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Happy New Year!


Fear Itself

Chapter 5

Woody ran around Jordan's apartment - their apartment - like a madman, pulling open drawers and shoving clothes unceremoniously into a duffel bag. Shirts, jeans, a pair of slacks, flannel pajamas, underwear, a bra, a pair of shoes, her medicines. He even grabbed a thing of her favorite yogurt and some other snacks from the kitchen to tide her over for the night. He had no idea how long she would have to be locked up in that tiny room, or what she would need, or what she might want. The thought alone almost killed him.

And so it was with no hesitation that he filled another duffel bag with clothes of his own; if she was camping out at the morgue, then so was he. A quick phone call to his Chief and brief explanation was all it took to get his case load lightened (which would have had to happen, anyway, once the CDC got involved and put him in quarantine, too).

He sprinted to the bed and tossed both of their pillows over to join the two duffel bags, then pulled open the drawer in her bedside table to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. A small bottle of her almond-cherry scented hand cream joined the mess of stuff. Another not-so-innocent bottle of lotion brought a grin to his lips and was definitely left behind. But then something caught his eye near the bottom of the drawer - a piece of paper with Dad and a phone number scribbled across it. It wasn't Max's cell number, which Woody already knew, but a different one. He took the paper and stashed it in his wallet.

The apartment felt dead without her there, and he hastened to gather everything up, refusing to even think about that. "She's going to be fine," he told himself out loud just as he had told her. One bag slung over each shoulder and a pillow in each arm, he shuffled out the door and down to his car.

xXx

By the time he got back that night, a plastic barrier had been set up around the door to Jordan's office so that things could be passed back and forth. She had been given her laptop and a few new medical journals, but he could still see from down the hall that she was pacing the center of the room like a caged tiger. As soon as he was close enough, she pointed toward something on the floor by the outer plastic flap. A walkie-talkie. She had one inside. Woody picked it up.

"What in the world is all that stuff for?" she asked immediately, a wry grin on her face. It was strange to hear her voice so distorted through the radio, even when she was standing so close.

"Only half of it's yours," he told her as he unzipped the first section of heavy plastic and slid her bag, pillow, and the food inside. A puff of some kind of sanitized air poured in through one vent, then was sucked out by another before she opened her office door and unzipped the other side to bring everything inside and to her desk. He followed her movements out in the hallway. "I'm staying here with you. Did you really think I was going to let you be here alone?" Before she would have a chance to argue, he gestured through the window to the plastic bag she was poking through. "I brought you a little thing of that yogurt you like, and a bag of trail mix and some fruit. Thought you might be hungry. Oh, there's a plastic spoon in there, too."

"Thank you, Woody." She paused and lowered her radio, looking away from him for a long moment.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." The response was clipped as she rushed to bring the walkie-talkie back up, and she walked over to the window in an attempt to be closer to him. "I-I'm just tired, I guess. Are you really going to stay?"

"Of course I am." He reached out toward the glass as though he'd be able to touch her face through it. "I'm going to stay right here in the hallway until they let me in there with you."

"That's really bad for your back, you know." She smiled wanly at him, knowing it was useless to argue and not wanting to anyway.

"I'll deal with that later. Where is everyone?" he asked, realizing for the first time that the hallways were completely empty. It was awfully quiet, too; the central air system had been shut down to stop the bacteria from spreading.

Jordan's eyes darted down the hallway, too. "The first person from Atlanta got here about thirty minutes ago. Everyone is in a meeting to figure out what to do. Everyone but me. A hazmat suit and everything, man. At first, anyway. She took it off eventually." She shook her head. "I'm so jealous. Why does Garret get to have all the fun while I'm stuck in here?"

"Because Garret didn't have a tumor in his brain last year."

She just huffed and dropped her radio again, mouthing a string of bad words at him through the window with a nasty glare.

"Eat your yogurt," he told her softly with absolutely no drive behind the command, making it more of a suggestion than anything. But she obliged him anyway, digging through the reused shopping bag to find the little carton and spoon. "I'll go find Doctor Macy as soon as the meeting is over, if he doesn't come straight here."

"Good." Jordan watched him for a moment as something unspoken passed between them. Then they moved as one to sit on the floor as the weight of the day took hold, back to back with only the wall between them.

"Are you eating?" he asked over the radio.

"Yes," she answered, though she really wasn't. Her eyes slid closed and she leaned her head against the wall, knowing that he was doing the same on the other side. It was an odd kind of intimacy, and she almost wished that they had never had to discover it, this bonding through separation. They'd already had to do far too much of that over the years. A tear dropped down her cheek and she swatted it angrily away. She was frightened, and being locked in this room was helping nothing. In fact, it was just making her antsy and even more anxious. The one tear turned into two, then six, and then they just started pouring silently down her face. She was so glad the radio was push-to-talk.

As if knowing exactly where her thoughts were going, Woody's voice crackled over the radio again before they could get any worse. "Have I ever told you about the first time I rode a horse?" She shook her head and even without being able to see the gesture, he continued with his story. "I was young, just turned eight, and Cal and I had this big fight. We were staying with my aunt and uncle that weekend while my dad worked; they have this huge farm and use horses to ride out to far fields. Anyway, it was late and the adults had already gone to sleep. But I was so mad at Cal! So I pulled on my boots and stomped out into the barn just looking for trouble."

Jordan chuckled, picturing a chubby little boy doing just that, and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. Now this...this was helping. She was so glad he came back. She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath, listening to his words and letting them wash over her.

"They'd just bought this young chestnut mare. She was stubborn as she could be. A lot like you, in that way. Wouldn't take a command from anyone." He paused, probably waiting for her to make some kind of rude comment, but she just snorted. "Her name was Petunia. My uncle had left her out in the paddock that night. I still don't know what got into me, but I went into the tack room and got a halter, lead rope, and a carrot from the big bag he kept in there, and then went out to the pasture to call Petunia over. She came right to me. So while she was distracted with the carrot, I slipped the halter on her, opened the gate, and used the fence to lever myself onto her back like I knew what I was doing."

He paused, the unnatural silence chilling him to the bone. Jordan didn't respond or prompt him from behind the wall and, almost beginning to feel lost, he took a breath to continue. "She ran off, with me only just able to hold on for dear life. Out the open gate, through the pasture, and into the woods. It was after midnight at this point. Pitch black, no one even knew where I was or what I was doing. But I had this sense of freedom I'd never felt before, you know? Like I was finally able to catch a glimpse of myself without Cal and without my dad's anger and without the pain of losing my mom. It wasn't until a few minutes later, when I really realized what I had done, that I started to get scared. The part of the woods Petunia ran into was thick and overgrown because my uncle didn't use any of that land for farming, so there were leaves and branches hitting me all over. I held on for as long as I could, but a big branch I didn't even see hit me right in the head and I went flying to the ground. Petunia kept running. I landed on a bunch of rocks and bruised a few ribs, and I had no idea where I was. So I just lied there, covered in blood and leaves and dirt, crying and frightened and sure I was going to die right there at eight years old."

Jordan still didn't respond - the radio was no longer even in her hand - but a very faint smile touched her lips and only just reached her closed eyes as he continued painting the picture for her.

"I don't remember much else in the woods after that. Petunia had gone back to graze in a nearby paddock and my uncle found her a few hours later, noticed I was gone, and put two and two together pretty quickly. I woke up in the hospital a day later. My dad was furious. 'Who would have taken care of Cal?' he asked." Woody shook his head, remembering it clearly. The emotional burden - the pain of it all - had been terrible as a child, even though he hadn't understood what, exactly, was weighing so heavily on his shoulders. "But my uncle... My uncle had been proud. He was the first person after my mother to ever be proud of me. The next time I was at his farm, he took me out to the barn and showed me how to take care of the horses. I was terrified at first. I mean, I had just been in a pretty bad accident, right? Even if it was my own fault. So he took me aside and told me about President Roosevelt - don't you dare laugh, Jordan - and his famous speech. He quoted most of it for me, but the gist of it is, 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'."

He fell silent for a moment, realizing how fitting the story was. Jordan still wasn't speaking, but he knew she was listening. And as much as he wanted to hear her voice and know she was okay, that would have to do. He could practically feel her anxious energy through the wall, mirroring his as he leaned back. "It's okay to be afraid, Jo," he told her quietly. "But don't let that fear hold you back or prevent you from being the person you want to be. I'm sorry, that sounded trite, didn't it?"

"No." The word was soft and broken over the radio, and he could tell that she had been crying. But he didn't say anything, just thrilled to hear her speak at all. "No, it didn't. Thank you, Woody."

She was quiet again, the little radio not making another sound as she set it down. He stared at it, not knowing what else to do to keep her from withdrawing. More than anything, he did not want her to revert to the woman she had been after her initial diagnosis with the tumor...and that was exactly where she was headed. What else could he do with this wall between them when all he wanted to do was take her in his arms?

Suddenly a door down the hall opened and a handful of people spilled out, talking amongst themselves. The meeting was over. Nigel, Kate, and Bug wandered toward Kate's office and closed the door behind them, but Garret came toward Jordan's with a new woman behind him. Woody got to his feet, his eyes wide. Making sure the radio was opened so Jordan would hear the entire exchange, he clipped it to his belt and shook Garret's hand.

"Where's Jordan?" Dr. Macy asked, his eyes immediately roving over her seemingly empty office.

"Asleep," Woody answered a bit too quickly. "Um, she's against the wall. Right here."

Garret craned his head and peered inside the window as though not quite willing to take the detective's word for it. All he could see was the top of a dark head, the very tip of her nose, and her knees, where she had them held against her chest. The radio was on the floor beside her and she made no motion to reach for it. In fact, she didn't move at all. Definitely not asleep, and definitely not doing well. But he had the good grace not to mention that. "Okay," he said instead. "Woody, this is Doctor Claudia Lancaster with the CDC headquarters in Atlanta. Doctor Lancaster, this is Woody Hoyt, the detective who found the first body."

The woman stepped forward and gave Woody a big, comforting smile. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back in a braid, and she quickly pushed some fly-aways from her bright face before offering him her hand. "Just Claudia, please. It's great to meet you, Detective. And your wife, too, even if she is asleep. I've heard wonderful things about you both." He opened his mouth, possibly to attempt to correct her idea of their relationship, but Claudia continued quickly before he had a chance. Jordan remained silent, even though she could hear every word. "Now. Garret here tells me you'd like to be brought up to speed, is that right? First of all, I brought enough antibiotics for everyone, and as soon as y'all's blood work comes back we'll start dispensing it. That will keep you clean while we investigate the origin and track it down." She paused, exchanging a quick look with Garret that Woody didn't miss.

He shifted from foot to foot anxiously. "What about Jordan?" he asked, knowing that's what they were trying to bring up.

"Well," the blonde woman said cautiously, "due to her complications, Doctor Cavanaugh will be unable to take the antibiotics with the rest of you. So, even if her blood comes back clear - which we fully expect it will! - she won't be able to leave this building until the contagion is contained. With her being unable to guard her body against the bacteria, she could be carrying it without knowing; we can't risk her bringing it outside."

"Typhoid Mary," he muttered under his breath, his gaze moving restlessly down the hall.

Claudia touched his arm gently in compassion and gave him a small smile that reached her light blue eyes. "Exactly. You've been around for a while, I take it?"

"Long enough to understand a few things, I guess." He tried to return her smile, but it came out pained. "What else will you be doing?"

"Garret has been kind enough to lend me the assistance of...Nigel, is his name? So he and I will be analyzing the bacterial strain to see if we can track where it came from. Hopefully we have this particular one on file already. Makes containment that much easier."

"Right." All of that went right over Woody's head, but he knew Jordan understood it all and he was glad he asked. "Thank you, Claudia."

"Don't mention it." She gave him another grin. "I'll be camping out here with the rest of you guys, so let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to meeting Doctor Cavanaugh for real next time. Your wife sounds like an incredible woman."

Garret stepped forward then, meeting Woody's eyes and giving him a very subtle shrug as if to say, I have no idea where she got that information."Let's get you settled before we go find Nigel."

Woody watched them walk off for a moment before looking into the window of Jordan's office, only to see the same lacking view of her that Macy had seen. Swallowing back a discomforting wave of anxiety, he lowered himself back to the floor and unclipped the radio from his belt. "They're gone," he told her softly. "Did you get all of the information you wanted?"

Her answer was so long in coming, that he almost thought he wouldn't get one. Maybe she really had fallen asleep. Or, more likely, she had withdrawn even more without him in there to at least try to prevent that. This was taking more out of her than she would ever admit. But, finally, the radio in his hand crackled. "Yeah. So, um, she thinks we're married?"

"Oh, my God," Woody moaned, lowering his head as his heart dropped into his stomach. Having her withdraw and feel pressured? Such bad timing. "I am so sorry, Jo, I didn't know how to correct her. She just kept talking."

But to his incredible surprise, she just gave a very light chuckle. "It's okay. I bet Nige put that idea in her head."

"Are you okay, Jordan? And please, tell me the truth."

Inside her office, Jordan sighed and rubbed at her face with one hand. That was a loaded question and they both knew it. No. She was so far from okay, that 'okay' may as well have been on another planet. It was hard to tell if she had really calmed down or if she had just gone numb to it all. After everything she had been through in the last two years... No, I've already wallowed in this enough. Stop it. But she refused to tell Woody any of this. Not yet. Not when she couldn't see him, or touch him, or even really talk to him. So she just took his words at face value for the time being. She'd tell him about all the rest later. She would. "I feel fine. Just tired."

He knew exactly what she was doing, and she was glad when he didn't push. Instead, he said, "Go lie on your couch and get some sleep."

"No, I -" I want to stay close to you, is what she nearly admitted, but the words caught in her throat and wouldn't come out. "I'm okay here. Really."