Starry Cold Nights
By Tori Morris
Disclaimer: Death and all related images and characters belong to DC comics and Neil Gaimen. Josh Lyman belongs to Aaron Sorkien. I'm not making cash off this.
Author's Note: For those here who don't follow The Sandman, by Neil Gaimen, (and why don't you?) The Endless is a family of seven anthropomorphic personalities, more powerful than gods. In order of Age, they are, Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium, who was once Delight.
And for those that don't follow the West Wing, (again, why the hell not?) Josh Lyman is the deputy chief of staff to the president. And an all around nice guy, except that he was shot last year and barely made it. Now he has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which caused him to break a window once.
Spoilers: For pretty much everything and Noel.
Whew. Onto the story.
A blast of cold air from off the Potomac followed her as she entered the room. She carefully surveyed his handiwork, and sighed. He, the subject in question, sat huddled for warmth in the corner, looking at his hand, which dripped with freshly spilt blood.
"T-took you long enough this time, Joanie." he muttered, voice wavering with the cold.
"Joshua Aaron Lyman," she said, setting down her umbrella and walking over to him.
"I-I knew you would come sooner or later."
"Listen-" she began, and he cut her off.
"N-No! I know. I know, you have the power. So dammit, do it already." He shivered.
She put her arms around his shoulders and gave him a bit of a hug, which he didn't lean into. He weakly pushed her away and left a streak of blood on her silver ankh necklace, which she promptly wiped off on her black spaghetti-strapped shirt. She didn't seem to be cold.
"At least put a bandage on. Geez." She saw the shaky ankh he had tried to draw in his own blood on the floor. "You didn't have to do that. I was already on my way. I just had stops to make."
"Y-yeah, stops to make, people to kill." he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"That's funny." She attempted a smile. But when he didn't return it, she frowned.
"Josh, I'm really not going to do this. Remember what I told you last time?" she said, standing up and putting her hands on her hips.
"Not exactly. I was kinda out of it at the time."
"I remember. I stayed with you for fourteen hours, and we shared stories. You told me about what had happened since I saw you last, and I told you about the promise again."
"Y-yeah." he said, shivering again."But you don't understand. I had so much to live for then. Now, all I want it to do is st-stop." He shook violently. Death sat down across from him and smiled, her fingertips gently brushing his shoulder.
"I remember. Do you want to hear the story again, before you tell me why you did this?"
"Okay. It was 1943..."
It was 1943, and all over Europe, the Nazi's had set up concentration camps, dedicated to the extermination of human life. One of many, but possibly most notorious, was Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was a busy place, in all of the worst ways. A little realm of Despair and Death on Earth.
She spent most of her time there. Not that there weren't other people, dying in other places. But the horror of any place kept her busy, and her good nature made her spend the rest of the time trying to make it less difficult for others.
And on one starry, cold December night, she found a chance to truly do some good. A young man, maybe 24, but looking like something out of hell, was sobbing silently in the dirt. She went up to him, and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He turned slowly.
"I am, but it doesn't matter right now. I'm not here for you, Aaron."
"Oh...I had hoped."
"Tell me what's wrong?" she pleaded.
"Why do you care. This must be such a great thing for you...all this Death."
She shook her head, a movement that seemed tangible to the entire world. "I don't revel in my job. It is what it is. Sometimes it can be wonderful, and often times sad. But you don't want to hear about me," she said, as cheerfully as the circumstances permitted.
"Yes, I do! Why does this happen? Why do you permit this to happen?"
"I can't change it. Only other people can change it. But let's not dwell on that right now, okay? I want to hear about you. "
"I work in the crematoria. It's awful," he said, showing her his tattoo.
"I try and make sure I take everyone before they get there."
"Not always." he said between sobs.
"I-I had to put my own mother in there today. I don't think I can stand this much longer. Who am I going to recognize next? Judith? Little Sarah from down the block?"
She made the smallest sound of sorrow for his plight, as he cried into his hands.
"Somedays I just want to jump onto the fence."
"You shouldn't do that, Aaron. It's a cheat."
"What do you mean?"
She looked sadly down at him, and sighed. "I know when it's time for people to go. I walk them into this life and in the end I walk them out. It's my duty. But I really don't like it when they come early. Life can be so beautiful, filled with wonderful moments. And, after they pass, they usually don't want to be with me. They ask me for a re-do, just a little more time. And I can't give it to them."
He looked at his hands a little more, and sighed the sigh of a man with no tears left. "You're right. I could never do it. I-there are these little moments of beauty in life, even here. And the thought of a time when the Nazis will be gone."
"That's right. Nothing lasts forever." Her lips curved in a sweet, sad smile. "Listen, Aaron, I like you. Want to make a deal with me?"
"I-" He eyed the girl shrewdly. "Not for my soul. I'd like to keep that, if I still have one."
"Never. How could anyone take a soul? That belongs to you and you alone." Her voice was firm. "My deal is this: you live, and you'll be under my protection. I'll not come for you until you're good and ready."
"How can you..."
"It'll be tricky. But it's one way to make sure they don't get the last word."
"I guess." he narrowed his eyes again. "But if we're making a deal, I want it to extend to my ancestors, too."
"What? Why?" she said.
"I know-you aren't supposed to deal with Death, but that way I can guarantee that something is worth living for. And, also because, that way, they will never get the last word."
She eyed him, and smiled. "It's a deal, Aaron." And she kissed him on the forehead, and faded out, with the comforting words, "See you later. Much later."
"And that's why you can't come with me, Josh. I made a promise to Aaron." she said, stroking his back softly.
"I-it didn't mean much during the fire, did it?" he said bitterly.
"Josh." she said a bit harshly. "That's not fair."
"H-how is it not fair? If you made a promise to watch over us, why did Joanie die?"
"Don't you remember that night?"
"I-I remember following Joanie out, and then finding out that she died. You told me."
"You never followed Joanie out. That was me."
"T-then why did Joanie die? Why not me? W-why not save both of us?"
"Sometimes, even greater forces interfere, and the best you can do is to smudge the truth a little."
"S-so, if I owe my existence to a smudge, why should I stick around?"
"Because, I promised Aaron, and later, when they shot you, I kept you alive to honor that promise. You don't want them to have the last word. You want to get married, and have plenty of children. Maybe one named Joanie and another named Aaron."
"But the dreams...and the flashbacks...how can I live with those every day?" he whispered, so softly that she barely heard him
"Is that what's bothering you? Dreams?" she asked softly. He nodded.
"That's an easy one to fix, Joshua. And the flashbacks? I can't make them go away- only you can do that. But I can make them a bit better. Just promise me, promise me, I won't see you again," she said, lifting his head gently.
His brown eyes met her ice blue ones. His were bloodshot, and bleary, but she smiled all the same when he nodded.
"Good. Wrap up that hand and go see someone who can help." He nodded, and she handed him a long strip of gauze. She turned to go.
"L-listen, I want to say, I'm sorry for all of this."
"It's really okay, Joshua. Just don't do it again."
He nodded and she disappeared softly into the cold winter night.