Hot water washes the grime of the day and some of the last week's tension off John. Finally they're done with the number. There's a soft bed in the other room, made with pristine sheets; it's not John's house, but he doubts Harold would mind if John rested here.
Bed's not what John wants, though, despite being tired down to his bones. He's got a feeling he's recently learned to categorize as I want to feel good. It still seems vaguely scandalous to him to recognize it, let alone admit it or try to act on it, but John's therapist insists those are all good ideas.
Trouble is, not much feels good. A run would, if John were less tired; as it is, he could run, but the result would be less pleasant endorphin rush and more the grim press of fight-or-flight. Sleep feels necessary, not good. Same for food, even if he cooked.
As if on cue, John's phone beeps. John raises his eyebrows: it's a message from Zoe. Hey, handsome. Plans tonight?
A shiver goes through John. Sense memory comes over him, the ghost of a cool hand trailing down his spine.
Zoe has requirements, though. John texts her back, Kinda tired. Happy to meet if you want to. He hopes that's clear enough.
Apparently it is, because he gets back, Aw. Next time, then. Have a nice rest! Disappointing, but clear enough. John sighs.
The door down the corridor opens. Harold comes out, still wet behind the ears from his own shower, adjusting his tie. "Is everything alright, Mr. Reese?"
"Fine," John says. Harold's got a worried expression, like he's not sure if he should ask John or maybe just hack into his phone, so John spares him the work. "Got a message from Zoe, told her I was tired."
By the look on Harold's face, he's not getting it. "It's important to get your rest. I'm sure there will be other opportunities."
John's more tired than he thought: he's got a surprising urge to whine "But I wanted to see her now," like a toddler. "I guess," he says instead. "Would've been nice, though."
Harold frowns. "Perhaps if you suggested some mild entertainment to Ms. Morgan...."
"I did," John says, annoyed at having to spell it out. Or at wanting to. Harold probably just asked to be polite, anyway. "She wants what she wants, whatever. It's fine. Another time, like you said."
Harold walks a little closer to John. John can smell Harold's aftershave at this distance, a faint wood-y scent. "Admirable though she is, Ms. Morgan is hardly the only beautiful woman in the city," Harold says tentatively.
John snorts. "Beautiful isn't the important part."
Harold tilts his head. "What is, then? Unless I'm wrong, while you admire Ms. Morgan, you don't have particular attachment. If you gave me a list of parameters, perhaps I could help."
This time, John's snort is amused. "Are you trying to set me up, Harold?"
"Matchmaking has an unearned bad name in today's society," Harold says, with a haughty jerk of his chin. "I'm willing to try if you are."
Let it never be said that John's not willing to broaden his horizons. "All right," he says, slowly. "I'm not sure you can exactly put what I'm looking for into a dating website search."
"Try me," Harold says.
"Zoe...." John pauses, wondering how exactly to put it. Perhaps he should be worried about oversharing, but Harold did ask. "It's not that she tells me to get on my knees," he says finally. "It's that she doesn't have to say it."
Harold blinks rapidly. "I see." His mouth purses briefly. "A commanding presence, then?"
"That's not it." Which is frustrating, because John isn't sure what is. "More like... I know she wants me there." He grits his teeth, feeling an absurd urge to hide. A familiar burning sensation inside him: I said too much. I want too much.
A delicate cough interrupts John's thoughts. "I'm going to make tea," Harold says. "Please join me?"
"Not like I have other plans," John murmurs. He follows behind Harold, quietly grateful.
The kitchen is not familiar, but Harold messing with the kettle is, and it eases something in John. He sits and waits, not sure what for.
"So supposing a person wanted you on your knees," Harold says, spooning sugar into a mug. "What else would it take for you to want to be there?"
Not much, John thinks, but that's not exactly true. "Admirable," he says slowly. "You called Zoe that."
Harold nods. "You agree?"
"Yeah." John stares at the ceiling. "Someone I found... admirable. Someone I thought was a good person." No, that's not quite true. "It could work if I just thought they were good at what they did," he adds, "but if I think they're bad people, that. Might not be good for me."
For a moment, there's nothing but the clink of a spoon against porcelain. "I see," Harold says. "What else? Is appearance a factor? Age?" A short pause later, "Gender?"
"Doesn't really matter," John says. "Not... not for what I want right now." He looks at the floor, and quietly says, "I'd like them to like me."
There's a small sound of a cup being set, precisely, on the counter. "Oh, John," Harold says, and something in John feels pulled by the depth of feeling in Harold's voice. "Would I do? Would you like to go on your knees for me?"
The words aren't at all commanding. They're a question, perhaps rhetorical; and yet the next thing John knows, he is on his knees in an unfamiliar kitchen, looking up at Harold.
Harold puts a hand on John's shoulder. John suppresses a shudder, but then lets the next one show when Harold guides John's head to rest against Harold's good thigh. Harold only puts enough pressure for John to feel emphatically wanted, welcome.
Harold's fingers sink into the hair in John's neck, and John groans.
"Any time," Harold says. "Do you hear me, John? You can have this whenever you like. Just ask."
John nuzzles Harold's hip, giddy. "I want to be good," he says, low, throaty. His muscles tense, readying for whatever Harold might ask. His earlier reservations feel like melting away: he'll probably regret anything strenuous later, but God, he does not care.
"You are good," Harold says, sounding affronted. "Goodness, John, you saved three people today. Anyone who doesn't call that good should have their standards checked."
John's eyes slip closed. It's too much. He can't believe he can have this whenever he asks; he can barely believe he has this now. "I want to make you happy."
For a moment, Harold is quiet. John struggles not to feel sinking dread, or disappointment. Harold thinks he's good. Harold let John kneel for him. That's already more than John has any right to ask.
"You give me faith," Harold says at last. "That's not a very good way of putting it, but it's true. You help me believe in humanity. You-- John?"
John gasps, clutches Harold's legs. "I. I'll be okay in a minute." His heart is beating too fast. He blinks hard, rubs his cheek against his shoulder to be rid of the wetness on his face.
"I think I better sit," Harold says faintly. John takes a moment to talk his body into letting Harold go, and then he follows Harold to the chair. Harold grips his hair, firmly setting John's head on his lap, and John's eyes close involuntarily.
He's still crying a little. "Sorry about your pants," he says, unevenly.
"Screw the pants," Harold says. His hands run through John's hair, soothing, wonderful. "John, is this catharsis or are you going through some sort of crisis?"
"The first one, I think," John says. "Please don't stop."
"I wasn't intending to." The tenderness in his voice is only making John tear up again, but shamefully, he loves it, the relief of crying and being held. Harold pets him and tells John he is good, and there is nothing on Earth John wants more than this.