Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Bookverse! Property of Jim Butcher & etc., not me. Alas.
Summary: Michael had a difficult question to ask. And he didn't think he was going to like the answer. Mild slash; 2600 words; canon-parallel AU.
Fandom: Dresden Files (novels)
Notes: Yuletide 2007 entry for catnap, prompt "Michael - would love a slash story with some hurt/comfort." Specific spoilers for Grave Peril, Death Masks, Proven Guilty, and White Night. Opens with a background character death.
"How's Charity? The baby?" Harry asked, voice full of concern.
Michael looked down, the weight of his choices over the last few days pulling at his spirit. "The baby-- they still don't know about him," he said, through the unshed tears thickening his throat. "They can't find out what's wrong. But he's started getting stronger; they think he might make it."
"Thank God. Is Charity--?"
He took a deep breath and looked up, studying the face of this man Charity had always said would be the death of him. Harry's eyes had always carried a faint shadow of regret, but the fighting and the deaths had added their toll in the last couple of weeks; he looked weary, and drawn, and lost. It was the face of a friend in need, not the face of a monster.
Through all the years they'd known one another, taking down foes larger than either could have dealt with alone, she'd maintained her defiant stance, withholding understanding. But in this one thing, he'd always brushed her concerns aside. Harry was dangerous, yes. But he was a good man, and they had wrought much good together. Michael would gladly give his life in the course of God's work; Charity had known that about him since the day they'd met. To fear that end, even if it came in the course of helping a friend, was irrational.
He hadn't anticipated that she would give her life instead.
"She passed last night," he said, hoarsely. "I think-- she gave it all to save him."
Harry stiffened where he sat, mouth dropping open in shock. "Hells bells," he cursed, then flinched. "Sorry-- sorry. Michael--" He half-reached out, then dropped his hand as though the weight of the news were too much for him as well. "I'm so sorry," he repeated. "Your family--?"
"Father Forthill is with them. He's told the eldest, Molly and Daniel; I'll tell the younger ones myself when I see them." He didn't know what he was going to say to them, how he could make them understand what he couldn't yet grasp himself. But that was for later.
"You should go to them," Harry said, scrambling to push himself up from the floor. "I appreciate your staying here to guard me-- but they need you more."
"Not yet," Michael replied, heavily, grasping Harry's flailing hand to assist him to his feet. He'd thought about this, often, in the long hours of the night while Harry lay sleeping. His answer burned through him now, drying up his tears. He may have lost Amoracchius, but he was still the Fist of God-- the mine in Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.
"Not yet. Perhaps this is God's way of telling me it's time to put down the sword-- but not until this is all over. I will not let her death be for nothing."
Harry's grip tightened on Michael's hand. "It won't be," he said hoarsely.
Michael smiled grimly. "Because we'll stop them."
Michael turned his turkey sandwich over in his hands, but found himself too nauseated to eat it. Deep tremors still shook the foundations of his muscles: they'd found Harry in time, but the strain of the hours beforehand, when he'd feared every moment that Harry would die before the Knights could reach him, and the fight itself still sapped at his strength.
He had a difficult question to ask. And he didn't think he was going to like the answer.
"Harry," he said, finally. "I have to ask you for something. It's very difficult. And it's something that under normal circumstances I wouldn't even consider doing."
"Name it," Harry said immediately, between swallows of his own sandwich.
Michael met his eyes, seeing in them the reflection-- as he always did-- of the soul he'd seen, and felt so akin to, all those years ago. "Get out of this business," he urged his friend. "Get out of town for a few days. Or stay home. But get out of it. Please."
Harry blinked. "You mean, you don't want my help?"
"I want your safety," Michael replied, firmly. "You are in great danger."
"You're kidding," Harry blurted. "Michael, I'm in great danger at least twice a year. You know that; you've been there. What makes this time any different?"
"If we hadn't been there today--"
"Molly would have inherited the Beetle. So what? It's going to happen sooner or later," Harry said, with rising irritation. "Ask me to change the baby's diaper for you; ask me to bring Chinese instead of Pizza Spress next time I come over; ask me to pick up the laundry from Charity's mother on the way; these things I can do. But I am not going to stop doing my job. Not even for you."
"You don't understand," Michael replied, wearily.
"It's the Denarian thing, isn't it?" Harry continued. "Because it comes from your side of the fence instead of mine?"
The rest of the conversation went much the same, to Michael's consternation, but not surprise. Harry was suspicious, and hurt; Michael worried, and defensive. By the time Harry left the church it was clear he wouldn't relent, and Michael, left behind, bowed his head in a pew, his thoughts in turmoil.
"This man is very important to you," Shiro observed, quietly.
Michael nodded, slowly. "He's been my friend for a long time. Especially since Charity--" He trailed off, unsure how to describe the last two years. "He comes over for dinner several times a week now, when he's not busy. He helps out around the house. He even helps the children with their homework; they love him."
"And you?" his mentor prompted him.
Michael snorted. Either Harry would die-- or one of the Knights would, in his place. The prophecy was clear. Whatever possibilities may have existed would die when he did.
"It hardly matters now, does it?"
"I disagree," Shiro said, after a long moment. "Now is when it matters most of all."
Michael knocked at Harry's apartment door with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
Harry had come over early, to help set up the cookout; he'd left early as well, without so much as a word of goodbye. Molly had seen him leave through the window and reported it; Sanya had added that he'd seemed pensive and strange when he saw him, moments before.
Michael hadn't needed their reports to know what had happened. He'd felt prompted, rather suddenly, to take the trash out in the middle of the party; he'd done so, curiously, wondering what the Lord intended for him to observe.
And then he'd seen the coin fly out the window, landing on the grass at both Harrys' feet.
He'd seen his friend slap his hand down to cover it, lest the toddler get his hands on it instead. Seen him pick the denarius up, and tuck it away in his pocket.
After all the warnings-- after all the battles-- after Shiro's sacrifice-- and despite Michael's best efforts to prevent it, Harry had taken up the coin of one of the Fallen.
It had been a scene from one of his worst nightmares, and had lingered in his thoughts long into the evening, while the party wound down, while he cleaned up the mess left behind, and after he put the children to bed. Why had God wanted him to see that?
Why had God let it happen? Wasn't Charity's death enough of a burden for him to deal with?
"And God is faithful," he whispered to himself, an old, comforting verse from First Corinthians. "He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
But Harry wasn't a Christian. He had a strong will-- but the Fallen were tenacious, and knew just how to offer what a man thought he needed. The coin would help Harry protect Chicago for a time, and those he cared for, but in the end it would destroy him. He had already turned over the keys to his soul; he just didn't know it yet. And his failure to tell Michael about it immediately hinted at the worst.
Shiro had been right. Michael should have told him while it still mattered. He'd just have to settle for telling him now, instead, while Sanya watched the children, and try to have faith that everything would somehow turn out for the best.
He knocked again, then pulled his hand back as the door opened. Harry stood framed in the gap, looking as weary as Michael had ever seen him; there was a heavy layer of dust on his clothing, and a thick, gray smear of something like concrete in his dark hair where he'd pushed it out of his way.
He looked about as troubled as Michael felt. And the moment his eyes sparked in recognition, something else flowered there, too: regret, dismay, guilt-- and something more. Hope blossomed in Michael's heart.
"Michael," Harry said, and swallowed heavily.
Michael stepped past him and unbuckled Amoracchius, setting it on the mantel. Susan's picture was eloquent in its absence, he noted; Shiro's cane held pride of place instead. Then he turned to Harry and opened his arms.
There was a long moment of silence; then the blank wall of Harry's expression slowly crumbled, and he shuffled over, leaning his long weight against Michael's broad shoulder.
"I wasn't going to tell you," he said, face buried against Michael's neck as he clung to him like a rock in a shifting sea. "I couldn't bear to."
"I know," Michael said, clinging back. "I know."
Michael heard the front door open and close as he slung the plastic case containing Amoracchius over his shoulder, and closed his eyes in relief. Harry had been away all day, first at a White Council meeting, then at his old apartment for some kind of working in the lab he still kept there, and then something to do with Molly's boyfriend; the messages on the answering machine had been filled with static. Michael had called Father Forthill to watch the children, but he hadn't wanted to leave without saying goodbye.
He saw his daughter first as he came down the stairs. Molly had been staying with her friends setting up some horror convention for a couple of weeks now, and he'd worried about what she might be inspired to do to herself by their example. The candy-colored hair had been alarming enough-- and he could see new, curling lines of tattoos at her neckline and throat. At least she hadn't gone for any obnoxious piercings yet; Harry had advised him to think of his own youth and thank God for small favors.
Standing next to her, Harry looked weary and a little disgruntled. His expression shifted to worry as he caught sight of the overnight bag in Michael's hand, and he lifted his eyebrows.
Michael dropped the bag and hugged Molly first, then turned and gripped Harry's shoulder.
"Business trip?" Harry frowned. "Any idea where to, or how long?"
Michael shook his head. "I'll know when I get there."
"Figures," Harry sighed. Then he turned to the girl beside him. "Look, Molly, would you mind--?"
She rolled her eyes. "Like I don't know what you guys are going to be doing," she said, affecting disgust. "I'll just go up to my room for a minute."
Michael followed her with his eyes, then turned back to Harry. "You said something about her boyfriend?"
"Yeah, she wanted to talk to me about him without Daddy One around. Don't worry; she's being smart about it. I'll be ferrying her back to the convention in a minute, but I thought we'd stop by and touch base first; it's been a long day."
"And about to be longer," Michael observed, wondering just what 'it' Molly was being smart about, and whether Daddy One really wanted Daddy Two to tell him. "How'd the meeting go?"
"About how I expected." Harry sighed. "They executed a kid for repeated violation of the Fourth Law. And Ebenezar as good as said that they held it here specifically as a warning to me. I wouldn't worry, but now that I'm teaching Molly... I'm concerned about the prejudice she'll be inheriting."
Michael shook his head. "Prejudice or not, if you hadn't caught it, I doubt I'd have noticed her using her magic until she got in trouble with it. It could have been her in there."
"Thank God it wasn't," Harry said, fervently, resting his forehead against Michael's.
Then he opened his eyes, and smiled. "Now. About that goodbye."
Michael rubbed the Tiger Balm into Harry's shoulders, wincing at the bruises under his fingers.
"I'm not going to like the rest of this story, am I?" he asked, apprehensively. It had been bad enough thus far, what with the deal Harry had made with Marcone, the destruction of four-fifths of the White Court under conditions that gave Lara Raith even more power than she'd had before, the reappearance of Cowl, and the repeated meddling of Lasciel's shadow.
"No you're not," Harry said, groaning as Michael's fingers found a particularly stubborn knot. "The rift closed just before I could get to it, seconds before the bombs were going to blow. Had to kiss Lara freaking Raith to get enough juice to power us out of there."
"What? Harry!" he objected, fingers freezing mid-massage. He'd put up with postcards from Susan, Sergeant Murphy's half-wistful looks, the camouflaging rumors circulating about Harry and Thomas, and the fascination Marcone seemed to have with Harry, but kissing Lara Raith was going just a little too far.
"Said you wouldn't like it," Harry chuckled, sourly. "Don't worry; burned her mouth but good. She was kind of a little bit pissed at me for that." He shifted his arms under him and rolled over on the bed, an apologetic grimace tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Enough to make you rethink your policy about working with me?"
"Enough to make me rethink it, yes. Enough to change it? No," he said firmly.
Just because neither of them had been killed on one of their adventures didn't mean it wouldn't happen. Harry had just come within a hair's breadth of dying, and last year's major conflict with the Red Court had been too close for comfort. Michael had had no way of knowing, while he stood defending the White Council's Warden camp, that Harry had been fighting on another front deep in the NeverNever; the Fae had gone to extreme lengths to get him involved, even kidnapping several innocents from Molly's horror convention, and both of them had nearly perished separately in the effort. There was nothing either one could do about the dangers inherent in their occupations, but at the very least they could minimize the risk of orphaning the children entirely.
Harry's frown turned into something softer as he gazed up at him. "That reminds me. What happened with Lash, there at the end-- I think she's gone, Michael."
Michael blinked at that, then caught his breath in hope. Harry had flat refused to give up his power, and in the years of research since he'd touched Lasciel's coin they hadn't found another way to exorcize her. "You're sure?"
"Pretty much. Going to have to ask Bob to verify, but I haven't heard her since."
Michael stooped down for an impulsive kiss at that; a tremendous weight had just fallen from his shoulders. "I'll call Father Forthill later," he said. "Harry-- I--"
"I know," Harry laughed, then pulled him down again. "I know."