Part 5: Fermentation
It is in putridity you revel. Feed off the decay, mourn for your depraved condition and cross the threshold. From this ebullition flows a dazzling truth.
I woke up the next morning.
That was a startling sensation, when I could not remember the last time I had taken to sleep. It is the only human experience I could relate to. There was no sense of the passage of time, only that I could not remember when my closed my eyes. All that I knew when I opened them was that the room was remarkably brighter, save for some figure that blocked the light streaming from the window.
It was Ciel eclipsing the day.
"Did I wake you?"
"I believe I woke of my own accord. What is the time?"
"I don't know. It doesn't matter." He lowered himself next to me, sliding an arm around my chest and I looked away. "I woke early. I've just been watching you sleep. I have never seen you asleep before."
"There was the time I had to play dead for you."
"That doesn't count. It's not the same." His head rested on my shoulder. "I would order you to fall asleep in my bed every night. I would rise with the dawn every morning only to catch you asleep."
"Why such a strange desire?"
"Because... Sebastian, do you even know how beautiful you are when you're asleep?"
"No, I had never even considered it." I pulled him against me, arms coiling around his thin shoulders and he sighed into my chest. Why did he even want to look upon me, endure my touch after what I did?
I had caused him harm. At the time, I relished in it because he had given me permission in indulge in his pain, but now I could not stand the sight of him.
"Young master." Lifting his chin to look at me. "The occurrence last night... Do not ask that of me again. You placed yourself in serious danger and if it were to happen again there is no guarantee I would be willing to stop... oh no, young master, please do not..." I wish I could have refrained from kissing the tears from his eyes, but how he gripped me when I deserved no embrace. "Shh... stop this. We need to get up."
He rolled away to sit on the edge of the bed. The act appeared to be a strain for him. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, took a deep breath. Another sigh. His head drooped as he uttered, "Alright. I'm sorry."
"You have no reason to apologize."
"Maybe I just feel a little sorry for myself right now."
I rose from the bed. Yesterday's uniform was where I had left it, slung over the couch. Ciel watched as I slipped my arms into the shirt, left then right, always buttoning from bottom to top. "Is there something appealing to how I dress myself? You would watch me sleep, and now you would watch me dress?"
"I realized something, yesterday. I know so little about you. For all time I've known you, I don't know much of anything about you. What is your morning routine? What books have you read? What is the longest contract you've had? How much of you that I see is really you, or is it a persona you have created just for me? Will you carry any part of this life with you after...?"
I sat on the couch to tie my shoes. "My morning routine revolves around you. I have read all the books in your library. I have only had one contract last longer than this one, and that was a special case. I may have built this form, this persona, this life for you, but I do not consider it to be any less true than any other. I consider me, Sebastian Michaelis, to be just as true as my original form. And what am I to take away after I cease to be Sebastian? You already know the answer to that question." I stood up to look in his direction, still sitting on the bed. "Is it my turn to ask you questions? Will you be getting dressed any time soon? Would a simple porridge for breakfast suffice this morning? Can I convince you that I would much prefer you rest easy today and allow me to go into town to see to your errands?"
"Would you like me to answer 'yes' to all of those?"
"It would please me."
He moved with stiffness towards me to grab me by the shoulders. "Then kiss me the way you did last night. The way it felt the first time. Just so I can lie to myself for a moment."
"Is this an order?"
"Should it have to be?" Those pleading eyes tore at me and I felt like I could do nothing but disappoint him.
"No, young master." Lifting him to my chest, lips seeking his, encountering the ferocity of his affection was as much of a shock as trying to stand against the cresting wave on the shore. My firmness was pulled out from under me. He pressed deep, fingers tracing my ear, how it twisted to such a throbbing ache and he just felt so heavy.
And I realized what this pain was, the pain I had done well to ignore but could no longer find the strength to fight. It was hunger, starvation. Here was a feast before me that I could not touch because his love made him unbearable to touch. Yet it was this outpouring of despair that made him so irresistible.
I broke the kiss. "Hah... I do not like it when you lie to yourself. Even for a moment. Come now, get dressed. Breakfast will be in the sun room in twenty minutes."
As I hurried down the hall to the kitchen, my pocket watch read twenty-five minutes past nine. This was beyond unacceptable. Upon entering the kitchen, Bardroy sat at the table reading a magazine. He lifted his head for a brief moment, took a drag of his cigarette, and turned a page. "Sleep in this mornin'?"
"Your condescending tone is not warranted."
"We do a lotta things that are 'not warranted,' sir." The way he eyed me with some disdain had me wondering just what personal ill I had done to him.
Breakfast for the young master was my immediate priority, so I spoke as I busied myself at the cooker. "If there is some issue you take offence to, come out and say it."
"Found Mey-Rin in the pantry yesterday, crying. With a swollen cheek. She said she fell, and as muchuva ditz that woman is, she don't ever cry just 'cuz she fell." I decided raisins would be a nice addition to the porridge. "I know when a woman's been beaten. I might be simple, but I ain't stupid."
"And you are accusing me?"
"Well I know Finny wouldn't do it." He flicked his cigarette into an ashtray. "Her face is swolled up pretty bad. I put her on light duty, keepin' her outta everyone's way, 'specially you."
The kettle on the stove began to scream, an alert that it was time to brew tea. A swill of boiling water was swished in the tea pot. This was dumped, leaves were added, by which point the water was an optimum temperature. "It is rather gentlemanly of you to give accommodation to the maid who could not keep herself diligent in the first place."
He stood from his stool. "Don'tcha go tryin' ta justify yourself!"
"I beg your pardon?" Walking to where he stood, I stared with coldness, my face inches from his. "Are you raising your voice to me? Are you telling me how I should conduct myself?" He faltered for the briefest moment before collecting that defensiveness and returning that glare. "This issue is not your concern."
"You're wrong, Sebastian. I jus' made it my concern."
He was going to stand against me, knowing full well I could pulverise him if I was so inclined. I would never understand how humans will develop such a sense of duty to one another, how they can muster the resolve to stand against forces they cannot hope to overthrow. It was that attitude which convinced me to employ Bardroy, and now he was exorcising that strength.
"Well, if you insist on being involved in this matter, just what do you intend to do? Will you 'teach me a lesson?' Are you going to 'show me how it feels' and then ask me 'how I like it?'"
"I wanna beat the shit outta you for what you did, but somethin' tells me I'd walk away hurtin'."
"I can assure you, you would not be walking."
"Then let's be good gents 'bout this. If I see any more bruises on that woman, I'm not gonna hold back, don't care how much ya hurt me, because then you'll be outtuva cook." He folded his arms to widen the space between us. "But she stays outta your way. I'll make sure a' that."
"Very well. I will hold you to those expectations." The porridge was ready, and I felt some fresh pears could be a nice addition to breakfast. The tea needed another minute to steep, so I set the trolley. "I have my young master to tend to."
"Yeah, why so late anyway?"
"Must you involve yourself in everything, Bardroy?"
With that, I wheeled out of the kitchen. Ciel barely ate any of his meal, for he could not find his appetite.
He was not in a state to be out and about, and when I said I was going into the city to run his errands without him, he did not object. Post was sent, passport was renewed, and boarding for a voyage to Le Havre was secured. Supplies for the house were purchased.
I was glad that the Earl did not insist on accompanying. The trip into the city would have been far too strenuous. Also, I could manage all these tasks in the span of a few short hours and be back to prepare an early dinner.
As I travelled back to the manor, I reflected on the events of the previous night. Such violent intercourse was beyond anything I would have allowed myself, and he gave it to me anyway. It was more than delectable, but I was questioning how I felt so dissatisfied with myself.
I remembered how he looked after the deed was done. As he lay before me, he held the pillow tight to his chest, shoulders hunched and face hidden. His trembling was violent, bruises on his hips, scratches down his back. It was a horrifying sight, and if anyone else had thrown him into such a state, they would have met their end by my hands. But I was the one who had caused him this harm.
He was lifted from the bed, a bath drawn, and he was submerged in the water with me. He sat in my lap as I washed him. I whispered, "I am so sorry."
"Don't be. Just... don't leave me alone tonight."
"As you wish."
There was a small knot that lodged itself in the pit of my stomach, and it tightened when I beheld that placid face that dared not crack at the sight of me. My precious Earl determined to take a firm hold on his emotions, to charge forward despite the sadness festering in him. He would don his mask and not permit the feelings to overrun him again. The mask was only that, a veneer that did not make his pain any less true. I had hurt him, and he was not going to resent me, lash out, and dismiss me, all the things I probably deserved. He would continue to call for me, insist I not leave his side. Upon reflecting on these things, I determined this hard blot which only weighed on my feelings was a just that, a feeling, but it was one I was surprised to encounter.
I felt guilty.
I had fallen asleep last night because I wanted to forget what I had done to him, if only for a brief time. It was the least I could do, to present my own vulnerability to him, to let him know that he was not alone in his misery. He should not have to suffer my cruelty, for he did not deserve it.
Finnian greeted me at the servant's entrance to announce, "The young master said to see him as soon as you get home."
"Is something the matter?"
"I don't know, no one is telling me anything Sebastian, but he seemed very serious."
Ciel was sitting in a little-used parlour, one situated far from his usual places he occupied. There was nothing to be done in this room, for it was just a sitting room, and he sat with no tea or refreshment, no book or distraction to pass the time.
"You wanted to see me, young master?" As I entered he stood. "I just returned from London, and the buggy will need to be unloaded-"
"That is why I had Finny go to greet you. He'll manage the buggy and the horses. Sit down, I have something to discuss with you." I complied, and he continued to stand. "Bardroy has come to me with some very interesting information. Before I go any further I want to make it clear that you will not use whatever is said in this room in retaliation against my staff. Is that clear?"
His arms were folded, his stance wide and authoritative. Leaning in my chair, I crossed one leg over the other with hands laced in my lap. So this was what he wanted to discuss. Bardroy was a lucky son of a bitch to have a master who was so protective.
"Yes, my lord. I can anticipate the topic of discussion... but may I ask your reason for this order?"
Ciel began pacing, looking down at the floor. "Sebastian, I have a responsibility to my servants. They keep the house in order, they protect the estate, and in exchange I provide them comfort and security. That includes safety from any sort of hostility in the manor." He stopped his back and forth ambling to turn to me. "Bardroy has told me that you hit Mey-Rin. He found out about it what sounds like shortly after you committed the act. He questioned her about it, and she tried to cover up with a lie, saying she fell. Is what Bardroy telling me true? Did you strike Mey-Rin?"
"Yes I did, my lord." I kept an even tone.
"I don't think you realize that I find this to be a serious offence, Sebastian. If they do not feel safe in my care, I cannot hope to retain their loyalty."
I nodded. "That is very true, and typically I can keep my composure with them and exercise patience for all their blundering. But on the issue of loyalty, it was Mey-Rin's blatant disrespect for you that forced my hand."
Ciel wagged a finger. "And if that is the case, then I will discuss that issue with her when I speak to her myself. But my most pressing issue is why you decided to hit my maid."
Perhaps Ciel caught my nervous shift in my seat. "I do not think it is in your best interest to know the details. If your concern is her security, I respect your loyalty to your staff and I will receive any sort of disciplinary action you feel is necessary for my offence."
He stood silent for a moment, contemplative, and then nodded his head in a slow, solemn manner before stepping forward with his hands on his hips. "You are hiding something, Sebastian. If this were a simple case of Mey-Rin showing disrespect, you would tell me what she said or did that compelled you to violence. But you think it's not in my best interest to know?" He raised his voice. "Don't tell me what you think is best for me. This is my house, and yes, I do think it is best that I know what goes on in my house, Sebastian."
Ciel leaned over me in the chair to rest one hand on an arm rest. With the other he raised the eye patch and his eye was alight. "So tell me precisely what Mey-Rin did that caused you to hit her."
I pondered this order for a moment. He was not to know, and I had to find a way to give him enough information to satisfy him without alerting him of what she knew, and what we had done. A gloved hand was to my lips, my elbow on the unoccupied armrest. "She called you a 'scrawny little shit.'"
Ciel raised an eyebrow. "Is that it? She said that I'm a scrawny little shit and you saw that as reason enough to hit her?"
"Well, that is not all of what was said, but that is precisely the reason I hit her."
Ciel pointed a finger at me. "Cease this game of avoidance! You are still hiding something, and by withholding information you do me a disservice. She called me that for a reason."
"Young master, is it so necessary for you to know all these details?"
"What did I say? I will determine what is necessary for me! You will tell me the exact words that came out of her mouth when she called me that, before you hit her. I order you."
I turned away, no longer comfortable with this interrogation. Feet flat on the floor, I sat rigid. He had backed me into a position where I could not slither my way out of. According to his order, anything that I was to say would be incriminating, and master had made sure to leave me no way to skirt out of it. "Yes, my lord. She said, 'what does that scrawny little shit give you that is so much better than what I have given?'"
Leaning forward, I pleaded, "I really thought it best you did not know."
He stalked away from the chair, a hand to his mouth, brow furrowed. "What do I give you... shit... Sebastian... she knows about us. She knows about the affair, she knows we've..." He ceased his pacing. "Wait, what have I given you... that is so much better than what she has... given you...?" Ciel took his hand away from his astonished face, staring at me, and I could not bring myself to meet his gaze. I could only grip the armrests of the chair. "Oh bloody hell you didn't."
"I did not do a lot of things."
"What did you do, Sebastian? Did you sleep with her?" His voice trembled.
"Well, there was no sleeping."
"Son of a bitch. You fucked her."
"You are being very vulgar, young master."
He roared, "Shut up! What the hell, Sebastian?" He brought both hands to his forehead, pulling back his hair, stomping about. "Oh my God... I can't believe... my servants... How long has this been going on? How did she find out? Did you tell her? You have some serious explaining to do, because at this point I can't even look at you right now." I rose from the chair, attempting to close the distance. I was afraid of this reaction. "No. Don't touch me. Sit down. Explain." He held his hands in front of him, still not looking at me. There was that tightening in my chest again, that guilt. I sat down as I was told, considering that maybe I did deserve to feel this way.
"She discovered us in the music room a month ago. You remember that evening."
"You did not notice that she had been watching us, but I did. I confronted her about it and learned that she had been watching us because she found it exciting. I used that to my advantage in exchange for her silence."
"Alright, wait a moment." Ciel sat in an adjacent chair, leaning his elbows on his knees. "So she was spying on us, and you did not think to just reprimand her then?"
"I did not want you finding out that she had seen us together. I was concerned for how you might react to knowing that you had been seen... with me..." His face was bright red, either from recounting events or from the embarrassment, or both. "Yes, she really had seen the whole thing and you did not see me catch her at the doorway, you were... relaxed. I really blame myself for this lax in discretion and she has always had an attraction to me-"
"Don't flatter yourself. You took advantage of her."
"To be quite honest, she wanted to be taken advantage of. I made a proposition, and she was very earnest to take it."
"And how long have you two been...?"
"Oh, I can assure you, our coupling was a one-time exchange."
Ciel slouched in the chair, looking to the ceiling in bewilderment. "And let me guess, she's been coming to you hoping for more."
"Yes, and I was quite clear with her, not to expect more to come from it."
He shook his head, belting out a mock laugh. "Oh why not give the poor cunt what she wants? You are too cruel, Sebastian."
I bowed my head, voice soft. "There was too much risk. I had you to consider."
"Consider me how?"
Could I name all the reasons? That the one time I had Mey-Rin I could not stop thinking of him? I did not want an affair with her, or anything that would distract me from him. Did he not understand that her question had struck a chord with me, because he offered me more than what I could ask for? The night before, he wanted me, not Sebastian his butler, but Me, and that had never happened before. I was grappling with this possibility that perhaps he was right; there was more to this arrangement-
"Well, was at least that one time any good?" Ciel waved his arm to emphasize the question.
I baulked, forced from my thoughts. "Is there a reason you would ask me this?"
"Maybe I'm just curious. Because, well, can she offer you something I can't? After all, am I not just a 'scrawny little shit?'" There was hurt in that face, hurt I had placed in him, and I was reminded of how I could not stop failing my master.
"You know those are not my words."
"But I suppose you view me this way, in some capacity, huh? Some diminutive master who places such strain on you, but you know what? People have fucking feelings, Sebastian.
"I just can't believe this. I wonder, do you think sex is just a tool to gain leverage over others? No, shut up. Because that is what I'm seeing right now and I'm beginning to wonder if that is what you are doing to me.
"I mean, I trusted you. I wanted so much to believe that just maybe I'm not awful about how I feel towards you and here recently you've been encouraging it, and for what? I come to find that you really can't reciprocate any kind of feeling, that you don't like my affection? That it is something you have to endure, only to feed some sick craving for me? I guess all this fucking around is aperitif before the main course, huh?"
Enough of this, I thought. Fuming, I flew from my chair to pull him up by the shoulders. "You will ask questions of me, accuse me of these motives, and then tell me to shut up? Truly, it appears that I cannot do right by you. So perhaps you need to be told one more time, young master. I am a demon."
I raised my voice. "I will not excuse my actions because no matter what I say or do you will remain upset. You would base your definition of loyalty on sexual fidelity, an expectation that was never voiced to me. You forget my loyalty is based in something far more substantial."
"I have not forgotten!"
"Then perhaps you forget that I am not your pet, not an object of affection? What are you expecting from me? Are you expecting decency and honour? Are you expecting affection and compassion and remorse, like I am some insufferable human? And did you ever consider that if I could, I would be these things for you?"
Those words were not meant to leave my lips, but they were wrung from me with a force comparable to that of a world which had stopped turning. The hardness in his features cracked and the pain seeped to the surface. "What...?"
My grip shook him, not because I was frustrated with him, but because I could not stop shaking. "I am at my limit with you. Do you even know that I feel such... guilt... towards you right now? Couple this with the fact that I am starving, yes, last night was proof of this, and yet the force of your affection has bound me. You dangle yourself before me, insist that I take you however I please, but it hurts, this hunger hurts, your strange amour hurts. It is maddening!"
The words kept coming from me, hissing remarks, all the things I was not supposed to say, and maybe I continued to say them because I saw that it hurt him to hear them.
"And as for you being a sick craving, yes, I am embarrassed of the state you have reduced me to, young master. I cannot even recognize myself any more, for I feel as a shade of what I was originally meant to be for you. I can only feel more like myself when I am compelled by malice, and do not tell me that is not what you want, because you said it. I can taste your arousal right now, you sick little boy to be so enamoured with my evil."
My nails pressed into the back of his neck as I bit at his jaw. He gripped my arms to push away, trembling, whimpering as I tasted the agony on his cheek once more.
He took a deep breath, finding some resolve to command with bitter, even tone. "You will put me down and get your hands off me this instant, you insufferable demon." I complied. Ciel took a step back as I attempted to compose myself. "I'm done with this conversation. Stay out of my sight. I need time to myself." He turned his back to me, reaching for the door handle.
"Time to sulk, I am sure." My remark was unnecessary and spiteful, and I did not care. Ciel hunched his shoulders, his hand to his mouth to hide his quivering lip as he ran from the room.