The horses whinnied and the carriage shook slightly as its wheels rumbled over the cobblestones of the street. Lady Lyn Harkeran, nineteen and poised, sat on the edge of her cushioned seat, gazing out the window on her right. Her dark chocolate eyes flicked back and forth as she watched the passersby and buildings shift just outside. Her butler sat across from her, slender, long-limbed, and otherworldly as ever. His ruby eyes rested on his mistress through his drifting locks of ebony and retained a neutral expression.
Lady Lyn’s fingers were currently wrapped tightly around the edges of a bundle of papers and trembled ever so slightly from excitement. Although she was attempting to contain it, her butler could see that she was internally quite preoccupied.
“Sebastian?” She asked softly, forcing her words to issue in measured tones.
“~Yes, my lady?”
“Do… Do you think people will like my story?” She inquired with slight worry. “Truly? Do you? I know you will be honest with me. Will people find it enjoyable?”
He blinked at her for a moment in silence, causing her to turn towards him with large, expectant eyes.
“~While I may not be the most reliable source of opinion for whether something is entertaining or otherwise, I believe that your story, while distinctive from others, conforms to the popular form of literature in this age,” he responded in his smooth tone of voice.
“Mmm, I hope so,” she replied. “It’s just that, now that the book is going to be published at long last, I thought I would be more relieved than this, but I seem to be just as nervous now as I was beforehand.”
A slight smirk appeared on Sebastian’s fine lips as he looked at his mistress with an amused expression.
“~My lady,” he began. “there is no reason for you to be so concerned. Also, you seem to be rather attached to preoccupying yourself with worry if you are so quick to leave one concern behind merely for the purpose of moving on to another. Do not let it trouble you, mistress. What will be shall come in its own time. There is very little you can do to alter that.”
She chuckled lightly and bowed her head for a moment. “I suppose you’re right… as usual. Where would I be without you, Sebastian?”
“~You know very well where, my lady,” he responded seriously.
Allowing her dark eyes to flick back up to his face, she let a miniscule sad smile spread her lips for a brief second before nodding gravely.
“Yes, I do,” she replied with gravity.
At this she allowed herself a small frown and gazed back out the window.
Recently, Sebastian had been casually answering her more or less rhetorical questions with things that purposefully reminded her of her pain-filled beginnings and, by extension, their grave contract. While he never mentioned the faustian-contract—as it was known—in so many words, she knew that he was quite aware of the memories he was awakening within her. Grinding her teeth slightly, she found that, despite this, she could not remain cross with him on several levels. Firstly because of her unrequited love for him, secondly because he never reminded her harshly, or ominously. Rather his reminders seemed to merely be attempts at preparing her so that it would not come as a shock when it was time for her end of the bargain to be fulfilled. Of course, there was a perfectly natural reason for all of this to be resurfacing now: her time was running out.
For the past six months, they had been in pursuit of and awaiting word of Lyn’s father who was still on the run. In addition to all of the crimes Mr. Harkeran had committed against his family, he had also killed three officers of the law during his escape and had attacked other civilians. All these things would undoubtedly land him at the hangman’s noose when he was finally caught, and thus would end the terms to Lyn’s contract with Sebastian. While Lyn agreed that her father should be caught and punished, she also did not particularly look forward to her death.
“Sebastian?” She began, still looking out the window. “What progress has been made in tracking down my father?”
He looked at her in surprise before closing his eyes with a bow of his head, his gloved hand covering his heart. “~A great deal of progress has been made, mistress. We are hot on his trail. I expect that we will have him in custody in three or four days’ time.”
“Excellent,” she said with a convincing tone, despite the amount of dread his words filled her with.
She turned her eyes out the window again and allowed her mind to empty.
With a whinny and a grind of wheels against gravel, the carriage came to a halt and effectively jolted the young woman out of her reverie. With a limber stature, Sebastian leaned forward, opened the carriage door, and got out first to extend an assisting hand to his lady. Accepting the gloved hand, Lyn lifted her skirts and exited the carriage.
Walking steadily towards her front door, her butler by her side, she gazed up at her manor with proud, sad eyes. Admiring the stone exterior and the beautiful designs set within it, she found herself wishing that she had had a chance to marry and have children who might’ve inherited her hard-earned estate.
“~Are you quite alright, my lady?” Sebastian inquired worriedly, noticing her woeful expression.
She said nothing but turned to him with a small smile and a brief nod. She wanted nothing more than to pour out her distress to him, but she knew that it would do neither him nor herself any good.
Later that evening after dinner, Lyn sat by a lovely warm fire in the parlor, a warm cup of tea in her hand. Gazing deeply into the flames, she contemplated the things in her life that troubled her and how to improve them. As unfortunate as it was, there were very few affairs of that nature which she could control. This in itself was troublesome.
Out of all the things that troubled her, however, there was one subject that was far more familiar than all the others: Sebastian. Yes, she still loved him. But there had been fairly recent changes made to the unreciprocated relationship. In the past year and a half—since Lyn had truly grasped that she had developed feelings for the butler—she had grown and in this time of growth, she had come to understand Sebastian a bit better by means of observation. Her most pivotal and vital realization so far had been the observation that, while Sebastian could only feel certain emotions—as it happens, love not being one of them—she found that he was acutely sensitive to them. Furthermore, he considered giving into an emotion—particularly one of sentiment or infatuation—to be a sign of a weak soul and diluted character.
Luckily she had discovered this through the butler’s reaction to someone else, not herself. As a result she had gone to great efforts to hide her love from him and replace it with actions he would appreciate: respect and stoicism. While this was of course not absolute, she did her best to speak his “love language.” Nevertheless, she still experienced a thrill at a brush of their hands or his whisper in her ear.
So she sat in her plush armchair, staring into the dancing flames and reviewing her thoughts like flashcards; she had memorized them by now, but like the diligent student she had been in her first few years under Sebastian’s tutorage, she reviewed them nonetheless.
With the softest of knocks, Lyn’s butler announced his entrance to the room and the door opened.
Speak of the devil, she mused in light humor, chuckling to herself at the literal double meaning.
“~My lady?” Sebastian addressed her in hushed tones as to not disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of the room.
“Yes?” She answered, correcting her posture and turning towards his handsome, imposing, dark figure. “Is there something wrong?”
“~No, mistress,” he answered with a bow of his head. “But it is 9:30, high time for you to retire for the evening.”
“Bed?!” She exclaimed incredulously. “What on earth for? I never go to bed this early! And my schedule is clear for the next few days, is it not?”
“~You are correct on all accounts, my lady. But you truly should get some sleep. The celebratory ball in honor of your publishing debut is in three day’s time and there are preparations to be made. As a result, I shall be waking you an hour earlier to allow for adequate time to complete those preparations.”
“What sort of… preparations, Sebastian?” She asked carefully.
“~I believe a variety of lessons in deportment are due, my lady,” he answered, smiling slightly.
“Deportment?!” Her eyes widened at this. “I thought you had already taught me sufficiently in that respect.”
“~As did I, my lady,” he responded.
Lyn’s mouth dropped open slightly at this and she pulled her head upright, regarding him cagily in amused surprise. Had Sebastian just gotten snarky with her? A small grin pulled at the corner of her mouth.
“~Nevertheless, mistress, there are some other things that I believe you may require assistance with in preparation for the ball such as your social interactions, the brief speech you will be expected to give, not to mention your dancing capabilities.”
“Dancing?!” She exclaimed.
“~Yes, dancing,” he replied. “We will begin tomorrow morning.” Extracting his pocket-watch from his coat, he opened it with a click and gave a tut at the position of the hands. “9:37. You should have been in bed two minutes ago, mistress. Please, do not delay any longer.”
“I-I’m not certain this is going to work out for the best, Sebastian!” Lyn stumbled through her sentence desperately as she followed the butler into the empty ballroom the next morning.
“~Why ever not, my lady?” He inquired.
“I-I just don’t think I’m going to be a very good dancer,” she explained, trying not to blush at the thought of Sebastian giving her dancing lessons. Standing in the middle of the ballroom floor, she fiddled with her hands awkwardly.
“~Mistress,” Sebastian began firmly. “You really mustn’t cut yourself short before you even begin. It is extremely bad practice to do so. Not only does it count as a possible lie but it also hinders your ability to augment your talents by setting a low expectation for yourself.”
She knew that he was correct, again, but as he closed the door, sealing them off from the rest of the house, and turned towards her, her nervousness increased tenfold.
“But… is it really necessary for me to learn to dance?”
“~My lady,” he began, stopping just in front of her. “I have escorted you to many balls since I began my duties as your butler, but I am yet to see you so much as pirouette. It will not do to have the hostess of such an occasion play wallflower, especially at your young age. Now, pay attention and place your hand upon my shoulder.”
With a nervous blush, she reached up and placed a gentle hand upon his strong, defined shoulder. Containing her inner exclamations when he gathered her fingers in his and his other hand firmly cupped her waist, she stared intently at the pin of the household insignia on his lapel, not wanting to look into his eyes.
Pulling her closer to him, the butler looked down at her sternly.
“~Mistress, try to maintain eye contact with me, please,” he prompted. As she hesitantly looked back up into his wine-red eyes, he continued, “Thank you. Now, in dancing, the most crucial element for the woman’s part is that she is able to follow her partner’s lead. This is to be the first part of our lesson.”
“What about the music?”
“~That will come in a moment. First we must evaluate your ability to follow my lead. Now follow, my lady.”
Slowly and gently, but firmly, Sebastian pushed Lyn backwards a single step, which she took with him. Then he repeated this process, stepping to her right, then pulling her forwards as he stepped backwards, then to the left, and finally backwards again. They had completed a square.
“~Excellent,” he complimented. “Again.”
Once more, they began with Lyn stepping backwards, then to her right, but then Lyn tried to anticipate which direction Sebastian was going to lead her, expecting him to step backwards. He did not, but stepped forwards instead, causing her face to collide with his solid chest abruptly. Sebastian stopped moving, but continued to hold her hand and waist. After a moment of utter embarrassment, Lyn raised her red face sheepishly up from his chest and gazed up into his beautiful eyes.
“I thought you were going to step backwards,” she explained unnecessarily, embarrassed.
“~So I gathered,” he responded with a slight smirk. “You began to predict where I was going to step. Don’t. Allow me to lead you, my lady. Depend entirely on my direction. Now, again.”
After a few more attempts and other more complicated steps, Lyn was following his lead a bit more comfortably. After a brief encouragement to his mistress, Sebastian released her, walked over to a record player and switched it on, causing the flowing sound of a waltz to fill the room. Then they danced to the three-step system of the waltz—much to Lyn’s chagrin—for four hours. At the end of this time, her feet were incredibly sore and, had it not been for her supportive corset, she would never have been able to maintain her posture. After twirling through the waltz for what must’ve been the 80th time, the young woman grew quite dizzy and sagged against her butler unashamedly.
“S-Sebastian,” she wheezed.
“~My lady?” He began in concern. “Are you alright? Why have you stopped dancing?”
“I’m so exhausted,” she replied weakly. “Can we please take a rest? We’ve been at it for hours.”
He was silent for a moment as he considered this. “~Well, I suppose. I merely wanted to be sure that you have mastered the waltz.”
“In one day?” She asked incredulously.
“~We have a great deal to cover in the course of these next three days, my lady.” He actually looked a bit mournful as he gazed down at her for a moment. “But I do not want to push you too hard, mistress. We’re through dancing for today.” She sighed in gratitude. “But we will resume on the morrow.” She groaned.
True to his word, Sebastian woke his mistress bright and early the next morning to drag her back to the ballroom for another four hours. When Lyn had climbed out of bed to greet the day, all she could think was that this was just another grain in the hourglass that was slipping away. If she thought that it was within Sebastian’s powers to stop time or at least slow its passing, she would have ordered him to do so. Unfortunately, she reasoned that that power rested with the creator of time alone. Still, if anything seemed to slow time down, it was her long dancing lessons which exhausted her to no end.
Despite the aching soreness in her muscles, Lyn managed to keep pace with Sebastian as he led her through the Viennese Waltz, the Quadrille, and the Slow Waltz as well as learn them fairly well. She tried to conceal her nervousness at being held so close to her beloved butler for the second day in a row, but as she went on to develop an instinct for the footwork and was not required to focus so hard, she found herself becoming quite preoccupied with Sebastian. It was fairly well concealed, until she tripped over her own feet a bit, to which Sebastian responded with a scolding.
“~You are distracted, my lady. Focus.”
With a blush and an agreeing nod, she returned her attention back to her footwork and cursed her lovesick mind for wandering.
After they had finished her dancing lesson and eaten lunch, Sebastian moved on to review her basic lessons of deportment with her, which she truthfully did not need, but did not argue against.
As she idly listened to the butler rattle on about things which she had committed to memory long ago, she found herself gazing at his neutral face.
She wondered why he was going over all these things with her. Surely there was no need for her to recall all of it for the ball, was there?
As he went through the proper phrases to use with guests at afternoon tea, Lyn looked at him with a plainly skeptical expression, which, upon turning around to face her, he noticed.
Pausing in his long litany of instructions, he adjusted his reading glasses and gazed down at her where she sat.
“~Is there something amiss, my lady?” He inquired.
“Sebastian,” she began, the skepticism ringing true in her voice. “This instruction can’t possibly be for the ball in three days’ time, can it? There will be no afternoon tea served there, seeing as how the event takes place at night.”
“~You are correct, mistress.”
“Then why on earth are you making me relearn this now?” She inquired.
He hesitated for the briefest of seconds. “~My lady, I am instructing you in these proper forms of educate for events in the future for which you might require them.”
She stared at him blankly for a moment. “Alright, fine. But why now?”
“~Because, there is no time like the present. The present is all we have,” he stated gravely.
She sighed, recognizing his repeated indication of her hourglass, of the sand streaming through her fingers, and of her approaching seal of the contract. With a sad shake of her head, she banished her angst and returned her eyes to her butler’s face.
“Very well,” she replied. “Carry on.”
From then on and into the next day, she listened to him attentively and followed his lead entirely. She did not want to ask any more questions. She didn’t want his answers to remind her of her troubles. All she wanted was to live and concentrating on her death would not allow her to do that.
The night before the day of the ball, after Sebastian had ensured that his mistress was in her bed and had left her to sleep, Lyn lay awake, thinking. True, it was something she felt she had done far too much of recently, but nevertheless, she found herself turning back to introspection at the end of every day.
This particular day had been a hard one. Oh, how her feet, mind, and back ached! She had learned four more types of dances with Sebastian, one variety for each hour of practice plus an extra half hour of review, she had composed and memorized the short speech she was to give, as well as listened to all of the butler’s superfluous lessons concerning things she would not be required to use in the near future. It had been a long, tiring day.
Yet, despite just how tediously eternal it had seemed at the time, her existence seemed far slower now as she lay in her bed, her muscles relaxing after the Epsom-salt bath she had taken before retiring.
She closed her eyes to let them rest, but she knew she would not sleep. Her mind was crammed with thoughts, her heart laden with emotions, and her soul shadowed with existential dread. Nevertheless, she tried to keep her eyes closed.
Her father… The contract… Time running out… Sebastian…
She grimaced and slid her hands over her ears, even though she knew that would not shut out the thoughts raining down inside her head like a volley of arrows. Throwing her coverlets aside in frustration, she sat up in her bed and allowed the moonlight falling through the window to cascade over her. Breathing slowly several times, she attempted to let the silvery light around her soak up her thoughts like a sponge. Unfortunately, the moonlight did not absorb her thoughts, but instead merely move them around.
Sebastian said that he might be found in three or four days’ time, she thought to herself. So soon… Why so soon? Once they found him, she knew what would be completed soon after…
Why the blazes didn’t her twelve-year-old self consider that she might not want to give up her life and soul to a demon? She questioned herself, frustrated at her past stupidity. Surely, any existence would be better than the one she lived in now! One filled with regret of the past, anxiety of the present, and dread of the future.
It was then that she remembered just why she had made the pact with Sebastian. All of her days had been filled with supreme suffering, neglect, isolation, and rejection. She had been young, frightened, alone, and weak.
No, she decided. That existence felt far worse. Besides, had I never formed the contract with Sebastian, I would never have known what it was like to be treated with gentleness. I would never have discovered the sublime pain of falling in love with him, my lovely Sebastian.
For too many reasons to number, the thought of the handsome devil brought tears to Lyn’s eyes. Laying herself back down on her bed and snuggling deep in to the warm blankets, she felt herself grow tired and woeful.
Numerous things about Sebastian made her mournful, many of which she had never really taken the time to pinpoint. But the foremost reasons finally began to surface in her mind.
It was truly tragic that the man she loved most was the one destined to end her life and devour her soul. Indeed, it was almost worthy of a story, a tragedy. But the most painful thing was that she would never allow herself to express her affection.
Letting a single emotion soaked tear trail down the curve of her cheek as she rolled over, she closed her eyes and fell into an empty slumber.
The next day as the ball began, Lyn stood in a lovely dress of black, which shimmered with a deep, royal purple overlay. Her heart was considerably lighter thanks to the distraction of having to be sociable. She had given her brief speech and had greeted all of the guests personally, thanking them for coming, as was proper. Her posture was erect and poised. She had even danced several times with little to no mistakes or complications. For now, however, she was standing on the side, within arm’s reach of the food. Lyn had decided long ago that by the food table was the best place to be during a party or even of any sort.
As she snacked lightly on the delicious hors d’oeuvres, she looked about the room, taking in the colorful swirl of women’s skirts and the contrasting figures of their partners in the monochrome suits. Everything was lovely, but there was something missing. Everyone seemed quite happy, except her.
As she allowed her attention to stray from the social activities of the ball, she felt all of her anxiety and dread rush back to her. She sighed tiredly.
Everything was moving so quickly here. The quick-stepping feet, the spinning figures, the music, the blur of colors… it was all so fast. It all seemed to make her more aware of her time, running like sand through her fingers. Closing her eyes for a moment, she tried to block everything out.
Then she was startled by a gentle hand closing around her arm. Turning abruptly, she looked up into familiar red eyes.
“~My lady?” Sebastian looked down at her with a strange expression on his face, like there was a vapory ghost of sorrow beneath that emotionless mask he wore.
With those two words, time slowed around her and Lyn knew just what had been missing.
“Sebastian,” she said softly with a slight smile. “Where have you been? I looked for you.”
He looked slightly pained for a brief moment. “~I apologize for inconveniencing you, my lady,” he began, before motioning to his appearance with an illustrative swipe of his hand. “I was making myself more presentable, as a butler should.”
She cocked her head slightly in confusion. Sebastian was always presentable. Though, as she surveyed his attire, she felt a slight warmth rise in her cheeks. Sebastian looked more than presentable.
He was wearing a fitted, almost regal tailcoat, a perfectly starched collared shirt, and had replaced his usual necktie with a rather fetching cravat, to which the household insignia was pinned.
“I-I see,” she answered at last.
“~My lady,” the handsome butler began. “Why are you not dancing? I was of the belief that I had cured you of the desire to play wallflower through my dancing lessons.”
“Oh, I have been dancing, Sebastian,” she replied. “It’s just that no one has extended the invitation for a while.”
“~Well then,” he started, taking a small step away from her, he bowed and offered her his hand. “Would you care to dance, mistress?”
She looked up at him in surprise. “W-Well, yes! Certainly!”
Just as she had done during her dancing lessons for the past three days, she took his hand and shoulder, and he took her waist and pulled her into a waltz. Instantly, she became nervous and looked down at her feet to watch her footing, making certain she got every step correct. But she started ever so slightly when Sebastian leaned forward with a chuckle and whispered into her ear.
“~I won’t be critiquing your footwork, my lady,” he informed her softly, his warm breath on her ear causing a pleasant tingle on her neck. “Not now. Lift your eyes to mine and enjoy the dance.”
With an inner blush, she felt that he was speaking a bit softer to her than usual and, as she complied, looking into his eyes, he gave a hint of a smile.
“~There you are, mistress,” he said softly.
As the two figures swirled in a three-step pattern rotation around the room, Lyn blushed mildly, containing just how much she was enjoying her casual dance with her butler. After a moment, however, she noticed that Sebastian was gazing down at her with an ever so slightly mournful expression. After a moment more, he spoke.
“~What say you to a turn in the garden, my lady?” He inquired. “The moon is full and there is something I need to tell you.”
Curious and slightly confused, she looked up at him with wondering gaze. “Certainly, if you’d like,” she answered.
With smooth steps, Sebastian waltzed her over to the open doors of the balcony and out into the moonlit garden, where they were quite alone. As the music from inside faded, Sebastian stopped dancing and loosened his hold on his young mistress, although they still stood quite close.
“What is it that you wanted to tell me, Sebastian?” She inquired, gazing up into his blood-red eyes.
“~My lady,” he kneeled in the grass just in front of her hem, his raven head bowed, and a gloved hand over his heart. “I am utterly mortified.”
She panicked for a moment, thinking that she had done something wrong.
“Wh-What do you mean?” She stuttered worriedly.
“~I have committed a horrid crime against my noble stations both as a demon of my word as well as a butler and against you, my mistress,” he stated forlornly. Raising his face, he looked up into the young woman’s dark eyes. “I have lied to you.”
She cocked her head in confusion and looked down at him. She was thoroughly surprised.
“What? Whatever about?”
“~My lady,” he began slowly, “your father has been dead for two weeks.”
Her eyes’ size grew exponentially. “What?!”
“~Indeed, my lady. I apologize profoundly. I should never have kept such knowledge from you, seeing as how so much was affected by this event. I took the situation into my own hands and did not inform you of his death in light of the joyous occasion of your book being published. I did not want to take that joy from you. Perhaps this was wrong of me and so I am supremely mortified.” He bowed his head again.
Lyn’s mind spun with blurred thoughts as they erupted in her mind.
Her father was dead. He had served his sentence. This meant that the contract was practically completed, save for her contribution…
But Sebastian had chosen not to tell her for two weeks. He had been uncharacteristically generous… Did that mean that this was where her life was to end? In her own garden, bathed in moonlight, this very night?
Forcing herself to choke down all of these rapid-fire realizations, she swallowed hard and inhaled shakily, composing herself. Looking back down at Sebastian’s kneeling form, she parted her lips slightly and managed to let loose a whisper.
“H-How did it happen?” She asked.
“~I believe he was intoxicated, my lady. I found him, myself, washed up on the bank of the Thames River, quite drowned.”
“I see…” She trailed off.
“~I’m sorry, my lady. I have failed you utterly.”
“No, Sebastian. You have not. You were very thoughtful and generous by allowing me to have two more weeks of a relatively peaceful life. You have kept your word quite well and have served me well as my butler, just as you promised.” She was silent for a moment as she collected herself and accepted her fate. Her eyes were slightly misty. “You made your promise to me seven years ago, just as I made my promise to you. You have kept yours well and I know that it is time for me to fulfill mine.”
He noticed the tone in her voice and pulled his face up to see her eyes downcast and her face grim and resigned. Her voice had held the sound of someone drawing something to a close. Unbidden, he stood up before her and lifted her chin before placing his hand over his heart.
“~My lady,” he began, staring deeply into her eyes with his neutral expression. “You have proved to be one of the most intriguing, vibrant, and staunchly-seasoned souls I have ever had the privilege of serving. You have risen so much higher from your original station when I first encountered you. I have watched you mold yourself from a weak child into a fully bloomed, strong woman. And now, holding yourself firm to the promise you’ve made without showing fear, charging willingly into the abyss at a dignified pace, now reconfirms your beautiful resilience of character.” He observed his mistress’ eyes as they grew large and glassy at his compliments. At this he smiled a genuine smile. “Your soul must be such a sublime dish.”
A fearful tingle running up her spine, she shook it off and straightened her shoulders, giving him an accepting—but by no means submissive—nod.
“I will not struggle,” she stated, taking the smallest of steps closer to him. “I made this fate for myself long ago. You gave your service to me, now I give myself to you.”
She closed her eyes.
Gazing at her with a starved look in his eyes, which flashed in a glowing shade of magenta for a moment, his mouth opened hungrily and he automatically let his hand move for her face. Almost instantly, however, he flinched, sighed, and lowered his gaze, allowing his hunger to dissapate.
“~No, my lady.”
Her eyes snapped open and she stared up at him in shock and confusion.
“What do you mean?” She asked hurriedly.
“~I did not fulfill your orders. You commanded me to capture your father and make him answer to justice at the hands of the authorities. I did neither. I have not fulfilled my clauses of our contract and it is no longer in my power to fulfill them. I cannot resurrect the dead. Also, from the very initiation of our contract, you stated that you wished to know what it was to truly live with no limitations. In truth, living under the weight of a demonic contract is not living. Therefore, I have also denied you that. Therefore,” he lowered his eyes and Lyn’s heart began racing in both joy and tremendous sorrow as she realized what he was saying. “I have failed you in this contract and shall release you from it.”
The grains in the hourglass halted as they fell and she stared at him in utter stupefaction. Her lips parted as she kept her eyes locked with his, but she found she could say nothing. She longed to exclaim aloud that she wouldn’t stand to be parted from him, Sebastian, her butler. But who in their right mind would stop a demon from breaking off their soul-binding contract? Breathing hard, she gazed up into his eyes and found her vision obscured by a film of tears.
“You knew…” She said softly, struggling not to weep. “The past few weeks, you knew that you were going to release me.”
Her lower lip trembled as she suddenly began to recall things Sebastian had done and said in the past three days, which made all too much sense now.
“~We have a great deal to cover in the course of these next three days, my lady.”
“~My lady, I am instructing you in these proper forms of educate for events in the future for which you might require them.”
“~…There is no time like the present. The present is all we have.”
“You knew,” she said again, a tear running down her face. “So you were preparing me for when you wouldn’t be here to assist me.”
He bowed his head slightly.
“~Indeed, mistress.” Lifting his head, he met her eyes with a hint of regret and continued gently, “As my last request as your butler, please remember what I have taught you, my lady. If you do that as well as maintain your vibrancy of spirit, I have no doubts that you will succeed in this world.”
She drew in a shaky breath and nodded.
“Of course, Sebastian.”
There was a pause as Sebastian allowed his mistress to collect herself for a moment. After she had wiped away her tears and met his eyes again, he gazed into the dark windows of her soul.
“~It is time,” he said more to himself than anyone else.
Raising his left hand to his mouth, Sebastian slowly pulled the glove from his hand with his teeth, exposing the demonic symbol on his skin. Then after removing the glove from his mouth, he gathered his mistress’ fingers in his and held them tenderly. Keeping his wine-red eyes downcast, he gently kissed her knuckles, allowing his lips to linger a few seconds more than was customary.
“~My lady,” he whispered one last time.
These two words brought a teary smile to Lyn’s eyes.
“My Sebastian,” she answered softly.
Hearing her say this caused his eyebrows to pinch together slightly in a forlorn expression. Then, turning her hand so that her palm faced upwards, he lowered his lips to the purple seal that he had placed on her skin so long ago and kissed it attentively.
Surprised at his method of removing her seal but content with the feeling of his mouth against her cupped hand and his soft breaths against her skin, Lyn closed her eyes.
Every second that Sebastian held his lips against the seal, it faded away, replacing the purple lines and circles with the smooth tone of her skin. The moment he pulled his mouth away, it was gone, as was the bond of their contract.
The hourglass shattered for Lyn and, gasping as her eyes flew open, she felt the weight of every grain of sand fall away. She felt unexpectedly free, as though she had been carrying a burden to which she had grown accustomed and therefore paid no mind to.
As Sebastian lifted his eyes to the woman’s, his red orbs were veiled with a sheer layer of sorrow. Lyn gazed into his eyes and, despite her newfound sense of joyous freedom, she felt sadness drop back into her heart. He was no longer her butler, he was merely a demon. She expected him to simply leave, but, as the sound of music streamed out into the garden from the ball, he surprised her by taking a firm but non-aggressive step forward and pulling her against him as he began to lead her in a dance. He had not even asked; he did not need to anymore.
“~Once more dance before I leave you,” he stated softly. “Just one more, Lyn.”
As she was held against him in the moonlight, Lyn—although she had initially been surprised—laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes. She would never have believed that Sebastian would ever be dancing with her like this, so close, and she wanted nothing more than to suspend her disbelief and dance. So she did.
Sebastian’s eyes closed as well as he felt the form of the human he was holding against his strong body. Her soft hair rested against his chest and the tender skin of her hand was—for once—bare against his. Opening his blood eyes, he looked to the silvery glow of the moon as they danced slowly underneath it.
When had this happened? When had he come to want this? The simple feeling of being with his lady? How had she awakened this desire within him?
He considered her and everything she had ever done that he had found to be praiseworthy and found himself regarding each event or trait with a certain… fondness.
For her to have started out so low and to have risen so high displayed a remarkable degree of strength within her. She had also developed a tenacious sense of pride and dignity, which she kept well-guarded at all times. Furthermore, it had always amazed him that, despite her dark background of torment, cruelty, and pain, as well as her choice of making a deal with a demon, she had shielded her stories from such darkness. All of this fascinated him, but none of these things intrigued him nearly as much as her gentle disposition. Despite her initial mistreatment, she had chosen to be kind. All of these things made her markedly different from his last master and he had found her quite refreshing as a result.
However, somewhere along the course of their relationship, she had become more than simply refreshing to him. She had earned his respect and favor. He let the corners of his mouth jerk upwards in a silent chuckle. Evidently, he had also earned her love.
Yes, he had known of her affections for a some time and it had impressed him even moreso that she had known that displaying her affection would be improper and unfruitful. Also, the fact that she was actually able to conceal her love and keep her emotions in check in his presence caused him to appreciate her all the more.
As the music from the ballroom ceased, he stopped dancing and pulled away from Lyn, allowing him to raise her face with a gentle finger. He gazed down into her dark eyes, which held so much love for him, far more than she had ever allowed herself to display. Neither of them uttered a sound.
It was truly unfortunate that he was no longer able to feel whole, unadulterated love. Her love for him was so strong, so silent, and all in return for the gentleness he had shown her out of duty. It was such a rueful shame. A spark of true regret flicked in his dead heart and he pulled a tender frown.
Leaning down to her lips, he slowly brushed his mouth against hers. At this unexpected but welcome action, her eyes fluttered closed once again.
He knew he could not love her, but he did care and would leave her with something of comfort she would hold onto. In whatever part of a human heart he had left, he knew that had he ever been able to love anyone, it would’ve been her.
When his lips left hers and Lyn’s eyes opened, she was alone in the moonlight, but the feeling of his lips on hers was still fresh and she found that it did comfort her, despite her tears.