Thanks for reading, all. My first original fic. Aw. I'm wiping away tears as we speak. Concrit is welcomed, so if you could find the time that would be appreciated.

The car was a small blue Saxo, three years old, coffee stains on the seats. Nothing really notable. No-one would have noticed it, if it hadn't just slewed across the street and gone straight through Mrs Smythe's front window. Several people looked out of their front doors, spotted the carnage, and hurried over to gawp. Someone upstairs, rather behind on current events, hollered for everyone to shut up and let her sleep.

The car's owner wriggled out through a smashed window, whey-faced. "Did you see that? I could have been killed!"

"Yeah, about that," said the pale, dark-haired girl helping him up. Her hands were cold. "Well, you're..."

"Look, the bonnet's going to have to be replaced and the windows too...Do you think my insurance will cover it?"

"Frankly, I don't care." said the girl. "Look, could you just-"

"Because I was thinking of getting the lounge remodelled, but if I have to buy a new car-"

"Hey, listen to me-" She followed him around the back of the car, where he was trying to get the boot open.

"My laptop's in there, but I think it must be stuck. Do you mind-"

"You're dead!" she screamed at him. "Dead! D-E-A-D! You're a corpse! You are a dead person! Do you understand the words that are coming out of my face now? Jeez!"

"What? That's not a very funny joke, young lady."

"It's...it's not a freaking joke!" She gestured at the wreckage of his car. "Your head is smashed in! You are dead! Dead! Really and truly dead! You're...don't make me quote Monty Python here. You're dead. So..." She pulled her coat open and inspected her watch. It hung on an old-fashioned chain, and had no hands. "I'm a very busy and tetchy person, so if you could just traipse off to whichever section of the afterlife you're heading for, that would be appreciated." She glanced up and saw his expression. "Look, trust me on this, okay? Now shoo."

She walked away from him, pulling out the watch again and glowering at it.

"Hey!" He followed her. "Are you feeling all right?"

"I'm just peachy, but you're not." she said pointedly.

"I think maybe you should get some help-"

She stared at him incredulously, then reached out and waved an arm through a tree. "Look, I realise denial is a natural stage in the grief process, but you're taking it a tad too far. Are you stupid or what?"

"But...you just waved your arm through that tree!"

"Yes! I did! Congratulations!" She tucked the watch away. "Now go. Shoo. Git along, liddle dogie. Scram."

"But-" He looked back at his car. Someone had knelt cautiously to look through the window, then screamed and collapsed. "I can't be dead! I was...I was going to remodel the lounge!"

"Tough." she said, with an quite amazing lack of sympathy. "You know, Hitler didn't give me this much trouble and I think we all know where he was headed."

"I was going to..." he whispered, staring at the ground, then looked up suddenly. "If I'm...you know-"

"Dead," she supplied helpfully.

"-then who are you?"

"I'm the sodding Archangel Gabriel. I'm Death, idiot. Azrael. The Assassin 'Gainst Whom No Lock Will Hold. Do you get it now, puny mortal with the brain of a spongecake?"

He blinked at her. She shrugged. "It sounds better untranslated. Look, are you coming? I'm busy. The Middle East thing and all the AIDS in Africa, I'm bleeding swamped." She stretched out a hand. Black sparks flickered around her fingertips.

"Isn't there anything I can do? I don't want to be dead!"

"No. Nothing. When you're dead, you're dead." She hesitated. "Well..."

He latched onto the syllable. "What?"

"There's the Game."

"What? Like chess?"

She flinched. "No. Not chess. It's always bleeding chess and I hate it.. Trumps? Do you know the rules?" She produced a pack of cards from up her sleeve. "Five cards each, then." She put the pack down, the cards shuffled themselves and dealt themselves onto thin air.

"It's just luck, though given your tendency to drive through windows you'll probably lose. Swords trumps, I like swords."

"Huh?"

She caught his blank expression. "Oh, not swords. Clubs, then." She flicked a card out. Ace of clubs. "Hah. Aces high, by the way." She sat down on the air and leant back, arms folded triumphantly.

He elected to stand, choosing a two of spades.

"Trick to me, then. Oh, good." Death picked up the two cards and put them down by her elbow. "You know what I like about this game? You can be winning through the entire game and then lose on the last trick. Always unpredictable. Like life, really. One day you're moseying along planning to redesign the living room, then poof! you're dead. Never a boring moment." She put down the eight of diamonds.

"I always thought it was quite boring." He put down the nine and rather self-consciously picked up the two cards.

"Damn. Hah. Not if you think about it right. You know what's boring? Purgatory. Grey and dull. That's where you're headed." she added, looking through her cards. "Not many people get to heaven straight away. Mother Teresa did, of course, but she's Mother Teresa. Teresa's a pretty name, don'cha think?"

"It's okay, I suppose." He sighed, put down a four of hearts, and pushed the cards over to her.

"Thanks. Why's everyone so scared of death?"

It was such a surprising question he gaped at her. "What? Oh. I suppose because it's unknown?"

"Nothing unknown about it. You die and if you've been average you go to purgatory, if you're good you go to heaven, and if you're bad you go to hell. Hitler went there. Good. I hated him. Never got to sit down for a minute when he was thingy. The German boss. But if you go to purgatory you just sit around for a few centuries. Some people appreciate it. It'd probably be more colourful than your life, at least. A duller existence than yours would be hard to find."

She slapped down a card, looked at his, and pushed the pile over. "Two to me, two to you.

Everyone says they want to die surrounded by their family, but that only happens if a) you're terminally ill or b) they're smothering you with a pillow and who wants that? Car accident isn't a bad way, as death goes. Quick and while you might go a bit earlier than you expected, at least there's none of that arthritis stuff. No-one seems to see it that way, though. Except Ben Jonson, and he doesn't count."

She pulled the cards over, grinning, showing unpleasantly sharp teeth. "Two to you, three to me."

"I think the thing about people dying young is that they never really lived," he said, as Death dealt him four cards. "They could have been writers or artists or discovered a cure for cancer or something, but now they'll never do anything. Just lie under the earth and rot away. 'The saddest thing a parent can do is bury a child'." he added, dredging the phrase up from his teen years. He'd always wished he was dead when he was younger, generally very loudly and in his parents' direction. Sounded silly now.

Death sucked on the end of one of her dark braids, looking pensive. "You might have a point there. Trumps clubs again."

She picked up her cards, flicked through them, and swore.

"You're supposed to pick trumps after you look at the cards."

"Now where's the fun in that? Six of spades, then."

"Ace of spades."

"Dammit."

Silence, as the pair played, broken only by the occasional swearword or whoop from the Ultimate Reality.

"I was going to remodel the lounge, you know."

"You mentioned it. You seem rather hung up on that point. Anything else? Buy a yacht? Ask out that hot blonde from Accounting?"

He flushed. "How did you know about Tracey?"

Death grinned again. "I guessed." Her eyes slid off him and looked into the distance. "Twenty-eight. Bit too young for you, mate."

"I'm only thirty!"

"Really? Had you pegged at forty or fifty. I need to read the assignments more carefully." She pulled out her watch and inspected it. "Oh, yeah, thirty last January. Wow, you really need to moisturize. Bit redundant now, of course."

They finished the second round, two tricks each.

"You mind speeding up? I only get quarter-hour breaks for this sort of thing since I stopped playing chess. I used to get an hour, then, because the game took so long, but then Michael said I only needed fifteen minutes. He just doesn't like me because of the whitewash incident."

She shuffled the pack reflectively. "It wasn't even aimed at him, I was going for Winter." She blew a strand of hair out of her face disconsolately. "Drop one bucket of paint on an archangel and no-one ever forgets it. But it was worth chucking the blasted game, believe me."

She leant back.

"Skip to the last card? Might as well, it's not like it makes any difference." She raised an eyebrow and waggled the pack at him.

"All right. Can't do any harm."

Death laughed, a surprisingly musical sound, and slapped two cards face-down on the air. "You want to pick trumps this time?"

He shrugged. "Hearts?"

"How romantic."

He put his down. Six of hearts. He stared at it, hardly daring to hope. He could win nolw, but if she had anything above that...

Death regarded him over the top of the card for a few endless seconds, laughed, and slapped it down. Jack of clubs. "Fair enough then. You win."

And, quite suddenly, he was staring at crumpled blue steel. He swore, and spat out blood.

"Hey! I think he's alive!"

Hands reached through the glass, patting his jacket. "Hey, he's breathing! Linda, call an ambulance!" Running footsteps as Linda raced back to the house. "Okay, sir, relax, don't move too much, there's a nasty gash on your head…there'll be an ambulance here in a second…"

The voice withdrew, and remarked to someone else, "Funny, I could of sworn he was dead for a sec there."

And, staring at the ruins of his car, the man laughed and laughed and laughed. And the first thing he would do now, he resolved, would be ask out Tracey. And redecorate his entire house. And maybe buy a boat.

Behind all the shouting people, the odd girl with the dark hair grinned, inspected her old-fashioned watch, and walked away to Africa.

Editor's Note: It might be worth pointing out that shortly afterwards our gentleman here redecorated his entire house, asked out a blonde woman from Accounting, and for some reason bought a motorboat. He finally died in bed at ninety-four, his funeral being attended by his loving wife Tracey, three children, four grandchildren, and a strange woman in black who sat at the back with her feet up on a pew and periodically inspected her watch.