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Deadly Nightshade

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Chapter 1


The icy wind whipped the tails of Sebastian’s swallowtail coat, blowing them away from his body with a flapping of fabric. The butler took a deep, if unnecessary breath of the chill air, admiring the taste of winter as it filled him. So far this January, 1893 was the most frigid month Sebastian had experienced in nearly 100 years, and while the cold didn’t affect him the way it did mortals, he still felt it, still saw it when his breaths puffed in front of his face.

The snow fell softly around him, landing on his dark hair and shoulders, dusting the rose bushes and the walkway that led from the manor to the greenhouse. Sebastian glanced up at the full moon, looming large and deep blue in the night sky, reminding him of his master’s visible eye, the only one he showed the world. Standing still like this in the chilly, silent garden was a very human kind of indulgence, the sort Sebastian would have scoffed at seven years ago.

But he was changing. The longer he spent by his young master’s side, the more years this contract stretched, the less irritated he became with the entire experience and the more “human” he felt he was becoming. Not as if his demonic powers had weakened, for he was as strong as ever. And he still relished the hours between midnight and four when all the humans within the manor slept and Sebastian was free to go about his work undisturbed, free to use his superhuman speed and strength without worrying about prying eyes.

And yet over the past year he had found himself contented with his role and his masterful performance as butler and bodyguard. It was laughable for a being as powerful as he to find enjoyment in mundane monotony, and he wondered if it was the constrictions of spending almost the entire past seven years in his human form. Never before had he worked so long, so closely to his contractor. He’d always taken easily fulfilled contracts, the kind that were over almost as soon as they’d begun, or that merely required his presence from time to time over the course of years, leaving him free to do as he pleased in the interim.

He had expected the same when he’d felt that pull from the depths of Hell, the call of anguish of a master so tiny he had laughed when he first set eyes on the fragile boy in the cage, the one he knew all about from the memories of the boy’s twin’s tasty soul. How wrong he had been. Never could he have foreseen how irritation could morph to amusement and even—did he dare say it?—fondness for a mere meal.

And yet the tedium that had plagued his life for millenia had faded into the routine of his butler’s duties, spiked with the thrill of being the Queen’s watchdog’s bodyguard and assistant. He normally cared little for the affairs of mortals, but he enjoyed the games his master wove to snare his prey, and the fun of battling foes both mortal and supernatural. This contract was unlike any he’d ever taken before, this soul unlike any he’d ever encountered, and for once, perplexing as it was, he did not wish for it to rush towards its inevitable conclusion.

The wind picked up, stirring Sebastian from his momentary reverie. He pulled his pocket watch from his waistcoat and clicked it open. Almost time. He frowned, and in a blur of black and misted snow, detoured to the greenhouse for the herbs he needed before hurrying into the house.

If tonight was like nearly every other this brutal winter, his young master would be needing him shortly.

#

“Breathe, young master, you must breathe,” Sebastian urged as he guided the steam-powered inhaler device, which rested on the bed tray they used for breakfast so that the mouthpiece was near the teen’s lips.

The boy coughed harshly, his petite frame shaking with the force. His wheezes were like nails on chalkboard to the butler’s sensitive ears. While at the start of their contract he might have enjoyed the way the boy’s panic scented the air, now it was a bitter taste on his tongue.

Sebastian held the device still and waved his fingers over the water to infuse it with just enough magic to set it boiling immediately. The power of the steam aerosolized the powder in the top of the device, forcing it through the mouthpiece, where it was inhaled to work directly where it was needed. “The medicine will help, but you must breathe.”

Ciel nodded weakly, his chest jerking as he put his mouth on the funnel that sprouted out of the top side of the inhaler machine, his eyes closed as he did his best to focus, hands fisted in the sheets.

“I’ll stoke the fire so you won’t get cold,” Sebastian said even as he draped a blanket over the boy’s shoulders.

Night after night nearly every day this winter, the young earl’s asthma had torn him from sleep. As bad as tonight was, it was by far not the worst of these nights. Ciel was fully conscious, able to think clearly enough to focus on the task of inhaling as much of the misted medicine from the device as he could, knowing it would work to relax his irritated airways.

As Sebastian focused on the fire, he kept all his senses primed on the earl, ready for any sign he might be in more distress. Some nights, the demon needed to support the teen, almost hold him in place to keep him in the right position to inhale the medicine. During the worst fits, Sebastian had to breathe the mist himself and blow it into the boy’s mouth as he felt the boy’s life fading in his arms.

The butler had been disappointed by how little most doctors could do for the teen, and had come close to tearing out the throats of one or two who had made big promises but were little more than snake-oil salesmen out for the earl’s money. Even as a demon, that kind of avarice disgusted him, although he was beginning to realize his protective possessiveness for his contractor was morphing into something unfamiliar and at times disconcerting.

Sebastian stood, changed his gloves to be sure he wouldn’t dirty his young master’s skin or bed clothes with soot, just as the boy lay back into the pillows, exhausted. The butler could tell the treatment had finished as he barely scented it anymore. It took a few minutes to fully work, and the teen was still laboring for each breath, shoulders rising and falling rapidly with the effort, although he was no longer coughing and his color was slightly better.

Relieved he wouldn’t need a second dose of medication, Sebastian lifted the heavy device away, setting it on the nearby table, and cleared the tray as well, adjusting the covers around the boy. He paused to feel his forehead. It was warm from the exertion but not feverish.

So far not a single doctor Sebastian had consulted could satisfactorily explain why the teen’s disease had grown worse in the past couple years, or why it tore him from sleep like clockwork night after night.

Sebastian went to the vanity where a pitcher of water rested beside a basin. He filled the bowl and tested the temperature. It was cold, but he dipped a clean cloth in it anyway and wrung it out, again using a small amount of magic to heat it enough so as not to cause his master discomfort. Normally the earl forbade Sebastian from using magic, but decided on an exception for his health.

“Se—bas—tian,” the teen’s voice called hoarsely.

“I’m here, my lord,” he replied obediently, pleased the boy’s breathing had eased enough for him to speak, and his body had relaxed. Sebastian still heard the faint wheeze, though it was inaudible now to human ears, which meant before long the earl would fall asleep. “Rest,” Sebastian urged with an encouraging smile that wasn’t at all mocking, using the cloth to wipe some of the sweat off the boy’s brow and ease some of the tension from his neck and shoulders. “It’s safe to sleep.”

“Stay,” Ciel whispered as he gazed up at Sebastian for a long moment before letting his lids fall and sinking further into the pillows.

“I’ll read some metered poetry to help you unconsciously regulate your breaths until you fall asleep. And no matter where I am in the manor, if you need me I will be here in an instant. You have nothing to fear,” Sebastian said in a soothing tone, again without a hint of mockery.

Sebastian picked up the book from the table and was about to open it so he could begin reading aloud when he heard Ciel speak again.

“Sit,” he said, his voice stronger, patting the edge of the bed beside him.

Sebastian frowned. “That wouldn’t be appropriate, my lord.”

Ciel scowled. His eyes were heavy, but his tone commanding when he insisted, “That’s an order. Until I fall asleep.”

With a put upon sigh Sebastian obeyed, perching on the edge of the mattress, surprised when Ciel’s hand stretched to touch the butler’s leg, as if to reassure himself his demon was obeying.

“You must be regretting our contract,” the earl said as his eyes closed again.

Sebastian couldn’t lie to Ciel, but realized he didn’t have to as he whispered, “Never, my lord.”


#####

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Snow fell outside the window of Ciel’s study, slowly blanketing the mansion grounds in white. Cold radiated from the glass and Ciel was tempted to summon Sebastian to close the drapes and add more fuel to the fire. His gaze landed on the urn resting on the mantel across the room, and the framed photo of himself with his twin as children, smiling for the camera in their matching sailor suits.

Two years had passed since the ghost of his twin and Undertaker had been defeated with the help of the grim reapers. Even with Sebastian’s nearly unlimited power it had taken time and cunning to restore his title and property, including the name he’d donned “that” day. And Ciel never wanted to forget how ephemeral everything was. Or how twice all had been taken from him.

Ignoring the stack of paperwork and correspondence requiring his attention, Ciel left his desk and crossed to the fireplace, hoping to find some comfort in its flames. Sebastian, despite Ciel’s demand that he would not be treated as an invalid, had lightened his daily schedule and now allowed the earl an extra two hours sleep every morning. Things had been changing between them ever since his twin re-emerged, but only in the recent month of tortuous nightly asthma attacks had Ciel realized that he wasn’t the only one who was being transformed.

It seemed impossible, and Sebastian had long since mastered the perfectly attentive valet and butler roles he took so much pride in, but lately his management of Ciel’s asthma had become . . . kinder. Although they still shared their mutual love for torturing one another, Sebastian no longer mocked Ciel for his illness. Somewhere the devil had learned how to comfort him during his fits, Ciel knew not from where, and while once he would have scoffed and pushed the beast away, he knew he owed his life to Sebastian in more ways than one.

Ciel had long found a certain comfort with Sebastian near, knowing he would guard the teen against any physical threat. But he still couldn’t quite understand the demon’s response last night. How could he prefer to be with a weak and sickly human who couldn’t even breathe half the time? Why did Sebastian go out of his way to save Ciel’s life every night when he could consume his soul and be done with it all? Perhaps it wouldn’t be completely perfected to its maximum level of delicacy, but it would be easier. He wouldn’t delude himself believing the contract protected him: no honor among demons, even those who abided by an “aesthetic.” If Sebastian decided to devour Ciel’s soul, he would, revenge completed or not. And yet he hadn’t. Even when he had come close, Sebastian had hesitated, stilled his hand.

Perhaps the demon hoped to lull Ciel into a false sense of security, to forget the devilish impulses and only see the human side, so that his dismay at being betrayed would only make his soul all the sweeter. Ciel knew, logically, that had to be true, but in those long, dark, terrifying nights when the air around him turned into his enemy, his heart told him otherwise.

“I’m a fool,” Ciel spat bitterly, the fire crackling loudly as if to voice its assent.

“And what foolish thing have you done now, young master?”

Ciel jumped and turned a cold blue eye on his butler, who was smirking as he held a silver tray balanced on one gloved hand. “I told you not to sneak up on me.”

“I do beg your pardon, my lord,” Sebastian said without a hint of sincerity, still smiling. “But a letter has just come for you.”

Ciel spied the familiar red wax seal and sighed as he waved for Sebastian to bring it closer. As much as he normally enjoyed the challenge of a case, right now his body was so fatigued by lack of sleep and the exertion of fighting for his life night after night that he wanted nothing more than to stay cocooned in his manor until the weather warmed and hopefully his health improved with it.

Ever the observant one, Sebastian frowned as he watched Ciel take up the letter. “I can still write to Her Majesty on your behalf and inform her you are ill—”

“That won’t be necessary,” Ciel said with a huff. While he was still the ever loyal dog, he had never forgotten how the queen had sent him to Germany to his death, and he was loathe to show any hint of weakness or give her reason to move against him.

Ciel scanned over the usual banal pleasantries to get to the heart of the matter. “It seems Her Majesty is concerned about a series of mysterious deaths that have occurred in London in the past few weeks. On the surface, they appear to be suicides, and yet none of the victims left notes or seemed to be suffering from melancholia. Many of the facts don’t seem to quite add up and yet nothing points directly to foul play.”

Suicide is, as you know, my dear boy, an affront to God and this nation, the queen wrote, likely referring to the fact that it was, legally, a kind of murder, and a failed suicide could be charged as such, and I trust that you will handle this manner appropriately and discreetly.

“Her Majesty is concerned that it may be the workings of some unknown force in the Underworld and would like me to—” Ciel’s eyes widened as he reached a certain point in the letter, reading it and re-reading it several times to be sure he hadn’t imagined it.

“Young master?” Sebastian insisted on the address despite the fact that Ciel would turn 18 at the end of this year and was no longer a boy, his marriage to Elizabeth set to go forward the following spring.

“Apparently, all the bodies had a peculiar mark on their person.” Ciel flashed the letter at Sebastian, whose own face betrayed his surprise.

“This mark . . .”

“Yes. It looks suspiciously like the brand on my back,” Ciel murmured darkly. “I don’t understand,” he continued, staring into the fire. “You’ve killed everyone connected to that cult.”

“Yes. I’ve killed everyone you directed me to, my lord.”

Ciel scowled. He should have been much clearer in his original wish that Sebastian never lie in order to take into account all the loopholes the demon was so fond of using.

“Even so, that group is hardly the only one enamoured with devil worship.”

Ciel nodded, thinking. “But if these were sacrifices, why do they appear to be suicides? Doesn’t the whole devil summoning thing require something more . . . ceremonial? And violent?” Although once he said it he realized the queen hadn’t been clear about what kinds of suicides these were. But his assumption was that anything remotely resembling what he had witnessed during “that month” would have spurred the Yard to investigate further. Stabbing a blade into one’s heart might make for good theatre, but it was not a typical method of dispatching oneself in reality. Ciel eyed the urn on the mantel for a moment before turning to his butler. Even after all these years and what had happened with the Undertaker’s bizarre doll project, the image of seeing his twin brutally murdered before his eyes never seemed to fade.

Ciel shivered and moved closer to the fireplace, trying to act as if he were chilled, though a side glance toward Sebastian told him the devil had seen through his facade, as always.

Fortunately, Sebastian’s only remark was that he would bring some tea forthwith to warm up the young master.

Ciel bade him stop before leaving. “Sebastian, you have been alive a long time, and I know I am not your first contract. You told me on that day how my brother’s death paid the toll so you could enter this world. Is that the only means of summoning one such as you? Of making a contract?”

“Hardly, my lord. But we shall discuss this matter more once I have brought your tea.”

#

Ciel was mulling over a contract to open a second standalone Funtom storefront in London when a knock on his study door disturbed him. “Come in,” Ciel said gruffly, pinching the bridge of his nose.

A moment later, Sebastian entered, sans tea cart. “Apologies, my lord, but Lady Elizabeth has arrived, so I took the liberty of serving her tea in the drawing room. It would be decorous of you to join her.”

Ciel sighed heavily and pushed himself up. The paperwork would have to wait. He needed his tea, and it would be most inappropriate for him to leave his fiancée waiting. “How many times have I told her to call ahead?” He huffed. “I suppose I should change into that waistcoat and jacket she gave me as my birthday present. We will discuss the case later.”

“As you wish,” Sebastian said with a low bow.

#

“Ciel!” Lizzie screeched, popping up from her chair and barreling toward him as soon as he entered the drawing room.

The force nearly knocked him over. Lizzie was tall and athletic, and although Ciel’s body had begun to change, he was only a few inches taller than he’d been when he first made his contract with Sebastian, and still slight. “It’s always good to see you, Lizzie.”

“You wore it! Your birthday gift!” Lizzie squealed, beaming. She grabbed his forearms, and for a moment Ciel worried she’d try to spin him around, but fortunately, she resisted. Perhaps some of her mother’s stern teachings about appropriate decorum for a lady had sunk in at last. Instead, she took a moment to admire his outfit.

The waistcoat was a pale blue, crushed velvet, with a darker blue coat to match the sapphire of Ciel’s eye. Both were decorated with ribbons and fabric roses to mimic his favorite pale blue blooms, and he felt like a cake. Something he’d much rather eat than resemble. Especially now that he was no longer a child. Not that he had felt like one in a long, long time. It didn’t help that Sebastian had teased him until Ciel turned pink and ordered him to stop.

“You look so positively adorable,” Lizzie cooed.

His instinct was to chide Lizzie and remind her that he wasn’t a boy anymore, and short or not, bristled at being called “cute,” but he didn’t want to dampen the smile on her face. “Come. We wouldn’t want the tea to get cold. You must tell me all about the wedding plans.” Ciel offered Lizzie his arm, leading her back to her chair. In reality, Ciel would rather be sacrificed on an altar than talk about their matrimonial arrangements, but he knew it would make Lizzie happy. And it was his duty to please her, even if he didn’t love her the way she loved him.

#

Ciel had wasted a couple hours in which he’d been envisioning all the work he should be doing while Lizzie escatically regaled him with excessive details about her wedding planning adventures. Every ridiculous, meaningless detail from selecting a dress design to whether the flowers used to decorate the church should be the same as the ones for the reception, and much more that he missed while he smiled and feigned his interest. As tea time crept steadily toward dinner, Ciel was beginning to wonder if he could insist his work couldn’t wait any longer and excuse himself for a brief respite of quiet.

Before he could speak, Lizze’s smile finally faded. “Ciel, you’ve always been so nice to me.”

The sudden shift in subject and tone threw him for a moment, but he was experienced in schooling his thoughts. He hardly considered the word “nice” as a descriptor for his behavior.

“Your brother—” Lizzie suddenly looked very sad, and couldn’t meet his gaze. “When you first came back, after the fire, part of me was happy my fiance had returned. But part of me wished it had been you—the ‘spare’—instead, for you’d always been so very kind. Not just to me, but to everyone. But I ignored that feeling because it wasn’t right to want you over my betrothed. Ciel was the one I was supposed to marry, and Ciel was the one I’d believed I was in love with.”

He had to stifle a wince and the urge to remind her that seven years ago, he decided the “spare” died on that slab. With his twin finally put to rest, he was legally Ciel Phantomhive now. He’d realized he wasn’t the Ciel whose soul Sebastian had consumed nor the one who’d returned with Undertaker. Nor was he who he had believed his brother would be. In every sense, he was Ciel now.

“But as the years passed, I saw how much you’d changed. At first, I thought it was because of what happened ‘that month,’ but so many little pieces didn’t add up. And then your brother came back. And though I knew my obligation was to him, that he was the one I had to love, and that you had lied to me for years, my heart was conflicted.”

His stomach tightened and he immediately regretted having that second piece of cake. “Liz—”

She forced a smile. “Please. I need to tell you this.”

He nodded for her to continue.

“I knew my place was by his side, and I hated betraying you because you had never been anything but kind to me. You never yelled at me—except maybe once or twice when I behaved foolishly,” Elizabeth said with a small smile. “You never asked me to be anything other than who I am. Even when, on the Campania, I revealed a side of myself I had hoped to forever keep hidden, you still cared for me. I was never more than a trophy to him, but to you, maybe because I wasn’t ‘yours’ by right, you never took me for granted. You’ve always humored my silly whimsy.” Lizzie’s eyes filmed, but she was still smiling. “I know I can never apologise enough for how I acted when your brother came back, but I want you to know I will be a good, loyal wife and one who will make the Phantomhive name proud.”

Ciel found himself returning her smile. He knew he was lucky. For so many reasons. He tried not to think about how he was already betraying her, how he really had no right to marry her and break her heart all over again when Sebastian came to collect on their contract. “I know you will.”

Lizzie dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. “That was a secret I’ve been guarding for quite some time,” she admitted. “I hoped you might return the favor? Now that we are to be wed by next spring?”

Ciel felt nervousness build in his stomach, though he kept it from his face. He had many secrets, many of which he was not privy to divulge.

Lizzie smiled sweetly and reached for his hand, offering a gentle squeeze. “You don’t need to answer if you do not wish to,” she said. “It is something that has often been on my mind since your brother returned. I’ve never asked you what happened during ‘that month,’ and I don’t trust anything he told me. I won’t ask you to reveal everything. Not now. But I am desirous to know: what happened to your eye?”

Sweat broke out on Ciel’s forehead. He knew now that their marriage was around the corner Lizzie might get curious about “that month,” but he had not expected his eye to be her first target of curiosity. His heart began to beat in a rapid, skipping tempo, his hands going numb. He felt his control slipping, a stab of pain searing through his eye as real as the day Sebastian had cupped his fingers over it, etching the mark where his iris had been, demonic hand slipping through iron bars. Breathing became difficult, and Ciel had to resist the urge to reach up and loosen the cravat at his throat.

“My lord.” Suddenly Sebastian’s velvety voice was in his ear. “I’m sorry to disturb you—”

Ciel blinked. Swallowed. The room around him reformed itself into the familiar drawing room, the scent of the tea and the sound of the crackling fireplace bringing him back to the present. He and Sebastian exchanged subtle glances. “Ah, yes. I’d forgotten. I apologise,” he said to Lizzie as if he were sorry for losing himself to her innocent inquiry. “But there is an urgent matter to which I must attend. I will only be a moment. Please continue to enjoy the tea and sweets.”

#

Free from LIzzie’s presence, as soon as Ciel escaped the drawing room he allowed himself to pant and gasp, struggling for breath. His chest felt like it was in a vice, like it did during an asthma attack, but he knew this was borne of panic and memories rather than illness.

“Are you quite all right, my lord?” Sebastian asked with a paradoxical mixture of what seemed like genuine concern and the knowledge that he knew damn right his master was not.

Ciel ensured they were far enough away they had no risk of Lizzie overhearing them, and said, “She wants to know about my eye.” He absently fingered the black silk patch.

Sebastian’s eyebrows rose, and he rested a finger on one side of his face. “My, my. I never would have imagined you would become so agitated over a woman’s clueless question. You really are growing soft, my lord. Perhaps I should devour you now before your delicious soul is tainted.”

Ciel glared and crossed his arms on his chest. “You would violate our covenant?” he said in his most commanding tone. “We’re to be wed soon enough, and I won’t be able to hide my brand or eye forever. It would be better for me to give her some answer now that I control than for her to discover it later and cause me more aggravation.”

“I suppose that is true, my lord. You plan to tell her of my true nature?”

Ciel tsked. “I hadn’t planned anything. I never thought I’d live long enough to marry her at all. But I’ve only just regained her trust, after lying about my identity for years. I very much doubt telling her I’ve sold my soul to a demon would help her faith in me any.”

“Curious word to use when speaking of me, my lord,” Sebastian said with a quirk of his lips. “I fear if you are honest about who I am, it may make the young lady uncomfortable around me. Which could prove quite troublesome for the young master once you two are wed.”

Ciel nodded. “True. And I can’t—won’t—send you away. But I don’t think denying her an answer is the best manner of addressing this situation, either.”

“Agreed, my lord. Perhaps if you give her one of those partial truths humans are so fond of.”

“Says the demon.” Ciel shifted his weight and glanced down the hall. “I grow weary. Explain before Lizzie becomes suspicious of my overlong absence.”

Sebastian smiled. “After you were exposed to the mustard gas in Germany, we both needed to remove all our clothing so we could be cleansed. Sieglinde thus saw my hand, your brand, and eye. She has a curious nature. I was left with little choice but to tell her the two of us met because you had been kidnapped by a cult as a child. She still believes I suffered as much as you at the hands of demon-obsessed humans, as amusing as that is.”

This was news to the earl. “I thought you didn’t lie.”

The demon’s smile expanded, and CIel swore he caught a glimpse of sharp teeth. He leaned closer so their faces were aligned, and he softly stroked the teen’s cheek with the back of his hand, his eyes still in their human form but hungry and feral. “Young master bade me never lie to you, but said nothing about deceiving others. Nevertheless,” he continued, rising back to his full height, “it was simply her assumption, which I did not feel the need to correct.”

“Very good, Sebastian. The lady will be joining me for dinner this evening. I realize you do not have much time to prepare, but I would like you to serve her favorite.” It occurred to Ciel in that moment that a few years ago he wouldn’t have bothered about inconveniencing his butler; in fact, he would have taken pleasure in it. He did his best not to let how this realization affected him show on his face.

One of Sebastian’s angled dark brows rose, but he otherwise did not comment on it. Instead, he smiled his butler’s smile, and with a small bow announced, “As you wish, young master. If I couldn’t prepare a meal fit for my future mistress at the last minute, what kind of butler would I be?

#

“I apologise for keeping you waiting.”

Elizabeth smiled as soon as she saw Ciel. “It’s all right. I understand how important your work is.” She’d left her seat at the table Sebastian had set earlier for one near the fire, so he crossed the room to join her.

“We shouldn’t be interrupted for the rest of the afternoon. In fact, I was hoping you might join me for dinner this evening.” He offered her his best smile, one he’d cultivated over the years. He’d discovered how powerful and useful the expression could be, no matter how disingenuine.

“Oh, how wonderful,” Lizzie said, clapping her hands, joy clear on her face. “Sebastian really does make the most scrumptious dishes.” If only she knew the horrors Ciel had suffered those first few months as a demon who had never tasted human food before gradually learned to cook.

“Now that that’s settled, do you still wish to learn the truth behind what happened to my eye?”

Elizabeth’s own eyes widened; perhaps she was surprised the earl was going to entertain her request. “Very much so.”

“May I ask one question before I explain?”

Lizzie inclined her head.

“In all this time, you never asked me about it. Why?”

An uncharacteristic shadow fell across her face, and she looked away, her eyes drawn to the flames as if of their own volition. “When you returned, after the fire, after ‘that month,’ I was upset that you wouldn’t talk about where you’d been or what had happened. All I knew was that the Ciel I had known who was always smiling was gone.”

“And I had quite literally replaced him,” he added darkly.

Lizzie’s gaze shot to his, taken off guard by his comment. But then she offered a faint smile. “Yes. I didn’t know that then, of course. But I asked Aunt Ann about it, and she told me there were things in the world a high-born girl like me was never to know about and to leave you alone. So I did. I suppose part of me hoped that someday you would tell me without my asking . . .”

“Then why now? Why didn’t you ask me when you first returned to my side after you realized my brother . . .” Ciel couldn’t bring himself to say much more.

“We had more important things to deal with then. But today we were talking of our wedding, and I realized I don’t want secrets between us. It almost drove us apart once already.”

Ciel nodded. He knew he could never be completely honest with Elizabeth. She deserved better, but alas as he was all too familiar with, life was hardly fair. “As the queen’s watchdog, I will always have my secrets, things that I will not be able to tell you, even as my wife. Your mother must have explained that to you.”

Lizzie nodded. She forced another smile. “That is why I am only asking about your eye. For now. Perhaps, once we’re wed you will tell me more, but I know if you do not it is as much to protect me from the harshness of the world as it is to keep your past behind you.”

Ciel took a breath and prepared himself to get into character, to tell the carefully crafted lie that—like the best untruths—had just enough of reality to make them all the more credible. “You know now, because of my brother, that the day our parents—the day they were murdered—the two of us were kidnapped. We were . . .” Ciel hesitated, shifting his gaze to the fire. She didn’t need to know that they’d been sold or what they’d endured during “that month.” All LIzzie was asking was a tiny fraction of what he’d survived. “We were held captive by a cult who wished to use us as part of their devil worship.”

Elizabeth held her handkerchief tight in one gloved hand as she listened, her face sympathetic.

He continued to speak dispassionately, forcing himself to concentrate on the lie so he could keep from picturing any of the horrors of “that month.” “Sebastian was in service to one of the cult members. He had become suspicious his master was engaged in some disreputable business, and despite his loyalty and his aesthetic, decided to shadow his employer. He heard my scream—” (Not untrue.) “—and rescued me. Sadly, my brother had already lost his life, and I, been marked.” Ciel tugged on his eyepatch string, the knot coming undone with a faint zwip, the patch falling into his lap. His eye was sensitive to light, partially due to being covered all day, partly because of the damage done by the seal, but largely, he suspected, from the dark energy emitted by the covenant. After a moment to adjust, he cautiously opened his right eye, his view on that side nothing more than hazy patches of color surrounded by an aura of purple-black.

Elizabeth gasped. “Oh, Ciel. How could anyone . . . ? Does it hurt?”

“It did. But not anymore,” he lied to reassure her.

“Is it blind?”

He nodded.

“How awful. Thank you for telling me. And showing me. I understand now why Sebastian means so much to you. Thank God he heard you.”

Ciel busied himself tying the patch back in place to keep from laughing at the humor of her innocent and well meaning statement. If only she knew the reason Sebastian had heard that frightened, abused boy was because he’d so vehemently rejected God.

######

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Ciel stood in his room as Sebastian helped him undress, the light from the fireplace casting a warm glow. “I swear, if I live long enough to marry Elizabeth, it may take everything in me not to beg you to devour me just so I can escape that woman’s constant prattle.”

Sebastian snickered, barely containing a full laugh, not bothering to hide his smile as he carefully folded Ciel’s jacket and waistcoat and set them aside. He drew close, almost too close to be comfortable, his fingers working to undo buttons and loosen the complicated knot at the neck of Ciel’s shirt as if of their own volition, the demon’s red eyes fixed on Ciel’s visible blue one. “Or I could take you now, my lord.” He dragged a white-gloved finger over Ciel’s exposed sternum, never shifting his gaze, and the teen found he could not look away, almost as if he were entranced.

Finally, he seemed to return to his senses and slapped aside the demon’s hand. “Enough,” Ciel said, slipping his shirt off himself.

“As you wish, my lord. Would you like me to leave?”

Yes, Ciel thought. And also no. “What I would prefer is inconsequential,” Ciel said as he accepted the dressing gown Sebastian offered, slipping his arms into each sleeve as the demon held it up for him. He sank down on the bed and offered his foot so the butler could help him with his shoes. “Elizabeth’s unexpected arrival left neither of us time to discuss this new case. You mentioned that there is more than one way to summon a demon.”

Sebastian had dropped to one knee to slip off each of his master’s shoes in turn, and he glanced up as he spoke. “Of course. Like humans, demons come in different races and classes, and we are attracted by as many flavors of souls as there are stars in the sky.”

Ciel frowned, stood momentarily to step out of his trousers before regaining his seat so Sebastian could unclip his socks and remove them and the suspenders that he wore around his calves to hold them up. “Explain. And speak plainly. I am much fatigued.”

“Of course, master. Come this way and we will talk while you bathe.”

#

Now that he was no longer a child, Ciel preferred to bathe on his own more nights than not, since it gave him time to himself to think and process his day and plan for the next. A way to clear his mind so he could sink into sleep easily and wake up as refreshed as his asthma allowed. But this case was too important to put off this discussion until the morning, so he gave Sebastian leave to wash his hair and back while they spoke.

“What summons one demon or entices him into a contract can vary significantly depending on that demon’s class, rank, race, and personality. Demons of lust are drawn by carnal acts and desires. Those of avarice, by greed. And so on and so forth,” Sebastian explained, his silky voice flowing over Ciel like the water that sluiced over his shoulders with each pass of the sponge. “In your case, I was drawn to you less by your brother’s death as your reaction just before and after.”

The water sloshed in the tub as Ciel grabbed the rim to give himself leverage to twist round to face his demon. “You said my brother’s death, his soul, was the toll to summon you.”

“I did say something of that nature,” Sebastian admitted, his face impossible to read. “But it was your disavowal of God, the anguish in your soul that drew me to you. My point is, not all demons require a death, or even a soul, before they enter into an agreement with a human. What is important is that the human is willing to give up something of significant value, usually their soul, in order to form the agreement.” Sebastian urged Ciel to sit back with a firm hand on the teen’s shoulder. “Come, young master, I still have to finish your hair.”

Ciel frowned, but obeyed, relaxing as the demon’s nimble fingers massaged his scalp, working the soap into the fine dark strands. “So it’s quite possible these deaths are related to a cult that has demonic aspirations.”

Sebastian chuckled, perhaps because of Ciel’s word choice. “It is. I’m afraid we don’t have enough information at this point. Though if there is a group related to the one I rescued you from, it is possible they are not aware that other branch was successful in summoning a demon. Since there were no survivors.”

Ciel waited for Sebastian to finish rinsing the suds from his hair before he spoke. “So if there is some connection between whoever is responsible for these current deaths and the group that sacrificed my brother, it’s possible they may have changed tactics since they may have assumed the original group failed in their goal.” Ciel swept his bangs away from his face and accepted Sebastian’s hand to help him stand and step out of the tub, although he dried himself after taking the towel from his butler.

“It is certainly possible.”

Ciel paused, staring up at Sebastian for a long moment, not even entirely sure why before he caught himself. “We will depart for London tomorrow, after breakfast.”

“Of course, my lord,” Sebastian said with a small bow. He grabbed the nightshirt he had draped in front of the fire to warm and offered it to Ciel in exchange for the damp towel. “Will you have Snake drive the carriage, or would you prefer that I do it?”

Ciel slipped the nightgown over his head. “The entire household will be traveling to London for an indefinite stay.”

“My lord?” Sebastian asked, surprised, as he followed his master into the bedroom. “Do you not trust I will protect you, even at the cost of my own life?”

Ciel climbed into bed, gazing over at Sebastian with his unmarked eye closed. He couldn’t see him exactly with his right eye, but the seal enabled him to visualize the demon’s aura as a hazy, deep reddish purple that emanated power from the human form as if it were trying to break through the disguise. It should have been terrifying, but Ciel found it eerily beautiful.

“Young master? Are you unwell?”

Ciel shook his head as if to bring himself back to their conversation, opening his other eye. “I am quite tired.” He offered a faint smile. “I trust you will protect me to the best of your ability. But as we do not yet know if this case is truly connected to me, and what powers may be at work behind the deaths, I feel it would be wise to have all my pawns at the ready.”

#

Ciel struggled violently against hands far stronger than he. Around him, in the background, children whimpered and sobbed. The scent of burning flesh filled the air. For only a moment, Ciel was able to see the red-hot brand as it was removed from the fire, and his struggles intensified. “Let me go!”

The amused chuckles of adults filtered into his ears. “I shall brand you with the mark of the noble beast.”

Hands violently yanked Ciel round, others grabbed his shirt to expose his back.

“N—no. Stop,” he pleaded. A breath, then searing pain engulfed his torso. He screamed.

#

Ciel shot up, panting, the scream dying on his lips. He gasped for breath, though as he came out of the nightmare, he realized his airways were clear, and relaxed even as the adrenaline still coursed through his veins. He reached behind him to touch the brand on his back, feeling a phantom pain and the rage that came with it. If it turned out this new cult was at all connected to the one who took him and sacrificed his brother, he wouldn’t allow Sebastian to kill them all. Like Kelvin, Ciel would handle it personally and ensure they suffered.

“Young master, are you all right?” Sebastian’s sudden, silent presence at his bedside should have startled Ciel, but he barely reacted. “You don’t appear to be wheezing, but I heard your scream and ragged breathing—”

“Just a nightmare,” Ciel sighed, leaning back into the pillows, peering at his butler through his marked eye to see him in the dark, wondering if some shift in the demon’s aura would clue the teen in as to why Sebastian sounded so . . . worried. Perhaps it seemed brighter tonight, less purple-black and more vivid red, but that was the only difference Ciel could note.

“If you’re certain,” Sebastian said with shocking hesitance as he pulled the covers around the earl, tucking him back in.

“Sit a moment,” Ciel said, wondering if it was more for his butler’s comfort than his own, as ridiculous a thought as that was.

Sebastian seemed to weigh whether he should voice a complaint, but instead compiled at last, perching on the edge of the mattress beside Ciel as he had the night before.

“I dreamed of the night I was branded,” Ciel explained. He hadn’t thought of that night in years. In many ways he was relieved his brand was on his back and not somewhere more visible, like his chest, where he might be forced to see it day after day.

“I see,” Sebastian said at last, as if he felt obliged to fill the silence and was unsure what else to say.

“They told me they were branding me with the ‘sign of the beast.’ Apparently, they believed that marking us would draw the demon to us.”

Suddenly, and unexpectedly considering the weight of the conversation, Sebastian began to snigger, and then finally, break into full laughter.

“Care to share the joke?” Ciel said, arms crossed on his chest, glaring, knowing even in the darkness Sebastian would be able to see him.

“I apologise, my lord,” Sebastian said as he struggled to contain his chuckles. “Human ignorance never fails to amuse me.”

Ciel arched a brow, growing irritated.

“All demons who form contracts have a unique symbol they use to mark their prey,” Sebastian explained, his fingers brushing under Ciel’s right eye in a disturbingly tender gesture that made the teen hold his breath to check his body’s reaction to the touch. “A human could never duplicate one, not properly, because it requires demonic magic.”

Ciel leaned away to break the contact, struggling to regulate his breathing, focusing on the conversation to keep his mind from reeling at what the hell was going on between the two of them lately. “So perhaps, at some point, someone connected to this cult saw a contract seal without understanding what it was, and decided to brand their sacrifices with it in the hopes of attracting a demon?”

“Perhaps. But we can speculate on it more tomorrow. It is late, and it seems as if your asthma may spare you tonight, in which case it is all the more important for you to rest.”

Ciel wanted to argue, but exhaustion was rapidly diminishing his ability to think properly. He reached out until he found Sebastian’s left hand, tracing his finger on top of it round the circle of the contract seal, which Ciel could feel even through the glove because of their connection and the dark force that radiated from it. Sebastian allowed this, and he didn’t stop the earl or say anything when Ciel lifted the demon’s hand and placed it over his right eye so their seals aligned. Ciel relaxed, drawing comfort from the energy that connected them, that sparked between them. The touch caused him no pain, only reassurance. As Ciel began to drift into unconsciousness, he realized he likely could never comprehend Sebastian’s enormous power. And how truly perverse he was that his strongest connection in his life, the one individual he never wanted to be apart from, was quite literally the being who would destroy him.

#####

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

The sun had not yet risen, the morning frigid as Finny and Snake loaded the luggage and prepared the horses under Sebastian’s direction. If Sebastian slept, he would have gone a night without, for after the events of only a few hours ago, how could he have managed a wink? It irked him that Ciel had insisted on bringing all the servants with them to London. No matter what the boy said, Sebastian felt as if his pride had been slighted, as if Ciel truly didn’t trust him. And yet, perplexingly, the way the teen had reached out for the demon’s hand, traced the contract seal, and brought their marks together had suggested something else entirely. Sebastian was used to human behavior befuddling him, but what left him even more put out was how the earl’s touch had affected him.

Certainly, it was not the first time his seal had come in contact with that of his contractor, and yet last night, even with his glove as a barrier, Sebastian had felt something he never had in his long life. A spark. A thrumming of energy, of connection, between himself and Ciel that defied explanation. Even after the boy had fallen asleep, the demon had kept his hand in place, not wanting that feeling to ebb. Shockingly, even after he’d finally taken his leave to begin the preparations for the morning and their journey, Sebastian could feel a phantom tingling in his hand. Nothing like what he sensed when the earl’s life was in danger. This was a . . . positive feeling. A good feeling.

And Sebastian didn’t know what to think about that.

“—bastian? Mr. Sebastian?” Finny’s voice suddenly broke through.

“What?” the butler snapped.

“Are you all right, Mr. Sebastian, sir? You’ve been standing there rubbing your hand, not saying nothing, and it’s awful cold out this morning, sir. Me and Snake can finish up if you want to go inside and warm up, sir.”

Sebastian leveled a glare at the strawberry blond gardner, whose nose was red from working in the chill air. But then he let out a breath and relaxed his features. It wouldn’t do to make the man burst into tears when there was work to be done if they were to depart within the next few hours. “I apologise. I did not get any rest last night. Make sure you secure everything properly, and that the horses are warmed up accordingly. I do not want them to become injured, especially when the master has pressing business in London.”

Finny looked up at the butler with genuine concern, but then he smiled and saluted, grinning. “You can trust us, Mr. Sebastian, sir. You go inside and have some hot tea and breakfast and you’ll be right as rain.”

Sebastian stifled a smirk. Finny was strong, and perhaps more loyal to the master than any of the other servants, and yet he truly was dim. “Thank you for your concern, Finny. I’ll have breakfast for you both ready, so please come in as soon as everything is prepared out here.”


#


Moths hovered over him, fluttered around him, casting ominous shadows. No. Not moths. Masks. Faces. Hands roved over his bare skin, nails scratched along the flesh of his back, making his still healing brand throb and burn. Tears stung his eyes, and he cried out as he felt a finger thrust suddenly into him, the pain building, a sob forming a knot in his chest. Laughter as he tried to escape, futily, as more hands pinned him to the floor and something larger than a finger forced its way inside him, making him scream as the agony overwhelmed him and he was certain he’d be torn in two. His senses blurred, so it was only him and the pain, and he clung to it, hoping it would kill him so he could escape.

Darkness. A creeping fog. It whipped around the room, blocking out everything, swirling and billowing like a living being. It must be death, Ciel realized, and as that thought expressed itself, he discovered the pain was gone. The hands, fingers, everything, gone. It was just him and the fog, as if it had swept the cult away.

Suddenly, a figure emerged from the mist. As he drew closer, Ciel saw it was his father. So I am dead. But no. The man took a few more steps and now it was clear he was not Vincent. He was taller, his hair longer, and his eyes were red. When he smiled at Ciel, his teeth were sharp and menacing, and yet the boy felt no fear, only serenity. Safety.

The mist dissolved, absorbing into the cloth of the man’s tailcoat, and he bent down, offering a black-fingernailed hand.

Ciel hesitated for only a moment before accepting it. He felt a rush of power like nothing he’d ever experienced before, and when he stood, he was no longer his ten-year-old self but a young man, and he knew the one before him was Sebastian. A demon he should not trust and yet he did, with every fiber of his soul. His soul that belonged to the butler.

Sebastian swept his hand over Ciel’s cheek, up into his hair, cradling the teen’s face.

Ciel leaned into the touch, placing his own hand over the demon’s as if to hold the caress. When he looked up, he saw Sebastian’s eyes had shifted into their demonic form, brilliant crimson with horizontal pupils like a cat’s. Eyes that had sent grown men cowering in fear, but that held Ciel captivated. He was Sebastian’s, and Sebastian was his.

The butler bent and kissed the crown of Ciel’s head, his nose resting in the earl’s hair as if cherishing his scent. And then he swept the teen off his feet, cradling him in his arms for a moment before laying him down on a familiar mattress, the room warped from that of the cult’s temple to the earl’s bedchamber.

Sebastian climbed in beside him, leaning in to plant a chaste kiss on Ciel’s mouth. The demon’s breath tasted like smoke and sin, but the teen hardly had time to savour it before the demon had moved on, trailing soft kisses along his cheek, down his neck, over his shoulder and chest, occasionally scraping fangs along bare skin without piercing the flesh, making goosebumps rise along the earl’s body.

Ungloved hands roamed from neck to waist, feeling nothing like the cold, cruel grip of the cult members, but instead reassuring and cleansing. Sebastian’s thumb rubbed the space between Ciel’s navel and the light trail of hair that led to his erect prick, causing Ciel to sigh and arch his back, craving more.

Sebastian chuckled, the sound of his voice like silk draping over Ciel’s body. The demon’s palms traced around the teen’s groin, gliding down to his thighs, the touch inhumanly hot, but pleasant and without burning. At last, the butler brushed his thumb along the slit of Ciel’s aching cock, spreading the precum over the head.

Ciel moaned and bucked his hips. “Sebastian,” he whispered.

The demon’s large, hot hand wrapped around Ciel’s length and stroked, twisting at the wrist with every pull, thumb caressing the tip.

The earl groaned and thrust into Sebastian’s fist, the heat and power that emanated from the demon’s hand pushing him quickly over the edge. A few more pumps, and with a loud cry, Ciel shot, his seed flowing between the demon’s fingers.

Through bleary, sated eyes, the teen watched as Sebastian held his hand in front of his face, fingers spread, a long tongue poking from his lips to lick the sticky, white fluid from his skin, smiling, fangs bared and eyes aglow.


#


The weak winter light struggled to peek around the heavy drapes. Ciel lay in his bed, awake, mind reeling. The first part of the dream was familiar, one that had struck him regularly in nightmares over the past seven years. But the second half was new and unsettling. He cautiously lifted the blankets and peered down at the damp fabric of his nightshirt clinging to his stomach and groaned.

Sebastian would be in to wake him at any moment, and Ciel wasn’t certain he could face the butler. After what had been done to him, how could he want even a fraction of that with anyone else? Let alone another man. No, not even a man, a demon! Worse, his mind had warped such a traumatic experience into pleasure, as if the demon himself would cleanse all the foulness from Ciel’s soul. What a dreadful and ridiculous delusion! Truly perverse.

And incredibly disturbing.

A soft knock on the door yanked him violently from his ruminations. “Young master?”

Ciel covered his mouth, logic momentarily failing him as he felt his face heat. He was tempted to send Sebastian away, but it would be foolish of him. This wasn’t Ciel’s first of these distastefully messy affairs, even if today’s subject matter was appallingly vivid. Sebastian’s senses had likely already alerted him to the state of his young master. All Ciel could hope was to fall back on what had never failed him since forming the contract: putting on his disaffected mask, focusing on the case, and not giving the demon the delight of knowing how much Ciel apparently longed to feel his touch in an uncomfortably intimate manner.

Perhaps these peculiar feelings were merely some strange after effect of the connection he’d felt last night when their seals touched. Maybe even some of Sebastian’s magic messing about with Ciel’s brain. After all, who knew what the demon was truly capable of? It certainly was a better explanation for the dream, and all the more reason not to give Sebastian any satisfaction.

Ciel threw the sheets back over himself, cleared his throat, and in a strong, clear voice, called, “Come in.”


#


The scent of his master’s seed filled the air. Not an uncommon occurrence for a boy his age, and yet Sebastian sensed something different about it. Normally, the aroma was flat and unremarkable, biological and acrid and beneath the notice of a higher demon such as himself, except as it pertained to his butler duties in assisting his master, and his own enjoyment of watching the earl’s embarrassment bloom. But today the aroma was thicker, headier, a twirl of intense desire like Sebastian had never before smelled from the teen, blended with anguish and confusion, with just a hint of something the demon couldn’t identify. It perplexed him, especially when he entered and Ciel calmly accepted the warm washcloth to clean himself, slipping off his soiled nightshirt as casually as he undressed for an evening bath.

Not a hint of flushed cheeks or averted eyes as he willingly slipped his arms into the dressing gown Sebastian held out for him, calmly asking if the preparations for the journey were complete. “Sebastian. I asked you a question. Where is your head this morning?”

The butler realized he had somehow not heard his master and failed to respond, much as he had earlier with Finny. Could something be amiss? Perhaps too long spent on earth in human form somehow affecting his demonic senses? It had never happened before, and yet he had never lived so long on earth in the same form.

“Honestly, it’s as if you’ve been spending too much time with the other servants. If demons daydream, you need stop immediately. This case is too important for you to have your head in the clouds.” Ciel stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at Sebastian with both eyes, his marked one appearing to glow, though it had to be an illusion, a trick of the light.

Perhaps, although he did not need rest as a demon, his human form did, especially after all these years? Could that be why he was struggling to focus this morning? “I apologise, my lord. It will not happen again.”

“It had better not,” Ciel said airily. “Or perhaps, if we encounter another demon during the course of this case I will simply form a contract with him instead.”

Sebastian felt a painful clutching in his chest as if a powerful foe had reached into it and attempted to rest his black soul from his core. “My lord—”

But his master grinned, an evil glint in his eye, and said, “Sebastian, you are bound to me and I to you, until the end. It was a joke.”

It took a full second for Sebastian to relax his shoulders and nod his head. “Of course. Let us get you dressed.”


#


Neither of them spoke as Sebastian fastened the various knots and buttons and buckles that comprised his master’s outfit, though tension remained. Long after he had cleaned his body and Sebastian had removed the soiled linens, the unusual scent had lingered, bewildering Sebastian more and more.

His master had never expressed any sexual interest in anyone, not even his future bride, and Sebastian had thought it peculiar as, in his experience, human men of his master’s age were as libidinous as any incubus or succubus the demon had ever encountered in his long life. Sebastian had supposed it could simply be a quirk of his master’s personality, or perhaps a result of his experiences with the cult. Now that his wedding was drawing nearer, after spending a day with his fiancée, it could be, Sebastian reasoned, that desire had finally awoken in the young man.

“Pardon me for the crassness of this statement, young master, but I realize that I perhaps have been remiss in my butler’s duties for not offering you a manner of relieving your frustrations sooner. So that mornings such as this would not occur.”

It seemed to take a minute for Ciel to realize what Sebastian was saying, and when he did, he jerked away suddenly, causing the knot Sebastian had been in the midst of tying at his neck to unravel. His face bloomed with red—ah, there was that embarrassment at last—and he sputtered, losing his collected calm of earlier, “Wh—what in the devil are you on about?! Who said I was frustrated?”

Sebastian couldn’t help a small smirk of satisfaction at his unintended success at destabilizing the boy. “I believe your body begs to differ.” He leaned in closer, inhaling a whiff of the teen’s scent, tinged with that peculiar blend of emotions, smiling ferally in satisfaction. “I can still smell you.”

Sebastian had not thought it possible for his master’s face to turn deeper red, and yet it did. “You’re revolting.”

A pleased grin slipped across Sebastian’s face. “I thank you for the compliment. And yet I am serious: most young human men your age have outlets for their lust, such as wives or mistresses.” Ciel allowed Sebastian to re-tie his cravat. “Perhaps it would be prudent to arrange some company for you while we are in London? In my experience, unsatisfied desire can cloud the human mind.”

“Company?” Ciel asked, appalled as he guided his arms into his jacket with Sebastian’s assistance.

“Yes. Of the intimate variety.”

“You wish to hire me a prostitute?! You truly are a vile demon.” His master slapped away Sebastian’s hands and adjusted his coat and sleeves himself as if attempting to keep his distance. Peculiar.

“Yes. It is my duty to see that my master is able to perform at his optimum capacity by addressing every one of his needs—”

“I have no interest in entertaining a woman of the night.”

“Ah, so you fancy a young man instead? That can easily be arranged.”

Sebastian felt what could only be described as glee as his master balled his hands into fists at his sides. “It is illegal for a man to lie with another man.” He strode to the door but paused when Sebastian continued to speak, the teen’s back to the butler.

“I’ve always found humans to be so curious. The concept of morality and propriety seems so very artificial. Why is one manner of intercourse deemed appropriate and not another? Regardless, with your position, the law could not touch you. Nor would I allow it.”

“And what of scandal?” Ciel said, angry now, whipping about again to glare up at the demon. “Even after three years, I am still dealing with the effects of my twin dragging my name through the mud! I need no further complications in my life as they reflect on not only myself, but the queen and Lizzy as well.”

Sebastian’s lips twitched in amusement. “In fairness, my lord,” he said with all the feigned subservience he could muster, “it was your brother’s name all along, to do with as he wished.” Pain bloomed suddenly along the bone of Sebastian’s cheek from the sudden slap, the ring of Ciel’s finger tearing the skin of the butler’s human face. He stared in shock for a moment, then smiled, knowing it would annoy the boy.

“You will not use magic to fix that,” Ciel commanded coolly. “That is an order. Now go away. I want to eat my breakfast and depart as soon as possible. And if you so much as whisper a hint of this conversation again, I will leave you behind and take the other servants with me on my investigations.”

All amusement drained from Sebastian’s face as he bowed and took his leave. Surely that was a hollow threat? It was already ego-shattering enough that his master didn’t seem to believe Sebastian was capable of protecting him, but to go so far as to trust those human buffoons over the demon?

It was unthinkable.

And it pained Sebastian in a manner he couldn’t entirely understand.


#


Ciel was quiet, brooding, during the first hour of the carriage ride, his face leaned on his hand as he watched the pastoral scenery of the Phantomhive lands pass, gradually giving way toward more populated areas as they grew closer to London. “This case has too many unknowns,” Ciel finally said, irritated, as if they’d been conversing instead of riding in uncomfortable silence for miles.

“We have only just begun our investigation, my lord.”

The earl shifted in his seat, turning away from the window. “It’s times like these I miss Undertaker and his parlor. He certainly made things simpler. I would feel more reassured if we could examine one of the bodies. See the mark for ourselves. The drawing included in the letter may not do it justice.”

“We have snuck into the morgue on occasion, although since the cases were dismissed as suicides, it’s likely the bodies have already been released to their families. The queen’s letter didn’t state how recent the last death was, correct?”

Ciel nodded, although he seemed distracted. “We could assume it occurred shortly before the letter was posted, but that would be an assumption and nothing more.”

“In which case, all the victims may be buried by now.”

The teen grunted. “And Lord Randall has become even less agreeable since my brother framed me for the music hall deaths. Regardless of whether I’ve cleared my name.”

“Even with the queen’s letter, he won’t want to release any of the Yard’s files on the victims. I could exhume one of the bodies, should you order it.”

The earl’s face scrunched up. “Don’t be grotesque. Winter or no, I have no desire to disturb the dead. We shall find another way.”

“Of course, my lord,” Sebastian said with an inclination of his head.

Ciel was quiet a moment, and Sebastian had known the teen long enough to recognize the gears were churning as his master’s devious mind worked to discover a solution to their dilemma. At last, the young man’s face split into his entrancing Cheshire Cat grin, his visible eye glinting with mischief. “Then the loyal hound, when fed with only table scraps, must sneak into the coop and steal what he needs.”


#


They arrived at the London townhouse shortly before lunch. The earl was seated at his desk, an old book open, perusing it, barely glancing up as Sebastian pushed the cart with his master’s meal nearer.

“Sebastian.”

“Yes, my lord?”

Ciel shut his book and pushed it aside.

Sebastian had to hide a smirk when he noticed the cover: Daemonologie by King James, which was filled with a lot of nonsense humans took as fact in regards to dark magic and demonkind. Instead, the butler kept his passive expression as he served his master and listened to what the teen had to say.

“Once I have finished eating, the two of us will begin by making a visit to the Yard. Perhaps Randall will be feeling charitable, or at the very least, may unwittingly give us some information. After, we shall drop by Lau’s to see if he has heard any whispers in the Underworld connected to these deaths.”

“As you wish, young master,” Sebastian replied dutifully.

“Oh, and Sebastian?”

“My lord?” Sebastian paused on his way to the door.

“I’ve given what you mentioned this morning some thought and decided perhaps you are right. It would not do for me to not be at my best for this case.” Ciel sat at his desk, looking up at the butler, his fingers steepled. “I would like for you to arrange some . . . company for me for tomorrow evening. Tonight I will likely be too fatigued. And be discrete. I can’t have anyone attempting to blackmail the Queen’s watchdog.”

One of Sebastian’s angled brows rose in surprise, and his mouth quirked, but he suppressed any other show of emotion for now. “It would be no trouble for me to take care of anyone who would wish to harm you, my lord.” Once again Sebastian found the fact that he was willing to so readily protect the teen from threats more than physical to be curious and concerning, but he set those thoughts aside for now. “What sort of lady would the young master prefer? Perhaps a bubbly blonde?” Sebastian asked, wondering if his theory were correct, and the young master’s desire for his bride-to-be had finally awoken.

Ciel scowled. “No. I would prefer . . .” He hesitated, uncharacteristically, gazing up at Sebastian with an intensity the demon didn’t understand. “A man.” Ciel cleared his throat. “Bl—blond hair, ruddy complexion. St—stocky. No. Tall and graceful.” Perhaps the master was hoping for a masculine version of his fiancée?

“I shall make the arrangements.” Sebastian felt that strange clenching inside him again that he didn’t understand, and once more Ciel fixed his gaze on him as if expecting something. Had Sebastian failed in his butler’s duties somehow in a manner he was not aware of? Lately, he felt oddly unsure of himself. “Is there anything else? Is the luncheon not to your liking?”

“It is fine. No, I was curious: do demons feel emotions, complex emotions, the way humans do? Or are you mere beasts with base instinct alone.”

Sebastian decided he did not like the scrutiny of his master, nor did he entirely understand why. And the teen’s insinuation, his continued belief that Sebastian, as a demon, was beneath him—a mere human!—was insulting. “Lower demons are indeed beasts, my lord. But more evolved beings such as myself are certainly capable of complex emotions.”

“Sebastian,” the earl grumbled, “we have been together long enough I can tell when you’re attempting to work around the prohibition of lying to me. Don’t make me order you to answer.”

Sebastian sighed. “From my observation of humans, demons such as I experience emotions differently from your kind. For one, we do not allow them to overwhelm logic, as you do.”

The earl’s face tinting a subtle shade of pink was the only thing that betrayed his otherwise disaffected exterior. “Are you insinuating something, Sebastian?” He paused with his fork and knife in the air.

“Merely that should this case indeed involve one such as me, you must attempt to think less like a human and more like . . .”

Sebastian could have sworn he saw an aura of light from their seal leak around the edges of the patch, his visible eye hardened. “Like a cold-blooded predator?”

Sebastian allowed his eyes to slip from their human form, glowing red, his fangs descending as he smiled, “As one who sees humans as food, and nothing more.”


#


As expected, Randall blocked them from both the morgue and the records, insisting that “a duplicitous child has no business meddling in a police investigation.” The wasted trip was worth it for the look on his face when Ciel reminded him the police weren’t bothering to investigate at all.

Back in the carriage en route to Lau’s, Sebastian said, “My lord, I do not understand why you did not order me to fetch the records or check the morgue whilst you distracted Randall.”

Ciel was leaning on his fist, elbow balanced on his knee as he stared out at the bleary London winter streets passing by their windows. “Because I wish to see the marks for myself, Sebastian. And now I can confirm that the Yard does not see these deaths as anything but suicides, which means we will have no interference from that loathsome man.”

“I am genuinely surprised Lord Randall did not accuse you of being associated with these deaths, since he still remains convinced of your guilt in the Music Hall murders.”

Ciel sighed. Some days he felt as if his brother’s ghost would never cease haunting him. “Let him believe as he wishes. Our priority now is collecting as much information connected to this case as possible so that we may hopefully solve it before anyone else is killed.”

“Of course, my lord.”

“He did prove himself useful in one other way.” Ciel smirked.

“Oh?”

“Unlike the Music Hall murders, the bodies were not dumped in a common site, but rather have been discovered around the city. This fact is a major reason the police do not suspect foul play.”

“But?” Sebastian’s grin echoed his master’s.

“The locations of the bodies may yield a clue to our murderer the police were too blind to discover. Which is why we will be sneaking into the Yard’s record room tonight so that I may examine the case files myself.”


#


Ciel was still coughing even several minutes after retreating to Lau’s quarters above the opium den. The smoke had always troubled the boy, but this winter it seemed as if his lungs were insistent on plaguing him at every occasion.

“Have some tea, my lord, it will help,” Sebastian said, offering the teen a steaming cup.

Lau sat nearby, Ran Mao in his lap, who was holding his tea for him and offering it to him to sip from. “I am afraid I do not have much news, earl,” the man said in that soft voice of his, eyes open but a crack. “As far as I have been able to ascertain, there has been no unusual movement at the docks, no sign of human trafficking as we saw before with the Aurora Society, no new drugs on the market. It has been a quiet winter, in fact, my lord.”

Sebastian disliked how the Chinese man often spoke to his master with a sarcastic lilt, especially when using his titles. But even the demon had to admit that Lau’s assistance had been critical in helping Ciel defeat his twin and reclaim his position and estate.

“So the only information you have to offer me is that you have no information to offer me.” The teen’s cough had abated with help from the tea, but his voice came out rough all the same.

Lau smiled, an expression that made Sebastian’s instincts awaken. The demon was convinced this man knew far more than he pretended, that he was incredibly dangerous, and as soon as he saw the earl had lost his usefulness he would turn on him like a snake. It took extra will for Sebastian to fully maintain his human form and remain the composed, placid butler standing beside his master.

“Ah, but no information is still valuable information, my lord.”

Ciel sighed. “I suppose that is true. Well, if there’s nothing else. Sebastian? Let us return to the townhouse and prepare for tonight.”

“As you wish, my lord,” the demon said with a bow.

“Careful, earl,” Lau said as the pair was about to depart. “I’ve heard whispers of a curse stalking the souls of London. Best be on your guard.” Lau opened his eyes and cast a glance toward Sebastian. “That is, if you believe in such things.”


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