Author's Note: This jumped into my head and wouldn't leave me alone... it would have been finished sooner if my computer hadn't decided to go totally freakin' crazy. As it is my email isn't working and I'll have to try and set it up on another PC... bugger.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters and make no profit from using them. Although the stress I went through when I thought this whole damn story was lost after my PC crashed should earn me karmic brownie points for not punching my hand through my screen.
“Alright, I’m here. What do you want?”
“IS THAT ANYWAY TO GREET YOUR GRANDFATHER?
Susan, Duchess of Sto-Helit, schoolteacher, and incidentally, Death’s granddaughter, sighed.
He led her to his study –Death had no truck with a sitting room- and they settled down for a nice cup of tea. Right, she thought, best get on with it then.
They started with small talk, or tried to at least. She really did care for him, but despite her best efforts –as well as his, no doubt- they always had nothing inconsequential to talk about. They could talk about the weather and it would somehow turn into a big row about him involving her in his latest effort to save the mortal races from some or other peril, again. It was infuriating, as well as nerve wracking.
It wasn’t so much that he involved her at all; she quite liked the world, well... some of it was alright, and the people were… tolerable. She just wished, and she would deny this even under torture, that he would come visit her just to see how she was doing. But then, she could just as easily visit him…
She fidgeted with her black silk dress, and tried to ignore the fact that her carefully styled hair was unraveling itself and knotting itself into a prim schoolteacher’s bun. Something that the long blond-white strands, with a single black streak, only did when she was feeling especially nervous. She was only glad the Death of Rats and his raven were absent. Their presence always managed to grate across her nerves like sandpaper.
“I HAVE CALLED YOU HEAR TODAY SUSAN, BECAUSE I HAVE AN INTERESTING PROPOSITION FOR YOU.
” Susan muttered, darkly.
“Nothing,” Susan sighed, “Who or what needs saving this time that you can’t do yourself for some reason?”
Death grinned at his granddaughter, and asked, “ACTUALLY, I WAS WONDERING IF YOU WOULD LIKE A HOLIDAY?
Susan sat staring at him, a cup of tea frozen halfway to her lips. She set it down on the saucer, and stared at him some more. He fidgeted slightly, not quite understanding what her problem was. That was the problem of course. He tried so hard to understand humans and the other mortal races, their little quirks and absurdities, but he never could. He always was, and always would be an outsider looking in.
Much like a child would observe adults and then imitate a tea-party, completely missing the point of the meeting, and the serious talk which accompanied it. A holiday… she considered it for but a second before deciding it was too good to be true.
“Will I, in any shape or form, coincidentally, need to perform your Duties while I am on this holiday? And if I was not available would you have been forced to go on this 'holiday' yourself?” she asked.
Death looked uncomfortable, “ERM… MAYBE?
Death tried the truth this time, “IT IS NOT AS BAD AS YOU THINK, YOU WILL ONLY HAVE TO DO THREE, PERHAPS FOUR AT THE MOST. THE REST OF THE TIME YOU WILL SPEND…THERE, WILL BE YOURS TO DO WITH AS YOU PLEASE. AND I ASSURE YOU THAT TIME WILL BE CONSIDERABLE. THINK OF ALL THE FUN YOU COULD HAVE.
Susan sighed yet again, and rubbed at her temples, trying to soothe the headache she could feel forming, “Look, I know you mean well, and I can actually think of all the fun I would have and I’m not impressed. Everyone everywhere is the same, the bodies change shape but the minds stay the same and they’re all mostly very dull
. As for the enjoying the scenery, there isn’t a part of the disc I haven’t been to, thanks to you. And also thanks to you and your unique
memory, I can remember it all as if it was just yesterday… or possibly tomorrow
She winced as the headache intensified slightly, but Death had existed since time began, and he was patient, and wasn’t about to let something like ‘no’ stop him.
“I BELIEVE I COULD NOT HAVE SAID IT BETTER MYSELF.
Susan looked at him, perplexed.
“THERE IS INDEED, NO PART OF THE DISC, YOU HAVE NOT YET BEEN TO.
Susan picked up the subtle emphasis immediately, and demanded, “What are you on about?”
“PERHAPS IT IS BEST IF I SHOW YOU,
” Death answered, and rose from his chair.
Susan followed as he led the way out of his study, and with long practice managed to ignore the conflicting messages all her senses were telling her about every room in they passed. Every room was infinitely big, and yet, just there, was the door. Normal humans simply ignored the impossible dimensions, and it never ceased to fascinate Death how Albert, his manservant, managed to cross several square miles of carpet in only a few steps.
The carpet, as was almost every single object not brought in from the outside world, was decorated in a black and white, skull and bones pattern. Death really tried, but he lacked imagination.
Eventually they reached a part of the house which Susan had never seen before. A deep buried and suspicious part of her mind wondered if it had always been here, or if it had sprung into existence just now when Death needed it. It was a gallery, of sorts. Seven portraits hung against the wall, and from the similarities she could see, pale skin and dark hair, it was of a single family. She could only see a few of their eyes, but her ‘inherited’ memory told her that the majority had an eye color best described as ‘strange.’
She took a moment to curse her memory then; being mostly human there was no way her mind could safely accommodate Death’s special knowledge of all things past and most things yet to be, which meant she would get flashes of knowledge which nevertheless turned out to be mostly useless, as they were so cryptic as to only make sense after they had already occurred. It happened again after they passed the first portrait of the seven.
It was empty, showing only the landscape in front of which each member sat, but it was almost as if whoever was supposed to be in the portrait had got up and left. She again had the feeling she knew why he was missing, but the knowledge slipped from her mind before she could fully grasp it. Death stopped in front of the second portrait, and Susan almost collided with him, too absorbed in her own thoughts.
Embarrassed, she turned her attention to the portrait, and was pleasantly surprised. A pretty young woman looked out at them, dressed in a gown very much like Susan’s own, if a few decades out of date. Her eyes were almost completely human, if slightly darker than would be normal, and unlike the other portraits Susan had glimpsed, they held a twinkle of good humor in them, as if she was fighting off a smile.
Death reached into his black robe and produced from some hidden fold an ivory object carved into a symbol Susan recognized as an Ankh, which represented life in some religion or other. He cleared his throat, and when he spoke it was with a kind of formality.
“DEATH OF THE ENDLESS, I STAND IN MY GALLERY AND HOLD YOUR SIGIL. I WOULD HAVE AN AUDIENCE WITH YOU, DO YOU ACCEPT?
The portrait seemed to ripple, and a pale and slender hand reached out of the very canvas. Death reached out with a skeletal hand of his own, and helped the young woman as she stepped out of the picture. Susan noticed that she was not dressed the same as in the portrait, but instead wore a pair of black trousers which were almost indecently tight, and made of a material Susan could not immediately recognize. Her top was also black, and if anything even tighter than her pants.
She wore an almost ridiculous amount of bangles and wrist chains, so much so, that Susan imagined she would make almost as much of a racket as a dwarf, in full chainmail and battle-axe ‘street-dress’, when she walked. Her ears contained more studs and earrings than Susan suspected she owned, and except for a teardrop painted on her cheek, she wore no makeup. She also wore a gold version of the Ankh symbol Death had used to summon her on a chain around her neck.
Despite herself, Susan immediately liked the woman. The woman grinned, looked up at Death and said, “Heya Sticks, how’re you doing?”
“I AM HONORED AND PLEASED YOU AGREED TO MEET WITH ME, LADY DEATH,
” he replied, formally.
She immediately waved it off, “Oh don’t start with that ‘Lady Death’ nonsense again. I told you before, you can call me Deedee,” she replied, still smiling.
She glanced at Susan then, and after a few seconds had passed, to her surprise gave Death a solid thump against his head, eliciting a noise normally made by coconuts, “You big oaf! You’re worse than my brother, I swear. No manners to speak of!” Death looked confused, and Deedee rolled her eyes then glanced, tellingly, in Susan’s direction.
He looked chagrined for a second, but then recovered and introduced Susan to the still smiling woman, “MY APOLOGIES, DEEDEE; THIS IS SUSAN, MY GRANDDAUGHTER. SUSAN, THIS IS THE DEATH OF THE ENDLESS, DEEDEE.
She reached out and shook Susan’s hand, “Pleased to meet’ya! So has Sticks, here, explained it all, or did he just gloss over it as usual?”
“Actually,” Susan replied, “he hasn’t explained much of anything except asking me if I wanted a holiday.”
?” Deedee said, in a tone which said that someone would be getting an earful later.
“Don’t worry,” she continued, “I’ll clear it up nicely for you, but first; I’m starving! What’s there to eat in this joint?”***
It was a bit later, and Susan sat back in her chair as she tried to digest everything she’d just been told. Apparently, once every millennium, the Death’s of various realities would… trade places. This was supposed to give them a deeper understanding of all the facets of their calling, but was really just an excuse for a change of scenery. Deedee, and Death had formed a friendship of sorts, due to the similarities of their respective worlds, and always traded with each other.
Except this time. Death had decided that he owed Susan something, a token of thanks for all the times he had manipulated her into his world when he knew how hard she tried to be human. And the chance to learn something new from a place she had never been… it was probably as close to a real apology she was going to get.
“You won’t be subject to time while you’re there. And I specifically arranged it so you’ll only have to perform the Duty three times. The maximum you’ll be able to stay is ten years of local time, after which you will be returned here and you can continue with your life the very same instant that you left.”
She gestured behind her, and a door appeared. This was not surprising, what was however, was the fact that it was red. “Behind that door, is my closet. Feel free to take anything with you that fits, but if you want I could give you some pointers on what’s ‘in’ this season.”
Susan stared at her, dumbfounded. “What’s wrong with my clothes? I know I won’t win any fashion awards, and I don’t care to, to be honest. They’ll just have to accept me as I am.”
Deedee raised am eyebrow, “Oh, really?” Her gaze flickered downwards, “Nice boots, Genoan aren’t they? In my world they’d come from a place called Italy.”
Susan blushed, and re-crossed her legs. “What would you suggest then?” she asked, nervously.
Deedee smiled kindly before she answered, “Don’t worry sweetie, I’ll make sure you look more scary than sexy. Of course there’re still some men who like that…”
Susan smiled back, relieved. “Oh, I know how to deal with them
. YOU JUST TELL THEM TO GO AWAY.
” She grinned, and for a second her face seemed oddly… skeletal.
“That’s the spirit! Ok now, basically I’ll be putting the knowledge inside your brain so you won’t get lost, but there are some things you need to really remember
, so I’m gonna tell’em to you now, ok? First up, the name of the place you’re going to start out in is…”
Susan listened attentively, not quite believing she was doing this, but unable to think of a good reason to turn the offer down. Come to think of it, most of life was like that, a path only taken because nothing suggested it was a bad idea.
And she was
always telling herself she would live a little…***
“Buffy! You remember how you told me about how one of your teachers turned out to be a demon? I think that just happened here! She’s so scary, she always knows what we’re thinking and once, she took a note from Janice to me and read it out loud and oh my God it was so
embarrassing, but then she crumpled it up and threw it over her shoulder without looking and the wastebasket moved
so she wouldn’t miss and I think I’m the only one who noticed-”
… ok take a deep breath, and start from the beginning, what’s her name?”
“We have to call her Miss Susan.”