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a world so blind (it cannot see my face)

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The playroom is all warm colors, burgundy velvet and brown leather and mahogany wood. Every surface is padded and rounded. Seeing Mr. Reese in its midst, stark in his customary black and white, makes something twist painfully in Harold's chest.

"What are you doing here?" Harold asks, shrill and useless. He knows exactly what Reese is doing: snooping, as he always does.

But there's a grim, haunted cast to Reese's face as he turns to Harold. "Where are they?" he demands.

Harold's confusion is unfeigned, but Reese seems to take it as a challenge. He advances on Harold, intimidating: Harold has seen Reese move this way towards perps. And Harold himself, on their disastrous first few days, but never since.

"Listen to me," Reese says, low and dangerous. "If I found this place, so can someone else." He grimaces, then his expression softens. "I can understand if you don't want me to know where your sub is, but I have to know. I have to keep them safe."

There's a hunger in the last few words, a pain too easy to piece together. Harold remembers John's face after Jessica.... After Jessica.

For one mad moment Harold thinks of going along with the charade, pretending that this room is meant to keep some secret pampered sub. It's not even untrue, exactly.

"It's mine," Harold says, abrupt to get the taste of the words out of his mouth. "I don't have a sub, Mr Reese. The room is for me."

To a casual observer, Reese would merely have seemed blanker than normal. To Harold's experienced eye, emotions flash in Reese's posture, the position of his hands: disbelief, anger, then the relaxation of acceptance.

"I see," Reese says, wooden. He looks around him, as if seeing the room in a new light. Harold feels stuck to place, a feeling not unlike sleep paralysis. If Reese decides to mock him....

In another moment, Reese is gone, and Harold's relief is only rivaled by his incredibly ill-considered disappointment.

~~

What did he think would happen? He berates himself during the taxi ride back to the library, during his labored climb up the stairs. Did he think Reese, on seeing his employer is secretly a submissive, would order Harold to his knees and--

Harold flinches away from the thought, cheeks hot. He can't stand wanting what he knows he can't have. And yet, he knows this want will settle in his chest and curdle there if he doesn't exorcise it.

He did well to come here. The playroom was entirely wrong for this sort of thing. Harold pushes a pillow to the floor and kneels creakily over it. The bare floor is almost tempting, but Harold is old enough to know self-harm - however small and easily excused - from genuine masochism. He won't indulge in the former, and has little taste for the latter.

Well. That's inaccurate. The test Harold took as a teen identified him as a fan of humiliation, which he'd decried with great indignation even as his nether regions betrayed him; now, Harold would describe himself as an emotional masochist, not a label commonly known in his youth.

It lets him think of Reese, of Reese wanting to rescue the sub Harold isn't: someone not young, perhaps, but vulnerable and very willing to hang from Reese's arm and gaze up at him adoringly. Someone who would happily give Reese anything, everything Harold couldn't even if he wanted to.

He thinks of John seeing him like this, on his knees next to an empty couch, and tears flow from Harold's eyes: as humiliating, and private, and necessary as any other bodily fluid.

~~

"I need to know if you're seeing anyone," Reese says abruptly.

Harold doesn't drop his fork. He lowers it carefully into his pad thai and says, "Enlighten me, Mr. Reese, on why you think that's any of your business." He's probably bright red, but there's no helping that. "I've kept myself safe for longer than you've been alive. I trust I know what I'm doing."

Reese looks at him for a little too long. "Maybe I'm just jealous," he says, too light.

The words Spare me stick in Harold's throat.

Reese's eyes are strangely heated. "I don't think there is anyone," Reese purrs. He takes Harold's tray away, Harold watching numbly. "I would have known." He looks Harold up and down, and Harold shivers, unable to conceal his response to Reese's scrutiny. "Nobody to get in my way."

Reese gets up. In another minute his hands will be on Harold, and then it will be all over. Harold needs to say something, and do it fast.

He can't.

Reese stands a breath away, close enough for Harold to feel his warmth. "Well?" he murmurs.

With the last of the breath in his lungs, Harold gasps, "For the love of God, Mr. Reese!"

John blinks, and that's enough to crack the invisible chains holding Harold in place. Harold moves away, awkward and ungainly. "No," Harold says, voice low enough to count as a snarl. "You can take your pity elsewhere, thank you very much."

John is very still, like a powerful predator stalking - or like one that was startled, and is considering his next move. "You really think that, Finch?"

Harold doesn't answer. He can't move, can barely breathe.

"I think you know better," John says, quiet and ruthless. "I think you know I want you. And you want me... but you don't want this. Why, Finch?"

Harold's hands clench and unclench, uselessly. He forces himself to inhale, and the words come out on the exhale. "Can't you connect the dots yourself?"

John makes a wordless gesture: Humor me.

"Submission," Harold says, colorlessly, "is the giving away of responsibility. No," he tells John, who opened his mouth to protest. "That is what it means to me. You do not get to argue that. There is no responsibility without authority. Please don't try to debate that, either. Can you imagine me ceding the responsibilities I have to anyone? Can you imagine me giving authority to anyone," his voice cracks, "even you, over the Machine and the numbers, while I'm alive and capable?"

For a long moment John is silent. Harold watches him, wary.

"I don't get it," John says at last. "I thought you were a Dom. I thought that's why..." John gestures, indicating the library, the board with the pictures of the numbers. "But if you're not, why?"

Harold grits his teeth. "Because somebody had to," he says, "and no Dom did."

If John takes this for criticism of his kind, he shows no sign of resentment. "So you did," John says, voice deep with... appreciation?

Harold's head jerks up. Reese is looking at him with admiration. It's odd for Harold to realize that he's quite familiar with how this expression looks on John's face, particularly when aimed at him.

"Somebody had to," Harold says once more, feeble.

"And you're the one who did." John looks Harold in the eye and says, softly, "Can I come closer?"

Harold gives a tiny nod.

Slowly, waiting for Harold to say yes to each move, John approaches. It's like watching him move in stop motion. "Why are you doing this?" Harold says, despairing. "There's no shortage of subs, younger, easier--"

"They're not you," John says simply, as though that explained everything. "Can I touch you?"

"I can't give you the Machine," Harold says, despairing.

"So don't," John coaxes. "Just give me yourself, just for tonight." He sounds like it's the simplest thing in the world. "Just for tonight, don't think about the numbers, or the machine. Think about me, and what you want."

Harold closes his eyes. With a reedy voice, he says, "A very tempting offer, Mr. Reese. What's in it for you?"

Reese can move silently; Harold knows this already, but he's still startled when the next words are whispered into his ear. "Call me John," he says.

Harold shudders, helplessly. "John."

"Let me see you with your shields off. Just for a little bit."

Harold's eyes stay shut as John undoes his buttons one at a time. The rustle of cloth is almost silent. Blood rushes in Harold's ears, loud as the falling walls of Jericho.