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Centuries and Seconds

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To a demon, a second could stretch long enough to build miracles, and a century could pass in a lazy nap. Sebastian once buried an acorn and sprawled in the grass to watch it grow, the tender sapling poking through the earth and stretching higher, branches spreading, leaves unfurling to cast dappled shadows on his face. In what seemed to him a long, indulgent afternoon, it grew into an oak so enormous that even a demon’s arms couldn’t have spanned its trunk. He lost count of how many times the seasons circled, until finally a bolt of lightning from a late spring thunderstorm caught the tree ablaze. Then, laughing, Sebastian sprang aloft and flew to Paris to find himself some supper.

In the 15 minutes Ciel allowed himself to sniffle over his parents’ graves, Sebastian slowed the flow of time just long enough to allow for a miracle -- the Phantomhive Manor, reconstructed from the memories that still clung to the charred timber like spiderwebs, everything from the scuffs in the stonework to the leather-bound volumes in the library. Ciel’s visible blue eye had widened as Sebastian ushered him inside. Sebastian still treasured the memory as one of the few instances he’d managed to break through the icy walls of boredom and disdain surrounding Ciel to evoke anything as fresh and warm as childlike amazement.

A second or a century: no real difference to a demon. But Ciel’s human brain processed time differently, Sebastian soon learned. On his first morning in the manor, he’d allowed the boy to sleep in, knowing Ciel must be exhausted from his ordeal. It was past noon when the bell finally rang for him. Sebastian had smiled as he wheeled the breakfast tray to Ciel’s room, eager to see how his master’s soul had recovered from the shock of the night before. Knocking lightly on the door, he stepped inside only to find Ciel already out of bed and furious.

“What were you thinking, letting me sleep so long?!” he’d snapped. “I can’t just lie about in bed all day like a great lump! I’m the Earl of Phantomhive, it’s not -- did you bring me hot chocolate? I drink tea in the morning, Sebastian, precisely at 7:30! Is that too hard to understand?”

Now, for the first time in his long life, Sebastian carried a pocket watch, a simple, gold thing tucked into the pocket of his waistcoat, and the ticks and tocks of its fingers marking out the seconds had become as much a master to him as the boy who wore his contract seal.

Eight o’clock: strip off Ciel’s nightshirt and dress him for the day, smoothing the wool stockings up his slim legs and tying the silk eyepatch around his head.

Nine o’clock: Latin lessons, Sebastian pinching the bridge of his nose as Ciel recited Virgil with all the grace and eloquence of a train rattling over a rickety bridge.

“For goodness sake, young master, try to remember that it’s poetry!” Sebastian groaned, clapping a hand over the boy’s mouth. Taking over, he recited from memory, “ Vix e conspectu Siculae telluris in altum,” suppressing the elided syllables and lingering over the caesura until it flowed as sing-song as any drunken verse he’d endured from his days in the salons. “With me now, from the beginning -- ARma virUMque caNO . . .” And Ciel’s voice fell in, uncertain and reluctant at first, but gradually gaining confidence, until Sebastian fell silent and let him carry on the rhythm by himself.

Ten o’clock: mathematics, which Ciel’s precise and logical mind could tease out without Sebastian hovering over him to watch for mistakes. He left the boy to his books and busied himself cleaning the downstairs, sweeping floors and dusting cabinets with superhuman speed.

Eleven o’clock: tea and biscuits. Ciel ate at his desk, flipping through the company’s expense reports.

Twelve o’clock: luncheon.

“I’ve prepared a beef consummè, my lord, garnished with a savory custard.”

Ciel scooped up one of the floating star-shaped custards in his spoon and tasted it. “It’s too salty,” he announced, casting a disdainful glance at Sebastian, who bowed low.

“I apologize, my lord.”

And so each day progressed.

Sebastian, who’d once found the very concept of human time meaningless, now measured out his days with it. He wrote Ciel’s appointments into a calendar on his desk. He consulted his pocket watch a dozen times a day or more. He caught himself saying things like, “Put away that flame thrower, Bard, I haven’t time for any of your nonsense today!” or “If you’d like, sir, we have just enough time to squeeze in a chess match before supper;” and -- finding Ciel nodding over his desk late one evening -- “Young master, don’t you think it’s time to stop for the night?”

“Fine,” Ciel yawned, reluctantly pushing back his chair, “but I need you to sign something first.” He slid a creamy piece of parchment across the desk towards Sebastian. The demon glanced down at it, eyebrows lifting as he read the first line: This is the last will and testament of me Ciel Phantomhive . . .

Sebastian scanned through the document quickly. Ciel had arranged for his estate to pay any debts and funeral expenses, and had left generous enough sums to each of the servants that none of them would have to work again, unless they chose. Most of his wealth went to his Aunt Francis, though he’d specifically left the manor to Lizzy and the London townhouse to Soma. At the end, Ciel had penned, somewhat whimsically, And everything else I leave to my butler, Sebastian Michaelis. Sebastian’s mouth quirked. By the time Ciel’s estate was divided up the way he’d specified, only his body and soul would be left.

“Very good, young master,” Sebastian said and, taking up the pen, signed his name as a witness.

Nodding in satisfaction, Ciel set the will carefully atop the stack of papers on his desk. “Arrange a meeting with my solicitor tomorrow,” he instructed, rising to his feet. “I want to make sure everything is prepared. With luck, this case we’re on might actually lead somewhere useful.”

Sebastian nodded. “Yes, my lord,” he replied automatically. But his mind was lost in thought. Sebastian had formed many contracts in his lifetime. He’d had masters who ran towards death with open arms, masters who shuddered at the very notion of it, masters who gazed up at him, betrayed, when the moment of their death finally arrived. Only Ciel had ever treated his inevitable end at Sebastian’s hands as simply another item to be penned into his calendar.

He didn’t bring it up again until Ciel was sitting on the edge of his bed in his nightshirt. “Young master,” he said, oddly hesitant. “Do you know how a demon senses time?” Carefully, he untied the boy’s eyepatch, lifted it free to see both of Ciel’s eyes focus on him sharply.

“No,” Ciel said after a moment’s consideration. “I’ve never thought about it.”

“Time expands and contracts at our will,” Sebastian explained, neatly folding the silk ties and setting the eyepatch on the night stand. “For me, a second of your time could stretch for days, and a human lifespan could pass in the blink of an eye.” He took Ciel’s hand.

“What are you trying to get at, Sebastian?”

Slipping the heavy rings from Ciel’s fingers, Sebastian explained, “You know I look forward to the day I can consummate our contract, my lord. But I’m in no particular hurry to reach it. There is no reason not to assume you won’t live a long and full life, under my guidance.”

Ciel huffed out a breath of annoyance, pulling his hand from Sebastian’s. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t want a long life.” His slim fingers curled into a fist on his lap, and his eye grew distant. “Every moment since the fire has been a burden to me. I had you pull me out of that cage for one reason and one reason only, and that was to get my revenge. You may not be in a hurry to finish up our contract, but I am. So don’t you dare linger over it, Sebastian! Do you understand me?”

Sebastian bowed where he knelt at the boy’s bedside. “My young master,” he said, “I promise, you will have your vengeance in a timely manner.”

However, Sebastian thought, smiling as carrying the candelabra into the dark corridor, he had been careful not to specify whose time.

The End