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The morning ten days before Halloween started with a harmless e-mail, sent by an employee at The Department who had either been voted or bullied into belonging to the Party Committee. The virtual invitation was cute and corny, with flapping bats and cackling witches, and announced the staff Halloween celebration. A party room had been rented at The Holiday Inn on The Hill and a full buffet dinner was being provided. Donations of canned and boxed goods would be accepted for the local food bank, to increase the supply in time for Thanksgiving. There was going to be a DJ and costumes were mandatory.

The invitation concluded with: "Prizes! Fun! Two complimentary tickets per person for alcohol at the cash bar! R.S.V.P. by October 25th."

Agent Jeff Powell, of the Virginia Powells, was so excited by the news that he didn't know how he managed to contain himself.

Your tax dollars at work.

It took him five seconds to delete the message, send it to the bit bucket and oblivion. It wasn't nearly as satisfying as crushing a physical memo in his hands and aiming it at a certain co-worker's head, but it would have to suffice. Work had been hectic of late and Jeff hadn’t been sleeping well: more of his damn nightmares. The last thing he felt like attending was a party where people pretended to be something they were not. He’d buy a case of Kraft dinner and give it to someone else to take. Situation reviewed and resolved.

If only it was that simple.

“Did you get the Halloween e-mail, Venice?” Agent Paul Okada retrieved a crumpled, brown paper bag from the refrigerator of the staff lunchroom, apparently determined to stick to his resolution of eating out less often. Jeff busied himself with brewing another mug of tea and pretended to have no interest in the conversation.

Agent Venice King smiled, as if she might be looking forward to the experience. “About the party? Yes. You'll be going?”

“Sure.”

“In costume, right?”

“Well, yeah, but I haven’t decided what to wear yet.” Paul pulled a flat sandwich wrapped in cellophane from the bag and frowned at it. “What about you?”

Venice placed her leftover chili in the microwave and selected the cooking time and temperature. “I thought I’d come as something traditional.”

Jeff couldn't help himself and chimed in with: “Like a witch?”

“Yes, actually, I thought it would be in keeping with the season.” She sounded a little miffed that he’d guessed correctly. It was purely by accident, but if he gave the impression that he was psychic, maybe he’d be able to have some fun.

“Oh, very appropriate,” he agreed, tossing his tea bag into the garbage and turning to lean against the counter, mug in hand. Dressed casually in his usual slacks, white dress shirt and tasteful tie, Jeff looked like he was in finance, not law enforcement. His short brown hair and youthful face gave the impression he was a college freshman. Given hover-blades, he could blend with the high school crowd. Given worn, dirty clothing, he could be mistaken for a street person. Agent Powell was a chameleon. He crossed his ankles and blew gently across the surface of his tea. “I think you’ll make a perfect witch.” He ran his eyes over her black jeans and matching long-sleeved t-shirt. She was dressed for a stake out, where comfort overrode fashion. “You're already have a costume, I see.”

Venice frowned. “Black isn't a costume. Some people wear black all the time and they're not witches. Besides, isn’t that a stereotype?”

“I guess.” The practitioners of witchcraft he’d met looked like everyone else, for the most part. Jeff smiled, prepared to melt into the background again, but neither of his co-workers was inclined. In a way, he’d have been disappointed if they’d left him alone.

“What are you going as, Jeff?”

Though maybe he wouldn't have minded so much if they’d chosen a different topic to pursue.

He shrugged. “I don’t know yet.”

“Jeff was double-oh-seven last year,” Okada informed their co-worker, and gamely took a bite out of his sandwich. His face scrunched up and he squinted at it again. “But it wasn't much of a challenge as he already had the tux, and that was only after Donna pestered him to go.”

There was a palpable hush at the mention of their dead friend and mentor. Venice looked from one to the other, but didn't know what to say, since she was the 'new girl' and had never met Mentor Donna Shelton, except through stories around the office. The face of Donna's killer flashed like a mug shot before Jeff’s eyes: Martin Hunt, also known as 'The Priest'. Lured people into secluded areas by pretending to be a Man of the Cloth. Gouged a cross into the forehead of his victims after he strangled them. Jeff had nearly died during the take-down of that psycho case, not that he’d really cared at that point if he had. Nailing Martin Hunt had been worth any risk to his life.

Mentor Donna Shelton had dressed as an angel for the previous year's spooky bash. She’d arrived late and Jeff had been at the party long enough that he’d had a few too many beers. He’d made a pass at her in a suave if misguided attempt at a British accent before realizing who she was. Apparently, she'd never seen him turn that shade of red before. She’d elbowed him in the ribs and they’d shared a laugh, turning to their comfortable banter.

An angel, Jeff reflected. Ironic, that.

“Maybe I won’t go this year,” he said, pushing away from the counter. Venice’s chili beeped readiness, drawing attention to the microwave. Jeff and his tea made their escape.


*

The reminder e-mail arrived five days later.

"We haven't received your confirmation yet. This is your last opportunity to respond to the invitation for the Halloween party. Please let me know by 17:00 hours today." It was signed: "Debbi :)".

Jeff pursed his lips at the spelling of her name and the smiley face that followed. What, her parents couldn't afford an ‘e’? The message suffered the same fate as the initial invitation.

The conversation later that day with his favourite Divinator was very direct.

“So, I hear you might not be going to the Halloween party this year.”

Jeff, still wearing his latex gloves from the latest crime scene, deposited the box of evidence onto the table and hesitated. She hadn’t phrased it as a question and he didn't have a lot of time to play tiptoe through an awkward topic. He sighed quietly to himself.

“Who told you that?” he asked, knowing she wouldn't drop the topic easily and hoping he sounded unconcerned. Like I don’t already know.

Divinator Marharita 'Rita' Porcelli swiveled her chair around to regard him carefully. Silver jewelry punctuated the dark robe she wore and various coloured scarves draped around her neck, declaring her position and level of experience at scrying. The transparent cape she wore over her clothing to protect it appeared very sterile and lifeless by comparison, almost like a ghost embracing over her. With her hair loose and her manner relaxed, she resembled some sort of mother-goddess, and with the territory came the motherly approach. “Well, there was Okada and King and --”

“You’re talking to Venice again?”

“I've forgiven her for her comments about my assistant,” she said, indicating with a side nod a small, green lizard, which currently sat on a rock beside her monitor. Agent King wasn't fond of lizards, hence the initial social strain between the two women. Davinia, the lizard in question, looked at Jeff and grunted. Rita sighed, as if she understood the creature -- which, upon reflection, she probably did -- and said to Jeff, “And don’t try to change the subject, dear.”

He smiled, genuinely uncertain which smile he was using. It was difficult to pull the wool over Rita’s eyes at the best of times, but when she wasn't feeling playful, she didn't appreciate his charm. At least, that's what he told himself. She was practical when it came to dealing with Jeff in his stubborn moods and he liked that about her. If someone asked him to identify his best friend, he’d consider Rita’s name near the top of his list. Her Divination didn’t bother him at all and his Mundane status didn’t bother her.

Enough dissension had occurred at his previous jobs -- jealousy over his talent as a detective being one of the issues -- that there wasn't anyone else he trusted who’d known him longer and would put up with him. Except maybe for Troy, but Troy might not appreciate a call at three-in-the-morning, asking him to help bury a body. Rita, on the other hand, would bring her own shovel, a concealment spell and some snacks. That was the sign of a true friend.

“If you’re calling me ‘dear’, does that mean I get to call you ‘darling’?”

Rita waved a hand dismissively. “C'mon, Jeff, even Debbi with an ‘i’ came down here to talk to me about it, and you know she isn’t comfortable around my scrying. She says you’re always at the parties and that it isn't like you to turn one down.”

He opened the box and began pulling the evidence out one piece at a time. It gave him something to do. The items would be sorted, photographed, described in a report, then filed in a box and stacked on one of the locker’s many shelves. He held up a ballpoint pen with his gloved hands, considered the chewed end, and placed it a clear, plastic bag. “I don’t like Halloween.”

“Why not?” Rita slid from her chair, snapped on a pair of latex gloves and came to stand beside him. The pen was tagged like all the other items retrieved from the home of the victim. Their belongings had been reduced to a lesson in numbers. “It’s fun. Besides, they’re doing a food drive and the money for the raffle tickets is going to a children’s charity and there’s gonna be a buffet.”

Rita was deceptively grounded for someone who dealt with probabilities. That and a buffet was difficult for her to pass up.

“What are you coming as?” he asked, setting a PDA beside the pen. How many appointments wouldn't be made now? You only get one shot at life, Jeff thought wearily. Guess this guy should've prioritized the time with his kids instead of working late. Maybe then he wouldn't be dead, either.

“I thought about coming as a serial killer, but it seems so --”

“Odd? Predictable, considering where we work?”

Rita reached for another item. “Yeah.”

“Besides, serial killers look like everyone else, Lovely Rita.”

She squinted at a framed photograph of two smiling children. “Sorry, what?”

“Never mind.” He tugged at his gloves and tossed them into the garbage as he headed for the door. “Let us know when you find something. I’ve got to get back upstairs before Troy blows a gasket.”

“This conversation isn't over, Jeff.”

She was talking to the air.


*

Three days before All Hallow’s Eve was alarmingly bright. Jeff flinched at the morning and quickly slid on his sunglasses when he emerged from his apartment. He’d had another nightmare and not slept very well. He’d gone for a run at five in the morning, before the sun had risen, but felt he was off balance somehow. The superintendent of his building had decorated the lobby with pumpkins carved in elaborate designs that his wife had probably downloaded from the Internet. There were streamers, black and orange crepe twisting in the breeze every time the door opened to the outside. Laughing paper skeletons, witches on brooms, and rubber spiders were twitching as people passed.

So cliché.

God, he hated Halloween.

He reached the office and hurried through security, his sunglasses still in place. He was abrupt with the guard and felt bad about that afterward, but he was out of sorts and couldn't focus properly on casual conversation. With a quick “Thanks” he sought refuge in the elevator.

He felt better after a cup of tea and settled into his morning of boring paperwork. He paused long enough to visit the cooler and refill his water bottle, but some of the other agents were there, talking about the Halloween party, so he beat a hasty retreat.

Jeff returned to the laborious task of finishing a report. His typing speed had increased over the years and he used more than two fingers, but the process still took longer than he would have liked. To his right, Okada's hands remained relatively stationary as his fingers flew over the keys. He didn't even have to look down.

The report wasn't particularly exciting and Jeff’s eyes needed a break from the screen, anyway. He took a moment to reflect on the suit Paul Okada had chosen to wear that morning. It was dark gray and actually had a half-decent cut to it. The shirt had a fine gray pinstripe and the tie had a paisley pattern in yellow and gray that complimented the ensemble. Jeff decided to credit himself with providing the valuable guidance and advice that had led to the purchase of everything that was right about Okada’s selections. He glanced down. He wouldn't take the blame for the shoes, though.

“I didn't know you could type without looking at the keyboard, Jeff.”

Across from him, Venice was hitting the keys with great proficiency. Jeff had appraised her wardrobe when she’d arrived. She was wearing a chocolate brown pantsuit and a simple cotton top in pale blue with a scooped neck. Her shoes were brown leather pumps of a practical height for running at top speed should the situation require it. Her fair hair was worn long, pulled back from her face with a platinum clip.

The look had his seal of approval. He wasn't obsessed with fashion, but liked to pay attention to the details. Maybe that’s part of what made him such a good investigator.

“Guess you don’t know everything, Venezia,” he replied smoothly, shifting his gaze from Okada’s shoes to her face. He kept typing for a few seconds before pausing to lean back in his chair and consider her, as if interrupting his work for this conversation was very important. He knew he’d have to redo those last few lines later, since the assessment about his typing skills was accurate.

Venice smirked and continued to type, her eyes locked on his. “You have to look at your keyboard, Jeff. I've watched you now for many months.”

His eyebrows rose. “Real-ly?” How much innuendo can you place on two syllables?

Venice sighed, saved her report and sent it to the printer. “My desk faces yours, Agent Powell. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid you.” She moved gracefully to perch on the edge of his desk and leaned over slightly, her weight on her left arm. Jeff knew this was an intentional pose, keeping her right hand free to reach for her gun. Old habits.

It also gave him a lovely view of her collarbone and neck as she spoke. She seemed unaware of this benefit and he said nothing to alert her. A pewter chain holding the platinum ring that could help her retain her Human form during a full moon glinted in the fluorescent lighting. The ring slid along it to dangle near him.

He smiled, ‘Powell Smile # 92’, which was flirtatious without being lewd, and with any luck would leave her wondering if he was serious or not. He lowered his voice seductively. “You’d miss me if I wasn't here.”

“You can’t type and look at the screen at the same time,” Venice continued, a slight blush in her cheeks. Her heart rate had gone up; Jeff recognized the signs. He had no idea how he’d managed to acquire such a useful skill, but it helped with his ability to read a suspect. Venice looked away and seemed uncomfortable. She directed her attention to their co-worker. “Now, Paul can type much faster and more accurately than even I can.” Okada straightened slightly in his chair. “In fact, I don’t think he’s even working on his report anymore.” A small smile appeared at that observation and Okada stopped typing long enough to indicate the file folder on his desk.

“She’s right,” he said. “I was done half an hour ago.” He and Venice shared a moment of sunny camaraderie that made the Brady kids look sullen by comparison. Jeff’s mood flipped and his smile faded. How warm and fuzzy, he thought, and wondered vaguely why he was so on edge. He caught himself staring at Venice’s neck while she continued to talk to Okada, no doubt trading pithy comments with him at Jeff’s expense. He lost track of the conversation. Her pulse fluttered, a delicate rhythm at her throat, like a butterfly.

“Jeff? Jeff, are you alright?”

A little startled, he focused on her face. Venice looked concerned, a small line appearing between her brows, and that was never a good thing.

He quickly reviewed his morning routine: up, run, shower, breakfast --

“Ah,” he said, and opened the top drawer of his desk, reaching for a bottle of vitamins. He popped two capsules into his mouth and took a swig from his bottle of water.

“What are those?” Okada asked.

“Multivitamins,” Jeff replied with a shrug. “Some magic stuff my doctor found that helps when you’re building muscle. Health stuff.”

Venice stared at him, incredulous. “You eat ‘health stuff’?”

Jeff gave her his best mock glare. “Don’t spread it around or you'll have to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?'”

She rolled her eyes. “Is that from a movie?”

“I’m paraphrasing, of course.”

“Clint Eastwood?”

“‘Dirty Harry’, 1971.Good guess, Paul.”

Mentor Destry Troy -- if that was his real name -- strode into the bullpen and removed his gun from his desk drawer. Jeff had decided earlier that he didn't think he liked the brown suit his mentor was wearing, but he wasn't going to say anything. He did have some tact. “We've got a dead Changeling and a killer on the run. Let's go."

King and Okada scrambled to gather their weapons and backpacks, glancing at one another to see who would make it to the elevator first.

Somehow, Jeff beat them to it and was right behind Troy as the doors opened. His co-workers hurried inside. He grinned at their startled looks and brushed some invisible speck of fluff from the lapel of his black Armani jacket.


*

The jacket is ruined.

Jeff ran full out after a man who’d murdered the Changeling girl, Jenny, who was an attaché to the current State Wizard. Apparently, she had ‘stolen’ the man’s girlfriend. The perpetrator, a Ted Adams, had fled the scene. The Department and local authorities had tracked him down, but the car chase had ended badly near the Lincoln Memorial, incapacitating both vehicles. Okada had been driving and swerved in time to save their lives. Venice had insisted on waiting for back up, but Jeff didn't want to wait. He’d ordered her to stay with a shaken Okada, who couldn't undo his seat belt due to structural damage caused by the impact. Jeff had extricated himself from helpful pedestrians just in time to see which way Adams had bolted.

“I'm coming with you,” Venice had stated firmly.

“You're staying here, and that’s an order.”

She’d remained silent. He’d heard the approaching sirens as he located his target and ran like hell.

The jacket is ruined and Ted Adams is going to buy me a new suit before sunrise tomorrow.

He pulled out his cell phone and made another dodge through the cars on Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge. There was a traffic jam, of all things, and vehicles were either moving slowly or at a complete stop. Where was everyone going at eleven thirty in the morning? Was it lunchtime already? Jeff pressed a number he had on speed dial one. Car horns sounded as he dodged through what was essentially an obstacle course, but he kept the man in sight and ignored the drivers.

Someone picked up. “Troy.”

“He’s crossing the Potomac,” Jeff said tersely into the phone. “We’re on the TRM. I’m in pursuit.” He tucked his arms and rolled across the hood of a Buick Century that was stuck in traffic. The driver, a woman with two children strapped in the back seat, screamed. Jeff landed on his feet on the other side and kept running.

“Powell, what the hell are you doing?”

“Sorry. Had to make a right.”

Adams was probably ten years younger and had likely clocked more time at a gym, but Jeff was gaining, regardless. All those hours pounding the pavement and eating right were paying off.

He was aware that someone was running behind him, trying to catch up, and matched the voice he heard yelling “Department business! Stay in your vehicle!” with none other than Venice King. He allowed himself a small smile, oddly pleased that she’d chosen to ignore his instructions. No doubt, she’d made sure Okada was in the capable hands of the fire department before following.

He guessed her brown pumps were practical, after all.

“I’m approaching from the other side,” Troy said.

“Great. See you there.”

“He’s armed, Powell, so don’t do anything stupid.”

“When have I ever?” He ended the call before his mentor could comment further.

Jeff couldn't remember when he’d managed such a speed. He didn't even feel winded, though he suspected that was the adrenaline talking and he’d hurt for this effort later. It was exhilarating, like how he imagined flying would be if he were Superman. His heart pounded, his arms pumped at his sides and then the two runners were on the other side of the Potomac. He could see the police cars stuck at the turn at the end of the bridge. There was at least one unmarked car. Uniforms flooded from the vehicles and pelted down the road toward them, grimly determined. He thought he saw a shaved head and brown suit among them: Troy. Adams was trapped.

And tired.

Jeff was almost there. He swore he could feel the fear and exhaustion emanating from the man, though he dismissed it as his vivid imagination. He liked to pretend that the criminal mind was terrified of Justice. Sometimes, he had a running commentary going on in his head like a script from Mickey Spillane. All he needed was a saxophone in the background.

He was only feet away when he launched himself at the man to tackle him to the ground. Adams must have sensed him. In that instant, he stopped, turned and fired a vintage pistol, point blank.

Agent Jeff Powell jerked at the impact, but finished his tackle. The two men rolled over and slammed into the rail of the bridge. Ted Adams took the brunt of the impact.

Jeff blinked and tried to focus as he lay on his back in the road. Someone grabbed Adams and hauled him to his feet, none too gently. A tall black man wearing the blue of the Metropolitan Police Department crouched beside Jeff and gingerly moved the ruined Armani jacket to look at his chest, murmuring, “You’re okay, you’re gonna be fine, you’re okay…”

The officer met his eyes and swallowed. Jeff blinked at him, as if not comprehending what had happened. He could smell blood and the primitive powder from the pistol and he didn't really want to know what part of him was damaged. He was painfully aware of his ragged breathing. It filled his ears like a rush of wind as he lifted his head and let his gaze drop to his chest.

There was blood everywhere. It soaked one of his best white linen shirts and his blue silk tie would never be the same. Moving his arm hurt, but he had to know, had to touch the blood to make it real. It was warm and sticky under his fingers. The officer pushed his hand away and said, “Lie still.”

Distantly, Jeff heard Troy barking orders. “Read him his rights. Secure the area. Get that damn ambulance over here!” A crowd had gathered and people were shouting. Venice arrived. She knelt beside the officer and stared at Jeff.

“Hey,” he said.

“That was stupid.” She tore his shirt open, removed her lovely chocolate brown jacket and applied pressure to the wound.

“You know, I always… pictured us in bed when you… ripped my clothes off.”

“Shut up.”

“Don’t worry,” he said shakily, ignoring her. “It’s just a… flesh wound.”

“Is that from a movie?” She seemed angry. He didn't know what to say to make things better.

He choked out something that might have been a laugh. “Probably.”

Then the paramedics were there, lugging bags and puffing because they’d been unable to get the ambulance through the traffic. Venice’s face was replaced with strangers. All sound faded to nothing. Jeff closed his eyes.


*

“Hey, Powell, you still with us?”

He must have drifted off. He was lying on a soft surface and there were sheets tucked around him, like a cocoon. He took a tentative, shallow breath. Pain lanced through his chest, but he gritted his teeth and hardly made a sound. He’d caught the distinctive mixture of scents that screamed ‘hospital’, which at least confirmed his location. Someone over the intercom announced there was a Code Blue in the ER. Jeff turned his head a little toward to sound.

“Try not to move, Jeffrey. You've just undergone major surgery and it’ll take a while for your body to recover from such a trauma. But it all went well, my son. You’re going to be… just fine.” A woman's voice, melodious, slightly archaic sentence structure: Healer Bonnie Wild.

Jeff sighed, eyes still closed. “Either we’re all dead,” he began carefully, his voice sounding hoarse, “or I’m still alive.”

“You’re not dead, Powell.” The first person who had spoken: Male, direct, concise. Mentor Troy.

He licked dry lips. “Good. I… hope to keep it that way.”

“You’re not going to die, Powell.”

Positive attitude. Well, that approach had certainly worked with the last three times he'd been in critical condition. He found a smile but had no idea if it conveyed his relief properly. He thought it was ‘Powell Smile # 50’, which wasn't used much as it made him look vulnerable. He genuinely appreciated their presence, so he didn't mind his friends seeing that smile. “Sure thing, Troy.” He thought of something. “Okada get out of the car okay?”

“Paul will be fine,” Healer Wild, Mentor and Minister of the Healing Arts for the Department, interjected. “Just a little shaken and he’ll probably need a bit of physiotherapy for whiplash and so on. You see, when the other vehicle hit the side of the car --”

“Bonnie.” A gentle warning.

There was an awkward silence. A chair scraped across the linoleum floor and then he felt the weight of someone sitting on his hospital bed.

“You’re… really not going to die, Jeff.”

He knew that voice. He guess the hospital decided to bend the rules and let more than two people visit him at a time. He opened his eyes slowly and had to squint against the light. Mentor Troy was there, his face impassive. He stood long enough to switch off the light fixture over Jeff's bed before returning to his chair. Healer Bonnie Wild sat in a chair on the other side of the bed, trying to look reassuring. Her robes were missing; revealing a sleeveless, summer dress more suited to August in Baton Rouge than Washington in October. There was a look on her face that Jeff couldn't place, something between amazement and curiosity.

Hmmm…

Maharita Porcelli sat on the bed next to Jeff’s legs, facing him. She was dressed in a soft, multi-hued shirt that reminded him of the ocean, and black leather pants. Trust Rita to be truly eccentric when it came to many things, including wardrobe when not on scry-watch. He couldn't see her feet, but figured she was wearing a pair of good-quality sandals, which was the norm for her. She looked unusually solemn, but considering his circumstances that wasn't too surprising.

“Hey, Lovely Rita.” She tried to smile, but it didn't work very well. “If I’m going to live, why so glum?”

She glanced at Bonnie, who provided an almost imperceptible shrug. What, she’s at a loss for words? Inconceivable.

Rita took a moment to fuss with the covers until she’d located his hand and gently pulled it free so she could hold it. She felt warm. He could see her pulse beating at her throat. It was fascinating.

“Jeff, you just got out of surgery.” She bit her bottom lip and seemed unsure how to continue.

“Yeah, Bonnie just said that.”

She shook her head. “No, I mean just out of surgery, like, fifteen minutes ago.”

Jeff stared at her, confused. “What?”

“You seem coherent,” Bonnie added. “And your voice doesn't have that quality of the heavily drugged.”

Troy shifted forward to lean his elbows on his knees. “You shouldn't be conscious yet, Powell.”

Jeff blinked. “And this is a problem how?” They shared a look that made him uncomfortable. “I’m going to be okay, right?”

“Oh, yeah -- at least, we think so.”

“Your bedside manner needs tweaking, Rita.”

“Hey, I’m not a healer. This isn't my gig.”

“Patients who have chest surgery are kept in the hospital for seven to ten days,” Bonnie explained. “Then they usually face six to eight weeks of recovery before returning to their normal routine. Sometimes, depending on the reason for the surgery, medications and spells need to continue for a while, to help with the pain and the healing, and certain activities are restricted.”

“Speaking of pain, I could use something for that right now.” Jeff smiled tightly. “Oddly enough, my chest hurts. I think it has something to do with the antiquated shot that went into it.”

Bonnie looked to Troy. “Should we tell him of our speculations?”

“Maybe we should wait,” Rita suggested.

“Um, in the room here,” Jeff said dryly. “Ears not damaged.”

Troy sighed heavily and ran a hand over his face and shiny, bald head in a gesture that indicated he was angry, concerned or just plain tired. It occurred to Jeff that he had no idea what time it was. With the curtains drawn over the only window, he didn't even know if it was day or night. He watched his mentor carefully, trying to determine which of the three options applied. Maybe he’s experiencing all three --

“You died,” Troy stated bluntly, meeting his gaze.

“On the operating table,” Rita added. Her hand squeezed his tightly and she pressed her lips together and blinked, containing a wave of emotion. “Do you recall a bright, white light and voices?”

“Rita --”

“Sorry, Troy. I had to ask.”

“No.” Jeff’s voice was clear and firm. “No, I don’t.”

“You’re healing remarkably well, Jeffrey," Bonnie said. "Alarmingly well, actually. They’re running tests right now to find out why your system is so strong.”

“I thought it was weakened by the plague,” Jeff said, frowning in confusion. London two years ago had been a life and death struggle for so many, including a young Department agent who was on holiday when the disaster hit. It was a miracle that anyone had survived the attack. Damn biological warfare, anyway...

“You've had a lot of injuries and nearly died a few times before this,” Rita whispered, still gripping his hand tightly. She glanced at the other two before continuing. “We figure your body has reached a point where it’s had enough practice healing itself, and now… it’s got it right.”

“I’m not good with riddles at the best of times.”

“Something’s happened to you, but we don’t know what.” Troy was watching him carefully. “There’s something special about you, Powell. It’s like you've built up an… immunity to harm.”

“If that’s true, I wouldn't have caught the office flu last year.”

“You probably won’t catch anything now, Jeffrey.” Bonnie’s voice was so quiet, Jeff had to strain to hear her. He checked each one of his co-workers and friends with a long, searching look. This wasn't a joke. They were serious. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Maybe they misunderstood the doctors or something --

Jeff tried not to sound exasperated. “Is that the ‘Twilight Zone’ theme I’m hearing? Is Rod Sterling standing in a corner somewhere, narrating my strange story to the world? What you’re saying is impossible.”

“But... here you are,” Rita said. She laced her fingers with his, as if desperate to confirm he was really there. “Alive when anyone else would be dead if they’d had a gunshot wound like yours. You shouldn't have made it to the hospital, Jeff. You shouldn't have survived the surgery. And now, they’re talking about sending you home in two days!”

Troy stood and put a hand on her shoulder. She bit her bottom lip hard and struggled not to lose her composure.

Jeff Powell stared at her, uncertain what to say or do. Rita pulled her hand away and turned toward Troy to hide her face. He said hushed words of comfort to her, glanced at Bonnie and walked Rita from the room.

The Healer said, “She thinks you’re dead, Jeffrey.”

Jeff swallowed. “But… I’m here. I’m breathing.”

“She thinks you’re… undead. That somehow, your body has been changing, gradually, to accommodate a new… lifestyle. And with this injury, the… change is complete.” The healer leaned in closer. “Don’t get us wrong, my son. We’re delighted you’re not dead, but if the hospital staff hadn't seen your condition this morning, they would look at your chest wound now and not link it with a gun at all.” She rummaged in one of her dress pockets and pulled out a clear, sealed cylinder. “This is the bullet and shards of shrapnel they retrieved from your body this afternoon. Adams had an interesting concoction in that pistol. These pieces lodged in your spine after destroying your major organs. Rita has matched them with the gun Ted Adams used to fire on you, though there were certainly enough witnesses who don’t doubt what they saw happen.”

There was a pause.

“This is impossible…” he repeated weakly.

Bonnie sat back in her chair, nodding slightly. “Yes, it is, but there is no refuting the facts.”

The memory of his recurring nightmare flared. He'd had it a few times a year, since he was about five years old. It seared to the surface like a fresh burn. His canopy bed, the flickering candles, the oil painting of the damned, the blood, did that mean --

“I’m not a vampire,” he stated firmly. “I don’t have any desire to suck blood or anything.”

“Your endurance and strength has been on the rise. You've noticed that, surely?”

Jeff thought about it and nodded slowly. “That doesn't make me a vampire.”

“I didn't say that it did. I've never encountered anything like it. Our current theory is that your ability to heal is so extreme that it is possible you will never die.”

Jeff closed his eyes tightly. He was a Mundane, no magical skills at all. Why was this happening to him? If this was a nightmare all its own, he’d willingly let it end now. “This sounds like a bad superhero origin plot, Bonita.”

There was a long pause. Jeff discovered he was clutching his sheet and made a concerted effort to relax his hands. Bonnie sighed and leaned back in her chair.

“This is who you are, Jeffrey. This is real, this is truth." He opened his eyes and stared at her, his mind rolling the facts and trying to assemble something more logical from them then the conclusion presented. Bonnie gave him a little smile. "We’ll get through this together, one day at a time, and we shall see what happen." She held up the cylinder and the remains of the bullet it held, adding softly, “Won’t we?”


*

The Halloween party was a big success.

Jeff surprised everyone by being one of the first to arrive.

“I thought you weren't coming, Agent Powell,” Debbi with an ‘i’ stammered. “Y-you were shot.”

Most of the people in the room stopped setting the buffet to stare at him, no doubt thinking the same things as Debbi.

Jeff placed his case of Kraft dinner on the donation table and smiled, ‘Powell Smile # 39’, which was polite and friendly. “I got better.”

Paul Okada had decided to dress as one of the Ghost-busters, complete with a ‘proton pack’ strapped to his back. Venice made a fetching, rather sexy witch, but the pointy black hat kept sliding off her head. One of the guys from the mail room was wearing it halfway through the evening, though it didn't exactly go with his ‘mummy’ outfit.

Bonnie Wild went to the ‘wild west’ and wore a Stetson and Sheriff’s badge with pride. The chaps didn't look comfortable, but Jeff thought the boots were perfect. Troy came as a pirate. It suited him. His eye patch was on his forehead more often than it was covering his eye, because he found it irritating.

Rita chose not to be a serial killer. Instead, she wore a long, green Edwardian dress with a matching hat with flowers on it, a black doctor’s bag and a black umbrella hooked over one arm.

“I’m Mary Poppins,” she announced, smiling broadly, lips bright red.

“‘Practically perfect in every way,’” Jeff stated firmly.

Rita shrugged and her smile held as she looked at him. “What can I say? I like magic,” she said, and was distracted by the Egyptian mummy, offering her some punch.

“Good costume, Jeff,” Okada said, nibbling on pretzels. “Neo was cool.”

Jeff looked at him from behind the trademark Titanium sunglasses worn by the protagonist in the ‘Matrix’ movies and said in a fair impersonation of the actor, “I am the One.”

“I've seen those movies.” Venice sipped her wine and nodded her approval. “The black coat is very like the one he wears. You do the voice quite well, too.” She stared up at him, but could only see her own reflection in his lenses. She stepped closer and lowered her voice, looking concerned. “Are you sure you feel well enough to be here, Jeff?”

“You only get one shot at life,” he said quietly, not knowing if in his case, that was true anymore. “I've decided to live it.”

Venice nodded, though he didn’t know if she completely understood his cryptic answer.

“A wise decision,” she replied, and though her eyes were sad, a small smile teased her lips. She offered him her glass of wine. Jeff tipped his sunglasses just enough to peer over them at her and accepted, taking just a sip.

Maybe she did understand, after all.


- End-

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