering in surprise.
"…but you aren't," the young woman then counters, stoic disagreement in her soft, melodic voice. The earl hisses, and huffs, and moves as if to stand and fight and storm out of the room, but gentle little Lizzie seems so sure of herself that the boy can't help but to stay to hear the rest of her (insane, inane, unfounded) reasoning.
"You aren't," she repeats in the wake of his stubborn disbelief. "Ciel, you laugh and smile just like everybody else. Don't shake your head at me—I've seen you. Just this morning you were chuckling over the antics of Prince Soma and Mr. Agni. And last week, on your birthday—when Maylene and Bard and Finny tried to decorate the cake Sebastian made, and somehow wound up dropping it on Sebastian's head instead, and he chased all three of them around the garden... Why, I haven't seen you so amused in ages! Darling—" She reaches over, across the remnants of afternoon tea, (ignores the way her husband tries to cringe from the touch,) and places gentle fingers upon a clenched fist— "God has put you through many, many hardships. No one can deny that. But He has also given you precious gifts."
A thin brow arches, incredulity plainly etched upon the contours of the count's slender face. "Oh really?" he retorts, in a voice as dry and brisk as the whipping winds. With a subtle shift, he slips his hand out from beneath Elizabeth's own; distance is reestablished, and irritation lingers palpably. "I apologize. Perhaps it is demanding of me, but I hardly consider the occasional, fleeting smile suitable compensation for the events of my past. What did He do to help me escape from the occultists? What did He do to protect me on missions from the queen? What has He done to help me find the men who killed my parents?! Where were His precious gifts then?!"
A bellow, a crash, a gasp. A cup shatters; a tray of biscuits tumble. Lizzie's hand leaps to her breast. But as tea drips and Ciel pants and cotton snow falls, the young girl lifts her head and stands, sidestepping the china spider web (trapped in a web, caught around threads of sticky silk that hold and wrap and tighten, tighten, tighten) that now decorates the hardwood floor.
Then she smiles.
"His gift was right beside you," the pretty blonde reminds, folding her embroidery as she turns towards the door. "Now, let's have this mess cleaned up…"
Ciel says nothing. Only breathes.
But when his wife calls for Sebastian, he knows it is both a summons and an answer.
The funny thing about adulthood (or so Ciel is discovering), is that one is never quite as certain of things as they were in their youth. When the earl was young (of body, at least—never of mind), he had been so sure of his beliefs, of his values, of the absence of heavenly authority. Checked (on the altar, begging for life) and double checked (on the altar, begging for sex) and blasphemed whenever and however he could, all to make some ultimate point that he is no longer entirely sure of.
Does God exist? Is His silence the way He shows He cares: granting free will to His children, allowing them to dance around like puppets without strings? A King that gifts His tokens with independence and choice…
Does God not exist? Is He a cosmic lie, the joke of evil spirits? A figment concocted by parents to keep the devils away: devils who whisper and promise and slide tender fingers round one's throat, squeezing until the world has vanished in a spray of white spots and sweet blackness.
Does it matter either way? (Everywhere or nowhere.) The answer is the same. Reality remains the same. The ending stays the same.
So when his enemies cry out for God—scream for mercy as Sebastian removes their still-beating hearts (claws ripping, lips smirking, blood flying as it did That Day, while the whole world trembles before the demon, demon, demon!)— Ciel Phantomhive graces his prey with the wisdom of his years:
"One way or another, He will not answer you."
There is only silence.
A promise is a promise, and a life is a life, and the small (still, always, forever) earl can think of no reason to complain. There are many who have lived shorter, crueler, less fulfilling existences than himself; fast or slow, less or more, seventeen years is enough for Ciel. A contract was made, and it was made to be fulfilled.
He stares into the face of the demon—Sebastian no longer, Malphas is his name— and sees no (affection, no concern, no) hint of the creature that raised him from boyhood. His splendor, his power, his demeanor is unfamiliar… Everything except for the eyes: the ruby gaze that shimmers (like garnets, like blood, like a flame from Hell,) like it has in all of his nightmares, all of his daydreams.
"Tell me what will happen next," he commands the looming devil, not bothering with fear or honorifics. "What awaits me after death?" And his rudeness pleases the demon (the demon who was a butler); the creature swoops low, like a shadow, and cups the chin he's nipped, the throat he's licked, the lips he's kissed over and over and will do one more time— as tendrils of darkness coil closer and closer…
Trapped in the web. Finally caught by the Spider.
And the Spider breathes into his ear:
"Nothingness, my Lord."
(Everywhere and nowhere. Everything and nothing. Black and white and little stars, floating with no thought nor point nor purpose nor pain forever and ever and ever amen.)
For a full minute, Ciel stares: wide-eyed, pale-faced, startled into silence. But the creature is not fooled, and soon his meal is laughing—shaking with tears and mirth and yes, Sebastian (Malphas, the Devil, the demon in his arms) really is a butler to the end: giving his master exactly what he wants.
In a rush of grateful irony, the damned count almost whispers Thank God.
But there is some distant, hidden, and half-dead portion of Ciel's mind—some childish corner that even a lifetime of cruel reality hasn't been able to properly quash— and it reminds the young earl that he should give credit where credit is due.
Ciel beams up at the patient demon, staring straight into those scarlet eyes (eyes that watched and wanted and lusted and loved and would never, ever, ever look away—never again, never again), and leans in to accept his final Kiss.