"I wouldn't have taken you for a handkerchief man," a voice sounded behind me. Cool and disinterested on the surface. Amusement and curiosity underneath, if you were paying attention, and knew enough about the man.
I turned, running the small square of tired white cloth between my hands as I did so. Leaning back on the railing, propping myself up by my elbows just to see that slight upwards twitch of one eyebrow in response.
"I'm not," I said. And there was something in it, too much in it, because his eyebrow didn't twitch, it outright bounced. Something flashing across his features, too subtle and too deep for me to interpret on the fly.
Gentleman John, ladies and gentleman. One of the few men in existence who could do inscrutable better than the Fae.
True to form, he didn't actually ask anything, following that, despite whatever he'd found in my answer. He just leaned carefully against the railings beside me, facing over them inside of away from them, and let the skin around those ancient eyes of his crease. "Hmm," he murmured instead, and there was a smile in it, because John thought he had my number.
It was one of the single most annoying facts of my existence that he wasn't actually wrong in that assumption, way too much of the time. This being one of them, maybe. Because it had been a long, long few days, and a long few years beforehand, and I honestly wasn't in the mood to fight him on this one.
I wasn't fighting him a lot, lately. Could have been picking my battles, maybe. Could have been ... something else, either.
"You know about folding sunshine?" I asked, looking down at the fabric in my hands while he stared past me out over the city. I felt the subtle stillness that fell over him, where his shoulder brushed against mine. Huh. Guess he did, then. "I used to keep one of these on me, way back when. It used to be ... a thing I thought was possible." I smiled, sort of. "Guess there are always places in your life where things seem easier than they really are."
John didn't look at me. His head twitched subtly, as though he'd maybe thought about it, but he didn't. He kept his eyes fixed on the city, instead. And then we stood there, for a long second, while he seemed to mull that over.
"... Do you remember the first time we encountered the Denarians?" he asked, eventually. His voice cool and calm as a still lake, and his head, the damaged ear facing me, defiantly not moving. I blinked at him, for a long second. Before ... catching on, a little bit.
"You mean that time you stole the Shroud of Turin?" I asked, with a touch of a grin. "That time?"
John shot me a glance, a crease of a smile around his eyes and his mouth, just for a second. That had been one of the times we had, truly and genuinely, almost killed each other. It had also been one of the first times we'd come close, as much as we could, to understanding each other.
It had also started the strange tradition of me, John, Denarians and attack helicopters, but that was a different thing. I hoped, anyway. It probably said all the wrong things about you, that the occasions you most understood each other tended to involve fallen angels, Huey choppers, and usually submachine guns.
It probably said accurate things, in our case, but still.
"Sometimes things seem possible, even when they shouldn't," John murmured, letting his eyes drift away again. "Even long after we should have lost those illusions."
... Ah. I swallowed, faintly. Remembering the comatose body of a young woman, lying in a sleep she probably wasn't ever going to wake from. Remembering the man beside me tucking a two thousand year old pocket full of sunshine under her blankets, and hoping that things, this once, could be easier than he knew they were.
In vain. In the end, still in vain.
"I'm sorry," I said. Because hells bells, that one, we agreed on. That one, I really was sorry for. With all the people who'd fallen because of me behind me, that one, I understood.
John shrugged. A light lift of one shoulder. Not dismissive. Just a silent acknowledgement, how much we both knew, and how little it sometimes mattered.
"It occurs to me, though," he said, an odd note to his voice, light and casual as Chicago reflected itself in his eyes. "That the Shroud did accomplish one solid thing, that week. It did help me in one regard." He turned to me, with that smile lurking around his eyes again, that weird light that made them look less old, less worn. A brighter shade of green.
"Yeah?" I asked. Warily, because a smiling John Marcone was possibly one of the most worrying sights in the world. Or should be, anyway, if you've got even the smallest shred of survival instinct. "What was that?"
"It helped me pull a mostly-drowned wizard out of a river," said Gentleman John, and grinned while I blinked stupidly at him. More humour than I think I'd ever seen, in the creases of his eyes. "Which, I will add, was never mentioned as a function of the Shroud in any scholarship I'd encountered."
... Well, no. For the same reason I'd mostly forgotten, or rather blocked out, that part of the proceedings. Of all the things you're supposed to do with a two thousand year old relic of the faith, using it as a tow-rope to fish someone out of a river after they'd been thrown off a train was not one of them. Stealing it was higher up the list than that, and that one had still taken me a few minutes to grasp when Father Forthill said it.
I stared at him. Intelligent of me, I know, but John has a slight tendency to have that effect on people.
"... I suspect you are building to a point with this?" I said, eventually. With a slightly embarrassing amount of wariness, but no-one was going to blame me there. Once John had control of the conversation, better people than me had gotten a little cautious.
John let his smile change, drift into something softer, smaller. More inscrutable. His smile shifted to a vague, crooked quirk of his lip, as his eyes drifted down to the scrap of white still tucked absently between my fingers. He glanced up, a flash of something, asking for permission, and then he reached out to touch his fingertip lightly to it.
"Just that things have more than one use," he said softly, while I froze, his skin rough and gentle over mine. "Perhaps not folding sunshine. Perhaps those illusions have faded. But a spare piece of cloth is often useful, nonetheless." He smiled ruefully, meeting my eyes again. "As a makeshift bandage, for example?"
I huffed a laugh. Soft, and more than a little startled. His eyes shifted to that lighter green, in response.
"It's not happiness, maybe," he finished, watching me carefully. "Not magic. But having something to pull a comrade out of the river. Something to keep a friend from bleeding out. That ... is no less valid a reason, perhaps, to keep your faith in scraps of cloth?"
I stared at him, for a long second. At the calm of him, and lethality, and the rough, cool touch of his hand. Curling my fingers over his, trapping a little square of white between them. And finding, somewhere, more of a smile than I had in a long, long time.
"I wouldn't have taken you for a man of faith, John," I said, with a crease around my eyes and maybe a little inscrutability of my own.
His eyes flashed, pleasure and challenge, and that so much brighter shade of green. "I'm not," he said, as the city drifted gently into night behind us, shadows rising like a river and the handkerchief like a rope between us.
And the grin he shot me, as his hand tightened through mine, was pure Gentleman John.