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All the Shades of Winter

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The first time I met him I was nine.


A year and a few months had passed since the day my entire world had gotten turned upside down; when my parents, the Mendozas, were killed and I was taken by monsters. Vampires I learned later but in that moment and for some time after they were still only monsters.


Well...they're still monsters. Now I just know what sort of monster.


The actual rescue is still mostly a blur to me but I do remember the aftermath, coming to in a church with an old man there. He gave me chicken noodle soup and tea that tasted like honey then told me that he would help find a safe place for me. A place where no monsters could find me anymore.


I was only briefly placed in a temporary home before a short blonde woman came to talk to the couple that kept it. She looked like she had been crying a lot but she managed to keep the tears out of her voice. And she arranged with them – and I assume the church since the Father had placed me here – for her to take me in. That was when I learned her name was Karrin Murphy and she was a former police officer.


We lived in Chicago for a month before I accidentally set the couch on fire. She reacted rather calmly to it, putting out the fire easily with a blanket and calmed me down from my panic attack before she went to call someone. We moved from Illinois to Missouri just like that two weeks later with the only explanation being that we were moving to somewhere where I could learn how to control things like the fire.


That was how I met my teacher, Ebenezar McCoy, who explained to me about magic, taught me the principles of it and how to actually use it. I was Missouri for a little while. Ebenezar became kind of like a grandfather to me even though he was a little distant at first and Murphy was slowly starting to become something more than the woman I lived with.


Then I found my birth certificate.


When I saw that the Mendozas had adopted me at birth, my heart broke. So I asked Murphy about my real parents, Susan Rodriguez and Harry Dresden, and what had happened to them.


She told me they were both dead.


And I ran out into an oncoming snowstorm blinded by tears with no coat on and no idea what I was thinking. I ran until my body went numb with cold and I collapsed, utterly exhausted, with my tears freezing on my cheeks. When I closed my eyes, I expected never to open them again, to never see Murphy or Ebenezar again. To never get to apologize.


But he found me.


When I came to, I was warm, wrapped up in a thick leather coat and held in someone's lap. A fire roared in front of me and when I flinched back from it, I heard a male voice say from above and behind me, “Shh, shh, you're safe.”


Tilting my head back, I caught a glimpse of him above me, his face made of somewhat harsh angles with a bit of a hawkish nose. The smile on his face was warm, however, and it softened his features. I saw dark hair and dark eyes and then realized what he had said and mumbled, “Not supposed to talk to strangers.”


“Well,” he answered as his smile widened crookedly, “I'm a friend of Murphy's so I'm not really a stranger, am I?”


I remember blinking at him and shifting uneasily. “I guess so,” I muttered uneasily. Then I, for some reason, said, “She didn't tell me.”


“Tell you what?”


“My real parents. They're dead.”


He sucked in a breath, just like a boy at school had when I hit him in the stomach once like Murphy had taught me because he was bullying someone, then said, “She probably had a good reason for not telling you.” Before I could say anything he continued kindly, “Sometimes adults do things that you don't understand until later. Believe me, there are some things that happened when I was a kid that I didn't get until I was a lot older than you.”


I frowned then sniffed and that broke the floodgates of my tears again. When I started sobbing, he began rocking me gently back and forth with his head bent against mine as he whispered into my hair that it would all be all right. And when my cries finally subsided into hiccuping coughs of sobs, he spoke again.


“I know Murphy isn't your parent by blood, kiddo,” he said softly, gently, and a little sadly. “She's good people though and if you let her in, I know she'll love you like you were her own. And I think you could love her like that too.”


There was a pause then he added, “Blood relations are important to remember. But there are also relations of the heart; people who you love like family and blood. So, give Murph a chance when you get back home, yeah? I think she was just trying to protect you.”


“Maybe,” I mumbled sleepily then, exhaustion washing over me. After that the last thing I remember is him slipping something around my neck and whispering something before I completely nodded off.


When I woke up, I was home in my bed with Murphy sitting next to me, fear and worry heavily evident on her face. She told me I was lucky that she and Ebenezar had found me in the snow and that I had nearly died out there before berating me about running away into it. I was a little confused, wondering if the man had just been a dream, but didn't tell her about him.


I didn't want her to worry if he had been just a dream.


Then almost immediately she threw her arms around me and breathed, “I don't know what I would have done if we hadn't found you.” His words came back to me then, in that moment, and I knew they were true. And I realized I wanted that connection to Murphy.


She left me alone not long after that, telling me to get some sleep and I rolled over with the intention of doing just that. Something jabbed me in the chest though and I fumbled for it before I grabbed it. As I tried to pull it away, I felt a cord tighten across the back of my neck and remembered the man putting something there.


Here was proof in my hand that he had been real.


But it took me a long time to figure out why he had given me a battered silver pentacle.