Title: Reaping the Whirlwind (Boom Boom Ba Remix), Part 8/14
Summary: What does the addition of supernatural-related reaps to the reaping workload, Roxy’s promotion, the addition of a new grim reaper with supernatural experience, a new sort-of boyfriend who may or may not be a pirate, and an approaching apocalypse all have in common? New grim reaper boss George doesn’t know, but she’s willing to bet that in the middle of it all the universe will kick her ass. Again.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Dead Like Me crossover
Characters: Dead Like Me (order of appearance) — George, Mason, Daisy, Roxy, Kiffany, Delores, Penny, OCs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (order of appearance) — Dawn, Buffy, Willow (appearance only), Giles (appearance only), Xander, OCs.
Pairing: George/Xander (nothing explicit)
Rating: R for language, cartoon violence and death, sexual situations
Warning: Spoilers for all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV show only), Dead Like Me, and Dead Like Me: Life After Death.
George sat at the counter of the Pancake Stack and frowned at her cup of coffee. What she wanted to do was go home, forget about Dawn until tomorrow morning, and watch quality bad reality television, preferably something in the Real Housewives oeuvre on Bravo.
Instead she was killing time until her next reap. Her mood was not improved by the fact that it was a vampire-related reap. Then she had another two hours to kill before she had to deal with a nice, old-fashioned DUI doing wheelies on a motorcycle. The spread of time between reaps was proof in her mind that Whoever was responsible for assigning reaps had it in for her.
“I used to be a reader. Hell, I am a reader. I need to buy myself a trashy novel to kill time,” George grumbled at the Formica countertop.
“What was that, honey?” the waitress asked as she swooped by to refresh George’s coffee.
“Nothing,” George mumbled.
The waitress smoothly moved away without so much as a second glance at her. George felt guiltily grateful that Kiffany wasn’t on-shift, mostly because Kiffany would’ve tried to draw her out and then would’ve offered advice that seemed a little too pointed at resolving the issue at hand. George wasn’t exactly in a sharing mood, especially since she just might have to admit to someone other than herself that she was tragically bungling the Dawn situation.
Some boss she turned out to be.
“Yay! You’re here,” Dawn happily declared as she plopped herself at the counter next to George.
George blinked stupidly at her.
Dawn’s grin was so broad that George almost imagined that her teeth were sparkling in the restaurant light. “You are never going to believe my day.”
George snapped out of it. “You never showed up for your job this morning.”
Dawn waved away George’s concern and flagged down the Unknown Waitress for a coffee. “That’s because I landed a different job.”
“What kind of job?” George suspiciously asked.
“Bookstore job,” Dawn chirped as she bounced up and down on the stool like an over-sugared 5-year-old.
“Um, that’s good. I guess. But retail’s not exactly the most flexible job in the universe,” George said. “What if you’ve got to leave mid-shift?”
Dawn waggled a finger at George. “I knew you were going to say that.”
They paused their conversation as the Unknown Waitress placed a full coffee cup and the check in front of Dawn. They didn’t start speaking again until she sailed away to wait on a table elsewhere in the restaurant.
“Not seeing where I’m wrong about the problem with retail,” George said as she lifted her coffee cup to her mouth.
Dawn giggled. “The bookstore owner’s a reaper.”
George did a coffee-flavored spit-take.
“So, I’m thinking the perfect job, yes?” Dawn asked. “Unless there’s a rule against reapers from one division working for reapers in another division in a civilian capacity. Just so you know. If there are, I’m sooooo ignoring them.”
“No. No rules about that. At least, not as far as I know about,” George said as she mopped up her coffee spray with a napkin that was inadequate for the job at hand. “And if there are, we’ll find out soon enough.”
“Good,” Dawn said. “Oh! And tell Delores thank you for trying to find me a job, and apologize to her for me about me not showing up to work for her latest good try. Tell her I found a job somewhere else, but that it kind of came out of the blue and I completely spaced on calling her.”
“Unh, sure,” George said. “By the way, you might want to breathe when you start babbling like that. I’m pretty sure even reapers will pass out from lack of oxygen.”
“Well, aren’t you going to guess?” Dawn’s smile seemed mischievous.
“Guess what my other reaper boss reaps.” Dawn’s smile was most definitely mischievous.
George was more than willing to humor Dawn if it kept her in a good mood. “Let me guess. The poor bastard works for plague division, doesn’t he?”
Dawn’s eyebrows rose. “There’s a plague division? Seriously?”
“They don’t get a lot of business,” George said. “And I’m guessing by your reaction, my answer is wrong.”
“So far off the mark, it would stun you.” Dawn’s mischievous smile returned. “I’ll give you a hint. He doesn’t reap people.”
George frowned. “That’s weird.”
“Unh-hunh.” Dawn nodded and bounced up and down on her stool.
“Every reaper I know in the division for pets are all kids.” George shrugged. “Since this guy owns a bookstore, I’m guessing he’s not a kid.”
Dawn stared at her.
“Hah. I knew guessed right,” George smugly said.
“Pets?” Dawn asked. “There are reapers for pets?”
“So I guessed wrong then,” George responded.
“And kids? They make dead kids become reapers?” Dawn seemed shaken by this new bit of information.
George looked away. “Yeah. All the ones I know about also died violently.”
“My God,” Dawn said in a horrified whisper.
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think they stay around that long,” George said. “I haven’t seen Charlie in years, so he’s probably moved on by now. At least I hope so.”
Dawn silently sipped her coffee.
“I’m not a fan of that either,” George said.
George looked at her and saw that Dawn was looking back at her with some sympathy.
George waved it off. “So, if he doesn’t reap people, and he doesn’t reap pets, what’s left? Plants? Minerals?”
“No minerals. No plants.” Dawn was more subdued. “Actually, wait. Now that I think about it, he reaps something that could be vaguely plant-like in some circumstances.”
Dawn’s smile made an escape, although it was much smaller than it was before. “Bryan reaps books.”
George blinked. She coughed back the giggle that threatened to reach her mouth. Then she blinked some more. “Books?”
Dawn nodded as her smile broadened.
“How the hell—”
“Some books have souls,” Dawn interrupted.
“How’s that even possible?” George asked.
“Mystical books, mostly.” Dawn nonchalantly shrugged.
“I see,” George deadpanned.
“Let me guess,” George said. “You went back to an old haunt, the kind of haunt you’d go to on Watcher business, to look for information on that squid monster, didn’t you?”
Dawn’s chin jutted forward. “So what if I did?”
“What did I tell you about—”
“I wasn’t going behind your back and trying to land a paycheck from the Council, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Dawn interrupted. “You were pretty clear with that no.”
“I’m kind of having a hard time believing you,” George said.
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I was doing the research for us?” Dawn asked.
“Why would we need to know?” George asked. “It can’t even see us. What it can’t see, it won’t attack. And even if it did see us, it can’t actually kill us.”
“You sure?” Dawn asked.
“I’m very sure it can’t see us,” George definitively answered.
“But you’re not sure about the rest of it.” Dawn waved an airy hand.
Dawn actually had me there. It was entirely possible this demon could destroy us in some way without even knowing we were there. While I was pretty sure that only bad, rule-breaking reapers like Cameron could be destroyed, I didn’t actually know it for a fact.
“Also, I was thinking that a little research could help us get into crash positions,” Dawn continued.
“Crash positions?” George asked.
Dawn regarded her with a gaze that was professional in nature. “I was hoping to get some estimates on the size of the body count we might expect. Of course, it’s all theoretical because the last time one managed to survive the trip to our dimension was more than a century ago, which I already mentioned to you at some point. In any case, I figured if we knew ahead of time what to expect, we could make preparations to handle the workload. You know, maybe take some accrued vacation time rather than call in sick day after day. Or maybe set up a buddy system so none of us would have to face reaping the N’goth victims alone. Stuff like that.”
“And maybe convince me that I should let you go play with the Council rather than let it get that bad?” George innocently asked.
Dawn tensed. “I wouldn’t say no if that was a side benefit,” she admitted.
George tapped her fingers on the Formica countertop. “And, did you find anything?”
Dawn’s shoulders relaxed. “He only had two medieval demon compendiums, and neither one of them had anything on the N’goth. Not all that surprising because usually they’re not a threat to anyone in this dimension. He wouldn’t let me take a look at the truly mystical manuscripts, but he assured me that they didn’t have anything either.”
“He wouldn’t let you look at any of those mystical books for yourself?” George asked.
Dawn winced. “He doesn’t have too many. Only one or two at any given time. And all of the ones he has are reaped, or at least about to be reaped.”
“So?” George asked.
“So now you’re on board with me doing some research,” Dawn smiled crookedly.
“I’m on board with you doing some research that might help us,” George said. “Hell, you can research day and night about anything you want for all I care. As long as it isn’t for your Council, we’re cool. That still doesn’t explain why he won’t let you look at the mystical books, reaped or otherwise.”
“Leaving a dead book around where anyone can find it is like leaving a dead body in a well,” Dawn said with a shrug. “It’ll certainly get you sick, and could actually kill you. He has to dispose of the book corpses right away after he’s done reaping.”
“This is just too weird,” George remarked.
“Actually, makes a lot of sense to me,” Dawn said. “Okay, at first it sounded weird, but once I thought about it for more than 10 seconds I could see why leaving dead mystical book around could cause a huge problem.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” George checked her watch. “Shit. I have to get going.”
“I’ll walk you outside. Oh, and your coffee’s on me, since I’m now job-having girl.” Dawn paused before throwing the money on the counter. “I am job-having girl, right?”
“You want the job?” George asked.
“Then you’re job-having girl,” George responded. “And thanks for the coffee.”
“Well, it’s actually kind of a bribe,” Dawn admitted as she got to her feet.
“Why? I said you could keep the job.”
“My boss wants to meet you. Tomorrow if you can.” Dawn giggled. “According to him, you’re kind of famous, Toilet Seat Girl.”
George came to an abrupt halt. “What?”
Dawn cackled. “He said you were known as Toilet Seat Girl. What’s that about?”
“Don’t call me that,” George snapped as she pushed open the door and escaped the restaurant.
Dawn was still cackling as she followed George outside. “Seriously. ‘Toilet Seat Girl’? I need to know what you did to deserve that nickname. A deep, soul-burning need.”
George glared at Dawn. “Forget it.”
“Then I’ll ask Mason and Daisy,” Dawn light-heartedly threatened.
“All right! All right!” George shouted. “If you have to know, I was killed by a flaming toilet seat that got ejected from the Mir space station and crashed to earth.”
Dawn abruptly stopped laughing. “Oh.”
“It’s not like it’s a secret.” George added under her breath, “Obviously.”
“That really sucks,” Dawn said.
“I was 18,” George softly added.
Dawn folded her arms and looked down at the sidewalk. “And I thought falling down my front steps and cracking my head open was bad way to go. And at 18? At least I got the college experience before I died.”
George shrugged it off. “Hey, you didn’t know.”
Dawn uncomfortably cleared her throat. “I better let you get to work. See you in the morning?”
“As always,” George answered.
Dawn gave a little wave and turned to head home.
George walked a few steps before she suddenly spun around. “Hey Dawn?”
Dawn stopped and turned. “Yeah?” she called back.
“Why reap books?” George asked.
Dawn ambled back to George. “That’s what I asked.”
“What did he say?”
Dawn stopped in front of her. “He said that sometimes old books have to die because old ideas need to die. It’s to make room for new ideas.”
“Yeah.” Dawn nodded. “That’s what I said.”
You would think a bookstore specializing in ancient manuscripts and antique books that’s owned by a reaper whose specialty is reaping mystical books with souls would be located in some out-of-the-way neighborhood on a narrow, nearly abandoned street.
But you would be wrong.
You would also think that such a bookstore wouldn’t have a listing in the Yellow Pages, let alone have a Web site detailing the proprietor’s expertise in locating hard-to-find, one-of-kind collectables and a detailed list of his inventory.
But you would be wrong again.
You would also think that this theoretical bookstore would have a mysterious-sounding name that only hints at what it sells, but doesn’t come right out and say it.
And once again, wrong.
Welcome to The Lonely Book, a boutique specializing in books looking for a good home and owners that will love them in same way that Delores loves cats.
Hey, don’t look at me. I read that right on the Web site. Well, not the part about Delores and cats, obviously. But the fact that the Web site clearly talked about books as if they were living things that needed to be loved and taken care of made perfect sense in a crazy way. It’s precisely the attitude that you’d expect from a bookstore proprietor who also happened to be a reaper that reaped books.
Not that I was having an easy time accepting the idea that some books have souls. Since I was definitely walking in unexplored territory, I thought it was best if I didn’t ask too many questions and just went with it.
As for the location, Bryan Wassermann had set up shop on prime real estate right in the heart of downtown Seattle. I can’t imagine that he had a whole lot of foot traffic, since I suspected that rare manuscripts and antique books were probably not in the realm of affordable. His mail-order business had to phenomenal.
Unless he was engaged in the time-honored tradition of reapers everywhere and was squatting on the real estate.
Okay, probably not.
George frowned at the sign that said, “Open on Saturdays by appointment only.”
She crossed her arms, looked around, and wondered why she agreed to come.
Oh, who am I kidding? I just wanted to see what a book reaper looks like.
She tried the door, but it was locked tight.
“The only way to get in is if you have the key with you,” Dawn’s voice said behind her.
“Which I assume you have,” George sighed.
Dawn flashed a key ring at her along with a cheeky grin. “I am the key.”
“He already gave you keys, hunh? You’ve been working for him, what? One day? Trusting guy,” George remarked.
“Isn’t there some kind of omertà that forbids reapers from betraying other reapers?” Dawn asked as she worked to unlock the door.
“Last I checked, we weren’t the mafia.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Dawn remarked as she pulled open the door.
The Lonely Book had a shop bell that tinkled with a silvery sound as the door opened. George couldn’t resist looking up to see it as she walked over the threshold.
“The bell’s made of blessed silver to keep away practitioners in dark magicks,” Dawn explained as if the concept meant a damn thing to George. “If any of those losers try to get in they’ll find out pretty quickly that they won’t be able to step foot in the store.”
“Gee, anything else I should know about?” George asked with half-hearted sarcasm.
“There’s a few wards scattered around the place, but that’s mostly a passive defense system to prevent people with evil intent from finding the store. The Web site has the same deal, so no bad guys can come in that way either since the only thing they’ll get is a 404 Error. There’s also a repel circle around the entire block that’ll cause any attempted attack on the store to fizzle before it can do any damage,” Dawn answered. “Other than that, Bryan’s got shaman on retainer to regularly cleanse the space of any negative influences. Pretty lightly protected, all things considered.”
George blinked at Dawn. “I was thinking something more along the line of burglar alarms.”
“Silent. Goes right to the police station,” Dawn automatically answered.
And so I took my first step into Dawn’s world. It was a world where magic was not only real, but used as easily as someone might scratch the tip of their nose. In this world, magic didn’t make all your fairytale dreams come true. In this world, magic was used to keep potential bad guys from buying your stuff, and potential thieves from stealing your stuff.
I see plenty of weird shit every day. Hell, I experience weird shit every day. The Lonely Book was already shaping up to be the weirdest shit of all, made all the weirder because everything was so normal. Even the magic bits that no one could see or sense were used for nothing more than the unbelievably mundane, like it was a useful tool to keep in your tool box and nothing more than that.
Dawn’s ease with the situation showed that, for her, this was what passed for normal.
It made my skin crawl, to be honest.
“Bryan’s probably in the office,” Dawn said as she took off for the back of the store.
“Hey!” George called after her, but Dawn had already disappeared in the stacks.
“So much for that,” George muttered as she looked around.
For a space that supposedly had so much ooky magic dripping from the ceiling, the bookstore looked shockingly like a normal, independent bookshop. There were comfortable chairs festooned with a generous number of throw pillows scattered around the open area in front of the store. The desk at the front had a computer, but she couldn’t see anything resembling a cash register. There was, however, a small cappuccino machine where a cash register would be.
Although she was afraid to do it, George took a few hesitant steps away from the sunlight streaming through the large windows revealing the hustle and bustle of the street outside and entered one of the aisles. Here The Lonely Book lost some of its sense of normalcy. The shelves were carefully stocked with all manner of thick, leather-bound books with gold lettering on their spines. They looked expensive, and George was willing to bet they felt expensive.
“Wow,” George quietly remarked as she turned in a circle and strained her neck to look at the very topmost shelves.
“Ah, Ms. Lass. So good to finally meet you,” a male voice boomed behind her.
“I didn’t touch anything,” George protested as she spun around.
Bryan, thank God, actually looked like the kind of guy who’d own a bookstore. George wasn’t sure how she’d react if he looked like the kind of guy who should be a lumberjack.
Dawn peered around Bryan at George. “Bryan, this is the famous Georgia Lass. George, Bryan Wassermann.”
“I think I got that,” George said.
“It’s a pleasure. Now if you’ll excuse me a moment.” Bryan looked down at Dawn. “I have some excellent news. My buyer for the Fantastical Beasties of North Umbria by Sir Eldred the Uncertain has agreed to my price.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Collectors,” she said with the same tone that some people might say “bugs”.
Bryan indulgently chuckled. “The manuscript hardly cares that it’ll be nothing more than a lesser jewel in a collection.”
“It’s just a shame that all that beautiful illumination work is going to be locked in a private residence instead of on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Dawn grumbled.
“Um, not to sound stupid or anything,” George interrupted, “but isn’t that the kind of thing you’d be all over when you were alive?”
Bryan and Dawn burst out laughing.
“That’s a no, I guess,” George mumbled.
“Eldred the Uncertain was…” Dawn’s laughing voice trailed off as she mimed guzzling from a bottle. “I’m totally shocked that pink elephants don’t make an appearance in any of his books.”
“Ah. So not exactly the Time-Life publisher of his day,” George said.
Bryan cleared his throat. “In more positive developments, it turns out that our client is equally interested in the text of the manuscript.”
Dawn was immediately on alert. “He reads Latin?”
“Hardly,” Bryan waved a dismissive, elegantly manicured hand. “He agreed to pay an additional sum for a translation.”
Dawn’s eyes shined as they widened and she clasped her hands. “You mean I get to look at that beautiful art for a few hours?”
Bryan draped a friendly arm around Dawn’s shoulders. “I knew taking you on was a wise decision. Already your presence is bearing financial fruit.”
“That better be the only fruit it’s bearing,” George bristled.
Bryan’s aimed a slight understanding smile at George. “Rest assured, it is.”
Dawn grinned at her. “I’m the wrong gender.”
“Ah.” George blinked. “Oh. Okay. Not that it’s really any of my business or anything.”
“As you will be doing the translation work, I think it’s appropriate to pay you a percentage of the additional billing. Say 20%?” Bryan removed his arm from around Dawn. “I’m certain you won’t say no to an additional $1,200 as a bonus.”
Dawn squealed with delight as George’s jaw dropped.
Fuck me. I need to learn a second language. Preferably one no one speaks any more.
“As you settle down for such a tedious slog, I hope you don’t mind if I steal your boss away for a chat.” Bryan winked at George.
“So you can promise that I’ll behave?” Dawn seemed amused.
“Among other things,” Bryan said.
“Have fun, you two.” Dawn waved them away. It was clear from her distracted manner that her mind was already on the translation job ahead.
“Excellent. Ms. Lass I know this most charming café around the corner and just down the street,” Bryan said as he swooped by George. “They sell the most delightfully strong coffee and the flakiest pastries.”
“Unh, yeah. Sure,” George said as she waved a quick good-bye to Dawn and turned to follow him. “And it’s George, not Ms. Lass, okay?”
“Fair enough,” Bryan agreed as he held the door open for George and turned to lock it behind him.
“Just so you know, I already know that Dawn was a regular customer when she was alive,” George said.
“She’s being honest with you. Excellent,” Bryan said as he gestured in the direction they’d be going. “I’ve worked with her for some years starting with her time at Oxford via my online presence. Very reliable client. Highly knowledgeable. Always knew what she was looking for, and was always able to provide me with particulars for her requests. A veritable dream of a client, I assure you. I was positively delighted when I learned she was moving here.”
“Hmmm, she didn’t say you two went back that far,” George said with irritation as she fell into step next to Bryan.
“It hardly matters now, surely,” Bryan said.
“I guess not.”
“I had heard she had died some months ago, but when I saw her walk into my shop the other day I stupidly assumed I’d been mislead,” Bryan continued. “You must understand, people in her former line of work must sometimes play possum when they attract too much of the wrong kind of attention. Then, after a few months, they resurface without any explanation.”
“So when you jumped to a conclusion, the word ‘reaper’ didn’t even cross your mind.” George barely could keep the doubt out of her voice.
“I don’t have to tell you that becoming a reaper, or should I say, being chosen to become a reaper, is hardly a common occurrence,” Bryan said as he turned a corner.
George followed him a few more steps and froze.
“What is it?” Bryan asked.
As I stared down the street, I realized that we were less than seven blocks away from the spot where I died. It isn’t like I actively avoided the area…well…okay, I did actively avoid the area but it wasn’t an entirely conscious thing. To suddenly be standing in a spot where a 20-minute walk would take me right to the crossroads where a piece of Mir fell on my head felt like a straw settling on a camel’s back.
Light dawned in Bryan’s expression. “Oh. Forgive me. I should’ve realized that this area would hold bad memories for you. If you wish, we can go else—”
“No, it’s okay,” George interrupted. “My love of coffee trumps everything.”
Bryan looked like was debating something in his head. He looked around and smiled. “Ahhh, there it is.” He waved at a group of umbrella-covered tables on the sidewalk. “That charming café I raved on about is right here.”
Bryan was lying through his teeth. That didn’t stop me from being grateful.
George followed him to one of the tables. As soon as they settled in their chairs, one of the café waitresses appeared to take their order. She soon returned with large coffees and pastries. Through it all, Bryan kept up chatter about his business and how Dawn was such a marvelous get for him because now he could offer translation services for his less-than-select clientele with too much money in their bank accounts.
“Which means people like Dawn were your real clientele,” George interrupted as she picked at her chocolate croissant.
“Certainly among my most cherished,” Bryan said as he scanned the street.
George noticed that. “Looking for someone?”
As Bryan leaned toward her, his studied cultured manner disappeared. All it took was a subtle change of expression, and a slight tenseness in his shoulders to reveal that even though he reaped books, he was still a reaper just like her. “I probably shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m going to anyway.”
Welcome to Reaper Rebellion. This Olympic event will involve a tag team of reapers dancing on the high wire above a pit of ravenous gravelings. Will they touch the Gold, or will they fall in the barrel of suck? Let’s watch and find out.
George leaned back and studied him. “Shouldn’t be doing what? Employing Dawn?”
“My supervisor assures me that employing Dawn doesn’t pose a problem. Given her background, he was highly enthusiastic about the prospect. All the better to keep an eye on her,” Bryan said in a low voice.
“You hired her to spy on her?” George asked.
Bryan motioned for her to keep her voice down. “I work under the auspices of the supernatural division.”
“You son of a bitch,” George snarled at him.
Bryan winced. “I suspect your antipathy toward supernatural division involves more than just Dawn.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys?” George demanded. “We’re stuck doing your jobs. Why don’t you get more reapers so that all the other non-supernatural reapers in Seattle aren’t getting your post-its piled on top of their own?”
“It’s not that simple,” Bryan said. “Adding new numbers to our contingent has to be done cautiously and with great care in selecting candidates. The balance, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah. The balance between life and death. I’ve been dead long enough that I’ve memorized the speech,” George huffed as she crossed her arms. “Still doesn’t explain what the fuck happened that people like me are doing your reaps.”
“Not my reaps,” Bryan held up a finger, “I only reap books.”
“Your coworkers then,” George snapped.
“It’s more than just balance between life and death. There are other balances that must be considered,” Bryan said. “Unfortunately, these other balances were thrown off some years ago. We did plan for it. We began building up ranks as quickly as we dared as soon as the population of mystically endowed and aware persons exploded. Unfortunately,” here he shrugged, “we misjudged the time it would take for chaos to reach a crescendo.”
“Which means the shit rolled downhill,” George complained. “Fun-fucking-tastic. Sometimes I think I’m actually working for Punk’d instead of Death.”
“If it’s any consolation, life and death are self-correcting systems,” Bryan apologetically offered. “A new balance will be restored, and although the new balance will bear little resemblance to the old, there will be balance. Once the crisis is past, most reapers will never see a supernatural death again.”
George was not mollified. “That’s not true for us poor suckers who deal with death by external influences, though.”
Bryan blinked at her.
“Don’t look at me like I’m stupid.” George leaned forward. “Dawn may have died by pitching headfirst down a set of concrete stairs, but she knows all about this bullshit. She wound up in my crew, not in the supernatural division. There may not always be a reason for a death, but Death never does anything without one. I knew even before she was reaped that we were going to be stuck looking at ugly-ass vampires and other monsters for a looooong time.”
“And once again, I can offer some consolation on this front.” Bryan winced. “Once the crisis is past, at best your people will only have to do the occasional supernatural-related reap. Innocent bystanders, people in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the like. You won’t be called upon to get involved with persons of mystical interest.”
“That’s not an improvement,” George growled.
“It can’t go back to what it once was. I’m sorry.” And Bryan actually did seem sorry about it.
George blew a harsh breath out of her nose. “You also keep using the word ‘crisis’.”
Bryan tapped on the table, “Yes.”
“Are you going to tell me? Or is it going to be surprise?”
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” Bryan mumbled.
“Doing what?” George demanded.
Bryan took a deep breath. “I want to be clear. Technically I’m not breaking any rules by telling you what I’m about to tell you. There’s nothing specifically saying that I can’t share information with another reaper, and my boss hasn’t warned me against telling a fellow reaper what I know.”
And awaaaaaaay we go.
George tensed. “But we’re about to see how far the rules can bend, aren’t we?”
“I’m sorry I’m being so hesitant about this,” Bryan said. “Although the rules for reapers in the supernatural division aren’t quite as strict as for reapers elsewhere, the cost of stepping over the line is,” he nervously swallowed hard enough to make his Adam’s apple dance, “much harsher for us than it is for reapers in other divisions.”
George clutched her coffee cup to hide her nervousness. “And whatever you want to tell me is important enough that you’re willing to risk it.”
“There’s an apocalyptic battle coming.”
George sat in silence as she tried to process what Bryan just said. Even though she knew what all the individual words meant, putting them together in a sentence made the words lose any kind of sense.
“In 2 weeks most likely, 3 weeks at most. There isn’t a reaper in Seattle who'll be spared from working when it happens,” Bryan said.
“You need to talk to Dawn,” George numbly said. “She’s the expert. I don’t…what I mean is…I just don’t know. Anything. At all. It’s like you’re speaking in a foreign language.”
“I can’t tell Dawn,” Bryan said. “She would be compelled to do something about it.”
George stared at her pastry and coffee cup without really seeing them. “It’s that squid demon of hers. It’s involved right up to its evil tentacles. Dawn said this would happen. I should’ve let her—”
“No,” Bryan quickly interrupted. “You were right. You acted appropriately.”
George shook her head. She wasn’t exactly seeing it that way.
“Saving the world is the sole province of the living. Only the living can create life. It’s an immutable rule,” Bryan explained. “We are neither dead, nor alive. Our sole province is to help the living put down their burdens at the proper time and place and move on to wherever it is they go once they embrace their lights.”
“I think you mean watch while they get slaughtered.” George felt the overwhelming need to cry, but she sure as shit wasn't going to do it in front of a reaper from supernatural division.
“That’s all we’re allowed to do.” Bryan reached out and grasped George’s wrist. “If we got involved in this, the consequences would be…they’d be…”
George looked up and Bryan. He looked as heartbroken as she felt.
“Tragic,” he added in a whisper. “We can’t intervene and we can’t interfere. It would bring down terror of biblical proportions on the living and dead alike because the balance would be upset beyond recovery. Only the living can save the world, or fail in the attempt.”
“And if they fail?” George asked.
“Then we’ll do our jobs and wait for the day when life pushes back,” Bryan said. “When it does, we’ll be here waiting.”
That shouldn’t have made me feel any better, but in a strange way it did. I couldn’t exactly explain why.
“You can’t tell Dawn,” Bryan insisted.
“Dawn’s already guessed it’s coming,” George countered.
“Guessing isn’t the same as knowing.” Bryan once more scanned the streetscape. “If you tell Dawn, there’s always a chance word would get back to a reaper in my division.”
“And you might end up fucked for it. Fine. My lips are sealed,” George grudgingly agreed.
“I best get back to—” Bryan moved to stand, froze, and immediately sat back down.
George resisted the urge to look over her shoulder. “What is it?”
“Something you should know, and this I can tell you without worrying about any repercussions.” Bryan focused on her. “You should know that Dawn’s people are dangerous.”
“Dawn’s people,” George repeated. “You mean the crowd she hung with when she was alive.”
“To us? In what way?” George asked.
“They notice things,” Bryan answered.
“Ummmm, can you explain what you mean by that? Because I know they can’t see us as reapers already,” George said. “When I pulled the go-talk-to-your-Slayer shit on Dawn, her Slayer had no clue who she was.”
“What I mean is that our ability to do our jobs is rooted in the normal blind spots most people have,” Bryan said. “They may notice how a complete stranger engages them in conversation, or brushes against them, or a slight distortion as their souls slide out of their bodies, or the slight tingling sensation as their souls are reaped. They may notice how they suddenly and implicitly trust you, a complete stranger that they've only just met, and how they so willingly share with you what they would never willingly tell their loved ones. They may even notice a shadow where it shouldn’t be as a graveling scurries away from the scene. They may notice all of these things, but they don’t make any connections to themselves or to people around them. It’s sensed and dismissed as unimportant.”
“And Dawn’s old crowd doesn’t do that,” George said.
“They don’t dismiss oddities like others do, no,” Bryan said. “They may not understand precisely what it is they see, but they do remember. They store the odd moments away in the back of their minds and subconsciously puzzle over what they’ve seen until they create a mental pattern that makes sense to them. Then they have a distressing tendency to act, if action is at all possible.”
“Can they hurt us?” George asked.
“They can cause…problems.” Bryan delicately coughed. “They can’t destroy us, no. But don’t underestimate their abilities, and for heaven’s sake don’t assume that if they seem otherwise normal — chosen profession aside — that they’re going to miss or dismiss anything you might do in their presence. And don’t assume they won’t take action if they see something they don’t like. I’ve seen even the mice of the supernatural world roar, and Dawn did not associate with mere mice at any point in her life.”
George sat up. “Her sister’s coming, isn’t she?”
“I don’t know for sure.”
George’s eyes narrowed.
Bryan spread his hands. “I honestly don’t.”
“So you’re warning me, just in case,” George sarcastically said.
“I’m warning you because all of Dawn’s former associates are dangerous, and there’s a very large facility of those same people stationed in this city. Anyone walking the streets right at this very moment could be one of them, so I urge you to be very careful,” Bryan explained with great intensity. “There’s a very good reason why the supernatural division has long been isolated from other reapers, and a very good reason why the rules are different for us.”
George sat back and studied Bryan. “This just keeps getting better and better.”