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FIC: "Time of Our Lives" (Susan, Unity, Binky. PG.)

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Aug. 1st, 2012 | 12:28 pm
posted by: bethbethbeth in disc_fest

Author: treemice
Title: Time of Our Lives
Characters and/or Pairing(s): Susan Sto Helit, Unity, Binky
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1,527
Possible warnings and/or enticements - highlight to view (may contain spoilers): *Spoilers for Thief of Time. *
Summary: Before Unity dies, Susan has to teach her how to live a little. A certain pale horse helps.
Author's Notes: This story is mostly-gen, but it could also be interpreted as femmeslash. I would also like to mention as an afternote that in this ‘verse Unity ends up surviving her chocolate dive (which is somewhat awkward for everyone involved) and eventually becomes the Disc’s second-ever tourist.

The horse of Death is a unique animal, used to unique situations. White as snow, stronger than ten oxen, mortal yet older than most mountains, Binky had seen the birth of stars and the death of species, and been thoroughly unimpressed by most of it.

Having an ex-auditor of reality perched on his back, though, was a new one for him.

To be fair, said auditor didn’t seem any less wary about the situation.

STOP SHIVERING, Susan ordered. Unity twitched and straightened up with military precision as the command jerked through her body without permission from her brain. She managed to sit still, breathing heavily, for nearly half a minute before she was trembling again, this time so violently that Binky’s saddle leather creaked.

“You have nothing to be afraid of. He won’t hurt you,” Susan said, abandoning the Death voice and mustering up her best Miss Susan voice instead. Binky stamped a plate-sized hoof and pinned his ears back out of principle, turning his neck to fix Susan with a baleful stare. The message was clear: Are you so sure about that? Unity gave a little whimper.

Susan could have sworn the horse was enjoying this.

Unity cleared her throat -- a very human gesture – and smoothed her trembling hands down the front of her dress. Susan felt a stab of savage glee when the action resulted in Unity unintentionally coating herself in horsehair. "I know rationally that there is little reason to fear, but thi—but my body does not agree." She smiled apologetically at Susan. “Another human thing.”

And that was the whole problem, wasn’t it? Unity wasn’t human, not really, not in the most important ways, and Susan should be back to her normal life now that the whole business with the Apocalypse had been (mostly) sorted out. But she wasn’t, because what kind of person would she be if she let Unity die before Unity even got a chance to live? No, she told herself. That was the sort of thing that separated her from her grandfather.

Or, no, the problem wasn’t that Unity was going to die soon and that Susan felt obligated to her, for all her help in the museum if nothing else. The real problem was that she liked Unity, in the same way she liked Jason, or the other children in her class, or the raven. Or her grandfather.

It was perplexing.

"Look,” Susan sighed, feeling her hair twist and knot itself in frustration. “The absolute worst case scenario is that you die -- and that's what you wanted anyway, right?"

Unity dropped her gaze with an expression of perfect shyness that centuries of artists would have happily crawled over fields of broken glass to sculpt. “Yes,” she said. It was an odd feeling to miss Unity’s clownish makeup and tattered clothing, but with her face scrubbed clean and the ripped, stained remains of her elegant dress replaced* by the sort of sensible black clothes always worn by Susan**, Unity looked inhuman once again. Her face was too perfect, too obviously manufactured.

Or at least it was when she wasn’t trying to gnaw through her lower lip.

Susan sighed again and gave up. Unity looked shocked when she started to climb into the saddle ahead of her, but she quickly caught on and wriggled backwards, trying to make room. Binky shifted irritably under them, milking his ‘noble and long-suffering four-legged companion’ act for all he was worth, but he responded to Susan’s gentle prompt to start trotting with no sign of reluctance. Susan couldn’t see Unity’s face, but judging by the high-pitched noises the ex-auditor was making Susan could make a fair guess at what her expression must be.

“We’re just going for a quick ride...” Susan lied, muscles bunching in anticipation of the spring. Unity smashed her face between Susan's shoulder blades, humming wordlessly in terror. Binky started to speed up, sparks flashing in the wake of his hooves, and then with no warning the air snapped and –

-- and then they were galloping through thin air as if it were solid as cobblestones, the rim of the world to their left, the huge expanse of space dropping away beneath them in a bottomless vault. Stars glittered in the void, and far below Susan could just make out the edge of the World Turtle’s continent-sized flipper.

“Oh,” Unity said weakly in the sudden rush of silence. “That’s...different...”

Susan grinned savagely and nudged Binky, and the horse took off again, doubling and redoubling his speed without so much as breaking a sweat. She wondered if he was enjoying this as much as she was.

The edge of the Disc gleamed in the weak, buttery light of the tiny sun, the enormous Rimbow shimmering like a mirage. This far out, the air was chilled and the mist of the Rimfall had congealed again into icy wisps that curled around them as they rode. Behind her, Susan could feel Unity looking around curiously, fascination gradually overcoming her fear. She’d seen it all before, of course – it’d been her job to watch it all – but there was a huge difference between seeing something and experiencing it.

After what felt like no time at all, Unity started shivering again against Susan’s back, and Binky started to slow down. There was another snapping noise and suddenly they were cantering over the golden fields of Death’s Domain. Binky’s hooves touched down with barely a jostle, and maybe Susan’s stomach did a little flip when it remembered what, exactly, they were doing here.

Unity didn’t seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere, though, judging from the iron grip she kept around Susan’s waist even after the horse had come to a stop. After a moment or two of silence, Binky stamped his front hoof.

"You all right?" Susan asked, wondering if Unity was going to throw up and how, exactly, that would work.

Unity tightened her arms even more, squeezing Susan's breath out in a shallow whoosh. She was trembling all over, her body quaking against Susan's back and thighs. "Yes," she whispered, her breath hot on the side of Susan's neck.

Susan felt the blood rising in her cheeks. "Oh," she said.

But I'm not okay, Susan thought, unable to fight the curl of distaste that squirmed in her stomach at Unity's clinging. Bloody selfish really, expecting me to forgo my comfort just because she doesn’t know how to take care of herself...

...Oh. Damn.

Sometimes even Susan didn’t understand why she’d chosen to work with children.

"We can get down now," Susan suggested quietly. After a moment of hesitation she patted Unity's hands where they were wrapped around her waist. Unity nodded shakily and gradually began to unwind herself, octopus-like, and slide out of the saddle. She hit the ground hard and stumbled as if she’d forgotten how to work her legs, leaning heavily on Binky, who made a soft noise of irritation. Fighting back a sigh, Susan followed her down and patted Unity automatically between her shoulder blades.

“What do we say?” prompted Susan without thinking, then snapped her mouth shut in mortification. Unity looked at her with incomprehension (and for once Susan was absurdly grateful about that), so there was nothing Susan could do but ignore her burning cheeks and say, “Thank you.

“Thank you, Binky,” Unity repeated dutifully. Carefully, she reached out and laid a hand on the horse's gleaming neck, then flinched violently when he swished his tail. The horse fixed her with an expression that was very obviously the equine equivalent of a raised eyebrow.

With her hair ripped back messily from her face and her cheeks flushed from the ride, Unity reminded Susan even more forcefully of an overgrown child. “Well, I suppose this is goodbye, Susan,” she said bravely, sniffing and squaring her shoulders, and Susan’s head nearly reeled at the resemblance to the beautiful but slow-witted Penelope. “Thank you for your kindness.”

“Wait,” Susan was saying before she could think, and that never happened. Unity didn’t bother (or didn’t know how to) hiding her shock, so Susan reached out and caught the ends of Unity’s slim fingers in her hand, then looked down at them as if she had no idea how they’d gotten there. They both froze.

Behind them, Binky whickered encouragingly.

"Is it time for me to die now?" Unity said, staring at their joined hands. Her brow creased in confusion.

Susan’s throat felt weirdly dry. She coughed once, and forced her voice into some semblance of calm. "Oh, I don't know. I can think of a thing or two you should try beforehand." Susan shrugged, hating the uneasiness that twisted and fought in her stomach. “If you want.”

Unity smiled at her, small and wan, and squeezed her hand back. “I think I would like that.”

* Despite what some legends like to assert about certain headstrong young women, riding horses naked is generally not a good idea, or at least not a comfortable one.
** but definitely not borrowed from Susan, since there was considerably more of Unity, in a few key places, than there was of Susan

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Comments {3}


(no subject)

from: woldy
date: Aug. 1st, 2012 02:03 pm (UTC)

Interesting combination of characters, & I like your account of Binky's emotions :-)

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(no subject)

from: firebird5
date: Aug. 1st, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)

Awwww. I really like their dynamic - it's very true to both Unity and Susan... and I think Unity is one of the saddest characters in the books. Your prose is really nice, too. (Understatement :P) I really liked your description of their flight on Binky, looking down on the Disc. What I wouldn't give to see that.

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a continual state of inelegance

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from: donnaimmaculata
date: Aug. 4th, 2012 04:01 am (UTC)

I know this is about Unity and Susan, but the true star here is Binky. Long-suffering companion indeed!

Susan teaching someone else to be human is brilliant. She does what needs to be done, if always rather resentfully. And it's nice to see Unity got a bit fun out of life before she died; she's such a deeply tragic character in the book.

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