John Marcone had the weekend off. Not exactly voluntarily, because his downtime tended to coincide with Hendricks going on strike unless you kick back and fucking relax for a couple of days, boss, but John seemed to be enjoying it. Or enjoying me anyway, because I’m Chicago’s resident scumbag-sitter when Marcone gets exiled from the office. I’m kind of good at it, if I do say so myself. I liked being enjoyed, and enjoying him, even if we did startle Mouse and Mister and crack the mantelpiece that time we tried-- uh. Actually, nevermind; some things don’t need to be written down.
But Marcone never managed to pack an overnight bag with clothes that could stand up to the chill of my lab, and that’s inevitably where we ended up as Sunday drew to a close, Marcone bundled up in blankets taken from my bed, me wrapped up in my robe.
“What’s cooking tonight, Harry?” John asked, pulling up a chair and straddling it backwards, his favorite way to watch The Harry Dresden Show. I rolled up my sleeves, wiggled my fingers, and tried not to think stupid thoughts about how blanket-robes suited him. He didn’t look kingly. Or noble. Or anything like he’d totally be up for a quest to Mordor. Shut up.
I’d plucked a couple of dandelions on my walk with Mouse earlier, with the vague idea that presenting Marcone with a bouquet of weeds would be really funny, but he’d distracted me with pizza on my return, and I’d dropped them in the lab instead. They looked up at me from the table, an ungiven gift. “Experimenting, I think. Haven’t tried a growth potion before.”
“You’ve never needed one,” he said, tipping his head to look up at me as I picked up the flowers and the knife.
“Not for me. Mrs. Spunkelcrief started growing ferns. She said they don’t seem to like her much.”
“Sap,” John grinned, and dodged the stem I flicked at him. Yeah, he didn’t deserve my weeds. “So which ingredient is that?”
Potion making had a standard format; a liquid base and seven other ingredients. One for each of the five senses, one for the mind, and one for the spirit. “I’ll throw it in for the mind; thoughts of growth. Base is fertilizer.” Obviously.
Marcone frowned. “Don’t weeds have connotations of unwanted growth?”
I winced, Attack of the Killer Tomatos scenarios playing in my mind, and set down the knife. “Well, it does if you suggest it to me, John, yeah.” I frowned down at the diced dandelions.
John wilted. Well, technically he sat up a little straighter and cleared his throat, but trust me, he was all kicked puppy on the inside. And what can I say, I have a knee jerk pet-the-puppy response. So that’s why my next words fell out of my mouth: “Look, would you like to drive?”
Those are not words I say to John Marcone. Ever. I have a healthy fear that he might wake up one morning and try to carjack my life, because god knows he tried hard enough back when we first met, before he realised that would end in fiery wreckage and woe all round.
So he was a bit surprised. “...What?”
“Potions by proxy!” I warmed to the idea. “Pick some ingredients you think would work for me, I’ll mix them up and add the magic. See what happens.”
John frowned. “You always stress magic as a subjective experience; a system of arbitrary signs. Won’t we just end up with a pan full of gunk?”
That was true, though the line about arbitrary signs sounded straight from the mouth of Hendricks, rather than a Dresdenism. Still, something about the idea appealed to me. After all, I was used to Bob walking me through potions, his knowledge of magic and his knowledge of me guiding him to the best choice for each ingredient. John didn’t know magic, he hired people to know it for him, but he liked to think he had me figured out, so it could be fun to let him try.
“Won’t know unless we give it a go,” I grinned. “You remember the drill? It’s the idea of the ingredient, not the substance. Think you know how my head works?”
“No-one knows how your head works,” Marcone drawled, but I had his interest; he was sprawling again, sated smugness creeping back in at the edges. “All right... I spy with my little eye... a base beginning with beer.”
Well, he knew where that was, seeing how one of his henchmen had made the delivery, just a little too late after the pizza to be useful. “Icebox,” I said. “On your way, minion! Fetch.”
John cast off his robes-- blankets, damn it, cast off his blankets-- and gave me an imperious eyebrow, the effect completely undercut by the fact he had to hoist up his pants one handed; we’d snapped his belt. John played along though, leaving to get the beer. He came back with three: one for me, one for the potion, and one for him.
“Friends don’t let friends drink and brew, John.” I set my beer down as he cracked his open and knocked it back, long easy swallows. There was a challenging glint in his eye when he slammed the can back down on the table, and yeah, I could just tell he’d been a terrible influence as a teenager.
“Live a little, Mr. Dresden.” I flipped him off, instinctively contrary reaction to his challenge, and tipped the two remaining cans into the beaker instead.
Beer means a lot of things to me. This was your generic store bought can, not Mac’s stuff, but Mac’s is where my brain goes when confronted with beer, and Mac’s is comfort, companionship, peace and accord. ...Most of the time, anyway. “That’s your base, Johnny. Got a scent?”
“Smoke,” he said without pause, and when I gestured for a match, he shook his head. “No. Smoke you made.” I knew what he meant; smoke from the fire born of my magic. Not exactly your standard home and hearth associations, but maybe a case of where-there’s-smoke-there’s-Dresden. Generally, Dresden trying to flambé the shit out of something.
...This obviously wasn’t a growth potion. Curious, I found a piece of paper, quietly fuego’d it, and wafted the smoke down into the beaker. “Touch?”
John stepped over, caught my hand, and ran it over the Sunday rasp of his chin, the sneaky scruff that peeped out if we ever got long enough alone for him to get distracted from his grooming.
Other people might get a firm handshake, an avuncular pat on the shoulder, but the Sunday-prickling-bristle touch belonged to me, made me grin. I grinned more as I grabbed a razor off one of the shelves.
“Hold still,” I said, cupping John’s jaw, and he did. Not even a flinch when I wielded the razorblade, even though John had years of not-letting-people-wave-sharp-things-at-him habits to clamp down on. But I could tell I had his attention, that he’d held his breath for a beat or two longer than necessary, and I filed that thought away for later.
As I mixed some bristles into the pot, John ran his hand across the smooth patch on his face and frowned. Yeah, that was gonna piss him off. Not neat, not scruffy, piebald. “Taste?”
Without warning, he leaned in and licked me. “JOHN!” I yelped, trying to swat him upside the head but moving too slowly. “What the hell are you trying to brew? Magic Viagra?”
John snorted and crossed his arms, leaned back against the table. “You think we need the help, Dresden? I got a broken belt that says otherwise.”
“You’ve got an inability to wait and undress like a reasonable person. Soupcon of Dresden, seriously?”
I shrugged and stuck my hand in the pot, wiggling it around a little. “Ok. Tastes like the other white meat. Sight?”
John tilted his head to one side and considered me. “...Want to stick your head in it?”
“No! No, I do not want to- ”
“Substitute,” he said, found a pen and a piece of paper, and then drew a little stick figure in a big coat holding an oversized stick.
I stared at it, all out of scale lines and weird perspectives. “That’s awful.”
“And you’re better?” Marcone passed the pen and paper over. “Shut up and draw me, Dresden.”
Jabbing the pen at the paper I drew Marcone, a jagged sketch of one of his suits, pointy knife in hand, and shredded the picture into the beaker.
“Scumbag me, Harry?”
Not a verb, my brain supplied helpfully. “What?”
“One of your sweet nothings, sweetheart.” John bunched his hands in the front of my robe, dragging me down towards him, all macho confrontation and smile. “Say it like you mean it.” The word was right there, yeah, just lurking under my tongue. I managed to grind it out instead of steal a kiss. As “scumbag” left my mouth, I caught the word right handed and batted it into the beaker. John heard the satisfactory plop, and his smile lit up the room.
“Mind,” I said, fighting the urge to lean in closer, to get distracted. But John came closer still, and plucked a hair from my head. I stomped down an instinctive, defensive grab for my magic; a practitioner wouldn’t just do that to another, as anything other than hostilities, but John was plucking a hair from his own head too, one of the greys. He started twining the two hairs together, into a ring, and this was not a lust potion. The ring went into the pot.
“...Spirit?” I asked slowly, with no idea how he was going to answer me. Marcone looked like he was about to say something, and then stopped. “What?”
“You write us down, don’t you?” he asked. “You keep your files.”
I did not shuffle, or blush, or look uncomfortable. It’s not like I keep a diary or anything, with ‘Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden-Marcone’ on the cover surrounded by little pink hearts.
Wizards aren’t always wise-- except in the etymological sense-- but we can live for a long time. I lived a little too hard and fast to bank on making it to my first century, but if I was going to spend my life spitting in the eyes of monsters and getting pounded on for it, I figure someone should benefit from the wealth of my experience. So I write down the stuff that happens to me, in case it needs remembering. Maybe it can get some apprentice of my apprentice’s apprentice out of a tight spot long after I’m dead and buried.
...It just so happened that Marcone tended to happen to me. Fairly frequently. “Yeah?” I shrugged.
“I’ve read a couple-” he admitted, and I opened my mouth to start reading him the riot act, but he stepped back and raised his hands. “Years ago, Harry. Before you had any trust in me that I could betray.” Marcone paused again. “And I felt a little... voyeuristic. You knew before you knew, that there was something between us.”
“None of the stuff in those files was nice, Marcone.”
“I’m not a nice man. And yet it didn’t stop you looking.”
It hadn’t, but I wasn’t entirely sure why that was relevant, so I gave him a warning poke in the chest for good measure. “There better be a point to this, or playtime’s over.”
“The point being, Harry, that you’ve captured the spirit of us quite nicely. Could you spare a page?”
That was... kind of flattering actually, and it’s not like I was conscientious about throwing away drafts, so it only took a few minutes of rooting through various haphazard piles of paper and cluttered wire baskets before I found a scrap of prose I’d be willing to sacrifice. I think it detailed an argument we’d had, about blowing up some ghouls. …Which was the spirit of what, exactly? Rowing? Blowing things up for Chicago? But for the purposes of Marcone’s potion, he seemed satisfied.
“Last comes the power,” I said, and raised my hand to infuse the jumbled beaker full of... us? with will. Before I could, Marcone reached up to catch my chin, and I let him turn my head, joining us eye to eye, as we’d been at our first meeting. There was plenty of fuel for my magic in that look, a wealth of unspoken things, and I called on his intent and intensity as I gathered my will, pulled it into me and sent it out again, down into the brew.
There was the usual cloud of smoke, the rolling boil, and I made a little noise as the magic emptied out of me. It wasn’t a moan. I don’t care how much Marcone grinned.
The potion was amber, warm. I could feel the power in it.
“Huh. Baby’s first potion. Looks like it worked.” I tried not to sound surprised, and decanted it into a cooler beaker. John scooped it out of my grip, and sniffed it.
“The truth is in the tasting, I believe?”
“You’re actually going to drink that?”
“You said it worked. Think either of us would have been aiming for a potion that would hurt me?”
I didn’t know whether this was the John Marcone version of trust falls, or whether ‘kick back and relax’ is something he defined as ‘give free reign to the the impulsively suicidal shit you abstain from in the working week’, but he drank it down.
“Hey!” I yelled.
Marcone burped. I glared at him, and he frowned. “Harry. I don’t feel any different.”
“Were you expecting to?” I asked. “What were you aiming for?”
John sighed, and shook his head. “Something foolish. Some- ” he dropped to the floor.
“John!” I half caught him as he fell, and lowered him the rest of the way to the cold concrete. “Marcone! Wake up!” I shook him a little, and then more conventional first aid procedures hijacked my panic, and I found myself checking his breathing, taking his pulse. Too shallow, too fast, and I knew who I really needed to wake up to get this sorted.
“BOB!” I yelled. “WAKE UP! What the hell did we brew?”
Bob flared to life on his shelf and peered down at me. “Hey, your man’s here! You never let me wake up when he’s here!”
“Unconscious man, Bob! Make him not be! Now what did we brew?”
“Huh? Oh, well from here it looks like a high end true love potion. Nicely tailored! Well done, boss.”
I glared down at Marcone. “Love potion? I don’t do- oh Stars. Bob. Is that why he passed out?”
“Nah. You’ve been drinking from cursed beer cans.”
Cursed. Beer. Cans. I swept John’s empty off the table, examined it, and there, on the base. Scratched into the metal, a triple thorn rune. Pretty smitey, but actually kind of amateur; I could fix this.
“Bob, quick fix. If I jump start him with a blast of power, the curse lifts?”
Bob hummed his consideration. “Well, it’s not elegant-”
“I don’t care about elegant! Will it work?”
“Well, you managed to strip the curse straight out of the base of the potion without even trying. It’s worth a shot?”
I set a hand over Marcone’s heart. It was fast. Far too fast. “No dying in my lab, scumbag. I’m not explaining this to Cujo.”
It was quick and dirty, no time for finesse, just my sheer stubborn conviction that John was not dying on my watch flowing straight into him, and I muttered “Benedictus” for good measure.
Marcone gasped, jerked up against my hands and down again like I was a human defibrillator. He blinked, and then stared at the ceiling. “...did I fucking swoon?”
That was much, much funnier than the truth. “Yeah,” I said, with a straight face. “There were little cartoon cupids around your head. And you sang me sonnets.”
He glared at me. “Why’m I on the floor, Dresden?”
“Cursed beer,” I showed him the can. “Might be worth asking Gard if she recognises the handwriting.”
John tried to get up, and flopped back down. “I need a pickup,” he said. “Go phone Hendricks for meeee- yah! What the fuck is that, Dresden?”
He had a knife out from I don’t know where and I had to grab his wrist before he could fling it at Bob. Not that Bob would get hurt, but my lab might.
“John Marcone, Bob. Bob, John. Bob is... uh. Magic Google.”
“Hello, Johnny. Don’t get up, sweetheart, you look just fine down there.”
“Back to sleep,” I said, as John’s Gentleman mask shuttered down over his face. “That’s an order, Bob.”
Bob’s eyelights flickered out.
“Novelty prop?” John snapped.
“White lie. A fucking love potion? That’s a crappy declaration, John. Can’t you use your words like everyone else?”
“It didn’t work,” he said coldly. “So it’s hardly an issue. Let me up.”
“Wrong! The potion worked perfectly, and before the beer finally took you down, you said you didn’t feel any different. Want to do the math?”
“I...” he stared up at me, head pillowed in my lap.
“Can’t fall in love with someone you’re already in love with, John.”
“...oh,” he said, and something bright and shy and maybe a little stupid lit up his face, and I think he might have died if anyone saw him right at that moment. I couldn’t help myself. I kissed him.