Title: The Novice God (5/?)
Fandoms: BBC!Sherlock, The Dresden Files (TV), and Supernatural.
Characters: Harry Dresden, Bob, Ancient Mai, a few others.
Spoilers: The entire Dresden Files TV series. Takes place early season 7 of Supernatural, and post-series 1 of Sherlock.
Genre: drama, action, friendship, possibly angst or hurt/comfort in parts
Author's Note: This includes one of my favorites art banners. Is it not stunning? Bob, you perfect ghost, you. :D
Summary: A new god has risen, unpredictable and uncontrolled. Meanwhile, the past comes back to haunt Bob, forcing him to look at his undead life in a completely new light.
( Chapter 1: A Doctor and a Detective Get Caught in the Rain )
( Chapter 2: A Wizard and a Ghost Find Themselves in the Eye of a Storm )
( Chapter 3: A Detective Gets Surprised and a Wizard Navigates a Difficult Situation )
( Chapter 4: God has an Identity Crisis, and a Man is Pursued )
* * *
Clusters of Wardens guard the hallway leading down into the musty, stonewalled basement of the High Council’s building of operations, where Ancient Mai keeps her office. Amber runs Harry and Bob past the guards, hers and Harry's boots pounding against wooden floorboards while Bob glides a step behind them, making no noise at all. Every so often, Bob’s feet miss the ground, although this is barely noticeable at the speed they’re going. The ghost keeps close to Harry’s side, mindful of the invisible tether tying him to the skull in the wizard’s backpack. Careful to respect this distance, he runs a step forward to speak more clearly to Amber:
“You say these killings may somehow involve me!” Bob’s pale brow furrows into a deep crease, the velvet and silk of his suit intermittently brightened by every wall-mounted torch they hurry past. Down here, there is no such thing as electricity, only the sound of water dripping and a clinging chill that Bob can speculate must exist, though he, as a ghost, cannot feel it. “I do not understand how that could be. My current state of being makes the act of murder somewhat – ” His eyes flicker unwittingly to Harry, then dart back as he adds, haltingly, “complicated.”
They reach the end of the hall, where Amber retrieves the key to a dark, iron-plated door with several dozen protective sigils welded to it. “Guys, I’m sorry, but Mai really hasn’t told me much.” She opens the door for them both, her hand briefly squeezing Harry’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort. “You’ll have to ask her.”
Bob doesn’t miss the way Harry’s face tightens in pain when the young Warden does that, though Harry doesn’t mention his injury to her, probably out of some typical inability to let anyone feel guilty for causing him pain. Instead, he only grins through the agony and, with a soft exhale as she lets go of his strained muscle, says, “Famous last words?”
Amber laughs, just a little, the stress lines around her eyes easing. "Good luck." With a nervous smile to them both, the short-haired blonde shoves Harry into the shadowed office of the High Council’s highest operative, Bob following on the wizard’s heels.
With a gasp of panic, Bob sees and immediately dodges the protective wards carved into the edges of the door, among them wards against unwelcome spirits. He only belatedly realizes that the wards can only work when the door is not open. Harry nevertheless lifts an arm between the ghost and the ghost-banishing wards, providing a comfort against Bob’s sudden panic as the door bangs shut, sealing them both inside with a scraping of locks. The door briefly flashes gold as its protective wards activate, Amber’s footsteps muted from behind it as she runs back to help control the chaos of the club setting above.
Inside, Ancient Mai’s office glows warmly in the flickering shadows of a thousand lit candles. Magical grimmoires of ancient power line the shelves of several massive, ornately carved bookcases, and many neatly arranged piles of spell-casting materials rest on various surfaces throughout the room. Incense sticks steam snakes of smoke into the air, floating towards the ceiling on invisible breaths. At the center of it all, Ancient Mai leans her hip against a massive, cherry-wood desk and idly stirs a cauldron of dark fluid with lean, elegant fingers.
She glances up, her long, dark hair swiveling over the pale skin of her neck and the patterned silk of her jacket. Her eyes have an oriental slant, their dark irises simmering with reflected fires. The air around her seems to ripple with power, an invisible, steady pulse seeping from her body and lifting the hair on the back of Harry’s neck. Even Bob can feel it, the power slightly uncomfortable against his manifested form.
“Dresden,” Mai says, her voice low with thinly tempered impatience. Her lips twitch upwards, but only barely, a sense of something unearthly surging just beneath the youthful luster of her skin. Although she has been around for at least two centuries, she looks no older than 30 years of age. “You’ve brought the Bainbridge ghost. Good.” She lifts an owl's feather from the desk and snaps it in half, dropping both pieces into the dark liquid of the cauldron. The dark liquid boils, thick steam surging to hide the bowl entirely. Mai's lips press together with barely-contained irritation, and she shoves the cauldron to the side. “Do take a seat. There are matters to be discussed, and I have no desire to waste time getting to the point.”
Harry strolls for the chair on the other side of Mai’s desk, a willing motion that surprises Bob until he remembers that Harry has been favoring his knees ever since jumping out of a window. The wizard sinks into the chair with a flutter of his eyelashes, then takes a deep breath and rubs his shoulder. “I feel like I’ve reminded you of this before,” Harry says, with a soft voice, “but his name’s Bob.”
Ancient Mai goes very still and very quiet, her eyes lifting from her cauldron of dark liquid and flattening unnervingly on Harry’s face. Bob feels a stab of alarm shoot through the center of his very being. Contradicting Ancient Mai can sometimes be as good as a death sentence, but when Bob tries to catch Harry’s gaze, the wizard just continues smiling mildly across the desk at Mai, his stubbled jaw tense. Apparently, even Harry knows the danger of his actions, but he is not retracting his statement.
“Harry,” Bob says. “It’s fine—I…”
“Bob, it’s not fine.” Harry says, with a sharper tone, and the room sinks deeper into the uncomfortable quiet, punctuated only by the bubbling of the dark fluid in the cauldron and the sizzle of incense sticks.
Finally, after a moment of this stretching on, Mai chuckles, and it’s like the air gets put back into the room. “So protective. Bob, then.” The smile she offers Bob verges on parody, but he, feeling unsettled, returns it with the brightest smile he can muster anyway.
“Yes, hello, my lady.” He bows slightly, ever mindful that his interactions with the High Council over the past 900 years or so have nearly always been incredibly…tense. He supposes this is to be expected, he being a damned ghost and they being the organization that damned him to be so to begin with, but – at some point that he can no longer remember – he must have realized that a little kindness in the face of adversity can go a long way to make the arrangement a lot more tolerable. “How can we be of help?”
Harry, being a bit less controlled with his mannerisms than Bob, blurts out, “Yeah, what the hell's been going on?”
Bob shuts his eyes with a heavy sigh, and opens them to see Mai round the desk and lean against the side closest to Harry, several jade bracelets clinking together around her wrists.
“Dresden,” she says, coyly, “I am being far kinder than I could be at this moment, given the circumstances. Is that really the tone you’ve chosen to use with me?”
“Uh, okay, well, that’s an interesting question. You see, my day has been going from crazy, to more crazy, oh, and earlier, the King of Hell himself tried to kill me, but see, I escaped by jumping two stories into a dumpster, so if I'm a little disturbed, that's probably – ”
“Enough.” Mai lifts a hand. “I don’t want to hear it. People are dying. We are in a crisis situation. This is no time for our petty disagreements. Inconveniently, you even appear to be involved.”
“Wait. Involved?” Harry blinks rapidly, the chords in his neck sticking out as he swallows. “What? No, Mai, we’ve only been investigating the deaths of the angels. I certainly haven’t – ”
“You misinterpret me. You are not being blamed for these crimes.” Mai shoves away from the desk and opens the drawer of a nearby file cabinet. She pulls out a photograph and brings it over. “But you are involved.” She shoves the photo in Bob’s face. “This is Eleanor Visyak. Do you know her?”
Upon sight of the photograph, Bob recoils in horror. The middle-aged woman in the photograph is dead, her blonde hair pulled sloppily behind her. Black garbage bags cushion her body, glistening with her blood, and the edge of a deep green dumpster can be seen at her side. Worse, her name is familiar, though her form has changed. He tries to snatch the photo to bring it closer, remembering only as his hand is already halfway to doing so that he can’t touch anything. His hand lowers, and he finds it trembling.
“Where did you get that?” he gasps, his voice scraping out of him with horrible slowness.
Mai tilts her head, as Harry stares at them both in confusion, having not seen the photograph yet. “Bob?” he asks, but Mai speaks over him:
“You and I may have a problem. This woman gave away a spell of yours that has been forbidden for centuries, and the entire world may be in danger because of it. I repeat, do you know her?”
“I—” Bob shakes himself, hard, too many memories burning in his head. “I did. A long time ago. Back when I was still…alive.” He squints at the photograph. “But this is recent. How could she have – ”
“As I'm sure you're aware based on your expression, she's not exactly from around here,” Mai interrupts, and Harry’s arms tighten around the backpack holding Bob’s skull. He stays silent though, which is a small miracle as far as Bob is concerned.
“Well, yes, but that is irrelevant. What spell did she use?” Bob demands. He tightens his fists, aware that his shell of courtesy is cracking rapidly and far too terrified to care. "What has been done?"
His mind reels, so many horrific possibilities rising to the surface of his thoughts. The crimes of magic he had been damned for so many centuries ago, as Bob knows all too well, were considerable. Many had died because of his spells or else wished they had, his mastery of the world, at times, near limitless. There had been portals he could open at will to boost his own abilities, and cracks between life and death he could pry open like the spine of a book. He had created spells so dark they had to be destroyed just to stop them from poisoning the neighborhoods built around them, and committed violations of magical law so unholy he still shudders to think he had ever contemplated their use. Among them, what he had done to his beloved Winifred... And now Eleanor has reappeared also--
Harry’s chair scrapes violently against the floor as the wizard stands up, reaching for the photograph. “Now, hold on a second! What are you showing him?”
Mai lets Harry take the photograph and steps back, giving them both some breathing room. “Eleanor Visyak was a native of – ”
“Purgatory,” Bob finishes. He stands in the space behind Harry’s abandoned chair, feeling empty when silence confirms the accuracy of his guess. He shuts his eyes, leaning his head back and trying not to lose control over his ghostly form. The temptation to go back into his skull has scarcely ever been stronger. He mimics breathing, slow and steady, his hands tightening around each other. “So Purgatory has been opened. With one of my spells.”
“It was.” Mai crosses her arms, her reserve of anger breaking just a little, cracking until some deeper, more intimate worry begins to take root in the corners of her eyes. There are some moments when she looks almost human, and this is one of them. “An angel drained it. Completely. He is currently claiming godhood and attempting to purge the world of everything he views as unholy. I'm sure you can determine for yourself why this is problematic.”
“An angel?” Bob gasps, his mouth dropping open. Harry moves to stand beside him, seeming alarmed by Bob's behavior. To be fair, Bob cannot remember the last time he felt so raw, like he had been granted skin only to have it ripped open, acid poured into every crevice and surging through every vein. “I was only a man then, and yet even with that limitation, I could do so much. What an angel could accomplish – ”
“Crowley tried to capture you,” Mai interrupts, quietly. “We have sources that say Crowley and the angel do not get along. That there is a personal vendetta between them. The King of Hell must believe you can reverse the spell. Do you believe that this is within your capabilities?”
“I—truthfully, I can't be certain of that. I recall well my methods for opening a gateway to Purgatory, but when it came to returning the energy I drew from that realm... Well, that undertaking was only successful because I did so voluntarily. It would likely have to be voluntary again. I am unsure an angel could be compelled to—”
"But we could boost the spell, couldn't we?" Harry looks down to make eye contact with Bob, who looks up at the taller man in return. "You could do that, right? Make it powerful enough to force him to?"
"Harry, the methods required for this particular spell are extremely precise, with rigid specifications. As to "boosting" it, the difficulty inherent in that plan is so excessive it hardly bares consideration. I do not know that a modification could be expansive enough to disable a hoard of power as immense the one we are presently discussing."
"Difficult," Mai interjects, her arms crossing as she leans against her desk once more, "does not imply impossibility."
"Yes," Bob agrees, "but neither does the quality of being optimistic guarantee any modicum of success, however humbly it is put forward."
"Okay, well, you know what, we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it, you know?" Turning to face Mai, Harry adds, "How are we even going to find this angel, even if we can come up with a plan to disable him? I'm gonna go out on a ledge and guess he's not the type to call ahead when he goes anywhere."
“Honesty, Dresden, you disappoint me. Haven’t you figured that out by now?” Ancient Mai lifts a leather satchel from the floor and tosses the bag to Harry, who staggers back when catching it, as if it's heavier than he was expecting. "The angel is obscured from tracking utterly; our operatives have only been able to follow him, not predict where he will be, and so we have devised a rather unique, alternative method to get him where we want him."
Harry holds the tossed bag beside his own backpack, his hockey stick balanced precariously in the crook of his arm and a wary expression on his face. Carefully, he sets the bag on Mai's desk and re-shoulders his own backpack, so that his arms can be mostly free again. "And that method is...?"
Mai replies, "Those in the rooms above us: the Fae, the vampires, the demons and every other creature up there. They're bait."
Harry's eyes shoot up, wide. “They’re what?”
“Don't act so surprised," Mai snaps. "The angel is killing what he perceives to be unholy.” She starts throwing open drawers and cabinets throughout her office, revealing various magical items and vials full of ingredients for spell-casting. “Can you think of a better lure? You of all people should know that what is up in that room is too monstrous to deserve mercy. They are deceivers, murderers, and otherwise hostile forces. If they are lost, it will not be a great tragedy.”
“That's still not okay, Mai! They can't all deserve that kind of fate! Can you really, in good conscience, make a call like that? Especially when they’re not even doing anything to provoke us! They think you're protecting them!”
“If you have a better solution,” Mai snarls, kicking up rugs to reveal various spell circles carved into the wood floor beneath, “then let’s hear it. Because this world is dying. As we have been talking, Singapore has drowned and the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado are being ravaged by a lightning storm the likes of which have never been seen before. So tell me your suggestions, offer me a more humane way to rope in a god who has gone rogue, and I will be happy to entertain your delusions. This is what we must do, Dresden, whether you approve or not.” She points at the leather satchel Harry set down on her desk, and then waves her hands around the room, indicating the entirety of everything there. “Use that, and take whatever else you think you might need. There’s no telling how much time you have left. I have other resources, too. A guard can lead you to – ”
“No,” Harry stammers, staggering backwards, in the direction of the door. “No, I won’t be a part of this. I’m not—I’m not a murderer. I can’t — ”
“Selfish fool!” Mai slams her fist down and it breaks through the surface of her desk, leaving a crack that spreads all the way across the glossy wood, exposing its jagged, splinter-rich insides. The bag slides to the center of the crack, pulled down by gravity. Mai's eyes seem to flash gold, her pupils slivering momentarily. “This is not about you! Consider this: if you will not work with us, we will take the Bainbridge skull from you and force him to do it anyway!”
Bob’s head jerks up, and Harry’s responsive is similarly immediate, though a great deal more active.
"What?" Harry spins back around so haphazardly his shoulder nearly goes through Bob's. He slams his own fists down on Mai’s broken desk, leaning across so that he is nearly face-to-face with her, a splatter of blood from his injured arm smearing across the wood. "You most definitely won't be! Bob's skull is rightfully mine, and you know as well as I do that there are rules in place – old rules, of significant power – that you just can't...!"
“This isn’t up for discussion.” Ancient Mai leans even further across her desk, every inch of her compact frame thrumming with a clear and present energy. “If you wish for the destruction of everything you know and love, then by all means," She swings a hand to gesture in Bob's direction, "just try to keep him on your leash. However, it would do you well to consider that if you want your friend to be able to serve some use, then–”
"No, absolutely not." Harry grasps his hockey stick and stomps for the door, his shoes releasing flecks of dried mud all over the magic circles carved into the floorboards. "Bob is my friend, not some tool or toy, and if you think I'm going to surrender my right to protect him from you and anyone else who wants to use him to help commit a genocide that probably won't even do what you want it to do, then you–"
Bob only belatedly realizes he has shouted for Harry to be quiet when the younger wizard turns back around, Harry's dark eyes startled beneath a mess of stress-tangled hair.
“Bob?” Harry cries, the hint of a whine in his voice. He is confused, as he well should be. Even Mai looks startled by Bob's interruption on the other side of her desk, her fingers curled where she has them braced against the splintered wood. The candles on the walls flutter rapidly, the space no doubt rather warm, not that Bob can tell.
“Harry,” Bob says, walking towards his friend and keeping his voice very level, “you do not understand, and while you cannot be blamed for that, you must also take a moment to listen to me. These events Mai is speaking of: Singapore having sunk, and the great storms across the Dunes...they are not metaphorical. If we go outside, we will find them confirmed by any news source. You do not know Purgatory's power as I did once. When I had ties there, I could bring Winifred back from the dead with but a touch. If an angel is running around with the agenda to purge the world of everything unholy, will anything survive? I assure you, this is quite serious. However inadvertently, I have caused this atrocity. We cannot leave.”
“But...Bob,” Harry swings his arms out to the side, which Bob really wishes he would stop doing, given the injuries throughout his body that he's probably aggravating. “There – there's got to be another way.”
Bob smiles, touched by the relentless mercy Harry has always seemed to wield, even towards those who might not deserve such acts of grace. “Harry, please. I know you are trying to protect me, but you must disregard your personal concerns to see the bigger picture. For now, the resources the High Council can offer us are unmatched, and we will need that. Our dollar store herb garden and collection of roadkill parts are not going to cut it this time, I’m afraid."
"Bob," Harry takes a step closer to the white-haired ghost, his eyes imploring, "are you completely sure this is something you want to do?"
Bob nods, his lips pressed tightly together. "It is."
Finally, with excruciating slowness, Harry eases away from the door and sinks back into his chair. Putting his face in his hands, he takes a few calming, chest-expanding breaths, and then gestures vaguely in Mai's direction.
"Okay, listen," Harry says, his voice carefully measured out to sound calmer than he likely feels. "If we’re going to do this, there will be ground rules. Bob can work with you, help you out with whatever he thinks you need, but you are not taking possession of his skull. Do you understand? Any order you give him, you will also allow him the option of refusing. I'll be with him at all times, and if at any point we think it's a good idea to leave, you will let us."
"Well, aren't we Mr. Impertinent today?" Mai growls, but rather than face Harry as she speaks to him, she instead regards Bob with an expression that carefully defies categorization, as though she is puzzling over a map written in a language she does not know.
Bob looks right back at her, his jaw clenched and his hands folded behind his back. He hopes Harry is not the only one in the room convinced of his desire to help, and he raises his chin, trying to lend an air of confidence to his declarations as Mai steps closer to him. "If my involvement can be of any help, I will willingly offer my services."
"I can see that," Ancient Mai says, finally, "Well, that being what it is, I suppose I will accept your terms for your ghost." She nods to them both, and, after a momentary pursing of her lips, adds, as though it were part of the sentence she had just ended, “Bob.”
“Oh,” Harry says, lifting his hands with an expression of pure absurdity, “so it takes the world ending for you to acknowledge that he’s actually a person, with an actual name. I see how it is.”
Mai looks irritated, but despite the inherent threat in her eyes, Bob strangely does not feel very concerned when she spits, with venom, “You try my patience, always making light of things when you really shouldn’t be.”
“Okay, let’s just be honest for a moment here.” Harry rubs his hand over his beard stubble as Bob sinks into the space just behind Harry's chair, the ghost’s hands held primly behind his back. “How could I have kept this baby-soft complexion for as long as I have if I didn’t do that?”
Ancient Mai looks like she is about to protest against the obvious sarcasm, when the door is pounded upon, interrupting them. The locks to the door scrape and pull, the sound of panicked hands scrabbling for purchase just before the door swings open.
With a gust of damp air from the hallway, Amber pokes her head in. There is blood on her hands and shirt, and she is panting hard. “Mai!” she cries, her hair that had been perfectly coiffed a few moments ago now wild and sticking everywhere. “It’s Morgan – something’s happened!”
Mai is up from the desk faster than can be described from a human perspective, her body at the door before Bob can even blink, but that could just be his own shock deceiving him.
“Morgan?” Harry jumps from his chair, a panic in his eyes even greater than Harry had experienced at the idea of the world’s end. Over the past few years, a begrudging friendship had developed between Harry and the Warden Morgan, despite the shared fury both men seemed to feel about its happening. Though they both still butted heads at every occasion, it seemed the two had also developed a mutual respect somewhere in the moments in-between. Bob supposes that’s what people do when they have to save each other’s lives enough times.
Bob, too, in a way rather unexpectedly, feels a stab of fear go through him at the idea that anything might have happened to Morgan, the eternally serious, wouldn’t-know-how-to-have-fun-even-if-he-w
“Take me to him,” Mai snaps at Amber in a voice as cold and unyielding as a band of steel. All traces of human warmth are gone in her, replaced at once by the calculating head of a leader.
Harry and Bob start to follow them both, but Ancient Mai holds a hand up in warning.
“No!” She leverages her body between them and the door, her hands braced on each side of it. “You are both staying in here. I will tend to my people, and you will work on finding a way to save the world. You know I'm right, so don't argue.”
Without another word of explanation, the door slams shut behind her, its protective wards flashing gold as it seals. The endless candles lighting the room flare in the updraft before settling back down, throwing tiny, quivering shadows into the cracks of every surface.
Left alone and still panicking for the sake of their friend, Bob and Harry catch gazes.
"Perhaps," Bob suggests, above the quiet sizzling of incense the rattle of retreating footsteps, "we could attempt to break the lock?"
"No," Harry rubs the bridge of skin between his eyes. "Bob, I hate it, but she's right. If things are as bad as you think they are, we probably don't have a lot of time." When no better options seem forthcoming, he opens the leather bag on Mai's desk with shaking hands. Inside is a jar of what must be blood, and a tag with Eleanor Visyak's name on it. He swallows. "I guess it's time to get to work."
They both know, without having to say anything more about it, that the day is going to be a very long one, indeed.