"When?" Ysabell asked, stunned.

I DON'T THINK YOU REALLY WANT ME TO ANSWER THAT.

"No," Mort agreed quietly, reaching for his wife's hand.

Death's finger-bones laced and unlaced. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE END. YOU COULD COME HOME."

Ysabell bit her lip.

Mort shook his head. "I don't think so." He looked at Death very steadily and there was just a hint, the barest spark, of blue fire in the depths of his brown eyes. "You gave us a life and a child we never would have had except for you, sir, and we're more grateful for that then either of us can ever say. But I was Death, if only for a little while. I know the Rules and I know why they are Rules. I think it would be best for all our sakes if we started following them again."

YSABELL?

She looked from husband to father and was silent for a long moment before making up her mind. "I think Mort's right, Father. Home...home isn't a good place for humans. I know it wasn't good for me. I'm sorry."

The light in Death's sockets faded to a tiny, distant spark. I HAD TO ASK, TO OFFER A CHOICE. YOU ARE MY DAUGHTER. He turned to go.

"Daddy!"

He turned back, startled, Ysabell hadn't called him that in years. Then she was in his arms, tears soaking his black robe. He patted her awkwardly on the back an odd feeling of warmth blossoming in his tightly compressed ribcage.

Eventually she put back her head to look up at him with damp, red eyes. "It's not that we don't love you, Daddy. You know that don't you?"

"He knows," Mort said softly, his own eyes suspiciously liquid.

YES, Death agreed. I DO, SON. HUMANS MUST BE HUMANS. He wiped his daughter's face gently with his sleeve. TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT IS SOMETIMES VERY HARD. THIS IS RIGHT.

Mort held out his hand. Death clasped it tightly. TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL.

"Always," he promised.

"You were a GOOD father," Ysabell said fiercely, and pulled down his skull to plant a kiss on a cheekbone. "Not perfect maybe, but what father is?"

AND YOU WERE THE BEST OF DAUGHTERS. Death hugged her, and let her go.

----

Mort and Ysabell died instantly, but not without warning. As the coach left the road each had time for a few last words - meant for the only one who ever could or would hear them.

"Thank you, sir, for everything!"

"I love you, Daddy!'