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Harry had a lot of boundaries, and he seemed to defend them with ferocity directly in proportion to how arbitrary they were. As if being present for John’s end of a ninety second business phone call made the business any more real. It was nonsense. But used to be, Harry’s boundaries wouldn’t permit John to shake his hand, whereas these days he could get cranky if he wasn’t adequately kissed good morning. John had won the war, Harry just continued to fight battles, apparently for the hell of it.

So it was a bit of a risk when John brought work home on Friday evening in the middle of winter. It might get Harry’s hackles up, but so would staying in the office until one in the morning. John packed a briefcase of printouts, anticipating dinner, a glass of wine, hearing about wizardly happenings from the source.

Which naturally meant that the house was empty. John poured himself the wine anyway, reheated some leftovers, and spread out across the living room coffee table. He powered through cash flow statements, taking notes on a legal pad. He hadn’t done this in hardcopy for years, and he was oddly wistful for the old days when he was first taking over, back when money still had the power to move him.

Harry got home after ten, announced by the clatter of his staff in the entryway and the double thump of his discarded boots.

“Hey,” he said, coming in. He leaned down, snagging John’s collar with one hooked finger and holding him in place while he swiped the wine glass with the other hand. “Huh,” he said with noticeable disapproval. Harry tolerated bad red wine, and disliked everything else in direct relation to its expense. He had a remarkable palate, actually, he just used it wrong.

John reeled him in for a kiss. Harry’s jaw was rough with stubble; John ran the back of his hand against it, thinking idly interested thoughts about that rasp over the skin of his belly or his thighs. Except.

“You smell like smoke,” he said, finally putting a name to the lingering scent.

“Do I?” Harry said, going sweetly wide-eyed. It was one of his less convincing expressions.

John sighed. “You might as well tell me now so I can get the ball rolling with the right insurance company,” he said.

“You know, we wouldn’t keep having this conversation if you’d stop buying the city out from under everyone,” Harry said. He put the glass down, planted a knee on the couch, and tipped John over with a deliberate shove, carelessly scattering the files off his lap. Harry came down over him, nuzzling raspily at his neck, big and warm and affectionate.

“Fire?” John prompted, scratching his nails down Harry’s spine. Harry arched into it, huffing a pleased noise.

“Relax,” he said distractedly. “I was winding you up. It was a bonfire on the lakeshore. Some low-level talents pooled their power, tried a cleansing ritual for this one guy, and they wanted some supervision in case it went wonky.”

“Did it go wonky?” John worked his hands under Harry’s t-shirt, swept them up and down his bony back.

“Naw, went fine.” Harry bit gently at the tendon on the side of John’s neck, worrying at the trapped skin with the tip of his tongue and humming softly to himself. “It was nice,” he murmured dreamily. “They have this . . . resonance as a group, really light and airy.”

John inhaled wood smoke from his hair, imagining the scene: the fire, the people, a case of beer, maybe hotdogs and marshmallows. Just an average cookout, but with that core of pagan wildness to it.

As deeply entwined as he was in the supernatural world, magic had never become commonplace to John. Then again, it was never commonplace to Harry, either, and he’d been doing it all his life.

Harry stropped his cheek against John’s, happy and touch-seeking. John cupped the back of his head, digging his fingers in just a little. He wanted to pry inside Harry’s skull, know everything he knew, shoulder his way into the tenderness between Harry and his magic, make a place for himself there. Make Harry talk about him in that dreamy voice, like he had a few times before.

John smiled to himself, rueful. He’d thought, years ago, that he would be able to take what he wanted from Harry Dresden, feed the wanting until it was satisfied, and make it go away. Few desires survived achievement, in his experience. He hadn’t realized until very recently that it wasn’t about the having, it was about the wanting. More of Harry’s time, more of his body, more of his trust. There was no intimacy deep enough to satisfy.

Was this what it meant to want to spend your life with someone? Either the great romances of western literature had been telling it wrong, or John didn’t feel it the way most other people did. Probably the latter, all things considered.

“Mmm,” Harry said. “You smell good.”

John laughed, amused by how seductive that shouldn’t have been, but really was. He nudged Harry’s jaw, burrowing into the side of his neck. He wanted to get Harry’s clothes off, bury his face between his legs, breathe in the day’s sweat and musk. Lick his balls, mmm, rub the flat of his tongue over the head of Harry’s dick until that was all he could taste.

“We should go upstairs,” John said into Harry’s ear. “I’m going to need a lot of room.”

“Oh yeah?” Harry said, doing his unimpressed routine probably by habit, because he let John up fast enough.

John bent to collect the papers scattered on the floor. One of his binder clips had opened; he regathered the stack, shuffling them back into the right order.

“Missed one,” Harry said, extending a long arm under the coffee table. “Here, it’s your--“

John looked up to see him staring, big eyed and visibly appalled, at the cover of a glossy brochure. He realized with a jolt of mingled horror and hilarity that it was the revised services list for Executive Priority. It needed periodic refreshers, this time to expand the section on vampire and other supernatural role-play, oh the irony. Vice was eternal, but the particulars were forever changing with the pop cultural zeitgeist.

“Thanks,” John said, reaching for it.

Harry scooted back to the end of the sofa, fending him off with one hand and opening the brochure with the other. “Not so fast,” he said, and kept reading.

John let it go. Sometimes Harry transgressed one of his own boundaries, apparently on a whim. Exasperatingly, it was often still John’s fault.

John went back to his papers, watching Harry out of the corner of his eye. He was red in the face, reading with his mouth pursed. He’d already forgotten to look appalled, though.

“Hang on, what’s—“ Harry started, then shook his head. “No, wait, never mind. I don’t want to know.” Which was a blatant lie if John had ever heard one.

“Mmm?” he said helpfully.

“Nothing,” Harry said, and aggressively flipped a page, still reading. Then he went back to appalled so fast he might have sprained a muscle. “Hell’s bells,” he said, “people do that?”

“Do what?” John asked, though sight unseen he could already tell Harry that yes, people really did.

Harry opened his mouth, shut it, and shoved the brochure out at arm’s length to point. “That,” he said.

John looked. Ah. “People do enjoy rape fantasies, yes,” he said.

Harry’s mouth worked. “Why?”

John shrugged. He didn’t generally concern himself with asking why. Hendricks did enough of that for both of them. Some people pursued vice because they’d always been told not to; some people wanted to feel guilty; some people were unraveling an unfathomable psychological knot. “It might be about control, I don’t know,” he said.

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “You actually let men do that to your girls?”

“Under very particular and controlled circumstances, yes,” John said. “Though actually, it’s largely that a few of my employees have expertise in ‘doing that’ to clients.”

That shut Harry up for several long ticks. John let him stew, then lightly tapped the corner of the brochure. “Would you like to read the rest of that?”

Harry practically flung it at him. “No,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Jon nodded, tucking it away. He bent his head again, filing the rest of his papers in silence while the air roiled uneasily between them. Hell.

He would have bet a great deal of money that the night was knocked irretrievably off track. He definitely wasn’t expecting Harry to crowd aggressively up against him as soon as he put his folder down. John looped an arm up around Harry’s neck and let himself be kissed, bemused but a little relieved. Harry hauled him to his feet, manhandled him up the stairs, got them both out of their clothes.

“There,” Harry said, sprawling across the bed, long-limbed and glaring. “You said you needed room.”

John didn’t get where he was by ignoring the opportunities handed to him. Harry didn’t act like he’d been put off, like he’d gotten an unpleasant reminder of reality. Quite the opposite. He pushed himself into John’s mouth, eager, his hands scrabbling in the blankets. John worked him up slow and steady, tonguing his slit and stroking him with both hands. Harry came, then pounced John onto his back faster than expected, eager to return the favor. He sucked John off with a serious furrow between his closed eyes, face possessed by intense concentration, like he was trying to drown himself in sex.

John left him alone, going on instinct, and enjoyed it. He loved knowing that Harry had learned this from him. For him. Christ, he was good, all that focus, all that intensity. John touched him at last, lightly gripping the back of his neck in warning before he came, long and sweet in Harry’s mouth.

Harry curled up against him after, not talking. John blew out the candles. He was still confused, but when wasn’t Harry reacting inconsistently, after all? John should just be grateful, and he was.

*

Harry was gone when John woke on Saturday. That was odd; Harry was a night owl and a late sleeper. His continued absence through Saturday was odder. The weekend was usually their time, work crises permitting. And these days, Harry would generally give John the courtesy of a note on the fridge if the world was in danger of ending.

John gave him until seven that evening, then paged Hendricks with a terse request. Hendricks called his cell five seconds later.

“Boss,” he said, loading the single word with so much disapproval, it could have stopped an entire football team of teenaged delinquents in their tracks.

“He doesn’t need you to defend him,” John said, nettled. “If Harry objects to me checking up on him, I assure you he’s capable of letting me know.”

“I’ve heard,” Hendricks grunted. “The entire state has heard. But I ain’t objecting to you stalking him for him. I’m objecting for you.”

John squeezed his eyes shut. They had this debate every few weeks, in one form or another; Hendricks was dogged, endlessly patient. “Nevertheless,” John said.

Hendricks sighed. “Give me five,” he said, and hung up.

The news, when it came, was unrevealing. Harry had gone home before dawn and shut himself in for the day. He’d emerged half an hour ago, and was currently having dinner with an unidentified woman at his neighborhood Chinese place. They appeared to know each other well. A photo was forthcoming.

John knew better than to get his hopes up, and in fact the picture was a messy blur. He doubted the cell phone had survived the attempt. The woman had long hair, that was as much as he got.

Hendricks inquired via text if they should take the woman down now, or at least wait for her to finish dessert. Sarcastic asshole. John told him to stand down, and went to find some work to do.

Harry didn’t come home that night, and he vanished so completely the next day that it eventually became clear he must have left the city, probably by the nevernever. John put out his organization’s equivalent of an APB, and went about his life. It was a long week. John worked sixteen hour days, eating at his desk or in the car. It was a shock to realize how long it’d been since he’d done that. Harry had changed him, in that way if in no other.

Hendricks went along for the ride, not saying much but thinking a whole hell of a lot through their second all-nighter. So John did him the courtesy of not complaining too much when Hendricks dragged him out of the office at 4 p.m. on Thursday, and didn’t tell him until he was halfway home that Harry was waiting for him there.

Hendricks was apparently quite irritated, because he failed to mention that someone else was, too.

The woman was slim and tall, with golden brown hair and a classical profile. “Oh!” she said, catching John’s movement in the glass of the veranda doors and turning quickly to face him. She lifted one hand, an intricate wirework bracelet flashing in the sun. Then she seemed to catch herself, and carefully lowered it.

It was a familiar gesture, that deceptively vulnerable opened palm, and John thought, wizard.

“I apologize for startling you,” he said, crossing the living room slowly. “I’m John. And you are . . .?”

“I’m . . . an old friend of Harry’s,” she said. “Elaine.” She hesitated a telling beat, then extended a hand. John took it, suppressed his first instinct to bow over it in old world courtesy, and shook it firmly instead. Up close she was visibly haggard, her eyes bruised and sunken, her hand too cold in his. “Harry’s just getting something for me,” she said, retrieving her hand and taking a step away from him.

John was used to receiving that sort of wariness, but for some reason he suspected that Elaine looked at everyone like they might spontaneously decide to eat her at a moment’s notice. “There’s no rush,” he said. He tried a smile. “I don’t suppose he offered you a drink?”

She didn’t seem to process that. She was staring at him, arms crossed defensively, her eyes never quite connecting with his in that way of wizards. “Well,” she said softly. “At least you don’t look like Justin. I was afraid you would.”

“I beg your pardon?” John said. And then he made the connection, and a coldness settled in his stomach. “Justin,” he said. “Justin DuMorne?” The man Harry was accused of killing – of burning alive, it was said. John had never known what to make of that, whether to believe it. Harry did not kill easily, at least not other human beings, but that didn’t mean he never had. And if he were going to kill in anger, he would do it with fire.

“Hmm,” Elaine said. Her gaze crossed his for just a second, not long enough to connect them, just long enough to be startling. “I wonder if he picked you because he knows what sort of monster you are up front,” she said thoughtfully. “Fewer nasty surprises, that way.”

John clamped down on his reaction before it could even start. He knew how not to give someone the satisfaction. She’d said old friend, but this didn’t read like the deliberately testing provocation from Thomas Raith. More like Molly Carpenter’s veiled hostility, going bare-faced. Which was . . . interesting.

He smiled, magnanimous the way only a victor could be. “I’m afraid what’s between Harry and I will stay there,” he said. “But please. Speculate, if you like.”

Harry appeared from the back stairs with a clatter.

“Oh, hey,” he said, visibly startled to see John there. He looked like he hadn’t slept since the last time John had seen him, nearly a week ago. Christ, what had they been doing. “Here,” Harry said, extending one of his folded handkerchiefs to Elaine, probably from the cache he kept in John’s bedside table. “It should still be fresh.”

“Thanks.” She tucked the packet away inside her jacket. “I appreciate it. You can’t get winter wind like that in California.”

“Sure.” Harry rocked on his heels. Behind his back and out of Elaine’s sight, his hands knotted ceaselessly over each other.

Elaine crossed her arms again, inhaling through her nose. “And for the help this week,” she said. “Thank you.”

Harry twitched a shoulder. “I’d say it was my pleasure, but, well, you know.”

Elaine barked out a bitter laugh. “Of course I know.”

Their eyes held. They’d soulgazed each other, once upon a time. Behind his back, Harry was worrying and worrying at one cuticle until a spot of blood appeared; John had to stamp down hard on the reflex to reach out and stop him.

“You’ll keep me posted?” Harry said.

She nodded tightly, hands clasped over her own elbows. “You’ll keep the wardens off my back?”

“I’ll do everything I can,” Harry said softly, seriously.

She nodded again, and they stared at each other for another beat, both held so tight, both leaning away a little. It was giving John a headache just watching this. Then Elaine unclenched, exhaled, took another step back.

“Goodbye, Harry,” she said, cast John a cool look, and walked out.

Tension still rode Harry’s shoulders, even after the front door closed. John reached over and gently nudged his hands loose from each other, wincing to see the marks he’d left with his nails. Harry turned, seemed to shake himself out, and then just . . . fell into him. John caught him, startled, and Harry ducked his head far down onto John’s shoulder, letting out a long breath.

“Oh, troll’s balls,” he said quietly.

John rubbed down his back, holding him awkwardly. Harry gusted out a few breaths, then straightened, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Sorry,” he muttered, swaying on his feet. John caught his elbow, frowning up at him.

“When’s the last time you slept?”

“Um . . . Monday? What day is it now, anyway?”

“Bed,” John said, instead of answering. He turned Harry bodily, frog marched him towards the stairs. Harry went along, eerily obedient. He was already nearly asleep on his feet, as if the very last of his strength had given out the moment Elaine was gone. That was a funny definition of ‘old friend.’ John got him stripped down and under a blanket.

Harry reached out, clumsily snagging him by the wrist. “Hey,” he said, one eye opening. He was transparent in his exhaustion, pretenses gone. “Stay a minute?”

John sat on the edge of the bed. “Of course,” he murmured, kicking off his shoes. “Put your head down.”

Harry did. John rested one hand between his shoulder blades, and counted a single minute before Harry was out. He waited another twenty, listening to Harry breathe and watching the afternoon sun creep across the carpet, before he got up again.

He stayed in for the evening, working out, doing some personal accounting, bringing a book to sit upstairs. Harry slept, not even twitching.

John debated for a while, then woke him a little before midnight.

“Come and get some food,” he said, heaving Harry up by the shoulders. “You can sleep again after.”

Harry trailed him downstairs, zombie-like, wearing his boxers and one of John’s button-ups. It was too big in the shoulders and the chest, but fetchingly short on Harry’s long torso.

John pushed him onto a stool at the kitchen island and emptied half the contents of the fridge in front of him. Harry blinked vacantly at the spread for a minute, then a light came into his eyes and he pounced. He ate carrots and mushrooms dipped in hummus, an apple spread with cheddar cheese, an avocado with salt and pepper. John poured him a glass of juice, nibbling a bit to be companionable.

Harry took a long drink at last, swiped a napkin across his mouth, leaned forward on his elbows with a sigh. He dropped his chin, working both hands into his hair and leaving them.

“There was something funny going on in San Francisco,” he said to the countertop. “Power spikes, whole quadrants of traffic lights failing all at once, that sort of thing. Turns out it was a kid. Twelve-years-old. The magic shouldn’t come that young.” He lapsed into a brief silence, and John waited him out. “Her dad was . . . hurting her,” Harry said eventually. “That’s probably what woke it up. We got her out of there and into some place better. Elaine’s going to teach her, make sure she keeps her head down, doesn’t get noticed by the Council.” He stopped again, and John had the strong impression there were dozens of things he wasn’t saying. “She’s . . . really angry. Obviously. Anyway.” He pushed back from the counter. “. . . Long week.”

John didn’t actually have anything to say to that. They put the food away in silence. Harry was yawning again by the time they were done, and John followed him upstairs to bed.

*

He woke muzzily sometime in the night with Harry’s hands sliding down his back and Harry’s breath warm on his ear.

“Shh,” he was murmuring. “Shh, don’t talk.”

John made a questioning noise, then a softer, less voluntary sound as Harry’s hands slid down further, spread him open, stroked him with gentle persistence. John eased his legs apart, letting out a long sigh. He could have forced himself up out of the trailing ends of sleep, but he didn’t have to.

Harry leaned over him, working him open on his rough, blunt fingers. John hummed quietly into the pillow, letting it all roll sweetly over him. Harry wasn’t often in the mood for this; they were even more rarely in the mood for this at the same time. But when they were . . .

Harry moved at last, sinking down over him. John took him in without any real effort, the breath rushing out of him. Harry rested for a minute, his hands big and warm on John’s biceps. Then he pushed himself up, rocked deep, pulled out again. He eased back, tugged until John got his knees under him and could help work himself on Harry’s dick. That was good, getting him deep and slow. John arched his spine, fully awake now.

They fucked slow and sweet and quiet. Harry kept hold of his hip and his shoulder, controlling the pace, steadying him. John let his head hang down and breathed into it; he felt no need to fight this one out. Harry was a big bastard, big hands, big dick. Big heart, if you knew the combination codes.

Harry made him wait for a long time, just sliding in and out of him and gently nudging John’s hands away whenever he reached down.

“Shh,” Harry kept murmuring. “Just let me, shh.”

So John let him. And eventually Harry was merciful and took him in hand, squeezing him slow and steady from base to tip. John came like that in his fist, like an unraveling. Harry followed him a minute later, dick shoved deep as he wrapped both arms tight around John’s chest from behind.

John went right back to sleep after. They could clean up in the morning, for once. He was dimly aware of Harry, still awake next to him. And he thought he heard Harry say, “damn it,” to himself, quiet and tense in the dark.

*

He woke again sometime near dawn, with gray light coming in the window. Harry was moving next to him, uncoordinated and violent.

“No,” he was saying, voice slurred. “No, no, you can’t, no.”

John sat up, catapulted to alertness. “Harry,” he said.

Harry kicked, feet tangled in the covers. He gestured, obviously invoking some spell in his dream. The armchair across the room thudded, tipping back hard into the wall, and Harry let out a sound of unrestrained pain as the magic must have burned through him.

“Harry,” John said again. “Harry, you’re dreaming. It’s all right.”

Harry thrashed, muttering. Then, distinctly, “Don’t touch me!” John snatched his hand away, about to do just that.

“Harry!” he said sharply, and jolted the bed with a hard movement. That seemed to do it – Harry snapped up, breathing hard.

“Hey,” John said, putting a careful hand on his shoulder. “Settle down. It’s all right.” Harry looked around, the whites of his eyes showing. John kept talking to him, repeating himself mindlessly, slowly pushing him back down. Harry went, though he lay stiff as a board, silent, eyes wide.

“All right?” John asked, rubbing a hand over his chest.

Harry took a shuddering breath. “Fine,” he said, hoarse. “Let me up.”

John did. Harry rolled away from him and out of bed. He shut the bathroom door. John blinked, startled by the click of the lock. There was a long, tense silence. Eventually, after nearly twenty minutes, the shower started.

John exhaled, rubbing at his tired eyes. He could take a hint. He got up, threw on some clothes, and went downstairs to start the coffee.

*

Harry’s helter-skelter lifestyle had always driven John quietly nuts. He didn’t understand it: how could someone so meticulous and precise about magic consistently fail to remember what day of the week it was? Harry couldn’t use a PDA, true enough, but he could get the same result with a stack of index cards and a few hours with one of those Getting Things Done books. John had suggested it once, and netted himself a long, blank stare. He’d sighed and resigned himself to the absurdity of being blindingly attracted to a guy who could lose his wallet in his own pocket. Twice.

Apparently, he hadn’t seen anything yet.

Over the next few weeks, Harry lived in an expanding bubble of distraction and disorder. He put water on to boil for tea, then forgot it and went for a run. He took his pentacle off to clean it, dropped it down the sink in the master bathroom, and got it back with a summoning spell that sent every piece of silver in the house rattling frantically at its drawer. He lost his keys, John’s spare set, his shoes, his handkerchiefs. He was erratic, too – cheerful and talkative one night, silently morose the next, or simply absent.

John had been so focused on Harry’s stubborn refusal to just fucking give and say yes to moving in that he’d never quite realized he’d effectively won already. Harry had been living with him in every way that counted except for his signature on the dotted line. At least until he suddenly wasn’t.

When he was there at all, he seemed to have cut his sleep time in half. He stayed up into the small hours tweaking obscure potions, then vanished before dawn. And he brooded; he could stare blank-faced at nothing for a solid hour, John timed him, and then look irritated and say he wasn’t thinking about anything when asked.

It was all very frustrating. John didn’t understand any of it – the moods, the unhappiness, the distraction. This sort of thing didn’t happen with Hendricks; on those vanishingly rare occasions he had a problem he couldn’t handle on his own, he let John know and John fixed it for him. Then again, Harry had been pathologically opposed to letting John fix his problems since day one. Which was a ridiculous boundary to maintain – John happened to be fantastic at fixing problems, to start with.

It ate at him. The illogic, and all Harry’s wasted energy. Harry was . . . suffering. It reflected onto John, something sharper than empathy. It made him angry, helplessly and without focus or purpose.

Harry emerged from a haze of bitter-smelling potion making and came into the kitchen one Sunday morning. He poured himself a cup of coffee in silence, doctored it, took a single sip, and promptly dropped it on the tile, spraying porcelain and coffee everywhere.

“Don’t move,” John said sharply, grabbing his elbow before he could shift his bare feet. “Are you burned?”

“Not much,” Harry said. “Fuck.” He jerked a hand through his hair. It was shaking with reaction.

“Just a second.” John ducked into the laundry room and grabbed a pair of old sneakers he kept there. When he went back into the kitchen, Harry was crouching down, sweeping the broken pieces into a pile with his bare hands.

John pulled the trash can out from under the sink, reaching for the broom.

“I got it,” Harry said, getting into the shoes with a series of small-scale contortions on his tiny patch of clear real estate. He stood, eyes on the floor, and took one long-legged stride out of the danger zone. John surrendered the broom without comment. He watched Harry’s back, the curve of his spine as he bent to sweep, the unnaturally strict set to his shoulders. John exhaled a silent, exasperated breath, and went to pour Harry another cup of coffee.

“So,” Harry said over the clatter of broken porcelain. “I was thinking about that brochure. The one for Executive Priority.”

“Mmm?” John said, giving him an extra spoonful of sugar. No one’s ribs should look like that.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “And I was thinking we could try . . . you know?”

John was about to poke at him, tell him that if he couldn’t say it, they definitely couldn’t do any ‘you knowing’, because really. Then he remembered the one thing they’d actually talked about from that brochure, and bit back the pedantry so hard he nearly choked on it. He set the full mug down and turned to stare at Harry.

“To be clear,” he said. “We’re discussing playing a game where I pretend to rape you?”

Hot color flooded the back of Harry’s neck, which was all John could see. “Yeah?” he said combatively into the trash can.

John cocked his head. “. . . All right,” he said. “I assume you didn’t mean right this second?”

Harry straightened up and turned to face him. He looked incredulous, still flushed red, and most of the way to pissed off. “What?” he said.

John frowned at him, wrong-footed. “Was I supposed to . . . say no?” he asked, wondering a little helplessly where he’d missed that cue.

“I don’t know,” Harry snapped. He gestured wildly with the broom. “But you could have!”

“. . . What?” John said, completely lost now.

Harry puffed out a harsh breath. “Have you ever done anything like that before?”

“No,” John said.

“Ever thought about it? Ever wanted to?”

“No.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “But you just say ‘sure’ like – hell’s bells.” He took two quick breaths, loud in the silent kitchen. “I am not some – some fucking problem that you’re the only one willing to get his hands dirty to fix,” he said. “If we do this, it’s because you actually want to.”

Which also handily made this about John and what he did or didn’t want. Still, it wasn’t a completely invalid point.

“All right,” John said. “Hang on a minute, let me think.” Harry nodded. He crossed his arms, balancing the broom like it was his staff, and leaned back against the opposite counter.

Oddly, John found it was easier to think it through when he wasn’t looking at him. He shut his eyes. Christ, but Harry was an eternal well of surprises. Where had this even come from? Focus. Could he do it?

Hendricks’s habit of formulating his thoughts into if/then statements was catching. If Harry wanted something, then John had a vested interest in seeing that he got it; if Harry needed something, then . . . well.

It was no secret that John wanted to give Harry things he needed. But Harry cared about why this time, so all right.

Stated bluntly -- do I want to rape him -- the question was meaningless, too much associative baggage. It triggered only an automatic reflex of denial.

So, take it apart: did he want to hold Harry down? Did he want to fuck him without care or consideration – did he want to use him? Make him take anything John chose to dish out? He’d done most of that already, in pieces, and enjoyed it. But so had Harry, then – he’d been egging John on the whole time, asking for more. Not saying no.

But he was asking now, too, wasn’t he? He was asking to be able to say no later, and to not have it count.

The entire idea reordered itself. John breathed in sharply, thinking of Harry’s defensiveness, his deflection. Thinking of him twisting up all his ample chutzpa to the sticking point to ask for this thing that clearly shamed him, made him angry. How deeply buried was this want, how secret, how old? And here he was, showing it to John, asking--

“Yes,” John said, opening his eyes. “I want to.”

Harry had been staring up at the ceiling, a determinedly blank look on his face. He snapped his chin down, visibly startled. “. . . Oh,” he said, swallowing audibly. “Um. Okay?” He eyed John, his mouth twisting down a little.

John sighed. “Harry,” he said. “If you start giving me that squinty look because I agreed to do something you asked me to do, I swear to God I will throw this coffee.”

Harry’s face cracked in a surprised grin. “Okay, fair,” he said, and laughed with a touch of hysteria.

“So,” John said. “My original question – you don’t mean right now?”

“No,” Harry said. He turned quickly, began sweeping again.

“Okay,” John said slowly. “You do realize . . . we’re going to have to have an actual conversation about this, right?”

“Thought we just did,” Harry grunted, loudly rattling shards of mug into the trash can.

John pressed two fingers to the bridge of his nose. “You’re going to need a safeword, for starters,” he said.

Harry was shaking his head, immediately put off by this suggestion of procedure and planning. “If I don’t like it, I can toss you across the room,” he said. “Pretty sure you’ll get the message.”

John calculated briefly, decided to let that one go. “Just try not to break me or anything else, please,” he said. “When do you want to do this?”

Harry straightened, leaning forward on the broom. “Look, I don’t want a whole . . . plan,” he said, making a terrible face on the last word. “Can’t we just . . . y’know?”

No, they could not. Or at least John could not. But. “You want me to surprise you?”

Harry nodded, relaxing. “Yeah, exactly.”

“All right,” John said, nodding thoughtfully. “And are there things you particularly want me to do? Or not do?”

“I just said—“ Harry started, exasperated. Then he shook his head, set his mouth, and met John’s eyes. “You can do anything you want to me,” he said.

John felt his pulse pick up, the blood flowing faster under his skin, the abrupt flush of response. He found himself leaning into Harry’s space, close but not touching. Harry was still red; he breathed fast through his nose, holding the eye contact.

“We’re done talking about this now,” Harry said after a long, crowded pause.

“All right,” John said. He nodded, eased back. Harry exhaled a huge breath, his shoulders dropping three inches just like that. John smiled at him, making it as benign and harmless as possible. “More coffee?” he said, offering the full mug.

*

John began to plan, almost instantly. Harry might not want to know what was coming, but John did: he wanted every detail at his fingertips, under his control.

He plunged right into the minutiae. He considered and rejected settings, approaches, snatches of dialogue. For a few days, his ideas ballooned out into baroque fantasies with elaborate set dressing and Russian novel levels of backstory. John ran with it for a while, startled to discover this unknown well of creativity, then reined himself in. Harry wouldn’t appreciate that sort of thing – John could just hear him making snide comments about needing a guy with fucking cue cards. No, keep it simple.

He quickly discarded the idea of the handcuffs they’d used before. That wasn’t right; nothing familiar would be. So he got a pack of zip ties instead, very old school, very effective.

He had Gard make a charm for him, a plain disc of polished wood strung on a cord, inscribed with one of her elaborate runes in charcoal. She called it a ‘walk softly,’ and promised that it would not only muffle his footsteps, but also suppress his scent, blur his presence so he wouldn’t even ripple a warning air current. She didn’t ask any questions.

He thought about a weapon. A knife sprang to mind first, and that was . . . tempting. Too tempting, maybe. Using a blade on Harry kicked John up into a place of trembling, over-stimulated intensity. It made him feel like he was in absolute control, even as it took him to pieces.

. . . Not a knife. He needed to keep his head.

John counted off the details like rosary beads. There was a calmness to it, a meditative purity.

And under that, a fuse burning down. As his plans coalesced, John’s calm started to fray; his focus on the details turned into an obsession with a potent, sexual kick.

He recognized this in himself. This was how it had been in the bad old days, when he’d get a name and a fresh gun and twenty four hours to get it done. He’d planned for that, too, just as meticulously.

He was left, at the last, with a beautiful plan and no execution. He could subdue Harry, he could control him, at least long enough to get it done. But get what done, exactly? John lingered over the precise choreography, at a sudden loss. He could remember the intonation in Harry’s voice when he’d said, “do whatever you want to me.” It was like touching a live wire, thinking about that. The permission – the possibilities. Too many, maybe, because it nearly paralyzed him.

John worked out at least four times a week, crises permitting. Hendricks often joined him when he went to his home gym early in the morning. They did cardio side-by-side for half an hour – Hendricks happily, John stoically – and then spotted each other on the weights.

John liked weight training; the reps, the counting, it all worked for him. He did some of his best thinking on the weight bench, testing his body and letting his mind go.

They started just after six one Thursday morning. He and Hendricks worked through their routines in comfortable silence. John read the newspaper while he ran, then spotted Hendricks through his entire upper body regimen, before settling down on the bench himself.

Harry had been sleeping peacefully when he’d left. There was a little more of that, these days, as if whatever had been riding him so savagely was loosening its hold. Harry was around more, talking more, brewing less. John only wished he knew what had helped, in case he needed the information later. If it started up again, whatever it was . . .

Having a lover was like playing the stock market: you measured your risk out with care, then realized only as the returns started coming in that you had no idea how any of it really worked. Was it like this for other people? John had always thought the curse of love would be boredom, but the closer he got to Harry, the less he seemed to know.

Well, they both had secrets.

It wasn’t like he figured it out; that would involve the piecing together of clues, the drawing of conclusions. And apparently that had already been done, because John . . . knew. He’d known for a long time. Harry had told him, in dozens of tiny ways, he had all but screamed that—

That someone, somewhere, had hurt him. John brushed the euphemism aside with impatient disgust – that someone had raped him.

He must have been hurt very badly to start with, if he hadn’t been able to defend himself. Or been very young. Or coerced in some subtle, insidious way that bypassed his ability to defend himself at all.

Or all of the above.

Hendricks grunted a sound of inquiry. John realized he had paused mid-rep; his elbows were out, his wrists bent, his joints screaming with strain.

He lowered the bar carefully onto its rests, the breath punching out of him.

“Think I’m going to hit a bag for a while,” he said.

Hendricks didn’t comment. He just followed John over and held the punching bag steady. John taped his hands, then pounded it until his arms burned, until he’d lost his breath and each blow reverberated his entire body. He stopped when there were actual spots dancing in his vision, retrieved a water bottle, and downed half of it in three gulps.

“Want a go?” he asked, recollecting himself enough for politeness.

“. . . No,” Hendricks said. He leaned his shoulder into the bag, arms crossed, and leveled John a steady, thoughtful look.

John shook his head, looked away. Hendricks was the repository of all his secrets. But this one wasn’t John’s. There was another beat of silence, then Hendricks’s weight shifted.

“Your first call is at 7:30,” he said.

John nodded, and headed for the shower.

He had a suit waiting for him in the bathroom off the gym, but he detoured upstairs to get dressed anyway. Harry was still sleeping. John got ready for the day quickly in the attached dressing room, knotting his tie with severe correctness.

He went and sat carefully on the edge of the bed when he was done. Harry was on his side, curled into a comma with one arm flung out straight in front of him and the other bent up against his chest. John didn’t want to wake him, so he didn’t touch.

This changed everything. And also nothing. Things were exactly as they had been, John just understood them minutely better now. Harry was suffering; an old hurt had flared up like the bullet in John’s arm when the weather changed. And he had, in something close to a miracle, asked for help. John passed a rueful hand over his face – Harry’s definition of ‘help’ was, of course, completely fucking insane.

Christ, the responsibility. John had known this was a trust, had reveled in it, had thought it was sexy. But this. Trust was an inadequate word. And it went past sexy into something else entirely.

Or did it? Was that what Harry wanted: to recondition his memory to pleasure instead of pain? Or was it something more complicated? Did he want to be shamed, to be humiliated?

It figured. The only time John ever really cared about why was with Harry, whose motives were unfathomable. Probably even to himself.

But he had asked. And John was . . . uniquely qualified, in some significant ways.

John had to do this right for him.

*

He got sidetracked for several days, thinking too much. He wanted to know when, he wanted to know how, he really wanted to know who. But John had already turned over every rock in Harry Dresden’s life that he could find. He had used private detectives, he had used public officials, he had used the occasional supernatural source. He knew everything that could be found by the methods at his disposal.

John spun his wheels for a few days anyway, mentally revisiting every one of the depleted options. He was frustrated, as distracted as Harry. It burned, not knowing anything.

He pulled himself together eventually. He didn’t get over it. But there was a long list of things that ate at him, that made him angry. This was just one more.

He refocused. Harry was more like himself, as if merely asking John for this had released a pressure valve. But he was wary, hyper-vigilant, keyed up and waiting. That couldn’t last – no one could sustain that. So John held his plans close, and waited him out.

He chose a Wednesday, early in the afternoon. Harry’s schedule was erratic, but he’d come home from what was probably a difficult day in Edinburgh, and he showed no signs of leaving again.

John was supposed to be out of the house – he almost never came home that early during the week. He didn’t even cancel his plans, he just abandoned them. The boss got to do that sort of thing, once in a while.

John dismissed Gard and Hendricks in the garage. The house should be empty except for Harry. He put himself together piece by piece: he put the walk softly charm around his neck, checked his pockets for all the supplies, unloaded his .22.

His footsteps were eerily silent in the marble entryway. John ghosted down the hall, feeling his focus narrow. Strange – he was breathing deep and steady, but it made no sound.

Harry was in the library, exactly where John had expected. It was warm there in the afternoon, and Harry could spread out his notes and doodles (and occasional comic books). It helped him think, he said.

He was sitting at one of the round tables. He had one foot hitched up, the knee tucked against the edge of the table. He leaned over his bent leg to write, oddly stork-like.

John settled against the wall across from the open double doors. He was in shadow, so unless Harry looked right at him, he wouldn’t be seen. He stared at the bend of Harry’s wrist, the curve of his fingers over the pen, the bare, vulnerable back of his neck. Christ, anything at all could happen to him, Harry had no idea.

Harry started moving restlessly after about five minutes. John wondered if Gard’s charm couldn’t muffle the prickly creepy-crawlies of being stared at. Harry shifted, put down his pen, dropped his foot to the floor. He looked around, scratching casually at the back of his neck, then stood.

John went for him, covering the distance in half a dozen running steps. Harry felt him coming, charm or not, and he was turning – too late – when John snapped the safety off and pressed the muzzle to his back.

“Don’t move.”

Harry gasped, jolting violently. And then he kept moving, the crazy bastard. But John was ready for that; he had a zip tie tucked in his other palm, waiting. The next few seconds were a little messy. He could have dropped the gun, he’d planned for that. But Harry played right into him, lifting his hands together, and it was surprisingly easy to circle his wrists and synch them tight in the same one-handed gesture.

John wrapped his hand around Harry’s wrists, squeezing down over the zip tie. “I said don’t move,” he repeated, and dug the gun into Harry’s back.

Harry went still. He was panting already, tension rising off him like heat haze.

“Marcone,” he said. “What do you want?”

John let the silence stretch, keeping hold of Harry’s wrists, letting the extent of his control sink in. “Caught you,” he said at last, smiling.

He might as well have said, fight me, please. Harry went off like a firecracker. John danced away from a nasty backward kick, and sacrificed his hold on Harry’s wrists for a grip in his hair. Harry caught him with an elbow, a solid thump to the ribs. John let him struggle for another ten seconds. He pulled Harry’s head back, stayed clear of his dangerous feet, kept directly behind him and out of reach of his bound hands.

“All right, enough,” he said at last, when Harry was panting. He’d been letting the gun hover at Harry’s back, clearly out of sight and out of mind. He brought it up fast, jerking Harry’s head back farther and pressing the muzzle to his throat.

Harry froze, that time. He swayed back into John, helplessly drawn by the pressure on his hair. His hard swallow communicated itself through the gun to John’s hand.

“What do you want?” he said again, voice rasping.

“Mmm,” John said. He let the gun drift down and around, tapped it thoughtfully against the top of Harry’s spine. “Walk,” he said, letting go of his handful of hair.

Harry shuffled forward. John stayed on him, getting him lined up right with a directing hand on his bicep. Harry stopped when he fetched up against the arm of the couch.

“Down,” John said, pressing the muzzle in.

It was another choke point; he’d anticipated that. Bent over with someone standing above you, it was a vulnerable pose, and Harry fought it. John didn’t give him any quarter this time, no room to work out his aggression. He put Harry down hard in less than three seconds, kicking both his feet out from under him and getting him face down on the cushions with a brutal shove.

“Hands up,” he barked, then yanked them up over Harry’s head when he didn’t comply. It was the first chance he’d had to verify that Harry hadn’t taken off his rings by some fluke. There they were, dully gleaming and quiescent.

“Fuck you,” Harry snarled, surging up.

John put him down again, even harder this time. It wasn’t difficult – he had all the leverage. Harry’s hips were propped up over the arm of the couch, his hands still locked together and stretched over his head.

“Stop it,” John said, keeping his voice low and even. “This will go better for you if you don’t fight me.”

Predictably, Harry responded with a kick, fast enough to connect this time. John kept his feet, retaliating so fast he didn’t have time to think it through, he just reached around and slapped Harry across the face.

Harry gasped; John’s palm stung. The two of them held still for a moment, John’s hand cocked awkwardly in midair. And then they passed some threshold, and no one was turning back.

There was a mirror on the wall at the far end of the couch; John had moved it there himself two weeks ago when he’d decided on this venue. It was perfectly placed, he could watch his handprint rising on Harry’s cheek, see Harry’s tongue flick out to lick at the tender corner of his mouth where John’s thumb had caught him.

Harry looked up to the mirror, too. His eyes widened, and some of the fight seemed to go out of him. John finally had a little attention to spare, and he realized with a jolt that he could see Harry in the mirror, but bending over him was a vague blur, an anonymous man shape with no face. Gard’s rune, it must be.

“What do you want?” Harry asked again. Third time, for the charm.

John took a risk, hoping that he was subdued, and holstered his gun. He always thought of weapons as extensions of his hand, but right then it was as if the gun was getting in the way. He didn’t want anything mediating the space between them; he wanted to control Harry with his bare hands and nothing else. He took him by the throat with light but insistent pressure, and stepped up close, nestling himself up between Harry’s legs. He was hard already, tripping off anticipation and adrenaline, and he rocked himself crudely into Harry’s crack through both their pants.

Harry’s whole body flinched, but there was nowhere for him to go. John watched his eyes get bigger, the dawning realization. Christ. It was really as if Harry didn’t know what was coming, as if John hadn’t fucked him a hundred times, as if Harry was shocked by this sudden intimacy because John had never touched him more than casually before. Like John had no right to touch him at all.

Oddly, he’d rarely felt closer to Harry than he did right at that moment. John felt swept away, more . . . involved than he’d expected. And he couldn’t honestly say who was following whose lead here, but it was as if they were locked together, perfectly synchronous, under it all.

John worked his free hand under Harry’s t-shirt, swept it up his back. He half-closed his eyes. It was easy to imagine this was new territory under his hand, that he was taking it by right of might.

He wrestled Harry’s t-shirt up one-handed, yanked it over his head and left it tangled around his forearms. Harry seemed to shrink under him, all that vulnerable bare skin on sudden display.

“Marcone?” Harry said, his voice climbing sharply in shock. “Marcone, you’re not—“

John leaned into him, stretching up to put his lips by Harry’s ear. “You keep telling me I’m an animal,” he said. “Turns out you were right.”

John went for Harry’s belt, watching his eyes in the mirror. He saw it coming, but he still wasn’t quite prepared. Harry had fought before, but now he went crazy. The gun had worried him, the whole scenario had unsettled him, but it was only with John’s fingers on the button of his fly that he panicked.

John lost control of him, regained it, lost it again. He threw his entire weight over Harry, pinned his arms at the elbows, rode it out.

“I take it back,” he said, and ground his hips. “Keep fighting. I like it.”

Harry went quiescent again, trapped by his own perversity. He quivered for a silent minute, unable to stop fighting, unwilling to please John.

John let him stew, then bent and licked him once, slow and wet, up the side of his neck. Just to show he could. Harry flinched from him, vocalizing an inarticulate sound of refusal.

“Mmm,” John said, savoring the salty flavor of his sweat like it was better for having been stolen.

He went back to Harry’s belt, popped the button of his jeans, unzipped him slowly. Harry kept tensing under him, his breath coming loud and fast. John got his jeans down to his thighs one-handed. He put the other hand around Harry’s throat again. It was an awkward stretch, but he was going to need the control hold.

And indeed, Harry erupted again as soon as John slipped a finger under the waistband of his shorts.

John put a stop to that with a few seconds of firm pressure on his carotid. Harry slumped under him when he let up, panting and clearly dizzy.

“You’re a bastard, Marcone,” he said hoarsely. “You’re a bastard for doing this to me.”

“I know,” John said, and eased Harry’s shorts down, a little at a time, teasing himself. “Unfortunately for you, I don’t care.”

“You are an animal,” Harry said. “You’re a monster, you—“

Something clicked in John’s head, and suddenly he was locked in. He’d been playing it carefully, analyzing everything Harry said on multiple tracks, like listening to two different songs, one in each ear. There was the story they had wordlessly agreed on, and there was the real thing.

But suddenly John was in the story, breathing it. He had Harry Dresden stripped and helpless under him. Dresden, who had sneered at him for years, mocked and disdained him, owned him from the balls out without ever fucking trying. Or deigning to notice, the self-righteous careless presumptuous bastard.

And who, to this day, made John fight him to the mat for every intimacy, for the tiniest concession, even one Harry wanted to give. He made John dance to his tune, beg in all but fact, jump through hoops like a fucking show dog.

For once, John was going to take what he wanted. No caution, no consequences, no patience, no negotiations.

. . . Well. He’d learned worse things about himself.

He spread Harry open with one-hand, easing back for a long look. Harry coiled up, as if the mere touch of John’s eyes was a deeper invasion than he could stand. John looked at the flushed skin inside his crack, the scattering of dark hairs, his hole.

“I will never forgive you for this,” Harry said.

That almost stopped John. Outside the story, yes, but more shockingly inside it, too. But Harry could still make him stop, and still wasn’t doing it. And John was done waiting for permission that would never come. Harry’s forgiveness was irrelevant; John was going to get satisfaction from him at last.

He had a tube of slick ready in his pocket, along with the spare zip ties and a few other emergency supplies. He wet his fingers quickly, then spread Harry open again, leaving slick fingerprints. He tapped Harry’s hole once, just to watch him flinch. Then he squeezed warningly at Harry’s throat, and pushed a finger into him.

Harry tipped his head down, denying John his face in the mirror. He pressed his cheek to the couch. He seemed to be locking up, his body turning to stone, his jaw clenched. John forced a second slick finger into him, just to get a reaction. Harry twisted away, then froze up. But he couldn’t stop the sounds escaping his clenched mouth.

“Relax,” John said, pressing his fingers deep and wriggling them. “You never know, you might enjoy it.”

“Fuck you,” Harry snarled.

John smiled to himself, obscurely pleased. He sunk his fingers deep one more time, a bit breathless at the heat and the pressure. This was going to feel so good.

He let go of Harry’s throat and planted that hand in the middle of his back instead, holding him down. He slicked his dick with the other. Not a lot, just enough to keep the friction from actually hurting either of them.

He spread Harry open again, watching goose flesh ripple up the insides of his thighs. “Ready?” he said solicitously, just to make Harry tense up that little bit more.

Harry did. John had to work to get the head of his dick in, pressing forward, unrelenting. He grunted in satisfaction when it finally happened, sinking deep past the resistance.

“Oh fuck,” Harry said, voice cracking. But he didn’t stop struggling.

John let himself groan, more vocal in his enjoyment than usual. “Go on,” he said. “Keep fighting. It just makes you tighter.”

“You bastard,” Harry said, voice fracturing as he repeated himself. He went passive again, fighting the one way left to him. John could feel him trying to control his breathing, trying to relax.

John didn’t want that. He pulled most of the way out, thrust deep again, hard enough to force the breath out of both of them. “Fuck,” John said. He circled his hips, feeling Harry move under him, helplessly responding as John stretched him wider. “Yeah,” John said, talking more than usual just to have his voice in Harry’s ears. “That’s what I want.” He thrust again, grunting with effort. It was so good: the sweet tension around his dick, Harry’s little involuntary movements away, how he had nowhere to go after but to push back.

Harry lifted his head again. His face was wrecked, his lips pulled back to show his teeth. “I’m going to kill you for this,” he said to the shadow shape in the mirror.

John thrust involuntarily, a charge crackling low down in his pelvis. “Threaten me again,” he said. “Though really, if you want me to fuck your mouth, you can just come out and say it.” He let his eyes drift half shut, imagining it. One hand in Dresden’s hair, the other holding his mouth open for John’s dick, feeding it to him until he could feel Dresden’s throat working around him.

Harry’s eyes narrowed in the mirror, and he snapped his teeth. “Try it, asshole,” he said.

John laughed again, thrilled by this defiance. He pulled half out, and on a whim slapped Harry once, high up on his right thigh. Harry squeaked, jolting.

“Nice,” John said, pushing deep through his sudden clench release, clench release. He did it again, loving the way Harry couldn’t control his response fast enough, his involuntary jerks and noises.

He pulled out all the way, wanting a little more room to work. He slapped harder that time, leaving a flushing handprint across Harry’s skin, and then one the other direction, and a third crossing them both. Harry seemed to be done pretending not to feel anything; he bucked and yelled, kicking again. John leaned his weight onto the hand in the middle of Harry’s back, holding him down and slapping him twice more, left right. He pushed back in fast enough to enjoy the echoes of Harry’s reaction. Harry was quivering under him, jerking away from every thrust like his skin was too sensitized to even bear the brush of John’s.

And suddenly John was done playing around. He planted his feet, yanked Harry’s hips up, and fucked him. No more games, no more tricks to get him to react, just the hard push of his hips and the perfect friction on his dick. He loved everything about it, the sound of their skin slapping, the way Harry’s back shifted as he responded and controlled himself, moved and froze up again.

Harry dropped his face into the cushions. His biceps flexed, fighting the tangle of his shirt and the inescapable zip tie underneath.

John held his hip for a minute, keeping him tilted up and off-balance. But he couldn’t really get enough leverage, so eventually he shoved Harry back down, bracing his hips over the arm of the couch and fucking him deep.

And Harry . . . arched. There was no other word for it. He controlled it fast, but John was on him – John was in him.

John froze. Harry froze.

“Well, well, well,” John said. He felt a slow smile splitting his face. He pulled Harry’s hips up again, snaked a curious hand underneath.

“No!” Harry blurted, shoving awkwardly up onto his bound elbows.

John ignored him. He thought he knew, but he had to be sure.

Harry was hard; more than that, Harry was desperate. Just the brush of John’s fingers made him gasp, a shiver seizing him. When John took him in hand, he howled.

“Oh,” John said, savagely delighted. “Dresden. What did it, was it when I slapped you around, or is it how I’m fucking you?” Harry was silent, face hidden. John grabbed him by the hair, forced his head up. “Answer me,” he demanded.

Harry was flushed bright red, face twisted in humiliation. “No,” he said.

John stroked him, hand gripping too tight. Harry whined between his teeth, pained and frantically trying not to let his body react.

“No?” John said.

“No,” Harry snarled. “Fuck you, no!”

John leaned over him. He licked Harry’s neck again, then bit him, sucking hard to leave a mark. “The next time I see you, we’re both going to know,” he said into Harry’s ear.

Harry tossed his head, yanking his hair out of John’s fingers, losing a few strands in the process. “You can’t make me,” he said.

John stroked him again, thrust his dick as deep as it would go and ground his hips. “Yes I can,” he said certainly.

Harry hid his face again, and John let him this time. He fucked Harry roughly, inconsiderate of his prostate or his preferred angles. And at the same time he jerked him off. He gripped tight, so dry that he knew it hurt. Harry writhed, trying desperately to get away from John’s hand and only managing to push back into his thrusts. He shook his head, pounding his bound hands into the cushions.

“No,” he said, again and again. “No no no.” It wasn’t defiant anymore.

“I can make you,” John said over him. “I can do anything I want to you.”

Harry went silent and still, whittled down to his last defenses. John tightened his grip, jerking his wrist until his hand burned with the friction and Harry’s dick must be on fire.

Harry’s breath hitched when he came. His hips thrust involuntarily. John fucked him harder, jerking him through it. He kept going even as Harry’s dick softened, stroking him wetly until Harry’s subvocal whine rose to a desperate plea for him to stop. John kept at him for another five seconds, squeezing the sensitive head of his dick and fucking him hard, loving the way he shook and flinched, over-stimulated to the point of pain.

He let Harry go at last, and reached up to slick a bit of the wetness in his palm across Harry’s mouth. “Good boy,” he said.

Something seem to go out of Harry with his orgasm. He dropped forward onto his face, the crackle of resistance in him ebbing away.

John didn’t give him any time. “It’s not over,” he said into Harry’s ear, and rocked his hips.

Harry stirred, making a faint, sluggish noise of denial. John thrust again, groaning between his teeth. That had been so good, making Harry come. Making him enjoy it, making him show it. Almost as good as coming himself, somehow, but now John wanted the real thing.

Harry’s quiet sounds resolved into words. “No,” he said, muffled. “Don’t.”

John ignored him. Harry was limp under him, his whole body rocked by John’s thrusts. He floundered up eventually, moving like he was under water.

“Stop,” he said, looking up at the shadow man in the mirror. “. . . Please.”

Abruptly, John was on thin ice. The plan – well, truthfully, the plan had survived longer than expected. Most plans didn’t make it past first contact with Harry Dresden. But they had exceeded all John’s branching decision tree possibilities, and then some.

“Stop,” Harry said again, low and hoarse. “Just . . . stop. Leave me alone.”

John inhaled. He hated uncertainty. And now, of all times, what would he wreck if he chose wrong.

“Ask me again,” he said. “Nicely.”

Harry breathed in. His face moved, a faint flicker of the furious resistance that should have blazed up. But that was all. “Please,” he said. “Please stop.”

The savagery went out of John, as if hearing him plead snuffed out the hot-burning candle in him. Ironic – Harry had said ‘please’ to him less than five times, ever, and John had thrilled to it, every time. But now when it was offered without grudge or reserve, he couldn’t seem to enjoy it.

But. But Harry had asked this of him because he knew John could come through. He knew John wouldn’t flinch. John couldn’t flinch, Harry was counting on him.

“No,” he said, and lifted Harry’s hips into his next thrust.

Harry made a quiet, wordless sound, like he’d just lost something precious. John expected him to drop his head again, hide his face. Harry didn’t. He kept his chin up, his eyes on the shadow man in the mirror. John watched, moving steadily inside him.

Something was happening to Harry. His lips moved silently. John couldn’t make out the words. Harry was talking to the mirror though, not him.

Emotions rippled across Harry’s face in waves. He looked sad, then angry, then other things too complicated to interpret.

John felt, for the first time, like they weren’t . . . in this together. Harry had been reacting to him all along – to various personas, but to him. Now Harry was reacting to a body over him, to hands holding him down and a dick moving in him, to the anonymous man in the mirror.

It was chilling. Almost . . . almost lonely. John slowed down. He could feel the spark going out of him. His body was still good to go, but it was mechanical, soulless, no real charge behind it.

John shut his eyes for a minute, pulled himself together. No. Enough of that. When he opened his eyes again, he deliberately didn’t look up at the mirror. He looked down instead at Harry’s bare back, his bony shoulders, the loose fringe of too-long hair at his nape. John did not much like labels, partly because he found them unnecessary and partly because they had all seemed so inadequate to the history between him and Harry, to what they were. But oddly, just then, he thought lover. Ridiculous, in the context. But it helped, somehow.

John held out for another minute. He stretched it long, keeping himself in check. He was oddly reluctant to interrupt. But at last he was out of fuse.

He squeezed the back of Harry’s neck, shook him firmly. “Pay attention,” he said.

Harry breathed in. An awareness came back to him. Tension slowly coalesced down his back, and his body stiffened, resistance sluggishly gathering.

John smiled to himself, pleased by that in a way hard to articulate. He stretched up and bit the side of Harry’s throat again, licking animal-like at the skin.

It was as if his orgasm was going to happen, with or without his help. Jon pressed Harry flat to the arm of the couch, fucked him in sharp, shallow strokes. He spread Harry open again, pushed as deep as he could and stayed there, grinding his hips on a stuttered breath. Harry was shaking his head in silence, not bothering to vocalize his protests anymore.

“I’m going to come in you,” John said, and did. It seized him, shook him from the guts out, left him limp and twitching.

John slumped over Harry’s back, reeling.

There was a long silence while he caught his breath. John’s thoughts floated, simple and non-analytical.

Then Harry stirred under him, took a breath. John became aware in a flash that something was changing in Harry’s posture, that he was opening his mouth to speak, and whatever he said would burst them both out of the game.

John went for his gun. It was all instinct, the unquestioned refusal to let it happen. He got the gun up fast, clicked off the safety next to Harry’s ear and pushed the muzzle up under his jaw before he could get a word out.

“Shh,” John said.

Harry’s mouth closed with a snap. John breathed for a second, composing himself, trying to get a handle on this. That wasn’t happening. All right. One thing at a time.

He slung his weight up, slowly pulled out.

He got himself back onto his feet, staggering for only a second. Harry started to turn over almost at once. John was glad; he didn’t want Harry looking at the mirror anymore.

“Move,” John said, gesturing with the gun. “. . . More.”

Harry shifted up the couch, eyes on the muzzle. John waited until he was stretched out on his back, only his feet still over the arm, then crawled onto him again.

“Hold still,” He murmured. Harry’s hands were tangled up in front of him. John pulled a knife from a sheath near his spine and cut through the knot of t-shirt. He tossed it aside, giving himself a little more room, but left the zip tie. He pushed Harry’s hands up over his head, holding them in place for a few seconds to make his point.

Harry watched him, eyes wary. John smiled down at him, pleasant and warm. The wariness cranked up to visible alarm. He stroked the barrel of the gun up from Harry’s naval, over his sternum to the hollow of his throat.

Harry’s lips parted.

“Shh,” John said, and touched the muzzle to Harry’s lower lip. He left it there for a few seconds, making his point. He fantasized idly about making Harry kiss the barrel, lick it, maybe even suck on it. Mmm. Interesting, but not quite the thing.

He eased the gun away, and kissed Harry’s mouth instead. Harry jerked under him, shocked. As shocked as he’d been to learn what John was going to do to him way back at the beginning. His mouth was passively resistant, unresponsive. John licked into him, breathing his breath. He lifted his mouth away, studied Harry’s face. Harry had closed his eyes. A flush was rising in his skin.

John breathed out a shuddering breath. He stroked the barrel of the gun up and down Harry’s cheek, a reminder. Then he bent and kissed his eyelids, one and then the other, tender. He could taste a faint trace of salt on Harry’s lashes. When had that happened?

He let his lips linger there, softly kissing the bruised skin under Harry’s eyes, holding him in place with the gun. There was no need to pretend here in order to make it a trespass. He had never done this before. He had never been allowed this before. He had never asked. Here was a true theft, at last.

Harry moved, restive, his breath rushing against John’s cheek. John eased back to look. Harry opened his eyes, his mouth turning down, uncertain. It was the first time John truly thought he was about to get tossed into a wall. He saw the thought cross Harry’s face -- I can stop him.

John bent and kissed Harry’s mouth again, nibbled at him, touched his tongue to the tender skin on the inside of Harry’s lip. It took a long time, but slowly, eventually, Harry began to respond to him. His body eased, his breath came slower. His mouth moved under John’s, the kisses flowed one into another for a long, quiet time.

They came out of it together, like that, kissing like they had all the time in the world. Until at last John eased back. He smiled, brushing his wet mouth softly over Harry’s one more time. Then he clicked the safety back on his gun.

Harry breathed out, hid his eyes in a long blink. John was waiting, hovering over him, when he opened them again.

John tilted his head, lifting an eyebrow. He was oddly reluctant to say anything. They were floating somewhere in between the aftermath of violence and post coital warmth.

Harry nodded, not speaking either. But all right, at least by his own assessment, for whatever that was worth.

Harry hitched his shoulders, his eyes unfocussing. There was a sputter of blue at his wrists, a whiff of burning plastic, and the zip tie parted like taffy.

John closed both his hands over Harry’s and lifted them for inspection. He’d fought hard. The zip tie had left deep, angry grooves. John bent his head on a whim, kissed the delicate, undamaged skin at the inside of his wrist over the blue veins and strong tendons. Then he turned Harry’s hand, brushed his lips carefully over the swelling ligature marks. Bizarre impulse – he wanted to lick them, like a dog with a wound.

Harry took his hand back, folded it protectively to his chest. He got out from under John deftly, moving with sudden haste, barely touching him. John rolled to his side and sat up, watching Harry yank up his tangled jeans. He looked around for his shirt, spotted the shredded remains, and turned his head away. He met John’s eyes skitteringly, color in his face, and gestured vaguely upward. Then he was gone, feet audible on the stairs. Not quite running.

John sighed, rubbed a tired hand up over his face. He put himself together, tucking his dick away, holstering his gun, smoothing down his shirt. Very little to do, actually. And the room was barely disordered for all their struggling. Not like the wreck they’d made down the hall in his study, once upon a time.

Movement snagged the corner of his eye. John had his hand on his gun before he realized it was just the mirror. It was himself, creepily obscured. John stared into that blanked shadow where a face should be, startled by his own response.

He lifted the charm off, watching the glass. He began to resolve in it, the shadow man acquiring his shoulders, the angle of his jaw, his eyes. After a few seconds, John was staring at himself. No less sinister, perhaps, but at least this was a monster he understood.

Water began flowing through the pipes upstairs. John tucked the charm away and followed Harry.

The bathroom door was pointedly closed. All right. John stretched out on the bed, folding his hands behind his neck, and waited.

His body hummed quietly to itself, pleased. It didn’t care where the orgasm had come from; it was a simple amoral animal. Soothing, actually, in its serene unawareness of complication.

The water turned off. There was a long silence, some faint rustling. The door opened quietly.

John turned his head, not moving the rest of his body. Harry was wearing only a towel, his hair slicked down with water. He acknowledged John with a flickering glance, stepping quickly to the chest of drawers for clothes.

John had started the day knowing there was a statistically significant possibility that this would ruin them – that Harry would barricade himself up in recrimination or shame. The thing between them was hearty; it had set deep roots in inhospitable ground. But even strong things broke, under enough force.

Harry applied himself to the selection of jeans with single-minded focus. “We’re not doing some – some post mortem with a flow chart and participant surveys,” he said belligerently into the drawer.

“All right,” John said, shelving several questions he really would have liked answers to, damn it.

There was a silence. John waited, eyes dwelling on Harry’s back.

“I didn’t like it,” Harry said abruptly. It sounded like a piece of an argument already in progress.

And it was patently nonsense. “Yes you did,” Jon said. Harry had been getting off all on his own before John took control of that, too.

Harry whipped around, a pair of socks in one clenched fist. “I didn’t,” he snapped. “That would be really fucked up.”

Because, of course, how disturbing something was had direct baring on its truth, for him.

John kept his relaxed pose. “Probably,” he said. “But it’s also admirable.”

That threw Harry for a loop. “Huh?”

John chose his words with care. “If a person was trying to hurt you, but you enjoyed it, they didn’t win.”

Harry’s brows lowered in astonishment. “. . . Neither did I,” he said. He was so surprised, he didn’t even seem to notice the personal pronouns.

John shrugged. “Open for debate,” he said. “But you did your best with a losing hand.” Was that what it had been like for him? Had he retreated into himself while some animal hurt him, compelled physical enjoyment from his body so fiercely that it had burned an imperative that still worked however many years later? Admirable, yes. A survivor’s instincts, adaptable down deep.

Was that why he was ashamed to like even the simplest, most pedestrian sexual acts? John wanted to pry into his brain with a crowbar and a sieve, catalog every knotted nuance of this. What was it like, not to trust your own enjoyment, to believe down deep that there was something vile under pleasure?

Harry stood still for a minute, chewing it over. He looked like John was arguing some alien, utterly bizarre concept to him. He turned his back after a minute, bending to put on his socks.

“No post mortem,” he said.

“My apologies,” John said, even though he hadn’t started that. He got up, deliberately making noise.

Harry straightened, rocking back on his heels and tilting his chin down. “What?”

“Your wrists,” John said, extending a hand.

“What, you want to kiss them some more and find me a Batman band-aid?”

John sighed. It wasn’t like he hadn’t known Harry took aftercare about as well as a cat took a bath.

“You bled,” he said. “Let me see.”

Harry rolled his eyes, but presented his hands. The injuries had swollen in the past ten minutes. John winced, and towed Harry back into the bathroom. He dug through the medicine cabinet, ignoring Harry’s look of tolerant skepticism. Just because he had a ridiculous wizard immune system didn’t mean he couldn’t benefit from reasonable precautions.

He had Harry hold his hands over the sink and poured hydrogen peroxide carefully onto his wrists. Harry endured this stoically, but began to get restless when John carefully patted him dry and spread antibacterial cream over the welts. John ignored him, focusing on cutting squares of gauze to size.

He looked up from taping the second one to find Harry staring at him in the mirror, an unreadable expression on his face. John met his eyes in the glass. Who had Harry been talking to, there at the end?

John didn’t believe in catharsis. It made for good theater, but it was otherwise nonsense. Old wounds didn’t suddenly heal themselves after a bout of cleansing weeping. They lingered, they flared, they subsided. You lived with them. It wasn’t good theater, but it was true.

Still. He’d recreated something for Harry, part by chance, part by intention.

“Did it help?” John asked.

Harry’s eyes flicked away. He looked hunted by the mere question, a little angry at John for even asking, for knowing what little he knew. John was sure Harry would brush him off, would play dumb – would be dumb, quite possibly.

But Harry surprised him. Harry was always surprising him. He sucked in a deep breath, straightened his back. “I don’t know,” he said. The most oblique of admissions, but John thought perhaps it required the sort of courage a man might need to be willing to go to his death at the hands of fallen angels. “I,” Harry said, and swallowed. “I can’t . . . no post mortem.”

John nodded silently.

Harry sighed, studied the wall for a minute. Then he glanced down at the bandages on his wrists, attempted a smirk. “Hell’s bells, John. You made me look like a fucking cutter.”

“You hurt anywhere else?”

“Nah.” Harry shifted, testing his body. “Just bruises. You?”

“I’m fine.” John busied himself packing away the medical supplies. Harry hovered over his shoulder, taking up even more psychological space than usual. John was re-rolling the gauze when Harry quietly spoke.

“Thank you,” he said.

He’d heard that more rarely even than please. It got John under the ribs, quick and dangerous like a knife. He set the gauze down, turning. All the polite phrases were laughable – ‘my pleasure’ was true, and also not. So he lifted Harry’s left hand instead, brought it to his mouth, softly kissed his fingertips one after another. They were all burn-scarred, the index finger most grievously. It was ugly, or at least Harry thought so. He’d made some crack about not scaring away school children when John asked why he still went gloved so often. John lingered there, learning the oddly smooth texture with his lips.

Harry took his hand away after a time. He curled it into a loose fist, ducking his head. “You crazy bastard,” he said in the sort of tender tone that other people said – well. The kind of things that he and Harry didn’t say to each other.

“Same to you,” John said.