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11 May 2009 @ 08:30 am
The Dresden Files: "The Most Dangerous Thing" by Gehayi (Part 3)  
Title: The Most Dangerous Thing
Author: gehayi
Fandom: The Dresden Files bookverse
Pairing/characters: Harry Dresden/John Marcone, Karrin Murphy, Anastasia Luccio, Bob the Skull, Charity Carpenter, Molly Carpenter, Waldo Butters, Hendricks, Sigrun Gard and the Archive. And mention of...well, practically everyone else.
Word Count: 27,440 (Understandably, I had to break this up in multiple parts.)
Rating: PG for swearing.
Disclaimer: I most emphatically do not own The Dresden Files. They belong to Jim Butcher, ROC Books and—regrettably, for the next three years--Lionsgate Productions. No profit is being made and no copyright or trademark infringed upon.
Prompt: #1356 The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden, People have been kidding Harry Dresden about being gay for a while. Now Harry's come to terms with his bisexuality and fallen for a man, and while some of his family and friends can deal with this, others are having a plethora of problems--and causing a number of them as well.
Summary: Falling in lust. Falling in love. Becoming aware of both, and deciding to come out to family and friends. Mix in a case involving supernatural politics, warlocks, conspiracies, faeries, Knights, gods and mortal enemies, and it's a typical day for Harry Dresden.
Warnings: (if any) Takes place after the most recent book, Turn Coat. So yeah, there are a lot of spoilers—not only for that book but for the ten previous ones, the novella Backup and the short stories.
Author's Notes: (if any) Thanks to my betas, beachkid, erastes and shiplizard.

The title is from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The most dangerous thing is illusion."

***

Part 1

Part 2

The office building was locked when I got there. For a moment, I was thrown for a loop. John and his people should be working, so why was the building closed? Was John in danger? Stars and stones, what was wrong?

Then I remembered. Oh, right. Today was Saturday.

Which meant that I still had to find someone who might know where John's employees might be. Other than John himself, of course.

I wended my way home in the Blue Beetle, which was coughing and spluttering ominously, as usual, and then called a particular extension at the Chicago Forensic Center.

Call me crazy, but when I call the local morgue, I expect to talk to a medical examiner. I do not expect to speak to my apprentice. I especially do not expect to speak to my apprentice sounding breathless and giggly.

"Hi, Harry," she said, laughing as she picked up the phone. "How are you? Do we have a case?"

"Wait a second. How did you know it was me?"

I could almost hear her eyes rolling. "Caller ID, Harry. I know you're practically wizard Amish but try to keep up, will you?"

I didn't have time for the usual banter. "I need to speak to Butters. Is he there?"

"Yes, and we're having a nice little discussion about tattoos." Another giggle. It was beginning to grate on my nerves for some reason. "I'm afraid he can't come to the phone right now. I'm afraid he's"--there was a significant pause--"tied up at the moment."

"Sounds terribly 1970s sitcom," I said in a bored tone. "You wanna shock me, Molly, you're gonna have to come up with something better than lines you picked up watching reruns of Three's Company on Nick at Nite."

Amazing how quickly the giggling stopped when I got serious. "Is there a case?"

"Yeah. Yeah, grasshopper, there's a case. Though you could have deduced that, given that I was calling the morgue and all."

"How can I help?"

I sighed. "You can't. This is...classified. Wizard business only. Apprentices need not apply."

"But Harry—"

"This also applies to apprentices who think that they can veil, sneak out and follow their teachers, thus getting involved with something that could get both the apprentice and the teacher killed."

"Do you really think I would do that? " she said with infinite scorn.

"You always do. But if you disobey me this time, apprentice," I said, pouring iron will into my tone, "then I swear by my power, I will find you another teacher. Do you understand?"

There was a sniffle on the other end of the phone. "Yes. And you don't have to be so mean."

"Good. Glad you understand. Now...get me Butters before the phone goes dead."

"You trust him but you don't trust me?" Another sniffle.

"Are you a medical examiner?"

"No..."

"Then you can't help. Get Butters NOW."

"Well, fine," she snapped. "All you had to do was ask." And with that, she pushed a button and put me on hold.

I hate being on hold. It's unsettling, hearing nothing but silence—a silence that grows deader and more oppressive with every second that passes. You strain your ears, trying to hear a footstep, a chuckle, even a sigh. Some people find the stillness to be suffocating, as if it were some sort of air-proof shroud wrapping itself around my eyes and mouth. And yet hearing a voice piercing that silence is, for a moment, just as unnerving.

Just then, Butters picked up the phone. And I absolutely did not shiver and flinch at the sound of his voice. I'm a private investigator. We don't do that kind of thing.

"Hi, Harry," he said, not sounding the least bit embarrassed at talking to me when he was tied up mid-bondage ritual. "What can I help you with?"

I frowned. There was something very wrong with the way the morgue sounded behind him, but I couldn't put my finger on what. After all, it's not as if you expect to hear many noises in a mostly underground facility filled with corpses.

"I'm looking for Murphy," I said. "I've got this case—some really nasty attempts on people's lives. And I think that Murphy might be one of the targets. I need to warn her. It could get ugly if I don't."

After all, I reflected, it was all true.

"I don't know where—oh, wait! Yeah, she did tell me. Before she left work today, she said she was meeting a friend for dinner at that pub you like. What's its name. Mac's."

"Thanks, Butters," I said gratefully. "Promise me you won't tell Molly? The kid gets into the damnedest trouble."

"Uh...I don't think I can do that, Harry," he said, dropping his voice very low. "She's listening in on the other line."

"Great," I sighed. "Well, listen. Try to keep her there as long as you can, okay? It would be better for her, really it would."

The line went dead. This didn't upset me. I'd been expecting the phone to burn out for the past ten minutes. But, mindful of Bob's warnings, I reached out with my wizard senses and examined my phone.

There was a nacreous glow around the phone and a green tendril sprouting near the glow, as if a highly polished pearl had rolled into a garden and had stopped near a small seedling. It took a minute for me to recognize the pearlescent gleam; I don't use many deception or misdirection spells. But I had no trouble identifying the green tendril. I could do tracking spells in my sleep.

The phone was set to deliver my calls, wherever they were directed, to whoever and whatever I'd been talking to. Not Molly or Butters, that was for sure. I was suddenly glad that when I spoke to John on the phone, he was the one who generally called me, unless it was an emergency.

"I have a scrambler," he'd pointed out when I'd protested this. "I also have top-notch magical security that can shield any calls I make. You have neither. At least if I call, I can ensure that we're both protected to an extent."

So whoever-it-was hadn't overheard those calls. Not with Asgardian and Valkyrie magic shielding them. But he—or she—had been keeping track of my movements through more normal conversations. I was willing to bet that my office phone was similarly enchanted.

I wanted very badly to take my staff and smash Whoever's head in.

Yeah, yeah. I'm not entirely civilized. Sue me.

The real problem, as I saw it, wasn't the phone; I knew enough not to use it now, at least not for magically unprotected calls. It was the tracking spell. Tracking spells are powerful, and they're hard to shake off. Anywhere I went within the next few hours, I'd have the magical equivalent of an electronic bug clinging to me.. Of course, I could stay here. The spell would fade eventually. But that would give my enemy carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in the meantime, with no interference from me.

And I already knew that what my enemy wanted was John's death. And mine. And as many of our friends and family as he could drag down with us.

Not acceptable.

I began ransacking my books, looking for spells and potions that could throw off the tracking spell. I'd been at it for about five minutes when Mouse wandered in from the kitchen.

He tensed at the sight of the phone, and began stalking toward it with a growl.

"Easy, Mouse," I said. "It's okay."

He gave me an impatient glance—of course it was not okay, the spells on the phone indicated that—then drew within about two feet of the phone and...bit down on nothing. While I was still trying to puzzle that out, he strode over to me, put his muzzle near my left knee, opened his mouth and bit the air about a quarter-inch from my leg.

Ectoplasmic goo splattered my jeans.

A quick glance at the phone told me that Mouse had amputated the tracking spell, root and offshoot. I was free to go.

I knelt down immediately and gave him a huge hug. "That's a good dog!"

He snuffled and then grinned, as if to say, Yes, I know.

"You wanna come for a drive with me? It could be dangerous..."

He fairly bounced to the door.

***

It took me three phone calls and an attempt on my life to find Murphy. A few years back, when there were pay phones on the streets, this wouldn't have been as much of a problem. Now that they've all been removed to prevent drug deals—because, you know, drug dealers aren't nearly smart enough to buy cell phones or BlackBerrys—I have a much harder time finding a way of getting messages to people. Cell phones are useless for me; they just don't last. Molly's got a more delicate magical touch than I do; she can make her cell phones last up to a month, if she doesn't get angry. Even at my calmest and most serene, I can only keep a phone alive for two to three days.

Which makes twenty-first century communication difficult. Because the premise of every business is that there's no need to allow customers to use your phones. After all, everybody in the entire world has a cell phone...right?

First place I called—once I managed to convince the manager of the local Burger King that yes, I really was a valuable customer and not a starving junkie, despite appearances—was Macanally's Pub. Mac answered. No, Murphy wasn't there. No, she wasn't expected. No, she hadn't been hanging around there. That was the whole conversation. If anything, I've lengthened it.

A quick trip to Pizza Spress got me a phone call to Murphy's partner, Rawlins. No, Murphy wasn't at work; she'd left for the day. Something about fencing lessons.

Fencing?

Okay. There were plenty of places she could have gone, according to the phone book. Chicago is rife with fencing schools. But my life doesn't work that way.

So my third call—from Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken—was a call to a possibly unused apartment which was owned by a woman I should never have been with in the first place.

The message on her machine was static-y, but there was enough left for me to decipher most of the address.

The attempt on my life happened as I was walking out of Popeye's to where I'd parked the Beetle. I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out how to get to the address as quickly as possible that I almost missed the first attack, thinking the sharp stones hitting my duster were just gravel kicked up by my feet or by passing cars. I wasn't concerned--not until one of the stones fell near my feet.

I picked it up with my gloved hand. It was small, green and pellet-shaped.

Elfshot.

Elfshot's a unpleasant weapon; it saps the mind of strength, making it dangerously suggestible, if not outright hypnotized, and it drains energy from a human body, causing it to become ill...sometimes mortally so. Faeries love using it. Me, I like it about as much as they do cold iron.

I tossed the elfshot away—no way I was keeping that around; if I accidentally punctured my skin with this, I'd be in real trouble. But I couldn't help wondering who was firing at me and why. I hadn't angered any faeries. Well, not recently.

I scanned my surroundings, seeking some trace of a faerie, be it Summer, Winter or wyldfae. And damn it, I didn't like the fact that something was out there shooting at me. Sure, the duster covered most of me, but most isn't all.

Which was why I didn't see five or six trees near Popeye's parking lot flowing together and the resultant monster striding over to me. I didn't notice anything until the chlorofiend, as I'd dubbed a similar monster on another occasion, had me in its woody grasp.

I pulled a spherical shield about me, expecting the thing to fling me into a building or a fence. The last one had. But this one didn't. Instead, it tightened its branches around the shield. I sneered at it. Dumb monster.

It took me a few seconds to realize that it wasn't trying to break through my shield. Rather, it was forcing the energy to work harder and protect me more, until there was less and less room between me and the shield. Which meant that I was using up my magic at a dangerous pace by trying to shield myself, and there was less and less air for me to breathe. It was like diving in a wet suit with no air tank. On the other hand, if I dropped the shield, I'd be able to breathe for about two seconds before the chlorofiend crushed me.

I immediately revised my opinion of dumb monsters.

I compromised. I opened some holes in the shield where my nose, mouth and right arm were—not recommended, and please do not try this at home. But it allowed me to breathe, and it brought my right arm close enough to the creature's branches and trunk to do something useful.

"FUEGO!"

It caught fire, all right. And it wasn't happy about it, for it flung me headfirst toward a building. Fortunately the shield redistributed the force of impact; I felt battered and bruised after I landed, but at least my head wasn't stove in. In my line of work, you learn to appreciate the little things.

I looked up at it, groggy and woozy, wondering how the hell the thing and the elven archers had found me. It wasn't like I'd told anyone where I was going—well, one person had wanted to know where I was going, but I hadn't even told her.

Had I?

Opening my Sight, and taking care not to look at the monster, I studied my car.

The Blue Beetle, in my Sight, looked like a cross between a silvery sports car and a tank. Odd-looking, yes, but well-loved. There was only one thing at odds with it—a delicately intertwined set of spells, braided around the back bumper. They were hard even to focus on, and I had the distinct feeling that at least one of the spells was telling me that it wasn't there. The others, from what my wizard senses were telling me from a distance, were variations on tracking spells—but they weren't providing a trail so that anyone could find me. They were telling someone where I was, minute to minute, as I moved around. It was like magical GPS.

Somebody, I reflected, really wanted to prevent me from talking to Murphy.

Or, possibly, from warning John.

I must have moved then, because the chlorofiend—still smoldering from where I'd set it on fire, but not blazing, regrettably—began stalking toward me. As much as a ten-foot-tall monster with tree trunks for legs could stalk, that is.

I heard a long, low howl coming from the Beetle. I couldn't see from where I was sprawled, but I had a feeling Mouse had spotted the creature coming toward me and didn't approve.

"Quiet, Mouse," I mumbled to myself. "You don't want to attract this creep's attention."

I needn't have worried. Almost as soon as the howling began, the passenger-side window of the Beetle shattered into what looked like glass confetti. Then—and only then—did Mouse leap out of the window.

I rubbed my eyes. I couldn't have seen that right. Glass doesn't dissolve like that.

Mouse circled around the Beetle and immediately leapt on the rootlike feet of the chlorofiend. He barked, growled, clawed and bit as if he were desperate to keep the creature away from me. At the same time, I couldn't shake the feeling that he was also enjoying playing with this huge stick.

The chlorofiend flailed and struck at him. Again. And again. Mouse dodged and continued chewing on the roots as if they were the best Milk-Bone ever invented. Then he barked just once, and cracks glowing with red light appeared in the creature's bark.

Slowly, carefully, the chlorofiend uncoiled a tendril and began snaking it toward Mouse's neck. I barely had time to shout a warning. Mouse leapt back just in time, but it was a near thing.

That was it, as far as I was concerned. You can attack me, torture me and beat me within an inch of my life. But nobody tries to hurt my dog.

Aiming carefully, I flung a spell at the creature. "Vento cyclis!"

A whirlwind slammed into its trunk, knocking it off balance...and right onto some metal power lines. Perfect. If the electricity didn't kill it, the steel in the lines would.

It didn't last long.

And I'd like to apologize to the 38,500-odd people who lost power that day. It wasn't intentional. I just happen to be a big fan of living.

Once the chlorofiend and the lines were down, I drove straight to Mike my mechanic and begged him to remove the back bumper on the Beetle and melt it down for scrap. That was hard to explain, and the window was even worse. If there had been a Mouse-shaped hole in the pane, it would have been more understandable, but one dog, even a dog the size of Mouse, isn't supposed to reduce glass to splinters the size of grains of sand. And I could hardly tell Mike that a bark had done it.

Mouse was no help. He just sat there in front of Mike, wagged his tail and grinned.

I also asked Mike if I could borrow a junker, just for tonight. Bless his heart, he agreed to all the repairs and the loaner.

So about an hour after I got the address from Luccio's machine, and after breaking a thousand or so traffic laws and leaving Mouse to guard my borrowed junker of a pickup truck, I walked into a small dojo where my best friend and my ex-girlfriend were battling with a pair of very long and not at all phallic pieces of metal.

I won't pretend that I didn't think, Damn, that's hot, because I did and it was. But at the same time, it was like looking in a store window and seeing furniture that would have looked fantastic in your old apartment but not in the new one. Murphy was cute. Luccio was beautiful. And they were both desirable women. But they weren't who I wanted...or needed.

It was a weird moment. I'd long since figured out that I wanted John, and it had hit me earlier that night that I'd fallen for him. But need took this beyond sex, beyond an affair. Needing someone I loved to be there took this into couple territory.

It was as if the universe had noticed my disastrous relationships and had said, "Okay, Dresden. You can have someone to love, someone who's a friend as well as a lover. Someone smart who gets your sense of humor and who knows that magic is real. There's just one catch. He's a man."

There was a time that this would have terrified me. Now it didn't seem to matter that much. I was okay with this.

And, thanks to all the mental meddling that had been done to most of the younger wizards, I was also scared that I was okay. Sure, I felt like me. But then again, the pretty young woman currently thrusting her saber past Murphy's best defenses had been my lover for a couple of years...without any awareness that before that, she'd been 100% lesbian.

I leaned back against the far wall to watch Murphy and Luccio practice And that was when I realized that Michael was watching them...and pausing, now and then, to praise or correct them.

Seated beside him--and offering neither praise nor corrections--was Ms. Gard.

It was beginning to look like Old Home Week around here.

I didn't want to interrupt them. But I knew I didn't have a choice. So I strode toward the four of them. "Murphy, hi--"

She put up her sword, shoved her mask up, and then turned toward me with a perplexed expression. "Harry?"

Michael just nodded as if he'd been expecting this. "Charity said that you dropped by earlier today."

Oh, stars and stones. I did not want to get into that discussion right now. "I'm sorry to bother all of you, but something's very wrong--"

"Well, of course it is, Harry," said Michael, his voice overriding mine. "Lying to us, even by omission, should never have happened."

"Lying?" Murphy said, her voice rising sharply, and no wonder. Murphy hated to be lied to.

"Michael!" I hissed, or tried to hiss. "That's not what I came here to talk to anyone about!"

He gave me his most earnest and helpful look. Michael might not be a Knight of the Cross any longer, but he was in knight mode, no question about that. "But you need to talk about it. It's important. And honestly, Harry, you're not the first man who's been...interested."

I wanted very badly to flop down on the edge of the mat, draw my knees up and bury my face in my arms. This would have been an awkward conversation anyway, and having three attractive women present while Michael, with the best good will in the world, thoroughly and permanently outed me only made matters worse. I compromised by briefly closing my eyes and meditating on mayhem.

"Michael," I said with all the firmness I could muster at the moment, "shut up. For the love of God, shut up."

He gave me an innocently bewildered gaze that I would have sworn was put on if he hadn't been, well, Michael. "There's no need to be ashamed, Harry. It happens. I'll admit that I was more than a little perturbed at first—the Bible has some most unpleasant things to say about homosexuality—but then it also has some unpleasant things to say about witches and sorcerers, and you know I've always considered you a good man. Besides, David and Jonathan shared that kind of love. It's not specified in the English translations of the Bible, unfortunately, but there's no doubt if you read it in the Aramaic. "

Out of the corner of one eye, I could see that Murphy was bent almost double and had the fist that wasn't holding a sword jammed into her mouth. She was turning bright red, and her shoulders were shaking so hard that I thought she might stab herself in the foot with her saber. It's so great to have support from your friends.

My face felt like an inferno. "Are you through?"

"What's wrong?" he asked, blinking at me. "That's what you came over to my house to talk about, wasn't it?"

"Yes. Mostly. I'm not gay."

"Of course you're not," he said soothingly. "You're just in love with a man."

Murphy chuckled at that. She tried to convert it to a snort, but I knew better.

Heroically refraining from strangling both of them, I stared at the mats on the dojo floor, trying very hard to remind myself why transforming people into newts was not a good idea.

"First, bisexual, not gay. It's not a one or the other thing. I like both, okay?" I gripped my wizard's staff of white oak—and no, that's not a euphemism, get your mind out of the gutter—took a deep breath and continued. "Second, I would have preferred to discuss this privately, if we were going to discuss it. That means that I would have rather talked to you without the others here."

"But why, Harry?" I could almost hear the frown in his voice. "Surely the point of coming out of the closet is, well, to come out of it. And if you notice, none of us are having that many problems with the idea."

The penny finally dropped. "You knew? Before today?"

"Well, it wasn't hard to figure out," Luccio said, laughter rippling just under the surface of her voice. "You've been giving off signals for a while, you know."

I forced myself to lift my head, which weighed so much that I felt as if I was competing for World Weight-Lifting Champion, and looked at her. "Ana, what are you talking about?"

She sighed, lifted one hand and traced a circle in the air. I could feel her pushing her will outward, creating a temporary bubble of privacy around us so that we could speak of magic openly and not be overheard. I felt a thin stab of jealousy; this subtle spell would have made my life so much simpler over the years, and it was now and forever completely beyond me.

"It's...not easy to speak of this," she said softly. "Some of you"—she nodded to Murphy and me--" know now that I was under another's influence when the Denarians took The Archive and the mobster hostage, though I wasn't aware of it at the time. And I had heard tales about Harry Dresden, both from others and as captain of the wardens. Tales of lost loves and dangerous chivalry...and one man who was neither friend nor foe. A man that you seemed determined to save."

"Mab forced the issue," I pointed out. "She froze the water in my eyes and temporarily blinded me."

"Typical," said Gard. "It would have been wiser to ask you, rather than—if I may guess—giving you a pre-emptory command, which you of course refused, then demonstrating that she could blind and maim you if you disobeyed. But asking would have put her in your debt, and worse, you would not have recognized that the obligation existed, which would have left her indebted to you forever." She smiled slightly. "The Sidhe do not like owing others. It chafes at them. And they do not understand the way humans think."

"She didn't have to choose me to oppose the Denarians," I grumbled.

"Of course she did," Gard replied with extraordinary patience. "Recall the histories your culture calls fairy tales. It takes great strength to battle demons. Magic is not enough—many wizards have fallen to the temptations of devils. Nor is faith sufficient. But a loyal and loving heart fighting for others as if they are all the world—that person has a chance."

I gaped at her. "You're saying Mab knew?"

"What else could she do? It was November in Chicago. Winter in reality, if not by the mortal calendar. And a human of power and influence in two worlds—a prince of the city, let us say—had been captured by demons in a city known to be a bastion of cold and cruel winters. A prince, moreover, of considerable importance to one of her court."

"Marcone's of importance to someone in Winter?" That was news. "Who?"

Valkyries don't roll their eyes, but I got the impression that Gard would have liked to. "I was speaking of you, Winter Knight."

"Oh, no," I said, backing away slightly. "I turned down that gig."

"You turned down the title," Gard said. "Officially, another still bears that. And you have refused the temptations of power that beset most knights. But you have had the job since Mab walked into your office. And technically, you were doing much of it before she walked in."

My head was whirling. "I don't fight for Faerie--"

"No. You fight for all. You try to protect all. The blood and effort and will you have spent and continue to spend to save mortals and beings of the Nevernever alike has woven itself into protective spells in two worlds. Of course, having a just, passionate and chivalrous knight is not usual for Winter."

A lot of pieces fell into place then. I'd never understood why Mab had taken over from Lea as my godmother. Now that I thought back to my high school history lessons, I remembered that, ideally, liege lords were supposed to act as wise parents toward their vassals. It also explained why the Erlking hadn't come back to force me to run from the Wild Hunt. A mortal, even a wizard, he'd attack. A member of the Winter Court, no. That would be impolitic. Toss in the growing "Za-Lord's Guard"--damn it, how had I carved myself a base of power among the wyldfae without realizing it?--Uriel and soulfire, and the mindmeld with the island, and I sounded a hell of a lot more powerful than I was. And Titania, being a politically savvy lady, probably knew every drop of this.

"It's affecting Summer," I said aloud, a chill running down my spine. "I'm affecting Summer. That's why Titania wants me dead. She said she was afraid of what Winter would do to Summer if she let the wizards use Summer's Ways to fight the Red Court...but she wasn't talking about Mab or Maeve, she was talking about me. That's why she didn't want to oppose the vampires—because someone from Winter was fighting them. And that's why she won't let her knight or the Summer Lady talk to me about what she's doing. It's not about my killing her daughter umpteen years ago to save the world. This is about something that's happening now. Winter's changing because of me, so Summer has to change to maintain the balance—or stop the change from continuing."

"I cannot believe you never realized any of this," Gard grumbled. "What do you think about?"

"And...she was the one who brought the Denarians to Chicago. Twice. The leader of the Denarians likes causing plagues. Winter couldn't help with that, but Summer—one little extra shot of life to a virus--"

"Yes." Gard gave me a stern and distant look. "It would not have been hard, you know. There are many Ways through the Nevernever, and despite the fact that you tend to favor those in Winter, many Ways lie elsewhere. Titania found a number of means of interfering in Mab's realm. Then, finally, she attacked someone of some importance to Mab's Knight."

"But she hadn't done anything openly," I said slowly. "Everything was through third parties. Which meant that Mab couldn't openly oppose her. So instead, Mab gave me an order in a way that she knew I would rebel against but still obey, and hid my own fire magic from me. Because when I went to Arctis Tor, I--" I stopped, appalled.

I hadn't used Summer fire to fight homicidal monsters. I'd absorbed Summer fire. Stolen it and incorporated it into my own magic, permanently. And I hadn't realized it at the time.

No wonder Mab had had to hide my magic from me. How could Titania not sense Summer's power when it was used—even if it was heavily diluted by mortal magic?

Stars and stones. No wonder she was pissed.

"Yes," Gard said softly, in a way that made me suspect she'd heard everything running through my head. "Exactly."

I turned back to Luccio. "So when you heard the rumors about my—ah—interest in Marcone at the same time that I needed your help to save him, it attracted your attention."

"And I gave you a test." She grimaced. "I would not have done it if I had been in control of myself."

"What did you do?" Michael asked, sounding curious.

"I stripped naked in front of him. And he barely noticed."

Michael's rapidly reddening face was a joy to behold.

"I noticed," I said with feeling. "I just...didn't know you wanted me to do anything about it."

"Riiiiiiiiiiight," Murphy drawled. "Because women voluntarily take off their clothes in front of dark handsome men by accident."

"Anyway," Luccio said, "you indicated later that you were interested. And—though it isn't the kind of sex I would have chosen if I hadn't been under the control of another—I've no complaints about the sex we did have. It was...intense. Passionate.

"But it was never love. That doesn't bother me. But I think it matters to you, and more than a little."

I couldn't disagree with her. She was right. I don't do casual well. I've tried. I'd liked Ana. I hadn't loved her, but I'd wanted to, even tried to. And I couldn't.

"I knew before that," Murphy said matter-of-factly. "Remember when we went to that upper-class exercise club-cum-brothel? Expensive. Rich. Bevys of young girls on autoflirt. Some of them were flirting with you, and you barely noticed.

"And then John Marcone walked in. And you relaxed. One of the most dangerous men in the country, and you relaxed. You smiled at him. You bantered with him and teased him like you do people you care about. And I don't think he took his eyes off of you." She shook her head. "I have to admit that the words 'just kiss the guy' crossed my mind more than once."

"They do tend to stare," Michael agreed. "I noticed that on the island. When we found Marcone, he was naked and wounded...and Harry couldn't stop staring at the man. I had to elbow him in the ribs to get him going again."

"Why didn't anyone tell me they knew any of this stuff?" I demanded of the air.

"You're a detective," Gard said dryly. "We assumed you could detect. And speaking of that, you said you had a case to ask us about?"

"Oh, yeah, right." I glanced at Murphy. "Have you been going to Mac's pub lately—with or without Luccio?"

She shook her head. "No. Stasia likes a little Greek place over on South Halsted better. Fewer wizards. More privacy."

I supposed I wouldn't want to hang around wizards much if I'd been involuntarily bodyswitched, mind-controlled and used as a pawn in an assassination by some of them. And Greek food is good. But...

"Stasia?"

"It's what I call her." Murphy's eyes were bright and defiant.

Fencing lessons from someone who had done nothing but swordplay for a century. Dinners together. I had to ask.

"Murph, is this a friend thing—or are you dating?"

"Does it matter?" She gave me a steady look. "As it happens, it's both."

"I thought you liked Kincaid." I'd seen her close to tears when Kincaid had been hurt in a battle with Denarians at an aquarium.

She sighed. "I do. People can date more than one person at a time, Harry. How I feel about Jared has nothing to do with how I feel about Stasia. And she's helped a lot. So has Michael."

I was beginning to feel more than a little confused. "How?"

She glanced away. "Remember when Fidelacchius chose me and I said no? Well, it's sort of an...ongoing no. I've dreamt about that sword every night for four years. And then I dream about hot spots. Places where trouble is breaking out and the sword needs to be. Last week I couldn't stop dreaming about a Denarian being in Bamoko, Mali. I didn't even know there was a city named Bamoko!" She swallowed. "I've had a feeling for a while that—despite what I've said, despite my oath to protect Chicago as a cop—someday the only way I'm going to be able to keep that oath and protect anyone is if I take up the sword."

"It took me a year to say yes," Michael murmured. "Believe me, you're not the first to hesitate."

Murphy made a face. "He doesn't think there's any way that I dodge this, unfortunately. And I figure that, given that I'm a friend of yours and that crises break out around you all the time—if I ever need to take up the sword, it won't be purely symbolic. I'm going to need to know how to use the blesséd thing.

"Which...all right, yes, I have a katana at my house. And I can use it. But there's a difference between being able to fight with a sword and fighting to the death with it. Not that fencing in a dojo is much like down-and-dirty fighting with a katana. But it's still training." She glanced at me. "Not that Stasia and I haven't been practicing with katanas in alleys and deserted lots or anywhere that I might actually have to fight for real.

"And then a few months back I ran into Stasia at the supermarket. And she mentioned that she'd moved here after a health-related emergency forced her to give up her old job. And I asked about fencing lessons. And things just spiraled from there."

"You could have told me you were bi," I grumbled.

"What, like you did?" She shook her head. "Liking women isn't a major revelation for me, Harry. I've known it since college. And you know something? It's not a big deal. But I don't talk about it, first because it's no one's business"--this was punctuated by A Look in Michael's direction--"and second because there are a lot of male cops who, when they want to discredit a woman, call her a ball-busting lesbian. Which may tell you why I'm not into labels. Now. Why do you want to know if I've been hanging around Mac's?"

I explained about the phone call to the morgue, and about the spells on my telephone that had been intended to ensnare me.

"Warlock," Luccio murmured. "Harry, you can't protect her any more. And given that you're her teacher and under the Doom as well--"

"I don't think that killing the Winter Knight would be practical," Gard said. "Not unless the wizards want to upset the balance of power in Faerie. And deal with a very angry Winter Queen for the next few centuries."

"I'm not sure who I was talking to," I admitted. "At the time, I would have sworn that I had spoken to Molly and then to Butters. But when I spoke to Butters, I heard something that sounded wrong. Or rather, I didn't hear something. And that made me wonder. I think this is just another Xanatos gambit. Or maybe the same one that's been going on for years." I glanced at Michael. "This is gonna be the toughest for you and your family. You need to call Charity now."

Michael's jaw trembled. "Harry, she's my little girl--"

"I know who she is," I said with a sigh. "I probably know better than you do. Just call Charity and get over to my place now."

"Why?" he said with a frown. "Why now?"

"Because some phone spells got snapped," I said. "And someone is going to need to get those fixed before I get home. Michael---please. I need you and Charity to be there. It's important."

He didn't like it; I could see that in his eyes and the set of his jaw. But at last, he nodded, and withdrew to a corner to call his wife.

I turned to Gard. "You know where J--Marcone is, I take it."

She gave me an odd smile. "You are free to call him John. I have no objection. And yes, I know where he is, though certain protections are in place. It will take some work to remove them. I take it you want him there as well?"

"Yes. With you and Hendricks."

"And do you think he will be safe?"

"I...can't guarantee that."

"Then why do you want him there?" She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at me. "Surely if you love him, you should care for his well-being."

I matched her glare for glare. "'If? Not a good word for how I feel. And don't call me Shirley."

"Then why?"

I told her—well, her, Luccio and Murphy, since we were all still in that bubble of privacy and I couldn't exactly talk to any of them in secret without leaving the bubble—about my mirroring theory. They grasped it quickly.

"I don't like the idea of three-quarters of Marcone's people being under mind control," Murphy said slowly.

"Nor I," Gard said. "The mere possibility is a catastrophe. If it has happened--" She shook her head solemnly. "We will have to make a report to my employer. Now."

I heard an ominous word in that sentence. "'We'?"

She looked surprised. "Of course. The knowledge and the theory are yours. I cannot report them as accurately as you can."

"Um...hello? Human? No access to Valhalla without dying first?"

She flicked me with an impatient, no-nonsense glance. "We are not going to Valhalla. We are going to Asgard."

I closed my eyes. "Oh, good. That makes me feel so much better."

"You don't know how lucky you are," Luccio said, envy sharp in her voice. "I always wanted to see the homes of the gods and cross the rainbow bridge of Bifrost."

I sighed. "You don't know me and gods." I held up a hand as Gard began to protest. "All right, all right. I'm not arguing. We'll go. Hopefully we can come back today and not next century."

"Of course," said Gard coolly. "It would be most impractical for us to re-enter the mortal world at a time and a place other than today in Chicago. How could I fulfill my contract then? And how could you foil the creature trying to destroy him?"

"I suppose you want us to go over to your place as well, Harry," said Luccio.

"Yeah, I do. It—it may be unpleasant. I expect one of Peabody's colleagues to show up."

Peabody had been an elderly wizard who had betrayed the White Council. Unlike the Merlin of the Council, I wasn't prepared to say that he was the only traitor, either. The official line, however, was that Peabody—who had influenced every decision the Senior Council had made for a dozen years or more by means of, so help me, enchanted inks used in every document, and who had mentally enslaved 75% of the wizards a century old or younger—had acted alone.

Me, I was just waiting to discover that one of those helping him had been a grassy gnoll.

Luccio's features hardened at the news about Peabody's colleague. "In that case, I would be delighted to be there."

I turned to Murphy. "Murph. This is a lot to ask of you--"

"I know what you're going to say, Harry." For the barest second, before a soulgaze could start, she met my eyes. "You want me to take up Fidelacchius."

"...yeah."

Her voice was steady. "You know that once a sword is accepted, there's no turning back."

"Yeah. I know."

She took a deep breath, and then, as if she were asking a question, she slowly and deliberately lifted her gaze to meet Luccio's eyes.

I don't know what Murphy was asking. Maybe it was Do you think I can do this? Or maybe You know more about the magical world than I do. Are there hazards or advantages that I'm not seeing? Or maybe it was simply, What do you think? This affects you too. I can only tell you what I saw in both their faces as they soulgazed—pain, empathy, fear, loneliness, astonishment, wonder and, finally, joy. And when Luccio finally turned her face aside and broke the soulgaze, there was a peace in her expression that I'd never seen before.

"Do it, carina," she said softly.

Murphy looked up toward the ceiling and held out both hands.

The katana, sheathed in hard plastic, materialized in a burst of blue light. Not soft and dramatic and spiritual, mind you. This was more of a happy explosion, a silent, joyful shout of, Yes! Finally! How Heaven felt about Murphy's decision I had no clue, but there was no doubt that Fidelacchius approved.

For a moment, I was confused. How had the sword gotten here? Up till a couple of second ago, it had been in a safe in my sub-basement. But then I realized. The sword had always been hers, ever since it had chosen her. The fact that they'd been physically separated hadn't changed that. And when she finally decided to take it up, no mortal power would prevent her from doing so.

Luccio moved forward and gave Murphy a tight hug. "You will be the best and longest-lived knight ever, do you understand? I will not tolerate anything less."

Still gripping the katana, Murphy hugged her back. Then she turned to me. "Harry..."

"Awww, Murph." I pulled her toward me. "What she said, yeah?"

She punched my shoulder. Hard. "That's the best you can do?"

"Well, fine, if you want me to get formal." I placed my left hand on her forehead and intoned—quite dramatically, I thought--"Conlige suspectos semper habitos. Dic mihi solum facta, domina. Et fac ut gaudeam."

"That's a blessing?" Murphy said skeptically.

"Yes. It calls on you to be, for all time, as good a knight as you are a cop."

"What he literally said," Gard added, "was 'Round up the usual suspects. Just the facts, ma'am. And make my day.'"

I shrugged. "It loses something in the translation. But—that's what I meant, anyway, no matter what the words meant."

Murphy smiled. "Thanks, Harry."

Gard bowed deeply, one woman warrior greeting another. Then she turned to me. "It is time. We must go now. No more talking." And with that, she stalked out of the dojo.

"Good luck, Murph," I murmured, and then hastened after the Valkyrie who was going to take me to Asgard.

***

Part 4--Conclusion
 
 
Current Mood: busy
 
 
 
aunt_zeldaaunt_zelda on May 15th, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC)
OMG Harry’s going to Asgard I am so jealous! I actually have a map of Yggdrasil that I painted in a Viking class hanging from my wall!

Also ... Murphy/Luccio? … *SQUEE*

John and his people should be working, so why was the building closed? Was John in danger? Stars and stones, what was wrong?
Then I remembered. Oh, right. Today was Saturday.

Heeeeeeeeeee …

"Yes, and we're having a nice little discussion about tattoos." Another giggle. It was beginning to grate on my nerves for some reason. "I'm afraid he can't come to the phone right now. I'm afraid he's"--there was a significant pause--"tied up at the moment."
"Sounds terribly 1970s sitcom," I said in a bored tone.

What the …?! *jawdrop* alkfjalfkjadfajlfaj …
I have no response to this … really, I just … UH …

I wanted very badly to take my staff and smash Whoever's head in.
Yeah, yeah. I'm not entirely civilized. Sue me.

Heeeeeeeeeee …

A quick glance at the phone told me that Mouse had amputated the tracking spell, root and offshoot. I was free to go.
Re: Mouse is AWESOME.

Mouse circled around the Beetle and immediately leapt on the rootlike feet of the chlorofiend. He barked, growled, clawed and bit as if he were desperate to keep the creature away from me. At the same time, I couldn't shake the feeling that he was also enjoying playing with this huge stick.
*sporfles*

And I'd like to apologize to the 38,500-odd people who lost power that day. It wasn't intentional. I just happen to be a big fan of living.
*sporfleDIEZ*

I walked into a small dojo where my best friend and my ex-girlfriend were battling with a pair of very long and not at all phallic pieces of metal.
I won't pretend that I didn't think, Damn, that's hot, because I did and it was.

Mmmmmm … tell me more?

There's just one catch. He's a man."
There was a time that this would have terrified me. Now it didn't seem to matter that much. I was okay with this.

*beams* I honestly believe that Harry would act exactly like this in the books.

But then again, the pretty young woman currently thrusting her saber past Murphy's best defenses had been my lover for a couple of years...without any awareness that before that, she'd been 100% lesbian.
I certainly picked up that sort of vibe when Lara taunted Luccio about the ‘parties’ in Italy …

"Yes. Mostly. I'm not gay."
"Of course you're not," he said soothingly. "You're just in love with a man."
Murphy chuckled at that. She tried to convert it to a snort, but I knew better.
Heroically refraining from strangling both of them, I stared at the mats on the dojo floor, trying very hard to remind myself why transforming people into newts was not a good idea.

I love these characters. And your writing. *huggles you*

Harry being the Winter Knight (kind) is an interesting idea. Very believable the way you write it … *eyes you suspiciously* You’re sure that you’re not Jim Butcher?

Michael's rapidly reddening face was a joy to behold.
*passes out*

"And then John Marcone walked in. And you relaxed. One of the most dangerous men in the country, and you relaxed. You smiled at him. You bantered with him and teased him like you do people you care about. And I don't think he took his eyes off of you." She shook her head. "I have to admit that the words 'just kiss the guy' crossed my mind more than once."
Is EVERYONE a slasher here?! *jumps for joy in the corner*

"What he literally said," Gard added, "was 'Round up the usual suspects. Just the facts, ma'am. And make my day.'"
Hee hee hee …
Gehayi: harry with hat (art by mcgrath)gehayi on May 17th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
What the …?! *jawdrop* alkfjalfkjadfajlfaj …
I have no response to this … really, I just … UH …


Molly has a habit of trying to fluster or embarrass Harry. It occurred to me, after reading over a lot of her lines, that quite a lot of them sounded like punning lines from old sitcoms like Three's Company and Soap.

I love these characters. And your writing. *huggles you*

Thank you!

Harry being the Winter Knight (kind of) is an interesting idea. Very believable the way you write it …

And again, thank you. I'd been going over the details of Summer's behavior recently, and suddenly it hit me that the behavior of Titania, Mab and their minions toward Harry made a lot more sense when I thought of Harry as an employee of Mab. And there aren't many positions a mortal could have in Faerie--except for the one that he thinks he's refused. He's refused the title...but he's gone above and beyond the call in protecting the city, its people and Mab's interests, even when he's been given alternatives to such a struggle.

And isn't that pretty much what a knight is supposed to do?

So yeah. In my view, Harry has the job, if not the title. He just hasn't figured that out yet. And Mab and Titania think that he already knows.
aunt_zeldaaunt_zelda on May 17th, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC)
So yeah. In my view, Harry has the job, if not the title. He just hasn't figured that out yet. And Mab and Titania think that he already knows.
Jim Butcher probably hasn't either ... unless, you know, you ARE Jim Butcher! Which, I think, you really honestly ARE! (Unless you're just a fantastic fanfic writer, but that would just make me cry, because then the possibilities in this fic wouldn't have the potential to be canon ...)
I'm sorry if I'm offending you by insisting that you are Jim Butcher. It's actually a compliment in a screwed-up kind of way.