Page 34

"Hell's bells," I said. "Uh. Nice place."

Molly shrugged out of her jacket and tossed it onto the back of a couch. "You like?" She walked into the kitchen, opened a cabinet door, and pulled out a first-aid kit.

"I like," I said. "Uh. How?"

"The svartalves built it for me," she said.

Svartalves. They were some serious customers in the supernatural scene. Peerless artisans, a very private and independent folk-and they tolerated absolutely no nonsense. No one wants to get on the bad side of a svartalf. They weren't exactly known for their generosity, either. "You working for them?" I asked.

"No," she said. "This is mine. I bought it from them."

I blinked again. "With what?"

"Honor," she said. She muttered something and flicked a hand at a chandelier hanging over the table in the little dining area. It began to glow with a pure white light as bright as any collection of incandescent bulbs. "Bring him over here, and we'll see if we can't help him."

I did so, transferring Toot from the skull to the table as gently as possible. Molly leaned down over him, peering. "Right through the breastplate? What hit you, Toot-toot?"

"A big fat jerk!" Toot replied, wincing. "He had a real sword, too. You know how hard it is to convince any of you big people to make us a sword we can actually use?"

"I saw his gear," I said. "I totally liked yours better, Major General. Way cooler and more stylish than that stupid black-knight look."

Toot gave me a brief, fierce grin. "Thank you, my lord!"

Toot got out of his ruined armor with effort, and with Molly's cautious, steady-fingered help I managed to clean the wound and bandage it. It looked ugly, and Toot was anything but happy during the process, but he was clearly uncomfortable and weary, rather than being badly hurt. Once the wound was taken care of, Toot promptly flopped onto the table and went to sleep.

Molly smiled, got a clean towel out of a cabinet, and draped it over the little guy. Toot seized it and curled up beneath it with a sigh.

"All right," Molly said, picking up the first-aid kit. She beckoned me to follow her to the kitchen. "Your turn. Off with the shirt."

"Not until you buy me dinner," I said.

For a second, she froze, and I wondered whether that had come out like the joke it had sounded like in my mind. Then she recovered. Molly arched her eyebrow in a look that was disturbingly like that of her mother (a woman around with whom a wise man will not mess) and folded her arms.

"Fine," I said, rolling my eyes. I shrugged my way out of the ruined tux.

"Jesus," Molly said softly, looking at me. She leaned around me, frowning at my back. "You look like a passion play."

"Doesn't feel so bad," I said.

"It might if one of these cuts gets infected," Molly said. "Just . . . just stand there and hold still. Man." She went to the cabinet and came back with a big brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a couple of kitchen towels. I watched her walking back and forth. "We'll start with your back. Lean on the counter."

I did, resting my elbows on the granite, still watching her. Molly fumbled with the supplies for a second, then bit her lower lip and began to move with purpose. She started dribbling peroxide onto the cuts on my back in little bursts of cold liquid that might have made me jump before I'd spent so much time in Arctis Tor. It burned a little, and then fizzed enthusiastically.

"So, not one question?" I asked her.

"Hmmm?" She didn't look up from her work.

"I come back from the dead, I sort of expected . . . I don't know. A little shock. And about a million questions."

"I knew you were alive," Molly said.

"Yeah, I sort of figured. How?" She didn't answer, and after a moment I realized the likely answer. "My godmother."

"She takes her Yoda-ing seriously."

"I remember," I said, keeping my tone neutral. "How long have you known?"

"Several weeks," Molly said. "There are so many cuts here, I don't think I have enough Band-Aids. We'll have to wrap it, I guess."

"I'll just put a clean shirt over them," I said. "Look, it isn't a big deal. Little marks like that are going to be gone in a day or two."

"Little . . . Winter Knight stuff?"

"Pretty much," I said. "Mab . . . kinda gave me the tour during my recovery."

"What happened?" she asked.

I found my eyes wandering to Bob's skull. Telling Molly what was going on would mean that she was involved. It would draw her into the conflict. I didn't want to expose her to that kind of danger-not again.

Of course, it probably wasn't my sole decision. And besides, Molly had intervened in an assassination that had been really close to succeeding. Whoever was behind the swarm of piranha pixies had probably seen it. Molly was already in the fight. If I started keeping things from her now, it would only hinder her chances of surviving it.

I didn't want her involved, but she'd earned the right to make that choice for herself.

So I gave it to her, straight, succinct, and with zero editing except for the bit about Halloween. It felt sort of strange. I hardly ever tell anyone that much truth. The truth is dangerous. She listened, her large eyes steadily focused on a point around my chin.

When I finished, all she said was, "Turn around."

I did, and she started working on the cuts on my chest, arms, and face. Again, cleaning the wounds was a little uncomfortable, but nothing more. I watched her tending me. I couldn't read her expression. She didn't look up at my eyes while she worked, and she kept her manner brisk and steady, very businesslike.

"Molly," I said, as she finished.

She paused, still not looking up at me.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I had to ask you to help me . . . do what I did. I'm sorry that I didn't make you stay home from Chichen Itza. I never should have exposed you to that. You weren't ready."

"No kidding," Molly said quietly. "But . . . I wasn't really taking no for an answer at the time, either. Neither of us made smart choices that night."

"Maybe. But only one of us is the mentor," I said. "I'm supposed to be the one who knows what's going on."

Molly shook her head several times, a jerky motion. "Harry-it's over. Okay? It's done. It's the past. Let it stay there."

"Sure you want that?"

"I am."

"Okay." I picked up a paper towel and dabbed at a few runnels of peroxide bubbling their way down my stomach. "Well. Now all I need is a clean shirt."

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