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Black Butler: Seconds

Title: Seconds
Series: Black Butler
Rating: G
Pairing: None

Summary: “I cannot change the past, my lord,” he says. “But together, you and I may change the future."

Ciel and Sebastian teach each other how to survive.


Sebastian is no stranger to mortal guise. In his long and storied past he has walked the earth in many forms, has spread plague as a host of rats and feasted upon dead flesh as a carrion-bird and lured human souls to Hell with a beautiful face. But they have been nothing but masks for his true form, temporary disguises for mortal eyes. He has never cared to commit himself for longer, has always been sated by the easily elicited quantity rather than the quality of his meals.

Until now. To contract with a boy seeking his family’s murderers is no temporary promise. He will be in this form for years – perhaps decades. A disguise would be burdensome to maintain for such a period, and besides, perhaps a taste of humanity will prove more amusing.

As his young master sleeps in the Royal London Hospital, Sebastian makes a man out of himself. Spins his demonic bone and sinew into something closer to human, transmutes his blood to a crimson proxy of Ciel’s. His shape he leaves the same as the one he took to appear to the boy: its slender symmetry appeals to him. The only thing he cannot change are his eyes, the window to what passes for a demon’s soul. In a disguise he could conceal them. But this is his form now and they shine out like lamps, a subtle warning offset by smiling lips and pale skin.

Humans, he has learned in his time on Earth, rarely recognize danger when it is set before them.

***

He takes the young Earl home to his estate as soon as he is released from hospital. The boy is still fragile from the torture he has endured, and despite the padded cushions inside the coach he shies and winces at the rattles and bumps. Sebastian twice stops the coach to rebuke the hired coachman, but there’s simply nothing to be done about the uneven roads.

Ciel Phantomhive doesn’t once complain.

The country home is in ruins. Here and there stone walls stand tall and lonely against the grey sky, charred beams and burnt rubbish filling the space between.

“My,” says Sebastian, with a surprised affect. Beside him Ciel steps out of the coach and stares, his one wide blue eye unfocused. Sebastian can practically hear the gears of his mind spinning out of control, memories piling on top of one another to crush him.

Sebastian steps forward, tugging his white gloves on further. “Well, this will not do. Please wait here, my lord.”

He only recently rose from Hell, and his demonic energy is still brimming. Rebuilding a house from the ashes is no difficult task. The furnishings and frills will take more time – it’s important to get them precisely right – but in little time he has restored the house’s stone walls and timbre roof. Immaculate glass shines in the windows and the floorboards gleam like burnished brass.

“A Phantomhive butler who cannot do this much is not worth his salt,” Sebastian tells Ciel, as he accompanies the boy in through the front door.

There is still a faint smell of ash lingering in the chill air, but he doubts Ciel can detect it; the pungent reeks of masonry and sawdust are too prominent. He snaps his fingers as they stride through the wide hall and fires leap up in the newly-laid grates. Ciel turns and stares at that too, still wordless.

“Perhaps you should rest, my lord,” suggests Sebastian. “It’s late, and you are still convalescing..”

Ciel looks up. “Very well,” he agrees, and leads the way up the wide staircase to the upper floors.

Carpets will need to be laid here, and pictures hung on the walls. For now the corridor is all dark wood, spotless but slightly oppressive. Their heels click as they proceed, Sebastian beside the boy ready to prop him up should he falter.

He doesn’t.

They reach the bedroom, a pleasantly wallpapered room with windows overlooking the back garden. The furniture is grand and dark: a tall posted bed, a Hepplewhite desk and chair, and a William and Mary dresser and wardrobe. It’s the only furniture in the house he bothered to recreate – the rest can come later. The fire here is already burning, a copper bed warmer already slipped between the pristine sheets.

Ciel stops in front of the bed and slowly reaches up to undo the clasp of his cloak. His fingers are bandaged: several of his nails having been pulled out and two fingers broken. He falters and looks up.

“It’s a butler’s duty to see to his master’s clothing,” he says.

Sebastian raises his hand to his newly-beating heart. “As you wish, my lord.” He undoes the clasp with confident fingers, then slowly undresses the boy. His body is covered with the evidence of cruel treatment, some marks covered over by bandages or sticking plaster but much revealed. The ugly red brand is puckered and raised beneath his ribs. He had tried to hide it in the hospital, had silently pressed his elbow to the burnt skin rather than have the nurses fuss over it. Now he looks at Sebastian.

“Can you remove it?”

Sebastian brushes his gloved fingers over it and feels Ciel flinch. “I cannot erase what has been done. I could disguise it with a further brand, or excise the flesh. But I cannot undo it, my lord.”

“What kind of demon are you, then?” snaps the young Earl.

“At the moment, I am just one hell of a butler,” replies Sebastian. “You should finish preparing for bed, or you’ll catch cold.” He strides over to the dresser and produces a white nightshirt, freshly ironed and lavender-scented. “I cannot change the past, my lord,” he says, as he buttons the shirt up. “But together, you and I may change the future.

***

Humans eat to live – and some live to eat. Sebastian has lured souls into his jaws with his exquisite cuisine – to-die-for some have said, and promptly seen their words proved true.

He re-establishes the estate’s accounts with the local grocer, butcher and fish-monger, and arranges for prompt delivery to replenish the house’s barren pantry. He also orders tea and comestibles from Fortnum & Mason’s, and makes a trip to London overnight himself to pick up an initial supply so as to have them readily on hand for the morrow.

As the sun rises Sebastian completes his baking and begins boiling water for eggs and cooking salmon on a cedar plank in the oven to impart perfect flavour. Finally he makes tea and steeps it for precisely three minutes before taking the meal upstairs.

Ciel is still asleep, the room dark. The sun has just struggled above the horizon but the dark drapes exclude all traces of it. Sebastian pulls them back, fastening them with their elaborate ties, and then brings the breakfast tray over to the bed. “Breakfast, my lord. I have Moroccan Mint tea from Fortnum & Mason, a hard-boiled egg and salmon served with scones or toast and marmalade.”

Ciel opens his mismatched eyes and stares upwards. “You’re still here,” he says, sounding faintly puzzled. His hand rises to his rose-coloured eye. “I see.”

Sebastian wonders briefly whether he is already regretting his commitment, his resolve faltering. “I will be with you until the end,” he reminds the boy with a delicate smile, preparing mentally for a scene.

But: “So you promised,” agrees Ciel. There is no protest, no scene. He merely sits up while Sebastian places the tray on his knees and plumps his pillows behind him. The Earl looks down at the food arranged before him. Slowly he reaches out and takes up the scone, nibbling at the corner.

“Is it not to your liking, my lord?”

Ciel is still looking at the tray, his eyes lost in the distance. “It’s fine,” he replies, and takes another nibble.

“Then I will prepare your clothes.” He leaves Ciel with the food and opens the heavy wardrobe.

He had bought some clothes while they were in London and had them brought down on the back of the coach. They smell new, their creases still fresh. The shoes are newly polished, the leather tough. The tweed is still stiff, but it will be the warmest this time of year. Sebastian produces an outfit and brings it over to the bed where he carefully lays it out.

Ciel has hardly touched his food.

If the boy dies before the contract is achieved, he will lose the soul. It is his duty to see that that does not happen – to give his strength, his magic, his life – to ensure it does not happen. That is his side of the contract. And so: “You must eat,” he says softly while he lays out the clothes on the eiderdown.

“It’s your job to make me want to,” replies Ciel, putting down the scone.

“It is my job to serve you,” begins Sebastian, looking up.

“It’s your job to keep me alive – until you can claim me. Or isn’t that right?”

“You are right of course, my lord.” Sebastian gives a bow-shaped smile. It’s uncanny, the way the boy has followed his line of thinking. But then he had known he was no ordinary human from the moment he felt Ciel’s soul tug at his essence. “Perhaps something simpler to consume?” he suggests.

Ciel makes no answer, merely crosses his arms above the tray and waits for Sebastian to remove it. Then he shuffles out of bed and permits himself to be dressed in the outfit his butler selected.

“I’m afraid the rest of the mansion will require further renovations. I recommend that you remain here, my lord. I would be happy to provide you with a game, or –”

“Chess,” says Ciel.

“Chess?” echoes Sebastian.

Ciel crosses to the desk and pulls out the chair, seating himself and looking out the window at the snowy ground beyond. “Chess,” he agrees.

***

Sebastian produces the chess board and pieces, then returns to the kitchen. The debris from his first attempt at breakfast remain; he clears them away to the side and starts again. Luckily he purchased foodstuffs for Tanaka in London, and the fish-monger has already been.

He doesn’t have the exact ingredients he needs, but he is nothing if not talented at improvising. After an hour he has another meal ready and on its tray; he takes it up.

He finds Ciel still sitting at the desk, now with the chess set positioned directly in front of him. A game has been half played out, right against left, several pieces both black and white already gone from the board.

Sebastian knocks at the door. “Your breakfast, Young Master.” He strides in and puts the tray down on the table.

Ciel looks at the steaming food blankly. “What is this?”

“It is a Japanese-style breakfast, my lord. Miso soup, white rice, grilled fish, and green tea.” He indicates each with his white-gloved hand. Below the cotton the newly-stamped seal aches dully – a flaw with this human form. Something within his innards has been equally upset for the past several days, but he is confident if he ignores it it will eventually go away. Fortunately at least it does not prevent him from sleeping; demons do not sleep, even in human form.

Ciel picks up the spoon and hesitantly takes a taste of the miso. His face puckers, eye tightening comically. “So salty!”

“Is it not to your liking, my lord?” asks Sebastian for the second time that morning.

Ciel takes up the chopsticks and prods at the rice. “It’s fine,” he says. But he eats nothing more. After a minute he stands sharply, pushing the chair out and jumping down. “I wish to see the graves.”

“You’ve hardly eaten, Young Master. I don’t think that’s advisable.”

“I will see them,” he says, turning to Sebastian. His good eye is blazing, all of his fragile form straight-backed and hard as steel. “That’s an order.”

“As you wish, my lord. I will prepare the coach.”

***

The Phantomhive family graves are in the local churchyard, some five miles from the estate. There is fresh snow on the ground, the earth below the coach’s wheels hard with frost. The horses don’t startle at Sebastian’s form – another indicator of his success, although his organs are still plaguing him.

He ushers Ciel inside, then mounts the front and takes up the reins and whip in his gloved hands. A snap of the leather reins sets the horses trotting down the drive, past barren trees iced with powdery snow and hedgerows dusted with it. The world around them is silent except for the click of the hooves, the clatter of the traces and the rumble of the wheels.

Grey smoke rises from cottages dotting the landscape; in the distance he can see the larger conglomeration of homes that make up the local village. There, he knows, will be the church – and with it the remains of Ciel’s family.

The few villagers out and about this snowy morning stop and stare at the sight of the Phantomhive coach, complete with a strange butler, as it rattles past. He ignores them utterly and drives on until they reach the church and Ciel knocks the ceiling with his cane. He pulls the horses up and hops easily down, opening the door and unfolding the step.

Although he had packed up several heated bricks in newspaper to keep the coach warm, Ciel emerges so pale Sebastian can see the blue rivers of his veins beneath his skin, his lips grey. His breathing sounds wheezy, and he coughs as he steps down.

For the first (but not the last) time, Sebastian wonders how he is possibly supposed to protect this head-strong child from himself.

The church is an old one, its tiny bell-tower doubtless holding just one bell, its stained-glass windows a modern travesty. Icicles hang from its eaves, frost turning its roof into a likeness of a gingerbread-house. Ciel passes it by and walks through the yew-lined corridor leading to the churchyard. Here the graves are scattered about the uneven ground, their stones rising like hungry teeth from the snow-covered earth. There are three wooden crosses standing alone in an older part of the graveyard, doubtless awaiting their final granite headstones. Here the snow is heaped over floral tributes like a blanket.

Ciel looks up at Sebastian and the demon sees in him not the proud, desperate Earl who summoned him from Hell, but a little lost boy. “I didn’t bring any flowers,” he whispers, as though the failure will damn him.

Very little blooms this time of year in England. There are hot-house flowers available in London, and perhaps even closer, but Sebastian doesn’t have time to seek them out. He doesn’t yet know this county and the opportunities it offers. But… “Of course there shall be flowers, my lord,” he says, and slips away.

When he returns Ciel is kneeling on his mother’s grave, crying. His breaths are harsh and desperate, his tears falling from both of his mismatched eyes. Even in pain, he is beautiful – or is he beautiful because he is in pain? Sebastian doesn’t know.

“My lord,” says Sebastian quietly. Ciel looks up, and his damp eyes drop to Sebastian’s arms. Held delicately as a newborn is an armful of ice flowers, carved from the church’s monstrous icicles. Each is an individual stem, together a wealth of glittering roses. He lets Ciel take them from him one by one and lay them down on the graves. In this weather they will last better than regular flowers.

When that’s done, Sebastian produces his handkerchief and hands it to the boy. “Earls do not cry, Young Master. They may rage, and they may revenge, but they do not give into dismay.”

Ciel stands, sniffing and drying his cheeks. “I wasn’t trained to be an earl,” he says.

“From this day forward, you will be.”

***

It’s only noon when they get home but Ciel is shivering, his breathing sounding worse than before. Sebastian draws a hot bath for him and lights the fire in his room, tucking him up in bed once he’s clean and dry. “Please take better care of yourself, Young Master,” he says. Ciel gives him a tired look.

The boy still has hardly eaten. He must find some way to tempt him to feed. Young men want red meat, he knows, in plentiful portions. So he returns to the kitchen once more and cooks up a steak and kidney pie with lush gravy and perfect golden crust. He makes it in the shape of the Phantomhive manor and places a tiny paper Union Jack on the top.

This he brings upstairs on the tea tray, wheeling it into Ciel’s room. The boy looks up as he enters, surprised.

“Your lunch, my lord. Steak and kidney pie.” He picks up a serving spoon and plate, hovering the utensil over the house’s roof. “Where should I start?”

Ciel’s mouth twitches into a dry expression. “Wherever you please.”

He digs the spoon into the west wing, spooning crust and steaming steak and potatoes out onto the plate. The scent is delectable – savoury meat and vegetables mixed with the sweetness of the pastry.

His stomach growls. Sebastian glances down at it, shocked. “I beg your pardon, my lord.”

Ciel waves his apology away blandly. He brings the breakfast tray over and places the plate upon it. Ciel looks down at the steaming food. He takes up a fork and pulls apart a piece of steak, raising a small portion to his mouth. He eats it, then puts down the fork.

“Is it –” begins Sebastian, frowning.

It’s fine,” snaps Ciel. He turns away, looking out the window. “I’m just not hungry.”

“You will weaken and perish if you do not eat, Young Master.”

“I don’t want to die,” he replies, still staring out at the grounds. And then, more slowly. “But when I think that they will never take another meal… I can’t.” He turns a devastated eye on Sebastian.

Sebastian frowns. This mousy, pathetic boy is not the one who called him. Is not the one to whom he promised himself. But… perhaps it’s his job to bring out the one who did call him. “You’ve survived long enough to ensure the eventual destruction of those who humiliated you. Would you give up now?”

“Sometimes, I know that’s what I want. But sometimes…” he draws his legs up to his chest. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Sebastian ghosts closer, close enough that his shadow falls over the boy. “You will never be alone again, my lord. I will be with you for so long as you live, a constant, unfailing companion. That is what you desired.”

Ciel looks up at him. Then, as his face hardens, “That is what I commanded,” he corrects.

This is the one with whom he made a contract. The one he has dedicated himself to. The soul that is his, that with each beat of its heart grows closer to him.

“Bring me something sweet,” says Ciel.

Sebastian bows, smiling. “Yes, my lord.”

***

Until now he has cooked for an earl, for an invalid, for a young man. But Ciel Phantomhive is none of these things fully – right now, he is a young boy. And young boys adore sweets.

In the warm kitchen Sebastian mixes sugar and flour and chocolate. He crushes almonds for marzipan and pours confectionary sugar through a sieve for a soft, sweet snowfall. When he’s finished the Buche de Noel sits in elaborate glory, an edible log complete with marzipan mushrooms and a dusting of sugary snow. He places it on a silver tray, prepares tea as well as plates and cutlery, and brings it up stairs.

As he climbs the stairs his stomach makes a softer, more desperate noise. It feels as though it’s rolling inside of him. His vision blurs momentarily and the fork on the tray clatters as it shifts. Sebastian catches himself, shakes his head, and continues up the steps.

He knocks at the door and enters, finds Ciel sitting in his bed with the covers gathered around him like a sparrow in its nest.

“Your afternoon tea, my lord,” he says, placing the tray on the desk and carving a thick, luscious slice from the chocolate log. As he brings it over his dizziness returns, followed by a wave of uncomfortable heat and then a shocking white-out.

He never loses consciousness, but he does lose control of his partially human body; it drops to the floor like a sack, disgracefully shattering the plate and spilling chocolate cake on the rug.

“Sebastian? Sebastian!” The boy slides out of bed and kneels at his side, shaking his shoulder.

Sebastian wills himself back into control of his flesh. He sits up, finding himself damp with a sheen of sweat, his hands shaking. “I apologize, my lord,” he says. “I will clean this up immediately.”

“Never mind that,” says Ciel impatiently. “You look like a phantom. When was the last time you ate?”

“Ate?” says Sebastian, curious. “I do not eat.”

“Never?”

“Not since I have come to you,” agrees Sebastian.

“And you told me I needed to be more careful,” scoffs the boy. “Bring me some cake – and have some yourself.”

Sebastian opens his mouth to protest, then thinks the better of it. “As you wish, my lord.” He rises carefully and cuts another two slices of the cake which he puts on two plates. One he brings over to Ciel on the breakfast tray, complete with a cup of tea and a dessert fork. He waits to see the boy start to eat – he uses the fork to cut a large piece of cake, and puts it in his mouth – and then he returns to the desk and quietly begins to eat himself.

As he eats, he feels the sugar from the food correcting the imbalance in his blood stream, feels the fats and the protein replenishing his cells. In making himself a man, he clearly did far too good a job.

He finishes the cake, then wills himself whole – and static. Halts his cells drawing strength from food and directs them to draw it instead from his demonic essence. He cannot be dependent on such crude things as sleep and nutrition.

When he looks back to Ciel, he sees the boy has finished his slice of cake.

“Would you like seconds, my lord?” he asks with a smile.

***

Two Years Later

Snow is falling outside, thick white flakes drifting down from the sky like feathers.

Sebastian prefers feathers to be black. But he dusts the Buche de Noel with white sugar all the same, carefully filtering it through the sieve until it drifts down just like the real thing. He prepares Darjeeling tea and, just in case, two sets of plates and forks.

Today Ciel is in the study going through Funtom business papers. He likes to stay abreast of the business – it is due to his genius, after all, that it has blossomed into England’s premiere toy company. He is just flipping through the accounts (there is a particular wrinkle in his forehead reserved for finances) when Sebastian knocks at the door with the tea trolley.

He looks up, single eye focused on Sebastian – and then the trolley. The wrinkle in his forehead smooths. Sebastian enters.

“Tea today is Darjeeling with Buche de Noel.” He stops in front of the desk and serves the tea, then slices the cake, taking care to include two marzipan mushrooms.

Ciel takes up the fork and slowly raises a piece to his mouth. As always, he makes no sign of enjoyment. But he continues to eat.

When he’s finished he looks to the second plate on the tray. “Aren’t you going to join me?” he asks.

“I don’t eat, my lord,” Sebastian reminds him.

“This is a special occasion.”

Sebastian wants to ask what it is Ciel is celebrating. His return to the Phantomhive estate? His acceptance of his fate? Or simply the first time since his capture that he experienced a moment of enjoyment?

He supposes that, after all, it doesn’t matter. He carves a piece of cake for himself and raises the fork to his mouth. Delicious.

“And after that,” says Ciel pointedly, “I’ll have seconds.”

END

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