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The Matter of Chicago: A Dresden Files AU
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July 2013
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Luce [userpic]
BOOK TWO: putting out your fires with gasoline (9/?)

Table of Contents

Title: putting out your fires with gasoline, Book Two of The Matter of Chicago
Rating/Warnings: PG, this chapter.
Word Count: This chapter: 7197. This book: 53,073.

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight

Notes: Aaaaaand that's this arc done. Next up, we take a breather with some more light hearted chapters and then it's time for the White Court Arc.

"I can't believe he ran away," I grumbled. "Ouch!"

Charity gave me a severe look over my knee. My pants were off and I was laying on one of the kids' beds while Charity patched me up. My wrists were done, but the gash Nicodemus had put in my leg needed to be tended to. It was a clean wound, and Charity was taking care of it herself. I didn't want to go to the hospital and risk knocking out any machinery when I had capable friends.

"Hold still," she told me, applying a local before picking up and needle and...

About then I looked away and let her do her thing. I didn't need to supervise. She knew what she was doing. I relaxed into the bed and thought about what had happened.

It had ended fast, the battle. Nicodemus had bailed and Deirdre had followed him, disappearing into the water. After they vanished, the Winter Fae stopped. They all backed down. As I could figure it, they were on loan to Nicodemus, but when he left, whatever deal he had with Winter ended. The cease of hostilities was a lucky thing; the buttonmen had survived pretty well until then, but exhaustion was setting in. A few guys were hurt, a couple dearly enough to be sent to the hospital.

I got Cujo to stop them from attacking the Fae further. Any act on them would be an act against Winter, and that would've stirred up the kind of conflict even John's organization couldn't handle.

It was impressive though, that no one had died. The Outfit was shaping up into a decent human force against the supernatural. I could only begin to guess what John's endgame was there.

Once the Fae split back to the Nevernever, clean-up started. The people who were injured worst were carted off for medical treatment. Those who still had some wind let to them helped set things to rights. Gard was still under contract and helped clear out signs of the supernatural before Chicago foot traffic could start. I knew a few early morning joggers had to be intimidated away.

Hendricks made some phone calls, acting in John's stead. That left the Knights and me to take care of ourselves. Michael was tired and had some serious bruising from where Deirdre had slammed him around, but otherwise was okay. Sanya, when we caught up with him, was bleeding profusely from a head wound but was cheerful as ever.

Michael called Father Forthill to send some people to take Shiro's body. There was going to be a funeral.

I passed on Shiro's regards to the other Knights, and explained about my soulgaze with Shiro.

Michael had listened silently as I related what I'd seen, then sheathed Shiro's katana and handed it to me. "Here."

I'd stepped back from Fidelacchius. "Michael, I--"

"It was Shiro's last wish," he'd said and continued to hold out the sword until I took it. I had no idea what I'd do with a Sword made of one of the nails of the True Cross, but apparently I'd have to think of something.

It sat next to the bed as Charity fixed me up. I found myself running my fingertips over the sheath idly as I rested, my mind wandering to Shiro and his final message. He had so much faith in me, it was hard to handle. It seemed all I'd done in the last few days was screw up. But the wealth of trust in his eyes was impossible to ignore. A Knight believed in me. That was... comforting. Really comforting, actually.

Michael brought me out of my thoughts. He walked gingerly into the room, looking tired but pleased. It'd been a good night for the forces of not-evil, I had to admit. "How's the back?" I asked him.

He smiled and sat on the other child's bed across from me. "It'll heal." Once he was settled, his express went more somber. "Have you heard from John?"

John. He'd caught the Shroud when I fastballed it to him and legged it out of there, just as I'd hoped. But since then, I hadn't heard a thing from or about him. I shook my head.

Michael frowned. "The Shroud is missing."

I wish I could say I was surprised. I sighed and sagged into the pillows, thinking. Down out of sight, Charity was wrapping my leg carefully. "Don't suppose you have a leg brace, Charity?"

She pursed her lips. "You shouldn't walk on it yet."

"Yeah, but we both know that's not going to happen," I said, not much happier about it than she was. Believe it or not I do like to take some time to recover for getting my ass kicked. The fates just conspired against me. Or, in this case, John Marcone did.

Charity got my leg into the steadying brace in the most passive aggressive way possible. The more time I spent I spent in the Carpenters' household, the more Charity's disdain for me turned into exasperation. Sometimes I thought she considered me one of her kids and had to fight the urge to lecture me about my irritating habits. One day she was going to wash my mouth out with soap or put me in a time-out and no one was going to be surprised.

I hobbled out to the living room and found Sanya cleaning his rapier with Shiro's old oilcloth. He watched me limp with dark eyes, lingering over my leg. I had my jeans back on but the bulge of the wrap was obvious through the denim.

"Need help?"

I borrowed the keys to Michael's truck from their place in the kitchen and tossed them to Sanya. "You know which side of the road to drive on?"

Sanya tipped his head to the side, pretending to consider my question deeply. Or I hoped he was pretending. "Yes, I think so."

"Great. Give me a lift. I gotta talk to John."

To my relief, the guards at the front gate of John's estate let us through without trouble. I guess whatever John was doing with the Shroud, he'd taken a moment to change the standing orders of the Outfit. I was no longer on the outs.

Sanya dropped me off at the door and I let myself in. No goons dove to tackle me as I stepped over the threshold, so I made my way to John's office, as it was probably my best bet.

It was occupied, but not by John. Hendricks was sitting at John's desk, on the phone. He saw me come in and held up a finger. I nodded and limped over to sit down. The local was wearing off and I was starting to ache.

When Hendricks got off the line, I asked, "How're things going?"

"Nominally well. We need more time to clean the ritual off the Fountain, but the rest of the clean-up's pretty much a wrap. We had every cleaner we had on the job. Had to clue in a few more people."

Not everyone in the Outfit was privy to the supernatural half of Gentleman Johnny's business. (Well, the supernatural third of his business, really, if you included his dealings in legal and illegal realms too.) After tonight, I had a feeling it was going to be hard to keep any part of the mob in the dark about it though. By now, a majority had to be at least partially aware. Typhoon was going to be abuzz with chatter about faeries.

"And where's the man himself? I need to talk to him."

Hendricks looked down at the desk. "Dunno."

I snorted. "What, am I still in the doghouse with him? I thought since no one tried to shoot me coming in I was good."

"You are. But I still don't know where he is," he reiterated. "After everything settled down, he went under radar and ordered all eyes and ears off."

Crap. That wasn't good. "I don't suppose he left the Shroud lying around before leaving?"

Cujo shook his head. "Took it with him."

No. No, this was not going to happen like this. John wasn't just going to walk off with the Shroud of Turin and keep me locked out of the loop. I trusted him and I wasn't going to let him throw that in my face.

I heaved myself up and walked unsteadily out of the room. I kept a hand on the wall as I walked, then gripped the banister as I headed upstairs. The ache in my leg picked up as I tried to move. Halfway between the ground floor and the second, I stopped and leaned on the railing, breathing hard.

Cujo stepped loudly up beside me. "Jesus, Dresden, what the hell are you doing?"

"Following that asshole and finding out what he's doing with the Shroud," I said through gritted teeth.

"Really? Looks like you're aggravating an injury and being an idiot," he replied.

I glared at him. "I need to get to the master bathroom."

"We have about five of those."

"The master bath, don't be obtuse." I took a deep breath and started up the stairs again.

Cujo bounded up, standing in front of me. "What do you need?"

I didn't say anything.

"Look, Dresden. You two have been clawing at each other these few days and I've had to watch. If this gets you two to knock it the fuck off, I'll help." He put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me down. I went, silently grateful, and sat down on a step, pressing my hand against my leg.

"Okay. Fine. I need his comb off the sink," I said. "There should be a few hairs on it. I can use those to follow him."

Cujo nodded and left me there, trudging upstairs on his own. While I waited, I leaned my head against the banister and shut my eyes. As a wizard, I had to have a certain amount of control over my body. With a little applied effort, I got a handle on the pain and coaxed my leg muscles out of their tensed state. Some more slow breathing and I was fine again.

I heard Cujo's heavy tread and looked up. He held out John's comb to me. I took it and saw I'd lucked out-- a few black and grey strands clung stubbornly to the teeth. "That'll work."

Cujo wrapped a hand around my arm and lifted me back up to my feet. "You sure about this?"

"Yeah. I'll turn a blind eye to a lot of the things he does, but this isn't business," I said quietly. "And I have to get the Shroud back for Michael."

He sighed. "I'll get you a car. You'll have to go in solo." Keeping his hold on my arm, he helped me limp down the steps and to the garage. My Beetle was wrecked by Deirdre, so I took one of the many non-descript compacts instead. Cujo took a moment to disable the GPS tracker, just in case it survived my presence. He was serious about making sure no one knew where John was.

"He does this," Hendricks muttered as he settled me into the driver's seat. My left leg was the useless one and it took some doing just to get it into the car. "Goes missing for a day, comes back by morning."

"Yeah. Once or twice a month." Now I was going to find out where John went all those times.

"Good luck."

"I spent my last few days avoiding being killed by Denarians. I don't need luck."

"Tell me that again when the Boss stabs you for sneaking up on him," he said, only half-joking, and shut the door. He tapped the roof of the car twice and I gave him a thumbs up. The engine turned over easy when I started the car. I was oddly calm as I geared up to hunt John down and find out what this was all about. I knew doing this might finish the job of wrecking our relationship, but I needed to know. There wasn't another option for me.

I pulled out of the garage, out of the estate, and started up my tracking spell. I looped my pentacle around the rear-view mirror, a few of John's hairs twined in the silver points of the star. I didn't have the power for any fancy magic and resorted back to a good old catch-all tracking spell. My pentacle leaned in John's direction, heedless of the road itself.

I drove north, up out of Chicago, through Winnetka. I ended up on I-94 and followed that, passing exit after exit with one eye on my pentacle. For a while, I thought my spell had failed or gotten confused. The idea of John voluntarily going so far out of Chicago on a regular basis was just odd. That he would leave Illinois and head into Wisconsin was crazy. No offense, but it was Wisconsin. You've seen Dogma, right? Yeah.

About forty miles before Milwaukee, my pentacle swung to the side. I was so surprised I nearly cut someone off as I took the next turn, following. My heart started pounding in my chest. The city wasn't far off, but this area was almost rural, quiet and unassuming. What did John have hidden all the way out here?

I think I was more afraid in those moments than I was at the Fountain. Part of that was because when I was in the heat of battle, I didn't have much time to think. But that wasn't the only reason.

Turning back seemed like a good idea all of a sudden. I could corner John when he got back and demand answers. He could have time to come up with an explanation and it'd be reasonable and made sense and we'd be fine.

I pulled into the parking lot of a long-term care facility. Without my pentacle leaned heavily towards the building, I would have driven by it, never noticing. There was nothing significant about it. It was squattish, faded green, and completely unremarkable. In the early hours of the morning, lights started to come on, visible through the windows.

I sat in the car for a long while, waiting for... something. It didn't matter what. I just didn't want to be here and would've taken any excuse to leave.

None came, so I took my pentacle off the mirror and got out of the car. Hanging from one finger, my tracking spell led me inside.

The woman at the front desk was on the phone, and I didn't wait for her to notice me. I headed down one of the hallways, trying to focus simultaneously on my spell and on my surroundings, hoping I didn't get caught here. If someone stopped me to ask what I was doing, I didn't think I could've come up with a decent fib. I was too tightly-strung.

I passed a room, and my pentacle reversed direction, suddenly pointing the other way. I froze, staring at it, willing it to change. Relentlessly it directed me the same way.

With a murmur, I dissipated the spell and returned my pentacle to my neck. It hung heavy as I turned and looked at the door. DOE, JANE it read in faded lettering, the paper discolored in a way that told of its age. The door was closed, but when I tried the handle, it was unlocked.

I held my breath and pushed it open slowly.

The hinges creaked, loudly, and then I was grabbed, moved, and shoved into the wall with a knife at my throat.

Stars, I hated when Cujo was right about these things.

I left out an unmanly squeak of surprise and almost fell over. "Ow, leg, leg, careful!"

John's eyes widened, genuine shock over his features. His knife against my Adam's apple didn't budge, which worried me. I flailed out, putting a hand on his shoulder and shifting my weight so I could untwist my leg. The anesthetic had completely worn off by now and pain radiated out from the stab wound Charity had sewn up. "John, seriously, if you rip my stitches..."

His eyes were still open and dull, like my presence had quite sank in yet. Belatedly, he took me in, gaze lingering over my pentacle, the bandages on my wrists, the bruises around my neck from where Nick tried to strangle me. He jerked away like I'd burned him, tucking his knife into his sleeve with unsteady, graceless movement. It was that shadow of unease I'd seen in him back at the Carpenters' house returned tenfold. He looked bad, pale and drawn, his usual immaculate presentation askew. He was still in his combat fatigues, the black and grey cloth darkened from blood and ichor from the Fae. His hair was messy like I rarely saw it, his boring average style mussed with his fringe in his eyes.

I kept looking at him, not wanting to see what was on the bed behind him. Cowardly, I know.

"What..." He licked his lips slowly. "What are you doing here?"

"I followed you."


"Thaumaturgy. Hair off your comb."

He nodded. "All right. Why?"

"The Shroud. You took it with you." Which was only half the answer. The other half was, "We have that talk to do."

John... laughed. It was soft and miserable. Hearing it was like a punch in the gut. "You have never fit into my scheduling," he said bitterly.

"I thought you liked that about me."

"I did. I do," he corrected. He stepped away from me and walked around the bed to sit in one of the chairs.

Only then did I let myself see who we were sharing the room with. There was no chance she'd wake up with our fighting. The woman on the bed was... thin. Not the thin of the weight-conscious or the high metabolic. It was emaciated, sustained by IV bags hanging nearby and leading into her body under the hospital robe. She was frail and ghost white, but her face was... peaceful. My first guess would've been a deep sleep, but evidence pointed to coma. The sheets around her were clean, but completely unmarred by crease or wrinkle. There was, however, a worn teddy bear tucked under her arm.

The sun started to rise above the tree line outside and light eased over her features, making her skin seem almost transparent. John got up and worked the blinds until the light was blocked, as if worried it'd wake her like sun would rouse any slumbering person. As if she'd wake up.

My eyes stung.

I shouldn't have come, I thought plaintively. And that was even more cowardly. It wasn't because I should've let John keep his secret. It was because I didn't want to know it.

I shut my eyes, and without really meaning to, I reached out with my senses. I felt... sorrow. Like the room I stood in was built with bricks of regret and mortar of penance. To my wizard senses, it was suffocating, the way it permeated the air, just how much self-loathing and mourning John was releasing here. It was unlike anything I'd ever picked up on from him. It wasn't that he didn't feel. All those emotions were... here.

My face was wet and I scrubbed away my stray tears. John paid no attention to me, watching over the girl on the bed. I recognized the expression on his face.

This was where it came from. John occasionally got this... look. It was resigned, sad, and young. Every time it slipped out past his control, I found myself distracted by it, wondering where that sudden depth and complexity of emotion was.

It was here.

I swallowed and asked, "Is she yours?"

"No. Not in the way you mean. But I am all she has." He finally looked at me, and nodded to the chair in the corner. "This... will take a while. You may as well sit."

I did, dragging the chair over next to him and sitting, sighing in relief as the pressure on my leg eased. John reached out, pressing his palm to my leg, warm even through my jeans. It felt good and familiar. We sat there like that a while. I didn't prompt him, and he didn't offer anything yet, just watching the girl on the bed.

Then, he said, "Her name is Amanda Beckitt.

"Years ago-- about the time you were first moving back to Chicago from Missouri, I believe-- I was a capo in the Vargassi famiglia. It was right after I got out of the military and I was well-suited for the work. This was around the time Antonio Vargassi was getting on in age. Some say he was at risk of liver failure and was deciding who the business would be passed on to." John leaned back in his chair, gaze down on his hand as he rubbed his thumb traced the seams of my pants. "Marco was the obvious favorite for the role, but Marco was..." He grimaced. "Paranoid. As his father's health turned for the worst, he got nervous about other possible successors."

"Like you?"

"As far as I can tell. It made sense, I imagine. Marco was a spineless excuse of a human being. Being the next in line gave him more protection than his own actions ever did. I, on the other hand, came out of nowhere and controlled my neighborhoods without much trouble. I became well-known in my community for being a... problem solver." He smiled, faint and rueful. "People would come to me with trouble they should be calling the police about. I helped when I could. It was good business to be seen in such a positive light."

"A real gentleman," I mumured absently.

"Yes. That's where I got the name, actually. Marco wasn't a fan of the way I comported myself. It wasn't what they recruited me for. He took to calling me the Gentleman of the Second City. It was meant to mock me for my manners, but... it became a decent moniker. It went from being a joke to being a calling card of sorts. If you had a problem, you could ask the Gentleman and he'd take care of it."

That was so easy to imagine. John ruled over Chicago with an iron fist, but he sort of did it for the greater good, in a way. No one could argue that things weren't better with him in power. He was a halfway benevolent dictator, so long as you didn't get in the way of the profit margins. "Marco didn't like that, I guess."

"No. He started to try to muscle me out, but I was already established and you try telling all the little Italian mothers who they can and can't call on for help." He smirked for just a second, then it slipped off his face again. "When his attempted to uproot me failed, he got desperate.

"I was called to a meet-up at one of the parks in Calumet. It was a public place. I didn't think..." He stopped and shut his eyes, head bowing forward.

I waited. I didn't want to push him and... I wasn't sure I wanted to hear what came next.

His words were clipped, lacking his normal smooth cadence. "Marco was always rash. He didn't mind the pedestrians around." He stopped, cleared his throat once. "There was a shoot-out. Midday on a weekend."

I turned to look at the woman on the bed.

"A stray bullet hit a girl with her family. Their only daughter. It was..." Another moment of quiet from him. "Eye-opening."

That seemed like an understatement to me. When I'd gazed on John's soul, there was a part of him deep inside where he drew his strength from. It was hidden when I'd looked, veiled by secrecy and shame, but it was the generator of everything that made him work. It made him a force of nature, but that power came from a dark place.

I put my hand over John's, still on my leg, and squeezed. "Has she been here ever since?"

"No. Tony found out about her and had her declared dead. He kept her continued existence quiet so he could produce her should Marco ever go to trial. After I removed them from power and quelled the Jamaican gang uprising, I found records of her." His eyes opened again, slowly, like coming out of a dream. "She could have just went away, lost in the system. No one knew who she was. So I moved her here."

"This is where you go. When you leave town, you come here."


Hell's bells. No wonder John was such an efficient machine. All his guilt and regret and sorrow was here, away from Chicago.

"You wanted the Shroud for her."

"Yes. My associate, Mr. Vadderung, mentioned the healing powers of certain relics. I thought it was worth a shot." He sounded despondent, like that hope had faded. Given the last few days, I couldn't blame him. As if stealing the Shroud of Turin wasn't bad enough, things had gotten more and more complicated. Our city almost fell to a plague curse. I wondered if he still thought the price was worth it. I didn't dare ask him.

"They do, sometimes. It's..."

"I know the odds," he said quietly. "But it's all I have." He turned, eyes catching mine. "So here we are, Mr. Dresden. The ball's in your court, as it were. What will you do?"

I thought about John, his sad smiles, and this secret held close to his chest. I thought about Amanda Beckitt, who had been asleep so long. I thought about how Nicodemus almost used the Shroud to kill every firstborn in the city. I thought about John wanting to use it to save one. I couldn't decide if he was being selfish, trying to lessen his guilt, or selfless, sacrificing so much for just a small chance.

"Do you have it here?"

He nodded. "In the pack. If you're determined to retrieve it, I won't fight you for it." He sighed, deep and tired. "I'm rather done fighting you. It hasn't been a pleasant experience."

I twined my fingers in his, holding on. "Three days."


"Three days. Three is significant in magic. And I hear it was the number of days Jesus lay under the Shroud before rising." It was hard to be nonchalant when your throat was tightening like mine. "Leave her under it for three days. Then you'll know if it'll make a difference."

I can't begin to describe John's face then. It was intense, seeing just how much he'd pinned to this. It was everything he kept locked up, fighting to show on his face. It was so much, it ended up being... blank. Just too much for a man who spent so much of his life carefully regulating what he showed the world.

I helped him. He pulled out the Shroud from the pack by his chair and unfolded it gently. I pulled down the top cover of the bed, and we spread the worn cloth over the white sheets. The top cover went over it again, hiding the Shroud of Turin from view. John meticulously tucked the hanging edges away.

Then we sat back down. After a moment of hesitation, John bowed his head again, like a tree in the wind, bending so it wouldn't break to splinters. His lips moved, a hushed murmur of liturgical Latin pouring from his lips.

I didn't say anything. I took his hand and held tight as John prayed.

Driving back to Chicago was an ordeal. John had been dropped off at a designated location and had taken a rental car the rest of the way to the care facility with all the ease of old habit. With me there, he just had to return the car and hop in with me. I drove us back to our city. We didn't talk, but the silence wasn't uncomfortable. We were both just so.... tired.

I dropped him off at the estate and asked if I could borrow the car.

He gave me a carefully non-emotive look. "Why?"

"I left all my stuff at the Carpenters."

"I could send someone to pick it up."

"No. I... need time to think?" I leaned out the window to look at him. "And that's not me breaking up with you, that's me just saying I need to think for a while, okay?"

John smiled. "You don't need to coddle me, Harry."

"I'm just saying. If you shack up with someone else in the next few days, I'm going to set fire to the bed."

He leaned down, his hands bracketing mine on the window. "Understood," he whispered, and kissed me. It wasn't as open and warm as I was used to, but I guess that was to be expected after everything that'd happened. "Keep off that leg."

"See you soon," I promised, and drove to the Carpenters.

The adults were getting some well-deserved rest after the late night, so it was Daniel who let me in. He got his shoulder under my arm and helped me limp to one of the rooms. I saw Sanya sleeping on one of the kid's beds, Esperacchius laying under his pillow. As I watched, he shifted in his sleep and put one hand on the sword.

I climbed onto the other bed. It wasn't long enough to accommodate my legs, but I was so exhausted it didn't matter. I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Sanya didn't hang around, which was a shame. I'd really liked meeting him and if I was totally honest, I get why Molly had it in her head he and I would make a-- would get along. When Charity went out to pick up the kids, she was going to drop Sanya off at the airport. He apparently had a gig in Scandinavia to take care of.

He hiked his rucksack over his shoulder and shook my hand, gripping long and firm. "It has been a pleasure working with you."

I smiled. "You too. Next time you're in the area, we'll do lunch. I know this awesome pub."

"I would like that." Sanya tugged me forward and I stumbled against his chest. He hugged me, patting my back. "Do svidaniya, Harry."

Might've blushed. Just a little. "Um. You too?"

He laughed, open and full of optimism and reckless joy. Yeah, I really liked him, I decided. In another life, it could've been fun. I thought he was interested, going from the way he... everything'ed. I could've been wrong though, it wasn't like I was experienced in flirting with men. Just John.

I watched him go, then retreated back into the house. I'd been placed in charge of making sure Michael took it easy while Charity was gone. I suspected Michael had been told to make sure I took it easy too. It was the sort of thing Charity would do.

Not that I needed the supervision. After just a few hours of sleep, I was still exhausted and all the injuries I'd sustained in the fight were throbbing through my body.

Michael stayed awake long enough to get some food down before heading back to sleep some more. I wanted to follow his lead but.

I had thinking to do. Thinking I'd been putting off.

Molly found me a thick blanket and settled me out on the back porch of the house. There was a reclining chair, old and worn like it'd been passed down from someone long dead. It was a magic thing, to feel the power of old things, but the comfort things like that chair provided was obvious enough that straights often noticed it too. Therein was the reason it was hard to throw heirlooms away, no matter how little use you had for them.

I sat and rocked in the chair, letting that comfort soak into me. Molly brought me some cocoa and left me out there with my thoughts. The girl was tuned into the emotions of those around her. She just preferred to use her powers for screwing with the adults in her life. Every once in a while though, she did things like this, backing down when I needed some time.

I wasn't thinking about that thing I needed to think about. I took a deep breath and placidly watched the snow fall onto the yard.

The thing was. The thing was that John did a lot of things I didn't like. He didn't openly share the details of his criminal dealings, but certainly didn't hide any of it. He was controlling, both overtly and in that underhanded way that always pissed me off when I figured it out after the fact. He was smug and sometimes so arrogant I wanted to punch him in the face. He was so sure of himself and that his way was the right one, he gave orders when he should've been making requests, he got so passive-aggressive when the world didn't fall into place right as he wanted it, he made sure any case of Coke I put in the refrigerator mysteriously vanished, he lectured me on healthy food whenever I had the audacity to get lunch at Burger King, he had a nasty habit of sheltering me like I was a delicate flower instead of a wizard capable of severe property damage, he always had to be the big spoon in bed...

And I was probably in love with him.

So there was that.

I sighed and sipped my chocolate.

With Elaine, I'd been giddly infatuated with her, adoring everything about her with that brand of blissfully ignorant teenage obsession. With Susan, I never really loved her, but liked her more than I'd liked anyone else since Elaine.

With John, it was this giant howling crazy beast of affection and exasperation and familiarity and frustration. I didn't always like him and sometimes I came close to hating him. But the last few days of John detox had been painful. Even when I was mad at him, I couldn't be... mad at him. I was angry, but not to the point of wanting to leave him. I just wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he stopped acting like a robot and realized what he was doing. If anything, leaving him was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I wanted to stay and work with him and try to fix it if we could. And if we couldn't...

I don't know. Being against him had hurt, and I hadn't been good at it anyway.

He wasn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But I didn't mind. I wasn't sure I'd love him if he was.

So yeah. John Marcone. Mafia overlord, health nut, and overbearing neurotic asshole I was in love with.

Now that I knew that, what did I do with it?

Whatever it was, it was going to have to wait. My eyelids finally grew too heavy to keep open. I set my half-finished cocoa aside, tucked my hands under the blanket, and closed my eyes.

The house was less calm when all the kids came back. Hope didn't seem to get that Uncle Harry having a leg injury meant climbing all over him was a bad thing. One time her foot pushed right on my stitches and I yelped pretty loud. I think I scared her. I'd have to do something to let her know I wasn't mad at her, just achy.

Charity picked up the slack like a pro with Michael laid out for a while and me lounging around, being dead weight. I spent most of the day borrowing Michael's chair so I could put my leg up on the foot rest. She made sure Michael and I took pain medication on time and fed us and acted appropriately unaffected when I whined about my injury. It was nice to not be alone when I was feeling terrible, to have that support. I could get used to that. I was getting used to that.

I slept on the sofa within ten minutes of finishing dinner and didn't wake up until ten the next morning. I got up, dressed as nicely as I could, and went to Shiro's funeral with the family.

The less said about that, the better. It was unnerving how unbalanced I was during the service. I'd known Shiro for such a short time but he'd really...

Anyway. It just made the fact I had no idea what to do with Fidelacchius clearer. I wasn't big on the Almighty, but I was hoping on a sign from someone on the subject.

More rest, more thinking, more bonding with the kids. The day passed slowly, leisurely and healing like I spent the entire time in meditation. The case with the Shroud hadn't lasted long, but so much had happened, I needed to slow down like this.

Before I knew it, it was day three of Amanda Beckitt's treatment, and I was packing my things up. I needed to get home. I didn't want John to be on his own when Amanda either woke up or... didn't.

I bundled everything into the company car I was borrowing. As I pointed myself towards the Gold Coast, I found myself... missing the turn and driving on. North. Out of the city.

As I went, I tugged Bob out of the bag and unwrapped him from the cloth I'd put him in. "What's up, boss?"

"Talk to me about healing magic," I told him.

I set up in Amanda's room. One of the chair held the door shut and I pulled all the blinds. I didn't have many supplies, just what was in the bags. There wasn't time to hunt for more, not with the sun sinking in the sky. It was the end of the day and I had a small window to work in.

Bob was skeptical all the way through, tempering my expectations. I wasn't a healing magus and while my use of magic had gotten more intricate and subtle over the past year or so, this was on another level altogether from what I was capable of. And the Shroud was an obstinately Christian artifact of power. I wasn't exactly compatible.

But I wanted to try. I needed to at least give it a shot.

It wasn't the sort of ritual this needed. Magic like this needed a carefully planned circle to control the power and filter it right, it needed more supplies, more thaumaturgical links. It needed a proper build-up with cleansing and...

But I had to try.

And I did. I was still getting back on my feet after duking it out with Nicodemus, but I gave Amanda Beckitt everything I could. I poured every ounce of magic I could into her, willing the Shroud and her to work together. The potential was there, I simply tried to give it more kick. That was all I was able to do.

Dusk came, and the moon rose.

Amanda Beckitt slept on.

I gathered my things and went home.

It was late when I let myself into the house. I was shaking slightly from exhaustion. I just dropped the bag with my clothes on the floor of the foyer. I could take care of it tomorrow.

The duffel with Bob and my gear I left on the table in my lab. It too could wait until later.

I stumbled up to my room, my steps noisy from weariness. Even with how much sleep I'd had lately, I was still so drained. My attempt to revive Amanda didn't help my recovery.

It didn't help anything, really.

My shoes were off and I was wrestling my shirt over my head when I felt eyes on me and turned. John was in the doorway in just his comfy, worn yoga pants.

He knew. He knew what I did up in Wisconsin. It was idiotic to think he didn't have eyes on Amanda at all times. His best-kept secret was his best-protected charge.

I could see it in his eyes. He stared at me in the dark for a long moment. I waited for him to ask me, preparing myself on how to tell him I'd failed, the Shroud failed, and she was still deep in her coma despite everything that we'd gone through just for John to have a chance.

He didn't ask about her. He just said, "Are you back?"

I shut my eyes and looked away. "Yeah. I'm back." I sat down heavily on my bed and worked my pants off, yawning thickly.

John padded over quietly and turned down the bed. I expected it when he got me under the covers. I was surprised when he followed. "Is this all right?"

"I..." I lay my head down on the pillow, looking at him. "I wasn't sure you wanted to do this. After what happened."

He pushed himself up on his elbows, leaning over me. "Do you remember what I said to you when I asked you do work with me?"

I frowned. "Uh. Something about signing your contract or you'd let some lycanthropes kill me?"

John laughed, a short shallow laugh. "No, at Fournier, Harry." He lifted his hand and brushed the back of his fingers over my cheek, rubbing against my stubble with a contemplative set to his mouth. "I told you I needed someone who would fight. Who could fight me. If anything this ordeal has proven what an excellent choice you were."

"I... I'm still sorry." Because I was, I really was, for doing that to him. I was a pragmatic fighter and would take my advantages were I could but this one was staying with me.

"I know." He took a deep breath. "As am I."

I blinked up at him, working that over in my head. "So that... did we just... Make up?"

He laughed again, deeper this time, warm and rumbling through me where his chest was against mine. "Yes. I suppose we did."

"Cool," I murmured, smiling.

"Quite." He settled next to me, putting an arm around my waist and squeezing. "Go to sleep, Harry. We'll figure out the rest later."

We weren't going to talk about Amanda, I realized. He knew, and I knew he knew, but we were never going to say the words. I doubted we'd ever speak of her again. I knew his secret and that was enough.

It wasn't perfect. I could feel the weight of being responsible for sharing that secret. I could feel how we weren't like we were before. It wasn't all fixed between us and we'd have to deal with the fact we'd betrayed each other. And I had to deal with being in love with him and knowing that John might not have been capable of returning that. I knew his flaws, how he ticked. I knew that under all his robotic layers there was a heart, but that didn't mean the robot wasn't there.

But that was okay. He didn't need to return it and I wasn't going to tell him and guilt him about it. What we had was good, and obviously strong enough to survive some serious drama and remain intact. That was more than I'd ever had before.

He'd had his big secret. I was going to have mine.

I shut my eyes and nuzzled my nose against his neck where his lingering cologne was strongest. I breathed in the hidden sweetness of it, and fell asleep.

Chapter Ten

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It's really amusing when the characters are so oblivious, in a sad tragic sort of way. Harry, really? You really think that John is incapable of returning your feelings? *Sigh* If Marcone did not love you or at the very least cared deeply for you, he would of killed you for doing what you did.

Glad the finally talked some and your description of John always having to be the bigger spoon conveyed so much with so little words.

In Harry's defense, if you asked John, he'd likely agree about the being capable of the love thing. But we'll address John's issues in the WC arc. 8D

I REALLY THINK HE DOES NEED TO BE THE BIG SPOON. It's part of his pathos and how this entire life is ruled by his ideals. He must be the big spoon, he's provider and protector and all that shit, even if it drives Harry crazy.

And just like Harry has a laundry list of Shit John Does That Makes Me Crazy, I think John has his own list about Harry. And it's probably longer.

Oh, I agree. He does need to be the big spoon. I just love the imagery. That is John in a nutshell. I'm sure John is as oblivious as Harry, but since we are not privy to his inner thoughts, I can't be as amused with his obliviousness as I can be with Harry.

This is so very, very wonderful. ♥

he always had to be the big spoon in bed...

Hee! Of course Marcone has to be the big spoon. *loves*

I had to deal with being in love with him and knowing that John might not have been capable of returning that.

...oh, I am so looking forward to the next arc. :DDD

I loved that you had Harry try with Amanda. I always felt he should have in the book. I also love that you had him fail. I often wondered if, in the book, the Shroud failed to wake her because it was necessary for a greater purpose with John.

This was a lovely chapter. Harry's thoughts felt quite right for where he is in this, and I was glad he and you took the time to explore them.

(And yay for such a fast update! Thank you!)

Same here. Maybe in canon he still doesn't like Marcone, but Amanda's an innocent and at least trying would be good. I don't think he could do much good, but this is one of the times where it's just the thought that counts, IMO.

(I figured since the last chapter took forever I'd get this one out ASAP.)

You know, there's so much that I like about this chapter that it's a shame I wasn't with it enough to really pin down anything I particularly loved. Charity the passive-aggressive den mom. The Outfit's pool of those in the know expanding, and having the knowledge enough to win a fight against the supernatural. Hendricks deliberately setting aside his loyalty to Marcone's wishes in favor of what's actually good for the boss and Harry. The creak of the hinge on the door--I suspect that if someone oiled that hinge, the creak would return as soon as John's next visit. All of his walls are down right then and he needs that warning or he's liable to knife some soft-footed nurse.

For some reason this really strikes me:

The duffel with Bob and my gear I left on the table in my lab. It too could wait until later.

If Marcone needed any more reassurance that Harry was back to stay, that's basically it. When Harry's home base is in danger, he does not fuck around and get careless with Bob. Similarly, he only leaves Bob around when he is home.

And yes, of course, big spoon Marcone every single time. Don't be sad, Harry, that's a sign of love-- holding you would take some maneuvering if one wanted to avoid the feeling of hugging a large bag of empty three-ring binders. I do now have the hilarious mental image of Harry trying to be the big spoon and Marcone wriggling out like a big grumpy cat too up on his dignity for such shenanigans.

Someday Harry is going to figure out exactly how much and how deeply John loves him, and it's going to scare the shit out of him. Idiots, the both of them. They deserve each other.

I imagine to be the big spoon to Harry, John habitually sleeps higher up on the bed and has Harry's back against his chest. It's all very awkward but adorable.

the hilarious mental image of Harry trying to be the big spoon and Marcone wriggling out like a big grumpy cat too up on his dignity for such shenanigans

Hello new MoC canon. ♥

This chapter is a great conclusion to the arc! It truly feels like a resolution, something crystallising and emerging from the debris of the action-packed sequence that just ended.

The Amanda bits were very well handled, imo! And I really liked how Hendricks has become comfortable enough with Harry to refuse to take sides between and Marcone. I mean, obvs his loyalty is and always will be to Marcone, but nowadays when he disagrees with John he has enough confidence in Harry to make it known. (btw, I loved his helpless lusting after Gard in, what was it, the last chapter? And Harry's cluelessness on the subject...)

And oh Harry, oh John. How can you be so stupid about these things? (I know how, but still.)

Part of Hendricks' loyalty to Marcone constitutes helping Harry take care of the boss, basically. I'm glad you liked this conclusion! Hopefully the rest will be good too. 8D

This book was completely awesome. I like what you did with it, very different and new but at the same time staying true to the canon. Also really liked the complications as you portrayed them in John and Harry's relationship. It makes sense for their characters. Looking forward to the next arc. Thanks for posting this series. It's a pleasure to read.

Haha, not to negate your comment, but Book Two isn't done. It's only about... 40% finished. A whole other arc is coming up

*grins sheepishly* Maybe I'm just that confident that the whole book with be awesome? *considers* Yesh. *cough* I didn't make a mistake I'm just that confident. ;)

Nah. Seriously though. Look forward to seeing what else you're writing here. Continuation of this book and next one. :D

Such a quick update! XD! And like everyone else I have to quote: "...and he always has to be the big spoon." I believe they call that showing, not telling. ;) <3

I will never stop being amused about Dogma banishing the two to Wisconsin. Seriously. I live in a state that's worse than Hell.

I also find it nice that this Harry really is a more contemplative, not-so-quick-to-fire wizard, instead of book!Harry who jumps to conclusions and is even slower to forgive. More mature. It's nice to see how he could be, with time and serenity. Or a Mafia overlord taking care of him.

Edited at 2011-05-24 09:05 pm (UTC)

Dude, with your current governor? Yeah, worse than hell.

Not a lie. The bastard just gave himself more veto powers. If the recall elections go as planned, I will be Futterwhacking myself sick because the fucker will lose his Republican majority, and then we'll see how well he steamrolls his big business plans.

This is such a wonderful story.

I really like this buuut don't know what to say in particular.

Though I caught a typo! Our city always fell to a plague curse. Think that 'always' should be 'almost'.

Ah, crap. Thanks, fixed that. :salute:

I was so thrilled to see a new chapter up so quick! It's like it's my birthday, only better!

I love your Carpenters. I mean, I kind of love them anyway, but you make Charity much more likeable than I find her in the books.

Hendricks takes care of Marcone, even when he has to go around Marcone to do it. I love that about him, I really do.

The explanation of Amanda, and Harry and Marcone just sitting there in the room is just beautiful and very touching. I'm also glad that you had Harry try with Amanda. I'm another one that has always been bugged by him not at least *trying* to help her. For her own sake if not for Marcone's.

Harry taking actual time to think about his relationship with Marcone and then this:

The thing was. The thing was that John did a lot of things I didn't like. He didn't openly share the details of his criminal dealings, but certainly didn't hide any of it. He was controlling, both overtly and in that underhanded way that always pissed me off when I figured it out after the fact. He was smug and sometimes so arrogant I wanted to punch him in the face. He was so sure of himself and that his way was the right one, he gave orders when he should've been making requests, he got so passive-aggressive when the world didn't fall into place right as he wanted it, he made sure any case of Coke I put in the refrigerator mysteriously vanished, he lectured me on healthy food whenever I had the audacity to get lunch at Burger King, he had a nasty habit of sheltering me like I was a delicate flower instead of a wizard capable of severe property damage, he always had to be the big spoon in bed...

And I was probably in love with him.

So there was that.

I sighed and sipped my chocolate.

With Elaine, I'd been giddly infatuated with her, adoring everything about her with that brand of blissfully ignorant teenage obsession. With Susan, I never really loved her, but liked her more than I'd liked anyone else since Elaine.

With John, it was this giant howling crazy beast of affection and exasperation and familiarity and frustration. I didn't always like him and sometimes I came close to hating him. But the last few days of John detox had been painful. Even when I was mad at him, I couldn't be... mad at him. I was angry, but not to the point of wanting to leave him. I just wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until he stopped acting like a robot and realized what he was doing. If anything, leaving him was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I wanted to stay and work with him and try to fix it if we could. And if we couldn't...

I don't know. Being against him had hurt, and I hadn't been good at it anyway.

He wasn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But I didn't mind. I wasn't sure I'd love him if he was.

So yeah. John Marcone. Mafia overlord, health nut, and overbearing neurotic asshole I was in love with.

Possibly one of my favorite bits of all time. Harry knows exactly what Marcone is like, and he still loves him. Of course, Marcone loves Harry too, in his own way.

I can't wait for the WC arc! Does that mean we get Thomas....?

I think that's one of the universal things about canon fans agree on-- that Harry should have tried.

I'm so so happy people like Harry using the L-word. I agonized over that, whether I had earned the right to use it. It's a big deal to me to earn the right to write certain things in the fic and that was the one I was least sure about.

Thomas will be monumentally important in the upcoming arc, yes. I'm really excited about it. Lots of insanity goes down, it's almost as hectic as the DM arc in a way. 8D

Oh, this was lovely.

They really are their own special brand of screwy, aren't they? I love how you've dealt with the "Death Masks" arc, weaving canon and Chicago and general awesome together. The way you handled Amanda and them was very nice. And I'll second the readers who very much appreciated that Harry tried to help her. That was something that did feel like it was missing in canon, and to have that supplement is lovely.

And why do I think that their fight may be resolved, but there's still an ocean's worth of problems to work on between them. I'm thrilled to pieces to hear that you'll be dealing with John's issues, as it has, until now, felt like Harry really took the brunt of that. Not that I doubt more of Harry's problems will also be addressed. Between the two of them, they have more issues than 'National Geographic'. But seeing the shift in this book toward making John face up to his own shit is leaving me very excited for more.

A big part of this book is equalizing Harry and John. Ya'll are right-- Harry's had to give up a lot and John's gotten 90% of what he wanted. The WCV arc is going to shake that up and deal with John's past at the same time. :gleeful:

Aaahahaha, Harry, you dope.

This chapter was like warm id for me to roll in. It was so emotionally satisfying.

I like that Hendricks is in a place where he can help Harry find out John's biggest secret and he doesn't even have to feel like he's betraying something.

It was emotionally satisfying to write! Glad that came through. 8D

Hendricks knows what's best for John at times like this. It's his job, really.

I'm very glad you liked it. 8D

*hearts* Of course John is the big spoon. Awrdomr

Whoops, Premature posting is an actual condition and nothing to be embarrassed about. Anyhow, awesome conclusion to the arc. Can't wait for the next bit.

so much love! Really I loved the way John and Harry worked it out. And the update was really fast. So much awesomness!

Wonderful. Fantastic battle and I am made so happy by their reconciliation. :-)

I haven't been commenting nearly as much as I should, given how much sheer enjoyment I get from this series and how damn excited I get when I see you've updated! I love this arc, even as it tears me up, with Harry and John being at such odds with each other! I love all the characters and the plot and I really should have commented as I read because there's just so much love for everything! *gestures expansively at everything*

I'd...actually love to do fanart for you someday, if you could help me out with a scenario/scene? And maybe throw in a chibi Harry/Marcone? *really adores this series that. Much. T3T

Haha, that's fine. As often as I put out chapters, I can imagine it might be a bit crazy to keep up? The occasional comment works. I'm just thrilled you like it so much.

omigawd. I sure as hell am not going to say no to the awesome that is your art! I'd be honored with absolutely anything. How can I help?

I would love to illustrate a scene for you, if you like? You could chose and I'd attempt it! *lols at self* And I could do a chibi Harry/John. I just am not sure of what.

Also, seriously, I love this verse so much! XD As other people pointed out, it's so nice to see a more emotionally mature Harry and to see how everyone's relationships are shifting. So looking forward to the next part!!! *flails and chinhands at you madly*

Oh gosh. I'm really not choosy about something like this. But what might make a good piece of art... maybe Harry and John's talk in the boardroom, with Harry soaking wet with John's under the umbrella? Or their little scene in the kitchen with John re-bandaging Harry's wrists? Or if you wanna go back to Book One, the origami tiger or something? Hrm.

Your chibis are tres cute. The ones you did for the coffee shop AU in the Inception fandom killed me, I swear. I dunno how familiar you are with The Dresden Files-- do you need character descriptions?

Harry's 6'9", beanpole-ish, brown hair and eyes. John's average height, more athletic looking (former military), pale green eyes, salt and pepper hair (more pepper than salt at this point tho).

:chinhands right back at you: I love writing a more emotionally mature Harry. Oddly enough, he still has moments of real immaturity in MoC, but compared to canon!Harry? HUGE difference. (I'm reading the tail end of the books right now and I keep rolling my eyes at him. He's like eternally in his early twenties, emotionally.

Yay! They're together again!
(Although I'm sure they still need to work out that gigantic mountain of troubles still.

I like how you show everyone's growth. Like Charity starting to like Harry and think of him as one of her own,
Also, I hope for Sanya's sake that Marcone never finds out that Harry likes him a little. :D

What I really liked the most about this conclusion is the ending where Marcone still wants to be with Harry because one of the reasons he chose Harry is because Harry will fight back. They're like magnets. Opposites but always attracting. And the fact that both of them are in denial with each other, I'm pretty sure Hendricks is going to have to lock them in a closet together just to make them realize it. :D

One of my betas said that she liked that John is the one who really fucked up big time here. Harry may have gotten in on the betrayal thing later, but John essentially gets what he asked for from Harry (someone to temper him, who can stop him if he goes too far) and reacts badly. But in the end, Harry standing up to John and being able to fight back is why John wanted Harry, so. 8D

ANYWAY. Glad you liked.

Absolutely wonderful. Really, heartbreakingly good.

And there's going to be MORE.

White Court! Thomas! Harry protected by love! Awwwwweeeeesooooommmmmeeeeee.

Also: would LOVE another interlude from John's POV. Understand that doesn't go with the flow. But: you just do his voice SO GOOD. Its delicious. And it'd be great to see what he thinks of .. all of this.

The Name thing was interesting. Very well played. The shock on his face, he probably hadn't known what was going to happen when he said Harry's Name. And he did the right thing and let him go. It was ... a very powerful moment. Really wonderfully done.

And I think you wound the book into nine chapters EXCELLENTLY. Very well done.

So excited to follow this series! Will check regularly for updates :)

Wonderful part! OMG, Harry following John with Hendricks' blessing and finding out about Amanda finally. Yeah! For that. I liked how mature John was about it in the end, how he was willing to admit that he'd misjudged the situation tremendously.

I think there are going to be some changes on Harry and John's relationship, at least on John's part. I don't know what, but some of the things John said, seemed to hint at it that he maybe doesn't want to have Harry working for him like he has until now (maybe I misread it, though). I got the impression that he'll want to change some things, maybe for the best. If he wants Harry as his control instance, he can't have Harry completely under his control. I wonder how Gard is going to play in this universe.

I loved their make-up scene so, so much. :)

Hendricks, you win at everything. Including occasionally refereeing the crazy of John/Harry.

John, plus ten for not stabbing Harry in sheer panicked reaction.

Fave line = He was a halfway benevolent dictator, so long as you didn't get in the way of the profit margins. the qualifier, and Harry’s awareness that that’s the man he shares his live with, awesome. And the threat to set fire to the bed whilst taking the time for some space \o/

And Harry trying, oh.

plus, I am in love with Harry quietly exploring his sexuality through the occasional thought about Sanya. <3 the idea of him processing attraction-to-men after we’ve moved past (pretty much) the freakout of attraction-to-John is all kinds of interesting.

Ahhh this fic makes me so happy. Your characterizations are always spot on and tug at my heart in the best of ways!

Also, part seven isn't linked at the end of part six.

I just wanted to say how much I love this series. I've read the others on AO3, and finally gave in and came over here to get more (I'm not very active on LJ). But I kinda had to know what happened next. I was going to comment when I got to the end of what's currently written, but the Dogma reference struck me as ridiculously hilarious in the context of coming after a battle between Men of God and Fallen Angels, I just had to say something..
Your canon is amazing, and I actually prefer your characterisation of Harry to Butcher's. Don't get me wrong, I love the Dresden Files, but Harry is so oblivious sometimes and there's so many messed up attitudes to sex and gender in those books, it's kind of depressing to read sometimes, especially when the messed up attitudes are often coming from the 'hero'.
Please, keep writing!