Title: To Pieces
Books: Monstrous Regiment and the Susan books. Thief of Time, mainly. Spoilers for MR.
Summary: One can learn how to deal with the unbearable. Ahahaha.
Notes'n'warnings: Rated very M for sex (creepy sex! Light bondage! Also: funny sex!). Angst angst angst. Mal/Susan, Mal/Polly. 1366 words. X-posted to dolltime.
Edit: amazon_syren informs me that the sex isn't explicit enough to warrant the "very M". So, M it is, then :D
One can learn how to deal with the unbearable. Mal does it with light, stares into the sun and pulls the dust together until her skin ceases to crack and burn. Light doesn't hurt her anymore.
She does it with blood, later. She goes to the battlefields and it is all laid out for her, like a banquet without the napkins. She seeks them out, the battlefields, until her senses cease to whisper, prey!, whenever Polly is near, until she is able to bathe in virgins's blood, craving nothing but a stiff espresso. Not that she tests it out.
These days, she tries it with death.
They're both kinda immortal.
Kinda immortal, that is, Mal can only be killed if her attacker is standing on one foot, whistling the Borogravian national anthem and carrying half an onion while slicing off her head, and good luck with that. Susan is Death's granddaughter (insert Raised Eyebrow of You Have Got To Be Kidding Me, insert haughty expression of You Can Fuck Off Like the Rest), and as such, Mal supposes, probably has a get out of death free card.
Susan is also an elementary school teacher, but that revelation comes later, under circumstances in which Mal's reaction - "So you'd like me to dress up as a schoolgirl?" - is, surprisingly, entirely appropriate. Miss Susan Does Not Approve - "You may just have killed my libido. Aren't you proud?" - but Mal doesn't care, she isn't going to dress up as a girl anyway, school or otherwise, she just needs something to relieve this tension, this fear. "Death is relative," she says and promises herself to leave (flee), should Susan make the painfully obvious pun. Susan doesn't, and that's that.
It should be a relief, really. Going out with might-as-well-be-immortals is an easy way out of the whole mortality-induced mess Mal's in. She only wishes she'd care enough to be relieved by that.
(She wonders what it'd be like, running into Susan at dinnerparties a century after their inevitable breakup - and what little is there to break? - Mal'd probably call her Sue, see her eyes flicker with almost forgotten annoyance, and furthermore indulge in sweet, sweet boredom.)
That's when she comes, with a certain amount of style even though half of this is fear, not lust. Her wrists straining against the ties (she could easily tear them off if she wanted to, but it isn't really an option), she longs to dig her nails into the skin of Susan's gracefully arched back (into her face, and get away, away). Susan is warm, warmer than most vampires except for the really ambitious. There's some sweat, barely enough to make the whole thing believable, not more, never more. Mal's nails would not leave anything half-moon shaped in Susan's skin.
Mal cherishes the thought. She doesn't want Susan the person, she wants the role she plays, wants Susan Death, who is also a teacher, who might be able to teach her to deal.
She thinks more rational these days. It's an exchange, and she can only win. On one side, there's no screwed-up funny faces, no laughter at very inappropriate moments, no miserable fumbling under six layers of clothes and blankets in snowed-in tents, no-one falling asleep in the middle of it all with their hand still down her trousers and their head on her chest because they have been gathering firewood all day. Mal's got rid (was ridden, was ridden) of all of this. Sex with Polly was a disgrace to vampirism.
And on the other side, what she gets in return is the prospect of never having her heart broken again.
It's not that she thinks Susan isn't capable of this, Mal muses as their lips meet, as their noses distinctly fail to bump against each other, as she opens her mouth the very moment Susan does the same. It's just that she's not going to get that well acquainted with someone who is, essentially, Death. Mal refuses to get carried away.
Down below Susan's hand slows, but doesn't stop, drawing out of her what shudders have remained unshuddered still. Mal fights and defeats the urge to run and hide; notices as she does so that she is better at that than she was. She returns a perfect kiss.
Mal used to do all of this quite naturally, but after years with Polly, only Polly, one certainly learns how to fall off a bed, or grin over squeaking springs, or stumble over shrewd buttons and enjoy it. Mal has to concentrate these days, as she has to concentrate on staying here, even after Susan unties the silk shawl that's kept her restrained.
As she has to concentrate on not getting sentimental over silly jewellery. Like the locket that Susan is, just now, examining with pale fingers, while she's still on Mal and can't she just get away, with her head on Mal's shoulder, licking off the fingers of her other hand.
There's no harm in letting her see it, Mal decides, or rather, there couldn't possibly be more harm than there already is. She twirls a strand of white hair around her thumb, holding it up to the moonlight and imagining it blond. Everything is wrong, the angles, the distribution of soft and hard, the lack of freckles. She wonders, briefly, who Susan wants her to be.
The locket yields to Susan's prying fingers, naturally; it falls open as if it had been planning this all along. She peers at it through half-closed eyes. The iconographs have faded, in time. They'll never fade enough.
"Pretty girl," says Susan. "Human?"
Mal thinks of the second locket, a plain thing bought years ago out of a meagre soldier's salary. It is up in the mountains now, forever lying against the hollow of Polly's throat. Mal misses a fraction of a breath before she realises that it's winter in Borogravia (frozen soil all around her, Polly's always hated the cold. They'd chased it away), and misses another because she's never been not aware of what season it is in the mountains, not before now.
There's a 'mmpf' looming at the horizon of Mal's inner landscape, but she's been getting in touch with the no-speaking-in-grunts part lately. "Yes," she says. "Was."
One can learn how to deal with the unbearable. She's tried it with Polly, tried to overindulge in her, tried to get enough and then more than enough, so that she'd be bored before the inevitable happened. It might have worked, only she never got there, for lack of time -
"Seems like the easy way out," says Susan. Mal remembers the retreat from the mountains, the cold, numb nights and the way she could never use the whole of the pallet, curling herself around Polly-shaped nothing. The easy way out.
The use of physical violence never seemed so justified, Mal thinks; but really, this is what she's here for. She believes in a fixed amount of pain for everyone, and wants to get it over with.
"Excuse me?" she says, and her voice betrays nothing of the cold fear she feels when Susan drags a lazy thumb down her side and that is now mixed with equally cold anger. She doesn't squirm.
Every day, Mal gets better and better.
"Humans," says Susan. "No need to engage in nasty breakups, no long-term commitment required. Easy." Maybe she's bitter. (Mal knows bitter. Mal has convinced a drunk Susan to show her her hourglass, and it was heavy with centuries yet to spend. It might have slipped out of her hands, and burst. It hadn't.)
(Mal knows she wants to believe her, but no, if there's an easy way out, it's Susan. The logical approach won't win any awards today.)
Mal wonders if she should tell her that, but she's been around humans long enough to knows that while they like having a remedy, they don't like it when they end up being one; that they don't like it when life isn't all about them. The locket snaps shut, and Mal doesn't say anything.
She wonders why she cares.