Characters: Harry, mini!Dresdens
Spoilers: References to 'What about Bob?' (I think). Set in my mini!Dresdens 'verse.
Word count: 2527
Summary: Aren't vacations supposed to be relaxing?
Author's notes: Written for the Water challenge @ dresdenflashfic. Thanks to Ama, who informed me I needed to write some fluff and then gave me the idea for what to write.
“You won a what?” I asked the telephone. The receiver was cradled on my shoulder as I tried to brush through Fay’s wet hair and listen to the conversation over her screams. “Shoes?”
“A cruise, dear,” my mother-in-law corrected. “What are you doing to that poor girl?”
“Brushing her hair,” I said. “Hold still, cutestuff, we’re almost done.”
Fay squirmed and bellowed. Mal, sitting in his highchair, looked very concerned on her behalf and held out a handful of dry Cheerios to make things better. Fay ignored him.
“Ah, I remember those days,” Katie said, with a chuckle. “Anyway, I want you and the children to come with me.”
“Where?” I said.
“On the cruise, dear,” she said. “It’s for four. A family. I entered at the supermarket. It was for some sort of charity thing...children or women with children or teenagers with children...something to do with children...Anyway, I’ve won first prize and I want you and Fay and Mal to come too.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “There’s a lot of automatic processes on a cruise ship.” I released Fay from her torture and slumped against the kitchen counter in exhaustion. “I might break something important. Why don’t you give them to Rosaline and her kids?”
“Because I want you to come,” she said, firmly. “You and those children deserve a nice, normal vacation.”
“We don’t do normal,” I said.
“Nonsense. You’re coming.”
I sensed I had no choice in the matter. I can be stubborn, but Katie Faintree had a good twenty-some years more experience in being stubborn than I did.
“When is it?” I asked with a sigh. I turned to the large calendar on the fridge that marked important dates. I sometimes look at it and wonder how I managed to end up with a calendar. When did I become a person who organizes things?
“July 7th,” she said.
I wrote the date in. “You’re going to regret this.”
It’s very disconcerting when a toddler manages to make you feel stupid. It’s especially disconcerting when the toddler is your own son and has a vocabulary only slightly greater than a very dumb parrot. Nevertheless, Mal was giving me a look that clearly informed me I was an idiot. It was eerily like the looks Bob gives me. Maybe it was good we’d left him at home (I expected customs would be a bitch with a skull in my luggage). Clearly he has too much influence over my children.
The prompt of this moment of ineptitude was brought on by the simple statement of “it’s just like being in the bath. Only bigger.”
Mal’s look said “This is a pool, doofus, and I’m not getting into it.” His mouth said ‘No!’ It does that a lot lately. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure him not wanting to get wet had anything to do with actual fear of the water, or was merely a seized opportunity to stick it to the Man. The Man being me, at the moment.
We were in the wave pool on one of the boat decks. The sheer size of the boat was incredible. It was like a floating city. There was a movie theatre, ice rink, nightclubs, discos, shops, restaurants, climbing walls, jungle gyms, an Internet Cafe, a tiger mascot that made Mal cry each time it passed by and that was only on the half of the boat I had managed to explore. Everything was paid for, too. I have never had everything paid for before. I kept waiting for men in black to drag me off to the debtors’ gaol. After about four days where nothing broke or exploded or died when I passed it and the navigation equipment appeared to be still functioning, I began to relax and since I was relaxed, the probability of my breaking something went down. It’s really just spikes of emotions that bring on my blackout skills. If I can keep calm, it’s okay.
Mal crouched down in that way toddlers can do, where their butts almost touch the ground, but they don’t fall over. He reached out and tentatively patted a wave as it rolled in, just out of range of our toes. It splashed and he suddenly realized that I wasn’t as stupid as he first thought.
“Splash!” he announced, putting both hands in the water now.
“See, just like a bath,” I said. “Only bigger. Big splash.”
I rose from my own crouch and took a few steps into the waves until they swelled over my ankles. Mal watched me for a moment and then rose too, steeled himself and toddled after me. The first wave knocked him over, but I had a hold of both his hands and lifted him up before he could fall. He laughed.
“Again, pease!” he requested.
10 minutes later he was thoroughly soaked and enjoying every minute of it. I sat by the edge of the water and he stood between my knees, using them for support while he faced the waves with defiant joy. I caught him if he toppled back and put him on his feet again. He laughed each time as though it was a surprise. One thing about toddlers, they’re easily entertained.
“Daddy, come see!” Fay called, her head bobbing up over the side of the main pool nearby.
Mal was starting to lose interest in the waves, so I picked him up and walked over to the pool to see whatever trick I was expected to be amazed by.
“I’m watching,” I said.
Fay double checked that my eyes were glued to her and took a deep breath, then went underwater, touched the bottom and came back up. It was pretty impressive considering the size of the water wings on her arms that were designed to keep her from going under at all. I clapped as best I could with Mal in one arm, but he joined in enthusiastically and made up for it.
“Alright Fay,” Katie said. “Time to get out.” She had been on Fay Watch next to the pool.
“Oooooohhhh!” Fay whined. “Gramma!”
“Don’t Gramma me, missy,” Katie said, laughing. “I have raised too many children to be swayed by such cheap tricks. Out.”
Fay paddled over to the steps and came out dragging her feet. Katie wrapped her in a large towel and rubbed her all over until she was giggling. Katie is how I’ve always thought a grandmother should be. Never having one of my own, I can’t compare, but I think she’s a fine specimen. She’s tall and slightly plump and has a pair of laughing hazel eyes with lines around them that show she’s had a lot of joy in her 60-some years – and some sorrow. Her hair isn’t so much salt and pepper as salt and a slightly darker shade of salt and usually it’s kept back in a sort of no nonsense ponytail, but it was down today so she could wear a large, floppy sunhat. She wears aprons when she cooks and fusses about how everyone is too thin. She loves with a deep, fierce, mother bear-like quality, and it extends to every member of her family – even me. She’s kind of awesome.
Mal waved goodbye to some scantily clad teenagers as we headed back to our very large rooms. The scantily clad teenagers giggled and cooed over him.
“Stop flirting,” I told him.
“No!” he said, happily.
We changed and Katie took over hair brushing duties for Fay. She was slightly better behaved for Gramma than she usually was for Daddy. We headed out to dinner at one of the many restaurants and the meal was lovely except for that damn tiger mascot coming in and scaring Mal again. I swear he was stalking us. After dinner we headed back to the rooms to put the kids to bed. Katie and I had been taking turns staying with them at night so the other could go and do fun things. It was her night again.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the perky announcement girl announced over the PA. “If you’d like to head to the starboard side of the ship (that’s your right side when facing the front), you’ll be able to see a pod of dolphins!”
It turns out we were on the starboard side of the ship. A mass stampede of people came running out of the various clubs and rooms and around the front and back decks. Somewhere in the crowd, I lost track of Mal. I’d had to put him down since he was wiggling so much I couldn’t hold onto him and he had been walking beside me, holding my hand. Since I’m so tall and he’s so short, I have to slump to one side a little to keep a hold of him and when the stampede arrived, I had stood straight to stay on my feet. Now he was gone.
You may think that a toddler cannot get very far very fast. You would be wrong. Mal is still working on the toddling aspect, but he can crawl with serious speed, especially if he’s interested in his destination. I looked around and called his name a few times, but it was no use. The crowd was gasping over the dolphins and, unless the tiger mascot walked by and set him wailing again, I didn’t see how I was going to hear him if he made any noise.
I tried to stay calm. I totally panicked. On the hierarchy of the ‘Bad Parent’ scale, I’m pretty sure ‘allowing your two-year old to fall off a cruise ship’ was pretty high up.
“I’velostMal,” I told Katie, once I’d made it to open deck and she caught up.
“I’m sorry?” she said.
“Mal’s gone,” I said. I showed her both my hands in demonstration of how not there he was. “I lost him in the crowd.”
“Oh dear,” Katie said. “Alright. Well, stay calm.”
“Too late,” I said.
“I’ll find him!” Fay declared.
Both Katie and I grabbed at her as she attempted to leave. “No!”
“You stay with me, dear,” Katie said. “He can’t have gotten too far.” I stared at her skeptically. “We’ll find him. Take a deep breath, Harry. Excuse me, miss.”
Katie beckoned over a cruise ship employee and explained the situation. The employee looked at me kindly.
“Don’t worry, sir,” she said. “This sort of thing happens all the time. We’ll find him. Why don’t you come up to the information center and we’ll make an announcement?”
“You go,” I told Katie. “I’m going to...do something else. If I find him, I’ll meet you there.”
She nodded and went off with the employee, bringing Fay with her. I took a deep breath and pushed my way through the dolphin crowd, keeping my eyes peeled as I went. No Mal. On ship this size, he could have wandered anywhere – into an elevator, hid in any small space. My adrenaline started pumping as heavily as if I was in deep battle. I sprinted to the stairs and raced down them to the deck where our room was, popping out lights in neat succession as I went.
“Attention Ladies and Gentlemen,” the perky announcement girl announced. “We seem to have misplaced a passenger. We’re looking for a two-year old boy, with brown hair and brown eyes, wearing blue shorts and a blue striped shirt. He answers to the name of ‘Mal’. If you see him, please report to your nearest cruise coordinator. Thank you!”
I sprinted down the hall of our deck, passing by one of the cruise coordinators as I did. Her walkie-talkie was also passing on information about Mal. It was sort of like a police bulletin and I half expected them to warn that he was suspected of carrying a concealed pacifier and should be approached with caution. I fumbled for the key to our room and headed inside, diving into the luggage in the corner. I whipped up a quick tracking spell from the emergency supplies I’d brought and used a hair from Mal’s brush to tune it to him, then set off again.
Tracking him was a bit tricky, as my crystal doesn’t do up and down well. Once I knew where he was horizontally, I had to figure out where he was vertically. Finally, I found the right deck, one down from where we had been, and followed my crystal into a dinner club area.
“Feast your eyes on this, ladies and gentlemen,” a man was saying on the stage. He waved his hand around and a dove he was holding disappeared. There was a gasp and a round of applause from the audience.
I picked my way through the tables, toward the back of the room. My crystal was dancing like crazy, telling me that Mal was very nearby. I tried to be as quick as I could without attracting attention to myself. As anxious as I was for Mal, the magician’s son in me wouldn’t let me interrupt the Prestige part of the trick. It’s the most important. So I stood until he brought the dove back and then hurried to the back of the room.
“Mal?” I whispered.
I heard his giggle and followed it. He was sitting on the floor, looking at the stage. The stage lights cast just enough glow for me to see the delighted look on his face. I scooped him up and hugged him hard to me.
“No!” he said, squirming.
“Malcolm Johnathan Hrothbert Murphy Dresden,” I said. “Don’t you ever, ever do that again!” He shivered at the use of his Name and kissed me on the nose. I relaxed a little. “How did you even get here?”
He pointed out to the magician onstage. “Gandpa, Daddy. Gandpa.”
For a moment, I had no idea what he was talking about. I looked out to the performer and suddenly saw what he was seeing – my father. Mal had only ever seen pictures of him and he was always in performance clothes – not to mention the poster that was hung in our living room. Whenever I talked about him, I tended to point to it. Mal knew he was important and special. He saw him come to life there.
“No,” I said. “No, that’s not Grandpa, Mal. It’s a magician.”
“Gandpa,” he said. The audience erupted in more applause and Mal grinned and clapped his hands with them. He looked delighted. I smiled a little at his reaction. “More!”
I felt kind of funny in my stomach. If my father hadn’t died, his next gig would have been on a cruise ship. We would have gone on the cruise together and he would have been up on a stage like this. He should have been. I should have been able to watch him do it. Mal and I stayed and watched the rest of the show. Mal was thrilled with it. I decided there was something fitting in that.
When we left the dinner club, large rain clouds had rolled in and were pouring buckets down on the decks. Mal held out his hands to catch the drops.
“Splash!” he said.
I carried him up to the information centre, where Katie and Fay were waiting.
“Daddy, I saw a dolphin!” Fay exclaimed when we came into sight. “And you found Mal!” Those statements were apparently in order of importance.
“All’s well?” Katie asked.
“It’s well,” I said. I smiled at Mal and then to Katie again. “Thanks for inviting us.”
She smiled too. “No problem, dear.”