Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Note: This is what I like to refer to as "killing two plot bunnies with one fanfic." In other news, this was partially inspired by this picture: www(dot)animepaper(dot)net(slash)gallery(slash)scans(slash)Kuroshitsuji(slash)item249800(slash). BUT DON'T LOOK AT IT UNTIL AFTER YOU'RE DONE READING, OR YOU'LL SPOIL THE END OF THE STORY! Also, FYI: "KakuRenBo" is "Demon Hide-and-Seek." It's sorta like regular hide-and-seek, except the one who's 'It' is referred to as the 'demon,' those playing (generally) wear kitsune masks, and everyone except the last person to be found is gruesomely murdered. :D (If you chose to play it with friends, I suggest you skip the killing part. But you know, it's up to you.)
Warnings: SebaCiel. Dark tones. Daddy issues. Sequel to "Contracts."
Who will play hide and seek with me?
When Ciel turned six, Vincent Phantomhive bought the boy a chess set. It was a spectacular piece of craftsmanship, that chess set: boasting a checkered board of lacquered squares; tokens forged from ebony and ivory; and a storage box made of the finest cherry wood, its buffed surface carved into an intricate array of creeping vines and moonflowers.
It was, by far, the most beautiful thing that Ciel had ever seen.
"Now pay attention, son," the Earl had cooed, smiling down at the fragile child. "Chess is a game of skill and strategy. Of knowing the power you possess, and how best to utilize it. If you know how to win in chess, you will surely gain the skills necessary to succeed in more important endeavors. After all, chess is a metaphor for life."
A metaphor for life. Yes, that made sense: life, like his chess set, was pristine, rich, and beautiful. Full of rules that he could exploit, strategies that he would learn, and pawns that he had already wrapped around his charming little finger. Besides, his father—as was his wont—spoke nothing but the truth, had no reason to lie… So the man's naive heir assumed his predecessor's viewpoint whole-heartedly: giggling and nodding and drinking it in all in like the finest Champaign, easily accepting the words as law.
"Do you know what life is, demon?"
The dark and smirking shadow paused in his self-pruning, an elegant tongue lingering on the tip of a burgundy talon. The blood was almost as red as his stained smile. "I'm certain I don't, my lord. Perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten me?"
Mismatched eyes flicked sullenly towards the devil, momentarily distracted from the gratuitous carnage. Beneath bare feet, pools of heated claret cooled— soon each thick puddle was as frosty as the timbre of the boy's voice. "According to my father," the ten-year-old said quietly, the barbed words tripping over his disused and swollen tongue, "life is a game of chess, where one manipulates knights and bishops and all sorts of higher powers to keep themselves alive."
"…really, now?" The demon quirked a malevolent eyebrow, even as a condescending smirk spread across his pretty face: dark and sweet and oh-so-slow, like so much spilt molasses. Such an expression hardly made a verbal retaliation necessary, but failing to respond would be downright rude. And as a servant of Phantomhive… "But what think you, my lord?"
Ciel considered. Scowled. Swiveled his unusual eyes from one corner of the corpse-filled pentagram to the other. "…I think Vincent Phantomhive was a fool."
Surging amusement—undeniable and intoxicating. The words breathed new life into the spectral entity: his leer lengthened, teeth sharpened; crimson eyes blazed like the heart of an inferno, birthed from the very embers of Hell. "Why so?" the lilting voice inquired, laughter in its sultry depths.
His companion chose to ignore the patronizing tone.
"If life was like chess, then he would not have died," the boy spat, simple and succinct. Brusque. Matter-of-fact and flippant as the juices of slaughtered occultists slowly dribbled down scarred flesh. "But life is not like the game of chess at all. Chess has rules and regulations, set punishments and rewards. Reality does not. The masses masquerade as tokens, and so we will act accordingly: exploiting them however is necessary to achieve my goal… But do not forget, demon, that we are playing a different game. A children's game—one that lacks a universal convention. A game that will allow me to find the one who has wronged me, and avenge myself fully upon them. "
"Oh? Is there such a game?" The devil's interest was piqued. Languid, loving, he sidled closer to his new contractor: kneeling reverently before him in the sea of human wine. A single, fluid motion; scarlet-stained hands wrapped around tiny, trembling fists. And in that instant, the Ciel's world no longer smelt of iron, but of rotting apples and white chrysanthemum. Grave soil, fetid and pungent. His head was spinning… "So then what game are we playing, my young and childish master?"
Nails bit into skin. Clenched teeth ground. Lilac and sapphire gleamed as cursed gemstones, the boy's radiating hatred further darkening the demon's own gaze: cat-slit eyes glittering like rubies beneath the clock-spring curl of black lashes.
Ready or not—
Here I come.
Criminals are dull, unoriginal creatures, Ciel reflected as he strolled the London back alleys. It was as if they had all read the same collection of trite murder mysteries and cliché pennydreadfuls— the midnight hour, the shadowed streets, the chase down deserted, cobbled sidewalks… He could even tell (from their guest's muffled panting) that he thought that hiding within the encroaching gloom would somehow save him. (The bloody cheek!)
This game had long-since bored Ciel.
"Young master?" From his right, the decorous butler offered a simple bow, gracing the count with what was surely meant to be a reassuring grin. But there—just beyond the silk curtain of his hair—was a glimmer of garnet, inhuman delight.
The petite teenager sighed, burying himself more deeply in his woolen cloak. "The usual, Sebastian."
"Yes, my lord."
The boy didn't bother listening to the next part. Instead, he half-watched, half-daydreamed as the demon played with his prey— taunting their companion with the idea of escape, then crushing the man's hopes as if they were regurgitated bullets. Urine flowed, hot and sour; there was whimpering and pleading and an otherworldly chuckle.
It was so very dull, after all this time.
"Now then." Sebastian's voice cut through the foggy haze of monotony. Ciel started; at his feet there laid the bruised and battered form of a pudgy former duke. The man's doughy face had blossomed like a violet, and his glassy eyes were full of terror and tears; in the wake of the devil's teasing, he'd oozed a number of colored liquids—each from some different, putrid orifice.
The young Earl sneered and stepped away from his groveling victim, lest fluids stain his new shoes.
"Duke Deliah," Ciel droned, speaking over the incoherent quibbling of the gentlemen now rolling in grunge. "You are under arrest for having partaken in opium trafficking, and thus causing Her Majesty the Queen unforgivable amounts of undue stress. However…" He paused grandly, lowered himself into a graceful crouch: tilted the quivering man's double-chin upward with the very tip of his middle finger. "If you can help me find the one I'm looking for, I may be able to help you out of this mess. Tell me, what do you know about the fire at the Phantomhive Manor? The fire that broke out four years ago?"
But it was no good: this fallen pawn was far beyond usefulness, now. Rather than listen, rather than try, all he did was warble and wiggle and attempt to prop himself up on shattered hands, squinting at his captor through the smog of clinging darkness.
"Vincent? Vincent, is that you?" the Duke moaned, a hysterical edge to his desperateness. Plumes of iced air drifted rankly from his mouth, smelling of sour alcohol, week-old bile; family finery had been stained beyond recognition by sewer slime and piss. And still, those broken, bejeweled fingers reached upward… straining… "Please—just one more chance! Give me just one more chance, Vincent…!"
The count could no longer hide his disgust. Swallowing a snort of repulsion, the child pulled instantly away; the man's jaw cracked against the stone walkway with a shatter and a scream.
"I've no further use for this piece of trash," Ciel growled, turning back the way they'd come. A white silk kerchief appeared as if from nowhere, yanked from a hidden sleeve; with practiced grace, the nobleman wafted the stench of swine away from his upturned, offended nose. "This game is over. Checkmate. I caught him. I win."
Sebastian remained impassive, no more unsurprised by Ciel's victory than Ciel himself. "Your orders, my lord?"
"Eliminate the loser."
No hesitation. From behind, beyond, and just out of his sight, the child heard the reverberations of a bone-crushing crack, the geyser-hiss of rushing blood. A death-wail: shrill and unbecoming as a piglet's squeal.
Gloved fingers squeezed permanent creases into the monogrammed hanky. He could feel his fingers shaking—not in fear, in fury— as they stuffed the flimsy fabric back within his pocket's depths. Docile footsteps echoed; when the count again glanced upward, his servant stood beside him: saintly and beatific in the light of the waxing winter moon.
But his obedient expression melted upon seeing his master's glower.
"Oh my." Sebastian cocked his lovely head, lifting a gloved finger to his upturned mouth. "Whatever is that look for, young master? We succeeded in our objective. Her Majesty is sure to be pleased."
Ciel said nothing to this, choosing instead to preserve his sullen silence. His discontentment lingered palpably in the air, nearly as tangible as the mist of spilt blue blood. Yet, for all of his annoyance, he followed Sebastian without comment: allowing himself to be led to the carriage hidden behind shade and shuttered-up shops.
"If I might be so bold," the butler eventually continued, demure and casual— their fallen quarry a forgotten distraction, even less than three minutes later—, "the young master looks but the slightest-bit disturbed."
Again, no response. But the demon knew the problem without being told: had known since (before) the incident occurred. And soon he could no longer hide his smirk, nor his pleasure, nor his need to touch his contractor; without warning, Ciel had flinched and gasped, falling back into the awaiting arms of the silhouette— choking on sound as coy tendrils wrapped about his middle…
"Please don't let it bother you, young master," a velvet voice breathed, nipping the tip of the teen's pinking ear. "The man was insane, and you look more like your father every day."
When Vincent had died, Ciel inherited everything. His title, his mansion, his personal belongings… Every last mouse hole, wallpaper stain, and dust bunny within the Phantomhive's expansive estate. (Not that there were such things, what with Sebastian in his employ.) But for all this bequeathed and superfluous wealth, the child got the most use out of his father's old desk. In life, Vincent had been oddly fond of this desk: wide, rectangular, constructed of burnished mahogany and silver-tipped knobs. And in display of this affection, Vincent had made sure to take good care of it: the desk's surface regularly polished, its many piles of paperwork immaculately stacked and organized.
But that was the era of the previous count's rule. In Ciel's hands, the desk—like life itself— was messier.
"Your orders, my lord?"
The toiling Earl glanced up from his work— blanketing leafs of inked parchment, opened and scattered letters; books of research and company business and royal requests and notes of vengeance. Thousands of trails, hot and cold; clues and hints that meant everything, yet nothing at all; millions of translucent, silken threads, spiraling together to form a black widow's nest… if only he could locate the missing spider.
Who shall we play with next?
Princes, paupers, sailors, slaves, merchants, mistresses…
The master's frail hand lingered over an envelope, thick with promise and yellow with age, which had been expertly tied with an azure ribbon. After a moment of wordless deliberation, he tossed it to his servant. "Him."
Sebastian skimmed the name, address, details of the included correspondence… Then graced Ciel with the sweetest of sugar-spun smiles—a sneering expression that told the boy in no uncertain terms that this endeavor would be fruitless, as well.
"As you wish."
With a scrape and a bow, the Earl was left alone in the darkness of his study—the darkness of his mind—trying once more to find the missing piece of the puzzle: the hint that had to be there, hidden somewhere within the mountain of mystery stacked atop his father's desk.
It was a Pavlovian response, after all these years.
"Young master? Is something the matter?"
Ciel blinked swiftly, nervous system jumbled and mind decidedly elsewhere… but soon relaxed once again, sinking moodily back into the depths of the library's armchair. "It's nothing," he grumbled, embarrassed by such an automatic reaction. Though it was understandable, wasn't it? Like a rattlesnake's tail or a wasp's pointed stinger, Sebastian rarely unsheathed his pocket watch— choosing generally to flash it in agitation when the house (when Ciel) was off-schedule. A warning. The count hardly expected to see his butler remove it for the sole purpose of cleaning it.
"Pardon my rudeness," Sebastian murmured apologetically, shining the watch's surface with a clean, folded tissue. "But as a servant of Phantomhive, I cannot allow my possessions to look even the slightest bit tarnished."
"Whatever." The boy was hardly listening, still flustered and annoyed by his immediate alarm… an alarm that had yet to go away. Why did he feel so unnerved? He had no reason to fear his servant's obsession with punctuality; he was the master here, not the demon. They would be as late as the count damn well pleased, as was his station's right. And yet, Ciel couldn't help but feel as if this discomfort was the result of something more deep-seated, something more distressing: something that would elucidate the creeping uneasiness that wriggled as worms in the pit of his twisting belly. But what?
The count frowned behind his book of gruesome fairytales, slouching lower than was fitting for a gentleman of his pedigree. This conundrum was bothering him, now; against his subconscious' better judgment, the child knew he wanted answers. When had this begun? Long ago, he was sure—long before such mundane irritants as daily agendas became the norm. Yes, that had to be true. After all, he hadn't always felt such trepidation around a silly pocket watch. To be sure, he used to love the shiny bauble, back when it had belonged to his fath—
"It belongs to your father."
Ciel set aside his tattered tome, straightening as he regarded his passive butler.
At the sound of the name, rose-tea eyes flitted sideways, away from meticulous buffing. "Young master?"
"Do you have a father?"
It wasn't often that the boy managed to surprise Sebastian, but this unexpected query clearly caught the devil off-guard. He froze mid-wipe, gaping just slightly, before unhurriedly slipping the watch back into a crisp pocket— perfectly in sync with the serene beam that slid onto his face. "Oh my," he sang, as if wholly flattered by his master's attention. "Why the sudden interest?"
The blatant mockery in the creature's tone irked Ciel. His brow ticked as the demon grinned. "That's not your concern," the count bit through gnashing teeth, lifting his closed book as if to shield himself from further ridicule. Beneath his leather eye patch, the covenant's seal shone a sickly white. "Just answer me."
And Sebastian did not fight the order. He didn't even try to twist the words. Instead, his expression morphed into one of masked glee—the kind that Ciel had grown used to seeing during their business exploits in the London underground. "Of course I have a father. All living things have parents. Surely the young master didn't think I simply appeared from nothingness, did he…? "
The derision laced within the submissive lilt grew more pronounced—as sharp and cutting as the demon's sickle-smile.
Porcelain cheeks burned. Of course, when he phrased it like that, Ciel felt stupid for having to ask... And yet, even in the face of such obviousness, he found the idea near-impossible to swallow. Sebastian was as old as life itself, wasn't he? "Are demons born like humans, then?" the Earl demanded, refusing to allow Sebastian's belittling or his own discomfiture to dissuade him from garnering answers. "Do you have brothers or sisters?"
The devil chortled airily. "I sincerely doubt it, young master. While demons do occasionally procreate with one another, it is more the exception than the rule. After all, as immortal beings, we do not need to 'preserve the species' as humans do. Instead, we tend to frown upon the birth of new, full-fledged demons… as too many of us would drain necessary food supplies."
Auburn eyes turned ochre, as smoothly as the weeping colors of the setting sun. Brimstone, magma—the irises sparked like the brightest of solar flares, swirling and sucking the noble ever-deeper into their conflagrating depths. Yet, for all of the eyes supposed heat, the gaze left him cold…
Under such a penetrating stare, a lesser man would have quailed. But Ciel— undaunted and undeterred— returned the expression tenfold: looking as intensely as he dared into those unfeeling, swirling orbs. He would never back down from a challenge. "What do you mean, 'full-fledged demons?'" he pressed, curiosity shrouded by a flat drawl. "Are there half-demons, too?"
"Oh, yes." Sebastian nodded amiably, as casual as you please. "Those are much more common—the result of a demon breeding with a human. Because they generally fail to Descend, the demon population tends to leave them be, and they unknowingly live out their lives amongst mortals. In fact, it is often difficult to tell the difference between a full human and a half-demon… except, perhaps, that half-demons are slightly more cunning or cruel than their mortal counterparts."
Those eyes flash again, as if in forewarning.
Don't think too hard, just obtain answers. Lest wicked ideas become malignant nightmares that fester and frighten and further plague his damaged young mind…
"And what is this 'Descending' you mentioned?" the teenager questioned, tapping an impatient finger against the spine of his novel. The room around him was swiftly descending into darkness; soon, the only light to be had would come from the smoldering fireplace and the butler's ethereal eyes.
"It is a very rare rite. A ritual where a half-breed becomes a full demon," Sebastian returned… and he leveled his master a glance full of laughter. "It is brought about by sin."
Dramatics were met with a scoff. "All creatures sin, Sebastian," Ciel droned, unimpressed. "It can't be that rare of a ritual."
"Oh, but this is a special kind of sin, young master," the devil assured with a simpering bow— as if to apologize for temporarily boring or confusing his contractor. "A sin so horrendous, that the perpetrator could never hope to be forgiven by anybody, let alone forgive his or herself. In your history lessons, you've heard of warlords referred to as 'monsters' or 'devils' after heartlessly slaughtering millions, correct? It is rather like that. That is to say, any old human can kill one person, or even two, and feel guilty about it. Some can even do that and feel no guilt at all. But it takes a special kind to knowingly kill hundreds and feel nothing but a demon's satisfaction." Lithe arms folded neatly behind a black-swathed back; star-white features smoothed in dreamy approval. "From that point onward—from the moment of 'original sin,' as it were— the sins continue to pile up. The demon spawn grows desensitized, coldhearted, and thoroughly warped. Thus, with time, the Halfling spirals deeper and deeper into Darkness… until there is no possible escape or redemption."
For a full minute, there was no sound but that of the crackling fire.
"Hm." The child then hummed, absorbing this story like any other piece of moderately amusing information. Then he leered and giggled, flitting cobalt eyes towards his looming servant. "…so what sin did you commit, Sebastian?"
If he had been anyone else, the sound Sebastian then made would have been described as a 'snort.' "I did not commit any sin, young master," the butler informed curtly, as if faintly affronted. "I am one of the few purebreds—hence my elevated status in the demonic hierarchy."
"Oh?" Ciel murmured, resting his chin atop smug little hands. "Then why do you know so much about this 'sin' and whatnot?"
The devil chuckled beautifully in the aftermath of such derision. And soon, the eerie specter was tilting forward, bending low— spidery fingers easing down tense shoulders, slipping and sliding until all else was forgotten: book falling with a rustle and a muffled thud upon the woven carpet. "But of course, my lord," Sebastian quietly crooned, pressing warm lips against the child's pulsing jugular, "as your loyal servant, I make it my business to know about everything that could be of the slightest interest to you. For example…"
A flick of the tongue—the kiss of a snake. All thoughts of parents and pocket watches died in a surging miasma of heat, coiling deliciously and distractingly upward from oversensitive (overeager) loins.
"…I know quite a bit more about 'procreation,' if the young master would enjoy a demonstration."
There were two piles, now: Couldn't Have Done It and Couldn't Possibly Have Done It.
Understandably irritated, the Earl of Phantomhive brooded into his steepled fingers, cerulean stare blackened by uncertainty and doubt. Bent elbows rested atop the clearing desk's mahogany surface; dilated pupils jumped from one stack of parchment to the next, visually torn.
"Your orders, my lord?"
Leather-covered fingers toyed with the remnants of a cracked wax seal.
Who shall we play with next?
A sigh. "Contact and interrogate Countess Hargreaves," Ciel decreed, forehead furrowed as he pushed both papery heaps aside. "She has property in the general vicinity of the occultists. Perhaps she has—"
"Haven't we already tried contacting her, young master?"
"—remembered something since we last spoke," the Earl finished with a snarl, as if daring his servant to speak back again. But Sebastian was, if nothing else (a "butler to the core") a quick study, and merely tilted his head in understanding.
"As you wish."
And like a noonday shadow, the devil disappeared: off to do his master's bidding, off to hunt on his lord's orders, off to waste more time with false starts and dead ends. Ciel knew that the countess would hold no answers, but all other clues had long-since run dry, and he could not simply give up. Not when the answer was out there, somewhere: hiding, taunting, calling out to him whenever his back was turned… So close that he could almost taste it. Almost. Yet, somehow—for all of his careful searching—he's missed an obvious hiding place: some clever nook or cranny where his enemy now lurked, lying in wait, urging him to the edge of his sanity…
Biting back a furious howl, Ciel raked all ten fingers through his moonstone hair, trying to ignore the nagging feeling that he'd forgotten something important.
Tonight, the game was personal.
"Where are you?" Sebastian called, the wooden attic stairs straining under his solid weight. "Come out, young master, wherever you are…" His voice echoed harmoniously from the mouth of the open door; his candelabra cast long shadows against the rolled forms of Persian rugs. Through the dreary shade, his pale skin shone like a ghost— like an angel— like the layers of pastel paint slathered upon half-sheeted portraits. With his usual grace, the butler bypassed the dirty heirlooms that had tripped his master, the ancient volumes that had intrigued him, and the burnt-out candlestick that had trapped him in the darkness.
"There you are."
The devil paused before the anxious child, smiling down as the Earl's glanced up. Ciel was looking quite the worse for wear, after several hours alone in the blackness—eyes red and throat sore from so much collected dust, irritating his sensitive airways. When he finally opened his mouth to speak, the words came out a croak.
"Took you long enough."
Sebastian kneeled, setting the candelabra aside. "Forgive me, my lord. You said you wanted to search the family archives by yourself. I wasn't sure when it would be appropriate to locate you."
"Bull," the sixteen-year-old groused, glaring at his slave. "You're just horrible at hide-and-seek."
The demon grinned. And as he did so, the symbol of their contract seared as if newly-engraved: shooting white-hot ribbons of binding, tightening, power-fused agony and through Ciel's previously slouched body. It made devil's point quite plainly.
"Oh, no. I assure you," Sebastian insisted, whispering in the wake of his master's wordless writhing— crimson eyes pulsing in time to the seal's flares, "that is not the case. I may not have yet found the one who killed your family, young master, but…" Gloved hands sidled forward; the throbbing pain was mercifully terminated. Even still, it was all Ciel could do to keep from fainting dead away… Curling fingers encircled the breathless form of the once-haughty count, and the weakened teen did not— could not— resist their pull.
"…I will always find you."
Perhaps it was the sincerity that caught Ciel by surprise. Perhaps it was the confidence, and the spell of soft conviction. Perhaps it was both, or neither, or something else entirely— he didn't know. He didn't care. All that mattered was that something in the devil's promise sparked a bonfire in his belly; the small Earl's face snapped dazedly upward—eyes clearing, widening; lips parting, glistening— and without another word his guise of worn indifference crumbled away: shed and broken like a mask of clay. In that instant, he was nothing but a little boy… scared and sick and beautiful, just like he was That Day.
I found you.
But the game was far from over; Ciel was a master at hide-and-seek. And there was still so much he had hidden, so much left for Sebastian to find: sweet spots and bite marks and old bruises beneath clothed flesh; the true emotions that colored the child's ambiguous and longing expressions; the reasons behind his half-hearted moans to 'stop,' 'let go,' and 'touch there again.'
The wooden floor creaked as the pair rolled atop it, dust clouding and Ciel choking but neither in a state of mind to care. Oxygen wasn't nearly so important as the task at hand— in hand— no, he no longer wanted the demon's hand— and so he forced his butler flat against the cold gray ground, and eagerly straddled his waist.
For a moment, his entire body seared like the mark of their covenant.
But then—gradually, invariably— there was a different kind of fire: more potent than the flames of hatred, more pleasurable than the inferno in his eye, more physical than the flickerings of light that danced atop forgotten candlesticks, casting their thrashing shadows against the blue-velvet wall.
Ciel's mind—however muddled— caught hold of the word and grasped it tight. There was something amiss here; there was no such thing as blue-velvet wallpaper, and even if there was it would not have been installed in the Phantomhive's neglected attic. Then what…?
Bleary eyes focused, if only for a second.
It was more than enough.
And for all of his butler's husky moans, all of his own heady whimpers, all of the grinding and nipping and tearing of nails down pinking flesh, Ciel could no longer disregard the painting: could no longer keep his eyes away. Could no longer ignore the acrylic countenance that watched their heated copulating, his painted eyes unblinking. There was something about those eyes, in fact—his mind swooped in and out of lucidity— could not focus on them—could not focus on anything, jolted around as he was—but the face was familiar…
His chin jerked downward in the wake of a thrust: Sebastian's luminous eyes met his own. Of his own accord, the teen pulled away, prolonging the pleasure… for the briefest of interludes, as his head snapped back up, Vincent's face wavered in his vision. And then the devil would thrust in again (Sebastian before him, beneath him, kissing him, making him groan), and then out (Vincent, leaning against the wall, a soundless and eternal voyeur), and then in (Sebastian, more attractive now than ever before) and then out (Vincent, his handsome expression kind) and then Sebastian (in, deeper and deeper), and then Vincent (out, out of his mind, out of his life), and then Sebastian (in), and Vincent (out), and Sebastian in and Vincent out, and Sebastian and Vincent and Sebastian and Vincent and Sebastian and Vincent and Sebastian and Vincent and soon the two faces had blended and blurred and converged to form a single visage that swam before Ciel's closed eyes and with a jolt he realized that the pair had worn the same face all alo—!
His mind went white.
"Your orders, my lord?"
Ciel did not speak. Ciel barely breathed. As if some kind of petrified corpse, Ciel sat stone-still at his near-empty desk—chin on bent wrists, eye patch of the floor, manicured nails biting into fleshy, sweat-dewed palms.
Who shall we play with next?
The hush remained. Three minutes… four. In a show of pompous boredom, Sebastian fished his pocket watch from a freshly-laundered suit coat, casually checking the time; the twinkle of polished silver made the boy's stomach roll.
He thought he might be sick.
And the demon—ever vigilant—noticed his young master's glowing green hue with an expression growing alarm. "My lord?" he gasped delicately, taking a single step forward. "Are you—?"
But the reward for his anxiety was a smack across the hand.
"Leave me alone," the nobleman hissed, scuttling away from the devil's warmth as if his aura itself had burnt him. A moth taught a lesson by the flame… Ciel buried his head within quivering arms and a collection of wildly-strewn envelopes.
In reply, the bewildered butler blinked… but as always, obeyed.
"As you wish."
There was a grandfather clock in the library of the manor: tall, foreboding, made of pine and holly. When Ciel had been small, he'd passed many contemplative hours before its majestic face, wiling away the time by trying to remember details about the clock's original owner—ironically, Grandfather Phantomhive, who had passed away when Ciel had been but a baby.
And now the count sat before it, a worn book of fairytales in his lap, and wondered whether or not he'd known his grandfather at all.
Tick, tock, tick, tock…
"Rumplestiltskin…" the Earl mumbled, carefully pulling the offending pages from the tome's leather spine. The wafer-thin paper tore with a satisfying crunch of a sound; he tossed the resulting parchment into the dwindling fire, eyes aglow as the revived blazes spat up ashes. In the inky smoke, he could see shadows forming and forging and fading away, like a memory he couldn't quite grasp.
We have entered into a contract, you and I.
Another rip; another flare of flame. As if in a trance, the boy heard himself murmur: "Rapunzel…"
I want revenge on the one who locked me in the tower.
Beside him, the clock's gears clicked and ground, keeping to its steady, unending rhythm. "The Gingerbread Man…"
If you can catch them, you shall have it.
It was almost like a metronome, that clock, lulling him deeper and deeper into thought. "Sleeping Beauty…"
Year and years and years have passed…
Tick, tock, tick, tock. "Cinderella…"
The shoe doesn't fit him… or her… or they… or them… or tick… tock… tick… tock…
Oh. That's right. He recognized this melody. 'London Bridge is Falling Down…'
'…Not a Sound…'
Poisoned apple… Garden of Eden… Sin…
'…Since He Found—'
He almost burned his hand on a hungry tongue of fire.
Dull blue eyes widened; lowered; glimmered in the light. Hungry… His brain repeated, as if on its own accord. What would fire be hungry for? Soulsweetsoundsecretsex…?
A final tear drowned out the thrum of the timepiece, the roar of questions ever-spinning in his mind. Ciel was left with nothing but a pair of forlorn covers and a gutted spine in his lap. "…Hansel and Gretel."
They go back to their father in the en—
At the word, the world stood still.
Father. Father. The storybook paper crinkled as fragile fingers formed a fist—refusing to let go even as the fires licked and begged, the outstretched hand frozen over the roaring, reaching inferno.
Witch in the furnace—demon in the flames— father waits at home—
Home in furnace. Home in flames.
Home on fire.
"Do you know how demons are born?"
Without caution or warning, the grandfather clock screamed: its midnight bells tolling, chiming, bellowing, ringing so loudly that the teen thought his eardrums might burst. It startled him, seated as close as he was… yanked him abruptly from his musings. And as Ciel automatically whipped his head around, searching out the source of the unexpected noise, he caught a lingering glimpse of himself reflected in the glass of the clock's design:
Dark hair. Silky fringe. Thick lashes. Angled chin. Narrow nose. Alabaster skin. High cheek bones. Cold demeanor. Calculating expression. All masked behind splendor and refinement.
…the butler had spoken the truth, so many years ago.
He looked more like his father every day.
For many weeks after, the library smelt of vomit.
There were no more papers on his desk.
Parchments, scrolls, letters, books—every painstaking piece of collected information had suddenly vanished from the table's glossy surface, leaving no trace that it had ever existed at all. The butler eyed this empty expanse of mahogany with a vaguely lifted eyebrow, but remained otherwise expressionless. As expected of one in his position.
"Your orders, my lord?" the demon breathed into the silence, directing a subservient bow towards his purse-lipped master.
Who shall we play with next?
The inquiry—both spoken and suggested— went entirely unanswered. It no longer surprised Sebastian; brooding hushes had quickly become the norm. Never mind, it didn't matter: the demon had supper to prepare, chores to complete. Let his master mope for however long he wanted… With a kid glove pressed to his breast, the devil turned to walk away—
Only to realize that the stillness following his query had been suddenly shattered by sound. Not in the form of an answer, of course (he hardly expected as much), but in the posing of a new question.
A silhouette paused in the doorjamb. "My lord?"
"…do you remember when we spoke about demon procreation, Sebastian?" the somber Earl repeated, voice rigid and faintly muffled behind ten tightly-laced fingers. And even from his distant vantage point, Sebastian could see those fingers tremble: ever-so slightly, ever-so-faintly— like dead foliage caught in a whispering breeze.
The butler responded with his most innocent (fakest) of smiles. "But of course," Sebastian assured, the picture parody of perfection. "I remember and cherish every discussion that I have with my precious young master. What of it?"
Did he really want to know?
Ciel's tangled insides filled with trepidation, hesitati—
"And that is why I will not hesitate."
…yes. He had to. Had to be sure… had to know, had to fully acknowledge this thread he'd grabbed onto, now that he'd finally located the spider— spider— spiders, crawling around in his gut, struggling and biting and fighting, prodding at his stomach lining with venomous, pin-thin legs. The count's bowels knotted, lurched; with considerable effort, he swallowed back bile and forced up his question.
"Do you have any children?"
All at once, the devil's smile became a sneer. Self-satisfied and squirming, carnivorous teeth peeping as needles from within the dark chasm that served as a parted jaw— slitting his wicked face from ear to pretty ear. Even as the expression curled, it continued to extend and to grow: his long lips twisting ever-upward, impossibly upward, as if he fought to hold back laughter. As if the curve of his mouth was answer enough…
Lies. Ciel leapt to his feet with a slam of twin fists, rushing blood and wild rejection yowling like belligerent, unruly animals inside his aching head. "I order you to answer the question! I order you to tell the truth!"
Someone was panting, at this point—winded from frustration, skin splotchy with rage. It took the child a moment to realize that someone was himself. Pathetic. Struggling to strangle a revolted snarl, Ciel noisily collapsed upon himself; all life, all fight, all defiance draining out of him: arms coiling atop the vacant desk, pillowing his head and hiding his ashen face. But even still, he waited for an answer, ears perked, back stiff with anticipation…
And Sebastian, in barefaced travesty of humble concern, took a single step closer.
"I have a son, my lord."
A serpentine hiss—the rushing of air as it escaped through gritted teeth. A hopeless sound that Ciel had been unable to swallow. "…how old is he?"
Another step. A near-inaudible chuckle. The Earl could feel the demon's presence, now: a looming aura of light and damnation that was so unbearably hot, it left the noble quaking in agonizing iciness. He shivered, and tried to tell himself it was from some sort of draft…
All the while, Sebastian smirked. "He's your age, young master," the butler cooed, undeterred. And his purr spoke of promises, and his wheedling of wants— and there was truth within his toothy leer, mixing and melding with delectable delight.
No. No. Ciel couldn't take much more of this. Blood seeped from his shuddering fists, shoulders shaking as he felt—rather than heard—the final footstep, heart quaking as his butler froze directly before the expansive desk, immediately across from his master's averted gaze. But he couldn't look, didn't want to see… Had to know.
A shallow breath. A pause, a swallow—a dry magenta tongue flicked over cracked lips, as if to cue the jamming lids of his shimmering, mismatched eyes. As if waiting for the guillotine to fall.
"What… what does he look like?"
Alarmed by this abrupt stillness, Ciel allowed himself a swift peek upward—and instantly recoiled from the sight of his butler, his pleasant face shadowed and hovering mere inches above him.
"Now now, you're just being silly, young master," the demon cheerfully chastised, voice keyed with amusement and poorly veiled anticipation. Sarcasm. Sinister sweetness. A single finger pressed against lightly parted lips, like a toddler with a secret that he desperately longed to share. "Why don't you just ask me what you really want to know?"
The sunny beam darkened, like the sky beyond the window; black lashes flickered, moth-like, partially revealing ruby eyes.
With every fiber of his taut and tensing being, Ciel wanted to scratch those eyes out. "Answer the question!" he spat, lashing out a hand like some sort of caged beast: feral and frightened.
But Sebastian, as always, was entirely prepared: he dodged manicured nails with a tilt of the head, taking the opportunity to dive ever nearer, easily bypassing the boy's shambled defenses. A counter attack ensued post haste; one gloved hand clenched like a vice around the back of his master's skull, while the other forcibly tilted his chin.
It's rude not to look at a man when he's talking to you, my lord.
"Well, since you insist," the butler murmured conversationally, a hint of pride coloring his black-silk voice. "My son is a lovely, frail little thing. Slightly feminine, perhaps, but handsome in his own right. In fact, people have often been known to say that he looks like his father—" Their noses brushed; their gazes locked. Knowingly. Pointedly. Sapphire eyes—crazed eyes— desperate eyes— widened with dread and unshed tears, mentally willing the demon not to say— "…but he has his mother's eyes."
Sebastian released the count. And Ciel, as if pushed, stumbled backwards— only just managing to support himself on the edge of the desk.
The study's air thrummed like a living entity.
"…you did this to me," the Earl slowly breathed, the quiet words heavy with conviction and assurance and (un)wanted knowledge. Claw-like fingers bit through the tabletop's protective sheen, leaving crescent-moon grooves in the finish.
And Sebastian did not deny it. "My my," he chuckled instead, lifting an elegant hand to his mouth. "How very much like my Master you are— so good at solving puzzles. Why, it seems like only yesterday…" The butler sighed, nostalgic, as he regarded his seething child. "Yes, young master," he then declared, entirely without guilt or shame or inkling of regret, "I did this to you. I made a contract with Vincent Phantomhive, and impregnated his wife, Rachel. I allowed you a taste of happiness that most humans only dream about. And then, on the day of your tenth birthday, I commissioned my own foolish worshipers to take it all away."
The butler rested one limber arm atop the other, beaming like an angel. "Would further details please you, my lord?" he asked politely, snickering behind a stylishly lifted glove. "Perhaps you'd like to hear about how I personally crushed Vincent's head? How I eventually consumed your mother's innocent soul? How I stood by and watched as those occultists raped and beat you, demeaning and breaking you down until you could no longer do anything but plead for death?"
Another charming chortle, another languid beam.
From across the shadowed room, Ciel listened. Ciel listened, and absorbed, and learned the horrid truth—shaking as if each new piece of information were being forcefully hammered into his brain. And in this information's wake, his entire body went numb; he felt nothing: not his legs, his hands, his stomach, his throat… For all he knew, he no longer existed. Did he exist? Did he ever exist? Who was he, if not Ciel Phantomhive? And yet… he was not Ciel Phantomhive. Because there was no such person. And if there was no such person, then it therefore stood to reason that, there would be no such body, no such voice…
So even he was surprised when he heard himself whisper: "…why…?"
"Hm?" Sebastian, like his beloved Cheshire cat, stood ever-beaming in the place where it all began, clothed fingers carelessly caressing the desktop. "Why what, my lord? Come now, use complete sentences—I did not raise you to speak like a country bumpkin."
The goad hit home; the realization struck. Sebastian had raised him. How had Ciel not noticed…? All along, he had been right there, feeding, bathing, and caring for him. He'd been the only one the boy trusted, the only one he'd followed. The ideal servant, gentleman, lover, parental figure—a shield, a sword. Forever beside his master, as ordered to be.
As ordered to be.
The perfect hiding place.
"Why?!" Ciel screeched, total comprehension and bitter self-contempt flowing as acidic poison through his veins, drugging his system and freeing him from the binds of shock. "Why would you do this to me?!"
"…'why?'" The butler blinked, taken aback by this outburst. "'Why?'" he echoed, incredulous. " I'm disappointed. I'd have thought that'd be fairly obvious, young master. I did it because I wanted the best for my son, of course. Isn't that any father's dearest wish?"
It had to be a joke.
"You—?!" Ciel gawked, fighting back a bout of maniacal laughter. But it died in his throat as quickly as it had been sired— quashed when Sebastian offered him a look of genuine, (albeit faintly wounded,) affection. It was an expression that the Earl immediately recognized … every so often, like the illusion of a rainbow, it flickered briefly across his butler's face: in the aftermath of a well-executed scheme, or following some amusing comment, or during the rare occasions that he managed to surprise the demon.
Sebastian was serious.
It was too much. The sincerity of the smile filled Ciel with such outrage, he was almost unable to speak. Almost. But with a concerted amount of effort, he somehow managed a tantrum of choked shrieks, and, eventually, a strained, icy sob. "The 'best' for me?!" he repeated in a contemptuous wail, lily skin blotching with patches of rose. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?!"
The devil remained as infuriatingly calm as if they were discussing the weather. "Well, without my help, you never would have been able to Descend, now, would you?" he pointed out coolly, a look of approval blossoming upon his lovely face. "If I hadn't slaughtered your mother and foster father, if I hadn't set fire to the former manor, if I hadn't allowed the occultists to torture and humiliate you, you wouldn't have pointlessly murdered hundreds. You wouldn't have become obsessed with revenge. You wouldn't have found yourself desensitized by carnage, by sex; wouldn't have slowly spiraled into beautiful madness… But most importantly," the leering demon breathed, eyes disturbingly warm as he reveled in the quivering image of his child, "if I hadn't done what I did, you wouldn't have sold your soul to me, young master."
Cramping fingers flexed; a solid lump formed in the Earl's tight throat. "And what does my soul have to do with anything?" he demanded in a whisper, voice gravely and low and breaking with his heart.
This was all his fault…
A tender finger slid down the boy's moist face; Ciel looked up to find Sebastian serenely caressing his cheek.
We have entered into a contract, you and I.
"…do you know why demons hunger for souls, my lord?" the butler answered in a coo, dipping low to pepper taboo kisses down the clammy curve of his son's jaw, throat, earlobe...
When this game of hide-and-seek is over, Sebastian…
"It is because they have no souls of their own."
…I will have my revenge.
Everything clicked into place.
"…I found you." The realization took Ciel strangely by surprise; he had to murmur this fact aloud a second time, a third, speaking more to himself than his butler—but all the same, Sebastian nodded, his grin widening as the boy willingly stepped into his embrace: twining thin arms around the suit-clad back, trying to keep himself upright. "I found you. The game is over."
The game was over.
"Yes, it is," Sebastian quietly agreed, planting a lingering kiss atop his charge's head. "It was enjoyable while it lasted; I haven't had such fun in centuries. Congratulations on your victory, young master."
The count grunted once, acknowledging, face buried in the familiar scent of his butler's vested chest. Apples and flowers and death. "Thank you," he mumbled, his tired fingers tightening around handfuls of woolen fabric. "You played well. But as the victor, I've one thing left to do— give my final order."
Even before he spoke the words, Ciel could feel the lips upon his forehead curl into a knowing smile.
"Your orders, my lord?"
I caught you.
The grandfather clock tolled; the church bells chimed. And the somber hour found the Earl of Phantomhive—or, perhaps, the boy who had once been the Earl of Phantomhive— contemplative and silent upon the tiled floor of the manor's enclosed patio, half-kneeling and half-leaning against a coffin of black, lacquered wood. Sebastian had truly been a butler to the core, hadn't he: going so far as to prearrange his own casket, and decorate it with white roses.
He knew this would happen.
And somehow the knowledge mollified Ciel— pleased him that his butler realized (even at the end) that sentimentality would not impede upon his vengeance. No one would take that away from him, not even his…
But then, was it because of his true heritage that his thirst for retribution had been so overpowering? Was his willingness to murder his f— his only ally proof positive that he was no longer human, nor Halfling? After all, even in death, his butler owned his soul: he could feel it, like a tangible object, clawing its way up from the base of his being, straining to leave him and fulfill their unholy covenant. What would happen to Ciel once it fought its way free? Would he die? Linger like a doll? Or would he become…?
Musingly, the demon child ran trailing fingers up and down Sebastian's flawless face, relishing the pale flesh's warmth as it slowly slipped away. Yes, the devil was well and truly dead: body still as marble, visage composed and calm, long fingers laced atop a hidden flash of silver.
The pocket watch.
"…the dead have no need for trinkets, you know," Ciel mumbled noiselessly (to no one in particular) as his hands drifted to dawdle above the antique and aged timepiece. "You should really give that back."
"It belongs to your father."
…but honestly, the count didn't want it. There was no harm, he supposed, in letting the monster take his stupid bauble to the grave. Anyway, he wasn't in the mood to disentangle the trinket's chain, nor prize it out of the demon's clasped fingers. Rather, Ciel was much more interested in a nap; playing tug-of-war with one's own soul was no easy task. Perhaps… if he just rested for a minute…
The coffin was sturdy, and sweet-smelling, and oddly comfortable to lean against; the Earl, enchanted, bent ever closer— cheek and chin atop the casket lip— as his fingers instinctively curled around strands of ebony hair. It was a curiously calming gesture, to say the least: like the familiar feel of a favorite teddy bear against lonely skin. It soothed him, body and spirit.
Exhausted, content, and no longer willing to fight, the teenager closed his heavy eyes…
…and 'Ciel Phantomhive' was no more.
Now you're It.