I screamed. In no way was it an unmanly shriek of terror.
But let's be realistic: if a tall man in a gray cloak, carrying a naked sword, jumped out at you from behind a freaking dumpster down a side alley in the snow in Chicago, you would scream too.
Morgan, that jerk, made an odd facial twitch that looked like he was very carefully not laughing at me. Not that I wanted him to laugh at me, but really, letting other people see you have emotional responses is a good way to prove you're not a sociopath.
"Shut up," I growled. "What are you doing stalking me anyway?"
I thought this was a good question. I hadn't done anything to piss of the White Council...lately. That I knew of. I hadn't heard about any black magic Morgan could pin on me; I wasn't taking up any of the offers of cookies from the various dark sides I have the misfortune to know. We'd settled the whole I-didn't-kill-Luccio thing in a few weeks after the disaster of last Halloween. Yeah, I kinda technically worked under the guy now, but I never even saw him. You'd think he'd relax when I didn't start frying people with lightning from my fingertips.
"You're living with a White Court vampire, Dresden. You're consorting with a White Court vampire." Morgan was standing in my way. He wasn't moving, but an unsheathed sword is a great threat all by itself. So was his tone, cool with just a hint of hope and condemnation.
I figured he hoped I was a thrall or something like that, so he'd get to be there when the Merlin cried, "Off with his head!"
"Yeah," I said, wary. "So?" My incubus half-brother wasn't any business of the White Council's. I couldn't tell them he was my half-brother, what with the war on and all, but I also couldn't not help him out. He was my brother, my only family. Frankly, I wanted Morgan and the Wardens (excluding myself—I still can't believe I'm one of the lunatics) to stay as far away from Thomas as I could keep them.
Morgan's eyes narrowed, and all trace of that not-laugh vanished. He shifted into a very slight crouch, and his left arm, his sword arm, flexed. I gulped. Yeah, I've been in a fair few fights. But Morgan has been a menace in my life since I was sixteen. He was always there, for years and years, always ready to lop off my head at the earliest possible opportunity. And as if that wasn't enough, he'd been inches away from actually doing so a few months ago. I would have let him, because the world had needed him more than me at the moment, but it was a terror inducing moment all the same. I had nightmares where I'd wake up clutching my neck to try and keep my head on, when Ramirez didn't shoot well enough or figure it out fast enough or Morgan was just a little bit more fanatical than even I'd thought.
"We are at war with the vampires, Dresden. Harboring one in your home is aiding and abetting the enemy, which is treason." As he said 'treason', his left arm twitched and the sword lifted a little higher, and a little further back. He was getting ready to swing. Which made sense, I suppose; there was only one sentence for treason, and a warlock (which he probably thought I was) was a dangerous opponent even to experienced Wardens, because of that tendency to not care about breaking the Laws. If Morgan killed me right now, he'd get cleared by the Council. All he'd have to say was that I was a traitor and resisted all attempts to bring me in for a trial.
I wanted to throw my hands up, like you do to show the cops you aren't holding a weapon, but even with mortal police sudden movements are a bad idea. And with wizards, where moving your hands can kill someone if you want it to, or they're in the way of a spell, or you're just not controlled enough, it is a really bad idea. So instead I very slowly started to raise my hands, careful not to shake my shield bracelet or twitch any fingers with my force rings. I didn't want Morgan to think I was doing anything.
But at the same time, I wanted to not get myself killed, so I also started gathering some power. Morgan would be able to sense any large amount, so I only readied a little. It wouldn't be enough to really stop Morgan if it came to that, but it would be enough to put up a decent shield, hopefully for long enough for him to figure out that a warlock would just kill him.
"Firstly, we're at war with the Red Court, not the White." I was going for simple logic that even a fanatic would have to see clearly, but I've never liked Morgan. I've never liked being threatened, especially unfairly, and a threat about Thomas was a good as a threat to Thomas. Which I not only disliked, I was radically opposed to in the kill-it-with-fire sense. So I shouldn't be snarky to the guy, but, well, instinctive reaction. "You should get your eyes checked. I think you might be colorblind."
Morgan's left foot was suddenly a half-step closer. "Vampires are vampires, Dresden! And the Whites are allied with the Reds!"
"Well, yeah, but the vamp I'm leasing my couch to is an exile. Totally unaligned. Harmless. Chipped. I'd keep him in my bathtub, if I had one." I didn't want to use Thomas' name, just in case Morgan realized he was Lord Raith's only surviving son, and as far as I could tell, something like vampire royalty.
Morgan just frowned at me. I guess he never got into modern television. I had trouble finding a way to see it all, but if I'm only around a VHS player for about an hour at a time and I keep calm, it usually doesn't kill itself out of magic-induced suicidal tendencies. Usually.
"Besides, Morgan, I'm not a thrall. He's completely straight—he only feeds on women." I thought. Maybe. I really wouldn't know. He'd never try to eat me, what with the whole blood-relation on the human side thing. Though sometimes I wondered, because I definitely have the impression that for most Whites 'incest' is just another word for 'power play.'
Standing still for so long wouldn't bother me—you get used to it as a wizard, where so much depends on precision and intense concentration—except it was getting late. It was January, and around me snow was falling like dandelion seeds in the wind. I was wearing my leather duster, which was spelled in various ways, some of which kept heat in, but it was still cold. Getting colder, the darker it got and the more snow piled up in drifts that went a lot deeper than you expected. I was planning on being out for maybe half an hour, just to pick up some pizza for Toot-toot and the dewdrop fae he hung out with. But of course Morgan had to fulfill his monthly quota of terrorizing innocent wizards.
"Claiming not to be a thrall is no kind of proof." Morgan's tone was still cool, still condemning, but now a bit angry. Angry I wasn't signing up for lessons with Palpatine yet?
"The vamp is a White. There are no bite marks to show you a lack of. Unless you can suddenly see auras, or you want to take a Look at me with your Sight, you're just gonna have to accept that I'm not a thrall, I'm not a traitor, and you don't get to cut my head off tonight." Morgan took another half-step forward, mouth twisting in fury, and I started channeling power to my shield bracelet. Just before I actually lit up my shield—I'd taken a second to think about what shape would work best against a mad dog with a magic sword, which I'd seen cut through my own shield before—somebody cleared their throat.
"Excuse me, Mister Dresden, but would you mind elaborating on your last point for me?"
Without turning to look, I knew who it was. Nobody else managed that disinterested tone and classier-than-thou vocabulary while they stepped into a fight.
"Which point, scumbag?" I tossed back at him, without turning away from Morgan. I figured treating him like a rabid animal was probably safest, thought it might just piss him off; I wouldn't look away, I wouldn't make any sudden movements, I wouldn't let him see any fear. I resolutely ignored the fact that Marcone may or may not be saving my life, again, and that I hadn't managed disgust or revulsion or even real dislike when I called him a scumbag. It wasn't a nickname, it was an insult.
"Mister Dresden, I am interceding in a conflict on your behalf. I would appreciate fewer juvenile taunts." This was said even more coolly. Huh. He didn't like me insulting him while he helped me out. I'd never gotten that impression before. "I was referring to your mention of your head being removed—by this man?"
He made the end of the question not a question. He also managed to imply that Morgan was filth and unworthy of his acknowledgment while he acknowledged him, with only the words 'this man.' God, I might think Marcone was a criminal scumbag, but sometimes I couldn't help but be in awe of his skills. He was inspiring.
"Oh, right. Yeah, Morgan's been trying to get a good enough excuse to chop my head off since I was sixteen." As I said this, Morgan's glare intensified.
"Dresden! Whoever he is, he's a mortal. Sharing secrets with mortals violates your oaths." He was referring to the oaths every wizard swore when they were admitted as full members of the White Council. One of those was never to share information regarding the Council with those who did not already know it. Violation of that oath was treason. But still, Morgan was choosing to ignore Marcone? Well, I'd send flowers to his funeral. Maybe daisies. Or pansies.
"Mister Morgan," Marcone began. Where he'd been cold before, now he was eerily toneless. I had to take the chance to correct him. I love knowing more than Marcone.
"Warden Morgan," I interrupted cheerfully. "Technically the head of the Wardens, but not actually the Captain." Why not be happy? Marcone'd already said he was on my side. He was a vanilla mortal, sure, but still freaking dangerous. I could bitch at him about not needing to be rescued after he shishkebobed Morgan. It was kind of like I'd figured out a bunch of the Council saw me: you don't have to like someone, you don't have to respect them, you can even hate and fear them, but if they're on your side it's like watching Darth Vader stand up in front of you and flambé the monsters under your bed. Morgan had no idea who he'd just pissed off.
"Warden Morgan," Marcone continued, as if he'd started out this way all along. "Would I be correct in presuming from Mister Dresden's statement that you have been threatening to murder him since he was a minor?"
Oooh. That hadn't even occurred to me. I had been a kid the first time Morgan had had the opportunity to try and execute me. Sixteen, and after beating He Who Walks Behind and burning Justin to death (and thinking I'd burned Elaine along with the house), not really an innocent, but...Marcone had that thing about kids. And innocents. And he had no idea I'd already killed by then.
"Um, John, you should probably know I wasn't really a kid anymore—" I started to try and explain. If Marcone heard later that I'd lied in some way, I didn't even want to think about it. I could hold my own, but the guy had crazy resources.
"Not now, Harry. Anyone under eighteen, whatever mistakes they have made, cannot be considered to truly understand all the facets of their actions." That...almost sounded like he knew what I'd done. And...forgave me for it? What the hell? Did he have a file on me in cabinet somewhere? Stars and stones, who was he to forgive me?
"Don't call me that," It was an automatic response. He wasn't my friend. He wasn't even my ally most of the time.
"Now, Warden Morgan, an answer please. Did you, or did you not, threaten to kill a child?"
There was a sudden intake of breath somewhere in Marcone's direction. I frowned. I'd assumed he had Hendricks and Gard with him—the guy didn't go anywhere without his bodyguards—but that sounded like more than two people. Besides, Hendricks and Gard didn't do reactions. He must have some other goons, who apparently knew about his thing with kids. Well, I supposed that made sense; he did claim to keep children and innocents out of his business, and the only way to enforce that is to make sure people know not to and come up with some harsh punishments for breaking that rule. Something made me think he killed people who broke that rule.
Morgan was resolutely ignoring Marcone. I had never rated Morgan's intelligence or deduction abilities highly, but this was pushing it. What, he never talked to vanilla mortals? He couldn't tell that disregarding Gentleman Johnny was a Bad Idea?
Maybe if I introduced them, Morgan would pay attention before Marcone just took out a sub-machine gun and figured no answer meant, "Yes, I am a child-killer! Happily, I have no conscience to bother me!"
"Morgan, this is John Marcone, by most accounts a patron of the arts and an important figure in Chicago society." I was rubbing it in a little to both of them. Morgan would undoubtedly recognize the name, and Marcone would be able to hear my disgust for the sycophants who worshiped his bank account.
Morgan looked like he wanted to facepalm. I could have danced. Yes, he had just been brushing off a mobster powerful enough to have a briefing all to himself for newbie Wardens. That reminded me to never tell Marcone that we taught our baby magic cops to avoid his people if at all possible. His ego was city-sized as it was.
"Warden Morgan, for the third time I demand an answer." Did Marcone know how powerful threes could be magically? Well, he had Gard, who apparently knew when people were supposed to die (What was up with that?), so maybe. I'd mentioned it was a magic number to him before, too, so he probably knew that he was essentially compelling Morgan to answer. He was probably happy to have that kind of power. "Did. You. Threaten. A. Child."
Morgan dragged his eyes away from my shield to settle on a point to my right I was assuming was Marcone, clearly not happy about not being able to devote all his attention to Voldemort Version 2.0.
"Wizard Dresden was on trial for violation of the First Law of Magic. I am the appointed executioner in all cases involving black magic. It was not a threat, it was my job."
What, it's fine to ignore manners when talking to me, but not criminals? Typical. I might not use his title either, but nobody who's ever talked to me for more than five minutes would expect me to.
I snorted. "Yeah, like you didn't want to see my head roll. You've been completely 'Give me a reason,' for over a decade." Yet again the reference flew over Morgan's head. I don't know if Marcone got it or not, because he was still a ways behind and to the right, at the mouth of the alley, where I couldn't see his face without looking away from Morgan, which was not all-around a bad plan.
It did occur to me to wonder why Morgan was giving away information about the White Council. Discussing the Council with anyone not in the know was considered treason. So. Morgan must think of Marcone as in the know. Where would he—. Oh. We had those briefings, and I'd told Marcone that Morgan was a Warden, in front of him. A briefing alone wasn't proof that the subject knew what was going on, but if someone else clearly considered them to, that was usually proof enough.
But Marcone had taken the whole idea of a Warden in stride, including when Morgan had called me one. I hadn't admittedly seen his face, so I could have missed something, but...it was likely Gard had told him. That explained a lot.
"Appointed executioners have no business following people declared innocent down alleys at night. If there is some type of evidence against Mister Dresden—" Okay, by now Marcone knew the correct title was was just trying to get under my skin. "A full investigation by your White Council should be launched, provided your evidence can be verified. In no way should you continue to trail Mister Dresden, as he lives in my city, and is therefore one of my people. With or without legal support from the supernatural community I can make life quite unpleasant for you, Warden Morgan."
Morgan was carefully lowering his sword. At least he'd listened at the briefing, where Marcone had been described as 'about as dangerous as a mortal could be.' And Marcone had a point. Spooky though it was to see his knowledge of White Council inner policies, he was completely right. I had been declared innocent of all charges, and as a Warden I had even more privileges than the average wizard. It was much more difficult to explain away the sudden death of a Warden, especially a Regional Commander, than I had even thought about.
I didn't want to owe Marcone anything. But he was a mortal, magically powerless, so he wouldn't be able to compel me to return this favor unless he demanded an oath from me. And I wouldn't be compelled to return the favor on my own, because I wasn't a faerie. And he'd saved my life before, including once where he pulled me out of a river with the Shroud of Turin. I could afford to let him save me again. Plus I just loved seeing Morgan worried.
"You see, Warden Morgan, by now every one of my people knows what you look like, has heard a recording of your voice, and has been warned about your magical abilities. Furthermore, I'd like to remind you that according to the mortal authorities you do not exist, and as such your sudden disappearance, or even the sudden appearance of your body floating face down in the lake with broken kneecaps, would pose no problem for me. My lack of legal supernatural power would insulate me from any type of magical reprisal, as would Miss Gard. Were some misguided element to attempt retribution for you, I would unfortunately be forced to respond with extreme force. Mortal force, which I am assured is something no self-respecting magical practitioner desires."
Damn, but Marcone on a roll was just so badass.
I know he's read the Evil Overlord List.
"I do not appreciate threats to children. I do not appreciate threats to my people. You have managed both in under an hour." I could hear Marcone's complete lack of facial expression. Anybody else would be practically shouting, but not Marcone. His iron refrigerator of a soul kept the tiger neatly in check.
"So now, Warden Morgan, I would strongly suggest you vacate the area. And by 'the area,' I mean this state. Immediately."
Morgan sheathed his sword, glaring mutinously at me, and turned away. As he left, he threw back, "Dresden, I might not be here, but I'll be watching. Just wait. Someday you're going to slip up, and everyone will see what I see."
I couldn't resist. "Bye-bye, Morgan! We simply must do this again some time!" I filled my voice with sickly-sweet gushing affection.
And then Morgan's cloak whipped around the corner and he was gone. I finally let go of the swirling power in my charred left hand and grinned, relaxing.
I like this mortal, whispered through my head.
Lasciel! Where the hell have you been while I almost got skewered by a fanatic and rescued by a Mafia don? My current resident fallen-angel-copy was often silent, but in any kind of danger she usually spoke up with offers of power or protection if I just picked up her coin. It was almost typical by now: somebody threatens me. I get mad. Lasciel wakes up, dangles safety in front of me, and only asks for a teensy-weensy tiny little favor in return. Just carry around a coin. So simple, so easy, it would be like breathing.
It would also ensure that I desecrated everything I held dear. I'd seen what I could do with Hellfire. Hell, I could do horrific, evil things without demonic assistance. I never wanted that kind of power.
Well. That was the problem. I did want that power. I just didn't want to be evil. I didn't want absolute power to corrupt absolutely, and it would be too easy to let myself think that it wasn't absolute power so I couldn't be corrupted absolutely...
My host, you were not in that much danger. Your mobster was coming. I could hear the engine of his car. Even if a battle had begun, you could have held the Warden off long enough for the tiger to rescue you.
On that note, my host, your mobster wants your attention. I would say I approved of him, but then you would only disapprove of him more. Good night, host.
I was practically yelling in my own head. My mobster? He's not my anything! But Lash had already gone back to sleep. And she was right, Marcone was trying to get my attention.
"Mister Dresden? Mister Dresden. Harry!" He became more and more exasperated as he went on.
"Don't call me that," I snapped for the second time that night.
"Well, Mister Dresden, when you don't respond to me by your preferred address for five minutes, I tend to look for alternate methods of catching your attention. What were you so fixated upon?"
I shook my head to clear it and glanced down at him, now standing right in front of me, about two feet away. I was struck, as always when I saw him, by his appearance. He was handsome, perpetually beginning to go gray, and fit for a man clearly a little bit past his prime. His money-green eyes were cold and piercing as usual, but they warmed up into a smirk—don't ask me how eyes can smirk, I've only ever known Marcone's to—as he registered my attention.
"Really, Harry, I could always get you a portrait painted. I'd offer a photograph, but we both know how harsh you are upon technology." The bastard was teasing me.
"I wasn't checking you out," I groused. "I was making sure none of the magic I had stored up against Morgan lashed out and gave you a new tattoo." I was too embarrassed by the idea that Gentleman Johnny thought he'd caught me appreciating his gym time to even tell him not to use my name.
Somebody snickered. Clearly, Marcone's goons were all blind idiots if they thought I'd really been looking at their boss. Okay, I had been looking at him, yeah, but completely in a risk-assessment way!
"I'm certain you were, Mister Dresden. On a slightly different note, allow me to give you a ride to wherever you were going before this incident." He was still smirking at me with his eyes. And somehow the way his cheekbones caught the fading sunlight though the snow told me he was laughing at me.
"I'm fine, scumbag. I don't need your help." This was, given the past few minutes, a blatant lie. I had no idea how I'd have not gotten a flesh wound off Morgan without Marcone's interference. And by now I was frozen. I would have just driven to begin with, but the fae really don't like iron or steel, and the Blue Beetle was in the shop right now anyway.
"Really now, Mister Dresden, you are sending mixed messages. You support me while I defend you from the Warden, you even use your little pet name, and yet claim you don't want or need my assistance. I could get confused by all the contradiction." God, Marcone would be enough of an asshole to drag this out in front of his goons. By now we both knew I'd be getting in his damn limo. When was the last time I actually managed not to get in his car?
I just growled at him and crossed my arms. I threw in a pout, too, while I was at it.
He actually laughed out loud this time. "Get in the car, Harry. Where am I taking you, before I return you to your apartment and your roommate?"
That was odd. He said 'roommate' with some definite coolness. What, he knew Thomas was a vamp, and had something against that? The guy owned the city's prostitution business. Surely the idea of incubi didn't bother him?
I raised both eyebrows at him. I'd never gotten the hang of just one. He leeched the coolness out of his face in response. Weirder. But I got in to the back of the limo, which was beautifully warm and dry and not full of snow or nutcases who would have done well in the Spanish Inquisition.
Marcone followed me in, motioning outside for his goons to all load back up into their black business cars. Hendricks got in to the driver's seat, and Gard slipped into to shotgun. Neither seemed to be bothered by the weather, or at all caring that their boss had just verbally pimp slapped a two-hundred-plus year old magical practitioner. "Hiya, bodyguard Barbie, bodyguard Ken."
Hendricks grunted in reply. Gard made absolutely no response. Maybe they didn't realize it was an insult. Maybe they didn't care. Either way, they clearly had no sense of humor.
As Hendricks pulled smoothly away from the curb, Marcone turned to me and said, "So, Mister Dresden, where are we going?"
I sighed, and gave him the address to Pizza 'Spress. He blinked and said, "Mister Dresden, you are aware that there is a new invention called a telephone, which can be used to contact people far away, even businesses? Food preparation industries will even bring the food to you." But he told Cujo to get going anyway.
"It's not for me." I muttered, choosing to glare out the window instead of look at him.
"A little childish, don't you think?" He sounded a little amused and a little irritated. Excellent. I loved bugging Johnny.
"Nope." I grinned to myself. Not looking at Marcone is apparently one of his buttons. I make it my life's work to find people's buttons and press them.
"Harry. I just saved your life. In fact I just rode in on a modern white horse with shiny Kevlar armor and an assault rifle. I'd like the courtesy of being looked at while I speak to you."
I had already whipped my head around before he finished speaking, stunned that he'd actually said that. I squawked, "Dammit, John, I'm a wizard, not a damsel in distress!"
He looked delighted at my attention. Well, delighted as Marcone goes. I've sometimes wondered how other people talk about his total lack of emotion. He locks them down well, but I've always been able to see them. Maybe I just make him more emotional?
"You were today, Harry." He's such an jerkass. He's enjoying this. "Would you care to elaborate on a few things for me, while Mister Hendricks drives?"
No, I wouldn't, but I was in his car, being driven to my errand and apparently home afterwards, and I'd already told him a fair amount while he rescued me. How much else could I screw up today? And although I wasn't going to admit it to anyone (but my stupid alter-id would probably talk about it with me, and with Lash) I didn't mind telling Marcone about magic. I really liked explaining the Art to people, even the parts I didn't enjoy so much, like supernatural politics. Giving Marcone more information would only let him get more dangerous to his enemies—which I seemed not to be.
"Fine. Sure. What?"
"To start with. Why did you not defend yourself from Warden Morgan?" He leaned forward slightly, closer to my personal space. I tried not to give any sign I'd noticed, because he was a predator, and predators like the smell of fear and unease.
"If I defended myself, he'd take it as proof I was a warlock. Which is an executable offense."
Marcone frowned, and moved even closer. I shifted subtly away. "Do wizards have any punishments other than execution?" He sounded disapproving. I supposed it was lucky the White Council wasn't a rival gang, because gangs Marcone disapproved of tended to end up dead.
"Yeah. One. It's called the Doom of Damocles. It means you're on probation, and as soon as your probational officer Warden gets a whiff that you might have broken one of the Council's Laws they execute you without a trial." I couldn't help but shiver. I'd lived under the Doom for years, and even the sight of Morgan had been existentially terrifying then. Not that I'd let that make me sensible or submissive to the Council's wishes.
Marcone's frown deepened. Oddly, his eyes were even warmer than before when he looked up at me, in contrast to the set of his face. "You were under this 'Doom of Damocles' after your trial at sixteen." It wasn't a question.
I nodded. "Not anymore, though, I got my name cleared after I took out Victor Sells."
Marcone looked like he was making some kind of list involving complicated math. He blinked, and got even closer than before. I could smell his cologne by now.
"Another question. Warden Morgan has persecuted you?" Something about his tone made me scrutinize his face. It sounded dangerous somehow, not for me, but for Morgan.
"Yes," I said slowly. "He hates me, thinks I'm a raving madman, an incompetent, and basically all-around spawn of Satan."
"Ah," Marcone replied. His hands twitched, like he wanted to lift them up and hold something. I was almost worried for Morgan now. I mean, yeah, Marcone had threatened to kill Morgan to his face not long ago, but I'd honestly thought even Marcone wouldn't try it. I was pretty sure I'd been wrong. Still, this was Morgan, and he had been hounding me for years. He wouldn't help me if I were in danger of death. I didn't owe him anything.
But somehow...I would feel guilty if Marcone made Morgan a pair of cement shoes. "He's not that bad," I muttered. "He probably wouldn't have done anything in an alley where anyone could see. Why do you even care?"
"Harry, he was holding a sword. He was readying himself to use that sword. You have just told me you were not going to defend yourself. The man would have killed you." Marcone paused, took a deep breath, and looked away from me. Then he let it out and looked back. "And I was not lying when I said I do not appreciate threats to my people. As a citizen of Chicago, you are one of mine as far as I am concerned. Whether or not you choose to work for me. You are Chicago's wizard, you are my wizard, and I will not allow some sword-wielding jumped-up lackey to change that!"
By the end of his speech Marcone had an interesting Italian-Chicagoan accent creeping in. Which distracted me for a moment. I don't just get emotions, I get a real accent? Boy, I feel so special. I bring out the best in mob bosses. But then I processed his statement and snapped, "I'm not your wizard!"
He went back to his eye-smirks, I went back to my non-acknowledgment of just how good and human and warm and real he smelled, and he said, "No, of course not, Harry."
I was about to remind him not to use my first name when Hendricks pointed out that we'd been sitting outside Pizza 'Spress for ten minutes. I turned red and practically jumped out of the car.
I didn't relax the entire time I spent waiting for the pizzas, which wasn't long as, who would have guessed, cheap pizza joints aren't full of people on snowy nights in January. When the cashier handed the boxes over I hurried back outside, kind of hoping Marcone wasn't waiting—he was—and headed down the back alley near the store. I thought Marcone was following me, so I called Toot-toot's name really quietly when I summoned him. He and his friends, the other regular members of the Za-Lord's Guard, devoured the pizzas in under five minutes. I sometimes still don't believe I have my own personal guard unit made of tiny faeries.
As it turns out, Marcone was following me, and as I turned around he was suddenly there. I did not squeak.
Today's ensemble was probably ridiculously expensive, probably an Italian suit, but you couldn't really tell under the black wool overcoat. It looked long and warm. "Interesting friends, Mister Dresden."
I elected to say nothing in reply. Marcone didn't need to know anything about my Little Folk, and I'd shared plenty of information with him tonight already.
"All right then, Mister Dresden. Are you ready to go home?" He said 'home' oddly. His accent-less sophistication was back, but I got the impression that he'd said what he meant, but wanted to mean something different than what he said.
"Yeah." Perhaps the way to deal with Marcone was to give him non-answers and refuse to look at him while doing so. I'd have to see how that worked out.
On the ride back to my apartment Marcone was strangely silent. It was especially odd after his questions and teasing earlier. But as I don't like talking to criminal scumbags, I was fine with that. Really.
I stared out the window at the snow; what I could see of it in the dark, anyway. The city was breathtaking sometimes. At dawn, at sunset, in the snow. My city.
Some time later—Hendricks drove slower than usual, I was guessing because of the snow—we arrived back at my place. As I made to get out of the limo, Marcone said, "Good night, Mister Dresden. Do try to stay away from any axe murderers until at least noon tomorrow. Even us criminal scumbags need sleep sometimes."
I was a little surprised he'd admit any kind of weakness; but it was just him, me, Hendricks, and Gard. They wouldn't say anything to anyone ever, and I already knew about coma girl. I suppose he thought I couldn't need any more blackmail material.
I got out completely, and turned back towards Marcone. "Night, John." I glared a little for the comment about axe murderers. But as I shut the door, I sighed and added, "And thanks. For saving my life. Scumbag."
Then I finished shutting the door, wrapped my duster more tightly around myself, and trudged down the steps to my door. I didn't look back to see Marcone's limo pull away, but I heard the engine noise fade away into the distance.
I took down my wards, just long enough to get through my ridiculously difficult to open door, which is only worse in the cold, and slipped inside. After fighting for forty days and forty nights with the broken steel security door, I triumphed. Thomas was lounging on the couch, asleep, wearing jeans only as per usual. The fire was crackling in the fireplace, Mister the sabre-toothed tiger (huh, maybe he and Marcone would have a pissing contest if they ever met) was sleeping on top of a bookshelf, and Mouse the wooly mammoth was curled up on the rug by the couch.
It made me smile. My brother, too pretty for his own good, my cat, my dog. My family.
My family that was not going to get executed by a fanatic because a Mafia don had decided to step in and help me out.
I moved quietly, so I didn't wake anyone up. Mouse raised a sleepy eyelid, but I shushed him and he went right back to sleep. I went to my bedroom and peeled off my wet clothes (I must have soaked the leather in Marcone's limo; I wondered why I hadn't noticed snow melting on me earlier) then sprinted into some pajamas and under my blankets. I extinguished the candles in the room with a wave of my hand, and burrowed down into the warmth.
As I fell asleep, I wondered about why Marcone had been anywhere near that alley. I wondered what he was going to do to Morgan. I wondered what cologne he wore that smelled so good.
I also wondered what it meant that I let him save me, that he kept moving closer to me in the car, that I felt comfortable sharing information with him, that I brought out his emotions. Well, there was one answer, but it was ridiculous.
Tonight I'd had my own personal knight in shining armor ride in on a white horse with a silver sword. Metaphorically. I kind of liked it. I also kind of worried about what I was going to do if Marcone realized he could make me owe him a favor for rescuing me from Morgan. I figured I'd worry about that in the morning.
It had been...pleasant...to be protected. To not have to fight every battle, because somebody else would. To let John Marcone take care of me like I was his property.
But I reminded myself sternly as I fell asleep: I was not Marcone's wizard. He was a tiger, a possessive predator, a criminal. I did not like him. I did not work for him.
I was not Marcone's wizard.