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And who shall be able to stand?

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A school seems an odd place for them to meet like this.

It’s never comfortable though, whatever the circumstances. He can veil himself in tearable flesh and breakable bone just as well as the others can; shrink down to a single mass of spillable blood and screaming nerves, but it always fits him worse; suits him less than it does his comrades.

War is not easily contained; he’s the flash fire that engulfs hearts and minds; bright but brief, and so easily fed.

It’s not his fault; or so he’s been told in those rare moments where Death grew bored of his impetuous ranting or Conquest became weary of his justifications. It’s what he is. Who he is. How he was meant to be. It’s his purpose, and his right.

So no, it’s not his fault he carries the anger and wrath of humankind like embers that never fade. That he seeks the thrill of bloodshed and the all-numbing ecstasy of that first kill. It’s not his choice to fill men’s heads with thoughts of destruction and glory and the urge to dominate; all of it meaningless save for the sweet joy of chaos that reigns just before the pale, sweeping hand of Death touches them all. Touches him; for what is War but the battling creatures cupped by those hands and snuffed out, like tiny flames before a gale.

But the fact that he enjoys it, well. That’s at least partly out of choice.

He can smell it, even here. Teenagers may lack the kind of brutal conviction he inspires on battlefields, or the desolate wracking agony of countries and continents swept clean by the will of power-hungry fools; but they have their own wars. He feels the quick, hot jab of hormone-ridden spite like molten barbs curling sweetly around his spine. Beneath his skin he can almost taste the bitter urge to punish difference; to expel nonconformity and crush weakness out of fear.

It’s barely hidden behind false smiles or blank expressions of apathy, but they all carry War somewhere inside; that buried spark just waiting to be nurtured; the right moment to flare and consume everything, glorious and terrible.

They are as free here as anywhere; all of them scuttling across the earth and clamouring over each other for a place - for the throne at the top of the anthill, and where there is freedom, there will be War. He is them, and they are him; they create and recreate him with every thought; every suspicion and doubt and covetous desire.

Why would he not find enjoyment in such a perfect system?

He can feel the others, wandering about in their pilfered shapes. Famine and Conquest already dancing around each other; jockeying for position and vying for each other’s attention almost more than Death’s. They’ve always been tangled up that way; too prone to losing sight of their purpose with all their scheming and petty squabbles. Theirs is a slow and committed game; content to wait and plan ahead where War has never had the patience for it, even though they can precede him so easily. He knows that’s a kind of venerability; knows it deeply and hates it in a way that only feeds the rage in him, but it gets him what he wants more often than not - Death’s consideration; assessing and indulgent, precise and ageless, loving in his own pitiless way.

It’s Death he finds first, as he always does.

Death doesn’t look surprised, but then he never is, no matter how hard War tries.

This time Death’s shape is a young looking boy, not that much shorter than War’s own; but slender as a reed and paler than the moon. He’s leaning against a wall in a deserted corridor; a soft smile playing about his lips in that effortlessly assured way he has. The kind of bored serenity that comes from knowing you always win, in the end. It’s infuriating and familiar, and it makes War’s hands clench tight enough that he feels the bones creak and the tendons shift; urge to rend and incite and watch everything burn coursing through him.

He looks at Death with eyes that blaze; full of promise and let me just let me desperation that thrums in his borrowed veins like drumbeats, or the retort of cannon fire; echoes of explosions and death knells inside his skull. But Death just smiles, with plump lips and a gaze both infinitely young and beyond age itself, time trapped in amber; waiting for the End.

“You’re late.” He finally says, and his voice is dust and silence and boundless nothing that War wants to fill with liquid red and the purest taste of himself.

Famine must be nearby.

“I always come when you call.” He answers, low and honest, stepping in close and making a point of dipping his head and meeting Death’s stare as though he were an equal. He isn’t, and they all know it; but he’ll condemn civilisations to ruin - or hand them to Conquest - before he admits it out loud.

Death’s smile turns sly and knowing, damningly pretty, and War wants to cut into that freckled skin to the true being that suffuses it; to reach in deeper than any sword he could ever carry, fit them together one gory piece at a time. It’s an unattainable and reckless goal, but one that’s still worth the attempt in his view. Death is the whole point, after all.

“Quite the specimen you’ve chosen this time.” Death’s smooth tone coloured by his enthralling smile, but still mostly unimpressed; looking him over slowly, idly; never rushing anything.

“He suited me.” War says, and it’s completely true. There’s so much anger and pain and poorly hidden fire in this one; this wolf who plays a man. He’s been touched deeply by Death’s hands already; memories cindered dark and choked by ash; haunted by so many ghosts. War is not too proud to admit that that was a factor.

“I can imagine.” Death says, slipping so easily into aloof awareness it sounds almost fond. Almost. “Derek.” He adds, after a moment; click of consonants like tapping on bones. “I remember him. ‘Ruler of the people’ hmm? How like you; such a presumptuous child.” It’s a casual, unruffled observation - as Death’s tend to be - but it still has War’s eyes igniting crimson and a low, animalistic burr of a growl emanating from his throat.

“And you?” He says, digging for that little pulse of recognition he’d felt from the very first moment, sifting through this puppet’s consciousness. “Stiles, isn’t it? It must be embarrassing for you; being the only one of us with a name, and now nobody knows your real one.” He grins, shows his teeth and lets the heat of his ire travel along his skin like victory.

Somewhere, Conquest is smirking.

Death quirks an eyebrow and purses his lips, considering. “He felt--appropriate. There’s a lingering aftertaste from when I took his mother. Sometimes it’s depth, not reach that’s important. Old wounds, you understand. The ones that don’t kill but take just as much. If not more.” He’s staring into War’s - Derek’s - face with such a penetrating look he’s surprised his skin isn’t blackening, peeling away like charred paper; crumbling under the weight of it.

He shivers in that way only Death can evoke in him.

War lifts a hand, strokes it up the long length of Death’s pale neck; fingertips pausing on the steady jump of a pulse beneath the ivory skin. So deceptively fragile. So dishonestly young.

His hand cups one slightly flushed cheek, broad palm and long fingers caressing slowly; Death’s eyes never leaving his, expression unchanging. He’s warm, like this, and it’s been long enough since last time that it manages to surprise him. He’d been an old man then; deep-set eyes and gnarled hands like tree bark, long cane and black overcoat; a crow warped into a man. He’d been beautiful then too, just in a different way.

“You’d have me now, wouldn’t you? Given the chance.” Death’s words soft and low, coaxing; the kind that lead to final breaths in darkened beds. His pupils are wider, compellingly deep like starless night, and War could forget himself here, if only for a moment. Before the peace became stifling, shackling him.

His hand tightens briefly, and then relaxes. Death still doesn’t look surprised. “I’d always have you, if you‘d allow me to.” He answers, sure and powerful; demanding and greedy. Death walks behind all of them, the end to their means, the ultimate boundary; but with the two of them it’s far more immediate; grander, and with the kind of fanfare that befits them both; the kind that men once believed announced their arrival into whatever lies beyond them.

“You’d be nothing without me.” Death says, sense of him both cold reprisal and white-hot provocation, and War feels himself harden at the knowledge of being enveloped - understood - so completely. “You’d be pointless; a child’s game with no victor. Meaningless unsatisfied enmity. Without me, Conquest would have everything; Famine at his side, and you’d be finished. Marginalised. Unremarked.”

“And without me.” War says, leaning in, words of broken glass that shred and sting as they force themselves from his lips. “You’d be a dull, creeping thing. Inevitable, inescapable yes, but never feared or sought; just accepted. Without me you’d be that sickly green thing from the Beginning; waiting for Famine to stop consorting with Conquest long enough to speed you along. You need me.”

He finishes with a harsh crush of their mouths that steals away breath and clacks their teeth, his own human teeth that reshape into fangs, blunt nails that become razor claws. He draws blood that smears between them with the intimate taste of iron, and Death just allows him it; lets him take and take because he can never scratch deep enough; can never claim the way he wants.

No one ever has Death, not really.

He snarls, frustrated and hungry into slick-wet heat, licks past ruby-smudged lips and forces as much fury and strength into the kiss - the contest - as he can. It’s never enough, and Death makes a pleased note of enjoyment - maybe just to placate him - and drags War in with slender hands on his back as though he needed the encouragement.

The ringing note of power between them builds and builds, never cresting; enough to level cities and topple kings, eons worth of human time spent together, always so close but too far apart. War’s hands rest on either side of Death’s head, not gripping or restraining - he does know when to give, despite himself - just touching; the way he never can when they’re spread out and shapeless.

He carves bruises into the line of Death’s jaw, marks his - Stiles’ - body in a way he never could the eternal thing inside, and doesn’t miss the pleased hum from the buried wolf.

Seems they may have chosen better than they realised. He’s pleased at the thought Death may have known; that he’d felt the want in Derek - or Stiles, or both - and recognised it would only kindle War’s own passion. Death has always seen him too clearly.

They grind, graceless and primal shoved against the wall, uncaring for the tiny lives that play out behind the doors around them. War scrapes the wolf’s dagger-like claws over Death’s smooth skin; watches it part and tracks the rivulets of lifeblood that scatter droplets to the ground in copper rain; feels the visceral thrill that Death isn’t healing the cuts, is letting him have this.

It’s furious and almost painful, the rough scrape of cloth over his dick, their bony hips clashing together again and again to the sound of panted breaths and punched-out groans.

Death draws him in with a hand on the back of his neck, kisses him deep and soft and painfully tender; almost like an apology; even though neither of them have ever apologised to anyone. He lets it drag on, hips stuttering and jerking against each other, tongues sliding and breath flowing between them as he licks away the remaining blood.

Orgasm, when it arrives, is almost a disappointment. The rush of endorphins and the tightening of his gut as he spills going hand-in-hand with the knowledge that the moment is over; that their little interlude has past. He wants to hate Death for it; for giving him that much and then taking it the way he takes everything, but he can’t. In War there is always a surrender, and between them it will never be Death that takes that step.

“Take what you want, what you need. You have me.” Death says, vaguely breathless in a brief pause between kisses that could last an age, and it’s the truth but it’s also such a lie; and it makes War angry enough to bite down hard into Stiles’ bared throat. The bruise spreads only a little slower than the trickle of blood that he draws up into his mouth; and even though it’s not really Death’s there’s enough of him there to soothe the hunger in War’s - and Derek’s - heart. Somewhat.

They smell of blood and sweat and age, and War could almost be content with this, illusion of balance that it is. Famine is probably tilting her scales right now, smiling to herself.

Of course it doesn‘t last, nothing does but Death himself.

“Well that was exciting.” Comes from somewhere outside their little bubble of manufactured intimacy.

Conquest. In the body of Derek’s blood relation. Peter; the name like a dreg from the bottom of a pond.

“How long have you been there?” He grumbles between still-fanged teeth.

Death just smiles and shakes his head, mostly to himself it looks like.

“Oh please. I have to be everywhere you are; or nothing would ever get done.” Conquest says, exuding charm like perfume with a tiny twitch of his lips as he takes his time examining the mess they’ve made of themselves.

War takes a step toward him, but Death’s hand touches his elbow, stills him in place.

“Famine?” Death asks, distinct way of asking like he knows the answer but wants to hear it from you anyway.

Conquest examines his hands, rubs a thumb over the veins before smiling again, the kind of smile that enraptures leaders and seduces allies with promises of riches and titles. “She’ll be along; I think she wanted to stop by the cafeteria.” War can only imagine the kind of hurricane she’d generate in there.

One kind of hunger is as good as another, he supposes.

“What are we doing here?” He asks suddenly, can’t help the restless need to do something, jagged discomfort at this loaned skin gnawing at him.

“In time.” Death answers, eyebrows twitching like he wants to roll his eyes, as if all of them being brought together in one place were a regular occurrence.

As he opens his mouth to snap - either verbally or with those lovely fangs he now has - Famine makes her entrance.

Typically captivating, even in the relative emptiness; she walks with such certainty and command that he can understand Conquest’s fascination. Her reddish hair flows behind her like a living thing; eyes bright and fiercely intelligent, so much potential to starve those around her. Nothing creates hunger, or desire, or avarice, quite like beauty does. He should know; enough hostilities have been instigated over it; treaties broken and battle lines drawn, brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour. It’s such a delicious weakness.

“Hello boys.” She says, voice that skitters over skin and breathes into the ears like a siren’s call. “Nice to see you all again. Care to tell me what was so important I had to stroll though this confused cesspool of angst and misdirected cravings?” It’s oddly musical, listening to her speak with real words again, and he’d bet there are countless people shifting in their seats and chewing on pens or fingernails for miles around right now. Conquest looks amused.

“The kingdom is falling.” Death says, and they all shift a little at that; frissons of interest or excitement tinged with surprise. “This place is more important than you’d think. There are times ahead when we’ll be called here again, and we need to be ready.” He’s looking at them like he’s waiting for a protest, even though he must know he won’t get one. Individual talents aside, Death always has the final say.

“We’re always ready.” Conquest speaks up, before War can, and it grates even though it’s the order of things. He’s lost some of his jaded seductiveness now, but there’s a keen glint in his - Peter’s - eyes that speaks to righteousness and success. He may not wear the crown, but he still carries himself like the white rider.

Famine looks between them like she doesn’t know why they’re still standing there. She gets lost in her own power too easily. She isn’t the only one.

“Last I checked the apocalypse hasn’t started yet.” War points out, to a simultaneous eye roll from both Conquest and Famine. It had to be said, even though the thought of the final judgment is already filming red over his vision and pushing the taste of copper and smoke to the back of his tongue.

Death sighs, patient and indulging. “I know, but things can change quickly with the slightest nudge, as you well know.”

“What then?” Conquest asks. “Do we hurry it up? Wait for it here? We don’t exactly have a way of practicing for this.”

“We’ll leave these ones for now.” Death says. “They’re too--involved. If this is going to play out as it’s supposed to then we need to wait; just watch for the time being.” He holds up a hand that stalls the immediate protest from the other three, and War wonders how much Death really wants this. If it all ends he’ll be alone; the last one left of anything anywhere.

His claws make gouges in his palms.

Famine has her arms crossed, one heeled shoe tapping a rhythm against the floor, Conquest looks disappointed, and War just wants to bellow until the sky opens and everything turns dark.

Death stares them down, then smiles like he cares. “We’re going to be here a while. Get comfortable.”