George was babysitting. At least, that's what it felt like. Mason had been screwing up his reaps, and getting drunk. Rube had gone apeshit, Daisy had gone AWOL, and Roxy had threatened to raid Mason's apartment for drugs if he didn't shut up about Daisy's new boyfriend. George was busy herself with Happy Time and her own shit, but she'd felt a bit guilty about leaving Mason to pickle himself alone. He'd been all right, when she'd been a newbie and needed a bit of help. He'd given her and Daisy a house. Half a fucking house. She'd given him a complete hole of an apartment, and then only because with a bedroom and bathroom all of her own she'd hardly needed it anymore.
Also, if Mason was off his face in the living room with George, Daisy was hardly going to bring her date home. George didn't like strange people showing up at her house. One bottle of wine and sacrificing a bath-towel to get Mason rinsed clean of that homeless bum smell, that was a small price to pay to keep Daisy's smug rich arsehole where he belonged; in hotels that rented by the hour or wherever the fuck they went.
'You know, George, you and me, we're the same.'
George wrinkled her nose and poked at Mason's leg with the toe of her shoe. 'I sure as fuck hope not. Please tell me I don't smell that bad.'
'No, I mean it...' Mason wriggled up in his armchair and regarded the dribble of booze left in his glass. He made a face at it. 'I mean, Roxy was murdered. Daisy caught fire. Rube, he got shot I think. I mean a real, serious shooting. You see deaths like those in action films, blockbusters! But me and you, we're real front-page newspaper material. We're the jokes on humanity. Drill to the brain, toilet seat.'
George made a face. 'I sure as hell didn't kill myself, Mason.'
'But still! No way can you say I got killed by a flying flaming toilet seat with a straight face. Look, I can't! People still call you-'
'I know what they call me.'
Mason waved a hand with the magnanimity of a happy drunk. 'You see? It's the shame thing. Everyone else doesn't get it, because they can cover up their deaths or move on from them. Learn to cope. You and me, Georgie girl, we will never live our deaths down. Nobody can understand the shadow that casts over a person, not unless they're one of us.'
George reached forwards to screw the cap back on the cheap bottle. 'And that's enough for you tonight.' She picked up the bottle and carried it with her, hid it in a kitchen cupboard so that the sight of it offered no further temptation.
When she got back to the living room, Mason had shifted over to the sofa she'd been sitting on. With a bit of a caution, George settled back down. 'I think you're just looking for a reason to tell yourself it's not your fault that Daisy doesn't want you.'
George looked at her own glass. She felt that sinking sour feeling in her chest, the one that you get whenever you say something entirely true and also entirely inappropriate and crappy. She'd probably had more than enough to drink. 'Shit, Mason, sorry. I'm just pissed that she uses up all the hot water. I shouldn't be taking it out on you.'
Mason had gone all quiet and solemn-faced. Against her better judgement, George thrust her glass and the two mouthfuls of wine that were left in it towards him. He took it and swallowed automatically, then put the glass down on the coffee table with exaggerated care.
'S'all right, Georgie. It's like I was saying, anyway. People who die like we did, no matter what you do, you feel alone all the fucking time deep down inside. Everyone else has their dignity, or gets their lights. You get to thinking, how did I fuck up so bad that
is what I get for eternity? Who did I piss off to get my appointment scheduled like that?'
George had never really thought about it like that. She'd learned her lessons about bugging Rube and wondering where their reap assignments came from. It stood to reason, though, that there had to be someone making the assignments. Or something. George checked the windows quickly, an automatic reaction whenever she thought about gravelings.
'I don't think it's deliberate. I mean, think about it. If there's a quota to meet or something, people have to die, move on. Reapers get a chance at their lights too... then there's a limit to the number of ways you can die, times and places. I don't think anyone's out there maliciously brainstorming ways to fuck people over.'
George realised the second that she'd said it, that there were a thousand ways she and Mason could have died – traffic accidents or gas leaks, drugs, failed elevator, choking, a mugging involving a knife-wound – in their times and places of death, and retained a little more dignity. She didn't say a thing, just sat and stared down at her own feet. Beside her, Mason shifted as if he was itchy or had a cramp or something.
'I was never hugged, as a child. You know?'
It was such a weird thing to say that George just stared at Mason for a long moment. She thought about her mom, and the forced smiling family time. All those too-tight control freak squeezes of arms round shoulders that had passed for intimacy in the Lass household.
'Nope. I got hugged all the time, as a matter of fact.'
Mason stared right back. 'Really? Huh, I'd never have figured it, the way you act. Well, come on then, you can educate me.'
It was a testament to how drunk George was, that her first reaction wasn't to give Mason the finger, but to say awkwardly, 'I... I'm actually not a really touchy feely kinda girl, Mason.'
'Hah!' Mason tilted his head backwards and stared up at the ceiling. 'Knew it. Still, let's us lonely shamed fuck-ups share a moment. We can even pretend we're off our faces drunk.'
'You are off your face drunk.'
Mason just grinned at that. 'So what are you waiting for, then? Oh, but promise not to tell Rube? He'd kill me, if he knew, I'm sure. He'd say, Bad Dog Mason , blah, stay away from my peanut or I'll turn you into, um, peanut butter?'
George shoved Mason's arms away and ignored his rambling. 'I am not going to hug you, Mason.' She tried to keep her serious face on, the one that made it clear that she was not going to play along with Mason's bullshit.
Mason sounded crushed. It was probably just the alcohol, but George still felt a little bit shitty for being so stern and defensive. They both sat there quietly for a minute or two, thinking slowly about nothing and feeling the chill of the night creeping in. George tugged on the blanket beside her until it was slumped in a lump over her lap instead of beside it.
George had never heard Mason sound like that before. Like there was nothing good or reliable in the world. She'd thought she'd seen him at his most desperate and depressed and ruined a hundred times over in the past, and the idea that Mason had further to fall – that there had been something that she'd done to cause it – scared the shit out of her.
Mason took the blanket from her, and with an apologetic wince of a smile he reached his arms around her to spread it out. It was warm and scratchy against the skin on her neck, in a good and comforting kind of way. He pulled away, settled back into his cushion. George couldn't quite place it, but she felt like she was missing or lacking something. That she'd put her foot down on the floor and instead of feeling wood and rug and stability, her toes were just wriggling about in thin air.
It wasn't going back on her own exact words, if she let Mason hug her. Well, at least she could argue that to herself and get away without losing too much self respect. George moved in sudden stop-starts, not quite sure how to go about it. She scooted across the space between them and leaned into Mason until he caught on to what she was doing and started moving his own limbs out of the way.
It probably looked stupid. Slapstick. Two tipsy idiots with no really deep connection or agenda trying to fit themselves together like a child trying to fit a piece of Meccano into a tower of Lego. But then they were done. George was leaning back against Mason's chest and deciding that he didn't really smell that bad, just human. He felt bigger than he looked, not that George would ever tell him that. But it was okay. It wasn't as weird as George had thought it would be. It was maybe just a little bit nice.
The blanket was warm wrapped around them, the wine was foggy and nice in her brain, and George fell asleep comfortably without thinking twice about it.