and take my soul to rest

"Carve it into me," Ciel might have said – he doesn't remember now, or rather he remembers too many things, too many possibilities, spread out like a flower or an opium dream.

Perhaps someone killed him. Lao with his silent smiles, or his doll-like 'sister'; one of the criminals he's worked to put down; a cultist with a knife; a mistake by one of the servants; or maybe he fell. Yes, he might have fallen. He can see everything beneath him, dizzying and nauseating. He was walking a tightrope (he is walking a tightrope?) and the other boy is telling him to smile.

Smile. He's one of the beautiful people, the Baron said so. But the Baron was mad.

Burn it all down, Sebastian, burn it all away.

"Maybe you dreamed it all," Sebastian says behind him. He doesn't turn around. He knows that Sebastian won't look like a butler any more. But the demon's tone is still kind. "Here's another story, my lord. There was a little boy once, and he was chained up in a cage, and he was going to die, and so he told himself a story before the knife went into him. It's all been a dream."

"Has it?"


"Sebastian –" He doesn't know what to ask.

"You humans have the oddest ideas about sweetness," Sebastian murmurs. "And you have the strangest perceptions of time. Don't you remember our contract?"

"Of course I do," Ciel says, trying to reassert his dominance.

"And I cannot take you until I have fulfilled all your wishes."

"Those were the words."

"Yes." Sebastian's smiling: Ciel knows that tone in his voice, that gentle, delighted pleasure. "But my lord, my lord, how am I to take you when all you want is an ending? If I fulfil that wish of yours, then you are still wishing, and you cannot be mine, and I break our compact, and you know I cannot do that. But if I do not fulfil your wish, then I break our compact again."

"No," Ciel whispers. "No, that can't be –"

"I have tried," Sebastian says. Something strokes Ciel's hair. Fingers, perhaps. "I have brought other humans to you and hoped that they would make you want something more than oblivion. I have offered you duties and responsibilities and luxuries, but my lord, at the heart of you there is still the little boy chained in his cage who only wants it all to stop. You keep on digging your own grave, however hard we endeavour to drag you out of it. This spiderweb bridge of sugar will only take us so far."

"That's not fair," Ciel says, and he knows that he's whining, but he doesn't care.

"If the contract were fair, then I could hardly have taken it," Sebastian says. He's scolding now. Ciel knows that tone. He hunches his shoulders against it. "Come now, my lord. You know better than that."

"I could tell you," Ciel says. The idea is a firework in his mind. "If I order you –"

"Then you still have other wishes," Sebastian chides him.

"But you have no choice. You have to obey my orders." The words tumble out faster and faster, a single choice, a single memory – was this before, has it already happened, or is it still going to happen? – a single pathway ahead. "If I tell you, end it now, stop it, let it all be over, that's what I wish, Sebastian, please. . ."

His voice trails away. "Then what happens?"

"Then you find out whether or not you've been dreaming all this time," Sebastian says, gentle as a feather on the breeze.

Another set of images. Himself as an old man, Sebastian standing behind him, still just the same. Himself as an arrogant teenager in an opium den, the pipe in his hand, his eyes unfocused, Sebastian behind him. Himself as a grown man kneeling before the Throne, someone other than the Queen seated on it now, Sebastian behind him. Himself as a bloodied child in the street in front of Madam Red and her holding a knife, Sebastian . . .

"It just goes on," Ciel says. His voice shakes. There is nothing but the future, all the possible futures, and Sebastian dragging him down like an iron chain. He had been wrong about how time worked. Sebastian didn't get to feed on him while he died. Sebastian fed on him while he lived. It ran backwards, like a cinematograph reel in reverse, the light shining through him and dragging him through pain after pain, and always Sebastian behind him, smiling, until he had no strength left to sustain the demon. "It goes on and on – Sebastian, I'm tired . . ."

"Make a wish, my lord," Sebastian whispers behind him. "Command me. What is your desire?"

"Make it stop!" Ciel gasps, the words bursting on his lips like a bubble of blood.

And time stops. And sleep holds no dreams, not any more.