A/N: Hello all! This is probably going to be one of the only author's notes in this fic, so let me get some things out of the way so you can continue with the story.
First, this fic is complete. It is eight chapters long and a new chapter will be posted every week (that doesn't mean I won't appreciate reviews and suggestions, however, and I am not opposed to reworking the chapters I have already written).
Second, in this fic, Ciel is sixteen years old, and for the sake of my plotline, the circus arc has not happened, and what we find out in that arc has no bearing on my plot, except for Ciel's illness. Also, I have not seen the anime in its entirety, so all the facts/ideas are based off of the manga, which I have read up until the current chapter. As far as I can tell, the Sebastian from the anime is quite different from the one in the manga, so if he seems OOC to you and you're only familiar with the anime, that's probably why.
Third, as of right now, we don't know the exact parameters of Ciel and Sebastian's deal, so I am making them up and they will be explained in further detail later on in the story.
Fourth, this fic is loosely based off of a song by DeVotchKa, How It Ends (if you listen to it, you will understand how very appropriate it is for Kuroshitsuji) and lyrics will be posted with the chapters.
This fic is pre-slash, so if that idea doesn't appeal to you, you have been warned.
Also, this is rated 'T' for a reason, kiddies. Namely for some rather unpleasant violence.
Now, without further ado, I present How It Ends.
Chapter 1: And.So.It.Begins.
Just ask and you'll receive
Beyond your wildest dreams...
I was sick of this. I was sick of sitting in this bloody chair every goddamned day, reading reports filled with meaningless things that I already knew. I flipped pages without having any idea what was on the one before it. They all said the same thing anyway—The Phantom Company was prospering. As if I weren't already aware of that. The finances of the company are linked directly to my pocketbook, and it wouldn't take me very long to figure out if they were doing poorly.
"Why the hell am I wasting my time?" I growled out, sweeping the reports onto the floor in an admittedly childish action. I had learned a long time ago to recognize when I was being immature. But I felt like being immature, dammit! I was so bored that a small part of me was afraid I might start ripping out my hair to entertain myself. My study, lavishly decorated in the finest mahogany furniture and the most beautiful handwoven tapestries, was beginning to feel more like a cell by the minute.
I looked up at the sound of the study door swinging open, and allowed myself to calm down a little at the sight of the tea cart pushed by Sebastian. His uniform was immaculate as always, with his vest and tailcoat neatly pressed and stainless. Sometimes his perfection made me want to kick him in the shin, but today, I knew, I was irritable enough that anything would bother me. If he were anything less than perfect, I would have wanted to kick him for that, too. The tea brewing on the cart smelled delicious, as it always did, and my stomach settled a bit in anticipation.
It was the middle of the winter, of the year 1892. I had turned sixteen years old less than two months ago, and I was slowly beginning to understand that life was as empty and dull as I thought it was back in 1885, when my parents had been murdered and I had foolishly made a deal with a devil. Even now, though, as the Earl of Phantomhive instead of just the heir-apparent, I could never bring myself to regret the decision to bind myself to Sebastian. Through the years, I would not have survived without him—that much I firmly believe. Sometimes, though, I wonder if my butler—my demon—can't see through my skin, to the heart inside my chest, blackened and dead from six years of constant disuse.
"It seems, Young Master, that your things have somehow ended up all over the floor again," Sebastian idly commented, as he stopped the cart next to my desk and began to pour tea into one of the ornate tea cups. Over the years, so many different sets of china had come and gone through this house that I barely even recognized them anymore.
"I grow tired of this, Sebastian. Give me something to divert my attention."
"A diversion, My Lord?" He asked, gently placing the cup and saucer on my desk and stirring in two lumps of sugar and a small bit of cream. "Are you not, perhaps, a bit old to be playing games and seeking out toys?" Sebastian's enigmatic smile spread across his face, sending shivers down my spine even as it toyed with my sense of danger. No matter how many times I saw that smile, it never failed to remind me that the man at my beck and call was not human, and never would be.
"I recall saying nothing of toys," I muttered distractedly, lifting the teacup to my mouth and taking a sip. My eyes weren't looking at the man standing beside me, rather, they were looking at the dirty gray winter sky, blanketing the world in a depression that only heightened my own. I wanted to tell him everything going through my mind, but I knew it was impossible for Sebastian to understand. Somehow, I didn't think immortal demons had much use for restlessness, and so I didn't bother to explain why my papers were scattered across the room.
"Perhaps, then, you would like to retire from work for the evening—I have often found that taking a break from something you dislike makes it less distasteful in the long run."
I murmured in agreement, allowing the sweet scent of the tea to drift into my nose and the soothing liquid to run down my throat.
"This is good, Sebastian. It has been a long time since you have given me a simple Earl Grey."
"I had brewed you a pot of Darjeeling, Young Master, but I heard the noise and thought you might want something a bit more comforting."
Sebastian took his customary place next to my wingback chair, and for the first time that day, I felt an emotion run through me that I might have described as happiness, if anyone had asked, but was most certainly at least a feeling of contentedness.
"Do they have tea where you come from, Sebastian? Is that why you make it so well?"
"...It is...difficult to explain," he said, after a moment of hesitation. "There is nothing in this world to compare it to, so you would not understand. But no, there is no tea."
I took another sip of the Earl Grey, swirling it around in the bottom of my cup.
"That sounds miserable."
"Indeed, My Lord."
For a few minutes, I allowed that feeling of contentedness to wash over me as Sebastian and I stood in comfortable, unassuming silence. Only the occasional clink of the fine porcelain disturbed that silence, and that was alright. For those few minutes, Sebastian understood me, and I understood him, but for some reason or other, that clarity made me sad.
The dinner that Sebastian had prepared was a delicious lamb stew, one which had been simmering over a slow fire all day in wait. The meat had been perfect and the potatoes had been tender, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed everything Sebastian cooked for me. Sometimes, I had to wonder where it was that my butler had learned to make such masterpieces out of food, but I had long ago filed that fact away as just another thing about him which I would never know.
I felt pleasantly lightheaded, because of the wine I'd allowed myself to drink at dinner—a wonderful vintage of red wine I'd brought back with me from the last mission I'd undertaken for the Queen. As a general rule, I rarely drank, but tonight was a special night. It was my mother's birthday, and for that reason no one was overly surprised that I had been more disgusted than I usually was with the tedium of my work, and no one made a comment when three glasses of the Cabernet Sauvignon had made their way down my throat over the course of the meal. I was sixteen years old, for Christ's sake, not to mention the head of the Phantomhive household. As far as I was concerned, I could drink whatever the hell I wanted to drink.
"I think I would like a bath tonight, Sebastian," I said, wiping my mouth one last time with my dinner napkin before laying it on my plate. He bowed low, his mouth stretching again into that horrible parody of a smile.
"Yes, My Lord. I shall have it ready for you when you return to your chambers."
"I have business to attend to, for about an hour or so. Please do not let the water get cold," I said, taking a final sip of my wine, savoring the flavor in my mouth before swallowing.
"Is this business outside of the manor? If you are leaving the house at night, I should accompany you. It is no longer safe for you to be wandering outside by yourself."
"No. Please stay here. This business is something which I must do on my own."
Sebastian nodded again, and Maylene, Finnie, and Bard all bowed low as I stood up and walked from the room. Knowing them, they probably stayed that way until they heard the slam of the front door as I left the house. All three of them held more loyalty to me than they had any reason to, I knew.
Looking back, I probably should have realized that they all knew where I was going, but back then I was still under the impression that my routines would remain secret as long as I didn't tell anyone about them. I had no reason to understand that the entirety of their jobs revolved around me, or that Finnie would see my footprints in the snow the next morning. By keeping Sebastian away, I thought I could keep my weakness from showing through.
The front walk was covered in a thin layer of ice, but I was used to it. I had spend my entire life in this mansion, after all, and many snowy afternoons had been spent playing on the grounds. It would have been odd if I couldn't even walk through my own property without falling on my ass. Of course, it quickly became obvious that the ice was the least of my worries, because I had forgotten to retrieve my thick, winter coat from the front entryway. I was so used to having Sebastian take care of me, I suppose, that I tended to forget things on the rare occasions when he wasn't.
It had been more than a couple of hours since the sun had set below the horizon, and far off in the distant forests I could hear the wild howl of a wolf split through the frozen silence. I wasn't frightened—it had been a very long time since I had truly been frightened—but I felt a twinge of phantom fear left over from the days when the blackness outside my bedroom window seemed like the most frightening thing in the world. Before I knew what it was like to be truly scared.
I shoved my hands into my pockets.
Although I had told Sebastian that I planned on being gone for an hour, it wouldn't take much longer than five minutes to reach my destination, and every year the amount of time I actually spent there was different. Sometimes I found myself lost for hours, and sometimes I got so disgusted with myself that I left within minutes. It was like I tossed a coin the moment I stepped through the gates.
Surrounding the Phantomhive Family Cemetery, there was an ornate, filigreed iron fence, and the gates were large and imposing, reaching ten feet or more into the sky. I didn't really believe that anyone would take the time to come all the way out to this estate to steal some half-rotted bones, but I kept the gates locked just in case. I kept the key in my right vest pocket, and it was the only key I kept on my person at all times.
I slid it out of the woolen fabric, and fitted it firmly into the slightly rusty lock.
Pushing the gate open, I stepped onto the previously untouched snow that blanketed the cemetery. As the last surviving member of the Phantomhive line, I was the only one who would bother making footprints in the powder to visit long dead relatives. Finnie had a key to the gates as well, but he was under strict orders to tend to the small plot of land only once a month, and he had a respite during the winter months when the snow made his job rather ridiculous.
As I approached the row of graves where I knew I would find my parent's names, I was struck with the question of whether I would get to be buried by their sides one day. The exact parameters of my deal with Sebastian had never been discussed to that length—would stealing my soul steal my body as well? Would my bones find rest next to those of my parents? Somehow, I found that I was better off without knowing. At that thought, the first flakes of silken snow began to drift from the clouds, landing like little needles in my exposed skin, but I could not feel them. In a place like this, where I was the only one left capable of feeling physical discomfort, there was no place for it.
I refused to speak to the headstones, just as I aways did. I knew that my parents had long since left this world, and that underneath the half foot of snow and six feet of dirt, there lay two caskets with empty husks resting inside. Still, I felt the need to pay some sort of homage to their memory, and these plain marble stones were the only thing I had left of them.
For the past five years, I had pulled the little iron key out of my pocket and opened the cemetery gates twice a year. Once for my mother, once for my father. Rachel and Lord Vincent Phantomhive. Never once had I let Sebastian step a single toe inside the perimeter—even without his smile, I never forgot that he was a demon.
Snow had piled on top of the headstones, and I brushed it off gently with my numb fingers. The letters had been carved into the marble in such a way that even through the thin layer of white the lettering what still easily visible. Of course, I knew the images by heart, anyway.
On nights like these, when the world seemed so silent that I could simply disappear into the nothingness that surrounded me, I questioned my faith. I had summoned Sebastian with the knowledge that I would be forsaken by God, if such a being even exists, but I hoped that my defection would have no negative impact on those who had borne me. Wherever my parents were, I hoped that they happy, and warm.
As the snow fell around me, I turned my face up to meet it and closed my eyes against the onslaught.
"Mother, can you forgive your foolish son?"
When I finally returned to the manor, the clock had just finished announcing the ninth hour, my clothes were soaked, and I was shivering from the cold that had seeped onto every bit of my skin.
"Young Master, if you would not let me come with you, you should have at the very least brought a pair of gloves as your escort."
Sebastian looked vaguely unhappy with me, an expression that I had seen on his face only a few times over the years.
"I am not in the mood to be chastised tonight, Sebastian. Is my bath ready?"
"Yes, My Lord," he said, bowing lightly to me even though his lips were still pursed together.
I brushed past him, heading up the grand staircase that leads to the upper floors. Usually I was glad that my chambers were so far away from the front doors—it gave me more time to prepare for unexpected guests—but tonight every foot seemed to stretch into a mile.
Just as I was passing the library, I felt a hand at my knee and another at the small of my back, and my feet were lifted off the floor as Sebastian scooped me into his arms.
"Please allow me to carry you, Young Master. The more quickly we can get you to the bath, the better—it would not be seemly for your asthma to take hold again due to my negligence."
I sighed as I felt the soft fabric of his overcoat rub against my cheek, wanting to tell Sebastian to put me down. I wanted to protest that I was sixteen years old and had been perfectly capable of walking on my own for the better part of those sixteen years. I wanted to act for a moment as though I had some fight, some pride, left in my body. But I wasn't sure I did, and because of that I could not find the energy to protest.
"This is not appropriate behavior, Sebastian," was all I managed to say.
"Even so, My Lord," was his reply.
At his speedy pace, it only took us a few moments more to reach the master suite. He had taken the time before I returned to light a crackling fire in the fireplace and to fold the room in a soft glow with the many candles around its perimeter, and the moment we stepped through the door, I was assaulted by precious heat. Skipping the bedroom, he headed straight to the bathroom, and it wasn't until he was standing directly next to the bath the I finally felt my feet touch the ground again.
I couldn't take my eyes off the gently steaming water, even though I felt Sebastian's hands at the buttons of my clothing. As each layer fell away, and more and more of my pale, clammy skin was revealed, the cold air seemed to nip at me like a feral beast, and my shivers increased. I was shaking so badly, in fact, that when it came time for Sebastian to undo the buttons at my wrist, my arm slipped out of his grip twice.
"I apologize, Young Master."
The last of my clothing fell to the floor in a puddle of fabric, and Sebastian didn't even bother picking it up and folding it before leading me into the bath. The water on my skin felt more heavenly than I thought possible, and it helped to ease the tightness in my chest that had been slowly worsening over the past hour.
"You have nothing to be sorry for."
"I let you leave the house in the middle of the night without so much as a scarf around your neck. As your butler, that is unforgivable. Are you trying to help with fulfilling our bargain so soon?"
I sighed back into the tub, letting the water wrap around me like the softest liquid blanket, and closed my eyes.
"Tonight was none of your concern. I told you to stay here, and you would not have been allowed to accompany me even if you had pressed the matter. As far as I know, none of my extremities have fallen off, and to me that means you did your job. Let it go."
I felt my hand being lifted out of the water, and a sponge began to gently clean my skin. I took the silence to mean that Sebastian would not argue with me, though he also probably didn't agree. It was a method that we had perfected after learning how incredibly stubborn we both were, and we'd been refining it for the past six years.
"I wish that you had allowed me to go to that place with you at least once," he said, moving the sponge delicately up my arm. I remained quiet, understanding without conscious thought that the warmth of the water and the emotional severity of the day, along with the cold and the wine from earlier, had combined to make me quite tired. As Sebastian cleaned the dirt away from my skin, I could feel myself begin to slip into a light doze, with only the sound of the water sloshing quietly to interrupt me.
It was half an hour later that my bath had been finished, and the heat had completely returned to my body. The shivering had ceased, and, even though I still felt the tightness in my chest, the calm that always followed a trip to the cemetery had finally set in fully. I sat in front of my mirror, dragging a comb haphazardly through my hair. A fresh nightshirt had been slipped over my shoulders, and Sebastian was walking through the room, dousing the candles to prepare the room for sleep.
"Yes, My Lord?" he answered, turning away from his task and walking towards me. In the mirror, our eyes met for a moment, but I looked away from the scrutiny.
"When I look in the mirror, I do not recognize my face. Is that very strange?" I reached a hand up to stroke my cheek, smoothing the skin as though it were the softest fur. "I open my eyes and expect to see a ten year old boy staring back at me. Somehow, the last six years have gone by without me noticing them, and even with the debts I've incurred, I can find nothing worthwhile that I have gained from those years. I find myself becoming restless."
Sebastian came up behind me, and I felt his hands land on my shoulders. His reflection loomed in the mirror, and our eyes met again, and I couldn't turn away.
"Is it not possible, Young Master, that you are becoming restless because you know I will be collecting that debt, soon?"
He could have said it with arrogance, or triumph—after all, he deserved it—but Sebastian's words were strangely neutral. A simple suggestion.
"Perhaps. But you know I have never feared death. I think..." I trailed off, my eyes dropping to where my thin hands were folded across my lap. "I think I am being a bit childish, really. I don't want you to leave me."
His hand lifted from my shoulders and began threading through my freshly washed hair. The silk from his kid-gloves made the thin, black strands fall back onto my small neck, and I felt a shiver run down my spine as they brushed my skin. Even though I wasn't looking at him, I could still feel his eyes on me. Those red irises seemed to follow me wherever I went.
"You know I will never leave you—we have a deal, do we not? But, of course, the only one who really knows what you are feeling is yourself," he said, "and I can only say that the Phantomhive heir-apparent who I once knew and the Lord Phantomhive who I know now are both very different and very much the same. Sometimes, My Lord, without us realizing it, the things which we thought to keep locked away inside of us come to the surface and show on our faces."
For some reason, his comment disturbed me. I had grown so used to living behind my facade that sometimes even I forgot it was there. I didn't like the thought that the Ciel Phantomhive which I had striven so hard to lock away might come back and influence me—I couldn't afford to be that child anymore.
"Maybe. But regardless, you were right in the first place. None of this is going to matter in a few months anyway. My debt is high."
I stood and walked over to my bed, and sunk down onto the soft, pillow-like mattress. He tucked the blankets around me, in a half-hearted attempt to keep out the cold. Picking up the snuffer, he returned to the candles, extinguishing them one by one, and I watched his thin back that betrayed none of the super-human strength that lay beneath his jacket. I could feel my eyes closing with the weight of my exhaustion, but I forced them to stay open.
"You must be...very hungry by now, Sebastian."
He didn't reply, but he and I both knew that it wasn't a statement that needed an answer.
"Sleep well, Young Master," he said, as the last candle flickered out and he shut the bedroom doors.
The next morning I woke to the brightness of freshly fallen snow, even though the sky itself was the same dirty gray. Sebastian had pulled back the curtains which he had shut the night before, and the smell of freshly brewed tea filled the room. I could not remember a morning when I had not woken like this. The days before my parent's deaths were often blurred and sometimes I couldn't remember them at all, so the sight of Sebastian's always immaculate uniform and raven's-wing hair was what I thought of when I thought of waking up.
"I brought you your post, My Lord. It seems that you have received another summons from the Queen."
He unbuttoned my nightshirt, and the room disappeared for a moment as he lifted it over my head. He had picked out an outfit for me to wear that was warm and comfortable, but it was obvious to me that it was also an outfit picked for an outing. These days, I rarely went into London itself, but when the Queen asked me to go, I couldn't refuse.
"A summons? Did you read it?"
"Yes. I do not quite know what to make of it. You also have an invitation from the Countess of Trivolt, for her annual winter ball, as well as a letter from the manager of your company warehouse in Paris," he said with a smile. He handed me the Queen's letter while pouring me a cup of tea, and I unfolded it and began to read as I took a sip.
Dear Lord Phantomhive,
Recently in London Proper, there has been a string of strange disappearances. As of this moment, five children from noble families have been taken. These disappearances have made things most difficult, as the families targeted seem to be, whether by coincidence or otherwise, the lines most close to Her Majesty. She has decided that she cannot stand idly by and watch those who she respects and cares for suffer. So, the royal house asks you, as a member of the loyal Phantomhive line, to look into this matter. The children targeted have been between the ages of seven and thirteen, and have been taken from their beds in the middle of the night. These are the only details available to us. A list of the families and their main attributes has been included with this letter, and we ask that you study it carefully. When you believe you are ready, we shall await your personal arrival in London.
Baron Franklin Stuart
On behalf of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria
I refolded the letter, letting another sip of the tea tip into my mouth. Disappearances were not usually something that warranted Phantomhive assistance—Scotland Yard, despite the rumors, was actually quite competent—but the fact that the Queen had asked for my assistance at all meant that she suspected something deeper was at work, perhaps something darker than just simple kidnappings. To summon the help of "the evil nobleman" was not something that was done on a whim.
"Well, Sebastian, it seems that my interest is piqued. Please ready the carriage—we will be leaving shortly."
"Yes, My Lord," he said, bowing lightly, his smile never leaving his face. My butler, it seemed, enjoyed the thrill of the chase just as much I did.