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Waiting Room, The

by Nestra

Spoilers: Through the end of season 5.

Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, and believe me, I'm not making any money off of my fanfic.

Thanks: To melymbrosia, shrift, Athena, delle, Shanola, jean, and the Buffistas.

Death is not at all what Buffy expected.

There's the pain from the gashes in her neck, and there's the water burning in her lungs, and there's the thought that her mother will never understand...

...and then there's light.

She opens her eyes, and it's a bit of a surprise to find herself in someone's living room. Or maybe someone's grandmother's living room. She's sitting on a nice plush couch as the hem of her dress drips water on an equally plush carpet. Flowered wallpaper covers the walls, pretty and unobtrusive, and a row of framed pictures lines one wall. She sees a book and a heart, and one painting that seems to shift and move and walk across her eyes, but before she can make out many details, she realizes she's not alone.

"Hey," she says to the girl sitting next to her.

"Hey," says the girl, and smiles. But she doesn't say anything else; she just sits there, staring at Buffy without a hint of rudeness.

"We're dead, right?" Buffy asks, surprised at how calm she is.

"You are," the girl replies. "For me, it's a little more complicated." Her skin is so pale it almost glows, and Buffy thinks her black hair must have had help from Clairol. Her clothing is just as dark, a sleeveless blouse and a frilly skirt, and there's some kind of symbol hanging from a chain around her neck.

"This isn't really what I expected," Buffy says.

"What did you expect?"

Buffy shrugs, and fabric tugs on her shoulders. The room is cool, but not uncomfortable, even though her skin is chilled from the damp dress. "I'm not sure. Pearly Gates, maybe. Or Charlton Heston."


"Ten Commandments."

"Gotcha," says the girl. "Give it a few years, and maybe I'll hire him as the doorman." She looks down at the puddle of water forming under Buffy's feet. "Do you need a blanket or something?"

"No, I'm okay," Buffy says. "I mean, I look -- and possibly smell -- like somebody's wet dog, but I'm okay." It's when she pulls the hem of her dress up to her nose to sniff it that she realizes she's not actually breathing. It makes perfect sense. She's dead. Of course she's not breathing.

"I like your dress."

"Thanks," she says. "I've been getting that a lot. My mom picked it out." Her mother, who will never understand when her daughter is found dead in the Sunnydale sewers. She will not understand how Buffy drowned, or why there are two small wounds in her neck, or what she was doing down there in the first place instead of attending the Spring Fling. She'd never looked forward to her mother's inevitable discovery of her secret life, but she'd always expected to have that discussion someday. She'd also hoped to reach her eighteenth birthday, and get her driver's license, and find out how Angel really felt about her.

She'll never meet Willow's first boyfriend. She'll never see if Xander forgives her for not going to the dance with him. She'll never get a chance to thank Giles for everything.

Giles will never forgive himself.

She's just about decided in favor of a hysterical fit when the girl interrupts her. "I wouldn't worry too much," she says. "You'll get your chances."

"What? How did you know what I was thinking?"

"Occupational hazard."

Buffy's almost sure at this point that the girl's skin is glowing, and so is the symbol around her neck. "Okay, I think it's true confessions time. You said earlier that you weren't dead. Then what the hell are you? Because I don't think you're exactly alive, and I've got an extreme prejudice against the undead."

"You still don't know who I am?"

"No idea."

"Huh," the girl says. "I don't usually get that. People just...know. I wonder if it's because of who you are." At Buffy's puzzled look, she elaborates. "You know? Slayer? Chosen One? I could give you the whole routine, but I'm sure you've heard it before."

Her hand feels empty. She wishes she had a stake. "So you can read my mind, and you know I'm the Slayer."

"And I know what you had for breakfast, and that your left foot is a quarter of an inch longer than your right one. I know how much your mother paid for that dress, and that you're going to get to wear it to the dance. I'm kinda jealous, actually. Do you know how long it's been since the last time I went to a high school dance?"

"I think I can safely say that I have no idea."

"Anyway, I'm Death." The girl sticks out a hand, and Buffy doesn't know what else to do but reach out and shake it with her empty hand.

"You're Death? Okay, I can understand why there's no Charlton Heston, but aren't you supposed to be a big guy with a hood and a...big stick with a blade on top?"

"A scythe," Death supplies helpfully.

"Right. A scythe. And I'm pretty sure you're supposed to be a lot quieter. More scary."

There's a flash of teeth as Death smiles. She seems to do that a lot. "My brothers and sisters tell me that all the time."

"You have brothers and sisters?"

"Oh, yeah. A few of each. You've met one of my brothers several times. You just don't remember."

"Of course. I just don't remember." She repeats it in the faint hope that it'll make sense the second time.

Death smiles like she knows everything. "Those prophetic dreams you get? Those are special order. He builds them himself. Gives it the personal touch."

"Right," Buffy says. Sure. Why not? She's sitting in a supernatural living room with Death. "So...if I'm dead, what am I doing here? Shouldn't someone be judging me? Oh, god, I'm not going to hell, am I? I've slayed a lot of vampires. That's got to count for something."

"Relax," Death says. "Have a cookie."

Buffy looks to her left, and there on the end table is a plate of chocolate chip cookies, freshly-baked. She breaks one open, and the scent of melted chocolate and sugar wafts up. "I'm definitely going to miss cookies. Does Heaven have cookies?"

Death laughs, and the glow surrounding her flickers. "Will you listen? You're not going to heaven or hell."

"Limbo? Do they actually play limbo there? Is that where it gets the name?"

Death holds up a long-fingered hand. "Calm down. You're going back. You're only mostly dead."

"Princess Bride? I love that movie."

"Me too. It's very useful."

Buffy considers what Death has told her, but it's like trying to think through a layer of cotton fuzz. "So I'm only mostly dead. How do I get back?"

"You'll be revived. Your friend Xander does it, actually. You're going to have a lot to thank him for."

"I will?"

"Oh, yeah." Death dims, and Buffy leans closer, almost involuntarily. "He'll come through for you in a big way, and it'll only be the first time. And you'll find out all those things you're worried about. You'll meet Willow's first boyfriend, and her first girlfriend. Giles will forgive himself, but he'll never forget, even a little."

"And Angel?"

"That's a long story," says Death. "But don't worry. It'll all work out eventually."

"How do you know all this?" The years that make up her future seem harder to comprehend than this embodiment of death, sharing a couch with her like they're at a slumber party.

Death opens her hand, and there's a cookie in it, even though she hasn't been anywhere near the plate. "It's my job. As long as you're dead, you're part of my realm. I like to take care of people."

"But you're telling me about things that haven't even happened yet." Buffy leans back and shifts over to a dry section of the couch. "What's the point? I've seen movies. If you know the future, you can change it. Mess it up. Next thing you know, you're Linda Hamilton in Terminator, looking all scary and shooting people."

Death chews and swallows. There's a cookie crumb balanced on her lower lip. "It's okay. You won't remember any of this -- not this time, and not next time. Maybe you'll tell a story about a white light and a tunnel, but no one really remembers. Not until it counts."

"Then why tell me anything?"

"Sometimes the transition back is hard for people. Coming back from the dead is kind of a big deal. This is just...look at it like a jump start. Knowing that you have all of these amazing things to live for will help you back into your body."

Buffy thinks of the stories she's heard. Near-death experiences. Homeless guys sleeping outside in freezing temperatures. Episodes of ER. "What happens to the people who don't have anything to live for?"

For a moment, Death doesn't bother to hide the ages of sorrow and knowledge in her eyes. "I can always find something."

"But..." Buffy starts, but she's distracted by a feeling of pressure in her chest.

"Wow," says Death. "It's time already."

"What? Time for what?" The pressure's coalescing into a rhythm. One. Two. Three. Her lungs inflate as if she's taken a breath.

"Time for you to go back. It always goes so quickly." Death takes her hand, and the firm pressure of Death's warm skin is suddenly the only thing that feels real. "But it was really nice to talk to you. I'll see you again in a few years."

Buffy wants to say something, make some sort of coherent objection, but she can barely take in everything she's being told. Death's glow intensifies. Buffy looks down, and she's fading out. She can see the pink fabric of the couch through her legs. She manages a faint "Thanks."

"And hey," says Death, blazing as bright as the full moon. "I'll take good care of your mother. Don't worry about her."

Buffy hears the words, but by the time they make any sense, she's already forgotten them.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Nestra

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