Character/Pairings: Marcone/Dresden, Hendricks
Summary: The haven stone transports its wearer to a place where they will be safe from harm. It drops Dresden at Marcone's feet.
Author's Note: De-anon from the kink meme.
When I was older, I studied those same heather eyes as the body they belonged to was pulled up from the lake with a green ribbon tied around its throat, and I thought of Sunday dinners, teasing smiles that always cottoned on when I or her brother had a date (and a little girl in a park, my perfect aim, someone else’s imperfect aim), and I wore a new smile when Marco asked me if I’d liked my birthday present.
I wouldn’t be much older than that when I shot Marco between blue eyes that were so shallow their color mimicked whatever shades passed by, so weak that they left only a passing impression of looking into cheap plastic before they burst.
Dresden’s eyes were analogous to the head of a rusted nail that was trying for all it was worth to either hold something together or shut something in, but I kept looking until I pried them loose, because there was information I needed to know and couldn’t afford not to find.
And that, as Hendricks has often said, is where any sort of poetry in me dies. A quick supposition of a man’s eyes, and then he becomes a set of kill points to be memorized, prepackaged in skin. With Dresden’s height and posture, he would have been in good range for a blade to the kidneys or perhaps an upwards strike through the liver and into the diaphragm, depending on the knife I favored on the day it became a necessity. Unfortunately, my normal methods of categorization were not applicable with this man--- he was a wizard, and I had a heard of the death curse, and I was still not entirely certain of the shielding his duster afforded him, nevermind his abilities. I have learned a healthy appreciation for fire through my association with Dresden.
That was why, when the air cracked and shone briefly blue and white in the middle of the warehouse, and Dresden stepped through and sank to his knees before falling onto his side as though unseen strings had been cut, my first instinct was one of caution. There had been fire at his fingertips, and it traveled outward along the concrete in a circle before dispersing completely. The flame died before it reached the leather of my shoes by mere centimeters. It was lucky, very lucky, that the only armed men with me at the time were well aware of who Dresden was, and the only ones who weren’t either were bound and on their knees or already dead.
Several moments later, and all the magic had withered from the scene and we were simply staring at an unconscious man, battered and bleeding on the dusty floor.
My eyes were locked on the wizard’s collapsed form, and with Hendricks at my side, I closed the small distance. “Kill the rest,” I instructed over my shoulder. “We no longer have time for them.”
There was a volley of muffled protests alleviated by gunfire. In the few short seconds it took me to kneel at Dresden’s side, the clean-up had already started. I ignored it as routine in favor of the man in front of me. There was no injury to his head that I could see, and from the condition of the duster, there appeared to be no trauma to the spine, but I couldn’t be certain. I’d seen firsthand that projectiles could not make it through the material, but that said nothing of pressure.
“Dale,” I beckoned.
The former army medic was beside me in an instant, hands reaching out to press carefully down Dresden’s back, fingers drawing the line of his spine before turning him over.
My jaw clenched. It didn’t matter how many times I saw any number of injuries, seeing them on a familiar face always felt like the first, brought an unquantifiable surge of anger. Blood was caked over Dresden’s mouth and throat, thick enough that until I saw the unbroken skin, I feared it had been slit.
“I dunno, sir.” Dale’s hands had gone to his jaw, had opened his slack mouth before placing his head back on the ground. “Can’t tell where it’s coming from. Could be internal. I can feel a few breaks in his ribs, and legs don’t bend that way. We need to get him out of here.”
“Car’s coming around,” Hendricks confirmed. “The doc will be waiting for us at locale 2A.”
Ah, so I wouldn’t be staying at the apartment tonight after all. He’d mislead me to prevent me from telling Helen, I suspected. The subject was still one of contention between us, but one that I respected as such. The simple truth of the matter was that I trusted Hendricks and knew him well. I did not know Helen, despite my best efforts, and my trust for her was accidental, unintended in equally unintentional moments--- some of the few I was still capable of, and I was no fool. Hendricks would preserve my life even when I did my utmost to get myself killed, as had been proven tenfold over the course of our knowing each other.
“Dale,” I repeated. My voice came out colder than I meant for it to, and I saw a spasm on the man’s face.
“I, uh, I don’t. Well,” he floundered. “He’s just unconscious. There’s always a danger of punctures when ribs break, and like I said, I don’t know about the blood on the face… I’ve got no idea how serious it is without tests, except the um. The appearing out of nowhere thing?” He rubbed the back of his neck, got a little blood on his collar. “I’m no expert, sir, but there could be something wrong with that.” The that ain’t normal went unsaid.
“Yes.” Dresden had opened a portal, and that combined with his current condition, and by simple virtue of who he was, left little doubt in my mind that whatever had put him in this position fell under the classification of the occult. “Yes, that is the most likely explanation.”
“We really going to do this, boss?” Hendricks asked in a low voice. “You know Dresden. If he wakes up in your house after an attack, the reaction’s going to be---”
“---potentially flammable, yes, I am aware.” I stood again as two men came to move him. They negotiated my presence; I had yet to leave the wizard’s side. “Regardless.”
Hendricks gave a sigh somewhere between fatigued and longsuffering. “I swear, if I’d known where we’d end up ---wizards, werewolves, vampires, gods---,” his voice was a barely audible grumble, “I’d have never taken you to see that fucking fortune teller.”
I quirked a smile at what he was attempting to do. Hendricks had an undeniable talent for diverting my attention, and it had saved me, and others, in the past. “It was a more than adequate gag gift for a twenty-six year old thug’s birthday, I assure you. That it happened to also be helpful and informative was not your fault.” (“Most men direct their toys… they do not let toys direct them,” she’d said on that first visit, and I thought of blue eyes like cheap plastic, “If you keep on, you’ll tear its head off and get parts on its nice suit.”)--- but someone had gotten Dresden’s parts on his cheap tattered t-shirt, and he was no toy, and that fortune teller from early days was dead and beyond asking.
“Wh---, guh, uh?”
“I’m going to assume that was a general question of your whereabouts and health.”
“Ghhrg!” Dresden responded upon realizing I was present, attempting to jolt upright before the apparent pain of it prompted him to lean over the side of the bed and vomit. I’d been looking for an excuse to replace the carpeting, and now I had it.
“You are in my house, the property with the highly memorable pit,” I went on, standing to move a glass of water and a basin with a wet cloth closer to his reach. “Your health is in no immediate danger. There was an ample amount of blood on your clothes that we assume came from an outside source, but you do have broken ribs. Movement is---”
I quirked a smile down at him, now close enough to see every heaved breath in great detail as I arranged several bottles of medication where the labels could be clearly read. “Yes, that’s an apt description.”
“No, I…” Dresden’s expression had none of the overcompensating bravado I’d come to expect from him in dangerous situations. He seemed… desperate, and it was unnatural enough for me to judge that his reaction had not been because of the pain.
With one steady hand pressed firmly to his chest, I pushed him back onto the mattress. “Dresden, whatever has happened, you are in no condition to act.”
The look he gave me made me wary of fire. “Let me go,” he grit out. “I have to---” His breath hissed abruptly through his teeth. Rust-colored eyes focused on a point over my shoulder, and I checked the reflection in the glass of a picture frame above the bed. There was a small movement behind a curtain, a flash of light. Degree by degree, his shoulders slackened (---holding something together or shutting something in---). “The spell. It. Obviously doesn’t work.”
While I understood needing a moment to collect oneself, generally I enjoyed it when people made sense. “Pardon?” My gaze was still fixed near the window in the reflection, but I trusted that if something had trespassed onto my property, it was with Gard’s knowledge. She had not failed me yet. Besides, it had led to Dresden relaxing, which meant that if nothing else, the company that provided me with home insurance would approve.
Dresden gripped my wrist and removed my hand; I let him. “Had a bad day. That’s all you need to know, scumbag.”
My eyes snapped back to his. “You appeared in the middle of a warehouse where I was conducting a transaction---”
He angled a jagged smile at me. “Yeah, cuz that’s the right word for it---”
“Were unconscious for two and half days---”
The smile faltered. “Whazit?”
“Smeared blood on some very expensive upholstery---”
“And are currently a guest in my home.” I held up a hand, and Dresden’s protest died on his tongue, but I imagined it had more to do with a twinge of pain than my gesture, which the abrupt resurgence of defiance behind his eyes reaffirmed. “Do I not warrant some explanation?”
“Got my ass kicked. Tried something new. Failed. Still came out alive. Ra, ra. Go me.”
I didn’t dignify that with a response. His eyes followed mine as I returned to the chair at his side. It said something about Dresden that the easiest time I’d ever had extracting information from the man had been when I’d seen his soul.
“Who knows I’m here?” he redirected.
I crossed one leg over the other and folded my hands. The posture appeared casual and put me in easy reach of the holster at my waist. “I have not contacted anyone. I was uncertain of the details surrounding your injuries, and I did not want to compromise whatever job you were undertaking.”
“Yeah, well, I’d like to make a call now.”
There was silence as we watched each other for a few moments. He was quite obviously on edge. Even lying down and in recovery, I could see that he was tensed, ready to attack if the need arose. His duster was folded at the foot of the bed, and his staff was resting against the footboard. I felt we were both aware that he would be unable to reach his weapon before I reached one of mine. I wondered what he was capable of without it.
His jaw clenched, and he looked annoyed, which felt vaguely gratifying. “So, you gonna go get a phone?”
I smiled pleasantly. “Eventually.”
“Marcone…” He said it with an emphasis I’m sure he meant to be taken as a warning.
“Mr. Dresden, I have had your life in my hands for the past two days, in full knowledge of the fact that I might incur an unknown enemy in doing so.” I shrugged one shoulder and sculpted my face into one of the expressions that had become second nature to me after frequent media exposure. “If nothing else, at least inform me of any consequences. You are not kept here against your will. If you don’t wish to speak, you can still leave at your leisure.”
Anger was something Dresden’s face was highly proficient at portraying. The pensiveness it was attempting now, however… “Why did you do it?”
A sharp laugh escaped me, and he seemed surprised by it. “Help a valuable past, and potentially future, ally collapsed injured at my feet?” I met his skeptical gaze; oh, but for a penny every time the man doubted me. “As I have frequently attempted to convince you, I neither dislike you nor wish you ill.”
“Right.” His expression grew wry. “You’re just interested in progressing or protecting your business.” He rolled his shoulders and made a show of mock-cheerfulness. “Well, since you asked so nicely, I guess you can have story time.” The geniality of his voice did not match the rest of him, and I was reminded of the man who traded taunts with fallen angels like they were children in a schoolyard. “I’d have to tell it at the next Accords Meeting anyway. Just let me call a friend, and---”
“Mr. Hendricks,” I called out into the hall. “Please contact Michael Carpenter. Inform him of Mr. Dresden’s location and arrange a pick-up.” My eyes did not shift from Dresden’s. I’d never decided if I was disappointed or grateful that a soulgaze could not be repeated. “Is that adequate?” I broached, charade of smile slipping away like water on glass.
A beat of quiet, and then, “Yeah.”
My hands had been quick with cards long before they had been quick with knives, and from the moment I’d met Dresden, I’d surmised that he was too honest of a man to be a con against the real article. The life I led had taken a drastic step forward from Three Card Monte in the streets, and I could watch Dresden now and be certain that I wasn’t looking at a table of bluffs. There was a money card here--- I merely had to choose it out of the line-up. I sincerely doubted that the wizard’s sudden appearance in the warehouse at the exact moment I was present, and in his condition, was a coincidence.
There was something to learn. There were some… precise words, some precise actions that I could use to positively affect his opinion of me. The soulgaze with Dresden had told me they existed; it had also told me to give up because when it came to finding them, I’d die first. I chose to challenge that.
And the challenge that Dresden offered… it was nothing like the others in my life. Those had all been territory and money and viscera--- hybrid friends and enemies gone cold on pavement with each other’s blood on their hands. Dresden was a man with the same piss in his veins but without the bullets and ill-intent. He could be a danger to me, yes. He could also be an ally, and the path his existence had caused me to ricochet down had opened a whole world. The thrill of it was a sensation I hadn’t allowed myself to feel in decades, and I couldn’t deny some enjoyment in the possibility provided by him alone. It had been enough to prompt Hendricks to note that if I’d wanted to star in a horror genre sitcom, we should have dropped the mob and taken up acting.
Observing him now, chugging a Coke and having an animated conversation with what I supposed was some sort of fae in miniature that had been hovering outside the window, I thought that I might have obtained both.
“Thank you Chicago Baron for letting me see the Za Lord!” the creature directed at me, complete with a salute.
I lifted an eyebrow at the last. “You are welcome. And your name is?”
“This is Toot.” Dresden motioned for the small fae to sit on the lamp shade, and he complied, albeit with fidgeting. “It’s not his Name so don’t get any bright ideas.”
I bowed my head. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Dresden smirked at me as he set the Coke on the bedside table. “You want to know why he’s here.”
As I lifted my eyes again, I gave a half-smile that made his stutter. “It is one of many things I am wondering at the moment.”
“I got hurt saving him.” He shrugged one shoulder, a nervous habit I’d long since taken note of, and looked away from me. “I made a mistake, and Toot almost got killed for it.” Dresden glanced sideways meaningfully when Toot leaned forward to speak, so far that he nearly toppled off his post. “There was an artifact that I located in the Nevernever at the top of a mountain. It was supposed to be one of those surpassing-trials-provided-by-nature-to-
“I assume that didn’t turn out the way you’d planned.” I studied his face carefully.
“Gee, ya think? Anyway…” His eyes darted briefly downwards, to the side, and back up. Guilt. “Something was at home. Turns out Toot wasn’t just picking up what I asked him to--- he was stealing.”
“What was the artifact for?”
There was a laugh in place of any real response. “Yeah, you’re getting the story in exchange for the temporary room and board. You don’t get all the details.”
“I see.” I did see… I also occasionally took pride in changing the things I saw, but I could let the subject drop for a while. “Continue.”
“A few of Toot’s friends came and got me and told me what was up.” Dresden’s eyes closed. He was clearly tired. I wondered if it would have been better to have let him rest, but Carpenter would soon arrive to retrieve him, and there was no guarantee I’d get adequate information from him once he’d left my care. “When I got to the top--- past all those nature trials I’d have had to go through to begin with, and don’t think I’m not kicking myself--- it was to find Toot trying not to get eaten by this giant man-boar thing.”
“I could have bested it,” Toot interjected with stolid stubbornness. “But the Za Lord always helps his Guard!”
My glance to the fae was inquisitive. “…Guard?”
Dresden maneuvered away from the question with, “So, I fought the man-boar thing, and it, uh… well turns out it was actually pretty sentient…”
I took that to mean he’d been outsmarted, but I didn’t comment.
“And, it uh…” He trailed off briefly. “Didn’t really appreciate my jokes.”
“It tore out his tongue!” Toot sounded infuriated and sprung to his feet atop the lampshade, brandishing what appeared to be a weapon fashioned from pieces of a box cutter. Dresden’s eyes snapped open. “The Guard has sworn vengeance for Harry Dresden!”
Some small fraction of my alarm must have shown on my face, because Dresden quickly countered, “Whoa, he put it back, obviously! His blood had this weird glue stuff… It kept closing his wounds whenever I landed a hit, and the whole tongue-removing thing was more a taunt than anything else. He knew the queen’s whole shtick about me, and he sealed it back in place before I, uh…”
“The blood on your face that we thought was from an outside source…” I spoke quietly. “It was from that injury.” My smile took a new angle, and I won’t deny that there was some purposeful danger injected into it. “I wonder… When will you learn that some creatures are best approached without insult?”
Dresden’s mouth was made for grins and smirks, not sneers, but it tried anyway. “When I meet one.”
I returned the expression. The man really had no idea, did he? Then again, he was still young, especially by wizard standards if the lifespans Gard described to me were any indication. Perhaps with time, he would realized that he had already met one--- likely several. More than that, however, I could tell that his conviction in the statement did not run all the way through. If the shudder in his hands and the way he reacted to his friend’s interruption were any indication, losing his tongue had a greater impact than what he was showing. It was… frustrating, infuriating to see someone with power and potential endanger themselves through sheer obstinacy.
“The fight went south pretty fast.” Dresden seemed to have decided that when conversations began to go badly, the best thing to do was talk over them. “And I realized it was trying to run me out of juice so it could get Toot and figure out what to do about me after. So I grabbed Toot and vamoosed with what I still had.”
“He was not in the warehouse with you.” My mind caught up with the rest quickly. “Neither was an artifact.”
“The stone sent me somewhere else, Lord Baron!” Toot answered, quite helpfully.
“Toot,” Dresden bit out. “Shut up.”
“Ah…” I rather enjoyed watching the expression on Dresden’s face change when he realized I’d figured it out. “I thought you’d simply acquired a new taste in jewelry.” I gestured to the stone circlet resting above what Gard had called a shield bracelet. “A transport device? Or a catalyst?”
Marcone had this thing he did where he took vague sentences and made them not-vague and crucial-informationy. It was one of his more annoying character traits (he had a few of those, with a healthy spritzing of scary automaton ones). At the moment he was using it pretty heavily, and there was only so much frustration that the pain meds could turn into tinglies. This was definitely the last time I brought Toot to anything even remotely resembling sensitive negotiations, that was for sure. Although… this was less ‘negotiations’ and more ‘let’s not burn down the mobster’s house and/or get shot’.
I clenched my jaw and tried to seem unworried. Unfounded cocky smiles were a specialty of mine. “Meh, not your problem.” The inside of my mouth felt strange, and I thought I could still taste that creature’s blood, despite knowing how unlikely that was.
He gave me a stare that clearly said that we had different definitions of what constituted his problems. “Then I gather that is the end of your story.”
I seriously needed to find out the secret to him humoring me; being me, it could be useful. “Yep.” This time I honestly tried to look infuriating. “You know more about the rest than I do.” Which wasn’t entirely true… He’d said I appeared in a warehouse while he was in the middle of a transaction, and I dimly remembered the sound of gunfire before I blacked out completely. The haven stone was supposed to transfigure an ordinary magical threshold, a Way or the entrance of a well-established home for instance, into an immediate path to safety--- and not just any safety, but a downright sanctuary, a place where the user could be certain of shelter. That meant that the haven stone had either malfunctioned, or the warehouse was supposed to be safe by some stretch of the imagination.
One way to find out.
Even the feeling of my tongue against my teeth made the leftovers of fear do a tap dance in my chest every time I spoke. But I shooed it to the side. I’d handle that later. Right now, I grinned at Marcone and lifted a hand to flip mock-salute. “Tell Michael I’ll call.”
And, before Marcone could use his freaky reflexes, I gripped the bracelet and pumped some of the magic I’d recovered in my apparent two and a half days of rest into it. It grew hot on my wrist and briefly turned from brown to orange.
I’d really, really like to say nothing happened. For a moment, I even believed it. I hadn’t transported myself anywhere. I was still in a bedroom of Marcone’s mansion, blinking in mild confusion at the man himself.
All that had changed was that my body had shifted a lousy six inches across the bed: closer to Marcone.
“Uh.” My intelligent syllable of choice. It served me well.
Marcone’s head tilted marginally to the side. “I was expecting something a little more…” He swiveled a hand, miming searching for a word. “Spectacular.”
“Fuck. You.” I was gonna set him on fire one day. Stupid jackass smirk. Stupid scumbag bastard.
“Should I still relay to Mr. Carpenter that you will---”
I ran a hand over my face, and worked on getting my thoughts in order. “Just… shut up.”
Toot sprang from the lamp to hover beside my head. “The stone!” he said, verging on frantic. “It---”
“Shut up, Toot!” I scrambled. Seriously. I was going to have a sit down with him later.
He didn’t say anything right away, but I could look at Marcone’s expression and tell he was doing that annoying putting-together-Harry-Dresden-puzzle-
Well, if I was going to be a puzzle, I was going to be a frustrating one. I was going to be the gag gift puzzle that was all one color or had an odd shape so you couldn’t shortcut with corner pieces. “Nah, I feel good.” Insert appropriately roguish grin. “Not raging inferno good, but give me a day and a bad guy.”
“Ah…” Marcone nodded. “So… you intended to simply find a more comfortable position on the mattress?”
I sat up and leaned towards him a little, arms resting on my legs. The angle tweaked my ribs for a second before I straightened out. “Let me tell you something, Marcone. Yeah, I’ve got a new accessory, and yeah I haven’t quite figured it out yet.” I very pointedly met his eyes. “But I’m not any weaker right now than I ever am, so don’t talk to me like you’ve caught me at a disadvantage.”
All I got for an emotional response was an eyebrow arch. “Of course. I would never suggest otherwise. I happen to be too fond of this house’s interior decorating to want to see it in cinders.”
I ignored him, still trying to work it out with my barely-awake, pain-med-addled brain. Okay… so it wasn’t the warehouse. If it had been, I’d be there right now. The only other common element was…
My eyes widened a bit.
Oh hell no. That was…
It couldn’t be Marcone. The lore of the haven stone specifically said places, not people. And besides, even if it did include people, how the hell could Marcone constitute ‘safe’? All I’d ever needed to know about the man, I’d learned from one look in his eyes. I could readily admit that soulgazes sometimes took years to fully interpret (it was one thing to see someone’s soul; it was another to put it into context), but I think I can say that I’d already figured out enough to be certain the rest wouldn’t be any less unsettling. He somehow managed to mix cold, passion, and obsession together in ways I’d never seen--- and I’d met the Winter Queen. He used knives just as efficiently as he used words, and could kill with both. Put all that in a pot and stir it around with some crime, blood, and money, pour the contents into an expensive suit, and you’ve got Marcone. Read: not safe.
Then again, the man also had the uncanny ability to exert control and bring order into any situation. If he was on your side, I guess it could be argued that his presence could render a place safe. That still didn’t explain why the haven stone would take me to him though. Yeah, we’d been allied a few times, but we’d been enemies a fair few times as well, and I had no illusions as to whether he’d kill me if he decided I was a threat. He was too pragmatic to do anything else. There was nothing really connecting us except for a few shared experiences and an invested interest in Chicago. I seriously doubted that was enough to translate into sanctuary. We’d built some level of trust, sure, but nowhere near enough to warrant that much faith in one another.
“Dresden.” His voice was sharp.
I shook my head. “Huh, what?” Maybe it was circumstantial. Maybe this was the safest place for me to be right now because of conditions he currently provided. Yeah, that could be it. I’d do some tests with Bob when I got home and figure this out, no problem.
“You seem… perturbed.”
“I’m fine.” It sounded a little more airy than I’d meant for it to, so I added a quick, “Peachy.”
Marcone’s mouth made a thin line of disbelief. It lent his face a bit of concern that was completely out of place with the rest of him. For instance, I’m pretty sure people concerned about one’s well-being typically don’t also keep a hand resting over a holster.
“Sir,” Hendricks interrupted from the doorway. There was a pager dying a slow death on his belt. My bad. “Carpenter has arrived. You want him shown upstairs?”
“Yes, thank you,” Marcone answered without glancing away from me.
Crossing my arms behind my head, I grinned at him broadly. Marcone could try and be as scary as he wanted to now. It wasn’t going to work on Michael. Evil tended to flail about and look silly when he was around. I didn’t say anything more. We just glared at each other… or at least, I glared, and he managed to appear sophisticatedly annoyed.
When Michael crossed the threshold, he looked between us, lifted a hand to his face and sighed. “Am I interrupting?”
“Nothing important,” Marcone agreed.
I darted my eyes up to Michael long enough to see him and Hendricks trade oddly similar long-suffering looks.
“Well, now that you’re here!” I announced cheerily. “I can leave this--- hey!” Michael had reached me, lifted a hand to catch my shoulder, and pushed me back down onto the mattress before I could finish the sentence. I gave him my best wounded and betrayed expression.
“Your ribs, Harry,” Michael chastised. “At least wait for me to help you.”
Grumbling unintelligibly: I’m good at it. Nonetheless, I draped an arm over my friend’s shoulders and stood with him supporting the majority of my weight. It hurt, and Toot reappeared from where he’d been exploring a chandelier to hover worriedly around my head, but we made it work. Marcone stayed nearby, watching the three of us carefully as if making some internal measurements. I really hated the way he looked at people sometimes. It was unnerving as all hell, inhuman and calculating in a non-fae, non-demon way.
On our way down to the stairs, I turned my head to snap a parting insult up at him as he stood at the banister, but I misjudged the distance down, and nearly bit my tongue when I tried to speak. Panic flared briefly over my face, and less briefly in my chest (---a clawed hand reaching into my mouth and ripping, tearing, pulling---), and that’s what he saw instead of any of my trademark, sarcastic defiance. I snapped my head forward again so quickly that I got dizzy. Michael turned towards me and made a noise of questioning concern.
I shook my head, locking my eyes on the door down the hall in front of us as we reached the bottom step. I could feel Marcone’s eyes on the back of my head, and my shoulders tensed, but I didn’t turn. Michael’s arm tightened its grip. That bolstering support got me the rest of the way to the car. I collapsed onto the passenger seat as much as I could with my back ramrod straight against the jarring of my ribs. I was barely thinking of them. My mind was hazy. Breathing, breathing was a good, solid, nice thing to concentrate on.
I didn’t look behind me except to allow my eyes to flick to the side mirror for a split second, just in time to see Marcone’s mansion disappear around a corner.
So, facts: the haven stone had brought me to Marcone, Marcone had given me shelter, I’d been unconscious in a sometimes-enemy’s house and been treated like a guest, and all he’d asked for in return was an explanation. Stars, that was… that didn’t make sense with what I knew of him. If he’d been saving up for a favor, I’d have gotten it. And yeah, I guess that could still be on the agenda, but… Marcone was more straightforward than that. He was a businessman, and he knew how badly I did with subtlety. He’d have said something.
It could have been a manipulation…? Maybe he wanted to change my opinion of him. Saving a guy’s life could do that.
But the haven stone was of fairy make… All the lore about it said it accounted for manipulations. So, then…
The stone hadn’t worked right. That was still the most reasonable explanation.
“Is everything all right?” Michael asked unobtrusively into the quiet.
“Kind of?” I answered after a beat of silence. “I mean, I’m alive.”
Michael gave me a sideways look I was very familiar with.
I elaborated before he could call me on it. “I used an artifact called the haven stone. It’s supposed to take you to the place where you’ll be safest so that you can recover after a battle, or escape an enemy, or whatever.” I pressed the palm of my hands against my ribs, testing. Ow, bad idea. I winced. “It sent me to Marcone. And not just Marcone.” I lowered my hand, and my tone went a little wry. “Marcone while he was in the middle of a warehouse with some gunmen.”
There was a soft hum, and Michael bowed his head slightly. “Not a… conventional definition of safe.”
“That’s what I’m saying!” I agreed. “I don’t get---”
“But, in all fairness, he did take good care of you, from what I could see,” Michael went on.
“I…” My mouth stayed open, and no sound came out. I closed it, personal growth on my part. “Okay, yeah, but…”
“Harry, you should rest.” Michael had one of those ultra-calm, soothing voices that seemed to come with a drowsiness-inducing setting. He turned it on full force. I had enough presence of mind to think it was a cheap shot. “Please, give yourself time to properly recover. You can address this afterwards.”
The side of my head knocked dully against the cool surface of the window. Long day. Long day. I blinked my eyes closed. “Fine… but I’m… not gonna… just…”
And I was out.
“The stone works.”
“No, really, boss! It does!”
I leaned forward until my head hit the surface of the work table, shoulders slumped. “This is stupid.”
“Wearing sunglasses indoors is stupid. Those hats with the beer holders on the sides are stupid. You, around someone you’re attracted to, are stupid. This?” The lights of Bob’s eyes jerked in the direction of the bracelet sitting in the center of the table. “Is a fully functioning magical instrument.”
“I think what I love most about our relationship is the mutual love and respect,” I muttered dully into the wood grain. With a sigh, I lifted my head, scrubbed a hand over my face, and then rested my chin on a fist. “Okay. So. It’s functioning.”
“We have a winner,” Bob commented in a cheerfully mocking tone. Then he elaborated, “There’s a spiral of energies that run around it, tight to the surface. You could see it with your Sight if you wanted, but there’s really no need for you to look because it’s all within parameters. There are nine lines, three sets of three, all an equal distance apart, spinning at equal speed, and with equal coloration. If one of them was wobbly or changed hues, we might have a problem, but it’s all in working order.”
“Any chance we misinterpreted the way it works…?”
Bob groaned in the way he did when I was being a special brand of slow. “Boss, we did this subject to death before you even went after the stone in the first place. Nothing has changed since then.”
“So… the stone is working, and it’s working in the way we thought it did.” The words left my mouth quietly.
“Yes, Wizard Obvious, that is exactly what I’ve been saying.”
I thought it over for another minute and then stood. “Then the only available explanation… is that Marcone is actually safe for me.”
“Yep,” Bob affirmed. “Now where’s my literature?”
My thoughts chased each other in a free-for-all as I dropped The Tale of Two Virile Vikings in front of the skull on the way out of my lab.
There was a conversation I needed to have.
When I was young, before the body of Hendricks’ sister was pulled from the water, before Jonas bled out in the middle of the street, I used to sit on a kitchen counter and listen to my mother speak about people: my father, her friends, her siblings, her parents, her coworkers. She was an observant woman. I learned much from her. By the time I was ten, I’d asked our next door neighbor why she’d told her husband she was staying late at work when she’d come home smelling like bar smoke and my uncle’s cologne. A few days later, I’d also learned the value of discretion, but the speed at which I observed did not lessen.
Dresden walked into my office, and it was immediately apparent that banter was not going to be the focus of this encounter.
I set my pen aside, leaned back in my chair, and placed my hands in plain view on the armrests. “Mr. Dresden,” I greeted, a business-appropriate smile fixing into place. “I see you are capable of making and keeping an appointment. I apologize for doubting you.”
“You’re full of shit, you know that?”
My smile went crooked at one edge. “It seems we’re skipping formalities.”
Dresden ambled into the office, and after Hendricks met my eyes and judged the expression there, he closed the door behind the wizard, leaving the two of us alone. I had taken precautions; I was not concerned. “Yeah, I don’t do so good with formalities.” Rather than take the chair across from me, he approached the windows that comprised one wall. Chicago’s skyline reflected light in the midafternoon sun.
“Strangely, I’d noticed.” I watched him carefully. He had the tense energy of a man fighting to stand still. I let out a tired breath and closed the folder on my desk before turning my attention entirely on him. “To the point, then.”
He turned, leaning against the glass. “You’ve been bluffing me.”
“That big, bad, you don’t want me as an enemy shtick. I mean, you’re dangerous, I get that.” There were some men who could give smiles that were both violent and refined; Dresden was not polished enough to manage it, and his attempt looked like the partial snarl that it was. “But it’s not really aimed at me, is it?”
The ways in which I could answer that question were varied and vast, and I did not have time to weigh them properly before he continued.
“I mean… If I was out to kill you, you’d take me down without hesitation.” He stared at me from across the room, and I habitually met his eyes from the first offer. “But otherwise? You actually actively want to protect me. This?” His arm lifted, the sleeve of his duster falling so that he could motion towards the stone band. “Wouldn’t have brought me to you otherwise.”
Taking great care to sell my indifference, I inferred, “It transports you to someone you can trust.” I’d spent a great deal of time playing my cards close to the vest. If he was speaking the truth, then this device had called them for me. It had the potential to make my dealings with him more difficult, depending on his perception of it.
“It transports me to a place of safety,” Dresden corrected stonily. “The two don’t have to be mutual.”
“Ah…” I inclined my head, brought some of the oil into my voice that made my enemies wary and my friends thankful. “You must be having quite the internal conflict.” Dresden had come here with the obvious intention of cornering me with this information. I wouldn’t give him the opportunity. My eyes returned to his, an inquisitive angle to my head. “You’ve been given proof that a man you wish to believe the worst of may in fact have your best interests at heart, and yet you also do not believe that you can trust his intentions. I wonder… How do you define your safety, Mr. Dresden?”
“Dunno, but I’d be willing to bet my definition isn’t the same as yours.” He really could appear menacing when he wanted to, but he couldn’t trim the starved edges of it away no matter how he tried. It was the sort of thing that was simply grown in people.
I challenged it. “You did say that the stone wouldn’t have brought you to me if it thought my desire to keep you safe was too conditional. That implies that it can interpret one’s thoughts and emotions.” I spread my hands wide. “Surely if our definitions were too dissimilar, that would have also prevented your being brought to me. Perhaps our thoughts on the subject are not so different. You may want to consider that. Do you know your own intentions as well as you believe?”
Dresden pushed off from the window and approached me, the curve of his shoulders sharp through his duster. He was angry. “Look, Marcone, I’m not here to argue semantics. You saved me, I’m not here to chew you out about that. I was going to go with a nice, normal thank you, but if you want to get defensive, fine, let’s get defensive.”
A modicum of surprise must have shown on my face, because he didn’t give me room to speak.
“This thing showed me that you don’t want me dead. I’d kinda already figured that much out. I can make a good ally, and I’m not saying that out of conceit. I know how strong I’ve gotten. I know you think you might be able to use it. You’re practical. But this means more than that…” He was even with me now, staff falling to the side to rest against my desk. “This means you don’t just want to keep my power alive, you want to keep me alive, because you’re right… The stone does filter intent.” Both of his hands went to his head. He was frustrated. “For fuck’s sake, John, you should know me well enough to know I’m not the type to use that against people! But of course I don’t trust you.”
I remained quiet; I much preferred for him to divulge everything now so that my response could be made as knowledgeably as possible.
One hand darted to the side to point at Chicago outside the window; the movement was so sudden that I had to force myself not to react. All that got through was a slight narrowing of my eyes. “You’re a crime boss, and I can’t just turn a blind eye to that. I don’t like what you do, I don’t like what you’re involved in. But I came here to acknowledge the fact I don’t think you’re grade-A evil, and that I know you’re not against me, and that’s a start. And you wanna jump down my throat with dissecting me because, what, me knowing that makes you vulnerable? Where do you think that puts me? I’m the one that got a crash course in this by being unconscious in your house!”
I surged to my feet, and he rocked backwards before straightening. “Do not be so quick to misjudge me.” Someone who’d known me longer would have recognized that tone. “If you had given me any indication that you were receptive to the possibility that I meant you no harm before you left my house, I assure you, I would have reacted differently. Simply coming in here and voicing ready distrust as a preamble to supposed gratitude---”
“---what were you expecting?” He raised his hands to gesture with false brightness. “Hey, you saved my life, let’s be best friends, I’m totally cool with the mafia thing now?”
“What is an admission, that you were mistaken about me, made with thinly veiled contempt, worth?” I countered. “It certainly does not leave room to be reasoned with if you cannot manage a simple conversation without this brand of response.”
“Oh, you were baiting me and you know it---”
“---if you surmise that the use of logic qualifies as baiting, then we have many issues left to address,” I pushed through my teeth sharply.
My computer sparked and died, and the blackberry on my desk buzzed before falling quiet.
Knowing that technology in the hall may have been affected, I went for the apparently still functioning intercom to inform Hendricks that all was well, but Dresden must have thought I was going for a weapon, and his hand closed on my wrist.
That time I did go for a knife, but not before he realized his mistake, and it showed on his face. We both paused, stuck in a limbo between action and reaction.
Seconds ticked by. Adrenalin sang in my ears.
The hilt inside my jacket was at my fingertips, and his hand was fisted; I recognized the rings there and what they were capable of. Our eyes dropped to read one another’s stances and then snapped together again. If it came to it, I could easily dodge the force at this range, spring the knife, and get between his ribs before he could bring up the shield on the opposite hand. I had the capability and the advantage.
“Use the stone,” I suggested calmly.
His eyes never left mine as he took a breath. He waited a moment, thinking. I could see doubt and wariness creep through him, but he nodded stiffly and complied.
The stone moved him closer to me, and his hold on my wrist placed his arm against my waist. I wondered if he registered the gun beneath the fabric.
“Is that proof enough?” The words left my mouth in a dull murmur as I fought the habitual need to put space between us. I was hyperaware that the small strategic advantage I had at close range was null if I no longer had the room to maneuver my arm, and he had yet to drop my hand. In our current situation, however, backing away would not be a demonstration of good faith. I did my best to bury my paranoia and instead catalogued the emotion playing unhindered, as it always was, over Dresden’s face.
I am an observant person. I know when someone is uncomfortable, I know when someone has had a revelation, and I know when someone is on the cusp of kissing me.
Nevertheless, I was entirely unprepared for Dresden to undergo all three. He’d already been standing far closer than was strictly permitted, and all he’d had to do was angle his shoulders forward to be standing over me. My hand tightened around the hilt and drew the knife, but his eyes found mine again, and I saw the defiance and blatant uncertainty there. He… had no idea what he was doing. It made me go still long enough for him to fully take in his own movement; he froze, his mouth halfway to mine. I made a mental note that when driven by impulse, Dresden took leave of some of his mental faculties.
“I… don’t…” His words were stilted, rough.
I pulled the knife casually from inside my jacket, flipped it closed, and set it on the desk between us. “Do try to be coherent,” I recommended.
Anger flared back into his expression, backlit by the ceiling lights overhead, until I returned my attention to him.
“That wasn’t a threat, Dresden.” I’m not sure he realized he was no longer quite watching my eyes. He looked vaguely unsettled when my mouth moved. “I assume you don’t want to be accidentally stabbed.”
“I’m not…” He wet his lips; I pointedly did not look.
“You’re not… what, precisely?” I prompted with what I felt was an inordinate amount of patience.
“…sure what just happened.” He swallowed, and then he took a step backwards, releasing my wrist, both to my annoyance and disbelief. The laugh that left his mouth was nervous, several pitches off. “Okay, scumbag, I think I’ve had enough criminal exposure for---”
“---please, tell me you’re joking.” And this time I really was baiting him, professional sneer and all. “That’s how you choose to address the subject?”
He flinched; he flinched towards me. “Back off, John.” The forced growl of someone who has been cornered.
“Use your spine, Harry.” I bit out the syllables. Being privy to a veritable fountain of self-awareness, I could be perfectly honest when I said I had no idea what, exactly, I was trying to instigate. Thus far my emotional response was comparable to street fights I’d gotten myself into many years past. The difference was, Hendricks wasn’t at my side muttering I don’t have the cash for bail, don’t you dare.
“Is there a problem?” The question sounded through the room like a whip crack.
Speak of him and he will appear.
Dresden and I turned towards Hendricks as he opened the door. My lieutenant paused on the threshold. His eyebrows arched as his focus traveled over Dresden’s discarded staff, to my knife on the desk, and finally to our proximity.
“No,” I replied, as evenly as possible. “Our appointment is almost concluded. Mr. Dresden will be leaving shortly.”
The way in which Hendricks nodded ---eyes on mine, jaw clenched, with measured slowness--- clearly stated we’d be discussing this later, but he stepped back out into the hall and closed the door behind him.
In his wake, the tension between Dresden and I crackled and then soothed as he relaxed his shoulders and heaved out a breath. The mood, angry, venomous, biting, had been derailed.
I took a seat again, hands steepled in front of me. For a while, I put the Dresden of the present out of my mind, and simply thought. If being temporarily ignored rankled him, he’d have to grow past it. I had considered Dresden many times before, not in the specific light he’d just brought to my attention, but he was not a subject unfamiliar to me. I placed great value on him, both as an asset, an ally, and as a man. He was not stretching matters when he said that I actively wished to protect him.
Dresden stirred at my side, seemed to second-guess himself briefly, and then sat atop my desk, hands splayed behind him. My stare did not drift from the far-off point it had latched onto.
If Dresden had entered into my employ, I felt that we may have become friends. I’d wished to gain his trust and to give him mine. That was not a new development. The possibility of physical intimacy had not occurred to me, but I was not averse to it. If I was, I wouldn’t have placed the knife on the desk. I would have brought it to his throat.
“Don’t you… think it’s kinda odd?” The question was softer than I was used to hearing from him; perhaps that was how he spoke to people he didn’t put effort into hating.
“What?” I asked, without looking at him.
“That we can go from a shouting match to just sitting.”
Wearily, I closed my eyes. “What did you come here for, Dresden?”
I heard him stand, and the light behind my eyelids shifted.
I opened my eyes again just as he leaned down, hands in the pockets of his jeans, to brush his mouth cautiously over mine. His lips were thin, chapped, warm, and barely grazed mine as if he were almost ready to miss. He hadn’t closed his eyes, and they met mine unfalteringly (---analogous to the head of a rusted nail that was trying for all it was worth to either hold something together or shut something in---). I didn’t move my hands, didn’t move at all, merely watched him.
He broke the brief contact, on edge and seemingly waiting for me to hit him. When it didn’t happen, he said, “Thanks, scumbag.” The corners of his mouth twitched up in a nerve-addled smile. “I’m glad you don’t want to kill me, or whatever.”
“Of course,” I answered. I didn’t close the distance again, but my eyes were on his mouth.
“So… Redo?” He straightened, away from me, to once again lean against my desk. There was a nigh hopeful quality to his posture.
“Yes. Well.” My head rested back on my chair, and I gave him a half-smile. “I have come to understand that you are in possession of a stone that can transport you to a place of safety.”
“Yeah…” Dresden grinned; I could grow fond of that expression. “Something like that.”