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Becks runs the Irwins now; I meant it when I said I didn’t have the stomach for it anymore. Site administration is enough excitement for me, at least for right now. Mahir and Magdalene are doing fine with their departments. Ratings have actually gone up for the Fictionals. Magdalene is better at staying focused than Buffy ever was, even if she doesn’t have a flair for technical things or espionage. And maybe that’s good, too. We’ve been down that road before.

Mahir’s flight from London landed at eleven the day of the funeral. I drove to the passenger collection zone at the edge of the airport’s quarantine border, hoping I’d be able to pick him out of the crowd. I didn’t really need to worry. His plane had been almost empty, and I would’ve known him anywhere, even if I hadn’t been seeing him on video screens for years. He had the same empty confusion in his eyes that I saw in my mirror every morning, that odd sort of denial that only seems to come when the world decides to jump the rails without warning you first.

“Shaun,” he said, and took my hand. “I’m so glad to finally meet you. I just wish it could have been under better circumstances.”

“This is from George,” I said, and pulled him into a hug. He didn’t hesitate. He just hugged me back, and we stood there, crying on each other’s shoulders, until airport security told us to clear out or be held in contempt of quarantine regulations. We left.

“What news?” Mahir asked, as we pulled onto the freeway. “I’ve been incommunicado for hours. Blasted flight.”

“Mail from Rick—Senator Ryman’s plane touched down about the same time yours did. They’ll be meeting us at the funeral home. Emily couldn’t make it, sends her regrets.” I shook my head. “She sent a pie last week. An actual pie. That woman is so weird.”

“How’s Rick handling the transition?”

“He’s taking it pretty well. I mean, he quit when the senator asked him to be the new VP candidate, and it doesn’t seem to be driving him crazy. Who knows? Maybe they’ll win. They’re definitely bread and circuses enough for the general populace.”

“American politics.” Mahir shook his head. “Bloody bizarre.”

“We work with what we’ve got.”

“I suppose that’s the way of the world.” He hesitated, looking at me as I turned off the freeway and onto the surface streets. “I’m so sorry, Shaun. I just There’s nothing I can say that says how sorry I am. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know you cared about her a lot,” I said, shrugging. “She was your friend. You were hers. One of the best ones she ever had.”

“She said that?” he asked, wonderingly.

“Actually, yeah. All the time.”

Mahir wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. “I never even got to meet her, Shaun. It’s just it’s so damned unfair.”

“I know.” I didn’t bother wiping my own tears away. I stopped bothering weeks ago. Maybe if I let them fall they’d get around to stopping on their own. “It is what it is. Isn’t that how these things always go? They are what they are. We just get to cope.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“At least she got her story.” The parking lot of the funeral home was choked with cars. Packing the staff of multiple blog sites and a presidential campaign, as well as friends and family, into a single building will do that sort of thing. Their security must have been freaking out. The thought was enough to bring the ghost of a smile to my face, and the ghost of a chuckle from George in the back of my head.

Mahir glanced at me as I pulled into the last parking slot reserved in the “family” section of the lot. “I’m sorry, did I miss something? You’re smiling.”

“No,” I said, unlocking the door. There’d be men with blood tests at the funeral home doors, and mourners waiting to tell me how sorry they were, to share their tears like I could understand them when I could barely understand my own. “You didn’t miss anything at all, I guess. You got as much as I did.” I climbed out of the car, Mahir still looking at me strangely. And then I stood there, waiting, until he followed me. “Come on. There’s a whole bunch of people waiting for us.”



“Was it worth it?”

No, whispered George, and, “No,” I said. “But then again, when you get to the end, what really is?”

She told the truth as she saw it, and she died for it. I came along for the ride, and I lived. It wasn’t worth it. But it was the truth, and it was what had to happen. I tried to hold onto that as we walked into the funeral home to say as many of our good-byes as we could. It wouldn’t be all of them. It never could be. But it was going to have to be enough, for me, and for George, and for everyone. Because there wasn’t going to be anything more.

“Hey, George,” I whispered.


“Check this out.”

We stepped inside.