Okay, so here's the last chapter. A warning: people probably aren't going to like this ending, but this is the ending that fit. There are a lot of things about this fic I'm not fond of, but this ending isn't one of those. There isn't going to be a sequel, either, although the ending somewhat demands one - to be honest, my interest in the Bartimaeus section has completely waned, and I don't see it coming back, although I still love the books.
So, my advice to those who dislike the ending: fill in the blanks yourself. If you spend five minutes thinking about what could have happened next my job is done.
Over a year after I finally finished writing this, I finished editing. (Hahaha, I am slow.) It's been a great time.
Disclaimer: Yeah, not mine.
The three were now in a part of London Nathaniel was only vaguely familiar with, and Kitty did not seem any more knowledgeable on the subject than he. Bartimaeus, however, claimed to be a walking, breathing GPS system, and somehow convinced the two of them that it was only a short walk back to Button's flat, and yes, he knew exactly where to go. Roughly eight wrong turns and an hour later they did arrive at the flat complex by some strange miracle.
"Told you I knew exactly where we were," Bartimaeus said, completely straight-faced, as they entered the front gate. "I've got a map in my head, you know. I was born with the gift."
"Exactly," deadpanned Kitty. "That's why we walked around in a circle for thirty minutes."
Bartimaeus shrugged. "Hey, I got us here in the end. That's all that matters."
Neither of the teenagers responded, both knowing full well this was one argument they couldn't win. Kitty led the way to the door to number twenty-one and opened it without even pulling out her key.
"This whole time I've been thinking about how I didn't have the opportunity to lock it and how angry Mr. Button would be if anything got stolen," she remarked as they all entered the flat. She closed the door behind them. "Odd. I mean, there I was, sitting in a car with two psychopathic murderers ready to kill me, and I was just thinking about my house-sitting responsibilities."
"I'm not going to lie, that's pretty weird."
"Thanks for the reassurance, Bartimaeus."
Nathaniel smiled and sat down on the sofa, enjoying their light banter. It was nice to actually be able to relax for a second without fearing for his life. Of course, Duvall and the police were still after him, but they weren't nearly as intimidating as Lovelace.
Bartimaeus yawned. "So. What now? I mean, Nat's obviously still wanted, unless the police actually do their job, which they won't. He can't hang around here forever."
"I can rest, at least," Nathaniel replied, feeling very lazy. Bartimaeus looked like he was going to argue this, but he relented, instead content with an apathetic expression. "They're not going to bust down the door right this moment."
They all looked to the door instantly, just in case. It had been that kind of day. Nothing happened.
"Fine," said Bartimaeus. "Turn on the telly, at least. Let's see if they've got anything on the Lovelace murder yet."
It took him some while to find the remote (it was squeezed in between the cushions of the sofa), but when Nathaniel found it he did just that. Sure enough, the news was on – was it always on these days? – and he could see the university in the background.
"Jonathan Drawlight reporting here. As you have probably heard on this station for the last forty-five minutes, Simon Lovelace, prominent businessman and possible candidate for Prime Minister, has been shot and killed by his girlfriend Amanda Cathcart while giving a speech right here at this very college. Police are still going through the scene, but Police Chief Henry Duvall had this to say about the murder."
Duvall came on screen. Nathaniel noticed that he looked very tired and very worried. "While this is undoubtedly a tragedy, we don't think there was anything else here besides the fact that Mr. Lovelace's girlfriend just had a complete breakdown. We cannot attest to the validity of her claims onstage, but we do think they were probably false, considering her mental condition at the time. All in all it has been a very sad day for both those who knew Mr. Lovelace and the public. This is a true tragedy, senseless and disturbing in the highest sense."
The reporter off-screen that was interviewing Duvall now spoke. "Mr. Duvall, in the past two days four people of note have been murdered. Do you think this could possibly have any connection to the Julia Harknett case?"
"Oh, none whatsoever," Duvall replied quickly. "Both are tragedies, but we think this was the act of an unstable woman and not our suspect in the Harknett case. While he may not be involved in this murder, we do wish to remind the public to keep an eye out for him, as he is very violent and may possibly be deranged as well."
Bartimaeus let out a low whistle. "Boy, Nat. Somebody still wants you real bad."
"Yeah. You can tell from the way his mouth is twitching when he's talking about you. He's angry that you're still out there. That's why I'm telling you that you should get out of here as soon as you can. This Duvall guy, he's in on this, which you could've guessed, but he's deeper in than you think. The mercenary mentioned him."
"He did?" This was worrisome.
"Yeah. He said that Duvall would probably hire him to take you out. I don't think he likes Duvall much though. He didn't seem too interested in the job."
"Well, that's good," said Nathaniel sarcastically. "At least he'll be unhappy when he kills me."
"Like I said, we need to get you out of here as soon as possible. I think the mercenary expects you to be gone by the time he comes knocking, and let's not disappoint him. He already knows where we are, after all."
Nathaniel sighed and bent forward in his seat on the sofa. He glanced to Kitty, who appeared to be in deep thought. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that Bartimaeus is right," she said in a matter-of-fact voice. "We need to get you out of here right now. Just because Lovelace is dead doesn't mean you're not wanted any more. If what Bartimaeus says is true, you're still in real danger. Who knows how long it will be before they come to get you?"
He stared into her eyes for a few moments before nodding. "Of course. Yes, you're right. We can't waste any time. I shouldn't even be here right now. We've wasted so long getting back here –"
"Not my fault," interjected Bartimaeus.
"I need to leave now. I don't know where I'd go, but we can't waste any more time. What do you think we should do, Bartimaeus? Where should we start?"
"No clue, but we should get you out of London to start off." Bartimaeus scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I know some people further down south near the Channel. You might be able to stay with one of them for a few days, but if Duvall learns about the connection between you and me that won't be safe for long. If we can just get you out and on the road that'll be good enough for now."
"Good," Nathaniel muttered. "So we basically have no idea what to do. I'll just leave London and see what happens."
"If you've got anything better, I'd love to hear it."
"That's what I thought." Bartimaeus surveyed him for an instant and nodded. "You don't have any clothes, do you?"
"That's a problem. I've got some old clothes you might be able to wear. They won't fit a stick like you, but they're something. I can pack up some other essentials in a bag while I'm at it. You'll want to travel light."
"You should leave right now then," Kitty said, turning and addressing Bartimaeus. "We can't afford to take too much time. We at least need to get out of this flat pretty soon, seeing how the mercenary knows that we've been here before."
Bartimaeus's eyes narrowed, as if he'd understood something about Kitty's words that Nathaniel hadn't. "You're thinking about something else. You've got an idea, I hope."
"Kind of." She did not look extremely confident in herself all of a sudden. "I mean, I know someone who's got family out of the country, and I think one of his brothers had trouble once and had to leave."
"Would he be willing to help?" Bartimaeus asked.
"I don't know." She grimaced. "We haven't really talked much lately. He's an old friend. It's worth a try. He won't turn us over to Duvall, at least."
There was a silence as Bartimaeus process his words. "All right," he said finally. "If you're sure. I'll go get the clothes right now. Try to get in contact with this guy."
Bartimaeus looked over the both of them before nodding once more and turning towards the door. He opened the door and left without another look back.
Nathaniel looked up to Kitty. "This friend… he's a good friend?"
"Do you think he'll actually help?"
"No idea," she said. "He might sympathize, at least. We were very good friends. We've drifted apart, but he's a good person. He might help us."
"Okay," he stated, his mouth feeling very dry. "Make the call."
She took a moment to approach the receiver and pick up the phone. She flinched before dialing in what seemed to be a very familiar number. They waited.
Someone picked up on the other end.
"Hello? Jakob, it's Kitty," she said, barely even pausing for breath. "Yeah, it's been a while. Listen, I know we haven't seen each other recently, and I hate to be a nuisance, but I need to ask a really big favor of you right now."
- - -
After her call to Jakob, Kitty and Nathaniel sat in relative silence, TV muted in the background. The coverage had changed to something about a local school – some book being banned or whatnot – and Kitty watched it with minimal interest. It was odd to think that things were still normal in the rest of the world while her life was pretty much turned upside down.
Nathaniel spoke, tearing her from her thoughts. "I can't believe he said he'd try."
"I can," she replied, although honestly she sort of felt the same. "Like I told you, he's an old friend. He's a good friend. I… haven't done a good job of keeping in touch with him, but he can look past that. He's a good person."
"I can see that." Nathaniel's next words were tentative, as if he wasn't particularly sure he wanted to say them. "Were you two… like that?"
It took her a few seconds to understand his meaning. "Like that? Together? No," she said, shaking her head vigorously. "Definitely not. He's just a friend. He's practically like my brother."
Kitty had never before realized how odd the thought of her and Jakob… like that… was. Perhaps it was because she'd honestly never thought about it before. It didn't seem strange to her that she hadn't thought about it. It was just how things were.
"Oh." Nathaniel's voice was unnaturally even. "Okay. I was just wondering. That's all."
Neither of them spoke. He was doing a good job of keeping up a rather stoic front, but she could tell something was bothering him from the way his eyes would squint every now and then – she'd noticed over the past few days that he did that whenever he was worried or just contemplating something. She didn't pursue the subject, though, not entirely sure she wanted to discuss whatever it was that was going through his mind.
This uneasy quiet prevailed for the majority of the next twenty minutes. Kitty was just getting herself a glass of water when someone knocked on the door. "It's me, Bartimaeus. Hurry up and open this."
She walked to the door and did so, and he shuffled inside, a rather large backpack in hand. His eyes darted to Nathaniel on the sofa, and he heaved the backpack up and tossed it to the teen, who was caught off-guard and quite nearly knocked over.
"Nice catch," he remarked. "Hands like bricks, that one."
"It's heavy," muttered Nathaniel, picking it up and putting it in his lap. "What's in it?"
"Some of my old clothes, medicine, a few snacks, and a copy of NME if you get bored. There's also some maps and stuff in there just in case, and a list of people and phone numbers if you are in absolute shit. The bare essentials." He looked to Kitty. "Any luck with your friend?"
"He's checking to see if he can do anything." The phone rang, and she sighed. "That's probably him."
She felt both of their eyes on her as she walked over and picked up the phone, and it made her slightly uncomfortable. "Hello?"
"Kitty, it's Jakob." His breath was quick and ragged, and she thought she could hear others in the background. It sounded like he was on a bus. "Listen, I've talked to my dad and my brother. Not everything's been worked out yet, but we can at least get your friend to a safe place for now – it sounded like they could potentially find you out pretty soon. We'll take him somewhere else until we can get everything set up. My dad's talking to my uncle right now about getting him out of the country."
Kitty couldn't quite believe what she was hearing. "Hold on, slow down. You mean you can help us?"
"Yes, but we want to act now while the police are busy. We –"
"Jakob, thank you so much. You have no idea how much –"
"Save the thank-you's for later," he said, cutting her off. "I'll be over there in just a few minutes. I don't want to talk about it too much more here, I'm not exactly in a private place. You're in the flat next to yours, right? Ground floor?"
"Good, I'll see you in a second. Bye."
He hung up. She put down the phone and for the first time took a glance over towards Bartimaeus and Nathaniel, who both were looking at her expectantly. "He's going to help us," she said, her throat feeling very sore suddenly. She looked Nathaniel in the eye. "They're still working things out, but they're going to take you to a safe place until they can get everything together."
"And they've done this before," he stated, almost monotonously.
"Yes. With Jakob's brother." Kitty struggled for several seconds to find the right way to express what she meant. "His family… they've had some troubles with the law before. They're not dangerous or anything. They've just had shoddy luck. They're good people, trust me."
"I'll be going to his brother's? The one that had to flee the country?"
"I assume so. I don't know."
"Uh huh." His face was unreadable. "And what was his brother accused of?"
"Treason, I think. Something to do with someone named Tallow. I don't know." She grabbed her glass of water and held it in her hands, if only to have something to do with herself as she spoke. "Trust me, he was innocent. I know their family. I remember when it happened. He didn't do anything. But he wasn't the first person in their family to have trouble with the British government, so I think they kind of expected it. Believe me when I say there's not anyone else that could help us more than they can. They know what they're doing, and above all they're just good people. They're not going to double-cross us."
He stared at her for some time before shrugging his shoulders upward meekly. "If you're sure."
"I am," she said, tone firm and decisive.
Bartimaeus broke the short silence that followed their exchange. "Well, that was a lovely little discussion. I for one think this Jakob guy is great. He's getting you off our hands, isn't he?" He reached rubbed Nathaniel's hair affectionately. Nathaniel squirmed out from under him with an indignant squeak. "Don't be so down, Nat. I've even got a parting gift for you. Besides the backpack, I mean."
Nathaniel sounded skeptical, to say the least. "What?"
"Yeah, I know, I guess I'm just feeling really generous today. My own selflessness kind of disgusts me, honestly." Bartimaeus proceeded to pull out his wallet and protract a few crisp bills from inside it. "Here," he said, offering them to Nathaniel. "Your pay for all the work you've done at the store."
There was a pause during which Nathaniel just gawked at the money disbelievingly. Finally he took it, counting it as if to make sure he was getting paid what he should be. "You've paid me double," he announced after thorough inspection.
"I know. I figure you'll need it where you're going. I hope you've got a wallet."
"I do," replied Nathaniel, a bit guiltily. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a very battered wallet that looked older than he was. "I took it from Mr. Underwood before I left."
Bartimaeus positively beamed at this statement. "Something I would have done! Glad to see you're taking after me."
"I'm happy that you, at least, are pleased by my actions." Here he threw an odd look over at Kitty, almost apologetic in nature. "Thank you, Bartimaeus. I do need this. I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank you so much."
"Oh, it's no problem. Besides, when your name is cleared you owe me all the extra money I paid you. That's two weeks' free labor. I do pretty well in this deal, really."
"I should have known there was a catch," said Nathaniel, but he was smiling. He twisted towards Kitty. "How long do you think your friend will be?"
"No clue," she responded. "Be ready to go, though. That's all I can tell you."
There was a succession knocks on the door as if to prove her point. "Hello? It's Jakob. Are you in there, Kitty?"
"Yes," she called as she hurried from the counter. She threw open the door to see Jakob standing outside. He looked about the same as he had the last time she'd seen him – perhaps his hair was longer and his jaw was stouter now, and he had a faint mustache growing in now – but he was still unmistakably Jakob. She grinned. "It's good to see you."
"Same to you," he said, offering her a glimpse of a smile. His eyes scanned over the room, coming to rest on the forms of Bartimaeus and Nathaniel. "Who're they?"
"The old one's a friend who's helped us out and the other one is my friend, Nathaniel. The one I told you about."
"My name's Bartimaeus, and I am not that old, you know." Bartimaeus gave Jakob a small little wave. "Hullo there, nice to meet you. Is she always this blunt?"
Jakob nodded. "Unfortunately."
"I thought so. Pity."
"We don't have time for this," Kitty cut in, running a hand through her hear wearily. "Nathaniel, are you ready to go?"
"Yes," he replied.
"Good," said Jakob. "We need to leave immediately. The sooner the better. Anything else I might know before we go, though?"
Kitty knew him too well to be fooled by this question. "Do you have anything you're unsure about?"
"Do you?" he pressed.
They stared each other down for a short while. Finally she spoke. "No. You can trust Nathaniel. He'll do what needs to be done. And he's innocent. I know that for a fact."
Jakob looked at her, searching her face for something. Apparently he found it quickly, and he nodded. "All right. I believe you. That's all I needed." His gaze turned to Nathaniel. "If you're ready, let's go. We've got a safe place for you to go, but we're not sure how long it will be safe."
"Okay." It was Nathaniel's turn to nod. "I'm ready."
To illustrate the point, he grabbed the bag and stood from the sofa before making his way past Bartimaeus and to the front door. He did not tear his attention from Jakob, not even bothering so much as a glance at Bartimaeus or herself.
"Let's go, then." Jakob suddenly appeared very uncomfortable, as if noticing he was an outsider in a very homogenous group. "Er, I'll step back for a second. Let you say your goodbyes and all. I'll be right out there."
He turned very quickly and took a few quick paces away from the flat. He was still well within earshot, but Kitty understood and appreciated the gesture anyways.
Nathaniel looked just as uneasy as Jakob had as he looked at the two of them. "This is goodbye, then."
"It is," said Bartimaeus. "For now, anyways."
"Yes." He scratched the back of his neck nervously. "I… I'll find some way to contact you when I get there. Prague, I mean."
"I put my phone number on the list," Bartimaeus stated. Seeing Kitty's expression, he immediately added, "And I'll hurry to tell Kitty as soon as you call. We'll swap numbers when you get there and all."
"Right. Good." He shifted in his stance and put his hands in his pockets. "Good," he repeated. "Well. I should be going. Just… thanks for everything. I know you both didn't have to help. Thanks."
Neither of the two said the obligatory, "You're welcome." It seemed inappropriate to Kitty, and perhaps to Bartimaeus it seemed the same. That or he was just exceptionally lazy. Probably the latter.
"I'll be going, then," he continued. "I'll be back later, when everything's all right and my name is cleared. I'll see you then."
He looked to Kitty. She strained to find her voice. "Yeah. See you then."
"Au revoir," said Bartimaeus.
Nathaniel stood there for a moment before giving her one last piercing look and turning. He walked quickly towards Jakob, who beckoned him towards the exit and allowed Kitty a parting wave which she did not return. She watched them as they walked down the pathway and then to the gate, and then as the gate opened and they disappeared behind it. She stood and witnessed the gate close, perfectly aware that this might be the last time that she ever saw Nathaniel.
- - -
Kitty was just about as somber as you might expect. I was half-expecting for a violin player to jump out from behind us and start playing an equally melancholy tune. She stood at the door for a time before finally shaking her head and turning back inside.
Naturally, I had difficulty finding the right words to say to her. (Don't act so shocked.) "Well," was the word I finally came up with. Such brilliance. Knowing that I was onto something here, I continued, "Yes. Right. Er, is there anything else you'd like to discuss? Now that Nat's gone and all."
Her shoulders were slumped and she had those far-away eyes that you always see in paintings of depressed teenage girls by depressed middle-aged men. She barely looked like she'd heard my statement. In fact, it soon became apparent that she hadn't.
"Hello! Kitty!" Her head snapped towards me, and I sighed. "There we go. Very good. Now, is there anything else we need to talk about before I go?"
It took her a second or two to get her head together. When she did, though, it was very visible – the far-away eyes were gone, replaced by the alert glare I'd come to know – and she looked more like herself again. "No," she finally replied. "I don't think there is. You can go. Just make sure to come by when Nathaniel calls you."
"Will do," I promised with unusual honesty. "I guess this is it, then. I'll see you later."
She stepped aside, allowing me access to the doorway. "Goodbye."
I didn't dawdle. I nodded to her once as I walked at a brisk pace through the doorway and out onto the pathway. She closed the door almost as soon as I had exited the flat, and I immediately began walking to the gate. I opened it and pushed through, and had just closed it when I heard a familiar voice.
"I thought I'd find you here."
Despite my immense courage, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Generally the mercenary had that type of effect on people.
"Hello," I said as I turned to face him, trying to look a lot braver than I felt. "Pleasure seeing you here. I'm afraid you're a bit too late, though. Nat isn't here. He's gone."
The mercenary was not fazed. "Well, I can't say that that's surprising. Unfortunate, but not a shock."
"I assume Duvall's hired you out now," I remarked.
"I usually do not find it favorable to disclose the name of my employer," was his reply. Always a talkative one. Never could get him to shut up.
"Hm. Well, either way, I'm surprised you haven't gone to good old Duvall yet and told him about me and the girl. Told him that we've helped out Nat."
"I don't see how that benefits me," he replied, as cool as the other side of the pillow (as much as I hate to use that simile). "Du – my employer," he said quickly, "would then believe that he no longer needed me, and instead would send his own men to track you. Besides, he would use the fact that he'd found purported accomplices of a wanted criminal to his advantage politically, and if there's one thing I find more annoying than a lost job, it's Henry Duvall taking credit for something he has not rightfully deserved."
He said this with a bitter tone. Obviously he and Duvall had some things to work out.
"So you're not going to kill me or turn me in or whatever?" I stated. "Is that an accurate summary?"
"Well, yes, not now, at least. I am going to be keeping an eye on you, though. I'm still trying to find your friend, so be aware that someone could be watching your every move."
"Okay. Will do." He was an odd duck, this mercenary. It was almost like he wanted me to resist him. This was some kind of game or form of entertainment to him. "I assume you still want to give her a visit."
"Oh yes," he answered. "Don't worry, I do not intend to hurt her, only to find out where your friend is. I try to pick my battles and avoid any unnecessary hassles. You would be wise to do the same."
"Yeah," I said, not really paying much attention anymore. "Well, if that's all, I'll just be getting out of your way. People to see, criminals to help."
He nodded, and I almost felt an odd thing emanating from him: respect. I was probably mistaken, though. "Goodbye."
"I'll see you around."
"No," he stated with a smile, "but I'll see you."
He allowed me no chance to retort to this exceptionally vague yet slightly creepy remark, instead electing to stride to the gate and into the flat complex. I spent a second digesting what he'd just said before shaking my head and turning to the street.
I had a peculiar experience at this point. I don't know what you'd call it. Looking at all of these people walking and driving and cursing and eating – all of these people living, really – just washed over me, collapsing into a most particular sense of amazement. Here I was, alive, when I probably should be dead. It was a wonderful feeling. Somewhere innocent people were fleeing from the law, politicians were being bribed, and children were crying and shouting, but that didn't matter. I was alive, truly alive in a way that I hadn't been since my days as a teenager full of music-fueled rebellion and media-fueled contempt. All of London lay at my beck and call, and I did the only thing that truly made sense at the time.
I opened my arms and greeted the city with a smile.