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In Front of the Fireplace

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As he watched the flames dance from his position on the sofa, Marshall smiled to himself, pleased to have taken charge and gotten the fire going after only three tries and a minimum of indoor smoke. He’d done it mostly without the help of his grey-haired associate, whose history of crashing in places without central heating meant he was usually better at this sort of thing.

Marshall settled deeper into the cushions as the heat began to spread through the room, and put his arm around Dash, who was curled up against him, eyes half-shut, head resting on Marshall’s shoulder. It had been a long day, and Marshall was almost completely relaxed, except for the nagging feeling of a memory he couldn’t quite grasp tugging at the corner of his mind.

"Is there something we're supposed to be doing right now?" he asked. "Something we're forgetting?"

Dash stirred against him. "Food?" he suggested.

That wasn't it, but it was a good point. "What do you want to do about dinner?" he asked, absently toying with a few stray strands of Dash's hair.

"I don't know. Pizza?"

"Again? We've had pizza four times this month already."

"Hmm," Dash closed his eyes and traced a finger along Marshall's thigh. "I think there's leftover Swedish noodles from your parents' still in the fridge."

Marshall shuddered. "Not leftovers."

"We haven’t had Chinese in a while."

"We'd have to convince Simon to go pick it up," Marshall reminded him. "Dragon of the Black Pool won't deliver or sell to either of us anymore after the third time somebody paid their driver in fairy gold, remember?"

"Hey, I tipped, like, thirty percent."

"In money that turned to dead leaves in the morning."

"Yeah, yeah," said Dash, in a voice that indicated he wasn’t remotely close to seeing the error of his ways. "It doesn't have to be Dragon of the Black Pool."

As if that was a reasonable suggestion, given the Chinese food options in Eerie. Marshall made a face. "The egg rolls at Golden Palace suck."


"Closed due to massive structural damage since the full moon."

"Oh, yeah." Dash snuggled closer and was silent for a moment before offering, "We could go out somewhere."

Marshall looked down at the work clothes he was wearing. The jeans had holes and the shirt was noticeably stained and probably smelled. Dash's clothes weren't in much better shape. "Where? If you're thinking of some place much nicer than a drive-thru, we'd have to change."

"Really?" Dash asked, in a tone suggesting he was about to argue that what they were wearing was socially acceptable for even the Eerie Bus Terminal and Supper Club.

"Yes, really," said Marshall.

"Too much work. Thai?"

"Simon’s sick of Thai."


"Let's not. Not after the..."

"Mr. Happy Burger incident, I know. God, you're picky. One fast food mascot comes to life and goes on a rampage, and suddenly you're off an entire category for weeks."

Marshall almost pointed out Dash hadn’t been the one nearly devoured by a giant with a hamburger for a head, then realized he wasn't sure if that was the sort of thing that would impact Dash's appetite. "We could stop by the World O' Stuff," he offered instead.

"Black cows are not dinner, Slick."

"I meant for groceries."

"Yeah, because your plans to do anything with groceries ever last beyond getting the bags out of the car. No, I know how this ends. You have a black cow instead of food, tell Mr. Radford to overdo it on the java, then you sleep badly, wake at some insane hour of the morning, and start rage cleaning, because all of a sudden the state of the bathroom is a national emergency."

"The state of our bathroom is a national emergency," Marshall said. "Entire civilizations have evolved on that sink since we last cleaned it, and no doubt at least one of them is plotting to take over the world as we speak, and we’re going to wind up not making a decision until we get too hungry and give up and have cornflakes again, aren't we?"

"There's no milk in the house for cornflakes."


In the silence that followed, Marshall felt Dash's head grow heavier against his shoulder, and heard the sound of Dash’s breathing slow.

Suddenly, the memory that had been eluding him came full force to the forefront his mind.

It wasn't of anything they were supposed to be doing. It was an image of his parents curled up on the Teller living room sofa in the exact positions he and Dash were in right now. This was followed, unbidden, by memories of multiple points throughout Marshall's childhood when Marilyn and Edgar had been engaged in variations of the same dinner discussion they'd just been having.

"Oh my god," Marshall whispered.

"What?" Dash asked, sitting half up in alarm.

"Us. When did we grow up and get so boring? And tired?"

Dash scoffed, and settled back down against Marshall. "You, maybe. I'm none of those things."

"Dash, you were falling asleep on me just now," Marshall pointed out.

"Was not. And if I was, it’d be your fault for being so comfortable."

They were interrupted by a shriek from the fireplace.

In the roaring fire, the book of shadows of the cult that had been illegally squatting in the old Matheson place burned, the dark spirits bound to it slowly disappearing in puffs of sickly yellow smoke with the occasional high-pitched complaining noise as the pages that held them crumbled to ash.

"I still say you should have let me sell that on the Internet," Dash said. "We could have made a fortune."

Marshall remembered the terrible whispers of forbidden knowledge coming from the thing and the sheer force of will it had taken for him to throw it on the fire in the first place. He didn't regret not letting Dash near it for a second. "Wasn't going to happen," he said. "Now, think. If we haven't made a decision by the time this finishes burning, it's World O' Stuff on the way home."

"That's also not going to happen," Dash said, lightly smacking Marshall's arm. He took Marshall’s hand in his, and they laced their fingers together, as Dash appeared to ponder. "There's that new Mexican place out by the mall," he said, finally. "They've got take out."

"Oh, yeah," Marshall remembered. "Their chile rellenos are supposed to be good. Want to call Simon and see what he thinks?"

"That would involve getting up, wouldn’t it?"


"You do it."

"For me to get up, you'd have to get off me first," Marshall pointed out. "And in that case, you'd already be getting up, so it might as well be you..."

In the fireplace in front of them, something screamed as it departed their plane of existence.