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“I’m fine, but I think you’re scaring the locals.”

“What?” Shaun looked over his shoulder, seeming to notice the EMTs for the first time. They were all holding pistols now, and those pistols were aimed in our direction. Smiling cockily, Shaun waved. I doubt any of them saw the hollow fear behind his eyes. I doubt anyone but me would even have realized it was there. “Hey, fellas. Sorry to frighten you like that. I just have a thing about being separated from my sister. Makes me sort of impulsive.”

“Makes you sort of insane,” I corrected, without thinking. Then I winced. “Shaun…”

“No, that’s pretty much true.” Four more EMTs walked by us, carrying a stretcher between them. A clear plastic sheet covered it, Maggie visible underneath. A respirator was covering her face. I just hoped that meant that she was still breathing, and that she still stood a chance of recovery.

“Sir, ma’am, you need to come with me now.” I glanced toward the EMT holding my arm. He looked at us sternly through his mask. “I understand your concern, but we need to clear and sterilize this area.”

Shaun’s eyes widened. “Our van—”

“Will be returned to you once it has been decontaminated. Now please, sir, you both need to come with me.”

Shaun and I exchanged a look. Then we nodded, almost in unison. “All right,” I said. “Let’s go and get decontaminated.”

The EMT led us out of the garage and into the building. Metal jets emerged from the ceiling as we stepped into the airlock, beginning to spray a thin mist down over the area. The smell of it managed to sneak through the closing doors, tickling my nose with the characteristic burning scent of formalin. I shuddered. Nothing organic was going to survive that dousing.

“We’re going to need to replace the rug again,” commented Shaun.

I glanced at him, startled, before starting to laugh under my breath. I couldn’t help it. He looked so sincere, and so annoyed, like replacing the rug was the worst thing that had happened to us in a while. Shaun blinked, his own surprised expression mirroring mine. Then he started laughing with me.

We were both still laughing when the EMT led us out of the airlock and into the Agora Medical Center. My laughter died almost instantly, replaced by a feeling of choking suffocation. White walls. White ceiling. White floor. The EMTs looked suddenly hostile behind their plastic masks, like they had been sent by the CDC to take me back.

“George?” Shaun’s voice was distant. “You okay?”

“Not really,” I replied. I turned to the startled EMT who had led us inside. “Do you have a room with some color in it? I have a thing about white.” It made me want to curl up in a corner and cry. A phobia of medical establishments. That was a fun new personality trait.

Working at the Agora had apparently prepared the man for strange requests from people above his pay grade—which we, traveling with Maggie, technically were. “Right this way, miss,” he said, and turned to lead us away from the rest of the action. I felt a brief pang of regret over letting us be separated from the others, but quashed it. The EMT assigned to work with me and Shaun wasn’t one of the ones who was needed to help Maggie, or he wouldn’t have been with us in the first place. Me having a panic attack over the white, white walls wasn’t going to do anything to help anyone.

The EMT led us to a smaller room where the walls were painted a cheery yellow and the chairs were upholstered in an equally cheery blue. We didn’t need to be told that this was the children’s holding area. The testing panels on the walls and the double-reinforced glass on the observation window cut into the room’s rear wall made that perfectly clear.

Oddly, the window made me feel better, rather than setting my nerves even further on edge. It was honest glass, letting the observed see the observers without any subterfuge. If it had been a mirror, I think I would have lost my shit.

“If you’re feeling better now, ma’am, sir, I would very much appreciate it if you’d let me begin the testing process.”

Shaun and I exchanged a look, and I jumped a little as the blood on his shirt fully registered. Maggie wasn’t dead when she was bleeding on him. That didn’t mean her blood couldn’t potentially carry a hot viral load.

“Please,” I said.

“Sure,” said Shaun, sounding oddly unconcerned. I frowned at him. He mouthed the word “later,” and gave me what may have been intended as a reassuring smile.

I was not reassured.

The EMT produced two small blood test units, using them to take samples from our index fingers. No lights came on to document the filtration process. Instead, he sealed the kits in plastic bags marked “biohazard,” nodded as politely as a bellhop who’d been doing nothing more hazardous than delivering our luggage, and left the room. The door closed behind him with a click and a beep that clearly indicated that we had been locked in.

Shaun looked at me. “You okay?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Is Maggie going to be okay?”

“I don’t know.” Shaun folded his arms, looking at the closed door. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

“Yeah. I guess we will.” We stood there in silence, waiting for the door to open; waiting for someone to come and tell us how many of us were going to walk away alive.

When Maggie went down… fuck.

Maggie was one of the first people Buffy hired after we said “sure, we want a viable Fiction section.” She’s never been anything but awesome. She took us in when we had nowhere else to go; she took care of us when we would have been frankly f**ked without her. She’s been our rock. If Mahir is the soul of this news team—and I’m not an idiot, I know that when George died, the mantle went to him, and that’s cool, because I never wanted it in the first place—then Maggie is the heart. And when she went down today, the only thing I could think was “Thank God it was her. Thank God it wasn’t George. I don’t think I could survive that happening again.”


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