Chapter 1: Recuperation and Realization
In which Harry sorely needs to heal mentally and emotionally, finds a sanctuary of sorts and begins to build an unexpected friendship, and Harry's evil subconscious and Mister Hendricks indulge in a bit of plain speaking.
After all a dozen or so apocalyptic battles on a certain island out in Lake Michigan...after the Council had dealt with its latest catastrophe by lying and sweeping the evidence for anything to the contrary under the carpet...after a number of people, many of them those I loved and all of whom had made a difference in my life, had suffered and in some cases died for no good reason, I knew that the only thing I wanted to do was run away from home.
You can't really do that, of course. Not when you're an adult. You especially can't do it when you're a Warden of the White Council of wizards—think "magical cop, judge, soldier and executioner"--and you're Chicago's first and last line of defense against...well, I hesitate to say "the forces of evil" these days. Too many people have decided that I'm one of those forces for me to be entirely comfortably with the term. I fight people and entities that oppose me, my friends and family, and my city. That's all I can do.
And lately I couldn't even do that. Not successfully. Despite being ridiculously powerful for a wizard who hadn't even hit his first century yet, I kept getting thrown into battles with things that were older, bigger and a hell of a lot badder than I was. And the harder I tried to become strong enough to deal with my current enemies, the more frightened and suspicious the Council became. It was a lose-lose situation, and I was very tired of it.
Plus, I was beginning to wonder if I wasn't a jinx. It seemed like everyone who knew me suffered in some way. My mother was cursed to death when she was giving birth to me. My father had died of a brain aneurysm when I was six, and I'd heard from a demon that he'd been murdered. I'd killed my teacher and adoptive father, and never mind that it was in self-defense. One of my best friends had lost the job she was born to do and her reputation because of me, while another had been permanently crippled. His baby son had nearly been possessed by a fallen angel because of me, too. His daughter had become a warlock—a breaker of the Laws of Magic—because, in all innocence, she was trying to imitate me and make the world a better place through spells and enchantments. She'd nearly gotten her head chopped off because of this. My first girlfriend, Elaine, had nearly been suggested to death by a vampire that battened on suicidal despair; my second girlfriend, Susan, had been half-turned into a Red Court vampire, and was struggling to retain what shreds of humanity she still possessed; and the third, who had also been my boss, had, in quick succession, lost both her body and control over her mind. A sort of enemy who kept risking his life for me as if I were a friend and a little girl who I'd like to have as a daughter had been tortured for a week by a half dozen fallen angels and their psychotic hosts. And my brother...
Oh, my brother.
Despite this conviction that I was a disaster to anyone who mattered to me, I still spent a couple of months after Morgan's death attempting to get back into the swing of things. I was working hard, both as a detective and as a Warden—which, as usual, meant that I was barely scraping by financially. I visited friends, talking with them and playing games. I even tried to re-enter the dating scene, figuring that the old cliché about falling off a horse was probably true.
I might as well have tried to push a mountain uphill.
"I don't get it," I said to Murphy over steak and cheese sandwiches on toast at Mac's. Macanally's Pub was and is neutral ground for all things magical. No one inside was going to be zapping anyone—the pub was constructed so as to disrupt magical energy, and anyone attacking from outside the pub would a) run into some brilliantly constructed wards and b) violate the Unseelie Accords, which is a peace treaty that wizards have with a few score supernatural organizations and entities. Breaking the Accords...well, it would be the equivalent of one country attacking every other country in the world simultaneously.
I was, as nearly as possible, safe at Macanally's Pub. For a given value of safe. Because if the bad guys ever decided to say,"Screw the accords," I was still going to be magicless until I could get out the door. This was not a happy thought.
"What don't you get?" Murphy said, brushing a lock of blonde hair out of her face before biting into her sandwich.
"I'm doing what I always do. I get hurt, I bounce back. People around me get hurt, I try to be there and help if I can. Only this time it doesn't seem to be working. And I don't know why." I took a huge bite out of my sandwich for emphasis.
Murphy studied my face without precisely looking me in the eyes. "You don't know why," she echoed. "And I guess that all of the magical battles you've been in for the past fifteen years have nothing to do with it."
I gritted my teeth. Heroically macho, that's me. "I'm supposed to be able to stand up to that kind of thing!"
She took another bite of her sandwich and then rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Right. Thought Spider-Man was your thing, not Superman. Newsflash, Harry--you're getting burned out. You need a break. Find someone or something you can relax with—and it would probably be better if it wasn't related to magic."
I felt as if I'd just gotten a karate chop to the stomach. "Magic's all I know, Murph. It's the only thing I am good at, seriously."
"Then develop another skill!" she snapped. "Magic for you is all about battles and struggling to survive. It's like sharpshooting and martial arts are for me. But when I go home at night, I don't relax by tossing an ottoman across the room with a hip throw." She sighed. "You need to find something that doesn't remind you of danger and pain and death. Something that lets you have some measure of peace. And if you don't--"
I could fill in the rest of the sentence myself. And the hell of it was, she was right. I'd seen and fought a too many hideous things over the years, and the last one—an image burned into my memory with perfect, permanent clarity—had very nearly driven me insane. It scared me how close I'd come to being catatonic for the rest of forever...and how badly damaged I still was.
Murphy was right. I needed a break, and magic wasn't going to provide it. But I had no idea what might.
A few days later, when I was busy mending the wards on my apartment for what felt like the millionth time since the battle, I realized what was wrong.
I didn't feel safe here anymore. My apartment had been attacked and assaulted and invaded a thousand times. It felt a castle under siege. No wonder I was having such a difficult time maintaining the wards; in my mind, this wasn't a home any longer. It was a battlefield.
Battlefields are notoriously hard to protect.
Fortunately, I knew of a place that was not only safe, but that would welcome me.
A half hour later, I borrowed my brother Thomas's boat, the Water Beetle, and sailed out to the island in Lake Michigan that I had named Demonreach. The place that, for diverse and sundry reasons, mostly to do with survival, I had turned into a sanctuary.
I didn't do much that first day back. After greeting and gifting the genius loci of the place, I just wandered about the island, letting myself adjust to the skill I'd gained by making the island my sanctuary. Intellectus, it's called—a deep awareness of everything happening within a sanctuary's boundaries. I hadn't had time to think about this during the battle; I'd only had time to use it. Now I just let myself savor what was happening everywhere on the island on this lazy late summer day.
Which was not much, actually. And that suited me just fine.
I came out to the island again a couple of days later. The week after that, I decided to make a three-day weekend of it. By September, I had started rebuilding the island's ruined lighthouse. The work was slow—I knew nothing about carpentry and masonry—but I learned. By the time late November rolled around and I had to stop coming out to the island because the lake was filled with chunks of floating ice, I'd made considerable progress. And that winter, when I wasn't protecting my clients, practitioners of magic and Chicago from peril, I spent my time weaving spells of protection into the boards and stone that would become the walls and ceiling of my new lighthouse-tower.
It was peaceful. Calming. I felt as if I was starting to heal.
Then one day the following spring, while I was doing my construction work, I sensed someone stepping onto the island.
Who is it? I asked silently.
The response was a confused mish-mash of images and emotions rather than words. Human, it said. Tense. Unhappy. His blood has been shed here. He is doing nothing to harm us.
I sighed. It figured that a member or two of the Council would be curious about this place. Truthfully, I was surprised that they had waited this long to investigate. I knew they didn't trust Demonreach or me, but this was ridiculous.
Putting away my tools and materials, I headed down to the beach near the dock to see which wizard had set foot on my island.
Which was where I ran smack dab into John Marcone.
I must have looked somewhat poleaxed. The man had been cruelly tortured here by some very literal Hell's angels; I couldn't understand why he'd ever want to return.
He looked, as he always did, very good, though for once I couldn't chalk it up to the clothes. He was dressed casually in jeans that were more Army-Navy Store than designer brand, a light blue sweatshirt with dark blue silhouettes of an octopus and a tiger on it, scruffy white sneakers and, of all things, a battered Chicago Cubs baseball cap. His hair had a bit more grey in it than I remembered, and his ear still had a bite taken out of it; apparently he hadn't opted for reconstructive surgery.
And yet, despite the studiously ordinary clothes and the marks that his experience had left on him, he looked good--like a king that had been wounded in battle but had survived to fight another day. Of course, I wasn't sure how much of that was my opinion and how much was the island's.
He was staring at me with wild green eyes, as if I were an apparition.
"John?" I sounded a bit hoarse, even in my own ears. "What are you doing here?"
His response was smooth and immediate. "I could ask the same of you, Mister Dresden."
I opened my mouth to say something stupid and bantering—and then stopped. I didn't have the energy for a quarrel or for a pissing contest.
"I'm tired. Coming here makes me feel better, that's all."
"You don't look as if you've been sleeping poorly," he murmured as he looked me up and down.
"I did for years." True, I'd had bouts of insomnia and near-nightly bad dreams for decades. I hadn't had either since I'd begun visiting the island, and for that I was grateful. "But that's not the kind of tired I mean."
I thought I might have to explain that, but instead he gave me a probing look that might as well have shouted, You too, Mister Dresden? Then he nodded, saying quietly, "I understand."
"Now to turn the question back to you...why are you here?"
He bristled a bit at that. "I realize that I'm not welcome here, Mister Dresden, but I assure you that I'll be gone in an hour. I asked Ms. Gard to leave me here for that long."
Alone? But that doesn't make any sense. Shaking my head, I stared at him. "Would you mind repeating that? I think the sun was in my ears. It sounded like you just said that you didn't bring any bodyguards with you—not even Cujo Hendricks."
"I didn't." A fierce and—I have to use the word—tigerish scowl. "And I would appreciate it if you would refrain from calling Mister Hendricks that. He is a good and loyal employee, and one of the few people I can still call friend. He is not a rabid dog."
One of the few people I can still call friend. I'd never thought of John Marcone as being isolated before, much less lonely. And he was handling the insult a lot better than I would have if someone had given one of my friends a similar nickname.
I think that it was at that moment that the line between us was well and truly crossed, though I didn't realize it at the time.
"Okay, then," I said, shuffling my feet a little. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it. I think I was going for the fiercely rabidly loyal thing, but I guess I missed that by a mile."
A longer and more perplexed stare this time. "Mister Dresden...are you actually apologizing to me?"
"Don't get used to it."
"Should I start looking around for rabbit holes?" he asked politely. "Or should I merely ask you to brew me some beer in eggshells?"
I laughed. I really couldn't help it. How many crime lords know an ancient method to force faerie shapeshifters to betray themselves? "You could always chalk it up to the moon being in the seventh house."
His eyebrows escalated almost to his hairline. "You're really claiming that you're apologizing because Jupiter is aligned with Mars?"
"Yep. Got a better explanation?"
"None that sound quite so like you, I will admit." He gave me a smile that had a trace of sadness lurking in it. "I'm sorry to have intruded on you, Wizard Dresden. It won't happen again."
Well, hey. If he could be polite, maybe I could be honest.
"No need to apologize." After all, he hadn't known I was here. "You still haven't told me why you came here, though. I mean...if I'd been through what you had, I don't know that I could stand to come here again."
"I can't stand it," he said softly, crossing his arms over his chest. "That's why I'm here."
Light dawned. "Ah. Exorcism."
"Of a sort, yes." His expression was somewhere in between worried and wary. "I don't suppose I have to tell you that this must go no further."
"I think that we can consider the warnings given and received, yes."
He nodded, then took a deep breath. "Then I would ask you to imagine—hypothetically—having been in an unbearable situation in which you were completely helpless. How would you deal with the fact that your foes might well force you to face the unfaceable again, if they possibly could?"
I thought of the skinwalker, which instantly brought its hideous image to my mind. Damn wizard Sight. The memory wasn't breaking me, but it still hurt. I couldn't keep myself from flinching.
I could swear that I saw a glimmer of sympathy in the man's green eyes. "You too?"
"Yeah. A skinwalker."
I thought I would have to explain that—most people don't know a lot about chaotic evil semi-divine abominations who can transform into anything and who are, for all practical purposes, immortal. And explaining wouldn't be a good idea. Just naming the thing could draw its attention, and it already had reason to hate me.
But Marcone didn't need a definition. He blanched white as I said the word. "Dear God."
"But you beat it."
"No. I didn't." Almost a year later, and that still galled. "I tried, and it almost killed me. And it barely had to lift a finger to do it. Listens-to-Wind sent it howling, but--"
"But it's still alive and it still wants revenge. Because you survived against it."
"That would be my guess."
"And you're upset that I'm here alone? Are you looking for a rematch, or are you just trying to commit suicide?"
He looked and sounded perfectly calm, if you didn't know him. I'd been around him long enough to read the tells—his eyes darkening slightly, the studied placidity of his tone contrasting with the way he shifted ever so subtly into a battle stance. He wasn't just annoyed, he was furious.
I reacted the way I always do...by being a smart-ass. "Aww, John. I didn't know you cared."
Normally this would have made him back down. Not this time. Instead, he stepped closer, glaring up at me. (Not that he's even remotely short. It's just that a guy who's six-foot-three does have to look up at one who's six-foot-nine.)
"I care," he said, gritting his teeth. "I dislike waste. I dislike it intensely. And you are essential to the safety of Chicago. I will not see you throwing your life away because of some macho game. And if I have to swim across Lake Michigan dragging you behind me in order to get you to some modicum of safety, I will do it. Do you understand? Now. How much danger are you in?"
He'd said things like this to me before, but never when we were standing on this island. So I'd never known the things that the island was telling me—that his heart was speeding up as he spoke, that adrenaline was flooding through him, and that quite a lot of blood was flowing to a very definite point in his body. And, I was summarily informed, I was in a similar state myself.
That was when the evil subconscious that lives in my brain spoke up. I've seen him in dreams. He looks like me, only he dresses all in black and wears a goatee that I swear he stole from the Master in Doctor Who.
Look, Harry. You know you like guys as well as women. You've checked out Billy's muscles. And Michael Carpenter's. And Sanya's. Thomas's abs, even. And I'm pretty sure that guys who aren't attracted to other men don't describe their sex vampire sibs as looking like "the lost Greek god of body cologne." Hell's bells, the first thing you thought about John Marcone was that he was handsome. And you never stop thinking about how he looks, or how muscular he is, or how green his eyes are.
That's half the reason that you have so many problems with women—because you want both. We both do. We always have. And as much as I know you want a family, we won't be able to commit to anyone until you deal with who and what you are.
The lying has to stop.
And considering how many people keep kidding you about being gay—Butters, Thomas's clients, Thomas's landlord, Murphy, Special Investigations—well, at this point, I think the only one being fooled by the lie is you.
And with that, he vanished back into the depths of my brain. And I was left staring, open-mouthed, at the face of an angry mobster.
If this were a Harlequin romance, I would have bent low and kissed him. (Oh, shut up. Of course I know about romance novels. Hell's bells, I've got an air spirit in my sub-basement who practically worships Nora Roberts. And no, that's not a euphemism.)
This wasn't a romance novel. So I shelved the lecture I'd just received, telling myself I'd think about it later, and tried to answer John. What had he just asked me? Oh. Oh, yeah.
"I'm not in any danger. Not here. In fact, this is probably the safest place in the world for me." And with that—and without stopping to question the impulse making me say this—I told him about the link between me and the island.
He was silent for a few minutes afterwards. When at last he spoke, it was in a very dry tone. "Well. It appears that at least one man on this earth truly is an island."
I squirmed. "Well...sort of. I'm not the island, exactly. I'm just linked to it."
"Permanently linked to a powerful source of ley lines that is also possessed of an ancient, if somewhat grumpy, guardian spirit. The Council must have had a collective grand mal seizure over this."
"Pretty much, yeah."
"And my being here truly is an intrusion," he said, heaving a heavy sigh. "You and the island are one, after all. And I came here uninvited."
Once again, as I had when I'd named the island Demonreach, I felt an irresistible impulse to say something that I didn't quite understand. "Then be invited, John Marcone. Both Demonreach and Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden welcome you."
He gazed at me with a half-perplexed, half-hopeful expression. "You mean it, Mister Dresden?"
"Harry. I insist that people who are sharing sanctuary with me call me Harry. And yeah, I mean it. And so does the island." I shuffled my feet on the sandy earth and began to explain as best I could.
"It's not a bad place, John. The Denarians did a lot of bad shit here. So did the skinwalker. But the place itself isn't evil. It won't hurt you. I mean, you could slip and break your leg, sure. But that could happen anywhere. Nothing bad's going to happen because the island hates you. In fact"--I smiled a bit sheepishly--"it's impressed."
"It is?" he said, his amused tone clearly saying, You are?
"Yeah." And I really didn't want to get into why the island and its spirit were impressed, especially as I didn't consciously know myself. Plus I still had plenty to think about when John wasn't around, courtesy of my evil id. "So. I'm going to be up there"--I pointed up at the hill on which the semi-ruined and semi-reconstructed lighthouse stood. "Got some building to do. What about you?"
"I thought I would just stay on the beach and do some yoga. I'd prefer not to explore yet."
Yoga. He did yoga. Okay, that just flat-out wasn't fair.
Stupid evil subconscious and its vivid imagination.
It took me a minute to notice that other word in the sentence. "'Yet'?"
"I had planned on making further trips out here if the first one was...satisfactory." He gave me an oblique look, as if he had a question that he wasn't quite sure how to ask.
I sighed. "John. Barring any dire emergencies, the invitation stands. It's not a one-time-only thing, okay? When I said that Demonreach welcomed you, I meant it."
He gave me a brief, startled smile. "Thank you, Harry."
And that was how it began.
As the weather got warmer (for a given value of warm—Lake Michigan would never be described as a tropical climate), we both started coming out to the island more and more often. Nothing planned, nothing deliberate. Demonreach simply felt more comfortable than Chicago.
By the time May rolled around, he was helping me rebuild the tower.
Before the Fourth of July came, we'd had an argument about who was better at yoga which turned into a competition. Which he won, by the way. I'm good, but there's no way to beat a guy who can do scorpion pose and make it look easy.
I don't remember which of us was the first to bring a meal and split it with the other. I do know that I introduced him to Macanally's home-brewed ale. I think the gods on Olympus drink Mac's ale when they're tired of nectar and ambrosia.
By August, we were operating on an improvised schedule. Nothing you could set your watch by; that would be dangerous for both of us. But by now he knew when I had a case, and I knew when he had business meetings, and we were taking special care to go out to the island at approximately the same time.
And I still hadn't figured out that what we were doing was, effectively, dating.
Oh, I'd thought about that realization that my evil id had shoved in my face. Thought about it a lot, in fact. And I'd come to the conclusion that for a long time, I'd mixed up what I wanted with who I was.
I'd been noticing guys for years—ever since I was fourteen or fifteen and thought that the sinewy and tanned college kid mowing DuMorne's lawn was seriously hot. But not long after that, Elaine and I slept together for the first time, and I figured it had just been a phase. After all, I liked girls. And I wanted scads of kids someday. So obviously, I was straight, right?
No one had told me that I might end up preferring male and female. Or that it was okay. I'd muddled through as best I could, trying to be my chivalrous self and a very consciously male noir-ish detective and still indulge in the odd glance in a handsome or muscular man's direction from time to time. And if people kidded me about being gay, well, they were just teasing. I knew that.
Only now it wasn't working anymore. I wanted John. Wanted him so much that it hurt. And it didn't help that, courtesy of the island, I knew that John felt the same way.
And we couldn't do anything about it.
No one had to tell me why John wasn't acting on how he felt. Hello, detective here. Despite relying on magic, I really can deduce things. One thing I knew was that the Mafia wasn't going to be handing out rainbow buttons at the Chicago Pride Parade anytime soon. Somehow, I didn't think that John being bisexual would go over well; in fact, I doubted if his rivals would distinguish between bi and gay. I could just picture the disgust that someone like this had become a power in Chicago. The fear. The macho loathing. The murderous homophobia. Not to mention that Hendricks and John's MONOC corporation contractor, Sigrun Gard, would be targets...as would a little girl in a grown woman's comatose body. John went to insane lengths to protect his people; I couldn't see him putting any of them on the firing line. Especially for a supposedly straight wizard who wasn't exactly noted for experimentation, calmness or discretion.
And while I didn't think that my friends and colleagues would kill me for being bisexual, I couldn't see how I could tell them that I was without bringing up who I was interested in.
It would be disastrous news for Murphy. It would also probably get me fired as police consultant—which was the only steady salary I had, Warden's pay being less than a pittance—and result in every case in which I'd consulted being reversed or overturned. Murphy would be labeled a dirty cop...just by association. And Murph was the soul of honor. She didn't deserve that.
And if possible, telling Thomas would be worse. My big brother was pretty much in his big sister's pocket these days. She kept him close to Chateau Raith, and she kept him properly fed, rather than half-starved as he'd been for the past few years. I rarely saw him these days; I wasn't entirely sure how much of his mind was his own. And the last thing I needed was for this information to leak to my somewhat terrifying evil stepsister.
The White Court did not need to have this kind of information about me or John. And since my brother's half-sister was the de facto ruler of the White Court vampires, if not the official one...yeah. I've seen Lara Raith in action. She's powerful and gorgeous, generates pure sexual desirability—big shock, considering she's a sex vampire--and is completely amoral. As for her mind—well, if she were going up against Niccolo Machiavelli, my heart would break for the poor naïve man.
Telling my brother was a risk I didn't dare take.
And then there were the Carpenters. They had their own very special issue with Marcone—not that any of them had mentioned it, but they didn't need to. There's no good way of saying to a friend, "Hey, remember a few years back when you and I went to an island in Lake Michigan to rescue a little girl and a crime lord, and you got half-blinded and crippled and had to give up being God's personally appointed knight? Yeah, I kinda want to sleep with the crime lord now, and I hope you don't mind..."
Yeaaaah. Good luck with that one.
If Michael would be hurt—and there was no question in my mind that he would—the Carpenter women would be furious. I suspected Charity, who was devoutly Catholic, would ban me from any contact with her family on moral grounds alone. And as for Molly...
Well, she'd ended up breaking the Fourth Law--"thou shalt not enthrall another"--to, as she saw it, save her best friend Rosie and her boyfriend Nelson from heroin addiction. Molly hadn't mindraped them; she'd simply overwhelmed their minds and wills, forcing them to be terrified every time that they'd even thought of shooting up. She'd insisted that she'd done this to save them and Rosie's baby; Rosie had already miscarried once before due to drugs.
Whether Marcone or one of his rivals had been responsible for getting them addicted, I didn't know. Marcone was Mafia, though, so it was a fair guess that, among other things, he dealt in drugs.
This didn't make me any happier. And the fact that I hated the Outfit he worked for but couldn't hate the man—that I actually liked and trusted the man--wasn't likely to make my apprentice one ounce more reasonable.
I wanted to come out. Needed to, even. But I couldn't see a way to do it without enraging and/or destroying the people I cared about most. Again.
So I did what I'd been doing for years. I sublimated. I channeled how I felt into construction and magic and just plain enjoying the time that we could spend together. And occasionally I patted myself on the back, telling myself how beautifully I was handling this and how mature I was being. I even believed it.
I had reckoned without both of us having smart friends.
One Saturday in September I came home around noon. A client had called me to find and exorcise some kobolds making knocking sounds in the walls of her house; it turned out to be the furnace instead. She'd been pleased enough to give me a nice fat direct deposit to my checking account, and I was looking forward to just going home and pretending—for a day, at least—that I was one of the idle rich.
Imagine my reaction, then, when I found John's bodyguard Hendricks waiting for me in my living room. He was holding Murphy's crystal amulet—the one I'd given her so that she could get past my wards. God alone knew how he'd managed to steal it. He was holding it at arms' length and watching it warily as if it was a black mamba poised to strike. I had no doubt that he was going to return it to Murphy the instant he left, which was a relief, but which didn't make me one bit happier that it had been stolen in the first place. He didn't have his happy face on, either, but then he never does when he's dealing with me.
"Dresden," he growled at me, "what the fuck are you playin' at?"
"Hi—" Damn it, I almost called him Cujo, and John had told me his opinion of that nickname. "Hi, Hendricks. I hate to bring this up, but...stars and stones, what are you doing in my house?"
"Came to give you a warning."
"Let me guess. You're gonna make me an offer I can't refuse. And if I do, I'll sleep with the fishes."
Hendricks turned nearly as red as his hair, and, if possible, his little piggy eyes grew even smaller. But when he spoke, his voice was quiet. "I don't quote Harry Potter movies at you, y'know."
Damn it. He had a point. "Okay. You're right. What's the warning?" Not that I mind Hendricks, it's just that I don't want to find him in my house at the end of the day. The man looms over everyone and everything, and not in a benevolent way. It's like dealing with a very angry Great Wall of China.
"Stay away from the boss."
"Huh?" I knew I couldn't have heard right.
"Stay. Away." He chewed on his lip and glared at me as if he wanted to belt me in the mouth. "You got no idea what kind of trouble you're creating."
"I'm not doing anything!"
"You're spendin' all your time with him. Yeah, yeah, I know, you're out there buildin' a tower on Torture Island--"
"Demonreach." It seemed very important to make that point. "That's its name."
Hendricks' expression said that he couldn't have cared less. "Point is, Dresden," he said with exaggerated patience, "you and him go out to the island about two, three times a week. That's time that he used to spend socializing with rivals and schmoozing with women. Now he's dating you."
"Dating?! I haven't...we're not..."
"You eat with him; he's had lunches packed. He's tryin' out new booze that you've given him. You talk together. You've got his goddamned phone number. How many dons you figure give out their phone numbers to someone not in the business? And you're having fun buildin' the tower out on the island. And you make a point of being there together. Okay, it's not dinner by candlelight and dancin'. But don't tell me you ain't datin', because you are. And you're gonna get him killed if you aren't careful. So stay away."
"We aren't doing anything!" I was doing everything at this point but throw the words at his head. Somehow I had to drive it into Hendricks' mind that I wasn't the threat he thought I was.
And that was when he hauled off and knocked me across the room.
Automatically, I gathered my magic to hurl a fireball at him if he followed up.
But he didn't. He clenched both fists as if he wanted to break me in half and spoke in a calm growl. "He's establishing a pattern of consistency. That is not good. It's not just that people could find out where he's going and when and kill him. You're important to him, don't you get that? There are people who will hurt you to break him. And they will do things that will make that burned hand of yours look like a paper cut."
Letting my shield bracelet absorb the energy from the fireball, I stared up at him. "You know words like 'consistency' and 'establish'?"
He snorted. "And a thug can't have any brains, right? What the fuck do you know about me, Dresden? Seriously, what do you know, besides my last name and who I work for?"
I quickly reviewed what I knew of Hendricks. The answer was "nothing much."
"Sorry," I said, or rather mumbled. I'm not entirely sure that he heard me, but I guess he caught something of my tone because he nodded and turned to go.
"Hendricks." I didn't want to call after him, didn't want to say what I had to say. My life would be infinitely improved if I were a better liar.
He stopped and turned to face me again. "Yeah?"
"I don't know if I can stop seeing him. I'll be more careful. I'll try to protect him. But..."
I expected an explosion. Instead, Hendricks sighed. "Yeah. That's about what I expected. But Dresden—anything happens to him because of you? I'll kill you."
There wasn't any rage in his voice. It was just a cold statement of fact. If John died because of me, I'd have to pay in the same coin. No more, no less.
I swallowed. Hard. "Well, if anything happened to him, I'd ask you to."
"No, you wouldn't."
"Yeah, I would." I thought for a minute. "But first I'd ask you for some time to go after the bastards who happened to him."
"Oh, I'd go after them first."
"What, you don't believe in sharing the wealth?"
He made a sound somewhere in between a snort and a guffaw. And without another threat or so much as a backward glance, he walked out, leaving me awkwardly sprawled on the floor.
Once I was sure he had left for good, I got up, grabbed some ice from the icebox, wrapped it in a towel and applied it to my aching head. When the pain was gone, or mostly gone, I headed out the door.
It was time--past time, it seemed--to talk to Michael.
Chapter 2: Revelations and Repetition
In which Harry comes out to Charity and Ivy and learns rather more than he'd ever suspected, and Bob has several surprising revelations of his own.
DISCLAIMER: I most emphatically do not own The Dresden Files. They belong to Jim Butcher, ROC Books and Lionsgate Productions. No profit is being made and no copyright or trademark infringed upon.
I drove over in a state of intermingled heroic nobility and high anxiety--nobility because at last I was doing the right thing and telling Michael the truth, and anxiety because he was going to be hurt and would probably kill me.
Charity, who was mixing an enormous bowlful of cookie batter, greeted me at the Carpenters' door.
"Hello, Harry," she said. "How can I help you?"
"Hi, Charity. Um...where's Michael?"
"Off coaching softball practice." She glanced at her watch. "It should be starting any minute now."
It may sound childish, but I was annoyed by this. I'd gotten myself all nerved up to come out to a friend, and the friend didn't even have the decency to be around for my moment of great drama.
Whatever deity is in charge of my life has a sick sense of humor and a horrendous sense of timing.
"Would you like to come in?"
I wasn't going to accept her invitation; I knew she was only offering it for courtesy's sake. I'm not Charity's favorite person by a long shot. But then she opened the door as a follow-up to her invitation, and my nose was instantly assaulted by the warm, delicious smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. There's no way to resist the fresh-baked-cookie smell. The Pied Piper couldn't compete with it.
So of course I said yes. After all, who wouldn't?
I wasn't too surprised to find a tall blonde teenager sharing the kitchen with Charity; the Carpenters have four daughters and three sons, and Molly is the only one of the seven who--so far--has shown no interest in learning how to cook.
But I was surprised by the identity of the girl, for it was Ivy. The Archive.
She'd been seven when we first met, twelve when I'd rescued her from the fallen angels and their psychotic hosts, fourteen by the time I'd tried to save my parole officer and ended up mindmelding with an island in the process. By now she was nearly sixteen, at least, and if I hadn't known better, I would have sworn she was one of Charity's children.
She was dropping tablespoonsful of dough onto a greased cookie sheet, and was wearing an expression of intermingled joy and satisfaction.
She spotted me and gave me a huge grin as I sat down at the kitchen table. "Hi, Harry. Aunt Charity is teaching me how to cook."
"She told me to call her that."
"People need families," Charity said in a brisk, no-nonsense tone as she donned a mismatched pair of oven mitts and removed some cookies from the oven. I could feel my mouth watering as she did so. "And she's a sweet girl."
Sweet? Not exactly the adjective I'd ever mentally used for Ivy. On the other hand, I'd seen her at the age of seven commanding a material called deathstone while she refereed a duel between me and a Duke of the Red Court.
But then, given some of the stuff I'd done over the years, I was hardly in a position to criticize.
"Oh, by the way," Ivy said, dropping the last spoonful of dough on the cookie sheet, "Figaro says hello."
"Figaro?" Charity asked.
"My cat," Ivy explained. "Harry gave me a kitten for Christmas after...after the bad time." For a moment, she seemed to shrink into herself.
I'd decided after the rescue that regardless of her magical role, Ivy was a kid and effectively an orphan, and kids, especially orphans, needed love, affection and physical contact. So I'd thumbed my nose at the Council--who swore that The Archive needed emotional distance to be able to function and that getting close to her could be dangerous—and bought her the softest, fluffiest, most affectionate kitten I could find.
After she'd stopped squeeing, she'd named the poor kitten Figaro Sylvester.
Despite the Council's blatant disapproval, I'd kept tabs on her since, taking her out for burgers or ice cream when I could afford it, buying her things like cards and presents for Christmas and Valentine's Day and her birthday. It wasn't much--we both had jobs to do that ate up a lot of our time, and God knows I didn't know how to make things better for a kid who had every word and image from the Internet in her head--but she seemed to thrive on our time together.
Ivy hadn't mentioned that Charity had virtually adopted her too. Which, okay, made me more than a little jealous. I'd never been "Uncle Harry."
"What did you want to see Michael about?" Charity asked.
"Nothing. Something private. A revelation, I guess you'd say." I really didn't want to talk about John, especially in front of Ivy. There are some things that kids just don't need to know.
Charity's eyebrows escalated to her hairline. "A private revelation that's nothing. That you had to come and tell Michael immediately."
"Uh...yes?" Suddenly it didn't sound probable, even to me.
Charity handed off the oven mitts to Ivy, who quickly donned them and put the cookie sheet she'd been working on into the oven, and then placed her hands on her hips and glared at me.
"If you've come over here because you've finally realized that you're in love with my husband--"
"What?!" Where had that come from?
Another death glare. "I have seen the way you look at him over the years. His face. His muscles. His chest. You find him attractive. More than attractive."
I buried my head in my hands, wondering if a wizard could be humiliated enough to will himself out of existence. "Uh...well, yeah, Michael is a very good-looking man, Charity, but--"
"Do not tell me," she said in an Antarctic tone, "that you care nothing for him. I won't believe it."
"Of course I care about him! He's a friend!" Repressing the impulse to whine about trust, I took a deep breath instead. "Charity. How long have you been worried about this?"
"Since I first saw you give him an appreciative look," she admitted, sitting down opposite me at the table. "You're--you shared a world with him for years. You could fight by his side, thanks to your magic. You are the closest of friends. You would die for each other. You could share Michael's life in a way I could not."
"Plus the magic, and me being a trouble magnet."
She bowed her head. "Yes. You frightened me for years. Less, since Michael's injury, but...between your friendship, your magic and your...appreciation...of his looks, it was like being friends with a whirlwind. At the least, you could upset everything. And at the most, you could tear everything apart. And nothing would ever be the same again."
Cautiously, I put my hand on top of hers, wondering if I should do the pat-pat-there-there thing. Nah. She'd probably take my head off with an egg beater.
"I'm not here to hurt you," I said quietly. "I came over because...well, I figured out that this...attraction to men...was maybe a little more noticeable than I'd realized"--damn you, Hendricks!--"and I needed to tell a friend or two the truth."
"It isn't Michael," Ivy said in a matter-of-fact tone, closing the oven door. "Though you're right about Harry being attracted to Michael, as well as a number of other men. And women." She shrugged and glanced at me. "People notice you. Sometimes they notice you noticing them. And then they write it down. Notebooks and journals, usually."
"Can I just die now?" I asked the air plaintively. Seriously, first Hendricks and now these two? I was beginning to wonder if anything was secret.
Charity was gazing at Ivy uncertainly. "Not Michael?"
Ivy shook her head.
"Couldn't it just be a hypothetical someone?" I beseeched, giving them both my best beagle impression. "Surely who it is isn't important--"
"It's John Marcone."
I closed my eyes and braced myself for the explosion.
Which didn't come. Instead, when I opened my eyes, Charity was gazing in my direction, puzzled. "Why him?" she said.
"That's it?" I asked, disbelieving. "No rage? No hatred? No moralizing? No tons of resentment that I fell for the guy your husband got crippled rescuing? You were furious at me a few minutes ago!"
"Not furious," Ivy said quietly. "Protective."
Charity just stared at me--or rather, she stared about two inches to the left of my right ear to avoid a soulgaze. "Harry. I've been afraid of you. I've been angry with you. But I've never hated you. And I don't blame you for what happened to Michael. I blame the Denarians and their minions."
"It was my shitty plan!"
"If you'd gone up in Michael's place, the bullets wouldn't have hit you in the chest, Harry," Ivy interrupted. "I know what the X-rays looked like, remember. I can figure the probable trajectories. They would have gotten a man your height right about here." And she touched the area just under her jaw and the back of her neck.
I'd heard something similar from the Archangel Uriel. Somehow, I believed it more when I heard it from Ivy. "So I would have been killed."
"And after that, the rest of us would have been too. Or worse." She shuddered, then gave me a very stern look. "You and John are exactly the same. You blame yourselves for things that aren't even your fault."
"How do you know about him?" I asked, mentally throwing in the towel. "I doubt if he's been scrawling love letters in his day planner."
"He comes to see me sometimes," Ivy said. She glanced at her hands and then at the remaining dough that had to be kneaded, grimaced, muttered something about, "Unhygienic," and began scouring her palms and fingers as if she were scrubbing up for brain surgery.
"He comes to see you?" Clearly I'd fallen down a rabbit hole somewhere. "And no one worries about this?"
That earned me the patented patient gaze of a teenager. "Harry. My guardian-protector is a centuries-old half-demon mercenary called the Hound of Hell. And I've known every form of deadly and apocalyptic magic since birth. Do you really think that anyone's going to worry about a crime lord taking me out for ice cream?"
Reluctantly, I had to agree with her. "Still, I doubt if he was talking to you about his feelings."
She was silent for a minute. "We took a trip to Wisconsin recently. He wanted me to meet his daughter."
"She's...not his daughter."
Another patient look. "Not biologically or legally, no. Those are both very minor considerations."
"And he...uh...talked to you about her?"
"No. He talked to Amanda about you while I examined her to see if I could repair the damage." She looked thoughtful. "And truthfully, he didn't say much. He kept his voice neutral and his face blank. But when he talked about you, no matter how dull and boring and annoying he tried to make you sound, his eyes lit up. He's happy.
"So I knew. He wouldn't have told her if you didn't matter."
That hit me hard. Harder than I'd expected. I'd just about figured out that I could be physically attracted to men. I hadn't thought very deeply about how much I enjoyed being around John. That he made me happy.
It's a low blow to discover, while you're still more or less convinced that someone is just a friend who might, with luck, become a friend with benefits, that you've gone and fallen in love with the guy.
I don't do love well. I had no desire to have hideous bad luck attack John as it had Elaine, Susan and Anastasia.
It wasn't as if I couldn't give him up. Okay, yeah, I liked him, but I'd lived like a hermit before. Hell's bells, I had more dry spells than the Sahara Desert.
So why was the idea making me sick to my stomach?
I don't even remember saying goodbye. Or driving home, for that matter. The next thing I remember clearly, I was pacing up and down in my sub-basement lab. And I was most definitely not thinking about the fact that I'd fallen in love without noticing it. Trying not to think about it, actually.
Damn it, why wasn't there a good city-threatening horror to fight when I needed one?
Unfortunately, you can't pace in my basement--at least not indefinitely--without waking a certain air elemental who lives in a skull. All too soon, Bob was awake and alert, demanding to know why I was so upset and why my aura showed every sign of intermingling with someone else's essence. I told him that was flat-out impossible, since I hadn't...er, mingled for a couple of years. Since the last time Luccio and I had had sex, not that I got specific. That would be like handing Daffy Duck a stick of dynamite and expecting him not to play with it.
"That's pathetic, you know," Bob said in a disappointed voice. "Humans are good at having sex, Harry. Why don't you try it?"
I gritted my teeth. "Bob--"
"Anyway," the skull continued blithely, paying no attention to me at all, "sex is one way to mingle essences. It's not the only way. It's just the easiest. F'r instance, another way involves emotions--not basic stuff like lust that even I can get behind, but confusing stuff that involves morality. Love. Trust. Things like that. Don't get me wrong, exchanging energies through physical contact? Lots easier. A hug is simple. But even though the morality stuff takes longer, it goes pretty deep."
Not what I wanted to hear. Because what Bob was saying felt good and comfortable and right, and I didn't want to get comfortable. I wanted to be okay with wanting John without having to change one iota, and I had a terrible feeling that instead, a huge continental shift had taken place when I wasn't looking.
"You can tell how the...mingling...was done just by looking?" I asked without much hope.
"Well, duh, Harry," said Bob, his orange eyelights rolling around in the skull's sockets. "That's easy. All I have to do is look at your aura. Which--hey!" The sheer delight in his voice made me wince.
"What's wrong with my aura?" I demanded.
"Nothing, nothing," Bob replied hurriedly, in a tone that sounded as if he was snickering and smirking at the same time. "It's just that I never pictured you...uh...mingling essences with another guy."
"It's not a guy."
Don't look at me like that. Bob is obsessed with sex and has an eidetic memory. It's not a good combination. If I didn't shut him up, he would keep laughing at me for the rest of my life. Which could be another five hundred years or thereabouts.
In any event, it didn't work. The skull snorted at me instead. "Puh-LEESE, Harry. I can tell, you know. Male essence differs from female essence."
I was momentarily distracted. "How?"
"It's more opaque, for one thing. Bright but opaque. Like frosted glass. Female essence tends to be more translucent, like stained glass. Okay, granted, there are people--human and non-human--with a mixture of both, and yeah, this could have been from someone who was male in spirit, if not physically. Or not originally physically.
"But I don't know of any transmen you're this close to. I don't know of any transmen you're close to at all. However, you do know a lot of guys who were born guys, and you're friends with most of them. So I figure it's one of them. Now, which one? Hmmm." The eyelights dimmed from a fiery orange to a dull ocher as Bob mulled it over.
Oh, God, I was doomed.
"Bob," I said, pouring as much of my will as I could into my voice, "let it go. Just don't think about it anymore."
"But it's interesting, Harry," Bob whined, sounding just like a bratty kid who doesn't want to go to bed. Please, just a half hour more? One more story? One more glass of water? "Besides, it's familiar. I've felt that essence on you before."
"It's not Thomas." I don't know why I said that.
"Psssh," Bob said, dismissing that idea. "Of course it's not. This is from someone of your species. Your brother isn't human, Harry. The quality of the essence is a little different. Plus, I'd be able to sense the demonic influence on you from here. Besides, I really can't picture you mingling essences with your brother. Your morality gland would rupture." A pause. "Even though you do think he's totally hot."
I briefly considered banging my head into a wall, but considering that Listens-to-Wind had only just cured my killer migraines a couple of years back, I suspected that wouldn't be a good idea. Instead, I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Are you through?"
"Now where have I felt this essence before?" he murmured. "Aside from every time you come back from the island." One eyelight flickered on and off swiftly. Bob was winking at me.
I said nothing. Unfortunately, this didn't dissuade Bob.
"So what are you two doing on the island, hmmmm?" he leered. Don't ask me how a skull can leer. This one did.
"Building. A. Tower," I said through clenched teeth.
"Oh, is that what the kids are calling it these days..."
He sobered up instantly. "That's significant, you know. Building something together."
"I don't follow."
"It's simple. Towers are bases of power. They're also wizard's homes, or they used to be in the old days. You're building a base of power, as well as a home, with someone you're in love with. Do you have any clue how much magic is involved in all that? You expect me not to notice? Feh. Anyone who's not spiritually blind could see it sticking out all over you like porcupine quills."
"Anyone?" I said weakly. "I mean, I never noticed this kind of stuff."
"You don't look," snorted the skull. "You could--you can see auras, and even read them to some extent. But you could be a lot better. And trust me, most wizards don't ignore the opportunity to learn something. That can be dangerous.
"So," I said, feeling as if I was poking a sore tooth. "Anyone who saw me in the past few years who can read auras would have known that there was a man in my life. Not the name of the man, but that he was...a man."
"Pretty much, yeah."
"How would the Council feel about this?"
His reply was soft. "Which one? White or Black?"
I shrugged. "Both?"
"The regular Council? They wouldn't care. Wouldn't be thrilled--they'd want to be sure you passed along some genes to future generations at some point, and the sooner the better, probably. But your sex life wouldn't affect them. It would be no skin off their noses. They have other issues where you're concerned.
"The Black Council, though--they'd care. They'd want you and him apart immediately. And forever. They wouldn't care how, either. Death, damnation, distraction, deception--"
A picture was forming, and I didn't like it. "Why?"
"Because there's power in love, Harry," he said gravely. "It's the essence of life."
And life was what wizards drew their power from. I was beginning to grasp this. And now that I thought of it, John had been in danger since the werewolf mess. It had seemed natural for even for psychotic FBI Hexenwulfen to go after a crime lord, but now I wondered who had suggested the wolf belts to their leader, and that John be their target.
The werewolf mess wasn't the first time we'd collided, nor the first time one of us had threatened the other. But it was the first time that we'd worked together to save each other.
And it had gotten worse after that case, hadn't it? Denarians. Vampires--including one possessed by an Outsider. And then Denarians again. And against all odds, we'd kept on working together and grown even closer. And we'd kept saving each other's lives. The eeriest occasion had been when I'd been dealing with a passel of necromancers and wannabe-gods. John had driven by in a limo and given me a lift. A very minor moment in my life...but John's driver-contractor, Sigrun Gard, had been convinced that by giving me a ride in his car, John had prevented my death.
I have this strange tendency not to argue with Valkyries. Not on the subject of fate, anyway.
And how many conspiracies and apocalypses had I prevented since that day?
And how many narrow escapes for both of us?
It was strange how, the closer we got, the more we kept falling into identical patterns. Threats of death. Attempts to damn both of us--I wondered why the Denarians hadn't touched one of their coins to his skin while they'd been holding him prisoner, but maybe the coin had to be touched voluntarily. In any case, there hadn't been a trace of a demonic sigil on his body when I'd found him. And he'd been stark naked.
He'd been stronger than I had.
And the same pattern had prevailed with our traitors, I realized. We'd both been deceived by women we were close to, both betrayed by men in positions of trust in our respective organizations.
The same pattern, over and over again. Whatever happened to one happened to the other. The same occurrences, times two.
There's a power in repetitive magic. And the more a spell is used and repeated, the more it grows in power. It's not always easy to create the echo of an event, especially when the events aren't happening in exactly the same circumstances. Sometimes it can take ages. Me, I'm not that patient. Plus I tend to need magic that's quick, dirty and easily accessible in a battle.
But power builds up over time.
How long had it been since the last disaster had befallen the wizards? A year and a half, maybe?
I had a terrible sensation that something had slipped past me for far too long—and that Chicago was running out of time.
"Hey!" Bob was hollering. "Ground control to Major Tom!"
I barely glanced at him. I was still busy thinking. "Bob. You're sure someone with the ability could have seen this on me?"
"No question, boss," he said firmly. "A wizard could spot it easily on anyone, whether the someone was magical or not."
"What about someone who wasn't a wizard, but who could still do magic? Could they tell?"
"Um...hello? Do I look like a wizard to you?"
"Point," I muttered. "What about vampires? Or faeries?"
"Trust me. The rest of the supernatural world notices this stuff. You don't, because you're too busy pretending to be ordinary."
I glared at Bob. "I am ordinary, as wizards go!"
Bob gave a deep, deep sigh. "When you were sixteen, you banished an Outsider...which your average wizard can't do without centuries of training. When you were thirty-nine, you mindmelded with an island. Which the Gatekeeper--a member of the freakin' Senior Council--can't do. Face facts, Harry. You're about as ordinary as Merlin."
"Oh, please," I snapped. "As if I have anything in common with Arthur Langtry."
"Not Merlin-the-title," Bob retorted in a tone that added "you jerk" to his words. "Merlin."
I rolled my eyes. "Right. And is this where you tell me that that you knew Merlin? Or--no, don't tell me. You were Merlin."
"No," the skull said in a steely I'm-rapidly-getting-pissed-off tone. "I was his father."
I gaped at him for a few minutes. "Huh?"
A deep sigh. "Merlin was sired on a Welsh princess by what her people called 'a demon of the air'--that would have been me, before I annoyed Maeve and lost the ability to take on an earthly form like a normal air elemental. Believe me, I remember. I wouldn't even make the comparison, but--well--you keep ignoring things that could help you against your enemies. It was kinda cute when you were younger, boss. But now...it's getting dangerous.
"And. Well." I had the impression that if Bob could have shuffled his feet, he would have. "He did the same thing. It nailed him in the end. Trust me, you don't need to be like him in that respect."
Trying not to gulp, I nodded. "Okay."
Bob's eyelights flickered as if he were nodding.
There was, understandably, an awkward silence. I was the first one to break it.
"I better get going. Something's about to happen. I can feel it."
"Make a potion before you go."
My foot was already on the bottom stair when I heard this. "What? What kind of potion?"
"A random one. Pick a number. A color. Anything."
"Bob." I stepped down from the stair and walked over to the shelf Bob's skull was sitting on. "You're not making any sense."
He whistled a dum-de-dum-de-dum tune. Don't ask me how he does that when he hasn't got lips. "You suck at planning because you always think the same way. Your enemies know this. Now you have to go up against something that's been outsmarting you for years, because let's face it, you are ultra-predictable. You always defend people you care about, you hate harming women even if they're hurting you, and you're a chivalry lemming. Clearly you're not gonna start outthinking whoever-it-is at this stage. You're a nice guy, Harry, but you're really not that bright."
"Gee, thanks," I muttered.
"So what we do instead is introduce something random into the mix," he said patiently. "Something that has nothing to do with the way that you think. Something that your enemies didn't plan for."
I mulled that over. "That might actually work."
"I know." Bob sounded as smug as a banker who'd just received a federal bailout.
"You have a suggestion, I suppose?"
Bob did. It was relatively simple--a spell with plain water as its base. I added the other ingredients: the flash of a lightning bolt for sight, the sound of a memorable tune, the smell of Charity's cookies as they baked--NOT collected earlier that day, incidentally--the taste of potato chips, a snip of a brand-new bathroom sponge for touch, a scrap of paper with the equation for Newton's law of universal gravitation printed on it for the element of mind, and a powerful magical amulet for spirit. It took about fifteen minutes to brew, tops.
But once it was done and ensconced in a sports bottle in one of the pockets of my duster, I armed myself with handgun, staff and blasting rod and bolted out the door, hoping and praying that I would get to John's office building in time.
Chapter 3: Danger and Deductions
In which Molly is distracting, Butters tries to be helpful, enchantments surround Harry, Mouse plays fetch with a monster, Michael Carpenter embarrasses Harry, Murphy introduces her new lover, Ms. Gard explains supernatural politics and Harry goes to Asgard.
DISCLAIMER: I most emphatically do not own The Dresden Files. They belong to Jim Butcher, ROC Books and Lionsgate Productions. No profit is being made and no copyright or trademark infringed upon.
The office building was locked when I got there. For a moment, I was thrown for a loop. John and his people should be working, so why was the building closed? Was John in danger? Stars and stones, what was wrong?
Then I remembered. Oh, right. Today was Saturday.
Which meant that I still had to find someone who might know where John's employees might be. Other than John himself, of course.
I wended my way home in the Blue Beetle, which was coughing and spluttering ominously, as usual, and then called a particular extension at the Chicago Forensic Center.
Call me crazy, but when I call the local morgue, I expect to talk to a medical examiner. I do not expect to speak to my apprentice. I especially do not expect to speak to my apprentice sounding breathless and giggly.
"Hi, Harry," she said, laughing as she picked up the phone. "How are you? Do we have a case?"
"Wait a second. How did you know it was me?"
I could almost hear her eyes rolling. "Caller ID, Harry. I know you're practically wizard Amish but try to keep up, will you?"
I didn't have time for the usual banter. "I need to speak to Butters. Is he there?"
"Yes, and we're having a nice little discussion about tattoos." Another giggle. It was beginning to grate on my nerves for some reason. "I'm afraid he can't come to the phone right now. I'm afraid he's"--there was a significant pause--"tied up at the moment."
"Sounds terribly 1970s sitcom," I said in a bored tone. "You wanna shock me, Molly, you're gonna have to come up with something better than lines you picked up watching reruns of Three's Company on Nick at Nite."
Amazing how quickly the giggling stopped when I got serious. "Is there a case?"
"Yeah. Yeah, grasshopper, there's a case. Though you could have deduced that, given that I was calling the morgue and all."
"How can I help?"
I sighed. "You can't. This is...classified. Wizard business only. Apprentices need not apply."
"This also applies to apprentices who think that they can veil, sneak out and follow their teachers, thus getting involved with something that could get both the apprentice and the teacher killed."
"Do you really think I would do that? " she said with infinite scorn.
"You always do. But if you disobey me this time, apprentice," I said, pouring iron will into my tone, "then I swear by my power, I will find you another teacher. Do you understand?"
There was a sniffle on the other end of the phone. "Yes. And you don't have to be so mean."
"Good. Glad you understand. Now...get me Butters before the phone goes dead."
"You trust him but you don't trust me?" Another sniffle.
"Are you a medical examiner?"
"Then you can't help. Get Butters NOW."
"Well, fine," she snapped. "All you had to do was ask." And with that, she pushed a button and put me on hold.
I hate being on hold. It's unsettling, hearing nothing but silence--a silence that grows deader and more oppressive with every second that passes. You strain your ears, trying to hear a footstep, a chuckle, even a sigh. Some people find the stillness to be suffocating, as if it were some sort of air-proof shroud wrapping itself around my eyes and mouth. And yet hearing a voice piercing that silence is, for a moment, just as unnerving.
Just then, Butters picked up the phone. And I absolutely did not shiver and flinch at the sound of his voice. I'm a private investigator. We don't do that kind of thing.
"Hi, Harry," he said, not sounding the least bit embarrassed at talking to me when he was tied up mid-bondage ritual. "What can I help you with?"
I frowned. There was something very wrong with the way the morgue sounded behind him, but I couldn't put my finger on what. After all, it's not as if you expect to hear many noises in a mostly underground facility filled with corpses.
"I'm looking for Murphy," I said. "I've got this case—some really nasty attempts on people's lives. And I think that Murphy might be one of the targets. I need to warn her. It could get ugly if I don't."
After all, I reflected, it was all true.
"I don't know where--oh, wait! Yeah, she did tell me. Before she left work today, she said she was meeting a friend for dinner at that pub you like. What's its name. Mac's."
"Thanks, Butters," I said gratefully. "Promise me you won't tell Molly? The kid gets into the damnedest trouble."
"Uh...I don't think I can do that, Harry," he said, dropping his voice very low. "She's listening in on the other line."
"Great," I sighed. "Well, listen. Try to keep her there as long as you can, okay? It would be better for her, really it would."
The line went dead. This didn't upset me. I'd been expecting the phone to burn out for the past ten minutes. But, mindful of Bob's warnings, I reached out with my wizard senses and examined my phone.
There was a nacreous glow around the phone and a green tendril sprouting near the glow, as if a highly polished pearl had rolled into a garden and had stopped near a small seedling. It took a minute for me to recognize the pearlescent gleam; I don't use many deception or misdirection spells. But I had no trouble identifying the green tendril. I could do tracking spells in my sleep.
The phone was set to deliver my calls, wherever they were directed, to whoever and whatever I'd been talking to. Not Molly or Butters, that was for sure. I was suddenly glad that when I spoke to John on the phone, he was the one who generally called me, unless it was an emergency.
"I have a scrambler," he'd pointed out when I'd protested this. "I also have top-notch magical security that can shield any calls I make. You have neither. At least if I call, I can ensure that we're both protected to an extent."
So whoever-it-was hadn't overheard those calls. Not with Asgardian and Valkyrie magic shielding them. But he--or she--had been keeping track of my movements through more normal conversations. I was willing to bet that my office phone was similarly enchanted.
I wanted very badly to take my staff and smash Whoever's head in.
Yeah, yeah. I'm not entirely civilized. Sue me.
The real problem, as I saw it, wasn't the phone; I knew enough not to use it now, at least not for magically unprotected calls. It was the tracking spell. Tracking spells are powerful, and they're hard to shake off. Anywhere I went within the next few hours, I'd have the magical equivalent of an electronic bug clinging to me.. Of course, I could stay here. The spell would fade eventually. But that would give my enemy carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in the meantime, with no interference from me.
And I already knew that what my enemy wanted was John's death. And mine. And as many of our friends and family as he could drag down with us.
I began ransacking my books, looking for spells and potions that could throw off the tracking spell. I'd been at it for about five minutes when Mouse wandered in from the kitchen.
He tensed at the sight of the phone, and began stalking toward it with a growl.
"Easy, Mouse," I said. "It's okay."
He gave me an impatient glance--of course it was not okay, the spells on the phone indicated that--then drew within about two feet of the phone and...bit down on nothing. While I was still trying to puzzle that out, he strode over to me, put his muzzle near my left knee, opened his mouth and bit the air about a quarter-inch from my leg.
Ectoplasmic goo splattered my jeans.
A quick glance at the phone told me that Mouse had amputated the tracking spell, root and offshoot. I was free to go.
I knelt down immediately and gave him a huge hug. "That's a good dog!"
He snuffled and then grinned, as if to say, Yes, I know.
"You wanna come for a drive with me? It could be dangerous..."
He fairly bounced to the door.
It took me three phone calls and an attempt on my life to find Murphy. A few years back, when there were pay phones on the streets, this wouldn't have been as much of a problem. Now that they've all been removed to prevent drug deals--because, you know, drug dealers aren't nearly smart enough to buy cell phones or BlackBerrys--I have a much harder time finding a way of getting messages to people. Cell phones are useless for me; they just don't last. Molly's got a more delicate magical touch than I do; she can make her cell phones last up to a month, if she doesn't get angry. Even at my calmest and most serene, I can only keep a phone alive for two to three days.
Which makes twenty-first century communication difficult. Because the premise of every business is that there's no need to allow customers to use your phones. After all, everybody in the entire world has a cell phone...right?
First place I called--once I managed to convince the manager of the local Burger King that yes, I really was a valuable customer and not a starving junkie, despite appearances--was Macanally's Pub. Mac answered. No, Murphy wasn't there. No, she wasn't expected. No, she hadn't been hanging around there. That was the whole conversation. If anything, I've lengthened it.
A quick trip to Pizza Spress got me a phone call to Murphy's partner, Rawlins. No, Murphy wasn't at work; she'd left for the day. Something about fencing lessons.
Okay. There were plenty of places she could have gone, according to the phone book. Chicago is rife with fencing schools. But my life doesn't work that way.
So my third call--from Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken--was a call to a possibly unused apartment which was owned by a woman I should never have been with in the first place.
The message on her machine was static-y, but there was enough left for me to decipher most of the address.
The attempt on my life happened as I was walking out of Popeye's to where I'd parked the Beetle. I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out how to get to the address as quickly as possible that I almost missed the first attack, thinking the sharp stones hitting my duster were just gravel kicked up by my feet or by passing cars. I wasn't concerned--not until one of the stones fell near my feet.
I picked it up with my gloved hand. It was small, green and pellet-shaped.
Elfshot's a unpleasant weapon; it saps the mind of strength, making it dangerously suggestible, if not outright hypnotized, and it drains energy from a human body, causing it to become ill...sometimes mortally so. Faeries love using it. Me, I like it about as much as they do cold iron.
I tossed the elfshot away--no way I was keeping that around; if I accidentally punctured my skin with this, I'd be in real trouble. But I couldn't help wondering who was firing at me and why. I hadn't angered any faeries. Well, not recently.
I scanned my surroundings, seeking some trace of a faerie, be it Summer, Winter or wyldfae. And damn it, I didn't like the fact that something was out there shooting at me. Sure, the duster covered most of me, but most isn't all.
Which was why I didn't see five or six trees near Popeye's parking lot flowing together and the resultant monster striding over to me. I didn't notice anything until the chlorofiend, as I'd dubbed a similar monster on another occasion, had me in its woody grasp.
I pulled a spherical shield about me, expecting the thing to fling me into a building or a fence. The last one had. But this one didn't. Instead, it tightened its branches around the shield. I sneered at it. Dumb monster.
It took me a few seconds to realize that it wasn't trying to break through my shield. Rather, it was forcing the energy to work harder and protect me more, until there was less and less room between me and the shield. Which meant that I was using up my magic at a dangerous pace by trying to shield myself, and there was less and less air for me to breathe. It was like diving in a wet suit with no air tank. On the other hand, if I dropped the shield, I'd be able to breathe for about two seconds before the chlorofiend crushed me.
I immediately revised my opinion of dumb monsters.
I compromised. I opened some holes in the shield where my nose, mouth and right arm were--not recommended, and please do not try this at home. But it allowed me to breathe, and it brought my right arm close enough to the creature's branches and trunk to do something useful.
It caught fire, all right. And it wasn't happy about it, for it flung me headfirst toward a building. Fortunately the shield redistributed the force of impact; I felt battered and bruised after I landed, but at least my head wasn't stove in. In my line of work, you learn to appreciate the little things.
I looked up at it, groggy and woozy, wondering how the hell the thing and the elven archers had found me. It wasn't like I'd told anyone where I was going--well, one person had wanted to know where I was going, but I hadn't even told her.
Opening my Sight, and taking care not to look at the monster, I studied my car.
The Blue Beetle, in my Sight, looked like a cross between a silvery sports car and a tank. Odd-looking, yes, but well-loved. There was only one thing at odds with it—a delicately intertwined set of spells, braided around the back bumper. They were hard even to focus on, and I had the distinct feeling that at least one of the spells was telling me that it wasn't there. The others, from what my wizard senses were telling me from a distance, were variations on tracking spells--but they weren't providing a trail so that anyone could find me. They were telling someone where I was, minute to minute, as I moved around. It was like magical GPS.
Somebody, I reflected, really wanted to prevent me from talking to Murphy.
Or, possibly, from warning John.
I must have moved then, because the chlorofiend--still smoldering from where I'd set it on fire, but not blazing, regrettably--began stalking toward me. As much as a ten-foot-tall monster with tree trunks for legs could stalk, that is.
I heard a long, low howl coming from the Beetle. I couldn't see from where I was sprawled, but I had a feeling Mouse had spotted the creature coming toward me and didn't approve.
"Quiet, Mouse," I mumbled to myself. "You don't want to attract this creep's attention."
I needn't have worried. Almost as soon as the howling began, the passenger-side window of the Beetle shattered into what looked like glass confetti. Then—and only then—did Mouse leap out of the window.
I rubbed my eyes. I couldn't have seen that right. Glass doesn't dissolve like that.
Mouse circled around the Beetle and immediately leapt on the rootlike feet of the chlorofiend. He barked, growled, clawed and bit as if he were desperate to keep the creature away from me. At the same time, I couldn't shake the feeling that he was also enjoying playing with this huge stick.
The chlorofiend flailed and struck at him. Again. And again. Mouse dodged and continued chewing on the roots as if they were the best Milk-Bone ever invented. Then he barked just once, and cracks glowing with red light appeared in the creature's bark.
Slowly, carefully, the chlorofiend uncoiled a tendril and began snaking it toward Mouse's neck. I barely had time to shout a warning. Mouse leapt back just in time, but it was a near thing.
That was it, as far as I was concerned. You can attack me, torture me and beat me within an inch of my life. But nobody tries to hurt my dog.
Aiming carefully, I flung a spell at the creature. "Vento cyclis!"
A whirlwind slammed into its trunk, knocking it off balance...and right onto some metal power lines. Perfect. If the electricity didn't kill it, the steel in the lines would.
It didn't last long.
And I'd like to apologize to the 38,500-odd people who lost power that day. It wasn't intentional. I just happen to be a big fan of living.
Once the chlorofiend and the lines were down, I drove straight to Mike my mechanic and begged him to remove the back bumper on the Beetle and melt it down for scrap. That was hard to explain, and the window was even worse. If there had been a Mouse-shaped hole in the pane, it would have been more understandable, but one dog, even a dog the size of Mouse, isn't supposed to reduce glass to splinters the size of grains of sand. And I could hardly tell Mike that a bark had done it.
Mouse was no help. He just sat there in front of Mike, wagged his tail and grinned.
I also asked Mike if I could borrow a junker, just for tonight. Bless his heart, he agreed to all the repairs and the loaner.
So about an hour after I got the address from Luccio's machine, and after breaking a thousand or so traffic laws and leaving Mouse to guard my borrowed junker of a pickup truck, I walked into a small dojo where my best friend and my ex-girlfriend were battling with a pair of very long and not at all phallic pieces of metal.
I won't pretend that I didn't think, Damn, that's hot, because I did and it was. But at the same time, it was like looking in a store window and seeing furniture that would have looked fantastic in your old apartment but not in the new one. Murphy was cute. Luccio was beautiful. And they were both desirable women. But they weren't who I wanted...or needed.
It was a weird moment. I'd long since figured out that I wanted John, and it had hit me earlier that night that I'd fallen for him. But need took this beyond sex, beyond an affair. Needing someone I loved to be there took this into couple territory.
It was as if the universe had noticed my disastrous relationships and had said, "Okay, Dresden. You can have someone to love, someone who's a friend as well as a lover. Someone smart who gets your sense of humor and who knows that magic is real. There's just one catch. He's a man."
There was a time that this would have terrified me. Now it didn't seem to matter that much. I was okay with this.
And, thanks to all the mental meddling that had been done to most of the younger wizards, I was also scared that I was okay. Sure, I felt like me. But then again, the pretty young woman currently thrusting her saber past Murphy's best defenses had been my lover for a couple of years...without any awareness that before that, she'd been 100% lesbian.
I leaned back against the far wall to watch Murphy and Luccio practice And that was when I realized that Michael was watching them...and pausing, now and then, to praise or correct them.
Seated beside him--and offering neither praise nor corrections--was Ms. Gard.
It was beginning to look like Old Home Week around here.
I didn't want to interrupt them. But I knew I didn't have a choice. So I strode toward the four of them. "Murphy, hi--"
She put up her sword, shoved her mask up, and then turned toward me with a perplexed expression. "Harry?"
Michael just nodded as if he'd been expecting this. "Charity said that you dropped by earlier today."
Oh, stars and stones. I did not want to get into that discussion right now. "I'm sorry to bother all of you, but something's very wrong--"
"Well, of course it is, Harry," said Michael, his voice overriding mine. "Lying to us, even by omission, should never have happened."
"Lying?" Murphy said, her voice rising sharply, and no wonder. Murphy hated to be lied to.
"Michael!" I hissed, or tried to hiss. "That's not what I came here to talk to anyone about!"
He gave me his most earnest and helpful look. Michael might not be a Knight of the Cross any longer, but he was in knight mode, no question about that. "But you need to talk about it. It's important. And honestly, Harry, you're not the first man who's been...interested."
I wanted very badly to flop down on the edge of the mat, draw my knees up and bury my face in my arms. This would have been an awkward conversation anyway, and having three attractive women present while Michael, with the best good will in the world, thoroughly and permanently outed me only made matters worse. I compromised by briefly closing my eyes and meditating on mayhem.
"Michael," I said with all the firmness I could muster at the moment, "shut up. For the love of God, shut up."
He gave me an innocently bewildered gaze that I would have sworn was put on if he hadn't been, well, Michael. "There's no need to be ashamed, Harry. It happens. I'll admit that I was more than a little perturbed at first--the Bible has some most unpleasant things to say about homosexuality--but then it also has some unpleasant things to say about witches and sorcerers, and you know I've always considered you a good man. Besides, David and Jonathan shared that kind of love. It's not specified in the English translations of the Bible, unfortunately, but there's no doubt if you read it in the Aramaic. "
Out of the corner of one eye, I could see that Murphy was bent almost double and had the fist that wasn't holding a sword jammed into her mouth. She was turning bright red, and her shoulders were shaking so hard that I thought she might stab herself in the foot with her saber. It's so great to have support from your friends.
My face felt like an inferno. "Are you through?"
"What's wrong?" he asked, blinking at me. "That's what you came over to my house to talk about, wasn't it?"
"Yes. Mostly. I'm not gay."
"Of course you're not," he said soothingly. "You're just in love with a man."
Murphy chuckled at that. She tried to convert it to a snort, but I knew better.
Heroically refraining from strangling both of them, I stared at the mats on the dojo floor, trying very hard to remind myself why transforming people into newts was not a good idea.
"First, bisexual, not gay. It's not a one or the other thing. I like both, okay?" I gripped my wizard's staff of white oak--and no, that's not a euphemism, get your mind out of the gutter--took a deep breath and continued. "Second, I would have preferred to discuss this privately, if we were going to discuss it. That means that I would have rather talked to you without the others here."
"But why, Harry?" I could almost hear the frown in his voice. "Surely the point of coming out of the closet is, well, to come out of it. And if you notice, none of us are having that many problems with the idea."
The penny finally dropped. "You knew? Before today?"
"Well, it wasn't hard to figure out," Luccio said, laughter rippling just under the surface of her voice. "You've been giving off signals for a while, you know."
I forced myself to lift my head, which weighed so much that I felt as if I was competing for World Weight-Lifting Champion, and looked at her. "Ana, what are you talking about?"
She sighed, lifted one hand and traced a circle in the air. I could feel her pushing her will outward, creating a temporary bubble of privacy around us so that we could speak of magic openly and not be overheard. I felt a thin stab of jealousy; this subtle spell would have made my life so much simpler over the years, and it was now and forever completely beyond me.
"It's...not easy to speak of this," she said softly. "Some of you"--she nodded to Murphy and me--" know now that I was under another's influence when the Denarians took The Archive and the mobster hostage, though I wasn't aware of it at the time. And I had heard tales about Harry Dresden, both from others and as captain of the wardens. Tales of lost loves and dangerous chivalry...and one man who was neither friend nor foe. A man that you seemed determined to save."
"Mab forced the issue," I pointed out. "She froze the water in my eyes and temporarily blinded me."
"Typical," said Gard. "It would have been wiser to ask you, rather than--if I may guess--giving you a pre-emptory command, which you of course refused, then demonstrating that she could blind and maim you if you disobeyed. But asking would have put her in your debt, and worse, you would not have recognized that the obligation existed, which would have left her indebted to you forever." She smiled slightly. "The Sidhe do not like owing others. It chafes at them. And they do not understand the way humans think."
"She didn't have to choose me to oppose the Denarians," I grumbled.
"Of course she did," Gard replied with extraordinary patience. "Recall the histories your culture calls fairy tales. It takes great strength to battle demons. Magic is not enough; many wizards have fallen to the temptations of devils. Nor is faith sufficient. But a loyal and loving heart fighting for others as if they are all the world--that person has a chance."
I gaped at her. "You're saying Mab knew?"
"What else could she do? It was November in Chicago. Winter in reality, if not by the mortal calendar. And a human of power and influence in two worlds--a prince of the city, let us say--had been captured by demons in a city known to be a bastion of cold and cruel winters. A prince, moreover, of considerable importance to one of her court."
"Marcone's of importance to someone in Winter?" That was news. "Who?"
Valkyries don't roll their eyes, but I got the impression that Gard would have liked to. "I was speaking of you, Winter Knight."
"Oh, no," I said, backing away slightly. "I turned down that gig."
"You turned down the title," Gard said. "Officially, another still bears that. And you have refused the temptations of power that beset most knights. But you have had the job since Mab walked into your office. And technically, you were doing much of it before she walked in."
My head was whirling. "I don't fight for Faerie--"
"No. You fight for all. You try to protect all. The blood and effort and will you have spent and continue to spend to save mortals and beings of the Nevernever alike has woven itself into protective spells in two worlds. Of course, having a just, passionate and chivalrous knight is not usual for Winter."
A lot of pieces fell into place then. I'd never understood why Mab had taken over from Lea as my godmother. Now that I thought back to my high school history lessons, I remembered that, ideally, liege lords were supposed to act as wise parents toward their vassals. It also explained why the Erlking hadn't come back to force me to run from the Wild Hunt. A mortal, even a wizard, he'd attack. A member of the Winter Court, no. That would be impolitic. Toss in the growing "Za-Lord's Guard"--damn it, how had I carved myself a base of power among the wyldfae without realizing it?--Uriel and soulfire, and the mindmeld with the island, and I sounded a hell of a lot more powerful than I was. And Titania, being a politically savvy lady, probably knew every drop of this.
"It's affecting Summer," I said aloud, a chill running down my spine. "I'm affecting Summer. That's why Titania wants me dead. She said she was afraid of what Winter would do to Summer if she let the wizards use Summer's Ways to fight the Red Court...but she wasn't talking about Mab or Maeve, she was talking about me. That's why she didn't want to oppose the vampires—because someone from Winter was fighting them. And that's why she won't let her knight or the Summer Lady talk to me about what she's doing. It's not about my killing her daughter umpteen years ago to save the world. This is about something that's happening now. Winter's changing because of me, so Summer has to change to maintain the balance--or stop the change from continuing."
"I cannot believe you never realized any of this," Gard grumbled. "What do you think about?"
"And...she was the one who brought the Denarians to Chicago. Twice. The leader of the Denarians likes causing plagues. Winter couldn't help with that, but Summer--one little extra shot of life to a virus--"
"Yes." Gard gave me a stern and distant look. "It would not have been hard, you know. There are many Ways through the Nevernever, and despite the fact that you tend to favor those in Winter, many Ways lie elsewhere. Titania found a number of means of interfering in Mab's realm. Then, finally, she attacked someone of some importance to Mab's Knight."
"But she hadn't done anything openly," I said slowly. "Everything was through third parties. Which meant that Mab couldn't openly oppose her. So instead, Mab gave me an order in a way that she knew I would rebel against but still obey, and hid my own fire magic from me. Because when I went to Arctis Tor, I--" I stopped, appalled.
I hadn't used Summer fire to fight homicidal monsters. I'd absorbed Summer fire. Stolen it and incorporated it into my own magic, permanently. And I hadn't realized it at the time.
No wonder Mab had had to hide my magic from me. How could Titania not sense Summer's power when it was used--even if it was heavily diluted by mortal magic?
Stars and stones. No wonder she was pissed.
"Yes," Gard said softly, in a way that made me suspect she'd heard everything running through my head. "Exactly."
I turned back to Luccio. "So when you heard the rumors about my...ah...interest in Marcone at the same time that I needed your help to save him, it attracted your attention."
"And I gave you a test." She grimaced. "I would not have done it if I had been in control of myself."
"What did you do?" Michael asked, sounding curious.
"I stripped naked in front of him. And he barely noticed."
Michael's rapidly reddening face was a joy to behold.
"I noticed," I said with feeling. "I just...didn't know you wanted me to do anything about it."
"Riiiiiiiiiiight," Murphy drawled. "Because women voluntarily take off their clothes in front of dark handsome men by accident."
"Anyway," Luccio said, "you indicated later that you were interested. And—though it isn't the kind of sex I would have chosen if I hadn't been under the control of another—I've no complaints about the sex we did have. It was...intense. Passionate.
"But it was never love. That doesn't bother me. But I think it matters to you, and more than a little."
I couldn't disagree with her. She was right. I don't do casual well. I've tried. I'd liked Ana. I hadn't loved her, but I'd wanted to, even tried to. And I couldn't.
"I knew before that," Murphy said matter-of-factly. "Remember when we went to that upper-class exercise club-cum-brothel? Expensive. Rich. Bevies of young girls on autoflirt. Some of them were flirting with you, and you barely noticed.
"And then John Marcone walked in. And you relaxed. One of the most dangerous men in the country, and you relaxed. You smiled at him. You bantered with him and teased him like you do people you care about. And I don't think he took his eyes off of you." She shook her head. "I have to admit that the words 'just kiss the guy' crossed my mind more than once."
"They do tend to stare," Michael agreed. "I noticed that on the island. When we found Marcone, he was naked and wounded...and Harry couldn't stop staring at the man. I had to elbow him in the ribs to get him going again."
"Why didn't anyone tell me they knew any of this stuff?" I demanded of the air.
"You're a detective," Gard said dryly. "We assumed you could detect. And speaking of that, you said you had a case to ask us about?"
"Oh, yeah, right." I glanced at Murphy. "Have you been going to Mac's pub lately--with or without Luccio?"
She shook her head. "No. Stasia likes a little Greek place over on South Halsted better. Fewer wizards. More privacy."
I supposed I wouldn't want to hang around wizards much if I'd been involuntarily bodyswitched, mind-controlled and used as a pawn in an assassination by some of them. And Greek food is good. But...
"It's what I call her." Murphy's eyes were bright and defiant.
Fencing lessons from someone who had done nothing but swordplay for a century. Dinners together. I had to ask.
"Murph, is this a friend thing--or are you dating?"
"Does it matter?" She gave me a steady look. "As it happens, it's both."
"I thought you liked Kincaid." I'd seen her close to tears when Kincaid had been hurt in a battle with Denarians at an aquarium.
She sighed. "I do. People can date more than one person at a time, Harry. How I feel about Jared has nothing to do with how I feel about Stasia. And she's helped a lot. So has Michael."
I was beginning to feel more than a little confused. "How?"
She glanced away. "Remember when Fidelacchius chose me and I said no? Well, it's sort of an...ongoing no. I've dreamt about that sword every night for four years. And then I dream about hot spots. Places where trouble is breaking out and the sword needs to be. Last week I couldn't stop dreaming about a Denarian being in Bamoko, Mali. I didn't even know there was a city named Bamoko!" She swallowed. "I've had a feeling for a while that—despite what I've said, despite my oath to protect Chicago as a cop—someday the only way I'm going to be able to keep that oath and protect anyone is if I take up the sword."
"It took me a year to say yes," Michael murmured. "Believe me, you're not the first to hesitate."
Murphy made a face. "He doesn't think there's any way that I dodge this, unfortunately. And I figure that, given that I'm a friend of yours and that crises break out around you all the time--if I ever need to take up the sword, it won't be purely symbolic. I'm going to need to know how to use the blesséd thing.
"Which...all right, yes, I have a katana at my house. And I can use it. But there's a difference between being able to fight with a sword and fighting to the death with it. Not that fencing in a dojo is much like down-and-dirty fighting with a katana. But it's still training." She glanced at me. "Not that Stasia and I haven't been practicing with katanas in alleys and deserted lots or anywhere that I might actually have to fight for real.
"And then a few months back I ran into Stasia at the supermarket. And she mentioned that she'd moved here after a health-related emergency forced her to give up her old job. And I asked about fencing lessons. And things just spiraled from there."
"You could have told me you were bi," I grumbled.
"What, like you did?" She shook her head. "Liking women isn't a major revelation for me, Harry. I've known it since college. And you know something? It's not a big deal. But I don't talk about it, first because it's no one's business"--this was punctuated by A Look in Michael's direction--"and second because there are a lot of male cops who, when they want to discredit a woman, call her a ball-busting lesbian. Which may tell you why I'm not into labels. Now. Why do you want to know if I've been hanging around Mac's?"
I explained about the phone call to the morgue, and about the spells on my telephone that had been intended to ensnare me.
"Warlock," Luccio murmured. "Harry, you can't protect her any more. And given that you're her teacher and under the Doom as well--"
"I don't think that killing the Winter Knight would be practical," Gard said. "Not unless the wizards want to upset the balance of power in Faerie. And deal with a very angry Winter Queen for the next few centuries."
"I'm not sure who I was talking to," I admitted. "At the time, I would have sworn that I had spoken to Molly and then to Butters. But when I spoke to Butters, I heard something that sounded wrong. Or rather, I didn't hear something. And that made me wonder. I think this is just another Xanatos gambit. Or maybe the same one that's been going on for years." I glanced at Michael. "This is gonna be the toughest for you and your family. You need to call Charity now."
Michael's jaw trembled. "Harry, she's my little girl--"
"I know who she is," I said with a sigh. "I probably know better than you do. Just call Charity and get over to my place now."
"Why?" he said with a frown. "Why now?"
"Because some phone spells got snapped," I said. "And someone is going to need to get those fixed before I get home. Michael---please. I need you and Charity to be there. It's important."
He didn't like it; I could see that in his eyes and the set of his jaw. But at last, he nodded, and withdrew to a corner to call his wife.
I turned to Gard. "You know where J--Marcone is, I take it."
She gave me an odd smile. "You are free to call him John. I have no objection. And yes, I know where he is, though certain protections are in place. It will take some work to remove them. I take it you want him there as well?"
"Yes. With you and Hendricks."
"And do you think he will be safe?"
"I...can't guarantee that."
"Then why do you want him there?" She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at me. "Surely if you love him, you should care for his well-being."
I matched her glare for glare. "'If'? Not a good word for how I feel. And don't call me Shirley."
I told her--well, her, Luccio and Murphy, since we were all still in that bubble of privacy and I couldn't exactly talk to any of them in secret without leaving the bubble--about my mirroring theory. They grasped it quickly.
"I don't like the idea of three-quarters of Marcone's people being under mind control," Murphy said slowly.
"Nor I," Gard said. "The mere possibility is a catastrophe. If it has happened--" She shook her head solemnly. "We will have to make a report to my employer. Now."
I heard an ominous word in that sentence. "'We'?"
She looked surprised. "Of course. The knowledge and the theory are yours. I cannot report them as accurately as you can."
"Um...hello? Human? No access to Valhalla without dying first?"
She flicked me with an impatient, no-nonsense glance. "We are not going to Valhalla. We are going to Asgard."
I closed my eyes. "Oh, good. That makes me feel so much better."
"You don't know how lucky you are," Luccio said, envy sharp in her voice. "I always wanted to see the homes of the gods and cross the rainbow bridge of Bifrost."
I sighed. "You don't know me and gods." I held up a hand as Gard began to protest. "All right, all right. I'm not arguing. We'll go. Hopefully we can come back today and not next century."
"Of course," said Gard coolly. "It would be most impractical for us to re-enter the mortal world at a time and a place other than today in Chicago. How could I fulfill my contract then? And how could you foil the creature trying to destroy him?"
"I suppose you want us to go over to your place as well, Harry," said Luccio.
"Yeah, I do. It--it may be unpleasant. I expect one of Peabody's colleagues to show up."
Peabody had been an elderly wizard who had betrayed the White Council. Unlike the Merlin of the Council, I wasn't prepared to say that he was the only traitor, either. The official line, however, was that Peabody--who had influenced every decision the Senior Council had made for a dozen years or more by means of, so help me, enchanted inks used in every document, and who had mentally enslaved 75% of the wizards a century old or younger--had acted alone.
Me, I was just waiting to discover that one of those helping him had been a grassy gnoll.
Luccio's features hardened at the news about Peabody's colleague. "In that case, I would be delighted to be there."
I turned to Murphy. "Murph. This is a lot to ask of you--"
"I know what you're going to say, Harry." For the barest second, before a soulgaze could start, she met my eyes. "You want me to take up Fidelacchius."
Her voice was steady. "You know that once a sword is accepted, there's no turning back."
"Yeah. I know."
She took a deep breath, and then, as if she were asking a question, she slowly and deliberately lifted her gaze to meet Luccio's eyes.
I don't know what Murphy was asking. Maybe it was Do you think I can do this? Or maybe You know more about the magical world than I do. Are there hazards or advantages that I'm not seeing? Or maybe it was simply, What do you think? This affects you too. I can only tell you what I saw in both their faces as they soulgazed--pain, empathy, fear, loneliness, astonishment, wonder and, finally, joy. And when Luccio finally turned her face aside and broke the soulgaze, there was a peace in her expression that I'd never seen before.
"Do it, carina," she said softly.
Murphy looked up toward the ceiling and held out both hands.
The katana, sheathed in hard plastic, materialized in a burst of blue light. Not soft and dramatic and spiritual, mind you. This was more of a happy explosion, a silent, joyful shout of, Yes! Finally! How Heaven felt about Murphy's decision I had no clue, but there was no doubt that Fidelacchius approved.
For a moment, I was confused. How had the sword gotten here? Up till a couple of seconds ago, it had been in a safe in my sub-basement. But then I realized. The sword had always been hers, ever since it had chosen her. The fact that they'd been physically separated hadn't changed that. And when she finally decided to take it up, no mortal power would prevent her from doing so.
Luccio moved forward and gave Murphy a tight hug. "You will be the best and longest-lived knight ever, do you understand? I will not tolerate anything less."
Still gripping the katana, Murphy hugged her back. Then she turned to me. "Harry..."
"Awww, Murph." I pulled her toward me. "What she said, yeah?"
She punched my shoulder. Hard. "That's the best you can do?"
"Well, fine, if you want me to get formal." I placed my left hand on her forehead and intoned--quite dramatically, I thought--"Conlige suspectos semper habitos. Dic mihi solum facta, domina. Et fac ut gaudeam."
"That's a blessing?" Murphy said skeptically.
"Yes. It calls on you to be, for all time, as good a knight as you are a cop."
"What he literally said," Gard added, "was 'Round up the usual suspects. Just the facts, ma'am. And make my day.'"
I shrugged. "It loses something in the translation. But--that's what I meant, anyway, no matter what the words meant."
Murphy smiled. "Thanks, Harry."
Gard bowed deeply, one woman warrior greeting another. Then she turned to me. "It is time. We must go now. No more talking." And with that, she stalked out of the dojo.
"Good luck, Murph," I murmured, and then hastened after the Valkyrie who was going to take me to Asgard.
Chapter 4: Sidhe and Sunshine
In which a god gives good advice, a double agent appears, explanations are made, Harry gets inventive with home defense, Marcone delivers an ultimatum and Harry makes a counteroffer.
DISCLAIMER: I most emphatically do not own The Dresden Files. They belong to Jim Butcher, ROC Books and Lionsgate Productions. No profit is being made and no copyright or trademark infringed upon.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"So how are we getting there?" I asked as she strode ahead of me into the dojo's parking lot.
She didn't answer, at least not in words. Instead she walked up to a coal-black security car, stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled.
The car dissolved. A second later, a coal-black winged horse was standing beside Gard. We're not talking delicate and thin-legged thoroughbred either, by the way. We're talking Clydesdale. Suddenly, I had no trouble imagining how this horse could handle the weight of an armed and armored Valkyrie and several dead warriors simultaneously.
"This is Alfhild," Gard said, patting the horse's mane. "She has been my friend for centuries."
I bowed to the mare, taking care to stay away from her feet. "Pleased to meet you. Uh, ma'am."
Gard nodded, then, without warning, mounted Alfhild so easily that I don't know how she managed it. "Unless you can think of anything else, get on behind me."
I swear that my subconscious hijacked my mouth at this point. "Can Mouse come?"
Gard smiled. "The Guardian? Yes, of course. That is an excellent idea." She cupped her hands and let out a cry. It sounded like the cawing of crows or ravens.
And a second later, Mouse was out of the pickup truck and bounding into the parking lot so fast that I expected to hear a sonic boom.
I'm still not sure how I mounted Alfhild. Hell's bells, I'm not sure how Mouse got on behind me. Or how he balanced. I don't even remember a portal opening. All I recall is Gard telling Alfhild to fly. And as quickly as that, we were sailing through the skies of the Nevernever.
It's a bit hard to describe what I saw on that flight. Most of it can't be put into human words. And the parts of it that can be described make me sound as if I were stoned on acid.
At one point, Alfhild was swimming through earth, which was filled with pools of magic that shimmered like stars and water. At another time, we plunged through a piece of darkness that had come alive, and its heart was filled with enough fire and heat to kindle a sun.
I remember feeling sounds brushing against my skin, and tasting colors and smells with my fingers. I recall our going around and over and through entire worlds, some tiny bits of matter most like islands, and others like enormous clockwork planets. I heard oceans howling for our blood as we flew past, and felt entities vast and distant as galaxy-sized mountains watching us. I know I changed shape a few times--into what, I don't know; I was just trying to accept the situation and go with it so that involuntary transformation wouldn't cost me my sanity--as did Gard, Mouse and the horse.
On three occasions, Gard warned me to close my eyes and stopper my ears, and not to look at or listen to or answer anything until she touched me and told me it was safe. I obeyed.
When at last we landed, we alit in a grassy plain. A log had been tossed across a gorge as a kind of improvised bridge, and in the center of the plain was an unfinished--or perhaps tumbledown--wall of stone. It seemed woefully anticlimactic after all of the events of the trip, and I said so.
Gard sniffed as she dismounted Alfhild who, flying horse or not, was less interested in Asgard than in chowing down on the plain's grass. "Don't make the mistake of thinking that what you see is real. What you see is what your mind can tolerate. Now. Follow me. There is no time to waste."
And with that, she strolled across the log as if the gorge weren't even there. Mouse followed, then glanced back at me with a "well, come on" snuffle.
"I thought we were operating in eternity here," I replied, sticking out both arms as I carefully picked my way across the log that was--had to be--Bifrost. It had been a long time since I'd walked on balance beams.
"We are," she said dryly. "But the trip was not instantaneous. It took time to get here, and it will take time to get back. And I cannot take the swifter routes, because a human could not survive them. Even the Guardian would have some difficulty."
Mouse made a huffing noise that sounded like reluctant agreement.
Gard walked over to a portion of the stone wall--which, now I was closer to it, didn't seem so much unfinished as impossibly, unclimbably high--and touched it. Instantly, a stockade gate appeared. She said something--a password of some kind, maybe--and the gate swung open. She strode through, and I followed with Mouse pacing beside me.
The place began to change as soon as we walked in. Gardens, forests and orchards grew from seedlings to blossoms to fruit in a matter of seconds. Houses sprang up like mushrooms after rain. Though I could hear children playing, the clang of a blacksmith's anvil and the solid kerchunk of a dozen or so hammers against wood, I saw no people. Taking my cue from Mouse, who seemed to be taking this very much in stride, I remained silent.
I honestly don't know where the castle came from. One minute we were striding along a broad open road, and the next we were walking up to its main door.
I don't know how to describe exactly what I saw at that moment. It was sort of...reality times five. It was a strong, squat, sturdy castle constructed to withstand the most vicious of physical and magical attacks; it was a delicate and graceful palace spun of ivory and gold and lapis lazuli. It was a roiling sea of power that stung and tantalized my senses at the same time, a vast library containing more wisdom than any one mind could possibly absorb, a fiercely contested battleground stinking of death and blood...and, just for a moment, a block-like monolith of steel and glass with a sign in front of it reading MONOC INDUSTRIES.
And then Mouse leaned against me and huffed, and it was just a castle. And a door was opening before us once more.
It didn't take long--or at least, it didn't seem to take long--before we reached a huge hall. Not a hallway. A king's hall. And it almost blinded me, because the walls and pillars and roof were all crafted of what looked like the purest silver. At the far end of the hall was a single throne, pure white and, like the wall, impossibly high.
"Valaskjálf," Gard whispered, gesturing at the entire hall. "Hlidskjalf," with a nod to the throne.
"Gesundheit," I murmured.
I wished I hadn't a few minutes later, for as we approached the far end of the hall, I became aware that someone was sitting on the throne.
He was a man...or at least, he was man-shaped. His hair was iron-gray, his weathered face lined with wrinkles--but he didn't look elderly. In fact, he reminded me of Ebenezar McCoy, all sinew and gristle. He was wearing, incongruously enough, a dark navy Armani suit with gleaming black shoes. Ravens the size of eagles perched on both of his shoulders.
He had only one brightly glittering gray eye. But I could have sworn that even his empty eye socket was more than able to see. And when I glanced at his eye, just for a moment...it seemed to contain worlds.
"I see you have brought a mortal here, daughter," he said in a mild tone as we approached. "May I ask why?"
"The Warden-Knight of Winter has information about possible interference with our contract with the Baron of Chicago," Gard said, bowing low. "I thought it better if you heard what he said and thinks, rather than hearing my interpretation of it."
"Hmm." He gazed at me dispassionately. "And you consider your words so valuable, Warden-Knight?"
"Hell, no!" I said. "In fact, I don't know what I'm doing here. What can I tell a god that he doesn't already know? I thought gods were omniscient by definition. And please, not Warden-Knight. I'm Harry. Just Harry."
He stared down at me for a moment, and when he spoke again, there was laughter in his tone. "You do not consider yourself particularly wise or blesséd, then...Warden-Knight?"
I thought about that one. "Blessed, yeah. It's a privilege to be here, and not something that most people experience. But wise? Stars and stones, if I were wise, I'd have figured this mess out long since."
And with that, I launched into the explanation of all that had befallen John and me over the years, and how nothing ill had happened to one without something similar happening to the other. For good measure, I added in all that had occurred that day, from Hendricks breaking into my apartment to warn me to stay away from John to Murphy at long last taking up the sword. Mouse interrupted the story a few times with a series of short, deliberate barks and yips, but Odin didn't seem to mind.
"Thank you," he murmured, and I had the feeling that he was speaking to Mouse as well as to me. He nodded to Gard. "You were right to bring them here. This has gone on for far too long."
"Why did it go on for so long?" I asked. Gard groaned at that, but I ignored it. "I'm not criticizing. But you knew, right?"
He looked thoughtful, but didn't seem to be angry. I took heart from that. "You are a wizard. You strive to protect mortals who possess no power. But do you know what it is like to see the world as they see it, with no power and with no knowledge that worlds beyond theirs exist?"
I gulped. "No. And I'd really rather not find out."
I could feel rather than see his exasperation. "I have no thought to punish you for speaking boldly; why would I? You are as you are, and I have no quarrel with that."
"I'm sorry," I said, bowing my head in what was probably tardy respect. "I didn't mean to offend. I just wanted to know."
"Few gods incarnate," he said, his voice taking on a chanting rhythm. "We are among the mortals, but not of them; we walk among them, we work, we play, but we are not bound by blood or tied by flesh. We know your thoughts and your hearts, but our eyes do not see the world as you do, no more than you are one with the wood lice in your home's walls."
"Omniscience is its own limitation?" I said, blinking.
He actually laughed at that. "I like this one," he said to Gard. "He's original."
Then he turned back to me. "Hear this and understand. A man should be loyal through life to friends, to them and to friends of theirs. But never shall a man make offer of friendship to his foes."
I swallowed several times. "You mean I can't--"
"It would be unwise." I felt as if his gaze was pinning me to the ground. "You are frequently unwise, Wise One, and at times this has been the saving of you and of others. But this foe is not Lasciel's shadow, who saved you and died for it. This one mocks your mercy, and wields love like a dagger. This one will turn your love against you, if possible, and be the death and ruin of all your family and friends besides."
"Can you help us?" Another groan from Gard. "Er...please?"
"I will do what my contract with the Baron permits me to do," he said quietly. "How far I may go depends on you and your enemy."
"What of him?"
"You don't disapprove?"
"Would it matter to you if I did? You have made your choice. And why should I reproach another for loving where he will? But tell him how you feel, and soon. Until today, all knew how you both felt save you and him.
"Now go," he added sternly. "No more will be gained by delaying here. Take the swiftest routes, daughter. I will preserve the lives and minds and spirits of the...of Mouse and Harry along the way."
And that's the last thing that I remember before Alfhild landed in an alley about a block from my apartment. It was full night when we arrived, but the air was full of cawings and cries and the rustle of dark wings.
"Ravens," Gard said in a matter-of-fact voice, and I shivered.
There was a battle coming.
And Odin's birds were waiting.
After Gard whispered some instructions to Alfhild, the horse launched herself into the air once more. I suppose a Chicago alley isn't a good place for a winged horse that can turn into a car at will.
Then we strode out of the alley together--Gard on my right side, Mouse on my left. I felt like a sheriff from an old Western, walking down a long dusty street to a shootout with a deadly outlaw. The theme song from High Noon was playing in my head.
As we neared my apartment building, I saw a few other people pulling up close by--the Carpenters in their minivan, Murphy and Luccio in the latter's battered Edsel station wagon, and John and Hendricks in a white mid-sized car that looked resolutely average. Knowing John, I was willing to bet that the President of the United States didn't ride in a car that was this well-protected--technologically or magically.
I turned to Gard, puzzled. "I thought you said that it would take a while to remove the protective spells around Marcone. And we just got back. How--?"
She gazed at me impatiently. "I began unweaving them when I walked out of the dojo, and I finished when we were halfway to Asgard. Is this truly important now?"
No. No, it wasn't. But it was easier than thinking about what I had to face in a few minutes.
I beckoned to the others; I had something to say, and if possible I wanted to shut out any possible magical eavesdroppers. Once we were all gathered together, I knelt, fished a piece of chalk out of one of my duster pockets, drew a somewhat lumpy circle around us all, and then infused the circle with a fraction of my will.
Luccio was already gazing beyond the circle. She was avoiding looking at any of us, which made me suspect that she was using Wizard's Sight. "There are spells tangled with the wards on your threshold, Harry. And I think they've been there for a long time."
"Why didn't I notice?" I said, scowling at myself. "I take those wards down every damned day."
She sighed. "It's subtle, Harry. Very delicate work. If spells were colors, one strand which was supposed to be blue would be indigo, and another that was supposed to be yellow would now be gold."
"Ah," I said, understanding. "So the wards mostly work the way they're supposed to. Enough so that I wouldn't notice immediately. And if I did spot that something was wrong, I'd just assume that the wards were decaying and needed a fresh infusion of magic."
Mouse whuffled. Call me crazy, but he sounded as if he was disgusted with himself for missing this.
"What do the--alterations--do?" John inquired politely.
Luccio continued gazing at my door. "They create an illusion based on what a person wants to believe, and persuades him or her that the illusion is true and must be defended at all costs."
"In other words," I said, naming the elephant in the room, "it's the same kind of magic that was used to mess with most of the wizards on the Council. Including you."
"Yes." She closed her eyes for a moment and concentrated, shutting off the Sight. "But I don't understand, Harry. It would have taken someone older than I am and far better trained than either of us to have cast such a spell. And that doesn't make sense."
"It will in a few minutes, I think." I turned to the others. "All right. We're going in. Mouse, once I get the wards down, you go in first. Then me. Luccio and Murph, you follow. Gard, you go with Hendricks and John. Michael and Charity, I want you to stay far in the rear. I don't want this thing grabbing any hostages. Understand?"
Michael gave me an agonized look. Charity, with the air of one who has been asked to do a difficult and unpleasant task and who intends to do it well, merely nodded.
Okay. No more stalling, Harry. Time to face the monster.
I pulled the sports bottle from the pocket I'd put it in so many hours ago, opened it and drained it to the last drop. Which, considering the taste, may have been the bravest thing I'll ever do. Then I broke the chalk circle with the toe of my boot, took down the wards and unlocked the door.
I looked down at Mouse. "After you," I murmured, and pushed the door open.
I expected him to bound in. He didn't. Instead, he stood on the threshold and barked--a long, low bark that reverberated in my bones.
I hadn't felt the spells in the room before then. But I certainly felt them shatter. I didn't know what all of them were, though I sensed a few right before they broke: charms to make others more receptive to deceit and lies, compulsions to force others to tell the truth, persuasions to allow the caster to seem more innocent, and a tracking spell that would be almost impossible to shake off.
The instant that the spells were down, Mouse leapt into the room, growling.
There was no one there.
I sighed. A veil, of course. And this one was about a thousand percent better than the ones Molly usually used around me. I not only couldn't see her, I could barely sense the magic the veil was using.
So I didn't try to sense her. Instead, I concentrated and opened my Sight.
I couldn't see Molly, even so. The veil concealed her. But I could see the veil. It was a shimmering curtain of liquid gold, a creation of rare and subtle beauty. I had no idea how to bring it down magically.
Which was why I walked past and nearly into it a few times, then lifted my staff and swung it through the veil like I was trying to hit a ninth-inning homer in the seventh game of the World Series. Veils aren't shields. Sometimes wizards forget that.
There was a resounding crack as my staff collided with...something.
And a second later, Molly was visible once more and was lying on the floor in front of me, rubbing her left shoulder. "Geez, Obi-Wan, what're you doing?" she demanded. "I was just practicing while you were out."
She sounded like the young woman I knew. But when she'd started speaking, I'd automatically turned toward her...and my Third Eye--the power that allows the Sight to work--was still open.
Molly and I had soulgazed once. I'd seen immense potential for power in her, good as well as evil. It occurred to me belatedly that if I'd supplemented that soulgaze with the Sight, I might have saved myself and everyone else a lot of grief. Because then I'd have found out not only what lay in Molly's soul, but who and what she fundamentally was.
The young woman sprawled in front of me looked, superficially, like Molly. Granted, this week in the real world Molly had bright green hair, while the hair of the Sight's version was stark white. Still, not too surprising for a platinum blonde. Normally, the term "Sidhe white" wouldn't have occurred to me.
A few other things were more of a tip-off. The serpent tattoo encircling her body was, I now saw, shot with threads of magic. Her expression was more mature. And her eyes...
Her eyes blazed with the conviction of a fanatic facing a hated enemy.
Seeing this took less than a second. Then, suddenly, a gigantic something that looked like a dog and a lion had been smushed together and then carved out of starlight leapt onto Molly, growling fiercely.
I drank in the sight of him for a moment or two--I so rarely get to see good and beautiful things with the Sight--and then closed my Third Eye.
"Harry—" Molly whimpered.
"Stop it," I said in a harsher voice than I'd ever used with her. "Hell's bells, stop pretending!"
She stared up at me, wide-eyed. "Harry, are you all right? Is something messing with you? Don't be mad. I just want to help." And she reached out toward my mind with a tentative spell.
I swatted it away as if it were an annoying fly.
I heard footsteps behind me, and then the door closing. The others had come in by now. Good.
I glanced at Mouse, who was continuing to growl and keep her pinned down, and thought I could risk a glance toward the others.
"This is the big bad?" Hendricks said incredulously. "Your apprentice? What, you can't handle a little girl on your own?"
"I must confess that I'm a bit bewildered by this, Mister Dresden," John said. "I don't understand why you'd attack a young girl, especially one so poor in combat situations. And in view of your notable and often ridiculous chivalry in other situations, I have to question why you are so bent on hurting this particular girl now."
Michael gazed at me with pleading eyes. "Harry, I don't know what's making you do this...but please. She's my daughter."
Murphy, who had drawn Fidelacchius and was now holding it ready in an attack position, gazed at the three of them thoughtfully. Then she looked at me. "How about you?" she asked. "Feeling ashamed of yourself because you're doing something you shouldn't?"
"Yeah. But I'm ignoring it. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm just trying to figure out why three grown men who knew that they were coming here to fight something magically powerful, subtle, dangerous and deceptive are suddenly so sure that the person who apparently came into your apartment without your permission while you were out must be an injured innocent. I'd also like to know why all of them keep referring to her as a little girl. Or a young girl. Because I know when Molly's birthday is, and she's nearly twenty-six. That's not a helpless little girl--that's a grown woman. And one who knows damned well how to manipulate men." Murphy grimaced. "I recognize the M.O. My sister Lisa has done the exact same thing for years."
Molly's eyes narrowed. Automatically, I cast a shield around my allies and me--not a hard force field, but something trickier and potentially less pleasant, at least for Molly.
A second later, a magical blow that would have shattered Murphy's mind if it had touched her hit the shield. If it had been a hard and durable shield, the spell probably would have broken the shield on impact, leaving the rest of us vulnerable while Murph was mentally assaulted. But this was a softer and more porous shield. It absorbed about half the energy in the spell. The rest went to me.
And oh dear God, was there a lot of it.
Luccio was rubbing her head. I'd hoped that she wouldn't be affected again--I knew that Luccio was a strong woman and that she'd be prepared for it--but I'd been wrong. And Murphy, still new to the sword, was painfully vulnerable. I didn't dare ask her to move away from the shield. The other men, of course, were a dead loss.
I nodded toward Mouse, who bared his teeth in a way that made Molly try to squish herself into the floor. Then I looked at Gard, but she, concerned with Hendricks and John, didn't budge. And Michael was already trying to limp over to Molly.
I didn't know what to do. Any attack I made to break Molly's concentration would only convince those under her influence that I had lost my mind or turned evil. At this point. I didn't need more people thinking that.
Then Charity stuck an arm in front of Michael to prevent his going any further, took a deep breath and said in the iciest tone I'd ever heard, "Margaret Amanda Katherine Carpenter, I demand to know what nonsense you're playing at! Spells and enchantments to invade and enthrall people's minds—don't you think that anyone here knows that's illegal? Stop this immediately and tell everyone what you've been up to...and why."
Molly's head slammed into the floor. "Don't you dare give me orders!" she screamed in a voice about twenty years too young for her. "Don't you dare!"
It wasn't as if Charity had any magical power, not any more. But as a mother she'd done the right thing automatically. She'd called Molly by her full Name, pronouncing it almost perfectly, and had given her a command. Molly could resist the command; Charity had no way of infusing it with her will. But as I saw a sad and knowing expression sweep across Charity's face, I knew that hadn't been the point. She'd given Molly a direct order.
And, as I knew from experience, Molly's concentration fell apart whenever she was told to do something she didn't want to do.
As the other men and Luccio began blinking as if they were surfacing from a sound sleep, Murphy strode over to Molly and placed Fidelacchius lightly on her throat. "Don't even think about doing that again," she said softly.
Molly sneered...which is not an easy thing to do when you have a Temple Dog sitting on your chest and baring his teeth, and a Knight of the Cross placing her sword at your throat. "You wouldn't."
"Yeah," I said. "'Cause it's not like she's a trained cop, sharpshooter and martial artist who's fought werewolves, plant monsters, trolls, ogres and a whole nest of Black Court vamps and their Renfields, not to mention a few Denarians. Murph is a softie. Everybody knows that."
If looks could kill, the glare Molly was giving me would have had me not only dead, but drawn and quartered. However, she shut up and stopped trying to ensorcel the rest of us, which to my mind was a plus.
I glanced at Murphy. "I'm going to have to catch you up on this later. I don't want her to hear it."
"Good idea. Just be sure that you do catch me up on it, okay?"
Then, sighing, I beckoned Michael to a chair; he'd been standing for a while, and I was going to have to cause him enough emotional agony without making his physical pain worse. Then I looked at Luccio. "Could you do what you did before in the dojo?"
She nodded. And a few minutes later, when we were all seated or standing on the other side of the room, Luccio cast her bubble of privacy spell, and I began to speak. First, for the benefit of Hendricks and John, I recapped the information Gard had given me about my being the Winter Knight in fact if not in title, and how this was affecting Summer in ways Titania didn't like.
"But what does this have to do with Molly?" Michael said, sounding lost. "Forgive me, Harry, but I don't understand."
"You will," I told him. "It's pretty simple.
"I started figuring out this afternoon that everything bad that happened to me also happened to you." I nodded to Marcone. "Nicodemus captured and tortured me as well as you, and he wanted to get both of us on his side. Two battles on Demonreach. Spike and Thomas--two brothers, in the metaphorical sense, who were taken apart by monsters. A traitor in the White Council, a traitor in your organization. Over and over, that weird doubling. And in magic, this kind of mirroring can be an intensifier."
Marcone nodded thoughtfully. "Possible. But what would be the point?"
"Weakening us. Breaking us. And then destruction." I ran my fingers through my hair. "And I think she'd been planning to do that for a long time. Not just us, either.
"It was the Denarians that gave me the idea. Something that both you and someone else said once, Michael—that a corrupted child raised in a Knight's family could be an effective weapon." I held up my hand to still his protests. "No, Molly isn't a Denarian. But Titania brought them here. She pointed them right at Chicago. She had to know when they tried to get little Harry.
"And that," I said, rubbing my chin, "made me think about faeries even more. Because they're very good at stealing children. There are even stories about children raised by them who don't want to leave Faerie.
"And that, of course, led me back to Arctis Tor. Because, let's face it, that was a weird kidnapping. Creatures of Winter have all of the Nevernever to choose from and they take the daughter of a Knight of the Cross straight to Winter's capital? Why? Because Mab wanted to piss off the Knights and the wizards? What would be the point? Mab is many things, but she isn't stupid."
I could see the comprehension dawning in John's green eyes. "Factions. Creatures of Winter, but loyal to Summer. Just as the wyldfae are loyal to you."
I nodded. "That's why Titania won't let the Summer Knight or the Summer Lady speak to me anymore. They helped at Arctis Tor, and I think that messed up her plans, which were to have me blamed for the black magic Molly was doing--since I'm always Prime Suspect Number One as far as the Council is concerned--and to put a mole in place. She failed at the first--"
"But not the second," Charity said, a look of horror sweeping across her face. "Molly."
"Molly," I agreed. "Oh, the fight was genuine enough; I don't think Titania would have grieved if we'd all been killed and Molly had to stumble back into the human world alone and traumatized. But I was wrong. It wasn't a kidnapping. It was just meant to look like one. One way or, Molly was going to escape; that was the point. It was--basically--the old switcheroo."
Michael, if possible, looked worse than Charity. "You're saying that Molly--the Molly we raised--was a changeling?"
"Or a shapeshifter," I said. "Someone who was really good at playing the part of a stubborn young human, anyway. And meanwhile, Molly--the human Molly--grew up in Faerie. Grew up thinking like a faerie, too, which means that both morality and the Laws of Magic are meaningless to her. She would have been trained to think of magic as something to use."
I sighed. "And time flows differently in the Nevernever. Centuries could have gone by, in faerie terms, while Molly aged at a mortal rate. Eighteen years old chronologically, with maybe two hundred years of training. And at the same time, eighteen wouldn't be very old to quasi-immortals. They wouldn't expect maturity of her.
"Whereas you two expected it of her double. You just didn't get it."
Luccio stared at me. "She really didn't attack her best friend or her boyfriend."
"No. She told me that--screamed it at me at the top of her lungs, in fact--but I thought she was just in denial. In fact, they weren't human Molly's friends at all; she never knew them. The shapeshifter attacked them, probably partly out of vengeance--Nelson was cheating on Shapeshifter Molly with Rosie, and faeries don't react well to losing human pets or territory, any more than humans do--and partly to establish a hatred for drugs and, by extension, Marcone. Who was too powerful in mortal terms and too knowledgeable about magic, and who had to be kept away from a certain wizard at all costs. An alliance between the two could be fatal.
"Molly, the mortal Molly, wasn't part of the human world till she was 'rescued'"--I put the word in airquotes--"from Arctis Tor. Which is why she never showed any remorse. How could she regret something that she didn't do?" I glanced at Luccio. "Not that she hasn't mindraped plenty of people since."
"Titania got her money's worth," Marcone murmured. "She'd planned on creating a completely loyal spy in the heart of a Knight's family, and she not only got that, but also obtained someone trusted by an insane wizard who was upsetting the balance of power...and by his colleagues, who had few defenses against faerie-trained neuromancy and psychomancy."
"Yeah. The shapeshifter posing as Molly was always hanging around me and Michael when his kids were little--she exerted some influence that way--but once Molly the human became my apprentice, she had an automatic in on my cases. And if I wouldn't tell her about them, she'd veil and follow me to crime scenes and to interviews. Murphy can attest to that. All very Nancy Drew. Stars and stones, I even thought it was cute." I pinched the bridge of my nose.
Luccio swallowed heavily. "But...all the wardens and wizards that she affected...how did she reach them? Or Marcone's people, if she affected them?"
"For a wizard who has permanent access through Summer, it would not be hard," Marcone said. "Though I'll admit that I have no idea how difficult it is to open a portal into the Nevernever."
I shrugged. "She could have seen me do it any number of times. Or she could've been shown how to do it by a creature of Summer, or one loyal to Summer. It doesn't really matter. We already know her talents are way beyond anything we dreamed. If I hadn't called the morgue today--and if I hadn't gotten some good advice about checking for auras and magic before that--I never would have suspected her."
"Why?" Michael reminded me of a man poking at a sore tooth.
"She was there," I said. "She claimed to be seducing Butters--which, okay, sounds like a joke. I think that she said it to embarrass me; if I was embarrassed enough, I might just accept her news about where Murphy was, or let her come along on the case I was working. Pure misdirection.
"But then I noticed something. No sounds other than Molly's voice or Butters' voice. No music, and Butters loves having polka music play as he works. No sound of breathing or giggling or anything when Molly was supposed to be eavesdropping on Butters' call. I wasn't sure who or what I'd been talking to."
I sighed. "I suspect that, despite my dialing the right number, one of her spells rerouted the call to her cell. She wasn't expecting a call out of the blue, and illusions are tricky. She didn't have time to craft or simulate all the sounds you'd expect to hear in and around a morgue and be sure she got everything right. One wrong sound could have tipped me off. So she didn't use any extra sounds at all, and tried to convince me to go someplace she knew--Mac's Pub--where she could intercept me and find out what case Murph was working on. After all, it might be crucial to Summer's interests.
"I knew something was off at the time. But it took me a while to recognize just how weird the absence of sound was.
"And when I checked--per advice—and saw the spells of illusion and deception on the phone, I started wondering how an enemy could have put them there. Because my wards are designed to protect me against outside invaders. Not against someone invading from within.
"There aren't many people who can get into my apartment. Murphy has an amulet, but she doesn't use magic. Hendricks got in earlier"--I could see by the shock in John's face that this was news to him--"but he loathes magic. Thomas can do simple spells, but nothing nearly of that caliber. And he hasn't come over to my place for a couple of years, anyway. There was only one person I could think of who had access to my apartment and who could do magic...and subtle magic, at that."
"Molly," Charity repeated grimly.
"Molly," I said sadly. "I didn't want to believe it. But every time I turned around, there she was. A sweet young girl who kept trying her best to be helpful...and who kept breaking the Third and Fourth Laws. Purely by accident, of course. I had to wonder, eventually, how you could 'accidentally' break the same Laws over and over again without noticing what you were doing." I turned to Luccio. "I'll report this to the Council, of course."
"I fail to see what that will accomplish, save to get you executed," Marcone retorted, "Unless you are panting to facilitate Titania's fondest wish, I would advise against it. At present, you are necessary to the safety of Chicago, and I doubt if that will change in the near future. And while I can see Titania's hand at work, I don't quite see why she would select me as a target."
I was just opening my mouth to say, Oh, suuuuuuuure you don't, when Murphy's voice rang out from across the room. "Harry! Look!"
I turned toward her voice and stared, for the wall closest to Molly was beginning to bulge outward. It looked like a giant soap bubble made of bricks and mortar.
And the brick bubble dissolved, and I was gazing at a portal into Summer...and a few hundred creatures of Faerie. Ogres, trolls, gruffs, ifrits, sylphs with razors for wings and claws, skinless cyclopean centaurs called nuckelavees...a mixed bag of killer creatures from Summer and Winter. Which was worrisome, but not nearly as bad what they'd brought along as playmates.
Vampires. Red Court Vampires.
Molly, agent of Summer, had invited them in.
"Jesus," whispered Hendricks. "Look at 'em all."
"How many weapons do we have?" Luccio asked. Something about the set of her jaw said that she was thinking of valiant last stands.
Gard shook her head. "Not enough." And with that, she reached down, grabbed the arm of the couch, and twisted it off.
"Hey, that's my furniture!"
She didn't even look at me as she plunged into the fray. "Would you prefer to have furniture or a life, Dresden?"
And then there was no time for anything but fighting.
Gard had the best time of it, I think, for she stabbed, beat and choked dozens of faeries and vampires with the couch arm. The fact that the arm was spiked with steel nails definitely helped. Hendricks, who seemed to have an inexhaustable number of clips, did his best to sidestep the vampires and perforate, in his words, "every stinkin' faerie from here to Antarctica." Marcone had enough knives to stock a store, and he used all of them. Luccio sent hex after hex at vampires and faeries alike. I hurled fireballs and cyclones at them. Mouse bit off spell after newly formed spell. Charity used everything that she could lay her hands on to protect her husband who—being Michael—was also trying valiantly to protect her. And Murphy's vorpal blade went snicker-snack.
And it wasn't enough. We were knocking ourselves out trying to stop Molly and her minions (which sounds suspiciously like a 1950s girl group), and it wasn't working. We didn't have the numbers, the weapons or the magic. Despite the fact that we were managing to kill some of them, the faeries and vampires were toying with us, and we all knew it.
There was only one thing left that I could do to stop them, and I needed John's help for that.
Hurling wind spells left and right, I picked my way over to John. "Hey," I said, speaking as softly as I could in the middle of a battle. "John. I need you."
"I'm flattered, Mister Dresden," he said dryly, "but you may observe that we are in the middle of a war."
"I need you in the kitchen--right now--to help stop the war."
His glance swept across the room and our pitiful numbers. "You can't do whatever you need to do here?"
"Uh...yeah, I could, but you'd kill me later if I did."
"Whereas if we withdraw from the battle--?"
"You won't have to kill me, and there will still be a later."
"That does sound like an improvement." And slowly, carefully, we inched our way across the living room into my kitchen.
Once the door had closed, he turned to me. "All right. What in the world can we do here that we can't do out there?"
"This," I said. And I bent down and kissed him.
I'd done something similar before, fueling spells before with the lust from a kiss with a White Court succubus who just happened to be my stepsister. And that was when I hadn't had a potion coursing through my veins that drew power to me.
But drawing driblets of power from an army of faeries and vamps wasn't enough. I needed something that would kick the potion into high gear. And...well, Bob had made a point of telling me about this potion and the power of love in practically the same breath, so to speak.
I'd never kissed a man before. The stubble was a surprise. So was his smell, which was a mixture, at the moment, of sweat, blood, gunpowder, an expensive and eminently forgettable citrus cologne, and Chicago. His back was more muscular than those of the women I'd loved, and his arms were stronger--I wasn't sure if he was going to hold me or wrestle me to the ground. It was all unfamiliar and bewildering...and when I kissed him, I could feel my entire body sighing, Yes. This.
I'd like to think that it was a fantastic kiss, but it probably wasn't. I was too lost in wonder to turn the kissage into something psychedelic. I do know that when I came up for air, his eyes were dilated to the point where there was just a very thin rim of green around a pool of black, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing.
"As always, you have an unerring sense of timing," he said...which would have sounded more impressive if he hadn't been breathless. "I should warn you that if this is your idea of a joke, I will never forgive you."
"John," I explained, "shut up." And with that, I kissed him again.
I swear I heard him murmur, "Oh, God," for a moment before he growled deep in his throat and slammed me up against the wall.
When we parted for air again, he was the first to speak. "We must go back. I will not leave them to die alone."
"Way ahead of you there, John. Except for the part about our side dying, because that's so not going to to happen." I gave him an impudent grin. "Watch."
I opened the kitchen door a crack. None of the faeries or vamps had pursued us; apparently they were having more fun elsewhere. Their mistake.
Then I lifted my staff and spoke three words. "Cyclis exuviarum veneficarum!" And a small golden mini-cyclone shot from my staff and whirled out to the living room.
A minute later, the screams of rage and panic began.
I'd been really specific about that spell. That's why I'd used the word "exuviarum"--"of spoils taken from the enemy." In this case, the spoil was the magic of my foes.
A spell couldn't deprive anyone of magic for good. But it could soak up all the magic around the vamps and the faeries as if it were a huge vacuum cleaner. Which might give us an advantage.
At least, that was what I thought it would do. As it turned out, the emotional amplification that I got from kissing John plus my own interpretation of the spell made it just a little bit stronger.
The spell didn't merely soak up the magical energy my foes were using. It cut off further access to magic—at least temporarily. That was probably due to my interpretation of "spoils." When I think of plunder, I don't think of it as something that can be taken back five minutes later by the plunder-ee.
This put the faeries in a very nasty situation. All the magic that they had been drawing on and casting had suddenly and abruptly been sucked away. And, because they couldn't access the magic of the world around them for the moment, this meant that they had to draw rather heavily on their reserves. And of course, once their magic moved out of the reserves and started becoming active, my spell sucked it away again.
I'd worked myself into this state once by overusing my magic. It had been like being a deafblind quadruple amputee. Everything I had, every method that I used to sense the world, even things so automatic that I was barely aware of them, had been gone. And my entire body had felt as if it had been filled with stabbing flames.
I'd survived, mostly through desperation, the courage of others, using power from seriously questionable sources, and sheer dumb luck. But it had taken me a month to get back to what I considered normal. And I'd had nightmares for years.
But I'm human. I could survive without magic. I wouldn't want to--being a wizard is who and what I am--but I could.
Faeries, however, are creatures of magic. And these faeries had just lost a hell of a lot of energy while being cut off from the power in this room.
Ever see a fish drowning in air?
As the creatures of Faerie collapsed to the floor---and trust me, you haven't lived until you've seen a weakened and haggard troll--I checked to see what the vampires were doing. And I got a nasty surprise.
The Red Court's fleshmasks were falling from them in bits and pieces. And, thanks to my spell, they couldn't grow new ones. They were exposed as what they were--human-sized bat-like creatures with black leathery skin coated with slime, cavernous jaws and empty eyes.
And they were furious.
I heard a gasp of shock from Charity and an "Oh, fuck," from Hendricks.
As the vampires surged forward, their narcotic saliva dripping from their fangs, I decided it was time for Harry's Plan, Part Two.
Quickly I drew the cyclone of stolen energy into my body, trying not to let myself bask in how good it felt, reminding myself that this wasn't something I could get used to. Then, as the power coursed through me, I whispered, "Cyclis zephyrus!"
A breeze began blowing around the room, carrying a number of things with it--bills, Post-It notes, pencils and handkerchiefs. No one paid any attention, save to swat the items out of the way and give them an occasional disgusted glare.
"Bravo, Mister Dresden," John said, pulling a knife out of I-don't-know-where. "A valiant effort. But it seems to have failed." He stepped forward, as if to go back to the battle...which, admittedly, was becoming desperate.
I gripped his arm with my burned hand, lifted my staff and shouted, "Fuego sudaria!"
Every handkerchief rotating in the air instantly burst into flames. Ordinarily this would just create fireballs, but these were special handkerchiefs. The kind that I use to store potions materials. Each contained a beam of sunlight.
My magic, the flames and the sunlight merged to create a dozen or so miniature suns.
I'd been working on this spell since before the White Court had brokered a peace between the Red Court and the wizards. When peace was declared, I had a perfectly good offensive spell and nowhere to use it except for home defense. So that was what I'd done. I'd never used it before, except in experiments. I'd only used it now because we were out of options and I knew two things for certain:
Red Court vampires and faeries don't like sunlight.
And right now, both groups were suffering from magic deprivation...and were thus extremely vulnerable.
It didn't take long after that. The vampires and faeries writhed about and tried to crawl off into corners, but they didn't get very far. And, speaking as someone who's tried this, it's not easy to fight an enemy when they're armed and standing up and you're flat on your back, weakened and in great pain. The vampires still had talons and teeth and saliva that drugged anyone it touched into a state of euphoria, the ogres and trolls still had fists and feet like blunt instruments, the nuckelavees still had poisonous breath...but the sunlight was a killer, and they couldn't get away from it. Between the mini-suns, swords, knives, guns, the broken-off arm of a couch, Michael's cane and Mouse's barks, we overcame them very quickly. And we didn't leave a single one alive to tell the tale.
"Hey, the portal's gone," Hendricks said as we flopped down to rest in various spots that were unstained by the black ichor of vampire blood or the blue-green goo that faeries use.
"Yeah," I said. "The spell I stole active magic—spells that they were using--away from my enemies. I guess it interpreted Molly as an enemy." I glanced over at Molly, who was still pinned to the ground by Mouse. "Correctly, as it happens."
"What are you going to do with her?" Michael asked, rubbing his bad leg.
Luccio gazed at Molly as if she were a new and particularly lethal virus. "Death is the traditional means of dealing with warlocks."
Hendricks looked at Luccio as if he couldn't believe the idiocy of wizards. "That's stupid. You guys keep treating her like a human who's fucked up. You gotta stop doing that. She thinks faerie, so treat her like a faerie. Put her someplace where she can't get to Summer or Winter, with someone who can actually do her kind of magic and do it better than she can. Cut her off from her magic, if you have to. But don't kill her! Jesus Christ, you realize how many plots and secrets she's got in that little head? Like, you know, which of the boss's people have been affected? Thought he was one of your barons now. Or hell, which of your people were affected that you don't know about yet. You can't afford to lose that shit!"
"She doesn't deserve to get away with it again," Luccio said sternly. "As long as she lives she's going to be a threat."
"What, like him?" Hendricks said, jerking a thumb in my direction. "Don't like him, but you need more people who can be that kind of threat. And exile, prison and rehab ain't 'getting away with it.'" He glanced at Marcone, who was sitting to the left of me. "Believe me, I know."
"As long as you do not offer her friendship," Gard said sternly, and I knew that Odin's words had been echoing in her mind as they had in mine. "She has played the helpless and innocent maiden for far too long."
After that it was all over but the negotiations with the Senior Council; no one ever considered talking to Titania. And when Luccio and Murphy left, Molly--forcibly escorted by Mouse--went with them.
Shortly after that, Michael and Charity went home more than a little shell-shocked. It's not easy to discover that the person you love and that you thought loved you was a complete lie. I'd learned this when I was sixteen and my teacher and adoptive father first attempted to enslave me, and then tried to kill me. I couldn't say that I was over it yet.
But I'd learned to live with it. Hopefully, they would too.
Finally, we were down to me, John, Hendricks and Gard. And a murmured command or two was enough to banish them...albeit very reluctantly. Hendricks gave me a death glare over his shoulder as he left. Remember. Anything happens to him, I'll kill you.
Once the door closed after them, John looked at me and addressed me for the first time since I'd made the mini-suns appear. And he sounded as if he was starting in the middle of an argument.
"You cannot do this lightly, you know. I'm selfish. If you want to experiment--if this is some brief indulgence before you meet up with yet another curvaceous blonde or brunette--then I would rather you found someone else. And if you think being with me will change or corrupt you, then it's better if we don't start. The city needs you as you are."
"John. Idiot." I reached out and cupped his face in my hands. "Stop with the warnings. They're not going to change anything. I've wanted you for a long time. I just didn't realize until today that coming out was even possible...or that it wasn't necessary. Because they know, John. They all know. I mean, I haven't spoken to the Alphas or Thomas or Eb McCoy or...well, a lot of people. But everyone I talked to today was like, 'Duh, Harry. We know you like guys. We've known that for years.' Hell's bells, even Odin knew. And approved.
"I'm not sayin' everyone is thrilled," I continued. "Hendricks is worried about your proclivities and mine getting us killed, Murph is going to have issues about having to work with a Mafia don in her Knight capacity, never mind one who's her consultant's...something. 'Boyfriend' sounds too kiddish. I don't even wanna get into the White Court's reaction. And I think we can safely say that Titania hates the idea and has been trying to keep us apart for a while. I mean, there's a few billion problems.
"But." I took my hands away from his face and held out my arms. "Yours. Stubborn. Quixotic. Anger management issues up the wazoo. Trouble incarnate. But yours, if you want."
He stared at me for a few minutes. "Didn't it ever occur to you to come out to me first?"
"Um...no? I kind of thought you knew."
"And you call me an idiot..." He threw back his head and laughed for a long time. I couldn't help but notice that it made him look years younger.
Then he pounced, pinning me down as effectively as Mouse had pinned down Molly.
"So," he said in a conversational tone that didn't quite hide a tigerish growl. "I think it's time that we had a real date, as opposed to an implicit one. Have you ever watched the sun come up on an island?"
"Then I think we should go immediately. It's only a few hours till dawn, after all."
We did arrive on Demonreach before dawn, but by the time the sun rose a few hours later, neither of us saw it.
The term "chivalry lemming" is used in the TV Tropes Dresden Files section to describe Harry. Frankly, I think that describes Harry perfectly. The term "Xanatos gambit," which refers to an extremely complex plan put in place by an extraordinarily devious villain, can also be found at TV Tropes.
The Dog Latin Harry quotes when "blessing" Murphy can be found here.
The spells "Cyclis exuviarum veneficarum!" and "Fuego sudaria" are non-canonical, and the Latin is as correct as I could make it. "Exuviarum veneficarum" does mean "of the magical spoils of the enemy," while "sudaria" is the plural for "sudarium," which is Latin for "handkerchief" or "towel."
The following lines, spoken by Odin, are from W.H. Auden's and P.B. Taylor's translation of The Havamal (The Words of the High One) and can be found here:
A man should be loyal through life to friends,
To them and to friends of theirs,
But never shall a man make offer
Of friendship to his foes.
And of course, when Harry speaks of Murphy's vorpal blade going snicker-snack, he's quoting "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll.