Harold isn’t surprised when, as soon as he shuts the front door and cuts out the noise of the traffic outside, he hears the low hum of the secondary generator in the library’s basement working. It turns fainter once he has made his way across the room and starts climbing the main staircase, sparing only the briefest glance for the broken books littering the derelict ground floor – they are cheap ones, none that couldn’t be replaced, but it still irks him to see them treated this way.
It’s a relief to step into the first floor’s hallways, in part of course because as much as he believes it necessary to force himself to brave the stairs on a regular basis – lest he’d lose even more of his remaining mobility – it’s always a relief to be on even ground, but much more so because the moment he takes in the scent of the older books, of the dust in the air, mixed with hints of coffee, tea and printer’s ink, a sense of comfort and safety settles over him. He allows his uneven stride to shorten, walks down the hallways at a leisurely pace, letting his fingers brush over the spine of a book or two.
As he approaches their office, he takes a quick detour to the kitchenette, knowing that John won’t be bringing him his tea today. He could ask him to, he is well aware, but there is no reason to do so when Harold is perfectly capable of making his own tea. Even if no matter how Harold tries, John’s always does somehow taste better. He lets it steep for a few minutes, then disposes of the tea bag before finally making his way into the office.
As he expected the moment he heard the generator – and if he is honest even before that, though he equipped John’s apartment with a generator of his own, he knows John prefers to simply utilise the one in the library after strenuous days – he finds John there slumped in a chair, jacket off and hung up over the back of it, eyes closed, head resting against one of Harold’s computer monitors and he involuntarily has to smile, even if he can’t quite help the niggle of concern. The position John’s body is in looks awkward and would be quite painful to sleep in if John were human.
He isn’t, Harold reminds himself. Reminds himself that this won’t result in a stiff neck or a crick in the back for John. As much as he is used to the sight by now, there is still something a little surreal about seeing the flap on John’s arm opened, the power cord attached to it. Despite how life-like most androids are these days, none Harold has ever encountered has been anywhere near as much so as John. More often than not, if Harold were asked, his honest answer would be that be that he thinks John is more human than any biological specimen of homo sapiens he has ever encountered.
He makes his way over to his desk as quietly as his limp allows, setting the mug of tea down, cringing when his chair creaks faintly as he sits, reaching down slowly and turning on his computer, almost wincing again when the fan comes on, too loud in the otherwise silent library. John doesn’t wake up and Harold breathes a sigh of relief.
Once the computer has booted up, he quickly accesses the interface running through the power cord, launching a routine diagnostic of John’s systems. It quickly alerts him that John’s accumulator is 97% charged, though hopefully this will leave him unconscious long enough for Harold’s computer to complete the diagnostic. After the first time John sustained damage while out on a case, getting him to sit still long enough to run a full diagnostic had been a test of both their patience and they’d quickly come to agree that Harold will simply check his systems while John is in stand-by, recharging.
One by one, the results are displayed, confirming that both John’s body and his basic operational programming – motor functions, sensory processing, reflexes, speech and the like – are functioning ideally and Harold leans back in his chair, relaxing as much as his body allows him to. He allows his eyes to trail across John’s sleeping form. There’s a slightly discoloured patch on his hand, a piece of new synthetic skin Harold attached there, fixing a burn. Its edges are almost white, not unlike a scar on human skin, or a mend on synthetic skin when it’s merely sown together instead of the injured areas replaced as they should be. Unlike those mends though, within another day, the nanites in John’s bionervous fluid will attach the new skin properly, evening out the colour, and then his hand will once more look perfectly undamaged – with exceptions for the old mends the Army, and newer ones the CIA gave him.
Harold’s fingers itch with the need to reach out and trace those lines, trace the warm, almost perfectly human feeling skin, but he manages to refrain. It’s one thing to allow his hands to linger a fraction longer than necessary when he fixes him, at least John is awake in those instances, often even leaning into the contact. This is a line Harold won’t cross.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he sees the alert that the diagnostic is complete pop up and he turns his attention towards it just long enough to register that everything is alright, then sees that John is fully charged. He frowns, looks back towards the android in question, then back to his computer. He gets up, grabs his mug of tea more to give his nervous hands something to do than anything. Takes a small step closer to John. Ordinarily, John’s higher cognitive programming should be started automatically the moment he is fully charged, and yet, he still seems to be in sleep mode.
Harold is internally and with increasing worry debating whether he should wait or run a more in-depth diagnostic, or perhaps even attempt a manual boot-up, when John finally does move. Instead of opening his eyes, instantly alert as he usually is, he first lets out a quiet, tired groan, heaving his torso up from the awkward position it’s been in and leaning back against the chair’s backrest. It takes him another moment to open his eyes, blinking slowly, before he squints dazedly at Harold.
“Morning Finch.” he mumbles, voice rougher than usual and with something that might have been a smile but looks more like a tired grimace.
Harold’s answering “Good morning, Mr Reese.” comes automatically before he frowns again, scrutinising John. John, who still hasn’t removed the power cord, still hasn’t closed the flap to cover the electronics he usually displays such a reluctance to allow Harold to see. “Are you feeling alright? You seem a little out of sorts. Did you injure any your main systems yesterday, and you neglected to tell me so? Has there been an issue with the charging process or the generator?”
John finally does unplug the cord and closes the cover over the port, covering the whole area with his hand for a moment before he unrolls his shirt sleeve and stands, picking his jacket up from the chair’s back and putting it on as well. His movements are sluggish, more akin to when he is nearly having to use his backup charge, similar to how he had moved the previous evening and Harold silently berates himself. He should have insisted that John fully charge himself days ago, but they had had several numbers back to back and the last one yesterday had been particularly strenuous…
John sighs tiredly. “I’m fine, just… feeling a little drained. How are you holding up?”
Harold decides to give John a stern look to let him know that there will be no changing the subject. “Are you sure you weren’t hurt, other than the burn? I think we should really run a holistic diagnostic, just to be on the safe side. We haven’t received a number this morning and besides, sending you out into the field if we aren’t absolutely certain if you’re truly alright is an unacceptable risk! You sustain injuries on a much too frequent basis already...”
“Harold...” John interrupts but trails off with an air of frustration. “There’s nothing wrong with me, I just...”
The frustration is still present in the soft noise he makes when he takes a sudden step closer to Harold, leaving essentially no distance between them. And then, before Harold has quite processed what is happening, he reaches out, wraps his arms around him and Harold suddenly finds himself held close and secure to him. After a second passes, he feels John let his head fall forward, nuzzling the crook of Harold’s neck and he almost drops his tea in surprise.
Careful not the break the embrace, he stretches his arm until he can set the mug down. John shifts and his hold loosens and Harold is surprised at the vehemence of his own need not to end the hug, no matter how unexpected it was. Instinctively, his own arms rise, finding their way around John’s waist. Immediately, John relaxes against him, holding him tightly once again and Harold cannot remember the last time he felt as content as he does now, here, with John’s warmth – his now fully charged body imitating a human body temperature – seeping into him.
A few seconds more, and he feels John’s hands running over his back in slow, steady caresses, feels John’s dry but warm breaths against the skin above where his shirt collar ends. Inhale, exhale, again and again, just as slow and regular as the caress. He is well aware that John has no actual need to breathe, save for when he wants to speak or activate his secondary olfactory sensors.
Since the former is obviously not the case, he feels only the slightest bit of guilt and self-recrimination when he allows his eyes to slip closed and relaxes even more into John’s hold. Lets his own cheek lean against the side of John’s neck, nose almost brushing John’s collar, and matches his own breathing to his partner’s. John smells of gunpowder and the library, and underneath that something that smells just a little too clean to be human, with a hint of ozone. Harold couldn’t imagine a more comforting scent
Harold isn’t certain how long they remain that way, though he is fairly sure that there is no sufficient reason for that to matter. He is utterly comfortable. John is holding him in a way that takes most of his weight off his bad leg and has somehow curled his large body around Harold’s in a way that lets Harold rest his head where it is without any strain. So it is with quite some regret and feeling the warmth of a slight flush that he convinces his stubborn limbs to obey his mind’s commands to let go when John does, though he is selfishly relieved to see that he isn’t the only one whose cheeks have a little more colour than usual.
He is glad when John remains close, lets his touch linger for a moment longer, though even that pales in comparison to his relief when he realises that John finally looks the way he should after spending the entire night recharging. His movements are once again fluid, controlled and graceful and even his eyes seem brighter now, more alert.
To Harold’s surprise, John leans in once more, brushing a feather light kiss over his cheek. When he pulls away, his smile is no longer tired but tender and warm, even as he can’t quite seem to bring himself to meet Harold’s eyes.
“Thanks Harold. Guess I needed that.”
He finds himself needing to clear his throat, but for once he is glad that his hand acts on its own accord, capturing one of John’s before the other can step away. Almost unconsciously, his thumb traces the outline of the new skin. “No need to thank me, Mr Reese. Should you find yourself needing this again, you’re more than welcome to come to me anytime. After all, the need for touch and closeness is a very human one, and for honesty’s sake, I have to say that this was quite enjoyable.”
He almost regrets his words when John’s smile dims, when his low voice is now tinged with bitterness.
“I’m not human, Harold.”
The way the morning light falls through the window, it catches in John’s corneas and allows Harold to glance into his pupils, where the surface of John’s outer optical sensors reflects it, making the filigree wiring visible. Delicate, intricate and breathtakingly beautiful.
“No, you’re not.” he agrees, allowing his hand to reach up and cup John’s cheek, the skin feeling soft and warm and almost perfectly human against his palm and he can’t help his smile when John leans into the contact without hesitation. “You are so much more than that, John. But if it’s any reassurance, I can assure you that you are nonetheless still human enough to me.”