Title: There's Always a Loophole
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.
Summary: Could it really be that simple to duplicate what Uncle Justin had done? The cost, though inconvenient, would be well within my ability to pay. 2000 words.
Fandom: Dresden Files TV, not novels! Starts after 1.12 "Second City"; spoilers esp. for 1.10 "What About Bob?"
Notes: So I rewatched the series... and immediately felt inspired to jump on the "What About Bob?" bandwagon, five years late. Um. Warning for... lack of angst?
"Well, that seemed promising," Bob commented, stepping through the wall into the storefront as Murphy disappeared down the sidewalk after her father.
I raised an eyebrow at him as I turned the 'Closed' sign over and walked away from the door. "On a professional level, or a personal one?" I asked him, dryly.
My roommate tended to blow hot and cold on whether my association with the Chicago police, and with Murphy in particular, was a good thing: leaning toward the positive when the rent was overdue, and toward the negative when working with her led to 'unnecessary quixoticisms.' Though both complaints were about as solid as the golden letters he wrote in the air; it wasn't as though the High Council would ever let the ghost of Hrothbert of Bainbridge, notorious necromancer, lie around ownerless. I knew there was more to it- and he knew I knew. He'd just never admitted it.
I'd wondered, from time to time, if he might have a more personal reason for disliking Murphy. On the one hand, no other woman ever seemed to disgruntle him as much as she did. On the contrary, he always encouraged my romantic misadventures: commenting on the... attributes... of my clients. But none of the ladies I brought home ever lasted for more than handful of dates... and I was perfectly well aware that his magical leash was long enough to let him, well. Watch. When I spent time playing spooky-things consultant for Murphy, on the other hand, I was usually away for hours at a time- leaving Bob alone with only my cat, Mister, for company.
He sniffed and turned away, pale eyes staring in the direction of his elaborately carved skull. I probably should have put it in a safe to prevent someone else from walking off with it after Tara stole it, but I liked being able to see it; after all the years I'd known him, it was kind of my screwed-up version of a security blanket. The last few weeks, though, it had also been a pretty potent reminder of Uncle Justin, and the way that relationship had ended. Both times.
"Professional, of course," he said. "Though a dalliance with the lieutenant might provide some transient satisfaction, the sheer number of secrets you must keep from her, and vice versa, would eventually overwhelm and taint your working relationship. And as she currently pays the majority of the rent..."
Yep; there he went about the rent again. I sighed and touched a hand to the one of the support posts, surreptitiously raising the shop wards from their standard low warning level to a higher-grade security wall setting, then strolled back over to pick up the skull.
A human skull, minus its contents, weighs approximately two pounds; that's roughly the same heft as a quart of milk. Or a one-handed sword. Not much at all- and yet heavier than the whole world, stamped with the weight of one man's eternal damnation. Though if the last few months had taught me anything, it was that Hrothbert and Bob weren't exactly the same person. What that might mean in more practical terms, though, I was still trying to figure out.
"Ah, Harry? Is something on your mind? If you're really serious about Lieutenant Murphy..."
He frowned at me, forehead furrowed with worry; which didn't seem all that unusual either, until I compared the look in his eyes to the cranky bastard of a sorcerer I'd met the day Justin had introduced us. I hadn't really registered how much Bob had changed since then- something that was supposed to be impossible for a damned, eternally fixed, lifeless soul- until he'd pulled that façade back in place for the ritual to resurrect my uncle, and made it abundantly clear by contrast. If you added in his voluntary adventure to the Other Side a week later on my behalf, despite the dangers waiting there for him... yeah, I'd spent awhile turning things over since.
"It's not Murphy." I shook my head, offering him a lopsided smile. "It's just... I've been wondering, but I didn't like to ask while it was all still so fresh. When you... I mean, when my uncle's doppelganger brought you back to resurrect him... you said it was because it didn't have any power of its own."
He winced, pained lines bracketing his eyes. "Yes. It chose me because I was the simplest and most satisfactory option, which is likewise the reason it insisted on using you as a battery. Had I refused at any point, it would have simply sought out the next alternative on Justin's list; I thought I'd explained that before. It was why I had to be certain it had disanimated before reversing the resurrection spell."
That, and the fact that the copy's corpse would not show the signs of vodou that had alarmed Butters in the original. I might have killed my uncle, but it had been in self defense; my crime, as far as the High Council was concerned, was the use of black magic, not the fact that he was dead. Convicting me of murder five years later would have been in no one's best interests. I was sure Bob had had that in the back of his mind, too; he's a lot better at details and contingency plans than I'll ever be.
Which meant I was probably barking up the wrong tree. But I had to ask.
I nodded, absently tracing the carved markings over his cranial vault with my fingertips as I tucked the skull into the crook of my other arm. "Yeah, I got that part. The part I don't get, is if it didn't have any power... how did it bring you back?"
Bob couldn't exactly get paler, but he did swallow at that; reflex action, still active after a millennia without touch, taste, or scent. Strange that the curse should preserve that; but it certainly had come in handy. Otherwise, Justin's plan would have broken down while Bob twitched on the floor from the simple shock of having a body and all its attendant sensory organs again. I shuddered at the thought.
He took a deep, purposeless breath, frowning at me. "If your intent is to determine whether the feat can be duplicated? Put it out of your mind, Harry. No good will come of it."
I waved a dismissive hand, stirring the flames of several nearby candles. Of course it was, if I could do it without touching the black; but I wasn't about to let him derail the conversation with a lecture. "I'm not interested in practicing necromancy, Bob. I just want to know what happened."
His frown deepened, but he nodded. "Very well. I believe I mentioned, after the incident with Kelton Franks, that I had a certain familiarity with necromantic rituals?"
I nodded. "Because of Winifred. She was a sorceress; you fell in love with her, and she died. So you brought her back. Though I kind of got the impression that was just the beginning of it."
"Yes," he admitted quietly, his attention dropping back to the skull, his expression almost hungry as he continued. "It wasn't a clean death; she was slain by an arrow, poorly aimed but fatal nonetheless. Repairing such an injury requires a sacrifice of equal measure: life for life. And once I had taken a step down that path... well. You know the addictive qualities of black magic as well as I. I turned it upon our enemies; and by the time the High Council brought me down, all of humanity was my enemy."
"And... Winifred?" I almost hesitated to say her name again, with that terrible, distant look on his face.
He shook his head, the gesture sharp and final.
I cleared my throat. "So... that ties into your regaining a body, how?"
"The arrow," he replied with a sigh. "Imbued with my magic; her magic; the essences of life and death; and all of the powerful emotion that linked us. Somehow it survived until Justin Morningway got his hands on it. All that was required... was for it to be returned to me, with intent."
"And it's gone now?" From his earlier denial, and his willingness to explain, that seemed a safe bet.
"Yes." He reached out to the skull, a flare of light limning the bone where his fingertips passed through it. I felt a tickle against my breastbone as his hand kept going; then he pulled it back, a resigned set to his mouth. "Consumed by the construction of my new body- or when my new body ceased breathing. Either way, it's gone. And unless another artefact of equal significance could be found..." Bob's eloquent shrug spoke to how likely he thought that was.
I let my hand trace over the curve of the skull again, then glanced over at my hockey stick, where I'd left it propped against the brickwork. I hadn't been wrong, then. Could it really be that simple? The cost, though inconvenient, would be well within my ability and inclination to pay.
"Hells bells, Bob," I said, in a deliberately disgruntled tone, disguising my relief. "Do you know how much of a pain in the ass it's going to be to make a new staff? Finding just the right resonance of wood, carving the new sigils, getting used to the difference in the way it channels my magic..."
Bob's eyes widened in surprise as he tried to follow my line of thought. "Harry, what are you saying? Your staff? That can't... It didn't actually..."
"My magic," I shrugged. "Your magic. The essences of life and death. Powerful emotion? I don't know about you, but it sounds like that qualifies to me."
I didn't think any word could sufficiently capture what I'd felt while Bob channeled my life force through that staff into my uncle's corpse; or moments later, when he died in my arms after reversing the flow. 'Powerful' was the least of it, though.
He lifted a hand to brush insubstantial fingers over my cheek; the contact sent shivers up my spine, and I had to make an effort not to pull away like I usually would. "Didn't you say, one life per customer?" he murmured, softly.
"Hrothbert may have had his chance. But what about Bob?" I replied, just as intently.
He drew a sharp breath and finally looked away. "Harry..."
"I didn't tune out all your lessons on Naming, you know." I shrugged, offering a faint smile. Then I cleared my throat, drawing the conversation back. "So. What do you think?"
He glanced over at the staff, jaw still firmly set, then at the skull, then back to me. "You might be right," he admitted hesitantly, though I could see the hope growing in his expression. "Though... I can't advise it. If Ancient Mai knew..."
I was kind of taking a lot on faith. What if he turned out to be just as evil a necromancer as legend painted him, after all? What if he decided what he wanted most, if given the choice, was not to stick around? I hadn't even soul-gazed him yet; he hadn't been alive long enough for it to happen, last time. And Morgan would leap at the chance to finally punish me as I deserved.
I wouldn't have brought the subject up in the first place if I hadn't been willing to risk it, though. Bob had been the most constant presence in my life since I was eleven years old; he'd grown with me as I'd grown with him, and I figured I knew him better than anyone else alive. And if he was right, there'd be no black magic for the Council to detect; they wouldn't be able to do a thing about it.
"Since when do I actually listen to your advice?" I teased him.
Then I summoned the hockey stick and banished it into his hands, a grin breaking over my face. "Catch."