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There's A Colour In Your Hands

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They have no new number today, so they're leisurely enjoying breakfast in Grace's front room. There's a plate of Eggs Benedict balanced on Harold's lap, his cup of tea on the arm of the sofa. John's got a croissant and an orange juice - he's skipping coffee this morning since he won't have to fight anyone. He's flicking through a paper and reading out news headlines. He could just as easily do that on his phone, but Grace and Harold prefer the old way.

 

Grace comes in from the kitchen and picks up her easel. She turns until she's facing them both, sets it down again. "Thought I'd try something." She announces, already holding up a ruler to estimate the proportions.

 

Harold perks up at once. "That's a wonderful idea." He clears his plate, fastidiously scraping up the last of the egg yolk with his fork.

 

John blinks, not so sure. "Really?" He has no idea why he feels shy about it, just that he does.

 

The next thing John knows, Harold has shuffled sideways along the couch, crossing his left leg over his right so that his body is turned in diagonally toward John, and stretching his right arm along the seatback behind John's shoulders. Apparently he knows just the pose. John folds up the newspaper and lets it drop to the floor, then wishes he hadn't, because he suddenly has no idea what to do with his hands. Does he touch Harold? Sling his own arm around Harold's shoulders, or hold his hand? He knows he's allowed to do these things, Grace has assured him time and time again that she doesn't mind, but John hesitates nonetheless. Eventually he settles for interlocking his own fingers in his lap, the pads of his thumbs pressed together. He leans into Harold's side, stretches his legs until his shin bumps against Harold's dangling foot. He lifts his eyes to Grace's; she nods approvingly, already busy with a pencil.

 

"It's been far too long since we last did this." Harold says to her, a note of wistfulness in his voice.

 

"It really has." She looks a little puzzled, and she keeps glancing at Harold's face like she's forgotten how to draw it.

 

John can't stop staring at Harold either, trying to figure him out in his own way. Why is it that Harold's so at ease with being looked at, right here, when he's so paranoid about it everywhere else? He routinely erases his image (and John's) from security footage. He has an algorithm that searches the internet for himself in uploaded photos, so that if someone at a diner takes a picture of their friend and happens to catch Harold in the background, he can be wiped from it. This painting, John knows, will never go beyond these walls, but even so. The sheer contentment on Harold's face surprises him. John wants to curl up in his lap and share in that emotion, but it's Grace that Harold's feeling for right now.

 

The next twenty minutes pass in quiet concentration, comfortable silence broken only by the scratch of Grace's pencil on paper, her sighs when she can't get something quite right, the occasional polite cough from Harold. John twiddles his thumbs and taps his toes to an imaginary rhythm. He watches the people in the park beyond the windows. For years, Harold had been waiting out there and Grace in here, so close yet so far apart. The thought makes John desperately sad, and restless. They ought to do something. The two of them should be holding each other every second they can, making up for lost time.

 

Instead John's the one sitting close against Harold's side, and that's not fair. He's had years of spending every day with him. He owes Grace for all of those hours in the library, all those mornings they shared breakfast without her. The feeling floods so strongly through him that he wants to jump up and swap their places.

 

He takes a deep breath and manages to control himself. But as they reach the forty-five minute mark, John finds that more and more difficult. Harold remains as calm and patient as ever. Every few minutes, John makes a little movement. He separates his hands, rubs his palms against his thighs. Scratches his chin, then the back of his neck. Grace glances at him but doesn't comment. Finally he sucks the tip of his finger and dabs up the croissant crumbs from his plate.

 

"Stop fidgeting," Harold murmurs, at last. He drops a light kiss in John's hair, trying to calm him.

 

John grimaces at him, apologetically. "I feel...self-conscious." He's not bored. But he is out of his depth, in a house with homemade table placemats, cute little porcelain figurines, and not a weapons cache in sight. It's been a month; he's still getting used to this. He hadn't spent a lot of time playing house with Jessica. While in the army he hadn't had a permanent place of his own, not with being away so much. Jessica had to give up her apartment when the hospital suffered pay cuts, went back to living with her parents. So hotels it was, each time they met up. By contrast, Harold's had four years of pretending to be normal and he's a natural at it. Slotting right back into this house with Grace as though he never left, never became a dead man walking. This is their home. Grace shouldn't be painting John into it. He's going to spoil the color of their peaceful memories with his bloody ones. He has snapped necks in the dust, and assassinated people on every continent, and walked through hailstorms of bullets. There's no place for him here.

 

"You don't have to sit any longer if you don't want to." Grace admits. "I have all the main things down now. It's just details."

 

John's ready to stand up. Immensely grateful to her for the excuse to bail. But Harold closes his left hand around John's wrist, pins him in place. You're staying, his glare says. Grace shrugs at them, as if to say there's no pressure, then balances a paintbrush between her lips, two more held between her fingers, back to focusing on her work. And oh, John wants to belong to them so much.

 

So he stays.

 

After another half-hour, they're allowed to get up and see the finished piece. Harold groans a little as he stands, carefully straightening his spine. John rubs his thumb comfortingly across the back of Harold's neck. They make their way across the carpet and turn. When the painting comes into view, John's jaw drops.

 

Finch looks incredible, in his cream-colored suit and pink-and-white striped shirt, unbuttoned at the throat. Grace has captured his profile, nose and chin slightly upturned to face John, as well as the long, firm stretch of his crossed thigh. He looks somehow stately and casual. The way Harold's hemming him in with leg and arm seems more possessive than John had realized. But that's not the most shocking part. The worst thing is...the John on the canvas gazes at Harold like he's the greatest treasure in the whole wide world.

 

John swallows uncomfortably. "I don't..." He makes a half-defensive, half-plaintive appeal to Grace. "I don't look at him like that."

 

Grace laughs. She pinches his cheek between her thumb and forefinger. "Yeah, you do."

 

He ducks down, gathers her hand in his and reverently kisses her paint-spattered knuckles. There is nothing whatsoever he can say that will measure up to Grace allowing him to love her fiance.

 

Harold hasn't said a word either.

 

"Harold?" Grace prompts, slowly letting go of John and moving to stand by Harold's other side.

 

Harold takes his time replying, eyes damp behind his glasses. When he does speak, he sounds rather awestruck. "I'm sure I don't deserve such a high level of...regard."

 

Grace and John respond instantly, simultaneously: "Yes, you do."

 

They grin at each other past Harold's head.