luciazephyr: ice figs, one sliced in half to expose it's center of sky blue stain over white fruit flesh, extremely pretty ([Misc] food porn is the best porn)
[personal profile] luciazephyr
Title: The Stars and Scones Bakery and Coffee Shop (5/6)
Pairings: Harry Dresden/John Marcone
Warnings/Content: Explicit sex, food porn, past child abuse, oblique reference to self-harm, serious portrayal of a character dealing with past trauma, realistic depiction of a panic attack, and abandonment issues, but now, finally, some romantic fluff. ♥
Summary: In which Harry is the best baker in Chicago, but still ends up starting a few fires along the way.
Word Count: 6,732.

Notes: LOOK, THIS WAS TOTALLY GOING TO BE FIVE PARTS, BUT THE CHAPTER BROKE 12,000 WORDS AND BINZ WAS LIKE "just split it dude" AND I WAS LIKE "OKAY". So now it's six.


Act Five: I feel your taste all the time we're apart

Bob took care of things. He closed the shop, called Molly to let her know she had the night off, argued me down when I told him I didn't want to close early, cleaned up, and got me upstairs.

I felt like a child, sitting in bed under the covers wearing my pajama pants with a piping hot cup of tea on my bedside table. Or, how I imagined a child would feel after being tucked in. It'd been a long damn time since I'd had anyone do that for me.

Eventually, everything was settled downstairs and Bob dragged a chair into my room. "So. It's been a while since we've had one of those," he said wryly.

I winced, looking down at the comforter. "Who saw?"

"Don't worry about that." Bob was sitting backwards, one arm slung over the back of the chair in a deceptively lazy position; I had his full attention and knew it. "This is that later we talked about. What happened? First you get drunk, then you blow up at Marcone of all people. You like Marcone."

I scoffed. "I do not."

He rolled his eyes. "You like him more than you like shouting him down in the middle of the shop."

God, I'd done that, hadn't I? There were so many things about this that were not good. "Hell's bells, I've got to call him before he sues my ass for-- for defamation or something."

I started to pull the covers aside, kicking my legs to untangle them from the sheets. Bob yanked the linens back in place, putting a hand on my leg until I stopped moving. "Who?"

"Who? Marcone, Bob, who else?" I jerked a hand through my hair. "Did you see his face? We're so screwed."

Bob frowned at me. "You... think he's going to sue you?"

"Uh, yeah? Scumbag soulless lawyer?" One of the most powerful men in the city of big shoulders, the birthplace of the biggest political machine in the country, and home of many influential people who could ruin my life. I couldn't have picked a worst person to break down in front of. "Maybe if I talk to him and try to explain, he won't bankrupt us."

"He is not going to--" Bob rubbed his face tiredly. I settled back down, feeling guilty. Dealing with me on a daily basis was troublesome enough, but Bob did it anyway, even when I was like this. He'd helped me so much over the years, trying to make up for the Justin thing, but I'd forgiven him ages ago. I wasn't ever going to tell him that though. I was a selfish guy, and the prospect of losing Bob was paralyzing. Thomas had been right about me, about my inability to risk reaching out to people. The friends I already had were invaluable. Losing even one...

I'd lost Marcone. Well, okay, 'friends' was probably not a great description for our relationship, but he was a part of my life and I was used to his presence. Driving him off mattered.

"I need to call him." I could see Marcone's hurt, shocked face whenever my eyes closed. It was going to drive me crazy. Crazier.

"Harry, he is not going to do anything. Calm down."

"He should!" I snapped, my voice almost breaking. Getting not-calm again, right. I leaned forward until my head against my knees and breathed. "Sorry. Sorry."

Bob sighed, his hand cool when he cupped my neck. "I know. It's fine. Just... tell me what brought it on."

"It's complicated."

"I know," he murmured. "Tell me anyway."

It took a while, but I did. Or, I tried to explain the tangled mess in my head. The renewed pain of Elaine, Thomas telling me she didn't want to see me, that crushing disappointment and feeling of abandonment; the realization that I was a sad hermit of a man crippled by fear, that too. And how Marcone had just pushed the wrong button at the wrong possible time.

"Worst part is..." I blew out a breath over the rim of my mug, sipping the tea Bob had given me. Chamomile, honey, and mint were soothing flavors; Bob was getting good at his tea blends. "Worst part is that I kind of feel better now. So long as I don't think about how everyone I know is now aware that I'm a fucking mess, I mean."

"You're not a mess, Harry."

I smiled bitterly. "I am. A little bit." I stared down at the tea, at how it colored the teal mug a familiar pale green. "I can't believe I was so angry. I haven't been that angry for years."

Bob shrugged a shoulder. "He insulted Thomas."

I snorted. "He was such a dick to him."

"Well, he thought you were dating. Marcone's always sort of a dick to people you date."

"Yeah..." Except, he was talking about plurals there. I didn't follow. "Wait, he is?"

Bob chuckled softly. "Granted, he was more so this time, but if I had to guess, Marcone thought you were straight, not celibate. You shack up with a man, and he not only feels like an idiot, he's lost his chance."

I rocked the mug against my lower lip, letting the heat suffuse into me. "Really?"

"You missed his catfights with Susan?" I frowned, and Bob laughed. "Wow, boss. That's oblivious, even for you. What about with Luccio, before she got with Murphy?"

I choked on a gulp of tea. "Ana's with Murph?"

He leaned his head into his palm, shoulders shaking. "My god, Harry. I know you miss a lot of things, but did you not notice that Luccio only comes in with Murphy? That they leave together on Murphy's bike? That they play footsie under the table?"

Apparently I had missed all that. Huh. That explained why my tentative flirting with Ana had got me nowhere. But good for Murph, really. I was only a little jealous there. Not that I'd ever really pursued Anastasia or anyone else, really. I didn't have the time and wasn't willing to put myself out there. It's just easier that way. Losing Elaine had hurt. I'd had a rash of one-night stands after I'd moved back to Chicago, trying to seek out some kind of connection. They were... fine. But not what I wanted. Susan had been closer to it, a steady connection with laughter and affection, but I was so deeply rooted in my little corner of River North that when she'd left, I hadn't been willing to follow.

Since then... It was just easier to keep to my knitting, so to speak. At the most, I was friendly with some of my more interesting regulars. Nothing ever came of it. And that was fine. It was easier.

I shook myself back to the present. "So, what now?"

"Hold that thought." Bob took my mug, left, and returned with a refill. "Now, you are going to stay upstairs, and try to relax. Watch something other than Food Network lest you start a blood feud with Sandra Lee--"

"She ruins food, Bob." A blood feud would be completely justified.

"-- and stay away from the booze. Or, at least stay away from the good stuff, all right? It's too expensive to keep replacing."

I reluctantly nodded. "Yeah."

Bob leaned over me, a hand on each of my shoulders. Looking him in the eye was more challenging than usual. "Harry. You're going to be all right."

"I'll try."

"No, you will," Bob said firmly. "Trust me. You've gotten through worse shit than this. Are you going to let this take you down?"

No. I couldn't. Maybe I was half crazy and unstable, but I would settle. I would get through this. I always did.






The bakery was quieter than usual for a few days after my meltdown. I was back to work, but my normal cheer was dimmed. People noticed, if they weren't part of the crowd that witnessed what swung my mood so far south. Word got out fast; the bakery grapevine was efficient, to say the least.

Murphy came in for breakfast every day that week, giving me the impression she was keeping an eye on me. She said nothing about what happened and gave me the same tough love as she always did. I was glad for it; if I ever managed to evoke any palpable worry from her, it'd be a sign of the Apocalypse.

Michael heard from Molly what happened and came by to visit. I was invited to dinner, or to just drop by anytime I wanted. I also received a hug from the man, and complained loudly about how his beard was bristly and that if Michael wanted hugs, he needed to shave first. Michael just hugged me again and, because being a man of God didn't preclude being a jerk, rubbed his face against my neck until I had a really unfun, not-sexy beard burn.

Carlos gave me a grave nod and a fistbump. Kids these days.

I got some looks from the people who'd witnessed my meltdown, but all my regulars were either fine with it or very good at pretending. Hendricks was the only one who mis-stepped, leaving a book about dealing with post-traumatic stress in a really conspicuous spot on his table. I 'accidentally' spilled coffee on it, and that was that.

Ivy still came in after school. She sat with Kincaid and played with Mister as she waited to be picked up. Instead of her father coming in to get her, his car would idle on the curb outside, waiting for her to collect her things and leave.

Marcone didn't come in. Until suddenly he did.

It was a full week later. Everything was mostly settled and I was back to what passed for normal. Perhaps a little quieter, a little rawer, but otherwise I was fine. It was evening, right after closing. Molly'd finished sweeping and cleaning the front, and was on her way out. For the last few days, she tended to linger after hours, being a nuisance, but she and Carlos were going out to a movie together tonight.

I told her to lock up behind her and went to clean the dishes she'd left soaking in the sink, because she was nothing if not predictable. I heard footsteps and called out, "Forget the alarm code again, Mols?"

"Mr. Dresden."

I stopped breathing for a moment. I knew who that soft baritone belonged to and it definitely wasn't Molly. Moving slowly to give myself time, I dried my hands carefully, thoroughly, before shuffling out of the kitchen. I tried to think of what to say, or what I even could say to make things better.

Nothing came to mind, and I lifted my gaze to Marcone on the other side of the counter. He was still in his work clothes, but without his jacket. In his arms was a cardboard box, unlabeled.

"Um. Hi." As soon as the mumbled words left my mouth, I mentally kicked myself. Really, Dresden? Um, hi? Hell's bells.

"I promise I won't take up much of your time," Marcone said in a low voice, gaze catching mine insistently whenever I tried to glance away. "I understand that you may not want to see me, but I wanted to offer you a proper apology."

"Marcone, listen, it's fine, I was--"

"It's not. Fine, I mean." He set his box down on the counter, then busied himself smoothing out his sleeves. If it were anyone other than Marcone, I'd call it a nervous gesture. "I've already made contact with Mr. Raith and extended my apologies to him. He was more receptive than I probably deserved." He smiled faintly. "He also asked me to tell you to answer his calls, as he's starting to worry."

Yeah, I'd been avoiding talking to him. At least until I was more stable. And feeling less like a coward.

"Now for you, Harry," he breathed. I stared at my hands on the countertop. Hearing the lawyer I always considered borderline-criminal and untrustworthy and recognizing so much sorrow and regret in his voice wasn't something I was prepared for. When I didn't look back up, Marcone sighed. "My actions during your brother's visit were reprehensible, as was my proprietary treatment of you. I had hoped--" He sucked in a breath. "It doesn't matter what I hoped. There was no justification for what I did."

"Marcone."

"Please, let me finish." It was an actual request, something else I never expected from him. I fell silent, and he went on. "I never wished to hurt you, Harry. It is, in fact, the opposite of what I wanted. Perhaps you were already going through a hard time, but everything you said to me," shouted at him, more like, "was true. I treated you more like a conquest than a person, and I am more sorry than I can express."

"Marcone, seriously, I was on a short fuse. I was going to explode at whoever was there when it ran out."

"As nice a thought as that is, I'm fairly certain my remarks didn't help anything. And this is about more than that."

I was still averting my gaze, and Marcone put his hand on mine. I startled, looking up, and he immediately took his hand away. As soon as our eyes met, I was caught. "There are a great many things in my life I regret, Harry. This is near the top of the list. I don't expect forgiveness, but nonetheless I wanted you to know how sorry I am. That as I cannot make you happy, I hope someone does. You deserve..." His smile was among the worst things I'd ever seen, wistful in a way that resonated, like a tuning fork, sharp and painful. "You deserve a great deal of things: to enumerate them would take all night, and I've taken up too much of your time already."

He watched my face and shook his head, then brushed the back of my hand and, impulsively, I caught his hand in my grasp, holding on. Marcone looked down and, after visibly contemplating what to do next, lifted my hand and brushed his lips against my knuckles in such an earnest manner, I couldn't even complain about how ridiculous the gesture was.

He let go and stepped away. "I'll leave you to it then, Mr. Dresden."

"Wait," I said, before my brain could catch up to my mouth. Marcone froze, eyebrows lifted. "Uh. What's in the box?" I asked, reaching for the only coherent thought let in my head.

Marcone smiled. "A gift."

I eyed the box hesitantly. "There's not a lawsuit or whatever in there? This isn't some really elaborate way of serving papers?"

Marcone snorted. "No. You have nothing of the sort to fear from me." He nodded. "Goodbye, Harry. It's been a pleasure."

And John Marcone walked out of my shop and, in theory, my life.

It didn't work out that way, but I didn't know it at the time. I bent over the counter, resting my head against the glass, and waited for the rumbled mix of sorrow-regret-loss-loneliness to ease its vise grip on my chest.






The box went upstairs, where it spent a night sitting out in the open on my counter. The next evening, I put it in a cabinet. It remained there until the weekend, when I went to grab some chips and saw it. It ended up stashed under my bed: out of sight, out of mind.

Or so I'd hoped. I ignored it for most of the day, went about my business baking and making my customers happy and keeping Molly from breaking anything in the kitchen. When I went to bed, I just laid there staring at the ceiling and thinking about the mysterious gift directly beneath me.

I should have just opened it. The curiosity was killing me. But it was more than an apology; it was a goodbye. It was the last I'd see of Marcone, and if I put off opening it...

I wasn't lying when I said Marcone was the bane of my existence. But instead of thinking of him as an arrogant scumbag who thought he was entitled to everything the world had to offer whether the world wanted it or not, I kept remembering his smile when I was stuck with my pink apron; how his empty mugs of tea always confused him; when he'd gotten hooked on dirty chai, back when we first met, because I'd banned Bob from making him coffee. And then thanked me for it.

What he'd done was not okay. Thomas hadn't deserve any of it. But when he'd said he was sorry, I'd believed him. And that someone so sure of himself and his actions would even deign to admit fault was... a big deal. Stars, he hadn't even apologized for being a dick to me the first time we met, just insinuated himself into my life regardless. This time, he was sorry. Admitting fault like that-- in his shoes, I would have just run away and never looked back.

It was stupid, really amazingly stupid, but I was pretty sure I missed him. Every day, I hoped he'd come in for his dirty chai and panini. Stars, he was the only one who ate the margherita panini and yet I kept making it, even knowing he wasn't coming back. When a new customer asked for one, I lost my mind for about thirty seconds and told them no, it was my lunch.

Gard still came in. Ivy still came in, with Kincaid. It took all my willpower not to ask about Marcone.

The whole situation was pathetic, honestly.

I needed to get over it and move on. Another person walked out of my life; by now, it shouldn't have been a big deal. It wasn't like Marcone was a huge part of my day-to-day. When he actually went to court, I'd go weeks without seeing him for more than a morning latte.

And now he was somewhere else, letting his legal paperwork spread over someone else's tables, drinking someone else's chai, loosening his tie when the hours ticked by and his hair fell across his forehead, shielding his tired green eyes--

I rolled over, got out of bed and onto the floor to pull the box out from its hiding place. It wasn't large or heavy, easy for me to toss onto my bed. I crawled up next to it and tried to pull the lid open: it was taped down, so I went to my kitchenette, grabbed a butter knife, and tried again.

I got the lid off and found the contents tucked into the bottom of the box in eight small paper bags, each sealed with a brightly colored, clearly legible label.

All-purpose. Teff. Whole wheat. Rice. Pastry. Buckwheat. Spelt. Barley.

Each was a different flour. Not the sort of flour I tended to use-- it was extremely high-quality stuff, and the likes of teff was not easy to get my hands on, even in Chicago. At the bottom of the box was a receipt, listing a web address where they'd been bought from, an inventory, and a price, which Marcone had blacked out with a marker.

I wasn't sure what to make of it. It seemed like an odd gift for a goodbye, something tangible, but sure to be quickly used up. It wasn't something to remember him by; it was something I would have fun with, testing out new breads and concoctions, but then it would be gone. There was no note, nothing but a Mr. Jonathan Marcone on the receipt to betray who it was from.

Transient. It was transient, and that bugged me. John Marcone said his own name like it was his personal key to the city. He conspicuously left an impression on people and I could easily image him be offended if someone forgot him. Yet, he gave me something that would be used up or would go bad. Nothing that would last.

That was probably why I stacked the bags back in the box and put them away and went to bed. When I eventually broke them out and started to play with them, they wouldn't last long-- each was about a three-month supply. A three-month supply for a home baker. Not me.

Knowing what the gift was helped me focus, and just in time. It was Friday and I had a lot of specialty cupcakes to bake the next morning. I agonized over whether to make Ivy's Shirley Temples, eventually deciding on one half-batch.

No one showed up to buy them. I ate them myself that night, sitting in my underwear, watching a heavily censored version of Pulp Fiction on TV and trying not to feel too sorry for myself.

It hurt to lose Marcone. It was salt in the wound to lose Ivy as well. I wondered what they were doing that night, since they weren't in my bakery.

Attachment issues, I had them.






At three AM, I sat up in bed, completely awake, struck by a bolt of understanding.

I'd figured out what the gift was.

And. Hell's bells, that... that was not fair.






Saturdays are our slow days, and I left Bob to handle the front pretty much by himself while I did some internet reading.

On Sunday, I cut open every bag of the fancy flour and baked like my life depended on it. I used the spelt for a thick braided challah with cinnamon, star anise, and raisins. The teff, made from a chestnutty grain, I made into a spongey, porous flatbread. To go with it, I made a thick fruity paste of stone fruit and cherry. The rice flour was tricky, and I wasn't sure I had it in me to correctly pull off the traditional mochi on my first try, no matter how many recipes I dug up explaining the process; instead, I made a series of tiny steamed dumplings filled with sweet strawberry-mint cream. The buckwheat made a great brie-raspberry-blackberry galette. I made the best banana bread I'd ever baked along with a garlic, cheesy focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes--

I baked a lot, basically.

On Monday...

Because there was the matter of getting them to Marcone.

Marcone wasn't coming back. When he'd given me his farewells, he'd meant it. I could wait around and hope he'd get a craving strong enough that he'd stumble in, half-crazed and desperate for his panini, but I was pretty sure I'd be waiting a long time. Plus, he was Catholic once upon a time. He was the type who gave things up for Lent. He had willpower.

Everything was packed and ready. I could send them to him by courier. But the very idea of letting my creations pass through the hands of someone I didn't know when this was so important-- no way. Not happening. I had to be sure they got to Marcone, safe and whole.

I thought about giving them to Gard. I thought about giving them to Ivy, or waiting for one of those nights when Marcone's car idled outside. I could just walk out and give them to him then. That was, if he was in the car and it wasn't just his driver picking Ivy up.

No, no. Either way, that wasn't it. I needed to see him. I wanted to see his face when he got the box.

A week ago, I was certain I would never see him again. It hadn't occurred to me that I knew where Marcone worked. There was nothing to stop me from plugging "Vadderung, Marcone, & Associates" into Google, writing down the address it spit out, and catching a cab over to the Mile.

Thomas wasn't wrong about me. If I never had to leave my bakery, I probably wouldn't. My home was my castle. It made me feel safe and comfortable. I could control my surroundings, make my life as simple as possible: I removed every risk I could until it was a little insular bubble of safety. After all, there was nothing worth venturing out for, nothing worth being hurt over, right?

Wrong.

On Monday, I left Bob and Molly at the shop, wrapped all my new creations in parchment paper, and left in search of John Marcone.






My journey almost got held up at the front desk.

The Vadderung, Marcone, & Associates firm was high scale. They were right off Michigan Avenue, close enough to still radiate prestige and high class, but far enough away that the tourists and casual shoppers didn't stumble in. There was huge, modern art taking up most of the space in the lobby. Two of the walls looked like clouded glass until I got closer and saw they were actually artificial waterfalls. The floors were all hard, stained wood in an intricate, beautiful parquet pattern that swirled around like vines or branches. They spidered out from the elevator in the center of the building, also wood, but a smooth, unbroken facing that made the column seem like the trunk of a tree.

I should had worn some nicer clothes. My apron was still on, as I'd forgotten to take it off in my rush, the one with the sky-blue embroidery that said The spice must flow. The receptionist took me in in my flour-dusted clothes, my sneakers, and my box of baked goods, and looked distinctly unimpressed.

"Appointment?" She arched a penciled eyebrow at me. "Catering?"

"Um, no. I was hoping to talk to Marcone? I'm a-- a friend of his and need to see him."

"You want to talk to one of the name partners," she said slowly. "Without an appointment?"

I kept forgetting that Marcone was John Freaking Marcone, one of the most powerful people in Chicago. I had not thought this through.

"Yeah, it's... kind of a surprise. Look, could you maybe just call up and mention Harry Dresden wants to see him, I'm sure he'd--"

There was a click of heels behind me and a long, significant pause. "Mr. Dresden?"

My heart leapt when I turned to see Gard standing behind me. She had her briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other. One of my coffees. "Gard! You have amazing timing. I really need your help here."

The receptionist frowned. "Ms. Gard, you know this guy?"

She sighed. "This is going to be interesting, I'm sure..." Knocking back the last of her coffee, she tossed the cup and took my upper arm in her grip. "Come."

I let her lead me away, elated. This wasn't a complete disaster, which was more than I was expecting when I set out on this mission of mine. "Thank you, thank you, you get free coffee for the rest of the month."

"It's the 30th," she pointed out dryly.

"Next month. Possibly the month after."

She dragged me into the elevator, flashing a guard her security pass briefly as we passed. She hit a button for one of the top floors, then released me, facing me properly. "What are you doing here?"

I did not shuffle my feet under her stern gaze, but it was a close thing. She projected authority like no one I had ever met before. "To... see Marcone?"

Her lips pursed. "Why?"

Self-conscious, I checked the lid of the box, making sure it was firmly in place. I had the feeling it didn't matter, that Gard could see through solid objects and knew exactly what was inside. Or maybe she could read my mind; her gaze seemed to cut straight into my soul. Yikes. "I need to see him."

She looked at the box. "This is not some clever scheme to serve him papers, is it?"

I blinked. "Are you psychic?"

She jabbed the button for the lobby.

"No, wait, wait, it's not-- look!" I shifted the box around until I could get a decent grip with one arm, then lifted the lid. "No papers, I swear. I just-- Gard, please. I need to see him, and I know he's not coming back to the bakery. This is my only shot."

Gard narrowed her eyes at me. I hated doing so, but I met her steely glare. Desperate times.

I think that did it. Stepping out of my comfort zone so obviously seemed to soften her. She hit the upper floor button again. "If you make me regret this, I'll make you regret being born."

I wholeheartedly believed her and meekly nodded.

Gard led me out of the elevator. There was a labyrinth of corridors, populated by plenty of smartly dressed lawyer-types carrying files and generally looking busy. None seemed to give me a second glance, which should have been a relief but mostly creeped me out.

The decorating theme continued even up here. The carpets were a plush storm grey, but the walls and furniture were all various types of wood. As we walked, we went by a large room that had Marcone's name on the door, but Gard's stride didn't slow, and I reluctantly left it behind.

On the way to wherever she was taking me, she asked, "Are you a fan of Neruda, Dresden?"

"What?"

"Neruda. Pablo Neruda."

"Um. Is that a musician or something?"

Gard sighed. "Then you don't know who is responsible for the postcards either."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I told her, telling the truth.

"Never mind, then. It will remain a mystery." She situated me in a conference room with a huge, ash wood table and leaf-green cushioned seats. She directed me to one. "Stay here. He's handling a client at the moment. He'll be in when he's done."

"Thank you. Good luck with your mystery."

Gard nodded, and saw herself out, leaving me with my box in the big empty conference room. There was one large window overlooking the city, but my stomach was already queasy with nervousness over what I was doing. The vertigo of being this high up wouldn't help any.

I sat in the chair. It swiveled, and that amused me for a few minutes, until it suddenly didn't anymore.

Maybe I shouldn't have come. There was something very final about Marcone's goodbye. But he was giving up, with one last gesture of affection, and I hated that. I didn't want to say goodbye, to him or the easy banter between us or that fond look he got when he looked at me or Ivy sometimes. And his gift was so-- so idiotically romantic, a gesture so teeth-rottingly sweet, I could hardly believe it came from him. But it did, and that meant a hell of a lot to me. I liked that he did it. I guess I liked him, enough to pull this stunt.

What if he wasn't happy to see me? I should have called or just let sleeping dogs lie. I should have let this go, fading into another old, bitter memory. I was a mess, and after my blow-up, Marcone had to know that. Maybe that goodbye wasn't just for my sake, but his. He had Ivy to worry about and a stressful career, an entire firm to helm. A skinny baker who couldn't let his fucked-up past go might've been too much for him.

I could leave. He wasn't here yet, and I knew the way back to the elevator.

I stood up, ready to chicken out and do just that, when the door opened.

The man who walked in was not Marcone. He was taller, broader, bigger in stature and sheer presence. He was dressed in a suit that probably cost more than all the clothes I had ever bought in my life combined and wore it well. Incongruously, he had a sort of high-tide mark of respectability; above his suit was a well-trimmed but large beard streaked with grey that looked like it belonged on someone's grandfather, or maybe even on a pirate. His face was scarred in odd places, and his gleaming eye was sharp as it took me in. Singular eye-- his other was covered by a discreet black cloth eyepatch held in place with a thin band that cut through his hair.

He smiled, and my knees wobbled. The man radiated a sense of old power and authority that put Gard to shame. I had the oddest urge to genuflect. "Well, well. I did not expect to meet Jonathan's baker. Harry Dresden, was it?"

"Yeah, hello. You work with Marcone?"

The man grinned. "Not as often as I'd like. Protégés find their feet too quickly these days and don't need their teachers." He stepped forward and offered a huge paw of a hand. "Donar. It's a pleasure to meet you, Harry. I have heard much about you, young man."

We shook. He had a gentler grip than I expected. "Really?"

Donar laughed, nodding. "Oh, yes. From what Jonathan said, I must admit I never expected to meet you. For such an intelligent man, he can be clumsy in matters of the heart. He seemed convinced he'd chased you off."

I shrugged and fidgeted with the box, fixing the lid needlessly again. "Well, it's... complicated."

"If you are here, then I imagine it's much simpler than he believed." Donar clapped a hand on my shoulder, and I nearly staggered. "I'm glad. He's a man in need of more happiness. I'm sure you know the feeling."

Exactly what had Marcone said about me to this guy? Because he was right, yeah, but it was disconcerting to hear from someone I'd just met. "Um."

I was saved from having to come up with anything more eloquent than that: the door opened again and Marcone came in. "Gard said someone was here to..."

His voice trailed off when he laid eyes on me, shock evident on his face, lips parted. Tellingly, he didn't recover, simply stared at me as if my showing up was the one possibility he had not planned for.

Donar, between us, chuckled. "Jonathan, you're catching flies. What would Ivy think?"

Marcone shut his mouth and tore his eyes from me to look to Donar. "Donar..."

"This was not my doing. He's here of his own accord." The man made to leave. "Harry, I hope to see you again. Jonathan," he stopped at Marcone's side and nudged him with an elbow before saying quietly, "Mind your mouth this time."

Marcone's gaze hardened. "I'll see you later, Mr. Vadderung."

Vadderung. I was talking to the other man at the firm who was among the most powerful people in Chicago. He was not what I'd expected. But, neither was Marcone.

Who was back to staring at me as soon as the door shut behind Donar.

My palms started to sweat, and I rubbed them against my apron nervously. A somewhat hysterical thought bounced around my head: please, don't make me have the first word.

He didn't. His gaze fell on the box sitting on the table, and his eyes grew colder. "Mr. Dresden. I wasn't expecting to see you again."

The detachment in his tone, the coolness of his expression, they worried me. I wasn't firing on all cylinders, worry and hope and fear tangled up in my chest. I blurted out, "Yeah, well, I wasn't expecting you to get me flours." My hands started to shake, and I folded them behind my back to hide them. "You got me flours, John."

He inhaled sharply. It was faint, but a blush appeared in his cheeks. When he looked away, he seemed almost... ashamed? Why? "Yes, well. It'd been something I'd been meaning to do for a while. I saw my last opportunity and took it. I admit, I... did not expect you to reject them."

"What?"

"I recognized that my advances were unwelcome, but I had no idea that--"

"What are you talking... Oh!" I knocked my forehead with the heel of my hand. "The box, you think... No, no, hold on."

He saw the box, the one he'd given me, and thought I was giving him his stupid, insane romantic gesture back. Why didn't I just grab a new box, hell's bells... I took the lid off and started to pull everything out, setting each item on the table. As I did, I explained each one: "That's focaccia, some sourdough, sweet dumplings..." I went on, until the box was empty and half the table was covered in food. When I was done, I pushed the empty box away. "I just used that to carry them."

John gawked at the plethora of baked goods, then back up to my face. "Harry... What is this?"

"Uh. Spelt, all-purpose, this one's rice," I pointed to each in turn. "Teff, barley, buckwheat--"

He took a tentative step towards me, looking at what I'd laid out for him. "I don't understand."

"You gave me flours," I murmured, because to me that explained it all. "That's... a really bad pun, John."

"Yes. Well." He clasped his hands together in front of him, grip tight, and kept away, giving me more personal space than I was used to from him.

That... annoyed me. Anyone who invaded my space made me nervous, even when it was my brother and his hugs and cheek kissing. But just this once, I didn't want that gap between me and everyone else. I grabbed him by the lapel of his pinstriped suit and pulled him closer. He nearly staggered into me and I put my hand on his chest to steady him. "Look," I said, "what you did wasn't right, and if you ever do it again, I am probably going to blow up at you worse than I already did, because that's how I am and I'm not good at dealing with-- with much of anything, really." That thought stilled me and made me back away, leaning on the table behind me. "So I'm a mess, and if you want to stay away because of that, I understand. I mean, I have no idea why anyone puts up with me. Bob's kind of a saint in his own way."

John followed me, boxing me in against the table. His hands lifted and hovered indecisively for a second before landing on my shoulders. "I don't think that. At all."

"Okay. Cool, good." My heart did not skip a beat, thank you. I did start smiling in what had to be a really goofy way though. No one had told me that before, except Bob, who kind of had to when he was defusing me from one of my attacks. "I don't want this to be the end of it, so..." I nodded to the table. "Try the food. Come by later and tell me what you liked."

"I will," he said seriously, as though he were taking on a solemn duty.

"Great. All right. I'll just..." I pushed off the table, but John didn't back away. I nearly fell back until John's hands landed on my hips, hooked into the tie of my apron. He was looking up at me, eyes flicking to my lips every now and then. Was he going to kiss me? I was on board with that.

He didn't; John smirked, that habitual, charming arrogance making a show on his face. "Until later, Mr. Dresden," he said softly, taking my hand and doing that absurd knuckle kiss again.

"Is this going to be a thing with you?" He did it again. "I'm leaving now. Stop molesting my hand."

He snorted and let go. "All right."

"Eat the dumplings first. I heated them up and they'll be gross if they're cold."

"Have a good afternoon, Harry."

"Don't microwave them!"

He said something else in reply, undoubtedly snarky and desert dry, but I was halfway down the hall, and had to stop walking backwards before I collided with a paralegal or whatever.

I left, smiling all the way. By the time I got home, my face was starting to hurt. I didn't care.

When I returned home, Bob saw my grin and stopped dead in his tracks, gaping at me. "Harry? Did something happen?" And, silently, I could hear him asking, have you snapped?

I beamed at him. "Nah. It's just a good day."


The Legit Final Act, I swear to god.


Next up, grand finale, finally justifying that explicit sex warning, more sap than a maple tree, author notes where you get to hear me blab on about omg did ya'll know this stupid little AU is a critique of Jim Butcher LIKE I'VE NEVER DONE THAT BEFORE, and a wee mixtape that goes along with the AU. Yaaaay, free music, amiright?

Also, if you get where the flours thing comes from, pat yourself on the back for having good taste.

Also also, haha Grene, I'm adding in the POV flips hooks for you. :PEER PRESSURE:

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-30 01:43 am (UTC)
seekingeden: (glee pumpkin)
From: [personal profile] seekingeden
Mihihihihihihi!
I can't ... the what ... there are no coherent thoughts in my head right now. It was so cute! Gard with the mysterious postcards! Vadderung!!!!! [What did Marcone tell him? Was he drunk at the time?]

I don't understand the flour thing. Mind explaining it?


Funny thing: Just a few hours ago I was thinking 'Hm, when is the next part of that fantastic bakery au coming out? Need to check asap'.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-30 01:52 am (UTC)
seekingeden: sheepworld sheep holding out a red flower to the viewer (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingeden
*facepalm*
Thank you for explaning.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-30 03:42 am (UTC)
greyeyes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greyeyes
Eeeeeeeeeee! I was really craving another part of this today! AND THEN YOU POSTED! WOOT!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-30 05:00 am (UTC)
greyeyes: iruka yells, kakashi adores by pentapus (iruka & kakashi by pentapus)
From: [personal profile] greyeyes
Ooooo, that hit the spot! SO SWEET! And I *love* the knuckle-kissing! And Vadderung! MARCONE TALKS ABOUT HARRY TO HIM! Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-30 04:43 am (UTC)
kitewithfish: The Doctor tilts his head. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kitewithfish
Ahhh, this chapter makes it all worth it. As much as I love the unrequited love, the miscommunications, the long process of a character sorting their feelings out... there comes a time when I just want them to fucking talk to each other. And you do not fail to deliver, madam.

Marcone is wonderful- same sense of responsibility for everything, same desire to be in control.


I did not catch the pun until Harry mentioned it. :) I did look up teff. :) I am looking forward to the resolution of all this...:D

And, I have to say- send us the RECIPES!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-30 08:02 am (UTC)
everbright: Eclipse of Saturn (Default)
From: [personal profile] everbright
:D!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Is your mother a caterer or something? How do you think up the amazing things Harry bakes! The sweet flat bread crepe things are FASCINATING. Also, Yaaaaaaaaaay! Harry is taking his agency in his own hands!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-31 05:48 am (UTC)
brownbetty: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brownbetty
I have no idea where the flours thing came from; I was so gobsmacked by the terribleness of the pun I was going to accuse you of having written the entire story to deliver this punchline, but apparently not!

(Man, I would probably put out for teff flour.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-31 05:52 am (UTC)
brownbetty: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brownbetty
And now I get to imagine John, like, giggling quietly to himself as he anticipates delivering flours, only to have his beautiful vision go up in smoke. So tragic!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-11-03 04:39 pm (UTC)
petra: Barbara Gordon smiling knowingly (Default)
From: [personal profile] petra
I believe the flours are one of my favorite fictional presents of all time. <3

(no subject)

Date: 2011-11-04 01:48 pm (UTC)
aqua_eyes: The brothers from Boondock saints, arms around each other in their dressing gowns after being attacked. (Boondock Saints: Brothers in Dressing Go)
From: [personal profile] aqua_eyes
<3

(no subject)

Date: 2011-11-19 08:45 pm (UTC)
innocentsmith: a lion, a lamppost, and a winged man in a conservative coat stand on a bridge under an orange sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] innocentsmith
Coming back for a reread and realized I'd never commented on this chapter. Which is shocking and wrong, because it is great.

The flours/flowers thing is amazing and ridiculous - presents with implicit awful puns are the BEST presents - and like everyone else here I love Harry's response of baking with them. That's just a lovely, symbolic kind of love-gift exchange, and feels like it should be part of some kind of cultural tradition for courtship somewhere - one partner giving the ingredients, the other partner transforming them into something personal to give them back. ♥

I also enjoyed Harry's interactions with Vadderung and Gard, and it's very adorable that there's this whole Gard/Hendricks romance playing out that Harry just hasn't picked up on. Like Luccio/Murphy, it's a nice little sign of people having their own lives and things going on that don't revolve around Harry, and that both gives the world some depth and also gives me warm fuzzies.

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