John’s condition was getting worse.
By condition, he meant his irrational feelings towards Harold. And by worse, he meant to the point that being in the same room as Harold made John feel like his nerves were on fire. His palms started to sweat, his heart started racing, and he felt like he was spiraling out of control.
He hated it.
John had spent a lot of time learning how to conceal his feelings. If an enemy combatant sensed anything that resembled emotion, they could use it as an opening to do irreparable damage. So John suppressed it all, learned all his tells and suppressed those, too. He wore an unreadable mask, and built walls around his heart.
But even the most formidable defenses break down over time.
John didn’t want to go to the library when they got a new number. His nerves were frayed and raw and he felt his fuse was short. Thinking of Harold as he touched himself was no longer enough, and frustration of all sorts was building up inside him. But the numbers never stopped coming. Duty called, and John had to answer.
Harold was already hard at work assembling the whiteboard diagram, hanging pictures and printed documents. Like always, just the sight of him in the early morning light set all of John’s senses on edge.
Shrugging his shoulders in a futile attempt to relieve some of the tension, he asked, “What are we looking at?”
Harold looked up from his work, and a brief smile crossed his face like it always did. It made John’s heart hurt. Harold’s glasses had slid down his nose, and John wanted to reach out and push them up or take them off. He flexed his fingers like he’d been shocked by a current.
Harold was rambling about the latest number. John heard the words “librarian” and “suspicious history,” but he wasn’t really paying attention. He was distracted by the slivers of grey in Harold’s hair that he’d never noticed before. The salt and pepper look went well with his glasses and tailored suit. He looked respectable and distinguished, and John wondered what Harold would look like all rumpled and disheveled after-
“Mr. Reese.” Harold’s voice shook him from his reverie. When John blinked, Harold was glaring at him, arms crossed in impatience. John was surprised he wasn’t shaking his head with disapproval. “Do I have something on my face, or are you just that bored?”
John cleared his throat. “I’m following along just fine,” he grumbled.
“All right, then who’s our new number?”
“Alice Coldwater, librarian at Brooklyn Press,” John rattled off, “She’s got a suspicious history of books checked out in the past month.”
Harold narrowed his eyes. “Actually, Mr. Reese, she hasn’t checked out anything. She’s loaned out a number of suspicious books to one Carson Spalding, which you’d know if you’d been paying attention.”
“Then the Machine should have given us Spalding’s number instead of Alice’s.”
Harold huffed indignantly. “If you have more important places to be, you’re welcome to it. I can always call Detective Fusco for assistance.”
John waved him off. “No, don’t do that. I’m fine.”
“Are you?” Harold said. John looked back from the board to find that Harold had gotten much closer to him. John’s ears started ringing. “You’ve been acting very strange as of late,” Harold was saying, “and as much as I’ve tried to keep my distance, I’m afraid you leave me no choice.”
All of the alarms in John’s head were going off. “I’m just tired. Haven’t been sleeping well.”
“Is that the cause?” Harold demanded, “Or is it simply an effect? That doesn’t explain why you’ve been spending more time in the field.”
“It helps keep me distracted,” John growled, tired of being interrogated.
“Distracted from what?”
John had to get out. He had already let slip more than he’d intended to, which had been nothing at all. If he had to stand so close to Harold and smell his toner and old book scent for much longer, he was going to explode.
“We don’t have time for this,” John snapped, “I’m going to find Alice. Call me if you find anything.”
John started towards the door, but Harold limped around him and cut him off. “Like hell you are. If you need to be distracted and haven’t been sleeping, you shouldn’t be taking on any more jobs. So you can tell me what the hell is going on, or you can sit here and rot!”
Just like John had predicted, he spontaneously combusted from Harold’s proximity. John’s hands shot out and grabbed Harold by the collar, and pulled him forward. He leaned down, and crashed his lips into Harold’s.