The summoning had taken him by surprise.
It was an unfamiliar and altogether uncomfortable sensation. He was rarely surprised, these days. Gray mists swirled around him, rising up and engulfing him in a cocoon. Then- just as quickly as they'd come, they'd gone, leaving him in a rare moment of disorientation.
The end of ends, the unquestionable finality, the reaper of souls and physical incarnation of death squinted into the dim light. He sneezed. Someone handed him a hanky. He took it and, while wiping his nose, tried to look around through streaming eyes.
He was in someone's living room. At least, there was a couch and a TV, which -if he understood correctly- were the hallmarks of a living room. He supposed he really wouldn't know much about that, though. Were living rooms also supposed to be filled with fast food wrappers, old pizza boxes and various other bits of trash? This one certainly was.
"Hi," said someone considerably shorter than him.
Death peered down into the eager, rather freckly face looking up at him and sighed.
"Hello, Dory," he said. "What do you want this time?"
The young man frowned and cringed ever so slightly. Death immediately felt like an ass.
"Sorry," he said. "It's been a long day. What is it you needed?"
Dorian Morte smiled and held up what looked to be a dead cat. "Do you think you can do me a favor and fix this? It's the neighbor kids'. They let it get loose and it ran into the street . . . "
"Again?" said Death, peering in a little closer. Yes, it was definitely a dead cat, and a rather familiar one at that. Blood matted its orange and white fur.
"You know I can't just keep doing this sort of thing," Death said, taking the cat. "It's unprofessional."
"And I appreciate it, really."
The cat held in Death's arms began to writhe. Muscle and sinew stitched together. Splintered bones healed. Orange eyes sprang open, and the cat gave off a low growl. Death gratefully let it jump to the floor, where it proceeded to clean itself with as much dignity as it could muster.
"You can't just keep calling me up like this, Dory."
Dory grinned. "You'd miss me if I stopped." He turned and went over to an overstuffed cabinet nestled in the corner. It was, Death noticed, full of junk, most of which was tossed aside or set on the ground as Dory began rifling through the shelves.
Death deigned not to respond and instead focused on the end table beside him. He wiped an unnaturally thin finger across the surface, revealing a bright streak of cherry starkly contrasting the thick dust around it.
"You know," he said, "My other Godchild was already married by your age. He was a doctor, too."
Though he could only see the back of his head, Death could swear Dory was rolling his eyes.
"I know. They still tell stories about that."
"Lies! It's all lies. He lived until the ripe old age of eighty five-"
"And was never sick a day in his life," said Dory in perfect unison. He tucked something into his pocket, then bent down to scoop up the cat. "Heya, Fiddlesticks. How you feelin', buddy?"
The cat made a disgruntled prrumph sound and squirmed in his arms.
"So," said Death as casually as he could manage. "The place looks. . . nice."
Dory turned a shade of red that matched his freckles perfectly. "Yeah, well. I haven't had the time to, you know, clean up. Work. And stuff." He ran a hand through his dark hair, allowing the cat to climb over his shoulder and leap off onto the sofa. His hair, Death noticed, looked like it hadn't been washed in days.
"So. Still no girlfriend?"
"How can you tell?"
Death shrugged. "Call it a hunch."
"Yeah. Still single."
"You know, War has a daughter about your age. . . "
Dory made a face. "Oh, please. Don't."
"I'm just saying. Or if not, Pestilence's niece seems like a nice girl. You met her at the barbeque last summer, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. Thanks, but no. No offense, but I really don't want your help getting a date, okay?"
"You know I do worry about you."
"I know, dad."
Death brushed off some nonexistent dirt from his robe. When Dory had been little, he could never get the hang of calling him 'Godfather' (Death had the sneaking suspicion that the movie might have had something to do with it). Instead, Dory had called him a number of names ranging from G-Dad to Azzy before finally settling on some variation of dad. Death hadn't objected.
"Well," he said. "If that's all you wanted-"
"Actually, there is one more thing . . ."
He pulled out something from his pocket and held it out.
"Ah," said Death. "What is it?"
"What's it look like?"
Death tentatively picked the object up. "Plain brown paper and scotch tape crudely wrapped around an irregular surface."
"Yes," said Dory, nodding. He was used to this sort of thing.
"I take it you want me to open it?"
"At your leisure," said Dory loftily. "Just a question though. You do know what day it is today, right?"
Death blinked. "In which part of the world?"
"The one I'm standing in."
"Uh-huh. Anything important ring a bell?"
"No. . . " said Death. He frowned. "I don't think so."
Dory nodded. "Yeah, thought as much. Well then," he said, stretching. "I guess I'll be seeing ya. It was nice of you to visit. Thanks for taking care of Fiddle Sticks for me."
Death felt the summoning spell slipping off. He could leave.
"Goodbye, Dory," he said, giving a little wave with the hand holding the gift.
He slipped into the place between dimensions, wondering what his godson had been getting at. It wasn't until he was back home, in his own miniverse that he bothered to open the present.
Packaging paper tore easily and fell to the ground. He stared.
It was a coffee mug. Not a wimpy sort of mug that may as well have been a regular cup, but the overlarge kind reserved for those who –like Death- required at least a pot and a half to get up in the mornings. It was black. On one side, there was a cartoon skull and crossbones with a silly grin. On the other were the words;
Inside the mug was a bag of candy. Tucked beneath the candy was a small card that simply read,
After a long moment, Death carefully took the mug and placed it on his kitchen counter. He started up a pot of coffee, and left the mug beside it.
Half an hour later, Death sat at his desk, a full mug in one hand, a piece of candy in the other. On his desk, right next to the computer monitor where he could easily see it, was the card. He'd made sure to tape it up, so it wouldn't fall down.