Title: During Death
Rating: T (bits of murdering dead people, insinuated language, basic Teatime craziness... you get the picture)
Pairing: Um, well, after a while there will be Susan Sto-Helit/Jonathan Teatime, but at the beginning there are hints of an OC liking him, and Susan doesn't show up for quite some time.
Summary: ...Teatime's Adventures in the Afterlife
Teatime’s Adventures in the Afterlife
Teatime could be miserable, or he could be curious.
It’d rather hurt, the poker had. She could have at least used the toasting fork. It would have been polite. It hadn’t been half as rusty. Of course, Susan wasn’t particularly polite. He, on the other hand, prided himself with his excellent manners. It was rather silly that he should, technically, be the villain of this adventure whilst she should be the heroine with their respective positions on etiquette.
What it all came down to, though, was that Teatime could choose to be miserable, or curious.
Not that it wouldn’t be simply wonderful to lodge a particularly sharp knife between the ribs and in the heart of one particular Susan Sto-Helit. How nice it’d be to see the look of shock and pain shattering her ever-present scowl. Perhaps she’d even look abject. That would be priceless.
But he didn’t have to be miserable. He could be curious.
It wasn’t that he had any particular hatred for her. It’s just that here she was, thinking she’d won the game, but she really, really hadn’t. He could have killed her any number of times. There had been that first moment, when he’d taken her sword. Her body could have fallen then and there – no more Susan. But no, he’d only taken the Death’s blade. Then there had been that moment outside the Locked Door He’d Never Gotten To Look Inside Of. He could have taken her life with a simple flick of his wrist, but he’d merely taken a shriek as he had pulled her hair back hard. And finally, in the kitchen of the Gaiters’ house he could have killed her, but instead he had settled with prickling her nerves and unsettling her beyond imagining. He had been enjoying it all. It had been a bit of a challenge. He hadn’t wanted it to end, and he had deluded himself into thinking that she hadn’t either. So you can imagine Teatime’s surprise when the poker had slid through his gut. Now, not only was the game over, but Susan thought she had won. He could kill her in three seconds flat (or less) if he wanted to. He really could, but Susan thought she’d won. And now he was dead, and there would be no more Artful Assassins’ Guild, no more Interesting Inhumations, no more Stubborn Susans, and there was no more Denying Death.
Yes, Teatime had every right to be perfectly miserable. He probably could, too. But instead, wouldn’t it be so much nicer to make this an adventure? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what lay in the Great Beyond? Wouldn’t it be simply wonderful to discover what happened after death? Ready, just for him. One couldn’t even begin to imagine all the fun one could have in the Afterlife. Yes, this would be a new start to his New Life. Er, his New Death.
With that, Jonathan Teatime opened his eyes.
Yes, strangely enough, he still had eyes – one real, one black glass. He still had hands as well. He was still wearing clothing, and his knife was still within his cloak. Teatime cocked his head curiously. He was surrounded in blackness, and directly below his feet was some kind of hard, flat surface. It was impossible, however, to see where the hard, black surface began and the blackness ended. Here there was no horizon, no other types of color, and not even shades of gray – just empty black.
“I certainly hope there is more to Death than this,” Teatime observed thoughtfully. “Because as I see it so far, it seems so terribly dull.”
He didn’t hear anyone behind him. He didn’t see anyone before him, either. But he felt something there. Something, for certain. He could sense some kind of presence near him. What was annoying was that he couldn’t tell if it was behind him, beside him, above him, or below him. It felt like all of them yet somehow was most definitely in one place. He pursed his lips in agitation.
“Who’s there?” Teatime asked. “Please announce yourself. It’s terribly rude to sneak around in the dark without making oneself known.”
Certainly, the ex Assassin did a lot of sneaking around in the dark, but he always introduced himself.
There was a polite cough. Teatime whirled around, to see a man directly behind him. Or was he above him? It was hard to tell.
“Excuse me, Mr. Teh-ah-tim-eh,” the man answered. He looked somewhere in his sixties, with a white beard and long green robes. “But I hadn’t meant to sneak up on you.”
Teatime cocked his head at the man to his right.
Or was it his left?
“You got it right.”
“This is the afterlife, Mr. Teatime. Even in Stage One we’ve got to get everything right,” the man explained.
“Stage One, sir?” Teatime inquired. “And why can’t I place exactly where you are? It’s quite disconcerting.”
“Stage One of the Afterlife. You can’t go from Life to Death quick as a wink, Mr. Teatime,” the man in green replied. “Your soul would just short-circuit. Anyone’s would. You have to take it slow, one Stage at a time. The first Stage is where you start to learn how to exist outside of your corporeal form. Your souls still think they’re in a body and it takes them a while to get passed that thought, so they process everything around them as if they still were. That is why I appear a man, and there appears to be a floor underneath your feet. That is also why I appear to be in multiple places while remaining in one; your soul cannot place what it senses in the context of the Living World, so it does the best it can and leaves you to fill in the gaps.”
“I… see,” Teatime mused thoughtfully. “Does everyone get such an explanation, sir?”
“Good heavens, no!” the man replied with an ‘are you crazy?(1)’ kind of laugh. “We have to spend so much time deciding whether or not people go to Heaven or Hell, picking out who goes when, sorting through people’s lives and dreams, keeping the Stages in order, creating personal paradises…” he laughed again. “We’re swamped! No, now and then we send someone here – like me! – to go over everything with one individual. That one individual is then responsible for informing everyone else as to what is going on.”
Teatime’s eyes flashed in excitement as a boyish grin spread across his face.
“So no one here knows where they are, save me?” he asked.
“Well, there may be a few. But I think most of the people who understood what this place was have already Graduated to Stage Two.”
“What is Stage Two?” the Assassin wondered.
“It’s impossible to describe in Living Terms,” the older man answered dismissively. “Once you get the hang of non-corporeal existance and Graduate you’ll understand. Do you have any questions? I’m probably going to be called away soon, and I won’t be able to check back here for another hundred years – by which time I expect everyone here to know where they are,” he added firmly.
“Oh, no worries there, sir! Everyone will be so very well informed when you return.”
The old man smiled, his face wrinkling with pleasure.
“It’s so nice to have someone so polite for a change. You wouldn’t believe some of the crazed lunatics I’ve had to deal with. But, back on track: do you have any questions? You’ve got to be able to answer everyone else’s.”
“Is it possible to… die here, sir? I’m assuming not, since I am quite dead already, but it never hurts to fully inform oneself on such things,” Teatime inquired.
“No,” the older man replied. “No, you don’t die. It’s impossible. However, if the individual in question still believes that they can, then if they were, let’s say, stabbed they would go into Primordial Shock.”
“Primordial Shock, sir?”
“Someone picked the name out because they thought it sounded cool,” the other replied. “Basically, the physical form they think they are will shatter, and they will only be a consciousness for a good while. It would be quite similar to dreaming. Once they realize that they aren’t dead they’ll snap right back into shape.”
“Can one feel?”
“In what way? Emotionally, or physically?”
“If one thinks they can, they will.”
“How long does the average individual spend in the First Stage?”
The other man sighed sadly.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Teatime, but that’s hard to say. It varies so greatly from person to person. Eight hundred years, maybe?” he guessed with a shrug. “Some people have made it in fifty, but those were generally those who had lived for a good hundred years or so and were just plain tired of a physical existence. Some have stayed in the first Stage for a few thousand. It all depends. Anything else?”
“I won’t need to eat or sleep, will I, sir?”
“Again, if you think you do you will. This place is practically clay to be molded – it could be anything if you thought it was. A garden, a palace… et cetera. If you thought you were hungry, you would be, and you could find your own food.”
“Would it be possible to starve to Primordial Shock if one thought one could?” Teatime asked, fascinated. This place was sounding more and more interesting. All he needed were a few guinea pigs(2) to play around with and who knew what kinds of havoc he could wreak. What glory!
The older man frowned.
“Perhaps. It would depend on the strength of the person’s belief. But no matter; since you’ll be explaining everything I doubt anyone will need to worry about all that.” The man in green glanced around. “I really ought to be going, now. I hope I’ve explained everything clearly for you, Mr. Teatime.”
“Oh, very much so, sir. I have a very good understanding of this place now.” Teatime focused as best as he could, and watched in glee as white grass grew below his feet and an apple tree sprung up from the ground. Moonlight hit off the silvery-sheened fruit and glinted on his black glass eye as he grinned eerily. “I think I’ll enjoy my time in Stage One… thoroughly.”
“Excellent, then. I’ll be off!”
With that, the man snapped away.
Teatime grinned again, and with a flick of his wrist sent his knife flying. It pierced an apple with a satisfying swish and they both fell to the ground softly. He knelt down, lifted the fruit, and began to slowly fill in the horizon of his midnight garden.
Oh, this would be fun.
Victims One Through Three
Teatime was very good at believing. He really was. It was because of that fact that he had been able to come up with such a creative scheme for the inhumation of the Hogfather. Yes, indeed, it was a very strong talent of his, believing. He believed he could do anything, and he had an excellent control over his thoughts. It was for this reason that Stage One of the After Life suited him perfectly. He could bend the fabric of this unreality to his every whim and will, shape it and change it, and believe that it was.
He had been doing just that when he sensed it. A presence. No, two presences.
The Assassin glanced around his silvery-blue garden(1), with its rolling hill and rose bushes. All those lovely black-purple roses in the dim light, with their sharp, thick thorns. Then the briars, and vines with snags, and apple trees with hooked leaves, and the dagger-sharp blades of grass. He looked about his moonlit field of silver until he saw the pale, white lit mists. Two floating clouds catching the light and shifting softly like pools of shimmering silk threads. Teatime doubted that that was the true nature of the souls before him, but that was how it manifested in his mind and it worked, so there was no need to make sense of it.
Teatime stepped towards the mists, still finding it funny that he could sense them as much as see them, almost. Perhaps he couldn’t actually see; perhaps he could only sense, but his soul was so used to seeing that it gave him sight. That made sense(2).
Yes, these two presences were most definitely souls. He could feel them before him, so in all likelihood they could feel him as well. He should be careful, then. Perhaps they were in Primordial Shock? They most certainly weren’t physical at the moment. Or perhaps they were about to graduate to Stage Two. But then why hadn’t they been there before? No, Teatime drew one conclusion: They’d just died.
He was about to introduce himself, then laughed at the pure silliness of speaking one’s name to a cloud of mist. They were just consciousness, not quite physical forms yet. He should probably wait.
And then he heard it, floating on the now-existent breeze.
Cold… dark… help, please… it was a weak voice, a gentle one, like the last breath of a dying man.
Wet… breathe… breathe… nothing… another voice echoed, thrashing helplessly in the wind.
It was most unsettling, because Teatime didn’t simply hear the words. He felt wet water, the panicky sensation of sinking down, down into the abyss. He felt the air draining out of him and the salty sea water gushing into his lungs.
Teatime frowned thoughtfully. So they had drowned. In order to make this work, he’d have to make them believe what they saw. What would they expect to see after drowning? Well, that would be hard to place. It would depend on their personal beliefs of death. Perhaps a better question would be what would they expect and/or hope to see before drowning. A rescue boat? Ah, that would be fun. But then again, perhaps he should save that for another time. Convincing dead people they were still alive might take a better understanding of this realm than he had yet to achieve. He needed practice first.
So he simply waited. It was rather dull, he realized, so Teatime started working on his knife throwing, using the apples for targets. When they proved to be too easy to hit, he started aiming for the roses far off in the distance. The best part was that he didn't even have to to go and retrieve his blade; no, it always showed up exactly where he'd left it, in the inside pocket of his long, black coat.
There was a distinct plop.
“Where the hell am I?” a rather confused, slightly crabby voice called out in surprise.
Teatime whirled around with a mischievous grin. There was a man, approximately twenty-five (give or take a few years), with black hair, and a rather befuddled expression painted on his face. He was sitting on the white grass, apparently having formed into a human shape while still floating listlessly.
“Hello,” the Assassin said. “My name's Teatime. What's yours?”
The man wrinkled his nose.
“I'm Nate, but you're Teatime? As in four o'clock in the afternoon?”
Teatime took in a deep breathe in exasperation. Even dead people had to get it wrong. With both Death and the Man In Green having said it correctly, he'd had such high hopes about the afterlife, too.
“No, I did say – ” the Assassin started.
“That really is a very funny name, Teatime.”
Nate hadn't said it right.
“It's pronounced – ”
“Are you an actor of some kind? If so, I guess it kind of makes sense, since people won't forget it easily – ”
Teatime sighed and 'practiced' tossing his knife into the man's heart, if only to shut him up. Nate glanced down at his chest in shock, then looked back up at the Assassin.
“What'd you do that for?!” he called.
Teatime kneeled in front of him and grinned charmingly.
“Please remember this in the future, because we're going to be spending a long time together. It's pronounced, if your mind can comprehend something other than what it has been force fed throughout its life, teh-ah-tim-eh.”
“But why'd you knife me?!”
Teatime closed his eyes and sighed softly as Nate disintegrated into several thousand specks of mist and drifted up into the night sky.
“Perhaps you'll get it right,” Teatime mused in a cheerful, soft voice as he stood to his full height and turned around. He'd sensed this other person coming, but now he could see her stumbling through the rose bushes, looking quite confused.
“Excuse me,” she called in a pleasant voice with a pretty smile. She then promptly tripped and cursed as she scratched her cheek against one of the thorns. She pulled herself up and smiled again. “Sorry. Those were some nasty thorns. I've never seen anything like them. But excuse me, sir. I'm Amarinthe, most call me Mara. I'm just looking for someone I know, and I was wondering if you might be able point me in the right direction.”
Teatime grinned a dazzlingly brilliant and charming smile. Finally, someone with manners.
“That depends, madam,” he replied with a small bow. He wasn't afraid that this particular girl would do something dreadful. No, he had a hunch that she wouldn't go about skewering him with pokers. “Who, precisely, are you looking for?”
Amarinthe shook her head thoughtfully.
“His name is Cree. He's tall, and scrawny, and has shaggy brown hair. Do you know where I am? The last thing I remember is someone trying to stab Cree, and I got in the way...” she trailed off in confusion.
“I'm afraid I'm as clueless as you are, Mara,” the Assassin replied, tingeing his voice with traces of regret as he stepped forwards. “And no, I haven't seen your Cree.”
“What is your last memory?” she asked curiously. “Perhaps if we combine our knowledge we could figure something out.”
Teatime grinned. This girl would be fun to be terrible to without her realizing it. Just think of all the mind games he could play.
“I remember seeing a poker coming out of my chest,” he answered cheerfully.
Mara furrowed her brow.
“A poker?” she asked in surprise. “How did that happen?”
“I messed with the wrong duchess.”
“Talk about getting your heart broken,” Mara said dryly with a raised brow.
“Actually, it was lower down,” Teatime grinned back. “But I was devastated.”
Her face cracked into a warm smile, and the Assassin took this moment to examine her. She was no older than nineteen, fraught with freckles, had violet eyes, and her hair wasn't quite down to her shoulders. It was hard to see its exact sheen with the lack of light, but appearances didn't really matter so he didn't give it much thought.
Her face grew thoughtful.
“So if you and I last remember having something that could be fatal happening to ourselves... is it possible that we're dead?” Amarinthe asked, her forehead wrinkling.
“Oh yes, I'd say it's quite possible,” Teatime replied with an emphatic nod and eerie grin.
There was a distinctive plop, and both their heads snapped to the Assassin's left. A redheaded sailor looked around in confusion, before grinning at Mara.
“'Lo there, pretty lass,” he said, standing to his feet and brushing off his white clothing. His eyes were locked rigidly on the girl before him. “You look mighty charming this lovely lit night. Might I ask where the sea 'as dropped me?”
“What's your name?”
The sailor pursed his lips in agitation as he glanced at the Assassin.
“Rhett Ordan. Do you know where I've landed?” he asked, his voice slightly disgruntled and face a little grouchy to be interrupted. Teatime wouldn't know this, but Amarinthe was the first woman this particular sailor had seen in three years. He was intending to take full advantage of the situation(3).
“Welcome to Hell, Rhett!” Teatime called cheerfully.
Mara burst out laughing, while the sailor managed to look more confused.
“That guy knifed me!” a rather dejected voice called, and everyone whirled around to see Nate pointing an accusing finger at the Assassin. “He really did!”
Teatime grinned even more broadly. This was all going so very well.
(1)It was strange, how the blue, black, silver, and white garden, though eerily lovely, stirred much the same feeling as a graveyard, or that unsettling fluttering of fear one would feel when they looked into Teatime's mismatched eyes.
(2)Or at least fit with everything else he’d deduced so far.
Victims Four Through Five
“Who are you?” Mara asked curiously, furrowing her brow at the newcomer.
“Nate Burghog,” he replied, crossing his arms. “He stabbed me!”
Teatime somehow appeared directly beside Nate, and spoke so softly only he could hear.
“Want me to do it again?” he whispered gently. Nate paled and shook his head. “Then shut up.” Teatime grinned and turned to everyone else. “A simple misunderstanding, I assure you. Wasn't it, Nate?”
The man gulped and nodded.
“Let's go over this, shan't we?” the sailor called. “We've got ourselves a Burghog and an Ordan, but we've yet to learn the true identity of the Maiden Fair. Or the other guy.”
Teatime frowned. He didn't like being the 'other guy'. But he supposed that could be fixed later.
Mara blushed profusely in the dim light at Rhett's comment.
“I'm Amarinthe, or Mara,” she replied.
The sailor took her hand and kissed it.
“A pleasure, Mademoiselle.” He stood straight, and glanced up and down Teatime condescendingly. “Who're you?”
“My name's Teatime,” the Assassin replied with a bright grin.
“Teatime...” Mara said, trying it on her tongue. “It sounds like something out of a really good mystery novel. It's a pleasure to meet you, good sir.”
The girl extended a hand and shook his, before doing a similar thing with the others. Teatime decided that Nate must have been a fluke. The afterlife folk really did get his name right.
“Mara!” called another voice. Heads flew, and a scrawny man with shaggy brown hair came into view. “Where on the disc are we?”
“I'll be damned if there need be more introductions!” he howled.
“Everyone, this is Cree,” Amarinthe said simply. “Cree, that's Rhett Ordan, that's Nate Burghog, and this is Teatime.”
Teatime grinned, and Cree flinched. The Assassin's was anything but a reassuring facial expression.
“Um, glad to meet you,” he managed hesitatingly before turning to Mara. “Are you all right? Do you know where we are?”
“I don't know, Cree,” she answered. “I think we're dead. Remember that guy, who tried to stab you – ?”
“Mara, what had you been doing there, anyhow? I'd told you to go,” Cree demanded, almost angrily.
She pursed her lips in agitation.
“I couldn't very well leave you alone!”
“But now we're both dead!”
Suddenly, they're heads instinctively turned to see Teatime watching them intently with his arms crossed and a rather amused expression plastered to his face.
“What is it? I'm only watching,” he asked, sounding terribly innocent and slightly confused. “Oh dear, you don't want me to, do you?” Teatime shook his head sadly. “You're so much more interesting than those two, though. They're talking about the best seamstresses.”
“Who finds that an interesting topic? Ew!” Mara called in disgust, wrinkling her nose.
Cree coughed nervously. Amarinthe noticed, and her head snapped accusingly towards him with narrowed eyes. Teatime actually laughed, and she glared at him. It wasn't a glare with half the power of Susan's, he noted.
“I do apologize. But I so hate listening to such...” he trailed off, “...shall we say such indiscriminate topics, and if I didn't watch the both of you I'd merely be wondering this dark garden.”
Someone cursed loudly.
“The damn grass cut me! It did!” Nate called angrily.
Good grass, he thought. And then, an idea hit him.
Teatime stood as Mara walked over to Nate and started to examine his cut while chewing her lip. The sailor glared at the other man jealously.
“What are you talking about, Nate?” she said, shaking her head and laughing. “It's like a paper cut.”
“It feels like someone rubbed salt into it,” he grumbled in reply.
Suddenly, the grass started growing around them, lifting and twisting into some kind of tight-knit dome. The individual blades wound together, in and out of each other to form some kind of mesh. Mara called out in shock and beat at the blades furiously.
“Let me out!” she screeched, practically hyperventilating. She turned to Nate and started pounding him with clenched fists. “Get me out!”
Nate cringed under her onslaught as Cree ran up to the net and pressed his hands against it.
“Breathe, Mara, breathe! Close your eyes, right now!” he called desperately.
“I'm trapped!” she sobbed.
“Close your eyes,” he insisted. She did, still crying, and curled up with her face in her knees. Her breathing was so heavy all could hear it quite clearly.
“Might I inquire as to why she's so... affected?” Teatime wondered curiously, stepping up beside Cree.
“She's claustrophobic,” he explained.
“Ah,” the sailor agreed with a nod, before kneeling before the net. “We'll get you out of there, pretty thing,” he said as reassuringly as he could.
Mara ignored him.
“I'm Mara-phobic!” Nate called, nursing his bruised body.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “Just don't make me look.”
Teatime cocked his head.
“I do have a knife,” he said simply. “But this grass doesn't seem normal. I doubt my humble blade will do anything.”
Everyone glanced around nervously, and the Assassin allowed himself the smallest smirk of satisfaction. Now they doubted that they could cut through the grass, and all their combined belief wouldn't counter his.
“Why don't you damn well try?” Nate yelled angrily. “I don't want to be stuck in all this claustra at all, let alone with Miss Phobic.”
“Sorry,” she sniffed.
“Hey, don't you dare talk about Mara that way!” Cree called aggressively, stepping forwards in anger.
“I talk how I like,” Nate replied indignantly, standing to his feet as best he could inside the grass dome. It wasn't quite big enough for his bulky form.
“I may be mistaken,” Teatime observed, “but Nate, I truly believe that you should work on your people skills.”
“Teatime there has a point,” the sailor said, rubbing his stubbly chin as the Assassin flinched. He'd gotten it wrong. “You're not too pleasant company.”
“Yeah? Well, you're not all butter and honey yourselves,” Nate bit back.
“And you're beginning to get on my nerves,” Cree growled.
Teatime nearly danced with glee. Conflict! Tears! Every man for himself! Danger! Mystery! Drama! Fun!
“Excuse me, dearies?” a new voice called. “Excuse me, but what's all this none-too-pleasant shouting? It's hard on my poor old ears.”
They whirled around to see a sweet looking lady somewhere in her late eighties or early nineties with a cane none-too-far off in the distance. There was an apprehensive glance around, and Teatime tossed Cree his knife.
“Why don't you try to help poor dear Amarinthe?” he said with a grin. “I'll take care of the little old lady.” Cree nodded in confirmation, and the Assassin held back a laugh as he started to zip onwards. He paused though, glancing over his shoulder. “I wouldn't mind if you left Nate in there, though.”
That got him a grin from Cree and Rhett both, and Teatime found himself thinking how nice was to have someone actually smile at him. What other things could he make them do and think? Oh, he could worry about that later. He had little old ladies to torment now.
- Current Mood: anxious