Disclaimer: I own nothing. All Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters and all Dresden Files characters are the property of their original owners.
Author’s Note: This story was created as a reward for Duchess, who was the one to present me with my ONE THOUSANDTH REVIEW, right here on Twisting the Hellmouth! When I asked her what she’d like me to write about as her personal gift for being the lucky provider of that specific numbered opinion, during other suggestions made by her was the statement that she was a Dresden Files fan. I’ve read the books and enjoyed them, so I came up with an encounter between Harry and several Sunnydale survivors, with a somewhat….surprising reason for this first acquaintance.
There’s some jiggling with the timelines between the two series. It’s 2005, with the destruction of that demon-haunted California city having occurred two years ago, and in this dimension, the occurrences in the Dresden Files happened a few years later than their original series, so it’s a few months before the events in ‘Storm Front’, and Harry Dresden is a struggling, rather inexperienced wizard attempting to make a success in his profession and his new home, and trying to not get killed in the process. This can lead to potentially serious mistakes….
“All right,” announced McAnally as he pushed the full beer mug along the surface of the bar towards Harry Dresden seated on his stool on the other side of the bar counter, “Talk, or that’s the last beer you’ll ever get here.”
Picking up his mug, Harry glowered at the short, burly man with grey hair and a deadpan expression on his face, who now watched the other man take a long, grateful swallow of his drink, to then mutter under his breath, “I was going to! It’s not like you need to threaten me, Mac, particularly over something so horrible as cutting me off from the nectar of the gods.”
The owner of the neutral tavern for the mystical community of Chicago just shrugged, and offhandedly said, “Nah, that’s ambrosia, which is nothing but pabulum compared to what I brew here. You know I’m talking about beer, which means I’m totally serious. What the hell were you up to yesterday, Harry?”
The man in the leather duster sighed, and then he drained half of the liquid in his mug, before placing the glass back down on the bar. “Okay, okay! Well, it all started--”
“Hold it!” interrupted McAnally, lifting his right hand to chest level, palm out in a ‘stop!’ gesture, as he continued. “Are you really going to tell the story in that hardboiled detective fiction first-person style from the nineteen-thirties?”
“It’s traditional, dammit! So, do you want to hear it, or don’t you?!” spluttered Harry.
The pub owner lifted his eyes to the heavens and then he dryly said, “Yeah, if you must. Just let me get in character first, will you?” At that, McAnally bent down behind the rear of the bar counter, to come up again holding in both hands a small white towel and another empty beer mug, that he slowly began to polish with the bar rag, to then look expectantly at the wizard across the bar counter.
Momentarily closing his eyes in exasperation, Harry then reopened these to send an extremely dirty look at his friend, who met this glower with his own poker face and also a quick twist of his fingers inside the bar rag rubbing the upper rim of the glass that send a painful squeaking sound echoing over the bar counter, in a clear message of, “Get on with it!”
Coming out in the early morning Chicago sunshine, I blinked, feeling the graininess behind my eyeballs that was the result of another night without any restful sleep. The occasional dozing short naps taken tonight when I was waiting in Union Station for the appearance of the poltergeist that had been making trouble for the last week or so in that train station weren’t doing all that much for my exhaustion. Still, I could feel the magical troublemaker’s presence there, even if I couldn’t find it in my searches inside the enormous rail terminal. The only logical thing to do seemed to wait until it came out from its hiding place in another of its nightly destructive rampages through the offices, food court, and shops in that mostly-underground facility.
The local executives for Amtrak, who owned the station, had thought it was just human vandalism at work, since nothing had been stolen, until an unfortunate guard had come face-to-face with the angry spirit. Since that terrified man could back up his story told in a trembling voice with footage from the security cameras in the Great Hall, the upper management had made a quick decision, accompanied by an equally swift search through the Yellow Pages, until they came to my ad in the phone book:
HARRY DRESDEN - PROFESSIONAL WIZARD.
A somewhat disbelieving call later from them and I had my next job, which looked to be my biggest payday in my nascent wizarding career so far, IF I managed to satisfy the demands of those who’d hired me: immediate results -- and absolute discretion.
Hey, I was perfectly willing to take their sizable check and keep quiet about it. The only worrying part was that ever since I’d come to Union Station and started investigating, the poltergeist hadn’t shown up at all. Not the slightest peep from it, much less the complete contents of an office or retail business location being hurled around in mindless rage. The most flattering reason for its sudden quiescence could have been that the noisy spirit had sensed my magical presence and it had been scared off. Unfortunately, however pleasing this might be, how in blazes could I prove it to my employers? Particularly since if I went ahead anyway to declare their problem solved and then the poltergeist showed up again, it wouldn’t do my reputation any good whatsoever.
Nope, the smart thing to do was to spend every night at the train station to outwait that nasty little critter and catch it in the act when it again started its furious destruction. Which was why for the last few nights it had been only me, the security guards, and the cleaning crews inside the empty terminal. It had been rather spooky roaming alone around there, since the other people had sensibly avoided where I was lurking and staying ready to banish the poltergeist to the sunless lands. In between the times I was trying to avoid falling asleep.
After yet another fruitless stretch of the nighttime hours that was trying my patience (and wrecking my circadian rhythms), I blearily came to street level from the grand staircase where several movies, such as ‘The Untouchables’ had staged their scenes. Glumly wondering how much longer this was going on, I trudged down the street towards the first bright spot of the day.
A half-hour later in that celebrated diner, after a stack of the lightest, fluffiest pancakes in existence had been speedily consumed, along with hash browns made at the table, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and double-yolk scrambled eggs slathered with Tabasco sauce, I was sipping my delicious coffee and feeling a lot better. I had a large lump of pork sausage wrapped in a napkin tucked away in the pocket of my duster, a bribe for my cat Mister to win back this feline’s affections for being away from his glorious presence over the last few days, not to mention to then falling face-first in my bed and then totally ignoring him during my determined assault upon slumber for the next ten hours.
Lovingly savoring my plans for the remainder of today, in the next instant, these arrangements promptly went out the window when two people then came into the diner, making me choke on my coffee.
Without thinking about it, I stared at the pair, only then to hastily avert my gaze. Fortunately, most of the other occupants of the diner, including the waitresses, were also looking with evident interest at the duo, who seemingly paid no notice of this attention, including my own. Which was fortunate, considering how stiffly the hair on the back of my neck was standing straight up.
The first person coming into the diner to cause this extreme reaction was a tall, tanned man probably in his mid-twenties, with his most distinguishing feature a black eyepatch over his left eye that made him look both rugged and dangerous. At least, until you considered his companion, who went far past the concept of ‘dangerous’ into the zone of ‘Flee for your very lives!’, ‘Yowza, Mama!’, and ‘That lucky bastard!’.
A brunette young woman with a curvy body that was sexy enough to make every priest in the Vatican to really wish celibacy hadn’t been compulsory since the last millennium now followed the man through the diner, only pausing with a surprised look on her beautiful face as a waitress stopped her, with that white-uniformed worker handing the other female a small box, before the waitress then escorted the pair to their table in the back of the diner. As the puzzled woman stared at what she held in her hand while she sat down by the man’s side with his remaining eye, I made a quick decision without really thinking about it. Which, over my life, has gotten me in a lot of trouble.
Furtively dipping the tip of my right index finger into my coffee cup, I took the damp digit out, to quickly draw a sigil with the liquid on top of my table, all while muttering a quick cantrip in Latin. I then picked up my coffee and pretended to sip it, all while determinedly looking ahead out the front windows of the diner into Jackson Boulevard, pretending to ignore the two people I was now easily eavesdropping upon.
“Hey, Zan, what the hell’s this?” A woman’s husky voice spoke this in a rather bemused accent that sounded like it originated from somewhere in the Atlantic coastal states.
“They’re Milk Duds, Faith, a scrumptious candy that’ll do for snacks on the rare occasions when you don’t have any Twinkies on hand,” chuckled a deeper male voice that for some strange reason was speaking in a West Coast accent.
“I know what they are, ya dummy! But why’d I just get handed ’em?” said the woman in both an exasperated and yet loving tone as she asked her question.
I ignored how the waitress now at their table broke in on the conversation, to tell her customers that it was a tradition at the diner to give women and children little boxes of that confection, as I frantically tried to figure out why persons possessing incredible mystical power had just walked into Lou Mitchell’s, to start casually ordering breakfast in triple-size portions for the woman and an ordinary helping of food for the man. At the exact same moment I was there!
It took all my willpower not to turn around to stare at the duo in the back of the diner. Helping me control myself was the cold realization that it was a really good idea to NOT attract the attention of those unknown people that to my wizarding senses were actually blazing with magical energy. Instead, I watched the reflection of this pair in the restaurant front windows. The woman sitting there and joking with her companion was seemingly the most powerful, with her entire form imbued with crackling power that made me think oddly enough of paws padding through nighttime savannah, as an ultimate predator hunted and pounced onto the pursued prey, to complete her kill in a grassy plain stretching out forever below the twinkling stars. Yet, there was a darkness in this woman’s essence that plainly showed that whatever else she was, a part of her was truly inhuman.
The other, the man…. He was different, at least in the fact of him being totally, one-hundred-percent human being. However, nearly as much magical force as possessed by the woman was instead laid upon the one-eyed guy now allowing this….Faith to toss a round Milk Dud into his mouth, as they waited for their breakfast. Chewing on the candy, Zan (what the hell kind of name was that?) snickered at the woman, his grin shifting the numerous invisible spells, enchantments, hexes, and other mystical castings that covered his entire face and probably his whole body. The only possible explanation for the man’s multiple layers of past magical influences was that he’d somehow survived an entire lifetime in a place where reality didn’t always occur. Somewhere like the….Nevernever.
I shuddered at that thought, and took another hasty mouthful of coffee, trying to get out of my mind the consequences of a human growing up in a place like that. He might have physically survived, but it was doubtful that ANY mortal being could do so without serious side effects to his sanity.
As I brooded over my refilled coffee cup, I listened again to the two people talking during their meal. It was only idle conversation, until I heard something worrying, as the woman now asked, “So, do we go there after we’re done?”
“Yup. Always a good idea to check out the lay of the land, then we make our plans about this place. Can’t miss anything from up there, that’s for sure,” rumbled the man after chewing and swallowing his morsel of very rare breakfast steak with an egg over-easy laid on top.
That….didn’t sound good. Two very unsettling people, coming into MY town, and they were clearly reconnoitering, in preparation for….what? Nothing good, probably. I grimaced, mentally kissing goodbye any plans for a chance to hit the sack, and instead started making my own plans. A few minutes later, when I heard satisfied, politely-stifled belches and sounds of knives and forks laid down on cleaned plates, I arose from my own table, taking the bill for my breakfast with me, and paid this on my way out of the diner, all while making sure to present a total lack of interest towards anyone at the back of the restaurant.
I then slowly walked along the sidewalk away from Lou Mitchell’s, towards where I was sure those people were going to next visit. It was a gamble, yeah, but one I was confident with, as I now looked down the block, and then up, up, and even more up, to stare at the entire height of the Sears Tower, all 108 stories and 1,451 feet of that building. You certainly couldn’t get any higher up anywhere in Chicago than that.
Still heading towards the tallest building in the country, I kept my gaze straight ahead, but from the corner of my left eye, I watched in the windows of the building there on my left side the reflection of the diner I’d just left, feeling a warm glow of satisfaction as the suspicious pair also came out of the restaurant and started walking behind me a block ahead of them. One of the most effective ways of following people is to get in FRONT of them, as long as you think you know where they’re going. Nobody pays any attention to those pedestrians before themselves, especially if these people walking before them also seemingly ignore everyone else sharing the sidewalk.
The other good part of my preceding those current suspects (well, not really suspected of actually anything yet, but they’ve got to be up to something) was that I could casually make sure they couldn’t give me the slip. Tucking my hand into my duster pocket, I pulled out the napkin wrapped around the remnant of my breakfast, to regretfully toss the sausage scrap I’d been saving for Mister (who was never going to forgive me for this) into the refuse bin I was passing by. As my hand came down from this action, I used my thumb and forefinger to tear off the corner of the small paper packet also tucked away in my hand, spilling the indiscernible powder from this tiny container onto most of the width of the sidewalk before me with a casual sweep of my hand that ended up with me scratching the left side of my face, all while seemingly talking to myself. In reality, as I brought down my hand to rest at the side of my body, I finished off the minor tracking spell that’d start once those two trod on the magic powder.
Sure enough, once I’d passed by the Sears Tower (still called that by the locals even though the retail company had moved entirely out of the building a decade earlier), I felt the inner tingle that indicated my scheme had worked. Without looking back, I headed onwards another block, to then cross to the right following the side street there and past the office building at the corner, out of sight of anyone else on Jackson Boulevard. The instant I got behind the building corner, I stopped, spun around, and cautiously advanced to peek around the edge of the structure. Sure enough, the suspects were gone, no longer there on the street sidewalk.
Momentarily closing my eyes, I sent a pulse of my magical energy towards the Sears Tower. In my wizard’s Sight, I now watched as two glowing white blobs moved along the ground floor of the skyscraper, to then halt, and an instant later, start hurtling skywards at an incredible speed. Opening my eyes again to stare at the building where my suspects were evidently taking one of the express elevators to the top floor to look over all of Chicago and parts of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan, I frowned to myself.
Ever since nine-eleven, security had been tight on the Sears Tower. Considering it was Sunday, it was unlikely anybody was working there, and it was too early for the usual tourists taking their trips to look at the views. So, my suspects had some sort of influence to accomplish getting inside, either magical or mundane, which only made it more pressing to keep an eye on them, and if possible, collecting further information about their activities. Which reminded me….
Pulling back my head from peering around the building corner, I looked up and down the side street, to happily discover one of the increasingly-rare phone booths at the far corner down the road. I headed toward the rectangular box, gloomily reflecting during the short trip on what I’d do when the last of these cubicles disappeared. My wizarding energy and its normal frying effects upon electronics made it impossible for me to use a cell phone, even though an odd quirk of my abilities made land lines perfectly safe to be utilized. I shrugged as I opened the door of the phone booth, thinking that I’d cross that bridge when I came to it, and after closing the door, I fumbled in my jeans pockets for my change from my breakfast, putting in the coins and then dialing.
A few seconds later, I heard from the phone held to my ear the familiar voice saying, “McAnally’s.”
“Hey, Mac. This is Harry.”
“Morning, Harry. What can I do for you?”
“I need a favor. Have you heard anything about new players in town?”
There was a short pause, which made me hastily add, “Nothing to do with your clientele! It’s about two people who walked in on me when I was having breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, a man and a woman that I never saw before.”
“Oh,” came a rather relieved voice from the phone. Mac takes his neutrality seriously, both personal and that of his place. He absolutely won’t talk about any of his regulars or even the casual visitors. It would have to take something on the order of a clear catastrophe to make him budge on his principles. “Well, as long as they haven’t been here -- and I’m sure of that, we haven’t had anybody new for the last few days -- what can you tell me about them?”
For the next few minutes, I told Mac everything I’d seen and heard about the man and the woman. I might have gone a little overboard about the woman, since when I was finished, there was an actual tinge of amusement in his voice. “Boy, I really hope they visit, since you sounded like you were drooling when you described her. May I suggest you find a date very soon?” He was chuckling when he finished, the bastard.
“Thanks so much for caring about my personal life,” I grumbled. “Now, can you give me something actually useful?”
Mac sounded really regretful when he answered, “Sorry, Harry. There hasn’t been a whisper of anybody new coming in, and I’ve also never personally heard of those two. Hold on….” There was a short thoughtful pause from the phone, as I managed to keep my mouth shut while waiting. When Mac spoke again, there was now a trace of puzzlement in his tone. “Harry, I had the faintest flicker of a memory about something I remembered, but I lost it again. Look, I’ll try to think of it, and while I’m doing that, I’ll pass the word around. Maybe somebody else knows something. Meanwhile, are you going to keep following those two?”
“Yeah, for as long as I can. Okay, thanks. I’ll make a phone call in a couple of hours or so, to see if you’ve come up with anything.” Hastily, as a sudden thought came into my head, I absently added, “I also have to call my neighbor, tell her to feed Mister if he comes over, since I can’t get back home to do that.”
“You’re whipped, Harry. By a cat, no less,” snickered Mac.
I couldn’t come up with a cutting rejoinder for that comment, since Mac had perfectly described myself and all other cat owners (or as we refer to ourselves, ruled subjects totally in the power of their felines), so I just indignantly mumbled, “Talk to you later, Mac, thanks a lot. Bye,” and I managed to tap the receiver hook to hang up the phone in the middle of his sarcastic farewell of “Bye, kitty-lover.”