Grim never enjoyed the nights that Mandy, for whatever inscrutable reason, decided to insist on having him stay at her house instead of allowing him to remain at Billy’s. The girl wouldn’t even allow him to sleep on the couch most nights, forcing him out into the dog house instead, and all because she just wanted faster access to his scythe or to force him to do more housework. Unfortunately Mandy’s demands always superseded Billy’s, if only because she was the one who could keep an idea in her skull for more than two seconds and would automatically win minor arguments over how to abuse his eternal friendship when the young fool was distracted by something shiny. So when she told him to come home with her, home with her he went.
“Come into my study,” she told him when they reached the house.
“You don’t have a study, girl, that’s your bedroom.” She would try to make herself sound grander than she was, even when she knew it didn't impress him.
"My study, Grim," she repeated sharply, and stormed off towards it before he could contradict her again. Once there she sat down in her desk chair with her back towards him than slowly swiveled around to face him in her best evil overlord imitation, her fingers steepled in front of her lips, her eyes fixed on his face. It should have been less effective when he'd watched her purposely sit facing away from him just so she could turn ominously towards him, and when he knew for a fact that she'd practiced her expression in front of the mirror for weeks to sharpen her natural terrifying menace into something sinister enough to leave a brave man shaking for hours.
It wasn't. He didn't doubt that for the rest of eternity he'd never find anything half as unsettling as having Mandy's attention entirely focused on him. And that just wasn't right! He was the Grim Reaper, for pete's sake, he wasn't supposed to be unsettled by anything, let alone a mortal girl with delusions of grandeur. He was supposed to be the one doing the unsettling!
It still rankled him even after having known her for almost a decade. He hoped it would for all the rest of the whole miserable lifetime he was stuck with her. It was proof that he had at least some part of his pride left.
"Is there a reason for this, girl, or are you just practicin' your death glare?" he finally asked when the silence had stretched on too long.
"I'm leaving for college tomorrow morning," she replied, and though he hadn't known just what he'd expected her to say (well, no, he'd known exactly what he'd expected her to say; either a demand to lend her his scythe or to whip up some type of magic for her) that would never have been it. Though she'd finished high school a few months before she hadn't given any indication that she planned on continuing her education, never even sending out a single college application that he'd seen. He'd just assumed she was done with school; she'd never liked being in a position where anyone had authority over her, and she didn't need a degree to make as many people miserable as possible which seemed to be her only major goal in life. But suddenly announcing her new school plans wasn't nearly as much of a surprise as when she went on, "In the Underworld."
He laughed in her face, though he knew she'd make him pay for it later. As though any school in the Underworld would accept a human student! "And just how do you expect to make that happen, child? Even you can't just waltz in and demand a place."
Her frown pulled down just a tick lower. "No, Bonehead. I applied and they accepted me, of course," she said, like there should be no doubt that any school would want someone like her for a student. "I knew you couldn't be trusted not to spill the beans to Billy, so I had another of my servants make sure my application got to the school for me."
"Pain," he realized at once; it wasn't as though there were many options. Oh, how he loathed that toadying traitor. No one should be that happy to serve the girl, especially if it meant choosing her over him, The Grim Reaper himself! What self-respecting mystical being would chose a human child over the lord of death? It was preposterous. "That still doesn't explain why they'd let you in. You don't gotta speck of magic in you, girl, and even the simplest programs'll be expectin' more outta you than that."
"I had an excellent recommendation from Toadblatt's," she said with a shrug, though he had no idea how she could have gotten it. She'd never spent more than a week or so there at a time, and on her last visit had managed to single-handedly turn their egotistical young savior to the dark side because he thought that going evil would make her more willing to go to the wizard prom with him. Come to think of it, that could explain it; the Platter boy had been the one in charge of the school last he'd checked, and if the shroud incident hadn't been enough to cure him of his inexplicable crush on her nothing ever would. "Besides, I don't need my own magic. I have your scythe."
"Oh no," he said, a burst of dismay shooting through him even as he protested. Grim knew exactly how low his chances were of managing to keep his own dang weapon if she insisted on taking it. Thousands upon thousands of years he'd had that scythe with hardly any problems, then Mandy came along acting like it was hers by right and suddenly hardly a week went by without her snatching it away for one reason or another whether he allowed it or not. "That's askin' too much, girl. You've made me do a lot of things since the god-forsaken day we met, but stealing my scythe for four years--"
"Eight years," she interrupted coolly. "Any self-respecting eventual global tyrant should have at least a doctorate, don't you think? Anyway, I'm not 'stealing' your staff, you idiot, you're usually quicker on the uptake than this. You're coming with me. I had Billy's mom send over your trunk earlier today; she couldn't wait to do it when she heard you'd be out of her hair for awhile."
Of course. He should have known that the girl wouldn't plan on heading out to a new place without her own personal slave at her beck and call. And of course she wouldn't bother giving him any time to prepare for a move. "Not even givin' me a choice, are you?"
"Oh, you have a choice. I just already know which one you'll make." She leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs. She had the look on her face that she always wore when playing a game where she knew she'd just made the winning move whether her opponent recognized it or not. Usually she had it from the moment play began. "If you really want to stay here with Billy, I'll allow it. In fact, I'll do you one better; if you're that against coming with me I'll let you out of my end of our best friends agreement. I'm sure without me there to keep him focused you'll be able to talk Billy into setting you completely free eventually." Grim opened his mouth to accept that choice, his non-existent heart already leaping with joy at the thought of his miserable years of indentured servitude ending decades sooner than expected, but before he could say anything she went on, her voice low and confident. "Of course, until then you'll be stuck alone with Billy for weeks, or months, or maybe even years. Billy at his very worst, forcing you to go along with every moronic thought to echo through his skull without me there to rein him in, and you know that I'm the only one who's any good at talking him out of one of his stupid whims. And in all that time you'll be lucky to ever have a single intelligent conversation with anyone, because you know we're the only two people in this whole stupid city with functioning brains. But, if you're such a wuss that you'd pick all that over coming me and getting to go back to your own home, sure. I'll let you stay."
His mouth was still hanging open, but as she'd spoken his expression had shifted from joy to slack-jawed horror. She was right, damn her eyes. Though his freedom was dangling tantalizingly close to his fingertips, he couldn't reach out to grab it. Not at that price. Even though Mandy was just as bad about demanding ridiculous things out of him on a whim, whether she was willing to admit it or not, at least she was almost always able to control whatever she'd had him summon up. Alone with Billy he'd probably end up ground to bone dust within a week.
Still, there was an odd feeling stirring in him at the thought of just abandoning Billy without a word. Something that felt like it actually might be... pity, perhaps. "And you really plan to just leave without ever letting Billy know where you've gone?" he asked, not yet willing to commit himself by saying 'where we've gone'.
"Billy won't even know we've left," she said.
"Oh, please. I know the boy's an idiot, but even Billy isn't stupid enough to just not notice someone vanishing for eight years."
"Minus holidays," she corrected, "and I don't plan to vanish. Watch."
She attached a wire to her doorknob, and when he followed it he saw that it led to some contraption she had strung across her ceiling that he hadn't even noticed until then, too busy trying to get to the bottom of her plotting. She opened the door, wires pulled and twisted, and across the room a marker pushed down on the play button of a tape recorder. "Go away, Billy," it said in her voice, with her terrible wooden acting that none-the-less had always worked perfectly well for fooling Billy. "I have the flu. I'm making Grim get me soup, since he can't catch it."
She closed the door and a pen snapped up to hit the rewind button. "I got the idea from a movie. The script gets more threatening the longer it takes him to leave; it should easily be enough to scare him off before he gets close enough to examine the mannequin I'll have in the bed. Billy has the memory of a goldfish, he'll never realize that I've been 'sick' and you've been taking care of me for months before the next time he sees us. He'll think everything's the same as it ever was, I'll have time to work on my plans for world domination in peace, and when I'm in class you'll be able to do whatever reaper crap you want to take care of once you're done with my chores instead of having to be ready to serve us 24/7. Everyone who counts is happy." She leaned towards him again, her eyes sharp and predatory. "Stop waffling and just say it, Grim. You're coming with me tomorrow."
"Fine, fine!" he said, throwing up his hands. "But you better not be planning on living in the dorms, child. I had enough of them when I was in school."
"Excellent," she said, and though she never smiled she certainly did look pleased with herself. "I always knew it was just a matter of time before you finally admitted that I was the rightful keeper of the reaper."