"Angels among us"
As we made our way to the loading dock the fire alarms and sprinklers went off soaking the concrete floors and the flashing lights from the alarms and screeching sound added to the chaos as Thomas carried Lash from the building. Ms. Guard carried the injured wizard, bandaged but still bleeding and his breathing becoming shallow. We stopped at the end of the loading dock and a white paneled van pulled up and two men in gray cloaks jumped out of the back doors.
As they approached another gray cloaked figure came from the front of the vehicle, her easy stride and curly golden hair hardly hid the competence and ability of the captain of the wardens as she walked over to us with Carlos and another warden on either side of her.
"Harry Dresden, you do keep the most interesting company." She said looking at Ms. Gard and then Kincaid.
"What can I say, it was a party." I said grimly. "This one was ready to send the white council into civil war along with the Red and Black court vampires they were going to split Chicago up like a pie." I said waving at the injured wizard.
"We'll ask him about it if he survives." She said.
"There's a necromancer in the room at the end of the hall, can't miss it." I said as black smoke poured over my head and into the fall sky.
"I thought this was your handiwork." Captain Luccio said with a grim smile. She waved her hand and Carlos and the other warden headed back into the building to get Cowl's body from the wreckage of the room.
"Do you have anyone who can heal with you?" I asked. "Lash has been hurt." I said pointing to the limp body in Thomas's hands.
As she looked up Anastasia's hand jumped to her sword as she crouched slightly, ready to launch herself at the White Court vampire holding the injured wizard.
"He's with us." I said raising my hand before she could act. "He came along because the Red and Black Courts were invading their territory. It's a one-time deal, we have an agreement." I said flatly.
Luccio's stance relaxed but she didn't take her eyes off Thomas as he laid Lash on the ground at the end of the loading dock for the captain of the wardens to examine. Thomas raised his hands and backed away slowly giving Luccio a dazzling if not somewhat sheepish smile. Damn him, even covered in gore and bleeding Thomas still managed to make it look good, like some sort of a new Goth fashion statement.
Luccio turned her attention to Lash, she ran her hands along her body up to her head and then turned to me with a grim look on her face, her eyes compassionate and sad. "Her life is being leached from her, I don't know how much longer she has but we have to do something fast or she's not going to make it." Luccio said with an edge in her voice.
"What can we do?" I asked.
"Harry, I can't fix this. We need to get her to Edinburg so someone more experienced can deal with this. if I try to mess with this and screw it up she'll die on the spot. I'm more of a field medic, you need a surgeon." She said.
As we were talking a long white limo pulled up alongside of the van. From the back came four women all wearing similar white silk dresses cut with the skirt a little too high and the top way too low. They filled out their dresses in very interesting ways as they were just tight enough to cling and lose enough to move over their bodies and give life to their curves and figure.
Luccio turned to see Lara Raith and two of her sisters advancing on the Loading dock with another woman who was obviously related in close formation with the others. Luccio looked at me and I simply shrugged as I hadn't expected to see them.
"Harry, Darling!" Lara crooned as she came closer. "It's so nice to see you again and your friend Luccio came to play too. How nice!" she said, leaning an arm on the loading dock as she flipped her long dark hair over her shoulder, giving me a good look at what the dress barely hid.
I looked to Luccio and shook my head. "Lara, I don't have time for this right now." I said jumping off the loading dock and standing between Luccio and the head of the White Court.
"Harry, you hurt me." Lara said coyly, pressing her hand to her chest feigning pain. "After we gave you the information about the meeting and gave you one of our own to help you." She finished giving me a hurt pout.
"This woman is going to die if something isn't done soon. A necromancer hit her with a spell that's draining her life. I need to get her to someone who can help." I said to Lara curtly looking at Lash's face as my vision became blurry.
"Harry, we know all about drawing life from mortals..." Lara said extending a hand to brush my cheek. As her skin touched mine she pulled her hand away, the back of it red and swelling. "Harry, is this her?" Lara asked looking at me in shock and surprise.
"Yes, can you help her?" I asked my desperation showing in my voice as I almost shouted the question.
"Perhaps, may I approach her?" Lara asked.
Luccio stepped between Lash and Lara. "First you give me your word that you'll do nothing but try to help this woman. So help me, if you try to feed on her I'll kill you where you stand." Luccio said with a deadly calm look in her eyes as her hand rested on the hilt of her sword.
"I give you my word, warden. I owe Harry a favor and I distain feeding on the weak." Lara said as she brushed by Luccio as if unimpressed. Lara's two sisters and 'friend' came closer keeping an eye on Anastasia.
Lara ran her hand around Lash's head, being careful to not actually touch her. She concentrated and closed her eyes feeling Lash's energy. Finally she stepped back and opened her eyes.
"It's similar to how we draw energy from humans and has similar limitations, Harry." Lara said with a smile, rubbing the back of her hand.
"How can I stop it?" I demanded.
"It's simple, Harry. All you have to do is Love her." Lara said with a disdainful smile on her face.
"Love may not conquer all, Harry. But it's enough to stop her life from slipping away." Lara said with another pout as she stepped back and turned to her brother.
"Thomas we need to be going. You need to get cleaned up and then we have a private party renting out the club tonight." She said with a delicious smile.
I slid up onto the platform and set Lash's head in my lap. I ran my fingers through her hair and looked into her face as she struggled for breath. I ran my hand across her cheek and her eyes fluttered and opened slightly and when I looked into her blue eyes I felt myself slipping.
In a rush I fell into those beautiful blue pools and was standing in my apartment, only nicer. Lash lay on the couch with a black mass on her chest, pulsating and drawing her energy from her.
I walked over to her and took her hand and the thing seemed to quiver for a moment and then continued to feed.
I lifted her head in my hands and leaned down and gently pressed my lips to hers with a rush of emotions, the fear of loss mixed with the ecstasy of her presence, the feeling of the simple perfection of having her in my arms and just watching the fire and the nights we spent under the stars. I pulled her up and into my arms as our bodies pressed together with the black mass throbbing between our chests. I felt the warm feeling of acceptance and the joy of her being a part of my life. I remembered the first time we made love and the way that when I heard her voice from another room made my heart jump and how her smile would light up any room and had cut through the darkness in my life.
I felt the thing between us wiggle and squirm frantically as it continued to pull life from the woman I loved. I pulled her close and pushed my will, my power, my life into her. I offered to her and the thing my very life to sustain hers. I felt my strength begin to leave me as the thing began to convulse and writhe wildly.
Unabashed tears streamed down my face as I lifted her face and looked into her dim eyes, pushing more of my energy into her and began to dissolve the thing that separated us.
"Lash," I said quietly, "I promised you that I'd be by your side, come what may. If this thing is going to take you, then I'm coming along." I said as I felt myself begin to slip away. I tapped into my soulfire and pushed my love and my strength into Lash. The thing between us convulsed violently and tried to pull away from me but I was wrapped around Lash and it couldn't escape. I heard a shrill scream as everything went black.
It was quiet, peaceful even as I floated in a void bereft of light or sound. There was no mass, no energy no feelings or sounds or images, it was empty except for me and I was silent. I didn't move or even think. I wasn't breathing and there was no heartbeat in my chest, if I even had one, I simply was and this was where I existed. No purpose, no requirements, just nothing and I was a part of it.
I floated for seconds or eons, there was no telling the passage of time as there was nothing to mark it. I existed simply because I did and that was all there was. I felt nothing, no pain, no worry, no joy, no contentment I was simply nothing and was filled with nothing and I was nothing.
After an eternity something rippled through the void. Something, there was something. The something by its very nature and the fact of its existence shattered the void and nothing was there but the something. The something and I were together.
Soon there was light and although I had existed in a complete lack of light for a long time, the light didn't hurt or startle me, it simply flowed around and through me. It gave me the strength to rise up and I felt my mind inflate with thoughts, ideas, and memories. I felt myself return to existence and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. As I became more aware I felt pain, horrible vicious pain. My mind had been burned and my soul had been shredded and it hurt. I wanted to retreat back to the void, where nothing could touch me, but there was still something. I didn't know what it was but it had found me and it was feeding me and empowering me. I felt it envelop me and push back the pain as the light became brighter and I could feel my body coalesce around me, my beating heart, my chest heaving and struggling to draw even the shallowest of breaths. I felt myself take charge of my body, unite with it and suddenly I was home and I was Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden and I was alive.
I instinctively pulled the light and strength into my body and my skin and mind began to tingle with the strange energy that was filling me. It wasn't magic, it was more powerful and it was healing me, my body, mind and soul. I felt joy and elation, memories of every good thing that had ever happened to me and the joy I'd seen on the faces of friends and even clients filled my being. Then there was a more subtle undercurrent and more powerful than any I had felt before and I felt warmth and caring fill me, I could sense Murphy's strength and Molly's warm and gentle presence and Lash's understanding and unconditional love, Michaels firm and rock solid faith and friendship and Ebenezar's steadfast strength even the faithful loyalty of Mouse. The feeling filled me and gave me strength and hope as I felt myself take root in my body and my chest convulsed as I coughed, thick and raspy as if a hundred pound weight had been set on my chest.
I felt my eyelids flutter as I forced them to open, my eyelids heavy and thick pulled back and I saw two large eyes surrounded by fur as a pink wet tongue licked my face.
"Harry!" I heard in chorus as my vision began to clear, I saw Mouse, with his head on my chest, he was surrounded by my friends, each petting his back and on the other side of my bed sat an ancient native American wizard with a kind smile on his face.
I saw my friends hug each other and beam at me and I still didn't understand why as my mind was fuzzy with exhaustion. Joseph Listens to Wind simply put his hand on my forehead and said, "You must rest now young wizard. We'll talk later."
I felt myself carried away into a deep sleep for a long time, and then slowly dreams came. I dreamt of the house in Hogs Hallow and the nights we spent under the stars and at one point I was walking through the meadow past the garden when and there was an old janitor walking next to me.
"Hey Harry, that was quite a thing you did back there." He said kindly, "You know Harry, you and your friends are just full of surprises." He said with a knowing smile on his face.
"I'm not sure what you mean." I said reading the gentleman's name tag, it said "Jake". Somehow it didn't seem odd to have the dark skinned janitor walking in the field with me.
"You saved her again. Both times you saved her by giving of yourself, this time you almost gave your life. That's rare, but a great thing to see. It gives me hope." He said then giving me a serious look he continued. "Also you should know if it wasn't for your friends, you'd be gone now."
"I had to do something." I said remembering seeing the black blob sucking the very life from Lash. "I couldn't let her go, not now that she's back." I said looking at the stars dancing on the horizon.
"She's only here because of you. She gave her all for you with no expectation of personal gain and she gained a soul for it. Now you've done the same for her. It's nice to see such selflessness and dedication among mortals. It's a very rare bond you two have, protect it. As for your friends, they are your family, treat them right." He said, then with a wry smile he looked at me and said, "Maybe from now on you can try being more careful and make my life a little less hectic?" He chuckled and then went silent.
I turned to smile at him, but he was gone and in the place where he stood a white orchid stood in full bloom, the scent was sweet and intoxicating. Then I drifted off to sleep.
Sausage, I smelled sausage. I also smelled eggs and onions. I smelled bacon too. I opened my eyes as my brain was taking an olfactory inventory of what was being placed on my bed stand. There was bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, toast and last but not least, there was coffee. My eyes began to focus as I lifted my head with a sudden dull throb that threatened to split my skull.
"Harry, don't sit up." Lash said in a cheery but concerned voice.
"Lash?" I asked.
"Yes Harry." She said patiently.
"Where am I?" I asked feeling the warm thick blankets pushing me into the soft pillow cushion of the wonderful mattress below me. This was not my bed.
"We are at Murphy's" she said. "She thought that Michaels house might be too noisy for you to get the rest you needed so we brought you here instead."
"Do I smell food?" I asked suddenly noticing that I was incredibly hungry.
"You've been asleep for three days. I thought you might be hungry." She said quietly.
"I'm starving!" I said as I pushed myself up to a sitting position. Lash moved and adjusted my pillows to help me sit up. I was really weak and my body felt like it was made of heavy stone.
Lash set the tray of food in front of me and I dropped the fork as I tried to lift it to my mouth. The room spun around me as I looked down to try to find the missing utensil.
"Let me." Lash said as she picked up the fork and gathered some food and put it into my mouth.
The food was outstanding, every bite tasted better than the one before it. I was extremely hungry and couldn't eat fast enough. Lash kept the food coming in reasonable sized bites in a slow and even cadence.
When the food was gone, she lifted the coffee cup to my lips and let me sip the warm liquid. She had added just enough sugar to make it taste perfect. Once I was done eating she took the tray and cup away. I heard the water run in the sink as she quickly washed the dishes and then returned.
"Lash, you don't have to watch over me." I said feeling guilty.
"Harry, where else would I go?" she asked with a kind smile as she took my hand in hers.
"They told me what happened." She said kissing my hand. "They told me how you saved my life." She said with her eyes becoming glassy as they filled with tears. "Why Harry? Why would you risk yourself like that?" she asked squeezing my hand.
"I couldn't stand to lose you." I said honestly. "If that thing was going to take you, I was going with you." I said.
"Harry, if you had died… I don't know what I'd have done." She said as her tears fell onto our coupled hands.
"You would have done fine." I said with a smile. "You are smart, strong, capable and one powerful Wizard." I said, "Not to mention beautiful and one of the best people I've ever met. You'd meet someone eventually and live happily ever after."
"Harry, I could never be with anyone but you." She said pulling my hand to her cheek and looking into my eyes deeply.
"Then you and Murphy could be spinsters together!" I said with a chuckle.
I heard Murphy's voice as she passed in the hallway, "I heard that Dresden!"
"Sorry Murph, it was a joke." I said as she poked her head into the room.
"You better be nice to me Harry! You're in my house now." She said with a smile wagging her finger at me.
"Yeah, about that… Thank you for letting me stay here, I'm sorry if it's an inconvenience." I said.
"Harry, whenever you're around it's inconvenient." She said with a scowl, then she smiled and said, "But it's never dull. Now get some rest, you almost died. You need to get your strength back."
"I just woke up." I said giving her a smile.
"Fine, but stay in bed and stay away from my T.V." she said with a warning glance as she turned back to the hallway.
"I have to get back to work. If you need anything my number is by the phone Lash." Murphy said over her shoulder as she headed to the front door. "I'll see you tonight Harry!" she said as the front door closed behind her.
Lash and I sat there holding hands for a long time, the silence between us getting longer and deeper like a chasm.
"Look, Lash. All I know is that you were hurt and I could help. You know me. I can't stand by while someone I care about is hurt. You would have done the same thing for me or Molly or Murphy and don't say you wouldn't because I know better." I said giving her a meaningful look.
She dropped her head and gave me a sheepish smile, "Maybe not Murphy." She said with a wry smile. "She likes you too much." Lash said with a giggle.
"She likes busting my chops." I said laughing.
"Harry, I'm not a normal person. I wasn't born and I have the memories of a demon in my head. Maybe I'm not supposed to be around for long." She said dropping her head again. "Maybe we shouldn't be together. I'm dangerous for you." She said softly. "Maybe it was my time to die."
"Lash, I have it on good authority that you'll be around a long time and we're supposed to protect each other. It's not always going to be easy and it's scary. That's been my life since I my dad died. One scary thing after another and I survived by beating them into the ground before the next one popped up. I'm new to the whole being a family thing, but together, we can figure it out as we go." I said giving her had a squeeze.
"A family?" she said her head lifting to meet my eyes, tears streaming down her face.
"Well I'm not leaving." I said flatly with a grin. "The future can bring what it wants, but I'm not leaving your side as long as you will have me."
"Harry, I don't want to be without you." She said through her tears.
"Sounds like a family to me." I said pulling her over to me and hugging her tightly. She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me then hugged me firmly, making my ribs ache but I wasn't about to say anything.
Mouse stood up and leapt onto the bed to lay down beside me with his back against my side.
"He's not left your side since you passed out." Lash said petting Mouse's shoulder. "He's very loyal to you." She said with a smile.
I reached over and gave his side a rub, "He's always been a good boy." I said.
"Molly and Murphy have been here every day. Murphy's leave ended today and she decided to go in for a half day. Charity came over last night and told Molly if she didn't come home she was going to drag her into the yard and hose her down since her clothes were a few days old." Lash said with a smile.
"So I've had a crowd all this time and didn't know it?" I said smiling into her blue eyes.
"We've all been worried sick. Even Billy and his wife have been calling and stopping by since they heard." Lash said. "Thomas has been calling nonstop."
"I have a lot of friends." I said smiling to myself. "They are all more like family I guess. We all pull together." I said remembering being at Billy's bedside more than once.
"That was how you were healed." Lash said with a grin.
"What do you mean? I thought Listens to Wind healed me? I remember him being here when I woke up briefly." I said perplexed.
"He was here but he didn't heal you. He did." Lash said leaning over to rub Mouse's ears.
"What?" I asked my eyes wide looking at the doggy grin looking up at me.
"Yes, Listens to Wind wasn't sure how to help you because you had used most of your energy and soulfire to save me and burn the thing off my soul. You were slipping away and your life force was pretty much spent when he got here." Lash said frowning remembering my almost lifeless body limp on the bed.
"He said you needed to heal and rest to regain your strength but didn't think you had enough life left in you to sustain yourself long enough to recover." She said.
"Then Mouse here had an idea." Lash said ruffling his fur with a grin. "Molly heard him first, actually. Then Listens to Wind meditated and he conversed with the dog. Mouse acted as a conduit and Murphy, Molly, Michael, Ebenezer, Charity, Father Forthill, Billy and his wife and I all got together and rested our hands on Mouse and remembered all the wonderful things we loved about you and he channeled that energy into you. I've never seen anything like it, he glowed and the more we concentrated he took on a white golden aura and it just flowed into you. After about five minutes, you started breathing easier and you opened your eyes." She said smiling remembering the love and desire to help the one man that had brought so many people together.
"You're just full of surprises aren't you boy." I said as I scratched behind his ears eliciting a moan of pleasure from the dog. Then the janitors words echoed in the back of my mind and I smiled in wonder and agreement.
By the next day I could sit up, feed myself and even hobble to the bathroom for a much needed bath. For the next week Lash and Murphy gently forced me to stay in bed. The Carpenters, the Alphas, Father Forthill, Ebenezar, Captain Luccio, Carlos, Listens to Wind and Thomas all made regular appearances.
Lash, Molly, the Alphas and I had our regular gaming nights in Murphy's living room. Thomas, Murphy, Molly and Lash took turns taking me for walks like a poodle with an overactive bladder. Murphy, Molly and Lash took turns cooking and fawning over me until I could finally get up and help out. Michael made a point to stop by every day on his way home from work, just to check in and see my progress.
It's not that I didn't appreciate the attention and efforts, but I'm not used to having people hang all over me or do things for me. It was kind of nice, but still it made me feel uncomfortable.
I was feeling a little smothered when Father Forthill came by and as we talked, he suggested that maybe, "The gift was in the giving," and I should allow them to care for me. He explained that it wasn't charity or weakness on my part, but it was how they showed compassion and love to me and if I denied them that chance, I would be robbing them of an opportunity to help someone they loved. Looking at it from that perspective, I saw what he meant and didn't have the heart to refuse them. They wanted to give and if I was bullheaded and said no, I would take that away from them. So I ate too much and let them fawn and said, "Thank you" every chance I got. I was truly grateful for the wonderful people I had in my life. I was grateful for my family.
Soon I was back at home and for about a week I put a, "Gone fishing" sign on my office door and stayed home with Lash, organizing the apartment and just spending quality time together as my metaphysical batteries kept charging. We enjoyed each other's company doing little things and when she felt I was sufficiently recovered, Lash modeled her lingerie for me.
Finally the Sunday before I was to go into the office and check my mail and messages, we had a picnic. It was late September we were enjoying the last days of an Indian summer at Lake Front Park. We walked, talked, kissed, played Frisbee with Mouse and acted like normal people.
As we sat on the blanket drinking the last of the bottle of wine from paper cups, we snuggled and watched the sun set over the Chicago skyline. The buildings were on fire with the reds and oranges reflected in the glass windows from the high wispy clouds above as darkness crept into the sky from the East. We watched the last rays of the summer sun disappear as we held each other close with Mouse lying at our feet.
I took her face in my hand and kissed her soft, warm lips, feeling the joy and happiness we shared flow between us as we enjoyed the simple pleasure of each other's lips.
Somewhere deep in the shadows of the trees behind us, a pair of hateful glowing red eyes glared at us and smiled.