I promise not to try not to fuck with your mind
Promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
Promise not to lie if I'm looking you straight in the eye
Promise not to try not to let you down…
- Eve 6, Promise
I told the dumbass to go home. Even before he lost a finger, before he had to shoot anyone, I told him to go home.
Harry was convinced that he and Harmony were Meant To Be, and he’d been trying to figure out what to do with himself. That was a process that Perry had enjoyed watching from a slight distance, because even without his priors, Harry hadn’t been officially employed in five years, according to the full background check Perry had run.
He’d found all of Harry’s mug shots. Five of them, in total. The first was young, too young, and it held the faintest smirk. The ones after, though, were annoyed. The last looked…
Indifferent. Weary. It was the expression of someone who no longer imagined anything better.
Perry kept them in a folder he could glance at, occasionally, and didn’t want to admit to himself exactly why.
His police contact had said guy’s a loser. Steal the chair out from under ya. Watch your back.
Perry had told Harry quit stealing shit. You’re not a punk.
Harry had looked so touched.
Perry was a goddamn good judge of character. Hello, gay detective?
Harry could be trusted. He needed some direction and someone to pound some sense into him, and Perry had already vowed not to be the one who did it…but he couldn’t quite walk away, either. He didn’t have the distance he meant to.
He watched Harry go through the glove box in his car again. The kid had done it just like the first time, when they’d been on stakeout. Like he had every right to, like there was nothing weird about it. It looked like OCD bordering on ADD and a bunch of other fucking acronyms, but Perry was too world-weary to do more than recognize it for what it was: survival.
The notion was solidified in spades the first time he’d let Harry into his house. The kid had essentially cased the place.
Evaluating his environment that openly and thoroughly was nothing short of the actions of someone who no longer worried about what anyone thought about it; he was simply doing what he’d learned to do, for safety and personal gain. The fact that he was so obvious about it made Perry worry about him, because it screamed one of two things: amateur or someone who no longer cared where it got him. He knew Harry was better at his ‘trade’ than that, so the act had to be borne of long practice.
Harry looked at him with large, dark eyes and a smirk, and the combination screamed hey I’m such a clueless moron, I can’t possibly be up to anything, and Perry suddenly got it.
“You bastard,” he said. “Stay out of my shit.”
Harry shrugged and looked so innocent that it wasn’t hard for Perry to believe that others would buy it. He, after all, had not done much to keep Harry out of his glove box in the first place. It had seemed like the meanderings of a bored, silly creature with no direct harm in mind.
Cunning little oddball. Better actor than he’d let on.
“If I can’t trust you,” Perry said suddenly, “I can’t keep you around.”
That hit some kind of button, because the gaze that turned on him then was the kind of unmitigated worry that couldn’t be dredged up that fast; Harry was not that kind of actor. Perry got a glimpse of the truth, for a moment, and it was full of hope and need. Whatever Perry meant to him, right then, was in his eyes and Perry knew he had a hold over Harry that Harry flat out could not control.
Harry paused, nearly stuttering, hands waving, and Perry waited.
“Keep me around.”
Perry smirked. Not dumb enough to insist that Perry could trust him. That was progress.
Once Harry was well out of the hospital (a good three days after Perry had made it home), the three of them had celebrated surviving Christmas with a bottle of tequila on the beach near Harmony’s. None of them had wanted anything to do with bars or other people, just to bask in the moment with each other, something Perry normally wouldn’t have participated in. He hadn’t been able to help himself. Harmony and Harry together were like a tumble of puppies, funny and cute and vaguely stupid when they’d been drinking, just happy to exist and happy with each other and happy with him for some fucking reason. So he’d gone along just to see what would happen and to keep either of them from drowning.
Moonlight, flashing off water and eyes and teeth; giggles and splashing and over enthusiastic stories told from two separate viewpoints. Harry was genuinely funny as often as he was unintentionally funny, and Perry had to laugh at them both.
Happy people usually set his teeth on edge, because being happy meant not really knowing what was going on, being too goddamn dumb to realize what was really happening around them, how bad
(badly? Badly’s an adverb, who taught you grammar)
…things really were, and could be one moment to the next. Happy meant a lack of self-preservation.
Harry was shit at self-preservation, and Harmony wasn’t much better.
Red flag number one…six, twenty four, for whatever the fuck it mattered, came when a fairly drunk and sleepy Harry had planted himself in Perry’s lap in the sand and tucked his face into his neck. Stupidly affectionate. Harmony, a linen closet of sheets to the wind herself, had cuddled in to one side and wrapped her arms around one of his.
Perry had been too warm and comfortable to shove either of them off, choosing instead to make half-conscious motions with his fingernails along Harry’s back, making him shiver.
His little friend from back East was not a two beer queer, by any means, but he was more malleable than even he realized, and the girl he knew only fractions better was confused as hell about what she was capable of. Luckily, even as much of a self-professed bastard as he was, Perry had more than enough self-preservation for all of them.
Perry. Tell Harry one thing you admire about him.
Harmony’s idea of a drinking game, only a month later, when it had become apparent that Harry was not going home.
He’d rolled his eyes dramatically, downed his shot, then spent a moment looking at the ceiling as if trying to think of something positive about Harry might cause him a migraine.
He was getting electrocuted via his balls, but he kept telling the guy to go fuck himself. Most people would have been begging and screaming, and…well, he did scream, but he didn’t devolve to little-girl screaming, and there was no begging. It was actually kind of…
He’d raised his eyebrows a little. I don’t know anyone else who would have held up like that.
And it had been true.
Harmony’s face had lit up and she’d bounced a little in pleased glee. That’s so…aw. Aw, Harry!
Harry had been staring between them in amazement.
And then there was the whole thing with shooting Dexter while hanging from a coffin over the freeway. Perry had added that almost against his will and had figured it was the tequila. I didn’t believe it at first but there were traffic cams on the goddamn overpass and it was all recorded. One of the most fucking amazing things I’ve ever seen.
Harry had looked at him for a moment with such adoration in his eyes that Perry couldn’t look away. He could get used to that, get mildly addicted to the worship…
There was nothing demanding in Harry’s voice. Perry took a moment to wonder yet again if it was because he didn’t want to know, or didn’t expect an answer.
Perry didn’t say anything, just gestured Harry inside.
He chose Harry’s gun and ammo and waited while it was processed. He didn’t expect anything to really be answered by whatever happened next, but it would be interesting at the least. Harry kept shooting him looks but took what he was given, donned ear and eye protection when required, and stared out at the target that Perry pointed him to.
“Go ahead, Chief,” Perry said, raising his voice to be heard over the other shooters and their own head gear.
Harry gave him another look of concern and confusion, but then he also shrugged and looked at the target.
There was nothing, absolutely nothing, about Harry’s stance that spoke of training or even practice when he lifted the gun two-handed and took aim. He didn’t even squint or drop his shoulders or act like he was trying to sight. His elbows, his shoulders, the way he braced his feet - it was all wrong, to the point where Perry almost decided he’d been wrong.
Perry watched Harry absorb the impact of each shot with his arms and shoulders, each shot giving away his inexperience but also making his musculature clear. Harry was compact, tougher than he looked. Accustomed to impact.
Perry stared at Harry until the gun clicked on an empty chamber. Harry had not been counting and had likely not even been aware of how many shots the weapon held.
Everything he did told Perry volumes.
Perry hit the button to reel in the target, keeping his eyes on Harry the whole time. Harry still looked mildly confused, maybe a little uneasy, and was rolling his shoulders to wind himself down.
Perry looked at the target with open indifference once it came close enough to examine. It was everything he feared. Harry had put five shots into a very tight radius in the center of the target.
He looked at Harry almost indulgently with an audible sniff even though his heart was pounding. “So who taught you that?”
Harry put the gun down on the counter as if he just didn’t want contact with it any longer, wiping his hands on his thighs. “Um…no one. I never took lessons or anything.”
“Harry,” Perry said with thinly veiled impatience.
“No one,” Harry said quickly. “I don’t even like guns. I just…” He trailed off for a moment, then gestured at the target without looking at Perry again. “I don’t get what the big deal is. Just point and shoot, where you want it to go. Like a camera.”
Perry wanted to laugh, but didn’t, because even more than humor he felt a thrill of…something disconcerting that he wasn’t immediately able to identify. Amazement, disbelief, confusion. His own little idiot savant, heavy on the idiot, naturally brilliant at something that did not come naturally to anyone.
It worried him further that he had so readily added his.
“Let’s get Harmony and go do something,” he said.
Harry was all grins after that and damn near forgot Perry’s weird intensity, the shooting range, all of it.
He not so nonchalantly caused them to end up at a nearby bar, ordering a couple of rounds for the three of them and waiting until Harry was a little looser, a little sillier.
“Darts, Chief?” he said.
“I don’t even play,” Harry said.
“Sure you do,” Perry said, gathering up a couple of sets of well abused darts from the red plastic cups resting precariously on the edges of the countertops near the electronic boards. “Loser buys the next round.”
Harry glanced at Harmony, who wiggled her eyebrows at him.
Harry, even tipsy and playing things up to amuse Harmony, hit everything he aimed for. Every single time.
There were hoots and laughter from first Harmony, and then the people playing at the machine to the right of theirs, and then from the whole damn bar.
Perry made them leave before they could become a debacle.
“That was nuts,” Harry said, leaning into Perry in the parking lot and laughing, clinging to Harmony as he did it. “Is there like, a circuit or something I could join? Like poker? We could totally be rich.”
“No, Chief,” Perry said, and instead of feeling vindicated, he just felt stunned.
Perry was listening to Dabney go on about something - again - and was wearing his marginally polite, yes you are socially powerful and I hate career suicide so I’m tolerating you look. Harry was dutifully familiar with it, and hated it, mainly because Perry was faking it. It was one of the reasons he took so much verbal abuse from his boss and friend; it was the real Perry most of the time, caring about him by flipping him shit. That was still an overreaction, but always better than the full mask. Perry was mainly about contradictions and appearances in front of other people.
Harry watched for several minutes, there but not, unacknowledged. Dabney had given him a cursory once-over on the way in and had not recognized him. Harry contented himself with mentally sizing up the table, the items on it, and his proximity to it.
Dabney lapsed into something political, his tone indicating he was pleased with himself for being so damn smart.
Harry rose, ignoring the warning glance Perry shot him, and chose an open side of the table. The grip was just slightly different - nine and a half fingers - but the mechanics were all the same once the edge of the tablecloth was in his hands.
It was only a matter of the right angle and tension, like so many other things in life.
It happened so fast that neither man at the table had time to flinch. Harry whipped the tablecloth off, leaving everything else intact and undisturbed, right down to the crumbs from Dabney’s scone.
Dabney openly gaped at Harry as he folded the tablecloth over one arm.
Harry didn’t dare glance at Perry.
“Magic,” he said softly, and walked away.
Perry never said anything about it. Two days later, Dabney called and said he had a walk-on part in some sitcom for Harry. Harry barely repressed a moment of preening.
“It better not interfere with your real job,” Perry said.
Harry stood in the bathroom doorway and watched him for a long moment, and for once, Perry didn’t snap at him to fuck off.
“Why cover it up?” Harry said. “It makes you look, maybe, badass or something. I mean, more badass than usual.”
Perry ignored the insinuated complement and kept tapping foundation over the remnants of the black eye without looking at Harry in the mirror. “Because it also says ‘maybe lost a fight’, dumbass. Bad for business.”
Harry cocked his head back in consideration, something Perry wished he could remove from the idiot’s repertoire.
“Well, actually, it’s trying to hide it that says ‘lost that fight’,” he said. “The guys who are looking to say ‘you should see the other guy’ wear it around proudly.”
Perry stopped what he was doing to whip his head around and fix Harry with a look of annoyance. “What the fuck do you even know about it?”
Harry cocked his head forward until he was looking at Perry from below, mouth twisted into something that said really, idiot?
No, Harry couldn’t fight, as he’d both admitted and graphically demonstrated when Perry first met him.
“Lost more fights that you can count, Slick,” Harry said. “So when I occasionally pulled one off? Goddamn right I wore it around.”
Perry looked back at the mirror and realized he was going to have to reluctantly concede to Harry, for once. He paused, then grabbed a towel and began to remove the makeup.
Harry, to his everlasting credit with Perry, didn’t smirk; he looked proud when Perry glanced at him.
Harry was fidgeting so hard in the store that Perry was afraid he was going to bring security down on them by virtue alone.
Recognizing the signs of impending ingrained behavior, Perry said, “Don’t you dare.”
“What?” Harry said, already looking guilty.
“You go sit in the car, or go outside and smoke, or anything but fucking start shoplifting,” Perry said. “I’ll kill you, and that’s not a threat. It’s a guarantee.”
Harry looked so wide-eyed lost for a moment that Perry found himself actually choking down a moment of pity, for fuck’s sake.
“Out,” Perry said. “Seriously. Go wait by the car. I’ll be out in a minute.”
The shame he caught a glimpse of in Harry’s eyes before the kid could shut down and turn away made Perry grip the handle of the shopping cart with a force that whitened his knuckles and made his hands ache.
Harry was a creature of impulse and survival. He was a career thief, and as wrong as that was, it wasn’t Perry’s place to judge or question. It was his place to keep his own ass from being arrested because his new roommate couldn’t fucking control himself. However, the sudden realization that Harry was doing it as a kneejerk reaction was sobering.
A thousand small moments connected in Perry’s memory that would have been obvious even to someone without his detective’s mind and skills.
Harry, nervous and twitching, watching anyone who came within feet of him with a barely suppressed suspicion.
Harry, smoking instead of making personal contact.
Harry, hands clenching into tight fists rather than reaching out.
Eating meals like he had no idea where the next one was coming from, flinching like he expected every motion to become a blow, wide eyes sweeping every space he walked into.
Arrested, five times.
No serious prison time, one stint of 10 months. Still, Perry had no idea what that ten months had consisted of, and Harry had been living on the edge a long time even on the outside.
He had one serious fuckup on his hands, without knowing how it had started after Harry left Indiana, of all fucking places, idiot small town boy ending up fencing shit in New York.
One silly Midwesterner with five priors still acting like a goddamn rube, trying to fucking save moths out of pools and girls from creeps at parties and trying to give him CPR in the middle of the street. One street kid with no fucking street smarts.
There had to be something nearby that he could slam his head against.
Send him back, to Indiana or New York or anywhere, Jesus.
“But,” Perry mumbled aloud, “…he’ll be dead pretty soon after because his life skills are shit but he can’t watch other people suffer.”
Underneath was something beautiful and capable; he knew it when he saw it. He’d let it slip by one time too many.
He stood in the bread aisle and debated, knowing he was already screwed, hating himself for it and hating Harry just as much. Because they both had a decent streak. And the world really had no response to that except to kick you until you were finally down for the count.
He cursed under his breath and left the cart, just left it, and headed for the parking lot.
Harry was next to the car, smoking, shifting his weight from foot to foot, eyes darting around like he was waiting to be assaulted.
Perry whistled to get his attention.
Harry looked at him and then seemed to try and make himself smaller, for fuck’s sake, like Perry was on his way to kicking his ass.
“You can’t smoke in the store,” Perry said when he was close enough.
Harry looked at him with open confusion, squinting his eyes a little while he visibly tried to parse the statement.
“Come back in,” Perry said, dropping his shoulders. “I shouldn’t have tossed you. Just promise you won’t palm anything. You don’t have to, anymore.”
Harry had flipped the cigarette to the asphalt halfway through what he was saying, stepping on it automatically without dropping his eyes. His gaze was wary but hopeful, rife with disbelief. Perry had never spoken to him that way, not since saying you’re not a punk in a hospital hallway.
Perry had the terrible suspicion that no one had ever spoken to Harry that way. It wasn’t his problem to fix, and he was already soured enough on the world and humanity at large to try to convince himself he didn’t give a fuck.
But. There was just something there, something he wasn’t quite jaded enough to turn away from.
Harry seemed to be thinking about it. As if Perry’s words carried actual weight. Then his expression changed, turning from wary to starving.
Those big, dark, liquid eyes shining at him like he was part of making sure the world turned.
Perry was ruined, and he knew it.
Harry did everything he could to make Perry proud of him.
Even when he was annoyed to the point of telling him to go fuck himself, Harry was bent on not disappointing Perry.
Perry broke Harry’s deep seated urge to steal by planting things around the house. Candy, gum, cigarettes. It seemed counter productive, like he was rewarding the behavior, but once Harry caught on, it became a game. He pick pocketed Perry on a daily basis, and Perry pretended it wasn’t happening.
It never occurred to Harry to freak out as if he was being humored, and that was why Perry decided to keep him around. He was grateful that Perry was trying.
The reason Harry didn’t freak out was because Perry had been right: Harry was not a punk. There was nothing in him that dictated he lash out over being caught, over being offered an alternative to behavior even he knew was wrong.
“I can’t help it,” Harry said one afternoon, out of nowhere.
Perry picked up on it and knew immediately what Harry was referring to. “I know, Chief,” he said. “You can’t anymore, though.”
“Why didn’t you just threaten me?” Harry said, and the confusion in his voice was genuine.
“Because that’s what anyone else would have done,” Perry said. “I’m not anyone else. And it wouldn’t have worked.”
After a pause, Harry said, “I know,” and he said it with such a reverence that Perry knew it which part of that conversation he was referring to.
“Why don’t you teach me how to pickpocket, then?” Perry said. “I don’t know how the fuck you’re doing it, and it’s pissing me off.”
Something changed in Harry’s face for a moment, something far beyond pleased agreement. Something mildly feral and aroused.
Perry was looking forward to every moment.
Checking and finding his pockets empty at the end of every day was both satisfying and frustrating. He’d watched and listened and cataloged, waiting for tells and signs. He counted the number of times Harry had been close enough to do something, and they just didn’t add up. Not yet.
He was missing something. Something Harry could teach him.
“I’ll slow it down for you, then,” Harry said.
And Harry proceeded to torture him.
Perry had no doubt that Harry didn’t realize how maddening he was being; Harry didn’t do subtle except, apparently, with his hands while stealing. Every time he came near Perry for the next few days, he started exaggerating his movements. Whatever he came near for in the first place stayed the same speed, with Harry yammering on like usual and making the same amount of eye contact. He didn’t bump into him clumsily or try to distract him; didn’t drop things or otherwise flail around. This was Harry completely focused and wielding a talent.
Perry learned several things.
One, he let Harry well into his personal space far too often, closer than anyone else. He allowed Harry to obliterate that invisible bubble he lived in most of the time. He was hard pressed to remember exactly how long it had been since he’d trusted anyone enough to get away with that.
That of course, led to the worst realization. Challenging Harry to reveal his technique became a test of his own restraint; Harry gave away what he was doing by purposely touching Perry every time he did it. Long, clever fingers brushed against him just fleetingly anywhere he was hiding something, sliding between his jacket and shirt to get at the pockets in the lining. He had managed to do those things before, just without making noticeable contact. The noticeable contact, however, was driving Perry insane.
“Usually I interrupt you when you seem to be thinking the hardest, or right in the middle of something,” Harry said casually from far too close. “It annoys you, and you waste all your attention on getting pissed, and waving me off. Then I make it worse by doing something you hate, something buddy-buddy, like hitting you on the shoulder or pounding you on the back.”
Harry demonstrated by standing off to one side and thumping Perry on the back with a closed fist, using the other hand to dart into an outside pocket.
“You do touch me a lot,” Perry said.
“You touch me more,” Harry said. “And those are the times I get the rest of whatever you hide for me to take.”
Perry froze and stared.
Harry misinterpreted the look and withdrew his hands quickly, tucking them in his own pockets. “I’d never take anything you don’t want me to,” he said.
“No,” Perry said. “I know that. That’s not what worries me.”
He was screwed. He’d already known that; he just hadn’t realized the level he’d reached.
The lesson ended on an unsatisfying note for them both, for entirely different reasons.
“Jesus H Christ in a sidecar chariot,” Perry said, but it was oddly without venom. “They know what they’re doing. Leave the invertebrates alone.”
Harry was pausing along the sidewalk periodically to pick up worms and place them in more dirt-laden areas. It was causing their stroll around the neighborhood to become a lengthy endeavor.
“They’ll dry out or get stepped on later,” Harry said, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.
“This is how nature works, Harry. I can’t go for walks with you if you’re going to – “
Perry stopped short of stating more of the obvious. He was berating Harry for being…Harry.
“Try and save the world,” he finished with a sigh.
No point failing to call it like it was.
“You love me just the way I am,” Harry said, trying to pick up another worm, bitten-short nails scraping on the concrete.
“You’re hopeless,” Perry said.
“Worms have five hearts,” Harry said as if Perry hadn’t spoken. “Five. And if you cut them in half, they grow into two worms. Can you imagine if that happened to people? I mean, would it be a twin, or what? How the hell do you deal with that? ‘Hey, this is my brother, he exists because when we were in a car accident, I was cut in half’. That would be crazy. How the hell would health insurance even deal with that, how do you figure out who – “
Perry shoved a hand into Harry’s hair, cupping his head and gripping just a little. Harry seemed soothed, and deposited the latest worm onto a patch of dirt before glancing up at Perry.
“Just the way you are,” Perry said.
It took Perry a little while in his off time to figure out who Chook Chutney was. He didn’t bother questioning himself as to why he cared; he simply counted it as part of his overall background check on Harry. That was all. Probably.
Chook’s real name turned out to be Chuck Cameron. Football team, varsity, typical Midwestern cornfed Disney farmboy complete with blue eyes and blond hair and the smartass grin to go with it. The high school yearbooks featured him fairly prominently, including one with him with an arm around a painfully young Harry’s neck.
The twink factor was off the scale.
Perry actually found himself feeling appreciative for how far the kid had gone in trying to broadcast how gay he was without having it printed on a t shirt and fucking a teammate in the middle of the field during halftime. Mispronouncing his own name into Aussie slang for chicken, easily translated as ‘cock’, and… well, chutney, for fuck’s sake.
Bi enough to sleep with Harmony…but, Perry had to admit he wouldn’t kick her out of a threesome, either.
Harry, making sure Perry knew that Harmony had promised Chook would be the one person she would stay away from.
Refusing to sleep with her all these years later because she had not.
Perry let it all sit, tucking it away as one more tidbit that would eventually show him the entire picture.
He waited until Harry had food halfway in his mouth one afternoon.
“You should forgive Harmony for sleeping with Chook,” he said.
Harry half-inhaled a mouthful of sandwich and spent a few moments wheezing his way back. “Wha?”
“The only reason you were upset about it in the first place was that you didn’t want there to be a them that left you out.”
Harry got pale and wide-eyed.
“She friend-zoned you, because she needed you to stay that one safe guy she didn’t mess up. But he was yours first.”
Harry’s color returned, and he stared at Perry a moment longer, then shrugged and went back to eating. “You’re the detective,” he said.
Perry decided he already knew everything he needed to.
XI. And one to grow on:
There are those moments when Perry wonders if he should just encourage Harry to go, to disappear wherever he wants to. Harry is good at that, and it has let him get away with so much before.
In fact, if Perry had thought it was Harry’s best chance…he would have let that happen.
But it wasn’t, anymore. The kinds of things Harry was into, because of Perry…they didn’t lend themselves to the kind of life where someone could run back to the streets and pickpocket or shoplift or whatever, and survive. Harry had a target on his back, by then.
Harry swiveled his head to look at Perry. Automatic, most of the time, to make eye contact, to make any kind of connection.
“Stay here, with me. Stay in the extra room. Keep me distracted enough to rethink the shit I do.”
Harry kept staring, but there was something in his gaze that let Perry know the kid was All In.
Finally, Harry said, “You can do the same for me.”