Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Author's Note: I know. I'm a horrible person. :D

Warnings: Part of the "Bicentennial" series. Post "666," obviously; takes place before "Violets: White." SebaCiel, WillGrelle, RonFinny. OCs of all sorts. Fluff, angst, derp. Feels, maybe? The usual crap editing. Answers absolutely nothing about Lau and RanMao. :'D That'll come next.

XXX

Violets

Blue

X

"Lay her i' the earth:

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!"

~Hamlet V, i

XXX

0 Months, 0 Weeks, 0 Days

They'd spoken of it in passing, once or twice. Now that the twins were older. Now that his most recent Contract had ended. Now that life had settled down, stabilized. And for as much as Sebastian's eyes sparkled with delight at every mention of the idea, the fledgling suspected his husband hadn't really put much legitimate thought into the possibility. After all, the brunt of the burden would fall upon Ciel's shoulders, this time; the once-earl figured his servant didn't think his intentions serious enough to merit all of the effort it would take to make this happen.

His tune changed one evening in late June— 9:03 PM— when the children were in bed, asleep… and Ciel slunk into the living room in fully feminine regalia, a sheer nightie of iridescent pink whispering over rounded hips and budding breasts. His bare toes had curled in the carpet; his silvery hair was bound in pigtailed ringlets. And he—"she"— smiled as the airy negligée was delicately lifted, trapping a startled Sebastian between creamy thighs and the leather couch.

"B…Baby bird…?" the devil choked, features pinking noticeably as a groan caught in his throat. On instinct, his hands gripped that fragile waist, guiding it as it began to grind. Sebastian recognized a present when he saw one, after all, especially when it had already been wrapped up in ribbons and bows… Still, he hesitated; his eyes wandered over rosebud nipples and traced hourglass curves on its meandering journey downward—to anatomy that was familiar, certainly, but not quite as familiar as it usually was. He arched a brow, and cast Ciel a questioning glance, as if to ask what the occasion was.

Silly. It was Father's Day.

"Don't you want to be a Daddy again…?"

0 Months, 2 Weeks, 1 Day

He thought he had prepared himself for everything.

He'd spent the weeks prior to copulation making very, very certain he'd collected enough souls—knowing full well it'd soon be difficult to form Contracts, and that staying properly fed was about to become more important than ever. He'd been certain to maintain his female form after that (very passionate) night, nervous that if he converted his outer-form, his insides might revert, as well, which would have rendered all of his efforts worthless. He'd read through Sebastian's old pregnancy books, eaten the vitamin's he'd purchased for himself, and abstained from certain culinary vices… Because when Ciel Phantomhive decided to do something, he went the extra mile to make sure he did it properly. And that, without question, included pregnancy.

If he was actually pregnant, anyway.

"Can you tell yet?" he'd ask Sebastian every morning, rolling up his nightshirt and presenting his tummy to his husband for scrutiny. Sebastian, in turn, would offer a sleepy chuckle and press his ear to the flat of Ciel's belly, as if listening for change. Or perhaps when his stomach gurgled, it communicated more than hunger to the elder devil.

In any case, most days this exchange ended with a kiss above his navel and an apologetic smile. "I can tell someone wants breakfast," he'd then tease, pecking a pouting Ciel on the tip of his nose before slipping out of bed. "What would you like today?"

And Ciel would sigh, bind his long locks in a ponytail, and mutter something about fruit or whole grains or whatever health-conscious meal he'd decided on the night before. Because for all the things he had prepared for, not being pregnant wasn't one of them. And after two weeks, he was starting to feel a bit despondent. After all, "failure" hadn't been in the Phantomhive dictionary for centuries; Ciel loathed to think he'd have to include it now.

"Would it really be so bad to have to try again?" Sebastian asked the first morning of week three, eyes opening to find his husband-turned-wife straddled across his chest, shirt already lifted. He supposed that's what he got for sleeping in… The once-butler made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh as Ciel stubbornly shifted atop his torso, waiting to be inspected.

"We're not trying again until we're sure it didn't work the first time," the not-boy (very much not-boy) decreed obstinately, though he was tolerant of the fingers that tempted and teased at his sensitive sides. At this rate, after all, it was probably best not to discourage him… Though Ciel didn't like the idea of all of his previous plotting having been spoiled by something as irritatingly out-of-his-control as failing to conceive. So he decided not to think on it until he absolutely had to. "Now then," the stubborn fledgling prompted, one hand reaching out to guide his servant's head to his belly as the other continued to hold aloft his shirtfront. "Can you tell yet?"

Ever the indulgent lover, Sebastian rolled his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows, doing as he was told. He leaned forward, placed his ear and cheek against Ciel's pale stomach, mouth already open to ask what he wanted to eat this morning—

When he paused. Blinked once, frowning.

"…Sebastian? Are yo—? Ah—!" Ciel shuddered, squirming under an unexpectedly ticklish onslaught of nose and tightening fingers. Without warning, Sebastian had shifted, pushing himself fully upright in bed—then surged forward to press Ciel back-first against the mattress. His grip shifted on the other's hips as he burrowed his face into his lover's belly. The skin was sensitive there; Ciel had to bite back a giggle as the moist heat of his husband's exhalations teased at his finest hairs. But no amount of laughter or wiggles would be enough to deter him. The elder demon sucked down another deep breath—three of them— before pulling away with a jerk and a jolt, an expression of astonishment slackening his features.

Framed by rumpled coverlets and tangled curls of hair, one hand still firmly bunched around a fistful of fabric, Ciel gazed innocently up at his startled husband—feeling his hopes and heart swell despite his best attempts to keep calm. "Well?" he then demanded in a breathless whisper, breaking the spell of anxious silence. Blue eyes wide and hopeful, he gazed up at the demon arched above… refusing to believe until he heard the words from Sebastian himself. "Can you or can't you?"

Sebastian swallowed. And then the biggest, goofiest grin Ciel had ever seen took hold of his lips—features soft and bright and thrilled and crazed all at once.

"…I… I can. I can tell. Ciel… You're preg—"

The devil was cut off by a flurry of sudden, exuberant kisses— slender arms thrown around his shoulders and limber legs curling around his waist, pulling him down into the sheets.

0 Months, 2 Weeks, 4 Days

"…brother or sister?"

"That's right," Sebastian said encouragingly, balancing one six-year-old on each knee. The twins, in turn, shared a wordless glance. Their lashes flickered; their pupils waned. And though the look was silent, their parents were not so stupid as to think it wasn't an exchange full of much meaning and deliberation. Seated beside the rest of his family on the couch, Ciel offered a smile of his own, albeit a nervous one. Though it had already been a few weeks, his son and daughter still weren't fully accustomed to seeing their Mama in a female body; it was strange and unfamiliar. Though their original, fearful reactions had been a bit disappointing, Ciel couldn't say he was surprised: he'd heard of other children becoming anxious or confused when a mother changed their hairstyle or a father shaved a moustache… This alteration must have been even more jarring. He couldn't blame the twins for running and hiding, most of the time.

But on the bright side, Asmus and Toth weren't scooting away from him, now. Instead, they turned as one to analyze the full of his appearance, though their curious eyes lingered especially long on his midriff.

"A baby is inside of Mama right now?" Asmus paraphrased, glancing towards her father again for confirmation. Sebastian, ever-patient, nodded. "Jus' one?"

"Just one," her father confirmed—quickly, before Ciel had a chance to speak. The words fizzled like acid on the tip of his tongue, plaguing him with a sort of cautionary pain. It was, after all, technically a lie… But it would be the truth soon enough, so Sebastian endured it. There was no need to traumatize the children with the full truth of demonic pregnancies… Not now, anyway. Not when so young. They only asked because they knew that they were special, but weren't entirely sure how; that was a story for when they were older, when they might understand the dangerous (but ultimately happy) mistake of a poorly-worded order. But for now… "So you two will have to promise to keep him or her company after they're born, all right?"

As Sebastian glanced from one child to the next, Toth chirruped a soft noise of affirmation; Asmus nodded soberly as well, but she still looked a bit put-out. Sliding from her father's knee, the little girl crept cautiously over to Ciel, giving him a wary once-over as her brother tripped up beside her. She and Toth traded another grave glance, followed by a mute nod.

Then, gingerly, Asmus reached out and touched her mother's stomach, countenance grim with the utmost seriousness. "I know it's pro'lly all lonely in there, baby," she announced solemnly, giving her mother's cloth-covered navel a sympathetic stroke, "since you dun have a brother an' all right now. But you'll have a brother an' a sister when you come out, so just hol' on."

That said, the little girl paused, mulling over her brief speech. There was probably other stuff that she could add, but nothing really came to mind, right then…Besides, if she thought of anything else, she could just have Mama relay the message later. So… that was that. Deciding she'd pretty much said all she had to, Asmus gave her head another bob and allowed her hand to slide away. Behind her, Toth wore an expression of agreement. A silent "what she said."

It melted their parents' hearts.

"…thank you, Azzy. Toto." Initially surprised by his children's response, Ciel's features morphed in a surge of rosy affection. With little warning, he reached out and scooped both of the twins into his arms, cuddling them tightly—the first time they'd ventured close enough for him to do so in some time. Though both appeared markedly uncomfortable at first— faintly put-off by the rounded pillows of fat pressed flat against their cheeks—they eventually relaxed, and even returned the snuggle… Before pulling away to level their mother a very ominous stare.

"But th' baby can't have our room. Or our toys. Those're ours," Asmus pronounced, eyes glittering territorially. Beside her, Toth's stare was equally bright: irises glinting vermillion as he nodded in emphasis, little fangs bared. The sight was nearly enough to make their parents' swell with pride; they were demons, after all. Greed was to be both expected and encouraged.

"Of course," Sebastian promised, pressing a loving kiss to his precious children's heads—both as reward and reassurance. Recognizing the gesture as such, the bristled little ones relaxed once more, confident that these ground rules had been established. And, feeling particularly generous in the wake of this agreement, Asmus flippantly added:

"She can have my old Barney doll, though. There's a hole in it, so I dun wan' it, so that's okay."

Ciel snorted. "Fair enough."

1 Month, 1 Week, 6 Days

"Mamaaaaaa!" Little fists pounded on the bathroom door; the incessant drum of it echoed off of porcelain tiles, high ceiling, and on the inside of Ciel's throbbing head. "Stop pukin'! We need in! We need to brush our teeeeth!"

"And it's weird t' have Uri on this side of th' door," Toth quietly added, sounding a bit disturbed. "Hurry up so you can lock him in there, in'stead."

"Mamaaaaa! Mamamamamamamamama—"

"Mama?"

Knock-knock-knock- oh, wait.

Finally realizing that they'd never get an answer if they didn't shut up, the twins eventually fell silent, waiting a minute for their mother to respond. They could hear his jaw creak, opening… But their recompense was merely a groan, followed by gagging and a wet retch. As one, the twins' noses scrunched. Ew.

"Now, now," the voice of an amused angel calmly interrupted, gauzy robes hushing against the carpet as the angel-turned-godfather-turned-babysitter finally tried to take control of the situation, moving to usher the twins down the hall. Oh, thank Hell; Uriel really could be a godsend. (…no pun intended.) "Let us just use the other bathroom, shall we? Should it improve your moods, I shall even allow you to lock me in there, yourselves, after you have washed and prepared for school…"

2 Month, 0 Weeks, 4 Days

"You know," Ronald began conversationally, laughter in his voice as he settled himself upon the countertop, "'girl' is a good look on you, brat. You're super cute with boobs." As if this off-the-wall compliment were some sort of peculiar blessing, the reaper lifted his can of beer in a mock toast. Standing beside his increasingly drunk boyfriend, Finny flushed, glancing ruefully at his once-young-master. Ciel, for his part, accepted the rather inappropriate comment with little more than a cocked eyebrow; Sebastian, on the other hand, responded with a scowl.

"I'd appreciate it if you would refrain from ogling my husband's breasts," he ground through clenched teeth, reaching out to physically push the death god from his counter. Had he been sober, such a shove might have only jarred him; as it was, Ronald toppled entirely off of the island, landing with a thud and a clatter of kibbles and bits beside George and Georgia's food bowls.

"You do look quite pretty, though," Finnian added—apologetic, but also earnest in his flattery. "Like that one time, back in England, when you went out undercover in that pink dress that—um… that Maylene, Bard, and I totally didn't know about," the blonde finished lamely, inching away from the butler when he felt that dangerous glare fall upon him, now. "Noooo sir, Mr. Sebastian definitely didn't tell us other servants about that little mishap… um… yeah." Taking a deep swig of his own beverage, Finny fingered his beer can awkwardly, then shot a desperate glance towards the living room, as if searching out an escape. He found it in the form of two wandering cats, startled from their hiding places by the sound of scattering food. "Hey, look, kitties! I completely forgot that you guys had kitties. Boy, I sure do want to go look at them more closely…"

This very clever cover established, Finny took it upon himself to slink sideways out of the kitchen— as if doing his best impression of a nervous crab. Not that it particularly mattered how awkward his exit; Ciel had already been distracted, glowering at his husband from behind a lifted glass. (Others knew about that humiliation—?!) The fledgling gurgled angrily, cheeks bulged, spluttering around a mouthful of milk. Already, Sebastian was wincing, preparing for the verbal smack-down of the century… But the Universe must have been in an oddly good mood that day, as it decided to show the devil a modicum of mercy.

"Oh, our lil' Hercules wannabe is right, you know," Grelle sang, abandoning her station before the chili she was preparing in favor of attacking Ciel from behind. The once-earl choked a bit as he gulped down the last dregs of his drink— coughed like a drowning person as half of the liquid slipped down the wrong pipe— then cast the redhead a wry glance. "You look beautiful, you little brat~ You've certainly got the glow! And the hooters," the reaper added cheerfully, reaching around to give Ciel's bosom a friendly grope. Both Phantomhives responded to this by making a sound akin to a squeaky toy going through a blender. "They're so perky! I must admit, I'm jealooooous~ I wish mine were naturally this plump." The reaper underscored her pronouncement with a snicker and a squeeze, nestling her rouged cheek against the demon's flamingly scarlet one.

"Grelle!"

"In the name of all that is unholy— what is it with you reapers and my husband's cleavage?!"

"Oh, Mommy." Curious about the racket (and starting to get hungry), the adults looked up to find that Asmus, Toth, and Angel had wandered in from the living room; the latter responded to the insanity before her with a sweet sigh, but appeared otherwise unfazed. It wasn't as if such behavior was unusual for the shinigami. Sad as that was. "Papa and I have talked to you about this," the 9-year-old chastised reproachfully, rolling her eyes as she curled tiny fingers around her mother's earlobe. An instant later, and Grelle was flailing—squawking and squirming away as her daughter gave her ear a swift, reprimanding tug. Holy vengeance, indeed. "We keep our hands to ourselves unless someone tells you it's okay to touch them. Personal space is important."

"Ow! Okay, okay—ow! I'll behave, Angieeee…!" Grelle whimpered, releasing Ciel in favor of trying to massage feeling back into her aching ear. Very much her father's daughter, the angel scoffed at the histrionics, idly tossing her golden curls over her shoulder. Watching this with starry-eyes from a few feet beyond, Asmus attempted to mimic her cousin's beauty and grace… then pouted (much like her aunt) upon realizing that her curls weren't long enough to toss. Toth, meanwhile, also decided to copy his cousin: he rolled his eyes.

"Seriously, though," Ronald chimed, finally figuring out how to orientate his limbs and clamber back onto his feet. Though still a bit tipsy, the reaper managed to retain enough of his senses to merely lean against the counter, this time around, rather than attempt to seat himself upon it. A wise decision. Especially considering Sebastian was literally standing right beside him. "Bein' a reaper, an' all, I probably shouldn't be sayin' this… because of our battle-for-souls and evilness and that Balance stuff and blah, blah, blah… But, you know, screw it. Congrats, you guys. Here's to a beautiful new niece or nephew~"

And this time, when Ronald raised his can in commendation, the others were eager to act in kind—cheers, laughter, and general gaiety joining the savory scents of supper in that tiny kitchen. Sebastian cooked, the reapers clowned, the children took to talking to Ciel's belly… In the midst of all of this cheery commotion, no one really noticed when Grelle's cell phone rang— or realized that, by the time she'd hung up with her husband, her smile had faded.

2 Months, 2 Weeks, 5 Days

"It's rude to stare, you know."

"Nonsense. Beauty is meant to be admired— oomph!"

"Ass," Ciel snorted, pausing in his preparations in order to acquaint Sebastian's face with a pillow. The cushion flew like a Frisbee; as he'd been resting on his side, the force of the impact was enough to send the elder devil sprawling. "There's a special circle of hell for flatterers." Working more swiftly in the wake of embarrassment, Ciel gave his pajamas—one of Sebastian's old, oversized shirts—a rough yank. His head popped through the neck of it no worse for wear, but his ponytail was a mess. It didn't really matter; he was about to take it out, anyway.

"How true. I used to vacation there, back when I was a fledgling." Chuckling as he again found his bearings, Sebastian tossed the pillow aside and pushed himself upright—sheets slipping from his bare chest as he scooted closer to the mattress's edge. When Ciel climbed into bed, as well, Sebastian was quick to slide over and mold himself against the other's back; he pressed a lingering kiss to his husband's sensitive nape, tenderly combing his fingers through coils of silver hair. His tresses really were lovely when he wore them like this… As his butler purred and played—using that silver tongue of his for more than just compliments—Ciel giggled, squirmed, and smoothed his rumpled pajamas over the slight swell of his stomach.

As always, the gesture sent little shivers of delight down the younger demon's spine. For as often as he, Sebastian, or the twins touched his swollen belly, the once-earl never lost the feeling of awe that the life within him invoked… He'd never stopped worshiping the miracle that was the tiny devil inside of him, the one that had survived the scuffle for existence, and now waited to be born. Back when he'd been carrying the twins, Ciel had always loved to caress Sebastian's stomach— he'd been wholly content to waste hours simply feeling for their babies, his palms pressed flat against the rounded distention of his servant's middle. Sebastian had often joked about how thankful he'd been for their television, back in those days: without it, he'd surely have been bored death, forced to "endure" hours upon hours of his master's attention. (Well, during those brief months his master had been around, anyway.)

But now that Ciel was the pregnant one, well—it was rather like handing crack to a junkie. To say that the fledgling found it difficult to resist the temptation to touch his belly was something of an understatement; he almost always had a hand pressed to it, in some way— waiting for a little nudge, or a poke, or any movement at all, really. Anything to prove the baby was actually there. Because sometimes—even after months of vomiting and aches and nausea and irritability—Ciel still couldn't believe he could be so lucky.

Noticing his husband's contented smile, Sebastian smiled in kind.

"So, have you started thinking of names?" he murmured, perching his chin atop his tamer's shoulder and sliding his arms around curved sides. A nuzzle, a kiss; Sebastian's open palms enveloped his master's, encouraging the other to rub idle circles into tender flesh. When his affection was returned by tadpole-weak flurries of activity, he flushed a trifle himself. "I decided last time. It is only fair that the choice be yours, now."

Oh. He'd not considered that. Well, then… "Hmm… Perhaps something from literature," Ciel mused, tipping his head back enough to catch Sebastian's eyes. "I've always been fond of the names in Shakespeare and Poe… Ophelia, maybe, or Lenore. Or perhaps we might be ironic and name her something from the Bible, like Eve or Magdalene."

"Any of those names would be lovely for a girl, certainly," Sebastian agreed with a chuckle, spidery fingertip slipping sneakily beneath the hem of Ciel's shirt. For as proud of his bulge as the fledgling was, the devil could still cup the whole of it with one splayed hand; they still had a good while left to wait for their newborn… Who at this rate would be christened with a female name, regardless of its gender. "Are you truly so confident that the baby will be female that you're not even going to consider boy names?"

Ciel snorted, a puff of laughter coloring his breath as Sebastian's probing fingers "inadvertently" brushed a sensitive spot on his hip. Toes curled in the sheets; beneath the mantle of a hole-incrusted Wendell's Waffle House shirt, molesting hands skittered—stroking and tickling, tweaking grins from two mouths. With a spirited yelp, the not-boy scrambled within his husband's embrace, trying half-heartedly to catch his arm and stop his ministrations. The gentle wrestling match ended with them both tangled in the sheets, limbs knotted and cheeks pink. "Actually… Asmus is the confident one," Ciel corrected as they calmed, tucking a loose lock of hair behind his ear as he snuggled up next to Sebastian. "I suppose she's gotten it in my head, now, that they'll be having a sist… Are you okay?"

In half an instant, the sweet mood soured. Ciel frowned, befuddled, as he glanced back and caught sight of his husband's contorting expression. Within seconds, the other's frisky smile had vanished—having been replaced by a scowl and a glare, forehead furrowed in alarm. An electric jolt of panic shot through the earl's heart; he twisted a bit, facing his husband more fully. "…Sebastian?" he then tried again, prompting. "What's the matter?"

"…are you feeling quite well?" Sebastian demanded, his sonorous voice low as his hand fluttered from its intimate perch. Soon after, he'd curled those svelte fingers around his master's frail wrist; his grip was delicate, but as strong as iron. He held the limb aloft as if presenting some sort of evidence, but Ciel merely responded with a lifted brow, the very picture of blithe bewilderment.

"I feel fine."

Rather than comfort the demon, this reassurance only seemed to exacerbate his worries. "You're trembling, little one," Sebastian pointed out, visibly concerned that he'd had to spell this out. Trapped within his husband's careful hold, Ciel started, lashes flickering in mild alarm. He was…? No, there was no reason that he should— But yes— yes, now that Sebastian had pointed it out… When he looked upon his hand… "Have you not noticed?"

No. He hadn't. That didn't seem… right.

"I… Well, it's probably just from exhaustion. I've been rather tired, lately— and no, I'm not hungry," he hastily tried to pacify, knowing full-well that his servant had a tendency to see his own complications in Ciel's condition. Draining life-force, starvation… A sacrifice of one's own energies. The fear of it loomed over their heads like a guillotine, exacerbated by the fact that— should something actually happen— there would be very little that Sebastian could do. Such was the curse of their eternal Contract… But that wasn't something that either wanted to think about. Not right then. "Honestly. I only need sleep. It's been a trying day."

For a long moment, Sebastian said nothing, seemingly unconvinced…

But then, he was probably being paranoid. Not that anyone could blame him, after everything that had happened last time, but… Well, there was no need for baseless worries. Still, just to be safe, he made a mental note to call Lilith on the mirror in the morning to see what she had to say. And Grelle, too. Grelle was always up for a bout of mothering. In the meantime, rest would do everyone good.

Surrendering to Ciel's argument with a nod, Sebastian kissed both lips and bellybutton before bidding his loved ones goodnight.

3 Months, 1 Week, 0 Days

"I can't really say. I mean, they're all fine, aren't they?" Grelle trilled, drumming manicured fingers against the steering wheel. As she maneuvered the Phantomhive's van out of the school parking lot, Ciel waved at their children through the window; Angel, Asmus, and Toth flashed the redheaded reaper's ASL "I love you" in response. "Besides, isn't it a bit early to choose?"

"Perhaps to choose, but not to think about it," the fledgling returned, tearing his eyes from the kids' retreating backs and instead focusing his gaze upon his friend. Though the conversation was pleasant enough, and while Grelle was beaming as brightly as always, Ciel couldn't shake the feeling that something was… off. Like she was trying too hard, or was somehow too cheerful. "I have been leaning towards Magdalene, though. Maggie for short. It sounds good with 'Azzy' and 'Toto.'"

"It would be adorable," the shinigami agreed, however offhandedly. Her flippancy had Ciel's eyes narrowing all the more, his misgivings growing obvious. What was going on? She'd had multiple opinions about the minutest of details when they'd been planning their wedding, and had been equally interfering when it'd come to Sebastian's pregnancy. He found it hard to believe she didn't have anything more to say now.

"…and maybe Angelina as her middle name," the not-boy added slowly, gaze glued upon his friend as they drove back towards the apartment. Fall hadn't quite made an appearance, yet; the sun was shining summer-bright upon the busy streets. Still, there was a definite rosiness about the city— a promise of bright leaves and jack-o-lanterns. Autumn always brought to mind the color red, and in so doing… "After my aunt. What do you think?"

Grelle's answer with a vague hum and a brief nod: nothing more. She didn't even bother sparing Ciel a fleeting glance, instead careful to keep her attentive eyes on the road. Her pixie cut was dancing in the wind that eked through the cracked window; her smiled was so unfaltering, it seemed almost as painted as her lips. She was the very portrait of refined, crimson-dyed beauty… which in itself seemed bizarre. What happened to the flamboyant wild-child who drove like they were constantly traveling the tracks of a roller coaster? Where was the flailing and scream-singing along to the radio? It was as if the body-snatchers had switched her brain with Will's. Or something. (Ciel had never actually seen "Invasion of the Body Snatchers.")

"You seem kind of out-of-it," the fledgling commented—rather bluntly— as the car eased to a stop at the light. This, at least, got Grelle's attention; she straightened a bit, casting her friend a questioning stare. "You do," he forcefully reiterated, expression pinching as he thought more on her behavior. "You've not been acting like yourself for a while, now... It's like someone replaced you with a mature adult, or something. It's weird." The once-boy's features twisted a bit more, a deep frown marring his face as a thought occurred to him. "…it's not about the pregnancy, is it? I know how much you've always wanted to have a baby of your own, but I thought—after Angel… and you were okay about the twins, so—"

"It's not that," Grelle interrupted, her voice curter than normal, but not necessarily cold. Even still, the solemnity of her retort was unusual, and more than enough to quiet Ciel. "It's not that at all. I'm just… I'm worried about you. I know you'll say you're fine," she continued, speaking loud enough to drown out any protests that the other might have attempted to toss out, "but are you really? I know the reason you volunteered for this is because, well, after what happened last time, Sebastian-darling attempting another pregnancy would be akin to suicide. But is it any different for you?"

The suggestion—however meekly presented—had Ciel bristling in his seat, hands clamping defensively over his bulge. He didn't like where this was going. Still, it didn't take a genius to realize that the reaper had been waiting to say this for quite some time; the thought that his friend had been harboring these kinds of thoughts for months had Ciel's stomach churning. For the first time in a while, he felt the urge to vomit. "…just what are you trying to say, Grelle?"

Grelle winced—like one who saw a blow forthcoming, but didn't have time to dodge it. Resigned to her fate, she sighed and murmured: "Little brat, you may be a demon now, but you were originally a human. Your body composition was altered a bit after you changed, yes, but you're still a unique case… Where most devils are born as energy that can then take on any sort of shape, you were born with a shape of your own. It's like… it's like clay. Sebastian and the twins, they're that molding clay that never dries out, no matter what you do to it. And while you're like clay, too, you're the sort that can dry… and you have, to an extent. So even now, you're naturally resistant to change. We can still poke and pinch at your outsides and tweak your look as needed, but your core remains that of a mortal, because your soul wants to stay in the same container it was born into. That's why it's a strain for you to wear anything other than a shallow, temporary, and skin-deep disguise. You're not used to having to maintain a transformation as… inclusive as this one, and frankly, I'm afraid of what might happen to you. I'm afraid you might break, just like that clay."

"... you're wrong."

The heavy silence that hung between them—punctured only by the whispered grind of passing cars—was finally broken by a terse snarl, angry eyes shimmering like ruddy fire opals. Ciel's voice, which had for months been altered to match his feminine face, suddenly reverted; his growl was very much that of an infuriated, obstinate young boy. "You're wrong. I can do this."

She knew she shouldn't have said anything. But… at work… "Little brat," the death goddess tried again, sounding just a touch desperate as she attempted to mollify the fuming devil, "it's not like I'm arguing with you— this isn't a fight. I told you, I'm just worried. I mean," she added feebly, clearly grasping at straws, now, "maybe I am wrong… You are a special case, just like Sebastian. You two are always surpassing expectations. Doing the impossible. But… those tremors," the shinigami tacked on—hesitantly, perhaps, but in such a meaningful manner that it even gave Ciel pause. "You're still shaking. And now it's more than just your hands, right?"

For the first time in a while, Grelle allowed herself to glance away from the road… But by the time her eyes had sought out Ciel, he had already hidden his hands away: sitting on them as if that might nullify her claims. It was a juvenile response. It made the reaper feel even worse for having pointed it out. But…

"Brat…"

"And what," the demonling whispered, glowering out the window in a fruitless attempt to hide his mortification, "are you saying I should do, then? Just… stop?" he spat, turning a bit green at the mere suggestion. Because if he were to stop wearing this skin, then…

Grelle cringed as well, turning notably pale. "I—I'm not saying anything, just…"

"Well then, if you've got nothing helpful to say, shut up!" Ciel snapped, slouching angrily and turning away as much as his seatbelt would allow. For a moment, his friend spluttered, trying fruitlessly to find the phrase that would make him understand where she was coming from, to make it clear that she hadn't meant to express anything other than unease on behalf of mother and baby, and that she hoped for the best, too—it was just hard, sometimes, when one carried around a ledger book of those who would soon be dead. All she wanted, she sought to say, was for everyone to be okay, even if that meant…

But in the end, Grelle realized she'd never find the words she was looking for. No such words existed. Not any that would articulate all that she needed to, anyway.

So she did as she was told, and simply 'shut up.'

3 Months, 3 Weeks, 1 Day

"...Daddy, I'm pretty sure the picture says—"

"Azzy, pet, I am over 6,000 years old. I am a master of all crafts, certainly, but have attained notable recognition for my achievements in architecture. I've rebuilt the fallen palaces of Pharaohs and kings. I reconstructed the Phantomhive manor—multiple times— from bits of rubble. I'm an entry on Wikipedia. I am fairly certain I can put this IKEA crib together without having to look at the instructions."

"But can ya do it in less than four hours?" the little girl dryly retorted, glancing at the clock on the freshly-painted wall. Seated by the window in an equally new rocking chair, Ciel choked on a snort, hiding his smirk behind a hand. Not like anyone doubted it was there. Unamused, Sebastian shot his husband a withering glance before returning his attention to Asmus… and in the process of doing so, failed to realize he was resting the weight of his knees on a rather brittle piece of plywood.

Snap.

Move over, Universe. There was a new bitch in town, and her name was Irony.

"…I dun think doin' that was part was in the ins'ructions, either," Toth mumbled from around a lollypop, glancing towards his sister's manual to check. His suspicions were quickly confirmed. The sight of Sebastian beating his forehead against the floor helped, too. "Nope, it wasn't. You're doin' it wrong, Daddy."

Their father responded with a sardonic grunt.

Their mother started guffawing.

4 Months, 0 Weeks, 6 Days

"I think the baby is gettin' sleepy."

Having long-since decided that Ciel's belly made for a more comfortable resting place than the couch's armrests, Asmus and Toth had taken to curling up on opposite sides of their mother when their cartoons came on, half-watching the adventures of talking ponies and half-teasing their unborn sibling. During commercials, especially, they liked to poke and see what poked back—to nudge and tickle in an attempt to elicit a reaction from their 'sister.' (Asmus was still very insistent that the child was a girl.) But today, the baby wasn't providing the twins with much in the way of entertainment… For the past few days, actually, they hadn't been able to coax much movement out of her.

Toth frowned up at his mother, as if Ciel might know how to wake her so that they could go back to playing. But no… Feeling his throat constrict, the fledgling flashed his son an apologetic smile, suggesting that they all try taking a nap.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when—why are you looking at me like I've spouted an extra head?"

Ciel chortled, rubbing at bagged and bleary eyes as he shot his husband a smirk. "I guess I'm just not used to being serenade as I go to sleep. With a guitar, no less," he commented with an arched brow, cuddling more fully into the plush of his pillow. Hefting himself onto his side, he waved a regal—albeit quavering—hand, gesturing for his demon to continue. Now that the initial alarm of this, well, bizarre surprise had worn off, Ciel found the whole scene rather… amusing. Sweet, even. For the first time in a long while, his smile was wide and genuine— which made buying this ridiculously overpriced instrument worth it, so far as Sebastian was concerned. Seated lightly on the edge of the mattress, his claret eyes warm with unspeakable affection, the butler graced his master with a mock-bow, one hand splayed across his chest.

"Well then. As I was saying," Sebastian smirked, dipping low and singing into Ciel's stomach like it was the world's most oversized microphone. "You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear—"

"Maggie. If you're going to do this, do it right."

"Begging your pardon, of course. You'll never know, Maggie, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."

5 Months, 1 Week, 5 Days

"Are you out of your mind?! Do you even hear what you're suggesting—?!"

"Darling—Sebastian, please don't get mad! Just hear me out…!"

The bedroom door was closed. George and Georgia were resting beside him, purring up a storm. His blankets were drawn, his ears clogged from fever, and Sebastian and Grelle were speaking in no louder than incensed whispers, regardless of how heated their discussion became… But still, Ciel could hear every hissed syllable as clearly as if the two were standing right beside him and screaming at one another.

"He would never agree to it!"

"You have to make him agree. Can't you see what this is doing to him?!"

There was a clatter of pots and pans, tinny and resonant. A soapy crash; glasses chattered and cutlery rattled. Sebastian was likely emptying the dishwasher. He had a tendency to clean when cross. Closing his leaden eyes, Ciel focused his fuzzy senses—picking through the white noise until he found what he wanted to hear.

"How dare you—of course I do! Every second of every day I see what this is doing to him. Do you think it doesn't kill me inside to watch him suffer?! Because it does, Grelle. It's like watching someone squeeze the life out of my own heart."

"So why aren't you—?!"

"Because he won't hear of it! You've spoken with him, I've spoken with him… He won't let me or my mother do anything! Even if that means… He's being an idiot, Satan help us, but no more of an idiot than I was… And how can I begrudge him that? For wanting to protect our child? It's what mothers do! You wouldn't—…!"

"…I suppose you're about to tell me that I couldn't possibly understand because my daughter is adopted."

"…I'm sorry, Grelle. I didn't… I know that's not true. It's just the anxiety talking…"

If their guest had anything to say in response to this, Ciel didn't catch it; their quiet muttering was temporarily drowned out by the shrieking of springs and the yowl of two cats as the young devil all but flung himself over the side of the bed. Half a second of groping later, and he'd found his yellow bucket—not a moment too soon. He heaved, spilling the contents of more than just his stomach into the pail. A retch, a gag; another mouthful of green-gray bile joined the rest of the glutinous mess… corrosive, wet, and gelatinous, like something out of a horror movie. It wriggled and shone in the pail. He felt sicker looking at it.

Organ linings, Lilith had decreed when she'd visited the other day, her smooth forehead pinching as she finished her son-in-law's impromptu physical. Your body isn't built for something like this, love. You're becoming… foreign to yourself.

Coiling his arms tightly around his middle—as if afraid his stomach might fall off—Ciel flopped weakly back into the softness of his bed, ignoring the beads of clammy sweat that trickled down his temple. Just a little more… He just needed a little more time. He just had to hold out for a bit longer, and then…

"….Sebastian-darling. We've been through something like this before. It worked out last time, yes, but…"

"…I know."

5 Months, 2 Weeks, 6 Days

"So you guys are still sticking with Magdalene, right?" Grelle inquired conversationally, adroit fingers making quick work of piles of balled yarn. Knitting needles clicked and clacked, weaving together a rainbow of rosy colors: pastel pink, vibrant vermillion, and rich red. The resulting blanket would be nearly as warm to look at as it would be to wear. Pleased with her own progress, the shinigami finished line after line of her blanket at inhuman speeds. She hardly had to concentrate on what she was doing to make it perfect, but it was an important project, so she did so, anyway. "I did some research… on that name, that is. Apparently it means 'of Madgala,' which was a little town near the Sea of Galilee… I think it's called Migdal, though, nowadays. I've never been, but I bet Sebastian-darling has. He did a lot of traveling in the Middle East, back in the day. He might have even spoken with Mary Magdalene, now that I think of it—I'm pretty sure he spent, like, 40 days with Jesus, or something. And Jesus was the polite sort, so he probably introduced them," the reaper reasoned, happy to blather on whether or not she got a response. Which was good, because Ciel was hardly in the mood to answer. "Anyway, apparently Madgala means 'tower' in Hebrew or Greek or something… Which at first, I thought was kind of dreary, as name-meanings go. I was gonna try to talk you out of it, to be honest. But now that I've thought on it, it's actually pretty appropriate, name-wise. I mean, she'll be a daughter of Malphas, after all, and what's Malphas best known for?"

"Certainly not playing the guitar."

"Building towers, of course!" Grelle answered herself, choosing to ignore her companion's caustic quip. "Not that Sebastian-darling really goes by that name anymore, I suppose—he really is quite taken with the names you've given him— but he's still the same devil, deep down. And I've seen him with the twins' Lincoln Logs. And Legos. So yeah. Perhaps you were originally just going for the joke of it all, but in the end you chose a truly suitable name." The death goddess grinned, as if the Phantomhives had been waiting on tenterhooks for her approval in this matter. Invasive as she was, she probably thought that they had been.

But instead of being answered by relief and delight, Ciel shot his redheaded friend a curdling glower—his reedy little body half-crumpled beneath the drape of the old quilt that had been laid over his shoulders. Had his shivers been caused by the cold, the blanket might have helped… As it was, it did nothing. Only weighted him down all the more.

He felt like he was breaking.

"…I wish I hadn't told you."

The choked confession tripped from the earl's rasping tongue, unintentional but unable to be swallowed. It fell in the stead of a sob; his gaze fell in kind, hollow. Restless and in agony, Ciel wrapped the comforter more tightly around his folding shoulders, trying to ignore the way his innards throbbed in protest when he moved—focusing instead on the fragile life inside of him that wiggled pathetically whenever he shifted. "Her name… you know it. I shouldn't have told you. Because now…"

The needles froze. Grelle gaped. For an instant, she looked truly offended—confusion, hurt, and indignation all making a play for control of her countenance. Her mouth opened to protest, to ask why on earth he would say such a thing…

And then she noticed where his gaze had landed. Her bag. Her book. If a being lived, it could die. If it had a name, then its death could be found within that book. And if it had a soul, then it was the shinigamis' job to collect the Record of that poor, lost creature.

"…it's all out of my control, you know," Grelle whispered, trying to edge her purse out of the way— to hide it behind her dress, or beneath miles of extra yarn. But it didn't matter. It was too late. "Everything. You know that… that if I could, of course I wouldn't…"

"But you will!" Ciel snapped, pearly tears welling in the corners of narrowed eyes. He jerked his head; the bubbled beads spilled down his cheeks in thick, hot streams, landing in near-invisible splotches atop the bedspread. "You will! Because you can! Just like when you were Jack the Ripper! You're jealous— that I can do this… So you're going to kill her!"

For a long moment, Grelle could do nothing but gawk.

"Are you insane?!" she finally managed, the words half-strangled in a faltering effort to keep calm. Her face was flaring in embarrassment and offence; she was very quickly reaching the end of her rope. This was, after all, crossing a line. These demons might be stressed, and perhaps her profession did make her a bit of a threat… But while she could forgive her friends for many, many slights, accusing her of wanting to outright murder Ciel and his child (out of jealousy for his failing womb, no less!) was taking things way too far. Even if this was just some last-ditch effort to escape the guilt of his own deteriorating body, Grelle did not deserve to be treated like this. Not by anyone. But especially not by Ciel, the boy she'd adopted as her pseudo-nephew. "Ciel, that happened nearly 250 years ago! Since the night in that blood-streaked alley, you have never—not once – had need to fear of me! For the love of God, how much have I done for you, over the years? Even immediately after that incident! And you know that I've changed since England! How could you even suggest that I might—?!"

But the fledgling was no longer listening. Instead, half-crazed by paranoia and pain, he curled in upon himself like a feral animal— teeth bared and a scream in his throat when Grelle reached out to grab him.

"No! No, you're going to take her— I won't let you! Sebastian! SEBASTIAN!"

A booming crash; the panicked, ear-shattering shriek had barely left the writhing devil's lips when the door flew open, banging into the wall with a sound like thunder. Sebastian. His sleeves had been rolled to his elbows, and his forearms were covered in bubbles… Judging by the dampness of his shirt, and the sopping children that scampered up behind him a second or two later, it was safe to assume that it had been bath time.

"What's going on?! Asmus, Toth—I told you to wait in the tub!"

"But Mama…!"

"Please, just do as I say! Grelle, what's happened?!"

"He just— ah!"

"Ciel! What in Satan's name has gotten into you?!" Sebastian bellowed, dashing across the room as Grelle released her own startled yelp of pain. Like some sort of mad animal, the withering demon had lunged clumsily forward the moment she'd turned her back, his quilt billowing like a cape around him as he latched onto her arm, talons sharp and teeth bared. Luckily, his husband was as sure as he was swift-footed; Ciel hadn't even enough time to puncture the redhead's skin before Sebastian had scooped him up into his soapy arms, effectively saving both immortals from each other. "Would you like to explain to me what the Hell you think you are doing?!"

"S-she's going to…! Like before…!"

"What…? You're not making any sense!"

"Make her leave!"

"Leave? But…" Nonplussed, the servant opened his mouth to protest— to demand to know what on earth he had missed—but he stopped when he caught sight of his best friend, mutely shaking her head. Her smile was gone, her eyes dull. Don't bother. Well, then… "Grelle, just— just go help the children with their bath, please. When they're done, you can wait in the living room if you'd lik— yes, she can, little one. I want to talk to her about this la—I thought I told you two to get back to the bathroom!" Sebastian barked, head spinning abruptly to the left. His knotted brow gave a dangerous tic as two frightened, half-lathered heads peeped out from around the jamb, caught in an act of blatant disobedience. In tandem, the twins jumped, squeaking in fear; two sets of pruney feet were soon pounding their way down the hall, followed swiftly by a grousing grim reaper.

And all the while, Ciel quavered, and cursed, and cried.

5 Months, 4 Weeks, 1 Day

Days and nights passed in darkness and delirium. He couldn't sleep for fear of breaking concentration and losing control of his body, but still there were long patches of nothingness—of dreamlessness, or unconsciousness, where he couldn't seem to recall what he'd done, or said, or if he'd even been cognizant at all.

Still, he remembered the heat of Sebastian curled up behind him— the feel of the other's hand as it caressed his belly, and the tickle of the devil's chin as he nestled close and sang into the other's ear…

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray…"

6 Months, 0 Weeks, 0 Days

"It's kinda like before you two were born," Angel commented quietly, idly twiddling with her Barbie's matted hair. Though she had been trying to distract the twins from their anxieties, the little blonde wasn't having much luck… Rather, she was inadvertently making the situation worse every time her green eyes darted back to the closed bedroom. "'Ba got really sick, too. He had to stay in bed. I wasn't allowed to touch him or anything. Or you guys, 'til you got bigger and stronger and stuff."

"Yeah, but still, we were born okay," Asmus pointed out, half-heartedly affixing the Velcro on a new dress for Angie's doll. In theory, Barbie had finally reached her goal of having a better closet than Little Sister Skipper, and was about to be sacrificed onto the devil Ken (played by Toth) in payment for having made that wish come true (which explained why Toth was trying to wrestle his toy into a festive gown, as well. It was a celebratory occasion). But, at the last second, the Teresa doll—who was playing an angel, this time around—was going to swoop down and convince Ken that they should all just be friends and go out for ice cream and maybe visit the park, if the line for the swings didn't seem too long. That had been the plan, anyway. In actuality, all three found it a difficult plot to focus on, considering the current drama of reality. The whole house was just so… quiet. So quiet that they couldn't think. Which was weird for many reasons, the least of which being that the house was fit to bursting with people, right then. Uncle Ron and Uncle Finny were in the kitchen… Angie's Mommy and Papa were in the old storage room, which had since been converted into a nursery for the baby. Even Grand-mum was here from Below, visiting and helping Daddy. But for as many people as were currently traversing about the apartment, it was as silent as a morgue… Well, a morgue that wasn't run by Undie, anyway. Everyone was walking as if on eggshells, and spoke as softly as specters. It was disconcerting. And scary. The little girl scowled, fidgeting beside her brother on the floor. So much fuss… But for nothing, right? "I mean, if we were born okay, Maggie should be born okay, too, yeah?"

Angel shrugged; it wasn't an overly convincing response. "I dunno…" she confessed, forgoing the game and her doll entirely. "I mean, they're both devils, yeah, but they're not the same… you know? And it was Ba who had you guys. This is… well, this is Cici," Angie finished lamely, as if that was explanation enough. But even as she did so, the twins had a feeling she wasn't saying everything that was on her mind. About how this time was different than before. About why it might not be okay. Their faces crumpled in identical scowls, but before they had a chance to press their cousin for details—

"—Aa—AHH!"

A muffled screech from Mama's room; something glass fell and shattered. In an instant, the house erupted— reapers, immortals, and demons bursting from rooms and rushing about, shouting things to one another that the children couldn't fully make out.

"What was—?!"

"It's given out—"

"—now or never—"

"Get them out of here!"

"Saaaaay, it's been a while since you lot have been my date to the candy store, hasn't it? You guys wanna be my plus-three?" Alone one minute, supervised the next. With little starts of surprise, the children glanced up to find that Uncle Ronald had appeared beside them as suddenly as if he'd stepped out of thin air… Or had teleported there with Uncle Finny, anyway. Wearing his usual, jovial smile, the reaper crouched beside the kids and cocked his two-toned head, as if trying to block Ciel's bedroom door from view. Which, in all likelihood, probably wasn't very far from the truth. "C'mon. Let's go get sugar-high."

6 Months, 0 Weeks, 0 Days

"—Aa—AHH!"

His aching spine arched with an audible crack of vertebrae; he gnashed his teeth with such intensity, he almost ruptured his jaw. The needle-sharp bite of ten ebony nails grounded him momentarily to reality, but when someone noticed the holes he was boring into his own thighs, they wrenched his hands away. Tied them up. Someone had bound his thrashing legs, too— roped them to the posts of the bed— but already he couldn't remember who. Remember would take focus. He couldn't focus. He couldn't— not now. His insides were squirming; it made him want to do the same. But when he bucked, when he struggled, his hips and spine groaned at the effort… Like twigs right before they snapped. Splintering. His innards throbbed in the wake of a hundred-million splinters, puncturing and oozing and undulating and it hurt—!

Another yowl threatened to break through his lips; Ciel twisted his head to bite down on a pillow, trying not to let anyone hear the sobs wedged in his throat. His head and vision swam. The world was splotches of color and moving shape. Distantly, as if through cotton, other people were speaking…

"Little one?! Ciel, stay with us! You have to keep awake!"

"Mallie-bird, it's no use. His birthing canal is already gone—the womb will be next, if it hasn't already... His body can't handle this anymore. The best we can do is to get it out now, to keep him from going septic."

get it out? Out? Somewhere— somewhere deep in the hazy recesses of Ciel's mind— something awoke. Something wild and predatory. Something hysterical.

No…

"Isn't there any hope we might save—?"

"Maphas, honestly, the chances are good it's already..."

His lashes—gummed with oily tears and crusted with gungy gunk— were forced open. Wide. Wide and unseeing.

No—

"But— but Ciel, he… If the baby dies, he'll—!" Sebastian. That was Sebastian's voice. He was floundering. Pleading. But at the same time, he sounded… resigned. A hand was coiled around the fledgling's tied fist; the demon assumed it was his husband's by the way those fingers squeezed: tighter and tighter as his protests grew weaker and weaker, strength bleeding from one source and feeding another. "If… If you could just get the baby out, maybe we could nurse her… I'm begging…"

"Sebastian… Please." Cold. Detached. Will. Wait. If Will was here, then— "You must have been aware of the ledger for some time, now."

Ledger. The ledger. He knew it—! Sheer panic set in, chased immediately by a surge of electric adrenaline. The bedframe moaned as Ciel thrashed his captured limbs with all of his might— headboard hammering into the wall like his heart hammered against his ribcage. The force of it moved the room, shook the whole of his torso. THUDTHUDTHUDTHUD— Nononononono—

"One way or another, she needs to come out," a final speaker added vehemently, her solemn exclamation underscored by the silvery sound of scissors. He knew who that was. Knew it. Knew it. Sebastian, no, get her out of here, get her out, no, please, no nonono—!

"Aaah!" With a near-feral howl, Ciel's voice finally broke free— burst forth from the self-imposed cage of his throat. As the cry spilled from his mouth, tears began to pour unabashedly down his distorted face, splattering against the eiderdown. He could feel it—feel everything. Sebastian's touch. The stares of his family. The weight of their pity. Maggie, huddled inside. And an icy blade of metal, so sharp it made his skin shrivel. Beneath its sharpened edge, blood had already begun to burble, to bead; Ciel's lungs constricted, petrified. Couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. Pain—fate—death. For an instant, he was on that Altar again: a child, a sacrifice… But he was paying a price far higher than that of his own life, of his own soul.

His mind was white static. A mental ouroboros. Thoughts racing, muddled, spinning, eating themselves. And atop all of that jumbled chaos…

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

He screamed— shrill and desperate— but it was too late. "NOOOOO!"

You make me happy when skies are gray.

A glacially-cold flame sliced through his belly— navel to sternum, in one merciless swipe. The stench of it was overpowering; rot and decay. His head spun. No—it was the world that wavered, and he tottered on the edge of it. Surrounded by blood, spurting and warm. Blackness, creeping and slow.

You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.

And cellophane, ethereal and fluttering. The living record gushed from his gash like fluids from a ruptured vessel: tendrils spiraling, seeking, sinking. Its runtime was short, its panels empty. A sound reel without pictures.

Please don't take my sunshine away.

6 Months, 0 Weeks, 1 Day

The moment Ciel woke up, he ordered his butler to let him see the body.

They wouldn't even afford him that.

"But why?!" he demanded in a rasp, each syllable a jumbled amalgam of rage and despair. Like the child he hadn't been for centuries, the once-earl beat fiercely against his servant's chest— frail wrists still black and blue from struggling against his bindings. Alone in their bedroom, Sebastian allowed his husband that much comfort, at least: stoically enduring whatever abuse it took to ease his beloved's suffering. Pounding fists, feeble shakes, verbal assaults… But what hurt most about Ciel's stinging attacks was how hollow they were. Empty. Though impassioned, though frantic, they were the motions of one half-dead inside… Which wasn't wholly untrue, in this case.

"Why?!" Ciel queried again, his emaciated little figure shuddering in the wake of breathless, tearless sobs. Wrath was melting into mystification and sorrow, and in the wake of this transformation he lost what meager strength his rage had bestowed upon him. He collapsed: head colliding with Sebastian's shoulder, fingers tangling in the buttons of his shirtfront. "…why…?!"

Hesitation. What could possibly be said? How could he be… be delicate about this? There was no way to make this situation better—how could he at least keep from making it worse?

"…the baby, she… She didn't… She hadn't grown strong enough, yet," Sebastian murmured after a moment of deliberation and a visible struggle, lifting leaden arms to wrap around his desolate master. "Not to survive in the outside world, anyway. You remember when the twins were born—they were just little balls of energy and darkness, fused around a core of our twined essences. They were delicate after reaching a full term. When we tried to… to ease Maggie out… She just wasn't ready. Her energies scattered."

"…she fell to pieces," Ciel paraphrased, emotionless and deadened. The curtness of the summary made the other choke, a shiver racing down his spine. Close as he was, the not-boy could feel both as intimately as if the reactions had been his own. And maybe they had been. He was not having much luck controlling his body, right now—functionally or stylistically. He was somewhere between male and female, alive and dead… But he didn't care. It didn't matter, not anymore. All that mattered was… was… "…but… she was a 'she.' We were… we were right."

Ciel shifted, then— sunken eyes seeking out his butler's. Bright and blue, almost unnaturally so: glittering with a near-maniacal determined to know at least one thing about the child he'd never have a chance to meet. Sebastian, in turn, swallowed thickly, trying to gulp down what viscous emotions had taken hostage of his throat.

"…indeed, we were," he eventually managed to whisper, beaming wetly as he brushed a hoary loop of hair behind his charge's ear. "And she— Magdalene— she was beautiful, Ciel. So perfect and beautiful. Like sunshine."

Fleeting, like sunshine. Warm, like sunshine. And, like sunshine, we might not always be able to see her… but we'll be able to feel her in our hearts.

Still wearing that teary smile, Sebastian gingerly pulled something out from behind his back. Something folded and soft… A knitted quit, deftly unfurled. The sight of it was enough to bring the fledgling to a pause, distracted by its familiarity. By how bright it was, how warm looking: reds and pinks woven together in a radiant blush of color, reminiscent of a summer sunset. And, like the sunset, it had been framed in gold: its corners tasseled with a gilded thread, its edge embroidered with the name 'Maggie' in loops of glistening calligraphy. In the dim light of the darkened bedroom, the whole of it glowed. Like sunshine.

Without a sound, the devil draped the precious blanket over his husband's head, tucking it around him as if it were a shroud. Then he dipped low, placed a lingering kiss upon Ciel's forehead, and whispered all he had left to say.

"…thank you, love."

XXX