Come Sweet Death
Hi guys! Finn here. This fic about Death is one I've been working on for years, and the first one I ever actually tried writing, as a matter of fact. All of my other work has come about as a direct result of trying to write something else to overcome the writer's block faced by this one. Thankfully I've more or less sorted it out, and all that remains is putting pen to paper. (Or fingers to a keyboard)
There doesn't seem to be a lot of stories about my favourite fictional character of all time, the adorable Lady Death, so I decided to write one. There's going to be a lot of conflict, tension, drama, bloody hand to hand combat and all that good stuff, but at its heart is a love story. Let's face it, everyone loves Death. It's hard not to. Thanks for reading, and please leave a review. I'd love to hear what you think of my work, and I'll respond to each one personally.
Chapter One: Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life
"Death is a beautiful woman." – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
"Come on baby, don't fear the Reaper." – Blue Oyster Cult
Look at her, Death of the Endless, as she hangs high in the air above New York City. At this time, and in this place, it suits her purpose to appear as an achingly beautiful young human woman decked out in solid black, resting comfortably on thin air above the capital of the world.
Not that she always looked like a young woman, of course. On other planets and worlds she assumed a shape that would be familiar to its inhabitants. At other times she had antennae, wings, hands that were crafted from the purest living crystal, lungs that breathed sulfuric gas, eyes that saw in absolute darkness, bodies that dissolved if they came into contact with water. She did her work on a billion trillion worlds, and gloried in the rush of life on all of them, meeting each and every living being personally as they came to the end of their journey in the mortal plane and began the next. Good service, even if she did say so herself.
She loved the variety of it all, the immense spectrum of thought that greeted her as she came to each being. Some welcomed her, having been trained to expect her from the moment they were born. Other beings from atheistic societies were stunned, many of them never expecting a life beyond the one they had just led. A few cultures worshipped her and its members unnerved her a little, but after she had gently but firmly explained that she was not a goddess and their journey did not end at her right hand, thank you, they usually saw sense and moved on.
Throughout her endless existence, she had resisted picking out a favourite world or planet of hers to work in, even in private. She knew her brothers and sisters had places where they had especially enjoyed their work, but she had demurred when her younger brother had asked her this question. She was Death of the Endless. It was expected of her to remain fair and impartial to absolutely everyone. Unlike Lady Justice, who affected a blindfold but could be shaded by so many different points of view, Death was equal to all. She met everyone twice, once at the start of a being's life, and once at the end of it. Many had tried to escape her, but all had known her touch in the end.
So it was with no small degree of puzzlement that in recent times, she found herself drawn to one world in particular. It appeared to be just like any other planet in all respects, sitting at the furthest edge of what was known as the Milky Way Galaxy. 70% water, carbon-based life forms, two sentient species (the dominant one called themselves humans and the named the other one whales, but the whales had a different name for themselves entirely). They had created wonderful works of art and music and culture and were capable of astounding grace, but none were better or more amazing that had already been done on another world. On the other hand they were also capable of acts of astonishing violence, cruelty and depravity, but again none more extreme or shocking that had already been performed on another world. It was a very average planet. Mostly harmless, in fact.
Still, it didn't explain why she enjoyed her rounds on this planet just a tiny bit more than usual. Why she liked meeting the people on this planet more. One rule that she abided by required that she spend one day as a mortal for every hundred years that she spent as the reaper of lives. It gave her a sense of perspective that was sadly lacking in her younger twin siblings. It made her appreciate just how brief and fragile a mortal life can be, yet also how much joy she can experience within those few short hours. It let her truly see the immense influence and power the Endless wielded over the mortal lives they were supposed to oversee.
She never told anyone, but she had been a mortal on that same planet for two times in a row now. For an entity with a billion trillion choices, the fact that she chose the same planet for two times running was significant. But significant of what exactly, she could not say for certain.
This would have surprised her younger siblings, who were used to her wisdom and appreciated her counsel in the rare occasion that they asked for it. But deep down, and there was none better than Death for exploring the secret corners that lurked in one's heart, she knew that she did not hold all the answers. Or rather that she did know, but deliberately shut it out because that way lies madness. Not even her older brother knew how many paths there were in his garden. Death put it out of her mind for the time being.
She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of the wind rushing past her and the sun shining on her face. She normally resisted doing so while on work, but it was just too perfect a day not to be floating on the breeze. The sun wasn't too hot, there was no hint of rain, and the clouds were perfectly gorgeous in the blue sky. Even the smog had cleared up a little. Not for the first time she longed to take a day off and just relax, but she was still the Death of the Endless, one of the seven anthropomorphic personifications of the forces of the universe. She was needed round the clock, every single day. It wouldn't do for her to be caught enjoying herself too much.
Besides, who else could have taken up the burden if she laid it down?
Death yawned, covering her mouth with a delicate hand. It had been a really long day, relatively speaking. There was her daily toll in the Middle East, a handful of elderly people in Italy, a brutal murder in Mexico, an infant in Kenya, a couple of suicides in Korea and a few soldiers from Afghanistan. It was remarkable, she mused as she stretched her arms and lounged beside a fluffy cloud. She had taken innumerable warriors, heroes, kings and even a god or two, but no one had accepted their fate as bravely as the men and women she had to meet there.
Anyway, there was just one more left, and then she could call it a day. Death drifted lazily along until she reached one busy traffic junction in particular. Swooping down, she landed lightly on her feet and looked around. New York's army of pavement pounders swarmed around her, but no one actually bumped into her. College students, office workers, the homeless, all of them automatically took a little detour when they got anywhere near her.
If you could have seen her, you probably wouldn't have given her a second glance. Wearing black jeans, a tight black T-shirt and sporting stylish black boots and gloves on her feet and hands, she would have looked perfectly at home at a rock concert or on a college campus. Consequently, she could have blended right into the crowds that throng New York, where no fashion is ever deemed too outrageous for words (and all black was considered rather clichéd). But no one sees her. Nobody has the chance to stop and raise an eyebrow at what looks like a funny-shaped silver cross she wears on a leather cord around her neck, although strange jewellery and piercings are practically the norm in this city.
She can't be seen, until she wants to be. She is at this place and at this time for a purpose. She has her duties to perform.
Death waited patiently. The one she's looking for would be coming around in a minute or so. He would be wearing jeans, Adidas sneakers, and a nice blue chambray shirt over a white t-shirt. He'll be listening to Regina Spektor on his iPod Shuffle and not be paying attention to where he's walking. He won't see the truck. He won't have time to get out of the way. He'll be the only one she has to meet here today, the driver and other passers-by will be perfectly fine.
Here he comes, just around the corner.
I'm gonna be late, damnit!
Jamie Keane walked quickly, putting one foot in front of the other at a speed which was just below a full-out sprint. A curious cop or a passing superhero would have tagged him as a snatch thief or something, but the fact of the matter was that Jamie was running out of time. As usual.
He ducked and weaved effortlessly in and out of the relentless foot traffic, with a deftness born of long hours of repetition. What a hurried "Excuse me, sir/miss" couldn't do, a quick shove certainly could. Before the offended citizen had time to whip around and grab him, he was no longer there.
The sound of honking cars and ringing bike riders were drowned out by Regina's breathy vocals, plugged directly into his ears. After much thought, Jamie had spent almost all of his last paycheck to purchase a set of Sennheiser earphones, which promised to shut out all ambivalent noise.
It had been a busy day. Jamie had put in a long shift at the comic book store where he clerked, covering for his boss who had called in sick. Jamie suspected that Mr. Palmerston just didn't want to wake up, but as long as he signed the checks Jamie wasn't about to complain. Before that, he had a few hours of classes at the local college, where he was studying American history. His mother was pretty much convinced that he was either going to starve to death on the streets or sell his organs for cash when he graduated, but Jamie liked history and that was all there was to it. Julia Keane made a comfortable living as an executive in an advertising company, and had little time for academia. She said as much the day before.
"Hello dear," said Julia from the dining table, looking up from her laptop. Jamie had emerged from his room to grab a soda.
"Hi mom, didn't hear you come in."
"I'm part ninja."
"Hah, I wouldn't be surprised."
"I've been meaning to ask you, dear. Have you thought about your plans after graduation?
Jamie closed the fridge door and popped the can, considering the question.
"I'm not sure, mom. Look for a job, I guess."
"With the economy in this state? The way your precious president's going, there won't be any jobs left by the time you graduate."
"He's your president too, mom."
"Don't remind me."
"To answer your question, I'd probably teach at a high school. Maybe do some volunteer work, help kids out, you know?"
"Volunteer work? You haven't been listening to me, I can see that. Why are you so altruistic?"
"I was raised right?" teased Jamie, taking a swig.
"And don't you forget it. Where on Earth is your brother, by the way?"
"He's in detention. Apparently you aren't allowed to bring snakes into New York State classrooms. Which reminds me, you have a meeting scheduled with Miss Martinez sometime this week."
Julia closed her eyes and massaged her temples. "James Franklin Keane, what have I ever done to deserve what your brother puts me through?"
Jamie chuckled, retreating back into his room. "I don't know mom, but it must have been something awful."
Jamie's little brother Jeff was eleven, nearly twelve, and had one hell of a quick mouth. Jamie liked a laugh as much as anyone, but he despaired at the terrific amount of trouble little Jeffrey seemed unable to extricate himself from on a regular basis. Jeffrey had argued with a teacher. Jeffrey had been beaten up by four older kids. Fairly normal for a New York grade school kid, although Jeffrey later confided in Jamie that he had started the argument with the teacher over a philosophical point, not a personal one. The four older kids had only noticed Jeffrey after he had boasted he could take them all on at once. When that hadn't worked, he'd resorted to making an announcement about them over the public address system.
Two Months Ago
"What the hell happened to you?" shouted Jamie, as Jeffrey staggered into their apartment bruised and bloody. The way he was gingerly resting his weight on his right ankle suggested a sprain. One eye was swelling visibly, and his lips were cut in more than one place. Jamie was just about to leave for work. Another five minutes and he would have been out of the place.
"Four guys Jamie," Jeffrey muttered, sinking into the couch. "They beat me up. At the basketball court two blocks from here. They took my wallet too."
"You get some ice for those bruises and wait right here," said Jamie, stuffing his keys into his jeans and hurriedly opening the front door. "When I'm done you moron, you're going to tell me what on Earth you did to start this."
Instead of trying to deny it, Jeffrey just smiled weakly and closed his eyes.
Jamie had ran to the court, ignoring the looks of the passers-by as he pushed past them. With luck he could get there before they left. He saw them the same time they saw him, four guys with bad buzz cuts and New York Knicks shirts, huddling over his little brother's wallet.
"All right, who wants to get his ass kicked first?" Jamie said loudly, closing the chain-link gate behind him with a clang. A dozen games of one-on-one stopped as all the other kids turned to gape at him.
One of the boys had raised his hands in a placating gesture. "Hey man, we don't want any of this. Your little brother started it, it's his fault." Jamie was grimly satisfied to see from the look of fear in his eyes that the little punk knew exactly who he was.
"Oh really? Tell me exactly how it was all his fault," said Jamie pleasantly, sticking his hands into his pockets. Another punk, perhaps emboldened by Jamie's façade of civility, stepped forward. One look told him the fellow didn't know him.
"It's like this. Your little brother's been hounding us all week. Talking trash in school, making fun of us, that sort of thing. But we didn't do anything until he broke into the school's PA room and talked about us over the announce system! He talked crap about how I wasn't good enough for my girl Cheryl. He pushed us, man."
Jamie was seething with anger, but curiously enough, it was mingled with relief. He'd expected much worse, Jeffrey could have stolen something of theirs or burned something down or a hundred other things that his panicked mind could come up with on his way to the court. But this sounded nothing more than childish name-calling, which in turn meant that Jamie could cut loose on them without guilt.
"I see, he pushed you. I must have a word with Jeffrey about that," said Jamie, still playing cool. The punk shot his friends a look of relief. "But before I go…what's that you're crowding around? May I see?"
The look of relief on the young guy's face was wiped off instantly, replaced with one of terror. "It's…it's just his wallet. He uh, dropped it."
"So why are you taking the money out of it?" snarled Jamie, the false calm disappearing in an instant. All four boys jerked uncontrollably, as if a gunshot had gone off behind them. He advanced upon the group, clenching his hands into fists. "The four of you beat my little brother bloody over nothing more than a few insults, you steal his wallet, take his money, and tell me that he pushed you? You know what? I can be pushed too."
Jamie shot his right hand out and was rewarded with the sound of crunching bone as his uppercut landed flush on the nearest guy's jaw. The guy was lifted off his feet and hit the deck, completely unconscious. Without the slightest hint of mercy he went to work, lashing out with his fists and feet, not stopping until the four of them were lying in a moaning, quivering heap at his feet. They were a couple of years younger than him, but there were four of them and they were a couple of years older than Jeffrey. Jamie picked up his brother's wallet and walked away, ignoring the looks of awe the other kids were giving him. They didn't even have time to start chanting "Fight!"
After six hours of stacking books and searching for back issues of Astonishing X-Men for ungrateful customers, Jamie went back home and cornered Jeffrey. By an act of mercy his mom wasn't home yet. His dad would have known what to say, and not for the first time Jamie missed his father. But he wasn't around, and Jamie needed to handle this by himself.
"You got beaten up over a bunch of insults. Jesus Jeff, I thought you grew up a little. Why did you start this?"
"Well…one of those guys, Chuck, he's been going out with this girl I like from Math class. Juanita Hernandez. I've been talking to her, she laughed at all my jokes. Chuck saw us laughing together in the cafeteria, he asked what was going on, I said something that made everybody laugh and made him mad, he told me I was gonna pay, I told him I could kick his ass, his three friends came over, I told them I could kick all of their asses and things kinda…got out of hand from there."
"I'll say. What made you think you could take on all four at once?"
"I don't know, I just thought Juanita would be impressed. And she was. For a while. Now she won't talk to me. I just got off the phone with her. Apparently Chuck just crawled into her house. According to her he'll be eating soup for a month."
"She didn't like that?"
"She told me to fuck off and never speak to her again, actually," Jeffrey said with a rueful grin. The ice had reduced the swelling a little.
Jamie looked at his little brother for a long moment, and began to laugh helplessly. Jeffrey laughed too, mostly at the sight of his usually articulate older brother doubled up on the floor with laughter, unable to say a word.
Back in the present Jamie noted that the advertisers weren't lying for once as he dropped a shoulder to avoid colliding into an old lady, and passed a hot-dog stand. The headphones really were rather good. Jamie didn't hear the hot-dog man loudly calling to potential customers. The smell of frying onions hit him full in the face and for a second Jamie was tempted to grab one. He thought it over and kept walking. There was some food in the house and although he could afford it, he didn't like spending money so soon after the headphones.
Besides, his mom wouldn't like it if he had no appetite for dinner. She worked even longer hours than he did at his two jobs as a junior executive in a public relations firm, but always found time to come home and cook them dinner. Dinner as a family was a strong tradition in Julia Keane's view, she believed in it as rocks believed in gravity. She made sure Jamie had enough to eat before he left for his second job (coaching boxing at a local gym for little kids), and Jeffrey usually calmed down enough to spend a peaceful half hour at the table. For a while Julia had set two extra empty places along with their three, but she stopped after a while. She was a practical woman, and knew that grieving had to stop at some point.
A Week Ago
"Where are dad and Joey's plates?"
His mother walked out of the kitchen, carrying a pot of linguine, shrimp and steamed vegetables drizzled with olive oil.
"I've stopped putting out places for them, James. It's been a while now and I think it's about time we moved on. Jeffrey! Dinner!" she called, setting the pot down on the table.
"I know, mom. It's just weird, not to see their places set. That's all." Jamie said, setting the forks and spoons down and clearing away Jeffrey's junk from the dining table.
"James, you know I miss your father very much. I miss Joseph too. I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and expect to see your father beside me, or for Joseph to come running into our room like he did as a child."
Jamie snorted. It was hard to picture his big brother Joey as a child. His mom went on as if she hadn't heard.
"I suppose I've cried myself out, dear. We can't grieve forever. It's been said a million times, but death really is a part of life. After the crying's done, we move on. It wouldn't be right for us to break down completely. Your father and Joseph would never have wanted us to do that."
Jeff sat down at the table and started helping himself, chattering away merrily. Julia turned her attention to him, leaving Jamie free to think. Death really was a part of life, but it had been far too frequent a visitor to his family recently. He made a silent promise to always be there for his mom and brother, with a young man's easy confidence in his own immortality.