A/N: Demon anatomy. I had fun. Which is to say – I completely made it up. I have no idea what Toboso-sensei's demons are made of (there's nothing about it in canon, iirc; there was only something about their feeding habits mentioned in some off-hand source by her – Black Tabloid or her interview, I honestly can't remember; maybe her interview in Black Tabloid?), so I used my personal demon theory here. Demonic hierarchy? I also made up, for the most part.
Also, made-up words. I have them in here. Since "paradisial" isn't a word, as far as I know. Neither is "firstreborn" or "firstfallen". (And the day I stop writing "soul" as "sould" – and I just did it again and had to edit – in Kuroshituji fic will be a glorious day indeed. Which is to say – it isn't today.)
Ghost of a Rose
The sanctuary of all dead stars
In my head there's only you now;
This world falls on me.
In this world there's real and make-believe;
This seems real to me.
Let Me Go – Three Doors Down
Sebastian doesn't see Hannah for what is probably several weeks, though he catches sight of her new servants a few times as they pass through, scurrying about on some errand or another. (Time has no value for a demon. Ten years are the same as one hundred.) They are no different than him, those little pawns of Hannah – not by much – but at the same time they are far above his level. They are not bound to a former human – they serve a demon mistress of their own will and not because of a contract gone horribly, terribly wrong.
Sebastian has all the reasons to kill Hannah, to finish what he started on that collapsing cliff on the demon island where he fought his final battle with Claude Faustus as a free demon. (Yes, he might have been bound in a contract at the time, but he was still free and about to devour his carefully seasoned meal and move onward in search of a new one.) Yet at the same time he is in no rush to do so, for he has realised one thing – Ciel didn't become a full-fledged demon straight away because Hannah still lived. Ciel is only gradually transforming into his final form because Hannah still lives, because she did not die when the island sank to the bottom of the sea. He didn't kill Hannah when she asked him to do it, to complete the cycle and receive his reward. (He had no time to go after her when he had to go after his useless little master whom he couldn't devour – fast, faster, just in case Hannah's words were just a bluff, just another piece of a demon's truth with no weight or meaning.) Hannah's life has given him time, though he sees no value in it. What use of time is there when you have no means of reversing changes brought on by another demon? There are some things that cannot be undone, some actions that cannot be rendered futile, and some words that cannot be taken back once spoken. That's why demons lie so much – just in case something unchangeable slips out by accident. They hide behind deceit and incomplete realities to make things all the more believable. They follow a code of their own, and it has limitations of its own, and it cannot be undone, sometimes. Words hold power; all demons know this. That's why they hide behind names given to them by humans; that's why they introduce themselves as a Legion of Darkness, a Legion which has no name or face except for that one of a moving, shifting, black mass, eager to swallow everything in its path. That's why they take on new names and never, never give out their own. That's why they let people call them what they may, because a name once called out will bind them. A name let out carelessly will keep them chained. Much like he is chained now by what has become his name for an eternity. These shackles cannot be simply shaken off, not anymore; and perhaps not by his own will. (He isn't entirely certain yet, but…)
Sebastian waits on his hungry little master, with idle talk and demonic nonsense trying to ease his mind, which doesn't rest lately. Ciel hasn't had a decent meal for a while now – somehow nobody seems to need a contract with a demon in this century – and no matter whom Ciel tries to approach, everything falls through.
(Hannah, on the other hand, is currently in a contract – Sebastian has seen her servants in new uniforms.)
If Sebastian closes his eyes and retreats into himself the way he used to do before Ciel Phantomhive, when he was only concerned with finding the next meal and making it more supreme than the previous one, that was how he found those in need. He can hear some of them even now – the skill hasn't disappeared anywhere. In fact, it has become sharper now because he is constantly starving, and when he grows tired of his own rehashed thoughts and reminiscing, their voices enter his head uncalled and uninvited and cry out and howl from gutters and soft-pillow beds alike. Oh, he wouldn't be picky now! He'd take that one, and that one, and oh, that young lady was truly promising, and that elderly man would have a richly-flavoured soul with that tang of bitterness which Sebastian had held in such high esteem once upon a time. He doesn't point out any of these poor souls to his little master; he hasn't been ordered to. And his little master insists on handpicking his own meals anyway, sampling them scrupulously and seasoning them to his still unrefined tastes. Sebastian observes him from the sidelines and cannot help but scorn at how messy and sloppy his little master is – like a human infant tossing half of the bland porridge out of the bowl instead of stuffing it in the mouth. Truly disgusting. But his little master is proud and will not ask for his aid or guidance, not anymore. (A stray order here and there, maybe.) And so Sebastian watches him and suffers in silence, alone with his little secret, and agonises over the options he could have taken if only…
But he isn't going to reveal all of his secrets to his little master. He will not show all of his trumps, and he does still have a handful, even if he cannot use them. What would have been a one-hit-kill for a human, does nothing for a demon, even if still as inexperienced as Ciel Phantomhive. Sebastian has centuries of experience behind him. Centuries of observation and silent perfection of his own skill which – it seems – he will never use again. Not while he has a little master with eyes burning like hellfire itself and a constantly dwindling need for sleep and prolonged rest. Ciel has grown strong, even if he doesn't yet know how to fully utilise that power, but he is no fool and he will get there eventually. Perhaps sooner than Sebastian expects, he estimates ruefully and with a tiniest hint of despair. (The emotions of the humans he has devoured in the past must be having a field day inside of him; that's how weak he has become, that's how strongly they are taking him over these days.)
Emotions are raw essences, he assumes, and they are insubstantial enough to be left behind once the soul has been digested, assimilated in the demon's version of blood and reworked into a substance that melds well with the demonic being and substitutes the necessary basis to become visible in the human world. Because demons are beings of ether, plasma, and black matter, just as angels are made of ether and light. Black matter draws and coils around pulsating plasma to give form, and ether keeps it together, keeps it sentient, if you will, but even then, it's nothing but shifting shadows and vague forms which change easily. To become visible to a human, one has to build the basis for such a transformation, and not many can do so. One needs a considerable amount of will to give form to what is, essentially, nothingness. And insubstantial things like emotions cannot be digested: they remain caught in the ether or maybe the black matter – Sebastian hasn't yet figured out which one exactly, though he supposes they both play a role in storing the debris of human souls – and they accumulate and fester there. Though, truth be told, those emotions still clinging to souls in the process of being ripped from the human bodies are minuscule and weak. Defeat is the strongest damper on all of them – and Sebastian had always, always made sure that his meals would be broken and desperate, and defeated at the very end. He made them submit to their impending fate with quiet acceptance and then no strong emotions usually shined through. (Exceptions existed, of course – just take Hannah for example.)
This is how Sebastian tries to rationalise his hunger and his ability to still hear the voices – they compel him, they beg him, they cry for him, pleading to desperation for him to come and liberate them. To come and devour them. And he stands there with his head bowed and his shoulders slightly sagging because he cannot, shall not, will not. He will only feed when his little master wills him to and he will run about doing errands and waiting on anyone his little master designates as his new charge. (Sebastian hates hell even if he lives in one, even if he was born in one.) He has eyes only for one thing – that dwindling human soul which is barely human anymore. The sun is setting; the last rays of hope are disappearing behind the horizon one by one, and when the night comes, it is pitch black and there are no stars to light it up.
Ciel is irate and restless. Hungry. Enough so to slip up (just a little bit).
"What do you do at times like these?" he mutters absent-mindedly after receiving another refusal. He hasn't aimed this question at anyone in particular, and he hasn't intended for Sebastian to overhear it. (But faithful butlers – they are always just a step behind their master, and always, always on top of everything.)
"Wait," Sebastian replies without thinking, though it's not the truth and he won't point out the obvious because Ciel should already know; should, at least, remember. "Wait until one of them gives in."
He doesn't remind him of Claude Faustus who used a little lie to get his way. He doesn't remind him of Alois Trancy who lied himself a new life. He doesn't remind him of Hannah who crept into Claude's dominion and turned it upside down with lies, half-truths, and careful craftsmanship of illusions and allusions. He doesn't remind him because his little master should remember. Because his little master was in the middle of it all, framed, flawed, forced into believing and betraying, and becoming something else. Or is little master just testing his eternal butler's loyalty now? Testing how low he has fallen? (There is still some ground under Sebastian's feet, precarious like a cliff's edge and springy like swamp moss, shifting like sand and frail like thin ice, but he won't give it up if that's the last thing he does as the shadow of a demon who was magnificent once.)
Ciel looks at him, his gaze sharp and calculating, and Sebastian finds that he has never wanted anything more than the ability to read his little master's mind at times like these. But he is forbidden to read into it; banned from his little Master's mind.
"Waiting? All the time?" Ciel's tone is caught somewhere between anger, disbelief, and mockery.
Sebastian doesn't respond and concentrates on withstanding that drilling gaze of two red-burning eyes and no eye-patch in sight. (When did it become so hard to face him?)
"I could…" Ciel makes a wide motion with his hand and lets the sentence hang in the air for a while before continuing, "do something about it." His eyes are burning holes into Sebastian's head now – daring, challenging. He has caught on; he hasn't forgotten.
"You could," Sebastian agrees leniently, "but that would be in bad taste. Only the rash and reckless…"
Ciel interrupts him haughtily and mockingly, "Your aesthetics again?" He laughs and enjoys every moment of it. "I can see where they got you, and I am not headed there."
A surge of anger. A narrowing of eyes. That is all Sebastian can do in the face of his sneering little master before he has to steel himself, before he has to right his expression and pretend to have all those words rolling off his back like water rolls off that of a duck's.
"A show of refined taste, merely," Sebastian corrects. Himself, his little master… (the world, maybe.) "And I would expect my little master to have one."
The edges of Ciel's lips twitch in distaste. For a royalty of his kind such implications are a matter of honour and any insult aimed at them bears defending; and because of that Ciel wants to take that knife in Sebastian's side which is his existence and twist it for good measure. Twist it and watch him pretend that everything is fine, that this is what he wants, what he has wanted from the very first moment. Lies, lies, lies – Ciel knows this. Ciel has always known this, but sometimes it was better to believe in play-pretend because the world was unthinkably large and heavy and it could have broken his frail child's shoulders with its weight otherwise.
"Aren't you quite the expert," Ciel sneers and deems this conversation finished, but it's not. It never is. It simply can't be. For as long as eternity lasts, for as long as Ciel remains the master, and Sebastian – his faithful butler, there can be no end to this.
Sebastian doesn't consider it necessary to point out that, indeed, he is. The years spent doing what demons do best, perfecting his skill in every which way and sampling souls, making sure the seasoning was right, the best, the ultimate unbeatable prime quality – a sinful pleasure instead of just food – all that has made him the top of the demonic food chain… once upon a time, moments before he took on the name of Sebastian Michaelis. Right this instant, it's nothing but used-to-bes, could-have-beens, should-haves, would-haves, wasn't-supposed-tos, and he hates, hates, hates. Hates in ways no other demon has ever hated their fellows because all demons are, essentially, the same, and were it not for the natural rivalry brought on by the fight for suitable eating material, they wouldn't clash at all. Though these spats are never long-lasting or permanent and former enemies can turn around and work together for as long as it's beneficial for their individual goals. There are times when they've been pitted against each other, but even then they found a way to work together and go behind their master's backs, to wrangle the most out of any situation, ever.
Temporarily-Claude-Faustus was one such example – though pitted against each other by the will of their little masters, they closed deals of their own, played a game of their own; because no order was absolute for a demon – there were cracks, and cinches, and backdoor keyholes to wiggle through and come out on top while still fulfilling the given orders. Masters needn't know every little thing. Masters weren't privy to the depths of the demon world – only to whispers, hints, and guesses. True or misleading, perceived or lied about, self-inflicted or limited by Heavenly powers – it didn't matter because no human would ever venture further with any demon than the demon's personal sanctuary somewhere on the borders of this world and that. But then… There were those exceptions. As rare as they could be, as unwanted as they were unintended, and unwelcome besides. The highest climbers always had the longest fall and the most painful landing.
This eventually lands them in a complete mess because Ciel doesn't know some ground rules and Sebastian doesn't feel like teaching him – he doesn't do anything unless he's being directly ordered these days. It's damaging to his prestige, yes, but it's also sweet revenge for the eternal servitude which he has been cheated into (and at this point his aesthetics and prestige shouldn't even matter, but still).
There is one simple truth, which Ciel manages to oversee. Truly, it isn't all that unexpected for Sebastian, considering that, at the core, Ciel is human and being one heavily influences all instincts and reactions on a subconscious level. Ciel, used to having an almighty butler at his side, used to the thought that this butler can do anything and everything – save maybe rousing the dead (which, as Hannah has proved, isn't all that impossible, after all) – can sometimes slip up and overestimate his loyally eternal servant. (You can't wake up one fine Monday morning and start thinking like a demon; you can't change a lifetime's – even if it's as short as Ciel's was – worth of being a human, because being human is an inborn thing, which has millennia of geared-in mortality concepts tagging along in the subconscious.) He isn't dealing with humans alone anymore.
Not all demons are at the same level as Sebastian. There exist older and stronger ones, in front of which all the others have to bow, and who, themselves, bow only to Lucifer himself. Their rank is unachievable, unreachable through any means, though some can still rise to stand side by side with them and be acknowledged as equally great by the rest of Hell's populace, but something about them is still distinctly different – the lacking traces of God's touch, maybe. Since the Firstfallen weren't born of sin like the rest of Hell's native inhabitants, but rather a light tarnished and corrupted, and twisted into darkness. They are different at their very core, they have known light and sanctity and true paradisial bliss, and they have no distinctive gender, being able to choose to be one or the other, or both simultaneously, while those born or created later came with predetermined traits and qualities. The latter ones have never seen light and don't know what it is (until one terrible day it burns them via the hand of an angel, but that hasn't happened in, essentially, forever). Thus, Sebastian was made of crow bones, Claude – of a spider's shell, Hannah – of rose ashes – maybe, Ciel – of human flesh… No demon knows his parents. No demon knows how he was formed because giving life was always something only the higher castes of Hell knew how to, having been present at the creation of humankind.
Fortune – or maybe its malignant twin Misfortune – has it that Ciel crosses paths with one of the ancients: the Firstfallen – from grace and light to perpetual darkness, the Firstreborn – from angels into demons; and while Sebastian knew to stand down and give way, he conveniently forgot to introduce Ciel to the rest of the Hell's hierarchy. (He was never ordered to, and a good butler never spoke out of place.) She was one of them – a shape-shifting siren of a demon who preferred to take on female forms. She was one of the very few elders who roamed the land of the living – maybe in envy that such feeble creations of God had been His chosen ones and not his holy angels – not feeding on human souls, but stirring up trouble, as a desperate cry to Heaven for the things the demons had lost and could never regain, or maybe in spite and mockery and sheer joy of destruction, and to ensure that God didn't get all of his precious little souls back. Not needing to feed is yet another trait setting the Firstfallen apart from the rest of Hell's populace.
For an outsider, it is impossible to tell at a glance who is who, which is why, all things taken into account, Ciel makes a terrible blunder in regards to her. The first mistake is not recognising her presence and not stepping away from her region, the second is not leaving immediately, and the third – getting involved with one of her targets. While the Firstreborn don't target humans to eat their souls the way the demon-born ones do, her kind hunts for souls that would serve as their slaves, toys and pets for the rest of eternity, so that their pained cries would rise to Heaven and tear at God's heart eternally. Hell truly exists – the old-fashioned one, which grandmothers scared their children with and pastors preached of in their sermons – and there the souls of humans who have done wrong in their life and gotten involved with the devil live in endless agony, burning and dying time and time again. It is, in a way, an amusement park or even a zoo of sorts – if one has to compare it to something found in the human world – for the demonic society. Tradition, as surprising at it may appear to humans, is still in the highest regard for the Firstreborn and they adhere to it with the utmost joy.
What Sebastian notices, but Ciel doesn't even know to look for, is the mark of another demon on the young man who has called out to higher powers out of his greed-induced despair. The elder demons don't leave visible contract marks in the manner of the demon-born ones; they only leave a sign of their presence and involvement on the spirit, making it a part of the targeted human's aura (much in the same way Claude had been keeping his tabs on Alois after their fruitless initial meeting, eventually propelling the boy into an active contract), a sign that this one is off limits and should be approached under no circumstances. Even if Ciel does catch something odd with his not-yet-entirely demonic subconscious mind, his inherited human rationality overrules that and takes the upper hand. (Hunger, as Sebastian knows very well from his personal experience, is a vicious master and many of his fellow demons never manage to bring it under even remote control – though, quite frankly, they never even think of it and would never even want to.) And while demons do know emotions – they have to, to be able to worm their way past the human defences and take advantage of their unruly minds, twisting their emotions in ways that would propel them into directions favourable for the demons – they remain passive and impartial to them. Though the raw feeling of hunger and hatred, and lust can sometimes take over.
When the young man calls out for God to aid him in his righteous (and very, very selfish) goals, Ciel steps up.
"I'm not what you are calling for, but I can give you what you are begging for."
Perhaps the man should have been more shocked at the sudden appearance of a well-mannered and aristocratic child and – by the looks of it – his butler, of which the child was offering… What?
"Who are you?" Perhaps not what the man should have, would have asked – but he is tongue-tied otherwise.
"I'm offering you a contract, which will give you exactly what you want." For a price, is heavily implied by Ciel's tone, though never voiced out loud – for which there is no need, as this man already knows that favours came for favours.
Sebastian stands by in silence and examines the invisible imprint of another demon on the man. He has seen it a few times before and knows which rank his little master is about to get involved with – no, he corrects himself, has already crossed – but makes no comment on it, says not a word, and bides his time. Small things, he muses to himself, tilting his head slightly to one side, as if intently listening in on his little master's conversation with his new contract, small things. But this isn't revenge. Ciel isn't Hannah. Ciel isn't Alois Trancy. In the end, it would only ever be the small things. While Ciel and his new contractee go over the finer details of their deal, Sebastian calculates how messy this would get. Very, is his conclusion, and he forces back the smile that is pulling at the corners of his lips.
A/N: For those who don't know this and are too grossed out by spiders to research them – I'll spare you the need to go Google. Yes, spiders do have shells. It's a hardened body wall that protects and keeps the spider's body moving, as it is, in fact, the spider's skeleton – located on the outside of its body. The term for this peculiar setup is exoskeleton.