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Those Gentle Slopes that Lead to Hell

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The coils of darkness blossomed beneath Ciel’s closed eyelids, dancing and twirling, taking various shapes. Frowning in annoyance, he opened his eyes, saw Sebastian watching him curiously, and closed them again, wishing to avoid any possibility of conversation.

It was better to see the flashes of imaginary darkness rather than to stare in the face of a real one.

They were going home after the tiresome, pompous ceremony that the Queen had organised to celebrate his return. Now, he was officially an Earl, the head of Phantomhive family. As Sebastian had said, the status, the title, the fortune — it all belonged to him now, along with a fiancée that Ciel hoped to avoid in the nearest future. He had too many problems to deal with as it was, and one of them was sitting across him, burning holes in him with his stare.

Sebastian was something Ciel couldn’t properly define. A demon? A servant? A teacher? Yes, he was definitely supposed to be all of the above, but there were also other definitions that Ciel had begun to apply to him, definitions that, in retrospective, seemed to have been founded on cringe-worthy, childish illusions.

Ciel tried to find other explanations for what he’d witnessed today, as they had been walking along that empty corridor, but he wasn’t in the habit of lying to himself.

He knew what he saw. When he turned abruptly, confident words on his tongue, he noticed a flicker of darkness coming from Sebastian. It lasted for no more than a second, but Ciel could swear it was there. He could also swear that he saw the claws of Sebastian’s true form, a feral half-grin, half-snarl on his face — but it all disappeared so quickly that at first, Ciel decided he’d imagined it. Now, though, the more he thought about it, the more details he recalled and the tenser he became.

If he was right, then Sebastian had been one step from breaking their contract and eating his soul right there, in the Queen’s palace. After all the time they had spent together. After everything.

Ciel didn’t want to believe it. But he had to find out for sure.

When their carriage stopped and Ciel stepped outside, he decided that it was pointless to hesitate.

He was a Phantomhive. He would never let doubts distract him.

“Sebastian,” Ciel said, and red eyes immediately focused on him.

“Yes, Master?”

“If I were to agree to the suggestion you’ve made today, in the palace, what would you do?”  

A small, strange smile appeared on Sebastian’s lips. He didn’t say anything, though, and Ciel frowned.

“Tell me. Right now. This is an order!” he snapped.   

“As you wish,” Sebastian bowed slightly, but Ciel could see that his smile was mocking.  “I would consider it a breach of contract and I would claim your soul as mine.”

Ciel suspected it, after what he’d seen, but the words still shocked him. Flinching, he made a step back before he could stop himself, feeling absurdly, strangely wounded. His eyes started to sting, so he straightened and raised his chin, measuring Sebastian with what he hoped would pass for an indifferent look.

“Make a special dinner for tonight,” he said coldly. “At least five courses. I will be in my study room.”

“Yes, my lord,” Sebastian replied, and Ciel’s skin crawled at the mockery he could hear in his voice. Pressing his lips tightly together, he moved toward the house, making sure to keep his pace unhurried and to hold himself with as much dignity as he could master at this moment.

When he finally got to the study room, he closed the door and leaned against it, staring at the window unseeingly. Now, when he was safe from all ridiculing, dissecting attention, his eyes began to brim with tears again, and Ciel bit his lower lip so hard he tasted blood in attempt to collect himself.

He was a fool. A naïve idiot.

A child.

He knew what Sebastian was. He knew from the beginning. Demons weren’t capable of loyalty or attachment — they were an empty, soulless shell, only interested in the meal they could acquire for themselves.

But somewhere during these months, Ciel seemed to have forgotten about it. Or maybe, despite his knowledge, he never managed to believe in it entirely — not until today.

Because he had trusted Sebastian. From the very first moments of making a contract with him, before making a contract with him, he could tell that Sebastian had decency despite being a demon. He had honestly warned him about the consequences of his decision and he began to fulfil his responsibilities right from the start. He didn’t just kill those who tortured Ciel — he made them suffer. He made them kneel and beg for their pathetic lives. Staring at the bleeding, moaning masses with wide eyes, Ciel felt avenged. Protected. Later, when thinking of the name for his new butler, Ciel had chosen ‘Sebastian’ because he planned to use the demon as his guard dog… and because he felt safe with him. Before that day, before the life he had lived came to an end, he used to turn to his dog Sebastian every time he felt scared or worried — whenever he needed comfort yet didn’t want to disturb his parents.

From the first night, when Sebastian had brought hot milk to him, Ciel saw more than an ally in him. He saw a caretaker. He remembered about their contract and he was going to give Sebastian his soul when his revenge was complete, but… it seemed so far away right now. There were numerous more important things they had to accomplish meanwhile – such as becoming an actual Earl and a butler because at that point, they were only laughable copies. The fact that they had to learn together soothed Ciel’s stinging pride, and soon, he started to regard Sebastian as the closest thing to a friend he had.  

It was strange, how bad Sebastian was at being a butler. Seemed like he had never had to perform this particular duty before — and to be honest, it looked like Sebastian hadn’t even visited the human world for quite a while. Otherwise, how could he be so terrible at such basic things as cooking and cleaning? How could he prepare all those fatty, spicy meals and think that the stomach of someone Ciel’s age would be able to handle it?

In other circumstances, Ciel would have been annoyed at how useless his servant was, but here, he was almost glad.

He felt less lonely this way.

He and Sebastian worked hard together, and all the challenges they were persistently overcoming only strengthened Ciel’s perception of Sebastian as of something other than demon.

When Ciel tasted the liquid that Sebastian called tea and calmly poured it onto his hands as punishment, he didn’t see him as some terrifying being that he should be wary of. He saw a servant who made a mistake and who had to do better next time.

When Sebastian determined the number of strikes Ciel would get for mistakes in his studies and then delivered them, steadily and mercilessly, Ciel saw him as a teacher. When Sebastian gave him advice as to how to shoot and how to ride a horse, he saw him as a mentor. At night, seeing how Sebastian dealt with the intruders, be that marauders, thieves, or someone’s hired fists, Ciel saw him as a protector, even if he was annoyed by the racket.

He first saw him as someone close to a friend when he woke up from another nightmare, gasping and shaking from terror, and Sebastian was there. He wasn’t genuinely worried for him — Ciel could see it. His eyes and his voice were indifferent when he asked if Ciel was all right, and he readily turned to leave when Ciel recoiled from his touch, on the verge of desperate panic. Even when Ciel swallowed his pride and asked him to stay, the look in Sebastian’s eyes didn’t change — it remained calm and unmoving, as if he couldn’t care less. He failed to do even something as trivial as this normally — going to the window, he froze there like a statue, and no matter how much Ciel wanted to ask him to sit next to him, he would sooner die than say it aloud.

And yet… seeing Sebastian in his room, guarding him from his fears, made Ciel feel warm. This feeling grew stronger as he heard what he identified as pride in Sebastian’s voice and saw his grins when Ciel did something right, and it made him believe that he wasn’t the only person feeling it. He clung to this fragile thread of connection between them, letting it fill the emptiness he had been feeling for what seemed like ages, and he imagined it growing gradually every day.

All the progress they achieved together, the way they praised and congratulated each other, wordlessly or otherwise, meant something. It had to mean something. Right?

But then there was this visit to the Queen, and Ciel’s illusions vanished like smoke.

Protector? Friend? What a joke! Earls didn’t become friends with butlers, especially when these butlers were also demons.

And Sebastian was a demon. How humiliatingly embarrassing it was of Ciel to ever consider him as something else, something more.

Never again.

Numbly, Ciel touched his face and was content to realize that no tears fell. He was not a cry-baby, and no demon would reduce him, a Phantomhive, to tears.

Anger, hurt, and bitterness remained, though, and no matter how hard he tried, Ciel couldn’t get rid of them.

That disgusting creature. Maybe it wasn’t the demon’s fault for being what it was — it was Ciel who had foolishly imagined depth where there was none, but how could Sebastian try to provoke him into breaking the contract? He had deliberately asked his question in a way that seemed harmless. Ciel hadn’t even suspected anything until he analysed his memories carefully.

What pathetic, revolting treachery.

Sebastian had to be punished.

Clenching his fists hard enough to hurt, Ciel walked out of his study room, trying to move as quietly as he could. Sebastian had to be busy in the kitchen — he still wasn’t used to cooking manually, step by step, and with Ciel’s order, it had to him ages to get the dinner done.

Ciel would have smiled at the thought of how annoyed and frustrated Sebastian must feel right now, but his heart was too heavy to allow him any sort of amusement. When he stepped outside, the sky had already darkened. It wasn’t cold, but when the strong wind crashed into him, Ciel shivered, wrapping his hands around his middle miserably.

The frown was still wrinkling his forehead as he moved toward the cliff, leaving the house behind. The lights there were shining brightly, making it seem as if every room had a host that was going to return at any moment.

But they wouldn’t. And if Sebastian was indeed a terrible butler, then Ciel risked not returning home as well.

He stopped at the cliff, glancing at what was beneath it, trying to calculate how much distance separated him from the bottom. Enough to kill him if he fell all the way down, but also enough to give Sebastian an opportunity to catch him before Ciel reached his death.

Grimly, Ciel looked at the shape of the house, then stared at the bottom of the cliff once again. Then, forcing himself to swallow down the sudden flare of fear, he stepped into nothingness.

The cold wind burned his face. He didn’t scream, even though he wanted to, biting through his already torn lip to keep his terror inside. The ground was approaching rapidly and Ciel closed his eyes in defeat — and then strong hands caught him and the air roared in his ears. He blinked, his mind confused at the sudden change, and a second later, he was already standing on the solid ground, back on the top of the cliff, with Sebastian staring at him unblinkingly.

He really does move at lightning speed,’ Ciel thought, taking a deep, slow breath. His limbs were shaking, so he tried to hide his hands behind his back to mask it before he realised how stupid he must look.

“Why on earth would you do something like that?” Sebastian wondered. He leaned closer, examining Ciel with his red eyes, and the genuine curiosity there tugged sharply at something in Ciel’s chest.

“I was checking whether you are worthy of consuming my soul,” he said coldly, and saw how Sebastian’s eyes widened in surprise, how he leaned even closer and inhaled deeply, as if trying to understand his mind through his smell. The burning curiosity that was practically emanating from him was one of the most honest feelings Ciel had sensed within Sebastian. However, looking closer at him, he could recognise something more than just curiosity. There was an actual interest there. The intrigued expression that made Sebastian’s bland face suddenly look alive.

Something clicked in Ciel’s mind then, and he nearly gasped from revelation.

So that’s what it was. Maybe all demons were like this, or maybe Ciel had lucked out and gotten himself an incredibly picky one, but just drawing a contract wasn’t enough for Sebastian. When Ciel was taking pleasure from the time they spent together, Sebastian was getting bored. He wanted a thrill; he wanted a game. By provoking Ciel at the palace, he had been checking whether Ciel deserved his continued loyalty and his service, however artificial they were. He had been testing whether Ciel’s soul was worthy of being cultivated and consumed as a luxurious meal, or if all it deserved was to serve as a quick snack and then fade into oblivion.

Sebastian wanted a worthy Master. Someone he couldn’t predict or understand easily.

Fortunately for him, Ciel was more than prepared to provide him with this. He would ensure that Sebastian had the worst headache a demon could ever get — if they could even get one.

It didn’t lessen the acidic taste of betrayal on his tongue, but at least now, Ciel understood.

And he wasn’t going to forget about it.

Ciel rose to his toes, and when Sebastian continued to watch him curiously, he slapped him on the face as hard as he could, making sure that his rings connected with the bone.

Watching how Sebastian’s jaw dropped from sheer astonishment filled his blood with thick, dark pleasure.

“This is for acting in such an embarrassing manner today,” Ciel uttered lowly, narrowing his eyes when Sebastian just gaped at him, still looking shocked. “Do you take me for a fool? That little provocation of yours didn’t go unnoticed. I will let it slide, but only this once. Do you understand me, Sebastian? If you ever try to insult me by such petty, dishonourable acts again, I will be the one to consider it a breach of contract. You are my servant. You are supposed to protect me — and not just physically. You have no right to try and push me into making a mistake that would benefit you. If you want my soul, then earn it instead of trying to cheat!”

For a while, Sebastian continued to stand like a statue, but slowly, the look of amazement on his face started to change. When he bowed, his eyes were glistening with interest so intense that even Ciel was taken aback by it.

“Yes, my lord,” Sebastian murmured, and this time, there were no mocking notes in his voice.

Bitterly satisfied, Ciel turned away from him and moved back to the house, feeling hopelessly, endlessly tired. Sebastian disappeared in the kitchen, probably worried about the dinner, and Ciel used those moments to collapse into his armchair and close his eyes, hoping to let his mind rest. To his anger, though, it refused to be subdued, and instead proceeded to shove the images of Sebastian in front of him, reminding him about the numerous small moments they had shared.

The way he and Sebastian argued about what books Ciel should read, with Sebastian insisting on the piece written more than a hundred years ago and Ciel claiming that it was too old and thus irrelevant for their time.

The way Sebastian helped him get dressed, both of them utterly confused by the various buttons and laces. Ciel remembered how annoyed Sebastian started to appear after the third failed attempt to dress him properly, and how he apologised and disappeared for an hour before coming back and doing everything flawlessly. Ciel had asked where he could possibly manage to learn all the intricacies of dressing in less than sixty minutes, but Sebastian refused to answer, looking so sour as if he had bitten into a lemon.

The way Sebastian seemed to channel Ciel’s anxiety when the Queen’s letter arrived, how he fussed over Ciel more than usual to make sure he looked perfect, how he watched him in that huge, cold throne room filled with people Ciel didn’t know. Sebastian and his aunt were the only ones he recognised, but it was Sebastian who Ciel kept staring at because it was Sebastian who brought him comfort, even when he was just standing motionlessly. Sebastian watched him back, and Ciel thought… hoped… that the worry he had noticed in his eyes was genuine and that he hadn’t imagined it.

Lies. All lies. And even worse — not lies, but illusions. Illusions that Ciel himself had constructed and which were all shattering now, hurting him so much that he wanted to cry, still.

He held on. Sebastian served the dinner and Ciel had even managed to eat something, even though he did not feel any taste. Throughout the meal, he could feel Sebastian’s gaze on him, but for now, Ciel chose to ignore it.

He had never been so relieved to go to bed as in this night. Sebastian, probably sensing Ciel’s relief and having no idea what was causing it, opened his mouth to ask, but Ciel interrupted him sharply and barked, “Get out.”

A small frown touched Sebastian’s forehead, but it smoothed out almost instantly. Giving one last bow, Sebastian left, and Ciel was finally, blissfully alone. His consciousness, as if understanding this, pushed the tears back to the surface, and Ciel gritted his teeth, furious with himself.

He hadn’t cried when he learned that his parents died. He hadn’t cried when he saw their graves, and he would surely not cry because of some demon!

But hot, suffocating tears refused to be restrained this time, and the first and then the second ones burned Ciel’s cheeks, making a quiet, pained sound escape him. He immediately closed his mouth with his hands, terrified that Sebastian could hear, but when minutes passed and no one came in, Ciel hid his face in his pillow, choking down all sounds but letting the tears fall.

He would grieve tonight. Not for the demon — that being was not worthy of Ciel’s pain, but for the last form of connection Ciel thought he had left. With it gone, he was alone, and now he knew he would stay alone till the very end.  

So yes, he would grieve tonight, but tomorrow… he would wake up stronger.

And he would never allow himself such disgusting weakness again.