Actions

Work Header

Whistler & Riley

Chapter Text

When Harold walked away from John, Bear’s leash in his hand and a crack in his heart for everything he was losing, he wondered if he’d ever see his friend again. He hoped so, but he doubted it. These were clean covers, created by the Machine in order to protect them, and Ms. Groves said they had to separate. She was closer to the Machine than he was at that point, so he didn’t question. He’d learned how to trust her in the months since she kidnaped him the second time, intent on setting the Machine free.

John, though… how was he supposed to go on without John? They filled a part of each other’s lives that had been empty and dying for years… He didn’t care about the Library, or the money, or the bespoke tailoring, not when he’d already lost the only person with whom he wanted to share those things.

He could get used to cheap, off-the-rack suits. He would learn to teach…

Harold had been Professor Whistler for three weeks when it occurred to him that the misery he experienced every day was grief at losing John. His friend. His partner. It was such an intense pain that it would double him over at times, and Bear would lean against his side and whine and try to comfort him.

He never expected to love again after Grace, but…

Professor Whistler was a sad man, disabled and in pain, with a service dog and as much personality as depression and anxiety allowed him. Harold found slipping into his skin one of the easiest transitions of his life. He, himself, was depressed and anxious, after all. Were his friends alive? When was Samaritan going to catch up with him? Would he live to see his Machine destroyed?

And what of John? Was he still alive? Was he locked up somewhere? Did he miss Harold at all, or had he moved on like the soldier and survivalist he was?

Harold slogged through his days, finding a routine that at any other time would make him feel more paranoid. But sad, depressed university professors had routines, and he needed to blend in, to become Harold Whistler, to become one of the anonymous people that inhabited New York. Varying his routine would be a red-flag to whomever was watching. Few people varied their routines much, if they could help it. People were creatures of habit, after all, and he’d studied them enough to know.

The only way he allowed himself to stand out was to threaten to sue the university if they didn’t allow him to keep his service dog with him. It worked, and at least he had the comfort of Bear’s presence when he sat alone in his disappointing office reading dismal essays by students who weren’t motivated to learn the topic he had no interest in teaching. He needed money for food, though, and for Bear’s upkeep, so he kept going, day after day.

When he closed his eyes at night he saw John’s face behind his eyelids in place of Grace. He stopped questioning it after another few weeks. He’d fallen in love with John, and hadn’t known, and now it was too late…

He couldn’t even look for him to attempt to correct the mistake and tell him.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

Detective John Riley hated his job. He hated the drugs and the deaths and the fact that he couldn’t help people before something bad happened. But with no Harold and no Machine to give him numbers, John had to make due with what he had.

He didn’t have to like it.

There was only one job that John had truly liked, truly wanted to get out of bed to do: Helping the numbers with Harold. It was Harold, though, that made the job.

Harold who took him out of the gutter and gave him a purpose. Harold who showed him that he could still be a good man, even with all the horrible things he’d had to do in the past. Harold knew about all that and valued him anyway.

It would be so easy, as a narcotics detective, to fall into the bottle again. Most of the detectives at his precinct drank too much, and one more alcoholic police officer wouldn’t be a blip in the Samaritan algorithms that looked for what Harold called “outliers.” He could drink himself to death, like he’d wanted to do a few years ago.

It would be so easy.

John rarely took the easy path.

It was why he was on his lieutenant’s shit list — again — why he had the worst assignments, the worst shifts, the most paperwork. It was also probably why he found himself combing the local colleges for students dealing or making drugs instead of out doing real police work or preventing crimes rather than investigating them after the fact.

Fucking lieutenant.

.

.

.

Marco Mendoza wasn’t in his dorm room. He wasn’t at the student center, or the library, or the lab assigned to him in the chemistry building. John was wandering through one of the academic buildings when he spotted the kid. Nineteen and lanky, from a poor neighborhood but with a good scholarship, Marco was accused of dealing designer drugs. It was John’s job to round him up, bring him back to the precinct, and get a confession out of him. With any luck he’d have product on him and they could charge him with possession and intent to traffic.

Marco noticed John and panicked. Maybe one of his friends from the dorms had tipped him off that a cop was looking for him. John called after him to stop, but Marco ran. John gave chase, of course, because that’s what he did.

“NYPD! Stop where you are!”

Marco charged into a faculty lounge, grabbed the nearest professor, and hauled him around to face John, a knife at the man’s throat. People were screaming, running. John stared at the boy, at his hostage, and made a split-second decision based on instinct, fear and hope.

John pulled the trigger, shooting Marco between the eyes.

Marco collapsed, dead, dragging the hostage down with him. Unable to control the descent, the man hit his head on the linoleum floor and stayed there, unmoving, a pool of blood spreading out underneath him. John had no idea if it was his blood or Marco’s, but it didn’t matter in the short-term. He called for back up and a pair of ambulances, then got on his knees next to the man.

“Hey, hey, can you hear me?” John asked, cradling the man’s neck in one hand, checking for a pulse with the other. There it was, thready, but there. John let out a sigh of relief.

“His name is Harold,” a woman said as she knelt beside them. “Harold Whistler.”

“Harold, wake up for me, ok? It’s John, from the police. You’re gonna be ok.” He moved his hand from one pulse point to the next, the first hand steady on Harold’s neck. “What can you tell me about him?” John asked the woman, who’d covered Marco’s head with her blazer.

“He’s been with us for a few months. No one knows him very well. He keeps to himself, mostly.”

“He has that dog,” a man called from the corner. “The big one. We’re a no-pets campus and he brings the thing everywhere!”

“Bear’s a service dog!” the woman argued.

“Please, do you know where he lives? Friends or family?”

“No,” the women answered, sounding contrite. “As I said, he keeps to himself.”

The EMTs arrived then, and pushed John out of the way. He watched in silence as they took Harold, and waited as the crime scene investigators arrived, the coroner’s office people following on their heels. He wanted to follow Harold, to tell them about his neck, to make sure he’d be ok, but his lieutenant was on the phone, barking at him to stay where he was, so he entrusted Harold to the techs and gave them his card after getting a promise they’d tell him which hospital they took him to.

.

.

.

“Goddamn it, Riley!” Lieutenant O’Marra shouted. “You shoot too many people as it is, and now you kill a suspect —“

“He was threatening a hostage,” John protested.

“According to the witnesses, you didn’t even try to talk him down, just burst into the room after him and shot him. You’re gonna have IAB up your ass, and I’m not gonna protect you.”

“I saved that professor’s life,” John growled.

“You didn’t need to shoot the kid to do that,” O’Marra said. “Words, Riley, try words next time. I’m gonna have to take your gun until this thing blows over.” Under the desk, Bear growled. “What the fuck’s that doing here?”

“Bear is the professor’s service dog. I was planning on bringing him to the hospital after my shift,” John said, keeping his voice soft and placating.

“Looks more like a military dog than a service dog.”

“Well, a trained military dog would make a good service dog,” John pointed out reasonably. “He’d follow commands and help his master fetch things and protect him from threats.”

O’Marra rolled his eyes. “Fine. Go. Take the rest of the day off. But be ready to talk to IAB in the morning.” He held his hand out, motioning expectantly.

“Yes, sir,” John said, handing him his gun. He’d found Harold, and he was on his way to see him, so having his service weapon didn’t matter. He had other guns, anyway.

This was the best day he’d had in months.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

“…never more terrified in my whole life.” Harold’s voice floated down the hospital hallway as John approached his room. He sounded like he was in shock. “I thought that young man was going to kill me! I’m so grateful the detective was there. What did you say his name was again?”

“Detective Riley,” another man answered.

“Riley, that’s right. Please thank him for me, officer. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to pay my taxes as I was this morning!”

John walked into the room, nodded at the uniformed officer to leave, and looked at Harold. The man sat in a hospital bed, still in his suit, surprisingly, his eyes bright and glassy with painkillers. There was blood all over the back of his jacket, but he didn’t seem to care. John wondered how much of the blood was his.

“I brought your dog,” John said unnecessarily, indicating Bear. The dog looked from one to the other of them, giving them the doggie equivalent of a grin. He unclipped the leash from Bear’s collar and the dog immediately jumped into bed with Harold. Harold put his arms around Bear and hugged him tightly, burying his face in the dog’s fur. John crept closer. Harold had a bandage on the back of his head, but they hadn’t had to shave off his hair, so he was probably alright. Concussion? No, they wouldn’t have given him enough painkillers to make his eyes glassy if he had a concussion. Harold had a high tolerance for pain and pain medicine.

“I never thought I’d see him again,” Harold murmured, his focus on Bear, though it was clear to John that he wasn’t talking about the dog. “We had to separate so suddenly.”

“He missed you,” John replied, trying to put as much feeling into the statement as he could. He wasn’t talking about the dog, either. He stepped up to the side of the bed and ran his hand over Bear’s head and down his neck, his fingers brushing Harold’s ear in the process.

Harold looked up and met John’s eyes. “I missed him, too.”

“I —“

“You’ve been so kind, detective,” Harold continued, talking over him. “Allow me to buy you dinner as thanks.”

“Are you asking me on a date, professor?” John felt the customary smirk on his lips as he delivered a response that would’ve fit with their former lives. A not-so-subtle flirtation that Harold would ignore.

Only he didn’t ignore it.

“If you’d like.” Harold paused. “I wouldn’t want to presume to know anything about you or your sexuality,” he added as if they were strangers, as if he didn’t have a dossier on every sexual encounter of John’s life sitting in a safe somewhere or behind a dozen firewalls. He smiled, a gentle smile that John was sure he’d never seen on the man’s face when not in connection with Grace. “But the idea of a date with a man as handsome as you has a certain appeal.”

“You think I’m handsome?” John blurted, pulling over the visitor’s chair and sitting gracefully. He hadn’t expected anything like this. Harold had always seemed indifferent to his flirting.

Harold tipped his head to indicate agreement. “Certainly. Though I might prefer you clean-shaven,” he added as an afterthought. “Beard-burn does nothing for my complexion.”

Involuntarily, John reached up to feel the two days of stubble on his cheeks. He’d gotten out of the habit of shaving every day without the impetus of Harold’s approval to spur him to do it. “I’ll have to remember that,” he muttered.

“Please do,” Harold said with an air of amusement.

John leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “So, tell me, professor, do you often hit on men you’ve just met?”

“Only those who’ve saved my life.”

John laughed. Harold relaxed and joined him.

.

.

.

Harold returned to work to find a get well card in his mailbox, a fruit basket on his desk, and a voicemail from the Dean. The Dean, it seemed, had been tasked with making sure Harold wouldn’t sue the university or the security company they employed on account of the ‘regrettable incident’ with Mr. Mendoza and the police. Harold took a quick look at the waiver form the Dean pushed across the desk and frowned. It gave away far too many of his rights.

Would depressed Professor Whistler sign it anyway? Probably.

Would the Professor Whistler who just survived a near-death experience and had a date with the handsome police detective who saved his life sign it? Probably not. He was energized, feeling far more alive than he had any right to. He felt like he could take on the world.

And he knew where John was! He had John’s new name and phone number and address. He knew where John worked. He could find him when he wanted to. He could flirt with him over text like he’d done with Maxine Angelis when he’d set John up with her to protect her.

He thought about the implications of dating John as he returned to his office with the waiver in hand, having promised to look it over. He thought about how his life would change, dating someone, dating a man. He thought about what might happen if the Machine somehow survived and started sending numbers again. He thought about his own reaction to that possibility, and John’s probable reaction.

They might not agree on that point, he conceded to himself. John would want to go back to helping the numbers while Harold wanted done with the whole thing. He’d worked too hard, lost too much.

And he only just had John back…

He pulled out his checkbook and contemplated his budget. Could he afford a new shirt and tie for his date?

.

.

.

“You’re into men, huh?” John asked over dessert. They’d avoided the topic as they ate dinner, talking about food and interests and movies and books, like anyone on a first date, in case Samaritan was listening. Of course it was listening. Even though they’d taken out the batteries and sim cards of their phones, they didn’t fool themselves that the AI couldn’t hear them through the phones of the other restaurant-goers. They had to be careful. “Never would’ve expected that.”

“And here I thought I picked you for your subtlety rather than your observational skills,” Harold teased, sipping his espresso. He made a face and put the cup down. He hadn’t enjoyed the food or wine, either, even though he’d picked the restaurant.

“You haven’t given —“

Harold’s eyes flashed, quieting John immediately.

“I’ve never dated a man in the traditional sense,” Harold continued in a mild voice. “A dalliance or two in college, a week-long affair on a tropical island in my thirties and again for my fortieth birthday, a few blind dates Nathan set up for me that led nowhere but the bedroom for the night.”

“You and Nathan?” John couldn’t help but ask. He’d wondered for a long time.

“Friends,” Harold said firmly. That he didn’t protest more or try to defend the friendship as just friends told John he spoke the truth. He was much better at picking up on Harold’s signals than he had been. And Harold Whistler seemed… more open. He wondered how much of what Harold said was true and how much was a made-up story for his cover. Then he chastised himself for thinking that. It didn’t matter if it was true or not. Harold was into him. His real experiences were in the past and therefor irrelevant.

John nodded to himself and crossed Nathan Ingram off his list of potential rivals. The man had been dead four years, but ghosts had been known to leave lasting impacts on those they left behind. Grace certainly still had a hold on Harold’s heart as of a few months ago, and she was still alive…

“I’ve been primarily interested in women,” Harold added. “But I like to think I have a mind that’s open to new opportunities and experimentation.”

“There’s more to you than meets the eye, Professor Whistler,” John murmured. “I think I’m gonna enjoy getting to know you.”

“What about you, Detective Riley?” Harold asked, the amusement back in his voice.

“I had some buddies in the army,” John supplied. “Knew some guys when I traveled,” he said, knowing Harold would know that he meant the assets he’d had to seduce as part of his job with the CIA. “Nothing stateside. Nothing that lasted.”

Harold nodded as if he knew all of this already, making John wonder about the secret dossier again. Harold opened his mouth to speak, then closed it, hesitating.

“What is it?” John asked.

“I’m not a young man,” Harold began. “I would want a partner, if I were to date someone…” He trailed off. “I know that can’t be decided immediately, of course, a true partnership is the kind of thing that takes time to develop, but you need to know that’s what I’m looking for. If you want anything less than that… if you just want something physical…” he trailed off again, his eyes focused on his empty plate. John read the signs of nervousness, anxiety, the sharply-indrawn breath of anticipated fear. John reached across the table to touch Harold’s chin and tip his head up in the kind of intimate gesture he’d never have allowed himself before.

“I had a partner, once,” John said softly, filling his voice with earnestness. “We worked together. Trusted each other. He gave me a purpose when I was lost and I gave him hope that his work wasn’t meaningless or too little, too late. I would’ve loved him, if he’d given me the chance.”

Harold swallowed, his eyes not leaving John’s.

“He would have offered long ago, if only he’d had the courage,” Harold replied, his voice breaking. He cleared his throat. “You gave enough signals indicating your interest,” he whispered.

“It wouldn’t have felt right to you then,” John said in a voice just as soft. “Not when I worked for you. I knew that.” He let go of Harold’s chin and let his hand rest palm-up between them. “We don’t work together anymore,” John continued. “Let’s see where this takes us.”

With a quick movement, Harold put his hand in John’s, squeezed it briefly, and pulled it back under the table. John wondered how much of it was show — a closeted university professor taking a chance — and how much was Harold’s upbringing when being gay or being perceived as gay was a very bad thing. He wondered again if Harold came from the Midwest or not, then decided it didn't matter, even if he never knew.

“We have to keep our covers. We can’t meet very often —“

“If we’re dating we can meet as often as we want,” John interrupted. “We can live together after a certain amount of time. You’ll make a shifting cypher so we can talk in public about the numbers when they start coming again —“

“I’m not working on the numbers,” Harold interrupted in a tight voice. “I made that clear when the Machine asked us to kill a senator.”

“But the people we’ve saved… you said the numbers never stop coming. What happens to the ones we don’t help?”

“It’s not worth the risk.”

“Harold —“

Harold stood abruptly, his chair scraping back loudly. A few patrons turned to look at them, then turned back to their own dinners. Harold pulled out his wallet.

“Don’t go like this,” John said, getting to his own feet.

“I didn’t ask you on a date to go back to the way things were,” Harold hissed, dropping some money on the table. “I thought maybe there could be something between us. Was I wrong, detective?” he asked, the last word spoken bitterly, as if it hurt him to say it.

“You’re not wrong, but —“

“Goodbye, John.” Harold started leaving their table. John grabbed his arm and swung him around like he used to do, with strength and purpose, but gently so as not to exacerbate his pain. “John!” Harold exclaimed.

John counted several seconds before Harold responded to his kiss.

But he did respond — passionately.

Then Harold pulled away, wiping his mouth and glancing around the restaurant in that closeted way John knew so well, trying to figure out who saw the kiss and if it would mean trouble. He wanted to comfort Harold, tell him it would be ok, but the way he glared at John when he took a step closer shut John up as effectively as a barked order on the parade grounds during Basic.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

Harold’s apartment was closer to the restaurant than John’s. Dark and shabby, with more personality than Harold’s safe houses or John’s old loft, it was unmistakably distant from everything John knew about the real Harold. There were no first editions. There was no art. The quality of the furniture and other items was far lower than he’d known and been accustomed to since meeting Harold.

Still, it had a bed and he’d brought condoms and lube just in case, so…

“I hate this life,” Harold admitted as he poured drinks for them. John took the bottle from him and examined the label.

“This isn’t your usual brand,” he commented, deciding that was a safer thing to mention than the dusty curtains on the windows or the cracked linoleum in the kitchen. He doubted Harold would appreciate him focusing on those things.

“I don’t have access to my ordinary finances,” Harold replied, confirming John’s suspicions. “I found a new tailor, just for alterations, you understand, buy different food for Bear, drink black tea instead of green… All of these things can be used to connect Professor Whistler to Harold Finch.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You tracked me to Grace’s doorstep using a discarded paper cup!” Harold exclaimed, snatching the bottle out of John’s hand and slamming it on the table. “Just think what Samaritan can do with all the things lying around the library. It can find the smallest connections between ordinary items and the people who bought them. What kind of food we kept in the kitchenette, which tea I had on hand, which coffee you liked…” Harold stopped, his hand squeezed into a fist in front of himself. “It can find us by the quality of our suits, by our tailors, by the spare shoes and hats and gloves… We took a lot of precautions, but there are things we missed. There had to be. We’re just human, fallible. We couldn’t know everything, remember everything. No matter how many times I moved money around, how many aliases I used, it can see everything, just like the Machine… Traces of our DNA…”

“I thought you removed our fingerprints and DNA from all the databases!”

“But now Samaritan has them from finding them all over the Library. The next time our fingerprints are run, it’ll be alerted. It’ll find us. If Harold Whistler ever gets arrested, Samaritan will know who I am and come for me.”

“The precinct ran my fingerprints when I came back from being under cover,” John pointed out. “I’m still alive.”

Harold paused, thinking.

“The Machine had Root did all kinds of things that we don’t even know about. Could it have asked her to scramble our fingerprints and DNA, too?” John continued. “It made these identities for us. It protected us. It probably thought all this through, had contingency plans in place for it. Hard-coded into the servers, right? Isn’t that what she said?”

Harold relaxed his hand and pressed it against the table next to the untouched glasses. “Maybe.”

“Can we let this drop for a little while?” John pleaded. “I’d much rather kiss you again than talk about our inevitable demise.”

“I’m not sure I can let it go,” Harold said softly.

“So let me distract you,” John said, stepping closer. He rested his hands on Harold’s shoulders. Harold shifted, tilting his head up slightly. His expression seemed as closed as ever, but his eyes were wide. John took both sides of his face in his hands. “Let me do this for you. With you,” he quickly corrected himself. Harold gripped his upper arms.

“I’ve been running since I was 17, Mr. Reese,” Harold whispered, his eyes locked on John’s. “Hiding. But this is different. I’m not just running and hiding, I’m scared. I got over this kind of fear years ago. I hid in plain sight in my own company for nearly two decades, with routines and traceable patterns because my cover demanded it, but this isn’t just a cover. Professor Whistler isn’t just a temporary alias to shed at a moment’s notice when his cover’s blown. I have to stay as Whistler, no matter what. I don’t have another alias to fall back on.”

“That’s why you need me with you,” John insisted. “You need me more than ever.”

“I won’t work the numbers. I don’t have the resources. I don’t have the stamina.”

“I’ll find us resources. I’ll give you strength and build up your stamina.”

“John,” Harold whimpered, closing his eyes and leaning his forehead against John’s shoulder. John wrapped his arms around him, gratified beyond belief that Harold clung to him in return.

“I love you, Harold,” John murmured into Harold’s hair. “I’ll do everything in my power to keep you safe.”

.

.

.

Harold’s bed was too small for both of them, especially with Harold’s old injuries and still-tender shoulder, but John made it work. He kissed Harold and rubbed his neck and massaged his scalp and kissed him some more. Harold never actually cried, though John suspected he was close.

He woke two seconds before Harold’s alarm clock went off, his instincts as good as ever. Harold seemed startled to find him there with him.

“Did you think I was going to leave?” John wondered softly, kissing Harold’s stubbly throat. Harold gave a little sigh and kissed him on the mouth.

They showered, separately, then John escorted Harold and Bear to the subway. They stood on the sidewalk in front of the stairs for a moment, neither sure what to say now that their phones were on and they were in public. Harold broke the silence.

“I enjoyed our date, detective. I’d like to see you again, if it’s not too much trouble.”

John felt himself smiling in relief. “Day after tomorrow? It’s my turn to take you to dinner.”

Harold nodded, his lips twitching. He squeezed John’s hand and turned to the stairs.

.

.

.

They’d been dating three weeks when John received the first number.

They met in the park, after it wrapped up.

“Take me to bed,” Harold said.

They hadn’t gone beyond making out, so John felt extremely confused at the sudden bold request. “You sure?”

“Yes.”

.

.

.

Chapter Text

After their first time together, Harold disappeared. Oh, he was still around, as Whistler, still teaching his classes, exchanging flirty texts with John, doing normal day-to-day things and keeping Whistler’s routine, but he didn’t have time to meet. He was always out when John called, too busy to have dinner together, too busy to stay over, too busy to have John over to his. Too busy even for a walk on his lunch break when John said he’d meet him at his office on campus.

That night, their first time, John thought he felt something. He thought he felt their connection strengthening, their commitment to each other deepening, now that the last physical barriers (aside from a few millimeters of latex) were down between them. It had felt like it had with Jessica, like they were making love instead of just having sex. John knew the difference now and this was far more than just sex. He’d immediately decided he wanted this all the time. He thought Harold felt the same way…

Harold had set his alarm to wake them early enough to for a repeat performance, and it had been even better, with dawn breaking through the window so John could see Harold’s face as he came. Harold had been surprisingly affectionate as they ate breakfast, smiling and chattering and taking John’s hand under the table at the diner-of-the-day. Still closeted, but happy, more open.

That night Harold found something to occupy himself at all hours of the day and night and left John high and dry and frustrated on a level he didn’t think was still possible for him. It wasn’t about the sex. They were both middle-aged and John knew full-well that neither of them had the libido of a teenager, though now that he’d tasted Harold he wanted him desperately. The frustration was about that closeness. That connection. The one that didn’t seem to be there with Harold so distant.

He hadn’t expected Harold to be a love-em and leave-em kind of man, not with what he knew of him… but what did he really know? Harold kept secrets. He avoided the people he became close to as a way to ‘protect’ them. He ran when things got too difficult…

Maybe he was just freaked out that they’d had sex? He’d certainly acted nervous about PDA beforehand, though that breakfast had seemed to break the mold a little.

John hoped that’s all it was.

John tapped his phone impatiently against his palm before sending a text about meeting for a late-night snack. They had another number, and he wanted to read Harold in. Besides, he wanted to see the man. It had been over a week!

Harold’s response came after a full minute.

I won’t be able to join you, unfortunately. I’m already in bed.

John frowned. “I can come over,” he typed.

It wouldn’t be fair to have you come all the way here in the middle of the night.

John jabbed the call button with a finger, wishing for a real keypad to abuse instead of the touch screen.

“I’m sitting on your fucking bed, Harold,” he growled as soon as Harold answered. “Where are you? ‘Cause it’s certainly not here!”

“Mr. Reese, I —“

“You said you’d never lie to me,” John continued.

Harold sighed. “I’ll be at the rendezvous in 45 minutes.” He hung up.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

“I hope you like your eggs room temperature,” Harold said prissily as he answered the phone. “And mildly congealed,” he added with distaste, eyeing the plate across from him. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to see John yet, not with his project still half-done, but he supposed he owed him an explanation. Flirty texts clearly weren’t enough to appease the man, and if he thought about things from John’s perspective, he wouldn’t be ok with such limited contact after the night they’d shared, either.

He’d actually had to masturbate twice this week, and wasn’t that a novelty after going years without? How could John be standing it, being younger and healthier and with an obviously more active libido? He knew John wouldn’t step out on him, of that he had no doubts, which left John alone in his apartment jacking off in the shower. Or, his traitorous mind supplied, jerking off in your bed while you play in the dark with needle-nosed pliers and duct tape stolen from the faculty supply closet at work.

“Sorry, Harold,” John was saying. “Got to cancel. This job may be a cover, but the last minute paperwork is real.”

Harold suppressed the sigh of disappointment. It was no good to show his emotions, not yet, not when he hadn’t made his decision about what to do with his project once he finished it. Not when all he wanted to do was drag John off to his bed instead of dealing with the realities of their new lives. If he let on that he felt that way, John would capitalize on it and he’d never be able to finish his project.

But it had been a long six months without him. And now that he’d found John, now that he had his makeshift family back, now that John was his partner in every sense of the word…

“Understood,” he replied, controlling the annoyance in his voice. “Though it seems a shame to waste good food,” he grumbled, feeling the strain of spending money on food that wouldn’t be eaten. He could take it with him, he supposed, and eat day-old eggs for breakfast…

He’d grown up poor but comfortable enough that he hadn’t realized he was poor until he got to college. Then he’d discovered luxury, first with Nathan and his family, then on his own as he earned it. He wasn’t used to having a budget, of having to count pennies, of having to hoard quarters for the laundry machine in the basement of his building and doing his own laundry and cooking his own food and getting places on the subway and bus. Oh, how he missed his car service!

“Why don’t you ask your new number to keep you company?” John asked mildly. Harold’s eyes widened in surprise.

“You lured me here to assign me your latest number?” he demanded. “When I gave you a secure phone network, this wasn’t what I had in mind.”

“No, and neither was phone sex, apparently,” John muttered under his breath.

“Mr. Reese!” Harold exclaimed in a scandalized whisper, looking around frantically to see if anyone could have overheard the soft exchange.

“Look, Harold, I get it if you’re freaking out about what happened, and I’m certainly not going to beg if you’ve decided it’s off, but an explanation would be nice.”

Harold shifted uncomfortably, slipping down a little in his seat, despite the pain it caused in his back. “I’m not freaking out!” he hissed. “I’m in the middle of a very delicate project and —“

“Her name is Claire Mahoney,” John said, talking over Harold as if they were in the past, with their library and aliases and unlimited funds, with no care in the world except helping the numbers. “A sophomore at Oberlin College in Ohio.”

Harold listened with half an ear, sitting up to take a quick look around the diner and spot the girl. He did sigh then. “We’re no longer co-workers, Mr. Reese. I’m not working the numbers. I’ve made that more than clear.”

“Claire Mahoney isn’t just a number, Finch,” John responded, and Harold could hear the subtle tell of forced laziness in his voice that meant John was upset as he explained the girl’s history.

“I make no promises, John. There are other matters I’m attending to,” Harold said, thinking of his interrupted project yet again. “Why don’t you enlist Ms. Shaw?”

“She has a complicated cover of her own,” John answered. He paused and Harold paused, but neither hung up. “If you’re not freaking out, why haven’t I seen you?”

Harold closed his eyes and lowered his head, thinking for a moment, deciding if he could actually be open with someone for a change. If he couldn’t be open with John, who could he be open with? John sounded so down and upset…

“If I don’t finish this, I won’t be able to treat you as you deserve,” he whispered, lowering his voice even farther. “I’ve wanted to see you,” he continued, trying to make John believe him by the tone of his voice. “But I can’t get this out of my head and I want to be present with you when I kiss you next,” he finished. “I don’t want to be so distracted that I miss the — the tenderness.”

Silence.

“John? Are you there?”

“Always, Harold,” John replied, his voice suddenly rough. In the background, Harold heard the slam of a large pile of papers hitting a desk and Detective Fusco’s voice.

“All the open homicides in our docket. The captain wants you up to speed by morning. Welcome aboard, Detective Riley.”

.

.

.

Chapter Text

John had impeccable timing, as usual, appearing out of nowhere beside Harold as soon as the two men started threatening him about shooting out their car window. The window Claire had shot as a way to get away from him when she rejected Harold’s offer of assistance, knowing the men would believe a young female college student calling for help over a middle-aged man when she said he threatened her.

“NYPD, what seems to be the problem?” John asked, brandishing his badge.

“This guy was attacking some girl,” the first man said.

“Yeah, and he shot out my back window,” the other complained.

Before Harold could open his mouth to respond, John rested a warm hand between his shoulder blades and spoke.

“Actually, the girl was attempting to rob him,” John said. “I saw her threatening him with a gun and she’s the one who shot your window.” He took his hand away to pull out a business card to give to the men. “If you come by the precinct and file a report, your insurance company should cover the damages.” He turned to Harold. “I’m going to need a statement from you.”

“Yes, detective, of course,” Harold responded softly, acting meek, like he used to do when he worked in a cubicle at IFT. John steered him down the sidewalk to his car, a hand on his elbow. Despite the sudden desire that curled in Harold’s gut at being near John for the first time since they slept together, he pulled out his laptop and opened it on the trunk of the car so they could both see the screen. The number came before any personal business between them.

“I think I found the next clue, Mr. Reese,” he said, already pulling up the photograph of the graffiti and explaining what he knew.

John found the location almost immediately with a quick web search. Before they parted he started talking again, still seeming upset about Harold lying to him about where he was the night before. “Harold, I appreciate that you want to be present when we —“

“I should be finished with my project by the time you finish helping Claire.” He stared straight ahead at his computer. “Can we please save this conversation until then?”

John’s lips turned down, and he didn’t respond with words. Harold felt him raising his barriers and chanced a look at his expression. Cold and distant, it was reminiscent of the expression he wore so often when they initially started working together. He rubbed a hand over his face. He had to reassure John or he risked losing him. He couldn’t lose John. Not now.

Not ever.

Turning his entire body, Harold grabbed the lapels of John’s suit jacket and got on his toes to press a hard kiss against his mouth. John’s arms came around him almost automatically, and Harold softened his grip, letting the kiss gentle as well.

“I want more than anything to make love to you again, John,” Harold murmured, his lips ghosting over John’s jaw on the way to his ear. “Know that I do. This project will give us some added security to be able to do that at our leisure.”

“Leisure?” John questioned, his hands slipping between Harold’s jacket and shirt, warm on Harold’s back. For once, Harold didn’t mind that they were in public where they could be caught kissing. John mattered much more than his own fears of being seen as gay. Besides, John would protect him if anything ever happened.

“Leisure,” Harold repeated in that same low voice, his voice a puff of warm air on John’s cold ear. He shivered. “I plan on learning your body and it’s reactions as thoroughly as possible so that I can make you scream in pleasure. I plan on whispering filth in your ear while you’re on a stakeout so you have to hide the evidence of your arousal for hours at a time, teasing you until you come from just the sound of my breath on the other end of the line. I plan on fucking you so long and so hard you forget what it’s like to not be fucked.” He met John’s eyes, holding them firmly.

“And if you want, John, I will have you on your knees begging until you can no longer speak. Because you will beg. I guarantee that.”

John let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Blood rushed in his ears and he felt slightly dizzy. He stared at Harold in shock, his brain catching up to what his dick already knew: He wanted all of that and more.

Never doubt my commitment to you, John,” Harold hissed. “You are my partner, and I will move heaven and earth to keep you safe and us together.”

Harold stopped, panting for breath from the passion of his declaration. To John, he seemed a bit startled by what he’d said, as if he didn’t expect any of it. They stood there, pressed together against John’s car, laptop quiet and dark beside them, breathing in the scents of New York and their own arousal.

“Are we clear?” Harold asked.

John swallowed and nodded.

“Good,” Harold said, kissing him again before walking away with his laptop to continue his work.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

“Are you done with your project?” John asked.

“No,” Harold answered, watching John’s shoulders slump at the negative response. “But I could be persuaded to take the afternoon off,” he added quickly. “Perhaps lunch?”

“John’s buying lunch?” Shaw asked, throwing off the grey hoodie she’d worn to distract the killers from their number. “Count me in!”

John and Harold shared a brief look. “Sure,” John muttered, not happy about having a chaperone, but accepting of Shaw because she was his sister-in-arms.

Shaw looked from one to the other of them, then scrutinized Harold more closely. “There’s something wrong with your suit,” she declared. “It doesn’t fit the way they usually do.”

Harold grimaced and tugged at his cuffs. “No, no, it doesn’t,” he grumbled.

“Oh my God! You’re just as broke as the rest of us!” She slammed her fist into her other hand, clearly excited. “What’s it like, having to scrounge around like the masses?”

“Uncomfortable.”

“Let’s go,” John said, putting a hand on Harold’s shoulder briefly. “I have to get back to the precinct before Fusco gets tired of making excuses for me.”

.

.

.

Shaw ate with her usual abandon, going so far as to try to steal fries from John’s plate. He stopped her every time. Harold ate his salad without speaking, watching them bicker with a small smile on his face. Shaw seemed unaware of their updated relationship status, at least in that she didn’t mention it. Considering that she’d told John how she’d clocked him and Zoe Morgan as friends with benefits the first time she’d seen them together, John figured she didn’t know. He didn’t mind, and he doubted Harold would want her teasing them about dating each other.

“Back to work, huh?” John wondered as he and Harold saw Shaw off. He sounded just as down as earlier, and Harold wanted to do something about it.

“Actually,” Harold began, “I thought we might spend some time alone, if you can convince Detective Fusco to —“

“That was a lie to get rid of Shaw quicker,” John interrupted. “I don’t have to be back until the morning. Do you want to come to my place?”

“Yes!” Harold exclaimed.

They made short work of the cab ride to John Riley’s apartment. They didn’t talk, but Harold held his hand under his laptop bag. John considered that a win.

Riley’s apartment was larger than Whistler’s, a two-bedroom with a small closet that the lease called an ‘office.’ John called it his weapons’ locker. It had more guns than he’d had at his old loft, and he was always adding more, in part because he didn’t have a second arsenal at the Library. As a police officer, he had easy access to weapons and was able to keep an extensive ‘gun collection.’ Harold had glanced inside when he’d been over the first time, but then ignored the room, preferring the living room when he was there for their dates, and later John’s bedroom when they spent the night together.

Now, with a night of passion behind them and Harold’s promise in front of them, getting to the bedroom happened quickly. John stripped in record time, showing Harold his arousal with the shamelessness of someone who was confident in his body. Harold took more time, still awkward about being naked. John reassured him with caresses and kisses and murmured words of encouragement.

If John had doubted Harold’s affections before, there was no room for doubt after that afternoon. And night.

.

.

.

When he woke up alone the next morning, John went for a run. He hadn’t expected Harold to stay, but he’d wanted him to. He wanted to end this war with Samaritan and go back to helping the numbers without worrying about an AI Apocalypse. He wanted to be himself, the John Reese he’d been with Harold in the Library, not the man Kara named or the police detective the Machine created for him. He wanted to take things farther with Harold, turn whatever they had into something real, something precious. He wanted a Mexico with Harold, even if it was the Library on a rainy night or a rooftop where Harold risked his life for John’s. He wanted a host of good memories to replace the nightmares of life before Harold. He wanted to settle down, he realized as he pounded the pavement.

He returned home, sweaty and exhausted. He let the hot water of a shower relax him. He sat cross-legged on the floor of his living room in just boxers and a t-shirt, meditating. He hadn't done that often enough lately.

There was no denying his attraction to Harold, or his desire for him. There wasn’t any use in denying the jealousy he felt towards Harold’s project, towards anything that took time away from seeing him. He wanted Harold all the time.

He snorted to himself. New relationship energy, he’d heard it called. That euphoric first six months when all you wanted to do was take your partner to bed, nowhere you wanted to be except with your partner, no one you wanted to see who wasn’t your partner. They didn’t have the luxury of time for any of that.

An image of Jessica appeared in his mind’s eye. They’d been introduced by an army buddy of John’s who’s fiancee knew Jessica. They’d started dating immediately. They’d slept together on their third date. He got a weekend for leave once a month, and they made it work. Their relationship was still mostly about sex when he ended it so abruptly. He’d hurt her, he knew, but he’d also saved her from the pain of losing him. Except letting her go had lead to her death…

He tried to push away that thought, but it was stuck, showing him imaginary images of how she’d died and what Peter had done. He knew the reality, he’d tortured it out of Peter before he’d killed him, but his imagination was always worse.

He thought about Harold, and how he knew everything about him, and yet hadn’t known until last week that John preferred to bottom when he was with men, or that John liked to cuddle, or that John had wanted Harold to take him almost from the beginning, well before he admitted to himself that he was in love with Harold.

Not that he’d told Harold that’s how he felt. Harold just knew that he’d wanted to bend over for Harold ever since Harold destroyed Virtanen Pharmaceuticals with a few clicks of the mouse to prevent their drug from killing tens of thousands of people, proving that Harold was just as adept at saving lives as John, and perhaps more so.

Of course, he’d been willing to bend over from the moment he agreed to work for Finch. He certainly wouldn’t have been surprised for Finch to ask (or even demand) that sort of activity from the broken ex-CIA agent he pulled from the gutters as payment for being taken on and saved. That Harold hadn’t wanted that sort of thing was one of the reasons John came back after Carter was killed. If there had ever been a time for Harold to use his power over John to get sex, that would have been it. He hadn’t, and John felt even more dedicated to the strange man he’d chosen to work for and become friends with in the bargain.

He finished his mediation and went through a few yoga poses to stretch his muscles and got ready for work. Detective Riley couldn’t afford to be late when he was newly on the Homicide Task Force and still under investigation by IAB over shooting a college student to save a professor.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

Detective Riley had the day off, so when John woke up in his boyfriend’s bed that morning, he decided to save him the uncomfortable and long subway commute and offered to drive him to work. Harold, sleepily affectionate and interested in a quickie before breakfast, agreed readily.

John was able to make transitions easily. He always had, perhaps because of his father’s military postings and needing to move frequently. But the transition from loving, affectionate, wickedly sensual Harold into supremely closeted, prim and proper Professor Whistler made him grind his teeth and curse silently.

Harold understood how challenging it was, and how much John hated it, but the first six months as depressed Professor Whistler had settled the alias’ personality and he didn’t know how to change it without coming out, and he wasn’t anywhere near ready. He might be in love with John, and he might be able to let everything go and be with him when they were alone, but that was different than being out in public.

Still, he went on dates with John in restaurants, and they’d gone to the movies, and he’d kissed him a few times, and they’d held hands briefly… and now he was allowing John to walk him to his office, (carrying his briefcase and laptop case, even!) and not for the first time. Who knew John would be such an attentive boyfriend? He caught himself smiling and turned his lips down. Professor Whistler rarely smiled.

As he set up for the day, John disappeared to the faculty lounge to make him tea and steal coffee for himself. Harold suspected there was gossip about them, that his colleagues thought they were a couple, but no one had said anything to his face. John had been delivering him to work on his off-days for almost two months, and the other faculty had to have noticed.

At least they were polite enough not to say anything.

Harold closed his eyes and sighed. His project was finished, and he knew he’d have to show John soon. He’d made a concerted effort to spend time with John after they made up a month ago, and that had cut back on his time working on his project, but he knew it was the right decision. They needed his project if they were going to work the numbers, and Harold was almost convinced that he’d join John and Ms. Shaw, and even Ms. Groves when the time came. And yet he needed John in his life even more.

He’d found a way to make his relationship and his project work, perhaps he could help them with the numbers as well?

John returned with tea in one hand and coffee in the other and settled himself on the guest chair, sprawling out like he used to do at the Library, his body relaxed, though his mind might not have been. “I saw Linda,” he said, reaching over to push the door closed.

“Oh?” Harold asked, though he suspected he knew the topic. Linda Belanger was one of the gossips from the English Department, and she had taken a shine to Harold, and then John, after the incident that brought Whistler and Riley together. Probably because she’d witnessed the whole thing, he decided, then had convinced herself that a romance between Harold and the police detective who’d saved his life was the perfect fodder for the gay romance novel she was in the process of writing in her spare time. He’d seen a few pages when he’d hacked her computer to make sure she wasn’t a Samaritan agent, and the sex scenes had been exactly what he’d expected from a straight middle-aged married woman who’d never watched gay pornography or had a creative sex life: Disgustingly inaccurate and not particularly exciting.

“She said it was sweet that I was courting you,” John continued. “She actually used that word. She said, ‘I’m glad you’re old-school enough to court Harold appropriately.’ What do you think of that?”

“I think it’s none of her business,” Harold replied harshly, not looking up from his laptop, one of those scenes making its way into his head.

It took five minutes for Harold to realize John hadn’t answered or continued the conversation.

“Why are you so scared of people knowing that we’re together?” John asked when he knew he had Harold’s full attention. “I don’t want to change that,” he quickly added when Harold’s expression shuttered. “I just want to understand. I mean, times have changed a lot since you were in college.”

Harold closed the laptop lid and linked his fingers on top of it. He thought about his answer for a long time, his attention now focused inwards. “I’ve known since adolescence that I was attracted to men as well as women,” he said in a soft, serious voice. “I grew up in a small town, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, and there wasn’t an opportunity for me to express those feelings in a way that seemed at all — safe. I thought I was the only one who felt like that,” he added, scoffing at himself.

“When I got to college and realized there were other young men like me…” He trailed off and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Nathan was the first person I told, though I’d experimented a few times by then,” he continued after a moment. “His reaction to that knowledge was… poor, to say the least. He called me a faggot and kicked me out of the apartment we were sharing.”

John’s posture no longer seemed relaxed. Instead, he was on high alert, leaning forward, ready to touch if Harold allowed it.

“He looked me up a few years later and apologized. I — forgave him.” Harold met John’s gaze. “He meant it, you see, the apology. He was angry, and scared, and worried I’d come on to him.” Harold snorted. “He wasn’t even my type, which he’d have known if he’d bothered to ask. Arthur Claypool set him straight. He told Nathan it didn’t matter who I did, but what I did. Did I value our friendship? Did I try to do good in the world? Yes, I’d disappeared within a few days of the confrontation, but I’d tried to reconnect a few times. Nathan never responded.

“I’d changed my name and moved to California by then. Silicon Valley seemed like the place to be if Cambridge was where Nathan lived. I hadn’t seen him since that day, but when he knocked on my door at eleven o’clock at night, I let him in. I found out later that he’d drained his savings account to fly out there and that he’d been agonizing about hurting me and losing our friendship the whole time.

“He and I mended our relationship, and it deepened. He became my champion, as much as I would allow. I’d confined my romantic attentions to women following the confrontation with Nathan, and he wanted to support me if I were still interested in men. As I said on our first date, he arranged a few blind dates for me. He was the one who looked up my Caribbean lover as a surprise for my fortieth birthday and convinced him to join me for the week.” Harold smiled sadly. “Julian was a terribly sweet man,” he continued. “But even more closeted than I was. He had a wife and child.”

“When did you find that out?”

“When my week holiday was over, I invited him to join me in New York. He refused and told me why.”

“Ah.”

Harold unlinked his fingers and offered his hand to John, who took it immediately. “Nathan’s rejection hurt me very deeply. It reinforced my desire to hide that part of myself, even after he’d proven to be a better man than his initial response would have suggested. As a young man I never found a man interested in having a lover, and Julian’s betrayal…” He slipped his hand from John’s. “I never told Grace any of this.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” John admitted. “If we were home…”

“Close the blinds and you can hug me,” Harold replied.

They held each other for a very long time.

“How is it that you don’t have this fear?” Harold asked after a while.

John shrugged. “Some things don’t matter as much when you’ve killed a man,” he said matter-of-factly. He squeezed Harold tighter for a moment and let go, stepping back. “There’s five minutes before your class,” he explained. “Do you want me to pick you up tonight? We could get dinner? Or go to my place?”

“I’d like that very much,” Harold answered. “Let’s go to Chinatown for a change of pace,” he suggested, deciding it was time to show John his project. He would rejoin the crusade. He would help the numbers. And he would have John by his side for all of it.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

“A candy bar, Harold?” John asked as he obediently handed over his pocket change. “I’ve known you four years and I’ve never once seen you eat one.”

Harold made a sound of acknowledgment, put a quarter in the slot and started punching buttons. John’s eyes narrowed suspiciously when he counted sixteen digits and Harold pressed ‘enter.’ With a nearly silent whir of mechanics, the vending machine turned on hinges like a secret door, revealing a dark hallway. Harold picked up a pair of flashlights at his feet and handed one to John.

“It’s not the most direct route,” Harold explained. “But once we get there, I think you’ll understand why,” he finished.

“I trust you, Harold,” John replied, though he was curious and slightly skeptical of this sudden secret of Harold’s. Bear seemed excited, tugging on the leash in John’s free hand until John told him to heel. “He’s been here before?”

“Oh, yes. It’s his other home away from home.”

“The first being…?”

“My boyfriend’s apartment.”

John felt a flush of happiness at the way Harold said ‘boyfriend’ without any hesitation. After their conversation that morning, he’d wondered how comfortable Harold would be about their relationship, especially since they hadn’t touched beyond a peck on the cheek when he picked Harold up for dinner. But perhaps it was easy to say since they were alone?

Down a staircase, through three doors, each equipped with security systems that rivaled the Library’s, down several hallways in different buildings, according to John’s inner sense of location, past what looked like a perfect hiding place for a single person to defend against an army, and down a final staircase.

They stepped off the stairs onto tile, and the echo of their shoes and Bear’s claws told John that they’d come to a large, high-ceilinged room. Harold took the leash from his hand to let Bear go, and John watched Bear scurry off into the darkness and huff happily when he found something he liked. Harold took a few steps away and flipped a switch on a box on the wall.

Light bloomed, showing John an abandoned subway station, the orange ‘IRT’ clearly visible in between the main lighter beige tiles. In front of them stood a subway car, fully electrified, and he followed Harold, looking around him in awe as Harold explained about getting power from the third rail and then started into detail of how he’d created a computer system that was safe from Samaritan’s eyes. Harold settled himself in the desk chair at the computer station and pressed a few buttons, turning on the computers from standby mode.

What he saw made his heart clench with a combination of fear and pride.

“You’ve made us a safe-haven,” he said. “A base of operations, like the Library was.”

Harold turned around in the chair to look up at him. “I can’t sit around while you and Ms. Shaw work the numbers by yourselves,” he replied. “The Machine gave me hints to follow to find this place, and I knew immediately what I could do for you. I didn’t initially think I’d join you, merely give you this base as a gift…” He paused. “But I see now that I can’t go on like that. I couldn’t let you two risk your lives without the support I can offer from here.”

“This was your project,” John murmured, still working on understanding how Harold had made such a thing possible in a little over a month.

“All we need is a replacement arsenal, untraceable funds, and a few more computers.”

“I said before I’d find you resources,” John said. “I mean to keep that promise. Just tell me what you need and I’ll source it.”

Harold nodded. “Good, because I’ve used most of Professor Whistler’s savings to outfit this place.”

John couldn’t keep the grin from his face. He held his arms open. “Welcome back, Harold.”

“It’s good to be back,” Harold replied, standing to accept the embrace briefly before pushing away. “I should mention that I gave Ms. Shaw directions,” Harold continued. “And I’m sure the Machine will have told Ms. Groves, so we can’t be as open as if we were at one of our apartments… You understand, I hope?”

Even though he felt the grin slide off his lips, John nodded. “I don’t think it’s necessary,” he grumbled. “Neither of them will care, and I suspect they’re doing something with each other, but I understand why.”

“Ms. Groves and Ms. Shaw are considerably younger than I,” Harold said, his voice tight. “They wouldn’t have the same prejudices that I’ve internalized over the years.”

“They still wouldn’t care.”

“Yes, well, I do.”

“That’s the only reason I’m not kissing you right now,” John replied.

“Will this be a problem for us?”

“I don’t know,” John answered honestly.

Harold nodded his head and sat down, turning his back on John so he could start working. John wandered off to explore the new base.

.

.

.

There were purple flowers on his desk when John entered the 8th Precinct. Fusco and a few of the uniformed officers were openly staring as he plucked the card from the bunch and opened the envelope.

“Thank you for being patient.”

“Looks like you got a secret admirer,” Fusco said from his his seat at his desk. “You save somebody’s life again?”

“Something like that,” John replied, tucking the card in his pocket, a hint of a smile on his face. Even though he hadn’t signed it, Harold had written the card himself.

“She must not know you very well,” Fusco continued, getting up to walk over. He prodded the flowers with a finger. “You don’t seem like the purple type,” he added.

“You don’t know much about flowers,” John declared. “These are asters, the flower for the month of September. It’s September now.” And they mean love, he added silently, thinking of how Harold kissed him good morning having already planned for the flowers to be at John’s desk when he arrived.

“You’re making that up. How would you know something like that?”

“You forget that I used to be an international spy, Lionel,” John replied in a mildly reproving voice. “I know all sorts of information you wouldn’t think I’d know.” He paused for effect. “Just ask Harold.”

“Yeah, yeah. Time to get to work. There’s a new gang in town called the Brotherhood and they dropped some bodies over in Crown Heights.”

.

.

.

“It’s been hard not seeing you this week,” John admitted as he twirled his pasta on his fork.

Harold paused for a moment before replying, his eyes slightly unfocused as he considered something in his mind. “The only lover I’ve lived with has been Grace,” Harold said. “But I’ve been thinking that seeing you more often might help me feel… better. More able to be open in public.”

“I’ve never lived with a lover,” John answered. “I’m willing to try,” he added.

“Is three months of dating too soon to move in with each other?” Harold wondered.

“Not if we were lesbians,” John joked. “We’ve known each other a long time. I don’t think it’s too soon.”

“But Samaritan. Would it see this as too quickly?”

John paused to consider. “We should start staying at each other’s places more often. Have clothes and toiletries in both places. Try dating with the the two places for a while longer, then decide which one to keep. Or go apartment hunting like a normal couple.”

“Apartment hunting,” Harold mused.

John set down his fork. “Come back to my place tonight,” he suggested. “I’ll drive you to work.”

Harold smiled. “The gossip at work will get even more loud,” he said. “I suppose… I’ll have to keep getting used to it, won’t I?”

“I’m glad you’re still willing to do this,” John answered.

“I love you, John. Working through discomfort on behalf of that feeling is well worth the effort, in my mind.” Harold paused. “We go to your place more often, though,” he protested. “Could we go to mine? I mean, Whistler’s?”

“Any particular reason?”

Harold’s face heated up in a blush. “I — um — I purchased some — ah, adult entertainment… I thought we might… watch it… together…” He trailed off. John chuckled.

“I’d be happy to stay at your place,” John answered readily. He reached across the table and squeezed Harold’s hand briefly enough that Harold wouldn’t protest.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

“I’d just gotten my service weapon back,” John complained over dinner a few weeks later. “Now I have to go to a shrink because I shot someone with a weapon that wasn’t even mine!

Harold tried to keep the smile from his face, but he failed. He reached across the table and patted John’s hand. “There, there,” he said in patronizing voice. “Did the big, bad lieutenant take away your special gun?”

John glared, but it no longer gave Harold even a slight hesitation around teasing him.

“I’m sure we can find you some other way to occupy your time,” he continued, giving John’s hand a squeeze before letting go. John responded to his sultry look by relaxing, leaning back in his chair and stretching his long legs under the table. His calf brushed against Harold’s pant leg. Harold pressed back against it. “In the meantime, I have those reports you asked for,” he added after the waiter cleared their plates, pulling a large manilla envelope from his briefcase.

John reached for it, but someone else took it from Harold’s hand. They looked up in surprise to see Fusco opening the envelope.

“What do we have here?” the detective asked. “A new side-job? I knew you were holding out on me when you rushed out of work so early!”

“That’s not what —“

“Detective, please —“

Fusco looked through the sheaf of papers with a growing expression of confusion on his face. “I’d ask if you were looking for real estate, but these are all rentals,” he declared. “What’s going on?”

John snatched the papers and hid them away in his jacket pocket, leaving Fusco holding an empty envelope. “None of your business, Lionel,” he snapped. Under the table, Bear shifted. He didn’t growl or bark, though, because Fusco had been a safe person and a tertiary member of the pack for a long time.

“Seriously, something’s going on with you. You haven’t been your usual cheery self lately.”

“Haven’t gotten to shoot anyone in days,” John answered. “Should I start with you?”

“No, I mean, you’ve actually been cheery,” Fusco corrected.

John opened his mouth to protest, but Harold interrupted him.

“John, don’t let Detective Fusco rile you up,” Harold said, finishing the last of his wine.

The waiter returned, placing a cup of cappuccino in front of each of them, then a plate with a slice of cheesecake drizzled with raspberry sauce in the center of the table. He set a spoon and dessert fork at each of their places. John took a sip of his cappuccino and set the cup back on the saucer, his eyes still intent on Fusco while he tried to glower him into submission or absence.

“Detective, John and I would very much like to finish our meal in peace,” Harold said. His leg jumped against John’s, though he didn’t move it away. After a sideways glance at John, he rested his hand on John’s wrist, stroking the back of his hand with his thumb in a deliberate gesture of possession not even Fusco could miss. “If you wouldn’t mind saving your questions until the morning?” he added, his eyes finding the detective’s.

John dropped his hand from his cup and lay it down on the table, palm up so that he could squeeze Harold’s fingers. The expression on his face morphed from cat-that-ate-the-canary-and-then-had-a-bucketfull-of-cream-for-dessert into one that dared Fusco to protest or try his patience.

Fusco backed away from the table quickly. “Oh! Sorry, didn’t know it was like that between you two. Enjoy your dinner,” he added, making a hasty retreat.

Harold waited thirty seconds before removing his fingers from John’s grip. His leg jumped again, and he put both his hands in his lap, lowering his gaze. “I’m sorry, John, I don’t think I can stay here…” He trailed off, moving his leg so he was sitting stiffly, his legs held tightly together. Every inch of his body told John how tense and nervous he was feeling.

“It’s all right, Harold,” John reassured him, motioning to the waiter with his credit card.

They walked back to Riley’s apartment in silence, side-by-side with Bear in between them. Once safely inside, Harold dropped Bear’s leash and started shaking. John wrapped him in his arms and held him, murmuring quietly and kissing his forehead, his temple, his ear.

“I’m sorry,” Harold said again, clinging to John as the panic washed over him. “I’m sorry I’m so weak.”

“You’re not weak,” John protested. “I know how hard coming out like that must have been for you. You’re just having a reaction. Let’s sit?” he suggested.

“You don’t think Detective Fusco will judge us too harshly?” Harold asked after twenty minutes of sitting silently in the circle of John’s arms.

“I don’t think he’ll judge us at all,” John responded. “He might tease me, but I can rein all that in without much effort.”

Harold nodded and cuddled closer.

.

.

.

“You almost had me convinced, you know,” Fusco said when he greeted John the next morning. “The flowers a few weeks ago, the hand-holding… But I know you better than that. You’re just trying to fuck with my head again.”

John sighed softly. He thought of Harold’s question about Fusco the night before, how Harold had been too upset to make love, and his own disappointment at waking up alone. He thought about being an ‘out’ police detective and the potential for discrimination and how that would make his ability to do his job — both of them — more difficult. Maybe Harold was right? Maybe he should stay in the closet?

It seemed like Fusco was primed to hear an excuse…

“Well, if I can’t mess with your head, Lionel, what else am I supposed to do for fun?” John asked. “I doubt IAB would want me to engage in my other hobby.”

“Nah, you’re right about that. You got your first meeting with that shrink today, yeah? At least she’s prettier than the last guy. Man, was he a piece of work!” Fusco plopped himself at his desk and started rifling through his inbox.

John signed again. What was he going to tell Harold? That they were back in the closet because he couldn’t come out?

If anyone would understand, it would be Harold.

Damnit! They’d made such good progress, though, Harold being willing to come out to Fusco, and now it was back to square one.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

They met in the park at lunchtime.

“I knew it was a bad idea!” Harold exclaimed softly. He shifted a few inches away from John on the bench. “I told you I wasn’t ready! And now look what happened!” He rubbed his face in his hands. “I’m sorry, John. I can’t — I can’t be out the way you want me to be.”

“I’m sorry that’s the lesson you took out of this,” John grumbled.

“I don’t know how you expect me to come out when you wouldn’t,” Harold continued. “There are 127 out police officers in Manhattan, even more in the five boroughs. Many of them have partners or families. You wouldn’t be the only one.”

“Yeah, well, when he’s standing there calling it a joke, you try defending us,” John protested. “I got cold feet. It happens. I’ll tell him, I promise.”

“Don’t bother.” Harold stood and picked up his briefcase. “I have some work at the Subway, so I won’t be able to join you for dinner,” he said.

“I’ll bring something by,” John offered.

“Maybe I need some time alone.”

“Time?” John felt anxiety pooling in the pit of his stomach. Was Harold breaking up with him so soon? Because he couldn’t come out when Harold couldn’t, either? Hypocrite! He frowned.

“Please look at the apartment listings,” Harold continued. “I’d like to see one or two of them this weekend if we’re not too busy with the numbers.”

John’s mouth dropped open.

Harold’s expression became puzzled. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re not breaking up with me?” John blurted, feeling completely out of control of his emotions and voice.

“Of course not!” Harold declared. “Just because I need time by myself doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you! I just need time to myself. I always have.”

“Here I am, being a clingy boyfriend again, huh?” John joked.

Harold shook his head in amusement, cased the park for people paying attention to them and reached out to cup John’s cheek with his free hand, then bent to kiss him quickly. “I’m an introvert, John. I’ll always need time by myself. We just have to find a way to balance that tendency of mine with spending enough time together,” he continued.

“Will you at least stay until morning next time you’re over my place?” John asked, not caring that he almost sounded like he was begging. Harold smiled.

“Yes.” Harold glanced around again before kissing John a second time. “Now, if I’m not mistaken, you have therapy?”

John nodded, grumbling, and watched Harold walk away.

The therapist was pretty, John allowed. Fusco was right about that. He still didn’t like being in her office. He felt exposed, like he was facing an interrogation.

“You have to give me something,” she insisted. “Do you want to be forced to stay at your desk?”

He looked away towards the window.

“Let’s talk about this incident with Marco Mendoza. The reports says —“

“It was a bad shooting,” John interrupted. “I didn’t give him time to let go of the hostage. I didn’t try to talk him down. I should’ve tried to negotiate.”

“Well, you’ve certainly learned your lines,” she commented.

“They’re not lines,” he protested, though they both knew he was lying.

“And, yet, I’m having trouble believing that you believe them.”

John shrugged minutely. “He was just a scared kid.”

“At least we agree —“

“The last time I was in that situation, the kid slit his hostage’s throat,” John interrupted.

“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. “What happened?”

“I gave him the benefit of the doubt,” John explained. “Tried to talk to him. Next thing I knew, my CO was dead and I was in an Iraqi prison.”

“An Iraqi — Your personnel file doesn’t say you were in the army,” she protested.

“Sealed records,” John replied. “I was 22. Gave up my commission after that,” he continued, elaborating on the story he’d spent a few days building for himself so he’d know it with the certainty of details — not too many, but enough to mimic a real memory and fool her. “I didn’t want anything to do with the army, so I came back home, got a job, got another one, became a cop.”

He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. She mirrored him, leaning forward as well.

“It might’ve been the wrong thing to do with Mendoza, but it was what I should’ve done twenty years ago,” he said in a low, intense voice. “Instincts like that, they don’t go away,” he continued. “You spend twenty years dreaming of what you should’ve done, you get in the same situation and you do what you should’ve done before. You want to take my badge for that? Go ahead.”

“John, that’s —“ She paused, her mind working behind her eyes. “That makes a lot of sense,” she concluded. “It’s only natural you’d respond that way.” She paused again. “I’d like you to get treatment for PTSD,” she declared. “If this incident has been giving you nightmares for this long…”

“I don’t think I need it, Doc,” he replied. “I haven’t had that nightmare since the situation with Mendoza.”

“Spontaneous resolution of trauma through reenactment?” she muttered to herself. “It doesn’t work that way. I still want you in treatment. You can work with me, if you’d like.” She paused, but he didn’t respond. “I won’t sign off on you being ready for the field again until we’ve talked some more.”

John shrugged again. “How about next week?” he asked.

She nodded and they got to their feet. “You did good work today, John,” she told him as she opened the door for him.

.

.

.

“I feel patronized by my therapist,” John said.

“Don’t we all? How much of what you told her was the truth?” Shaw asked, her voice as clear as if she were beside him despite that she was on the other end of the city stalking their number while he trailed her wife.

“Not very much of it,” he admitted. “I was in the army. I was in an Iraqi prison, though not when I was in the army.”

“They’re real good at talking down to you,” she said. “I knew I was different since I was ten and spent the next eight years in and out of every therapist’s office in a twenty-mile radius. The thing is, none of them had the balls to tell me I was a sociopath. I had to figure that out on my own.”

“To be fair to the psychiatric community, Ms. Shaw, they’re not truly able to diagnose a personality disorder before the person in question is 18 years old,” Harold interjected from his seat in front of the computers at the Subway. “John, Ms. Rockefeller should be exiting the building now.”

“Got eyes on,” John replied.

“I think you should continue therapy,” Shaw offered. “Maybe you can get over your Daddy Complex.”

“My what?”

“Ms. Shaw, please try to stay on task.”

“Don’t worry, Harold, I won’t hurt John’s feelings too much,” she replied. “And it looks like our number is cheating on her wife,” she added.

“How do you know that?”

“Well, she just entered a hotel room with another woman, and wifey’s across town,” Shaw began. “And I don’t think that’s the tango they’re doing.”

“So, she’s worried her wife will find out and is planning on killing her?” John surmised.

“Hold on,” Shaw interrupted. “There’s a party-crasher. Big, muscled-up, looks like an enforcer. I’ll get closer.”

“Now, Ms. Shaw—“

“Relax, Harold, this is easier than taking candy from a baby.” She paused a beat. "Which I've done."

“And that’s why you’re a sociopath,” John grumbled.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

John returned to the precinct one afternoon with a black eye and a cut on his forehead that Shaw stitched for him (“so he wouldn’t be a baby about having a scar to mar his pretty face for the ladies”) to find Fusco standing at John's desk holding some papers. His expression was stony. He glanced up and met John's eyes over the rims of his reading glasses. John sighed to himself at how routinely they spied on each other’s side projects and wondered which number Fusco had found, given that there were two open cases — no, only one now and Shaw should have the other cleared up by dinner, according to Harold, who ordered John back to work on account of maintaining his cover as Riley.

"You could've just told me," Fusco said, his voice bitter, angry. "I'm not a homophobe," he continued. "But you sure made me look like one, didn't you?" 

He moved around John's desk and went to his own, stopping to shove the papers against John's chest. 

"I thought we were friends," he muttered. "Guess I know better now, huh?" 

John looked at the crumpled papers he'd taken out of reflex. A change of address form and a domestic partnership declaration, both with Harold Whistler's name next to John Riley's. Not a number, then. Something even more dangerous, should the information get to Samaritan. He looked over to Fusco, who was pointedly ignoring him as he texted on his phone. He went to his desk and put the papers in a drawer, slamming it closed aggressively. 

Twenty minutes later Fusco tossed his reading glasses to his desk and got up. He stepped in front of John’s space and cleared his throat to get his attention. John looked up, met his eyes, looked away.

“How long’s it been going on?” Fusco asked, more gently than John would’ve expected given the anger on his face and in his stance.

John cleared his own throat. “It’ll be six months on Sunday,” he admitted, his cheeks heating with unfamiliar shame at deceiving Fusco for so long. He usually had no problem deceiving Fusco, or anyone.

“Six months? Months? You’ve been sleeping with this guy for six months and didn’t think to tell me?” The anger was back in Fusco’s voice, growing louder by the word. “Forget that we might’ve been friends. We’re partners! You could be compromised in the field over this!”

“It’s not like that —“

“No? Last week you pulled a harebrained move that got you thrown out a window to protect him when he didn’t need it!”

“Of course he needed it!” John retorted. “You don’t know —“

“Look, Casanova, I don’t care whether you do him or he does you, but you can’t rush into these situations worried about your boyfriend when your life’s on the line and his isn’t! You could get yourself killed, and then where would he be? Where would I be?”

Fusco crossed his arms over his chest. “I’d be looking after his ass, is what. I’d be picking up the pieces, and you wouldn’t be around to help.” He moved closer and lowered his voice. “I know that being a cop is a side-gig to you, but it’s my life, and I thought you respected me enough to keep me in the loop about things that effect both of us. I know you won’t tell me everything, and I don’t expect you ever will, not with Glasses’ level of paranoia, but this? You could’ve told me this!

As John’s brain rushed to assimilate everything Fusco said, he started hearing the whispers in the background. He and Fusco had drawn a crowd, uniformed officers and almost everyone else in the precinct, and they were hovering nearby in groups, muttering back and forth to each other.

.
“You hear that, man? Riley’s taking it up the ass!”
“Naw, even if he’s a fag, he’d be doing the other guy.”
“You think? Riley’s a sick motherfucker, but I don’t think he’s gay.”
.
“Probably doing a nineteen-year-old twink with a tight ass, the bastard.”
“Yeah, someone with a Daddy complex, or something. Or a guy who loves dudes in uniform?”
“What are you, nuts? Riley don’t wear a uniform no more. Besides, I bet he’s the bitch.”
“Huh, Riley as someone’s bitch? I can’t see it.”
“Good luck to the guy controlling him. Should watch out Riley doesn’t bite it off!”
.
“Fuck, I knew he was a cocksucking asshole, but if he really sucks cock…”
“Yeah, dude, puts everything in perspective, you know? If someone like Riley’s a homo, who else is?”
“No, I mean, you think he’s done it here?”
“Here, like in the building? Even he’s not that stupid. Gotta keep the gay stuff at home. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, remember?”
.
“My brother dated guys for a while in high school, then he started coming home wearing makeup and dresses. One of the gangs got to him, and he didn’t come home at all.”
“Fuck, is that why you a cop?”
“I didn’t care that he was a fairy or a drag queen or whatever. He was my brother. Gotta get back at the bastards who killed him.”
.
“You think he’s checked us out?”
“Of course he has. Probably wants to do you, too. None of them faggots can keep it in their pants and they’re always looking for new guys.”
“You know what, maybe it doesn’t matter? He’s still a badass.”
“Shit, man, you a fucking fag, too?”
.

Without warning, Fusco slammed his fist down on the desk loud enough to cut through the side conversations.

“Are you all done being douchebags for the day, or do I have to get in your faces?” Fusco snarled threateningly. “You say shit about my partner again, you’ll be eating through a straw for a month!” He stood there glaring with his hands on his hips until the crowd dispersed. He turned to John. “You’re a moron if you think this would’ve changed anything between us. They’ll get over it in a week or so and it’ll be back to normal,” he declared.

“I can defend myself,” John growled, on his feet and unaware of when he’d gotten up. “I don’t need you to do it for me.”

“Yeah, fuck you, too,” Fusco barked, then left the precinct.

John shamelessly bluejacked his phone. Moments later he heard Harold’s voice.

“Yes, Detective?”

“Glasses, hey, you doing ok?” Fusco’s voice sounded strained, but not unduly so.

“I am. However your sudden interest makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be. Is something wrong with John?”

“No! No, he’s fine, uh, fine.” There was a pause. “He will be, anyway. Give it a week.”

“I see.” Harold didn’t sound any less worried than before Fusco answered.

“I — uh — Look, I saw the papers, ok?”

“Papers?”

“You know, the ones he’s doing at work.”

“My understanding is that John avoids paperwork,” Harold replied dryly. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

“I’m not a bigot!” Fusco hissed. “If he’d just said it wasn’t a joke —“

There was a pause that made John’s stomach twist in anxiety.

“Ah, I understand now.”

“I don’t care, you know? It’s your business. I mean, it makes a whole lot of sense, when you actually think about it, you two being together like that. But I don’t want you to think I was being — I mean, if I’d known it was real in the restaurant — if he’d told me it wasn’t a joke, I would’ve —“

“Lionel,” Harold said, interrupting him with a soft pleading voice. “This is a very personal conversation to be having over the phone,” he continued. “Perhaps we could meet in person?”

“Yeah, sounds good. Where?”

“I’ll text you a location. And John?” Harold’s voice rose in question.

John cleared his throat and tapped his ear. Of course Harold knew he was listening. Had Fusco known? Probably. Or he’d have guessed, given how often they listened in to his conversations. He was a detective for a reason, as he liked to point out on a frequent basis. “Yeah?”

“Try not to make things worse with the detective on the way over,” Harold chided.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

John chickened out of the meeting with Fusco and Harold. He turned off mesh phone, his work phone and his spare phone, and went to hide in the Records Department. At least he could hand in the paperwork so that his move would be official and Harold would get off his case about maintaining their cover identities properly.

Of course it meant he ran into his therapist, who cajoled him into her office because he “looked like he needed to talk.” He didn’t have time to talk about feelings, he said. She didn’t give him a choice. She was good at that. Fucking therapist.

“There’s something different about you today,” Iris commented after a few minutes of John’s sullen silence.

John tilted his head and watched her for a moment. He closed his eyes and considered his answer. Coming out wasn’t easy, and he’d already fucked it up for him and Harold once. Maybe it was time to try again and make up for the mistake?

Though being outed by Fusco like that hadn’t been a walk in the park, either. Fucking Fusco.

But he had to start somewhere, and he figured a therapist would have to be ok with it in this day and age, right?

He wouldn’t know unless he tried.

“My boyfriend and I are moving in together this weekend,” he declared softly, taking the plunge. “Things are a bit stressed out.”

She blinked, unable to hide her surprise. “Boyfriend? You’re gay?”

“Now, doc, what do they say about making assumptions?” John responded, going for one of his gentler tones of voice. Teasing her usually worked to relax her and move the conversation along, though now he wondered if she'd thought he was flirting with her. Her face scrunched up in confusion instead. “I’m bi,” he explained. “So’s he.”

“Oh. Does that mean you have an open —“

“We’re done,” John barked, getting to his feet, suddenly furious. “It’s bad enough facing this shit in the bullpen. I don’t need it from you, too.” He started moving to the door, but she got up to intercept him.

“Wait, John, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m just surprised…”

He looked down at her, allowing all of his frustration to show. “The first person I came out to on the force thought it was a joke, and he saw us together. My boyfriend’s hidden this part of himself his entire life. He’s avoided attachments to men because he’s been scared of the public’s reaction. I will not be ashamed of him or his courage to be with me, and if you’re just going to throw bad stereotypes at me, I don’t need this.” He reached for the door handle. “Between Lionel and the bullpen, I’ve gotten enough for one day.”

“John, please. Sit back down. Let’s talk about this.”

He narrowed his eyes as he glared at her.

“Give me a chance to make up for what I said. Tell me about him, how you met, something.”

Not trusting her but willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because he did feel slightly better having actually said something, he returned to his chair. “His name is Harold,” he offered.

“Harold?” She frowned, and he knew she was making connections. “Wait, is he that professor in the Mendoza —“ She broke off. “What’s he like?” she asked, correcting herself, trying to smile, nervous and uncertain.

“He loves books,” John answered. “He writes papers I can’t understand about computer science theory.” He paused. “He’d rather be a researcher than a teacher, but his field is so small he needs a job. All the grant money dried up a year ago.”

“You said you’re moving in together?”

John let a small frown escape. “I don’t like that he’ll leave for work before I wake up when he’s at my place,” he admitted. “With my schedule being so unpredictable, at least I’ll see him more often if we live together. I’ve driven him to work a few times, and his colleagues think we’re together but haven’t said anything. I think they get the vibe that he’s not ready to be out.”

“But he’s ready to be with you in private,” she clarified.

“We’ve been on dates, gone out together,” John admitted. “It stopped for a few weeks after things happened with the guy from work, but we’re back to going on dates in public again.”

“Tell me about what happened with your coworker.”

John rolled his eyes. “It’s fine, now.” (Even though it really wasn’t.)

She tilted her head, giving him a look that told him he was full of shit.

“We were eating at a restaurant, the guy approached, started talking, Harold put his hand on mine and asked for privacy. When I got in in the morning, the guy laughed and told me to stop fucking with him. He thought it was a joke. I didn’t feel like I could correct him without making a scene. This morning he saw my HR paperwork about the move and called me out for not telling him the truth. We had a shouting match and now the whole force knows and has been sending slurs and insults my way all morning.” John rubbed his hand over his face, feeling the weight of his cowardice in not meeting Harold and Fusco. “In fact, he and Harold are having coffee right now to talk about it.”

“And… you’re avoiding going by being here?” she suggested, a glint in her eyes.

John’s silence was answer enough.

“Why is it so important that your colleague and Harold talk?”

John shrugged. “We’ve all been hanging out. With a few other people. They know each other, and he wanted to apologize to Harold if he’d said anything stupid because he didn’t know. Probably wants to apologize for outing me to everyone, too, now that I think about it.”

“And how are you feeling about all this?” she persisted.

John wished his CIA training hadn’t broken him of the habit of muttering obscenities under his breath.

.

.

.