If Only

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The soft amber light from the fire played with the shadows in his hair, casting shadows of devilish horns and angelic wings among the dark strands. Dark stubble covered his chin, giving him a sort of rakish charm and accentuating his sharp features. I studied the angular lines of his face; exhaustion was ever-present, but it did nothing to dampen his attractiveness. There were barely there laugh-lines in the corner of his dark eyes, and his teeth held his bottom lip softly as he concentrated.

I quickly looked away when he raised his warm brown eyes from his task. Even without looking at them, I could remember what I had seen in our soulgaze mere months before.

I was standing on the edge of a broken bridge, worn concrete threaten to collapse beneath my feet. It was dark, and I could see storm clouds rolling overheard. Across the chasm before me stood Harry Dresden. Wind tossed his dark hair about his face and lightning flashed behind him, casting the world in bright light for a brief moment. In the second of blinding light, I could see the shadow of torn and broken wings behind him, stretching at least eight feet across. Harry himself was bathed in an odd light. Cold blue light seemed to radiate from his chest, at odds with the almost burning red that illuminated his hands, flames held in his palms. His narrow mouth was twisted in an expression halfway between pain and pleasure, eyes flashing with fury and joy. Scars covered his skin, but they only seemed to add to the feeling of strength and power that radiated from the man before me.

Outside of the circle of red and blue light surrounding Harry I could hear inhuman howls and very human cackling. I could hear whispers begging him to come and threatening to destroy him in the same breath. He only raised his head defiantly, and the light grew brighter, the voices fading as I did as well.

Harry's soul was scarred and beaten, but nowhere near broken. He was at war with himself as well as the rest of the world.

Looking at him, I felt a rush of emotions. I felt ashamed of myself and my mistakes. I felt simultaneously excited and relaxed. I felt horribly weak and insignificant next to the power I knew he possessed. I wanted desperately to help him, though I knew not how.

Even before I'd looked into his soul, I'd felt something for the man sitting before me. Afterwards, though, I fell in love with him. I'd never understood the weight burden he bore, the amount pain he took on willingly so nobody else would have to deal with it. He'd done it for me, too; he did it for a lot of people.

I never told my mother what I'd seen in his soul. I think she would've been ashamed that she'd treated him so poorly all those years, but I couldn't bear the thought of sharing what I'd seen with her or anybody else. I liked the thought of seeing a part of Harry that nobody else knew.

I raised my eyes again to find that he'd turned back to the fire and had resumed repairing the carvings on his staff. I fought the urge to reach out and stroke his face. He'd made it very clear the first day that there was never going to be an 'us'. He was the teacher, and I was the student, nothing more.

He breathed out softly holding up the staff to get a better look at his work, double checking all the markings to be sure they were all correct. Then he turned towards me and his face broke out in a crooked smile. I felt my heart hammer against my chest a little faster.

He should smile more, I thought. The look was more natural on his face than the seemingly permanent scowl.

"Next week you'll get to choose what kind of focus item you want to use, grasshopper." The smile stayed on his face, and I couldn't help but think how much brighter the room seemed when he smiled.

"S-sounds great, Harry," I stumbled over the first word, my mind still muddled from thinking about our soulgaze, which was every bit as clear as it had been that first day.

A load HONK informed the two of us that my mother had arrived to pick me up. I cleared my throat quietly and rose from the soft couch. "Mom's here," I said.

The smile faded, but his face stayed relaxed and contentment showed in his eyes. "Grab your bag; I'll walk you out."

"Great," I rolled my eyes. "Let's she doesn't try to kill you."

"Hey!" He protested as he rose from his seat. "Charity secretly loves me and you know it." He waggled his dark eyebrows, a mischievous grin forming, reminding me vaguely of a Cheshire cat.

I tried to suppress a giggle at his face, and only barely succeeded, choking out a cough instead. I grabbed my bag from the floor and started trying to tug his warped door open. It took a few pulls, but I finally opened it wide enough for both of us to walk out of. I heard him chuckle at the effort I had to use to open it, and turned to stick my tongue out at him. He responded very maturely by sticking his own tongue out at me as he knocked my head lightly with his staff.

I huffed and stuck my nose in the air, walking up the cement steps of his basement apartment into the chilly Chicago air. Mom stood on the sidewalk in front of the apartment. She struggled to keep her scowl in place as Harry and I walked up to meet her, but I could see some friendliness shining in her eyes.

"Weren't you supposed to drive her home today?"

"The mighty Beetle is taking a vacation."

Mom snorted, a small smile tugging at her lips. "It died again, didn't it?"

Harry gasped in mock offense. "The Beetle never dies, Charity. Any other car would be scrap metal by now."

"Your car is scrap metal," I quipped.

"Well now I'm being double-teamed. I surrender."

Mom didn't even bother to hide her smile at Harry's decidedly childish pout. "Smart boy."

Dry lightning cracked across the sky, bathing us in a white light and bringing me back to the soulgaze. I blinked away the images of light and darkness.

"Time to get a move on, ladies," Harry said. "See you tomorrow."

"Good night, Mister Dresden," Harry opened my mom's door for her before walking around and doing the same for me.

"Good night, Charity, Grasshopper," Harry smiled and winked at me as he backed away from the door, waving with his gloved hand as Mom pulled away into the street.

"If only he could avoid trouble for ten minutes he might be able to find himself money enough for a decently sized apartment," Mom mused aloud.

If only a lot of things, I thought pathetically. If only Harry could avoid trouble long enough to… My thoughts trailed off. Long enough to what?

"Love me, too," I whispered sadly.

"Hm?"

"He can feel the love, too, Mom," I spoke a little louder, altering my words.

If only he could feel the love, too…

A/N: I'm re-reading the series and thought back to this story. Re-reading it, I realized how much work it really needed. Still not fantastic, but definitely better, I think. Read and review, folks.