Rating: A healthy PG-13
Spoilers: Heavy book references in this one, a few book characters appear later on. No plot spoilers, however. TV references: Storm Front, Birds of a Feather, Things that go Bump
Chapter Length: 3263 words
Summary: An unusual epidemic has hit Chicago and Harry's in the thick of it.
Author's Notes: This is a combination of a short chapter and half of a longer chapter, which I had to rearrange for flow. Thus, it's sort of long and it jumps locations a few times.
I found a supply cupboard and ducked inside it, tearing off my mask and trying to breathe calmly. I felt extremely agitated but away from the room and the magic, I felt better and silly for reacting so violently. I was a capable wizard. I was hiding in a supply closet. I sighed and rubbed my eyes.
Murphy stuck her head in then the rest of her followed when she saw me there. She closed the door behind her, leaving the flimsy bare bulb hanging above us as the only light. It flickered ominously.
“You okay?” she asked. She lowered her mask too and peeled off her gloves.
“Yeah, just a little...” I looked for the right word. “You didn’t feel that?”
“That...energy? Like little ants were crawling over your skin or someone was watching you and you couldn’t see them?”
She frowned. “No. I think you’re being paranoid again.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Sorry for freaking out.”
“Do you think...do you think someone did this to them?” she asked. “Or is that just me being a cop? It seems so weird. I guess if they were drugged or something it would show up. I just want there to be something for me to do, you know? Jake’s dead. He shouldn’t be. I want there to be someone I can go and arrest.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” I admitted. “But I don’t think it’s natural. There was magic in there -” I held up my hand before she could object. “There was. I could feel it.”
Murphy shifted on her feet. “Well...what sort of magic, then?”
“Not the good kind.”
“Can you fix it?”
I frowned. “I dunno. But I’m gonna try.”
She sighed and I wanted to hug her and tell her everything would be fine. I didn’t though. Murphy doesn’t do hugs. At least, not with me. We stood, staring at each other for a few moments before Murphy stirred started to scratch at her scalp again, leaving powder in her hair from the gloves.
“What’s wrong with your head?” I demanded.
“I got my hair cut yesterday and whatever they washed my hair with made my scalp react,” she replied.
She dug further at her head, annoyed. I reached out and took her wrist, pulling her hand away.
“You’ll make it worse,” I told her, sounding like Bob for one scary moment.
“Let’s go,” she said, not even fighting my grip. “I’m tired. Maybe things will look better in the morning.”
I agreed and we left the hospital after deposing of the rest of our isolation outfits. Before we’d reached the front door, there was a Code Blue called for Dr. Forrester. Murphy and I looked at each other, frowning, and left in silence.
Murphy asked me to drive, even though we both knew she was alcohol-free by this point. I politely let her criticize my driving all the way back to my place. I recognized that she needed to be angry with someone and if that someone was me and my apparent inability to turn a corner properly, no harm done. I decided not to tell her that I had failed my drivers test six times in a row before getting my license and that it was a minor miracle I could drive at all.
She declined my offer to come in and got into the driver’s seat of her car like she was afraid it might run away from the shock of having been driven by me. She gave the steering wheel a surreptitious pat.
“Thanks for coming with me,” she said, before she left. “I know you don’t like hospitals.” She looked down at the steering wheel for a moment. “I didn’t want to go alone.”
I smiled and shut the car door, speaking through the open window. “No problem, Murph. Drive safe.”
“I will. ’Night.”
I had more bad dreams. Horrible ones with things in the dark that I couldn’t see or fight. They were doing nasty things to me and I woke up screaming in the middle of the night. This time, there was no Susan to distract me and I shook for a lot longer. I got up and went downstairs to get some tea. Bob was hovering at the bottom of the staircase. He can move in any direction away from his skull, but up and down seem to have less of a leash than straight. He couldn’t reach me in the loft and he looked fussed.
“Is everything alright?” He asked. “You sounded as though you were frightened.”
I deviated from my kitchen path to the lab to grab his skull. “Just a nightmare,” I answered.
“You look quite pale, Harry,” he pressed, following me to the kitchen. I set his skull on the counter and put the kettle on. “Do you wish to talk about it?”
“I can’t remember what it was about,” I said. “I don’t even know if it was about anything. There’s nothing to interpret. It was just scary.” I gripped onto the counter to hide the fact that I was still shaking.
He backed off, changing the subject smoothly. “I have been considering what you told me earlier.” I’d filled him in on the events when I got home from the hospital, before I’d gone to bed. “I don’t suppose it would be possible for you to get some hair from one of the victims?”
“I could probably wing it,” I said. “Will it help?”
“It might let us know exactly what spell is working on them.”
I nodded and took the kettle off. My hand shook badly as I poured the water and it splashed onto my hand.
“Fuck!” I said, with feeling. I ran my fingers under cold water. “What the hell is going on, Bob?”
“I don’t know, Harry,” he replied. “But I’ve never seen you this agitated after a dream, not even when you were a child.”
I leaned on the counter and tried to calm down. “This whole thing has really thrown me for a loop,” I admitted, quietly. “I don’t know why. There was something in that room that just made me...afraid.”
“It seems odd that you would be experiencing nightmares at the same time these victims are in very high levels of dream sleep,” Bob mused.
I swallowed and carefully voiced my fears out loud, “Do you think I’m getting sick?”
“I don’t know, Harry,” he repeated.
“Why not?! You’re supposed to know things!” I yelled at him. He backed off a few steps, looking hurt. I took a deep breath, unsure of where the outburst had even come from. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m just really tired. And freaked out.” He nodded a curt acceptance, but I knew that he forgave me despite the coolness. He had to keep his dignity. “Can we make a potion or something?”
“If you wish. Under the circumstances I suggest something simple,” he replied. He smirked a little. “Or a mood lifter?”
I laughed and let the tension flow out of me through it, then inhaled some clean, non-aggressive oxygen. I put the kettle back on the burner until it whistled again and got water into the mug without shaking. The fear started to lift and as it did, it seemed out of place and artificial, like it had never belonged to me.
“Maybe I’m just going crazy,” I said. “You’d tell me, right?”
We settled on an energy potion. Not the simplest thing, but not the trickiest potion in the book, either. Just enough to keep my mind occupied without overloading it. Bob corrected any mistakes I was about to make, in between the research on nightmares he was doing. I got out several tomes he requested and he stuck a hand in each of them, absorbing up the information through osmosis or however he does it.
I finished mixing and used all my bad feelings to charge the liquid. It glowed briefly, then starting bubbling around in a hyper fashion. I slumped, no energy left now that I’d put it into the potion. I yawned as I bottled the juice and labeled it.
“Goin’ to bed now,” I told Bob.
“Mmm,” he replied, engrossed in his reading.
He waved a hand at me. I smiled. Bob with a book was how the world should be. Right then, I needed the world to be as it should be, even if it was just in one corner of my apartment. I staggered upstairs, falling into bed and a dreamless sleep.
When I came downstairs at 8am, the phone was ringing. I caught it on about the sixth or seventh ring and, after I said hello, it took a moment for anyone to respond. I guess she’d given up.
“Hello?” she asked, uncertainly.
“Hi, sorry,” I said. “I’m here.”
“Oh, did I wake you? I’ve been up all night; I was trying to wait for a decent hour to call. This is Sheryl Sharp. Scott’s mom?”
I’d blanked on the name, so it’s good she threw that last clarification in. “Oh, hey Sheryl. What’s up?”
“It’s Scott,” she said. “He’s been up all night with bad dreams. He was screaming. He won’t leave his room. I don’t know what to do. You said I could call you if anything weird happened?”
“I did,” I agreed. “He’s having nightmares. What about?”
“He says he doesn’t remember,” she said. “But he’s terrified, Harry.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, absently. The now familiar feeling of anxiety welled up in my stomach. “Will he come to the phone?”
“I’ll try.” There was the sound of the receiver being put down and footsteps moving away. I waited. A few minutes later footsteps came back and someone lifted the receiver again. It was Sheryl. “He won’t leave his room, I’m sorry. He still has that shield on his door.”
“And he doesn’t want to move away from it,” I guessed. “Alright. I’ll be over as soon as I can.”
I showered (I really needed to by this point), and stopped by the lab to talk to Bob before heading out. He was in his skull but didn’t even wait for me to call before popping out of it. I told him about Scott. He raised an eyebrow.
“The child is having the same nightmares as you?” he verified.
“I dunno, but it sounds like it,” I said.
“Perhaps I was on to something then...”
“Do you remember the universal consciousness theory?”
I thought. “Yeah, that’s...psychology. Dream interpretation with the archetypes and stuff.”
“No, that’s the universal unconscious,” Bob said, patiently. “The universal consciousness is a belief among many spiritualists that our minds are all connected on a subconscious level. According to this theory, everyone then has the potential to be telepathic or clairvoyant or psychic, but most people are afraid and it lies dormant.”
“Is that Jung?” I asked.
“No, that is still the unconscious,” he corrected, less patiently. I caught the ‘smarten up, Harry’ tone in his voice and tried to focus. “What I am trying to say is that, according to the universal conscious theory, everyone can be connected through the Dreamscape.”
“You think that’s what’s happening with the sick people?” I questioned. “They’re all in the same dream?”
“Perhaps. If so, I wondered if it might not be affecting your sleep as well. If the Dreamscape is being used unnaturally, you might be able to feel it.”
“Like, if a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, it causes a hurricane on the other, or whatever,” I mused. “If someone is messing about in one dream, it screws up the rest of them.”
“Something like that,” Bob agreed. “And, as a wizard, you are more in tune to the conscious; therefore what would affect a normal person only minimally has an amplified effect on you.”
“And Scott,” I added.
“He has also been proven to possess a good deal of power, just like you,” Bob pointed out.
I thought on this for a few more minutes. “Why? And how do I stop it?”
Bob’s self-satisfied expression dimmed a bit. “I don’t know that. Yet. If I had a sample of hair, I might be able to tell how it is being accomplished and thus, its purpose and how to counter it.”
“Gotcha,” I said. I gave him a thumb’s up. “Rock on, Bob.” He smiled. “Okay, I will get you that hair. After I calm down Scott and check on Murphy. Hell, I think I’ll stop world hunger while I’m at it. Just a few minutes out of my way.”
“Yes, well, good luck with that,” Bob said, shaking his head.
“Thanks. I expect a Nobel Peace Prize by the end of the week. I’ll thank you in my speech.”
“I expect to be there when you deliver it.”
“I’ll have them reserve a seat for your skull.”
Sheryl Sharp had obviously not slept at all the night before. She answered the door in her bathrobe, with large dark circles under eyes and hair that hadn’t seen a brush yet. I felt bad for her, but it was mixed with a little pride that she was comfortable enough with me not to make an effort.
“Thanks for coming,” she said. “Do you want coffee? I’m already making some.”
“Sure,” I accepted. “You okay?”
“I’m very, very tired,” she admitted. “But I’m fine. Scott is still in his room.”
“On it,” I said. I remembered the way and went on my own when Sheryl went to the kitchen. I knocked on the door, above where the torn shield symbol I’d drawn him was taped. “Scott? It’s Harry. Can I come in?”
“Yeah,” he called back.
I opened the door. Scott had obviously been making an effort for me. He sat crossed legged on a hastily made bed, fully dressed and looked at me with eyes that had been rubbed furiously – either to wipe away sleep or tears. He still looked exhausted and his body language indicated anxiety.
“Hey kid,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” he replied, quickly. “I told her you didn’t have to come.”
I pulled a chair from the small desk and sat down in it backwards, next to his bed. “She’s just worried about you. That’s what mothers do. She said you had a bad night last night.”
He shrugged and picked at a thread on the comforter. “Just some nightmares. It’s no big deal.”
“I had them too,” I shared. “Really bad ones. I was really scared.”
He looked at me askance. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I woke up screaming and shaking,” I said. I showed him my burned fingers. “I was shaking so badly, I spilled my tea.”
“I was scared too,” he said, softly. “I just wanted to hide.”
“Is that what happens with us?” he asked. “With the magic? Is that why we get them?”
“Sort of,” I said. “Dreams are weird things, and they’re weirder with us. But this isn’t normal. There’s something wrong. Someone’s doing some bad magic and it’s making our dreams worse.”
He considered this. “Why?”
“Why is it making our dreams worse or why is someone doing it?”
“It’s complicated,” I answered. “For both things. When I was a kid, I had a teacher who taught me how to use my magic and how not to use my magic.” For the most part. “Some people, they don’t get those lessons and they think they can do whatever they want with it. It’s never okay to hurt someone with your powers, alright?”
He nodded, solemnly. “Will you teach me?”
“You bet. When you’re a bit older, you can be my apprentice, if your mom agrees.”
That brightened him up. “Cool!”
I grinned. “For now, though, I’m gonna teach you how to clear your mind so you can sleep. I’m not sure if it’ll block out the nightmares, but you can use it to calm you down when you feel scared.”
“Okay,” he accepted, eagerly. “What do I do?”
I taught him some basic meditation skills and walked him through it. He picked it up pretty quick, though, like any kid, he had trouble holding still for long enough to clear his mind. He kept twitching. I found it more amusing than Bob found me when he tried to teach me. I was about twenty before I got the hang of it and that was only after spending a couple weeks with a family in Japan. Nice people, the Buddhists.
By the time I was done, Scott could barely keep his eyes open. He tried, for my sake, but ultimately failed. He sunk down the headboard as he talked to me, until he was horizontal and then he was asleep. I tossed a blanket over him and let him get to it. Sheryl was waiting for me on the other side of the door, pretending she wasn’t. She backed off quickly when I opened it and thrust a cup of coffee my way.
“Milk and 3 sugars,” she recited. “Right?”
“Yep,” I agreed. I took a sip from the mug. It was lukewarm, but in every way drinkable. “Thank you. He’s asleep now. I hope it’ll last, but I can’t say for sure.”
She nodded. “What do I do? If he gets more of them?”
“Just comfort him. I taught him a couple of tricks to calm himself down. It won’t get completely better until I fix this problem I’m working on. Let him stay home from school if he wants. Try to rest, yourself. I’ll call you when everything’s okay again.”
We’d moved to the kitchen table without my making much notice of it. I just followed when she started to walk. I sat down and drank more coffee. She poured herself a second cup then joined me.
“This ‘problem’,” she said. “It’s like the bird thing isn’t it? Something I won’t understand?”
“I could explain it,” I said. “But...I don’t really get it myself. How is the bird thing, by the way?”
“They’re still around. I see them. I’m not afraid of them anymore and neither is Scott. I think they just want to make sure he’s safe.” She gave me a tired smile. “Birds want to make sure my son is safe.”
I laughed. “It’s not so bad. The weirdness. Once you start to get used to it. I’d like to teach Scott when his powers fully emerge, with your permission. He’ll need some guidance to get it under control. I had a good teacher, growing up, and I think I can pass some of that onto Scott. I’d like to, anyway.”
“I think that would be good for him,” she said. “He really looks up to you.”
I shrugged that away, flushing. “I’ll try to teach him better judgment than that.”
She smiled and reached across the table to pat my hand in a friendly manner. We talked our way through our coffee and I requested use of her phone when my cup was empty. I called Murphy, got the news that three more people had fallen ill and arranged to meet her at the hospital. Scott was still sleeping soundly when Sheryl and I checked on him. I made her go lie down instead of walking me to the door. I left, putting a simple ward over the front door as I did. You can never be too careful.