A/N: So, this is it, folks. The last chapter. I know it doesn't tie everything up in nice neat bows, but I feel like it's appropriate. Thanks for coming this far with me, and for sticking around for this long. Any and all reviews will be loved and appreciated. Special thanks to MissFranky, my beloved beta for this fanfic (and also the woman who kicked my butt into action when I became unmotivated).
Also, I've posted the first chapter of an audiobook version of this fic on my homepage, linked to in my profile, so please go check it out. I'll continue to post the story in audiobook form if it seems like there's any interest.
Will I return with more Kuroshitsuji fanfiction in the foreseeable future? Who knows. It all depends on where the author takes us throughout the course of the manga, doesn't it?
Anyway, enjoy, and please review this last chapter!
Chapter 8: I.Promise.
There is no escape
From the slave catcher's songs...
When Sebastian opened the carriage door to escort me out of the cabin, it took me a moment to realize where he had brought us. It was a cemetery in Northeast London, Abney Park, a place which I had visited quite often as a child but only rarely after my parents had died. During the summer months, the cemetery would be filled with beautiful roses—hundreds of varieties—and visitors in droves. Now, though, in one of the last weeks of winter, the roses consisted of nothing more than dead leaves and snow.
As we walked over the meandering cobblestone walkways, between the looming headstones and grandiose funerary monuments, we did not encounter anyone else. To be completely truthful, I'm not sure how I would have reacted if we had. It seemed to me that, somehow, the moment I had stepped into the cold, gray, winter air in front of my townhouse everything other than Sebastian and me had ceased to exist. In my world, there was nothing but his straight-backed gait, and the dirty, half-melted snow that dusted the graves.
His long legs kept him a few strides in front of me, and as I walked behind him I had a small smile on my face. It seemed too predictable, much more predictable than Sebastian usually strove to be, to take me to a cemetery. It was almost tacky in its lack of creativity.
Still, I couldn't deny the beauty of the graveyard. My mother, who brought me here whenever we had the chance during one of my father's business trips into London, had cultivated within me the idea that something didn't have to be frightening or distasteful simply because of a proximity to the dead. The roses which bloomed within the perimeter of the high, black gates, were beautiful, she said, but only because the dead watched over them, and took care of the delicate buds to relieve their boredom. Even now that I have a much more sophisticated and well-rounded understanding of the afterlife, I'm thankful that my mother took the time to soothe my fear of death.
The cemetery was massive. I have no idea exactly how big it was, but I based my conviction on the fact that I had never seen all of it. No matter how many times I had visited in my youth, no matter how many picnics had been packed, I had never seen everything there was to see. It seemed to go on forever, path after path, flanked by imposing statues of praying saints, or huge, embellished crosses. Compared to the small plot of burial land back at the Phantomhive mansion, this was completely overwhelming.
My voice seemed to rip through the peaceful silence, and I grimaced. He stopped, turned around, met my single uncovered eye with his red irises.
Somehow, we had come to a halt underneath a huge weeping willow, its naked branches drooping down like the thin, gray hair of an ancient woman. After we had left the house, the winter sun had hidden behind a curtain of overcast cloud, and the tree cut off what little sunlight was left.
"I left a letter to Her Majesty. On my desk. After...after, would you make sure that it gets delivered to her?" I asked.
"Thank you," I said. I felt my confidence return, for a moment, and I took that moment to ask him where we were going.
Of course, I knew where we were most likely headed. The center-point of the cemetery was a massive cathedral, complete with turrets and holy statues, and I would be very surprised if Sebastian were to miss the opportunity for such poetic justice. I'm not sure I even knew what it was exactly, that I was asking. Maybe I just wanted to hear his voice.
"Where would you like to go?"
I suddenly remembered a spot, deep in the heart of the cemetery. My mother and I had stumbled across it once, but had been unable to find it again when we returned to London a couple of months later. It had been a beautiful spot, and I remembered it so clearly, even then, what had to be almost a decade later. I would have liked to return to that spot, but even if I had known how to get there, I wouldn't know how to ask.
Instead, I simply shrugged dispassionately.
"It's not really my choice, is it?"
He was quiet for a moment, and though I can't be sure since my eyes were glued to the rough, uneven stones of the ground, I think he was watching me.
"I brought you here because, of all the things on this earth I have seen, this place in the winter is the most beautiful."
Looking around, I didn't find it hard to agree with him. The soft covering of frost that blanketed everything somehow made it all glow. Even the knowledge that we were utterly surrounded by rotting corpses didn't seem to take away from the beauty of the land.
"I suppose it's nice enough. I used to come here with my mother," I said.
"I know," he replied.
We walked for what felt like hours. Hell, as far as I knew, it could have been. Time seemed to have stopped, somehow, and the omnipresent cloud cover didn't help matters. After a while, I absently began to wonder if we were even in the cemetery any more, or if we hadn't just walked right out the gates some time before, and continued on out of London. It might have been better that way, I thought.
The longer we walked, the more depressed I seemed to become. I had told my mother that it was a good life, that I was alright with who I had become, that I didn't regret the way things had turned out, but that wasn't exactly the case. Except for one regret, I had thought, and that one regret seemed to overshadow everything else. It was like an elephant trailing balefully after me, as I walked between the graves, that I was desperately, futilely, trying to ignore.
That one regret, the one that was completely, utterly screwing everything up, was the ridiculous feelings I had developed for my satanic butler. Because, somehow, that one regret was suddenly multiplying into hundreds, thousands of them. Suddenly I was regretting that I had never asked after his own welfare, or given him a day off, or shown him that I had even a single ounce of affection for him. I regretted waiting for so long to show Sebastian the Ciel Phantomhive that he could respect, the one that should have been there all along.
Could demons feel love?
I regretted never taking the chance to find out.
I knew, both from my own experience and from watching how the rest of the world reacted to my butler, that he was inhumanly handsome. Of course, that was to be expected. He had chosen this form—or perhaps, I had chosen it for him, subconsciously—when he had come to be known as my butler, and he would have been a fool not to choose an appealing one. Still, for some reason I knew my attraction to him was in spite of his beauty, not because of it.
I had made the cardinal mistake, broken the cardinal rule. In a life where Sebastian only looked after me because he had promised he would do so, I had managed to convince myself that he cared for me. I had planted hope within my deserted emotional sphere, and it was thriving much, much too well.
Abney Park Cemetery wasn't all that old, even compared to the Phantomhive Family Cemetery. Unlike the huge plots of land that had dotted the countryside for hundreds of years, Abney Park was filled with dead bodies that had likely not yet been forgotten. None of the graves seemed old enough to be ignored, yet. Even so, the names passed by in a blur, as I read them without giving them much of a second thought.
William Burroughs, 1801-1888
Francis Friedrich, 1798-1845
Sarah Cavanaugh, 1860-1865
Oliver Heinrick, 1800-1850
Gertrude Lovette, 1813-1879
I could almost imagine passing by my own name, etched carefully into white marble, carved there by those who knew me but wouldn't understand that the marble really should have been black instead.
Ciel Phantomhive, 1875-1892
Almost without me noticing, we passed by the cathedral.
I broke out of my stupor when I carelessly ran into Sebastian's back. My nose was instantly assaulted by the smell of wool and the harsh lye soap that he must have used, combined with the itchy softness of his jacket. I looked around me, and was instantly hit with a memory, of a quiet summer afternoon, with just my mother, me, and a carefully and lovingly packed picnic basket.
"Look, Honey! Tanaka made you lemon cake, your favorite! Oh, and ham, too. Look how spoiled you are."
"This is great!"
"Oh, Ciel, come here...how you always manage to get food on your nose I have no idea. Hand me that napkin, will you?"
The clearing was simple. It looked natural, but was most likely engineered to look that way by whoever had originally laid out the cemetery. There were a few dense trees, creating a sort of private oasis, where you could look out at the world outside but it seemed like no one could see you in return. A small, gentle creek, half-frozen in the winter air, flowed through one end, and a small stone bench crouched next to it. The bench had lent its cool, stone surface as the perfect refuge from the summer sun for me and my mother, and now it sat there like some sacrificial alter in the dim light.
It started out as a sort of spasm, a quick, repeated exhale of breath that somehow turned into full-on laughter. I clutched my stomach, and I could feel my muscles contract under the force of the air leaving my lungs. As I looked at that stupid bench, all of the emotions that had been trapped inside of me for the past six years spilled out, like wine from a bottle with a broken bottom.
Even as I laughed, tears began streaming down my face, and my legs gave out from under me, and I didn't care that the dirt floor of the clearing was getting all over my clothing. In that moment, if someone had asked me what I was feeling, I don't know that I would have been able to answer. I was both horribly sad, and impossibly happy, and I felt that some great burden, like a giant boulder, was being lifted from my shoulders. If my life were to end, as I knew it was going to, I wanted it to end here. How Sebastian knew about this place, I have no idea, but I don't think it was a coincidence that he took me to that clearing, in that cemetery, on that day.
He picked me up. The feeling of his hands gently but firmly gripping my shoulders helped me pull myself together a little bit, but the cathartic feeling within me did not cease. As he carried me over to the bench, I didn't feel anything but relief.
For a long time, he said nothing. He knelt down on one knee in front of me, a position that I had seen him in more times than I cared to count. When standing next to me, his collarbone stood level with my eyes, but when he knelt like that, he became the short one. As his eyes locked with mine, he reached into his jacket, buttoned to keep out the cold that I still wasn't even sure he could feel. From inside the depths of black, he pulled out a familiar object, one that I had all but forgotten about because of the horrible memories associated with it.
The knife usually slept in the bedside table at the townhouse. I kept it there, because I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it, yet I didn't want it in the house where I spent most of my time. Every now and then, when I saw it, I would remember that day, and my eye would pulse with the phantom pain. I should have noticed that it was gone that morning, when I had removed the locket from the same drawer, but I hadn't.
After all, over the years I'd been hoping the knife would simply disappear.
It wasn't a normal knife, a knife that one could take with them on a fishing outing or keep in their pocket to ward off the unsavory people who frequented the London alleys at night. It wasn't even my knife, really. The funny thing about it was that it belonged, in fact, to David Wright, the man who had ruined me so many years ago.
That wasn't the reason, however, that I kept the knife. Nor was it because of the obviously fine craftsmanship—the handle made of mahogany and a pattern of inlaid jade, and the finely tempered steel blade which could be stored, with a flick and a twist, inside the handle—or the fact that it had likely been very expensive. No, I had kept the knife because it was this very knife that Sebastian had used to cut the contract, with searingly hot steel, into the skin of his left hand.
Again, I had foolishly believed that none of my servants knew my secrets, but Sebastian always knew, somehow.
"Young Master," he said, putting the knife on the cold stone of the bench to be temporarily forgotten. "When he thinks about his lord, do you know what a loyal servant worries about the most?"
I shook my head.
"He worries that his lord does not understand the depth of his devotion to him. He worries that all of the things he does are brushed aside, because it is believed that they were simply done out of a sense of duty. He worries that his lord will never see that a less devoted servant would never go as far as he has gone."
He looked away from me, then, breaking the eye contact that he had maintained for several minutes. I felt as though, with his movement, I had broken out of the spell which he had cast over me. I saw in his eyes, for the first time ever, a naked emotion, not faked, nor imagined.
"And the servant realizes that there is only one way to prove that the love he feels for his master is more than just duty. He realizes that the lord will only understand if the servant sacrifices something of himself, not because he was asked to, but because he wants to."
He picked up the knife again, deftly flipping open the blade. It glowed dully in the dim light of the clearing, and I thought I could see the remnants of Sebastian's dried blood from so long ago on the metal, although the logical part of my brain told me it was impossible. As I watched him, he pulled the white kid-glove from his left hand and tossed it to the ground. The sign of the contract was starkly highlighted against his pale skin, seemingly a brighter red than it usually was. It had almost regressed to its original state—blood red and sinister.
Placing the point of the blade on the back of his hand, he slowly drew it across the seal, all the way from where the skin of his hand met the skin of his wrist to the first joint of his thumb. As the blade glided along his hand, the tissue parted deeply, leaving a fissure of gaping flesh. Blood began to seep out of the wound, until the rivulets of crimson had utterly drowned the seal.
The knife clattered to the ground, and he reached his hand up to my face. The smell of the blood was probably very strong, fresh and thick, as close as it was to my nose, but I couldn't smell it. My eyes had caught his again, and his usually arrogant red irises were sad.
"So, My Lord, when you asked me to kiss you, I did not refuse because I wanted to do so. I refused because I wanted to kiss you while acting freely, when it was not an order."
His lips pressed against mine—gently, warmly. The feeling of them contrasted with the feeling of his blood dripping hotly down my face, and with the tears which had begun to seep from my eyes again. It was so bitter sweet—so God damn bitter sweet—that I think a part of me died. Because, even though it was what I had always wanted, it felt so much like a goodbye that I wanted to scream, and yell, and cry to the world to ask how life could so often be so unfair.
His hand curled in my hair, tugging off my eye-patch with gentle fingers.
"I regret that I cannot rid you of the contract, My Lord. It will always be there."
I tried to tell him that I was glad for it. Even though I could see the intent to leave in his eyes, that ugly, unnatural contract would serve to remind me that he had been there, that Sebastian, the man I had loved, hadn't been a simple figment of a traumatized boy's imagination.
I felt something warm touch my palm, and when I looked down, I could see his plain, silver pocketwatch through the haze of my tears, the metal warmed with the radiant heat of his body.
"Why...why are you giving me this, Sebastian?" My voice, which had deserted me before, chose that moment to return, with strangled words and choked sounds.
"Because," he said, trailing his bloody hand down the side of my face, "I will not need it where I am going."
He stood up, then, and smiled a true smile for the first time. His knees were dusted with a thin layer of dirt, and his blood had run all down the sleeve of his usually immaculate overcoat. Even so, somehow, in that moment, he seemed happy, and it made the tears run down my face all the more freely.
I tried to say something, anything, but my words had disappeared again. He was too perfect, really, for anything I would say to have any meaning. I, Ciel Phantomhive, understood for the first time that I was not special, and that some things were simply too beautiful to keep locked away inside a cage—that this wonderful, horrible, beautiful man in front of me was one such thing.
As he walked away from me, the stone that had been placed inside my chest became a live, beating heart again, and I couldn't pretend that the feeling was not utter agony.
"Goodbye, Ciel," he said.