Grave Peril Chapter Thirty Nine

I regard it as one last sadistic gibe of whatever power had decided to make my life a living hell that the burn ward was full, and I was given a room to share with Charity Carpenter. She had recovered in spirit, if not in body, and she started in on me the moment I awoke. The woman's tongue was sharper than any sword. Even Amoracchius. I smiled through most of it. Michael would have been proud.

The baby, I learned, had taken an abrupt turn for the better in the hours before dawn the morning Bianca's house had burned. I thought that maybe Kravos had taken a bite of the little guy, and I had gotten it back for him. Michael thought God had simply decreed the morning to be a day of good things. Whatever. The results were what counted.

’’We've decided,’’ Michael said, stretching a strong arm around Charity, ’’to name him Harry.’’

Charity glowered at me, but remained silent.

’’Harry?’’ I asked. ’’Harry Carpenter? Michael, what did that poor kid ever do to you?’’

But it made me feel good. And they kept the name.

Charity got out of the hospital three days before me. Michael or Father Forthill remained with me for the rest of my stay. No one ever said anything, but Michael had the sword with him, and Forthill kept a crucifix handy. Just in case I had some nasty visitors.

One night when I couldn't sleep, I mentioned to Michael that I was worried about the repercussions of my workings, the harmful magic I had dished out. I worried that it was going to come back to haunt me.

’’I'm not a philosopher, Harry,’’ he said. ’’But here's something for you to think about, at least. What goes around comes around. And sometimes you get what's coming around.’’ He paused for a moment, frowning faintly, pursing his lips. ’’And sometimes you are what's coming around. You see what I mean?’’

I did. I was able to get back to sleep.

Michael explained that he and Thomas had escaped the fight at the bridge only a few moments after it had begun. But time had stretched oddly, between the Nevernever and Chicago, and they hadn't emerged until two o'clock the following afternoon.

’’Thomas brought us out into this flesh pit,’’ Michael said.

’’I'm not a wizard,’’ Thomas pointed out. ’’I can only get in and out of the Nevernever at points close to my heart.’’

’’A house of sin!’’ Michael said, his expression stern.

’’A gentlemen's club,’’ Thomas protested. ’’And one of the nicest ones in town.’’

I kept my mouth shut. Who says I never grow any wiser?

Murphy came out of the sleeping spell a couple days later. I had to go in a wheelchair, but I went to Kravos's funeral with her. She pushed me through a drizzling rain to the grave site. There was a city official there, who signed off on some papers and left. Then it was just us and the grave diggers, shovels whispering on earth.

Murphy watched the proceedings in complete silence, her eyes sunken, the blue faded out until they seemed almost grey. I didn't push, and she didn't talk until the hole was half filled in.

’’I couldn't stop him,’’ she said, then. ’’I tried.’’

’’But we beat him. That's why we're here and he's there.’’

’’You beat him,’’ Murphy said. ’’A lot of good I did you.’’

’’He sucker punched you. Even if you'd been a wizard, he'd have gotten to you - like he damn near did me.’’ I shivered, remembered agony making the muscles of my belly tight. ’’Karrin, you can't blame yourself for that.’’

’’I know,’’ she said, but she didn't sound like she meant it. She was quiet for a long time, and I finally figured out that she wasn't talking because I'd hear the tears in her voice, the ones the rain hid from me. She didn't bow her head though, and she didn't look away from the grave.

I reached out and found her hand with mine. I squeezed. She squeezed back, silent and tight. We stayed there, in the rain, until the last bit of earth had been thrown over Kravos's coffin.

On the way out, Murphy stopped my wheelchair, frowning at a white headstone next to a waiting plot. ’’He died doing the right thing,’’ she read. She looked down at me.

I shrugged, and felt my mouth curl up on one side. ’’Not yet. Not today.’’

Michael and Forthill took care of Lydia for me. Her real name was Barbara something. They got her packed up and moved out of town. Apparently, the Church has some kind of equivalent of the Witness Protection Program, for getting people out of the reach of supernatural baddies. Forthill told me how the girl had fled the church because she'd been terrified that she would fall asleep, and gone out to find some uppers. The vampires had grabbed her while she was out, which was when I'd found them in that old building. She sent me a note that read, simply, ’’I'm sorry. Thank you for everything.’’

When I got out of the hospital, Thomas sent me a thank-you letter, for saving Justine. He sent it on a little note card attached to a bow, which was all Justine was wearing. I'll let you guess where the bow was. I took the note, but not the girl. There was too much of an ick factor in sharing girls with a se* vampire. Justine was pretty enough, and sweet enough, when she wasn't walking the razor's edge of an organic emotional instability - but I couldn't really hold that against her. Plenty of people have to take some kind of medication to keep stable. Lithium, supermodel se* vampires - whatever works, I guess.

I had woman problems of my own.

Susan sent me flowers and called me every day, in the hospital. But she didn't ever talk to me for long. And she didn't come to visit. When I got out, I went to her apartment. She didn't live there anymore. I tried to call her at work, and never managed to catch her. Finally, I had to resort to magic. I used some hair of hers left on a brush at my apartment, and tracked her down on a beach along Lake Michigan, on one of the last warm days of the year.

I found her laying in the sun wearing a white bikini that left maximum surface area bared to it. I sat down next to her, and her manner changed, subtly, a quiet tension that I didn't miss, though I couldn't see her eyes behind the sunglasses she wore.

’’The sun helps,’’ she said. ’’Sometimes it almost goes away for a while.’’

’’I've been trying to find you,’’ I said. ’’I wanted to talk to you.’’

’’I know,’’ she said. ’’Harry. Things have changed for me. In the daylight, it's not too bad. But at night.’’ She shivered. ’’I have to lock myself inside. I don't trust myself around people, Harry.’’

’’I know,’’ I said. ’’You know what's happening?’’

’’I talked to Thomas,’’ she said. ’’And Justine. They were nice enough, I guess. They explained things to me.’’

I grimaced. ’’Look,’’ I said. ’’I'm going to help you. I'll find some way to get you out of this. We can find a cure.’’ I reached out and took her hand. ’’Oh, Hell's bells, Susan. I'm no good at this.’’ I just fumbled the ring onto it, clumsy as you please. ’’I don't want you far away. Marry me.’’

She sat up, and stared at her hand, at the dinky ring I'd been able to afford. Then she leaned close to me and gave me a slow, heated kiss, her mouth melting-warm. Our tongues touched. Mine went numb. I got a little dizzy, as the slow throb of pleasure that I'd felt before coursed through me, a drug I'd craved without realizing it.

She drew away from me slowly, her face expressionless behind the sunglasses. She said, ’’I can't. You already made me ache for you, Harry. I couldn't control myself, with you. I couldn't sort out the hungers.’’ She pressed the ring into my hand and stood up, gathering her towel and a purse with her. ’’Don't come to me again. I'll call you.’’

And she left.

I'd bragged to Kravos, at the end, that I'd been trained to demolish nightmares when I was younger. And to a certain extent it was true. If something came into my head for a fight, I could put up a good one. But now I had nightmares that were all my own. A part of me. And they were always the same: darkness, trapped, with the vampires all around me, laughing their hissing laughter.

I'd wake up, screaming and crying. Mister, curled against my legs, would raise his head and rumble at me. But he wouldn't pad away. He'd just settle down again, purring like a snowmobile's engine. I found it a comfort. And I slept with a light always close.

’’Harry,’’ Bob said one night. ’’You haven't been working. You've barely left your apartment. The rent was due last week. And this vampire research is going nowhere fast.’’

’’Shut up, Bob,’’ I told him. ’’This unguent isn't right. If we can find a way to convert it to a liquid, maybe we can work it into a supplement of some kind - ’’

’’Harry,’’ Bob said.

I looked up at the skull.

’’Harry. The Council sent a notice to you today.’’

I stood up, slowly.

’’The vampires. The Council's at war. I guess Paris and Berlin went into chaos almost a week ago. The Council is calling a meeting. Here.’’

’’The White Council is coming to Chicago,’’ I mused.

’’Yeah. They're going to want to know what the hell happened.’’

I shrugged. ’’I sent them my report. I only did what was right,’’ I said. ’’Or as close to it as I could manage. I couldn't let them have her, Bob. I couldn't.’’

The skull sighed. ’’I don't know if that will hold up with them, Harry.’’

’’It has to,’’ I said.

There was a knock at my door. I climbed up from the lab. Murphy and Michael had shown up at my door with a care package: soup and charcoal and kerosene for me, as the weather got colder. Groceries. Fruit. Michael had, rather pointedly, included a razor.

’’How are you doing, Dresden?’’ Murphy asked me, her blue eyes serious.

I stared at her for a moment. Then at Michael.

’’I could be worse,’’ I said. ’’Come in.’’

Friends. They make it easier.

So, the vampires are out to get me, and every other wizard on the block. The little wizardlings of the city, the have-nots of magic, are making it a point not to go outside after dark. I don't order pizza for delivery anymore. Not after the first guy almost got me with a bomb.

The Council is going to be furious at me, but what else is new.

Susan doesn't call. Doesn't visit. But I got a card from her, on my birthday, Halloween. She only wrote three words.

I'll let you guess what three.


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