Chapter 27

Thomas supported most of my weight as my injured leg began to buckle, and settled me in one of the chairs in the living room.

"We can't be here long," he said. "Those two Reds know he's injured and exhausted. They'll be back, looking for an opening or trying to pick one of us off when we're vulnerable."

"Right, right," Molly said. "How is he?"

He crouched down in front of me and peered at me. His irises looked like polished chrome. "Still punchy."

"Shock?"

"Maybe. He's in a lot of pain."

I was? Oh. I was. That might explain the way I wasn't talking, I guessed.

"God," Molly said, her voice shaking. "I'll get some of his things."

"This isn't right," Thomas said. "Get Bob."

Molly sounded confused. "Get what?"

His expression flickered with surprise and then went neutral again. "Sorry. Lips disconnected from my brain. Get the Swords."

"They aren't here," Molly said, moving around. Her voice came from my bedroom. "He moved them. Hid them, along with his ghost dust and a bunch of other illegal things."

Thomas frowned at that and then nodded. "Okay. It'll have to do. Where do we take him?"

Molly appeared in my field of vision and knelt down to peer at me. She took one of my hands in hers. "Wherever is good, I guess."

Thomas took a slow breath. His silver eyes grew even brighter. It was creepy as hell and fascinating. "I was hoping you knew a good spot. I sure as hell can't take him to my place."

Molly's voice sharpened. "I don't even have a place," she said. "I still live at my parents' house."

"Less whining," Thomas said, his voice cool. "More telling me a place to take him where he won't be killed."

"I am - " Molly began. Then she closed her eyes for a second, and moderated her tone. "I am sorry. I'm just . . ." She glanced up at Thomas. "I'm just scared."

"I know," Thomas said through clenched teeth.

"Um," Molly said. She swallowed. "Why do your eyes do that?"

There was a lengthy pause before Thomas answered. "They aren't my eyes, Miss Carpenter. They're my demon's eyes. The better to see you with."

"Demon . . ." Molly said. She was staring. "You're hungry. Like, the vampire way."

"After a fight like that?" Thomas said. "I'm barely sane."

Both of them should have known better. Every time a wizard looks another person in the eyes, he runs the risk of triggering a deeper seeing, a voyeuristic peep through the windows of someone else's soul. You get a snapshot of the true nature of that person, and they get a peek back at you.

It was only the second time I'd ever seen a soulgaze happen to someone else. There was an instant where both of them locked their eyes on each other's. Molly's eyes widened suddenly, like a frightened doe's, and she jerked in a sharp breath. She stared at him with her chin twisting to one side, as if she were trying - and failing - to look away.

Thomas went unnaturally still, and though his eyes also widened, it reminded me more of a cat crouching down in anticipation, just before pouncing on its prey.

Molly's back arched slightly and a soft moan escaped her. Her eyes filled with tears.

"God," she said. "God. No. No, you're beautiful. God, you hurt so much, need so much. . . . Let me help you. . . ." She fumbled for his hand.

Thomas never moved as her fingers touched his. Not a muscle. His eyes closed very slowly.

"Miss Carpenter," he whispered. "Do not touch me. Please."

"No, it's all right," Molly said. "It's all right. I'm here."

Thomas's hand moved too quickly to be seen. He caught her wrist in his pale fingers, and she let out a short gasp. He opened his eyes and focused on hers, and Molly began to breathe harder. The tips of her breasts showed against her shirt and her mouth opened with another soft moan.

I think I made a quiet sound of protest. Neither of them heard it.

He leaned closer, the motion feline and serpentine at the same time. Molly began trembling. She licked her lips and began to slowly lean forward, toward him. Their lips met, and her body quivered, tensed, and then went rigid. A breathless sound escaped her as her eyes rolled back in her head, and Thomas was suddenly pressed against her. Molly's hips rocked against his. Her hands came up and began clawing at his shirt, tearing the buttons from the silk so that her palms could flatten against his naked chest.

Mouse hit Thomas like a wrecking ball.

The big dog's charge tore my brother away from my apprentice and slammed him into the brick of the fireplace. Thomas let out a sudden snarl of pure, surprised rage, but Mouse had him by the throat before he could recover.

The big dog's jaws didn't snap closed - but the tips of his teeth sank into flesh, and he held Thomas there, a growl bubbling from his chest. My brother's hand flailed, reaching for the poker that hung beside the fireplace. Mouse took note of it and gave Thomas a warning shake, his teeth sinking a tiny bit deeper. My brother didn't quit reaching for the weapon, and I saw the tension gathering in the big dog's body.

I came rushing back into myself all at once and said, weakly, "Thomas."

He froze. Mouse cocked an ear toward me.

"Thomas," I croaked. "Don't. He's protecting the girl."

Thomas let out a gasping, pained sound. Then I saw him grimace and force himself to relax, to surrender. His body slowly eased away from its fighting tension, and he held up both hands palms out, and lifted his chin a little higher.

"Okay," he rasped. "Okay. It's okay now."

"Show me your eyes," I said.

He did. They were a shade of pale, pale grey, with only flecks of reflective hunger dancing through them.

I grunted. "Mouse."

Mouse backed off slowly, gradually easing the pressure of his jaws, gently taking his teeth out of Thomas's throat. He took a pair of steps back and then sat down, head lowered to a fighting crouch that kept his own throat covered. He kept facing Thomas, made no sound, and didn't move. It looked odd and eerie on the big dog.

"Can't stay here," Thomas said. The bite wounds in his throat looked swollen, angry. Their edges were slightly blackened, as if the dog's teeth had been red-hot. "Not with her like that." He closed his eyes. "I didn't mean to. Sorry."

I looked at Molly, who was curled into a fetal position and shaking, still breathing hard.

"Get out," I said.

"How will you - "

"Thomas," I said, and my voice was slightly stronger, hot with anger. "You could have hurt Molly. You could have killed her. My only defense is down here babysitting you instead of standing guard. Get out. You're no good to me like this."

Mouse let out another warning growl.

"I'm sorry," Thomas said again. "I'm sorry."

Then he eased around Mouse and departed, his feet making little sound as he went up the stairs.

I sat there for a moment, hurting in practically every sense. My entire body tingled with unpleasant pinpricks, as though it had gone to sleep and was only now feeling the return of circulation. The soulfire. I must have pushed too much of it through me. Terror- adrenaline must have kept me rolling for a little while, but after that, I'd collapsed into pure passivity.

Terror on behalf of my brother and Molly had given me back my voice, my will, but it might not last. It hurt to sit upright. It hurt to breathe. Moving anything hurt, and not moving anything hurt.

So, I supposed, I might as well be moving.

I tried to get up, but my left leg wasn't having any of it, and I was lucky not to end up on the floor. Without being told, Mouse got up and hurried into my room. I heard some heavy thumping as he rustled around under my bed, which had required him to lift it onto his massive shoulders. He came out a moment later, carrying one of my crutches, left over from injuries past, in his teeth.

"Who's a good dog?" I said.

He wagged his tail at me and went back for the other one. Once I had them both, I was able to get up and gimp my way over to the kitchen. Tylenol 3 is good stuff, but it is also illegal stuff to have without a prescription if you aren't Canadian, so it was currently buried in my godmother's insane garden. I took a big dose of Tylenol the original, since I didn't have my Tylenol 3 or its lesser-known, short-lived cousin, Tylenol Two: The Pain Strikes Back.

I realized that I was telling Mouse all of this out loud as I thought it, which had the potential to become awkward if it should become a habit. Once that was done, and I'd drunk a third glass of water, I moved over to Molly and checked her pulse. It was steady. Her breathing had slowed. Her eyes were slightly open and unfocused.

I muttered under my breath. The damned girl was going to get herself killed. This was the second time she'd come very close to being fed upon by a vampire, though admittedly the first had been in a vicarious fashion. Still, it couldn't be good for her to be hit with it again. And if Thomas had actually begun to feed on her, there was no telling what it might do to her.

"Molly," I said. Then louder, "Molly!"

She drew in a sudden little breath and blinked up at me.

"You're smearing paint all over my rug," I said wearily.

She sat up, looking down at herself and at the green paint smeared all over her. She looked up at me again, dazed. "What just happened?"

"You soulgazed Thomas. You both lost perspective. He nearly ate you." I poked her with a crutch. "Mouse saved you. Get up."

"Right," she said. "Right." She stood up very slowly, wincing and rubbing at one wrist. "Um. Is . . . is Thomas all right?"

"Mouse nearly killed him," I said. "He's scared, ashamed, half out of his mind with hunger, and gone." I thumped her leg lightly with my crutch. "What were you thinking?"

Molly shook her head. "If you'd seen . . . I mean, if you'd seen him. Seen how lonely he was. Felt how much pain he was in, how empty he feels, Harry . . ." She teared up again. "I've never felt anything so horrible in my life. Or seen anyone braver."

"Apparently, you figured you'd help him out by letting him rip the life out of you."

She faced me for a moment, then flushed and looked away. "He . . . It doesn't get ripped out. It gets . . ." She blushed. "I think the only phrase that works is 'licked away.' Like licking the frosting off of a cake. Or . . . or the candy coating off of one of those lollipops."

"Except that as soon as you find out how many licks it takes him to get to your creamy center, you're dead," I said. "Or insane. Which is somewhat chilling to consider, given the things you can do. So I repeat." I thumped her leg with the tip of my crutch on each word. "What. Were. You. Thinking."

"It won't happen again," she said, but I saw her shiver as she said it.

I grunted skeptically, staring down at her.

Molly wasn't ready. Not for something like we were about to do. She had too much confidence and not nearly enough sound judgment.

It was frustrating. By the time I had been her age, I had finished my apprenticeship in private investigation and was opening my own business. And I had been living under the Doom of Damocles for the better part of a decade.

Of course, I had an experience advantage on Molly. I had made my first dark compact, with my old master Justin DuMorne, when I was ten or eleven, though I hadn't known what I was getting into at the time. I'd made a second one with the Leanansidhe when I was sixteen. And I'd wound up under round-the-clock observation from the paranoid Warden Morgan.

It had been a brief lifetime for me, at that point, but absolutely chock-full of lessons in the school of hard knocks. I had made plenty of dumb decisions of my own by then, and somehow managed to survive them.

But I also hadn't been dallying around in situations as hot as this one was. A troll under a bridge or an upset spirit or two was as bad as it got. It had prepared me for what I faced today.

Molly was facing it cold. She'd been burned once before, but it had taken me more than one attempt to learn that lesson.

She might not survive her next test.

She looked up at me and asked, "What?"

"We need to move," I said. "I met the Eebs while you three were playing with the Ik'k' . . . with the Ik'koo-koo-kachoo . . ." I scrunched up my nose, trying to remember the name of the creature, and couldn't. "With the Ick," I said, "and they were charming in an entirely amoral, murderous sort of way. Thomas was right: They'll be after me, looking for an opening. We're going."

"Where?"

"St. Mary's," I said. "The Red Court can't walk on holy ground, and Susan knows I've used it as a fallback position before. She and Martin can catch up to me there. And I've got to get some rest."

She rose, nodding. "Okay. Okay, I'll get you a change of clothes, all right?"

"Call a cab first," I said. "And pack the Tylenol. And some of Mouse's food."

"Right. Okay."

I leaned on my crutches and stayed standing while she bustled around the room. I didn't want to risk sitting down again. The Tylenol had taken the worst edge off the pain, and my thoughts, though tired and sluggish, seemed to be firmly connected to my body again. I didn't want to risk relaxing into lassitude.

"Say that five times fast," I murmured, and tried. It was something to do that I couldn't screw up too badly.

A while later, Mouse made a whuffing sound from the top of the stairs outside, and Molly plodded up them wearily. "Cab's here, Harry," she called.

I got myself moving. Stairs on crutches isn't fun, but I'd done it before. I took my time, moving slowly and steadily.

"Look out!" she yelled.

A bottle smashed against the top interior wall of the stairwell, and its contents splashed all over the place, fire spreading over them as they did. Ye olde Molotov cocktail, still a formidable weapon even after a century of use. There's more to one of those things than simple burning fuel. Fire that hot sucks the oxygen out of the air around it, especially when it has a nice, dank stairway to use as a chimney. And you needn't get splattered by the spilling fuel to get burned. When a fire is hot enough, it'll burn exposed flesh from inches or feet away, turning the atmosphere around it into an oven.

I was only on the second or third step up from the bottom, but I staggered back before anything could get roasted - been there, done that, not going back. I tried to fall onto my uninjured side, figuring that it deserved a chance to join in the fun, too. I landed more or less the way I wanted to, and it hurt like hell, but at least I didn't faint. I screamed, though, a number of vitriolic curses, as fire roared above me, leaping from my little stairwell to the rest of the house, chewing into the old wood like a hungry, living thing.

"Harry!" Molly called from somewhere beyond the flames. "Harry!" Mouse let out a heartsick-sounding bay, and I saw fire beginning to climb the sides of the house. The fire was starting from the outside. By the time it started setting off fire alarms, it would be too late to escape.

At this time of night, somewhere up above me, Mrs. Spunkelcrief was asleep and unaware of the danger. And on the second floor, my elderly neighbors, the Willoughbys, would be in similar straits, and all because they were unlucky enough to live in the same building as me.

I'd dropped one of my crutches up on the stairs and one end had caught on fire. There was no way I was pulling much in the way of magic out of my hat, not until I'd had food and some rest. Hell's bells, for that matter I didn't know if I could stand up on my own. But if I didn't do something, three innocent people - plus myself - were going to die in a fire.

"Come on, Harry," I said. "You aren't half-crippled. You're half-competent."

The fire roared higher, and I didn't believe myself for a second.

But I put my hands on the ground and began heaving myself upright. "Do or die, Dresden," I told myself fiercely, and firmly ignored the fear pounding in my chest. "Do or die."

The dying really did seem a lot more likely.


Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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