Harold’s panicked voice cut through John the way the ax he’d grabbed cut through the aluminum door to the storage unit. He wrapped his hand around Harold’s upper arm and all but dragged him from the room, the smell of gasoline encouraging both of them to move as fast as possible. John was aware of the other man dashing ahead of them; Sloane obviously. He would have run too, but Harold couldn’t move that fast.
Still, he managed to go faster than usual, John pulling him along. He couldn’t spare the time to worry about Harold’s impaired body and it was obvious his fear was lending speed to Harold’s normally hesitant gait. They managed to avoid the fireball by mere seconds but that was enough, John thought in relief.
“How did you get here? How did you know we – “
“I breached the space time continuum,” John answered, interrupting Harold’s babbling as they emerged onto the street. He put his hands on Harold’s shoulders, feeling the sodden fabric of his suit as he looked him up and down to make sure he was all right. He never would have admitted it, but his heart was pounding. The idea of Harold in danger was something he didn’t handle well though he was usually able to keep his feelings hidden.
“Who are you?” the other man asked, panting to catch his breath.
“Tim, this is my partner, John,” Harold responded, getting hold of himself.
“Glad to meet you,” Sloane nodded. He offered his hand, then obviously thought better of it as he realized it was drenched in gas. He attempted to wipe it off on his clothes but as they were just as soaked, the gesture was futile. Then he looked at John more closely. “I don’t understand.”
The sound of sirens pierced the air.
“We better get out of here,” John said. He took Harold’s arm and strode toward the car he’d left at the curb. Its motor was still running. He opened the passenger door and helped Harold inside, Bear jumping in right after Harold. Sloane climbed into the back seat as John hurried to the driver’s side. As he sped off, he could see the fire engines arriving in his rear view mirror.
Harold hit the window control. “The smell,” he gasped. “I’ve never… “
“I know, right?” Sloane said, putting his own window down too. John silently agreed that the gasoline odor was overwhelming.
Harold was fidgeting, trying to get to the handkerchief he always kept in his inside breast pocket with one hand, while wiping at his face with the other. “Ugh… soaked too.” He threw the cloth out the window, then pulled off his glasses. “I can’t even see…”
“Did you get it in your eyes?” John asked, knowing that gas in the eyes could cause vision loss.
“I’m not sure,” Harold managed. His breathing was ragged and he coughed. “I think it’s more the fumes than anything. My glasses protected my eyes somewhat.”
John handed him his own handkerchief, noting that Harold’s fingers were trembling as he accepted it. At a stoplight, he leaned over to open the glove compartment. Taking out a handful of paper napkins he kept there, he handed half the pile to Harold and passed the remainder to Sloane in the back seat.
“Do you think we should go to the emergency room?” Sloane asked as he wiped his face.
Part of John wanted Harold to be checked out medically but he knew better than to say so. “Not advisable,” he answered. The safe house was closer anyway. He’d get Harold and Sloane there, and once the gas was washed off, he’d decide if either of them needed to be seen by a doctor.
They pulled into the underground garage of the safe house and all three men, along with Bear, climbed out of the car. Sloane seemed okay, John noted peripherally. Though he was concerned about the number, his attention was more focused on Harold.
He seemed to be having a bit of difficulty walking. John took his arm again and noticed the trembling hadn’t stopped. He got the door unlocked and ushered both gas-soaked men inside.
“You both need to take a long shower,” he said as he closed the door and made sure it was locked behind them. “Fifteen minutes at least.”
Harold was already heading up the stairs, clinging to the bannister as he went. John took a moment to point out the downstairs bathroom to Sloane, telling him where he could find towels and a change of clothes. “There’s some Lava hand soap in the bathroom closet,” he told him, glad that he kept it there for cleaning gun oil off his hands. Then, with a quick detour to the kitchen for a bottle of dishwashing liquid, he hurried after Harold.
In the upstairs bathroom, Harold was attempting to get out of his clothes. Reese took over, undoing the ruined red silk tie and wrestling it out from under Harold’s collar, then helping him out of his jacket. Harold started coughing again.
“Oh, God, John,” he gasped. “I feel sick… “
“Like you’re going to throw up?”
“I just feel horrible,” Harold wheezed. He grabbed at the sink. “I’m dizzy.”
John steadied him, easing him down to sit on the lid of the toilet, then took a hand towel from the bar and wet it thoroughly in the sink. He ran it over Harold’s face, trying to at least get some of the gas off him that way.
Harold took the dripping towel from him with shaking hands and rubbed it over his face and hair, moaning in relief. “Where are my glasses?”
“I’ve got them,” John assured him. He’d pocketed them in the car when Harold had taken them off. Now he removed them from his jacket and placed them on the counter.
He leaned into the shower stall and turned on the water so it could heat up. Then he knelt down and tried to untie Harold’s shoes, but the knots were so wet he couldn’t get them undone. Exasperated, he pulled out his pocketknife and cut the laces, then worked at removing the stained hand-made leather oxfords and wet socks.
“Where’s Mr. Sloane?” Harold rasped, his voice muffled by the wet towel he was still running over his face.
“He’s okay. He’s in the shower downstairs.” John kept his voice patient and calm, knowing that Harold needed him that way. He could sense the other man’s panic and stress and though he was furious with himself for listening to Finch about making Shaw his priority, he forced the emotion aside. At least he’d followed his instincts and gotten to Harold before the storage unit had exploded, but he’d never forgive himself if Harold had suffered permanent damage from the exposure to gasoline.
He reached to unbuckle Harold’s belt.
“You should go down and make sure Tim’s all right,” Harold said then, peering down at him. His eyes were red and his pupils were contracted. “He’s our number – “
It was all John could do to keep his voice level. “Harold, if you think for one minute I’m going to leave your side right now…” He swallowed, getting hold of himself. “He’ll be fine. I’ll go check on him in a few minutes.” He got to his feet, grasping Harold under the arms and lifting him to a standing position. He pulled Harold’s left arm across his shoulder and leaned over to unzip his trousers, pushing them down along with his boxers, noting that even they were damp from the gas. While Harold fumblingly stepped out of his pants, John unbuttoned the blue shirt and slipped it off.
Harold’s hand cupped John’s cheek. “I’m all naked and you’re still dressed,” he observed.
John’s heart clenched at the words. He leaned in and kissed Harold’s lips, the love he felt for him outweighing the desperate urgency to get him into the shower. It wasn’t surprising to him that along with the dizziness and nausea, Harold also seemed euphoric –- gas could act like a drug in a person’s system sometimes. John let his tongue slip into Harold’s warm mouth, so glad that he was here, alive, relatively unharmed for John to take care of him, noting absently that he didn’t taste gas… with any luck, he hadn’t swallowed the toxic substance as it rained down on him. Reluctantly, he broke the kiss, aware of Harold’s lips trying to cling to his as he separated them.
“I’ll undress as soon as you’re in the shower, Harold,” he said, “as long as you’re not too dizzy to be in there on your own for a minute.”
Harold nodded, licking his lips. “I think I can. Washing my face helped a lot already.”
“Good.” John helped him into the wide stall where the water was streaming, warm and inviting, from the multiple jets located both overhead and down the wall, never so glad Harold had installed the wide teak bench when he’d remodeled the safe house last year. The travertine tiled enclosure, with its rainfall shower head and steam feature had soothed John’s aching body many times and he knew Harold appreciated its therapeutic effects as well. Tonight it would serve as first aid and wash the gas off Harold’s body more easily than a normal shower could.
After making sure that Harold was steady on the bench, John hurried to undress, tossing his own things into the pile Harold’s gas soaked clothes occupied, knowing the smell and stains from contact with Harold had ruined his own suit as well. He retrieved the bottle of Dawn he’d brought from the kitchen, and joined his partner in the shower.
Harold was leaning back against the wall, eyes closed, just letting the water cascade over him. John touched his shoulder gently, but Harold started nevertheless.
“It’s just me,” John assured him, offering a half smile. He opened the bottle and squeezed a liberal amount into his hand, rubbed them together to start a lather, then applied it to Harold’s head and neck.
“Dawn?” Harold’s voice conveyed disdain. There was a row of expensive shampoos and body wash handy nearby.
“It’ll cut the grease,” John soothed. He massaged the lather into Harold’s short hair, adding more Dawn as he continued. “I don’t want that stuff on you any longer than necessary.”
Harold shuddered, nodding in agreement. “It feels awful.”
“I know,” John said. He carefully soaped Harold’s face and neck, then moved on to his chest and shoulders. As always, Harold’s skin felt wonderful under his hands, but the oily gasoline was hard to remove. John paused, then reached for Harold’s mesh shower puff, deciding that would help take the gas off better than he could with his hands alone or even a washcloth. He wet it down in the spray, then added some Dawn and worked up more lather, then began stroking it over Harold’s shoulders and chest. Harold sighed in relief as he allowed John to wash him down.
He proceeded lower, rubbing the sudsy pouf over Harold’s belly and groin, noting Harold spreading his legs to give him access. He put the shower puff down, preferring to use his hands on Harold’s delicate cock and balls, knowing that area had been protected by his clothing so that less gas had gotten there. He picked up the puff again as he washed Harold’s thighs and then got down on his knees to soap his calves and feet.
John worked quickly but carefully, wanting to make sure he got all the gasoline off Harold’s body. He paid particular attention around his neck and wrists, finally using a nailbrush to get all the gas residue off. He helped Harold to stand under the spray, turning him around, wanting to wash his back thoroughly too.
Harold rested his palms against the tiled wall, allowing John to scrub his back. As John used the puff around the back of his neck and ears, Harold glanced back at him, his eyes dancing with mischief. “It occurs to me, Mr. Reese, that we have rarely showered together.”
“You’re right,” John agreed, leaning over to grab a quick kiss from Harold’s wet lips. “We should think about doing this more often.”
“Without gasoline,” Harold said wryly.
Once he’d washed Harold completely, John pulled him into an embrace and just held him, letting the water rain down over their heads and bodies. Harold’s hands settled at John’s waist, his head on his shoulder. It felt so good to be this close to the man he loved that it was no hardship to remain under the spray for so long. John closed his eyes, but images of Harold soaked in gas, his face contorted in shock and fear came to him, bringing more horrible images of what could have happened if John had found him even a minute later. He remembered his terror as he raced from his car into the storage facility, hearing what Harold was saying over their phone connection. He’d found Bear whining at the closed aluminum door and grabbed the ax that was next to the fire extinguisher, intent only on getting his friend out of the locked storage room as fast as possible….
The sensation of Harold’s hands on his cheeks brought John back to the present.
“I’m right here, John,” Harold told him, his eyes intent and knowing.
John drew him tighter against his body, holding him as close as he could, never wanting to let him go. “You know I don’t like you going into danger without me,” he breathed, repeating what he had told Harold earlier.
“You always assume there will be danger,” Harold said, wrapping his arms around John’s shoulders. “I thought I was the paranoid one.”
“You have a way of finding danger,” John said. There weren’t many things that scared him; losing Harold was the only one he didn’t think he could ever face.
“I told you to keep looking for Ms. Shaw.”
“I ran out of leads,” John shrugged. “When one shows up, I’ll get back on her trail. Until then… the only priority I have is you. Sorry if that makes you mad, Harold.” He knew he didn’t sound sorry at all.
“I could be mad or I could be dead,” Harold said simply. “Your instincts are usually good. I can’t argue with them.” Harold arched up to initiate a kiss.
John closed his eyes, letting the reality of Harold, alive and vibrant in his arms, wash over him even as the soothing water washed away the residue of gasoline. His fear couldn’t be rinsed away so easily though.
When it had been at least a half hour, John finally turned off the shower. He helped Harold out, and pushed aside the other man’s hands when he tried to dry himself. John needed to take care of him now, to touch as much of him as he could, to make sure all of the gas had gone down the drain where it couldn’t hurt Harold at all.
He clasped both of Harold’s hands in his, bringing them up so he could sniff at them. Only a little of the gas smell remained. There were some lemons in the fridge downstairs; he could use them to help take that odor away. He checked, and found that Harold’s eyes weren’t as red as before and that his skin didn’t seem irritated now that the gas had been washed off. He wrapped Harold in one of the huge white towels, then tucked a smaller one around his own waist.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as he navigated them out of the bathroom, sidestepping the pile of ruined clothing. He got them into the bedroom and pushed Harold down to sit on the bed while he located some soft pajamas for him to put on.
Harold swept a hand over his face. “Not bad… but not completely fine either.”
John paused, turning. Naked and still damp, he returned to Harold’s side and felt his forehead, then slid his hand down to his shoulder. “Maybe we should get a doctor…”
“I just feel rather weak… sleepy,” Harold said, managing one of his slight smiles. “I don’t think I ingested it, or not much of it anyway. The skin contact… you were very fast, John. I’m sure I’ll be all right after some sleep.” He coughed again and rubbed at his throat.
“I’m getting you something to drink,” John said. He handed Harold the pajamas and went to the closet to find some clothes for himself.
He hurried downstairs, finding Sloane had emerged from his shower, having put on a set of sweats. “I’m getting him something to drink,” John announced. “You should have something too, especially if you swallowed any.”
Sloane followed John to the kitchen. “Who are you guys?” he asked. “I don’t really think Harold is just my new assistant.”
John was busy pouring a glass of milk for Harold. It would neutralize any gas that might have gotten down his throat. He poured a second glass and offered it to Sloane.
“We help people,” he answered.
Tim ran a hand over his face. “You help people. Why me?”
John looked at him. “You need help, don’t you?”
“I guess I do.”
“Then that’s all you need to know for now.” John handed him the glass of milk. “Drink this. Do you feel all right? Any dizziness, nausea?”
“I’m okay, I think. Harold got more of it on him than I did. How is he?”
“He’s going to be all right. I think he needs some rest right now. Make yourself comfortable here. I’ll be back down in a little while,” John told him. He found a couple of lemons in the fridge, and cut one in half, then pushed the other toward Sloane. “This will help get the gas smell off your hands.” He left the kitchen, taking the milk and cut lemon up to Harold.
He found him curled on his side on top of the bedcovers, still naked, his towel forgotten on the floor at the foot of the bed. John put the lemon halves and glass on the nightstand and retrieved an extra blanket from the closet, draping it over Harold. He joined him on the bed, urging him to sit up.
“Sorry to wake you,” he said softly, stroking the damp hair back from Harold’s forehead. “But you need to drink this.”
Harold looked up, seeming confused. “My head hurts,” he murmured.
“I’ll get you something for it.” John got up and went back to the bathroom where he chose a bottle of Ibuprofen gel tablets that were coated and wouldn’t further irritate Harold’s stomach. Returning to the bedroom, he found Harold sitting in the middle of the bed, his expression somber.
“Is Tim okay?”
“He’s fine,” John reassured him. “How about you?”
“That explosion…” Harold murmured. He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his middle, shuddering. “I… don’t like explosions, John.”
John settled next to him, pulling him into his arms. “I know. It’s okay, Harold.” He gave him the ibuprofen. Harold’s hands seemed unsteady so he held the glass for him as he drank the milk. Under normal circumstances, Harold would never let John do so much for him; even when long days at the computer left his back and neck in intense pain, he was fiercely independent. Depression, weakness, and loss of alertness were all side effects of being exposed to gasoline, and John hated to see Harold so vulnerable. “Does your stomach hurt?” he asked softly, taking the empty glass and putting it on the table beside the bed.
“A little. Not much.” Harold peered up at John. “I just don’t feel quite myself.” He sighed, then made as if to get up. “I took pictures of the writing on the walls of the storage room. I need to translate the code.”
“It can wait,” John said.
“Some of it is familiar,” Harold said insistently. “I need to look at it –“
“Just be still with me.” John wrapped his arms around him, ready to beg him if he had to.
Harold looked up at him. “I am rather tired.”
“You should try to get some sleep, then. I’ll keep watch.”
Harold palmed John’s cheek. “I know you will. I didn’t lose my phone, did I?”
“No. I have it. Be still. Rest.”
“I’ll start looking for her again soon,” John assured him. “Until then, I’ll be right here.” He leaned over and kissed Harold, then helped him slide down on the bed. He started to shift position to allow Harold access to a pillow, but instead, Harold grabbed at John’s waist, resting his head on John’s thigh. John pulled the blanket up around Harold’s shoulders, stroking up and down his back gently, soothing him.
He knew he wouldn’t fall asleep himself. Adrenaline was still coursing through him and he couldn’t relax with Sloane downstairs and Harold still needing him. If he slept, images of Harold drenched in gasoline, pursued by fire, would haunt his dreams.
Harold’s body finally relaxed completely. John wasn’t quite able to stop stroking up and down Harold’s back.
Still this pulsing night
A plague I call a heartbeat
Just be still with me
You wouldn't believe what I've been through
You've been so long
Well it's been so long
And I've been putting out the fire with gasoline
Putting out the fire
~ David Bowie