“I’m sorry,” Garrett said dully.
“You’re driving me crazy apologizing,” she said, only kidding a little. She tried her best not to be irritable, but after the sixth or seventh apology, it was hard to be a saint about things. Her hand rose to her forehead again. Yup. Another fever. Wonderful.
“I’m sorry for that too.” This time, there was a faint hint of a smile on his lips, but his eyes were still flashing their “vacancy” sign at her. He sniffed, and for a moment, she thought he would cry again. That was almost preferable to the apologies. Instead, he grimaced. “Never going to get the smell of gasoline out of the seat.”
Her sigh was a small thing, one she hoped he didn’t notice. Or maybe she wanted him to – just a little bit. “We’re almost to Prince George. My mom will know how. We’ll give her a call and figure it out.”
A car pulled around them. From its rear seat, a huge mutt of a dog, its brown jowls hanging low and loose, barked noiselessly at them as it passed, then turned in its seat to keep an eye on them in case they tried any funny business with its masters.
Brianna’s dark mood broke a little “I miss Brown Dog.”
Garrett smiled. “Just thinking the same thing.” Not for the first time, a memory of their furry pet bounding across white sands tickled the back of his mind. A curious memory, because Brown Dog had never been to the beach with them. Elom adlo, a voice whispered, and vanished into the ether.
“Is Murphy still checking the pounds for another dog like him? One that can see ghosts?”
“Yeah, sometimes. He’s not as obsessed about it as he was back in the early part of the year.” That was an understatement. After Garrett’s disappearance into Hamber and Brown Dog’s death, Murphy had been adamant about finding another dog that could hear him, in case they needed to work out a line of rough communication with Brianna again. “There are some he thinks can hear him, but they don’t respond the same way Brown Dog did. He’s got a theory that it was because…” He trailed off, thinking about their poor animal’s last week or two. They hadn’t wanted to put him down, and he’d been suffering.
Brianna reached over and squeezed his knee. “It’s okay. You can say it. Today’s kind of the pits already.”
“Yeah, it is.” Garrett rubbed his nose. “He thinks it’s because Brown Dog was so close to death.”
“What do you think?”
“Honestly? I think that dog was magic. The way you saw his name in the Howell Building, then him showing up to help warn you about Galbraith-”
Brianna nodded, following the logic. “-and then being at the shelter where we were putting the shifter-”
“And then everything with you and Hamber… yeah. Magic.”
“Grab me a bottle of water?” As he complied, digging around in the cooler, she stretched her fingers and continued. “I think we’ve definitely seen weirder things than a… magic dog. That really needs a better word.”
“I got nothing.” He twisted the lid off for her and handed the bottle over.
“Thanks.” She took a long drink, nearly finishing off half the bottle. The fever could go away any fucking time it wanted to, please and thank you. “Yeah, me neither. But I wonder… now you’re going to laugh at me.”
“Please, really, don’t.” Her voice had an edge to it. Two of their bigger fights had started because he’d laughed at things she had to say when she was being serious. “We know something, probably from hell, is connected to the Blight. Virgil thinks he saw him in the Veil in Hamber, remember?”
Garrett did. In one of the visions Virgil had while trapped in the bubble surrounding Hamber, he’d seen a giant red figure out in a courtyard, ostensibly asleep, but his eyes had been the same burning orange they saw whenever something had been corrupted by the Blight.
“Well,” Brianna continued, “we also know at least one time when the other team was helping you out. And I think… maybe there were two times.”
Garrett frowned. “Other team?”
Brianna pointed up at the ceiling. “Heaven. When you were lost to the Blight down in that cavern, you would’ve…” She shivered, unable to say the words. “If they hadn’t helped clear your mind, I think… I don’t know.”
“Agreed.” She shot him a glance, and he raised his hands. “No joke. I definitely agree. Murphy thinks so too. We’ve never, not once, seen anything like that before. I don’t think we can expect angels to fall out of heaven and help us smite the bad guys, but I think someone was up there watching us and maybe got the okay to push things just a little bit. But what’s the second time you think they interfered in things? I don’t remember us coming across anything quite like that.”
Brianna blushed, sure he’d make fun of this. “You.”
“You’ve never figured out why you just suddenly started to see Murphy, right?”
“Well… what if it was someone up there throwing a switch when they saw the two of you in the same place at the same time?”
“How would they know that we would be a good fit?” Garrett asked, genuinely befuddled. That same voice – elom adlo, it whispered again – said something else in the dark recesses of his mind. In this place, time is circular. A sharp flare of pain numbed out the thought and then it was gone, the wisp of the memory erased.
She shrugged. “We’re talking about heaven. Who knows what the heck they know or don’t?”
“So you think me and Murphy, you and me, all of this last year and a half, it’s just been fate or something?”
“No, I don’t really believe in destiny. I think… hm. I think maybe heaven, or God, or whatever’s pulling these strings is just kind of… setting up the meetings and letting us come to them if we want to. Does that make sense? Like…” She saw a road sign for Prince George, now just a short ten kilometers away. “Like road signs! We pick whether we want to stop or not, but someone’s out there putting them up and making sure we see them.”
He pondered that for a while. “I like that.”
“And that’s my deep and crazy thought for the day.” Her headache was still there, but faded now. Not in a healthy way either, but fuzzy and washed out. Her stomach was flip-flopping too. “Regardless of if Murphy finds another dog like Brown Dog, I was kinda thinking, um, maybe once we got into the routine of things again, with you whacking on bad guys and me sexying it up at the gym, maybe we could get another dog. I’m always gonna be there for you when you come home, you know, but having a little fuzzy buddy around when you’re out with Murphy, it’d really be kind of nice.”
“I mean, if you don’t want to, say it now, but we did better than I thought with Brown Dog and maybe if we got a puppy or a young dog it would be easier to deal with the messes if we could train it-”
“Brianna. I already agreed. You don’t have to sell me on it.”
She went to take another drink and glanced away from the road, surprised the bottle was already empty. When had that happened?
“Baby,” Garrett warned, then louder, “Brianna!”
She glanced back up, just in time to realize she was drifting into the other lane right in front of an oncoming truck. With a swift jerk of the wheel, they skimmed by with less than a foot between their mirror and the oncoming vehicle, the other driver hammering on his horn. In the backseat, the child ghost leaned forward, her hands making sawing motions like she was carving up meat.
“You’ve gotta pay attention!” Garrett roared.
“Well, yelling’s not gonna help!”
“You almost got us killed! I think a little yelling’s in order!”
“I’m sorry,” she shouted, but her mouth tasted like dried tea leaves. Her hands on the wheel were shaking, and not from fright. She said quietly, “Garrett, I don’t feel so great.”
“Having a heart attack? Cause I sure am.”
“No, I mean it. I think something’s wrong.”
That stopped him. His eyes locked on her and noticed for the first time how intense her flush had become. Sweat had gathered and dried around her neckline, and she looked about ready to throw up. “Hit your emergency blinkers.”
“Yeah,” she said, almost childlike. She fumbled at the button and slowed for the next turnoff. They came to a jerking stop and she almost forgot to put the SUV in park. Garrett leaned over and felt her forehead. Burning up, and hard. His own head was aching, but he’d been drinking more water than she had and he didn’t feel nearly as feverish. He dug in the back and gave her another bottle of water. It didn’t go down well – or at all. She opened the door, undid her seatbelt, and spat back up a thin drizzle of brownish fluid.
Garrett came around the side of the SUV as she tumbled towards the ground, landing in her own vomit. A couple of tears were rolling down her face. “I think throwing up,” she complained, the words nonsensical, and he was helping her to her feet, trying not to panic. What was he supposed to do? He didn’t know, but he flashed back on a memory of a two-a-day practice schedule playing football that left him dehydrated and in the hospital when he was fourteen. The best thing in the world then had been the ice chips the pretty nurse had rubbed over his forehead and lips.
He helped Brianna to the passenger seat and dug out an ice cube from the cooler. When he pressed it to her forehead, she started to giggle and pushed him away weakly. “Tickles,” she said.
“I know,” he said, the panic rising in his voice. “Just please, for me, let me do this, okay?”
“Mm. Because you said it so nicely,” she whispered, and tried to kiss him. Instead, he managed to snake his hand up in time to rub the ice across her lips.
A Sentra pulled off the road behind them, and its passenger, a fishing-cap sporting older man, leaned out to holler, “You all right there, buddy?”
Garrett turned and tried not to shout, “Where’s the nearest hospital?”
The man said something to the driver, a frizzy-haired woman about the same age as him, and she nodded immediately. The man leaned back out. “Follow us.”
Garrett pushed Brianna’s hands and feet away from the door and didn’t bother buckling her in. He ran around the Durango and jumped into the driver’s seat, and when the Sentra shot ahead, he tailed it so closely that if a deer had jumped out, surely he would have rammed them.
“I’m afraid of us,” Brianna said conversationally, making vague little seesaw motions with her left hand. “Did you know that? Sometimes I think we killed all those people during the tornadoes because one of us couldn’t pull the trigger.”
Garrett gritted his teeth. “Baby, try drinking a little more water for me.”
“Back in Edmonton, I wanted to take your money. I wanted you to take care of me. I’m so fucking ashamed about it.”
“Don’t feel guilty, it’s your money too, just… don’t worry about it, okay?”
She ran her tongue out around her lips. “I want to hurt you sometimes. Well, everybody, sometimes. All the suffering, all the shit we’ve been through, and it just makes me want to punch something good in my life. Like when I bit you in Edmonton. I knew what I was doing. I wanted to hurt you. I wanted to taste your blood. And when you get all withdrawn after something bad happens, like I’m not suffering too, and you get all fucking needy, oh God, I hate that.”
“Stop, Brianna.” Where was Prince George? Where the fuck was this town?
“I look at guys in the gym sometime. Perks of the job, I guess. I’ve had a couple of real fuckin’ sexy dreams about Doug Cornell.”
“Stop,” he whispered.
“It’s why I was so freaked out way back in Lethbridge. It’s not you I’m worried about cheating on me. It’s me cheating on you.”
“Maybe not now, but five, ten years down the line?” She leaned her chin down against her collarbone. “What am I saying? I’m so hot, Garrett.”
“I know, we’re almost to the hospital, it’s gonna be okay.”
“Please, Brianna, just-”
“-sometimes, I’m so jealous of her, I want to claw her eyes out. She loves you, you know that? Sometimes I wonder if it’s more than a sisterly thing.”
“Please, God, stop!” he shouted, wishing he could plug his ears.
“I mean, she doesn’t talk to you for fifteen years? Girl’s got issues and hang-ups like you wouldn’t belieeeeeve.”
They broke out of the forest land and into a small, largely flat city. Finally, the outskirts of Prince George. As they pulled to a stop at a red light, Brianna gripped his arm. “Would you fuck her, Garrett?”
“This isn’t you, baby, it’s the fever talking-”
“Oh, it’s me,” she said, small, wincing, backing away. “I hate you sometimes when you white knight everything. You try so fucking hard all the time and it’s exhausting. I just want you to be you so I don’t have to try to match up to your standards about being so fucking perfect. I want you to be selfish and a fucking prick so I don’t have to feel so shitty about myself sometimes. And you…” By the end of that one, she was mumbling.
He grabbed her hand, keeping his eyes focused on the road, unable to look over. His heart was a whirlwind. What was going on? Why was this happening?
Brianna croaked, “I hate that I’ll never be your best friend.”
That one hurt, maybe more than all the others. “What?”
“You and Murphy. I’ll never have what you two have. It’s always been you two, and it’ll always be you two.”
“Of course you’re my best friend, You and Murphy both are.”
They flashed by a sign – University Hospital was all he caught – and then they were turning again, the Sentra shooting towards the emergency entrance. Garrett jerked up onto the sidewalk, not caring about the looks he was getting, and shot out of the Durango to grab Brianna out of the passenger’s seat. She swatted at him when he opened the door, but in her eyes, he saw a fierce terror, and she was shaking her head. “I don’t know what I’m saying,” she whispered, and then she was falling towards him. With a scream for help he didn’t realize he was making, he caught her, lifted her in his arms, and carried her until a someone, a group of someones, was taking her from him.