Title: Don't Fear The Reaper
Series: Neverwhere
Character/Pairing: Marquis de Carabas, Richard. Preslash.
Rating: PG/PG-13 in earlier parts.
Author's note: 29) There was a never a profit to be got from love | The Gauntlet. / comment_fic: Neverwhere, Marquis/Richard, he's lived for many years...and intends to live for many, many more, but doesn't want to do it alone This is a prologue and bridges some scenes in the book. Needless to say, there's spoilers.
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The Upworlders had a sect of believers that held to tenets of Enlightenment. He had never quite gotten the jist, for religion – especially a religion that involved denying himself and giving up materialism, was not to his interest. Still, their take on focusing the mind was what interested him. Supposedly, they'd be able to withstand amazing amounts of trauma. He'd never had enough discipline to really make it work, but it was worth a try. As the Marquis de Carabas began to feel the life draining away, that was the time to keep his cool. Oh, he'd offer a moan here and there, like those cheap Upworlder erotica. It was all a show, really. Even if by keeping it in, by mocking them in smirks, by spitting in their face he was only making the torture worse. They cut little pieces of his skin off, and watched the red blood run. A part of him wondered if they'd flay him, if there'd be enough of him to even put back together again.

His mind wandered in and out as he fell in and out of consciousness, and finally, he watched without emotion as they finished up. They let secrets fall from their lips. Slippery things, vile and unthought of, but there.

Was a life worth a secret?

Well, it wasn't as if he had only one...

.

It was so cold. There were not words to describe the void, the absence of warmth in this dark place. Marquis opened his blood-caked eyes and looked about. Well, at least the pain was gone. Death in itself was not, as some had theorized, a great party. There were no pretty companions awaiting him of either gender, no sprawling meadows or angelic choirs. It was merely dark and cold, so much so that breathing on his hands did nothing to keep the chill from him.

So it was that the Marquis de Carabas started walking. He could just sit there and ponder life's fascinating unsolved questions, or he could explore things. As the Marquis de Carabas was as prone to easy boredom as a young child on sugar, he did not, in fact, simply sit to muse on the meaning of life.

There was a spark in the coldness, an infinitesimal warmth in all the cold. He clung to it. A flash, an image. Richard looking panicked below, as he very well knew he would. Wiggling his fingers and teasing the boy. He was a pretty thing, an innocent and innocents were always the most fun. A stray he hadn't thought would last the first day. He should have teased him more – implied that there were purple man-eating monsters that hid in every closet and under every bed in London Below. Now, he'd probably know better. A shame, it would have been such fun, too...

This was the first bit of warmth he'd felt since Croup and Vandemar pared him down with their blades. Wouldn't it be a riot if death could be conquered by all those cliche things – love, friendship, the lot? The one thing which made him most useful now was his downfall. Life – or perhaps death was nothing if not a series of ironies.

The Marquis did not keep friends, per se. He kept company, had good times, but always kept everyone exactly where he wanted them, and that in itself was not conducive for friendship. Most people knew very well that the Marquis did not do things for free, and that whatever kindness he bestowed would come with a heavy price, or even, a caveat to be told at his leisure.

Richard Mayhew was not his friend, not a lover or a intended lover, merely an amusing plaything at times, and an annoyance at others But at this point, in this horrible cold, this was the closest thing to heat he could find, so he focused.

And he watched from his perch on death. It was one good thing, beyond the cold. He saw things in death that he couldn't possibly in life, and as far as he knew, it'd be remembered.. He stored little bits of information deep down. A useful tidbit here, a bit of blackmail there...

He focused on the warmth to beat back the horrible chill seeping into his – what was it? He hadn't any bones here, just ether. Whatever it was, it was worse than the worst winter he'd ever experienced – which had been in 1835, incidentally. Frozen bodies of birds and poor wretches littered the streets. People had walked over them as if it were any other day – at least, when they weren't looting the bodies, that was.

The spark grew as he caught sight of Richard, coming out from his ordeal. A shame to have missed it, but he was a little busy being brutally murdered by his own design and gathering information. Still, he was impressed. What a lucky bastard this boy was.

He smiled despite himself, and felt the bit of warmth increase through the rippling dark. Fondness, that's what it was. He had grown fond of Richard without even meaning to. It had snuck up on him, and he could not emphasize enough, it was very hard to sneak up on him in any respect. He clapped, a silent clap in the realm of ether. Bravo, Richard Mayhew. Good show.

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By the time he was back in the living, coatless, rasping and limping, they'd already left the market. It was an annoyance, but knowing the information he did, the information he'd traded his life for in a very painful manner, he knew where they'd be. He'd been to Down Street before, thought not quite all the way.

Old Baily had walked with him to the point, far past what he had. It seemed more suspicion than actual benevolence or kindness. There was, after all, no love lost between them.

He took a glance to his feathered companion. "Old Baily...would you happen to have a spare Crossbow. I seem to have misplaced mine along with my coat." He smiled, sardonic.

Old Baily Squinted up at him. "You still owe me for the information."

"And of course, I will pay as soon as I get settled. Dying does so much take out of one."

Old Baily shrugged. "I can find you one. Hammersmith owes me something. A pittance, but he always has weapons around."

"Name your price," he said. Bored, distracted, he opened and closed his fingers to bring circulation back to them.

"New glasses. These ones have scratches on them, and the left one got cracked when a bird tried to fly coop the other day."

"A high price, but not impossible. I accept."

"Good. I'll just be getting you your crossbow, then," he said.

"And Old Baily... do hurry, please. Time is of the essence."

"Right then." Old Baily nodded and bustled off. The Marquis leaned against an alcove and closed his eyes. He hadn't spied any of his old enemies, and at this point, there wasn't anything to mug him for. Just to be on the safe side, he pulled the blanket formed into a poncho of sorts over his head.

When he opened his eyes again, it'd been what, fifteen, perhaps thirty minutes?

He could only hope that they were particularly slow or prone to chatting for long periods of time and idling in stairwells – or perhaps, an attack of nerves at heights? That would be a convenient thing to have happen right about now.

.

Unlike Richard, the Marquis had no fear of heights. He could cross heights of Down Street in an almost bored fashion – which admittedly was more fun if someone terrified of high places was there to be shocked as how nonchalant he could be.

He'd felt a pain in his side as he walked. He thought ribs might be broken, and there was still an untreated wound spanning from his hip upwards where Vandemar had inserted a knife at random at a shallow point to hurt, maim, and yet not kill him. He leaned down over the railing and caught sight of them. Hunter and Door walked ahead. He searched for the rest of the part, and found Richard in the thrall of a Velvet. Rage flowed through him. The Upworlder had beaten all to be taken down by the seduction of a Velvet – one who had made her intentions ever so clear. The question was he an utter fool? never crossed his mind for he already was well aware of the answer. He was a damn lucky fool, one who'd already made through things that others would have died ten times over, only to be taken down by the most obvious of obvious traps a Velvet . He might as well have tried to curl beside a lion and patted its great mane.

What was wrong with his companions? Richard Mayhew, innocent Upworlder extrodinaire might not see what a Velvet, was, but Door? Hunter? Did they suddenly stop caring? When he was the most benevolent of them, there was a big problem.

The Marquis summoned what little strength he had gotten back in his trip and squeezed at the Velvet's throat. She was too interested in her delicious, tender, and very stupid prey to notice.

Give it back. Give him back his life.

He'd demand a favor later, for saving one's life always bestowed great favors. Richard Mayhew had no idea that in fact, The Marquis was returning a favor. And he planned to keep it that way. Focusing on him, even if only for the amusement, or a faint appreciation of his boyish, rumbled look had given him a focal point when the pain and cold came to its worst. One could almost say that Richard had unwittingly saved him, even if the plans were all made by the Marquis himself. One could plan for death, but having never experienced it, the Marquis didn't know what to expect.

He said more than he needed to, but fondness did that to one. It gave a vested interest in keeping said person alive. And through it all, the battle with the beast, outwitting the angel, the final moments, one pressing thought (other than I'm far too pretty and talented to die here) was that he'd sorely underestimated Richard. It wasn't a mistake he'd make twice.

.

You can never go home again. The Marquis de Carabas knew this instinctively, as one of his most guarded secrets was that he had once been an Upworlder. He was never as innocent as Richard, for back then he'd been much the same as what he was down here: a thief, a hustler, a man of many odd jobs, however mercenary. He preferred it down here. More colorful people, more interesting, and barter was a more original game than simply pounds and dollars. Not to mention that he'd been able to keep his life elsewhere, which was nigh impossible there, and keep his age at a nice thirty-five when he'd passed that number long ago.

So, part from amusement, part from people's constant begging for him to retell his part in the story was wearing even him down, the Marquis kept an eye on Richard. And as expected, he was not doing so well in his new-old life. It was good to see him send away the woman he had been attached to before, but the part with him waving his knife like a maniac was not his brightest moment.

That Marquis had warned him the first time not to step in too deep, but had he listened? No. They never did.

The one thing that Richard Mayhew hadn't asked was how to get back. Of course, the Marquis could have pulled him into the shadows, up against his coat or come in front of him, but that would be breaking the rules, and he'd already done that once. As much as he was one for being nonlinear, there was only so much cheating one could do of reality before it came back to haunt one, so to speak.

There only had to be a will, a wish and he would fall back to London Below. Say too much, and an interest comes in. A subconscious – or not so subconscious curiosity starts. And then, through the cracks to London below.

Just a will, a want, a wish.

The Marquis smiled. The sound of knife on stone was such a sweet sound. It was a rudimentary door, but still a door.

He held his arms out. Even his welcoming moments had a bit of a sardonic light in them.

Coming?

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He guided Richard along for a quarter of a mile before he stopped for a rest. During this time he had left Richard to his thoughts, but now he broke the silence.

"I've figured out which favor to ask for," The Marquis said.

"Favor?" Richard said.

The Marquis de Carabas gave a toothy grin in his direction. "For saving your life, of course. Twice now, in fact. You see, people like Door might not calculate little thing, but I am not quite so kind. To me, everything has a price."

"What is it then?"

"You'll be my traveling companion. I think you'll make a nice good luck charm. A bone would be nice, but all of them would be even better."

"You'll probably have to save my life again," Richard said. Even if he had grown, and had slayed the beast of London below, Richard Mayhew was pragmatic. There were still things he didn't know about, and the Marquis was not the type to keep safe company.

"All the better. That means limitless favors. In fact, I encourage you to go right into danger. Go on. It'll only give me more to ask in the end."

"To be honest, I'm not sure what I could give in return for those favors. I've got some lint in my pocket, a penny and some quartz – but that I won't give. It's special. You can have the things in my old flat for bargaining, I suppose. I don't think any of those are enough for saving a life."

The Marquis stroked his chin theatrically in a parody of deep thought. "Hmm. I wonder what you could do, hero of London Below, slayer of the beast, and friend to Door – not even taking into account that you are Sir Richard of Mayberry, who was given complete freedom of London below – . I can't imagine what I could use you for."

"Well, there's that," Richard admitted.

"You're not quite the man who first found me, Richard," The Marquis said with something in his voice nearing affection.

"Well, thanks. I'd say that you aren't the same, but I'm pretty sure the only thing that's changed was a trip to the underworld and different pants."

Richard still had that rumpled, boyish look, and had only matured inwardly. Yes, it was there, a fondness as he had first realized in the icy throes of death. And yet, not all fondness was inherently weak. In this case, the affection could be quite useful.

He was going to keep Richard around for a very long time.