Forgiveness still smiled up at him, unfazed by the dark abyss they must have seen there by looking directly into his eyes. Then there was that look in their own eye, one he had started to recognize. It came very rarely, but always preceded a certain word that Death was beginning to understand the meaning of. The more he came to understand it, the more he believed Forgiveness didn’t understand this simple mortal concept. It came to show more of Forgiveness’ oddities, despite being a mortal being…
“I’ll leave you to whatever it is you’re doing out here,” Death said irritably. “Though you should return to her soon, if you wish to keep your place. Time means different things to us than it does to you, you must remember.”
“Can I call you Dad with the time I have?”
Death ground his teeth. “Immortals are not what you think us to be, angel. Family is a mortal concept. I think you would do best to remember this, if you wish to spend what time you have left amongst the living remaining around us. Before you become mine.”
Forgiveness had something they wished to say, but Death did not linger in which to hear what that was. He left. For a moment, he thought he had left alone, but his jealousy subsided when Pup remained in pace with him, at his side. Death slowed down, stopping as the life around him fled. As living things were supposed to do.
Why a mortal was aware of them without their own power allowing them was a mystery for the ages. One that simmered inside of Forgiveness and nowhere else. In which case, perhaps Life’s recent statements simply came from this and nothing deliberate. Perhaps she had always wondered these things, but now that a mortal tagged along with her she found a voice to speak of it with him?
He and Life probably shouldn’t have talked as much, but that would not stop them any time soon.
“She says many things. She does so like to talk about you.”
Forgiveness was obviously thrilled to hear it, even if it couldn’t have been shocking news. “You like talking to her?”
“It doesn’t have to be about you,” Death said mildly, before having to take it back further. “I talk with her. I like it as much as I like talking with you, which is to say, in various degrees.”
“You like talking with me?”
Childlike, honestly. “You can be amusing some times. Just as you can at times be not.”
Forgiveness thought about it for a few moments, before appearing to draw a blank. “What did Mom say?”
Mother Nature indeed. “There’s only so close one should look into mortals, unless they were helping us with our jobs, you know.” Which meant plenty of mass murderers, genocidal leaders and successful hunters under his purview. And corals. Which usually shortly after Life had been with them.
His words didn’t appear to enlighten Forgiveness any. Did they really not understand what it was Death was saying?
When had Life begun to pay so much attention to the lives she gave? There were too many, too much, and such little time to really invest in them while they were alive. There was a lot more to be said in DEATH.
The angel continued to not understand. Life’s odd new interest in questioning in the lives of mortals, perhaps it may have been a question raised by her newfound ability to spend time with one – one who had lasted longer, one who saw her and treated her as they treated everyone – but Forgiveness might not have done this on purpose. After all, Death remembered the first time he had seen them. As mortal as anything else. They had not expected to see him. Not expected him to be what he had presented himself.
Forgiveness beamed at him. At Death, that was. The angel was like that, as if they were close. Metaphorically of course. Even if the angel seemed to come closer than they should. Death was very careful to make certain they retained that distance. Forgiveness didn’t seem to understand that they would very well die and belong to Death, whether he wanted it or not, if they came too close.
That wasn’t true. Death knew that Forgiveness was aware of this. Yet they always tempted fate. Death couldn’t imagine why, though he spent a great deal of mental power trying to figure it out.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” Death tried again, mollified a little when Pup returned to his side. Almost instinctively he reached out with a finger to his side to tap Pup’s rib.
“Hello,” said the angel. Happily. As they were.
“Causing more trouble, are you?”
Forgiveness tilted their head to the side, confused. Death snorted.
“I don’t know what you’re up to, angel, but you’re not fooling me.” Even if they weren’t doing it on purpose, though that seemed to be unlikely. How could the angel do as they did without realizing at least part of the effect they were having on the unchangeable around them? “Giving the gods strange thoughts. The last time I spoke with Life, she told me some strange things. Strange things which came from you.”
On the way, he found someone who should not have been there.
“Angel. Isn’t this past your bedtime?”
Forgiveness looked up at him. Death noticed what had their attention. A small burrow, with life still inside. Four mice, the only creatures in the vicinity who had survived the skirmish around them. Who had survived Death’s personal touch in the area. Death kept his distance. They were not injured, they were not sick, they were not his. Yet.
The angel smiled, not worried in the slightest that Death might kill them, or the other mammals nearby. Their complete lack of reverence over his presence, especially when they were much more aware of it than even the most observant of mortal creatures, occasionally annoyed him. They waved.
“What are you up to?” he asked. Perhaps he treated the angel like a child, but compared to him every living being on earth was a child. And Forgiveness certainly acted like one, even by mortal standards.
Pup bounded over, happily greeting Forgiveness with no awareness of decorum. Forgiveness laughed, patting him, and the mice in their burrow skittered away. Death watched them go with partial attention, most upon his hound.
“Behave, will you?”
That only got his hound to bound over to him. Death was glad he hadn’t made Pup with the ability to put slime all over him. For a canine type appearance, that would have certainly been what he would have done had he hidden within a mortal form. Pup had that ability, though Death hadn’t let him know that yet. Death wasn’t certain how he had managed that one, after all. He wasn’t sure why he would need it, either. Pup would probably just become more insufferable, with skin and hair.
The hound that he could touch. The only thing “ALIVE” in his reach. The movement of the hound only was matched by the wind. The wind Death was certain was trying to spy on him as it carried his looming messages to those around. By the scent of him, the sound of him (or lack thereof)… what a deceitful wind. Death didn’t like it. There were times he thought it was funny, but right now he had taken himself out of the mood by paying attention to the few things he had to him.
Pup would have had his tongue lolling out of his mouth if he had had a tongue.
“You probably wish I gave you one of those, don’t you?” Death reached inside of Pup’s mouth, wrapping his fingers around a tooth and pretending to wiggle it.
The rest of the hound’s body thrashed, though his face remained still. Death scratched at the roof of his mouth, causing a shiver to run up Pup’s spine – something that was obvious when no flesh concealed the bone. Death blew a breath into his mouth and pulled back in time for the hound to sneeze.
“You don’t have anything that would allow you to do that, you weirdo,” he told his hound.
Death was done here and there was always more to do, but sometimes he couldn’t be bothered to be prompt. Not when he knew the inevitable. He would keep doing as he wished, but in his own way. He moved on from this battlefield to the next bunch of dying that he would save from their twisted torment.
The blade hit the skull and it went flying off into the distance. Death watched as his hound chased after the bone, catching it miles away. He chuckled, moving over the muck of the swamp as it tried to collect the rest of the bodies before Death could have fun with them. Well, the suffering was over. At least, the suffering of those he had come to collect.
Even the plants that lived in this swamp, the insects which couldn’t get far enough away, the frogs who had been injured by what had transpired here… they would come to him, in their own ways, as their bodies failed them and their lives came to an end. So simple. So artificial. They didn’t last very long. They never did.
Pup came back to him, tail flinging itself every which way, happily bringing back the skull. It was slimed, swamp slime, and Death tried to take a step back as Pup dropped it on his head, but he still got it all over his robes. He made a face, then ignored it to reach up for the large hound’s jaw.
With a big huff, Pup lay down to allow Death a good access to scratch at his jaw. Then he became impatient and flipped onto his back, showering the air with muck and exposing mud and blood which lay upon his bones. Death rubbed his stomach, what the hound obviously wanted. Then he leaned against one of his ribs, cleaning off the already clean head of his scythe. He didn’t want anything on it when it went to storage with the rest of his scythes.
Though if anyone realized he had more than one, well, he would have to deny it. Death only came in one form, after all.
Life returned the conversation to Forgiveness. “They must be doing well. After all, you would tell me if they were not?”
Death was still smiling, but it had turned wry. “I haven’t taken them from you yet. I’m not sure I want them.”
That hadn’t stopped him before. It never would. Death was awfully possessive.
The space between them was becoming erratic, constant birth, constant death, uncertain where the line was. Life almost asked him to stay. She could see he was readying himself to leave. Leave her to feel empty.
So mortal, the desire to escape emptiness. As mortal as all of her children and the lives she would give them. What would it be like? To live a single life, without this responsibility?
To become Death’s, once and eternal?
“Well, I’m off before I cause a plague.”
“It was nice to see you.”
“You too, my lady.”
How long had he been there? He was gone again, for so much longer. Life was not distracted as she once was, but did spend some time watching the mortal beings around her. The grass grew back. Time moved on. She would care for them as she always cared for every living being.
Except Forgiveness, who cared for her back. She yearned for them to return. For the mortal who had managed to remain with her the longest.
For the mortal who knew who she was and still saw her.
“Forgiveness has been absent,” she told Death. “They had something important they had to do, but they have yet to return.”
Death chuckled, a grinding sound. “The last I saw them they were up to their usual tricks.”
“Now, now. I would hardly say what they get up to are tricks. That’s more of your fare, I believe.”
“Caught me red handed. Oh, wait, that’s blood.”
She laughed. “I know you take your work very seriously.”
“Everyone else does. Well, for the most part.”
She shrugged, finally standing up from where she had been kneeling in the flora. Moving her feet, the greenery exploded around her. Not as much as it would have in other circumstances. Not with him so close. She could feel the life leaving everything around him. He didn’t even seem to notice, but she knew he had to be keenly aware. He was a sharp one, Death. Tough cookie, she had said, but the meaning was lost on him other than in whatever media he had consumed. The day he ate something would be very interesting indeed. The day he could…
Her words came out calm, smooth, as she always was. Drastic changes in emotion were left for others. Life had acceptance, it came from how much her existence covered. Beginnings came in all forms. Ends did too, in a way, but at the same time it still came to a similar stop.
“You do a good job at trying to forget my question.” Death propped his scythe in front of him, where the handle drove into the ground simply dying as he leaned his forearms upon the top of the blade. It would not cut him. It would not harm him in any way. He could do whatever he wished with that blade.
The grass between them was in an odd state of flux. Dead, closest to him. Living, closest to her. Dying, somewhere in the middle.
“How long have you been doing this all on your own again?” Death asked. “I thought you’d gotten used to that fluttering company of yours. Is that what’s distracted you?”
They were similar in this aspect, though Death had made his companion long before. The hound which helped him with his work. Life was enthralled in the impossibility of that. If she were to tell Death it was the same as him giving LIFE, he would deny it, but that is what he had done with the hound. Taken from himself and made something living, someone important to him, like him yet not. The hound could take some of the burden from Death’s shoulders, not that he had ever acted like it was a burden.
Life created so many things, allowed for so much more, but nothing she made could take any of her task. Not on the level at which she was. Every living being had the chance at adding a little, putting a small bit forward, but their amounts were microscopic in the whole. All together, they were important. Yet none of it was a stand in for Life. Life could not let anyone take her burden. She shouldered it alone.
Alone. A concept she used to not comprehend. It was such a mortal concept.