Card -0- The Fool
"It's time to wake up, Ciel."
Ciel Phantomhive opened his eyes, and saw above him a starless sky that was still somehow luminous. It was bright enough that the figure above him was cast into darkness, but that hardly mattered to Ciel. He would always know that voice, even if a century had passed since last he heard it.
He made a little shrug in response. "Why not? I have become rather fond of it."
Ciel blinked hard. There were strange shadows hovering around Sebastian's head, like a heavy crown, or beating wings. When he stared at them too hard, they vanished to the corners of his vision. As the last vestiges of sleep faded away, a slow awareness of himself began to spread, beyond only what he could see and hear. He was lying on cold stone, but his head was pillowed on something warm. Sebastian's lap. There were fingers ruffling his hair, and the nails of them were sharp. From far away he could hear the sea, but no bird dared to lift its voice.
"You called me Ciel," Ciel said, in a tone that was vaguely accusatory.
"I did," Sebastian answered. "It is your name, isn't it?"
Ciel chewed on this insubordination for a moment, but decided to let it pass in favor of more pressing issues. "What are you just sitting around for? What about our contract?"
Sebastian looked down at him, and for the first time there was a hint as to his features. His eyes were like freshly-blown coals, scattering their veils of ash and pulsing like the heart of a living thing. They cast a faint light over his face, familiar and yet utterly alien, sharp and cruel and proud. "What about it?"
"Don't just sit there, get on with it!" Ciel tried to sit up, but found he could not. Sebastian's other arm was across his chest, and it might as well have been a frigate full of iron ingots for all its weight. His other arm. Ciel paused. Hadn't he lost it? Could he heal from such a wound so quickly? Ciel shook the questions away. None of that mattered, now. "Devour my soul, and be done with it, man!"
Sebastian gave a dark little chuckle. It blossomed into a full-throated laugh, one that sent tremors through the small body he held on his lap, one that stirred the leaves of distant trees. It subsided at last into a contented purr, becoming a long sigh of satisfaction before vanishing entirely. Fingertips brushed Ciel's face, warm and possessive. "Delicious," he said, softly. "Worth the wait, and a thousand years besides."
"You--" Ciel began, and found that his voice had dwindled into nothing. "You mean, you already--"
Sebastian lifted his hand and licked one taloned fingertip, as though savoring the fragrance of a fruit long since eaten. "You cannot have expected me to waste any time, Ciel. I've been very patient."
"But...shouldn't I be..." Ciel put his hands to his face, and though they were cold, that meant little. Ciel's hands were always cold. He was breathing, he thought he felt the stirring of his heartbeat. "...Dead?"
"I don't recall contracting to kill you," Sebastian said. "I negotiated the price of your soul, that's all."
"But if you take my soul, shouldn't I be dead?" Ciel heaved at the arm holding him down, it would not budge.
"Truly, your ideas about the nature of life and death are charmingly naive."
"You were supposed to kill me!" Ciel insisted. "I was done! It was over! It was--" He was silenced, abruptly, by a hand across his mouth.
"You presume a good deal, to tell a demon how to go about fulfilling his contracts," Sebastian answered, warning in his tone. "I've been doing this quite some time now, I have a fairly good grasp of how to go about it."
Ciel took a few deep breaths. It didn't make his rage go away, and it never really had, but it was still the proper thing for a gentleman to do before giving in to a fit of temper. When he was done with that, he bit Sebastian's hand. It worked rather better than he planned, his teeth sinking deep into soft flesh, making a little tearing sound. Sebastian hissed and jerked his hand away, and Ciel scooted to the other side of the bench. They were in the same ruin, on the same island, in the middle of the same night as they had been before Ciel had fallen asleep.
Fallen asleep? some part of him wondered. Or was it something else? He had a memory--or a thin, tattered vestige of one--of a kiss, a blinding light, a searing pain, and then a deep, velvety-black silence.
"What did you do to me?" Ciel demanded. "Tell me, this instant! That's an order, Sebastian!"
On the other end of the bench, Sebastian shook his wounded hand. He was still wrapped up in shadows, but bright flecks of his blood glittered on the stonework. "I no longer take orders from you," he answered. "Nor are you in a position to give them. You could contract me again, but you no longer have anything as collateral."
"Because my soul is gone." Ciel said, to get a better grasp of it.
"Because you ate it."
"A crude, human word, but near enough, yes."
"Then I am now...?"
"A creature without a soul."
Sebastian smiled. "...A Demon."
There was a very long pause. It could have lasted several hours, Ciel had no idea. Time was, as the Bard said, out of joint. "You made me into a demon?" he asked, at last.
"I did not make you into anything. It is what you became, due to the loss of your soul. A sentient creature without a soul is, yes, technically, a demon. Though that's a broad term at best. The true taxonomy of Demonkind takes up several volumes of Hell's vast library, and at some point at your leisure you can go down there and examine them to determine your exact pedigree. I'm sure you'll find yourself well above Imps, but quite a few rungs below High Archfiends."
"I thought you were going to kill me," Ciel said, quietly.
"After all my effort? To waste you like that?" Sebastian made an incredulous noise. "Don't be daft." He stood up then, and while he had always been tall, he was even more so now, and his high boots cast curved shadows across the overgrown flagstones. "I don't feel like playing tutor right now, Ciel, as I'm very full and to be honest it makes me sleepy. So let me make this brief. There are various ways for us to obtain souls from our prey--"
"Our?" Ciel echoed.
"Don't interrupt. It's rude. As I was saying, there are a number of methods. The most common one, of course, is to just rip the human in half and bolt down the soul as it comes out, but that's considered poor table manners even among Demons. Some like strangulation, some suffocate their prey in the withdrawal process. It takes art and skill to extract a soul without damaging the vessel, but if done properly, it leaves both intact." Sebastian paused, as though to make sure his pupil was paying attention. "As I recall, you used to be impressed with my talents in de-shelling lobster; in essence it's much the same thing."
Ciel ran his hands over his face, his arms, his chest. His body felt the same as always, but when he slid one hand from its white glove, his nails were delicately pointed, as black and hard as polished obsidian. "...Why?" he asked, at last. "Why not just kill me?"
Sebastian did not answer, not at first. He took two steps away, and his boot-heels echoed in the ruin. Either Ciel's eyes were adjusting to the darkness, or Sebastian was letting his disguise fall away. Sebastian's shadowy cloak was first made of feathers, then thorns, then black pools of nothingness, like spilled ink floating on a soft breeze. His head was sometimes crowned in dark, jagged metal, and sometimes with a heavy pair of curved horns, their tips dripping with jewels. Shuffled among his forms was the one Ciel knew best: the tall, elegant gentleman with his impeccable black suit. Always his eyes were the same. Something stirred in Ciel's memories, a conversation half forgotten.
What's your true form look like? Ciel had asked, one winter afternoon when the days had blurred together like the snow blotted out the landscape.
I doubt you would find it to your liking, my lord, Sebastian had answered. In point of fact, the sight of demons in their true form has been known to drive humans mad.
Because you're so ugly?
Sebastian's smile, carefully not showing his teeth, was still always full of hunger and cunning. Because we are too beautiful. He busied himself for a moment with the tea-cart. But even if that were not the case, our appearance is hardly fit for polite society, and certainly not for a Gentleman's Gentleman such as myself. Will crème brûlée do for your afternoon tea, my lord? I was rather pleased with the caramelized sugar.
Hmph, Ciel had said, and gone back to his book. But he had never quite stopped wondering. And yet even now, his eyes wide open, he could not exactly say what it was that Sebastian looked like. There was simply nothing in Ciel's experience that he could draw upon for comparison. Sebastian looked like Sebastian, only a hundred times moreso. That was all.
"As a rule," Sebastian said, "I no longer waste things that have value to me. My younger days were more reckless, but that was long ago, and even Demons can grow tired of the same old thing." He turned to look down at Ciel, his burning eyes unreadable. "I wanted your soul, Ciel. Everything you are, your essence, your entire existence. Mine, and only mine, for all time. And so I took you, and drank deep until there was no part of you that was not within me." He put a hand to his chest, as he so often had, to express obedience. "But there are some things souls cannot be and cannot do. I had grown fond of watching you act, your cruelty and your tenderness, your contradictions and your preconceptions. I was entertained by you, Ciel, in a way I have not been for a long time. Were I to end you utterly, you could no longer show the independence I had so come to enjoy. So I used the strength from your soul to make you over again anew. It is rarely done, even by me. But your ruthlessness is too delicious to waste," he smiled, "and you are far too good to be a human."
"So you made me into an empty doll, instead," Ciel said, with a faint trace of disgust.
"Empty?" Ciel did not see Sebastian move, and yet suddenly the sky was blotted out above, and their faces were inches apart. There was a sweet fragrance on Sebastian's breath, like raspberry brambles trodden underfoot, mingling the crushed fruit with the sweet loam of the English countryside. "Yes, you are empty. Like a fallow field warming after the frost, like the sky before the emergence of the first star." He tilted his head, his hair cool and ticklish against Ciel's cheek. "Tell me, who are you?"
Ciel tried not to blink, transfixed by those eyes, and by the curious notion that the tart, intoxicating scent on Sebastian's lips was Ciel's own soul. "Ciel... Ciel Phantomhive."
"Wrong." Sebastian tapped Ciel's chest. "Ciel was what? Ah, of course. The Queen's Hound, the heir to the Phantomhive legacy, vengeance in a velveteen waistcoat. But who made him those things? Fate? Chance? God? In any case, he did not make himself. He shaped his existence around those preconceptions and obligations, a constant compromise of identity. I know. I watched him do it every day, every hour."
Ciel turned his face away. "I could have quit," he said, for the sake of argument. "I could have said to hell with it all, and vanished with my fortune to India, or some such thing."
"You could have. And perhaps you should have. But you did not. You called for me. Not as the Queen's Hound, not as Ciel Phantomhive, but as the primal core of your being in your hour of need." Sebastian cupped Ciel's face in his hands, and there was the same efficient possessiveness that had always been there, in dressing his wounds or tying his shoes or pouring his tea. "Ciel Phantomhive was the construct; you are the reality. Empty of obligation, full of potential, you can be anything now that you please. That is the freedom of being a demon. And now, we will see what you become. Will you be a terror, the hateful thing without purpose that so many created demons are? Or will you blossom into something far sweeter? You exceeded my expectations as a human; will you do so again as one of my kind? That is what I want to see. That is what I want to know."
"I didn't ask for this." Ciel pulled away from Sebastian's touch. "I thought it would end, and now--"
"Now you must decide what you will do." Sebastian said. "If you liked being Ciel Phantomhive, you can continue to be him, on your own terms this time. Go back to London, continue to serve your queen, build your empire of bunnies and chocolates. You'd not be the first demon to hold title, nor the last." He made a soft chuckle, low in his throat. "Indeed, there was a time when the need for heirs was so strong we could contract souls for as little as the promise of a male babe in nine month's time, which is a trifling thing to accomplish. I expect half the aristocracy has some measure of demon blood in their veins. It explains the unusual appetites and the predilection to madness so common among them."
Ciel lifted his face to the wind. It was cool and sweet, and he recalled spring mornings in his back garden, with the primroses heavy with dew. He surprised himself by how little sadness he felt, overwhelmed instead with an incredible lightness, as though he could drift right up onto the wind and let it bear him where it pleased. "No," he said. "Ciel Phantomhive is dead, and he died a good death there, in the fires of London. Let them remember me that way. It would be worse if I went back now. I would not be the Ciel they knew."
Sebastian nodded agreement. "A better choice, I feel. It's always awkward when everyone begins to age around you, and being smug at funerals gets old rather quickly."
"It doesn't feel much different if you ask me," Ciel said, but he could not stop the little flutter of excitement in his chest. Or was it fear? Was it anything at all? "Not having a soul."
"It means only that your existence is what it is." Sebastian explained. "I imagine you will discover other changes, in time. I cannot be of much help, I have never been human."
Ciel did not answer, he was studying his hands. "And what if I don't want this? What if I wanted oblivion?"
Sebastian looked at him, unblinking. "I can still give it to you, if it is what you truly want." His eyes narrowed in his knowing smile. "But I don't think it is. Anticipating his master's desires is what makes a good butler, after all."
Ciel shot Sebastian a look over his shoulder, to find that standing there was the tall figure that had been his constant companion for the last few years, in his immaculate white gloves and tailcoat. "I always knew you liked your part," he said.
Sebastian flicked an invisible speck of dust from his sleeve. "It was a role I had never before played. It was challenging, complicated, refreshing. I learned things, which is a rare experience for me. I was never bored. Were it not for feeling so peckish, I could have gone on like that for some time more." He stretched out his arms in admiration. "And I did rather enjoy the costume."
"Would you like to try it out again somewhere?" Ciel looked up at the sky, and saw that stars, thousands of them, had emerged while they were talking. They spangled the sky like the jewels at a princess' throat. "With the understanding, of course, that you are not my servant. It would merely be a charade. A box seat where you can watch to see what I become." Ciel stooped beside the bench to pick up a scrap of black silk that had fallen to the ground: his discarded eye patch. He didn't need it now. "I have never undertaken a Grand Tour, and it really is a grievous oversight for a Phantomh--" he paused, considered. "For an English Gentleman." He held out the eye patch to Sebastian. "What do you say, Sebastian? Would you like to take up a position with me?"
Sebastian carefully removed the eye patch from Ciel's hand, tucking it away inside his vest. When he pulled his hand out again, he was holding his silver pocket watch in his glove. "If we leave now, we should be just in time to catch the ferry from Dover to Ostend. The majority of your inheritance should, according to your will, pass on to Lady Elizabeth, but there are emergency accounts in the Bank of London under six or seven of your aliases that will do nicely to cover expenses."
"Is that a yes?" Ciel prompted.
Sebastian slid his watch back into his pocket. "I have an acquaintance in Venice I have been meaning to stop in and see for a century or two," he said, thoughtful. "He is of your type, and can provide you with more education. And I expect before long you'll become hungry. I know the sort of prey you fancy, and the continent is full of those deserving oblivion."
Ciel shook his head. "That's not the right answer, and you know it."
"Ah." There was a light in Sebastian's eyes, but it was fainter now, and as he went down on one knee with his lashes lowered, he could have been mistaken for a human. "Yes, my lord."
Ciel smiled. The wind shook the leaves overhead, and for a moment in the ruins there was a glossy black raven and a white hare with one eye. But when the trees were still, the starlight fell over only an empty courtyard, its one stone bench overgrown with nodding white roses.