Author's Note: $%#&ING HECK, I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS. XD;
Warnings: CielxFemale!Sebastian. Character death. Gore and squickness (NO, REALLY). Sex. Not chronological. Sequel to "Paradigm."
On December 28th, 1893, just after serving the Assam tea and petite fours that welcome in the tolling of eleven, Sebastine locks herself in her bedroom and does not come out.
Ciel is in his library at the time, enjoying a rare moment of leisure with a well-worn novel for company. Elizabeth is visiting her mother, and Tanaka is taking care of company business, leaving the young earl with nothing to worry about but his own frivolous pursuits. Or so he thinks. But as the head chef and gardener wander past outside the door, speaking in a concerned hush about the peculiar behavior of the maid, Ciel realizes that an afternoon of relaxation is not to be.
His fingers clench tightly around his book, knuckles white beneath the black of decorative leather gloves.
The Phantomhive manor is fit to burst with people. Stewards and grounds keepers, cooks and cleaners, nannies and visitors and who-knows-who-else. Young and old, saggy and fit, sweet and sour and so entirely similar, the earl has a hard time keeping track of them all.
So if there is one less person trimming the hedges outside, or cleaning away his dirty plates after a meal, Ciel doesn't really notice.
"She's simply too precious!"
"Oh, if she isn't the sweetest thing!"
"She looks just like her mother, doesn't she?"
"Do you really think?" Lizzie coos, voice full of modest doubt, even as her rouged cheeks flush a fetching shade of strawberry in unspoken agreement. The cherub bundle in the lady's arms burbles absently as the blonde titters with her girlfriends, all of whom have come to fondle and fuss over the newly birthed creature.
Ciel watches the throng from the nursery doorway, bathed in the blackness that clings, parasitic, to the lengthening light of sunset.
And yes, he thinks, little Lenore looks exactly like her mother— perfect porcelain skin, soft button nose, pretty pouting lips and silken, crow-black hair. But—
"But she has her daddy's eyes, doesn't she?" Elizabeth sings, bouncing the babe and lovingly readjusting the ruffles of her bitty pink bonnet. "Yes, you do, don't you, love?"
Lenore— as if in reply— flutters her long, butterfly lashes, and the middle-aged matrons squeal and sigh over the baby's blue-diamond irises. How they glisten like sapphires, how they sparkle like the sea. How grand it is, really, that they can finally appreciate a matching set of such gems… if the earl will pardon their callous joke. And as they push and shove and strain for the child— me next, ooo, Lizzie, please, me next— they sound like magpies fighting over something shiny, and the sound grates on the last, shorn threads of Ciel's nerves.
"Dear heart, look here! Yes, look at your auntie!"
"Oh, Elizabeth, she is simply the loveliest little moppet…"
"Now, now, you've all had your turn," the earless pacifies, though obviously pleased with the vigor of her friends. And how very much like a woman she is, in that moment: happy to flaunt but not willing to share. Humans are cruel, stupid creatures. "Besides, I think my husband has waited long enough, don't you?"
As one, the gathering turns to face Ciel, playful and jovial and patient and yes, they've always been idiots, haven't they? The whole lot of them. And so it shouldn't surprise him that they fail to realize the truth… Fail to see Lenore's real face, fail to notice the spell that she's cast, fail to so much as question how this baby came to be, when Elizabeth has never once been pregnant.
"…Ciel?" Lizzie prompts, blissful smile faltering a fraction as the silence persists— heavy and dark as the gloom that masks the earl's pinched face. Her arms are half-extended, still wrapped affectionately around the tiny monster that watches the world with his eyes. "Did you want to hold your daughter for a while?"
His answer is a small step backwards, a faux smile and an uplifted palm.
"Perhaps when your guests have had their fill."
"`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'"
Sebastine pushes sweat-soaked bangs from her clammy face, chest heaving and shoulders shaking and birth-stained bed a mess, but her voice is calm and steady and laughing as she whispers in his ear:
"Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'"
While she isn't personally fond of the girl (though, to be fair, she can't quite put her finger on why), Elizabeth assigns Ciel's favorite servant to the task of caring for their daughter. After all, if Ciel trusts her, then there is no reason why Lizzie shouldn't, too.
Sebastine curtsies politely and thanks her mistress for the honor, and oh, isn't the bitty angel ever so darling? And she simpers, and she coddles, and she plays the perfect part… but all the while, Ciel can feel the devil smiling, sneering, smirking, just beneath her flesh— snickers bubbling like boils and blisters and spreading like an infection, contaminating his own body.
He twitches in his winged armchair, feeling invisible feathers teasing up and down the length of his spine.
It first comes to Ciel's attention when, one not-so-unusual morning, his butler fails to wake him.
This is not an unusual occurrence, all things considered— his butler is an excellent marksman, but poor in nearly every other aspect of life. His mind (everyone knows) is as dull as his reddish-brown hair, and his head as thick as the glasses he wears. And so, at first, Ciel thinks nothing of it. Well, nothing more than the usual barrage of angry remarks…
But when he attempts to seek out his manservant and share these angry remarks with him, he discovers that the butler is nowhere to be found. Not in his room, not in the kitchens, not in the yard, not in the study… Baffled, Ciel is eventually reduced to asking other members of the house staff, but their answers are equally useless. Though, now that you mention it, young master— they add, brows furrowing in almost painful-looking thought— I haven't seen so-and-so around for a while, either.
Or old such-in-such.
That's true, ain't it? Ol' such-in-such, also.
And Ciel is given a list of other absentee servants, all of whom he promptly forgets. The "who"s are hardly important, anyway—it's the "what" that bothers him. For the final detail he can scrounge (from the gardener, who claims that he still isn't sure if this part was a dream) is that the foolish butler had been last-seen stumbling into the snare of the sultry Sebastine. Half-lifted skirt and come-hither eyes and knotted, twined arms as they tumbled back into her bedroom…
And for the first time in nearly eight years, Ciel is truly scared.
"You are such a… a cruel father, young master… hnn…"
Prone on the cushions of the blood-colored divan, Ciel half-raises the arm he's draped over his face; the burning, straining, licking shadows that reach from the reanimated coals of the fireplace blanket their midnight rendezvous in shades of monochrome. White skin, black skirt, white teeth, black gaze… And the flames in the grate pulse in time with the maid's grind-pump-pounding— spark along with the flare of her otherworldly eyes. And oh, her vermillion stare is brighter than the blaze, redder than the couch, hotter than her core, and it is nearly enough to send him over the edge…
The prostrate earl grunts (groans) at the comment, and thinks he might scoff if he wasn't so busy clamping down on his bottom lip, forcibly silencing himself. But the sentiment is there and the maid understands it— always understands it. Her response is a giggle and a purr— an avian cackle laced into the sound as she rakes pointed talons down the crumpled frills of his shirt, nearly wrenching off his opal buttons.
"'Why'…?" the demon breathes, sinister and low. He can taste grounded cinnamon in the lilt of her taunt— candied spice and bitter sugar that coats the saccharine rot of her soul. "Because you are cheating on your daughter's mother… of course…"
The wheedled words linger, becoming plumes of smoke in the study air.
Ciel half-opens his left eye. Lashes flutter, gaze narrows.
And then— in an unanticipated display of speed— the earl flips his servant over, ramming her straight into the settee. Springs squeak, arms flail, clothing rustles; moist temples collide and pink-tinged chests meet with sweetly-slick slaps as the master whispers into the devil's moaning mouth:
"No, I'm not."
The sickly crack of flesh on flesh reverberates like thunder, lightning-fast and following a rain of stomach acid. Dribbles of blood drip from the tips of Ciel's bony fingers; pearling, pealing, plunging. And he knows—with another roll of his belly—that not all of it is the demon's.
"…this is one fucked up game you're playing, Sebastine," the disgusted earl hisses, and his breathy voice is hoarse with shudders of terror and remnants of bile. Acerbic, like his glower. Soft, like her skin. Cold, like the mess of innards that the maid still sits in, head lolled to the left as her china cheek bruises.
In response, the devil leisurely licks her ruby lips— tasting, testing, thinking. Swallowing. With her irises half-hidden beneath the arc of her lashes, she lazily lifts her angled chin… and the gaze the maid shoots her master is the same ruddy color as the liquid splattered along her forehead and throat.
"What a callous young master I serve," she then lightly laments, pushing away unbound, tangled locks of matted ebony. When her hand brushes against her temple, it leaves a rainbow streak of fluid. "First he hits me for following his orders, then he ignores me for five months, and now this…?" The half-bare servant sighs as she rolls her neck, allowing her ruined slip to inch alluringly down the curve of her snowy shoulder. "Ruthless, really. Ah, what a plight…"
Her sardonic sorrow is silenced by another deafening smack, and her head snaps to the right with a flurry of feathery tresses.
Looming above the gratuitous gore, Ciel is visibly quaking with rage. Twitching palm half-raised, sucking in shallow gasps, he chokes down vomit and spits out acid. "You lying bitch," he growls, and it takes every ounce of his self-control not to kick the prone demon, as well— lying there, lounging there, with her arms wrapped lazily around her bulging belly— "You swore to eat no one but me. Your actions are in direct violation of our Contract!"
"Our Contract…?" Sebastine glances upward, watching her tamer's expression change through the curtain of her bangs. After a pause, understanding flits across her cherry-stained visage, and the devil giggles as she brings a piece of— of something unmentionable— to her mouth. A grin, a lick, a flash of delicate fangs… and when she bites down on it— ripping through skin and meat like he would the leg of a chicken— Ciel suddenly re-remembers a human's true place on the food chain. "Young master, you misunderstand. I am not the one eating these unworthy souls. Or should I say, the nutrition I seek is not for myself…"
The maid gulps down a final bite with obvious relish, lapping at dainty, dirty digits like a kitten or a child. All the while, her eyes remain locked with his, and the intimacy of the moment is enough to… to… "After all," Sebastine says airily, free hand rubbing, rubbing, rubbing at the round of her growing belly, "as a servant of Phantomhive, it is only natural that I should wish to properly care for my young master's heir."
Another lovely leer, decorated with ivory glints of saliva-slickened incisors. "Perhaps I'll have some lady fingers for dessert," the maid coos, sucking her own with a sensual sneer. And Ciel isn't certain if this is a sick joke or an actual desire, and it doesn't really matter because he didn't know how to react to anything else, anyway, so he does the only thing he can think of—the only thing that seems appropriate— and whips out his arm for a third swing at the creature—
But this time, Sebastine catches his wrist. Without looking, without feinting… seemingly without moving. With no more effort than he would exert to bat away a butterfly.
"I fail to see what you are so utterly incensed about," the demon comments coolly— though there is something lingering just-beneath the serene veneer of her tone, something swirling and snarling and sinful. Something that makes his blood run ice-cold, so obvious is its warning: if you hit me one more time, young master, you will regret it. The monster that lurks within the maid… "I made certain not to sup on anyone important."
Sebastine tilts her petite chin, looking cheerfully upward. Her alabaster face is a painter's pallet of color and polish, battered and bloody but still, so inhumanly beautiful…
"But if the young master has an objection to my previous selections…"
The fist that tenderly breaks his brittle bones is slowly slipping outward, waxy hand unfolding like an Easter lily— lacing through his own clammy fingers like a Venus Fly Trap.
" …perhaps he would like to feed his pet himself?"
Ciel's knees hit the floor with tiny twin splashes, falling forward and into her wide, waiting arms. And her back meets the floor, and his mouth longs for hers, and the slip and the slide is secondary to the tangling and toppling and thrusting and taking.
And when her lips move to devour him, the earl can no longer remember why he should protest.
"Why don't… why don't they realize... I mean, they never even noticed when you were… that is, why does Lizzie believe that…?"
"So many fragmented thoughts, young master! Careful, lest fellow gentry begin to question your upbringing."
"Shut up and answer the question. Questions. You know what I mean."
"Indeed. If I may take the liberty, then, to answer in a similar fashion: would the young master prefer that the world know who and what little Lenore is? That can most certainly be arran—"
"No. No, I… I just don't understand. Why am I the only one who can see the truth?"
"Humans are weak-willed creatures, my lord. Surely you must have realized by now…? They tend only to see what they wish to, and believe solely in that."
"So because I wish to see the truth, I am the only one who sees it..."
"But what good is truth, I wonder?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Truths and lies are relative, young master. As contextual, fleeting, and worthless as the fragile, winsome tot your wife wrongly thinks that she birthed. It is not the truth you should wish to see, but reality."
"And what is that reality, then? Between you and me? Between us and Lenore?"
"You and that damned smile…"
"Do you wish to see me without it?"
"I wish to see reality. I wish to see the real you."
"And someday, I promise, you will."
Tea pot in one hand and upper hip in the other, Sebastine straightens from her half-bow with a whisper of amusement, gaze drifting to her stomach. Beneath the veils of her petticoats, gown, and apron, the swell almost seems to be wriggling… The maid smiles as her eyes flick to her dull-faced master, reading the newspaper on the chafe in the lounge.
"The baby has grown ever-so active, as of late," the devil comments glibly, handing her tamer his gateau and milky chai. "Even more so, when the young master is near."
Ciel's only response is a muffled grumble, dismissive and curt as he pointedly ignores the presence of the maid. Sheaves of graying paper rustle, serenading the chime-bright tinkle of a floral cup being plucked from its saucer.
Sebastine levels her lord a sideways glance, round pupils waning and doe-brown eyes bleeding scarlet mirth. "Would the young master care to feel for himself?" she offers pleasantly, a tease in her tone as she touches the back of his tea-free hand.
A jolt races through him, electric and immediate. At the risk of spilling his steaming beverage, the young man yanks bodily away— features twisted and contorted in revulsion. "Of course not," he gripes, all but shrinking from his servant's looming presence. "Don't be ridiculous."
The air chills.
And the maid smirks, allowing her lingering fingers to drop limply to her side. "As you say," she murmurs blandly, dipping into a brief, obsequious curtsey. Then she turns away, scarcely making another sound: gathering the remnants of elevens and pushing her silver trolley to the door. But as her hand falls upon the shining brass doorknob—
Sebastine pauses. Turns her head. Arches an eyebrow. It is an expression that Ciel does not see, for he has yet to pull his face out from between the ink-stained articles that curtain and cave him. But his right hand is raised, long finger beckoning, and his poorly-hidden cheeks seem a faint shade pinker than before.
"You have something on your apron," the earl mutters darkly, tapping his foot in a show of (embarrassment) impatience. "Come here. I'll brush it off for you."
Lenore is now six weeks, six days, and six hours old. She has been crying incessantly for the latter two sixes.
"What's the matter, little one? Oh, tell mummy what's wrong, do…" Lizzie keens, tears bubbling in the corners of her own weary eyes as she rocks and cradles and bounces the unhappy babe, pacing back and forth through the ribbon-laden nursery. Wholly desperate, mother-heart breaking, the lady has spent a fortune on physicians and consultants, new nannies and toys. Nothing seems to help, and Lenore's sobbing intensifies.
"Do you think its colic?" an anxious Elizabeth asks her husband over supper, so concerned that she's barely touched her food. On her gilded plate, a chunk of cooling chicken sits uneaten; upon his own dish, its mate is waiting to be consumed. But Ciel, too, is having trouble forcing himself to partake in the meal… and while the problem— memories— also relate to Lenore, his musings are not nearly as altruistic. "Or could she, perhaps, be ill? The doctors didn't seem to think so, but… but this just isn't normal! I'm so worried! You don't think its plague, do you? It couldn't possibly be… or consumption. Oh, God forbid! My poor baby!"
Thin hands (thinner even than they'd been a week prior) clasp before her shuddering breast, and Lizzie weeps— the tepid torrents adding gloss and shine to the purple bags beneath her sleep-deprived eyes. Eyes that, a second later, are as wide as still-full dinner plates— a reaction to the lace-gloved hand that lands upon the foppery of her shoulder, elegant and reassuring. Elizabeth jumps, head jolting upright… and she is so shocked by the sight of the gently smiling Sebastine, she forgets to reprimand the maid for her impudence.
"There there," the raven-haired servant comforts, words as warm and sweet as fresh honey. "I am certain it is nothing quite so dire. Perhaps the young mistress is simply hungry…"
It takes a moment for the words to register in the lady's startled mind, but when they do they are met with barefaced irritation. "Hungry?" Lizzie echoes, and her palpable contempt is a testament to how close she is to her wit's end. "Don't be absurd! You speak as if I don't feed my own daughter! Hungry! I've rarely heard anything so stupid, especially from you…"
She pulls herself away from the comfort of the maid, grumbling and sniffling and wondering aloud. And while Sebastine does not press the subject further, she does cast her young master a pointed, wily stare… one that twists his stomach into such tight knots, Ciel half-wonders if he'll ever be able to eat again.
"Is there something wrong with Sebastine?"
Ciel graces his wife with a curious glance, watching as she brushes her loose, golden curls. "Why do you ask?" he drones, trying to mask the quavered notes of fear-guilt-anxiety that worm and writhe beneath the gruffness of his response. But then, the earl has started to think that—maybe— the condition that is so apparent to him is somehow a mystery to the rest of the world. Lizzie cannot see the devil in the maid—perhaps she cannot see the child within her, either?
From the way that Elizabeth shrugs, it would appear so.
"I don't know," the lady murmurs, airy voice colored by a begrudging sort of concern. "She just seems to be clutching her back and stomach increasingly more often, as of late. I thought, maybe, she might be sick. Or that she'd hurt herself. You do overwork the poor thing."
For a full minute, Ciel says nothing. But when his wife's prying stare intensifies, he shakes his head dismissively and twists away. "I think it's a digestion problem, or something," he mumbles vaguely, and is thankful when Lizzie lets the subject drop. After all, the earless adds, their plans for the night do not concern the maid…
(Or so she believes.)
When Elizabeth can think of nothing else to try, she sings Lenore a lullaby. It is a lilting song, soft and raspy in the wake of so much liquid frustration. But still, it is pretty, and it is soothing, and Lizzie tricks herself into thinking that the child is actually listening, even as she squirms within her bed.
"…I wish I knew how to help you, love," the young woman eventually hiccups, resting her exhausted head against the lip of the wooden cradle. She is tired, so tired, and Lenore shows no signs of improvement. The utter helplessness Elizabeth feels, the way her insides squeeze and shatter—God, if she could take the baby's pain onto herself, she would. In an instant. Without thinking. She almost wants to die.
A single, pallid finger drifts into the crib's gloomy recesses, tracing the rosy curve of a plump, porcelain cheek. Instantly, her flesh is coated in heated salt and slippery spittle.
"Oh, Lenore…" Lizzie sighs, sniffling. "Darling, I'd sell my soul to make you feel better…" She means it, she really does. Though it's not as if that will help anything… and knowing this only serves to worsen the lady's mood. Feeling small, desolate, and totally powerless— her fervent wish still hanging in the air, twisting and spinning like the baby's colored mobiles— the weary blonde leans mechanically forward and kisses the child goodnight.
And she is so distracted by her own thoughts, Elizabeth somehow fails to notice that—for the first time in nearly two weeks— the sound of bawling has fallen away.
"What will it be?"
"Whatever is my young master talking about, I wonder?"
"You know perfectly well. What will it be? A… a human? A devil? Some mutant?"
"I suppose that would depend upon a person's definition of 'human' or 'devil' or 'mutant.'"
"I am not in the mood for your word games, Sebastine."
"I assure you, young master, that I am answering your inquiries with the gravest of sincerity."
"Fine then. If you insist on being petulant… tell me, at least, what it will eat."
"What a silly question. Food, of course."
"But how do you define 'food'?"
"Ah… my lord is learning."
The following morning, Lady Elizabeth does not wake up.