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How to Defend Your Chosen Damsel

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Perry was having an amusing, if somewhat awkward, conversation with Dabney about—what else?—Perry's gayness, and how many supposedly straight men the notorious Gay Perry had managed to charm into his bed in the past year (“Don't worry, you're not my type”), and whether Harry was one of them (“Fuck no”). Then Harmony burst into the room in her skimpy easter bunny work outfit, complete with fluffy white ears and tail, and Perry was instantly worried.

“The fuck did he do?” he asked without preamble.

“Excuse us,” Harmony said to Dabney, and pulled Perry outside past the brightly lit pool area, where party-goers drank and laughed and chatted about their careers. “Some drunk guy grabbed my ass,” she admitted. “When Harry told the guy to beat it, the guy called him out, and Harry—well, you know Harry...”

“Great—he's playing white knight on his first day out of bandages. Where is that idiot?”

“It's his first day out of—shit! I wondered why he wasn't coming to parties, but I—”

Perry pulled away from Harmony abruptly; Harry was standing on the other side of a line of landscaped bushes, his back to Perry. Across from him stood a burly man with a dangerous smirk on his face.

A small group of people had gathered around the two men. Some craned their heads for a better look while others, either less interested or more drunk, stood aside and sipped their drinks, only sometimes glancing over. Harry himself was focused on the guy, who, by the way, was a head taller and decked out. Even with a leather jacket, his arms crossed, and his chest puffed up, Harry was dwarfed and no doubt on the road to another beating.

“Look,” he said to the guy, “all I’m saying is that these girls aren’t here to be your personal stress balls, and if they say no, then it fucking means no. Now.” He looked over the rims of his stylish shades, which he wore even though it was outside at night. “What do you have to say to that?” 

Perry strode to the edge of the bushes, picking up an empty beer bottle from the poolside as he did. His angry gaze parted the gaggle of onlookers like water. That caught the drunk Neanderthal's eye.

Perry flipped the bottle in his hand until he held it like a club, and then shook his head: You don't want to fuck with me.

The drunk glanced back at Harry, once more at Perry, and then laughed nervously and seemed to deflate. “Fuck it—this party sucks,” he said. He stalked off, giving Harry—and Perry, at the forefront of the crowd—a wide berth.

Perry turned to watch him go, eyes narrowed. His eyes trailed the man to the gate, where a valet spoke with him. Then Harmony obscured his line of vision. She rushed past Perry to grab Harry's hand. Perry rolled his eyes. Some things never changed.

Harry looked particularly proud of himself as the guy walked away. He grinned as he turned to meet Harmony, and then went serious-faced, like an older brother. Harmony and he were no longer dating after a dramatic falling-out several months ago, Harmony’s casual treatment of her own body being one of the chief reasons, but she was still his best friend along with Perry.

Harry held her hand in both of his. “You can’t let guys like that do whatever they want to you,” he said. “I can’t always be around to protect you.”

Harmony’s red-lipped smile immediately fell. “Harry,” she said, “I’ve gotten along fine without you for years. I can handle this city better you probably can. And you!” She smacked his arm; he winced. “Why didn’t you tell me you got into the the hospital again? What was it this time? Bullet wound? Concussion?” 

Perry smirked, tossed the beer bottle, and sauntered up between them. “Gang rape,” he informed Harmony with mock sorrow as he put a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder. “Big, burly bear-types. But don't worry—I called in a favor. They're dickless now.”

Harmony's eyes widened, and then she looked at Harry's face and started laughing. “Oh, God. Perry, don't joke like that.” She gave him a wimpy punch in the arm, and Perry snorted. “I mean—sometimes I—I get worried, you know?” She looked at Harry. “Sometimes it's like you live at the hospital.”

Perry's smile turned brittle, and his hand unconsciously tightened on Harry's shoulder. “I know.”

“It’s not all that bad,” Harry said, glancing at Perry’s tightening hand with a little grimace, and then glared at Harmony. “Do you actually think I’d get gang-raped?”

She put on her pouting face. “Harry, it’s not like you really take care of yourself. I can’t say I’m surprised whenever something horrible happens to you.”

“Oh, like when you cut off my finger?”

She threw up her hands with a frustrated sigh. “How many times do I have to apologize for that?”

“I don’t know. Keep going, though. I’m keeping count,” Harry said, and then lifted both of his hands. “Unfortunately I can’t go past nine because you cut off my finger.” 

“Well,” Perry cut in, “amusing as this is, I'm getting back to the party. And by party, I mean a fabulous little bar down in Silver Lake. Harmony, it's been charming. Harry, do you need a ride home?”

Harry glanced at Harmony before answering. When she said, “I’ll be working late. You should probably go with him,” he nodded to Perry. “Yeah, I’ll just crash early,” he said, then to Harmony: “Don’t let any guys harass you, all right?”

She rolled her eyes, said, “Go, Harry. You two have a nice night,” and hugged them both before readjusting her bunny ears and merging with the crowd. 

An attractive valet brought Perry's car around, and winked at him as the two changed places. In one of the cup holders, Perry noticed, leaned a business card with a nickname and phone number written on the back. He glanced at it as he started driving, then put it back with a self-satisfied smirk. “So I heard you played the white knight again,” he told Harry casually.

Harry blinked before grinning and buckling himself in. “Did you see it? It was great. I totally talked the guy down.” 

“Yeah.” Perry nodded. “I saw—great job, chief. I only have one problem: You just got out of your fucking bandages yesterday. What were you thinking?” Perry made himself breathe as he glared between Harry and the road.

Harry frowned. “What? I’m perfectly fine. See?” He breathed in deep. “No pain at all. Besides, it’s not right when Harmony just lets guys grope her like that. I had to do something.” 

“Wonder Girl can handle herself, idiot—you can't.” After a beat, Perry sighed. “Look, it's great you want to help Harmony, but you can't do that if you can't even defend yourself.” He glanced over at Harry's face, lit by the passing street lamps and and thankfully unbruised. This time. “Maybe you need to take self-defense classes.”

Harry’s brow scrunched together and he stared at Perry dead-on. “I handled that guy tonight, didn’t I? Where’s this coming from all of a sudden, anyway? I mean, I’ve thought about classes before, but—did you and Harmony talk about me? She convinced you to do this, didn’t she? Son of a bitch.” 

“You only handled him, moron, because he didn't haul off and hit you in your fucking face. What if he'd done that? Do you even think about these things?”

Harry wilted a little. “Well, not really. I got him away from Harmony, though; that counts for something.” He gave a brief laugh. “It’s not like I’m not used to getting the shit beat out of me, what’s a little more for a good cause?” 

Perry's hands tightened on the wheel. “Are you trying to give me a coronary? What the fuck point is there of trying to keep you out of trouble if you like getting the shit beat out of you? Jesus, Harry—you realize me and Harmony have visiting hours memorized at most of the hospitals in L.A.?” He glared at Harry briefly, then turned his eyes back to the road. “Stop being so fucking selfish.”

“Selfish?” Harry sputtered, and he turned fully in his seat, wrestling with the belt until he just tucked the strap under his arm. “What? All I do is try and help you guys! Where the fuck do you get off calling me selfish?” 

“Well,” Perry said, speaking slowly, “I'd say not wanting to take self-defense lessons is pretty fucking selfish. Oh, and stupid. Which, I guess for you is normal, but the rest of us are sick of seeing you get fed through a tube. You're taking the fucking lessons, Harry. I'll set it up tomorrow. Deal with it.”

Harry stared at him, mouth agape, for a moment or two before he ran a hand down his face and muttered, “Christ, I never said I wouldn’t take them, but fine, sure, whatever. Sounds great. A real blast.” He leaned against the window, scowling. Then: “Are you gonna be there?”

“Why would I need to be there?”

“I don’t know. I just figured, since you like to oversee things. Manage them.” Harry talked with his hands, moving them around like a fortuneteller looking into her crystal ball. “Control them.” He shrugged. “Or maybe you need to brush up on your technique.” 

Perry snorted and pulled over in front of the apartment. “Out. Now.” 

Harry snapped his head around like he hadn’t expected to arrive so soon, but there it was: the entrance to the beige apartment complex, framed by palm trees. He unbuckled and opened the door, but turned back before getting out. “When will you be home?” 

“What are you, my mother?” Perry shoved Harry at the open door. “Now get out. Go. Vanish.” Perry pulled out his phone as if that was the end of it, and then, as if an afterthought, said “Don't forget to do your exercises.”

Harry climbed out and almost shut the door, but then bent over and poked his head in again, the shades now in his hands. A car passed around them, the headlights illuminating Harry’s face. “You know, that’s pretty motherly of you, reminding me of that,” he said. “So, you’ll be around at my self-defense things?”

“They're called lessons, Harry.” Perry gave Harry a look of annoyance, but at Harry's hopeful expression, he finally leaned his head back and sighed. “Look, I'll be there to talk to your instructor and make sure he doesn't fuck up your ribs, but that's it. Jesus. Close the fuckin' door.”

Harry didn’t. “Oh, awesome,” he said, grinning. “And maybe you could stick around some, see how things go.”

Perry closed his eyes. “Are you leaving, or are we gonna be here all fuckin' night? Because unless you plan to blow me, this conversation is over.”

Harry blinked and then shook his head, like getting rid of a bad thought. “Right. I mean, no. I’ll pass. See you later.” He stepped back and shut the door. 

Perry drove off without waiting for Harry to get inside. The phone was already to his ear when he got off their street. “Yeah,” he said into the receiver, “I'll be there in five.”

When Perry got to the restaurant four minutes later, he pulled a briefcase out of the trunk and walked inside with a purposeful step. An All-American-attractive waiter led him to a private table. His go-between was waiting for him.

“Perry,” Adam Lucerne said cheerfully, standing to shake Perry's hand after Perry waved the waiter away. “I hear you have something for me.”

Perry sat down and took out a manila envelope of photographs. “I do,” he said cordially. “I trust you'll put these to good use.” He handed them across the table.

Adam took the photos partway out of the envelope and thumbed through them with a whistle. “The stockholders will definitely be interested in seeing these.” He slipped the envelope into a satchel and folded his hands in front of him. His glass of red wine looked opaque, like blood in water. Perry blinked away the memory of the nurses washing Harry's blood-caked face. Monagman was going to pay for that. Soon. “I heard Monagman did some nasty shit to you and your partner,” Adam said. “I was surprised when nothing bad happened to him. Well, trial aside.”

Perry shrugged. “I didn't want to interfere with his right to a fair trial.”

“Bullshit,” Adam said, grinning. “I've known you how long? He pissed you off—you've just been waiting.”

This got a smile out of Perry. “Maybe.” He picked up his previously ignored menu and glanced down the entrée list. “What's good here?”

Adam leaned in. “Well, for starters, that waiter of ours looks divine...”

*

Harry busied himself with walking around the apartment, turning on the gas-powered fireplace, sipping champagne, and standing on the third-story balcony before he forced himself to sit down and do the exercises for his ribs. The long, tan leather couch, which wrapped around the TV area, was his normal spot. He set his champagne—he only started drinking the stuff when he got to L.A.—on the glass table, looked longingly at the plasma television, and then sat up straight, closing his eyes. The breathing exercise was nothing: breathe in through the nose, hold it for a few seconds, exhale slowly. Repeat five times, then force a cough. He didn’t even feel any discomfort.

It was the stretching exercises that still made him wince, which was why he didn’t do them around Perry. Nothing major, nothing to worry about—a small annoyance, but Perry would undoubtedly make it some big deal and blow things out of proportion and Harry would be locked up in the apartment for another month until the twinge went away.

When done, he looked behind himself at the door down the hallway to make sure Perry wasn’t busting through to torch him before he slipped off his boots and put his feet on the table. He turned the television on and watched sitcoms, the fake recorded laughter filling the dark room. Every so often he glanced at his watch, the door; sipped his drink.

Tomorrow Perry would sign him up for self-defense lessons, something Harry had always put off. He didn’t even know why. He also didn’t know why Perry wouldn’t just give him lessons himself. There was a gym on the ground floor, a place they could use. Perry wouldn’t have to pay for anything, and Harry wouldn’t have to do something alone that he didn’t care to do. But whatever, who knew what Perry thought? Probably just a long, repeating line of “Idiot Harry, idiot Harry, idiot Harry, vanish, I’m gay” anyway.

Harry slumped in the couch, watched the TV and its bright, colorful sitcoms from over his toes; wiggled them inside of their socks, his hands resting on his stomach. He shut his eyes and drifted off. 

Perry got back around 4 A.M. after business talk over dinner, followed by a threesome at Adam's place with the waiter. He and Adam broke the man, because he was gone after his orgasm, and was still out cold when Perry left. Adam was such a pushover about letting strangers stay the night. A few months ago, Perry might've stayed over too, for the early morning sex. But he had too much work to do, and now that Harry lived with him, Perry also had to make sure his apartment hadn't burned down while he was out. Fucking Harry.

Of course, when Perry walked in the door, the TV was playing infomercials and Harry's socked, stinking feet were on his coffee table. Perry sighed and put his shoes on the rack in the closet, then walked over to the couch.

Harry's eyes were twitching, like he was dreaming. Well, he wouldn't be dreaming for long. Perry leaned over the back of the couch. “Harry,” he barked, thumping his hands on either side of Harry. “Wake up!”

Harry woke up with such a violent start that his legs kicked and knocked over the half-full champagne glass near his feet. While the glass rolled, the amber drink made a glorious puddle on the table and dripped onto the rug.

“Jesus Christ,” Harry breathed, hand over his chest and eyes wide, head craned back to see Perry looming over. Then he saw the champagne. “Oh, shit.” 

Perry went from amused to pissed off in .2 seconds. “I cannot believe you just—” Perry's eyes widened with annoyance and he rushed around the couch, knocking Harry's feet to the floor and righting the champagne glass. “Why the fuck were your feet on the table, dipshit?” he snarled, dashing to the kitchen for towels, a scrub brush, and carpet cleaner. The champagne had spilled onto the oriental rug Perry'd put under the coffee table after Harry moved in, mostly to hide such spills, but how difficult was it to not put your feet on someone's table? Jesus. If Harry kept this up he'd need those self-defense lessons, because Perry was going to kill him.

Harry kept glancing, horrified, between the spill and Perry, who rampaged through the small kitchen. Fuck, why did he fall asleep like that? “Sorry,” he said. “I—I was just relaxing. Do you need any help, I mean, I could clean it up.” He stayed still on the couch, afraid that if he moved something else would happen to give Perry reason to inflict bodily harm. 

“Wipe off the table, moron—and for godssakes don't spill more champagne on the floor.” Perry bustled past him, bucket of water mixed with carpet cleaner in one hand, and a brush and towel in the other.

Harry quickly stood up and away as Perry went to work on the carpet. The only lights in the room still were the TV and crackling fireplace, which cast a weird glow around everything. He watched Perry for a moment before asking, “Can I use that towel?” 

“No.” Perry kept scrubbing.

“Why not?” Harry asked, and then grew bolder: “You’re not using it.” 

“This is to dry the fucking floor—you know what, go to bed. You're fucking useless—go. Away. Now.” Perry groaned as another drop of water dripped off the table and onto the floor, and scrubbed harder. He should've stayed at Adam's. 

Something trembled in Harry—maybe it was the alcohol from earlier, or sleep trying to reclaim him—but he stood strong. Whenever he fucked up, which was a lot, and Perry got so frustrated with how useless he was, Harry felt the impulse to prove Perry wrong. So instead of going to bed, he retrieved the paper towels and small bin of trash from under the sink and sat next to Perry, careful to give him space, and laid one towel over the puddle on the table. He patted it, avoiding eye contact, soaking the first towel before he tossed it into the bin and moved onto the next. 

Perry huffed when he saw Harry actually being helpful, but inside he was somewhat mollified. Not happy by any stretch of the imagination, but at least Harry was being better than useless in the fixing-his-own-fuck-ups direction.

When Perry was satisfied nothing would stain, he picked up the glass in the now-damp towel and stood up. He ignored Harry while he put away the cleaning supplies and washed his hands in the sink.

Harry followed soon after, the table wiped clean—it really hadn’t been that much. Instead of stepping forward, though, he lingered in the doorway with Perry’s back to him, the trashcan and roll of paper towels dangling from his hands. Perry hadn’t shoved him away or called him an idiot when he had cleaned the table, which was a good sign, but the silence still told Harry that Perry was pissed and still twisted a knot in his stomach. He needed to hear Perry speak, to hear him say Harry wasn’t a complete waste.

Harry cleared his throat softy. “I’m sorry about the table. And the carpet.” 

“Yeah, great,” Perry said, yanking a towel from the roll Harry held and using it to dry his hands. He threw the crumpled paper towel into the trash can in Harry's other hand. “Put that away and go sleep in your fucking bed,” he said. Then with a final glare, Perry stalked off to his room and shut the door behind him.

Harry winced when the door shut and went about cleaning things as best as he could. It helped to busy his hands: return the towels and trash to the cabinet under the sink; turn off the TV, the fireplace; put his boots next to Perry’s in the hallway closet instead of leaving them by the couch. Then he stood in the middle of the living room, the balcony window letting in the moon; just stood there a while, rocking on his heels, feeling with his toes where the champagne had been in the carpet. He could see Perry’s door from the living room—he could see almost every door from the living room, besides his own, which was around a corner in the entrance hall. It was no use trying to reach Perry once he was in his room, his last sanctuary from Harry; trying to violate that would likely be a final offense.

So Harry did what he was told: he closed his bedroom door and got in bed. Tomorrow things would blow over, as they always did. Perry would forget about it, or at least not mention it, and they’d go on their way like they had for the past year. Except this time, if Harry planned on putting his feet on the table when Perry wasn’t around, he’d make sure there was nothing else on it.  

*

Ever since he started living with Perry and holding an actual job, Harry woke up early most days. His alarm would blare at 7:30 A.M. and he’d groan and crawl out of whatever convoluted position he ended up sleeping in. Sometimes his hand kept finding the snooze button and Perry had to storm in and growl to get Harry out of bed, but those times were thankfully becoming less and less.

It had been four days and one self-defense class since the champagne incident, and so far Harry had learned he couldn’t throw a punch worth shit and that a middle-aged woman could flip him over. That hadn’t really helped his ribs, but she had been a student and the instructor apologized and no one would ever tell Perry van Shrike.

On the TV the morning news played on low volume, a black woman droning on about horrible L.A. things while a small window near her head displayed footage. Harry sat at the dining room table—which was actually the same room as the living room, only separated by that tan leather couch—and hovered over his bowl of cereal, slurping the milk from his spoon. Perry sat on said couch, papers spread over the coffee table. He was freshly showered: the same routine every morning. Wake up at the crack of dawn, work out in the downstairs gym, shower, eat breakfast, plan day; he was on the last.

Harry usually showered while Perry was eating, and then they’d end up in the living-dining room at the same time to watch the news, although Perry watched it more than Harry did. But as soon as he saw Monagman trying to avoid cameras, his interest perked.

“Perry, Perry, turn that up,” he said, straightening in his chair but still holding the spoon.

Perry dutifully turned up the volume, less because Harry had asked than because it had been almost a week since he'd met Adam at the restaurant, and he hadn't heard anything about the photos since. Normally this wouldn't bother him, but for news on Monagman he'd been downright antsy.

“—nagman's was reportedly ousted from his own company following an emergency board meeting yesterday,” said the anchorwoman. “Board members cite the drastic fall in Monagman, Inc. stock prices due to Monagman's upcoming trial, and a set of incriminating photographs leaked to them of Monagman participating in human sex trafficking.”

The screen flashed to Monagman in a business suit, handcuffed and being pushed into the back of a cop car; Perry couldn't help the dark smile that briefly crossed his face. Good work, Adam, he thought.

“Monagman is charged with human sex trafficking, kidnapping, and murder. He is under house arrest pending his trial in August.”

The anchorwoman started talking about another high profile crime, but Perry didn't care about that and turned the volume back down as he reached for his coffee.

Behind Perry, Harry whistled lowly, but there was a smile in his voice. “That guy is ruined. He’ll never climb back up after something like that leaking out. You think a cop did it?” 

Perry shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. “I don't care who did it,” he said with a grin. “I'm just glad it happened.”

Harry crammed another spoonful of cereal into his mouth; it crunched when he chewed. “That son of a bitch had it coming,” he said, pointing at the television with his spoon. “Glad we helped take him down. It was worth it.” 

Perry nodded, but didn't reply. Harry'd gotten banged all to hell on that job, and even the bonus Ms. Toulman gave them couldn't erase the hours spent alone on stakeouts afterward, with Harry calling every ten minutes to ask him stupid questions because he was lonely and nothing was on TV, or worse, not calling and making Perry worry he'd fallen in the bathroom and couldn't reach the phone to call 911.

So Perry glanced once more at the news—some car accident now—and then went back to his agenda and thumbing through the folders his secretary, Carl, had left on his desk in preparation for today's meetings with potential clients.

Harry finished his cereal in relative silence—crunch, crunch, slurp, a burp he tried to cover up—and then left the dishes in the sink, brushed his teeth in his bathroom, and came back to flop down on the couch perpendicular from Perry to take his ten-to-fifteen-minute power nap before they really started the day. He lay with his arms behind his head, taking a short moment for a breathing exercise out of habit and a little stretching, but napping eluded him: his mind stayed on Monagman’s ruin.

“Come to think of it,” he said, “someone must’ve really had it out for Monagman. I mean, they had good reason, but the guy’s completely toast. That couldn’t have been an accident.” 

Perry “hmm”ed in response, pretending his eyes hadn't suddenly lost focus and his fingers hadn't tightened on his agenda. Harry wasn't always the brightest bulb, but he was getting better at connecting the dots than he'd been when they met last Christmas. Perry picked up a pencil and made a note on his schedule to ask Carl whether he'd done a background check on their one o'clock appointment, and tried to remember what had niggled his suspicion about this guy.

Harry had that faraway look on his face he got whenever he was thinking, the one where his voice kind of trailed off. “How’d they get the pictures, anyway? We only gave them to the police and Ms. Toulman. Maybe she did it…” 

Just let it go, Harry—but of course, saying that was a sure way to get Harry to do exactly what Perry wanted him not to do. “Maybe,” Perry muttered. “Or it could've been a police officer. I wouldn't put it past someone on the board, either—they've got enough money for a good bribe.” Shit—helping too much. Perry picked up his coffee cup and frowned into it. Almost empty.

“Someone on the board,” Harry echoed. “But if they found out, wouldn’t they just try to hide it? I mean, weren’t some of them in on the sex slave stuff? And Monagman gets, well, got them a lot of cash. It must’ve been someone outside. Unless one of them had a personal… vendetta… for some reason…” The more Harry trailed off in his thinking-speeches, the closer he got to something. 

Fuck, fuck, fuck, the one time Harry starts using his brain is the one time Perry wants him to shut the damn thing off. “Well, you keep thinking,” Perry said, patting Harry's leg as he stood up, coffee mug in hand. “We leave in five minutes,” he called once he was safely in the kitchen and the rich scent of coffee was steaming into the air again with the stream flowing into his mug.

Harry didn’t answer, which was strange; he kept staring at the ceiling as kitchen noises drifted over to him. His brow had crinkled a little in the middle. Who had a personal vendetta against Monagman? He had been careful not to deal with any cops; that was how he had avoided prosecution for so long. Well, one of the ways he had. His public figure had been immaculate before this. Who could have possibly wanted to… Ms. Toulman, the scorned former wife, was the likeliest suspect, but she was the type to go on air and spread the photos across the world, not slip it to the board members as an incentive to escape or as blackmail. Then who? A policeman? A reporter who dug into police files? No, the board members withdrew before the photos hit the news. Who would go behind the scenes to take Monagman down? Who would…

“Fuck,” Harry breathed. He couldn’t believe this. “Hey, Perry?” he called. 

“What?” Perry called from the kitchen. He stirred cream and sugar into his coffee and took a sip to test it, hoping to God Harry hadn't had another one of his very-occasional moments of brilliance.

Great, Harry thought. This fucking sucked. Whenever he figured something out, bad shit always happened, like connecting Allison Ames to Harmony and getting his finger cut off for it. He took a deep breath and dove in: “You did something, didn’t you.” 

Act mad? Harry would take that as an admission of guilt. Defensive, same. How the fuck was Harry able to think this early in the morning, anyway? When did that happen? Shit—hedge and sarcasm now. “Right, Harry,” Perry said in his most condescending tone. “It must have been me. Because no one else in this city could possibly have anything against a C.E.O. who makes both of his livings by fucking people over. Nice deduction, chief.”

Briefly Harry frowned and thought maybe he really had figured it wrong, but he actually figured things out at all so rarely that he kept to his conclusion this time. It wouldn’t hurt anything to probe a little further anyway, just in case—except, perhaps, any self-esteem he had left. He sat up and twisted around to face the kitchen.

“I wasn’t that high in the hospital,” Harry said. “I know you were planning something then.” 

“You're right, I was,” Perry said, leaning against the counter and glaring at Harry. “I was planning the best way to tell Ms. Toulman exactly what kind of an asshole her husband was since you were too loopy to do it yourself.”

Harry narrowed his eyes, which honestly didn’t make him intimidating so much as comical. “You were too pissed off to be thinking only of work.” 

Perry couldn't help snorting at the expression on Harry's face, which he hoped made him look less guilty and more humoring-the-crazy. “Alright, Mr. Unreliable Witness, fine. Let's assume what you say is true. What, precisely, was my motive?”

Harry’s mouth opened then snapped shut, and the crinkle in his brow returned. He tried remembering more of the hospital visit, specifically the conversation when he first woke. “Well…” No, that couldn’t be it. That was just nuts. Right? Tread softly, Harry: here there be lions. “Maybe it was revenge,” he muttered. “You can be a vindictive bitch sometimes.” So much for tact. 

“I am not vindictive,” Perry said, smacking Harry's shin. “I just don't appreciate stupidity. Or—” he grabbed Harry's wrist turned it to look at the time, “being late to work. C'mon, Watson. Up, up, up.” He stood and started gathering his work papers.

Harry twisted his arm back to see the time and cursed. “Do I have time for a quick smoke? Really quick.” 

“If you're asking me, you already know,” Perry said, straightening and grabbing a jacket as he headed for the door. “Let's go.”

Harry groaned and jogged over to the hallway closet to snatch up his jacket, because when Perry got going there was a risk of being left behind. “I could smoke in the car, you know. Open a window or something,” Harry pressed as he stuck his arms through the jacket and shrugged it onto his shoulders. Asking Perry if he could smoke in the car never worked, but Harry liked to think he’d cut back a lot and that Perry appreciated it, so maybe one of these days he’d break. 

“When have I ever let you smoke in my car?” Perry held the door for Harry and got out his keys to lock it.

“I think the question is when you will,” Harry said, swiping his keys, wallet and cigarettes from the side table before waiting outside. 

“Keep dreaming.” Perry locked the door and strode to the stairwell leading to the garage.

Harry watched him walk down the hallway of doors, hands stuck in his pockets and fiddling with his cigarette pack. That was the thing with Perry: he didn’t break, no matter how much Harry pressed or insisted. You needed to go about things in a more subtle manner with Perry, try to corner him where he had no choice but to confess, which was why Harry intended, during the time Perry went on a stakeout that he wouldn’t let Harry tag along on, to go through all of the computer and paper files on Monagman and find evidence. He was sure Perry had done something, maybe more like suspected he had, but the feeling was strong enough to follow through.

Although, honestly, Harry wished it weren’t true. He didn’t know why, but it felt something like betrayal, a little like fear, and a whole helping of worry. 

*

Perry hadn’t gone on a stakeout. Harry had been forced to ask to work late, after Perry and Carl and Chandi had left. He thought about asking the last two if they knew anything—they worked for Perry and handled a lot of papers, after all—but he didn’t want them to blab about his investigations to anyone, especially Perry, who looked at him weird when he asked to stay after and fuck he still didn’t find anything in the computer or paper files; why was Perry such a neatass? By the time Harry was rolling his forehead along the computer screen, his eyes closed and muttering to himself, he was convinced that something had gone down, like the lack of evidence was evidence enough. Perry had done something, he knew it. There had to be something somewhere—Perry was too organized not to have something. Where would it be? Maybe somewhere Perry knew he wouldn’t look. Maybe his—his room. Perry’s room. Of course! If it were anywhere, it’d be in Perry’s room!

This was, yes, a suicidal thought: if Perry caught him Harry would dead at least twenty times over, but a strange fever had taken over him; he had to find this out. Besides, Perry was out late on some job or party with Dabney, so that’d give him a few hours, at least, and he’d put everything back where he found it and Perry would never find out.

The idea gave him a rush. He was doing something forbidden again, like stealing, but first he needed a ride home. Perry wouldn’t be done yet, so that left Harmony. And Harmony, of course, was his long-time partner-in-crime, so he could ask her to help him and he’d get done doubly-fast that way and this was a great idea. He’d definitely find something to use against Perry and Harmony would back him up and he’d find out why the fuck Perry had gone out of his way to ruin Monagman and most of all, if his suspicions were right, why for Harry?

Harry fumbled with his cell phone as he punched the button for Harmony’s number. She didn’t take long to answer. 

“Hey, Harry, what's up?” Harmony asked, sounding a little strained, like she was half-shouting. Her voice was obscured by the sound of thumping bass and drunken revelers. “Are you here? I saw Perry just a minute ago—”

“Yeah, no, I’m at the office,” Harry said; the excitement made him talk with his hands. “Listen, could you give me a ride home and possibly do something life-threatening with me? It’s important.” 

The sounds around Harmony grew suddenly quiet, as if Harmony had moved somewhere private. “Is it a case?” Harmony asked, voice hushed, excited. “'Cause if you need me to do something, I'm there, just—wait, you said drive you home. What's home have to do with a case? ...Does Perry know about this?”

Harry glanced around the dark office, the computer lighting his face, and held the phone between his shoulder and ear while he gathered his stuff. “Well, that’s the thing. He doesn’t. See, he’s the suspect. Could you hurry? I don’t want him coming home while we’re still snooping around his room.” 

“His room?” Harmony nearly shouted it into the phone. “It's—” quieter then, “the case is in his room?”

Harry shut the computer down. “Well it’s not in the office; I already looked. Just trust me with this, all right? I think he did something to take down Monagman—you know, the sex traffic guy? And I don’t mean just bring him to the police.” 

“Oooh,” Harmony said, making a sound somewhere between understanding and curiosity. “Alright, I'm on my way. But I swear to God, Harry, if we get caught I am blaming you.” Then, as if in afterthought, she said, “I heard about the pictures. Why do you think it was him?”

For a second Harry didn’t really know. It had been so clear earlier that morning, so fucking obvious, but now he thought about it again all he had was an instinct and a half-remembered conversation in the hospital. “He just—he said something,” Harry said. “It was suspicious. I mean, I think it was. I don’t know, I was a little high at the time, but we’ll find something, trust me.”

Harmony sighed over the phone. “If you say so,” she said. “I'll call when I'm outside.”

Fifteen minutes later, Harry's phone rang: Harmony.

Harry was already waiting outside; when his phone buzzed he looked for her car and waved his hand as she drove close. She stopped and he hopped in, dumping his jacket in the backseat and pulling out a smoke. At least she let him smoke in the car.

“Thanks,” he said around the now-lit cigarette. He blew smoke out the open window. “Okay, we gotta do this fast. Did Perry see you leave?” 

“I don't think so. He looked pretty cozy talking to some guy. Adrian or Adam or...whatever, some guy.” She talked with her fingers, though her hands never left their positions at ten and two on the wheel. “So, what're we looking for? Pictures, records, receipts...” She grinned. “A signed confession in a diary?”

Harry snorted a laugh through his nose. “Honey, I don’t either of us would be brave enough to read his diary. But seriously, look for anything that might be useful. I mean anything. If Perry’s stashed something in his room, something he’d normally keep in the office, then there’s a reason.” Which was why Harry was never allowed inside. What kind of things would Perry have to hide from him, anyway? Dildos? Harry shuddered. Maybe Harmony should look through the dresser drawers. 

They arrived at the apartment soon after. Harmony followed Harry up to the stairs, giggling nervously when they got inside the dark apartment and Perry was clearly absent. While Harry hit the lights, she took off her shoes in the hall and dumped her jacket over the back of the sofa. She surveyed the apartment with hands on her hips then, and then grinned impishly back at Harry. “So is Perry paying you palimony when you move out? He's definitely improved the style to which you've become accustomed.”

“Move out?” Harry asked, stopping short of Perry’s room: the door was closed, but looming. He’d never been inside, no matter how much he wanted to snoop around, but this time he had a fair reason. Then he realized something: “I wasn’t planning on moving out.” 

Harmony giggled again, and patted Harry's shoulder with something that looked like understanding. “Alright.” She turned to the door. “Let's go.” And then, after a moment, “You go first.”

Why was that funny? But whatever; they had a job to do. “Okay,” Harry said, nodded, and steeled himself. He put his hand on the knob, held his breath. Turned it. Opened it and—saw a very normal bedroom. For some reason, he had expected more gay.

He shook his head and tried not to think how much action that king-sized bed than seen—more than his double-sized one probably had, fuck—and walked straight to the sliding-door closet. “I’ll look through here. You check out the drawers first.” 

“What do you think will be in his closet?” Harmony asked, amusement in her voice. She pointed, seemingly unconscious of her actions, at the chest of drawers, and the cabinets in the private bathroom, and then the nightstands. Finally, she nodded and went for the nightstand on the right.

A moment later, Harmony whistled. “This is a forty-pack. Not many left, either.” She dropped the mostly empty Trojan box back in the drawer and rifled further.

Harry poked his head out from the closet he had immersed himself in. His face fell when he saw the condoms. Jesus, how many times had Perry brought someone home while Harry was out or sleeping? “Maybe he’s had them for a while,” he reasoned, because no one got that lucky that often. Did they? Fuck.

He disappeared back into the closet and ignored any snide remarks Harmony made about that, choosing instead to push aside the dry-cleaned suits and root around in the back. Shoes, boxes of shoes—so gay. Harry had like three pairs and that was all he needed. Why did Perry have a box of handcuffs? Nevermind.

Finally, to the right, in the far back, sat a clear, plastic box with a lid, and in it a stack of folders. Bingo. That was worth looking through. “Hey, hey,” he called, “I think I found something." 

Harmony closed the second nightstand drawer—only a mini tape recorder, paper, pens, chargers, and random books that would probably freak Harry out in it anyway—and joined Harry in the closet over the plastic box of files. “So,” she said, sitting down and opening the tub without preamble, “let's see what Perry's hiding while you tell me his motive.”

“Motive, shit, right,” he said and knelt next to her. She wore a gray dress that really was just a glorified shirt—it barely covered her ass—and a big black belt, low on her hips, that had no purpose but to give the illusion of decency. Being close to her, seeing her legs in those silver stockings, made Harry remember how her lips left—but fuck, no, not the time, never the time. Fucking condoms, fucking Perry. Fuck fucking. “Sorry, what?” 

“Harry, pay attention! What's his motive? What are we looking for?” She pulled out the first file and started sifting through it. Bills, bills, bills. She dropped it and pulled out the next file.

Right, right, Harmony plus sex never equaled anything good. “Yeah, uh,” he said, blinking, remembering. “During the hospital visit, after Monagman’s men beat me up.” You know, the one I didn’t tell you about. Shit. “He was really pissed off. I mean, brooding. Sulking, even.” 

Harmony paused in sifting through a file of dinner receipts. “You think it's because Monagman put you in the hospital.” She sounded skeptical. “That's really chivalrous, Harry, but...” Then she stopped. Frowned. Picked up the file folder she'd put down and sifted through it again. “You didn't happen to bill a Ms. Toulman for a...uh...sixty-four stitches and three bruised ribs, did you? Or a, uh...” Her hands began to shake. “This one.” She held up the bill. “This one's from when that asshole broke your fingers. Didn't he end up, uh...blacklisted, he raped some actress and got blacklisted—kinky shit, she wasn't the first one, but she wasn't gonna press charges until...until someone talked to her. Perry must've talked to her. Shit. This all makes sense!” She made a sound that was half-laughter, half-shock. “Wow, that guy at the party was lucky.”

Harry squinted his eyes and yanked the folder from her hands: yes, the hospital bill to Ms. Toulman, the one about the fingers, that one where he got shot in the leg—he’d never get used to being shot—even the one where some guy at a party beat him up pretty good and at the next party Harry saw him the guy had obtained a black eye and a missing tooth.

“FUCK!" Harry shouted, although he didn’t really know why; it really did make sense, and here was the proof, here was Perry’s Revenge Against People Who Beat Harry Up Box. Who the hell did Perry think he was? Who the— “Wait, what guy?” he asked. There were a lot of guys. 

“The one who was—you know, with the—” Harmony puffed up her chest and made herself look hulking, which was probably why she was an actress—she could do that stuff— “and the leather jacket, and was all—you remember, he grabbed my ass! That guy!”

“Oh, that asshole, yeah, I talked him down,” Harry said and felt the brief moment of triumph again.

Harmony gave Harry an “are you serious?” look. “No, Perry was behind you brandishing an empty beer bottle.”

Harry’s eye twitched, blinked once, twice. “No he wasn’t.” 

“Uh, yes he was. I should know—he even brushed off Dabney when I told him you—uh. Never mind, let's just drop it. You had sixty-four stitches and you didn't tell me?”

“I was fine, no need,” Harry said and brushed that off, went right back on this, because now he was hung up on it: “You went to Perry while I was defending you? Why did you go to Perry?”

“Why would you not tell me this was why you went to the hospital?” she asked, waving the bill in his face. “Jesus, Harry, do you know how long bruised ribs take to heal? Oh, wait, I guess you do, you asshole!” She smacked him on the arm. “I can't believe you!”

“Look, they’re fine, see,” and he breathed in, giving her the “Just drop it, this is dumb” eyebrow raise. “Can we stay on the matter at fucking hand, please? Like, why you thought it a great idea to go get Perry when I was handling the guy for you? Christ, don’t you trust me?”

“Look, I trust you, it's just—you just got out of the hospital, and I was worried, and—” She froze.

Harry gave her a sidelong glare. “Yeah. You didn’t even fucking know I just got out of the hospital. You found that out afterward. You’re lying, Harmony! What the fuck?” Then he stood up, the folder still in his hand, and he waved it around while he paced. “I mean, this thing with you, and then Perry’s doing all this shit—for me? For me? Jesus Christ, my two best friends are apparently, actually my baby-sitters!” 

“Shut up, shut up!” Harmony hissed, slapping papers back into the folder in her hands and throwing them back in the box. “I heard something!” She scrambled to her feet, box in hand. “Where did you find this?”

“No,” Harry said, and grabbed one end of the box, yanking it away from her. “This fucking stays with me. Because it’s going in the trash. Because it’s crazy. And you’re crazy, and Perry’s crazy.” 

Harmony yanked at the box. “Shut up! If Perry finds us in here he'll murder us!”

Harry kept his grip. “Oh, yeah, right, what’ll he do then? Get revenge on himself for beating me up?” 

“N—wait.” Harmony paused. Then she yanked hard and stumbled backward, box in hand. “He'll kill me, you idiot—and he might kick you out!” She slammed the box under some suits and dashed out of the closet—

—and straight into Perry's chest.

Harmony jumped back. “Perry! We were just, uh—”

Harry stood glowering between the dry-cleaned suits. “We made out in your closet,” he said stiffly. “Used a pair of your handcuffs. It was very kinky.” 

“Uh, yeah!” Harmony's smile looked petrified on her face as she slowly backed into Harry. “We were just—you know how it is, Harry's got those 'magic hands' and—”

“Actually, I don't,” Perry said, voice like chips of ice. “Now which of you wants to explain why the fuck you are in my closet. Going. Through. My. Fucking. Things.”

“Oh, good, we’re giving explanations now,” Harry said, charging right the fuck in, because he had his pissy look going on, the one where his lips pursed and his face tightened, but still in the eyes hurt lingered. “Maybe you can explain why there’s a box full of all my hospital bills, and don’t tell me it’s just being organized, because bullshit, you’d just keep it at the office if you were doing that." 

“You know what? I'm gonna go,” Harmony said quietly, “I can see you two need to have a—”

“Out,” Perry growled, stepping aside just long enough for her to dash past.

Harmony didn't run out of the apartment, but she came close, and nearly left her jacket behind in the process.

Perry thundering, “You want an explanation?” rang out as the front door closed behind her. “What in the seven hells makes you think you deserve one? Get out of my closet! Jesus—do you respect anyone's privacy that isn't yours?” Perry was so angry he was shaking, and his face and neck were actually turning red. He grabbed Harry by the shirt and started hauling him out of his bedroom.

Harmony had shot out of there as soon as Perry opened his mouth, the traitor, and left Harry to stand against this foe alone. Harry grabbed Perry’s wrists with both hands, tried to wrench him away, and dug his heels into the carpet; even if it stretched out his nice shirt, or tore the buttons off, he didn’t intend to move. Fuck if Perry threw him out by hand; Harry’d never been so pissed at him before. He wanted answers, he wanted his fucking explanation why Perry thought he had to do all that shit for Harry when Harry never asked him to.

“Fucking let go!” he said, trying to pry Perry’s fingers off, stumbled one step forward, dug his heels in again. “Who do you think you are? I know what you did to Monagman, what you did to all the other poor bastards. It was you! I can’t believe you’ve been doing this shit!” 

In response, Perry let go with one hand and grabbed the back of Harry's neck, effectively forcing him out of the room. “I refuse to talk about this. What the fuck were you thinking going through my room?”

Harry struggled the entire way, and when they had left the room he flailed, knocking Perry’s hands away, and whirled around seething, chest heaving, finger pointing. “Yeah, you refuse to talk about it because you know it’s fucking true. How else was I supposed to get you to admit it? You never would if I didn’t find something to prove it, because apparently you never fucking tell me anything, even when you go on stupid revenge missions!” 

Perry slammed his door shut and whirled to face Harry. “I tell you plenty! Jesus, why the fuck should I tell you things when what little I do tell you ends with you—going through my room? That's why you stayed late at the office, too, and why Harmony left early, isn't it? Ugh!” He shoved Harry aside and strode to the kitchen. He threw open a cabinet and made himself not slam the glass he got out onto the counter top. Then he sighed and put the glass back into the cabinet. His hands clenched and unclenched on the counter top. He couldn't fucking believe this.

Harry winced when Perry shoved him aside, but stormed after him anyway: he wasn’t going to run from this, not like he had so many things before: this he wanted to confront, wanted to figure out, because fuck it all but Perry was his best friend. He wanted to understand, if the prick would just—!

“Clearly,” Harry said, lifting both arms, “what you tell me isn’t enough! And what little you do tell me is a lie, anyway—I thought you agreed to drop Monagman and leave it to the police!” 

“I didn't agree to drop it—you fell asleep,” Perry bit out. His face was marginally less red when he turned and leaned against the counter, arms crossed. “And if you'll notice,” he continued, “I did leave him to the police.”

“No,” Harry pressed, and pointed at him again. “What you did was leak the photos and ruin him. And that other guy, the one who broke my fingers, you ruined him, too. How many people have you fucked over, Perry?”

“Oh, you were glad I did it—or did you forget your reaction this morning?”

“Fuck!” Harry said and scrubbed his hands through his hair, messing it up more than it already was. “You admit it! Okay, great, those guys deserved it, they did, I agree, but why did you have to do it yourself?” Suddenly his hands fell to his sides and he let out a great breath and just stared, like all the anger had drained out and left him pale and confused. “I mean,” he said, quieter now, “it was because of me, wasn’t it? It wasn’t that they were horrible people, which they were; you did it because of me.” 

Seeing Harry deflate, hearing the reason he'd done it from Harry instead of himself, made Perry inexplicably calmer. In an even voice, Perry said, “Do you remember when I told you I wasn't a nice man, Harry? I wasn't lying.” He paused. Swallowed. “Do you know what it's like to see you get the shit beat out of you? Or electrocuted in the fucking balls?” His voice hardened. “Nobody fucks with you. Period.”

Harry seemed to fold in on himself, hugging himself, as Perry spoke. He glanced around, sniffled. “What, are you like—my protector? Or something?” he said, still quiet. “My white knight?”

What was he supposed to say to that? 'I'm Perry van Shrike, your gay guardian angel?' Despite seeing a lot of the same things Perry'd seen in the past year, Harry still thought in black and white, good and bad. He believed in Harmony and Perry despite both of them screwing him over, and he believed in third and fourth and seventeenth chances. Harry was a good person. And Perry...Perry wanted to keep him that way. So he finally scratched his face and said, “Or something.” He pursed his lips, a considering look on his face. “Or maybe Vindictive Best Friend? Overprotective Roommate? ...Fuck it, I'm the fag with the gun. You look like you need a drink.” Perry waved Harry toward the living room and opened the cabinet once again. “Go sit down.”

Harry laughed a little, wiped at his eyes, and tucked his arms in again, then trudged his way to the couch. He stood for a while longer, his sleeves hiding his hands, watching Perry reach into the cabinet, until he let out a sigh and just sort of collapsed onto the couch. “Yeah, sure,” he said and leaned his head back, his eyes closed. “A drink sounds great.”

Perry poured them each a glass of scotch on the rocks and carried the glasses into the living room. He put one on a coaster on the table in front of Harry, and then sat down on the couch, being sure to leave Harry a few feet of personal space. “You solved a case,” he said after a moment of uncomfortable silence. “Congratulations.”

Harry chuckled and then rubbed his face with both hands. Slouching forward, he grabbed his glass and took a generous gulp, coughing afterward. “You know what, Perry?” he said after he calmed. “I really don’t know what I think right now.” 

Perry nodded, turning his scotch in his hand and studying it without seeing. “I can leave you alone for a while. If you want.”

Harry took another drink. The ice clinked. His scotch was almost gone. He still wouldn’t look over. He coughed again and said, “No. I want you to stay. I’m going to sit here, and you’re going to sit here, and I’m going to ask questions, and you’re going to promise to answer them. All right?” 

This was such a bad idea. An idea-only-Harry-would-agree-to-or-think-up bad idea. Fuck. “Fine.” Perry took a long pull of his scotch, pulled over a coaster, and set his empty glass down. “Hit me.”

“Promise,” Harry said. “You have to promise first.” 

Perry glared at Harry. “If I promise, then you can't ask anything I wouldn't normally answer.”

Harry finally snapped his head to him. “Well that just leaves out about, oh, I don’t know, everything.”

“Don't get cute,” Perry snapped. “Just ask your questions.”

“Geez,” Harry said and wondered if they’d really get anywhere with this, if Perry wouldn’t promise—he could twist his way out of any question if he tried, and Harry would be left with nothing again, but at least Perry was still here, which was more than Harry had honestly expected.

It was then when Harry realized he didn’t even know what to ask. Maybe something like, Why did you do it? or, Why me? What makes you think I’d want that? Why do you, and Harmony, think I need protecting? Why can’t I help you guys without needing help myself?

Harry really didn’t know what to ask. So, laying his glass down, he turned fully to Perry and settled on this: “Do I really mean that much to you?” 

Leave it to Harry to want the most painfully obvious, embarrassing question answered point blank. Perry sighed and leaned back against the couch. And looked Harry straight in the eye when he said, “I let you live in my apartment and, apparently, you've gone through my room and aren't dead. Yes, you fucking do.”

For a second Harry felt warm all over, and he smiled. Hearing that from Perry happened about once every few years, and between the name-calling and sarcasm, sometimes Harry found it hard to remember, although he never really forgot. He held onto it, and it helped him to move on, to turn serious again and say, “Then I want you to stop doing all that stuff. The revenge stuff.” 

Perry's jaw clenched. “That's not—” He paused. Winced. When Perry heard people complain about fairness, he laughed because nothing was fair. He reached for his scotch, saw it was empty, and sat back again, fuming. “Look. I'll stop fucking with these people—who, you agree, deserve to be severely fucked over—when you can do the fucking over yourself. Which you won't. Because I would kill you. Deal?”

And there it was: the fucking roadblock of Perry’s frustration and righteousness. Harry let out a puff of air. “No, there’s no deal,” he said. “What makes it okay for you to do all that when I can’t do shit for you? When I can’t even,” he tried to explain with his hands, “I can’t even help Harmony out when a guy gropes her, because you get all pissy at me for it. What’s the difference between me getting beat up at some party and you going against a guy like Monagman who could order some guy to shoot you while you’re walking down the fucking street?” 

“The difference is I'm not getting shot, and you're still getting beat up.” Perry huffed. “What's—you like taking care of people. I get that. But you act like you're not worth taking care of, and that's fucking scary. Don't you think Harmony would rather let some guy feel her tits than see you with a black eye?”

“Well, yeah, but,” Harry started, stopped. Glanced away then back. Muttered, “You guys are my friends. You’re worth it.” 

Perry gave him a look. “And you're not?”

Harry didn’t even bother to open his mouth this time; he just let it part a little while he stared. Because, honestly, he hadn’t really thought about it before. Friendship was everything to him; he’d do anything he could for them, no matter the cost. So why wouldn’t he let them do the same for him? Why did it bother him so much?

A tiny flinch, and he looked away. 

And now Harry was zoned on his own thoughts. Perry didn't know what to do. Let him think? Touch his shoulder? Give him a hug? No, Harry hugged Harmony, not him. Jesus. Perry scrubbed a hand down the side of his face. “Look,” he said, curling his fingers and then, hesitantly, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder. “Friends do stuff for each other they wouldn't want other people doing for them. It's...how this shit works. So just...when you go off playing Whitey the white knight—” Perry skipped the obligatory remark about how dumb and strangely racist that name was, “—me and Harmony are gonna be behind you. With guns. And a baseball bat.” He paused and raised an eyebrow. “And feminine wiles.”

Harry slowly looked back to him, at his hand, at him. Then, a shaky smile: his own hand rose up, patted the one on his shoulder, and then gripped it there. “Feminine wiles, huh?” he said, voice a little tremulous. “Can’t decide whether those are Harmony’s or yours.” 

Perry closed his fingers around Harry's, and gave his best look of flamboyant regret. “You clearly haven't seen me in a pair of stilettos,” he said. Then he grinned. Maybe he hadn't screwed up the cheering-up thing too badly. This time.

Perry’s fingers were strong and wide. Harry didn’t really know why he hadn’t noticed them before. He didn’t know why he noticed them now, but there they were. They were comforting. Call it as gay as he liked, but they were comforting.

Harry laughed. His mind still got caught on what they had been talking about, about him being worth it, about them and friendship; but today had been exhausting. He could work on it later.

Instead, for now, he would concentrate on this: Perry, one of his best friends, and joking. “I think I saw a pair in your closet,” Harry ventured, and his dark eyes dared. “Wondered about that. They can’t be comfortable.” 

Perry raised an eyebrow. “It's just a matter of getting used to something new. And then looking fabulous.” His grin widened. “Remember the time I said Harmony had done some work for me?”

Wonder crossed Harry’s face. “Yeah, yeah, I remember—at Dabney’s party. I always wondered about that. What did she—?”

“Took me shopping with the accountant I had before Chandi, taught me to walk in those fucking shoes without killing myself, then dressed me up like a hooker—in a thong, mind you—and took pictures of our target soliciting me for prostitution.” He nodded to himself. “I looked damn good in those shoes.”

Harry’s mouth quivered at the corners. He tried really hard not to laugh, he really did. But that was just too much. “Okay,” he said between giggles, “that? Gayest thing ever.” 

Perry raised a challenging eyebrow and yanked Harry into him by their joined hands, then cupped Harry's face and looked with mock longing into his eyes. “You've barely scratched the surface of gay,” he said with a lisp.

A year ago this might’ve freaked Harry out; now, he was just amused, even if his hands had landed on Perry’s broad shoulders and Perry’s hands surrounded his face. The lisp was always funny. “I think you’ve scratched deep enough for both of us,” he said, grinning. 

Perry wiped the smile from his face and stroked Harry's cheek with his thumb. Leaning close enough to kiss, he said, “Oh, but have I scratched deep enough for you?” There was no lisp this time.

Harry froze. He might’ve, instinctively, tried to pull away a little. He hated that he did. He remembered suddenly the forty-pack of condoms Harmony had found. He wondered why. Perry was just joking, after all. Harry tried to play along, but sometimes—“Deep enough,” he said. “Not a big fan of scratches, even less of cuts.” 

Perry gave Harry's cheek a final stroke and let go with a smirk. "You flinched."

Harry let go of a breath he hadn’t known he held. “Well, pardon me if I can’t stand up to the awesome might of your gay.” 

Perry couldn't help laughing at Harry's reaction to the impromptu game of gay chicken. Harry always thought he could win—even though he was ridiculously straight. “Am I magic now, too?” he asked when he'd mostly composed himself. “Or just gay?”

Harry realized he still had his hands on Perry’s shoulders and pulled them away with a little jerk. He leaned back in the couch and crossed his legs. “Hey, hey, being magic is my thing, remember? Don’t take my thing, it’s my thing.” 

“Right—don't quit my gay job.” Perry reached for his glass and Harry's. “You want more, or you done?”

Harry relaxed into the couch. He felt safe. “I’m all right,” he said. “Good scotch, though; I’ll have to drink more later.” 

“Don't kill my scotch,” Perry said, and strode into the kitchen. “You still owe me for the brandy.”

“Oh, you haven’t heard? Sharing a home also means sharing your alcohol.” 

“What are you, my wife? Because you're doing a shitty job.” Perry rinsed the glasses and slid them into the dishwasher. “Unless you're going by heterosexual standards, since I understand you people fuck less after the marriage than before.”

Harry twisted around on the couch and leaned his elbows on its back to watch Perry in the kitchen. “Why am I the wife? You’re the one who’s always cleaning things up and bitching at me.” 

“Yes, but you're the one who needs taking care of.” Perry walked out of the kitchen and leaned over the couch next to Harry. “And since this is still a heteronormative, male-dominated society, me taking care of you means that you're the wife.” He paused. “Bitch.”

Harry did the little headshake he did whenever he tried to keep up with something. Then he glowered up at Perry. 

Perry smirked and patted Harry's cheek. “Get some sleep, chief. You look like you need it.”

Harry allowed a quick smile and then hopped off the couch. “What, do I look bad?” 

Perry straightened up and started turning off the lights. “Are you asking my professional opinion as a gay man?” he asked, turning out the light in the entryway.

Huh. Harry hadn’t expected that. He followed Perry wherever he went, the lights clicking off one by one. “Sure, why not? What’s your verdict, am I hideous?” 

Perry turned off the kitchen light. “If you were hideous,” he said, switching off one living room lamp, then the other, “Dabney couldn't have passed you off as his golden boy.” He reached for the overhead light and smirked. “Idiot.” Then he flooded the room with darkness.

That was Perry’s way of saying he found you attractive enough, or at least a little, and Harry didn’t know why it made him so happy. Someone calling you good-looking was always nice no matter who they were, but this made his face split into a grin, which flashed bright right before the last light left.

Harry felt the grin even afterward, when he was lying in bed. He wondered if Perry had caught it.