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"So am I too much of a monster or are you?" I asked. "I'm getting confused."

"Join the club," she said.

"You're saying that the problem is, you think I could go bad," I said.

"I know you could," she said. "Anyone can. And you've got more opportunity than most. And maybe you shouldn't be rocking your emotional boat right now. When Susan broke your heart, right after she was changed? You went into a downward spiral. If that happened now, with the kinds of things you're facing . . . Harry, I'm afraid you might not be able to pull out of it."

That much sure as hell was true. "You aren't wrong," I said. "But we haven't even gone on a date yet and you've already skipped ahead to the ugly breakup?"

"There are factors," she repeated in a firm, steady voice.

"Like what?" I asked.

"Like this thing with Molly," Karrin said.

"There's no thing with Molly," I said. "There's never going to be a thing with Molly."

She sighed. "You're a wizard. She's a wizard. Now you're the Winter Knight. And she's the Winter Lady."

"Karrin," I began.

"And I'm going to get old and die soon," Karrin said very, very quietly. "Relatively soon. But you're going to keep going for centuries. And so is she. The two of you are close-and even if nothing ever happens . . . it's one more thing. You know?"

We held hands and the fire crackled.

"Oh," I said.

She nodded.

"So there are things stacked against us," I said. "What else is new?"

"You are the captain of disaster in the supernatural world," she acknowledged. "But I'm the one who has repeatedly taken relationships into icebergs. I've done it enough to know that you and I are the Titanic."

"We're people," I said. "Not some f**king ship."

"We're also people," she said. "A kiss when we're both ramped up on adrenaline is one thing. A relationship is harder. A lot harder." She shook her head. "If it ends in tears, I'm afraid it could destroy us both. And there's a lot on the line right now. I don't think this is something we should rush into. I need time to think. To . . . I just need time."

I swallowed. She still wasn't wrong. I didn't like what she had to say, not one bit, but . . .

She wasn't wrong.

"Is this where you tell me we need to be friends?" I asked.

She blinked and looked up at me. She touched my face with her fingertips. "Harry, we're . . . We went past that a long time ago. I don't know if we can . . . if we should be lovers. But I'm your friend. Your ally. I've seen what you want, and what you're willing to sacrifice to make it happen." She took one of my hands between hers, pressing hard. "I feel lost since they fired me. I don't know what I'm meant to do or who I ought to be. But what I do know is that I've got your back. Always." Tears fell from her blue eyes. "So goddammit, don't you start taking the highway to Hell. Because I'm going to be right there with you. All the way."

I couldn't see her face after that. I felt her head underneath my chin, and I put my arms around her. We sat together like that for a while.

"Things are going to get bad," I said quietly. "I don't know how or when, exactly. But there's a storm coming. Being near me isn't going to be . . . sane."

"Let's just agree that I'm not all the way together, and save us both some time arguing," she said. "Always, Harry. I'm there. End of story."

"Okay," I said. "One condition."

"What?"

"That's not the end of the story," I said. "I mean, maybe neither one of us is ready. But we could be, one day. And maybe we will be."

"Optimistic idiot," she said, but I could hear the smile.

"And if we get to that place," I said, "you don't chicken out. You don't run away, no matter how it looks to you. We set course for the f**king iceberg, full speed ahead."

She started shaking. She was weeping.

"And the sex," I said. "It will be frequent. Possibly violent. You'll be screaming. Neighbors will make phone calls."

She started shaking harder. She was laughing.

"Those are my conditions," I said. "Take them or leave them."

"You're such a pig, Dresden," Karrin said. Then she drew back enough to give me a look through tearstained blue eyes. "Maybe you'll be the one screaming."

* * *

"You sure about this?" asked Thomas. "Out here by yourself?"

"Cold isn't really an issue anymore," I said, untying the first of the lines from the Water Beetle to the Whatsup Dock. I was wearing some of his clothes from the ship. The sweats were too short, and the shirt was too tight, but the duster hid most of that. "And I've got supplies for a week or so, until you can make it back. You sure that tub's going to make it back to town?"

"Put three patches on the hull after I got her off the beach, and the pumps are working," Thomas said. "We should be fine. What about you? That thing the island said was in your head?"

"Another reason to stay here," I said. "If Molly's the one who can help me, I'm on my own for now. But Demonreach seems to be able to make it leave me alone, at least while I'm here. Pretty much means I need to stay until Molly gets herself back together."

My brother exhaled unhappily, and squinted up at the noonday sun, south of us, hidden behind grey clouds. "Heard from Lara on the radio."

"And?"

"Both her team and Marcone's found rituals in progress at the two sites. They broke them up. Someone really wanted this place to get screwed up."

"Or something," I said with a melodramatic waggle of my eyebrows.

He snorted. "You joke around. But I can't help but think that Fix is going to hold you responsible for some of what happened last night," he said. "He might show up to explain that to you."

"He shows up here, there's nothing he can do," I said quietly. "I can take him on neutral ground. Here, it won't even be a fight."

"Still," Thomas said. "Out here, alone?"

"I think it's important," I said. "I've got to know more about this place and what it can do. The only way to do that is to invest the time."

"And it's got nothing to do with facing Molly's parents," he said.

I bowed my head. "It isn't my place to tell them. Molly should decide who they hear it from first. Once she has, yeah. There's going to be a really hard talk. Until that time, I need to be here."

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