And No Good Thing Ever Dies
Hope is a good thing,
Riana kept herself busy during the drive over, making at least two dozen scapulas with nimble fingers trained to suture. A small square of cheesecloth filled with eight different herbs, a small prayer uttered as the bag was closed, and you had a powerful scapula or an equally effective teabag. As a result, the car was redolent with the combined scents of the many herbs theyíd collected in Chinatown, some potted pansies and a few very pungent rosemary bushes. Wes couldnít help but laugh when Lina commented that the car smelled like a sťance held in an Italian restaurant at Christmastime.
By the time Wes and Lina arrived at UCLA it was nearly the proverbial witching hour. Lina was practically vibrating with the need to get to the children, and any others who may have been infected with Letheís unique disease. Wesley was all about caution. As they pulled into the parking lot, he forced himself and Lina to sit quietly and just observe. It wouldnít do to get caught so close to curing all those affected.
After sitting in the car for close to ten minutes, observing the very normal comings and goings with no sign of any supernatural activity, Wes allowed Lina to climb from the car. As Wes slid his legs out of the car, he was unsurprised to find that Lina was already opening one of the back doors, her messenger bag planted firmly at her side as usual. He watched as she patted it once, then again, checking to be sure the scapulas and teabags were safe and secure inside.
"Can you manage a few plants?" Wes asked, speaking through the car as he ducked his head into his open door.
Lina closed the doors on her side of the car. "Sure," Lina assured him, coming around to the driverís side. "Give me a flat of pansies, and a couple of those rosemary bushes."
Wesley leaned into the back seat and extracted the plants. After helping Lina to balance the load, he took the remaining flat of pansies and two more rosemary bushes in small plastic pots. He kicked the door closed and managed to press the door lock remote with a minor amount of juggling. Wes looked over at Lina, checking to see whether she had taken note of his clumsiness, but she was busy trying to shift her own burdens into a less precarious position.
Walking in a quick step, Wesley and Lina made it into the Emergency entrance in short order. Lina dropped one of her rosemary bushes and toed it into place beside the sliding doors, out of the way of the mechanism and the foot traffic, but where the healing properties of the plant would still be beneficial. She placed the second one on the nursesí station, right in the center of the all the activity. As a last touch, Lina hung a scapula from a pin pushed into the cork board covering one wall near the station.
"Weíre definitely on the right track, Wes," Lina said with hope in her voice for the first time as she gestured to their surroundings.
The addition of the plant and scapula to the dťcor had a dramatic and immediate effect. Any hospital personnel within a ten foot radius came alert and focused, blinking their eyes as if they were wakened from a long sleep. And the longer the two plants were there, bolstered by the scapula, the longer they would continue to spread a magical barrier to press back the detrimental effects of Lethe. With luck, the hospitalís air circulation system would pick up the plant spores and spread the healing properties throughout the building.
"I think a pansy or two is in order," Wes told Lina.
Wes shifted the rosemary plants he still held, then took two miniature pots from the flat he rested against the nursesí station, and arranged them to either side of the rosemary bush. A nurse went scurrying by, but she took a moment to smile her delight at Wes and the plants; she called a friendly greeting to Lina. Many other voices called a greeting to the doctor in passing.
"Good old Shakespeare, huh?" Lina said with a smile in her voice and eyes.
"íMore things in heaven and earth,í" Wes quoted by way of agreement.
"Letís hope things go as smoothly in the cafeteria."
They had discussed a plan of action. Although the presence of the plants seemed to be a healing balm, they couldnít be sure of the depth of their effects. Wesley and Lina agreed the herbal mixture would need to be ingested to completely reverse the effects of Lethe and the waters of the stream of oblivion running in her avatarís veins. The herbs could choke in dry form, so Lina had decided to brew a tea from the mixture. They needed a large urn, the kind an institution used to brew large amounts of coffee to keep a busy hospital staff stimulated around the clock.
Wes followed Lina down a long, wide corridor that ended in double doors. The cafeteria was filled to half its capacity, with an equal mix of support personnel and medical staff. Several people turned around to see who had come barreling through the swinging doors. A few hands went up in greeting, and one man in a lab coat gave Lina an insouciant wink. Lina rolled her eyes but took a second to wave in tolerant acknowledgement.
Wesleyís hopes that things would go smoothly in the cafeteria were dashed when Lina approached one of the cafeteria workers and explained what she needed. A heated argument ensued. Wesley was impressed by Linaís vast vocabulary as she discussed the manís ancestry and the various impossible extracurricular activities in which he should engage. She neither repeated herself, nor used any profanity, and her style was akin to poetry, albeit of the street variety. Even holding the plants, Lina had an air of command and confidence. The man was cowed and slunk back into the kitchen. Wes followed at minimum safe distance, coming into the kitchen in time to see Lina brandishing her hospital security badge like it was some sort of weapon or talisman. Fearing Lina was about to get physical with the cafeteria worker, Wesley prepared himself to step between them, but another worker entered the kitchen and took up the very position Wes was about to assume. He appeared to have some authority over the cafeteria staff. Linaís body language calmed as soon as he had entered the room, and returned nearly to normal after the newcomer sent the cafeteria worker out.
"Dr. Lina, why all the yelling in my kitchen?"
"Diego, I need a very large urn with hot water to make a cure for the sick children." Lina pulled out several large scapulas, which would serve as teabags. "He wouldnít give me what I needed," Lina explained with some heat.
Diego gave Lina a reproving glance, but nodded. "Of course, Dr. Lina, right this way. And please, do not be so angry with Martin. He was only doing his job." Diego beckoned to Wes and Lina, leading them further back into the kitchen.
"Yes, I know," Lina grumbled. "Please give him my apologies."
Diego stopped before several large urns. He stood on a low stool to remove the cover. Lina handed him several scapulas and Diego packed them into the filter and fitted it back into the urn. After replacing the cover and climbing down off the stool, Diego pressed the brew button.
"Thanks, Diego, I really appreciate your help."
"Anything for the children, Dr. Lina."
The pot began to brew within the minute, and soon that corner of the kitchen was filled with the heady aroma of the tea. The brewing was complete after only ten minutes. Diego produced several large carafes, and a serving cart. Wes pitched in and soon all the carafes were filled and sealed, and the serving cart was packed. Diego even made room for the plants.
Diego took one last sniff. "Youíre sure this will help the children?" Diego asked Lina, doubt heavy in his voice.
"Yes, Diego, I am sure. Itís been tested."
"What is it?"
"I call it Remembrance."
"Quite fitting, Lina," Wes pronounced. "Letís hope it lives up to its name."
Lina took a sniff for herself and said aside to Wes, "This will never be featured in the Republic of Tea catalog."
"Iíd be happy to help you bring up the cart to the wards," Diego offered.
"No, Diego, I donít want anyone else exposed. Your help here was key. Muchas gracias."
"Anytime, Dr. Lina."
Wes made sure everything was securely stowed, then grabbed the handle and pushed the cart out of the kitchen. Lina followed behind. Many pairs of eyes tracked their movement across the cafeteria but didnít offer any help or resistance. With hardly a break in stride, Wes took out two pansy plants and placed the little pots on one of the service counters. Lina dug a hand into her bag and pulled out several scapulas. She hung one on either side of the double doors, and another went on the notice board. Wes continued on out through the double doors, and Lina followed a moment later.
"All the affected patients have been isolated in a ward on the seventh floor," Lina explained as they strode along another corridor. Lina stopped before a bank of elevators and jabbed the UP button several times in rapid succession. After a few moments, during which Lina stabbed the UP button at least another dozen times, the bell dinged and the elevator doors slid open. Lina went in and held the DOOR OPEN button until Wes maneuvered the cart inside, then she rapped the DOOR CLOSE button several times with a knuckle.
"That doesnít actually induce the elevator to go faster, Lina," Wes pointed out.
"It helps me, Wes."
Wes punched the 7 button a few times. "Youíre right, Lina."
Wes smiled and Lina responded. He had no idea how to follow through and he silently gave a prayer of thanks to the PTB that the elevator came to a stop on the seventh floor, saving him from making what he knew would be a foolish comment.
Lina pointed to the right. "This way, Wes."
The closer they came to the childrenís ward, the faster Lina walked. They all but ran the last few feet. Wes made a brilliant save as one of the carafes headed for the floor. He placed it back on the cart just as Lina slapped her security badge against the door lock. The door whooshed open with a smell Wes always associated with hospitals: sickness and disinfectant. Wesley swallowed, but followed Lina into the ward. She closed the door firmly behind him before opening the inner door.
The ward was divided into two large rooms that held a dozen beds apiece. The children lay abed in the left-hand room, while the adults were to the right. For a ward containing so many, the silence was unnerving. Two nurses slumped in a chair apiece, situated in an alcove between the two rooms. A small table, laden with charts and an electronic thermometer, separated the nurses. They seemed unaware of their surroundings or events.
Wes went into action. Breaking off several twigs of rosemary, he crushed the leaves to release the essential oils and the maximum scent as he walked to the nurses. He waved the rosemary beneath their noses, and tried to rouse them. When they were conscious, Wes tucked the rosemary in their caps, then poured out a cup of Remembrance for each nurse from a carafe he had fetched along, and helped them to drink. The change in them was striking and close to immediate. They sat up and looked around a bit wildly before their professional instincts kicked in.
What happened?" one asked, on the heels of the otherís demand, "Who are you?"
"Nurses, I need you," Lina called out in an authoritative voice.
"Oh, Dr. Russo!" One nurse plucked at a sprig of rosemary that fell from her cap to her lap. She looked at it with curiosity.
"Iím trying a traditional Chinese herbal regimen," Lina explained. "Help me feed this brew to the children." They moved to help her, responding to her authority even while giving her dubious glances. Lina gestured Wes towards the other room. "Help the adults, Wes. Take Nurse Stevens with you. Nurse Matthews and I will handle the children."
Both Wes and Nurse Stevens gave Lina a brisk nod. Wes gestured to the service cart. At Wesleyís behest, the nurse took a flat of pansies and one of the remaining rosemary plants, and Wes grabbed two carafes of Remembrance. As he turned to the other room, he saw the first child being fed Remembrance from a spoon, rosemary crushed beneath her nose and rubbed on her chest, and heard the plaintive cry for her mother. Several children were crying by the time Wes entered the adult side of the ward.
Eight of the beds were occupied. In silent agreement, Nurse Stevens took the four patients on the far side of the room, and Wes moved to help the patients on the near side of the room. Confident the nurse would carry out his directions, he left her to minister to her group of patients and turned to his. Following his own prescription, he dropped a pansy plant beside each bed, then took a sprig of crushed rosemary and rubbed it vigorously onto each patientís chest and upper lip. When he had made the circuit of his beds, he returned to the first patient. The man was unnaturally still. With a cry of alarm, Wes felt for a pulse, but he was too late. The man had expired. Wes was crushed by the loss but he couldnít take the time to grieve. He moved to help the others. Digging out several spoons heíd tucked away in the cafeteria, he poured out a small measure of Remembrance. He trickled the brew into the mouth of a middle-aged woman occupying the next bed, petting her throat to help her swallow. Wes didnít wait for the herbal tea to work its magic, confident Remembrance would work once again and reverse the worst effects of Lethe. He moved from bed to bed until each patient had been treated in a similar fashion. Within minutes the three patients he had treated, and the four Nurse Stevens had ministered to, were stirring, their breathing had evened out, and one had even raised up on a shaky arm.
"Are you a doctor?" he asked.
"More a physicianís assistant," Wes fibbed. "Dr. Russoís assistant." That much was true. Wes poured out a cup of Remembrance and placed it on the bed tray for each patient. "This is an oral immuno-stimulant serum developed by Dr. Russo."
"Ancient Chinese secret," Wes embroidered. "Dr. Russoís instruction is to drink up."
They all managed to drain their cups, with help from Wes and Nurse Stevens. Again, the change was amazing and nearly instantaneous. Their joy at being alive and close to full recovery was tempered by sadness when they looked over at the fifth bed. Nurse Stevens joined Wes, and he uttered a low and heartfelt prayer at the manís bedside as the nurse drew the sheet over the patientís features.
Wes surmised that Lina had sent for more help, for a nurse bustled in a few minutes later. She began taking temperature, pulse, blood pressure - all the standard tests that could be conducted bedside. When Wes informed her that Nurse Stevens had also been stricken, she was ordered to sit in a chair and allow herself to be checked out. Wes sidled out of her way when she came to the patient who had expired. He joined Lina and the children.
The first thing he noticed was a bed with the sheet pulled up to the head rail. Lina was doing her best to distract the children. They were all gathered around her and she was reading aloud from a book, making the characters come to life with gestures and eccentric voices. The children, and Wes, too, were so entranced, they barely noticed when workers from the hospital morgue arrived to wheel the two beds from the ward. Wesley watched Lina. She never broke from her characterization but her eyes followed the morgue attendants out the door with an intensity that was painful to see. Finishing the story, she closed the book and laid it beside a pansy plant on one childís side table.
Clapping her hands together, she said in her best pediatrician voice, "OK, all of you, back into bed. Chop, chop!"
There was a lot of grumbling, but the children followed Linaís direction. The next one, to drink another cup of tea, was met with even more grumbling.
"It stinks, Dr. Lina," one little boy exclaimed, wrinkling his nose. The other children nodded emphatically.
"I know, Timmy, but thatís how you can always tell medicine thatís really good for you. It helped you all get well."
"All except Marisol," an older girl said in a low, sad voice.
"Would you all like to say a prayer for Marisol?"
As the children bowed their heads, Wes noted Lina wipe away a few tears. His own eyes were none too dry, and he wiped the tears away without shame. Death in the young was always such a tragedy.
"Know this," Lina told them at the end of their prayers, "Marisol will never be truly gone if you just remember." Lina gestured to the cart and Wes caught her meaning. He brought over the remaining flat of pansies and handed out one each to every child. "When you look at these pretty flowers, think about Marisol. I know sheíd be so happy each and every one of you is all cured."
"We will, Dr. Lina," Timmy promised for the group.
"OK, good. Now, Nurse Carla will stay with you until your parents come by. I have to go and help other people now, but Iíll be back later. You all be good and do what Nurse Carla tells you."
The children waved to her and Lina waved back. She beckoned to the nurse, and the two of them put their heads together near the ward doorway. Wes overheard the instructions to the nurse that every child drink at least one more cup of tea, and that the plants were not to be removed. "Have a cup of tea for yourself, too. Youíve been exposed, and I donít want you to fall victim to the disease youíre helping to cure. If you see anyone else around the hospital who falls ill and doesnít respond to conventional treatment, use this tea," Lina directed.
"Yes, Doctor," Nurse Carla agreed. As Lina turned to go, Carla caught her arm. "Thank you."
"All in a dayís work," Lina told her, the smile on her lips reaching to her eyes.
On the way out, Wes and Lina gathered up some sprigs of rosemary, one remaining potted pansy and the last carafe of Remembrance. Lina stuffed all the items in her bag and led the way out. Once the door closed, Lina leaned back against the jamb and covered her face. She gave a deep sob and just threw herself into Wesleyís arms.
Wesley held her against his chest, rocking her back and forth several times. "Lina, thereís still work to be done," he told her, speaking softly into her ear. "You were amazing."
Lina gave a huge sniff and pulled back from the embrace. She yanked a tissue out of a pocket and gave a hearty blow. "Youíre pretty amazing, too, Wes. I couldnít have done it without your help."
"Oh, well, Iím sure you--"
And she put a finger over his lips. Lina rose on tiptoe to brush a fleeting kiss upon his mouth. Wes was too shocked to do much more than stand there and accept the kiss. He was pleased and stunned and embarrassed and guilty, in constantly shifting proportions. Lina didnít give him time to take it all in, or decipher the meaning of the kiss, if there was any meaning behind it other than gratitude. When he reviewed the kiss in his mind, it had been chaste enough to have come from a sibling. He sighed inwardly.
"What was that for?" Wes gained the presence of mind to ask.
"Just for being you, and for giving me a moment away from my worries back there." Wes raised an eyebrow in question. "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?" She just chuckled when Wes gave her a look that was equal parts delight and confusion. "Never mind," Lina said as she waved a hand in dismissal. "Old American commercial." She put on her serious face. "So, still work to do, you said."
Wes nodded. Turning towards the elevator, he didnít give Lina a chance to see the flush of pleasure and chagrin rush across his face. Her words and deeds had affected him deeply. If only that dinner had gone better. He focused his mind back on the task at hand. Soon he was the one punching the DOWN button in a rapid tattoo.
Lina gave a throaty chuckle that Wesley found so appealing, he had to clamp down on his emotions once again. She said nothing, only pushing Wes playfully into the elevator once the doors opened. The elevator filled up, each floor adding or subtracting a few passengers but never empty, and so Wes and Lina had no chance to discuss their immediate plans until they reached the sub-floor housing the Emergency facilities. They stepped through the doors together and stopped at the top of the steps.
You think Angel and Cordy found a way to drive Lethe back from this plane?"
"Weíll know soon, Lina. Unless Iím mistaken, thatís Angelís car."
Continuing the Shakespeare theme, Lina quoted, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more..."
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