It seems as if they will fall forever.
Is this what Hell is, then? A void into which one endlessly plummets, drifting forever amidst the damned?
There is a sudden rustling followed by the heavy, beating sound of wings as their descent slows. Sebastian’s wings, then, unless Ciel has sprouted some of his own.
He reaches around, casually, and rubs his knuckles over his back. All he can feel is the fabric of his coat, and it feels no different than before. No wings, then. Not yet.
When they alight on solid ground all Ciel can see is darkness; but it is Sebastian’s hand covering his eyes, and Ciel scowls, pushing at it impatiently.
“Young master,” Sebastian says, in a voice Ciel recognizes and, at the same time, is fairly certain he has never heard before. “Please give yourself a moment to adjust. The transition between the human world and this one is not easy, even for demons more seasoned than I at traversing between them.”
The curiosity is too much for Ciel to bear, he cannot stand being left in the dark -- be it literal or metaphorical. “Let me be, Sebastian. That is an order.”
There is a huff that is either amused or annoyed, and Sebastian’s hand is removed, leaving Ciel free to get a good look at Hell.
There are no images or words from his short mortal life that can make sense of what Ciel is seeing; he could not say precisely what he expected, but he did not think it would be this. It is a jumble of disjointed images bleeding into chaos, sounds and shapes distorted by laws of physics unknown to his own reality.
Ciel turns towards Sebastian, seeking something familiar with which to orient himself. A mistake, of course; Sebastian is a demon, and like the landscape of this strange new world, he is comprised of shadows and angles that do not form any recognizable pattern. Ciel feels a scream gathering along with the hysteria, chastises himself harshly and simply presses the palms of his hands to eyes and takes a few deep, calming breaths.
You still knew it was Sebastian, he tells himself, annoyed at his own theatrics. He is a demon (he can feel the darkness in the empty place, there, where his soul once lived), and this place should be his home, and the horror of it tastes acrid in the back of Ciel’s mouth, like he is a human awaiting the knife --
“My young lord,” Sebastian says, very close to him.
You are not human. And there is no knife.
“Sebastian,” Ciel responds, hating the slight tremor in his voice and trying to find something to say. “At least there’s no fire.”
Sebastian’s laugh is melodic and soft. “No, young master. There is no fire.”
The air around him stirs, and Ciel feels something wrapping about him as he is lifted from his feet. “You may remove your hands from your eyes, my lord. It is all right.”
Ciel does so and finds himself surrounded by a cocoon of dark; oddly, he feels much better, and reaches out one hand to stroke the feathers that must be around him, for what else can they be but Sebastian’s wings?
But there are no feathers. There’s something like skin, slick and webbed, like the wings of a bat. Ciel snatches his hand away, then cautiously eases it back and strokes the substance again. “Why don’t your wings have feathers, here?”
“Because they are not really wings,” is all Sebastian says, and Ciels close his eyes despite the dark.
* * *
The thing cradling Ciel unfurls, and Ciel finds himself on his feet again.
“Young master,” the demon says, “I am going to tell you the name I brought with me out of Hell, when first I came to you. And when you say it back to me, then you shall see.”
Ciel has no idea how he is to repeat the name of something in a language that he will most certainly not know; unless, by some ridiculous turn of fate, the official language of Hell is British English, or perhaps French.
Before he can ask how he is supposed to do this exactly, his demon whispers dreadfully in his ear, “Hear my name, young master. Call your devil as you always have, and look upon him -- as above, so below.”
Ciel waits, but he hears nothing else; he is about to stomp his foot in fury and snap something churlish when he suddenly knows its name. He can hear it, in his blood, his essence, whatever it is that binds him to this strange and awful and beautiful creature.
He hears it like an echo in his mind, and Ciel tries to work out how to say it a few times before he opens his mouth, and hears himself say, “Sebastian.”
Ciel gives a little growl of annoyance and tries again, the bizarre syllables and the cadence is right there, if he could only make his mouth form the sounds.
“Sebastian,” he says, again.
“Open your eyes, my lord,” Sebastian says, and it is his butler’s voice.
Ciel opens his eyes.
Standing before him is Sebastian; with the copper-bright eyes and the dark hair, the starched livery, the white gloves. Ciel is so relieved he almost - almost - moves towards the demon to embrace him.
It is Sebastian, but with those bat-like wings as black as pitch stretched out to the sides.
“I thought you didn’t have wings,” Ciel says, weakly. He does not understand what has happened. “And I thought Sebastian wasn’t your name.”
Sebastian moves and kneels before him, as if he is straightening Ciel’s coat.
“You took the sound that is my name and made it a thing you understand,” Sebastian said, fingers deft on the buttons of his jacket. “Speaking it allows you to do the same with the rest of my appearance. In time you shall begin to see things as a demon, but for now, you must learn to filter what you see through your human experiences, and then it shall make sense to you.”
Ciel looks cautiously around at the landscape, as the strange angles settle gently into recognizable shapes, into understandable structures.
They appear to be a in a hallway. Ciel was expecting an endless dark sea, a castle or jagged cliffs of some kind. Frowning, he reaches out to touch the stones; they are slick, cool, vaguely wet. He wonders what it is he is seeing, to have it translate as a hallway.
No. Not a hallway. A tunnel.
“We are going towards something,” Ciel says, carefully. He wonders if he is speaking that same language he heard, when Sebastian’s abyssal voice hummed in his mind.
“Very clever, my lord,” Sebastian says, with a bow. And then he turns away, bat-like wings folding around him, casting shadows that do not look like a man on the wall as they walk.
* * *
The tunnel comes to an end with a wide, gaping mouth; and the darkness trembles again before revealing itself to Ciel in the form of a large, cavernous room -- rather like the foyer in Phantomhive manor.
Ciel looks around, curious. There are patterns on the floor, symbols he doesn’t recognize. He tilts his head back, but all he sees above is endless dark.
As above, so below.
“Are there no other demons in Hell, then?” Ciel asks, as they walk across the floor with silent footsteps.
“There are,” Sebastian says.
“Where are they, then?” Ciel asks, and wonders what the protocol is for meeting a demon, and if they will look like men or ravens, and which he prefers.
“They are here, my lord,” Sebastian explains, eyes gleaming momentarily, bright like a flare.
“You will see them in time, I suspect. Devils show themselves only when they wish to, my lord.”
“Even to their own kind?”
“Then how,” Ciel huffs, “do you know they are here?”
“Because I am known to them, my lord, and they wish for me to see them.”
Ciel feels a very strong surge of jealousy towards these shadow creatures, and he is not accustomed to being judged unworthy of someone’s company. He says as much to Sebastian.
Sebastian laughs, the sound greatly resembling a raven’s caw. “You are not a noble here, my lord.” His smile is not friendly.
For the first time, Ciel wonders if he is in danger -- not from Hell’s strange landscape, or the unknown creatures he can, if he concentrates, feel gathering around them (thin like cobwebs stretched thin and hungry) but from his demon, the one thing that has always made him feel safe.
Sebastian laughs again, pleased as always by Ciel’s discomfiture. Ciel swallows hard, and lifts his chin. “But you are still my butler, servant.”
Sebastian’s smile vanishes. Ciel meets Sebastian’s hellfire eyes, and does not flinch when he feels his own begin to burn.
* * *
There are doors around the perimeter of the room, recessed into the shadows. Ciel follows Sebastian through one of them, into a room that looks quite similar to Ciel’s study in the manor. There is a large desk made of gleaming wood, flanked on each side by great, wide windows.
Ciel goes and looks out of the window, curious as to what he might see -- but there is nothing but darkness beyond the glass.
He turns and finds there is a great tree, white-branched and bereft of leaves, set in the shadowy recesses of the room. The room that seems half-finished, like a puzzle made up only of edge pieces and missing everything in between.
Ciel’s demon is perched in the tree, looming and threatening like a storm.
* * *
Ciel meets his devil’s eyes, dragging the edge of his bishop across the chessboard. This, Ciel thinks, is most certainly his construct. Sebastian seems to favor different games. “You must be very hungry.”
Sebastian bares his teeth and hisses, and Ciel takes his king.
* * *
Time passes strangely in Hell, endlessly and instantly.
Ciel still cannot see out of the windows, and he refuses to ask Sebastian what’s there.
An ornate grandfather clock appears in the corner, next to a bookshelf that has no books. Ciel stares at the pendulum as it swings back and forth, listens to the clock as it ticks. The face is blank, and there are no hands to mark to the time.
Of what use is a clock without numbers?
Of what use is time in Hell?
* * *
There are books on the shelves, now, but the pages inside of them are blank.
Next to the clock there is a fireplace. It is simply there one moment when it was not before, and the flames leap and dance merrily, like they’re laughing. Ciel spares Sebastian a glance and goes to stand before it. He feels no warmth, and placing his hand in the flames does nothing at all.
“Why is this here?” he asks, brow furrowed, turning towards Sebastian.
Sebastian is perched again on the dead tree, and in the stillness sometimes Ciel can see the true shape of what he really is catching at the more familiar edges of his form. It is a thing that lurks and shifts, oozes, expanding and contracting like breath.
“I’m afraid only you know the answer to that, young master,” Sebastian murmurs, bat-like wings flaring for a moment.
Hearths make him think of either home or heartbreak, and neither option is particularly welcome.
* * *
Eventually the clock begins to chime. It is a horrible sound, discordant and jarring, like the bells are shattering each time they ring.
Ciel tries to make a tick mark when he hears the chime, in an attempt to discern the time. But it becomes very boring to try and keep track, and impossible. Besides, he does not think it is time that it is being measured.
The incessant ringing is beginning to annoy him. Ciel stands before it, imperious like a general addressing an errant troop, and demands to know why precisely it is chiming?
Outside of the windows, there is the slightest hint of light -- reddish orange, like dawn. Like fire.
* * *
“Why won’t it stop,” Ciel shouts, hands over his ears, glaring hotly at Sebastian.
Sebastian folds his wings around himself like a bat -- a great, unhelpful bat -- and ignores him. Ciel attempts to throw a book at him, but Hell has not improved his athleticism in the slightest. The book merely skitters uselessly across the floor and disappears into the same darkness from which it came.
A mirror appears next to the clock, framed by garish wrought iron twisted into black roses.
“A bit overdone, don’t you think?” Ciel sniffs, and Sebastian’s wings rustle gently behind him.
“Young master creates his own reality in this room,” Sebastian reminds him, again. Rather smugly.
Ciel makes a face. “If that were true, demon, you would find yourself without such a comfortable perch.”
The ringing grows ever-louder as the mirror beckons. Ciel will not sit in the corner with his hands over his ears, terrified of what awaits him, of what lingers at the edges of his sight beyond his control. This is not a cage. He is no one’s sacrifice, no one’s lamb to bleed. He goes to the mirror and stands before it, arrogant and sneering and refusing to fear whatever it is he sees.
There is a thing that looks like a half-dead boy in the mirror; a gaunt, skeletal thing with a gaping black maw for a mouth, and dead eyes with empty sockets, the tattered remains of a eyepatch. Its clothing is tattered and torn, its hair knotted, and there is something dripping onto the floor.
“No wonder we never have visitors,” Ciel says, oddly disaffected by the sight of his own reflection. “I look a proper mess, Sebastian. One might say you are failing in your duties.” A cursory glance down at himself, a skim of his fingers over his face and hair...he is not the putrid thing reflected in the mirror. But the sound is so loud now that he cannot think, and the light coming in from the window is so becoming so bright it hurts his eyes.
In the mirror, something winged alights behind him and places talon-like claws on his shoulders. Ciel turns his head, slightly, and sees Sebastian’s hands in their soft gloves resting on his jacket.
He looks back in the mirror. The thing that is Sebastian is darkness incarnate, round eyes and a round thing where a mouth should be. The clock chimes louder, and finally, finally Ciel understands.
Not a clock. A dinner bell.
* * *
Three years have passed since Ciel last drew breath in the mortal world, but London looks much the same as it did when last he set foot there.
They find they address easily enough, and Sebastian stops him with a hand on his shoulder before Ciel enters.
“You are sure about this, young master?” Sebastian asks, tilting his head. “There are many souls you could take, for your first.”
Ciel’s chin raises a fraction. “It was not my choice to become a demon, Sebastian. But it is my wish that I be a proper one. Do not question me.”
Sebastian nods, his eyes gleaming scarlet. There is something like respect in his gaze, but perhaps Ciel is only imagining what he wants to see.
No matter. He will not alter his course, but there are practicalities involved and while Ciel hates the idea of having to ask, there is no help for it. “How is it done, precisely?”
In all the time they spent together, even in that moment on the island that he thought would be his last, Ciel never knew exactly how his demon would take his soul.
Sebastian moves with fluid grace, backing Ciel up against the wall of the house. “Just do this, my lord,” he murmurs, and touches his mouth to Ciel’s. “And you shall know what to do.”
“And what if I don’t,” Ciel responds, speaking against Sebastian’s mouth, hungry for many things now that he understands.
“You will,” Sebastian breathes, against his mouth. He draws his fingers down Ciel’s cheek, and Ciel has a memory of being very tired, a stone bench against his back, fingers gently untying the strings of his eyepatch and stroking softly, almost reverently, down his cheek.
“Can you still taste it?” Ciel asks his demon, catching Sebastian’s lip between his teeth and biting. “My soul?”
“No,” says Sebastian, and oh, how hungry he sounds….
Ciel’s smile is all hellish malice as he tips his hat. “Wait for me here.”
He walks towards the house, the heels of his shoes and his walking stick clacking on the cobblestones. He has forgotten what it is like to hear things echo.
Sebastian watches him, eyes burning like gaslights in the dark.
* * *
It is nearly midnight, but she is not yet asleep when Ciel enters her room. She is at her dressing table, long blonde hair loose around her face as she brushes it, looking pretty and soft and a little sad. The three years that have passed have been more than kind to her, imbued her impish loveliness with a bit of delicate, feminine grace.
How beautiful a bride she would have been, wrapped in lace and adorned in flowers, floating down the aisle like a dream.
Ciel waits for some recognition or feeling of attachment, some shred of humanity that still may cling to him...but all he sees is her soul, beckoning to him so temptingly, and nothing assaults him at the sight of her except hunger.
Lizzie’s eyes widen, and she makes a quiet noise as her hand flies to cover her mouth.
“Ciel?” She jumps up, knocking things over in her haste to cross the room to him, because of course she does that, she always did, even though all he’s ever had to give was darkness and death. “How -- how --”
“Hello, Lizzie,” he says, and holds his arms open.
It doesn’t take long, and he does indeed know what to do; it’s just as instinctive as Sebastian promised it would be. And it is delicious, like Sebastian’s chocolate biscuits, like a thousand sweet candies in his mouth all at once. Lizzie is heartbroken and terrified and pure, and Ciel feels nothing but rapture as he devours her.
When it’s over he looks in the mirror and sees his reflection -- no more a half-starved, gaunt shell of a boy with a newly-born, starving demon trapped inside. His eyes are blood-red, slit-pupiled and blazing. He feels no sense of loss or remorse, no guilt over what he’s done.
Ciel smiles at his reflection in the mirror, and a demon smiles back.
* * *
Sebastian is quiet when Ciel rejoins him in the street below.
“And how was that, young master?” Sebastian asks, smiling in that slightly mocking way of his. “No difficulties, I assume?”
“None whatsoever,” says Ciel, moving closer, until he is pressed right up against Sebastian.
“And was it satisfying?” Sebastian allows his back to hit the stone wall as Ciel seeks to get closer, his smile growing wider with each second.
“Very,” says Ciel, and he feels like all of Hell’s fire is trapped inside of him, feels lit from within by the soul of the girl who loved him, who died speaking his name in such lovely, pure anguish. He resists the urge to lick his fingers. “A bit sweet,” he says, and pulls Sebastian down to kiss him - thoroughly, deeply, as if he can shove the taste of Elizabeth’s soul into his demon’s mouth.
Sebastian’s tongue licks against his own, and he pulls Ciel tight against him. “Mmm. Yes. Perhaps we shall find young master a...saltier...soul, to compliment it.”
“Yes,” Ciel says. “I think perhaps we shall.” He pauses, and kisses Sebastian again -- not to share the soul he has consumed, but merely because he wishes to -- and says, “And my demon shall have his dinner as well. That is an order, Sebastian.”
Sebastian makes a noise against mouth, biting at him with teeth gone too-sharp. “Yes, my lord.”
* * *
There is no longer a tree in their room for Sebastian to perch upon, but a bed; a large, four-poster affair hung with heavy drapes, piled with pillows and a duvet of softest down.
“Done sulking, are we?” Ciel asks, running his fingers over the duvet, feeling the soft fabric.
“It would appear so,” Sebastian says, from behind him. The intonation and the timbre of his voice are wrong in ways that make Ciel ache.
Something obsidian covers Ciel’s hand where it lies on the bed.
“Young master,” says Sebastian, on a sigh.
Ciel settles back against his demon, fed and content, eager now to sate other hungers. Behind him, Sebastian’s form is magnificent and horned. Ciel reaches up and slides a hand up the curve of one horn, feels the demon behind him shudder. “You can’t have my soul, Sebastian.”
He thinks he hears it, maybe; the syllables of Sebastian’s true name, sonorous syllables wound together and made sharp like the call of one raven to another, seeking its mate. Something ancient and eternal, sibilant.
“But there are other things you could have,” Ciel continues, turning his head and nuzzling against Sebastian’s neck, without a thought for whatever it is he’s touching -- cool skin or feathers or darkness itself, it makes no difference, it is Sebastian, and Sebastian is his.