"Bocchan, it is time to wake up," I said as I pulled back the curtains and fastened them. I did this every morning, countless times, and in my memory, no two times were alike.
"Mmmph," my young master said, pulling the blankets over his head.
Ah, he was going to be difficult this morning. Well, I would play along for a little while, at least. "For breakfast this morning, we have a mushroom omelet accompanied by toast or scones. Which would you care for?" By this point I was pouring the cup of tea he had to have in order to function in the mornings.
"Mmmph," he said, not removing the blankets from his head.
Well, this was unusual. Normally, he wasn't so stubborn and by the time I poured tea he was ready to at least sit up and drink it. Tea would usually do the trick when even I could do nothing with him. "Young master?"
At last he sat up and I got a good look at him. His face was pale, there were dark circles under his eyes, and he looked as if his head pained him. The full force of his gaze settled on me. "Go away, Sebastian. I'm not ready to get up yet."
This was new. "But it is time to get up, master. Are you feeling all right?"
A pillow flew at my head, a mark of temper which was highly unusual for my young master. "I said go away! Have you lost your hearing?"
I dodged the pillow easily, caught it, and carried it back to the bed, placing a hand on my master's forehead. It was as I suspected. "You have a fever, young master. Why didn't you tell me you felt unwell?"
As if to settle the matter, he coughed. Hearing that cough I knew right away it was bronchitis, which could become something more serious if it was not taken care of and watched carefully. He had had it the previous autumn and I had received a crash course in human illness at the same time. "Lie back down, young master. I shall return." I left the cup of tea but took the tray away, mentally going over what I would have to do this morning and what appointments I would have to reschedule since my master was ill.
In my few years of serving my young master, I'd learned a great deal about humans. In my first month I made countless mistakes in my duties until I availed myself of the books in the library. From them I learned what a butler's duties were, how to cook, how to run a household and keep a house in order, and most important of all, how to properly watch after such a young master. Despite his early maturity, my master was still a child and children required different care from the adult masters I'd had before. The books that continued to be the most helpful to me in regards to my duties and my young master were Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management and Dr. Alcott's The Young Mother. Both books described the care of the house and children to such a degree that I had full confidence in them. I kept copies in the library, in my room, and in my office at all times. At the moment, I knew I needed to consult the chapters on illness in children and invalid cookery, so I hurried to my office to do the necessary reading. Twenty minutes later I was on my way to the telephone to reschedule certain appointments and to cancel others, as well as to give instructions to people who required them. Once that was done, I headed off to inform the other Phantomhive servants of the master's condition and the need for quiet as they went about their duties. It was a vain hope, I know, but it would not do for a Phantomhive butler to neglect the comfort of his master in any way.
By this point I knew my young master would wish a little something to eat, so I prepared shirred eggs, some toast, a small bowl of farina cereal, and a glass of hot lemonade. Whenever he was ill his appetite became almost non-existent, so a light meal like this was perfect. He would eat a good part of the eggs, some of the toast, complain about the farina, and drink the lemonade in one go, but he would be glad of the simple food. Anything richer would surely be a trial to his senses.
I knocked on his bedroom door and entered, carrying the tray with one hand. "How are you feeling, young master?" I asked as I approached the bed.
"Wretched," came the honest reply. "What is it?"
"Your breakfast, young master," I said lightly. "You should eat something even if you are ill. The body does better with fuel."
He sat up and shot me a look that said he was less-than-pleased at being disturbed, but even the Earl of Phantomhive could be reasonable at times. "Very well."
"First I'll have to take your temperature," I said, pulling the thermometer in its case out of my pocket. "Then you can eat."
He allowed me to take his temperature without arguing, which told me just how ill he was. He had no patience for sickness and all its attendant paraphernalia, so the fact that he didn't quibble about having his temperature taken was very telling. While the thermometer was a vast improvement in recent human medicine, it still took five minutes to register and during that time my master fidgeted and cast longing glances at the lemonade. Once the time was up I took the thermometer and handed him the lemonade as soon as he was done coughing.
"You have a moderate fever," I said, reading the thermometer. "Judging from your cough and general appearance, you'll be ill for a few days and at most, a week. I've cleared your schedule for the day so you can rest."
"That's fine," he said as I arranged the breakfast tray across his knees. "Thank you, Sebastian."
He was saying 'thank you'? He really was ill! I wondered if I should call the doctor…
My young master ate just as I thought he would and dropped back into his pillows as soon as I cleared the tray away. By the time I reached the door he had fallen back to sleep.
I went about my usual duties for the morning, every now and then pausing to look in on my young master. He slept most of the morning and quietly ate some of the soup I brought him at lunch and then after that he slept again. At about two o'clock I found him burning up and sent Finny for the doctor. Since Madame Red's death the house of Phantomhive had been availing itself of the services of a certain young doctor who was excellent in his work but terribly poor. Doctor Phillip Lewis was the best human doctor I'd seen in quite some time, and for a demon like myself, that's saying something. I arranged for him to have more than adequate lodgings and premises near the Phantomhive estate in addition to an adequate living stipend in exchange for his attendance on the young master. So far, the arrangement had proven most satisfactory.
Dr. Lewis arrived within the hour and completed his examination of the young master quickly. "It's as you thought, Sebastian," he said, putting his medical tools away. "Acute bronchitis, and according to what I'm seeing, the cause is viral. The most we can do for right now is to treat the symptoms and make him comfortable until the virus has run its course."
"And the fever?"
"That's the body fighting the virus," he explained. "On the Celsius scale, a fever just above thirty-seven degrees is normal for this illness. It's a slight increase in temperature, yes, but to the ill one and his caretakers, it feels significant. The fever should go away in a day or two, but if it does not, let me know. If the fever makes him uncomfortable, a cool wash and some willow tea will help it come down. Otherwise, have him drink these medicines as directed, and I'll stop by tomorrow to see how he feels."
I saw the doctor out, administered the master's first dose of medicine, and stayed with him until he went back to sleep. Dr. Lewis said that sleep was often the best medicine for someone who was ill and his advice had never steered us wrong before.
By supper time my master's fever had abated and he showed an appetite for the boeuf bourguigon and pain de compagne I brought him. I knew he was feeling more like himself when he asked for a book from the library. Illustrated Travels was a book that my master turned to whenever he was ill or fatigued to help him forget how he felt. I knew he liked to look at the pictures and I made a mental note to purchase a stereoscope for him. He'd mentioned obtaining one before and having one would give him something else to do while he was ill.
His distraction from the book didn't last long. Within an hour he rang for me and asked for a game of dominoes. We spent some time playing and once I noticed his becoming fatigued I suggested he settle himself in bed and I would read to him. I knew he was very tired indeed when he agreed to do as I suggested without a murmur. I read to him from one of Dickens' works until he fell asleep and I stayed by his bed, indulging myself by continuing to read about Pip and Miss Havisham. Books and the stories humans wrote often surprised me and I found reading to be a relaxing pastime. About midnight I finished the book and put things in order for the next morning before going to my room. There I spent a few blissful hours in the company of a few friends of mine-silky hair, petal-pink paws, golden eyes, and purring that made me thankful for the glory that is the feline form.
The next day progressed much as the day before it had. On my hands I had three incompetent servants, a long to-do list, and a master who was ill. That meant that today would be a challenge, but it was nothing that I couldn't handle. After all, what kind of butler would I be if I couldn't handle the challenges that my duties gave me?
At about ten o'clock (after three separate disasters in the laundry room, the kitchen and the garden, respectively) the bell at the front door rang. Outside was a messenger with a package, addressed to Ciel Phantomhive. I stood there in the entrance hall, examining the package. It came from Harrods and while it was frequented by my master I usually knew if he ordered something from the store. Most often, when he wanted to order something he asked me to do it for him.
"What is it, Sebastian?"
I looked up to see my master on the stairs, still in his nightclothes and wrapped up in a blanket.
"Should you be up, Bocchan?"
"I heard the bell, and I knew that no one was scheduled to come today, so I wondered what was going on," he said evenly as he approached me. "What is that?"
"I don't know," I confessed. "A messenger just delivered it from Harrods."
"Open it," he said, heading for the nearest chair.
I unwrapped the box and stared at the picture on the front of it. It was the latest stereoscope available on the market along with at least one hundred stereogram pictures.
"Young master, did you order this?"
He shook his head. "I did not. Am I to take it that you did not order it, even though I mentioned wanting one?"
"That was one of the tasks I intended to see to today," I answered. "I must admit that I'm surprised Harrods would send a single messenger all the way from Knightsbridge. Usually, any deliveries outside of London are done by their delivery wagons."
My master nodded. "That is unusual. Did the messenger say who sent it?"
"No, he did not," I admitted. "There is a card, however." I removed it from the wrappings and read it. For a moment, I was so perplexed that I didn't understand what I was seeing. Who would send my master such a message?
"What does it say?"
"It says, To my own little boy," I read. "There is no signature, but the package was addressed to you, young master."
He raised an eyebrow. "No signature?"
"None." I opened the box and removed the stereoscope and stereograms, examining them carefully. There were no contact poisons on any part of the items and there appeared to be nothing in any of the items that could be a cause for concern.
"Well?" he said, impatient.
"There is nothing wrong that I can find with any of this," I said. "I can't think who would send you something anonymously, at least not without including some type of clue."
"It doesn't make sense," he said thoughtfully. "Sebastian, I want you to find out who sent this and why. Do you understand?"
"Yes, my lord."
I did not leave right away, however. First, my duties dictated that I see my master back to bed and make sure that he took his medicine. I left a snack by his bedside and since there was nothing dangerous about the stereoscope, I left it with him so he could amuse himself while I was gone. I informed Finny, Bard, and Mey-Rin that I was leaving and that it would be up to them to protect the manor. While they were somewhat hopeless as a gardener, cook, and housemaid, they were excellent fighters and I knew that I could entrust the young master's safety to them while I was not there.
It took me the better part of an hour to get to London, make inquiries, locate the messenger, and question him. The stereoscope had been purchased at Harrods and was in their purchase booklet, but the messenger told me that he'd been approached by a stranger and asked to deliver a package to the Phantomhive estate in exchange for ten pounds. That was a princely sum for a messenger and the boy pounced on the chance. He didn't know who the man was who approached him and the boy's description could have been of any middle-class professional in London.
I asked the boy to contact the Phantomhive household should he remember anything else or if the man contacted him again. I returned to the house and reported straight to my master. I found him precisely where I'd left him, the stereograms scattered about on his bedspread and the stereoscope still in his hand, and he was deeply asleep. I put the stereoscope away and tidied up before going downstairs and preparing lunch. My master woke up long enough to eat most of his meal and to ask what results my investigations had had, and it galled me to admit temporary defeat.
"It doesn't surprise me," he said. "Whoever went through so much trouble to send me an anonymous package would surely not be so stupid as to give the messenger his name."
"That is true, young master. However, I was hoping that luck would be on our side this time."
"We can't be lucky all the time," he said flatly. "Just keep your eyes and ears open. Whoever it is will eventually slip up and do something to reveal himself."
"Of course," I said with a slight bow. "Do you require anything, master?"
"Not at the moment," he said, settling back in his pillows. "I'll ring if I need anything."
"Very good, sir. I shall return to my duties now."
Over the next few days, the mystery of the stereoscope remained unsolved, to my great irritation. However, there were things to distract my attention. Lady Frances Middleford and Lady Elizabeth paid a visit to cheer up the young master, so I had to extend the usual Phantomhive hospitality while they were there. Others stopped by, certain social and business acquaintances who wished my master a speedy recovery. Prince Soma and Agni also arrived, much to my master's chagrin, but he felt too ill to complain much about their presence. Instead, he asked Soma to play draughts with him and then later to read aloud to him. With Soma and the young master occupied, Agni and I were able to pursue our duties.
A butler's work is never done. No one's job starts earlier and no one's job ends later. Every day I had duties to fulfill. I spent the early morning ironing my master's newspaper (it would not do for it to be creased or wrinkled) preparing his tea and breakfast, setting out his clothes, helping him dress, and later in the day supervising his schedule, seeing to the silver and the wine cellar, supervising the other servants, setting each room in order, guiding my master through his lessons, looking over the household inventories and expenses, preparing the lunch, tea, and dinner, preparing my master's evening bath, fetching his night clothes, and then seeing him to bed before I closed up the house for the night. When he was ill I had to greet and escort callers, provide refreshments, prepare special dishes, ensure he rested, administer his medicine, and when it was called for, distract and entertain him.
"How is the earl doing?" Agni asked. He and I were in the kitchen, seeing to the silver.
"He dislikes being ill," I told him. "I've noticed quite a change in him since he became ill, too."
"In what way?"
"He thanked me the other morning, and he's ceased arguing with me," I clarified. "Normally, his thanks are rare and arguments with him are legion." I couldn't resist that little pun. Legion.
"Ah, children like to argue," Agni said. "They feel it gives them some measure of control in a world run by adults."
"Sometimes, the fact that my master is still a child surprises me," I confessed. "Most of the time he behaves like an adult, but then he'll do something child-like and I'll be taken by surprise."
Agni chuckled. "I don't doubt it. What does he do that surprises you the most?"
"He has a terrible weakness for sweets. Last month he raided the larder for chocolate and ate an entire box of filled chocolates before I discovered what he'd done. The stomach ache he had that night has deterred any further raids for the time being, but I'm sure that one day I'll come down here and find not a single sweet in the house." I didn't need to say that he was up most of the night with a stomach ache cursing how much discomfort a box of chocolates could cause and I didn't need to add that I hadn't scolded my master; I'd just reminded him that that was why he shouldn't sneak snacks. The look he'd shot me was pure venom, but he and I both knew I was right.
Agni glanced at me, clearly amused. "Anything else?"
"If work has to do with the Funtom company, then he can't wait to get started, but if his work is his school lessons, then I have to cajole or bargain with him," I confided. "I don't think there would be much difference between the two. After all, they're both duties he has to perform."
"I think there's a big difference for children about work they want to do and work they have to do," Agni suggested. "If he enjoys his work for the Funtom company, then it's no surprise that he would prefer that to his lessons."
"I can't tell whether or not to let him off lessons while he's ill," I said. "What do you think, Agni?"
"It's best not to insist on lessons while he's ill," Agni told me. "After all, he can't really concentrate for very long, can he?"
A friend was one thing I never thought to have, and certainly not a human friend. The fact that my human friend was also a butler with a fractious master gave me a chance to indulge myself and him with a little gossip about our masters. Demon or human, all individuals enjoy a good gossip from time to time, especially when they had a duty to perform that took only their hands to complete.
By the time we took afternoon tea up to our masters, Soma had finished the previous book and was busy acting out all the parts of a Shakespeare play. My master was watching and he looked amused, but I couldn't tell if it was because Prince Soma was making such a hash out of the play or if it was genuinely amusing. Certain aspects of human humor continued to elude me. Both of them were glad enough to put the play aside and have tea.
"This is one refreshing ritual of England that I like," Prince Soma said, taking his seat for tea.
"I don't think we English could survive without it," my master said. "More business is done in tea houses than in offices, I think. Without tea in front of them, most businessmen would behave like barbarians."
"It's a good thing they have tea, then," Prince Soma answered. "How are you feeling?"
"About the same, but my headache's gone."
"That is good, young master," I said, preparing his tea-time dose of medicine. "How does your throat feel?"
"Not its best, I'm afraid." He took the medicine from me and swallowed it without a complaint. "At least these potions of Lewis's are effective. Otherwise, I wouldn't take them. Did our factory in Yorkshire send those reports I requested?"
This last was addressed to me. If he was in no condition for even his school lessons, then he was in no condition for his work. "The reports arrived this morning."
He glared at me. "Why didn't you bring them to me straightaway?"
"With respect, young master, you are ill," I reminded him. "I took the liberty of looking them over, and there's nothing that needs your immediate attention."
He looked as if he would like to hurl his teacup at my head. "Sebastian, if I request reports then-"
"Sebastian's right, Ciel," Soma interrupted.
The full force of my master's temper turned on Prince Soma. "What?"
"He's right," Soma insisted. "You're ill and you need to rest, not fuss over business matters. You know Sebastian's capable of taking care of those things for you while you're ill, so why not let him? You don't have to argue about it, and I'm sure it'll save you both a headache if you just let him carry on as he's been doing. You'll have time enough later to do all the business fussing you need once you're better."
If I had been a human, I would have hugged Prince Soma. He'd grown up quite a bit since I'd first known him and it looked like he'd finally gotten some sense. Wonderful!
I could tell my master was thinking about what had been said and I knew that victory had been achieved when he laid back in his pillows and tsked. "I suppose you're right."
I stared at him in shock. Either he was deathly ill, or he was actually becoming reasonable. Either scenario was equally unbelievable.
"Oh, quit staring!" he snapped. "He's right, Sebastian, now stop looking as if I've lost my mind!"
Of all things I'd considered, that had not been one of them...
The bell at the front door rang, bringing me out of my thoughts. "I'll see to that," I said, bowing. "Please excuse me."
I was glad of a chance to think about this change in my young master. Could it be that he was...well, was he growing up? I'd read that children began to shed their childish attitudes and reactions as they got older, so was his admitting that Prince Soma was right a sign of this?
I reached the front door and opened it. "Yes?"
"Delivery for the Earl Phantomhive."
I stared at the boy standing on the front steps-didn't he know that deliveries were to be made to the back door? Then again, the last delivery we'd had...Hmmm. "I'll take it," I said. "Who sent it?"
"Dunno, guv," the boy said, marking himself as a resident of London's poorer neighborhoods. "Gen'mun offered me ten quid to bring this out, so 'ere I am."
"What did this gentleman look like?"
He hesitated as if unsure he should tell me.
"There's another five pounds in it for you if you can tell me," I coaxed. "We would like to thank him."
That did it. When all else failed, money was what talked. I could tell by the gleam in the boy's eye.
"'E was a nondescript gen'mun," he said. "Looked like 'e'd fade away if you didn't know 'e was there. Tall, dark-haired, dark pricey togs. Nothin' special, really. Had a pocket-watch like yours."
Well, that was helpful. Those criteria described half-a-million men in London alone. I thanked the boy, gave him the promised five pounds, and took the package. Immediately I checked it, but all that was inside the brown wrapping paper were three books and a card. The three books were new publications that my master had been looking forward to reading, and on the card were the words I expected to find:
"To my own little boy."
A/N: A stereoscope is like an early viewfinder and allowed people to see pictures or stereograms in 3-D.