"Ronald? Ronald! …Ron!"
"Huh? What is it babe?"
"Were you even listening to me?"
"What? Oh, yeah, of course, doll."
"…then what did I just say?"
"I knew it, you weren't listening at all. What's wrong with you lately?"
Ronald looked away from the pretty girl sitting at his desk down to his paperwork, untouched and piling up. He hadn't talked to anyone about last week's incident, though everyone on his dispatch floor knew well what happened. The girls in other departments had no idea, and it was sometimes a welcome respite knowing that they'd never look at him with those pitiful gazes like his coworkers did. Other times, it was just as hard knowing that they'd never understand what he'd lost.
"It's uh… just… work stuff. I'll make it up to you later Janette."
"My name, is Robin. Ugh! Forget it!"
Then hopping off of his desk with a huff, she clacked her heels right on out of there and Ronald sighed heavily, burying his face in his arms on the desk.
Now he had chased away his night's company with his moping. Maybe if he apologized to her before the end of the day, she'd be all right with him. After all, it was only 11 in the morn-
Jumping out of his chair, Ronald dashed out of the office, hurrying towards the elevators as fast as his legs would carry him. He had forgotten that he had to show around the new recruits today as a senior reaper. He wasn't really in the mood to show around a bunch of fledglings, but damn it all, maybe it would keep his mind out of himself for a little while.
Skidding into the room where the young reapers were waiting, he hurriedly fixed his tie and whipped back his hair as he tried to give a nonchalant wink and a nod to the new batch.
"Hey all, I'm Ronald Knox, and I'll be showing you the ropes of our division today. Uhh… we'll go by the various departments, I'll tell you what they're about, and even drop in on the glasses department towards the end there. Um… Any questions to start?"
A skinny little guy with freckles tentatively raised his hand.
"Uhh… Mr. Knox, sir, how long have you been a reaper?"
Ronald let out a nervous chuckle as he scratched his head. "Well, uh… a few centuries by now, I guess."
Murmurs of surprise ran through the crowd immediately as he said it.
"You don't look it at all! …sir." Another one off to the side with blond hair spoke up with a joking laugh.
"Well, I'll take that as a compliment, then. So uh… let's get moving, shall we?"
Moving the bustling group about, Ronald felt too old for his age. All of them so young, their eyes full of expectant hope for their new jobs, most of them were happy to get started, he could tell. But Ronald couldn't remember ever feeling that excited to work. Even when he was a student and everyone else around him was so excited to begin their duties as a reaper, he had remained the lazy ass who didn't want to take up that responsibility ever. Sure the perks were great, he loved his lawnmower, his glasses, the girls… but he felt the burden was actually somewhat too heavy. Maybe he was just ill-suited for the life.
"So uh… as you know, it's our job to collect human souls at their time of death, review their cinematic records, and judge them. We gotta make sure no one's dying too early. Very occasionally, someone will come along who could change the course of human history, so we gotta allow them the chance to do that if their time was too soon. The uh… the sanctity and gravity of human life is one we have to understand."
The scrawny one spoke up again.
"Have you ever judged someone who was special enough to let live, sir?"
"Hm? Oh, uh… no. Not that I can remember. Like I said, they're pretty rare, but it's still our job to check."
"That sounds like a lot of responsibility." he heard one murmur.
Somehow, Ronald couldn't let that lie. Turning around swiftly on his heel to face them, he suddenly gave them an oddly serious expression, and spoke to them truly and honestly.
"Yeah. Yeah, you're absolutely right. It's a tremendous responsibility. It's gonna be hard, and sometimes it'll be boring, but sometimes it'll get you right in the gut when you're least expecting it. We're above humans, but sometimes, it's easy to forget that. Sometimes, you can get too involved or obsessed. That's why you gotta do your job, but not take it too seriously all the time. All right? Because it's heavy, you gotta remember to laugh and smile and party hard when you need to. Otherwise, you'll just go mad."
They looked at him sadly, not daring to speak or ask another question. And Ronald knew from the feeling of his quivering shoulders that he wasn't looking at all cool or bad-ass in front of them. Reaching up with his sleeves, he tried to wipe at the tears that were flowing freely down his face, though his mouth remained fixed in a smile. Repeatedly, he whispered,
"Just… that's all you gotta do. You've gotta keep yourself from going mad 'round here. Just stay sane. Don't let it get to you. That's all you gotta do."
And he turned around, still wiping at his eyes and laughing.
"Just don't go mad."
And as the young reapers followed behind him, now eerily quiet and downhearted, they wondered whether their guide, the not-so-young Ronald Knox had already gone mad. And silently, they each wondered to themselves how long it would take before they too would find the work to be too much.
A/N: Thank you so much reading! I'd especially like to thank those who have been listening to my recordings of this fic on Tumblr, I worry my voice doesn't do the characters justice... But this has been a veritable learning experience for me in a lot of ways. I like to think this is the best I've written (should be, it's the latest), and it's the first fic I've been able to squeeze out an ending for. So many of my fics are unfinished because I just feel like I can't write decent endings, but I managed it with this one. I also learned a lot about voice work, recording, and I hope to be able to record more podfics in the future (including ones not written by myself). I have a lot of love for these characters and for this fandom, so again, thanks so much for keeping up with this series. Your reviews and encouragement have meant a lot to me, I read all of them, I do.