Chapter 6: a smooth round stone
In the softness of midnight, in another part of the house, Helen slept, and Jack, pacing outside her door, opened it and looked inside. There she was: dark hair tumbled over her shoulders, brow untroubled. He stepped up to the foot of the bed, then beside her, and hesitating rested a gloved finger before the fall of her breath. He may have stood there watching all night, but for the creaking steps in the hall, which bade him close the door and lock it, as though trying to protect what was within. Ciel Phantomhive was somewhere other than this place, and good riddance, but something cast a shadow of unease over Jack's heart.
In the kitchen, watching the deep lines of earth and sky, stones reaching upward to pierce its emptiness, was Sebastian.
"Waiting for his return, the loyal dog?" Jack said.
Sebastian turned, lit eyes somehow unaffected. "Watching," he said. "It's the time for those like us; the world opens now for an instant."
"A liminal hour, beckoning," Jack said. "But here we are, inside."
"Here we are," Sebastian said. He held his palms in a shrug.
"At least I have something waiting for me at the end of this humiliation," Jack hissed, suddenly angry. "You could have fought. You could have rallied tricks and powers at your side, but instead, this—I know your aptitude with poisons, Sebastian. Don't make me believe you couldn't have tried. And Phantomhive, all-unknowing, would suspect naught…" At last the old anger rose on the other's face, and Jack watched with smug anticipation, waiting for the canny mind, the truethought behind the placid calm.
"I know," Sebastian said at last, "that you think me diminished. I suppose I cannot argue with that, for it has some basis in fact. As to your accusations of cowardice and weakness: you're wrong. I have reasons of my own for staying; I don't regret what happened and it would do you well not to act as though it were you he had trapped."
"...I see," Jack said thinly. He turned aside.
Beyond the window, and the panes set within the door, a storm was rising.
The streets had been empty for months now; but for the few stray dogs, skulking from door to door, ribs beneath their hollow skin. The piles of bodies, the distorted limbs, and the emptiness where the rattle of carts and horses should have been, where so soon the street-hawkers had cried out the news, where then the peddlars and quacks had pushed forward their cure-alls and amulets to protect against the plague, where the holy men had spoken to the people, reminding them that if they were pious, they would suffer nobly. In the breeze a broken sign creaked in the eerie heat of noonday; inside, past the shutters that had long been boarded closed, in the few fitful strands of light that struck the floor with their spearpoint sharpness, she lay on the old bed. On the floor in the hall there were no more souls, but the bodies had been putrefying for weeks in the close environ. She woke, blinked up at the still darkness, considered getting up to forage among the still and empty streets for further souls, but even the thought of the glut of food available to her made her feel nauseous. She had succeeded: beyond her or any others wildest dreams; she might make herself a miser of sustenance forever. But the world seemed greater and more empty than before, and she was unsatisfied.
On the piles of unwashed bedclothes, a few fleas hopped, frenzied with hunger though their bellies were full. One came near to her, and made to fasten on her finger; but at the touch of her very skin it fell dead, and lay there, full of the poisoned blood; while the pinpoint on her finger knitted itself. She pulled the shadows over her like a blanket, until all the squalid details were removed from her eyes; and found herself unaccountably bereft.
There was a house by the cliffs. It had been there before, and now, in the early light that wove its way through the salt-breeze, over the chalk and, beyond that, the grasses, the house was there still. The trees' song still sang in the sturdy timbers between the plaster, strong and smooth with the fissures that showed its age. And up in the back room, with a gabled window, through the open shutters the breeze blew, and gently touched the skin of those who had curled beneath the quilt, reminding them that daybreak was near. Sebastian turned and looked upon his master, and brushed one hand across his silken hair, and murmured a soft hello at Ciel's sleepy, questioning glance.
"Were you dreaming?" Ciel said at last. "I thought I felt it, somewhere in my sleep."
"Of far away and long ago," Sebastian said.
Limb against limb, unwilling to admit wakefulness for a moment, they rested. Sebastian felt the beating of his master's heart and its steady pace brushed away those years like the sea over sand. It surprised him, then: the quietness. The way the air hinted at life. And when Ciel, at last, turned his face up and dissolved into the breeze, dancing its way through every corner, Sebastian reached out his darkness and joined the whirling abandon.
| ...yes. my lord. |
maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
its always ourselves we find in the sea
— e. e. cummings
[p.s. this story was inspired not just by the poem, but particularly by the song version of maggie and millie and molly and may, arranged and sung by Natalie Merchant, which you can find on youtube :)]
In the next story, "The Spider's Thread" [which you can get to from my profile] we see some of Ciel's pov in all this and discover what trouble he's about to cause next...