Tony set his glass on the bar and checked his watch. He let out a frustrated sigh as he read the numbers and started to come to one horrible conclusion.
He, Tony DiNozzo, had been stood up.
Tony raised his glass and drained its contents before signalling the bartender for a refill. He hadn't wanted to come to Chicago in the first place, but Vance had decided that Tony needed to attend a conference in the Windy City, in February, no less, the week of Valentine's Day. Tony suspected it was punishment when Vance had told him about the conference, even though the director had assured him it was 'professional development well suited to his current skill set'.
He suspected that had been an insult, but had discovered that Vance was right.
The conference, much to Tony's surprise had been a wonderful experience. He had learned a great deal from the workshops as well as his interactions with the attendees, and his concern with being alone in an unfamiliar city on Valentine's Day had turned out to be not a concern after all. Or so he had thought.
There had been several women at the conference who had drawn his attention, and most of them had returned his admiration (all except a petite, blue eyed blonde who, after he had watched her lead a workshop on advanced self-defense techniques, he decided to avoid in the interest of self-preservation). One in particular had flirted with him almost every time they encountered one another, and finally, on the last day of the conference, he had arranged to meet her at a bar she had recommended: the same bar in which he had been waiting for over an hour.
The bartender filled his drink as he gave Tony a speculative look. "Not driving, are you?"
"Took a cab."
"Alright. Let me know when you want me to call another one for you."
Tony managed a smile for the unexpected courtesy. "Will do. Thanks."
The bartender returned the smile and went to serve his next customer as Tony surveyed the bar. His wandering gaze stopped abruptly when he caught sight of another patron seated by herself in one of the high-backed booths, easily the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her olive-tinted skin was flawless and her long, black hair glistened in the dim light of the bar. She turned and met his gaze with almond-shaped, dark brown eyes, a slow smile spreading across her face as she took in his expression. She slowly raised a delicate hand to crook a finger at him and Tony barely managed to take a deep breath before he made his way to her table.
"Hello," she purred as he reached the booth. "Join me?"
"Be happy to," he replied with a grin and slid into opposite side of the booth. "I'm Tony."
"Anna. New in town?"
"Ah. Business or pleasure?" The way she pronounced the last word sent shivers down Tony's spine and it took him a moment to answer.
"Ah..business. A conference, actually."
"Oh? What kind of conference?" She leaned forward and he caught a whiff of her suddenly intoxicating perfume.
Her eyes widened slightly. "You're a police officer?"
"Federal agent. NCIS, that's-"
"You're a Navy cop." Her smile widened. "How...interesting."
"Will you be in town long?"
"Ah, no, not really. I mean, my flight leaves in the morning."
"Pity. This is such a lovely town. You just need someone to show you the sights...the things the casual tourist doesn't get to experience."
Tony gave her one of his patented grins. "Are you offering, Anna?"
She placed her hand on his and gently stroked his wrist with one finger. "I believe I could be persuaded."
Tony flinched slightly at the coldness of her touch but her alluring smile drove the worries from his mind. He quickly called the bartender over and settled his bill before following Anna (and appreciating the view he was getting) to the coat check. When they both had received their coats from the clerk he offered her his arm and they stepped out into the frigid night.
After walking for less than a city block Tony started to shiver. "Do you want to get a cab? I'm not really used to this weather."
"You'll be fine. We won't be out much longer."
"Oh, good. Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
Tony's cop instinct started to buzz. "I'm not a fan of surprises."
"You'll like this one. Trust me."
Warning bells started to go off in his brain. "I'd like to know where we're going, Anna."
She looked up at him and smiled. "It's a special club. Members only, but it has a real taste of the city. Not much further, I promise."
"OK." He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and allowed her to lead him to the end of the block, where they turned left and headed down a narrow, dimly lit street. Halfway down the street they made another left into a dark alley.
"Is it one of those underground clubs?"
"You could say that." Soon they reached another turn and Tony saw that the alley stopped in a dead end a few yards further.
"OK. Where's the club?"
"Right here, kine."
With surprising strength she shoved Tony to the ground and he hit the pavement with a jarring crash. Before he could even catch his breath he instinctively started to scramble away from her, his back soon hitting a brick wall. He looked up and froze at the sight in front of him. The once beautiful woman was morphing before his eyes into something from a nightmare.
"What in the hell?"
The creature advanced towards him and he tried to scramble away, the wall against his back quickly reminding him that he was trapped. He automatically reached for his gun and was shocked when he felt the empty holster.
"Looking for this?" the creature growled as his gun appeared it its clawed hand and it casually tossed it aside. Tony tried to scramble after it but his path was blocked. He reached into his other pocket for his cell and found it missing as well. His blood turned to ice when he realized he was out of options and he started into the terrifying eyes of his imminent death as it advanced towards him.
A column of fire suddenly engulfed the creature and it screamed, a sound that caused Tony to cry out in pain as he clapped his hands over his ears. He watched, cringing as the figure before him burned rapidly, the brightness of the flames hurting his eyes. Finally the flames died down and the creature was reduced to a twisted blackened heap on the alley floor a few feet away. Tony blinked, wondering just what in the hell had happened.
"Hey. You OK?"
He looked up to see a tall, thin, dark-haired man wearing a long leather coat. He was slowly walking towards Tony, a long piece of wood covered in strange symbols in one hand and a shorter, thicker piece of wood also covered with the same type of symbols in the other. One hand was covered in a leather glove while the other was bare save for rings on the man's fingers and a charm bracelet on his wrist. When he reached Tony he squatted down and studied him without meeting his gaze.
"Buddy? You OK?"
Tony's gaze flicked between the man and the heap of what was now mostly ash. Finally he found his voice.
"What in the hell was that?"
The man gave a rueful chuckle. "Pretty sure you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"OK. It was a vampire. Red Court, to be precise."
Tony let out a nearly hysterical laugh. "A vampire? Seriously?"
"Told you you wouldn't believe me."
"I...OK, OK. A vampire. Right. And you're a...vampire hunter, are you?"
"Wizard, actually. Vampire hunting's a bit of a side job."
"Right, sure. OK. A wizard. Fantastic. This is a joke, right?"
"Nope, afraid not. But you can believe that if it will make you feel better."
"Nothing's going to make me feel better at the moment."
"Yeah, I can understand that." The man stood, switched the longer piece of wood to his left hand and offered his right to Tony. Reluctantly Tony took the offered hand and the man hauled him to his feet. Tony was surprised at how much he had to look up to talk to the guy. He was really tall.
"It would be a good idea to leave as soon as possible. Someone probably heard the commotion, so the cops will be here at some point. Even if they didn't...there might be more of those-" He pointed at the pile of ash. "-around."
Tony paled and nodded. "OK, great. I need to…" He skirted the pile and retrieved his gun which he checked and tucked back into its holster. When he turned back the man was eyeing him warily. "It's OK. I'm a federal agent."
"OK. A fed. Fantastic," the man intoned and Tony couldn't help the small grin that appeared on his face. He reached into his jacket pocket and produced his badge and ID wallet, which he flipped open to show them to the other man.
"Special Agent DiNozzo, NCIS." The man raised an eyebrow and Tony sighed. "Yeah, that never gets old. Navy Criminal Investigative Service. Here for a law enforcement conference."
"Really? Huh. You probably met a few friends."
"You have cop friends?"
"I'm a consultant. Sometimes."
"And a wizard."
"I'm even in the phone book. Chicago's only professional wizard."
"Right." Tony pointed to the shorter piece of wood, now back in the man's left hand. "Wand?"
"Blasting rod. Helps me focus, otherwise you might have been burnt to a crisp, too."
"Well, then thank God for the blasting rod." The man chuckled. "You said something about getting out of here?"
"Right. Need a lift?"
The man made a face. "Car. Parked in the next alley over. Or you could try to get a cab. Might take awhile."
"A lift would be great."
"Come on, then." The man headed back down the alley and towards the street as Tony quickly followed.
"Didn't catch your name."
"Didn't throw it." Tony let out a growl of annoyance and the man chuckled. "Name's Harry Dresden."
"Chicago's only wizard."
"Only professional wizard."
Deciding to see if the whole 'in the phonebook' think was true Tony silently reached for his phone again and swore. "My phone's missing. Must have left it at the bar."
"Or she took it when she lifted your gun."
"Which means it's toast. Damn it. Gibbs is gonna kill me."
"My boss. One of his rules: never be unreachable."
Harry nodded absently. "Probably a good rule to have for a cop. Won't work for me. Cell phones and I don't get along."
They finally reached Dresden's car, a multi-colored Volkswagen beetle that looked like it had been assembled by Victor Frankenstein.
"Door's unlocked. Hop in."
"You're not worried someone will steal it?"
Dresen chuckled. "Nope."
With a shrug Tony opened the door and froze as something large and hairy rose out of the back seat and stared at him with menacing eyes.
"Uh...why do you have a bear in your car?"
"It's my dog. Mouse, Special Agent DiNozzo. I'm giving him a lift back to his hotel." The dog stared at him for a moment longer before flopping back down in the seat, a move which caused the car to creak ominously. Tony waited a few moments to see if the beast would move again and when it didn't he gingerly climbed into the passenger's seat and shut the door. Dresden had already started the car and shifted it into gear as soon as Tony was settled.
Tony gave him the name and address of his hotel and Dresden silently guided the car through the streets of Chicago. After several blocks Tony broke his silence.
"So. Vampires." Dresden glanced at him and nodded. "What did you mean by 'Red Court'?"
"One of the three courts of vampires. Red Court look human but are monsters underneath, like you saw. Black Court are more what you think vampires would be, basically re-animated corpses with the abilities straight out of Bram Stoker's nightmares. Both are happy to kill humans for food, kine they call it." Tony paled and nodded again. "And the White Court feed on emotions. They will still kill you, but at least you die happy."
"Great. Anything else out there?"
"Pretty much anything you can imagine, it exists. Ghouls, demons, fae, you name it."
"If they hunt humans, I deal with them."
"What about humans that hunt humans?"
"I leave that to you. Killing people is against the Laws of Magic."
"What happens if you break those laws?" Dresden gave him a 'you don't want to know' look. "And are there other...wizards?" Dresden nodded. "How many?" He shrugged. "Just in Chicago or all over?"
Dresden sighed. "Look, it's probably best if you forget everything that happened. You'll sleep better, trust me."
"You're working under the assumption that I sleep well now," Tony snarked. "Kinda hard to forget what I saw...and heard tonight." His expression softened. "And you saved my ass. Can't forget that. Thank you."
"You're welcome." Dresden gave him a wry grin. "Don't make a habit of it."
"Don't plan on it. Is there...any way I could avoid that situation in the future?"
"Stay away from beautiful women?"
Tony managed a laugh. "Unless I do a full background check first. Yeah, that would help. What's the chance I'd run into another one of those...things?"
Dresden seemed to consider that for a moment. "I guess it depends on where you live. There are concentrations of the various courts in the midwest and the deep south, but I haven't heard of any on the east coast recently. Where are you stationed?"
"The Navy Yard, near D.C."
"Ah. Well, there are scarier things in D.C., you know."
Dresden grinned. "Politicians."
Tony laughed. "Amen to that."
"I'll keep an ear out, and if I hear of anything...I guess I know where to find you."
Tony tried to imagine the team's reaction to Dresden and winced. "No offense, but I hope you don't have to."
"None taken." He guided the car to the front of Tony's hotel and stopped, earning a strange look from one of the employees. "Here you are. Safe and sound."
"Not a problem. Stay safe, Agent DiNozzo."
"You too, Wizard Dresden."
Dresden gave him a lopsided grin. "Not in my vocabulary."
"Mine either." Tony extended his hand and after a brief hesitation Dresden shook it. Tony climbed out of the car, gave the dog-who had raised his head to watch Tony-a brief salute and carefully closed the door. Dresden waved and guided his car back out into the light traffic passing the hotel as Tony headed inside.
After he reached his room Tony took a quick look around to make he was alone before settling on the bed. After a few moments, he made a decision and got up to pack his suitcase. The less time he spent in Chicago, the better.
The next morning Tony walked into work, clearly tired but glad to be home. His unexpected appearance garnered raised eyebrows from his early-bird co-worker.
"Hey, Tony. I didn't think you were getting back until this afternoon."
"Change of plans, Probie."
"And here I thought you'd be happy for some time away."
"No place like home, McToto."
McGee sent him an odd look. "What's going on with you? You seem...off."
"Did something happen?"
"McGee...honestly, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"You won't. So McDropIt, OK?"
McGee huffed. "Fine. Vance wants a report on the conference as soon as possible."
"Of course he does." Tony pulled out his notes and started to type them up, ignoring the looks his partner was giving him. The arrival of Ziva and Gibbs did not deter him from his typing and he only briefly addressed their questions on his early arrival. After they did a quick debriefing Gibbs and Ziva left to go question a suspect, and Tony took his finished report up to Vance, leaving McGee alone in the bullpen. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and pressed a button to dial a familiar number.
"Hey, Karrin, it's Tim McGee. Fine, thanks. Say, did you attend the law enforcement conference in Chicago this past week? OK. Did you happen to meet a guy named Tony DiNozzo? Yes, Special Agent DiNozzo." McGee chuckled. "Yeah, that's him. Listen, do you know if anything, uh, strange happened while he was there." McGee listened, his eyes widening in surprise, which quickly morphed into horror. "Oh, God, did he...OK. You sure? Is Harry sure?" He winced. "Yeah, OK. I know. Yes, he made it home OK. I will. I'll be careful. Thanks. Tell Harry I'll keep an eye on him. No, Tony doesn't know about me. No, he didn't say anything. I don't know. I…" He rubbed a hand over his face. "I don't know if I can. OK. I'll think about. Yeah, you too. Thanks, Karrin."
McGee sat back in his chair with a sigh. He felt sick knowing how close he had come to losing his partner. The two of them might argue and butt heads, but he was still thankful for Tony's friendship. To lose that in such a horrible way…
He went over what else Karrin had told him. Tony was now aware of the supernatural, a world which Tim had been aware for years, ever since he learned he had some minor talent himself. He wasn't a full-blown practitioner (otherwise he'd never have been able to finish his degrees, much less do his job) but he had, well, something.
The idea of sharing what he knew and what he was had never even crossed his mind. He had feared that either he wouldn't be believed and he'd be ostracized, or even mocked if he had revealed his knowledge of a whole other reality that existed right under the noses of 'normal' people. And now one of those normal people knew about this reality.
But not everything.
McGee sighed again and went back to his current task, although his mind was still on that call, especially what Karrin had suggested. Could he tell Tony? Even now, even after he knew what had happened he wasn't sure. As Tony himself had said, he doubted Tony would believe him even if he did tell him.
McGee watched as Tony returned to his desk, still clearly unsettled to someone who knew the signs of an encounter. He studied him out of the corner of his eye as the older man sat down and started to type. After a while Tony started to click through information, and McGee suspected he was doing a Google search. It didn't take any type of talent to figure out what he was searching for. His mind had been opened enough to start to seek out more information. Could he handle something closer to home after all?
Only time would tell.