Spoilers for the short story “Bigfoot on Campus,” which appears in the Brief Cases anthology. Set between Skin Game and Peace Talks, but doesn’t require knowledge of either.
by Jim Butcher
I was partway through my read-through of Much Ado About Nothing, which can only be read out loud, standing, moving around the room and playing the different parts in a one-man production.
Guys, come on. It’s Shakespeare. It needs to be understood in its original context, and an over-seven-foot guy spouting Hero’s lines in an awkward falsetto is historically accurate, probably, though I always preferred Benedic and Beatrice’s scenes. I was just getting to the masked ball when the front door opened, and Connie’s excited voice called out, “Irwin!”
I lowered the finger I’d been holding across my mouth to simulate the Prince’s moustache, nudged the coffee table a little bit aside with one foot, set the book down, and turned in time to receive Connie’s hug. She leapt from about six feet out, and I caught her so that she could wrap her arms and legs around me. She smelled like sunshine and freshly cut grass, and she was all lightly tanned limbs and breathless excitement as she kissed me.
The kiss got way too serious in about five seconds, which suited me just fine, but she broke it off, pressing her hands against my chest, laughing as I held her effortlessly off the ground.
My dad’s a Bigfoot. I could have held her there all day. And she was a vampire of the White Court. I could have kissed her all day, too. It had been the largest obstacle to our mutual academic careers, though honestly I’m not sure we spent many more hours a day at it than most of our fellow college students.
“Look, look, look!” she said, waving a half-crumpled piece of paper in my face.
“Okay, hang on,” I said, laughing. I shifted her about so that I was holding her with one hand and took the page from her. I scanned it quickly. “Holy moly! You got the job!”
“Gym teacher, I know,” she said, “but it’s St. Mark’s Academy for the Gifted and Talented! In Chicago! We’d be near your mom when she’s not in the field!”
I blinked at the paper. “It pays how much?”
“The preternatural community sends its kids there,” Connie told me.
I looked at her sharply.
She swatted my chest lightly with one hand, smiling. “Don’t be like that. Not everything supernatural is violence and power struggles. Mostly it’s just business. And the school is run by the Venatori Umbrorum — it’s neutral territory, they’re even applying for that status under the Accords.”
“You’d be close to the White Queen,” I noted.
“She’s not the Queen of the White Court,” Connie said primly.
I snorted. “Please.” I frowned. “I thought we agreed to avoid our family issues.”
“And this is the way to do it,” she said. “We can bail out of practically anything by claiming the need to maintain our neutrality for our jobs.”
“Our jobs,” I noted, calmly. “Plural. That’s interesting.”
Connie seized two handfuls of my shirt, wriggling in excitement. “They have an opening for an interim English professor.”
“Well, just a few more years, then, and I’ll be qualified…”
“They said they were willing to take you on until you could finish your thesis and get your PhD,” she bubbled. “It would only be at eighty percent pay until you got it, but they’ll match funds for your tuition. Irwin, it’s perfect!”
I blinked a few times. I had enjoyed life at the University of Oklahoma. Ever since my father’s people and her father’s people had backed off, life had been pretty good. I’d attended St. Mark’s myself, as a child. Except for a couple of little incidents, it had been a good place for me in the long run.
But since I’d come into my genetic inheritance, learning the full strength and power of my father’s people, I hadn’t been back into a crowded city. Norman was difficult enough at times. I wasn’t sure how well I would handle a big city.
Connie studied the doubt on my face with a small, concerned frown, and waited. Connie was good about that. I liked to think my reactions through, mostly, before I decided to have them.
“This is coming at me really fast,” I said.
“I know,” she said seriously. “But this gives us everything we’re looking for. There’s so many excellent programs you could get your PhD in, and you know you’ll get more respect for it if you’ve studied on multiple campuses.”
“I like Norman,” I objected, but I wasn’t really arguing.
“But think about it,” she said. “I get to be in Lara’s territory, not my father’s, and she’ll leave us alone. We have an excellent excuse to avoid our families’ problems. We’re provided with our own apartment in Accorded Neutral Territory.” She bit her lip. “And Irwin, the money. We can start our family whenever we want.”
My heart beat a little faster at the thought.
“We don’t even know if we can yet,” I said slowly.
She looked down shyly and then back up at me, her smile hesitant, her green eyes flecked with little glittery sparks of silver.
“I have faith,” she said, and winked. “We can always spend more time practicing.”
“There’s a lot to think about,” I said. My voiced sounded rougher to me.
“I know. You have to think it all the way through,” she said. Her hips shifted a little, and her voice became a little breathy. “Why don’t you start that process?” Something molten and delicious came into her voice. “Maybe we can figure out something to do while you think it over.”
As it always did, her voice called to the Wild inside of me.
And the Wild answered.
We lay in the dark of the living room hours later. The furniture had been laid in disarray. I wasn’t sure where all our clothing was. I think I’d torn some of it again. It was difficult to keep my strength entirely in check once Connie got me going. She’d fed on me intensely, and it was one of the only times in my life I could feel pleasantly tired, my thoughts slowed to a relaxed, comfortable pace. I was stretched out on my back on the floor, with her snuggled up along my body beneath one arm.
“It’s almost a shame that we’ve got a relationship,” she said, her voice thick, almost furry with sleepy satisfaction. “The sex is epic enough to belong to itself.”
I hugged her a little closer, and felt her tighten her hold on me in response. “Almost,” I said.
She lifted her head and looked at me. “Is it weird for you? That I don’t… you know. Get burned? When you touch me?”
“Why would it be weird?” I asked.
“You know. The whole love thing.”
I frowned. “Well. I’m not human. And neither are you. Not all the way.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Maybe we work different,” I said. “Maybe the part of me that you feed on isn’t the human part.”
She shivered and made a pleased sound while gnawing gently on one of my ribs. “Yummy.”
We lay quietly for a while. “I’ve thought it over,” I said.
She sat up. I could see her face in the darkness, just as well as she could see mine. “Seriously? That was quicker than I expected.”
“I’ve been thinking about it in general terms for a while,” I said. “And I have a condition.”
She stared at me, her expression uncertain.
I reached over to a crookedly-set end table, opened the drawer, and drew out a small box.
I hadn’t been able to afford much of a ring. But the silver band was polished bright and the little diamond was of excellent quality.
“Pounder,” she breathed. Her eyes glittered in the darkness. “Oh. My. God. My father would be furious.”
“He’s always upset about something,” I said easily. “Connie. I want to share my life with you.”
“My people don’t do marriage,” she breathed. “Not unless it’s some kind of political thing. I might, I don’t know, burst into flame or something.”
I snorted. “I figured you and me would make our own rules.”
Her voice became very soft. “Yeah?”
“Hell yeah,” I said quietly. “Connie Barrowill.”
Her breath caught.
“Will you please become my wife?” I asked her. My own voice was unsteady as I did.
She let out a bubbling giggle and threw herself atop me. Her kiss sent starlight flooding through my nerve endings, and everything that wasn’t Connie vanished from my world for a while.
By the time we were quiet again, dawn had begun to lighten the sky outside our little rental house’s windows.
We were both still panting. I had to clear my throat to be able to speak. “So, you’re not sure…”
She let out a wicked, sated, exhausted little laugh. “Yes, Pounder. Empty night, I’ll marry you. You lunatic.”
“Thank you,” I said, and kissed her forehead. “I’ll call St. Mark’s in the morning. I wonder if Dr. Fabio remembers me.”
She bumped her head against my shoulder. “You’re kind of a memorable guy.”
I made a pleased sound deep in my chest. “Then I guess I’ll be an English teacher for a while. Sleep or food?”
“Food,” she said. She leaned over and kissed me again, and I felt the swirling vortex of our mutual desire pulling at it again. She broke off the kiss with a little sound of disappointment and kissed the end of my nose. “You nap. I’ll cook. Then we’ll both slee–” she broke off giggling. “Who are we kidding. Then we’ll both go to bed. And sleep at some point.”
Then she rose and slipped away, and I watched her. I loved to simply watch her move. She went into the kitchen and started clanking around happily, energized as always after our lovemaking. I stretched out a little and closed my eyes.
So we were going to Chicago.
And if the chance came to pay back a certain wizard to whom both of us owed our lives, well.
That would be all right, too.