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The Second of our Reign

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1. In the morning
That butler, remembering

"Stay a moment," Ciel said, as his butler set down his midmorning tea and turned to the study door. "I have a question for you. Sebastian, what happens to a soul when you eat it?"

He did not lift his eyes from the contract he was reviewing, but his peripheral vision was strong and he had learned to watch a room with it. He could see Sebastian straighten, and see his head cock to one side: graceful movements, deliberate as a dance, but enough for Ciel to know that the question had surprised him.

Sebastian hesitated, just long enough to almost require Ciel to do something about it. "Eating is not necessarily involved, my lord," he said at last. "Strictly speaking." The my lord was telling, though what about his question had triggered it was a mystery.

"Assume eating is involved. Strictly speaking." He thought a moment. "Or whatever you would like to call the process that Spears is referring to when he whines about demons and feasting."

"And may I ask why this sudden interest?"

"Call it curiosity," he said. "And stop trying to evade the question. Don't make me order you, Sebastian: I haven't time this morning, even if you have."

Sebastian's face was studiously blank. “More time than we had thought, young master. We have just had a note from Scotland Yard. It seems that Lord Randall will be unable to keep his appointment today.”

He felt himself smile at the thought. “Ah, well. In that case – but no.” It was unfortunate, but there were more immediately important uses for his time. “I shall be going out for the afternoon, then. Have the carriage brought round for two o'clock. You needn't accompany me, you have other work to do."

Sebastian bowed and turned to go. Ciel let him get almost as far as the door before he spoke again. "Which includes giving me an answer to my question. What happens to a soul you eat, Sebastian?”

His butler sighed, just a little. “What happens to fuel in a fire? It is consumed, my lord, and extinguished, and nothing but ash remains.” He spoke with studied boredom: a busy man, forced to answer the foolish nagging questions of an importunate child.

It was meant to discourage him, or to distract him, and Sebastian had to know that he realized it. But to make a point of that would be to permit the distraction. “Does it hurt?” he asked.

The answer came promptly this time. “Yes. Always.” Sebastian was watching Ciel narrowly now, and Ciel met his gaze with the easiest of his masks, the unreadable calm stare that might have been fascination or boredom. “It can be done more or less gently,” Sebastian added at last. “It need not be intolerable. But there is always some pain.”

Ciel nodded. It was only to be expected, after all. “And there must be consciousness, or there would be no pain. Is it for all eternity? Or, how long, before a soul is consumed?”

There was something at once tender and dreadful in Sebastian's smile. “It is swift, my lord. It is the taking of the soul that hurts, and that is quickly done. The extinguishing can be frightening, but it is not painful, and that too is over swiftly. It is like ether, my lord, or even like Lau's opium. And after that, nothing. It is not the hell of your tradition.”

It was the answer he had hoped for, or close enough, but even so it surprised him. “Far from it,” he said. “You astonish me, Sebastian. Is the Church so powerful that demons are afraid to advertise? You would have humans lining up to summon demons and contract with them.”

“But would we come, when you did call for us?” Sebastian asked. “I am a luxury, my lord, like the blue diamond you wear. Not many in this world have my price.”

“That only means that I too am a luxury. Were I not, you might have paid less for me. Just as, had I known that I was not risking eternal hellfire, I might have demanded less from you – no, I suppose not, my requirements were specific. But others might sell cheaply enough.”

“Perhaps.” Sebastian sounded interested now, as though his master's whimsy had moved to safer and more amusing grounds. “But you ought not underestimate the price you pay, young master. It is the loss of the eternal Paradise; and you have seen what men will pay for even a few extra days or hours in this less blissful life.”

“An uncertain loss,” he corrected. “No one can be sure of attaining paradise, if you believe either the Church or the shinigami. Without knowing, one loses only the value of the hope of the place.

“If it even exists,” he added, after a moment's thought. “I remember you warning me that I could never pass its gates if I agreed to your contract, but be honest, Sebastian: was that anything more than boilerplate? If there is no hell, why should this be different?”

Sebastian's smile changed once more. “I did not say there was no hell, my lord. Only that souls we eat do not come to dwell there. And of course there is a paradise. Did not our last angel but one show you a vision of your parents there?”

“Tch. Hardly dispositive.” The memory had lost most of its power now; he could speak of it easily, and perhaps that should trouble him more than it did. “It showed me something. But if that was Paradise, I stand with Aucassin on its merits.”

“'Mais en infer voil jou aler'?”

“Just so. And just as well, considering. Am I wrong, Sebastian? Was there ever anything more to lose?”

The smile was gone now, his demon's face as still and unreadable as Ciel's own. The pupils of his eyes were ringed with crimson, brilliant as sunset. Something moved in their depths. “We do not know, my lord,” he said, and his voice was soft as if night spoke to itself. “There were other realms, once; some have changed, others are gone, yet more have come into being. But whether any of them is a true paradise, or will be, that I cannot tell you. We were not there at the beginning of all things, as your tradition has it. Nor have we found any others who know. The shinigami speak of a judgment to come, but they are uncertain of any god, and exercise their own judgments upon lives and souls, and their books remain shut.”

He nodded, gravely, catching a little of Sebastian's mood. “And best, I suppose, never to know. I shall try to remember that.” It was enough; he had what he needed. "Thank you, Sebastian. That will be all.”

2. In the afternoon
That butler, competitive

If it had not been for the angel, Ciel would reflect later, he might never have known there was a problem to be addressed. But he had not been inclined to feel grateful to it yesterday afternoon when he made the discovery.

The past few weeks had been more than ordinarily difficult: the sorts of weeks that might half-convince an evil noble that the Crown, or perhaps the universe itself, was working out a personal grudge against him. And as unpleasant as it had been for him, involving as it did a kidnapping, a night spent up a tree (although Sebastian still maintained that the tree was on balance preferable to the only inn available), and appearances at two balls, it had been harder on Sebastian, who had not only had to deal with the kidnapping, the attempted assassination, and his master's dancing, but had attracted the attention of religious cultists into the bargain. Religious cultists with supernatural assistance and a depressingly juvenile sense of humor.

"I am beginning," he told Sebastian, "to feel a certain partisan dislike for angels. Are they all mad?" The angel had only shot four of the arrows, but it had taken a full day for those wounds to completely heal once they had pulled the shafts out. Sebastian had shrugged them off as annoyances, mere pinpricks, and it was true that they had not affected his fighting ability; but Ciel was inclined to resent it.

“A perceptive question, my lord.” In bed it was always my lord, or else, rarely, my soul, and although under the circumstances Ciel would have permitted the use of his given name he was willing enough to indulge what were evidently Sebastian's preferences. “We think they may be. You will understand, it has been a very long time since we walked among them and knew their minds.”

It was unexpected enough to distract him, for that moment. It was impossible to forget that Sebastian was not human, but paradoxically easy not to think about what that meant, so thoroughly had he remade himself into Ciel's ally and instrument. It should have been harder to ignore, Ciel sometimes thought, for the mere fact of Sebastian's existence was fraught with terrifying significance. Demons implied angels, after all; shinigami and doomsday books implied cosmic realms and a dizzying weight of time. Past and promised future: wars and rumors of wars, fought before there were any such creatures as men. To all that time, Sebastian's life with him could be nothing more than a passing instant; and surely his mind must be filled more with the endless past than with the minutia of the Phantomhive houses that were his to manage, and Ciel's revenge that was his to help achieve.

Yet Sebastian never so much as mentioned the distant past, spoke at most of waltzes danced a century ago at the courts of dead kings, or of advances in the technology of firearms since the Thirty Years' War. Time enough to emphasize his inhumanity, but imaginable, nothing that would escort Ciel to the edge of the cliff, or invite him to look down into the abyss of eternity. There were giants in the earth in those days, he thought, and shuddered at it, chilled without knowing why. Perhaps it was a burden even Sebastian longed to escape, he thought, suddenly remembering his words from years ago, strangely merry as he faced his enemy: I was new-baptized in the contract, and from that moment forth I truly was Sebastian.

Sebastian might have felt him shudder, because he shifted then, burying his face in Ciel's hair and speaking into his ear. “But surely my lord did not intend to spend the afternoon discussing the pathologies of angels? Or am I wrong? If I have been mistaken, I do apologize; I shall get up at once, and prepare tea, and collect the appropriate volumes from the library.”

And Ciel, who felt that on the whole his demon deserved a rest from everything to do with angels, laughed and said, “You shall do no such thing. As you bloody well know.” And tangled his fingers through Sebastian's hair, and leaned in to kiss him.

As always, his demon allowed it. Sebastian never kissed his mouth, but he seemed to like to be kissed, just as he liked, surprisingly, to be stroked and petted: liked it well enough for his mouth to fall open under Ciel's, for him to arch up into Ciel's body and make little pleased noises that made Ciel think of a cat purring; and anyway Ciel liked to do it, which should have been enough to decide the matter. It was the same now, or almost the same: as always the clever laughing mouth opened obediently, the tongue teased back at his; as always Sebastian's hands ran sweetly over his body, doing all the things Ciel liked best from them. But still something was different, and subtly wrong. A few moments, and then he had it. There was an odd hesitation, fleeting but real, in Sebastian's response to his mouth: something that felt like a flinch.

So much for Sebastian's insistence that the wounds were fully healed. “What?” he said, pulling away.

“Whatever do you mean, my lord?” his demon answered, all exquisitely fake innocence. Ciel stayed where he was, looking at him, and watched Sebastian remember that he was under continuing orders not to evade Ciel's questions, not here.

“You know very well what I mean,” he said, when enough time had passed. “Something is wrong, I can feel it. Tell me.”

A long pause, as though Sebastian were considering what to say. “I am . . . very hungry, my lord,” he said at last. “Your mouth, your breath: they taste of your soul, and I find I cannot ignore it as I ordinarily can.” The words were quiet, and the voice a little rough. “I have failed in my duties, I fear. I should not have forgotten myself so far as to allow my lord to notice it.”

The final words were dismissive, but Ciel could hear the effort in it. Sebastian was not going to volunteer anything further, that much was clear; if he wanted more he was going to have to dig for it. "And what business do you have taking duties upon yourself without leave from me?" he said. It was a rhetorical question, and not entirely a fair one. Sebastian routinely took on duties without consulting him, and Ciel generally approved his doing so. But those were all duties within his own ceded spheres of authority: management of the house and estates and servants. This was another matter entirely. "I do not recall approving this one. Am I hurting you?"

The long eyes fell shut. “You are torturing me, my lord.” The voice was soft, sober, without a hint of teasing in it.

Disquieting information, and not without implications. “Sebastian,” he said. “Will you avenge this on me, when the time comes and I am yours?”

Another long, considering silence from his demon. “No, my lord, I will not,” he said. The corners of his mouth curled, slowly, and then the enigmatic smile was back. “There will be nothing to avenge. I find I quite like it.”

Oh. There was only one possible response to that, of course: to run his fingers over Sebastian's mouth, and mirror back that knowing smile, and lean in to kiss him again; to make it long and slow and thorough so that Sebastian would know that this time it was all deliberate, his tongue lapping at hard and soft palates, tasting the sharp edges of teeth; to let his tongue flicker against the roof of his demon's mouth and thrust toward the back of his throat; to smile more widely against Sebastian's mouth when he felt him flinch, and to let his hands tighten around Sebastian's shoulder and in his hair; to press one final, chaste kiss against the corner of Sebastian's mouth when he pulled back at last. "I suppose that's all right, then," he murmured, teasing, "since you do seem to be telling me the truth. Based on the evidence at hand."

Sebastian's smile changed, and now there was laughter in his eyes. "How many times must I tell you? I do not lie to you."

"No, but you do evade and mislead," Ciel told him. He dropped another brief kiss on the corner of his demon's mouth, and lingered a moment to trace its shape with his tongue. "I might almost say, religiously. I can't think why I put up with it."

Sebastian had turned to press his mouth against Ciel's forearm. "Human weakness?" he suggested, his voice a little muffled. His tongue flicked out to lick its way up toward Ciel's wrist, and then to lap at his palm. "Sentiment? Indulgence? Failure of vigilance, perhaps? After all" -- an almost-kiss, now, soft against the palm his hand -- "It could never be kindness, could it, my lord?"

He snorted. "Enlightened self-interest, that's all. You're intolerable when I don't let you do it; it makes you miserable, and then the whole household suffers." He gave only half his attention to the words. An idea had occurred to him. Enlightened self-interest, yes: there were possibilities here.

He took Sebastian's hand in his, ignoring the murmured, "Intolerable? Such harsh words for your obedient servant," and ran his forefinger along the leading edges of the black nails. Sharp, but not quite sharp enough -- well, if they were, they would shred his gloves, Ceil supposed, and that would never do. But the nail of the middle finger curled down, just a little, as though it wanted to be a claw. He pulled the flesh of Sebastian's fingertip away from it and tested the lower edge against the ridges of his own forefinger, as though he were testing a razor. And there, yes, there was the right catch: more than sharp enough to do.

Sebastian had fallen silent, watching him; Ciel could feel the weight of his attention. This was a terrible idea, really. It was going to hurt, no matter how keen the blade, and it was probably going to hurt much more than he was imagining. And there was going to be a lot of blood; although of course that was most of the point, and any mess was going to be Sebastian's problem, not his. And his prick was like an iron rod against his belly, he could not remember it ever feeling quite this hard or heavy, if he were going to wilt he would likely have done it by now. And summoning a demon was a terrible idea too, when you thought about it, and that had worked out well enough. And if he had not talked himself out of this now, it was stupid to hesitate further.

"Still," he said, and was pleased to hear his voice steady and thoughtful, without any tremor. "Your pleasures aside, if you're that hungry we should give you something you can swallow." Breathe, he told himself, and took Sebastian's hand, and sank the exposed claw-edge into his own flesh, drew it upward in a long line from the root of his prick to just under the head, and watched his skin split and the red bloom behind it.

There was a lot of blood, he had been right about that. Pain, too: bad enough, if not quite as bad as he had expected. But it was worth it, would have been worth much worse, because Sebastian, oh, Sebastian was trembling. "Your mouth, Sebastian," he said. Miraculously his voice was still under his control, and the words came out even and cold. “And, Sebastian?” he added, as his demon moved to obey, and the first strokes of that gifted tongue sent fire through him, eclipsing the pain. “Don't gobble."

An astonished gust of laughter from his demon, and Sebastian lifted his head. "My lord, I would never," he said. The words were all wounded dignity, but the laughter lingered in his voice. "Indeed . . ." He tilted his head to one side, looking for a moment like the raven whose form he had once worn. "If you will allow it, my lord, I shall see that this does not end until you choose that it should, and give me your permission to finish it."

Well, if he wanted to make it more difficult for himself, Ciel could hardly object. "Very well" he said. "But with this proviso. You are not to accomplish it by stinting my pleasure. Or deliberately testing my patience." There was probably something more, but Sebastian's mouth deserved his full attention, and it was becoming tiresome to have to divert his thoughts to anything else.

"Understood," Sebastian said, and for a moment his mouth engulfed him. Then he raised his head once more. "Your order, then, my lord?"

"Greedy," Ciel told him, laughing.

"Of course. Always."

"And I am such a weak, human, sentimental master," Ciel told him. "It must be why I indulge you." Invoking the contract was easy now, simple as putting his signature to a document. "This is an order," he said, and felt the connection between them come alive, the bindings forming and settling into place. "You know the terms already. I leave the details to you. Entertain me."

It would be unfair, he could tell himself, to twist his fingers through Sebastian's hair: too much like interfering in the task he had set himself. Unfair to touch his head, or perhaps to touch him at all, when his hands might be a distraction. So Ciel could lie back like an Oriental potentate in the filthy books Lau had once sent him, through all of the hard year before his sixteenth birthday, and grip the sheets to keep his hands occupied, and do absolutely nothing. It was always glorious, Sebastian's mouth – it would have been, he suspected, even if he had the experience of all of Lau's adepts to compare with it – and this was already exquisite even by the standards Sebastian set for himself; it was going to be difficult to keep silent, and to wait, to show more patience than even his demon had skill to overcome. Difficult, but delightful too: the trick – he told himself, as Sebastian's lips closed firm around his shaft, as his tongue moved delicately along the trail of the wound he had made; as he closed his mouth to keep from giving voice to the pleasure of it – the trick was to let the sensations wash over you, to savor them as they came, to step out of time. To set aside any idea of more, faster, stronger: to float, as though it were an ocean, not a river hurrying to a destination. Or as if he were a raptor riding the currents into the sky: lazy circles, up and up. Better than good, better, he thought, than he had known was possible – and to add pleasure upon pleasure, now he was aware of Sebastian's voice, murmuring, “Your permission, my lord?”

“Not yet,” he managed to say. He heard laughter in his voice, and knew it was because he had won, against his own expectations and all the odds. He reached for the right note of bored complacence, and miraculously found it. “As my servant, it should be natural for you to be able to do better than that.”

“Yes, my lord.” The demon's voice was thick with pleasure, and there was a note in it that might almost have been respect. His head dropped once more, and impossibly, it seemed he had been right: Sebastian could do better. The pleasure gathered, peaked, and for a moment Ciel thought Sebastian had misjudged it. But another flavor joined it, and what he had thought was the peak steadied under him; and in a flash he understood that Sebastian had reopened the wound he had made, so that the pain of it would hold him here. Magnificently done, to judge it just so -- he felt no pain, but merely knew it as seasoning to his pleasure; more would have been unpleasant, and less would have been ineffective. He could acknowledge it, and the honors would go to both of them. “Very well, Sebastian,” he said, and let himself run his hand once through the fall of dark hair. “In your own good time.” And then he could close his eyes once more, and let his demon lift him to a final bright peak, and fold his wings and fall.

 

“Did it help?” he asked, when at length it seemed worth his trouble to speak once more.

“It did.” Nothing else, which meant that it hadn't been enough to satisfy Sebastian's hunger; but Ciel had not expected that it might. “But that was rash of you, my lord. I have done what I could, and it will heal quickly, but there will be some soreness for a few days."

"I know. But worth it. Only, Sebastian --" he felt laughter begin to bubble up in his throat, and forced it back -- "must you always be so bloody competitive?"

"But my lord." He heard the demon's answering laughter in his voice. "If a Phantomhive servant could not play his master's game at something approaching his master's level, whatever would become of us?" He was silent for a moment, hands and clever mouth still for once, while Ciel stroked his hair. "Your premise is mistaken, though," he said at last.

"Is it? Not that I have any complaints about the performance; but if you weren't competing, just what was that?"

"Homage,” he said slowly, as though he were considering the words as he spoke. “Homage, and applause for a masterwork. Never in all my long years have I been put so elegantly and thoroughly in my place. It demanded something by way of laurel wreathes.”

There was nothing he could think of to say to that, so he settled for a wordless huff, and a final nip at his demon's fingers before settling himself more comfortably against Sebastian's side. “It doesn't solve the problem, though,” he heard himself say, as he drifted into sleep.

“No,” Sebastian said, his words following Ciel into his dream. “No; but my lord, nothing will. Save enduring it, until the end.”

 

3. In the evening
That butler, so proper

“Tell me,” he said, over dinner that night. “What makes a soul worth eating?” The dining room doors were never locked, and the question might have been indiscreet. But they were alone in the room, and likely to remain so; the Baccarat wine glasses Sebastian had chosen had arrived that afternoon, and he had dismissed the other servants in order to be sure they would not break any of them.

“Really, young master,” Sebastian said. “I should have thought it was beneath your dignity to fish for compliments.”

“I don't mean mine,” he said, a little impatiently. “I know, my soul is ambrosia and nectar; but there's only the one of it and you can't have it yet anyway. But, souls in general.”

He could feel Sebastian's eyes on him, even with the demon at his back. “If I may, young master, this is a . . . striking choice of subject for dinner-table conversation. May I ask what occasioned it?”

“What, does one not speak of food at the dinner table?” Ciel said. “Or of the hunt, and the qualities of game, for that matter?”

“One does,” Sebastian said. It was his forbidding, tutor voice, the one that had always reminded Ciel of his aunt Middleford. “And one sees dreadful examples everywhere of ladies and gentlemen whose dinner-table lectures on the subjects make them a burden and a curse to all of society. Let us not emulate them, young master.”

He could not restrain his own laughter. “I take it the subject is a complicated one, then? Very well, Sebastian. You are a model of propriety, and I should not like to offend your sensibilities. You may bring the pudding, and we will defer this conversation to a more appropriate place and time.”

4. At midnight
His master, creative

“My lord,” Sebastian said. It was late, and the house was silent, the servants retired for the night, and with some hours yet before they would wake for the new day. “With all respect, are you going to tell me what this is about?”

“'This?'” he said, as innocently as he could.

“The mysterious errands. The questions about souls. You have plainly wished me not to pry, my lord, and I have restrained myself from watching more closely than you would have liked. But it is becoming difficult.”

He let his teeth close sharply over Sebastian's earlobe. “You always enjoy that, don't you?” he said. “When I make things difficult for you.” He felt the demon's answer in the shiver that went through his body, and in the twitch of his prick against Ciel's thigh. Teasing Sebastian was a delight, particularly so because the opportunities to turn the tables on him were so rare; it was a pity to have to give this up. But the game was reaching its natural end, and soon he would need Sebastian to take an active part in any case. “I'm surprised at you, though,” he said. “I expected you to have worked it out by now. I propose to feed you. I can't have my servant starving, it would be a disgrace to my name and honor.”

Sebastian made an odd noise, somewhere between a laugh and a groan, and buried his face in the crook of Ciel's neck. “I might have guessed,” he said, “If I had thought that my lord would waste his time with impossibilities. Have I not explained the matter sufficiently? I may not take other souls for myself, not for as long as our contract endures. Not if I find them lying on the street, my lord. That is why our acquaintance William Spears endures my presence. I had thought my lord understood that.”

“Stupid demon,” he said. “Are all of you utter imbeciles? No, you cannot contract for other souls, or seize them without compensation. But I am under no such restraints. I can contract for a soul, and make a gift of it to you, and you may accept it.” He turned Sebastian's mouth to his and spoke into it: enough to wake Sebastian's hunger, he hoped, but not enough to make a torment of it. “It's a perfectly simple transaction, so do try not to be more tiresome about this than is quite necessary.”

“No more than necessary, my lord. But, precisely how do you intend to pay for souls? If you will forgive my mentioning it, you are hardly in a position to offer the ordinary terms.”

“With money, of course,” he said. “The same way I buy food for the rest of this menagerie.” He paused a moment, thinking. “At least, you're buying it, but I certainly hope I'm paying for it. It wouldn't do to cheat the tradespeople. I assume you would mention it to me if the household accounts were insufficient.” He was talking too much, he thought: something in Sebastian's stunned disbelief was making him giddy with repressed mirth.

Sebastian had caught one of his hands, and was licking his fingers now like an enormous cat. A cat who was making a great effort to show you how little it cared. “Clever,” he said at last. “But if I may say so, it has rather an air of 'therefore, Socrates is a dog' about it. I should advise caution, my lord. This might not be as effective as you hope.”

His fingers were still at Sebastian's mouth. He tipped his chin up so that Sebastian was looking him in the face, then plunged all four fingers between those flexible lips, past the teeth, to force his mouth wide. Sebastian shuddered against him, eyes fluttering closed, and one long arm tightened around Ciel's back. “Do you take me for a complete fool?” he said. He kept his left hand where it was, fingers playing against Sebastian's tongue and teeth, and reached down with the other, to toy with the hard length of his cock. “I have taken legal advice, Sebastian. For the correct jurisdictions. Paid for it, too: Undertaker laughed so hard and so long that I was very nearly forced to take offense at it.

“It works. I am, in fact, entitled to force you to accept any food I buy for you. Which, I warn you now, I shall do if you drive me to it.” He slid his fingers from Sebastian's mouth and curled them around his throat. “I need you, Sebastian. Well and whole and not crippled with famine. We have three and a half years still before I come into my majority. Until then, you know as well as I that we cannot act freely. Nor can we guess how long it will take, once we can properly begin. What kind of a servant would you be, to fritter your strength on random angels and little tasks for a mortal queen, while the task you contracted to do goes unfinished?”

He brought his mouth down across Sebastian's, not waiting for an answer. The giddiness had left him, and he was chilled despite the demon's heat. “It's easy,” he whispered, as he broke the kiss. “So easy. 'For in that sleep of death what dreams may come . . . ' You made me learn that play, you should know the truth of it. I meant to open a few initial negotiations, only to make a beginning, to know how difficult it would be. That was all. I have closed with six already, and it was foolish to go further without you.” His fingers were too tight where they gripped around his demon's shoulders, and he seemed to be shaking, though he had no idea why. “They were the simplest deals I have ever made, Sebastian. I scarcely had to offer them anything: a few guineas for their families, a little pension; they craved the promise of rest. Some of them would have paid me. You shall have your choice, my faithful servant. The tables are piled high.”

And Sebastian must have perceived that he was cold, because now the demon's arms were around him, and he was turning him, ever so gently, to warm him between feather mattress and the heat of his own body. “I take it, my lord, that we are still not to call this kindness?”

He was laughing at him. “I told you,” Ciel began to say, sinking into the warmth, then realized that for once he did not care. “Call it what you like,” he told Sebastian instead. “It's whatever it is. The words don't matter.”

“Ah, my lord, my lord,” his demon said. There was still laughter in the voice, and something else with it, something that it might be best not to look at or try to name. “I chose so much better than I could have known, when I chose you.”

He had no answer, no words that they both could have lived with come the morning. So he settled close, and let his demon warm him, and let the minutes go by, until it was safe to speak. “Stupid demon,” he murmured at last. “Stop fawning over me and go to sleep. You have shopping to do, come the morning.”