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Six Deaths and a Homecoming

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( one )

Arthur is supposed to die on a Monday.

It is not a particularly noteworthy Monday; school has been in session long enough for the days to become routine, and on this Monday - like every Monday - there is to be a cross-country run for Arthur's gym class. Lacking foreknowledge of this run, Arthur will suffer a fatal asthma attack and die.

It is not a particularly noteworthy Monday until Mister Monday makes an appearance, that is.

Everyone knows how the story goes after that. (But only up to a point.)

 

 

( two )

The New Architect remakes the Secondary Realms and - presumably, because Arthur doesn't stick around long enough to actually see this happen, but he's pretty sure it does - rebuilds the House but even someone of his calibre cannot bring back Emily Penhaligon.

As far as the Penhaligon family is concerned, Emily has disappeared. Died in the nuclear strike on the East Area Hospital is the most likely conclusion - though Erazmuz does raise the question of the disappeared house, and Leaf's strange actions with Arthur. Arthur doesn't quite remember what he tells his older brother (not the truth) but Erazmuz doesn't ask again.

Arthur is the only one who knows the truth of her fate (it's his fault, she's dead and it's because of him) and it hurts that he can't tell his family what happened, nor give them some sort of closure.

A few weeks after his return from his tour with the Ratz (it's a Tuesday, actually) Bob drops dead from a heart attack.

Arthur's the one who finds him, collapsed next to the chair in his temporary studio in their new, smaller house. His body is already cool to the touch when Arthur returns from school. Arthur dials the emergency line and attempts to revive his father.

Bob was dead for hours before Arthur got home; he doesn't come back.


"How could you let this happen?!" Arthur shouts into his state of the art cell phone. Unless it is connected to the House line, it appears to be a typical example of cutting edge technology; when Arthur is speaking with someone in the House, its outer case becomes red lacquer.

"Arthur-"

"How could you," Arthur snarls. "As if it's not enough that Emily-"

"I did nothing to Bob," the New Architect says. His voice is jarring, a smooth tone that is as familiar as it is alien to Arthur. "And I can assure you that those within the House did not have a hand in this either; I sought out his record and confirmed it for myself."

"Change his record," Arthur demands, although he is aware of what an unreasonable request it is. They had agreed that there would be no interference in the Secondary Realms - to break the Original Law so soon after the House's (re)birth is unthinkable.

"I cannot," the New Architect says; something like regret colours His tone, but there is none of the grief and fury that Arthur himself is feeling. If he ever needed confirmation that the New Architect is something other (arguably greater) than human, this is it.

"Fine. I get it," Arthur bites out, and swipes his thumb across the touch screen to end the call without waiting for a reply. It's a strange experience to feel the lacquer shift back to mundane plastic and watch the red recede to a slate grey.

I won't call Him again, Arthur thinks furiously as he shoves his phone into his pocket.

 

 

( three )

Arthur moves in with Erazmuz after Bob's death. He studies science, hoping to follow in Emily's (and his birth parents') footsteps. After everything the Trustees did to Earth in their attempt to defeat him - the illnesses and the financial collapse and the nuclear strike - it seems like the least Arthur can do is try to fill the gap Emily's disappearance left.

He gets accepted into the country's most prestigious research university. Everyone still remembers Emily Penhaligon, and everyone wants her youngest son to follow and, maybe, surpass her.

It isn't easy. Arthur doesn't want it to be. He works hard and drinks lots of coffee and doesn't think about the House or how easy sorcery can make things or the New Architect.


Arthur wakes up in a hospital room on a Wednesday morning.

It would be nostalgic, if Arthur was at all inclined to look favourably upon his time as the Rightful Heir. He isn't, however, so it's understandable that he panics a little before taking stock of himself and the room.

Leaf is scrunched up in one of those semi-comfortable chairs that really ends up being uncomfortable when a person is forced to sit in one for more than a couple of hours. There's a bank of monitors displaying various vital signs, and several wires and tubes attached in several places on Arthur's body.

"Hey, that looks really uncomfortable," Arthur says, or tries to. What comes out is a weak croak that sounds like "hrrghahoogrrahofagh".

Leaf starts awake, something in her back cracking ominously as she straightens up. "Arthur, you're awake!" she cries. She's studying at the same university as him, though she's taking environmental studies, so it's not like they never see each other. But it's weird that they're in a hospital, since Arthur hasn't gotten so much as a sore throat since returning from the House.

"Yeah," he says. Then, "Water?"

Leaf hands him a plastic cup, which he slurps down greedily.

"What happened?" he asks, after another cup of water.

"You set off a chemical reaction that should have been lethal," Leaf says. "You're lucky someone walked past the lab and noticed you passed out on the floor."

"They must have walked past at just the right time," Arthur remarks, sipping at his third cup of water.

Leaf's expression becomes troubled. "That's just it... They played back the surveillance footage and it was nearly an hour. By all rights, you should be dead. It's a miracle that you're not."

A miracle, Arthur thinks dubiously. Residual influence from the Keys, perhaps? But that doesn't make sense; he is only Arthur, not the Rightful Heir nor the New Architect. There should be no part of him that is anything but mortal.

Then something much more sinister occurs to him. The New Architect told him he was mortal, but Arthur knows that he was more than willing to fudge the truth (or lie outright) by the time he'd had a couple of Keys in his possession. He'd said Arthur couldn't get sick; it isn't a stretch to think that Arthur simply can't die.

"It might be because I was the Rightful Heir," Arthur says, frowning.

Leaf's mouth creases in concern. "You mean... you can't die?"

"I don't know," Arthur says, but he wonders whether that is a lie or not.

His cell phone remains connected to the House; occasionally it shifts into the newest cutting edge model, so that it doesn't look too outdated. It's sitting on the bedside table, next to his wallet and keys. Arthur could call Him and ask. Whether He would lie again or not is another story; whether Arthur wants to know the truth or not is also an issue.

Then his niece and nephew (Erazmuz's children) tumble in, and the conversation shifts from the House to other, more mundane topics.

 

 

( four )

Ed goes on to become a musician; at the height of their fame, his band is known pretty much throughout the world. Girls scream his name and boys want to be him and generally he's just a famous guy.

But there are downsides to fame, as with all things.


Arthur and Leaf receive the news on a Thursday night. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the night, except perhaps for the fact that both Arthur and Leaf are home.

Arthur has been working long hours at the hospital, and Leaf is often away doing her research; but tonight they're both home.

The landline that neither of them really use (they both have mobiles, after all) rings. After a bit of debate, Leaf gets up to answer it.

"Hello?"

Arthur's catching up on his reading, listening with half an ear to Leaf's side of the conversation as he flips through the research journal.

"Yes, this is Leaf. ... OK, what's the problem?" Silence, presumably as the person on the other end of the line speaks, and then Leaf gasps.

Arthur looks up with a worried frown; her eyes are wide and as he watches tears gather at the corners. Her hand is raised halfway, in an aborted motion to press against her mouth.

"I... You're sure? Ed is-"

She falls silent again as Arthur hurries over, and wraps an arm around her.

"... I see. Thank you for calling," Leaf says, her tone stiff. She's clearly speaking on automatic, and her hands are shaking as she puts down the receiver.

"What is it?" Arthur asks, his arms tightening around her when she turns to press her face into his chest.

"It's Ed," she says. "He... His manager said that he was shot at the concert tonight by a fan."

Arthur flinches; he and Ed became quite close after Arthur returned from the House. Ed was in his prime, to think that his life would be cut short with so little warning-

Arthur presses his face against Leaf's hair; he can feel tears leaking down his cheeks. Leaf's whole body shakes with her sobs and all Arthur can do is hold on.

 

 

( five )

Their first miscarriage is passed off as an unfortunate accident. Leaf is a renowned environmentalist, and Arthur is one of the foremost medical researchers; no methods for ensuring a proper pregnancy are beyond them, and they both go through numerous treatments in their attempt to have a child.

Nothing seems to work; Arthur loses his temper after the third time.


"It has to be His doing," Arthur says Friday night, exactly a week after the miscarriage. "How else could it be so... so-" He stops, fury and grief choking him; he can't properly articulate his thoughts.

Leaf bites her lip. She's pale and has obviously lost weight. In contrast to Leaf's drawn appearance - the stress of the past years has seemed to age her prematurely - Arthur himself remains the picture of health. Sitting on their couch, she seems dwarfed; small and fragile and drained.

"Maybe I'm just not meant to be pregnant. Or there's some other genetic quirk..." She doesn't sound terribly convinced; the battery of tests they have both undergone has revealed that there should be nothing to make bearing a child especially difficult for them.

"Maybe He's fixing our records," Arthur says flatly.

"You could ask Him," Leaf murmurs.

"I promised myself I wouldn't call him again after Bob died," Arthur says, pacing in front of her.

"Then I'll call Him, if you're going to be so stubborn about it," Leaf snaps, her anger animating her in a way that she has lacked lately. "Give me your phone." She holds her hand out expectantly.

Arthur hands it over then sits next to her. His leg bounces impatiently as she navigates to the contact menu. The New Architect (or rather, Art, as his entry claims; Arthur has tried changing the name, but it remains at the top of the list) is the first person.

Leaf leans back against the cushions and puts the phone to her ear. She twitches a bit in surprise as red lacquer replaces the chrome back, but otherwise doesn't react.

"It's been a while, Arthur," the New Architect says, picking up before the second ring. His voice doesn't thunder about the room as the old Superior Denizens' had whenever they spoke on the phone, but it does sound as if He is sitting between them.

"It's Leaf," she says calmly. "Arthur says he doesn't want to talk to you, Art."

Arthur scowls, partly because she's ratting him out and partly because of the familiar way she's speaking with Him.

"... Ah. I see," the New Architect says. "Well, what can I do for you?"

"You can tell me why I keep miscarrying," Leaf says.

There's silence for several moments, which in itself is rather telling.

"So it is you," Arthur snaps, certain that the New Architect will be able to hear him speak just fine.

"It is not something that I have been doing actively," He says. "When I made you immune to disease-"

"-and all other forms of death," Arthur mutters, gritting his teeth.

"-I also made you sterile." The New Architect acts like he hasn't heard Arthur's words at all. "Or rather, the minor changes I made should have rendered you sterile," He continues. "I underestimated Leaf's unique physiology. Someone able to see through House illusions is naturally resistant to other forms of tampering - which is why she could get pregnant. However, it will be impossible for the child to be carried to term, given the changes that I made."

"The Original Law-" Arthur starts.

"-you cannot seriously think that you classify as a mortal in that sense," the New Architect interrupts smoothly.

"You hypocri-"

"OK," Leaf says loudly. "So why don't you let the rest of us in on the reasoning? Why did you want Arthur to be sterile?" She sounds calm enough, but her knuckles have whitened around the slim phone; were it anything other than a machine made in the House, Arthur imagines it would have buckled under the force of her grip by now.

"Any resultant children would have been similar in aspect to the former Sunday, or the Mariner, or the Piper. I did not think it wise to have such entities created at this point," the New Architect explains.

"Understandable," Leaf says.

"No, it's really not," Arthur insists, but quiets when Leaf puts her free hand on his arm.

"I guess the only question that's left is... Why didn't you tell Arthur? And it's not just that you didn't tell him, you lied to him. You told him he was mortal, but it's obvious he isn't and you've just confirmed that."

"I thought - erroneously, I now see - that it would be easier this way," the New Architect says.

"I see," Leaf says, her voice cold. "Thank you for your candidness, New Architect." She hangs up on Him, then hurls the phone at the wall. It doesn't break; there isn't so much as a scratch on it.

"I'm sorry, Leaf," Arthur says.

"It's not your fault," Leaf says, low and furious. "It's not your fault, Arthur."

He stares down at his hands, wondering about the truth in that.

 

 

( six )

At first it's just little, unimportant things that Leaf forgets. She forgets their address. Their phone number. But then she forgets that Ed has died, more than a decade ago.

She forgets who Arthur is, and breaks a hip when she tries to brain him with a frying pan one evening when he comes home.

Arthur hates to do it, but he places her in a care home. Leaf's over a hundred now; Arthur is too, but he looks to be somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties. People have been mistaking him for Leaf's grandson for years.

He visits her as much as he can, but some days the reminder of his own apparent immortality and Leaf's fragile mortality is simply too much for him to bear. Arthur tells himself that Leaf won't miss him (she doesn't even remember him most days) but the guilt lingers.

There have been numerous advances in healthcare but the secret to immortality remains beyond human reach. Leaf's on the edge of the average human lifespan, and Arthur...

Arthur still wastes days that could be spent at her side because he can't stand to see how old she has become.


Arthur stops outside the door to Leaf's private room, his fingers curled around the handle. He can hear a voice speaking within; it's as familiar as his own voice, for all that he has not heard it in decades.

"I know you said you didn't want to go on any more adventures, Leaf, but how do you feel about one last time?" the New Architect (known as Art to his friends) asks.

"Yes," Leaf agrees clear and lucid as she hasn't been in... too long.

Arthur's other hand, which had been dangling loosely at his side, balls into a fist. His fingernails are doubtless leaving marks in his palm, but he pays them no heed.

What is He doing here?

"-should be going," the New Architect is saying. "My presence will be inimical if I linger. I will be back next Saturday. And there is someone waiting to speak with you."

Arthur bursts through the door, fury spiking at the sheer presumption, but the New Architect is nowhere in evidence.

Leaf smiles at him, the lines of her face deepening. A stark reminder when Arthur thinks of his own youthful features. He still looks like he has yet to reach thirty-five, though of course that is not the case.

"Are you angry, Arthur?" she asks, her unusual alertness remaining even though the New Architect is gone.

"No," Arthur fairly growls, then relents and chuckles himself when Leaf starts laughing. It's more of a wheeze, but there is more mirth in her now than there has been for years. He stalks over to the cushioned chair at her bedside and sits down. "I'm not mad at you," he specifies, mustering a smile.

Leaf's smile fades. "I know that," she tells him, reaching out a frail hand to pat his own. Arthur looks away, unwilling to see the difference between his health and her age.

"I hope He didn't force you into saying yes," he says.

Leaf shakes her head. "I've lived a good life. And from what Art told me about the New Denizens, they're not like they used to be. I would still be myself, just... with Denizen attributes. Sunday's Dusk can't be that bad, can it?"

Arthur blinks. "He wants you to become Sunday's Dusk?"

It's Leaf's turn to be surprised. "How much did you hear?"

"Not everything, apparently," Arthur mutters, feeling his irritation increase. "The Dusks tend to be the more sensible ones, anyway," he says more loudly.

"Except for Friday's Dawn. And all the Marshals were on your side," Leaf adds. "Wednesday's Dawn, too-"

"All right, I get it," Arthur grumbles. "I guess you're going to leave next Saturday, then."

"You're not coming with me?" Leaf asks.

Arthur scowls. He does not have good memories of the House, for all that it is now being run by a godlike version of himself. "I'm mortal," he says.

Leaf looks at him.

"I'm not a Denizen," he amends; it is obvious that he is immortal, though his presence is not inimical in the way that Denizens' are.

"You could be, if you wanted," Leaf points out slowly.

Arthur shakes his head and changes the subject. Leaf lets him.


But the thought stays in his mind. He could become a Denizen (a New Denizen) if he wanted to. There isn't anything here for him anymore. He can't visit what remains of his family, grandnieces and nephews who are already his age and couldn't possibly understand who he is. Earth's innovations continue without his help; he has been eclipsed by new scientists in the field, and Arthur is happy to have had this happen.

Arthur stares down at her empty bed on Sunday morning, the box containing the personal possessions she was allowed to have tucked under one arm, and thinks about the New House and the New Architect as the care home's director offers his condolences.

 

 

( & one )

Arthur stares at the House later on that same Sunday.

His eyes are unable to focus on any one part of its mishmash of architecture as always. The front door stands before him, the swirling patterns threatening to draw him in should his attention stray to it for more than a few moments.

It looks mostly the same. He wonders how much things have really changed under the New Architect.

"Only one way to find out," Arthur mutters to himself, and raises his hand.


There's a new Lieutenant-Keeper of the Front Door, or perhaps a Captain has been appointed. The uniform is slightly different, but the Denizen does not stick around long enough for Arthur to ask. He's taller than the old Lieutenant, though his sword remains the same.

The Keeper bows when he sees Arthur and disappears, presumably to patrol the rest of the Front Door.

Arthur doesn't really feel like he's moving, but he's been through the Front Door often enough to suspect that he is, even if he has no point of reference to prove it. There is no Key to pull him along, but he is nevertheless convinced that he is moving.

Sure enough, a point of light appears before him, slowly but steadily growing larger until he can see the House beyond it.

"Good to have you back, Artie," Suzy says, when he emerges on Doorstop Hill. She's grown up, though the mischievous smirk has not changed.

Arthur almost says that it's good to be back, but that would be a lie. He would rather be back on Earth, but there's nothing there for him now.

"You've gotten taller, Suzy," he says instead, though he can't help the grin he gives her. Although Suzy is unmistakably a superior Denizen, her personality is still the same.

"'Course I have. I'm Lady Sunday now, thank you." Her face assumes a haughty expression, but her twinkling eyes give her away.

"Ah. That explains the key," he deadpans. The gold key, the Seventh Key to the Kingdom, is hanging from a delicate chain just below her throat. "And why you came to meet me. It's Sunday, after all."

A heavy silence falls between them as they stare at each other, at once familiar and totally alien to each other.

"Guess you grew up too, huh?" Suzy muses finally. "Well, come on then. The others are waiting." She turns away, and the stainless steel double doors typical of the twenty-first century appear before her, alongside a slim panel with a single triangle pointing upward. She presses the button, and the doors slip open with a soft hiss.

"The Morrow Days?" Arthur asks, following her into the elevator.

Suzy hums in agreement as she presses the uppermost button on the massive panel.

Arthur blinks as the elevator smoothly sets into motion. "Leaf too?" he asks.

Suzy nods. "'Course. And I'm hoping you'll be Dawn."

"Dawn is usually female," Arthur points out.

Suzy elbows him in the side, hard. She's nowhere near as thin as she used to be, so her elbows shouldn't be so sharp but they are all the same.

"Ouch!" Arthur protests, edging away. "I guess Friday's Dawn was a guy," he concedes when she narrows her eyes threateningly.

Suzy sniffs. "If you don't want the position-"

"-I want it, I want it," Arthur says quickly.

She sniffs again. "Scamandros is Saturday; he was the only decent sorceror, apart from Giac."

Arthur looks at her blankly; he can't remember any Denizen by that name.

"That's right, you never met him. Well, you will. He's Saturday's Dusk now. And Dartbristle's Dawn; got to get proper representation from all entities within the House now," Suzy explains vaguely. "And Fred's Friday... Well, you'll see them all soon."

Arthur opens and closes his mouth several times, unable to take it all in. It will be good to see his old friends again. He hadn't given it much thought, but it makes since that the New Architect would have them take up the titles of the Morrow Days.

"I was wondering how much things had changed," Arthur says slowly.

Suzy glances at him sidelong. "'Course things've changed," she scoffs. Then that mischievous glint enters her eyes again.

Arthur cringes instinctively.

"By the way, Art brought back the original Morrow Days. They're the respective Noons, now."

The elevator gives a soft ding and the doors slide open. Suzy strides out, leaving Arthur spluttering incoherently behind her.