Exemptions and Indulgences by Rhi
Disclaimers: Not mine, not a one of them. Set during "The Hunters." Written for Crossovers100 prompt #87 -- choice. Also? Hopefully this will be part of the Aidan-verse, folks, even if Death and Squeak never make it over there again. Beta courtesy of Dragon and Devo; mistakes mine and I'll happily fix them.
Rated: PG at worst. Enjoy!
I AM AFRAID YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION.
"No, I’m rather afraid I do." Darius turned around, wondering, bemused, how his habit could still swirl around his legs when he didn't really have legs anymore. "I'd offer you tea, but, well--"
The skeleton extended a bony hand; a teacup (black) on a saucer (also black) steamed gently in the air. Fitz stepped through them both to tug Duncan away from the corpse on the floor, then sniffed the air suspiciously.
"I didn't think they could see or smell us?" Darius asked, surprised.
IT IS SOMETHING OF A PROBLEM. If a skull could be said to look embarrassed, he did. Probably a trick of the light on bone.... I HAVE WATCHED HIM SEVERAL TIMES, TO SEE IF HE WOULD OUTRUN HUSBANDS AND BROTHERS. HE MAY HAVE BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO ME.
"That does sound like Hugh." Darius sipped at his tea. He'd wanted Ceylon but it tasted like the cheap black he allowed himself on the parish budget. Maybe this was real after all, then. In any case, he'd have to behave as if it were if he wanted to win, and he'd dreamed of his death and of chess games. This probably was exactly the challenge he'd been preparing himself for.
The skeleton -- no, Darius admitted, Death -- shifted his grip on the tall scythe; long fingers rattled a gentle staccato against the black wood. IMPROBABILITY THEORY SEEMS VERY WASTEFUL. TIME AND ALTERNATE UNIVERSES HELD IN ABEYANCE WHILE MORTALS MAKE UP THEIR MINDS.... HOWEVER, IT HAS THREE TIMES DRIVEN AUDITORS TO SINGULAR PRONOUNS. THEREFORE IT HAS SOME WORTH.
"Auditors?" Darius winced at the thought. "Someone tries to audit you? So it's true about Death and Taxes then?"
NO. THERE ARE NO TAXES, ONLY ME. AND PAPERWORK.
Darius considered that, sipping thoughtfully at his tea from long habit. "I would think paperwork would give you trouble. Do quills and pens slip through your fingers?"
I HAVE NO PAPERWORK. Blue lights gleamed under the black hood and apparently (several?) someone(s) had tried that ploy before. I DO NOT NEED A SECRETARY, OR AIDE DE CAMP, OR... WHAT DO THEY CALL THEM NOW? ADMINISTRIVIAL ASSISTANTS? OR IS THAT A QUAFFING GAME?
Darius shook his head. "I haven't heard of those but I'm not sure I would have. The Church can be old-fashioned about job titles. In any case, no, I'm not applying for such a job. I don't think you need help." He looked again at Duncan and Fitz, abandoning the church before the police could arrive, grief still fresh but hands blessedly unstained by blood, and wished he found that partnership more reassuring. They always could find trouble without each other; with each other was frequently a calamity only exceeded by teaming up with Amanda or Gina, or an influx of Goths. Oh, well. He couldn't communicate with them yet, and it was clearly going to take some time to reach an accommodation with the holy well~ and get some help manifesting visibly...
Darius turned back to Death and inclined his head in farewell. "It has been interesting meeting you, sir."
The skeletal hand reached for him and Darius raised an eyebrow, stepping back smoothly. He automatically avoided the corner chair on the first row, only to step through his own head, which he'd forgotten would be there. It wasn't nearly an unpleasant enough sensation, but he did pluck the raven off his scalp by the scruff of the neck. "Only you, I thought you said?" Darius asked mildly. "And this is?"
THAT IS QUOTH. HE TRAVELS WITH... AN ASSOCIATE. The black robe hung in a straight line despite the ever-present draft from the doors* and Darius glanced over and back again swiftly, ready to duck the scythe if need be. He blinked once, then decided that if Death was real, or at least personified, then really, a Death of Rats only made sense. The Black Plague alone justified its existence, much less the ongoing war between vermin and human.
Darius nodded to him as well. "Good afternoon. I do hope you're here for the family back behind my old quarters? They've been getting into the hymnals again and the budget just won't stretch to new ones this next year or three."
Death reached for Darius again, and he side-stepped casually. "No, I'm afraid not."
Death so much didn't step forward as reappear within arm's -- and scythe's -- reach. YOU DO REALIZE THAT YOU ARE DEAD?
"The problem is, I'm not entirely dead," Darius said calmly, giving ground again. "My body is very dead, I grant you. My quickening, however, is decidedly not."
I AM SOMEWHAT OF AN EXPERT ON THE SUBJECT. But Death didn't immediately step forward again. Instead, the butt of his scythe settled onto the carpet with a dull thud.
The raven turned his head from one to the other, more like a gourmand at an all you can eat buffet than a spectator at a ping-pong ball match.
Darius told it mildly, "I'm afraid I won't put up with you pecking either of me."
"Hey, just doing what we do," the raven pointed out. It gave Death an almost offended look. "Aren't you supposed to do what you do?"
Darius could still read body language, even if it was only posture instead of bone and muscle. He said mildly, "I'm quite sure he would like to. The problem is that I've reminded him that he collects mortals. My kind are immortal."
FOR CERTAIN SENSES OF IMMORTAL. YOU ARE NOT ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATIONS OF POWERS.
"You're looking pretty tast-- Dead," the raven squawked hastily. "Dead, you're looking pretty dead to me. Hey, watch the feathers, I gotta fly with 'em."
Darius released the raven. "Stay with your traveling companions, please."
The raven stalked off down the pew, feathers ruffling and beak clacking as it muttered about, "Humans, only let their own eat the bodies..."
Darius ignored him and told Death calmly, "If I were fighting another immortal for control of a body, you would end up with someone's quickening to take with you. That, I would not contest. However, while my body seems to be dead, my quickening is holding quite steady. It seems to reside in the church now, and there has been no duel to deed you a loser. Until the building is destroyed, sir, I'm afraid I'm not yours."
YOU ARE SAYING THAT I MIGHT ONLY HAVE YOU IF THERE WERE A MATTER OF TWO OF YOU TO CHOOSE BETWEEN?
"So far as I've been able to tell, yes." He shrugged. "I feel far too cohesive to be gone completely."
YOU ARE OLD, GENERAL, BUT I AM OLDER STILL. THIS IS HARDLY THE FIRST TIME I HAVE COME FOR ONE OF YOU WHO HAS DIED WITHOUT BEQUEATHING HIS LIGHTNING.
"I suppose so. The French Revolution, any number of executions by sword...." Darius watched him thoughtfully, then asked, "You aren't sure you can claim me either, are you?"
IT WOULD BE FOOLISH TO CONCEDE SUCH DATA TO A MAN WHO HAS HELD CITIES IN THE CROOK OF HIS ARMIES. STILL. WHAT YOU DO WITH THE AFTERLIFE IS UP TO YOU. DO YOU TRULY WISH TO EXIST WITHIN A BUILDING?
"It wouldn't be as foolish as my admitting that we can die outside a duel." Darius shrugged. "As to existing within this building... it is at least a type of existence. I cannot continue to help my fellow men if I go with you, and they most assuredly need help. Surely you've seen that even more plainly than I?"
MANKIND HAS ALWAYS NEEDED HELP. Death looked down at the hourglass in his long fingers and tilted it back and forth almost idly. Blue sparks crackled along the glass and the sand had resumed seeping down... into a third bowl which hadn't been there when Death had taken it off the shelf. When Death looked up from the glass, his horse had wandered in from the herb garden outside -- still smelling of the basil he'd been nibbling on, and of course with green strains on his white muzzle.
Rather than take offense at the ransack of his garden, Darius was murmuring to Binky, scritching under his jaw and behind his ears while Binky tipped up a back hoof, standing hipshot in his 'off-duty' posture. Binky was also drooling all over the monk's woolen habit, but he didn't seem to mind the green drool or the basil-breath.
IF YOU MAKE THIS CHOICE, I WILL NOT RETURN FOR YOU UNTIL THE BUILDING IS DEMOLISHED, Death warned him, although not as sternly as he could have. He was too busy noting where Binky obviously wanted a good scratch now and then. AND THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THAT OTHERS WILL BE ABLE TO SEE OR HEAR YOU.
"No, of course not," Darius agreed. "You may not even be back for me when the building collapses. I must admit, I'm not sure yet if I'm in the church or the well. Like the matter of visibility, I'll have to figure it out. And if I have to wait until the building falls apart around me before you return, what of it? Mortals endure their bodies falling apart. I can endure a building's decay, or a well's slow collapse."
TRUE, BUT THESE ARE HARDLY YOUR USUAL CHALLENGES. WILL YOU NOT BE BORED?
Squeak padded back in with a soft click of bones on stone and clack of his little scythe. SQUEAK.
Darius nodded to the Death of Rats. "Thank you, sir. My successor will appreciate it." He looked up at Death. "I might, but probably not. People constantly come and go in a church, talking of everything from immortal souls to the newest recipes, some of which are hardly new. There's also the matter of a well which may require pacification or propitiation, and how to continue to help others... for that matter, perhaps you'd like someone to talk to occasionally?" He smiled at them both. "Either of you."
Death consulted the hourglass one last time; it stubbornly continued to seep sand down into the newest bulb, which meant the priest wasn't leaving yet. He tucked the hourglass away in his robes, muttering about, I DO NOT MIND THE RULES CHANGING SO MUCH AS THE LACK OF NOTICE.... THERE WILL UNDOUBTEDLY BE TIMES WHEN YOUR CONVERSATION WOULD BE A WELCOME CHANGE.
"Yes, I remember," Darius said. "There were evenings when it was a pleasure to complain to someone else who'd watched a century or two roll by."
Squeak nodded emphatically. Death cocked his skull and the Grim Squeaker stilled with a last reluctant, emphatic, SQUEAK!
HE IS NOT SO OLD AS THAT IN HUMAN YEARS, BUT I MUST ADMIT HE IS GETTING VERY OLD IN RAT YEARS. Death nodded and picked up his scythe again. YES. I WILL BRING BINKY BY AGAIN WHEN I FIND TIME TO SPARE. WOULD IT BE APPROPRIATE TO WISH YOU LUCK?
Darius smiled despite himself. "Yes. It would be most appropriate, and most welcome. I'll look forward to seeing you when you have time." He smiled at Squeak. "Any of you."
The raven sulked back and hopped up on Binky's bridle just as the head of the altar women's guild shrieked well above her singing range at the sight of the decapitated corpse on the nave floor. "Time to go."
"It probably is," Darius agreed, moving forward to console Elise from long habit. His hands went through her and she tried to keep shrieking through a sudden inhalation. She hiccupped herself to silence, instead.
Darius suspected that was his fault too; he grimaced and made a mental note to try not to walk through people. He looked up in time to see Squeak raise a paw to him -- it would have been more reassuring without the scythe -- and watched Binky trot through the church ceiling, all of them fading away as he climbed upward.
Darius waited until the sound of hoof beats had fallen away to total silence, and then waited a little longer still. Then he walked out to the courtyard to consult the sacred well on how best to haunt his own church.
He might be intangible, but no one had cited any rules saying he had to stay invisible and inaudible as well. It was a goal, in any case, and something to do with the decades that lay ahead of him again -- or still. Darius had knowledge; now he needed to find ways to share it back out, knowledge being power or at least leverage...
Time would tell if the last century or so of wielding influence from his church had been wasted. Time, and maybe Death.
And if not Death, maybe Squeak.
~ Yes. Really. There is a holy well at St. Julien-le-Pauvre. Which might explain a few of these events.
* In winter, the doors shrank slightly and the draft came under and around. In summer, the doors swelled just enough that they couldn't be closed, and draft was far and away the most polite term for some of the smells of the Seine in summer.
Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:
The title is, among other things, a bad joke about 'Tax exempt and papal indulgences.' Yes, I have a warped sense of humor -- are y'all just now noticing?
Auditors: Ever heard that 9/10ths of the galaxy seems to be dark matter? Really, that 9/10ths is made up of all the paperwork for the visible matter. The Auditors keep up said paperwork, and they can't stand humanity: it values (and creates) things they can't measure. They also like to cheat. See Pratchett's Hogfather or Thief of Time for examples of the little bastards.
Quoth the Raven being in both worlds: Quoth travels with the Deaths. He seems to get to pick which reality he's in, which might be a side-effect of having been a wizard's familiar. Well. More like a wizard's annoyance, really...
Yup. The horse's name is Binky. Not my fault.
Death's library is full of daytimers, hourglasses with sand running out with the end of your life. Some of these hourglasses, however, are oddly shaped in the case of those who just insist on still living, and some even periodically have blue sparks. Around an HL immortal, well, yeah. It was too good to pass up.
What can I say, Darius insists that if he can find a way to keep helping, he will. That includes helping Death and Squeak, and he likes good horses. And yes, Quoth is a nuisance, but Darius is used to those, too.