Notes: This was originally supposed to be a small, pointless little sequence of completely angsty scenes. In the process of being written, it morphed into a semi-long collection of randomized scenes which don't seem to go together all that well. O.o Weird.

For that, you have to thank my betas; Princess Nemo, Proud to be Plug and Jillian Aerist who at varied and multiple points provided me with feedback at various points. You people are slavedrivers, but I love you anyway.

At any rate, angsty pointless waters dead ahead. Enjoy your ride, or at least try not to jump out of the car in halfway through.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Not for profit. No ownership claims on characters or ideas.

Warnings: Some amount of swearing. Spoilers for Changes/Ghost Story. And bucketloads of angst, for those of you who are (understandably) wary of the thing.


"If it makes any difference," Jack said, "three of the people you love will come to great harm unless you find your murderer."

"What do you mean, harm?" I asked.

"Maimed. Changed. Broken."

- The Dresden Files 13, Ghost Story


I


Missing people who left behind their purses and a conspicuous lack of a DNA trail. Crimes committed in locked rooms. Implausible sightings of improbable things. That one case where the teenager with the mullet had babbled on and on about the tentacle monster in Lake Michigan.

Needless to say, Karrin was quite obviously past the point of desperation when she went knocking on the door of the guy who claimed he was a Wizard.

The office was small and a little untidy around the edges, but someone had obviously tried to impose a form of haphazard order onto it. Most of it was taken up by shelves along two walls, a desk and two chairs. Not to mention the man sprawled over one of the chairs with his feet on the desk and what looked like a cheap sci-fi paperback in his hands. Karrin catalogued him. Early twenties. Wiry. Tall, probably more than six feet, but hard to tell when he was sitting down. Brown hair, brown eyes, hawkish features. Cocky, if the sprawl was anything to go by. Very probably another PI with a gimmick.

He glanced up as she entered, the quizzical raised eyebrow melting into a tiny smile once he got a good look at her. Karrin narrowed her eyes, meeting his gaze without flinching. First rule of Martian headbutting: establish your credentials.

He puzzled her when he looked away almost instantly, refusing to meet her eyes. Staring matches tended to last longer than that.

He was also, she was surprised to see, still smiling, but it was not the 'oh she's just so adorable' smile(she'd seen enough of it to recognize that one), it was more of an 'I know something you don't' smile.

"Been a while," he told her, nodding amiably in her direction.

Her brain took that moment to update itself, throwing up images from a surreal night she'd tried her best to forget. A rich runaway named Faith Astor. A something splitting into littler somethings near the bridge. A tall young man in a canvas duster swinging a damned cleaver in a clearly unpracticed arc.

Well, shit.

"Miss Murphy," the Wizard (this was not happening) grinned at her, finally deigning to take his legs off the desk, "How can I help you?"

She gwaped (there was no other word for it) openly at him, at least until he stood up (she almost took a step back; she'd forgotten how tall he was) and pulled out the chair for her with, of all things, a gallant bow.

Irritation instantly chased away disbelief and nervousness. Perfect. She'd finally found someone who might have a clue about the Weirdness of Chicago, and he turns out to be a freaking chauvinist.

SI was a damned curse, no questions asked.


Molly was wandering aimlessly around the living room when she heard the Voice.

The Voice was what happened when one of the Carpenter kids got into trouble. Having been at the receiving end of it more than her fair share of times, Molly had an unavoidable urge to watch someone else get the short end of the stick for a while. Preferably Daniel, because he could be a right irritating younger sibling sometimes.

Only it turned out the Voice was not being used on any of the Carpenters. It was being directed at a really tall guy with a bruised face and a long black coat, who was apparently trying to reason with Mom. Molly could have told him to save his breath.

"My husband is a very busy man, Mister Dresden," Mom was saying, "He has a calling to answer and a family to support. He can't come along to play backup for you whenever you want him to. Good day."

Mom tried to shut the door, but Mister Dresden stuck his foot in the frame before she managed to do it.

"Charity, I just want to talk to him!"

"It's never just talking," Mom said flatly. "Move your foot, please."

"People could be in trouble! Father Forthill agreed!"

There was a pause while her Mom and the man glared at each other without their eyes actually meeting. She saw her hands twitch into fists.

"Fine," her mother bit out, her teeth actually gnashing, "I'll go get him."

"Thank you," he huffed out. "You know, if you'd just listened to me in the first place-"

"I'd rather not fall into the habit," she said, walking away and not even turning back to face him. "Stay there. Don't touch anything."

The guy scowled at her retreating back and Molly could have sworn he was this close to sticking his tongue out at her. Which was actually pretty impressive. Nobody stood up to Mom when she was in one of her moods. Not even Dad, and Dad was practically Superman.

With what he said about saving people in trouble and things, Molly mentally dubbed him as Batman. Mostly because of the coat, though.

He finally noticed her hovering around and sent a raised eyebrow her way, "You looking for something, kid?"

"Hi," she stepped up and grinned at him, "I'm Molly. What's your name?"


Mac's pub was actually a pub. It was not one of the trendy, upscale bars with mood lighting, or one of the expensive 'gentlemen-only' clubs with strippers on a stage. It was very definitely a pub. A pub with really good beer, even.

He found it kind of refreshing. Most people here were practitioners and had at least some idea of what he was, and while having to beat amorous advances off with a baseball bat wasn't exactly a hardship, being left alone to have a nice, peaceful drink was… nice. Not that he liked peace and quiet and good beer enough to be actively seeking it, but it came with the territory, and that made the territory not half-bad.

The door opened, right on cue, bringing with it snow and wind and a billowing leather duster. For someone who swore he was chaos incarnate, Harry had a massively predictable personal schedule. Thomas immediately grinned and waved him over. Harry spotted him, huffed out a resigned sigh he could hear from over here (even without the supernaturally sharp senses), trudged up to him and got straight to the point.

"Why are you stalking me?"

Thomas put on his best 'who, me?' face. Harry rolled his eyes right back.

"Look, Thomas. I like you, sure-"

"That's nice, but I don't know if I swing that way."

"-but you're a Vampire. We're at war-"

"And I could be plotting your demise this instant," Thomas agreed, "Tell you what. Sit down and we can talk about the many bizarre and interesting schemes I have working against you."

Harry attempted to stare him down with his whole body, eyes narrowed in suspicion to tiny little slits and scowl etching deep lines around his mouth. And then there was the whole posture. Aggressive, hands folded and chin thrust up defiantly, neatly conveying the whole "I'm at the end of my patience and so help me god, I'm going to kill you if this keeps up" thing.

He looked eerily like his mother in one of her moods. Thomas half expected him to conjure up one of those mini-tornados to mess up his hair any moment now.

His amusement must have shown on his face (he'd have to work on that), because Harry gave up, sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose and sat down with more than the usual amount of grumpiness.

Thomas beamed at him. This totally beat tormenting his sisters any day of the week.


II


There had been this whole huge pile of papers on her desk when she got back. That, she was expecting. Karrin had a natural flair for converting god-she-only-wished-it-was fantasy into pure fiction, and she usually looked over the weirder reports before they were sent on up.

And these? Oh boy, these were weird. Hoards of zombies (for the love of God, zombies), blackouts, mini-tornados, a flash-freezing lake, a number of inexplicably gruesome deaths, ghostly hunting calls, reports of sinister hooded figures and an army of vigilantes in a grey running around killing more zombies. Halloween gone past wild and into surreal.

(And then there was this one report of a Zombie T-Rex which was almost definitely his fault and boy was she going to strangle him over that one when she finally caught up to him.)

Never again, as long as she lived, was she going to take a vacation around Halloween, not even for Hawaii. And never ever was she going to ask Harry to water her plants. What she wanted had been moderately alive plants (and maybe some form of half-acknowledgement about the fact that she was a woman beyond him opening doors for her, the pig). What she got was half-dead petunias, an empty fridge, a missing motorbike and towels all over the bathroom floor. Not to mention the blood splatters in the living room.

This one, she had to hear. She had a feeling the zombie dinosaur would be involved, one way or another.

She started to worry when she couldn't track him down on his landlines (well, actually she started to worry as soon as she realized her house was a mess, but the irritation was enough to let her ignore it back then) and let out a breath she realized she hadn't been holding when she called up Thomas on his cell, and listened to him grumble about Harry's utter inability to sit still for more than two minutes at a time. Or less. She wasn't surprised when he gave her a hospital and a room number, either. Butters had let her take a look at Harry's medical records the last time she'd been at the morgue. On paper, the fact that he was still walking around was nothing short of a god-given miracle.

Then Thomas apologized about her bike and told her he'd have it fixed and returned in a couple of weeks, no sweat. Right before he cheerfully hung up on her. Karrin glared at her phone and felt something throb in her temple, but that hospital room number was burning a hole through her notepad and zombie dinosaur (seriously, what the hell had been going on here?) trumped mysteriously dented motorbike anytime.

She didn't end up asking him about the thing, though. It was hard to yell at a guy covered in all those traction cables and bandages. So they traded quips and smiles instead, and she was occupied trying to keep control of the part of her that was hyperventilating about how he'd been this close to getting himself killed and she hadn't even been there to do anything about it. She couldn't manage to keep it entirely quiet, though.

"Dresden. Weren't you there when I told you to call me because there's less chance of you getting beaten up when I'm around?"

"Sorry, Murph," Harry's voice had been groggy ever since the nurse had interrupted them with another round of painkillers, "'Twas a weird Halloween."

Karrin sighed, and decided that vacations were for people who didn't have Wizardly friends who required constant supervision.


Barring the significant differences in lifestyle, upbringing and tastes, it turned out that an exiled Vampire of the White Court and a rising Wizard of the White Council could have quite a few things in common. An enduring love for all things pop-cultured, blithe ignorance of anything even vaguely reminiscent of authority and a tendency to be stubborn purely for the principle of the thing significant among them.

Thomas was starting to think his genes were screwed up on both sides of the family, which would actually explain pretty much everything about his life. Like, for example, why he was in a ridiculously neat living room in a blindingly white apartment cutting a Wizard's hair with purple-handled scissors.

Said life was just so freaking weird. One day he was going to wake up in a mental institution, in a padded cell and a straitjacket, and Harry'd probably be making (outdated and overused) Star Wars references in the next cell.

"Are you done?"

Thomas resisted the urge to roll his eyes, if only because he was sure he'd be overdoing it soon enough. But at least Harry's hair could look a little less like a mess. Maybe. If he tried really, really hard.

"What on earth are you doing up there?" Harry tried again, waving his hand vaguely at where he thought his brother (and newly appointed hairdresser) would be.

"Experimenting."

The expression on Harry's face and the little girly yelp was worth the sweep knocking his hands off the hair and into the scissors.

"Ow!"

"What did you do to my hair?"

"Nothing," Thomas mumbled around his finger (right before the demon started to close it up), "It's not like there's much there I can work with. And anyway, it can't possibly be any more damaged than it already is."

"Why would people pay you to do this?"

The scissors poked at his ear. Harry Looked up at him from the chair.

"Sorry," Thomas told him brightly, "My hand slipped."

"We should have stuck to the original plan," Harry grumbled, rubbing at his ear, "I'm less likely to end up with a murder charge that way."

"We would have been watching the Game right now if you hadn't trashed the TV." Thomas pointed out.

"Why did you even get one of the Flatscreens?" Harry demanded, "They never last."

"They last just fine when you're not around. Now hold still," Thomas poked at his head, "I'm messing up my living room for you. The least you can do is not fidget for a minute or two."

"Thomas, I've seen your bedroom. Heck, I've lived with you. Mess is your natural state of being."

"Not in the living room. That, I'd have to clean up."

"Yeah, sure. You do that."

"Do I detect skepticism?"

"It's a little beyond skepticism," Harry rolled his eyes, "Remember, I've lived with you."

"Oh, I remember," Thomas told him, "Since my life has been one giant suckfest since you popped into it, it's kind of hard to forget."

"I'm repentant," Harry said flatly, "About saving your life. Is that why you're doing whatever it is you're doing? Thirst for revenge finally got overwhelming? Ow! Hey!"

"Stop talking and I'll be done in a minute."

"Fine!" Harry huffed, "But just so you know, the service is terrible."

Thomas felt his mouth twitch up in a grin without checking in with the rest of him. Snippy siblings he was used to. He'd had a ton of them since he'd been born, and most of his sisters were complete masters at the art of the cold shoulder and the scathing rebuff. By comparison, Harry's insults were downright endearing.

With him, it was different. No hidden agendas or double meanings (subtle, little brother was not) or sinister plots at world domination (that he knew of). There was a huge pile of irritation involved, but Thomas mentally chalked that up to the backlash karma from annoying his sisters all these years.

"What?" Harry asked, probably suspicious of the silence.

"Nothing," Thomas told him, tugging at a random strand near his ear, "You should try growing this a little. I could do more with it."

Harry gave him one of those 'are you out of your mind' looks, which was a bit hypocritical coming from him, but hey. Genetically predisposed towards madness, and stuff. It was probably only a matter of time before he went insane himself. He was probably halfway there, really.

Considering the company out there, he could maybe learn to live with that.


Her life was weirder than usual these days.

For starters, there was that thing with her almost getting executed and requiring the guy she had a crush on having to play Knight it Shining Armor, and even that might have been fine if he hadn't completely rebuffed her advances and decided to have a real go at replacing 'crush' with 'homicidal impulses'.

It turned out that when she'd developed a crush on the guy, she'd forgotten to factor in crucial details, like his annoying tendency to be sadistic. The dreaded Mrs. Ratchett from eighth grade had been a purring pussycat in comparison. Not to mention considerably saner.

It didn't matter how many times she'd been here, or that she had a whole corner of it for herself now. Every time she stepped into Harry's lab was every time she marveled about how seriously freaking weird the place was. Especially that one shelf with the human skull and the ribbon and the romance novels. What on earth could that possibly be used for?

Well, okay. She had a few theories, but she was sure that was just teenage hormones and leftover crush residue talking.

Pretty sure.

Mostly.

Oh come on, this was Harry she was talking about here. Weird was a lot more Harry than unresolved sexual issues.

Well, probably.

She was pretty sure.

The point was, there was a skull with romance novels all around it, and she'd have liked to know why.

Molly yawned, stretched, and abandoned her latest set of calculations (evocations gave her massive headaches and she only wished she was being figurative) in favor of staring at the skull, which just sat there and did nothing. Or maybe it twitched a little, but that was probably her imagination. Or residual magic. Who knew?

Harry, of course, picked exactly that moment to come down the basement stairs in full puzzle mode, notebook and pen and lip-chewing and all.

"I thought you were supposed to be working out relative wind speeds," he told her, glancing up from squinting at the notebook.

"I was, I swear. I just rested my hands for a moment," Molly protested, a little guiltily, "And anyway, I can't get why you want me to work this out. I thought we'd already figured I was the blow-dryer to your tornado."

He gave her a scowl, "What was that I told you about apprentice backtalk?"

"That it is Not Done," Molly nodded, "But I have authority issues, Harry. You know that."

"And what did I tell you about that?" he asked her.

Molly mumbled something under her breath.

"I'm sorry, what was that?"

"You told me that it was too bad and that I'd just have to learn to live with it," Molly muttered in a voice only marginally louder, "Jerk."

"So long as we're clear on that," Harry grinned and made a shooing motion with his pen, "Now move along, grasshopper. Clock's a-ticking and I have work to do."

Molly seized on that and began packing up with a sigh of relief. It wasn't that she didn't like being a Wizard's apprentice for the most part; it was just that everything always went along so slowly. The hardest things to do were also the ones which took longest and were the most boring, and Harry had cheerfully announced after one particularly frustrating session that the basics were all about the things.

(Also, to her dismay, she sucked at blowing things up. Which was really unfair.)

At any rate, early dismissal from the lab was nothing to be sneezed at. It meant more time for her to have a life. Not that she'd had much of one for a while, but it counted in principle. And now she had to get out of here before he assigned her homewo-

"And while we're at it, Grasshopper-"

Molly sighed, leg poised above the bottom rung on the stairs. So close.

"Calculations, ready by tomorrow. Oh, and I need two working ingredient lists for a potential sleeping potion

And she was definitely bribing Leech into helping her with this. Minor illusions were quickly becoming the new staple currency of the Carpenter household.

"Okay," Molly sighed again (he ignored it), and decided that since she was already stuck with work, she might as well as go ahead with the skull thing.

"Harry?"

"Mmm?" he asked, pen's cap in his mouth and right hand scribbling wildly.

"What's the skull for?"

He stopped writing, frowned a bit and then grinned at her. She groaned. Glares were a little scary. Looks made her go red. Grins meant that he was going to go cryptic on her.

"Guess," he told her with entirely too much glee, "Five theories, with justification, by tomorrow."

"How's that even training?"

"Creativity and flexibility of mind," he told her promptly, "Or something. I'm sure you and the rest of the kids can come up with valid stuff."

Molly sighed and stomped her way upwards. For all that she admired him and respected him and was half in love with him, sometimes she just had to wonder why.


...


There's blood on the deck and there's so much of it and her first instinct is to panic and cry and rage, but years of training kick in and she finds herself fumbling for her phone (why'd she even bring it, when she knew it would have shorted out around him anyway?) and calling up SI. She manages to blurt out something along the lines of Harry and blood and the pier and hangs up on Stallings before he stops spluttering.

He can call the other people. Paramedics, detectives, whoever. She doesn't want to.

Nothing dramatic, my ass.

There's no body, of course. That doesn't surprise her, because he's Harry and he's chaos and fire and so much more than mortal and it'll take more than bloodloss to kill him. Because he's not dead, and she won't believe it, and dammit, it's Harry and he can't die, can't, can't, can't-

She doesn't have to reach up and touch her cheeks to know that she's in tears, if only because everything is suddenly blurred and burning. It's not conscious and she's only dimly aware of it, and it can stay that way because this cannot be happening.


He gets Justine's call only after Molly comes out of surgery and the doctors confirm she'll be fine (with time), and he takes it up with an involuntary grin. Because things are still pretty crappy and he'd hate to be Harry (or Molly, for that matter) right now, but at least they're alive. And the Red Court is dead, but mostly they're alive. One in a million chance didn't begin to cover it.

His smile slips off the moment he hears her voice, and she keeps talking (keeps sobbing) and he can barely make out the words and the ones he does hear don't make any sense. He's sure he's heard her wrong, but then she says it again, and he's actually hearing it.

For the first time since he can remember, he hates the sound of her voice, wishes she would stop talking and stop crying, dammit, because that just makes everything that much worse- and then the voice stops, and it takes him a moment to realize that he's just hung up on her. Cut her off mid-sentence.

There are lights in the hallway, and they're fluorescent and they glare. Everything's too bright, and his Hunger's restless after battle and with so much prey so weak and so close. His heartbeat's going nuts, and he can feel himself hyperventilating. He's leaning on to the wall and trying to pretend it's done casually instead of for support, but from the looks on the faces of passing nurses, he's not doing a very good job of it.

He closes his eyes, the insistent clamouring of the demon fading into the background against her words. Repeating and replaying, word for word and tone for tone. Not voluntarily, but his mind can't seem to shut up. Hell, it doesn't really have any effect, because they sound so unreal.

This can't be real. This is just a post-bloodbath nightmare and he'd really like to wake up right about now.


She hurts everywhere. Ow.

The room is bright and cheerful, as far as hospital rooms go (how the hell had she gotten in one, anyway?), the bed she's in is soft and clean. Mouse has his nose under her hand, so she was definitely safe, if not anything else.

But something is off, and a Wizardess learned to trust her instincts.

She can feel things are not quite right with Mouse; and then she extends her senses to the horribly still someone outside the room, realizes that it is Thomas and that it wasn't right because sure, he was depressed but he wasn't that still and what on earth could make him curl into himself like that-

Her breath hitches in her throat, and the machines around her start to make ominous beeping noises.

Oh god. Oh god, it's already happened, and she didn't even get to say goodbye.

She'd thought it wouldn't be a shock when you knew it's a matter of when and not if. She'd thought it would all be dread and waiting and finally knowing and hurting, but she didn't think there would be shock. But there is, and there's everything left over from the fight (the war), and people and things dying left and right and she can feel it, and she knows one of them's going to be Harry, has already been Harry, bleeding out and everything light and bright just suddenly being snuffed out-

She wails, and the lights flicker on and off, and the machines she's attached to go into overdrive, and it takes three nurses and a sedative to make her stop.


III


There was a time when she looked in the mirror and was horribly afraid that she'd find her mother looking back at her. Half a year ago, it might have been good to know that that wasn't a problem any longer.

The little piece of shattered glass is not exactly a mirror, but it serves the same purpose. Charity Carpenter would never look like she does at this moment. Her hair is tangled, one step away from being matted, and she's made it purple so dark it's almost black (fitting, more or less). Her knuckles are white from how hard they're clenching on the cane, her face is about a dozen thorough washings away from clean, and the less said about her (Harry's?) clothes, the better.

Her eyes are the worst, though. She can't look into them without shuddering, and wishing that the face staring back at her was anybody else's.

Oh, she knows it's mostly an act, and she knows that it's necessary; that she has nowhere near enough raw power to play the Lone Ranger, but that creepy-ass psychopathic protector was right up her alley.

[And yeah, she spends practically every minute wondering how much is an act and how long it it's going to be before it's not one. But forget that, because she was responsible for all this hell and if she can't control the city even a little, she's prepared to die trying.]

She tears herself away from her musing (it's so easy to get lost in thought, so much more comfortable than the reality of her situation), and the shard of glass and her face, to look again at the bodies. A jerk and a bigger jerk. Probably. Wannabe pimps and bullies in a world gone mad, anyway. Maybe they deserved to die, maybe they didn't, but that doesn't change the fact that they had to; if only to enforce her presence in the city.

It also doesn't change the fact that they'd both been human.

It gets easier and easier every time, and she knows it's not supposed to, but she doesn't know how to stop it, and some part of her always viciously reminds her about how she never lifted a finger to stop his death and so why should she start now?

Two more lives, two more people.

This has gone beyond pretending, beyond protecting, beyond making reparations for her actions. She's raking up a freaking body count, and she doesn't even know what she is anymore.


So.

There's blankness and alcohol and his Hunger roaring to be fed, and he doesn't care because it's just that much easier not to.

He's not entirely sure why he's not out there right now. Hunting. Or something. Maybe find the guy who pulled the trigger and show him exactly how sadistic a guy could get under duress and desperation. Skin strips off him (or her or it), because he had intimate knowledge of how much that fucking hurt.

It'd be a replay. Slow and cold and painful, except that he wouldn't be in the receiving end this time, and that'd make all the difference, wouldn't it?

Was that the Hunger talking? Torture and mayhem and all that? He can't really tell. The whole screaming-for-human-life-force thing got pretty old in the first couple of months, and it was pretty much shoved into the back of his mind after that. Damn thing wouldn't shut up, and he wasn't in the mood to listen to it, thanks much. And apparently, forcibly ignoring the thing made it resort to almost-silent mutters. Or merging with his mind in an enormously creepy fashion.

[It scares the hell out of him -except not really, because he and his Hunger are hardly two different things and itreallydoesn't give a damn- that Justine is all he's got left -and wasn't that sad? What kind of depraved quasi-immortal creature of the night based his existence off two glaringly mortal people?- and that he's facing a world without Harry and oh god, he just wants to get up and talk to him, rile him up and he can't even do that because he'sdead-]

He fumbles (except that he doesn't; White Court Vampires never fumble) with the bottle and takes a sip to force that line of thought off his head.

Because no. No thinking. Don't even go there.

Maybe this whole avoidance crap would get easier if he just let the demon have its way. Oh fine, so he hasn't been doing anything glaringly superhuman for a while, but while his Hunger was getting used to being starved (take that, you demon), six months was pushing it. Especially because he isn't overly interested in switching the heater on. That would mean getting up. Gross.

But this way, it's more painful. Harder. He has to keep it under control and want and need to feed and that feel just slightly better than the numbness. And it distracts him, sometimes, when even acute liver poisoning isn't enough to stop him from thinking about it-

Harry had never been a big fan of his Hunger anyway. It seemed fitting.

He raises the bottle to take another sip, realizes it's empty, and spends the next few seconds blinking uncertainly at it.

Damn. That meant he'd have to go out and get something else to drink. Because there's no way he's going to face a waking moment being sober if he has any say in it.


She's used to blood; has been since forever. If a large family with many brothers hadn't inoculate her against it, the bodies she'd dropped in her career would have. She's not scared of blood; far from it. This is fact, which makes it all the more significant that she's not surprised when the red pools and her mind forces her back to the damned boat and everything on it.

She's not lost in thought; far from it. She can feel Will tense next to her, she can hear the cheers of the rest of them (muted and a little uneasy, but hey they'd won) and she can almost see the wary looks they're casting in her direction.

She hates those. It's been six months and despite what everyone else thinks, she's dealing with it. It's just that she has neither the time nor the opportunity to indulge. She can't afford to go crazy like Molly, or vanish off the face of the earth like Thomas, or grieve and move on like everyone else; because she owes him more than that, dammit.

So instead, there are defenses to coordinate and training schedules to plan. Harry had been so utterly present in his role as Chicago's Lone Ranger that it's something of a shock to see the reality of the shoes she has to fill. (And she has to fill them. The alternative is frankly not an option.) So she trains and plans and schedules, and keeps herself so busy that she barely has the time to get angry over the fact that she lost her job. Not that that seemed particularly significant after that day on the boat, anyway.

Karrin Murphy is a rock. Karrin Murphy can kick ass. Karrin Murphy is a hard-ass bitch, with a poker face right up there with the big-leaguers in effectiveness. Nothing fazes her, nothing frightens her and she is one of the few things in Chicago that retains some amount of sanity from the clusterfuck that was the past half-year.

So she can only get herself to sleep by exhausting her muscles to the point where standing up is not an option, but that's just a minor deterrent. As for how she still wakes up at night sometimes despite how exhausted she is, and how she's sobbing and shaking every single time she does; nobody has to know, because she's pretty sure nobody can afford to know.

And she's not in denial, not really. It's Dresden. He's come back from near certain death crowing in victory enough times for her to lose count of it. He'll be here in time, smug Wizardly-mysteries-you-are-not-to-be-part-of grin and overly dramatic leather coat and everything. She's almost certain of it.

[But there was so much blood on the deck, she doesn't have to be a forensic examiner to know that it's a critical hit, Chicago and Molly have gone to hell in so many ways he'd never stand for; it doesn't matter anyway, she can't afford to think about it.]

In the meantime, she needs to clean up this mess. Marcones' men are sweeping away the blood with the ease of long practice, Will is standing around in sweatpants looking uncomfortable, and she's still staring at the body lying at her feet.

The Warlock (a kid, gangly, sixteen or seventeen, inclined to pyrotechnics and probably what was responsible for her thoughts derailing into all things Harry) lies on the ground from her bullets, blood partially obscuring the faintly amazed expression clear on his face. Blood on the floor, blood on his chest, blood in pools and pools like on the wooden planks on the deck-

She doesn't know how she pulls herself out of bed each day, she's not sure how she functions; not when she's so tired and frustrated and furious and terrified, and she keeps thinking about him and the corny jokes and the bad Latin and the smiles and the grins and all the blood-

Karrin breathes, and tries to forget. It's been six fucking months; she's starting to think she'll never get over it.


Notes: Aaand cut.

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