Lena has been followed by Death since she was eighteen.
She knows she was meant to die last Winter. Modern medicine is great and all, but her heart was never the strongest. When she felt the pain in her arm, the tightness in her chest, she knew what it was. When her eyes closed, she knew she wasn’t waking up. There was a sort of surety to that; the lit fuse of the time bomb that she’d tried to avoid for years.
No more waiting. No more fear. Just the quiet, sweet release…
But when Lena had closed her eyes, when she had reopened them to the foreign weight on her bed, feeling hands on her skin, her acceptance curdled into fear.
Her bedroom had been transformed; or perhaps she was no longer in her own bead. The ceiling was shimmering obsidian, and the sheets had a threadcount as high as her yearly salary. There was a woman beside her, but there was little doubt to her identity.
It was truly unfair. Death was too bloody gorgeous, Lena had thought.
Dressed in black silks and lace, garnet jewels glittering at her throat and ears. Her eyes, stunning gold, to set her apart from the dark shine of her hair. It spilled across her broad, pale shoulders; the cloying scent of crushed roses had filled Lena’s lungs. Death had been pressed against her side, one cold, gloved hand petting over her jaw. Her expression was lifeless, but her eyes…
Her eyes were kind.
Lena choked a noise, and Death shook her head. “Shhh,” she whispered, “be at peace, my sweet. You are in the world of the dead, now. Just relax…Let me take you, Lena…”
She leaned down, plum lips closing in. Lena, in the five seconds she knew remained, rasped, “Send me back.”
This made Death pause. She drew her head back and gave Lena a scolding look.
“I am not interested in bargaining, darling,” said Death. Her tone was flat, her accent more pronounced with annoyance.
“Not a bargain.” Lena swallowed. “I’m telling you to send me back.”
Death’s eyes widened but a fraction. “Who are you to make demands of me?”
“I can’t leave my mum all alone. I’m all she’s got.” The fear bubbled to rage, and Lena bared her teeth, hands fisting in the sheets. “So you send me back, right now!”
“You--you are prepared to fight me over this.” Death sat up, and Lena forced herself to follow. It was like moving through water, an invisible resistance that fought her for every inch. “You truly do not wish to die.”
“You act like this is the first time anyone’s ever--”
“It is.” Death seemed...almost stunned. Her lips were parted from the shock of it. “They will accept my kiss or they will bargain...deny and plead and beg, but never fight. Never.”
“Oh,” Lena breathed. “So. Like...is this when you...are you…”
Death seemed to consider it at length. Time was difficult to tell in this strange place-- the world of the dead, she thought wildly--but it seemed, to Lena, like an eternity had passed before Death finally smiled again. And bloody hell, that was devastating on its own; no wonder people liked to accept dying if that’s the smile that waited for them on the other side.
“How...charming,” Death murmured at last. “Very well...for a little while longer, Lena, return to that living world.”
A velvet glove pressed itself against her sternum and guided her back to her back. Death loomed over her with a smile, propped up with one hand. Beneath her palm, Lena’s heart began to struggle again.
From thin air, perhaps--or a flick of her wrist, as if she were a stage magician, Death drew out a single seed. A pomegranate seed, Lena recognized.
“Open your mouth.” Death’s fingers pressed against her chin, the seed resting like a kiss against her lips. “Eat.”
Lena’s jaw tightened. “I know what happens when I eat that,” she hissed through her teeth. “I’m yours forever.”
“Only if you would eat three, darling.” Death’s smile was smug. “But do avoid them in the living world as well. You’re allergic.”
“Deathly,” Death whispered, “allergic. But this will bring you back. Changed, perhaps. But alive, nonetheless.”
Lena swallowed again. Then she parted her lips, truly, and the seed was gently placed upon her tongue. The sweet, tart tang its taste carried was a sharp contrast to the dryness of her mouth, the stillness in her flesh. It roused her and the world of the dead began to fade around her, dissolving as if it were a bad dream.
“A round of love and death,” was the whisper that followed her into the dark. “Our new dance, chérie. Take care not to misstep...”
And Lena had woken up that morning, covered in sweat and chilled to the bone. It had taken her a moment to get her bearings, but once she had, Lena remembers that she had taken her medicine, scheduled a doctor’s appointment, and vowed to watch what she ate.
So her life continues. Death doesn’t quite stalk her, but Lena knows that she is leading their dance, and Death is the partner unseen. Sometimes Lena will see her in the reflections of windows; sometimes Death is dressed as a bride, the train of her gown longer that Lena is tall, her veil fluttering with each step. Sometimes Death is dressed in a fine coat and leather trousers.
Always in black, accented in silver and red. Always watching her with curious, approving eyes.
There is a kind validation when Death watches her eat. Never a pomegranate, nothing with too much sodium, nothing to irritate her heart. Lena has her second chance, and she will not squander it. When she goes out to eat her tasteless but filling meals, Death lingers, ghostly, in the reflection. A thrill curls into her with each nod, a spark lingering when their eyes meet.
It’s strange, Lena knows, that Death wants her to live.
Why can no one else see you?
Lena sits in her bed two years later, a variety of supplies spread out around her. She texts the message to Death on her phone, leaves her laptop and a notepad out. It’s the first time she’s actually gotten the courage to reach out. She’s worried that she might be crazy, seeing a woman where there isn’t.
There’s a five minute space of time where Lena is genuinely worried she’s gone off the deep end, before she feels a cold chill against her shoulders and neck--like someone’s resting their hands against her.
“If you wanted to talk,” Death whispers against her ear, “use your voice, chérie.”
Lena clamps a hand over her mouth to stifle her startled scream. She curls into herself, away from that cold touch, and squeezes her eyes shut as her heart races. Don’t die, she pleads with herself, don’t die, don’t die, don’t die, you can’t die…
She doesn’t. Lena manages to sit up again with a deep breath, and shakily types, Don’t want mum to think im bonkers.
Death touches her again, pressing fully against her back. Lena shivers.
“Understandable,” she purrs. “But know that if you call for me, I shall listen.”
That’s a little worrying. Who would call for Death?
“More than you’d think,” Death mutters.
Cryptic! You never answered my question
"Hmm." She can picture Death tilting her head as she considers the answer. "I suppose it is because of the seed I fed you."
Three years later, and Lena is sitting in her bed staring up at her lights, lightly tracing her fingers against the still tender scar in her chest. It’s weird, to think that someone else’s heart beats inside of her chest. Weird, and a little exhilarating. It’s been a whole year since the transplant, five since Death began to follow her, and she has to wonder.
“Hey,” she says aloud, knowing that she’ll hear. “Did you...did you...make it happen?”
A cold spot on her stomach. Death’s hand, touching her. “Did I make what happen?”
“You are asking if I caused someone to die so that you could live?” Death hums. “I did not. I cannot interfere with the world of the living.”
Lena huffs a laugh, half relieved and half bitter. Her hand presses against the scar, her heart, and rubs. It aches a bit. Lena is still paranoid about it enough to keep her sodium free diet, her exercise routines, her life on the same track.
“Interfered fine enough with me, didn’t you?”
Ice drags along her jawline, coaxing her to look to her right. She sees nothing but her bedroom wall, but she knows Death is beside her again.
“That was different,” Death says. “You were in the world of the dead, then. I was allowed to.”
“Mm,” Death breathes, “why did I indeed? I suppose...when you demanded your freedom...it caused me to bleed. The pain was intoxicating...I wanted to see you live, you with your lion’s share of courage.”
“Oh,” Lena whispered. The chills took her hand, and she squeezed around air. She hoped Death knew. “Oh, well, then. Am I doing good so far?”
A low, throaty chuckle in her ear. Enough to make her new heart stutter. “Ah, ma chérie, yes. Yes you are.”
She goes out for drinks, once. Nips down to the pub for a pint, some peanuts, some human company. Death tends not to hover when she’s around other people, not that Lena couldn’t ask for privacy herself. Just, sometimes it’s better to just be out and about.
Maybe she’ll make a new friend. The neighborhood is friendly enough for it, and Lena’s still new in town. Lena sits down and drinks her pint, watches the game on the television, shoots the shit with a few strangers. One girl, Emily--pretty redhead, cheeks flushed with blood and eyes gleaming--catches her eye and she gets a number from her before she heads off. Lena doesn’t know if she’s going to call her up, though; at the least, she’ll text that she’s not exactly interested in a relationship right now.
Doesn’t know why. She’s just not up to it.
She doesn’t see the bloke until he’s sitting next to her, sliding over a pint. He smiles, warm and open. “Hey, hope you don’t mind me topping you off. You new here?”
“Yeah,” Lena says, faintly startled. “I just moved in a week or two ago.”
“Oh, where at?”
Lena purses her lips. “King’s Row,” she says, vaguely.
“Ahh, I see!” He takes a deep drink of his pint. “Born and raised, m’self. Say,” and he points over to the television, “who’s your favorite team?”
It’s innocent enough. He’s nice. She talks with him for a bit, the glass of her drink dripping condensation before she remembers it. She reaches for it, but her hand is pushed down against the bar counter with quiet, insistent force. It’s cold, Lena realizes, so fucking cold. The chill drapes itself around her--Death must have her bloody arms around her waist, Lena feels--and her hand traps Lena’s.
“He drugged it,” Death whispers against her ear. There is nothing in that sweet, smokey voice but malice and ice. “Leave.”
She pays her tab without another word, leaving as fast as her legs can carry her. The man shouts after her, in confusion first then with frustration. He calls after her, slag! and she ignores the barb.
Death does not leave her, does not part from her. Lena takes the long way around back to her apartment, flips both locks, and throws herself against her bed. She shudders as Death covers her, wrapping her entire body in that pervasive chill until she’s all Lena can feel.
“I am with you,” Death says against her neck, where Lena can feel the phantom sound vibrating in her throat. “I am with you, always, chérie.”
Lena props the full length mirror in front of her bed and isn’t even surprised at who sits there behind her reflection. Death rests her weight on her hands, legs crossed at the knee. Smug, regal, infuriating. Hauntingly beautiful, as always. It’s a shock to see her so tangible looking, all the same.
“Wonder why you’ve never popped up in any of the other mirrors I’ve had in my life,” Lena wonders.
“You were either in the bathroom or in a changing room. I thought it rude to spy.” Death looks away from the mirror. If she could blush, Lena thinks she would be. “It did not stop the temptation to peek...but for your honor, I waited until you were done.”
“You coulda just popped your head through the door. Not like I would have noticed.”
“I have more tact that that,” Death says, sounding vaguely offended. It’s not until Lena laughs that she does as well, and the banter flows between them like a slow river; unhurried, gentle, harmless. “It may surprise you, but I do not spend every waking moment with you.”
That doesn’t surprise her, actually. Death is not the sort to shadow her every footstep; she does walk Lena to and from work, stays with her in the night if Lena asks her to. She has never been a smothering presence, only a...friendly one. As friendly as Death can be, Lena supposes.
“Why did you purchase the mirror, anyway,” Death muses, looking up at her. “You are hardly the vain type.”
“Is it so hard to want to see you when we cuddle?”
Lena has the pleasure of seeing Death’s jaw drop before she can stop herself. She’s so...expressive, Lena realizes. She’s not used to being seen so clearly, and Death realizes this the moment their eyes meet once more. Death sits up straight, clearing her throat harshly.
“I. Did not think of it that way.”
“Course, it takes two to really cuddle. You’re just the one holdin’ me.” Lena walks backwards, and sits next to her Death. She uses the temperature and the mirror to position her hands so that she isn’t--shoving her limbs through anything important. That’d be weird. “I’d hold you back, if I could…”
Death’s eyes stare through her. Lena watches her swallow. “You would touch me?”
A current of energy builds between them like banter. It twists in Lena’s stomach like good whiskey, burning and bright. Death looks almost breathless, and Lena finally sees something that makes her just as woozy; adoration. Awe.
“I…” Lena licks her lips. Death’s eyes follow the movement in the mirror. “I w-would. I think. Yeah, I...I would…”
Maybe this is why she isn’t hurting for a relationship. Maybe this is why, strangely, she never feels lonely when she walks back to her apartment. Because in some odd, odd way, Death is as much a roommate as she is a friend. Death is…
“Where,” Death husks, her voice dipped in honey, sweet and thick. “Where would you touch me first?”
Oh my God, is Lena’s first thought. What comes out of her mouth is, “Your, your face. I’d want to touch your cheek.”
She sees Death turn her head, can feel that golden stare burning her ear. Lena shifts her weight on the bed, lifts a trembling hand. With the mirror as a guide, she strokes over Death’s strong jaw; she feels only cool air, but in the mirror Death’s eyes close in sheer bliss, like she can feel it.
“Can, can you feel that?”
“No,” Death gasps, “but I can imagine, and it...you...I…”
Death moves backwards, then pats at the bed in front of her. Lena scoots, back to the phantom, and shudders when Death molds against her. She can feel it pouring over her shoulders, and her eyes see Death wrapping her arms around her chest in the mirror. She finds she’s quick to pant, mouth parted; the heat inside of her is undeniable, despite the cold.
It is singularly the most sexually intense moment she’s ever experienced it. And she can’t even feel her partner. It’s so unfair that she wants to scream.
“You cannot know the torture,” Death gasps against her ear, echoing her thoughts so keenly, “of seeing you, being with you, being close enough to touch...and being unable to…”
Lena’s heart hammers against her ribs, so fast that she’d worry were it not for the security of the transplant. Her mouth is dry, so it takes her a few seconds before she’s able to whine, “Where would you touch me first?”
Death hisses. Her hands, Lena watches, trail from her shoulders...over her chest--Lena gasps, instinctual, and had this been different her breasts would have been pushed into those gloved palms. Death growls, “Here,” and her fingers curl. Lena groans, loudly, too loudly considering she’s not actually being touched, but the sound pleases the phantom behind her.
“Would you let me undress you, Lena?” Death breathes harshly against her neck, their eyes never parting from each other for long.
In answer, Lena’s hands dart from the bed to fly across her buttons, shrugging off her shirt. The cold air Death brings, and the arousal burning fiercely in her veins, have left her nipples pebbled. Death’s eyes finally break away to look at her chest and, briefly, they close.
“So pretty,” she says, her voice hoarse. “You are a vision, Lena…”
“Should I move my hands?” Lena’s voice feels small in her throat, her words clumped together like taffy. She’s shivering almost constantly now, goosebumps raised over every inch of exposed flesh. “I...I want…”
“What do you want, my Lena?” Death asks her.
Another hiss, a tortured groan. Death turns her head again, and Lena feels the cold drag of her lips against her neck. She gasps, her head falling to the side. It takes everything in her to keep herself upright because as much as she wants, Death is not solid behind her. She has no physical support.
“Would you tell me how it feels?” Death strokes up until her hands cover Lena’s breasts, icy tingles in their wake. “Can you feel--”
“It’s,” Lena gasps, “oh it’s cold. More. More, please…”
Lena’s hands fly to her belt and her pants, unbuckling the former to shuck the latter from her legs. Her underwear follows, and when Death moans, “Show me, my love,” Lena has no other choice but to obey. The cold cups her sex next, Death’s clever hand over her in the mirror. Her fingers work, but there is no touch, so Lena props herself up on a hand and goes to fix that.
“F-fu, fuck,” she mutters, hips jerking forward. “I’m so wet. I’m so wet, love.”
Lena opens her eyes. The debauched picture they make--Lena’s hand covered by a possessive, gloved one, her body framed by long, leather clad limbs, ruby red lips by her ear and brushing the sensitive shell with every word.
“W-what?” she manages.
“My name,” Death says, her eyes so open, so vulnerable, “it is Amélie.”
“Amélie…” Lena tests the name on her tongue, and it’s so strange, to have to refer to Death as something other than the force of nature she represents. But the name is beautiful, and Amélie bites her lip in response, so Lena says again, “Amélie…”
“Touch yourself where I cannot,” Amélie demands, her voice a crack of regal authority. “Tell me how you feel.”
“W-wet,” Lena stammers. She swirls a finger around her clit and squeaks. “My fingers are cold...s’nice. Makes me think of you…”
She starts slow, watches Amélie copy it in the mirror. If she just focuses on her knuckles, Lena thinks, she can imagine that it’s Death’s frigid touch plying her open, that she’s slick against Amélie’s fingers, that Amélie is here. Lena carefully lets her head fall back, groaning again; her toes curl against the bed spread, and Amélie moans along with her.
“I want to kiss you,” Lena whines, and Amélie lets a bitter, ragged laugh escape.
“No, darling, you do not. My kiss would steal away your life...you would never draw another breath. No, I cannot kiss you. I do not want to.” Amélie’s voice is warm as she says, “I want you to live.”
Lena whimpers low, and slips a finger inside of herself only for a moment before returning to her clit. She swirls her fingers, trembling, encouraged with every word Amélie whispers to her. When she comes it feels like Spring, warmth chasing away the frost.
In the mirror, Amélie holds her close. “My beloved,” she croons.
It’s the cold Winter eve of her twenty sixth birthday that Lena dies again.
The knife is quick and the attack quicker still. They get her from behind, knife’s blade sinking deep into her new and expensive heart, nicking open her lung on the way. Choking on blood while the bastard runs away with her wallet, Lena closes her eyes and thinks, bitterly, I can’t die yet!
When she opens them, Amélie is crouched beside her, distraught. “My Lena,” she chokes. “I am so sorry. I did not see him until it was too…”
“I can’t--” Lena grits her teeth. “I can’t die. I can’t. I only just started to live…!”
There aren’t many ways this can go, Lena realizes. Amélie will take her despite her protests, ferrying her soul away forever. In the months since the mirror incident--and many, many, many repeat performances--they have grown closer still, but that might only be an encouragement. Amélie always tells her that she wants Lena to live, but Lena wonders if she could stop herself from taking Lena now.
Because, Lena realizes when Amélie reaches out to brush her hair out of her eyes, they can touch each other in this place. This land of the dead, where Amélie wanders alone, coming to the living world only as a shade Lena can see.
And Amélie bows her head. In another flick of the wrist, a pomegranate seed sits between her fingers. Lena’s eyes widen and she darts her eyes up to Amélie’s face.
“There is no other chance after this, my Lena,” Amélie tells her. “The next time we meet in this place...I cannot let you go.” Her eyes scream, I will not let you go, and Lena opens her mouth for the seed, vowing to be even more careful, more cautious.
Amélie can’t give her a third chance.
She doesn’t know how to feel at her mother’s funeral. Before, during, after, she doesn't know how she feels. After it sinks in that she will never see her mother again, she finally has a name for it; anger. Lena is so, so fucking angry.
“You saved me,” she tells Amélie in the mirror, her heart heavy with grief and her eyes burning with fury. “You saved me twice. Why couldn’t you do the same for her?!”
Amélie looks away. “It was her time. She accepted her death.”
“Then why didn’t you prevent it?!”
“You know I cannot interfere with the living world!”
“Bullshit, Amélie!” Lena does not know how she can go on. Her friend, her lover--are they lovers, if they have only met in person twice, and Amélie is hardly real to begin with?--betraying her like this. Her mother, dead and buried to rot in the ground. “You had no problems interfering with the dick who spiked my bloody pint a year ago!”
Amélie’s eyes narrow. “That was different.”
“What, because you want to fuck me and not my mom? Is that what you do? Make exceptions for all the pretty little girls you want to fuck, but not the people they actually love?!”
Amélie reels back like she’s been slapped. For a moment, she truly, honestly looks hurt. Later, Lena will look back on the memory and see the tears in Death’s eyes. But for now, in this present, she does not see it. She only sees her mother, dead in her hospital bed. She sees the closed casket being lowered into the earth. She sees an empty home where she cannot return.
“I will leave you,” Amélie says at length. Her voice is cold. “You need time to heal.”
“Good riddance!” Lena shouts after her.
She calls Emily over that night. They get weeping drunk and she lets Emily fuck her in front of the mirror. There is a moment where Death stands by their bodies in the mirror, and Lena meets her eyes.
This time, she does see the tears, rolling down ivory cheeks. But Death is gone when Lena blinks again, and Emily’s hot mouth is against her own, and Lena forgets.
Emily is outraged in the morning after when Lena admits the truth of her actions. Calling Emily over for drinks had been done in innocence. She’d needed a friend, and Emily was nice. Getting drunk to try to bury the pain of her mother’s passing was also done in innocence.
Using Emily to hurt Death--Lena fibs, and calls her 'my ex', was not.
Lena’s cheek stings from the slap.
“I am not some--some revenge rebound fuck,” Emily spits. “Don’t you ever call me again. Not until you have a damn good apology.”
Emily leaves with her clothes and her tears. Lena stares at the empty bed, then at the empty mirror. For the first time, her apartment feels cavernous and huge and broken.
Death does not follow her. Amélie does not answer her when she calls out. She begs, the first year; offers her apologies and her sentiments. I was wrong. I was so wrong. I’m so sorry. I’ll never do that again--please, please come back to me.
The next year she seeks therapy and grief counseling. Neither helps with Amélie’s loss, but losing her mother hurts a little less with each month that passes. Of course she has relapses--she’s only human--and she reaches out to the friends she’s made when she slips. She’s careful with what she eats. She doesn’t walk home alone if she can help it. Always, she stands in front of the mirror and tells Amélie about her day.
She does glimpse Amélie, only once. Just out of the corner of her eye, in the off reflection of a shop’s window.
It is only a glimpse. Amélie is gone when Lena looks back to find her.
She does not take another lover. How can she, when Death holds her heart?
Lena is thirty when she dies for the third time.
It is deliberate. She goes to the store, and buys a nice, big pomegranate. She peels off the skin and holds it in both hands. She sits at the foot of her bed and looks in the mirror.
She lifts the fruit to her lips, ready to take a bite. It tumbles from her hands with a slap of cold air, and Lena shoots her eyes to the mirror. Amélie kneels beside her, vicious in her fury, both of her hands clamped around Lena’s wrists.
“What the fuck, Lena?!” Amélie’s pretty voice is raw with worry. Lena can see her trembling. “What are you thinking?! You’ll die!”
“You--was this just to get me to answer you?” Amélie looks disgusted. “You made yourself clear Lena--”
“No, I didn’t.” Lena shakes her head. “I was being a cruel, petty child. I hurt you. I wanted to hurt someone the way I was hurting...I was wrong to do that to you. I, I was going to say that I was sorry. And then let you take me to whatever awaits me.”
“Because I think--” Lena twists her hands. “I think...I belong with you.”
“You can’t--Lena,” Death cups her face with her shaking hands. She’s dressed as a bride this time. “Lena, please.”
“How long did I have anyway, Amélie?”
“I can’t--I can’t see that,” Amélie deflects.
“You can,” Lena says, softly. “You can, and you know that my clock stopped a long time ago.”
Death is damningly silent. Her head is bowed. Lena takes that as her cue to pick up her pomegranate again, gently clearing her throat. She waits until Amélie looks up again, her eyes pinkened and vulnerable.
“Looks like our dance is over, love,” Lena says with a smile before she bites into the fruit. Seeds spill into her mouth, pulp and juice trailing down her chin. Lena eats half of her demise before her body succumbs, and she knows that it’s the end when she can feel Amélie’s gentle touch, cupping the side of her head.
“No, my love,” Death whispers, her face nearing for their very first kiss. “Our dance is only beginning.”
She steals Lena’s breath away with her lips; Lena will forever remember the surprising warmth of Amélie’s kiss, and the taste of the pomegranate on her tongue.