Twenty minutes past midnight.
The heavy carriage wheels splashed with graceless clatter through mud, leaving watery trails in their wake through the London rain. At the driver’s seat, Mey-Rin knew better than to ask when she’d been instructed to take the reins; downpour like this was nothing out of the ordinary.
Neither was whatever the Earl had got up to with his butler inside the carriage.
At thirteen, Ciel already was a man; at twenty-five, a widower. Lady Elizabeth’s spirit still lingered at Phantomhive Estate, at night you could hear her voice if you were quiet enough. Mey-Rin had said the Mistress better protected her beloved in death than she ever had in life, and even Sebastian was prone to agree.
“Imbecile,” Ciel muttered, voice stern and subdued, “keep that up and you’ll have half the city awake with your clumsy blundering.”
From beneath the black swing of his hair, Sebastian arched an eyebrow, dryly amused. “Shall I have my Lord gagged, in that case,” he suggested helpfully, “as he can’t very well stifle his voice on his own?”
He’d come to expect the death glare that followed; it was Ciel, after all, whose voice came too loud, and whether or not it was drowned by the sound of the wheels, it was nothing Mey-Rin had not heard before—and nothing, Sebastian knew, she didn’t quite fancy listening to.
You hear that, My Lord, he would ask other times at his bedchamber, bent double beneath Ciel with unnatural grace, elegant even at the most scandalous depths of degradation, “Your maid is at the door.”
Dark hair mussed in a way so unbefitting a young Earl, Ciel wouldn’t stop, bundles clinging damply to his forehead as he glared, as though this, too, was his butler’s fault. Asking are you sure would be in vain. “I should think you rather enjoy that she is, wretched creature that you are,” he would reply.
The profane sound of flesh striking wetly against flesh emanating loud and distinct through the confines of the room, Ciel would glare at his butler, and Sebastian would smirk with diabolical contentment, unnervingly unaffected despite the disheveled sway of his hair, despite the rubor of his naked thighs, struck too violently and too deliberately under the weight of his master’s aggression.
The Earl Phantomhive was a thin and sickly boy of a man, an unsettling presence for all his beauty and aristocratic grace. There was something about him not quite right, disturbing and almost inhuman. Some had said he had no heart. He had no soul, said others, he was meant to die in boyhood, but somehow cheated death.
Ciel was aware, of course, of the rumors, and dignified them with neither denial nor confirmation; regardless of detail, it wasn't entirely untrue that he was dark and diabolical inside. The slender, asthmatic manchild Earl and his devil servant, the both a touch too beautiful, a touch unnatural, and the mansion rumored dark and haunted, where the very walls were said to come alive at night with the souls of those who’d died in the fire long before.
“Get on with it, Sebastian,” he murmured now, very human with impatience despite it all, the way he always had been, Sebastian knew, where matters of the flesh were concerned. His own delicate hands had seldom practice with the binds of his own clothes, and even to the extent that he was proficient, he’d much preferred to see his butler work. He reveled with sadistic pleasure at the frustration he’d made Sebastian endure, and the demon creature knew it, he obliged his Lord with patience humans seldom showed.
The gloved digits of his hand worked with elegant grace at the laces and buckles, Like this, my Lord? he asked, though he knew all too well that like this was exactly the way his Lord would have him. At the driver’s seat, Mey-Rin strained to hear their voices over the loud splash of the carriage wheels through the cobblestone roads, loyal to the Earl through and through even if he was unnatural and dark.
Ciel would not reply; he fought vulnerably for composure, as for all his strength of character far beyond his years, he also was well aware of his own physical limitations. It was the demon who saw him at his most wretched hour, and who knew in earnest the full extent of his vulnerability. “Hold your tongue and get on with it already,” Ciel finally hissed, irritated all the more by Sebastian’s insufferable smile after the fact and aware of the comment on holding his tongue he was thinking to make.
Yes, my Lord, was all Mey-Rin made out, her hands firm on the reins; it never ceased to make her breath go dry, knowing the Earl did dirty things to Sebastian. She wondered what the butler’s face was like when he did, he probably smirked up at Ciel, challenging, cheeky, is that all you’d have me do, surely my Lord would have more—
Within the carriage, Ciel’s hands were tight in Sebastian’s hair, cruel with disregard and deliberate pleasure in having him annoyed, and only Ciel had known him well enough to tell that indeed his butler was annoyed, as for all the world he’d seem perfectly civil and content—were all the world to witness such a thing.
Even at moments of weakness like these, Ciel would fight for calm, his gaze on Sebastian unwavering, he’d tilt his chin toward him as better to see.
You like doing this, don’t you. Dirty demon.
Lips glittering wet with fluid, Sebastian would grin evilly at Ciel, is that what my Lord would have me say?
Very well, then. I like it, if it pleases you.
Ciel would say no more, but only smirk in reply.
By the time they were back at Phantomhive Manor, he’d be fully dressed and lethargic, asleep like a child in his butler’s arms. Sebastian would have liked to carry him in this way, as had been his habit for many years when Ciel still was younger, even in adolescence too small for his age. He’d fancy carrying him now, if only to see him fly in a rage, as even in manhood the Earl Phantomhive still was slender and slight, for all his immeasurable power.
“We’ve arrived, my Lord,” Sebastian’s voice ghosted immaterial just at the delicate folds of his master’s ear, seductive and whispering cruel, and to the maid’s obvious dismay, she’d missed out seeing whatever she might have seen were Sebastian any less perfectionistic in his duties to have Ciel presentable.
Moments like these, Ciel still was a boy, Sebastian thought, and unquestionably human; moments before the full weight of his wrath issued forth, he’d forget himself somehow, and still lean on the pressed fabric of his butler’s suit in a voiceless request to be carried inside.
(On to Chapter 2)
Victorian infirmaries were a thing to behold, gateways of death rather than houses of healing; only those few among the privileged could afford visits by physicians at home, and it would have done Ciel good were his aunt still alive. So the servants had whispered with compassionate voices, lest the Master heard they worried for his blinded eye, for the sickly pallor of his skin, the fitful wheezing that would ail him on particularly distressful nights. The Earl however was not so far affected, he'd lean comfortably in his chair mid-reprimand, grinning knowingly as he wasn't meant to live much longer, anyhow.
He was far more concerned with how dull Sebastian had been in his regular listing of duties, how little patience he had to endure the dressing and undressing of his various outfits in the means of formality. There still lay contraptions in sub-chambers below, mechanical atrocities intended with creative macabre to aid the ailing, but which served tragically to propagate infection more.
Lizzy was certainly none the better for them. As per physician's orders, she was not to have contact with anyone else, and Sebastian kept Ciel from venturing in; tuberculosis was dreadfully infectious and indeed had taken many lives within hospitals, themselves, on account of overcrowding. Ciel had a duty to protect Lizzy, he'd said, to which she'd replied with gentle affection that she too had a duty to protect him.
It was Sebastian, then, who came in to deliver her care, despite the servants' protests that he should watch his own health and have a nurse go in his stead. He was too pleasant to look at, Mey-Rin had said, to risk tuberculosis.
When finally Lizzy had passed on, the chamber was no longer accessible.
"Sebastian, you impertinent creature," Ciel said, bemused as his butler entered his bedroom late at night. "Bring me something to help me sleep."
He scowled when Sebastian didn't move, gazing back with just as little humor, the single candle in his lamp illuminating his slim face in an orange haze. "Would my lord really expect me to go through the pretense of treating him," he asked, "this isn't why you called me here."
Ciel gazed back for several moments before chuckling quietly. "And what if I do have night terrors," he asked, now only to torment his butler.
Sebastian, of course, played along. "Then my lord will excuse me for several minutes while I fix something to help him sleep." He bowed elegantly before turning to leave the room, and on his return Ciel also had him go through the motions of administering the draught, and had acted quite the difficult patient as to harass him more.
"How do you plan to stay awake, then," Sebastian deadpanned, and Ciel asked him to mind his own business and get on already with disrobing.
Shadows danced in the low flicker of candles, grotesquely misshapen orange and black, the chair and the night stand, the wardrobe, obscure profile of Sebastian's face, the fabric meticulously unfolded from over his long arms;
Ciel liked to have him subjugated. Sebastian took it with grace as he took any other annoyance he'd endured on the Earl's part, such a troublesome master, naturally Ciel wouldn't bother himself disrobing his butler, Sebastian reckoned Ciel's aristocratic hands wouldn't know how even if he'd tried.
Ciel would have him touch himself, he'd have him do frightfully profane things to himself, so that Ciel could tell him he was immoral and wretched, and all this would leave Sebastian unfazed, he'd wait patiently for Ciel to ask on his own to be touched, because watching all that had left him awfully frustrated.
Some nights, get on with it was all he'd have patience for, and Sebastian would nod, right away, voice composed with dignified seduction that came to him second nature; even at the most scandalous depths of degradation, no creature had looked so noble in the nude as a demon.
Demons were practically built to that end, because what greater weakness had humans than money and flesh—
Sebastian had to show Ciel very long ago how to subjugate him proper, because Ciel had been young, and ill practiced in the profane as he'd been at anything else Sebastian hadn't taught him. He'd been clumsy and graceless and had got Sebastian hurt, a very difficult young master, not like that, Sebastian would hiss through clenched teeth, if I were human, I'd lose circulation with that sort of bind.
Ciel would be every bit as annoyed as he'd been when his butler had taught him anything else, and he'd threaten to gag him to put a stop to his chatter, to which Sebastian would respond with very little amusement that he'd seen the Earl's atrocious handiwork at tying knots, and he'd never properly secure a gag.
To hope Ciel would have settled for seduction was ludicrous—Ciel never was the sort to be seduced. He was sadistically stubborn, and had Sebastian at his service here, too, under the most irritating terms. Ciel struggled to be quiet, but he liked it, Sebastian knew, inelegant as it were, he liked watching Sebastian take his member in his mouth, his abdomen would tense as he fought for composure, long fingers tight in the demon's black hair, clumsily pulling.
Sebastian would ask him, fluid still glittering on his lips as he spoke, My lord should ask me to stop now, or he won't be able to have me—
And, even as he fought uselessly for calm, Ciel would glare bloody murder in return, I'll decide when I'll have you, he'd snap.
He'd hold Sebastian's chin up toward him with one hand, the member slipping out from his perfect lips and gracelessly unto his chin, trailing fluid in its wake; Very well, the demon would reply, elegant and civil as ever.
Sebastian knew it would only be moments from then that Ciel would ask him to turn around so he could have him properly, and he would sigh, what a right mess you'd made—
—though Ciel had got quite good at it over the years. In the orange candlelight, outlines flickered on the wall, light and shadow and the echo of breath, such a wearisome, difficult master, he'd truly made a right mess in the end—
He'd leave Sebastian tender and wet, fluid glistening down along the naked expanse of his thighs; it tasted nice, Sebastian thought, though the rest of him was sure to taste even nicer.
In dreams, deep in the decaying vessel fields of mind, Ciel had walked the underworld home. Past the mortal lock and distortion of time that gave no meaning to something like minutes, a disturbing familiarity that was self. Distant mists of breath and heart, misshapen echoes in the sand— and, in the mind, he'd reached home.
In this inverted world, it had all been mirror image; there was the Phantomhive Estate, but in reverse, shadow and light flickering vague, the primitive inside of human.
In here, he saw with unparalleled clarity. He'd been reversed as well, a mirror image of himself where left and right were inverted, it all felt oddly off somehow, the heart beating on the right.
Voices whispering at night, you could see them now, vague in stairwells and corridors, not completely formed, inwardly decaying and collapsing on themselves—
The skin of those they had in the kitchen, charred in the stove, had they really cooked them there, or had that only happened here? Somehow, in sleep he couldn't quite remember. The dragging sound along the floor was his own flesh, and he followed its echo to sub-chambers below, rooms of the house and the mind, deeper to the primitive self.
This room was inaccessible in waking life; he only could enter it here.
The damp scent of medicine.
The forgotten outlines of mechanical gears, rusted and creaking with years of decay; skin, skin, the rest came indecipherable, in the dark he only could make out his own vague reflection in the oval looking glass on the wall.
The voice came part mechanical and part human, fragmented, misshapen, distorted. In the mirror, he had pointed to the skin on his arm, the only decipherable word, but when Ciel reached out to touch the glass, he had no hands at all.
In the dim candlelight in the mirror, he could make out the creature made of flesh down to the sternum, and mechanical gears and joints from there, the heart beating on the left, until the metal skeletal framework gave way to flesh again for the pelvis and legs.
"What have you got to give me,"
Ciel asked, and the creature extended its hand wherein was laid a ring—Ciel's family ring—which Ciel could not take, because he was missing his hands.
"Keep it for me," he asked instead, but the creature only gurgled in reply through the black, gaping hole of its mouth, its white skin stretched tight over the rest of its face. It was no longer trying to speak as its head had slowly decayed to one side over the shoulder, and the windpipe had collapsed.
"We've wasted too much time on trivialities," Ciel said, "I'm really very late."
To be continued…