Fandom: Dresden Files by Jim Butcher -- If you like magic in the modern world, witty narration and/or detective stories, you should read these books. Seriously.
Characters: Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Thomas Raith, Mouse
Word count: 10,305 total *fist pump*
A few hours later, I was sitting in my office, waiting for Emma to arrive. She'd been ridiculously eager to come see me despite the late hour, which hadn't done much to disprove my distrust of her. Most people would have waited until morning.
She arrived looking just as breathtakingly pretty as she had the last time I'd seen her. "Mr. Dresden." She glanced around the room. "Is Thomas not here?"
"He had to work." I waved her towards a chair. "Please, sit down."
She approached my desk, doing a less than stellar job at hiding her urgency. "Did you find it?" she asked. I'd hinted as much on the phone.
I shrugged. "Not exactly," I said and watched her expression falter. "I actually had a few more questions for you."
The polite smile she pulled on didn't fit very well. "What sort of questions?"
"Oh, nothing too difficult. Clerical issues mostly." I put on an earnest expression that wouldn't have fooled anyone who'd met me for more than five minutes. Earnest wasn't really a good look on me. "Is that okay?"
Emma's spine shifted, subtly wary. She didn't really have much of a choice and we both knew it, though she wasn't aware yet that I did. "Of course," she decided finally. "Whatever you need."
"Okay." I gave her my best smile. "What day of the week were you born on?"
Emma's smile slid off her face like someone had taken an eraser to it. "What?"
"Monday's child is fair of face," I recited and watched her turn gray. "See, it looks like someone's been bringing nursery rhymes to life recently and I couldn't help but think that you seemed to fit the bill for that one pretty well."
Her eyes darted around the room. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Cue the heavy sigh. "Emma, you really might want to start telling me the truth soon."
She said nothing, looking about three seconds away from bolting.
I decided to bring out the big guns. "How about I guess and you can tell me how close I am. Sound good?"
"Mister Dresden, I..."
I carried on as though she hadn't spoken. "So I figure you wanted to get a new look without going to the plastic surgeon. That nursery rhyme seemed like a good way to do it so you summoned a puca or two from the Nevernever to help you out. It used your book of nursery rhymes to make you a knock out then got away from you. Literally. And he took your book with him. Am I close?"
Emma's mouth dropped. "How...?"
"Did I know you'd been casting spells or that you'd summoned a puca?"
"That it was a puca." Emma's voice was paper thin; I hoped she wasn't going to pass out.
I shrugged. "Wasn't too hard to figure out; pucas can shape shift and they like practical jokes. Something silly like nursery rhymes would have appealed to it and most of these attacks were more embarrassing than harmful. Besides, puca's coats are always dark so the black unicorn was a pretty big tipoff." I grinned at her. "You know, I didn't even know you could get dark-feathered geese. The more you know, huh?"
"I'm sorry!" Emma blurted out, looking dangerously close to tears. "I didn't mean to!"
Damn my gooshy sense of chivalry. My tone softened despite my best intentions. "And that's why you wanted your book of nursery rhymes back," I finished. "Before anyone else got hurt."
She nodded miserably. "I didn't know how else to fix it. I d-didn't think anything like this would happen."
Obviously. This was the problem with amateurs who had just enough magic mojo to get themselves in trouble. "So," I prompted. "You summoned a puca?"
Emma nodded again. "Four of them."
"Four?" I gaped a little. I'm man enough to admit it. "Didn't that seem like overkill?"
I earned myself a glare for that. "I only meant to summon one," Emma told me, her tone just daring me to contradict her. "The others came with it."
Oh, that was so not good. "Yikes."
Emma's grin was completely lacking in mirth. "Tell me about it."
I chewed at my lip. "I don't suppose you have any idea where the book might be?" I asked. "Somewhere the pucas might have hidden it?"
"Oh," she said, almost offhand enough to be convincing. "I'm pretty sure it's still at my house."
I blinked at her.
"The pucas won't let me in," she explained. "I've been staying at a hotel."
"Is there a reason why you didn't tell me that?" I asked. "Cause that would have made things a lot less complicated."
She shrugged, looking decidedly self-conscious. "I didn’t know if you'd take the case if I told you the truth."
It was a fair assumption. "Yeah well, lucky for me I'm apparently smarter than I look. So," I sighed, kicking myself even as I said it. "You going to give me the address or am I going to need to look you up in the phone book?"
Emma's head jerked up in obvious surprise. "You're still going to get it back for me?"
It was my turn to do a terrible job at being offhand. "You're paying me."
The mute gratitude on Emma's face made me want to fidget. "It's not a get out of jail free card," I warned her. "Once I send them back, you're probably going to go back to looking like you used to."
Emma's shoulders slumped. "I figured," she said softly. Her voice was watery when she looked up at me. "I guess it's what I deserve, huh?"
"Fairy magic is rarely worth the price," I told her, because what else could I say?
She just shrugged, expression tight.
"Right," I said, supremely awkward. "So, that address?"
Emma didn't linger after she'd given me the information I needed and I went back to my apartment to gather up my magic arsenal. Thomas called just as I was pulling on my duster; he must have been on break.
"So?" he asked as soon as I answered. I could hear the sounds of people in the background, which meant he was probably calling from one of the payphones at the store. "Were you actually right?"
"Your lack of faith in me is astounding," I told him solemnly.
"Hear that?" Thomas asked. "That's the sound of me rolling my eyes at you. Just so you know."
"You're all heart, Thomas." I filled him in on how my meeting with Emma had gone.
Thomas snorted. "Sometimes it's uncanny the way you work things out. So. What now?"
"Now I'm going to head over to her place and check it out."
"Without me?" Thomas demanded, sounding put out.
I raised an eyebrow at the telephone. "I didn't know you were so co-dependant."
"Shut up, Harry, you know what I mean. I want to help."
"Well that's a relief," I said, grinning at him down the line. "Because I need you to pick up some stuff for me."
I told him what I needed. A very long silence followed.
"You're serious," Thomas said finally.
"Yep," I answered cheerily.
"Why are you serious?"
"Because I'm awesome. And I'm hanging up now. Go back to work."
Thomas made a frustrated sound. "Fine. Just... be careful."
"It's just a bunch of pucas," I said. "I think I can handle it."
Famous last words.
Of course, my plans for being the brave, heroic wizard hadn't accounted for spending the next several hours hiding in a hall closet with a hoard of angry garden gnomes banging on the door.
What? That isn't your idea of an exciting Friday night?
Luckily for me, Emma's house was old enough to have been built back when words like sturdy and long-lived were more than just jargon used by realtors to make their monthly targets, so the gnomes' plastic hands and feet couldn't break down the door. Unluckily for me, there wasn't a whole lot I could accomplish from the inside of a closet, especially since my kaboom magic usually came with side-effects like third degree burns and missing body parts when used in small spaces.
Which left me cooling my heels waiting for either the sentient lawn ornaments to become a whole lot less sentient or for Thomas to bust me out. Never a dull moment with Harry Dresden on the case.
I'd been sitting in the dark long enough to be able to pick out the individual hairs on the fur-lined jacket I was leaning on when the pounding abruptly stopped and the door flew open.
"I thought you said you could take care of it," Thomas said, in a tone of voice that suggested he was laughing at my pain.
"I'm a chronic liar." There was dawn-light leaking in around Thomas' silhouette which meant it had to be close to seven; apparently I'd fallen asleep while I wasn't looking. How professional. "How'd you find me?"
Thomas rolled his eyes. "Oh, I dunno Harry, our close family bond?" He stepped back to let me out of the closet, which sounded like the beginning of far too many gay jokes for me to even want to go there. I noticed the veritable army of red-hatted lawn ornaments clustered around the door at the same time as Thomas said, "or maybe it was the ten thousand garden gnomes in the hallway."
"Yeah," I agreed. "That'd do it." A quick glance was enough to confirm that whatever had been animating the things wasn't doing it any more. "Were they moving when you came in?"
"No. Should they have been?"
"Guess not." I glanced at Thomas, letting my eyes linger deliberately on the pair of shopping bags he had in one hand and the pizza box he was carrying in the other. "The pucas are probably curious about why you brought them presents so they shut off the security system."
Thomas looked puzzled. "Presents?"
I shrugged. "Presents, tribute, whatever. You get everything I asked for?"
"Time to get this show on the road then." I pulled the slightly battered crystal out of my pocket and held it up. It dragged eagerly to the right. "Come on."
"I thought that thing wasn't working," Thomas noted as we followed the crystal up the stairs, the smell of the pizza wafting through the air around us and making me realize just how long it'd been since I'd eaten Thomas' slightly singed dinner. Spending all night in a closet will do that to you.
"Actually, the problem was that it was working too well."
"Way to be modest there, Harry," Thomas muttered at my back and I grinned at him over one shoulder.
"No seriously. The pucas have essentially been bringing Emma's book to life. The crystal thought they were part of the book."
"So it was leading you to the pucas instead of the book."
I nodded. "And I ended up face to face with the credits for an MGM movie." We reached the top landing and I wasn't surprised when the crystal started tugging towards an open bedroom door. Every amateur spell caster seemed to have a fondness for playing with magic in their bedrooms. There was apparently some secret Sweet Valley Pagan club that I'd never been invited to join. "I don't know whether it's leading us to the book or the pucas but, either way, they're probably in the same place."
"You know, you seemed a lot more impressive before I knew just how much of this stuff you make up."
"It's the sense of mystique," I agreed and pushed open the bedroom door without any hint of subtlety. "Hand me the pizza, could you?"
"If you get us killed by pucas I'm going to be very upset with you," Thomas said, passing over the still-warm box.
"Duly noted. Hey pucas!" I said to the room, which looked unexpectedly frilly for belonging to a puca-summoning pagan. Of course, considering that Emma got her inspiration for said summoning from a nursery rhyme, all the pink really shouldn't have been all that surprising. "I brought you a present!"
Thomas was shaking his head at me. “How do you ever take yourself seriously?”
“I don’t," I answered. "I would’ve thought you’d noticed by now. I'm going to put this down on the bed," I told the as of yet unseen pucas. "I just want to talk."
I put the pizza box down and backed off, not really all that sure this was going to work. I mean, pizza was definitely the way to some fairies' hearts, just ask my friend Toot Toot, but I'd never had much actual experience with pucas before. For all I knew, they were lactose intolerant. Which would have been awkward.
We waited for long enough that Thomas started shifting uneasily on the balls of his feet. The pizza sat on the bed, the trickle of steam wafting into the air thinning by slow increments. I was beginning to wonder if I needed a new plan.
Then something giggled, the sound somewhere between the chime of sleigh bells and a horse's whinny.
"Foolish children," a thick, gravelly voice said and, between one blink and the next, there were four child-sized figures standing on the bed. It was entirely likely that they'd been there the entire time. They were wizened and bent, the stereotypical image of what most people would have come up with if you'd asked them to draw a goblin, only brown instead of green. They made no move to eat the pizza, though I noticed that they'd placed themselves between the box and me. No take-backsies I guess.
Because I am the master of all things inappropriate, I waved at them. "Hi again. That was a neat trick with the lion and the unicorn. Excellent choreography. I didn't know pucas were such versatile shape shifters."
Four pairs of gold eyes narrowed at me. "Remarkably well informed for a fool," one of them said, though I couldn't have told you which one if you'd paid me. It was like looking at four of the same person. Puca. Whatever. No wonder Emma had ended up with more of them than she'd bargained for.
I shrugged. "It's kind of my job. Which is why I need that book back, if you don't mind."
"We're having fun," one puca said.
"You can't make us stop," said another, or maybe the same one. It was hard to tell.
"We can make you stop though."
Music filtered into the room, light and sharp. My toes started tapping in time and hips did a little shimmy that I was sure I would be terribly embarrassed by later. Thomas wasn't faring much better, body swaying like he was on the floor of a dance club. His eyes widened at me.
I raised my staff before I could start doing the foxtrot down the hall, nonsense words spilling out of my mouth in a hurried rush.
The music faded to a barely there echo at the back of my head as though I'd just slipped in a pair of earplugs. My fingers were still twitching faintly, but I could work around that.
Thomas stumbled to a stop, looking more than a little dazed. "Wha-?"
"Tom, Tom the Piper's son," I supplied. "Blah blah, whenever they heard him they started to dance. Et cetera, et cetera." I glanced back at the pucas who were looking reluctantly impressed. "I gotta admit guys, I was kind of expecting Jack and Jill. Did the gender issue mix that one up?" The pucas were looking collectively wary so I sighed and spread my arms. "I'm not here to force you out, you know. I'm here to make a trade."
That piqued their interest. I caught one or all of them darting a glance at the pizza box. "Trade what?"
"Emma never gave you your due for her facelift, did she? That's why you took the book in the first place. Well," I amended. "That and you thought it was funny."
Smiles flickered briefly. "Valid. And you're willing to pay it in her stead?"
I nodded. "A share of the harvest for care well taken." I gestured at the pizza box on the bed. "And a pizza. You know. In case your taste in human food has changed in the last couple hundred years."
The pucas held a brief and, according to my ears, totally silent conversation while Thomas and I stood there awkwardly.
"Is that what all this stuff is?" Thomas asked me in an undertone. "A share of the harvest?"
"It's not like I've got a farm," I shot back, just as quietly. "Besides, it's March. This'll have to do."
The pucas turned back to us. "A share of the harvest in exchange for the book," they said, somewhere between a question and an agreement.
"And for you guys to go back to the Nevernever," I threw in. "I think Emma wants her house back."
They considered this. "Her gift will be undone."
"She knows. Hopefully she'll have learned her lesson about summoning folk and not saying thank you."
The pucas smiled openly this time. It was vaguely terrifying. "Done, foolish one."
They were gone again before I'd got through the first syllable of 'okay' though I didn't doubt they were still around somewhere. The last of the music faded from the back of my mind, which was a relief. I was going to be humming that tune all day as it was.
"That's it?" Thomas asked and I shrugged.
"As long as they like our gift. Told you it wouldn't be that bad."
Thomas raised an eyebrow. "Out of curiosity, what's your definition of that bad?"
I reached for one of the bags he was carrying. "I haven't had a single threat on my life all week and I'm going to be able to make my rent this month. That's about as good as it gets for me." I shoved my hand into the shopping bag and came up with a handful of carrots. "Come on, let's do this."
We started piling food on the bed and I made a mental note to tell Emma to wash her bedspread when she got home. I'd had Thomas stick to mostly European vegetables: carrots, parsnips, potatoes ("In a bag? Really?" "It's Wal-Mart. You're lucky I didn't bring you back Tater Tots."), onions, cabbage, and the like. Most fairies are traditionalists, after all.
Eventually we had everything spread out across the bed with the pizza taking pride of place in the middle. The pucas laughed again from somewhere just beyond my left shoulder and the whole lot vanished, a tan coloured book resting on the bedspread instead.
"Awesome," I said, leaning forward to snag the tattered copy of Boswell's Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. "I don't know about you, but I'm starving. You in the mood for pancakes?"
We stopped at an IHOP for a well-deserved breakfast and I called Emma to meet up at my office after I'd gone home for a quick nap. She arrived looking considerably less fashion model-esque than she'd been the day before, though I thought that the self-conscious hunch of her shoulders did far more damage to her appearance than the fact that she was rather plainer than the pucas had made her seem.
She pasted on a smile as she accepted her book back, eyes locked on the corner of my desk. She paid me without looking my direction once and I couldn't help but feel a bit badly for her. No one deserved to feel like they weren't good enough.
She darted a wistful, resigned look in Thomas' direction on her way out the door, which gave me an idea.
"Hey," I said to Thomas as soon as the door closed behind her. "Do you think you could, maybe...?" I didn't really approve of the whole life-draining thing that was Thomas' sex life, but if anyone deserved a little of his attention to make her feel a little more desirable, it was Emma.
Thomas looked back at me, amused. "You are such a softie."
"You love my warm gooey centre," I answered. "So?"
"Way ahead of you." Thomas headed over to the door, pausing to throw a wink over one shoulder. "Don't wait up."
"It's one in the afternoon!" I yelled after him and he was laughing as he headed down the hallway to catch up to Emma. I didn't bother biting back my smile; it wasn't like anyone could see it.
My name's Harry Dresden. I'm the only wizard in the Chicago phonebook, my brother's a vampire sex god and I've got to figure out some way of convincing five different clients that they were recently attacked by trickster fairies with a fondness for nursery rhymes.
Nothing like a little variety to keep life interesting.
AN: In case you're now wondering which nursery rhyme actually does involve geese throwing people down stairs, here's a list of all the nursery rhymes that were mentioned in this fic.
Timestamp: Three Dog Night