Title: No Place Like Home
Book or TV: Book
Spoiler: Through White Night
Disclaimer: Jim Butcher owns The Dresden Files and I am only a humble imitator.
Summary: Sequel to Home Sweet Home. After returning from the war with the vampires, Dresden discovers he had been pronounced dead! With his possessions missing and his home gone, he discovers home is wherever Murphy is.
Author's Note: Enjoy the fluff, because my next story will be a little bit darker.
I was dead.
Oh, not in the physical or even the metaphysical sense, blood still flowed through my veins, neurons were still firing in my brain, and my soul ached at the thought that my closest friends had actually mourned for me.
I was only declared dead.
It made a big difference because dead men don't leave voice mail, storm into their former apartment, or go to the local pub for a nice juicy steak and mug of ale.
Well, I suppose the undead could, but I wasn't that either.
Murphy released her death grip around my neck and I gently lowered her back to the ground. She wiped her eyes with her jacket sleeves and sniffed loudly before taking a step away from me and looking at me up and down.
"You smell like a horse," she told me again in a soft voice that trembled with emotion. "And your beard looks like you super glued road kill to your face."
I smiled, "Well that just proves I'm alive. The dead have an entirely different horrible smell and the undead have far better fashion sense."
She smiled and chuckle softly. Her eyes moved away from me and noticed my half-eaten plate of food on the bar. "You're steak is getting cold."
"Oh, that's okay," I said as I glanced at it. Mac's wonderful meal was already forgotten. The hunger I felt know wasn't one satisfied by food.
"No, go ahead," she told me as she took the stool next to mine.
"Do you want something?" I asked as I followed her. "Food? Ale?"
"N-No," she said, but I saw her eyes linger on my half-full glass mug of ale.
"Then while I eat, why don't you fill me in."
She nodded and watched me. Her baby blue eyes seemed very large in that moment, heavy, weary, and more vulnerable than I had seen her before, except perhaps after the death of her first husband. It was a sobering thought.
On some level, I could shrug off the news that I was dead pretty well, because I knew for a fact that I wasn't and never have been. Except for the inconvenience of my things being relocated and my apartment rented out to another person, the selfish side of me wasn't really harmed by the misinformation.
It was a different story for Murphy. She had lived that entire time thinking, knowing, that I was dead. Whatever space I filled within her heart, that piece of me had suddenly gone missing with no goodbyes, leaving a horrible hollow feeling that she had to live with day in and day out. Emotional pain that left a terrible wound.
She told me what happened a month ago. It was clearly painful for her, but she seemed to take some measure of comfort in watching eat and breathe. As if to reassure herself that I was alive and that the past month was merely a nightmare.
The story was pretty much as I expected.
The White Council announced I was dead even though they had no body. Instead, they told everyone to rely on their wizardly wisdom that told them no one could have survived. With no other possibilities, therefore I was dead. They had a funeral, every one cried, and all of my belongings were divided up.
Near the end, I was angrily stabbing the last of my steak with my fork.
"Wait. What about Molly? The Doom of Damocles—"
"Safe," Murphy said as she put a hand on my arm in a reassuring gesture. "Ebenezar took responsibility over her."
"She's on the farm?"
"Not yet. Not until the war front dies down a little."
"I bet she's loving the thought of moving to a farm in Missouri."
We both shared a weak smile at that thought. "Pretty much. For now she has homework and has to read the books he sends her through the mail."
"A wizard correspondence course?"
"Yeah, lets hope it goes better than your Latin."
We both shared a smile again, but this time it wasn't as weak.
Murphy reached up and ran her fingertips through my beard.
"Your beard really does look horrible Harry."
"No barbers," I explained. "Its hard to self-groom without a mirror."
"What about magic?"
"Given how magic brooms worked for Mickey Mouse, I didn't want to take a chance with magic razors," I joked and received a light kick for my effort.
I pulled out some cash, laid it on the bar for Mac, and picked up my staff and duffle bag. "I guess I should rescue my apprentice from a dreary life on a farm."
"Not like that," she told me as she stood up too. "You'll scare Michael's kids."
Behind the bar, Mac chuckled.
"So what do you suggest?" I asked her. "If you remember, at the moment I don't have a place to cleanup in, much less to sleep in."
"Oh, well, I think I know of a place."
I fell asleep in Murphy's car almost as soon as I sat down on the passenger seat. I hadn't realized how exhausted I was or how tightly wound up I had been on the long bus trip home. My war weary mind had expected a Red to jump out any minute or the person sitting next to me to be a ghoul in disguise. Not to mention the place stank from cramming in dozens of hot and sweaty human beings.
In contrast, Murphy's car was clean, cool, and safe.
My forehead rested against the glass and my mind started to wander.
Images flash through my head of the last three months. The things that I had stopped, the things that I had done, and the things that I had Seen (those unforgettable views with my Sight). I still had nightmares of a forgotten god with a single malevolent giant eye and a thousand tongues wagging impishly at me.
"Harry, wake up."
I blinked my eyes and straightened my aching neck. Murphy had a hand on my chest, gently shaking me until I awoke. "Already?" I mumbled.
It took a few seconds for my eyes to readjust and for me to get my bearings, but I recognized the dinky little house that was more than a hundred years old.
"Your place?" I asked with surprise.
"Yeah," she said briskly. "You can take the guest bedroom. I mean, it's only temporary until you find another place, but for now..."
"Are you sure? You, me, a man and a woman, what will the neighbors think?"
Her cheeks turned pink. "Harry, we're both mature adults."
"I'll agree on the adult part."
"We aren't hormonal teenagers."
"I'll agree on the teenager part."
"And we decided a year ago that it wouldn't work between us."
"Depends on your definition of we."
"My point is," she said after giving me a stern look. "We can sleep under the same roof, but in separate beds, for a few nights without making this difficult."
"Are you sure about this? I mean, I'm sure Michael has a spare bedroom or I can always stay at Thomas's apartment. It's not like he doesn't owe me for giving him a home for a while."
Murphy looked at her house thoughtfully for a second, but shook her head no. "We can do this. We're friends and I want to do this."
I could tell it wasn't up to debate, so I got out of the car and grabbed my staff and duffel bag out of the back seat. I looked around as I did.
"I've been meaning to ask. What happened to Mister, Mouse, and Bob?"
"Michael took Mouse, since he's good with the kids."
"And since you've got dog issues."
"Big dog issues."
"I took Mister," she said as she walked up to the house. "But he just doesn't stay around a lot. I think he has a couple sweethearts in the neighborhood."
"The cat gets laid more often than me."
She chucked at that as she unlocked the door and walked inside.
"Come in Harry."
I was surprised. She had never given me permission before on the previous times I've visited, always deciding to error on the side of caution in case I turned out to be some Nevernever creature that only looked like me. I didn't mind. If leaving my power outside of the threshold was what it took to make her feel safe, then I would do it. She had already suffered because of a thing that looked like me.
I stepped through the door and felt the solid threshold part like a curtain.
Murphy's house was just as cute as I remembered it. If I didn't know better, I would have never expected that Chicago's toughest little detective lived here. Well perhaps the pair of swords sitting on the fireplace mantle would have clued me in.
"What about Bob?"
"Michael has him too, under lock and key. Ebenezar advised him to hold onto Bob and most of your magic stuff until Molly was ready."
"Good, although I can't imagine Bob staying quiet."
"I think Michael bribes him with romance novels."
The mental picture of a wholesome Knight of the Cross bribing a spirit of air and intellect with steamy romance novels made me laugh.
"You need a shower first," she told me. "I don't know how much longer I can stand smelling you and I don't want the smell lingering in my house."
"Yes, Ma'am, but small problem," I said as I gestured to my duffel bag. "My spare clothes aren't in any better shape."
"Fine," she sighed. "I'll leave some clothes on the bed in the spare bedroom."
"I don't think you're my size."
She snorted. "They're men's clothes."
"Oh." I glanced away. The thought of Murphy dating still made me uncomfortable. Even more worse was how and why men were leaving their clothes at her house. I had a jealous little mental image of Murphy doing the pant removal.
An irrational caveman part of my brain thought those should be my pants.
"Nothing from Kincaid. I'd rather go naked in public."
"Please." She snorted. "Like I would really invite Kincaid to my house."
"Right, you enjoy the crazy sex, but you aren't stupid."
"Go take a shower, Harry. I recommend a cold one."
The shower left me feeling a lot a cleaner than I had been in three months, but my hair smelled of strawberries and sunlight due to Murphy's shampoo.
I added getting some manly toiletries to my mental list of things to do.
Before stepping out, I peaked out of the bathroom, but Murphy was nowhere in sight and I walked over to the guest bedroom wearing only a towel. I realize it was stupid, but I felt strange being naked in Murphy's house. It felt forbidden.
The bed was neatly made and on top of it were the clothes she had set out. They were also neatly folded, but smelled faintly of woodsmoke and charcoal.
They were my clothes.
Murphy had kept my clothes.
A broad smile worked up my face and I immediately started to think of ways to tease her unmercifully.
Murphy had kept my clothes.
But my smile faulted as I began to realize the sad implication. I was dead and Murphy had been hurting. She was holding on to the only thing she had left.
Perhaps it was only my imagination, but I thought I could see discolored spots on the flannel shirt. It was probably nothing, probably not her dried tears.
After putting on my clothes, I went to find Murphy.
I found her in the kitchen setting a basin filled with water on the kitchen table and laying out an old hair clipper, the kind that looked like scissors. The last time they were probably used was back in the old days when it was more common for mothers to trim their children's hair.
"I-I figure you would destroy anything electric at a barber shop and I really don't know how you normally get your hair cut, so I thought I try it myself."
The truth was there were places that found their own little niche by serving the magic using community, much like Mac did with his pub, but the idea of Murphy cutting my hair was interesting and I didn't want to pass it up.
She had me sit down at one of the kitchen chairs and she wrapped a towel around my neck, neatly tucking it below the beard. Her delicate little lady hands took one the clipper in one hand and a lock of my shaggy hair in the other. The clipper went snicker-snack and clumps of wet hair fell down my shoulders.
We didn't talk. Murphy bit her lower lip in concentration while I just sat there, enjoying the feeling of very warm, very gentle fingers touching me.
Murphy moved around me, I felt her body, an alluring mixture of whipcord and softness, press against my arm and shoulders as she continued her work.
When she was finished, I felt disappointed that the intimate moment ended.
"So," I said, a little uncomfortable with how much the closeness aroused me. "What about the beard. I checked the bathroom and only found your lady razors."
"I had an idea about that too," she said as she walked away. "Wait here."
When she came back, she had a small object in her hand made up of a handle made from carved wood and a blade hinged on the end through its tang.
"A straight razor?"
"It belonged to my Dad," she told me quietly as she held it carefully. "I've kept it all this time. It's still in good shape and it's still sharp."
"Do you know how to use it?"
"Of course." Murphy skillfully unfolded the blade out from underneath the handle with just a flip of her wrist and placed two fingers on each side of the handle to control the blade, but it looked more like a weapon in her hands.
"I mean to shave with, not to give me a Glasgow smile."
Murphy applied some shaving cream and went to work with the razor. She started with sides of my face and could feel the sharp blade scrap across my skin, but at least I could feel her soft fingers on my face once more. After each swipe, she washed the blade off in the basin filled with water, then made another swipe.
She moved her face close to mine, but kept her eyes focused on her task. It was hard to stare at her large baby blue eyes and risk a soulgaze, so instead I settled for focusing on her cute nose and her lips.
When she started with the hairs under my jaw line, I got a little nervous. Murphy kept her fingers on my chin to keep my head steady while the blade went up along my throat. To shave, the razor is kept almost flat against the skin, so there wasn't much risk of a deep incision across my arteries and veins, but there is an instinctual fear of anything sharp that close to a vital point.
But I trusted Murphy.
I trusted her not to purposely cut my throat. I even trusted her not to accidentally give me anything but the most minor of cuts, so I relaxed and the fear went away as I went back to enjoy this rare intimate moment.
Trust and intimacy.
Thomas was right.
"Oops. Did I say that aloud?"
"Yeah," she said as she straightened up and wiped her fingers dry with a hand towel. Then she repeated, "What was Thomas right about?"
I sighed, uncertain what trouble this would give me. "Thomas once told me next to sex, that washing and styling hair was as close to intimacy as you can get."
Murphy's cheeks blushed pink before she threw the towel at my face.