I was standing on nothing, but Chicago was far below that, and John was at my side. If that wasn’t a perfect metaphor for so damn much in my life, I didn’t know what was. Something about standing in a glass box hanging off the side of a building took my thoughts down the well-trod paths of my literature class.
I rolled my shoulders against a shiver. It didn’t matter that the heating in the Skydeck was set to a comfortable temperature; chills kept making repeat offenses up and down my spine. Having a fallen angel with a penchant for scare tactics decorate the table for our dinner reservation with a ring of severed heads, and severed fingers as utensils, could have that effect. Well-versed in violence I may be, but I never received the inoculation against emotion that some of my coworkers seemed to. We’d been informed of the victims’ identities half an hour ago. John hadn’t moved since. Each of them had lived just on the outskirts of Chicago’s city limits--- out of John’s jurisdiction in the Accords, but a pointed taunt nonetheless. Just enough to try and make him feel helpless.
The bastards didn’t take into account that John didn’t do helpless.
I stayed beside John, watched the buildings, the lake, the horizon, and didn’t say anything, because John didn’t need words right then. He needed solidarity, and we’d always provided that for each other in silence. A band of ghouls could shriek their ---very long--- way up the steps of Willis Tower at that exact moment, and together we would calmly draw weapons and beat them down. That’s how the two of us worked. We both knew that. All it took to communicate it was to be a solid presence, in arm’s reach, even if said arm never would reach. If Steve Crawford hadn’t been killed by a rogue police officer in wolf’s clothing, he might have filled the silence with directionless chatter, and he probably would have come across a few comments that would have gotten a smile from one or both of us, no matter the circumstances. Steve was dead though. And when it came to dire situations, neither of us had the right tongue for superfluous.
I turned enough to make brief eye contact with Sigrun as she approached. I didn’t feel myself become nearly as star struck as I used to, but it was still a close thing. Dark blue was a good color on her. Although, in fairness, I thought that about every color on Sigrun. Something in me lifted at the sight of her walking towards us--- a part of me that was in a vicious need of protection for John and reveled in the knowledge I wasn’t alone in that. I’d witnessed Sigrun wearing blood like graffiti and had seen her walk out of a guest bedroom thirty minutes later in a gown, without a hair out of place, ready for a gala. Whatever happened next, we wouldn’t let them get to John again. We fucking wouldn’t.
The angle of John’s head changed in acknowledgement of her, but his eyes didn’t leave the skyline. Green reflected the city nightscape, swallowed it whole.
“Thus far they have been unable to find an appropriate provision in the Accords.” Sigrun leafed through the stack of folders in her arms with lithe hands. “That isn’t to say one doesn’t exist.” She seemed to consider giving one of the files to John, but once she’d taken in his posture and fixation, slipped the folder back in its place. “I assure you, we will find the grounds to respond---” her eyes traveled over my face, “---appropriately.”
“Thank you, Ms. Gard.” John probably hadn’t meant for it to sound like a dismissal, but he didn’t mean for a good deal of things to pan out the way they did.
Sigrun and I drew a conversation from a minutia of subtle facial expressions, and with a slight nod, she gave us distance.
As her footsteps diminished and I looked back to the glass, it was to find John watching me sidelong. Our shoulders brushed, and I held the stare, submitting to John’s subconscious measuring.
Seeing him there… surrounded above, below, on all but one side, by Chicago, his expression visibly harried only because he could afford for it to be when he was with me… I experienced the same steely resolve that I’d known when we’d stood beneath the then Sears Tower two decades prior and he’d told me he was going to take the city. He was missing the windswept clothes and the bruise on his jaw, but the same ferocity and uncharacteristically half-vulnerable edge was in his face.
“Harry Dresden rid the world of the Red Court.” The words came out slow, collected, calm. “I believe that I would like to provide the same service with the Denarians.”
Also, the weather was chilly. The carpet was blue. A little over twenty years ago, and a hundred and three floors down, John had used that same voice to say I want Vargassi dead. I want Chicago.
Funny how what had seemed nigh impossible then was routine now, and what we hadn’t even known existed was our new proposed conquest. I wondered how much farther those scales could shift in the years ahead.
I’d thought of it before, of course, of killing the Denarians. How could I not? Ever since John had been taken, ever since that island and that damned light tower, I’d thought of it. They took him, and I hadn’t been able to stop it. That had never happened, not since I’d stopped only being his closest friend and started being his lieutenant as well. Occasionally I flashed back to one horrific night in Bolivia when we’d been separated in pursuit of a cartel, and I hadn’t known if he’d been killed or captured or just had gone for the reckless heroics that had turned out to be the truth. I’d done a lot of swearing to myself since then that I wasn’t going to take another swallow of that helplessness. The next time I was going to be in a position to do something about it.
But the Denarians had taken him. He’d had nights when he shouted out in his sleep, but after what the Denarians had done, it wasn’t just a single shout, and it wasn’t just periodically. Sometimes we talked about it; most times we didn’t. For John, it was ties to the past ---the past before our fight for Chicago, before we returned state side, before we’d seen the first friend die--- that really grounded him. I don’t think he’d made the connection, but I knew that the reason we spent so many of those nights sitting in the kitchen was because the incessant buzz of the light that he wouldn’t fix reminded him of the buzz of the kitchen light in his parents’ house, and there was comfort in that. John didn’t unravel. John couldn’t be overcome. John didn’t stop, but he could be hurt. The next time someone tried to prove that to us, I was going to pour that same fear of the unknown down their throat until they choked.
John wanted to start a crusade against the Denarians? No hesitation, I’d be right there at his side.
Hell, I could be more than that. Because I had thought about it. I’d thought about it sitting in that kitchen, handing him a file over his office desk, watching expressions cross his face in the rearview mirror, and most of all here, in Willis Tower, on a Skydeck balcony, well past business hours that meant nothing to John Marcone, against a Chicago skyline.
Because, listening to Sigrun, overhearing Dresden and Carpenter--- I’d held onto one piece of information in particular: there were three swords and two knights, and here I was, with something to fight for. That consideration flooded back to me as the words left John’s mouth, stark with the kind of undertow you have to swim with in the same direction to survive.
With the orange-white city glow as a backdrop, John saw it in my expression, heard my support without a word, reached out without moving a muscle.