The bed I awoke in was, yet again, plush and large, but this time it wasn’t morning. Moonlight shone in from a wide picture window beside me, and it glittered brilliantly on the cool stone floor. I guessed I was in a castle or something, but I couldn’t imagine where. Whatever dream this was, it wasn’t being quite as obvious about itself as the others. Hell’s Bells, I’d almost mistake this for a normal dream, if I wasn’t in some kind of lacy nightgown which, my propensity for dream crossdressing aside, I would never consider wearing. Mostly because it was scratchy as all hell and I was pretty sure my chest was not special enough to deserve being bared through white lace.
I thought for a split second that maybe this would be an easy story with an easy moral, a moment of relaxation for all the insanity all I’d been facing. I’d been so tired that night, so deathly, painfully tired, because of my last case, because I’d been hurt so badly, and I’d wanted nothing more than rest. Even Marcone had been worried, despite the fact that I’d been steadfastly avoiding him since the last dream. At least I hadn’t gotten anymore weird gifts in my mail. I closed my eyes and the lace tickled my belly. I thought about going back to sleep here, about forcing the rest on myself cleanly, perfectly, and then Mab, who is really good at ruining everything, broke the window and stepped inside. Her fingers clenched around my jaw, her nails little ice needles, and I couldn’t even open my mouth for her grasp. Her lips peeled back and displayed glittering white teeth, their points a bit too noticeable to be mistaken for human and not quite sharp enough to belong to a vampire.
“Fairer than a Fairy, they call thee,” she murmured, “Perhaps you are equal to us, but not superior. Your foolish father will pay for this presumptuous name he hath bestowed upon thee.” Oh. I hadn’t heard the story of Fairer than a Fairy for some time, but I remembered enough to know that I was about to be kidnapped. Well. That sucked. Is it sad that that’s all I can say to such a fate? Maybe I’d reach a little more if I was being kidnapped for real instead of in a dream, I don’t know. Or maybe I’m just getting desensitized. I have been kidnapped a lot.
Mab didn’t disappoint in the kidnapping department, which was good, since that would mean a variation from the plot, and that just wouldn’t do. She swept me away to a copy of her castle, of Arctis Tor, and statues of ice glared down at me. Her nails dug crescent shaped welts into my skin when she threw me into a darkened bedroom with nothing in it but a pallet, a hearth, and a table. A fire blazed with cold heat in that hearth, and I saw two crystal bottles on the table. Beyond that, there was nothing, and even with the fire the room was frozen. At least I saw no trace of Marcone, which was always a plus, considering how our dream encounters normally went down. I honestly didn’t know how many more dreams like the last one I could take. I really, really just wanted to go back to having normal dreams, or no dreams. No dreams would be really nice; when I don’t dream, or don’t remember them, I at least get rest.
“Let me go, Mab. I’m not dealing with your shit, not tonight.” My mind belatedly reminded me that maybe insulting the Queen of Winter wasn’t a very good idea, even in dreams. I reminded my mind that I do not give a fuck. Also, tired. Leave me alone, brain. Apparently she was in one of those moods where she just found my insolence really funny, though, because she burst into a round of cool laughter. She let her fingers trail across my cheek, down my neck, icy pinpricks that made me flinch away from her a little, even though the touch tickled rather than hurt.
“It seems that thou father felt that thou beauty was sufficient to get thee wed; thou certainly hast no other ladylike qualities.” I snorted and wondered what idiot would ever describe me of all people as ladylike, even if I did have the right parts for that particular description to truly apply.
“Aw, I might just cry if you insult me like that again.” She gave me a small push and sent me stumbling backwards onto the pallet. My legs sprawled out at odd angles that confused even me when I saw them, although the positions didn’t hurt. I guessed it might’ve been a dream thing.
“There’s little to say of thee that is not an insult, little one. I suppose I’d best leave thee, if thou dost not wish to hear such things any longer. All I’ve left to say is that thou must not ever spill mine bottles that sit upon thou table, nor must thou ever allow the fire in thou hearth to go free or burn out. If thou do these things, I will allow thee to live here happily and healthfully. Mine palace shall belong to thee as it does to me, and thou may travel through it and the grounds surrounding it as thee will, so long as thou dost not take leave of this place.” I’ve always heard that a gilded cage was still a cage; Mab often took that statement to a whole new level. She’d give me anything, I knew that, whatever I wanted, the world, the women, the power, but I’d be hers. I’d be in her cage, and the cage would be beautiful, it would be world-sized, and if I gave myself enough time to fall, to be corrupted by her, I might even learn to love it, but damn it, it’d still be a cage. Not just in this dream, either; in real life as well, she’d given me a similar enough offer. I didn’t want it. I’d sworn not to be someone’s puppet again. I fought not to spit acid words in her face, to remember that this was just a dream, that being obedient here would mean nothing, that I would wake up, but a sickly tone still penetrated my words.
“How merciful,” I told her, rolled my eyes, and she smiled.
“Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, they call thee,” she said, a sharp smile on her face, “But they speak not the truth. Braver than a Fairy, thou are, more foolish, and filled with far, far more youth. I’d take you as mine own, as mine vassal, if I thought thou would have it. Perhaps in the years to come thou shalt be more amenable to mine offers, to mine kindness.” I just laughed while she walked out; I laughed and laughed and laughed, and valiantly resisted making fun of the way she spoke, although it was really, really hard. Hell’s Bells, this is getting silly. I wondered when these damned dreams would stop. I wondered if it was all some sick joke. Really, I wondered where Marcone was. These damned things almost felt like a waste without him. Actually, scratch that. You never heard a word.
Time passed slowly, a week dribbling by like water. Mab or a servant or somebody usually came by to visit me, to taunt me, to rile me up to the point where I would yell. They seemed to like it when I did that, and I wondered if I’d have to wait years, like the girl from the real story had. I hoped not. I was pretty sure I’d need to be in a coma to have a dream that long, and while I’d been hurt pretty bad in my last case, while I’d taken a bullet to the stomach when my duster flew back around my arms, while the monster-of-the-week that the moronic wizard-with-a-gun-of-the-week had summoned had chipped my tooth and split my lips, while my right shoulder had been dislocated when I fell down a flight of stairs (shut up. I’ve taken enough flak from Murphy about that already. It’s not my fault the stairs that lead up to Butters’ apartment are unsafe.), I certainly wasn’t in bad enough shape to be in a coma.
When another day went by and nothing happened I finally decided I’d have to take matters into my own hands and progress the damned story along myself. I recalled dimly that the next part was supposed to take place in some kind of garden, so I got myself dressed (Mab had graciously given me a wardrobe full of absolutely gorgeous dresses. Today’s was some purple number with corseting down the front that pulled too tight around my middle and blue lace around the bell sleeves and the top that scratched my skin like a bitch. Plus the sleeves hung down off my shoulders and that just pissed me off) and went down there, a beaded belt swinging around my feet and my pentacle thumping against my breastbone. On the way, I had this irrational desire to find Mab and tell her that I really didn’t have the figure for this dress. I might’ve actually done it if I didn’t have the equally irrational fear that she’d fix that for me.
Mab’s gardens were as beautiful as they were awful. Statues stood sentry, statues of ice with wide eyed Sidhe trapped inside, and brilliantly white roses crept up equally white trellises. Tulips bloomed periodically among bunches of wildflowers, and I recognized the one I’d liked from Little Red Land scattered liberally among them as well. That made me remember the bunch I’d received in my mail, and I couldn’t help but smile. They really were pretty flowers. Once I’d made sure the ones in my mail weren’t laced with something (and burned the fucking Alice dress to satisfying cinders), I’d filled a collector’s edition Mickey Mouse cup with water and kept them on my coffee table until no amount of spells could keep them from wilting. They’d smelled pretty nice, too. I’d almost considered ordering some myself, for a while, until I realized what a spectacular waste of money that would be. Anyway, I followed a cobbled path through the garden, certainly not pausing to admire flowers, since that would be stupid, and finally ended up in front of a big marble fountain.
I had to admit that it made a nice sight, since the sun was in just the right position to make a rainbow in the mist. I watched it shift and change with a thin, mindless smile, and almost felt myself start to wake up before a voice I recognized cut through the haze and retied me to the world around me.
“Hello? Can you hear me? Please, can you hear me?” Marcone. Of course he was here. When was he not, anymore? The more I tried to avoid the bastard, the more he showed up. Like I said before, I’d been avoiding him a lot, lately. I almost didn’t answer, until I remembered that I’d probably have to go along with this shit if I wanted to wake up.
“I hear you,” I said softly, my eyes mostly fixed on the spinning water before me. The rainbow shimmered, somehow seeming pleased and smug, and oh shit, Marcone was a rainbow! I fell into a helpless fit of snickers for an amount of time I’m not comfortable sharing. Marcone either didn’t notice or politely ignored that, though.
“Thank god,” he said, “That fairy has held me here, in this form, for years, and not once have I been allowed to speak to another person. My mother and father owed her a debt, you see; I was the most convenient payment,” he spat the words bitterly, and oh, maybe he hadn’t mentioned my laughter because he was just so relieved that someone was here. That was an odd thought, and it made me feel a little like a dick. I fought the urge to apologize.
“Oh. Yeah, Mab’s a bitch,” I said, and I’d said it so many times before that it didn’t even sound like something suicidally stupid to say anymore. It was a breezy statement, now, a simple fact, because I knew her, and knew her better than I’d ever wanted to, ever thought I’d have to. Stars, remember when my life was easy? I miss those days. The Rainbow Baron choked on a laugh.
“Are you certain,” he paused to cough out more laughter, “that saying that is a good idea?” I shrugged.
“What the hell is she going to do? She likes having me as her pet too much to do anything to me. So long as the fire in my room stays lit and the bottles don’t get broken, I’m cool.” I sat on the edge of the fountain and stuck my hand in the water, let it ripple. It made the rainbow ripple with it, and Marcone’s voice wavered a little for a second, before it steadied again. I was pretty sure I’d only heard him sound that weak twice before, and once had been in the last dream whilst the first had been when he was with Amanda. I shut my eyes and stilled my hand. I realized I could make him disappear, then, all I had to do was make the rainbow go, but for some reason, my hand refused to do it.
“You are called Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, are you not? I must say the moniker is well-earned.” I snorted and closed my eyes against the brilliance of the winter sun overhead.
“Call me Harry,” I said without a thought, before I remembered that he wasn’t allowed to call me by my first name. My stupid mouth always has had a habit of vomiting up words that had no business being vomited up.
“Harry? What an odd nickname. I’d have thought you’d take pride in your own.”
“I didn’t ask to be called that,” I said, and that was true, “But lookie here, I’m getting punished for it. Why should I be proud of something that I had no hand in, and something that’s gotten me made a prisoner?” If I could’ve seen him, his physical form, I’m certain it would have been smirking. As it was, the rainbow flashed a shade brighter for a split second.
“Because it is the truth, and one should always accept the truth. If that truth is complimentary, then of course a person should be proud. Still, Fairer-Than-A-Fairy is quite the mouthful; perhaps calling you Harry would be more appropriate. Harry. My name is John, by the way, John Marcone.” I nodded as if I didn’t know and offered a smile I didn’t understand the reason for. The rainbow glittered.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, and I didn’t say his name because there was no way in hell I could call him John, and this him, this him that was not real, would think I was being rude if I called him Marcone. So I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t call him anything. I wished I could remember how this story went so I could move the damn thing along, finish it up, go home, rest, and fight whatever idiot decided to come down the pike next. Hell’s Bells, never thought I’d say something like that as if it was getting repetitive. It’d be really funny if it weren’t sort of depressing.
“You as well, finally; I’ve seen you through your window for some time, actually, since you arrived here. I’ve wanted to meet you quite a lot, but you remained rather steadfastly in your bedroom.” That made me pause, I can admit it. Why had he wanted to meet me? That was weird.
“I don’t think I’m so charming that a rainbow outside my window would want to meet me at first sight.” The rainbow shifted and seemed somehow nervous. By the way, rainbows are apparently very emotive, when they want to be.
“I found you to be exceedingly lovely. For some reason, the moment I saw you, I ceased to long so desperately for freedom. You calmed me, made me sane again. Perhaps I’d… perhaps I’d fallen in love with you with that first look, I don’t know. Speaking to you now, I could certainly believe that I had, that I do. You are perhaps one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, quite honestly.” And there was that word again, love. I was starting to hate hearing him use it. He didn’t love me, not the real him, he barely even liked me half the time, and I didn’t know why my brain kept insisting on this being such a theme, on him always, always being my prince, always, always loving me. I stood up and the overskirt of the dress flared out almost like my duster usually did, which was pretty cool.
“I need to go stoke the fire or Mab will be pissed.” And then I left. I stomped back upstairs to my room and found the fire to be perfectly fine, just like how I’d left it. I looked out the window and saw that the rainbow was still there, shining above the water. I was pretty sure he knew that the fire was fine just like I had when I left. I pulled heavy red shades over the window and dropped down onto my pallet. My head fell into my knees even though my back protested at the bend. I knew I’d have to go back, though, because he was my ‘prince’ and I couldn’t leave the story until I ran away with him, I knew that. I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take, though, wasn’t sure how much more idiocy I could take. I’d have to figure out the source of these dreams soon, though.
I went down again the next day, this time not letting the servants Mab sent put me in anything more extravagant than a silky white thing that hung down to my ankles and could’ve been mistaken for a nightgown. It was at least comfortable, though, the pearls around the neck of it not distracting like the lace yesterday, and I could almost walk in it without tripping on the hemline or getting my legs tangled up in it, which was definitely a big plus. Marcone sparked brightly when he caught sight of me coming, and I was sure he’d have smiled if he could’ve. I settled on the side of the fountain again.
“Harry,” he said, “It’s lovely to see you again. I’d thought that you wouldn’t come here anymore. I apologize if I upset you yesterday; it was certainly very forward of me to say what I did, and I cannot say I blame you for leaving. It was horribly inappropriate. We just met, after all. We should try to get to know each other.” My body was laughing before my brain caught up to what he’d said, and I wondered if he really was a Gentleman after all, or if this was just what my mind was making him.
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s… why don’t we start over? Like, on the right foot.” The rainbow drifted vaguely up and down.
“Of course.” And so we did. “My name is John Marcone, and I’m a prince kept prisoner because of a debt my family owed to Mab. And you are?” I smiled.
“Harry Dresden, A.K.A. Fairer-Than-A-Fairy. Mab thought my name was offensive to her and her folk, so she brought me here and has me watch some bottles and a fire.”
“Is that so? Well, I suppose she was simply upset that she finally met someone who could be her match in loveliness; she’s a vain creature, you know.” I grinned, because I did, because most fairies were. They liked that they were beautiful, and on the rare occasions that they met a human who was their equal, it pissed them off. Not that I thought I actually was, of course, but I knew that stuff like this could very easily happen to someone if they were pretty enough and bragged about it.
“I probably know that better than most,” I said.
“I can only imagine,” he told me, and there was something in his voice, something that sounded like John Marcone the ruler of Chicago and all that he surveys rather than John Marcone the prince of some unknown kingdom and all that he surveys. It was a strange, discomforting change in tone, and I couldn’t help but imagine that I felt a pair of arms around me and heard a quiet voice in my ear. A sudden memory of my father assaulted me, then, of him holding me when I was young because I’d fallen and scraped up my knees and my palms on some asphalt. It had been the year before he died and I’d been crying so hard and he’d whispered, ‘it’s okay, it’s okay’ in my ear over and over until it was a mantra, until I was murmuring it myself and my tears stopped and his started and he told me that he missed Maggie. That had been the only time I’d ever seen my father cry. Warmth brushed around my shoulders and the rainbow was suddenly close to me. “You’re crying,” he whispered. I coughed and shook my head and wiped my eyes.
“I’m afraid not. Tell me what’s wrong.” There it was, the authority, the tone that brokered no argument. I recognized that in him, and I guessed he’d always have it no matter what his incarnation was, whether he was real or not. Still, this was just a dream. That realization was sudden. I could say whatever I wanted, be as honest as I wanted, because this was a dream. No one would know.
“I miss my dad,” I whispered, “God, I miss my dad.” The warmth brushed by me again, and I smiled. I’d missed him for a long time, since he’d died, and I probably always would. I almost wished I’d gotten a chance to see him in this dream, since he apparently existed here.
“It will be alright,” he said, and there was a smile in his voice, “You are strong; you’ll get out of here, I’m certain of it.” I smiled.
“I’ve gotten out of worse.” Another bright flash came over the colors, and that voice I knew returned.
“I could see that,” he told me, and there was laughter there. I’d never had to pay quite this much attention to his voice before, honestly. It was sort of strange to need to. I wished I could see his face. He was a lot easier to deal with when I could see his face. His face helped me remember that he was nowhere near as likeable as he liked to pretend. His voice, on the other hand, always tried to make me think that he was a good, honest person. It bothered me. Still, I attempted to ignore it and we chatted about nothing, about this dream world, and I mixed the real memories I had of my father, memories of card tricks and carnival games, with fake things, things that I could imagine happening had he lived instead of died. I told him what I knew about my mother, said that she’d died when I was born, I told him about my friends and called them my bodyguards, I told him about Thomas and said he was estranged from the remainder of the family, I told him about all I could if I could make it seem authentic to the dream environment. I don’t know why, but it felt good to just talk, to tell stories, even if he kept insisting on calling me pretty and sneaking in little words of love I didn’t want to hear.
He talked to me too, about Hendricks and his family and other little things, friends of his that had died, the little people he tried to help, and I could hear his smile again. I’d always figured that he and Hendricks had a deeper relationship than Mob boss and Mob goon, always figured that they were friends, but I hadn’t ever thought I’d hear genuine care like that in Marcone’s voice for anyone. Hendricks took on a new, strange level of importance in my eyes, but I just filed that away for later use, although I wasn’t sure I could trust it since this Marcone that was with me now wasn’t the real one. Either way, though, this dream was at least giving me a chance to settle around him, to calm my reaction to him in my head, so maybe I wouldn’t be quite so insistent on avoiding him in the real world, or at least no more insistent about it than I usually was.
We sat there for a long time talking like that, slow, easy conversations, and honestly it felt a lot like a conversation I’d have with a friend or something. It was surreal, it was strange, it was one of the weirdest things I’d ever done or seen or felt, and this was definitely not like the other dreams. There was no kissing, there was no groping, we were just… talking. Like friends. Like… like lovers. I swallowed thickly, and I watched the sun sinking down. And then I remembered the fire that I was meant to tend, the one that always began to fade once the sun began to set.
“The fire,” I said, “I’m sorry, I need to go. I’ll be back tomorrow,” I yelled, and I ran off. I heard his quiet laughter, a touch of confusion tangled in it, and I thought for a second that I was going to be able to keep the fire from going out, but when I got into my bedroom again, it was out. Dread filled me, froze my blood in veins. Mab would be pissed. I tried to start it up again, tried to find a match or something, but I couldn’t. Mab appeared in my room suddenly and grabbed the nape of my neck, her nails nearly dipping beneath my skin. A hiss of pain slipped from between my teeth as she yanked me up to my feet and smiled. There was some cold in it, something malicious.
“My, my,” she murmured, “what an irresponsible little child. I gave thee two tasks, sweet one, and thou could not even succeed in performing them. Silly darling,” she told me, and the hand not digging into the back of my neck stroked my face. The gentleness contrasted sharply with the pain and I gritted my teeth together more tightly. I kept my eyes as distant and cool and blank as I could, but it probably wasn’t a very good mask. Hiding my emotions has never been what anyone would call my forte. “Shall I be receiving an apology?”
“Stars no,” I said, “Just make another one.”
“Fire is hard to come by in Winter’s heart, child. There are very few here that have it, or who can create it. Thou must travel to the home of the Erlking and take a new flame.” I raised my eyebrows and cackled. That was dumb. That was really, really dumb. No. I wasn’t doing that, even in a dream. That was the Erlking. Stealing stuff from him seemed really stupid. Like, so stupid. The stupidest thing ever, except for maybe stealing from Mab. But yeah. No. I pretty much told her that. She then dragged me outside, pitched me towards the icy forest surrounding Arctis Tor, and had a giant, snarling fucking hound chase me through the woods towards what I assumed was the Erlking’s house. Mab is very good at getting people to do what she wants, by the way.
The hound got me pinned by the front door and gave me a wonderfully threatening glare whenever I tried to run away. So, basically, I had a murderous dog on one side and a stone cottage with a deadly goblin king inside. I think that’s a new level to the phrase, “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” Anyway. I just sort of hung out outside for about fifteen minutes, but then this adorable little fluffy bird landed on my shoulder and gave me a shiny pebble. I blinked.
“Um,” I told it, and it chirped in a voice I recognized.
“Take it, idiot!” Murphy. Murphy bird. I snickered happily about that, then laughed, held my sides. Tweety Murphy nipped my ear. I finally managed to calm myself.
“Thanks?” I said, but it was more of a question than anything.
“You’ll need that. Go inside; you’ll be alright. Erlking is out.” I continued to blink as the adorable little blonde birdie flew off. I really hope Murphy never finds out about these dreams, because if she does I’m dead whether I’m actually the one who imagined her as the cute little bird or not. I shook my head and clutched the shiny pebble in my hand, then slowly, carefully, quietly opened the door to the Erlking’s home, and goddamn this was stupid. But I’m good at stupid, so I figured this was no worse than anything else I’d done. And I had a pebble from a Murphy bird. That was good luck, probably, even if it was nothing else, so I kept going forward into the little house, kept looking for the fire. Then I got tackled. Shut the hell up.
“Who are you?” I heard a snarl, but it wasn’t the Erlking, and that was better than I’d been hoping for already. I wriggled around and twisted my neck so that I could see the person who held me down by my shoulders. Kincaid? Seriously? Well, I’d always had suspicions that he was tied somehow to the Wild Hunt, so I guess this might’ve made a strange sort of sense. I had the vaguest of thoughts that my white dress would be filthy by the end of this, questioned for a moment why I cared, and then shoved the thoughts away because that was a really pointless thing to think about just then. Also, if you’re wondering, I came to the conclusion in those few seconds that I cared because the dress wasn’t mine, technically, and I didn’t like messing up things that weren’t mine unless they were Marcone’s.
“Harry Dresden. Nice to see you, Kincaid. You have any fire lying around here? I could use a little.” His grip slackened and I managed to wiggle free. He let me, and he was gaping at me.
“Pretty,” he murmured. I blinked. “The name Harry doesn’t do you justice. So, what’re you doing here? The Erlking loves to devour little girls like you. Fire, you said? You’re so young. What do you need fire for?” I sighed and crossed my arms, still sitting on the floor. He sat across from me.
“I accidentally let Mab’s fire go out, so she told me to go here and get more. Or, more accurately, she chased me here with a dog and a bird gave me this,” I said, displaying the pebble Murphy bird had given me. He nodded and stretched, then crawled over to pluck the pebble from my fingers. His face got way too close to mine and I squirmed back. I already had Marcone to deal with in these dreams; I wasn’t going to deal with Kincaid too. I mean, he already had Murphy, periodically. He didn’t need the other half of the super detective duo too.
“Nice. Alright, I’ll give you the fire for this and a kiss, Harry, and that’s a damn good deal.” Well, I’d never thought these dreams would get more fucked up than Marcone trying to make out with me. Apparently I had it wrong, because this was somehow way worse. I don’t even understand why it was worse, but it so was. It was like, Marcone flirting with me was weird. This was, “tilt the universe on its side and throw it on a giant anti-personnel mine” world changing strange. I stared at him with wide eyes. “Well? Will you take my deal? I could be asking for a lot more, but to take something so integral from a pretty thing like you would be something like sacrilege.” I decided not to say that my dream virginity had already been taken by the rainbow over the fountain in Mab’s garden. Still, I already couldn’t look at Marcone without blushing because of that. May as well add Kincaid to the list. I sighed and leaned forward, kissed him quickly, and it hardly felt like anything. It was just… a kiss. Nothing special, nothing important, and it felt neither particularly good nor particularly bad. He sighed and slid the pebble into his pocket.
“Can I have the fire now?” He smiled and took a different stone, another pebble, from his opposite pocket. He dropped it in my lap as he stood and walked further into the home. When he returned, he held a flaming torch.
“Here you go. I shouldn’t give it to you, you know; my payment wasn’t very good. A kiss from a girl who loves someone else already never is.” I cocked my head and laughed.
“I’m not in love with anyone, Kincaid.” He rolled his eyes.
“Sure you’re not,” he told me, and then shoved me out of the house. “Hold onto that pebble, by the way. It’ll help you out later on, little girl in love.” He then proceeded to close the door on me, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the hound gone. I walked back to Arctis Tor and found Mab waiting for me in my room. She looked shocked when she saw me, and I guess dream her wasn’t as used to me being capable of surviving nearly any near death situation that assaulted me as the real her was.
“More special than I thought, aren’t thee, little Fairer? The Erlking ought to have devoured thee.” I shrugged.
“He was out. Here’s your fire. Can you leave my room now?” She, being a bitch, just sort of faded out of existence rather than using a door like a normal human being. I started the fire, got it burning high and as hot as I could in Winter’s heart, and then walked down to the fountain. I don’t exactly know why I did that, but I felt sort of like talking to Marcone. I guess because he was currently the most normal thing in this particular dream, although I’d never thought I’d describe Marcone of all people as normal. He greeted me warmly when I arrived.
“Harry,” he told me, his voice full of what could only be described as relief. “I’m glad to see you well, after I heard that you had been sent into the Erlking’s domain.” I shrugged and smiled, relaxed against the fountain.
“Well, I’m not very good at dying when someone wants me to. I haven’t ever figured out why, though.” He laughed and the happiness, the sheer joy, the relief, was so palpable that it made gooseflesh rise on my skin. If I was relaxed before I was a puddle of goo then. He always had a nice voice except for I’m not the kind of guy who’d notice that, so I’m just sort of guessing, I think. Ahem.
“That’s good,” he said, “I fear, however, that we must find another way to speak with one another. The sun fades now, and so I will not be able to speak much longer, but please, take a bucket of water to your room, and place it in your window when the sun rises. I will be there, and we may speak more then. Please, do try to be safe until that time.” I did what he asked me to do, but I still don’t know why. I don’t know why I felt like talking to him was important. I don’t know why I didn’t just fall into the bed in my room here, don’t know why I didn’t just wait it out because I knew I couldn’t sleep forever, knew I’d have to wake up sometime. I don’t know if I’m ever going to figure it out.
Every day I sat by that window and every day we talked aimlessly about whatever he happened to mention. Every day I refused to address him by name. Every day he called me Harry and I fought against the urge to stop him. I guessed I could probably only be grateful that he couldn’t touch me like he was now, otherwise I wasn’t sure I would be able to take it.
“Mab scares me,” I told him once, when we sat like that. “She scares me a lot. She, and all the other monsters out there, all the other boogiemen that live in the closets. People think they don’t, that she doesn’t. They think I’m fearless, that I face these things like I do, with a joke or with a grin, because I’m not afraid. That’s wrong, though. I do it because I’m scared and I don’t want to show it. I do it because if something’s pissed off then it’s not thinking clearly, and if it’s not thinking clearly, it’s not as scary.”
“Fear is normal,” he’d told me, “And it’s healthy. It’s a good tool.” I wondered if he’d ever been scared.
“I can’t imagine you ever being afraid,” I told him, and I was telling the truth. Marcone was almost other worldly sometimes, almost fairy-like himself, although maybe a little less untouchable. I’d seen him angry, I’d seen him sad, but I couldn’t ever recall a time where he’d been scared.
“I was scared yesterday, when a fairy I’ve befriended here told me what had happened to you. Before that, I’ve been scared very often. I suppose that, like you, I have those that I do not want to see me afraid.” And suddenly he was human again, and I was having a hard time separating the real him from this one, this man I met in my dreams. I had to look away from the sparkling rainbow and stare outside for a few minutes after that, and the rest of our conversation that day had been all surface stuff, easy words and easy questions with easy answers.
Nothing changed for a few days, but then one day, he didn’t greet me at the window with the warmth I’d come to expect. Instead, there was sadness, and, perhaps, buried beneath it all, there was fear.
“I will not be able to see you again, Harry,” he whispered, and the warmth of the rainbow was suddenly not enough to shield me from Arctis Tor’s frozen grasp. “Tomorrow will be the last day that I am here. Mab plans to move me; to where, I do not know.” I was going to say something. I was going to ask why. I was going to yell and scream and rage because I liked talking to him like this, I liked telling him things, I wanted this him, this rainbow him, to exist in real life so I could simply tell him everything under the sun and he would know and I could just talk and it’d all be fine because someone else knew. But I couldn’t, because he disappeared. He was gone. I didn’t move from the window that day, and someone without a brain might’ve said it was because I was waiting for him to come back, but really I was just tired and didn’t feel like standing up to go over to the pallet.
The next day, it was cloudy. The sun didn’t shine over my water bucket. Marcone didn’t show up. I stared out the window and waited, hoped for the sun to appear, and finally, it did. I didn’t know for how long it’d be there, though. I ran to the bucket, and I saw him appearing, but when I got there my arm swung wide and the bucket spilled. I cursed, because I couldn’t let it end like this. I couldn’t just let him leave. I liked this Marcone. I wanted to keep him around. I had to at least tell him goodbye. I grabbed one of the bottles Mab had ordered me to keep and smashed it on the sill, and the liquid pooled out just widely enough for the rainbow to appear.
“Thank god,” I whispered, “I wanted to see you one more time.” A spark of warmth touched my face, my cheek, my lips, and I couldn’t help but feel like it would’ve been a kiss if he’d had a body. I caught myself wishing for a second that he wasn’t just a rainbow, but I cut that bit of me off pretty quickly.
“And I you, Harry. I haven’t long left here, I know that. I feel Mab tugging me where she will. I promise you though, Harry, I swear that I will do whatever I can to free you from her. I will break her ties to you, I will save you. I just want you to promise me something, Harry.” I felt myself groping around for a hand that didn’t exist and fought against the urge to sit on my stupid fingers so they’d stop doing something so dumb.
“What?” I asked him. The ‘I’d do anything’ hung in the air, unspoken and uncalled for and totally stupid.
“Promise me that you’ll be mine, that you love me, that we’ll wed.”
“I won’t marry anyone else,” I said, and if I could’ve gone cross-eyed I’d have stuck my tongue out and stared at it disappointedly. I had not wanted to say that, like, at all. Ever. Especially not to him. “I’ll find you, wherever you are, no matter what I have to fight.” And the rainbow gave its characteristic sparkle-smile, and then he was gone. The liquid from the bottle was evaporating rapidly. I swallowed. A little plant I recognized as Myrtle remained in his place. I picked it up, grabbed the stone Kincaid had given me, and ran.
I ran into the woods, knowing that Mab would chase after me, and then my legs got crashed into by two oversized animals, a dog and a cat that I recognized very closely. I blinked at them and my movement paused. The stone fell from my hand and became a cave, which was pretty interesting. My pets, Mouse and Mister, stared at me. They cocked their heads. I recalled that, oh yeah, this had happened to the real Fairer-Than-A-Fairy too, although I was pretty sure that she’d had her pets with her for longer than this. It was at that moment that I realized I couldn’t be the one giving myself this dream because I didn’t know this story. I didn’t remember it. I couldn’t make myself have a dream about something I didn’t know. So someone else was doing this. Shit. Well, at least I had a cave to rest in now, and some pets to cuddle with.
I crawled into the little cave and curled up tightly, wondering just how suspicious a cave in the middle of the path would be, and I figured that it’d probably be fine. Mouse dropped beside me and Mister head-butted me. We sat there about a half hour, me resting my tired legs, the critters hugging me, and then Mab found me.
She crawled into the cave after me and grabbed me by the ankle, and also, did you know that it really hurts your ass when you get dragged across the ground in a dress? I learned that that day. Anyway, she did that, and then a flying Mouse catapulted out of the cave and chomped on her wrist. Also, I’d like to say right now that Hell’s Bells, I love my dog. Mab screamed and let me go. Mister rammed into my ankles, obviously telling me to run, so I did. I ran off, hearing Mouse and Mab attempting to kill each other behind me. Mouse caught up with us about two or three miles ahead, blood on his teeth and blue saliva dribbling from his jaws. I really, really love my dog.
I was able to run for longer this time, adrenaline pumping through me, but eventually I had to stop and rest because hey, I’m allowed to be tired too. When I did, though, my little Myrtle plant touched the ground and magically turned into one of those shelters you see in gardens, the ones made out of tree boughs and pretty flowers. If you didn’t know, everything in a fairytale can become literally everything else. This particular one just seemed to have some kind of fixation with building shelters. Cough, cough, that’s not strange at all, what are you talking about?
Mab caught up with us again with idiotic amounts of speed, and couldn’t she just teleport wherever anyway? I don’t know. Anyway, this time Mouse, who was apparently a little sleepy after he used Mab as a chew toy, stayed beside me, and Mister leapt out and tackled her. She yelled, and the cat tore at her wickedly with claws and teeth. I lurched up to my feet and ran again, and Mab was yelling angrily, seeming to be in pain, but I managed to get pretty far away. Mister, like Mouse, caught up with us a ways ahead, but now I was starving, and I was thirsty. I was pretty sure I’d have to stop, but then I came across a very conveniently placed cottage. Fairytale logic really is the best, by the way.
I went inside, and was greeted very quickly by Molly in a green dress, who hustled me inside with worried little murmurs and gave me food and drink that I could almost call edible. I’d forgotten just how caring she could get, sometimes, if I or her family or her friends were hurt somehow, and her fingers prodded at me softly as I ate.
“Thank you,” I told her, just like I always did, and her face lit up as always. She was a strange girl, I knew that, always full of emotion and sensitive to those of others, with hair that hung around her face like cotton candy, but she was a good person. I cared about her. Hell, she was nearly as important to me as she was to Michael and Charity, and that was saying something. She was as good as a daughter to me, or maybe that favorite little sister who the big brother always remembers to call even if he’s far away. I stretched my arm up to scrub her head and mess up her hair and she laughed.
“It’s fine,” she told me, and punched my arm, her grin sidelong and crooked. I remembered that she’d picked that expression up from me. And then her expression changed. “You’re looking for something,” she said. She smiled, then, and her eyes glittered. “You’ll get it, too, you’ll find him, but you’ll have more trials. Still, you can stay here for the night; I’ll give you food in the morning, and then you may go.” And who was I to refuse that? I went up to the bed and rested while she fed and bathed Mouse and Mister. Mab didn’t come. I assumed Mister had eaten her.
Molly, of course, kept her promise to me and fed me the next morning although I can’t say I was totally grateful for that, because again, Molly is not her mother in the kitchen, and then gave me a nut as I was leaving. I wandered off quickly, because I wanted to find Marcone. I didn’t know why, but I did. I had to. I had to find him. I had saved myself, now I had to save him. So I went on, I walked and walked and walked, and once more I grew deathly tired and hungry. Just as conveniently as before, I came across another cottage.
Inside of this one, I was greeted by Charity. Apparently these were the Carpenter Cottages. She wore the same green dress as her daughter, and her cottage was an exact match to the other. She gasped when she saw me and dragged me inside, chastising me the whole way.
“Silly girl! What’s a little thing like you running about like this with two large creatures like those? How idiotic!” she called, her hands tugging and straightening my hair, my dress, and tugging me onto a chair in her kitchen. I’m also just now realizing that she did say silly girl. Stars and Stones, of all the things to get used to, right? Anyway, she did the same thing as Molly, fed me (god, but Charity could cook. I really wished Molly had inherited that talent; it’d be really cool for the nights when she stayed over) and bathed me and gave me and my furfaces a place to sleep for the night, and I thanked her just the same as I had Molly, although much more confusedly. Charity usually didn’t mother me unless I was in really dire straits, like, “I’m currently bleeding all over your carpet and my pockets are light enough that I could conceivably fly” dire straits. I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, though, so I accepted her hospitality without question. She did manage to get a few snide insults about how dumb I had to be to go running off into the wilderness without food or water, though, and that made me feel way more at home. When I left her home, she gave me a golden pomegranate.
I repeated the cycle once more, walked until I couldn’t anymore, and then came across a pretty little cottage. I wanted to find Marcone. I wanted to rescue him from what Mab had done. I had to. I had to keep talking to him; I had to keep telling him things. I wanted to tell him the things in my real life too. It was almost a compulsion, by now. I went quickly to the door of the newest cottage, and Michael greeted me. He too wore green, but my dreams were nice enough to him that he didn’t have to cross-dress. I guessed I was just special. Being special seriously sucks sometimes, though, most often when you’re me. He ushered me inside and settled me at his table.
“I see you’ve already met my family,” he told me, “And I can also see that you’ve been travelling on this quest for some time.” He placed food in front of me, and it was a nice, even balance between Charity’s culinary genius and Molly’s, uh, I guess attempts would be a good word. I ate ravenously as he fed Mouse and Mister, curled tightly in the chair.
“Yeah. They were good to me too, tell them I said thank you again the next time you see them.” He clapped me on the back hard enough that I had to hunch over to absorb the blow, and he laughed melodiously, the sound a rumble in his chest.
“Of course. Don’t lose heart, by the way,” he told me, “Please, you’ll certainly finish this quest of yours. Keep at it, will you? There’s not much left now. You’ll certainly be rewarded for this as well.” I smiled, because Michael had always been good at calming me down, no matter his incarnation, no matter how real he actually was. I’d always thought it to be one of his most valuable talents, right up there with his uncanny ability to swing a holy sword at demons. I slept in the bed he offered me that night, and when I left the next morning it was with the new addition of a crystal bottle full of sweet smelling liquid.
I didn’t have to walk nearly as long as I had before in order to come across a silver castle suspended from chains attached to four gigantic, thick trees. Surprisingly enough, I thought that might’ve been where Marcone was. I really can’t imagine why, honestly. Maybe for the same reason that Mab had thought that maybe I was hiding in the cave in the middle of the pathway. Or maybe we both just have awesome intuition. I like that option better, honestly.
Despite the fact that I was pretty positive this was where I was supposed to be, though, I couldn’t see any doors or windows in the castle, so I had no idea how I was actually supposed to get inside. Mouse nosed the pocket where I’d placed my gifts, and when I pulled them out, he let out a heavy huff of breath.
“You can’t eat these, boy,” I told him, and he rolled his eyes at me. His tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth, and he stepped forward to touch his nose to the nut. I raised my eyebrows at him. He stared at me like I was missing something obvious. I heaved a sigh. “Yeah, it’s a nut. What do you want me to do with it, smartass?” He picked up one massive paw and swatted the nut to the ground, where it shook and cracked open like an egg. Toot-Toot, a few inches smaller than he was in real life, popped out of it. His lavender dandelion fluff hair stuck out at wild angles, full of static, and his dragonfly wings buzzed behind him faster than I could follow. Fairytales are a lot weirder in hindsight, they really are.
He bowed to me, and I saw a cute little golden key swaying on his belt. I held out my hand thoughtlessly and he landed on it.
“My lady!” he yelled, tinny voice sweet, and he went straight-backed to give me a stiff military salute. I hid a smile behind my hand and forced my voice into seriousness. Even when he was calling me by the wrong gender, he was pretty much totally adorable. I might have a weakness for adorable things, by the way, but no one can prove it, so there.
“Major-General, it’s good to see you,” I said, and he nodded.
“You as well, my lady! The Carpenters Three found me in your palace and told me of your plight. Of course I was willing to help! Would you like me to open the palace for you, my lady?” I pulled my lips into a thin, sternly serious line and gave him a single nod of my head.
“I would be most grateful.” And so he leapt from my hand and flew up, up, up, and I climbed after him on one of the chains after telling Mouse and Mister to stay put and wait for me. By the time I got up there, Toot had already used his little key and gotten an invisible door open. I gave him a commendation as I entered, and he thanked me, staying close to my head to serve as backup in case a monster lurked in the castle. I’d had to fight off laughter again, but he didn’t seem to notice, so I figured it was alright, and besides, I knew that Toot really was invaluable in a fight. It was just the ridiculously cute way that he said stuff like that that made me want to laugh.
The whole castle was occupied by but a single, giant room filled with a velvet couch draped with gauzy, thin fabric in all colors. The vaulted ceiling arched up high and seemed to glitter with golden stars. Marcone lay on that couch, his face soft and relaxed looking, his hands clasped on his stomach. He’d been all dressed up in a fancy vest and a clean white shirt, nice pants, and shiny shoes. His hair was neat. It was strange, seeing him with closed eyes. I missed the green. When I thought of how well he really matched that voice I had to shiver. This was still Marcone. This was still the man I claimed to hate. This was still the man who I agreed to love a few days before, agreed to marry. This was… it was the man I liked talking to, the man I wanted to tell everything to. I couldn’t accept that, though; a dichotomy still existed within me separating the voice in the rainbow from the man in front of me. A third separated the Marcone in my dreams from the real one. I stepped forward slowly, the castle’s floor moving under my feet as the castle itself swayed in the trees.
I started talking, suddenly. I started talking about everything I’d done in the past few days. I told him all of it, my visits with the carpenters, how Mab had chased me, how I’d found Mouse and Mister and they’d saved me. He twitched, but he didn’t awaken. Toot tugged on my dirty sleeve.
“The pomegranate, my Lady!” I raised my eyebrows and blinked at the same time, which is actually just a smidge uncomfortable, but whatever. Still, using a pomegranate to wake the asshole up couldn’t possibly be any weirder than anything else here. I yanked it from my pocket again and twisted it in half. The seeds inside it turned into violins. Don’t ask. It was quite possible the most confusing thing ever. But whatever, everybody. It sort of worked; they played right beside his head, loud, raucous songs, and his eyes started to open. I saw thin strips of green, saw them focus on me, but he still seemed to be trapped in his sleep. Honestly, I was getting a little annoyed and impatient at him not waking the hell up and noticing me. So, I jerked out the crystal bottle, yanked it out, and pulled it open.
The liquid flew out and formed itself into a tiny little Siren, which proceeded to fly towards his ear and sing him a song about all I’d done, and it too inserted some clever little insults on him not waking up to greet me after all that shit, even though I was pretty sure he’d been spelled asleep and I probably shouldn’t blame him for not waking up, but it was fun anyway. He jolted awake suddenly and ended up falling on the floor, because apparently smooth is not Marcone when he first wakes up. He scrambled up to his knees and bounced forward to grab my hand.
“Harry!” he yelled, and his hands were warm around mine. My own gripped his thoughtlessly as he used my hold to pull himself to his feet and throw his arms around me. He lunged upwards and pressed his lips to mine, suddenly, quickly, sweetly, and the castle around us faded to a golden throne room. On the throne sat my father, who gasped at the sight of us and stumbled up to his feet. Marcone pulled away. I felt tears pool in my eyes as I stepped towards him, my other hand still in Marcone’s, so he stepped forward with me. My dad’s eyes matched mine. I threw my free arm around him and he pulled both of his around me, and then Marcone cleared his throat. My dad pulled away and gazed at him with dark eyes, his hair a messy mop similar to mine atop his head.
He looked like me, really he did; he looked like a shorter, older me. He was family. God, I missed him. I wished this was real, right then.
“Hello, sir,” he told Marcone, “Who might you be?” He coughed and his fingers curled around mine as if her were nervous and seeking comfort.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, voice level and polite, “My name is John Marcone.” My father stopped.
“The prince captured by Mab?” He nodded.
“Yes. Harry there was taken by her as well, for being called Fairer-Than-A-Fairy. Harry escaped, though, and saved me from my fate.” And my dad laughed. He spread his arms wide and embraced us both and suddenly everything felt okay. The world seemed beautiful and kind and my father was here and Marcone was here (why that made me happy I have no idea) and I was happy. I returned the embrace to them both.
We stayed like that for a while, and then the throne room filled with courtly men and women. Mouse and Mister appeared with Toot-Toot, and the Charity, Michael, and Molly entered too.
“It seems,” my dad mumbled, “that you and my dearest Fairer have become quite close in your time together. Should I be planning for a wedding?” Marcone smiled. I sighed.
“Well, I’m in no hurry. There’s enough time.” Marcone nodded.
“Certainly. All the time in the world,” he told me, and turned his head. He stretched up towards me, a half inch from kissing me.
“Yeah. All the time in the world, John,” I replied, and I closed the rest of the difference because this was John, not Marcone, this was the rainbow I trusted, this was the joking wolf in my grandpa’s pajamas, this was the Mad Hatter Baron, this was the Prince Charming who cried when I was cursed into permanent sleep. I’d finally decided it, I guessed; there was no difference between the voice and the man, but there was a difference between the dream and the reality. I was allowed to like, to even love, this man. I was allowed, so long as the feeling didn’t bleed over to the real one. I was pretty sure I’d at least be able to stop avoiding the asshole so stalwartly now, at least. I clutched him, clutched my father, like I was drowning, and then, finally, I woke up. As I did, I heard a feminine voice that I nearly recognized, a voice I knew I should’ve known but didn’t.
“Isn’t it amazing, sweet? How easily love can make a man follow a script he does not know?” Then it was silent in my home but for the breath of my pets in bed beside me. I jerked awake in my bed and stumbled into my living room, pawed through my books, and finally found one that was full of fairytales. Near the back, I found Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, and when I read through it, I was floored. I’d followed the story to a T despite not remembering. I’d done everything she had. I’d… oh, Hell’s Bells. I swallowed thickly, felt tired, put the book back up, and stumbled back to bed. My Mickey Mouse clock read five thirty in the morning. My body still ached. I stared up at the ceiling and dozed, but I didn’t sleep anymore that night.
My breath was heavy in my chest. I’d… Harry had been so close. He’d been… friendly. He’d been open. He’d been everything the real Harry, my Harry, hadn’t been with me for some time. The real Harry had been avoiding me, hiding from me, but the dream of him had been so, so caring. He’d saved me from Mab’s spell. I closed my eyes and stared up at my ceiling. I wondered if I’d ever manage to have the Harry of the real world treat me in that way, allow me to treat him as I had. This dream had made me lonely, honestly. I let my eyes open again, rolled on my side, and pulled my blanket up against my chest, held it tightly. I was comfortable, but I couldn’t even close my eyes again. I wished I could call him; hear him speak, even if it was only to scream at me. I missed him.