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: 3437 words
Summary: An unusual epidemic has hit Chicago and Harry's in the thick of it.
Author's Notes: *sigh of relief* And we're done! Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed and commented, I appreciated it immensenly, especially at those moments when I thought I would never get this done. Thank you to everyone who read and kept up with me, even during the delays. Finally, a big thank you, again, to Ama, who can scout out a plothole from 50 paces.
I woke up around 8 A.M on Saturday. The panic and fear I had been experiencing all week had vanished, leaving a pleasant sort of exhaustion in the void. I decided to give into it, since I had been ignoring my body and I didn’t want to get sick on top of everything. So, I went back to sleep and woke up at 2 P.M when I rolled over onto my arm and it yelled at me fiercely for being an idiot.
I ate the left over Chinese food for lunch, sitting in the lab and watching Bob work. He wasn’t in a talking mood. He was very, very close to figuring out that formula and his hand was moving in a blur through the symbols, dusting them out, redrawing them, muttering about them. He didn’t even notice when I left to make my trip to the hospital.
I had to take a cab because my jeep was still in the parking garage. I estimated that when I drove it out and gave my ticket in, it would cost me roughly my first born. It’s times like that when I wish I could use an ATM. I took the ticket in with me in the hopes that maybe someone could validate it and I could hold on to one of my children.
I arrived at the second floor to find the isolation had been severely reduced. Isolation guy was gone, as was the sheeting he was so valiantly guarding. The waiting room was empty. The staff was fresh faced and rested. A tall, curly haired man was at the pneumatic delivery sucking station and it took me a moment to realize it was Forrester. I hadn’t seen his hair before; it was always hidden under his scrub cap.
“Hey,” I greeted him.
“Hello, Mr. Dresden,” he returned, without looking up from the boxes he was checking. He stuck the paperwork in a tube and we both watched it get sucked up the pipes before he turned to look at me. He had a paper mask hanging by its elastic from one ear and looked rested and happy. “How are you doing?”
“Fi-” I began. He had taken my broken arm and started to examine it critically. “Fine. Thank you, for covering the costs of the cast and everything.”
“’Least I could do. I went down to check on you before I went home yesterday but you were gone,” he said. “Interesting design.”
“Lt. Murphy’s daughter,” I explained.
“Ah yes, the one who broke Michael’s toes,” he recalled, with a smile. “No excess pain or swelling?”
“Nope,” I said.
“Do come in if it changes,” he ordered.
“Yessir,” I agreed.
“Have you seen the leftenant since she left? She discharged herself against advisement, you know,” he informed me, in the same tone of voice you might use to say ‘she murdered that puppy, you know’.
“She’s fine,” I told him. “Very bossy.” He nodded, looking reassured. “How’s things here?”
“Excellent!” He said, enthusiastically. “Everyone has been discharged except for Catalina Hernandez. She still has a bit of a fever and elevated heart rate.I want to keep her until that’s gone away.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have any new cases,” I said.
He cocked his head and gave me curious look. I swear I could hear his stethoscope hissing at me. “Well, I can’t say that doesn’t please me. I wish I knew exactly what went on though. It worries me that there are forces out there that I have no control over. Medically speaking, I mean. I can accept when a patient dies from a disease I can’t cure, but to lose a patient to a disease I can neither identify nor treat is another matter.”
“I wish I could say something reassuring,” I said. “But...sometimes, you just have to accept the fact that you can’t save everyone.”
“I was never very good at that,” he admitted, with a wry smile.
“Me neither,” I agreed. “Listen, do you mind if I look around a bit?”
“No, go ahead,” he said. “Don’t break anything.” He pointed to the parking ticket in my hand. “Do you want me to validate that?”
“Do you wash the floors in your spare time, too?” I asked, handing over the ticket. “Cook a little?”
He grinned. “On Sundays I declaim in the OR.” He eyed the pipes above us and a moment later the pneumatic delivery system spat out a plastic tube. “That never gets old. Wear a mask.”
I nodded an agreement, retrieved one and headed down the hall in search of ghosts. If all had gone well, Jake should be gone. If not, I had more work to do. Before I found him, I bumped into a toddler. Or rather, she bumped into me as she made a giggling escape out of Catalina’s room. She fell onto her backside and I knelt down to right her again.
“Hola, Rosario,” I said.
“Hola,” she replied, shyly. She had on a pink, child sized mask which was dangerously close to falling off. Her eyes darted from side to side before she held out a wrapped mint in her hand.
I took it. “Gracias.”
“De nada,” she mumbled. “Adios.”
She took off down the hall. Diego exited the room and chased after her with a quick, “Hola, Harry,” to me.
I took a look in at Catalina. She was sitting up in bed, smiling after her family and looking quite pink in the cheeks. Diego returned with Rosario, setting her down on the bed. She crawled up to snuggle with her mother, who fixed her mask.
“What happened to your arm?” Jake Bloom asked me.
I jumped in surprise. “Gah!”
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve gotten used to being ignored. What happened to your arm?”
“I had a fight with a wall,” I answered. “You’re still here.”
“I am,” he agreed. “But only for the moment. Fiona’s left already and I know where I need to go.” He gestured off towards something I couldn’t see. “I was just waiting to see if you’d come back. I guess they didn’t kill you.”
“Not so much, no.”
“I’m glad. But that’s still ridiculous. You should tell Lt. Murphy about them. Anyway, I wanted to thank you.”
“You’re very welcome,” I said. “I’m glad it worked.”
He nodded. “It looks nice there,” he said, gesturing towards the unknown again.
“I’ve heard it’s pretty awesome,” I agreed.
“So...I’m gonna go,” he continued.
“Sounds like a plan,” I said. I waited for a few moments. “Jake?”
“I...I know you’ve done, like, a lot for me,” he burst out, raking his hands through his hair. “But...can I ask you for one more favour?”
“Definitely,” I said.
“Oh, good. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful,” he said. I found that highly amusing on many levels, not the least of which was the obvious ‘ungrateful dead’ joke that I was far too mature to make. “But there’s something in my locker at work, for Jade? It’s a present and I want to make sure she gets it. Can you get it to her?”
“Sure,” I agreed.
“Thank you. My locker has my name on it. The combination is 1686,” he said.
“1686,” I repeated. “Got it.”
“Yeah. She should be at our place,” he said. “I don’t think she’d sit shiva with my family. I mean, I don’t think they’d let her.”
“I’ll find her,” I promised.
“Okay,” he said. “Thank you.” I nodded, encouragingly. “Tell her I love her.”
“I will,” I said. “And hey, thank you for all your help.”
He smiled. “No problem. Okay. Goodbye, Harry.” He turned walked in the direction he had been indicating. Then he disappeared.
“Bye, Jake,” I murmured.
I watched after him for a few moments, until Rosario’s giggling broke into my thoughts. I shrugged to myself and walked back down to the nurses’ station, where Forrester was stamping my ticket.
“Everything ship shape?” he asked, handing it back to me.
“Everything’s good,” I confirmed. “How are you, by the way?”
“I’m in fine fettle,” he dismissed it. “I spent time at home yesterday. In my home. Where I live. In my own bed.”
“Good,” I said.
“This is shaping up to be a goodbye, isn’t it?” he asked. “You look very solemn. Should I look solemn too?” He put on a serious face. “It has been a pleasure working with you, Mr. Dresden.”
I laughed. “Likewise.” We shook left handed. “Take care of yourself. Remember to sleep.”
“I shall,” he said. “You too. You’re a jouster, watch out for that.”
“Of windmills,” he clarified.
“Oh, yeah,” I agreed. “Quixotic quests, that’s me.”
“’There’s no taking trout with dry breeches,’” he quoted. “Cervantes. One of my favourite books.” He accepted a clipboard from one of the nurses and started to skim through it.
“I’ll let you get back to work,” I said.
“Good day, Mr. Dresden,” he said, absently.
I returned to the parking garage, got into the jeep, started it up, reached for the stick shift and knocked my cast against the top of it. I stared down at my arm, only then realizing that it could pose a problem in my driving abilities. I turned the car off again and went through a list of possibilities. I dismissed attempting to drive anyway as stupid. If I didn’t kill myself, Murphy would kill me. I could call another cab, but my jeep would still be there, collecting hourly parking fees. Finally, I went back to the lobby of the hospital and called Mike, the wonder mechanic. He agreed to come and lend me his car for the day, until I could get a rental, and drive my jeep back to the garage. I decided to get the claw mark fixed while it was there.
In Mike’s (automatic) car, I drove down to the 27th district where I encountered my second problem of the day. No one bothered me when I came in, except for a few people who offered me a hello. I steered well clear of Kirmani, who I could see was attempting to be both Kirmani and Murphy and finding it an understandably difficult task. He had his cell phone to one ear, Murphy’s landline to the other and was snapping his fingers at someone to bring him a file. I didn’t want to throw myself into the middle of that and have him shoot me on sight.
I snuck into the locker room very stealthily, which turned out to be a waste of steathiness, since no one was paying any attention to me. You’d think a police station would have better security. Any wizard off the street could come in and steal staplers or something. There was no one in the locker room, so I was free to find ‘Bloom J.’s’ locker and magic the lock open without anyone questioning me. Unfortunately, the locker was empty. On the list of things that I had failed to consider, ‘Jake has been dead for nearly a week, even if you have been talking to him’ was next after ‘you can’t drive a manual transmission with a broken arm, you dolt’. His effects had been removed. I banged my head against the locker door and headed out to talk to Kirmani.
“Got a minute?” I asked, brightly.
He glared up at me from Murphy’s desk, holding the landline receiver to his shoulder. “Fuck off, Dresden,” he stated. Into the cell phone he added, “Not you, Al, this idiot who’s in front of me here. Yeah, I can hold. I got all day.” He shouldered the cell phone too. “10 seconds.”
“Do you know where the contents of Jake Bloom’s locker went?” I asked.
“I need to look at something.”
He sighed. “I don’t got time to deal with you. We put it all in lock-up ‘til his family comes to get it.” He waved down a harried looking blonde woman. “Karen. Take Dresden to look at Jake’s stuff, please?” He lifted the cell phone again. “Yeah, I’m here. No, Johnston, Al, there’s a ‘T’, I don’t care about anyone named Johnson.” He held the cell phone away from his mouth again. “I find out anything went missing, Dresden, I will come and – J-O-H-N-S-T-O-N!”
“I got it,” I said, holding my hands up in peace. “You don’t have to spell at me.”
Karen let me into the evidence locker and handed me a box of stuff. I shuffled though a pile of crumpled clothing, a neatly kept spare uniform, a handful of pictures and found the present inside of one of the shiny shoes near the bottom. I got it into my coat pocket without notice and shuffled through the box a bit more to make it look like I was doing something important.
“What happened to your arm?” Karen asked.
“Knitting accident,” I said. I settled everything back into the box. “Okay, I’m done, thank you. I think I’ll just slip out the back.”
“Good idea,” she agreed.
Jake and Jade’s apartment was on the 8th floor of their building. I risked the elevators, since the thought of going up eight flights of stairs was extremely unappealing. Aside from having to curse at the 8th floor button, which did not register until the forth time I punched it, the ride went smooth and I went down the hall to 805 and knocked on the door.
Jade looked about the same as she had at the morgue, only a little more tired and a lot redder around her eyes. She gave me a weak smile and cocked her head expectantly, her ponytail brushing over her shoulder.
“Hi,” I began, awkwardly. “My name is Harry Dresden. I knew Jake...”
She nodded. “I saw you at the hospital, with Lt. Murphy.”
“That’s right. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“I...he...” I stumbled over the words, wishing I had thought them out before knocking. ‘Your dead boyfriend’s ghost asked me to give you this present’ didn’t seem to be the right approach. “This was in his locker, at work.” I handed her the box. “It’s for you. I thought you should have it.”
She turned the present over in her hands a few times, looking unsure, before she steeled herself up and slipped a finger under the wrapping paper to rip it off. I took the paper so she could open the box. Inside was an elegant looking gold fountain pen and there was a handful of business cards underneath it, which read ‘Jade Nguyen, Attorney-at-Law’ on them.
“I’m supposed to sit my bar exam on Monday,” she explained, smiling at them a little. “I got appendicitis the day before I was supposed to take it the first time. It’s just not working out for me really well.” She sort of half laughed, and blinked back a few tears.
“I think he’d want you to sit it anyway,” I offered. “He was very proud of you, obviously.”
She nodded and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling for a moment to calm herself. “He’s been helping me study for weeks.” She brought her eyes back down to look at me. “I’m sorry; I totally missed your name when you said it.”
“Harry Dresden,” she repeated, to herself. “I’d invite you in for tea or something, but I honestly don’t know if I have any. Everyone brings you food, but no one ever brings tea. Do you want a sandwich or a cookie or something? I have lots of those.”
“That’s okay, thanks,” I said.
“If you’re sure?” I nodded. “Alright. Thank you, Mr. Dresden, for bringing this,” she said, holding up the box. “Did you know Jake well?”
“Not as well as I wish I had,” I said. “But I know that he loved you very much.”
She smiled again. “Thank you.”
“Good luck on your exam.”
“Thanks.” She blew out a long breath. “I’ll need it.”
“You could give me one of those cards,” I suggested. “I’ll need a lawyer someday, I’m sure. It’s inevitable.”
She laughed out loud at that and selected one to give to me. When I took it, she stood on her tip-toes and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for making me smile. Everyone’s afraid of me right now. It’s nice to smile.”
“Happy to oblige,” I said, blushing. “Take care of yourself.”
“I will,” she said.
I left her smiling at the box and headed back to the elevator. I looked upwards. “How’d I do?” I asked the ceiling. The elevator dinged cheerfully in response. I stepped in, got the button going on the first try and rode smoothly to the main floor.
When I got back home, Murphy was on my doorstep. She smacked me in the shoulder when she saw me. “You didn’t call me and you didn’t answer your phone!”
“I was out!” I defended myself. “Chill out, Murph. You’re just grumpy because they won’t let you go to work.”
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“Because if they were letting you, you wouldn’t be here attacking me,” I replied.
“They won’t let me back until Monday,” she said, pouting.
“Wow, you’d think you’d been in the hospital or something.”
She smacked me again. “Shut up, Dresden. Hey, where’s your jeep?”
“C’mon, it’s been at least a month since it was last there,” I objected, as I let us into the apartment and scouted for Bob in case I had to shoo him off. “Where’s Anna?”
“Friend’s house,” she answered. “Birthday party sleepover thing.”
“Wanna stay for supper?”
“Yes,” she said. “But I’m cooking. I don’t want spaghetti again.”
“I could make...” I started, trying to think. “Hey, how about you make dinner?”
She shook her head. “You think you’re cute, but you’re not.”
“Not even a little bit?” I asked.
“Maybe a little,” she admitted.
I grinned and received another smack in response to it. She headed off to the kitchen and I went into the lab to drop off the ‘emergency ghost kit’ I had brought in case Jake was still stuck. Bob was standing in front of his equation, looking very satisfied with himself. I had to move carefully because there were numbers and symbols everywhere, most of them crossed-out and discarded. I did a lot of ducking.
“Is the young man crossed over?” he asked.
“Done and done,” I said. “Find out how to turn coal into gold yet?”
“I have solved Rossum’s Theorum,” he announced.
“What does that do?” I asked, standing next to him in hopes that point of view would yield better understanding.
“Nothing, Harry, it’s merely an equation,” he explained.
“What’s the answer?”
“Well, that’s not very useful,” I said.
“It is not intended to be useful. It is intended to challenge and expand the mind,” he intoned.
“Seems stupid to me,” I stated.
“Yes, Harry, and that is why your career as a wizard will consist of nothing more than a long list of items which you have blown-up.”
“I’m okay with that,” I decided. He sighed heavily. “Murphy’s here.”
“Yes, I know,” he said.
“Aside from the fact that she has spent the last ten minutes pacing outside your door, you are wearing the smile you always wear when she is around,” he explained.
“I have a Murphy smile?” I asked.
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“What does it look like?”
He shifted into my doppelganger and smiled, demonstrating. “Like this.”
I examined it for a moment. “Nah,” I said, dismissing it.
He rolled his eyes and shifted back to his usual appearance. “Allow me to add ‘failing to notice the obvious’ to your list of career achievements.”
“What’s the obvious?” I asked.
He sighed again. “Never mind. Did the young man say anything? Of what it was like, on the other side?”
“No,” I said. “I mean, he said it looked nice. Then he just sort of walked away and...” I made a poof motion. “Disappeared.”
“I see,” he said, looking disappointed.
“Sorry,” I offered.
He shrugged and went back to eyeing his equation. I waited for a few moments to see if he was going to say anything else, but he just looked contemplative and I left him to contemplate. Murphy was tossing things into a pot on the stove. I took over stirring for her and she continued to chop things up with violent knife-karate chop action. The carrots were quaking in anticipation. I pushed up my sleeves and started to transfer the carnage to the pot. She stopped and took my arm, looking down at my hand with a frown.
“Murph?” I asked.
“Shields,” she muttered. She looked up at me. “It’s a shield bracelet.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“I thought they were coins,” she said.
“They’re shields,” I said.
She nodded, looking a bit zoned out for a moment. “You’re not a total loser.”
“Thanks,” I said.
She went back to chopping and I blew out a relieved breath. She didn’t mention anything else from her dream, though I did catch her giving me funny looks a few times. We ate and were not interrupted by any phone calls telling us of strange epidemics.
On Monday morning, I went down to the bank to get the money I owed Susan, the money I owed Mike and the money I would need to rent a car for the next few weeks. When I left, I had exactly $8.75 in my account. The bank lady looked sad for me, but I just smiled. Life was back to normal.