A/N: This story came to me the other day out of the blue. I do have to credit Markus Zusak's book The Book Thief for making me think of a story narrated by Death. It is a fabulous book and you should all go out and read it immediately. Also, I don't own these characters. Except for Death, she's mine.
Many, many thanks to the ever-brilliant and utterly fantastic ongreenergrasses, my beta. She is absolutely the best ever.
The people that see me, actually see me, are very few in number, but they almost always say I'm female. For some, I'm a young girl, hair be-ribboned, lacy dress, polished black Mary Janes over pristine white stockings. Most others tell me that I appear as a young woman, in my late teens or early twenties, beautiful and strange. To each of them, I look a little different. I suppose it depends on the time and place.
In truth, I'm hardly so corporeal. I exist in an in-between place; I am the crack between this world and the next. I haven't got a body (not that I'd want one) but I have got a mind. And for all that people think Death is so heartless, I've got one of those too. No soul - that'd defeat my purpose, now wouldn't it?
When the young John Watson saw me the first time, it was as a child. I hate taking children. People don't know that.
Oh, you think I can't hear you when you pray? When you rant and rail against Death and all of his (you humans always think I have a gender, and so often it's male. Why is that?) cruelty and his taking joy in your pain. Not so. Taking children is the worst part of the job, so to speak. Because from where I stand, I can see it all: the past, the present, infinite versions of every future the person under my hands could have had. It's something like what I think the Boss must feel, every second of every day. It's funny, but none of us, none of the characters from your childhood stories that you fear so much, can change who we are. I will always be there at the last heartbeat, no matter how I feel about it; He will always be in charge of this whole shindig; an angel's only choice is which team to play for. We're all as trapped in our existence as you lot. But enough about me and mine; you want to hear about John Watson. I don't blame you.
He was playing far too close to the street. You've no idea how often they do that, the little ones. I see it very frequently. So fragile, so easily broken, and they are so close to this thoroughfare that carries huge, deadly machines. Children are so very clumsy. It's the baby fat, I think. If I were a human, I'd never have a child. Too many ways for them to hurt before they die. Too many ways to lose them and all of their potential. The world almost lost John Watson. Sherlock Holmes almost lost John Watson, years before they'd ever met.
He was clumsy, as a child. It's funny, this future surgeon and soldier, clumsy. But there you are; humans are quite the enigmas when they want to be. He was playing on a slight hill. One moment, he was going to kick the ball; the next, he was rolling down the hill into the street, and a car was just a few metres away, blissfully unaware that there was a child lying in the road, stunned from a blow to the head.
I can never determine why some people see me and some people don't. It's one of the things I ponder, in my spare time. I think I'd have figured more of it out, except I don't really have much spare time. Aside from all the normal dying you people do, you barely end one war before you start the next, and wars by themselves are so much work I need an assistant. Not that I ever get one. This is a one-being job. I think the Boss knows how much pain it gives, and can't stand to condemn someone else to helping me. But I've done it for so long, since the beginning, and I don't know anything else.
One of the ideas I've come up with is that you can see me when I don't want to take you. When I really, really want you to linger a little longer (or in the case of John Watson, a lot longer). When I feel like what I imagine being ripped apart feels like, a loss of control and a lot of bottled up emotion exploding all at once. An internal atomic bomb. I think that's when the dying see me. Or maybe it's when they need comfort, when it takes some coaxing to get them to the other side. John Watson was going to die here, the blow to his head sealed that, but he would need some coaxing. He'd need coaxing several times; only twice, in the six times we met, would he have come willingly enough.
I moved toward him, awaiting the car. Stood over him. Incorporeal, remember? I've waited with the dying many times. I can't even begin to count how many cars have run through me. I was ready to coax him into the next life, strong little boy that he was. I was prepared to wait for as long as it would take. I wouldn't leave and come back when he was more easily taken - I like to be fair, even if it means having to hurry through the next few hours and catch up on all the souls I'm late for.
A few seconds before the car barreled around the corner, his eyes opened. This was unexpected; I had been so sure he'd die here, and that all the possible futures I could see were just that, possibilities that would never come to be. In that moment, I knew he could see me. I've always wanted to ask him which 'me' it was he saw; when we finally met, I got my answer. He told me I was the little blonde girl, and that I was very, very polite when I told him to sit up now, if you please, so the driver of the car could see him. I don't remember saying this, of course. Very often humans project their own subconscious onto me and it saves them. I don't mind.
He wasn't in the habit of refusing requests, the young John Watson, so he obliged me. He sat up just as the sedan pealed around the curve in the road and slammed on its breaks, squealing to a stop a few inches from us. John's mother ran out, and from there I'm sure you can fill in the rest: the tears, the scolding, the hospital visit, the telling of the story, etcetera, etcetera. The one part of the story that would never be told was the part only the quiet blonde boy with the stunning blue eyes knew: that Death had stood with him in what would have been his final moments, and that far from a hooded figure with a scythe, she was a little blonde girl with wonderful manners.
I like to think I made him become a doctor.