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Hospital Corners

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"Ah. Hello. Knock," Sam says from the doorway. Maxine looks up, and he sort of twitches an elbow. He's balancing a tray of bowls, all of them full of a different unidentified canned vegetable. "Knock. I thought maybe if I paused longer, there'd be less chance of any mistake in the setting you up for a very poor knock-knock joke category. Did it work?"

Maxine takes off her gloves to scrub at her eyes. "It worked all right," she says. "Come on in. Is Janine getting antsy about using the dining room again?"

"No," Sam says, hesitantly. "No, um. This is for--you! If you'd like it. The odds were fairly poor that you'd have stopped working in time to catch the evening distro." He gives the room a harried glance for clear surfaces, settling for the autopsy table. "We've got probably carrots, almost certainly peas--that one's definitely tinned oranges, I sampled. Not sure what that is. Not meat, though."

"Baked beans," she says, automatically. "In med school it was a rotating diet of baked beans, Diet Coke, and toast. I'd know those cans in any state of decay."

"Hah. I don't miss toast," he admits. "You would not believe how unpopular that makes me in the food line. It gets to be a competition. A really, really morbid one. What foodstuff or other harmless entertainment item do you miss the... most. Oh, damn." He swallows.

The tears had started around the word 'foodstuff' and now they're unstoppable. She's mourning Paula because of a bad joke about food line politics, how embarrassing. "How embarrassing," she says out loud, and the effort to talk gets her going again.

"Hey, no," Sam says. He shrugs off his sweater. "Here you go. This doesn't need to be sterile, so you can just blow all over it. Can't do much to hurt it that hasn't already been done."

It'll take forever to wash without running water, she wants to argue, but the attempt gets her crying harder. This is ridiculous. This is an even better way to waste water than washing Sam's sweater, and that's saying something. She wipes her eyes with the sleeves, and, for a lack of something else to do with her hands, tries to fold it.

"Wow," says Sam. "You don't do hospital corners, do you?"

"Sam, we only have cots."

"Well, if we get enough leftover fabric to make sheets, you let me know and I'll come over and do the tucking in. This is just sad."

She hands it back to him, and he lifts it, shakes it out, folds it neatly into a square. "Janine made us all learn," he explains. "The runners and everyone who the runners dragged along, so that's me, thank you very much, Alice. She says that if we're going to be picking up all and sundry and stuffing it in a sack we ought to know how to get it as small as possible. Fact: I am also a champion roller."

"Does she have ways of making pill bottles smaller, too?" Maxine asks. Her voice is steadier now in her own ears, and she risks a glance over at the tray of food. Her stomach lets her know, loudly, that she's hungry, and all of a sudden she's not just hungry but ravenous, totally aware that she hasn't eaten more than a handful of peas since--since eight in the morning. Oh, boy. She gets cautiously to her feet and reaches for the carrots.

"If there is a way, we'll find it. If there's not a way, we'll make it," Sam's saying, in his best imitation of Janine. It's not very best. "I wish there was. Well, I wish there were more pill bottles to roll, really. Are you-- I hate to insinuate, but do you need some time alone with those carrots?"

She stops forking them into her mouth long enough to smile. "Why, Sam? Afraid of our love?"

"Afraid for my life. You're eating those like you started rattling an hour and a half ago."

"I can promise you that none of the zombies are vegetarian." She offers him the bowl, but he shakes his head, and she realizes on examination that she's offered him the sad remains of half a carrot and a lot of leftover liquid. She picks up the green beans. "Sorry."

"Thank you," he says, suddenly.

"What, for the carrots?"

"No, for--for letting me in." He scratches the back of his neck. "I know you're busy. I know I'm a bit of a pest at the best of times."

A month ago she'd been two minutes too late to stop Runner 7 dragging Sam out of communications, kicking like he stood a chance and yelling You don't get it, she's still on the microphone, she can still hear me, she can still hear me you bastards she's still--!

"I trust you," she says.

"Well," he says. "That's fair. I trust you." He coughs. "But not to uphold the laws of human decency with those beans."

"No, that's also fair."

"I mean, there's didn't eat all day, and then there's vacuum cleaner."

"That's what I miss," she sighs. "Vacuum cleaners. Do you know how long it takes to get dirt out of a tent with a broom."

"You are worse than the toast people," he says, and grins.