"My Queen has instructed me to wait for your response, and to offer you all courtesies while you consider her request." Dresden made a remarkably poor emissary, unable to hide his disdain even as he spoke the phrases he had been bidden to say.
It was...unsettling to see him in the uniform of the Winter Knight, a far cry from the tattered duster and thrift shop rejects that he had favored in his former incarnation. The clothes Dresden had chosen for himself concealed much, but the white silks and leather that Queen Mab provided for her champion revealed everything--including the purplish bruises on his neck. Coupled with his evident exhaustion it seemed obvious that whatever time he had spent in bed last night had not been for the purposes of sleep.
"Her proposal is interesting--" I began, only to pause at the sudden blankness that came over Dresden's expression. Gone was the contempt that I was used to seeing from him, and in its place...nothing. Even his eyes were dead. I felt uneasy, though I could hardly express my concern. Dresden would scorn it while the Baron of Chicago had no place expressing an opinion regarding the Winter Knight. "Wait outside. Kara will fetch you whatever you wish to eat and drink while I consult with my advisors."
"Baron." Dresden spun on his heel and left my office.
When the door closed behind him, Hendricks was the first to speak. "Never thought I'd see the day Dresden was made an errand boy. Like using a racehorse to give kiddy rides."
"Which proposal are you considering?" Gard asked. "Hosting the Unseelie gathering has risks but would reinforce your status under the accords, and is thus worth considering. But I would advise against accepting Mab's offer of Dresden's services."
I handed her the scroll that Dresden had given me, which requested that the Baron of Chicago provide a neutral place to host a gathering of the combined courts. "Dresden wasn't mentioned in her missive."
Gard gave me the look she reserved for those occasions when she felt I'd failed to live up to her tutelage. "The wizard himself said it. He is bound to offer you every courtesy. No doubt it would amuse Mab if you were to take him to your bed."
I shook my head firmly. "He'd never agree to it."
She laughed. "Consent is a human conceit that has no place in the faerie realm. And certainly the queen may offer her knight to whomever she pleases."
"So the queen says bend over and Dresden does it?" Hendricks voice was incredulous.
Gard shrugged. "It is the Unseelie way. For lust or sport, for reward or punishment, for binding or harvesting of power, the reasons do not matter. They do it because they can. The strong take what they will. The weak endure or perish."
I wanted to protest that Dresden wasn't weak. It was his power that had first drawn me to him. But he was mortal. Human. Young as a wizard's age was measured, and even the White Council tread lightly around the rulers of faerie. If Mab withheld the powers she had granted him, he would be easy prey for her court.
"Boss--" Hendricks began, and then fell silent under the weigh of my glare. He, of all people, should know me well enough to know that I would take no pleasure from an unwilling partner.
I thought of Dresden's skintight clothing. The bruises on his neck, ones that could have easily been healed or concealed under a glamour. They'd been meant as a temptation. A sign that I could do with him as I would.
Mab did nothing without reason. Had she somehow divined my long standing attraction to Dresden? Or was this a test, and if so, for whom? For me, to see if she could buy my favors? For Dresden, to test his obedience? Or perhaps for both of us, to see if we could be used against each other.
Perhaps she meant for me to humiliate him, to serve as punishment for his latest misdeeds. But I would not be used in that way.
"I'm not foolish enough to accept one of Mab's gifts, no matter how pretty the package," I assured them. "Faerie gifts come at too high a price."
Dresden was proof of that. He must have known what he was agreeing to, when he sold himself to Mab, though I doubted he'd stopped to consider the cost.
"Not to mention that if Dresden ever broke free of her control, his first move would be to kill you for touching him," Hendricks said.
Gard pursed her lips in thought. "Perhaps not his first act--others have offended his sensibilities far more than anything you could dream up. But with you, at least, he has a chance for retribution."
I tasted bile as I tried very hard not to conjure up images to go with her words. It was bad enough to remember the deadness in his eyes when he'd thought that I might be considering taking advantage of Mab's offer. If there'd been the slightest hint of resistance it would have been easier to bear.
Was he even capable of refusal? Or, worse yet, at this point was he so damaged that it no longer occurred to him?
Such speculations were pointless. I jabbed the intercom button on my desk and instructed my assistant to send Dresden back in.
He returned, holding a can of soda. He deliberately took a long swig before lowering the can and wiping his mouth with the back of one hand. "And?" he challenged.
I was pleased to see that his customary ill-manners had returned. Proof, to me at least, that the man I knew still lurked under the shell of the Winter Knight.
"Kindly convey to Queen Mab that I would be honored to host the gathering that she has proposed. Her emissary should meet with mine to make arrangements," I said, nodding towards Hendricks and Gard. "And in return for my hospitality I ask that she grant me your services--" Dresden blanched, but I continued smoothly "to liaison with my security team for the evening, to ensure that the safety of all those present."
I saw a flash of relief cross his face, so brief that I might have imagined it. "I will convey your message," he said. With a bow that mocked us both, he took his leave.
"Well played," Gard said.
It was only logical that the Winter Knight be asked to provide protection for his Queen and her guests, particularly in a gathering held outside her realm. And if by formally assigning Dresden to that role I had prevented him from being used for any other purpose on that night, well, such was a mere side effect, hardly worthy of comment. Certainly not worthy of the looks of approval I could see on the faces of my associates.
"What's next?" I asked. Sending my mood, Hendricks launched into an account of negotiations with the sanitation workers' union--a topic as far removed from faerie as one could get.
Sentimentality was for lesser men. I had a city to run and enemies waiting to take advantage of any sign of weakness. I could not afford distractions, no matter what the cause. The time when I could have helped Dresden had passed when he chose to swear allegiance to Mab. I could not save him from the choices that he had made--if anyone was going to save him, it would have to be Harry himself.