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[personal profile] forestsofthenight
Title: The Trilling Wire in the Blood
Fandom: Discworld
Characters: Susan Sto Helit, Jonathan Teatime
Pairing: pre-Susan/Teatime
Summary: For the first time since he was very young indeed, Teatime is having a little trouble keeping his mind on the job. Susan, Teatime, and the irresistible attraction of fear.

The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.

"Burnt Norton", T. S. Eliot

For the first time in his life, Teatime understands the appeal of a beautiful woman. Susan Sto Helit is beautiful, trapped on the wrong end of this marvelous sword. He sees the fear in her eyes, sees her breath run short and her pulse race in her throat as she realises she's trapped, and it is electrifying, intoxicating. He drinks it in, and almost regrets for a moment that he will have to kill her. It will be an interesting challenge, at least, if she's picked up a few tricks from her grandfather.

She has not inherited his figure, Teatime can't help noticing. It is a little—just a little, just a fraction—more difficult to concentrate than usual, with her fear-dark eyes fixed on him. He doesn't want to look away, leans just a little forward… ah. She doesn't like that, he can see. The pulse in her throat picks up again, fluttering frantically underneath the pale skin. He does it again, relishing her discomfort. Contained and controlled, she is lovely; afraid, she is beautiful. He wonders just how far he could drive that fear, if he had the time.

Still, it is only beauty and he is nothing if not practical. She is a distraction, an impediment, a witness, and the tide is trying to turn against him. If he removes her from the equation, he will be in control again. So he stops looking at her. He'll take care of her soon enough. It's just a pity that he'll have to do it quickly.

She can see right through him, though, right into him, and suddenly it's not fun at all. He does not want to be known or understood, and somehow she knows everything. All at once, she is dangerous. The fight isn't one-sided anymore.

Physically, though, she's no match for him. He has the upper hand almost before she can blink, and now it's fun again. Now she's more afraid even than when he had her at swordpoint, and he's so close to her that he can almost feel her heart pounding in her chest. She's easy to control this way, frozen by nothing more than his grasp on her hair.

He pulls her head back a little, admiring the way it lengthens the line of her slender neck, half entranced by how easy it would be to snap it. There is something about her shallow, panting breaths that makes him draw this out, something enticing in the watching her pulse jump in rhythm with her racing heart. Just for a moment, the man in him surfaces and he leans in, intent on tasting the spot below her jaw where that pulse throbs just below the surface. Just for a moment, he feels her begin to relax into his hand, and he realizes that fear isn't the only reason her heart is racing—

—and then everything goes to hell.

But for the first time, just for a moment, Teatime has something to think about besides death.




There is something about Teatime. He is clearly absolutely mad, in a terrifyingly calm sort of way. And his eyes… Susan represses a shudder. The glass eye should frighten her more, but somehow it is the real eye with its tiny pinpoint pupil that really worries her. Still… there is something about him that makes Susan just a little sorry that he's an insane assassin who has her at sword-point and not, for example, mostly sane and offering to buy her a drink at Biers. If you could ignore the eyes, she thinks, he's really sort of… beautiful.

Of course, there are the eyes, and they are impossible to ignore. And then there's the madness that positively rolls off him in waves, not to mention the sword. It's pretty hard to forget about the sword (her own sword!), sharp enough to make the air bleed and poised to cut straight through her with a flick of his wrist. Susan isn't quite sure what can kill her and what can't, for the most part, but she is very sure about the sword. The sword can kill anything. So she lets him drive her back, fighting the unexpected fear that is blossoming in her chest and trying to choke off her breath. His expression is calm, vaguely interested, a child watching a bug in a jar. He had clearly been the sort of child who hadn't put any air holes in on purpose, Susan reflects. It is not a comparison that bodes well for her.

She hates feeling this trapped, this defenseless, but she has to buy time until she can think of a way to get out of this. So she stops when he stops, replies when he talks. He never really looks away, even when he's talking to other people. Her heart is pounding now, and it should be all fear, and yet… he isn't doing a good job of keeping his eyes on her face. It's sort of flattering, even if he is a madman.

She cannot possibly be enjoying this. Not even a little. She would have to be as mad as Teatime to enjoy this. So when he leans in, she knows her heart is only racing faster because a homicidal maniac is less than a foot away from her and she's pumped so full of adrenaline and fear that she's practically vibrating. That's all. She covers it with bravado and hopes he'll look away soon.

It's not any better when he finally does. Somehow, he seems even more dangerous now. He's too still even in motion, as if a sudden movement might jar something loose. She has a dreadful feeling that it would be whatever keeps him from killing everyone in the room.

She shouldn't be surprised when he throws her to the wolves without a second thought, but she is. For a moment they're arguing like children, and it feels so normal that it's almost surreal. He's losing control of the situation, though, and she can sense his control over his impulses is slipping too. It hurts when he calls her a freak, although it shouldn't. But the anger gives her impetus, and she finally knows what to do.

She pushes. She tells him exactly what he is, and she can see him slipping. For the first time, he raises his voice and her heart begins to race again—this is dangerous, playing with fire, daring fate. She knows she's right, though, the same way she knew from the moment she met Twyla that the girl had not a single winsome or naive bone in her body, however charmingly she twirled her hair or lisped. She can see through children, and she can see through him. She spares half a thought to wonder what broke him so thoroughly that he's still a child on the inside.

His concentration breaks, and she takes her moment, but he's more alert than she thinks. Now she's really trapped, because his grip on her wrist is like iron. He's behind her in a second, wrenching her arm along with him, and her mind is screaming that the last place you want a mad assassin is behind you. She's trembling now, and her breath is coming short, and it must be terror because anything else would be completely insane.

Suddenly, he has her by the hair and her heart is pounding so hard she's sure it will break right through her ribs, and may the gods help her, because it's not fear. Not the kind of fear she's used to, at least, because her whole being is concentrated on the hand fisted in her hair and the menacing whisper in her ear, and she doesn't want to get away. She obeys the pull of that hand, tilting her head back and exposing her throat…

So it's a good thing that Banjo intervenes.




By the time they meet again, he's shaken the strange affliction.

Or he thinks he has, until he sees her. He'd planned to kill her as soon as he saw her, but now that she's in front of him, he's strangely reluctant to do it. She is so interesting, after all. It would be a shame to kill her quickly. Yes, he decides. Susan Sto Helit's death ought to be a careful, intimate affair so that he can savor all those little looks, the panting breath, the pounding heart. It can be something to look forward to after he's finished with this Hogfather business.

And while he's at it, he can kill Death. As he readies for the strike, he wonders what will happen when he kills Susan, if there is no Death. Maybe he'll be able to kill her and still keep her. Isn't that a lovely thought?

The poker puts an abrupt end to his plans. He's surprised by how disappointed he is that he won't be able to keep Susan after all.

Ω

It's much easier to hate him the second time. She wishes she weren't surprised by that. She also wishes the practical little observer in the back of her mind would shut up and stop observing for once, because it's busy pointing out that only about three quarters of her rage is for the way he's threatening Grandfather and the children. The other quarter is for the cold glint in his eyes when he looks at her that says he'll kill her without a second thought and never regret it.

But underneath the rage, her heart is in her throat, and this time it truly is all fear, because he is somehow madder now than he was. Before he was only mad. Now he is wrong. He has gone beyond madness, somehow, and whatever lives beyond that place should not be here in this cozy little room. There's nothing exciting about this, and she spares a moment to be relieved because that means what happened before was just some kind of passing fit, a few misfires in the brain, and she's not any further from normal than she ever was.

She doesn't regret killing him at all. That's what she tells herself afterwards, and she tries to forget how young and surprised he looked in that moment.

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

"Burnt Norton"
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