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On the Edge

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Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden was good at getting by.

Whatever it took, and however hard the universe was determined to make it for him.

Tonight, however, the universe had decided to roll up its sleeves and stop fucking around.

It was the dead of night, and raining, and Karrin Murphy slowly and cautiously approached the figure hunched at the edge of the roof. She wasn’t trained for this, but there was no one in S.I. who was. This wasn’t their beat. But they’d called her in because no one else was getting anything out of him. The rain fell in a steady, murmuring drizzle, slowly but surely soaked her through to the skin. It had already gotten to him – even through the heavy protection of his duster, he was shivering with cold.

Murphy approached, step by slow step, her hands held up and obviously empty. She stopped a few yards away – don’t make him feel trapped, don’t make him feel pressured. Take it nice and easy. That was what the ESU officers who’d met her here at the scene had told her in a painfully short rundown of how to pull a jumper back from the edge. Here on the roof, there was no good way to make a grab – she’d have to use her own judgment, trust in what she knew of him, to know when to pull him back from the edge.

Murphy swallowed, feeling dread like lead in her stomach. She took a deep breath, and spoke over the rain.

“Dresden?”

He twitched, and she thought she saw him raise his head. He said something, or tried to, but his voice was slurred and soft, and she couldn’t make it out.

Murphy risked a step forward. “Dresden? What are you doing here?”

“It hurts…”

His voice was like a trail of ice down her spine. Murphy swallowed – she’d rarely heard that much pain in a human voice before. The memories of those times she had only made her even more afraid for him, and for whatever had happened to him.

“Are you hurt? We’ve got medics waiting on the ground. We can get you help.”

She tried to keep the note of pleading out of her voice. She had to be strong. He needed her strong.

Harry said nothing. He just stayed there, swaying, shivering, and every breath that shuddered out of him was obvious agony. Murphy risked another step forward. He heard her, and turned his head just a little towards her. Not enough for her to see his eyes, though. Not that it would matter – all the years they’d known each other, and she’d never once looked in his eyes.

Murphy shoved those thoughts out of her head. Stay positive – that was what they’d told her. No matter how uncooperative they are, no matter how damned determined, if you just reach out to someone on the edge, they’ll eventually reach back.

This was Harry, for God’s sake. He’d never not been there when she’d reached out for him.

“Harry, whatever’s wrong…I’m here. If you’re in trouble, damn it, just say something. I can’t help if I don’t know what’s wrong, but if you say something…”

“It hurts…”

He sobbed, just once, but Murphy realized he was struggling to hold back more. That even now, he was trying to be strong, but that whatever had happened was just too much, and it was wearing him down like the tide along the beach.

“What hurts?” She felt herself starting to grow frustrated, irritated, and that was bad. You needed patience, to talk someone down, and she wasn’t a patient woman. Murphy caught herself wondering why it had to be her, up here. There had to be someone else. Anyone else.

She couldn’t do this. She tried not to think that thought, but there it was.

“Harry, if you need money for painkillers…”

“It hurts it hurts it hurts…”

There was one other possibility. One that she wasn’t allowing herself to consider. And maybe that was a stupid thing to do, but if that was the case, then she didn’t know if she could help him.

But if she didn’t get him down off this ledge, no one could help him at all. 

Whatever was wrong – physical or mental – it was getting worse. He sobbed again, doubling over, his face in his hands. And then Murphy realized that he wasn’t burying his face in his hands – he’d brought his hands to his face, and was scratching.

“Damn it, Dresden!” She surged forward, reaching out to grab him. In a truly miraculous twist of good luck, she managed it without chasing him off the roof.

But the painful, unearthly cold she felt when she touched his skin made her yelp in surprise and pain, pulling back. And then he was staggering away from her. Away, at least, not over. He was showing a spark of life, a willingness to fight. He was wavering in the right direction.

And she realized that he was trying to protect her.

Now she was close enough to see the blood. Blood on his face, his neck, his arms where the sleeves of his duster were rolled up. Blood on his hands, stuck under his fingernails, blood fresh and gleaming and blood already dried. She was close enough to see him trembling with pain, weakened body and soul just from enduring it.

It took him several long, deep, ragged breaths before he tried to speak again. “Karrin…” And when he did, he said her name like a prayer. But he was already contemplating the edge again.

“Harry,” said Murphy, insistently, growing desperate. “Whatever the hell is hurting you, we’ll stop it. I won’t stop until I find whatever did this and make it stop. None of us will. But we can’t help you if you don’t fucking let us! If you jump, it never gets better! It just ends. Harry, you have friends. For once, god, just trust us. Just let us help you.”

She didn’t risk looking over the edge. Six floors up in the rain and the dark, she wasn’t sure she would have seen anything even if she had. Besides, it didn’t matter. None of it mattered. All that mattered was him, and saving him, and she had to do it alone. Desperate and frustrated as she was, leaving him here was still unthinkable.

“Talk to me, Harry. Hell, nod to me. Is this magic?”

Slowly, he nodded. Murphy let out her breath in a rush. It was just as she’d feared, just what she’d been hoping it wouldn’t be. She couldn’t help him, if it was magic. She couldn’t even hunt down whoever, whatever, was responsible and make it stop, not without Dresden to point her in the right direction.

“It hurts…s-so tired…can’t…”

And the effort of speaking seemed to break him. As Murphy watched, Harry finally broke down and wept with pain.

It hurt to see him like this – shivering, soaked, bloody, weak, and hurting. She just wanted to fix him, and she didn’t know how. If this was magic, she couldn’t. Murphy could have screamed, if her throat wasn’t so locked tight with trying not to cry herself.

“This isn’t the answer, Harry. This isn’t how we do things. We don’t give up. We fix it, save the day, and we don’t leave anyone behind. After everything you’ve done, we’re not going to leave you here to hang. I’m not going to leave you. If you go over this ledge, Dresden, I’m coming down after you.”

He hesitated, then – it was cruel, maybe, to play on his heroic streak when he was suffering like this, but it was one of the only tricks she had. The official way wasn’t working. Hell, the official way didn’t have a leg to stand on where bad magic was involved.

At the least, she didn’t think he’d jump if he feared for her life, even if he no longer cared for his own.

Murphy took a slow, careful step forward, as one might approach a wounded stray dog. He tensed, but didn’t step back, not until Murphy reached out to him.

Right. No touching, it seemed. Not that Murphy was all that keen on feeling that impossible cold again…but touch was so often the easiest way they had to connect to one another, and it was one more blow to have it denied.

“Come on, Dresden,” she said, softly. “Come with me. Come back down. We’ll get you help. Just trust me.”

She tried to urge him back towards the door that would take them back into the building, out of the rain, and then back down to the ground where paramedics were waiting. It was difficult, without being able to touch him, and with Harry still trapped in a small, personal hell. But he got the point, eventually, and made a truly valiant effort at staggering along beside her. Being close to seven feet tall often only meant there was more of Harry to collapse in on himself when things got bad.

Murphy was impressed that he made it down three floors before he finally did. It was a long, slow collapse, and all the more terrible for it. He just managed to gasp out her name before his legs folded out from under him, and Murphy turned in time to see him fall.

She reached out to try and catch him, and wound up with a fistful of duster. It was enough to stop him sliding too far down the stairwell and potentially adding a concussion onto his list of problems. He tried for a few seconds to regain his balance again, but it was hopeless, and after a few seconds, he just went limp in her arms, breathing shallowly and whimpering.

There would have been no good way to go about this at the best of times, with Harry having well over a foot on her in height. Murphy knew that she should probably leave him, go the rest of the way on her own, and bring back help. She should, but she wasn’t sure she could trust him not to make another attempt to jump.

No, there was nothing for it. Murphy drew one of Harry’s arms across her shoulder, and the cold she could feel even through the heavy leather duster made her suck in her breath sharply. Murphy forcibly reminded herself that whatever she was feeling was nothing on what Harry was feeling – she was a big girl, and she could deal. She wrapped her other arm around his waist, holding him to her. It would be a way to drag him down the stairs without him cracking his head open. Even if Harry might have welcomed such an outcome, Murphy wouldn’t stand for it.

Panting under his weight, gritting her teeth against the cold stabbing into her skin life knives where she touched him, Murphy dragged Harry step by laborious step. Every so often, he was lucid just long enough to say something. “Karrin…let me die…”

“Shut the hell up, Dresden,” Murphy growled, the words making her heart twist painfully in her chest. “I’m not letting you die. Not until I’ve paid you back. For every single damn time you’ve saved mine. I always pay my debts, Harry. Don’t you go ruining that for me.”  

But she didn’t know how to help him. She didn’t know what was wrong. She didn’t have any magic to fix it – Dresden was usually the one she went to when she needed magic to fix something, and he couldn’t even fight off her efforts to drag him.

Maybe all she could do was let him die.