Somehow, Susan felt that it might not be that bad after all to sit down in one of the visitor's chairs Death had chosen to add to his 'office'. She chose the right one and slumped down, rather oblivious to the cheerful little white skulls that were decorating the heavy black leather.*
"How long?" she finally asked, her voice not betraying her inner turmoil.
THREE DAYS AND SEVENTEEN HOURS.
"Ah", she nodded, staring blankly into the space in front of her.
I AM SORRY.
"Why?" Susan asked, still not looking at the robed figure in front of her.
I UNDERSTAND THIS IS THE APPROPRIATE THING TO SAY. ALTHOUGH I DO NOT FULLY COMPREHEND. MOST LIVES DO SEEM MUCH HARDER TO ME:
"No, I meant 'Why are you telling me this'?" Susan finally looked up, just in time to see a strange flicker in the blue depths of Deaths eye-sockets.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU ASKED ME AFTER YOUR PARENTS DIED?
A tiny spark of realization began to flicker inside the young woman. Death had changed so much over the centuries, even after she had first met him. This was probably just the next step.
"I asked you if you couldn't have done something", she answered, never letting her eyes leave his face. It might seem without any expression but a somehow creepy grin to any other person, but she had learned to read it, interpreting the changes of his sparkling blue eyes, understanding Death's subtle body language. **
Susan understood. He could have done something, but he mustn't. It was forbidden for Death himself to meddle with the lives of humans, so he had stayed away from her parents. But the auditors – irritating though they were – had taught him this: it was one thing not to interfere with the matters of human beings, yet quite another if you made them change their circumstances themselves. Although it didn't need little grey-robed figures to learn such a lesson, humans had discovered the wonderful ways of manipulation before they had known any more words than "Uga".
After all, it wasn't her grandfather's fault if she found a way to escape certain death. Or certain Death, which in its way was much harder.
The only question was: did she want to? She should be the one to know best what happened if you changed even one course of life, right? Of course, she wasn't going to affect the lives of those around her like he had done back then, but still…
If you took the job just once, what lingered on was the responsibility. And minor abilities such as walking through walls, of course.
She rose to her feet, totally confused for maybe the first time in her life. She didn't want to die, of course she didn't, but neither could she risk the destruction of the reality she lived in.
"I'm going", she said. "I have to… think."
Death watched in silence as his granddaughter left the room, closing the heavy door behind her. A small hooded figure climbed up the desk and with little clicking sounds it crossed the huge surface until it stood in front of him, looking up expectantly.
A deep sigh echoed through the room. It wasn't quite heartfelt, but it came as close as possible.
I AM NOT SURE. AFTER ALL, WHO KNOWS WHAT SHE WILL DO?
Death paused for a moment, then he pointed towards the teacup and its crumbly biscuits.
WOULD YOU LIKE ONE?
Susan took another sip of wine. It was her third glass, yet she didn't seem to mind.
Lobsang watched her silently. He used to be first thief, then monk, and now he was the personification of a metaphor invented by the human race thousands of years ago. It would be quite an understatement to say he wasn't used to women. He never had had any contact with them other than "hey, that's my purse! Hold him!". And the fact that he now had picked himself the granddaughter of Death impersonated, a woman who had been difficult to begin with, didn't make this easier. Still, he thought he had begun to understand her. # But he couldn't explain her silence this evening. She had been quiet when they met, hadn't talked much when they had gone to this restaurant, and rather looked at her emptying glass than at him. He sighed.
"Susan", he started, snapping her out of what seemed to be a daydream, "what's wrong with you?"
She looked at him with big, innocent eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"Does that face work when your pupils do it?" he asked with honest curiosity.
"No", she sighed. "But it was worth a try."
"So whatever is bothering you, you don't want to talk about it. Not with me, anyway", Lobsang stated matter-of-factly.
"Look, I'm sorry, it's not you. I just had a… difficult day."
"I don't think so. But it's not important."
"Ah." Lobsang was confused. This wasn't going too well, and he didn't even know why. Desperately, he tried to think of a diversion. "So… you want to go to Hunghung next week? There'll be fireworks."
Startled, he looked at Susan's paling face.
"Uh… no. I'm afraid I can't. I'm sorry."
She stood up, apparently determined to leave.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going home. I'm… I'm tired."
The young man had had enough. He reached out, and grabbed her elbow.
"No, you're not. There's something wrong with you, and I deserve an explanation."
Susan stared at him, surprised. Then her eyes narrowed.
"You deserve it? Who do you think you are, my husband? Have you ever heard of privacy?"
"Susan, I know you're upset, but -"
"You don't know a thing!" Susan snapped, grabbed her handbag, turned on her heels and rushed away.
Lobsang stared after her.
"I should have brought the nougat", he sighed.
* One thing Death had learned from humans was a rather dreadful sense of decoration.
** The fact that there wasn't much of a body to start from didn't make this easier. Bones had a language of their own. With many different meanings of "gnash" and "rattle".
# The first law of nature, even before "Every living thing shall perish" and "Every third sock shall disappear in the laundry forever", is this: "Men and women shall never understand each other". There is no special reason for this; the gods just enjoy bloody battles of the other kind. Every man who thinks he understands his wife is in mortal danger. ##
## Every woman who thinks she understands her husband hasn't discovered yet that there's more to drive him than just beer and football. It's called mum, maybe the strongest force of nature there is.
Susan discovers a way to survive, if not keep on living. But there's a problem…
Author's Note: It's a bit longer… Suffering from a severe writer's block on this part… I know this sucks, I'll redo it as soon as I can. Somebody suggested there should be less '*'. I know there are too many of them, but I like them just too much, sorry. ^_^