Written for Kurohedonism on livejournal. Originally posted on July 28th, 2010
It was a calm, cool autumn night, and in only a few the witching hour would be upon him. The streets had been reduced to almost nothing but drunkards, troublemakers and prostitutes. The illuminated face of Big Ben hung in the darkened sky like a twin moon. It was the perfect backdrop for a Reaper to go about his business, and his final bit of business at that. After tonight was through he would take off his glasses and rest his eyes. In the morning he would be free of the tie hanging around his neck like a limp noose.
He had always dealt in death. Ushering the souls of the dead to the afterlife had been his job for nearly four-hundred years now, and before that preparing the bodies of the deceased for proper burial, or immediate disposal if one wanted to recall the plague, had been his trade. His father and his father's father had been Undertakers, and so had he. He supposed he still was in a way, though his own heart had long ago ceased to beat. As a young Reaper he had been quite amused, though not necessarily surprised, that Death had embraced him so and given him life beyond what was mortal. For a human soul to be reborn into the soul of a Reaper was a rare occurrence. In fact, in his four-hundred years as a Reaper, he had only witnessed the process once.
The clock sounding out the midnight hour sent vibrations up through his body, and though his hearing was clouded by it, he was still quite aware of the figure that was slowly approaching from behind. He was quite in tune to that soul by now. It was the only soul that had refused to yield to his silver blade. There were times that he barely believed the withering, consumption-addled man of long ago was now the confidently arrogant, and rather annoying, Reaper behind him.
He believed it was because he had so embraced death in life that he himself had become a Reaper. He had died laughing in the streets, half crazed with the plague. He hadn't feared death when it fell upon him. How could he, when it had been his life's work?
And when he had looked into the dying eyes of William Thomas Spears, he also knew there was no fear. His will to live was immense, but he did not fear the alternative. William was not the type of man to show fear towards anything. He was not the type of show much emotion at all.
He supposed that was what made a Reaper. What kind of people didn't fear death? It was in human nature to fear the darkness. Perhaps each Reaper was insane when it came to that matter. Though Mr. Spears probably wouldn't have agreed with that analysis.
The ringing stopped, and the Undertaker turned to greet his guest. "Ahh, dear William. What brings you?"
William T. Spears adjusted his glasses with his death scythe before he spoke. "Everyone at the office is in a panic. The London Branch is shorthanded as it is. I believe you should reconsider what you're doing."
The Undertaker raised an eyebrow at him, smirking a bit. "There isn't anything to reconsider. I find the growing bureaucracy extremely tedious. I've made my decision. I was thinking of taking up house here in London. Perhaps open my own business. I've always had a talent for baking…"
"You can't be serious," William scoffed, and the Undertaker laughed to himself. Honestly, the man had no sense of humor at all. He was all business, and truth be told he was only part of the problem.
Things weren't like in the old days. Dress codes, paperwork, ridiculous protocols…In the grand scheme of things most of that nonsense didn't matter at all. It was the job of a Reaper to send the human soul to the afterlife, but to send them into that darkness in fear was an injustice. It was just as important to put the soul at ease as it was to sever it from the body, though very few of his younger colleagues accepted it. William was no exception, even though the Undertaker himself had tended to him as he lay upon his deathbed.
It did please him that William was so immersed in his work, but he was going about it in the wrong way. He didn't put any of his soul into it. The Undertaker laughed to himself, and William raised a confused eyebrow at him.
"And you are too serious," the Undertaker said with a wave of his hand. "And noisy. Now if you'll excuse me."
He leapt from the clock tower in a flash a silver and black, landing fleetingly upon one of the spires on the Palace of Westminster. He leapt again, and again, and William copied his every move perfectly. He leapt across half the rooftops in the city with William following him, and he began to purposely try to trip the younger Reaper up. Much to his dismay, William showed no signs of being dissuaded. When his feet finally touched the cobblestones, William was right behind him.
"Do you intend to follow me all night?" the Undertaker asked, swinging around and bringing his death scythe up so that the blade threatened to impale the tip of William's nose.
William did not seem to find the gesture as amusing as the Undertaker did. He scowled and pushed the Undertaker's scythe away, then adjusted his glasses again. Such a nervous habit of his. The Undertaker tittered.
"Sir, I am simply trying to-"
"You're wasting your time trying to persuade me. Go back to the office and file more meaningless paperwork," he deadpanned, and this seemed to strike the nerve he was looking for. He was finally able to see a crack in William's otherwise expressionless visage. His face split in a smile and cackling laughter. William sighed and waited for him to stop.
"My mind is set. But if you insist on following me around, you should at least know the name of the soul I'm out to gather. Let's see," he said, and pulled out his ledger from the inner pocket of his coat. He flipped to the very last page, where the name of the last soul he would ever reap was written. "Grell Sutcliff, exactly half past midnight. Dies from his injuries after he is attacked on Gray's Inn Lane in Holborn. Grell Sutcliff. Amusing name, don't you think?"
He snapped the ledger closed and tucked it back into his coat. The slight clicking of their heels was the only sound as they navigated the small side streets to the main road. The Undertaker leaned himself up against an old brick building on the corner of Gray's Inn and one of the small side streets. William situated himself on the opposite side of the alley, his displeasure at the entire situation becoming more and more clear on his face. The road was deserted save for the slight breeze that was blowing through.
"Seems we're a bit early," the Undertaker said, and William nodded slightly.
It wasn't long before they could hear someone approaching. The man that slowly walked into view was tall and thin, his long hair tied back by an obnoxiously large bow. His image was sharp in the Undertaker's eyes, and despite the darkness the Undertaker could see the man's colors quite clearly. Black trousers and coat, brown vest, big red bow. He could see him as clearly as though the daylight were shining upon him, and he knew that this man would die on this street tonight, one Grell Sutcliff. The Reaper's eyes never lied.
Sutcliff walked past the two Reapers without so much as a sideways glance. He did not see the eyes of Death staring at him so intently, but he did hear its many voices. Slurred and drunken catcalls, a pack of young men running up the street opposite where the Reapers were waiting. One was carrying a bottle of liquor. Sutcliff turned around as he heard them coming up the road toward him.
"Aye boys, it's that bloody molly Sutcliff," the one carrying the bottle of spirits said.
"They shoulda hung ya at the Circus," said another.
The Undertaker expected the man to run at this point, or to keep walking at least. He took a few steps backwards, that was all.
And from there it was a scene he had seen in many cinematic records before.
Isn't wasn't hard to see that Sutcliff had fight in him, but he was outnumbered. Pushing and shoving, thrown fists, a broken bottle and kicking a man while he was down. The Undertaker turned away then. He didn't need to see the rest. He would be watching it again in a few minutes, anyway. He looked over to William and saw that he was looking off in the opposite direction as well. He waited until the yells and groans stopped, until the pack of boys ran past him and down the street, disappearing into the darkness.
The Undertaker stepped out into the street and slowly approached the figure laying there, curled up on himself with blood pooling around his head. He kneeled down beside Sutcliff, being mindful of the bits of broken bottle that were scattered around.
Though he would die from these wounds, his eyes were still very much alive. They looked at the Undertaker with a mixture of confusion, anger and exhaustion. The lower half of his face was a mask of blood, and many of his teeth were now scattered on the ground. The Undertaker had seen many deaths more gruesome than this, but somehow this seemed like one of the most pitiable…
He passed his death scythe over Sutcliff's body, and the young man's cinematic record came pouring out of him in a long and winding ribbon. The Undertaker adjusted his glasses as he watched the scenes that flashed past. Grell Sutcliff's eyes closed.
He saw boy taking lashes from his father's cane. A schoolboy with a black eye. A pair of pretty brown eyes shadowed in brilliant red, long lashes fluttering over a decorative fan. A dress of red satin and black lace. Soft touches and secret meetings, things that could mean nothing once the sun had risen and all the world had its eye upon him. A hanging in St. Giles Circus. A courtroom, a jail cell, and finally the street around them.
And as he watched, he could feel as well, could sense what this man had felt at these different points in his life. Sadness, pain, disgust, confusion all filled his heart as if they were his own, and he knew it was not death that this one feared. It was something much more unhappy, perhaps. Loneliness, rejection. The inability to truly experience one of the most basic of human emotions, to go an entire lifetime in unrequited sorrow…
And he had been unwilling to run because he had been doing it for so long that he was sick of it….
But it wasn't right. The past emotions of the dying weren't supposed to project themselves onto him, though it had happened once before.
The Undertaker got to his feet and couldn't hold back the smile that was pulling at his lips. He rose his scythe over his shoulder, swinging it just as he had a thousand times over. But he knew that like William T. Spears' record, Grell Sutcliff's record could not be cut. As his blade crashed into the record, the delicate ribbon held and his blade bounced right off. The Undertaker watched with a strange sort of excitement as the cinematic record slithered its way back into Sutcliff's body.
The Undertaker kneeled down beside him again. Very gently, he brushed some of the hair back from Sutcliff's face. He giggled when he noticed that it was beginning to change colors at the roots. Brown was fading away to a very vibrant shade of red.
Grell's eyes snapped open, a very clear malice darkening his brow.
Sutcliff moved with speed only a Death God could manage. The Undertaker had almost no time to react as a broken shard of glass was drawn across his throat.
"Sir!" he heard William yell, and then his frantic footsteps upon the cobblestones.
The Undertaker lifted his scythe and thrust it backwards, driving the blunt end into William's gut. He heard William give an awkward yelp and fell backwards into the street. The shard of glass then dug into his cheek, breaking his glasses as it cut across the bridge of his nose, then through his glove and biting into pinky finger as he brought his hand up to shield his eyes.
He grabbed the newborn Reaper's wrist before he could lash out again, and he was surprised at how slight, almost feminine, it was behind that newfound strength. The piece of glass fell from Grell's fingers and the two Reapers locked eyes.
"Feisty one, aren't you?" the Undertaker laughed, and Grell's murderous expression began to soften a bit.
"Who are you?" Grell finally spoke, and the Undertaker was amused at the deadly teeth that were now lining his mouth.
He reached out and pulled the tattered bow out of Grell's hair, letting his now blood-red locks cascade freely over his shoulders. Grell looked at the red strands with a rather dumbfounded expression, taking handfuls of it and tugging at it, as if to make sure it was honestly his. His eyes lit up and his mouth curved into a smile. Grell then looked back up at the elder Death God. His hand wandered up to touch the cut running across the Undertaker's face, smearing the tips of his fingers with a small amount of blood.
The Undertaker watched as a green hue began to bleed into Sutcliff's brown eyes.
The eyes were always the last to go.
Grell's let out a girlish squeal, waving his hands frantically in front of his face. "Eee! I can't see!"
The Undertaker laughed and took Grell delicately by the hand, helping him to his feet. "We'll need to get you some glasses then, won't we?"
Grell had taken the Undertaker tightly by the waist to keep himself from tumbling back into the street. He looked up at the silver Death God and blinked a few times, then down to where the Undertaker's glasses were laying broken in the street.
The Undertaker could feel William somewhere behind him, fiddling with his glasses and grinding his teeth.
The Undertaker looked up as the door swung open and a very vibrant fixture around his shop came waltzing in, fresh from work by the looks of it.
"My dear Undertaker!" Grell nearly sang, dancing his way over to the mortician. The Undertaker pushed his chair out slightly from behind his desk, giving Grell enough room to sit in his lap. Grell draped his arms around the retired Reaper's neck, heaving a sigh. Undertaker crossed his arms around Grell's waist.
"Well, well. How nice of you to visit," the Undertaker teased, and Grell's bottom lip turned out. It was the first time in a long while that Grell had come into his shop. The Undertaker couldn't remember a time Grell had stayed away so long, though he supposed that in light of recent events it wasn't that odd.
"I'm sorry," Grell sighed, "William gave me so much paperwork to do. He was sooo angry with me."
As annoying as he sometimes found William to be, it was difficult not to see the root of his anger in this situation. The Undertaker couldn't say he approved of the whole Jack the Ripper incident, but he supposed that such moments of indiscretion were only to be expected from Grell. He had seen the whole of Grell's mortal life. He did not need to wonder why Grell acted the way he did at times. Though seeing him in that disguise which looked so much like his mortal self had been quite shocking.
The Undertaker also didn't care for Grell's newfound pursuit of a certain demon, though he was quite sure nothing would ever come of it. He supposed that deep down Grell knew this, too. It was the chase he found exciting.
Grell put enthusiasm into everything he did. He put his soul into it. And what a soul it was. Grell realized the importance of the human condition and the morbid beauty in its end. Despite his moments of recklessness, he was a still a fine Death God. The Undertaker smiled inwardly.
Grell helped himself to one of the cookies in the urn on the Undertaker's desk. With the edible bone lolling out of his mouth, he pushed away the Undertaker's bangs so he could see his eyes. The Undertaker cocked his head slightly as Grell ran fingertips over his scarred face. Grell's expression had turned uncharacteristically solemn.
"Something on your mind?" he asked.
Grell popped the cookie from his mouth and tossed it aside. He had taken the Undertaker's hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the scarred little finger. Undertaker smiled and turned the tables on him. He took off Grell's glove and kissed the back of his hand. Grell wiggled in his lap before pouncing, knocking them out of the chair and toppling to the floor.
Grell kissed him furiously, passionately, and the Undertaker took the younger Reaper's face in his hands. In a few moments his fingers were wetted, and Grell was pulling at the knot of his sash.
Grell may have enjoyed the thrill of the chase, but it was hard to deny that indulging in something so familiar and comforting was much more satisfying. Here, the chase had ended a long time ago. Almost fifty years ago on a street in Halborn, most likely. .