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Back Rub

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Harold finally typed in the last line of code and lifted his fingers from the keyboard. He drew a deep breath, his eyes flicking to the time stamp on the screen, only then realizing he'd been working for seven hours and forty-three minutes. No wonder his eyes were blurry and his wrists and fingers aching. He eased back in his chair, noting that the library windows were fully dark. His back was screaming, and it took a real effort not to groan as he moved his stiffened body into a more comfortable position.

Reese had come in about a half hour ago and despite appearing occupied with the huge gun he was currently cleaning, Harold knew that the man was always paying attention to him, to his whereabouts, his activities, his mood and his body's infirmities. At first, the idea that Reese watched him the way the Machine watched everyone else had annoyed -- and terrified -- Harold. He knew that Reese followed him, that he had Detective Fusco follow him when he couldn't do it himself and that he'd spent considerable time and a lot of his talent on discovering more information about him, despite Harold's protests that he was a very private person. Whether Reese did it mainly to disturb him or just to even the playing field, he hadn't been sure at first. Later, he sensed that in some ways, it was Reese's way of flirting with him, but that was nearly as disconcerting.

Harold took his time unbending from his hunched position over the keyboard, lifting one hand to ease the strain his back and neck were feeling from working too long without a break, but even so, as he finally allowed himself to straighten enough to come into contact with the back of his chair, he couldn't help the small murmur of pain that escaped.

John was beside him in an instant.

“Are you all right, Harold?” he asked in that low, warm voice of his. That voice had slipped into Harold's consciousness from the very beginning, and he'd spent way too many hours listening to it through their phone link, attuning himself to its nuances, trying to learn whether Reese was in a fight or had been injured or if he was angry or worried, enjoying it when he was amused or opinionated or teasing. Now, he sounded concerned.

“I'm fine, Mr. Reese,” Harold informed him, trying to keep his own voice neutral. He'd never liked appearing weak and even though he and John had grown closer, even though there was real trust between them now, he couldn't help his natural reticence. It just wasn't seemly to let his employee know that his back was aching through his own fault for working without taking a break.

“No. You're not.” The denial came easily to Reese's lips, as easily as he ignored Harold's attempt to create distance between them through the use of his last name. “You work too hard.”

“I suppose you're correct about that,” Harold sighed. Reese was standing so close to him. He could sense the other man's warmth and strength. “It's late,” he tried, “you should really go home and get some sleep yourself.”

“That's not going to work, Harold,” Reese said mildly, bringing his hand up to cover the spot on Harold's neck where it joined his shoulder. He squeezed gently and Harold had to force himself not to react. “You're tighter than usual. Why do you do this to yourself?”

“Because I don't have an office full of paid coders,” Harold all but snapped. He knew what Reese was leading up to and as usual, he was resisting. He always resisted.

Reese leaned down and spoke against his ear. “Don't be that way, Harold.” His tone was light, cajoling, and Harold could almost hear the 'please' that hung unspoken. John never said please but he often urged and entreated in such a way that Harold had no choice but to give in to him. He was going to do it now too, and they both knew his resistance was only perfunctory.

It had started just a few weeks ago, when Harold had been forced into the field during wet and cold weather. Reese had noticed how stiff his movements were the next morning and had offered to rub his back for him. He'd asked questions, even stating up front that he didn't expect Harold would answer them, about whether he regularly saw a physical therapist or even employed a good masseur to help with his back problems. Finally, worn out from the aches and pains that had kept him awake most of that night, Harold had given in and admitted he didn't see anyone and hadn't in more than a year and a half. Stating unequivocally that he didn't like anyone manhandling him hadn't deterred Reese's insistence that such therapy would do him good, nor had his comment that there was rarely time to indulge in getting a massage. Reese was relentless and even noted he understood Harold's unwillingness to trust someone enough to know that much about his physical condition. And then he had offered an alternative that, to Reese, seemed both obvious and which he insisted would allay any fears of Harold's. He offered to rub Harold's back himself.

If he hadn't been as exhausted and aching as he was, he might have been able to tell Reese to go take his ideas and… jump in the Hudson River. But as he'd stood there looking into those deep, earnest eyes of the man trying so hard to appear unthreatening and trustworthy, Harold had given in. He was hurting, however difficult it was to admit that to another person. But if not Reese, who he had seen hurting as well, then who? What was he going to do, numb himself and his mind with painkillers when a new number could come in at any moment?

So it had started. Harold had tried to make it quick, to say he was feeling better way before he actually was, but Reese had known what he was doing. That very understanding had nearly made Harold order him out of the library, it unsettled him so. To be that transparent… to be so needy. It was humiliating. He'd done very well without anyone for quite some time thank you… and then John would rub his hands down along his spine just so and Harold would turn to jelly and he couldn't tell John to stop. Just for a little bit more, Harold would tell himself. He'd feel better in just a moment and it would be enough, it would do and John would stop pestering him.

At first, Reese had given in and stopped when Harold confirmed he was better. But then, the next time, he'd made Harold accept it for longer, until he was more relaxed, more soothed, despite Harold's protests, letting him know in that unflinching way of his that he saw through Harold's pretenses.

Maybe it was because Harold couldn't help the way John's hands made him feel. He couldn't pretend they did nothing for him, either through his body language or the slight, unbidden sounds he made when those sincere, dedicated fingers traced down his spine and found just the exact spot that was tight and painful and worked it out so that all Harold could do was sigh in relief.

That was the worst. His sighs of relief, which had the most annoying tendency to turn into groans of pleasure. The sounds Harold couldn't help making were the most humiliating thing he could think of, even when all he could think of was how good John's hands felt easing his pain.

“Harold,” John said again, his mouth dangerously close to Harold's earlobe. The feel of his breath tickling there was more than the tense man could take and he knew Reese had the patience to out wait him anyway, so why he resisted this way didn't even make sense.

“All right,” he groused, still not wanting to admit how badly he needed what John was offering.

Reese had the decency not to gloat. “Take your jacket off,” was all he said, his voice still measured and soft.

“That's easier said than done,” Harold admitted, his face growing hot as Reese helped him slip the garment off his shoulders. He really had overdone it tonight, he realized; he could barely move at all.

Reese stepped away to hang the jacket up for him. Harold had made it clear the first time that he didn't intend to let his good clothes get wrinkled just because he was allowing Reese to help him relax.

“The vest too,” John said, returning to his side.

Harold glared up at him. That was really going too far.

“It's wool,” Reese stated reasonably. “I'd like to keep my fingerprints from being rubbed off if you don't mind.”

“Shall I perform a strip tease?” Harold began unbuttoning his vest before Reese could try to do it for him.

“I'll let you know,” was the answer. “It depends on how bad your back is tonight.”

Harold rolled his eyes but allowed Reese to help him slip out of the vest and waited while he hung that article up as well. When he returned, he got started without further preamble.

Harold had to admit that the man possessed very talented hands. They first just caressed down his back, getting him used to being touched, then carefully, so, so gently began kneading at the base of his neck, easing the area where his spine had been fused without causing further pain or trying to make Harold's neck move the way it couldn't.

Harold sighed, his eyes slipping closed involuntarily. He felt vulnerable yet safe in Reese's hands.

John continued for a few moments, repeating the soothing touches, then he stopped, flexing his fingers.

“I think you need to open up your shirt at least,” he said, his voice without inflection in deference to Harold's pointed comment about stripping earlier.

“Okay.” It seemed pointless to act so annoyed, so he simply pulled the knot out of his tie and unbuttoned the first few buttons of his shirt. When Reese proceeded to pull at the fabric so he could get his hands beneath it, however, Harold hissed and pulled away.

All Reese did was lay a hand on Harold's shoulder, an indication that was willing to wait the other main out.

It really was quite troubling to be read so easily. At times, Harold was certain that Reese was doing this on purpose, simply to gain a measure of control over him. He should tell the man to just go home right now.

But he didn't. Instead, he compressed his lips in resignation, pulled off his necktie and unbuttoned his shirt the rest of the way, then tugged the tails out of his pants and allowed the other man to divest him of the garment completely.

When Reese returned from the coat tree where he hung up the shirt and tie, he didn't start rubbing again though. Instead he hesitated and Harold could feel the considering look he was giving him.

“Let's move to the break room,” Reese said finally, reaching to take Harold's elbow and help him up from the chair.

Embarrassed, Harold complied, unable to stop the grimace of pain when he managed to get to his feet after so many hours sitting in his chair.

“That's it.” Reese's voice was like his hands, soft, nonjudgmental, giving. "You really do need this tonight." Harold might hate himself for it, but he saw little value in disagreeing.

They got settled on the old leather couch in their break room. Harold sat sideways facing the wall and Reese knelt behind him, closer and more intimately than they'd been in the main room, Harold realized. He wondered if his face was actually turning red when the heat rushed over him at John's renewed touch on his back.

“It's okay. I won't hurt you.”

The words told Harold that yes, he was blushing. He thought perhaps he really should have taken Reese up on his offer to learn how to shoot at some point, so he could simply kill the man to keep him from learning how this affected him. Then again, he thought that would be rather inefficient in the long run.

Reese started again, rubbing carefully and slowly up and down Harold's bad back, finding every point of tension and all the little hurts he'd been fighting so long. Most people probably thought that hands that could punch and punish couldn't be capable of such compassion and care, that fingers that pulled the trigger of deadly weapons couldn't delicately locate and alleviate tight muscles and cramped tendons.

They could though, and they did. Finch sighed, relaxing with embarrassed gratitude.

John's fingers were so precise, so steady… never bruising as some of the physical therapists who attempted to work on Harold's back when he'd been hospitalized had been. No matter how much he'd paid them, they couldn't seem to understand that digging into the areas they considered tight in order to loosen them only made his pain worse, and also served to humiliate and frighten him, making him feel so at their mercy. Those massages had been sheer torture and were the real reason he never availed himself of such services again.

But it was so different with John. John never hurt him. He was never impatient or brusque, but he didn't get sympathetic or sentimental which he seemed to understand would make Harold push him away. He'd looked for a man to help him with the numbers, a man with the skill set to investigate and use deadly force when necessary; he'd never expected to find a friend who he would allow to see him like this, eyes closed, face flushed and body swaying as he allowed the intimacy of the massage.

Reese gathered the fabric of Harold's undershirt in both his hands, pushing it up to his shoulders so he could access his lower back unencumbered. Harold's mouth gaped open as those giving fingers slid over his bare skin then, a whimper of pleasure escaping him. Reese found a painful spot just below his scapula where he pressed more urgently and Harold gave a growl of intense relief, shocking himself with the volume of his reaction.

He tried to crush down the emotions he was feeling, knowing that most men would take advantage of seeing him like this, if not literally in this very moment, they would use the knowledge of his vulnerability when the time was right. Everything in Harold's nature tried to insist that Reese would do this to him, use this against him, that any man who'd killed for a living would be a fool not to take Harold's weakness and make him pay for it… and everything since he'd met Reese also told him that John was the one man on earth who would never do that to him. The conflict was so deep that he could feel his entire back tensing up again.

“Shhhh,” Reese whispered. “Stop thinking so much.”

That too should have told Harold to put his clothes back on and regain his dignity, but as John slid his perfect fingers down his spine once more, all he could do was moan, biting his bottom lip in a vain effort to stop vocalizing his weakness.

“This does feel better, doesn't it?”

The question had an odd ring to it, Harold thought. There was something more there, but the relaxation and comfort John was giving him were making it hard to reason.

“I know you want to tell me to stop,” Reese said then, his voice rough and hesitant, “but don't, Harold.”

“What?” He wasn't sure he heard correctly. Wasn't sure he understood what Reese was asking. It was almost as if Reese were pleading with him.

“Don't ask me to stop.” The words were ground out, totally at variance with the sweet compassion of Reese's touch.

Harold sucked in a breath, turning as far as his neck would allow. He had to see John's face, grasp his meaning and intentions.

“Oh… oohhh… “ John stopped him with one of the best touches of all and Harold nearly collapsed with the ease that flowed through him. He forgot for a moment about wanting to look at John's face.

“Mmmnnn… there,” he gasped. “Just… there… yes… “

More heat rose in his face as he succumbed to the total bliss of the massage, to every single hurt he'd endured all week being simply pressed out of him like so much smoke billowing out of a chimney.

John ran both hands down Harold's back, smoothly covering all the exposed skin there, warming and supple, more like he was petting than massaging. He repeated the motions over and over, as if his hands were hungry for Harold's skin, as if he couldn't get enough.

It felt so incredibly good that Harold, relaxed now, felt his body canting forward, leaning lower and lower until his found himself flattened on the couch, sighing and moaning in a response he could no more deny than he could stop time itself.

“John!” he gasped out, reaching to grab for Reese's left hand. He found it blindly and held on, even when John tried to pull it out of his grasp.

“Don't stop me,” John panted, his voice torn with a need Harold hadn't expected to hear. John was leaning over his back, his breath cool on Harold's shoulder.

From this position, Harold could more easily turn to see John's face and he did so, still not letting go of his hand, pulling on it to bring John closer to him.

What he saw shook Harold to his core. John's face was soft and vulnerable, his eyes were damp, his entire expression revealing the most open, raw need Harold had ever seen in his life.

John… liked touching him this way. Moreover, it was completely and totally clear that John needed this as much as Harold did - for Harold it eased his pain, but for John it took away his terrible isolation.

Harold had been a loner by choice. John Reese on the other hand, had slowly and systematically had anyone who he'd chosen to care about taken away from him, while being told he was nothing but a monster who could never walk anywhere but in the dark, alone because that was what he deserved. But he was a caring man, a gentle man who though he was good at killing he didn't like doing it, who identified with the numbers he saved even as he waved off their thanks.

Harold had balked at John's offer of touch, fearing it, not trusting. John wanted only to be trusted, to be touched -- and unable to have that, he gave touch to someone else.

Harold sighed openly, letting his reaction to John's caress show through. He squeezed the hand he was holding, then let it go. “I'm all right,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I'm not stopping you.”

John swept both hands down and over Harold's back, his fingers nimble and sure. “Okay,” Harold heard him sigh.

Harold closed his eyes, content to let John touch his fill. The next time he offered, he'd make his token protest, but he understood now. He could do this. Why should he deny John what he needed? Someday, maybe he'd even be able to reach out and touch John the way John needed too.

Someday.