//trigger warnings for implied/referenced suicide
“Lee?” the voice is fragile, delicate in the way it twines through the darkness.
Sitting, in the middle of the circular room, is a girl. Small and hunched and sad, her skin is flushed red and she sobs, loudly and rawly, rippled around the edges with the faint outline of pain. “No,” she manages to almost snarl, the sound that of a cornered animal, lost and angry and hurting so much.
“Lee,” it comes again, wheedling almost, and someone steps out of the darkness. Somehow it seems to radiate light, a soft glow like when you’re tired and your eyes blur things around the edges - carefully not-too-bright but just enough to illuminate the figure.
“Mara?” the girl manages to sob out, cheeks wet and flushed an ugly shade of patchy red, face in slack torment.
The reply is sure but slow, a steady “Yes,” as ‘Mara’ steps closer and kneels down beside her, hands held out.
Lee almost takes them, for a moment, almost slips her palms close to theirs and connects, but a split-second narrowed eye and she’s scrambling back, fingers scratched bleeding and puffy and raw against the terrifyingly smooth floor. Her back hits the wall hard enough that she can feel the faint, nearly inconsequential bolt of pain through her spine. “You’re not Mara,” she growls, wounded and uncontrollably open. “Stop it.”
“I never meant to look like her,” the form says, bending closer to slip into sitting position and sliding nearer along the ground. It won’t focus, still staticky around the edges and still emanating the waning and rising glow of thin light. "Sometimes I just let them decide who they think I am. Friends are pretty common."
"She was my girlfriend," Lee rasps out, eyes ringed heavily with pinkness still wide at the sight of the figure.
The form pauses for a moment. "Oh. My apologies for assuming. I don't know everything about everyone that comes through, just the important bits."
"What are the important bits?" the girl asks, not sure she wants to know, wincing as she settles into a cross-legged sitting position. She's still sniffling a little, throat sore and nose running from the heavy crying she'd been doing. A thin headache pounds weakly away behind her temples.
The figure considers her for a moment, what looks like a cocked head to the side from what Lee can see of it.
"How you died," it says eventually.
"Oh." Her shoulders slump a little, suddenly managing to appear even more tired than she was before, exhaustion cutting deeply into the lines on her face. "So that wasn't a dream or a failure. But my neck doesn't hurt."
The figure doesn't have an expression, Lee can't see it well enough for that, but she could almost swear it softens.
"You heal externally the more you heal internally," it tells her, "But according to your wishes and thoughts when you die, we do a little extra work for you ahead of time."
"What are you?" Lee nearly shouts, volume rising rapidly, clearly paying more attention to the actual figure than what it's saying.
It makes a faint, breathy sound that seems to be what it constitutes as a sigh. "It's up to you to decide."
"No, seriously?" she's growing increasingly agitated. "What the hell are you? You're clearly not human. I'm dead, and you're here, so what does that-"
She stops. "You're not god, right." it's a statement, not a question.
"No," the figure agrees, "I'm not. Not yours, at least."
"Where do I go after this? Am I trapped here forever?" Lee's desperate, now, lunging forwards to just stop short of sticking her face in front of what would presumably be the form's face.
"I take you where you go. And where you go depends completely and utterly on nothing but you." It's dead serious, tone flat, and it sends a nervous chill through her spine.
"Oh," Lee says. "Oh." there's a second of realization where she whispers, very quietly and very deliberately, "You are the Grim Reaper."
She could swear that its mouth curls into a wide, dangerous smile. "I suppose I am."
It seems now that she's decided what it is, what she sees it as, it's coming into focus more. Parts of it are still blurry, staticky almost, like white noise as a color. But it has sharp, sharp teeth like needles that are lined in progressively smaller rows, as if it's a shark, and a couple evanescent facial features flicker in and out of sight before fading away completely.
Instead of emanating the warm glow, it seems to be shrouded in a thin cloak of smoke, light gray and nearly insubstantial. "I take you home, Lee. I don't kill you, I just walk you to where you stay at the end of the journey - the end of your life. I was there when you were born, and I'm here for your death. I am lord of the crossroads."
"So... you're a guy?" she questions, seemingly resigned to the idea that this, this thing isn't going to leave. She's dead, what difference will it make anyways?
"No." It doesn't elaborate, just stares with empty eyesockets at her until she gets the shivers. White fabric pools around its legs, so much of it that she can't see its feet, if it even has feet, and continues up to melt into the smoke and into the darker swaths of something that wrap around its shoulders.
Lee doesn't want to be dead. Well, that's not true - she does, it's the entire reason she's here. Wanted it enough that she tied a rope around her neck and stepped off that chair in her bedroom to hang suspended from her chandelier. Because nobody cares if you've got a dead daughter as long as it was a queer dead daughter. Better yet, a queer dead son who dressed like a woman.
She doesn't want to know Mara's face when she picked up her phone in the morning to find a barrage of emails all lined with the words "I'm sorry."
Mara doesn't pick up her emails until at least eight, and Lee had made sure that she'd be long dead by then.
She tries to look down at her watch, Grim Reaper with an inscrutable expression in front of her, but it's broken - the glass is shattered into a white spiderweb, and in some places has fallen out in chunks to expose watch hands that have been crumpled so out of shape that they look like springs.
The Grim Reaper waits for her. That's all it does, really. Waits. Waits for people to die, to walk them where they must go - for some, they must go nowhere. They just fade out and become nothing. It's the way the world works.
Lee looks up, a little bit scared and a whole lot terrified, but it hasn't moved. The Grim Reaper is still there, sitting on the ground with its draping fabric and smoke that burns a little and stings a bit around her eyes.
"Are you ready to go?" it says, almost gently, but she can hear the undertone of broken glass crunching under military boots and the taste of gunshots on its tongue, blood and poison sunken into its skin, gas seeping slowly from the place where its eyes should be.
"No," Lee tells it, tinged with desperation and the remembrance of no air, no air, no air, and she says it again, stronger this time, "No."
"It's time to go," the Grim Reaper tells her, like it can't hear her, reaching out a hand that she can't really see at all or focus on, and wrapping it around her wrist to pull her into a standing position.
Its hand is cold, a little bit slick, entirely inhuman and practically yelling this is death, this is death, you are alive do not go with it, sweet lies like poison sugar in her mouth.
"It's time to go," the Grim Reaper repeats, and pulls her forwards, where the darkness is no longer being fended off for her sake, her mouth open in a scream that won't come, and -
And she disappears into the black.