Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for mistletoe action.
Summary: Harry is suspicious of Thomas's mojo and Murphy cleans up well.
AN: Written for 2007 Yuletide, archived here. Thanks to Musesfool for the beta outside her fandom, and for Marksykins for sharing the last-second panic with me. Happy Holidays, eman!
The Accordion Makes All the Difference
"Oh, come on," I demanded of my living room. "Really? Again?"
The living room didn't have an answer for me. What it did have was a tipped-over easy chair, a scatter of clothes across the stone floor, and a couple empty wine bottles near the fireplace. Not that it was an unexpected sight after months of living with my half-brother, the incubus. In fact, the only part of the tableau that was even remotely novel was the little Christmas tree lying across the crumpled floor rug, and the bits of crushed candy cane that Mouse was licking off the floor.
"That just can't be hygienic," I grumbled, and Mouse wagged his tail happily as I stomped over to the bedroom door.
I was holding up my fist to pound on the door when it opened suddenly and I got an armful of something very curvy and covered in bright red velour. Or someone, it turned out, as the girl straightened herself up, one hand pushing the blonde curls back from her face and the other tugging the skirt of the dress back down. The dress was trimmed with white fur around the hem and wrists, and suddenly the pointy red shoes by the door made a lot more sense.
"On your coffee break from the North Pole?" I inquired, making the girl's cheeks pink. She opened her mouth, but I put up a hand. "Don't answer, I don't want to hold you up when obviously the other elves will be missing you to help put the jingle in Santa's sleigh bells, Miss…"
"Cane," the girl supplied stiffly, but then she took a better look at me and seemed to note the family resemblance. Her expression melted into something much warmer and she drew the tip of her fingernail down the center of my shirt. The fingernail was frosted and had a tiny snowman painted on it. "But you can call me Candy."
"Well, I can't do that until you leave, now can I?" I gave her a not terrifically subtle push towards the door. "Now have a nice day and don't get run over by a reindeer."
When the door was firmly shut behind Miss Cane and her pointy shoes, I headed right back towards the bedroom for my much-deserved disciplinary hearing with the incubus brother in question.
"We talked about this!" I exclaimed.
Thomas was lying across my tiny bed, lazy and satisfied and not embarrassed in any way, despite the fact that his only article of clothing was the red and white-striped scarf tying his hands to the bedpost. He shrugged, as much as he was able.
"I picked up a tree," he answered.
"And a couple flakes as well," I retorted, looking over my shoulder at the destruction of my living room. "Candy Cane? Seriously?"
"Met her at the mall," Thomas grinned. "She's working at Santa's Wonderland. Great with kids. Hey, be a pal, would you?" Thomas shook his wrists a little, the scarf rubbing against the bedpost.
I fixed him with an icy glare, then turned to pick up my living room, ignoring Thomas's pained whine behind me.
I straightened things back up to more or less normal, as tidy as they got in my cramped little space, and was nearly done by the time Thomas emerged from the bedroom, holding the scarf out with distaste and spitting little bits of red and white wool.
"You don't have any Christmas spirit," he informed me, picking up the tree and standing it back up again.
"I have plenty of goodwill towards men who don't defile my bed," I grumbled, turning around to find that Thomas still had no pants but was yet bending over to plug the tree in. "Thomas!"
"Grinch." Thomas straightened up, then scratched his ass leisurely as he examined the glow of the tree with satisfaction. "You just need to get laid. Hey, speaking of that, Murphy called a little while ago, she's coming over."
"What?!" I dropped the books I was holding, then bent to scoop them back up, avoiding Thomas's raised eyebrows. "When? Why didn't you tell me? And put on some pants! And hey," I straightened and glared at Thomas, "what do you mean, 'speaking of that?'"
"You're the detective," Thomas said archly, giving me a knowing smirk. "I'm just saying, I think it's high time you settled down with a nice girl like Karen, and did your brotherly duty by making me Uncle Tommy. A couple tiny Dresdens to dandle on my knee, what could be more Christmassy than that?"
"You!" My mouth worked for a few moments, only able to piece single words together through the rage. I flung out a hand to point towards the bedroom. "Go! Pants!"
Thomas went, laughing as he sauntered back towards the bedroom, and I uttered a few more choice words under my breath as I hooked Mouse's leash to his collar and hustled him outside to do his business before Murphy arrived.
It was snowing again, lightly, flakes drifting down while the bitter wind took a break. It was still winter in Chicago, though, which meant that I was not a happy camper as I waited for Mouse to finish whatever doggy investigation he was conducting as he snuffled through the loose snow on the ground before he got down to business.
He was just getting down to it when Murphy's car pulled up, distracting him, and I threw up my hands as Murphy stepped out of the car and Mouse bounded over to greet her, all thoughts of doggy business gone from his shaggy, gray head.
"You're interrupting a delicate operation!" I informed her as she bent to scratch Mouse's ears, making his eyes roll in bliss.
"Ah, Thomas said you were in full Grinch mode," Murphy said, her hands firmly scrunched in her pockets. "And a merry Christmas to you, Mr. Dresden. At least your house is festive."
I glanced over my shoulder to see that there was a bough of pine thrown over the doorframe, whether it was on purpose or a result of Thomas's earlier activities was unclear. "Ah yes, the scent of evergreens, family living at home, snow in the air…" I looked down to realize that Mouse had returned to his earlier, interrupted task. "Even the dog is leaving me presents."
"How romantic," Murphy finished, mouth twitching at the corners, but the blue sparkle of her eyes was the dead giveaway that everyone else was, as usual, laughing at my pain.
Just then the wind picked back up, working its way into every nook and cranny of my coat, making both of us shiver. Mouse gave a plaintive whine, but didn't straighten up out of his crouch.
"Go on in," I sighed, shrugging a shoulder towards the door. "It's warm at least, and Thomas might even have pants on. I'll be in as soon as I finish gathering the evidence."
By the time Mouse and I made it back inside, my fingers and nose were numb, and I gasped in relief as I shouldered the door shut behind me, then gasped again as my exposed skin began to ripple with pins and needles. Thomas was slouched in the bedroom doorway, wearing only jeans and the scarf looped around his neck, arms crossed as he chatted with Murphy. Murphy was standing with her back to me, but something about their posture and the low pitch of Thomas's voice made cold fingers knead the small of my back.
"Murphy?" I asked, but when she turned around, she was just Murphy. No vacant expression of lust, no glazed eyes, just a raised eyebrow, and I let go the breath I'd been holding.
"Something wrong?" she asked, and I shook my head. Thomas had poor taste in playmates, but he wouldn't stoop that low, not with Murphy, and I felt guilty for even thinking along those lines.
"Well, I'll leave you kids alone," Thomas said loudly, giving me a wink, but when Murphy turned to give him a look, his face was neutral. He tugged on a sweater that he seemed to materialize out of thin air to hug his body perfectly in its soft, ribbed grip, and then pulled on his jacket. "Don't wait up!"
He sailed out the door with a long-fingered wave and a flick of his dark, curling hair, and I felt more Grinch-like than ever as I watched the fringe of his scarf disappear through the closing door.
"What was that about?" I asked, maybe more caustically than I intended, because it earned me a reproachful whine from Mouse, and I winced as Murphy turned to look at me, expecting to be taken to task quite effectively for implying that Murphy was just another girl who couldn't be trusted around Thomas.
"Do you want to go to dinner?" Murphy asked, and I blinked.
"I'm sorry, I think my ears are still frozen," I ventured after a second. "Did you just…ask me to dinner?"
Murphy rolled her eyes. "Don't read too far into it, Dresden. I'm offering you free food only because you look hungry and pathetic and in desperate need of Christmas cheer."
It turned out, as Murphy finally admitted when we were nestled snugly in a booth at Mac's and there was no way I would be leaving my half-finished steak behind, that she had an ulterior motive after all.
"Christmas party?" I asked through a full mouth, then swallowed when Murphy's eyes narrowed. "You want to take me somewhere? In public?"
"Don't get all choked up about it." Murphy's voice was sharp, but she was shredding the edge of her napkin at the edge of the table, and I'd known Murphy long enough to know when I was looking at embarrassment.
"Hey." I reached over to cover her hands with one of mine, stilling the nervous motion. "I'd love to go with you. I'm just wondering if it's a good idea for you to show up at a police function with me. Willingly, I mean. Plus, contrary to popular belief, I don't actually clean up all that well."
"You clean up just fine, I'm sure." Murphy pulled her hands into her lap and I drew mine back to my side of the table. After a second of awkward silence, I went back to my steak. "And anyway, I was really just hoping you could give me an excuse to slip out early when everyone else starts getting serious about the eggnog."
"Now that," I pointed my knife at Murphy and ignored her continued disgust at my full mouth, "I can do. Nobody knows how to end a party earlier than Three Sheets To The Wind Dresden."
"I'll have that printed on your tombstone someday," Murphy murmured, knocking back a long swig of her ale as though she needed the bracing effect of it.
Murphy, as it turned out, cleaned up very, very well. I was standing on her doorstep, having insisted on picking her up like a real gentleman for our night out on the town, as opposed to the other way around. Murphy had answered the door in a red velour number that wasn't trimmed in white fur, but bore an otherwise striking resemblance to another blonde I'd been in close contact with recently.
"You don't by any chance know a girl named Candy, do you?" I asked, trying to swallow but not really getting anywhere.
"Oh, close your mouth and come inside," Murphy said, but I knew all Murphy's tells, and the way she turned away quickly meant she was pleased and didn't want me to know it. "Also, no. What?"
I'd already forgotten what the question I had asked her even was, and as Murphy went to fetch her coat, I closed my eyes and counted to twenty, trying to remember that Murphy and I were just friends and also that my brother was an idiot.
"Something wrong?" she asked, and I opened my eyes to find her fluffing her blond curls over the collar of her coat.
"My brother's an idiot," I said out of reflex, and started back over again at one.
The party was gearing up by the time we arrived, having wasted ten minutes arguing over whether or not my need to treat Murphy like a girl outweighed the social shame of her being driven to the party in the Blue Beetle. I'd argued that on top of being chivalrous, the fact that the hood was red and one door was green was festive. Murphy had counter-argued, more convincingly, that she was going to shoot me if I didn't get into her car before she counted to three.
I got even when her radio changed all its presets to the Christmas polka station as soon as she started the car, and then refused to turn off.
"This is the most compelling version of 'Jingle Bells' I've ever heard!" I yelled cheerfully over the 'OOM-PA-PA OOM-PA-PA.' "The accordion makes all the difference!"
"It's 'Silent Night!'" Murphy hollered back, before going on to inform me that I couldn't tell an accordion from the hind end of a reindeer.
Needless to say, we both headed straight for the eggnog by the time we actually arrived at the party.
It wasn't so bad though, as office shindigs went. Lots of food on the table, garland on the walls, and a music selection that was about as easy on the ears as one could manage with Christmas carols. Or maybe that was just in comparison to the polka.
Murphy kept her arm through mine long after we'd made our initial entrance. At first I thought it was just so that she could pinch me discreetly every time I was talking to one of her co-workers, but there actually was a minimum of pinching, causing me to rethink my hypothesis. Then the crab puff tray came and went without so much as a twitch of movement from Murphy, her other hand being occupied with her drink, and I knew something was up. Nobody passes on those little balls of cheesy goodness without a compelling reason.
Maybe Murphy was allergic, I thought. I held up one of the several crab puffs I'd palmed, testing my new theory. "Want one?" I figured if asked directly, Murphy would either pull free for the use of her hand, or would tell me that I was a moron for trying to send her into anaphylactic shock.
Nowhere in the equation was the part where Murphy leaned forward and took the hors d'oeuvre off my fingers with a neat curl of her tongue.
"Um," I said, shoving the other two in my own mouth to buy myself a second to think and wondering why it felt so hot all the sudden, especially where Murphy's arm was still looped through my own.
"We should dance," Murphy said a moment later, and I nearly choked.
I was still mulling it over two and a half eggnogs later, when the party began to pick up as Murphy had promised it would, and Murphy finally did deliver the long-awaited pinches as a signal that we should get the heck out of Dodge while the getting was still good.
"Going so soon?" some woman I'd been vaguely introduced to two hours ago inquired. "You'll miss all the fun!"
I wasn't sure what a woman who looked like she was wearing a fruitcake knew about having all the fun, but Murphy interrupted before I could vocalize that to blame our escape on me.
"He hasn't been right since the crab puffs," she said, face straight, and I helpfully choked on nothing.
Just then, to compound insult with injury, the woman proved that she did indeed know about having all the fun despite wearing a fruitcake, because she pointed directly above us with a knowing smirk.
"Oh no," I said, trying to take a step back, but Murphy's blasted arm was still linked through mine. "No, no! You know, this whole holiday isn't really within my actual belief system, and then with the crab puffs, I really don't think we should…"
Murphy was eyeing me with a level gaze, and then she shrugged one shoulder. "I'm game if you are, Dresden."
That brought me up short. When Murphy put it like that, like it was a challenge…well, we men are simple creatures at heart, and Murphy had a pretty nice shoulder even before she encased it in slinky red velour.
I was still pondering the fact that I had just used the words 'Murphy' and 'slinky' in the same sentence when Murphy tugged my arm down to bring me within reach and then laid one on me.
And then I wasn't thinking much of anything for a minute or so.
"Hell's bells," I murmured when Murphy pulled away, feeling rather dazed and not in any way capable of stopping myself from wondering if Murphy's blush went the whole way down.
"Where did you say the crab puffs were?" the fruitcake woman wanted to know.
I stormed into my apartment like a natural disaster, Mouse and Mister wisely scattering out of my path. I was mad enough to peel the skin off a grape with my glare alone, or anything else I could get my hands on, especially if that someone else happened to be my meddling incubus half-brother.
Of course now that I wanted him, Thomas was nowhere to be found, so I kept right on storming down into the basement, lighting the candles with a flick of my hand that sent scorch marks six inches up the stone wall.
"Bob!" I yelled, more because yelling is a lot of fun when you're angry and surrounded by echoing stone than because I had to be loud to get the attention of a spirit bound to a skull a foot away from me. "Get out here right now!"
"Geez, all right," Bob grumbled, making the eyes of the skull glow orange. "Stop yelling just to make yourself echo. What's the problem? I was taking a nice nap."
"I need to know how to undo the effects of an incubus," I said, starting to pace now that I'd been deprived of my yelling.
"Harry, I don't know what you've been telling yourself," Bob gave an yawn that we both knew was faker than the cheese on a Dorito, "but I'm pretty sure the genes that gave Thomas his incubus abilities come from the other side of his family tree."
"Perfect, because Thomas is the one doing it!" I went back to yelling. I liked it, it made me feel big and scary and not like the kind of guy who pictures pouring his completely platonic female friend out of her slinky red Christmas dress like a mug of hot cocoa. "He's gone and incubused Murphy!"
"Murphy?" Bob seemed torn between incredulity and amusement. I growled at him. "Cop Murphy? Are you telling me that your brother seduced the only woman in the entire world that you have even half a shot with?"
"No!" I snapped. "He incubused her on me! And I do not want to 'take a shot' at Murphy!"
"I think you'd better start over at the beginning," Bob said, now nothing but amused.
So I explained, about Thomas and Candy Cane and taking Mouse out and sending Murphy inside alone and finding Thomas talking with her in a suspicious manner, and about Murphy buying me food and inviting me out and touching me a lot.
"And then she kissed me!" I finished up. "Under mistletoe!"
"I hear that's common this time of year," Bob remarked sagely.
"One more wisecrack out of you and I put Santa's milk in your skull," I growled. "This is serious! What if Thomas did something permanent to her! Murphy might be brain-damaged for life!"
"I'd already suspected that, given her attachment to you. Relax," Bob said quickly when I started advancing, letting it show in my eyes that I was already planning what sort of cookies to leave on the table beside him. "Thomas's mojo's already long-gone."
"I…what?" I blinked and stopped my menacing advance. "What do you mean?"
"An incubus's influence doesn't last for very long once you're out of physical proximity, especially if the contact is limited," Bob explained, doing a hell of a job of shrugging for a being without shoulders. "Sounds like Thomas might have juiced Murphy up a little, but there's no way it lasted until days later."
"But," I protested, feeling rather deflated, "there was touching! And kissing! I think I accidentally made it to second base!"
"As implausible as it sounds, Murphy might actually just like you," Bob said sympathetically. "What's second base these days, anyway? Last time I had hands it was getting one of them on a bare ankle."
Realizing with a sinking heart that I was about to need one hell of an apology for the unceremonious fleeing of Murphy's company, I waved the candles out and trudged up the stairs, ignoring Bob's continued monologue about the subtle sexuality of a well-turned ankle.
"Oh," Murphy said, getting ready to slam the door right back in my face. "I'm pretty sure I'm not speaking to you right now."
"Wait!" I protested, sticking my foot in the doorway and gasping as Murphy gave the door an impressive shove into it. "I thought Thomas incubused you!"
Murphy's eyes narrowed to dangerous, blue slits, and I regretted the moment of thinking that she looked a lot less dangerous in a green sweatshirt than she had in the dress. "Are you accusing me of sleeping with your brother?"
"No! No, I just thought he…" I stopped myself from actually uttering the words 'juiced you up for me' and by the look on Murphy's face, it was a good choice. "He was talking about me needing to…um…and then he mentioned tiny Dresdens, and then you were talking to him, and I thought he might have…rubbed off on you. A little. But it turns it wouldn't last that long, so you must have been…you know…on purpose."
"Tiny…" Murphy echoed, and I said "Um" again. Finally Murphy sighed. "Let me get this straight. The reason you fled my company as though I were carrying the plague was because you thought I was overtaken by misplaced vampire lust, and you were only trying to save me from myself?"
"Yes!" I said fervently, trying to look chivalrous and penitent. "That's completely plausible! Trust me, I'm a wizard! It happens all the time!"
Giving a little snort, Murphy let go of the door so that it released my foot and swung open a bit more. "Come inside, I don't want the neighbors seeing you and getting the wrong idea."
"Just so we're clear," I said, wincing as I set my weight down on my injured foot, "can you tell me what the right idea is, exactly?"
Murphy just gave me a raised eyebrow as she pushed the door shut behind me, but then she pointed up, and it turned out that I was pretty okay with Murphy kissing me if I didn't suspect that vampires had put her up to it.
"You owe me the best Christmas present ever," Murphy informed me without really pulling her mouth away from mine, and I planned to get right on that.
"So," Thomas asked as I came in my front door, sprawled across my couch and sucking leisurely on a candy cane. "How did it go? Any chance of tiny Dresdens?"
I imagined strangling Thomas with a string of twinkling Christmas lights, which put a very festive smile on my face, and let Thomas draw his own conclusions.