Molly didn’t like sneaking into her parents’ house, but she just did not have time for her parents and their questions today. She’ll come back for them later. She really will. Someday she’ll tell them about everything. Well, the Winter Lady stuff at least. They don’t need to know everything .
Today, though, she was here to talk to one very small girl. So Molly slipped in through the back gate and gave her best Winter Lady nod to the sprite who watches this side of the garden. The tiny fairy tried to salute her back, a mannerism that all the local Little Folk seem to have picked up from Toot Toot, and buzzed off to its spritely duties.
Said very small girl, luckily enough, wasn’t hard to find. Maggie Dresden stood at the base of the huge oak tree, one foot on the first rung of the treehouse’s ladder and both hands wrapped around Mouse’s collar. “Come on, Mouse, go up!” she laughs, “You did it last week!”
Mouse whuffled. I need to back up, and I’m afraid I’ll step on Maggie if she doesn’t move.
“He says he needs space for a running start,” Molly translated.
Maggie jumped. Molly stifled a wince. She hadn’t meant to sneak up on the kid, just avoid certain inevitable questions. Mouse, though, is already bounding over to give Molly a sloppy kiss on the face. Behind him, the knot of fear and tension that is Maggie begins to relax.
“Yeck,” Molly laughs, “Hi Maggie, I didn’t mean to surprise you.”
“It’s okay, Miss Molly.” A year ago, Maggie would have been terrified by even this much surprise. She knew Molly now, trusted her, maybe. Hopefully.
Molly made sure to give Mouse’s ears a good rub, with a little mental projection of good boy, “Well, let’s get out of the way so Mouse can go up.”
Maggie stood for a long moment at the base of the tree, then walked towards Molly. Carefully out of arm’s reach. Progress.
Mouse backed up five long paces, then ran at the tree. Molly had a sneaking suspicion that he could have leapt the fifteen feet without a ladder to scramble up, but he did have to keep up appearances.
“Good job, Mouse!” Maggie called. She ran for the ladder and clambered up, completely disregarding her three points of contact. A long moment passed, then Maggie stuck her head down through the trap door, “You’re coming up, right, Miss Molly?”
Molly made her way up the ladder just far enough to see Maggie’s head and put on the mock-serious face she used with her little siblings, “Permission to come aboard, captain?”
Maggie straightened her shoulders, “Permission granted…” she thought for a second, “What’s your rank?”
Not Winter Lady, not here, not yet. “I’m not sure. The last time I boarded this ship, I was its captain.” Well, technically also its lieutenant, ensign, and yeoman, but explaining her mind palace would just be confusing, at this point.
“Captain Kirk became an Admiral when he left the Enterprise. So you can be Admiral Molly,” Maggie declared.
“Well, Captain Maggie, it’s an honor. Wonderful to see you again too, Lieutenant Mouse.”
Maggie settled cross-legged, back against Mouse. She was small enough to comfortably use him as a backrest. Molly settled opposite.
“I have a silly question.”
Molly smiled at her, “Well, then I might have a silly answer.”
Maggie paused, “Amanda was telling me that my dad’s name is Bill, because we already have a Harry in the house. And I was thinking, well, did you leave because there could only be one Margaret in the house?”
Molly tried not to laugh, “No, Maggie, of course not.” How could she explain to a nine year old how she’d helped her mentor kill himself and ran from her family out of guilt? She wasn’t even going to try. “I was ready to move out. It was going to happen soon whether you moved in or not, but at least this way you got my room.”
“So I’m not the replacement Margaret?”
“No! Here, I’ll show you,” Molly reached out, “give me your hand.” Maggie did. Molly muttered a word and a tiny ball of light rose toward the ceiling of the treehouse. “You know about fingerprints, right?”
“No one has ever found two people with the same fingerprint. Ever. Your hand? It’s perfectly unique. There’s no one, named Margaret or anything else, who is exactly like you. You’re not a replacement for anyone, Maggie. I promise.” Unlike me, she didn’t add.
“Why do you look sad, Miss Molly? You’re not lying to make me feel better, are you?”
Damn. Molly needed to get better at hiding her emotions if a nine year old could pick them up. “I’ll never lie to you.” Molly wasn’t sure she could lie anymore. At least not on the job.
“Do you want to pet Mouse? That sometimes makes me feel better.”
Molly forced herself to smile. There would be time for Faerie Queens later, “Come over here, big boy.”
If you insist, Mouse grunted, but I’ll have you know I was very comfortable. He stretched, as well as he could inside the confines of the treehouse, and made his way over to lick Molly’s face.