Dr. Cannerts stood before Katie in the dingy hall of the hospital basement, his protective, blue surgical mask hanging around his neck. "Tomorrow you can alert the parents who live within the cordon to come for their kids."
Katie felt a swell of hope rise in her chest at the doctor's words. "The quarantine is over?"
When the doctor glanced away before answering, she knew she had gotten excited over nothing. "The hospital lockdown is over," he said in a detached voice. "City quarantine has been extended."
Any relief that the brief moment of hope had created for her evaporated into thin air. The tight ball of anxiety, which had taken up residence in the pit of her stomach when they had been taken off the bus days ago, tightened further. She steeled herself for what he was to say next, knowing that it could be nothing good.
"With the virus confirmed beyond these walls, I can't tell when we can end the cordon. I'm sorry." Dr. Cannerts seemed to hesitate for a second before moving to walk away. There was still an air of shock in the doctor's features. Everyone had the same look, as if they couldn't quite believe that this was all actually happening. It was even more unsettling, though, to see it on the man who was tasked with finding the cure.
With Dr. Cannerts back turned towards her as he walked away, she saw Jake give him a brief nod of acknowledgment. His eyes met hers for a split second before looking down again, and she walked over as he was pushing himself off the wall. "Where will you go?"
The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself. It was curiosity purely, and it wasn't like she deserved an answer. They barely knew each other.
Then again, she found that even after only knowing the officer for a few days, she did, in fact, care what happened to him. Although she and the kids were being released from the hospital, she knew that Jake still had a job to do.
If Jake thought her question was overstepping, he didn't show it. "Zone 6 has a small satellite office inside the cordon. I can stay there."
"Oh. Good." She nodded, even though his answer didn't sound good to her at all. For whatever reason, knowing that he was no longer going to be there made her feel like she was being abandoned.
No, not abandoned exactly. It was just that, in all of the craziness, Jake and the hospital had become sort of grounding objects to latch onto. Any number of people could have died from the virus while she was asleep, but the two things she knew for sure when she woke up was that she would still be in the hospital and that Jake would still be on the cot across from her.
Katie pushed down the uncalled-for panic that had surged up at his answer and forced a smile.
"And you?" he asked, tilting his head slightly and looking at her intently.
"Uh, my place is outside," she said, feeling her right eye twitch involuntarily as it always did when she was under a lot of stress. "Quentin's grandparents, too." Jake nodded. "Plus, I have other kids who may be stuck here, so I guess this is home for a while." She let her eyes drift over the tiled walls, resigning herself to the idea.
Jake's lips ticked up into a brief smile. He paused, then said, "Well Cannerts has my number…" He gestured back to where the doctor had gone. "…if you run into any trouble."
Katie hummed in agreement, although they both knew the gesture was just for politeness and when he left, they would probably never see each other again. Not having any confidence whatsoever that she could string together whole sentences for a reply, she just gave a fake smile again and said, "Yeah, okay."
There was another pause as it looked like Jake wanted to say something else. He licked his lips and let out a frustrated sigh, looking down at the floor. "I'm sorry about earlier." Realizing that that wasn't enough he grimaced and added, "Sometimes when I'm, uh, upset, I let anger get the best of me."
The words struck Katie with their familiarity, having heard something similar before a long time ago. "I know the type," she acknowledged, planning to leave it at that, but then for whatever reason didn't pause before offering up further explanation. "I had a kid with one."
She didn't know what her confession meant to Jake, but he seemed to take the words to heart, his face contorting in a way that made her realize that maybe he knew a little of what she was talking about too from his own life.
"Those kids, they'll be looking to you, you know? They want to believe you can protect them." At least Katie knew that she wanted him to protect her. She trusted him, and whether or not the trust was underserved, it was what it was and it was too late to change her mind.
Jake let out a small, breathy laugh. "You sound like my buddy Lex. Always trying to make me a good guy no matter what I did to convince him otherwise."
Katie wanted to tell him that he was a good guy to her. Even with his outburst before, that hadn't changed her opinion of him. No one was perfect, and for their current situation, Officer Jake Riley was handling everything much better than most would. She didn't tell him that, though. It wasn't her place, and from the look on his face, it didn't seem like he was in a mind frame to believe her anyways.
Instead, she said a weak goodbye and accepted the fact that he was leaving. "Well, you take care."
He nodded, silently telling her to do the same, then slowly turned away to head in the same direction as Dr. Cannerts had.
Katie couldn't watch his retreating back for long before she found herself having a hard time breathing. She steadied herself against the wall and tried to take deep breaths, willing the onslaught of panic to go away. However, the more she thought about everything – the outbreak, all of those dead people, her kids, Jake – the quicker the panic clawed its way up her throat.
Then she remembered the bottle of pills in the right pocket of her sweater and instantly pulled it out. Her glove-covered hands were shaking as she worked to get the lid off the orange, plastic cylinder. When she finally did, she stuck a finger down into the almost empty bottle and dug out a white pill.
Her throat was dry and the pill went down hard, but just the motion of doing so made her feel a little better. She closed her eyes and gave another steadying breath.
Suddenly, though, a voice interrupted the precarious balance she was trying to achieve saying, "I can stay" and Katie jerked her head to the right.
If she was shocked by the voice, she was even more shocked by its owner. Jake, who was supposed to have left, was standing there, brows furrowed in concern, and she wondered if he had seen her entire meltdown.
It didn't really matter, though, because the fact was that he was still standing there and she didn't know why. She knew why she hoped he had come back, but there was no way that was the real reason. Maybe he had forgotten to tell her something to do with the quarantine.
Then he spoke again, voice rough as he offered, "If you need help with the kids, I'll stay."
Although that was exactly what Katie wanted, the relief she felt at hearing it made it impossible for her to speak. Plus, even if she could, there was no way she would be able to say the words out loud.
Either Jake sensed that or he had already made up his mind, however, because he didn't wait for a response. "I'm staying."
He said it with such conviction as if he were making both a promise to himself and to her.
Katie opened her mouth to thank him but nothing came out so she just nodded. It wasn't important anyways whether she said anything or not. There would be plenty of time for that now.
Apologies for any mistakes. This was written in a sort of rush and not beta-ed.
Now, please fangirl with me over everything that is Jake Riley. And go write more fics for this fandom because it is absolutely imperative for my shipper heart that even more Katie x Jake exist in this world.
Let me know what you think lovely people :)