Title: Reaping the Whirlwind (Boom Boom Ba Remix), Part 11/14
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 stiffly on the park bench in the middle of the memorial — her memorial — and mentally ranted to herself about how Death had a sick sense of humor. While it was true she was here only because she assigned herself the post-it, the fact that someone she knew was going to die on the exact same spot she did was enough for her to reach that conclusion.
And why was she even here, anyway? This reap hadn’t been assigned specifically to her. None of the reaps had an assignment attached to them. She could’ve just washed her hands of the Xander Harris mess once and for all and handed this off to Mason or Daisy. It wasn’t like Xander even knew she was reaper, and it wasn’t like he was going to give a shit one way or the other after he walked into his lights.
If she handed this off, no one would’ve been the wiser about just how close she came to screwing things up. It wasn’t like Millie’s name was going to the last name on Xander’s lips when he died. Dawn or Buffy were far more likely candidates.
Although, now that George thought about it, if either Buffy’s or Dawn’s names were the last thing he said and Daisy or Mason heard him that would’ve opened a whole new can of worms.
Right. It had to be her. After Xander headed off to his lights, she’d turn around and tell Dawn that she reaped Xander. Then she’d move the timing of Xander’s explanation about why he missed Dawn’s funeral from the night of their one almost-date to sometime after Xander’s death. George was pretty sure that Dawn would like to know that Xander had missed her funeral simply because he didn’t know about it. She was also pretty sure that Dawn would like to know that Xander was off saving lives while she was being buried.
Mason and Daisy couldn’t salvage anything good out of Xander dying, but she could. She could give Dawn just a little peace of mind. The importance of that couldn’t be overstated, especially since Dawn would no doubt be reeling from her sister’s death.
“George?” asked a familiar Lisa Simpsonesque voice.
“Penny?” George asked doubtfully as she looked up. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Penny held up a single post-it. “It’s an all-hands kind of day.”
“Shit. I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault,” Penny said in a dead voice. “You didn’t cause an apocalypse.”
Maybe not, but it’s entirely possible that I had made things worse by stopping Dawn.
“Is your last reap here?” George asked. “Or are you going from Point A to Point B?”
“Post-it says my last reap is at the Georgia Lass Memorial,” Penny said.
Shit! So much for making sure there were no witnesses.
“Pull up a slice of bench,” George indicated a spot next to her with a jerk of her head. “The scene of my death can temporarily be the scene of yours.”
Penny ghosted up the stairs and settled next to George. She sat ramrod straight as she stared out over the streetscape with wide eyes. “Last time I knew that so many people were going die within a matter of hours, I was on transatlantic cruise.”
“You had to reap shipwreck?” George asked.
“It wasn’t a shipwreck. The ship crashed into an iceberg, broke in half, and sank,” Penny said.
“Sounds like Titanic,” George said.
“It was the Titanic. And I wasn’t reaping,” Penny said.
“Oh.” George joined Penny in staring out into the darkness. “I guess that’s why you always order your drinks with no ice.”
“Someone put ice in my lemonade two days ago. I freaked out when I heard the cubes moving around in my cup,” Penny said.
“For me, it’s anything that involves explosions. Or loud bangs,” George sympathetically said.
“I don’t blame you,” Penny slightly nodded. She slowly looked around, as if she were just becoming aware of her surroundings. “This is nice. They did a good job on your memorial. I bet it gets lots of visitors.”
“Yeah. It is nice,” George quietly agreed. “I really like the sundial. It’s kind of cool.”
“Doesn’t sitting here freak you out?” Penny asked.
George took a deep breath and thought about it. “No. Two or three weeks ago I would’ve been, but not right now, no,” she finally said. “All of my circuits are overloaded. It’s been a freaky kind of year for me.”
The two reapers fell silent as they sat shoulder-to-shoulder.
“It’s so quiet,” Penny finally said. “Where is everyone? There aren’t even any cars on the streets.”
George shook her head. “With the exception of two people, they’re all busy dying somewhere else, I guess.”
“Where’s your collection point?” Penny asked.
“Pancake Stack. Yours?”
“The Admiral Theater.”
“Nice,” George nodded.
“At least they’ll be able to watch a movie while they wait for the plant reaper to guide them to their lights,” Penny said.
“There are reapers for plants?” George asked.
“That was pretty much my reaction,” Penny said. “If you think about it, though, plants are alive, and everything alive dies. So…”
“You don’t even want to know what the guy babysitting our reaps does,” George said.
“Definitely not,” Penny fervently agreed. “I’m still getting my head wrapped around reapers for plants. Between that and this whole day, my head’s ready to explode.”
“We are getting quite the education, aren’t we?” George asked with sarcasm.
In the haunting silence, the echoes of several voices speaking all at once reached their ears. George and Penny automatically checked their watches.
“Mine’s at 9:57 p.m.,” Penny said.
“Same here,” George said as she showed Penny her post-it.
Penny made a ‘hunh’ face. “A two-fer? Usually they’d just have one reaper do it.”
“Hey, maybe all the final reaps are being done with partners,” George said. “You know, so we can offer each other a shoulder to cry on after the last reap of the day.”
Penny gave her a look.
“Okay, probably not,” George mumbled.
A group of seven young girls turned the corner and headed right for the memorial. They were carrying crossbows, swords, axes, and all manner of weapons. They were practically clanking as they walked.
“What the hell?” Penny asked.
“My money’s on ‘they’re Slayers’,” George deadpanned.
“Vampire Slayers. Basically girls and women with superpowers,” George explained.
“Oh, yeah.” Penny winced. “I got one of them 2 nights ago. That squid monster killed her. It was a pretty awful way to die.”
George regarded Penny with sympathy. “They really are stretching the definition of ‘natural death’, aren’t they?”
“Stretched it, bent it, broke it,” Penny grumbled.
One of the girls noticed Penny and George sitting in the memorial, and began whispering to her companions. The group stopped just short of the memorial steps.
“Aw, shit,” George muttered. “They spotted us.”
“Nice night,” Penny called out.
Half the girls looked at Penny like she was nuts. The other half looked like they wanted to beat Penny to death.
“Whatever is going to happen, it’s going to happen in 3 minutes,” George said in a low voice.
“So whatchya doing?” Penny sounded slightly manic. “Is it some kind of sorority stunt?”
George decided that her best bet was to follow Penny’s lead. “I’m telling you. It’s not. They’re doing one of those real-life adventure game things. My sister was totally into that when she was in college.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” one of the girls brightly said. “You didn’t happen to see any frat guys wandering around in monster costumes, did you?”
The Slayer’s companions managed to avoid looking at her.
“Definitely not,” Penny answered. She added under her breath, “Good one, George.”
The girls huddled together and began quietly talking amongst themselves. Every once in a while one of the girls would glance in their direction before diving back into the huddle.
“Please tell me they aren’t going to shoot us first and ask questions later,” Penny mumbled to George.
“If I were them that’s what I’d do,” George said.
A man barreled around the same corner the girls had turned just a few moments before. “There you are,” he shouted at them.
The girls broke their huddle. One of them stepped forward to meet him.
“That sure as hell doesn’t look like Xander,” one of the girls in the group said.
On the mention of Xander’s name, George’s ears perked up. He must be on his way.
“Why is Janine acting like she’s in charge?” one of the other girls asked.
“Ummm, because she’s the one with most experience?” another girl asked.
While Janine and the new arrival walked away a few steps and began a heated consultation, one of the girls looked over to George and Penny.
“Less than 2 minutes,” George whispered.
“Janine could be mine, since the first initial I’ve got is J,” Penny tightly whispered back. “Any one of those girls could be yours.”
Sure. If Xander took up cross-dressing, and lost five inches to ten inches off his height.
“What’s the last name on yours?” George whispered.
The Slayer that had been looking at them walked towards them. “Hey.” She gave George and Penny a little wave with a nervous grin. “It looks like the referee’s here, so that means we’re about to start our D&D game for real.”
“I hope you win,” George sincerely said.
“Thanks.” Her false grin got broader. “You might want to get out of the area, though, because the game’s a little rough. I don’t want to see you guys accidentally hurt because you got caught in the crossfire.”
“Aren’t those fake?” Penny asked, getting into the spirit of things.
“Oh, yeah! Definitely,” the Slayer nodded. “But they’re loaded with paintballs and those things hurt like whoa.”
“Thanks for the warning,” George said as she dragged Penny to her feet and started for the steps.
Penny made a stubborn noise in her throat, which was the only way she could ask George what the hell she thought she was doing.
George reached the bottom step and stopped short. She snapped her fingers. “Hey! I think I remember where I saw your team leader before.”
The girl tensed. “Oh?”
“I’ve seen her at one of the cafés down the street. Oh, damn, I can’t remember the place. It’s around the corner from some creepy bookstore. The Lost Pages? The Loose Book? Something like that,” George said.
The girl relaxed a little bit. “I know where you mean. The place with the awesome coffee, right?”
“No, the other place. The one with the great chocolate croissants,” George said.
“Ooooh, that one,” the girl nodded as she fully relaxed. “Janine is nuts for those.”
“So that’s her first name, hunh?” George nodded with a grin. “I guess it makes sense. Every time I see her there, it’s ‘Gryzbowski’ this and ‘Gryzbowski’ that.”
The girl actually laughed. “She hates it when people call her by her last name.”
“Yeah, I could tell,” George nodded. “That’s why I remembered her.”
Penny checked her watch. “Oh! Look at the time. I really have to be going. See you later, George.”
“You’re welcome,” George sarcastically said as she began desperately looking around. She spotted a single puff of smoke near Penny's target. A single graveling emerged from it at a dead run.
The hell? Where's the second one?
The girl tensed. “What’s wrong?”
“I was supposed to meet someone here,” George vaguely said while she watched the graveling trip Penny's reap as it ran by her.
The Slayer stumbled and bumped into Penny as the reaper walked by. The slight distortion that appeared where Penny's hands touched the girl to help steady her showed that the reap was complete. The graveling's sudden disappearance from the scene confirmed that Penny had gotten her girl.
George checked her watch. She had seconds to go.
Where the fuck is he? And where the hell is the second graveling?
That’s when all hell broke loose.
Something zinged by her ear, and the girls let out a roar. The man began yelling, “It’s coming from the north!”
Something sharp and moving fast hit George in the left shoulder. “Son of a bitch!” she yelled as her hand flew to the source of the pain. As she looked down to see a white dart sticking out of her shoulder, some of the Slayers started firing their crossbows at the source of the attack.
“Retreat! Retreat!” the man yelled.
The Slayers weren’t having it. With a unified roar, the girls charged after the source of the darts.
As the man ran by George as he followed in the Slayers’ wake, she heard him mutter, “Oh, hell. What part of ‘deadly darts’ don’t they understand?”
George grabbed the visible portion of the white dart and yanked it out. It was followed by a gush of arterial blood. “Ow! Jesus! That fucking hurts!” She glowered at the white dart in her hand before tossing it as far away from her as she could. “I just bought these clothes!”
“Ooooh, look at you. Something bit you hard,” Penny called out.
“That dart hurt like a bitch,” George complained as she checked the wound. “I'm already mostly healed. Looks uglier than it is. Thank God for reaper healing.”
“George, we’ve only got one dead here,” Penny said.
George looked up and saw Penny heading toward her with a confused looking Janine in tow. Janine’s body lay crumpled on the sidewalk in the background.
“What just happened?” Janine asked.
George scanned the streetscape with a sense of growing dread. “That’s what I’d like to know.”
There was the sound of yelling and fighting in the distance.
“I need to go,” Janine said as she started to move.
“Not so fast,” Penny said as she grabbed the Slayer by the arm and held fast. “You’ve got somewhere else you need to be.”
“What I need is to go help them,” Janine said.
“Unh, you may want to turn around,” George said.
Janine glanced over her shoulder. Then she did a double-take. “Oh.”
“Your war’s officially over,” Penny said kindly.
“Incala darts. Of all things, I get taken down by incala darts,” Janine shook her head. “They’re not even poisonous.”
“Deadly if it goes through your eye, though,” Penny said.
“It was a lucky shot,” Janine pouted.
“C’mon honey, let’s go,” Penny said as she reached out a hand to Janine.
“Wait,” George ordered.
George desperately checked her post-it. “My reap didn’t show.”
Penny burst into a grin. “Whaddya know. And no unaccounted for body. I think we have a genuine missed appointment on our hands. I’ve only seen one of those. One of the reapers in my group had one back in May 1971. I think he framed the post-it.”
“You. Slayer,” George pointed a finger at Janine. “Where the hell is Xander Harris?”
“You know Xander?” Janine asked.
“George? You knew your reap?” Penny asked with horror.
“In passing,” George lied. She glared at the Slayer. “Well? He was supposed to be here,” she checked her watch, “almost two minutes ago. What the hell happened?”
“There was a last minute change in plans. We got Wet-Behind-the-Ears Boy instead.” Janine snorted her disdain. “Can you believe he tried to order a retreat? Because the mage’s minions were shooting at us with incala darts? They’re not even—”
“Poisonous. Yeah, I got that part,” George snapped. “Where the hell is he?”
“Willow got hit with some kind of brain fry, and she wasn’t able to keep the N’goth locked down,” Janine said. “I was told it was heading for the port, so Xander and Buffy are leading a last-ditch effort to lure it into the cargo stacks. I think the plan is to try and use the heavy machinery down there to crush it to death.”
George forced her breathing to slow down. “Please don’t tell me it’s heading for Terminal 5.”
“I don’t know which terminal,” Janine said. “I was just told ‘the port’.”
Penny shot George a confused look.
“Dawn’s got a job at Terminal 5, loading dock 14,” George explained.
“Then it’s probably heading for Terminal 5,” Penny said.
And while she’s reaping her sister, there’s a good chance she’s going to see Xander. Or to put it another way, Dawn will have a dead big sister on her hands when she comes face to face with the guy who skipped her funeral. This could get very ugly, very fast.
“I have to go,” George said.
“George, leave it alone,” Penny said. “Your reap missed his appointment. That means he gets to die some other day. You’re both free and clear.”
“I’m not chasing a reap. I’m trying to stop a problem before it starts,” George shouted as she raced down the block to her car.
As soon as she slid behind the steering wheel, George checked her watch. She had 30 minutes to make Terminal 5. There was no way she was going to make if drove like a sane person.
She might be able to make it if she drove like a reaper.
One of the handiest talents a reaper has is the ability to not be noticed.
Okay, high school wallflowers everywhere probably wouldn’t see that as benefit, but when you’re dripping with blood and standing the middle of four dead bodies with four matching freshly reaped souls and the cops are busting down the door you learn to be very, very grateful for it. Sure, it’s a little creepy how people’s eyes look right through you when you’re covered with arterial spray, but you get used of it pretty quickly because it's a whole lot better than the alternative.
What I didn’t know before Ms. Georgia Lass’s Wild Ride to the Port of Seattle Terminal 5 was that it was possible for people to not notice a reaper covered in blood and driving a fire-engine red Mustang convertible the wrong way down a one-way street. Or blowing though stop signs and red lights. Or driving on the sidewalk.
Too bad I didn’t really get to enjoy my Steve McQueen moment.
George thanked God that someone had left one of the traffic gates up as she sped through the security booths marking the entrance to Terminal 5. She screeched to a stop next to a small shack of an office and jumped out of her car.
“Fuck me,” she groaned as she looked wildly around. “This place is huge. How the hell am I going to find loading dock 14?”
Almost as if someone had heard her cry of despair, a girl covered in blood supporting another girl covered in blood limped around the corner.
George looked to the heavens and mouthed ‘thank you’ before she turned and jogged over to the girls. “Loading dock 14! Where is it?” she shouted.
The girl who was doing the supporting stopped and stupidly stared at her.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” George urged as she hopped from foot to foot. “I don’t have all night. I need to find...I need to find…Buffy! That’s right. Buffy! I have an urgent message from…from…the Council.”
That girl who was being carried muttered something unintelligible.
“It’s okay. She says she’s from the center,” the more with-it girl said to her more injured companion.
“Buh-ffy. I need Buh-ffy,” George firmly and loudly repeated. “I was told to go to loading dock 14.”
The girl doing the supporting jerked her head back the way she came. “Down there.”
George pointed. “Straight down there, right? How far down?”
“Half-way,” the girl vaguely said as her more injured companion began a muttered stream of complaints. “It should be safe now. It’s quiet, which means the N’goth is dead or close to.”
George checked her watch. She had less than 2 minutes. Although the directions weren’t precise, it would have to do. “Thanks!” George shouted as she took off running.
As George barreled down the terminal runway, she realized that ‘half-way down’ was still a very long way to go. There was no way she was going to make it in time.
George stumbled to a stop. She bent over, braced her hands on her knees, and gulped in as much oxygen as her lungs could handle. If Mason ever managed to start that union, the first thing she was going to do was agitate for the ability to teleport to wherever she needed to go.
She checked her watch. Less than a minute to go. Time to throw in the towel.
“Shit,” she swore at herself as she turned around and trudged back to her car.
I tried to convince myself that I was overreacting. Dawn knew that confronting a still-living Xander wouldn’t do her any good, so she probably wouldn’t bother. And even if anger overcame commonsense, the absolute worst that would happen was that Xander would see some bag lady-looking person screaming incoherent gibberish at him.
Plus, I really doubted that Buffy was going to go tripping into those lights without sparing time for a little heart-to-heart with her sister. Hell, she could outright refuse to go for hours. God knows I’ve seen my share of souls digging in and refusing to budge because they wanted their reaper to do them a favor.
So, really, the worst case scenario wasn’t really all that bad. At worst, Buffy would refuse to leave, and at worst Dawn wouldn’t be willing to do her job and convince Buffy that she really had to go into the light. In that case, I’d pull the big, bad boss routine and force the issue. What the hell, right? Buffy may have been a Slayer, but she was a dead Slayer. She wouldn’t even be able to touch anyone living, and she sure as shit couldn't touch a reaper unless the reaper allowed it. So Buffy could bluster all she wanted, she wouldn't be able to hurt anyone, no matter how much she may want to, if she took exception to the idea that she needed to leave.
George reached her car and leaned against it with folded arms. Buffy was dead for sure by now. No doubt the two sisters were having a tearful reunion.
Just as George had convinced herself that everything was going to be okay, she heard the achingly familiar ‘fwoom’ and saw the flash of bright light. George looked up and to her left.
“The hell?” George asked as she stood up straight and stared transfixed as the lights resolved themselves into a bonfire with hundreds of girls and women singing and dancing wildly around it. Presiding over the whole celebration was wild-looking black woman with messy dreds wearing animal skins and sporting white war paint of some kind on her face.
George checked her watch as she took a step away from her car. She looked up at the lights and frowned. “Only 10 minutes after the E.T.D. That happened awful fast. Unless Dawn’s not the only reaper working the terminal.”
She looked over her shoulder.
I was wrong. This situation wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.
It was worse.
Buffy was racing for her lights, and dragging Dawn behind her. Not that Dawn was fighting this state of affairs. It was more like Dawn was being dragged simply because she couldn't run as fast as her sister.
“No!” George shouted as she took off, running at an angle that would intercept the fleeing sisters.
Neither Dawn nor Buffy seemed to hear her.
“Stop! You’ve got to stop!” George desperately shouted.
They were heading right for the lights. This was bad, bad, bad, bad, bad…
George forced legs to run faster.
Buffy was right at the border where the lights met the living world when George leaped and tackled Dawn to the ground. As they landed on the unforgiving pavement, George heard the sharp snap of a bone breaking. Dawn let out a scream of pain.
“Dawn!” Buffy screamed as the sudden loss of Dawn's dragging weight sent her stumbling forward. In the end, it was sheer momentum that sent an unwilling Buffy into her lights.
“Stay down! You stay down!” George shouted in Dawn’s ear.
“My ankle,” Dawn said through clenched teeth
“No!” Buffy yelled as she turned around to face them.
George looked up and felt the energy from the light crackling across her skin. They were too close. They were far too close. “She can’t go with you!” George shouted over the sound of hundreds of girls and women wildly singing. “She can’t go where you’re going!”
“I’m not leaving her!” Buffy yelled as she moved to step out of the light.
“No! Stay where you are!” George desperately shouted. “If you leave, you’ll never get the light back. You’ll be trapped here as a ghost!”
Buffy froze, one foot hovering uncertainly at the border between this world and the next.
“Is that true?” Dawn asked between hisses of pain through her teeth.
Fucked if I knew, but I wasn’t willing to bet anyone’s soul on it.
“Yes,” George said.
“Give me my sister,” Buffy raged.
“I can’t, and you don’t want me to.” Since Dawn wouldn’t be able to get to her feet and run into the light with any speed at all, George figured it was safe to stop holding her down. She stood up and forced herself to take two steps closer to Buffy’s light. The pain was nearly intolerable as energy crackled across her skin and the heat blasted her eyes until they felt dry as bone.
“The hell I don’t,” Buffy said with hands on her hips while George braved those few steps closer to Buffy's light.
“If she enters the light with you, you’ll destroy her.” George didn’t shout, but she spoke loud enough that Buffy could hear her.
“This will destroy her?” Buffy raised her arms above her head as if she were reaching for the sky. “I don’t think so. There’s nothing in here that’ll hurt her. I’d feel it if there was any danger.”
“That’s because this,” George waved at the scene behind Buffy, “belongs to you. It’s there to keep you happy and safe. But trust me when I tell you, the danger’s real to Dawn if she joins you in there.”
“What kind of danger?” Dawn asked.
“Don’t believe her Dawn. There’s nothing dangerous in here with me,” Buffy said. She dropped her arms and glared at George. “You can’t keep her trapped like this. You can’t make her be a grim reaper. I won’t let you.”
George glanced over her shoulder at Dawn. Dawn had managed to sit upright, although she still looked like she was in a lot of pain. The broken ankle may account for a large part of that pain, but George knew that the proximity to the lights couldn’t be helping.
George looked back at Buffy. “I’ve seen it,” she insisted. “I once saw a reaper jump into the light and the end result looked like a nuclear explosion. They were completely destroyed. There was nothing left of them. They were just gone. Do you understand? They just stopped existing.”
Buffy dangerously narrowed her eyes. “You’re lying.”
George’s shoulders slumped. “I wish I was.”
Dawn gasped loud enough that George could hear her over the ambient noise.
Buffy took a step back from the edge, but didn’t completely back down.
“I’m not doing anything to your sister and it’s not me forcing her to do anything,” George desperately said. “For whatever reason, Someone decided they needed a new grim reaper and Dawn got picked. No one asked her, true. But none of us were asked before we got handed the job. It’s par for the course.”
Buffy seemed to be fighting the urge to look over her shoulder at the wild celebration going on behind her. “You were chosen.”
“You make it sound like Death even bothers with anything so mundane as an actual staffing plan.” George winced. She really needed to watch the cynicism, because its use and abuse couldn't possibly help in this situation.
Buffy threw back her shoulders, like she had made up her mind. “I can’t just leave her here alone.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” George threw up her hands. “She’s not alone. She’s got a job, she’s got roommates, and she’s surrounded by people who know her and what she is. Plus, I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m standing right here, damn it. Me, the reaper who just stopped you from accidentally obliterating your sister from existence.”
Once more the sounds of celebration momentarily distracted Buffy. George knew it would only take a tiny push to get her to leave. She just had no idea how to make that push.
George looked behind her and saw that Dawn was curling in on herself with a look of utter devastation on her face. It was obvious that Dawn thought she had found a way out, only to be told that she couldn’t even hope to walk through the open door right in front of her. All the self-assurance was gone, all that intelligence had been overcome with emotion, and all that prideful stubbornness had shattered.
Not surprising, considering that her sister was about to disappear forever, leaving Dawn behind to an afterlife of…what exactly?
George felt the light bulb go off over her head. “Reggie,” she said softly.
George turned slowly around and saw that Buffy was once more gearing up to take a step back into the world of the living.
“I have a little sister,” George said.
Buffy paused and shot George a look that said, “So what?”
“Believe me, if I was in your position, I’d want to do the exact same thing that you want to do,” George said with more certainty.
“But you’re not in my position, are you?” Buffy combatively said.
“But I am in mine. I don’t want to see Dawn hurt any more than I’d want to see Reggie hurt.”
Once more Buffy was momentarily distracted, this time by a rousing chorus sent up by the soaring voices of the women and girls as they danced around the bonfire. The wild-looking black woman who was presiding over the celebration opened her arms in welcome, as if expecting Buffy to run into them for an all-encompassing hug.
George swallowed. “I’ll take care of Dawn,” she promised.
Buffy looked back at her with wide eyes, and then she looked at the incoherent mess that was Dawn.
“I promise. I’ll take care of her,” George repeated. “But you have to go.”
Buffy’s chin trembled and she looked like she was about to cry.
“She’ll be fine. I’ll make sure of that,” George repeated her promise. “Who knows? She might find her way to you sooner than you think.”
Buffy’s attention was again captured by the dancing and singing. The wild-looking black woman was smiling at Buffy and was wordlessly encouraging her to step all the way into the light with her hands.
“Buffy, go!” Dawn yelled behind George. “Just go! I’ll be okay!”
“It’s okay,” George encouraged softly. “Listen to your sister.”
A peaceful look came over Buffy’s expression. She leaned forward and said, “I love you Dawn. Don’t ever forget that.”
“I love you, too.” Dawn’s voice sounded strangled, as if she were fighting back the urge to sob.
Buffy fixed George with a fierce look that said, “If you break your promise, I’ll find a way to come back and kick your ass.”
George began to slowly back away. She was already too close. She didn’t want to be practically standing on the border between life and light when that open door finally snapped shut.
Buffy spread her arms, looked up to the sky, and began to laugh. She spun around and raced toward the woman who was presiding over the singing and dancing with open arms. Just as the two of them began to embrace, the scene dissolved into a pillar of light with bright, white balls of energy playfully dancing around it.
Then, suddenly, the light was pulled up into the sky, throwing the whole of Terminal 5 back into the darkness.
George collapsed onto her hands and knees. A wave of sick relief caused her to begin trembling and she breathed hard. She did it. She didn’t know how she did it, but she did it. She averted disaster.
The sound of Dawn’s sobs finally broke through George’s hearing. As George looked down, relief was quickly supplanted with unreasonable rage.
“Get up,” George snapped
Dawn was so lost in her mourning that she didn’t seem to hear George.
“I said,” George grabbed Dawn’s arm and pulled, “Get up.”
Despite the fact that Dawn had almost 4 inches on her, George had enough leverage to yank Dawn to her feet and drag her back to the waiting red mustang. Dawn stumbled and cursed between sobs because George was dragging her along on an injured ankle that had either just healed or was in the middle of healing from being broken.
When they reached the car, George threw Dawn into the backseat before getting behind the wheel. “Don’t even think about getting out,” George snapped over her shoulder.
Dawn remained lying down across the backseat and didn’t even acknowledge that George had spoken at all as her crying picked up in intensity.
George cranked the engine and slammed her foot on the gas. She left a long trail of rubber as she sped out of Terminal 5 and headed back into the city proper.
From an external point of view, the drive away from the port was a much calmer affair. I followed all the traffic laws and didn’t do anything that might make a cop’s hair stand on end. Not that any the cop would even notice me. I was very much projecting, “These are not the reapers you are looking for. Please ignore this fire-engine red Mustang convertible and the driver who's covered in blood as it cruises by.”
Inside, however, I was raging. I could understand the burning need to escape. I could understand not wanting to be a reaper. I could understand how dealing with death day in and day out could get to someone. I’d been there, done that, and created the t-shirt.
What I didn’t understand was why a reaper — any reaper — would jump through that open door. I had always stayed a safe distance away as the souls I had reaped ran into their lights. Before today, I had never gotten close enough to know that standing so close would hurt so much. The pain was a 2-by-4 of a reminder that we didn’t belong there, and it wasn't for us. It wasn’t just a warning; it was a very painful clue that hitching a ride wouldn’t end well for any reaper who tried.
How could she do it? How could she stand on the edge of those white cliffs rising out of the light and wave at me? How could she smile like there was nothing wrong at all? Why didn’t Betty back away from the edge instead of jumping?
Why didn’t she choose to stay when she had to know that trying to hitch a ride with a soul would end up destroying her?
George glided the car to a stop in front of the house Dawn shared with Daisy and Mason. She looked up at the windows and saw that none of the lights were on.
“Can you walk?” George asked in a tight voice.
Although Dawn had calmed down into an eerie silence during the ride from the port, her voice sounded raw and hurt. “My ankle’s healed. I can walk.”
“Good. Get out,” George said flatly.
George shot Dawn a glare.
Dawn hunched her shoulders in response and got out of the car without saying another word.
George watched Dawn stumble up the walk and the front-porch steps. Dawn paused as she urgently began to pat herself down as if she were desperately looking for something, but within a few moments she relaxed and pulled something out of a pocket.
George looked away and clutched the steering wheel. She really should just drive away. She could deal with Dawn tomorrow. George looked back at the house and saw that Dawn was opening the door.
“Fuck it,” George spit as she threw open her door and chased after Dawn.
Dawn was in the middle of closing the front door when she looked up and saw George bearing down on her like the wrath of God. Her eyes got wide as she said, “George, I’m sorry. I didn’t—”
“What did I say? What did I tell you?” George raged as she pushed by Dawn and entered that achingly familiar living room with Daisy’s painting over the fireplace and one of Mason’s ratty t-shirts thrown over the back of a chair.
“You told me that the light wasn’t for us,” Dawn said. “But Buffy said she felt—”
“Your sister is not a fucking reaper!” George hollered at Dawn. “She doesn’t know shit about it. All she knows is that her little sister is one of the unwilling undead, and she thinks she’s got the fucking answer. Except that answer will make you disappear in a nuclear fucking explosion. Jesus! What were you thinking?”
“I…I…wasn’t,” Dawn admitted as her eyes got wide and she began to slowly back away. “George, I think that—”
“What?” George stamped her foot. “That you think I’m an asshole?”
“N-n-no,” Dawn stuttered.
“Really? You could’ve fooled me. Because you act like I’m some asshole on the street who doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about.” George gestured broadly. “Do you think I hammer the rules into your head because I like to hear myself talk? Is that it? Do you think I kick your ass for shits and giggles? Don’t you think I’d rather not be kicking your ass? Hunh? Did that ever occur to you? And then you do this. I trusted you, and you nearly shit all over yourself.”
Dawn again began slowly backing away toward the kitchen. “George—”
“No! I’m not done with you yet,” George advanced on her. “Do you have any idea what almost happened tonight? Do you? You were nearly destroyed. That’s right. Destroyed. As in gone for good. As in the only thing left of you would be a corpse and a headstone. Do you know what happens when a reaper takes a running start and jumps into that light?”
George got right in her face and screamed, “BOOM!”
Dawn stumbled back a few steps. “George I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Upset? Upset? Do I look upset?” George raved. “What clued you in? Was it the yelling? The jumping up and down? The way I’m waving my arms?”
“Because you’re crying,” Dawn answered in a small voice.
George froze. Then she brought a trembling hand up to her face. Her fingers came away wet.
“George—” Dawn began.
Without a word, George turned and fled from the house.