metisket: (fma ed)
[personal profile] metisket

Part 2


“I’ve been waiting for an hour,” Molly announced as soon as Harry stepped out of the car. She pointed accusingly at Thomas, who was standing behind her and smirking. “He wouldn’t tell me where you were or when you were getting back!”

Ah. It was a Molly training day. And Harry had forgotten. Fail.

Okay, so he’d been distracted by aliens falling from the sky, but it was still a fail.

“I’m back now?” he tried. “But actually…can we put training off until tomorrow? Something came up.”

“And…you couldn’t have called and told me that before I came all the way over here?”

He could have. He really could have.

“You’re not even going to tell me what it’s about, are you?”

He wasn’t. Molly probably wasn’t going to care for that much, either. “It’s not your area of expertise, grasshopper.”

“Not my area of expertise?

This was shaping up to be an unpleasant conversation.

“If you never train me, how am I going to have an area of expertise? You know, if I’d known we weren’t training today, I could’ve stayed home and studied on my own, but no, I thought I’d be here, so all the kids have friends over, so the house is a total—”

And then she abruptly interrupted herself mid-rant with, “Wait, who are they?

Harry turned to see that Ed and Al had climbed out of the car. He turned back to Molly. She was staring at Ed with distinctly non-professional interest. Harry silently vowed to stop bringing fascinating, dangerous men into Molly’s life. He was getting used to having Charity not hate him with the fire of a thousand suns.

“I thought you were focusing on magic, grasshopper,” Harry said. “Besides, he’s too young for you. And too short. Also an alien. He’s probably got alien cooties. Didn’t you see Space Balls?

That distracted her. “You’re talking about that scene in Space Balls that was stolen from Alien, aren’t you?” she asked, scandalized. Some horror purists just couldn’t handle spoofs. Harry found it sad.

“I liked it better with the tap-dancing,” he said.

“Nothing’s going to burst out of my stomach,” she insisted. “And nothing is going to burst out of my stomach and tap dance!

“I worry,” Thomas murmured.

“Wait, you have aliens today?” Molly said, bulling past the attempted movie sidetrack. “That’s why you don’t want me around? Aliens?”

“Aliens,” Harry confirmed.

Molly considered that. “I’m not that into aliens,” she eventually decided. “See you tomorrow.”

And just that easy, she nodded to Ed and Al in passing, jumped in the Carpenter family car, and was gone. Too easy. Far, far too easy. Harry knew that meant he would be paying for this wasted trip and lack of explanation later, and possibly for the rest of his life. Normally he didn’t stand for Molly lecturing him, but this time, he’d been pretty clearly in the wrong, so he was just going to have to take the lecture. He sighed. Again.

“I think that went well,” Thomas said bracingly.

“Your support means so much to me, Thomas.”

“Well, it should, because I think I figured out what brought your aliens here,” he announced. “You can tell me how impressed you are. I’ll wait.”

Ed and Al sidled up to them, interested.

“I bow to your superior technique,” Harry allowed. “How did you find this out?”

Thomas looked worryingly evasive. “I don’t ask you how you find things out.”

“Yes, and I’m always wounded by your indifference.”

“Harry. Do you want the information, yes or no?”

“I do, I do.” Note to self: look into Thomas’s shady information-gathering techniques at another, less alien-ridden time.

“It’s your Black Council again.”

“Aw, come on. What happened to the good old days when we just had one-off loonies? I miss the one-off loonies, Thomas.”

Thomas shrugged. “Sorry. Black Council. Deal with it. And it looks like they were trying to pull in some…evil thing.”

“Was it an evil thing from outer space, by chance? Evil demons from space? Please say yes, because that is just what I need today.”

Thomas unhelpfully shrugged again. “Maybe it was supposed to be from another dimension. Anyway, their aim was off.”

“So they were aiming for an evil demon from space and instead got a kid, a suit of armor, some zombies, and a couple of deadly sins.”

“Probably.”

There was a moment of silence as they all digested this.

“You mean it was an accident!?” Ed howled.

“You were all in Gluttony’s stomach,” Al pointed out thoughtfully. “Except for the Philosopher’s Stone zombies. Unless Gluttony ate some zombies at some point. I mean…he probably did.”

Stomachs, Harry thought. Again with the stomachs.

“You weren’t in his stomach,” Ed said dubiously.

“My arm was in there,” Al explained.

Wow. Seriously, with every word that came out of their mouths, Harry wanted to know their life story a little less.

“Maybe he even fed Gluttony some zombies as an experiment,” Ed murmured thoughtfully. “Wouldn’t surprise me, the old sicko. So if we’re right, then we’re all…not totally tied to Amestris, I guess? We’ve been thrown around—and specifically into Gluttony’s version of the Gate. So is Gluttony here somewhere?”

“He is a Gate, he’s not in the Gate.” Al argued. “Besides, Pride ate him.”

Ate him?” Ed repeated, horrified.

Al nodded with a grating sound. “It was really awful, brother.”

“No, really? Ugh, homunculi. But…yeah, that seems like it explains it.” They nodded at each other, apparently satisfied. And then Ed said, “You really mean Pride actually ate—”

“Okay! Enough with the cannibalism talk. Was any of that helpful to me?” Harry cut in, because he was trying for optimism this week.

The brothers looked at each other, then back at Harry, and shook their heads. “No,” Ed admitted glumly. “I mean, we think we see why the people who ended up here got lucky like that. Otherwise? I got nothing.”

“Why did the people who ended up here end up here?” Harry asked.

“Um…we’ve got some instability about which world we belong in, I guess is the easiest way to say it. We’ve jumped worlds before, all of us.”

On the bright side, Harry was starting to feel like, comparatively, his life wasn’t even weird. “You’ve done this before?

“Not like this,” Ed said impatiently. “Have you ever heard of the Gate over here?’

“The Gate? No, but I can hear the capital letter, so I’m guessing it’s a big deal. What Gate?”

“Never mind,” Ed said, looking relieved. “Seems like if anybody here would know about it, you would. Besides, like I said, we didn’t come here through the Gate. This trip is probably related, but it’s not the same thing.”

“So, in theory, you guys were barely stuck to your own world already, so you were the ones who got pulled through, like loose metal shavings drawn to a magnet,” Harry mused. “Pure mistake. I wonder when they’re gonna figure out how badly they screwed up, because it seems to me that there should’ve been people around to meet you when you arrived. People other than me. I’m guessing you landed in the wrong place, on top of everything else. So maybe they think they did summon their demon.”

“Doubtful,” Thomas put in. “Pretty sure they’d have noticed a loose demon by now. They probably just think the ritual failed.”

“Oh, awesome,” Ed said, taking the words right out of Harry’s mouth. “So they’re gonna try again.”

“Bright side,” Thomas observed, “is that if they think they failed, they won’t think anybody’s noticed anything wrong. So they shouldn’t be too on guard yet.”

“Yeah, no expects the Spanish Inquisition! So, do your anonymous sources know where these guys are doing their creepy ritual, Thomas?” Harry asked hopefully. “Or…who, exactly, the Black Council’s using to pull it off?”

“Actually, yeah.” Thomas pulled a ziplock bag with a lock of hair in it out of his jacket pocket, which—so convenient!

A little too convenient, in fact. “Did Lara give you that?” Harry demanded, suspicious. “Why did she have that?”

“In order, yes, Lara gave me this. And she met the guy a while ago for…unrelated reasons, and decided she didn’t like his looks. She’s been keeping an eye on him ever since. He’s just a goon—trust me. She interrogated him herself, and he doesn’t know anything worth knowing. But he is on the guard rotation for the place—not that he knows where exactly it is. People higher on the food chain drive all the guards there blindfolded. He’s still on the schedule, though—should be there now, in fact. It’s not like anybody knows Lara got to him, and he’s not telling.”

“Wow, Lara is terrifying,” Harry said, trying not to think about what interrogation by Lara probably entailed, as that simultaneously turned him on and made him break out in a cold sweat, and it was confusing. “And she just happened to collect genetic material so that I could hunt him down? Because I’m not sure I buy that.”

Thomas shrugged. “Lara likes to plan for every eventuality. I’m sure you were just one strategy. Probably not even the first one.”

Yeah, that sounded about right. Lara was fairly evil and extremely terrifying, but you had to hand it to her, she had style. Also strategy.

“So…you can find the people who brought us here using hair?” Al piped up, puzzled.

Come to think of it, this conversation had to be making no sense to the aliens at all. “That’s right. As long as I’ve got someone’s hair, blood, nails—whatever—I can find them anywhere in Chicago.”

“Creepy,” Ed said, sounding impressed. “How does that work?”

Harry grinned. He loved this part.

* * *

Ed and Al stood staring, fascinated, at the model of Chicago. Harry was feeling unbearably proud of himself, but he thought he hid it well.

“So,” Ed said, “from here you can find anyone?

“As long as I have something to track them with, yes,” Harry agreed.

Ed stared another long moment. “What d’you think, Al?”

Al sighed. “Impossible, brother.”

Ed’s head snapped up and his eyes flashed. Whoa. Apparently impossible was a dirty word.

“Look, even if we could copy this with alchemy, we’d have to stay in one place for years to make any use of it!” Al argued, gauntlets raised defensively. “Which city would you watch? Stop looking at me like that!”

“Sorry,” Ed muttered, then frowned at Little Chicago. “It’s so cool, though. Maybe we should make one of Central for Mustang if he ever gets to be fuhrer.”

“That would be a great present,” Al agreed thoughtfully. “And the Lieutenant would like it, too.” They both considered Little Chicago again.

“As flattered as I am by your awe and amazement,” Harry interrupted, “can we get back to this minor problem of the world ending?”

“Again,” said Thomas.

Again is an overstatement,” Harry insisted. “It stopped short of ending last time.”

“And the time before that.”

“I plan to go for three in a row. Who’s with me?”

“The world’s not ending,” Ed said, exasperated. “Well. It’s probably not ending. Unless jumping from one universe to another destabilizes them both, but if it does, I’m pretty sure we’re already screwed, so there’s no point worrying about it.”

“Way to think positive, Ed,” Harry said. “And in fact, I’m almost sure that having people outside their own universes does cause stability issues.”

“Great. Well, all I can say is, if we’re gonna die anyway, I want to find these assholes first and make them pay.” Ed gestured impatiently with his metal hand. “So get on with it. Make the magic happen.”

“You’re a treasure to work with,” Harry informed him. “I want you to know that.”

“Yeah, yeah,” drawled Ed, unmoved, as Al hid his face in his hands and Thomas snickered off to the side. “Heard it all before, but with like ten times meaner sarcasm.”

“Meaner sarcasm?” Harry was possessed of quite cutting sarcasm, thank you very much.

“What can I say? My commanding officer is a dick.”

Wow. Commanding officer, huh? Ed looked like he was maybe fifteen. Harry decided he didn’t want to think about that ever again, so he went ahead and set up the tracking spell in silence.

Al was very impressed with the process, bless his metal heart. He oohed and aahed in all the right places, and Harry found it gratifying. Or at least, he did until he saw where the spell was leading him. Then he was just exasperated, because seriously, what were the odds?

“Do you know who that building belongs to, Thomas?”

“I’m guessing you’re not going to say Lara, so, Marcone? He’s the only other one who makes you make that face.”

“Why is it always Marcone?

“Oh, come on, this’ll be fun.” Thomas beamed because he had no proper sense of sympathy. “We know he’s not Black Council, so they’re using his building without his okay. Think how pissed off he’ll be.”

Well. True.

“Marcone?” Ed asked dubiously. “What’s he like?”

“Johnny Marcone is a terrible, awful human being for whom I feel many complicated things, contempt being foremost among them,” Harry explained. “But specifically because he’s a terrible person, he can be useful when it comes to causing mayhem.”

“Huh.” Ed gave that some consideration, then nodded. “So if we know where this stuff is going down, do we still need to visit the cops?”

“We still need to visit Murphy, because I need her to lie, cheat, and steal in order to keep all the other cops away from that neighborhood tonight.”

“And you want to show off your aliens,” Thomas added.

“Obviously,” Harry agreed.

“No, it’s cool,” Ed muttered resentfully. “Just pickle me in formaldehyde and stick me in a jar for everybody to ogle, I don’t mind at all. Fuckers.”

“However, Al made a good point about it being a bad idea for him to waltz into a police station looking the way he does,” Harry bulled on, ignoring the side commentary. “So he’s going to stay here and you, Thomas, are going to watch him. And the both of you—stay out of trouble.”

“No worries. We’re the untouchables,” Thomas said. He held up his fist and Al gamely banged his gauntlet off it.

Harry wondered if he looked as disturbed by that statement as Ed did. He suspected the answer was yes.

* * *

Al was looking forward to talking to Thomas for a bit. If nothing else, he thought, they could bond over their mutual constant struggle to keep their maniac brothers alive. It was kind of funny that Al was in armor and Thomas was a vampire, yet they were both way more normal than their totally human brothers.

It didn’t work out, though, because Al’s life was, well. It was just like that. He used to blame Ed, but no, it was clearly both of them. So no sooner did he and Thomas sit down in the living room and let the animals get comfortable than Thomas sat bolt upright and jerked around to face the door.

“I’m sorry, Al,” he said distantly, looking…scary and pale and not like himself. “My sister is waiting outside, and I may need to run an errand for her before she’ll leave me alone. I think you should hide in the basement. If Harry gets back before I do, tell him Lara’s taking more of an interest than we thought. Okay?”

Al nodded seriously. He could see that Thomas was afraid and trying to hide it, and he didn’t even want to know what it would take to scare a vampire. Well, if this was Thomas’s sister, then…another vampire, probably. But even for a vampire, Thomas seemed pretty tough. His sister must’ve been the scariest vampire in the world.

“There’s a talking skull in the basement,” Thomas said like that was a normal thing. Al just nodded again, because this was clearly not the moment to cry about how bizarre this world was. “His name is Bob. If you hear explosions or someone coming down the stairs, ask Bob to hide you. If it’s me or Harry, no problem, but if it’s not…it’ll be better if they can’t find you. Harry makes a lot more enemies than friends.”

Given the way Harry acted like an even snarkier Ed, this did not come as a shock to Al.

* * *

There really was a talking skull named Bob in the basement. It wasn’t that Al had thought Thomas was lying or anything, it was more that he hadn’t wanted to believe it.

Bob introduced himself. Al introduced himself in return and explained the situation as best he could, given that he didn’t understand it at all. Bob declared that everything sucked. Al agreed.

At that point, conversation stalled, which left Al with nothing to do but pace around the basement nervously and wonder if Thomas was okay, and how they were going to get home, and whether Ed and Harry had managed to run into one of Harry’s horde of enemies yet. Because Al wouldn’t be surprised. He wouldn’t be surprised at all. He made a small, panicked noise and punched a wall.

“Hey kid, don’t freak, I can’t handle it,” piped up Bob the skull. “You know what happens when Harry freaks? Things explode. He calls up demons. Crazy shit. If you’re even thinking about pulling any of that, you can get the hell out of my basement. You’re not the boss of me and I don’t have to put up with it.”

Al stopped pacing and took the equivalent of a deep breath. He was acting like his brother, and while he loved his brother dearly, the universe really only needed one.

Besides, there was something very embarrassing about being told to calm down by a possessed skull.

“Hey, I know it’s tough,” the skull said sympathetically. “Trust me, I feel your pain, kid. Or neither of us feels any pain, which is the whole problem, am I right? And then on top of that, I’m constantly getting ditched, and now you are, too. You know how many years I been in one basement or another without anybody letting me out for more than a couple days? Do you?”

“Um. No?”

“Well I’m not gonna tell you, because once you pass a certain number of decades, it just gets depressing. But at least I’ve got my little entertainments. You know.”

Al wondered how Bob was managing to give the impression of knowingly waggling his eyebrows when he didn’t have eyebrows. “I don’t know. Um, sorry.”

“Oh, you poor kid,” Bob gasped. “You’re with your brother, right? Is he totally useless? How old are you?”

“I just turned fifteen,” Al said, trying not to make every statement sound like a nervous question.

“Fifteen! Fifteen in that body! Shit, that’s the saddest thing I ever heard. Here, here.” A book pitched off the end of Bob’s shelf, and Al cautiously picked it up. “That’ll keep your mind occupied. It’s not the same, obviously. But us guys without bodies, we have to make do. And you being a young man, that’s…damn, that’s just not fair. Go on, kid. Chapter 16 is a good one.”

Al opened the book with curiosity and a little dread, seeing as the cover featured people wearing very little clothing, and he had deep suspicions about the storyline. And yeah, by the end of page one, if he could have been blushing furiously, he would have been.

No, he was sure his soul was blushing.

“Um,” he said nervously. “Mr. Bob?”

“Call me Bob, kid. It’s too weird. The cat’s called Mister.”

“Um, Bob,” Al corrected. “Does this book have a plot at all?”

“Sure it does, sure!” Bob paused to consider. “Well, but it’s mostly a vehicle for the porn. You get your varieties of romance novel. Some of them really do have a plot, but it’s tough to weave that coherently with the porn. See what I’m saying? It either needs to be about the porn or about the plot. People who try to do both, they’re just confusing themselves and their readers. I like to stick with the porn; it’s got the purer artistic vision. So yeah, that has a plot, but it’s just there to get you to care more about the porn.”

Al stared. First he’d been handed this book, which was…was…indecent. And now he was getting a lecture. On indecent books.

This kind of thing never happened at home.

* * *

“So we’re going to the police to convince them that they should stay away from a neighborhood tonight,” Ed asked, apparently for clarity’s sake.

“Right.”

“And you have, what, one friend in there?”

“Maybe two.”

“Yeah, I really think I should be the one who talks to the cops,” Ed announced decisively.

“I really think you look like a kid, kid,” Harry replied. “I really think the cops would boot you back out into the street and tell you to stop with the pranks.”

“So your look is better? You look like a violent hobo.”

It was terrible, the way Ed was so hesitant to say what he really thought. “Yeah, well. Better the violent hobo you know.”

Ed snorted, unimpressed. “You mean them knowing you is supposed to be a good thing?”

“Hey, you’re the one hanging out with me of your own free will. Apparently I’ve got some redeeming qualities.”

“Yeah, but that’s me,” Ed said earnestly.

This was the thing about Ed: he went along making perfect sense, and then when you were least expecting it, he abruptly made no sense. Maybe it was an alien thing. “What?”

“For me, it’s different.” Ed could see he wasn’t getting through. He waved a frustrated hand. “You’re…it’s like I know you. You’re familiar, I guess.”

Oh, really?

Well, maybe. Ed, now that Harry let himself think about it, had the—familiar, indeed—look of someone who had seen some shit. Sure, he was gold and shiny and wild. But tired, under that. Somebody whose eyes Harry sincerely never wanted to look into.

Zombies, forsooth. Deadly sins. No wonder.

“I’m familiar to the police, too,” Harry said, trying to steer the conversation back toward the mundane. “They’re a hardy bunch. Wait ‘til you meet Murphy. You guys will get along like something terrifying.”

Ed huffed and folded his arms, but it was true. Oh God, was it true.

* * *

“Murph, I have great news!”

Murphy responded to his enthusiasm with every bit as much suspicion as he could’ve hoped for. “You, good news? I’m sure I would have heard the cracking sound if Hell had frozen over.”

“Check this out, and then see if you can mock!” he declared, and hauled Ed out of the Blue Beetle. “I had to pull from another planet or maybe dimension to do it, but I have at last…found someone shorter than you!”

Ed went ballistic. It was interesting, if unexpected. He’d been so cool with everything up to then. Who’d seen the short man complex coming?

“It’s an alien?” Murphy asked over the shrieking. “It looks like a kid. Does it do tricks?”

It!” Ed howled.

“I know, right?” Harry said. “I was hoping for green skin at least. Another of life’s little disappointments.”

“Don’t call me little!

“Whoa,” said Harry, as Ed made a spirited attempt to kick his head off. “Such a temper for a small guy.”

Ed howled in inarticulate rage. It was a good thing Harry’d spent so many years dodging various people who were trying to kill him, or he’d have ended this conversation unconscious on the floor. As it was, he got some shiny new bruises and maybe a sprained wrist. Ed was scrappy.

Enough,” Murphy snapped once she’d had all the shenanigans she could take.

Ed froze like he’d been stabbed. Wow. Looked like somebody’d put the fear of tiny blonde women in him at some point.

“Get inside before you make even more of a spectacle,” Murphy snarled, herding them inside, past all the desks full of staring cops, and into an interrogation room. At some point they picked up a Rawlins accessory. Rawlins was laughing at them, of course. Harry wished he could be the one sitting back and laughing, but noooo, he had to be right in the middle of the mess.

“Dresden’s brought us an alien,” Murphy informed Rawlins once the door was shut.

“No kidding,” Rawlins said, eyebrows lifted in faint surprise. “Doesn’t look like an alien. Looks like a punk kid.”

Ed smiled proudly at this, and that was everything you needed to know about Ed, right there.

“Lose the jacket, Ed,” Harry suggested. “Show off the shiny tech.”

Fine,” Ed grumbled, losing his smile and shrugging his coat off, resigned.

Murphy and Rawlins stared for a long time in a very gratifying way.

“That kid’s arm is made of metal,” Rawlins mentioned eventually.

“That’s very observant of you, Rawlins,” Harry said. “But then it isn’t your lack of observation skills that keeps getting you busted down from detective, is it? It’s your attitude problem.”

“Don’t give me shit,” Rawlins replied, unruffled. “I just like to point out that I’m the normal one now and again. Gives me a warm glow.”

“The metal arm is, I’ll admit, weird,” Murphy allowed. “But it’s not exactly proof of alien, Dresden. And even if it were, why is this my problem? It doesn’t seem like he’s a hostile alien. We’ve had worse.”

“He wants to go home,” Harry explained. “And who can blame him? Here he is, a kid lost in Chicago, far from everything he knows. This is so a matter for the police.”

Murphy sighed and turned to Ed, who’d thrown himself into an interrogation chair and was now balancing it improbably on one leg. “So you’re from another dimension. How did that happen, exactly?”

“You’re asking me? You should be asking that guy,” he said, waving at Harry while still, somehow, managing to keep the chair balanced. Impressive. “But from what I’ve heard him saying, there’s some Council of Evil that was trying to summon a demon thing to your world—because demons are a thing here, what the hell—but they fucked it up and accidentally got me and my brother instead. The good news is, we know where they live, so Dresden wants you to keep all the cops away from there so we can go punch them in the face until they cough up their dimension hopping magnet thing.” He let the chair thump down to all four legs again with a horrible screech and turned to look at Harry. “That about right?”

“Can we call it a Doom Magnet?” Harry asked earnestly.

“Whatever makes you happy, pyro guy,” Ed told him.

“I like the kid,” Rawlins decided. “No chance we can keep him around?”

“Hey, I have a home to go to,” Ed protested. “I can’t be wasting time hanging around with you assholes, I got things to do.”

“Also his presence could conceivably destabilize both our universe and his, and then, you know. The blood, the fire, the end times,” Harry added.

“Should’ve known better than to ask,” Rawlins sighed.

“Give us the address and we’ll do our best,” Murph said, clearly not thrilled about this newest weirdness happening in her town. “But all your bullshit is destroying my credibility, so don’t expect much.”

“Every little bit helps,” Harry told her, and then his phone rang before he could get any more poetic on the subject. (Thomas was amusing himself this month by buying Harry cell phones. They usually broke within a couple of days, but Thomas just kept buying them. Harry was starting to suspect it was some kind of weird thaumaturgical experiment, but was afraid to ask.)

Appropriately enough, it was Thomas. Thomas, who had apparently abandoned Al in a room alone with Bob—because no world-ending disasters could possibly come of that arrangement—in favor of running around town with his soul-sucking sister. The information gained from this adventure might turn out useful, but Harry still felt like the eventual blood and tears Lara would extract in exchange made it not worth it.

Why. Why everything.

“According to my source,” Harry announced once he’d hung up, trying to sound official and important, “the Doom Magnet is a highly delicate and unstable working that depends heavily on order and timing and placement of the requisite parts. And there are apparently hundreds of requisite parts, some of them really hard to come by and good for one use only, which at least explains why we haven’t had any extra-dimensional visitors before. Plus, the dimensional travel works like pulling a rubber band—if they lose the magnet, any and all visitors ought to snap right back to their original dimension. It’s only the magnet that’s holding them here.”

“So what happens if we kick the magnet?” Ed asked, because he was a kid after Harry’s own heart.

“Unfortunately, the whole building is technically part of the magnet. But you’ve got the right idea—if we destroyed the whole thing, they’d have to start over from scratch. And some of the ingredients…I’m betting it would take them decades if not centuries to come up with more of them.”

“So basically what you’re saying is, everything will be fixed if we blow up that building,” Ed clarified. “Right?”

“Well, yeah,” Harry allowed. “If we blew up the building, the Doom Magnet would be ruined, and it’d take forever to recreate it. If they even can, because managing to line all that crap up at just the right astrological moment really was a chance in a million. They lucked out, and even then, they didn’t get what they wanted. So yeah. Yeah, that would do it. And it’d really piss them off, too.”

Ed clearly didn’t understand what he was missing. “So…why don’t we just blow up the building?”

Harry gazed at him in admiration. “I like your style, kid.”

Dresden.”

“Aw, Murph. You’re such a spoilsport.”

“I’m the voice of reason, and it’s damned lucky there is one in this room.”

“We can just wait until there’s no one in there, right?” Ed went on, still puzzled. “No one would get hurt. So what’s the problem?”

Murphy gave Harry a dead-eyed stare. “Well, Dresden, you had to pull from another planet or maybe dimension to do it, but you have at last found someone crazier than you.”

* * *

“You can’t just come out and say stuff like that in front of Murphy, Ed,” Harry explained as they left the station several dire warnings from Murphy later. “She’s got this thing about protecting the city. The whole city, even the annoying parts. So you just have to go do the things and then act like you didn’t mean to.”

Ed raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s too late for that now. She’ll know it’s us.”

“She will unless it clearly isn’t us.”

“…But she’ll still know it was our idea.”

“Yes, but she won’t be able to prove anything.”

“You do get that someday she’s going to shoot you,” Ed pointed out. “And everybody’s going to laugh. Especially Rawlins.”

“Nah, she wouldn’t shoot me. She has tried to arrest me a couple of times, but I like to think she’s over that.”

“Yeah, okay,” Ed muttered dubiously. “So who are you gonna try to frame for this?”

“Well,” Harry said, “when I’m planning to throw someone under the bus, I like it to be one of my least favorite people.”

* * *

“Harry Dresden,” said Gentleman Johnny Marcone, studying them from across his obscenely expensive and oh-so-shiny new desk. “It’s been so long. I was beginning to think you didn’t care.”

“It hasn’t been that long,” Harry corrected. Tragically. And the shiny desk was distracting. Harry kept wanting to watch Marcone’s face in the desk instead of…in the face? Harry did not appreciate these office upgrades.

Marcone’s reflected eyebrows went up, and Harry forced himself to look at the man himself. No mirror desk. Focus, focus. “And you never write,” Marcone said.

“My parole officer used to say the same thing.”

“Did he really?”

“No.”

“Interesting. And who have you brought me, today? You know I don’t like surprises, Dresden.”

“Yeah, I don’t like them either. But he was a surprise to me, too, and I’m a sharing kind of guy. John, this is Ed the alien. Ed, this is Gentleman Johnny Marcone, biggest bastard in Chicago.”

“An alien.” Marcone blinked. “Unusual even for you, Dresden.”

“That’s what Thomas said.”

“You remind me of a murderer I know,” Ed told Marcone, scowling suspiciously. Ed was pretty perceptive, Harry had to hand it to him.

“And how many murderers do you know?” Marcone asked, amused.

“One more than I did yesterday, right?” Ed muttered.

“Hm.” Marcone studied them both in that I’m-a-scary-mobster way of his. “I assume you didn’t bring your alien so that I could enjoy the novelty, Dresden. What do you want?”

“So the world is ending,” Harry said, waving his hands in demonstrative explosion-type gestures.

“Oh,” said Marcone. “Again?”

“Can we have more Ride of the Valkyries?” Harry asked.

“Wouldn’t the theme to The Twilight Zone be more appropriate?”

“I don’t like to encourage the weirdness,” Harry said piously, “when I can kick its ass instead. How do you feel about blowing up one of your warehouses to save the world?”

“I’ve destroyed buildings for less noble reasons,” Marcone allowed. “I assume this has something to do with the alien?”

“Phone home,” Harry explained.

“What the fuck,” Ed snapped irritably.

“Plus the evil guys using it for evil are totally using it without your permission,” Harry went on. “You can’t let that stand. Think of your reputation! Anyway, Murph’s gonna kill me if I destroy the place, but my thought is, if she knows you did it, everything’ll be fine. She hates you already.”

“She’ll know it was your idea,” Marcone pointed out.

“See? Even this guy knows you’re gonna get your ass handed to you.” Ed the alien: new depths of unhelpful commentary every day. And Harry couldn’t even complain too loudly, because Marcone was already on the phone talking to…whoever it is you call when you need to blow up your own property. He was getting really responsive when it came to this doomsday crap. Was that a good thing, or just symptomatic of how much doomsday crap had been going down lately?

Best not to think about it, probably.

Not too long after that, Gard showed up, because clearly that is who you call when you need to blow stuff up. Should’ve seen that one coming. Also, it should not have surprised Harry as badly as it did when she and Ed became instant friends. They seemed to be bonding over recipes for explosives. Which was not terrifying at all.

Seriously, Ed was maybe mid-teens. It was deeply distressing to Harry to hear him waxing lyrical about this one time he stumbled across some unstable dynamite in an abandoned mine, and it was great!

It only took another, say, ten traumatizing minutes to successfully arrange the destruction of a building in downtown Chicago, so that was efficient. Horrifying, but efficient.

Marcone refused to be on-site when blowing up his own building, so instead he sent Gard and Harry and Ed and a handful of interchangeable, vaguely bovine thugs. The disposable ones, presumably. Well, except for Gard, who was the next best thing to unkillable.

“Aren’t we supposed to get Al and Thomas for this?” Ed asked as they headed toward the Blue Beetle. (Disappointingly, Marcone didn’t judge this errand urgent enough to rate a helicopter, so they were going to have to drive.)

“I mean, technically, yes,” Harry admitted. “But they’re kinda conspicuous, and when it comes to blowing up buildings, they wouldn’t be much help, so I think we can safely leave them in my apartment and let them get mad at us later.”

Ed considered that, then nodded reluctantly. “Al is pretty easy to spot,” he allowed.

“Thomas is honestly not much better,” Harry pointed out. “What with being the most gorgeous man on the block, every block. It’s depressing.”

Ed grimaced at that, probably due to his ongoing issues with attractive people. Weird kid.

* * *

There were indeed visible goons guarding the building, which—how suicidal was that choice? The Black Council had to know that sooner or later Marcone would notice somebody else’s goons guarding his building, and at that point, you know. Kill everyone. Because that is the way of scary mobsters.

When you got to the stage where Harry thought somebody was being reckless, that was some dire recklessness.

At any rate, the guards were all discount goons, disposable—no doubt brought in with bags over their heads, and ignorant of any valuable information. Lucky. It meant that even though Harry’s team was outnumbered, say, ten to one, he still wasn’t expecting much trouble clearing the building.

As it happened, there was even less trouble than he’d planned for. He was going to have to mark this day on his calendar, because damn, that was never how his life went.

The thing was, Harry didn’t like to fight. He could see how people might get confused about this, what with the way he got into fights with everyone and everything all the frigging time, but he didn’t do it for fun. He did it for the sake of justice, or at least because he was really annoyed and needed to get it out of his system somehow.

Gard and Ed, on the other hand, obviously fought for the pure love of fighting. And they tore through those poor goons like they were cardboard cutouts.

Gard, fine. It made sense: she was a freaking Valkyrie. Seeing her all bloodthirsty and gleeful as she threw goons into walls and out of windows was, while slightly alarming, not a surprise. Harry was just glad Marcone had talked her into maiming rather than murder. (Corpses on his property, liability issues, et cetera.)

Ed, though. Harry hadn’t seen Ed coming, because Ed hadn’t given the impression that he was a straight-up child ninja with rage issues until this moment. But there it was. Ed was vicious, precise, and took advantage of everything in his environment—walls, rafters, rocks, spare goons—and all while bounding around at high speeds like gravity didn’t properly apply to him. As Harry watched, Ed leapfrogged over the head of one goon in order to kick the one behind him in the face, bowling both that guy and the goon behind him over backward onto a pile of steel pipes. So two goons down, plus steel pipes everywhere and tripping up everyone except Ed, who was somehow up in the rafters again. Just a lot of bang for the buck, there. Harry seriously had to wonder what kind of inventive sadist had trained the kid.

All this was making Harry feel a little surplus to requirements, so he absently threw a Forzare at a couple goons and knocked them out against the nearest wall. Gard gave him a patronizing smirk in passing, which Harry did not appreciate. Some people found him extremely scary! It wasn’t fair to hold him up to the standards of a Valkyrie and an alien ninja…kid.

Yeah, no. No, that didn’t make him feel any better.

In the end, every last goon was rendered unconscious, tied up, and piled in an alleyway nearby (though not near enough to be caught in any hypothetical future explosions) in under half an hour. And they were looking pretty rough, it had to be said. Harry almost felt bad for them. Poor goons. Next best thing to innocent bystanders, really.

Gard and Ed were untroubled by any such considerations, and had already efficiently moved on to the next item of business. Which was blowing stuff up. Harry liked to think of himself as pretty awesome at blowing stuff up, but he had to admit he’d never tried to do it with any degree of precision, and precision was what Gard and Ed were all about.

So it’s arson when you burn a building down, but what’s it called when you blow a building up? That’s what Harry wondered as he watched two battle fanatics first enthusiastically plot out the best way to explode a place, and then put that plotting into practice. It was obviously a crime, and there had to be a name for it, but Harry couldn’t decide what it would be. Criminal demolition?

He asked Ed, who scowled and started rattling off a bunch of Latin root variants, before eventually shrugging and admitting, with apparent self-directed resentment, that he didn’t know. That brought up new and interesting questions about how exactly the translation function was working during this universe-hopping adventure, but it didn’t answer Harry’s initial question. So he asked Gard. Who completely ignored the question, because no one ever appreciated Harry’s efforts to better himself.

“Make yourself useful, wizard,” was all she said, while Ed cheerfully shoved Harry to what he considered a safe distance from the warehouse. “Give us fire.”

“Yeah, pyro guy,” Ed agreed. “We all know how you love fire.” And just as Harry was starting to feel a bit offended, Ed added, “And, hey, whether this works or not, thanks for being so cool about everything. Your planet sucks, and we’d have been totally stuck here without you, so. Yeah. Thanks.”

“…You’re welcome,” Harry said, trying to work out whether he should be insulted on behalf of his planet. “Good luck overthrowing the government. And tell Al I said bye, and also that he’s my favorite alien.”

“Screw you, Dresden,” Ed shot back with a laugh, then nodded permission with a completely wild grin.

Harry grinned back and shouted, “Fuego,” aiming at the bundle of fuses Gard had pointed out.

Turned out Gard and Ed were just as good at criminal demolition(?) as Harry’d been afraid they were, because the whole warehouse went up like an ammo dump.

“Awesome,” Ed said decisively, staring at the fiery destruction. It was the last thing he said before he faded slowly out to weird transparency, then eventually vanished with a snap. He didn’t actually leave his grin hanging in the air for a few seconds after he was gone, but it distinctly had that feel to it.

Harry stared at Ed’s last known location for a while, reasonably sure it had all worked out as planned, but still a little sad. Sure, their presence had been potentially fatally disrupting the entire universe and whatnot, but Ed and Al had been fun to have around.

He shook himself out of it, eventually, remembering that he was standing next to a burning building and could, in fact, hear sirens. Gard, less sentimental, was already long gone. Like Harry needed to be, because if Murphy had to arrest him for something she’d explicitly ordered him not to do one more time, she might pop an artery in her brain from sheer force of rage. And Harry refused to lose Ed, Al, and Murphy all in the same day.

He made it about three blocks before Murphy pulled him over. She was wise to his tricks.

“Dresden,” was all she said, but it was really impressive how much murder she could imply with that one word. She was looming in an ominous way, too, but she hadn’t pulled her gun on him yet, and he was willing to take what he could get.

“Murphy!” he replied brightly. “Fancy meeting you here!”

“Funny. By chance, do you remember when I told you not to blow up any buildings in my city? Because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a blown up building right there. And who do I find a few blocks away but you.”

“Ah.” Harry held up a finger. “I did not blow that building up.”

“So Ed blew it up while you watched. And you know what? That means I can still perfectly legally haul your ass in.”

“You know that never ends well, Murph. I’m just too popular for jail.”

Her hand drifted back and settled on her gun. Harry hastily started explaining better. Explaining for his life, as it were. “Anyway, that building belonged to Marcone, and technically Marcone blew it up. If he doesn’t try to collect on the insurance, I feel like this was barely illegal. Nobody got hurt. No damage to surrounding structures.” True fact—Gard and Ed were demolition pros. So troubling. “And you have non-magical shady characters to interrogate now! Totally a win, Murph.”

“Does this mean your aliens are back home, then?” Murphy asked. And so calmly, too. If she hadn’t been clutching her gun so hard her knuckles were white, she could have faked coolness.

“Sure,” Harry said, surreptitiously checking that the gun’s safety was still on.

Murphy was quiet for a long time, which generally boded ill. “Sure?” she repeated.

“I mean, I don’t see why not,” Harry clarified blithely.

“Dresden, were you aware that it’s very difficult to convict a police officer of murder?”

“But who would you call the next time an alien turned up? You’d miss me, Murph!”

Murphy closed her eyes gritted her teeth. Safety was still on, though. “Go away, Dresden,” she said. “Just go away for a while.”

Harry smiled and eased the Beetle forward very gently, sort of the automobile equivalent of backing away slowly with your hands in the air. And he got all the way out of range without any fresh bullet holes anywhere.

Ed the alien hadn’t known what he was talking about—Murphy was a model of restraint.

* * *

Thomas was back in the apartment when Harry got there. In the apartment and cooking, no less. The day was looking up.

Well, sort of. Thomas was still a vaguely terrible cook, and was probably only cooking in the first place out of some weird fit of guilt related to whatever he’d spent his evening doing, but Harry was choosing to ignore all that for the moment.

“Al abruptly disappeared, so I assume everybody went home and the world is saved?” Thomas called from the kitchen.

“I assume that also,” Harry agreed. “I’m pretty sure. Ninety-five percent sure. Not that we caught any of the big bosses, because that would be way too easy. No, they’ll come back later and try to kill us all again in their own time, I’m sure.”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “Welcome home, anyway. I got bored waiting for you and made pasta. You should eat to build up your strength before I tell you about my day. Also before you talk to Bob, because Bob totally bonded with Al, and now he’s depressed.”

“Wow, my life has the best problems. And all I get for saving the world is pasta? Really? Pasta?”

“You get pasta for being ninety-five percent sure you saved the world. If you were actually sure, you’d get pasta and one of Mac’s microbrews.”

“I’ll try harder next time,” Harry decided, walking across the living room and getting charged into by Mister.

He was home, reasonably sure the world wasn’t actively ending, and had gotten to meet some cool aliens. It was possibly a little pathetic, yes, but he was going to go ahead and consider this one of his better days.


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