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A Different Shade of Black

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A butler must be prepared to shoulder a whole host of duties for his master. However, when he first formed his current contract, Sebastian could not possibly have predicted that these duties would include entertaining a two-year-old girl. Little Rachel Angelina was lively and spirited as could be. An adventurous soul, she followed her parents wherever they went, which sometimes led to her scampering after her father into his study. The Earl loved his daughter, but alas, parenthood did not waive his numerous obligations as the Queen’s Watchdog and head of the Funtom Company. Therefore, in order to keep the Phantomhive child occupied while his master toiled at his desk, Sebastian was often tasked with playing with her in the Earl’s study.

“Look, ‘Bastian!” Miss Rachel chirped, proudly holding up a picture for his inspection. Her childish tongue couldn’t quite wrap itself around the demon’s full alias, rechristening him as “Bastian.” In days gone by, Sebastian would have taken considerable umbrage at such familiarity (he was numbered among hell’s gentry, after all), but this sobriquet never rankled when uttered by the girl’s sweet voice.

“Now, what have we here?” Sebastian inquired, putting a hand to his chin and examining the young mistress’s masterpiece. It was a rendering of the Phantomhive household, though Miss Rachel had taken her fair share of artistic liberties with their appearances. Sebastian thought he could recognize Bardroy, Mey Rin, and Finian, along with a pale, silvery blob holding a mug of tea that was presumably Tanaka. The young mistress had drawn herself off to the side, with her parents at her right. To her left stood a thin, black figure, towering over the other people in the picture, that held the young mistress’s hand.

“Ah, that must be me,” Sebastian nodded sagaciously. “But I think you’ve depicted me a tad taller than I actually am, Miss Rachel.”

“’Cause Bastian is reaaally important!” Miss Rachel informed him.

Sebastian heard a snort of laughter from the Earl. “It seems that my butler has supplanted me in my daughter’s estimation,” the Queen’s Watchdog sighed in feigned melancholy.

“Well, I am one hell of a butler, after all,” Sebastian quipped, looking over his shoulder and shooting a smirk in his master’s direction. “I’d say the young mistress’s powers of discernment are highly refined despite her tender years.”

“You’re as awful as your puns, Sebastian,” the Earl sighed, but he couldn’t hide an affectionate smile.

“And Bastian holding Wachel’s hand!” the little girl added, impatiently drawing Sebastian’s attention back to her scribbled artwork. “’Cause Bastian an’ Wachel are best fwends!”

An odd pang went through the demon’s chest. If not held in place by the bounds of decorum, Sebastian would have hugged her tight. Instead, he put a gloved hand on her head.

“You will always have a friend in your butler, Miss Rachel,” he solemnly vowed, mesmerized by this pint-sized human who viewed him not as a foul creature from the depths of Abadon but as a cherished companion. For a moment, the scratch of the Earl’s pen slowed. Was his master still listening to their exchange?

Miss Rachel grinned. Abandoning her artistic endeavors, she stretched out her pudgy arms towards him. “Want up, Bastian. Horsey!” The young mistress loved riding on Sebastian’s shoulders while he towed her around the estate, playing the role of noble steed.

“Now, we mustn’t disturb your father, young mistress—”

“It’s not a bother,” the Earl assured him in a voice that was uncommonly soft.

“Very well, then. Off we go, young mistress!” With that, Sebastian swung the child onto his shoulders, eyes crinkling at her excited squeals. “More faster, Bastian!” Miss Rachel commanded, drumming her heels into his chest impatiently. If his master had made such a glaring grammatical error in their contract’s early days, Sebastian would have brought the fun and games to a halt to give a didactic lecture on proper use of the English language. Now, he barely noticed. The young mistress’s laughter was his highest priority. With devilish grace, he danced around the room, though he took precautions not to unseat his precious cargo. A final leap brought Sebastian to the Earl’s desk, and, with the greatest of care, Sebastian lifted the girl and spun her around so that they were face-to-face.

“Bastian!” the blonde toddler gurgled in delight, grabbing a fistful of the demon’s bangs in her chubby, dimpled hand.

“Go easy on him, Rachel,” the Earl laughed, paperwork forgone as he watched Sebastian and his tiny charge with a smile. “We Phantomhives must treat our servants graciously.”

“It’s no trouble, my lord,” Sebastian said, gazing with unmitigated fondness at little Miss Rachel. Her joyous grin and sparkling blue eyes filled him with a fierce tenderness that surpassed even his immense affection for cats. Holding the earl’s firstborn daughter gently, Sebastian reflected that he would face any enemy without question to protect this golden kitten.

“Would you like to visit your papa, young mistress?” he asked. Though the Queen’s Watchdog was inscrutable to most mortals, Sebastian could read him like a penny dreadful. The Earl adored his daughter, and the demon could tell that he would find Miss Rachel much more amenable company than those reams of uncompleted documents.

“Uh-huh!” the young mistress nodded, making her flaxen ringlets bounce. Sebastian passed her to the Earl, who dandled the girl on his knee and smiled at her. Not the conniving sneer that crossed his face when plotting an enemy’s downfall, but a true smile, lending light to a heavenly blue eye that had once looked upon the world with darkest despair.

He’s changed so, Sebastian thought to himself. The gloomy, broken boy whose delicate frame seemed animated solely by a thirst for vengeance had grown into a confident young man who, despite the tribulations he had endured, embraced life with the bittersweet joy that only transient creatures such as humans can know. His soul was no longer flavored with the sin and suffering that would have made it an incomparable feast if Sebastian had claimed it when the Earl obtained his revenge. Yet the sight of the master he had raised to adulthood playing contentedly with a child of his own…well, the demon didn’t regret his decision.

“Wachel loves Papa!” the young mistress declared, flinging her stubby arms around the Earl’s midriff as far as they would reach. The Watchdog returned the hug, stroking her fair locks. After a few seconds, the child squirmed around and turned to reach for the butler.

“Yes, young mistress?” Sebastian asked, kneeling so that he was on the same level as she. Mistress Rachel stood on tiptoe (compelling the Earl to hastily grab her to prevent an importune tumble to the ground) and hugged Sebastian’s neck. For good measure, she bestowed a kiss on his cheek with a loud “Mwah!”

“But Wachel loves Bastian lots an’ lots!”

A second pang went through him. The arrogant, insouciant demon who had forged a contract with a ten-year-old Earl one fateful night would have derided such innocent sincerity. Now, he cherished it.

“Hmph!” his master sniffed. “That’s because you get to play the doting grandparent. Between you and Lizzy, Rachel would have no discipline if not for me.”

“Grandparent? The way my kind rate such things, I am not that old, master,” the demon protested, trying to hide the inexplicable warmth he felt at being referred to as a family member despite his status as a mere servant. “Besides, it wouldn’t be aesthetic to make this kitten unhappy, and I am not the sort of demon to readily violate the aesthetic.”

“Whatever you say,” the Earl replied archly, though there was a twinkle in his eye as he returned the young mistress to her beloved “Bastian.”

Immortals did not stand completely aloof from the forces of change. The antediluvian fiend had been shrouded in darkness for centuries. He was the infinite black of the collapsar, from which no light can escape. At least, he had been. But black can comfort just as readily as it can devour. For his master and young mistress, Sebastian had become the protective shadow that vanquished their foes, the holy darkness that kept watch while they slumbered. As the Phantomhive butler cradled his tiny charge, he reflected that the love of this family—his family—had turned him a different shade of black.