Greg watched Sherlock pace a maddening path as he took in the crime scene, circling ever closer to the body as he moved. As tempting as it was to make a moth-to-the-flame comparison, Greg couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. That would only bring up the mental image of a luna moth with a deerstalker and a tiny blue scarf, and… too late. A snicker escaped his lips before he could contain it.
Sherlock’s look was scathing, but he didn’t make a cutting remark - yet. He’d been doing so much better about containing his vitriol since coming back from the dead that it was almost disconcerting. Not that Greg didn’t appreciate it, of course. But it made him want to sit Sherlock down, wrap him in a blanket, and ask him if he was alright.
Not that such a gesture would be welcome. That was John and Mary’s job, now, and Greg thought those two were better suited for it, anyway.
But still, Greg thought as he moved to lean against the the brick wall near the mouth of the alley. Sherlock was trying hard these days, and the least Greg could do was try not to irritate him while he was working Greg’s scene.
A distraction, then. Something to take his mind off the fact that he’d already solved the crime. The ancient brick pavers of the alley floor had whispered the murderer’s description to him, and it matched the profile of someone already wanted by Scotland Yard and currently, according to the raven on the eaves above them, hiding in a pub in Hackney. All Greg needed Sherlock for, at this point, was to find a way to prove the man’s guilt without giving away Greg’s secret. Juries believed facts and evidence, not the whispers of the city as heard by urban mages - if they even knew about or believed in such things.
Sherlock, mercifully, broke that train of thought before it could derail Greg’s good mood. Sherlock hissed, long fingers poking at something in the muddy puddle next to the body, and muttered something about squirrels. Greg took a moment to assess whether he needed to intervene - he didn’t - then turned his head away from the scene again, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets.
His fingertips brushed the cheap lighter in his pocket, and Greg grinned.
Sherlock was distracted. Most of the other officers had dispersed by now. It was dark where he was standing. And he’d taken up smoking again in the aftermath the last several years’ worth of stress.
Just one quick trick, one momentary discharge of energy to keep himself occupied while Sherlock fluttered about.
Greg pulled his hands free of his pockets, right hand cupped as if he were holding a lighter. With his left, he withdrew a cigarette from his front breast pocket and slipped it in his mouth. It dangled there while Greg grinned in delicious anticipation. He brought his hands up the the end of the cigarette, faking both nonchalance and the movements of flicking a lighter.
A tiny spark erupted in the palm of his hand, bright and burning and alive. He could feel the excited, nervous chitter of the spirits in the air around him as they were drawn to his tiny display of magic, but he ignored them to make the flame grow bigger. His palms tingled, the soles of his feet burned where his body was drawing power up through the grime and streets from the heart of the city itself.
Finally, after a few long moments of concentration, the spark had grown into something resembling the flame of a lighter. Still grinning, Greg used it to light the tip of his cigarette.
"Having trouble with your lighter?" Sherlock asked from where he crouched near the body, squinting at Greg’s hand.
"Not at all," Greg replied with a smirk. "Ready to go?"
An adorable look of confusion still clung to Sherlock’s features as he stood. “Yes, actually. We just need to go back to that rat hole in Hackney.”
Greg’s smirk spread into a gleeful grin. “Great. I’m driving.” He started strolling back to the car, Sherlock only a few steps behind, and shoved his hands back in his pockets as if depositing the lighter.
And if Sherlock’s attention was fixed on the bulge of the Bic there, well, Greg was going to pretend he didn’t notice.
It was the smell of lavender, not the smell of death, that drew Greg into the Whole Foods store at Piccadilly Circus during his daily walkabout. London in June wasn’t exactly sweet-smelling and, unlike most of the local population, Greg wasn’t able to get used to it or block it out. The tides of curry, diesel exhaust, women’s perfume, cigarettes, industrial pollution, and so much more hit him in continual waves of information that hovered just on the edge of his awareness.
Like a bright bolt of purple, the scent of lavender cut such a stark line through it all that Greg didn’t bother to resist following. Visions of his grandmother’s house in the Cotswolds flashed through his mind as he stepped through the doorway, scanning the colorful fruit pyramids and glass cases of decadent confections to pursue the scent’s origin. He was halfway to the wall of fresh floral bouquets when something else interrupted his trail — a dark, dangerous smell that cut through the purple line like a scythe. Death.
Unlike most of the modern world’s population, however, Greg wasn’t overly disturbed by death. It was as natural and essential to the order of things as birth. Death could be hiding in this brightly lit, desperately modern shop in any number of ways: fresh butcher selections, terminal illness, someone recently back from the life-threatening injury, an elderly person approaching the end of his or her lifespan, or even a severely depressed person could all be found wrapped in that feared black mantle.
None of those were the culprits, though, Greg realised when he caught a flash of honey-brown hair and a pastel-pink dinner jacket. It was Molly Hooper.
Greg’s stomach swooped and the tips of his fingers tingled as he watched Molly stride purposefully from the health and beauty aisle to one of the many citrus towers. Her shoulders were hunched, her eyes were narrowed, and her mouth was pressed in a thin line as she poked at the lemons.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he called out jovially. “May I ask what the poor lemon has done to offend you so badly?”
“Oh, well,” Molly said, expression shifting to her usual bright charm as she turned to face Greg. She pulled a fruit from the top of the pyramid with a quick jerk of motion that somehow didn’t result in the entire display falling to the ground. “You know how it is,” she continued, frowning at the lump of bright yellow in her hand. “You pick up a lemon, checking for all the signs that it might be rotten, squeezing it and smelling it and putting in every effort to make sure you’ve got something worthwhile to take home and… well…” She shook herself, rolling her tiny shoulders, and carefully put the lemon back. “Somehow, despite your best efforts, it turns out to have gone off anyway.”
Greg nodded thoughtfully, taking in her appearance. Molly was dressed a little more vibrantly than Greg usually saw her. She had pink lacquer on her nails, pink lipstick, and pink blush trailing along her delicate cheekbones. Though the color matched that of her jacket, it was tamed by the dark maroon sundress she wore under it. It was more effort than she typically put into her appearance — the nails in particular were something of a surprise — and it took Greg only a moment to realise that she must be on her way to a date. Or on her way back from one.
“We’re not actually talking about lemons here, are we Molly?” he asked with an understanding smile.
“No,” Molly sighed, shaking her head. She reached back to the lemon pyramid again and started pulling fruit into the simple cotton shopper tote slung over her arm.
With a nod, Greg took the last few steps needed to reach her and watched as she loaded herself with a rather alarming quantity of citrus. He kept his body angled toward her, arms relaxed, palms open, as he stood by. Molly was a tiny thing — barely over one and a half meters without heels on — with such a delicate bone structure that Greg truly wondered if there wasn’t some fae lineage in there somewhere. For all that she seemed shy, Molly wasn’t actually shy or easily intimidated, but she was already on edge from something. Best to avoid closed-off body language.
“He thought he was being subtle about it, with the sniffing,” Molly finally said. Incredulity and anger both colored her words, and Greg nodded to encourage her to keep going. “At first, I just thought he was odd, or that maybe had a severe allergy that he was constantly on the alert for. It’s like he would catch the scent, lifting his nose and tilting his head like a dog… and then he would sniff.”
Oh, bollocks, Greg winced internally.
“It took me almost an hour — an unforgivably long, painful hour of distraction and frowns and him pushing food around his plate for me to realise what he was smelling was…” Molly stopped for a moment, lower lip trembling just a bit at the confession. “Me.”
“Molly.” Greg reached out, gently brushing the soft wool of her jacket sleeve. At least that explained the lemons — a long bath with a bunch of crushed lemons was an excellent way to neutralize odor. The sad thing — the thing Greg couldn’t explain — was that the persistent taint of death that clung to her wasn’t actually observable on the physical plane. There was no actual smell that clung to her with unbanishable persistence. The man she’d taken out on a date was most likely a sensitive: a person who had a little bit of magic in his blood. He obviously wasn’t the slightest bit powerful, and he obviously wasn’t aware of what little magic he did have, or he wouldn’t have been so confused. Insensitive bastard.
“It’s all right,” Molly sniffed, shrugging her shoulders a bit. “I still made him pay the bill.”
That surprised a laugh of Greg, and he squeezed her shoulder amiably. “Good girl.” Then he dropped his hand to tug on her sleeve. “Come here. I have an idea for you.”
Now that he was able to compartmentalize Molly’s aura, finding the lavender bouquet was easy.
“My grandmother had a lavender farm in Wiltshire,” Greg explained as he slid his thumb down from her sleeve to be in contact with the soft skin of her wrist for moment. With the other hand, casually dragged his knuckles along the blossoms of the roses, peonies, lilies, phlox, sweet peas, and amaranth until he got to the lavender bouquet. He pushed aside the soft whispers of each flower to channel some of Molly’s aura to them, asking them the simple question, which one of you is the flower of her heart? None of them responded with the synced energy that was affirmation, and Greg felt the curl of excitement at the challenge. He pulled the lavender bouquet free and turned to give it to Molly, whose expression was bemused.
“Come on,” Greg said, leading her to the candle section. He pulled a simple glass votive holder down from the display and, with his back turned to Molly, whispered a quiet incantation — a simple thing every born mage was taught as a child. It ensured that any time a flame burned in glass, Molly’s aura would be rendered invisible to anyone but the most powerful mages.
“Cut the lavender stalks to the height of the glass,” he said as he passed her the candle holder. “Tie them to it with string. The scent that is released will help purify you.”
The look Molly gave him was surprised and, dare he hope, impressed. “Thank you,” she said softly, taking the glass from him.
“Here,” Greg replied, selecting a cheap, unscented candle to pass to her. “The flowers do all the work. Next time, have dinner at your place. As long as the flowers are fresh and the candle is burning, you won’t have anything to worry about.”
“Really?” Molly asked, taking the candle, her fingers just brushing his before they separated.
“I promise. Old family secret, trick of the trade.” More than you know, he added mentally.
“Thank you,” Molly said, looking down to gently set the items in her bag. When she looked up, smiling softly as she tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, Greg’s heart gave a tiny lurch. “Maybe you should, um, test it. With me. Some time. Make sure I’m doing it right.”
“I would love that,” Greg agreed quickly before cursing his obvious eagerness. “Any time. Just let me know.”
“Soon,” Molly assured him, her smile now free of the anger that had been haunting her. “Before the flowers wilt.”
“Don’t worry,” Greg replied cheerfully. “If those wilt before we get a chance, I’ll bring some new ones. And your favourites, too.”
Molly raised an eyebrow. “But I’ve never told you my favourites.”
“Oh, it’s one of my charms,” Greg laughed. “I’m fantastic at guessing.”
Like all the magic folk in the Lestrade family, whether country hedgewitches or urban mages, Greg spent most of his free time walking his land. He’d gone out of his way at the call of the lavender for the best possible reason, and resumed his walk with a much lighter heart. Not only had he helped sooth Molly’s distress at being so thoughtlessly insulted and rejected, he’d also finally made progress in their interpersonal relationship.
The smile on his face didn’t fade as he left the shop, went back to Virgo, up Saville Row, and finally back to New Bond. It was odd that he didn’t get even a whisper or hint of Molly’s favourite flower from the selection at Whole Foods, but that was okay. He had time, and nearly infinite patience. Infinite patience that sometimes translated in waiting too long to seize the moment, he reluctantly admitted to himself. Molly was vibrant and alive in a way he rarely encountered — it was a quiet, burning energy radiating from her core, centred and soothing,
The problem was that her fire was something he’d encountered before, in his ex-wife. Leana had been (and still was) a shooting star in a landscape of gentle pastels and greys. Everything she said, everything she did, was infused with life and colour and reckless joy. She wasn’t a mage, but she was magic — part succubus from a very old line of fae that reached back to medieval times. When they’d first met, he thought their love could overcome anything, including her tendency to wander, to seduce, to experiment. Now that he was nearly a decade from those heady early days, old enough to distinguish passion, lust, and infatuation from love, he wondered if she’d ever truly felt anything for him.
Not that it made the split any easier. Here it was over two years past his divorce and his palms still sweat at the thought of pursuing anything more serious than a pressure-free dinner with Molly. He hadn’t had to explain himself, his magic, his heritage to his wife. But with Molly, he’d be starting from scratch. It was terrifying.
“Greg!” a voice cried from to his left, interrupting his thoughts. He turned to see a tall, thin, harried-looking slip of a man racing towards him from down Henrietta. Wayne Mason, Greg realised grimly. The wizard was easy to recognize not just because of his ridiculous wardrobe — threadbare 1990s band t-shirts and baggy jeans with holes in them big enough to reveal large patches of Wayne’s dark-chocolate coloured skin — and his bright orange hair, but also because of the way the air around seemed to pulse with anxiety.
“Greg! Stop! I need you!”
With an internal sigh, Greg turned and put on a face of cheerful determination. “Hullo there, Wayne. What can I do for you?”
“You need to see this,” Wayne said breathlessly, running a hand through his already-mussed hair. Greg managed to hold in his eye roll until Wayne turned to run back in the other direction. Wayne was the guardian of the little block of property around St. Peter’s Church, which had been deconsecrated ages ago. The resulting clash of energies, given how much had happened in the chapel over the course of the sacred place’s 300-year lifespan — made the block a bit more of a hotspot than Greg cared to admit. But Wayne, the poor soul, tended to make himself sick with anxiety over the smallest things. Ghosts howling in the rafters could throw him into a panic when not even sensitive mundanes could hear that racket.
“Don’t work yourself up now, Wayne,” Greg chastised, following at a more sedate pace. He mounted the steps to the church (now the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) with his hands in the pockets of his coat, casually observing the surroundings. It was jarring sometimes, the intersection of modern urbanity and old magic, and he wanted to be prepared. “Remember when you almost gave yourself a fit over the —”
Greg’s reminiscing was promptly cut short when he rounded the building towards the little street that connected Henrietta to the shops in the building next door. Instead of the clean thoroughfare, a stone wall had been erected, cutting right through the street and reaching nearly a story high. “Shit,” he cursed.
“Yes. Yes!” Wayne agreed, nodding frantically. “There was no warning, Greg! Nothing! The sparrows have been a little more silent than usual, and the crows haven’t come around so much, but that’s it. I’ve covered this up with a few city inspectors who dropped by a few minutes ago, saying something stupid about modern worship opportunities and gorilla marketing, but Greg, they’re coming to knock it down and you know it’s here for a reason and if it’s goblins… And I knew you were walking this path tonight —”
With a raised hand, Greg cut off Wayne’s increasingly panicked rant. “Good man, waiting for me,” he reassured the wizard, clasping his hand over his shoulder soothingly. “Give us a minute, yeah?”
Wayne’s hair practically vibrated with the force of his nod. “Thank you! Oh, gods, thank you. I hate dealing with goblins.”
Wayne was brilliant at working with latent energies absorbed into the natural materials of the buildings and sidewalks around him, but he knew absolutely nothing about living creatures. Goblins? Greg shook his head as he headed towards to wall. It was still daylight, for crying out loud.
The wall was actually quite impressive, Greg realised as he drew nearer. It was made of hundreds, if not thousands, of dirty stones no larger than a fist. There was no mortar of any sort holding it together, though it was sturdy, and it smelled of the cold earth that lay hidden under miles of tunnels and plumbing under the city. Greg gave himself a minute to marvel at the construction before pressing his fingertips to the gritty barrier.
Anger and pleading immediately flooded Greg’s senses. Flashes of the delivery trucks that brought supplies to the shopping center in the building adjacent to the church raced through his mind, followed by a churning sickness in his stomach that whispered pollution and pain. Grease started to collect in the crevices of the wall around Greg’s fingertips until it finally swelled and spilled over, dripping down his hands. Greg sent a quick pulse of understanding through the connection before withdrawing his hand.
“Sons of bitches,” he muttered, doubling over in an effort to catch his breath and suppress his nausea.
“What?” Wayne asked nervously, twisting his hands in the hem of his Nine Inch Nails shirt. “What is it? How do we fix it?”
“The delivery company for the House of Fraser is using a truck that’s leaking oil in truly alarming quantities. It’s poisoning the worms, insects, and everything else that live under and around the street —”
“Which in turn is poisoning the sparrows and crows,” Wayne cut in, horrified realisation dawning.
“Simple enough to fix now that I know what’s going on,” Greg replied, patting the wall soothingly. At the touch, the ground and the wall began to shake until the stones seemed to collapse in on themselves, falling to the ground and vanishing into the earth within a matter of seconds. Greg frowned at the resulting shattered concrete of the road, but that was the least of his problems.
“Thank you,” Wayne said, exhaling in relief. “You’ll fix it?”
Greg clenched his jaw and nodded, anger at the delivery company’s carelessness. “I’ll fix it.”
“Oh my god,” Sally chuckled as Greg cut across the street, deviating from their destination to head to the little flower stand across the street. Her grin cut a cheerful path across her face as she laughed at Greg’s intent curiosity. “You are determined to get this right, aren’t you?”
“Shut up,” Greg muttered as he brushed his fingers over the petals and leaves of the bouquets. The flowers released their heady scents at his touch, whispering of the neglected duties of bees and rolling fields far away. He ignored their chitter in favour of asking the same question he’d asked every blossom he’d come into contact with for three days. Are you Molly Hooper’s favourite? Not a single bud among dozens had yet to say yes. It was maddening.
“You’re usually so good at this. What’s the matter, flowers won’t talk to you anymore?” Sally teased. “I hope you didn’t use up their patience on the last two. Like when you found the Bells of Ireland for that Amazon of a personal trainer, or the passion flower for that one girl who looked like she could kill a man just by glaring at him.”
Greg laughed as he drew away from the flower stand. “It’s just a matter of patience. If she has a favourite, I’ll find it. They always tell me eventually.”
“Uh huh,” Sally snarked, clearly unimpressed. “You already told Molly she stinks. You could bring her a kadupul flower and you’re already behind.”
“Some help you are,” Greg tossed back as he led them back across the street and towards the crime scene they’d originally been heading towards.
“I could be. You know, if you just asked.” Sally narrowed her eyes as she took in the little park that was cordoned off with crime scene tape.
“Fine,” Greg sighed. He stopped just on the outside of the tape and met Sally’s gleeful expression. “All right then, Sally. If you were going to take Molly out, what would you do?”
“I wouldn’t take her out. I’m not her type, and she looks awfully breakable,” Sally replied immediately.
“For Christ’s sake,” Greg muttered. Sally’s laugh echoed behind him as he ducked under the tape, not bothering to hold it up for her.
“Kidding, kidding!” Sally laughed, having far too much fun at Greg’s expense for his taste. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it. But seriously, she’s had a crush on Holmes for ages. Nearly married someone who looked exactly like him. Are you sure you want to deal with that?”
“She’s over it,” Greg said with conviction. “Whatever strange bit of auric compatibilityshe had with him shifted now that Sherlock’s become a real boy and she’s not romanticizing him anymore.”
“Not to mention he’s pretty firmly off the market now that John and Mary have laid claim to him,” Sally pointed out.
Greg grimaced. “Sally,” he warned. Sally had never liked Sherlock, in no small part because Greg had to pretend to need him for solving cases. She saw Greg giving away the credit — and putting up with Sherlock’s antics and insults — as something Greg shouldn’t have to stoop to. But Sally also felt at heart that magical people shouldn’t have to hide from humans. It made her bitter and resentful, and Sherlock was an easy target for her lashing out. “Sherlock is mine — my friend, my partner, my charge — just as much as London herself is. Leave off.”
Sally shrugged unapologetically. “Anyway, give me a minute. I would never date her. Seduce, sure. In a heartbeat, if I thought she’d be amenable.”
Greg nodded at the constable heading towards them before turning to Sally. “Seduce works, too,” he admitted with a smirk. “I’m perfectly happy with sex first, relationship second.”
“Of course you are,” Sally said, rolling her eyes. “Because that worked out so well the first time.”
Before Greg could reply, the constable reached them.
“Sir,” he greeted. “Sorry to call you in so late in your shift. I’m not even sure why we’ve called you in, to be honest. No one died.”
“True, assault isn’t my division, but I’ve taken a special interest in this case,” Greg replied easily. He nodded at the little boy who sat on the edge of the sandbox, looking down at his hands. “Sally, you take the mother. I’ll take the boy.”
Simultaneously the best and worst part of Greg’s job as head mage of inner London was discovering new magical folk. It happened more often than born mages liked to admit, the suddenly coming-into power of seemingly random individuals. It was always incredibly overwhelming and frightening for the individual, and stressful for Greg. He hated it when he ended up finding out too late to stop a terrible decline. He’d had to retrieve far too many confused souls from mental hospitals than he wanted to remember. Sometimes, that sort of damage couldn’t be undone.
“I didn’t mean it!” the boy cried as soon as Greg drew close. Greg nodded soothingly, then crouched in front of him. He was probably ten at most, with shaggy blond hair and startling bright blue eyes. He was still soft with baby fat around the edges of his frame, and tears clung to his nearly white eyelashes. Greg ached for him.
“What’s your name?” he asked gently.
“Cole,” the boy replied, sniffing. “Cole Jackson.”
“Well then, Master Jackson. Why don’t you tell me what happened, starting from when you first walked into the park?”
Cole nodded and took a deep breath. “There aren’t many sandboxes around here anymore, so we always come here after school for me to play. I was digging the moat around my castle when a lady came to stand next to me. Mom didn’t notice because Anna was fussing.”
Greg spared a glance for the boy’s mother, who was bouncing a fair-faced infant in her arms, speaking animatedly with a patient, sympathetic-looking Sally.
“What did the lady look like?” Greg asked, looking back at Cole.
“Short. About my height. Black hair. White skin. Purple eyes.”
“Good remembering, Cole,” Greg encouraged, nodding. “Anything else about her stand out?”
“Yes,” Cole nodded, wiping at his nose with the sandy back of his hand. “She had brown tattoos all over her arms. Like knots, but thin lines.”
“That’s impressive,” Greg grinned. “You might just be cut out to be an inspector some day.”
Cole’s shoulders straightened a bit and he smiled. “Really?”
“Really. So what happened then?”
“Well,” Cole started, glancing down at the sandbox. “She looked at me, and then I had these ideas in my head. Things I should draw. I like to draw, but I’m not very good. I like dinosaurs and Star Wars and castles.”
“But those aren’t what you wanted to draw this time, are they?” Greg asked, a sinking feeling tugging at his gut.
Cole shook his head.
“What did you draw?”
“Symbols. Like the ones on her arms.” Cole reached down and started to draw something in the sandbox, but Greg captured his hand before he completed anything. The last thing he needed was an explosion of magic in front of a bunch of mundane cops.
“You don’t have to show me,” Greg said with a smile. “Then what happened?”
“I filled the whole sandbox. I didn’t know I was that good!” Cole smiled at the now-flat sand. “When I was done, the lady nodded and disappeared.”
The smile abruptly vanished and tears welled again in Cole’s eyes. “My fingertips started burning. It hurt. It was like that time I stuck a key in the socket in my room. I didn’t mean to, but I started shaking my hands, trying to make it go away. And it hurt! It hurt bad! I started crying for my mom, and when she came close…”
Greg nodded but didn’t hug Cole, knowing that Cole would probably react poorly to being touched until he was reassured that he wasn’t harmful.
“I hurt her,” Cole wailed. “She left Anna in the swing to come help me, and when I touched her, she screamed and fell to the ground.”
“It’s alright, Cole,” Greg soothed. Damn muses, popping up whenever they sensed new power, ‘encouraging’ its use without a thought for the consequences. “I know what happened. Trust me, it’s not your fault. And you’re fine.”
Greg nodded. “It happens all the time, believe it or not. And I know someone who can help you. You, and me, and your mom, and your baby sister… let’s all go have a chat, shall we?”
Cole nodded, hope warring with the fear on his face. “Is she… is my mom...?”
Greg spared another quick glance at Cole’s mother and Sally, who were talking animatedly but not angrily. “She’s fine. And she’s not mad at you, I promise.” Greg stood, holding his hand out for Cole. When Cole hesitated, he grinned. “I’m a tough old Detective Inspector, Cole. You can’t hurt me.”
Hand trembling, Cole reached out to touch Greg’s fingertips. When nothing happened, Cole grasped Greg’s hand so tight, Greg could feel the bones creak.
“I know just the man to fix you up,” Greg said as he led Cole back to his mother. “Show you a thing or two about those symbols you want to draw. Trust me when I say it’s going to be brilliant.”
It always took a moment of intense meditation before Greg could bring himself to step into any hospital, let alone St. Bartholomew’s. Bart’s was the oldest hospital in Europe, and Greg could feel every one of its 900 years in the echoes of pain, death, and grief that clung to even the newer sections of the building. Death was natural and necessary, but like anything, too much of it concentrated in a relatively small space was rarely a good thing.
“Greg?” someone called from behind where he stood on the sidewalk. Greg opened his eyes, breaking away from the soothing image of a flickering candle flame, and turned to see Molly standing near the street. She had a sad look on her face, and Greg wondered what was wrong. “Everything all right?”
“Sure,” Greg said cheerfully. “Just enjoying a few minutes of rainlessness before it starts up again.”
Molly chuckled, looking relieved. After a moment, Greg realised why — he was standing not far from where John had been standing when Sherlock threw himself off the building. He hadn’t forgotten her part in the deception, but unlike John, he’d been quick to forgive. People came and went all the time; he was grateful that, for once, one of them came back.
“Did you need something?” Molly asked as she led Greg towards the doors.
“No, actually,” Greg answered. He took in Molly’s uncharacteristically conservative attire — brown pants suit, pink blouse, kitten heels — and smiled. “You look nice. I know you had a long day in court this morning, and I know how much you hate having to start a day with lawyers, so I thought I’d treat you to lunch.”
“Really?” Molly asked, smiling widely at the greasy paper bag Greg held up for her to see. “That’s… Wow. Thank you, Greg.” She ducked her head and shoved her shoulder into Greg’s arm playfully. “Come on, then.”
“How did it go this morning?” Greg asked as they made their way inside the building. He kept his vision focused straight ahead, ignoring the way the brick walls seem to shift and waiver with their oversaturation of energy.
“Oh, you know. It always starts off well. And then everyone sees me calmly explaining how I removed Mrs. Norman’s brain from her skull, and then the disgust sets in.” She pushed a stray wisp of hair behind her ear and directed a small smile at the ground. “But at least it’s a fascinated sort of horror. They keep listening, and that’s all that really matters.”
“You know that they’re really just secretly jealous of your job,” Greg replied, following behind Molly as she led him down the steps to her office. “But it’s not socially acceptable to middle-aged white-collar workers to enjoy the thought of cutting up dead bodies, so they hide it behind the expected looks of disgust.”
Molly laughed and shook her head at him. “Where did you come up with that?”
“I know people pretty well.”
Molly’s office was small with a window that looked out over the lab, and Greg knew that she spent as little time as possible there. He appreciated it when she led him there this time, though; there was something to be said for not eating in the same place where bodies were disassembled.
“Can I tell you something?” Molly said, as she settled into her office chair.
“Of course,” Greg nodded as he set his bag on the table and started unpacking the paper plates and plastic silverware.
“Thank you,” she said as he slid a plate towards her. She was silent for a moment as he reached into the bag and pulled out a greasy box.
“I know it sounds crazy, but death has a smell.”
Greg looked up from popping open the box and raised an eyebrow. Molly blushed and reached for one of the plastic packages of napkin, silverware, and salt and pepper.
“Well, I mean obviously it does. But I don’t just mean the odor of putrefaction. Not formaldehyde or the antiseptic we use in the autopsy room. Or maybe it is all that, combined into something that even the average person, modern and detached and actively avoiding thoughts of mortality, are able to identify as death. It makes people uncomfortable. It makes them nervous and wary, to be in the presence of someone who willingly has anything to do with death. That’s where the true horror comes from, for the people on the jury. The willingness to be tainted by the proof of our mortality.”
Greg nodded in agreement, focusing on the huge burger he pulled free from the box. He had the feeling that Molly didn’t talk like this often to anyone, and he didn’t want her to stop.
“And some people, like you, don’t notice it. Which is wonderful. But it’s because you’re desensitized. I don’t want people to be desensitized to something that is such a huge part of who I am,” Molly continued softly, watching Greg’s hands as he cut the burger in half. “I think that’s why I wanted Sherlock so badly, for so long. And why Jim… They were aware, Greg. They knew who I am, what I do, and just how much I enjoy being good at my job. I’m not ashamed to be who I am. More than just accepting it — because who wants to be simply accepted — it was part of the reason I was valued. Even if, as it turns out, it was for all the wrong reasons.
“And other people, they just ignore it. They see the pink and the cat and the ribbons and bows as compensation, like I’m trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m not as dark as the work I do.”
Greg placed half the burger on her plate, wiped the grease from his fingers onto a napkin, and reached for the chips. Well, steak fries, or so the American wizard who made them insisted. When Molly had a large handful on her plate, Greg looked up and gave Molly his best encouraging smile.
Molly picked up a fry and looked at it, eyes a little unfocused. “But that’s not true. I don’t think it’s dark. I see people as they are after their souls have gone, no longer tied to their bodies, no longer burdened. I know that energy is neither created nor destroyed, and that the essence of what made a body tick has gone elsewhere, not gone away. The shell has been discarded and the rest of it is still alive and wonderful and part of our world.” She paused and looked up at Greg. “I don’t see why people shouldn’t expect to me to be optimistic.”
“I’m not desensitized, Molly,” Greg said quietly. He moved around the desk to stand in front of her, then reached out to brush his knuckles along the edge of her jaw. She looked up at him slowly, a look of anticipation slowly taking over her face. Greg took it as the invitation it seemed to be and bent forward to brush his lips softly over hers.
At first, Molly didn’t respond except to close her eyes and exhale softly. But then it was her turn to lean forward, capturing his lips more firmly in hers, opening her mouth just enough to barely taste the inside of his mouth. Greg reached up, threading his fingers through her silky hair, pulling her closer to deepen the kiss.
When they pulled apart just moments later, Molly blushed and smiled up at where Greg was trying to catch his breath. Then, hesitating for only a fraction of a second, she reached forward and hooked a finger in a belt loop over Greg’s hip. She pulled him forward, grinning as he complied easily.
“Pub food for lunch?” she asked happily.
“A friend of mine owns an American pub not too far from here. I was chatting with him about, well, you, and my quest to figure out your favourite flower,” Greg confessed. “His wife grows the most beautiful red geraniums, and I thought I’d try those.” He pulled a potted geranium — small enough to sit in a windowsill — free from the greasy takeout bag and gave it to her. She smiled, amused, as she took it and set it next to her computer.
“Not your favourite,” Greg confirmed with a nod, “but beautiful anyway.” And a beacon for magical folk, but he couldn’t tell her that. Yet.
“Lovely,” Molly said, stroking a shining petal delicately.
“But Mac — that’s my friend — is brilliant at guessing food favourites.” Greg nodded down at the burger. “Go on. Tell me how close he got.”
Molly raised an eyebrow and lifted the bun just a bit to peer inside. The look of delighted surprise on her face sent a rush of satisfaction through Greg, and he made a mental note to take care of the gremlin problem Mac had been complaining about for some months now.
“How did he… I can’t believe it!” Molly lifted the burger and took a huge bite, apparently completely unashamed that it made her cheeks puff out as she chewed. She chewed and swallowed, then made a noise of satisfaction. “I had my first and only olive burger when I was in St. Louis for a conference, and it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. I tried making them at home when I got back, but it just wasn’t the same. But this — this is perfect!”
With a laugh, Greg ripped open a ketchup packet and poured it next to the fries. “I’m so glad you think so. I’ll take you there sometime soon, for dinner, so you can let him know he guessed right.”
Mouth once again full, Molly merely nodded, eyes sparkling. Once she swallowed, she nodded. “I would love to.” Then her expression turned impish. “Olives and onions and mushrooms and cream cheese… it’s a good thing you kissed me before lunch.”
“Hah,” Greg snorted. Then he ducked in to capture her mouth again, perfectly happy to prove how much he enjoyed kissing her even with olive breath.
“Oh, you bastard!” Greg shouted as he dodged a flurry of neon-colored sparkles that exploded mere inches from his face. They wouldn’t have actually hurt him — the magic was water-based, tiny prisms whose light was magnified far beyond what would happen in nature — but the burst of light would have messed with his vision and slowed him down. London was never really dark, not even at ten at night, but Greg didn’t have the best night vision to begin with. “That’s all you’ve got?!”
“I have a busking license!” came the indignant voice of the girl he was chasing.
Well, girl probably wasn’t the appropriate term. 5’6”, at least in her late twenties, hair a glittery rainbow of colours that kept flashing tauntingly as she turned corners ahead of Greg.
“You don’t have a license from me!” Greg shouted at her, huffing painfully. Just because Greg walked for nearly two hours every evening didn’t mean he was in fit shape to carry on a three-mile foot chase. And the cigarettes didn’t help either, he supposed.
Next corner, on your left, a voice whispered in his head, and Greg heaved a sigh of relief. Ahead of him, the illegal busker screeched and Greg rounded the corner to see her duck, tumble under Sally’s arm, and right into and through the brick wall. Damn matter manipulators.
Fortunately, Sally was faster. She reached into the brick and gave a hard yank, pulling the girl into a graceless tumble on the pavement. Greg took advantage of her temporary distraction to lean down and slap the handcuffs on her.
The girl smirked as she straightened into a sitting position before her face dissolved into something more panicked.
“What did you do?” she gasped as she struggled against the cuffs.
“They’re iron and spelled with runes, idiot,” Greg muttered as he stood up again. “Nice work, Sally.”
“Thanks,” she said, smile wide and eyes narrowed. “Why are you puffing like that?”
“Running isn’t a favourite activity of mine,” he confessed, grimacing. “Stop that,” he snapped at the girl, who was still writhing against the handcuffs. “You’ll just hurt yourself.”
“Let me out!” the girl shouted, panting frantically.
“Breathe. You’re fine,” Sally said dismissively before training her gaze back on Greg. “Why aren’t you healing? Do you want to head to a tube station? Pull some power from the rails?”
“Hah, hah. I might be old, but I don’t need that much of a boost.” Greg shook his head at Sally, who was trying to hide a snicker behind her fist. “And why would I ask the city for power I haven’t earned? Bloody lazy thing to do when jogging on a treadmill a little bit in the morning would do the job more credibly.”
Sally rolled her eyes. “I’m sure London wouldn’t mind.”
“So young,” Greg muttered under his breath. “And I’m out of time with you, so I guess you’ll just have to learn on your own why that’s a stupid philosophy.”
“Only a few weeks to go and I get my own territory,” Sally retorted. She leaned over and pulled the busker to her feet. “What are you going to do without me?”
It was Greg’s turn to roll his eyes. “Sub-territory, Sally. You’re the tenth apprentice I’ve had, and the fourth one I’ve kept in London to help me manage it. When you’re gone to your coveted burrough, I’ll get yet another obnoxious, know-it-all apprentice and have to start all over again.”
“Sure know how to make a girl feel special,” Sally huffed.
“What. The. HELL?!” the girl shouted.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” Sally asked.
Greg leaned forward to give quick sniff of the aura around the girl. “Ireland,” he grimaced.
The girl stared up at him, shocked.
“What’s your name?”
The girl’s lips pursed and she looked away, hair sparkling under the street lamps.
“Look, I don’t know how you managed to make it this far, but let me explain something to you,” Greg continued, stepping closer. She didn’t shy away from him, but pulled back her shoulders defiantely. “You can get away with a lot in Dublin, because people in Ireland are damned superstitious and mostly immune to the random acts of natural magic. London isn’t like that.”
The girl narrowed her eyes.
“London, as you might now know, is quite massive. There’s the city proper and thirty-two boroughs. Well over fifteen million people live crammed into the metro’s 8,382 square kilometers. It’s nearly two thousand years old and has been travelled by hundreds of millions of people from all corners of globe. There is more energy, more magic, more pure sentience in this city than anywhere else in the world.”
“Why do you think I came here,” the girl snapped.
“There is a symbiotic relationship between London on her people that requires some careful tending to,” Greg continued, ignoring the outburst. “Roughly one in every hundred people has some magical ability. One in every thousand is powerful enough to require training. If you’re keeping track, that’s over 15,000 powerful magical people in our fair city at any one time.”
“So?” the girl snorted.
“So, in such an old, powerful place, with so many powerful people, we’ve developed a system.” Greg bared his teeth in a smile that seemed to horrify the girl.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding,” the girl hissed. “I’ve heard tell of London’s famously boring bureaucracy, but I would never have believed it extended to people like us.”
Sally laughed. “Oh, honey.”
“I’m at the center,” Greg continued, ignoring Sally. “I’m the mage that walks the city proper. Then each of the burroughs has its own mage tending to it. From there, a number of magical people self-select themselves to certain localities. Wizards and witches — their magic pulled from the elements rather than the city — are fairly well tied to small areas to cultivate their magic. City blocks, or even certain buildings. And then there are the wanderers. They tend to be non-human or only partly-human, their magic not connected to place.”
“Why are you explaining all this to me?” the girl asked, rattling the cuffs. “If I’m to have a history lesson, could it at least occur without the bondage?”
“It’s not a history lesson,” Sally interjected. “It’s an explanation of why we ran you down.”
“You may have a permit to busk the pitch here from the non-magical government, but not from me.” Greg stared at the girl, willing her to get it.
“Well, shit,” she muttered. “This is just perfect. Why the hell do I need anything from you?”
Greg sighed. “We are a fairly well organized subculture very in tune with the city that supports us and very sensitive of the balance between magic folk and everyone else. You think we’re going to let an ametuer showing off her tricks in public risk it all because she’s too silly to realise what she’s risking? A random act here or there, normal folk can dismiss. But 15,000 people being careless? It’s not quite the middle ages, but I don’t think people would take too well the revelation, do you?”
“It was just —”
Suddenly, a painful, dark, and angry energy washed over Greg, taking his breath away and blocking out the world around him for a moment. His blood roared in his ears, and he closed his eyes against the hurt, fists curling.
“No more excuses,” he cut the girl off, standing. He turned to look at Sally. “You’re about to have your own burrough. Why don’t you practice by dealing with this?”
“Are you all right?” Sally asked, concerned.
Another wave hit and Greg barely managed to hide a shudder at its familiar darkness.
“I’m so sick of this bloody game,” Greg complained as he watched Sherlock pace along the river bank. This time they were near a warehouse that sat heavy and old along the Thames, the brick of its riverside wall spongy with age and water. Sherlock’s hands were in his hair, pulling at it in frustration as he thought through the evidence the new bodies presented him with. John was standing only a step behind, whispering soothing words into Sherlock’s ear. Mary was only a few paces back, but her gaze wasn’t on her lovers — it was everywhere at once, sharp and quick, on constant vigilance for any sign of a threat. It was a little heartbreaking.
“Well, you know what I think,” Sally replied shortly, arms folded across her chest.
“Not an option.”
“Not. An. Option!” Greg said quietly and firmly. A ghost crept near — barely on the same plane, more formless haze than corporeal being — and brushed against him. Greg ignored it.
Sally’s mouth turned downwards into an angry frown at the dismissal. She leaned back against the brick wall, glaring at Greg.
“Look,” Greg sighed, running a hand through his own hair. Another spirit, this one solid but voiceless, approached him slowly, mouthing something that Greg couldn’t understand. “I understand your frustration,” Greg continued. “I do, really. But you need to see the bigger picture. Yes, Moriarty is one of the darkest and most powerful mages we have ever seen.”
“Not more powerful than you!” Sally insisted. “When Moriarty’s magic was so strong that she’d blinded almost every other mage, witch, and wizard in the city to her presence, you still knew. You didn’t fall for her mind control and her manipulations of London’s energies.”
“Sally —” Greg tried to interrupt, waving a hand to try and disperse yet another spirit that was trying to whisper in his ear.
“And when she had her little puppet of a figurehead strapping bombs to people and dancing around with Sherlock…” Sally shook her head. “You knew better than to take ‘Moriarty’ at face value. You saw Richard Brook, and the real Moriarty behind him.”
“You don’t get it! Moriarty isn’t just a powerful mage,” Greg yelled in annoyance. “She’s an ancient witch who used to call herself a goddess. The damn Morrigan herself. She had Brook shoot himself in front of Sherlock because she is the mistress of death and was able to resurrect Brook again for round three!”
“You never told Sherlock that Brook was just the puppet, did you?” Sally realised, staring at in Greg in dismay.
“And tell him what, exactly? That the psychotic Irish goddess of death and battle wants to leech out London’s magic for her own destructive purposes? That the dog and pony show she put on with him was merely the visible face of the darker war she raged against all the good magic workers of the city?” Greg snorted.
“Why not?” Sally demanded. “At least then, you could quit pretending.”
Greg sighed and squinted up at the eaves of the building, where crows were starting to gather in unusual numbers. It wasn’t a surprise; the Morrigan was an ancient Irish goddess of battle and destruction. She brought death and destruction wherever she went, and attracted the creatures who walked between both worlds. Greg just hoped that he could get out of there before the feral cats started showing up.
“Because his logical, rational mind couldn’t handle it,” Greg finally answered. “And you know it.”
Sally sighed, giving up the old argument that, in the end, was more about her than about how Greg handled Sherlock. Greg sighed in relief as Sally shook her head.
“I know you prefer to stick to the small stuff unless absolutely necessary,” Sally pleaded. “But I also know that without some of your interventions, not only would London have burned to the ground the last time she was here, but Sherlock would have died in that stupid attempt to fake his death.”
“Oh yes, let’s hash that out again, shall we?” Greg huffed. “The fact that I thought both Brook and Sherlock were dead for two years really reflects well on my magic, doesn’t it?”
“You don’t have to do this alone again!” Sally threw up her hands in frustration.
The sensation of something warm and small but heavy caught Greg’s attention, and he looked down to see a cat — black, with white whiskers, a white chest, and muddied but still white feet — curl around his leg, looking up at him with huge black pupils barely ringed with white.
“What do you want?” he huffed, reaching down to scratch at the cat’s head.
“To help,” the cat responded in the bored, echoey voice that most cats had. It almost hurt to listen to, bouncing around the veil between worlds as it did before landing on the earthly plane.
“And how can you help, uh —”
“Wolf,” the cat answered, black eyes staring up challengingly at Greg.
Next to them, Sally chuckled, and Greg grimaced. She was going to be lucky to escape nightmares tonight. Never piss off a veil-walking cat.
“The Morrígu has your lover,” the cat said as it sat down. It lifted a muddy paw to lick delicately at the fur while Greg silently had a heart attack.
“Molly. Molly?! Is she alright? Why couldn’t I sense it?”
“The Morrígu doesn’t want you to. She wants your darling friend out there to follow a trail of clues left by her puppet to her desiccated body.”
“Bloody hell,” Greg muttered. He pulled a cigarette out of the box in his pocket, not even pretending to use a lighter to get it started.
“It’s rather smart,” the cat said carelessly. “The Morrígu is determined to have London as her personal battery for her second coming-into of power, and you’re all that stands between the city and her.”
Sally snorted. “He’s important. But not that important.”
“Oh? And who would replace him as the stabilising centre of the web?” the cat asked with derision. “You?”
Greg’s hand trembled as he pulled a heavy smoke-laden breath from the cigarette. “This needs to be over. I want her banished back to the barren cave under the mound where she belongs.”
“You are the descendant of the Dagda, despite your ancestor’s eventual migration to Gaul. You have to know that part of what’s she’s doing is trying to get back at you for refusal to join her again.”
“What?” Sally asked, confused and irritated.
“Old Irish mythologies that don’t mean anything anymore,” Greg dismissed wearily. “Here’s what we’ll do. You get Wayne and anyone else you can find and stick with Sherlock. You need to take out Brook. Permanently. She’s invested a huge chunk of her consciousness in him, and that will weaken her enough for me to banish her back to her hole. I don’t care if you have to boil Brook in iron. He needs to be dead and stay dead.”
Greg threw the cigarette to the ground and crushed it under his heel, dislodging Wolf as he did. “I’m going to find out Molly’s favourite flower.”
It was an odd sensation, preparing for battle. Wolf led him to a new high rise not far from the London Eye, muttering about how he didn’t enjoy being on the mortal plane because of puddles. They collected quite a company as they walked, spirits and veil-walkers and ghosts attaching themselves to the procession until Greg could barely see beyond the reach of his arm through the haze and flutter of black wings.
It would have been worrisome if not for the fact that London herself was firmly on Greg’s side. She pulled extra breaths through the cracks in the sidewalks and old building walls, making the thrum of her heartbeat — felt in the rumble of the streets and the hum of power lines — stronger than Greg had ever felt before. Greg closed his eyes and concentrated on the spirit of the city to centre himself. It was in the way she protected the homeless, opening pipes and vents to keep them warm in winter. It was in the way she created violent storms every so often to wash the filth that accumulated on her streets and risked the health of her people. It was in the way she held old buildings together long past when they should have lost structural integrity, just to preserve the remnants of her old self.
It made Greg proud to be her keeper.
The inside of the high rise was dark and empty when Greg walked in. He followed the cat through a maze of offices to a glass-walled conference room at the center of the building. Inside, Molly sat at the far end of the table. She has obviously been taken from work, as she was still dressed in a red plaid shirt, brown trousers, and her lab coat. Her hair was tousled and knotted, as if she’d been swept up in a windstorm. Her eyes were wide and her fingers, still encased in bloody gloves, trembled on the surface of the table. When she first saw Greg, her eyes widened impossibly further in hope and relief. But then she took in the shriek and shuffle of what surrounded him and her mouth dropped open in shock.
“She didn’t know,” a voice, low and melodic, called from the other side of the table. Greg tore his gaze away from the mercifully unharmed Molly, steeling himself to greet the witch.
She was every bit as stunning as the last time he’d seen her, her acts of cruelty doing nothing to tame her splendor. She was tall — as tall as Greg himself — and lush, the curves of her body seductive under the emerald green of her silk dress. Long black hair cascaded over her shoulders to her waist. The most striking thing about her, though were her great black crow’s wings extending gracefully from her back to scrape against the ceiling.
“Greg will do.”
The Morrigan, birdlike, tipped her head to the side to stare at him through fierce black eyes as her wings shuffled behind her. “You weren’t supposed to be here.”
“You’re not supposed to be here at all,” Greg chided. “There are battlefields with blood and pain already in progress for you elsewhere. Leave my city alone.”
“Oh, but I like Londinium. Death is so creative here. And so many of your people are ready to worship me, to hold me close in order to beg for some control over the strife they can’t see but know is near.”
“Modern terrorism?” Greg asked, raising an eyebrow as he started to walk towards Molly. Wolf stayed close to his ankles, but the crows left to settle on the office dividers outside the glass walls of the conference room. “That’s your excuse for trying to regain your status as a goddess?”
The Morrigan’s eyes flashed. “I was never not a goddess.”
Greg snorted. “You’re a witch with delusions of grandeur.”
“Greg,” Molly whispered when Greg drew close enough place a hand on her shoulder. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain later. I promise,” Greg answered. He leaned over to press his forehead against Molly’s, risking a moment’s inattention to soothe Molly’s fear. But even as he tried to pull it out of her through their contact, she resisted. She wrapped her fear around her like a battle charge, Greg realised, using it as fuel for her determination. It made Greg smile helplessly, a wave of admiration and, bloody hell, love wash over him.
When had that happened?
“How sweet,” the Morrigan purred, the seduction in her voice completely emotionless. Molly shivered as Greg straightened.
Greg gestured at the gathering of veil-walkers outside the conference room. “They’re not on your side. Doesn’t that concern you at all?”
“Why should it?” the Morrigan asked dismissively, wings fluttering a bit as her eyes flickered to their audience. “They’re bound to me and will follow where I lead, whether they like it or not.”
“Will they?” Greg asked, raising an eyebrow. “This may have failed to escape your notice, thanks to your obsession with this game you’re playing against us, but modern people don’t care much for battle. They barely acknowledge death, let alone worship a destroyer.”
“It’s just a lack of familiarity,” the Morrigan responded, rising from her chair. “Humans don’t change. Look at her.” The Morrigan nodded at Molly, who swallowed but didn’t flinch. “She reeks of death. Her hands are covered in the blood of the passed. She is my voice, my servant, my future.”
“Oh really?” Molly asked, voice cracking. “Then why did you say you were going to rip me apart and use my entrails for a garland over Greg’s door? Kind of hard to have a future when I’m in pieces.”
“A body is merely the beginning,” the Morrigan said, grinning with an open mouth at Molly as she drew closer. “There is so much more.”
“I don’t worship you, I’m not your servant,” Molly declared definately. “I’m the servant of the people who have died and need their stories told. You may have wings and beauty and, uh —” Molly glanced up at Greg “— the ability to live for a very long time, but you’re just a bad guy. Same as any other.”
“Oh, you’ll see,” the Morrigan hissed, the darkness deepening around her as she advanced on Molly. Greg braced himself to defend, but before he could act, the Morrigan’s eyes went wide and her mouth opened in a silent scream. Blood poured from her chest, staining her gown dark and wet as the invisible wound widened.
Brook, Greg realised. Sally and Wayne must have killed Brook.
Greg shoved Molly back and stood in front of her, reaching out his arms to gather as much power as he could from the building around him and, when that failed to be enough, the whole block. He called on London to help him, and the floor shook under his feet as she answered. Soon, the vibration was enough to shatter the glass walls into thousands of pieces, and Greg caught them before they could fall to the floor. He willed them to turn their most deadly points at the Morrigan, and they complied in a dark, deadly glimmer of movement. He brought his arms back towards her in a brutal throw, and the glass converged on her in an instant.
Most of the shards didn’t make it through, however, as the Morrigan wrapped her wings around her like a shield. She screamed in rage and shook her wings free, the glass falling to the floor harmlessly.
“Is that it, Eochaid Ollathair?” she bellowed, blood dripping lazily from a cut above her eye.
“Men,” someone said from where the Morrigan stood. “All flash, no practicality.”
A flash of red and silver, the sickening crack of a spine being severed, and the Morrigan’s head, expression frozen in dumb surprise, rolled free of her body.
Greg stared, shocked, as the body fell in a heap of black feathers and hazy mist, steadily melting into misty nothingness until the blood-stained floor was all the evidence there was left of her presence. Molly stood, shocked and silent, behind where the Morrigan had died, fire ax gripped tightly in her trembling hands.
“I half expected that not to work,” she whispered reverently.
Greg strode forward, scooping her up in a crushing, grateful hug as soon as she dropped the ax. “Bloody hell.”
Three days later, Greg was standing in front of Molly’s door, hand suspended just a few inches from the heavy wood as he waivered over whether he wanted to knock.
After the death of the Morrigan’s most recent physical body, Greg had driven Molly home, assuring her that it would take years of regeneration before the witch could make another appearance. Molly had believed him without hesitation, which warmed his heart — until she said she needed some time. Time to process, she’d said. It wasn’t time away from you, but Greg heard it like that anyway.
Now here he was, ready to beg for admittance back into her arms.
Molly answered the door in her weekend wear — yoga trousers and a faded hoodie — and bare feet. “Hi Greg.”
“Molly. Thank you for having me here.”
“I’m sorry I took so long —”
Greg shook his head. “Please don’t. There is absolutely no need to apologise. I have a lot of explaining to do, and you were right to wait until you were ready to hear it.”
Molly nodded, then closed the door, locked it, and led Greg to the kitchen. She had a bottle of wine and two wine glasses ready on the counter, but she didn’t reach for them yet. Greg’s gaze was drawn to the window and he moved over to it, touching the shriveled jade plant that rested on the sill.
“Would you like me to, uh…” he said, gesturing at the plant.
“Sure,” Molly said with a shrug.
Greg exhaled as he toed off his shoes, nervous under Molly’s expectant, curious gaze in a way he never was with anyone else. He picked up the poor, neglected jade plant, his heart beating a staccato of affection and anticipation and genuine fear. Watching Greg react to a threat, brain flooded with fear and adrenaline, was one thing. Seeing him work magic unprovoked was something entirely different.
Wolf, who had decided that Molly was worth adopting (and keeping an eye on) wound around his ankle in encouragement.
“I’m afraid I’m just not much good with houseplants,” Molly admitted with a short, soft chuckle, fingers curling under the worn cuffs of her ragged sweatshirt as she looked sadly at the plant. The edges of her cheekbones flushed with the admission, and Greg was grateful that he’d caught her after work, with her makeup off; he’d never have seen the dusting pink creeping up towards her ears otherwise.
“Tricky things,” Greg said with a shrug. “Most popular houseplants are the kind that learned to survive on the intense, electric energy of the city, but survive doesn’t mean thrive, I’m afraid.”
Molly opened her mouth to reply, then stopped as Greg cupped one hand under the base of the terracotta pot and the other over the shriveled leaves at the top. Then he stopped paying attention to her, just for a moment, as he closed his eyes and called on the power of the ever-shifting sidewalks and the sun-soaked buildings and the low hum of traffic that never stopped. He made the simple request – a bit of power in exchange for a bit of new (or resurrected, rather) life, and London didn’t deny him. Soon the jade was sitting tall and proud in its pot, leaves fat and heavy, roots strong and deep.
“Greg, I don’t, uh… I didn’t…” Molly started, staring not at Greg’s face but at his hands. Greg braced himself for anger and rejection, the way his wife had reacted to finding out about him. But something deep inside him, long dormant in loneliness, unfurled as Molly took a step closer rather than back.
“I know it’s not your favourite,” Greg said, clearing his throat as he held the plant out. “I’m having trouble figuring out your favourite, to be honest. But it’s a start.”
“God,” Molly replied before catching her bottom lip between her teeth. She took one more step – the last one to be close enough to touch – and reached out. Greg passed the plant back gently, careful not to touch her skin. Then she finally looked up from the plant with a genuine smile and nodded. “It’s a start.”
Molly giggled as she watched Cole struggle to hold the tiny flame in his hand, tongue caught between his teeth in furious concentration.
“You can do it, Cole!” she cheered, looping an arm around Greg’s waist.
“You’re almost there,” Greg encouraged. He looked up and met Wayne’s proud grin with his own.
The flame went out and Cole collapsed against the grass of the park ground, groaning with such exaggeration that Wayne laughed and nudged Cole with his toe. “Ten seconds!” he declared. “That’s three whole seconds longer than last week!”
“You’ll be calling on all the elements in time, kid,” Greg cheered happily. “Another week or two, and I’ll introduce you to the playgroup.”
“Playgroup?” Cole groaned. He sat up on his elbows and gave Greg a look of pure disdain. “I’m not a baby.”
“Oh, well, in that case,” Greg said, shrugging. “Guess you’re not interested in the other kids who run around London, exchanging new spells over text messaging and digging up brownie dens when they’re bored.”
Cole’s mother frowned, but Cole sat up straighter. “Really?” he asked cautiously. “How old are they?”
“Does is matter?” Greg asked. The loosely knit tribe of magical children was more of a support network than anything, a place to go when hiding in plain sight from non-magical folk became too much of a strain. They didn’t cause much trouble — Greg, local magical practitioners, and the city herself kept them in check — but what little trouble they did cause was worth it. They needed to feel embraced by their own kind to counteract the feeling of isolation from everyone else.
Cole’s mother stood from the park bench and brushed off her skirt. “Come on, Cole. It’s time for dinner.”
“Mom!” Cole whined, but climbed to his feet anyway. He took his mother’s hand and leaned his head on her chest. “Goodbye, Mr. Mason. Mr. Lestrade. Ms. Hooper.”
“See you,” Molly replied, scuffling his hair as he walked past.
Greg nodded at Wayne, then hooked his arm through Molly’s and led her away.
“That was amazing,” she declared breathlessly as they continued their walk through Parliament Hill. “Do you see him every day?”
Greg shook his head. “I don’t always take my walk at the same time every day,” he replied, glancing down at her delighted expression. “Work being what it is, some days I don’t make it out until long past sunset. But that’s okay. Wayne has been an excellent tutor for him, and no matter what time of day, I always see something equally as interesting happening.”
“Like what?” Molly asked, shivering and curling against him as a chilly evening wind whipped through the park.
“You’ll see,” Greg said, smiling with the rush of pleasure he felt in knowing that was true.
“Oh, come on,” Molly pleaded, looking up at him with warm brown eyes.
Greg nudged her shoulder and gestured at a deck about half way up a high rise on the edge of the park. “See that flat over there? The one that has window boxes full of red geraniums and herbs and tomatoes?”
“A hedgewitch named Pete lives there. Every solstice, at exactly the moment the sun rises, you can see him hovering in front of the plants, performing spells for health, happiness, and wealth.”
“So?” Molly asked, raising her eyebrow, clearly unimpressed. “I’ve seen you work a lot of spells by now, and they weren’t exactly what I’d call flashy.”
“He hovers outside the building,” Greg said solemnly.
Molly stared at him for a moment, then broke out into a grin. “Really?”
“Wait,” Molly said, tugging him to a halt. “Red geraniums. You gave me one of those, and he has a lot of them. Does that mean something?”
“When magical people grow red geraniums, they broadcast a certain, uh, aura, that works as a signal to other magical people. It declares the grower a worker of white magic, open to new friendships and requests for assistance. It also signals that the person should be protected by other magical people.”
“Oh,” Molly said, nodding. “You declared me a friend to people like you.”
Greg nodded, momentarily afraid she was going to take offence. But Molly merely ducked her head and smiled.
“Thank you, Greg,” she said earnestly, letting go of his arm to curl her fingers through his.
Greg pulled her close and into a kiss that was both achingly sweet and full of the promise of more pleasure to come. “You’re welcome,” he said when they broke apart. “One question, though. I’ve been asking every single flower I’ve come into contact with this question, to no avail.”
Molly raised her eyebrows.
“What’s your favourite flower?” he asked. Begged, actually, he could admit to himself.
“Oh,” Molly said again, this time blushing furiously. “Um, actually. I’m allergic.”
The only proper response to that, Greg decided, was to laugh.