Disclaimer: I do not own the Dresden Files. That honour belongs to Jim Butcher, our lord and saviour - especially if Dresden/Molly becomes canon, amiright? Parts of this also pays homage to Teach Me by Aegypt from this site (ID: 5345376), which was the inspiration that again, I don't own.
The setting is AU post-Turn Coat, so ignores the latest two books. Not that I don't love Changes and Ghost Story - especially given developments in the latter (One of which I use here, because it's just great) - it's just that setting a number of years in the future without the baggage of those two makes for a more self-contained oneshot. So, without further ado, I hope you all enjoy my little fluffy sappy oneshot.
- - - -o- - - -
Saturday by M. H. Bard: It's Saturday, and while Molly's testing to join the White Council, Harry deals with a flesh-eating monster, an old enemy exacting revenge, and a mysterious client being chased by his past. And yet, he can't stop thinking about what he and Molly did on Friday night...
- - - -o- - - -
Corpses and Cheerios for breakfast; my favourite. I sat on my ratty old, yet all-too-comfortable, couch, munching my breakfast off a spoon with one hand and holding a case file in the other. It wasn't so out of the norm for me to be reading up on medical examiner's reports while eating, but today was different.
Today was Saturday, and while I went to sleep warm, I woke up cold. No note, no message, no nothing.
I shook my head of it, placed the second case file on the table, and picked up the third and final one. The victim's name had been Laura Sidewinder, and the post-mortem photographs didn't tell me much about what she looked like before, just that she was decidedly missing three-quarters of her mass in flesh and organs now. Bits and pieces of her remained, and the only positive identification came from the lower half of her face; dental records you know, because whatever had eaten her hadn't bothered with the teeth. It wasn't enough to upset my breakfast; after years of this, one understands the need for Cheerios to stay inside the body, just in case one ended up fighting a truckload of monsters and would rather avoid doing so on an empty stomach.
No, the fate of poor Laura Sidewinder wasn't enough for me to put down my spoon and ponder... But what happened last night did. I wanted to stop and think, to analyse every action, every thought, every moment of bliss, and most importantly of all, I wanted to convince myself that waking up alone meant nothing more than the fact I slept in and she had to leave before I awoke anyway.
Of course, I told myself, she had good reason to leave: if she was late, the chances of her head being chopped off, and mine along with it, increased. A former budding warlock under suspicion of the White Council didn't get off easily for failing their final tests. My old mentor had drilled that into me when I had gone to shed myself of apprenticeship and become a full-blown wonder wizard. Final tests were definitely final if you failed them, and if Molly...
I shook my head again. The case I was working for the Special Investigations Unit took precedence. Laura Sidewinder was the third victim in a chain that had started in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, going to Columbus, Ohio, then Indianapolis, Indiana, and the next state on the block? Illinois, and if the pattern continued, there was a flesh-eating monster in Chicago.
Problem was, I didn't know what kind of flesh-eating monster. For that, I needed to talk with Bob.
I finished my breakfast and rinsed my bowl in the sink, filling it with water and dropping it down next to my sleeping mammoth of a dog, Mouse. My apartment was practically a basement, small, dank and chilled in the mid-November weather, with most of the space taken up by the couches and chairs surrounding the fireplace, a small kitchen alcove in the far wall, and the sole door leading to my bedroom and bathroom. Worn rugs and carpets of all shapes and sizes made up the floor, and posters and tapestries depicting everything from Elvis to Star Wars hung on the walls. A very full set of bookshelves lacking any semblance of order were missing a few of their books, I noticed. They were on the ground, next to my ruffled shirt, the one I'd been wearing last night.
My mind went places, pleasant places, but I made my feet take me to the trapdoor leading down to the subbasement. The walls and the floor down here were bare stone, but the room was no less packed - with three tables set against the walls, shelves of books and various objects, and a small, neatly organised, desk in the corner where Molly had done the written portion of her apprentice work. I made my way around the long centre table and to Bob's shelf, home to a dozen romance novels and a bleached white skull, two orange pinpricks of flame lighting up its eye sockets as I got closer.
"Well," said Bob, "Sounded like somebody was having a good night last night."
I sighed; of course he had heard. "I don't want to talk about it right now, Bob. I've already overslept and I have to have something for Murph in the next..." I checked my wrist; it was just now that I realised I wasn't wearing a watch. It happened more often than I liked. "... I'll say twenty minutes."
"But we can use ten of those minutes to talk!" exclaimed Bob. "You know, share details. Guy stuff."
"You're really that curious?"
"I can draw my own conclusions on what happened, and I think the word I'd use right now is proud."
I opened the case file and waved the photographs in his face. The flames, his eyes, danced as they looked. "Wholesome," he said in conclusion, letting out a low whistle; impressive for a skull with no lips. "Off the top of my head, I'd say ghoul. There, case closed, let's talk about -"
"But there's a pattern," I interrupted. "One in every capital city, all over the past month."
"Ghoul under the control of a practitioner, feeding his pet for good work."
I did not like ghouls, or dealing with ghouls in any fashion, and since I got the impression Bob wanted to change the subject, I kept him on my track. "Any flesh-eating monster types from the Nevernever that could be responsible? With Halloween just past, wouldn't be too shocked."
Bob looked at the photo again. "By the looks of things, it had teeth... Hey!" His eyes flashed brighter. "Maybe it's the tooth fairy."
"The victims still have their teeth, Bob, and even if, I mean, I don't think that this is what's happening."
He deflated. "Yeah, well, it's never the tooth fairy. She used to have so much spirit... But anyway, why are you asking me? Ghoul is the best option, ghoul controlled by warlock a better one, and unless you want me to go out and scour the city for you, you don't need me. Call your Warden friends, or the Paranet."
"Already did," I said. "Waiting on their reply. And, as much as it pains me to rub your ego, I was going to talk to you because you might see something I'll miss."
"Aww, you shouldn't have."
I showed him the photos again - the first victim Lorena Maitland, the second Paul Kennedy, and the third Laura Sidewinder. I'd already ruled out common links - different genders, races, weights and heights, blood types, no common genetic disease, no penchant for poking around in dark warehouses. They were just three random people, but hey, I'd take what I could get.
"Yeah, I got nothing," Bob said after a moment.
"I was going to go over this with you last night, but... Things came up."
Bob snorted - again, no nose, yet he could make that noise. "I bet they did."
"Bob, I don't want to talk about her with you," I said, annoyed. "Come on, any more options for our Hannibal monster?"
"Well... Could be a vampire."
"They're not really after anything other than your blood or your emotions, all three Courts."
"No no, Red Court probably," said Bob. "Black Court won't feel it, but if a Red wants to he can eat a bit of flesh to go with the blood. You know, adding a bit of steak to his gravy. For the consistency and texture."
"That's disgusting, Bob."
"I know, right? You walking digestive systems scare me sometimes. Speaking of, how was the muffin in bed?"
My mind involuntarily took me to last night. She'd showed up to revise her notes for the examinations, and to get in any last minute advice I had to give. Her hair was its natural honey blonde, but she'd added purples and reds to the tips, little signs to show she wanted to flaunt a little rebellion against the White Council. Given my bathrobe antics in the past, I could forgive her that. She came in, bundled in her dark jacket, and for a while we read in front of the fireplace, not talking... Then she asked the question.
It had started off from there.
The night had been warm.
My throat felt dry as I told Bob off again. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Oh come on, who else can you talk to about this?"
"Anybody. Literally anybody."
"I've been waiting for years, and you haven't touched that hot muffin at all," he groused. "I remember you telling her never to have sex, too. Come on, details. Almost six years of no release? How glorious was it when she went off? I must've heard her go at least, what, four times?"
I ignored him and tried to focus on the bookshelves, to the romance novels on the shelf, reading them a frequent favourite past-time of Bob's. He craved that kind of stuff, and often wanted personal tours in the romances of Harry Dresden, like he saw my life as a soap opera of some kind with occasional sexy parts.
Before last night, it had been a while.
"Hey Harry?" she'd said, breaking the silence that had set in after she showed up at my door. It had been a comfortable silence, a part of me noted. We had just been in silence because talking and breaking it would lead to nervousness over tomorrow. There was a confidence in that silence, and it was broken now.
So my interest was piqued. "Hmm?"
"I still haven't figured it out yet." At my blank look, she elaborated. "The code, you know. Down in the lab."
I tried to think of what she meant. "The... code?"
"The romance novels," she said simply. "A whole shelf of them, and I've never seen you read them or anything, so I, you know, thought it was a test."
"A test?" I said, almost laughing.
She actually laughed, easily and happily. "I spent like five hours a few years back, and I think it's then I decided you were off your nut -"
"Me? You spent five hours staring at the romance novels on the shelf expecting some kind of code?"
"Well, and flicking through them."
"So why are they there?" she asked. Her smile became impish, teasing. Her hands played with the buttons of her jacket absently, and I watched them.
"It's a long story," I replied. "I'll tell it sometime. When you become the White Council's standard establishment Wizard, like boring ol' me."
"I'll be a Witch," she corrected idly. "And I'd like that."
Her confident tone was belayed by her somewhat nervous look, in her eyes and in her face. I knew why: the White Council and her didn't mesh well, just like with me, and despite the fact I gave her as much training as I could given our differing talents, she was still worried. The tests would take all day, and push her mentally and physically, in ways I couldn't prepare her for. So if she wanted to laugh and talk with me, to find comfort where she could, I'd be happy to help. There was a confidence in talking too, if the right words were being said.
But I was still surprised when she asked me, after a content minute of silence, "Harry, can I spend the night here?" Before I could answer, she'd removed her jacket. "And not alone, either."
Now, I shook my head again. There had been protests, a brief discussion, and when I let her get close and kiss me I had already been lost, to her, to the want for a connection. A real kiss, like that, with her, had almost completely taken me. But, I'd retained enough of me, my chivalry and my want to not hurt her who had been my student, to ask her three times if she wanted us to stop.
The first time had been after the first kiss, the second time after the third kiss against the bookshelves on the way to the bedroom, almost in a frenzy, and the third time after I had taken off her shirt, and when I would've needed a six hour ice shower to get rid of my arousal.
"So proud," enthused Bob. "She was a virgin, wasn't she?"
I nodded. It had been sorta awkward, as those things could be. It wasn't like with Elaine - I was older now, more attuned to what was going on. I was also Molly's teacher, and a bit of that had slipped out during that moment, and pleasure had replaced pain. And no release, for her, in over six years meant it had, for lack of a better word, erupted, which is what Bob had heard.
"Set of lungs on that girl," he said, damn near reading my mind. "So... when are you going to do it again?"
It's not like I would say no if the offer struck, but there were other issues. "Bob, it just happened," I said. "She was scared about dying today if she failed her tests, and that I'd die too because of it. But..." I would never tell Bob this, but waking up alone hadn't increased my confidence, despite the logical reason for her not to be there. I was worried, and nervous, and I knew there would come a discussion, and soon, about where Molly and I would go from here. If she passed her tests, and she would, dammit, we wouldn't be student and teacher anymore, that's for sure. I couldn't focus on that, not when there was a monster in town. So I told Bob, "The case is my priority. I've got to go take care of some things."
"Oh fine, go. Just one more thing..." If a spirit trapped in a skull could grin, Bob would be. "How many piercings?"
Well, the tongue ring, the nipple ring... I shook my head again - I was thinking some kind of neck injury might occur soon if I kept that up - but I couldn't help the small smile appearing on my face.
However, I had to put her out of mind. It was time to get to work.
- - - -o- - - -
I was leading Mouse out to my car when I nearly bumped into Mrs Spunkelcrief, the elderly woman who lived on the ground floor of the boardinghouse my basement apartment dwelt beneath. She was a fierce old thing, near deaf and leaning heavily on her cane, and was outside for one of her rare morning jaunts to, well, stand outside and soak up some sun. I gave her a polite nod and sidestepped her, murmuring, "Good morning, Mrs S."
"Harry," she said briskly, reaching down to get Mouse's ears a scratch. The big lug silently basked in the attention, of course. "I received your rent check yesterday."
I usually made sure to get my rent checks in on time, because hey, for a landlady of a wizard with an unnatural tendency to attract monsters to his home, she was surprisingly tolerant about those sorts of things. Zombies? Mold demons? Not a problem for Mrs S. "That's good to hear," I said.
She peered her head behind my shoulder and looked towards the steps leading down to my apartment. "Just you this morning? Where's the girl?"
"Molly? She left earlier. She has some exams today."
Mrs S hmm'd. "She's a perfectly nice girl, but she does seem a bit... flaky. I've seen her hair the strangest colours..."
I chuckled. My fault, actually. The first potion I ever taught her to make was basically magical hair dye, and Molly decided to utilise her end result every chance she got. Now that she didn't need to make potions as often anymore, she had let her hair colour go back to the natural blonde. I remember it splayed on my chest last night as she slept, and could definitely say I personally preferred it.
Mrs S, in her unstoppable rant mode, made a comment that I'd been getting quite a bit since Molly became my apprentice. "... You could do better, but I suppose it's all a mid-life crisis thing, to be with a younger girl."
"No, Mrs S, we're not..." I stopped my usual reply instantly. As of last night... It would not be an incorrect assumption for Mrs S to make. Well. There goes my high ground. I shuffled my feet on the gravel, and nodded towards my car. "I have to go."
Mouse chuffed to himself, amused, as we walked. Man's best friend indeed. He had his own role for the day, and I'd be dropping him off before meeting Murphy at my office. To get there, we took the mighty Blue Beetle, with a body of blue and appendages of every other colour but blue. It handled the journey with maybe one or two more grunts and groans than usual, and I made a mental note to call Mike, my mechanic, for another service.
When I arrived at my office building's parking lot, I was halfway out of the car when I heard feet shuffle on the gravel behind me, and I turned and came face to face with air. Tilting my head down a bit, I found Sergeant Karrin Murphy looking up at me.
She was five-nothing in height, with short blonde hair and a cute button nose, wearing a long dark coat, jeans and a baseball cap, and her entire posture screamed, "Danger Will Robinson!" She was a member of Chicago PD's Special Investigations, those who hunt in the night for monsters I miss, and do it with warrants and handcuffs, to boot. Murphy once headed up the unit, but a hunt in the night with yours truly went sour for her career, and she only just managed to keep her job. These days, she was still my liaison, but also a good friend and ally.
"You caught me at an awkward time, Murph," I said, shutting the car door behind me. "I was supposed to make some phone calls before I could tell you I have a possible lead on our flesh-eating monster."
"Oh?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
I nodded. "Yeah. Bob came up empty on location, or exactly what it might be, but the good news is that we have plenty of options. Though, it's not the tooth fairy."
"It's never the tooth fairy," said Murphy.
We began our trip to my office, which hadn't seen much action with as much out of town work as I'd been doing, including mine and Molly's most recent trip to New York for Warden business a few weeks ago. It had involved busting up a gang of dark wizards; long story, but the word "wannabe" springs to mind. It was that incident that alerted Captain Luccio to the fact Molly was in fact ready to try for her final tests in the first place. Another chain of thought to bat away, before it started more and more thoughts and distracted me from the here and now.
Luckily, we arrived in my office soon enough. I sat myself down behind my desk and Murphy settled into a chair opposite mine, and I condensed down what Bob told me, also handing her the notes I'd taken. She pursed through them, frowning as she did.
"Do you really think it's Red Court?" she asked.
"I don't know, Murph. I think it's a hunter who's about to kill again, and I'd rather it be a rogue vampire than a ghoul under the control of somebody else," I said. "Although... I'd still rather it not be Red Court. War reasons and all. Somebody might be deliberately setting me up to kill this guy, find out he's actually the Red King's favourite ping pong player or something, and then how fucked am I? War would begin anew, which would not make the White Council happy, or me. But mostly me."
She snorted. "I'll leave you to that, then. I have to head back to the office, scour the missing persons' lists for another ten hours. The minute you hear something -"
"You don't even have to say it." I held up two crossed fingers. "Scout's honour. You got your vampire-killing tools on hand just in case?"
I lifted up my hand and showed her my silver pentacle amulet, my symbol of faith and a natural anti-vampire weapon. In reply, Murphy shook her head back and grasped for the golden crucifix on its chain around her neck, showing it to me tiredly.
- reflecting in the dull candlelight, a silver crucifix resting on the swell of Molly's breasts, swinging out as she swayed, back and forth and back and forth -
I coughed and drove the mental image from my head. Murph looked at me weirdly, but I ignored it and said, "I'll visit Forthill to top up our holy water supply. And then I'll call the Paranet again, to see if they've heard anything, and then an outside contract that I enlisted this morning - just to check up on him. I was going to have them narrow it down for me, then get back to you. See? I'll be nice and busy."
She was part-way through a terse nod when she suddenly yawned, big and wide. I resisted the urge to join her, instead saying, "Tired?"
"Didn't sleep at all," she confessed. "Up for hours, going to be up for a while..." She peered at me. "Why do you look so well rested?"
I winked at her. "Magic."
"Okay, I'm leaving before you make me want to shoot you. But before I go..." Her hands reached into an inner pocket of the dark coat, and she pulled a file from it, tossing it on my desk. "That guy you were asking after."
I grasped for the file and opened it. Last week, I had a client. Normal-looking kind of kid, not yet twenty years old if I had to guess, with brown hair and a skinny frame. He told me his name was Jackson Yard, and he showed me a collection of bruises and cuts, tokens from a small series of unusual accidents that had been plaguing him more and more as of late. I identified it as an entropy curse almost immediately, minor as all get out but still an entropy curse. He wanted it gone and I cast the right spell to do so, but he left without discussing payment and made me feel rather stupid about not pressing the big issue: Why did he have the entropy curse in the first place? Who cast it on him? I asked Murph to check him out last Thursday, and lo and behold...
Oh great. Orphan from age five. In and out of mental institutions since hitting puberty, several juvenile arrests in between, all in New York, but apart from that, nothing. Wait, no. Place of address here in Chicago. Could get a phone number from there. Two cases on the plate now - that never meant anything good, but it should be more than enough to distract me.
"Dresden," said Murphy. "Keep most of your attention on the monster in town, okay? Because SI's paying you for it."
"Right. Yeah. But I'll be spending most of the day waiting for calls, Murph, so I gotta keep myself occupied."
"You're worried about Molly," she said.
More ways than one, Murph. Not that I'd want to have that kind of conversation with her. Way too much history.
"She'll be fine," I said, more to myself than anyone else. "She had a great teacher, after all."
Murphy left soon after, and I called everyone I had to before getting ahold of Jackson Yard.
His voice, thin and nervous, pierced through the phone's static, and he answered with, "Hello? Who is this?"
I tried to calm myself to prevent the phone from giving out entirely. The previous three calls had already taxed my magic versus electronics state of harmony, and I needed to get this out quickly and calmly, trying not to spook the kid into running away again.
"Jackson, it's Harry Dresden," I said.
To his credit, he didn't hang up immediately. "Look, I'm, I am, sorry I didn't pay you yet, but, but, I can get the money to you by Monday morning I - I swear it. It's just that I get paid in cash every Sunday, and, and... And..."
"No Jackson it's..." I winced. "Money's not important right now. I'm worried about you, kid. An entropy curse, even a minor one, is nothing to shrug off if you don't know who cast it and if they could cast it again."
"But I, but -"
"Does somebody have your hair, or your blood? Or your Name? Jackson, talk to me here. Is there somebody out there still trying to hurt you?"
"No, it's not like that. It was just, I'm clumsy, and your little ritual thing you did was like a placebo thing, right? I mean, that's what you do. Fake magic stuff."
Ye gods, if I had a nickel for every time I heard something like that I'd own an island. Well, another one. "How about we meet up and have chat, okay? Placebo magic or not, it might be good to see if you should be contacting the police or... Let's just get lunch, just you and me on our own. My treat, and I know where to find a really good steak sandwich."
I rattled off directions to McAnally's tavern, made sure he wrote them down, and we hung up. I grabbed my gear, locked my office behind me and went out to the Blue Beetle with a plan to go meet a priest and get some holy water. Honestly, I've been to church more times to get holy water than sermons, though Michael had dragged me to Mass every now and then. Father Forthill, my dealer, resided at the Saint Mary of the Angels Church, but wasn't there when I arrived. Instead, I found a note for me at the back door, telling me he was at the Carpenters' for babysitting duties, and he had my holy water there.
So, I got the Beetle in gear and headed for Molly's home.
It was a familiar road, out of the bustling city and into a neighbourhood far too nice for this sinful earth, the Carpenters' home in particular a beautiful old thing protected by some angels - Secret Service for a retired Knight of the Cross - and a very powerful threshold. I mention the latter because when I knocked at the door, it opened and I found little Hope, the second youngest of Molly's siblings, pointedly not inviting me inside. It wasn't really an insult; I'd been impersonated by bad guys before, and the Carpenters had been attacked because of a lack of awareness over the threshold's power one other time, so no doubt Michael had drilled his kids into being careful with homefront threats, despite the angel security guards. Of course, Michael being Michael, he had obviously taught his kids into doing it in such a way that wasn't rude to the person/supernatural monster on the other side; little Hope was smiling up at me the entire time, right up until Father Forthill appeared.
"Harry," he said, reaching out to grasp my hand with one of his. I shook it, and he turned to usher Hope inside, wearing a kind smile as he asked her, "Would you please go inside and watch your brother for a moment while Mister Dresden and I talk out back?"
Hope nodded and bounded into the house proper to watch my namesake. Forthill shut the front door behind him and we headed out to the side of the house, next to the big window where he could still see the youngest Carpenter children sitting in the dining room. Two casks of holy water awaited me underneath the windowsill, and when I say casks, I mean like the size of a good water cooler. That briefly led me to the mental image of a crowd of vampires all dying to spiked water coolers in the offices of Hell, Incorporated, somewhere down south, and when I tried to shake it away, another thought, unbidden but pleasant, showed up in the forefront of my mind.
My eyes searched hers; big and blue, pools projecting everything I'd expect: nervousness, giddiness, a little victory, and a small cloud of lust. We'd kissed more than once now, more than any way that could be considered platonic or a teacher-student way, and I saw a little bit of me reflected in her eyes: it was a completely different light, and it didn't feel wrong. It felt like two people who knew each other as well as we did crossing a line one had yearned for until it became something real, and one hadn't wanted to consider, until... I'd already taken the plunge. I leaned in again, and my lips met hers.
"Something troubling you, Harry?" Forthill asked, his face open with curiosity and a fatherly sense about him. I was almost glad he broke me out of it before I could, well, visibly react.
"Err, yeah, just a mental image involving vampires drinking out of holy water coolers," I said.
The good Father considered me. "Do you want some help taking these back to your car?"
"That would be great, thanks."
We both bent down to grasp a cask each, but Forthill caught my arm with his hand before I could get a good grip. "Harry, I don't wish to pry, but if you're having concerns about this vampire, if it is indeed a vampire -"
"No it's not all that," I said. Silence ensued, and I debated it in my head. Forthill knew by now I wasn't all that keen on the whole God angle - even though I'd chatted with an Archangel a couple of times - so he could potentially give advice of some kind to me that would, you know, be helpful. I wouldn't outright tell him about Molly, but I decided I could get into it without being too specific. "Say, Father..."
"Say that you knew someone," I began carefully. "Someone who you had a certain perception of, for a while, like, a long time. And there were good reasons, of course there were, but we all know circumstances can change, and people... grow up. You know, metaphorically." And literally, my brain noted. Compare: Molly I first met when she was ten and the naked Molly rolling with me in bed last night. Still kinda awkward to think about it like that, but given that I was the master of pushing things away right now, I pushed that one away like I was effortlessly hitting a home run. "Right. Anyway, it turns out you like who they become, and all the little things you saw change and grow as they mature sort of hit you at once and there's feelings involved. Okay. So then, circumstances change but they also conspire against you, so you're left with the feeling that you really need to talk over and think over what happened, but you can't because bad timing gets in the way..."
I trailed off, really hoping that Forthill hadn't quite picked up what I was talking about.
Bah, who am I kidding.
"Well Harry, that seems like quite a pickle," he said after a moment, his lips pursed. "If timing if your biggest problem at the moment, I suppose it would be imperative to let things sort themselves out. Don't dwell too long when there's nothing you can do. Wait for the timing to sync up. Distract yourself."
My head nodded without me being really aware. If she passed her tests, when would I see Molly again? When could we talk? Father Forthill had reminded me that tomorrow was Sunday, and I promised to rock up to Mass with the Carpenters someday soon... Tomorrow might be the first chance. Talk about a possible relationship after a good ol' fashioned dawn worship. I can do that.
I nodded again. "Thanks. I suppose I've got enough of a full plate already." I chuckled. "Flesh-eating monster about to strike and all."
"That would be worth focusing on, yes." Father Forthill clasped me on the shoulder and nodded to the holy water casks. He lifted a cask off his knees with visible effort, but I picked my own up a little easier. We walked back to my car, and set them down on the asphalt behind the trunk.
"Thanks for this, Father," I told him as we shook hands. "Appreciate it."
"Any time." He smiled at me encouragingly. "And good luck with your... dilemma, whatever it may be. Keep your chin up."
I decided I'd take his words to heart. Focus, waiting, et cetera. Maybe things would turn out okay, despite the way I woke up. There was nothing to worry about.
"Father," I told him before he could go. "Tell Michael I'll be coming to Mass tomorrow, all right?"
He smiled and nodded. "Timing," he murmured. "Good luck Harry, and see you."
I watched him go safely back to the Carpenters' house, and fished my keys out of my pocket. I fumbled for the trunk key -
Suddenly, a tingling feeling went down the back of my spine, almost like... I could feel a presence, faint but building, swirling in the air behind me. A flash of white caught my eye, and I circled around my car and looked to the lawn of the house next to the Carpenters'. The mysterious object I'd seen in the corner of my eye was... a sock.
It was a tube sock, white in colour, the foot encrusted with a dark green growth that hadn't come from the lawn, not that quickly.
It almost looked like... mold?
"What..." I began, reaching into my coat and grasping for my blasting rod, just in case.
The mold-like substance began to spread on the sock, taking all the toes, then the lower foot, spreading to the heel, up to the ankle...
Wait a second.
It hit me when a finger appeared out of the mold. A dark green finger that twisted and warped in the air, growing long, skeletal, and the tip turning sharper and sharper, until it stopped being a finger and started being a talon. Three others joined it out of the mold, and became a grasping claw.
I knew what this was.
Fucking mold demons.
I just knew you'd be back for me someday.
"Oh I've been waiting for you!" I snapped, bringing my blasting rod to bear and gathering my will. "I knew this was coming dammit! Fuego!"
The mold demon's claw, by now growing the beginning of a forearm out of the mold-encrusted sock, flinched out of the way of the approaching lance of fire, demonstrating surprising agility and flexibility for just a hand. The mowed grass instantly turned to ash in a small circle where the demon had just been, and I swore and tried to get a surer shot. Because dammit the freaking mold demon was still growing and growing, and worst of all? Two more sets of claws were starting to appear, reaching up into the air and squirming like newborn children. Disgusting, moldy, newborn children. Great. Multiple fucking mold demons. All they needed was the damn sock and a wizard to summon them.
But the hows and whys of the blasted things' return would come later. Right now? I needed firepower. I shot off three more lances of fire into the midday sunlight, and what went up had to come down; the first shot missed out when the mold demon collective did a backflip, the second went wide, but the third scored a glancing hit, incinerating one of the demons and almost setting off a chain reaction. Of course, I wasn't that lucky, and the rest of the demons seemed to have mastered a drop and roll technique.
Dammit, there was a reason I had to incinerate the organic materials in the Beetle years back. These things were stupidly resilient for minor demons made out of freaking mold.
What I needed was something heavy, to keep them in place before they grew into actual demons. Almost like...
I glanced at the holy water casks by the back of my car. I could stand to lose one of those. "Fuego!" I cried, unleashing a torrent of flame this time with a bit of extra will. It engulfed a good portion of the lawn in front of me, but wouldn't reach the house. The mold demons - the first one starting to grow a chitinous torso with large spikes growing out the side - had to work to avoid the flames, and that gave me the time I needed. I gathered up my will again, and the runes on the end of my blasting rod glowed once more as I snarled, "Forzare!"
Unseen force picked up the holy water cask, flipped it up in the air, and sent it barrelling towards the mold demons, now less of a sock growing claws and more or less a full demon by limb count, though not by sensible limb count. The wooden cask crashed into the mold demons with a solid thunk noise, exploding into splinters on impact and unleashing a torrent of holy water on the surrounding area. The demons went down at an awkward angle, peppered with splinters and sizzling under the sting of the holy water.
And as a bonus, the water stopped the fire from before taking care of the nearby houses, thus not adding another to my ever-growing list of burned buildings that were totally not my fault.
I quickly took advantage of the demons' fall to unleash another burst of fire, and this one struck true. The flames engulfed every claw, leg and weird tentacle thing that I really hoped wasn't a reproductive organ, and soon the demons were nothing more than a writhing mass of boiling mold-flesh and other related ichor, burning on the grass and leaking out onto the road, settling at my feet. The smell stung at my nostrils, and I sighed tiredly. After a while, the entire... corpse - I'll say corpse - was nothing but ash, and I poured a bit of holy water from the spare cask around to cleanse the area, before surveying the scene. Apart from a formerly immaculate lawn with patches of burnt and flooded and splinter-filled grass, it looked to be clear of any mold demons.
"Harry?" Father Forthill's voice called, and I saw him standing outside the Carpenter's house next door, gaping. "What was that?"
"New dilemma," I called back. "Uhh... You cool to deal with this?" I looked around. "Don't think anyone saw..."
Forthill eventually agreed to forget his priestly vows of honesty and deal with the cleanup, conjuring up some story to tell the neighbours when they returned, probably involving some local hoodlum and the misuse of fire and holy water. I loaded up the surviving holy water cask in the Beetle, still baring the scars of its own encounter with mold demons years ago, and took off back into the city proper, my thoughts ablaze.
Someone had set those mold demons on me. I guess that meant I had an extra thing on my plate to deal with. If the Red Court or the White Court or the Winter Court or Denarians (Court) or... anyone shows up next, I'll know it's going to be one of those weekends.
- - - -o- - - -
Mac took one look at me when I arrived in his pub and placed a bottle of his personal brew on the bar, removing the cap and tossing it a nearby trashcan in one deft movement.
"God amongst men, Mac," I complimented, reaching for the bottle and taking a blessed sip. "Been having a time of it, these last twenty-four hours or so. Needed this."
Mac grunted. He was a spare man somewhere in the age range of thirty to sixty, maybe sixty-three, and although I'd enthused on him various problems and issues once or twice in my time, I wouldn't be doing it this time. For one, my encounter with the mold demons had almost made me late to my planned lunch with Jackson Yard, and I wanted to quickly run an idea by one of my contacts. So I told Mac to prepare a couple of steak sandwiches for the lunch, and borrowed his phone to call up my fellow Warden Carlos Ramirez.
"Hola," he said in greeting. A burst of static filled the line, and I winced at the noise. When it cleared up, Ramirez was saying, "I'll assume that means it's you, Harry. And you're in a bad mood."
"Just a little worn out," I replied, taking a sip of my beer. "Encountered some old enemies, might've made a new one..."
"Anything I can help with?"
"Maybe, but you probably know by now I called the Paranet earlier. They didn't have anything, but they said they'd tell you to get on it a bit more."
"Right right," said Ramirez. "Well, I did a little digging, had a chat with Warden Chandler outside Edinburgh - he says there hasn't been any rumours of Red Court operatives heading to Chicago. I'm not getting the Red Court vibe, either. They know to stay away from the friendly neighbourhood wizard. It's not them."
While I wouldn't entirely rule out vampires - never would - being involved with events, I'd actually called him up for a different idea. "I'm thinking a summoning, actually," I told him. "Halloween just passed, and that could've given someone a boost. Something gets summoned, but it goes badly, maybe. There has to be a reason the thing only attacks major cities, and only once in each state, too. I've got nothing right now, but drum up the Paranet too. Check the city it all started in: Philadelphia. Might be something there."
Ramirez made a noise of agreement. "Would've been my next guess. Good work, dinosaur."
I snorted. "Yeah thanks, Carlos."
"So what's this about you running into an old enemy and making a new one?"
"Oh, that." I paused to take another sip of my beer; finished it now. "Gave me the idea to look for summonings, and given the timing these weeks after Halloween, it'd make sense. I mean, you hear about the thing in New York we took down?"
"The Liberty Gang? Kids with magic?"
The Wardens had picked up on them about a week prior to Halloween. A group of low-level Dark Magic users, wannabe warlocks barely old enough to shave, who weren't all that much on their own, but as a cohesive unit constantly practising their magic? They could've become a real problem, had we not received a tip their leader had summoned up a dangerous demon, as large as the Statue of Liberty. Hence, Liberty Gang. The tip had galvanised Anastasia Luccio into calling in as many as she could, including me and Molly. Halloween summonings of giant demons were big deals, after all.
"Yeah that was them," I said. "You probably know the story there. Their demon? Illusion spell."
"How'd you figure that one out?"
I smiled to myself. It was actually Molly; she'd picked up on the illusion spell the ringleader had cast, and she was able to tell the rest of us before the trap had been sprung; the kids, surrounding us and carrying guns. I told Ramirez as much, adding, "And then the best part was when she turned the illusion around on them. I've seen a lot of neat tricks, and I've taught her some of hers, but that? That was damned impressive. Even Captain Luccio thought so."
"Luccio's got a good eye," said Ramirez. "She promoted me, after all."
I rolled my eyes, thinking about the all-too brief time when Luccio wasn't Captain Luccio, but Ana. My most recent relationship - not counting Molly what with the lack of label so far - had been with her, and it hadn't ended well when we realised there was mind magic involved on her end. It had been a more spectacularly tragic way to end a good relationship, but there were no hard feelings in something that hadn't been real. I'd moved on.
"But yeah, she decided Molly was ready for her tests today," I said. "Her scores in sensitive magics, like veils and illusions, will balance out the lower ones in raw power. Kinda like how I was strong in thaumaturgy, and, well, you know, blowing shit up."
"And horribly bad at veils," Ramirez quipped. "I know I passed my test with a combination of damned impressive evocation skills and the Ramirez charm."
I chortled. "Right. I'm getting a little static on my end - happens when I get all incredulous. So I might leave you to it, let you go hunting for summoning rituals that bring about flesh-eaters with our creature's MO. All good?"
"I've practically already basically solved it. But before I go... I can tell you're nervous, you know. She'll be fine, Harry."
"Thanks Carlos." I tapped my fingers against the side of my empty beer bottle. "Call me at Mac's if anything comes up in the next hour or so."
Once he hung up, I returned to Mac and his freshly-cooked steak sandwiches, on two plates with a side of fries. Mac, venerable bartender he was, already had another two bottles waiting, too. All I needed now was to get Jackson Yard to open up about his little problem, and with food this good, how could he not?
He showed up after a minute of me debating on whether or not I should start my sandwich right away. I swallowed the fries I'd started in on instead, and rose from the bar. His eyes darted shiftily in the room, his thin hands shaking, his chest moving in quick, frantic breaths. "Jackson," I greeted, and his eyes darted to me. "Hey, we got lunch getting cold, so come on, let's -"
But the kid bounded forward and grasped me on the arm. His grip wasn't strong, but felt urgent. "You, you, you gotta help me," he stuttered. "They knew that I - I was coming to see you today, they were waiting."
"Where?" I asked, all thoughts of lunch evaporating. "Jackson, can you tell me who they are?" He shook his head. "I need to know who they are if you want my help. If you want to lead me to them, well, I'm sorry, but I kinda need to know it's not a trap -"
"No!" A look of pure panic overtook his face. "I didn't mean to get caught up with them, but I had to -"
"Jackson, slow down." All around us, the bar's patrons were beginning to stare, and no, it wasn't because of my all-American good looks. "Let's go outside, okay?"
He seemed a little less panicky about that, and I gently guided him out of the bar, heading up the steps and out onto the street. He pointed down the left side of the street, murmuring to himself, and I gestured. "That way?" I asked. "Jackson, just tell me what's going on? Are you possessed?" I reached into my duster and took the blasting rod off its hook. "Look, kid, I want to help, but -" I blinked, and he wasn't beside me anymore. I felt him move behind me, and turned my body quickly to match, but -
Something hard smacked me on the side of my head. My ears began to ring, and darkness crept in the edges of my vision. I felt myself hit the pavement, and unconsciousness followed.
Worst. Saturday. Ever.
- - - -o- - - -
I awoke to find my face staring back at me, frowning. I couldn't feel my own face frowning, and awareness of my surroundings told me that there was nothing; no smells, no tastes, nothing to hear, and blackness in the corner of my eyes. The face in front of me was my friendly neighbourhood subconscious alter ego, who only came out to play if I'd been knocked unconscious and silly enough to have these conversations with myself. The severe frown he wore on his face complimented the clipped hair on his head and the neat goatee on his chin. He wore a black shirt and black pants, but it looked to be a nicer black than I'd ever wear, shiny and rippling despite the lack of visible light.
"You're going to get us killed," the other me said, not at all reproachfully.
"Kid was quick," I groused, feeling for my head. There was no pain, not in here, but there would be a hell of a bruise when I woke up. Well, if I woke up. I took my alternate self's presence and this mind-meeting to be a sign that I hadn't died yet. Good thing too; I wouldn't like my own death at all.
Alterna-Harry read, well, let's say my mind, and nodded. "That's good. I'd rather not die either. You're going to wake soon, and if I had to bet, you'd be a captive. Now, escaping won't be difficult, not with your captor a stripling teenager like this, will it?"
Something in his tone galled me, but I bit my retort back. "You wouldn't happen to be here just to give me a pep talk and send me on my way, would you? I don't want or need a lecture from Evil Harry."
"Not evil, just pragmatic." He took a step back from me and crossed his arms carefully, likely not wanting to ruin his shirt. "Before I send you off on your way, we do need to talk. First up, Jackson Yard. Think carefully, You know why he did that, you just haven't realised."
I let out a breath of air, took my own step back, and turned on the spot. The darkness in front of me was no different than closing my eyes, but I closed my eyes anyway. Words, images, and thoughts drifted before me. "He came to me wanting to be rid of a minor entropy curse."
"Which can be faked," said my double.
"Which was probably faked," I agreed. "Maybe he planned to do whatever he's doing to me now then, but something changed."
"Good line of thought, but reel back. Why him? Karrin gave you the file this morning."
I didn't even have to think. "Arrest records. For New York."
My double made a "go on" gesture.
"And it said he's been in and out of mental institutions. A troubled kid, with no parents, out on the street... and he'd fall in with gangs." My head pounded. He'd recently moved to Chicago, but he'd been from New York. He'd agreed to meet me, and had taken lengths to knock me unconscious when he did. The answer seemed clear enough. "Like the Liberty Gang. Half the kids were thralls on drugs and with guns, but a few had minor talents, enough to make their leader seem like a big problem. But the main guy was just an illusionary conjurer, so we know he had no real bite. Minor talents pick up their tricks as they go, and if one tried hard enough, he'd be able to... Fuck, summon things. Minor demons. Mold demons."
"Fucking mold demons," my double murmured.
"Some of the kids fell through the cracks when we took down the gang," I continued. "Some were just arrested, and the worst of the lot got the White Council's favourite kind of justice. Jackson could've either slipped out after Molly took down the leader's illusion, or hid the fact he was a talent - we gave the thralls to the cops, after all."
Alterna-Harry nodded. "Either way, he comes to seek out the nearest person who ruined his life. Us."
"But he's still a stupid kid, so he concocts a plan to get close so he can kill me. Fakes an entropy curse, I let my guard down, but he doesn't kill me. Why?"
"You're lucky I have a better memory than you, considering there's nothing better to do." My double snapped his fingers, and I suddenly felt a familiar warmth. The one I'd felt last night. "It was Molly. She showed up asking about thaumaturgy the moment you began your spell on Jackson. He recognised her as well. As the big bad witch who took control of his boss's fake demon and turned it on them. She would become the thing of nightmares to that kid, and that's what happened. He saw her, he wet himself, and he ran after you cast the spell."
"And he would've had no reason to come after me again as long as he was scared she'd be nearby," I said with a little laugh. "When I called him today I was inviting him to trap me. He must've tracked me down to the Carpenter's - if he's been hoping to get me all this time he would've known where to look for me - and he threw that mold demon-y sock. I took care of it, so he decided to grab me at Mac's. Maybe he sent the first mold demon volley to weaken me, I don't know. But at Mac's, I even told him I'd be coming alone. No Molly, no reason for him to get antsy."
"So here we are," my alter ego stepped forward and, before I could stop him, slapped me on the head. "This is by far the stupidest reason we've ever had to talk. Your life's in danger, and I'd wager the only reason you're alive right now is because he's taking you someplace more secluded than outside Mac's before he does it, or he's planning on using you to get back at Molly somehow. God only knows which contrivance is keeping you alive, but take advantage of it. Get up, kill the boy -"
I frowned at him for that.
"- and take care of the flesh-eating monster case. This whole day has been about distractions, and you need to stop. You let this kid get a one-up on you because you were distracted by Molly, and you were using the kid to distract you from the case, which of course was what you were also using to distract yourself from Molly. It's a very insufferable loop, and we're about to be killed because of it."
Okay, he had me there. There was no denying I'd been a bit off today. Normally a man who had sex the previous night would be swaggering about the city like he'd owned and had sex with it, but I guess I've been hurt too many times to not take this seriously. It was the woman that the act had been with, I knew. Hell's Bells it was Molly.
Before we could sleep, spent and panting, lying next to each other on my small bed, I had to say it. "Molls..." The word left my lips and hung cold in the air that was warm.
Her eyes lit up in the darkness, peering up at me. "No more grasshopper?"
"Definitely not after what we just did," I said, chuckling. "It was something I was saving until after you became wizard woman... Witch, whichever. Molls. Just thought I'd try it out now."
"I like it," she said, placing her head on my chest.
"The name or the sex?"
"Oh both. Definitely both."
"You're worried about her, that much is obvious," my alter ego said, snapping me back to the now.
"Wouldn't you be?" I asked sharply. "You're me."
"Yes, but I'm the part of you that's already accepted that going down that path with her might be the best option."
"Oh yeah, I forgot you were a pervert too."
He grinned, showing his teeth. "Well, I prefer unrestrained, but think about it seriously for a moment. Molly is a woman who you've genuinely connected with, who respects and cares for you, who has seen your best and your worst sides. Come on, it's obvious. Look at your other options: Elaine is a shell of the girl we everythinged. Murph is platonic, and won't let herself grow old with someone who won't for a while yet. What we had with Ana was whatever she was mind-raped into wanting, and Susan, she's changed, and she'll never be the same. That candle's burnt out. But Molly Carpenter... after last night, all your notions are pretty shattered. She's a big girl. You're a big guy."
"You're being remarkably sentimental," I told him half-heartedly; the rest of my thoughts were elsewhere, and three guesses where. I was smiling soon enough. "You old sap."
My alter ego almost seemed offended at that. "Hey, I'm trying to be advantageous here! You need to wake up, deal with the immediate threat with mold boy, go fry a mysterious flesh-eating monster, and get your mind off your doubts and fears with Molly. Think about the promise of happiness, not being lonely, et cetera et cetera... and the mind-blowing sex to come. Got it? Hell's Bells, let's do some living already."
Well I needed no more encouragement. I nodded my thanks to myself. "All right, time to wake up."
"There's a good boy." My double clicked his fingers again, and the world around him began to dissolve in colour, until there was no darkness. The other me was the last thing to disappear, and his voice echoed, "And by the way, Lash says hi!"
- - - -o- - - -
I awoke to the sound of water dripping into a puddle. Dimly I came to the realisation that yes, I was still alive, and yes, my head was throbbing with pain. Par for the course as far as these things went, so I tried instead to find out something new. My eyes opened first, slowly but surely, and they focused on the source of the dripping water. It was a rusted pipe leaking out into a small puddle on a mildewy concrete floor. Dust was thick in my nostrils, and the rest of my immediate surroundings suited the image I'd had: old, abandoned, warehouse-y like place. There were a dozen small windows high on the wall, letting in slithers of afternoon sunlight. Old steel and brick walls, and wooden support beams riddled with dark green mold; oh, that's fantastic.
My hands weren't bound, nor were my legs, though both were stinging with pain - if I had to guess, it was from Jackson dragging my unconscious ass down a street or two. I stayed where I was, moving only my eyes, just in case. Not being bound could either be him being too nervous to think about it, or...
An outline of a dark red paint was laid out before me, and a quick glance confirmed it went all around my sprawled form. Yep, magical circle. And probably not red paint either; at least it wasn't my blood.
"These things usually keep in things from the Nevernever," I remarked, sitting up, the picture of perfect calm. Jackson's yelp of surprise, coming from behind me, made me turn my head. He was standing there holding a copper knife, a strip of cloth tied around one of his wrists. Behind him, a saucepan full of green muck sat on a steel bench and bubbled almost innocently. "Rituals are fun," I added, catching sight of my personal effects propped up next to the table. "This one looks neat. What's it about?"
Jackson's eyes alighted with something other fear; it looked almost like pride. "Our leader showed me this. He brought a dog into our home and killed it like I'm going to kill you. It summoned the great demon your witch bitch tried to destroy. When I use you to fuel the ritual, it will summon a demon of power so great it'll be unstoppable. A Wizard's blood is very powerful, Mr Dresden."
I almost felt bad to burst his bubble about the so-called demon his leader had summoned, but decided against doing so just yet. He was unstable and holding a knife, and me without my usual tools on hand. I had one thing though, the bane of villains everywhere: the ability to lull them into false sense of security and/or distract them long enough for the cavalry to arrive, all while using my second-greatest weapon: my mouth.
My first was my explode-y fire explode-y powers, of course. They could wait for mold demons, though.
"I've had my head messed around a bunch," I said to start off, resting my arms on my knees, still sitting on the dusty concrete floor. "People and monsters have tried getting in, and that felt bad enough. I can't imagine what it's like for somebody being put under someone else's thrall. I've met a few, and even though they're some of the strongest beings I've ever met, they still have to live with it every day. Elaine - she was my first girlfriend - is always going to struggle with crowds and people, and even glancing on the frayed edges of her mind might turn her into a shell. Another ex, her name was Ana, was already tough as nails to begin with, and it's shaken her enough to be noticeable, and to her, that's a big deal." I shifted my body a little, tensing myself to spring up if necessary. Jackson hadn't lowered the knife, and his eyes kept darting back between the pot of placebo ritual and myself.
"I wasn't a thrall," he said.
"Can you be sure?" I asked. "Stupid question, I know, but some of the worst ones might not get realise. You're fanatically trying to continue your old master's work, so maybe he had you under one -"
"No." Jackson grit his teeth. "I did it because I wanted to. Because it meant nobody else was telling me what to do -"
Except the Liberty Gang's leader; I decided to keep that thought to myself.
"- and it felt good." The gritted teeth turned into a feral grin. "The power. Every time I summoned the demons, they gave me something in return. They made me stronger. And stronger. And stronger."
"That's called Black Magic," I told him. "You can still come back from it, Jackson. Someone very close to me has before, and she's become so much better for it."
He gave me a strange look. "You have a lot of women in your life."
"You should meet the ones that've actively tried to kill me," I replied. "Look, I know you think you're about to kill me and summon a monster and all that, but you've kinda done it wrong."
Jackson Yard stepped forward, brandishing his knife threateningly. "And how do you think so?" He nodded to the mold on the wooden support beams in the corners of the room, and murmured a garbled Latin word. The mold glowed a sickly green colour; guess he wasn't entirely unprepared, just misguided.
But I didn't let it deter me. "Well for one your Latin is as bad as mine. You been taking the correspondence course too?"
Taloned claws began to claw their way out of the moldy wood, and Jackson's knife glinted in the sunlight. Welp, no more hesitation.
"Your other mistake was just painting a circle of blood around me and thinking it was actually a magical trap of some kind." I reached my arm out in his direction, but my focus was on the table behind him. "I always wanted to do this. Forzare!"
My staff, all the weight of a thick wooden pole near as tall as me, flew through the air instantly. I directed my force towards me, my hands reeling it in like it was an absurdly wooden staff-shaped fish. Chitinous dark green arms and torsos were starting to form out of the walls by the time my staff crossed the length of the room. It spun in the air like a pinwheel, and I held out my hand to grasp it -
- but Jackson turned on the spot and caught it himself. With his face. He went down instantly with a spurt of blood exploding out of his nose, the copper knife clattering on the concrete.
Not that stopped my staff at all; I caught it easily. "Fun."
The bestial roars of the mold demons snapped me back into battle mode very quickly. There was no mistaking I was in some actual danger here, with demonic body shapes starting to appear in all four corners of the warehouse.
I considered it.
The situation required lots of fire.
It wouldn't be the first building I'd burned down, and honestly, definitely not my last.
But... I had to stay my fire-happy hand. Taking down four support beam's worth of mold demons would be a good idea in theory, but the whole roof collapsing on me and Jackson wouldn't be good at all in practice. I grit my teeth, pointed my staff at the nearest wall, and blew a neat little hole in it. The things Jackson had taken off of me were quickly retrieved, and the unconscious kid himself was the first one out the hole. Before I went through, I aimed my staff at the warehouse's door - across the way - and lit it on fire. I don't have a thing for fire, honest.
The moment I was out of the warehouse via my hole and in the sunlight, I worked quickly. With a whispered "Fuego," I sealed the hole I'd made in flames, and hurriedly fished a piece of chalk out of my pocket.
See, outright blowing up the building now would take a fair load of effort, and there was always the risk of any surrounding buildings, run-down and all, being destroyed and people losing their lives. My other option was to kill the summoner - Jackson - but it was likely the demons would just go more independent now; it's not like Jackson looked like he had a lot of control over them, after all. Worse still, I wouldn't be killing the kid, not for just being a stupid kid. So, my option of least resistance was to lean down onto the asphalt, hold the chalk carefully, and begin to draw a circle. The warehouse was big, but I had long legs, a good drawing skill, and the screaming and chittering mold demons were too busy trying to scramble out of the building after finding themselves blocked by two fiery exits. I briefly wondered how long it would taken them to bash trough steel, but figured some kind of natural Nevernever-y resistance to iron would make them wary.
I was almost halfway done when I heard a window smash. Oh yeah, they could decide to climb up the walls and out the windows. There was always that option.
I ran faster, panting and swearing under my breath, "Fucking Saturdays. Why can't it be Friday again, huh? Friday was good dammit!"
Jackson's unconscious form awaited me as I turned one last corner, my chalk damn near to its nub after snapping it in my haste to not let those mold demons let loose. Glass rained down on me, and I glanced up to see the demons's heads - three horned, with disjointed mandibles and hissing green tongues lined with spikes - peering down at me. There seemed to be a great scramble for them to get out, but they wouldn't be anytime soon. I reached the end of my circle and forced my will - and the foolish hope that the circle wasn't too rectangular - as I closed it with the chalk.
What sounded like a million balloons bursting at once followed, and a flood of pinkish-green ectoplasmic slime poured down the walls in a fall and puddled at my feet.
"Ugh," I murmured, though internally I was cheering.
Mold Demons: Zero. Harry Dresden: Fucking Awesome.
- - - -o- - - -
The warehouse had suffered minor burns and a fair case of ectoplasmic flooding, but would live to warehouse another day. After making sure there were no moldy stragglers, I tied Jackson to a streetlamp, found a nearby payphone and called Murph to take care of him and the scene. I collected my tired self and found my way back to Mac's soon after, walking in to find my beer and sandwich were still were I'd left them.
Jackson's was on its plate too, and I ate that with particular relish. I had definitely earned it.
I was halfway done with the second sandwich when Mac walked up, nonplussed by my reappearance in his pub after disappearing for what I think was nearly an hour, and handed me his old phone, one of the old cream-coloured rotaries with a cord and everything. "Ramirez," was all Mac said before leaving me to it. Good man, Mac.
"Sup Carlos," I said through a bite of sandwich. "Anything on our flesh-eating monster?" I swallowed my own delicious cow flesh after saying that, too. Mmmm.
"Now don't be afraid to call me a genius, dinosaur, but it's a wendigo."
I searched my mind for any refrences. "Flesh-eating monsters that were once cannibalistic humans? Aren't they from Native American folklore?"
"So are the naagloshii, and I seem to recall you encountering one of them -" I shuddered at that and put down my sandwich. Stupid Carlos. "- but wendigos are the real deal. Rare, but powerful enough. See, I called the Paranet, and got to talking with a woman named Tania McCready - she's from Philly, and told us the first victim was a minor talent, wicca mostly, who taught her the ropes years back."
"Lorena Maitland was a wicca?" I asked. "Wendigos are summoned from the Nevernever, and the killings -"
"- started after Halloween, fancy that," Carlos said dryly. "Tania thinks Lorena summoned it, and I agree. She says that Lorena liked to test herself and stretch her summoning muscles. Summoning the wendigo required her to ingest human flesh, even."
I considered that. When it came to summoning some of the bigger and badder creatures, a connection of sorts would have to be established, especially if you didn't have the power to do it without it. If Lorena Maitland was just a plain ol' wicca, not a heavyweight like me, she would need that connection. Combine that with the natural weakening of the boundaries of the Nevernever and our world on Halloween, and bam, that would be that.
"So the wendigo gets called up, and Lorena loses control," I guessed. "Goes on a rampage."
I could almost hear Carlos's nod. "I looked at the lore, and it says the wendigo starts as a spirit that can possess humans who have eaten human flesh. The spirit must've escaped Lorena's control, but the wendigo decided not to just posses her. She was a shrivelled old thing, anyways. It went out and found someone else in Philly who'd eaten human flesh one disgusting time."
"And in a big city, there would always be one, having done it willingly or otherwise," I said. "And it would just be another guy in a city having gone missing. One cannibal guy, so... gross."
"Si. Once the spirit possesses someone, it transforms them as it eats more and more cannibals, and becomes stronger. After every kill it moves on to a new hunting ground; they're pretty stupid creatures, but still hunters."
"And after it killed and ate bits of Lorena, it moved on the nearest city with the biggest population," I surmised. "It smells out a fellow cannibal and gets them, like Paul Kennedy and Laura Sidewinder. Okay, I get it. Weaknesses?"
"Sunlight, fire, the usual things spirits are allergic to."
Well, maybe I'd get to build a burn a building down today after all.
Yay! I mean... Not yay. Okay, I may be concussed, just a little.
"They're also ritualistic in their hunting," said Carlos. "Slow eaters, so once they grab somebody and take them back to their lairs, you might be able to get in and save them before it's too late... If you had any idea where you could find the wendigo, of course."
As a matter of fact, I did. I thanked Carlos, hung up the phone, and made another call as I finished the last of the sandwich. After, I gathered my things and headed outside the tavern and to the mighty Blue Beetle. Time for a trip.
- - - -o- - - -
My outgoing call had taken me across the city, to another warehouse district with some that were actually being used by people these days. I took a quick lap around the area with the Beetle and then on foot, and eventually found a shiny blue Mercedes parked in the barely-filled parking lot outside a squat little brick building on the outskirts. When the driver saw me approach, he got out, and a giant monster of a dog followed him.
I grinned at Mouse, who gave me a doggy grin in reply, his tongue lolling out. "You found it? Good boy." I looked at the man who'd been driving the car; he was lean, fit, and rather unremarkable looking for someone his age. "And here's your partner. Success?"
"You're the worst private investigator I've ever met," Vince Graver said. "Outsourcing. Again."
"I've been distracted," I told him. "Besides, what kind of man would I be if I didn't let this unlikely partnership between man and dog grow? This is like Turner and Hooch!"
Mouse wiggled his tail happily and I patted him. "Good work Turner," I said, and turned to Vince. "You didn't go inside right, Hooch?"
Vince nodded, frowning. "From what you said on the phone, probably not a good idea."
Smart man. Vince was good like that; I'd used him once before to help unhand a traitor in the White Council, because hey, I liked the kid's moxie. I'd called him up for the job today to find the darkest little hidey holes a flesh-eating monster could be hiding, and sent Mouse along to sniff it out and protect Vince, just in case there was a trip to Undertown involved. With everything else on my plate I thought it best to spread my resources out, and even though Vince's work would cost me a bit of money, it was well worth it.
"So..." Vince said, as I scoped out the warehouse where the wendigo was holed up. Looked burnable.
"So," I replied.
"I don't really want to break professionalism in the middle of whatever this is, but I have a question."
"You, uh, still have that apprentice?" For the first time I'd seen him, Vince looked closer to his age, bashfully shuffling one of his feet. "The one built like a Swedish beer calendar model? Molly?"
I smiled to myself. In hindsight, that had been a rather glorious day. I wondered briefly if I could get her to make me a calendar and give it to me for Christmas. That would be a glorious year.
"What about her?" I asked, amused.
"She promised to call for a date, and, well, I did never get it. Just wondering if she's still around. Might wanna try again."
"I doubt it," I said, absently stroking Mouse's ears. "She's with someone now. Huge guy, might kick your ass. Sorry Vince."
He sighed and left it at that, melting into professional PI Vince just as quickly as it had gone. "Figures," he murmured.
I almost felt like whistling; must've been my alternate ego shining through again.
"All right, here's the game plan," I said after a solid minute of staring at the warehouse. "I've already given you Karrin Murphy's phone number, and you're going to call her up now; tell her to bring a team. Mouse is going to stay out here just in case the wendigo gets out, and I'll go in and do some monster-killing."
"Wendigo?" Vince asked.
"Flesh-eating monster who gets more powerful eating cannibals. If he's already eating his newest, he might be a little more powerful." I cricked my neck and grasped for my blasting rod; I'd left the staff in the car for this one. "Well, without further ado. Vince, start calling. Time to get ready."
"Wait, you're just going alone?" Vince said, concerned. "If you get yourself killed -"
"You'll still get paid, you consummate professional you," I retorted. "The longer I wait the more time this thing has to escape or finish killing a potential victim, and I can't allow that. No backup, just me." I nodded to him. "Don't worry Hooch, I'll be back."
I strolled forward, the setting sun beating on my back, my blasting rod twirling in my hand. I affixed my mind with a good memory of last night to push me inside.
It was her eyes I focused on, in the heat of the moment, just as I had before I'd given in and just let it all happen. It felt good, to search hers with mine; the last woman I'd been with I hadn't soulgazed, but Molly and I had a long time ago. They were so damn blue and big, shining with trust and lust and something else as we moved and moved. I liked watching them flutter and move, because there were no secrets left hidden. I could see her, she could see me. It felt warm.
Ten guesses what happened next.
Buildings. Fire. Been there. Done that. Moving on... The wendigo and I had our final showdown in the warehouse's smoke-filled parking lot. The battle inside had been a close one; one of its claws had raked down my left shoulder, so I'd taken it off with a blast of force, but that hadn't slowed it down. So, in my infinite wisdom, I'd desperately stabbed my blasting rod in its stomach and set it on fire from the inside.
And no, in hindsight, impaling it with my only weapon was not a good idea, but still, it was on fire.
The wendigo was built like a pro wrestler, and didn't much resemble the person it had possessed apart from general human-like shape. Corded, thick, muscle covered its arms and legs, but its stomach was almost skeletal and what stomach there should've been was a hollow husk. Its face was overcome with a thick snout-like muzzle, and its teeth were so large it couldn't close its lipless mouth around it. Beady black eyes stared me down, and I stared right back.
It broke first, screeching and lashing out with its remaining claw, and it would've taken my head off had I not been quicker and had it not been on fucking fire. It was only a matter of time I darted forward and seized my blasting rod lodged in its sternum. The wendigo let out a bestial roar of pain as I ripped it out, and I would've been rendered into mashed Harry potatoes had the fire not finished it off. The wendigo dissolved into a pile of ash on the concrete in front of me, while I limped backwards and leaned on a helpful nearby Ford.
The fire department showed up a few minutes later, and I was soon taken aside by Murph, Vince and Mouse hovering nearby.
"I'm not even going to ask if you killed it," she said, glancing back at what was left of the building. "Two buildings in one day?"
"I didn't light the first on fire," I retorted, before adding, "Well, not as much as this one. You're welcome."
Murph's lips quirked in a little smile. "I can take it from here, and don't worry, I'll make sure they don't arrest you for burning down another one."
"Thanks," I said sardonically, but it was an honest kind of sardonic.
"Jackson Yard's been locked up too," Murph said. "A stay in a psychiatric facility might do him good, unless you'd rather your side takes care of him."
I shuddered at that; Jackson would be a goner if the White Council got him. "I'll check on him someday soon, make sure he doesn't try anything."
"Good..." She sighed tiredly. "Hell of a day. Drinks later?"
I shook my head. "Early start tomorrow. Gonna show up to Mass, and I'm going to make sure Molls is all right after today."
"I'm sure she'll be fine, like you said this morning," Murphy assured me, not commenting on my use of Molls.
"Yeah." I grinned. "She's great, but you are too, don't worry. I know I don't say it much, but you're a decent fun-sized greatness."
"Dresden if I wasn't this tired I'd sock you."
"It was a compliment. Do I have to call up Kincaid and ask if he gets away with short jokes too?"
Oddly enough, the mention of Kincaid made her cheeks flush a little. "Shut up," she said.
It was possible I was concussed from earlier, but that probably wasn't an excuse for asking, "Have you and he been... you know? Lately?"
She let out a tiny imperceptible nod before catching herself. "I am so not having this conversation with you."
I'm sure a part of me from a yesterday would've wilted a little at that; whatever was there between me and her, lingering and dying because of it, I didn't need to think about. That she'd take up with Kincaid again, who was far more immortal than me and would hurt her more than whatever reasons she avoided getting with me years ago, might've made me angry... but I didn't feel that. I wouldn't be pointing out her hypocrisy anytime soon, because, well, then I would be the hypocrite. After all, I'd once convinced myself I'd never fuck Molly three ways from Friday. Things change.
"Aww shucks," I joked. "Alrighty Murph, I'll leave you to it. "
She said her goodbyes and headed off with the rest of boys in blue, and I said my own goodbyes to Vince, collected Mouse, and made the trip back to my office.
There was a message waiting on my answering machine, and I let it play as I grabbed a can of Coke and collapsed on my chair. It felt good to relax, injured and battered though I was by the long day. Mouse padded in after me, shut the door with his nose, and snuggled into the floor just as the answering machine beeped for the first time.
The message was from a woman with a wizened, reedy, voice, one I didn't recognise. "Err, Warden Dresden? My name is Tania McCready - Warden Ramirez and I talked about... about Lorena. I just wanted to call you and say I was sorry." Tania sighed. "Lorena was a great woman, Mr Dresden, but got herself into situations she shouldn't have. She was always pushing and pushing, and sometimes she got pushed back. I loved her like an older sister I never had, but I always knew it'd end this way. A wendigo of all things... Lorena always had a talent for pissing off powers beyond her. It was part of why I loved her, and partly why I'm just... She killed those people by letting that creature loose, I won't deny that. Sometimes it's up to the student to take responsibility for the teacher, and I'll do it now. I should've checked up on her more. I should've kept in touch enough to know she'd died not two weeks after the fact. I could've saved those lives... I am sorry to bug you like this, but I just needed someone to apologise to, and given that you probably killed the creature today, I should thank you as well. Thank you Mr Dresden. You did the right thing."
The machine beeped again; no more new messages. My Coke was still in my hands, but I hadn't taken another sip since Tania McCready had started talking about her teacher.
It sounded like something I'd do to Molly. Leave her and a trail of bodies behind, with more people dying because I did something stupid or reckless.
I finished my Coke as fast as possible and vacated my office, Mouse in tow. It was dark when I got back into the Blue Beetle to make the trip home, and my thoughts suddenly felt darker. My alter ego would've said that my lack of other distractions was making me all the more antsy to see Molly again. What was I going to say to her, really? Sorry, but this will be fun for a while until one of us dies so I shouldn't risk it?
Hell's. Fucking. Bells.
What was I getting myself into?
I slammed the door to my apartment behind me when I got inside. Mouse walking off to the kitchen, and Mister came round my legs with demanding eyes, and I fed them automatically. I soon found myself looking around my apartment like I had this morning. No note, no message, no nothing. I found one of her socks under my bed, though, but that didn't make me feel any better. No note, no message.
It drove me to picking out two bottles of Mac's ale and making a dent in one of them. I sat on my couch in a funk, almost hating myself for being in this mood in the first place. I'd been so sure earlier when it had suited my need to focus, but maybe I had to be realistic.
Maybe if she's going to ask if there's something, maybe I'll have to lie and say no.
"Fuck," I muttered.
The phone rang before I started in on the second bottle. My mind clicked as it took in the time, realising that Molly's tests... would've been finished more than two hours ago. This was it; the call if they were telling me she passed or failed, and would die with me following. The latter might be almost preferable; almost romantic in a tragic way.
I snorted and answered the phone after two rings. "Hello."
"Harry?" The voice was strong and kind; Michael Carpenter's. "She just got home."
My stomach did a flip. "She passed?" I asked, my voice strained.
"With gusto, she said." Michael let out a relieved laugh. "She was out of it after all that magic, so didn't have anything sensible to say. She's good, Harry. She's passed and she's alive and tired, but good."
"She did it. She's one hell of a woman."
"She did it." Michael ignored the usage of "hell" and went on to thank me profusely, which what was pretty much what I expected; I didn't hear it over my heartbeat, beating so fast and wildly in relief I felt like vomiting up all the bad feelings of before. Michael's soothing voice soon brought be back to reality, though, with, "I really can't thank you enough. Molly neither. She told me to tell you she owed you 'big time' for it. Mentioned a reward of some kind, I don't know, she was babbling a little. She's sleeping now."
Reward, eh? I smiled. I just smiled. "Thanks Michael. Take care of her for m-"
I suddenly realised I was conversing with the father of the girl I'd had sex with last night.
I still smiled.
"I will, don't worry," Michael said, not catching my slip. "I received Father Forthill's message from you, as well. So you'll be joining us at Mass tomorrow morning?"
"Of course," I said. "She'll be there?"
"Of course," Michael echoed. "I'll see you then, Harry."
All in all, I decided as I placed my phone back down on the receiver, Saturdays weren't so bad after all. Sundays might be even better, once I got a chance to talk it out with Molly. I had a good feeling now. I had a good feeling about a lot of things.
Sure there'd be complications, more than a few given my life, but at the end of the day I still smiled at the thought of her, and that meant something. That meant the world right now. I woke up cold this morning, and I was no less cold when I fell asleep tonight, but there was a phantom warmness within me, one that kept that stupid grin on my face.
- - - -o- - - -
Dawn had well and truly broken when I arrived at St Mary's in my ever-protesting yet ever-reliable Blue Beetle. The air was crisp on my crisper collared shirt and dress pants; I doubted the need for the leather duster inside the protection of the great old church. Six a.m. on a Sunday morning inside a church was about as safe as I was gonna get, and I liked that feeling. I didn't have the same faith as Michael, but walking into the church still stirred something inside of me. I trailed behind a few other churchgoers, from the bleary-eyed young to the hale old folks. I spotted the Carpenters' van sitting in a spot close to the church proper, next to but not in the handicap spots; Michael would never accept taking one of those spots for himself over someone else who might need it too. Michael was good that way.
The service hadn't yet started as I approached the steps. People were still pouring in, and the smells and sounds I always associated with church were only in their early stages. It all seemed pretty simple, uncomplicated, and it helped paint an image I wanted to keep in mind as I spotted her.
She was standing by the doors, her head leaning against the stone wall and her eyes closed. She looked like she was almost asleep, and I smiled; she had been asleep last time I'd seen her, too. I took in the sight of her for the moment, the blonde hair cascading over her shoulders, with those defiant little dark red and purple tips. She was dressed in her Sunday best, plaid skirt, buttoned cardigan and tights, hardly her style but she didn't have that teenage streak of rebellion anymore; she didn't fight when Charity laid out clothes like this anymore. She'd grown up, that's for sure.
"Tired?" I asked her, grinning as her eyes snapped open at the sound of my voice. "I was wrecked after my test, and hungry too. Ebenezar claimed I ate six cow's worth of hamburger meat in two days after, too."
Molly Carpenter smiled back. "I could go for that too..." Her eyes lit up. "Hi, Harry."
"Molls," I said, tipping my head and enjoying the sight of her smiling even wider. "Family inside?"
"Front row seats, saved two for us."
She took a step closer, and so did I. We just sorta looked at each other; no need for huge public displays of affection in front of a church this early in the morning, and after all, we still had to talk about things first.
"I'm glad you passed," I said lowly. "Wizard Carpenter. Sounds nice."
"Witch," she corrected.
"Semantics." I winked at her. "You're not my apprentice anymore."
"I know, but I could still stand to learn some... things."
"So could I."
"How about private lessons?"
"You did mention a reward for my services, right?"
"Maybe after breakfast. You're not wrong about wanting food right now."
"Mac could have a nice Sunday Special. After the show?"
"I'd like that." She tipped her head to inside of the church. "But first..."
I followed her through the church to the front, scarcely taking my eyes off of her. Breakfast sounded nice, and private lessons even nicer. Doubts? Pshaw. Fears? Fuck it. Watching her walk in that skirt? Good times. Molly and I'd pull through, I just knew it. Call me sappy, but the time to hesitate was through, and if things would work out, I wouldn't be complaining.
I happily slid into a pew next to her, and found myself reaching for her hand where no one could see. She received the grip and held on. It was nice.
Father Forthill was staring at us from his altar when I looked up, his eyes darting back and forth, maybe seeing the hands, maybe not. I wondered if he put together what I'd been babbling to him yesterday, and felt momentarily worried... Until he nodded, smiled reassuringly, and nodded again. The second time, his chin was pointed elsewhere, down the row of the pew where the rest of Molly's family was sitting.
There were her brothers and sisters, Michael with his cane and his bible, and...
A shiver went down my spine. Oh, fuck. I'd completely forgotten about Charity Carpenter. She was looking my way when those steely eyes, and well, even though we got along a lot more recently than we'd ever done, I could feel my balls being tightened in a vice and pulverised to dust - which would definitely happen two seconds after she figured out what I'd done to her daughter.
Molly stiffened beside me too, having no doubt realised at the exact same time. She squeezed my hand tighter in an iron grip, formidable and warm. Guess that meant we were in this together after all.
Okay, so maybe having Charity kill me sometime soon would be worth it, just for this.
Yeah, it definitely would.
- - - -o- - - -
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Author's Note: I know I know, bit heavy on the sap, but this pairing needs some love. I also noticed that, with this, Two Weeks and Darkness and Light, I have a bad habit of writing only the guy's PoV when it comes to ruminating over the gal they're infatuated with, and I intend to fix that with my next fic having a bit of a female PoV if I can pull it off. And no, don't quite know what's next, but there's always more pairings I want to experiment with while still having a somewhat decent oneshot story-ish basis. Plenty of fandoms, too, from ASOIAF to Community and maybe even a return to SGU for a Two Weeks sequel. Until then, thanks for reading!
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