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It's generally a really bad idea to fight guys who are in that particular mental space.

"You want me to run him off?" Thomas asked.

Fix's eyes didn't move from me, but he directed his words at Thomas. "Come try it, vampire."

"Stars and stones." I sighed. I took the Winchester and put it gently back into the Hummer. "Fix, can we stop the High Noon routine? I'm not going to fight you."

He frowned slightly. "That sort of remains to be seen."

"Thomas," I said, "get back in the truck, please."

"What?"

"I want to talk to Fix, and it isn't going to be a real productive conversation if he has to keep one eye on each of us and his fingers by his gun in case you draw on him."

Thomas grunted. "Suppose he draws and shoots you as soon as I'm not backing you up."

"If that happens, and if it'll make you feel better, you can come fight him, I suppose." I regarded Fix for a moment and then said, "But he won't."

"Harry," Thomas said.

"He won't," I said quietly. "I know him. He won't."

Thomas let out a low growling grumble-but he got back into the Hummer and shut the door.

Fix eyed me warily, and checked his surroundings quickly, as though expecting some kind of ambush.

I sighed and sat down on the rear bumper of the Hummer. "Fix," I said. "Look, I've been doing this job for about six hours now. I haven't gone all dark side. Yet."

Fix folded his arms. His fingers were still close to his weapons, but a little farther away than they'd been a moment before. "You've got to understand. Lloyd Slate was a real monster, man."

"I know."

"You don't know. Because you never had to face him without power, the way we did."

I spread my hands. "I didn't always have power, Fix. And even with it, there are plenty of big, scary things out there that I'm just as helpless against. I know."

"Then you know what my problem is," he said.

"Let's assume for a moment that I'm sometimes an idiot," I said. "What's your problem?"

He gave me a brief smile. "You were dangerous enough without Mab's hand on you. Now? You can make Lloyd Slate look like a grade-school bully."

"But I haven't," I said.

"But you could."

"Maybe I won't."

"Maybe you will."

"If I'm as powerful as you seem to think," I said, "then what makes you think you can stand up to me?"

He shrugged. "Maybe I can't. But at least I have a chance. The people behind me wouldn't."

"Ah," I said. We both sat for a moment. Then I said, "So I guess it won't be enough for me to assure you that I'm not up to no good."

"You know how you could tell when Slate was lying?"

"How?"

"His lips were moving."

I smiled briefly. "Well. It seems to me you've got a couple of choices."

"Oh?"

"You do the math. You see what I have the potential to do, and you plan for what I could do, rather than what you think I will do."

"Might be smart," Fix said. "Von Clausewitz would say so."

"If this was a war and I was the enemy, sure."

"What else do you think I could do?"

"Extend a little trust, maybe," I said. "That's the illusion here, man. As far as I'm concerned, we don't need to be enemies. We don't need to be at war."

Fix pursed his lips. Then he said, "Here's the problem with that. You belong to Mab. I like Harry. Maybe I could even trust him. But I know what Mab is like-and Harry belongs to Mab now."

"The hell I do," I said. "Just because I took this job doesn't mean I'm all cozy with her."

"You, uh, looked kinda cozy, man. With Mab. On the stone table."

Sealing a contract like the one with Mab isn't something you do with an impersonal handshake. I felt my cheeks heat up. "Oh. You saw that."

"All of Faerie did," Fix said.

"God, that's humiliating," I muttered.

"I know what you mean," he said. "At least it wasn't on pay-per-view."

I snorted.

"Okay," I said finally. "I'm under some time pressure here, so I think you need to make a decision."

"Yeah?"

I nodded. "Who is going to make this call? You? Or von Clausewitz?"

Fix looked away. Then he said, "I hate this kind of crap. This is the first time I've had a job I've held down for more than six months."

"I hear you."

He gave me another brief smile. "I want to believe you," he said. Then he took a steadying breath and faced me, lowering his arms to his sides again. "But there are people depending on me to keep them safe. I can't afford to do that."

I stood up, very slowly and reluctantly. "Fix, I don't want this fight."

"And you'll get a chance to avoid it," he said. "I'm going to give you until noon to get out of town, Harry. If I see you after that, I'm not going to spend any more time talking, and I'm not going to challenge you to a fair fight. If you're really serious about being your own man, if you really want to keep the peace between us-you'll go."

"I don't think I can do that," I said.

"I didn't think you could," he said quietly. "You have until noon."

We exchanged a nod. Then he moved back to his SUV, never taking his eyes off me. Once he was in, he started it and drove away.

I sank back down onto the Hummer's back bumper again and closed my eyes.

Great.

One more thing.

I liked Fix. He was a decent guy. He'd become the Summer Knight, and as far as I knew, he'd never abused his power. People in the supernatural community liked and respected him. I'd even seen him in action once. He was a hell of a lot more formidable than he'd been as the scared young man I'd first met.

I didn't want to fight him.

He might not give me a choice.

Mab was not about puppies and kittens, and I'd known that when I signed on. Even if she wasn't evil, exactly, she was vicious, violent, and ruthless. I had no doubt that Mab had done for a number of decent people in her time, one way or another. There were stories about the Winter Knight stretching back for centuries, and various vile personalities had held the title. Some of them had even been famous. Gilles de Rais. Andrei Chikatilo. John Haigh. Fritz Haarmann. If I were in Fix's shoes, and he were in mine, I might well have pulled the trigger without thinking twice.

I leaned my head back against the truck with a little thunk.

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