Time never moved so slowly before.
Whatever eternity he was trapped in now promised morning was far ahead. He knew because of the moon, distorted as it was through the realm, but it still loomed above in the dark night sky. It seemed that the white crescent jewel was a calming presence, no matter what realm it resided in. Or, so Sebastian pleasantly felt.
His fresh ruby eyes burned a slight bit from the moonlight if he focused for too long. But the burn was welcomed. It kept him awake despite his body being far-spent and tired. It grounded him where he was and who he was with.
Being a demon inside the Shinigami Realm proved to be a short but fine experience, if it wasn't for the cause of his momentary stay. It would only be until sunrise of course, but he would most likely never see the land here ever again with his own two eyes.
If he was to describe it with one word, it would be 'white'.
White walls, white pillars, white floors, pathways, stone paths, gates, doors, everything was white and pale.
No matter where he looked, there was a blank essence to everything, yet nothing felt empty, just white. Void.
To his demonic eyes, it was highly unsettling. Though Sebastian grew and lived in a world of dark, venomous and egregious colors, it wasn't the stark difference that shocked his senses. Even the human world had its share of cluttered and empty spaces. Mixture of bodies, people, colors and minerals. This…this was too sterile and controlled for his tastes. He liked the possibility of disorder existing.
The Land of the Dead lives up to its name, he thought with marvel.
What better place for stillness and lifelessness than that of a Grim Reaper's?
Grell must hate it.
"Mr. Michaelis," William had called lowly, not far from the Sebastian's post at the door. He only turned in recognition at his surname and raised one brow high. "Mind if I have a word with you," the reaper stated more than questioned him, which was almost enough for him to scoff at, but he maintained his placid look as he saw William look back at the occupied bed, "Outside?"
This time, the demon turned fully to face William. "Outside? Should one of us not stay here and watch over Grell, in case he wakes?" he said with a tone that hinted at 'irk'.
The tone was enough to make the bandaged man frown, "He won't wake until noon," he offered in return. But William could see the doubt in Sebastian's still-raised brow. "And it is important."
Sebastian was about to argue, refusing to leave Grell alone while he rested and healed the brunt of the damage he caused, but something in the reaper's eyes urged him to listen. Whatever it was that William felt they needed to discuss was not an option, but an order.
But Sebastian did not take orders kindly from anyone, only from his contracted souls. He was smart enough not to protest, but the rebellious and dominating side of him refused to move from the door.
William only rolled his eyes with unhidden annoyance and pushed past him through the door. To the demon's utter surprise, and repugnance, he was grabbed by an arm and yanked out the way with the reaper. Bitter anger filled him suddenly as he forced his limb back to his side with a pull. Sebastian stepped back more into the hallway with a low hiss, in warning for the reaper to keep to himself.
"It involves Grell," William shushed in return just as fiercely, pulling his bad arm back to shield from any lash. It was still badly injured and a hard enough hit would deprive him of progress.
Taking another step back for measure, Sebastian straightened and willed himself under presentable control, not taking his darkened eyes off of his allied-enemy.
It was unlike him to fall victim to his emotions, and there were so many he had fallen to in the past days, but Grell had changed that. He no longer has that perfect, detached persona.
His master had taught him that it was fine to be flawed, just as long as no one saw it.
And Ciel would know, as a human once ripped of everything he loved and tossed into a pit of hopeless anguish to rot. The boy knew he was weak, but no one saw his weakness. He showed to the world how strong he was instead, how nothing could possibly stop him from doing the impossible.
Sebastian could do that too.
He could go out to the world, bare and vulnerable for Grell, and lose himself to his rage, guilt, fury and unease. And he could stop for a second after and settle his discord down. Down to joyless harmony.
He just needed to control his furious outbursts. The demon could still be the perfect and flawless being everyone saw. Only not so detached.
Scarlet pupils glared with brilliance as Sebastian fully straightened with a paused quirk of lips. It had only been a few seconds, three at most, but his thoughts were beginning to clear.
"Grell? You mean to discuss him?" he spoke with a slightly furrowed brow.
William, patient in his step and careful of what he spoke, shook his head, "Not discuss. Just follow me for a minute."
Sebastian stared for a moment, unwilling to follow but curious of what could the reaper wish to tell him. He gave one last look at the medical wing's door, before nodding once and deciding against his instincts.
He stepped forward and walked a short distance behind William, who already began to trot away after seeing the demon agree. They continued for only a minute or two, not a far ways away from Grell, but enough.
It was the same hallway, only at a wider part of the floor's design, where the moon could shine over the walls and cast a blue gray light through ceiling-reaching, frameless windows.
William stopped, leaning a hip on the cool crystal. He ran a hand softly over the bandaged limb, almost protectively. He tapped a ghost finger on the covered makeshift cast.
The demon kept his silence as he waited for whatever would be told. He noticed that William was watching him cautiously.
What the reaper said threw him completely off.
"You know, it pains me to say that we are actually alike."
Sebastian wasn't expecting some notion of personal symmetry.
Alike? Was the man mad? "I thought you were going to talk about Grell, not torture me with rubbish," he said with much chagrin.
William's lips quirked into a frown. "Soon. I'll get to him if you play along."
He almost snapped back that he wasn't some pet that barked for a bone, but he got himself into this position by following the man. Perhaps he could turn this is him favor, though, and instead remain precariously smiling and patronize the man. Go with a sickeningly sweet Yes, you're right, I hadn't noticed. Do you want to clue me in? Sebastian rather went with the sarcastic flavor in his tongue."How, pray tell, are we similar? Please, indulge with your great knowledge."
The scowl adorning the reaper's face was a small victory. And his tone turned icy.
"Thank you for the permission," came dripped in equal sarcasm, "In the last few days, I tried to reason why Grell would fall in love with the both of us, if we are so different. It occurred to me that we are, in fact, not that different at all."
Sebastian's bitter-kept smile twitched but kept its shape. "I don't look like you, if that's what you are insinuating."
"Don't even joke about that," William grimaced with obvious distaste. "We look nothing alike."
William drew a breath and eased his building rage. Patience, he chided himself, and maybe this will end well.
"You corral souls for a living. That is initially the only meaning to your life, I presume? My afterlife's dedication is to my work also." He waited precisely three seconds to see if the demon would fight against his presumption with a snarl or something similar. He didn't. William took it as a sign to continue listing, "You hate being weak, and so do I. You hate fraternizing, and so do I. And I'm almost completely certain you are not a fan of feelings, whether they be yours or others."
There was a catch to that last one. William really only thought Sebastian felt hostile against emotions because they insinuate understanding and sympathy. Feeling was a two-way line. If someone felt for you, you felt for them. If you didn't, you would neither feel guilty nor joy. Just a blank face pretending and playing along.
It was, truly, just describing himself. He didn't socialize just because he was shy. William didn't know how to feel for others, nor did he understand their origins when it came from others. He was all professionalism and functionality.
He was the ideal shinigami.
And Sebastian was the ideal demon.
"No," the demon said, staring out the window into the summer's eve, "I'm not fond of emotions."
"Thought as much," the reaper grumbled with a half-smile.
Sebastian spared a look at the half-clothed man bearing gauze and an odd smile. He didn't find it offending, oddly. "Do you hate changing too?"
William actually looked surprised enough to stare back at the demon, "With my soul."
"Something else we can agree on then."
"And Grell managed to change all that just being himself," the reaper said and saw Sebastian nod minutely in repressed agreement just outside of his sight.
"Wonderful," Sebastian wrung out with a sardonic glance at his company. "Something else we have in common. Grell."
William nodded. "Yes, Grell." He could see where the demon was leading him on. Honestly, he has no patience.
"Now what is it that you want to talk about him? I'm not up for games today—tonight?"
Was it still tonight? A quick look out the window showed the land was dark and covered in moonlight, but the sky was not the familiar navy blue. Daylight was creeping by the horizon and staining the atmosphere a deep indigo. But the sun was still too far.
William paused with him and took in the sight of his land with darkened green eyes. He didn't ponder long about the night and his lack of sleep –other than his weary muscles and heavy head–, and instead worked on what he felt he should say about his redheaded companion.
There were some things that shouldn't stay in the dark. But digging them out of his memory hurt more than explaining them.
He took a long whiff of cool air and released it not a moment later.
Sebastian, seeming to remember his query, returned his attention to the jaded reaper.
He took another breath and felt his lungs hot and heavier than lead. No better than before.
"We aren't the first ones to trample on his feelings," William started hesitantly. No immediate answer or question was given, so William thought to continue it all in one go. Get it all out. "There was a man, once, named Cassius. He wasn't very—very sane. I think that's important to say, at least. Many dispatch officers eventually lose part of their sanity, you see. It's quite normal on the job. But this was not normal. It just seemed that Cassius had been…made wrong."
"'Made' wrong?" he repeated, and gained a stiff nod in return. Sebastian had learned about reapers in his life, and especially in the past month. Many sources and perspectives provided him knowledge. And long ago, he guessed that a shinigami, despite their technical and systematic lives, was a human soul turned to immortality, to manage the other fallen souls.
It sounded more like William meant mold and not made.
"Yes, made wrong. Whatever recruit process had been done with him might have damaged his mind. Or perhaps his mind had already been damaged from the start." Sebastian was confused now. So an ill soul molded into a reaper, made an ill reaper? Or, a poorly conceived reaper, in whatever process this recruiting was, ended up ill? He would ask later. William carried on with his tale, and he had no time to ask questions. He shifted his weight on his feet solemnly, jittery.
"This man, at first, I trusted," William said and looked away to the wall, "He would watch over Grell when I wasn't around, and Grell had taken a liking to him."
"Watch over him?" Sebastian chose to ask, to urge him on.
William frowned none too kindly but did not move his gaze from the far wall. "Grell is…different. Different here means wrong. It means you don't belong. And it didn't help that Grell was very different. I was his only friend for a very long time," he shook his head for a second, "Well, Cassius was his friend once, though I question it, and I didn't need to look after Grell or worry as much for him. That was my mistake."
Even with the slight pain biting at his arm, William tightened his bandaged fist with rising anger. He'll never forget those months Grell shivered at every touch with fear. And he'll never stop blaming Casey for it.
"That…boy was a monster," he hissed raggedly, with a dangerous glint in his eyes, "He broke him—Grell. He broke Grell and he enjoyed it."
William hesitated for a split second, too caught up in the memory to talk. But before he regretted starting this, he spilled it all out into the world. Like blood in his veins spreading a disease. Like vomit. "He used him, he silenced, beat and fucked—"
He froze, chilled and halting the words before more could come out doused in grief and hate and pain—
"He just…broke him, Michaelis."
That was what happened. That was the bitter truth.
William found himself silently grateful Sebastian questioned no more.
They shared the silence, until the story picked up from where it was left. It had to. He couldn't stop there.
"It came to a point where Grell disappeared for weeks, and no one took notice of it," William continued grimly. "Not even worried, not a glance. Not even spare a thought." A change in the wind blew cold against his hot face, hot he realized, not just from the turmoil the memory brought, but also the sheer exertion of keeping the memory alive and fresh to tell Sebastian. "Grell…took too much. It had been too long, before I came to…find him. I should say rescue, I suppose.
"Cassius had tied him to a bed for his own amusement. After a medical analysis, he was 'institutionalized' in return." Institutionalized. A pretty word for put in one of those nut houses, until he deteriorated far enough to be 'decommissioned'.
Gone. He had been gone for decades. How many? Seven, eight? Too many to bother anymore.
He just knew it had been thirty eight years since Cassius was decommissioned. Broken down to a cinematic record and stored.
William didn't want to know how it was done either. He was just glad Grell no longer had a solid reason to fear that man's shadow in his mind.
Only memories and nightmares.
"Then…then Grell took months to return back to his old self. But never truly. He grew cautious and wary, stronger, and…and then carefree. Sometimes, it's like he doesn't care anymore. Sometimes he cares too much."
Sometimes he doesn't know if it's alright to keep living. But that almost never happened. That was the lowest Grell has gone, and William has been lucky enough to find Grell every time before it was too late.
"I won't do that to him—"
"I'm not saying you are," William cut in, "I just thought…you would have wanted to know something like that."
"I do." He really, truly did. He would show his gratefulness more if it wasn't for his stubborn pride. Perhaps that made him sound a bit bitter too. "But what's the point if I can't do anything about it but know?"
He hadn't expected the bone-chilling glare William gave him right then and there.
"You prevent it from happening again."
Sebastian didn't say anything after that for a long, stretched out moment. He offered instead what the reaper would have liked in return. No words, just a settling, understanding silence.
And for some unfathomable reason, the demon felt like an ass. William was willingly trying to socialize and fraternize with him, and Sebastian couldn't completely reciprocate. It just felt too unnatural.
But he could appreciate it. There was too much he appreciated right now, so much he didn't know what else to feel but gratefulness.
"Thank you," he offered sincerely. It was all he could do in return. "Will you…tell me more of him?"
"Only if you promise not to interrupt as much," he said mindfully, extending his good hand for a solid truce. It spoke more than words would.
William did not shake hands with demons.
He shook hands with men of honor.
Sebastian took the hand in a strong grip and shook it once. "Deal."
"Well," he sighed with an afterthought. Really, Grell has done too many things to keep count of, and where to start?
Ah, maybe something long passed.
And with his decision made, he nodded languidly.
"There was this one brat, Banter. He wasn't very bright, and he picked the wrong enemies. The definition of an arse, really. You should see the beatings he got from Grell, quite the interesting handiwork…"
Far from their newly formed company, something dark slithers into the healer's dwelling.
There's haziness, building heaviness, an inexplicable pressure in his stomach. The healing body heard someone walking closer in his clouded sleep, but it was too quiet to stir and wake him.
He only felt its presence looming closer, yet felt no one.
Whoever, or whatever it is, stopped before him. Grell almost sensed a smile burrowed in his mind, not his. Something crawling into his mind and keeping him asleep.
It is rather unfortunate we meet like this, my lady.
Something, scaly in touch, slithered a soft touch to him, and a small drop of anxiety and fear build in him.
Shshh, I won't hurt you, darling. You're injured enough… There's almost concern laced to the words, but the sweet honey dripping from the words was poisoned rancid. It was not real concern or worry. I'm so sorry this happened to you, dear. I'm not happy at all.
A chilled hand gripped him, and he could tell from the touch it was a real hand grasping his body. Fear spiked and formed in his numbed sleep, and another shush penetrated into his unconsciousness.
"Who are you?" He asked with trepidation to the voice floating in his head, but he heard no answer.
The cold hand turns warm and lingered softly, willing him to continue resting.
The haze lifted ever so slowly, lulling, and there was no more voice, but a peculiar warmth settled in his bones.
He dreams of pitch black hair, and deep blue eyes.
A sneer is the last he hears before falling to heavy sleep again.
"…And he actually fell from the bridge?"
"Right into the Thames."
Sebastian couldn't help the slight humor creeping into his voice, nor the surprise. "In Winter?"
William shrugged. "The soul dragged his scythe with it," he said with a wave of his hand. "Grell could never leave it there. He loves it too much."
A bold thin eyebrow rose in question, "Enough to fall into a freezing river in the middle of the night I see."
Really, Sebastian had no clue the lithe redhead loved his chainsaw so much to fall into a freezing river to felt it back.
"At least it wasn't frozen yet."
Recalling the memory wasn't as bad as the reaper thought. He had found Grell's antics foolish at times, but some were silly enough to make him crack a smile. This one was a fine example.
"It's the Thames River!" Sebastian said with measured bewilderment. "Frozen or not, it is still ridiculous!"
"Of course it is. I never said it wasn't," William breathed with displeasure, but there wasn't any heat in his words. He didn't feel bothered telling the story. It was actually…refreshing to remember it this way. There was someone other than himself who found Grell's personality charming, odd and impulsive as it was. And he didn't mind that it was a demon anymore.
It was nice.
A soft breeze swept over the hall and beat coolly over his dark hair. Nerves he didn't even know were tense loosened, and the mere feel of it brought him back to the past week.
Since the last time he spoke alone with Grell, since he had his attack and ailed Grell in his anxious fit, William had taken a short leave from work. And as incredible as it was for a nurse to have the pleasure of practically forcing him to house arrest, he really needed the time to relax.
The problem was that giving a man of work nothing to do but thinkonly gave him more problems.
The head nurse had told him strictly that his health was not faring well, for many reasons. Working for so long without any breaks or vacation, and not doing anything about muscle knots would leave him in fatigue easier. And coupled with the weight of his personal situation –which he did not explain nor said it was related to Grell's absence–, trapped with papers for hours and disciplining the dispatchers, "I'm surprised you didn't have an anxiety attack earlier, Mr. Spears." So, with an order to take rest and unwind, he took a 'sick leave'.
Worse than that was glancing at every corner of his loft and seeing Grell.
On the sofa, reading a book, dashing into the kitchen, laughing. Little memories where Grell came over, over the years, and more over the past month.
So it was no surprise that he preferred London over depression. It was how he ran up to Sebastian the day before.
And even a few hours ago, he never imagined being able to have a civilized conversation with the beast. Much less an enjoyable one.
William looked over to said 'beast', who was looking out the wide windows to the pink horizon.
The sun was finally rising.
"You know. I would never in my life have guessed that talking with a demon would be pleasant."
Sebastian glanced over to the reaper with a mild start. He smiled, not as bitterly as he thought. "Neither did I think you would be pleasant company."
"It is just unfortunate Grell had to get injured for it to happen," William grumbled laying a hand soothingly over his downed arm. The bones weren't finished mending, but the skin was healed and slightly tender. He would still need the bandaged wooden cast for another ten hours.
"I am sorry for that, truly," Sebastian offered, and not just meaning Grell. He was still proud of the broken arm he caused, though. Shinigami were tough creatures.
William bristled inwardly. "I'm not the one you need to apologize to. And you're not forgiven."
He turned to see the brightening sky, and mulled over something the demon could not guess. The reaper seemed to think better of what to say, but Sebastian didn't have the time to interrupt his thoughts. William said it anyway. "I expect for him to shrug it off and forgive the whole debacle. He would only remember and use it against you when he wants something."
Twin brows flew up in answer, "And he should."
William gave the man a strong look, "You will regret ever saying that. Trust me."
"Is it odd that I do?"
Yes, he wanted to say, because when has a demon ever trusted a shinigami? When have their kind ever breathed the same air in peace? If such a time existed, no one knew, or cared. It was difficult to simply imagine a world where trust between them would be possible.
"No, it is not," William said instead, because despite their blood nature, there was something worth trusting in Sebastian. Something that he himself didn't quite understand.
Something that maybe could only be earned after being forced to breathe the same air.
Sebastian nodded, feeling his decision to be right. Perhaps he wouldn't trust William with a great many deal of things, but he could trust him when it came to Grell. No one else could know the redheaded reaper more.
"Sebastian," he said, wavering in strength. There was one more thing he needed to say. He didn't know if he could. The demon laid a curious glance on him, listening.
"I think," William paused to take in a deep breath and steady his stance. He needed to be level, or, at the least appear level. He didn't know why, he just needed to feel stable and determined, or words would fail him now. He must be, even if only a little, like the fearless supervisor he was known to be.
"I think you should go to him."
Sebastian knew what that those words meant. Because a man like William didn't speak meaninglessly. He commanded a room with one look alone. Every word he uttered was worth saying, and worth listening to.
"Are you sure?" the demon asked with great seriousness.
For the reaper to say that, for him to give Sebastian that choice, the choice of going to Grell, meant that he had as much voice in this as William. That was why he was sharing Grell's past with him. He was sharing years of experience, of troubles and changes, priceless memories Sebastian didn't have and would never have, because he didn't see Grell grow, didn't see him suffer and heal, didn't see him cry.
There were so many things he could never know. And now he knew some of them. Some pieces of the puzzle that was Grell Sutcliff were in his hands.
But William was weary, heavy with the weight of the night's development. Tired. Tired of carrying so much responsibility. For he had the weight Grell's injury, the weight of guilt.
He had the weight of Grell's happiness in his shoulders.
It was a resignation deep in his voice. A passing of charge.
A silent question for commitment. A hushed, Be there when he wakes. Take care of him. I know you can. I trust you.
Sebastian was speechless.
"Are you sure," he asked again, for it was just so surreal.
William took another deep breath and blew it out violently into the wind, keeping his arms at his sides, limp. His shoulders momentarily rose and sagged with the action, and then his eyes met red pupils evenly, with a flicker of memory, gone the next second.
"Sebastian, I know Grell more than I could possibly feel comfortable with, he—…Grell will never stop loving either one of us, no matter what happens. It is who he is. He may move on, but he never forgets. Ever." He took another long breath and furrowed his brow with uneasiness, "But he can't live in this limbo forever. Grell needs one of us, and it can't be me," a bitter laugh left him, "The Gods know how many chances I've ruined. A century is too long a time to start again," but no, that was a lie, and William knew it. But he couldn't say what he actually thought, that maybe a fresh start was all Grell needed.
"And you will take care of him. I know. I see it in you." Hidden in there, You're not going to hurt him, ever. Not like I did, by ignoring him.
And Sebastian could hear it, the unmentioned plea. And he followed the wish wholeheartedly.
"I will. I promise," he said, and meant every word.
"Good," William nodded once, "Now go see him, so you may apologize."
The hardest thing to do, William thought, was also the best solution.
He had watched with grim hope as the demon ushered away back into the infirmary. He had taken his eyes off of the retreating figure, casted them upon the dawn and let his body fall numb.
He was so tired. And tomorrow was another day to be filled with explanations and carefully crafted lies, and most certainly no sleep, no food, and more aches and pains from his injuries no one must know about.
But most of all, it hurt to let Grell go.
It hurt so much.
It hurt because it was the right thing to do. He was in safe hands, cruel as it was to call a demon's hands 'safe'. But terribly safe it was, for those hands were capable of killing anyone and anything for the sake of someone dear.
Safer and happier than he could have been with me, he tried to tell himself, but it was another half-assed lie. A means to push his grief in another direction. It didn't work. It never worked.
But giving away his love didn't mean he would stop protecting Grell.
He just wouldn't do it because Grell was his most beloved, but because he was his most beloved friend.
Neither one would ever put their feelings away. Neither one would forget those feelings or what they meant. It was impossible to ever stop loving someone. Time only made the heart grow weary.
And neither one of them would let their feelings die.
But there can be regrets.
I would have liked to hold him one last time as a lover, one last date, one last night together…
I would have liked one last kiss, if nothing else mattered.
It was strange, William thought, how the sun was just rising, but his world looked a bit darker. A bit sadder.
For the first time in years, William wanted to cry.
Now, they would go back to how it all used to be, except he would not be ignorant. He would be more mindful, and more conscious. More aware of Grell's little words that weren't so little.
Yes. He could do that. And he could definitely treat Grell to a night in London, as friends, colleagues even. The sun had just climbed to a circle above the horizon when he promised himself he would, and the hallway was flooded with a light yellow glow, enough to blind him for a second.
They would be friends.
They are friends.
A small smile lifted the lone reaper's lips. His world wouldn't be so dark as long as Grell pranced around with a big grin on his face.
The sound of footsteps speeding towards him brought him back with a start, and glancing out toward the hall, confused, he caught Sebastian's tailcoats fluttering behind him violently.
Something was wrong, there wouldn't be a reason for the demon to return so soon in a hurry.
Fear crawled its way up his spine and the room suddenly felt cold.
Everything he has hoped of the future, bright as a new day, came crashing down to ashes.
Sebastian's pupils flared with unbounded anger and dread as he shouted with something deep and guttural in his throat, like a cornered animal.
A/N: This is a somewhat short chapter, but it's the precursor to the major plot that's hinted all over the place. The next chapter will be the beginning of the Second Part in this whole story. That's right, second. (You can kick me if you want now)
The prologue will be edited to have a tiny bit more information regarding the fanfic when I update the story. You'll read the summary of the second part in the next chapter also!
Prepare yourselves for what will happen! Shit will hit the fan!