"Mab has no compelling reason to take your 'two for one' offer, godson," Lea said, shaking her head sadly. "And I have warned you before on the subject of Mab and the table. Let the Carpenter child become the Knight." Harry crumpled. If he could only save one of them, he'd save Molly. Not that becoming the Winter Knight was a great option, but that's what they'd come down to, and through their own fault. Perhaps Lea read his thoughts on his face, because she extended an olive branch. "I have obligations toward your apprentice, child, through you. I will not let her come to harm."
Really, that wasn't even Harry's biggest worry, which was that Molly might fit in all too well amid the blue and orange morality of the Fae. But they'd run out of choices, and this would keep her alive. After that -- well. Everyone had to grow up sooner or later; maybe Molly would too. He relinquished his hold on his apprentice with a swallow. "Go with Lea -- with the Leanansidhe. Do as she tells you," he said, and thought better of the wording, not that Molly was particularly inclined to do as she was told. "About becoming the Winter Knight, anyway."
"Harry," Molly managed, eyes swimming in tears. "I'm sorr --"
Harry wasn't much better. "No. It's okay. I know why you did it. And I should have taught you better. And, well. I always knew this day would come." May Donald Morgan rot in Hell.
"You are both very stupid," Lea said, not unkindly. "I am not about to let my godson die."
"This is not a 'small' favor," John Marcone said evenly. He suspected at the time, and known for sometime since, that it would come back to bite him in the ass. Gard had assured him of that, when he'd asked her. Of course, if he'd had Gard back them, he'd have known better than to make such a vaguely worded deal. Still. He hadn't gotten where he had by being unprepared to take risks, and the learning curve of the supernatural world was not nearly so steep to a 'vanilla-mortal' mobster as it was to say, a sixteen year old wizard newly come into their power. John had learned a lot over the years. He steepled his fingers and regarded the Leanansidhe coolly. "I am sure you are aware that I honor my obligations. I have every intention of honoring my debt to you. However. I must take issue with the… shall we say, coin? Taking a spouse is generally considered to one of the singular decisions of a mortal life. Beyond which, even had I no objections on that score, Harry Dresden is not an acceptable choice in my line of business. He would in fact be a liability to me. And I would be danger to him."
"Nonsense!" The Leanansidhe said brightly. "This arrangement would, of course, apply only to the Freeholding Lord, and not at all to the mortal businessman. You'd both be happier, in any case, to keep Harry away for those affairs. As such, there's nothing to stop you taking a girl to the chapel of your White God and making her your wife. I'm simply asking you to extend your hand in protection over my godson in exchange for his fealty. If it's really a sticking point, you only have to tup him over your bed once."
Hendricks, famed in certain -- dangerous -- circles for his unflappability, covered something with a cough.
"If I refuse?" John asked.
The Leanansidhe pursed her lips. "I would look elsewhere for protection for my godson. And you would lose the benefits of his presence in your city, as he would doubtlessly be located elsewhere. And your debt to me would remain outstanding."
"I see," John said, though truthfully he only had the very edges of the puzzle. "May I ask what it is that you get out of this arrangement?"
"My godson lives, Baron," she shrugged.
John nodded. "So I am in fact your last stop," he concluded.
The Leanansidhe laughed, rich and full. "My very first."
"Why?" John asked again, truly puzzled.
"I also desire his happiness," the Leanansidhe said.
Fae could not lie, John knew, but he likewise knew that they could twist a conversation beyond all meaning. That she desired Dresden's happiness did not mean it was the answer to the question John had asked, and it would only amuse her if he asked for further clarification. Very well. She had other options. Harry Dresden did not face immediate death if John did not act. That meant John, also, had other options.
"I am prepared to consider the matter," John said. Truthfully, getting Dresden on a leash and his nebulous debt to the Leanansidhe off the ledger in one fell swoop was an interesting proposition. Still. It would have to be handled with care. "I have certain caveats, however. As does, no doubt, Mr. Dresden. This is common among mortals. A pre-nuptial agreement. Would it invalidate the arrangement?"
"Certain terms might," the Leanansidhe shrugged. "But the existence of terms themselves would not. But we do not have time for elaborate negotiations. The White Council searches for Harry Dresden even now, and I must place my godson within a circle of protection they dare not breach before they reach him. I can give you until midnight, by your clock. No longer. And then, I must look elsewhere."
John looked at his watch. That gave him just over six hours. "I will have Ms. Gard draw up a contract. I will do my best to estimate Mr. Dresden's likely, as you said, sticking points. Give us… let's say, ninety minutes. If you can have his rejection back with an hour, with his demands for amendments, we may have an agreement worked out by nine. That would give me some time to organize the ceremony itself…" John trailed off. No doubt it would have to be witnessed. But beyond that, would Harry even want guests?
"Then I will leave you to your arrangements, Baron Marcone," the Leanansidhe said, and left the room -- and the plane -- with a Cheshire grin.
"I'll get to work," Gard said.
"Thank you," John managed as she, too, left. "Something you wanted to add, Mr. Hendricks?"
Hendricks had long since recovered himself, of course, and simply shrugged. "No. Just. 'Tup' sounds gentle, onomatopoetically. But really, it means 'ram'." John Marcone closed his eyes, just for second, against the insanity that had become his life. "Which you'd know, boss," Hendricks continued, a bare soupçon of reproach in his voice, "if you'd used that calendar I got you."
Harry's sole guest was Thomas Raith. It seemed beyond sad, to John's well-hidden heart, that of all Dresden's friends -- men and women who would follow him into hell -- it was Harry's ex-lover from a court of sex demons who stood beside him as they exchanged marriage vows. But really, whom else could Harry have asked? Karrin Murphy, to play best man at a mob wedding? Michael Carpenter, after what he had lost saving John? One of the werewolves, perhaps. John doubted Harry's friends had abandoned him; he doubted that they had been informed, let alone invited, but he did not feel offended. Harry looked like a man facing a firing squad; Raith, for his part, looked like he'd bitten a lemon.
Hendricks, as part payment for his earlier comments, got to stand up for John.
The Leanansidhe did not give Harry away, but rather pointedly only into John's safe keeping. That did not surprise him. Her pre-ceremony shovel talk had been a marvel of elegant menace, so subtle that it had taken John a moment to realize that he was being threatened -- to realize that when the Leanansidhe assured him of her concern for his well being that she was really saying that, if anything happened to Harry, she would ensure that John wept for death long before he found it. After all, as long as the Freeholding Lord lived, Harry would be under his protection, and oh, my, would she ensure that he lived. John had frankly been impressed.
The Archive officiated. John could not deny, in his heart of hearts, how it lightened his heart to see Ivy smile with delight, as she did, up past her bedtime, nor that it pleased him to see that his new husband had as much affection for the brave child as he.
It was a lovely ceremony. Gard had somehow seen to that, and then gone all-out, for reasons of her own, on the midnight reception. Gard's "three m's": mead, meat, and music featured prominently.
It all passed John by in a blur. He watched as Hendricks and Gard, assured by Harry's presence and vows of John's safety, let their hair down enough to share a couple of glasses of Monoc Securities' impromptu present, and found a dark corner to giggle in, about Icelandic jokes or whatever the hell it was the two of them talked about. John caught something about lava demons, and wasn't sure he should ask, or even that he could possibly understand the answer. Even Kincaid finally loosened up enough, under Ivy's charming offensive, to toast the couple, a single sip of champagne, smirking as he did so.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. The signatures on the pre-nup, on Ivy's elaborately decorated marriage certificate, the vows they'd made… none of it would matter without the consummation, which could not be put off. The Leanansidhe had impressed on John the need to have it done before dawn. Hendricks had muttered some Yeats in response, to her evident amusement. Now, Hendricks nodded his head in the direction of the stairs; Harry had disappeared after escorting Ivy out.
Well. It wasn't like John had never fantasized about having sex with Harry. It would scratch an itch, if nothing else.
When John got to his bedroom, Harry was a picture of delectable dishevelment. John had been astonished to see that Harry had troubled himself to look presentable. He'd expected an ill-advised t-shirt and wrinkled jeans; he'd gotten a gray silk suit, polished shoes and neatly cut hair. Harry was still fully dressed, but that didn't bother John. It did bother him, obscurely, that Harry had already slipped off his wedding ring, a wide band of platinum. It wasn't that John had gone to any great effort to select it -- in fact, Gard had done that -- John couldn't quite put his finger on why; it shouldn't have surprised him, after all. It was a marriage of convenience -- or, indeed, inconvenience -- and Harry hadn't even bothered to get a ring for John, merely handing over one of his own energy-storing rings as a wedding band.
"You got it engraved?" Harry asked, bemused, by the sound of it.
"In the spirit of marital honesty, no, Mr. Dresden, I did not." John said.
Harry looked up at him then. "I think you can call me Harry, now," he said slowly. "John. I mean, we just… And also, we're about to… " he waved a hand vaguely toward the bed.
"Well said." John repressed a smile. "I believe Mr. Hendricks told Ms. Gard, who made the arrangements for the ceremony, that it was the mortal custom to engrave wedding bands. She did so."
Harry looked at the ring more dubiously now. "It says something rude, doesn't it?"
"No," John said, and sat on the bed to take off his shoes.
"Wait, no! It says 'Property of John Marcone', right?" Harry asked.
"No more than any wedding ring stakes such a claim," John said smoothly. "I'm told it says, 'Both now and for aye to endure', which Ms. Gard selected from one of the sagas." Something -- Harry's subdued mood, John's wish to keep things between them civil for as long as possible, the habits of small talk, perhaps -- made him continue. "I believe Mr. Hendricks initially suggested something from 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven'."
"Not familiar with it," Harry admitted.
"Ah. Let me see if I remember it. 'Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths, enwrought with golden and silver light, the blue and the dim and the dark cloths, of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.'"
Harry stared, open-mouthed. "You let Cujo troll you?"
John sighed. "I would remind you that it is Mr. Hendricks who can recite Yeats unprompted, Harry. And further, I do not think you would care for it if I referred to your good friend the sergeant as Miss Piggy."
"… Point," Harry said begrudgingly.
"Thank you," John said, rising once more to undo his cufflinks. He raised an eyebrow at his husband. "I realize that I am not your ideal partner Harry, but this must be done, and you'll need to take off more than just the ring to do it."
"Oh," Harry said. "Yeah." Harry surprised him by sticking the ring back on his finger before he toed off his shoes -- actual shoes, on Harry Dresden. It boggled the mind. And perhaps, just a little, the libido. It was a pity Harry wasn't into him; his new husband cleaned up well. It might have been nice to show him off on occasion… No. That would not have been possible, truthfully, even if Harry had been willing, which he wasn't. Well, perhaps at an Accords meeting? John suppressed the thought, along with a sigh. Harry further surprised him by not merely dropping the clothes as he shed them, but folding them neatly over the back of a chair.
Harry still wore his socks and boxers -- more gray silk -- when he lay down on the bed. On reflection, it was perhaps not unexpected that Harry would be body shy; as a compromise, John, too, left on his boxers, though he removed his socks before he took his place by his husband's side.
"Wednesday," Harry blurted.
John arched an eyebrow. "It's Thursday, now, you realize."
"Uh, yeah. I know what happens at midnight. I mean, it's a good day for a wedding. People don't usually do mid-week weddings because it's not convenient, but Wednesday's supposed to be the luckiest day to get married."
Ah. Blather to cover nerves. Well, Harry had probably never had to sleep with someone he despised before. John resisted the urge to pat his leg; it would surely backfire. "What about July? I know May is supposed to be unlucky." Not that they could do anything to change it now.
"Oh, no. July's okay. 'Those who in July do wed, must labor always for their bread.' But we're not strangers to that, right?" And that was the most accommodating thing Harry had ever said about John's work; he'd managed to be insulting even when he was asking for military-style extractions. John tried not to let the shock show on his face. "Uh. I guess April, September, November and December are the best, though. Joy and true love and stuff."
And on that note, let's have some not quite casual not quite hate-sex? John really had no idea how to hurry Harry along, though he knew they must; he could feel an itch between his shoulder blades. Dawn was not so very far away, and they didn't, truthfully, have a guarantee that they'd even get until dawn.
"So," Harry said slowly, quietly. "I'm sorry about this. Is this going to be weird for you? I don't mean magical weird, I mean normal weird. The gay sex thing?"
Ah. So Harry assumed John was straight. That made sense, of course; that he was bisexual wasn't something John could advertise. Was that why Harry had been so slow to undress? A courtesy to the uninitiated, perhaps? He smiled, and filed the details mentally. "This is not, shall we say, my first rodeo, Harry."
"Oh," Harry said, in a tone of surprise, but some of the tension he'd been holding drained out of him. Interesting. Had he thought John would hate it? Resent it? Just not cared to be responsible for tutoring a virgin? "Good. That's good."
"Perhaps we should get started?" John suggested.
"Yeah," Harry agreed with a swallow, and flipped himself so he was laying face down.
John smothered a laugh. Of course, now that Harry knew John knew what he was doing, he was leaving it all in John's hands. Pretending John was someone else to get though the act? That was possible. On the other hand, John reasoned, Harry might normally be a particularly passive lover. Or perhaps it was a side effect of his long affair with the vampire? John quelled his anger at that thought, and grabbed a pillow. "Really, Harry. So lazy," he murmured. "Must I do everything? Here, lift your hips." As Harry -- for once -- did as he was told, John slipped the pillow under his husband. Harry settled down on top of it, parting his legs slightly, a hint of invitation.
John grinned, and slipped his fingers under the waistband of Harry's boxers. "I have been informed that the act should be performed au natural. I take it you have no objection?"
"Huh? Oh. Wizard. Yeah. You couldn't get anything from me, and vice versa, anyway. We're fine," Harry said, never lifting his head.
Something about it hit him straight in the cock, which began to harden at the mere possibility; it had never featured in his thoughts before, but he'd never -- ever -- risked intercourse sans condom. He slid Harry's boxers down in one easy move; Harry shifted cooperatively. John got off the bed to retrieve the lube, and discarded his own boxers at the same time.
When he got back on the bed, Harry was breathing a little heavier, and John stroked a hand down his husband's flank. Harry moaned, far more response than John had dreamed to get so early in the proceedings; John flipped open the lube, and spread some on his fingers. Gently, he ghosted the tip of one finger off Harry's hole; Harry shifted his legs obligingly wider; John's finger slipped in with relative ease. John was expecting resistance; Harry'd had no known partners since his apparently amicable split with Raith. With that in mind, John kept his explorations gentle, slipping out frequently to add more lube. Harry relaxed into his ministrations, almost meditatively; that changed abruptly, when John crooked his finger, finally, and touched Harry's prostate.
"Hell's bells," Harry exclaimed, voice suddenly loud in their cultivated silence.
Instantly, John stilled. "Bad?" he asked stiffly.
"No," Harry said in a tone of wonder. "Good. Really good."
John blinked. That seemed -- "Harry, have you ever done this before?" he asked, too put out to bother to keep the suspicion out of his voice.
"Not as such, no," Harry said. "Not from this end."
John could feel his eyebrows climbing in the ensuing silence. It couldn't be possible that Harry had topped every time and never found Raith's prostate, even by accident, could it? No. Surely Raith would not put up with bad sex for two years. He was a White Court vampire for God's sake! They were not bashful in bed. Raith would have said. Which meant… "By which you mean you've never had sex with a man," John said flatly.
"Well, no," Harry acknowledged after a moment. "But it's not like I'm a virgin."
With his free hand, John covered his face. It only served to remind him where his other hand was. Slowly, he started to withdraw.
Harry clamped his legs closed. "Nooo," he said. "Make with the magic fingers, please."
"Harry," John said, trying to gather his thoughts. "We shouldn't be doing this."
"Er. We kinda have to," Harry pointed out reasonably. "And so far it's been nice?"
"What possessed you to agree to this?" John asked.
"Uh. I need the protection of someone the White Council wants to piss off less than they want to kill me," Harry said honestly. "Can we not talk about it? The death sentence thing isn't sexy."
No, it wasn't. In fact, it put the whole thing in a far more coercive light. Oddly, Harry didn't seem put out by that, though considering it was his life on the line, perhaps that was to be expected.
"Why me?" John asked.
Harry shrugged. "Lea's idea of protection is to turn me into one of her hounds. And any of her other prospective spouses were likely to be… God, I don't even know."
"Better the devil you know," John concluded. Harry said nothing, a confirmation of sorts. "What do you mean, one of her hounds? Like Kincaid?" That seemed less objectionable, surely, than an arranged marriage to someone you disliked.
"No," Harry said after a long pause. "Like an actual dog."
John blinked, again. Finally, he found some words. "I was under the impression she was quite fond of you."
"Oh, I'm beginning to believe she is." Harry said. "Look, can we move this along? This is starting to get weird."
And no, now, apparently, was the moment of truth. Could John do this? Harry's consent was effectively moot; he had a sword to his throat. At best, it was a form of prostitution, Harry buying his life with the fragile coin of his body. What was the alternative? Renege his promises and turn Harry over to his enemies? No. John had to follow through.
He ran through the prep mechanically.
By the time he was finished, John was hard again. Harry had shifted and moaned, genuinely appreciative. It was arousing, without a doubt, if only physically; even after he'd slipped inside, Harry clinging to him hot on all sides, John couldn't quite get his head into bed with the rest of him. Harry came with a groan, soft and sudden, rutting into the pillow beneath him; that was enough to tip John over the edge, into his own orgasm. He slid out and collapsed on the bed beside Harry, whose eyes were already half-closed. He patted Harry's ass proprietorially; it was done. Harry was his.
For better or for worse.
Both now and for aye.
Sleep took a while to find him.
John woke up, unsurprised to find himself alone. Surprise came later, when he discovered Harry, half dressed in the previous night's clothes, on the patio attempting to cook breakfast on the barbeque. "I'm not good with technology," Harry said apologetically, by way of explanation.
"Defrosted the sausages," Hendricks said, when he arrived, clearly the continuation of some earlier conversation.
"Thanks," Harry managed, taking them one handed and sticking them directly on the grill.
Gard turned up then with plates and silverware, and John wondered if maybe he was actually still asleep. It wasn't that they never had breakfast together; in fact they did, and reasonably often. It just wasn't so… domestic. And yet, here they all were, their stoic trio become a suddenly companionable quartet, sitting out on the patio in the still cool of the morning. Then again, by the look of it, Harry planned on serving up cholesterol with a side order of cholesterol, possibly with a light cholesterol dressing, all fried in lard. No wonder Hendricks and Gard had been moved to cooperate.
He could hardly complain. Technically, it was his honeymoon. Certain laxity could be allowed, in the circumstances. He smiled benignly at his quisling aides. "So," he began, dropping a napkin over his lap, "what is the procedure at this point? Do you call up your White Council and taunt them? Do I send out some coded wedding-announcement-cum-threats?"
Harry looked stumped. "I could call them," he said, though oddly, he didn't sound much like he liked that idea.
"If I might?" Gard said. John nodded. "I suggest a formal letter to the council, hand-delivered, all due forms, etc., acknowledging your relationship, and warning them off."
"Hand delivered?" John mused. "By whom?"
"I am the best candidate for that," Gard said. "It should be done soon, if you plan on doing it. This morning, perhaps."
Ah. Via supernatural travel, then, which it would be best to protect Harry from, until everyone knew where everyone stood. "I see. Very well. How soon can you get me a draft?"
"An hour or so," Gard said and moved to stand.
"No," Harry broke in. "Finish your breakfast first."
Gard glanced at John, who nodded. "We'll do it at the office. If it can wait that long?"
"Oh, yes," Gard said, seating herself with visible pleasure. "It's a courtesy more than anything. Though, yes. It should save us some trouble, too."
"You should stay at the house til it's sorted," Hendricks told Harry.
Harry only sighed. "I'll call Thomas."
"Did you have a date planned?" John asked silkily.
"What? No," interestingly, Harry was plainly annoyed by the suggestion. "Just. I'll need him to watch the apartment. Feed my pets. That sort of thing?"
"I'll have someone bring them over today," Hendricks said. "Anything else you need before tomorrow?"
"No," Harry admitted.
"Don't worry about it, then. This is good, Dresden," Hendricks added.
"Thanks," Harry said, relaxing.
The rest of the meal passed in astonishing civility. "Well," John said as he rose. "We'll have to do this again sometime soon."
Harry's lips moved silently. "Um. Have a nice day at the office?" he finally offered.
"I'll do my best, dear," John said, pushing in his chair, the chink of metal on metal reminding him. "Oh. My apologies," he added. "I meant to give this back to you." He slipped off the force-storing ring Harry had used the night before, and offered it up.
"Oh, no," Harry said quickly. "It's yours."
"Nonsense, Harry. I couldn't possibly take it from you," John said.
Silence stretched for a long moment, before Harry sighed, "Okay," and plucked it from John's fingers, before turning and walking stiffly back into the house.
John turned a questioning glance at his aides, only to find them both glaring. "What?"
"You just handed back your wedding ring," Hendricks said in the voice he reserved for when he thought John was being particularly stupid. "Over a breakfast your husband of what, nine hours? felt moved to cook for you. In front of an audience."
"Nathan," John said patiently. "It wasn't a real wedding ring. I don't mind. I know he couldn't have had the time or inclination to worry about that yesterday. But I was hardly going to keep it."
"You thought," Gard blurted, and cut herself off with a shake of her head.
"He gave you a ring that he probably made himself. That he's worn for years," Hendricks said, voice full of unfeigned disbelief.
"That he uses to store his magic," Gard added.
"And you thought it wasn't a real wedding band?" Hendricks sighed heavily and John wondered what was coming next. Donne, perhaps. Dickinson, maybe. "Sometimes, Johnny, you are such an asshole."
Oh. "Touché," John managed, nonplussed.
"I'll bring the car around," Gard said, and walked off.
"Explain it to him," Hendricks said, out of the blue, in the car. "With, if you can swing it, an apology."
"Mr. Hendricks," John said, an edge of irritation in his voice. "Harry Dresden is not expecting candy and roses from me. We are not in love. We are not even in like. Yes. We had a nice evening. Yes, we had a nice morning. That is because Harry's trapped between a rock and a hard place, and frankly, playing nice with us is all that's keeping him alive. He does not have feelings for me. He is not under any illusions that I have feelings for him."
Hendricks snorted, and turned his eyes to the window.
The rest of the day went about as well. Gard watched John -- she always did -- but with an air of something extra to it. When John asked Hendricks, all he got for his trouble was, "Dunno, boss. 'What fools these mortals be'?"
The mansion had a weird -- call it aura -- when he returned. It felt occupied, but not pleasantly, like a stranger lay in wait in the darkness. Which perhaps was true; John found Harry napping in a guest room, his cat and dog crowding him out. Harry didn't appear for dinner; in fact, John didn't see him again until bedtime, when he abruptly turned up, stripped his t-shirt and trousers without a word -- John noted that Harry'd apparently gone commando all day -- and slipped into bed.
"You don't have to service me," John said, a little appalled at the thought.
Harry's brow furrowed in response. "I didn't think I did."
John tried to convey the question, Then what are you doing here? without asking it aloud. It seemed, especially in light of his earlier misunderstanding, a little harsh. But Harry didn't seem to get it. "You are naked in my bed."
Harry crossed his arms over his bare chest. "I don't have any of my stuff. If it really bothers you I can wear something of yours?"
"You would still be in my bed," John said, as reasonably as he could.
"Did you want me to sleep elsewhere?" God help him, Harry actually sounded lost.
"You seemed perfectly comfortable in the guest room earlier," John pointed out.
"Hendricks said I could take a room for my stuff. And I didn't think you'd want to share with Mouse and Mister," Harry added.
John tried again. "If you've picked out a room already, Harry, wouldn't you prefer to stay there?"
"We're married. Married people sleep together," Harry said. And then the light bulb over Harry's head went off -- this being Harry, probably in a shower of sparks. "Stars," he said, slipping back out from under the covers. "You don't want me here. You're just being nice about it." Frantically, he grabbed his pants and started to dress. "Sorry, sorry," he whispered, blushing creeping down his chest.
"No, Harry," John heard himself say. "I suppose I don't have any objection to you staying here, if that's what you want. But I'm not under any illusions that you do. You do not like me; you do not enjoy my company. You do not even respect me."
"I do respect you," Harry said lowly.
"You have, for years, referred to me as 'scum', and once -- to my face -- as a 'scumbag'." This was said impassively, though the particular etymology of that term did not escape John now.
"That was the job," Harry said. "I know you're not the job. I mean, it took me a while to work it out, but I do know that. Now."
It took John a moment to work out what Harry was talking about. When he did, the thought hit him like a punch: those damned Denarians. "If this is because you think you pity me," John said, voice wholly warning now.
"No," Harry said. "It was because of Ivy. They had you and they did -- whatever. I don't even want to think about it, particularly -- but I know it had to be bad. And you didn't care about that, or getting away. Your first words were 'Dresden, can you help the child?'" Harry took a breath, and then, absurdly, huffed a laugh. "I mean, I'd known for years that your balls drag on the ground when you walk. That wasn't new. And when your ride arrived, all you cared about was getting her out."
"I wouldn't say it was all I cared about," John said, discomforted by the unexpected praise.
Harry rolled his eyes. Harry, who'd apparently been thinking about men's testicles for years. John filed that thought away. "I do respect you," he repeated.
"I suppose I can believe that," John said. "I am still unclear on why you think this means we should share a bed."
"Well. We're married. And last night was nice, wasn't it?" Harry looked really uncertain now. "I mean, I thought it was. Maybe you didn't." Harry's face turned appalled. John could easily read, Oh God, that's it, isn't it? writ across it.
Now was probably not the time to tell Harry that actually, no, John preferred to have sex without lingering consent issues. "I will not pretend that you are unappealing lover," he said instead.
Harry blinked. Maybe he was more shook up than John thought; it apparently took him a moment to work out what John had said. "Oh. Right. So?"
"Harry, are you suggesting you've suddenly decided you want to sleep with me?" John asked bluntly.
"Well, we're married," he said, for the third time.
John wanted to throw up his hands in frustration. What did that have to do with anything, when it came right down to it? It wasn't an explanation. It was a legal state. But apparently Harry couldn't articulate his reasons any better than that. "Very well, Harry," John said, shrugging. "I have no objection. But I also have no objection to you sleeping in your room if you prefer."
Harry settled slowly back on the bed, watching John, eyes wide, as John undressed. It felt very strange. John cleared his throat, and looked at his cufflinks as he undid them. "It was brought to my attention that I may have inadvertently insulted you this morning. That was not my intention. I was under the impression that you had offered me one of your rings as a -- placeholder, I suppose -- out of necessity for the ritual. I knew it was an important piece of your magical armory, and believed you would want it back."
"No," Harry said, very softly.
John stiffened, and forced himself to meet his husband's eyes. "Then I apologize most sincerely, Harry."
Harry nodded, silent, before slipping off one of his rings, and offering it up. The ring? Probably. John took it, confused by the gesture, but unwilling to give further offense, and slipped it back on. He flexed his fingers. "You don't have to wear it," Harry said. "If you don't want to. Or if you can't, because of the m -- work thing. But, um. It's yours, either way."
"Thank you, Harry," John said. It would be stupid to wear it, he knew. And yet… something stupid and sentimental and old fashioned made him feel that he should. "Would you have any objection to me wearing it on my right hand? It would be less obvious that way. And one of my grandmothers wore hers like that. We would know what it meant."
"Greek?" Harry asked.
John raised his eyebrows, impressed. "Yes, in fact."
"I don't mind," Harry said.
John moved the ring, and finished undressing. As he slipped, bemusedly, beneath the sheets, he said, "I notice that you haven't asked about my communications with the White Council."
"Yeah," Harry admitted, but failed to elaborate.
"Beyond that it was received, there has been no official acknowledgement. However, in a private capacity, Wizard McCoy sent along his good wishes. As I understand he was your mentor, I assume that was wizard-code for 'I have my eyes on you'."
Harry cracked a smile. "Possibly. Or maybe, 'thanks'. You know, for the taking me in."
"Ms. Gard tells me that it's a good sign. That Wizard McCoy would know if the Council planned to throw a collective tantrum and start a fight."
"Yeah," Harry said. "He's on the senior council."
"I suspect she meant in his other capacity," John said, testing the waters.
Harry didn't look surprised, just troubled. "That too. I didn't realize it was that well known outside of the Council."
"Mmh," John murmured noncommittally. "I can't speak with authority on that."
"So," Harry said after a pause, "am I cleared to leave the house now?"
"With reasonable precautions in place, yes." Harry frowned deeply. "Please liaise with Mr. Hendricks and Ms. Gard on that subject," John said, hoping Harry would be less likely to bicker with them over it.
"Alright. I was hoping to move my stuff in here tomorrow. So, you know. Trip out to the apartment. Maybe the office if I have time," Harry mused.
Something in John's stomach clenched. He wanted to hide Harry away inside his mansion, inside his organization… but no. He had no right, at this point, under the terms of their agreement. And Harry was behaving reasonably. It would behoove him not to upset the apple cart, as it were. "Mr. Hendricks can help organize that," John said instead.
"Oh," Harry breathed. "No need. Thomas'll help."
John stiffened beside him, and forced himself to relax. He knew they weren't lovers. Had never been lovers, despite the rumors they'd encouraged, and for what reason? "Who exactly is Thomas Raith to you, Harry?"
Harry's lips thinned, and he blew out a slow breath. "If you swear to me that it will go no further than you, directly or indirectly, and that you will take no action against him because of it, I will tell you."
And that was more than enough to peak John's curiosity. He thought it over carefully. It was not the sort of promise he normally made. But he was unlikely to act against Harry's allies in any case, if he could avoid it. "Very well, Harry," he said quietly. "I do so swear."
"He's your brother-in-law," Harry said in a rush. "My half-brother."
That had not been the answer John had expected, but it explained rather a lot. "Interesting," he said, and it was. How long had they been keeping it a secret, and from whom, exactly? Everyone, obviously, but from whom did they need to keep it secret? To tell John, now -- it was a profound gesture of trust. Foolhardy, really. John kept his promises, as a rule. But there was nothing binding on him to do so, and Harry knew it.
Sleep found John no more easily than it had the night before.
But on Friday evening when he arrived home from work it was not Thomas Raith helping Harry move house. It was Michael Carpenter. It took John a moment longer than strictly necessary to pop the door of car. It was not that John wished Carpenter ill; quite the opposite. The thought of a Knight of the Cross dying to save him gave John, frankly, a feeling of cold nausea, that didn't quite go away simply by reflecting that Carpenter had lived. Or, indeed, by reflecting that Carpenter would have fought the Denarians regardless of John's presence. That it was his calling, after all. 'Was', unfortunately, was the operative word in that sentence. Watching the man smiling benignly at Harry as they leaned against the truck filled John with an urge so deep as to be almost primal, to go and find a dark corner and repeat the rosary until he felt better. Goddamn Catholic guilt.
And when his mind replayed that last thought for him, his fingers twitched. He brutally repressed the urge to cross himself, though he did offer a silent apology to heaven. For the curse. He didn't know what do with the rest of it.
Hendricks gave him a bland look and reached for the handle, easing himself out of the car and holding the door open for John. Hendricks used to tease him, that whenever John got near Michael Carpenter, he got his Gah! I stole the Shroud of Turin! face. They didn't joke about Michael Carpenter anymore. If, now, on the rare occasions they crossed paths with the erstwhile Knight, Hendricks walked a step closer to John then usual, well. Hendricks pretended not to notice he was doing it, and John pretended not to care.
"Mr. Marcone!" Michael Carpenter called, as though he were genuinely pleased to see the man who'd nearly cost him his life.
"Mr. Carpenter," John said, with infinite civility. Carpenter, of course, upped the ante by extending his hand; John made himself take it.
"My congratulations," Carpenter said. "Charity and I wish you both every happiness."
"Thank you," John managed, though he doubted very much that Charity Carpenter did. Perhaps she didn't know yet, and hence her husband wasn't quite lying in speaking for her. "I find myself surprised, however, that you approve."
"Even were I inclined to judge," Carpenter said, plainly disavowing such a thing. "I hope I would reflect on Matthew 7, first."
John nodded, smiling. "Judge not lest ye be judged," he said aloud, for Harry's benefit.
"Among other things," Carpenter nodded.
It was always hard to know what to say to Carpenter; that he was standing in John's front yard did not make it easier. But courtesy was usually a safe tack to take. "I was sorry to hear of Miss Carpenter's recent troubles," John said.
Harry stiffened instantly; Carpenter did not, nodding instead, though he frowned as he did. "It's always hard for a parent to accept that their child may have brought some of their troubles down on themselves. Molly… we are grateful she escaped the Doom, of course." John watched, fascinated, as Carpenter reached out and patted Harry on the shoulder. "The Knighthood. It is not the path I would have chosen for her. But I have no doubt the Lord walks beside her even now. Perhaps Molly is where she is meant to be. Where she can do the most good."
Did the man envisage his daughter as a missionary? To Mab? Good lord. No wonder Harry called Michael Carpenter the Fist of God.
"Well," John said, unsure of what to say. "I certainly hope that's the case."
Carpenter nodded. "We can but pray."
Somehow, that was the worst part about Carpenter. That despite everything he knew -- despite what John had done, what John had cost him, Carpenter seemed to genuinely believe that John Marcone could be redeemed. And technically, in the doctrine of their shared faith, that might have been true. But in order to be saved, you had to seek forgiveness, and for that, you had to sincerely repent. It wasn't that John didn't have regrets -- he was not, after all, made of stone. But he had very few.
And thus, he damned himself.
John set that thought aside. "Will you be joining us for dinner, Mr. Carpenter?"
Harry looked startled. Carpenter just shook his head. "No, but thank you, Mr. Marcone. Charity is expecting me." He looked at his watch. "And really, if I don't want to be late, I should probably head home now." A hug for Harry, another round of shaking hands with John, and a nod for the bodyguards, and Carpenter was gone.
"A carpenter named Carpenter who serves a carpenter," Gard said, in a tone verging on awe.
"Yeah," Hendricks grunted. "It's like the kind of bad joke Dresden would tell, isn't it?"
"Fine, big guy," Harry grumbled. "No iced tea for you."
A little while later, they were alone, Harry eyeing John warily. "Um. I'm sorry about earlier. I should have tho -- I should have told you there'd been a change of plans."
"No need. This is your home now. I have no objection to you having friends over, Harry," John said as he changed out of suit. Oddly, it seemed that Harry had not moved anything into the bedroom. But perhaps he had simply not yet unpacked.
"Even Murphy?" Harry asked with a laugh.
"Oh, Harry. The good sergeant is especially welcome," John said, and smirked as he saw the realization spread across Harry's face. Murphy was unbribable. It was a pity; she was tough and competent, and John would have loved to subvert her. Hell, he'd have loved even more to hire her away. But Murphy was already on thin ice; a social call to the home of Gentleman Johnny Marcone would put paid to her career. Once less honest cop on the Chicago force. It would never happen, of course. Karrin Murphy was not a fool. The look of realization on Harry's face was quickly followed by one of irritation. John decided to change the subject. "Was Mr. Raith unavailable?"
"Oh," Harry said, looking deeply uncomfortable suddenly. "I didn't get to call him. Michael phoned this morning. I don't know how he got your number. The Almighty probably slipped one of your cards into the pocket of his dry cleaning. I don't know."
John took pity on him. "I do," he said. "I gave it to him."
"Oh," Harry said. "Okay." Clearly, he wanted to ask. Just as clearly, he wasn't going to. John was glad. He didn't want to explain. "So, he called. Asked how we were doing. You know, the usual. I told him I was going to move in, and he offered to come help. I said yes without really thinking about it." And that was a lie if John ever heard one. Harry was flagellating himself over his apprentice's fate. Today had been the result of his desire to let her father take a turn with the whip. No chance of that, either. John let it slide. "Besides. Thomas was hurt pretty badly, recently."
John raised an eyebrow in silent query.
Harry sighed heavily. "That whole last hurrah with the White Council. I don't want to get into it. All the same, probably a good idea to let him rest."
"I'm curious," John said slowly, because he was, genuinely. "If Mr. Raith -- Thomas -- needs to rest, why did you not take me up on my offer?"
"Oh. Well. Uh. Worrying about me seems to help ground Thomas," Harry said quickly, like a man trying not to think too hard about what he was saying. "I mean, what was done to him. It wasn't just physical. And vampires get over that pretty easily."
With enough food, yes. And Raith was known for being idiosyncratic in that regard. John had a suspicion he could guess what had been done to the vampire. Aloud, John speculated, "He was forced to transgress his moral boundaries with regard to treating people as kine. And now he's wondering if it would be better to pretend those boundaries never existed in the first place."
Harry's mouth dropped open. "I have been tortured, Harry." And, come to that, put the twist on others once or twice, himself. "So you're trying to balance giving him time against giving him a much needed kick in the pants."
"Er, yeah," Harry admitted, scratching his neck. "I guess."
"I hadn't realized you could be so Machiavellian, Harry," John said.
Harry frowned. "You don't have to sound so damn proud. It's not like I planned it. It's all improv, I guess. Instinct. I mean, what else can I do?"
"Probably nothing," John acknowledged. "Mr. Hendricks likes to remind me that you can't ever tell anyone something they don't want to know." Frequently with regard to you, went unsaid. Silence, not entirely comfortable, settled between them for a moment, and John realized that Harry was just sitting on the bed, staring at him. He turned back to his dresser and pulled out a pair of old jeans. "You've had a long day. Perhaps you'd like to take a nap? I could call you before dinner."
"Nah," Harry said. "I'm fine. Er. How was your day?"
"Busy," John said, amused. And because something about Harry made it hard to resist the urge to poke at him, he asked, smiling wide, "I assume you don't want details?"
Harry obligingly scowled.
But his annoyance with John must have vanished by bedtime, because Harry turned up again. John said nothing about it this time, merely wishing his husband a good night, which Harry apparently took as his cue to drop a kiss on John's head before he turned over and passed out.
John fell asleep more quickly than he had the previous two nights, but no more easily.
He woke, slowly at first, to the feeling of being curled around a warm body, and then with a burst of adrenaline when he remembered that it was Harry Dresden in his bed. His husband. Whom he was cuddling. Careful not to move, he cracked his eyes, only to find Harry already awake, watching him, a slow smile spreading across his face. And then Harry moved, just the slightest shift of skin, and John realized that his morning erection was pressed against Harry's thigh. He closed his eyes again. Harry pressed his lips to John's.
And John… gave in. Harry wanted it. John wanted it. Sometimes… sometimes you just needed another human being. To see yourself reflected in their eyes. To feel their body against yours. It was an animal need, but no less real for that. Less urgent than those for water, for sleep. For food. But real. And lying there entwined with his husband only heightened John's sense of having been touch-starved for far too long. And as Harry had said, their first time had been nice. It didn't have to mean anything to help.
He opened his mouth a little, and caught a flash of a smile against his lips before Harry parted his own, and deepened the kiss. Before he even thought about it, John was rutting against Harry's thigh; he only really noticed when Harry reached between them, corralled both their cocks in one huge hand, and started tugging. It was a shade too dry to be entirely comfortable, but John heard himself groaning into Harry's mouth anyway, and concluded that he didn't care. He came first, thrusting up abruptly into Harry's fist and spilling his seed over both their cocks. He blinked as he came down, now wide awake, and caught a glimpse of Harry's face, smile tugging at his swollen lips.
One-handed, John pushed Harry to the bed, and swallowed him down, cum and pre-cum coating the head of Harry's cock. He could tell the difference between them easily; John knew what he tasted liked, and Harry was far more bitter, though he didn't think it unpleasant. Harry didn't last long and his orgasm must have taken him by surprise, for he arched up, flooding John's mouth without warning. "Sorry, sorry," Harry whispered drowsily.
John patted his leg as he swallowed, before kissing Harry, who had a look of wonder on his face, deeply once more.
It was nice.
And that would have to be enough.