Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)
Spoilers: None in this chapter
Chapter Length: 2477 words
Summary: Harry's latest case is uncomfortably familiar and starts him on another quixotic crusade. The only trouble is, how do you stop a killer when you're stuck baby-sitting?
Author's Notes: Last chapter, almost. The next one is a bit of an epilogue. :-)
I was ambushed by Graylin when I came out of the house. She leapt into my arms and hugged me firmly until Murphy gently pried her off so I could get checked out by the EMTs that had arrived at the scene. Graylin followed me to the ambulance and sat next to me while they examined my head, knee and back. Which reminded me,
"Hey Murph, none of your people got eaten by an invisible monster when you came downstairs, did they?" I asked her.
She glared at me. "No, Dresden."
"Good, just checking."
I was only confused until I caught a glimpse of a stony-faced black man in the crowd of people who had converged around the police tape. When I looked again, he'd disappeared. Morgan.
During my escapes of the day, a will had been found, recently drawn up by Tamsin Cartwright. It requested that, in the event of her death, Graylin should be placed in the care of her older brother, Dylan. All monetary assets were to be used to assist Dylan in caring for Graylin, and any furniture or items that were no longer of use were to be donated to a women's shelter downtown.
Jordana had called Dylan shortly after the police called her, but he lived in England and had been unable to get a flight in until noon. He was still in the air, so until he arrived, I remained Graylin's legal guardian. Murphy and I decided that she'd had enough trauma for one day without forcing her to mingle with relatives she'd never met. Graylin came home with me after we'd cleared up all the legal work. Murphy spun a good tale about what had gone on and even managed to get me permission to take all the magical paraphernalia from the scene after I strongly implied it would not be safe for anyone else to handle.
Murphy ordered a pizza and brought it over for supper, along with some clothes for Graylin. She ate with us, then returned to the office to wrap up the case. I spent the rest of the evening sorting through Blake's stuff with Bob, deciding what needed to be destroyed and what could be of use. Graylin drew some butterflies with a packet of crayons I found in a drawer in the lab and some parchment. I made my bed up with fresh sheets and a comforter from the closet.
It was another long night. Graylin woke up five times with nightmares, about me dying, about her dying, about Tamsin dying. I talked her through them and got a few hours sleep on the floor next to the bed between times. We had cold pizza for breakfast the next morning. I am going to be a great dad.
I think Bob had taken a liking to Graylin, because he seemed to follow her around for most of the next day. Maybe he likes kids or maybe he just liked talking to someone other than me. Or maybe he was enjoying the sort of awe with which Graylin listened to his stories. My awe had somewhat dimmed over the years.
Jordana Cartwright called mid-morning. Dylan was safely in Chicago and I offered to cook dinner that night for all three Cartwrights to get acquainted. I also invited Murphy, who accepted. I then realized that I had neither food, nor anything to serve it on. You can get anything delivered these days, though, so I called in an order and the grocery boy brought me some ingredients and plastic plates.
At 6:30 that night, Graylin was in the lab with Bob, receiving a lecture on faeries, from what I could hear of it when I passed by and I was making dinner. Spaghetti, which is the only thing that I can make en masse that constitutes a meal.
I moved the pasta off the rimmer before I headed to the door to respond to the knock, so it wouldn't boil over. Through the glass I could see Jordana and behind her was a blond haired man. I opened the door, still not used to how much Jordana looked like her sister. Again, it took me a few moments to find the little details that were different.
"Hello, Mr. Dresden," she said, awkwardly.
"Harry," I corrected. "Come on in."
I stepped back to let the two of them through. The blond man stopped on the threshold to give a firm shake of my hand. He was just a few inches short than me and probably in his late twenties.
"I'm Jordana and Tamsin's brother," he introduced himself. "Dylan."
He had the faint accent of an ex-pat, something hinting at not quite American and he had the Cartwright eyes, bright blue and intriguing. He also radiated magic, like any wizard would. Despite my profession, I don't meet real wizards everyday and the ones I do meet usually don't like me very much. There was a boyish side of me that wanted to sit him down and talk shop.
"Do you really just put that on your door?" He asked, jerking his head towards the painted words 'Harry Dresden, Wizard'. I shrugged a little and he smirked. "That's a bit barmy."
"Thanks," I said. "Uh, Graylin's in the back. I'll go get her. Sit down, please."
I headed back to the lab, where Graylin was once again perched on the table. Bob was in front of her, standing with his hands behind his back in a professorish way. It was a familiar stance to me.
"Harry!" Graylin exclaimed, when she saw me. Her eyes were wide with awe at whatever she was being told. "Do you really have a faerie godmother?"
I glared at Bob who looked away. "Ah, yeah."
"What's her name?"
"It's a secret."
I smiled. "Your aunt and uncle are here."
Her smile dropped from her face and she looked down at her feet, twisting the bottom of her shirt in her hands. "Oh."
"C'mon, kiddo," I encouraged. "They're your family."
She looked up at me, somewhat desperate. "What if they're mean? Or I don't like'm? Or they don't like me? I wanna stay with you." Her hand reached out and grabbed mine. She really needed to stop doing that.
"I know, kiddo," I said, carefully. "But there are people there who want to look after you - not that I don't want to look after you, but - "
"Harry isn't your family," Bob stepped in. "Not to mention he can barely look after himself." This earned a small smile from Graylin and a roll of the eyes from me. "You are a very special girl. You deserve to be with people who love you."
Graylin's legs swung restlessly and she was watching her feet with a woeful expression again. "I know."
"I'll tell you what," I said. "Let's just see how it goes, okay? If you absolutely can't stand them, I won't make you go. We'll find something else, alright?"
She looked up to judge me, something I had become used to by now. "Promise?"
"I promise." I held up a finger warningly. "But you have to try. Promise?"
Another hint of a smile. "Promise."
"Alright, let's do this. Try to look cute, grown-ups love cute kids," I teased her, with a tickle to her sides.
She giggled and let me lower her to the ground again. I looked over to Bob, giving him a look of thanks. He shrugged and nodded in his 'this is a waste of my talents' way, but gave Graylin a fond smile when she looked his way too.
We left the lab and returned to the living area. Jordana was sitting primly on the couch, twitching at Dylan to stop doing something. He had a small glass ball from one of my tables spinning furiously in the air over his outstretched palm. He was using it for what it was for - to take the edge off and concentrate your magical energy into something solid. The fact that he was nervous reassured me that he cared about making a good impression. He looked up at me and the ball shattered. The shards missed his face in that lucky way wizards sometimes have.
"Sorry," he said, sheepishly. "I'll pay for that."
"Don't worry about it," I said.
He leaned sideways at the waist, peering, and it took me a moment to realize that Graylin was hiding behind me, only her face peeking out around my hip.
"Hi there," he said.
"Hi," Graylin said, shyly.
I stepped away so she was fully exposed and crouched to be at her level. "This is your Uncle Dylan and your Aunt Jordana."
Graylin leaned in to whisper to me. "She looks like my mommy."
"I know," I whispered back. "Is that okay?"
"I think so," she nodded. She looked to Dylan and spoke in a louder tone. "Are you a wizard?"
"Do you have a ghost?"
He gave me a confused look but said, "No. I have a cat, though. She tries to steal my tuna sandwiches."
"I like tuna sandwiches," Graylin said, carefully.
Dylan smiled. "Me too."
Jordana piped up in her smooth voice, "Me three."
I let the Cartwright clan introduce themselves by wandering back to the kitchen to finish making dinner. I kept an ear out for any trouble, but tried not to eavesdrop, either. Every once in awhile I could catch a few words or Graylin's shy giggle. Bob stuck his head through the wall to look inquiringly at me and I gave him thumbs up. He disappeared again just in time for Murphy to knock on my back door a second later. I'd asked her to come a little after Dylan and Jordana so everyone would have time to bond. I waved her in.
"I brought salad," she greeted me, shoving a large bowl towards me. "I didn't think you'd have salad."
"I don't, thanks," I said, taking the bowl.
"You sleep at all?"
"Not a lot. Does it show?"
She smirked. "It always shows on you, Dresden." She jerked her head in the direction of the voices. "How's it going?"
"Okay, I think. No screams of horror yet."
She slipped off her jacket and flung it onto the coat rack, then rubbed her hands together. "I want to help. With dinner."
"Oh-kay," I said, surprised. Murphy didn't seem the dinner sort to me. For some reason, I couldn't connect ass-kicking cop with gourmet chef in my mind. "Can you stir the sauce for me?"
We worked side-by-side for the next few minutes, Murphy relating a few more details about the case.
"They did an autopsy on Blake," she said. "He was full of cancer. Leukemia that had spread everywhere, liver, brain, lungs. Butters was surprised he was even upright. He couldn't have had more than a few weeks to live."
I had gone over the runes with Bob and we worked the whole thing out to be some sort of ritual that would take life energy from the relation and use it to prolong your own life, effectively killing the relative. Bob thought it must have been a pretty old ritual, made when children were considered less important than the family patriarch. I suppose if you'd never met your kid or care about her, you wouldn't be any less torn out about killing her than anyone else. You know, if you were an evil maniac. I couldn't figure out why Blake was so desperate for Graylin's life energy, but it fit now. "There's not enough time for this crap!"
"That's gotta be terrifying at 25 years old," Murphy continued. "Butters thinks the brain tumour was affecting his reasoning. Made him paranoid, thinking he needed to kill Graylin to survive. Sort of a pseudo-schizophrenia."
"Makes sense," I agreed. Fairly close to the truth, too. "What about Tamsin? What's her official cause of death?"
"Her heart stopped," Murphy said. "Pass me the salt." She added some to my sauce. "Butters thinks that it was some sort of genetic condition, induced by the stress of the situation. Her heart gave out. No one's been able to explain her eyes, though. She didn't have any drugs in her system."
"Huh," I said.
"When I came in," she mused. "You had eyes like that, I thought. When I looked again they were back to normal, though."
"Must have been a trick of the light," I shrugged.
We worked silently after that except for 'pass me...' and 'excuse me...'. Turns out, Murphy was a much better cook than I. She didn't even burn the garlic bread, a feat I have yet to accomplish. I left her to finish up while I checked on the proceedings in the living room.
Graylin was sitting native style on the couch next to Jordana, looking at a photo album. Dylan sat on the arm and peered over Graylin's shoulder. Both adults were pointing and sharing a story, filling in sentences for one another. Graylin looked calm, if not quite happy. She noticed me first.
"Harry! Uncle Dylan has a whole backyard in Sheffield," she informed me. "Only he calls it a back garden, 'cause he talks British. And he has a cat named Strudel."
"Cool," I said, making sure to look impressed. I felt a little twinge of jealousy that I ignored. She wasn't mine to keep, no matter how cute she was or how well she fit into my dysfunctional little family. "Dinner's ready."
Dinner went smoothly. It wasn't exactly a happy affair, all circumstances considered, but we made the best of it. Murphy automatically leaned over and cut up Graylin's spaghetti for her. I found that oddly endearing. Murphy did her best interrogation on Dylan and I helped. He was a writer, for a newspaper in England and lived in an old brownstone in Yorkshire. Aside from his cat, he also had a fiancee living with him, named Katrina. He showed us a picture, she was a very cute little thing with cat's eye glasses. She was a paramedic and couldn't get the time off to come with him. They'd met after some accident with a photocopier at his office, which sounded like something that might happen to me. Overall, Murphy and I both approved of him. Graylin seemed to like him too and was willing to go back to the hotel with him and Jordana that night. I had to let her, since I no longer had legal responsibility over her. I helped her gather up what few things she had at my place.
"What do you think?" I asked her, as I collected up the butterflies she'd drawn. "Is it gonna be okay?"
"I think he's nice," she replied, thoughtfully. "And he smiles like my mommy. I want to meet his cat."
Fair enough. Dylan promised to bring Graylin by the next day before they left for England, so I didn't have to say goodbye to her forever at that point. It was good, I don't think I could have taken it. I was exhausted. Murphy stayed after the Cartwrights had departed and helped me clean up. After I'd spent two minutes staring off into space blankly while scrubbing a fork that really wasn't that dirty, she sent me to bed. I complied this time.