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: 3414 words
Summary: An unusual epidemic has hit Chicago and Harry's in the thick of it.
Author's Notes: Apologies for the delay, again. Migraines and the flu kept my muses away. I couldn't get everything wrapped up in one chapter, so there will be another one to tie up the rest of the loose ends.
In my dream, I was swinging in a hammock at the beach, sipping at a cocktail and enjoying the tropical breeze on my face. The palm trees rustled in the wind and the waves crashed on the shore. The sun was shining brightly, but I was nice and cool in the shade of the palm trees. A pretty, exotic looking bird flew down and landed on my arm. Its talons dug into me and I winced, trying to shoo it off. The bird dug in harder.
I awoke with a start and bumped my forehead off of Murphy’s. She straightened up from where she had been leaning over me and rubbed her head.
“Smuf?” I asked, intelligently.
“Ow!” she replied. “Geez, Dresden.”
“Smuf?” I insisted.
“You keep trying to lie on that arm,” she said.
I looked down to find my right arm encased in a heavy cast. My fingers were swollen and purple looking. I looked back up to Murphy. “Y’okay?”
“Am I okay?” she repeated. “Harry, I came in here and found you unconcious on your couch with your arm in a cast. You want to know if I’m okay?”
“Y’shospital,” I pointed out, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
“I checked out this morning,” she said. “I’m fine. They wouldn’t let me come back to work, though, so I came here to see how you were doing and there was this young guy here who asked me to look after you and left. He left a note.”
She pointed to a bottle of prescription painkillers on the coffee table. A neon green Post-It note was attached to it with barely decipherable scribble on it.
Left you with the cute cop chica. Hope you aren’t dead.
Marauding Christmas Trees
“How long’ve you been here?” I asked, as I tried to make sense of the note.
“Since about 9 a.m. I had to go pick Anna up from school at one point but I brought her back here. The guy said you needed to sleep, so I didn’t wake you. What happened?”
“Wall,” I muttered. “Ouch.” I rubbed at my face, which had lines from the fabric of the couch embedded in it. “What time is it?”
“5:30,” she answered.
I looked around. “What day is it?”
“Friday, Harry.” Murphy bent over and peered into my eyes. “Are you okay? Did you hit your head, too?”
“Maybe,” I said. “I was unconscious before I hit the ground, so I don’t really remember.”
“Great, Harry, that’s very reassuring,” Murphy said, with a roll of her eyes. She pushed some hair off my forehead. “You don’t look good.”
“There’s a dragon on my arm,” I said, looking at my cast.
“Anna decorated it,” she explained.
A very adorable green dragon was breathing fire from my elbow up to my knuckles. It was adorable in the way that it was clearly meant not to be adorable. It was adorably ferocious. “Heh, reminds me of you, Murph.”
She swatted at me. “Very funny.” She sat down on the coffee table, facing me. “You gonna tell me what really happened?”
“Nope,” I said.
She glared at me. “Not even a little bit?”
“There was a wall, I hit it,” I summed up. “There was an energy potion, I drank it. There was a fall after the energy potion, I took it. End of story.” I carefully pushed myself up to a sitting position. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” she replied, promptly. “It wasn’t that big a deal. Everyone’s fussing.” She looked at her hands briefly. “Anna seems to think that...that you had something to do with me getting better. She has this idea that you did some sort of ‘magic’ on me.”
“What do you remember?” I asked, deciding it was far too early in the day...er...evening to be having this conversation.
“Nothing,” she said. “Just bits here and there. I was dreaming a lot, I think. Bad dreams and you...it seemed like you were there to help me in them.”
I studied her and tried to decide whether she was in a believing mood today or not. From the defiant set of her jaw and the way she was carefully avoiding looking me in the eyes, I guessed her ‘open to the unknown’ level was a little low.
“Well, I guess you must have dreamt me up, Murph,” I said, finally. I gave her a smile. “You dream about me a lot?”
She rolled her eyes. “Just about ways to kill you, Dresden.”
I grinned and she grinned back. She touched my hand briefly before she stood up again and the moment was over. She retrieved a stack of yellow Post-It-Notes from the table behind her. They were scribbled on in her small, no-nonsense writing.
“Phone’s been ringing off the hook,” she announced. She leafed through the papers as she rattled off the messages. “Someone named ‘Ramirez’ called. I think he was the young guy who left you with me. He said to tell you ‘Amber’ will make a full recovery. She hit a wall too?”
“A big one,” I confirmed.
“Susan Rodriguez called to tell you she got the story in by her deadline and she wants you to call her back,” Murphy continued.
“The story...” I muttered. “Did I...? Was she here?”
“She called, Harry,” Murphy pronounced, slowly. She held up her hand by her ear in a telephone shape. “On the phone.”
“No, I just –” I tried. “Oh, never mind. Who else called?”
“Sheryl Sharp,” she continued, moving onto the next note. “Said not to worry, give her a call if you have a minute. Do I know her?”
“Her son was kidnapped by his teacher. You worked it with me,” I said. Murphy looked blank. “Gas explosion?”
“Oh! Right.” Murphy nodded. “I didn’t know you kept in touch with them.” I shrugged. She flipped onto the next note. “‘McCoy’ wants you to ‘give him a ring at the farm, hoss’.” She did a very good impression of McCoy’s Scottish by way of Missouri drawl. “And, Sid called. He says -” she slapped me in the back of the head.
“Ow!” I complained. “What was that for?”
“He said to tell you that the next time you make him arrest an innocent man, you can do the paperwork,” she informed me.
“Oh,” I said. “Yeah.” I rubbed at my face some more and tried to blink away the fuzz in my head. “Thanks, Murph. For staying. I’m okay, though. I’m sure you’ve got something better to do than hang around here.”
“Anna’s ordering Chinese food,” Murphy said.
“Like I was saying, stay as long as you want,” I corrected. She grinned.
Before I embarked on the epic journey that was returning calls, I had a few things to attend to. Like personal hygiene, and eating dinner. I managed to snag a conversation with Bob in between those two activities. He had been trapped in the lab since Murphy showed up, but was able to fill me in on how exactly I’d gotten from the shop basement to my apartment.
“McCoy and Ramirez brought you in at around two am this morning,” he explained. “You were conscious, but you weren’t very lucid.”
“I didn’t sing, did I?” I asked, with a wince.
“No, not this time,” he assured me. “McCoy said you fainted after your trial- “
“Passed-out,” I corrected. “I passed-out in a manly fashion.”
“If you insist,” he said. “In any case, he and Ramirez took you to the hospital and you had your arm set and the cast put on.”
“I…sort of remember that...” I said. “I think...”
“He said you were asleep for most of it and every time they woke you up, you fell back asleep within a few minutes. The hospital wanted to keep you overnight, but McCoy thought you would be more comfortable here.”
“In other words: I was babbling and they didn’t want me revealing anything?” I guessed.
“Yes,” he agreed. “I believe there was also an issue with something called an ‘ECG’.”
“Ah.” I nodded. “My old nemesis.”
“You arrived here this morning, as I said,” he continued. “I have to admit, I was starting to think the worst.”
“You were worried?” I goaded.
“Concerned,” he corrected. “For your well-being.”
“I like you too, Bob.”
“Yes, well, McCoy left,” he carried on, ignoring me. “Around 7:30 this morning, after speaking with your reporter lass, who was camping outside your door. She was quite furious you hadn’t called her back. Ramirez stayed until Lt. Murphy arrived. He ate the rest of your cookies and peppered me with useless questions. It was rather like having a younger, louder version of you in here.”
“I do not ask useless questions,” I objected. “My questions are always very thoughtful and full of purpose and deep reflection. And he’s not that much younger than me.” Bob raised an eyebrow. “Shut up.”
“Anyway, you seem to be recovered,” he said. “McCoy said you had a close call at the trial. I am pleased that you returned relatively unharmed.”
“Thanks, Bob,” I said.
“I quite like this lab,” he said, looking around. “I would have been very put out to have to move.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He smiled his cat’s grin at me. Murphy called out that the food was here and I left to attend to my growling stomach.
“It’s a dragon,” Anna explained to me, over dinner. “It’s not done though. You moved before I could finish his mouth and I couldn’t reach your arm anymore.”
“Sorry,” I said. “But I like it anyway.”
“See, Mom,” she declared, turning to Murphy triumphantly. “I told you he wouldn’t mind.”
“I don’t mind,” I agreed.
“You would have minded if it was pink bunnies,” Murphy pointed out.
“I wouldn’t put pink bunnies on him!” Anna said. “He’s a boy.”
“You did notice that, didn’t you?” I asked Murphy.
“Are you kidding?” she said, with a smirk. “From the way you drive me insane, you must be male.”
Anna giggled. She was attempting to wrangle the chicken su-gui with her chopsticks, tongue peeking out of her mouth in concentration. Murphy and I watched, like she was attempting some complicated trick on the flying trapeze. She dropped the food and Murphy and I both made clicking noises of sympathy.
“How do you make your thingies do that?” Anna demanded, pointing to noodles that were halfway to my mouth.
“Practice,” I said. “And three months in Japan.”
“They use chopsticks in Japan too?” she asked.
“Yep. But they’re pointier,” I explained. “You couldn’t kill anyone with these.” I snapped the blunt half-sticks at her and she giggled again.
“Harry!” Murphy exclaimed.
“Not that you should ever kill anyone with a chopstick,” I quickly added. “Or kill anyone at all, ever. With anything.”
“Have you ever killed anyone with a chopstick?” Anna asked, curiously.
“Uhhh...” I said. “No. No. Of course not. Not anyone.”
“Can we move off this topic?” Murphy requested. She flicked her sticks at Anna. “Use your fork.”
“That’s cheating,” Anna said, shocked.
“Here,” I said. “Hold the bottom one steady and move the top one to meet it.”
The phone rang. I cut off the lesson to get it. It was McCoy. I could tell by the way he didn’t actually say hello.
“Hoss,” he barked. “You’re awake.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Good. I’m leaving town again, I wanted to talk to you before I left,” he explained.
“Again? How long have you been there?” I asked.
“Two hours,” he said. “I fed the horses. They’ll be fine. Chase is coming back to care for things.”
“That’s good,” I said. “Because that’s what I was worried about. The horses.”
“I can still kick your ass, you know.”
“Good. You were looking pretty bad when I left. Had to take care of business with those kids or I woulda stayed longer.”
“No problem, sir,” I said. “What happened with them?”
“Most got put on probation,” McCoy answered, sounding tired. “First offense, reacting to circumstances and all that. Have to round up the runners as part of their punishment.” I had a sudden mental image of Cologne Ad on horseback, galloping after the runaways with a lasso over his head as the rest of the kids herded them like sheepdogs. McCoy always makes me think in cowboy metaphors. “Freckles showed some talent with theoretical magic. Gonna put her in the warden program, see how she does.”
“Oh, Seana,” I said. He grunted an affirmative. “Bet Morgan was thrilled about that.” He grunted another affirmative. “You said ‘most’.”
“Petulant took a little longer to decide on,” he said. I assumed Petulant was Tattoo. “Tried to give him a chance to defend himself. Made a mess of it. Yammering on about his rights as a wizard. Total bunk.”
“So?” I prompted.
“Gave him to Mai,” McCoy answered. “Her jurisdiction and we couldn’t settle anything by vote. No Ramirez to speak up for him. Dunno what she decided to do.”
I could guess. I shuddered a little and changed the subject. “Bob says you talked to Susan?”
“Blonde. Asks a lot of questions. Cell phone glued to her ear.”
“That’s the one.”
“Nosy-thing. I spun her something for the press. Kids messing around with chemicals, got in the water system at the hair salon, made people sick,” he explained. “Said you asked me to tell her.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t like her as much as the brunette, hoss,” he said.
I glanced over my shoulder to where Murphy was wrestling with Anna’s chopsticks. “I’ll keep that in mind, sir. When did you meet her? I thought you’d gone by the time she showed up today.”
“Y’kept asking about her at the hospital,” he said. “Every time you were awake. Went upstairs to check on her to shut you up. She was barking at the docs, trying to get home.”
I smiled, able to picture it perfectly. “Uh, about the hospital, sir. You wouldn’t know how much it cost to get my arm fixed, would you?”
“Doc upstairs said he’d cover it, seemed to know you,” he answered. “Limey fella.”
“Forrester,” I said, feeling a swell of fraternal affection for the doctor.
“I’ll let you go,” I said.
“Take care of yourself, hoss.”
“I will, sir. Thank you for your help.”
“Won’t always be there.”
“Who was that?” Anna asked me, when I rejoined the table.
“A grumpy old man,” I answered. “How is that chopsticks lesson coming along?”
“I’ve decided to use a fork.”
After supper Anna had to finish her dragon, and then we played cards for awhile. Murphy didn’t seem to believe me when I said I was alright, but after I beat her at a few round of ‘Cheat’ she was satisfied I wasn’t going to die if she left me alone. Anna gave me a hug at the door, which surprised both me and Murphy.
“What did you do?” Murphy asked, after Anna had skipped out.
“I drugged her food with a ‘Like Harry’ potion,” I said. I gave her a hug too, since there was hugging going around. She returned it. “I’m glad you’re okay, Murph.”
“Me too,” she said. “Only you.” She stepped back and looked me in the eyes. “I don’t know if you’re lying to me. About what really happened. Anna seems to think I should thank you, though. So, if I should, thank you.”
“You don’t need to,” I insisted. “But if I did do something, theoretically and all, you’re welcome.”
She smiled. “Call me tomorrow. If you don’t, I’m coming here to check on you.”
“I could think of worse threats,” I said.
She rolled her eyes and smiled again. “G’night, Dresden.”
I settled in at my desk to return phone calls. I started with the Sharps, since I figured it would be too late to call them soon. Scott answered and chattered with me for a bit, before handing it off to Sheryl.
“I just wanted to let you know that Scott’s doing better,” she said. “But I suppose you’ve figured that out by now.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Did you know he hit a homerun in gym class today? Apparently it was super-awesome.”
She laughed. “I heard. I wanted to see if you were alright, too. You didn’t look good when you were here.”
“Geez, everyone keeps telling me that. It’s starting to hurt my feelings.”
“You looked worried.”
“I’m not worried anymore. I fixed that problem I was telling you about. No nightmares last night?” I asked.
“None. Quite a relief.”
“I can imagine.”
“Scott wanted me to ask you for dinner again soon,” she said. “I think it’s our turn to cook?”
“You don’t have to do that,” I said.
“No, I don’t. You didn’t have to come and help us, either, but you did. I think I can manage dinner in return for you saving the world,” she replied.
“What makes you think I saved the world?” I asked, surprised.
“You got Scott back for me. Saved my world. That’s what you do,” she answered, simply. “Maybe not the whole world, but the important parts. Someone’s world.” My stomach felt very warm and tingly at that. I didn’t know what to say. “Come for dinner on Monday.”
I called Susan next and got an earful about sending people on wild goose chases and did I think she was some floozy I could call whenever I needed info and then ignore afterwards and -
“You should call people back!” She finished. “Because people worry!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, after waiting for a moment to make sure she was done. “It was very inappropriate of me not to call you back.”
“Yes it was,” she agreed.
“And I’m a horrible human being.”
“Yes, you are. But, one who I do have to thank.”
“Yes. I got a job offer in New York. They’ve been following some of my stories here. Like my ‘insider’s point of view’,” she explained, obvious pride in her voice.
“That’s awesome,” I said. “Are you going to take it?”
“I...I sort of already did,” she admitted. “They want me there in two weeks.”
“That’s soon,” I said.
“I know, but I couldn’t refuse. I get my own byline and everything.”
“You deserve it, Suz. Let me take you out for dinner or something before you go, okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed. “I’ll let you take it off the money you owe me.”
“Big reporter like you?” I scoffed. “You don’t need my money.”
“Nice try, Dresden.”
“So, that old guy I met this morning?” She asked. “How much of what he told me was a lie?”
“Most of it,” I said. “I’ll tell you the truth over dinner. Off the record.”
“No promises.” Her cell phone rang in the background. “Gotta run. I’ll talk to you soon.”
The phone was cradled haphazardly and I held my end away from my ear. I stared thoughtfully at it for a moment, trying to decide whether to be happy or sad. I settled on happy. There was too much sad going around. I hung up the phone and then picked it up again to dial the number on Ramirez’s note. The conversation went like this:
Official Sounding Woman: “Hello.”
Me: “Hello, I’m look-”
OSW: “Purple albatross?”
Me: “I’m sorry?”
OSW: “Purple. Alabtross.”
Me: “Uh...marauding Christmas trees?”
OSW: *shuffles some papers around* “Pineapple?”
OSW: “I see. To whom may I connect you?”
Me: “Carlos Ramirez?”
OSW: “One moment.”
Several moments passed.
Me: “Yep. What was with the code?”
Ramirez: “They like to pretend we’re MI6. How are you?”
Me: “Fine. How’s Amber?”
Ramirez: “Good. Swelling’s gone down around her spine and she’s wiggling her toes now. Healers say she’ll be up and about in no time. How’s your cute cop chica?”
Ramirez: “You and she...?”
Ramirez: “Do you think she’d - ?”
Ramirez: “Understood, man. Just a sec..” *muffled* “Your mama!” *muttering* “'Who am I talking to?’ what is this, boarding school? Spends the whole day sitting with Amber, finally goes to sleep and has to wake up the minute I start talking to you. It’s like living with a freakin’ cylon.”
Ramirez: “Yeah. Hey, if anyone asks, you didn’t get this number from me.”
Me: “Is this message going to self-destruct?”
Ramirez: “No, but you won’t remember this conversation in the morning.”
Me: “Got it. Everything back to normal, then? Nightmares, demons, children?”
Ramirez: “Seems like it. Council’s gone to some other city. ¡Y adiós muy buenas! Back to normal, everyday monster fighting. I hate diplomacy.”
Me: “I thought you got top marks in personal skills?”
Ramirez: “They only seem to work on women. You’re sure that cop - ”
Ramirez: “’Kay. Can’t blame me for trying. I gotta run before Morgan takes away my phone time. Keep in touch, yeah?”
Me: “I don’t think your parents will approve.”
Ramirez: “Heh. Later.”
Me: “See ya.”
By this point, it was definitely time for some more sleep. I swallowed some painkillers for the ache in my arm, said goodnight to Bob, who was back to his formula calculations, and went up to my bedroom. I was surprised the bed was made, until I remembered my cleaning spree of the previous morning. It seemed a very long time ago. I crawled into bed, settled my cast to comfortable position and drifted off into a blissful, dreamless, non-scary sleep.