Hey, it's a new story! Monroe's survival in the Lord Harry 'verse is explained.

Un-beta'ed, so quibble away.

- o – o -

Choices

My name is Harry Dresden. I used to be a private investigator and a candidate for patron saint of bleeding hearts before the world went to hell (and, consequently, made my life a lot easier). These days, I'm Baron Dresden, lord of Chicago and Chicago-Under-Chicago, master of the Demon Reach, Favored Son of Winter and Summer…and a whole string of titles I hate having to list.

Ever since I woke up in my basement after a three month nap due to magical and physical exhaustion, I've had to deal with a sentient city—more like a sentient county and a lake that happens to cover most of it—that calls me master. Unfortunately, the upside to this nifty power is that Donald Morgan, my former parole officer in the magical community, follows me around like a hulking black shadow with a shiny sword in his coat. In a strange twist, he is now my bodyguard.

Stars, I miss the old days. I sometimes reminisce about the times he's tried cutting my head off. Once or twice, he's cracked a smile, before going back to the perpetual kicked-puppy look. Ancient Mai's death hit him pretty hard.

Monday nights are, consequently, a much needed break for both of us. I'd been running Chicago for nearly a year and a half now. There are times when Morgan (finally) agrees with me that we both need a break. Morgan handles petitioners—or searching them for weapons, anyways; Marcone, former lord of the Chicago underworld, actually determines who gets near Morgan—most days. We go to Mac's on Monday nights for a beer and the ability to pretend that it's three years ago, and he's trying to give me the third degree while I'm completely drunk.

MacAnally's is, surprisingly, part of my claimed territory. Some of the people who hid there during the Chicago Flood want to rename Chicago-Under-Chicago Atlantis after stepping outside to see who was banging on the door. Demonreach might have reacted badly to that…

Demonreach is a sentient island. Or…used to be. Stars and stones, explaining it gives me a headache. Before the world went to hell, Demonreach occupied an island in Lake Michigan that gave everyone the creeps. After I accidentally flooded Chicago to protect Bob from what remained of the High Council, the genius loci that inhabited the island decided that, since Chicago was underwater (mostly), it was now part of its island.

As a result, I can now tell that a kid on the other side of the city is hungry because the Clarke Militia took his older brother and all of their supplies. I can, at the same time, dispatch one of my minions—absorbed from Marcone's forces—to bring the starving kid to the Carpenter Home for Chicago's Lost Children.

And then I head to Mac's to get a beer and try forget that I own a living city. Or it…owns me. I need a beer to figure this stuff out anymore.

When Morgan and I got there, there was some skinny refugee trying to haggle with Mac for a pint of ale. Judging by how ragged the poor kid was, what he was offering wouldn't get him anything—unless Mac was feeling particularly moved by the sob story. I moved closer to hear what's going on.

"Please, just give me a pint. I have food. I can trade… Please…"

Judging by the plaintive whimper and his growling stomach, the kid needed his food more than his drink. I understood what Mac was up to, though. He wasn't about to give a refugee in my city beer when said refugee could be eating something decent instead. (Mac is a good guy.)

"Mac." Mac looked at me, eyebrows raised. "Give him one of your sandwiches and a quarter-pint. I'll take the goods. Same for me and Morgan." I smiled, and added "Please" as an afterthought. It pained me that "please" was an afterthought; I'd been raised better than that. By my father and Bob, I mean; one of the best parts of the city getting flooded was that Morningway Manor (and all the memories associated with it) got wiped out.

"Mister, please, I don't want any trouble," the kid said. Up close, I could see he wasn't much of a kid. Maybe in his late twenties, if the headaches and stress hadn't aged him decades in a month. "I…I just wanted to get drunk enough to forget again…"

He was whispering almost too quiet for me to hear at first. Then I realized he'd probably been one of the airport refugees. I felt like a piece of slime that'd just crawled out of Old Chicago. He was probably a drunk because of my irrational, not entirely misguided, urge to protect Bob. (Bob is still my best friend, and my mentor, and my teacher, and a thousand other things I could never find enough people to do. But mostly, Bob was and is my best friend.)

"I'm not looking for any. And the sandwich will cost you…" I looked in his bag, and winced. There wasn't a lot there. It was mostly a few dented cans of soup and a packet of crackers. I'd had better when I was on a fraying shoestring of a budget back when I was still a detective. "You know what, it'll take a day of physical labor to make this up. Ask Morgan what crews need help."

The kid looked like he was about to break down sobbing in relief. It was…kind of pathetic. "What's your name, kid?"

He looked at me, startled. I'd been there. People never asked your name, not unless they wanted to do something horrible to you.

"Monroe…" he whispered. "My name is Monroe. I…thank you." The admission made him look a little more alive. "I used to be a Marine. Now I just try to stay drunk and find a bed or a warm body to sleep with these days."

I sighed and rubbed my forehead. I, Harry Dresden, am the world's biggest sucker for sob stories.

"There's plenty of work here in Chicago-Under-Chicago, Monroe. I'm sure you'll find something."

He smiled widely, like I'd just told him the power was coming back on. Mac delivered the food a few seconds later, followed by a quarter-pint. I suspected later that he might have watered down some Bud Lite for Monroe, just to go easy on the kid's stomach.

Over the next few months, Monroe proved to be a fairly valuable asset. He sobered up after meeting Connie. (I may have abused my powers to find out if they were sleeping together or not. I stopped after the first look.) They shared vigils for Connie's daughter for months. Until he left, it looked like he was about to settle down with her and stay on permanently.

Then he left.

A year after that, the Republic of Monroe was established. The Clarke Militia was wiped out. A good number of my people returned, telling stories of a man who fought like he was possessed. (He wasn't, thankfully. I hate dealing with demons on the best of days.)

Thirteen years later, though, when my people stopped returning from the militias that had taken them, I'd come to regret feeding a skinny refugee Marine named Monroe. I'd still feel guilty about not keeping him and Connie apart better than I hadn't tried.

But by the fifteen year mark, I'd had the Militia on a leash. At least keeping one group leashed was easier than half a dozen. I felt a little happier every time one of my people came back from the "Weekend Warrior" program the Militia ran. They came back loaded with food, or bandages, or books from burned-out towns for the kids to read. They came back with things we desperately needed.

So why did I still feel guilty about doing one good deed for Monroe?

- o – o -

So, what did you think? Good? Bad? Should Harry have left well enough alone all those years ago? Drop a line and let me know!