Author's Note: When scrolling through tumblr, are you ever hit by the irresistible urge to write something you've been putting off for ages? Obviously, I am. Pseudo-sequel/prequel to, um… well, lots of Bicentennial/Kuroshitsuji-related stuff, technically. I guess. 8D;
An Aside: HOLY SHIT, GUYS, DID YOU HEAR? A KURO LIVE ACTION MOVIE HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED. SET IN THE FUTURE. Which do you think it will most resemble, Bicentennial or Old Habits? ;) (Kidding.)
Warnings: Kind of half-assed, I guess, since it's been a while since I last wrote. Crap editing. Part of the Bicentennial series.
There is something very gloomy, she thinks, about the color red.
However vibrant the shade, and regardless of its blazing splendor, the hue has a tendency to blister scenery with a somberness she has a difficult time describing. Odd, really, how it all works. Contradictory, in a way. That something so splendidly vivid might make the world seem so black. And why? Perhaps it's the way that fingers of fires leave coal-colored gashes across the landscape. Maybe it's because burbled blood, however bright when spilled, inevitably turns brown as it rusts in the brush. It is equally possible that the murkiness might stem from the way ruby petals shrivel when touched by shimmering mirages of heavily-hanging heat; she watches, apathetic, as the satin scraps fold themselves into smaller and smaller shapes, before imploding into ashen nothingness.
Or maybe it is as simple as sunrise. As obvious as the crimson rays the strain for and meld into lingering memories of midnight— in much the same manner as dusk had dived after sunset mere hours before. It is nature's way: anything too brilliant must be balanced by something equally dark, just as night follows day.
She perks a bit—blinks, really— as a warbled squeak echoes up from the singed and smoldering grass. The creature there is gawking at her, glassy eyes shimmering like molten pools within the rasping, grasping roar of the inferno. Its face is caked in something thick and smeared—mud, intestines— and its limbs have collapsed beneath it, leaving it broken in the hellfire field.
Its empty gaze meets her own. Tears sizzle in scarlet streaks upon its face, evaporating before they can fall; its mouth moves—forms a muted word. A title. Endearment.
Most days, she finds it difficult to distinguish Earth from home. Both are vast, horrid wastelands of stink and decay and death. It's challenging for one of her age to differentiate the subtleties of the two planes.
But this day, she knows. Without a shadow of a doubt, she knows. Because this day, the world around her smells of charred poppies.
"H-how did…? We were in… a field, b-but… now…"
"Wh… what d-did y…?"
"T- tell me…! Wh-what is… is go…ing on…!"
"You are going to die."
"You are going to die. I am going to eat you."
"…oh… you—re n…ot… m-my…"
"…you are going… t-to eat me."
"W-will I… be tasty?"
"I do not know. I have never eaten you before."
"N-no, I mean…"
"…I- I don't know… what I mean."
"How… will y…ou eat me?"
"C-can't I at least… know that…?"
"When you die, you will sigh out your soul. If I watch, I can pluck it from the air."
"Ah… That sounds like… it w-would've been hard… with all t-that smoke… I s-see why you b-brought us here."
"I could have done it there. You would have died faster."
"Well… I-it's all r-right… You c-can j…just… do it now…"
"…are y-you no longer hungry…?"
"You are not frightened."
"Wh-why… would I b-be…? You a-are pr... probably a… butterfly, so there is… n-no need."
"I am not a butterfly."
"H-haha, n-no… I didn't m-mean… It is… a s-story…"
"Th-there was… a m-man named Zhuangzi. He d-dreamed he was a… a butterfly. B-but when he woke, h-he was not sure… if he was a m-man who had dreamed he w-was a bu… butterfly, o-or if he was… a butterfly dr-dreaming he was… a man."
"S-so what scares m-me is… is… not t-that you are r-real, but…waking up t-to… to find you aren't. A-alone… again."
"Butterfly, w-where are y-you…?"
"I am not a butterfly."
"You are not Zhuangzi."
"We are caterpillars."
She is not sure where she transported them—she doesn't often use her powers, and thus has little idea of what she can or cannot do. But somehow she has managed to bring them elsewhere, and that's the important thing; whether they are Below, Above, or in-between, they are safe and alone. This is a private limbo, sheltered in a stasis of twilight, flushed crimson with sprays of lilies. Spider lilies, she later learns—when she is forced to realize that there are no leaves around with which to use as bandages. Instead, she rips a long swath of silk from her own garb, and binds the broken boy with it. Then she tears off another strip, and another, until her skirt barely covers her hips, and he looks as if he has been swaddled in a cocoon.
Caterpillars. For now, they are caterpillars: grubby and lowly, easy prey for the Crows.
But not for long. Not forever.
Time is irrelevant for beings such as herself, and if this is a supernatural place—which it likely is—the hands of the clock can no longer touch this human, either. So even when she looks back, she isn't entirely sure how long they stayed in that little haven of dusk and flowers, silent but for the gradual steadying of his breath. Breath which never did quite relinquish a soul.
At least, not in the way she'd intended.
"Butterfly, if you don't answer me, I'll have to tickle you with this flower."
"Don't think I won't~"
"Ah, well, at least you smiled!"
"Butterfly, I don't understand. I thought you were hungry."
"Then why not eat me? I told you that you could. Why save me, instead?"
"Is the butterfly afraid of waking, too?"
"Don't you have a family?"
"Are they gone?"
"Mine are gone, too. And I can't go find them unless you kill me. So please…"
"You do not want to die."
"In the field. In the fire. You called for me."
"You do not want to die."
"…but I… I don't want to be alone, either. And even in dreams like this, you're really just alone. So before you leave, butterfly…"
"I am not a butterfly. You are not alone."
They do not leave the spider lilies so much as the lilies leave them: chipping and fading, like old acrylics, to reveal a faded watercolor waiting beneath. And so it is that, one day, they return to the corporeal plane of the Middle Realm without anyone noticing. She is still unused to meandering about the human's earth, and he is just a child who knows little of anything; to say that they are lost would be an understatement. But if nothing else, they have each other, and the world is just a little kinder when one has a hand to hold.
Particularly if that hand contains the strength of one thousand demons.
Slowly—as slowly as those vanishing flowers—the two make a name for themselves on the streets. They wrap themselves in mysteries and shroud themselves in shadows, preparing and planning. Growing and waiting. Dissolving and reforming. Making themselves beautiful.
"Butterfly, your parents aren't really dead, are they?"
"Don't look so surprised. It's obvious, really. Mine are, so I know what that feels like. It hides in your eyes. You can't let people see that weakness. But your eyes… Your pain is different than mine."
"You don't have to hold on to me so tightly, silly. I'm not going to leave you, too. Not because of that. Not because of anything."
"…I did not lie."
"I never said you did."
"I cannot lie."
"A truth I wish was more universal."
"We were both abandoned."
"…that's one way to look at it. Though my family didn't leave by choice. They were taken from me."
"England. England and their war."
"…do you wish revenge?"
"What good would it do?"
"It would keep you alive."
"Forgiveness dies. Hatred does not."
"Butterfly, your eyes are…"
"What are you?"
"Ah. I should have guessed."
"You are not frightened."
"I was not before. Why would I be, now?"
"Butterfly, have you a name?"
"What was your name? What have people called you in the past?"
"Whatever you wish."
She has never performed a ritual Contract. Her sires had forsaken her when she was barely a fledgling; there was no way she could have grasped the basics, even if she'd wanted to learn. Even now, she hardly understands what she's doing—touching him here, stroking him there, finding the place just-above his heart that she'd once bandaged with her robes. She traces his scars with a tongue like a cat, eying him curiously when his hips shift and his breath hitches. But oh—yes, she is part Lust (like her father), and she figures it out; like her mother, part Greed, she recalls as she claws at him.
Father, mother. Devils and dinners. She wonders what he thinks about as he groans and curls a hand around her buttocks.
All that she knows about anything comes from generations of inbred instinct: where to bite and where to press, where to rub and where to kiss and where to ram her eager talons in order to snag the mangled ends of his soul. Murky, misty red lands in splatters upon her pale face; he bucks in shock as her nails sink deep-deep-deep into his flesh, and his sex sinks deep-deep-deep into her own. As one, they writhe for a moment… Hair tangles, rags rustle, and shallow breaths leave their lips in feathery gasps.
She crooks a pinkie. In an instant, he feels himself come undone. Her finger has caught on something—snagged some vital piece of him. And whatever that something is, it has begun to wind itself around her very being: something intangible, but essential all the same. Heart-strings, he supposes, from the way they unravel within his breast and tie in a neat, invisible bow at the base of her ring finger.
The veins in her wrist pulse a blushing vermillion.
Without a sound, she pulls herself from the young man: knees spread and hands bracing, arched above him like Heaven. And he watches—hazy eyed and hypnotized—as warm fluids swirl down the length of her thighs… as lifeblood spirals down her skinny arms… as the crystalline strand of spittle that connects her mouth and index finger snaps and startles her.
His chest burns. Burns as that field had— with flames that crackle and spark and sneer, dancing like personified nightmares. He can feel each flaring orange tendril as it rakes its cinder talons across his skin, hungrily scrabbling to consume all of his extremities. His bowels tremble in its desperate embrace; liquid evaporates with a hiss, leaving his skin so tight it cracks, festering with fissures. He should be screaming, he thinks. He should be screaming and thrashing, fighting to push away the butterfly that has perched so delicately upon his lap.
But he doesn't. It doesn't even occur to him; he has no desire to do so.
Distantly, he feels her cheek fall against his shoulder. Then her fingers touch his chest with the ginger weightlessness of an insect's legs. Just as it had in the past, her slightest touch smothers the inferno within and without; she is a pleasant weight atop him, warm and supple. Like a pet, she nuzzles beneath his chin, nestling comfortably. Like a lover, her presence makes his heart feel alive.
His eyes open.
Their chrysalis cracks.
"That means you will steadily sink into mud. Even if you step toward a place from which you can't return, you choose not to reveal your screaming for help to other people, eh?"
"You're not a normal human, are you?"
"Meh, Ran-Mao is my little sister. Yeah, my sister. Even though we aren't related by blood."
"Glad you're safe."
"I've got to exterminate the bad rats infesting my city, don't I? So I keep a cat. Meow!"
"In this world, Earl, there're people who can't survive because of the cruelty of reality. I sell those people's dreams."
"My brother's foe. I will kill you."
"In this whole world, everything is the dream of a butterfly."
"Brother… you are my butterfly."
Like most other mornings, she wakes where she slept: in this case, beside a pile of trash, half-rotted and smelling vaguely of moldy syrup. The asphalt is heating as the sun begins to rise, but the large metal bin against which she rests, while sticky, is pleasantly cool. Her muscles feel soothed by the touch of the painted blue iron, and her soul (or his soul, or whatever it is that fuels her) has been reinvigorated by the lingering stench of old waffles. There's something refreshing, she thinks, about reconnecting with their roots: squandering their riches every decade or two and basking in the glorious filth of the world. It keeps things interesting. It keeps Earth exciting. It keeps every other era feeling like a dream.
She opens her eyes to find a butterfly on her nose.
"Oh my. Good dreams, RanMao?"
Wordlessly, the pretty devil flits her eyes to the right, where an equally garbage-bound young man beams from a cushion of Hefty bags. His arms had been braced beneath his head, but he fishes one out in order to trace meaningless patterns upon her arched back. She doesn't answer in fear of startling the fragile creature, but he knows all the same. He always knows, because they are bound.
"I dreamt the same. Though can you really call it dreaming, I wonder…?"
Lau chuckles softly, turning his near-imperceptible gaze upon the greasy-bricked alley in which they reside. Far above their heads, the Wendell's sign glows like a cheerful sun, harkening the day. "Though it did remind me of something you had said many, many, many years ago. About hatred and never dying. And I am forced to wonder, then: if we do not hate, and we do not die, what are we doing, exactly?"
They indulge in a drawn silence, lethargic and cozy. Neither really gives the rhetorical question much thought… Or if they do, their faces don't show it. Instead, the immortal flashes a tickled grin, cheeks dimpling a bit as his lips curl back. "Why, that's precisely right, isn't it? We're finally calling on the Phantomhives, today! It certainly took us long enough to track them down."
RanMao blinks. The butterfly flutters its satin wings. Somehow, both gestures manage to evoke an air of mild exasperation. Which, of course, Lau notices and acknowledges with a sheepish wave of his palms.
"Well, no, you're right. Of course we've known where they've been for quite some time," the Chinaman amends peaceably, before launching into a rambling explanation that neither needs. But it is Lau, so he gives it, anyway. Because why not. "However, we haven't felt comfortable revealing ourselves to the Earl and his butler after all that happened back in England. Especially when one takes into consideration the fact that we will now have to explain why and how we're still alive, which will be made even more challenging and tedious by the fact that your parents never really told Sebastian that he has a niece, and because our rather unique Contract kept him from realizing that you are one of his ilk."
"In any event!" Lau cheerily concludes with a slightly-labored grunt, knees giving a healthy creak as he pushes himself to his feet. "The changing of the times is no excuse for changes in etiquette. Word around the Realms is that those two found a knot and tied it—meaning Baalberith owes me $10—, so we had best go find a gift worthy of this celebratory turn of events." Extending a hand, Lau tenderly helps pull his companion to her feet. To the pair's surprise, the butterfly doesn't take offense at her being jostled; instead, it preens a bit, then wanders contentedly onto the finger that he holds beside RanMao's cheek. "What do you think we should purchase for the Earl and his lovely bride? Bearing in mind, of course, that we have a combined $4.02 to our names."
RanMao looks pointedly upward, at the illuminated sign above their heads.
Lau glances in the same direction. "Gift card?" he surmises.
"My dear… You are brilliant."
With another velvet laugh, Lau lifts the lazy butterfly to his lips and urges it away with a gentle breath. Ruffled, the tiny creature spreads its glossy wings and gives them an affronted flap; it rises into the dewy air without a sound: a splash of crimson against the periwinkle blue of yet another dawn. And how lovely it is, juxtaposed against the cityscape. The unusual pair watches the butterfly's wobbly flight for a moment, gazes following it as it lifts and lowers itself around buildings and streetlights, fire hydrants and parking meters. Unsteady, but sure. Strange, but special.
When finally it disappears into the distance, RanMao presses herself all the more tightly to Lau's side, fingers curling over the cloth that hides the mark of their bizarre Contract. It has given her an answer.
"We are living."
"Indeed, we are, sister."