The rain was falling hard all around me and the blood dripped in thin, watery rivulets down the side of my face. I could hardly see through it and the rain but I didn’t care. I knew these streets; I wouldn’t fall. It didn’t matter. The wind whistled through the sparse trees that decorated this particular street and I could feel my fingertips going a little numb but that didn’t matter either. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to… I was so tired. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to eat. I wanted to be warm. I wanted to hug Mouse and Mister and forget because everything hurt. That was all this cold was good for, too; it made my various injuries go numb. The toe of my boot got caught in a wide, thick crack in the sidewalk and sent me tumbling. The concrete tore the knees of my jeans and scraped my knees raw and suddenly I was crying.
I didn’t know why. I wasn’t hurt that badly, I was fine. I was fine and Susan was gone and an engagement ring sat lonely on my mantle and my apartment was trashed and I’d gotten nearly killed by something bigger than me for the millionth fucking time and I hated this. I tried to lurch up to my feet but I only managed to crash into the wall beside me and scrape up my cheek even more. I cried harder and I couldn’t see through the blood or the tears or the rain or anything and maybe that was better. Maybe it was better if I couldn’t see, because if I was blind it meant that I would never have to deal with anyone else seeing me this way, anyone else knowing that I was so damned weak. Weak and alone and pathetic and worthless and why did that surprise me? I was always alone, always. People tried to be friends with me, they did, people tried to love me, but it was hard for them, I knew that, and I didn’t blame them when they left because I made everything so much harder, so much more complicated, and it was okay that they left me. It was. I didn’t deserve them. Really, it was more of a shock when people stayed.
I was so tired. I hadn’t been this tired in a long time. I heard cars rumble by on the street periodically, but none of them could’ve possibly seen me leaning there on that wall, and even if they did, they’d have no reason to stop. I was another bloody bum, another train wreck on the side of the road, and that was almost comforting. I’d blended seamlessly into my city, I guessed, and I laughed through the tears and tasted blood on my lips. I wondered what would happen if a vampire, if one of Bianca’s remaining supporters, found me now. I wondered if I’d die. For a second, I wondered if anyone would care and cried harder and thought about how sad my funeral would be. Not because of tears, of course not, but because there weren’t any. Because me being dead would make my friends’ lives so much easier. Because Chicago would be safer without me around to attract all the monsters. I pressed my hands into the brick wall beside me and scraped at it with blunt nails because the sensation was comforting and it made my fingers a little less numb. I don’t know how long I sat there, but it had to have been a while because the blood that wasn’t being hit with the rain was beginning to dry on my skin when I felt the hand land on my shoulder, when I heard that voice.
“Mr. Dresden? Harry, Harry, is that you? Are you alright, you’re bleeding? Tell me what’s wrong.” Marcone. Of course. Of course it was fucking Marcone because he needed something more to judge me over, didn’t he? He needed something else to hold over me, he needed to be able to call me weak, right? Of course he did, of course he fucking did. I bared my teeth at him like a feral cat, like Mister had to me when I picked him up off the street so many years ago. I hated this. I wished… I just wanted rest. I wanted to curl up and sleep for a year and stop crying because I still hadn’t stopped. Marcone was seeing me cry. I despised the thought, and despised myself for giving him an opportunity like this. He could take me out in a second if he wanted, right now, because I still couldn’t even see the details of his face, much less whether or not he was holding a weapon.
Instead of a stab, though, or a bullet, I felt fingers. I felt them wipe my eyes. I felt them hold my cheeks. I felt them poke and prod as they sought out the source of my bleeding. I laughed again, laughed until the tears started up harder than before.
“Leave me alone,” I said, “Go away.” His fingers tensed and I saw the flesh-toned blob of his head shake. He wiped my eyes again.
“No. What’s wrong, Harry? Are you hurt too badly?” I growled and ripped myself away from him, finally managed to pull myself up to my feet, but he followed me and crowded me into the side of the building. My duster, my clothes, my hair, dripped water like so many faucets. Of course he thought I was hurt. Of course he thought that was the only reason I would ever cry. Of course he thought I was weak enough, delicate enough, to sob like a child over a few little scratches. If I’d considered telling him anything before, I sure as hell didn’t now.
“I’m fine. I’m always fine. Just leave me alone. I’m going home.” He grabbed my shoulders and held me where I stood and I wanted to scream because I could kill him and he didn’t seem to care, I could kill him and he was treating me like nothing, so I clenched my fists and wished I could just hit him once.
“I’m not letting you go anywhere by yourself in this condition.”
“You don’t get a say in it. I can kick your ass.”
“You can. You also won’t. You’ve been using magic tonight, I feel it on you. Now, I’ve no way of knowing how much you used, but for you to be bleeding like this, I’d guess it was substantial enough that you’re feeling tired.” Once more his fingers wiped my eyes and I finally felt the tears slowing, stopping. The strength I’d gathered in my legs disappeared all of a sudden, all at once, and I’d have collapsed again had his arms not been partially supporting me. As it was, he just lowered me slowly to the ground again with him. “You’re freezing. How long have you been out here?” I swallowed.
“Not long.” He glared at me, money green eyes bright in the darkness of the night.
“You’re lying to me.” I finally managed a smile.
“Who, me? Never.” Why had I been crying anyway? That had been stupid. I had nothing that should be making me sad enough to cry in the middle of the street, or cry at all, for that matter. It’d been silly of me, and dangerous. I watched Marcone pull out a smart silvery phone, watched and heard him make a call to who I assumed was Hendricks, heard him order a car, and then watched him quickly hang it up and tuck it away. Then his arms were around me, then I was burrowed into his chest, and I was crying again. I tried hitting him to get him to let me go, but he wouldn’t. He pulled me tight into him, one of his hands on the center of my back, the other on the back of my head, and he was rocking me like a child. I remembered my father, I remembered being scared of sharp toothed monsters under hotel beds, I remembered him promising me that I was a monster slayer, that I should fear no fanged beasts cowardly enough to hide in shadows. I wished that’d been true, because I was so scared, now, so scared of all the monsters because I was no monster slayer and they weren’t hiding, they were waiting, they were stalking. Hell, half the time I was a monster myself. My fingers clenched in his suit jacket and I had the irrational thought that I was staining it and I finally realized he was talking to me.
“Hush, hush, it’s alright. I’m here, you’re safe, you’re alright, you’re alive. It’s alright to cry, don’t worry, please, let it out.” I’d been told that before. I’d been told to let it out. I’d ended up getting screwed and controlled and made into a damned puppet for the millionth time and I could not, would not, take that again. I wouldn’t be someone’s puppet, someone’s pet, ever again; most certainly not his. Or maybe I would be. Maybe I’d fall and I’d prove the Merlin right and Morgan would finally get to yell off with my fucking head. Maybe I’d deserve it. The monsters under the bed were getting bigger and the fangs were getting sharper and damn, if you stare into the abyss long enough, it starts to stare back, it starts to change you. I was pretty sure I’d been changed long ago.
“It hasn’t been okay since I was six years old,” I hiccupped through tears and I felt so stupid, so small, so frail there in his arms, under the rain, and I wanted to push him away but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt myself fracturing down the middle, felt everything pouring out of me through the cracks, all my anger, all my fear, all my sadness, and it brought the happiness, the love, with it. I felt empty and I felt cold and I wished I felt something else. I guessed the dreams were too big to fit through those cracks in me. I had a sudden thought that Marcone was trying to be a giant bandage, trying to hold me together, but maybe I should just fall apart. Maybe I should just lie in the street all night and freeze. It’d be a fitting end for someone like me. “Why won’t you leave me alone?” He kept rocking me when he spoke, and there was something almost crooning in his voice.
“Because you obviously need someone right now, and while I am almost certainly not your first choice, I will remain with you. I will protect you.” And somehow those were the most beautiful words I’d ever heard. Oh, yeah, I’d known what he’d been offering me those years before, knew what that contract he’d shown me would entail. Protection. Safety. Help. Money. The whole damned world right there on a silver platter, all for the price of a single little soul, but I hadn’t wanted it. I wanted it, now. I wanted the rest he was so clearly offering. God help me, I wanted someone who would give me a hug and hold my hand and whisper, “Harry, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay” even if they were lying and that’s what Marcone was giving me now. My sobs turned dry as I ran out of tears and he ran a hand up my shaking, quivering back.
“I hate you,” I tried, even though I knew I was lying because I needed him to go away, I needed him to leave. “I hate you so, so much. I hate… I… hate… I…” And I couldn’t even finish. I heard his thick swallow, and it sounded as if he had a stone jammed down his throat, a solid rock he’d never choke down.
“I know,” he murmured, “It’s okay.” And there wasn’t anything more to say, was there? There couldn’t be. I went limp and stopped protesting at his grasp, and I stopped crying. I just lay there, I just let him hold me, I just breathed, and when a black car pulled up to the curb, when the door opened, I let him bundle me inside, I let him prop my head on his lap, I let him stroke his fingers through my hair, I let the thick, dry heat of the car overtake me. Words fell from my lips before I could stop them.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry. It’s my fault. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he said again, and his own voice was too low, now, hiding cracks and breaks as if he himself was close to crying, but that couldn’t be true. He was too… he was a pillar. Pillars didn’t cry. I relaxed completely, all of a sudden, there in the backseat of Gentleman Johnny Marcone’s car, relaxed with my head on his lap, relaxed when my body, my life, was vulnerable. I relaxed, and I slept.
I awoke up the next morning in a bed I didn’t recognize, but it was one of the most comfortable I’d ever been in by a longshot. I sat up slowly, carefully, fearful of some sort of trap because I couldn’t remember where I was or how I’d gotten here. I didn’t see anything in the immediate vicinity, which obviously meant that there was something in the immediate vicinity, so when I stood and began my walk across the room, I did it cautiously. Or, I would have, but the door opened and someone stepped inside before I made it three steps. See? I know what I’m talking about sometimes.
“You’ve woken up? That’s good. I was quite worried that you were given too many painkillers last night for that to be a possibility. Still, you shouldn’t be up yet, your stitches will tear open. Come now, lie back down. You’ve nothing to do today,” the someone who came in told me, John Marcone told me. What? How the hell had he gotten me here? I didn’t remember… I’d just been walking home last night, right? What, had he kidnapped me? Hell’s Bells, I knew he was a little off the first time I ever met him and he had Hendricks jerk me into his car, but I didn’t think he’d ever kidnap me for real. He took me by the arm while I was gaping (and what the hell was I wearing, anyway? These weren’t my clothes; they were way too big for me) and led me back to the bed. I blinked.
“Uh? I think we might be suffering from a failure to communicate here, Marcone. What am I doing here?” He appeared shocked, genuinely, legitimately, humanly, shocked. That was weird. That was beyond weird. Was I in the Twilight Zone? I answered my own question with a yeah, probably, and why does that even surprise you at this point?
“Harry, I brought you here last night after I found you in the street. Do you… Harry, do you really not remember?” I raised my eyebrows at him.
“Marcone, I don’t make it a habit of loitering on a Chicago sidewalk in the middle of the night when I’m bleeding like I was last night. I was walking home, that’s the last I remember. I just assumed you saw me wobbling while I walked and took the opportunity to hit me over the head with something. Wouldn’t be the first time someone pulled that trick on me. Also, don’t call me Harry, scumbag.” He stared at me like I’d sprouted a second head. In fact, not just a second head, but a second head with an arm growing out of its ear. He shook his head and sighed.
“Perhaps that is what you were doing originally, Harry, but when I found you, you were leaning against the wall of a building and crying. I called a car and had you brought here with me, and we spoke for some time after you awoke and my doctor stitched you up.” Why would I have been crying? That didn’t make any sense. I hadn’t cried in… a while. I couldn’t remember the exact amount of time, I just knew that there’d been a lot of it. Besides, it wasn’t like I really had anything to be upset about at the moment; I’d lived through another case, I was getting paid soon, all that jazz.
“Sorry, Johnny, but that doesn’t sound like me. Just how many scrawny wizards have you been canoodling with, Marcone? I might start to get jealous.” He rolled his eyes, a weird little smile pulling his lips.
“Only you, Harry, only you. And last night you were the one who I found attempting to freeze himself in the street. You then came back here with me, perfectly willingly, and said a few very interesting things to me.” I snorted.
“I do have surveillance cameras here, Harry; you may watch the tapes of you coming in here under your own power and lying on that bed there whenever you like, I care very little. Admittedly, you didn’t choose to change your clothes, but were you in your right mind I wouldn’t have thought you’d want something saturated with that much of your blood roaming around freely. I burned all but your jacket, which is currently being washed.” Huh. Well, he could’ve doctored the tapes. I’d heard Murphy say before that sci-fi stuff like that was pretty common lately. I was pretty sure that at least required some time, though. Still, I wasn’t in any shape to watch it literally right now. Maybe he knew that and knew he’d have time to change the tapes. Either way, if I were being perfectly honest I’d say I was way more worried about whatever ‘interesting’ things I’d told him.
“Whatever you say. I’ll watch them tomorrow. Now, what kind of bullshit did I try to tell you?” He smiled.
“You mentioned how frightened you were, how upset, and how sad. You told me about how guilty you are about what happened to Miss Rodriguez, which is entirely not your fault, by the way; if you truly did tell her what you did, then she is the only one at fault for marching headlong into that party despite your warnings. You also informed me that all you truly wanted was for someone, just one person, to stay with you no matter what, to protect you above all else.” And he was getting really close to me. He was also hitting uncomfortably close to home with some of those things he said, uncomfortably close to topics he couldn’t have known about unless I really had actually told him. I gritted my teeth and slid away from him some, put some more space between us. His eyes were unnervingly brilliant that close up, too real and too bright and too knowing.
“You could’ve guessed any of that, or figured it out with a little research. I mean, Stars, I’d be a pretty big idiot if I weren’t scared of the shit I fight, and I wouldn’t even be human if I didn’t get upset or sad sometimes. Also, what guy wouldn’t feel a little guilty if he couldn’t keep his own girlfriend from getting turned into a vampire? And what guy in my position wouldn’t want someone to take care of him every now and again? It’s no big deal.” He nodded and smiled.
“Not a big deal at all, a perfectly understandable desire. For someone in your position.” His hand settled on my chest, fingers spread wide and my heart drummed on in my chest. I licked my lips. He smirked. Then he was gone, some distance away, separate, untouchable. The smile on his face was polite and soulless. “Now, despite you not remembering, I believe we’ve something very important to discuss; you signed my contract.” I choked on my spit. He raised a single graceful eyebrow.
“What?” He sighed and slid a sheaf of papers from his jacket and placed it in front of me. I recognized it as the contract I’d turned down oh so very long ago and wondered why he’d kept it. I then flipped to the back page, the page where I knew there was a thin black line, but instead of that blank line, I saw my own scrawling signature. I stared at it, and as I stared, I remembered.
Marcone had found me last night. I had been crying, and I’d been crying about nothing and everything all at once, desperate little fleeting feelings I hardly understood just then, and yeah, I hadn’t fought when he brought me here. I’d even slept on his lap in his car on the way. I’d let him lead me upstairs, I’d let his personal physician pull my wounds together with thick black stitches, I’d let him pop a painkiller into my mouth. And I had talked to Marcone that night, I’d talked about a million things I only occasionally considered myself, a million little sadnesses and pains and fears and miseries, and I told him that I wished I could rest. I told him that I wished I had someone to take care of me and protect me.
It had been then that he told me he would, that he’d protect me with all he had, and it’d only take one little thing, my signature on a piece of paper. He told me that he’d keep me safe and help me whenever I needed it. And I’d done it. I’d picked up his pen and signed my name and I’d thanked him. I’d hugged him. He’d hugged me back and given me some of his clothes to sleep in. It couldn’t be valid, none of it could. That couldn’t have been me.
“You see?” he asked, and then he smiled, “It seems you’re beginning to remember, aren’t you?” I gritted my teeth.
“I was doped up on your doctor’s pills. There’s no way in hell that signature would hold up in court. I wasn’t in my right mind when I signed.” He shrugged.
“If you’d prefer me to write up a new one and allow you to sign it now, I assure you it wouldn’t be a problem.” I glared.
“I’m not going to work for you.” He shook his head.
“I think you are. I refuse to let you go, Mr. Dresden; whether you like it or not, you’re mine now, and I will keep my promise to you, I will protect you, keep you safe when you need it. In exchange, all I ask is that you perform a task for me if I ask it of you.” I know that it’s awful and terrible and disgusting of me, but in a way, I was glad. I was glad that I’d have his shadow over me, glad that I could depend on him to keep me safe, because he was nothing if not a formidable man. It was at the cost of myself, though, at the cost of my soul and my freedom, and I couldn’t deal with that. Maybe, though… maybe we could work out some sort of compromise. I swallowed.
“Look, Marcone, I don’t know what was wrong with me last night. I was… I think everything just sort of fell out of me at once. That happens sometimes, I’ll admit it, and when it does, I do things I’d regret later. This is one of those things. Still, I can’t help but… I want to make a deal with you, Marcone. John. Let’s just… let’s sit down and work something else out. Not this. I’m not going to belong to you, I refuse. But I will… I might agree to something else. Something a little less constricting.” He looked thoughtful.
“What do you have in mind, Harry?” I bit my lip and stared at the wall behind him because really, it was a very nice, pretty wall. Interesting, you know? Truly a very fascinating wall. Perhaps the most fascinating I’d ever seen.
“Maybe a… a favor system. You do something for me, I’ll owe you something, whatever you want, so long as it’s legal.” He quirked up an eyebrow, one of his arms across his chest, the other across his contract, his fingers tapping restlessly, perhaps annoyed.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more specific about these ‘somethings’ Harry. I don’t quite understand what you’re offering me.” I sighed and raked a hand through my hair because Hell’s Bells, he had to know what I meant. Why did he want me to actually say it?
“I don’t have anyone who’ll just… sit with me, Marcone. I don’t have anyone who understands the fact that I’m not perfect and I don’t actually like having the fate of this universe resting on my shoulders once every damned year. Stupid as this sounds, Johnny, sometimes I just need a hug and a shoulder to complain on. I mean, I’ve got people who try, I do, but they… I don’t like seeming weak in front of them because that means they won’t trust in my, I don’t know, stability when we’re actually fighting. In regards to that, at least, you’re a neutral party. So if I could come to you and get you to just… take over for me for a little while, let me be not in charge, then I’d owe you a favor. You could ask me to repay it however as long as it’s all aboveground. I’m not going to be part of your operation, and I’m not going to be a weapon you can cock and point wherever you want. I’m not unwilling to make a deal with you, though.” I watched as he gazed almost forlornly at his contract, and then he sighed, then he tore it. I was sure my relief was palpable.
“I’d rather have part of you willingly than all of you with you doing nothing but fighting me. Alright. That seems to be a relatively fair deal. I believe that it would be better for the both of us, however, if we set up some limits. I do not want you to come here and stay for an hour and then have to deal with me requesting you to fly across the globe, and I don’t want myself to have to deal with the temptation to do so.” I nodded.
“I’m probably not going to come by often, honestly. It’s too dangerous. I mean, Murphy’s only just now starting to totally trust me again. I’m not going to ruin that for… for this. Plus you’re… you know, you. If I look weak around you too much, I can’t be sure what you’ll do, contract or no. But yeah, you’re right. I should’ve been more specific. Still, I’m not… uh, how about I do little things like, uh, wards for quick visits, something a little bigger like making charms and armor and stuff like that for you and your guys for half a day, and I’ll do something equal to working a case for you for a night. Does that sound fair? I don’t know. I’m not a fairy; I’m not very good with equivalency.” His lips quirked up gently. His hand settled on top of mine and his pinkie finger reached out to caress the back of my wrist. I jumped a little but he pressed his hand down harder to hold me still.
“It sounds fair, Harry, do not worry yourself. That’s a good enough outline. I’m certain that we’re capable of working out trickier requests on the spot, you understand. Now, I suppose you’ll want to go home now? I’ll have the contract made out, of course, and you may review it whenever you wish.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d just made a deal with the devil, but I nodded nonetheless.
“Yeah. Yeah. That’s… that’s good. Fine. We’re fine. I’ll… yeah. I’ll see you when I see you.” He had that unreadable smile on his face again as I left, and I kept picturing it, picturing his bright eyes, as one of his cars escorted me to my home.
The contract came to my house about a week later, and I read through it three times with the most careful eye I could muster. Nothing seemed out of line with what we’d discussed, though, so I slapped my signature on it and sent it back to him. He sent me notification that he’d received it and that it was now valid. I then promptly forgot about it, about our little deal, for two months. It wasn’t until that one case, a case where I didn’t catch the bad guy fast enough, a case where Murphy looked so damned sad, a case where two kids, two kids that reminded me way too much of myself and Elaine, were killed, that I even considered going to him.
Even then, I didn’t consider it right away. I went home, first, went home with undeserved money in my pockets because I had helped solve it, I just hadn’t been fast enough damn it, and took a shower to clean the dirt and blood off of me. Then I stared at the wall for an hour, tried to read, and found I couldn’t. My mind was still on overdrive. Magic was twitching in my hands, so much of it that even Mouse and Mister were a little wary of going near me. I was keyed up for a fight. I was keyed up to kill. I wished I had killed the bastard. I wished I didn’t wish that. Finally I let out a frustrated sigh and grabbed my phone. My fingers moved with practiced ease over Marcone’s number, the personal number he’d given me in the contract, the number I hadn’t even realized I’d memorized until then. He picked up on the third ring.
“Hello, Mr. Dresden. I must say I was expecting you to put off calling me for a year at least.” I flinched and Mouse whined, came over to drop his head on my thigh. I scratched him behind the ears.
“Shut up. I really… I need to come over. Can I?” He stopped. I heard his intake of breath.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that you were… upset. I’d thought you’d be calling about something else, you understand.” I couldn’t even laugh, couldn’t make a joke. I’d been trying to trust him, and he was apologizing, but it wasn’t… I still wasn’t sure about this.
“I won’t ever call this number for anything else; I have your office number. If it’s for a case, I’ll use that.”
“Of course, yes. You may come whenever you like, alright? Do you want me to send a car for you, or will you drive to my home?” I had to laugh a little at that, he just sounded so… he didn’t know what he was doing either.
“My car got… it’s, uh, in the shop right now. Can you send a car for me?”
“Of course. A car will be there in about twenty minutes. I’ll see you soon.” And then he hung up. I curled up into my chair and stared at the wall for another twenty minutes while I waited for the car. I thought of what I’d seen when I got to the house on the outskirts of town, the house where the Warlock of the Week had been living with the kids. I recalled that it had been painfully red everywhere. Red, lurid, brilliant and disgusting. I’d been so angry. I’d thrown him into a wall and I’d remembered DuMorne. I’d thrown magic at him harder and wished I’d been able to do the same to the real DuMorne, but unlike DuMorne, I didn’t kill that bastard. Murphy had come and taken him away. I’d fled to the station and waited for a few hours until I got my money, and I would’ve stayed longer but I couldn’t bring myself to risk seeing the man’s face again. I heard a loud knock that jolted me up to my feet.
I tugged my door open and saw Hendricks on the other side, looking almost as burned out as me. I felt a little guilty; I’d have to drive myself next time.
“Sorry I’m keeping you out so late,” I mumbled as I climbed into the passenger seat, and he raised his eyebrows at me and shrugged.
“I’d be up anyway. You just saved me from working on my fucking term paper, honestly. Besides, Dresden, you look like shit. What the hell happened to you?” I shrugged and buckled the belt.
“Bad week.” He looked like he wanted to press that, but didn’t. Our drive was silent but for some bouncy pop song that droned, nearly silent, on the radio. I finally had to ask.
“Didn’t think you would be the preteen pop kind of guy,” I told him, a thin smirk on my face. He looked oddly grateful that I was joking around and sighed.
“Chick Boss has me working with likes it.” I snickered, and I was grateful for the distraction too, even if I couldn’t get totally into the teasing like usual.
“Aw, how sweet! I also wouldn’t have pegged you as such a lady’s man.” He rumbled out a laugh as we pulled through a set of wrought iron gates I recognized, right up to a high, curved doorway.
“I’m not. She’s fucking tough, like your cop friend. Kicked my ass before. I surrendered my radio to her months ago.” It’s funny, the kind of things that can make someone seem like a real person to you. Hendricks had been a guard dog, before that second, a hulking, growling brick wall that served to do nothing but protect Marcone. Now he was an average guy who had term papers and women who scared him shitless. I shook my head, my mind expanded way too much, and walked into Marcone’s mansion. He greeted me in the main room and swept me upstairs to the same room I’d woken up in two months before. It looked exactly the same now as it had then. He went and sat on the wide, soft bed, and I stepped forward to do the same, but my body seemed to have other ideas because I went down on my knees jest beside the bed instead. My head plopped onto his thigh and I felt a little like Mouse, so I laughed before I sighed.
“Harry?” he asked me, and I don’t think I’d ever heard my name phrased as a question so often before I met Marcone.
“I’m tired, John. I want you to be bigger than me for a while. Just let me sit here, it’s not going to affect you.” I shut my eyes and he seemed to relax as he put a hand in my hair and ran through it. I relaxed too. The silence was almost comforting, now, and I could feel the tight knots of my magic loosening some, but I still saw red behind my eyes.
“What happened, Harry? Not to be rude, but you look awful.” I shrugged.
“Haven’t slept in… I can’t remember. At least three days. Maybe four. I’ve been on a case, a really important one.” I took a deep breath and I thought I’d have to go more slowly, but they just poured out of me. “There were two kids, a little boy and a little girl. Brother and sister. Some bastard kidnapped them and he was… there’s this ritual he was doing, a kind of power up thing. He needed the blood of innocents to get it going. I figured that much out pretty quick, I just needed to find them, but I knew I had a little time because the ritual had some pretty extensive set up to it. I needed the time, though, because the parents didn’t have anything I could use for a tracking spell, no blood, no hair, no nothing. I had to find them the old fashioned way and I wasn’t fast enough.” He was breathing more heavily, and he accidentally pulled my hair a couple of times. I suddenly remembered his thing with kids and wondered if he’d kick me out. I wouldn’t blame him if he did.
“He performed the ritual, then? Were you hurt too badly?” I shook my head.
“Didn’t finish it. I interrupted him halfway through, but the kids… god, they even looked a little like us,” I sighed.
“Us?” he questioned gently, and I smiled.
“Me and my old foster sister, Elaine. We were together through a lot of things, a lot of… we lived with a wizard named DuMorne for a long time, me for six years, her for three. He wasn’t exactly a caring father figure, I guess is the best way of putting it,” I told him, and even I detected a bitter note in my voice. I winced because I didn’t deserve that note, I didn’t. I didn’t deserve to be upset because a lot of people, Elaine included, had had it way worse than me. DuMorne was a bastard, yeah, but it wasn’t that bad. It never had been, with any of my families, and my old social worker had always told me how good I was for not complaining about every little thing, although she usually then proceeded to tell me how bad I was for insisting on getting into so many fights with other kids.
“He was abusive,” Marcone said, and that one wasn’t a question.
“It was never all that terrible. He only hit me a couple of times, and never that hard. Probably the worst thing that he ever did was use a pitching machine to teach me how to shield. I broke my arm like that. Anyway, I came home one day and found him and Elaine on the couch. He was Enthralling her, and he wanted me too. I ran off, he sent an Outsider after me, I met my Godmother, and I came back and burned his house down with him inside. Turned out he’d only wanted me and Elaine to be his own personal obedient little guard dogs. That… that hurt, because I really had loved him. He gave me my first real present, my first present that actually had my name on it, and he’s the one who really taught me how to use my magic. My first fire spell. I’d loved him, and I’d wanted him to be proud of me. Then I killed him.” I laughed. Marcone’s hand drifted down my neck and held there, his thumbs pressing hard into tight tendons until I relaxed again.
“He displayed affection to you to trap you, then. It’s… a common tactic, with foster children. They’re often so deprived of care that it’s simple to get one to obey with little more than a hug or a kind word, and so long as they’re praised afterwards, any punishment or cruelty they’re dealt becomes fine. It’s normal that you felt how you did, Harry. It doesn’t make you weak, or strange.” I buried my eyes into his leg.
“It doesn’t make me any less of a killer. That’s all I’ve ever been, it’s what I’m built for. It’s what I was trained for, for a long time. DuMorne was the first one I ever killed, but you know as well as me that he wasn’t the last one. Far from it. So, so far. I killed someone else that day too: Elaine. I burned the house without thinking that she was in there too and she died. I killed the first girl I ever loved and who loved me back. We had been everything to each other for three years and I just fucking burned her alive!” I was lurching up to my feet but Marcone put a hand on my back and pressed me back down. I was breathing far too heavily, and he seemed to realize that because he was whispering those little words again.
“Harry it’s okay, I’m here, please, calm down, it’s okay.” I listened to him for what had to have been the first time. I wondered if maybe we should have a cake together to celebrate and giggled a little as my head fell on his leg again. “It wasn’t your fault that she died, it was his. Had he not, what was it, Enthralled her? Yes, if he’d not Enthralled her she would not have died. You can’t simply blame yourself for it when someone dies, those children included. I understand that you think you’re some sort of Superman, that it’s impossible for you to simply be not fast enough, but it happens. Regular cops and regular private detectives and even people such as me have to face that fact rather often. You, despite your talents, are human, after all.” I choked and clenched my eyes shut to keep myself from crying again. He’d seen it once; he didn’t need to see it twice.
“They didn’t deserve to die. Being drained of your blood like that, drained like a fucking barnyard animal, is terrible. It hurts. It’s frightening. It’s… no one deserves to die like that, especially not two little kids. When I saw that, I wanted to kill someone again. I wanted to kill him. I would have killed him if Murphy hadn’t come in. That’s always my kneejerk reaction when someone gets hurt; kill the cause. I can’t control it and that scares me, John,” I mumbled, and he slid his arms under my armpits and hauled me up and onto the bed with him, tugged me into a hug. I returned it thoughtlessly and whined into the side of his neck. He shushed me and ran a soothing hand up and down my spine and strangely enough, it felt almost like everything really was okay.
“Stay here tonight, sleep, rest. I’ll remain with you,” he grunted into my ear, and I nodded. He brought me pajamas (that really was a novelty. I never use pajamas) that I changed into in the bathroom, and when I lay down in that bed, he brought a chair to sit beside me. I woke up with my hand in his, him snoring in the chair, and that had to be the funniest, most surreal sight I’d ever seen. I went home that day, bemused at both that vision and how simply… fine I felt. Not happy, I was still sad and upset, but it wasn’t… it wasn’t uncontrollable. It was normal. It was… Hell’s Bells, it was okay.