My apprentice opened my heavy security door to admit Waldo Butters, Assistant Medical Examiner for Chicago, and kind of my own personal Doctor McCoy. He comes complete with a "I'm a x, not a y" catchphrase, although in his case, he's always griping that he isn't a doctor, at least not one I should be seeing while I still have a pulse. But he comes cheap, takes my insurance (or lack thereof), keeps his mouth shut and doesn't ask too many awkward questions.
"An arrow, Dresden? Really? You couldn't get impaled by a sword? Maybe take a mace to that thick skull of yours?"
"Nearly got chopped in half by a troll. Does that count?" I said, as nonchalantly as I could manage. I was lying on my couch, leg up. Someone had taped around the shaft of the arrow to stabilize it, and wrapped gauze around my leg. There was also a belt cinched above it, not too tight, but there as a tourniquet if it was needed.
"Only you," he muttered, as he headed over to my sink and began washing his hands, carefully scrubbing them with the antibacterial soap there. Molly reached over and shut the water off as he headed from the little alcove to the couch. "Someone grab me some scissors, I'm going to have to cut his pants to get at the wound."
I grimaced, "Any way we can save the pants? I only have so many good pairs left."
"If by good you mean blood-soaked with an arrow hole in it. Most people would take that as ruined."
"I've got a good dry cleaning service." Brownies. Can't do better.
He rolled his eyes at me. "I at least need to cut enough to work."
Murphy handed him some scissors wordlessly, her eyes focused on the wound. The little M.E. mumbled some thanks , and then cut about 6 inches above and below the wound and pulled the hole wide. He prodded the wound a bit, almost making me throw up again, and frowned.
"I don't think it got an artery," he said. "But it's got to come out. I'm going to need a hand here. Sergeant Murphy?"
Kitty stepped forward, reaching forward and grabbing the shaft protruding from my leg.. "I'll get the arrow out."
"Are you crazy? You can't just pull an arrow out. This isn't some sort of video game. The damn thing may do as much damage coming out as it did going in. We should be at the ER for this, but this stubborn jerk of a wizard won't do the sensible thing."
"Just be ready to apply pressure," the mutant said, her voice flat and her eyes serious.
Something in her determination - and my nod of approval - made Butters take her seriously, and he grabbed for more gauze. "This is such a bad idea. Who is this girl, Dresden? Why do you trust her - is she White Council? A Warden?"
The nausea vanished, as did the pressure in my leg as Kitty phased the elf-shot free and pulled it out of my leg. "Butters, the gauze!" I snapped, realizing from his open mouth that I probably should have told him what Shadowcat was going to do. Not that Mr. Empirical Evidence would've taken my word for it.
He recovered quickly, getting the pad down on my leg and applying pressure to staunch the bleeding. "What the hell, Harry? I didn't know wizards could dematerialize things - that is so cool! Just like that girl from the X-men!"
"Hush, grasshopper," I said.
"Aye aye, boss," she said, smirking at me.
"I'm sure you both have many interesting things to tell me," Butters said, glaring at the two of us, "But I still need to disinfect the hell out of this and stitch it up, so if you'd kindly let me get back to work?"
"You're the doc," I said, blithely.
Butters disinfected the wound and stitched it up both with sutures and a liquid adhesive before slathering on something, covering it with a pad and starting to tape it up.
"You OK, Harry?" Murphy asked me. "You don't look so hot, even with the arrow out."
"You say the nicest things, Murph." I said. I recounted the meeting with Puck and Mab, and the job I'd taken on.
"You don't do things by half, do you?" my friend said. Her tone was sarcastic, but there was concern in her eyes.
I shrugged, "You gotta go and give a hundred-ten percent out there, coach. So when I half-ass it, I'm still pulling fifty-five."
As Butters grumbled and made sure as much of my blood stayed inside - and as many bacteria and germs outside - as possible, I recalled to the others the events in the luxury box of the United Center. I thought briefly of sending Molly from the room, or censoring Bonham's true identity. As my mentor had said, it was information that carried an element of risk. But the grasshopper had been there for me through thick and thin, and I figured she could handle it. I didn't hesitate with Murph, Shadowcat or Colossus. My friend had been at risk ever since a conversation in a Wal-Mart several years back, and ideally the X-men would be back home in a couple days.
"Um, Harry" said my apprentice, "Should you be telling me this?" Smart cookie, that girl. She had an idea of the stakes.
"You're one of the Wise now, young padawan," I said in what I hoped was an encouraging tone. "Things may get dicey until we solve the case..."
Murphy snorted, "Dicier."
"Murph," I admonished her. "Don't scare the kid. Things don't seem significantly more dangerous than our usual capers."
"This sort of thing, it happens often?" asked Colossus. You'd figure, a big superhero like him, he'd be used to madcap adventures.
"No, actually. Most of the time the Wizarding P.I. business involves a lot of sitting at my desk, reading and hoping there are enough lost possessions in Chicago to pay the rent. The Vampire War takes up some time, sure, but even before that, it seems like once or twice a year, things get really crazy for a couple days..."
"And you end up in the hospital for a few more," piped in Butters, who had finished wrapping my wound, a little more snugly than necessary, I thought.
Kitty mused aloud, "What we wouldn't give for a boring stretch or two."
"You could try for a job as a Medical Examiner," suggested Butters. "The patients are usually quiet." He directed a pointed look at me. "I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name, Ms.-"
"Pryde," she answered.
The little M.E., who had been putting his gear away, dropped his bag. It thudded as it hit my rug-covered concrete floor. I spoke, "Yes, Butters, this is Kitty Pryde and Colossus. From the X-men. It's a long story, but everything points to them being the real deal."
"Thanks ever so much for believing in us," Kitty said, her voice sarcastic.
"It's not unreasonable," Butters said, handling the information better than I expected. "Would you believe it if Gandalf knocked on the door at Xavier's? Or would you think it was Mystique or Mastermind there to mess with your heads."
"If it were Sir Ian, I'd probably think Mojo, to be honest," said Kitty. "Pop culture is more his thing."
"Wow," he said. "This may be the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. Is Wolverine here too? Or Storm?"
"Just the two of them," I interrupted, "Oh, and Peter's sister as well. She's being held by the Summer Court."
"Hmm," he pondered, "that seems like one of those weird coincidences that isn't."
I frowned at him, "Yeah, it does, doesn't it." Several of my cases had an element – two or more seemingly unrelated events ending up being inextricably linked. "Probably means that Illyana – and Peter and Kitty – were brought here to do something with Oberon."
Murph pondered it, "You said that Summer was keeping Peter's sister because of her sword, right?"
"At least partly," I said. "It's a significant artifact in this world. The only time I've encountered a power like that was something created by Mother Winter. And Illyana also has her own magic, and her mutant ability to teleport is a gamebreaker – to go anywhere without risking the Nevernever..."
"Risking Limbo instead," Kitty pointed out. "Not a pleasant place, I can tell you."
"Granted, but one under her control. She would be the perfect tool to spring Oberon from his prison. She could teleport in, use the sword to break any magic bindings or wards. No wonder the Sidhe were so hot and heavy to get her off the board."
"And us,?" Peter asked, "You said that we may also have been brought deliberately?"
"Hey, it could be coincidence or an attack of opportunity. But if I were planning a jailbreak and I could include anyone from fiction – sorry, from any universe – I think someone who could phase through anything would be pretty damn near top of the list."
Molly still wore an expression of concern. "Puck is a trickster spirit. How can we trust him to do what he says? We could be risking out lives for... for nothing."
"She has a point, Harry," Murphy said.
"Molly, Murph... everyone... I know it's a risk," I said. "Goodfellow is a trickster, yes, but even if he is wildfae, he is still fae. He can't lie. And that means he will be obligated to try to convince Oberon to fulfill his side of the bargain. One of the few people on this planet that I can trust asked me to do this, and I'm going to take my best shot."
"If you fail, what then becomes of my sister?" asked Peter.
"Assuming Fix is as good as his word, and I've got no cause to doubt him, she gets freed on time. And now that I think about it, even if we succeed and put Oberon on the throne, he will be obligated to fulfill Titania's promise to release her after the equinox, since she'll be as much a vassal as Puck. Either way, you, Kitty and Illyana should be able to go home after this is all over. It's probably best that we put you up in a hotel to wait it out."
"No dice, mister," Kitty said. "We're part of this now, and we're going to see it through." Her companion nodded his assent.
I shook my head. "Not your fight. Not even your world."
The woman replied with a derisive snort, "Like that matters? I've been hopping dimensions since I was thirteen years old. And each time, if we were able to help, you could be damn sure we did our best to do so."
"Not very prime directive of you."
"I'm not in Starfleet. I'm an X-man," she answered. "And here I thought you were a Star Wars fan."
I nodded – never shall the nerd twain meet, and into the Sarlaac with the rest. "I'm not going to lie; I was hoping you would say that. I'm going to need all the help I can get."
Murphy blinked at me. "OK," she said, "where do we start?"
"Actually, you start by going home for the day. Maybe give S.I. a heads up to keep some of those faeries under some sort of control.
"What? Why?" For a moment she looked tiny and vulnerable, and then that image was dispelled by the fierce look in her eyes. "You aren't going to try to and shield me, are you? We've been over this, Dresden..."
"Not in the least," I said. "If things were different – if this were a straight up fight – I'd want you by my side. But it's not. And there are times when you, being you, really need to not be around."
"Something illegal then," her eyes went flat. "So help me, Harry, you are my friend but if you are going to endanger the people I'm supposed to protect and are willing to traipse all over the laws I'm supposed to uphold while doing it, I am going to throw your ass right behind bars so fast..."
"I think I can guarantee that you will not need to do that," I said. "You see, I was thinking just where would the Nevernever connect to nearby that might match this situation, and the answer seems pretty likely to be one place."
Understanding dawned on several faces. "So I wouldn't be putting you in prison..."
"Because that's where we're going anyway. Everything leads me to believe that Oberon is imprisoned on the other side of Cook County Jail."