little lamb, stained in red.
Disclaimers: I do not own Kuroshitsuji; nor do I own any of the quotes/lyrics used between scenes.
Rating/Warning: M for mature themes—direct references to sexual abuse, child abuse, occult and cult activity, and lots of otherwise "normal" sex; brief reference to opium use somewhere along the way, so small you might even miss it; graphic/dark content.
A/N: Part two.
And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
hinc illae lacrimae.
The bells would ring.
Ring, and ring, and ring, not in a melody but not without a pattern—ethereal tintinnabulation, echoing off stone and metal and cold flesh. Ting-ting, ting-ting. Ting-ting, ting-ting. It pierced through the veils of any slumber or distant thoughts, stirring the soul and prickling the skin and moving the dams to let tears spring into little eyes.
Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb—
And when he sang, in his velvet mask with braids of golden rope and dangling beads of every color, his grin was wide and his whiskers danced above his teeth. His footsteps were sharp on the stone as he dipped and strode his way past the cells, singing and ringing his bells and waking all the children up.
At first, Ciel had been one of the few children that reached between the bars and begged and pleaded and sobbed to be let out, and he'd been the loudest and the most vehement and the one that snivelled the harshest. He was the last one to give up these attempts, after what felt like eternities of fingerfuls of dirt and grit and blood, and his clothes were crusty with snot and yucky stuff. Polly gave up first, and then Richard, and then Teddy, and Anna had given him a run for his money but in the end, his voice had been the last hoarse wail to keep crying, after all the others had shut up and crawled into a grimy corner to stare.
Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow.
The bells would ring, and after a while, Ciel wouldn't cry. Mostly because he'd lost his voice, but he wouldn't cry. He'd just shiver and pry himself up off the floor of the cage and stand waiting on quivering knees. They'd all learned quickly that the time to cry was not when the bells rang, but when the faces hovered over them and the sex began, because that was when they wanted them to; they didn't care otherwise. Polly had wanted to hold his hand once, because she'd been scared, but he had refused. He didn't know her, and her hand was dirty, and she had a strange smell about her.
They'd stand in a line on the cold stone floor, shackles rattling and clothes rustling as the girls with the feathers and Goldilocks curls and matching masks tipped their chins up and smoothed their hair and whispered to them all to smile big for their daddies, now. And from behind the curtains would file their daddies, and sometimes their mommies—but those were horrible things to call them, because what they really were were monsters with pretty masks and pocketbooks full of money and a taste for something a little more divine than what they could find at any old public-house.
At first, they'd had to hold his wrists and forcibly undress him. But, Ciel noticed, that was normal with every one of them—when one of them was new, they often kicked and screamed just like he had. And, just like he had, if they accidentally kicked one of the masked, feathered girls, or maybe even the man with his gray whiskers and toothy grin, then it was a slap across the face and back into the cage and no dinner. It had only taken him four or five times to realize that fighting it was not going to help—especially after watching a little blond boy named Percibul bite one of the girls and get beaten for it—whips and holly branches and wires—and he didn't want that to happen to him.
Doff the pants and lift the skirts, and smile and bat the lashes while standing in the center of attention. And Twenty-five. And Thirty. And For the virgin, sixty-two. And when nobody challenged that, it was back into line to redress by yourself. And later that night, some of the children were pulled from their dirty corners and never came back to the cages, and Ciel wondered where they went, and sometimes he couldn't sleep because he was afraid of the shadows that the bellowing mantras manipulated, lying awake watching, waiting for other monsters to descend.
Then there were other mommies and daddies, who came in little groups now and again, that liked to peek at them from between the bars and then rummage in their purses—and sometimes they practiced what they did for this with the men in cloaks, and sometimes they were just plucked from their corner of the cell without warning while the whiskered man counted out the pounds and they were led away into the rooms behind the velvet curtains, placed on knee before a mommy or a daddy to peer up and blink and beg for mercy with the eyes before they were lionized.
At one point, Ciel realized he was the last one left in his cell.
He hadn't understood that.
After the initial rebellion that had become burning hesitance, he'd been a good boy. He'd shut up about wanting baths and wanting hot food and wanting the men to stop chanting and wanting to go home, because he wasn't stupid. It was clear that if one of the mommies and daddies wanted him, he'd get all of those things. If he smiled brightly enough and looked as happy as he could when he unbuttoned his tattered trousers, they'd buy him and take him to their home where he'd be able to take a bath and eat good food and wear clean clothes and be their obedient son—or, if not, perhaps one of the men in the cloaks and masks would like him enough to let him go when they were done with him.
So he'd tried, he'd really tried, and he'd thought that he was good at what he did because the man with the gray whiskers and jolly eyes behind his gold and beaded mask always petted his hair and thumbed his nose while he watched him wipe his face with his dirty sleeve, and he'd tell him, You're such a good little lamb.
From a nobleman's family. Wealthy. Good genetics. Pretty—very handsome. Listens to directions, but cries big fat crocodile tears and has such a pleasant way of protesting. Swallows. Likes games. Good, strong personality. Soft skin. Smart tongue. Straight teeth. Good-working hands. Doesn't complain, but definitely isn't quiet. Supple rump. Sweet child, he really is. It's a shame, isn't it? Everybody wants him. Casual visits and auctions, EVERYBODY wants him. ...Except he's THE ONE.
And he'd smile extra big because everybody wanted him and only the best could take him, because apparently, he was the one.
Everybody wanted him, but he was the last one left in his cell. He was positive—confident—incredibly sure that he was better at everything than everyone else, slouched and sprawled in the other pockets of filth, because the man with the gray whiskers never talked about others like he did about him, and the mommies and daddies never oohed and ahhed over others like they did over him, and the casual visitors never lingered and peeked through the bars at others as long as they did at him.
But nobody took him home.
Not until one long night later, when the men in the cloaks and masks came, carried him off and had their way with him, one after the other while he wondered if he was still sleeping or not. And after that they lit the candles, and one of them gave him a big kiss on the forehead as he wondered if all that blood was from the sex, and then the chanting started again and Ciel clapped his hands over his ears. And he hummed to himself, his own little secret song.
Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb.
When the light gleamed off the edge of the knife held over him and his voice gave out from all his screaming opposition and his heels and his elbows and his wrists bled from where he was kicking and squirming against the altar, Ciel realized why he'd never been picked. He was the one, after all.
Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was
I will run you through with the dagger you sharpened on my body and soul, before you slit me in two and devoured me whole.
I want my innocence back.
India ink, all over his new suit. Thick black splotches staining the Donegal tweed, splattered across the suitcoat and blooming about his thighs and the hem of his shorts, a spot here and there on his white shirt where it had bled through. His suitcoat sat in a pile on the floor, inky side off of the carpet, and sometimes Ciel wondered if Sebastian intentionally let his clothes get dirty just so that he could clean him up.
His left garter fell to the carpet, and Sebastian slowly pulled his sock off, toe of it pinched between thumb and forefinger as he peeled it from his ankle. Ciel peered down his nose at him, lashes lowered on a dark eye, demure in such a decorous way—naturally, of course. He shifted where he sat on the edge of the bed, knuckles white in his grip on the ridge of the mattress; Sebastian's eyes flickered up to meet his, on knee before him, and with his heel cupped in one hand, the butler dropped his sock off to the side and ran his thumb up the little slope of his bare instep.
"Don't get distracted, now," Ciel husked, and his brow fluttered above his eyes, a little twitch of the expression, a tiny shift towards smug because he was well aware of the butler's insidious inclinations.
"Never," Sebastian murmured, and Ciel's fingers tightened on the edge of the bed, dug into the bedding as Sebastian's gloved palm brushed back down the top of his foot, over the thin bones and juts, thumb stroking the tendons of his instep. Perhaps searching for a ticklish spot, but he didn't think Sebastian was ridiculous enough for that sort of thing, anyway—
The silence in the master bedroom was broken by a gentle gasp as warm, dry lips pressed to the tip of a big toe, and Ciel's knuckles fisted in the blankets and he went rigid as a chill zipped up, through his body, buzzing along his nerves. Blinking, he regarded Sebastian with a look of stark innocence that quickly became that of dubious amusement; he chuckled, face twisting into a soft simper.
"Sebastian, come on, now. We don't have time for this foolishness today."
"My apologies, young master."
Another kiss, this time to the next toe. Dry, hot, velvet-soft where the inside of Sebastian's mouth teased—almost present, but his pursed lips not quite open enough. The whisper of coattails on the carpet as Sebastian shifted, and another kiss—to the middle toe, and then the next, and finally the smallest one, and then a papery little kiss to the top of Ciel's white foot, and the blankets rustled as Ciel lifted his foot away. From behind his knee, foot flexed and toes splayed out gently in the air, he peered down his leg at Sebastian and cut, "Don't mock me."
Sebastian peered up at him, lashes lowered on ruddy, knowing eyes. And as Ciel tried to analyze his smile and appear nonchalant at the same time, Sebastian thought to himself about his master's fragile pride—about how, as long as he had control, he would not admit to himself the serious depths of the acts he committed as someone of his stature—about, oh, the dangerous, dangerous hypocrisies of mankind, because as long as he was lying to himself about why he did these things, about in what position of control he was in, he would never admit to himself the truth of the matter—the truth in how his sumptuous thighs and buttocks quivered while he rode his contracted butler hard enough that it was difficult to believe it was the same elegant, savvy nobleman he emulated so easily throughout the day—the truth in how his tongue worked behind his contracted butler's teeth, in how his eyes were filled with emotions too strong for his childish egotism to allow outside of those moments of tacit air between them. Such swelling self-confidence, and such blinding denial.
"Never," Sebastian whispered again, and jerked at the sock on Ciel's other ankle so hard that it knocked the boy off balance, and Ciel toppled backwards with his bare foot in the air, hit the blankets with a soft fwump and peered up at the ceiling with a gentle sigh of factitious disdain, as a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth.
He licked his lips and said, "You look good enough to eat."
The day in late autumn when his Uncle Clause came to visit, Sebastian tupped him in his office, in the big lavender Bocelli chair. Doors locked, he actually put his servant butt in the cushions of it and had his master on his lap, and without even fully removing a single article of clothing, he managed to bring him to a neat—but ecstatic—end.
Did you need something?
I'm hungry. I want something sweet. ...Like parfait.
I can't do that, young master. If you eat that, you won't have room for dinner.
It's fine, make some.
Well, I want SOMETHING.
Strangely enough, it put Ciel in an exceptionally good mood for the rest of the day.
He was reading a book on economics when his uncle arrived.
Daddy, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, yeah.
Beautiful, dirty, rich.
They all burned.
They burned like his soul had that day, years ago. And just like that day, years ago, he walked out alive, and he was happy.
He threw up when they returned home from the Baron's nest of evil, which they'd left engulfed in raging hellfire.
He pushed Sebastian out of his room and locked the doors as he closed them, and he sat in the Vienna near the window with his feet up, peering out into the darkness. When he ignored the fact that he couldn't see the rubble and the damage on the other side of the mansion, everything about the manor looked so peaceful, even in the night, which was something he'd never quite understood. In the face of what his home was really about—darkness, never ending darkness—it still looked placid and comfortable, not eerie in the least. Not frightening, not ominous. But perhaps that was just because it was his home, hidden away in the mist and the trees.
His hand twitched for a cup of tea that wasn't there, and after realizing this, Ciel folded his hands in his lap and just relaxed into the chair, lashes lowering on eyes travelling far away, although the distance was only visible in one.
Filthy creatures, these humans.
Abhorrent. Wretched. Pathetic. Amoral. Disturbed. Lying, rotten brats. There was no God if He allowed such vile things to live and pillage other people's lives and get away with it.
January 14 was the day that he met Sebastian, and upon the reaction that he resembled his father from some angles, he'd reached for him and never thought twice. Grasped the spider-web thread and pulled himself from the depths of hell—or maybe just a void, a waiting-room of sorts, a desolate pocket of comfortable nothingness, because maybe he'd been headed to heaven, anyway—and pressed his hands to the face of that young thing that looked like his dad, and as the shards of icy-hot pain sank into his eye and the blood trickled down his cheek like tears of a saint, there was a sudden stirring sensation of somebody digging around inside of him. In his chest, in the depths of it, in the place in the middle where all the strong emotions of his life had ever throbbed. And it felt like something was wrapping itself around that place, feeling around in his psyche, reliving every powerful feeling that had ever been birthed there.
And Sebastian held him in one arm and killed them all, and Ciel watched from the crook of his elbow, hands folded and resting on the nape of his guardian's neck.
The first few months, the memories were still fresh and bitter, and even though there was unconditional trust because this young man was his savior, that trust was not the kind that made him believe he wasn't a conniving thing. And his stares were sad and sharp and grave, but Sebastian didn't seem to take it personally.
Three years ago, all he did was hold him. That did not last for long.
The first time he'd felt the need, it was impulsive and sudden and strong, but felt as normal as if he'd been feeling it forever. Natural, like he knew what to do, like it was something perfectly fine to ask for, thin little fingers curling in the lapels of a tailcoat and teeth gritted in his butler's face, and although Sebastian laughed at him when he asked and that irritated him, the first time the need had been appeased, he'd wondered why he'd ever hated the process before.
It was one o'clock in the morning when Ciel staggered off the Vienna and unlocked his doors, wandered down and found Sebastian in the kitchen preparing for the next day's meals.
"Do you want something, young sir?" Sebastian asked, sleeves rolled up and hands dirtied with flour.
"I want you very badly, but it makes me sick right now," Ciel husked in return, leaning against the countertop.
"Yes," Sebastian murmured, and their eyes met for a long moment of silent words.
Only after Sebastian had tucked him into bed and blown out the candles did Ciel remember that the butler was the only one with the key to his room and the knowledge where it was kept, and he could have unlocked the doors at any time.
The devil sleeps in my pocket: I have no cross to drive him from it.
Sebastian did not prefer kissing.
Ciel liked it, the touch of mouth against mouth and the tingling warmth of interlocked lips, because it was a connection and that was important. Made him feel that he and Sebastian were equals, that he was not just a child or a plaything for this devil in disguise, and he, personally, preferred feeling equal—feeling powerful—to feeling derogated by lack of kissing.
Sebastian liked to smile and exchange sultry eyes and let Ciel chase his lips around while he chuckled like an evil little boy, and Ciel hated it because it made him blush. But after a small amount of his demurring, Sebastian usually conceded—kissing and nibbling and dusting tongue along his lower lip instead of other extremities, and Ciel would smile, and fully relax.
Loving me is like chewing on pearls.
The season was in full swing, London crawling with a more tightly-packed and reckless catalog of virtues and vice. Foreigners and countryfolk, the elite and the modest—commotion and mishaps that put daily London to shame. Ladybirds, cash carriers, toolers and palmers and the snazzy-looking mobsmen, a haven for the likes of them on the cobbled streets; nannies and children running from one event to the next; omnibuses, carriages, traffic; single men swaggering and free ladies giggling; lords and gentlemen with brazen courtesans and dress-lodgers, or rigid-backed wives—but everyone with the same look of cheer on their faces, as if the season was absolutely all they lived for, a time to be alive and come together no matter the secrets or guilt. Vain, disgusting people. Silk and parasols and the dwindling mutton-chops, and nobody was anything but fake to each other, even when summer and the season brought forth a kind of childhood innocence in everyone's eyes.
By day, the streets were crowded with the likes while the thoroughbred and gentry played stylish games of croquet or rode around country estates; by night, the more shady and sordid faces of London emerged, and amongst them the elite who had played croquet and eaten cucumber sandwiches now travelled to and fro from their many pockets of privilege there. Dinner parties and "business meetings", or a show at Her Majesty's. And they were like children given too much freedom, greedy children with the assertion that they are responsible enough but, once given the opportunities and the means, transform everything into selfish games.
And reasons such as those were why Ciel did not like to participate in the season. Shallow, painfully obvious, childish people, and he didn't like to go to dinner parties because nobody took him seriously enough unless he hosted the event, and he didn't like to tail along with Lau to his business meetings because the smoke from the cigars and the cloves made his eyes sting and his chest tight, and the men and women on the divans with their eyes in the backs of their heads, dreaming opium dreams, simply aggravated him.
But Lizzy wanted him to play croquet with her, in the grass of their great-uncle's country home, just a short ride out of town. And she wanted him to go to the shore with her at least once, to dip their toes in the water like they used to. And she wanted him to attend a dinner party for only the most fashionable and privileged young ladies of London, because she wanted him to be her date (and therefore ignite jealousy in all the other girls' hearts, except that she hadn't really said that, Ciel just assumed she was too munificent to admit it). And then Sebastian had made the comment—in front of both Lizzy and his Aunt Frances—that the earl could use a week or two off, away from the isolated manor. That socializing, especially with such company as the Middlefords, was ideal at the moment and if he should be so bold as to make the suggestion, he believed it was a good idea.
Ciel had smacked him a few good times, in his bedroom with the doors closed, traveling cases out and open on the bed and being filled with comfortable exaction by the butler, and Sebastian had glanced at him and added, You might take advantage of the time off and socialize on your own accord, don't you think? And Ciel had huffed a breath and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed and insisted that No, he did not think, he was not going to partake in the season because he didn't like it, there were too many people, there was too much going on, and he was going to get a headache—
And, of course, his protests had been futile, because Sebastian was right. In the underbelly of London, although its matters were mundane compared to that with which his family dealt, there could always be a clue or two that he might find useful, and it was never a bad idea to refamiliarize himself with the labyrinths of which he wandered for the Queen.
"Young master, if you'd be cooperative for just a moment of your life—"
So he damned the season, and he damned the people—and he damned Lizzy for making him go to the dinner party full of simpering young girls and their puffed-up young dates—and he damned Sebastian, for being right.
And he damned the summer, for being so disgustingly, blasted hot.
The curtains in the office of his townhouse fluttered not from a breeze, but from the motion of the windows finally being swung open and fastened, and as Ciel turned around to peek over his shoulder at them, the glass of lemonade landed with a sharp thud at the corner of his desk, ice tinkling within it. He turned around again, slowly, staring darkly up at the butler as he reached for the cold drink and took a thoughtful sip.
"It took you long enough."
"I'm sorry, young master. It was one demand after another—"
"I thought you could do anything."
Sebastian bristled and his face soured, and he looked so very human that it was perfect. Ciel had to withhold a smile from his face; he took the lemon from his drink and bit into it, face puckering at the bitterness. There. No smile. He regarded the butler through his lashes, idly stirring his drink with the little spoon as he sucked on the lemon.
"...That I can, young sir," Sebastian edged out, and although his mouth twitched where it wanted to become a sneer, Ciel could see in his eyes that the butler was quite aware of his stance. "It was just that—it's very hot, and sometimes your attitudes can become quite...tetchy when you're uncomfortable."
"All I asked for you to do was open the windows in the house to circulate air, get me a cool drink, and start lunch, Sebastian. Don't let your frustration with me cause you to err."
Their eyes met over the desk, and Ciel licked the last of lemon off his lips, raising his brows. Sebastian peered back, taciturn, although clouds of thought swirled in his eyes. He'd doffed his tailcoat earlier; his sleeves were rolled up and fastened, and if Ciel had been in a particularly sour mood, he would have reprimanded him for unbuttoning his collar like that. But, it was indeed very hot, and an angry servant was a bad servant, so why mistreat him? Besides, it was rather appealing—
"I think you need to relieve some of your stress," Sebastian murmured then, softly, and the sudden change of his disposition—or his tone of voice, at the very least, captured Ciel's attention. He almost didn't hear his words over the buzz of the streets down below, drifting up and in through the open window; he frowned, setting the lemon rind down near his drink and leaning back in his chair, lacing his fingers absently in his lap. Where he stood next to the winged chair, Sebastian followed him down into the seatback cushions, smiling faintly where his face hovered above. That purr and that smile—suspicious and so familiar.
"I'm not stressed. I'm just hot and it's tiring." Ciel's frown softened and if he hadn't been mentally preparing himself for whatever Sebastian had up his sleeve, he would have grasped that he was pouting. "...Perhaps you can get me something sweet to eat to replenish some of my energy, so I can make it until lunch."
"The dinner party with Lady Elizabeth will go fine tonight. It shouldn't stretch on too late; I can look for something more entertaining for you to do afterwards, if that's what you wish. Perhaps the theatre."
Damn. He was getting too good at sidestepping snacks.
"I'm not worried about that. It's—"
"If the young master would just hush for a moment, and allow me to relieve his stress—shall I rub your shoulders? Maybe a cold bath will help."
Ciel snorted, a disdainful scoff in the back of his throat. Such gall. Sebastian's fingers moved, and Ciel closed his eyes. There went a button. And another. Third, fourth, fifth, sixth. And the sensation of his suitcoat being peeled from his chest and shoulders was kind of alluring, and the feel of Sebastian's hands even though he couldn't see him was a little soothing, and Ciel took a deep breath, relaxed into the fingers rubbing gentle circles along his neck and shoulders. He leaned forward, moved his drink and folded his arms atop his desk, rested his head and let Sebastian's hands massage the muscles always so tense and knotted up along his shoulders and spine.
Sebastian pulled his suitcoat from his elbows, and with nothing between the air and his skin but the thin cotton of his shirt, it was like a blanket of bliss. His skin tingled with cooler air and he sighed softly, didn't quite register the sound of ice tinkling or droplets of water falling until the cold touched the back of his neck and he gasped, head shooting up off the desk.
"Shh. You're overheated. Please relax, young master."
A gloved hand touched the back of his head and gingerly laid it back to his forearms, and Ciel's ankles hooked where his toes pressed to the floor. In his arms, he frowned; the look on Sebastian's face had rendered him slightly dumb for a moment, and the skin near his ears tingled where a new heat wanted to pool across his already hot cheeks. But the ice Sebastian had pressed to the back of his neck was, while melting quickly, undeniably nice, and water dribbled away from it, trickled down the side of his neck and behind his ear, down to his chin.
Ciel pushed backwards, flopped into the seatback of his chair and peered at Sebastian through his lashes, hands wringing in his lap. "How thoughtful of you," he whispered, and Sebastian pulled another piece of ice from the drink, moved between his young master and the desk and smiled a perfect smile, reached forth and pressed the ice to the boy's lips.
Ciel's back stiffened and his fingers twitched, and shivers coursed through his limbs for a moment before he tipped his head back and opened his mouth, allowing Sebastian to trace the curve of his lips with the melting ice. Water, arcing down his chin. Whatever, it wasn't as if anyone was there to judge his actions. The feel of the ice, and the gently guiding fingertips. It actually did feel rather refreshing, and somehow it was placating his mood. Sebastian's eyes, heated and focused, and his sultry smile—and Ciel relaxed again, fully, heart fluttering, amenable and content. Sometimes Sebastian's games were worth playing.
The ice was gone. Sebastian reached for another. Traced Ciel's lower lip with it, his tongue—down and along his collarbone. Let the ice slip from his fingers and fall into his collar, further into his shirt, and it skidded down one side of his chest, hit his nipple and sent sparks of reaction exploding through his nerves as it faded away into a droplet of water near his belly button. Ciel gasped, recoiled against the arm of the chair. He searched out Sebastian's eyes, startled and embarrassed, but Sebastian only smiled back, cat-eyed. Not a butler smile, not a gentleman's smile, not a devilish smile—just Sebastian. And he chuckled kindly and said:
"Well, the young master has decided to shut himself up in the house until Lady Elizabeth's dinner party, after all, and there's quite a lot of free time until it begins. Are you rather relaxed now, young master? Have I helped fix your rotten mood? Or are you in need of more relief? Shall I go fetch some Rowlandson? Or perhaps you've a different preference of warm literature—"
"S-Sebastian—! That's enough!"
Another chuckle. "Yes, my lord."
I wish that you could show me love.
Prince Soma and Agni did not know.
During the Anglo-Indian case, when the race for the perfect curry was staggering along—Oh, by the way, he'd said, for today's dessert, I'd like to have Gateau chocolate. Bring it to me later. And Sebastian had licked melted chocolate off his fingertips for him while he swung his legs, toes flexed to keep his slippers on his feet. And he'd gotten his chocolate, and he'd gotten his butler, and he'd gotten him straddled to his bed with slippers on the floor and bare toes curled in the sheets, and he'd laughed and he'd grinned and he'd held his shoulders high with import, and all the while those damned nosy Indians hadn't the slightest suspicion that their indebted host was just across the second floor, caught beneath the butler and caught up in his ruddy, ruddy eyes, breathing deep sighs of pleasure and twirling his fingers through dark brown hair as the butler told him witty quips and stories.
Everyone had their secrets and vices, their parties and pleasures. In their society, it was only natural. His aunt had had her share of mistresses and gentlemen; Lau had his business; his uncle had more ladies sparkling in his eye than anyone; his business partners had more secrets than should really be acceptable. As a nobleman, he had a right to his private affairs, just as the rest of London did, high and low—and perhaps it was easier for him, given the grace of his name. Besides, in a world as iniquitous and implicit as the one around him, through heritage and other connections, the idea of being caught and issued hard labor wasn't a threat so much as it was a grand, illustrious joke.
You're such an EARNEST boy, my nephew.
As earnest as you, Madame.
But nobody knew about them—or at least didn't acknowledge the idea outright. It was sub rosa, the truth beneath the rose.
And that was both shameful and exciting.
And all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put the prince back together again.
"Sebastian, I...have a problem."
"What would that be, young master? Is your tea not hot enough? Is the brandy too prominent? I can make you another cup, if you'd like, but I'm not sure you should push yourself to work any later on this case. You're already working in bed by this hour—"
Ciel held a hand up, lips pressed in a thin line, but he did not grace the butler with eye contact. Instead, he peered at the packet of information he held in his other hand, although the words didn't process—just danced across the pages, scribbles like words of a lost language. Blankets drawn up to his waist and pillows fluffed behind his back, the coke in the fireplace was glowing and the hands on the clock were at a quarter to eleven.
"No, nothing like that," he mumbled, tossing the papers to the side and rubbing at his eyes. The skin beneath them was tender, his eyes tired from the meticulous reading—his eye patch sat on the bedstand, and with his left eye trying to compensate, it was giving him a headache.
"Then what is it, young master?" On top of things, as always, Sebastian moved across the bed and gathered the papers and booklets that had been cast aside, straightening them up and setting them on the bedstand to pick up on his way out. He pulled the blankets up further; Ciel waited until they were pressed against his chest to shift backwards, draping an arm over his temple and letting out a soft sigh.
A gentle sigh extinguished the candles. In the darkness, Sebastian moved back towards the bedside, and Ciel drew in a trembling breath.
"Whatever it is, I'll fix it for you," Sebastian whispered, dropping to knee and lacing his fingers on the bedding. Ciel wriggled—rolled halfway away, the visible part of his face twisting into a tight frown. Silence passed, just a few moments, and then he rolled back, dropping his hand from his face and regarding Sebastian with distress sparking through his eyes, brow pinched. The butler noted absently that if his master knew how his face still gave off the air of childhood when he was in pain, he would never again allow himself the little expressive freedom he'd worked so hard to accept.
"Say a prayer," Ciel whispered, mouth barely moving on the words. And in a moment of rarity, Sebastian looked purely taken aback—not just startled, not perplexed, but honestly shocked. He blinked a few times, gawking briefly, before he licked his lips and held out his hands in failure.
"I'm afraid I'm not the right person to ask," he murmured, brow knotting, and Ciel's frown deepened because he knew the look of fear on Sebastian's face was most likely not that of rue, but that of concern for their contract, their promises, their relationship. And that made the tension in his chest run deeper, and he swallowed on a raw throat, and tried not to let the tears stinging his eyes build up and run over.
"Not even a fake prayer?" he husked.
Sebastian's brow creased further and for a moment, Ciel wanted to reconsider his evaluation of the devil, but he knew that would be sugarcoating everything. A feeling of desolation took root in his chest, behind all the tension. Sebastian's mouth drew into a solemn line, and he laced his fingers again, this time against his lips, eyes moving around the boy's face.
"Perhaps," Sebastian whispered, "the young master would still like it if I listened to him pray, instead."
The tears were hot when they squeezed through his lashes and then cold already when they rolled down his cheeks and hit the pillow, and Ciel gripped the sheets as he wrestled with the compulsion and the logic, because his life was over already, what salvation did he have to pray to, and what help would he ever get from God again? He was wretched, he was fallen, he was dirty and sinful, and no amount of praying—not even just this once, when he wished for reassurance that he had not gone truly mad somewhere along the way—no amount of it would appease God's wrath at the path he'd taken and the companion he'd chosen for the rest of existence.
The blankets rustled as Ciel rolled over sharply; he threw himself up, latched onto Sebastian with his arms locked about his neck and his face smashed into his shoulder, and although Sebastian didn't move, his surprise was obvious on the air.
"Dear God—" Ciel began, choking the words out like a demand, and Sebastian's hands pressed respectfully to his back, settling there in comfort. For a moment, Ciel faltered, because he was afraid he'd forgotten how to pray, but then the instinctive urge came flooding back from memory and the words spilled from his mouth, and Sebastian was silent, and Sebastian held him, and Sebastian listened, and when the last of his tears had gone and the last of his words had faded and his eyes fell shut, Sebastian lay him down and tucked him in and picked up the papers and left.
And he came back, and knelt at the bedside, and he watched his master sleep until the hands on the clock read a quarter after two, and the coke in the fireplace needed stirring.
Blinded to see the cruelty of the beast. Here is the darkest side of me. Forgive me for what I have been.
Forgive me my sins.
Sebastian liked to call their loving debauchery "snacks". Perched on the edge of the tall bed in the master bedroom, pressing his thumb to his master's palm and watching as the pressure made his fingers twitch like the claws of a cat, smiling one of his mysterious smiles—sad, thoughtful, distant.
"You'll ruin your dinner," Ciel murmured now and again, and a wry little smile would play across Sebastian's face because the boy was a hypocrite. But Ciel did not notice these blunders—or would not confess to them—so Sebastian would chuckle and kiss his hand, and draw his rings off his thin fingers to place near his eye patch before pulling the blankets down to his toes and slipping a hand between the buttons of his master's nightshirt.
"But I have such a large appetite," he'd purr, and Ciel would either scoff, frown, or laugh, but usually he would turn his nose up and roll his body in just such a casual way that signified the beginning of a taste testing.
My wounds cry for the grave. My soul cries for deliverance. Will I be denied? Christ. Tourniquet. My suicide.
They met behind circus tents and around the mouths of them to discuss the investigation, and one time, behind a cluster of tents and out of view for the time being, Ciel had pressed close to him and whispered against his chest that he missed being taken care of. And Sebastian had laughed, and ran his fingers through his hair, and told him that he appreciated that, and promised him a hot cup of black tea when they got home. And somewhere overhead, beyond the tents and in the forest lying further out, a blackbird had cawed, and Ciel had craned up on his toes and Sebastian had kissed him on the mouth—a dry kiss, a chaste kiss—and then there was a rustle of tent fabric and they scurried back out into the open area, one a little after the other so as not to look suspicious. And maybe that blasted tent-mate of his had noticed, but he—she—the kid hadn't said anything, not after a single admonitory glance and a fabricated smile in return.
The need burned in his chest at night—burned very strongly—but Ciel was in Tent 8, and Sebastian was in Tent 9.
He tossed and turned and buried his face in the pillow and couldn't sleep, because something was missing—maybe it was control, out of his hands for the time being—and that turned everything he'd so carefully constructed upside down on him.
There's a fine line between love and hate and I don't mind, just let me say that I like that.
I like that.
There was his asthma, of course, there to ruin his life.
It had been a long time since he'd caught a fever that brought on an attack as severe as the one he'd suffered at the circus. The first day after he'd collapsed was relatively okay except for the tightness of his chest and the tingling in his exhausted muscles and the way he just couldn't get comfortable in the cot (with or without his tent-mate there to complicate things), couldn't move without making himself dizzy—but once Sebastian had retrieved the information needed and they'd returned to the townhouse in London, the relief and the comfort were just too much, he'd missed it all so, and three days became a foggy and haphazard chain of events as his breathing smoothed for the time being and the fever raged through his system. Nothing cognitive or fully coherent, nothing that truly made sense by measures of time—just images and scenes that he recalled happening one after the other, separated by periods of sweaty rest, tosses and turns.
Sebastian had come and gone, probably bringing broths and teas that would have been exquisite if he could sit up to eat, the door opening and closing quietly—and sometimes Ciel would hear it, and sometimes he would open his eyes and Sebastian would suddenly be standing at the foot of his bed—and every time he rolled over and registered that Sebastian was in the room, he smiled, and words ran through his groggy mind, idle and fogged-up as it was. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore... And once—just once—when the fever was at its highest, just before breaking, he'd held his hands up for Sebastian and whispered, "'Tis some visitor, tapping at my chamber door—only this, and nothing more." And Sebastian had smiled his soft, alluring smile, brushed damp hair from his young master's temple, and ran a fresh, cold cloth over the hot skin.
Simple, random, insignificant things—Sebastian bringing tea, Sebastian bringing food. Sebastian washing his face, Sebastian fixing his blankets. Sebastian at the foot of his bed, Sebastian at the door. Sebastian cleaning things across the room, Sebastian beside him in the hallway as he tottered towards the bathroom, Sebastian's hand on his forehead, Sebastian smoothing his shirt from his shoulders and the cool air hitting his skin—
Somewhere in that incoherent amount of blended time, he'd had a dream. It had started out with him sitting somewhere wide and empty, cold cobblestone wet against his rear end. And he'd looked around but couldn't see much but the moonlight, and he'd felt heavy and hindered by invisible chains; he'd tried to stand up but hadn't been able to, and then— And then, echoing, liquescent through the silence, calling his name. Ciel. Ciel. Ciel. No, Young master. Young master. Young master. And a raven perched on something just under the moon, and as Ciel stared at it, the colors bled together and when he blinked, the scene in his dream fluttered away and a new one surfaced, and he lay beneath goose-down comforters with a hot water bottle warm against his toes, and Sebastian was perched at the end of his bed, one leg over the other, smiling softly with fingers laced about one knee. Ciel smiled, comforted by the glimpse of reality, closed his eyes and felt the scene changing again, but then Sebastian spoke and Ciel realized that he was going nowhere because he was awake.
"Freud and the other psychologists of this time have such short attention spans," Sebastian murmured, as if the topic was quite disappointing. Ciel pried his eyes open, peered at the young man at the foot of his bed with a furrowed brow and glazed eyes.
Sebastian shifted, tucked hair behind his ear and propped his elbow on his knee, his chin on his knuckles. Smiled. Smiled his indecipherable smile. "The human mind is so interesting, complex and simple and horrifying at the same time. It's psychological, isn't it, young master? Your want for me is a disorder, a product of the trauma during your time as a child. Isn't it, my lord?"
Ciel stirred, croaked, "Excuse me?" as he pushed himself up on his elbow. But his arm was weak and his head heavy, and he hovered just inches above the pillow, cocked at an awkward angle, shocks of bed-tousled hair falling into his eyes. "What are you talking about?"
Sebastian's smile softened and he drummed his fingers along his chin. Gloves. His gloves were missing. They'd been gone before, too, back at the circus. Ciel looked around for them, but didn't care enough; his eyes darted back over to meet Sebastian's as he spoke again, and his arm ached and he crumpled down onto the pillow and simply stared, suspicious, dry lips parted and breath picking up anxiously.
"I am the victim of the revenge of your subconscious mind," Sebastian whispered, and his voice was liquescent, sweet and smooth on the air, warm on the ears. "I am the object of the lust you have but do not know how to channel. I am the face connected to the end of your trauma, so you trust me with your life, your person, your lust, your revenge, your love—that is the reason you direct your desires at me, all of your hungers."
Ciel's eyes were heavy but he kept them open; he could physically feel his expression clouding over, not quite believing these things although they somehow made sense, anyway. Made him feel embarrassed and guilty and caught red-handed, and far too simple for his liking.
"You're a bastard," he husked.
"I'm your cure and your disease. And a bastard." Sebastian chuckled, and Ciel wanted to slap him. His fingers tightened on his pillowcase with the urge for violence. "I am the sacrifice for your psychological gain; I am the victim upon which you are reasserting your masculinity, your pride, your control. I am the embodiment of your recapitulation, whether you realize it, or mean it that way, or not." Sebastian shifted again, this time climbing from the chair and moving up the side of the bed. Ciel watched him, eyes dazed, but sharp enough. Sebastian smiled down at him, lashes lowered on an honest, burgundy stare, confident and frank.
"Really," Sebastian whispered, rolling up his sleeves. "Civilizations centuries ago were more advanced than this great England of yours, I hate to say it. The scientists of this day and age should be able to come to these conclusions, don't you think? They're not that far-fetched, but these men are so utterly obsessed by their exploration of the shadows that they're missing vital moment here. It all explains so much about you, right down to the way you're squirming in your bed right now."
"I'm angry," Ciel growled, but it came out sounding more like a groan, a plead. He frowned deeply. "You're out of line—"
"Do you want me, young master?"
Ciel put his hands up, waving away Sebastian's, but Sebastian was only reaching for the porcelain wash basin near the bed. Ciel's hands fell back to the bedding, defeated; his brow creased and he closed his eyes, too exhausted, too sick for this.
"Do you want to love me? Do you want to take it out on me, the confusion for why your body does the things it does?" Sebastian uttered a weary sigh, and if he hadn't been such a deceitful and devious being, it might have been loving, or doting, or soft. But as things were, it was just another reason for Ciel to stiffen in his blankets.
Sebastian smiled, wringing the wash cloth. "You know, I'm sure that past the externalizing of your betrayal and inability to grasp the whys, the hows... Past that and the fact that I am the essence of pleasure and whimsical sin, the embodiment of damnation and temptation... Past those things and our obvious contract, I think that maybe our souls have a little connection that hides from your understanding, behind the walls of stubborn apathy you've built for yourself. In fact, I feel honored to be the victim of your disorder, young master. ...I rather like it."
"Ohhh..." Ciel breathed, and he winced at how much the sound had resembled a whimper; Sebastian's hand was cold against his face and his lashes fluttered open, meeting Sebastian's eyes. He bit his lip, because there was something tight in his chest that was not his illness, something that stirred at such a warm look in Sebastian's eye, a look that contradicted the cruelty of the things he'd been saying. And, oh, in his chest—something tight and heavy and painful, something emotional, something guilty. And his skin crawled, and his heart raced, and his knees quivered as they twitched together and the sheets whispered away from his hips. Nobody was allowed to be right about all of this. The need, he wasn't supposed to feel it right now. But he just wanted Sebastian to stop being right—
"Sebastian, why do you say those things?" he whispered, but he was met with a short silence.
"You're so feverish," Sebastian murmured a few moments later, and his voice was concerned enough to be convincing. Like he should cluck his tongue in worry, like he should be cooing like a nursemaid.
"Someone very intriguing told me that a butler should be nice to his master, especially when he's sick. Especially when his sick master is but a child, who only wants to be nurtured."
"I am not a child," Ciel countered, but his voice was weak and weary, and his lashes fell shut again as Sebastian took the wet cloth to his face, his neck, his chest. The air was cold, the moisture colder. His skin prickled with the chill, his legs trembled again; he licked his dry lips.
Sebastian wrung the cloth out over his stomach, and Ciel gasped as the cold water dribbled against his skin, just above his navel. How long had his shirt been open like this? He didn't remember Sebastian unbuttoning it. He gasped again as another trickle of water fell lower, inside his belly button, carefully calculated to drop there, cold and strange-feeling. And a third, this time between his belly and his hips, and Ciel's body shifted, eyes rolling open.
"Don't," he whispered, chest fluttering with his breath. Not pinching anymore, but his gasps whistled. He met Sebastian's eyes, brow knotting. "Don't, please. It's cold..."
Sebastian said not a word; he wrung the cloth again, and a fourth drop of water landed on the warm skin just above his groin, and Ciel uttered a groan of exasperation, but did not roll away.
Another few drops.
Sebastian ducked down and his nose brushed the shell of his little master's ear as he whispered, "One day, light will chase away the shadows that surround the mysteries of the mind. One day you will die and you can sit with me in eternity and watch the world change and grow until you will never recognize it again."
The brush of a thumb, somewhere delicate.
Ciel's heart fluttered, in excitement and in relief and in consternation.
Another drip of water.
Ciel gripped the blankets, breathing a long, soft moan, and he was sure that the only reason it squeaked was because his throat was dry.
The cold cloth touched his forehead as Sebastian gently dabbed away the sweat and tried to soothe the heat.
Ciel thought later, mind murky with the flu and the borders around reality blurring, that it must have been a dream, because, ill or not, he would never allow Sebastian to talk to him like that.
And I demand you put my heart back in my hand and wipe it clean from the mess you made of me. And I require you make me free from this desire and when you leave, I'd better be the innocent I used to be.
At some point in the fog of his fever, the last dream-like reality before the fever broke and he really woke up, a thought arose.
It was when he needed to use the toilet, staggering with Sebastian to the bathroom in what looked like early morning but could very well have been early evening—the pale blue of the sky as the sun hovers near the horizon, to go up or to go down, tranquil and alluring, and what time it truly was, he was not for sure, and his head hurt from sleeping—that he really considered it.
He stood in front of the toilet, in its little corner space with the door to the rest of the bathroom open behind him, fingers dusting the smooth grip of the pull-chain as he peered into the shadows around the contraption and sleep tried to reclaim him on his feet. And as the rush of water echoed in his ears, the thought came.
What if I go back into the bathroom and Sebastian isn't there?
Ciel shifted on his feet, the marble smooth and cold beneath his bare skin.
He would never, he's not inclined to.
What if he just flitted away and breached contract?
He would never.
What if he had never stumbled upon you? What if you left this bathroom and everything was different—what if your parents were sleeping in their room and your dog was near the hearth—what if you had to walk back to your room alone?
What if Sebastian was never there?
He fell still, considering a world like that for a long moment.
Ciel pulled the chain on the toilet—and then blinked a few times, realigning with the wakeful world a bit more as he realized he'd already flushed.
I don't want to live without him, he told the whispering thoughts in the back of his head. I don't want innocence and carefree afternoons chasing butterflies with Lizzy and I don't want sunshine and I don't want ignorance. I want—
There was a gentle rap on the door to the commode as Sebastian peered around its edge, looking concerned and soft in the darkness. Ciel peered at him over his shoulder, lashes lowered.
"Hello," he whispered.
"Young master, are you alright?" One of Sebastian's perfect brows cocked, and then both furrowed, and Ciel smiled.
"Falling asleep on my feet," he explained, lifting his hands in helplessness—and he chuckled at himself, meekly.
And Sebastian smirked faintly, gave a curt nod and scooped his little master up into his arms in one swift, gentle motion. Ciel felt his nightshirt shifting about his knees, feet dangling high above the ground; he pressed his nose into Sebastian's lapels, and let his eyes fall shut. And to his mind, he finished:
—this, and only this.
I give it all to you. I offer up my soul.
I know it's already over now.
Outside, the snow fell. Light and soft, little flurries just enough to blanket the ground outside the manor. The year was drawing to an end, the dawn of 1890 not even three weeks away; behind him were the sounds of cleaning, dishes stacking and rags sweeping. From out the open door and drifting up from over the balcony came the soft hum of the violins, and Elizabeth's voice carried with it, giggling and amiable. She'd had her eye on that blond musician since they'd stepped into the vestibule, and Ciel had smiled because that was good.
He hadn't wanted anything for this birthday, just some peace and quiet and maybe a game or two—chess might have been interesting, with Sebastian. But as it had happened, Lizzy had shown up—and from the townhouse, the Indian prince, with his manservant—and Lau, of course, with the girl always on his arm—and Ciel had had a feeling that Sebastian had been behind it all, smiling his curious smile.
The laughter of the guests—his fiancée, his friends—echoed up from over the balcony, and Ciel huffed a dainty breath, peering out into the falling snow. Past the reflection of Sebastian stacking the dessert dishes, fluttering white and a purple-gray sky, stars peeking through.
"Are you going to eat me tonight?"
The clink of dishes stopped, and Sebastian was silent at first, but Ciel felt his eyes—could see the startled look on his face and the way he peered at him, in the reflection on the windowpanes.
"Are you impatient, young master?" Sebastian whispered, and Ciel's eyes lowered; Sebastian's footsteps were soft and nearly inaudible on the carpeted floor. And then his presence, warm, buzzing on the air beside him.
"The means of our contract haven't been met just yet—" Sebastian began, but he fell quiet as Ciel's gaze cut over to meet his, dark and poignant. He licked his lips, relaxed into a tender smile, touched a hand to his master's shoulder and stooped down to brush a few rebellious strands of hair back behind his ear.
"It's your birthday, young sir," he whispered. "You're thinking too much, wanting to break a binding contract."
"I never said I wanted to give up." Ciel pressed his fingertips to the glass of the window, and the chill zipped down his arm. He sighed, faintly, felt Sebastian's reflected eyes on him, heavy and intense. "I was just seeing if you were getting restive, that's all."
"No, my lord. Although I'm hungry, you keep me satisfied enough."
Ciel's eyes flickered over to meet those of Sebastian's in his reflection, and he felt his brow knot before he could fully stop the frown from crossing his face. His chest tightened in a sensation a little bit foreign, a little bit unnerving, but somehow warm in its ache—and he drew his hand away from the window, fumbling with the ring on his thumb.
Sebastian drifted away to finish cleaning, and the snow fell. Ciel watched it, and every time laughter or voices rang louder than usual from down in the hall below, the tension in his chest moved lower and lower, pooling in his gut while a subtle ache struck up in his throat.
"I am a corrupted soul," he said, and his voice cut through the silence, sharper than the rattle of dish against silver. The wheels of the tray cart stopped squeaking as they moved from one end of the table to the other, and in the window, Ciel caught Sebastian's eye again. He smiled, curtly.
"Lizzy," he whispered. "My family, my friends. God. Nothing can change my course anymore. I've turned my back on it all—on life, on heaven—and I've done so voluntarily. A little lamb stained in red, throwing itself at a lion."
Sebastian shifted, laying his cleaning on the corner of the table. Out the door and over the balcony, in the vestibule, the hired violinists struck up Beethoven's Quasi Una Fantasia. How utterly trite.
"'O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable'," Ciel murmured, and turned slightly, grinning at the butler near the table. "Mrs. Rodkin has this horrible obsession with that childish play. She quotes it all the time."
Sebastian smiled, and it looked the most humanly troubled smile that had ever played across his pretty face.
"I sold my soul to a devil just to survive," Ciel whispered, fingers meeting the cool window again. He drummed them there, nails ticking against the glass. His smile faded, and he peered at Sebastian through his lashes. "...and I am his just as much as he is mine." He paused, licked his lips. Searched Sebastian's face from across the room, trying to decipher the look in his ruddy, unpredictable eyes. "...I'd die to know he feels this, too..."
"Young master, your mind is in very distressing places right now. Allow me to escort you downstairs, where you can get it off matters such as that—"
"No." His voice was brusque and clear in the room, and somehow, echoed by the sad cry of the violins, Sebastian's expression grew more and more startled, more and more concerned. Ciel glanced away, back out the window. The fluttering snow, his pinched face. He looked too young; he didn't like it.
"The contract," he murmured. "That is the rest of my life, and I wouldn't want it any other way. You, and our unholy sacrament, all of it. That's the rest of my 'life'."
There was a silence, the soul-stirring voices of the violins, and then Ciel turned and smiled at Sebastian again, meekly, lashes lowered on a blue eye that was raw, turbid with emotion. Sebastian peered back, brow furrowing and cherrywood eyes softening in another moment of rarity, of fallibility. Ciel's fingers trailed away from the window, leaving a few marks of warmth there. "Sebastian..."
Sebastian straightened, lifted his chin and regarded his master as engrained butler etiquette pulled him to do, but whatever fabricated formalities he'd accepted upon taking the title of butler dissipated, if only for a moment, in the way Ciel peered at him from across the room, the blue of his visible eye seeming to shatter into a million different shards of the color, little tears welling up upon his lashes even with a smile written across his lips. He drew in a breath, and even with the tears threatening to break away into the open, he looked regal and proud, and Sebastian smiled. Ciel's little lips parted, and he murmured:
"...I am not ashamed of that."
Theatre of all vanity, the hell for which I yearn:
wild and raging beneath my feet.