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December 1886

"Explain yourself, demon!"

The words snapped through the air between the earl and his butler like a whip. From where Ciel sat behind his desk, small body all but swallowed by the huge chair, he glared with cold fury at the demon standing across from him. The butler only stood, calm and collected as ever, with hands clasped behind his back and expression blank. And this, of course, simply enraged the young earl further.

"Forgive me, my lord. I had to leave."

"For five days? Without informing me, let alone requesting permission? Do tell me, Sebastian, what could have possibly been so vital?" Ciel's words dripped with derision. He was not at all inclined to 'forgive' this vial creature any time soon.

Sebastian sighed that characteristic sigh that always made Ciel want to slap him, even when he was in a good mood. "Young master, you would have been much angrier with me had I stayed. I feel I would have done something inexcusable."

Ciel just glared steadily into that impassive, crimson gaze. What the devil was he on about anyway? All Ciel knew was that the past five days had been the worst he'd had in the past year. With his butler nowhere to be found, Ciel was forced to realize just how incompetent he was on his own. He did not like it. On top of that, Bard really was a terrible cook. Between that pyromaniac chef and clumsy maid, his kitchen was in shambles. But truthfully, he just missed Sebastian's cakes. At least Finnian had managed not to kill the garden.

Yet, for all that, what irked him the most was much simpler than all of the minor inconveniences. Sebastian had left him with no warning and no word of explanation and Ciel found himself terrified. For the past year, he'd become so accustomed to the demon's protective presence that he'd begun taking it for granted without realizing how much he depended on it. When that shield was suddenly gone, he panicked. He'd gotten all of perhaps eight hours of sleep since Sebastian's disappearance, plagued by nightmares that he thought he'd banished months ago. And then there was the restlessness. He had no idea what Sebastian could have been doing, but something had bled over their connection into Ciel's head and he couldn't shake it for the life of him. He was only ever tangentially aware of that connection, but apparently, when his demon's emotions were high enough, the ability to sense it went both ways.

Ciel was still awaiting further explanation of Sebastian's actions, but the demon was silent again.

"You did not answer my question, Sebastian," Ciel said coldly. He was in no mood for the demon's usual games and evasions.

"I had to attend to a . . . personal matter, my lord," Sebastian finally answered, expression not changing in the slightest.

Ciel growled in frustration. "Answer me plainly. What were you doing!"

Another put upon sigh, as though Ciel were being nothing more than a spoiled child. Ciel wished very much in that moment that he could strangle this infuriating creature.

"I was sating my natural urges in such a way that would not bring harm to my master."

Which, of course, didn't explain a damn thing.

"Are you literally incapable of explaining yourself fully?" Ciel snapped. "What does that even mean?"

Finally, that blank expression morphed into annoyance and the demon slammed his palms down on the desktop as he leaned towards Ciel, eyes burning. "I very much doubt that you will have noticed, but the winter solstice was three days ago." Ciel opened his mouth to demand what the hell that had to do with anything, but Sebastian cut him off before he could say a word. "The solstice, the darkest day of the year, is the prime mating period for demons. It is a frenzy that none of us can control. The urge builds over the week leading up to that date, and decreases gradually to a manageable level over the following week. So I left for this period, knowing I would not have very much control over my own actions. I would have been less than useless to you. But, more importantly, I very easily could have killed you inadvertently."

Ciel's eyes widened in shock. "Why?"

"Because you would have been the object of my lust."

Ciel studied the demon closely, his face smoothing out into an unreadable expression. Sebastian held his gaze and kept silent, waiting.

The young earl wasn't surprised that demons should have a mating frenzy. Though he had to wonder why Sebastian should choose him specifically when there were several other, perfectly viable, options in this very house.

"And you know this for certain?" he inquired, his tone once again flat and matter-of-fact.

The demon simply nodded. "Yes, my lord."

"And you would have killed me?"

"It is likely, as I suspect you would not have been willing."

Ciel's brow furrowed in a slight frown. "And what would my willingness have to do with your ability to check your strength?"

"If you fought me, I would have been inclined to subdue you; I would have responded to violence with violence. And if you held out on me, I would have had no mind to be careful."

"You speak as though there is a possibility that I could survive such an experience," Ciel deadpanned. "If the frenzy lasts for that long, a mere human body could not possibly endure."

"A few drops of my blood could heal and sustain you," Sebastian said very quietly.

The demon's gaze had softened into confused curiosity. Ciel knew Sebastian was restraining the urge to inquire what was on his master's mind; he determinedly gave nothing away.

So that was the cause of that strange restlessness. That feeling that his clothes were too hot and constricting, his skin too sensitive. He had noticed the recent changes in his body and he understood their meaning, but it honestly had not occurred to him that his discomfort stemmed from lust. Despite the information he'd gained from the book he'd found on a high shelf in the library and secretly read in the dead of night, he had no realistic idea of how such passion felt trapped beneath the skin. He had been determined not to subject himself to the humiliation of asking anyone, especially not Sebastian, when he'd begun having vague dreams that left him breathless and sweating. Nor when he'd begun noticing other people based on their physical attractions. The book had explained most of his questions. Though he only found a very brief mention of why the change should set in so early; the author apparently had no idea. He did not find any explanation as to why he should be noticing both Lizzie's soft hands and bright eyes as well as the lean, strong lines of Sebastian's body and the way the light played in his ebony hair. Ciel resolved to ignore that part. So much for that notion.

More than his desire to never have to endure the past days' irritation again, Ciel's jealousy was rising. Irrational as it probably was, Sebastian belonged to him, at least until the end, and Ciel would have all of him. He had never been good at sharing.

"Young master?" Sebastian asked softly. He still leaned on his hands, face close to Ciel's, eyes studying him minutely.

"What?" Ciel murmured distractedly.

But could he handle it? Pride and desire were one thing, but Ciel was not foolish and his stubbornness was not worth agony.

"My lord, what are you contemplating?" Sebastian asked, sounding almost wary.

Ciel only answered the question with another question. "So you are telling me that were I willing, you could restrain yourself enough so as not to severely injure me?"

"Well, I . . . young master, what are you thinking?"

"Answer the question, Sebastian."

Sebastian sighed. "Yes, I believe I could. I do not wish to injure you after all."

Ciel nodded. "Then," he said quietly, "next year, give the others the week off. And stay."

Sebastian's eyes widened even though he'd half expected this. Still, to actually hear it confirmed . . .

"My lord? Are you certain of this? If I stay, and you then change your mind, I will not stop no matter your orders. And, if I may be frank, I cannot be certain how well you will be able to handle such . . . activity. Our size difference alone could be a problem."

"I expect so," Ciel said calmly. "But if you're going to leave me in such a state with no respite, you should be the one to alleviate the discomfort, don't you think?"

The demon frowned at him. "I'm sorry, my lord?"

Ciel crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes in annoyance. "I could feel it, Sebastian. Your need. For the past five days I've been unable to sit still, let alone get anything done. The dreams weren't the only reason I got no sleep."

"I see," Sebastian murmured. "I apologize, young master. I truly have never realized such a thing was possible. Most of us typically try to be free of a contract during this time and the few times I could not do that . . . well it was never mentioned. I suppose because they always had their own ways of dealing with such things. Also, I had not thought one quite so young . . ." He trailed off and Ciel did not deign to respond. He just watched the demon silently as a wicked grin slowly spread across the beautiful face. "So then, you wish me to stay in order to sate your own need as much as mine?"

Ciel shrugged. "Well, and frankly, Bard is a truly terrible cook. Not to mention, none of them have the slightest idea how to make proper tea."

Sebastian chuckled, amusement flashing behind his eyes. "Quite, my young lord. I do apologize for leaving you in the care of such incompetent servants."


But Sebastian seemed less than interested in this topic. His eyes were burning again. And this time Ciel didn't think it was anger fanning those flames. What had he said? The solstice was only three days ago and the need only gradually faded over the course of a week. Well, this may begin much sooner than he'd originally anticipated.

"My lord, if I may, I do not believe your first experience in bed with me should be during the time when my control is weakest and I will be much less inclined to take care."

One hand lifted from the desktop and reached out. The ghost of a caress brushed against Ciel's cheek and the young earl suddenly felt very hot. Those eyes were boring into him, burning holes straight into his soul. And he wasn't altogether certain that was metaphorical.

"My lord," Sebastian repeated softly. "Your work can wait a while longer. Come with me?"

Ciel hesitated a second, uncertainty of what was about to happen making him slightly nervous. Then he swallowed his misgivings and stood. He'd asked for this after all.

"Yes, Sebastian."