When the news of Harry Dresden's possible death came to John Marcone's office, he didn't believe it even when Ms. Gard returned with confirmation from her sources. However, he did pause for several seconds to consider the ramifications of the news before beginning his next task.
The effects of the complete eradication of the Red Court Vampires had triggered a cascade of work for him by providing an opportunity for expansion in several business interests that could not be ignored nor delayed, his response to the wizard's death would have to wait. Business as ever, called for his attention and firm control on the actions of his people.
The arrival of Karrin Murphy and the werewolf were the only distraction from running the business. Yet like any connection to Harry Dresden, the visit proved to be an omen of greater impending danger which would befall Chicago.
Marcone didn't think on the wizard's apparent death for several days beyond taking into account the new vulnerabilities the lack of the wizard exposed among his own defenses. His city had lost its Warden and Chicagoan denizens with a touch of magical skill had lost their powerful protector, exposing them to predators. Even with their urgent need it was doubtful that the White Council would send another Warden. With the intelligence compiled in various reports, Marcone came to the conclusion that particular body had stretched out their resources to the breaking point over the last few years and could do no more without shattering. And so the Formor's attacks spread across the world, as they also took advantage of the chaos brought about by the power vacuum left by of the Red Court.
The days following the reported death of Harry Dresden were desperate, bloody and full of many people dying or vanishing from the face of the Earth. The escalating battles ended up forcing Marcone to seek a more exclusive contract with more members of the Einherjar, Warriors of Valhalla. It also necessitated a formal alliance with Ms. Lara Raith, and her White Court Vampires. Only a business treaty, regardless of her personal efforts to make it otherwise.
The memory of her expression when he politely, but coolly rejects her advances quietly amuses him for a couple of days.
Weeks after the alliance Marcone had been working to create finally develops into a cohesive unit (named The Brighter Future Society by Ms. Raith), it is formally established as an organization according to both mortal law and the Unseelie Accords. It is also networked with the Paranet to provide a rapid response to the Formor threat across as much of the United States as they can cover. It is then, when there is a breather in the frenetic struggle to survive the monsters, that Marcone starts to see Harry Dresden.
At first, he only sees him out of the corner of his eyes. He sees the slump of a tall body leaning against the corner of his bedroom in the early morning, until a jolt of adrenaline wakes him completely and the figure transforms into an empty shadow created by his dresser. He sees Dresden's lean form walking through crowds of pedestrians on the streets of downtown Chicago, recognizable by the dark leather coat, sheer height and messy brown hair, until another look makes the figure vanish into thin air.
Marcone has a conversation with Gard about ghosts, spirits, and the likelihood of a person becoming haunted. She verifies that there isn't any such creature dodging his steps. Still, she checks and strengthens the wards against spirits at his request. As long as the apparition maintains its silence, Marcone ignores it.
Until the point where it doesn't stay quiet anymore.
And on the last day of demolition of the burned down skeleton which the remains of the old boarding house which had held Dresden's home, leaving an empty gutted lot, it appears and starts to talk when Marcone is alone in his bedroom.
“It‘s okay to admit that you miss me, you know.”
John Marcone spins around, his personal gun already in hand and pointed at Harry Dresden. He holds the gun steadily, even as unease floods through him at the sound of the familiar, deep voice. The apparition doesn't flinch.
“I don't,” Marcone says coolly.
Dresden's shade crosses his arms and arches his eyebrows, emphasizing the two scars over his right eyebrow. “Yeah, right, scumbag,” he says sarcastically. “Why else am I here?”
“You're just a figment of my mind brought on by overwork,” Marcone says flatly. The realization that the Harry Dresden he kept seeing was nothing more than a hallucination of his own mind had been rather difficult to accept, but he'd had no choice when Ms. Gard kept failing to see him. No spell or invocation had revealed the cause as being magical or spiritual, leaving the sole cause as coming from within Marcone's own mind.
“Yup,” the shade of Dresden said, not arguing. “And why is that, John? Of all the people that you know that have died over the years, of ones that you've actually killed, why am I the one that's haunting you now? Well, in the metaphorical sense of haunting since you know I'm not really here. Its not like you killed me. I'm not your tell-tale heart.”
“It haunted me day and night,” Marcone quotes to himself sarcastically, knowingly butchering the reason for the quote in the story but unable to argue with how appropriate it currently was. He sighs before lowering the handgun and putting it back into its holster with smooth movements. It was completely useless anyway.
'I don't know,' he thought in a silent answer to the apparition's expectant expression, unwilling to express such a weakness out loud. Ingrained habit kept him from lowering his guard around Dresden. Even if it was only little more than the shade of the wizard.
Harry Dresden's apparition tilts his head as if he hears the words anyway. “You haven't even accepted the fact that I'm dead.”
Marcone turns away and began to strip off the suit jacket, as he had intended when he'd entered the bedroom. Long hours in the office had taken their toll and he was tired enough not to care to wait until this hallucination faded away.
“There was no body,” Marcone finally murmurs.
Dresden snorts in wry amusement, “And if this was a TV show you'd know exactly what that means. But this is reality. There is no 1-Up in life.”
Marcone strips off his dress shirt and turns to arch an eyebrow at Dresden who crosses his arms and raises his eyebrows right back. “With all the impossible things Harry Dresden has accomplished, you think coming back from death is too much for him?” Marcone asks, curious to know what this hallucination of his thinks.
“Hell, if I know,” the figment of Marcone's own mind says snarkly. “This isn't about him. It's about you. You haven't even admitted to yourself how mad you are that he is dead. That he died from something so pathetically mundane. It pisses you off.”
“Dresden's not a god. He's as vulnerable to a bullet as the rest of us.” Marcone pauses and adds, “When he can't see them in time to deflect them away, that is.”
Dresden's shade throws his hands up in the air, exasperation spreading across his face. “And then there's that!” he says accusingly. “You can't even bring yourself to talk about him in past tense. How are you ever going to grieve?”
“I have no reason to!” Marcone growls, suddenly angry. As far as he's concerned this is a waste of his time.
The apparition shakes his head slowly, sadly. “You've always tried to tell yourself the truth no matter how hard it was for you, why are you lying to yourself now?”
“He wasn't a friend, barely an ally, I have no reason to be anything but satisfied that a future opponent has been destroyed before he could try to kill me.”
Dresden's shade tilts his head and asks softly, “Then why do you feel guilty when you think of him? Why are you so determined to provide protection for everything and everyone he held most dear? Why do you spend every night remembering the sight of his soul before you sleep?”
Unbidden the memory of the soulgaze sweeps into Marcone's mind, as sharply clear as it had been the first day he'd seen it, deep in the fierce hawk brown eyes of a man of magic.
It was a permanent vision of Harry Dresden, standing unbending and unconquered with hellfire burnt claws grasping at his ankles, leaving ash behind and trying to pull him down while the light of heaven pours on his forehead, a shining cascade. Two shadows stretch behind him, one was of an impossible monstrosity, and the other of fragile humanity, they fight in a never-ending battle. Magic spins around his wrists like bands of multicolored light representing: Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Soul. After a moment of appraisal, Harry Dresden turns towards the left to deal with faceless incoming attackers covered in blood, only to cast down his enemies into the Pit with wrath on his face. At his right side there appear more people, clean but battle-scarred, but this time they are allies, which he turns to lift up into the holy light with devotion and love in his eyes. The vision ends, as always, with Harry Dresden turning forward again and taking a step closer, his hand reaching out and his expression inscrutable.
“You've always wanted him to be more, didn't you? And now it's too late.”
Marcone turns away from the hallucination of Harry Dresden, to hide the shaking of his hands and because he didn't have answers. At least none which wouldn't expose him. So Marcone chooses to ignore the apparition, which looked even more like a pale shadow of Harry Dresden compared to the permanent sight of the wizard in his memory as he efficiently finishes stripping before slipping into his sleepwear.
Marcone closes his eyes, deliberately not reacting to the increasingly loud calls of his name, interposed with Harry Dresden's favorite sophomoric insult of choice, until the shade gives up and finally fades away to little more than barely audible whispers.
He doesn't get any sleep this night.