Title: In All the Centuries - posted June 28, 2007
Author: Lacey McBain
Pairing: None; Bob and Harry friendship, hurt/comfort
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~3900
Summary: "Things need to be done, and I'm the only one who can do them." Bob doesn't want to be here, doesn't want to hurt Harry, but he will—only because there's something greater at stake.
Author Notes: Television 'verse. Spoilers for "What About Bob?"
Disclaimer: The Dresden Files belongs to Jim Butcher. Lines of dialogue from the episode are obviously not mine.

In All the Centuries

Bob waits in the dark study of the Morningway estate. There is moonlight catching on the white sheets that shroud the furniture, nothing touched since Harry shut the place up five years ago. Bob fingers the cotton cloth, amazed at the way it slides between his fingers, fingers that haven't touched anything in more years than Bob can remember. He can smell the layer of dust, and he stands with his hand against the wall just so he can relearn the feel of polished wood beneath his fingertips.

He hears the front doors open, then feet on the stairs. He closes his eyes at the memory of Harry as a boy, flinging wide those doors, pounding up those stairs and into the study to share something—some discovery, some small moment—with him. It was him that Harry searched out, not his Uncle Justin, and the first time Harry sought comfort, stormed up the stairs and flung his arms around Bob, falling to the hardwood floor as his reaching arms passed through air, was the first time Bob regretted, really regretted, his lack of corporealness.

In all the centuries of his life—and in this he includes the cursed confinement in his own skull—Bob has never cared for anyone as much as he cares for Harry. Yes, there was Winifred, and God, Bob adored her, but that was passion and lust and he was a younger man then. He didn't know anything about caring, only wanting, and when she was dead he couldn't see anything except the relentless need to bring her back, the soul-deep ache to feel her flesh in his arms once again. Yes, it was love, but the kind that burns bright and fast, and Bob knows that had they had the time together, it may not have been the beautiful thing he has built it up to be in his mind. It was a selfish love.

But this is not.

Bob has known Harry since Harry was a child. A quiet questioning child, too soon orphaned, and it had been only later that Bob realized Harry's Uncle Justin was the one responsible for those deaths. For Harry's situation.

And the sad truth is that there is almost nothing a spirit imprisoned in a skull can do in such times, and even less when he is in the service of a wizard who cares little for the laws of magic and not at all for mortal lives. Bob said nothing, could say nothing at all that would give comfort or peace to the boy. Bob could hear him at night, sometimes angry, sometimes weeping, but always in the dark lonely corners of the house, the ones where Justin Morningway would never go.

Not that he would even think to look for his nephew there. As far as Justin was concerned he had saved the child from a horrible, mundane life, and Bob was simply a means to provide instruction in the magical arts—both dark and practical.

In the darkness, Bob can see Harry enter the study, that ridiculous hockey stick he uses as a staff in his hand. The trappings of wealth, the expectations for decorum, were always a little lost on Harry, Bob recalls with some amusement. Justin had wanted so much for Harry to be like him, and yet he was, and is, every inch his father's son.

"Harry," Bob says, aware of Justin's doppelganger waiting in the shadows, prepared to forced his hand if it comes to that.

"Bob!" Harry's voice is full of relief and gratitude, and it's enough to make Bob hate himself a little for what he's about to do.

Harry breathes through his smile: "Okay." It's half-question, half statement because Harry knows Bob can't be hurt. He's a spirit after all, and Bob forces himself not to smile, not to let the affection he feels show through because Justin is watching, or at least the double is, and it's practically the same thing.

Harry gestures towards the door. "Come on, get in your skull. Let's get out of here."

"I can't do that."

Harry's already backing towards the door, motioning for Bob to come with him, the same way he did as a child. "Bob, what are you talking about? We'll talk about it later. Let's just get out of here. Come on, let's go." Harry's trying to rescue him, and it's sweet, if somewhat naïve. Bob hopes that Harry will be able to forgive him for what he's about to do.

"This is going to hurt." Bob reaches across the space between them and grasps Harry's leather jacket in his hands. "I'm sorry. It'll all be over soon."

"Bob?" It's the frightened boy that looks back at him from the man he's holding, trust still plain in his eyes, and Bob lifts up a hand, channeling the power he's wielded for centuries. This is the least painful way to subdue a man.

Bob raises his palm, pushes energy into Harry with a wave of blue and white light.

"Go to sleep."

Harry slumps in his arms against the wall, and Bob holds him for just a moment, all long limbs and confusion, until Justin's double steps from the shadows.

"We need to get him to the morgue."

"Yes," Bob says, although he doesn't move to comply. Justin frowns at him, eyes shrewd and calculating.

"I assume you can—"

"Of course I can." Bob lets Harry slide to the floor. "However, the question is whether that's the intelligent thing to do." He turns to face the double. "Of course I can spirit us all over there in an instant, but that takes a considerable amount of power, and I've just barely gotten a feel for this old body again. Plus it's going to take a great deal of my strength to do what needs to be done."

"So, what would you suggest?"

Bob narrows his eyes, lets the double see his impatience. "A car. Harry's not going anywhere, and Justin isn't either. A ten minute automobile ride certainly won't delay things that much."

"Fine." The double reaches for Harry, and Bob steps in-between. He doesn't want this creature touching Harry.

"I'll take him." Bob waves a hand, levitates Harry's body gently from the floor and pushes him into the air ahead of them. "Consider it a last service to the man that's given me orders for the last five years."

The doppelganger makes an "after you" gesture, and Bob, guiding Harry's body with one hand, leads them down the stairs and out to the garage.


There is no reason for them to be riding in a Mercedes-Benz car except for the fact that Bob loves the way the engine purrs, the smooth leather of the seats. He can see Justin's double glance at him sideways.

"I haven't been in such a car in a very long time," Bob says, feeling himself free to stroke the leather openly, "and never when I could actually feel it." The seats are softer than the leather of Harry's jacket, a butter colour instead of black, and they're beautiful. Bob's missed the way things feel.

"You'll get to feel a lot of things again soon, old friend," the double says, and Bob nods, closing his eyes. It would be so simple to give in, follow the old ways of taking what he wanted. He was one of the most powerful sorcerers that ever wielded a wand, and now he's reduced to being a sort of magical encyclopedia shelved inside a skull. It's tempting, so very tempting.

In the backseat of the car, Harry moans softly. Bob doesn't reach out for him.

"He'll be waking up soon," Bob says, and the doppelganger nods, pushes the car to go faster.


"Harry?" Bob taps not-too-gently against the side of Harry's face. "Harry." He lets his fingers linger briefly against Harry's cheek, a gesture the doppelganger likely won't see from across the room. He can't risk anything more, knows it's essential that Harry believe Bob's betrayed him, although he wishes it were an impossible thing, that Harry could never possibly believe it.

Except Bob is about to hurt him, drain his power and with it much of his strength, and Harry's never had a hard time believing the worst about people, especially in the face of painful truth. He was a boy used to dashed hopes and failed expectations, family that wasn't there for him. Harry had always known love was mostly an illusion made of air.

"Bob?" It's muffled through the gag in Harry's mouth, and Bob can see that for a moment Harry thinks everything's all right. If Bob's there, it must be. That much is plain on his face until the moment he remembers.

"Welcome back." The confusion returns, and Bob hopes Harry will understand when he says, "Things need to be done, and I'm the only one who can do them." Bob doesn't want to be here, doesn't want to hurt him, but he will—only because there's something greater at stake.

"I want you to know how hard I tried to avoid this situation." The double steps forward, and Harry looks at Bob for an explanation.

"Oh, that's not Justin. It's a copy, a powerless doppelganger charged with one task: bringing back your uncle." Bob tries to convey what that means, how terrible that would be for everyone concerned, not just the two of them.

"And to do that, I need Bob's talent for raising the dead."

Bob thinks of Winifred, of everything he gave up for her. He remembers the day Harry asked him if Bob could bring his parents back, and how Bob had to lie to him, tell him it just wasn't possible, that no one could do such a thing, even as he sat beside the boy and watched him cry into his hands. Bob wasn't even capable of putting an arm around him, although he did warm the air with a silent spell, making it into a circle around the two of them, and he thought maybe Harry felt it and knew it was the best he could do.

"And your power."

Harry's always been a quick study, and it's clear in his eyes that he can see the bigger picture, what's about to happen. He's shaking his head in disbelief, still looking for the trapdoor, the sleight of hand in the illusion, and Bob wishes he could tell him that everything will be all right.

"It's time to turn off your lights," the double says with the same kind of authority that Justin Morningway always carried in his voice.

Bob leans a little closer, choosing his words wisely. "And it's time for me to move on. I'd like to say it's been fun, but honestly it's been hell." If this fails, if somehow he should find himself dead for all time, he wants Harry to remember his words. Maybe someday he'll realize that Bob means this past day, the time he's been corporeal again, and not the years spent with Harry. Never those.


The doppelganger tosses Bob the hockey stick, which he catches with a young man's ease. He's going to miss this strength, the weight of a staff in his hand.

"Draw his power. Let's get this done." The double seats himself to watch the show, and Bob feels the power gathering around him.

"I'm sorry it took this turn." Bob braces himself, considers the words to compel Harry's power from his body into the conduit of the staff and then into Justin's dead body. The air crackles with energy, lightning flicking at his skin, and he can feel the hair standing on his arms, the head-long rush of power moving through him, past him, and into Justin's corpse. He ignores the sound of Harry screaming; it won't help him now.

In a moment it's done, the air sharp with ozone, and Justin cracks his neck and stretches. He looks remarkably good for a dead man.

"How long have I been gone?"

"Five years." Bob tries to look happy at seeing this man. He must be careful now lest he give it all away. He takes the hand Justin reaches out to him—still cold as the grave—and helps him from the coffin. "Welcome back."

"There was no other way?" Justin glances at his double for confirmation. He already knows Bob would never have done this if there'd been any other way.

"No. He killed you once, he would do it again."

Bob watches Justin strip the doppelganger of his glasses, the cane that doubles as a staff. "Harry's not going to last much longer. It was his life-force that brought you back."

"You brought me back, old friend."

Bob smiles at the compliment, feels the weight of that responsibility on his shoulders. Yes, he's the one that made this possible, and if he can't make it right, that too will be his responsibility. "Well, you can pick up right where you left off."

"With you to help me." Justin lays a hand heavily on Bob's shoulder, and he closes his eyes, smiles. He tries to remember how he would've felt about such a touch years ago, before he'd known exactly the kind of man Justin was, the plans he had for Harry.

Justin goes to stand beside Harry, assessing him as one might a horse he intended to purchase. "How's he been?"

"Tortured. Your murder weighs heavily on him." It's nothing but the truth, and Bob knows that's the difference between Justin and Harry. Murder is nothing but a means to an end, no matter how he might justify it.

"Yes, well, his death will be a burden that I'll have to bear. There are things that must be done. He will never join me in that. It is a new day."

He gives a casual tilt of his head, and the double takes his place inside the coffin, as if death is an everyday matter. Within seconds, the doppelganger has expelled his last breath, skin purpling with the tones of the dead, the decay that not even the best embalmer can prevent. The morgue smells of antiseptic and old death.

Justin leans over Harry. "I always considered you to be more than just my nephew, but in the end—and this is the end—you are a disgrace to your bloodline. Your mother—impetuous, starry-eyed, married beneath her. And your father, well, he was never one to see the bigger picture."

Justin struts across the room towards Bob, self-righteous confidence in every step. Bob knows he's not talking to him at all. He's nothing more than a tool to achieve an end, just as Harry would be, and Bobs knows Justin can't seen people as anything other than the sum of what they can do for him. He's almost a little sad for the man, even as he's ranting on.

"My only mistake is that I didn't kill him sooner, while you were still young enough to be salvaged." Justin lays a hand against Harry's face, and Bob tenses, stops himself from going to Harry even as he turns away from the touch of that cold hand. Bob tightens his grip on the hockey stick, centres himself for what he must do.

"I failed you," Justin continues, "and for that I'm truly sorry. Our world, Harry. It needs to change, it needs to grow. I wish you could see what it was going to become, what I'm going to make of it."

Bob twirls the hockey stick with certainty. It's been a long time since he's done battle with magic, and perhaps it's ungentlemanly to attack a man from behind when he's just risen from the grave, but really, Bob can't bring himself to care. "Change of plans."

Bob pushes all the power inside of him through the staff and into Justin's body. He knows the energy that was Harry's will escape first, rush back into its home without a thought, and after that, it's all Bob. Life-force that can be used to destroy as well as revive, and he feels his blood vessels start to burst with the strain that it takes to send a man back to the dead.

"Bob, let go! Bob, let go." Harry's yelling at him across the room, fumbling with loose ties that were never really meant to do anything other than keep him from casting.

Bob holds on a moment longer, just until he's sure Justin is well and truly dead this time, until his body disappears in a burst of energy and light. Bob drops the staff, legs dropping out from under him, useless as Justin's cane. Harry's arms catch him as they both tumble to the floor.

"Bob! Bob!"

Bob can feel Harry there with him, solid and warm. Alive. Harry gathers him into his arms, holds him off the chill floor of the morgue.

Bob opens his eyes. "Is that—is that bastard gone?"

Harry's nodding at him, anger and regret filling his eyes. "Yeah, he's gone. I thought you'd just … turned on me."

It was what Bob had wanted him to think, needed him to think, but it's important for Harry to know the truth. "I would never betray you, Harry."

He laughs; they both do, and Bob reaches a hand up to Harry's shoulder and grasps him there. It's something he'd wanted to do so many times when Harry was a child, the sign of a job well done. He's loved this boy a long time—his student, and later, his friend. He doesn't even mind the thought of giving up this life for him, this body that is as foreign to him now as the touch of a hand in his hair. "I had to come this far in order to keep him dead, him and his double. Otherwise, he'd just keep coming back."

"It's okay, Bob, it's okay, you're going to be okay," Harry murmurs, trying to sound convincing, and his hand is stroking through Bob's white hair. He keeps repeating it, as if it might make a difference, and Bob looks kindly at Harry who wears his heart on his face. He's a dear sweet boy. Bob tries to memorize every detail of this, the weight of Harry's hand, the solid feel of his arms. "Please."

"If by okay you mean dead, then yes," Bob says, not with any regret, and he can feel the magic working in him again, the vestiges of the old curse. He closes his eyes and prepares for the transformation from flesh to spirit.

"Bob. Please don't die on me, Bob. Don't, Bob," Harry whispers, tearful, and Bob squeezes Harry one last time, tries to make it mean everything he's wanted to say to the boy who grew up to be a wizard.

Then there's darkness, a moment when he is neither of earth nor air, and in that fragment of time he can hear Harry breaking. He's lost so many people in his life, seen so much death, and for once, Bob's grateful for the curse that's going to keep him with Harry always.

Harry's kneeling over empty space on the floor of the morgue, one hand going to his damp eyes, and Bob knows it's futile to walk across and put his arms around him. He's nothing more than air now, and he doesn't want to be reminded of what he's given up. Not yet.

Harry looks up at him, not comprehending.

"That is really touching," Bob says, and he means it. He'd never imagined Harry would grieve for him, even if it was only a moment, and the boy should've known that a curse isn't broken that easily.

"Bob, that's not fair. You know—"

Bob cuts him off. He knows Harry doesn't respond logically to death. Most people don't, and he shouldn't find it comforting that Harry feels this way about him, but he does, and if nothing else he can ensure that there's one person Harry never has to see die.

"Once cursed, always cursed." Bob passes his hand through the skull. "My soul forever ensnared, forbidden to move on."

"Well, I guess I can live with that." Harry's still blinking awkwardly, trying to cover his tears with laughter, and Bob smiles at him affectionately.

"Yes, I thought you might."

Harry nods and makes a grab for his hockey stick, tucks Bob's skull under his other arm. Head down, he steps towards the door. Bob pauses for a moment, then pulls a small measure of power from inside and warms the air around them, wafting the breeze towards Harry. He knows when Harry feels it, sees it in the over-the-shoulder grin Harry flashes him.

"I'm glad you're here," Harry says, as they move through the silent corridors and out towards the car. "Thanks for not, you know—" Leaving me alone, Harry doesn't say, but it's obvious in his tone.

"You're welcome."

Harry stops in front of the midnight-blue Mercedes and raises an eyebrow.

"What? You would've preferred we'd stuffed you in the back of your Jeep, legs hanging out the side?" Bob asks. "You know, there's nothing wrong with appreciating the finer things in life, Harry."

"It's going back." Harry settles Bob's skull on the front seat and tosses the hockey stick in the back. Bob floats into the front and takes a sitting position, although really it would make more sense for Bob to climb back into his skull for the ride, but he doesn't feel like being confined just yet. "The car's not ours."

"Well, technically," Bob begins, but he knows that argument won't work with Harry. It doesn't matter that Harry inherited it all—he'll never feel that Justin's things are his, especially now. The only reason he hasn't gotten rid of the house is because it was also his mother's, and Bob knows what it's like to want to hang on to a part of someone, no matter how far removed from them it really is.

"Bob." Harry turns the key and the engine purrs to life. Bob remembers what the vibrations felt like, the way the seats were smooth under his fingers; it will have to be enough. "Bob, the car goes back."

"Yes, yes, alright, the car goes back," Bob concedes with a sigh. It's not like he could drive it anyway.

Harry manoeuvres the car out of the lot behind the morgue and onto the silent street. After a moment he looks over, and asks: "So, what was it like being alive again?"

Bob doesn't know if Harry is aware of how easily he could've betrayed him, how wonderful it felt to be able to touch and breath and experience life fully again if only for a matter of hours. He could've tasted chocolate and honey, could've dressed in silk and leather, run his fingers through a woman's hair. He could've lived … but only if Harry had died, and so the answer was easy, much easier than betrayal would've been.

"It was hell, Harry," Bob says, grinning. "Let's not do that ever again."

"Deal," Harry says, and reaches a hand across to pat Bob's skull. "You've got a deal, my friend."


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