The clock at her bedside ticked in time with her heart, the slow thudding seemingly filling the room as well as her ears. It mingled with the refrain of a dozen car horns from the street below, the grunts and groans of the city rising on the warm wind to her window. In the corner, a fan whirled.

Squinting into the dull grays of her apartment from her seat on the bed, she could not tell the difference between the dream world and reality. It was almost guaranteed that she was asleep, passed out on the white sheets, never having bothered to take off the day's clothes. Her body was safe and sound in that cramped apartment, her unconscious mind probably hearing much the same sounds as her dream one.

All except for one, that was.

The knocking was a steady, monotonous rhythm. It repeated every few minutes, echoing strangely in her head as if her nighttime visitor rapped at her temple instead of the door. Each pound melded with the beat of her heart, the combined sensation sending shivers through her body as the dull blow sent shivers through the wood. Seeking to concentrate upon anything but the cause, she counted silently the seconds between each tap, halfheartedly attempting to struggle from the dream.

Perhaps at some point her visitor would grow weary of the charade and leave her in peace. And perhaps, she snorted, the universe would unravel and she would forever be free of the clutches of both god and man. Perhaps was, in her case, simply too much to hope for.

As she had long ago promised herself, she would not answer the door; let him knock however long he dared. Knocking was only a nicety anyway; one tiny shred of courtesy before he twisted the law and entered her mind. Words, even divine ones, could not protect her from an ardent suitor it seemed, especially one as clever as he.

After some minutes of silence, the rasp of the dead bolt sliding back came as no surprise; he was a man who needed neither key nor invitation. No metal or manmade contraption could slow him, she knew; she could hide for no longer than he would allow her. With a muffled whine the door gave way, begging her to turn her gaze, a call which she expertly resisted. She would not deign to look at him.

A gloom descended upon the room, tongues of shadow darting from the half-opened door to lick the hem of her bedspread. One curled tentatively around her dangling foot, chilling the exposed skin of her ankle before she hastily kicked it away. Touching the wraithlike tendril was almost like touching a part of him, both turning her stomach in much the same way. She cast a wary glance down to her feet, watching in silent resignation as the shadows roamed over the gray carpet, at last covering every inch of the floor. In all of their meetings, he always made certain that she could not run.

She did not lift her eyes at the sound of the closing door, nor the footsteps entering the room, muffled by the same layers of shadow that kept her stranded. Being asleep, she could call for no one, bound in her own mind until whenever her body awoke. He could not touch her in the physical world, the law held him there. But here, in her dreams, she had found herself more powerless than she ever could have imagined.

With sick and silent unease she tracked the soft padding across the floor, the sleek leather shoes dispelling the darkness only to have it rush in again. He drew close to her, the lower buttons of his pitch black suit level with her eyes, just near enough to make out what might have been pinstripes in the darkness. Not a foot from him, it would have been all too simple to reach out and lightly finger a lapel, perhaps lay one trembling hand upon the finely made jacket. It would be made of silk, she knew, still as supple as when she had gently caressed the soft fabric all those years ago. Time did not touch him; he never changed.

The silence suited him fine, and to her it was better than conversation that always seemed close to undoing her. He seemed content to merely stand there, hazel eyes caressing the skin of one cheek before slipping down her neck, tumbling with dark tresses to places she did not dare think about.

"Anna," he breathed, the name rolling off of his tongue as if in prayer. Her breath caught in her throat.

A thousand emotions crashed through her head, encouraged by the low baritone still resonating in her ears. Ever since she was a child it had been his voice that so captured her, manipulated her; as an adult, she refused to allow him one more ounce of control. It would be her will that she followed, not his.

"You are not supposed to be here," she spat, "and you know it. The law says –"

He cut her off with a dry chuckle, effectively calling her bluff. "I know what the law says, my dear, and I am quite justified in being here. It was you who opened your mind to me tonight, was it not?"

"I did no such thing." Out of pride and instinct Anna kept her tone firm, her natural desire to resist the unnatural presence beside her taking effect. "Falling asleep with your cursed trinket against my chest was an accident."

"Ah, an accident was it…." The small white stone at her throat warmed suddenly beneath his gaze, a pain biting into her collarbone hot enough to have tears prick her eyes. Against her better judgment, she winced, giving him yet another foothold in this nightmare.

To her utter surprise, the laugh or taunt she had fully expected never came. He only hesitantly raised one hand, fingertips brushing frighteningly close to her skin before she flinched from his touch. She watched in alarm as he froze inches from her, his very proximity chilling the air in her lungs and causing the blood to rush from her extremities. Slowly, ever so slowly, the long fingers curled, arm drawing back and once more taking its place at his side.

"Whatever the reasoning behind it," his entrancing voice betrayed nothing of what had happened, "they say that I am jealous of life – I am not. It is nothing more than a task, a chore, for me to fetch mortal souls, whether or not they are willing does not concern me in the slightest. In the past, I have not been merciful.

"And yet, I do not believe you realize what influence you truly possess. The very sound of your voice on the wind accomplishes what neither sacrifices nor prayers may... humanity should fall at your feet and beg for forgiveness, my dear, not mine."

His tone grew sharper, and she shivered from the silent threat held there. "So before you run… I believe you should consider what is best for everyone."

Before she could protest, with the lightest of touches he rested the side of a fingertip beneath her chin, tipping her face heavenward where his gaze waited for her own.

--------

The shrill screech of the buzzer filled her ears, a blinking neon green '6:00' in place of the eyes she had expected. The first few rays of sunlight eased through the crack in the curtains, the morning traffic already a presence outside her building.

Having been lauded as a partial savior of humanity did not, it seemed, excuse her from the office.

--------

A/N: Please review, tell me what you thought and if I should continue. Reviews make a writer very happy!

Expect a darker Death… he's not always as thoughtful as he is here. I plan to make this a compelling romance that will unfold gradually, with Death sometimes playing a key role and at other times merely that dark shadow on Anna's horizon. She may know Death now, but she truly does not know him yet. You will find out more about her tangled history and life as she searches for a way to escape, or failing that, to accept her fate.

Please keep reading! This story has something for everyone, I think.