luciazephyr: a black porcelain cup with a tea bag waiting inside. ([Misc] my greatest addiction-- tea)
[personal profile] luciazephyr
Title: The Stars and Scones Bakery and Coffee Shop (4/legit 5 okay)
Pairings: Harry Dresden/John Marcone
Warnings/Content: OKAY THIS IS GETTING RIDIC. Let's go down the once-again revised list: 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. JFC, I couldn't fail fluff fic harder if I tried.
Summary: In which Harry is the best baker in Chicago, but still ends up starting a few fires along the way.
Word Count: 7,999. Um. Yeah.

Author's Note: oh god, this had all the betas. Polaris, Grene, Binz, and Sam. You guys. Srsly.

Act Four: what is sweet now turns so sour

The bakery was open pretty much all the time, except for holidays. Some days had shorter hours than others, but we were usually open for the morning and early afternoon at least. There were a lot of people in my city who needed caffeine fixes, who had pastry cravings to sate, or who just needed a place to spend a few hours. Consequently, I didn't leave the shop a lot, especially with my apartment right upstairs. It took Thomas bothering me for the entire week before he left for me to agree to let Bob and Molly run Stars and Scones for a day so we could venture out into Chicago together.

We made a day of it. I indulged Thomas, taking him around the usual tourist traps: Grant Park was beautiful in the early autumn, the trees bronze and red even as the grass remained vibrant and green, fed with plenty of rain. I found the Planetarium a lot more interesting than Thomas did, along with the Shedd. Ivy had told me the otters there were adorable, and as usual she was right. We sat and had lunch on the Lawn: sandwiches I'd made with thick, crusty sourdough, an avocado-tomato spread, and a thick pile of smoked deli meats. We were sharing the space with some sort of Scottish heritage festival, and Thomas and I argued about which of us would look better in a kilt. Thomas brought up the pink apron, claiming it was pretty much a skirt anyway, and I maintained my knobby knees would frighten children.

It was a good lunch. Thomas apparently agreed. "You are murder on a guy's diet, little brother," he said between bites.

"There's caramel bourbon candy for dessert."

"You spoil me hard." He dug into the basket, looking for the candy.

I laughed, amused by his enthusiasm. It was hard not to shower him with treats; he was even more appreciative than my regulars, and I was a sucker for a good audience for my art. I was going to miss him.

Not just the ego-stroking, mind, but him, too. I'd gotten used to having a brother. Having family. I liked the created family I had around the bakery, but I was eternally, painfully aware that all it took was someone moving across town and I might never see them again. I was well-aware that I ran the best bakery in Chicago, but there were others. There were other places to get a coffee or a scone, and with traffic and a tangled public transportation system and the million little things that controlled people's lives, the prospect of losing people to the battle of convenience was a real one.

With Thomas, there was that blood tie, and to me that seemed more tangible than the rest of the connections I had. Thomas would return to LA, but thanks to our mother, we would always be linked.

Stars, I was kind of a freak, wasn't I? Treating our blood relation like a leash. The fact that anyone put up with me was amazing. I knew I was a bit off and had periods of being really off, but it wasn't something I could talk about to anyone. The idea that I might trust someone with that and they wouldn't understand...

I got quiet, and Thomas seemed to notice me retreating. He grabbed our trash, tossed it, and hauled me to my feet. "Come on. What's the fastest way to Michigan Avenue?"

"The Mag Mile?" I looked at my watch. Saturdays, the bakery closed early. If Bob or Molly needed help--

"Nevermind," Thomas said, towing me over to the nearest L station. "There's a map over here somewhere, right? I can figure it out."

I laughed and lengthened my stride to catch up to him. "Yeah, and we'll end up in Nantucket. Come on, a cab'll be faster from here to the Mile."

We hit the shops. Or, Thomas hit the shops while I window browsed. North Michigan Avenue was ridiculously opulent and proud to show off its high property values. It'd been... at least two or three years since I'd last been up here. I didn't have the time to wander around Chicago or the spare cash to warrant walking the Mile.

Thomas did, though, and picked up several bags full of stuff from the boutiques and shops. Then he realized it wouldn't all fit in his dufflebag so we had to go buy him some more luggage, which cost more than a month of my rent.

After that, I was all set to go back home and make dinner, and to make sure nothing catastrophic had happened while I was gone; the longer I was away, the more tense I became. But I was carrying all of Thomas' bags-- working in a bakery gives you stronger arms than salon work apparently-- and he refused to hail another cab and instead consulted the map on his phone.

He took me to Spiaggia.

"Hell's fucking bells, I am not dressed for this, Thomas!" I hissed at him.

Thomas shrugged. "I've heard of this place all the way back in California. Wanted to try it."

They had an actual coatroom, and the attendant courteously stored the bags there for us. It would have actually been better if she'd looked at us with disdain or stared judgmentally at my casual clothes, but she was nothing short of professional. It was slightly infuriating.

We sat next to the ceiling-to-floor windows, overlooking Michigan Avenue. The menus made my heart stop for a second, but Thomas waved away my concerns. "You've fed me three or four times this amount in the last week. I got this."

Thomas ordered for us; he'd spent some time in Italy while overseas and thus understood what everything on the menu actually was. I got the anitra arrostita con topinambur e piselli (duck with honey-thyme, a very balanced mix of sweet and savory). Thomas got the tagliata di manzo con coda di bue alla vaccinara (steak with actual oxtail on a really delicious-looking salad with balsamico that smelled so good, I had to dip my finger in it and taste it).

Then we had dessert. And I decided I really didn't like Spiaggia because it was possible they had a pastry chef who could kick my ass, and I resented it. The chef was probably born in Italy and was raised by a secret order of culinary monks who practiced the most ancient dessert arts. Me, all I had were years of raiding cupboards with an enthusiasm for experimentation and vague notions of good flavor combinations.

The less said about my petty jealousy, the better. It's not something I'm proud of.

It was dark by the time we finished. It was late. I practically dived at the first empty taxi that passed, trying to flag it down.

"Empty night, Harry, calm down!" Thomas snapped.

I rolled my eyes at him. "You calm down. I'm fine, I know what I'm doing." My phone was out of my pocket and I dialed the bakery. No one picked up, so I dialed Bob. He didn't pick up either. Not even on the third try.

Thomas watched me, his eyes an odd, dispassionate chrome. "Harry."

Right then, my phone beeped with a new message: it was fine, tell Thomas thx for getting you out of the bakery for a bit. and if yo-- the message cut off, but concluded thirty seconds later with another. u keep nagging and lose me this date, I will quit.

Not likely, though I got the point. But the whole ride back home, I kept looking anxiously out the window and tapping my fingers on my knees. I'd been away all day, had never left my bakery in anyone else's hands since the day it opened, and deep down, part of me was still shocked I'd managed to snap up my father's old shop off the market. Loosening my hold on it was difficult; like if I took my eyes off it for a second, someone would snatch it out from under me.

Thomas didn't say anything until I let us in, re-alarmed the door, and checked the foyer and kitchen. He was still standing in the doorway when I finished. "What?"

He shook his head and picked up his bags, which made me briefly annoyed he'd left me to carry everything as he shopped. "I've got to get this stuff packed and you need to do your prep," he said, and headed upstairs.

Pain started to radiate out from my temple. I'd been grinding my teeth. Ow. I dug out a piece of gum, jawing at it as I turned on the radio and got to work.

Molly had, as usual, left some sheet pans soaking in the sink. It was one bad habit of hers that I just could not break, and that was saying something. The rebellious teen Michael and Charity had asked for my help with had, at the time, hit every pet peeve I had. She didn't want to work in my shop and I hadn't wanted to take anyone on. My shop was... well, my shop. Bob was different, vital to my work in some indefinable way. And he worked the coffee machine better than I did.

But getting Mols involved had entirely prompted by her family. I couldn't turn down Michael and Charity, not when they'd done so much for me, brought in so much business, shared their home with me in the winter months when heating bills were gutting me. One favor in return was not unreasonable.

And it had worked out. Bob had been burning out before we got Molly, and she was a cheerful presence. She helped.

Having Thomas around had been enlightening. I loved my brother, even after knowing him for such a short time. And with him upstairs and me downstairs in my kitchen, my baking, and Bon Jovi, a knot that'd been tightening in me all afternoon came loose. The separation relieved me.

Except that once I realized that, I was crushed by guilt.

What kind of brother was I? I was happy Thomas was in the apartment sulking about whatever I'd done wrong? I was such an ungrateful jackass. I'd spent my years at Justin's staring at the ceiling at night, hoping against hope for a long lost relative to swoop in and save me. But now that the novelty was wearing off, I couldn't get away from Thomas fast enough.

Not only was I an ungrateful jackass, I was an idiot who was too tangled up in his own thoughts to remember to do basic things like use an oven mitt. I grabbed a hot metal tray and yelped as it burned me. "Owfuck, ow!"

I must've shouted fairly loudly. I heard steps on the stairs, then Thomas was jogging into the kitchen. "What happened? You--"

I was already darting to the sink and jerking on the cold water. "Nothing, nothing, just---" I cursed as the water hit the burn. "J-just get the tray out for me, okay?"

Thomas didn't move immediately, still staring at me. "Jesus, Harry..." Slowly, he did as I asked, then backed into the break room. A moment later, he had the aloe lotion from the first aid kit and some gauze. "Let me see."

"I'm fine, give me a minute."

"Don't be stupid," he groused, grabbing my wrist. I stiffened, but let him pull my hand from the faucet. "Damn, you don't do anything in halves, do you?"

He was right; it was an ugly burn, but I'd had enough in my time baking to know when it was serious and when it was just going to hurt like hell for a few days. This one was the latter, and at least this time I had someone to help. Thomas stood patiently next to me as I held my hand under the stream for a while longer, waiting to bandage me up.

He did so, tying off the gauze loosely so it didn't put pressure on the burn. "You going to be all right?"

"Fine," I said, flexing my hand slowly, testing for the point where it hurt the most. "Thanks."

Thomas bowed his head, his hair obscuring his eyes. "Yeah, you're always fine, aren't you?"

That was such a weird comment, I had no idea how to respond. I just frowned at him.

He sighed. "Sorry. Forget I said anything."

I was missing something. Not new, but irritating nonetheless. "It's a burn. I've had worse. Comes with the job. I'm fine, really."

Thomas twitched away, a jerky, angry motion. He was bothered by something and it pissed me off that I couldn't figure out what. He grit out, "Stop saying that. It sounds like you mean it."


He looked at me, my honest confusion, and his face softened. "Never mind. I'm going to just... go check on my ticket info. See you in a bit?"

I nodded numbly, watching him go. Standing there in a daze, mind full of shouting and noise, it took the oven timer going off to get me moving again. An hour later, I had everything pretty much squared away for the morning and could finally relax.

It was with some reluctance that I shut out the lights, double-checked the doors, and went upstairs to my apartment and my brother.

Thomas' duffel bag was on top of his new luggage, packed full with the day's purchases. He had the sofa bed folded out already, and he sat cross-legged on it, his iPhone in his hands. He was dressed down in a tank and boxers, his bedclothes.

I toed off my shoes and padded over to my room. Once I got myself in pajama pants, I took a breath and returned to the living room, sitting down on the sofa bed mattress as far from him as I could. "Hey."

"Hey. So I'm going to grab the Blue Line to O'Hare after lunch. I know I have to stay on it and not get off until the final stop." He turned his phone to me to show me the little L map on the screen. "No more ending up halfway across the city."

I nodded. "Good. If you need any help, I'll be here. Just call."

Thomas nodded, then there was an awkward stretch of silence and I... didn't know what to do with. Didn't know how families worked. Was I supposed to say something? Was I supposed to let sleeping dogs lie? It was the night before he left and I was just terrified that I'd say the wrong thing and he'd never come back.

So being away from him helped me relax, but I didn't want him to go. Confusing, to say the least.

The prospect of Thomas coming back wouldn't leave me alone. I wanted that, this bridge to before. And, lest I forget, Thomas was connected to my past in other ways too. The idea of it had been eating at me for a long time, probably since that first night Thomas had walked into my life.

"Thomas?" He grunted, his focus mostly on his phone, typing something. "Maybe next time, whenever it's possible for you to come back up... Maybe Elaine could come too?" His fingers froze, his whole body going still. Nervousness skittered up my spine. I'd probably gone and said the wrong thing again, stars. "Not that I don't want you up here, I do! But I didn't even know where Elaine went before you showed up and I'd never thought I'd see her again. Hell, maybe you can mention it to her and I'll see about flying her up sometime--"

Thomas sighed, deep and tired. "Harry..."

"What?" He didn't go on and I was just so tired of being out of my depth. I hated, more than anything, not knowing what to do, being so completely out at sea I couldn't find my way. "Dammit, Thomas, what is going on?"

He shut his eyes, setting the phone aside. "I asked her already, Harry. When I was planning my trip. I asked if she wanted to come and see you. She turned me down."

I didn't understand, and said as much, the words muffled, strange on my tongue.

"Don't you? If anyone should understand..." Thomas snorted. "Okay then, Harry. Come with me to see her. I'll book you a seat on my flight."

"I can't," I said.

Thomas picked his phone back up, tapped at it, and tossed it to me. It was an airline booking site, all set and ready to go to LAX if I just hit the submit button. But... Thomas had to know I couldn't just up and leave. I couldn't go to Los Angeles.

But Thomas apparently didn't know. "Why not?"

"What do you mean, why not? I have a bakery to run?" I waved at the floor and the shop beyond.

Thomas was smiling, smile gleaming like razor wire. "And I have a salon. But I took a vacation."

"You have Justine. There's no one to cover for me."

"Bob and Molly."

"I'd need more than just them! You've seen how mornings get."

"Hire more people."

"I can't!"

"Why not?"


Thomas shook his head. "Don't you see what you're doing?"


"You're shouting." I was. I was also standing with my fists clenched. I didn't remember that happening. Dazed, I sat back down. Thomas watched, still smiling. I wished he'd stop. "And you say you're fine."

I... didn't know what that meant. Or, honestly, why I'd gotten so worked up. My breathing was harsh, as though I'd been running. That and the distant angry, upset feeling boiling in my gut were horribly familiar. I'd gone through it a lot three or so years ago, back when I was... less than stable. But I was supposed to be past that shit. Now Thomas was dragging all that complicated, ugly emotion back up.

My brother, apparently satisfied with our talk, folded down the blankets and climbed under them. "Can you grab the light?"

Hint received, I stood up and went to my room, pulling the light chain on the ceiling fan as I went. The room remained dimly lit by the city lights outside.

"Goodnight, Harry."

I didn't reply, walking into my room and shutting the door silently behind me. My bedroom didn't have any windows, and the darkness was absolute. It was oppressive, less like being in the dark and more like there was a hood over my head.

It was hard to think. Or, I guess my thoughts were trying to run away from me, all anxiousness and shock and simmering hot hurt.

I startled in pain. I'd been digging my fingers into my arm, right above the long, thin scar I couldn't remember getting.

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit.

I stumbled to bed, burying my face in the pillow until I had to breathe. Then I took a breath and pushed my face back into the worn cotton.

Not again. I didn't want to go through this all again. I was supposed to be better now, for god's sake. Not shaking with the effort of keeping a hold of myself.

And it was a big effort.

Justin, when he'd taken Elaine and me in, had been nothing but sympathetic about our problems. He'd been so kind when he'd explained why we were broken. It was something inherent in us, like a defect, but he'd work to fix it.

I'm not an idiot. I know Justin was screwed in the head. But sometimes I think he had a point: so was I.

I didn't sleep well and was surly and grumpy enough in the morning that even Bob was quiet, like he was sure I'd snap at him if he said anything. Which wasn't inaccurate. I was off-kilter and hurting. It was exhausting to remind myself not to lash out at any customers who dared to be having a good morning or, worse, be as unhappy as I was. I was on a short fuse, to say the least.

Thomas came downstairs as the morning rush was waning and helped himself to some food out of the pastry case. Twelve hours ago, I'd had it in my head that I'd make him something special for his last meal in Chicago, but. That didn't happen. Just having him behind the counter made me shake, and I started balling up my hands under my apron.

Bob noticed anyway, giving me a fretful glance before shooing Thomas to the back to eat his brunch. On one hand, being handled like glass pissed me off. On the other, it was really necessary. Fine, okay, I was a wreck of a human being who had massive unresolved issues that even my fucking brother who'd only know me a few weeks could--

Anyway. I was that, but none of my customers needed to know. I silently nodded my thanks to Bob and kept my head down.

Thomas came to me before he left. He had his duffel and his rolling luggage packed and ready to go at his feet as he stood by the stairs, waiting for me.

I couldn't pretend not to see him forever. When I eventually went over, He hugged me tightly. The knot in my chest tightened, and further still when he kissed each of my cheeks, like he had the first night he'd walked into my bakery, my life. "I'll call when I land."

I nodded. "I'll....--" I choked back a laugh, because of course. "I'll be here."

Thomas smiled, warm and handsome, but oblivious. "See you soon, little brother."

He hugged me again. I let him, told him goodbye, and watched him leave.

Things got worse from there.

Bob must've said something to Molly, because getting her to go home took twice as long as usual. It was like trying to get rid of a stray cat you made the mistake of feeding once. She cleaned the counter, then wanted to wipe down all the tables and chairs, then the windows were apparently looking spotty and she wanted to Windex them to death.

It was a school night, so I kicked her out before midnight because the girl needed her sleep, no matter what Bob had told her to convince her to loiter around. And, besides, I wasn't good company. At all.

I locked up the shop after taking Molly home in my rusted but functional Volkswagon. The lights went out, the curtains were pulled shut, the door alarmed. I was alone, actually alone, for the first time since Thomas had showed up. I'd hoped that'd make me feel better.

It didn't.

At least Bob, Mols, the lively patrons Stars and Scones were distractions. Retreating into the dark corners of your own mind was hard to do when people were constantly demanding your attention. Alone with my night baking and my evening routines, the sort of work I could do in my sleep, nothing was there to tether me, to keep me from falling back into old, bitter memories.


She kept our old recipe book. Or, she had until she'd given it to Thomas. Elaine, who didn't want to see me. Who Thomas said was as bad as I was. Who'd left in the night and ended up on the other side of the country.

Who left me.

That wasn't fair. I knew it wasn't. But that was one wound that refused to scar over. We'd survived Justin and got a foothold in a tiny little apartment in Des Moines. It was the two of us, two survivors. We hadn't let a fucked-up maniac with a degree destroy us.

I still don't know what exactly went wrong, or if anything did. I spent plenty of nights awake, wondering if Elaine had been hurting that whole time we were living together. I was so hopelessly relieved to be out from under Justin's thumb that... Maybe I just couldn't see it. I had plans to move back to Chicago and get us a place and everything was going to get better. When you hit rock bottom, you could only go up, after all.

I was so naive. I forgot I still had more to lose.

I don't know if it was me that drove her off. I don't know if it was the trauma of Justin lingering, if the apartment was just so small that she couldn't stop thinking the walls were closing in on her.

Hell's bells, maybe it was all of the above.

I don't have many recollections from that time. A lot of them are still hazy and confused, and the psychotropic cocktails Justin gave me only blur things further. But I do remember the evening before she left.

I was cooking. One of the upsides to having a talent in the kitchen was being able to make a small amount of food last. I was making stir-fry with leftover steak. I had the only good knife in the kitchen in hand, thinly slicing the beef as the vegetables heated, ginger and soy sauce thick enough in the air to taste. It wasn't going to be a big meal, but I was determined to make it a good one.

There was a thunderstorm going on outside, rain beating violently against the windows, the lights flickering. I needed to get everything cooked before we lost power. Across the room, Elaine was already lighting candles in anticipation of a dark night. The smoke from the matches she used fought with the food and the smell of the air coming in through the one window we'd left cracked open despite the oncoming weather. The breeze was damp and electric as it closed in.

I was in a hurry and loud noises had a habit of... bothering me. The constant low rumble of thunder gave way to one loud, echoing crash. Everything but my hearing whited out. I knew I let out a pathetic cry of fear, but it was drowned out by another boom of sound.

The urge to run away and hide warred with the question of where the hell I could hide. I was too freaked out and stupid from adrenaline to figure it out. I was shaking enough that the knife in my grip went a bit wild. When I tried to put it down, I did it too hard. It was the sharpest knife I had, so at least it didn't hurt too much when I put a slice in my arm.

The pain at least grounded me. It took a full second to pry my hand off the knife, to unclench so I could instead press my palm to the wound. Slowly, blood spread warm and wet under my hand. "El-- Elaine, grab the kit. I got my arm."

Elaine got the kit. She sat me down and hurried to yank out bandages and peroxide, moving quickly, frantically, swabbing with disinfectant and wrapping my arm. She was breathing fast and shallow, louder than the storm.

I grabbed her hand, stopping her work. "Elaine. Elaine. Wrong arm."

She stilled. Then she carefully unwrapped the ace bandages from the red scar on my left forearm and treated the gash on my right.

The next morning, she was gone.

That was over a decade ago, but I could still see it playing out crystal clear when I closed my eyes. I remember the upset knit of Elaine's brow when she looked up at me, the lingering wildflower smell of her perfume left on the pillow, the brush she'd forgotten in the bathroom with a few strands of straw-gold hair caught its bristles, and all the little empty spaces left around the apartment in her wake. It was her missing clothes and books that stopped me from calling the police. I didn't have enough self-delusion in me to pretend she hadn't left me.

It was so easy to backslide into that old pain, into that feeling of abandonment. I'd been so sure I was getting better at dealing, but with Thomas' harsh reminder of reality, they were clawing out of their grave. Emotional zombies, out for my brain. Or something.

Spend so long aching and you didn't want the feeling to get better, just to go away.

As I mentioned, I don't drink. That's more of Bob's thing. But I finished my baking on autopilot, my mind filled with thunder and wet green eyes and a knife's edge, and tried to distract myself. Sleep wasn't an option; my subconscious was an asshole on nights like these and screaming nightmares weren't as fun as you'd think. There was a TV in the break room, so I slumped on the sofa and turned on Food Network.

Yeah, I watch Food Network. I'm a baker; I don't have time for serial television. It's all trashy reality shows and celebrity chefs for me. Usually, it worked at times like these. I needed something mindless to quiet my mind. Listening to Alton Brown explain at patient length why turkey stuffing was an invention of the devil would've been just the thing to help.

Instead, I got stuck with Sandra Lee, who refused to respond when I yelled at her all the ways she was ruining food. It was a relief when she moved on to her customary cocktail recipe.

In my defense, I was morose and tired and in the middle of one of the worst pity parties I'd had in years. Sandra Lee's 'cooking' was the last straw; so when she started to explain her cocktail, I decided self-medicating with some alcohol was just the thing I needed.

I made Sandra's cocktail, then made another one, a better one just to prove I could. I wasn't used to drinking and hadn't eaten dinner, so. Well. Things went out of control fairly quickly.

Booze helped! I mean, I couldn't stop all my dark thoughts from melding together into a Hemingway-level depression, but it stopped bothering me. I was floating, too detached to care about how my life was a Lemony Snicket novel and how nothing good had ever happened to me and I was a shut-in too afraid of being hurt again to reach out and not even Elaine, the girl I struggled and suffered and cried with for all those years, loved me enough to stick around. Bob, fuck, Bob had guilt issues like I had... everything issues.

S'why Susan picked her career over me, not that I blamed her. My issues, I mean, not Bob's. Stars, that was also probably why Murphy ignored my attempts at flirting. Murphy was... was the smartest person I knew. She totally avoided me 'cause I was a mess. Smart girl. Woman. Whatever.

Never met Mom, lost Dad, orphan, Justin, lost Elaine, worked myself into the ground for years, got Bob because Bob's stupid guilt, became a hermit, got a brother and was too scared of everything to hold on to anybody.

Cheers, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Admittance was the first step to recovery, right?

So what the hell was I supposed to do next?

Next, I was woken up by the sound of someone trying to break down my door. Or maybe they were just knocking. It sounded very loud, whatever it was.

The racket stopped eventually, thank fuck. I relaxed, turning my face into the sofa cushions, trying to get back to sleep. I may not have been a drinker, but I'd done it enough in the past to know when I needed to put off opening my eyes. The world beyond my eyelids was going to hurt me, and nothing would be gained from speeding up that process.

I would've lain there hiding from consciousness forever if not for Bob's spare key. He'd evidently given up on waiting for me to let him in and broke out his seldom used copy of the shop key. I heard the beep of the alarm being disabled and his approaching steps.

They stopped at the kitchen entry. "What the bloody fuck happened here?"

I twisted and cracked one eye open to look around. After the initial throbbing pain faded, I took in my surroundings.

Wow. That was a quite a mess. The oven was on and open-- no wonder it was so hot in there-- with one blackened pan sitting on the top rack. Bags of formerly frozen fruit were torn open, their contents scattered around the work area. Some thin sheets of phyllo were hanging off the counter, the sink, and (somewhat inexplicably) the ceiling fan. Simple syrup and honey were dripping onto the floor and, most damningly, two empty bottles of Van Gogh vodka were sitting conspicuously amid the chaos.

Bob jawed at the sight for a moment. I was a methodically neat baker and my kitchen hadn't been in this bad a state since the pre-Bob days. After taking everything in, he came to me, kneeling on the ground next to my head, looking worried.

For the nth time in the last two days, I felt like a complete asshole.

"Harry." His hand rested lightly on my shoulder. "Are you all right? Do you need..." What? A hug? To talk? To not be a screw-up?

I rubbed my face, squinting around. "Time?"

"Half hour to opening," he said.

"Get the front ready. 'M gonna get this crap cleaned up. Get myself cleaned up. We're not going to talk about this." I saw the flash of protest on his face and snapped, "I'm serious, Bob. Leave it."

His defiance shifted to pity. Because that's exactly what I wanted, right. "Later."


"Later, Harry," he repeated and got up. "Drink some water and take some aspirin."

"Yeah." I stumbled to my feet, bracing myself against the wall as I shuffled upstairs as fast as I could without falling over. It wasn't very fast.

Hell's bells, this was why I didn't drink. What had I been thinking? It never ended well for me, as evidenced by me brushing my teeth; I found the minty taste nauseating, threw up what little contents my stomach had (all liquid, unsurprisingly), and then had to brush my teeth again. Ugh.

I put on new clothes, grabbed a water bottle out of my fridge and chugged it, and took a lot more aspirin than the little medicine label said I should. More water, and I went back downstairs to get to cleaning the kitchen.

I'd taken longer than I'd expected. Bob had the front ready to go, the coffee machines on, the pastry case full. He was in the kitchen, a mop cradled in the crook of his arm as he stood over a plate with something on it. He had a fork in his mouth and a startled expression on his face.

"What? What is it?"

He swallowed. "Found it in the fridge. It's..." He took another bite, making almost aroused sounds as he chewed. "I want to say it's baklava, but I think 'ambrosia wrested from the hands of the Olympian Gods' may be more accurate."

I don't get compliments on food from Bob. He's used to my baking. I raised an eyebrow at him and he wordlessly handed me the fork.

It did appear to be baklava. But when I tasted it, I found Bob's description to be spot-on. "Holy crap, what is in this?"

"You don't remember making it?"

I shook my head. "Last thing I remember is throwing my shoe at Sandra Lee's stupid face. I can't believe I baked anything last night."

Bob stole the fork back and tried another bite. "God, boss. How bad of a person would I be if I said you need to get blackout drunk more often?"

"No worse than usual." I slid the plate away from him. "Stop. I don't even know what's in it."

"I'm not allergic to anything."

"I know, but I can't recreate it if I don't know what I put in it." I smacked his hand away when he reached for more. "Go open the shop. And make me a coffee potion before I kill someone."

Bob did as he was told, but kept looking over his shoulder at the baklava like they were two lovers torn cruelly asunder. It wasn't an unreasonable reaction.

I got a knife and cut a neat square out from the pastry to see what the hell I'd done in my drunken haze to make it so damn good. If I could make it again, I could charge a frankly ridiculous amount of money for it and people would pay it. It was amazing.

It was also impossible.

Most of the components I found to be replicable. The phyllo was broken up with layers of smashed pistachio, providing a great crunchy counterpoint to the fruit center. The fruit was, fittingly enough, crushed drunken cherries and I hadn't kept those bottles of Van Gogh to myself, because the cherries were soaked in the double espresso vodka with a dark chocolate layer right on top, the bitter battling the natural sweetness. But the weird thing that confused me the most was the sticky fluff between each layer of phyllo. It made the baklava much lighter than it would usually be if made with honey.

But it was honey. Instead of heavy, thick honey that oversweetened the entire thing, it was.... almost aerated. But that was impossible-- you couldn't do that, not without messing with the honey in a factory process. Yet, a little digging through the kitchen mess and I found a metal bowl with the fluffed white-gold honey, stringy like candy floss with a whisk in the middle of it.

How the hell had I done that? You can't just beat honey into submission, it's honey. Only molasses is more of a pain in the ass. Yet I somehow did it, while drunk, without adding anything to the mixture.

I still have no idea how I made the Impossible Baklava. It's one of the greatest tragedies of my life, to be honest.

I couldn't agonize over it for long. The early birds started filing in for their breakfast and coffees. I made Bob put the baklava out, ignoring his pleas to me to not sell it, that it was too good, that with the right application we could bring about world peace with the Impossible Baklava.

It sold very, very well. I was worried there wouldn't be any left over for my friends, so I hid it in the back corner of the walk-in fridge where Bob wouldn't be able to eat it. It was worth sharing. I was feeling very off-kilter and oddly desperate for attention, and seeing Murphy's pleased smile helped. When my GM Butters tried it, his eyes rolling up in rapture made me feel less sorry for myself.

It still wasn't a great day. I was hungover and vaguely nauseated even after the worst of it passed. Everything felt too loud or too bright, and if anyone but my friends dared to be cheerful in my general direction, I got grumpy and snapped at them. Bob had to do some damage control, but by the afternoon, we were pretty empty just because my foul mood was making the shop unwelcoming.

And realizing that just pissed me off further.

And then John Marcone walked in and opened his stupid mouth.

He was clearly on his break for a quick lunch, having left his briefcase in the office. Ideally, in a perfect world, he would have been in and out in five minutes, tops. But Bob offered him some of the baklava while I was busy busing tables, and I heard a small snippet of their conversation, Bob saying, "so I think I need to get him liquored up and set him loose on some phyllo dough." Marcone, listening intently under the guise of polite disinterest, didn't say anything.

I was seething silently as I made my way to the counter. I shoved the bin of dishes into Bob's arms. "Wash. Now." He had the decency to look a little guilty as he took the bin from me and went into the back. No sass or snide remarks, nothing.

I dried my hands and faced Marcone over the counter. "Are you going to order, or what?"

Marcone, contrary bastard that he is, didn't respond right away. He finished slowly eating the mouthful of baklava and examined my face with intense eyes. I drummed my fingers, impatient and not in the mood for his mind-reading games.

Finally, he said, "It seems I was right, as disappointing as that is. Unsurprising though. I did want to warn you: your dear Thomas didn't seem the type to stick around."

I'm not proud of what happened after that. I swear I'm not. But when I meant to tell him to order his damn panini and chai, it instead came out:

"Shut the fuck up, Marcone."

His eyes popped wide and surprised, taking a step back at the sheer fury barely contained in my tone. "Excuse me?"

"No. No, I will not excuse you, you asshole." I planted my hand on the counter and leaned in. "You presumptuous scumbag, you have no idea what you are talking about. You don't know anything about Thomas or what he did or means to me."

"I simply meant--"

"You meant to throw a fit because I had better things to do than humor you. Because I had someone I cared about and you thought you called dibs." I scoffed. "Don't look like that, you think I didn't notice? I mean, you're not exactly subtle, Marcone."

"You never--"

"No, I didn't. And I have reason not to. You, on the other hand, never took a hint, did you?" And that made him rock back like I'd punched him, face paling visibly right before my eyes. That one hurt him, I could tell. I didn't want to hurt him, or anyone, but I couldn't stop. "You were an asshole to him from the day he arrived 'til he left because, what? He made me happy? I cared about someone other than you?"

"No!" Marcone seemed to come out of his shock at that suggestion. "I was worried, Mr. Dresden. Mr. Raith did not act in a way I thought a caring lover would and was unsupportive--"

"The... the apron thing? That bothered you that much?" I laughed in his face. Again, I'm not proud.

He bristled, some of my anger seeming to move into him, like some ambient thing between us. "You did nothing. Yes, he treated you poorly and I didn't like it."

"You know why that is, Marcone? Why I did nothing?" I put both my elbows on the counter and smiled cruelly at Marcone, like this was the best part. "Because that guy you were such a prick to, who you seemed to think of as your goddamn competition? That guy is the only family I have in the world, Marcone. Thomas isn't my boyfriend, he's my brother, who finally found me after years of searching."

He went completely still. "I'm sorry?"

"Not sorry enough," I half snarled at him. "Do you get that, Marcone? He was my brother, the only blood relative I have still alive, a family who wanted me, who I went my whole life not knowing, and you couldn't have been a bigger dick to him if you'd tried. One person made me happy, made me feel wanted, like less of a freak, but you tried to screw it up, didn't you? The surprise inspection was you pulling strings with your rich scumbag lawyer powers, I know it." I felt myself shaking, all that anger spilling out of me and it just kept coming. I felt sick, but I had too much momentum. "What was the point? What was the big game there, Marcone? Get rid of the other man, then what-- Sweep me off my feet? Or just go back to your little hints and looks? Or were you just going to keep pushing, like I'm some witness you have to make break? In that case, congratulations!" I spread my arms, voice cracking. "I'm a complete mess, Marcone! I tried to brush you off with your eyes and your smile and the way you had to be a great dad instead of just using Ivy against me--" Marcone frowned, blinking at that, which was probably fair as I wasn't making a lot of sense. "--and your looks and you just never got it, that this is what I'm like, this is why I needed you to back off. Why couldn't you do that? Fuck, Marcone, why?"

Marcone shook his head, saying nothing. It could've been that I was right, or that he just didn't know how to deal with me when I was like this. Either way, he just took it as I laid into him in front of, oh stars, in front of Murphy and half the D&D group and Hendricks in the far corner. People who were part of our little community, who knew us and knew me, and now were looking at me like I was crazy. The one thing I tried to avoid, to spare everyone from knowing was out. Everyone was staring, everyone, with that mix of fear and shock and-- and pity.

Right at me.

Oh god. No, no, this was the opposite of what I wanted. No one was supposed to see me like... Oh, stars.

I trailed into silence, my fists clenched on the countertop, trying to quell my shaking. I was back to that uncontrolled feeling, breathing hard, my eyes stinging.

Of all the ways to fuck things up, this was the one I chose? I couldn't have a meltdown in private? How did it come to this, after I'd been okay for so long? Why couldn't I just keep being okay?

I had to look bad then. Bad enough that Marcone, still pale and taken utterly off-guard, obviously hurt, murmured my name softly, like I might startle. "Mr. Dresden..."

"Don't. Oh, fuck, don't," I said, and bolted for the back. I nearly ran Bob over where he stood in the doorway, having heard me shouting and come to see. I pushed past him, but he followed me, his arms guiding me to the break room, pushing me down on the sofa.

"Christ, Harry," Bob whispered. He sat next to me and pushed my head down, my forehead against my knees. "Just breathe, come on, Harry."

I tried to tell him I was sorry, that I didn't want any more pity, that I was a complete screw-up, but I couldn't make more than a gutted, choked noise. I tried again, and just wheezed at him.

He sat there with me and rubbed my back, shushing me like I was a child. He told me it was all right, it was going to be okay, to just keep breathing and let it pass. I was shocky and cold, but his hand was curled over the back of my neck and felt so warm and comforting as I tried to get myself together.

And the worst part, the one that stung the most, was that this was not the first time Bob had to do that. It wasn't the first time I'd lost it and he'd been there to pick up the debris.

When I was no longer in danger of hyperventilating, he got up. "I'll be right back. Stay here. It'll be okay, Harry," he said again and left. He flicked out the lights in the break room and shut the door most of the way, only a sliver of light cutting through the dark.

It was quiet, in the room and in my mind, like yelling my voice hoarse had silenced the ones in my head.

I'd screwed up in a big way, but for a while, I shut my eyes and enjoyed that quiet.

Act Five

I swear to god the last chapter will have ALL THE FLUFF. Stick with me, people.

Unrelatedly, for the curious, I'm doing a Dresden Files Fannish Safari on tomorrow's Slash Report podcast. Also, if you aren't listening to the Slash Report, you are missing out on hilarity and great thinky thoughts.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-02 03:47 am (UTC)
jamethiel: Figs, with one fig in front cut in half and showing a red centre (Figs)
From: [personal profile] jamethiel
I am enjoying this so much! (although the purist in me made distressed faces and said "If it has fruit, it's not baklava!" It does sound an intriguing concoction though)

And also, POOR HARRY :(

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-02 04:40 am (UTC)
jamethiel: A white pony with red boots, square glasses and a red and blue mane and tail (MyLittlePony)
From: [personal profile] jamethiel
Fruit... slice. Of some kind. *thoughtful* If it wasn't in layers and had filo pastry, I'd call it a panforte di siena. (Glace fruit and roasted nuts held together by chocolate/coffee toffee with a little flour. OM NOM NOM)

It's sort of like the bastard child of baklava, panforte di siena and mille feuille.

ETA: It sounds a LITTLE like Daktila, which is a cypriot version of baklava that is deep fried. And doesn't have fruit in it.

Edited Date: 2011-10-02 04:53 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-02 05:28 am (UTC)
greyeyes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greyeyes
The angst makes the FLUFF extra FLUFFY!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-02 05:29 am (UTC)
greyeyes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greyeyes
Also, YAY I love /Report! I'm being good and saving them though because they're perfect for long trips:)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-02 05:41 am (UTC)
everbright: Eclipse of Saturn (Default)
From: [personal profile] everbright
This is some very realistically applied angst. It made me make sad faces, but it's totally plausible that Harry doesn't even realize he's doing the PTSD coping mechanisms.


(I have an unreasonable prejudice against coffee-flavored things, but that sounds SUPER INTERESTING. Honey strings!)


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