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River Front

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1.
This is how Murphy meets her the first time: stopping in a cafe, glaring at the menu, and a woman's voice says: "I'm sorry to be so forward, but you're gorgeous. Can I buy you a coffee?"

Murphy turns. There's a businesswoman, standing with a hopeful little smile, the kind of tall, polished woman who men say that kind of ridiculous thing to, and she's looking at Murphy and not at the stockbroker in front of her ordering his daily prescription of caffeine.

"Sure," Murphy says automatically, because she's careful about debts these days, but she is also not averse to gorgeous women hitting on her. "If I buy you one."

"Well, that's romantic." The woman rolls her eyes but grins, her dangling earrings catching the early winter sunlight the same way her smile seems to throw it across the room. "Mine's a large shot in the dark, room for two creams."

"...okay," says Murphy. “I just want a coffee. Large.”

They order each other’s drinks, side by side at different baristas. Murphy’s comes first, the espresso shot still brewing, and the woman watches her dump in half a packet of sweetener and give it a stir before handing her a lid, just brushing Murphy’s fingers with her own, and winking when Murphy glances up at her.

Her drink comes a second later, handed to Murphy over the counter, and Murphy picks up the cream. “Say when.”

“When,” the woman says, after a long pour, just when the creamy coffee's reaching the top of the cup.

Murphy arches her eyebrows, handing the cup over carefully, and a lid after it. “That’s more than two.”

“I get greedy,” the woman says, wedging the lid on, her smile hitting somewhere in the band between flirtatious and blatant.

It’s almost comforting; there’s an honesty to it, so different from the unwanted grease Felicia leaves behind on her psyche, whenever they have to meet. Not that Murphy thinks this woman's a Raith; all her sleaze is verbal and it isn’t doing anything to her free will. And less a guarantee but more a trend, all the White Court she's seen have been... well... White. Her new friend, on the other hand, probably has roots in the Chicago area that predate American vampirism.

“I have to run,” the businesswoman says. “And I want to flirt harder when I have time to really give it some attention. Are you around here much?”

Murphy grunts at her.

The businesswoman gives a little ‘hnn’ and a chin-jerk in response, and Murphy decides she likes this woman.

 

2.
This is how Murphy meets her the second time: stopping at that cafe, glaring at the menu, and a woman’s voice says: “So I’m Shy, by the way, spelled C-H-I.”

Murphy turns and give the other woman half a smile. “Murphy. Like the law.”

Chi grins and the chains around her neck shimmer discretely, delicately. She looks good in gold. Although, being perfectly honest, Murphy thinks she would look amazing in nothing at all; just something she notes, and then moves on from, moves on with life. And all right, she’s considering it.

“I’m in Finance,” Chi adds.

“Security,” Murphy offers. She’s in jeans and a down-filled ski jacket, downright shabby next to Chi’s beautifully cut wool coat, the gold in the belt set off by the delicate gold threads that accent the lines and pleats of the jacket. But ‘security’ goes a long way toward explaining that, and she lets Chi draw her own conclusions, whatever those might be. “You work around here?”

“Mm-hmm, not far from here.” She’s drinking tea this time, hands wrapped around the cup, no lid, steam that smells like a vacation in the Keys pouring off it. “Hell of a view.”

She’s looking out the window, out at the river, the steps leading down to the riverwalk, the parallel lines of the bridges, the gleaming sides of the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building, everything shrouded in early December fog, the river itself choppy and blue steel.

“Yeah,” Murphy says.

 

3.
The third time is when they've actually planned to meet and buy each other dinner, and a pack of Renfields jumps them. Mostly Murphy, because she’s the one who burnt out the infested little nest of Black Courts in the warehouse district night before last-- well, her and Georgia and Marcy and Daniel-- but she knows that anyone who gets in the Renfields’ way will wind up in burlap doggy-bags for their master-or-masters.

So she shouts run and grabs Chi by the hand, because she has to get Chi into a high traffic area and then lead the Renfields into a low traffic area and then she has to put bullets into a bunch of brainwashing victims who are past saving but who are, her nightmares remind her constantly, still very human.

“This way,” Chi says, tugging her hand, pulling her east instead of west like she’s trying to lead them, stronger than Murphy had realized. “We have to get to the river.”

Why is it always the river with them?

It’s roaring at the bank like it shouldn’t be when they get there, angry and frothing under the ice, up through the ice, tossing the ice around like its nothing but feathers and fluff, like there’s been nothing but rain for weeks, like it’s spring and not January-- and it’s been a dry winter. The snow fell early and stayed, worn sharp and grey by the freezing temperatures and the wind that’s been dry enough to crack the skin on Murphy’s hands. The river shouldn’t be like this.

A wall of water roars up the bank and falls like a hammer on the Renfields following them, but not on Murphy and Chi, the spray like ice where it splashes Murphy’s skin, and Chi is still gripping her hand. And then it drags the Renfields back down with it, into the river and under the ice, which settles and grumbles into place. And then things are quiet again; nothing stirs in the dark. There’s a very final silence.

“...Can we still get dinner?” Chi says a little plaintively, a hand over her stomach, gold bracelets and buttons flashing in the orange pathway lights, and they go get Thai food and Murphy tries not to stare at her or dive for cover every time she makes a move.

 

4.
The fourth time, Murphy isn’t alone.

“You brought a chaperone?” Chi asks, her mouth quirking in a smile.

“This is Captain Luccio. She’s here to preserve my honor.”

“Madam,” Luccio says, giving her a flat look. “I’m sorry to intrude.”

“That’s okay,” Chi says cheerfully. “I like wizards. I prefer them native, but you look like good people.” She waves brightly to Luccio, who bows seriously.

And then things get strangely... young and friendly, as Murphy and Chi buy each other their drinks-- white hot chocolate for Murphy, salted caramel mocha for Chi-- and then hold hands and drift from Franklin Street to Lake Shore Drive and back again. Having a chaperone makes the whole thing a little surreally 1950s.

Sure, getting said chaperone involved calling in a very expensive favor with an organization that sees her as a mentally challenged adolescent trying to play with the big kids, but the White Council is having to swallow a lot of pride these days. And at least she doesn’t mind owing Luccio herself a favor, and Luccio didn’t react to Chi by pulling out a sword.

Murphy’s had enough shit in her life lately, so she’ll take her hand-holding and warm cozy winter feelings of yesteryear courtship where she can get them.

 

5.
And on the fifth date they’re camouflaged precariously under a bridge and Chi has her left hand up the back of Murphy's shirt and is trying very hard to get her bra off but one of her rings keeps catching in the strap, and Murphy is kissing her like she's going to drown if she can't get mouth-to-mouth.

“You’re cold,” Chi mutters into her mouth, finally getting the catch undone and her hand under one cup of Murphy’s bra, palm soft and hot against Murphy’s uncomfortably pebbled nipple.

“It’s February,” Murphy grumbles, and then freezes (metaphorically) as she hears footsteps on the bridge above them, and if someone comes down the steps at the wrong angle they’re going to be seen.

Chi grins and licks her lips. And then licks Murphy’s lips, and Murphy follows her mouth back as if magnetized, a little overwhelmed by all the hormones she thought she left behind twenty years ago. The chill in the air is sharp compared to the warmth of Chi’s body, and Murphy just wants to climb her and nestle into her and she isn’t entirely confident that she can stop even if they are spotted.

Chi flicks at her nipple, nail rough, and Murphy stops thinking about stopping at all, biting down on Chi’s lip to make her moan no matter how many people might be walking overhead. Chi gets a leg between hers, a long smooth line of designer suit pants, and Murphy rocks her hips against it, building friction and heat between them. Her jacket rustling sounds obscenely loud.

Chi pulls her tight and still, both of them vibrating with guilty excitement as a woman walks past them, carefully navigating the icy pathway not five yards from their sheltered space; earbuds in, looking ahead at nothing.

She passes and Chi lets out a little hiss of giddy relief, eyes glimmering like water as she starts to grind harder and faster and dirtier and Murphy finds herself giving this low little laugh that would be a giggle if it were higher pitched.

 

Ten minutes later they walk out from under the bridge, going in opposite directions as if that would fool anyone observant. Murphy was a cop, she knows how transparent her attempt not to look like she just got laid under a bridge is-- and she's not a cop any more, bitter enough about it that it almost takes the edge off her renewed paranoia.

She circles around to Chi, meeting under the Chicago Theater sign a few blocks away like they’re tourists or something, and Chi-- rumpled and dusty and glimmering and smug-- reaches out and draws her in, smiling. It catches the light enough to put the marquee to shame.

"Sushi?"

"Mexican?" Chi counter-offers, and Murphy, not very invested in the rice option, shrugs and lets her lover's current carry her along.


Luccio’s report has come back clean, but she’s sent back to London, not Edinburg, to ask a few questions and find a few answers. Murphy’s not expecting any follow up soon.

She certainly isn’t expecting, four days after her last date (two days ‘till their next one), to get a phone call about it. Most of the wizards she knows regard phones as either necessary evils or just something to be avoided entirely.

But when she says “Murphy,” in a curt greeting, a young man’s voice says in reply:

“Afternoon, isn’t it?” Going by the accent, her caller’s probably converting from somewhere across the Atlantic. “Captain Luccio asked me to talk to you about Chicago. Sorry I didn’t get to you faster, but the Captain didn’t know your number and with you off the force I couldn’t just ring the CPD. I mean. Beg your pardon. And you’re unlisted, so it took some doing and asking."

“...Who are you?” she asks, very politely, the edge on her voice razor keen. There’s an embarrassed pause.

“Sorry. Constable Peter Grant, Scotland Yard, with the Folly.” Whatever that means. “But: the White Council said we needed to talk about Chicago.”

“What about it?” There’s a tone to her voice that says: I suspect that you are doing the very best that you can, earnest young British policeman. It’s not good. Work on that.

“It? I meant her." A waiting pause, and when Murphy doesn’t fill in the silence he says: "Oh. You haven’t got the background, then.” He sighs through the phone. “All right, Ms. Murphy. Let’s start at the beginning. My name’s Constable Peter Grant, Scotland Yard, with the Folly. And we need to talk about rivers.”