A/N: So, I was browsing through some XXXHolic fic recs, when I ran into a particularly brilliant little piece called A Wizard's Staff (which I'd link to, if only ff-dot-net was a little more cooperative about that sort of thing), in which a certain song from Discworld is sung to a certain magician from CCS. Which was all very well and good, but then the writer just had to go and make this little comment at the end that as far as Discworld crossovers went, one where Death meets Watanuki (who let's remember, sees spirits and nearly gets himself killed every other week) would have to be the next logical conclusion.
Sending ideas like that my way is just not safe these days. Particularly not with this weird new thing I've picked up for multi-parters lately. I'm sure you can all see what had to be done.
It was his own fault, really, for daring to assume that just because Yuuko's latest task seemed to involve nothing worse than a foreign stage magician and some white rabbits that were slightly better at disappearing on cue than their job description usually required, this was going to be one of those errands that were only moderately dangerous. It wasn't as though he'd gone and asked just where those rabbits had been going to, out loud or otherwise; and this whole scene was getting old quickly. One wrong step, and then there was nothing but that absolute darkness that rolled in from everywhere and swallowed the entire world (or more likely just swallowed Watanuki, for economy's sake), and tended to mean that someone was having a near-death experience and it was probably him. And then just when his head stopped spinning, someone tapped him on the shoulder and said EXCUSE ME.
The one good thing about the situation to that point was that the spirit, or youkai, or shinigami, or whatever it was today was not likely to be the sort to tell Watanuki he screamed like a girl.
Actually, shinigami sounded like a pretty reasonable description. Watanuki had never really taken enough personal interest in the various monsters that had plagued his life to learn the names and natures of everything the world's various cultures had to offer in this department, but he did not need a reference book to know that a skeleton in a dark cowl holding a scythe was not good news.
"Oh no. Nonono, you're not…"
I'M AFRAID SO.
ER, NO. NOT AS SUCH. Death had the kind of voice that was made for doom and sentencing eternities of horror, which may have explained why even 'not as such' sounded rather more like 'not yet'. IT WAS A CLOSE CALL, BUT I BELIEVE THAT FRIEND OF YOURS IS ABOUT TO DO SOMETHING QUITE HEROIC.
That was an improvement on being dead, certainly, but only just. "Doumeki? Not again!"
HE HAS BEEN GETTING RATHER A LOT OF PRACTICE IN THAT DEPARTMENT LATELY.
"IT ISN'T LIKE ANYONE ASKS HIM TO!"
ACTUALLY, I BELIEVE THAT DURING THE LAST INCIDENT, YOU YELLED SOMETHING TO THE EFFECT OF...
"IT DOESN'T MATTER NO-ONE ASKED HIM TO!"
The spectre hesitated. ...THOSE WERE NOT YOUR EXACT WORDS AT THE TIME.
A corner of Watanuki's mind was questioning the wisdom of arguing the motivations of the person who was, very likely, right now saving your life. Watanuki steadfastly ignored it. Another corner pointed out that he'd just had a screaming fit at Death, or some manifestation thereof, and was he sure this was really how he wanted to handle the situation? Despite all assurances, clearly he was in some real danger or he wouldn't be here, which left Watanuki with the task of deciding whether this was going to be one of those serious moments when failure to tread carefully could be a genuinely fatal mistake, or whether his only hope of getting out of this with his fragile sanity intact was to lose his shit now and just hope he could find it again afterwards.
The rest of his mind managed to come up with something more practical. "But you didn't show up any of those other times I was… and if I'm not really going to die this time either…" Near-death experiences were rapidly becoming part of his week. Near Death experiences, however, when he showed up for a chat, were something new.
ACTUALLY, SINCE YOU WON'T HAVE ANYTHING PRESSING TO DO FOR THE NEXT FEW HOURS, I WAS HOPING YOU COULD PASS ON A MESSAGE FOR ME. TO ONE MS ICHIHARA YUUKO. YOU SEE, SHE'S BEEN CAUSING RATHER A LOT OF TROUBLE IN MY DEPARTMENT LATELY.
Watanuki had long since reached the point where it no longer surprised him to learn that someone knew Yuuko - but even so, to hear this from a skeleton during yet another near death experience was pushing the boundaries of his nonchalancy a little.
WHAT WITH ALL THE WISHES AND INTERDIMENTIONAL TRANSIT AND OTHER WHATNOT SHE PUTS HER CLIENT THROUGH ITS BECOMING QUITE IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO KEEP TRACK OF WHO IS MEANT TO GO WHERE AND WHEN. IT'S ALL BECOMING RATHER INCONVENIENT, AS I'M SURE YOU CAN IMAGINE. YOURSELF, FOR INSTANCE. PRIOR TO HER INTERFERENCE, WE HAD YOU SCHEDULED IN SIGNIFICANTLY EARLIER.
That was… well, okay, that wasn't remotely nice to hear, but it wasn't far from what Watanuki had half-suspected to be true ever since he first stumbled into Yuuko's shop. "I was supposed to be eaten by one of those spirits, wasn't I?" He'd probably been lucky to make it to his teen years as it was.
Another horrible possibility struck him. "The lady from the park then – did she…" It would fit. If he hadn't collapsed in Yuuko's shop that day, there probably wouldn't have been anyone to stop him from going back.
ACTUALLY, IN THE VERSION OF HISTORY I WAS REFERING TO, YOU AND SHE WOULD NEVER HAVE HAD THE OPPORUNITY TO MEET.
Watanuki wracked his brains for other possibilities. One more truly horrible one came up. "Was Himiwari involved?"
WHEN THE TRUCK HIT YOU SHE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANYWHERE IN THE VICINITY.
Watanuki's previous train of thought derailed itself in truly spectacular fashion.
MOVING AT APPROXIMATELY FORTY MILES PER HOUR. QUITE DEADLY.
A traitorous part of his mind which Watanuki would later vehemently deny any and all affiliation with took over long enough to get out "Are you sure Himawari wasn't involved?"
QUITE. SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN AWAY FROM SCHOOL SICK FOR SEVERAL DAYS PRIOR TO THE EVENT. A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF JUDGEMENT WOULD HAVE SIMPLY MEANT YOU FAILED TO LOOK IN THE NECESSARY DIRECTION BEFORE CROSSING.
Watanuki was surprised to find this proclamation of events almost… disappointing. "How was Yuuko involved in stopping that?"
Death waved a hand dismissively. WELL, IF WE KNEW THAT, WE WOULDN'T BE EXPERIENCING THESE PROBLEMS. IF IT IS ANY CONSOLATION, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN RELATIVELY QUICK AND PAINLESS.
THAT IS, RELATIVE TO DEATH BY CRUCIFIXION, PARTIAL DISMEMBERMENT AND INCINERATION, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN. YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND, YOU PICK UP A WIDE SCALE OF POSSIBILITIES IN MY JOB.
Watanuki, in a rare moment of real wisdom, did not try to figure out what to say to that. Why worry about one missed death when you had one more every other week?
GETTING BACK TO THE ORIGINAL ISSUE, IF YOU COULD JUST DELIVER THE MESSAGE. THE SITUATION REGARDING SOME OF HER CLIENTS IS BECOMING SADLY RIDICULOUS.
With limited success, Watanuki tried to figure out exactly what the problem was here. "Can't you go to see her yourself? She's nearly always at the shop."
Human skulls are not designed to look sheepish, but this one somehow pulled it off. ER, IT'S A BIT EMBARASING, ACTUALLY. I DON'T SEEM TO BE ABLE TO GET IN. IT'S RATHER A LONG STORY.
There was a pause, just long enough for Watanuki to wonder whether this was all that was going to be said on the subject.
THOUGH, COME TO THINK OF IT, YOU DO HAVE PLENTY OF TIME. Death concluded. I DON'T SUPPOSE YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE RULES TO A GAME KNOWN AS 'CRIPPLE MR ONION', ARE YOU?
Watanuki looked at him as though he expected Death to start sprouting tulips from his eye sockets any second.
NEITHER AM I. ALBERT PLAYS THE OCCASIONAL HAND, HOWEVER. ORDINARILY THIS DOES NOT CAUSE TROUBLE, HOWEVER IT SO HAPPENED THAT SOME TIME AGO, HE CHALLENGED A LATE SORCEROR BY THE NAME OF CLOW REED TO A GAME. IT APPEARS MR REED INCLUDED A SUM OWED TO HIM BY MS ICHIHARA AT THE TIME OF HIS DEATH IN A WAGER IN THAT GAME. APPARENTLY THIS IS LEGAL – OR BECAME LEGAL ONCE ALBERT ACCEPTED THIS ASSURANCE THAT REED WOULD COLLECT THE MONEY AT HIS FIRST OPPORTUNITY. ALBERT FAILED TO ESTABLISH THE FACT THAT, THE WOMAN IN QUESTION BEING STILL IN THE RELM OF THE LIVING – AND, I MIGHT ADD, UNUSUALLY DETERMINED TO REMAIN THERE AS LONG AS POSSIBLE – THE REQUIRED OPPORTUNITY MIGHT NEVER ARISE. Death had either missed the fact that there was no way his listener could have know who this 'Albert' was, or had correctly guessed that Watanuki did not want to know. THIS CAUSED SOME DIFFICULTITES WHEN ALBERT WON THAT HAND, AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE.
WE DID TRY TO SETTLE MATTERS AMICABLY, IN THE SPIRIT OF THINGS, YOU SEE.
Watanuki was following this just well enough to try to imagine how Yuuko might respond to Death showing up to collect money owed by her to someone deceased in order to settle a gambling debt. It was far easier than it probably should have been.
AND, TO SHORTEN THE TALE, LET US SAY I MAY NOT HAVE ESPECIALLY INGRATIATED MYSELF TO HER IN THE PROCESS. I DOUBT SHE WOULD GO SO FAR AS TO IMPEDE OFFICIAL BUSINESS, OF COURSE. HOWEVER UNTIL THAT ARISES, ENTERING THE SHOP WITHOUT INVITATION DOES NOT SEEM TO BE POSSIBLE. I AM SURE THE MATTER CAN BE DEALT WITH BY A SIMPLE EXCHANGE OF SOME INFORMATION, OVER TEA PERHAPS, BUT WE ARE RATHER DEPENDENT ON YOUR HELP TO GET THAT FAR.
"Okay?" Said Watanuki uncertainly.
MUCH APPRECIATED. NOW, YOU SHOULD FIND YOURSELF WAKING UP SHORTLY, AND WE SHOULD BE GOING AS WE HAVE SOME OTHER APPOINTMENTS WE DO NOT WANT TO BE LATE FOR.
ALTHOUGH OUR CLIENTS INVARIABLY WILL BE. He added. HA.
Watanuki did some more staring.
LATE, THAT IS. Death added helpfully. AT THE APPOINTMENT. WHICH IS TO SAY... He appeared to give up at this juncture. I'LL JUST GO, I THINK.
Death started to fade, which is to say the few unshrouded parts of him which stood out against the backdrop gradually ceased to do so. One of several things that had been nagging Watanuki for some time jumped to the fore.
"Why are you saying 'we' anyway?"
SQUEAK. Said a voice near his ankle. With great expenditure of willpower, Watanuki managed not to look down.
With the exception of two minor further incidents, that was just about it for Watanuki's encounter with Death. Of those remaining two, the first occurred almost immediately after Watanuki woke up to the sight of Doumeki staring at him as though he was a pile of week old laundry he'd found on the floor and also, one fairly brief argument later, to discover that one of the white rabbits hadn't made it. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Watanuki just barely heard some voices saying:
THEY AREN'T TECHNICALLY RODENTS, YOU KNOW.
OH WELL, IF YOU INSIST.
He added this to his already considerable list of things not to think about from that day.
The second occurred incident a few days later, and was more significant. Watanuki was passing through the gateway that lead into Yuuko's shop on a sunny Saturday morning when the world attained a foggy quality that the weather was not at all to blame for, and a rather familiar cowled figure appeared. This made twice within a week, which was in no way fair, and Watanuki wasted no time making this known.
"NOTHING REMOTELY DEADLY JUST HAPPENED. IT IS TOO EARLY IN THE MORNING FOR ME TO BE DYING. AGAIN." He added, because it was true.
SORRY. JUST ON MY WAY OUT. BUT SINCE WE RAN INTO EACH OTHER AGAIN, I THOUGHT PERHAPS YOU COULD DELIVER ANOTHER MESSAGE FOR ME.
This sounded ominous. Watanuki was not going to tell Death that he was probably lucky the first message got through at all. When he got back, it had been very important to yell loudly at Yuuko for several minutes on the subject of her sanity, his well being, his own sanity, and the purpose of the two surviving white rabbits. He nearly made it out too, before he remembered long enough to turn back and add "AND SOME WEIRD SHINIGAMI MADE OF BONES WANTS TO TALK TO YOU." In retrospect he could probably have been clearer on this matter, but evidently Yuuko had gotten the message, which was no real surprise.
"Another message? You're coming back again?"
NO, I BELIEVE WE WERE ABLE TO REACH A MUTUALLY SATISFACTORY ARRANGEMENT. BUT GIVEN THAT ENTERING HER SHOP REMAINS PROBLEMATIC, I'D APPRECIATE IT IF YOU COULD REMIND HER THAT I DO NEED BINKY BACK AT THE END OF THE WEEK.
"What." Said Watanuki, but Death was gone, and this is a state of matters which no-one in their right mind should ever complain about.
The next thing that happened of any real importance involved Yuuko, waiting for him in the doorway, and already in a good mood that morning.
"Watanuki!" She sparkled at him, and Watanuki could actually feel the horror the rest of the day had in store for him. "Tell me, have you ever wanted a pony?"