A/N: All fans of this story, thank you so much for encouraging me! This is the longest fanfiction I have ever done, and I have a tendency to start things and not finish them. It has been great reading your reviews and hearing your ideas

His Butler, Unmasked

Ciel stood dazed and swaying in the midst of the smoke and rubble. He was unsure how much of his state was due to shock from the explosion and how much was due to the look of intensity in Sebastian's wine-dark eyes. What had he meant by "No"? Why had he kept the ring, and kept it so close? Ciel could not pretend that he had not wished Sebastian would do so when he had left in on the table, but to wish and to see the ring around his neck were different things…Someone tugged at his tattered sleeve and Ciel was reminded that he had just survived an explosion. This was not the time to dwell on such things. Rubble coated the polished ballroom floor like sand, and dust made the air difficult to breathe. The kitchen was in flames and its blistering heat made Ciel's eyes water even from afar. Sebastian was much closer, almost in the blazing kitchen, as he doused the flames with copious amounts of water brought to him in large buckets by a singed Finny. Someone tugged at Ciel's sleeve again. He turned to see a respectable elderly lady in what had once been an elegant gown of navy silk. "Lord Phantomhive," she began, tone stern. Ciel sighed and pretended to listen politely as she explained with awful coldness that he was "putting well-born young ladies in danger with your perilous (and disreputable) lifestyle." It took nearly two hours to put out the flames, two hours Ciel spent being accosted by guests. Fortunately, most of the guests had been far from the blast and suffered only from shock and indignation. Only those ten closest to the blast that had demolished the wall were injured. There were a few burns, bruises, sprains, and one broken arm belonging to Victoria—Ciel's dancing partner. Even in pain, Victoria was mild-mannered and polite, telling Ciel that such things could not be helped and it was not his fault. She said it as mechanically as she had said everything else that evening, and Ciel was forced to respond in kind and ignore the glint of dispassionate hatred in her green eyes. After the initial shock, the guests were all quiet and orderly. They waited politely to approach Ciel, then smiled and accepted his apologies frigidly, all the while preparing the gossip they would spread. Ciel did not care what they said, did not care if it made him a pariah in polite company. If these people, with their genteel animosity, were polite company, he was happy to be rid of it. "Bocchan," said a soft voice from behind him, "I seem to have found the cause of the explosion."

Ciel turned away from a mustached gentleman, who subtly shielded his pale-eyed sister, to see Bard, hair blackened and eyebrows noticeably absent, standing sheepishly in front of Sebastian. Bard explained, under Sebastian's furious glare, that had been instructed by a caterer to clean up the kitchen. The caterers had made a great number of pastries, and Bard had decided it would be a good idea to clean up the excess flour with a flamethrower. Ciel was too exhausted to be angry, so he told Bard to just go and not to destroy anything else. The ball, the explosion, Sebastian: it was all too much to handle. He felt as if his spine had been removed and at any moment his skin would stop holding its human shape and slide down into a puddle on the ground. Towards midnight, all the guests left and Ciel was finally able to climb the long steps to his bedroom. In the darkness, for the candles had all burnt out, he collapsed onto his bed. "They stayed so long it almost seemed like a proper ball." A velvet voice chuckled from near the door. A match flickered to life and transferred its brilliance to a candelabrum held by a guiltily amused-looking Sebastian. Somehow, Ciel found the energy to laugh. It was, he realized, the first time he had laughed all evening. Sebastian placed the candelabrum on the bedside table, then lit the fire. Ciel watched him, his fluid, almost feline movements. His black suit was ripped and grey from flour and plaster dust, but to Ciel did not mind. After a night full of charades, it was nice to see his butler—at least partially—unmasked. Ciel was so tired of masks and shams. They had only caused him unhappiness, and he was beginning to believe that that was not what he deserved. And so he resolved to be honest.

"I can't marry one of these women, Sebastian." Ciel's voice cut through the night unexpectedly. Sebastian started, then was surprised at himself for showing his surprise. Oh well. His master had looked so exhausted that Sebastian was sure he had missed the momentary crack in the façade. Sebastian kept his voice smooth and face towards the young fire. "The explosion was an unfortunate occurrence, perhaps not endearing you to the noble families present, but there will be other young ladies willing to wed you." Sebastian's voice stayed steady, even though the thought of watching another ball—and eventually a wedding—from the shadows made him feel cold inside. When he was sure he was composed, Sebastian turned to the young man who had been splayed on the bedspread. He was sitting up now, cheeks a bit flushed and blue eye bright with an emotion Sebastian could not fathom. The eye patch was slightly askew, revealing a glint of sparkling violet iris. The suit that Lady Midford had commissioned from London was torn and stained, though perhaps salvageable by Sebastian's hand. Sebastian was unsure he wanted to salvage it, though. He would have preferred to leave it, and the memory associated with it, in some forgotten corner of the cellar. But, if a Phantomhive butler could not even do this…He reached out to take the jacket from Ciel, who did not seem to notice the gesture. He had that curious inattentive look of one who is about to do something very brave or very foolish. Sebastian waited; despite himself he wanted to know which it would be. There was a silly fluttering in his abdomen; though he knew whatever Ciel was pondering had nothing to do with him. His hand was still extended towards his unresponsive master when the young man blurted at last: "It's not that." Once again, Sebastian was startled and confused by his master. He had thought that the sullen exhaustion had been due to the catastrophic ball—yet another reminder of how far Ciel's reality deviated from that of his delicate, green-eyed dancing partner. He led a life that was not really conducive to a family, however much the marchioness wished otherwise. "It's not that." Ciel repeated, more steadily this time. But what could be troubling him if it wasn't his ever-diminishing chance of marrying and leading a stable life? Perhaps…No. Sebastian would not allow himself to follow that train of thought. He dragged his thoughts back to mending the grey suit. Much of the damage was merely staining, though he would have to reweave a portion of the left knee. Ciel was looking at him. He had taken off his eye patch and slid the small item through his slim fingers, almost nervously. The butler withdrew his hand slowly, waiting. And then Ciel spoke, quietly, but deliberately. "I can never love one of them." His hands stilled, then clenched, crushing the patch. Sebastian regarded him, unable to do anything else. He was suddenly so conscious of the measured rise and fall of Ciel's chest that he himself forgot to breathe. "I can never love some cold, proper creature with whom I always have to hold my tongue and pretend to be someone I'm not." A long pause. The firelight made their shadows dance. His master's voice was louder when he spoke again. "I can never love one of them because…" At some point Ciel must have stood, for now he was impossibly close to Sebastian. The demon could count his eyelashes, could feel the other man's breaths mingling with his own. "because they aren't you, Sebastian." Sebastian's heart was pounding at an alarming pace. He…what…? "Ciel?" He exclaimed before he could stop himself. He felt his face heat up—a decidedly unfamiliar sensation—in mortification. He had broken protocol. The name had slipped out in his surprise, but…it was delicious to say it at last.

Ciel felt warmth spread all the way to his fingertips at the sound of his name. It had never sounded as wonderful as just then, coming from Sebastian's lips. He heard it and he felt brave. Finally brave enough to say what he had meant to say for a very long time. "I love you, Sebastian." There was no quaver in his voice. He smiled and said it again. Sebastian was trembling. His dark eyes sparkled as he stared at Ciel with a mixture of astonishment and joy. He reached out with a hand and stroked Ciel's cheek. The contact was like a spark, setting Ciel's entire being on fire. "Do you mean it?" his voice was hoarse, "Do you mean it this time?" Ciel wrapped his arms around Sebastian and his eyes prickled. "I've always meant it. I—" But Sebastian interrupted with a kiss that swept Ciel up and away into its depths as surely as any tidal wave. Compared to this, their first kiss had been nothing: a mere peck on the cheek and a promise of more to come. Ciel could not tell where he ended and Sebastian began, which pounding heartbeat was his own and which the other's. His fingers wove through silken black hair and roved across cool cheeks. This was not a gentle kiss, and when they broke apart Ciel was gasping. It was not feverish, asthmatic gasping, though, but excited and exhilarating. His entire body was filled with a tingling heat centered around the points where he and Sebastian were connected. The demon looked down at Ciel, his expression for once perfectly readable. "I love you too, Ciel."