They took Root to a mental hospital before they left Washington State; she hadn’t said a word after Shaw’s bullet had prevented her from shooting Harold. Shaw had volunteered to hang around and make sure that the doctors took care of her injury and would keep her in the facility for her own good – and the good of Finch as well.
John slept most of the flight home, finally able to relax after the last few harrowing days, knowing that Harold was near and safe. When he dreamed of being too late to prevent Root from shooting him, Harold’s hand on his arm woke him from the nightmare. He looked up into the other man’s eyes and managed a smile, still impressed with the way Finch had hidden a virus within a virus, how he had saved the Machine he had built even though he’d locked himself out of it, making sure that neither he nor anyone else could tamper with it.
“You have an odd look on your face, Mr. Reese,” Finch said before leaning back in his own seat on the private plane they’d rented as transportation.
John shrugged, not worried about his expression, and drifted off to sleep again, this time keeping his right arm in contact with Harold’s left as they shared the armrest between them.
It was after midnight when they rolled into the city. Finch seemed tired, but John was rested, feeling energetic, the way he did when he’d wrapped up an operation that had been successful and had taken a few hours to recharge his batteries.
“Bear’s with Leon,” he told Finch, thinking they could pick the dog up on their way to the library.
“It seems a bit late to bother Mr. Tao,” Finch objected. Nevertheless, he turned down the street that would take them to Leon’s apartment. “I’m sure Bear will be happy to see us, whether Mr. Tao is or not.”
Ten minutes later, John was ringing the bell at Leon’s. From inside, Bear barked loudly and it wasn’t long before he heard Leon grouchily telling the dog to be quiet.
The door opened and Leon appeared, wearing a Stones t-shirt and sweat pants, his hair standing on end. He scratched his stomach as he glared at John. “It’s the middle of night, man.”
Bear didn’t care what time it was. He leapt toward John, tail wagging furiously.
“Af,” John told him. Immediately, Bear stopped mid-jump, contenting himself with just pressing his head under John’s hand to be petted.
Leon retrieved the leash from its hook by the door and handed it to John, who bent to clip it onto Bear’s collar.
“Thanks for dog sitting him again,” John said as he turned to go.
“Wait, man,” Leon protested, finally seeming to wake up enough to focus. “Did you find Finch? Is everything okay with you guys?”
John glanced back at him, unable to keep the smile off his face. “Yes, I found him. Everything’s fine. Pretty much anyway.” They still didn’t know what would happen with the Machine and the numbers but that wasn’t something he could tell Leon about anyway.
“Good,” Leon approved. “I remember the last time you were looking for him. You were a mess, man.”
“Good night, Leon,” John said, knowing Leon wasn’t wrong about that. He’d pretty much been a mess this time too, only he’d at least had a trail to follow. And instead of having the insufferable goof that was Leon Tao along, Shaw had been with him. She’d been cynical about Finch’s motives but John had managed to tune her out. She’d admitted she didn’t understand people or relationships, she didn’t know Finch, and had no idea what she was talking about when it came to him. Or his relationship with John.
John himself didn’t know how to define it, but it was theirs and he was perfectly capable of understanding Finch, even if he still didn’t know everything about him. He’d reached the conclusion that he knew enough at this point. Whatever he found out from now on would be what Finch might decide to reveal to him. And that was fine with John.
“Hier, Bear,” he said, heading for the car.
Finch had kept the motor running. John had tried to talk him into coming along with him to Leon’s door, still wanting to make sure he was safe, but Finch had reminded him that if Root had somehow escaped the hospital, Ms Shaw would have alerted them, so he’d relented, knowing that Finch was too tired to make the long walk and back at this hour.
When Bear saw Finch in the car, he got even more excited than when he’d seen John. Finch opened the door and the dog jumped in, licking Finch’s face happily while his tail caught John across the cheek. After a moment, Finch slid across the seat to the passenger side. “You can drive home, John, if you don’t mind,” he said, his hand running through the fur on Bear’s back.
They made their way through the city streets, the traffic only a little less congested than it was during the daylight hours. Bear sat up on the seat, looking out the windshield as if he too were monitoring their route, while Harold leaned against the big dog, his head resting on Bear’s shoulder.
John parked them closer than usual to the library, then leaned across Bear to nudge Harold awake. He sat up abruptly, his eyes wide and blinking, collar damp from a little drool that had formed while he dozed. He absently used his pocket square to wipe it away, then tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket and prepared to climb out of the vehicle.
“We should walk him, I suppose,” he said as he stiffly got out of the car, holding Bear’s leash.
It was obvious the dog approved of the idea. He was nearly bouncing at the end of his lead as John locked the car and went to stand next to them. “I could do it,” he offered, realizing how exhausted Finch was.
“It’s all right,” Harold said. “Just around the block.”
Bear looked up, his face looking for all the world like he was smiling up at his two masters. John realized it had been over a week since they’d walked him together and that the dog probably had been wondering why things had changed. He patted Bear’s head and the three of them started off down the street. Bear divided his time between glancing between John and Harold and sniffing for just the right spot to go to the bathroom. He lifted his leg against a mail box, a garbage can and a street lamp, finally doing his business on a small patch of grass that surrounded a tree in the middle of the block. John walked back to the trash can and found some newspaper to pick up Bear’s deposit.
He heard a distinct whine when he moved away from Finch and the dog, as if Bear didn’t want him to leave them there.
“He’ll be right back, Bear.” Harold’s voice drifted to him as he looked into the trash can, soft with understanding and patience. He liked the way Finch always spoke to the dog as if he were another person. He knew Finch didn’t really think he could reason with Bear, but it was amusing to John that he seemed to pretend that it was possible.
When he was two steps away from them again, Bear jumped toward him, frisky and joyful as if he’d been away for hours. John supposed that the dog never knew how long his friends would be away and seeing John’s retreating form had worried him. Well, not worried obviously. Dogs didn’t worry, or at least John didn’t think they did. But he knew they couldn’t determine time so he probably thought if John were walking away he was leaving again and it would be ‘forever’ until he came back.
John rubbed Bear’s head, then bent to use the newspaper to collect his doggy calling card. Before he could straighten up again, Bear was nudging against him, paws connecting with John’s shoulders. John went down to his knees on the sidewalk, reminded of the greeting Bear had given him when he’d returned from his time at Rikers.
“Bear!” John protested, feeling a huge wet tongue slide over his right ear.
“Bear, no!” Finch also tried to get the dog to stop, but at his voice, Bear turned back toward him, tail still wagging. He darted between John and Finch then. “Oh, my!”
John got up once the dog had stopped trying to climb him. “What?” he asked Finch.
Bear was prancing like an eager puppy.
“Look.” Finch waved his arm in the direction of the leash. Somehow it had become wrapped around his leg. “Bear!” he said again in consternation as the dog made to circle around John, bringing the leash around both of them.
“Bear, foei!” John commanded.
The dog obeyed and stopped moving, but he stood with his tail still wagging expectantly. Both John and Harold moved to try to untangle the leash at the same time, nearly bumping their heads together. John’s shoulder only made contact with Harold’s glasses, but that was bad enough. They tried to pull apart, Harold’s free hand making a grab for his glasses to keep them from falling off. John realized he couldn’t step backward due to the leash being wrapped around both his legs and one of Harold’s.
“Really, Bear,” Harold fussed as John leaned down to grab the dog’s collar. He got a firm hold on it, unbuckling the leash so he could more easily unwrap it from around them before they both ended up on the ground.
Bear looked unfazed as he happily watched John’s movements, tail still wagging.
“Harold, can you move your leg?” John asked. He was bent over again, his face on the level of Finch’s crotch, his hand down by his knee, holding the leash that he’d nearly managed to get completely free. It hadn’t been easy to accomplish one-handed but he’d done it. Almost.
“Oh. Yes. Certainly.” Finch put a hand on John’s shoulder to steady himself and stepped up as far as he could to extricate his leg from the tangle of leash. As soon as he was able, he let go and stepped back and John stood up again, relieved that they weren’t going to fall anymore. He put the leash back on Bear and the three of them headed back toward the library.
They made it back to the library without further incident. Bear ran for his bed as soon as John unclipped his leash and Harold made for his computers.
John looked at his watch. It was nearly two a.m. and he was wondering where Harold was going to find the energy to do any work at this hour.
“You do know what time it is, don’t you?” he asked.
Harold glanced at his watch. “Oh.” He looked toward John. “If you’re tired, Mr. Reese…”
“I’m not that tired. I thought you were.” He came to stand next to Finch’s chair.
“I am. Somewhat,” Finch admitted. “I just want to check the system before retiring.”
“Are you planning on staying here tonight?” John asked. He was concerned that if he left, Finch wouldn’t get any sleep, but would keep checking things and coding until daylight.
Harold didn’t answer for a few minutes, but instead of continuing to work as John had feared he would, he looked through a few screens, did a bit of typing and then shut the computer down. “No. I don’t want to stay here.” His voice sounded a little awkward, John thought.
“Hotel?” John asked. “Safe house?” He was about to ask if Finch wanted him to drive him home when Finch answered.
“The new place, I think,” he said, referring to the residence where they’d taken Monica Jacobs.
John nodded in approval. It was close and comfortable. He whistled for Bear and grabbed their jackets.
When they arrived, Bear made for the couch as soon as John unhooked his leash, jumping up to make himself comfortable. Harold headed for the full bath that was off the living area, while John went upstairs to take his shower. He’d just finished and was drying off when he heard Harold and Bear coming up the stairs. When he opened the bathroom door, Bear hurried toward him, nosing his knee under the white cotton waffle robe he’d put on.
He petted him a moment, then looked up to where Harold was waiting in his own navy cashmere robe over a pair of satiny blue pajamas.
“Go sleep with Harold, Bear,” John told the dog.
Bear whined, looking back and forth between them, then turned and headed back to Harold.
The next day, John took Bear to the park by himself while Finch worked at the library. He practiced various commands with the dog, should they need him to help with a case, if they got another number at some point. For now, the Machine, wherever it was, was quiet.
After a couple of hours, John returned to the library. He felt the need to see Finch, to make sure he was all right. He was concerned that Finch was more upset about the Machine than he’d said.
When he and Bear got to the gate, Bear began pulling on his leash, eager to see Harold. John was surprised to see Finch not at work at his desk, but standing near the gate, looking over the books on the shelf there.
Finch turned at the sound of their approach and before John could unhook Bear’s leash, the dog had pranced over to Harold, around him and back to John, once again winding his leash around both men’s legs.
“He’s acting more like a puppy than a trained military dog,” Finch observed as he attempted to take a step.
The moment he moved, Bear lunged between them and effectively tightened the leash around them.
John tried to step over the tangle, but the result only served to allow Bear to get his leash more firmly wrapped around John’s other leg. His knee buckled and he staggered toward Finch, who also looked about to tip over.
“Bear, bad dog!” Finch said. He looked at John quizzically. “I thought you were having a training session with him.”
“We didn’t work on not wrapping his leash around his pack members,” John said. He leaned down, trying to grab Bear’s collar, but the dog was so frisky he eluded him, darting between John and Finch again.
“Umhf.” Finch sounded both annoyed and frustrated, stepping awkwardly toward John as the leash tightened around their legs. His hands grasped John’s shoulders.
Bear barked enthusiastically, enjoying the new game he’d created. John grabbed for Finch’s waist, hoping to keep him steady. The leash tightened and he found himself pulled against Finch, their chests in contact, legs brushing.
His eyes met Finch’s. He felt heat growing between them. Whether it was embarrassment or something else, he wasn’t sure. Finch’s cheeks were faintly red, his eyes wide. John felt his own heart start to pound.
“Sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” he managed. Bear was panting, his tongue lolling. He stood on his hind legs and his paws landed on John’s shoulder.
“Oh no, you don’t,” John said, realizing that in the next moment, all three of them would be on the floor. “Af!” he commanded, following it by a determined, “Down, Bear!”
The dog sat, but the rebuking tone did nothing to alter his enthusiasm for his new game. Both Finch and John moved at the same time to reach for the tangled leash and this time, they did bump heads.
“Ow!” Harold complained. “John, I can reach…”
“Sorry.” John rubbed at his own forehead, feeling both annoyed and silly. He wasn’t usually this clumsy.
Finch managed to grab Bear’s collar and get the leash unfastened. Between the two of them, passing the long lead around and between their legs, they got themselves untangled at last.
“You know, in some ways I would prefer him chewing up first editions,” Finch said ruefully. He had the leash in his hands, and he looked down at the dog. “Bear, we’re going to have to have a talk about this,” he said sternly.
“Harold,” John said, “I really don’t think reasoning with him is going to work.”
Harold looked up. “He knows how I feel about boundaries.”
John looked from Finch to the dog. Bear was sitting at attention, staring up at Harold, his ears up, eyes bright and intent. “I guess he does. Whether he agrees with you or not is another question.”
The next few days were uneventful. Instead of handling numbers, Finch and John spent time together, taking Bear to the park, enjoying a movie at the theater that let them bring him along as long as he wore his service dog vest. They didn’t really know what to do with themselves.
The next day, while out walking Bear, they talked about what they’d do if the Machine didn’t call with more numbers. John had just listened to Harold apologize for having inadvertently sent John to Ordos because of the virus he’d created.
“You’d lost a friend,” John told him. “You did what you thought you had to do.” He couldn’t bear the idea of Finch feeling guilty over Jessica, not when there were so many other things the man had to feel bad about. There was Nathan’s death, the other irrelevants he couldn’t save… Grace. John had made his own decisions. “My life changed when I kept my mouth shut in an airport seven years ago,” he told Finch.
He looked at the man who meant so much to him, knowing his heart was plainly visible in his eyes. He couldn’t deny his feelings any more. He wanted to be closer to Finch, show him how he felt. But he couldn’t make the first move. Finch didn’t seem to notice or realize the depth of John’s feelings, so he didn’t voice them.
Instead, they talked about what they should do in case there were no more calls from the Machine. John even offered to take less money from Finch, who scoffed at the very idea. John wasn’t surprised that Finch knew he gave away most of his salary. There wasn’t anything Finch didn’t know about him already, except perhaps what was in John’s heart.
At that moment, a pay phone rang. They had a number.
It only took a couple of hours to take care of it, but it felt good to be working again. They never got a chance to have lunch and it was well past dinner time too when they wrapped up. Finch suggested getting some take out, but John wanted a shower and to relax at home.
“I’ll cook if you come back to my place with me,” he said, thinking that Finch wouldn’t agree.
“That would be nice,” the man said, surprising John. His eyes looked soft when he gazed up at him.
John’s heart skipped a beat. He could be happy every day if Harold would look at him that way. “We need to stop for some groceries,” he said, hoping his voice didn’t break.
They picked up three steaks – one for Bear -- and ingredients for salad and baked potatoes as they walked through John’s neighborhood. The evening was cool and it was good to walk with Bear and Harold beside him.
The dog showed his happiness in the way he scampered along, joyfully sniffing trees and light poles, glancing back at John and Harold as if to make sure they were still coming with him. John was glad the dog was enjoying the walk but was happy there weren’t any leash incidents on this outing, especially since both he and Harold were carrying bags of groceries.
He unlocked the door and pushed it open, holding it for Harold. As Finch crossed the threshold, Bear darted through also, bringing his lead between John and Harold’s legs.
“Bear, wait!” Harold sounded frustrated. He turned, looking at John. “You really should put a table or something near the door,” he said, nodding toward the bag he was holding.
John agreed that would be handy, but he didn’t usually have to worry about being tripped by a dog leash while coming inside. Before he could respond, Bear crossed behind him, taking the leash around the back of John’s legs. It caught him behind the knees and pushed him off balance.
He staggered and found himself shoving his grocery bag into Harold’s arms. Bear went between Harold’s legs then, causing him to lurch toward John. They tried but failed to keep from dropping their bags, and as they both moved to grab for the falling food items, Bear lunged around behind Harold, tightening the leash even more around them. He gave a yip of excitement as Harold and John grappled for each other.
The groceries landed on the floor. John felt himself falling and tried to turn, not wanting to land on top of Harold. Bear pranced between them, snaring their legs in the tangle of leash. Harold grabbed at John’s shoulders, his eyes wide with surprise and consternation.
They landed on the floor. Harold was on top of John, a package of steak trapped between their chests. Bear put his nose up close, sniffing at the meat.
Harold’s glasses were askew. He pushed up from John, managing to rescue the steaks before Bear could bite at them. “If you want any of this, you’d better stop tangling us up like this,” he said ominously.
“I don’t think he’s really thinking it through.” John couldn’t help laughing. He tried to help Harold up but from his position on the floor it wasn’t easy.
Harold tried to sit up, but Bear jumped over his back. The leash tightened. Harold fell again, flat against John.
“If I could…” John huffed out, “just get him unhooked…” He reached for Bear’s collar, but the dog was too quick for him. The leash got wrapped around his forearm and when Bear moved again, John found his hand pulled behind Harold’s neck.
He felt the warm skin above Harold’s collar, the soft ends of his hair. Harold looked down at him, the consternation in his eyes changing to something else.
John felt a surge of warmth, of electricity, form between them. Harold’s mouth was open slightly. It looked soft, needy. John angled his head up and kissed him.
“Oh!” Harold said, as if in surprise. “I’ve…been waiting for you to do that.” Then he bent down immediately and kissed John back.
John carded his fingers through Harold’s hair, wrapping his free arm around his back, pulling him closer. They kissed again and again, mouths open and clinging, tongues sliding together, passion deepening. John could have stayed on the floor forever if he could keep kissing Harold like this.
He felt a something wet drop onto his head. It slid down to his forehead, followed by another plop. His concentration broken, he pulled his mouth away from Harold’s.
He looked up. Bear was sitting at his head, panting. Huge droplets of slobber were falling from the dog’s open mouth.
“Bear,” he said, “you got us together. Don’t mess it up by getting us covered in your drool.”
“John.” He returned his attention to Harold, finding the man looking at him with love and amusement in his eyes. “I used to mind dog drool. But right now, it’s the farthest thing from my mind.”
John’s smile was smothered when Harold bent to kiss him again.