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Karma Chameleon

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They were long past England when Ciel told him to stop.

As they travelled, when everything was all over, Sebastian had been mildly surprised at being redirected forward rather than down as his master had implied. Ciel said nothing more on the topic the longer they went, his interest in the underworld evaporating in the overworld sun. So Sebastian went forward and not down, waiting for the boy to relent, wondering the whole way if he had come up with some idea that would make existing like this worth the trouble.

But no. The order was sudden and inglorious, born out of a gut reaction rather than a grander set of plans. It seemed, then, that Ciel had been having him walk, ride, run, and once jaunt across the bottom of the ocean for the novelty of it, with no reason or destination in the end. Perhaps it was just a drive to keep moving, the instinct to put as much distance between himself and former attachments as possible.

Sebastian could understand that, at least.

These suspicions were first confirmed when Ciel asked to have a look around. They were outside of a wretched little mountain town a continent away, the buildings cloistered so tightly in the valley away from the first slopes it was like they were afraid of heights. Despite the crotchety, homespun cottages and the streets of dirt and the smell , Ciel’s appraisal deemed it satisfactory. He urged Sebastian forward, deeper into this middle of nowhere, spurring in his heels like he was nothing but a pack mule.

It was all absolutely inane, but like most of the trip, Sebastian declined to comment.

They skirted civilization, instead following the upward creep of forest until they reached a peak high enough to cut through the haze of smelting smoke from the mines. From that vantage point they could see the stretch of the lake’s shore below, flocks of fir in every direction, a waterfall tucked under an outlook like it was trying to keep itself secret.

“Here,” Ciel said, offering no further explanation. This must have been far enough, whatever that meant to him.

So it wasn’t back to Hell after all, but this was more personal a punishment anyways. The construction of the log cabin took Sebastian fifteen minutes, which earned him a talking-to about the uselessness of a slothful butler. It was one in a long line of increasingly frustrated lectures, but no matter how ridiculous the demand Sebastian did not permit Ciel the pleasure of getting a rise out of him. He barely spoke at all, unless made to as retribution.

Thus went the demonology lessons. Out of nowhere, Ciel would order Sebastian a question he deemed interesting enough for him, and Sebastian would answer in as few words as he could. This continued up until Ciel decided he was hungry enough to try a contract, an exercise that would require hands on experience.

Sebastian showed him the structure of the rituals and shadowed him as usual as he went into town with renewed intent. Ciel drank up the stares of the common rabble, loitering around the produce stands and general store, letting town gossip do the detective work for him. At night he took a table at the inn, waiting for a mind dull enough to take on a demon who didn’t know what he was doing. Or, as a boorish alternative, a mind that had dulled itself down enough at the innkeeper’s bar.

His first catch had a terrible case of onion breath. “Money,” the man said with no hesitation. “I want money. Loads of it. A thousand at least.”

“A thousand.” Ciel tapped his cheek in thought, trying to remember the difference between the coins and the pieces of paper. “Er...of what?”

Sebastian rubbed his temples.

The man waved his arms in the air. “Money, obviously! Well, I meant dollars, but actually, now that you mention it, I wouldn’t object to gold or diamonds or a farm, a big one. You’re the expert, aren’t you? You decide.”

Ciel mulled this decision over in one of the inn’s back rooms. Sebastian waited outside, counting all of the hallway’s termite holes in the interim. Even for a novice summoner, he was taking his time. Had he really listened to that blathering about farms? Would he open the door to a stampede of a thousand cows?

But Ciel emerged with nothing but crossed arms and a raised eyebrow. “What’s that look for? The contract never said I had to be the one to do it.” He held up his marked hand as Exhibit A. “You heard the man. He wants gold, or whatever. Hurry up and go get it. Don’t know why you’re just hanging around wasting my time.”

Sebastian kept quiet, but it was very, very difficult.

The man died with a potato-sized kilogram of gold in hand and Ciel slurping his soul like he was trying to drink soup and run with the bowl at the same time. Sebastian had to bite his lip to stop the butler in him from shouting at these table manners. Next time, he told himself to keep calm. Next time he would put a stop to...whatever that was.

There would be no next time, in the end. That was the last time Ciel took a contract, the last time they went into town. He had gone back up the mountain, boots caked with mud and pine needles, entered the cabin and didn’t come out again.

There were no obvious reasons for this new disinterest in the outside world. Ciel was the same in all other respects, now just making his demands solely from the comfort of his living room chess table. Occasionally Sebastian would see him pace, as close to leaving as he ever got. Even hunger was not enough of a motivator, though he was never shy about his appetites. Ciel would order Sebastian to bring his meals to him instead, with the stipulation he avoid the town and keep attention away.

And that was how the Phantomhive butler became the region’s first tour guide, offering scenic vistas and experiences they would find nowhere else.

But even that didn’t last. Ciel stopped asking. The most he’d have Sebastian do would fetch him trout from the lake for supper, to play-act at being normal, to try and taste traditional food again, or for some other reason Sebastian could not fathom. It was less work, he supposed, because it wasn’t like he was going hunting for himself.

“You could eat, you know,” Ciel had said, back when he still partook, when he would wet his mouth with hiker’s blood. “In fact, you probably should, shouldn’t you? It can’t be good for you to have gone without it this long. Maybe that’s why you’re getting slow.”

Sebastian said nothing. He wasn’t hungry, anyways. He went out to kick a new crater into the mountain instead, because that was a much better use of his time.

At least time was in abundance here. With some work, Sebastian could convince himself that was a positive. Ciel didn’t seem to care how he kept himself occupied as long as he came running on command like a good dog should, the binding preventing him from going too far. He could wander at his discretion, find any number of very punchable trees, go farther into the woods than any map could cover. And it was there, in the woods, that he began to lose track.

He did try, at first, scratching tallies into a stone he’d found for every day he knew had gone by. But the choke-chain of boredom soon grew too heavy for there to be a point behind it. On a lucky day, he’d realize a month had passed and make a note of that, but before long he was trudging through snow and then mud and then fallen leaves one after another and not giving a second thought between them at all.

He threw the stone in the river. Time continued without it. Heat and cold and heat again, spring into winter into spring. Sundown, sundown, sundown, quicker than a human could blink.

And Ciel, still, stayed inside.

He was getting restless, though. Sebastian could tell. He was spending more time fidgeting with the chess pieces rather than mastering every strategy and scenario. One day Sebastian came back to find the board discarded, knocked to the floor, and Ciel throwing his bishops at a ring in the wall’s wood grain over and over again. It looked like he had overheard the basic concept of darts, but stopped listening at all the other important details.

“This isn’t very enjoyable, actually,” Ciel had said, though Sebastian hadn’t asked.

So the day he stood up and demanded to be taken elsewhere was not unexpected. What was, however, was that particular elsewhere.

“The manor, my lord?” Sebastian said, too surprised to stay quiet. “I had assumed you intended to relocate permanently.”

“I did, but I’ve grown tired of it now. I believe I’ve adjusted enough to conduct business among the public again. Fooling Elizabeth will be another matter, but at least it will be interesting. Where is the nearest port?”

Sebastian kept his face neutral. “I believe New York would be most convenient, sir.”

“Right, then. Take me there.”

“Yes, my lord.”

At top speed it only took a couple hours. The landscape melted into a colorful tunnel around them as he ran, and even Sebastian had trouble picking out details from the scenery as it passed. That meant Ciel had no hope of keeping track as hills turned back to towns and then to cities. Sebastian allowed a smile at the thought.

Welcome to Manhattan. It was still New Amsterdam the last time he had visited, its most impressive structure a wood-fenced fort and a windmill with more emphasis on function over form. Back then he couldn’t say whether or not it would bloat up like London or fade to nothing like countless other human settlements. With Funtom he had heard of its rise to prominence as New York City secondhand, tracked the flow of business through its shores, watched its name etch itself in history. Seeing it aboard the Campania, the shape of it sparkling over the dark of the bow thousands of miles away, he could imagine its growth, the way its people had molded it.

But even he could not imagine this.

At first he thought he had somehow forgotten which direction would lead to the water. The smell of the salt tugged him one way, but he could not see the harbor anymore. Instead the skyline had grown teeth, the buildings around them so tall that if legends said this had all formed atop a  giant’s jaw he may very well have believed it. Every turn of his head showed another marvel of engineering. Such a treat, to be impressed by humanity. He then remembered this ward, who was so newly inhuman.

Yes. This would be worth his time.

He set Ciel down in a central-looking square and watched it slowly dawn on him that the smears of colors in the air weren’t just left over from breaking the speed of sound. They were lighted signs and they were staying, insistent in their existence, telling of impossible things, of things that shouldn’t--couldn’t be real. The square was choked with people in similarly impossible clothing. Ciel was letting them shove him around as they passed, mouth a wide “O” of shock.

“We agreed New York would be the point of departure.” Sebastian wanted to watch him, wanted  to see every drop of struggle, but his eyes moved to a passing car out of curiosity. “Is there a problem, young lord?”

Ciel couldn't move, couldn’t make himself deny what was in front of him, his posture tensing up with every new absurdity he saw. Sebastian's question lit a flare of rage in him--so calm about this, as always--he had to have known! But chastising him would just be admitting how much he'd been caught off-balance. He ground his teeth, finally stepping to the side to avoid being manhandled by passerby. That only drew their attention, and now people were slowing to look him over.

“Think you lost, little Shakespeare motherfucker,” one said as they went.

"Sebastian," Ciel grumbled. His pride would have to take the hit. "How long has it been since we left my estate?"

Sebastian looked around, hand holding his chin less in thought and more to stop himself from grinning. "Ah. It appears clock faces have fallen out of favor." The date was scrolling along a screen in angry, stumpy letters. "A pity. This is a far less elegant solution. And one hundred years, my lord, it seems." He bowed a little and offered his elbow for Ciel to hang onto. "Give or take. Shall we?"

Ciel took the offered arm, just as much out of habit as to keep himself from visibly reeling.

He had thought he was just on vacation. It had felt like two months at the most.

"...yes. No, actually, I've... changed my mind. Before we find a ship, you can find something to entertain me in this city. I trust you know by now what's worth my time."

Right now, he would take any time he could get. He looked over the crowds, their strange and slipshod fashions, a parade of colorful and ugly shoes. The sidewalks were lined with stalls crammed to overflowing with glossy magazines and cut-rate clothing, the nearest shopkeeper leaning on the counter and smoking with a bored expression. Across the street a dingy building had posters plastering the walls, and Ciel recoiled when he saw they all featured half-nude actresses in suggestive poses, the marquee above advertising XXX THEATER: FRENCH NYMPHO SLUTS.

Hastily tearing his eyes away, he peered at the people crouched inside the cramped boxes that he assumed passed for automobiles these days, filling the streets with mechanical noise and the smell of petrol. Without meaning to, he tightened his grip on Sebastian's sleeve as his stomach roiled.

"And be quick about it. That's an order."

"Yes, my lord."

Sebastian weaved them through crowds with the same expertise as threading a needle and fixing a difficult tear. That the harassment stayed minimal was a welcome surprise. These accents were so brash, and to Sebastian sounded more like dogs trying to bark while muzzled than anything close to the Queen’s English, but the occasional comments were at least helping him adjust. “Slow down, Jeeves!” someone jeered. “I just wanna talk! Lemme show you some American hospitality!”  Sebastian didn’t answer, instead using the opportunity to catalogue every face, each new object, all the tactless storefronts on the strip. It would take more than a trifling amount of time to get him to lose the upper hand on humanity.

"It's good that you are handling this so well, my lord." Sebastian said, the fib small and complex enough to wiggle through the contract. The crowds were thinning out. "Considering your origins, I had assumed that time dilation would be a more challenging concept to master." This was already more than he had willingly said in a century. "And while it is impossible to know the manor's current state, I will not idle in restoring both it and you to power. Given its splendor, it would not surprise me if it was made into a museum by now. Regardless, I will need to seek replacements for the servants, of course, and the matter of courting in this era will need to be investigated. But that can wait until our arrival."

He stopped in front of a building with the word ENTERTAINMENT scrawled in neon across a window, with its innards full of visitors scrunched up against brightly glowing boxes. Ragged, soft-looking animal statues stood along the back wall like beleaguered sentinels, and above the archway sign reading “PIZZA TIME THEATER” sat a drawing of a rat, winking at them indecently. Sebastian scowled. It smelled horrible. Like cheese, but...wrong.

"Entertainment," he observed. "How...entertaining. Since you saw it fit to spend almost a century playing chess in your room by yourself, I think this is now more than worthy of your time, don’t you? Do enjoy yourself, young master. I’ll wait outside.”

Ciel stared at the garish building, taking in the cacophony of noises--beeping, chatter, laughter. Carefree children with their sticky hands and doting parents and no idea what the world was like.

He realized his expression had become a rictus of distaste.

"I’m not a child, you slimy git! Don’t patronize me!" he snapped, voice raising. "None of this is right. You knew how long it had been!" He felt his limbs tremble with feeling. "You could have stopped this. Now what are we to do, here, in this--this--"

He threw his cane on the sidewalk, cursing.

Several young onlookers had detached from their screens and were watching them from the window, eyes puerile and guileless. Sebastian considered his options. He could mimic the children, with their open and innocent expressions. It was one of his favorite things he had learned from the humans, emotional manipulation by way of looking "cute," Elizabeth and Finnian being notable experts on the subject. He would miss that, he realized, but that thought would need to be dealt with later. Sebastian went with a careful neutral instead.

"My apologies, my lord, but I am merely your eternal servant. I cannot anticipate your needs if they do not occur to you yourself, and even a butler to the Phantomhives--if the name still has weight--is powerless before time's passage. Forgive me," he said, getting down on one knee and grabbing Ciel's hand in the most melodramatic fashion he could muster.

The onlookers were growing in number. He would give them a show.

"Master." Sebastian placed both hands on the ground to rest his head near Ciel's feet. A parent was already loudly complaining about that to management--something something “ freaks ” something--saving him the need to escalate further and start licking the boots, but he did place a conservative kiss on the toe for good measure. "Now what are we to do?"

Ciel let out a hiss of breath, his face flushing with embarrassment in a human way he still hadn't learned to suppress. He resisted the impulse to kick his butler, since there were already too many people watching, and settled for clenching his fists.

"Firstly, you are to get off that filthy street this instant," he said, trying to deliver it with certainty rather than panic. "Get my cane and--and--"

He had no idea what people did anymore, how they acted, what he must even look like in this outfit. They were in America, where British nobility had no power, and his titles were unlikely to get him anywhere without the backup of cold currency.

"Get me out of here," he said, wheezing. That he could still have symptoms like this as a demon infuriated him too much to think about right now. "Somewhere we can talk. Alone."

Sebastian’s smile didn’t change, but one eyebrow raised at the unexpected coughing. Interesting. "As you wish." He scooped both cane and boy into his arms, giving a last wink to a scandalized mother before heading off into the night. "Somewhere we can talk" was far too vague for a city like this, where despite the population count finding yourself a dark private corner was unpleasantly simple, but Sebastian decided to permit some leniency. Ciel had already paid for it with that face he'd made.

Nicking a key from behind the motel's front desk was a joke of a task, but dealing with the blanket smell of mildew coming from their room proved itself to be a challenge. Even the manor’s cleaning supply closets had been tidier and more generous with space. The lone bed was covered with a striped comforter that turned a progressively uglier brown as it went from left to right, managing to look both scratchy and wet at the same time. A paper-thin desk and sad bathroom rounded out the rest of the accommodations. The carpet stuck to his shoes as he entered like it, too, wanted a useless contract of its own.

Sebastian grimaced as he set Ciel on the bed--it was going to take another century just to be able to smell normally again--and even as he donned his standard butlering expression some bitterness remained. "You wanted to talk, master?"

Ciel wrinkled his nose, but there were more important things to take Sebastian to task for. He grit his teeth and drew his hand back for a slap that left his fingers numb. After a few breaths to compose himself he spoke.

"There. Is that what you wanted from me?" He swallowed, staring pointedly at the wall instead of his direction. "Did I neglect you so much in my affairs that you're acting out for my attention? If you were so bored you could have told me what was happening. Now we'll be playing catch-up because we're starting from zero." He crossed his arms.

There was little pain in Sebastian’s face, but with the hit he felt the faintest wisp of Ciel's old scent--of the soul that once ripened inside him--and that was agony. He gripped his chest, aesthetic in shambles. It took all he had to stop himself from attempting vivisection, to plunge into Ciel's heart for a scrap of the spoils that he knew would never be there again. He would let himself dwell on it, just for a moment. He would admit his hunger, just this once.

"Catch up?" His voice was rough. "What do you intend to catch, precisely? What former affair of yours could satiate a being like you or I?"

Ciel scoffed at him. “Money, obviously. Enough to get out of this shithole. I’ll need to learn the customs of this era so I’m not being made a fool of like I was in that square. Since I can’t be an earl here, for now you’ll need to investigate business for me, see what would be a suitable title for a Phantomhive. And as you mentioned, all my servants and associates have probably passed from old age by now. I’ll need more contacts.”

Sebastian stared. Humanity was starting to slip from him- there was the crackling of green shadow, the pointing of many fangs, eyes a brightening red.

"I...cannot say I understand. Your revenge is well and truly complete. You are my kin now, and we are primordial beings, born of dark and fire. Anything in the material world, you can pluck yourself from the ether, but it will serve you little purpose. We ourselves have no other purpose save to feed.  That is immutable, my lord. We can think we desire, we can seek intrigue and revelry, but all are mere distractions in the end. You... rail against this and the unchangeable march of time, but there is no escape from this truth. It is against our nature to chain ourselves to anything but prey." The urge to vanish rose up like bile, but he could not make himself move anywhere but towards Ciel. "To seek connection beyond our instinct."

The irony was not lost on him.

Ciel stared him down as his aura turned threatening, his true form showing through the shadow of his human mask. His mouth twitched in annoyance.

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're suggesting," he said. "I haven't forgotten our purpose anymore than I have forgotten how to pursue multiple goals at once. I will not be chained by any empire I build, but freed to pursue prey as I please. In my own way." He hopped off the bed, walking past the pillar of demonic energy to pace around the room. “Surely you should know there's work required to prepare a meal worth consuming."

"Hm. No, my lord." Sebastian’s body was starting to crackle and break, particles spinning off to join the darkness. A shout came from down the hallway as several lightbulbs burst at once. "I suppose I wouldn't know in the end, now would I? And now I--nevermind. It doesn't matter."

The last vestiges of Sebastian turned into mist and vanished out the doorframe. The room returned to normal.

"Wait, you--Sebastian! Sebastian!" The fiend had known an order was coming and deliberately left before he could offer specifics. "Ugh!" Ciel scuffed his boot on the carpet. Who knew what that infernal butler would think of fetching?

He stared at the door, dwelling on Sebastian’s reaction now that he was past the initial frustration. Ciel had fully intended to let him devour his soul once the contract had been completed. That Alois Trancy had decided to make it otherwise was beyond his control. He wouldn't lie that there wasn’t satisfaction in knowing Sebastian couldn't leave him now that he was a demon himself, but none of this had been planned.

No matter. As Sebastian had said, it wasn't in his nature to care if the butler resented him for the situation. He began the process of removing his boots, hosiery, overcoat and hat on his own, setting each aside on the end table. Then he curled up on top of the bedspread in his shirt and trousers for a nap. Though it wasn't strictly necessary, he had nothing better to do in this dingy room until Sebastian returned. He closed his eyes and didn't dream.

Chapter Text

He was born in the winter, but he would already be considered surplus before the snow had a chance to melt.

“You know your responsibility,” his aunt would say to his father, over and over again. “Unless you produce a proper heir, the Phantomhive name dies with you, which is absolutely unacceptable. I won’t stand for it being married off into obscurity. This child cannot be anything more to our line than a last resort, a spare. You have to keep trying.”

So five years later, when winter came again, with it came Ciel Phantomhive.

The new addition brought joy to the household. For the spare child, growing up had been lonely and cold, the manor so big yet made so small by constant illness. Now the child would have a friend, someone to gently play with, someone with whom he could share all his ideas for new toys and games. Now their name had its heir apparent, and the Phantomhives would live in history forever. Now there would be no need for last resorts.

Despite the gulf of time between them, the children balanced each other perfectly. They became mirror images, two halves of a whole. They were inseparable, so Ciel was the first to know.

“Could we go please go play in the garden, s--”

“Ciel,” the spare said before he could finish. “If we perform another play soon, like the one we did a little while ago, could I...be a brother knight too, this time?”

“Another brother? Why?”

The spare blushed, shuffling his feet on the carpet. “I...just think I would be better at it.”

“Hmmm.” Ciel surveyed him, walking around in circles with his chin held in his hand, clearly picturing the fit of a suit of armor. “I think...you’re right. But! I’m going to have to change some rules.”

“Rules?”

“Yes,” Ciel said, secure in his infinite six-year old wisdom. “Now Sebastian will have to be the princess. And you have to put the dress on him!”

The spare stuck his tongue out in mock horror. “But he’s so stinky!”

Ciel shrugged. “Knights hafta rescue princesses. Even if they’re stinky. I didn’t make that rule, Dad did.” He thought some more. “Dad also said that actors need sage names. I didn’t want to be Sage, I wanted to be Ciel, but he said no and told me to make something up. Now I’m Sir Earl and I’m an actor and a knight. So you have to have a knight name if you’re going to act! What’s gonna be yours?”

“Oh. Um, I have some ideas,” the spare mumbled. “It’s a little secret, but I want to know what you think. Do you remember the book Mom read us?”

“I don’t know, Mom has too many! Tell me, I’ll keep a secret!”

The spare leaned over to whisper it in his ear.

“Oh, I like it!” Ciel turned, suddenly deadly serious. “With my sword,” he said, holding up what was very much just his hand. “I knight you, Sir.” He tapped the spare on both shoulders with the side of his palm. “Now, hurry, to the garden! Sebastian needs us!”

So the boy was born again, in the spring this time. He would discover that being the spare had its benefits. Sickly and irrelevant as he was, he rarely spent time among high society and had never been paraded out for a marriage arrangement. He could wear his hair as short as he liked, have his clothes tailored the same way Ciel did, and no one would mind him at all.

Well. Most of the time.

“Oh, come off it, Francis,” he heard the creepy grey man say one day. “What does it matter to you what the kid wears? There’s an heir already. Don’t see how it’s hurting anyone’s reputation if his sibling has a little fun. Get to be as old as me and you won’t even notice things like that anymore. All you’d see is corpses-in-waiting. Soon all anyone’ll be wearing is a shroud, when you think about it! Why don’t we figure out how yours will fit, since you’re so worried about dress-up ?”

A boot stamped hard on the floor. “Vincent! Are you really just going to let him... speak to me this way? Control your mongrel friend!”

“Heh. Have one of my biscuits, dear, it’ll help your blood pressure.”

Yes. That was the reason. He could dress how he liked, because he wasn’t the heir. Because he would never be Earl, even though he was older. Even though they were both brothers and both knights. Because he wasn't enough, for the name, for their history.

It was alright. The spare lived his life how he pleased. The brothers’ oath of chivalry stayed ironclad even as they grew, with Ciel swearing on their grandmother’s grave that the spare could live on the land as long as he wished to. He'd be a Viscount under the strict protection of the Earl, saved from being reduced to a dowry and a dead name.

But it wasn’t enough, in the end. It wasn’t enough that he was older, that he would inherit so little, Ciel’s promise, the code of chivalry, none of it. None of it was enough to actually save him.

Because when they came for the young Earl Ciel Phantomhive on his 13th birthday, they made sure to take a spare with them, too.

 


 

Yes. I had many reasons to choose you. You, the blackest sheep amidst a sickening flock of lambs. Treated like a child but used like an adult, with eyes that said you were already accustomed to cages. And yet your stare was unmoving as you took my hand in search of freedom, as you became mine and I yours. You, who did not flinch in bringing down retribution, in washing your hands clean with their blood. You, who after being born into a false name had the nerve to stand in front of Hell himself and take another’s. You, who lied to me, and who did it so easily.

Of course, I did not understand your decision in full until much later. At the time I thought you were simply pilfering power from the dead while the body was still warm. Admirable, in its audacity. But I grew to appreciate the complexity of the choice, a wine that grew sweeter with time. It was strategic. Under your brother’s name, they could not question your legitimacy. Illness and nature had made you smaller and more youthful-looking than him, but donning your heels and powdering your face made the resemblance irreproachable.

You could take the manor, the money, the title, the fiancee to keep at arm’s length. If nobles wanted to talk, let them. Their frivolous pickings at how young the Queen’s Guard Dog was would be far simpler a scandal than anything else. You could exact your revenge unbothered. You could be who they would tell you you were not.

This is why I chose you. You, who would become my downfall.

I saw you back then, kneeling at his gravestone, reading the name that was now yours. Sorry, brother, you had said, unthinking or uncaring if I could hear. This would be the last time you would ever speak of it. This would be the last remorse you would ever show.

But I was always the eldest son.

 


 

It was almost evening when Sebastian returned. The room was dark and Ciel still lay motionless on the bed. He was being quite stubborn about this whole napping business, but Sebastian supposed that since he had squandered a whole century already, what was one more day to him? Still, there was something surprising about how he slept, a look on his face so unlike the being he had become now. As his butler, he had found that vulnerable look endearing, once. Now, as his...whatever, he was becoming rapidly dismayed to find out that it was still working on him.

Damn it. Sebastian took the pleasure of ungently turning all the lights on before announcing himself. "My, my. Still unable to undress yourself, even in demonhood? A pitiful sight, my lord."

He was wearing a well-tailored grey and black suit and wrapped in a scarf so large it would have served as one of the manor’s table runners. Beneath the layers was the barest hint of a vest and tie, shiny and silken. Sebastian dumped an armful of plastic bags onto the bed and began to pull out their contents without even waiting for him to sit up. Ciel pulled himself upright with a groan, looking alert but very disgruntled about the whole thing.

"It would be unsuitable for a rising entrepreneur to show himself in dated fashion, no matter how cyclical certain trends may be," Sebastian explained.

Out of the bags came acid washed jeans, a variety of painfully colored sweaters, and a gun graphic t-shirt with the caption "WELCOME TO NEW YORK, DUCK MOTHERFUCKER!" The command to duck was ostensibly to avoid being shot. Sebastian looked at it and smirked.

"Humans are truly innovative creatures. Speaking of," he said, reaching into the pocket of his suit jacket to pull out several rolled up catalogues that he tossed near Ciel's head. "These overview the scientific and technological developments. Much has changed, and you will need to keep abreast of the modern day. There are newspapers there as well, for the political background." He turned to the mirror to adjust his outfit, carefully tucking his bagged-up butler wear in a drawer. "Once you are caught up, I have a lead on an opportunity. Presenting as a child here, however, will not have the same conveniences as it once did. I recommend you alter your disguise if you wish to have any sway."

Ciel looked first at Sebastian’s scarf, then at the mottled jeans in horror. "This is what's in fashion?"

He pulled them to the side, finding no alternative pants, then began to dig through the sweaters. "I suppose I can adapt, but I can't say I understand the modern tastes." He paused, holding up a sweater with a nauseous-looking teddy bear embroidered on the front. "And if you want me to look anywhere close to my age, why did you even get this one?"

Sebastian smiled. “Why, because the comfort of my master is my utmost priority, of course.”

There didn’t seem to be a single sweater without something nonsensical on it. One featured an enormous emblem of a horse waving the American flag in its mouth, the mane a horrifying mass of yarn sewn into the front. Another crime against apparel gave a poor illusion of having a separate vest and shirt made of a single piece, complete with an ugly bow-tie tacked onto the neck. He discarded one that proclaimed SAILOR above a grinning man and another that said JAZZ, a word he couldn’t guess the meaning of. Finally he settled on the least offensive option, which declared “I’m A Luxury...” and continued on the back: “Few Can Afford.”

“Well, that much is true,” he mumbled.  He squinted down at his current outfit, drearily picking at the knot to his bow and pulling it free of his collar. He could, technically, get out of all this on his own, but the amount of twisting and turning needed to unfasten his trousers was undignified.

Sebastian let Ciel sit in discomfort for several more moments before relenting. He made quick work of the shirt and cast it aside, but his hands stilled as he reached the buttons of Ciel's shorts. "I must warn you, my lord, that the evolution of what is considered acceptable for undergarments has been....quite drastic. However, I think you will ultimately find them useful."  He pulled several compression shirts and sports tanks and laid them out for Ciel to see. Next was a set of briefs dyed in a lemony 70s color palette.

"On the matter of looking your age, I took the liberty of procuring several innovative products that may be of some aid. I agree with you about today’s tastes, but it does seem that vendors of modernity have made certain aesthetics far more accessible than in the past." Sebastian smiled serenely as he upended another bag and several packers, ranging in size from petite to reasonable to mythical creature, flopped out onto the bed. "I brought a variety, so that you may have options. They all should fit quite nicely with these." He held up the largest one against the briefs to demonstrate the fit. "Will this size do, my lord?"

Ciel's eye widened, his hand flying to his mouth to suppress a shout as Sebastian helpfully demonstrated the most excessive option available. His eyebrows twitched as he scrambled for a response. He couldn't tell what emotion to feel: grateful, that Sebastian had been thorough enough to consider all the things people expected of a young man, mortified, that he had clearly put some thought into these, or infuriated, because of course his butler always did the most to faze his master.

"I think that," he said, voice strained. "Would just attract the wrong kind of attention." His hand shot into the pile to retrieve a more moderate alternative. "I can put this on myself. Just help me get out of these."

"Certainly." Sebastian did as he was told, and if Ciel could hear him chuckling to himself as he went about it he made no comment.

Ciel gathered his bounty and darted to the bathroom before anything else could be said. Bloody hell. If this was Sebastian rebelling, at least he was doing it within the confines of the contract. He was going easy on him, really. Ciel could deal with passive aggressiveness and the commitment was almost impressive, like the man had written up a detective's list of trivial buttons to push. Damn, even the teddy bear sweater was something straight out of Lizzie’s playbook--

Ah. Lizzie.

He had almost forgotten.

Ciel allowed himself a moment to consider. He would miss her, yes, but passing naturally was one of the kindest deaths one could have, and God knows that he himself had spent enough time preparing to lose everything. She would have mourned him, of course, unaware that their future together never could have worked out the way she expected it to. She would mourn, and then she would find a new purpose, because that was who she was. She was strong, and she deserved someone that she didn’t think was afraid of her for that.

He could see it perfectly. She would have moved on, living in the manner she chose and earning her eternal rest at the end of it all. Everyone would have moved on eventually, because that was how humans worked. How time worked.

Which meant everyone who had known him as something other than what he wanted to be, what he was , was gone. Everyone who’d humiliated him was no more than moss and rot and dust beneath his feet. Maybe even their children, too. All his papers had turned to worm food, and there was no one left waiting on his sign off. No one left waiting in the wings to watch him stumble.

Ciel got dressed, adjusting to the feel of every new article before admiring himself in the mirror. He looked good, despite the sweater, and from some angles even because of it. He examined his profile, the way the tank flattened his chest yet remained comfortable.

He looked...very good.

Perhaps he did not need to rush into becoming an “Earl” again so soon.

Ciel came out smiling, and if Sebastian noticed he made no comment.

“Oh, one more thing, master. It is a tad chilly outside. Any demon worth their salt would be able to perfectly regulate the functions of their human body, so I made sure to get a jacket so you wouldn’t get cold.” Sebastian held it up. It was cropped at the waist and made of the shiniest, tackiest golden fabric Ciel had ever seen.

He just shrugged. “Why, thank you,” he said, taking it to put it on himself.

"...right, then. Onto business, my lord,” Sebastian said, his brow a bit furrowed. “You can read on the way."

 

They stepped out into the street, where a shoddy looking taxi was waiting for them on the curb. "This is called a taxicab. Travelers may hail them and pay a fee to be transported around the city. For you it is your carriage, sir." Sebastian jingled a set of keys and, at Ciel's confused face, held up a driver's license with a flattering picture of himself. “Becoming a State of New York registered taxi driver should be a simple task for any Phantomhive butler. I'm happy to report that you're already my fifth customer." He bowed and opened the passenger door for him.

They drove off. Sebastian, like with most things he tried, was a skillful driver.

The inside smelled like old cigarettes and bad perfume. “What’s all this?” Ciel said, looking at the dashboard.

“That’s a radio, my lord, although far smaller than those of your time.”

“Hm.” Ciel turned it on, and the local station began to play out of the car’s speakers. The song was accompanied by mechanical noises that reminded Ciel of the Campania’s distress signal, of a malfunctioning gramophone.  Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away--

Ciel made a face and fiddled with the buttons. “Is it broken or something?”

Sebastian smirked. “No, my lord. That is simply the style of music nowadays.”

Ciel frowned. “What instrument even  is that?”

“I’m sure you needn’t worry over it, my lord.” Sebastian had no idea.

The song played on. ---the love we share seems to go nowhere, and I’ve lost my light--

Sebastian turned the volume up a couple clicks.

Ciel slumped, twisting underneath the seatbelt. He watched the city as it passed, awed by its upward reach, until they hit afternoon traffic and he had nothing to look at but the same corner of the same building. So he then began to study the catalogues, investigating the electronics and their descriptions. Some of them, liked the instant camera, seemed quite useful, others he couldn’t understand the need for. This ‘microwave’ oven is far too small to cook a proper meal in, surely. Still, he took note of everything, just in case it came up in a conversation--he wouldn’t want to seem out of touch to whatever business prospects Sebastian had found for him.

After the gridlock had allowed him to scan through a couple of them he paused at the next selection. The cover featured a fat little stuffed worm with a nightcap and bedroom eyes under the words TOYS Я US. He gave Sebastian a sidelong glance to see if he was watching, then quickly flipped it open.

Stuffed bears of different colors with symbols on their stomachs, horses with a similar gimmick but appearing of harder material. Some kind of unidentifiable brightly-furred creature called a “popple,” which he immediately decided he needed to find and purchase for--professional curiosity. A variety of different board and card games, some of them updated versions of the ones he was familiar with, others completely new to him. So engrossed in the catalogue, he nearly didn’t notice their journey until the car began to brake.

Sebastian was slowing the cab along a beat up street, each building a continuous red brick, framed by dull steel awnings. Trash bobbed along a storm drain’s river like little boats. The only other moving presence on the street was a butcher in his shop, watching from the window, his open door spilling out the smell of rust into the air. Past there, the block was desolate, but that didn’t stop the feeling that something else was watching, waiting for them.

The car pulled to a stop in front of one of the many vacant-looking storefronts. A sign next to the door may have been legible once upon a time, but after exposure to both vandals and the elements all that remained was “X IGHT CLUB”.

"Our first lead is here,” Sebastian said. “The proprietor of this establishment needs materials moved throughout the city with discretion, hence the vehicle. I'll let you finalize the details, of course, but do note, my lord, that this club caters to quite a niche clientele. I needed to make some adjustments to my appearance in order to blend in. Nothing of concern."

Ciel's mind was already full of questions, namely over the “niche clientele” and what other details Sebastian had neglected to brief him on, but the demon had stepped out of the car before he could ask. He followed with mild exasperation.

A human dressed in various shades of black opened the door as they approached, propping it with a brick as the sun began to set. "Hey, we’re  actually still setting up but--oh, hey, Sebastian, you're back already." The bouncer's eyes skipped to Ciel. "Hold on, is this your master?"

Sebastian nodded and got down on one knee, unravelling his scarf to reveal a thickly ringed collar, metallic accents the color of Ciel's hair. Ciel stopped in his tracks. A collar, like a nobleman's favorite pet. Or worse, like a nobleman’s favorite degenerate pastime. Considering how Sebastian had been teasing him today, he thought he knew which meaning it was. He bit his tongue to avoid gawking.

Sebastian kept his eyes to the street so no one could see him smile. Yes, this would be sufficient to make him drop this ridiculous folly of “affairs”. Being seen with his servant again grubbing in the dirt, implying so much about his standards, steps away from begging for scraps from the denizens of this disgusting world. It had been work finding somewhere that walked the fine line between outright danger and subtle humiliation, but it had been worth it for this. Perhaps it was enough to make him wheeze again.

Sebastian certainly hoped so.

But no. Instead Ciel returned in kind, stepping forward to run his hand over the back of Sebastian's bowed head. When his fingers had caught enough of his hair he seized it sharply, jerking him forward as if trying to physically make him rise to the challenge. Sebastian’s mouth slackened.

"He's quite well trained," Ciel said, giving the bouncer a facetious smile. "Though not always well behaved."

Sebastian could have sworn that the sudden, sweet scent of Phantomhive blood was in the air, could have sworn that he could taste it.

He'll be dead to you after this.

But how, how could that be, if every fiber of his being was telling him that his master, impossibly whole again, was right behind him? Sebastian let out an unintended breath and kept still.

The bouncer grinned, raising their hands in concession.  "I see. Well, welcome to Apex. Follow me, you two."

The club’s interior was as just as dark and worn down as its exterior, the wall-to wall black matte vinyl sucking up the last of the light from outside. The ceiling had little substance beyond its industrial beams, strung through with glowing chains to break up the dim. Beneath that, the shadows housed a variety of instruments. A set of graffitied medieval stocks sat against the wall, with a dangerous-looking playground swingset right beside it. Someone with a black eye was sleeping on a leather couch. One worker calibrated a DJ booth while another wiped down a bar, both of them staring as their group went past.

The bouncer continued into the back. Here the layout changed to that of a theater’s dressing room, squares of stage lights and mirrors on every surface. More people were gathered here, moving around in various stages of undress.

"Guests for you, Moody," the bouncer said, and took their leave.

A human woman with ginger ringlets looked up at the name. She was in the middle of tightening a set of leather garters on someone who wasn’t wearing much else at all. Moody gave Ciel a once over, reading the words on his sweater silently to herself, the look on her face saying she found its declaration fair enough. The dress she had on, he noticed, was much closer in cut and color to what Sebastian wore rather than anything he’d given Ciel. Prick.

Moody sat down on a free couch before gesturing at Ciel to take the opposing seat. Sebastian kneeled on the floor beside him, saying nothing and staring at his hands.

"So you're Sebastian's master ?" Moody said with a glint of humor. "Wouldn't have guessed from your looks. Good thing he's already demonstrated himself to be quite capable of backing up his claims. Drink?"

One of the collared humans offered a glass to Ciel. Moody tsked at them.

“No, dear, you need to kneel every time. Don’t mind all this,” she said, turning back to Ciel. “We’re rehearsing to serve a party we’re having later. All of our workers are paid well, but some just fit certain roles better than others.” The human kneeled as they were told, again presenting the tray. “Looks like your man fits his rather well. Seen and not heard, I like it. I won’t lie, he had me worried when he first came sniffing around. His look was a little too...yuppie for me. At worst he was some kind of P.I., at best he’d stick out like a sore thumb around here.” She admired Sebastian’s collar, clapping her hands in delight. “But he proved me wrong again! I’m charmed.”

Ciel’s only reaction to the arrangement was a momentary raise of the eyebrows. Sebastian at least had been truthful about his method of “fitting in”. He took the glass he was offered, sizing up Moody. As usual, he was being underestimated, but the best revenge was always to show just what kind of work could be expected from a Phantomhive and his butler. “As I said to your employee, I keep him well-trained.”

Moody smiled. "Apparently so! Think he's already caught me up to speed on you, mostly, so I'll keep this short. Apex here is my little pet project, but I'm involved with many profitable businesses around New York nightlife. Never been to London myself, but if it’s anything like here, then you understand how quickly things change. We try and stay ahead of the curve as much as we can, try and keep things fresh and exciting, draw in the cutting edge crowd. So, myself and other stakeholders find ourselves in need of reliable transportation. Your man said you had...experience with distribution, which again, wouldn't have guessed, but I have to say he's got me interested. He mentioned, too, that you don't have much by way of establishment here. One of my partners owns a place that’s pretty quiet, minds his own business. Rent could potentially be part of your compensation."

She stood up and walked over to Sebastian, fingers raised in question. "May I?" Sebastian nodded, and Moody gently cupped his face with her hand, moving his head back and forth like she was a judge at a dog show. "He's quite talented, isn't he? Pretty, too. We do pay generously for that here as well, if your arrangement allows for rentals."

The grin on Ciel’s face was calculated and unmoving. "I'm afraid I'm the jealous type. He'll have his hands much too full getting me established here to serve anyone else, but he's more than capable of fulfilling your business needs with the highest degree of professionalism, speed and discretion. Once we've discussed terms, of course."

“Shame, but I understand.” Moody gave Sebastian’s head a pat and sat back down. “You’re not a typical runner, nor is this a typical situation. Normally you’d need to be doing international work to get these rates, but we won’t ask you to go any farther than the edge of the city. Most of that, of course, will be avoiding beats and keeping eyes off us.” She chuckled and shook her head. “You still got me wondering how you got those files out of the station so fast.”

Sebastian said nothing, but he and Moody wore identical smirks. Ciel’s mouth twitched.

“I mean, I don’t care how,” she clarified. “As long as you keep it up. But more complicated things can wait. I’m thinking 100 a night to start, and that’s a whole shift, not per run. Most of the time you’ll be moving standard party fare--blow and X are the most popular--and guests that prefer their privacy. But in your case, I’ll be trusting you with our more experimental stock as well. We have a new distributor that is quite enthusiastic about something he synthesized. I don’t know much about him, but he’s the one that’s padding out your wages so well to begin with, so his requests will be your priority when they pop up. So that’s about all for now. Prove your worth for a month and we’ll work on setting you up somewhere close. Sound good?”

Ciel kept his expression neutral as his mind raced to keep up with the unfamiliar terms. It was becoming clear the choice to start their work here had been deliberate, likely with the intention of making him regret the whole venture. At least it seemed that they hadn't been embroiled in human trafficking again. Yet. Regardless of what they were delivering, he was sure it was well within Sebastian's power, and he wouldn't be getting out of it so easily.

He had already decided, but made a show of thinking it over.

"You have a deal, Ms. Moody," he said, inclining his head slightly in approval. "Sebastian can start immediately."

She smiled and stood up, stretching. "Good! Good answer. And I appreciate the enthusiasm, but your first shipment won't actually arrive until Saturday. I'll expect him here at 8. That'll be all, my bouncer will see you out." Moody winked. "Pleasure doing business."

Sebastian bowed and escorted Ciel to the car. Had it been a century ago, he'd start his provocations as soon as the door closed, needling him about what exactly he thought "beats" and "blow" and "X" meant. And if by some miracle he did know their definitions, why then was he so nonchalant about getting involved with such substances again, after all the dreadful scandals they’d had in England?

Instead the ride home was silent. Ciel asked no questions and made no comments. Nothing about the dirty street, or Moody’s unusual tastes, or how this role offered nothing of esteem to the head of the House of Phantomhive. No, he seemed more eager to go back to flipping through the toy magazine, having found a pen to take notes in the margins.

Sebastian’s end goal was slipping from him, he realized. What would even please him now? What he had intended--to see Ciel writhe, trapped like a rat between the customs of nobility and the new world--now seemed empty, worthless. Sebastian drove and tried to determine if this feeling inside him was anger or....or something else. Something he had no name for.

He was getting tired of chess.

Even so, he picked the game back up once they had returned to the room. Sebastian neatly folded his scarf and set it on the dresser. "I am wounded, my lord," he said, and that part was genuine. "That you would imply to our client that I am incapable of multitasking." That part was not. "Jealousy is a new excuse. I was under the impression that you were aiming to get ahead by any means necessary, and downplaying my abilities will do you no favors. Did you truly think I would shame you in this regard? That I would underperform?" He smirked and reached up to unbuckle the collar.

"Stop." Ciel threw out his hand, his eye flashing. A smile tugged at his lips, his stare softening slightly. "Keep it on, Sebastian. I'd hate to think you'd let your guise slip so fast."

He took a few steps towards him, leaning forward onto his tiptoes to watch Sebastian's carefully schooled expression for a flicker.

"Besides, it suits you. A fitting reminder of your role." He grabbed him by the jaw, angling his face down to meet his gaze. "You are still my butler. And you will do as I order. Understand?"

Sebastian froze at the touch, back to stone. Whatever this feeling was now, it could barely be contained, threatening to pour out of his mouth like blood. His mind gave him no mercy either, the image of that smile stuck in its maw, chewing on how easily Ciel had settled into this new good cheer. He had been more genial than usual in that club, unprickled by the grime and disfavor, and now stood in front of him without a single thread of the agony that Sebastian had loved to take and tangle.

He was free from the shackles of revenge, of the cradle. He looked like a grown, self-possessed man. He looked satisfied .

My butler. Forever.

So weary, aren’t we? Humans are the spice of our lives. They’re born, they breed, and most importantly, they die. How dull they would be otherwise.

He’ll be dead to you. For eternity.

So why did he…?

Ciel moved his hand without thinking, fingers dropping from his jaw to the collar, brushing over the cool metal and smooth leather for just a moment. For Sebastian, it was like it had come alight, trying to strangle him with electricity. Sebastian dropped into a bow to try and hide the flinch. “Understood,” he grit out, eyes fixed on the floor.

Ciel stepped back, suddenly feeling off-balance, hand twitching where he'd touched him. Do I...

He scowled. It had been a hundred years, he wouldn't let himself be embarrassed by Sebastian's insinuations, and if Ciel wanted to needle him back it meant just as little. Now that he could act his age, there was nothing strange about it. Another way they played their games, always trying to get the advantage, to catch each other off guard--that was all.

"Then get going," he murmured. "I'm sure you have things to do to prepare."

Sebastian’s mouth felt dry. “Yes, master.” The idea that such trifling preparations would take him longer than Ciel could blink was absurd, as usual, but he did have things to do. Sebastian misted underneath the door and appeared back in the alley as a cat with the collar shrunk to fit. Starved as he was, it looked more like a suggestion of a cat, seen through a dream or a particularly poor drawing. His powers had waned far past realism, but it would suffice. He needed to be wild again, to go back to the savage, instinctive world of his birth. Tonight he would rid the New York subway of every rat in its existence.

Chapter Text

Months passed in New York slower than they had in years.

The mortal saying goes that idle hands are the devil’s playthings, but for the devils themselves, idleness brought nothing novel. When living to eternity was a real concern, the streaming of time that drowned every mortal became a shallow thing, little more to reckon with than a wading pool. It was simple to step out, but the longer you kept passive, the less relevant you became, the more the millennia slipped away behind you. It was too easy to stay still and let yourself desiccate until you were little more than relic of a time gone past.

But eternity did have its advantages. See enough of them and each individual moment would became visible in the greater flow, like sediments heading to sea, able to be fished out one by one and held in the palm of your hand for examination. This was why, when set to a task, Sebastian could complete it in a human instant. He could see every side, every permutation of the event, unfold it like origami for a better look. It was easy, and the more focused you were, the easier it became, dissecting time down to its milliseconds, keeping your grip on the widening gyre.

This is what he would have taught Ciel, if they were speaking about the loss of years at all.

Either he’d learned the lesson on his own or inadvertently stumbled upon a strategy, but Ciel seemed alert and adept enough to evade the inertia he’d been marinating for a century. They did not speak of it, so Sebastian would never admit it, but Ciel’s “affairs” had managed to distract him as well. It was enough that the turnings of days into nights into perpetuity were almost endurable, as long as he didn’t dwell.

However, there were things here Sebastian just didn’t, couldn’t understand. He knew the details. He’d memorized the mechanics of cars, light-emitting diodes, televisions, the atomic bomb. He’d caught up on literature via Conrad and Baldwin and Yeats. He’d seen a print of a Picasso and even found it acceptable. But despite all his efforts, the soul of the era, for lack of a better term, eluded him. Although its presentation was impressive at first, the more he looked the more the flash faded, till all the creations of man were nothing but paper-thin set pieces, and he an extra in someone else’s play.

He had told himself he would not lose the upper hand. He’d picked apart the new social hierarchies to try and find an aesthetic to hold his interest. He’d seen the businesspeople on the television and on the street, with their briefcases and suits and heads of big hair. They were executives in their high-rise kingdom, sitting at their tables of metal and glass, bleeding the underclass through stocks and bonds and trusts til the lifeblood of millions was nothing but cold numbers. Cesspools of greed and wealth and power, his old stomping grounds. That, at least, would be interesting. He could trade butlerhood for personal assistantship, and they could resume a game that was familiar.

There could be something that was familiar.

Ciel saw the businesspeople too, Sebastian knew. Yet he never mentioned them, never mentioned any aspiration to get back to something substantial like what he’d said that first night. Nothing about researching industry or restoring Funtom, or growing his sources of funding, or getting out of this dirty city. He seemed perfectly content for them to keep toiling in the underground without even a royal decree.

Fine, then. Sebastian did not have the will to fight it. With his job he could at least see the city, learn all the ways that humans changed and stayed the same. He was, of course, very good at what he did, and Moody kept her promise about rent in kind. Their apartment was quiet indeed, and only supernatural hearing could confirm for them that they had neighbors on this floor at all.

The interior decor left something to be desired, however. Horrible green, yellow, and pink pastels filled the rooms, florals splashed on every possible fabric surface. The bathroom was spared from the warm colors, instead paletted in a too-blunt blue and white like china dinnerware, tangles of patterned roses crawling over even the bathtub for some unthinkable reason.

There were two bedrooms. They had made sure of that.

“Trouble in paradise?” Moody had said, laughing awkwardly at the request, her view still entirely formed from the collar and the modern implications of “servitude”. But no, the dividing of the space went exactly as expected, with Ciel demanding the master suite while Sebastian got the smaller room. To Ciel’s credit, this designation was slightly less pointless than it seemed. Sebastian did not sleep, so whatever room was his would only gather dust.

So Ciel used the opportunity to stuff that room full with his toy collection. He’d amassed several dozen stuffed animal varieties, and yet, in Sebastian’s humble opinion, not one of them came close to the Bitter Rabbit’s charm. That void where cuteness should have been was instead filled with a sort of moral bankruptcy. Whoever dared to enter the room would be turning the lights on to an army of unblinking black eyes, glaring at the intruder out of their bulbous, sickeningly bright-colored bodies.

Sebastian kept the lights off. Despite the name, those bears cared for little, especially not for concepts like good taste and subtlety.

The whole unit was smaller than his old bedroom alone, but Ciel seemed unbothered by their cramped quarters. Perhaps it was because he hardly spent time there to begin with. He seemed to much prefer the ambience of the city, taking in the streets from Sebastian’s cab in his de facto spot shotgun. Occasionally, he’d give the order to be ferried to the store or some senseless tourist trap he’d seen advertised, but on the whole he seemed more interested in the drive than the destination.

He volunteered himself to ride along with most jobs Sebastian had, even if it meant he’d be stuck in the front doing sudoku while it finished up. On the road, Ciel would chat mildly about things that didn’t matter and watch him drive. As his master, he hadn’t taken much interest in the day-in day-out duties of a servant, so Sebastian was unused to being scrutinized to this degree. Part of him was always waiting while it happened, wondering when the criticisms would come.

But they never did. Ciel only looked at him. Sebastian had given up trying to understand why.

Delivering “party favors” to clubs meant a night on the town for Ciel, so therefore he’d declared his presence mandatory. He even dressed himself for the occasion, dedicating an hour before they went out to sitting on the bathroom counter and lining his eyes in the mirror until he looked as native to the dance floor as the regulars did. Some nights in the club he just relaxed, unbothered by the volume of the music as he curled up in a club booth with a puzzle cube in hand. Sometimes Sebastian would come to collect and find him content enough to have nodded off, leaving a little smear of makeup on the booth’s leather lining.

Other nights he was at the bar, pointlessly sipping wine and chatting with other patrons. There was no end to the line of humans finding Ciel fascinating, and he would lean into those conversations like the feeling was mutual, even when they prattled on about pop culture (bland) or their opinion of Britain’s imperial crimes (hateful but accurate). No, he’d sit there and return the banter with a hungry look in his eye, although he never ate them.

At first Sebastian thought it was coincidence, but soon he realized it was during these chats, without fail, that Ciel would keep stealing glances over at Sebastian, eyes searching his face and then flicking down to the collar every time. The purpose of this escaped Sebastian entirely, even more so than in the taxi. There was an intent there that he could not place. The only explanation he could think of was mockery, that he was dangling meals in front of his face and yanking them away. That he felt the need to remind him of the bounty of willing souls he could take, if he bothered with such things.

Unfortunately, when not at the bar or in a booth, Ciel was...dancing.

Back “home”, dancing had been a high art. It was a display of political and social prowess, a competition of grace and finesse, a duel between peacocks with plumage as weaponry. There were rules, many of them. Ciel knew them poorly, so his lead feet and iron stubbornness made a mockery of him at every ball. The dancers back then had standards.

Where all the ceremony went, Sebastian did not know. But the rigidity and customs that had made Ciel stumble had vanished into the ether, and these... gyrations that the youth insisted on were violent and crass, appearing much more like the start of a London slum bar hall fight than a dance.

And yet, Ciel was determined to join them. He’d throw himself into the fray uncaring who saw, as aggressively as he’d pursued revenge in his human life. Sebastian had never seen a man get electrocuted before, but he’d imagine the movements would be quite similar. He’d tumble around the floor without an ounce of coordination, bopping from partner to obliging partner til the last call of the night.

He’d asked Sebastian’s input on the matter only once, when he offered him a dance. Whatever he saw in Sebastian’s face put his mind off it though, and the only time Ciel would involve him after that was when the crowds got too thick and he needed extraction. Sebastian would pick him up by the armpits and set him down in a quiet corner until the panic passed.

Yet, despite that drawback, he always returned. Always.

To dancing.

“You know,” Moody said one night, when they were both stuck sitting on one of Apex’s couches watching Ciel vigorously have at it. “When we first met, I really didn’t expect him to be quite the little firecracker.”

“If I may speak freely,” Sebastian said. “Neither did I.”

It was all tolerable. Sebastian was enduring. Adjusting, even, as long as he didn’t think about the contract or the ease of which Ciel smiled. He would work and he would work and he would wait. He didn’t know what he was waiting for. He didn’t know if there was anything to wait for.

He did know what would be waiting for him when something finally gave. This whole century had been nothing but a game of chicken between him and starvation, and it couldn’t be long until his nature caught up with him. It was not death that awaited too-hungry demons, but rather an unmaking, their bodies melting back to their raw ingredients, a return to black carbon and infernal fire. That elemental slurry would seep back to the lava pits of Hell where all demons emerged, to eventually form into the skin and bones and tar of a brand new being.

Yes. Given enough time, Sebastian Michaelis would be no more, and the clean creature that remained would have little inkling of the hubris that had formed it in the first place.

It was an extreme, undignified measure. He knew that. Yet even with all the vague torture and all the waiting for something for nothing, tempting Hell to claim him appealed more than other options. Even if he left, if he feasted and gathered his strength to break free, what would he do if the mark of this unusual bond lingered? If even uncontracted and alone he remained Sebastian Michaelis for failing to take Ciel’s soul? Exactly how deep did this humiliation and confusion go?

The questions were worrisome, but even more so was the question of what he wanted. It was a question no demon should be able to consider. The possibility that he may have a preference for something other than being an anonymous devourer of souls again was ludicrous. It was impossible for a thing like him.

And yet--

No, he would not think of it any further. Tonight the deliveries were bringing them to one of their less regular clubs. The House of Wax had an unassuming exterior, housed as it was in an abandoned shipping complex along the harbor. You could never tell that from the inside, though, because some enterprising romantic had done their damnedest with a nail gun trying to turn it into a personal Notre Dame. Gaudy gold crowning had gobbled up the whole ceiling, joined by buttresses and vaulted arches that had a 90% chance of being stolen opera set pieces.

Moody didn’t know the owner well, but her more exotic supplier had insisted on this delivery both verbally and fiscally, so here they were. Sebastian pulled around the back and the bouncer appeared to help unload, the packages quickly dispersed into parts unknown.

Ciel leaned against the cab and watched him work before grabbing him by the elbow and silently insisting he be escorted inside. For this occasion, his look was typical of late: a flowy ruffled shirt not unlike a pirate’s over a pair of tight-fitting velvet pants, with an intricately beaded rosary to top it off.

Upon Moody’s insistence that he fit in, Sebastian had to shelve his suit and tie and take up wearing only his undershirt and slacks. It made him feel...exposed.

Not that anyone here would mind it if he was. The partygoers inside were too busy milling around the floor to the rhythm of voices sighing over synthesizers, their outfits running the full range of goth fashion. Dark makeup shadowed lids and lips everywhere he looked; hair was teased, backcombed and sprayed into vertical configurations; leather and lace and fur wreathed bodies in ink-black. One wore an especially tight pair of pants similar to Ciel’s, but with a ring harness slung salaciously low over their hips, shirt unbuttoned to show a silver ankh on a chain swinging against their chest with the music.

They winked at Ciel as they entered. Sebastian felt a flash of irritation at the poor decorum.

It wasn’t long before they were attracting more attention, a punk peeling off the walls to come hover. “Oi,” they said, in jest of his accent. “It’s the Cabbie Baron!”

Sebastian wasn’t sure who had come up with that nickname for Ciel, but he hoped they would never have the displeasure of meeting.

“Welcome. I’m under strict instructions to show you a good time. We’ve got something new for you to try.” They winked, but then their eyes flicked to Sebastian. “Uh, only room for one, unfortunately. Bad look for Cabbie Ciel if his driver’s too doped to function, I was told.”

Ciel raised his eyebrows, looking from the punk to Sebastian. It was unlikely for a human drug to affect him enough to impair his work. Even a line he’d bumped at a particularly wild party had only done as much for him as a strong latte, but they did have a reputation to uphold. He also had a feeling that, like most things, Sebastian didn't care much either way. He wondered what he’d say if he did, something about how unbecoming this all was, but he’d been staying professional but distant and would rarely offer commentary. Sometimes Ciel missed it, how it used to be. Things were different now.

"Something new, hm?" He crossed his arms, a hint of teeth in his grin. "I have time tonight. Sebastian, why don't you check out the club? Enjoy yourself." His eye dropped to the collar and his grin widened. "Within reason, of course. You still have to escort me home later."

Sebastian said nothing as Ciel left. He’d had an impatient day, and the careless wording was enough to trip him back into one of his moods. Enjoy yourself. Would the Queen’s Watchdog ever give a damn whether he was enjoying himself or not? That Ciel used to abhor the mere thought of him have any agency at all--now it was practically a demand that Sebastian entertain himself while he flirted with substances in the next room.

He leaned against the wall and scowled. The look wasn’t enough to put off curious passersby, eyes first drawn to his height and then repelled away again by the collar. Their reputations had spread quickly through these circles, to the point where even here in the outskirts strangers respected the merit of this farce. Ciel’s muzzled, collared dog . Oh yes, how enjoyable. Sebastian stood stock still and tried not to listen to the music.

--

The room Ciel stepped into was small but lavishly decorated. Several overstuffed black velvet sectionals surrounded a circular table, which housed a tower of glass and bronze. Inside, a thick rose-gold liquid dripped down over a layer of flower petals from what looked like a teapot on top of a funnel, filtering through to a spiraling tube, down to a thick reservoir. Long tubes connected to this bottommost point, each with a mouthpiece. Ciel was reminded of Lau's opium dens, but no smoke appeared to be involved--just a sweet, floral fragrance in the air.

"Have a seat," the punk said, taking one themself.

"This is new," Ciel said, looking the contraption over.

"It's special stuff," his escort said. "Limited quantities, only for the VIPs. And it's a fucking ride, I can promise you that!"

They took one of the long tubes and swapped out the mouthpiece for a fresh one. "These work like straws, kinda, except it'll only do a couple drops at a time. Don't want to start the trip too fast."

They held it out and he took it between his fingers, taking a breath. Something sickly about the scent, but alluring. He closed his lips around the metal and pulled a droplet onto his tongue, eyes flickering shut at the sweet honeyed taste. Strong. It warmed his mouth, warmth that spread to his belly as he swallowed. The club's employee was fiddling with a speaker system in the corner, gloomy music filling the room as Ciel started to drift.

The song began.

The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi's dead.

--

Back in the main room, Bela Lugosi was still dearly departed, his death knell droning softly through the chatter of the crowd. The virginal brides file past his tomb, strewn with time's dead flowers--

“Well, someone looks glum.”

A human was talking to him. The barkeep. Nonessential, so Sebastian ignored it.

“You there, with the collar. You really don’t have to stand, you know. We don’t bite. Why don’t you come sit and sample something new I have, on the house? Enjoy yourself.”

Enjoy yourself.

He felt the order’s compulsion tug through his chest. This was certainly not what Ciel had in mind, but he had yet again been imprudent with both his words and his butler. It was a small and irrelevant enough request that he could technically fight it, if he grit his teeth and yanked back at the leash until its hold on him passed. It would be easy to resist.

But then he considered the appeal of being seen driving Ciel home “drunk”. What a sloppy move that would be on the Cabbie Baron’s part. Encouraging his lackey to get cabbaged alone, when he didn’t have the self control to even leave the house without wearing a reminder of who was in charge. How embarrassing. For him.

In the end it was spite, not duty, that pulled him to the chair. “Good evening,” Sebastian said, addressing the man properly through a thin smile. “What do you have for me?”

The bartender grinned at him. His hair was dyed black and not the tallest in the building, but certainly in the running. His eyeshadow, glittery and red and smeared, stretched out to his temples on both sides. He wore a striped shirt under a ragged embroidery-covered vest; a large, central patch above his breast pocket read “RAMONE” in dramatic lettering. One of his eyes was fake and had no pupil, only smooth, milk-white glass there instead.

“Knew you’d come around,” he said. “Have a go at this three-shot flight we’re debuting. Calling it the Last Rites.”

He slid forward a tray of three glasses. The first was a golden red, the second a deeper purple, the third an opaque white. They didn’t smell like any alcohol Sebastian had ever tried, but since no mortal variety would succeed in getting him intoxicated, he was no expert. Ramone wedged a paper-thin slice of apple on the first’s rim, dropped some tiny red seeds in the second, and balanced a generous piece of lotus root on the third.

Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “Your presentation does not seem...particularly sacramental. This is a far cry from the church wine of the rites I know.”

Ramone laughed. “Well, we do try to be as far as you can get from church. Don’t worry, we’re not trying to purify you or anything like that. I’m sure you’ve noticed that here at the House we tend to attract certain...like-minded individuals. So we thought, why not tell a story with our drinks to reflect our shared philosophies? Three last rites for the dying. Our own ritual for our own personal denomination, based on both myth and religion. The theme goes in order, left to right.” He pointed to a glass with one long fingernail. “The first is our version of a Washington Apple. Whiskey, apple schnapps, cranberry juice, lemon soda and a touch of honey.”

The apple?” Sebastian was smirking, a holdover from the image of someone attempting to purify him. “Your first rite for the dying is partaking in the forbidden fruit?”

He winked in return. “That’s only part of it. Of course we thought about the apple of knowledge and original sin. But it’s also Eris’s apple of discord, that which tempted Atalanta off the path, the fruit guarded by the nymphs of the evening. So think of this “rite” as like...those who forsake order and stray from their mortality getting rewarded with the knowledge only death can provide.”

Goths. Sebastian resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He also chose not to supply the fact that in many cases, these “apples of gold” were typically just oranges or quinces, as he could not tell what historians in this age would know versus what was just personal experience. Instead he picked up the glass and held it at eye level. It looked almost syrupy and was speckled through with flakes of gold, a feat that seemed far too expensive for this place yet was on par with the decor.

“Cheers,” Ramone said, and Sebastian took the shot.

Sebastian had no metric by which to judge the quality of mortal sustenance. Most of it just felt like chewing sand to him. This, however, was different. He could taste this, could taste it incredibly well. The drink was warming his throat, as it went down the flavors reminded Sebastian of fond memories, of sun-warmed cat fur, of a well-done piece of music. It made a pleasant weakness flow through his limbs, and the final note was something as light and floral as spring’s first day.  

Ramone was watching him. “Well, do you feel more knowledgeable?”

“I’d say I feel the opposite, somehow.” His tongue was heavy in his mouth. This was not a typical sensation. “More discordant, certainly.”

Ramone laughed. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” He pushed forward the second shot.

It occurred to Sebastian that analyzing the effects of this “enjoyment” would be wise, but he let that thought pass. Once it was gone, it didn’t bother him at all. He was becoming quite comfortable in his seat, and went so far as to put his elbows on the bartop as his shoulders relaxed.

“Pomegranate,” Sebastian repeated. He picked this one up too, and could now see that the additions to the shot were pomegranate seeds. “An obvious homage to Hades. Too obvious, if I may be so bold. There are twelve seeds here, I presume?”

“Yep, you got it already. The second rite is crossing beyond the point of no return. No six-months stints in the sun with your mother around here, but we don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Bourbon, pomegranate juice, elderflower liqueur, and Peychaud’s bitters.”

Sebastian could have sworn Ramone’s glass eye was on the left when they met, but now it was clearly on the right. He blinked and the sides switched again. A trick of the light, it seemed, but light had never hampered him before.

Oh well. Sebastian knocked this one back too. This one had a richer, almost bloody flavor, like the victory of a challenging kill. Underneath there was something delicate that reminded him of old lace, and again the taste of springtime under that.

“So,” Ramone said. “You and your friend have been involved for a long time, yeah?”

“Involved.” How quaint. “A long time is accurate.” There was no need to add anything more, but he went on before he could stop himself. “We started this involvement out of mutual need, but it is debatable if such a need still exists. He...seems to have little need of me, at least.”

“Ah, well.” Ramone shrugged.“I’m sure there’s someone out there in need of you.”

Sebastian considered this.

“Perhaps.” For a moment he let himself fantasize about forming a new bond, breaking his fast with the prey in front of him. He wondered what the man would wish for, what his soul tasted like. It was curious that he could not smell it, but then again, his senses were withered to the point where he would have to concentrate to try. Sebastian found that he could not concentrate, so he supposed it really wasn’t all that curious. “But alas. I don’t believe I am able to...assist anyone else in the state I’m in now.”

“No," he said softly. "We’re in agreement on that.”

Sebastian did not stop to wonder what that meant. He was already reaching for the last shot, the liquid almost pearlescent in the light.

“The lotus-eaters of Odysseus and Herodotus?”  he mused. His speech was starting to slow. “Your first two rites teach and trap the dead. You believe they sup on the forbidden fruits of these labors, only to end it all with oblivion?”

Ramone shook his head. “No. The lotus-eaters got a bad rap, one that we don’t agree with.  They did what they did for freedom, and that’s our last offering. Freedom from time, from the petty squabbles of the living. It’s the bliss of existing without deadlines. That’s what we can give.”

Sebastian drank. It went down clean. He tasted the sensation of sinking under cool water. His body felt like it was a pupil dilating in someone else’s eye. The disconnect between him and the world was pure and orderly, a rose beheaded with spotless silver shears. Something buzzed just out of reach, looming like the start of a cyclone, the shadow of a thousand insects.

Ramone’s voice was so quiet now, in stark contrast to his earlier demeanor.  “It’s what we will give.”

Out of nowhere Sebastian felt a tug through his chest. It was the same kind of pull of as order, only five times as strong, like a construction crane had him by the ribs. It was urging him out of his seat, out of the building. He could not stop himself from baring his fangs, his eyes flashing red, his disguise helplessly in tatters. In front of a human .

Ramone didn’t react to the change, only frowning slightly to himself. “No”, he said again, taking back the glass and wiping it clean. “No. The oblivion’s only for you.”

Sebastian stared at his face, too strained to move or speak, seeing visions. Ramone’s features were smearing into each other like a potter working his thumbs into clay. He had two eyes one moment and then they were rolling into one, and then they rolled away to nothing, leaving only more twisting flesh behind.

Then he was normal again and looking back up at Sebastian with a cold expression on his face.

"Go," he was saying, but Sebastian was already out of his seat.

His body was leagues ahead of his mind, and Sebastian was at the edge of the crowd before he even recognized that it was instinct he was acting on. It had been so long since he had moved like this, that the whole of him was this tense and prowling and viperous. It was an automatic reaction, that of predator engaging the hunt, and he was already outside in the cool night air when the scent of prey finally hit him.

Human food just couldn’t compare. He had given it an honest try as a butler in order to better understand his charge, but no delicacy had ever impressed him. Tonight’s drinks had been alright, but still too vapid, too flat a sensation--not like this, never like this. This smell excited him to the core, almost threatening to unmake him, reduce him back to nothing but a savage animal of the underworld.

It was the smell of Ciel Phantomhive’s soul.   

Or it was close enough, anyways. This was different, yes, but it had similar notes that Sebastian would recognize from halfway around the world, that he had craved so dutifully for so many years. Pain and greed, terror and cruelty, satisfaction and deceit. Vengeance and a promise fulfilled. Ciel, Ciel, Ciel.  

He chased the presence til he was nearly screaming, fangs puncturing his lip, until the smell snuffed out like a candle. Sebastian stopped. He had ended up in a warehouse complex, and every shadow told him that he was alone. That the soul was gone. His quarry.

His shoulders shook. He was bereft. Mine!

He lifted his head to howl but his neck was caught by something he couldn’t see, could barely feel, pinning him in place so he could not move. Sebastian snarled and struggled but the thing had no give to it--it was pulling tighter the harder he tried, making the dark narrow in around him.

He fought. He tried to mist away, but every effort to change himself fizzled out in his chest, like trying to strike a match in the rain. More and more restraints were wrapping around him--strands of something, he realized. He was becoming no more than a marionette tangled in its own strings. They weaved around his whole body til he was completely trapped, snaked around his arms and legs and torso, bindings criss-crossing like a game of cat’s cradle.

No. Like a web. A web.

"Lights out," something said.

He fought til he could fight no more, and the only thing he would remember was his throat burning with the aftertaste of honey.

Chapter Text

Master had taught him to think of souls as oysters in their shells.

In the beginning, all beings were the same. When life first descended from On High to the realms below, the creatures that crawled out of the primordial soup did so with a remnant of eternity in their chests. This memory of the beyond is what gifted them consciousness, intelligence, morality. It allowed the first steps, the first words, the first fires.

We’d call it a soul.

The first bodies were made of clay and bone and ash. These materials were impure, incompatible with a gift from On High. The souls would become chipped and faded, drowned in mud. The bodies would lose their luster and crumble back to their rudiments. Life, if it wanted to persist, needed to compromise between dueling natures.

Like an oyster coats a grain of sand with nacre, the first bodies evolved a means to protect themselves, to bridge the flesh and celestial. These were the shells of the mollusk metaphor, that which anchored the soul and maintained the body. In their shells, the first souls helped life prosper, giving blood its warmth, staving off rot and disease, keeping the first eyes bright.

But it is not a perfect measure. Death waits, and everything succumbs eventually. A fatal blow, whether dealt by injury or illness or time, shatters every shell in the end, releasing the soul from the mortal coil and back to the worlds beyond. All souls would be born only to pass through life into Death’s hands, the ebb and flow endless and ever present on Earth.

We’d call these first mortals humans, and their fate was immutable.

But they were not alone in the lower realms for long. The chain of predator and prey is as inescapable as mortality. Everything can be considered something else’s sustenance, and humanity is no exception. Parasites developed, their desires simple at first, nothing more than wormy things wishing to feast on meat both living and dead. But there was no animal greed that could match a human’s, and the most effective and perverse parasites would come from humanity itself.

We’d call them demons.

These were humans that broke from Life’s template, their sins warping their bodies until only Hell would claim them. Infernal magic gave them power, a layer of fire and brimstone lining their outer shells, rending them nigh indestructible. There was a cost, however, as there is with all things. Their souls shriveled under Hell’s weight, and they became cursed with hunger, fated to dissolve into cinders just as the first bodies did if they could not fill that hollowness. They consumed the souls of others, because without others they were nothing.

At first the ancient demons were solely killers, because they knew no other way. But as society grew and humans became smarter, so did the demons’ methods. Thus began contracts. It was a mutualistic magic, the victim exchanging the fulfillment of wishes for letting the creature latch onto their outer shell, scraping it away over time until the soul could be extracted. It allowed an uneasy peace with the forces that tallied soul counts, as they knew not to bother recording it in most cases. Most vermin also learned to prefer it this way, as the wishes they’d grant could culture the soul in directions they liked.

This was the first loophole. It was the first shortcut around fate, but it was not the only one. Having a soul brings knowledge, and knowledge brings suffering. For many, that suffering is reason enough to seek an early end, but this choice is anything but cowardly. To overcome your own soul’s protective instinct, to push through your own outer shell and die by your own hand requires incredible strength and incredible internal pressure.

Master had rather unconventionally demonstrated this by punching his fist through a glass window. He’d pulled away with his hand mangled and embedded with shards, displaying the carnage as a teaching example. Though I've hurt myself, he said, having the strength to break the glass only makes me sharper and more dangerous. He punched with that hand again, this time at his own stomach, and showed off how the shards had cut him enough to bleed. See?

His equivalency was...questionable, but the process of suicide was indeed similar. The stress of dying that way sent shards of the shell flying inward, creating a soul imbued with revitalizing strength. The end result of this were mortals that came to the afterlife bold, unruly, and difficult to manage, fighting against their initiation to the lands of the dead.  They were liabilities that needed a stronger treatment, but rather than shut them away until the errors could be scrubbed out, those On High had turned it to their advantage. They would give the stronger souls their bodies back, let them serve as agents of the afterlife during their tenure, make use of their incredible abilities. A chance at life through death once more. We’d call them Reapers.

That is where his explanation ended, left with humanity being little more than a tug rope between Reapers and demons. This is how the world works, he said. The only way for mortals to surpass the ignoble cycle of becoming the prey of death or vermin was to take matters into their own hands. And even then, despite their courage, they would be exploited into servitude by those On High, unable to use their newfound vitality for themselves. The cruelty of it all had once brought Master to tears.

But it did not have to be like this, he had said. There were ways out of the system. Ways to beat it. To fix it.

Master just needed a few more ingredients.

The trap had worked as perfectly as they could hope for. Their trusted allies at the House were the first to report back that a demon had somehow gotten enlisted into doing Master’s drug deliveries. As soon as he'd learned of a viable candidate, Master had spared no expense. Other projects were scrapped, materials repurposed, and every new idea shared between them was crystallized in notes or sketches. The details, down to the particulars of the job they’d give him that night, were orchestrated weeks in advance.

They gave their friends parts to play, and they played them well. Just as requested, anyone near the demon upon entering the club had been isolated and incapacitated. The drug-laced drinks had been a one-off idea and largely a contingency plan, as there was no telling whether the subject would think itself too good for human alcohol. No, instead he had fallen for it beautifully, ensuring his own doom and saving them the need for a messy fight. They would have to reward the barkeep later. Creativity was always appreciated.

The plan’s most important piece, however, was the bait. There needed to be something that would lure the demon close, that would be impossible to resist. Of course, there was one rather obvious solution to that problem, one that would be rather simple given their resources.

It had come to fruition with him, the being formerly known as Claude Faustus, getting the pleasure of helping his master design the perfect-tasting soul.

He lacked the experience to just name flavors off the cuff. Instead, Master used him as a taste tester, having him mix and sample droplets of their other harvests. Together they balanced trauma and love with comfort and sadness and so on, with Claude analyzing notes like a sommelier. It was his instinct, however, that told him when the blend was ready, because instinct was all he really had to go on.

He had just been born, after all.

Most newly emerged demons spent their formative years no better than bottom feeders, slithering around Hell on their bellies. Claude had been different. Lucky, even. His master had called to him before he was even strong enough to stand, before the broken bits of dead demons forming his body had even cooled from magma. His master had called to him, elevated him to the realm above, gave him these wonderful flavors and a seat in which he could watch the world burn.

How grateful he was.

Of course, the bait soul being an imitation meant it was much less filling than the real thing, but Claude didn't mind for now. It would be a lovely snack after tonight’s work was done--and the work was half the fun.

He approached his prey after it had stopped moving, peeling out of the shadows once the tremors in the web had died down. The demon was even more handsome up close; there was no way to properly appreciate his facial structure from glimpses caught from taxis and down dark hallways. His brow was furrowed like he was having a bad dream, but he didn't stir as Claude cut him down from the wire trap and hoisted him over his shoulder.

There were many abandoned facilities to choose from nearby, but this warehouse had been prepared for the occasion. In one of the back rooms sat a dental chair and its examination light, along with a metal table and a box of gloves. The floor had been cleared of debris to give him plenty of space to work. They had even readied his boombox and some of his favorite CD’s. How thoughtful.

He set Sebastian on the chair and looked down at himself. He was still dressed for the club, wearing only black jeans and the leather harness his master had given him. When fitting him for the nightlife, Master had strapped him into it with a laugh (to keep him leashed, he’d said). Although he knew his master wouldn't care in the slightest if he got it bloody, Claude took a certain pride in keeping it clean. He picked up his labcoat and buttoned it loosely over his shoulders. Now he could begin.

He pulled his weapon out of his pocket. The scalpel shone beautifully, even in such little light.

Master had never told him how Death Scythes could be made this little, so Claude could only appreciate its craftsmanship as an outsider. It thrummed with power in his hands, like it was waiting, like it was hungry. He spun it with his fingers. They would feast together.

This was a precious gift that, unlike the harness, Claude was more than happy to bloody.

Despite the blade, Claude left the undressing to his hands, tearing Sebastian's shirt to tatters.

His fingers traced the collar. This metal was quite nice. Claude snapped it in two and peeled it off Sebastian’s neck. Now it was his.

From there he took a marker to trace the path of incision on Sebastian's chest. He'd drawn this Y-shape countless times. Master often delegated the preparation of bodies to him, and this method of cutting, from collarbone to collarbone and back down to the navel, allowed him total access to the organs when complete. Claude appreciated the artistry of the scar it made, the way it highlighted sinew, flesh. The demon would wear it well.

He started near the left shoulder, the first cut only big enough for a trickle of blood that Claude sucked away from the skin. It was acrid, spicy almost. He licked it again. This part wasn't protocol. It was just a little appetizer for himself.

The room darkened as Claude readied the scythe for another cut. Tendrils of shadow uncoiled from the body below him, trying to protect itself even in sleep. He swatted them away as they approached and they turned to dust on impact, littering the floor with ash.

Claude blinked. He’d known the demon was weak from his observations and that the drug would hamper his abilities. Still, this was more pitiful than he’d expected. He’d anticipated his arm getting grabbed, or at least needing the scythe to cut through something. This feeble resistance was just... pathetic. If the subject was this starved, it was possible that he wouldn’t make it through the procedure.

And that just wouldn’t do. That wouldn’t do at all.

He would have to be careful. As he pressed the blade down he was being careful, yet Sebastian still gasped aloud as the scalpel was buried to the hilt.

Claude frowned. He'd thought the sleep would be deep enough that the demon could take it without screaming. Good to the ears, but it would attract attention. Disappointing. He turned on the boombox as loud as it could go--should be more than enough to drown it out, and it helped that he was quite fond of this song. The scalpel pushed forward, slicing mercilessly through the tissue like a butcher cutting pork. Claude hummed along to the music as he autopsied, challenging himself to keep pitch with the occasional sobs of pain.

Straddle the line, in discord and rhyme

I'm on the hunt, I'm after you.

Once the cuts were deep enough he pulled the skin away from itself, pinning it back to the chair’s cushion with thumbtacks. This revealed a mix of anatomical and metaphysical gore. His faux human organs, uncanny replications of the real thing, twitched in the open air. Claude dragged the scalpel down the middle of them. Instead of rupturing like a human’s would, this layer parted open like a book, revealing a miasma of black fog and unearthly flesh underneath.

Here were the true inner workings of the demon. This is where the Cinematic Record threaded itself endlessly through its reels. Under the influence of the drug, this Record was only ticking out a new frame once every other second, and its edges were melted black and gummy, sticking up the gears. Poor sod had no hope in Hell of remembering this. Good.

Claude carefully respooled the Record in his own container, setting it aside to deal with later. For now he only wanted what was just above it: the soul. Drawn out by the scythe, it hovered above the body, black light glowing in a heart-like shape around it. The shell, stretched and membranous, was crusted over with scales of coal and veins of fire. The actual soul, like he’d feared, was a shrunken thing, sadder than a dead twig struck twice by lightning.

Claude grunted and pulled away, glad he’d brought extra supplies. These bait souls were early, less successful attempts, but they should provide some sustenance. He plucked one out of its jar and rolled it along Sebastian’s tongue, massaging it down his throat until it disappeared.

The results were instantaneous. Both the soul and shell flushed with power, reminiscent of the blooming floral teas Master occasionally made. It was a strange and beautiful thing to see in real time, and Claude allowed a moment to wonder if his innards looked similar after a feast.

But the moment passed. He had work to do, and the whole point of this exercise was sitting plainly in front of him. Claude took the scalpel and chipped away at the outer shell, wedging the blade between the base and the infernal hull, catching falling scabs of magic in test tubes and jars. He worked until the shell was raw and pitiful, all of what made Sebastian a demon now dissolving into angry smoke in his hands.

Success. Claude allowed himself a moment to celebrate. He put the jars down and picked up the container with the fake soul to take a long, indulgent sniff of its aroma. His mouth watered.

Not yet, he told himself, even though it hurt. The cleanup would be quite arduous still, and it was sweeter to wait. He set it down despite himself and picked up a different jar. This was another dummy soul, floating in fluid and looking like a colorless heart. Really, it was a soul in structure only. Master grew these as blank slates, to be flavored later.

Claude overturned the jar and let the soul slide into his hand like a dead jellyfish. Delicately he tucked it into Sebastian's rib cage next to his original soul. With time they would fuse, preventing complications and returning the demon to full health, which Claude was silently grateful for. Master had told him not to kill him if he could, and while he had tried his best with the scalpel, things were looking a bit more...scuffed up than he had hoped. He let the Record fly home and folded the flaps of skin back in place, eager to get it over with.

The next step would take the longest, but mindless work suited him. He swapped out CD's to something else he liked, humming again as he prepped his thread.

Tonight, I'm gonna have myself a real good time

I feel ali-i-i-i-ve

And the world—I'll turn it inside out, yeah--

To heal from a Death Scythe wound, stitches needed to be almost supernaturally precise. Luckily, Claude was both supernatural and quite good at needlework. Sewing like this felt familiar, somehow. It soothed him. He pushed the needle between the separate sections and pulled til the thread was taut, then pushed again. Suture by suture his fingers crawled up Sebastian's torso, turning him back whole as he went.

It was finished. Claude tied off his last knot and appraised his work. The stitches had a machine-like perfection to them, and Sebastian looked stable. Well, stable enough for Claude to sneak away. He would need to let him sit for a bit before attempting to move him, anyways. He tucked the scalpel in his pocket, grabbed his designer soul, and stepped outside to take his sweet, sweet time.

--

There was little Sebastian could do, trapped between dreams like this. It was either all pain or all nothing, and both were horrible. A century of habit was the only thing giving him the strength to wiggle his glove off his hand.

The sigil was burning him. It hurt, but it hurt far worse to think and speak. He took a shuddering, bloody breath and forced himself to concentrate.

Ciel, he said. Ciel.

And that was all he could do. It was all dark for him again after that.

--

Ciel. The urgency of the voice in his mind brought Ciel out of his trance like being pulled out of a warm bath. He bolted upright, dropping the mouthpiece and swallowing the drops left on his tongue. Ciel.

Sebastian? He knew it was him, felt the tug of his presence deep in his chest. His eye flared under the patch, a sense of dread making his mouth dry with panic. What is this? What’s going on?

He didn’t have time to think about whether Sebastian had always been able to contact him like this, too perturbed by the silence after. He got to his feet, moving his limbs like dragging them through water. Excuses bubbled to mind about having to leave, but when he opened his mouth no sound came out.

That shouldn’t be happening either.

With an extra burst of strength he pushed his uncoordinated body into a run, fleeing the room without bothering to look for a reaction from his chaperone. The hook yanking under his ribs told him Sebastian was somewhere to the west of this building, and he weaved through the club to escape as quickly as he could. The crowds were all a blur, the drug leaving colorful afterimages as they moved, and he bumped into several dancers in his haste. Worse than the lingering visuals was the sensation of prolonged touch, each person he pushed past leaving a presence on his skin like so many crawling hands.

The warehouse wasn’t far, but the trip felt much longer to him, the streets a tunnel of light and shadows endlessly streaking together. He fought the feeling that the hands on him were dragging him backwards as he ran, making his goal slip further away with each step. The world spun around him, making him so dizzy he nearly didn’t realize that the bond had started to tug him towards a door to the right until he already had his hand on the latch. The ghostly visions finally started to clear up once he stepped inside, eyes adjusting to the dark to give him the layout of the room.

There was a body laid out on a chair, the pale chest gleaming with something dark and wet. He stopped in his tracks.

Sebastian.

Ciel stumbled forward, taking Sebastian's hand. Even without the details of his face he could see the sigil burning purple in the skin. He bit his tongue, trying not to scream. He swallowed the urge down after a minute, intent on what he had to do next.

“Sebastian,” he whispered. Whoever had hurt him had to be close, and Ciel was in no shape to fight someone who’d managed this. “I’m going to pick you up.” His voice sounded strange, like it was coming from the bottom of a well, his mouth still too relaxed from the honey.

A quiet groan in response sent a stab of relief through him. He leaned down, inching one hand under Sebastian’s back and the other under his thigh. The size difference between them would have made this an impossible feat for the human Ciel had been. He still hadn’t adjusted to his new abilities, but he had to stop acting like old limitations still applied. Gritting his teeth, he lifted the body in his arms. He had to try .

--

Claude wasn't full, but the flavor was so sweet it didn't matter. He was marveling at what remained of it on his tongue, kept swallowing to somehow conjure more, dopey and heartsick with it. It made him want to beg his Master for his secrets again. Yes, yes, as soon as he got back Claude would prostrate himself before him, offer to become his ottoman, grovel on the ground like larvae if he had to. Anything, if he had to.

He knew something was off before he even opened the door. The scent of demons was once again in the air, strong enough to make Claude scowl. If he had left any remnants on Sebastian, or Hell forbid, hadn't closed the jars tight enough, his master would--well, in truth, his master probably wouldn't notice, but Claude would have to live with the knowledge that he did a shoddy job. Shoddy jobs, in his experience, often soured his later rewards. He ground his teeth and went inside.

Instead of failure, strangeness greeted him. A tiny creature was trying to carry away his victim, the size difference nearly comical, reminding Claude of an overambitious ant. From there the scent rippled outward. Demonic, yes, but something else just underneath. Something good. Something very familiar.

It made Claude feel like he was back in the laboratory, picking apart other souls for Master. If he were asked, he’d say that this scent told him that though the fruit was tainted, rotten, there was still ripe, sweet flesh somewhere underneath. He just needed to tear the peach apart to see it for himself.

Claude turned to mist and materialized in front of Ciel, who didn’t feel his presence until far too late. The little thing also stunk of Master's honey, and Claude watched him tremble for a moment before reaching out to touch his face.

"I don't want to fight you," Claude said softly.

The other man’s shadow fell over him, blotting out his view of the exit. Ciel’s grip tightened around Sebastian's body, shaking with horror and recognition at the voice.

Impossible, his numb mind protested. Sebastian killed him. This is another hallucination. This isn't happening. This isn’t real.

But the scalpel was real and in Claude’s hand, and then it was already against Ciel's neck. He left the cut shallow, just enough to put his mouth against it and suckle. Ciel didn't dare move as the blade nicked his throat, the greedy kiss that followed startling a noise from him.

Blood rolled on Claude’s tongue in sluggish drops like it too was soaked in honey. God, it tasted like Heaven and Hell all at once, an impossible purgatory in the body of a stranger. The drug had loosened the shell enough to confirm his suspicions: there was a human soul still buried there. It had withered a bit, but it was still far more supple than demonic magics should allow. It was beyond his comprehension.

Claude pulled back, glasses fogging up. He adjusted them and moved his hand to Ciel's face again, thumbing at his lips before tracing his eyepatch. This is where it smelled the strongest. Claude flipped it up and stared. The eye glowed with a sigil, the sigil: the one on his victim's hand, evidence of binding despite neither of them being human.

"How?" Claude breathed. "What is this? Who are you?"

Ciel had kept very still as Claude looked him over. Even in the dark there was no mistaking him, and he seemed just as shocked as Ciel was. Now Claude was muttering something, looking the more ruffled between them, giving Ciel an opening.

"Don’t touch me, Claude," Ciel bit out, taking rapid steps back before he could be grabbed again. "Get back, I won't let you have him!"

Pushing through the weight of the drug and the body in his arms, Ciel drew on his power to dash for the exit. It burned, purple fire through his veins, but he didn't stop or look back.

"Stay away from us!" He shouted before disappearing into the streets.

Now the room was empty. Claude staggered to his knees. He held the scalpel in his hands like a baby bird, just watching, before putting it into his mouth to lick the blade clean. He stayed like that even after it was done, Ciel's voice too heavy on his shoulders to let him move.

Claude, he thought. He called me Claude.

Chapter Text

His master was, in most respects, a brilliant man.

He had conquered the laws of nature like they were mere suggestions. His work with life and death challenged the very meaning of existence. It was undeniable that he held this city in the center of his sprawling, exacting plans. Everything had been accounted for, down to the smallest detail.

Their hideout was no exception. There were no shortage of abandoned buildings in New York, but Master had researched all options, scoping out every neighborhood, making sure his selection had fallen out of the interest of urban legends and child delinquents. His final choice had been a derelict hospital just beyond the city limits, still stocked with rusted bed frames and wheelchairs, well away from residential areas.

It was a brilliant decision. It should keep prying eyes away. It should keep attention off their work.

ONE EYED, ONE HORNED, FLYING PURPLE PEOPLE EATER, ONE EYED, ONE HORN-- 

Claude just thought it’d be more effective if Master didn’t play his music so loud.

Today, like most days, Master was bent over his work table, humming as he tinkered with glass. The song segued from “Purple People Eater” immediately into “Day-O” by Harry Belafonte as Claude entered, and he both suspected and hoped that Master had made this cassette himself rather than actually paid for it.

He had to clear his throat several times before it was loud enough to tear Master’s attention away from the music.

Undertaker raised his head, toothy grin curtained by bangs. “Ah, boy! Perfect timing.” He stood to his full height and stretched, before stopping the cassette with a button click. “Think me back’s out. Going to need to you crunch my spine in a minute here, but we have much to discuss first, don’t we? Oh, I’m excited.”

Part of tonight’s order had been to acquire dinner, so after leaving the House of Wax, Claude had stood in line at White Castle in his labcoat, leather harness, and bloody gloves. He had grown uncomfortably familiar with the smell of this specific brand of fry oil, since Master would rarely eat food that he could not also laugh at. This restaurant chain modelled their buildings after castles and also made their burgers very small, making it basically the height of both comedy and cuisine in Undertaker’s eyes.

Claude set down the blood-smeared fast food bag and pulled up a chair for himself. Undertaker delved into the bag and pinched his tiny burger with just the nails of his thumb and index finger.

“So, tell me everything!” he said, taking a triumphant bite.

“The development and execution of your experiment was a success, sir.”

Claude set the cooler he’d been using to transport the test tubes down on the table. Undertaker’s eyes lit up. He did a little shimmy in his seat, clearly struggling between the desires to immediately examine the samples or to finish eating. Undertaker relaxed his posture and wiped some ketchup off his face. The burger had won out for now.

“How truly excellent . So how did our Death Scythe scalpel measure up against demon flesh? I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir about this, but demons can be tricky little buggers to cut open. Even when you’re not about to get all your insides scraped away.”

“It is a beautiful tool,” Claude said. “And led to magnificent results. It was an honor to use it, Master.”

Undertaker beamed. “Glad to hear it! I’m glad the blighted little thing keeps being worth all the trouble it gave me to get it. Both it and its previous owner have been put to much better uses now, don’t you think?”

Claude agreed, but that could be said about most things they crossed paths with. Master was a creative man. Master could think of a “better use” for almost anything.

And Master always hated waste.

He’d been like that from the very beginning, from when they first met. When Claude had been called to the human world, pulling himself up with leg after leg after arachnoid leg, his many eyes had first opened in a New Orleans cemetery. His soon to be master was smiling at him, and he was sitting in a summoning circle of candles and chicken blood.

"Hello there!" Undertaker had said, grabbing one of his claws to shake it.

The man was more unnerving than anything he had been able to glimpse in Hell. There was a power in his hands that made Claude flinch. Undertaker noticed and explained that he was just a lonely old man who’d led an odd life, and that he may seem a little different than others because of it. But he’d made amends for that, he said, and now he wanted a contract to help others make those same amends.

Something was off here, Claude thought. Although summoning circles were an invention of the human world, even he knew that actually calling a demon with one as piddly as this was unlikely.

However, the man did have a very enticing soul. Claude could smell it right where his necklace hung, where underneath his heart would beat, because of course that's what it would be doing.

So everything was where it was supposed to be, and that was normal. The terms of the contract were also very fair, granting allowances for Claude to feast on other souls that struck his fancy. Perhaps it was infernal providence that had led him to this unique and lenient human. Perhaps luck was supposed to feel strange.

Claude agreed. The contract was signed in blood, with the Faustian symbol placed on Undertaker’s neck like an artistic hickey. “So let it be written,” he said. “So let it be done.”

Anyways, the man hated waste, so Claude's first ever order was the request to help his master load every burnt candle back into his beat-up 1956 Cadillac hearse, even if they were down to a nub. At the same time, he’d discover that this was also Master’s home, evidenced by the rumpled futon laying where a coffin normally would. He was instructed to just “chuck those wherever,” so Claude threw the candles amidst a pile of pages from the Lesser Key of Solomon and other people’s credit cards.

Master didn't seem to know what to do next, so they ended up at a 24 hour diner. Claude, with no other reference point for how humans dressed, had settled for replicating Undertaker’s outfit. They were both in their respective booths with matching cloaks and black top hats. The waitstaff were giving their table a wide berth. Claude overheard them say something about a gay mortician convention and had no idea what any of those words meant.

"So," Undertaker said, stirring his coffee and getting a spoonful of shrimp and grits. "Do you have a name?"

It took Claude a moment to respond, distracted by the array of unfamiliar objects. He could guess the names and purposes of most furniture, but the cylinders of light hanging from the ceiling were most interesting. Were they the husks of entombed spirits? "No, sir. We are not given names in Hell. We are only given names by our masters."

"Well, yes, I figured that. Let me rephrase. Do you have a preference for a name?"

"I have no preferences."

“None at all?” Undertaker shrugged. Claude noticed his hands were trembling slightly around the mug’s handle. “Fair enough. I’ll just call you whatever comes to mind.”

“That would be sufficient, Master. And to clarify, I have some knowledge through the demonic hive mind of residual memory and instinct. However, I have no preferences at this very moment, because I have not yet had the opportunity to form them.”

Undertaker grinned. "Good! I had structured my little circle back there to specifically attract a demon with less experience. I'd like to be a good influence on the youth, you see? Though...if you have absolutely no preference, perhaps it worked a little better than I thought. Are you saying you're my tabula rasa rascal, boy? Am I to believe that you were truly born yesterday?"

"If I was “born,” speaking technically, it was today. Shortly before my summons."

The spoon rattled in the coffee cup. Undertaker’s eyebrows were trying to escape into his hairline. “Well, I’ll be.” He slammed his hand on the table. “Waiter! It’s my companion's birthday! Get us a cake!”

They got cake. Master ate the icing off and insisted Claude have the rest. It was mushy and tasted like nothing. They left without paying.

The human world was very strange.

They would spend a few more days in New Orleans, with Master spending his time tending to Marie Laveau's grave and being mistaken for a street performer. After that, they packed up for a roadtrip up the eastern seaboard. Master wanted to evaluate different cities to find one that suited his plans, where the contract could be fulfilled.

They stopped the hearse when the whim struck him, and the whim struck often. Their longest stop ended up being in Washington, D.C., where Master was possessed by the desire to see as many of the stone structures as he could.

“Always thought the building of nations to be a wee bit foolish myself," he said while observing the Washington Monument. "Endlessly redrawing lines in the sand between our side and their side, defending them til they're gutters full of blood, and for what? Do they think the lands of the dead observe borders, heh? Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! " He swept his arms out as if addressing a crowd. "Heh. Think this place is about as up its own arse as dear ol’ Britannia."

Undertaker drummed his nails against his teeth. It was a sign of impending antics, a gesture that Claude had learned to both respect and dread. “Which is why it would be just hysterical if you were to climb that thing and backflip into the pool below.”

Claude cracked his neck. “Is that an order, Master?”

It was. The following request to “get us out of jail” turned out to be an order as well.

They left D.C. after that and headed north again, hitting New York soon after. With its neon signs and tumbleweeds of trash, it was love at first fight, meaning that as soon as they left the car a drunk had cracked a bottle over Master's head for "looking at him funny." They threw the drunk’s body into the Hudson River, and Undertaker had made Claude pinky-swear that they could stay.

And now here they were.

Back in the present, Master’s mind was still on the scalpel, humming in thought as he clicked his nails on the table. “It’s really the ideal tool, but I’m still hesitant to just lend it out. We’ll have to have some of our flock practice on cadavers with the trainer scythes first before we can really get started. How were my poppets, by the way?”

“Per usual, Master, if we gave a Venus a task, they performed it satisfactorily. The barkeep was especially useful. I’ve not seen a need for disciplinary action in quite some time.”

He hadn’t even finished the sentence before Undertaker was snickering. Anatomical venus, a reference to the waxen medical models of yore, was Master’s cheeky nickname for those who had already completed his treatment and escaped death. He got a kick out of it every time it was used, but in Claude’s opinion, it was far too literal to be that funny.

“Wonderful.” Undertaker was finished eating, and he sucked the grease from his fingers before grabbing a napkin to wipe them properly. "Alright, present time! Be a dear and unwrap it for me, would you?"

He clapped his hands as Claude set the bottles containing Sebastian’s essence on the table.

“It worked! Goody, goody!” Undertaker picked one up and spun it like he was playing with an infant, cackling as he held it up to the light. “I must admit, Georgie, I didn’t have a very high opinion of demons to start. Was pretty much trained to think of you all as dirt under me shoe! Nothing but scum. And while that’s still a bit right, it took me far too long to realize the value in---”

Claude had heard this spiel so many times he could recite it in his sleep. Yes, yes: not only did demons keep the population of souls at a manageable level, the way they consumed souls was also very useful. While Reapers took the Record and destroyed the outer shell at the time of reaping the soul, demons were indiscriminate and would absorb every part of their victim. All the memories and personality of the consumed soul could be extracted and saved, if you had the know-how.

This had become a crucial piece of Master’s experiments. That data was invaluable to him.

But Claude had been right there with him the whole time. Master was an eccentric and forgetful man, but surely even he couldn’t be under the impression that Claude needed this explained yet again.

Perhaps it was Master himself that still needed convincing.

“Now with all this we could expand our operation quite a bit. No need for you to be the lynchpin forever!” Undertaker loudly kissed the side of one of the bottles and hugged it tight, tight enough to make the lid shift. A tiny bit of smoke escaped into the air.

The scent was all leathery gasoline and burning wood at first but soon smouldered out into its more delicate notes: osmanthus, amaretto blood, and burnished silver. It made Claude feel like he had stepped into an antique store that had recently hosted a murder. Undertaker was staring into a corner like he was a thousand miles away.

“Poochie,” Undertaker said, voice oddly dark. “Where’d you put the body?”

Claude pushed up his glasses and coughed. “The target...escaped, unfortunately. We incapacitated his companion, but it proved to be more resilient than expected.”

It? Companion?”

“Yes. We knew the demon traveled with a partner from our observations, but it was assumed to be human. In reality, it was...something very strange. I could not tell what kind of being he was supposed to be. Demonic, but something distinctly human-like underneath. Or perhaps not.” Claude shifted, the memory discomfiting. “It was too difficult to determine. I’d never seen anything like it before.”

Undertaker was very quiet. He moved closer, curling his fingers around Claude’s lapels. “And what did it look like?”

“A human male. Small, with pale skin. One eye was--”

“Covered with an eyepatch, by any chance?” Undertaker finished. He tore a button off the labcoat. “With a brand underneath?”

“Yes, Master.”

It was silent for a moment more, and then Undertaker was guffawing. His body shook, slumped against Claude, needing to cling to the harness’ leather straps to stay upright.

Master sought to collapse from laughter as often as he could, but this fit was unlike the ones brought about by a bad movie or a particularly cheesy sound effect. This sounded hollow, empty of mirth, almost angry . The more it went on the more it grew, until Master's teeth were chattering from the force of it.

No, not anger. Perhaps fury was more apt. Either way, Claude thought it best not to comment.

"Let me give you some advice, Fido," Undertaker said when he could catch his breath, wiping a tear from his eye. "Never have any children."

"I could not to begin with, Master."

“Good. Wouldn’t want to have to neuter you so soon."

Undertaker cleared his throat and moved back to the desk to scribble something down, gripping the pen far tighter than he needed to. “Not that I ever could either, but that doesn’t matter too much altogether, does it? You can still find yourself with a little lamb to shepherd, you can try to guide it to greener pastures, only to watch it walk itself to slaughter. Some of them just never learn, never listen. That’s why we clean each Venus the way we do, boy. No need for them to listen, really. They only need to let themselves be rescued. To be corrected.”

He handed Claude a sheet of paper. On it was a sloppy but accurate depiction of the demon’s sigil he’d seen, along with some instructions jotted at the bottom. “The companion is your new objective. I expect you to keep carrying out your normal duties, but when time is available, you are to prioritize bringing him back here alive and unharmed. This will likely require delicate handling. Don't rush it, and keep him separated from the demon.”

Undertaker paused, clicking his tongue in thought. “I do hate to lose resources, but if you can’t swing Se- ahem, the former demon’s retrieval, deal with him how you must. I won’t hold you to it if he ends up in pieces. Your orders are alive, unharmed, and separate. Understand?”

“Yes, ” Claude said, getting down on one knee. “I understand.”

“Right, then. That’ll be all for now.”

Undertaker nodded at him and wandered back to his workstation. He wasn’t anywhere close to his Harry Belafonte levels of cheer, but seemed stable enough to at least take up humming again. He was starting to make his way through Verdi's Dies Irae before looking up to see Claude hadn’t moved at all from his spot on the floor.

“Eh? Something on your mind, boy?” Undertaker squinted at him. “You’re loud when you try to think, you know. I can hear the gears struggling to turn in there, grinding all like-- krkkkrkkrkkrkrkrkrr. ” He made some unhelpful hand gestures to demonstrate. “Speak up, then!”

Claude’s head dipped further downwards, glasses sliding down his nose. “It…” He paused to clear his throat in shame. “The new target. He seemed to...recognize me.”

“Oh?” Undertaker tottered over and pulled him up by the harness.

“Y- es,” Claude wobbled to standing, straining to keep both his feet and voice balanced. “Stay away from us, he said. Like they both knew me. Like something had already happened, but I have no memory of it.”

“You wouldn’t, no. Not after being reborn, when you’re still so fresh. Just an ickle little thing in the face of Hell’s eternal march, aren’t you, hm? Newborn, knobby-kneed calf, blackened and damned, caul still on. It’s cuuuuuuute.”

It was futile to try to interrupt him during one of these tangents. Claude just waited until it ran its course. Like the tide, Undertaker soon trailed off and turned his head like he had just remembered something, letting go of Claude to head up the stairs. “Come with me.”

Claude followed up to the roof, where the hives were kept. Master kept enough bees that it was hard to tell the noise apart from a plane passing overhead. He’d had wandered over to one of the bigger hives and stuck his unprotected hand between the wooden sheets. Several bees stung him and fell to their deaths.

Master never minded being stung-- how could I deny them this final, valiant act? Just feels like a li’l peck on the cheek to me, really --and he always gathered the corpses into a small pile in the corner, for a later, unknown purpose. When his hand reemerged, it was covered in welts and holding the queen. He held her in the palm of his hand, stroking her fuzz like petting a cat.

"Such a lovely lady you are, my dear." Undertaker cooed. He dug a fingernail into one of the stings on his hand until it bled. The queen rumbled over on her pipecleaner legs and stuck her proboscis in the pool of blood.

"Good girl," he said as she drank. "You're working hard, leading your kin so they may find a better purpose, that they may build order without fear. Madame, madame, pray me tell, how is it you rule so well? Would you ever deign to share your secrets with a lowly peasant, your highness?"

He turned an ear towards her. The queen buzzed and said nothing. Undertaker waited until she'd cleaned him of blood and then nodded, putting her back in the hive. "Not today, then. Ah, well, I understand." He didn't turn around before speaking again. "Is that all that your new subject said to you, boy?"

Claude had tuned out, as conversations with bees tended to be another futility. "Er, no. No, sir. He referred to me by a name I did not recognize. He called me Claude."

Undertaker hummed. He moved over to the glass-cased hives and tapped his nails against them in thought. Inside, these colonies shaped their honeycomb over and around special frames until the beeswax formed a particular shape. Currently in the works was a heart, a liver, and a pancreas. Undertaker stared at the pancreas and rolled the name around in his mouth.

"Clod. Cloud. Klaw- daaaaaaaay," He pursed his lips. "Don't ring any bells. As we've discussed, it seems that when you demons get formed from all the excess bits and bobs that Hell has lying around, sometimes you pick up lint in the process. If one of your forebears had a particularly strong personality or aesthetic that your type cares about so much, you may have inherited some of that on the go-round. Perhaps the ex-demon knew him and shared that with the companion. That's fine, right? Sure. That's...probably fine." He coughed. "Er...do you like this name, boy?"

Now it was Claude's turn to think. With time he’d discovered several of these latent preferences, like a fondness for spiders, needlework, and perversions of the flesh. A similar feeling was fixing itself in his chest as he spoke. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I believe I do.”

“Alright, then. I’ll call you that instead, I guess.”

“Thank you, Master,” said the being currently known as Claude Faustus.

Undertaker frowned. “But you’re still thinking, aren’t you? Spit it out before you hurt yourself.”

“I...well.” Claude looked away. “Master, can demons...marry other demons?”

“Can they do what now?”

“Erm.” Of all the rules and regulations of the mortal world, marriage was the concept that Claude struggled with the most. “The two of them were in a contract, and it seemed to have little purpose. Marriage, too, is a contract with minimal purpose. Would these contracts not be considered equivalent?”

What? No! Marriage among humans is for legal standing, not an agreement for one to devour the other! Well, I guess that last point really depends on who you marry...but no, you dope, two demons can’t just show up to the courthouse with a veil and brand and tie the knot like that!”

“I understand, Master.” He did not sound convinced. “That being said, if half of a contract is human...does that still not count?”

“Stars and garters, not this again. We are not legally married, Claude. Did you forget?”

“It is...possible that I require some clarification.”

They would argue over this until morning.

Chapter Text

Sebastian was dreaming for the first time in his life.

They were snippets of his tenure in the manor, but here they mingled with shadow and flame, as if Hell was reaching through time past to reclaim its long-lost spawn. It was making his memories of the Phantomhive estate turn back to ash, and no amount of magic could repair it now.

In the grip of the dream, he was running. The gardens were gone. The servants were gone. Where? He was looking for his Master, who was nowhere to be found amidst the heat. The cutlery in his jacket had begun to melt. Where was he? Where?

When the fires overwhelmed him he stirred, sighing and shrugging under the sheets. In the waking world, his Master was barely a foot away from him, curled up in an armchair. Ciel's eye snapped to the bed whenever Sebastian moved, his face dark with the same memory playing over and over again.

That club. That drug. That demon. Sebastian, Sebastian, Sebastian.

What happened? What had he let happen?

Getting back to the apartment had been a harrowing experience. He’d fireman-carried Sebastian through alleyways with only a vague idea of the direction he was going. After what felt like hours of spinning around, his head had finally cleared enough to half-remember their building’s street address. Ciel had to triple-check every sign he passed, terrified that the numbers would reverse or scramble when he looked away.

But he’d made it, dumping Sebastian on the bed once they were inside. He smelled like science lab formaldehyde and the light made the wound look even worse. Outward from the Y-shaped cuts, the skin turned from red to purple to yellow to green, the color spectrum of misery and plague. Like an artist’s palette, Ciel’s queasy mind offered. Like a painting.

Ciel just stood there and watched for a long minute, Sebastian’s labored breathing the only sound, before running into the other room. He grabbed one of his popples and tore its head off, but there were no answers inside of it. Just stuffing.

Fuck!” he said to the empty room. That didn’t make him feel better either.

He’d gone back to the bedroom after that and sat down, staying there with his head in his hands. He was coming down from the “honey” now, he knew, and dreadfully so. The disorientation was still there, but now there was an itch that reached his teeth, made his skin feel drum-tight and rattly. The way his joints protested reminded him of his winter with influenza, how it made walking too painful to be worth it for almost a month.

Just a minute. He just needed a minute and he'd be fine. He could keep his wits about him better if he rested. He wouldn’t let the time slip by like he had in the cabin. Besides, Sebastian would be back to normal any second now, and then they could both be fine together. Just a minute, he told himself. Just a moment.

Ciel closed his eyes. Relief came quickly, like the drug was being lathered softly away with cool water. He leaned back, breathing slow, letting the stiffness and pain evaporate from him. Another moment more. The panic was receding.

Or it was at least trying to recede, until a noise like someone pissed off an entire construction site started up in the outside hallway.

Ciel jumped up. He peeked his head into the living room just in time to see his front door become a door no longer. Something was ripping it to wooden shreds, cutting an uneven hole through the hinges and continuing into the wall. Plaster and detritus got kicked away until the hole was big, big enough to be a terrible little tunnel that an intruder was currently crawling through.

He closed the door as quickly and quietly as he could, looking back at his stupid butler, who wasn’t nearly as funny as he must be thinking he was. "Enough of this, Sebastian," Ciel said. "Wake, you fool. Get up! That's an order!"

There was no response.

The noise outside grew into the sound of their front door getting kicked down, followed by footsteps and a familiar voice. "It's meeeee!" the visitor called. "And the right apartment this time, finally. I know you're here, Sebastian! I can feel it!”

" Damn it," Ciel hissed. There was no way out of here other than the living room and the window, and dragging Sebastian through that would surely attract attention.

The footsteps were getting closer, going from room to room. "Se-bas-tian! You can't run or hide, sweet thing! Come out, come out, wherever you are!"

He kicked the bedframe as quietly as he could, but still Sebastian did not move.

Fine! "Damn it all and damn you too, Sebastian!" Ciel said, diving under the bed as the footsteps stopped.

A too-green eye was peeking into the keyhole of their bedroom. "Found you!" she sung, and the door was kicked down.

Grell Sutcliff stood in the doorway, in an outfit more casual than her 19th century reputation would have it. She wore a red leather jacket with fringes that swished wildly as she moved. Underneath that was a dark Jem and the Holograms t-shirt that had been cut and tied off at the waist, where it was met by a pair of loose red plaid shorts that ended mid-thigh.

Even her glasses were different: these were made in horned-rimmed style, with the red frames thicker near the top of the lens and wire-thin around the bottom. The glasses’ chain was the same, but now was joined by heart-shaped hoop earrings that were big enough to almost reach her shoulders. All Ciel could see from under the bed, however, was a red rhinestone pedicure and insensibly platformed flip flops quickly approaching towards them.

"Long time no see, Sebastian darling!” Grell said, dusting off her shoulders and pulling her scrunchie out from its ponytail. Her hair, as long as ever, flowed behind her like a flag of war. “You've been a bad boy without me, hm? Whatever did you do to get on my naughty list? Tell me !"

She slammed her chainsaw into the headboard without waiting for an answer. Blades burst through a pillow, scattering its stuffing. Sebastian startled awake, tangled in feathers and blankets, and fell out of the bed with a sickening impact.

The sound that came out of his mouth was so pathetic that neither Grell or Ciel could believe he’d made it at first. He clutched his stomach, doubling over to cough up soot. Grell frowned.

"What? The hell are you playing at, Sebastian? Did you really think I’d fall for some lame duck trick after how long we’ve known each other? Come on." She put her hands on her hips like she was lecturing a child. “Get up and fight. Quite rude of you to keep a guest waiting!”

Sebastian didn’t move. His eyes were still closed despite him hunching into himself. Grell tapped her foot and poked him firmly in the shoulder, frowning harder.

“Is this a joke?” she called, looking around the room. “Am I being pranked? Are you there, Ronald? Not funny! You can come out now! Don't toy with my heart like that, you bastard!”

No answer. Grell sighed.

"Fine. We can do this the hard way, then." She readied her scythe again, but before she could lift it a hand darted out from under the bed and pulled her ankle out from under her. She shrieked and tipped over, the scythe hitting the floor and bouncing away.

"Ronald!" Grell had landed face down on the carpet. "I swear--what?!" She craned her head to see who'd grabbed her, only catching a flash of silver hair as someone who was definitely not Ronald lugged Sebastian back onto the bed. "Are you kidding me? This brat is still alive?!"

She pushed up her glasses and got to her feet, lifting her scythe more viciously now. As it roared to life, she spun back around to get face to face with Ciel Phantomhive, in club makeup and a boxer's stance, dressed like a priest had decided that personally seducing Jesus Christ would be the most moral way to get into heaven.

Grell turned the scythe back off, as if less noise would help her see this better.

"Okay….work," she said. "This is new. You've got a whole lot going on here, don't you? I'm getting sort of a sexy pious pirate vibe? How very.... brave of you."

Even while having to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from shaking, Ciel took the time to sneer at that. "Since I doubt Reaper dress code has changed that much, you're not exactly one to talk. What do you think you're doing here, Grell?"

Grell rolled her eyes and leaned against her scythe like it was a walking stick. Things were turning out to be much more troublesome than she expected, and not the fun kind of troublesome either.

"Alright, I guess I'm talking to you now, for some reason. First of all, it's my day off, so you should really be grateful that I'm here to begin with. Second of all, if you're asking why I'm in this city instead of Dear Ol' Blighty, I was transferred to deal with some of New York's more peculiar cases. Further details will need to be worked out between Sebastian and I exclusively. So you can do us all a favor and go away, Earl of Dalles of Whatever."

"It’s Phantomhive. Dalles was my aunt, and Earl no longer applies. Unfortunately for you, my butler isn't taking visitors right now," Ciel said, crossing his arms. It was both relieving and annoying to see a familiar face. Arguing with a death god made him feel more like himself, whatever that meant now. "He's busy."

Grell looked between Ciel and Sebastian several times. "Busy? What am I to suppose he's doing? Astral projecting?"

"Sure. Anyways, the point is that he can't help you. There’s nothing for you here. So leave."

"Ugh. Don’t be dull, dearie, you know better." She revved the chainsaw for emphasis. "I won’t be going so easy!”

“No,” Ciel agreed reluctantly. He held up his hand before Grell could commit to going back to the hard way. "I do know better. You won't leave that easy," he said, staring into space as he thought aloud. "And I don't know if I even want you to."

"Well, how forward. I appreciate that, but you’re not exactly my type. Why don’t you be the one to leave instead so I can do my job?”

He ignored that. ""Do your job." So it's business instead of pleasure, like I suspected. Even considering that he's your "type", if it was just for fun, you'd find a way to do it on the clock. But if you have a case and you're here on your day off, then it's important, isn't it?" He stared her down. "I want to know about it. What could I do for you in exchange?"

Grell sighed, sagging her shoulders with far more drama than necessary. "You're close, I'll give you that. I suppose it might be helpful to get some questions answered before you perish. If Sebastian truly is so "busy"."

"Alright. Fine. Not in here, though." He glanced at Sebastian. "Outside."

"What? You can't seriously think I'm stupid enough to turn my back on a demon, can yo--" She looked at the bed as well, at how Sebastian seemed to be caught up struggling with the concept of automatic breathing. "Er...fine, I guess. Just this once."

Grell followed him to the living room. Once they were alone, she sniffled wistfully and then earnestly, grabbing Ciel by the collar to get a lungful of his scent. "Oh, you stink! Disgusting! So that’s how you’ve survived this long!”

Ciel frowned and sniffed his underarm as discreetly as he could. He did smell like nightclub and whatever Sebastian had been drinking, but disgusting was a reach. “What are you on about now?”

“Did your butler never tell you? We reapers can quite literally sniff out demons by their rather unpleasant stink, but I thought all that in there was just Sebastian. But no. It’s on you, too. So are you a demon now or something?" She tapped the tip of her nose. "Ha! The nose knows, and the brat's become a rat, haven't you?"

Ciel's brows furrowed, not bothering to refute her. "Could that...is that somehow relevant to why you're here?"

"Eh, perhaps not, but it is quite juicy. Juicy, but not entirely unheard of. We do see the occasional case of humans seeking demonhood rather than a contract every fifty-odd years or so. Actually obtaining it is far rarer, of course, as most just end up eaten. And whenever some black magician or whatever weasels their way through the process successfully, they usually end up being quite weak and don't last very long. They have a minimal impact on soul counts and the problem’ll mostly take care of itself, so not exactly exciting work, but a fun bit of office gossip when they pop up. You'll have to tell me all about it before I kill you!"

"Ah." Quite weak. Don’t last very long. Ciel swallowed. "Perhaps later."

"What is unheard of, however," Grell went on, taking a sandwich bag out of her pocket. "Is this."

She chucked the bag on the kitchen table. Inside there was a small booklet that was smearing ink onto the surrounding plastic.

“You see,” she said, pulling out some rubber gloves and rolling them onto her fingers. “While the London dispatch is always busy, they’re far more established than the Reaper branch here in New York. These poor local suckers became so short-handed once the homicide rate started climbing in recent years. They’ve been too under-equipped to deal with their regular work that they couldn’t address the fact that this city’s become a hotspot for unusual work incidents. Stolen scythes, lots of juniors never reporting back, accounting errors off the charts. Nasty stuff. NYC’s become the butt of a lot of jokes back in London for this reason."

Grell pulled the book out and opened it. Now it was familiar: it was a copy of the soul ledgers where Ciel had seen Reapers stamp their collection results. “So the American higher ups requested that someone be transferred as backup, to form a sort of internal investigations team and take the pressure off Collections. William, Ronald and I were chosen for our track record of handling weird cases-- many of which have you in there as a footnote, might I add, so I suppose we owe you a thanks. So here we are! Will's an administrator per usual, and Ronnie and I are the field agents doing the detective work. Kind of like the Ghostbusters, but cooler and sexier and with more raw animal magnetism.” She flashed a peace sign to demonstrate her point.

Dread just kept piling up inside of him. "You deal in strange cases…but this is something new to you?"

"Mhm. You'll see." She flipped through pages of pictures and names until she stopped at her target. The difference was immediate: this page dripped with corruption, whorls of black letters slipping off to float in the air around them. They tangled the rest of the information too thickly to make it out. The picture was distorted as well, changing with the angle of the light like a lenticular portrait. From one side it was human looking, from the other it was just a dark silhouette with red eyes.

The name of the entry, however, was perfectly clear. It was, without a doubt, "SEBASTIAN MICHAELIS" that was staring back out at them from the record list of death.

Ciel's eye widened, his lips curling up to show grit teeth.

"Ugh!" Grell swatted at the flying letters. "Quite annoying!" She slapped the book shut and zipped it back up in its baggie. A "Y", "Q", and "D" still buzzed in the air. "So that's the bloody mess he's made of my records! To make whatever you've done now crystal clear, never in my long, illustrious career has anything even close to a demon ended up on the To-Die list. It is supposed to be human exclusive! This is just pure chaos. So here's your chance!" Grell posed aggressively. "You have five seconds to explain yourselves before I make a demon death list of my very own!"

Ciel hadn't listened to any of that.

"Claude !" He ran his hands through his hair, gripping it in frustration. "Another demon hurt Sebastian somehow, cut him open, knocked him out. Are you--are you saying that the Reapers think he’s supposed to die? Because of that--scum--"

He swallowed, pacing with rage. "You can't take him, he doesn't belong on that list--I have to fix this. I won't allow...whatever this is."

Grell dropped her pose and tapped her chin in thought. "Another demon, you say? Sounds highly problematic. I’ve never heard of a method to cut up a demon other than a scythe or a demonic weapon, and the latter would all be Hell’s jurisdiction and shouldn’t affect our records. To think of some vermin just walking about with a scythe, waiting to violently pounce and strike down its own kind? Eugh!" She shuddered. "Gives me chills, although I can't tell if that's scary or exciting!"

Ciel was too busy fuming to respond. She watched him walk before reaching over to pat him on the shoulder in a manner she probably intended to be comforting.

"Look, you. I didn't actually come to kill him right off the bat, believe it or not. No, if anything, I want him alive as long as possible. If it really was a scythe and he really does belong on this list, then he’s an invaluable clue to whatever’s been going on around here. This isn’t officially part of any investigation yet, however. Even though it seems like he doesn't have a legitimate death date, the corruption's at risk of obscuring other records, so Will would surely only think with his spear and want the error “corrected” should he find this out. But I’m gracious enough to grant you a chance before indiscriminately smiting you both. So there! You're very welcome! You can stop frowning now."

She went back to the bedroom, flopping down on the mattress before Ciel could protest.

"Of course, your most recent transition means you and I are doubly sworn enemies, so I'm happy to inform you that I'll be murdering you at the earliest opportunity. But let's scratch each other's backs in the meantime, hm?" She flicked her eyes to Sebastian’s body. "Will you permit me to investigate the crime scene here?"

He’d followed her ready to object, but now Ciel paused. His cup wasn’t exactly runneth over with options. “Fine.” The anger furrowing his brow relaxed slightly with concern as he stepped toward the bed.

"Sebastian." He was so still. Ciel almost wasn't sure if he’d ever respond. "Grell is--"

"Right here, darling! And I'm just dying to know what my favorite sinful rogue has been up to all this time! Although it seems like it's still been a lot of babysitti--"

"Quiet, you." Ciel took a breath and tried again. "Sebastian. We're going to examine you now."

Finally, a reaction. Sebastian’s eyes fluttered open. Before, his irises had been a dark, wine-y red that was brown enough but got less and less human the longer you looked. Now all the red was gone, like it’d been bled out of him. The hazel that remained was out of place and fascinating, but was only exposed for a second before his eyes were closed again and he was shifting.

He chuckled, low and drowsy. “I think you’ll find that the court has no evidence,” he said.

Ciel groaned. "Oh my god, is he really sleeping? I thought you were kidding! He’s having a dream or something?" Grell said. She bit into her fist, looking almost mad about the whole thing. “What the hell? That’s cute!”

Ciel flushed in embarrassment but not quite in shame. “Come on, Sebastian.” He reached for the hand where the sigil still burned, but Sebastian pulled it back with a sharp intake of breath. “No, no. My lord must not dirty his hands,” he said, sounding slightly more lucid. “Such a thing would be improper for the master of the house. Please look away."

“Oh, but dirtying my hands is fair game, Sebastian, you dog, you?” Grell glanced smugly at Ciel to confirmed he’d heard. “Shoo, boy. Leave this to the professionals.”

"Whatever." Ciel looked away, still red. Grell descended like an overeager coroner. She stripped the bed of blankets so there would be no obstacle, running her fingers over the incisions.

“Oooh, no mistake here. This is a Scythe’s work. Small blade. Your culprit certainly knew was he was doing.” She pressed her fingertip to where the wound was fresh, swiping up a droplet of blood. Ciel watched out of the corner of his eye in disgust as she proceeded to place the drop on her tongue.

" What ? Was that really necessary?"

"Of course it is, dear, everything I do is necessary." She hummed in thought, contemplating the taste. "I see, I see."

Next she traced the stitches. Sebastian stiffened. “Hmm. I don’t recognize this material, but whatever it is, it’s doing a fantastic job of keeping you together, darling. You’re already healing. Very impressive, considering that even for us death scythes are designed to be terminal. Humans find them most disagreeable, as you know.” She placed her hand over his heart and felt it beat. “And somehow, from your blood and everything else about you, it's obvious you’ve managed to join their mortal ranks."

She pulled the sheet back up and stepped away. "Congratulations.” Grell slapped Ciel on his back like she was announcing the arrival of his newborn. “It's a human. Ecce homo, etcetera.”

A human.

Ciel blanched and covered his mouth. He pushed past Grell to stumble into the living room, feeling like he had to vomit but knowing he could not. Grell watched him go, leaning in the doorway of the bedroom.

“So that's why he's on my list, although he's clearly not supposed to be. My poor ledger, she must be so confused! Anyways,” she continued, heedless of his distress. “The wound looks pretty good, but the rest of him could probably be better. How long has he been like this?" She paused, eyes narrowing in thought. "Cole, has he had any food? Or water, at the very least?"

“It's Ciel.” His throat was bitter. “And why would he have? He’s only been lying in bed for--”

Ciel grimaced, glancing at the window. It was light out now, and it had still been dark when he had sat down what felt like ten minutes ago.

“Grell,” he said, voice grave. “What day is it?”

“Er, the 26th? Why?”

Ciel slapped his forehead. "Three days! He hasn't woken up at all for three days," he said. "Are you telling me that he was wasting away the whole time I've been watching?"

He staggered to the doorway with a humorless laugh. "Claude didn't finish the job so I nearly did it myself. I knew something was wrong from the smell and I..."

He disappeared into the kitchen, the sound of his footsteps on the tile and the clattering of dishes all that could be heard for a moment. He came out with a tall glass and handed it to Grell, unable to even look at Sebastian.

"We do not -- did not need to eat, so there's no food in the house. I will...go get some myself." He didn't mention his inability to drive, instead trying to puzzle out what he remembered of the subway system from bar conversations.

Grell stood, mouth agape. "And you had the gall to accuse me of trying to kill him?” She massaged the bridge of her nose. “Men. Truly."

She set the glass of water within Sebastian's reach. "Alright. You’re lucky that it looks like whatever was done to him has kept him stable, but if I’m going to be figuring out what in the fresh hell has gone wrong here, he needs to live long enough to answer my questions. So here's what’s going to happen! In exchange for Sebastian darling's potentially timesaving position in whatever mess is being made of New York, I will be going out to procure supplies, and I will be staying the night to ensure that he is properly taken care of. I’ll need to interview the both of you as well. Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be back.”

“But I can--”

“No buts! I happen to be quite experienced in knowing all the degrading ways that humans can die. And you will be staying put. I mean it, Phantomhive! You sneak him somewhere and I'll splatter you both scarlet. Promise!"

She tapped her temple to warn that she was watching him before scurrying out with an airy "Bye now!"

Ciel stared after her. A whirlwind as always, she was impossible to argue with. For once, Ciel was glad he didn't have to.

He turned back to Sebastian, still keeping his eye averted as he shuffled closer to the bed and took the glass off the end table. "Raise your head," he mumbled, intending to hold it steady. "You need to drink."

Sebastian was halfway to sitting up before what was left of his conscious mind caught up with him. He was so used to following these commands that it took him a minute to realize that those words were empty, that there was nothing making him now. The bond was there, still, although sent so powerfully off balance. He could feel it beat in his heart, a sensation that he knew would nauseate him the longer he focused on it.

He tried to think of something else, but even the movement of his hands showed how the blacks in his nails faded to grey, another reminder that something was very wrong, something that his mind was keeping the full weight of at bay.

Another long, dry minute passed. Ciel frowned, impatience palpable. "I...will not," Sebastian finally said, surprised that he had dared and surprised that it was true. "I will not, Master." The honorifics were still natural but they didn't feel the same, didn't strike the bond the way it used to. "Ciel," he tried again, and the sigil glowed with certainty. "Ciel. Leave me here. Please."

Ciel wanted to snap at him for refusing, for daring to be difficult at a time like this, but the mark in his eye flared and he found himself setting the glass down and opening his mouth.

"Yes, my lord.” It felt like an automatic reaction, something rehearsed and recalled on cue. Ciel only realized the words he was saying as he heard them, and with the order compelling him he fled the room in horror before either of them had to acknowledge it.

Ciel slammed the bathroom door and pressed himself against the wall, shaking with humiliation. The fact that Sebastian was human now, that somehow Claude had taken out whatever made him a demon, was difficult enough.

That the contract had been reversed?

His frustration grew out of his control, the sound in his ears a dull roar. The room filled with darkness, the way he’d seen it happen with Sebastian dozens of times, usually right before someone got killed. It had stop scaring him a long time ago, but it’d never felt good the way it did to him now, like it was scratching an itch long hidden in his ribcage.

It was frightening, however, to realize that the shadows lashing at the walls couldn’t be coming from Sebastian at all. They were coming from inside him.

Ciel gasped, and the miasma crumbled away, the threatening aura pulled back until the lights were as bright as they had been. This was new. Ciel wondered if he should feel accomplished, proud that he had somehow accessed a latent power, but in reality he just felt small.

If Sebastian didn't want to see him, he decided, then he wouldn’t try to fight it. Let him struggle alone. Ciel would take a shower, indulge in the hot water, and think of nothing at all.

--

Yes, my lord.

Despite Grell’s intentions to keep him alive, Sebastian was sure he would choke to death on his blasted, blunt tongue. Ciel had left and took his ability to breathe with him, and now he was drowning in this body again, each heave of his chest a dull ache against the stitches.

He considered calling him back here, to beg for forgiveness or vengeance or death, but commands in a contract would just pervert him more, further twisting him into a being beyond his recognition.

It was wrong, so wrong to be this pitiful thing of flesh, but as soon as the loathing rose it was already ebbing away, the truth too brutal for him to do anything with but forget.

His train of thought was gone. He should tell Ciel to come back. No, he shouldn’t.

He closed his eyes and dreamt of nothing instead.

Chapter Text

Sebastian woke again to a dark room. His eyes were crusty in a way that was disgustingly unfamiliar, and what little light there was made them hurt almost as soon as they opened. Something was brightly flickering through different colors, and it made him feel ill even as he closed his eyes again to try to escape it.

But no. Evasively sleeping it off was not going to work, he realized, because worse than the light was the sounds. Endless crunching noises were happening right beside his ear, with the chatter of people and the buzz of technology behind it in the distance. Sebastian closed his eyes tighter and tried to conjure up something more tolerable to listen to.

Lights out, his brain offered instead.

Sebastian bolted upright, perfectly in sync with the sound of a gun firing. The crunching stopped, replaced by a shriek of surprise. His chest ached so fiercely that he was sure he must’ve been the one who’d gotten shot. He tensed, waiting for blood.

“Whoa there, sweet thing!” said a voice, and then there was a hand on his back to keep him steady. “At ease, soldier, don’t hurt yourself!”

He turned to look and his vision was filled with red. “Grell.” She was on the bed beside him, midway through a bag of now knocked-over popcorn. She reached for the remote to pause her copy of Miami Vice that’d been playing in their rarely-used VCR.

“You scared me!” she said. “Did the TV finally wake you?”

So he had not been shot after all. The memory that had startled him had vanished, but he was starting to fill in the rest. “Where is---”

Yes, my lord.

She must have felt him flinch, because her hand moved to his shoulder and gave him a squeeze.

“If it’s the brat you’re talking about, he’s been in one of the back rooms for hours doing who-knows-what. I honestly don’t much care what he’s up to as long as he stays put. Gave me a fright when I came back and he wasn't here, though!” She glanced to a long chainsaw scar on one of the walls, where underneath a vase had gotten chopped in half. “Er, don’t worry about it. I’m sure everything is perfectly fine.”

Grell leapt up to gently usher him back to a horizontal position. She was still wearing the outfit she’d arrived in, but her jacket and flip flops had been tossed on the floor. “So, how are you feeling?”

How was he feeling?

Taking inventory of the body had always been such a simple thing. It had been no more material to him than his uniform.  If it was damaged, he could just slip out of it, find the tear, and mend it new again.

He tried, but he could not slip free this time. Below the neck it seemed that everything was as permanent and yet ethereal as static on a broken TV. It felt too dangerous to delve into, like he’d be sticking his hand into a bramble of barbed wire. The memory of normalcy, the seductive idea that nothing had happened at all, was floating around him, shrouded him. If he concentrated, he knew he would feel just fine, his old body an amputee’s phantom limb, just a strong thought away.

He held onto that. There were more important matters at hand, anyhow. A new game was afoot. One of his worst enemies was in this very room, posing an incalculable threat. Her act could swing from precarious to precious so fast it was dizzying, and he would need his wits about him if he was going to survive. Finally, a new stratagem to craft, a fresh reset to chess. He could not afford to worry about recent events right now.

Well, in truth, she was perhaps not one of the worst enemies he’d ever had. Grell had only posed an occasional threat back in London, and now it was difficult to perceive her as threatening at all when she’d gotten distracted with picking every scattered popcorn kernel out of the bedsheets. She saw him looking at her and waved.

“I feel...acceptable,” he decided on. That was neutral. That was safe.

“Good! Hopefully acceptable enough to stay conscious longer than ten seconds at a time. I managed to get you to drink some water while you were asleep, but in the interest of you not choking, I wanted you awake before moving on to Phase 2 of my grand machinations, A.K.A “Operation Vitamins and Minerals". Doesn’t that just sound thrilling ?”

She stood up and went to the bedside table, rustling in a plastic bag to pull out a bottle. “You are a well-tenderized piece of meat right now, darling, so we’re going to start small to not upset that tummy of yours. This is hardly the most gracious introduction to human foods, but!” Grell unscrewed the top off a nutritional shake that smelled strongly of strawberries. “Excellent for hangovers. Here, lovely.”

She peeled the covers back and sat on the bed next to him, cupping one hand under Sebastian’s neck to lift his head. The ends of her hair brushed over his chest as the bottle pressed up against his mouth. “Put those lips to good use.”

There wasn't enough energy in Sebastian's limbs to resist her ministrations, though his brow furrowed at the treatment. He couldn't hold the expression for long, suddenly very distracted by how warm her fingers felt in his hair. Her thumb was making small, absent-minded circles against his scalp, rubbing away tension he didn’t know he had.

His eyelids fluttered shut. He could safely admit that his senses had been stronger before this, but even at full power, touch hadn't felt so... intense. Had his body really weakened this much? How much farther could it---

He nudged the rim of the shake with his mouth before that thought could continue, parting his lips to take a sip. It tasted objectively horrible, too-sweet and somehow chalky. To his surprise, however, by the time he’d puzzled out where the strawberry flavor was supposed to be, it was already gone.

It was actually making him feel better, too. One of the many new voids that had opened up in his abdomen felt a little lighter, a little less pitiful. He licked the remnants off his lips and relaxed into the heat of Grell's palm.

“There you go, cutie.” Grell said, throatier than she intended. Her face had grown hot watching him, at how fragile he looked, at how he closed his eyes like he wanted to dissolve into her hands.

Shit.

She was naturally a touchy-feely person, so the implications that could come from caring for him so comfortably were only just occurring to her. She may have gotten her kicks before from riling up the stoic, too-proud men in her life by being as vulgar as she could, to see if they’d crack, but that was long ago and worlds away. Now there were no more grandiose, violent threats to hide behind. She had one of her very favorite teases in her arms and she was almost shy.

Because that was always too far, wasn't it? Even for her, the actual pursuit of something like that would have always been too far. He is-- was --a demon, she didn’t really think it possible...did she?--- no! No, she was here to do the opposite of what she did best and keep this poor bastard alive.

God, she hoped this paid off in less overtime.

She held onto that thought and willed away the blush on her face. “Alright,” she said when her voice was steady again, taking a composition notebook out of her bag and clicking a pen. “Why don’t you tell me how you ended up in this situation? I believe we left off with the little death announcements you doled out before you up and vanished. I still think I have mine somewhere! Or else I lost it in London. Do you have another copy? No, no, nevermind. Start from the beginning.”

He dropped his head back on the pillow as she withdrew her hand. His skin prickled strangely with the absence. An interview. He would have to be careful.

Sebastian started at the beginning. He told her about leaving England, about the mountains and their cabin in the woods, about Ciel letting the years pass unknowingly. She stopped him right after they first saw the date in the city, Grell holding up her hand with a look of disbelief.

“Wait. You mean to tell me that you just did fuck all for a hundred years?” She threw up her hands in exasperation. “You're the worst! I can’t even get a twenty-minute break! Ugh! And wait, hold on.” She stared him down and spoke slowly. “ Did you miss the World Wars? Both of them?”

“Both of them,” Sebastian agreed with faux regret, trying to keep from smiling. Her outrage was just too amusing. “And some smaller ones too, it seems, if my knowledge is up to date.”

“Ugh!” she said again. “Forget the soul stealing stuff, this is why we should be hating demons. You’re the only immortals that get to be lazy! Do you know how many times the daydreams of you kicking Nazi ass kept me going on battlefield duty? And to think you were just a lumberjack instead this whole time!" She stared off into the distance, clearly imagining him with a plaid shirt and an axe. "Mm, no, actually, that still would have worked. That's still doing it for me."

Sebastian politely waited until the idea of him milking maple syrup had dissipated and she was back on track. Grell wrote something down in her notebook and circled it. “Alright then, so how did you get all jumbled up like this?”

"Upon our arrival to the city, I was ordered to find a profitable venture to pursue, ostensibly to re-establish the Phantomhive name. I discovered an opportunity in the criminal underground, distributing illegal substances around nightlife venues. The last thing I can recall before this was making one of those deliveries. We entered the club, I was left to my own devices, I approached the bar, and then…” He let out a breath. “Oblivion. I can provide the establishment’s address, but that’s about as helpful as I’m able to be at present.”

She carefully wrote as Sebastian dictated directions, biting her lip in thought once they were done. “So you...came to Manhattan...and started running drugs? What was the plan there?”

He snorted. He couldn’t help it. It was all just so absurd. “There was no plan in the end. The original context of the order was dropped almost immediately. I was never tasked to do anything other than continue to earn money and to visit various clubs.”

“Oh,” Grell said, looking ambivalent. “I was assuming it was some complicated British political thing. So that pirate disguise is clubwear? And it’s just for fun?

“I...suppose so,” he said reluctantly.

“Too funny! I’m a big proponent of enjoying yourself, so good for him, I guess. What about you, Sebastian? Do you like it here?”

“Do I like it here?” Sebastian made a face. This was not the objective, historical question he was expecting. “I fail to see how my preferences would impact the unchangeable fact that I am, indeed, already here. ‘Liking it’ can’t possibly be relevant to anything now.”

Grell shut the notebook and put it away with a bitter little smirk on her face. “Respectfully, darling, I think we both know that’s bullshit. You liked London!” She flopped down on her back beside him and started playing with her legs in the air, forming what looked like demented yoga poses. “I know we weren’t exactly the best of friends back then, but anyone could see that you liked it, what with your whole infatuation with the English aesthetic. And cats! I ‘fail to see’ how liking cats is supposed to help you with your job or whatever. Yet you still like them, don’t you?”

She rolled back over on her stomach. “I don’t know, you two were always relatively harmless. It’s cute to think that you would’ve had a bit of fun here before I thoroughly disembowel you both. Is there anything here that you like, Sebastian? Anything at all? ”

He had to think about this.

“I have seen only three cats since my arrival,” he said, as if that answered the question.

Grell rolled her eyes. “Fine, be that way.” She was quiet for a minute or two, picking at the ends of her hair with a frown on her face. “Would it surprise you if I said I didn’t like it all that much either?”

Sebastian raised an eyebrow, because that did indeed surprise him. This city, this whole era, it was just so...her.

“Well, it’s more complicated than I made it sound,” she said. “There’s plenty I like. I like the fashion, of course, and my regular nail place on 3rd Avenue. I like going out with Ronald on a Friday night and waking up late on Saturday to cold pizza and a rum and coke for breakfast. And I liked the idea of going somewhere new and starting fresh. This branch had heard rumors about me before my arrival, because of course they had.” She whipped her hair and dramatically sighed. “I just can’t help being that bitch! You understand.”   

He nodded in sympathy. Sebastian did understand, because he was also that bitch.

“But coming here, it wasn’t like I was importing my...er, more checkered bits of history with me. I was just going to be a newly promoted reaper who happened to be more wonderful and better dressed than everyone else. But sincerely, I don’t know what any of my coworkers even think of me in the end. Our unit’s a little isolated, so we don’t work with any of the other agents on missions. Will’s all up in middle management, of course, and Ron’s got a drinking buddy here or there, but as for me...eh, that girl who’s always in the breakroom, that takes all the French Vanilla creamer. What’s-her-face. She can be sweet, I suppose.”

Grell covered her face and groaned. “Oh god, I don’t think I could tell you any of their names even if you held me at gunpoint. I’m quite shit with names! Not that anyone would be offended, because no one else is really lining up to socialize. A large part of our job is to basically critique their work and then snitch about it. You can imagine how popular that is.”

She rested her head on crossed arms. "Forlorn" was a wildly unusual look on Grell Sutcliff. "Outside my team, you and the brat are the first familiar faces I’ve seen in years.”

“If it helps,” he said, “Know that it’s the same situation for us. All of the servants and non-reaper acquaintances in England have surely passed by now, and there has been no attempt to establish contact with the manor, if it remains at all. You are the first we’ve met in a century that we’ve had any history with.”

He had no way of knowing how wrong he was. Grell made no effort to correct him, because she had already forgotten. She pursed her lips, mulling something else over.

“Is it better then, Sebastian," she said. "To start anew, clean slate, and risk that there's little of value in that after all, or to stay the same and be known as everything you were, for better and for worse?"

“How I wish I knew,” he murmured. “If you ever decide, do tell me.”

“I will,” she said. “I will. Never thought I’d miss having notoriety. I miss having a group of people who’d seen me at my absolute lowest and still liked me. Or tolerated me, at least. Hell, I even miss Stephen from Accounting a little bit, and he thought I was too annoying to function. He had a point, but god, he didn’t need to say it!” She laughed again and sighed. “Never thought I’d be so silly as to actually get homesick.”

Sebastian hummed. Homesickness was another vulnerability. He did not miss England, he told himself. He did not.

“It’s lonelier here than in London, somehow.” she said.

“I agree,” he heard himself say, because he could admit that, at least.

It was quiet.

“Thank you, Sebastian. It's been quite nice to just talk, even without any of our usually lurid, passionate, murderous romantic tension.” Her eyes widened, as if it only just occurred to her who she’d been talking to. “Well,” she said, clearing her throat and getting out of the bed. “Back to business! I’d like to get you up and walking. Laying all about forever isn’t good for you. You need to get your blood flowing! Can you try to stand up for me?”

Sebastian sat up. He could make it to ninety degrees with only moderate difficulty, but trying to push himself all the way out of the bed made his lower back ache unbearably. Grell could only stand to watch a few seconds of him struggling before calling it all off.

“Ugh, this is so not going to work! I can’t have you falling all over yourself and flopping everywhere, it’s just going to make it worse. Maybe you pulled a muscle or threw your back out after all the fuss you’ve been through. Er...I could try to massage you and see if that helps?” Platonically, she thought but did not say. “I’ve gotten quite good at it, what with juniors hurting their shoulders in the field all the time.” Because that’s how platonic it is.

Getting out of bed and walking would be a valuable skill to regain. It would allow him to potentially escape and evade further threats from reapers or otherwise. It would be strategic to accept. Sebastian thought only about this, of course, and not at all about the promise of warmth and contact.

“I would... appreciate that. Thank you, Grell.”

She winked and sat behind him, legs folded underneath her so that her knees nudged his hips. He forced himself to stay still, although her being this close where he couldn’t see her made him wary out of habit, the tickle of her breath on his neck sending a shiver through him. Human bodies--he thought this in the most abstract sense, unwilling to take any ownership of this one--seemed insufferably alert for this kind of stimuli. He'd never needed to flinch before.

Grell’s palms pressed to the top of his back, nearly at his shoulders, increasing pressure as her thumbs circled down. “I’m going to, pardon the expression, get a feel for where you’re tense first, darling, but if any of this hurts too much tell me.” Her hands continued to apply circular pressure down the sides of his back, his stiff muscles flexing in protest as he discovered how many distinct places could hurt at once. When she’d gotten lower on his back he let out a sharp noise of surprise at the painful tightness in the muscles there, and she paused.

“Is that too much?”

He cleared his throat, embarrassed by the involuntary sound. “No, I believe you found the primary source of my discomfort just now. Please, continue.”

Sebastian could almost visualize her pleased grin as she returned to her work, her hands steadying his narrow waist as her thumbs worked into the knots. The feeling should be painful-- was painful--but shouldn’t be as good as it was. The tension pushed to the breaking point, muscles twitching and then relaxing--he grit his teeth to keep himself from making anymore of those disgusting noises that he could feel welling up in his chest.

It felt delicious. He didn’t want it to stop.

It even felt like--

He hissed an appalled breath. There was no denying it. Her plan to stimulate blood flow was working in the worst way possible. Sebastian squeezed his eyes shut, cheeks delicately pink as he realized his body couldn’t control itself the way he was used to. Before, all of his functions were at his command. His body was his weapon, and matters of seduction were no exception. He would do what he needed to catch his prey, and he would do it perfectly.

Humans were messy. They could not control their own desires. Humans were imperfect. He knew this well. He himself had been the one to educate Ciel on these things. It was desperately needed at the time, as the boy had some creative ideas as to what materials could be used as lubricant in the event he found a lover-- but the human sexual experience had all been theoretical. Neither of them had even needed to concern themselves with those matters for a century, and now he had to rapidly adjust to it becoming personally relevant.

Grell’s fingers were slowing down. “I’m not making it worse, am I?”

He was adjusting poorly, it seemed. Sebastian could only hope that it was his posture and not any noises that had tipped her off. “No.”

“Then what’s hurting? Is it the wound?”

He grunted noncommittally. Grell took that as a yes.

“Shit! I almost forgot,” she said, getting up to grab something out of her bag. Sebastian nearly sighed as she left, his relief warring with regret at the loss of warmth. He took the opportunity to try and bunch as much fabric as he could around his waist.

“It doesn’t look infected, and with how it’s healing I doubt it’ll end up that way, but I want an antibiotic on it just to be safe.” She came back with a tube of ointment in hand. “All sorts of medical marvels, nowadays. Much less dying from a stubbed toe and whatnot. This will keep it clean and soft at the very least. Where’s it bothering you most?”

“Near the shoulders,” he lied. His shoulders felt no worse off than the rest of him, but it would keep her attention off the dangerous levels of shame building in his groin.

“Ah.” There was really no convenient way to do this. She would have to settle for the quickest option. “This may be a tad awkward, then. I apologize in advance.”

Grell shimmed up next to him, propping her knee between his thighs to balance herself over his chest. She let a squirt of lotion warm up in her palms before massaging it down in long, deep strokes. The stitches were already dissolving and leaving behind raised scars. She worked in the ointment from side to side, moving to cover all of it.

The only explanation, Sebastian thought in the meantime, for Grell’s ability to find and be in the worst possible place at the worst possible moment was that it was a sixth sense. He could have safely bet Ciel’s original soul on it. She was a powerful psychic that had somehow divined his distress through the ether and returned to torture him.

He was trapped by her long limbs, stroking his chest with hands that were unfairly soft. The mild stinging of pressure on his wound, which should by all rights be a painful itch, felt pleasant. He grit his teeth, the set of his jaw all wrong without the fangs, and shifted uncomfortably. Worst was the location of her knee. If her “grand machinations” were to nurse him back to health only to then clairvoyantly kill him, she was doing an excellent job.

She reached the end of the wound and lingered. “You still look upset,” she said with a frown. “Is it the scar?”

Sebastian said nothing, very focused on not groaning.

“You shouldn’t feel bad, darling. You don't have demonic regeneration on your side anymore, so it'll heal ugly, but you’ll recover. Well, unless my little list is telling you the truth. It’ll be quite the handsome look on you, though. Kind of a dark, tortured, smoldering appeal.” She chuckled. “It’ll be fine. It’s much like the one that sexy cryptkeeper gave me. Reapers get off scot-free from most things, but not scythes. Scythes always scar. Took me a while to get used to it.”

That was an understatement. She was long past the point of needing a bathing suit to shower, but even a hundred years later she could barely make herself look at the scar. It was a physical reaction at this point, her eyes skipping away with the same instinct that stopped her from looking at the sun, too dangerous and painful to linger on. None of the other reapers she knew had ever been gored quite this fantastically, save for Ronald. Ronald, who was so sweet but so oblivious and didn’t need to spend nearly as much time and agony over his appearance as she did.

She loathed being seen as something other than at her best. But even the devil didn’t deserve to feel this way.

Grell pulled up her shirt. Undertaker had slashed her almost diagonally from shoulder to hip, and the resultant blotchy scar took up most of her abdomen’s prime real estate. His eyebrows shot up.

“See?” she said, trying to smile for both their sakes. “It’ll all be fine.”

It was an admirable sentiment. However, with Grell Sutcliff kneeling over him, shirt pulled up enough to expose how muscular she really was, the very bottom of her lacy bra visible while Sebastian was this close to perishing, he somehow had trouble believing it.

“You can touch it, you know. It's not weird."

It was very weird, for both of them, for very different reasons. Sebastian's hand reached out anyways. The intimacy, the solidness of her marked skin under his hands, rippled through him and settled strangely in his stomach. "Truthfully, the scar is the least of my problems," he muttered, but didn't pull his hand back, tracing it with his thumb.

She shivered a little bit, slightly ticklish. Even if it was the least of his problems, this acknowledgement, even from an old enemy in an unfamiliar body-- it helped her. It was nice.

Well, it was, until she shifted and nudged her knee against something hard. She looked down.

Oh. Oh. “Oh.”

Grell leapt up from the bed and did a spin with her hands on her face, cheeks almost as red as her hair. “Oh, god damn it! I’m sorry, Sebastian! I know I may not have a sterling silver reputation, but I promise I was making an effort to be professional!” Her head was producing enough steam to cook dumplings, and she failed to elaborate on how getting close enough to knee him in the dick was professional. “Truly, I wasn’t trying to be…” She pinched the bridge of her nose like she was trying to ventilate herself. “I’ll step out while you…you know, whatever. Just don’t die.”

She turned to leave but was stopped by a hand grabbing her wrist. Sebastian was looking up at her. “Grell,” he said, voice hoarse. “Grell, I--”

“You? You what? It’s fine, I’m going to--” She stared at him, suddenly morbidly curious, her reaper partisanship quickly evaporating. “Why are you looking at me like that? Like you're lost. I know this isn't your first rodeo! What, is it, like... painful now, in a human body?”

“It is not--it doesn’t hurt,” he said, undermining his point with a shaky exhale. “It is just... inconvenient. Mas-- Ci-- he can’t see me like this.”

“It is very inconvenient! I’m well aware of that! Which is why I’m going to--wait. Why do you look confused? Are you trying to tell me that you don’t know what you’re doing?” She said it as a joke, but when Sebastian didn’t answer she leaned in, eyes wide. “ Do demons not know how to jack off ?”

He shut his eyes and hissed, every word sounding like it was dragged from him. “I am aware of the conceit,” he said, “But it is wholly uncommon and unnecessary. And never looking like this." He gestured to his lower half. "The experience is quite different.”

Her whole face lit up. “That is so interesting! I can’t imagine how this must compare, then. Do you know how much demonic anatomy we get to study in reaper school? None of it, despite my best efforts! Just where the vital points are, which is so boringly reductive, really. You have to tell me more! Hold on, I’ll need a pen.”

She turned to go grab her purse but stopped herself. “No, no, I need to focus. Sebastian." She was quieter again, keeping her back to him. "You don’t want me to leave, but you must know better than to think I’m just going to sit here until your problem goes away. Are you...trying to tell me something? That you...that you want something?"

He opened his eyes just enough to look at her through his lashes, her mane of hair almost reaching the hem of her shorts. Her shirt had fallen down her shoulder, just enough to see another strap of red lace underneath. He bit his tongue.

“Grell,” he said again. “I cannot risk this weakness much longer."   If I look, it will be real.  “It needs to be driven out." If I am left alone, it will all be real. "If you are offering, I…”

Her hands curled into fists and then uncurled again. “If you want something, you’re going to have to say it. After all this time, I want to hear you say it.”

“If you could, Grell. If you’re still willing. Make me come. Please.”

For a moment after Sebastian had made his demand, his stomach knotted at the idea that she might actually deny him this now that she had the opportunity. Her back was still to him--he’d read this all wrong, read her all wrong, and now she was going to run out screaming, calling for Ciel to come gawk at the hideous mess that had once been his butler. Had he been in her position, something like that would have certainly been a temptation, considering their history.

Yet after she turned around, the surprise still lingering on her face, he saw the way her cheeks colored darker, her eyelids lowered with want. Sebastian felt a shred of his battered confidence return, seeing her so affected, and lifted his mouth into a tired smirk.

“Well,” Grell said, blushing hard enough that bursting a vein was becoming a concern. “You've certainly remembered your manners, haven't you?"

She sat on the bed beside him and gently pulled back the blanket. He was still in his slacks from his last night out. Grell rubbed the fabric on one of his knees, nudging his legs apart until they were spread. “Don't worry. I’m not stupid. I know this is all convenience and need. You want this buried quickly so the brat will never see it? I can oblige. But don’t talk in if’s, darling. It’s when. When I make you come for me, because I believe I’m long past due for a night with you, and I’d be damned if I didn’t make the most of it.”

If she had her way, if it were a hundred years ago, she’d be drawing this out, shredding him up, teaching him how to really beg. But alas, as it was she’d just have to accept the horrible fate of getting this beautiful man to come for her faster.

How truly evil of you, Sebastian.

Her smile was somehow both demure and obscene all at once, teeth terrifying in the light. She unbuckled his belt and pulled his pants down past his ass. “For a second there I thought you were going to ask for a demonstration or something. I think we can do you much better than a dry handy, darling.”

She turned her attention to the fit of his briefs around his cock. He was well-proportioned, she could tell already, and she traced the length of him with one long nail to better appraise him. "Mm. So beautiful, just like I imagined. So long, darling. So long I've been waiting to bedevil you." She squeezed his balls through the fabric just hard enough for them to ache. "And like the devil, you're going to make your deal. Tell me what you want, in no uncertain terms. Use my name, so you remember it's me doing this to you."

"Grell. Your mouth. D-don’t hold back.” He winced at how desperate he sounded. “Please. End this.”

Grell knew he’d say whatever he’d have to if it meant getting this over with faster, but god damn it, he knew what she wanted to hear, and it was working. She smiled at him and leaned in, something wicked in her eyes.

Wait,” Sebastian realized. “No biting.”

Grell froze, her mouth open and approaching his thigh. She looked like a cat that had been caught terrorizing the family goldfish. She clicked her teeth shut and pulled back.

His skin immediately mourned the loss of her breath, and his mind drifted back to the massage, at how the pain had heated him. Sebastian groaned. “Not...more than once,” he amended.

Grell smiled at him again, and in that moment there was no difference between fear and arousal. Both made his blood run cold, his heart pound, and his suffering double.

Her mouth came down hard. She had latched on to where his thigh met the edge of his briefs, following his pulse. It was half a bite and half a hickey, Grell sucking hard enough to embed the points of her teeth in his flesh. Sebastian couldn't keep a groan from rolling out of him as she left behind two neat rows of tiny puncture wounds. When she pulled away he was bruised purple and her lips were dripping red.

“It's out of my system now!” she proclaimed, licking up his blood. His dick throbbed in time with the pulses of hot agony. “I can be a good girl! Your good girl, my darling."

She was on him before he had any breath to wonder at good girl, pulling him from his briefs and palming him critically. His prick was just as pretty as the rest of him, smooth and elegant, like it had been cut from marble. Grell would have accepted no less. She rolled the foreskin back, finger dragged in and out from her mouth with a pop, and she slicked the head with precum in slow, torturous circles.

His eyes rolled back in his head--she was so cavalier about this, like she just was polishing an apple instead of systematically destroying his cock. " Please ," he said before Grell could get a chance to ask. He sounded like he was near tears, every breath he took bordering on a sob.

Each little please and sugar-sweet gasp he made surprised her, sounded so unlike the demon she’d expected. She was a woman with an agenda, but if he kept this up she was going to go mad. Grell took a second to pull back, shuddery, grabbing one of the pillows and propping it between her thighs.

He did say not to hold back, after all, so when Grell took him in her mouth she did not stop until he’d hit the back of her throat, until her lips were flush to his base. She held him there, humming for a long moment.

"G--RELL, ah--!" Sebastian shouted. He clapped a hand over his mouth, swearing hardly muffled by the gesture. The memory of those razor teeth were all that kept his twitching hips from thrusting as Grell’s throat fluttered around him. “ Ple-

He only needed to be patient for a moment before it was well rewarded. Her mouth moved up and then back down, down, down, bottoming out again and again, and then she would slow down to hollow out her cheeks and savor every inch. Her pace was rough and relentless, tongue scalding as she made him fuck her mouth. It was fiery, it was ruinous, it was her . It was his life in her hands, shrunk down to Grell and Grell and only Grell.

Sebastian could not keep his eyes open, face too slackened by the thrill. He would have felt concerned for his survival, if he hadn't been so busy losing his mind. No, he couldn't think, he could only see red, only watch as Grell's scarlet formed bloody fireworks behind his eyelids.

The noise of it was obscene. He was only vaguely aware of the sheets shifting beneath him as Grell began to move her hips, seeking friction, the hard seam of the pillow, anything . God, she hadn’t set out to just come humping a pillow like a teenager, but the weight of it in her mouth was getting to her much faster than intended, the taste of Sebastian Fucking Michaelis keeping her attention riveted and away from the waistband and buttons of her shorts.

She had to keep going, because it was Sebastian, Sebastian after all these years, but with that her in mind and her thighs tensing up it was all too much. Her throat clamped down around him as she came with a whimper.

When she stopped suddenly, moaning around his cock, he knew she'd finished. The tight, unrelenting heat didn't take long to force him to join her. He curled forward, the pleasure surging through him, making him writhe. Finally gripping the sides of her head, his fingers dug into her hair and he shouted, coming down Grell’s throat with what felt like all his body could produce.

Grell pulled off to lick her lips and take a heavy, desperate breath. After a moment, Sebastian realized with a dumb, paralyzed surprise that he was still alive and had apparently retained all of his anatomy.

"Not my best work," she admitted, collapsing beside him. If this wasn’t her best work, Sebastian was afraid to find out what was . Still, she did look fetching like this, flushed with her signature color. "Been a tad...out of practice, unfortunately. Which." Grell continued, propping herself up to point an imposing finger in his face. "Is a detail that will stay between us. Or so help me, I'll..."

She was out of breath before she could finish the threat. Instead she groaned and pushed herself out of bed, going into the other bathroom to wash up and change clothes. He could hardly move a muscle as she left the room, and didn’t bother trying, basking in the afterglow until she returned.

Grell came back wearing a t-shirt printed with the logo of a "Reaper Scythe and Office Supply Convention" with a pair of soft-looking pajama shorts beneath. She gave Sebastian an inscrutable look, noting that he did appear to be quite well-fucked. That was an accomplishment, even if her stamina left something to be desired. She went to her bag to open another couple strawberry shakes.

Sebastian raised an eyebrow at her outfit. The shirt looked borrowed from another reaper, and he had a short list of guesses as to who-- but he didn’t comment on it, content to let her tip another bottle to his lips.

Despite the taste, it again managed to satisfy what he was beginning to identify as hunger and thirst, the way humans must experience it. The idea that he could adjust, even slightly, to a worm-like existence like that revolted him, but the post-orgasm splendor provided a distraction that he melted into.

Grell tossed the bottles away and pulled his briefs and pants back up, fondly rebuckling his belt. She suddenly looked timid again, as if she hadn’t just nearly turned him blind. “Could I...get under the covers on that side?” she asked, pointing to the empty half of the bed.

Sebastian nodded. For health reasons.

Grell grinned and burrowed in beside him. "Thanks for dinner, darling," she said with a smirk, snuggling up close but avoiding the wound. "Want to make sure you rest. You've been unconscious, sure, but that's different from sleep." She picked her head up to look at him again, the sincerity of her concern unusual for her. "You can let me know if you need anything. Will you be alright?"

Rest, after what he’d just been through, sounded perfect.

“I should think I’ll be alright, after your...efforts,” he said, giving her a lazy grin. “Sleep should come easy, now that we’ve come already--”

Grell interrupted with a loud, snarling snore, very much so like the sound of her scythe. She could have passed as someone who'd been out for hours. She wiggled her head further against his chest, arms pulling close any warmth they could get.

Sebastian trailed off with a tired chuckle. A pity. He’d hoped to get at least one horrible joke in. Any teasing about tonight would have to wait until she was conscious to hear it, and his own eyelids were growing heavy despite the racket. He let the exhaustion lull him into a healing sleep.

Chapter Text

The hot water was a relief after Ciel’s accidental three-day vigil, even if uncertainty gnawed at his gut. 

Why had Claude done this to Sebastian? Somehow it didn’t feel like revenge for old grievances. It had been a century, after all, and Claude had seemed... confused. It could just be that he hadn’t expected Ciel to still be alive, but that didn’t feel right either. Ciel lathered some lemon sage shampoo between his hands and scrubbed his hair with grit teeth. Regardless of motive, Sebastian had ended up on the to-die list. If they didn’t get this sorted out--and soon--the reapers in charge might cut it all short. 

And that would be unacceptable. Completely unacceptable. 

He was drying off when he heard the front door open, someone enter, and Grell loudly announce her return.

“Where’d he go?!” she shouted when she couldn’t immediately find him, followed by the roar of her scythe and something shattering. Footsteps ran one way, then another way, and then stopped in front of the bathroom door. “Oh,” she said, probably seeing the light and the shadows of his feet. “There he is.” 

Ciel rolled his eyes. If she stayed much longer, he wasn’t sure how much of their apartment they’d have left, but he wasn’t in any position to refuse her help. Especially not if Sebastian kept pushing him away. 

His lip curled in disgust. That idiot. How dare he? 

The sound of plastic bags being unpacked told him that Grell seemed to have brought some of the supplies they would need for Sebastian’s recovery. So she was good for something, at least. He squeezed the last of the water from his hair and hung the towel up to dry, leaning over the sink to check himself in the mirror. Perhaps one day, once Sebastian was back to normal, he’d figure out how to change his appearance like other demons probably could do. Even just pushing his height up an inch or so would be enough of a victory for him. 

He’d picked out his favorite set of pajamas to wear, a loungewear set with a button-up shirt, with light blue stripes and a silky-soft texture. Who knew when he’d be able to leave the apartment again? Might as well be comfortable while on house arrest. Ciel buttoned his shirt and tried to focus on feeling clean and normal. 

Back out in the hallway he spared a wary glance at the bedroom door. It was quiet. He must be asleep, and Grell must respect that enough to have shut herself up. The urge to barge back in there and demand some sort of leadership over the situation was strong, but the potential that the “order” was still in effect made him want to wretch. Or worse, that he’d just be ordered away again. 

He went to the toy room instead. Damn Sebastian, for his incorrect stuffed animal opinions and for making him worry. Damn Grell too, for daring to be more competent and assertive than him. 

Ciel slumped on the bed. The idle desire to behead another popple crossed his mind, but he grabbed a puzzle cube instead to keep his hands busy and carnage-free. This would at least be productive, he told himself, as he scrambled the rows of colored squares. He could practice until he beat his record, and then try to beat it again with only one hand. 

He’d done several practice rounds with only TV noise coming from the other room, but they were talking now. Ciel’s hearing wasn’t astute enough to catch every word, but it was good enough that he might as well have been right outside their door. It’d started quietly, but now Grell’s voice was rapidly climbing in both pitch and volume, and Ciel paused his puzzling to listen. He couldn’t make anything out clearly, until a sudden pause, and then--

“Do demons not know how to jack off?” 

Ciel froze and flinched, dropping the cube. Heat rose to his face and he tried to stomp down his mind’s helpful attempt at visualizing what kind of conversation was taking place in the other room. He felt light-headed and sick, even though that made no sense, stumbling off the bed so he could prop himself against the wall. 

He knew Sebastian had more experience than he did, beyond what he’d let on in the lessons, but that had never been any of his business. Partly, he scoffed, because it hadn’t been made his business. And that was fine! He was always just a servant. It didn’t matter. It never felt like this.

But how was he supposed to ignore--

Sebastian cried Grell’s name. Ciel exhaled, sinking to the floor to hug his knees. The way Sebastian’s voice sounded dispelled any lingering doubt Ciel had about the situation. All that was left was to resign himself to it, stuck in the spare room desperately trying to pretend they weren’t being as loud as they were. He was wishing he had ventured out to the streets, where even if he got lost he wouldn’t be here while this was happening. 

Ciel had gotten overtures of this kind of attention in the bars and clubs they delivered to. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the opportunity. He just hadn’t pursued it yet. Now that no human could pose a threat to him, intimacy had been something that he’d slowly realized he could reclaim. He’d been busy trying to find out what he’d even want. He’d sometimes spend his nights out surveying the population, trying to figure out what he would even hypothetically find attractive.

It wasn’t his fault that every time he tried his stupid butler stared at him the whole while. It wasn’t his fault if that skewed the results. 

He could definitely find someone attractive enough, Ciel thought, if he went out to one of those bars now. It didn’t matter what time it was. There’d be someone out there who could introduce him to the concept, who wouldn’t mind if he was nervous. The more he listened to Sebastian, the more certain he was, the more spiteful he became. He could go all the way. Make it rough. He could make sure his stupid butler really had something to stare at. 

Yes. He could leave right now!  

Ciel didn’t move. 

He could tell when it was over, but continued to sit on the floor until the apartment had been silent for long enough that he grew cold there. He laid down, pressing his burning cheeks against the hardwood until they were a little less radiant. Then he stood, walked out into the hallway, and burst into his bedroom, fixing a glare at where Grell slept. He pulled back the blanket and used some of his enhanced strength to lift her by the back of her shirt like a cat until she was dangling above the bed, leaning in to whisper in her ear. 

“Get. Out.”

In the meantime, Grell Sutcliff was in the middle of a lovely Central Park picnic with Sebastian when Will's garden shears came from the sky to pluck her away. 

No ! She wriggled in their grip. So unfair! It was her day off, she had the right to do as she pleased! 

But the more she fought the stronger it pulled, until the force had morphed into something far more sinister than just Will's scythe. It was starting to make her sick, like tendrils of its darkness were forcing their way up her throat, and Grell Sutcliff shrieked loud enough to wake herself up.

She opened her eyes to find that she was still in the air and shrieked again. Something had her by the shirt, and it was a couple seconds of batting around in the dark before she felt the clear shape of a hand gripping her. She looked around below her to see the body of Sebastian Michaelis and slowly put the pieces together. 

"What the hell, brat?" Grell hissed, twisting away to get herself upright and landing back on the bed. She shot up, hands itching for the scythe, but her eyes slid back to Sebastian, so daintily asleep. Instead, she pulled Ciel by the shirt collar into the hallway to start a quiet argument. 

"How dare you!" Grell whispered, closing the door and pointing a finger in his face. "I come all the way here out of the goodness of my heart and you thank me by tossing me out like gutter trash! I was intending to help him into the morning, you know!" 

Ciel looked at her finger like he was considering biting it off. “I don’t care. I have no intention of letting you make my apartment into your love-nest . Get out,” he hissed. 

Her eyes widened in shock and then narrowed again. “Whatever you might have heard or think about me, know that your man made the request. So-- wait.” Grell blinked in epiphany, mouth curling up just slightly at the corners.  “Are you... jealous or something? I assumed he was still nothing but a butler to you." 

The flush he'd chased away returned with a vengeance. "I don't care about that either! This isn't the manor--there aren't enough rooms for me to mind my business while you two are loudly fucking in one of them. Now get out before I call William on you.” 

A vein jumped in her forehead. " Why, you little --" 

Grell’s voice was growing louder, and she stepped away from the door to try and convince herself not to blow out Sebastian’s eardrums. “Don’t think you can bluff me, brat! You couldn’t figure out how to contact him if you tried. And by the way, vulgarity is an ugly look on you, Earl . You don't have the guts to pull it off. Perhaps that's why he's still just your butler. You really blush too easy." She raised an eyebrow. "And aren't you supposed to be pathetically posing as an eight year old or something? How unbecoming ." 

Ciel’s eyebrows scrunched together, face getting redder with every jab.

Eight? That’s going too far, I’ll show her-- 

"And yet here you are posing as a decent person!” He laughed one short, furious laugh. “Aren’t you supposed to be dancing around in my dead aunt’s clothes? Why haven’t you massacred the whole block by now, Jack? Or do you prefer Madame Ripper?" 

Grell looked like she had been freshly slapped. 

She couldn’t speak for a long moment, mouth opening and closing like a beached fish. "That…" she finally said, voice quiet and dry. "Was a long time ago." 

Then the spell was broken and she stormed back into the bedroom, gathering up all her things as quickly as she could, packing them into her bag as she went. "Fine! I know well enough when I'm not wanted!” Grell declared, marching towards the front door. “You can trust me on that! No skin off my ass if he dies!" 

She grabbed the doorknob and stopped, turning back to look at Ciel, who was waiting for her to go with his arms crossed. “Sebastian told me about you,” she said, squinting.  “About your little lapse in temporal judgement, about how you’re still using him as your errand boy. Riddle me this, then. What’s the address of the last club you went to?”

Ciel sneered. “That’s easy. It’s…” He paused. He swallowed. “S...outh.” 

Grell raised an eyebrow and took a step towards him. “It’s south . Right then, that answers that. How about this: what’s a loaf of bread go for these days? In American dollars, please.”

He said nothing, all out of steam. 

“What’s the name of the nearest hospital? You know, in case he does get sick,” she went on.

“Stop.”

“And how would you contact an ambulance to take him there? How much would the medical care cost you? Can you even name a painkiller that’s not laudanum ?”

“Stop it, Grell. You’re right.” He let out a deep breath, mouth twisted in shame. She wasn’t one of his servants, he reminded himself. He had been lucky that she appeared at all, since another minute with his eyes closed might have killed his now-human butler. And that was all Sebastian was: his butler. “I’m sorry.” 

She did finally stop, staring at him in surprise. He continued before she could say anything else. “You’re right. I don’t know enough. Sebastian’s been taking care of the details of us living here, and now I’m in over my head with... all of this, and that’s...that’s very frustrating. I know I need your help, and I was out of line. I’m sorry.” He dropped his head, not wanting to see her reaction to this grovelling. “Can you... come back? In a few days?” 

Grell didn’t answer, too stuck on the way he’d looked at her. It was like no time had passed. 

He’d looked at her the exact same way on the day they first met, as he watched his already meager family count go down by one. That look cooled her rage and righteousness into something cold and hard and incredibly heavy. 

Grell suppressed a groan. She was terrible with the youth, she really was.  But this feeling that clenched in her chest--for a demon, of all things--refused to be ignored. She could picture Ronald mocking her about it, wearing the same smirk on his face that happened when she’d accidently get protective over a new recruit. 

“Ew, mushy!” he’d say with a laugh. “For someone so bad with kids, that’s a little maternal of you, don’t you think? Maybe you should get your title changed to Matron Sutcliff. Or perhaps Granny would be more accurate?”

Mental Grell decked Mental Ron in the face, mentally. Fuck off, Mental Ron. See how he fared standing up to puppy dog eyes of this caliber. And she was no one’s grandmother , but it did occur to her that a third party could argue that she was standing in front of her nephew , which only made her feel worse. Or was it ex-nephew? Or step-nephew?

Her formerly late ex-step-nephew. 

Why did everything have to be so difficult for her, specifically? 

She groaned, out loud this time, and put a hand on his shoulder. Ciel looked startled by the gesture. “I’m...also sorry,” Grell said, which only startled Ciel more. “Had I known it was going to be this much of an issue, I would have tried harder to convince him to be...more independent or something. I also really assumed you'd just poof away somewhere. Ugh.” 

Grell pinched the bridge of her nose and opened her bag. “Listen. I can’t promise when I’ll be able to come back, but I can promise that I will be back, because I want to find out what the hell happened just as much as you do. I also can’t promise that Sebastian is going to be fine, but I’m going to anyways, because fuck it. He’ll be fine, so keep your head up, brat.” 

She got out a stack of well-loved flyers and handed them to Ciel. “Here. This is Ronald and I’s comprehensive directory of New York takeout places. I can’t attest to all of them being good, but they all should be convenient. You just call the number, ask for what you want off the menu, and they’ll come deliver it to you. It won't do for the long-term, but it’s far better for him than corner-store bagged junk, and you won't have to worry about cooking or anything like that. I expect those back, by the way! Well, unless they suck. In that case, do me a favor and throw them out. What else? Oh, for hydration, water from the tap will be fine. Just make sure he has a glass within reach." 

She paused, groaned again, grabbed her wallet, and thrust a folded bill at him. “That’s fifty. Should be plenty to hold you over.” 

Ciel pinched the money like he was unsure if it would bite or not. “This is...unnecessary. We’re not exactly hard up on funds, you know.” 

He was right. This brat had been a British noble and was now dealing drugs in New York. Why the hell was she giving him money?

Because that’s what aunties do! sang Mental Ron. Mental Grell put him in a mental chokehold. “Ugh, just take it before there’s murder or something!” She thought of one more thing to scoff at, scoffed at it, then did it anyways, scribbling something down on a scrap of paper. “And here’s my number. You can call me if you need something, I guess. God, just don’t talk about your feelings, though. I will kill you.” 

Ciel pocketed the bill and paper and shook his head, lips twitching.

"Thank you," he said. He still looked apprehensive, but felt a little relieved by Grell's offers of continued assistance. "I can call these places and make sure he eats. Let me know if you find anything. You can take our number, too." He paused. "Sebastian and I owe you. Once he's back to normal, if you need a favor...”

Once he’s back to normal? Oh no. No, no, you’re not getting away so easy.” She grinned as Ciel’s eye widened, a small revenge for earlier.  “I’ll be keeping that favor for later. I’ll go ahead and head out, but before I do, you’re going to buy me a coffee after waking me up so rudely. You can even use the money I gave you to pay for it, because that’s just how much of a giver I am.” 

Ciel wrinkled his nose, looked down at his pajamas, and then at her shorts. “Right now?”

Grell was already going back to the door. “Right now! If anyone gives you shit for what you wear, you can rest easy knowing that you’re the most exciting thing in their pitiful, mortal life. Let’s go!” 

She didn’t even give him a chance to put on anything better than slippers before she was tugging him out into the hallway and then into the elevator. Once they were outside, she took a deep breath of the pre-dawn air and set off in pursuit of the closest bodega. 

They only had to walk a block before a target was acquired, a tiny “DELI GROCERY” shop done up in yellow with red awnings and every manner of soda on display in the window. It wasn’t like Ciel hadn’t been in one of these stores before--he would often follow other clubgoers on their runs for late night snacks-- but Grell was showing it off like the concept of commerce had just been invented, touring him around the tiny aisles with glee. 

“Those are, in American speak, called chips ,” she said, pointing to a shelf filled with brightly-colored bags. Ciel’s mouth made a thin, hard line. He knew what a chip was. “And they would not be a healthful meal for Sebastian. For our breakfast, though? Still unhealthy.” She grinned at him and grabbed two bags. “But tasty! And isn’t that what breakfast is all about?” 

This was becoming much more of a production than just coffee, Ciel realized, but some of her explanations were begrudgingly helpful. She showed him where to find medicine, told him the differences between naproxen sodium and ibuprofen, taught him how to read the dosage instructions on the back. As soon as she even glanced at the condom shelf, however, Ciel was shuffling off in a rage, hiding near the beer cooler and staring at his feet on the tile. 

Grell came to get him after picking up a pack of cigarettes and pouring two coffees out of a dinged-up carafe. She elbowed him up to the counter and watched him pay, gathering up their bounty and flouncing outside to find a building’s concrete ledge big enough to sit on. 

She cleared the ledge of grit and plopped down criss-cross, setting up their coffees and bags of chips like it was a banquet. “You smoke, Phantomhive?” she said, pulling a lighter out of her bag. 

“I have, once or twice. Doesn’t do much for me.” 

“Want to?” She held a cigarette out to him. “Helps calm us Reapers down. Tastes even better when it can’t kill you!” 

He shrugged and let Grell light one, getting a lungful and watching the smoke disappear as he exhaled. It was just hot air, but breathing in and out, though no longer necessary for life, was helping him feel calmer. 

Grell crunched a jalapeno chip and got her composition notebook back out. “Alright. I still need your side of the story before I go. Sebastian gave me the background, but he didn’t remember anything once you two entered the club. So what were you up to?”

Ciel’s stomach clenched with guilt at the reminder that he’d left him alone. “I was...once we’d arrived I was flagged down by someone who claimed to be affiliated with the club. They said they had some new product to try. I went with them, not because of the product, but…” He was struggling to get the words out. “Because I was...excited...to be....invited someplace. Ugh. They also said Sebastian couldn’t come,” he said, gritting his teeth. “Which I’m only just now realizing had to have been part of their setup. It was a setup, wasn’t it?”

“Sounds like a setup to me,” Grell said, taking a long drag.

His voice lowered in anger. “They set me up so that their “product” could knock me on my ass and they could get Sebastian. I wouldn’t have done it if I had known it would be able to affect me. Normally human drugs can’t, but it was so, so powerful, Grell. I’ve been drugged before, but never like this. It was like...my body was being unravelled, and so was the world and everything else in it.”

“A drug powerful enough to effect a demon,” Grell repeated in wonder. “Now that is spicy stuff! I need to know everything you can remember.” 

Ciel described the taste and color and hookah-like pipe to the best of his abilities, watching her try to sketch the device in the margins. “Once I was high, I didn’t realize anything else had gone wrong until he called me. He called my name and I heard it in my mind. I was being summoned, I suppose, since I'm the demon now." 

Grell grinned, in spicy spirits. "What a fascinating reversal of fortune! Say, aren't the two of you still in a contract, technically? Wonder if that works backwards too. You should do an experiment!” 

Ciel was suddenly very interested in a passing pigeon. “What a preposterous thing to say,” he spat. “Do you ever think before you speak?” 

Grell raised an eyebrow. He cleared his throat and brushed as much hair over his burning ears as he could. “Sorry. The idea...is embarrassing. I’ll watch my temper. A-anyways, I followed his voice out of the club and into...some other building. It’s hazy. I was still very much so under the influence. But I followed and found him and ran right into the blood-covered bastard that did it when I was trying to get us out of there.”

“Oh right, the other demon! Bastard indeed. He had a second location and everything. You know what that means? Organization. Intent, is what it means. This was well-planned. You said you met before, right? Is there a reason that he’d start targeting you again now?”

“Considering that A: he’s supposed to be dead, and B: he didn’t seem to be able to remember who we were, I can’t say. Wait...weren’t you there ? Didn’t you meet him? Did you forget everything that happened?”

She held up a finger. “I am a very busy woman, Cole.” 

“Ciel!”

“I know, you’re just hilarious while irritated. I’ll see if I can get someone in London to mail me a copy of that file.” 

She jotted down notes in her journal while Ciel took a drink of coffee, muddled in thought, grimacing at the sidewalk. “What happens when demons die, Grell?” he asked. “Why did he come back?”

“Oof.” Grell exhaled and shook her head. “That’s beyond my pay grade, honey. Definitely more of a Sebastian question. Sorry.” She closed the book and put it away. “Unless there’s anything else, I think I have all the information I need that’s relevant to me. I’m not really keen on scoping out this club with no backup, so I’m going to do some research first, see if I can figure out where this missing scythe is. But while we finish up, let’s talk about something fun! Sebastian implied that you’ve become quite the little party monster. Tell me all about it.”

Ciel turned red again. “After everything that’s happened, you two still found time to gossip? Unbelievable.” He paused, thinking about what to tell her. He’d never put it into words before, but found himself talking anyway.

“The last few years of my mortal life I had the expectation that I would soon become a demon’s dinner. Villainy and hatred and lust for revenge were the only things keeping me interesting enough to be spared. Everyone we met had no more substance than a chesspiece. They had to be worth nothing to me, or else I'd get stabbed in the back by them, one way or another. But now that’s over. No one can hurt me, and I have all the time in the world. So is it so wrong to try to enjoy myself, Grell?” He looked at her, seeking. “To take...time for myself?”

“Oh---no! Not wrong at all! I’d say that it’s common for new immortals to want to play with humanity now that they can do so on their own terms. But you’re not doing it to eat people, are you? I feel like we would have met much sooner if you were.”

“No. No, I’m not.”

Grell raised an eyebrow but did not pry. “Yes, I’d say it’s normal. Most of the new recruits in this city love going dancing and barhopping and all other sorts of youthful activities. Which, considering the rate of junior disappearances, may not be the best pastime for them, I’m realizing. Don’t get me wrong, I also love the nightlife, but I know how to defend myself much better than your average freshmeat. Maturity and all. Though I must say, I was a little bit of a wild thing during my first century.” Do you prefer Madame Ripper? “But, er, it’s not about me, it’s about you! Tell me how you’ve been enjoying yourself.”

“Well.” It struck him how odd it was that he was telling Grell these things. It also struck him that Grell was one of the only people he’d ever known that he’d want to even share these things with, and somehow, that wasn’t odd at all. “You know I took this name. I wasn’t born with it, and I took it when I did for protection. I kept it because...well, it’s mine. But I don’t need its protection in the same way. I can go to these places and tell them who I am, that I deserve the respect of a young man, and they’ll believe me. And even if they didn’t…” He smiled, soft but wicked. “What are they going to do about it? I don’t have a noble’s reputation to uphold. Would they tsk at me? Attack me? I’m not all that powerful, but still. I’d love to see them try . So that’s good. It’s...very good. I enjoy it.” 

“Ah, I understand completely. It’s better here than it was. Not perfect by a long shot, of course, but these things do tend to improve over time. At least now people like us can exist in a way they couldn’t before.” She thought it over and winced. “We Reapers don’t remember much of anything about our past lives, but sometimes we can get abstract flashes, impressions. When I get those and then wonder about what it must have been like for whoever the hell I was, if they were anything like the present me...well.” She shrugged, looking sorry for someone she’d never met. “Well, I can guess why that life might have ended. Anyways, do you have something, er, more lighthearted to share?”

“Er...I mean..I like to dance, it turns out.  When there’s no rules, and when I’m not about to be beheaded by my aunt or another noble or Sebastian for making a misstep.” He laughed. “He doesn’t approve. You should see his face when I do it. Like he’s eaten something bad. I don’t care, though, and I guess neither does he, really. He...I knew he used to find it fascinating when he couldn’t guess what I was thinking, when I would surpass his image of a human or something. But now he just…” Ciel sighed. “I guess becoming a demon made me too human for him, ridiculously enough.”

Grell shrugged again. “He might just be too human for himself, if you think about it. Present conundrum aside, I mean. As far as my Reaper understanding goes, demons don't keep tangible identities for longer than they have to. If he’s been your butler for this long, he probably doesn’t know what to do with himself, really. And now....this.” She gestured to the whole of New York and frowned. 

“I’d be careful, Phantomhive. While talking to him was pleasant enough, and while he did....er...enlist me...to “aid” him, per se, I really can’t imagine that a demon as old and as formerly powerful as Sebastian would be taking it this well. I mean, going from forever immortal to very, very immediately mortal? Don’t think it’s set in yet. Maybe it’s shock. Who knows? Just proceed with caution.”

“Right,” Ciel said. He wasn’t sure what else to say. “Noted. Thank you, Grell. For everything. Really.”

"You're welcome, brat." 

They sat in silence. The sun was rising over Manhattan. It was the city that never slept, of course, but soon the streets would be awakened with vibrant morning noise. Ciel had a bite of a “barbeque” flavored chip, and found it satisfactory enough to finish it and reach for another one.

“You know,” Grell said out of nowhere. “It is big.”

Ciel frowned. “What? What are you talking about?" 

"But not overly so," she continued. "Quite manageable, in my opinion. The perfect size, really." 

Ciel stared at her, the combined fury of a nuclear reactor and Khan’s Mongol Army slowly dawning on his face. 

"The mouthfeel--" 

"AHHHHHHH!" Ciel yelled at the top of his lungs, gripping the sides of his head to cover his ears. 

His cigarette tumbled to the ground, and once he could exist without screaming, he picked it up to throw it at Grell. It went sideways, missing completely, and she leapt up with her bag and laughed. 

"Revenge!" she cackled, dancing out of projectile range. She cackled as she ran the whole way down the rest of the block, only stopping at the street sign to turn and wave at him before disappearing into thin air. Ciel was left alone with the coffees and chips and a face as red as Mars. 

He huffed. He picked up the cigarette and stubbed it out before he gave a pigeon lung cancer, and he hastily gathered up their leftovers. Ciel walked as fast as he could to the apartment before the compulsion to find Grell and get her to elaborate could catch up with him.

Chapter Text

Grell had only graced them with her presence for less than 24 hours, but even that short stay made her absence tangible. Everything in the apartment looked a little duller without her, like she had sucked color from their walls to fuel her insatiable quantities of red. Without her it was quiet and lonely, and when Ciel came back he was quiet and lonely with it. He plodded into the living room, gripped with dread from the silence. 

Was Sebastian even still breathing?

He couldn’t tell, even right outside the bedroom door. His hands itched to open it, but the rest of him felt more like a ghost than a person. What would he do if he could not enter? If the order Sebastian gave still kept him away? Perhaps, he wondered, perhaps being a ghost would be the better option here. 

No. The unknown was far more agonizing. He needed to act. Ciel turned the knob, slowly, painfully, flinching every second like it was about to burn him. He had to pause when it had turned all the way, chewing at the corner of his lip.

He pushed. It opened. He waited. 

Nothing.

He took a delicate step inside. When his foot passed the threshold he almost giggled with relief. It was over! This embarrassing fluke had passed. And that would be the last disgrace like that he’d have to suffer, because there was no way something so truly absurd could happen again. Ciel smugly marched the rest of the way in. 

Reversed contract. What a joke. 

All his pride whooshed away like a deflating balloon when he finally looked at the bed and saw Sebastian. He’d built up the door-opening task to such enormous proportions in his mind that he’d forgotten about the actual hard part of this. He could see Sebastian breathing now, but how long would that last? Could he keep him alive long enough for Grell’s return? Him, a demon who couldn’t even---

Fuck it, Grell had said. He’ll be fine

“He’ll be fine,” he said out loud. 

Right. Ciel would just let him rest for now. He wanted out of these pajamas so he could feel more alert, more professional. From the dresser he pulled out a pair of jeans and a sweater-- a real, proper one, a merino wool crew neck in a handsome burgundy, not one of the ridiculous ones Sebastian had tried to mock him with-- and went to go change. 

Pulling the sweater over his head rubbed the cut on his neck. He touched it and frowned. All the other scratches and scrapes he’d gotten as a demon had healed within the hour, but this one was stubborn, the skin around it turning an angry blackberry purple. It was because it was a Death Scythe, he reminded himself, and not because of anything else Claude could have done to him. He shuddered and pulled the collar up as high as he could. 

Grabbing a puzzle cube from the other room before coming back, Ciel gingerly crawled on top of the sheets where Grell had slept, careful not to move the bed. He was going to let him sleep, but he would do it right this time. He laid down, propping up on his side, so he could fidget with the toy and have Sebastian always in his line of sight. He decided to try to make a pattern instead of solving it, trying to imagine what configurations Sebastian would find impressive. 

He was halfway satisfied with a criss-crossing floral pattern when it occurred to him how high the sun was. Afternoon--good. Ciel remembered how hungry he’d get after his two o’ clock meetings. Surely Sebastian would have an appetite by now. 

He went to get Grell’s flyers and sorted through the menus, trying to remember what he would've liked to eat when he was sick. One restaurant that served westernized Chinese food looked promising, and Ciel recognized a few of the dishes that had been popular at the street stalls in the London docks. He settled on a noodle plate that he awkwardly ordered as "low mine," sending the server on the other end into a fit of laughter so loud that he almost didn't catch them say "thirty minutes" before they hung up. Ciel could just picture Lao rolling in his grave.

He tipped well when they arrived, etiquette he'd picked up from Sebastian's taxi work, and unpacked the containers on the bedside table with as little rustling as he could manage.

He glanced at Sebastian. He looked so unnaturally vulnerable like this that Ciel still wasn't sure if he should wake him for lunch or wait. Ciel had avoided looking at him too closely all morning lest he lose his nerve, but now he leaned in to inspect, unable to help himself. 

He hadn't moved much since Grell had left, the blanket pulled down to his stomach to keep his wound open to the air. It looked much better than it had, but it was still brutal to see how large and deep the cuts had been. 

Slowly, so as not to wake him, Ciel put his palms under either side of the Y-shaped cut. The skin was warm, an obvious detail, but one that hadn't occurred to him. Sebastian looked so pale like this that he'd almost expected the chill of a corpse.

Still, it didn't feel feverish or infected--small mercies, he supposed. His chest rose and fell with even breaths, and beneath that he could feel the steady pulse of his heart. Ciel realized he was holding his own breath and let it out in time with Sebastian's exhale, hands still where he'd placed them.

--

Demons slept for recreation, and they slept easy. 

Had waking been the same humiliating struggle for them as it was for humans, it would never have been thought of as fun in the first place.  An unconscious demon could spring from asleep to awake with the decidedness of a coin flip. They could pass the time in stillness and comfort and get back to work exactly when they needed to. 

There wasn't any in between. There were never any dreams.

Yet Sebastian was now caught by human sleep, as if fallen in a patch of brambles. His eyes fluttered, but it did nothing to dispel the patches of light and dark that bloomed in his vision. It didn't feel like he could open them all the way, but he didn't feel like very much at all to begin with. Except now he could feel something moving, a pressure against him, cool and soothing. 

He knew that shape, but that was all he knew. He hummed in lack of thought.

Eyes still closed, his hand reached up to grasp what was touching him. It was cold, still, slightly colder than human skin, but had a soft give to it that made Sebastian not want to move once he'd discovered it. It felt nice, but there was something missing.

"Mast....er?" he croaked.

Ciel’s breath had caught at feeling the hum in his chest, panicked at the risk of discovery, but Sebastian had already slipped a hand over Ciel’s before he could pull away. 

His hair had gotten mussed by the pillow, his eyelids moving as if he expected to see something in the room but had forgotten to open them. Seeing him like this made a strange, violent feeling curl through Ciel, like he needed to go break furniture, but the gentle weight of his hand kept him frozen in place.

"S-Sebastian," he said, pulse hammering in his ribs. Those long fingers trapped him as effectively as a shackle.  "I didn't mean to wake you."

Sebastian’s lips formed a soft frown. Why did he sound apologetic? He hadn't woken, he'd been awake this whole time. The forest was getting dark and he just needed to make sure his master was close, that's all. They could never be sure what was out there in the night, waiting. "Stay close," he sighed.

Ciel blinked. Sebastian had never been difficult to wake up, and he only now realized it may not be as easy as he'd assumed. Stay close? His tone, though sleepy, seemed more appropriate for wandering down dark London alleyways rather than resting in Ciel's bedroom. Though it's more Sebastian's at this point.

Sebastian’s face relaxed again as the dream slipped away. He started to shift, and Ciel wiggled his fingers as he moved to try to slip away unnoticed. Suddenly, he was flipping onto his side, tugging Ciel along with him as he pulled the coolness closer to his chest with both hands, pressing it to a junction of fresher stitches like an ice pack. 

"Sebastian, what--" Ciel had to angle his arm and lean even further for it to work, perilously close to hugging his back. Without looking he could tell that damned flush was back again, painting his face in embarrassment. The knotted flesh of the scar flexed under his fingers and he bit his lip, desperately trying to work out a way to free himself before Sebastian woke up enough to realize what he was doing. 

That thought made him want to crawl under the bed.

Moving had jostled something inside Sebastian’s chest. Now it was getting hard for him to breathe, horrible, mucousy sounds reminiscent of Ciel’s asthma dragging their way out of his throat. He didn't wake despite it starting to peak, but his eyebrows furrowed as his chest shuddered with coughs. One particularly violent hack made blood bead from the wound near Ciel's fingers.

Ciel gasped in horror, finally pulling his hand free to confirm the bleeding. He cursed, grabbing one of the napkins from the bedside table to wipe it clean.

Once again he felt his perspective shift from what he had been accustomed to as a human, from that of the chronic wheezing sufferer to the role of worried caretaker. During the worst of his attacks, he had never been aware enough of his surroundings to consider how disturbing it must have seemed to an observer. Now he could only observe. It felt like he was chained to an active fire alarm that he couldn’t touch or turn off.  

Ciel leaned over the bed, holding the glass of water to Sebastian’s dry lips. "Sebastian," he said. "You need to drink this for me."

He couldn't tell if the other man could hear him, his eyes still closed even as his forehead wrinkled in pain. Then Sebastian groaned, letting Ciel move him to seated. He drank until he choked, water and spit dribbling down his chin.

"My lord," he murmured without opening his eyes. "Something's...not right."

Ciel wrapped an arm under Sebastian's shoulders to prop him up, forgetting his previous embarrassment out of necessity. He quickly exchanged the glass for more napkins and gently wiped his face.

"I know," he said, trying to keep his voice steady. Seeing Sebastian this weak still shocked him, but at least he was cooperating. "You're sick. Try not to move."

His eyes darted down to the wound where the blood bubbled, tracing a thin ruby path down Sebastian's torso. Jerking away from the sight, he took a fork with his free hand and spooled lo mein on it from the takeout box, carefully pressing on his jaw with his thumb to encourage him. Ciel felt his heart clench in his chest as Sebastian opened his mouth to allow food and grabbed his arm for support, afraid to feel relief at the progress.

Now the dream had shifted, deepened, darkened. 

He was on a boat, tilted by ruthless waves, and then he was falling into water, sinking, choking, drowning in an ocean of filth. His master was the only anchor, so Sebastian gripped him tighter as the sea pushed his jaw open to force liquid sludge inside. Wriggling, greasy creatures were flooding his mouth, their push insistent. 

He fought. His teeth locked down, but they were already at the back of his throat. He fought and fought and fought until his head finally broke the surface. Sebastian keeled forward, spraying the wormy things out of his mouth and onto the bed.

The bed?

He opened his eyes.

He was in bed after all, with Ciel hovering above him, looking worried. Some sort of noodle covered the blankets, and Sebastian's eyes narrowed, unconvinced that he was seeing things correctly. Then he looked down at his chest, at the scar.

Congratulations, it's a human.

Sebastian bolted from the bed and ran into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Ciel was too stunned by the sudden violence to stop him, and now he could hear the loud thud of knees against flooring and then the sounds of dry heaving. He heaved until it was too painful to continue, quieting down after that.

Ciel stumbled to his feet. Grell had warned him about this, about the shock wearing off, but he must have made it worse somehow. He must have made a mistake in his attempt to help, something that probably would have been obvious to Grell that he would never think of. This was just another reminder of why a backwards contract would be so embarrassing. With their positions reversed, Ciel simply couldn't measure up to the demonic protection he'd taken for granted, and Sebastian was suffering from it. One complex order would expose him as incompetent, and then what would they do? Where would they go from there?

He felt like he could've been sick, too.

The sound of glass shattering snapped him out of his self-disgust. One, two, three hits of a fist against the mirror, shards tinkling to the tile like soft music. 

Ciel ran over. "Sebastian, stop! You're just making it worse!" He banged against the door and rattled the knob. 

Sebastian was quiet, the pace of his shuddery breathing unaffected by the racket. He waited until Ciel lost steam, the knocks coming further and further apart.

"My--Ciel," he said. The faint scent of blood wafted out from under the door. "Ciel. I am...asking you to leave the room. And to not return while I am still in it." Sebastian coughed. "You are not to look at me. Do you understand?" 

Ciel felt the tug of the contract in his words-- no --but pulled against it, pressing himself against the door in frustrated rebellion. No, no, not again! The tang of copper in the air only made the defeat taste worse. His face burned so fiercely it was almost painful. 

“Oh,” he said, knowing he was about to say something he would regret and unable to keep his mouth shut. “I see. So Grell--” His voice cracked and he swallowed, pushing through. “Grell can come over to suck your dick in my bed, but I can’t even look at you?” He laughed, a sad watery sound. “What, I’m supposed to just wear a blindfold around my own apartment? Pretend I can't smell you bleeding because you can’t-- you can’t get it together?”

Sebastian sighed like no time had passed at all, like Ciel was just turning his nose up at dinner or dancing lessons. No fond admonishment followed now, however. There was no point.

"I...didn't want to do this. I know how it feels. Please remember that, my lord." His breath hitched. The sigil on his hand was flaring. "I order you to leave, Ciel. Now. You may stay close, but you cannot stay here. It is...better, this way."

Ciel felt the command like an electric shock, his spine going rigid as he tried uselessly to resist.

"Y-yes, Master," he choked, his hand jerking to his chest as his head dipped in a bow to the closed door. Fat tears rolled down his face as he marched out of the room, feeling the grip on him ease once he passed the threshold.

He could go back to the toy room and sulk in exile again--but the twisting rage and humiliation drove him out the front door, stopping only to grab his coat and shoes before slamming it behind him. He nearly ran to the elevator, unable to bear the idea of Sebastian ordering him back and seeing him like this.

--

Sebastian heard the front door shut and punched the mirror again for good measure. 

If he had to be trapped in this body, the least he could do was erase its reflection, destroy its external evidence. It was no substitute, no retribution, but there were no eyes on him now. His included.

It would have to do.

Sebastian slunk back into the bedroom. He had no plan. He had no memories, and he had willed away the only person who knew what had happened. The only clue left behind was his attacker's signature on his chest, a ransom note in blood. He bit his tongue to hold back the bile as his hands moved upwards, tracing the scar from shoulder to shoulder and then all the way down.

Every inch of it was purposeful, he could tell that much. It was healing unevenly- fresh, gaping cuts veering right into scars that looked years old, but the magical strength required to make it heal at all required significant effort. 

It was almost impressive. In another life, it would even been worthy of his respect. Someone had fought and toiled against all known rules of nature to make an abomination. He was reminded of a novel he’d made Ciel read for his literature studies: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. One man's life or death, the character Walton said, were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire.

He was merely the canvas in this. He was merely the price paid. 

Sebastian searched the bedroom until he found one of Ciel’s fountain pens. Going back to the bathroom, he bent it until it cracked, the ink cartridge draining its blue-black ink into a puddle on the tile. It was at least convenient, he decided, that he’d never be able to forget the symbol the humans had made for his current incarnation. The brand on the back of his hand would be good for something now.

He dipped one fingertip into the pool of ink and began to draw. He traced the pentagram from wall to wall, taking up as much floor space as he could, arcing the outer circle around the edges until the symbol filled the room. When it was as finished as it was going to get, he tiptoed over the lines of ink so not to smudge them, and stood in the middle of his Faustian binding.

He waited. And he waited. He waited until the ink was almost dry.

He felt no different. 

Sebastian almost wanted to laugh at his foolishness. Of course it would not be so simple. Even in his greedier days, he would never have stooped as low as this, to allow himself to be called by a lonely half-naked man who had only a blemished bathroom floor to offer him. He’d need something to whet his palette, something that promised a feast worth his time. A sacrifice

A sacrifice in blood was always an option.

Sebastian went into the kitchen. They’d inherited their knife set from the apartment’s previous residents, but there had never been any occasion to use it. He still recognized the different types from his time cooking: the serrated bread knife, the tiny paring knives, the square blade of the cleaver. He chose the fillet knife, used for cutting meat into thin, delicate slices, and went back to stand in the circle. 

Sebastian slid the blade into one of the still-open sections on his stomach, just holding it there. The feeling made all the air rush out of him, but he was not this weakness. It could be overcome. All he had to do was break the scarring: even if the offer of blood did nothing, he could try to rearrange himself manually, operate himself back to how things were supposed to be. It was crude, but so was this, so was he. 

Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, said Dr. Frankenstein, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave?

He thrust upward until the blade was buried in scar tissue. He intended to follow the Y-path to completion but already had to stop, too overwhelmed by sensation. 

It took him a second to even realize what this feeling was. He had been tortured by every manner of being, speared and shot and stabbed more times then he could remember, fought reapers with their scythes and survived. Yet there was no equal, there was nothing he could remember that came anywhere close to this pain.

Sebastian couldn't stay standing and fell to his knees, pathetically clutching at the knife handle. Was this death ? Was this what all humans felt when he dealt them their end? He pulled the knife out, gasping, hands wet with blood and face wet with tears. The limits of this body had debased him to no better than an infant, it seemed. Sebastian Michaelis fell forward to cry for the first time in his life. 

His face and hands were dry by the time he moved again. He didn't know how much time had passed, but his continued existence was still a problem. As excruciating as it had been, he realized, the pain had allowed him to detach from this punishment somewhat. He could not think of the shackles while indisposed, even if it did not free him. 

He would try again, if only to forget. He picked up the knife, cleaned it, and pressed the tip just under his collarbone. 

Into every patch of clear skin left on his torso, Sebastian carved all the profane symbols and impious prayers he could think of. He pulled from the Keys of Solomon, the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum and the Livre de Esperitz, wrote warnings from the Talmud and Book of Wonders and demands in Akkadian, remembered conjurations from places that had died even in history. Every icon that humanity had ever affixed to Hell, Sebastian used as etchings on his chest. 

When he was done, he looked like an old sailor or soldier, well decorated with tattoos. It had not rescued him in the end, he knew. No darkness had returned, and only the pain and blood were plentiful. But the agony of it had given him a perverse satisfaction, a sick euphoria that glowed from the cuts even as they throbbed in pain. The adrenaline was like he’d taken flight again, like he was watching the city rush away beneath him from a dizzying distance. 

Sebastian considered humanity's lengthy list of vices. Indulgence in pain, vanity, lust, gambling, senseless murder, alcoholism--he had once thought them all just products of inferior minds, but he could understand their purposes now. They allowed the sinner to forget the misery of human existence, to bring pleasure in the face of immeasurable suffering. Sex--Grell’s mouth-- had given him this effect, reduced him to a creature that could think of nothing but to beg for more. But Grell was gone, and that sort of contact was absolutely out of the question regardless. He could muster up no vanity in this form either, and had no desirable outlet for gambling or murder. Pain, too, would need to be abandoned for now, lest he accidentally hasten ending up on the death list.

He thought about this. He remembered the bottle of mezcal Moody had given them after a difficult job. She’d boasted about it being authentic quality, down to the fat little grub sitting at bottom. Like the knife set, it had just been used as kitchen decor, the floating worm a macabre testament to humans and their strange interests. “It’s 92 proof,” Moody had said. “Sip slowly, or else it’ll take you for a ride you can’t get off.” 

That idea had never been appealing until now. 

Yes, he thought. He would get himself a drink.

Chapter Text

Ciel wasn’t sure where he was going other than not here

When he first reached the street, he picked a direction and walked without thinking, the brisk air against his face cooling his temper by a few degrees. The streets were busier than they’d been this morning, and he watched as droves of people in suits switched from their workplace to lunch to their workplace again while looking hurried and bothered by it all. 

He knew better than to make eye contact with passersby, but everyone seemed to be absorbed in their own business anyway and his nerves started to adjust to the exhilaration of being out on his own. He was feeling put together enough to look at something other than the sidewalk when he recognized the bright yellow of the bodega Grell had taken him to. 

So this is where he’d ended up. The foul-looking pop drinks still sat in the window. Ciel squinted at a bright green bottle wondering what “mountain” flavor was supposed to mean and what he could do here that was worthwhile. Or better than loitering by the door like a stray, at least. Around the back, the shopkeeper was exiting a side door to throw out a bag of trash. The bins sat next to a blue box housing a device that caught Ciel’s eye. 

A pay telephone. One company operated most of the ones around the city, and owning the public’s access to technology meant that you practically owned the public market. It was quite the insidious business model, one that Ciel, as a formerly ruthless entrepreneur, had no choice but to admire. 

Ciel came closer so he could read the instructions. He methodically counted out the coins in his palm and put them one by one into the slot before calling the number on the note in his pocket.

The line connected. “Hello?

“Grell? It’s Ci--”

“Oh, right!” she said, nearly shouting. “The, er, paper clip delivery, of course! Let me just...get the receipt!”

Ciel could hear the clattering of heels down a hallway and a door slam as Grell shut herself in a supply closet. “What the hell? It hasn’t even been a day! I’m in a meeting!”

He tugged on the phone cord. “I know, but--but it’s Sebastian. He’s--”

“Dead?! Is he dead?!”

“No, no, he just--” He swallowed, cheeks growing hot. “He...doesn’t want me to help him. At all. He won’t even let me be in the same room.” 

“And what am I supposed to do about that, exactly? I strictly said no feelings! Did I stutter or something?”

He ground his teeth. “Right. No, I heard you. It was just a bit overwhelming, I guess.” Ciel sighed, making sure to put as much misery as he could into it. “I won’t waste any more of your time. Goodbye, Grell.”

“Wait! Argh, you can’t just do that to me, you manipulative little hellion,” she hissed. “I don’t know why I’m suddenly your resident relationship counselor when you know my track record first-hand! But…I guess he probably needs space. Give him time, I don’t know. What do you even want me to say?”

In retrospect, Ciel wasn’t really sure why he called, but hearing anything was better than being alone. “That helps,” he said, and it was only mildly a lie. “Thanks.”

“Just don’t let anyone die until I’m ready to kill you, alright? Billions of mortals are going to make it through this week alive, and if they can manage that, you’d better be able to manage too.” There was some rustling in the background, and then a muffled voice was calling Grell’s name. “Shit. Gotta go! Thanks for the paper clips! Bye!”

She hung up with a click and took his last idea for a semi-productive distraction with her. Ciel put the phone down and went into the store to buy a lighter, a pack of cigarettes, and some barbeque-flavored chips. 

From there he walked. He followed the grid of streets in geometric patterns, imagining his path from above, pretending he was solving a pen-and-paper maze to keep his mind busy. He smoked one cigarette after another, letting each dwindle down to the butt, uncaring where the ashes landed. He smoked and thought of the city, of all the new things that were interesting to him, of the places he was beginning to hold in some esteem.

The prospect of losing Sebastian made him want to burn it all down. 

He didn’t let himself think about it. He smoked and walked until his pack was empty. The sun hadn’t set yet but it was headed there, shadows growing long between buildings and the cars passing him. The people in suits would be heading home to their apartments, to the families they could have waiting for them. They’d go and hug their children and watch their soap operas or do whatever it was that functioning corporate humans did. Most of the people he’d met at the clubs and liked, however, would just be waking up.

He grimly supposed that he should go back, to try to get Sebastian to at least eat dinner, but drawing the maze in his mind was different than actually following it back to start. He could flag down another taxi--he had some of his money with him--but the idea of being alone in a car with a stranger was too much to face right now.

On the other side of the street, an entrance to the subways was coming into view. Ciel had done enough reading to get a rough idea of how they worked and of their fares, more economical than the steam trains of his day. He stuck his hand in his pocket to feel the folded bills. Three hundred would be more than enough, he imagined. He hoped. Ciel looked at the map of squiggly, colored lines, found the vague area of his apartment, and decided to chance it. 

In the dim and flickering light of the graffiti-riddled car, Ciel slipped into his seat with his heart pounding. Getting tokens to ride had been easy, but he’d grown steadily more apprehensive the further he’d ventured into the station. It smelled horrible, the dark tunnels were cramped, and he’d seen at least three rats! Still, the London underworld had been full of equally foul places, even if some of it was unfamiliar to him. A Phantomhive couldn’t just back down on his goals because they were less than glamorous, he told himself, and he would never get a true handle on this place if he stayed in his apartment while Sebastian got busy--

He slapped a hand to his forehead with a groan. They were both adult men with a... business relationship, he really couldn’t let himself be so shaken by Sebastian getting a sex life for the first time in a century. Still, he couldn’t help but feel that Sebastian’s repulsion at even being seen by him was excessive. What was he supposed to do about that?

He would have to call Grell again later.

The car wasn’t crowded to begin with, but as the subway slowed to a stop and several passengers shuffled out he became aware that the remaining group was whispering to each other. They were three men--thirties, if he had to guess--in plain clothing grimy with sweat, and they all got up at once.

“Listen kid, we don’t want to hurt you,” one of them said, sounding tired. “Give us what you’ve got and you can walk away from this.”

Ciel’s stomach dropped and his eyes darted to the car door, but when he tried to jump to his feet the man closest to him grabbed him by the shoulders of his coat and shoved him against the wall. Ciel tried to struggle free, panic climbing up his throat, and the man shook him. His head hit the wall, teeth finding his lip to bust it open. 

“Don’t move,” the man holding him said, and then there was a knife at his throat again. It was just this morning that he'd gloated to Grell about how ready for this he was, about how he could take it and fight back, but when the man said to stop he stopped. 

All he could think about was the blade, remembering how quickly Claude had appeared that night. How easily he could have pushed the knife deeper. His mouth, greedy and seeking against his neck, fangs hidden away and waiting for their chance to tear him apart--

The other men were stripping his coat and sweater from his shoulders, shoving their hands in his pants pockets. They found the cash in his coat and one let out a low whistle, but the third still reached down to cut the laces on his shoes. That seemed to be enough for them, and he trembled against the wall until he was dropped suddenly at the stop, all three men escaping onto the station as he hit the floor with a gasp.

Shit, hell, damn it all. 

--

Night had come to New York. Suits across the city would’ve been discarded to the wash, the people once inside them now all inside their beds. Or perhaps they were still up and doing cocaine instead. That was always a possibility. 

Of those in suits, he had noticed, it tended to be yuppies with more expensive brands that partook in that particular supply. A man in Armani had once bought an entire kilo from them and later gave his thanks for many, many good nights.

Ciel wondered how his night was turning out now. It sure as hell had to be better than his.

It had been several hours of walking until he was able to make it back. His socks had been worn to threads, and they collected fallen splinters from their broken front door as Ciel walked inside. The night hadn't felt cold until his jacket and sweater were stolen, and he shivered in his tank top as the apartment warmed his chilled skin.

A fork whizzed past him and landed lamely on the ground. 

“Oh dear,” a voice said. 

Sebastian stumbled into the living room, propping himself up against the doorframe to stay upright. He was wearing his old butler jacket over the "DUCK, MOTHERFUCKER" t-shirt and a pair of Ciel's pajama pants. Both hands were gloved but only halfway, the tips of the fingers empty and flopping in the air as he moved. He was gripping a bundle of knives and spoons that he blithely threw over his shoulder, metal clattering to the floor. 

“My fervent apologies, young lord. I had mistaken you for an intruder. An amateur move. I shall prostate myself before you most thoroughly later. Welcome back to your humblest of abodes, Master Phantomhive.” He bowed but forgot to get back up. 

Ciel stared at Sebastian, too tired to know where to begin. The fact that he could stare in the first place meant Sebastian was obviously allowing an exception to the earlier order, but now that they could be in the same room, Ciel found that he would have preferred to be kept out. He desperately wanted to walk around him, to any other room at all, so he could shut the door and panic quietly enough that he wouldn’t be heard. Instead he shuffled in place on the carpet. 

“You’ll...prostate yourself,” Ciel repeated. 

“Indeed,” he slurred to the ground. "Today, your schedule has been booked solidly by an important butler business meeting. With your butler. Which I am." He pointed at himself in case Ciel needed the reminder. "It is I.” 

"And what do you want?" Ciel mumbled. 

His lip had already healed, along with several other injuries he'd gotten on his feet on the way back, but he still felt filthy with dried blood and the touch of grubby human hands. He wanted to go to the bathroom and try to figure out how to magic it away, or at least get a washcloth. If only the damn oaf would move. 

At that, Sebastian remembered to stand up straight and immediately squinted at the pathetic sight in front of him. 

"Pardon me, my little Ciel, but you look rather hygienically challenged this evening. Perhaps...you should bathe...during your lifetime." He nodded, content with this sage advice. "Were you outside with no shoes? Did you not consider taking a butler with you? Pneumonia, my lord.” He put a hand to his chest, highly scandalized. “I could've...carried you. I could've worn the shoes."

"What's... wrong with you?” asked Ciel. “What did you do?"

“And your attire, my lord! An undershirt alone? Were you walking down the street with your shoulders all... wantonly out and about? You must think of the women, my lord. The women.” 

Ciel nodded slowly as if any of what he was saying made sense. This was all wrong. He was supposed to stick to the order. Ciel could have just snuck into the apartment alone and stayed angry with him. 

Sebastian bumbled back to the bedroom, busying himself, looking for something. “I will remedy this,” he said to no one. 

Ciel let himself follow, let himself get a little closer, trying to figure out the source of this complete shift in attitude. Something in the air was off, the bedroom heavy with the scent of blood and something smoky and sharp. The smell grew stronger near Sebastian. He leaned in to sniff, trying to puzzle out what it was. 

He... smelled like...

“Ah ha!” Sebastian said. He grabbed a blanket from off the bed and threw it over Ciel’s head. “Much better.” 

Ciel stood there looking like a low budget trick-or-treater, the ghost transformation complete. "You're drunk," he said from beneath the blanket, feeling cracks begin to form in his composure. 

Sebastian held one finger to his lips and winked. Ciel didn’t need to see him do it, could hear it in his voice. “My, what an accusation. A cruel master have I indeed.” 

Ciel threw the blanket off his head. “Where’s the bottle?” He stomped over to where it lay and picked it up. A bit of mezcal still sloshed at the bottom of it, but a crucial piece was missing. “Where’s the worm ?”

Sebastian put his hand over his heart. “The worm has inherited the wonders of the eye and the brain,” he said mournfully. “Just as this fine form has become degraded and wasted. But mostly...wasted.” 

“Is that from Frankenstein? And you...you ate it, didn’t you? Are you trying to tell me you ate it? With Frankenstein?” 

Sebastian shrugged and winked again. Ciel didn’t know whether to laugh or scream, and bit his lip before he did both at once. He waited until it could come out as a heavy breath instead. "I'm going to...bed." 

He went as if to move past Sebastian, but the brute took up most of the exit, and if the order still worked in regards to barring him from touch Ciel would really, actually scream. He exhaled hard and turned away, pressing his hands over his face to hide it, but couldn't keep his shoulders from shaking.

"To bed, my lord and master?” Sebastian said, oblivious. “Well, yes, right away." He bowed most terribly again and tried to scoop Ciel up in his arms. This did not work-- he had barely touched him before losing his balance and slumping over on the ground with a thud. Ciel pulled his hands away in shock.

"Oh," Sebastian groaned from the floor like the impact had knocked a memory loose. "Butlering. I'm out of practice. Haven't been your butler in a long time, haven't I?" He coughed. "Did you know I miss that? Having a place. Knowing my place. In the greater sense. And with you as my lord. An existence that...made any sense at all." 

Sebastian shut his eyes and rolled over on his back. One hand snaked under his shirt to feel where some of the cuts had reopened from the fall. "Ah. Right. To business. Our business meeting. Your previous butler...would like to know who's responsible. For this. For me."

Ciel sighed and wiped his face. He should have known this was coming. "They--we were set up," he said. "Getting me away from you with those drugs... I still don't know how they worked on me--"

The smell of blood finally registered and he froze, pupils dilating as his nose flared.

"Sebastian. You're still hurt." He dropped down next to him, unable to see the source of the smell and clenching his fists in frustration that he couldn't risk getting closer to look. "Do you need to call Grell?"

Sebastian chuckled, holding his head as he forced himself up to sit on his knees. "No, no one else. No one else can see this. Especially not you. I never liked you seeing me weak." He looked back up to Ciel, one finger reaching to trace a line of dried blood in curiosity. "Are you hurt, master? Under my watch?" His voice was quiet, like his whole being was offended by the idea. 

Sebastian’s eyes flicked down to Ciel’s neck and darkened at the sight of the wound there. It looked like the leavings of a violent kiss, a row of cruel love bites, a mark like the ones Ciel had been covered in when they’d first met. He reached out to touch it, hands shaking, like he was desperately trying to change forms but had nowhere else to go. It came out as a hiss instead. "Did they hurt you?"

Ciel's eyes widened until he remembered how livid the cut still looked. "Not--not like you're thinking," he said, pressing his lips together to keep them from shaking. "Not like that. I just went somewhere I shouldn't have and got robbed. They said...’stay still, and we won’t hurt you’. I didn't listen. Th-that's all."

That was not all, not in the slightest, but how could he drop the news of Claude’s return on him in this state? Instead he swallowed, Sebastian's fingers warm on his skin. He wanted to take his hand, to reassure him, but just being touched didn't nullify the order, didn’t give him permission.

Sebastian's expression was unreadable, thumb making sluggish passes over the cut. "No. You never do listen, do you?"

Ciel just watched his hands, watched his fingers twist in the fabric of his pants. “They were just humans,” he said. “Just humans, but I couldn’t make myself fight back. I’ve done much worse than just fighting before this, but…”

He trailed off, and then he was looking back up, eyes blazing with Phantomhive confidence. 

“Listen to me, Sebastian,” he said, sounding executive, sounding like CEO material. “Here’s how this is going to work. If we’re going to make it through this, then we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and help each other.”

He stood up to pace. “You need to stop being stubborn and let me figure out how to take care of you, and I need to stop being a coward and learn how to defend myself like a demon would. I need to...become a proper demon. A real demon, and you’re going to teach me how. Actually teach me this time, and not give me one-sentence explanations like they’re supposed to be enough.” 

Ciel turned to stare at Sebastian intently, offering a hand to pull him up. “I won’t accept failure. I won’t accept us being beaten. We need to work together. Do you understand?”

Sebastian hummed. He took the hand and let Ciel help him to his feet, a stumbling and messy affair. He hummed again. “Help. Yes, I can be of use to you, my lord, once I am not so indisposed. More complicated matters will have to wait, but for the moment…” He put a hand on Ciel’s shoulder. “Helping humans. I’ve been doing research.” 

He moved his arms around Ciel’s torso to pull him into an embrace. Ciel coughed in surprise.

“Humans seem to benefit from this kind of contact,” Sebastian explained. “They seem to find it pleasant.” He didn’t seem to remember where he’d gotten this information from, that it was he who’d found it pleasant. “Is this helpful, my lord?” 

Ciel couldn’t speak for a moment. When had he last been hugged like this? Was it Lizzie? “That...that does help,” he said when he could, and it wasn’t a lie at all this time. 

Sebastian made a satisfied sound. “Good. I’m happy to help. To be useful.”

His body warmth was making the last of the night’s grip on him fade away. Ciel found his head dropping slightly against Sebastian’s neck, though his arms still hovered in the air, unsure where to go. “Er. Should I… be touching you? For it to h-help?” he asked. “Touching you back, I mean.” 

“Whatever you feel is right, my lord,” said Sebastian. “I am yours to do with as you please.”

Don’t,” Ciel said, nearly choking. It felt like there was something in his throat, he swallowed and swallowed but it would not go away. He wrapped his arms around Sebastian’s back if only to steady himself. “Don’t say things like that.”

“Why not? Was that not our agreement?”

“Just shut up.” He pressed his face against Sebastian’s shirt to hide. “You’re drunk.” 

“Fair enough.” 

They stood there in each other's arms in silence. Ciel squeezed him tight, restless with thoughts, mumbling half-said words into his coat. You cannot die. I will not let you die. You’re going to be just fine, because I won’t allow anything else. 

It was Sebastian that pulled away, face getting warm and head clearing. He went into the bathroom to sloppily wet a washcloth and began to wipe the dried blood from Ciel’s face. 

"Earl Phantomhive,” he said once he was clean. “I regretfully request your assistance in putting you to bed, for I believe I've taken ill." Sebastian put his arms around him loosely as he steered towards the bed so he could pretend he was doing something. He took a deep breath once they were close enough and proceeded to crawl under the covers. 

"It would be unfit for the lord to get nightmares alone,” he explained again. “However, I cannot seem to stand for very long, so this will have to do, if you will permit... whatever this is." He pulled back the blankets next him with as much flourish as he could muster. "For you."

Ciel didn't say a word. He could almost pretend things were normal again, with Sebastian trying so hard to keep up his butler aesthetic even while completely trashed. It almost made him smile.

He sat on the offered side of the bed and slipped out of his street clothes, grabbing pajamas from a folded pile on the end table that hadn't been there earlier. He felt much better, swaddled in flannel, and tucked himself under the blanket on his side facing Sebastian.

Then Ciel gasped again as Sebastian sought him out like a magnet, tucking his head into his shoulder and wrapping an arm around his chest. 

It took a moment of stupor for Ciel to realize that this is how he’d seen Grell holding him, something that he must have found comforting. He bit his lip as Sebastian wiggled closer, genuinely concerned that the room would burst into shadow or flame or just regular old shrapnel. 

"Thank you," he said quietly. He did not move away. "Goodnight."

He closed his eyes, waiting a few minutes to feel Sebastian breathe against him before he let himself flip the switch into rest.

Chapter Text

What had he thought, yesterday, about the nature of pain? 

Whatever it was, he couldn't remember and it didn't matter, because this was surely now the worst pain Sebastian had ever experienced. 

It felt like he had been buried to the forehead in lye and formaldehyde, and his temples pounded in protest whenever he even thought about moving. Sebastian pulled back the blankets around him with much effort. In bed again with no memory of it-- how atrociously novel. And with his Master asleep beside him, no less. Sebastian considered himself lucky he didn’t have the energy to think that one over too hard. 

He sat up, which turned out to be a dangerous move, because his brain was intent on liquefying and escaping out his throat. He wrapped his arms around his torso to try to stop the bed from shaking as he dry-retched, trying to keep the contents of his stomach where they presently were, trying not to wake his ill-suited bedmate. 

This must be what humans drunkards called a “hang over”. He would just have to overcome, he thought, wiping drool away from his chin. Because now he knew what he had to do.

Sebastian dragged himself out of bed. Turning the bedside light on immediately rewrote his now extensive pain list, but he kept going until he reached the bathroom. The symbol’s ink, smudged by his footsteps until it was unrecognizable, had fully dried on the tile. Glass pieces were still scattered everywhere, some now dyed blue and stuck to the floor. 

He sighed and went to go get a towel and soap. This body was going to make the task monstrous, he thought, and he was right. Cleaning felt like it took hours, eyes no longer able to spot each individual grain of glass, hands no longer as adept at scrubbing as they used to be. He stopped when the towel had turned from white to black. The job was mediocre at best. 

Alas, Ciel would just have to deal.

Back in the bedroom, Sebastian disposed of the lo mein and mezcal and straightened the bedcovers on his side as quietly as he could. What next? He knew that his plan didn't require a clean body, and he knew that he certainly wouldn't have cared had the positions been reversed.  Whatever ritual had been done to him had kept him fairly fresh over the past few days, but it still felt so improper to present himself as tarnished, even if only a little. 

So Sebastian ran a shower.  He’d never needed to do this to himself before, but he had bathed Ciel enough times that it was muscle memory at this point. He cleared his body of all dried blood and washed his hair with the shampoo he knew Ciel favored. Lemon and sage-- like a roast turkey. Sebastian chuckled to himself. 

It did feel quite nice, actually, and when he was done and dry and dressed in his century-old butler finery, he might have gone as far to say he felt alright, if that was possible. He didn't look alright, his neck and face an unfortunate shade of green above the collar, but he would manage. They would both manage.

He went into the living room to finish tidying up. Their front door was a lost cause, but he swept away some of the wood chips to at least clear the walkway. The rest of the room looked decent enough. He then called Moody and left a voicemail explaining that due to debilitating illness he would need to take a leave off work, and that was that. 

He checked the room again. The table could use straightening, he supposed. He pulled out the chair and noticed that something had gotten stuck underneath. 

Sebastian picked it up. It was an unfamiliar green booklet with a piece of paper sticking out of it. He pulled out the paper to look at it.

It turned out to be a glossy photograph about the size of a postcard. In the picture, a young man and woman in some kind of laboratory were flashing peace signs and smiling at the camera. The woman sat in a wheelchair, part of her long, dark hair pulled up into strange buns, and had a more nervous expression than her companion. The man stood behind her, leaning over the chair and grinning wryly, his mop of brown hair sticking up in every direction. They both wore glasses and had eyes the same color as Grell’s. 

There was writing on the back. We’ll miss you! Come home soon! Call ASAP - O & S 

If there could be any doubt that the photo belonged to Grell, the booklet it came with dispelled it immediately. The cover read “Official Grim Reaper Field Guide to Demonic Conversions: How To Identify, Subjugate, And Exterminate.” It seemed to be an older publication, the inside filled with 1960’s style cartoon depictions of cheery reapers fighting angry demons, complete with horns and pitchforks. 

Like the title suggested, the booklet was a compendium of Reaper knowledge about humans that had turned demonic, with subject headers like CREATION and ADOPTION OF BESTIAL TRAITS and COMBAT and CASE STUDIES. Sebastian dully flipped through it until one section caught his eye. He read the pages on COMMON DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CONVERTS AND NATURAL DEMONS til the end, one gloved finger tracing the words as he went.

Sebastian raised an eyebrow. The bottom of the page had another section referenced. He scanned through the rest of the book until he found what he was looking for. 

WEAKNESSES. Sebastian read it all. He raised both eyebrows. 

Interesting. Very interesting, but ultimately irrelevant to the plan. He knew first-hand that Ciel could complete the core functions of a demon, and that was all he cared about. He put the book on the counter in an obvious place, so he could also be sure that Ciel would see it and get it returned on his own. 

So then. Everything was ready. 

Sebastian pulled out two chairs at the kitchen table and sat himself down in one. He cleared his throat. "Come, Ciel," he called through the contract. "Come sit."

One moment Ciel was asleep, the next his eyes opened into clear wakefulness as he heard his name, along with a pull on the other end of the line. Sebastian?

Ciel slid out of the bed, not bothering to change out of his pajamas as he followed the call to the kitchen. He blinked as he took in Sebastian, in his old outfit and smelling freshly showered, and sat in the offered seat. 

“What’s this about--” The tugging moved to his tongue, and he reluctantly finished with “My lord?”

It took all of Sebastian's concentration to pretend he didn't hear that. 

"Well then," he started, voice cracking, and he had to clear his throat. "I won't delay. I am well aware, Master Ciel, that our recent circumstances have been quite undesirable for the both of us. However, it’s occurred to me that we may find this unpleasantness advantageous in the end." 

Sebastian smiled his signature smile, but it didn't reach his eyes. "As you know, we have found ourselves in a sort of bastardized, reversed contract. However, the original context of the contract was completed long ago, with only extenuating interference keeping us from resolution. So consider the fact that, despite this crude methodology, my current state does mark a return to the necessary balance of a demon and a... mortal ." He couldn't quite keep his voice from shaking on that one.

"Therefore, there’s  nothing stopping us now from returning to our original purpose, however unexpected this outcome may be. I propose we complete the contract posthaste. Of course, I can’t assure you of the quality of this...'soul', but I hope it can at least provide some sustenance and entertainment. How would you like me?" 

He tried to smile again. 

It took a few moments of listening for Ciel to see where he was going with this. By the end his mouth dropped open, eyebrows slowly drawing together. 

"You want me to..." He grit his teeth, a muscle in his jaw jumping. ”You want me to eat you?”

"Correct. And I selfishly request we do this quickly, if you please. This body is in quite the agonizing state at the moment."

No!” 

Ciel slammed his hands on the table, breathing fast. He could smell the soul in Sebastian, he knew it was there, but the offer was all wrong. Sebastian should have eaten his soul, and now that he couldn't, they both had the right to live. Forever

Him staying mortal, succumbing to a mortal end, that wasn't an option. It just wasn’t.

"That isn't what we agreed to at all! I haven't earned that. I'm not even a very good demon and you said you would help me. This was all an accident, the only reason this happened to you was because I let them separate us, let myself get impaired. I don't know why they did it,” he said, shrugging so furiously he shook the table. “But don't you think it matters? I can't let him--them get away with doing this to you, and yet you think it would be better somehow to--"

“I know it would be better,” Sebastian said, frowning more and more as the rant went on. “And it’s my desire as your contractor. We would be fulfilling our respective roles.”

Ciel shook his head. "No. I can't agree to this. I can't just--take something I don't deserve. And you...you’re better than this, Sebastian. It hasn’t even been a week and you’re already giving up? I thought humans were inferior beings." His mouth screwed up in a sort-of smile, partly from anger and partly from hysteria and partly from being better at something than Sebastian was. “That’s it? You can’t take it?”

Sebastian grimaced. "Of course. I should have expected you to be difficult." 

He got up from his chair and walked over to him, squeezing Ciel's cheeks in his hand and bending over to stay at eye level. "You are correct. You are not a very good demon. You lack the sensibilities. Demons never worry about deserving what they take, they simply take. But I can't imagine that's all that's stopping you now, Earl Phantomhive." 

Sebastian tsked at him. "How does this play out in your mind, I wonder? Either I perish from this or you restore me to demonhood, expecting me to exercise your will with the same precision as one never conquered by mortality? An eternal servant once more, as though I wouldn’t be tainted, as though I'd be any use to you now. I'm afraid I'm not a very good demon by those metrics either, my lord." 

Ciel frowned at him, as best as he could with the grip on his face. Partially because Sebastian was right, that he knew exactly how he’d envisioned “fixing” everything. 

“I know that immortality has tempered your avarice somewhat,” Sebastian continued. “But this is cruel, even by your standards. You cannot lie to me." He pulled a glove off with his teeth. Ciel followed the movement with his eyes, still not comprehending what he was planning until a thumb was shoved into his mouth. 

Sebastian pushed down on one of Ciel’s fangs until it popped through the skin. "Drink from me and tell me you do not hunger. I order you."

Ciel made an overwhelmed noise as blood filled his mouth. The order’s compulsion gripped his head like a vise to keep him from pulling back. His eyes squeezed shut, unable to bear seeing Sebastian’s face as it rolled down his throat drop by drop. 

The soul was there. He could taste it within his blood; a dark flavor, sharp with pain, layered with conflict. His tongue swiped over the tiny bite until the lure of the life in that pulse become agonizing. His eyes opened, slit pupils in red irises as Sebastian released him.

“You...you taste good,” Ciel admitted, sulking. “But that’s not the point.”

Ciel swallowed and got up to face him, leaning a little forward on his toes to get as close to eye-to-eye as he could, trying to stay self-possessed even as the memory of blood made his mouth water. 

“I don’t want your soul, Sebastian,” he said. “And I refuse to believe you want this either. I was human. I remember how it was. No matter how collected I seemed about it, I never would have been ready to die. No human is, not completely, no matter how much they may want it.” 

Sebastian said nothing. 

Ciel stared at him, searching his face, trying to read his mind. “You could leave,” he offered quietly. “If it’s...if it’s me. You could go now, if you have to, or you could go as soon as we've fixed you. You just can’t die. It doesn’t suit you.” Ciel paused. “I really didn’t think we’d be away for so long, you know. I just wanted a break to sort things out. If I had known, I wouldn't have...” He paused again to clear his throat. “You could’ve left. I couldn’t have stopped you.” 

“You’re right, my lord,” said Sebastian. He was keeping his eyes down. “I could’ve left. Many times. Countless times. You couldn’t have stopped me.”

“So...why didn’t you, then?” Ciel squinted in confusion and irritation and something like glee. “So why didn’t you, if demonic nature is suddenly so important to you? You say that demons only exist to eat souls, and yet for years you--”  He made hand gestures in the air in frustration. “You didn’t want to! Which means there must be something, if not that, that you do want. Am I right?” 

Ciel reached out to press his fingertips around Sebastian’s wrist, like a handcuff, like the world’s gentlest jailer. “Talk to me. Tell me. What do you want, Sebastian?” 

"You’re ridiculous.” Sebastian scoffed, jerking his wrist back and turning away in disgust. "This is all ridiculous. What a preposterous question. I--" 

Sebastian stopped. He swallowed. His eyes burned. He was getting dangerously close to embarrassing himself.

"I…” Had he ever put this into words before, even in his mind? He had poked at it, played with it, but had he ever drawn this out from where it slept inside him? 

“I want,” he started. “To be able to say that I wish to go back. To go back to not wanting at all. To only concerning myself with hunger. To being the beast I was before knowing this... pride. A force with no name-- you called me Sebastian and tethered me here and I wore him as my mask. He was an empty shell, but now he is the only thing left of me. We cannot be undone from each other now. I am inscribed with finality in the reaper's book. I am Sebastian, and I want to be able to say that I wish I was not." 

He kept his face turned carefully away. Ciel said nothing, but put a hand on Sebastian’s shoulder. 

“...Master?”

“Don’t say anything about this.” Ciel put his other hand up to pull him close, his arms around Sebastian’s neck. “It’s supposed to help. Like you said. Just keep going.” 

Sebastian, as commanded, did not say anything. Slowly he brought his hands up to press Ciel into his chest, like he had done so many times to protect him from enemy fire. 

"I want to know why I don't desire a purpose more,” he continued. “I want to know why I do not fight this, this that goes against everything I have ever known, and I--" 

Sebastian cut off, making a small noise. "I...I want understanding. Because I haven't had any of it in a hundred years. But there can be no answers for a thing like me. So that is why you must consume me. I am something twisted and weak. I am...not what I was, Master. Not what I am supposed to be. I want the desire to leave you, but it is not there. And I do not understand. It cannot continue."

Sebastian looked down at him, eyes suspiciously wet. His hand reached to catch Ciel's chin, to force him to look back, to show him a weakness too unfit to live. "It cannot continue. Must I now beg for your mercy, my lord? Is there none left for me, your final pawn, after all this time?"

Ciel's eyes widened, head whirling. 

"You're crying?" he said, reaching up to brush away a tear with his fingertips. He searched for the disgust he would have felt as an Earl at seeing his butler like this. He found something very different instead. "Is it this painful for you? To want things? To care about what--we are..."

He dropped his gaze, abashed, only for alarm to fill his expression as he focused on Sebastian's white shirtfront.

“Oh, blast it all, you're bleeding again!" He thumbed away the buttons at his coat, noticing he'd foregone the usual waistcoat underneath, and pulled it open to reveal the path of red spotting the cloth. "We can talk about this later, when you're in any shape to be making these decisions. I order you to get back in bed.”

Sebastian's head dropped. There was still no pull to Ciel’s orders. "Yes, my lord," he said to his shoes anyways, chuckling wearily. 

Ciel shadowed him as he returned limply to the bedroom. It had been too uncomfortable to wear the waistcoat, and now even the undershirt was starting to itch. Sebastian hadn't had the freedom to avoid Ciel seeing him without clothing earlier, but now, however improper it was to undress in front of his master, Sebastian lacked the resolve to sleep in a wool coat. Not for mere appearance's sake. What aesthetic did he have now?

Perhaps, he thought ruefully, a reminder of how measly and hideous this body was would force him to change his mind. Sebastian's hands moved to the shirt buttons and he gave Ciel a wary look. "You are not going to be pleased."

He took off the shirt to reveal the collections of demonic symbols that covered his torso. Drunken Sebastian also hadn’t been content with only one attempt to reopen the wound, and what was supposed to be surgical precision had dissolved into childish scribblings as he learned to delight in the pain of it. Shallow x-marks followed the Y-scar from shoulder to shoulder. He pulled off the other glove to air out a hand in a similar state, bruised and bloodied from punches, nails scraped down to the quick. 

Sebastian sat there on the bed, raising an eyebrow at Ciel as if in challenge. 

Ciel was silent for a moment as his eyes traced over the damages, expression unreadable. A whiff of brimstone was Sebastian’s only warning before Ciel stepped forward to strike him hard across the face, the impact whipping his head to the side.

“Reckless fool,” Ciel growled, fangs visible. The room was getting darker. “Just because you’re on the list, you’re going to act like this? I told you, I don’t care what the new contract says, you cannot die before me. I am still a Phantomhive and I need allies.”

He leaned in to jerk Sebastian’s face back by his jaw to face him. “If he did this to you, it’s only a matter of time before he comes for me. Did you think of that? You need to teach me how to be a better demon, if I am to defend myself at all. Am I going to have to supervise you constantly, now?” He gestured to the wound on Sebastian’s chest. “You are not to disturb this further. You are not to even touch yourself without my say-so. Do you understand?”

Sebastian didn't dare move his head. The shame would never end for him, it seemed. 

He was no stranger to being slapped by Ciel, and this feeling that had burst inside him had become uncomfortably familiar recently, but as a demon he could ignore it, tuck it away for later examination. Now it had stuck inside his body like a splinter and forced every part of him to react-- and if he couldn't hide it from Grell of all people then there was no hope left.

Yesterday he’d learned about pain for the blood, the risk, to forget the gloom of living. He’d studied the incisions that tempted death and ruin with every new flick of the blade. But this--now he was all too alive. There was no blood, yet it made his pulse pound and something stir low inside him. There was no death, but the ruin was impending and inescapable, coming for him in every beat of that burdensome heart. 

He’d see humans subject themselves to violent acts without the damage, to whips, to chains, to paddles. He’d perhaps not need to wonder at their true motivations for much longer.

Ciel’s unfortunate wording only made it worse. You are not to even touch yourself without my say-so. Do you understand?

Yes, Master. He understood. Sebastian tasted copper and wondered if this is what the To-Die list had in mind for him.

"Whatever you say, my lord," he said, hoping that would be enough. Sebastian slowly got back under the sheets, movements deliberate to show that he was fine, that his body really wasn’t betraying him this mercilessly. 

Once he was under the sheets he took off his pants. A diversion from all this misery was becoming mandatory. Embarrassing Ciel was good for the constitution, and although recent approaches had failed him, perhaps a return to more dependable pestering would bring some cheer. 

He thought about what he had read earlier. Very interesting. Very curious. 

Sebastian cleared his throat and tried to keep his voice even. "You don't care what the new contract says, is that right? Unfortunately I think you know that either of us have little choice in the matter." He huffed a little laugh. "I think this is a good place to start your lessons on proper demonics, since you're insisting. A good demon follows his contractor's orders to an exacting degree, as every wish fulfilled sweetens our reward. The compulsory nature of the contract will make you want to fulfill orders, as you've learned, but there are exceptions and shortcuts to everything in this world." 

As he went on Sebastian felt more confident, more natural, the vulnerability wicking away. "With that in mind, I order you to prepare me for bed. You are to procure tea and painkillers without leaving this room. I want them summoned using whichever magical method of your choosing.”

Ciel listened to the order but stood there in silence. Dread shadowed him. This is what he so wanted to avoid. 

Sebastian waited. “Well?”

Ciel said nothing, the grinding of teeth starting to become audible.

Sebastian sighed. “I order you to explain why you’re delaying this.”

“Because--” The words being pulled out of him sounded like a mechanical toy breaking down. “Because I can’t do it.” 

“And why not?”

“Because I don’t have that power, idiot.”

Sebastian pursed his lips. “So it is true. I was starting to suspect as much. Rule one: you can't complete orders that are beyond your capabilities. I order you to fetch me the book Grell left behind. It’s in the living room, you will know when you see it.”

Ciel left and returned with the book, face even redder than before, and handed it to Sebastian. Sebastian licked the pad of his thumb to flip back to the WEAKNESSES section. “I can only assume that Grell brought this with her with the intention to either help you or kill you. Knowing her, likely both. Apparently, the Reapers have discovered that humans-turned-demon often have difficulty accessing many types of demonic magic. Let’s see."

Sebastian sat up a bit. Yes, this was working to raise his spirits quite nicely. "You can consume human souls, you do not age, you have advanced healing, strength, and speed. Is that... it, my lord?” 

No,” Ciel sneered. “I…” He wrinkled his nose and cast shadows in the room around them. A small ball of black flame appeared in his hand. "I can do this. As of a couple days ago." 

Sebastian smirked. He couldn't help it. "That is...quite limited a scope for a demon, I must say." 

"You think I don't know that, you absolute ass ? Damn you! Damn you back to hell where you belong." 

"Oh, if only you could." Sebastian was full-on grinning now. “Why, pray tell, had you never mentioned any troubles with this earlier? My senses had been far too dulled by hunger, so I’d assumed your magical latencies were a result of stubbornness. I hadn’t realized that you were.. this lamentable."

"I never mentioned it," Ciel said slowly, like Sebastian needed every word spelled out for him.  "Because we barely spoke for the century I didn't realize was passing! And when I asked you what demons were supposed to do, all the answers you'd give me were stupid morose rubbish!" 

He groaned and dragged his hand down his face. "I took that contract, I ate those souls, because I thought it would fix it, change me. But they didn’t do anything and I didn’t feel like I needed to do it. It was good, but I wasn’t hungry in the same way, the way I used to be. So I stopped.” He ground the heel of his palm into his eyesocket. “I tried on my own to, you know, be demon-y, but I could never control my body the way you could. If I have a...demon form, or whatever, I don’t know how to get to it. I just feel like...I just feel like me. So that’s why I need your help. That’s why you’re going to teach me.”

Sebastian thought this over more seriously. “Fascinating. You clearly have some measure of demonic ability. I wonder why the rest would be blocked off to you. The book offers no such explanation." He sighed to himself. "Since you refuse to consume me for now, I suppose this could be interesting enough to keep me occupied. There will, of course, be constraints on how much I can teach you, given my current state of affairs.”

“Really?” Ciel was almost looking excited before he caught himself and crossed his arms. “Well, good. Good. Finally.” 

“Finally indeed. Your first lesson has already begun, remember? Your master requested tea and painkillers an abominably long time ago. You may get them in the usual manner now, but further laziness will not be tolerated.”

Ciel froze. 

Sebastian considered more options with a smile on his face. "When you return I'll need to be tucked in," Sebastian said. He picked up the fillet knife, which had ended up on the bedside table, and reopened one of the wounds on his hand. "I'll need this hand held as I rest. Hm. Shall you kiss my forehead and wish me goodnight like a nursemaid? I think you shall." A fat droplet of blood dewed on his palm. "And...a lullaby will do. You will stay beside me and sing me to sleep. Be good, now."

Ciel felt his ears burning, still caught off guard by how quickly he’d turned the situation to his favor after the sorry state he'd been in not minutes before. That git --!

"Of course, Lord Michaelis," he said as he bowed, the courtesy of the title somewhat ruined by his open scowling. He turned on his heel and left the room before he had to see Sebastian gloat.

If it had only been tea and painkillers, he wouldn't have cared. Grell had brought several pillbottles in her shopping bag, and in the time since he began working for Moody he had actually learned how to make his own tea. It wasn't as good as Sebastian's, but his exacting nature was difficult to match.

He fumed as he filled the pot. No, he knew what this was about. Sebastian meant to make the contract so degrading that the proud former Earl would eat him just to get it over with. However--Ciel had been telling the truth, he wanted, he needed this training, and being able to talk frankly about it was a weight off his shoulders. If Sebastian wanted to play games, Ciel wasn’t about to give him an easy win.

Once the tea had steeped long enough, he poured a cup and brought it and the pillbottle to the bedside, standing stiffly in place as he waited for Sebastian to finish.

Sebastian took an Advil and frowned around the cup, keeping eye contact with Ciel as he drank. This was not to his standards and he knew it. Had he learned nothing? "Your tea is uninspired," he said, but finished the whole thing.

Uninspired, but the warmth was quite nice. Comfort was another human pleasure he was learning to lose himself in. Ciel's discerning tastes meant these sheets were the softest on the market, but he had never truly appreciated it before slipping into this skin. He put his head back on the pillow and hummed in contentment, eyes flicking over to Ciel.

He could have him stand the whole time he slept, but that seemed cruel, even for him. It wouldn't hurt a demon the same way, but his body, so damnably sensitive, was already aching in sympathy at idea. Instead he patted the empty side of the bed, hoping that the compromising position would do the hurting for him.

"Come, servant." Sebastian petulantly pointed to his forehead. "A kiss and a song for your master."

Ciel swallowed and scooted onto the empty side of the bed, his face deliberately as neutral as he could make it-- but he had never been a perfect actor, the expression returning to sulking as he pulled the blankets up. He took his injured hand, the blood sticking their palms together, and his mouth twitched at the whisper of its fragrance in the air.

Leaning forward, he brushed a kiss on Sebastian's forehead. He meant to touch him lightly, deny him the satisfaction, but the order nudged him just enough that it landed firmly with an audible smeck

"Sleep tight, my lord," Ciel grit out, blushing in humiliation. He sat back on his heels and cleared his throat before Sebastian could get a word in, staring down at his knees as he began to sing. 

"Il était un petit navire,

Il était un petit navire!” 

He started to smirk, shifting in place, but still wouldn’t look at him.   

“Qui n'avait ja-ja-jamais navigué

Qui n'avait ja-ja-jamais navigué

Ohé, ohé..."

Sebastian rolled his eyes. The irony of the song was not lost on him. The lullaby told the story of a young sailor who, upon getting stuck in a wreck, faced the prospect of being eaten alive by the ship’s other crewmates. Ciel had surely chosen the cannibalism theme to get back at him for earlier, but all Sebastian felt was pride. 

It was a clever way to skirt the contract. That was worthy of his appreciation. It was a sign of a good student. 

Besides, his voice was admittedly lovely. Ciel hadn't sung since they left the manor, all the previous vocal training going towards deepening his voice now that he didn't have to act so young. He gave the childish song a professional timbre it didn't deserve. 

The song and the Advil worked to weigh his limbs down. Sebastian fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Ciel trailed off and pulled his hand free, checking twice to see that he wasn’t secretly watching. Quickly he licked the blood from his palm and then took the hand again, lying down to join him in the nap.

Sleep tight, Lord Idiot. 

Chapter Text

Sebastian

It was warm. Very warm. Someone was calling his name. 

Darling. 

Sebastian frowned. What was she doing here? 

Open your eyes. 

He did. He was lying down but still upright, staring forward into a void, alone in the vastness of space.

No, not alone. Grell was pressed up behind him, stroking his side, skin to bare skin. Her hair snaked over his arms, coiling them red. She was laughing at him. 

Look, she said. 

No. He didn't want to. Besides, there was nothing to look at-- until liquid skin dripped over a naked unseen form in the darkness, filling it with flesh and substance, hardening it until it could grow hair, take breaths, open its eyes--

Ciel. 

It was Ciel, and his face was stricken with pain.  There was no sigil in his eye now. Something moved behind him. 

Let me go to him, Sebastian tried to say, but the only sound was Grell's laughter.

Further ahead the dark broke into stars. Pinpricks of light numbered in the millions and each one was growing, blurring and blending into each other until there was only one shape left. It was too bright to look at directly, but Sebastian could still see what it had become. 

Not a star. A golden eye. 

The pupil moved, centering on Ciel. 

Sebastian fought, tried to wiggle free of Grell's grip, but there were thousands of hands on him now, twisting and changing. One hand had too many fingers, one not enough, one had her teeth for its nails, one was sticking itself inside his mouth. Grell cooed in his ear as fingers that felt entirely too much like her tongue began to stroke his cock to hardness. 

Congratulations, she said. 

The eye blinked and Ciel's chest split open. Droplets of blood flew through the void, slowing as they moved until they hung in the air around them like Christmas ornaments. 

Ciel didn't react as red splatter crept up his face, but then he moved, then he screamed as something reached inside his torso, touching something wet and fragile--

It was Sebastian's hands that were reaching inside him. 

No.

They were deep in Ciel's ribcage. They were pulling something out. 

No.

Something red and warm and soft. 

 No. No. Not now. 

They were bringing it to Sebastian's lips--

No!

Sebastian shot up. 

He was in bed now, and Grell was gone, and there was Ciel, and there was still the smell of blood--

No, no, no, not like this. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. This wasn't how it was supposed to end. 

He struggled over to Ciel's side of the bed and grabbed his shirt to pull it upward, looking for the gore, for the death he'd caused. The millisecond it took for his eyes to adjust brought with it all the agony of being burned at the stake. 

Nothing. There was nothing there. 

Sebastian’s shoulders dropped with a sigh just as the movement snapped Ciel from sleep. 

Ciel opened his eyes to find a tall figure bent over him in the dark, tugging his shirt up to his armpits. And there, straddled against his thigh, the feeling of cotton brief fabric rubbing him and covering something firm and hot and what could only be--

“Claude!” He let out a strangled cry, grabbing the wrists to pry them away. “I told you to leave me alone!” 

Panic crawled up Sebastian’s throat, he was going to choke on it. "I was...I was having a nightmare," he stammered, not fully realizing until he had said it out loud. "A nightmare, my lord, please calm down, Claude is dead, I killed him, please---" 

Sebastian leaned in, looking like he thought his only option was to swaddle him like throwing a blanket over a fire. Ciel had already realized his mistake and stilled, but it hadn’t caught up to Sebastian yet, who was still stumbling around with a human reaction time and no night vision. He’d thought of two ways to prove his identity and hastily did both at once, moving one of Ciel's hands to the Y-scar and one of his own to Ciel's branded eye. The matching sigils glowed and Sebastian tried to control his breathing. 

"Claude is dead and I am here, Master. Please relax."

Ciel didn’t dare move, face suddenly feeling very hot as he processed the situation. 

Sebastian was apologizing so fervently that he felt a pang of guilt in addition to the other, more dangerous feelings the situation was evoking. As Sebastian pressed Ciel’s hand to the scar he noticed the nightmare had left his chest hot and sweaty, a detail he decided not to think about too hard, especially not when he was panting like this.

“Sebastian, I--” He hesitated. There was still no way he could bring up Claude now. “I’m sorry, it just--startled me.”

Ciel couldn’t decide how to breach the topic of what was currently pressed up against him and just pet Sebastian’s chest, distractedly, until he seemed calmer. 

“I hate to ask,” he said, trying not to squirm. “But was this nightmare... anything else?” 

Despite his best efforts he trembled, slightly shifting his trapped leg.

Sebastian pulled his hand back from Ciel's face and frowned. Anything else? Was terrifying not enough? He knew it wasn't real and even now the fear coursed through him, building pressure in his gut, tensing every muscle, pounding blood and-- 

A memory from the dream. Grell’s hands on him, all over him. 

Congratulations

Oh. 

Sebastian pulled away and scrambled back under the sheets, covering as much of his body as he could. The impulse to just run was painfully strong, but his decency wouldn't let him leave without an explanation. 

"I'm...very ashamed, my lord, please believe me that I would never--" What a compromising position he had put Ciel in, he realized. Half naked with hands holding him down, touching his chest in the dark, looking like he was ready to rut against him like a dog. Sebastian was going to be ill. "I would never."

"It's fine, Sebastian,” Ciel said, despite a growing frown. “I believe you." 

Sebastian head dropped in his hands, breathing hard. The nightmare had dissipated, replaced by this fresh new torture he had woken up to, but something from the dream-- and Ciel's reaction-- still nagged, still kept him from fleeing.

"My lord," he said, voice ragged and dangerously soft. "May I ask. Why would you think of Claude, after all this time? Was it my unseemly state that reminded you? Did he ever do anything to warrant such a reaction?”

Ciel looked away. They had never talked about the details of his stay in the Trancy Manor, and now he felt too vulnerable to lie about it. 

“N-no,” he said, and swallowed. “I saw how he looked at me, though. With more than just hunger. He knew I wasn’t who I said I was, the age I said I was. But he was always careful. He knew he couldn’t do anything that would make me call you back, or have reason to refuse his contract. So no. I never let him get that far.”

Sebastian let out a breath. "I’m relieved to hear it,” he said, still sounding tense. “I would have been able to detect certain advances on you afterward had he tried, but he was known for being quite perverse, even among my--our-- your kind. I wouldn’t put it past him to come up with some sort of method or manipulation that even I couldn’t notice. And nothing, my lord," he said, letting out a much harder breath this time. "Would give me greater satisfaction than exterminating his remains for even considering it." 

He grimaced. "I apologize for speaking his name and this disgraceful intrusion, my lord. I'll--" He'll do...what exactly? "I'll make my leave."

Sebastian moved to get up. “Wait,” Ciel said. “Just wait.” 

Sebastian paused. Ciel was looking at him sidelong, as if apprehensive. “I’ve...never done anything like that, you know. I hadn’t been sure what I wanted. Sebastian--when you said you’d never--”

That line of conversation died in his throat. He quickly searched for another way to phrase it. “Er. Do you think someone could see me that way, want me like that-- the way I want to be wanted, if I chose? Or will it always be others who choose for me?”

Sebastian stilled, careful not to even breathe out of turn. This topic would require delicate handling, it always did. He’d been prideful of how well the role of “tutor” suited him, and while mild teasing and discomfort around Ciel’s sexual education was often amusing, knowingly invoking that kind of trauma was far beneath Sebastian’s standards. 

Ciel’s ability to weaponize his anguish was always too beautiful to be wasted on the disgusting carnal memories of the cultists and their crimes. He’d never enjoyed that flavor of pain in his victims regardless. Even after a century of a strained relationship, it was not a low he was willing to sink to. 

“I’m certain, my lord,” he began. “That you could find many eager partners should you seek them. You are free from your reputation now and may pursue your desires with impunity. I’m unsure how the experience would be for one originating in a human body, however.”

This made him feel more like himself, despite how vilely hard his body still was and how desperate he was to disappear. “Sexual relationships take quite a different form in demons. It is more of a...test of endurance, to establish dominance, settle conflicts, to work out tension and aggression with minimal bloodshed. You may find courtship with humans to be...not inferior, per se, but perhaps fulfilling a different need. We can discuss this at length later.”

Ciel had been chewing on his lip while Sebastian spoke, a mix of emotions flitting over his face. “Well...since you’re like this, since you know now...was it fulfilling for you?” he asked. “With Grell? Was it...good?”

It was a perfectly reasonable question, so Sebastian didn’t understand why it was making him feel like his ears were burning. “Er...yes. It was.”

There was silence. 

“You...you could have just made use of me, you know.” Ciel said abruptly, voice shaking and aggravated. “You didn’t have to ask her. I’m your servant now, right? You could have just...ordered me or something.” 

“My lord,” Sebastian said, a soft exclamation of surprise and hurt. "When the contract was formed, you put your trust in me as your protector. I’d never want to imply that I was putting you in a position where you had been chosen without choice. And now that I’m in a position to give orders... the mere suggestion of that shames me, master. I am a demon, not a monster."

Ciel huffed and turned his head away. “That’s not... you don’t get it, do you? I wasn’t trying to say you were a monster.” 

Sebastian waited, but Ciel said nothing else. “Grell was available and willing,” he continued gently. “She could have refused. I vastly preferred that to ordering you into seeing me so lowly." 

Ciel sighed. “You still don’t get it.”

He’d had gone back to quietly chewing his lip and staring at nothing. A couple more moments passed, then Sebastian was clearing his throat and getting ready to finally leave. 

“I don’t think it’s lowly, you know,” Ciel said as soon as he’d moved, too loud, like he was afraid he’d lose his nerve. Sebastian paused again. “I don't really know what it's supposed to be like, for demons. But I don't think it's shameful that you're human. You taught me that. That it wasn’t shameful to feel that way. To want... to do those things.”

He had taught Ciel that, hadn’t he? Despite the mess that was human lust, he’d taught Ciel that there was nothing wrong with experiencing it, going against the grain of puritanical Victorian repression that the country was rife with at the time. Ciel would never grow into the cruel noble’s soul that Sebastian so wanted if he could not even master his own body. It was the right decision. It still was. 

Now it was simply coming back to bite him in the ass. 

“You don’t have to go,” Ciel was saying, scooting closer, leaning to rest against his shoulder. "You don’t have to run and hide from this. You...you wouldn’t be making me do anything. You can stay. I'd like you to." 

He let out a breath and looked up at Sebastian, almost smiling at him, brushing his fingers over his back. "It's okay if it's you, Sebastian."

Sebastian sat in shock. 

It's okay if it's you, he’d said, so casual, so easily.

It's okay? As though they hadn't spent a century in mutual stagnation, half of it gone by with barely a word said? And now that they were in this city, him in this miserable body, and Ciel had the confidence to tell him that it was alright? 

Sebastian had hated and craved change, wanting Ciel both to liven up his life with variety and yet stay captured perfectly at the height of what he was. Now this boy--his boy, still--was looking up at him like that with dark eyes. Sebastian's traitorous mind thought that maybe now, even as a demon, Ciel had somehow surpassed the quality of his lost, stolen soul, at least in sheer ability to surprise. 

But that was impossible. There was no point to any of this, no way to justify this feeling. Everything that had happened to them had been impossible. 

I want to know why I don't fight it more. 

He was getting dangerously close to finding out. Ciel's fingers on his back were warm. Sebastian let out a heady breath that he couldn't stop. The contact felt like he was getting collared all over again. 

His cock was throbbing, fully hard now. There was no way Ciel didn't know, couldn't tell. 

There can be no answers for a thing like me. 

Ciel felt as if he could feel the height of the building underneath him, a dizzying plunge of stories to concrete, and could only anchor himself by clinging to Sebastian. He could smell the rush of blood under Sebastian’s skin, tempting him with a suggestion that he looked down to confirm a second later. He licked his lips, inhuman heart beating just as hard in his own chest. 

Ah, he thought, delirious. So Grell was right

He'd have to call her again later. 

"I--" Sebastian started to speak. 

Then the warmth of the moment broke with a snap, Sebastian bolting from the room before Ciel could say anything else, coughing wildly and shutting the bathroom door behind him with a thud. 

The room went back to quiet.

It didn’t come as that much of a surprise, considering how openly Sebastian had expressed disgust at himself for even having these drives in the same house as him. That rigid aesthetic of his was in tatters from the events of the past few days. 

Still, despite being left alone, Ciel felt like he was glowing. He’d finally come out and said it, now, and even if Sebastian hadn’t told him in words he’d felt the clear response of desire. 

I can wait. It had been this long, after all. 

Shaking somewhat from the adrenaline, he waited at the door until he was sure Sebastian wouldn’t return, then carefully closed and locked it.

He nearly ran back to the bed, to his pillow, to find friction, to find something to grind away this ache that had been building all night. He straddled a folded pillow, propped himself on his hands and knees, and slowly let his hips buck down, once, twice, three times, just enough to get him started. 

Ciel grunted and flipped over, hands tugging at the waistband of his pants. He’d done this often enough in this apartment, but his fingers first moving to stroke himself still made him want to sob, like every time was the first time in forever. Fulfilling a different need. He wasn’t too sure about that. He only knew this need, knew its totality, knew how much he was pent up with it.

“Ah,” he moaned, jerking up into his own hand, his fingers slick and searching for more heat. It’s okay, he thought, like a mantra, like a prayer, not realizing he was talking out loud until the words had already left him. “It’s okay. It’s okay-- ah --”

Sebastian, Sebastian, Sebastian. 

--

Sebastian stood in the bathroom until there was barely enough blood flow to his head, let alone his prick. The room began to spin and he relented, stumbling back to the other bedroom and locking the door. 

His whole body stung, needlepricks in his fingers. Sebastian tried to swallow down the self-loathing. He laid down on the bed and considered the pillow. Perhaps strangulation would solve this problem. Ciel wouldn't get his soul this way, but a split-second of spite before the end might make it worthwhile. He could call Grell, tell her where to find his body. 

But no. He knew this was folly, knew better. Ciel was contracted to him now. He would know what he had planned. He knew he couldn't go through with it if it meant not completing their vow. 

Ciel already knew too much. 

Sebastian needed time, he decided. To think, to plan. To...recover some dignity from this. There was no avoiding Ciel now that he had latched onto the idea of training. In theory that stubbornness could be ordered out of him, but not without skirting that dangerous, heated territory that he was trying to so desperately avoid in the first place. 

Yes, that heated territory of being able to ask and order things from his master. His mind was wandering into it, going beyond his reach. With one request he could have Lord Phantomhive in front of him, drawn in by both duty and desire, body pale and skin chilled from demonhood but with that warmth he’d learned to crave just underneath. Or his master could truly become his Master again, striking him across the face for his insolence, giving him more of that delicious pain, looking at him the way he did when he saw the collar, treating him like the animal he was becoming. And then, after either option, the human delight of close contact, the pleasure of being held for no reason at all. 

It's okay if it's you, Sebastian. 

No. No. What was he doing? No, he would ignore the weakness, the body, the fiendish wanting that had infected the whole of him like the plague. He would stay in control. 

He would. 

How difficult could it possibly be?

Chapter Text

One day, after this is all over, a note will be found under the rubble of a ruined bar. 

It will be in exacting penmanship and excellent condition, although all of the supplemental diagrams and explanations will be missing. The ink will smell like sulfur, the page will feel like leather. 

It will read the following: 

  1. Obtain Reaper sample. Blood and tissue required. Cut a sliver of the heart, jar it, and place somewhere cool and dry. 
  2. Process Reaper blood into congestible format. Consuming directly is doable, but dangerous. Preferable to convert it into other mediums that preserve the magic properties. Bees can be trained to harvest the blood like pollen, the resulting honey works perfectly. (Don’t worry about how this was discovered.)
  3. Ingest. This will melt the outer layer of the user’s soul. Strong hallucinogenic effects should be expected. 
  4. Remove all parts of soul along with Record. This step requires a scythe and a sample of demonic magic (brimstone). Treat the scythe with the brimstone--this will stop it from destroying the outer shell. Mix resulting soul with rest of brimstone. Allow to partially digest. Live demons should only be used as a brimstone replacement in a last resort situation. MUST be approved by me first. 
  5. When soul, shell, and Record have been digested into a single slurry, retrieve heart sliver from Step 1. The tissue should have grown into a complete, heart-like organ-- a blank, imitation model of a soul. Mix in with slurry. They will bond with each other, creating a new, complete soul, with all the memories of its former owner. 
  6. Open chest cavity of subject with death scythe. Blood and organs of subject should be removed to prevent accidental decay. For best results, fill veins with formaldehyde and replace organ structure in ribcage to ensure stability. Wax is easy to work with. Warning: this process may result in cravings for fresh blood. The management of this is up to the individual.
  7. Place new soul inside cavity. Close chest opening with stitches. 
  8. Live forever and see what happens.

When it is found, it will be destroyed, burned in a Reaper laboratory to ensure that no one can access such repulsive information ever again.

Or it will be found and celebrated, passed around as gospel by those seeking the method to gain immortality. It will be heralded as the next step in humanity’s evolution. 

The fate of the note, like the fate of the city and everyone in it, has not yet been decided. 

--

In the present, Claude was hunting, and the fate of his prey was already set in stone.

Master had told him not to dip from the well of souls at any of the clubs he owned without him first commanding it. Claude always followed Master’s orders to the letter, so he ignored the crop of humans writhing in the rhythmic darkness. Until, of course, he was asked to help usher them into their new life as one of Master's anatomical venuses. 

The night streets outside, however, held no such restriction. He could walk in the direction of whatever smelled most tantalizing, though any soul eaten outside of a contract couldn't satisfy for long. The work done to carefully cultivate the bond between contractor and demon served to ripen the flavor and create a richer, more satisfying meal when the contract had been fulfilled. 

Yet Claude was an opportunist, and would take his pleasures where he could. In this case, it happened to be the dingy brick alley where he'd tracked down a victim. 

A young mod with an athletic build, their jacket and shirt were neatly tailored. They were smoking against the wall below the balcony where he was perched. Claude's eyes traced down to the sliver of skin visible between the hem of their shorts and the cuff of their brightly-colored socks. They wanted for little, he could tell, a soul that had been pampered and spoiled all its life and had never tasted hardship. Not always his favorite flavor, but more than adequate for tonight, and he had a feeling he could complement it nicely with the right approach.

They had just stubbed out their cigarette when he dropped down beside them, grabbing and pinning their arms to their sides. The muscles struggling beneath his grip spoke of long afternoons playing tennis in the sun, but were no match for a demon's strength. His nails broke skin, his appetite fueled by the smell of blood beginning to rill. 

They looked up at him, their doltish brain at last catching up to what was happening. They opened their mouth to scream, but he crushed his lips to theirs and bit down, the venom in his fangs weakening the fight in them.

"Stop it--why," it murmured in a weak voice. Claude allowed himself to smile at the fear and pain sweetening the air. Like a red wine, it would cut through the grease of their coddled soul and give it greater complexity than it deserved. 

Just a little more. This was no place to take as long as he'd like to play with his food, so he didn't delay in ripping the lower buttons from their shirt to press his hand to their stomach. Their eyes were darting around, bewildered, addled with the soporifics of the poison, but a wonderful clarity shone in them the instant he drove his claws through flesh. Pushing in deep, he wiggled his hand to tear the hole wider, curling his fingers under the ribs to touch their beating heart. 

Claude cupped it gently, savoring how soft and vulnerable it was in his palm. He counted its beats, felt it quicken to its limits. Their fear had reached the peak he could expect from such a brief tryst, so he brought his mouth to theirs again and started to feed. Pain swirled into indulgence, terror into satisfaction, life to oblivion. He licked the last of it from the inside of the mouth as they breathed their last and then lowered their body to the ground, withdrawing his scarlet hand to suck the fingers clean. 

Cleanup was quick, since he hadn't gotten it on his clothes. He left a knife in the body to give a human explanation for their death and left quickly. Playtime was over. Master would require him before long.

Right on time, a tall figure leaned out of a club’s front door to call into the night. “Claudius,” he crooned, stepping out onto the street with a pretty young thing in tow. “My primal, eldest curse,” he went on, giggling. “My rankest offense! My most wretched state!” 

The night stayed still. Undertaker kept going, tugging along the clubgoer with their arm hooked around his neck. Each tooth of his smile had an individual sheen, and they glittered even as he shook his head and sighed with impatience.  “But words without intent never to Hell go, I suppose. Hurry up then, Claude, my knees are killing me. An order, etcetera etcetera.” 

The mark on his neck shone gold. Claude’s killing alley was blocks away, but it was only another moment until he was there beside his Master, falling perfectly in step.

Undertaker smiled wider. He smelled blood and said nothing. “There you are! Be a dear and take this from me, hm?” He presented the wrist of the stumbling youth. “Been a wee bit naughty, this one. E’ll be going home with us. Once that’s settled, could I…?” Undertaker mimed pulling a horse’s reins. “On your back?”

Claude pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose.

"Of course, Master." He took the offered wrist and pulled them close, the stench of honey heavy on their breath and their eyes glazed under sooty lids. With a graceful movement he dipped them into his arms for a bridal carry, then bent his knees slightly to allow Undertaker access to his back. "I am but your humble servant."

Undertaker cackled as he clambered up Claude for his piggy back ride. Once he was seated he dug the heels of his boots into Claude's sides like they were spurs. "Heh! Giddy up now, boy." 

So Claude walked. As they went, Undertaker kept his arms around Claude's chest, fiddling with the buttons on his coat. Long grey hair draped over them both. 

"I've been wondering, Claude,” he said. “Does sin make a soul taste worse to you? You keep yourself fed well enough on your own, I know, but suppose we set you loose in a prison one day. Have you gobble up all the real irredeemable ones. I'd think it'd save them a lot of space, wouldn't you?" 

It was not a question that required an answer, Claude knew. Just more ramblings of a maddened, feeble man. Undertaker hummed in thought, lips very close to Claude's neck. "Speaking of irredeemable," he said, voice taking on the odd tone it did whenever he spoke about this topic. "Any progress in the other task I assigned you?"

Claude kept a steady pace down the street, making good time despite his burdens. The only change in his expression at the question was a slow blink. 

"I managed to find where they're hiding, Master,” he said. “But a reaper has taken notice of our original target's transformation. We'll need to approach with a plan to avoid unwanted attention." He exhaled, gripping the body in his arms a little tighter. It was just another report about another job, but something tensed in his throat. "Unfortunately, his small companion rarely leaves. I can't determine yet whether this is to protect the man or because he himself feels... vulnerable. More than a human, certainly, but lacking far too many traits that should come naturally for a demon."

"Hm. Protective. Funny," Undertaker said, not sounding amused. He picked at a scar on his face. "Vulnerable, certainly. You're perceptive. He is indeed not a natural demon."  He sighed. "I wonder what they did to him. I'll find out, one way or another."

Undertaker said nothing as Claude set the body down to open a sewer manhole, drumming his nails against Claude's back as they descended into one of the tunnels. Master had found the city’s network of abandoned subway lines and sewer caverns to be quite useful, declaring it the safest way for them and their foundlings to get around. Claude had spent many nights down here chiseling out new paths between tunnels, looking like a lonesome termite reshaping the underworld stone by stone.

This route took them through a disused station, the old track crusted over with rust and dirt and time. It was all quiet, except for Claude stepping over rubble and Undertaker muttering whisper-low, like he was afraid those on the streets could hear. 

"Acta est fabula, plaudite. So does it matter then, in the end, who it is that's left? Could I have saved them all-- but we have no say in the present, do we? No, old friend, aeternum vale. You care for nothing now. Hinc illae lacrimae. Now the prodigal son is your only legacy."

More ramblings. The rest of the walk passed in approximate silence. Claude reached the manhole ladder that was closest to their hospital hideout and climbed it one handed. Once they were inside, and the Venii’s body laid out on an examination table, Undertaker cleared his throat. "Remove the soul, Claude. It needs cleaning."

Another meal so soon--but Claude knew this one would sate him even less than his earlier snack had, since it would be taken back quickly. Still, he would enjoy his prey while he could. 

Wrapping his hand around its pale throat, he tilted its head back to let the slack mouth part and covered it with his own, as if he was trying to steal the breath from its lungs. Instead he sucked the soul out in one pull, like tossing back a shot. The honeyed sweetness all the Venuses took on was just tart enough from their misbehavior. Undertaker clapped politely at the show.

"What did this one do, Master?" Claude said, running his tongue around the inside of his mouth.

“Ah, well, this one was doing a little more than the usual faffing about. Caught ‘em all snuggled up with a stray little reaper. You know, the one I just had you catch. Wasn’t even for intel-- they were just fraternizing for the fun of it, it seemed. Shame, really, you’d think I’ve taught them well enough, that they’d know the risks and consequences.  I almost feel responsible, in a way. Oh well, c’est la vie, got to tidy up the trash somehow.” 

He patted Claude on the stomach and guided him gently to his knees. “Open w—oh good, you’ve learned!” A long nail pulled at his bottom lip. “Think it gets a little quicker every time, don’t you?” 

Undertaker pulled a syringe out of his coat. It was made in the antique style, with three rings at the plunger, and was huge for a needle but small for a Death Scythe. Even so, it was intimidating as any weapon when the master held it. Undertaker clucked to himself as he pushed it into Claude’s mouth, until the point rested against the back of his throat. 

Claude had been prepared for it, but even so the enormous syringe breaching his throat made him feel like gagging every time. “Gooood boy,” Undertaker was saying, and pushed harder, until the needle was buried in Claude’s pharynx. 

Demons rarely experienced anything like nausea, but something like it surged in Claude when anticipating what came next. Souls were meant to be eaten, but if it felt like this for his victims he could understand why they struggled--not that the knowledge went as far as sympathy or mercy. 

Undertaker pulled the plunger out and the barrel started to fill with a white light. Claude felt the recently consumed flavors rush forward again, his abdomen clenching in pain as the soul was violently purged from him. 

Undertaker pet Claude's head, scratching his scalp with his nails as the needle pulled away. "Good." Claude coughed, strings of spit falling to the floor, but allowed himself a moment to enjoy his master's attention. Say what you would about the man--he gave a hell of a head scratch.

“There we go.” Undertaker held the syringe up to the light, admiring its contents. A demon-digested soul looked like a smoky, opal-like liquid, streaked through with every color the eye could see. This one was particularly saturated with greens and golds. Undertaker glanced at the body he took it from. “Die and sleep, dear,” he said, like a lullaby. “Perchance even dream. For in this sleep of death what dreams may come. But we’ll only let you dream in the grave for a moment. Then you’ll sleep no more.” 

Undertaker set the syringe on the table, staring at it, humming to himself. “I’ve been wondering, Claude,” he said. “Those we treat may seem dead for a bit, but it’s just a brief blip between their mortal and immortal lives. Have you ever thought about why we don’t raise the truly dead and gone? Or why your kind won’t? You don’t seem to have too many restrictions. Why that one?” 

Hm. This question was a required one. “It’s impossible,” Claude said. “Outside of your treatment and the creation of Reapers, mortals that pass into Death’s clutches can never be extracted. This is common knowledge, Master.” 

“Impossible? Poppycock. You should know better to call anything in this universe impossible, boy. You’re here with me, aren’t you?” He shook his head. “Not impossible. Very possible, even. Easier than what we do now, I’d say.”

“Interesting,” Claude said, disinterested.

“Mm. Yes. Yes, it is.” Undertaker walked back over to the examination table, thinking, observing. “I performed many such experiments back in my day.  Made a boatload of blood money for it. Many parties found the creation of shambling, mindless corpses to be quite valuable. My tally numbered in the thousands near the end of it all. I was getting quite good at it, too. It was all memory manipulation. I could get them to talk, answer questions. They were pretty close to living again, some of them.” 

Undertaker’s fingers combed through the body’s hair, like he was preparing it for an open casket showing. “But pretty close,” he said, lovingly tracing their features. “Is not close enough.”

He sighed and pulled away, wandering back to the workstation. “I’m old, Claude.”

He didn’t look particularly old, but Claude had learned that human age was often a state of mind. “You’ve mentioned this, Master.”

“It’s the truth. I’m old and I’m tired.” He sighed again. “Raising the dead to sleep no more, heh. I stopped all that a long time ago. I swore it off after the last time. Over a hundred years ago now.” He drummed his fingernails against the table. “Life is very long when you’re lonely. I never told you about all that business in England, did I?”

“I don’t believe you have.”

Undertaker clicked his tongue. “No, I wouldn’t’ve. I don’t talk about it. It’s not a very funny story. Don’t much like stories without gibs and gambols and flashes of merriment. But perhaps ‘tis nobler to suffer a tale to be told, in the end.”

He went over to the workstation and grabbed a blank soul. With the syringe, Undertaker injected just enough of the original soul into its new home that the subject would be able to remember their name. The rest of their personality would need to be revamped, to be cobbled together from various other souls that had been dissolved and stored. 

They’d sifted out several traits and emotions from their supply. Vials labeled with names like malice and trust and naivety sat neatly in a row along a shelf. Claude watched as Master picked up a vial reading introversion and another reading compliance, which was beginning to run low. When implanted into the Venus, they’d act on these traits as if they’d always had them, though it would be about as organic and personal as a five-cent sympathy card. 

Claude tried to remember the ingredients Master had used to make the bait soul. His throat felt tense again just thinking about it. 

Undertaker shook up the vials, preparing a pipette to start measuring out doses.  “I was relatively young,” he began. “When I first got involved in the mortuary arts, when I first started shepherding the dead as a career. I was young, but life was long and lonely, although I was surrounded by others in my profession. I lived in a...funereal commune, you could call it. A place strictly dedicated to death-dealers. I was good at what I did, but I started to grow...discontent, let’s say, with how it was all supposed to work, what death was supposed to mean . I had ideas that some of my compatriots weren’t all too fond of. So, after a long while, I left that position.” 

He shrugged, mixing squirts of the solution into the jar with the blank soul. “Traveled for many, many years after that. East, west, up, down. I went all over. Came to London eventually to see what the English were up to with their burials. I like seeing how different cultures mourn, how cemeteries change over time, things like that.” Undertaker stirred the liquid in the jar. It would need to marinate now. “But the people mourning, the corpses they were interring, there was no difference between any of them no matter where I went. See enough of them and all bodies start to look the same, living or dead.”

He turned back to the body on the table, looking down at it with a distant smile. “But then I met her , at her father’s funeral. I was there as an observer. Nobles always try to make their ceremonies spectacular affairs. Pity for them that she was there, though. There weren’t enough bouquets in the whole world that could’ve outshined her. It was just a waste of money in comparison.” He smoothed out the fabric of their shirt.  “Yes, she was the first person that had really caught my eye in a long time.” He held out his palm at Claude. “Scissors.”

Claude picked up a pair of scissors off an instrument tray and placed them in Undertaker’s hand. Undertaker readied the scissors at the bottom hem of their shirt, cutting upward towards the collar. 

“I stayed in London to get to know her. She was vicious. Sharp. Filled with grey ambition.” Snip . “She walked like she carried the fate of her family name in every step, and the more I watched her, the more I believed she did, too. She worked underneath the Queen, snuffing out the filth of the city. How fascinating would it be, I thought, to help this woman achieve her goals.” Snip . “Not directly, though, but from even deeper in the shadows than she was.” 

The shirt was cut all the way through now. Undertaker tucked the fabric halves underneath the body to completely expose the torso. They, like every other Venus and one ex-demon, had an autopsy scar carved neatly into their chest. “So I began to pull some strings,” he continued, just looking for now. “Made sure she had everything she needed to do what was asked of her. Really, I just laid out the path and waited to see what she did. And she never disappointed.”  

He slid the scissor blade underneath one of the stitches and snipped, face unreadable.  “Meddling with the living world was exciting again. I loved it. And her.”

Undertaker moved to the next stitch, then the next, frowning more and more with the sound of every new cut. “I couldn’t stay forever, though, no matter how much I wanted to. The people out there who were interested in my location were getting closer and more interested. Had to hit the road, wander around again. Did a lot of thinking about her. But of course, by the time I was able to break away and sneak back unnoticed, she was…already dead.” The scissors slid a little bit in his grip. “Made it just in time for her funeral. Another meaningless noble spectacle. Panem et circenses. I didn’t find it so fascinating this time around.” 

He leaned in close to the skin, perhaps to hide his grimace. The silken stitches were starting to fray from where they emerged from the body. He pulled them out of their holes with his fingernails to discard them, one by one by one.

“There, at least, I got to learn about the rest of her life. How she’d worked and married. Met her children for the first time, who were very upset by me clipping a sprig of hair from their mother’s coffin.” He chuckled and his free hand dropped down and twitched near his waist, like he was expecting something familiar to be attached there instead of the nothing that was. “Wasn’t like she was using it. Pins.” 

Claude handed him the box of dissection pins on autopilot. Undertaker plucked up a couple and bit them between grit teeth like a seamstress. 

“She’d had a son,” he mumbled around the needles in his mouth, grunting as he peeled a skin flap back to pin it to the mat below. “That was handsome and precocious and just as vicious as her. Exact same eyes, like he’d plucked them from her body himself. How wonderful it was to see what she passed on, what was still living inside him. He was right on the cusp of marrying age. How wonderful would it be to see him flourish, to see what he’d then pass down himself.”

With the skin gone, The Venii’s ribcage sat nakedly on display. Undertaker cracked the ribs back like opening a door to get to the rest of the cavity. It had been filled with Master’s wax organs to keep its shape, but instead of the golden yellow of the honeycomb, these had been colored a crusty red-brown after many nights spent ingesting other people’s blood. Undertaker tsked in disappointment but not surprise. 

“I fell in love with him almost immediately,” he murmured. “And this time, I wouldn’t leave his side.” He tsked again. “Might as well clean up while we’re in here, eh?’

Claude wet a polishing cloth and handed it to Undertaker, who had already picked up a honeycomb lung and was scraping scabs off of it with his fingernails. “So I moved back to London,” he said, taking the cloth to wipe the stains away. “Properly, this time. Set up a little shop, doing my work for the dead as a cover. And I came to the manor to help him.” He grabbed the honey heart and began to dust it off. 

“To him I was his informant, expected to keep my ear out for anything in the British underworld that would threaten the rest of society. That was only partially right, though. He never knew the levels I was actually working at, how much of it was engineered by me. I was careful to never let that on. It was like...living in a doll’s house, or a puppet show.” He spit-shined a section of the small intestine and sighed. “He was wonderful.”

It wasn’t anywhere near clean in there, but Master seemed to be already bored of it, dropping the cloth and tottering back over to where the updated soul sat. “He and his lovely bride had two little boys,” he said, shaking up the jar just in case. “Well, we wouldn’t know that it was two boys until much later, but they were just like twins after that. Both had their father’s eyes. Smart boys. Promising boys, especially the younger one, the one who would be Earl.”

Undertaker came back to the table with the soul cradled in hand, placing it back into the body cavity with gentle precision. It began to dissolve, fusing to the skin and bone, filling the body with light and color. It was a sight that Master cherished, but now he was looking down on it with something like bitterness and envy. 

“Watching them grow,” he muttered, sounding rough. “Seeing what they would become, that was a treasure and a thrill to me. I loved them, too. I loved them, and I thought that would be enough. I thought being there and helping would be enough. I was right there. Just a stone’s throw away. But still I was too late. They got... slaughtered ,” he said, shaking. “Bled like pigs, burnt to a crisp. Give me the needle. I’ll do it this time.”

Claude handed him the spool of spider’s silk and the stitching needle. Since these wounds would never heal, the needlework just had to be adequate enough to hold everything together, but Claude still frowned at his favorite task being taken from him. Undertaker licked the end of the string and tried to thread through the eye several times, but his fingers trembled too much and he missed again and again. Claude frowned even more. 

“I found them, he and his wife,” Undertaker kept on, missing the eye three more times. “The boys were gone completely. I turned that whole city upside down looking for them. Smoked out every little dirty rat hole I could. I finally found them, though. Ah.” He grunted as the damned thing finally went through, and pushed the needle through the first hole without patience or grace. Claude massaged his temple.  “Some damn cult. Both tortured and mutilated, but one of them made it out alive. Only one of them.” 

Undertaker started to sew, forgoing the usual straight stitch they used and instead going in giant sloppy crosses like a child’s arts and crafts project. “The little one. I found his body. Took him out of there. Cleaned him up. I couldn’t lose him, Claude. I knew what I had to do. So that’s when it started. The experiments. Walking corpses, raising the dead. I had to fix it. I had to make it right.”

Claude was busy thinking about how to fix the currently unfolding travesty, watching as Master skipped over several holes and ruined the angle of the newest stitch. He just kept going, rambling faster. 

“The boy that made it, got out, went back to that house under a false name like nothing had happened, like he wasn’t cursed , like we weren’t all damned now. I loved him still, you understand, but he was becoming a problem, investigating things like his father. I tried to tell him to get out of the way while he still could, but he was always stubborn. And he didn’t understand, when he finally saw my work, came face to face with the “Bizarre Dolls” that I practiced on. He would've had me killed for it,” he said, pulling the thread hard enough to tear through the hole. Claude cleared his throat in warning, but Undertaker didn’t seem to hear. 

“Perhaps I should have just...ended him there,” he said, closing in on the end of the scar. “Perhaps that would have been the more merciful option. He wouldn’t have ended up the way he is now. I could’ve fixed him, saved him. But no. I couldn’t have done it.” He tied off the last stitch and cut the thread. ”I couldn’t have killed him. That was the last time we ever met, anyways. I thought he was dead. Hah.” 

Master looked down at his work. After a moment of silent appraisal, he reached for their super glue to brush over the parts he’d missed. Claude dug his fingernails into his forearm. 

“I thought that would be the last time I saw him,” he said, unscrewing the cap and brushing glue over the thread. “I kept low, back in the shadows, working to fix my little boy away from anyone who could interfere. I was getting close. Blood was the key, I’d realized. To heal from death, a body needed fresh blood. Even our Venii, though only barely brushed by death, still want it, crave it. I was able to hire some associates to scrounge up gallons of it from the local populace. It was going to work , Claude.”

The glue, however ugly, also seemed like it was going to work, at least for Master’s standards. He pulled a sheet up over their head. They would wake soon. Undertaker just stared at the table, murmuring to himself, like he was saying a prayer, delivering last rites. 

“The day came that I finally got everything perfect, everything ready for the little one to walk the earth again. And it was perfect, in that moment. I finished the procedure and watched him open his eyes, clear and blue and just like his father’s. I watched him stand again, I watched him speak again. And then I watched him get sick .”

He tore away and almost ran back to the workbench, slamming his hands down and knocking a jar to the floor. “It was the blood that did it, I think!” he said, making hysterical little noises that Claude found convenient to think of as laughter. “If I’d had access to immunosuppressants, or a closer genetic match, maybe…”

He fumbled with another jar, pulling off the lid to grab the blank soul inside. He squeezed it in his hand, trying to get it to pop, before giving up and picking it to pieces with his nails. He tore through the aorta, needing to destroy something, anything. “Maybe his body wouldn’t have fought itself the way it did!  As it was , all the transplants and transfusions I gave him started to reject, to rot from the inside out. Had to watch him mold over with these...veiny little bruises. Thousands of them, spindly and covering him like spiders. Slowly turning black and blue...I spent days by his side trying to fix it.” 

Claude rolled his eyes with Undertaker’s back to him. This tantrum, whatever it was, was just embarrassing. What had happened to hating waste ? He’d ripped the whole soul into tiny little pieces, making his hands look like they were covered in gelatinous confetti. “Nothing worked ,” he was saying. “And in the end he could only lay there, screaming for his father, eyes wide and open and knowing that it was me who did this to him.”

Undertaker turned around, paled at the memory, looking so gaunt that Claude almost expected him to faint. But no, he just wandered over to the sink to wash his hands, completely drained of vigor and volume. “My heart couldn’t take it,” he said, almost drowned out by the sound of the water. “I gave him all the morphine I had left, so he could finally sleep. Held a pillow over his face for a full hour to make sure. Buried him in the garden, buried my reason to go on with him. Left England before the Reapers could catch me. End scene. Fini, it’s over. And they all lived happily...”

Undertaker trailed off. He was swaying where he stood, looking lost. Claude anticipated what was coming, and stepped forward so his coat was in reach rather than have Master lunge for it and risk them both tumbling down. As expected, Undertaker grabbed his sleeve immediately, pressing his face against it, gripping him for balance. “It’s possible, Claude,” he said into the fabric. “To raise the dead, but it shouldn’t be. It should be forbidden. Illicitus, impermissus. Nothing could’ve made it worth having that little boy die twice .” 

Claude could feel the indent of an attempt at a smile. “But we’ve solved it now, haven’t we?” Undertaker said, the cheer in his voice creaky and underqualified. “Now our little families won’t ever have to worry about passing away. Now the play will never end. There’ll never be a curtain call. The show must go on, right?”

“It is as you designed, Master," Claude recited. "Everything is going according to plan.”

Undertaker nodded, seemingly placated. He pulled away, still looking sickly but putting on better spirits. “Yes. Soon we won’t have to worry. The whole city. The whole city will be saved. Our haven for the undying. The modern Elysium, Timeless Square! The Big Chapel. Necropolis York City.” He snickered like it was a name he’d just thought of, instead of something he joked about constantly.

“Indeed,” Claude said. “Delicious rewards soon await us both.”

Undertaker looked confused for a moment. “Oh, er. Yes, of course. My soul, and the whole ordeal of eating it. Right. Slipped my mind, heh. Er...let’s go check on the hives, Claude.”

Claude hadn’t been thinking about Master’s soul, but he wasn’t about to offer a correction. He followed Undertaker upstairs to the roof. The hives were active tonight, buzzing in contentment. Master had recently swapped out their source of “pollen” for something fresher, and the colony’s workers crowded the air around the planter box, eager for a better harvest. 

Undertaker was peering down into the planter to watch the process. It was filled with white poppies whose petals turned color from unblemished snow to dark bloody red the closer they were to the corpse lying in the middle of them. Although it was surrounded by the idyls of honeybees and flowers in bloom, the corpse’s face was screwed up in an expression of terror and disgust, bright green eyes still open and staring frantically at the sky, as though pleading at the stars to save them. 

Claude smiled at the reminder of his victory. This Reaper had given him a good chase. 

A bee flew past and landed on the corpse's exposed rib, gathering up globs of meat and blood with its tiny black mandibles. Undertaker picked up the post-hole digger he’d used to plant the flowers and punched it through the Reaper’s intestines, cutting through the tender tissue, making more clotting blood well up to the surface. 

“Come and get it, ladies!” Undertaker called. More workers emerged, enticed by the smell. He watched as they gathered, putting his foot up on the digger like a proud farmer. The ones who had gotten there first were starting to trundle back home, hindlegs moist and swollen with their pouches of red.

“The city,” Undertaker said out of nowhere, sounding distant again. “The city is my goal, my priority. It has to be. I can’t allow distractions, I can’t afford to get my hopes up over nothing. But…” He sighed, staring at nothing. “Perhaps I have an encore to look forward to. I order you to redouble your efforts to find our target. The one with a brand in his eye. You’re to bring him home, Claude. This is your new mission, above all else.”

How convenient. Claude did not waste a second on wondering what his master meant by encore. “Yes, Master,” he said, a little too eagerly, already walking towards the edge of the roof. “I will get my hands on him as soon as possible.”

“Good,” Undertaker was saying, but Claude had already jumped away into the night before he could see his brows furrow and his mouth open as if to add something.

Claude really wouldn’t have cared even if he had. He really couldn’t care about anything else at all. 

Not when his delicious reward was out there, waiting for him.

Chapter Text

Grell called soon after that night. 

Sebastian knew it was her even being at the other side of the kitchen. Who else could put that much volume into a mere greeting? 

“Oh, it’s going well,” Ciel was telling her, cradling the phone with his shoulder, and then he was looking over at Sebastian. Sebastian knew, even without seeing it completely, that Ciel was smiling at him in the same infuriating way he'd been the past few days. It was soaking into his voice, making it sound like everything was so bitterly funny to him. “ Very well, I’d say. Do you have anything new for us?”

From what Sebastian could make out, Grell had gotten in contact with one of her English associates-- someone with some ridiculous name like Hello -- and invited him to New York to run experiments. He was the most arcanely knowledgeable person Grell knew. Apparently, declaring Sebastian as his test subject would give temporary immunity from being reaped. This, however, might require Sebastian being relocated to a London laboratory, to stop the corruption from spreading any further.

Ciel nodded, chewing his lip as his listened. “And this offer of relocation would only be for one, correct? Right, of course. Well. That’s...an option. Anything more local, then?”

There were other leads, she said, that she’d found based off the records of recent scythe thefts. She was going to come by to make a plan, but it would be several days before she'd be able to break away from work. 

Days. 

Sebastian coughed, but when Ciel looked over for an explanation, he said nothing, keeping on pretending that his morning tea was the most interesting thing in the entire world.

Days. Days of discomfort had already gone by since he had woken up in shame that night, and Ciel seemed to only grow more and more amused by it. By him. Sebastian was not looking forward to a repeat performance. 

The semblance of a routine they'd scraped together was doing nothing to protect him. Embarrassment was doing more work to consume his soul than the demon he lived with, but rather than linger on that plan or other failures, Sebastian had let a sort of domesticity fall into his lap. The morning after that night, after Sebastian had forced himself to standing on legs that were so strange to maneuver, Ciel had followed him into the living room, already smirking. Sebastian braced himself for the conversation that was to come. 

“You need to eat,” was all Ciel said.

Ah. Sebastian didn’t argue that point, mostly because there was nothing else to do. 

“I’ll call,” Ciel said, but Sebastian had already moved to the fridge and was pulling out one of Grell’s horrid pink shakes, downing it as swiftly and smoothly as he could, like he was mercy killing a small animal.

That earned him a loud frown from Ciel, who was seconds away from sputtering about the importance of taste and quality-- but what did that matter to him? Sebastian could barely stand the way air pricked at the fine hairs that coated his body, the itch of human skin that never seemed to go away. To bring the gross textures of the outside world inside him? Unthinkable.

So he drank, now strictly in the sober sense. He drank his strawberry shakes and he read, because there was nothing else to do. 

Their book collection was modest and highly-selective, Sebastian having picked up copies that looked interesting between jobs. He’d fold himself up on the couch, wearing Ciel’s silk pajama pants that looked like capris on him, and tried to remember what being comfortable was like. 

He’d catch up on philosophy, he decided. Other people’s musings on existence would be far more tolerable than his own. 

Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal, wrote Sartre, read Sebastian. Anything, anything would be better than this agony of mind, this creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough.

How astute. 

One of those nights they got a knock on their door. Ciel, unfazed, went to go get it and came back holding a box that smelled like herbs and warm bread. He set it down on the table, not bothering to explain anything to Sebastian, yet getting visibly irritated the longer Sebastian went without wanting things explained.

“It’s called pizza, remember? Grell recommends it,” Ciel said, finally giving in. He pulled a piece out of the box and looked it over apprehensively before taking a small bite out of the very end. His face immediately wrinkled.

“Mm,” he said unconvincingly, choking on the grease. He took another bite, watching Sebastian out of the corner of his eye, like he was trying to trick a reluctant dog into eating out of jealousy. “It’s...it tastes…” 

His face wrinkled even more when he realized he couldn’t lie. “You’re missing out,” he finally managed, because that was the objective truth. Sebastian just kept reading, and from behind him came the distinctive sound of something being dumped in the trash. 

To eat is to appropriate by destruction, said Sartre. Sebastian agreed, but he couldn’t deny that Sartre’s wording did make it sound just the slightest bit appealing. 

Those days weren’t completely meaningless. He did have one obligation, in truth. Figuring out how a now-human could possibly teach a now-demon how to use infernal skills was, at least, an interesting challenge. The only thing that seemed to come naturally to Ciel was making the little black flames he’d stumbled into discovering. A couple sessions of meditation were all it took to increase his control. Now he could conjure a ball of shadow big enough to use for soccer. 

That was progress. That was something to be proud of.

Everything else, however...

Try as he might, Sebastian could just not put something so intrinsic and instinctive as demonic abilities into human words. And try as Ciel might, he’d made zero headway into accessing an alternate form, without even a flicker of change to speak of. He kept looking just as human as Sebastian did. 

The summoning lesson was just as useless. Sebastian had set them up like a proper pupil and tutor, with Ciel sitting at their living room table while Sebastian stood to demonstrate. Ciel had confiscated all the dangerous objects he could find, so Sebastian settled for a knife sharpener rod to use as a pointer stick. 

“Summoning is elemental,” he said, rapping the rod against the broken door like it was a blackboard. “Just as we demons are elemental. When we conjure objects, we do so from its most basic structure upward, with an intimate understanding of its natural components. You must embody your knowledge of the object. That is about the most I can verbally explain.” He gestured to the hole in the door that Grell left behind. “Just follow your instincts. Try and summon enough wood to fix the door.” 

Ciel sat and stared at the door like he was trying to set it on fire with his mind. 

Sebastian waited several minutes. “Wood, my lord. Think wood.”

Ciel slammed his hands down on the table. “I am, you bastard! Wood!” he blurted out. “Cedar, balsam, pine! What else does it want from me? Mahogany!” Then it looked like something occurred to him and his anger vanished, leaning to put his chin on his hands and smiling that cheshire-cat smile. “ Morning.”

Sebastian turned and left. That lesson ended there. 

And there was the crux of the issue, the one that made Sebastian feel even more useless than usual. It was the matter of this damn body, of the unfinished and unaddressed business that was always on Ciel’s mind. Just being in the same room was enough to make Sebastian tense, and yet it grew even when Ciel was gone, the body penting up its heat, his own flesh lying in wait to trap him. 

Between attempts at teaching, Sebastian’s only defense for when Ciel got close enough for that feeling in his guts to stir was to send him away for more tea. Watching him struggle through the monotony of scrubbing toilets and doing meaningless dishes had been amusing at first, but his demands of Ciel were weak and growing weaker. 

It felt like he was the one getting toyed with now. This game, this avoidance, it wouldn't hold for long. They both knew that.

It was a desperate search for distraction that led to Sebastian ordering Ciel to clear the living room of furniture so there’d be plenty of empty space. Ciel had become particularly fixated on combat after his poor showing on the subway, and his prior experience with swordfighting meant that he at least knew the basics of melee, which would make for a more productive lesson. That, or Ciel would grow so frustrated that he'd eat him alive. Either option worked. 

Of course, like with most other things, Sebastian had an ulterior motive. Fighting was a tension reliever among many demons, intimidation and intimacy and roughness and release all blending into each other.  If he put in enough effort, Sebastian thought, maybe he could tire out what was possessing Ciel to slink around the apartment with that damn smirk on his face. He stood in the middle of the room, hands behind his back, and cleared his throat. 

"Your combat abilities leave something to be desired," Sebastian said with no pretense. "Short bursts of enhanced speed or strength may be suitable for disarming a human, but demonic combat is a lengthy and trying endeavour. If you wish to survive against an opponent you must work on your stamina. Obviously, I will be no match for you as of now, but at least I can provide you with some practice." 

He held out his arms and thought over the next words carefully as to not send them straight to his groin. "Incapacitate me." Gently, his mind suggested, but Ciel crushing him to death would just be an added bonus here. "Act as if I posed a threat to you. We will do several rounds, and you are to maintain the same energy throughout each one. Ten times should suffice to start."

Ciel processed the instructions and tried to suppress a grin as he readied his stance for his first attempt.

Finally, fighting. He had always been frail as a human and some of that expectation still held him back now, but he knew it was possible to push past it, to use his strength. Being able to access it easier would help his confidence significantly, and it didn't hurt that it gave him an excuse to be close to Sebastian after his awkward attempts to avoid him. 

For now, though, he couldn’t help but picture the muggers in Sebastian’s stead, his stance and clothes becoming theirs. Ciel really grinned at the image. 

"We'll see if I'm better at this than dancing," he said, and charged. He grabbed Sebastian's wrist and pulled it forward, turning so that one shoulder slammed into his stomach to throw his balance off.  Then he kept his momentum going, releasing his hand to slide past and shove Sebastian down over his knee, his arms hitting the carpet with a dull thud. 

Ciel let out a breath, shocked that it had worked, the illusion of his attacker poofing away and leaving a suffering butler behind. "You aren't going to try to resist?"

All the breath wheezed out of him as Ciel's knee found his already suffering solar plexus. Sebastian was bent over his leg like a child about to get caned across the thighs. He had hoped, he had so badly hoped that if he just ignored this tendency for masochism it would have just gone away. Now he hoped beyond hope that it would somehow now magically work on the way that this pain and proximity made his blood thrum. 

 "I...had thought that not doing so, given this body, would reduce further injuries." Sebastian's nose scraped the carpet. "But I see it's too late for that now." 

Ciel frowned. “I don’t want you actually injured, Sebastian. Order me to stop before you get hurt.” 

Sebastian didn’t answer. He had the height advantage and twisted out of the grip easily. As soon as he was back to standing he hooked an elbow around Ciel's neck, lifting him until his feet dangled above the ground. He spun like a parent would a small child, Ciel’s legs swinging in an arc around them. 

Ciel could have done more to stop this, he realized, but his curiosity at where Sebastian was going with this delayed any useful reaction until his feet were already off the ground and then, the next moment, Sebastian was letting go to send him flying into the wall. Ciel made impact with a too-satisfying thud and Sebastian bent over, panting. 

Most of his wounds had healed by now, but he had definitely split something open.

Sebastian hadn't gone easy on him. Ciel hit hard, sliding down until he remembered to get his feet underneath him in time to avoid hitting the ground just as hard. If he'd still been human, it would have winded him completely, but it hardly hurt him like this. The thrill was almost pleasant, and he coughed out a laugh before charging at Sebastian again.

Ciel took advantage of Sebastian’s bent position, ducking under it to tuck his head under one arm, then grabbing behind Sebastian's thigh with one hand and his shin with the other to tip him sideways. It was more like putting away a folding chair than a real attack, Ciel going slowly to try to avoid pulling anything, but Sebastian still groaned as he hit the floor, looking like a broken mannequin. 

Ciel climbed on top of him, pinning Sebastian’s arms to his sides with a grin as he looked down at his face.

"Sebastian, you're going to have to do better than that," he said. "Look at you. You can't even make eye contact. Is it that bad?"

Sebastian flinched. It had only been a handful of minutes and already his weakness was transparent. 

"No, my lord," Sebastian grit out, feigning ignorance, staring at the wall and proving Ciel's point. "No, your fighting is not that bad, at least when compared to your dancing. With that I don't have the luxury to just look away, I must close my eyes to avoid any permanent damage." 

Ciel scoffed. "Asshole. You know what I meant." 

Despite the taunt Sebastian was starting to sweat. Ciel had sat himself just above his hips, far back enough that Sebastian could almost feel the brush of his ass against the root of his cock as he shifted. His body was primed for this, practically its own separate animal, and it was feral with need and had been for days. He tried to keep his face still as he felt himself get more and more aroused, but the breath he was holding hissed out from under clenched teeth. 

Sebastian broke the hold on his wrists to grab Ciel's shoulders and push him off. He flipped to his stomach as soon as he was able, arms hugging his sore torso, looking more like a slug than a man.  

"I don’t know what you meant," he said to the floor, face red with frustration. The human experience was a horrible thing, but being able to lie was quite nice. It took a pitiful minute for him to get to standing, keeping his back to Ciel. "Now are you going to try and actually learn or are you too insistent on...whatever you think you're doing?"

Ciel flushed with irritation. Sebastian’s stubbornness was starting to be less funny and more really damn annoying. How far in denial was he, to pretend this was all his fault? 

"I'm doing what you said to. If it's that distracting isn't that your problem?" He grabbed Sebastian by the back of his shirt and kicked his legs out, dropping him to his knees. "Trying not to hurt you, even. How did you think this would go?"

He grabbed Sebastian by his throat and bent him backwards until his head and shoulders hit the floor, staring at his face with a challenge in his eyes.

"Is it my fault you can't bear to get off so you can function? It's no use lying to me, I can tell that you haven't."

"You--" Sebastian bared his teeth and clawed at Ciel's fingers, looking more like a demon than he had even before this began. Worse than the indignity of being choked was his body's response, to both the pose and to Ciel's crass words. He felt himself bead precum and gasped in horror and surprise. He had never had this happen like this. He seethed, trying to think of something to say, some way to get out of this, to be right again. 

Ciel frowned at the look on his face and loosened his hold on Sebastian’s neck, but left his hand where it was. "If you don't want my help,” he said, almost not sounding hurt by the implied rejection. “That’s fine.” He brushed his fingers down the column of Sebastian’s throat and worried his lip with his teeth. “But you should at least take care of it yourself so you're not driving us both crazy. There's no shame in it. That's how I managed after you left the other night."

"H-how you managed ," Sebastian said, sounding scandalized. His heart was pounding. He had nothing good to say, all platitudes turning numb on his tongue. The thoughts of Ciel seeing how desperate he was made his skin burn. The thought of Ciel taking care of himself made him feel like he’d been set alight.

Ciel’s frown only deepened.  “But you have to tell me what you want, Sebastian. If you want me to stop, order me and I will. If you want something else, then...”

Sebastian said nothing. Ciel sighed and pulled away to stand up and leave, letting Sebastian drop down to laying on his back. Before he could get too far, however, Sebastian’s hand shot out and grabbed him by the wrist, holding him there.

“Why are you doing this?”

Ciel raised an eyebrow and turned back to face him. "Because I don't want you to suffer pointlessly. I was human too, you know." He looked at Sebastian’s hand, at the way it held on to him like it belonged to a drowning man. “Is this your way of telling me?”

Sebastian, again, said nothing. There was no need to. They both knew what the answer was. 

Gently Ciel slid out of Sebastian’s grip, running his fingers over his palm. He nudged open Sebastian’s thighs with the tip of his toes, resting his foot in the available space between them. “I said tell me to stop.”

More silence. Ciel crouched back down, going even slower now, watching for a reaction as he crawled back to put Sebastian’s hips between his knees. 

“It’s also because,” Ciel said, voice getting rougher. “You look good like this. All flushed though you’ve barely been touched. And now I finally know a way to please you for certain, after all this damn time.” 

Ciel swallowed and lowered himself down until he was straddling Sebastian's cock, trapping it against his stomach. Sebastian stiffened, frozen like roadkill. 

“Oh,” Ciel said, softly, almost awed, entranced by the thudding pulse underneath him. “I can feel you.”

Sebastian could feel him right back, and feel him very, very well. The fabric of Ciel’s shorts were far too thin to be actual pants, and there was the distinct lack of extra fabric where his underwear would normally be. Had he planned this? Without them there was no detail of Ciel’s body that could be left to the imagination. All the heat and wetness and weight was outlined perfectly, and every little movement shot straight through him.

Ciel slid his hips back, quick and awkward about it to start, letting out a breath as the friction made his clit catch in the fabric. He shifted to try it again, slower and still awkward but something luxurious about it. Sebastian had to gulp down the breath in his throat before he choked on it. 

“Are you alright?” Ciel asked, through lips that stayed half open and were unfairly full and rosy. 

Sebastian couldn’t comment on the absurdity of it all: his master asking him if he was alright to begin with, let alone doing it while moving obscenely like this. Sebastian couldn’t say anything at all, too preoccupied with the pleasure coiled in him, controlling him. He threw his head back, and that was enough of a nod for both of them. 

I am no longer sure of anything, said Sartre, damn him. If I satiate my desires, I sin but I deliver myself from them; if I refuse to satisfy them, they infect the whole soul.

A century spent tamed, all undone in an instant. He didn't recognize the wild thing he was now. 

Ciel smirked. “Hm? Still too uptight to just say what you want even though you’re panting like a---”

Sebastian’s eyes had widened so much by the end of that that Ciel had to stop to chuckle before he could continue. “Like a slattern. A slut,” he finished, leaning in so he could see Sebastian's eyes darting around like a trapped animal. "Wanton."

 Sebastian made a sound somewhere between a cough and a laugh, like the words had been a physical blow.  "How arrogant I was to think I ever understood you, even back then. That you would say such things of your own free will--" 

Then it occurred to him, a way to be right. He thought about the other demons he’d known, about Claude-- those who’d learned to crave lust as a flavor, who would manipulate human sexuality and consume their prey at the peak of pleasure. Incubi

Perhaps Ciel was just coming into this as a preference, as a way to better whet his pallette. And now he, as the weak human, had no choice but to succumb. Of course.

Yes. That must be the reason this all was happening to him.  It made perfect sense. They could both get what they needed: Sebastian could get his release from both these mortal needs and this mortal coil, and Ciel could get his meal. 

It would be nothing but strategic to encourage it. 

Sebastian moved Ciel’s hand back to his neck, pressing down on his fingers until they were squeezing his neck with the same force as before. "Did I say our lesson was concluded?" he said, letting Ciel feel how his pulse quickened around the vice. "Immobilize me. That's an order."

Ciel felt the frisson of the command run through him, making him shiver. His hand tightened around his neck, watched as the pain and lust made Sebastian’s eyes roll back. 

"You have no idea how much of a tease you are," Ciel said. "Waking me up like that and then leaving me all alone, when I know just how you sound with a warm mouth on your cock."

He gasped as Sebastian started to struggle, trying to thrash out of the hold, trying to be difficult, to force Ciel down harder. Every movement pushed his hips up, each quicker grind making more friction, nudging his cock more firmly against Ciel’s clit. Sebastian bit his lips to stop himself from shouting. There must be some composure left inside him somewhere. 

“Tell me,” Sebastian said. “Tell me why you’re really doing this.” He needed evidence he was correct. He could not stop moving if he wanted to. The pressure built till it hurt but it wasn't hurting quite enough, not yet. 

"Answer. I order you," Sebastian breathed. "Tell me, and then..." He shifted Ciel's hand up his neck to free his jugular. "Here. Bite."

Another command, another shiver. Ciel leaned in close, fangs long and bright, every word felt as breath against his neck. "Because I want you," Ciel said, flushed from all the struggling. The words kept coming. "I just didn't realize. Human--”

Yes, thought Sebastian. Say it. Do it. 

“Or demon--”

Wait. 

“I don't care. Don't you understand? I want you." 

Oh. 

Before he could react Ciel was pressing himself to Sebastian's chest, grinding his hips back as he bit down into the tender flesh of his neck. Blood welled into Ciel’s mouth, rich and syrupy on his tongue, and Sebastian moaned both from the pain and the fact that he had lost

He had lost the wager he’d made with himself. Ciel did not want his soul. He was lost and he was wrong, but he could not give up this pleasure. He was lost and he was weak and it felt very, very good. 

Sebastian pressed his face into the crook of his elbow, trying to quiet down even as his thrusts upwards got jerkier, more desperate. But it didn’t help much. He was groaning, and even with Ciel’s teeth still in him his hips moved faster and his groans grew louder, almost approaching sobbing until--

"Fuck!" Sebastian had never spoke so coarsely, never betrayed his aesthetic this way. One could wonder if he even knew the word. If Ciel hadn't already been achingly hard, hearing Sebastian get this overwhelmed would've done it. Now he was shouting it again-- Fuck, Ciel! -- as he came.

I want you.

Sebastian stopped moving and didn't move for a long while. Ciel just lay there on top of him, licking the wound slowly until it stopped bleeding and pulling back with a shaky breath.

When his eyes finally fluttered open, they fixed on Ciel's thighs, where he was so keenly aware that underneath his cum was seeping through his pants. He cleared his throat. 

"Will you permit me to--" Sebastian was visibly struggling not to describe it as filth . "My lord. Will you permit me to bathe you clean of this...mess?"

Now that Sebastian had mentioned it, his shorts hadn't offered him much of a barrier, and there was definitely a “mess” left behind. 

Ciel cleared his throat. It wasn't that bad, but after their fighting he could use a bath anyway, and he needed to take this offer of closeness while he could. To reassure Sebastian, if he had to, that there was nothing to be ashamed of, that distance was the last thing he wanted.

"I will," Ciel said, and carefully slipped off him.

Sebastian stood, shaky and uncertain, and went back to the bedroom. He couldn't get out of these clothes fast enough, wiping down his thighs and changing into a nice set of loungewear. 

When he returned, Ciel’s eyebrows raised at the fact that he was dressed again but Sebastian said nothing, only bowed and held the bathroom door open for him.

Sebastian started the shower, and as the water warmed he neatly folded and stacked Ciel's clothes as he undressed. Bath drops diffused the scent of bergamot and lavender, making the air sweet and steamy as Ciel stepped inside. Sebastian stayed outside, close to the rim of the tub as he lathered Ciel's favorite soap in his hands.

“To answer your question, my lord, I cannot say I quite understand.” Sebastian worked the soap into Ciel's hair. He had lost the wager, but he had lost something else with it. His body was too relaxed to allow shame now. He felt simple. And what he was, at his very simplest, was a servant. He could excuse these desires if they weren’t his own, if he was just fulfilling his master’s needs. 

It was clear. Things made sense again. He knew what he had to do. 

Sebastian moved down to Ciel's shoulders, fingers massaging his collar bone. "I do not quite understand yet. But know that despite our mirrored contract, I was made your butler with my covenant. From the day you named me, I was yours, and that has not changed after all this time. I am still wrapped around your finger. Until the end." His hands slipped lower, tracing Ciel's hips. "As your butler, it is undue of me to leave a task unfinished. What would you have me do, master?"

Ciel blinked. The touches were very distracting, but some clarification was needed here. 

“Well, first, why are you standing out there?” Ciel asked. “If you're going to be doing something for me, isn't it a little...19th century of you to stay clothed?" 

Sebastian blinked back. "I apologize, my lord. A butler would have no reason to bathe with his master, so I just assumed...yes. I suppose I am quite old fashioned even now, aren't I? Fair enough."

He stepped back, his fingers drifting to the hem of his shirt. Sebastian’s eyes flicked away, strangely demure.

"It...probably should be said that I am unaccustomed to disrobing completely, even when seduction has been called for,” said Sebastian. “Not even Grell divested me of everything. This body was designed to be classically attractive to human beings, but to be so exposed...I just never saw the purpose."

Sebastian undressed, picking up his clothes and adding them to the tidy pile that was forming in the corner. He stepped inside, the reopened cuts lighting up red as the shower water hit them, and he hissed a little bit from fresh pain. He didn't stop moving once he was all the way in, staying a respectful distance from Ciel and shuffling from foot to foot like there was no stance yet comfortable enough. He couldn't move his eyes back up to Ciel's face, and the blush covered his whole body. 

"Are you comfortable enough, my lord?" he asked. 

"I'm fine," Ciel said.

Ciel gave him a moment to adjust, greatly curious at how shy Sebastian looked. He couldn’t be all that patient, however. He closed the distance between them, lacing his fingers behind the small of Sebastian's back. He kept his eyes well above the waist for now, at least to spare Sebastian any discomfort with the situation. 

Ciel slid his hands lower and tilted his head to look up at Sebastian, noticing that his height was enough that the water had only wet the ends of his hair. He was upsettingly beautiful, looking down at him through narrow eyes and thick lashes, especially with the bit of color in his normally pale face.

With a small sigh, Ciel whispered, "Can I kiss you?"

Even with his deadened senses, something about Ciel's hands on his ass made Sebastian shiver. He was tingling from his feet to his lips and he stiffened, first from the overwhelming feeling and then from the surprise that he was feeling it at all.

Sebastian realized he was standing with his mouth open and bit his lips closed. Yes, master, he wanted to say, but the sound was dry and died in his throat. 

Instead he leaned in to start a kiss that he intended to be slow and practical. His mouth was hot and Ciel yielded to it, closing his eyes in contentment, losing himself in the feeling. 

Nothing that was happening here was new to Sebastian. Humans would kiss him with their mouths fragile and wet, demons all teeth and bruising force, and he had been groped everywhere by both predator and prey. But this kiss, still so simple, already felt like it was scalding him. His thighs tensed as heat and pressure built in his-- why ? How, when he had been so recently sated?

God's Hooks, when would the desire let him rest?

Sebastian pulled back, feeling like he needed air. This servitude was for his master, not for this body. "I apologize, my lord, these mortal nerves are overwhelming." He had a job to do. There was no excuse for distraction. "I will clean you." 

Ciel wanted to argue, but the sound of Sebastian’s breathing after just a kiss let on how this was affecting him, even if his face didn't. Ciel felt a flush spread to his neck. The prospect of being wanted--like this, so impossible to deny--sent a desperate thrill through him, heat burning low. Sebastian’s hands shook as he wet them and sought the smear still left on Ciel's thigh.  

Sebastian carefully rubbed the mess away. He had seen and bathed this body a thousand times. By no means should the sight arrest him as much as it did, but he was helpless to it. Ciel's pubic hair was a dusted silver that trailed down from his stomach and shone from a collection of droplets. Underneath would be the rarest pink, he knew, and he wondered how it would feel to these hands, these fingers that were so close and would only need to-- 

Sebastian pulled his hands away and straightened his stance. Had he been groaning? He couldn't say. Now Ciel was clean and his excuse for touching was gone. He was lightheaded and getting perilously hard again, putting his hands on the wall to steady himself. How could he perform like this? 

Ciel didn’t miss the way those eyes raked over him as his thighs were washed, nor avoided noticing where Sebastian's blood seemed to be rushing again. He watched as Sebastian struggled to keep upright, as his eyebrows knotted up in distress. 

To get him to actually move forward, though, Ciel knew he would need a show of complete certainty. Letting on how flustered he was when Sebastian was so stubbornly solicitous was likely to get him tucked into bed with assurances that he could wait, that it was better even, more proper--

Ciel didn't want any of that, not when he was getting so needy. He needed something that might needle Sebastian's pride enough to get him to stop worrying.

"Such a good dog you make," Ciel said, keeping his voice as steady as he could as he took one of Sebastian’s hands off the wall, guiding him close again. "Nearly drooling for it and you still wait on your master's command."

He slipped two of Sebastian's fingers in his mouth and swirled his tongue around them before pulling off with a pop.

"Ah hah." If Sebastian’s dignity hadn't already been ground away to dust over the past few days, the noise he made as Ciel sucked his fingers would have done it in. His lips were warm and tight around him and even as Ciel pulled away Sebastian reeled at the fact that it was pleasurable to begin with. 

Could this be part of why humans sought out pacts year after year, at the cost of their own lives? Their greed and feeble minds aside; was there a gratification in being consumed? Is that what he was feeling? What his body was seeking?

Ciel's words sunk in late and pulled him out of his reverie. This boy. Insolent and insufferable, playing at haughtiness, acting like he was so far above the blush on his cheeks.

"Touch me," Ciel was saying, guiding the hand down. "Be gentle to start."

Sebastian pressed his face into Ciel's neck, back to an embrace. He felt a blip of good humor, the first real one in days. 

"Woof," he said, and slipped his hand between Ciel's thighs.

Sebastian started slow. "Being gentle" more than certainly meant no penetration, but he would go gentler than that, working Ciel up before even attempting direct touch. He had bedded all kinds, from the experienced and adventurous to the shuddering virgins, and he took his time with each. They all bloomed quite nicely under his care, every ministration well practiced. 

And Ciel as his master was worth three times the whole damn lot. He'd earned special attention.

He cupped Ciel's groin, using the blunt pressure of his palm to grind against him. Sebastian could feel how wet he was, how swollen and suffering, and his chest clenched with an emotion he couldn't identify. This wasn't going to sate Ciel for long, but if he was a dog then he was a dog. His master would need to take responsibility for any poor training.

Sebastian kissed down Ciel's neck, sucking at his collarbone hard enough to leave a bruise. His instinct to mark his territory never left, it seemed. Two fingers pressed deeper to find Ciel's clit, toying with him in slow, deliberate strokes. 

"Master," he sighed. "Speak your mind. Guide me."

Ciel gasped, the pressure from the heel of Sebastian's hand all at once bringing home how desperate he'd gotten. He closed his mouth to keep himself quiet, not wanting to give Sebastian the satisfaction when he'd barely been touched, but the twitching of his hips gave him away. He grabbed Sebastian's shoulder for support, fingers digging in when his mouth clamped down. Then fingers were sliding over his clit, teasingly slow, and it throbbed with need. He realized he was whining and cut the sound off, struggling to answer in a way that kept his composure.

"H-harder, Sebastian," he said, more breathy than commanding. "More."

Sebastian obliged. One pad of his finger moved underneath Ciel's clit to stroke the head with every thrust. It started soft, his fingers gathering wetness almost lazily until he increased the pace to fast, deep circles. His master was no stranger to whining, but the sounds he made now...Ciel was right, he was no better than a dog, rabid and leashed and starving, and it was an entirely animal impulse that had him straddle his erection against Ciel's thigh and grind down into the softness there.

"Ah. Hha," Ciel panted, the insistent movements of long fingers taking him apart. He couldn't bring himself to care about how he must sound now that Sebastian was breathing this harshly in his ear, with his dick hard and pressed against his bare leg. His legs trembled as the water dripped down their bodies, the steamy air thick on his tongue where it lolled from his open mouth.

A detached part of Sebastian, the last coherent thought he had, worked to dissect Ciel's reaction. How did this feel to him, newly a demon? Why was his body still so...pliable? Humans could demand all manner of things through the contract, and demons could deliver with a layer of separation between themselves and the act. Yet Ciel seemed to let himself be freely undone by all this. 

If Sebastian asked-- no, demanded Ciel's pleasure, how would it feel? For the both of them?

"My lord," he said. He couldn't stop himself, and Ciel was close to begin with if the twitching of his thighs was any indication. 

There was something in Sebastian's voice that made Ciel focus and look up to meet his eyes, even if he couldn't keep his own completely open.

"Come,” Sebastian said. “I order you to come for me."

And Ciel couldn’t help but obey. 

The heat that had been building rushed all at once to the surface. Ciel clinged to Sebastian's neck as he cried out, his hips shaking against his hand as his pleasure peaked. "Ah--ah, Sebastian, fuck --"

Feeling Ciel come against his hand stoppered Sebastian’s heart, kept him trapped. It felt like an eternity watching him. A version of himself, far above his body, wondered that if he concentrated enough if he could see the pieces of Ciel's ego falling from him, the decorum that he had shattered with just his fingers. If he could feel it, maybe, if he could taste it on his breath and on his soul even though that sense was stolen from him. 

When Ciel’s release had receded, leaving only warmth, he kept holding on, eyes fluttering shut. Was that from the order itself, or had the act of being ordered pushed him over the edge? "I c-can't believe you," Ciel said either way, his voice too wrecked to properly tell him off.

Now Ciel was looking up at him again, eyes hazy with both satisfaction and betrayal, rankled by being exposed as vulnerable, or perhaps even fond of being commanded.  I'm sorry, Sebastian thought but did not say, the apology stagnant on his tongue. I had to know -- know what, exactly? He started to pull away in stupor but Ciel held on fast.

"I'm not done with you yet," Ciel said, eyes dark. "Fuck me."

Fuck me. It echoed through him like a gunshot, and Sebastian's breath shuddered. Already overwarm from the water, the rise of heat to his face made him dizzy. He groaned, lips parted and red. "Master--"

Whatever he had been trying to say, Ciel had already decided that he wasn't saying it fast enough. His lord's hand, spoiled and soft, slender and aristocratic, was gripping him by the ass and pushing him forward like his livelihood depended on it.

Sebastian relented, moving to get himself flush to Ciel on pain of death or dismemberment. His fingers found Ciel's mouth again, pushing past lips and teeth and all the little moans Ciel made until his skin was slick. He reached down, not wanting it to go to waste, but even with the shower washing everything away Ciel was still incredibly wet. He let his fingers part through gently. Ciel’s body was relaxed and giving after already coming once, but still Sebastian stopped short, a fingertip just barely nudging his entrance. 

Ciel grunted at him before he could ask. “I won’t break, you fool. What, do you want me to beg? Just--come on, please.”

It had never occurred Sebastian to want that, not in this context. The effect was undeniable, though. A show of humility like that somehow only made him want to serve more. He stepped a bit forward, adjusting til Ciel's back was against the wall, and added another finger. 

The first thrust was slow and short. Sebastian paused at the first knuckle, both to let Ciel adjust and to delight in the little shudders passing through him. 

When he was ready Ciel fixed him with another impatient glare. Sebastian face didn’t change. He just curled his fingers inside of him. 

“Oh,” Ciel moaned, head dropping as Sebastian uncurled and then curled again, hitting a spot inside him just right. He was starting to go limp, weakness spreading outward through him until it felt like Sebastian’s hand was the only thing keeping him upright. “Oh, it’s good.”

Sebastian thrust faster and Ciel brought his hands up, digging his fingernails into Sebastian’s shoulder. “Oh, oh, fuck,” he muttered, swearing against Sebastian’s neck, nipping at the skin when he ran out of breath for more words. It felt like his core was melting into something golden and bright and too powerful to handle. 

And this, all of this, was too powerful for Sebastian to handle either. His last rationalization was circling the drain. This wasn’t duty. His mind knew it, presenting it plainly to him, and he could not run away. He was fucking his former master because he wanted to. Because Ciel, outside of his brother’s persona and the confines of the contract, was...attractive, somehow, in a way beyond his time with Grell, in a way Sebastian was unfamiliar with, and that was a self-defining truth that had no other reasoning underneath. 

The human experience was very, very strange. 

Ciel lifted his head. “S’bastian, already I’m...I think I’m close.” It felt like he couldn’t take a full breath. “Can you-- ah.” The whine interrupting him only made him whine harder in frustration. “Again, kiss me again, kiss me while I--”  

He was cut off by Sebastian's mouth, by the twist of his tongue and the feel of his teeth as they sucked on Ciel's lip, and he whined again from the little ache it gave him. His legs were shaking, the tremors reaching his jaw, but Sebastian pushed forward even as Ciel's lips threatened to slip out of the kiss. 

Then he comes with the faint taste of strawberries and Sebastian on his tongue. 

"Ah," Ciel groaned, and it was almost like a sound of defeat as he went completely limp, collapsing into Sebastian's arms. For a moment they form a divine tableau, a strange imitation of La Pieta. But the moment passed, and Ciel wiggled away to try to stand on his own. 

"Your turn," Ciel croaked. He got to his knees as gracefully as he could in the small tub, shins cramped and clunking against porcelain, but before he could even take a look at his target there was a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. 

"No," Sebastian was saying. "No, my lord, you mustn't. The--the water. You'll slip." 

Ciel peered up at him, eyes exhausted and half-closed from the shower spray. "I'll what?" 

Sebastian pursed his lips. He looked jittery and washed out, like the enormity of the situation had only just dawned on him. "Slip. Or drown. It's...dangerous, my lord."

A scoff was three-quarters the way up Ciel's throat before he stopped himself. Something had changed in Sebastian’s eyes, expression shuttered up and walled off with the same hesitancy he'd get with everything newly human. He wasn't ready and that was fine, but there was no need for such an absurd excuse. I'll slip and drown and fall to pieces? Me, a demon?

No, Ciel realized. The concern was genuine, rolling off Sebastian in waves even if the idea itself was ridiculous. Perhaps he was projecting the worst possible option for himself in his delicate body onto Ciel. Perhaps Sebastian still saw him as something to be protected.

Ciel chuckled, trying to diffuse the strange affection now welling up inside him. “You’re...a very silly man, you know that?” He got back to his feet, still wavering, and reached behind Sebastian to turn the shower off. Ciel stepped out first, getting a towel that he wrapped around Sebastian’s shoulders like treating a patient for shock. He was still half-hard, but Ciel was going to let Sebastian choose how to handle that himself. "Come. Let's get you dressed." 

They dried off and got dressed in silence. Sebastian still looked lost and uncertain, but at least not regretful, which Ciel was grateful for. It had been an eventful day for them both. A cooldown was needed, no matter how much he loathed the idea of taking any steps back.

Ciel went to the living room to get something before coming back and urging Sebastian towards the bedroom door. “You must be tired,” Ciel said, sounding just as fatigued. “We don’t have to, er, talk or dwell or anything like that. Just take your book.” He shoved another philosopher’s novel into his hands. “And rest. I’ll leave you be.”

Sebastian slowly nodded and turned away.

“Thank you,” Ciel added. 

The door closed behind him. Ciel could hear the faint sounds of shuffling, and then something was said so quietly that it would have been completely missed had he not been a demon.

Thank you. 

Ciel smirked his familiar smirk and went back to look up something that his damned silly man would finally eat.

Chapter Text

Autumn had come to New York, but the air wafting out of sewer grates and clinging to passerby’s ankles was as hot as summer. This alley was particularly wretched, the smell of wet garbage so strong that it threatened to turn solid and bury the street alive. It stuck to clothes, he could taste it on his tongue. It was foul. This whole city was so foul.

But Claude could be patient. Claude could wait.

This vantage point was perfect, anyways. The tradeoff for the odor was a perch on a fire escape that allowed him views into every storefront on the block. Claude crouched against a railing and watched trinkets change hands, buying and selling in an endless chain, New Yorkers shedding money like a second skin. 

It was all so useless to him. His grip on the iron bars was starting to stain his palms with rust. Patience.

Until there it was, the sight of his target, crossing into his field of view along the street below. A soul with a scent so strong that it rendered the sewage forgotten. It was the smell of a lightning storm, of the cosmos on earth, of the ripest fruit and sweetest sin hidden like a tease under a layer of demonic magic. And it was all going to be his. 

Claude stood up. His mouth was watering, the need to catch his prey almost painful, but he forced himself to wait and watch a minute longer. This dish would need special preparation, after all. The flavors could stand to marinate, he told himself.

Master had not bothered telling him the name of the target when he had issued Claude the order to fetch it, but Master didn’t seem to have thought out the technicalities of the order to begin with. Leaving loopholes in a contract with a demon was a sure way to hang yourself. But the details didn’t matter now, Claude supposed. 

Tracking it down had been easy enough in the beginning. It was a stroke of good fortune that the most ostentatious reaper the Division had was the one on the case, and he only had to follow her from door to door until she eventually arrived to where his victim lay. He watched them through a crack in the window until he was satisfied she was going to keep them alive, which had been a relief. Killing reapers took a lot of effort. 

From then it was more waiting. He came when he could, between other orders of protecting his master, and stayed an undetectable distance away from their apartment. Well, sometimes he would indulge himself and creep up to the window in the form of a drain spider, but only sometimes. Just to watch. Just to observe. 

Such a glorious morning it was to see it now out in the world alone. The target was dressed in casualwear fine enough to push the definition of casual, and it walked with enough condescension to match. Even without a name, even without the scent, Claude would know it was him. Watching the shops had been an honest guess, but now he had his opportunity. Now he had him, and Claude knew exactly what he needed to do to make him his meal.

Now Claude was ready to be seen.

--

Ciel was in good spirits. 

He’d bathed and dressed himself before Sebastian had woken. It was a sunny and generally tolerable day, so Ciel decided to brave the city streets a second time--with no underground detours. He left the apartment and walked, navigating around small packs of people enjoying what he had gathered from snatches of overheard conversation was a Saturday. The blocks ahead were filled with stores and restaurants eager for customers. Shelves of wares spilled out onto the sidewalk, shopkeepers taking advantage of the nice weather.  Ciel checked his height in the reflection of the windows as he passed. A trio of house sparrows pecking at a chip bag hopped barely an inch from his feet. He nearly tripped over them, lost in thought. 

It had been two days or so since the fighting lesson that wasn’t, and things were going well. Not fast, by any stretch of the imagination, but well. They hadn’t talked about what happened, Sebastian just sort of silently resuming his strict reading schedule like nothing had changed. But Sebastian’s way of carrying himself had changed, like the world was allowing him to relax a little bit more. Still awkward about the whole existing thing, but a more relaxed awkward, at least. 

Ciel had never been one to not push his luck, so the first time that he’d walked in to see Sebastian curled back up on the couch again, he’d plopped right down on the couch beside him. It had started with reading over his shoulder, just wanting to be close, but the hair trailing down the nape of Sebastian’s neck looked so much softer and more distracting than usual. 

It took Sebastian shivering with chills underneath him for Ciel to realize that he’d gone from just thinking about the softness to actually reaching out and petting it. It made Sebastian shake, and now he was staring down at his knees, obviously confused at the stimulus his body was giving him. It dawned on Ciel then that Sebastian must be ticklish. 

He wanted to explain it to him, that it was normal, but the rush of fondness and cute aggression made Ciel feel like he was going to overflow. Ciel just kissed him instead.

They had time now. Ciel went slow, savoring how Sebastian shuddered and leaned in far enough to brush the ends of his hair against Ciel’s cheek. How the tip of his tongue slipped its warmth past Ciel's lips, how he sighed like he was sating a forgotten need. Another moment of absentmindedness overtook him and he was crawling on Sebastian’s lap, thighs wrapped around his waist and arms wrapped around his neck. He could hear Sebastian groan, feel something in his legs tense, feel him get closer, and then, and then--

And then Sebastian got up, set Ciel gently back down on the couch, and went into the bathroom, locking the door behind him.

 Ah. Well. He’d gotten overwhelmed, Ciel supposed. That was fine. Ciel got up, dusted himself off, and went back to trying to take as many notes about the Claude situation as he could. When he saw Sebastian again later that evening, though, he was sitting upright to read rather than spread out across the whole couch, very pointedly leaving enough space for Ciel to sit back down next to him. 

And so it went. Ciel would sit and kiss him until Sebastian's stimulation crossed an invisible threshold and he would get up and leave Ciel wanting, to be repeated every couple of hours. Ciel didn’t want to push him. Really, he didn’t. But Grell was scheduled to come by tomorrow. If there was something he could do to help settle whatever worries he had, something he could do to encourage him that it was alright to want to go a little farther on the last day alone they had, Ciel wanted to do it. 

Or, perhaps, if there was something he could get instead.  

After a few more moments of walking he saw the sign for his destination: the pharmacy. Apparently these places were much more regulated today, and even though he could hardly call the shop clean, there were no questionable glass jars or mysterious dried herbs among the shelves of plastic bottles. It didn’t take much time to find what he was looking for. The look on the cashier’s face as she rang it up was more likely boredom rather than judgement, but Ciel shot her a cheeky smile just in case she decided to comment. 

Next was breakfast. There was a bakery just down the road. It was hard to miss the smell of fresh bread as he approached and, after a short wait in line, he ordered two croissants, two breakfast sandwiches, and two pastries filled with real, actual strawberries. Sebastian would eat at least one of these things when he returned. Ciel was determined to make it happen this time. He had to branch out from those disgusting pink shakes or he was going to waste away.

Ciel unrolled the paper bag to take a croissant for himself as he walked outside. It looked flaky and buttery and almost as delicious as the ones he’d have back in the manor. He ate it with relish, belying the complete lack of necessity that food held for him.

It was good. Today was good. 

And then the empty space in front of him was suddenly occupied, a horribly familiar figure casting a long shadow on the sidewalk.

The being currently known as Claude Faustus had materialized within two feet of Ciel, who was only narrowly able to stop himself from bumping into his chest. Claude, now disguised in respectable businesswear, put a hand on Ciel’s shoulder before he could startle or pull back. 

“Don’t scream,” Claude said. He smiled like they were old friends, like this was a chance reunion, like this was something normal to happen in public. “Make no sudden movements. I am order bound not to hurt you. I merely wish to talk."

Ciel flinched far too late. He swallowed the bite he'd been chewing, flushing with anger. 

“I could have dropped my croissant,” he said in a cool voice, though bile was rising in his throat. “You really are a nuisance.”

Ciel’s thoughts caught on a certain detail hard enough to distract him from Claude’s grip. Someone had ordered him unharmed. Claude wasn’t working alone, then, he was in another contract, and had likely vivisected Sebastian under their orders. His stomach leapt with both dread and anticipation as he realized how valuable a clue that was, that the only lead he’d found himself had just appeared out of thin air. 

“Prove it.” Ciel said, finally yanking his shoulder back out of Claude’s reach. “Prove that you’re contracted or else I tell my Reaper friends all about Manhattan’s daywalking demon. They’re all patrolling nearby and can get here in fifteen seconds. Do it now.”

Claude sighed and lifted his hands in surrender, stepping backwards in an exaggerated mockery of personal space. He pulled a glove off and presented the back of his hand to Ciel. There was his contract seal, golden and shiny, shameless in the light. Ciel did not relax.

“I have been commanded,” Claude said. “To find and return you to my Master. I can complete this task by any means necessary as long as you stay alive and unharmed. If I so chose, I could have retrieved you days ago. But instead I appear before you to propose...a truce." 

Ciel shared his opinion of a truce via a lob of spit launched near Claude's foot. He looked around for the nearest payphone and prepared to hustle towards it. "Get the hell out of my sight, I'm calling the fucking Reapers." 

"I have information about your husband," said Claude. 

That got Ciel to turn back around. “ My what?”

Shit. Did I forget again?, Claude was thinking.   "Your...your partner. Your pet you kept leashed on an impossible oath." He couldn't help but grin. "How is he, by the way?" 

Ciel stared like he was willing Claude’s scrotum to shrivel up like an ancient grape. “He’s not my pet, and I’m not doing this with you. Tell me.”

Claude sighed again. "Tsk. A pity. I realize I appear familiar to you, that you had history, enmity, with a being known as Claude, but for me no memory remains. I have no interest in the past, either. I simply ask that you look beyond antiquity and consider how we might be alike." He pulled something out of his pocket and shuffled it around in his palm. Whatever it was had an aura of black shadow around it. 

Claude sighed another time, shoulders shrugging for the show of it, and slipped the object back into his pocket while Ciel watched. “Here I was, ready to extend the olive branch and offer a more mutually beneficial arrangement, but if you insist on your obstinacy...well, I suppose I’ll be seeing you again when I come to collect for my Master.” 

Claude turned on his heel and began to walk slowly down the street. Slowly. Slow.

“Wait,” said Ciel.

Claude stopped, grinning to himself while Ciel grimaced. Oldest trick in the book, they both thought. “What do you even want?” Ciel asked.

Claude turned around, a hint of teeth in his grin. "Come," he said, stepping back the slightest bit more. “Let’s discuss over coffee.”

“To hell with that, do you really think we’d fall for your second location trick twice? Absolutely not.”

Claude tapped the sigil on the back of his hand and pointed to a building visible down the street. “It is a public place, and I’m certain you’ll find it preferable to the dirty street. Come.” 

He went off, never once stopping to check if Ciel was still behind him, like he was both certain he’d follow and certain he’d poof away like Eurydice if he actually looked. And Ciel did follow, begrudgingly, hatefully, keeping a thousand wary feet of space between them. 

After several minutes of walking, Claude disappeared into a concrete building done up with copper and delicate baroque patterning. It was a luxury hotel, Ciel realized, and in ten seconds of staring at it he saw both the old money and the nouveau riche types roll in and out of its revolving door. Some heiress or another came out of an Audi and started shepherding in a towering luggage set that looked like it was made of alligator leather. 

Just great. Ciel was out of practice with the upper crust. They’d had them as customers, sure, but that was different than dealing with them, different than all the horrible hob-nobbing he’d had so much practice with as a noble. Now he was about to interrogate his worst enemy in wealthy territory, in a place lousy with bored elites who’d look at him like they were itching to ask where his parents were. It was the first time in a very long while that he felt embarrassed over not being an Earl again. 

Leave it to Claude to find an unexpected way to make him uncomfortable.

Ciel went inside. The lobby interior was half French palace and half English library, gold chandeliers and marble statuettes meeting fine leather chairs and wood panels everywhere. There was actually a tiny cafe that actually had a normal-sized Claude waiting at its counter, so that was at least truthful. Ciel watched a concierge take a call at the reception desk. If he needed to, he reasoned, he could jump over and use one of those phones if things went south. He’d outran Claude once, he could do it again. 

So that was fine. It was going to go fine. 

Ciel slumped into one of the lobby’s leather chairs and waited. Claude approached, two porcelain mugs in hand, intent on Ciel’s location like he’d planned where he’d sit himself. Ciel just glowered at him, not moving from his slouch as Claude set the coffee down on a table and took the opposing seat. 

“So,” Ciel said, trying to get the first word in, trying not to sound desperate for clues. “Is your Master a hotelier or something?”

Claude smiled as he lifted the cup to his lips. Ciel continued to deliberately ignore his own latte. “No,” Claude said, and tilted the handle back-- but he wasn't actually drinking it, Ciel noticed, just sloshing the liquid around a bit so it looked like he was. "These types of places have their uses.” 

What the hell was that supposed to mean? Was it possible, in any life, for Claude to not be so obnoxious? For even a second

Ciel couldn’t wonder at that much longer. Claude was pulling out the object he’d pocketed and setting it on the table with no introduction. It was a vial of black smoke that somehow moved on its own, jittering slightly with a strange power. Ciel stared, fascinated, before checking over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching. 

"My master has developed many methods to transform souls,” Claude said. “It was with his teachings that I was able to extract the very essence of your pet’s being-- a sample of which is in that bottle. I give you this as an offering of good faith.”

As Ciel picked it up, the vial trembled in his hand, as though it was struggling for freedom. “So this is what you took from him, then? His powers?”

Claude nodded. “Brimstone, we call it. Master has studied it thoroughly. It is an ancient, instinctive magic, constantly seeking its origin. Open it, and it will find its way to him."

Ciel inspected the lid more closely. The vial was stoppered with a loose-looking cork, and Ciel sniffed at it out of curiosity. Iron, silver, and spice. It was Sebastian as he had been before, or at least a piece of him. Before he could stop himself he'd pulled it open. The black wisp inside rushed out into the room, and Ciel could have sworn he saw a curl of smoke slip its way out under the lobby doors. 

“Is that...it?” Ciel asked. He watched an idly refined customer smell the air with a puzzled look on their face. “Is he…?” 

Claude shook his head. “No. I have many such vials, and it will take much more than that to restore your pet to what he was.”

Ciel’s eyes narrowed. “Why have many? Why make them so small?” 

"Distribution," was all Claude said. 

“Distribution?” The idea made Ciel’s teeth ache with something akin to jealousy. “Of what?”

Claude just smiled. Ciel debated murdering him right here. It would be so much easier if he had Sebastian’s knack for launching cutlery. 

“How many would it take for his powers to return?” Ciel asked instead, slipping the empty vial into his pocket. 

"A majority, I'd imagine. I could release all of them in my possession, if,” Claude raised a finger. "I were to get something in return. Let this be the crux of our bargain."

“Our bargain,” Ciel repeated, sticking his tongue out like the word was moldy. “Why try and bargain in the first place if it’s not what your Master wants?”

Claude had to think about this. “You...are distracting,” he settled on. “It’s better if you are not my Master’s focus.” 

More cryptic bullshit. Ciel crossed his arms. “Just say whatever the hell it is you want already.” 

“Alright,” Claude said, shrugging. “Here is what I propose. I can take you to my master's residence while he is in absentia. This would absolve myself of the order to retrieve you, as he never specified what should be done with you once you were retrieved. I will then open the vials in my possession, returning your pet to demonhood. When my master asks where you and he are, I will tell him how I was overpowered, that you planned a surprise ambush and scurried beyond my reach. I think this would provide an invaluable headstart to your escape, wouldn’t you?”

Claude took another fake sip of his coffee. Ciel was well aware that he was waiting for a response, but said nothing. Claude cracked his neck and adjusted his glasses in silence. 

“And as for your role to play in return,” Claude said after another moment. “My desires are simple. All I ask in exchange is for a...” He trailed off, frowning. “What is the human expression? Ah. A date, I believe. I am asking for a date with you, including the intimacy that commonly follows. If you are so willing, of course.” 

Ciel froze. Flushed. Then he laughed, forceful and incredulous, slapping his hand against his forehead.
“Are you serious? Intimacy? ” He remembered their location and forced his voice down to a whisper. “Are you propositioning me right now?” 

Claude’s expectant look told him all he needed to know. He jerked his face away so he didn’t have to see it while he was thinking this over. 

Oh, the stones on this half-wit! After everything that had happened between them in Britain, appearing again to ask for willing sexual favors was somehow both brazen and yet tamer than expected. Ciel was anticipating more waterboarding, or loss of limb, or any other kinds of innovative torture techniques that the likes of Faustus could come up with. At least it was in character by way of being incredibly stupid. 

Of course, this idiot had no way of knowing that he wasn’t anywhere close to Ciel’s last resort. Grell was bringing her leads and contacts and her plurality of options tomorrow. If there was someone who could figure out how to undo what happened without needing Claude’s help, it was the Reaper Forensics. He wasn’t cornered into this, and that was good. He also didn’t see a reason why he couldn’t just take Grell and her surplus Reapers and hunt down this Master himself, although he had to admit that making a “truce” with his servant would make such a feat much easier. 

Yes. It would be more convenient to bypass Reaper bureaucracy entirely and just take care of things himself, wouldn’t it? Humor Claude for a night, run, and get all this blasted business over with in one fell swoop. It would hardly be the most humiliating position he’d ever been put in, and it wasn’t like his gamut of experiences was still strictly negative. Claude couldn’t hurt him, couldn't fight back if he chose to leave, and he really did have a Reaper he could call. Ciel was stronger now. It would be a far cry from the lengths he had to go to as a human. 

And since he wasn’t human, there was no possible way that Claude could eat his soul now, right? If he needed to take the small measure of demonic magic Ciel had, then his master wouldn’t have forbade him from harm, since it seemed that process required a large amount of it. Perhaps dying once had truly made him simpler. “Consider how we might be alike”, and all. Perhaps he was truly just a tepid dullard looking to get his rocks off. That last part was relatable, at least.

Ciel could twist this to his favor, he decided, no matter how he chose to proceed. He hadn’t lost the upper hand, no. Ciel had the advantage here, and he really liked having the advantage. 

He sighed loudly, sliding his hand down his face. “Sebastian warned me you were a pervert, you know. He never lies." He dropped his hand and looked back to meet Claude's eyes, expression intent. "How can I trust that you'll do as you say? That if I let you date me, you'll restore him? How can I believe you’ll let him be when it was you who carved him up in the first place?” 

Claude sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers with a smile. "We make a pact, of course. I am already forbidden from harming you by my covenant. A pact, however, would be a separate agreement, a vow following a demonic code. We would be bound to it as if it were its own contract. I will give you my word in blood, if you give me yours in return."

Was that how this worked? Would he really be bound to his word, just like that? Ciel racked his memory for Sebastian ever mentioning making a pact and came up empty. 

"If I agree," Ciel said, and it was a very hard if. "Sebastian can't know. If you show up at our apartment or let him see you at all, I won't make this deal. Do you understand?"

 "Of course. Hardly a concern, considering that the last time he did not sense me until it was already too late. And he was still a demon then, even." He smiled like it was a fond memory. "There is a neutral place where we can meet. A room between the worlds. It is traditional to make our pacts there, away from prying eyes." He stood up, straightened his shirt, and offered his arm out for Ciel to hold. "I can take you there. Shall we?" 

"I can't yet," he said, and that had been decided from the start. "Before I sign off on your bargain I have to confirm that what was in the vial made it back to him, or I have no reason to believe the rest of what you've told me. Let me go home. I need...time, to decide." And he needed time with Sebastian. As much time alone as he could get. “I’ll let you know within a week. You are not to act on your Master’s orders in the meantime, or else you get nothing.” Well, in truth, he’d be getting Grell’s chainsaw either way, but Ciel wasn’t about to bring that up. “Do you understand?” 

Claude dropped his arm. “As you wish.” Ciel looked for any sign of disappointment or impatience or rage in his face, but found instead the pure neutrality that only a demon could achieve. "I will give you this in the meantime,” Claude said. 

He pulled out a small charm that looked like a rose trapped in glass, a paperweight tchotchke you could buy at a hospital gift shop. “A token. Break it once your decision is made, and we will both be summoned to that place.” He held it out on his palm. 

Slowly Ciel reached for it, tense and waiting for any sudden movements, fingers almost aching from the strain. Claude was perfectly still as Ciel picked it up and immediately squirreled it into his pocket like he was defusing an active bomb.

“Er,” Ciel said after another moment of silent, stock-still staring. “Was that everything, then?”

One corner of Claude’s mouth quirked back up. “I believe our business is concluded for now. Allow me to see you out.”

He offered his arm again, unhindered by the earlier rejection, but Ciel brushed right past him and headed for the exit. But then Claude reappeared at the door before Ciel could protest, holding it open for him like a magical tryhard bouncer. Ciel rolled his eyes as loudly as he could. 

At least it was still a nice day out. It was only bright again for a moment, though. A shadow fell back over Ciel as Claude leaned in like he wanted to whisper a secret. 

"Thank you," Claude murmured, so low that Ciel had to struggle to hear, so close that he could feel hot breath on the razor-thin scar marking his throat. Ciel remembered that hungry mouth, how shameless that tongue had been, and let out a shaky, confused breath at the thought. 

Then Claude kissed him, in exactly the same place on his neck as he’d kissed him that night. It was quick, like a bee sting, and he had already moved away by the time Ciel realized what was happening.

“We’ll be seeing each other again soon,” Claude said, taking a step back. Ciel could still feel the brush of his lips against the scar. “One way or another.” 

Claude vanished, dissipating into the air. Ciel waited for a moment to make sure he was really gone, and then spat at the spot on the ground where Claude used to be. He had more important things to do than dwell on this right now. He was going to have his day with Sebastian, god damn it. He was going to make him eat something.

A Phantomhive always delivers on their promises, after all.