Michael dropped me off in front of my apartment, his pickup idling while I fished my staff out from under the long bench seat, his big gentle face creased in quiet worry. “Harry,” he said, “are you sure? It can’t wait until morning?”
I forced a tired smile. He’d done a lot for me, these past two days; he deserved at least that much. “You saw what Agatha was wrapped in,” I said. “Whatever’s out there doing that-- I can’t give it the luxury of another day. Who knows what damage it could do.” That twisted barbed wire binding spell, wrapped around and sunk into the ghost’s essence, driving her mad, escalating her hauntings into homicides. Chicago couldn’t stand too many more cases like that-- the world couldn’t stand too many more cases like that. People would die.
He nodded, still frowning. “Please call me tomorrow, Harry. Don't try to do this all on your own. Let me help.”
I smiled some more-- hoped he’d take that as agreement, and tried not to feel too guilty about it. I couldn’t ask him to do anything more for me: I’d already dragged him around with me for two days, taking care of hauntings and distressed ghosts. Hell’s bells, I’d gotten him arrested tonight. If his wife hadn’t bailed us out, we’d still be sitting in that jail cell. Charity hadn’t been pleased about it, would have been perfectly happy to leave me where I sat, but after she’d sprung Michael he’d gone to post my bail in turn, and she’d been the one with most of the cash. “Go home to your wife, Michael. Before she comes and hunts me down. Take care of each other.”
He drove away, reluctantly, and I watched him disappear around the corner before I turned and trudged across the little gravel pit of my building’s parking lot. I’d go in, wash my face, get something to eat, and plan my next few hours. It was barely past one in the morning; still plenty of time before sunrise. I could get some good legwork in.
“Harry,” someone said, soft and low, and I raised my head to look-- there, a few steps away, hair vibrant and blood red even in the dark, pale skin almost glowing, golden eyes gentle. My godmother. “Come here.”
She cupped my cheek with her hand, cool and soft, drawing me in closer, rubbed gentle circles behind my ear, freeing up the pressure that had been building in my clenched jaw. “Look at you, my dear boy. You’re so tired.”
Something poured into me as she spoke, a surge of well being that started where her skin touched mine and spread, as fresh and cool as a mountain breeze, filling every part of me. I took a deep breath, pressed my face into her palm as she soothed everything away, the pain built up from all the little hits I’d taken battling Agatha in the nursery and the Nevernever, the exhaustion of the past two days, the bone-deep tired built so deep in me I hadn’t even realized it was there. Started brushing up all the old aches and pains from a lifetime, sweeping them away, all the marks Justin had left on me, my parents’ deaths, Elaine, the constant distrust of the Council, even the way I kept running from her, kept myself from the peace and love she offered me--
I pulled my head back with a snap, rocked back on my heels when everything flooded back in. I gasped, head spinning, and she let me pant it out, tears building, a few spilling over. “Godmother,” I said, wiped at my eyes. Froze when her hand joined mine, brushed gently at my cheeks, drying them. “You have no power here, Godmother.” I don’t know if I was trying to convince her or myself. She had power here. She’d just proven it to me.
“My sweet.” she smiled at me, red lips pouting prettily. “You know that is not true. I have what I am given. What I have fairly traded for.”
I swallowed, everything going silent except the blood roaring in my ears. Because I’d broken my word to her. I’d always known that Lea had outclassed me: she was a creature with a thousand years or more of experience, of knowledge, and she’d been born to magic like I’d been born to breathing. But so long as I‘d remained in the real world, she’d had no advantage over me. Our world was a foreign place to her, just as hers was to me. I’d had the home field advantage.
“You’re going to kill me,” I said, pulled my lips back from my teeth. She’d chased me, when I’d defied her, poured iron onto her chest, had howled for my blood. I focused on her, on her beauty, the magnetic pull of her, instead of my panic. Gathered what magic I had into tight, waiting ball-- I couldn’t take her. She could squash me like an ant. But I could shield, and try to buy enough time to run.
“Of course not, pup.” She gave me the type of smile you’d give a preschooler on his first day. “I traded for your life, not your death. What good would you be to me dead? And what good a godmother would I be, killing you when I have such better ways to keep you safe? But you broke your word to me again tonight, sweet boy,” she scolded, moved her fingers to my chin, tipping my head so I looked at her. “I am very hurt.” She pouted prettily at me, and brought her other hand up to scratch lightly at the hair above my ears.
“Godmother,” I said, over the pounding in my temples, the high-pitched, panicked whine at the edge of my hearing. “I can’t go with you.” I couldn’t let her turn me into a dog, either, but I wasn’t going to be the one to bring that topic up.
“You are mine, Harry Dresden,” she reminded me. “By rights. By your own oath, puppy. If you break your word to me a third time, your magic will turn on you. Consume you. Is that so worth breaking your godmother’s heart? Is that so much better than being happy?”
I grimaced. Holy guilt trip, Lea. If ordering and bewitching didn’t work, she was going to try shaming me into signing up. “People are depending on me.” I protected this city. Mort had called me. The Wardens hadn’t given any indication that they’d gotten my message-- or were going to respond to it if they had. Someone had to figure out what was going on. And stop it. Chicago was already in enough trouble as it was, with the Raith-Vargassi household stepping on it. “I have to help them. They need me.”
“Such mortal troubles. You should be with me,” she fretted. “Such harm. Such wounds. You were nearly killed: in the service of what? The poor lost soul tangled in her chains?” She pursed her lips and added sternly, “I helped you then, child. You swore me you would come with me. Before a witness, even; the Fist of the White God.”
“Not now.” I pulled away from her touch. “People will die if I don’t stop this.”
“Mortals die, child. All of them.” She stretched out a hand, then let it fall, tucking it against her breast. “Are they worth your life in return? You would give it up so freely to them? You hurt me so, down to my heart. Do you think I like to see you wounded? If you’d only listen to me. Your mother bade me to be as a mother to you; will you not let me keep you from harm?”
“Lea, I can’t live like that. You’re not keeping me from harm if you’re keeping me as a dog.”
“You would be safe!” She told me, the hand on her breast splaying out for full dramatic impact. “You would be loved! Happy! I would take the best care of you. I love you deeply. You would want for nothing, my sweet pup. Don’t you understand?”
“No!” Didn’t understand how her mind worked, didn’t want to be a dog, Hell’s bells, didn’t want to go with her. I backed up further, then, when I was a few strides from the stairwell door, turned and bolted. My skin prickled as I waited for her voice to stop me again, to drag me back, but it didn’t come. I pounded down the stairs and shouldered my door open, slamming it behind me.
Elves aren’t tinkly and sweet and honorable. Take my faerie godmother.