Every Birthday After
It was December 14th, 1890. My birthday, come once again. I was fifteen.
Traditionally, I did not usually have very good luck on my birthdays. When I turned ten, my house had burned down, my parents had been killed and I had been branded as a slave, tortured and used as a sacrifice for a ritual. And two years ago exactly, the only other time I had bothered to celebrate, all the faked smiles and cheery laughter had been so painful that I had vowed never to celebrate it again. Since then, I'd always made a point of running my birthdays like any other days.
Today was no exception.
A sharp rap on the door made me look up from the documents I was reading. A sigh escaped my lips before I could contain it. I didn't like being interrupted, and this case I was reading about was particularly important. But then my stomach grumbled, reminding me that I was hungry, and that it was probably Sebastian coming with tea.
"Come in," I called irritably. I couldn't help feeling proud on how I managed to sound brusque even when my heart was thumping painfully against my ribs. Sebastian always managed to make my pulse race, no matter how many times I saw him. Maybe it was the fact that he was a demon who later going to eat my soul after he had helped me to accomplish my revenge… or maybe it was something else entirely.
But it was not Sebastian who entered. Instead, Maylene, Finny and Bard rushed into the room.
"We're so sorry!" Maylene burst out. "We didn't mean to!"
"It was an accident!" Finny wailed. His huge blue eyes were watering up with tears.
Bard scratched his head, looking very uncomfortable. "Uh," he said brilliantly. "Well…"
"What now?" I closed my eyes and pressed my fingertips to my temples. Already I could feel a headache coming on, and they hadn't even started telling me all the things they'd done wrong yet. How pathetic. Why had I ever even hired them?
"Um," Bard said, his voice rising as he tried to control his hysteria. "I wanted to make dinner magnificent, because today is your birthday, but I accidentally…"
"Accidentally what?" I growled. I was not in the mood for their pathetic plights. And just how many times had I ordered them not to make a special effort on my birthday?
Just then, the doors banged open, making the papers on my desk flutter onto the ground. I stifled a sigh. Sebastian was standing with a tray of tea, staring at the servants with a look on his face that could make stone crumble to dust and milk curdle.
"What is this?" he demanded icily. His scarlet eyes flashed between the guilty faces, and Finny began to cry.
"We're s-s-so sorry, Mr. Sebastian!" he sobbed.
Sebastian entered the room and set the tray down on my desk. "I apologize for the inconvenience, Bocchan," he said to me with a meaningful look at the servants. "I will take care of it at once. Today's tea is English Chai, and I have prepared an accompaniment of Black Forest Cake." He placed a cup of steaming tea and plate with a slice of cake in front of me. For a moment, our eyes met, and an electric current seemed to run through me like a shock. Then he turned, breaking eye contact.
"Mr. Sebastian, we—"
"Bard, go to the kitchens and start preparing dinner. And don't use your flamethrower. Maylene, you go help Finny sort out whatever he did to the garden," Sebastian ordered, glaring at the servants. I couldn't help feeling sorry for them; being the object of a demon's wrath was not very pleasant. "Now."
The servants were stumbling over each other in their haste to apologize and get away. It was almost comical, and if I still remembered how to laugh, I probably would've done so then. But then the moment passed as they rushed out the door and Sebastian shut it behind them.
I distracted myself from watching him by sipping at the tea and examining the cake. It was chocolate sponge cake garnished in white frosting, topped with fresh berries in cherry syrup and dollops of whipped cream. I delicately took a bite and let the rich, sweet flavours melt on my tongue. As usual, Sebastian's cooking never failed to impress me. Why did that butler have to be so perfect? It might be entertaining for once to see him fail a task, yet he always somehow managed to handle everything flawlessly. The only time I had ever seen any affliction from him had been when Pluto and Grell had come into the picture. Maybe I should have Grell come for a visit, just to amuse me. It was entertaining to watch how coldly Sebastian rejected him and his declarations of love.
As if he had heard my thoughts, Sebastian turned back to me. He was smirking, an amused light in his eyes. "Bocchan," he said, "there are no plans for the day. What would you like to do? I could have Lady Elizabeth sent over and you could play chess…"
"Certainly not," I snapped, horrified at the thought of my betrothed. The only thing that could make this day worse was Lizzie running around squealing about how cute I was and how excited I must be for my birthday. "I don't have time for Lizzie or chess." I gestured to my stack of papers. "I'm busy."
"It seems that you are always busy these days," Sebastian said carefully. "Do you not think that that excuse has worn thin by now?"
I grabbed a couple of documents and held them up to hide my face. My eyes scanned the words without really registering them. To anyone else, this would've been an obvious dismissal, but it only drove Sebastian on.
"Bocchan, it is your birthday today."
"Tell me something I don't already know." Giving up on my pretence with the documents, I let them flutter to the ground and watched as Sebastian bent to pick them up. When he set them back on my desk, they were all face-up, perfectly straight, and in the exact order that they had been in before.
Sebastian leaned in close, and automatically my heart began to speed up. It was so loud that I was certain he would be able to hear it galloping in my chest. He was so close that I could see every one of his long, dark eyelashes, and every little crease of his tailcoat. His hair was tousled and a few locks had fallen into his eyes. His lips were twitching into the tiniest of smiles.
"You should be more prudent, Bocchan," he murmured. "Even if I am always here to clean up your messes, you should not be so careless."
"But you are here, and so I don't think I ever need to worry." I made myself look into his eyes, even though I could feel my palms getting clammy. Thank goodness they were hidden under the desk. Discreetly, I wiped them off on my shorts. "You will always protect me. Our contract makes it so."
Sebastian smiled. "Of course, my lord," he said, inclining his head. Then he stepped away, breaking the connection that I could swear I had felt between us. "As I was saying, today is a special day for you. If you do not want to see Lady Elizabeth, what would you prefer?"
I turned away from him to stare out the window. It was snowing and London was an icy winter wonderland outside, yet it looking almost warm and welcoming compared to my study with its piles of papers to sort and read through.
"Bocchan?" He was beside me now; I hadn't even heard his footsteps. The cuff of his sleeve brushed my arm, sending a tingling feeling all the way up into my shoulder.
"I have things to do," I said without looking at him. "Besides, I don't see why it's such a special day. I'm one year older, that's all. That happens every year to everyone in the world. Rather, this day is… to mourn…" I stopped talking. My voice was beginning to sound choked, and I didn't want to show Sebastian how weak I was by letting him hear it. I could feel him watching me, his gaze burning my skin, but I couldn't look at him. Not when I was in this state.
I couldn't stop thinking about that night, and the nights that came after. The intense heat, the bright flames, the smoke stinging in my eyes and choking my voice so that I couldn't shout for help… then, after that, the pain of the brand that marked me as a slave being burned into my flesh, the humiliation of being tortured, and being used as a sacrifice before the strength of my hatred summoned Sebastian. I still had nightmares about it.
No, today was not a day to celebrate.
"Bocchan." Sebastian's voice was surprisingly gentle. His hand touched my shoulder in a comforting gesture, and I finally looked up at him. I was surprised at the sympathy I saw in his eyes. Then I was angry. I didn't want sympathy. I didn't want to be pitied. I just wanted to forget it all and pretend it never happened so that I could go on being the Head of the Phantomhives and the Queen's Guard Dog. But when I looked at Sebastian, it all came rushing back. He's the reason I was here now, to help me get my revenge on those who humiliated me so long ago. That was my mission now—not to lead the life I might've had before, but to have vengeance.
And then something inside of me broke.
"This wasn't supposed to happen," I whispered hoarsely. "They humiliated me, made my life a misery, and they deserve to die. But so do I! I shouldn't be here when so many others haven't had this second chance. What about my parents? Why couldn't they still be here instead of me? It should've been me in the fire! I'm the one who's worthless. Lizzie and Madam Red and Finny and all the rest, they all are so devoted to me, but I don't deserve it. I know what everyone thinks of me, that I'm a rich, spoiled a brat, and it's true. No one should care about me. I'm nothing." And now the tears came, flooding down my cheeks and blurring my vision. The pain inside of me was physical now, an ache in my heart that sent shoots of pain into my very soul. I didn't know that I had the ability to feel this way. Ever since that day, I've been cold and detached, never letting anything get to me or penetrate the wall of stone I built around my heart. Sebastian's the only one who's ever been able to see past that wall and know how I really feel. But now that wall had cracked, and like a broken dam, everything was flooding through.
I was sobbing, my cheek pressed against rough material. I realized that my head as buried in Sebastian's chest, and that I had flung my arms around his waist. Also, that he hadn't pulled away—rather, he was holding me, carrying me to my room. I was glad that the servants were nowhere to be seen; I didn't want them to see me like this.
In the bedroom, Sebastian gently laid me down on my bed and stood facing me. I didn't look at him. Even though I had just cried (and probably snotted) all over him, I knew that he probably still looked crisp and fresh, his coat only having a few telltale wrinkles on it. He always managed to look decent—even when he was battling Grell and had had his arm sliced with his Death Scythe.
I finally raised my head and saw him looking down at me. His face was blank, not revealing anything. "Except you," I whispered. "You know what I'm like. And there's no way that you can care about me when you've seen it. You know how worthless I am. You just tolerate me because in the end, you're going to eat my soul, and then I'll be gone like I should be, and—"
"Shhh," Sebastian interrupted, putting a slender finger to my lips to silence me. "Stop it. You don't know what you're saying." His face was still expressionless, but his scarlet eyes were soft. "Yes, I'm going to eat your soul. I want to eat it. Your soul is the most enticing of all that I have come across in many millennia—you have seen so many terrible things and yet it remains untainted and pure. Its fragrance is sweet, and over these four years I have carefully cultivated it and prepared it for the final moment. But as it developed, I also watched you grow. And it is not just your soul that I care about, Bocchan." His finger moved up and wiped a tear off my cheek. "You, the real you, are a better person that you take yourself for. And… I am proud to be your butler."
I was silent for a while, processing this information. Then: "Sebastian?"
"Bocchan," Sebastian mocked. "What is it?"
I took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. "Did you mean what you said? That you're proud to be my butler? That you… care about me?"
Sebastian's features softened and his finger traced its way down my cheek, pausing at my lips again. "What do you think?"
"Don't do that," I scowled.
"That answering a question with a question thing you always do." I frowned. "It's highly irritating, especially when I'm looking for a straight answer. So… just don't. And that's an order," I add, knowing very well that Sebastian can never disobey any order I give him.
"That's my young master," Sebastian nodded. He seemed glad that I had finally stopped crying and was getting back to my usual moody, pessimistic self. Then he became pensive, his eyes scanning my face thoughtfully. "Yes," he said finally. "I did mean it." He cupped my head in his hand and looked at me solemnly. "I do care about you, Bocchan. More than I should, for I am but a demon, and you the soul I am to devour. There is supposed to be a bond between us, yet not the kind of bond that we have. Ours is more… personal. Intimate."
He took my breath away. Literally. I actually was starting to get light-headed from holding my breath while he had been speaking. Now, I let it out. I couldn't believe what I had just heard him saying. I wanted it to be true so badly that it almost hurt.
"Bocchan?" Sebastian seemed tense, probably worried that he had revealed too much and scared me away or something.
I asked him something else that had been nagging at me for a while. "Why do you always call me that? Why don't you ever call me Ciel?"
"I am simply one hell of butler," Sebastian said gently. "Nothing more. It is not suitable for me to call you by your name unless you order me to, my lord."
"You care about me." It wasn't a question anymore, but Sebastian nodded anyways. I continued, "If you really care about me, call me Ciel."
Sebastian's eyes widened in surprise. "Bocchan…"
"Say it," I said quietly. I don't know why it suddenly felt so important, but I wanted to hear what my name sounded like from his mouth. Especially when we were feeling this way towards each other.
Sebastian smiled, his scarlet eyes beginning to glow. "Yes, my lord." He inclined his head. He paused, and then whispered, "Ciel." My name left his lips like a breath of wind, the C a hiss that melted into a murmur at the end. Suddenly, my name sounded exquisite, almost like a song.
"Sebastian," I murmured back. And I don't know who moved first, but suddenly we were in each others' arms, hugging, whispering our names to each other.
"Ciel, I..." He shook his head, and for the first time in my life, I witnessed that my butler, omnipotent as he was, was at a loss for words. Suddenly, he seemed to decide that actions spoke better than words. Bending towards me, he took my head in his hands and kissed me. I was so shocked I couldn't move, but even if I could, I wouldn't pull away. It was a kiss so tender and sweet it took my breath away. Oh, God. Sebastian was so perfect.
"Sebastian…" I tangled my fingers in his hair just as I had always longed to do. It was silky and long, and for the first time, I understood his idiotic obsession with cats. If their fur was as soft as his hair was, that I could see why he enjoyed fondling them.
Sebastian's gloves were gone and his hands were bare, revealing the mark of our Faustian contact on his left hand, as he stroked my skin and groped me. His fingers clasped on the cord around my head, untying the knots so that my eye patch fell away and the violet pentagram on my right eye that matched the mark on his hand began to glow. I snuggled into him and felt him all around me, all over me. He must've been practicing with caressing his cats—how else could he get so good at something he didn't do on a daily basis?
I must have accidentally said that out loud, because I felt Sebastian's chest shaking as he laughed.
"It's only natural for a Phantomhive butler to be able to do this much," he murmured one of his favourite catchphrases into my hair. "But this time, it isn't duty that is driving me on. This time, it's because of you." His arms tightened around me, his breath washing over my face. Damn, he even smelled good.
"Sebastian, we…" I trailed off. Closing my eyes, I forced myself to pull away, out of his arms, even though it hurt to move out of his reach. I sat on a corner of the bed and hugged myself, already missing him.
"Ciel? Is something the matter?" Sebastian sat up, confused. My name left his lips as naturally as 'Bocchan' and 'my lord' had before. I had already become accustomed to hearing my name from him, but now I covered my ears.
"You're my butler," I said. "My male butler."
"Yes," Sebastian agreed.
"And… and a demon."
"We shouldn't be doing this." I swallowed. My throat felt dry. "You're going to eat my soul. This relationship isn't going to last."
"So?" After all those nights when Sebastian had rebuked me or advised me, all the times he had told me over and over again to be careful, now he was the reckless one. He tried to hug me again, but I scrambled away.
"If I can't have it forever," I said softly, "then I'd rather not have it at all."
Sebastian grew still now. Wordlessly, he reached for his coat. I hadn't even realized that he had taken it off.
"Please don't be mad," I whispered.
"I am not." His words were stiff and cold. "My lord, you look tired. You should sleep. I'll be making sure those servants of yours don't burn the mansion down… again."
"Sebastian!" I grabbed his tailcoat just as he turned to leave. He paused. "Don't leave me alone. I didn't mean it like that. It's just… to have all that and then have it taken away would hurt so much that I don't know if I could ever get over it. You're one of the only people who really knows me, and cares about me for who I am… and I want it… you… but we shouldn't or I'll never be able to make myself let go. And once my revenge is complete, I'll have to let go." There. I had said it.
Sebastian came back to me and gathered me in his arms. He had carried me so many times before that it felt normal and safe. I leaned my head against his chest and felt him touch my head. "Ciel, we won't do anything that you don't want to. Despite how I feel for you, you are still my Bocchan, my young master, and I live to follow your orders. I am your butler, your pawn and your sword." I heard rather than saw him smile. "But most of all, you don't have to fear that I will leave. I cannot—I will not—ever leave you. The contract binds us, and now my feelings as well."
Reassured, I let him fondle me. "I'm glad," I said softly. "Even if this ends some day, at least I'll have known this. And maybe we can make it work."
"Of course we can."
"You won't be able to call me Ciel in public or in front of Tanaka or any of the servants. We'll only be able to do this when we're alone. And then, once I've had my revenge…"
"I will eat your soul," he finished for me. "But even then you will be with me, for the souls I have devoured always stay close by." He leaned close to me, just close enough for our lips to brush. His were soft, like the rest of him. "And I have a feeling that you will remain even closer than most. We will be one being, Ciel, you and I. And then nothing and no one will ever be able to tear us apart."
I clung to him, but he gently pried my fingers away.
"You should rest now, Ciel," he repeated his words from before, but more gently now. "I am not leaving you. I shall stay by your side until the end, as your faithful butler and perhaps even more. And even after the end, we shall be together."
"Do you promise?" I didn't want to close my eyes. I wanted to see his face, his eyes, his lips, all of him. But I felt my eyelids fluttering, and gave in the darkness that folded over me like a blanket.
Sebastian's breath tickled my ear. "Yes, my lord," he whispered. "My Ciel. I promise."
Just before I drifted into sleep, still curled in Sebastian's arms, I had the thought that perhaps not every birthday was so terrible after all.