The traffic cameras were pulled up on my laptop as well as Hendricks's, and we sat in tense silence as we glared at the images as though we could will them into showing us what we wanted. I felt as though I was playing a high-stakes version of Where's Waldo?
The sound of Hendricks's phone broke the tension, and we both had to suppress our reactions. The fact that we both went for a gun rather than simply jumping spoke volumes to our occupations and states of mind. We both glared at the offending device sitting on Hendricks's desk. Finally, he growled and picked it up after the third ring.
"Who is this?"
A pause as whoever was on the other end spoke.
"Merlin?" He breathed out, the tension leaking away from his shoulders. He set the phone down and pressed speaker.
"Um, yeah. It's me. Look, I… I'm okay." He didn't sound okay, and Hendricks and I both knew it. "John's there, too, right?"
"Yes," I managed to force out despite my lack of breath. I was waiting for somebody to snatch the phone away from him, demand a ransom.
"I wanted… I needed you guys to know no one… took me or anything," he hesitated on "took", and I was considered the truth of his words. He could have been taken and was lying about it under duress, or he could be speaking in circles and technicalities.
"Where are you?" Hendricks asked.
"I've got this, okay? Just… don't worry about me. I'm going to talk to her. I'm going to sort this out."
"Harry-" I started.
"Bye," he cut me off. "I'm sorry."
We listened to the dial tone for a solid minute before either of us so much as twitched. I mulled over Harry's choice in words. Subconsciously or consciously, he had hinted at the culprit. Something clicked in my mind.
"He said he was going to talk to her," Hendricks looked hard at me. "Her. It's a woman. How many women does Harry regularly speak with that terrify him this badly?"
"Winter Queens, his Godmother, and maybe Elaine," Hendricks listed off, his eyes narrowed.
I nodded. "Let's start with Elaine. She is a resident of Chicago – a human one – and she'll be the simplest to locate."
I could see the anger flash across Hendricks's features, nearly imperceptible. Harry loved Elaine, even if he did not trust her fully. I could feel the muscle in my jaw twitch, as well. I did not take kindly to somebody endangering the lives of those I cared for.
"Bye," I cut in and, after a small hesitation, added, "I'm sorry."
"Goddammit," I whispered resting my head in my hands for a moment.
I'm meant to talk to them for maybe a bit longer, explain myself. But then I remembered that it they knew anything, they would get involved. Maybe I would explain the situation to them… After I understood the situation, after I had fixed it.
But I had no time for that now. I would need to puzzle this out on the fly. I didn't move for a while, my mind piling one thought on top of the other, never quite finishing one. I was tired and hurting and scared and confused. But that was okay. Because tomorrow I was meeting with Lea, and we could talk this out.
Probably not, but I was a glass-half-full kind of guy.
"Ready to go?" Michael's quiet words were preceded by a quiet knock.
"Yeah." I didn't even have the energy to flinch at his sudden appearance. I tried to hide a wince as I rose from my spot on the chair. "Thank you."
We kept quiet as we walked back into the main room, for which I was both grateful and bothered. I didn't want to talk to Michael, but I didn't want to be alone in my head either. Charity and Father Forthill were sitting in a pew nearby, rising when they saw us.
The Father offered me a small square of paper, which, upon further investigation, was revealed to have a phone number and address written down.
"In case you ever need somewhere safe," he explained at my look of confusion. "The address is for the Church, and the number is my personal line."
"Thanks," I said, ducking my head down.
I was beginning to feel as though I owed these people something. Things, even support or a ride, were rarely freely given in my world. I bit my tongue to hold back the torrent of words in my throat.
I stood there awkwardly as Michael and Charity bade the Father goodbye, inviting him over for dinner on Sunday. I did my best to ignore the glancing that the Father kept shooting in my direction.
The walk outside was just as awkward for me, filled with heavy silence. Stepping outside I was reminded of my lack of footwear, and the only reason I didn't jump tent feet in the air at the feel of the cold concrete was my physical inability to do so. Luckily Michael and Charity didn't notice. If they gave me shoes, too, I might start pledging my fealty or something.
Michael's truck was huge, seating five comfortably, plus a truck bed that even I could sleep in. Still no words were said as we climbed into the cab, Michael holding the door open for Charity and me. The first five minutes of the drive were full of the same pregnant silence.
"The Sergeant," Charity finally spoke, breaking the heavy silence. I could practically hear it shatter. "You two knew each other."
I presumed she already knew the answer to that and was just trying to fill up the quiet cab with something other than near-palpable tension. "Yeah. She was there when I woke up the first time."
"She mentioned a Marcone as she left." Oh Shit. "Was she referring to Gentleman Johnny Marcone?"
For the first time since I'd met her, Charity's voice was sharp. I swallowed hard.
The silence reigned again. My temper finally caught up with what she had said and the tone behind the words, but I held it in check.
"John –" I could practically hear her teeth click together as I used his first name. Oops. "Marcone is… I've known him since I was a kid. Yeah, I know what he is, what he does. But I also know what other people would do in his position. Things with him are better than they could be."
"Even a lesser evil is still an evil," Michael spoke quietly. My temper was building to quickly to notice the lack of bite or judgement in his words.
I knew what people thought of Gentleman Johnny Marcone. He was a mobster. He was a killer. He was a drug dealer. He was a pimp. He was a criminal, through and through. And all of this was true – for the Gentleman.
But John, when he was around me, even around Hendricks, was John. He told bizarre jokes. He nagged me about my grades. He taught me how to cook "real Italian food". He helped me buy furniture for my apartment. He wasn't the same person, and it killed me to see how much other people hated him without knowing him.
I ground my teeth together, ignoring the headache as I did so. "He's not…" I blew out a breath, expelling my frustrations and trying to collect my thoughts. "You think he's a Bad Guy. But, really, there are no Bad Guys, no Good Guys. Even good men do terrible things, and even bad men can do beautiful things. There is no black and white for people; we live in shades of grey. If J-Marcone didn't do what he did, who would? – Because you know somebody would. – Vargassi? Since Marcone took over, civilian murders have dived down over fifty percent. So, yeah, a lesser evil is still an evil, but it's a necessary evil."
I didn't tell them about the one time that I'd boiled over a pot of pasta, and John had made himself a Fu-Manchu mustache out of the overdone noodles. I didn't tell them about how John had taught me to speak Italian. I didn't tell them about John's secret love for homemade coconut pie. I didn't tell them that John had taken me to my first ballgame.
I could've told them a million amazing things about Chicago's professional monster that made him seem all too human, but I didn't.
I swallowed back my words and memories and waited for an angry word, a retort. This was a fight I was prepared to get involved in. John had given me too much over the years for me not to defend him from people who didn't know him.
But none came.
This time the silence was contemplative rather than heavy, and I felt the fight leech out of me. The flash of protective anger had drained the last reserves of my dwindling energy, and I slumped bonelessly against the seat.
"I assume you two are close?" Michael asked after a few moments.
"Yeah," I murmured. "Like family."
Even in my exhausted state I caught the worried glance between husband and wife in the front seat.
"e's not gonna come after you or anythin'. I tol' 'im I was okay." I was dropping consonants now, a sure sign I was about two seconds away from passing out.
I heard Michael – or maybe Charity – say something in response, but couldn't quite make out the words. I couldn't tell if it was exhaustion or head trauma, but I finally let my eyes slide close. Relieved at the silence, I drifted into oblivion.
"If you say so," I said, disbelief evident in my tone.
I glanced back when Harry didn't leap to the Marcone's defense as he had before to find him slumped against the door, fast asleep.
"Out like a light."
Michael smiled slightly by way of response, but it faded quickly, replaced by a frown that looked out of place on his laugh-lined features. I took his hand in mine and squeezed it fiercely, a gesture which he returned before sighing.
"Michael, about Marcone..." I trailed off, unsure how to finish my own thought.
He squeezed my hand again. "You think he might be looking for our friend in the backseat."
"I agree. But I cannot turn him away. He needs help, and God has brought him to me." I smiled slightly; I expected nothing less from my husband. His compassion never ceased to amaze me. "But I don't know where to go from here. God has shown no further guidance."
I could see the pain lining Michael's face. His faith was his foundation, just as mine was. He was at a loss at how to continue.
"Do you agree with him? About good and bad?" I asked Michael at length, my voice soft.
"I think that I am granted more clarity than most on the nature of the two, and that I - and you - live in a different world than he does. Good and evil are concrete things to us, but Harry doesn't see things that way."
"Do you think that makes him dangerous?"
He paused before answering this time, his eyes turned skyward. I could tell he was praying. So was I.
"I think that he could be if he wanted to be. He has dangerous friends, at the least."
I leaned against the headrest, stroking Michael's hand with my thumb. "I don't think he means to hurt us. I think he's afraid."
He hummed in response. "Yes, I believe so. I can only hope that I'll be able to help him."
"I know you will."
Michael nodded along with my words, bringing up my hand to kiss my knuckles. "And this is why I love you," he mumbled against my skin.
I smiled and he dropped my hand from his face to continue driving but held on. The silence was punctuated by only the noises of Chicago nightlife and the dull sound of the heater. My chest ached strangely as I considered out conversation. Michael would do anything in his power to help Harry who we both believed to be dangerous or at least involved with dangerous people. Michael's job was by definition dangerous, but that did nothing to lessen my worry. I always worried for him.
I frowned and pulled away from my fears when I heard a whimper. Craning my neck, I realized it was Harry. His much needed sleep appeared to be anything but restful; he was twitching and his brow was furrowed. He reminded me of Michael after a difficult job, plagued with nightmares. I fought the urge to push the hair back from his head, sighing and turning back to my husband.
"Where will we take him?" Home was not an option. Harry was dangerous at worst and involved in something dangerous at best. Endangering my children was not an option.
Michael flicked his eyes over to my face, reading the unspoken fears. "The Church. I'll take you back home to the children, and I'll stay with Anthony tonight."
I didn't get the chance to respond as the truck rolled to a gentle stop. We'd reached Harry's apartment, and a flash of instinctive fear ran through me. Standing by the front door were two figures hidden by voluminous grey cloaks. They turned around at the sound of the truck's approach. My heart raced, and my mouth went dry, remainders from my own practitioning years.
"White Council," Michael said. His voice was cautious and confused, but not afraid. His gaze slid to the rearview mirror, watching the still-dreaming Harry before shifting back to me.
"Maybe they just want to talk," I offered, squeezing his hand, but there was no conviction behind the words.
"The White Council are not typically ones for talking, especially their Wardens." Michael paused. "They're here for Harry."
My own experiences with the governing body of the magical world had perhaps made me look upon them disfavorably. And, as a Man of God, Michael had never been entirely comfortable with practitioners of the Art. The White Council was not an enemy, but they certainly weren't an ally.
"Wake him up."
"We should go to your place tonight," Elaine murmured against my neck, nipping lightly at the skin.
I inhaled sharply and tried to think with my big head for a moment. "But yours is closer."
I grabbed head with my hands, forcing her lips rom my neck to my mouth, trying to distract her. One hand drifted down and tugged at the waistband of her jeans, trailing against the pale skin of her stomach.
"I've never seen your apartment before," she breathed against my lips, shivering against me.
"Trust me – you don't want to. Drug deals. Mold. Roaches. Perverts." I punctuated each with a kiss, trailing down her jaw as I stooped lower, my hands wandering up and down her sides. "Yours is much nicer."
I was exaggerating, of course, but only a bit. My neighborhood wasn't exactly pleasant, but it wasn't dangerous, at least not for me. There were drug dealers next door, but one of John's "troubleshooters" had moved in a few days ago. There wouldn't be drug dealers there much longer. He could get protective when I let him.
She groaned, ghosting her hands over my torso. She grabbed my shirt but neither pushed nor pulled. I stopped.
"It's been what? Six months?" I tried to step back a bit, but she kept hold of my shirt like a leash. I beat back the memories that thought had produced, concentratin on now instead. "Harry, I'm not going to leave you because you have a shitty apartment."
My expression was carefully blank. "I know."
Her face softened and she stepped closer, leaning against my chest and relaxing her hold. "I want to make this work. Trust me, please."
I moved my arms around her, resting my chin on top of her head. "I do, too. And I do trust you." Not really. Kind of. Maybe. "But it that isn't why I don't want you to see my place. It really is a shithole. I don't even want to be there most of the time, let alone want you to be there."
Lies by omission.
She accepted my explanation, same as always. This wasn't the first time we'd had this discussion.
She looked up at me, but I slid my eyes to the side, not meeting her stormy grey ones. I didn't want her to see who I really was. I didn't want to see who she really was. We lived in an illusion borne of willful ignorance.
"You're a liar."
Suddenly the soft hands at my back were cold and hard, chilling me to the bone. I yelped and tried to pull away, but the arms were too tight, too strong.
The amber dust moats that had been dancing lazily around us turned into flurries of snow, wind whipping them harshly against my cheek. I was lying on the ground rather than standing, my back numb against an icy floor.
"Such a treat." Her voice rose in pitch, reminiscent of wind chimes, and she let out a lilting laugh, her mouth pressed to my ear. I shuddered. "I understand why the Leanansidhe keeps you."
Blood was dripping into my eyes, my mouth. I couldn't see her, but I could feel her weight on top of me.I couldn't move.
"Fight back," she whispered against my ear as she rose.
Without warning, a gust of wind flung me backwards. I couldn't remember which way was up and which way was down until I landed.
I was still blinded, but I managed to get my shield halfway up before the next blast, so I only went half as far as before.
"Weak." A different voice now, still cold and musical, but less predatory somehow. "Oh, Godson. This," she brushed cold finger down my cheek, saturating them with my blood. "This, your humanity, will be your end. You must be stronger, my dear, impudent boy."
I jerked upright, slamming my head against the roof of the car, thoroughly reminding my body of its current state. I groaned and slumped down, trying to slow my jack hammering heart.
"Harry!" Charity whisper shouted, shaking my shoulder roughly again.
I hissed and pulled away, glaring at her through bleary eyes. Her face was taut, panic showing in the lines of her face, just barely concealed by anger. Michael was turned to look at me as well, one hand gripping the pommel of a sword. I blinked, trying to clear my head.
"Wha?" I'm not much of a morning person.
"I believe these men are looking for you," Michael's voice was calmer than his wife's, but I could hear the tension.
I craned my neck, ignoring the bursts of pain and stiffness, to look out the windshield. Stalking towards the truck were three grey cloaked figures.
Oh, shit. If I believed in a God, now would be the time to pray.
"Nope, not me. Let's leave. Drop me off at a bus station, a soup kitchen, whatever. But let's go."
"Harry Dresden," a voice clearly amplified by magic cut Michael off. "We wish to speak with you."
By now the three figures were mere feet away from the front bumper. If I didn't think Michael was a devout man, I would've asked him to stomp on the gas. As it was, I begged him to put it in reverse and then stomp on the gas.
He looked at me, his expression indecipherable, and then stepped out of the car.
I'm aware that I'm paranoid beyond what most people consider reasonable. But, in this case, I believe my fear was completely justified because I'm also aware of several other things: the White Council is generally known as the preternatural community's governing body, and the Wardens generally have a Kill First, Ask Questions Later policy.
And Michael just stepped out of the car.
"Good evening, Wardens," I was shocked, though I probably shouldn't have been, that Michael could recognize the Wardens for what they were. Even more jaw-dropping was his completely calm voice. My courage had gone into hiding, leaving my mind a dribbling mess of shitshitshitshitshit. "What business have you?"
The Warden who had spoken before, the one at the center of the triangle, stepped forward. He looked as though he were in his late forties, but he was a wizard, and I knew better; he was probably somewhere in his late 400s. His face was too lean and pinched to be attractive, making him look vaguely like he'd just bitten into a lemon. Scars marred his skin, giving him the air of a hardened war vet; this analogy was probably more accurate than I would have wished.
"We must speak with Harry Dresden," the amplification had stopped, and now I had to Listen to catch his words. Listening was something I had picked up over the years out of necessity, letting me avoid arrests and even helping John avoid one once. I was unsure as to whether or not it was biological or magical; I just knew it worked. "And who are you?"
The Warden's voice was deeply suspicious, and I saw one arm shift under his cloak as though reaching for something. The infamous sword of the Wardens, I suspected. My throat constricted.
"I am Michael, wielder of Amorachius."
The hand dropped back to its original spot.
"Sir Knight." The suspicion was gone now, too, and the Warden's voice held a measure of respect. Well then. "I am Warden Morgan. Harry Dresden is wanted for questioning involving the possible use of Black Magic. I must insist that you turn him over to us."
I heard Charity inhale sharply, but I studiously ignored her gaze, burning a hole in my face, and watched for her husband's reaction instead. His posture didn't change, but he nodded. Not in agreement, though, so much as acknowledging that he had heard Warden Lemon's words.
"He is injured and weak." I felt whatever vague hopes I had for escaping based on bravado die with the utterance of Michael's words. "He has been comatose for four days. I don't believe him capable of performing Black Magic."
Warden Lemon pursed his lips even further. "All the same, we must bring him into custody. If he truly is innocent, he will be found as such."
My mind raced. The Warden's tone was doubtful, as though he knew that I was not in fact innocent. I didn't even really know what they were accusing me of. I hadn't done any Black Magic – ever. I had done many things that I wasn't proud of, but violating the Laws of Magic wasn't one of them. My breath stopped in my throat as I realized what they thought I had done.
"…possible use of Black Magic."
I didn't understand.
I hadn't even realized I'd reached for the door until I stumbled out onto the pavement. My legs were stiff and weak, but I managed not to fall over. My vision tunneled for a moment, but I blinked it away and straightened (mostly) to face the Wardens.
"Howdy, folks. Hey, you know Halloween was a few days ago, right?" I have authority issues.
Warden Lemon glared at the bridge of my nose, and I smiled my most obnoxious smile at his pointy chin.
"Harry Dresden, you are under arrest. Come peacefully and cooperatively to face trial by the White Council of Wizards."
"And if I don't?"
I saw Michael tense up at my words, automatically reaching toward his belt for a sword that wasn't there. Warden Lemon glowered at me, reaching under his cloak once more, and actually drawing his sword this time. His lackeys did the same – in tandem. That was Black Magic.
"Then we will have to take you by force." He paused and looked at me, his expression reminding me - of all things - of Sergeant Murphy. "Come quietly, Dresden. There need not be more bloodshed here."
I swallowed and flexed my fingers, feeling the magic gathered at my fingertips. I wanted my blasting rod. I had no intention of coming quietly; that was as good as suicide.
"Turba." I throw my hand out, fingers splayed, and twisted my wrist.
Chaos erupted. Fire engines, police sirens, bullhorns, fire alarms, fireworks, explosions: pure noise filled the air, deafening in its volume. I could feel it in my chest, in my bones. Michael simply fell over in shock, and the Wardens fared no better. If I had a camera, I would taken a picture of their faces. It's a memory I don't mind having.
My head screamed with the sirens, and my ears rang with the alarms, but I kept my footing. I was not naturally a specialist in illusions; it had taken work. This spell was at the very edge of my capabilities, but it was one I was proud of. It was damn effective, too.
Everyone was down on the ground, and I could see blood leaking from a few ears. The spell would only last a few more seconds, but I was hoping it would give me enough to time to run.
"Apartum," I cut my hand through the air. A tiny sliver opened up, and I felt my stomach bottom out. I couldn't fit, and I didn't have enough juice to open it up any further.
So I did something stupid.
"Cabhair!" I leaned as far into the void as I could, feeling stretched and pulled in more dimensions than was natural. "Leanansidhe! Cabhair!"
A heard a shout, and the ground opened up beneath me as the Way sealed itself shut once more, and I fell bonelessly into the small crater beneath me. My ears were still ringing, and my vision was starting to tunnel. Warden Lemon appeared in front of me, though he looked a little fuzzy around the edges. I could vaguely see his mouth moving, his face drawing into an even more sour expression, but I couldn't make out the words.
I tried to say that I hadn't done anything, but I think it came out more like, "I dit d' aytin."
I had just enough presence of mind to realize that Bob was still in Michael's truck before I passed out for the umpteenth time.
A/N: Hope everyone had a happy holiday!
-turba: crowd, uproar, disorder, disturbance, confusion, noise (latin)
-cabhair: help (Irish) (Note: I opted for Irish here because the Sidhe are originally from Irish lore.)
About the wait... My computer decided to crash, and I lost the file. So I had to rewrite everything. It didn't come out exactly how it did the first time, but I think I got it pretty close, even if it is a tad bit shorter than it was before. In any case, my apologies for the wait.
Also, in regard to Marcone being written how he is. I know he comes across as more sensitive, I guess, than he doess in the books, but I really think his character has that capacity. We saw him read to Amanda while she was in a coma, he gave her a stuffed animal, he visited her regularly. I think, given the opportunity, Marcone would definitely be a paternal figure. Also, I just really like the idea of a compassionate Marcone.