Not Evil Enough

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a single scene out of a much longer story, and (although it can easily be understood on its own) it reads like it. I may write additional scenes from this story, but for various reasons I'm pretty sure I'll never write the complete story. For this excerpt, all you need to know is that it is set about fifteen years after the most recent book (Small Favor) and that Marcone has somehow gotten the lifespan of a wizard, so he hasn't aged appreciably (this is a plot point of my story idea, not of the book).

Considering that a full length, mantled duster was one of the essential elements of Harry's wardrobe, brisk fall days were his favorite kind of days. He could be armored and comfortable. He would, in fact, have been enjoying this day thoroughly, if it weren't for the fact that he was spending it sitting on the edge of a concrete planter in front of Cook County--he was never going to think of it as "John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital," no matter how many years passed--waiting for another update on the status of a...well, an ally, anyway.

Every now and then, a cop on his way into the hospital would frown at him, or a security guard would step outside briefly to give him a suspicious look, but he'd been lurking here for more than 24 hours straight and they seemed to have decided that while he bore watching, he wasn't going to go on a rampage. Harry had tried to reassure them, but he was pretty sure that his red-eyed, unshaven, hunched over, staff-bearing look was saying "crazy," rather than "exhausted."

The doors of the hospital slid open with a soft woosh and Michael rolled out, maneuvering his wheelchair down the ramp with the ease of long practice. Harry let a brief flash of guilt come and go, instead straightening a bit from his slouch, though he didn't stand. "Hey, Michael," he greeted the former Knight as he rolled to a stop next to Harry. "What's the word?"

"No change since he got out of surgery," Michael said apologetically. "Still touch and go in the ICU. I'm sorry, Harry. I know you were hoping for better news."

Harry shrugged uncomfortably and looked away from Michael. He couldn't argue the point, not when he'd been waiting out here for so damned long. "It's all right."

"You're allowed to be worried, Harry."

Harry grimaced and forced his gaze back to Michael's. "I know I'm allowed," he said. "But I shouldn't be."

Both of Michael's eyebrows rose. "Why not?"

"It's Marcone," Harry said impatiently.

"It's the man who has been working alongside you, full time, to run half the war for better than ten years now," Michael countered.

"He's still--"

"--criminal scum," Michael finished in concert with Harry. Harry glared at him and Michael sighed. "I have just as many issues with the nature of Mr. Marcone's power base as you do, Harry." He paused. "Actually, I suspect I have more." Harry grimaced and looked away. "But compassion is to be encouraged, not quashed."

Harry stared intently at the hospital's doors. "Compassion has never been my strong suit."

"I can think of a number of people who would disagree."

"I've got some," Harry allowed. "Maybe even more than most, but there are people who don't deserve it. Believing that... It's why this war hasn't killed me yet." He went quiet for a moment. "A few years ago, I wouldn't have lost an hour's sleep if someone had taken out Marcone. Now I'm holding a vigil for the guy. I'm not sure that's a step in the right direction."

They sat together for a moment. Harry could feel his shoulders slump a little as the quiet stretched out.

"Would it be fair to say that the war would have been lost by now without Mr. Marcone?" Michael asked eventually.

Harry sighed, shifting uncomfortably on the hard edge of the planter. "Just because the man is a necessary evil doesn't mean he deserves--"

"That's not my point," Michael interrupted. "Please, bear with me for a few minutes."

Harry paused. "All right," he said. "Yeah, we'd have been buried without him." A dozen times over, as much as Harry hated it. Completely aside from the men and firepower Marcone was able to deliver, his network of contacts had vastly improved their communications. Thanks to the security provided by his people, they'd even been able to risk sedating wizards and moving them by plane when access to the NeverNever wasn't available. Mobility like that had become essential, since they'd never been able to bring the Wardens back up to strength. There just weren't enough truly powerful wizards in the population to make up the losses they'd taken over the years.

"Can you think of any other sort of organization which could have done for you what he has?"

"Half a dozen," Harry shot back. "Money and trained soldiers aren't that unusual."

"Harry," Michael chided.

"All right, all right," Harry grumbled. "Anyone else with those kind of resources would either be government or some sort of second amendment crackpot's militia. Both of which would just make things a hell of a lot worse in the long term. Too much publicity and too little control."

"Which means what you needed for this war was an immensely influential criminal leader with money, men, and a mind open enough to accept that the supernatural is real." Michael paused while Harry absorbed that. "Furthermore, he had to be willing to get involved, at risk to his own power base, and he had to be at least circumstantially trustworthy." Harry nodded slowly as Michael continued. "You must realize how unusual it is for those qualities to exist together in a single man. Don't you think it's...convenient that such a man was available exactly when you needed him?"

"I'm betting you don't think it's 'convenient'," Harry said dryly.

"I think He moves in mysterious ways," Michael replied, "and knows which tools are best suited to any given part of His work. I doubt I'll ever consider Mr. Marcone a good man, but I don't doubt he is a worthy one."

"Worthy of what?" Harry asked. "Compassion?"

Michael nodded. "And respect. Trust." He paused. "Love."

"I think that's a little much," Harry snapped automatically. Then his thoughts caught up to his words and he flinched, dropping his eyes again. Michael might not have meant anything by throwing that in there, or he might have meant a dozen different things. Taking the word personally said kind of a lot about Harry. "Sorry," he muttered. "You're being pretty damn philosophical about this, Michael."

Harry could see Michael shrug out of the corner of his eye. "I've been thinking about it for a long time. And..." The hesitation dragged on long enough that Harry made himself turn his head to look at Michael again. He was frowning, choosing his words. "For all that Mr. Marcone was the right man in the right position at the right time," he said carefully, "it would still have been for nothing if he hadn't made contact with the right person."

"Or maybe the people involved made the resources at hand fit the job," Harry countered, lips quirking into a brief, wry smile.

Michael's return smile was cheerfully long-suffering. "Maybe. Maybe. The point is, I don't see anything wrong with your current feelings toward Mr. Marcone--whatever they may be--and I don't think you have any reason to be concerned. If anything, I pray that you'll loosen your hold on your own emotions a bit."

"Literally pray?" Harry asked, lips quirking upward for a moment.

But Michael just nodded. "Regularly."

Harry blinked and looked away from him. "I'll be okay, Michael."

"I know," Michael said, sighing. "But I'd like for you to be happy, too."

Harry didn't answer. Eventually, Michael wheeled himself away.

Respect and trust were things that Harry had given Marcone a long time ago. Compassion...that one stuck in his metaphorical craw for a moment, but after standing around for more than a day waiting to hear if he'd make it, it didn't hurt too much to cough it up. But love? Harry stuck his hands into the duster's pockets and fiddled with the chalk and salt and other tools that he kept at hand, just in case.

Love was different. Harry wasn't sure if he wanted to be the kind of man who could love John Marcone. Harry remembered that long ago soulgaze. How did you love someone whose soul was all ruthless calculation? All but the moment that had given him his resolve. If Harry hadn't figured out how to tap into that corner of his soul, John might never have grown into an ally at all.

Maybe that did make Harry the right person to make the connection. But love? He wasn't so sure. Maybe if John weren't so coolly reserved all the time...

Harry snorted a laugh and shook his head at himself. He'd been out here too long.