His Butler, Nursemaid
Sebastian had entered his young master's bedchamber as usual and begun to rouse him in a daily routine he knew by rote but endeavoured to vary. He opened the curtains and announced his presence in a bright and cheery voice, despite only ever being met with indifference.
"It is time to awake, young master. Another day is upon us." Sebastian said turning from the window to see his master beginning to stir into life. He crossed to the tea tray and lifted both pot and cup into the air to pour the first drink of the day. "Today's tea is English…" He was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of someone trying to suppress a particularly violent cough. It had come from beneath the master's bedcovers, meaning it had come from the master himself. He immediately replaced the pot and cup onto the tray. "Are you ill, Sir?" He inquired despite being wholly certain he was correct in his assessment. He stooped over the boy's still hidden form and awaited a reply he come to find a typical response from the Earl Phantomhive.
"No. I'm fine. Where's my tea already?" Ciel said before restraining another cough. Sebastian waited patiently for his young lord to emerge from the bedcovers so he could make a more accurate diagnosis. When the boy did not sit up, the demon was inclined to tut in disapproval of the situation.
"Oh dear. It would appear that many prolonged nights in the cold weather have upset your delicate constitution. I would hazard a guess of mild influenza if you are so weak as to not be able to so much as sit upright in bed." This slight against his person prompted the young master to force himself to sit up in bed in order to taint Sebastian's analysis. The demon observed his expression to be his natural state of regal indignation.
"How dare you put forward such slander! I am perfectly fine. I merely have a slight cough that could be explained by any number of factors."
"Such as influenza, My Lord." Sebastian said having noted the slightly damp condition of his young master's bedclothes, indicating fever and lack of energy. The persistence of this analysis was met with a loud outburst of anger from the boy that wavered on hysteria, another known trait of his.
"Shut up you stupid demon! I am not ill and you are not a recognised physician so I would not so much as wipe my arse with your paltry diagnosis! Now give me my tea and sod off!" Ciel shrieked before erupting into an intense coughing fit that delighted Sebastian to no end. He smirked whilst dabbing away the spittle caught on the boy's bottom lip.
"My, my, such coarse language is scarcely proper from a nobleman of your station. Please refrain from such vile obscenities in future, Sir, it does not suit you. As for my credentials as a physician, I spent a number of years lecturing on infectious diseases and diagnostic medicine at the Medical University of Vienna in the last fifty years and also had several semesters at the London Hospital Medical College prior to entering service with you. I am more than capable of ascertaining your current status." Sebastian explained genially as he softly pressed his hand against his young master's forehead. He had an elevated temperature of no more than two degrees, but it was enough to argue for bed rest. "You have a mild case of influenza, My Lord, but nothing of serious concern. Given the correct and proper treatment, you should be fully recovered in a day or so." Ciel glared up at him.
"I was under the impression such an illness required significantly longer in order to fully recover, three or four days at the very least." He said with some scepticism. Sebastian was used to such a dismissive attitude of his skills. He found he enjoyed being underestimated by humans: it made them seem all the more foolish when he performed beyond compare in reply.
"That would be under the care of an ordinary physician, Sir. Although they are not inadequate, if I could not help my master recover from a debilitating and unwanted illness in a fraction of the time required then what kind of butler would I be?" The boy responded to this rhetorical question by smacking away the demon's hand from his forehead. Sebastian expected such disdain for his services and did not mind in the slightest.
"I don't suppose I can order you to expedite the process?" Ciel said before stifling another cough. It seemed he had dispensed with his false bravado and accepted the truth, something Sebastian found his master only did in private and with his company. The demon shook his head in a manner he hoped appeared apologetic
"I'm afraid we are limited not by medicine but by your body's own natural chemistry, Sir. The best I can do is a minimum of twenty-four hours. I do so apologize for any inconvenience it may cause you."
"Do I have any meetings or appointments scheduled?"
"None that are of any urgency, My Lord. Shall I postpone them with your sincerest regrets?"
"I suppose so." The boy replied, gently pressing his fingers over his larynx. "My throat is sore. Do you have something to ease the discomfort?"
"Honey and lemon tea should help smooth the irritation, Sir. I shall prepare some in a few moments. First I would recommend changing both the sheets and your bedclothes: they are noticeably damp with sweat." Sebastian crossed an arm over his chest and bowed low at the waist, "Will you permit me to do so?" Ciel narrowed his eyes but then softened his expression and sighed.
"My current state is disagreeable. Yes, Sebastian. You may change my clothes and bedsheets."
"Yes, My Lord."
The demon dealt with the bed linen first, placing Ciel in the nearby chair wrapped in a blanket whilst he did so. The turnover was almost instantaneous and was soon beginning to redress the boy for his convalescence. He stripped his young lord of his nightshirt, dried his skin with a towel and then assisted him into a fresh shirt. The boy never resisted him in such moments of intimacy, seemingly entirely at ease with the situation. Sebastian was aware of his young lord regarding him throughout these actions but was used to this unusually intense attention. He had decided some time ago it was simply the boy trying to reason him out, nothing more. Once done with this, the demon returned him to bed and quickly took the tea tray back to the kitchen to re-brew a more appropriate blend. Less than two minutes after leaving the bedchamber, Sebastian returned to serve the tea once more.
"That's much better." Ciel said having sipped roughly half of his cup away. His demon butler smiled as he continued wringing the wet flannel over the basin of cold water.
"It pleases me to hear that, Sir. I have prepared a cold cloth for your forehead in order to ease the fever. I have also sent Finny and Mei-Rin to town in order to cancel your appointments for the day."
"Why did you not go and cancel the appointments yourself? I do not trust them to handle such matters with the necessary tact." His young lord said as the demon crossed back over to his side with an unlabelled medicine bottle and tablespoon.
"I did not instruct them to engage in conversation, merely to deliver letters I wrote on your behalf. I am certain all your contacts will find them satisfactory." Sebastian said whilst carefully pouring a measured spoonful of honey-coloured liquid and presenting it to the boy. He regarded it distastefully.
"What on earth is that concoction? Is it a recognised medicine?"
"It is something of my own design, Sir. Its potency is roughly ten-times that of conventional cough syrups."
"It smells awful."
"But it tastes like sugar, My Lord."
Ciel's eyes widened at the prospect but were noticeably marred by an underlying mistrust and suspicion. "You can't lie to me, can you, Sebastian?" He checked whilst continuing to eye the offered medicine with reluctance.
"Of course not, Sir. I am a demon and therefore cannot lie. It does taste like sugar, I promise you." The demon said with a smile he hoped looked sincere. Ciel opened his mouth. Sebastian deftly placed the spoon onto his tongue. The boy swallowed and adopted a surprised expression in the aftermath as the spoon was removed. His butler smiled whilst running a finger underneath his young lord's chin in approval that he had ingested all of it without trouble. "You see? Perfectly suitable for your palate. Are you finished with your tea, Sir?"
"Yes. Take it away."
"Certainly, my young lord. Here." Sebastian exchanged the tea cup for the damp cloth, placing it neatly in the centre of the boy's forehead as he lay down. Ciel emitted a sigh that could only signal satisfaction when the cloth made contact, pleasing his demon butler to no end. "Shall I take it you will sleep for a time now, Sir?" He asked. His master's eyes remained fully open and less than receptive to the idea.
"I'm not particularly tired. How long will it be before this medicinal cocktail of yours takes full effect?"
"It will blunt the acute symptoms in the next ten minutes and should aid your immune system's response to the illness over the next few hours. By my closest estimations, you should be fully recovered by late afternoon." Ciel's immediate reaction to this prognosis was to scoff.
"That's not that impressive for a demon butler." The young lord said before releasing yet another sigh, clearly of frustration. "This whole situation is intolerable." Sebastian bowed low.
"What would you have me do, Sir?"
"I take it you still have your chores to do?"
"Yes, of course, but I will delay all of them if you wish me to tend to your needs, My Lord."
"Don't be impertinent, Sebastian. I don't need you for the immediate future. Attend to your duties. Return to me when it is appropriate."
"As you wish, Sir. Would you care for breakfast?"
Sebastian polished all the silverware in the kitchen, ironed and laid the table cloth in the dining room and continued in other cleaning tasks until roughly eleven. At this time of the day, it was typical to tutor his master in some necessary subject until twelve-thirty and then break away to prepare lunch for serving at one in the afternoon. He chose to return to Ciel's room instead of proceeding with his normal schedule. Once he had knocked and been given permission to enter, he was bemused to find the boy sat up and surrounded by textbooks.
"Is everything alright, Sir?" He asked closing the door.
"I think we will study Classics today, Sebastian. I find I am eager to test my vocabulary on passages of the Iliad. Shall I read them aloud?" His young master said already beginning to turn to a pre-selected passage of text Sebastian had instructed him to study the previous week. The demon had not expected the boy to be in any mood for study today given his condition, but was impressed nevertheless.
"That sounds ideal, My Lord, but perhaps you might want some refreshment before commencing."
"I am still not hungry, Sebastian. I think your concoction has ruined my appetite." Ciel informed him whilst moving a finger down his current page, evidently in search of the text's opening line.
"Shall I return this Gateau des Fruits to the kitchen in that case then?" Sebastian inquired showcasing the freshly plated slice of cake he had brought with him. His master's eyes almost shot up at the mention of gateau. He regarded it with obvious longing and desire and was fittingly accompanied by an audible rumble of the stomach.
"Is it fresh?"
"Baked but an hour ago, Sir, whilst I was dusting the drawing room. It is even still slightly warm to the touch."
"Very well, bring it here." Sebastian did as instructed, drawing up alongside Ciel's left-hand side and presenting the plate to him. The boy took it and the subsequent fork offered before settling the plate in his lap atop of the textbook. He ate the first bite in silence. The demon waited patiently for his young lord to render a verdict. When he ate another two in quick succession, Sebastian was satisfied the sweet was to his liking.
"I enjoyed that immensely." Ciel said upon finishing the piece and settling his fork down on the empty plate. It was a rare verbal complement, one that Sebastian was not used to hearing escape the boy's tight lips. He was in a giving mood today it seemed. The demon inclined his head.
"I am glad it was to your liking, Master." He said clearing away the crockery, "Are you ready to begin the recital?"
"Do not call it that. Shall I commence?" Ciel said as Sebastian straightened himself back to an upright position.
The lesson continued in their usual way, with the master making minor errors every so often and his demon butler correcting him without an air of superiority or arrogance. Ciel did cough occasionally to disrupt his natural cadence, but it was no longer as severe or sharp as earlier. Sebastian was pleased with his young lord's fast recovery. Once the lesson was concluded, the demon cleared away all the textbooks that were cluttering the sheets and asked to be excused to prepare lunch.
"What are you preparing today?"
"I will prepare whatever you wish, young master. What would you prefer?"
"Perhaps a salad of some description might suit your needs. I will prepare a salmon salad with rocket leaves and a balsamic dressing. It should be agreeable."
"In that case, may I be excused to begin preparations, Sir?" Sebastian said anticipating a dismissive hand gesture and nothing more, however this time, for the first time, his master hesitated. Ciel looked contemplative for a moment before articulating a rather strange statement of fact.
"I have never seen you prepare a meal, Sebastian."
"You have no need to, My Lord. You are a nobleman: supervising the preparations of foodstuffs for your consumption is beneath you and inappropriate for someone of your standing."
"I would still like to." The boy said with some insistence on the subject. The demon smiled.
"If you are finding your convalescence tedious, I can find you a more enriching distraction than my meagre duties."
"Would my presence unnerve you, Sebastian?" Ciel said almost teasingly. Sebastian raised his eyebrows in mild surprise but answered regardless.
"Not at all, Sir, it would merely be unprofessional for me to allow you to witness such labour."
"I don't care. I want you to carry me to the kitchen and then prepare my lunch. That is an order."
"As you wish, My Young Lord."
The boy did not want to properly dress for his trip to the kitchen. He wore his patch and agreed to don his dressing gown at Sebastian's request, but did genuinely not seem overly concerned if the others saw him in such an intimate position. The demon had rarely viewed his master as a child in anything but physical appearance and the evident love he possessed for confectionery, but this was different. Ciel seemed inquisitive instead of curious and carefree as opposed to restrained, two traits Sebastian had learned existed in almost every other child his age. He supposed his master's illness and boredom were the contributing factors in this break from tradition, but had to admit to finding the change a pleasant surprise.
"Here you are, Sir, the best seat in the house from which to watch this spectacle." Sebastian said setting his young lord down on the countertop as if the boy were as fragile and delicate as an egg. When he tried to pull away, he found the master's hand was still gripping his shoulder or rather testing its form.
"You are remarkably solid for something only imitating a man. It feels very much like hard muscle when manipulated." Ciel remarked before releasing his grip. Sebastian found it almost endearing in an odd way, something he thought he would never associate with his master. The demon smiled.
"It is supposed to. Are you comfortable, My Lord?"
"I would not call it that, but it is sufficient for my purposes. Proceed."
Sebastian prepared all the ingredients for the salad, tossed them into a mixing bowl and then plated the result before he applied the dressing. The whole process took less than twenty minutes but still yielded a dish that looked every bit as aesthetically pleasing as any of his other more complex arrangements. During the process, he made frequent eye contact with his young master to ensure he did not inadvertently miss a non-verbal command or order that the boy often delivered to test his skills. But Ciel did not issue any commands whatsoever: he just watched the demon work in silence. Sebastian was growing slightly bemused by this behaviour, but not yet enough to speak out of turn about it.
"There we are, Master, one salmon salad. Would you like to eat in the dining room or the drawing room today?" Sebastian asked as he began to unroll his shirt sleeves having already washed his hands. His master gave a cursory glance around the room.
"Is it dirty in here or something? Can I not eat it off any surface in this house I desire or have you neglected your duties and only cleaned certain parts of this house?" Ciel responded whilst his butler discarded the apron and re-donned his tailcoat. The demon gave him a brief bow.
"I have never neglected my duties, Sir. This is a room for preparing your meals. Subsequently it is impeccably maintained, but is not fit for you to take your meals in. It does not offer a complimentary aesthetic to the dish, a comfortable seat to hold your carriage or a pleasant flower arrangement to enhance your culinary experience."
"You have disrupted my usual routine with your diagnosis. Therefore I think it only fair I disrupt yours. I'm eating in here. Pass me some cutlery." The boy ordered just as his servant had finished putting on his gloves.
"I am to infer you are doing this in some effort to spite me for ordering you stay in bed, Sir?" Sebastian said presenting the boy with a knife and fork. Ciel smirked.
"I am a child after all, Sebastian. Is irritating people not what children are best at?"
"With your track record in the affairs of this country, I would say irritating people was almost a calling of yours, My Lord." The demon offered with a smile. To his continued surprise, his young lord smiled too.
"You are not entirely unfunny, Sebastian."
"Thank you, Sir."
Once lunch was formally concluded, Sebastian asked to be excused so that he could attend to his other duties. When Ciel asked what they entailed, the demon told him about doing the daily accounting records, making preparations for dinner and completing any outstanding tasks in and around town. The boy said he wished to bathe and then dress for going outside in the gardens. The demon liked this change of pace and he especially liked the idea that his master believed such a disruption of routine was some kind of awful punishment for him. He expected the boy's recovery to be testing, but it was remarkably enjoyable.
"I take it you are feeling much better now, My Lord?" Sebastian asked as he washed under his master's armpits.
"Whatever potion you fed me is apparently working. I still feel too warm, but not enough to be uncomfortable."
"And your throat, Sir?" The demon said rinsing away the soap, "Is that also better?"
"It tickles but is no longer sore."
"I am pleased to hear that."
"Of course. You are my master. If you are not well, how can I expect you to gain your revenge with complete satisfaction?" Sebastian said lathering up the boy's wet hair.
"Yes, my soul. It still staggers me how much you demons will do to simply consume one paltry soul. When I was younger, my family employed an army of servants to do all the jobs you do on a daily basis. I even had a maid whose only task was to bathe me." Ciel answered as the demon combed the lather through his scalp.
"And did she do a satisfactory job, Sir?"
"She used to pull my hair when washing it. She said it was to clean it down to the roots. I think she just enjoyed making me suffer." The boy said bitterly. Sebastian's hand stopped halfway through his master's hair in something akin to pity. He ruffled the hair with a feather-light touch before continuing to comb through.
"She sounds unprofessional, Sir. Please tilt your head back." Ciel did as instructed. Sebastian rinsed the lather out with a jug of clean water whilst supporting his young lord's head.
"I also had my own nursemaid to dress me, brush my teeth and comb my hair." The boy added once eased back to a sitting position.
"If you wish me to employ more staff to tend to your needs, I will happily begin screening potential candidates this afternoon." Sebastian said standing at the side of the bathtub with a fresh towel. His master rose up and stepped onto the bathmat.
"I don't require more servants, Sebastian. I just need you." Ciel told him as the demon draped the towel around his shoulders. They exchanged glances in silence as Sebastian framed the boy's face with another towel to dry his hair. "I don't feel safe with anyone else anymore." The demon smiled at this admission of childish insecurity. He ran a thumb over his young lord's cheek in a fleeting gesture of affection. For once, Ciel did not jerk away violently or reprimand him for his familiarity. He simply stared at him in something not unlike silent gratitude. Sebastian began to dry his hair.
"I understand your reasons, Sir. Now, what shall we wear today?"
It was an hour later and both master and butler found themselves outside the rear of the mansion near the rose garden. Ciel was wrapped up warm against the inclement weather in his fur-lined hooded cloak as he sat on the bench sipping the tea Sebastian had furnished him with. The demon just off to his side with the tea trolley resting between them.
"How is your tea, Sir?"
"Adequate. Have you done some gardening here in recent weeks?" The boy asked sipping his tea. The demon nodded his head.
"Indeed I have, Young Master. How could you tell?"
"The roses are in bloom."
"Not unusual for someone with a green thumb, Sir."
"It is in the dead of winter, Sebastian."
"Well if I couldn't make something as simple as roses bloom out of season…"
"There is no need to finish that sentence. Sit with me."
"I must say your wishes today have been most out of character. How am I to serve you additional refreshments if I am sat beside you and not stood with the trolley?"
"Just sit with me and fuss over your cakes and chocolates later."
"As you wish, Master."
Sebastian took his place beside his young lord on the bench and awaited further orders. None came. Ciel finished his tea and then held it cupped in gloved hands. They stared at the sea of pink and white roses on the hedgerows in a silence the demon found comfortable. His master was thinking. He could tell just by the concentrated look of melancholy and wistfulness on the boy's face that only came with reflection. It signalled that he was preparing to articulate something awkward or unusual.
"I enjoy your company, Sebastian. Did you know that?"
"I always believed you merely tolerated me, Sir."
"Perhaps in the beginning, but not now."
"I suppose I too must admit to a growing attachment to you beyond your soul and our deal, Sir. I enjoy serving you."
Ciel slowly leaned over until he was pressing against the demon's side, his head resting gingerly on Sebastian's shoulder. "I am glad to hear that, Sebastian. I sincerely hope my soul meets all your expectations when the time finally comes." The demon smiled before manoeuvring an arm around his master's shoulder. The boy had been starved of any affection since his parents' deaths but seemed to shoulder the burden without great difficulty. However, just this once, he had crumbled to the child he kept under lock and key. It was nice to finally hold him without necessity forcing the union. It was almost like the natural instinct Sebastian had noted in others.
"We shall deal with such issues when the time comes, Master. Until then please continue to enjoy the roses." Sebastian said gently squeezing the boy's shoulder. Tomorrow, this whole day would be forgotten by both of them and normal service would resume. The demon knew this was not the start of another phase in their relationship, but merely a short-lived confirmation of just how close they had become to one another over the past two years. Contracts aside, Sebastian cared for this child more than he had for any previous masters. They simply paled in significance to his young lord, no matter what trait or skill they presented. Ciel Phantomhive was his favourite human and brought him to the precipice of experiencing love for another being. It could never truly be love as humans knew it – he was a demon and thus incapable of such attachment – but it was close enough. His master sighed.
"Just this once, Sebastian, you may address me by my Christian name. I am curious as to how it would come off your tongue."
"As you wish…my young Ciel."
"This does not mean we are friends."
"I know, Master." Sebastian said squeezing him again, "I know."