Disclaimer: For the last time, no!
Author's Note: Final chapter of "Old Habits." Thank you for reading, everybody! (I know it can't have been a wholly enjoyable experience, haha. XD;)
Warnings: SebaCiel. Death everywhere! A brief reference to the second seiyuu event.
I must admit, I am surprised, Sebastian.
The world was black.
I would have thought that—after all of these years—you would have come to understand the soul in far more explicit terms.
No… no, it wasn't the world. The black was internal; the black was his own doing. He could feel the skin flaps that blanketed his faux-mortal eyes— the flesh atop his cheekbones as it ticked. It annoyed him. (Why wouldn't it stop? Why couldn't he see? Oh, that's right; he needed his pupils to do that.) Ashen nose scrunching in a show of self-exerted will-power, the butler slowly pealed his heavy lashes back …
But then, do humans ever truly understand their food?
The world was a fuzzy gray.
I suppose I cannot judge. However, I can explain.
And then the world was white.
The soul is a fluid thing, filling one's body as water does a jar. This 'water' can be tainted, it can be clean… or it can be a combination of the two.
But it was not the world that Sebastian was used to. Surely the human realm hadn't changed so drastically since he had closed his eyes? (Why were his eyes closed, anyway? Certainly he hadn't been sleeping. But then…? What had…?)
When a Contract is made between a devil and a human, a bond is created that attaches the human's soul to the devil's… well, 'spiritual equivalent.' This metaphysical connection is the reason that a human can exert such force over the demon, and why the demon can always, always find the human. But there is more to their link than just this. So much more…
The world was white.
Once their Contract is complete, and the demon consumes the soul which had controlled him, the two ethereal entities blend.
Just white. There was no color, no texture. No up, no down; no sky, no ground. On into forever, there was nothing but the empty pallor of the virgin hue, and all he could do was stare at it.
But such a thing should only happen post-consumption. Until then, the covenant does far more than bind—it also serves as a spiritual dam. Despite their showy façade and allusions to 'tug of war,' both sides recognize that they struggle for 'more power' in vain. The game, after all, is fixed: the human will control the relationship until death. After that…
His eyelids creaked up and down a second, agonizing time; more black, followed by more white. His right index finger convulsed. Oh, good—he could move.
Yes, the average human soul is like water. And the devil's corresponding essence is like oil. Within contracted humans, the two liquids mingle and churn: always connected, yet always separate. True diffusion only occurs once the human… well, no longer exists. Then, like all foods, their soul is absorbed by the demon's digestive system.
Yet, despite this discovery, Sebastian simply continued to lay there. Arms out, legs extended—prostrate and spread as if nailed to a crucifix, his chest rising and falling and rising and falling and rising and falling as someone spoke in a careless drawl, the lazy tenor of their dialogue in perfect harmony with the soothing rhythm of the butler's slow breaths.
However, if said demon were to later expunge that same soul from his body…
The devil frowned. Faltered. His head cocked, his abdomen tightened, his spine ached— then arched. One, two, three; with a mechanical grace, each vertebrate snapped and curved and pulled (like), pulled (on), pulled (strings), yanking Sebastian upright.
The human known as Skye did not merely possess the remnants of my soul, Sebastian. From the beginning, she has also been a product of your own. Our essences were already partially combined by the time you decided to create her… and though the piece of yourself that originally resided within her started off small, it grew. Pollution spread.
His vision swirled at the sudden motion… which seemed odd, since there was nothing to swirl. No matter the direction, all he could see was white. Perhaps, then, his eyes were not swirling— perhaps it was that his head was swimming, and he was mixing his symptoms.
You assumed that she inherited my Contract, did you not? You were correct… but also horribly mistaken. The bond remained between you, but without the initiation of an official covenant, there was no spiritual dam to moderate the flow of your energies; your 'soul' was allowed to intermingle freely with her own, and she took advantage of that. Keep in mind, due to the unusual circumstances of her birth, her soul bares some unique qualities. It has never been made of 'water'—instead, it is some strange hybrid, a mix of both species, capable of absorbing and utilize 'water' and 'oil.' She fed off of you unconsciously, at first… but the darkness within her resonated so powerfully with the 'brethren evil' in you, she was quickly able to make it her own. She became more and more corrupt. You made it so easy. And by the time she realized that she was slowly eating away at your soul, she was more demon than human, and no longer cared.
Mix. Mix. The word inspired a scowl, a niggling throb within his brain—
It may also interest you to know that, at first, Skye and I were one in the same. I did not realize my own existence as an individual. But a single creature cannot be two separate things— one being cannot host a human and a demon. Psychologically, as well as physically: a demon's body isn't made to withstand the functions of a human; a human body is not built to assimilate astral energy. The more of you she absorbed, the less compatible she was with me. Thus, I—the uncorrupted portion of her soul— became self-aware. And because the human vessel can only contain so much 'water' before starting to spill over, I was soon able to detach myself completely…
—and then he could see.
In an instant, the neurons within Sebastian's mind switched on; his eyes lit up as the memories returned: twisting and twining and shooting through his synapses, extending outward from the letters M-I-X. Within the theater of his mind, dreamy images of a young woman and a ghostly boy formed and collapsed and twined into vine-like ropes, reaching out and taking hold and wrapping 'round his skull and dear lord, was he dead?
Momentarily panicked, the devil whirled about—
And behind him, lounging languidly upon some sort of invisible throne, found a winsome thirteen-year-old with a pretty smirk and a leather-patched eye. Five thin fingers cupped the curve of the boy's porcelain chin; the other five drummed an idle tune against an unseen armrest. Svelte legs, supple and sinfully smooth, crossed at the knee; his stockings were crisp, his ribbons looped, and his expression one of poignant amusement—his deep navy finery an emblematic reflection of his nostalgic air.
For a full minute, the devil could only gape. His unnerved expression added another tooth to the noblemen's lengthy leer.
Come now, Sebastian, the child chided, lashes lowering in a languid display of exasperation. How long are you going to sit there in a stupidity-induced silence? You're lucky that I can't fire you for such a spectacle. What a disgrace you are to the Phantomhive name!
The goad passed unnoticed; the seated butler was too taken by shock to even process the jibe. Rather, all of his strength and resolution was instead channeled into a single, quivering inquiry…
Young master…? Sebastian whispered, only partially aware of the bizarre way that his speech resonated— as if spoken underwater, or in a grotto… or in the depths of his own subconscious. (For in reality, this place was—) Is that really you?
Ciel grinned— just as he had in life! A perfectly symmetrical curve of the lips, simultaneously emanating scorn and fondness— and tilted his tiny head, silken strands of coal-gray tickling his rounded nose and pallid temples. Must you ask? the elegant earl jeered, hiding a condescending snicker behind his lifted palm. Surely you are not so senile that you can't recognize your own master.
Yet, for all the mockery in the boy's lilted voice, his verbal disdain was accompanied by the fainted hint of delight. Of pure elation. And that was all that Sebastian could hear, buried though it was in the biting disparagement of his retort. It sent a fire through his body… A soothing warmth, like that of (dare he say it? Dare he…? No, he couldn't admit—) the summer sun,traveling up and down and all throughout his humanoid form, loosening his joints and rearranging his features.
Forgive me, the butler apologized— ritualistic in his gestures— as a sardonic simper formed upon his face. I recently suffered a nasty bout of head-trauma.
The boy snorted. You did hit the floor rather hard, he agreed, erecting himself with a graceful push. Sebastian instinctively did the same—regrettably, sans the grace: clambering to his feet with a sway and a groan— for no servant would ever dare dream of remaining on his bum when his lord was seen to be standing. My goodness, how the mighty have fallen… You realize, of course, that you allowed yourself to be defeated by a girl? Ciel taunted, hand on his waist and his hip thrust out. His snobbish patronizing animated his beautiful features in a way that Sebastian had never thought he'd see again… I'm disappointed. Some devil you are.
His servant responded to this affront with a cheerless chuckle, head drooping in a mixture of exhaustion and shame. That's just it, young master, he professed, his tone heavy with a weary sort of acceptance. I don't think I am a devil, anymore. The young mistr— that girl has long-since siphoned all of my demonic powers from me. Certainly the fact that I am here, now, in this strange limbo, conversing with you is proof enough that she has succeeded in turning me into…
A scoff, full of disgust and annoyance, served as both interruption and answer. Don't be ridiculous, Ciel spat, rolling his ocean-colored orb. (In the cobwebbed recesses of his memory, Sebastian could recall a time when he considered such gestures to be the height of rudeness; a time when he had spanked his charge for succumbing to such vulgar acts, only to kiss his tender welts better…But oh, his little lord was speaking now, and he didn't want to miss a syllable of it—) You more than anyone should know that there are certain rules that cannot be broken. Things lost that cannot be returned. Laws made that cannot be changed.
As if only just remembering these realities himself, the vehemence in Ciel's voice abruptly bled away, his irritation petering as his vocal rampage continued. The boy's gaze lowered, and his gloved hand twitched atop his infamous patch… but the gesture was a sign of weakness (even hundreds of years had not been enough to eradicate all of the nobleman's pride), and so he swiftly set his arm against his side, transforming his expression into one of somber stone.
The laws of nature are a good example of this, he persisted, indifferent and coldly casual as Sebastian watched— gawped— stared, apparently torn between feelings of bewilderment, disbelief, and the fervent desire to close the foot of space that lingered between them, but not knowing how. And all the while, Ciel divulged the answers to questions that, at one time, had seemed so important… Rather, had seemed important up 'til that very instant: Someone born as a human will always perish as a human. Someone born as a demon will live evermore as such. And someone who has died is meant to stay dead.
The butler flinched at this last point; he could hear the rebuke in Ciel's tone. All the same, he protested— not the latter parts, but the former. But young master… I— I am no longer what I one was, Sebastian objected, arms flailing and expression warping as he tried fruitlessly to find the words… to somehow explain the unexplainable. (And he had once been so good with words, too…) I have— had— a heartbeat. I… I feel things. Things that I knew before, but are somehow stronger now. Purer, too, as if untouched by evil. Emotions, I think they are… Like— like when I look upon you, here.
Driven onward by bafflement and anxiety (though not, he was bemused to note, by the boy to whom he was speaking), Sebastian's fingers crooked— curled and uncurled— as if in some misguided attempt to pluck the proper expression from the space around him. As if wild gesticulations would somehow make his master understand. My chest feels so tight… and my insides twist, like some kind of poisonous snake. My eyes are burning— searing like infernos blaze behind them, and my parched throat aches. They are all symptoms of the same illness, I know; of an illness that I feel like I once knew the name to. But now…
Ciel listened to this bout of uncharacteristic loquaciousness without ever once betraying his thoughts to the demon. Instead—after the agitated Sebastian had quieted himself— he arched a single, slender eyebrow, and pried for further information. Did you ever feel anything like this for me when I was alive? he asked calmly, as if wholly unconcerned.
The devil knew the answer to that question before it was even uttered. Even still (for appearances' sake; for what else did he have, at this point?), he stalled for a moment, as if thinking things through… But in the end, he succumbed to miserable nodding. Something like this, he admitted. Though I called it 'lust' in those days.
And what do you call it now? the boy prompted.
This time, Sebastian's hesitation was genuine. …I have long since been aware of the human emotion called 'fear,' he murmured, eyes downcast. But it is only recently that I have begun to feel it, myself. And I must confess, young master, that to give a new name to what I had once assumed to be 'lust' frightens me more than anything else ever has.
The response was simple, succinct. There was no condemnation in the retort, nor frustration, nor impatience. And while Sebastian was equally unable to detect 'happiness' in the reply, he did catch a telling twinkle in Ciel's deadpanned gaze— a transitory tenderness that told the demon (without a shadow of a doubt) that his master understood.
For a long minute, there was nothing but white.
The demon automatically stiffened. Young master? he returned, tenor and visage playing host to a matching brand of curiosity. But this new mask of perplexity remained unnoticed by the child, for he had already busied himself with the task of avoiding his underling's stare: face slanted downward, cheeks a rosy pink, tense fingers ceaselessly twirling a ring of ghostly sapphire around and around his thumb.
…humankind has long-since believed in a ludicrous notion known as 'soul mates,' the boy eventually decreed, his voice fully deprived of the nerves that his darting eyes made obvious. A deep breath, a shallow exhale; with some effort, Ciel stalled the shuddering of his hands. Another sigh—another dip into his well of centuries of accumulated willpower— and he forcibly locked their apprehensive gazes. Do you know what that saying means?
Devil, human, or something in between, Sebastian was still Sebastian—and Sebastian never lied. I am afraid I don't, my lord, he declared, sounding suitably sheepish. It was still an embarrassment, this new found (humanity?) humility; he had never before been unsure of anything. Would the young master care to explain?
Divulged as if of its own accord (that treacherous piece of anatomy!), Ciel's mouth quirked upward, forming the tiniest of true smiles— flustered and lovely. The term refers to two people who are meant to be together. Always, he clarified, a single hand lifting to clasp over his heart. Subconsciously, Sebastian mimicked the motion; despite the gaping wound that Skye's previous attentions should have inflicted upon his person, the butler felt no hole in his chest. Rather, the skin beneath his suit felt sturdier than it had in a long while… Soul mates are a single person contained within two bodies— they are of the same mind. They can never be replaced or forgotten… by anything or anyone.
The fist fell. The words lingered.
The demon considered his master's monologue for a spell, wetting dry lips with a flick of his tongue. So many things he wanted to know, so many questions he wanted to ask… But he somehow knew that he could only pose one, and so he went with the most pressing of the lot:
…do you believe in this conception, young master? he asked quietly, the query catching on a hint of… something… that lingered in the back of his throat. (His throat that ached more than ever, now, so that it felt like the muscles beneath his flesh were trying to separate from one another, collapse upon themselves.)
Silence—deep, telling, profound. The kind of silence that made one's ears pop and ring, it was so unbearably loud… And then his master giggled, wry with wit. Of course I don't, Ciel returned easily, nonchalant and impassive as he flicked a flippant hand. As if his speech had been nothing more than a brilliant piece of acting. As if the concept meant nothing to him. Do you not listen, Sebastian? Soul mates are two people. And you are not human, no matter what Skye has tried to make you believe.
Sebastian started. (So many years, and still the boy managed to surprise him!) But even in the depths of his stunned stupor, he recognized that the child's point was excellent: well crafted and well executed, while simultaneously telling just slightly more than the speaker might have wanted—, as was his favored lord's habit. But still, it left the elder male wondering…
If that is so, the devil whispered, then what are we, do you think?
The question hung heavily, contradictory in the concurrency of the preexisting knowledge and faltering uncertainty that it conveyed. Ciel's initial response was one of evident astonishment— but the hardened lines of alarm soon vanished from his face, replaced by the cotton softness of affection that no amount of sarcastic sneering could conceal… though the boy's attempts to hide his emotions was unmistakably half-hearted. Who knows? the earl returned quietly, accentuating the response with a shrug of delicate shoulders. His torso trembled as if with contained (anguish) laughter; he shook his head, amusement evident. Who knows, indeed…
But such postulations are luxuries we cannot afford, Sebastian.
With no further warning, the child's trailing murmurs cut themselves off; Ciel straightened, expression staid, as his tone switched from one of lighthearted rambling to the solemn decrees of yesteryear. There is no time to waste. You may not be human, but you are hardly at full power. Even you cannot last without your heart for very long. Nevertheless, a little energy should be all it takes to wake you from this pseudo-coma… and how fortunate that you should have a nice meal right here. A hint of friendly cynicism colored the flat drawl; fragile arms extended outward, as if in preparation for an embrace. Come, the earl then prompted, face set and fingers flexing, urging Sebastian forward. Bolster your strength. I may just be leftovers, but beggars can't be choosers.
But Sebastian was not begging. Sebastian was not asking. Sebastian was not even interested. Sebastian was, instead, exuberantly shaking his head, bones squeaking and tendons squealing as he squeezed, squeezed, squeezed his fists, eyes jammed shut and voice full of infuriated incredulity. Young master, I— I don't understand! Why would you do this? he demanded, brow furrowed and crumpled like a fleshy representation of the maze of turmoil he felt within. Why would you willingly separate yourself? Why would you come back to me to be consumed, when you could have escaped? You're no longer bound to… to her, and you fulfilled your Contract with me. You could have—
Done what? Ciel interjected frostily. All traces of good humor disappeared as abruptly as they'd materialized. Traveled the world? Haunted someplace interesting? Perhaps tried to ascend to the afterlife?
The contempt in the nobleman's tone made his opinions on the matter obvious; wisely, the demon chose not to respond. And for a full minute, the boy regarded his servant without speaking, as well.
…God has no use for me, Sebastian, the little one sullenly reminded, his voice a muted breath. Isn't that why we met in the first place? He cares not a whit for what I do, and there has never been a place for me in Heaven. Nor will Satan ever come for my soul, for another devil has already made their mark on me. This is the punishment of one who has made a covenant with a demon: to be forever barred from the realm of unending pleasure, as well as the realm of perpetual pain.
Cobalt eyes— as dazzling and dark as the (emptiness) universe they reflected—gazed out over the whiteness with an air of omnipotence: the undying King on an unearthly chess board.
…or, at least, that is what I have come to recognize as the theoretical set up of my suffrage, Ciel corrected, as the most peculiar expression that Sebastian had ever seen lit upon his master's countenance. How odd: the boy was grinning (blatantly ironic in the midst of his amusement), but all the while, his aura throbbed with misery. A misery so powerful, it dyed his passionate preaching the blue of despair… But is theory ever echoed in reality? No, never— for I know far more of Heaven and Hell than ought I should. God forsook me, and Satan can't have me, but still the skye opened for me. And I know. And I hate. And I want nothing to do with either Paradise. For what pleasure could Heaven offer, he scathingly posed, if I could never again see the face of the one that I care for the most? And what torture in Hell could be more painful than to watch that same precious face fill with love for someone else?
Ciel tossed his pretty head, bangs curtaining his narrowed gaze as he forced his revelations through grit teeth. No… he slowly whispered, as if reminding himself of his own fortitude, I would rather return to dust than remain associated with that harlot. I would rather crumble into ash than continue to live in this limbo between worlds. And I…
A pallid chin lifted—so small and frail that it looked as if the merest touch might break it, though it was already wrought with wobbles… I would rather have died on that damned altar, Ciel growled, iced pools of sapphire glistening and glinting and gradually melting in the heat of that same (dare he say it? Dare he…? No, he couldn't admit—) summer sun, slipping down his dusky cheeks in the form of tinted, salty pearls, than be forced to spend eternity watching you from afar.
An audible threshold. This assertion was the verge of something—something new, something frightening. Something that he could no longer stop or control or ignore. And the weight of this realization floored him; for a moment, the butler merely stood in a staggered daze: wide eyed, slack-jawed, unable to cope with the confession that… he couldn't mean… did he really feel…? Yo—?
Sebastian. There was no vacillation, now. No fear or discomfiture: only conviction, fact… and the smallest, saddest smile. Living or dead, you are all that I have.
And that was all it took.
The Truth echoed as a jibe, a command, a prayer, a rebuke— a reminder. An oral key, forcibly unlocking the memories that Sebastian had tried to repress: the regret, the loneliness, the confusion… a myriad of questions, clouding his judgment and muddling his mind; endless days of denial, countless nights of debate; one thousand and one frozen Decembers, each marked by a cake and a wish as the wind blew out unnecessary candles:
"I want him back."
And maybe it was because of this strange plane of white. Maybe it was because of Ciel's trickling teardrops. Or maybe (just maybe) Skye had been right, and demons were, at their cores, the brothers of humans. Maybe they, too, were capable of feeling and expressing authentic emotion— provided, of course, that other, more explicitly devious traits were not around to repress their buried morality…
Yet, it was a 'maybe' that Sebastian was more than willing to believe in. For it was the only explanation that the creature could think of… the only rationale that he was comfortable using to justify how the sight of his master's tilted, wet face made his entire torso burn. It gave empathetic meaning to the way that his heart hurt when the spirit forced another grin. And when the boy spoke…
When the boy spoke…
Besides, Ciel sneered, hiding a sniffle with an imperial sort of coughing, even as he struck an regal pose: looming (or, at least, trying to loom) over his demon as he had so many, many years ago, as the lord of Phantomhive, it is only natural that I should be able to assist my servants whenever they have need of me, correct?
When the boy spoke, it gave Sebastian a legitimate excuse: a logical reason to metaphorically cling to as his entire body lurched forward, clinging physically to his young master.
I missed you, Sebastian hissed—heatedly, recklessly, the admission ripping itself so violently from the back of his throat that it came out as a frantic snarl. And the frenzied declarations only grew more forceful, gushing forward and flowing like syllabic tears, raining upon crown and temple and forehead and ears as black-swathed arms tightened, tightened, tightened, never wanting to let go… I didn't understand it. I hardly understand it now. But despite everything—through it all!— you are the only one who I have never been able to forget. I longed for you, young master. I yearned for you. I needed you! And so, I had to try… I had to try… I had to.
The woebegone words continued to pour, bitter and ashamed and full of disgust. And all the while, Ciel simply nodded— sagely and silent, like he'd known all along— as he returned the earnest embrace, moistened cheek falling to rest upon his butler's trembling shoulder. Contentment radiated; on his lips was a sigh and a teeny, tranquil beam. For the first time in eons, both men felt as if they could breathe...
It was, without question, the closest that either one would ever be to Paradise.
But nothing lasts forever.
…you really must go, Sebastian, Ciel soon mumbled, even as his fingers clenched around fistfuls of worn fabric. Sebastian could feel the earl's small form shaking, though his stately voice remained perfectly steady. Or else you'll truly die. And what would happen to me, then? You wouldn't dare condemn your master to an infinity trapped in oblivion, would you?
There was a threat in the question, intentional and curt. And oh, the audacity of humans— of this human, of this child! So presumptuous and arrogant, even in the face of total destruction. An uncharacteristic snigger wedged itself in the back of the devil's throat. I am but a humble butler, he nonetheless retorted, and he could feel himself smiling—albeit against his will—as the habitual expression tumbled from his tongue. (And he meant every word…) Use me however you desire, my lord.
The invitation evoked a nod; Sebastian could hear the fine, downy locks of moonlit slate brush against his breast—feel the near-imperceptible heat of Ciel's forehead as it came to rest against the curve of his throat.
This is an order, the petite nobleman informed—the familiar phrase no more than a whisper, tickling the sensitive skin of the demon's jutting clavicle. An order from your only true tamer. As such, I expect you to abide by it until the very End of Days… and beyond, if at all possible.
Speak, and it shall be done, Sebastian swore, loosening his grasp on the boy just-enough to look down upon his face—to watch his pink lips purse, to see his button nose scrunch. To pay witness to the corners of his eyes as they wrinkled with joy (nearly invisible to the inexperienced observer, as subtle as any other form of happiness… but he always knew; no, the child could hide nothing from Sebastian)— and to catch a final glimpse of Ciel's exposed, enchanted gaze: patch falling, iris glowing, pupils widening as they filled with a pleading sort of sincerity.
Never leave me again.
And with that, the earl vanished: faded into nothingness, as if he'd never been. But the warmth of his body remained—in fact, became more and more definitive, flowing as astral energy around and around and inside, sinking into Sebastian's very core….
Alone in the whiteness, the devil fell to his knees— choking on (remorse; agony; half-muffled, gut-wrenching sobs) the stagnant air as he bowing to an invisible master, his now-empty arms constricted around himself.
…yes, my lord.
The world was black.
But this time, it was not a trick of the eyes.
Without pause, without pain, Sebastian felt his lashes flick promptly open. There was no heaviness in his body, no weariness or doubt. His mind was equally unburdened: for the first time in years, he felt clear-headed, calm. Devilish. There was no weakness or waffling or wondering, despite having found himself in the midst of a paranormal void… Rather, he accepted this reality with the confidence of one who'd always been aware of the inevitably of such a situation. To that end, he regarded the abyss with a pleasant leer: the sparks of magenta lightening that sizzled past his pale torso, like jagged daggers of plasma; the swirls of feathery onyx that stormed around his head, blinding and black… the clambering tendrils of ancient magic that blossomed from his cauterized abrasion, their greedy searching serenaded by the unseen screeching of a banshee.
"WHA— WHAT IS THI—?! GET OUT OF MY HEAAAAAAD!"
From somewhere beyond—cloaked by a veil of misty fog and hungry shadows— some anthropomorphic being contorted. Writhed. Rolled and shrieked and thrashed about, beating their own cranium against the unforgiving ground. Through the curtain of shade, the devil could smell fresh blood…
Within the central chambers of Sebastian's sensitive ears, the hollow creak of frail bones echoed: the screeched protests of a body as it strained against forces that threatened to destroy it from within.
Someone born as a human will always perish as a human. Someone born as a demon will live evermore as such. And someone who has died is meant to stay dead.
The demon sneered as his eyes flashed crimson.
"I feel like I should say 'good morning,' young mistress," Sebastian greeted conversationally, his voice hardly discernable over the caterwauling of his companion. "Yet, it seems as if I have been asleep for mere minutes. Tell me, did you happen to see where you dropped my still-beating heart?"
Skye's response was another yowl, followed by a chorus of nails scraping up and down raw skin. The stench of fluids became stronger and stronger as the heavy, repetitious thud of a skull-on-carpeted concrete grew louder.
The butler pushed himself upright, brushing invisible motes of dust from his favored uniform. Overall, he thought he looked rather well off for having been so recently eviscerated: his white undershirt now bore a magnificent hole (though his chest, thankfully, did not), and his suit coat was slightly stained, but it was nothing a few minutes in the laundry room wouldn't fix. "Really, young mistress," he chastised as he straightened his rumpled foppery, "you are being quite rude. One shouldn't respond to simple questions with screams. But ah, look here! I needn't require your help, after all."
With an amiable hum, Sebastian bent low to pluck up his slightly-squashed heart, pealing a stray hair or two from the slime of its surface. It felt like a fossilized sponge, concurrently soft and rigid. The deep purple organ was no longer thrumming; it sat, cold as amethyst, in the palm of his gloved hand, as ineffectual as it was worthless.
Yet, concealed within the cavernous recesses of his chest…
"…I suppose I no longer need this heart," the servant muttered to himself, an expression of supercilious boredom laying claim to his inhumanly handsome features. He tossed the organ once— a light upward lob, as if preparing to throw a baseball— and then graced his suffering charge with a folsom beam, his perfidious eyes lightly closed. "Perhaps the young mistress would like to borrow it? I have doubts that she has one of her own."
The jibe was cutting, in ways both figurative and unexpectedly literal; as if a verbal knife, the crack sliced through the curtain of clouds, helping to clear the path between the demon and his charge. But wait, it wasn't just insults that called forth this transparency: the longer Sebastian spoke, stood, breathed, the more the smog faded… like an inverse tornado, spiraling back into the demon. What started off as a cloying miasma gradually became an inconvenient haze, then a strange gray vapor, and finally, a mere spray of smoke, all of which was eagerly swallowed by the devil's rejuvenated aura.
Within seconds, the tempest subsided. But in its wake lay a hapless victim.
"Well, well. How interesting." Sebastian's upper lip curled back in revulsion, even as his vermillion gaze flashed with evident amusement. "It looks as if the china container was really made of brittle clay. You're about to break, I'm afraid… they'll be no saving you."
The idiom was lost on the battered once-girl, whose only talent now was in lying like a bloated corpse upon the floor. It was a striking sight, to be certain: planes of pristine flesh were now nothing more than a memory— reality was marked by raked lines of self-mutilation and a sallow shade of yellow. Flakey and gummy and stretched beyond repair, her tissues had been inflated by powers incompatible with the human body. But still, a human body it was: decorated in long bolts of this unpleasant wrapping. Such foul drapery extended outward, as well, enveloping her sporadically seizing limbs; crooked appendages, stuck in abnormal angles, lay sprawled about in ways that were not necessarily healthy— the bones twisted and snapped and useless in their sheaths of muscle. But it was her face that was the true masterpiece: simultaneously acting as pallet and painting. Spider-webbed vessels bulged beneath her skin, leaking shades of green and violet; gray bruises encircled her shattered nose and tattered lobes, coloring her temples black; dull navy eyes stared unseeingly at the ceiling, their vibrant hue dulled by a sheen of milky gloss.
Blood drizzled from her sunken sockets—her inner ear— her open, panting mouth…
"How did it feel, young mistress?" the butler asked coquettishly, looming over his whimpering charge. His elegant lips slithered speedily upward, forming a silvery centipede smile— creepy-crawling even after taking hold of his otherwise-angelic face. "I am referring to the bombardment of demonic energy that you so recently experienced, of course. I suppose you did not realize what would happen if you 'broke the barrier,' so to speak. I suppose you did not realize that I still had so much power left within me. I suppose you did not realize how weak and pathetic you truly are…"
With the edge of his shoe, Sebastian nudged the side of the girl's lolling head. His heel trapped a tuft of gray hair as he did so; the thick lock was pulled clean from her skull when her face flopped to the right. And whether it was the pain of this loss, or the pressure of his foot, the devil wasn't sure… but either way, something grabbed the girl's attention: made her blank eyes bulge and her left hand flail, straining and reaching and twining 'round his ankle, frantic and desperate.
"Sebastian?!" she demanded—loudly, hoarsely, her crackling voice stained by the bewilderment of being unable to see, unable to hear… "Sebastian, is that you?! Sebastian…! Help me—!" A pink-ruby tear dribbled down her fissured cheek, vanishing within the cracks of her mortal mask. Another soon joined it. Then another. Weak, knobbed fingers tugged in anxious emphasis, wrinkling the cuff of his pants. Oh dear… Now he'd need an iron, as well.
"Sebastian?" The delicate digits began yanking more insistently, the voice of their mistress quivering with fear. Why hadn't he responded? Why wasn't he moving? Why wasn't he helping? Skye's panic increased tenfold when, with a curt jerk, the demon detached himself from her hysterical embrace. No— "Sebastian, please— I… I order you…!"
The command gave the butler pause.
"…you 'order' me?" Sebastian repeated, blinking serenely. Rather than turn to leave, as had apparently been his intention, the spectral creature stooped to a low crouch—knees on the floor, back slightly arced, bent forward as if in a bow. A single, gloved finger curved beneath the girl's scruffy chin… "And what right," he then whispered, in a tone so soft and dangerously sweet that it left one feeling sick to the stomach, "have you to do that?"
He released her without further warning, chuckling as her jaw burst against the unyielding floor. More squalling was his reward. And in the midst of these responding howls of agony, the preoccupied Skye failed to notice the feel of a hand upon her own— the missing weight of a stolen adornment. Without remorse, the devil slid the intricate ring of silver and sapphire off of the girl's mutilated thumb; he instead lifted it upward, cradling it carefully against his broad chest.
Sebastian then stood, free of qualms and entirely poised. "I am afraid I must be going now, young mistress," he informed composedly, wholly unperturbed. "Do not worry; you will not be alone for long. I recently took the liberty of contacting the police— they should find you shortly. However, I apologize: I have been so tired, as of late, that I never got around to confiscating certain pieces of… evidence. You may find yourself in a great deal of trouble, very soon."
He offered the living cadaver a debonair grin, mindless of whether or not she could see it. And as if this was some sort of premeditated cue, the fluttering lace curtains on the far side of the room began flashing blue and red, blue and red— outside lights simultaneously tinting and illuminating the crocheted fabric.
"And now to take my leave," the demon murmured to himself, standing in a flurry of ghostly midnight feathers. Shadows without casters made stains upon the walls; a suit of fitted wool melted into a garment of taut leather— a lazy alteration marked by the metronome tip-taping of sharp-healed stilettos across the matted carpet. A luminous gaze of incandescent garnet cut through the gloom, flaring visibly as realization occurred.
"…it is a bad habit to want the unobtainable," Sebastian mused as he strolled, relishing his transformation from 'a devil of a butler' to simply 'a devil.' How long had he been trailed by the swishing of swallowtails? It all seemed so superfluous (without his master) in such a modern age. "Yes, it is a bad habit to want what you cannot have… but a worse habit not to notice what you already possess."
Ebony talons clacked and clicked against the prized treasure in his grasp; the tinny sound caught his notice, and he once more turned his attentions to his young master's ring. What to do, what to do? With ginger grace, Sebastian lifted the trinket towards the heavens, regarding it as he pondered…
"It seems that I had what I desired from the start…"
Below, shouts were ringing; the locked door was thrown open with a blast and a bang. The crackle of a loud speaker—the cocking of multiple guns. The whole house shook as a dozen heavy footsteps pounded up the wooden stairs… Well, it seemed inadvisable to use the front entrance, at this point. With an apathetic shrug, the demon instead began meandering towards the wall—melding into the mundane darkness as a sudden thought occurred to him.
With his eyes still set attentively upon it, Sebastian deftly slid the precious ring onto his own hand, binding it to his being. Permanently affixed, as was His soul and His memory. Between the round of the devil's knuckle and the joint of his second-to-last finger, the azure gem shone like a star, brilliant and bright against the black of his body: a miniature Polaris; a tiny, guiding light.
In that instant, Sebastian knew that he'd nevermore lose (Ciel, the token) his way.
"…I shall make a point not to forget that again."
And then he was gone.