When the heroin runners dragged him into the basement and chained him to the wall, John already knew it was going to be bad; they were stupid and young and panicked, amateurs; they'd probably kill him by accident long before they meant to. But there wasn't a way out. They were amateurs at torture, not at street fighting; they had him covered, and anything he did would just get him dead, quickly.
They cuffed his ankles, too, and turned him to face the wall. One of them had a whip and thought he knew how to use it; he started lashing John's back, yelling, demanding to know where the missing shipment was. John took deep breaths, in and out, regular, as the pain started. He rode the build of it like a long rolling wave, shut his eyes, and went away. It was easy. He'd always been good at this.
The surprise was, this time he didn't open his eyes in a hotel room in Mexico, to Jessica's soft laughter, the smell of Dove soap and lime, sunlight everywhere, a warm embracing haze. He had touchstones in that room, a few bright details that had stuck somehow: the green statue of Mary in the niche and that frayed corner of embroidery on the comforter. He'd probably made some of them up, over the years, but that didn't matter. It was peace, it was where he went.
But even before he opened his eyes he knew he wasn't there, because he smelled rain, and the faint acrid smell of distant exhaust; there was a cold and bitter wind tugging on his hair and on his coat, a weight on his chest.
Vaguely puzzled, he opened his eyes to see the Chrysler Building, lit up and startlingly big and close, and — and Harold, who was standing in front of him, hands braced on his chest, a tense frown on his face. "I'm not leaving you here, John," he said.
John felt his mouth wobble, tremulous, trying to smile. "I know," he said, softly, reverent.
— look at him you fucking asshole, he's fucking smiling, you giving him a fucking massage or —
The voices came from a distance, like a radio playing somewhere: he heard them, but they weren't that important. John looked around, blinking away the wind. It was amazing. He could see every building, the blaze of blue and purple from the W Hotel tower down the block and the brilliant red bloom of the airplane warning lights on the spire of the Empire State Building, flashing steady in and out, like heartbeats. His cheeks stung from the cold; there were individual drops of rain clinging to his face. He felt the bite of the too-tight strap on the bomb vest, digging into his shoulder. Everything was bright and crisp-edged and real, even the warm solid weight of the hands on his chest.
Even Harold, who was right there, just as vivid even when John dared to look directly at him. Harold looked back at him, worried, unhappy. "It's — it's okay," John said, half scared. Jessica had always been just out of view, beyond a curtain, a glimpse, a snatch of her voice. He'd never dared to try to talk to her.
But Harold only scrunched his face up in horrified indignation. "It is most emphatically not okay, Mr. Reese. May I point out you're being tortured?"
It was so exactly what Harold would say, the way he'd say it. "Well, yeah," John said. "But you're here." He looked out over the city, the dazzling lights, and smiled again. "You're here."
"I'm here," Harold agreed. "I won't leave you, John."
John could have stayed there forever. The whipping stopped after a while; they were arguing, talking about using knives — wouldn't make a difference, he could have told them, but he couldn't really be bothered to surface that far. He and Harold had sat down together on the edge of the rooftop, and Harold was talking quietly to him, telling him bits of trivia about baseball and networking protocols and wines; conversations they'd had, things John hadn't realized he remembered.
He didn't feel any pain; his body was even farther away than the voices, updates coming through like telegraph signals. He could tell it was bad, though. "I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to say goodbye," he told Harold.
Harold's head was bent, sorrowful. "Hold on," he said. "Hold on, John."
John looked down over the edge of the skyscraper, into the city canyon; it was dark, no gleam of streetlamps or traffic, empty. He didn't really want to fall into it. "As long as I can," he said.
— Listen to me, you fucking shithead. You feel this?
It was the muzzle of a gun. His pants were being jerked down.
— I'll fucking shove this up your ass and blow holes in your fucking guts from inside, you understand me? Where the fuck is our H, man? Your last chance, motherfucker, where —
The snarling voice in his ears cut off abruptly, with a gasp and the soft buzzing crackle of a taser that wasn't being used on him. There was something in John's nostrils, a sharp unpleasant smell: smoke grenades. He heard a stutter of gunfire, and Carter's voice, saying, Go! Go! His pants were being pulled up, the button at the top secured; then his ankles were free and the chains were coming off his wrists. He knew all of it was happening, from far away.
"John," Harold said abruptly, sitting up and turning to him. "John, do you think you can walk? Only a little way, I promise — "
Harold was reaching for him, helping him up, standing. John let him, bemused. It was the strangest feeling he'd ever had: Harold's voice coming from multiple places, there and here at the same time. He was ducking under John's arm, taking his weight.
"Sure," John said, and let Harold guide his steps. The rooftop was smearing a little, blurry, but John blinked and brought it back into focus. "I'm just going to stay here, if that's okay," he told Harold.
"Just a little further, John," Harold was saying. "A few steps. Hold on, John, we're almost out."
"No, I'm with you, I just mean — nevermind," John said. Harold didn't need distracting right now.
He dropped his eyes to the floor of the rooftop and counted steps. A fresh gust of wind came into his face, warmer, a summer night; the rooftop blurred a little more, and he gasped as some of the pain bled through.
"Almost, John," Harold was saying, though, and his hands were so good, so warm; saving him again. "Almost."
Harold was helping him into the back seat of a car. The smell of the leather upholstery in his nostrils was strong, and John had to cling to Harold's hand to stay on the roof. He was shivering. "Detective Carter!" Harold was saying. "I have John in the car, get out of there — "
There was a little more gunfire. John had his face pressed into Harold's thigh, breathing the warm smell of wool.
He faded in and out on the drive; he was on the rooftop sometimes, in the back of the car sometimes. Harold was there, always. John tried to go back to the rooftop in the hospital, when they took Harold away, but the morphine was running in like an ocean rising between the towers, drowning everything; it came pouring over the rooftop edge and kept rising, deep and glassy green, far over his head. He was sinking, down and down. He closed his eyes and slept.
He surfaced again for a little while to Harold's voice talking to someone else, as Harold Crane probably: he was speaking with assurance, a hint of impatience, a man who expected to be obeyed. John managed to open his eyes long enough to ground himself in the room: huge, with a picture window, curtains, desk and several chairs, a couch, a flat-screen tv, a security camera peering down from the corner. He was lying on his stomach and his back was starting to itch, which was probably a good sign. He put his head back down, struggling: the morphine was tugging him back under, cool and inviting.
Harold came over and touched his arm lightly, with his fingertips. "You're going to be perfectly fine, John," he said. "Your skin will be some time healing, but I'll have you home in two days."
John leaned his head over and managed to press his forehead against the back of Harold's hand. He breathed in the smell of him and slowly, painstakingly raised the city up around them, towers jutting out of the morphine swell. "Less drugs," he said. His tongue was thick and clumsy.
"Are you quite sure?" Harold said, anxiously. "There's no need to be stoic, John — "
"Feels worse," John said.
"All right," Harold said. "If you're certain," and John relaxed as he heard Harold call the nurse over; some kind of fiddling went on with the equipment by the bedside. He pushed the sound of it away, listened to the wind whistling by him.
"I'll let you get some rest now," Harold said, and started to straighten up, going away; John made a noise of protest and managed to curl his fingers around the edge of Harold's jacket.
"You said you wouldn't leave me," John said, and Harold paused and then slowly settled back down.
"Of course, John," he said. "Of course I'll stay."
Harold was still in the chair next to the bed, drowsing, when John came up for air the next time, what felt like a long while later. It was dark outside. There was a scruff of stubble on Harold's face, and his tie was loose, his collar unbuttoned. He'd put his feet up on the end of the bed. He was holding John's hand in both of his own, loosely.
His back throbbed and itched, and John ached deeply, all over. Harold stirred and sat up and looked at him, forehead anxious and furrowed. "John?" he said, like he expected something else.
"What time is it?" John said.
"Shortly after nine," Harold said. "Are you — You seem better."
"What's wrong?" John said.
"I was concerned," Harold said. "You were less than coherent, last night."
"I wasn't all there." John flicked his fingers, shorthand for a shrug. "It's better to skip out on torture." He shifted his weight around, cataloging mentally. Everything was working. Everything hurt, too, but he could've gotten out of the bed if he'd had to. Probably. He made himself say, "I'm all right. You can go." He couldn't quite convince himself to take his hand out of Harold's.
Harold said simply, "I've eaten. After you're asleep again, I'll go take a shower and return."
John relaxed, helplessly; he closed his eyes. Harold's thumbs moved in faint circles over the back of his hand. "Carter okay?" John said after a moment.
"Yes, she's fine," Harold said. John was drifting away again; the morphine was lapping at his legs, taking away most of the pain, but not too deep to keep him from going back to the roof. "John?"
"Just going under again," John said to Harold. The Chrysler Building was behind Harold, and a look of nearly transcendent relief on his face; John knew if he glanced down at himself, he'd see the phone on his chest reading 0:07, frozen, a single moment. "Keep talking. It's kind of neat, like surround sound."
"How peculiar," Harold said, frowning at him; his hands were holding John's here, too, even though that hadn't happened. "Is this something they teach you to — where are you?"
"The roof," John said, smiling at him.
"The roof?" Harold muttered half under his breath, doubtful. "Which — " His hands stilled, for a moment. "The roof — "
"Colder than Mexico," John said. It was dimming at the edges, everything fading. He yawned. "But the view's nicer."
"Oh," Harold said, a strange stifled note in his voice. John slid away.
He was more awake the next time around, and wary; he half remembered the conversation, and Harold's voice. But Harold didn't say anything about it. He just stepped out to talk to the multiple highly-paid doctors overseeing John's case, while the nurses took out the catheter — always a good time — and let him get to the bathroom under his own power. He had to stop and lean against the wall twice, breathing deeply, but he made it; and he got all the way back to the bed in one shot on the return trip.
"We can arrange your release at any time," Harold said, coming back in. "Your aftercare isn't going to be particularly specialized; there's no need for you to remain here if you feel up to the transfer."
"Spring me," John said, muffled, not bothering to raise his head up from the bed.
His ride from the hospital was a private ambulance, and it took an oddly long time; after half an hour of steady highway traffic, John craned his head to one side and peered at Harold. "Let me guess," he said. "New number? In a rehab center on Long Island?"
Harold looked up from his laptop with a pursed mouth. "Not exactly," he said. "But we are going somewhat afield."
Harold wasn't kidding about that: when the ambulance doors finally opened, they were on the tarmac at JFK, and there was a private jet waiting, with a lift to get them up to the door and a bedroom inside, complete with queen-size bed. It also had other unusual features. "Gold-plated seatbelts?" John said, raising an eyebrow as Harold helped him past a row of seats and onto the bed. "Interesting choice, Harold. I also like the gold wallpaper."
Harold made a face. "Please don't look around, it's quite grotesque," he said. "Unfortunately, my own jet doesn't have a bed — under normal circumstances, of course, they are naturally less safe than a perfectly comfortable sleeper seat, with a belt. At such short notice, I was somewhat limited as to the options."
"Where did you get this one from, then?" John said, stretching out. Harold could say whatever he wanted, this bed was a lot more comfortable than any airplane seat John had ever been stuck with, although granted, the CIA didn't spring for anything higher than coach. Then he squinted at the pillow next to his head: there was an elaborate family crest embroidered on it, with a banner underneath reading — "Wait a second."
"Mr. Trump is considerably better at appearing wealthy than at actually making money," Harold said. "His agent was quite happy to rent the jet out discreetly."
The jet might have looked ridiculous, but John had no complaints about the flight; he slept most of the seven hours, and by the time they landed, he felt well enough to shrug on a loose shirt and pants, and climb down from the airplane by himself. There was another ambulance waiting, but when John made a face, Harold made a phone call and it was replaced almost immediately with an ordinary limo. John stretched out on the seat instead.
"So where are we, exactly?" he said, lifting his head to look out the window: the road signs were in Greek.
"Santorini," Harold said, and stayed closemouthed after that. The limo took them to a small private house, white stone and wooden furniture, with a bedroom open all along one wall looking straight out onto the sea, white curtains billowing. John had pushed it a little, walking in from the car; he crawled onto the bed the wrong way around with his head at the foot and sank down luxuriously, glad to rest.
"Not that I'm complaining," he said, "but do I ever get to find out why we're here?" He stretched a little, cautiously. He wasn't sleepy, just heavy with a pleasant lazy inertia: the regular painkillers were enough to keep him comfortable. The salt air was blowing over him in cool gusts, stirring his hair; he breathed deep.
Harold sat down on the edge of the bed, near his head; he looked out at the ocean. He'd changed on the plane, too, into linen pants and shirt: informal, in exactly the most correct way. He drew a breath and didn't speak right away. "So the next time," he said, his voice thin on next time, like he hated saying the words, "you'll have someplace better to go than a moment when you were strapped into a bomb vest and ready to die."
John swallowed, breath caught in his throat. "It's not — it's not the place," he said, when he could speak.
"I know," Harold said. He picked up John's hand in his and bent to kiss it. "We have a week. I think we'll manage something."
There were tears pricking John's eyes, and he thought maybe Harold already had.