Kuroshitsuji Fan Fiction ❯ Black Butler Requiem: Downfall ❯ Within ( Chapter 2 )
I want you to be uneased
I want you to remember
I want you to believe in me
I want you on my side
The rose garden was incomparably lovely in the rising moonlight. The fresh green leaves were almost translucent in the glow from the silver-blue orb overhead, and the blossoms themselves seemed to shine with a soft radiance. The evening was quiet, the only sound being the soft whisper of dress shoes over well-swept cobblestones.
The demon cared little for the beauty around him, rejoiced not a bit in the perfection of the vista so carefully cultivated. Although outwardly tranquil, his thoughts were as chaotic and cacophonic as the deepest depths of the wailing abyss he had once called home. The peace around him did nothing to quiet the turmoil of his inner conflict.
He plucked one of the Sterling Silver roses, imported from China for the Earl's pleasure, and brushed its silken petals across his mouth. The texture reminded him of a cat's paws...and of the feel of the Earl's smooth cheek.
Of the riot of clamoring and unwelcome emotions and impressions within him, there was no surprise whatsoever. In truth, he should have anticipated no less of his master. Ciel Phantomhive possessed wisdom and perception far beyond his tender years, and it was only to be expected that he would ask the one question his butler couldn't answer...even to his own satisfaction.
Why am I still alive? Why didn't you eat my soul?
The answer was as simple as it was unsatisfactory: Sebastian didn't know.
He remembered the moment on the Isle of the Dead all too clearly. Ciel had been ready, resigned, almost eager for the end of it. Sebastian could feel the soft ebb of his life, could sense the surrender of the soul he'd spent three long years cultivating, preparing, seasoning to his own taste. He'd bent to touch his lips to those of his young master, ready to draw Ciel's precious soul out of his frail, broken body and assimilate it into the intricate pattern of his own being, as he'd done so many times before, with each of his previous masters and mistresses. So tantalizing, so deliciously perfect, he prepared to dine.
And then...he'd hesitated. Instead of devouring the longed-for soul, he'd frozen in place, unable to do anything but hold his position as Ciel's last breath whispered into his mouth.
Something like panic had seized him then. Ciel was, quite literally, standing at death's door, ready to take that last step beyond, where his soul--where he--would be forever beyond Sebastian's reach.
With a tremendous effort of will, Sebastian had caught hold of that radiant soul, seizing it in the moment of departure and refusing to let it leave the battered form clasped in his arms. Abandoning the Isle of the Dead, he'd run as fast as his racing thoughts back across the waters, back from the shadows onto the even more troubled surface of the Thames, from the crossroads of reality to the mortal world, propelled by a desperation he'd never known before in all his long existence. All other considerations had evaporated before the single, driving compulsion to keep Ciel Phantomhive alive at all costs. Not caring who saw him, not caring who he trampled or pushed aside, he'd burst into the hospital with the dying boy in his arms, shouting--bellowing!--for a doctor to attend the Earl Phantomhive now. At once!
It had been a near thing indeed, just as he'd told his young lord. Holding that soul to the dying body, forcing it to cling to the fragile flesh until the physicians could stabilise the waning heartbeat and restore the fading breath, staunch the bleeding and close the wounds. How fortunate that an American physician had been visiting the hospital at the time of the crisis, and was able to give the Earl fluids through tubes and needles that pierced his thin arms. Over the weeks that followed, Sebastian had watched over his master like a dark angel, barely moving from his side. The nursing staff had admired his utter devotion, his constant vigil, completely unaware of the conflict that was raging unseen behind the quiet face, the brooding eyes.
Even after returning to the restored mansion, Sebastian had tended Ciel's unresponsive body, waiting for the moment when the youth's consciousness began to return. And tonight, at last, he had awakened.
And asked the question Sebastian couldn't answer.
Why didn't you eat my soul?
The feast of a lifetime, within his grasp, and he'd been unable to claim it. Not that he hadn't wanted to--not that he didn't want to still. Yes; now, at this moment, he craved the ambrosia of that singular soul with every fiber of his infernal being. Angela had been right about that. He was, indeed, beyond ravenous.
It wasn't a violation of the contract to postpone its fulfillment. He'd done so more than once in the past, deliberately procrastinating, playing with his food, putting off the inevitable denouement, teasing his prey the way a cat would play with a mouse. He could delay the final moment as long as it pleased him to do so.
But the delay didn't please him, not this time. He wasn't toying with Ciel. He didn't want to delay. He wanted Ciel's soul with all his black and tainted heart. And yet. And yet.
Why the hell can't I finish it?!
He felt a vague stinging in his palm, and realised that he'd clenched the rose in his fist so hard the thorns had pierced his glove and buried themselves in his flesh. He opened his hand and studied the spreading stains of blood which showed quite black in the soft moonlight against the white cotton.
He cast the broken rose aside and tugged off the soiled glove with his teeth, letting it fall to the cobblestones. Thoughtfully he sucked at the blood on his hand, trying to make some sense of his actions..and his lack of one particular action.
Was it because he could only consume Ciel's soul once? The perfect meal, the feast of a millenia-long lifetime, taken and gone in an instant? That would be the ultimate joke, wouldn't it? That he'd prepared a meal so perfect he couldn't bear to eat it.
Not that he didn't want to. He craved the taste of Ciel Phantomhive's soul, the fire, the passion. He wanted to draw that into his own being, incorporate it into the tapestry of souls he'd woven for himself from his previous experiences. He had every right to that soul, and he certainly hadn't lost his appetite for it. He could go back into that bedroom, as soon as Ciel summoned him again, and take what was rightfully his.
And he knew full well he wouldn't do it.
He couldn't help but chuckle at himself as he turned to leave the garden. He wondered idly if, after all this time, he had finally gone mad.
Ciel Phantomhive couldn't sleep.
He lay staring up at the ceiling of his bedroom. No matter how many times he went over the situation, it made no sense to him. He'd offered up his soul to Sebastian, only to have the demon turn away from what he'd bargained to achieve. Instead of the peace of oblivion, he'd awakened from a nightmare to an aching, weakened body, and Sebastian serving him just as he always had.
The only answer I can provide at the moment, sir, is that it was not the appropriate time to terminate the contract.
Not the appropriate time? It made no sense, yet Sebastian couldn't lie to him. Was it possible that Sebastian was simply delaying the inevitable, tormenting him for his own amusement? That was the sort of thing a demon would be expected to do, but...it didn't feel right, somehow.
Am I just not good enough? Doesn't he want my soul anymore?
Oh, now that was just pathetic, worthy of that idiot Trancy--the mad young earl Sebastian had said didn't exist at all. A strange sort of relief, that. No Alois, no Hannah, no Claude. No ripping of his soul from his body, no lingering amnesia, no concerted deception on the part of two demon butlers (what madness, Sebastian would never deceive him like that, Sebastian would never lie to him), no return of Lau and Ran Mao (who were both certainly dead). No battle for his body, no transformation into a demon, no eternity with Sebastian enslaved and regarding him with empty, sullen, despairing eyes.
No, Sebastian never lied, certainly not to Ciel. So then, it hadn't been the appropriate time--whatever that meant. Yet..yet it was supposed to be over. The murder of his parents had been avenged, the angel and the wicked Queen were dead, and now...
I have nothing left to live for.
That was what was really bothering him, wasn't it? The closure he'd craved had been denied him, and a future he'd never wanted now stretched out before him, a blank canvas the emptiness of which terrified him.
What am I supposed to do?!
Well, one thing was certain: he would never find any answers lying in bed staring at the ceiling. He pushed himself up, swung his feet to the floor, and braced himself to stand. He would have to get dressed, which meant he'd need to call Sebas--
He wouldn't summon his demon butler. He didn't want to see that pale, mocking face, those unreadable eyes. At this moment, he didn't care if he never saw Sebastian Michaelis again.
He didn't need Sebastian's help anyway. He didn't need anyone. He might not be able to dress himself--not properly, anyway--but even he could get up and put on a dressing gown on his own, thank you. He'd go and find one of the other servants, preferably Tanaka, who was at least competent, if severely weakened. Tanaka would look after him. Ciel pushed himself up off the bed to his feet and collapsed at once to the floor.
For a heart-stopping moment, Ciel was certain he was paralysed. Then he cautiously checked his legs. He could feel them, right enough, and they moved at the command of his brain. No, not paralysed; but too weak to bear his own weight. He dimly remembered, as a child, when he'd stayed in bed for two weeks due to a particularly bad bout of his asthma, how hard it had been to stand up at first, being carried about by his father until his legs had regained their strength.
He shifted and grasped the bed-post, trying to pull himself to his feet. It was no good. He couldn't marshal the strength to get back into bed, either. He couldn't even reach the bell-pull that would summon Tanaka or one of the other servants. He was absolutely, utterly, wretchedly helpless. Either he lay here, on the carpet, until someone found him...or...
"Damn it all to mother-buggering hell!" Ciel screamed at the top of his voice, half hoping his outburst would bring one of the servants running.
No one came.
He grasped the bed-post with a white-knuckled hand, bowed his head, and through gritted teeth, he whispered, "Sebastian. Come here."
"Yes, young Master?" Just there, without so much as the sound of a door being opened. "How may I serve you?"
"You've got eyes, haven't you?" Ciel snarled. "Get me off the bloody floor."
"Of course, sir. It can't be very comfortable sprawled there on the carpet." Ciel cringed from Sebastian's touch, but didn't resist as he was lifted up and placed back on the bed. "There you are, sir, safely settled." A white-gloved hand patted his shoulder. "You will remember, my lord, I did advise you not to get out of b--"
Ciel's slapped Sebastian on one side of his face, then the other, obliterating the complacent, condescending expression and leaving the butler looking stunned at having had his ears boxed. It offered Ciel a grim sort of satisfaction.
"Keep your observations to yourself," Ciel said between his teeth, "or I'll order you to rip your tongue out of your mouth."
Astonishment briefly flickered across Sebastian's features, but the look was quickly replaced by his normal pleasant, placid mask. "Yes," he said, "my lord."
The fact that the demon had looked almost...cowed?...seemed to mollify Ciel somewhat. He held out his arms. "Well, since you're here, you might as well dress me."
"Certainly, young Master." Sebastian proceeded to do just that, as efficiently as ever he had, with particular care not to jar the barely-healed body too much. As he slipped the small feet into the high-heeled buckle shoes, he said, "By the way, if you're up to a bit of reading, there are letters for you, sir. shall I fetch them for you?"
"No. I want to go to my study." Suddenly Ciel wanted out of the bedroom, away from the place he'd lain for so long. He needed to be doing something, anything, besides lying in bed.
Sebastian opened the nightstand and took out the familiar black silk eyepatch. "Certainly, sir, if my lord feels strong enough." With deft fingers he secured the patch in place, tying it behind Ciel's ears. "It would be best not to overtire yourself."
"What did I tell you about your opinions?" warned Ciel.
"I was not expressing my personal views, young Master, merely stating fact." Gently Sebastian removed his hands after ensuring the ties were secure. "I would be remiss in my duties as your butler if I allowed you to push yourself too hard."
Ciel considered this, and found nothing to criticise in it. He gave a slight nod to acknowledge the truth of Sebastian's words.
Sebastian smiled slightly and stood. "With that caution duly delivered, I shall take you to the study." And he turned towards the door, leaving Ciel sitting on the edge of the bed.
Ciel couldn't help but smile a little. "Sebastian? Aren't you forgetting something?"
Sebastian glanced back over his shoulder. "I forget nothing, my lord. I merely have to open the door."
And as soon as he did so, three figures fell face-first into the room. Bardroy had the easiest time of it; he landed atop the pile of servants. Mey-Rin had the breath knocked out of her as the large-framed chef fell on top of her, and Finnian, the smallest of the trio, ended up on the bottom...but then, he was the sturdiest of the lot, so it likely did him little if any harm.
Sebastian studied the writhing knot of arms and legs at his feet, and then said, quite calmly: "Finnian, Bardroy, Mey-Rin...do get up. This is not suitable conduct for Phantomhive servants."
He finally had to reach down and haul Bardroy off the other two, pushing him aside to lift Mey-Rin gently to her feet (she blushed furiously at his touch). Finnian he left to his own devices, and the gardener scrambled up, adjusting his straw hat and grinning widely.
Bardroy beamed at the young Earl, not bothering to try and hide his delight. "It's good to see you awake, your lordship!"
Mey-Rin was almost in tears, but she too was smiling. "Been that worried about you, yes we have, sir!"
Finnian was dancing from one foot to the other, clapping his hands together like a child half his years. "You'll be right as rain in no time, Master!"
Ciel didn't know what to make of this display, but he was certainly not displeased. After a moment's pause, he said, "Your concern is...appreciated." He cleared his throat, and his next words were spoken more sternly, in a familiar voice of command. "Now don't you lot have work to do?"
Bardroy saluted like the soldier he'd once been; Mey-Rin bowed almost double; Finnian actually got down on his hands and knees in obeisance. "YES SIR!" they chorused, then turned and charged out the door, their running footsteps clamoring down the hallway and the stairs beyond.
Sebastian chuckled softly. "Those three...what they lack in competence, they certainly make up for in enthusiasm."
Ciel could find nothing to argue with in the statement, but saw no reason to confirm the observation.
Sebastian approached the bed and held out his arms. "Now, sir...if I may...?"
Ciel heaved a sigh of resignation. "Just...get it over with."
"Of course, sir. I am, as ever, at your command." Sebastian gathered Ciel up in his arms and carried him out of the bedroom into the hall.
Ciel held his silence as Sebastian carried him downstairs, but as they approached the study doors, he found himself compelled to ask, "Sebastian, I couldn't help but notice one of my servants seems to be missing. Where is Tanaka?"
Sebastian stopped just in front of the door. "Regretfully, young Master, Tanaka is no longer with us."
But he would never leave my service unless--"You mean he's dead."
"Yes, sir. Tanaka perished in the manor fire, but not before he ensured the other servants escaped the blaze. He was a true Phantomhive butler to the end."
There was something in Sebastian's voice that brought a wry smile to Ciel's lips, despite his sorrow at the unwelcome news. "It's funny...you almost sound sorry for his loss."
"Do I, young Master?" Sebastian considered this. "Perhaps, in my way, I am. Despite his years and frailty, Tanaka was fairly remarkable...for a mere human. But he is quite dead, and we must concern ourselves with the living..." He nodded his head, and the study doors opened before him. "For the moment, in any case." Without another word, he carried Ciel into the study.