Hi, everybody. Tonight it's getting real late. But I wanted to finish this, so you didn't have to wait. Because I can see by traffic stats and followers that there *are* people reading out there. I hope you enjoy this new chapter. It ended up so differently from the first draft. Once again, it was Charlie who wasn't supposed to be in it at all, but then he just - well, just read and find out :)
Disclaimer: I do not own "Kuroshitsuji", I hold no rights to the characters (Ciel, Sebastian et al.), and I do not make money out of this.
+++ Chapter 5: Memory, Shared +++
When Ciel and Sebastian arrived at the little house under the cliffs, Elfin was outside and busy with some fishing gear.
"Be right with you," he said and pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. "Go on in, you two. They're awaiting you."
"They?" asked Ciel suspiciously, as Sebastian put him down. A sense of premonition accompanied him through the door. And it was well founded.
How could I, for one second, expect to get Sebastian out of there unnoticed, Ciel thought. Face it, boy. You're dealing with demons here.
Aloud, he said, "Charlie!", in as condescending a tone of voice as he could muster.
"Hello," said Charlie who was sitting at the kitchen table and apparently assisting Alba with preparing small fish for salting. "You're late. I already started to wonder if I were waiting in the wrong place."
"Why are you here, Charlie?" asked Ciel, stepping closer. Judging by the number of fish already gutted, Charlie was doing a neat and quick job. Unfortunately, judging by the looks of his hands and the knife lying untouched on the table, he was using his own nails as cutting tools.
"I counted two and two together," Charlie said in a conversational tone, as he worked away. "Thought you'd come here. Thought I'd come too and provide some answers. If you want to hear them."
"If I want?" asked Sebastian incredulously. "Charlie, I've been trying to wring some useful information from you for days."
"Please," said Alba. "Have a seat. Charlie has already provided for his cousin and himself. Ciel, would you like some cocoa?"
"Wrrrgh," said Ciel, staring at the table.
"Of course he does," Charlie replied in his stead. He finished with his fish and put it in the basket with the others.
"Allow me," said Sebastian, moving a cloth with a flourish over the table. Where it passed, the traces of Charlie's gross occupation were removed.
Reluctantly, Ciel sat on the chair at the far end of the table. Sebastian slipped on the bench beside the little oven, feeling safer with his back to the wall.
Ciel accepted his cocoa. He put his palms around the cup, savoring the warmth.
"Your story, Charlie, he reminded.
"Let's get comfy first." Charlie pushed a small bowl containing something undefinable green toward Sebastian. "For you. As Alba said: I provided for us."
Sebastian looked at the oily, wet, dark-green leaves. "What's that?"
"Seaweed," said Charlie, picking a leaf and putting it in his mouth. "Go ahead. Try some."
"Why should I eat something as disgusting as that?"
"Coming to that in a minute." Charlie leaned back. "Let's see. How do I start? Maybe like this: About two years ago, I traveled on a sailing ship that got caught in a storm. We thought we'd sink. But instead we were washed ashore on this island. I don't deny it may have had something to do with my being aboard. As you probably guessed by now, this is not just some kind of rock in the vastness of sea that one can look up in the sea maps and set sail for."
"You can skip the background story," said Ciel. "Elfin already told me as much, and I filled Sebastian in on it on our way here."
"Okay." Charlie looked a bit surprised. "You really want to look into things, don't you? For me, it took almost one year to find out."
"Our motivations are different, I guess."
"Definitely. When a classy girl like Aglaia asks me to become her companion in life and, er, other places, I don't question her reasons for keeping twelve bedrooms." Charlie helped himself to another leaf of seaweed and chewed it. "So I lived on this island, happily. I was aware that I had forgotten things. But I didn't care. I told myself that I could always remember, as soon as I chose to give it more than a half-hearted effort. One day, Elfin arrived. Soon, it became quite obvious that this little siren had a serious crush on him. And that her feelings were returned. It was also clear that Aglaia wouldn't consent - and that they would carry on with their affair nevertheless, pointless though it seemed. The supernatural and the mortal, determined to stand up and defy the odds. That sounded some chord - "
"Charlie endeavored to talk to the Lady Aglaia in our favor," said Elfin. "He asked her to set Alba free. The lady was quite upset. In the course of what followed Charlie regained his full memory of his own girl waiting for him in London."
"In the course of what followed?" asked Sebastian.
"Okay," said Charlie, lowering his voice. He leaned forward on his elbows as if his next words were meant for Sebastian only. "This is the part where we get to the nasty stuff. You see, it's pretty easy to make a human forget things. In most cases, it's just a minor mental adjustment. Amnesia comes down like a veil. There's not much they can do about it even if they realize something's not right. Of course some will go crazy, but the average mortal adapts." Charlie's gleaming red eyes bore into Sebastian's. "With our kind, Sebastian, things are different. We are not easily tampered with, and above all we usually notice any attempt in that direction. It's no good, just pulling off some mental tricks. In fact, it's even pretty downright suicidal, given our temper and powers. So, what you need to do is mess with our brains on a physical level. - Alba?" He looked up, giving her the cue which she took up readily.
"My sisters' voices can severe a person's cinematic records from their root in the solar plexus," Alba said. "And I don't mean in a metaphorical sense. Their song bursts vessels and ruptures tissue. Their voices leave physical wounds that are re-opened every time the demon tries to access his memories. I say 'the demon', because we've only ever done it to demons. I don't think a human would survive."
"Internal injury," said Ciel. "That's why Sebastian starts hemorrhaging every time he's prompted to recall something from our past."
"It certainly explains a lot," said Sebastian. "And it gives reason for more concern. A physical wound doesn't take well to being re-opened time and again." He looked at Charlie, trying to gauge the other demon's secret knowledge on the matter. "Charlie? Let's not beat around the bush. In how bad a way am I?"
"You're even worse," said Charlie, shrugging, "But there's a cure." He leaned back and gave the bowl a casual push. "It's quite simple, but it's also a little unpleasant. That's why I'd really like you to get some of those seaweeds down you, Sebastian."
Sebastian wasn't in the mood to assume even remotely that there should be anything like a simple solution to his present jam. He eyed the leaves with open suspicion. "They're poisonous?"
"Don't be silly," said Charlie impatiently. "If I wanted to seriously harm you I'd start talking about a certain mansion that's been your home for the past couple of years - "
"Sebastian," said Ciel quickly. "Unlikely as it seems, I do believe this time he's trying to help. He's been through - whatever it is these leaves do to heal you." He cast Charlie a dark glance. "And he's been eating them now, before our eyes."
"But - "
"That wasn't a suggestion, Sebastian," said Ciel. "That was an order."
"Yes, mylord." Unhappy, Sebastian fished a leaf from the bowl and tasted it. He chose another leaf and munched that too. He didn't look like he enjoyed his snack, but he wasn't choking on it either.
"So, how are those leaves going to help?" asked Ciel of Charlie. "Should I eat some too?"
"You? No. This is for demons," said Charlie. "I've learned the hard way that the next step is better faced in a relaxed state."
"Relaxed state?" Suddenly suspicious, Ciel studied the demon's face. It was true: Charlie's slitted pupils were a little dilated and his eyes had a strange, glassy look to them. But the room was dimly lit, so Ciel had thought nothing of it.
"I appreciate your concerned stare," said Charlie. "But I'm okay. Just a little sacrifice I had to make. To convince my cousin that it was safe for him to eat that stuff."
Alarmed, Ciel turned to Sebastian. Charlie talked on, "Well, I didn't convince him. I convinced you, which was just as good."
"But why?" asked Ciel, watching Sebastian's eyes become wide and vacant.
"Don't worry, cubby. It's probably poisonous for you, but only a mildly sedating effect on someone like us," explained Charlie.
As if in deliberate defiance of his statement, Sebastian collapsed sideways.
"Mildly sedative?" asked Ciel.
"Of course, on an empty stomach it's probably more like a golden death scythe to your brain," admitted Charlie. "Well, what do you say? I told him it was important that he eat something."
"His game is usually a dirty one," said Ciel, irritably. "But yours is downright sordid."
"You know your problem? After all this time you still expect there to be at least some rules." Charlie circled the table, grabbed Sebastian's arm and pulled. Sebastian stumbled to his feet and further, against Charlie's shoulder. He stared at Charlie as if he wanted to say something but couldn't remember what it was.
Charlie began to steer him toward the bedchamber.
"Sorry, Elfin, but your bed is needed once again," he said, as he hauled his burden through the door.
Elfin was already pushing aside cushions. "That's alright; he's our guest. But help me remember, Charlie: How long did it take you to recover? Two days?"
"Naah," said Charlie, shaking his head lightly. "I was okay by midday. I just liked the way you two fawned over me." He let Sebastian slide onto the bed, then stood looking down at him doubtfully. "Of course, I hadn't been living on a three-years-diet then. Sebastian? What are you doing?"
Propped up against a cushion, Sebastian had produced his silver pocket watch and studied it with utmost concentration. With a flick of his wrist he turned it into a black rose. Flicking again: a pocket watch. Rose. Pocket watch.
Charlie frowned. "Stop that."
"Why?" Pocket watch.
"Because I say so."
Defiant, Sebastian looked at his cousin and flicked his wrist again.
Charlie leaned over briskly, took the long-stemmed rose and put it in a pitcher on the bedside table. As he balanced over Sebastian, the recumbent demon raised his knee and kicked him viciously in the stomach. Charlie yelped and pulled the cushion out from behind Sebastian's back. Sebastian's head hit the bed post with a loud cracking noise. It didn't even make him blink.
Ciel and Elfin watched from safe distance next to the door.
"Okay, so he is relaxed," said Ciel, desperate to see the practical side of it. "What comes next?"
"We'll set Djoo to work." Elfin produced the small starfish-shaped box and flipped open the lid. "You see, every person's memories are saved on mysterious things called - "
"Cinematic records. I know," said Ciel. "I've dealt with shinigami before."
Elfin offered the little jelly creature a finger. Djoo grabbed it and, like before, let it- or himself be dragged upward and out of the box.
"Well, Djoo is a special creature," said Elfin. "He feeds on defective cinematic records while re-connecting the intact parts to the conscious mind. Like a maggot nibbling away the gangrenous tissue, if you don't resent the image. He'll patch up Sebastian in no time. Of course, what he takes will be gone for good. But he's too small to cause real gaps - "
"Hand him over already, Elfin," Charlie cut in. He had gone to a crouch beside the bed and managed to force some water on Sebastian. Watching Sebastian drink from the pitcher with the rose sticking up beside his ear, Charlie held out his hand behind his back and signaled with his fingers. Elfin stepped forward and put Djoo onto the demon's palm. Sebastian lowered the pitcher to see what the human was up to, and Charlie flicked Djoo in his face. Grabbing for the swaying pitcher, he said quickly, "It's okay, Sebastian. This is part of part two of the help I promised."
Sebastian squinted at the throbbing little thing on his nose. He seemed more curious than alarmed. "Is it alive?"
Having oriented himself, Djoo stretched himself very long and very thin and slid into Sebastian's nose. There was a smacking, slimy sound as the last tendril vanished.
"Let me get this straight," Sebastian said wonderfully collected, looking at his nose. "You just made something alive and slimy go up my nose."
"His name is Djoo," said Charlie. He sat on the edge of the bed now, ready to stop any violent reaction on Sebastian's part. He knew from experience that the sensation of Djoo slithering down into one's solar plexus could drive a demon to trying to claw out his own heart.
Sebastian still squinted at his nose.
A handful of seconds ticked by.
"Sebastian?" Charlie asked cautiously. "Is it just possible that you're too stoned to realize what happened?"
"You got me distracted, then made something slimy go up my nose," said Sebastian calmly. "It's name is Djoo. You promised an unpleasant experience that I'd better faced drugged, and feeling Djoo wiggle in my sinuses I really think you had a point."
"Thanks. I'm glad you're not mad at me."
"Why should I be mad at you?" asked Sebastian. "Will Djoo kill my body? Hurt me? Terminate my very existence?"
"Of course not."
"Point is: I'm too relaxed to care if he did." Sebastian laid down, looked about and lazily reached out his hand for the pitcher. "To be honest, I'm more worried about this rose."
"The rose?" asked Charlie. This conversation was taking an unexpected course.
Sebastian took the flower between two fingers. "Do you think it remembers being a silver pocket watch, once?"
"What if it does?"
"This rose needs water to live. My pocket watch, one the other hand, wasn't waterproof."
"My point? Maybe this rose has an instinctive fear of water, and yet it needs to be stuck in a pitcher." Sebastian turned the rose between his fingers. "Just image the deviousness, Charlie. The horror. The abomination. Nature clashing with instinct. I created a monster – " Sebastian looked into Charlie's face. It was deadly serious.
"I - " Sebastian said.
Charlie's face, he realized, was deadly serious in a way that suggested that the demon was inwardly rolling on the floor, kicking the air and howling.
"I'm not making much sense, am I?" Sebastian asked, suddenly sobered.
"Careful with that rose," said Charlie, smiling. "You might want to turn it back into a watch later."
" 'Later' being the operative word." Sighing, Sebastian handed the flower over. "Compliments on your seaweeds, Charlie. I haven't been so high since – well, I don't remember."
"I do," said Charlie. "The trouble we had getting you off that mountain cross before lightning could strike."
"Feels like it did now," mumbled Sebastian. "Phut! Only a puff of smoke left."
"Then drift off." Smiling, Charlie put his hand on Sebastian's brow. Sebastian frowned a little, then he surrendered. Before long, he drew a deep breath and, turning his head on the cushion, moved a hand to his chest. It was clearly the movement of someone feeling a vague pain but being too fast asleep to be roused by it.
"That's it," whispered Elfin. "Let's call it a day. I will make you a bed in the kitchen, my lord, and then - "
"No. I've got something to ask - "Ciel stepped toward the bed. "Charlie?"
"Yes?" asked Charlie, distractedly.
"What was that about a mountain cross?" whispered Ciel.
"It's been – oh, fifty, maybe sixty years." Charlie still sat with his hand on Sebastian's head, looking down as if to make sure he wasn't going to be attacked. "The poor bugger of a human really thought he had a chance. He'd conceived the idea watching some theater play where a guy cheats death playing chess and consuming local liqueurs with him. Just the kind of story people in Vienna seem never to get enough of. – Shhh. It's only me, messing with some stray hairs of yours." Pausing with the back of his left fingers on Sebastian's cheekbone, Charlie waited until his cousin's eyes closed again.
"Charlie?" whispered Ciel. "Vienna? What happened?"
"Hm?" Warily, Charlie resumed smoothing out the black strands. "Oh - I think, it's quite possible my cousin flunked at the game of chess. Ended up with a stalemate or something. But there was no way he could be diverted from the soul that was his by contract."
"He devoured his master?"
"To an effect no-one of us had seen coming." Charlie smiled at Sebastian with the affection of a brother recalling his younger sibling's foolishness. "We caught up with him in the middle of a snowstorm, on the summit of a mountain. He was clinging to the cross, high as heaven, and singing dirty tavern songs at the top of his lungs. It was a sight to die for. Lucrezia nearly laughed her head off, and one of the twins slipped and fell into a crevice, adding to my problems."
"Your problems?" said Ciel, doubtfully.
"There is a vow. Last one standing gets the other out. I always kept my side of that bargain." Charlie leaned forward to whisper in Sebastian's ear. "Remember what I said when I had you safely down in the snow? I'm sorry. I should've warned you. But I had no idea it would affect you quite like that."
There was no response. Charlie continued his brotherly watch, softly playing with Sebastian's hair.
"You really care about him, don't you?" asked Ciel.
Charlie guffawed. "Like one wolf to the other," he said firmly. "Believe it or not but we are beasts, him, me, the twins, even Lucrezia, beautiful, volatile Lucrezia. Beasts to the core, all of us."
"I know that," said Ciel. "But I - "
"You don't know shit, cubby," said Charlie, softly but with feeling. "About how it feels, being long-lived and bored. Looking for ways to kill time in a world teeming with short-lived creatures like yourself that are here and gone in a wink. Some of us turn to seaweeds and poison dart frogs. Others make contracts to keep in touch with the world. Most of us are lonely riders. I've never been one of them. I mean, what's the damned point? At the end of the day there's only us. And if we don't have each other, then what do we have?" Charlie looked down at Sebastian, who frowned a little in his sleep and clutched at his chest. "So, yes. I care about him. But it doesn't stop me from treading on his nerves just the same, or from playing sordid games, or messing with his contractees and giving them a piece of reality to chew on. - You look particularly like you're about to choke, cubby."
"I'm okay." Ciel gulped. "I just never looked at it this way."
"Well, and why should you? Life's hard enough the way you know it," said Charlie airily, and changed the subject. "Djoo's got what he needs, now. Bits of elementary sustenance to mend the physical damage and some quiet in there to do it. As soon as he's finished, Sebastian's body will heal, and when that's over and done, he'll come around by himself." He got to his feet and looked sternly at Ciel. "Cubby, if you tell him I apologized, you're dead. And I mean 'dead', like a dodo in an Indian curry. 'Dead' like myself, if Lucrezia should ever learn I called her 'volatile' in front of a human. Get the idea?"
"I guess so," said Ciel, smiling darkly. "Vicious beasts. My lips are sealed. Where are you going?"
"Back to the palace." Charlie stretched, hands stemmed against the small of his back. "I'll have to come up with a convincing story to explain our absence." He prepared to step through the wall, standing on one leg and swinging the other as if assessing the thickness of the obstacle.
Ciel fought a silent battle within, then he called, "Hey, Charlie?"
The demon's head and upper body reappeared inside, "Hm?"
"Thanks for giving me that piece of reality, and - " The words were hard to get out. Ciel hadn't expressed genuine feelings in a long time, " - I'm sure he cares about you, too."
"Wolves in a pack, boy. We're of one breed." Charlie's white-toothed smile penetrated the gloom. "Make no mistake: You are the prey."
Ciel spent the night on a makeshift bed Elfin prepared for him on the kitchen bench. Alba seemed to have left the house, which did not come as too great a surprise. The sirens in the palace often disappeared once the sun had gone down.
Elfin had insisted on staying awake in case Sebastian required assistance. Whatever assistance a mortal could give to a demon.
Silently, Ciel decided that Elfin was just nervous of what the demon might do, if Sebastian started to wander about before he was fully back in his senses.
He himself awoke only one time: The room was filled with faint light, the dawn of morning. The storm had ceased somewhat, and at first Ciel thought that he'd been aroused by the silence.
Then he saw Elfin. The sailor stooped over the kitchen table and whispered softly to something hidden behind his big hands. Ciel glimpsed the starfish-shaped box and knew that Djoo had finished his work.
"Sebastian?" he asked, still drowsy and half-dreaming.
"He's fine," replied Elfin. "Go back to sleep. He did, too."
But when Ciel woke up about an hour later, rested and alert, he knew immediately that the demon was awake, too. Something had told him, and looking over to the open bedroom door he tried to remember what it was.
"Oh dear," said Sebastian's voice again.
Neither Elfin nor Alba were in the house. Ciel unwrapped his wool blanket and padded over to the door.
Sebastian sat on the bed. He wore a tail suit, white shirt, a tie, gloves and polished, flat-heeled shoes.
"Oh dear," he said a third time, sounding deeply grieved.
"Sebastian?" asked Ciel cautiously.
The demon turned to him, and his voice instantly became more lively. "Young master. Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. How about you?"
Sebastian held up a pocket watch on a silver chain. It was dripping water.
"I," said Sebastian with feeling, "am going to kill him."
"Indeed," said Ciel.
" - if that's what my young master wishes me to do," Sebastian added smoothly. He slid off the bed and went to one knee in front of Ciel.
"Young master. The memory of the past days makes me shiver with embarrassment. How can you ever forgive me?"
This time, Ciel realized, his butler's heart was in every single word.
And he smiled.
+++ End of Chapter 5 +++
A/N: Once again, I read my own chapter and wonder at how it turned out. There was supposed to be a lot of sentimental talk between Ciel and Sebastian (and worry, and late-night-watches) and *no Charlie at all*! But then, our friends arrived at the house, and, being the author, I sort of opened the door first and - what do you do, when you find another character already sitting there and just refusing to leave? Giving you the feeling that, in spite of everything you had mapped out in your mind so far, he *knew* what to do, while you, in fact, had nothing but a vague idea.
I chose to hand over control to Charlie. Even though I knew that I could forget my pretty sentimental dialogue. He "gave" me the idea for that scene in Vienna instead. I hope you enjoyed, too. Let's save the sentimentality for some other time - and please *review*. :)