"Bitte! You call that that torture?" Schuldig scoffed, "Playing him non-stop Mariah Carey songs would be more painful."
He peered around a white-suited shoulder, now artistically spattered with red. Crawford, naturally, ignored him. And just at that moment the body in front of them spasmed violently and was then still; eyes wide, mouth open, expression caught in a last rictus of pain.
"Well, that was disappointing," complained Schuldig, "And he was the last one of those Arschkriechern. So what happens now?"
"That's up to you," said a voice behind him.
Schuldig spun quickly, caught by surprise and not happy about it. Smiling calmly at him was a pretty young woman - dark-haired, dark-eyed and pale-skinned. She dressed all in black; gloves and hat and high-heeled boots; laces and ruffles and frills; that amalgam of Victorian prudishness and schoolgirl fetish that was so beloved of Tokyo fashion dolls.
He reached out mentally. And then he was falling, falling, falling. . .
There was a warm palm gently slapping his face and a flat surface under his back. The whatever-it-was looked down at him with a vaguely concerned frown.
"Urk," said Schuldig.
"You're right, that really wasn't a good idea," it replied, then smiled mischievously, "Aaron."
The jet of outrage at being called that got Schuldig to his elbows.
"Was sind Sie?" he demanded.
"I'm Death, of course."
"Der Tod? Aber. . ." the absurdity of arguing what sex Death was, with Death, struck him and he stopped.
The 'girl's' smile deepened.
"No, I'm neither, although I usually appear this way. The specifics are whatever people are comfortable with."
*Having your mind read is very annoying.*
The thought, although not new, was usually experienced by Schuldig from the other side of the equation. He wasn't sure he appreciated this side. He got to his feet, noticing he was now somewhere other, vague outlines of a pillared great hall melding into blackness. It made him think of Crawford's mindscape, in reverse light.
"So you came to collect me in person, ja? Was I that bad a boy?" he smiled unrepentantly.
"That isn't my place to judge, Aaron. Just think of me as your guide on the journey to your next destination."
An image immediately leapt into his mind's eye.
"Death the Trolley Dolly?"
"So why wait until now? I didn't exactly go quietly - they must have taken out at least half a block to get me."
He couldn't help but feel smug they'd been that afraid of him surviving.
Death's smile faded.
"Four hundred and thirty-six souls, including yourself," Her gaze moved to a point behind him, "But actually I was waiting for someone else as well."
Schuldig groaned and closed his eyes.
"Dummkopf! You didn't!"
But when he turned, sure enough, there was Crawford; looking about himself, as outwardly composed in death as in life. Seeing them, Crawford straightened his tie, nodded at Schuldig, then turned his gaze on Schuldig's companion.
"Hello, I'm Crawford, and you are?" he asked.
"Hello Brad, I'm Death." Death replied.
Crawford blinked and looked momentarily uncertain.
"Ah. Delighted," he finally said. "So - what happens now?"
Hearing those words actually come out of Crawford's mouth snapped Schuldig out of his shock.
"What happens now? What happens now? That's all you have to say for yourself?!?" he shrieked, "Was die Hölle were you thinking? What are you doing here?"
"Calm yourself, Schuldig," Crawford ordered, and then waited until Schuldig had gained some visible control before continuing in his calmest, most reasonable tone, "I foresaw either an unavoidable and particularly unpleasant death in the near future, or a long, empty and extremely boring life. I decided not to bother with either."
"You 'decided not to bother'?" Schuldig threw up his hands, "Scheiße, Nagi would have forgiven you eventually."
He winced at Crawford's disbelieving look.
"Ok, maybe not. Still, the kid should have known better than to get involved with a Takatori."
Crawford turned back to Death, who was watching the byplay with an amused air. "So ma'am, what happens now?"
"As I was just telling Aaron," Schuldig flinched again. Crawford's mouth curled into a smirk. "That's up to you. I'm just here to point you to your next destination."
Death waved towards her left, where they could now see a palely lit archway.
"What happens next depends on us?" Crawford looked thoughtful.
"Yep," said Death.
Crawford's face acquired the introspective expression that meant he was using his precognitive abilities.
"And right now I'm just fantastically glad I don't believe what Farfarello believes," Schuldig muttered softly, watching Crawford closely.
He relaxed when a pleased smile blossomed on the precognitive's face.
"Well?" Schuldig enquired.
"Thank you, ma'am," Crawford nodded to Death, then turned eagerly towards the archway, "Come along, Schuldig - new worlds to conquer."
Schuldig rolled his eyes at the proclamation, then grinned at Death.
"Auf wiedersehen, liebchen."
She couldn't help but smile at his impudence.
Death watched them go; upright arrogance stalking towards destiny, the bright flare of destruction sauntering behind. Tousled red hair walking away from her again. It made her think of other histories, other sons and that little sixth of emptiness that ached inside.
what I could," she murmured, "Just promise me you're happy, brother,
wherever you are."