Blood Rites Chapter 42

Chapter Forty-two

I woke up the next morning. More specifically, I woke up the next morning when the last stone on Ebenezar's painkilling bracelet crumbled into black dust, and my hand began reporting that it was currently dipped in molten lead.

Which, as days go, was not one of my better starts. Then again, it wasn't the worst one, either.

Normally I'd give you some story about how manly I was to immediately attain a state of wizardly detachment and ignore the pain. But the truth was that the only reason I didn't wake up screaming was that I was too out of breath to do it. I clenched my hand, still in dirty wrappings, to my chest and tried to remember how to walk to the freezer. Or to the nearest chopping block, one of the two.

’’Whoa, whoa,’’ said a voice, and Thomas appeared, leaning over me. He looked rumpled and stylish, the bastard. ’’Sorry, Harry,’’ he said. ’’It took me a while to get something for the pain. Thought I'd have gotten back hours ago.’’ He pressed my shoulders to the bed and said, ’’Stay there. Think of... uh, pentangles or something, right? I'll get some water.’’

He reappeared a minute later with a glass of water and a couple of blue pills. ’’Here, take them and give them about ten minutes. You won't feel a thing.’’

He had to help me, but he was right. Ten minutes later I lay on my bed thinking that I should texture my ceiling with something. Something fuzzy and soft.

I got up, dressed in my dark fatigue pants, and shambled out into my living room, slash kitchen, slash study, slash den. Thomas was in the kitchen, humming something to himself. He hummed on-key. I guess we hadn't gotten the same genes for music.

I sat down on my couch and watched him bustle around-as much as you can bustle when you need to take only two steps to get clear from one side of the kitchen to the other. He was cooking eggs and bacon on my wood-burning stove. He knew jack about cooking over an actual fire, so the bacon was scorched and the eggs were runny, but it looked like he was amusing himself doing it, and he dumped burned bits, underdone bits, or bits he simply elected to discard on the floor at the foot of the stove. The puppy and the cat were both there, with Mister eating anything he chose to and the puppy dutifully cleaning up whatever Mister judged unworthy of his advanced palate.

’’Heya, man,’’ he said. ’’You aren't gonna feel hungry, but you should try to eat something, okay? Good for you and all that.’’

’’Okay,’’ I said agreeably.

He slapped the eggs and bacon more or less randomly onto a couple of plates, brought me one, and kept one for himself. We ate. It was awful, but my hand didn't hurt. You take what you can get in this life.

’’Harry,’’ Thomas said after a moment.

I looked up at him.

He said, ’’You came to get me.’’

’’Yeah,’’ I said.

’’You saved my life.’’

I mused on it. ’’Yeah,’’ I agreed a moment later. I kept eating.

’’Thank you.’’

I shook my head. ’’Nothing.’’

’’No, it isn't,’’ he said. ’’You risked yourself. You risked your friend Murphy, too.’’

’’Yeah,’’ I said again. ’’Well. We're family, right?’’

’’Too right we are,’’ he said, a lopsided smile on his mouth. ’’Which is why I want to ask you a favor.’’

’’You want me to go back with you,’’ I said. ’’Feel things out with Lara. Visit Justine. See which way the future lies.’’

He blinked at me. ’’How did you know?’’

’’I'd do it too.’’

He nodded quietly. Then said, ’’You'll go?’’

’’As long as we do it before Tuesday.’’

Murphy came by on Monday, to report that the investigation had determined that Emma's shooting was a tragic accident. Since no prints had been found, and the eyewitness (and owner of the weapon) had vanished, I wasn't in any danger of catching a murder rap. It still looked as fishy as a tuna boat, and it wouldn't win me any new friends among the authorities, but at least I wouldn't be going to the pokey this time around.

It was hard for me to concentrate on Murphy's words. Raith had partially dislocated her lower jaw, and the bruises looked like hell. Despite the happy blue pain pills, when I saw Murphy I actually heard myself growling in rage at her injury. Murphy didn't talk much more than business, but her look dared me to make some kind of chivalrous commentary. I didn't, and she didn't break my nose, by way of fair exchange.

She took me to an expensive specialist her family doctor referred her to, who examined my hand, took a bunch of pictures, and wound up shaking his head. ’’I can't believe it hasn't started to mortify,’’ he said. ’’Mister Dresden, it looks like you may get to keep your hand. There's even a small portion on your palm that didn't burn at all, which I have no explanation for whatsoever. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?’’

’’That's working just fine, Doc,’’ I mumbled. ’’Not that it's had much use lately.’’

He gave me a brief smile. ’’More personal, I'm afraid. How good is your insurance?’’

’’Um,’’ I said. ’’Not so hot.’’

’’Then I'd like to give you a bit of advice, off the record. Your injury is almost miraculously fortunate, in terms of how unlikely it was that the limb would survive. But given the extent of the burns and the nerve damage, you might seriously consider amputation and the use of a prosthesis.’’

’’What?’’ I said. ’’Why?’’

The doctor shook his head. ’’We can prevent an infection from taking root and spreading until we can get you a graft to regenerate the epidermis-that's the main possible complication at this point. But in my professional judgment, you'll get more functionality out of an artificial hand than you ever again will from your own. Even with surgery and extensive therapy, which will cost you more than a pretty penny, and even if you continue to recover at the high end of the bell curve, it could be decades before you recover any use of the hand. In all probability, you will never recover any use of it at all.’’

I stared at him for a long minute.

’’Mister Dresden?’’ he asked.

’’My hand,’’ I responded, with all the composure of a three-year-old. I tried to smile at the doctor. ’’Look. Maybe my hand is all screwed up. But it's mine. So no bone saws.’’

The doctor shook his head, but said, ’’I understand, son. Good luck to you.’’ He gave me a prescription for an antibiotic ointment, a reference to a yet more expensive specialist just in case, and some pain medication. On the way back to my house, I asked Murphy to stop by the drugstore, where I got my prescriptions filled, and bought a bunch of clean bandages and a pair of leather gloves.

’’Well?’’ Murphy said. ’’Are you going to tell me what the doctor said?’’

I threw the right glove out the window, and Murphy arched an eyebrow at me.

’’When I get done with my mummy impersonation,’’ I said, waving my freshly bandaged hand, ’’I want to have a choice between looks. Michael Jackson or Johnny Tremaine.’’

She tried not to show it, but I saw her wince. I empathized. If I hadn't been on Thomas's groovy pain drugs, I may have started feeling bitter about the whole thing with my hand.

Monday afternoon I got the Blue Beetle back from my mechanic, Mike, who is the automotive repair equivalent of Jesus Christ himself. Either that or Dr. Frankenstein. I drove the Beetle out to a hotel near the airport to meet with Arturo Genosa and the new Mrs. Genosa.

’’How's the married life, Joan?’’ I asked.

Joan, dumpy and plain and glowing with happiness, leaned against Arturo with a small smile.

Arturo grinned as well and confided, ’’I have never been married to a woman with such... creativity.’’

Joan blushed scarlet.

We had a nice breakfast, and Arturo presented me with my fee, in cash. ’’I hope that isn't inconvenient, Mr. Dresden,’’ he said. ’’We didn't finish the film and the money is gone when I am forced to declare bankruptcy, but I wanted to be sure you received your pay.’’

I shook my head and pushed the envelope back to him. ’’I didn't save your film. I didn't save Emma.’’

’’The film, bah. You risked your life to save Giselle's. And Jake as well. Emma...’’ His voice trailed off. He almost seemed to visibly age. ’’I understand that you may not be entirely free to speak, but I must know what happened to her.’’

Joan's expression froze, and she gave me a pleading look.

She didn't have to explain it to me. She knew or suspected the truth-that Tricia Scrump had been behind the killing. It would break Arturo's heart to hear it about a woman he had once, however ill-advisedly, loved.

’’I'm not sure,’’ I lied. ’’I found Emma and Trixie like that. I thought I saw someone and ran off trying to catch the guy. But either he was faster than me or I'd been seeing things. We might never know.’’

Arturo nodded at me. ’’You mustn't blame yourself. Nor must you refuse what you rightfully earned, Mister Dresden. I'm in your debt.’’

I wanted to turn the money down, but damn, it was Monday. And Kincaid was Tuesday. I took the envelope.

Jake Guffie appeared a moment later, dressed in a casual suit of pale cotton. He hadn't shaved, and there was a lot of grey in the scruff of his beard. He looked like he hadn't slept much, either, but he was trying to smile. ’’Arturo. Joan. Congratulations.’’

’’Thank you,’’ Joan said.

Jake joined us, and we had a nice breakfast. Then we walked with Joan and Arturo to their airport shuttle. Jake and I watched them go. He stared after them for a moment. He looked weary, but if it had bothered him to deceive Arturo about Trixie Vixen, he hadn't let it show.

Jake turned to me and said, ’’I guess you weren't the killer. The police said the shooting was accidental. They pulled up Trixie's record and saw all her trips to rehab. Said that she had probably done something stupid while she was stoned.’’

’’Do you think that?’’ I asked.

’’No way, man. She did everything stupid. Stoned was just a coincidence.’’

I shook my head. ’’I'm sorry I wasn't able to protect Emma.’’

He nodded. ’’So am I, man. She was going to take her medication. Allergy medication. She didn't want to take it with tap water so she was going to the greenroom for a bottle of Evian. She was just standing in the wrong place. Hell of a thing.’’

’’I feel for her kids,’’ I said. ’’I've done the orphan thing. It sucks.’’

Jake nodded. ’’I don't know how they'll get on without their mom,’’ he said. ’’Not like I have much experience, either. But I can't be such a lousy father that they qualify as orphans.’’

I blinked for a second and then said, ’’You wanted to settle down once, you said.’’

’’Yeah. But Emma decided she wouldn't have me.’’

I nodded. ’’You going to keep acting?’’

’’Oh, hell, no,’’ he said. ’’Silverlight is gonna blacklist me like everyone else. And I can't do that and go to PTA and stuff. I got another job lined up.’’

’’Yeah?’’ I asked. ’’What?’’

’’Dude, me and Bobby are gonna to start up a consulting business. Feng shui.’’

I had no problem with that.

Next I went with Thomas up to the Raith family homestead north of town. This time we went in the front doors. There were a new pair of bodyguards at the door. They weren't twins, and they didn't have that numb, mindlessly obedient glaze in their eyes. They had evidently been chosen for skill and experience. I was betting on former marines.

’’Welcome, Mister Raith,’’ one of the guards said. ’’Your sister requests that you join her for breakfast in the east garden.’’

They both stood there waiting to fall in around us, so it didn't exactly come off like an invitation, but from the attention, they might have been as concerned with protecting us as watching us. Thomas took the lead by half a step, and I fell in on his right. I was quite a bit taller than him, but his expression had taken on a confidence and sense of purpose I hadn't seen in him before, and our feet hit the floor in time with one another.

The guards accompanied us out into a truly gorgeous terraced garden, a number drawn straight from the Italian Renaissance, with faux ruins, ancient statues of the gods, and a design overgrown enough to prevent seeing much at a time, the better to spend more time exploring. At the top of the highest terrace was a table made of fine metal wire twisted into looping designs, with matching chairs spread around it. A light breakfast was laid out on the table, heavier on the fruits and juices than was my habit. But then, my habit was usually to eat any leftovers from dinner for breakfast first.

Lara sat at the table, wearing white clothing accented with embroidered red roses. Her hair was drawn back into a loose tail, and she rose to greet us both with outstretched hands.

’’Thomas,’’ she said. ’’And Harry.’’

’’Sis,’’ Thomas replied. ’’Should I assume from our greeting that there's been a change of management?’’

She took her seat again, and Thomas joined her. I took a seat opposite him, so that I could watch his back, and I didn't spare any energy for false smiles. I didn't want Lara to think that we were going to be buddies now, and I suck at faking them anyway.

Lara took in my gaze, her own eyes calculating behind the smile. ’’Oh, it's just the usual little family spat,’’ she said. ’’I'm sure Father is going to be angry with me for a while and will forget all about it.’’

’’And if he doesn't?’’ Thomas asked.

Lara's smile grew a little sharper. ’’I'm sure he will.’’ She took a sip of orange juice. ’’Unfortunately, Thomas, I don't know if he's going to be as forgiving to you.’’

Thomas inhaled sharply.

’’I'm sorry,’’ Lara said. She looked like she meant it.

’’You're turning your back on him?’’ I asked. ’’On your brother.’’

Lara lifted a hand. ’’I do not want to, but my father's antagonism with Thomas is well known. If I am to maintain the fiction that my father is in control of his House, Thomas cannot remain. I'm not going to have you removed, of course, Thomas. But I do have to cut you off. You no longer enjoy the protection of House Raith-in any overt sense, in any case. And I am truly sorry for it.’’

’’The twins,’’ he said. ’’They put you up to this. They wanted me gone.’’

’’Madrigal did,’’ Lara confirmed. ’’Madeline didn't particularly care, but she has always indulged his tantrums. And simply put, I needed their support more than I did yours.’’

Thomas took another deep breath and nodded. ’’Things might change later.’’

’’I hope so,’’ Lara said. ’’But for now, there is nothing else I can do. Don't approach me openly again, Thomas. Don't visit. Don't claim Raith as your home. Lose the credit cards, and don't try to touch your accounts. You've got something tucked away?’’

’’A little,’’ he said. ’’The money doesn't matter.’’

Lara set her orange juice down and leaned back in her seat. ’’But Justine does,’’ she said.

’’Yes. Madrigal would love to get his hands on her.’’

’’He won't,’’ she responded. ’’I swear it to you, Thomas, that I will keep her safe with me. I can do that much for you, at least.’’

Something eased out of Thomas's shoulders. ’’How is she?’’

’’Distant,’’ Lara said. ’’Very vague and distracted. But happy, I think. She speaks of you at times.’’

’’You'll...’’ His face twisted in distaste.

’’Actually, no,’’ Lara said.

Thomas frowned at her.

’’Why don't you go see her,’’ Lara suggested, and nodded toward a lower portion of the garden, where I could see Justine, in her wheelchair, sketching something on a pad across her lap.

Thomas rose like a shot, then visibly forced himself to slow down, and went down the winding path to the girl, leaving me alone with Lara.

’’He really doesn't belong here, you know,’’ she said. ’’Like Inari.’’

’’How is she?’’

’’In traction,’’ Lara said. ’’In a room with her boyfriend at the hospital. He isn't in much better shape. They're always talking, laughing.’’ She sighed. ’’It's got all the signs of love. I spoke to her, as we agreed I would do. I don't think Inari will be one of us after all. She said something about doing feng shui in California.’’

’’I didn't know she knew martial arts,’’ I said.

Lara smiled a little, watching Thomas. He was kneeling beside Justine, looking at her sketches and talking. She looked weak but delighted, like when they take terminal kids to Disneyland on those talk shows. It warmed the heart at the same time it wrenched it. I didn't like the way it made me feel.

’’Just to be up-front with you, Lara,’’ I said, ’’I don't trust you.’’

She nodded. ’’Good.’’

’’But we've got a hostage crisis on our hands.’’

’’Of what sort?’’

’’Family secrets. You know mine about Thomas.’’

Her eyes were unreadable. ’’Yes. And you know about my father.’’

’’If you spout off about Thomas, I spout off about your dad. We both lose. So I think it would be best if we agreed to truce of mutual honesty. You don't have to like me. Or agree with me. Or help me. But be honest and you'll get the same from me. If I'm about to go hostile, I'll tell you that our truce is over. You do the same. It's good for both of us.’’

She nodded slowly and then said, ’’Your word on it then?’’

’’My word. Yours?’’

’’Yes. You have my word.’’

We both tucked into breakfast then, in silence.

Half an hour later Thomas rose, leaned down, and brushed his lips against Justine's cheek. He stood up rather abruptly, then turned and hurried away with tense, pained motions. He didn't look back. As he approached, I got a good look at his face.

His lips were burned and blistered. He walked past us as if we weren't there, his eyes distant.

’’He was always a romantic.’’ Lara sighed. ’’She's protected. The little idiot should never have let himself feel so much for prey. It was that last time together that did it, I imagine.’’

’’Had to go both ways.’’

’’Greater love hath no man,’’ Lara agreed.

We left. Thomas and I got into the Beetle and I asked him, ’’You okay?’’

His head was bowed. He didn't say anything.

’’I asked after Inari,’’ I said.

His eyes moved toward me, though he didn't lift his head.

’’She's in traction. And she's in love. Gonna be weeks before she and Bobby are going to get to do anything. No crimes of passion.’’

’’She's free,’’ Thomas said.

’’Yeah.’’

’’Good.’’ After a minute he added, ’’No one should have to be like the Raiths. Destroying the people you care about the most.’’

’’You didn't destroy her. And I think Lara really will protect her.’’

He shrugged, his expression dark.

’’You slept much since Saturday?’’

’’No.’’

’’You need to rest and I need a dog-sitter. I'll drop you at my place. I'll run errands. You drink Mac's beer until you crash on my couch. We'll figure out what you do next when you're rested. Okay?’’

’’Okay,’’ he said. ’’Thank you.’’

I took him back to my apartment and spent the rest of the morning trying to collect on bills a few people still owed me. I didn't have much luck. I spent the rest of the day applying for loans, and had even less luck. Bank guys get so hung up about things like bad credit histories and people who fill in the ’’occupation’’ blank of the application with wizard. I guess it could have been worse. I could have been filling out the reason the loan was needed with pay off mercenary for services rendered.

By the end of the day, my hand hurt so badly that it had begun to cut through the painkillers, and I was exhausted. On the way out of the last bank, I forgot what my car looked like for a minute. I missed my street and had to drive around the block, but I missed it the second time, too. I managed to get home before I completely lost sentience, staggered past Thomas and Mister and the puppy asleep on the couch, and collapsed onto my bed.

When I woke up, it was Tuesday morning.

I found myself nervously looking around for the bright red dot of a laser sight to appear on my nose while I was in the shower with a plastic trash bag over my bandaged hand. I got dressed, got on the phone, and called Kincaid's number, then waited for him to return the call.

It took less than three minutes. ’’It's Dresden,’’ I told the phone.

’’I know. How's the hand?’’

’’I saw this great Swiss Army prosthesis with all these different attachments, but my hopes got crushed. I'm keeping the original.’’

’’Damn shame,’’ Kincaid said. ’’You need another contract?’’

’’Wanted to talk about the last one,’’ I said. ’’Uh, I mean, I know you said Tuesday, but I'm still getting some assets turned into cash.’’ I wasn't lying to him. I hadn't sold all my used paperbacks yet, or dipped into my comic collection. ’’I need a little more time.’’

’’What are you talking about?’’

’’Time. I need more time.’’

’’For what?’’

’’To get your money,’’ I said, leaving out the word dolt. See? I can be diplomatic.

’’The money got here hours ago.’’

I blinked.

’’You can pay me twice if you like,’’ Kincaid said. ’’I won't stop you. Anything else?’’

’’Uh. No. I don't think so.’’

’’Don't call me again if it isn't business.’’ He paused. ’’Though I want to give you a piece of advice.’’

’’What's that?’’ I asked, cleverly hiding my confusion.

’’She went down pretty easy,’’ Kincaid said. ’’Mavra, I mean.’’

’’Yeah. 'Cause of your groovy cutting-edge vampire-hunting weapon, I guess. Thanks.’’

’’It's paid for,’’ he said. ’’But I mostly gave it to you to make you feel better. And to make sure you didn't shoot me by accident.’’

’’What about what you said about how cool a weapon it was?’’

’’Dresden. Come on. It's a paintball gun. Mavra's world-class bad news. I expected it to chew apart newbie vamps, sure. You think Mavra would have tottered on out of the smoke to let you kill her? Nice and dramatic like that? If you buy that one, I got a bridge to sell you.’’

I got a sick, sinking little feeling in my stomach. ’’It was her,’’ I said.

’’How do you know?’’ he asked.

’’Well. Because... she was wearing the same outfit,’’ I said. ’’Son of a bitch. That sounds really lame, even to me. One corpse looks a lot like another. It could have been a decoy.’’

’’Could,’’ he said. ’’So my advice to you, Dresden. Watch your back.’’

’’Gee. Thanks.’’

’’No charge.’’ He paused for a second as someone spoke in the background, then said, ’’Ivy says to tell your kitty hello for her.’’ He hung up.

I put the phone down, thoughtful. When I turned around Thomas was sitting up on the couch. Silently he offered me the business card with Kincaid's account number and the amount of the bill on it.

’’Found it in the laundry,’’ he said.

’’You didn't have to do that,’’ I said.

’’I know,’’ he replied.

’’You really have that much money?’’

He shook his head. ’’Not anymore. That was pretty much everything I'd set aside. I hadn't made a lot of plans for independence. I figured I'd either be dead or running things. I've got about fifty bucks to my name now.’’

I sat down on the couch. The puppy snuffled me with his nose and wagged his tail in greeting.

’’Where are you going to go?’’ I asked.

’’I don't know,’’ he said. ’’Guess I can do what my cousin Madrigal does: find some rich girl.’’ He grimaced. ’’I don't know what to do.’’

’’Look,’’ I said. ’’You really saved my ass. Crash here for a while.’’

’’I don't want charity.’’

’’It isn't,’’ I said. ’’Think of that money transfer as a rent payment. You can have the couch until you get your feet under you again. It'll be crowded, maybe, but it isn't forever.’’

He nodded. ’’You sure?’’

’’Sure.’’

Later Thomas went to the grocery store and I went down to the lab to talk to Bob. I filled him in on events.

’’You're sure?’’ Bob asked. ’’It was He Who Walks Behind?’’

I shivered. ’’Yeah. Thought I'd killed him.’’

’’Walkers aren't killable, Harry,’’ Bob said. ’’When you tore him up before, it banished him from the mortal realm. Might have hurt him, made him take time to heal up. But he's still out there.’’

’’That's comforting,’’ I said. I unwrapped my burned hand.

’’Yuck,’’ said Bob.

’’Can you see anything about the injury?’’ I asked.

’’Burned meat and nerve damage, looks like,’’ Bob said. ’’Hmm, I think it still has reflexes, though. I bet you could use it a little if you did it without thinking about it.’’

I frowned. ’’You're right. I think I did during the fight with Raith. But look at this.’’ I opened my stiff fingers with my right hand.

There was unburned flesh there, just as the doctor had observed. What he didn't know was that the unharmed flesh was in the shape of a sigil in angelic script-the name of one of the Fallen angels. Specifically, the same entity imprisoned in an ancient silver coin, at that very moment trapped under two feet of concrete and half a dozen warding spells on the far side of the lab.

’’Lasciel,’’ Bob said. His voice was worried.

’’I thought she was locked up. I thought she couldn't touch me from there, Bob.’’

’’She can't,’’ Bob said, bewildered. ’’I mean, that's impossible. There's no way she should be able to reach out from there.’’

’’Sounds kind of familiar,’’ I muttered. I wrapped up my hand again. ’’But that's what I thought too. And my staff is acting weird. When I start to run power through it, I'm getting excess heat. The runes start glowing like embers and there smoke curling up out of them. Seemed like my workings with the staff were coming out a lot bigger than I wanted, too. Did I blow something on the preparation?’’

’’Maybe,’’ Bob said. ’’But, uh. Well, it sounds a lot like Hellfire. I hear that some of the Fallen really love it.’’

’’What?’’

’’Hellfire,’’ Bob said. ’’Uh, it's sort of an alternate power source. Not a pleasant one, but man, you could really turbocharge violent spells with it.’’

’’I know what Hellfire is, Bob.’’

’’Oh. Right. Why are you using it then, Harry?’’

I said through clenched teeth, ’’I don't know. I didn't mean to. I don't know what the hell is going on.’’

’’Hell,’’ Bob said. ’’Heh. You made with the funny, boss.’’

I had involuntary access to Hellfire. How had that happened?

Lasciel's sigil on my left palm was the only cool spot on my burning hand.

Hell's bells. I shook my head and headed for the ladder back up.

As I left Bob said, ’’Hey, Harry?’’

’’Yeah?’’

The orange lights in the skull glowed eagerly. ’’Tell me again about Murphy's ass.’’

Thomas came back from the store later that day. ’’Got the puppy a bowl and a collar and food and so on. Nice little guy. Real quiet. Don't think I've heard him whine at all.’’ He tousled the puppy's ears. ’’You decide on a name?’’

The puppy cocked his head to one side, ears tilted up with interest, dark little eyes on my face.

’’I never said I was keeping him,’’ I said.

Thomas snorted. ’’Yeah. Right.’’

I frowned down at the puppy. ’’He's tiny. He's grey. He doesn't make much noise,’’ I said after a minute. I dropped to a knee and held my hand out to the little dog. ’’How about Mouse?’’

Mouse bounced straight up in a fit of eager puppy joy and romped over to lick my hand and chew gently on one of my fingers.

Thomas smiled, though it was a little sad. ’’I like it,’’ he said.

We started putting groceries away, and it was the strangest feeling. I was used to being alone. Now there was someone else in my personal space. Someone I didn't mind being there. Thomas was all but a stranger, but at the same time he wasn't. The bond I sensed between us was not made weaker by being inexplicable, no less absolute for being illogical.

I had a family. Hell, I had a dog.

This was a huge change. I was happy about it, but at the same time I realized that it was going to be a big adjustment. My place was going to be pretty crowded, pretty fast, but once Thomas got into his own apartment, it would be more normal. I don't think either one of us wanted to be tripping all over each other every time we turned around.

I felt myself smiling. It looked like life was looking up.

I had started feeling a little crowded already, sure. But I took a deep breath and brushed it back. Thomas wouldn't be here too long, and the dog was certainly a lot smaller than Mister. I could handle a little claustrophobia.

I frowned at a giant green bag and asked Thomas, ’’Hey. Why did you get large breed Puppy Chow?’’


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