Bound by Mitra and Varuna
Someone tries to kill Ciel on the steamer on the way to India. Sebastian saves him, of course, by throwing Ciel over his shoulder in the manner Ciel would have thought he'd outgrown around the same time he'd outgrown short pants—but then again, Sebastian has never set much store by Ciel's dignity.
There had been a moment after Sebastian had dumped Ciel on a coil of rope on the main deck when Sebastian had slid his fore- and middle fingers across Ciel's mouth, eyes glittering, and Ciel hissed, "You—"
"Quiet," Sebastian had murmured, "would be advisable. My Lord."
These are the secrets that lie between them, under a chill salt-tinged sky. The night leeches even the tint of color from Sebastian's eyes, until they reflect nothing but fathomless blackness like the ends of the universe, an endless moral vacuum. Emotions refract sometimes like stars: amusement, irritation, affection—Ciel does not know what to make of this last, this pet demon that has formed this inexplicable attachment to him, this false humanity in an unchangeable face.
It is the tail end of May when they finally arrive, the air sultry and thick with the promise of rain. Sweat slides down the indentations on either side of Ciel's spine as he swelters in his neat woolen three-piece suit. The castle they are meant to stay at rises out of the ground in gleaming ivory, intricate designs carved into the stone. It makes Ciel think of paper cutouts, or lace, like the train of Elizabeth's wedding dress.
They'd also gotten married in May, but the air had been nothing like this, this unbreathable stew, just the crisp coolness of an English spring. The wind had smelled like roses and grass; here it smells like dust, like people, like the thousand vivid fruits and flowers that burst open in the heat. Sebastian lists their names over Ciel's shoulder—jackfruit, mango, guava, almatas, orchid, freesia—as they walk past the garden:
"If I'd wanted a tour guide," Ciel says irritably, "I would have telegraphed Soma."
"Naturally," Sebastian says, "my Lord."
The perfume Elizabeth had dabbed onto her pulse points that day had smelled like old roses, fragile in happiness. Her skin had been nearly as white as her dress, just a faint tinge of pink across her cheekbones and over her breasts, brighter when Ciel reached out his hand to touch her reverentially. A bright beautiful thing, an anxious feminine impossibility ("It's fine," she whispered, No it isn't, Ciel thought in despair and kissed her). Sebastian had brought them tea the next morning and left discreetly; Ciel had walked in on him later changing the sheets, the hollow sound of a great billowing sail and a splash of red like a surprise (accusation). A demon's smile.
"Let's just get this over with," Ciel says, wiping his face, squinting up at the Indian sun.
"Of course," Sebastian says.
In the beginning there was the sour metal smell on Ciel's hands (so much smaller than they are now) from the iron bars. He traced symbols in the dirt on the floor, symbols that hurt to look at, symbols that absorbed blood and sweat and tears in equal measure, an atypical sort of investment. Sebastian then was Not, or at least Not Yet, before Ciel picked up his head up and said You are.
Of me. Coalescing into this form made in my image Saint Sebastian. It was a good joke, in reverse, the first time Ciel watched someone shoot his butler full of holes. Afterward Sebastian removed the gag in Ciel's mouth and smiled, like he got it too.
"Refreshments!" says the magistrate. "One drink? Two?"
"Mr. Callendar," Ciel says. His drink sits in front of him, bright orange, droplets of water condensing and sliding down.
"Come now, no need to be so formal, Phantomhive. We're all civil servants here, after all." He chortles at his own joke, greasy mustache twitching like a live thing, a fat caterpillar crawling across his face. Ciel doesn't join in, unable to hide his distaste, and eventually the laughter dies.
"You have a problem," Ciel says.
His wife sits beside him, pale underneath her nut-brown skin. She looks young, with dark, luminous eyes; they meet Ciel's over the table and drift to the side, over the tall stiff form of his butler. Sebastian. Her choli doesn't quite cover the edges of a yellowing bruise on her upper arm.
"You can't come with me," Ciel had told Elizabeth, as gently as he could, and watched her face twist with petulance. The old familiar expression. The old familiar swell of exasperation (violence), surging hot and sick through his blood, the memory of Sebastian's fingers on his wrist, the cool rasp of cloth on sensitive skin. "It's too dangerous." The pictures were of women, bloated with river water, eyes milky and staring. Fish had nibbled on the soft tissues of their faces, these ragged little English Ophelias: no flowers, just slimy gray-green riverweeds tangled in their hair, dirty with silt but clean of blood. Pale intestines piled haphazardly next to them, open and obscene, empty shells of people. Sebastian's hand on his shoulder.
"Lady Elizabeth," Sebastian had said, "please." And leading her out of the room, had taken Ciel's anger with him. This is another mystery, this externalization of prudence, a manifestation of infernal (hah) conscience.
He thinks of the parallels sometimes, Ciel and Sebastian, Soma and Agni. He thinks of them especially in this place, confronted with the immediacy of memory, the riot of color and the high-pitched drone of a thousand insects. The night makes it more bearable, at least—the color, not the drone, and Ciel pinches the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb and tries not to breathe too violently.
"My head aches," he announces to the room at large and gets a whisper in reply, the rustle of clothing. He thinks of Soma's ignorance, the careless bright warmth of his existence, his inability to grasp the gravity of what he had once done. For this is the name given and this is the body, lean and pale, a delicate disfigurement on the back of the hand. Here the parallels end, with Sebastian prying apart Ciel's fingers with his own to drop two pills into Ciel's palm.
"My Lord," Sebastian says, ready with water in the next moment. Ciel's skin squeaks against the damp glass and he winces, throwing it back in one long pull, already regretting the motion when spots of light rupture across his eyelids. Pain makes him lightheaded, leaves him panting like an animal, tense against the sheets with tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.
The bed dips on his right side and Ciel feels Sebastian carding through the sweat-damp hair at his temples, their faces perilously close together, murmuring a string of words that sound like the hiss of boiling oil. The pain drains away and Sebastian slides off, hands held awkwardly away from himself, before turning and flicking them both at the mirror across the room. It shatters, pieces falling to the floor like rain.
When Soma is mirrored in Agni's eyes there is nothing but uncomplicated adoration, because Agni is a walking miracle unsung, an entirely different kind of creation. Obedience joyfully given, untainted by awareness.
"I told you," Ciel says, "I wish you wouldn't do that."
"You have my apologies," Sebastian says, "but I did not think an entire night spent in the throes of a migraine would have been prudent, at this point."
"Have you found anything?"
"But you have—"
"In the morning, young master."
What is the depth of devotion, what hides within it, how well does Soma know the rhythm of Agni's heart? "Why bother with the pills?" Ciel asks in afterthought.
"A miscalculation," Sebastian says, "of the severity of your ailment." What sort of limits are there on the coadunation of being, even in these circumstances, and when do they shift?
"You could dress up as a woman again," Sebastian suggests at breakfast.
"Not an option," Ciel says. A map of the region upriver is spread out in front of him on the table, fifty miles, the edges of the city dropping off abruptly into dense forest.
"Ah," Mr. Callendar says.
His wife slips into Ciel's room that afternoon and offers to fuck him; her name is Mukta and fear has made her canny, her nails inscribing half-moons on Ciel's sides. It takes an ocean of distance for this to be acceptable and even so he catalogs the similarities, the perplexing softness that Mukta shares with his own wife, queerly foreign to his sensibilities. Bruises pattern her body underneath the silk of her sari, all of them at least a week old. She doesn't allow him to touch her.
"It is my husband," she tells Ciel in her lilting clip, afterwards. Wiping the mess from her thighs with a corner of the bedsheets, she looks askance at him. "Will your demon eat him?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Ciel says stiffly. She lifts one shoulder and turns away from him, tucking in her clothes.
"As you will," she says.
In the silence of her absence Ciel spends several long minutes studying the canopy above him, breathing in the stink of sex before swinging his legs over the side of the bed and standing. He runs bodily into Sebastian outside of his door, and Sebastian reaches out a hand to steady him.
"You shouldn't have done that," Sebastian says, nostrils flaring. Reproach is audible in his voice; Ciel gives a short, incredulous laugh.
"You forget your place," Ciel says.
"I think," Sebastian says, "not." He tilts his head to the side, hand still on Ciel's shoulder, eyes narrowing. This day they are the color of old blood and Ciel finds himself swallowing involuntarily; he scowls, and Sebastian smiles.
In imagination Ciel stands naked in front of the the shell of a broken mirror and sees himself: a little English boy that will never grow into anything—no son of the Empire here—bones too prominent under sallow skin. A sharp slash of a clavicle and knobbly fingers, toes that are just slightly too long and the concave curve of the belly below the ribs.
Time has given him a complex knotted tracery of scars to complement the first: a slice of a knife across the knuckles and the raised starburst of a bullet wound here, on the shoulder, here, on the thigh, here, on the side—the devil's own luck that it missed everything important. Someone had once taken a liking to the cool curve of his spine and with a tool that Ciel hadn't seen carved a sadistic construction of interlocking lines over his lower back, a haphazard map to madness. Outside it has begun to rain.
"It appears our illustrious host has left us to our own devices," Sebastian informs Ciel over a meal of roast something-Ciel-prefers-not-to-think-about-too-closely. Ciel clears his throat and dabs his lips with his napkin. "He left a note."
"The caves?" Ciel asks.
"Most likely," Sebastian agrees.
Dust has turned to mud that makes loud reluctant sucking noises when Ciel lifts his shoes, as if the land itself does not want to let him go now that it has a grip on him. The elephant that stands before him is enormous and gray and extremely disagreeable-looking; it fixes him with a beady eye and then exhales violently into his hair. Ciel wipes his face while Sebastian bends, fingers interlaced in front of him and his palms facing up.
"Sahib," Sebastian says. Ciel steps one foot onto his hands.
"I'm glad you are amused by all this," Ciel says when he is situated on the elephant's broad back and Sebastian has vaulted up behind him.
"No more than usual," Sebastian says, tugging off his dirty gloves.
They are soaked through by the time they stop for the night, underneath a shallow outcropping that provides shelter from the rain. Sebastian manages to build a fire (that smells faintly of sulfur) and hangs his and Ciel's suits around it, the light casting flickering, mutable patterns on his skin. Ciel sits on the blanket Sebastian has spread over the ground, knees drawn up to his chest and hair falling into his eye, watching Sebastian from underneath his eyelashes. Sebastian isn't even looking at him and he still feels exposed, goosebumps rising on his arms with the sluggish movement of damp air.
"What are you playing at?" Ciel asks, irritation finally cresting and breaking.
"You just. You. Fuck," Ciel says. "Fuck." He pushes himself to his feet and balls his fists at his side, skin tight with anger. Something that could be astonishment flickers over Sebastian's face as Sebastian's gaze skims down Ciel's body and back up; Ciel closes his eye momentarily and then opens it again, taking a breath.
"Turn around," he orders. "Put your hands on the wall. Eyes—eyes forward."
Sebastian complies slowly, spreading his palms flat against the stone and dipping his head. Ciel reaches behind himself and unties his eyepatch, letting it fall to the ground at his bare feet, then does nothing else for a long while, watching the minute movements of Sebastian's ribs on every inhalation and exhalation. It feels as though the rain has washed his mind clean of all extraneous artifacts until there is nothing but this, these invisible strings that tie them together, piercing through Ciel's flesh to wrap around his bones, drawing him forward, the air around them humid with knowledge.
"There was no reason you shouldn't have been able to prevent us from getting wet," Ciel tells Sebastian. "Shut up!" Feather-light, he threads his fingers through the soft hair at the base of Sebastian's neck: lightly because he's all but thrumming with fury, tense everywhere. Under his eyes, the muscles of Sebastian's back ripple and twitch. Ciel is so hard he aches.
He explores Sebastian's smooth shoulders with the same soft touches, the bowed length of Sebastian's spine, the shallow indentations of tailbone. Here is a body, bones and muscles and blood vessels, skin slick with sweat and unnaturally warm, bunching beneath Ciel's fingers. He reaches Sebastian's waistband and snatches his hands away to fumble at the front of his own drawers, pulling his cock out and gripping it painfully hard.
"Fuck," he hisses. He jerks himself roughly, recklessly, breath harsh in his own ears, even over the sound of the rain. It becomes difficult to get enough air, the atmosphere around him saturated with Sebastian's smell, steam rising off of Sebastian's skin, wet-body sharp on the back of Ciel's tongue. Sebastian's breathing changes: faster, shallower, his fingers bloodless where they press into the stone, his legs shifting just slightly further apart. It is the last that does it, that rips Ciel's orgasm from him, the burning roar that swamps his senses as his come stripes Sebastian's back.
Stumbling backwards, Ciel sits down hard on the blanket. When his pulse returns to normal, he pulls another one out of their packs, wrapping it around himself.
"Master Phantomhive," Sebastian says quietly.
Ciel closes his eyes. "That will be all, Sebastian."
Ciel dreams about the circus, the dirt and noise, memory triggered partially by the elephant that stands grazing placidly outside. The memory comes to him in snatches, the vision of Sebastian's hand slipping slyly up the animal tamer's false thigh, the skinny shivering warmth of Freckles against his side. In dreams Ciel often has revelations; this one is no different, when he presses his dream mouth against Freckles' and tastes her fear, that tastes like Mukta's fear, that tastes like Elizabeth's fear. They are all so afraid, he thinks, humanity, and wonders what Sebastian might taste in his own mouth. What Sebastian's mouth might taste of.
The next morning Sebastian clothes Ciel in his bone-dry suit without a word and they reach the caves around mid-day. They are a dank, labyrinthine mass of passages, smelling of earth and stale water and later the cool tang of minerals. Ciel lets Sebastian lead and it isn't long before he scents the smoke as well. The path they are walking opens up into a giant underground amphitheater, with stairs leading down.
"Kali," Ciel says flatly from his vantage point, watching Mr. Callendar's corpulent body seize and twist before the statue.
"Typical misinterpretation," Sebastian murmurs, glancing up at Ciel with hooded eyes. His expression is unreadable, eyes glittering with the reflection of the dozens of fires below them. Ciel cocks his rifle and flips his eyepatch up, taking careful aim at a man he recognizes as the head of the city hospital, who is chanting something inaudible and holding a knife above the struggling form of his own wife.
"Sign of a limited imagination," Ciel says and manages to hit the doctor square in the throat. His next bullet takes out a policeman, and the third skims the shoulder of another doctor, but by that time they've been spotted and are forced to abandon their position. Sebastian sets Ciel down on the floor and waits; Ciel waves a hand at him.
When Ciel had been sixteen years old he had gotten tired of being kidnapped all the time and asked Sebastian to teach him how to defend himself. That led to a series of excruciating weeks where Sebastian woke him up before dawn and proceeded to beat the piss out of him for half a day, leaving him aching and covered in bruises, irrationally aroused.
Elizabeth had seen them one sweltering summer morning, Ciel half-naked and Sebastian with his shirtsleeves rolled up, circling each other. Ciel had tried to rush Sebastian and ended up inscribing a graceful arc in the air when Sebastian caught his wrist and flipped him over. He'd hit the ground with a sudden thump, flat on his back—it hadn't even hurt, really, blinking up at the clear blue sky, but when he'd tried to take a breath he'd found he couldn't. All of the organs in his chest shocked into paralysis, mouth working in consternation, Sebastian leaning over him with his mouth crinkled in amusement.
"Up you go," Sebastian had said, pushing Ciel into a seated position and letting him gasp for a while before skimming his hands over Ciel's back to pick off the dry pieces of grass stuck to it.
"Are you sure that's," Elizabeth had said, touching Ciel's arm after, eyes huge, "safe?"
"Safer than the alternative," Ciel had snapped, angry with her incomprehension. He watched her shrink from him and didn't care, remembering the single bead of sweat sliding down Sebastian's face, adrenaline prickling underneath his skin, the heady rush of physicality.
"Perfectly safe," he says to the distraught wife on the altar, handing her his suit jacket to wrap herself in after he breaks the arm of the man impeding his path. "You'll be fine."
"My Lord," Sebastian says a beat later into the echoing stillness of the cavern.
"Come on then," Ciel says, and leads the way out.
For Ciel the parameters of intimacy have always been drawn in this way, bold and dark, harsh lines that dig grooves to border the parchment (contract) of his life. Dignity is the greatest lie, the futile rebellion against the injustice of living, the illusion of innate integrity in the face of it all.
With Sebastian at his side he watches the reunion of Mukta with the doctor's wife impassively, the way their thin arms wrap around each other, the pellucidity of their tears. People give up pieces of themselves in stages: first the name, then the body, then the final secret, the last revelation, the one that is no longer Ciel's to give. Sebastian has stripped him of this just as he has stripped him of everything else, but Ciel is not the type that is disposed to regret.
Mukta stands before them and bows, stiff-backed, from the waist, hands flat against each other like a prayer. "Namaste," she murmurs, and Ciel chokes down an inappropriate laugh.
"You are welcome," Sebastian says for him, pressing a hand to the small of his back to lead him away.
It is our environments that change us, for better or for worse, these circumstances into which we put ourselves. These are our choices and their consequences; sometimes it is the land, sometimes it is the people we gather around ourselves, sometimes it is the ideas we internalize and distort: for example a dozen years inside this human body makes
anger and lust and jealousy and everything that is so, so
In the end Ciel bows out of dinner with the captain and retreats to his own cabin to pour himself a generous tumbler of cognac. Sebastian follows a moment later, after Ciel has knocked back the first and filled a second to press against his aching temples.
"And how is my master feeling?" Sebastian murmurs into the darkness. When Ciel rolls his head around to fix him with an incredulous stare he's startled to feel Sebastian's bare hand on his cheek; he hadn't known Sebastian was so close. Sebastian grips Ciel's chin and turns it toward himself to study Ciel's features, no hint of anything on his own face, pupils wide in the dim light. Then his hand drops away and he drops to his knees like he has a thousand times before and starts unlacing Ciel's shoes.
When Ciel's feet are bare Sebastian lifts one into his lap and digs his thumb into the arch. Ciel groans, unable to help himself, and continues to make small, involuntary noises as Sebastian works over that foot and starts in on the other.
"What are you doing?" Ciel asks, flexing his toes. Sebastian looks up. The question hangs in the air between them, as do all the others, past unfurling in one direction and the future in the other, both curling around each other until they meet at this moment. This immediacy, the lightning shivers of sensation in Ciel's body and the black depths of Sebastian's eyes when Ciel brings his ring to his lips and decides to slide his foot along the inseam of Sebastian's trousers up to press against Sebastian's groin.
It is the newest resignation, and also the oldest. Sebastian smiles.