Author's Note: I feel...awful. Terribly guilty about the time between chapters. I can't let myself feel too guilty, though, because I was ill and writing is pretty far down on my list at that point. But I'm still sorry. *cries*
This story has been rendered AU by Cold Days. I enjoyed the new book, even though nothing happened that I wanted to happen, and I saw the Molly thing coming from a mile away, wow.
This Chapter: This story goes where it wants to, y'all. If you don't like it, I really can't help you. Featuring our favorite meddling angel, who I think, given that he works with Captain Jack on what seems like a pretty regular basis, would get a real kick out of Karrin.
This chapter is set directly after Ghost Story.
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but
I shall stay alive,
because above all things
you wanted me indomitable
'The Dead Woman,' Pablo Neruda
He had come back.
She had waited, prayed, believed in the darkest, farthest corners of her soul that it wasn't the end. Not the end.
And then he had come back. It wasn't what she had waited for. He wasn't what she had expected. Untouchable. Unreachable, and because it wasn't what she wanted she couldn't let herself believe it was really him.
And then he was gone again, just as fast.
There were things she had said that she wish she could take back. Things she wished she had said instead; he no longer haunted her, not in the literal sense, but those unsaid words lingered on, almost tangible.
Regret pressed against her, shadowy and cold as she stood in an office at Saint Mary of the Angels.
Everyone was there – Michael, Charity and Molly. Butters and Andi. Will and Georgia, Thomas and Justine. Father Forthill—they were in his office, after all.
Karrin stared down at the papers in her hands, taken from a used inter-office envelope that he had obviously stolen from SI. Her own handwriting was on the envelope, along with a few others, names and dates. A Magic Marker scrawl across the back read,
Harry Dresden - Last Will and Testament and Stuff
After the throwdown with Corpsetaker, she had caved, though she didn't know why reading a will mattered so much if there was nothing left except a dog, a cat and a little girl.
Dresden had written it before the Red Court had burned his apartment to the ground.
There were things he had wanted to give away; a massive collection of paperbacks was to be divided between whoever wanted them – gone. There were optional instructions to mud-wrestle to see who got first choice. His assortment of magical stuff (with the exception of Bob the Skull and the other, more dangerous stuff) to be given to Molly – gone. The Beetle was to go to Thomas – gone. His guns were to go to her. There were detailed instructions for a defacement of the studios of Larry Fowler. A spell to keep anyone from tampering with his remains – useless without a body.
She had asked Father Forthill to read it aloud, he was a lawyer after all, and he did; his voice sounded miles away as he paused to recall a time when Harry asked him to bless a fifty gallon drum of holy water.
As she shuffled through the contents, a folded piece of yellow notebook paper fell out of the stack and landed on the table.
Her name was written on one side.
Karrin picked it up with trembling fingers, unfolded it and read.
If you're reading this, it's safe to assume I've finally kicked the bucket, shuffled off the mortal coil, etc. I am an ex-wizard.
So, it stands to reason if you're reading this, whatever got me didn't get you, too. Which probably means I was doing something stupid and my luck finally ran out, or I forgot to bring backup or take my vitamins or whatever.
If you're reading this version, we were never an us, and I really hope that's not the case and maybe I just forgot to take this out of the box. But with the way I do things, probably not. And as much as I'll regret all the things we weren't, I'll always be grateful for everything we were.
I probably never said that loud enough for you to hear. I know it's a little late for apologies, but I'm sorry.
Anyway, don't think about all the times I almost got you killed by trolls and billy goats. Go to Mac's and have a beer for me every once in a while. Keep fighting.
I don't have to tell you that. Keep being amazing.
See you on the other side.
P.S. You can have my Star Wars poster. I know you tried to steal it that time I was out of town. You can't fool me.
Something – some sound between a laugh and a sob tried to tear its way free from her lungs. She smothered it with a hand, white knuckles against her lips.
She knew then what she would do, what she would give up, what she would barter away just to hear his voice again. Who to sell it to, where to go; the entire plan formed as a single thought, instantaneous and crystal-clear in her mind, complete with failsafes and backups.
All the magic, all the monsters were still there. Everything else had been slowly pulled away, as if someone was raveling out the threads of her life until she had but inches left to hold onto, not enough left to hang herself with, plummeting with a broken parachute.
She knew then how desperate he must have been, how dark it might have seemed, so hopeless, knew that she might have – must have missed something in his words, in his actions, that she had been afraid to look too close because it might have looked too familiar.
God, but it didn't have to make so much sense. Occam's razor cut deep – there was one person in existence who could have made that shot. One person who hadn't spoken to her in months.
Murphy pushed the papers into Forthill's hands. Her vision blurred but she saw Charity start after her, Molly, as she grabbed her mother's arm and Thomas, stepping out of her path to the door, his head bowed.
She turned and walked from the room as fast as she could without breaking into a run through the dim, wood-paneled church corridors. She walked for what felt like miles, pushed open a random door and stepped into a small, empty chapel.
Sunlight glittered down through stained glass onto an altar; a marble statue of Mary, her hands outstretched in a moment of eternal grace, a hundred candles lit at her feet.
Karrin stepped backward, pressing her back against the door, and didn't fight the tears that burned her eyes, blurring candlelight and stained glass into a riot of color.
It was blissfully silent until the beads of her rosary slipped from her wrist and clattered to the floor. She swiped at her eyes and knelt to pick it up.
A pair of hands closed around hers.
She looked up into the face of a handsome young man with tawny hair and gray eyes. If he had a different nose, he could have passed for one of her brothers. He was a little shorter than average and wore a pale gray suit, black trench coat, dark shirt.
They stood together and he pressed the string of dark red beads into her palm.
He was dressed like a businessman but he moved like ex-military. He had a presence that was...far more than human. Powerful, subtle.
"Who can find a woman of valor?" the young man quoted as he closed her hands around the rosary. "She is far more precious than rubies."
"Sorry." Tears stung her eyes as she blinked them away, slowly moving out of his reach. "I didn't think there was anyone else here."
"No." He turned and walked toward the altar, looking around. "We are never quite as alone as we think."
She had felt a presence like that before. In Chichen Itza, using her as an amplifier.
"Okay." Murphy crossed her arms, arched an eyebrow. At an angel. All the time she had spent with Dresden had definitely left its mark. "Which one are you?"
He turned toward her again and she thought she might have seen a hint of a smile on his face before light, white and furious, burst from the window above as if it had shattered and a rumble of something far louder than thunder shook the floor beneath her feet.
She fought the urge to cover her face with her hands, to fall to her knees. The sound shaking through her was a voice that thundered inside her head, a true name, an ancient name, in his language and in hers;
"I am The Watchman, called Victory, Sword-Bearer and Light of God."
The sound ended, the blinding fury died away, and – still standing – she spoke in a quiet voice. "'And God saw that the light was good, and separated it from the darkness.' Uriel. I've heard of you."
He smiled. "And you are just as much fun as everyone claims."
"I didn't realize I was so popular."
Uriel laughed and the sound made her dizzy. He looked her over again as he sat down on the nearest pew and his expression grew somber.
"I saw you fight for your friend at the temple of the usurpers."
"You're not here to recruit me." Karrin sat down next to him. "Historically-speaking, it doesn't go so well for women who talk to angels and carry swords in the name of God."
One eyebrow quirked curiously. "You've done your research."
"And I've seen what fire does to a person."
"I want you to know that your decision is honorable, to recognize that the Swords are more than tools. Some would try to take them up to further their own agenda but," the corners of his eyes crinkled in a way that was strangely human. "Believing in yourself, in your own ability to do good. That's why they're with you."
He was smiling at her like a proud dad. The note was starting to crumple beneath her fingers.
Karrin smoothed it out and tucked it in her shirt pocket. "Why are you here?"
"Some friends asked me to check in on you. Well. More...badgered me into it."
Her eyes snapped up to meet his, wordless.
"Someone you knew." He shook his head. "But not who you think."
"That's helpful," she grumbled.
"I'm only as helpful as I'm able to be." Uriel folded his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. "I have my jurisdiction. You understand."
"So what?" she asked brusquely. "You're not here to show me what things would be like if I had never been born? I thought that was like, the angelic prime directive."
"Mortals and their movies." Uriel cast a longsuffering look skyward. "That isn't how I operate. I am here simply to observe but if one were to ask a few questions, I would be obliged to answer. Within limitation."
What kind of questions do you ask an angel?
"Do all angels speak lawyer, or are you just special?"
He stared at her, very seriously. "I'm trying to help you."
"Why..." she sighed and pressed her fingers against her forehead. "Why me?"
"You were chosen because you see truth. You seek it, you refuse to turn your face from it, no matter what it looks like."
"Chosen by who?" Karrin asked tiredly, watching the light from the windows move across the floor, across his hands. They were scarred, like hers. "God?"
"No," he corrected, "Dresden."
It was a moment before she was able to speak again. Her voice, when she found it, came out high-pitched and dubious. "Harry was allowed to make those kinds of decisions?"
"Everyone is allowed to choose the people they let affect their lives, whose lives they affect. Although it is true that the ramifications of the choices of some are rather...more significant than others. I believe he saw in you the strength to stand where others could not. Potential for things far greater than most are capable of. A light in the darkness."
Her eyes blurred with tears again, slow this time, and cold, and she wasn't sure why she said it, but the whispered words burned. "My own family won't even speak to me."
"I have nothing left."
"Are you sure?" Uriel put a hand on her arm. "You can ask."
It was quiet for a long, long moment. Clouds obscured the stained glass windows, colors darkening and brightening in a kaleidescope whirl.
"Will I ever see him again?"
"Do you believe?"
She stared down at the rosary still clutched in her fingers. She had felt it for a while, the things she had thought were faith falling away like ash.
"Not in dogma. Not in religion." He held out his empty hands. "Faith is something that can exist entirely outside of those, because of what it is."
"The substance of things hoped for," she murmured, "the evidence of things not seen."
"Never underestimate the power of that."
What was it that Dresden had always said? That what put the power behind magic was belief in it. This was all his fault, he was the one who had given her the ability to believe the unbelievable.
It was his fault that she couldn't let go.
His fault that she could not convince herself that this wasn't how it was going to end. They were supposed to go out together, in a blaze of glory, in one for the record books.
Now the shadows beneath her eyes weren't washing away, her life was killing her by inches, tightening down like the knot of a noose and the only thought that kept her going was that this was not how their story was going to end.
"I can't say goodbye. I won't—"
"Morning is coming," said the Watchman. "But so is the night."
When she turned to ask what the hell he meant by that, he was gone, leaving her as alone and confused as she had been before.
Smoke still curled from the blackened wicks of the votives on the altar, blown out in the storm of light and sound and she watched as a single candle at Mary's feet flickered to life on its own.
She didn't remember driving from St. Mary's, picking up her rifle from the Einherjar that had repaired it. She didn't remember going home.
An hour later she found herself sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor, going through the contraband cached beneath the loose floorboards; her illegal guns, the things she'd taken from Thomas's boat before anyone else had shown up. The Swords. The few things of Dresden's she had been able to collect.
Two manila folders tied together with a piece of string lay in the bottom of the gap between floor joists – she pushed everything else out of the way and took those and the Sword of Faith, dropping the boards back into place.
She set the sword in the rack on the mantel and left the note he had written her beneath it.
Numbly, she made a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table, unwinding the string that held the folders together. One had been left for her at Mac's by John – a copy of all the info from the investigation. Very illegal of him.
The other folder was one she had swiped from the FBI building right after the vampires had attacked. Rudolph had lost it, Tilly was trying to hold it together, Harry had been organizing the escape and she had swiped the file from the table and smuggled it out by shoving it into the back of her belt, beneath her jacket.
It wasn't the original copy of the information, but at least she knew what they had.
The first page was a profile and dossier, a list of known associates; her name was at the top, with Will and Georgia, Butters, Susan and a few others. Next were driving and arrest records. A few mugshots from being booked – pissed off scowls, some of it she had signed herself.
She had never looked this far through the file before. Karrin thumbed through to the very bottom of the stack, to state records and badly-Xeroxed adoption paperwork...and one Child Protection Services report, filed by a teacher in Des Moines.
With it was a picture of a dark-haired little boy, maybe ten or twelve, wearing a Star Wars t-shirt and a hesitant smile. He was sitting in a plastic chair in front of a bulletin board in what she assumed was a classroom or a nurse's office. There was the lower half of a food pyramid on one side of him and a cafeteria menu on the other.
He had a black eye. The knuckle marks on his cheek were too big to be the kind earned in a schoolyard brawl.
Her blood boiled.
She had seen it countless times – how people buckled under that kind of treatment, how it broke them, made them into the people who had hurt them.
She had also seen how strong a person had to be to overcome that, when instead he could have turned on the people around him with the unimaginable power that he used to find lost trinkets and missing kids for ungrateful jerks who didn't pay him enough.
No one had ever made a list of the good things he had done, Dresden would have hated that. Nonetheless, he was the evidence of what she believed; that good could come out of a world that was not, that a person could overcome their past, their flaws, their temptations and be more.
That maybe humans really are made of stardust instead of mere mud.
Some of them, anyway.
A knock at the door startled her out of her own head. She answered, one hand ready to draw the pistol from the small of her back.
Charity Carpenter was standing on the front porch, holding a pizza and some sodas.
"I thought you might want some company."
Karrin almost said no, until she saw the dark eyes peering at her from around the woman's broomstick skirt, and a big gray dog padded inside and made himself at home by the fireplace. A dark-haired little girl darted around Charity and hugged her before following Mouse inside.
"Come in," she said, trying for a smile. "It's kind of a mess."
Charity followed her into the kitchen, exchanging pleasantries as she doled pizza and chicken wings onto paper plates. Maggie had found Mister and they were playing with a piece of string in the living room.
Murphy tried to hurry and put all the paperwork spread across the table back into the folders.
"I don't want to pressure you." Charity wiped her hands on a towel and handed her the last few pages. "But have you given it any thought, what we talked about?"
There was no way she hadn't seen the photo laying on top of the stack – the look on the woman's face was barely-contained fury. Murphy had seen it before, when they were storming Arctis Tor and the woman was dressed in chainmail, carrying a warhammer.
There was a reason Maggie was with the Carpenters. Karrin hadn't had to ask the Carpenters. They had showed up.
Of course, it had taken a while for the girl to talk. Longer for her to smile. Soon enough she was playing with the other kids, mimicking their Chicago accents, laughing. Healing.
"I will. If you're sure."
Michael had asked her to be the girl's godmother. He had asked her months ago.
"Of course we're sure," the woman said, handing her a plate of pizza. "I can't think of anyone better suited to handle—"
"You look beautiful."
They turned toward the living room. Maggie was sitting in the middle of the floor. The girl had undoubtedly inherited her father's fashion sense – her sneakers were each a different color and she wore a Spiderman t-shirt, striped scarf and a yellow raincoat.
She had gone through Charity's handbag and was applying pink lipstick to Mouse's patient face. The dog gave them a sideways look that was an obvious plea for help.
Charity had brought a movie, some cartoon fairy tale, cleaned up and watered-down Disney-style, and it held absolutely no interest for the little girl as they ate dinner and chatted.
Maggie held up one of the leather-bound photo albums from the shelf under the new coffee table. "Can I look at your pictures?"
The little girl settled in close to her on the sofa, cracked the book open and started asking questions.
"My first husband. He died."
"Oh," she said, and her expression was all Dresden, apologizing as if it was her own fault. "I'm sorry."
Karrin ruffled her hair. "It's okay."
"Y él?" The girl pointed at another picture, dark eyes sparkling.
"Second husband." Karrin knew just enough Spanish to get by on the force. She had to think about it. "Um. Segundo."
"Did he die, too?"
"No, he's just an idiot."
Charity shot her a half-reproving, half-smiling look over her can of Diet Coke.
"It's true," Murphy muttered as she pulled a piece of pepperoni off her pizza and tossed it to Mouse.
"Your dress is pretty, though," Maggie said, consolingly. "Is this you?"
She was pointing at a picture on the next page, an old, faded photo of a little girl with a blonde ponytail, wearing a white karate gi.
"Yeah. That's me."
"Maybe..." She bit her lip, looking much older than she was, a line of worry creasing her brow. "Maybe you could teach me? That way if the bad people come back, I could help you fight."
The girl very rarely talked about what had happened when the vampires had taken her, and hardly ever outside of her sessions with Georgia, though Maggie still wasn't aware she was talking to an actual shrink.
Karrin never told the girl that everything was going to be okay; how could anything be okay after she had been through?
But it would get better.
There was no changing who she was, who her parents were; she would never have a normal life. Someday she'd have questions and she needed to be able to handle the answers.
Someday, she might have the same kind of power as her father – Murphy couldn't help much with the hows of magic, but she could give her a jumpstart on the whens and whys. Someday another threat might figure out who she is and Karrin might not be around for a rescue.
"If that's something you want, I'd be glad to." She smiled around the knife in her heart. Harry had entrusted her with something vastly more important to him than magic swords and reading a will, and the last thing he had given her was something she never thought she would have. "That's if Charity says it's alright."
Maggie turned toward the older woman eagerly.
"It's alright with me," said Charity. She nodded, but it was at Karrin, a subtle moment of understanding.
The girl clapped her hands excitedly and jumped up, throwing wild, jabby punches around.
"Maggie," she said softly, as she tucked the picture of the little boy with the black eye next to the picture of herself and closed the book. "If you're going to learn, you have to follow the rules."
"Number one: we only fight to protect ourselves or other people from harm."
In those dark eyes there is a fire that she recognizes. Karrin remembered the enthusiasm of that age too well – she had broken her fist on a kid's face for the things he had said after word had gotten out that her father had shot himself.
The next day her mother had transferred her to a public school.
"Rule number two." Karrin took the girl's hand and fixed the curl of her fingers into a proper fist. "Thumbs on the outside."
Thanks for sticking around with a terrible chapters to go.