Kuroshitsuji Fan Fiction ❯ Black Butler Requiem: Downfall ❯ Broken ( Chapter 3 )
Here we go again
Ashamed of being broken in
We're getting off track
And I want to get you back again
The shaded lamp cast a warm golden glow over the room. The top of the large mahogany desk was uncommonly bare, clean of its usual stacks of papers and notices. Ciel picked up the copy of the evening Times and accepted the fresh cup of tea offered to him without a glance towards his servant. Even a month after the event, the fire--or, rather, its aftermath--was still front-page news. Still, the city had made a great deal of progress towards recovering from the disaster.
"The rebuilding of London seems to be progressing more quickly than anticipated." One blue eye cut over to the tall black-clad figure standing beside the desk. "I don't suppose that's anything to do with you, is it?"
Sebastian gave a single shake of his head. "I haven't been to London since bringing you home from hospital, sir. Since then I have been wholly occupied with your care and the upkeep of the household."
Ciel's visible eye narrowed. "In other words, you wouldn't stoop to actually helping innocent people, would you?"
One black eyebrow arched. "Would you have expected me to do so, my lord?"
Ciel snorted. "Don't be ridiculous." He scanned the rest of the newspaper, found nothing of interest, and laid it aside. "Earlier you said there were letters. Surely no one would try to conduct business with me while I was insensible..."
"You are correct, my lord. Nevertheless, someone did write to you nearly every day." Sebastian reached into one of the capacious desk drawers and drew out a tall stack of cream-coloured envelopes, bound together by a pink silk ribbon. "Quite faithfully, in fact." He set the bundle in front of his master. "Doubtless you recognise the seal."
Ciel looked at the back of the topmost envelope for a moment. Rose-coloured sealing wax, with an unmistakable heart shape to the design, framing a delicately scripted monogram: EM.
"There are fifty-two letters in this bundle, sir. It will take most of the evening to--"
"Summarize them," Ciel ordered, cutting him off. "Then I'll read the latest one."
A gloved hand slammed down atop the stack of letters, making Ciel jump despite himself. He looked up, startled, to see Sebastian's face mere inches from his own, smiling down at him with a look in his eyes that was impossible to interpret. "As you wish, young Master."
In a pleasantly dry voice, Sebastian recited the salient points of six weeks' worth of correspondence. The Midford estate hadn't been damaged by the fires, although some of their nearer neighbors had suffered losses. Elizabeth also had a new maidservant. Paula, it seemed, had fallen in love with a merchant ship captain, and with the Lady's permission had left her place to marry and move to America. The Marchioness had engaged a new maidservant for her daughter, to whom Elizabeth was now quite attached. Her brother, Lord Edward, was away at school in Weston College, and doing well with his studies.
"Most of the remaining content of the letters is of a much more personal nature," Sebastian went on. "Concerns for your health, prayers for your recovery, how much she misses your company--that sort of thing. I'm sure she will be delighted to know that you've awakened, Master. I shall send word in the morning--"
Sebastian blinked. "My lord?"
Ciel slammed a small white fist down on the desktop. "For pity's sake, Sebastian! Look at me. I can't walk. I can't even stand on my own. I'm no better than a cripple."
The self-loathing in that imperious young voice was a dreadful thing to hear. Sebastian found himself impelled to reassure his young master. (Despair was, after all, a terrible thing for the soul.) "Your condition is temporary, my lord. Once you regain your strength--"
"Once I do," Ciel interrupted, "then we can send word to Elizabeth. I don't want her to see me like this." He shut his eyes tight. "It's...disgraceful."
Ciel seemed resolute, yet Sebastian felt impelled to try once more to make him see sense. The young master was, after all, a reasonable man...under most circumstances. "Word is bound to reach her sooner or later, my lord. Wouldn't it be better if she heard the news from you?"
"I'll be the judge of that, thank you." Ciel held up one hand. "Let me see the latest letter."
Of course, the bundle was sitting right in front of him, within easy reach, but without batting an eye Sebastian pulled out the topmost envelope. "It arrived just this morning, shortly before you awakened."
Ciel slit open the cream-colored envelope and drew out a sheet of pink vellum. It was covered top to bottom with an unmistakably feminine cursive. My darling Ciel,
What a lovely morning it is! The sky is a perfectly splendid blue and it's quite warm, but not too hot. How I wish you could see it. It would be a perfect afternoon for a picnic, or perhaps to go riding. How I miss you Ciel!
I dreamt of you last night. You were walking in a shadowy wood and I was running after you, barefoot and in my nightgown. Isn't that silly? I called and called for you, because I knew you were going to be in the most terrible danger if I didn't stop you, but I couldn't catch you up, and you didn't even seem to hear me. I shouted so loudly I woke myself up. Of course, Madeleine was there, and she comforted me, but I couldn't get back to sleep afterwards.
I had the most upsetting conversation with Mother yesterday afternoon. We read a letter from Edward--remember, I told you he was back at Weston--and he said you might never wake up at all, that you might just slip away. What a horrid thing to say! But worst of all, Mother said I would have to consider that he might be right. I won't give up on you, Ciel. I know you're going to be all right.
Please, if you read this letter today, please write me back. I do so want to see you again. You must come back to me, my darling. If anything should happen to you, I think I should die myself. So you simply must get well!
All my love, always,
The last two paragraphs were difficult to read. There were several places where the writing-ink had been blurred by a scattering of smudges where the ink had run. Ciel read over the last paragraph several times. He tried hard to convince himself that Lizzie was being her usual, demonstrative, overemotional self, but it didn't ease the prickles of conscience those small round tearstains elicited. Ciel Phantomhive was a man (he never thought of himself as a boy, he hadn't since his childhood was so brutally ripped away) who had neither time nor use for sentimentality...but whatever sentiment remained in him could invariably be stirred by his fiancee...even in her written missives, it seemed.
"Master? Are you all right?" A gloved hand touched lightly on his tensed shoulder. "You look distressed."
Without looking up, Ciel slapped the hand rudely away. "I'm fine. Clear away the tea; I've had enough."
"Yes, sir." Sebastian picked up the half-full teacup and set it on the tray. As he took it from the desk, Ciel stopped him with another order.
"And...bring me my stationery set." Under his breath, he muttered, "I have a letter to write."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sebastian glance back over his shoulder. "At once, my lord."
If he'd been within reach Ciel would have been happy to slap that self-satisfied smirk off the demon butler's face.
After a month and a half of intravenous feeding, Ciel was anxious to eat proper food, but Sebastian insisted on feeding him light, bland fare. Breakfast was usually a sumptuous affair, being after all the most important meal of the day. Longingly Ciel thought of honey-cured ham, county sausage, fried whiting...while being forced to nibble on dry toast and apple jelly, washed down with milk-laden tea. He'd raged at his butler until reminded that his stomach was not yet ready for richer stuff, and presented with the prospect of spending the entire morning bent over a chamberpot spewing his guts out, Ciel reluctantly acquiesced to the light meal presented to him.
The morning was spent composing business correspondence, announcing the recovery of the head of the Fun-Tom company. After an equally light luncheon, word arrived by special messenger that the Earl's fiancee would be visiting that very afternoon for tea. This, of course, occasioned its own special preparations.
"Bear up, Master..you're nearly there."
Sebastian's words of encouragement meant nothing to Ciel. He was too busy concentrating on willing his weakened extremities into bearing his own slight weight. He clutched at his cane with a death-grip as he fought to stand upright, a fight that ultimately proved futile. Despite his struggles, his knees buckled beneath him and he fell face-first to the floor.
Above where he sprawled, Sebastian consulted his pocket-watch. ""Well done, my lord. With the aid of your cane, you managed to keep your feet for seven and three-quarter seconds."
Ciel glared at him from his undignified position. "Are you just going to stand there?"
"You did insist that I not catch you if you fell, sir." Having made this point, Sebastian knelt and effortlessly scooped his young lord up from the floor.
Ciel's flash of anger evaporated, replaced by a sudden weariness. "Oh, this is pointless, Sebastian. I can't stand for more than a handful of heartbeats. I can't walk at all."
Sebastian settled him in an armchair. "Patience, my lord. Your muscles are weak from long disuse. It will take time for you to regain your strength."
"I don't have time. Elizabeth will be here within the hour. I won't let her see me on an invalid's couch."
"I think I have a solution, Master." Quick-footed and graceful as always, Sebastian nipped out of the parlour and returned just as quickly, pushing a construct that looked like nothing more or less than a padded chair with wheels on.
"No." Ciel's rejection of the very concept of the existence of such a contraption, never mind in relation to his use of it, was immediate and absolute. "Sebastian, I will not ride about in that thing!"
Sebastian cocked his head to one side. "Would you like me to carry you, sir? I'm sure Lady Elizabeth would find it endearingly cute should I do so."
Ciel raised his vitriolic glare from the wheelchair to his butler. He drew in a long, slow breath and, on the exhalation, breathed, "I...hate...you."
Sebastian beamed down at him with a smile on his face that could only be described as beatific.
The trim little carriage had barely stopped in front of the gates of the Phantomhive estate when small feet clad in low-heeled pink patent leather boots struck the paved walkway and scurried across well-known paths to the courtyard. Long before she came into sight, her joyous cry of "CIIIIEEEELLLLLL!!!!" announced the arrival of Lady Elizabeth Ethel Cordelia Midford.
Her charge came to an abrupt halt at the sight of her beloved fiance, small and pale and sitting in...oh, horrors!...an invalid's bath chair. Her green eyes widened, her breath caught in her throat, and a hand fluttered to her lips to stifle her cry of dismay.
Ciel was sitting in the wheelchair, his legs crossed, and his chin leaning on his hand, striving his best to look as casual and unaffected as possible, and succeeding not a whit. "Now, Elizabeth," he chided gently, "don't take on so. I'm fine."
"Oh, Ciel..." Elizabeth rushed forward and went down on her knees in front of the wheelchair. "Fine?! You're not fine, you're in a wheelchair!" A small sob chocked her voice. "Are you a cripple now, Ciel? How awful!"
""You won't be able to dance, or ride, or--or anything!"
"Honestly, it isn't--"
"My poor crippled darling!" Elizabeth's green eyes filled with tears of deep and heartfelt pity.
"Elizabeth!!" Ciel was shocked beyond his ability to articulate. He'd expected histrionics from his betrothed, but her insistence on calling him a cripple raked against his nerves like a steel file. None of his interruptions seemed to stem the flow of mingled love, pity and unflagging determination to make him feel as helpless as possible.
His eyes cut towards Sebastian, who stood at his side, unruffled and--damn him--faintly amused at the spectacle. "Sebastian," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth as Elizabeth continued to carry on, "aren't you going to say something?"
Sebastian leaned over and whispered quietly in the Earl's ear. "It would be improper for me to speak, my lord, before you greeted your other guests."
"What? What other--" For the first time, Ciel realised that Elizabeth had been followed into the courtyard. Two complete strangers stood at a respectful distance. The first was a young woman of about twenty, with very fair hair and eyes of a delicate pale blue. The other was a man of medium height, probably in his forties, wearing a vicar's garb and a gentle expression. "Who...?"
Elizabeth left off her recitations of devotion to her "crippled darling" and turned to follow Ciel's gaze. "Oh, what a goose I am, really! Ciel, this is the Reverend Edward Clement. He's the one who recommended Madeleine to Mother."
The vicar came forward and shook Ciel's hand with a firm, respectful grip. "Your Lordship."
"Reverend Clement." More out of politeness than anything else, Ciel offered, "Would you care to stay for tea?"
Clement shook his head with a slight smile. "I wouldn't wish to intrude on your reunion with your lady. Besides, I have work to do in the area." He stepped back with a brief, crisp bow. "I only stopped by to give you my regards. I'm certain we'll meet again soon."
Don't count on it, Ciel did not respond. Since the deaths of his parents, he had no use for churches and had only been in one once, for Madam Red's funeral. But he smiled and gave Clement a courteous nod.
Clement bowed to Elizabeth and turned away. As he passed the maid, he murmured "Be a good girl, Madeleine..."
Sebastian couldn't help but notice the brief but unmistakable look of scorn the girl gave the vicar's retreating back.
Elizabeth laid a hand gently on the back of Ciel's wheelchair. Her green eyes were radiant with love and pity. "Shall I turn your chair to face the table, my poor crippled darling?"
"No." Ciel's hands fisted on the arms of the chair. "And I am not a cripple, Lizzie." Steeling himself, the Earl Phantomhive set about proving his words. He put his feet on the marble flagstones of the patio and pushed himself up out of the chair.
"Oh, Ciel, do be careful! You'll fall and hurt yourself!" Elizabeth took a step forward, reaching out her hands to him.
At the same time, Sebastian moved to take hold of Ciel's shoulders. "Young Master--"
"Don't you dare try to help me!" Ciel's roared directive was meant for Sebastian, but Elizabeth shrank back as well, recoiling from the rage in his voice even though it was directed not at her, but at his own quivering legs as they threatened to give way. He clutched at the tea table, pulling himself forward and forcing his legs to shift while still bearing him up. "Leave it, Elizabeth..." he grunted, seeing the stark dismay in her expression. "I...will...do this."
With a final groan, he dropped himself into one of the white iron chairs. His face was covered with sweat, but he managed to give Elizabeth a radiant smile. "There...you see, Lizzie?" he said between labored breaths. "I'm not...a cripple...at all."
Elizabeth stood stunned, staring down at Ciel without being able to say a word. She knew how long he'd been ill, and her own mother had warned her that Ciel would likely be frail for the rest of his life...but despite his obvious struggle to move on his own, despite the way he was trembling with expended effort even now, Ciel didn't seem frail in the least.
She jumped as the chair beside her was pulled smoothly from the table. "Allow me, my lady," Sebastian said quietly, gently. "Won't you make yourself comfortable?"
Elizabeth flashed a smile of pure gratitude to Sebastian and took her own time in settling herself in the chair, struggling to regain her composure. "I've missed you so, Ciel," she began as he reached for the teapot to pour for them. "I was just saying to--oh! But I must introduce you to Madeleine!"
"What?" Ciel paused with the teapot held over Elizabeth's cup. "You don't 'introduce' servants, Lizzie." From the tone of his voice it was clear that he found the very idea absurd.
"Oh but she's almost like family, really." Elizabeth beckoned to the young woman waiting on the path. "Come, Madeleine, don't be shy!"
Small satin-slippered feet crossed the marble flagstones with barely a whisper of footsteps. Elizabeth's new maidservant was tall, though not ungainly. She wore a simple blue dress, beribboned and frothed with lace--far grander than a lady's maid would normally wear, but this was likely Elizabeth's choice of attire, since she insisted on surrounding herself with things that she considered "cute". Even the maid's hair was elaborately done, with two neat buns in the back and ribbon-bound side-tails in the front, with a curve of fringe above the china-blue eyes.
Elizabeth sat up straight, as though she were introducing an acquaintance instead of a servant. "Madeleine Demandols, this is the Right Honorable Earl Ciel Phantomhive."
"Your Lordship." Madeleine dropped a curtsey worthy of a royal personage, lowering her eyes demurely. "I am most delighted to make your acquaintance." Her voice was soft, almost a whisper and yet not difficult to discern. It did not suggest timidity, but rather a deep respect for the Earl--for his station, his title, and for his own person as well.
"Miss Demandols," Ciel responded with a nod, playing along with Elizabeth's conceit, though he still felt slightly ridiculous. Introduced to a servant, the very idea! He watched as the maid stood up once more, her head still respectfully bowed. "Well," he said, "her manners are pretty enough."
"Oh, she's a treasure," Elizabeth gushed. "Reverend Clement brought her over from the Ursulines convent in France. I honestly don't know how I could have managed all these weeks without her."
"If it please my lady," Madeleine said in her sweet, soft voice, "shall I wait in the carriage for you?"
"Oh, that would be entirely too boring...wait, I know! I want you to be familiar with the grounds, since we're going to be visiting often. Sebastian--" Elizabeth turned to the butler--"would you be kind enough to show Madeleine about the estate while Ciel and I have our tea?"
Sebastian exchanged looks with the Earl. "Young Master...?"
Ciel turned away and waved his hand dismissively. "Go on. If I need you for anything, I'll summon you."
Sebastian nodded and turned to Madeleine with his most charming, endearing smile--an expression that had been known to make nuns surrender their vows of chastity. "Well then, my lady," he said, extending his hand, "may I escort you?"
Madeleine didn't move. She looked at Sebastian's hand as though he were holding a viper--no, as though the hand itself were something which would strike her dead if she allowed it to touch her.
Sebastian hesitated only a beat before gesturing with that same hand to indicate that she proceed him. "After you, Miss Demandols."
She relaxed slightly and nodded with thinly-veiled gratitude. "Thank you, Mr. Michaelis."
Ciel's visible eye narrowed as he watched them walk away. He hadn't missed the exchange, and he wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. But with Lizzie bubbling effusively at him across the table, now was hardly the time to contemplate such things.
"The roses in the Master's garden are a cultivar specific to the house, hybridized from a Chinese import and a cutting from the Rosa Alba, the White Rose of York. This particular breed of rose, the Sterling Silver, was cultivated by the Earl's great-grandfather, and is notable for the size and proliferation of the blooms as well as for the delicacy of the flowers' perfume." Sebastian glanced at the young woman who walked beside him, who gave him a slight nod to show she was listening to him, but said not a word. She had kept her silence since they'd left the patio, showing mild interest in Sebastian's detailing of the glories of the Phantomhive estate, but nothing more.
Sebastian was accustomed to people not liking him; most found him charming (which he was, of course) and kind (which, of course, he wasn't), but a select few seemed to sense the true nature lurking beneath the courteous facade and reacted unfavorably. Lady Elizabeth's mother and brother, for example. Sebastian wondered if Madeleine had perhaps heard unpleasant things about him from those members of the Midford household. Perhaps it would be prudent to find out.
"If you'll forgive my saying so, Miss Demandols...you've been very quiet. Do you find me unpleasant company?"
A simple shake of the head was the only response, and it was unsatisfactory.
"I hope you will forgive me for any unseemly rudeness."
"Your manner is beyond reproach, sir." She spoke with the simple conviction of truth, but Sebastian sensed a certain reluctance in her. "Perhaps I'm simply awed by the splendour of your master's estate."
And perhaps I'm Lord Mayor of London. "You do us too much honour, Miss Demandols."
A quick glance from those pale eyes before she dropped her gaze to the cobblestones once more. "It seems quite impossible that such a property can be maintained by a mere four servants. However do you manage?"
A fair question, not often asked. Still, Sebastian had a ready answer. "The young Earl values quality over quantity. I assure you, lady, the servants of the Phantomhive estate are most capable."
At this point they were walking close to the back of the manor house. As if to punctuate his statement, there was a terrific bang from the nearest window, blowing out a shower of glass which was followed by a thick cloud of black smoke. Sebastian stopped in his tracks, automatically holding out an arm to forestall his companion's progress as well until the conflagration ceased. From the blown-out window arose a stream of invectives that were not normally used in polite company. Sebastian considered putting his hands over Madeleine's ears, but thought better of it when he remembered her reaction to his offered hand.
As the dust settled, Madeleine looked aside at him and managed a small, wry smile. "Indeed, sir?"
"Oh, dear," Sebastian said with a wave of his hand, "I completely forgot we were passing the kitchen." He gestured Madeleine forward, and they managed to reach the front of the house without further incident.
At the main path he stopped and turned to face her. She halted and looked up at him. Her face was a pretty mask, and he could read nothing in her gaze--unusual, since humans customarily wore their emotions quite plainly. She seemed neither attracted to him nor intimidated by him. Most curious indeed.
"I find it most curious," he said, "that we've walked together for the better part of an hour, yet I know almost nothing about you."
Her expression did not change. "I am no more than what you see."
"Oh, I rather doubt that."
"Indeed, Mr. Michaelis," she insisted quietly, "I have no need of facades or pretentions to hide my true nature."
Ah, there it was. Distaste, perhaps even the barest hint of contempt. But what was the source?
"And what, exactly, would your true nature be?" He leaned slightly towards her, expecting her to flinch away from him.
She didn't. Her eyes met his directly, with a vague hint of...could it be challenge? "Do you truly wish to know?"
Slowly, deliberately, Sebastian smiled. He took the barest step towards her, bringing his face closer to hers. This time she did flinch a bit, but did not step away. That steady, cool gaze of hers flickered perceptibly. He bent to bring his lips within inches of hers and, ah, yes, there it was. Even if it was against her conscious will, she was responding to his proximity, as most women did. "Come," he murmured, almost a whisper, "will you not confide in me?"
He felt her breath against his lips as she struggled to speak. "I...I am..."
The spell was broken. Madeleine turned her head and stepped back from Sebastian, looking up the pathway with evident relief. "My lady!"
Sebastian was reminded what homicidal feelings were like, and he only just managed to school his features into complacency before Elizabeth could see the brief snarl on his face.
"I don't mean to interrupt," Elizabeth said, with a barely-suppressed giggle, "but it's time we were leaving. I don't want to tire poor Ciel out; he looks so frail still, and I'm sure he needs his rest." She turned to Sebastian with her hands clasped in front of her. "Sebastian, thank you for taking such good care of Ciel."
He bowed deeply to her. "It was no more than my duty, my lady."
"Oh, nonsense, you can't fool me." Her small hand thumped his shoulder playfully. "You're as fond of him as he is of you."
Still bowing, Sebastian allowed himself a brief, wry smirk. That is almost certainly true.
"Come along, Madeleine!" Elizabeth turned away, completely missing the significant look her maid gave Ciel's butler.
"Farewell, Mr. Michaelis."
Sebastian inclined his head, meeting that frosty glare with a warmth that bordered on dangerous heat. "Au revoir, Mademoiselle," he responded.
He saw the lady and her maid safely to their carriage, then went to the courtyard in search of his young master. He arrived just in time to see the wicker and willow wheelchair tumbled sideways to the marble deck as Ciel shoved it aside in an effort to push himself to his feet. The Earl's hands shot out and grasped the railing as a drowning man might clutch at a floating timber. His feet were planted wide apart, his trembling legs forced stick-straight.
"'You look tired, Ciel,'" he hissed through clenched teeth, an imitation of Elizabeth's solicitous simpering. "'You need rest, Ciel.' 'Are you a cripple, Ciel?'"
Sebastian cleared his throat. "Master...?"
"Stay back," Ciel shot back over his quaking shoulder. "I can do this. I will." He lifted one hand from the railing, swayed on his feet, forced himself steady. "I am Ciel, Earl Phantomhive. I will not show weakness. I will not be pitied." He raised his other hand from the rail, stumbled, but did not fall. His small hands clenched into white fists. "I will stand on my own."
Sebastian watched his master with no small measure of satisfaction. Ah, the Earl's determination was marvelous to behold, and his pride was a thing of beauty in and of itself. His was, indeed, a worthy soul.
Haltingly, but with dogged determination, Ciel half walked, half staggered towards the patio doors. He held onto them for support, but he did not cease his progress. "Sebastian."
He stepped forward at once, ready to lend his aid. "Yes, my lord?"
"Give that wretched chair to Finnian. Have him break it up into kindling. I want it burning in my fireplace. Tonight."
A thin smile. "Yes, my lord."