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The Matter of Chicago: A Dresden Files AU
matterofchicago
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July 2013
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Luce [userpic]
BOOK TWO: putting out your fires with gasoline (15/?)

Table of Contents

Title: putting out your fires with gasoline, Book Two of The Matter of Chicago
Rating/Warnings: NC-17. SEE TRIGGER WARNING.
Word Count: This chapter: 6,404. This book: 84,415. Overall: 234,938.

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten | Chapter Eleven | Chapter Twelve | Chapter Thirteen | Chapter Fourteen

Notes: Break: Taken! Writing muse: Revived! Ghost Story: Read! Jim Butcher: Really nice guy, his Q&A was fun. Flawed dude, but I like him. I'm refreshed and ready to write some MoC. Hope ya'll enjoy!


Trigger Warning for this chapter: Okay, this one is a serious one. This is a chapter full of White Court fuckery. Their manipulation is not portrayed like it is in the series. The whole Rape Is Sexy vibe Butcher gives them is gone. This is multiple instances of non-con. You've been warned.


As I prepared to do something incredibly reckless and potentially fatal, I thought about John.

Because there was no way in heaven or hell I was going to tell him what I was doing.

See, I'd been with him long enough to get a fairly decent understanding of how his mind worked. He was a linear thinker, endlessly rational. He just had more cunning and experience behind him than the average person did. Me, I'm all intuition. I don't focus too much on the future. I roll with the punches, tap into my wizardly advantages, and take every leap of faith I can find.

John, he had to take things step by step, logically. You're at point A and you need to get to point B. How do you get there in the fastest, most efficient way?

For example. Point A: Your live-in wizard is about to do something borderline suicidal. Point B: You need to stop him. What are the steps in between?

Okay, so John's first instinct would be to throw me into the magical panic room we had in the sub-basement. Ah, but I'd designed the room and left in fail safes to make sure it couldn't be used against me. How would he get me locked down without the panic room? I was thinking he'd either send Cujo to restrain me-- knowing I would be reluctant to attack someone I considered a friend unless my life was at stake-- or put something illicit but harmless in my drink to knock me out. After that would be a cost-benefit analysis over how valuable wards are, how many of his men's lives a sample of a White Court vampire is worth, and if it'd be prudent to call in a contractor.

Then he'd actually set whatever plan he decided on into motion, having spent all of ten seconds puzzling the variables out. I'd find myself knocked out and halfway across the country before I woke up. Or something like that. John was creepily efficient but got kind of rash when it came to my safety.

And maybe John did have someone to call in, like Gard. Maybe with enough people, we could get one of the Whites from their own turf. But this was my job. I was not going to sit on the arm of John's throne and give him advice and send his people to die. Not when so many were already taken.

Call it bullheaded or stupid or whatever you'd like, but this was my job.

I spent the night and the next day working on how to keep myself safe for what I was going to do. It was subtler magic than I usually used, but veils were slowly becoming part of my wheelhouse. Very slowly. I couldn't conjure them on the fly yet, but I could work the principle of hiding in plain sight into potions and talismans.

This time, I went with a talisman. Crafting magical items was a bit like brewing a potion. You needed thaumaturgic ingredients and a way to symbolically represent what you wanted to do.

I needed to be shielded from the view of a lot of Whites long enough to find a viable sample for my wards and to get out of there.

I started with a marble with a mirrored surface. As I worked, I could see my face in its reflection. To tie the transient image to me, I cut my thumb and pushed a bloody fingerprint to the surface with a bit of will. The marble shone with a soft blue light, the manifestation of my raw power. It glowed brightly in the lab.

That glow needed to be shrouded. I melted some wax, stirred in anise, holly, and ground up tourmaline. I could have just ducked the marble into the wax to coat it, but then if the protective charm failed, it'd fail all at once without much warning. That wasn't good enough.

I spent two hours painting the wax onto the marble. After each application of wax, I let it cool and dry before adding the next. The end result was the marble's blue glow shielded by many wax petals, like a rosebud. Each layer was its own thin shield. They would not last long under scrutiny, but as each petal fell away, another would be there to pick up the slack.

"Nice, boss," Bob complimented mildly when I finished.

"Yeah?" I added a metal loop to the talisman and strung it, hanging it around my neck so it lay on my chest next to my pentacle.

"I'd test it first though. Going to be embarrassing if it doesn't work."

Embarrassment would be the least of my worries if it didn't work, but Bob was right. I looked around, noticed the door to the lab was wide open, and then aimed a kick at the spare stool.

The metal seat toppled over onto the concrete floor, clattering loudly, the sound echoing off the walls.

As I hoped, there was footsteps on the stairs and Tulane, the head of security, came down. His sharp brown eyes scanned the room. "The hell..."

His gaze passed right over twice, like I wasn't even there. Perfect. I nodded to Bob.

"Just the cat, Sparky," Bob told Tulane cheerfully. "Don't worry about it."

"Hn," Tulane grumbled and retreated back upstairs.

I patted the talisman. "That's my cue to get going. This thing isn't going to last all night."

As I got my stuff together, Bob cleared his throat. "Just in case you get snatched anyway and I need to tell your man where to send the guys to rescue you...?"

I shouldered my bag. "If I'm not back in five hours, tell John that I went into Dionysus. You have my permission to help him in saving my life."

"Yeah, I'm sure he'll be thrilled to hear it," Bob muttered. "Good luck. Try not to die."



I couldn't afford to take the Beetle, as it was so easy to recognize. I wouldn't get within two blocks of Dionysus without some goons jumping in to intercept me for my own safety. Instead, I took the L down, swapping Lines a few times as I went before grabbing a taxi the rest of the way. Beverly was almost on the opposite side of the city from the Gold Coast, far on the Southwest side. It was not the kind of place you expected a nest of Whites to be, an attractively suburban area with a lot of greenery and lawns to spare. But my taxi dropped me off at Western Avenue and I walked two streets over to the club.

It was hard to find. Instead of a tall, swanky building, Dionysus was underground. Cut into an otherwise blank brick wall was a cement staircase leading down into the basement of the commercial block. Of course, a neighborhood like Beverly wanted to pretend it didn't have a den of iniquity, so John put it mostly out of sight, out of mind.

I could hear music, or at least the bass of a song. It thrummed out of the ground, and I could feel my own pulse picking up to match the beat. A heavy feeling was in the air, a thickness I couldn't quite grasp and identify. As I got close, my steps were quicker, and I didn't hesitate before taking the stairs down.

There were no bouncers, no one guarding the doors. They were wide open, welcoming.

Of course they were. The Whites would want as many people as they could lure in.

I patted my talisman, reassuring myself that it was around my neck and protecting me. Then I took the open door as invitation and went in.

It was dark inside, but for the occasional flash of strobe light. The air was heavy with smoke, smelling sweet with a bite to it that made my head spin. I was fairly sure I was inhaling something I shouldn't, but it was just one part of the cocktail filling me. That heavy feeling was more palpable here, a warm sense of excitement and heat. There was a sense that this was a place to be free, to lose yourself, to take a deep breath, enjoy whatever was floating in the air, and seek out some thrills.

White Court mojo, basically. That it was strong enough to affect me before I'd even identified a White out of the shadowy crowd was not a good sign. I had expected some problems with the ambiance, but this... It worked with the smoke and the music and the darkness to make me feel... strange. Not myself.

I found a column to lean on and put my nose against the denim of my jacket, breathing in the smell of cloth. It helped clear my head.

By then my eyes had adjusted and I took in my surroundings. There was a pretty open floor plan. The center of the room was filled with people dancing, that suggestive grinding that always made me feel like an old prude to look at. Beyond that was a DJ booth, though the girl running it seemed distracted by the man kissing her neck as she worked. On the opposite side of the room was a bar lit by blue neon, the color making everything look the same. I saw liquor bottles, a surprisingly wide array of wines-- Dionysus, right, of course-- and little plastic bottles. Prescription bottles and syringes just... lying around. When I squinted, I could catch a glimpse of someone tying a rubber cord around his arm.

I doubted he was getting ready for an insulin shot.

Scattered around most of the room were big, wide sofas and chairs. People were crammed into them, all sitting close together, touching freely with transparent hunger and lust. A couple cinched together on one chair lost their balance as they kissed, fell to the floor and just kept going, shedding of clothes as they went.

I looked away, my face warming. Never had I felt more out of place, surrounded by sex and drugs and magic. I couldn't tell yet who in the club was human and who was a White, but I could feel an energy. It was a cold wave washing past me, around me. It seemed like the patrons of the club were getting a big dose of glamour and compulsion.

Around my neck, there was a faint ringing sound, like a damp finger running around the rim of a glass. One of the wax petals flaked off my talisman and floated to the floor.

That was a lot sooner than I was expecting. But given how many people were here, the burden was a good deal larger than I'd prepped the veil for. I needed to move fast.

The plan was this: find an isolated White, get a blood sample, and leg it the hell out of there before my veil failed.

I pulled a needle out of my jacket and palmed it, looking around. In here, there were too many people, I didn't think I could get what I needed without drawing attention to myself. My talisman might hide me from one person's direct notice. It wouldn't hold up for long in a room of people.

In the back, there were private rooms. They were a feature of all of John's clubs, and were probably my best bet. I took a moment to collect myself before darting forward, through the crowds, stepping over the lovebirds on the floor as I made for the back rooms. Someone came close to crashing into me, but I managed to brush by them without their notice.

Another petal fell from my talisman. I suddenly wished I had kept count of how many I'd put on the thing. My clock was running down, and I had no clue how much time I had.

Cautious tiptoeing gave way to hurried steps as my worry grew. The man watching over the private rooms didn't even glance at me, too focused on the woman on his lap, shotgunning rum into his mouth. Her eyes, sharp and grey, slid over me, not catching. Another petal fell.

As I watched, she rocked into the guard's lap, kissing him deeply. The air around them grew colder as her eyes shifted colors, growing reflective and silvery. Without urging, the guard tipped her over, control suddenly lost as he rutted against her. She grinned at the ceiling, her self-satisfaction so strong, it seemed to pull at me, a hook in my gut.

I braced myself on one of the open doors and made myself keep watching, taking in the details.

Her eyes shone, inhuman and chrome white. At the same time, her skin seemed to change, reflecting the blue light oddly, smoothing into something bright and almost like marble. As she did, the guard groaned, loud enough to be heard over the thrumming bass of the music and shuddered. The woman-- the White Court vampire-- sighed happily and pet him possessively.

Then she said in a compelling, gorgeous voice, "Again." The guard made a choked sound. She pressed her palm to his cheek, making him look in her eyes. "Again."

The guard, shaking his head in denial, started to shift against her again, reluctance obvious in his tightly pinched expression.

I'd seen enough. And I didn't think I could keep watching without doing something really stupid, like trying to interfere, blowing my cover, and having to fight my way out against terrible odds.

I had to get the blood sample. If I got it, we could get a foothold against the Whites and drive them back.

Plus, if I got taken by the Whites... I had no idea what John would do. Only that it'd be bad.

I shut my eyes, turned away, and walked deeper into the hall of private rooms.

There were nine of them, four on each side of me with one at the end of the hallway. Most were shut, only two unoccupied. I was hoping that there would be a door ajar I could slip through unseen, but my luck wasn't that good.

It was almost impossible to tell what was going on inside. Steeling myself to run and hide if I needed to, I picked one at random, pressed my ear against the door, and Listened.

The music faded as I focused on the door. I could hear... well, it sounded like a porno soundtrack, to be honest. There was a wet sliding sound and voices mingling together in heartfelt groans. My face flushed at the sound, but I made myself keep Listening until I could pick out the fact that there were only two voices. That was manageable.

I turned my focus away from Listening and to the talisman. My will slipped into it, like it would with my pentacle. Instead of radiating light, though, the talisman's veil strengthened. Everything around me got hazy, vision clouding as I peered through the veil but I needed the boost if I was going to make it through this. It was one thing to just walk by someone. It was another to open a door and walk through it without being seen.

I went inside the room, pushing as much power as I dared into my talisman.

The dim blue light from the club fell over the room. It was dark but for that cold hue. I could make out a nightstand with its drawer open. Various sex-related paraphernalia was inside. Taking up most of the space was a bed, mussed with the sheets kicked off.

On the bed was a woman lying on her stomach, her hands gripping-- no, handcuffed to the headboard. Except for the metal and silk around her wrists, she was stark naked, spread wide over the sheets, her mouth open as she moaned and made choked, sobbing noises.

Behind her was another woman, a White. She bore a resemblance to the White I'd just seen feeding on the guard. Her hair was long and curly in a way that should have seemed vain and expensive, but ended up looking so soft I just wanted to dig my fingers in and touch. Her skin was pale and smooth as stone, like ivory beneath her lingerie. Her lips were plump and pink, her eyes chrome.

She had her hands braced on the hips of the woman under her, holding her up and open for... There was harness around the White's waist. It was leather and holding a, uh. A phallus. In place. The White was enthusiastically working it into her prey, making her jerk and struggle, like the pleasure was just too much.

Neither of them noticed me. Which was good, because my control slipped. The talisman made another soft ringing sound and shed several more petals, the layers of protection spent.

The woman on the bed started to beg in a hoarse, raw voice, "Please, please, Lara, I-I can't..."

The White, Lara, smiled and thrust harder. "One more for the road, darling mine. You can handle one more, can't you?"

The woman shook her head and pounded her fists against the bed. Lara paid her little mind, rolling their hips together, the sound of it wet and loud.

I could sense the Hunger in Lara rising to feast and I slumped back against the wall, feeling my blood start to pound. I tipped my head back, looking at the ceiling and fisting my hands at my sides. It was getting hard-- erm, difficult to keep my wits about me. I wasn't even the target of the White's power and I was being drawn. A not insignificant part of me wanted to strip and crawl onto the bed next to Lara. I was being beckoned to do so, and I had a feeling I wouldn't be pushed away.

Fuck. I put my hand to my mouth and bit, hard enough to draw blood. It hurt like hell, but pain was something of a motivator for me. It helped.

The woman shrieked, her legs bending, toes curling as an orgasm beat down on her. It didn't look easy or even very pleasurable. Lara kept at her, drawing it out until the woman's voice broke entirely and her heavy panting was the only sound out of her mouth.

It lasted long enough, even I got sympathy pain for her. It couldn't possibly feel good to be locked up that long. Eventually, mercifully, she slumped against the bed. Her eyes closed and breathing steadied. She'd passed out.

Lara tutted softly. "Poor morsel. So sweet though." The White kept going, now chasing her own completion. It didn't take long before she was crying out, relaxing, and leaning down to lie on top of her victim. "Mm," she hummed appreciatively, and shut her eyes. One small thrust of her hips elicited a protest from the woman, and Lara chuckled. "Good enough for now..."

The room's temperature rose, and the cloudy, drunken feeling of that enthralling lust released me. I gasped for air, grateful, taking a moment to get ahold of myself.

Once I had, I saw that the White had followed the woman's example and was resting.

This was my chance.

The needle shook in my hands as I stepped forward. Moment of truth. I could get the blood and high-tail it out of here. Go home, probably jerk off furiously, take a few minutes to hate myself for doing so, and then get those wards set-up. We'd have a place to start to take back the clubs.

Or.

I stood next to the bed and looked at the two women on it. The leather phallus Lara sported was still nudged inside the other woman. Like she was waiting. Just a quick power nap and she could be at it again, fucking that poor woman into literal oblivion. How many times had she been taken already? How many more could she survive? It wasn't like the Whites had to play it safe anymore. The supernaturally clued-in knew they were here. They knew there would be bodies coming out of the club, people who looked like unfortunate heart-attacks, when really their life-force just gave out mid-coitus. We could warn the mundanes all we wanted and it'd do nothing.

This woman could be one of the victims. She didn't look too great. And I knew it'd all start all over again once Lara woke up.

I hadn't brought anything except my blasting rod with me, but there was a lamp on the nightstand. It looked solid. Heavy. I could...

The White's skin had returned to normal, her Hunger quieted. Laying there, her arms loosely wrapped around her unwilling bedmate, she looked...

I sighed and got the needle ready. She looked too much like a slumbering woman for me to bash her head in with a lamp. It was stupid and made no sense in the face of what I'd just witnessed, but I couldn't do it. It wasn't something I was capable of doing, no matter the circumstances.

Leaning over, I tried to find a place to stick the needle in. It was a fine point, meant to go in as painlessly as possible. I didn't want to be obtrusive. Alerting the White to what I was doing would be bad, to put it lightly.

If I had the foresight to bring an anesthetic rub... Hindsight was twenty-twenty and I didn't have time to hesitate. I glanced down at my talisman and noticed that I could see a lot of light shining through the remaining petals. I had to hurry.

Just do it, I scolded myself sharply, and did. The needle sunk into the White's elbow and the attached vial, something I'd gotten out of John's ridiculously well-stocked medicine cabinet, filled with blood. Lara's blood wasn't a rich red like mine; it was a strange pink hue, which didn't even look like blood. It was eerie.

Creeped out, I pulled the needle out the moment the vial filled up. I tossed the needle and shoved the sample into my jeans pocket.

As I did, another petal flaked and fell.

I froze, staring at it. It shouldn't have done that, not unless someone was watching me.

So someone was watching me.

I didn't turn to see which of the women it was. I just turned and bolted for the open door.

Halfway down the hall, my talisman pulsed, then exploded in light and shards. The veil faded, and I was left standing in Dionysus with a horde of White Court vampires and a lot of innocent bystanders with no viable escape route.

"Well, well," Lara's voice purred behind me. "What a lovely surprise."

Then I was hit so hard with a wave of lust, it was like being thrown underwater. There was no gradual sensation or coy pull, I was just gone, stumbling into the wall as my eyes crossed. My knees were weak, and I landed on all fours on the ground. I couldn't focus enough to cast a spell, my attention utterly shot.

Being turned on that fast, that hard, it hurt. The mental whiplash was like nothing I'd ever felt. In the span of five seconds, I went from being fine to being desperate. I was ready for it, needing it. Sweat broke out over my body, making me shiver at the cold air enveloping me. I groaned, face against the carpet floor just to feel some kind of texture. Friction. I needed friction.

I propped myself up on one arm and tried to get my jeans open with my other, but my fingers weren't working like they should. I was shaking too hard.

"John Marcone's wizard. I never thought the fearsome Harry Dresden would simply walk into our grasp." Nails raked through my hair and I tipped my head up, whimpering at the touch. Lara laughed. "Oh, wizard mine, we'll take such care of you."

In the back of my mind, a voice was screaming at me. I needed to get up. I needed to grab my blasting rod out of jacket and light this lady on fire. I needed to run. I needed to get back to John, what about John, I could let them get their claws in me, it'd be his doom. They'd turn me on him.

Lara leaned down and swirled a fingertip over my temple. Her Hunger reached into my mind and throttled that voice of reason until it was silent.

Hands grabbed me and dragged me along the floor to the collection of cushions and chairs the White Court and their victims sprawled over. A glass table in the center was shoved aside and I was dropped in the open space.

It wasn't just Lara's power wrapping around my mind then. Other Whites knelt with her, surrounding me. All those chrome-colored eyes staring down at me like I was an dessert buffet.

I shook and feebly pulled at my limbs, trying to get them under me. The hands returned, pinning me back down and running over me, cool and soothing against my racing pulse and heated skin. My jacket came off and a few Whites teased their fingers under my tee. "Oh, stars, I-I..."

Lara observed with a smug twist to her lips, clearly leading the festivities. "Look at you. All that power. All that life." She crawled over me, straddling my hips. Her hands finished my work getting my jeans open, her touch teasing as she palmed the line of my hip, up my side, hand wide over my heart. "Fear didn't work, such as it was. Do you know, I'm glad. Death is so wasteful for such a creature." She pinched a nipple and I jerked, gasping for air. "Such a boon you'll be. You'll be our key to Marcone's kingdom."

As Bob said, Whites didn't take the easy way. Why kill me when I could give them Marcone, who would give them Chicago? Oh, stars, this was bad, so bad.

"D-don't go near him," I panted. "I'll kill you, don't touch him."

Lara smiled almost sweetly. Coupled with her shining eyes, it was a terrifying expression. She tucked my hair behind my ear. "Oh, casse-croûte. We won't need to."

The words cut through the cloud of arousal and desire, a bolt of terror straight to my heart. I fought earnestly, trying to get away, the thought of it propelling me. They'd turn me on John, and it would work. I could see it so easily, how I could slip into his bedroom, into the bed next to him and he'd barely even stir from sleep, would pull me in close enough for a knife to slide between his ribs. That'd be it. I'd kill the man I was in love with.

I fought hard, socking a few Whites in the jaw. As they fell aside, more took their place. The welcoming, wandering touches turned to icy grips around my arms and legs. In a moment, I was down again. I reached for my magic, frantic, but someone put their hands on my face, and the panic was subsumed under want.

Lara remained sitting on my hips, watching with lazy interest. "Such strength. You'll be perfect," she purred.

By then, the Whites were stripping me, getting my clothes pulled out of the way. A few took advantage of my bared skin to nip and lick. A wave of lust crashed into me and I moaned in weak protest. "Please. Please, don't make me... I can't hurt him, please. Anything, just don't make me."

Lara's silver eyes seemed to soften for a moment. She cupped my face with one hand, her thumb brushing over my eyelids. "Hush, it'll be sweet, you'll see." To her fellow succubi and incubi, she directed, "Hold him still."

I started to scream and thrash. John, John, I couldn't hurt him.

Lara gripped my dick and rocked against it, the cloth separating us slick and hot. It.... oh, empty night, it felt so good, lust sizzling down my spine. I couldn't keep up my struggle. Everyone was touching me and soothing me, slipping their power into me. Lara chuckled, low and sexy. "You'll be ours from this night on, wizard mine," she purred and leaned in to kiss me.

It was ravenous and powerful, her tongue tasting like wine and--

As quickly as it all started, it stopped faster.

Lara tore away from me, hissing. She slapped a hand over her mouth protectively, then cried out in pain. "M-move, out of my way, move!" She got off me, falling to the ground at my side. She kicked and scurried away, clutching her thighs where she'd been pressed against me.

All the Whites holding me abruptly let go, following Lara's lead and putting distance between themselves and me. A few held their hands to their chests, cursing. One snarled, "Protected, him?! How is that possible?"

The supernatural chill of their Hunger faded, leaving me just cold, my clothes gone, the floor under me cool against my flesh. I rolled onto my side, shivering hard enough my teeth chattered. In the wake of all that heat and lust, I felt empty and raw. When I tried to get a hand planted to lift me off the floor, I just slumped back down, gulping for air.

Around me, I could hear a conversation.

"If he's protected, then what can we do?"

"Perhaps a call to one of our Skavis brethren."

Lara snorted. "And let them have him? Father would be furious."

"What else can we do?"

"Simple," Lara muttered. "Back in my room, Madrigal, is my derringer. Fetch it for me."

Gritting my teeth, I turned onto my stomach and fought to get to my feet. I had no idea what had stopped them, but apparently if they couldn't enthrall me, they'd just kill me.

My escape attempt, pathetic as it was, didn't go unnoticed. Someone seized me by my hair and threw me back down, hard enough to daze me. "I am truly sorry about this, but you are just too much trouble," Lara said sincerely. "We'd love to have you. Father does enjoy a pet with your talents. But seeing how we can't have you, we surely cannot let your lover have you back."

I aimed a kick towards her voice and hit nothing. Lara tutted softly. "Such a waste... Oh, thank you, Madrigal."

At the sound of a gun being cocked, I looked up, staring down the barrel.

God, this was a stupid plan all around. At least Lara was going to shoot me. If she didn't, John was going to kill me for being such an idiot.

I shut my eyes and clung to the thought of him, readying my death curse. I could kill Lara, but what would be smarter would be to use the last of my magic to protect John. That'd be good. They could kill me, and by doing so ensure John would always be protected from them. That'd teach 'em.

Before that could happen, before I could spend my last breath guarding John, the fire alarm went off.

Everyone looked up. Lara frowned in confusion. "What on earth...?"

A White at her side swore. "We have drugs and a herd of kine here. We have to go."

From another: "There's no fire. We'll stash everything, tell them it was a false alarm--"

"And if they demand to investigate?"

"Then we claim a few fire fighters for our own."

"And how many can we take without our cover being blown?"

"They are kine, they'll never notice."

Lara shot them both a foul look. "We will not compromise hard-won territory over a fire alarm. Get rid of the drugs and take the less lucid kine out of here." Her attention returned to me. "I'll take care of this one."

Before she could pull the trigger, the bar exploded.

Flames bloomed out, glass beading and scattering around, the air acrid with burnt wine. The shelf holding the liquor crashed to pieces, spilling its contents across the floor. Fire feasted on the alcohol, spreading over the floor. Above us, the sprinklers came on, fighting against the flames.

There were screams and the crowd surged and rushed away from the bar, careless to whoever was in their way. A few Whites tried to calm their victims, but fire in a small space was frightening enough to overrule whatever orders their masters were giving them.

Lara herself was bowled over by a particularly spooked man. Her little handgun spun out of her grip, under one of the sofas.

Hands caught me under my arms, hauling me upward. I tried to get away until a woman's voice in my ear said, "I'm trying to save your life, calm down."

I twisted to look. A slight girl with dark hair stared back at me. She was a knock-out, beautiful enough to fit in well with all the sex-eating monsters around us. The dark color of her eyes was a comfort after all that chrome. And... she was familiar, vaguely, but I couldn't recall from where. "Who--?"

"No time, we don't have a big window here. Come on." She pulled one of my arms over her shoulders and helped me to my feet. "We have a car waiting for us."

I came close to hitting the floor again, my pants still low-slung and tripping me up. I yanked them up one handed. "Who are you?"

"Not here," she replied crisply. I could have argued, but the fire was picking up and the heat was tremendous, even as the sprinklers drenched everything. I wanted out of there.

My rescuer hauled me through a door. By then, the dusk had turned to deep night. In the distance, I could see red and blue lights bouncing off the buildings as the fire department got closer, their sirens began to cut through the night. Beverly was a suburban neighborhood, enough to benefit from a response time that would make any other part of the city envious.

I got pushed into the back of a car that looked so sleek and aerodynamic, it could probably take off if you gave it a runway. The seats were butter soft leather and I sank right into them. Above me was a sunroof, and through it I could see the bright, full moon above me.

It reminded me of Lara's eyes. I flinched at the memory of how close I'd come to being taken by the White Court, how much I'd been enjoying the animal pleasure of sex before the spell broke. I'd been scared out of my mind, but it'd all felt so good.

But the spell had broke, when Lara kissed me. In that instant, everything had changed. Something fended them off. Once again, I was saved in just the nick of time.

It wasn't easy sitting up, but I managed it. "This is the second time someone's saved my life from the White Court. Know anything about that?"

The woman was in the driver's seat, pulling us away from the club, her eyes on the road. Chicago flashed by the windows, probably fast enough to warrant a speeding ticket. "You should be resting. First feedings always leave you shaky, and you had a lot of them--"

"Where do I know you from? Because I do. I never forget a face." Okay, I never forgot a pretty face, to be honest.

She sighed and breezed easily through a red light. "Justine. My name's Justine."

That rang no bells. "From?"

Justine shook her head. "I need to get you dropped off fast. He can only distract everyone for so long, then we need to be back."

"He? He who? Who he?"

She glanced at me in the mirror, plainly exasperated, and didn't answer. "Hang on. We're going to see exactly how fast it takes to get from Beverly to Michigan Avenue."

Taking the I-90 Express, it should have taken about a half-hour to forty minutes. Justine made it in about fifteen.

She knew where I lived, too, dropping me off right in front of John's place. She helped me out of the car, walking me over to the gate, where one of the guards would doubtlessly find me and get me inside. She made to leave, but I nearly tripped over my own feet to stop her, catching her shoulder. "Wait, wait! You... Whoever you people are, why are you helping me?"

Justine pried my hand off and held it between her own. Very gently, she kissed my knuckles. "I can't tell you. It's too dangerous right now. Maybe... One day, maybe I can convince him."

She sounded just as plainly unhappy about leaving me in the dark as I was. For that alone, I let it go. "Thank you."

She smiled, face lighting up so bright and lovely. "See you around, Harry." I got a peck on the cheek before Justine got back in the car and pulled away, vanishing into the night.

I went into the house on unsteady feet. My shirt was missing, my jacket gone, and my pants were loose, showing off my Batman boxers. When I ran into Tulane, he looked me up and down slowly, like he was memorizing details that may need to be recalled later at a court hearing. Possibly after John saw me and killed whoever I was fooling around with. Yeah, I'd passed a mirror and seen the marks on my skin and the way I looked. Everything about my appearance read 'ridden hard and put away wet.'

I nipped that in the bud. "I got jumped by Whites. I'm fine though. It's a long story." I dug the vial of blood out of my pocket and pressed it into his hand. "Take this down the to basement, put it where Bob can look at it. I'm going upstairs to lie down."

Tulane took the vial, eyes cool and giving none of his thoughts away. "I'm going to have to call Mr. Marcone, sir."

I trudged up the stairs, afraid if I stopped moving, I wouldn't be able to start again. Better to collapse on a bed instead of the floor. "Yeah. That's going to be fun, isn't it? Put the blood away first." Scrubbing my face, I headed to my bedroom. "It's been a long night and I need a nap."

John could wait.


Chapter Sixteen

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Comments
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I may be giving something away, but if Harry's protected the way I assume you're saying he is, he should have burned everyone the moment they touched him, not when Lara kissed him. At least that's how I recall Butcher specifying it via Justine's example in....ah, felching heck, I don't remember exactly which one. One of the very recent books.

That's Butcher retconning himself. In BR, Inari gets pretty far with Harry. It's only when she kisses him that the protection kicks in. In another book, Justine uses her protection to hurt a WCV by sitting on him and kissing him. As far as I can tell, the thing that sets off the protection was originally kisses and tokens of true love. I like that original idea, as a kiss is a more intimate thing than sex, magically speaking, I think. So I'm going with the original idea, retcons be damned.

Chalk it up to AU.

Worth the wait. Because YES! JB, Gods bless his geeky heart, glosses over the fact that WCV are essentially sex demons. Yes, Thomas is awesome, and yes, Lara is hot. But they EAT PEOPLE DURING SEX!!! That is generally a bad thing.

And man, John is sooooo not going to be happy.

*chin-hands at you*

I don't know how to make a little face showing me staring at the screen with my jaw hanging open, but that's what I was doing the whole time. Holy crap. This was wonderfully done.

I really liked Harry's analysis of John's thinking in the beginning and exactly where Harry would wind up if John found out about his stupid plan before hand. And the rest....ack. And bumbumbuummm...John's gonna be pissed.

My rationalisation of the WC whammy and feeding thing: When Inari started in with Harry, she wasn't a full blown succubus yet. I think the protection didn't kick in until her Hunger started to try and actually feed on Harry. Same for Lara. The whammy still works on people who are in love, except for Arturo apparently. He's the odd man out. But it's always still worked on Harry (implying he wasn't as deeply in love with Susan as Arturo was with Joan. Or maybe that Arturo and Joan's love was more mature, more settled somehow, idk). I think it's only when they start feeding that the protection kicks in. It's not a perfect theory, but it's what I've got.

Thank you very much. :bows:

See, that's a good rationalization but it doesn't make sense to me, having read through a lot of WCV stuff when I wrote this. The Hunger is what lets them compel people in the first place, yet Harry is affected even with Susan's protection. If he's protected from the Hunger, why can he be compelled at all?

Argh Butcher, so much of your magic system makes perfect sense. It REALLY BUGS ME when some things don't.

Gah, fucking White Court. *shudders* If there's a White Court equivalent to holy water Harry's going to want to shower in it.

Nice save, Justine! Harry's, ah, 'mysterious benefactor' must be tearing his hair out, wondering what the hell has possessed this man to stroll into the magical-mindwhammy equivalent of a house fire wearing nothing but chocolate chainmail and not have an escape plan.

Harry should look out for when John gets home. Not for fear of his life, exactly, but because John is going to want to talk about how he feels, which in Harry's opinion is a fate worse than thumbscrews. Because Harry's history of coerced sex is a mess and John worries about it more than Harry does and Harry's just going to want to repress it to nothing in the very back corner of his mind, the way he so healthily deals with all his trauma.

fffff I love you so much. :laughing forever:

Not for fear of his life, exactly, but because John is going to want to talk about how he feels

Sometimes you are so observant, it scares me.

Interesting. John is going to hit the fan, and Lara just found a new weapon against him.

Yay, update! This is terrific, well-written and suspenseful. I was seriously biting my nails, hoping that *cough* someone *cough* would show up to rescue Harry but really worried that he somehow wouldn't and that Harry wouldn't get out of this without major, major damage. White Court, why you gotta be so squicky?

I did enjoy Harry's analysis of John's probable course of action: one of my favorite things about MoC is that there's just not as much use of the Idiot Ball as in canon, from Harry or from the other characters. (I have this tendency to glare at the pages of the books and mutter things like, "Is now really the time, people?" or "What, what, what are you doing?!") MoC!Harry has this great arc of learning to fight smarter, which rings really true, so in a weird way I loved how here he's making a conscious, deliberate, and sneaky decision to do something reckless and dangerous as hell, because it's the best option they've got. That's just great.

(Also, btw, hi! I'm new to the fandom and I've been lurking for the past several weeks. But I wanted to delurk, at least long enough to tell you how much I admire all your fic. So: hi! *waves*)

White Court, why you gotta be so squicky?

Honestly? Because Butcher tries to make us think Lara Raith is a slamming hottie and it annoys me. No, Jim. Just no. She eats people and is a rapist. 8(

Thank you. I think I do accidentally slip in the Idiot Ball sometimes, but I hope I lampshade it enough in moments like this where it's especially egregious. People Harry knows are going missing, so he's not going to take the nice, safe route here.

(Hullo! Welcome, hope you enjoy! Always nice to have new readers. 8D)

Putting Harry through that and having it all be for nothing is too cruel for me to do to him. :hugs him:

Oh god, that was so tense. Harry! You idiot! John has the right idea sometimes .... That was stressful, I was so worried and the atmosphere at the club was perfectly terrifying, especially for someone with Harry's issues. And hey, the old-school kiss protection! I preferred that to the retcon, it seemed more ... I don't know, in line with the fairy tale aesthetic of some of the books, I suppose. ^_^ Loved this chapter, both dreading and looking forward to John's reaction!

I don't know if Harry is being stupid by not telling John what he was going to do. It's a breach of trust and all that jazz, but no one else can get the sample, and more and more people are being victimized by the WCV the longer they delay. Harry is the type to take risks, some of them really stupid risks, and John is the type to think "no, we must explore other options."

You did a great job on showing how fucking creepy and rapey the WCV are. The talisman was like some ominous countdown.

I am so looking forward to John's reaction. And Harry's reaction, even more. The whole Protected by True Love things and John's Feelings (yes it is capital-F :) )

Pretty much. Harry thinks he was pretty well justified in what he did. John can't have him on a leash, it doesn't work like that.

FEEEEEEELINGS~!

This was wonderful! Im looking forward to Thomas's introduction. I like how you fixed the skeevy rape is nice feel of the books too. <3

This is good. Poor Harry. And a good intro into further things, if you're going to introduce what I think you are. Very nice. Yay!

It is ALWAYS a pleasure to read your fic. Thank you bb :-)

Great chapter, but what I really wanted to compliment you on was your killer Mordin Solus icon. He's the very model of a modern scientist salarian, you know.

MORDIN


MORDIN IS MY FAVORITE

right after Garrus

brb making out with mah sniper turian boy

Man, I love Harry's burgeoning awareness of how his relationship with John works, and the ways it is fucked up, and the ways he negotiates it.

I mean, it's not healthy per se, but it's almost the next best thing?

I don't think there is a way to write Dresden/Marcone and have it be not be fucked up at least a little. "Next best thing" is a apt.

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