Title: Christmas Quartet: "Simple Gifts" (Part 1)
Characters: Harry, Murphy, Anna (Murphy's daughter) Spoilers: None.
Summary: Murphy makes a Christmas Eve visit to Harry.
"Behave yourself," I told my daughter, after rapping on Harry Dresden's door.
"I always behave myself," she replied, primly. "Even for the crazy wizard guy."
"He's not crazy," I said. "Exactly..."
Harry came into view and gave me a wave as he came to the door. Anna was sticking her tongue out at me, but it was quickly put away when the door opened and she replaced it with a gloriously innocent smile instead.
"Hey Murph," Harry greeted me, warmly. "Merry - " He caught sight of Anna. "...Christmas?"
"You too," I replied. "This is my daughter, Anna. Anna, this is Mr. Dresden."
"Nice to meet you," Harry said, offering his hand.
I could tell Anna liked that. A lot grown-ups treat kids like kids. It drove Anna crazy. She shook his hand firmly. "You too."
"C'min," he invited us, gesturing backwards. He rubbed his hand on his sweater, removing the water transferred from Anna's glove. "It's cold out there, yikes."
I pushed Anna ahead of me. Her eyes went this way and that, observing all the weird stuff Harry decorates his place with. The usual candles were everywhere, this time with a festive green and red motif. They let off a little heat which was nice. Harry closed the door behind us before the wind blew out any of the flames.
"You want some hot chocolate or something?" He asked. His eyes kept moving from one of us to the other, comparing. "I have some in the kitchen."
"We're just here for a minute," I declined. "We're about to hit the road."
"Yeah? Where ya headed?"
"It's a surprise," Anna said. "But I know it has a pool because I had to pack my swimsuit."
For some reason, in that perceptive way he has, Harry instantly understood that this was an extremely important detail. He looked suitably impressed. "Very cool."
"We go every year," I explained further. "Just the two of us."
I got Anna for Christmases in the custody settlement. I don't have family to go to and it seemed a shame to be holed up in my little, not very clean or well-stocked apartment. Anna didn't mind being in an hotel for the holiday (provided it had a pool, she swims like a fish) and was always excited about the surprise. She acts far too grown-up for her age (who does that remind me of?) and its one of the few times I see her go back to being a kid again.
"Well, you'll need hot chocolate for the road," Harry declared. He gave me a lopsided grin. "I have marshmallows."
"Well, if there's marshmallows," I agreed, with a smile of my own. I squeezed Anna's shoulder. "What do you say?"
She tilted her head back to look up at me. "It's cool."
"Perfect," Harry said.
It suddenly occurred to me, rather guiltily, that Harry didn't have any more family to spend Christmas with than I did. He didn't even have an Anna.
We got rid of our winter gear and followed Harry down the hall. He was moving slowly.
"How are you?" I asked, concerned.
The real reason I'd dropped by, aside from dropping off the present I had in the pocket of my jeans, was to check on him. He'd been shot in the back last week, with a bullet meant for me. He'd been home for a few days now and I wanted to make sure he was functional before I went somewhere he couldn't call me for help.
"I'm okay," he dismissed it.
He was such a liar. I could see a pillow and blanket on the couch, and a pile of clothes I'd grabbed from his room, telling me he hadn't been upstairs yet. When we arrived in the kitchen I saw the bottle of prescription painkillers he'd been given was half empty. I didn't press him, though. I wouldn't want him pressing me. I turned off my detective's eyes and pretended everything was fine.
"Whoa," Anna said.
She made a beeline to the skull sitting on the counter. I swear that skull moves every time I'm at his place and I honestly hope it's just because he dusts it regularly or something, because I really don't want it to be because he carries it everywhere with him.
"Is that real?" Anna demanded, poking at it.
"Anna," I warned.
"It's okay. It's real," Harry confirmed.
He stirred a pot that was already on the oven rimmer. It had a chocolaty smell coming from it. Figures he would make his hot chocolate from scratch. Maybe his kettle explodes if he uses a mix. I took a seat at the kitchen table.
"How old is it?" Anna wondered.
"Very," Harry answered.
"How come somebody wrote on it?"
"Dunno. Maybe they didn't like'm much."
"Whose is it?"
"Why do you have it, then?"
Harry gave me a look over his shoulder that clearly told me he thought she was just like me. I have to admit she has a real future as a police interrogator. I shrugged and he grinned a little.
"I got it from my uncle," he explained.
"He must have been weird," Anna decided.
"Anna," I said, again.
"He was nuts," Harry confirmed. "But I like the skull. It's got character, don't you think?"
Anna considered this for a second. "Yeah."
"Sit down, Sherlock," I told her, pointing to a chair.
She made a show of coming to join me. Harry was stifling laughter, I could tell even with his back turned to me. He gave me that look again, over his shoulder and I had the urge to smack him. Instead, I ended up laughing. He served the hot chocolate out in a set of mugs that didn't match and looked like they'd been picked up from the Salvation Army store. Anna's had Mickey Mouse on it, mine was from Florida and his might have said '#1 Grandma' if all the writing was still there.
Harry easily got Anna talking about school and karate lessons and our cups emptied quickly. He seemd to know just what questions to ask and what to be shocked by and what to be impressed by, without being patronizing about it. I was mostly silent, watching the two of them interact. Anna's mouth was going a mile a minute and Harry managed to keep up, most of the time with just a twitch of eyebrow or quirk of his lips. After about half an hour, he started to look worn-out and I knew it was time to leave him to rest and for us to hit the road. I rinsed out our cups in the sink for him while he walked Anna to the door, relating some tale involving a Christmas tree and an old tutor of his named Bob. I joined them a moment later.
"I brought you a present," I told him, feeling somewhat awkward. Anna's eyes watched as the present came from my pocket and changed hands with Harry. "I saw it in a shop, and I thought you'd like it." I didn't add that it was the 10th shop I'd looked in and was owned by a man who looked just like Gandalf the Grey.
"Thank you!" he said, turning it over in his hands. He looked thrilled. "I have a present for you, too, it's in the back. Hold on a sec."
He got up and left the room. Anna looked at me with suspicious eyes.
"Is he your boyfriend?" She demanded.
"Shh! No!" I hissed, quickly looking over to make sure Harry wasn't in hearing range. "He's just a friend."
"Does he not have electricity?" She gestured to the cluster of silver candles on the nearby table.
"Shh!" I laughed, swatting at her. "I can't take you anywhere."
"He makes good hot chocolate," she allowed.
I agreed and plopped her hat down on her head. Down the hall, I thought I heard whispering, but decided it was just the wind outside. It was heading towards a snow storm, and I silently hoped that we'd be out of the city before the worst of it hit.
"I didn't have time to wrap," Harry announced, as he entered. He handed me a wooden box and smiled one of those great sheepish smiles he has. "And, even if I had, it would probably look about that good."
"It's okay," I assured him. "Thank you."
"And, for you," he turned to Anna. He pulled something from his pocket. "Because every kid should have one of these, and Santa doesn't make'm."
"I'm too old to believe in Santa," Anna declared. She eyed whatever he was holding with great fascination.
Harry turned to give me a look that was wryly aghast, if that's even possible. "Murphy, what are you teaching this kid?" He shook his head and turned back to Anna, crouching in front of her. I thought that must be killing his back. "Chin down." Anna obediently lowered her head and he hung something around her neck. She lifted the pendant to stare cross-eyed at it.
"What is it?" She asked.
"It's amber," he explained. "And it'll keep you safe."
His hand closed over hers and something in there began to pulse with a bright golden light. Anna's eyes lit up like, well, like a child. There was utter delight on her face. It was beautiful.
"What did you do?" She whispered.
"Magic," he replied.
He removed his hand and the glow stopped, but Anna kept staring at the pendant. So did I. After a moment be both snapped out of it.
"Thank you, Mr. Dresden," she said, genuinely.
"You're very welcome," he replied. He leaned in and whispered something to her that I couldn't hear. She nodded, with a small smile. He straightened up again.
Anna opened the door and slipped out before I finished with the buttons on my jacket. She skipped a little in the falling snow and then jumped with both feet into a pile of it that had collected by Harry's door.
"You didn't have to do that," I told Harry, watching her little dance.
"I got a bunch in the back," he dismissed it. Another lie. "She's a good kid, Murphy."
"Yeah," I smiled. "She is."
"She has your mouth."
I glared at him. "Shut up, Dresden."
He laughed at me and I started laughing with him. Weird how that happens. I turned my gaze from his smile and looked up at the sky, judging the weather patterns. The clouds were broken up enough for me to just make out the North star sparkling through them. My eyes caught something in the doorway.
"Is that mistletoe?"
Harry blushed and gave me another sheepish smile. "It keeps the fairies away."
I shook my head. "Of course it does. Fairies are terrible this time of year."
He shrugged, his eyes twinkling in the light of the candles. Those of eyes of his make me nervous sometimes, but tonight they just looked content. I realized it wasn't a look a saw from him often.
"Drive safe," he said.
"I will," I promised. "Try to rest."
I glanced up at the mistletoe briefly and then stood on my tip toes to give him a gentle kiss on the lips. He was too surprised to kiss back, but it didn't matter. When I pulled back, he had the same look of delight on his face that Anna had when he made her necklace glow. Magic.
"Merry Christmas," I told him.
"Merry Christmas," he replied.
I left, closing the door behind me. The cold seemed more severe without the warmth of the candles. Anna skipped over to me and immediately made a kissing face at me. I scooped her up and threw her over my shoulder, carrying her back to the car as she giggled wildly.