Reaper Page 11

Levi gave me that satisfied look again, like refusing to be broken by the psychological shock of my own death was some kind of nifty dog trick I’d mastered. “Relax. You weren’t autopsied. The cause of death was obvious, thanks to my quick thinking, and the coroner was one of our reanimators.

Instead of cutting you open, he prepared you to return, completely intact and functioning. If you take the job, you’l look just like this forever.” Levi waved one hand at my body, then shook his head and stared up at the sky. “You know, we never had to plant employees before the advent of chemical preservation. It was a much simpler time…”

“Were the recruits simpler then too?” I asked, when he final y glanced away from the stars. “'Cause I still don’t understand how I earned this whole

‘get out of death free’ card. You know, the lack of wings and al …”

“We don’t want angels.” Levi walked across the lot without looking back, leaving me no choice but to follow. “Or saints, or do-gooders. A saint would spare everyone scheduled to die, and that would lead to a drastic imbalance between life and death. We need someone who will do the right thing, even when that means ending a life. Which it usually does, for us.” So… I’d been recruited because I wasn’t a humanitarian? I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. “Why didn’t Nash qualify?”

“Because he didn’t have a chance to be tested.”

“Neither did I.”

Levi settled onto the bumper of the last car in the lot. “You’ve already been tested, and you passed.”

“Because I picked Nash up instead of leaving him to die of alcohol poisoning? That doesn’t make me worthy. It barely makes me human.” Levi shook his head. “You passed because you saved his life at the expense of your own.”

“That was survivor’s guilt! I couldn’t face my mother every day, knowing I got Nash killed.” And I sure as hell couldn’t face myself.

“You claimed no credit for what you did, and you died without knowing that wouldn’t be the end for you. That’s the test.” He shrugged and leaned forward, like we were getting to his favorite part. “To weed out the power-seekers and those who just want to prolong their own lives, we can’t take anyone who actually volunteers for the position. The theory is that only those who don’t want power are truly qualified to wield it. So a recruit has to willingly give up his or her life for someone else, with no expectation of reward.”

For a moment, I could only stare at him. I was being granted an afterlife—naturally, it came with strings—because I’d volunteered to die? “Is that irony intentional, or just coincidence?” Levi laughed. “I’m going to let you answer that for yourself, after you’ve beenreaping for a few years.”

“How did you know I’d do it?” My mind was spinning with the sudden realization. “You must have known. Why else would you have been watching me for so long?”

“I didn’t know. I took a chance on you, and I’m really hoping it pays off.

We had a position to fill, so I started weeding through the possibilities. None of those actually scheduled to die qualify, of course, but anyone willing to die for one of them might. Usual y that’s the parent of a small child, but there weren’t any of those on the lists I had access to, so I moved on to siblings. Nash was one of three scheduled to die in my district, and he was the only one with a same-gender sibling close in age. Theoretically, the two of you were likely to share a closer bond than any of the others I looked at. And the fact that you’re a bean sidhe meant that you knew an exchange was possible. Which, though unusual in a recruit, worked in my favor.”

“But that’s all just theory,” I insisted. “In reality, one sibling could be such a heartless bastard that he’d make out with his girlfriend instead of looking out for his pain-in-the-ass little brother, thus dooming the poor kid to death by head-on collision.”

Levi frowned. “You need to remember that Nash would have died anyway. Keeping him home wouldn’t have stopped that. And since you took his place, I think your survivor’s guilt can reasonably be put to rest now.”

“You must have been dead a long time, if you think that’s even possible.”

Levi gave me a creepy half smile, but made no comment on his age.

“What about the other guy? The one who hit us?” I asked. “He survived, right? Couldn’t you have traded his life for Nash’s, and left both of us alive?” The reaper’s smile faded into an even creepier puzzled expression. “Yes.

I could have. But he didn’t volunteer. And if I’d taken the drunk driver instead of you, I’d still be looking for a new recruit, now wouldn’t I?” I could only stare at him, stunned in spite of my knowledge that for the reaper, filling his vacancy was the bottom line. “You let a drunk driver live and kil ed me instead, just to get yourself out of the nursing home?” Levi shrugged. “The driver was of no use to me. You are.”

“Where are we?” I pul ed my hand from Levi’s even as the world solidified around me, and I was glad to be rid of the feel of dead flesh. Not that his hand felt different than any other hand, but knowing it was attached to a dead kid kind of creeped me out.

As did the sudden realization that my hand was now also attached to a dead kid.

“This is where they live now,” he said stepping off the sidewalk and onto the grass, lit only by a streetlight on the corner.

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