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Fool Moon, Page 26

Jim Butcher

Chapter 27

  Susan's perfume led me to her. She was waiting for me in a bedroom on the first floor. She stood in the simply furnished room, in her jeans and a white T-shirt blazoned with the words, EAT IT? I WOULDN'T SIT ON IT; It was one of mine. She lifted her chin up high when she saw me, as though trying to keep the tears in her eyes from falling.

  Our gazes met, and held. We had looked into one another before, more than a year ago. She'd fainted when she saw what was inside of me through the soulgaze. I don't know what it was she saw. I don't look too hard into mirrors.

  Inside of her, though, I'd seen passion, like I'd rarely known in people other than myself. The motivation to go, to do, to act. It was what drove her forward, digging up stories of the supernatural for a half-comic rag like the Arcane. She had a gift for it, for digging down into the muck that people tried to ignore, and coming up with facts that weren't always easily explained. She made people think. It was something personal for her - I knew that much, but not why. Susan was determined to make people see the truth.

  I shut the door behind me and limped toward her.

  "They'll kill you," she said. "Don't go. " As I reached her, she put her hands against my chest, then her cheek.

  "I've got to. Denton can't afford to let me live now. I need to finish this business, before it gets any more out of hand. Before more people die. If I don't go tonight, Denton will be able to kill Marcone and MacFinn and set MacFinn up for all the killings. He'll get away clean, and then he'll be able to focus on me. And maybe on you, too. "

  "We could go somewhere," she said quietly. "We could hide. "

  I blinked my eyes closed. She'd said "we. " She hadn't really done that much, before. I hadn't really thought in those terms, either. I hadn't much thought in those terms for a lot of years. Not since the last time.

  I should have said something about it. Acknowledged the implication. I knew it was there, and she knew that I had noticed it. She held still, waiting.

  Instead, I said, "I'm not much good at hiding. Neither are you. "

  Her breath went out in a little whisper, and I felt her tighten a little against me. There would be tears on my shirt, I knew, but I didn't look down at her.

  "You're right," she said a moment later. Her voice was shaking. "And I know you are. But I'm afraid, Harry. I mean, I know we haven't been really close. Friends, and lovers, but . . . "

  "Work," I said. I closed my eyes.

  She nodded. "Work. " Her fingers tightened on my shirt, and she looked up at me, dark eyes swimming with tears, still more on the smooth lines of her cheek. "I don't want to lose you now. I don't want the work to be all that's left. "

  I tried to think of something smart to say. Something that would reassure her, calm her, help her to feel better, to understand what I felt for her. But I wasn't even sure what it was that I felt.

  I found myself kissing her, the rough growth on my mouth and chin brushing her soft skin. She tensed at first, and then melted against me with a deliciously feminine sort of willingness, a soft abandoning of distance that left her body, in all its dark beauty, pressed against mine. The kiss deepened, slowed, became something intense and erotic and self-contained. The motion of our lips, the warmth of our bodies pressed together. The touch of my fingertips on her face, featherlight. The scratch of her nails as her fingers kneaded at my shirt. My heart was pounding, and I could feel hers, too, racing.

  She broke the kiss first, and I swayed on my feet, my breath gone. Without speaking, she guided me down to the edge of the bed, and sat me there. Then she vanished into the bathroom, reappearing with a basin of warm water, some soap, and a washcloth.

  She undressed me. Slowly. Delicately. She changed the bandages, murmuring softly to me when it hurt, kissing my eyes and forehead to soothe me. She bathed me with the water, its warmth washing away the dried sweat, the blood, and some of the pain. Patiently, more gentle than rain, she made me clean, while I drifted, my eyes closed. I could hear myself make a soft sound, now and then, in response to her touches.

  I felt her come to me. Felt her bare skin against mine, hot and smooth. I opened my eyes and saw the silver haze of the moon on the far horizon, across the lake. I saw Susan outlined in it, all sweetly feminine curves and lines, a beautiful shadow. She kissed me again, and I returned it in kind, and it was a liquid, smooth thing, as restrained and desperate as the near-still surface of a rushing river. Her lips passed from my mouth and roamed over the skin she had just cleaned, and when I tried to touch her, she gently pressed my hands back down, telling me without words to be still.

  It went on like that, all skin and light touches, soft sighs, pounding hearts, until she settled atop me, keeping her weight off me with her legs, her hands, afraid to cause any pain. We moved together, feeling the power of our need, our hunger for one another, a pure blend of desire and warmth and affection and incredible intimacy that shook us to the core. It ended in silence, the sensation all the more piercing for that, our mouths together, our breath mingling.

  She lay down beside me until our pounding hearts slowed down. Then she rose, and said, "I don't know if I want to fall in love with you, Harry. I don't know if I could stand it. "

  I opened my eyes, and answered softly, "I've never wanted to hurt you. I don't know what's right. "

  "I know what feels right," she said, and kissed me again, then started touching my forehead, lifting her head up to study me with gentle, compassionate eyes. "You see so much pain. I just wanted to remind you that there was something else in the world. "

  I'm a pretty tough guy. I mean, look at me. I can handle some rough stuff. But some things I'm not so tough about. I started crying, hard, and Susan held me, rocked me gently, until the tears had gone away.

  I wanted to stay there, where it was warm, and where I was clean, and where there wasn't anyone dying. There wasn't any blood or snarling animals, and no one was trying to kill me. I liked the idea of being there, with Susan, in her arms, a whole lot more than I liked the idea of going out into the silver light of the full moon, which was growing greater underneath the horizon, coming up in a hazy nimbus.

  Instead, I drew away from her a little and sat up.

  It was a fool's moon.

  She rose from the bed and returned with an overnight bag and drew out a pair of my black jeans, my black sneakers, socks, a heavy, dark grey shirt, dark undies to complete the color theme, and bless her heart, ibuprofen. I rose to dress, but she pressed a hand on my shoulder and made me sit down - then dressed me herself, slowly and carefully, her attention focused on the task. Neither of us spoke.

  Ever had a beautiful, naked woman dress you? Talk about girding your loins for battle. There was something indescribably soothing and at the same time, exciting, about it. I could feel my body becoming more relaxed and aware, my senses more in tune with what was around me.

  I heard footsteps in the hall, and a knock at the door. Tera's voice called, "Wizard. It is time. "

  I stood up, but Susan grabbed my wrist. "Harry," she said. "Wait a minute. " She knelt down by the bag and drew out a heavy box, flat and broad. "I was going to give it to you for your birthday. But I thought you could use it. "

  I tilted my head and took the box in hand. It was heavy. "What is it?" I asked her.

  "Just open it, dummy," she answered, smiling up at me. I did, and inside was the smell of soft, worked leather, sensuous and thick, wrapped up in translucent paper. I tossed the lid aside, took the paper off, and found dark leather, new and matte black, hardly casting back the light. I took it out of the box, and it unfolded into a heavy, long coat, like my own duster in design, even to the mantle around the shoulders and arms, but all made of the finer material.

  I blinked at the coat. "It must have cost you a fortune. "

  She laughed wickedly. "Yeah. But I got to wear it around naked, just to feel it on my skin. " Her face sobered. "I want you to have it, Harry. Something from me. For luck. " She glided to
my side and helped me into the coat.

  The coat settled around me with a comforting heaviness and a peculiar sort of familiarity. It just felt right. I plucked my mother's pentacle on its chain from beneath my shirt and wore it openly. And then I got Harris's confiscated side arm from my coveralls' tool pouch, and put it in the coat's pocket. I didn't have any other magical tools. And maybe not even any more magic. The gun, all things considered, seemed an uncertain weapon at best.

  But I was as ready as I was going to be.

  I turned to say good-bye to Susan, to find her hurriedly stepping into her clothes. "What are you doing?" I asked.

  "Getting dressed," she said.


  "Someone's got to drive the van, Dresden. " She tugged on her T-shirt, slung her jacket over her shoulder, and walked past me, pausing to give me a narrow glance. "Besides. This could be the biggest paranormal event I've ever had the chance to cover. Did you expect me to stay behind?" She pushed the door open and gave me an expectant look.

  Damn, I thought. And double damn. One more person to worry about. One more person to protect. Susan wasn't a werewolf. She wasn't a wizard. She didn't even have a gun. It was crazy to let her even think about going along. But I found myself wanting to make sure she was somewhere close.

  "All right," I said. "But the same rules I gave the kids. I'm in charge. You do what I say, when I say, or you stay here. "

  Susan pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. "I kind of like the sound of that," she said, teasing me. "I like that look on you, too. Have you ever thought about growing a beard?" Then she smiled, and vanished out into the hallway.

  I scowled after her. She'd stay away from the worst of it. I'd make sure of that, if I had to tie her to the van myself. I muttered something grouchy, bent my head to one side, and inhaled, smelling the smell of new leather, of fresh clothes and soap, and of eau de Susan still lingering on my skin. I liked it. The jacket creaked as I started forward, and I caught sight of myself in the dresser mirror.

  My double, the one from the dream, stared back out at me. Only the roughness of the three-day growth of dark whiskers, and the bruises, were at contrast with the subconscious-me's neatly trimmed beard. Everything else was precisely the same.

  I turned my face away rather quickly and paced from the room, out to the van, where the others were waiting.

  Show time.