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Zoe lets it go for most of the evening, but when John knocks a man out with his own beer stein and then sighs as if all the joy has gone from the world, she can’t ignore it any longer.

“All right, you’ve been down all evening,” she says. “Either do a better job of pretending you’re fine or man up and tell me what’s wrong.”

He gives her a long, considering look. Just when she’s bracing herself for something dryly sarcastic or, even more troubling, nothing at all, he says “If you had a daughter, how would you convince her to dump an unsuitable boyfriend?”

Well. That’s unexpected, to say the least. “Is my hypothetical daughter independent or stubborn in any way?” she asks, only long practice keeping her from showing her surprise. She would have bet everything she had that John was a man without attachments besides Harold and maybe the dog, and Zoe Morgan is not a woman who bets unless it’s a sure thing in a game of poker.

“Both,” John says grimly.

Zoe shrugs. “Then nothing, all you can do is handle the aftermath. Have comfort food ready and don’t say ‘I told you so’ too many times.”

John’s frown deepens. Zoe sighs. “All right, fine,” she says. “Look, there’s a guy I’m looking into who operates out of a biker bar in Hell’s Kitchen and if you walk in wearing that suit they’ll definitely pick a fight with you. Want to check it out?”

John considers this. “Might as well.”

“And then we can stop for ice packs and ibuprofen on the way back,” Zoe says, ushering him out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When Lionel gets home, Wonder Boy is in his kitchen, cooking.

“Something wrong with the kitchen in the Batcave?” he asks, because the idea of Reese cooking him dinner is too bizarre and horrifying to contemplate.

“No paprika,” Reese says without turning around.

“So rather than go to the grocery store you broke in to use mine,” Lionel says, nodding. “I’m genuinely curious, have you ever heard of boundaries?”

Reese gives him a blank look. Lionel sighs and resigns himself to washing dishes later.

“What are you making, anyway?”

“Muqueca. It’s Brazilian.” Reese finishes stirring and begins ladling the contents of the stewpot into a large tupperware. It smells amazing.

“I never knew you cooked,” Lionel says, for lack of anything else to say that doesn’t involve sarcasm, swearing, or a discussion about the high possibility that Reese was raised by mercenary ninja wolves and then left on the CIA’s doorstep as a child.

“It’s for a friend,” Reese says.

Probably Four Eyes, then, since Reese has been very clear about a) only having one friend, and b) the homicidal lengths he will go to in order to rescue that friend. Why Four Eyes doesn’t have a kitchen or an entire well-paid staff of blue-ribbon chefs to make him his own Brazilian soup is above Lionel’s pay grade and, frankly, his interest level.

It does smell really good, though. Lionel’s stomach grumbles. It’s been a long day.

Reese shoots him an amused look and then tips the last of the soup into a bowl.

“I should make sure it’s safe to eat before I give it to my friend,” he says, pushing it across the counter to Lionel.

Lionel wavers for a moment. The idea of Reese putting something terrible in his food is actually more believable than the idea of Reese doing something nice for him, but it does smell really good. He digs in.

“You don’t mind doing the dishes, do you, Lionel?” Reese says with that amused-psychotic smile he gets, tucking his tupperware into a plastic bag.

Lionel rolls his eyes. “No, fine, whatever. Hey,” he calls as Reese makes for the door. Reese turns back, one eyebrow raised. “Your friend. If he doesn’t like this, then he has terrible taste.”

“Why, thank you, Lionel,” Reese says, and then he’s gone.

Lionel drains the last of his soup and surveys the kitchen. Well. A trail of dishes is probably better than a trail of destruction, at least. Reese’s ‘friend’ is clearly having a civilising effect on him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Carter’s on the tail end of a graveyard shift when her phone dings.

Griff’s Gym, 20 minutes, the message says. Carter frowns at it. It’s definitely either from John or Harold, which probably means it’s important, but she’s tired and a little annoyed by the lack of information. It’s very tempting to ignore it.

The phone dings again. Don’t look so upset. You’ve been meaning to go to the gym.

Cursing John’s unique approach to privacy, Harold’s penchant for invasive surveillance, and her own curiosity, Carter arrives at the gym twenty minutes later with her sports bag over one shoulder. John and a tall, elegant girl who looks like she’s in her early twenties are waiting for her.

John gives her a smile that’s only disarming if you don’t know him and comes to meet her by the door. “Hello, Carter. I need you to teach Sofia self-defense.”

Carter raises her eyebrow at him. “You need me to teach someone to fight.”

“Women are built differently than men,” John says with exaggerated patience. “Their center of gravity is lower and their power is centered in their hips, not their shoulders. You’ll know tricks that I won’t.”

Carter glances back at the girl. Sofia. She’s built like a dancer and is giving John the same fondly affectionate look that Carter’s seen misguided pet owners bestow on enraged, badly-trained attack dogs.

“Uh-huh,” Carter says. “Okay. Self-defense.”

Sofia is not terribly athletic but she tries hard to copy everything that Carter shows her, which counts for about as much. For his part John watches from a bench by the wall and mostly stays silent, only occasionally calling out pointers like “If all else fails, go for the face,” and “Don’t be afraid to bite.”

Carter mostly focuses on the basics - how to throw a punch, where to aim, how to break free from a hold. By the time John calls a halt Sofia is sweaty and breathless but looks pleased with herself. John comes over to hand her a towel, smiling in a way that looks eerily un-homicidal. In fact, it’s very similar to the look he’d had while he was looking after baby Leila. Doting.

“That was good,” he says. “Now, what’s the first thing you do in a fight?”

“Survive,” Sofia says dutifully.

“What should you do to survive?”

“Whatever I have to.”

“And what’s your best tactic?”

“Break free and run away to safety.”

“Agreed, Carter?” John says, his mild tone betraying the fact that even without looking at her he can tell she’s staring.

“Yes, all good,” Carter stammers. Sofia beams at him and then turns her attention to Carter.

“I thank you, Detective, for your patient lesson. I am sure it will serve me very well when I return home again and my friend is no longer there to watch over me.”

“No problem,” Carter says. She waits for Sofia to head for the gym’s shower room and then raises an eyebrow at John.

“One of your damsels in distress?”

John gives her a maddeningly noncommital smile.

“Because she looks an awful lot like that Brazilian diplomat’s daughter who got caught up with drug smugglers a few months ago, but I would have thought you’d taken care of that by now.”

“That threat has been dealt with,” John allows. “But her Brazilian bodyguards are... inadequate.”

Carter nods - if this girl actually is who Carter thinks she is, there’s probably an entire phonebook of threats hovering around the edges. Teaching Sofia some self-defense is a good idea, especially since she’ll spend the majority of her time out of the country and far from even John and Harold’s overbearing protection. It’s... kind of sweet, actually, and Carter’s definitely willing to encourage anything John does that slides even a little bit closer to normal human behavior.

“I’m glad you’re looking out for her, John,” she says sincerely, and then - oh, hell. She can’t help it. “You know, some time you should come with me when I volunteer at the teen center in my neighborhood. Some of those girls would really benefit from having someone to talk to.”

Wow. She wouldn’t have guessed that John knew how to make that expression.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Leon is always so glad to see Reese. Not just because it means he’s not going to die, but because when Reese shows up he always beats the crap out of whoever was threatening Leon and that is just incredibly satisfying. What Leon wouldn’t have given to have Reese around in middle school... well, it’s a short list.

Reese is in the middle of cutting Leon free when his phone rings. Leon sort of assumes that it’s Harold, except Harold always uses those awesome earpieces (next time they team up, Leon is so demanding one) instead of the phone. Plus, when Reese steps away to answer it his face goes kind of weirdly relaxed. Scaled up for normal people, Leon thinks it’s probably Reese’s version of something in the happiness family.

Leon turns his attention to getting his left hand out of the duct tape sticking it to the arm of his chair (honestly, who uses a wheelie chair when you’re interrogating someone? Every time they hit him it had rolled backwards. Leon had been embarrassed by it and it wasn’t even his fault). He kind of tunes Reese out for a minute and by the time he gets his hand back and stands up Reese is ending the conversation with “I’m sure a black dress will be fine. Black is classic.”

“Oh, hey, you’ve got a girl?” Leon says. He’s happy to hear it, because sometimes he does kind of worry about Reese’s blood pressure. Reese is a buddy, of course, but if he had a coronary someday while breaking someone’s arm he also wouldn’t be able to beat people up for Leon any more and that would be sad.

“No,” Reese says quellingly.

“Does that mean she’s single?” Leon asks hopefully.

Reese looks at him.

“Oh my god never mind I take it back I’m so not interested totally off limits I hear you loud and clear!” Leon babbles, pressing himself back against the wall in the vain hope that maybe he’ll be able to escape through it somehow. He’s seen that look on Reese before and it usually means broken faces.

“If you ever go near her I’ll rip off your kneecaps and make you eat them,” Reese says calmly.

“Totally fair!” Leon agrees frantically.

Of course, it’s only later that he realises that he has no way of knowing who ‘her’ is, which means that any her he approaches might be Reese’s... whoever she is. It’s a very unhappy day for Leon and he really blames it for leading to several later bad life choices, but that’s a story for after the cast has come off. Who knew Luxembourg even had a mafia?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The second time John stops in the middle of a job to spend several minutes fiddling with his phone, Harold gets curious.

He waits to check it out until John has handled the situation and there is nothing for them to do but wait until the next number - he is a professional, after all. John doesn’t usually use his phone for much beyond bluejacking and communicating with Harold, largely because it gets destroyed on a near-weekly basis and there isn’t much of a point to getting attached, so it’s easy to figure out what he was up to.

When Harold comes across the dummy e-mail account he’d set up for John’s bodyguard identity, his eyebrows rise. He’d never bothered to deactivate it because the identity hadn’t been burnt, but he also hadn’t expected John to keep using it.

In fact, John has been using it frequently. Sofia Campos, it would seem, has taken a shine to John, and John has been responding in kind.

Harold smiles benevolently. Sofia had been a lovely young woman once some of her prickly exterior had been worn off, and he’s glad that John has made a friend. He skims through a few e-mails - they’ve covered everything from political strategy to social woes. John is particularly eloquent when it comes to the necessary evils of bodyguards and the top ten ways to tell if one is worth his hourly rate, but he shows some promise in the fields of couture and diplomatic small talk as well. For her part, Sofia is both surprisingly insightful about political situations and wickedly funny when it comes to evaluating the weaknesses of her father's political rivals. Harold even chuckles a few times.

Harold takes a few moments to hack into Sofia’s personal computer. He scrupulously avoids snooping, focusing instead on shoring up her security and making sure there aren’t any troublesome surprises. After he logs out he opens John’s latest e-mail, as yet unread by Sofia, and adds P. S. Your father’s secretary is accepting bribes from his opponents. Matheus Lima in the Communications office would be a much more reliable choice to the end.

Job done, he goes to make himself some tea and contemplate the various ways in which he can engineer a reason to send John to Brazil for a few days.