Title: Reaping the Whirlwind (Boom Boom Ba Remix), Part 9/14
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.
By the time Bryan left to go back to his shop, I was pretty thoroughly wiped. I mean, the hell? An apocalypse? That piece of news alone had me wanting to crawl into my bed and hide under the covers. And it was going to happen in Seattle. Seattle. Why here? Why in my home? Of all places on earth, it had to be here. I was relieved that my mother and my sister moved to a different city months ago. I had no family left to worry about.
No matter how many times Bryan said he didn’t know if Dawn’s sister was going to show up in the middle of the mess, my gut told me that her sister was going to be running around city and that Dawn would see her doing just that before it was all over.
I think it was the fact that I couldn’t tell anyone about what was coming, or at least I couldn’t tell anyone until it was time to pass out the post-its. Or maybe it was because I knew I’d have to act like I was brave when I really wasn’t when it all went down.
I decided I was going to walk by the scene of my death.
Don’t ask me how, but I had convinced myself that if I couldn’t suck it up and walk by the spot where I died, then I probably wouldn’t be able to face an apocalypse.
Yeah, I don’t understand what was going through my head either.
George kept her head down and ordered her feet to keep moving. All she had to do was walk by the corner. She didn’t have to actually look at it. Looking at it was just a little bit more than she could probably handle.
But she was going to do this. She was.
George stopped and glared at the sidewalk. “Ah, who the fuck am I kidding? This is stupid.”
She turned on her heel and began to walk back.
George didn’t even register the shout.
This time the voice was close enough to cut through her mental fog.
“Hunh?” George’s head snapped up and she looked around.
“I thought that was you.” Xander jogged over to her.
“What are you doing here?” George asked with surprise.
He awkwardly came to a stop. “Meeting someone. A someone who’s a half-hour late, I might add, so she’s probably not going to show.”
George couldn’t resist grinning. Normal. This was normal. She needed normal right about now. It didn’t get any more normal than some guy getting stood up, even if the guy had an eye patch and had two one-night stands with her in the somewhat recent past. “Blind date?”
Xander made a ‘pffft’ sound. “Hardly. One of my students.”
“So field trip, then,” George sarcastically said. “Just so you know my dad and my mom ended up divorced because my dad took too many field trips with a student.”
Xander’s jaw dropped. “Isn’t a high school teacher going out with a student grounds for arrest? Or at least getting fired?”
“She was over 18,” George said. “He was a college professor.”
Xander made a face. “It’s still an abuse of his position.”
George couldn’t help but laugh. “I guess you really are going on a legitimate field trip.”
Xander shook his head. “Not exactly that, either. More like an intervention.”
“Oh?” George asked.
“She’s in serious danger of getting alcohol poisoning.”
“Ooops.” George winced. “Sorry about me busting your balls.
Xander looked toward a small, elevated garden with benches in the center.
That’s when I realized that I had actually forgotten where I was. What’s more, I was looking right at the spot where I died. I had looked without even thinking. It was so strange to look at, especially since I was older and deader.
“So much for that urban legend.” Xander shook his head and looked back at her.
George blinked at him. “Unh, urban legend? What urban legend?”
Xander crookedly smiled at her. “You haven’t heard it?”
“According to some of my students, if you sit on a bench in that memorial over there and just let your mind wander, the ghost of Georgia Lass will get you the help you need, although it might not be the help you want,” Xander said with a broad grin.
George stared at him a beat. “What?”
“Yeah, I know, I know.” Xander progressed to a chuckle. “The urban legend is very legend.”
George didn’t even hear him. “What?”
Xander blinked at her. “Y’know, most people when they hear about an urban legend that can’t possibly be true, they laugh it off. They don’t stare at you in horror and keep asking, ‘What’.”
George shook herself. “What?”
“There’s that word again,” Xander remarked.
Where does shit like this even come from? And my ghost is supposed to be some kind of wish-granting genie? Well I’m still fucking here, and I sure as hell haven’t been granting any wishes. If I could do that, I’d start by granting me some wishes.
“You know that urban legend is total bullshit, right?” George demanded.
“Whoa. Sorry.” Xander held up his hands. “I didn’t know I stepped on a sore spot. So I guess you actually knew her.”
“Knew who?” George asked as she fought to keep her temper under control.
“Georgia Lass,” Xander hesitantly responded.
“N-n-no. No,” George stuttered as she shook her head. “Didn’t know her at all. I know someone who knew her. A little. My boss at Happy Time, Delores, I think hired her for a temp job. Or something like that. I don’t know for sure. But me? No. I didn’t know her.”
“Let me guess, you’re one of those realists and superstition pisses you off.” Xander sounded amused.
George forced a smile on her face, and gave a curt nod. “Exactly. If more people started accepting reality, the world would be a better place.”
“Well, I figured it couldn’t hurt,” Xander shrugged. “At the absolute worst, I’d spend some time in the sunshine sitting in the middle of flowers staring at the brass sundial in the center of the memorial. Not a bad way to spend part of the day, even if it turned out that I had totally wasted my time.”
“If you’re wishing on non-existent ghosts, I guess life still sucks, hunh?” George asked.
Xander looked back at the memorial, almost as if he were a little fascinated by it. “It hasn’t gotten easier, if that’s what you mean. In some ways, it’s gotten a lot harder.” When he looked back at her, he was almost smiling. “On the upside, I’m out of the motel and in my own apartment. Plus, I'm finally car- and driver's license-having.”
“Baby steps, right?” George uncomfortably looked over her shoulder. “I, unh, should be going. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do.”
“Oh! Sure. Sorry,” Xander apologized. “It was nice seeing you again, Georgia.”
George’s head snapped around to face him. “What?”
“Sorry. Millie. I meant Millie.” Xander looked embarrassed. “I guess I have Georgia Lass on the brain, since I’ve been sitting in the middle of her memorial and all.”
Just so long as you keep her in your brain, no one will get hurt.
“Bye,” George quickly said as she turned away.
“Wait, before you go,” Xander began.
“I…I really have a lot of things to do,” George stuttered.
“Well I was wondering…dinner sometime?” Xander thrust his hands in his pockets and uncomfortably shuffled.
Xander’s expression brightened. “Yeah. I figure I owe you. I know it might not seem it, what with my life still in the suck, but you really did help me out.”
“I...I…don’t know,” George said as she began surreptitiously looking around for an escape route. For whatever reason, her reaper ability to blend in with the crowd and not be noticed had evaporated.
“Just dinner. That’s all,” Xander promised.
Just agree with the nice man, and he’ll let you get away without any fuss.
“Ummm, okay. Depends on the day,” George hesitantly agreed.
Xander paused a moment before pulling out a pen and the kind of small notepad someone would use to jot down notes. “I have some downtime Friday night. Here’s my cell number. If something comes up, or if you can’t make it just let me know.” He glanced up from his writing as he tore the sheet out of the notepad. “If you call and say you can’t, no hard feelings, okay?”
George gingerly took the piece paper. “No harm no foul.”
“Exactly.” Xander uncertainly looked at her. “It really was good seeing you again, Millie.”
George folded the paper and stuffed in her pocket. “Unh, thanks.”
I planned to throw away his number. I had every intention of doing it. Getting too involved with the living beyond what was necessary was a bad idea. That’s not just me parroting Rube, that’s me talking from experience. The phone number in my pocket was a ticking time bomb just waiting to blow up in my face and I knew it.
Good intentions I had, but I didn’t act on them. I had three reaps that day that required me to crisscross the city in some heavy weekend traffic. In between reaps, I kept playing my conversation with Bryan over and over in my head. By the time I crawled into bed, I had completely spaced on the fact that I still had Xander’s number crumpled up in the middle of some bills that I had thrown on top of my dresser; that I hadn’t actually thrown it away like I planned.
Saturday become Sunday, and I didn’t give Xander or the phone number another thought.
By the time Monday rolled around, I was occupied by even bigger problems.
Our three-reaps-a-day workload had become a four reaps. Dawn was assigned all the normal, old-fashioned deaths that all happened during daylight hours. Daisy, Mason, and I got all the supernatural ones that happened after dark. It was a sure sign that Someone didn’t want Dawn getting within sniffing distance of an apocalypse that I knew was coming.
Although I didn’t reap any victims of the face-ripping squid demon, most nights I was close enough to it that I could see it moving between the buildings. Every night I could hear it scream. I spent half of every one of those nights diving for cover, closing my eyes, and covering my ears as if that alone was enough to wish the monster away.
It seemed to me that the demon was so big and so noisy, that someone somewhere had to have noticed it. Yet, the evening news (when I had a chance to see it) and the newspaper only made mention of gas leaks all over the city that was causing some kind of mass hallucination. There were completely unrelated articles and bits of news that speculated about a serial killer who removed the front half of his victims’ heads. It didn’t make any sense at all. How can anyone not notice when there’s a giant squid-monster walking around a city and make the connection to the bodies? How is that even possible?
It didn’t help that Dawn said that it was not only possible, it was actually normal. While I was shocked that she didn’t expect things to be any different, she was shocked that I did expect things to be different. After all, she said, who the hell notices us when we’re out reaping?
Daisy got stuck with a reap related to the giant squid at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. When she completed her reap and sent the victim off to his lights, she went straight to my place. She pounded on my door and demanded to be let in. When I did, she stumbled into my apartment and began to hysterically cry. All I could do was hug her until she calmed down. There wasn’t much else I could do for her.
Mason’s turn came the next day. He turned up on my doorstep drunk and high. He had full liquor bottles in each hand and a backpack full of pills. He handed me a bottle, collapsed onto my couch, and then proceeded to get absolutely shit-faced with the kind of grim determination people get when they’re fighting for their lives. He ended up passed out on my couch muttering about evil, giant squids. There wasn’t much else I could do for him, either.
When Friday rolled around, I grabbed the crumpled bills off the top of my dresser without looking at them and stuffed them in my pocket in my rush to get out the door. As I made my way over to the Pancake Stack that morning, I wondered how much more any of us could take. All four of us were already stressed out, exhausted, and half-crazy.
George slid into their regular booth at the Pancake Stack without saying a word under the combined nervous gazes of Mason, Daisy, and Dawn.
“Well?” Daisy asked.
George flipped open her Day Planner. “They changed the pattern today.”
Mason slumped down in the booth. “Please tell me that means fewer reaps.”
“Same number for each of us as always,” George said.
“I wouldn’t call that a change, Georgia,” Daisy said.
“I’m on normal reaps today, all daylight hours,” George said.
This caused Mason and Daisy to grumble.
“Don’t look at me. All of our reaps have been assigned since Dawn came on board,” George tiredly explained. “I’ve got zero leeway.”
“So this is my fault.”
George looked up, ready to snap at Dawn for getting defensive. Dawn’s guilty expression showed that getting defensive was probably the last thing on her mind.
“No,” George quietly assured her. “It’s not your fault at all.”
Dawn looked doubtful, like she wasn’t sure if she should believe her boss.
George began ripping post-its out of the Day Planner. “Four for you. Four for you. And four for you.”
Dawn picked at her post-its. “If you’ve got the normal reaps, I’m guessing all of mine are supernatural, right?”
“All yours are straight-up vampire reaps. Nothing bigger or badder than that,” George said as she wondered when she began thinking of vampires as small potatoes barely worth worrying about.
Dawn bit her lip and looked up at George. “Any of them Slayers?”
“How the fuck should I know?” George asked shortly.
Dawn’s jaw line began to work. “I won’t reap Slayers.”
“Don’t have a choice, darling,” Mason said as he laid his head down on the table. “They’ve got a post-it. They’re as good as snuffed whether you do your job or not.”
“This is bullshit,” Dawn said as she leaned back and crossed her arms.
I was not in the mood for this.
George glared at Dawn as she leaned forward. “I’ve already gone over this, but since you’ve decided that you won’t reap certain kinds of people, I’ll go over it again,” she said in a low, angry voice. “If you save your reap from getting killed, their soul will slowly die and then begin to rot inside their unharmed body. While I haven’t seen it happen myself—”
“I have,” Daisy raised a hand. “Charles Manson, anyone?”
Mason, Dawn, and George stared at Daisy.
“Don’t tell me you blew him, too,” George finally said.
Daisy shuddered. “Good God, no. His soul was already dead by the time I knew him during my thankfully brief time in Haight-Ashbury. Necrophilia is just disgusting.”
“Anyone else think it’s weird that someone who died more than 70 years ago is squicked out by necrophilia?” Dawn asked.
Now Mason, Daisy, and George stared at Dawn.
“So it’s just me then,” Dawn mumbled.
“Stop changing the subject,” George said.
“I heard you,” Dawn snapped. “There’s no fighting the almighty post-it. My options are: save the body, condemn the soul to die and rot; don’t save the body, and leave the soul inside where it will be trapped and suffer like it’s buried alive; or do my frickin’ job.”
“Which means you will…” George prompted.
“Do my job, even if it is a Slayer,” Dawn grumbled.
“Glad we understand each other,” George said. “Now all of you go away. I need to get in the mindset to face Happy Time, and that means I need to be alone with my coffee.”
“I’m getting some sleep,” Daisy declared as she shooed George out of the booth so she could leave.
“Right behind you,” Mason agreed as he followed Dawn out of the booth.
“You’re sleeping in your own bed, Mason,” Daisy said. “Mine is off-limits.”
It was pretty damn clear to George that Mason wasn’t making any of his usual innuendos, so she had to admire the way Mason drew himself up and threw himself into the game anyway. “It’s never too late to change your mind.”
“Ugh. Will you two just have sex already?” Dawn asked with rolled eyes. “I’m really getting sick of the Sam-and-Diane crap.”
“Now that’s bloody insulting, that is,” Mason said with faux outrage, even as tired as he was. “I think we’re more akin to Bogey and Bacall.”
“I knew Humphrey Bogart. I blew Humphrey Bogart. Well, by ‘blew’ I mean thank him for helping me get a part as an extra in Swing Your Lady where he played such a charming scoundrel,” Daisy said.
Mason and Dawn exchanged glances as began heading for the Pancake Stack door.
George bit her tongue to stop herself from laughing out loud.
Daisy crossed her arms and glared after Mason and Dawn as they left the restaurant. “They left. They left before I completed my witty put-down.”
“You need to actually say the put-down before you get sidetracked into talking about your old boyfriends,” George deadpanned.
Daisy sighed as she turned to follow the others. “And if I wasn’t bone-tired, I wouldn’t be blowing my punch lines.”
“And yet, you’re still getting more sleep than me,” George grumbled as reached in her pocket to get some dollar bills to throw on the table.
As the bills came out of my pocket, I finally noticed that folded and wrinkled mysterious piece of paper. When I opened it, I realized that I had not thrown out Xander’s number like I thought. I still had it on me. What was more, Someone had arranged things so that I would be completely free to take Xander up on his offer.
George suspiciously peered up at the ceiling. “What the fuck are you up to now?” she mumbled.
“What was that?” Kiffany asked as she materialized with a full coffee pot in hand.
George startled. “Nothing. Warm me up.”
As Kiffany poured, she noticed the paper with Xander’s name and phone number. “A man gave you his phone number. You lucky girl.”
“I dunno. I’m not so sure,” George said.
Kiffany stood up, coffee pot at the ready. “Something wrong with him?”
“No. No, nothing like that,” George said. “He’s perfectly nice.” She tilted her head and studied the number some more. “I’d even go so far as to say that he’s interesting.”
“So are you going to call him?” Kiffany asked.
“I reeeaaaaally don’t know,” George said.
Kiffany put the pot on the table and regarded George with sympathy. “Bad timing?”
“You might say that.” George reached out and crumpled the piece of paper into a ball. “I’m kind of in a weird place. Calling him would be a big mistake.”
“Maybe it’s the mistake you need to make.”
George sharply glanced up at Kiffany’s round, brown face. “You offering the advice as a waitress or because you’ve had a psychic flash?”
“I’m not psychic,” Kiffany firmly said. “And I’m offering the advice based on what I know about one of my favorite customers.”
“You’re just saying that because you want a big tip,” George lightly said.
“Is it working?”
Kiffany hefted the pot. “All I know is that you’re too young to be carrying the whole world on your shoulders all the time. What have you got to lose? A few hours? Before you can live, you do need to actually live.”
“I’ll think about it,” George said.
“Unh-hunh,” Kiffany nodded as she moved on to the next table.
George stared at the balled-up paper in front of her.
Oh, what the hell.
She uncrumpled the paper and smoothed it out with her hands on the table. After studying the number for another minute, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed.
Xander picked up on the third ring. “Hello?”
“Hey,” George said as she began collecting her post-its, “is that offer for dinner still on?”
Sometimes life is just like a commercial: Just do it.
Fuck the consequences. Fuck the complications. Fuck the problems. Just do it.
Go for the Gold. Reach for the brass ring. Take the plunge. All of that motivational bullshit that advertisers spout to get consumers to buy, buy, buy and not worry too much about tomorrow when the Visa bill comes due and you’re already overdrawn at the bank.
Yet, despite the fact that I was flirting with disaster, I found that I was actually looking forward to someone trying to impress me by cooking me dinner.
I really walked into that one didn’t I?
George reached up to knock on the apartment door, but found herself pausing as she noticed the nametag above the apartment number.
“A. Harris?” she quietly asked. She checked the note she hastily scribbled to herself. According to her own handwriting, she had the right apartment. Besides, the last name was the same. Okay, not exactly a stretch since Harris wasn’t an uncommon name. But how many Harrises could there be with this apartment number?
“Stop being so stupid,” George grumbled to herself as she knocked.
The door flew open revealing a thankfully familiar face with eye patch. “Hey! Glad you could make it,” Xander grinned at her.
“What’s with the A. Harris on your door?” George asked.
“Because I qualify as a Harris?” Xander’s face suddenly brightened. “Oh, the nametag. The A’s for Alexander.”
“But all your friends call you Xander,” George said with a touch of sarcasm.
“Actually, everyone calls me Xander,” he good-naturedly countered. “The only reason why I bother with Alexander at all is because that’s the name on my birth certificate and passport, and because a lot of my mail has that name on the address label.”
George poked her head into the apartment. “Smells good.”
“Shhhh, don’t jinx it. I think I finally have the oven beaten into submission,” Xander said as he stepped aside to let George in. “If it realizes that I actually won, it might decide to do something evil. Like overcook the chicken.”
“God knows we wouldn’t want that to happen,” said George as she stepped over the threshold. “So what am I smelling?”
“Generic baked chicken with various spices thrown on top and left at the mercy of my oven, which I’m half-convinced is possessed,” Xander said. “It’s hard to ruin chicken. Just ask Colonel Sanders.”
George expectantly looked around the entrance hallway. “Nice. Not a lot of decoration.”
“I think you mean no decoration,” Xander counted. “I don’t have much, and most of it is still in boxes. So, anyway, this is the entrance hall.”
“I can see that.”
Xander turned to lead her down the hall. “And in there is my kitchen. The only appliance that’s actually evil is the oven. The others are perfectly safe.”
“You really are obsessed with that oven,” George said as the click of her boots echoed on the hardwood floor.
“The closed door at the end of the hall is a linen closet that has some linens in it only because I squeezed in a visit to Bad Bath & Beyond when I realized that I had one towel and no sheets.” Xander led George through a doorway. “In here is the living room-slash-dining room. Please ignore the half-dozen scattered boxes containing everything I own.” He pointed at a closed door. “That way is the bathroom.” He pointed to another closed door. “That way is the bedroom, but the only thing in there is a sleeping bag because the furniture store keeps screwing up delivery of an actual bed.” He spread his arms. “And that concludes the tour of my under-furnished cave.”
“Comprehensive,” George remarked. “I notice there’s no actual dining room table in here.”
Xander winced. “Stuck at the warehouse with my bed, yet weirdly, the couch got here on time. Hope you don’t mind eating off a coffee table.”
“As long as I’m not cooking, and the TV actually works, we’re good.” George gave him the thumbs up.
“My cable went live just today,” Xander said. “Unless you’d rather hit up a movie after dinner.”
George wasn’t about to take a chance that she’d accidentally cross paths with the squid monster. After a week of hearing its screams and not being able to do a damn thing about it, she wanted to do everything possible to avoid seeing it for at least one night. “No, thanks. Hiding indoors from the world sounds exactly like the thing I need.”
Xander seemed relieved. “After the week I’ve had, I’m really good with that.”
“So why’d you offer?” George asked.
Xander hunched his shoulders. “In case you wanted to go out and do something.”
“Um. Thanks.” George’s eyes desperately looked around in hopes of finding something to talk about. Awkward discussions about a mostly empty apartment had to be better than awkward silence. “It’s a nice apartment. Lots of room. Big windows. Hardwood floors. Better than my cubbyhole, that’s for sure.”
“Certainly beats living out of a motel room, which I did for waaaay longer than was healthy,” Xander said. He pointed at the boxes. “There are some DVDs in that box next to the one marked camping gear. All of them are housewarming gifts from my friends via the magic of Amazon. Take a look. If there’s something in there you’d like to watch, we’ll pop it in my secondhand DVD player.”
“So you’re piecing the apartment together using the secondhand method, hunh?” George asked.
“I didn’t go to Africa owning a lot of stuff, and I barely collected anything beyond the basics while I was there,” Xander said with a shrug. “Most of my secondhand crap I bought while still living at the Avalon Motor Inn, or right after I moved in here. It’s safe to say that none of my dishes match, and my silverware and glasses are strictly Target specials.”
“You really know how to impress a girl,” George joked.
“I’m hoping that if I keep talking you won’t notice the L branded on my forehead,” Xander joked back.
“Loser is not the word that springs to mind,” George assured him.
Xander ducked his head out of embarrassment, while George kicked herself.
Why did I think this was a good idea? When it comes to the whole boy-girl thing, I suck. I don’t know how to flirt, I can’t make small talk, and I have no fucking clue what to do when trapped in a potential dating situation. It’s no wonder I died a virgin. The hell with that. It’s no wonder that I didn’t get my first kiss until after I was already dead.
“I better go check the chicken,” Xander suddenly said.
“And I’ll check that box for the DVDs,” George said.
“Great,” Xander said as he skittered out of the room.
“Please have something good. I don’t think I can survive more painful conversation,” George muttered as she approached the box Xander had indicated.
As I reached to open the box, I didn’t hear the tell-tale soft click of the universe cocking the fuck-with-me gun and I didn’t notice the universe aiming it right at my head.
Shocking, I know, especially since it had become such a familiar sound over the past 6 years.
George lifted the flap and looked inside. The DVD sets had been thrown in willy-nilly. As she began lifting them out, she realized that although Xander had lived a pretty cool life he was also a hopeless nerd. She spotted something called Babylon 5, another something called Farscape, Star Trek: Next Generation, the entire collection of Star Wars movies, and a few movies featuring superheroes ranging from Spiderman to Batman, among others.
She didn’t spot the framed photograph until she took the final DVD set (Battlestar Galactica, Season 1) out of the box.
“What’s this?” she quietly asked as she stared at the back of the facedown picture. She glanced over her shoulder. “How’s it going in there?”
Xander popped his head into the living room. “Chicken needs a few more minutes, but I need to keep my eye on the couscous to make sure it won’t overcook.”
“Just wondering,” George brightly said.
As soon as Xander retreated to the kitchen, George reached into the box and grabbed the picture.
When I got the big reveal, I knew the universe had scored a headshot.
George was nearly hyperventilating as she hopped to her feet. Her eyes raked across the faces in the picture even as her brain insisted that she had to be hallucinating.
On the extreme left was an older guy and a redhead, both of whom seemed vaguely familiar. Next to the redhead was younger-looking Xander with his familiar eye patch. Then there was someone who looked an awful lot like Dawn’s sister. And next to her was a very young-looking Dawn. They were all standing by the side of the road with their arms around each other and grinning goofily at the camera. A cornfield was in the background, so it was entirely possible the picture was taken before Xander started working in Africa.
“Shit!” George exclaimed in a whisper as she wildly looked around. “Shit, shit, shit. I’m so fucked.”
“Hey,” Xander said as he popped back into the living room. “The chicken’s out of the oven and—”
George hid the picture behind her back.
Xander’s mood shifted to concerned. “Is something wrong?”
George quickly shook her head.
His mood shifted to suspicious. “Then what’s behind your back?”
I remembered what Bryan said. Dawn’s people are dangerous. They notice things, the kind of things that other people might dismiss. I wondered what Xander had noticed about me, and I wondered how he was subconsciously moving those things around in his head. The last thing I needed was for him to add “habitual liar” to the list of facts he had already filed away about me.
“Oh. This.” George reluctantly revealed the picture. “I found it in the box with the DVDs. I wasn’t snooping or anything.”
Xander relaxed. “I wondered where that disappeared. Guess I threw it in the wrong box.”
“I found it…unh…it was under the Battlestar Galactica DVDs,” George stuttered.
Xander came over and gently took the picture from her hands. “Millie, it’s okay. I know you weren’t snooping.”
“Um, you do?” George asked.
“None of the other boxes are disturbed,” Xander said as he looked down at the picture.
“Oh. I didn’t think of that,” George said.
He held the picture up so she could see it. “This is my family.”
“Family?” George practically shouted the question.
“I’m not married,” Xander quickly said.
“I didn’t say you were,” George nervously responded.
“Then what’s with the shocked tone?” Xander asked.
“Taken by surprise, that’s all,” George said as she tried to come up with an excuse that would get her out of Xander’s apartment within the next 5 minutes. “You never mentioned family.”
“Well, none of us are related by blood if that’s what you mean, but they’re the family that counts,” Xander said as he gently rubbed the glass over Dawn’s face. He suddenly pointed at the older man on the extreme left. “That’s Giles. He’s the guy who actually runs the NGO I work for.”
“The big boss friend you can’t ask for help. Yeah, I remember,” George said.
“And this is Willow,” he pointed to the redhead. “I’ve known her since I was a few months old. That’s me standing next to her. And the blonde girl next to me is Buffy. I’ve known her since high school. And the younger girl next to Buffy is her little sister, Dawn.” He winced. “Sorry. Dawn was Buffy’s sister.”
“Was?” George asked.
Xander took a deep breath. “She died a few months back. A stupid accident, from what I hear. Fell headfirst down her front steps.”
George frowned at him as it suddenly occurred to her that she didn’t remember seeing Xander at Dawn’s funeral. Granted she wasn’t paying attention to a whole lot other than Dawn, but she was pretty sure that she’d have noticed a guy wearing an eye patch wandering around in the crowd.
Xander placed the picture on top of one of the boxes and stepped back. “I missed the funeral,” he softly said, almost as if he had read her mind.
“Oh my God,” George quietly said. “She’s the person you lost. She’s the one you didn’t even know was dead until after she buried.”
“Yeah,” Xander quietly said. “A week after she was buried, in fact. I was on my way to Namibia on urgent business when the message that Dawn had died hit Gaborone, but by the time anyone found it I was long gone. There was no way anyone could reach me.”
The way Xander related the information, like he had something to feel guilty about even though there was no reason why he should, pinged George’s radar. There was something more here. She could feel herself getting angry on Dawn’s behalf.
George folded her arms and studied Xander’s profile. “So if it’s not your fault, why are you acting like it is?”
Xander looked down. “To tell the truth, I’m not sure I would’ve gone even if I had known.” He paused and looked momentarily confused. “I never told anyone that. I have no idea why I just told you.”
George fought to keep the anger out of her voice. “So you would’ve given the funeral a miss because you two weren’t all that close anymore?”
Xander’s jaw tightened as he turned his head to look at her. “What?”
“The first time you mentioned this, you also mentioned that you had lost someone you used to be close to. Past tense,” George said.
Xander pinched the bridge of his nose and apologetically said. “Oh. That’s right. I did say that.” He dropped his hand and went back to studying the picture. “That’s not the reason. I did still care about her, and I’m still close to everyone else. If I could’ve gone, I would’ve. To be supporto-guy if nothing else.”
“You keep contradicting yourself.”
“The situation in Namibia really was an emergency, and I really did have to be there to straighten it out. There wasn’t anyone else who had the experience or the ability to handle what was very quickly turning into a really bad situation.” Xander sighed. “I guess I feel guilty because I’m glad that I didn’t know about Dawn before I left Gaborone. It meant I didn’t have to make a choice between friends who really needed me and my job.”
And just like that, my anger deflated.
He was one of Dawn’s people, which meant his “really bad situation” probably involved monsters that killed people, and his “job” was to stop that from happening. If that was the case, then Xander made the right decision.
Here’s a tip: when given a choice between helping the living and honoring the dead, chose the living because the dead don’t give a shit. Before the body’s even cold, a soul is already long gone and off doing something else. The only thing left is a corpse, or what there is of it, and it might as well be a piece of furniture for all that it matters.
“So, let me get this straight,” George carefully began, “you feel guilty about something you didn’t actually do.”
“It sounds stupid when you put it that way.”
“No one can actually blame you for what happened.” A light bulb went off over George’s head. “Unless you are getting blamed and that’s part of the reason why your life kind of sucks right now.”
“No, everyone was pretty understanding after the fact,” Xander said. “The only person who hasn’t come around is one of Dawn’s students, but she’s been taking Dawn’s death pretty hard overall and she’s blaming everyone for what happened.”
“Let me guess. She’s the student on the verge of alcohol poisoning,” George remarked.
Xander slowly nodded. “It’s an old problem, too. Dawn took her in, and helped her get sober. When Dawn died,” he shrugged, “she crawled right back into the bottle while everyone politely looked the other way and convinced themselves that she’d stop when she got over Dawn’s death. I had to raise holy hell before anyone would admit that maybe this was a little bit more than just a really rough mourning period.”
“Look, Xander—” George began.
She was interrupted by the trilling of a cell phone.
“Sorry,” Xander apologized with a wince as he pulled his cell phone out of his jeans pocket. He groaned. “I really have to get this.”
“Go ahead,” George said.
She doubted Xander even heard her as he flipped open the phone and headed for his bedroom. “Yes?” he snapped.
He froze with his hand on the doorknob.
“What?” he asked in a horrified voice. “When?”
There was a pause before he again snapped, “What happened?”
Another pause as he opened the bedroom door. “I thought I said to keep her off the rotation until she twelve-stepped her way to sobriety. I don’t care that it might take awhile.”
He turned around and leaned against the living room wall with a horrified expression. “It appeared in Lynnwood? How the hell did it get there? Are you sure? Because it usually sticks pretty close to—”
He waved a hand as if the person he was talking to was standing in the room next to George. “All right, all right. I get it. Everyone else was busy and you didn’t think you had a choice. Fine.” He took a deep breath. “They’re both alive. That’s what counts.”
He appeared to be listening. He nodded, even though the person he was talking to couldn’t actually see him. “Right. On my way.”
He snapped his cell phone shut and grimaced apologetically. “Millie, I’m really sorry but—”
“You have an emergency,” George finished for him. “Sounds serious.”
“You have no idea,” Xander distractedly said.
“Also sounds like Dawn’s old student got hurt,” George fished. She didn’t know why she was bothering. It wasn’t like she could tell Dawn anything and it wasn’t like Dawn could do anything about it even if George could spill everything she knew.
“Um, yeah,” Xander looked like he was trying to get his bearings. “She was with a friend patrolling. I mean, patrolling bars. Said friend was trying to get her out of the bars. They ran into a little bit of trouble. They’ll be on their feet by tomorrow afternoon.”
You mean Dawn’s Slayer was drunk off her ass while on the job. While acting stupid, she got hurt and got another Slayer hurt, too.
Funny how the context becomes crystal clear when all the missing pieces fall into place.
“I’m glad they’ll be okay,” George said.
Xander shook himself, almost as if he were giving himself a mental slap. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
“Unh, what about the food?” George asked.
Xander hesitated. “The oven’s not on and I really don’t have time to—” He turned to George. “Unless you want it.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” George said. “I was in it more for the company.”
“That didn’t turn out so well either,” Xander said as he retreated to the bedroom and returned with a set of keys in hand. “I’m really sorry about this.”
“Will you stop apologizing?” George reached out and grabbed him by the arm. “I’ll be fine. Now go and save the world already.”
Xander gave her the kind of look that asked, “What do you know? And when did you figure it out?”
George hoped her smile was innocent. “Okay, maybe not the world. But it sure sounds like someone needs saving.”