Title: Home Sweet Home
Book or TV: Book
Spoiler: Through White Night
Disclaimer: Jim Butcher owns The Dresden Files and I am only a humble imitator.
Summary: Dresden returns to Chicago after spending months on the front line of the war with the vampires and finds many things have changed, including Murphy.
Author's Note: This isn't the fic I mentioned in It's Not A Date, but the plot bunnies started to nibble at my heels. Oh the horror!
There are parts Hell more sanitary than a toilet of an intercity bus.
The motor coach slowed to a halt on the final bus stop of my trip. There was a high-pitched sound of breaks and a squeak as the only door opened. A crowd of people, each irritable from the long trip, managed a single file without running over each other, but I growled in annoyance as someone prodded me forward.
My limbs burned and my back ached as I limped my way off the bus. My wizard's staff serving as a makeshift, if somewhat out of the ordinary, walking stick.
The tiny fan pointed toward the driver released the smell of burned plastic and wiring and the bus driver gave me a look as if it were my fault, which it was.
"Sorry," I mumbled as I stepped down off the bus into open Chicago air.
It was a clear sunny day and the sky was blue with only a few fluffy clouds floating above. The smell of the city for all its good and bad qualities smelled like flowers compared to some of the foul things I had smelled in the bad parts of the Nevernever. That was partly the reason why I took a cross-country trip on the bus instead of the White Council's offer of a short path back through the spirit world.
I had seen more of the Nevernever lately than I ever wanted to.
"Home Sweet Home," I said as I hobbled away from the bus.
Some people gave me a few odd looks, but most of them ignored me. The way you might ignore a homeless person on the sidewalk. Keeping your eyes forward and only looked at them in the corner of your eyes. I decided I must have looked really bad for that sort of treatment and wondered if I should have checked my reflection in the bus's side view mirrors, but I already knew what I would see.
I had a beard with about three months worth of growth and it wasn't even well groomed beard. Instead, it went in all directions like a bush. My hair wasn't much better, only oily from running my sweaty palms through it. A jungle green duffel bag was slung over a shoulder and I wore a borrowed olive green jacket.
I looked like a war weary ex-soldier coming home.
And I guess I was after spending three months on the front lines in the war against the Red Court of vampires. A war normal people didn't know about.
But I only had one thing in mind. Go home, clean up, and surround myself with my family, friends, and pets. Well I guess that's really three things.
I gingerly made my way down the steps to my apartment. The cab ride was heavenly compared to that sardine can of a bus, but my leg still ached.
After reaching the steel security door, I stretched out my wizard sense to feel for the wards that had placed over it, but it felt like I was grabbing at thin air.
The wards were gone.
Barring someone hadn't removed them or destroyed them, the wards wouldn't have just faded away. They should still be here, but they weren't. I felt a sliver of fear. Fear for Molly, fear for Murphy, and even fear for Bob. If something went down in Chicago and I wasn't here to stop it—
No, I couldn't think that. I had refused to think that for three months.
I checked the door for the usual signs of damage: marks from demon claws, dents from zombie fists, or just plain old damage from a badass warlock. Yet, there was nothing. In fact, the door looked almost brand new.
My key slid into the keyhole easy enough, but I felt resistance when I turned and the door remained locked. I examined the key, as if it had somehow betrayed me, but it looked the same as it always had.
I slid the key back into the lock, as if I would get a different result.
But this time the door opened.
Hey, maybe trying something over and over wasn't insane after all.
"Who the hell are you?"
A short balding man who resembled a beach ball with legs opened the door further and looked at me up and down with an angry expression.
"I the hell am Harry," I answered. "Now its your turn, who the hell are you?"
"I don't have to answer that. Whatever you're selling, I ain't buying."
He tried to shut the door on me, but I caught with a hand and muscled my way further inside. "This is my apartment," I growled.
"The hell it is!" he yelled has he struggled to keep me out, but I pushed harder and slipped into my apartment.
Yet, it wasn't what I remembered.
It was brighter for one thing and I looked up to notice that the light bulbs that I never used were on. The candles, the tapestries, and even the second hand couches were gone. In their place was furniture newer than I could ever afford and electronics that looked they would explode if I looked at them cross-eyed.
"What the hell did you do to my apartment?"
"Hey, you can't come in here!"
I pushed him aside and moved some carpeting off the hinged door that went down to the subbasement where I kept my lab, but the door was gone and in its place was a clean square of cement. "What happened to the subbasement?"
"That hole in the ground?" he mocked. "The landlord filled it in with concrete. Now get the hell out of here you freak before I call the cops!"
My whole world felt askew.
"I'll do it for you," I told him as I picked up a fancy phone and called Murphy's number. The phone rang a few times before it her voice mail picked it up.
"This is Sergeant Karrin Murphy, Special Investigations, I'm not..."
I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of her voice. It was typical work tone: cool, brisk, and business-like, but I still missed it.
The phone beeped, but I was speechless and decided to hang up.
My home invader left, no doubt to call the police, and I paced around the apartment a little, finally noticing the tingling sensation of a very weak threshold. The man was a bachelor like me, but he had lived here long enough for the metaphysical rules of the universe to decide that I was the uninvited guest.
It didn't feel like home anymore.
After several minutes of running the possibilities through my head, I dialed again and winced as it released a crackle as the fancy modern phone began to die on me. "This is Sergeant Karrin Murphy, Special Investigations, I'm not..."
After beep, I left a message I quickly prepared in my head. "Hi Murphy. It's Harry—," I paused and chuckled "Well obviously, ah, well I just got back home and there's someone else living here. Do you know anything about that?"
The phone let out a painful squeal in my ear and I dropped it. I looked around some more for several minutes, hoping to find some small part of my life still around, something I could take with me, but I found nothing.
I reluctantly picked up my staff and duffel bag again and proceeded to walk out. If the beach ball man returned with cops, it couldn't do me any good to stay. The way I looked, they would probably think I was a ranting and raving street corner madman with an expired end of the world sign, not an occasional police consultant who had returned from outside the country to find his home gone.
If I stayed, I could end up in jail.
So I left and feeling depressed, I only knew of one other place to go.
At least McAnally's hadn't changed.
I halfway expected my old, favorite den to have transformed with gaudy lights and blaring music of a teenager rave or gay bar with a leather dress code.
Fortunately for me, it was the same old McAnally's with the same old Mac behind the bar. A few heads lifted up as I stepped inside, but they didn't seem to recognize me due to my disheveled appearance or they just didn't care.
"Mac," I greeted as I took a seat at one of the stools. I carefully set my duffel bag down on the floor and rested my staff up against the bar.
In the past, he never said much, but he was never speechless. Yet, I had the feeling he was now as he looked at me with his squinty eyes wide open.
"Dresden. Aren't you supposed to be dead?"
I stared at him with eyes just as wide, but the rational part of me realized that it explained why the beach ball man was living in my apartment.
"Mac, I am one hundred percent alive and the status of mortality has never changed," I told him carefully. "Although, I admit, there were a few times that came close to changing. Luckily for me, I survived." Others hadn't, I thought grimly.
"Ungh," he said. His gaze moved to my beard.
"I've been on the front line for three months."
He sniffed and grunted again.
"I've been stuck on a cross-country bus with hot, stinky people."
He nodded and seemed satisfied with my answers.
"I'll have an ale, steak, and – hell, I'll live dangerously – some fries too."
He opened a bottle of his ale, poured it warm into a glass mug, and then turned toward the stove as he started to work on the food. The smell of wood smoke and charred beef drifted up and made my stomach rumble in anticipation.
I kept myself busy with a used newspaper and scanned the pages. "Vampire...troll...fairy," I started naming off the causes of each of the latest crimes, even though no one in their right mind would have named them in the articles. "Special Investigations must be keeping pretty busy. I couldn't get a hold of Murphy earlier on phone. Although, if I'm dead..." An icy shiver of fear hit my gut.
"Hey Mac," I said carefully. "Does everyone think I'm dead?"
"Was there a funeral?"
He nodded again.
Hell's holy stars and freaking stone shit bells.
I put down the paper and stared at the ale. I was feeling too much all at once, almost too much to hold down. Anger. Confusion. Fear. Pain.
They had a funeral for me. I imagined everyone I was close to being there, dressed in black, mourning, and crying. It was small group: Michael, Charity, Molly, Billy and the werewolves, Thomas, Ebenezar, and even Carlos.
Imagining Murphy mourning for me hurt the most because I thought, perhaps, she would take it the hardest. Michael had his family, Molly had her youth ahead of her, and Billy and Georgia had each other, but Murphy was different.
Our working relationship had more trust built into than most marriages and our friendship had almost as much intimacy as well. Heck, our friendship had lasted longer than both of her marriages had and Murphy never once abandoned me.
"Damn!" I slammed a fist down on the bar. The hard age old wood didn't give a bit and I felt pain in my hand, a calming pain that replaced the quick anger. "I bet the Merlin announced it. He sent me off to the front lines to begin with. I bet he was just itching to get me killed."
I was silent for a while, but felt the need to talk.
"Last month, maybe, that was it. Morgan and me were cut off and had to travel through a nasty part of the Nevernever. Damn, if you told me ten years ago that I'd be glad to see Morgan's ugly mug, I would have punched you."
Mac chuckled as he dropped a plate with a juicy steak and fresh fries right in front of me. I hungrily tore into the steak with a knife and fork.
"Heavenly," I said with my mouth half full. Maybe it was the fact that I lived off fast food for the last few days and field rations for the last few months, but Mac's steak was delicious. The good food lifted up my soured mood.
Mac moved away as a couple of local practitioners went up to the bar to pay their bill as another group came in. I really didn't keep track of the figures moving across the corner of my eyes. My mind was still filled with images of my funeral.
I even knew what my gravestone said: HE DIED DOING THE RIGHT THING.
The doors opened again and short and stocky silhouette appeared in the corner of my eye, eclipsing a midday ray of sunlight, but I paid it no attention. I finished a half eaten French fry and washed it down the ale.
Mac's looked at me and nodded toward the door. "Dresden."
I turned around on the stool and my eyes focused on the figure bathed in golden sunlight. The person was five foot nothing and had a gymnast's build with feminine curves. The sunshine made her blonde hair glow like a golden coronet.
"Murphy?" I said as I stood up.
She stepped out of the sunlight and into the darkness of the pub, where I got a better look at her. She wore work clothes, a pantsuit with her shoulder rig underneath, and her hair was little wind blown. Her large, baby blue eyes locked onto me, shiny from the beginnings of tears, and she was pale as if she had seen a ghost. I guess I was that ghost. After all, dead men don't leave voice messages.
"Harry?" she asked me, her voice shaking a little.
"Hiya, Murphy. It's really me."
She ran toward me and I expected her to go for a hug, but she jumped and wrapped her arms around my neck in a vice-like grip and her legs around my waist. The movement was so sudden, I had to grab her to keep my balance, and I touched parts of her that the Murphy from ten years ago would have beaten me to death for touching, but the Murphy of today didn't seem to care as I held her.
She didn't say anything for a long time, but the pub was silent and I could hear the ragged sound of her breathing and the sound of her sniffing. I caressed her back with a free hand. "Hey, how you doing Murph? Miss me?"
Her head nodded and I felt the softness of her cheek against mine.
"You smell like a horse."
Now I finally felt at home.