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During Death - more chapters!

Alright-ee, then, here are the next few bits to my story.  I hope you enjoy it, and please, please, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaase comment!

(You can read the first three chapters here, or the whole darn thing - so far! - on fanfiction.net over there)

Title:  During Death
Rating:   T (bits of murdering dead people, insinuated language, basic Teatime craziness... you get the picture)
Fandom:   Discworld/Hogfather
Category:   Humor/Supernatural/Adventure
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
 
DURING DEATH

Teatime's Adventures in the After Life

CHAPTER FOUR

Observations

So it had begun; here were the people Teatime would be spending quite some time with. As long they didn't quite know what he knew he could do practically whatever he pleased, and it would such an interesting game. But the game would wait, for now. For now, he would start learning the rules of the players – learning who they were, what they feared... observing, if you will. Piecing the bits together until he had a firm picture he could use, a manual he could refer to, clear and up front in his mind. With that, the fun could really begin. But until then, he would merely watch – for the most part.

The little old lady had white hair up in a high bun. She had hunched shoulders, and a baby-blue dress with white polka dots. Her cane was light wood, and she was wearing gardenia perfume. She squinted up at Teatime.

"Where are the angels, laddie?" she asked.

Teatime blinked, then grinned.

"What?" he asked.

"Death came for me quite recently. I expected there to be angels on the other side. Of course, I hadn't quite pictured such a dark and dreary garden for heaven, but at least it's somewhat ethereal and I can deal with that so long as there are angels," she replied.

Teatime opened his arms lightly.

"I'm an angel(1)!" the Assassin chimed cheerfully. Why not?

The little old lady squinted.

"You're not quite right," she answered.

"Don't I look like an angel?" Teatime pouted.

"Well, you've got a pretty enough face, mind you," the old lady answered, "and those yellow curls of yourn. But I don't recall there being anything about a black glass eye or black attire in the books, you're a good deal older and skinnier than you should be, and you're missing your wings."

Teatime shook his head.

"I see where your problem lies, madam," he replied. "You are referring to the traditional cherub. I, however, am a modern day angel. The wings were swapped for a much more contemporary black eye, and the color black was adopted due to the rise of popularity for said shade in recent years."

The old lady sighed, shaking her head.

"Kids these days! They've no respect for the classic things and have to go and mess it all up for their elders."

"I'm terribly sorry for any and all inconveniences, madam, and am very sorry to disappoint you."

"Ah, at least you're polite and all," she said with a sigh. "You have a name, or are you just 'angel'?"

Teatime grinned, glad to have this familiar ground.

"My name's Teatime; what's yours?" he asked.

"Esther," she replied, reaching out a firm, wrinkly hand to shake his. "I'd really thought I wouldn't have to worry about my aching back here..." she sighed.

"Oh, only if you think you do," the Assassin replied as he started walking towards the others. "If you want, you could be you when you were twenty-three. You only need to believe it."

"Really?" she said thoughtfully. "I'll have to try that."

"Oh, and Esther?" Teatime asked.

"Yes?" she answered, glancing up at him as she hobbled along.

"Please don't mention what I am to everyone else. They aren't quite..." he paused, "ready."

Esther winked.

"No worries there, deary. You're secret's safe with me."

Teatime smiled eerily.

"I'm much obliged. Thank you."

They returned to find Teatime's knife on the ground with some muddy shoe prints on it(2), Cree kneeling beside the dome and attempting to calm a very distraught Mara, and Nate and Rhett as close to duking it out as they could get when separated by an impenetrable net of grass. Teatime noted how hysterical the young girl was, knowing that it might be useful to remember her claustrophobia later. More interesting, however, was how attentive Cree was towards her. Didn't she say something about getting in the way of someone trying (and later succeeding) to kill him earlier? Hmm. So they were very close. He should keep that in mind; it might be fun to see just how close they were, and how well they stayed that way.

"SHUT IT!" Esther called.

Mara glanced up in surprise from her sobs. Nate's head lulled over in exasperation as he turned the voice's way. Cree appeared confused as he looked away from Amarinthe. Rhett had been hopeful, as the voice had been feminine, but seemed crushed to see that the potentially hot woman was about sixty years old(3). Teatime held back a laugh at all of them.

"Name," Esther demanded sharply of the sailor. He opened his mouth and started to stammer. "Respect your elders, laddie! NAME!"

"Rhett," he managed.

"You!" she called, pointing at the man on his knees before the dome.

"Er, Cree – "

"You!"

"Um, Nathaniel T. Burghog, Miss."

Everyone (save the little old lady) did a double-take at Nate's surprisingly polite tone.

Esther gave a sharp nod.

"All ye Rhetts and Nathaniels and Crees, step back and be bloody quiet!"

Everyone obliged, Nate pressing himself as far back against the grass dome wall as he could. So the seemingly rebellious and unstoppably rude Mr. Burghog listened to strong commands, at least from elderly folk. That could be useful information as well.

The little old lady knelt down before Mara and smiled sweetly.

"You all right, there, dear?" she asked. "What's you're name, lovely?"

"Amarinthe," she managed.

"Well, I'm Esther, dear. How long have you been trapped there?"

"I've been trapped, too, Miss – " Nate started.

"SHUT IT!"' the little old lady yelled.

He closed his mouth. Very tightly.

"Not very long. I just have a problem with... with..." she closed her eyes and shivered.

"She's claustrophobic," Cree finished.

"Just hang in there, deary," Esther Sue stood and glared around. "So, tell me now, why haven't you all cut her loose yet?"

"I'm afraid this grass is terribly unbreakable," Teatime explained, arms folded. He was rather amused.

"How'd you know?" Cree asked, standing to his feet and narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

Ah, so this man wasn't as trusting as the girl he so cared for. Interesting. Teatime raised a brow.

"Considering my knife is on the ground with several shoe prints, and that poor Mara is still trapped – "

"I am too," Nate grumbled.

" – , I must deduce that you were unable to cut it. Of course, that is assuming you know the mechanics of slicing with a dagger. Generally, you hold the hilt and slide of the edge of blade against that you wish severed."

"The roses," Mara said, as if she had become magically enlightened. Everyone turned to her in surprise. She glanced back and forth before taking in a deep breath to calm her racing heart and assure herself that she wasn't going to suffocate. "Those roses have thorns like no other. Maybe, as they are of the same realm as this grass, they could cut it where Teatime's knife, coming from the Land of the Living, had failed."

Teatime grinned. She'd gotten his name right, and put forth something that had to take some degree of intelligence to come up with. He was liking how this girl thought.

"What a... creative notion," he said.

"Excuse me," Nate scoffed, "but I have a hard time believing that a thorn could do better than a dagger."

"I hate to admit it," Rhett commented, rubbing his chin, "but Nate does have a point, there."

"But it's so inventive and novel!" Teatime protested. "Cutting her free with the thorns that cut her..."

Mara placed a finger on her bloody cheek in remembrance.

Teatime cheerfully pulled out his knife from his coat pocket (Cree would blink thoughtfully, wondering how it'd gotten there) and marched off to one of the rose bushes while Nate and Rhett started arguing again and Esther whipped them into shape. The Assassin grabbed the dark head of one of the flowers and sliced it from deep down in the stem. He walked leisurely back to the dome and used it like a saw against the grass blades. When at last there was a hole large enough to allow the others out, Mara sighed in relief.

"Thanks, Teatime," she said with a grateful smile as she stood. He returned it with an eerie grin. Amarinthe was just about to exit, when Nate shoved passed her and pushed out.

"Outta my way, Teatime," he grumbled as he stalked off a few feet towards the apple tree.

Teatime raised a brow.

I did go over it with you, Nathaniel, he thought, shaking his head.

"I thought it was teh-ah-tim-eh?" Mara asked as she pulled her way out through the hole in the net. Her tense shoulders relaxed as she stepped into the open night.

"It is, but it seems Mr. Burghog either cannot comprehend that, or simply doesn't like me," Teatime flashed a dazzling grin. "I can't imagine why."

"?$*&!" Nate cursed loudly as another grass net enveloped him. Teatime smirked in satisfaction and Amarinthe raised a brow.

"Clean out your mouth, boy!" Esther yelled grouchily.

"Talk about poetic justice," the young girl commented wryly.

"Should I free him?" Teatime mused. "What do you think, Amarinthe? Or should we let him... stew?"

Her freckly face smiled warmly.

"I'm half tempted! Unfortunately, it's awfully terrible in one of those things, so we should probably let him go. I wish I knew exactly what was going on, though," she answered. "Why that keeps happening."

Ah, so Mara was a compassionate soul who took little pleasure in the suffering of others – even those who deserved it. He was slightly disappointed (fellow sadists were so hard to find), but no matter. It'd be easier to mess with her this way.

"For you, then," the Assassin replied with a small bow. He grasped another rose and snipped it from the bush in a mere blur. "Perhaps we all should learn more about one another," Teatime said more loudly to everyone. "I'll start: I'm from Ankh Morpork, my name's Teatime, I'm an Assassin – "

"Figures," Nate grumbled. He was ignored.

" – I died by poker, and I like challenges, puzzles, and hot cocoa."

"By poker?" the sailor asked.

"He messed with the wrong duchess," Mara put in. Teatime grinned at her comment as he started sawing at Nate's net(4).

"You're an Assassin?" Cree called.

So the comment had taken a while to sink in. Cree needed time to adjust to a fact before he could react, it seems, and paid little mind as to what happened during said adjusting.

"I did say so," Teatime confirmed. "Do you have a particular issue with that fact?"

"Let's just say I've had bad experiences with them."

"So your turn, Mara," the Assassin said, not bothering to turn from his slicing. "Tell us more about... you."

"I'm from a tiny village called Yston between Uberwald and Lancre and most know me as Mara," she obliged, sitting down and leaning against the apple tree's trunk. "I'm a preschool teacher, I died by getting in the way of an Assassination, and I like baking, singing, and reading romance novels."

"Romance novels, love?" the sailor inquired. "'Ave you e'er tried those by Bellastrayne Bay?"

"A little raunchy for my tastes," Mara replied with a wrinkled nose.

"That's why I like 'em," Rhett mumbled under his breath.

What more could be said about the sailor? He obviously was very sexually deprived. Why exactly any of that mattered Teatime doubted he'd ever know, but it seemed to have a profound affect on some people. Like Rhett.

"Would you care to go next, Mr. Ordan?" Teatime asked.

"Well, I hale from the deep blue sea, I'm called Rhett, I'm a sailor, I drowned, and I like salty sea air, dancin' most 'eartily, and pretty lasses," he winked at Mara, who blushed.

"Yes, she's a very 'pretty lass,'" Cree glared. "A pretty lass you aren't getting within a five foot radius of."

"Cree, no need to be so protective," Mara replied; her voice was playful, but slight traces of annoyance were apparent to he who looked deeply. "He's only being polite."

"I doubt that his interests are at all polite," Cree grumbled, folding his arms grouchily.

Again, there was an example of the man's feelings for Amarinthe. Yet it also seemed that she viewed him as slightly overbearing. Hmm...

"Are the both of you... involved, then?" Teatime inquired.

Rhett looked crushed.

"Good heavens, no!" Mara laughed. Rhett brightened hopefully. "He's my big brother. Aren't you, Cree?"

He grumbled incomprehensibly.

"I'm Creevan von Iden. I'm a blacksmith. I was killed by an Assassin just after he killed my sister because of some old feud one of our vampiric ancestors had with another vampire that's still around somewhere in Uberwald. I like quiet. And people who keep their distance from my sister."

"I'm from Ankh Morpork, my name is Esther," the little old lady said. "I'm a retired judge." Everyone glanced around at everyone else. No one seemed surprised to learn that that was her previous occupation. "I died of old age, and I like quilting."

Teatime at last finished sawing Nate free.

"Took you long enough!" he said, stepping out. The grass caged him again and he roared.

"Why does this bloody keep happening to me?" Nate called angrily.

"Perhaps you should attempt to remember your manners, Nathaniel," Teatime said. "It has always been you to be caged. Perhaps this midnight garden demands pleasantries and etiquette."

"Cree hasn't been all sugar and spice, either," Rhett pointed out.

"Ah, but he is much kinder than Nate, here," the Assassin countered.

"True," the sailor shrugged.

Nate grumbled.

"Perhaps if you were to introduce yourself?" Teatime asked.

Nate grumbled again.

"Fine. I'm Nathaniel Burghog. I'm a miner. I was sailing with my team to a new mine when I and that other guy fell overboard and drowned. I like quiet, like Cree does."

Cree wrinkled his nose, much similar to his sister.

"We have something in common?" he called in disgust.

"Cree," Amarinthe chastised.

Teatime shook his head and laughed softly.

"Now that we're better acquainted," the Assassin started, "perhaps we should deduce our goals. What is it exactly we want? How do we intend to continue our existence, if this is the afterlife?"

"Quite frankly," Mara sighed, "I feel rather cheated. I was hoping for pearly gates and endless paradise. Now all I've got is this dim garden..." she shook her head against the tree's trunk before grabbing her brother's leg (he was standing directly beside her) affectionately and smiling sweetly up at him. "Least I've got you, Cree dear."

Cree raised a brow.

Teatime scratched at the bark of the trunk. He was starting to get bored. All this observing, no action, no mental drama, no stabbing people... Perhaps he should skip ahead and send someone into Primordial Shock. What would Cree think if he killed Mara?

"Any more bright ideas, Teatime?" Nate called grouchily. "Don't look like this grass is quite ready to let me go!"

"Why yes," the Assassin answered, watching little flecks of pale, silver wood fall listlessly to the ground. "Perhaps you should try hopping on foot and closing one eye? Maybe then it'll let you go."

"You're the one with eye problems!" he countered.

Teatime grinned, looking up and meeting Nate's two eyes with his one.

"Most certainly. How observant of you."

"What did happen to your eye, Teatime?" Mara wondered. "If you don't mind me asking."

The Assassin frowned. No one had ever been comfortable enough around him to ask about his eyes. Er, eye. Perhaps this was something he should change. This Amarinthe seemed so very... dare he say at home?... around him, and he wasn't quite sure that he liked that. There was something about fear that he relished. It almost unnerved him(5), how comfortable she was.

But he could ponder that later. He had to answer a question now, and it was oh so impolite to leave a person waiting for an answer. If there was one thing he wasn't, it was impolite.

"An accident," Teatime replied with a cheerful smile. "A very, very troublesome accident. There was a lot of blood."

Cree shifted uncomfortably, and couldn't help but wonder why this obviously friendly man made his skin crawl. His sister was oblivious, and that made him think that there must be something wrong with himself, rather than the other. That didn't keep him from shivering, though, and Mara did have a habit of seeing people in a good light.

Teatime noticed the other's unease, but said nothing as he passed his rose through the tight-knit grass to Nate.

"Perhaps if you cut yourself out it'll stop."

"Perhaps."

"Mara, lass, what happened to that pretty cheek of yours?" Rhett asked, reaching up to the bloody gash across it. Teatime listened intently as he began carving idly into the silvery bark.

"I was attacked by monstrous roses," she answered with a grin.

"Killers, aren't they?"

Mara laughed.

"Oh, I'll have to agree."

Teatime watched out of the corner of his eye, intrigued. Here was what the other boys in the Assassin's Guild would have called 'flirting'. Their changes in posture, the brightness of Mara's cheeks, all showed that the sailor was attempting to woo her. Time to see how well he could predict what the others' actions with what he'd learned so far.

Three...

Two...

"Five foot radius, Ordan!" Cree reminded in a warning tone, stepping between the two of them and glaring profusely at the male party.

One, Teatime finished with a satisfied smirk.

"We're only making pleasant converse, von Iden!" Rhett called defensively. "Lighten up!"

"Listen to me very, very, carefully," he growled.

All eyes were on the two men. Well, almost all eyes.

"Fancy the sailor, do you?" Teatime asked softly.

Mara whirled around in surprise, and attempted to smile off the scowl present on her face.

"I don't know," she answered. "Cree won't let me find out."

The bitterness in her voice was apparent. Hmm, so there was trouble in their seemingly tight-knit closeness. Hadn't they been arguing, earlier? Something about her staying when she should have left. Interesting.

"Ah. You feel... restricted? As if you have to watch over your back to be most certain you're doing it right, and not quite knowing what 'right' is?"

"It's freer than being trapped a net of grass, but..." she trailed off, smiling, "...yes, that's just it. Have you ever felt that way?"

Teatime frowned thoughtfully for a few seconds, then brightened with a charming smile.

"Oh, yes. Back in my old occupation, before I died, they were quite demanding when it came to how I went about my work," the Assassin replied. "I never knew exactly what they wanted out of me, or why what I did wasn't right. They tried to explain, but I never understood."

Ah, he had her. There, the glint in her eyes of hope of companionship in some way, shape or form. Here it was, a way to start some kind of game and get into her head. What was his goal? Perhaps to spawn some kind of disagreement between the siblings. That might be intriguing. But he couldn't be caught; no, that would ruin it. He would have to move her hand without his being seen.

"Did you ever work it out?" she asked curiously, concern showing in her friendly voice and freckly face as she leaned forwards.

"Oh, yes, I did," Teatime answered with a bright smile and emphatic nod. "I died, and therefore the cord is severed. I'm free to do as I please, now."

Amarinthe sighed sadly, turning to look at her brother and the sailor's heated argument.

"Well, no cord to be severed here."

"You're stuck?" he asked curiously.

"I wouldn't use that word. He really means well. I just wish he'd... he'd..." she trailed off and chewed her lip.

What had she wanted to say? If only he could get in her head and find out. He so hated it when others couldn't put their thoughts to words. It left his near insatiable curiosity wailing in pain and misery.

"...Trust you?" he tried hopefully.

"Yes!" Mara called excitedly. "Exactly the word! Perhaps I should explain that to him."

Oh no! If the two of them had a long, meaningful discussion and worked out their differences there'd be no fun. That wouldn't do.

"Or perhaps you should show him that you're trust worthy," Teatime suggested.

"What do you mean by that?" Mara asked, her face growing curious.

"It seems he simply fears that you would either be taken advantage of, or chose someone less than favorable. Perhaps you should show him his fears are unfounded. Actions do speak so very much louder than words."

"And how would I go about doing that?" she laughed. "It's not like I've got many choices. There's the girl-hungry sailor, but Cree's already shown great disapproval for him. There's..." she wrinkled her nose, "...Nate, and though I'm sure he can't be all bad – "

"You'd be surprise, Amarinthe," Teatime put in, "just how bad some people can be even to their very core."

She laughed.

"Well, regardless, not him. And you – "

Teatime blinked in shock.

"Excuse me?" he said. "I'm not sure if I've heard you correctly.

Mara's cheeks brightened and she coughed nervously. Her entire posture changed, and the Assassin wasn't exactly sure why.

"Um... er... you. My brother doesn't seem to like you so much either."

"Oh, doesn't he? I'm not so good with people..." the Assassin sighed sadly. "I just don't seem to have the... knack." He shook his head regretfully, gazing off into the great beyond.

"You're not so bad," she said with a warm smile. "I rather like you."

"But what has any of that to do with our previous conversation, Mara?" the Assassin asked, looking up and meeting her eyes.

She blinked, flushed, and coughed again.

"It's that... um..." Mara tried. "Er, I was saying that you and I in a romantic relationship for the lone purpose of proving to my brother that I am capable of doing so wouldn't work because – "

Teatime blinked. He must be mishearing this, misunderstanding something. It didn't click.

"I'm sorry. I don't understand," he replied.

The problem was, you see, that the Assassin simply couldn't comprehend romance and himself connected in any way, shape, or form. It just didn't fit. He acknowledged its existence, but that he would ever have anything to do with it was not revolting, intriguing, or even merely neutral in his mind – it was unthought of; impossible to the extent that he had never even considered it. It was unfathomable to his brilliantly broken mind, in such a way that he simply couldn't grasp it without sufficient time to adjust to the notion.

"It doesn't matter. Forget I said anything. I'll just move on," she managed through her embarrassment.

Teatime shook his head.

"No, I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Amarinthe." For the first time, she was unsettled by him. The way he said those words, though be it still cheerful and friendly, gave the impression that he had said them before with a bloody outcome. She blinked it back, though, as he continued. "I have an insatiable curiosity."

"You and I. Liking each other in the romantic sense. Kissing, holding hands, et cetera," Mara tried, blinking slightly in her own confusion as she spit it all out as quickly as possible.

"You were suggesting that – ?"

"No!" she called, raising her hands frantically. "Not that it wouldn't be nice... or that I don't want it... or that I do... or anything at all, I was just saying, hypothetically, that I didn't have very many romantic options here, and why none of them would work to prove anything to my brother."

"Ah. I'm afraid I haven't spent much time thinking on romantic interludes, so the proper etiquette on such matters eludes me," he replied regretfully. "I find the whole thing a rather waste of time."

Mara smirked.

"Have you ever tried it?" she asked.

"As I said, I've seen it as a waste of time. Why bother?"

"It can be quite satisfying."

"Have you had much experience with it yourself?" Teatime asked curiously.

"No, not much. But I've had a few beaus in my time," she replied.

"Where are they now?"

"Um..."

"Exactly my point."

"One of them might still be with me if Cree wasn't always breathing down their necks!" Mara called, slightly defensively.

A small smirk slid across the Assassin's face.

"Ah, Cree again. You should deal with this, Mara."

She shook her head, and grabbed an apple.

"Perhaps you're right," Amarinthe sighed softly.

"Oh, shut it, won't you, boys? You're hurting me poor old head," Esther complained at the sailor and Cree, who were yelling their mouths off.

"Ya hear the lady?" Nate called, stepping from the net he'd finally freed himself from. "SHUT IT!"

There was silence after that. Mara bit into her apple.

"Perhaps we should sleep," she suggested.

"Oh, must we?" Teatime sighed. "Isn't that the good part of being dead? Not having to?"

"I'm tired," she replied with a shrug. "You can stay up all night if you want."

"I might do just that," the Assassin answered with a crooked grin.

"I, for one, will be sleeping," Cree said, sitting on the pale grass and making himself comfortable.

"I'd rather not sleep at all with such pretty and pleasant company," the sailor said with a wink, "but I suppose – "

A leg swung (Cree's), a foot slipped (Rhett's), and a crabby sailor sat up rubbing a bruised hip while a protective older brother smirked with his arms under his head. Mara rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to chastise him, before thinking better of it.

"I was talking about talking!" Rhett called angrily. "I wasn't thinking of anything else, von Iden!"

"Sure you weren't," Cree said through a yawn.

"Definitely take care of him," Teatime whispered. "Somehow."

Mara nodded.

"I'll have to agree."

(1)Life, who happened to be watching, practically keeled over and would have died (if she hadn't been Life) laughing when she heard that statement.

(2)Teatime assumed that someone had stomped on it in frustration when it hadn't worked on the grass dome.

(3) -er than him.

(4)And it wasn't humanly possible to saw any more slowly.

(5)And that was saying something.

CHAPTER FIVE
Bloody White Cap
 

Everyone was fast asleep; Esther, Rhett Ordan, Nathaniel Burghog, and Amarinthe and Cree von Iden. Lying listlessly in the darkness of his world, they were – sound in their realm of dreams. Teatime shook his head. He didn't believe he needed sleep, so he could put this extra time to use. He had done his observing; now it was time to start the game.

A dark grin spread across the Assassin's face as Teatime slid silently across the pale grass, and touched Mara's shoulder lightly.

"Maaaaaaarrraaaaaaaaaa..." he sang softly. "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrraaaaaaaa..."

She mumbled, rolled over, opened her eyes and blinked.

"Teatime...?" she asked groggily. "I'm tired."

The Assassin grinned.

"I've found something. Come with me."

"Should I wake the..." Mara yawned as she sat up. "Should I wake the..."

"It's taken me so very long to get you up, though," Teatime replied with a slight pout. It hadn't, but she didn't have to know that. "Please, we won't be long."

"Couldn't this wait until morning?" she asked sleepily as she followed the Assassin's excited stride.

"Of course it could," he replied matter-of-factly with a charming grin. "I couldn't."

Mara laughed.

"Teatime, you're without a doubt the most unique individual I've ever met," she said through her smile before tilting her head thoughtfully. "Is Teatime your first or your last name, by the way? I've been wondering."

"Does it really matter?" the Assassin piped cheerfully. "I've just been that one name for so very long, now."

Mara smiled mischievously.

"My curiously is insatiable."

"Oh, well, if that's the case," Teatime replied with a pleased grin, "it's my last." Before she could inquire further, the Assassin pointed over the hill. "There it is, Mara."

He zipped up to the crest more quickly than one could blink before turning back and grinning.

"Are you coming, Amarinthe von Iden?" he called as the moonlight hit off his black eye. She smiled as she ran up after him and peered over the hill. There was a little cottage.

"I've made some cocoa," he said cheerfully. "The fixings were in the kitchen."

Mara shook her head and went down to the door before pulling it open. Inside was a kitchen/living/dining room, with a couch, an armchair, an island, a few counters, a stove, a small table with a few chairs by a window, and a bookshelf. The furniture was all crammed together, but somehow managed to fit. It still was all black, white, and blue – pale shades of darkness. But the sun had yet to rise, so perhaps that should be expected. There were a few mugs and dirty dishes on the counter.

"What's a cottage doing here?" Mara said thoughtfully. Now wasn't that nice? She was actually thinking. "I mean, those are generally man made, and all, so why would it be here if we're..." she yawned, "...alone...?"

Teatime frowned.

"I thought the same thing," he replied. "But perhaps I shouldn't have wakened you. You are so dreadfully tired."

"Dreadfully indeed," Mara agreed. "I'll just... close my eyes for a bit on that couch and... you can tell the others..." she shook her head. "To hells with it, I'm sleeping here. Not on that hard ground and the paper cutting grass! Please tell Cree where I am, won't you? Or are you going to sleep here, too?"

"Oh, I'll tell him for you," Teatime blatantly lied with a charming, reassuring smile. "I most definitely will. No worries there. Sleep well, Mara. I'm so terribly sorry for waking you."

She smiled.

"No, it's fine. Feel free. I'll tell you if I'm too tired to be any fun. Like now."

"Oh, trust me, Mara. You're plenty of fun."

Perhaps not now, but, if all went as planned, her actions would result in quite the amount of 'fun'.

"Mara?" Cree called in shock.

The others stirred from their sleeping state, looking around groggily. Well, all others save Teatime, who snapped awake in a flash(1), and Nate, who kept right on snoring.

"What is it, Mr. von Iden?" the Assassin asked.

"Mara's gone!" he called, obviously panicked.

"What, the pretty maid's gone?" Rhett looked crestfallen.

"Her name," Cree growled as he ground his teeth, "is Amarinthe! You could do well to call her by it."

"If she asks me to, I will, von Iden, but otherwise she don't seem to mind much, does she now?" the sailor countered, voice dripping exasperation and agitation.

Cree stood to his feet angrily.

"To hell with this! I need to find my sister right now."

"Perhaps she went for a walk?" Teatime suggested. "I'm certain that she's perfectly all right, Mr. von Iden. It's not as if Rhett awoke in the middle of the night, professed his undying love, was rejected, and murdered her most brutally afterwards. We're already... dead, after all. As far as we know, anyhow."

Cree shot a nasty glare the sailor's way.

"Thanks for giving him ideas, Teatime," Rhett grumbled.

"What?" he asked innocently, glancing back and forth between them, then understanding appeared to dawn on his face. "Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry." He turned to Cree. "You do know I meant nothing by all that, don't you? You do understand that none of us could possibly wish your dear sister any hard whatsoever? Why would any of us lure her away from the rest mid night? We're not all lovelorn, lady deprived sailors." He blinked. "Oh dear, it was a figure of speech. Quite honestly, a figure of speech!"

Cree ground his teeth.

"Calm down, everyone!" Esther screeched commandingly.

"Shut your trap for a change!" the shaggy-haired man yelled angrily as he stood to his feet and started stalking off.

"RESPECT YOUR ELDERS!"

Nate rolled over and finally woke up.

"What happened?" he mumbled groggily.

"Nothing much," Teatime replied cheerfully. "Mara's vanished and Cree's blaming Rhett."

"Oh. Let me know when something important happens," Nathaniel replied before rolling over and trying to sleep again.

"You need to get up, young man!" Esther called. "It's high time, see that there sun!"

It was true; Teatime's lovely midnight garden was now golden red, blazing with fiery roses, orange-sheened bushes, glistening gold grass, burgundy bark, and the painted sky of sunrise. He should have known the others would be expecting such a change. Perhaps this version of his garden was lovely in its own way, but the Assassin much preferred the dark beauty he himself had created to this. With a sad sigh as he glanced around regretfully, Teatime started after Mara's brother.

"Why Cree, you look in such a terribly foul mood."

"I am," he answered plainly.

"Ah, and I assume I am doing nothing to make it better?"

"Yep, nothing."

"Then I apologize for my continued presence."

"Perhaps you could discontinue it about now?" Cree asked.

"No, I'm afraid not," Teatime answered.

"Why?"

"I wanted to talk with you about your sister, of course," he replied matter-of-factly.

Cree paused, turning abruptly the Assassin's way, and gave him his full, undivided attention.

"What about her?" he asked suspiciously with his eyes narrowed.

"Oh, just that she seemed rather peeved yesterday," Teatime answered lightly. "I'd give her a bit more space, if I were you, Mr. von Iden."

"Peeved? Peeved about what?"

"The way you treated that sailor. She seemed... oh, I don't know, almost angry. She said something along the lines of 'he won't let me do anything myself'. And then there was that moment last night when the two of them were talking – "

"What?" Cree called.

Ah, perfectly done. Teatime grinned.

"They were just talking."

"I'm going to kill that scoundrel!" he cursed. "After I find Mara."

"What's all this about killing, young man!" the little old lady called, standing up as straight as she could. She was over twenty feet away, but Cree was pretty loud.

"Just give me some space!" Amarinthe's brother called. "I just need some space..." he sighed, and started off once again. "That includes you, Assassin, so stop bloody following me."

"Oh. If you insist!" with that, Teatime turned around and started planning how he would send the sailor into Primordial Shock. Nothing like a little inhumation to stir things up. If it would count as an inhumation(2), that is.

"So Ordan, you're looking that way. I'm going this way. Nate, you go that way. Teatime, you go that way. And Esther..." Cree trailed off, catching a glimpse of the little old lady's fierce expression, "...er, Miss Esther, if you could please help me to search for my lost sister in that direction in particular, I would very, very much appreciate it."

"If you ask, laddie," she replied with a curt nod and started off. The sailor followed Cree's instructions as well, but Nate merely rolled over and grumbled something incomprehensible.

Teatime continued in the direction Cree had indicated. Under normal circumstances he would have done something quite different, but he had a plan of action here. Up the hill, over the crest... good, now turn, and follow Rhett's trail. A few seconds later and...

"Oh, dear, I have such a terrible sense of direction," Teatime sighed. "I'm afraid I've gone the wrong way."

"Easy enough to do 'ere, I suppose," Rhett replied with a friendly smile. "It's kind of eerie, and near impossible to tell exactly which way's which. It's as if it's not like this place is really real – it's like it's just tryin' to be, if you know what I mean."

"Yes, I think I understand," Teatime mused, hands in the pockets of his long coat. "It's so..." he grinned, "...undiscly. Then again, this is not the disc."

"I'm still not completely convinced that I'm dead, yet," Rhett answered, glancing around. "I mean, what if this is all just some great experiment and our every move is being watched by some scientist or another?"

"What an interesting hypothesis," the Assassin chirped cheerfully. "Certainly, I suppose that is a possibility, but I would greatly resent being someone else's Guinea pig."

"Ah, but 'avin' one of your own is just lovely!" the sailor laughed jokingly.

"Exactly!" Teatime called excitedly, glad to see someone else who felt the same (he couldn't quite tell that the man was joking). "Well, I must thank you, Mr. Ordan, for a most pleasant conversation."

"You're going to be off, then?" Rhett asked.

"No. You are."

The 'r' sound hadn't been finished when the blade had slipped far into Rhett's torso. The sailor stared down at it in shock before looking up at him, his face filled with confusion.

"I don't... understand," he managed.

"Oh, don't worry, Rhett," Teatime answered cheerfully, taking out the blade as the other fell to his knees, his face contorted with restrained pain as his blood flowed freely. "It's just a game; nothing personal at all. You're rather pleasant company, in fact." The Assassin knelt before him and flashed a friendly grin. "I'll see you soon, then. But don't tell anyone, please, or we'll have to do this again the messy way. I can be very messy."

Rhett's brow furrowed in confusion and the slightest trace of fear as the Assassin took his sailor hat and the man's body dissolved into white mist. Teatime wiped off his bloody knife on the white cap and placed it on the golden grass, stained with the man's blood. It would be discovered soon enough. He stood and cheerfully started off to the cottage he'd created, stuffing his red hands into his pockets. It wasn't too far off, and actually in the direction Cree had told him to go so it wouldn't draw suspicion.

The Assassin pulled the door open and glanced around, immediately seeing the young girl's body sprawled listlessly on the couch. The house seemed more golden and cheerful in the yellow sunlight, and here he could tell that Amarinthe's hair was actually somewhere between strawberry blond and brown. He washed in hands in the sink, then leaned low beside her and whispered in her ear.

"Mara, the sun is up," Teatime said softly.

Her eyes shot open and she sat up stick straight. She looked around in confusion, then turned to him, her freckly forehead furrowed.

"Teatime?" she asked, her voice dripping befuddlement.

"I've made cocoa!" he called cheerfully. It didn't take much effort to believe the cups into existence as he said the words. "But really, Mara, you should have told us before you left."

Her brow wrinkled even more.

"No, you woke me up, and showed me – "

"I'm afraid I was fast asleep the whole night, Mara," he replied thoughtfully. "Are you… sure?"

Amarinthe cocked her head.

"Don't you remember? You told me Teatime was your last name on the way here."

"No, that was when we were discussing how your brother doesn't trust you earlier," he answered confidently.

"I was really tired..." she shook her head. "Are you sure? I distinctly remember you, on the hill, leading me here... How did you find me?"

"Rhett's missing, too. Cree thought you both ran off together and has us all looking."

Mara sighed in exasperation.

"You'd think he'd get it!" she called angrily. "I just want... I just..." she sighed, shook her head, then looked up with a sad small smile. "Did you say cocoa?"

"I made you a mug, too," Teatime put in with a charming smile.

"I think I could use that about now," Mara said wryly as she stood to her feet, walked to the counter, grabbed a mug, and took in a long, slow smell of the sweet, chocolaty substance as Teatime watched curiously from across the room on the couch. "Mmmm..." she sighed, her voice dripping with obvious pleasure. She nearly dropped the cup when she opened her eyes and saw the Assassin standing across from her, leaning casually on the counters and sipping his own drink. Instead, she merely clutched it more tightly as she really (really) didn't want to lose it.

"I'm terribly sorry. Did I... frighten you?" he asked curiously.

"A little, but it was more of a surprise. I'm not afraid of you, Teatime."

He cocked his head curiously. Had there ever been a person who wasn't at least a little frightened of him? Perhaps he should remedy this; a few tricks with the knife should do it.

But that later. For now…

"We should probably be off, then. Cree is most definitely worried."

Mara rolled her eyes and made her way towards the door.

"Yes, probably," she sighed, then blinked when Teatime somehow made it there first and swung it open. "You did it again."

"Did what?" he asked innocently, leaning on the arm holding the knob.

"Shifted. Moved faster than the eye. Went somewhere else without warning."

"Like this?" he asked by her ear. She whirled around and grinned.

"Quit it!" Mara laughed.

"But it's such... fun," he pouted, out the door and on the other side of her now.

Amarinthe shook her head and giggled as she started off into the dawn light.

"This place looks different by day," she observed, falling in step beside the Assassin.

"Indeed. I prefer it at night."

"It's pretty now, and it was then, but here it gives me a headache and then the chills. I hope there will be a happy medium sometime later."

"I like chills."

"Sometimes they can be fun," Amarinthe agreed with a simple nod before sipping her drink. "But not as a place to spend eternity in, if you ask me. And I guess that's what we're going to be doing. Who knew death would be like this?" She sighed, "Is this what I deserve after my life?"

"Is this so terrible?"

He was having the time of his life(3).

"No. It's not particularly good, either," Mara explained. "I guess I was a pretty darn average girl."

And they came over the hill, the burning rosebushes and apple tree now in sight. There was only one person there, however, and that was Nate, leaning up against said tree and munching on a practically glowing apple happily. Mara smiled as she plucked one and sat beside him.

"Good to see you, Nathaniel," she said.

"Hmm," he grunted.

"Not changed a bit, have we?" Teatime sighed, sitting himself and sipping more of his cocoa.

Nate choked on his apple.

"It was so good before!" he called in shock. "It's all bitter all the sudden!"

"Odd," Mara said, her forehead furrowing.

No one noticed the smirk that slowly spread across the Assassin's face. The miner threw the apple into the distance in disgust and crossed his arms in agitation.

"Where were you off to, Miss Phobic?" Nate grumbled gruffly.

She raised a brow, then chewed on her lip thoughtfully.

"It's all rather hazy," she answered apologetically. "I guess I went for a walk, found this cottage, and fell asleep in it."

"And how'd you find her so quickly, Teatime?"

"Oh, it was just over the hill from here," he chimed cheerfully. "And it's teh-ah-tim-eh."

"Wait, back track a few seconds, will you?" Nate requested. "Did you say cottage? As in, one with a kitchen?" he sniffed. "Is that cocoa you're both drinking?"

"Yes," both replied simultaneously.

Nate stood to his feet and grinned.

"Show me! Now!" he shook his head gleefully. "Kitchen raiding time!"

Amarinthe snorted with laughter as she stood to her feet, surprised to see Teatime already five feet towards the hill. She hadn't even noticed him stand.

"He's quick, isn't he?" she commented to the man grinning from ear-to-ear beside her.

"I guess so." He quickened his pace. "Wait up, Teatime!"

They reached the hill in no time, and Nate was just about to charge for the cottage when Mara noted something in the distance.

"Look, look over there! A white speck."

Nate followed her pointed finger and squinted.

"Huh," he said, then turned towards the cottage and started charging towards it.

"I'm going to go check that out," Mara said curiously.

"I'll make sure Nate doesn't tear the place apart, then wait up by the tree for everyone else," Teatime agreed with a bright smile and happy nod. "I'll see you soon, Mara."

She returned the gestures, and started off towards the white speck.

Teatime waited.

Three...

Two...

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

One, he finished with a satisfied smirk.

(1)Of course, he hadn't really been asleep, but he was good at pretending to be. He'd never mastered appearing to wake up, though.

(2)After all, they were already dead.

(3)Er, death. Er, being.