The sun was starting to set over New York City’s skyline as rush hour began. People working 9 - 5 jobs were making their way home, bustling past one another at their own pace, catching their trains and busses. No one interacted; not even to apologize for cutting people off, yellow taxi horns honked and periodically swerved around clueless drivers.
It was August, an awful month for the city with heat that seemed to wave off of the pavements in a rippling mirage. It made the subway stations particularly dreadful, but the smells of the urine-stained building facades and heaps of garbage were possibly even worse. The city oozed with oppressive humidity and stench, making the generally grumpy residents even more surly.
Sebastian loved human suffering, but even this was a bit much for him. It was disgusting; the body odor that wafted off of the pedestrians rushing past him and their ill-fitting polyester clothing did not suit his butler aesthetic in the least.
As he mused about his own aesthetics, someone bumped into him without apology, slightly staggering Sebastian’s lilting gait. This being a regular occurence, he didn’t even spare the person a look. Sebastian was too busy scrolling through his email on his phone to even be bothered, browsing through all the messages he missed that day while he was busy in the lab. He went through deleting all of the calendar reminders and notifications that had come and gone, dismissed the HR emails, denied again to teach another course, and tapped out quick responses to questions that visiting scientists posed into on-going threads.
He was so immersed in catching up on the communications that he did not see the newspaper box holding that day’s copy of The Wall Street Journal. On the front page above the fold was a large photo of a young man with blue-grey hair and a stark black eyepatch.
In the midst of writing a lengthier response, arguing again that they needed a specific lab space for an additional month due to interminable incubation periods, his phone rang. The name “Beth” popped up on the screen and Sebastian sighed.
“Yes?” he asked, not bothering to hide his exasperation.
“Sebastian, it’s Beth.” The demon rolled his eyes. As if he couldn’t read his caller ID. “Can you come in again this Saturday? The enzyme should be ready for extraction, and I want to make sure you’re there in case anything goes awry. This is too critical a phase to let this opportunity pass, and we’re on the precipice of moving to the next phase and--”
“You don’t need to ask me, Beth,” Sebastian interrupted, “just give me an order.” The lids on his eyes drooped, resigning to his perpetual fate. Always hungry, always catering to every whim of humans, and never, ever satisfied.
A large bang sounded over the other line and the woman made some noises, cursing softly. The speaker grew muffled as Sebastian walked around a pile of dog feces left forgotten on the sidewalk.
“I, erm, yes,” she was obviously distracted with whatever was going on. Sebastian could almost see her hair getting frizzier and her glasses askew on her anxious face. “I order you to come in on Saturday.”
The contract mark on Sebastian’s left hand burned, and he clenched his fist. “Yes.”
“Okay, good. That’ll be helpful. I’ll need you to check on the control group specimens tomorrow to see how they’re progressing. And make sure you log those notes. Your notes from last time weren’t as detailed as I needed them to be, so can you make sure you include any abnormalities no matter how small? I know you can tell and I need your expertise with this, since my human eyes I won’t catch those little details. Doctor Eggers will be in tomorrow, too, and she’s going to want to see the progress we’ve made on article. I’m assuming that you finished it all, if not most of it? Since this was last year’s research, like I said, it’ll just be reporting our findings. Eggers is thinking we could definitely get it published in Cancer Biology, but we’ll need to find an editor before we do so…”
Sebastian made some non-committal sounds as Beth babbled. She did this weekly, voicing all of her anxieties into to-do lists for Sebastian, and he learned to tune her out when she got like this.
Her voice faded into a white noise as the demon’s mind drifted, imagining what it would be like to finally rip her voice box out of her throat and shove her stupid wire framed glasses into her eyes. He was tired of these contracts with these boring and mindlessly ambitious humans, and wished, as he always did, that he could leave.
When Beth finally stopped drivelling Sebastian was able to hang up and cast his eyes downwards as he put his phone back into his pocket.
In doing so, he missed the magazine stand where half of the covers displayed the same young man with the eye patch posed in various angles, looking confident and arrogant no matter how he was photographed.
Without meaning to, he recalled the last contractor who was interesting, who incited some excitement within him, the only one whom he wanted to cultivate, to watch grow and desired to stand by until the very end.
Sebastian didn’t think about Ciel Phantomhive every day, and as the years wore on he thought of him less and less, but he never forgot. Sometimes a smell or the way another human phrased something made him think of the proud Earl. Other times it was when he was alone, focused on something completely unrelated when the memory of his young master intruded his thoughts, like an unexpected slap across the face.
It felt like something twisted inside him in the most unpleasant way when he thought of those continuously disapproving eyes, the way his hair danced and tangled even in the slightest of breezes, or how his warm skin felt, even through his butler’s gloves.
For the many, many years Sebastian had existed, no other human being had affected him quite like this. He had kept the name the young lord had given him despite his opportunity to change it dozens of times, and was unable to shake the foundation of the butler aesthetics he so painstakingly acquired over 125 years ago.
As always, the thought of Ciel Phantomhive left Sebastian light-headed, a bit unsure of his steps. His breathing, although unnecessary as a demon, turned shallow and quick as the thought of his sigil had marked the boy, so possessively and concretely over his eye. No other contractor had the audacity to put it in such an exposed spot, but yet again, no other contractor had the control over Sebastian that the Earl of Phantomhive did.
The reminder of the Earl of Phantomhive always made him yearn for something, anything, an unattainable desire that he wasn’t allowed to have. This feeling reminded Sebastian of a pit that led nowhere.
It was almost as if life without Ciel Phantomhive was devoid of meaning.
It was almost as if he missed him.
Sebastian looked up to the sky, trying to control his breathing as he passed a pawn shop. Unbeknownst to him, all of the stacked TV’s in the window were playing the same thing: an interview with the eye patched young man, each in a variety of color clarity, graininess, and sizes. A large garbage truck passed as Sebastian passed the display, drowning out whatever sounds he might have heard had he been paying attention.
The demon arrived to a brownstone row home, where on the top floor he rented a converted apartment. He went to the filigree mailbox and grabbed whatever mail was in his name, not bothering to look at that day’s issue of The New York Times where the same boy graced the front page. Instead he browsed through the newest issue of Modern Cat, admiring a particularly handsome Manx cat that was on the cover.
Sebastian made a slow trek up the stairs towards the fourth floor, feet stepping firmly on the old wooden steps, creaking at odd spots in a symphony of previous tenants.
He reached the top floor landing, the wooden planks worn and with a few spider plants and philodendrons taking up space in the small window. He unlocked the red unit door and lightly kicked it shut from behind him, tossing his keys and the mail onto the nearby kitchen table with an ease of a dancer performing the yearly Nutcracker routine.
And stopped in his tracks.
He walked slowly towards the table with furrowed brows and, with trepidation he normally didn’t experience, slowly moved the beautiful torbie cat magazine out of the way to fully see the newspaper.
There he was, Ciel Phantomhive, in all of his pompous, proud glory. The headline read, “Youngest CEO of NASDAQ Appointed”.
Sebastian never thought his heart could pound like a human’s, but he was wrong. His hands shook as he swiped everything else off the table, upending a chair in the process, and opened the paper to A2 where the article started.
He scanned the article with demonic speed, his eyes getting wider and wider as his suspicions were confirmed and he was able to learn that an interview was taking place on a major news network at that moment.
Throwing the newspaper aside, Sebastian dashed towards the side table where he kept the remote for the TV he rarely used. He tripped over the knocked down table chair, legs flailing uncharacteristically as he made a mad dash towards the living space.
He fumbled with the remote as he struggled to remember the channel number, flipping through idiotic cartoons, Spanish language soap operas, and infomercials before getting the news network.
Ciel blinked on the TV and a small sigh left his lips as he listened to a question by the interviewer, asking him if there were any last things he wanted to add. He looked noble: handsome and put-together, with an aristocratic air that could not be learned. His hair grazed subtly over the nylon eyepatch and his exposed eye spoke of a subdued irritation that he hid well. Not many could pick up on that, but Sebastian could. The demon noted he was impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, with slacks that skirted at his ankles, exposing tastefully patterned socks and elaborately tooled shiny leather shoes.
The camera cut to his face, focusing on his well-proportioned features.
“And I’m currently in need of a personal assistant,” Ciel said with a clipped English accent, turning to face the camera and seemingly bored into Sebastian’s stare.
“That’s an order,” said the young CEO, and the Sebastian found himself doing what he’d always done best.
Obeying Ciel Phantomhive.