A/N: Thanks to everyone who read and enjoyed this tale. I've gone back and made some edits, and to MasterPoe, thank you for the advice on the Jiang Shi. To everyone who pointed out Harry's flight history: Thank you. I hadn't actually finished Turn Coat when I started this story. Now I know better.
I woke up in my own apartment. On my own sofa. It felt like a dream. Soft, warm, comfy. Then the fight with Mr. Hai came flooding back. My eyes jumped open and I tried to sit up. "Easy, Harry," a wonderfully familiar voice said. A soft hand appeared on my shoulder, and gently pushed me down.
"Murph. Wha' happen? You were hurt." My mouth felt a little cottony.
She smiled, and lift the bottom of her loose-fitting shirt. She revealed a bandage, stretching side to side. "It's a bitch of a skiing injury, no? I won't be going back to Colorado any time soon. At least, that's what I'm going to tell everybody who asks. Can't even bend over properly."
"Huh. The image of you bending over makes me feel better."
Her cheeks flushed a bit, and she hit me. "You're a pig, Dresden. Who's obviously going to be just fine."
Murphy sobered. "She had a rough time of it. Tough kid. We were out in the open, Molly, me, all the prisoners. Ivy came through the hole in the rock. One of the vamps must've been maintaining it, because it vanished at some point. Kincaid carried you out. Then she just… opened a hole, in reality. Like you do."
"They took us through the Nevernever?"
"She must've known something you didn't. Big surprise there. We left all those people just outside Golden. The ones who still had their wits said they'd keep quiet. Then, we were back here. Whole trip couldn't have taken an hour. And only once we were back, and Butters was checking you and me out, did she start crying."
I closed my eyes and shook my head. The thought of Ivy crying made me angry. "She's so young," I murmured.
"Everyone's too young for what she went through," Murphy said. "She told us. She opened right up to Molly, like a sister. The rest of us just listened." Murph took a breath, then continued, anger in her voice. "He hurt her. He tore into her. Brutally. Took everything she knew, and just… twisted it away. Ripped it right out of her. Every means she had of defending herself… taken away."
"It was worse than last time, with the Denarians. It was rape. He hurt her, dominated her, left her helpless, and tried to break her… but he couldn't." I felt anger mix with pride.
She nodded. "She's going to need time to recover. Lots of it."
"But she will be okay. In time, she'll learn to deal." I felt the truth of the words as I said them. "Her innocence is gone, but she's got someone who loves her." I looked at Murphy. At Karrin.
She looked back at me for a second, then changed the subject. "Butters had to go to work. Molly's walking Mouse. Oh, and Ivy and Kincaid both left you notes." She handed them over.
Ivy's wasn't written in crayon this time. It was a single, folded piece of paper. Inside, it simply said, 'Thank you.' I smiled, a little.
Kincaid had left an envelope. I opened it up, and chuckled. "What?" Murphy asked.
I pulled the cheque out. "It's one tenth what I paid him to hit Mavra a couple years back." I laughed again, then cut myself short. That wasn't entirely true. "What Thomas paid him."
We fell silent for a moment. "Life is short, Murph." I sat up. My blanket fell down, revealing my chest. I checked under the blanket. "Please tell me Molly isn't the reason I'm naked."
She flushed again and wouldn't meet me eyes. "She's… not." She pointed to the coffee table, where some boxers, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt waited for me.
I couldn't help it. I smiled. "Murph?" My tone went from teasing to soft. "Karrin?"
She looked back at me, and sighed. Her eyes were a little hard to read. "I told you before a woman wants different things as she gets older." I shifted around to get my feet on the floor and face her. "My sister getting pregnant just kind of… emphasises that. They've been trying for a while. But here I am, refusing to be with anyone. I don't understand myself sometimes."
"Trying to go it alone can be… very difficult," I said.
"You're an idiot, you know."
I rolled my eyes. "I know. About what, this time?"
"Thomas. You can see it for everyone else, but not yourself."
"Love, Harry. You keep seeing it, and saying it, but you don't apply it to the most important relationship in your life. Your only family."
Hell's bells, she was right. "I can't appeal to his body, or his mind… but I can keep on his heart," I whispered to myself. She heard me anyway.
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"I can work on your heart, too, you know."
She coughed out a laugh. "I think we already covered you being an idiot."
"I'm serious, Karrin. If you're ready for a relationship, if we want the same things, I'm right - "
"You can't grow old with me, Harry."
There was a heavy silence for a moment. Technically, she was right. She didn't know about the loophole, though. "Yes, I can."
"Wizards live for centuries, Harry. I'll be dead and gone before you're even grey."
"I'll give it up," I said.
I looked her in the eye as long as I dared. "I'll give it up. The magic. The power. I'll let it go. It's like a muscle. If I don't use it, it'll atrophy. And after a few years, it'll be gone, and I'll be a plain, vanilla mortal."
She was quiet for a long time, staring at me. "You'd do that?"
I realised I'd already thought about it. "Yeah. For you. Not for anyone else." I put hand under her chin. There was a combination of fear and hope in her eyes. "Magic can't solve every problem, Karrin. A lot of wizards forget that."
"I'm already older than you, Harry."
I shrugged. "I'll catch up." Then I pulled her to me, and damned if she didn't kiss back.
This is it, I told myself. I'll give it up. I'll become a regular PI. I'll grow old, and let all those things I've held on to go…
Then she was pushing me away. "No, Harry."
"What? What do you mean, no?"
"The power you have… I'll seen it. I've felt it. I know how much good you do. Every life you've saved, every life you will save. I can't take those away from the world."
The door opened before I could think of anything to say. Molly came in with Mouse, and stopped, looking back and forth between us. "I just walked in on a grown-up moment, didn't I?"
Mouse just looked from Murphy, to me, then Molly, then he started walking, dragging Molly along by his leash. He pulled her right into the bedroom, then turned and kicked the door closed. Swear to God, my dog is the smartest person I know. I turned back to Murphy.
"If you gave it up, what would happen to Molly?"
I opened my mouth, but I didn't have an answer. She'd probably be moved on to apprentice another wizard. Probably. Or she'd be executed if no one wanted the job. No way to be sure which.
Murph nodded, seeing the answer in my face, then stood. I grabbed the boxers and pulled them on as she headed for the door. "I'll see you soon, Harry."
"Yeah," said, struggling into my jeans. "Yeah, you will."
"Hey, one more thing," she said, in that off-hand, Detective Columbo way. "Kincaid said he saw you get all glassy eyed and dopey, like the ones they cleaned out completely. Then you came back to yourself. What did you lose?"
"So, how'd you get it back?"
I thought of the image I'd seen, right before my life flashed before my eyes. I'd seen Lasciel's sigil. I'd seen the presence of Lash in my mind. I shrugged. "Divine intervention?"
She shook her head again. "You're one lucky bastard, Dresden." She opened the door, then stopped again, as I was pulling on my shirt. "Harry? I know you're a relationship guy. No casual sex. So you should find yourself a nice, magic girl and settle down."
I rolled my eyes, and looked at my bedroom door. Then back at Murphy. "Not anytime soon."
She smirked, and was gone. I went over the last two days in my head. So many pairs. Wei and Lefty. Kincaid and Hai. Murphy and me, maybe… And Ivy and Thomas. Two people I wanted to save. Both in need of help, both in the mind and in the heart. I shook my head. It hurt, but not a lot. "Molly!"
The door opened and she and Mouse both poked their heads out. "Come on, Grasshopper. We have three stops to make. One, I need a Coke." I grabbed one out of the icebox. "Two, we have to go get the Beetle. Three, we're going to my office. It's time you learned some more tricks of the trade."
She smiled. Soon, she wouldn't be my responsibility anymore. Then I could focus on matters of the heart.