Disclaimer: I am not Jim Butcher. I do not own Harry Dresden.
Note: The following piece (a trip away from the Harry Potter things I more usually post on) was originally written by me for a Harry Dresden fanfiction contest on another website. It didn't win, but I figure some people here may enjoy reading it anyway.
NB: This one-shot is set in an Alternate Universe, in which Harry Dresden went to Lasciel for help during Changes instead of Mab. Presumably there were minor differences from canon in how people acted leading into that decision, but that's the background for this piece. This piece takes place in the summer after the events of Changes.
Rating: This piece is rated 'T'.
"What are you doing here, Dresden?"
"Sightseeing. What are you doing here for that matter?" I riposted.
"Likewise." Gentleman John Marcone responded, sitting himself down on the bench on Tower Green next to me.
Life as a supervillain is complicated.
I was in London on an errand for Nicodemus Archleone, who along with some friends had helped me rescue my daughter from the Red Court of vampires several months earlier. For various reasons, including the surprisingly reliable childminding service offered by Deirdre, I'd continued to hang out with Nicodemus and company afterwards – even though that meant occasionally having to attend supervillain meetings, and to be asked if I wanted to do fellow supervillains favours. Nicodemus had smirked when I'd actually volunteered for this mission, and Lasciel had gone quiet for a few moments in my head, then sharply sucked in her breath. Afterwards she'd explained why.
No wonder the White Council didn't talk about the Beefeaters.
And of course the arranged rendezvous date I was here for was HM the Queen Elizabeth II's official summer birthday, when the Beefeaters were out in their scarlet-and-gold uniforms and in an especial state of high activity and alertness.
Still: Nicodemus was paying my expenses – the 'reasonable' ones, for what amounted for me to a holiday, but my nominal 'leader' had an exorbitant idea of what constituted 'reasonable', and I certainly wasn't complaining about that. I probably could have stayed at The Ritz, but I'd settled for accommodation much more discreet and low key, and I had gotten several days of sightseeing (AKA 'necessary reconnaissance of the target city where the rendezvous is due to take place') in before this meeting, on Nicodemus' expenses.
"How did you recognise me anyway?" I asked Marcone.
"The duster, Dresden." Marcone said. "It's a giveaway."
He had a point. My dusters tended to become practically unique, given the scars and repairs they acquired over the years, and anyone who knew me would probably recognise the current one. Marcone turned his head to look me over more carefully, a look of slight curiosity in his eyes. Rather than my usual, masculine good looks, he was being treated to a statuesque female form of somewhat bulging characteristics. Beneath my enchanted duster, I was wearing feminine clothes of a practical bent, which asked a viewer to use their imagination, whilst making it clear that there was a lot worth imagining. Lasciel had selected them carefully.
Look: like I said, life as a supervillain is complicated – especially when you're a Knight of the Blackened Denarius and your fallen angel 'partner' happens to be female and to adjust your body to reflect that when a commission requires her to be a lot more active.
The sex-change when in 'Lasciel mode' had surprised the hell out of me at Chichén Itzá, the first time.
"Are you planning to chat me up?" I asked in irritation.
"Merely enjoying the moment, Dresden." Marcone replied. He was dressed as usual for Marcone in a suit, although one cut to suggest he was a man currently about his leisure. He paused, although not to ogle me. "You do realise that we're in the Tower of London, Dresden, and that if I raise my voice I can have a Beefeater down on you within thirty seconds?"
Lasciel prodded me mentally, impatiently.
"Are you expecting to bump into me – or someone like me – here today?" I asked the question I probably would have asked anyway without Lasciel's prodding.
"Whatever rendezvous you may have foolishly agreed to, Dresden, I'm not here specifically to see you." Marcone said. He narrowed his eyes. "I may be interested in the party whom you are planning to meet."
The 'party' I was meant to meet was a purportedly corrupt churchman, who had access to information Nicodemus wanted badly – information concerning a cup two millennia old which nobody had seen for a while.
If Marcone was here as a rival buyer for what I was here for it would be awkward. Negotiations with clergy aside, I was supposed to be here on holiday. I had already sent Maggie two postcards, and I had instructions to bring my daughter back a souvenir London bus. And Deirdre (who apparently had a similar view to me on this count of how things went) wanted some English tea. I still had shopping to do, and one of the last things I wanted was to get involved in some kind of battle with Marcone.
Lasciel warned me to be subtle. Yeah: thanks for that piece of advice, Miss Pouts-a-Lot. She'd demonstrated in Chichén Itzá how good we were together in a fight, and she was a lot of fun to wind up and I appreciated her translation services but… sometimes she was kind of annoying. Especially when she underrated my common sense.
"Still looking for the shroud?" I hazarded a guess at something Marcone might be legitimately interested in, and which would have nothing to do with my own errand.
"As I said, Dresden, I'm sightseeing." Marcone said. He must have realised that even to me that was going to sound suspiciously like a deflection, and added a threat for good measure. "I don't care who or what you are, these days, Dresden. I want something, and if you come between me and even a clue concerning that particular relic, I will act to your extreme detriment."
"Easy." I raise my hands placatingly. "I'm not interested in the shroud. And if anyone other than you is, at this time, I don't know anything about it."
"Is there a problem, madam?"
I ran through several swearwords in my head, with which Lashiel heartily concurred. A Beefeater in scarlet-and-gold uniform had noticed the conversation getting heated and wandered over to take a closer look. As a Beefeater, he was of course ex-military, and that was before you took into account training Beefeaters went through when they arrived at the Tower.
"My fellow American and I are both from the same city, it turns out." I said sweetly to the Beefeater. "We're disagreeing over baseball selections."
In my favour as far as selling this went, I had Lasciel's looks right now – well most of them, as the most overt 'fallen angel' aspects weren't on display – and references to baseball confuse most British people, whilst being Recognisably An American 'Thing' That Americans Talk About.
"What the beautiful lady says." Marcone added, relishing the 'beautiful lady' more than he strictly ought to do.
The Beefeater studied us both for a few moments, then nodded and withdrew.
"Thanks." I said to Marcone after a few moments.
"As it happens I have at least as little reason as you, at the moment, in terms of inconvenience, to attract attention from the Yeomen Warders of the Tower." Marcone replied. "If we are here to pursue different objectives that is all to the good, and of course on the principle of 'ladies first' I shall be delighted for you to transact your business first."
Which besides being 'polite' would allow Marcone to hang around to snoop if he could get sufficiently creative on just what business I might be conducting.
And Marcone had scores to settle with Nicodemus Archleone. And might decide he was interested in the freaking Holy Grail anyway.
I did mention, right, how life as a supervillain can be complicated?
Outside the walls of the Tower, someone barked orders, and then a steady regular thump thump thump commenced. They were firing a royal gun salute in honour of Her Majesty's birthday.
The contact should be here any minute now. He'd said that he'd arrive at this particular bench on Tower Green shortly after the gun salute.
Marcone had produced a tourist guidebook and was leafing through it. Lasciel and I played mental guessing games over how many stones a section of wall might contain – Lasciel cheated outrageously of course.
And then the gun salute ended and Marcone and I sat there on the bench, an occasional fricking raven cawing in the background (it turned out it was true that the British kept ravens in the Tower) and waited.
And waited a bit more.
And then two someones approached, neither of who looked to be at all ecclesiastical, being a man in a British police uniform, complete with one of those British police helmets, and an accompanying Beefeater different from the earlier one.
They were looking at a crumpled and slightly stained piece of paper with printed pictures of some kind on it which they had, which was in a transparent 'evidence' bag, and they were looking at us and our bench.
The 'stain' on the paper, as they closed, could be seen to be a colour which resembled – amongst other things – that of relatively fresh blood.
Marcone and I both sensed trouble.
"Excuse me sir." the man in police uniform said to Marcone. "Would you mind answering a few questions please?"
Something told me that the rest of my holiday had just been cancelled.
I figure the Beefeaters in this story are one of those organizations with a presence and effects in the supernatural community that we never hear anything about in the books until suddenly Harry Dresden is dealing with them, 'on page'.
At the time of original writing of this piece, I had no information on what happened if the human a Denarian was working with was of the 'opposite sex' to the Denarian, when Denarian form was adopted. For this story and at least with regard to Lasciel, I have gone with the human switches genders when Denarian form is adopted.
Nicodemus being interested in the Grail is assumed to be setting up events for this universe's version of Skin Game. Nicodemus has not been entirely straight with Harry about any other agendas and objectives he may have. The death of the 'contact' is not of Nicodemus or Marcone's doing, however.
The 'contact' had a piece of paper (in that evidence bag seen at the end) with pictures on it of Harry Dresden (in non-Lasciel form) and Marcone, so that he could identify the people he was intending to meet. Obviously Harry being in Lasciel mode would make identification (except by Harry volunteering the information) difficult on this count. Marcone is recognisable, however, from his picture, which is why the police are very interested in Marcone… A man has just been killed and he had a picture of Marcone (possibly with a few notes on it) on him.
This is a one-shot.
Even having teamed up with Lasciel, Harry Dresden at this point (at least) still has personal standards, preferring to fight monsters. Nicodemus can work with that for now. Nicodemus has rivals and 'nominally good' stuff he can point Harry Dresden at to keep Harry Dresden busy, if/when Harry Dresden doesn't have 'watching out for the people of Chicago' things to do.