John had been acting odd for the last couple of days. Of course, Harold had noticed right away. The usual light was gone from his eyes, and his lips were pressed together in a thin, hard line. But John kept up all the appearance of normalcy. He kissed Harold on the cheek at all the right moments. He performed perfectly in the field. It was almost surreal. Like John was acting the part, and Harold was the mark. But Harold didn’t know how to broach the subject when John wasn’t giving him any opening.
Then one morning, John met Harold in the library, acting more sullen than usual. Not even so much as a good morning when he handed Harold his tea. John looked terrible as if he hadn’t slept. Harold saw fit to tell him as much.
“I know that oftentimes we keep ridiculous hours,” Harold commented, “but an hour or two of sleep is better than no sleep at all.”
John made a face like he was trying to smile. “I wonder if you slept when you were building the Machine.”
Harold pursed his lips. “Don’t try to change the subject. Are you all right?”
John’s smile faltered. “I will be.” He cleared his throat and gestured at the whiteboard. “What do we have?”
“A fairly open and shut case. Stan Sullivan got in over his head with his most recent Ponzi scheme. Like I told you, the detective can handle it if you like.”
John shook his head fervently. “I’ll take this one. Fusco deserves a break.”
Harold tilted his head. "Detective Fusco will need to arrest Sullivan either way.” He paused, studying John’s grey, lightless eyes. “You know you can tell me anything, don’t you?”
One of John’s eyebrows twitched. “Yes, I’m aware.”
“Then why don’t you?” When John didn’t say anything, Harold limped towards him. “I understand you don’t want to talk about certain things. But at least tell me so. Please don’t lie to as if I haven’t noticed your behavior, because I have.”
After a moment, John sighed. “I’m sorry, Finch. It’s not something that can be fixed.”
Hearing John switching back to Harold’s alias surname was like a punch to the gut. “You’re not even going to let me try?”
John shrugged with one shoulder. “I told you, I’ll be fine. If not now, then… soon. I can keep working, it isn’t an issue.”
Harold wanted to scream. “Maybe you don’t think so, but you won’t even tell me what ‘it’ is!”
“Why would I burden you with that?” John argued.
“Because I love you!” Harold exclaimed, the declaration stifled in the enclosed space. Seconds ticked away. Finally, Harold held out his hand. “At the very least, let me love you.”
The air was thick with Harold’s plea and John’s silence. Harold breathed a sigh of relief when John took his hand and guided him to the sofa inside the cage.
They sat in silence for a few moments, until John cleared his throat. “I have these… episodes,” he began, “Not all the time, not consistently. Some days, they’re just that- a day. But other times, they last. I feel…” John cleared his throat again.
Harold rubbed John’s back, comforting him. “Take your time,” he murmured.
Nodding, John continued. “I feel tired. Thin. It’s all I can do to put one foot in front of the other.”
Harold nodded in understanding. He had experienced something similar in the weeks following the explosion. “My sympathies,” he offered.
“I didn’t want to make you feel sorry for me,” John said, staring down at his hands, “I need to leave these problems at home. I didn’t mean to dump that on you.” He clenched his fists. “But I’ll be fine. You don’t have to worry about the numbers.”
Sighing, Harold put a hand on John’s face to turn it towards him. “That’s not what I’m worried about,” he murmured, “John… you don’t have to feel guilty for having feelings.”
“But you wanted to help, and there’s not really anything you can do. I learned that the hard way a long time ago.” John clenched his jaw. “It’s my burden to bear.”
Harold sighed and shook his head. “Oh, John,” he sighed, “You’re lucky you’re pretty.”
John blinked. “What?”
“Heroes need saving sometimes, too.” Harold adjusted his glasses. “It’s not easy, what we do. We’ve both had our fair share of close calls. And we’ve had days that took their toll. But we’ve always done our best, and we’ve always been there for each other.” He put his free hand on John’s shoulder and squeezed. “Your problems are my honor to carry.”
John swallowed the lump in his throat. “But why?”
“Love isn’t just the good things and the joy and… and the sex. It’s sharing in each other’s pain. Helping ease the pain. And sometimes just waiting for the pain to go away. Love means you don’t have to wait alone.”
At the end of Harold’s speech, John’s eyes were shining. Blinking, John leaned down to press his forehead to Harold’s. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Harold closed his eyes. “It’s my pleasure.” After a few moments, he pulled away. “As long as you’re taking care of yourself, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” He examined his partner. “Although I’m assuming you didn’t have breakfast like you should have.” Sheepishly, John shook his head. “Right, then. We’ll let the detective handle Sullivan. You and I are going to get donuts.”
John smirked. “As long as it’s not the place over on 23rd.”
Harold smiled genuinely. “We can go wherever you want.”