“Can you prove to me that you are who you say you are?” He didn’t let go of my shoulders. “Is there anything, anything you can do that will make me believe in you?”
He wanted to believe; I could see it in his eyes, a deep ache buried under the pain. That was why he couldn’t let himself do it. There’s no such thing as miracles, and when the dead rise, they don’t look in your eyes and say their names. Maybe in some other world, but not this one.
I took a slow breath, casting another glance toward Becks and Mahir. Then I looked back to him and said, “There’s only one thing we never wrote down. You know what it was.”
“I do, but, Shaun, I don’t know if—”
“Prove it, right now, or I swear to you, I will shoot you myself.”
“You have no idea how much I’ve missed you,” I said, and leaned in and kissed him. His hands tightened on my shoulders, his whole body stiffening against mine as he realized what I was doing.
And then he started kissing me back.
That was the one thing we never wrote down—the one thing we couldn’t write down, because no file or server is ever totally secure, and it would have gotten out. No one would have cared that we weren’t biologically related, or that we’d gone in for genetic testing when we turned sixteen, just to be absolutely sure. No one would have cared that we didn’t trust anyone else enough to let them be there while we slept. No. The media loves a scandal, and we’d been raised as siblings in the public eye. It would have destroyed our ratings, and then the Masons would have destroyed us, for blackening the family name.
There were a few people who’d guessed over the years. I’m pretty sure that Buffy knew. But we never, never wrote it down.
He squeezed my shoulders so hard it hurt. I didn’t pull away, and after a few seconds, his hands relaxed and he pulled me to him, returning the kiss with a frightening hunger. I grabbed his elbows and pulled him closer still, until it felt like we were pressed so closely together that there was no room for anything to come between us. Not even death. We were home.
I didn’t pull away until my lungs started burning. His hands dropped from my shoulders and he opened his eyes, staring at me. I stared back. Slowly, he reached out with one shaking hand and brushed my bangs away from my forehead.
“Georgia?” he whispered.
Mahir cleared his throat. “Unbelievable as I find all this—and believe me, I do find it unbelievable—this is, perhaps, not the best place to go into it. CDC security will find the hole we created sooner or later, and we’ve been standing here long enough that I feel it will be sooner. If everyone agrees, we should remove this reunion to a safer location.”
“I still say we shoot her,” said Becks.
I glanced at her, frowning. “Has she always been this bloodthirsty?”
Shaun kept staring at me. It was like there was nothing else in the world. Somehow, I understood the feeling. “I may have taught her a few things.”
“If we’re going to move, we should move,” said Mahir. There was a core of cold efficiency in his voice that hadn’t been there a moment before. “Shaun, you’re unfit to lead the remainder of this mission. Becks, I outrank you. Georgia…” He faltered, realizing what he’d just said. “Miss, whoever you are, you are not currently a part of our structure. As that makes me the senior staff member here, I hereby command the rest of you to move.”
I smiled at him. I couldn’t help it. “Thanks, Mahir. I missed you, too.”
Shaun grabbed my hand, starting to walk. I went with him, only wincing a little as my battered feet hit the ground. Mahir and Becks followed us, Becks never putting her pistol away. I didn’t care. She wasn’t going to shoot me now; not without getting the story of who I was and what I was doing with them. She was a Newsie for too long to throw away a lead like that once the heat of the moment had passed.
We didn’t talk as we made our way across a decrepit parking lot to an even more neglected-looking garage. There was nothing we could say that wouldn’t confuse matters further. Shaun and Becks produced flashlights from their pockets, clicking them on and using them to light the way into the darkness of the parking garage. I stopped when I saw what their beams had illuminated, a grin spreading, unbidden, across my face.
“You still have the van,” I breathed. “I was afraid that after… well, after what happened, that the decontamination would have been too expensive.” And that he wouldn’t have wanted to keep it after he killed me in it.
“I had to replace all the upholstery, but I wasn’t willing to lose the frame,” said Shaun. “We spent too much time there for me to give it up that easily.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. Becks took one look at my face before she snorted, snapped, “Let’s get the f**k out of here,” and went storming over to the van.
“She’s not always like this,” said Shaun.
“I’ve got a feeling she will be for the next few days,” I said, and let him lead me to the van.
All four of us had to submit to a blood test before the locks would disengage. I held my breath until mine came back clean and the doors unlocked. Becks opened the back and pulled out what looked like a modified metal detector wand. “Spread,” she ordered me.
I knew better than to argue with an Irwin who had that look on her face. I pulled away from Shaun, who let go of my hand with obvious reluctance, and assumed the position used by air travelers since the birth of the TSA. She ran the wand along my arms, legs, torso, and back, scowling a little more each time it failed to beep. Then she passed it to Mahir, who repeated the process. I had to admire their thoroughness, even though I knew that a false positive—or worse, an accurate one—would probably result in my getting shot in the head.