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"He'll Think I Write Children's Books."

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The speed was brisk; the steps were controlled with military precision. The pavement thrummed with approval the closer he came to the house, phone clutched tightly as concerned eyes scanned for any updates.

 

Something was wrong.

 

For all the routine they’ve enjoyed – and, yes, they were now seeing each other on a routinely basis – there was a tension that cracked through the concrete approval. There was a stutter in the military precision – a stumble that only revealed itself to the untrained eye. And the brisk pace taken bordered between collected purpose and hastening chaos.

 

In short, John was concerned.

 

And no amount of scanning the crowd or his phone gave even a clue as to why. There was no warning via his phone, there was nothing in the air to signify impending doom, and still he couldn’t help but feel something was--

 

Harold.

 

Time slowed down to an ethereal pace as the older man stepped out of his home. The wind rustled through the stoic precision and brought forth a calming breath. The inane chatter that accompanied the streets of New York faded to a soothing chorus that was quieting down.

 

All he could do was stare.

 

John was too far to call out to Harold, too far to do anything more than bask in the comfort that everything was now okay, that he no longer could even think of why anything would be wrong.

 

“He’s lovely, John.”

 

What the—

 

“I’ve only seen him in passing, but I can already tell he is lovely.”

 

The ex-vigilante coolly pivoted on the spot to face the woman, one of Hendricks’s new workers. He had never heard her voice before, but gut instinct and memory existed for a reason in his old line of work.

 

“Where’s the other one?”

 

She ignored him, still looking in the direction of that home.  

 

“Honestly, I don’t know how you were able to stand to live without him.” His hint of surprise took only a second to morph into narrowed eyes and a bristled, icy glare.

 

“You try to involve him or harm him in any way–”

 

“I don’t want to hurt Harold.” This, at least, seemed genuine. “I’m not a sociopath, John.”

 

Just another “colleague”.

 

It was the thought that ran between them, the thought that kept the walls up and his face frigid.

 

“Believe me,” With adrenaline still pumping, he almost forgot to listen. “Sometimes I wish I was: the things I’ve had to do would have been so much easier.”

 

Whatever she said in this moment wouldn’t matter, something they both knew. She certainly wasn’t going to be gaining his trust anytime soon.

 

However, she seemed to have more to say – and if Harold’s taught him anything in the last year, it’s to listen.

 

(That, and accept that sometimes wonderful things happen with no consequences attached. But that is another story for a kinder day.)

 

“I don’t like taking lives,” She no longer seemed to be talking to him, still seemed to be drawn to watching Harold. “But, I will.”

 

He stilled.

 

“Take any lives here, and it doesn’t matter who you work for.” The threat seemed to have no impact, prompting him to take a step and block her view of Harold.

 

This brought a smile.

 

“Of course.”

 

Eyes narrowed further, lips thinned into pure disapproval.

 

“John?”

 

Immediately, John schooled his features into neutrality at the sound of Harold. He knew that, so long as his back was to the man, no tension or hostility could be read. No clues that would exist to lure that inquisitive mind, no hints that would prompt raised eyebrows and rising curiosity.

 

There was no way in hell Harold was getting dragged into all of this. Not if he could help it.

 

“John, is that you?”

 

Quirked lips gave way to a knowing smirk as she watched him finally turn around.

 

“Harold,” The soft greeting melded into his smile as the ex-vigilante focused on the man before him and almost nothing else. Said smile grew as arms embraced one another and a happy sigh was released.

 

“Who was that?” They both turned back, but she was long gone.

 

“Just a colleague from a previous job.”

 

“Well, that must’ve been quite the impeccable timing! What are the odds?” Something told John that Harold didn’t really believe it was a coincidence.

 

Fortunately, the inquiring man was willing to let the matter slip away from them.

 

… For now.