Ryan watched as Death walked away with Stef…and was unsurprised when Death appeared beside him.
The sight, he was sure, wasn’t one that many people had seen – Death in two places at once, and that was only what he could perceive – he was sure that wafer-thin slices of reality away, she was speaking with thousands of thousands of people, on the very spot where he stood.
‘She only needs a moment,’ Death said, lightly touching his arm. ‘I need to explain things to her, but…for once, you don’t need to speak with my sister to get a guarantee.’
‘I need-‘ he faltered. ‘I need her to have a choice. I know what I want, but I won’t- I made this decision for her once, I won’t do it again.’
‘Angel,’ Death said, ‘by existing, you are influencing her decision. Influence is not always a negative thing.’
He looked down at the red ball – the same red ball that she’d been playing with so long ago. He crouched, and picked it up, and began to wipe some of the dust away with his sleeve. ‘I…I had no idea what would happen when we were here the first time. I didn’t care about her, I didn’t-‘ He looked away. ‘She was penance, nothing more, but you know that, my lady.’
‘In a lot of worlds, Ryan, that’s all she ever was. So many of you never met her again. All that matters though, is this you, and this her.’ She gave him a sad smile. ‘You know it isn’t going to be easy.’
‘I have-‘ he started, unsure of how to finish the sentence. He had ideas, notions and half-formed plans. Everything had been a wait up until this point. He couldn’t plan beyond getting to see her again…in case everything had failed.
And it could still go wrong. It could still end in tears.
‘I cannot give you a guarantee there,’ Death said, ‘I never know who will become a ghost and who will not. This is a point I cannot see beyond until it happens. I know every possible outcome, and I know that every possible outcome will happen, but I cannot tell you what will happen to your little girl.’
‘I know, Lady. And it would be interference to tell me, and I would not-‘ He stopped. ‘And that’s a lie, even if it’s a well-intentioned one. I would ask for interference, because I’m arrogant, and because I believe I know what is best.’ He dipped his head. ‘I know I ask a lot of you, Lady, but I never expect it.’
‘I know, angel. Beyond my requirements, I do not indulge the ungrateful, or the selfish. If you ever overstep your bounds, I assure you, you will be quite aware.’
Ryan smiled. ‘Yes, my lady.’
Death tuned to look towards the tree line. ‘She’s made her decision, and we’re coming back.’
The Death beside him disappeared, and he watched as Death and his-
The word weighed heavily on his mind. He’d vocalised it a dozen times to himself and others, said “child” even more. It was…There were a hundred things people could call it, from rushed to stupid to-
It was the truth, so much as it mattered.
Stef looked at him as she emerged from the forest. There was fear in her expression, but also the same little streak of determination he’d see a few times. The same strength she’d had when she’d saved their lives. When she’d been strong enough to ask to come on the mirrorfall mission.
She gave him a little smile as they approached. ‘I’m gonna- I’m going to try, but- But I need to ask one thing- One thing first, so I’m not wasting your time.’
‘You aren’t wasting my time, Stef.’
‘Do you want me to come back? I don’t want to be a-‘
He gave his head a sharp shake before she could finish her sentence. ‘You aren’t a bother, you aren’t a problem, and you are wanted.’
She stood a little straighter. ‘Okies, if you’re sure.’
A doorway into blackness appeared behind her, a gentle, cold breeze blowing out of it.
He took two steps forward, and put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Keep going up. Don’t stop. If there are stairs, climb them. Go towards the light.’
‘That usually means death!’ she said. ‘Going towards the light is a bad thing!’
‘The light is life, Stef. Just keep going up. Don’t get distracted and don’t get lost. Concentrate, keep concentrating, and you’ll come back.’
She nodded. ‘Up, opposite of down. Up equals light. Light equals life. Therefore, up equals life, correct?’
He hugged her again. ‘You’ll be fine, and I’ll be waiting.’
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