When Henry Weaver came home to his apartment in North Philadelphia after a long day at work, he knew that he was not alone. There was no solid evidence for it, nothing so obvious as a broken lock or an open door, just something familiar in the quality of the air, a barely-felt shiver of movement. It was nothing one could quantify.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said to the silence, hardly recognising his own voice – Henry Weaver’s uncertain, locally-educated voice.
No answer came, but the darkness shifted where he hadn’t turned on the living room light. Without turning his head, he felt a touch hover near his shoulder.
“Are you all right?” his visitor asked quietly.
“They patched me up,” he said, as even as he could. “A drive-by shooting. I was in a dangerous neighborhood.”
“I thought I had good locks.” He turned now, unable to help it, feeling Henry Weaver wrenched out of him and only a howling emptiness left behind. “Why...?”
The hovering hands settled on either side of his clavicle, thumbs framing his neck above the cheap polyester collar. “I had nowhere else to be, Harold.”
“It’s Henry,” he corrected sharply.
The other bent closer, lips nearly touching his ear. “Harold,” he whispered again, like a ghost or a signal half-lost.
“John,” Harold said, as close to tears as he had ever been. He tipped forward a little and John caught him, touched him as reverently as though he were someone deserving of care. “I want you to be safe,” he said into John’s shoulder, half excuse and half last-ditch effort.
“I’m safe.” He sounded like he was smiling, reluctant but genuine. “The person who was safe somewhere else, that wasn’t me. We need to be working together.”
“I’m not sure there’s anything to be done,” Harold admitted. He had a deep selfish wish to stay just as he was, breathing in trains and diners and the warmth of a person who knew him. No one had known Henry Weaver at all.
“Our mutual friend doesn’t agree,” John said. His hands moved higher, gently tilting Harold’s head up to meet the dark glitter of his eyes.
“I thought we were surviving,” Harold protested. His gaze was drawn to John’s mouth, the folds around it a little harsher than they used to be, yet familiar and dear. Neither of them were young men anymore, but they weren’t finished yet; in this brave new world, everything suddenly seemed possible. No one was watching them here.
“Surviving isn’t enough anymore,” John said, bending down to kiss him at last. They had never done this, in the time before; it was something better than knowledge. To Harold, it felt like mercy.