Note: This fic is for Alex Beoulve, who drew a strawberry-themed doujin for the final chapter of Devilish Impulses. Alex, here's a cheeky bunch of virtual fruit that's partly inspired by that doujin!
Disclaimer: I don't own Kuroshitsuji, and make no money or profit from writing this fanfic; Yana Toboso has all the rights to the original manga and anime and the characters in them.
The jangling of the bell as Sebastian pressed the Earl of Phantomhive's clothing in the ironing room was unexpected, as the butler had left the master only five minutes ago. He put the iron down in its metal holder, and moved the spare iron off the fire for safety's sake before going upstairs to the study.
He knocked, stepped into the room, and asked: "Young Master – you rang?"
"Yes," the earl murmured a little absently, while poring over what appeared to be a complicated legal document. "I want strawberries and cream for tea, Sebastian."
The demon butler glanced out the study window behind the earl. The country was in the grip of a harsh winter. Winds were howling, snow was falling, and the ice was thick and solid over every natural body of water in England. Even the biggest commercial and most impressive private greenhouses had reported cases of withered plants and dead fruit. It was unlikely that a single strawberry was alive anywhere in all of Great Britain.
Sebastian being Sebastian, of course, simply said: "Yes, my lord," and bowed out of the study.
The pressing of the clothes would have to wait.
At tea time, the butler entered the dining room, where a good fire was blazing to keep the earl toasty.
"Strawberries and cream, my lord," said Sebastian, placing a bowl filled with the ripest, reddest and biggest fruit before him, along with two dipping bowls. One contained the purest white cream, the other the fluffiest whipped cream. The sugar bowl was also set before the earl.
Unlike most people who loved strawberries and cream, Ciel did not like having the sugar stirred or whipped into the cream, nor did he like the cream flavoured with vanilla. He was very fond of this fruit as it was, and chose to dip it in cream only for a little added luxury.
"Shall I hull and slice the strawberries for you, and pour some cream over, Young Master? Or would you rather dip them yourself?"
"I'll dip them," Ciel replied, selecting a large fruit, dipping it into the liquid cream, and lifting it to his mouth to bite off the bottom half of it.
"Is it to your liking, my lord?" Sebastian asked.
"It's not as sweet as it looks," Ciel commented.
"Ah, then perhaps you would prefer these?" the butler whipped out another strawberry-filled dish from the covered wheeled server while simultaneously removing the first bowl.
These specimens did not look nearly as luscious as the first lot, but when Ciel chose one and bit into it along with a touch of whipped cream, he found that it was distinctly sweeter.
"Sweeter," the earl remarked. "But not particularly succulent."
"How about these, then?" the devil proposed, again making a switch of bowls so swiftly that the earl almost could not follow the movements with his eyes.
The strawberries in this third bowl hardly looked impressive, as they were small and not uniformly red. But they proved to be juicy, and reasonably sweet, as Ciel discovered.
"Better. But if they could be just as juicy or juicier than these, a little bigger, and even sweeter, that would be best."
"Please try these, Young Master," Sebastian offered up a fourth bowl smoothly, along with the sleight-of-hand switch.
"How many bowls of strawberries do you have in that server?" Ciel asked curiously, wondering for the first time where Sebastian had obtained these fruit in the chill of winter. "Where on earth are they from?"
"The fruit in the first bowl was from a greenhouse in Spain – which, although generally warmer than England, is also suffering from a severe winter this year, and has no outdoor-grown strawberries worth considering. Those in the second bowl were purchased from a farmer in South America. The third bowl of fruit came from a provincial governor in Australia who cultivates strawberries for his own amusement. And the ones before you now were from a private garden belonging to a Dutchman living near Cape Town."
Ciel studied the strawberries in the fourth bowl, found them quite pleasing to the eye, and ate one to find it acceptably sweet. He had another before he thought to ask: "Any others from elsewhere?"
"Of course, my lord," Sebastian bowed, nipping away for a second before returning with numerous more bowls of fruit, some naturally sun-ripened from the heat at the other end of the world, where it was summer, and others apparently bred for their looks.
Ciel ate one with cream from every bowl before deciding that he best liked the ones from near Cape Town.
"Very good, my lord," the butler said, placing the chosen bowl in front of Ciel, pleased to have given his master something to suit him.
Sebastian was starting to remove the rest of the bowls from the table when the earl shook his head and said: "I'm too full. I couldn't possibly eat another strawberry."
Having travelled across almost the entire globe furiously buying fruit between lunch and teatime, only to have one's master reject the best lot because he had just tasted far too many strawberries would have made a lesser demon throw a fit.
But Sebastian, being Sebastian, merely nodded, slipped all the strawberries into the wheeled server, and began to leave the dining room, only to be stopped by a question from Ciel: "Why didn't you just taste them all before choosing the best ones for me? You have by now learnt what my tastes are."
The butler turned around and replied: "I have a policy of never eating strawberries, Young Master."
"The black cat living in the garden strongly dislikes strawberries, my lord. The fruit has an unpleasant habit of staining a demon's breath for a long time, and I fear that if I eat any, she may refuse to French-kiss me."
The silence that settled over the dining room following this simple yet extremely disturbing explanation was stifling enough to curdle the cream, while the embarrassed blush that stole into the earl's cheeks came close to rivalling the strawberries' hue.
At last, Ciel spoke in an irritable rush: "Tch. I suppose you think that's very funny."
"No, Young Master, I was being perfectly serious." Sebastian's face was as straight as a poker.
"You French-kiss the cat." This was not a question but a disbelieving statement, after which Ciel had to take a slow, long sip of water from his glass to try and quell the sense that he had somehow, unknowingly, slipped through a magic mirror into a bizarre world run by the insane.
"She is an excellent kisser, my lord," Sebastian answered matter-of-factly. "Much better than the carriage horses."
Ciel choked on the water and spat it back out of his mouth, spraying it across the tablecloth.
Sebastian glided over in a second and patted Ciel on his back, saying soothingly: "My lord, please be careful when you swallow. We can't have you expiring after eating a planet's worth of strawberries, can we? Why, if I ate your strawberry-stained soul now, that cat would never kiss me again for as long as she lived."
This was Sebastian's revenge for his rejecting the strawberries earlier, Ciel thought, while sitting down to dinner. It had to be revenge.
For his first course, Sebastian had prepared strawberry vichyssoise – a cold soup he was far more accustomed to having in summer. The second was a salad of strawberries and something vaguely spinach-like, which he assumed the butler had picked up in the course of this afternoon's travels. The main dish was duck with strawberry sauce, surrounded by a flamboyant decoration of sliced red fruit arranged in a floral pattern. And dessert was strawberry trifle laced with brandy. Even the drinking water had slices of strawberries floating in the jug.
When at last the earl finished eating and rose from the table, he felt as if strawberries were coming out of his ears. He felt a little ill. The only thing that made him feel a tad better was the sight of Sebastian thrusting large punnets of unused strawberries into Baldroy's, Mey-Rin's, Finny's and Tanaka's arms in the passageway between the kitchen and the dining room, telling them that they could have them for dessert. At least that meant he wouldn't have to see another strawberry again for months.
That tiny bit of relief wasn't quite enough to suppress his queasiness, however. So he wrapped himself in a hooded overcoat, picked up a hurricane lamp from a table, and slipped outdoors without telling anyone. He thought that the bitterly cold night air would combat the feeling of nausea better than the overheated library or study would.
Without consciously taking note of where he was going, he found himself wandering through one of the back gardens, shoulders hunched up around his neck, walking at a moderate pace to keep his dinner down. As he passed the big wooden storage shed where the gardening equipment was kept, he heard a mew, and lifted his lamp to see Sebastian's favourite black cat walking towards him, having slipped out past a loose board in the wall of the garden shed.
He was not fond of cats, as their hair made him sneeze uncontrollably. But knowing now that this was the excellent French-kissing feline, he stopped and allowed her to wind her way around his ankles, seeking warmth from him.
"Do you really not like strawberries?" he muttered curiously, bending down to let the cat sniff his face. To his surprise, she recoiled, then stretched her neck and nose towards him again for another sniff, before making a disdainful, popping sort of noise and stalking away from him and his strawberry breath.
He chuckled to himself and strolled around a bit more, making it to the next garden, before he felt less queasy. As he approached the side of the manor, he encountered Sebastian, who had come out in search of him.
"Young Master, you will catch your death of cold," the butler said disapprovingly. "Please come back indoors at once."
Ciel obediently went with him, and let himself be relieved of the hurricane lamp and unbundled from his overcoat once they were inside.
"Please warm yourself by the fire in the library, Young Master," the butler said. "I shall bring you a hot drink."
The earl entered the library, sat near the fire, and was getting nice and cosy when Sebastian came in with a pot of hot chamomile tea. Ciel was just thinking how relieved he was that there were to be no more strawberries when Sebastian calmly slipped a sliced strawberry into the tea along with the cubes of sugar.
"Why the hell are you putting a strawberry into my pot of tea?" Ciel asked with barely controlled frustration.
"I've heard that strawberries from the west of Australia go very well with chamomile tea, my lord," the butler answered smoothly. "Although my source may have been biased, as he was trying to give me as many reasons as he could think up to purchase the fruit from him."
The butler poured out the tea, handed the cup to the earl, and bowed before leaving the room.
Ciel stewed, feeling his bile rise along with the scent of strawberry wafting up his nose. In a cold temper, he stood up from his wingback chair, opened the library door, and walked quietly after the butler towards the back of the house. He watched Sebastian open the back door near the kitchen and head for the gardens, and he knew that the demon was looking for the black cat so he could French kiss her some more.
"Sebastian!" Ciel called out, causing the butler to turn around between the house and the garden, in surprise.
"My lord? Is anything the–"
His next words were lost as the earl launched himself at him. Ciel hopped up on tiptoe, grabbed Sebastian's head and neck, and yanked him down to his level before crushing his strawberry-stained lips to his butler's, shoving his strawberry-sated tongue into his mouth, and exhaling a lungful of strawberry-steeped breath right into him. Ciel kissed him long and hard and viciously, and when he was satisfied that he had contaminated him with enough traces of strawberries to last a month, he pulled back, lowered his heels to the ground, and strode back into the manor without a word.
Oh, yes, if that fruit really stained devils' breath as stubbornly as Sebastian had suggested it did, then the demon was in the doghouse as far as the cat was concerned.
Miss Meow wouldn't be puckering up for a strawberry-flavoured butler any time soon.