She nodded, the smile on her face faded a little. I felt bad that she was sorry about it. I wasn’t sorry–not really. That had been something of a surprise. I hadn’t been at all sorry to find myself face to face with her. In fact, I had perhaps been looking forward to it.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen, you know,” she said thoughtfully. “My brother’s very worried about what this means. He even tried to prevent it. But you’re pretty damn stubborn about what you want, Wesley. Or Wes. Probably should call you Wes, shouldn’t I?”
I nodded. She knew me too well. Of course, she knows everyone too well.
“In my defense, I wasn’t actively searching for it,” I said.
“Of course not,” she said with a solid dose of sarcasm. “Just passively. Because it’s so much better to be passive-aggressive.”
I almost felt guilty then, but I looked at her and she’d managed to smile again. I supposed that was her nature. She was rather like Cordelia in a way, with the tough happy-go-lucky nature and determination.
“I like Cordelia a lot,” she confessed. “I was glad that she went the road she did with the visions. Not surprised–Cordy’s a fighter. Facing down the gates of hell and all that.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” I said, taking her proffered hand. “It’s rare. And beautiful.”
“I think you’re sorrier about this than you’ll let on, Wes,” she said, squeezing my hand. “I’m sorry, too. But you seem to be mostly glad to be done. And it is your choice, after all.”
“My choice?” I said. “I thought I’d made it. After all, you’re here and we’re on our way to wherever one goes after death.”
She smiled at me wistfully. “Everyone should be so nonchalant about a special offer,” she replied. “My brother and my sister have a bet.”
“About me?” I said. “Odd that anyone cares that much.”
We stopped then, or really, she stopped and I was required to pause along with her. It looked like we were still in the park across from my house. Considering my companion, it could be. Or it could be somewhere quite different. I wasn’t sure. But she looked at me carefully, her eyes sparkling black and not-quite-human. Her ankh was lovely, silver, probably priceless. Definitely priceless, considering its owner.
I hadn’t quite pictured Death that way, but when she came, I recognized her immediately. It’s funny how that works.
“Grow up, Wes,” she said. “I know she hurt you. I know they’ve all hurt you, but–”
“Then you know a good deal, don’t you?” I said, suddenly angry. Then I remembered to whom I was talking. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “You’ve had a bad year.”
“That’s an understatement,” I said, looking at the sidewalk. It was cracked and there were dandelions growing through. One of them was in bloom, cheerful yellow despite its precarious position. If I could have stepped on it, I would have.
“So here’s a question,” she said, changing the subject abruptly. “Do you think Rachel’s going to get together with Ross or Joey? Joey’s a lot sweeter. But Ross–there’s the history.”
I started, surprised enough to look at her again. She had her arms folded with a mischievous grin on her lips.
“I beg your pardon?”
“On Friends,” she said. “You know, the show? Don’t you watch it?”
I blinked. “Occasionally,” I said. She looked at me. Damn, but the woman knew me well! “All right, all right–Joey.”
“No wonder you’re depressed,” she said. “Not that I disagree, but there’s a perfect example of why you’re not happy. You want to be something you’re not and worse, that you don’t deserve anything because you’re not that thing.”
“What sort of help is that!?” I said. “Just because I know what’s the best for her?”
“That’s just for one woman out of billions,” she pointed out.
“But I thought–” and I shook my head. “I have terrible luck with love. Or anything involving happiness. Or anything involving life, for that matter.”
“So it’s not easy,” she said. “That just means that when the good bits come along, you’ll treasure them more than most people. If you choose to go back, that is.”
“Should I?” I said. She gave me a look.
“I’m not saying one way or the other,” she replied. “Not my call. Not my choice.”
I looked at the dandelion. Stupid thing, growing in the cracks. There was an entire damn world of green grass and open soil not five feet to its left and there it was, struggling through the concrete. Well, I could almost hear my companion say, bloom where you’re planted.
“It’s not bad advice,” she said, lifting an eyebrow. “Some things bear repeating, huh?”
“I was tired of all the hurting,” I said. “I was doing my damnedest and it wasn’t doing anything. Shouldn’t good things eventually happen if you’re doing the right thing?”
“If good things naturally happened to good people, don’t you think everyone would have figured it out by now?” she replied. “Major incentive, right?”
“I suppose so,” I said. “I wish that I wanted to go back. It would make it easier.”
She nodded and promptly began to play an impromptu game of hopscotch that had been chalked onto the sidewalk in bright purple, probably by the neighbor girls.
“You should maybe find a psychologist, if you go back,” she said. “Could be helpful in dealing with living. Or maybe try a new hobby outside of work. Like kite-flying or swing dancing. Hey, look at this!”
She closed her eyes and hopped across the hopscotch grid, arms behind her back. Death was playing hopscotch while advising me to take up swing dancing. It was less surprising than it should have been.
“When you come for me next time, we’ll have to walk again,” I said. “I would have never expected Death to play hopscotch.”
She smiled. “Arms crossed behind my back and everything.”
“I’m Death, Wesley,” she replied. For a moment I got the full blast of what that meant and it wasn’t exactly amusing anymore. Though not exactly un-amusing, either. “I’m impressive by nature.”
That made sense. We walked back toward my body and what had seemed far away was suddenly so close that I almost changed my mind.
“Will it hurt?” I asked.
“Probably a lot.”
“Will they forgive me?”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
She touched my cheek and her hand was soft and barely cold. I didn’t want to go back. She let go of me, turning away into the shadows that were suddenly darker and more real. I blinked and she was suddenly walking away down the sidewalk, leaving me behind. But I had one last question.
“Why am I doing this?” I called after her.
I could barely hear her, but her answer rang through my head as I sank back into life.
“Because you want to,” she replied.