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October Feels Odd

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It wasn’t too bad, the first day. John had, predictably, found Harold’s safe house preparations to be lacking, and had not only removed the rugs and installed a higher toilet seat (which, frankly, Harold appreciated, not having thought of it himself), but gotten rid of the lip between the hallway and the bathroom, and somehow managed to replace the master bed with an adjustable model at a much more comfortable height -- with exactly the firmness that Harold preferred.

There was even a stand for the crutches within reach of the bed, even though it would be a few days before Harold could graduate from the walker.

Harold’s patience with John’s helpfulness lasted until he was tired enough to go to bed (even though it was barely afternoon), and John trailed after him into the bedroom, apparently with the aim of helping him get situated.

“I’m not an invalid, Mr. Reese,” he said, with a remarkably even tone for being this annoyed at the idea.

“I’m pretty sure you meet the definition,” John countered before Harold chased him out of the room (more with his expression than anything physical).

Since he didn’t hear any steps down the hallway, Harold took it for granted that John was standing just outside the door, waiting to hear if Harold would change his mind, or collapse while trying to get into the bed, or who knows what. But he managed -- with pain, and a great deal of difficulty -- to get up into the bed, and get a rolled-up towel under his knees, and settle down to rest. It wasn’t the most comfortable rest, but he hadn’t expected much better.

He’d been lying awake for about ten minutes, torn between trying to get up again and trying to fall back to sleep, when John came in with his next round of pain meds. That wasn’t surprising (of course John would pay attention to the schedule even if Harold lost track of time), but Harold was torn between appreciation and annoyance. Still, he took them, and managed to get another couple hours out of the bed before the position became unbearable.

When he finally trundled down the hallway to try the bathroom for the first time, he heard sounds from both the kitchen and the living room. Oh, good, now there were more people around. Bad enough that John wouldn’t leave him to his own devices; the surgeries after the bombing had been far worse, and he’d survived those on his own… well, with hired help, come to think of it, but the point is that he hadn’t had any meddling friends at the time.

Trying to get cleaned up after a bowel movement almost -- almost -- made him call for help, but he managed it, eventually, leaving him shaky and weak and wondering if he was going to throw up. The idea of John cleaning up his vomit was more than he could bear to think about right now, so he hovered near the sink for a while until the feeling faded.

It turned out that Shaw was in the kitchen, while John was doing some sort of exercise in the living room. Harold’s stomach turned over at the thought of eating anything, let alone Shaw’s usual fare, but he held tight to his walker for a moment until it settled again, and eventually realized that the smells in the air weren’t particularly spicy -- nothing like the dishes she usually ate.

“Oh, good, you’re up,” Shaw said. “I’m gonna use the blender for a few minutes, okay?”

Harold sighed. “Fine.”

The sudden blaring noise did startle him, so he was glad that she’d warned him, but he still felt grumpy… not least because he didn’t own any blenders. His team wasn’t just invading his life, they were bringing their own appliances. What next?

John was at his side. “How you feeling, Finch?”

“Intruded upon,” Finch snapped, knowing that it wasn’t fair to John, who was, quite literally, only trying to help. Feeling a little sheepish, he followed John’s lead into the living room. Not to the sofa, but rather to some sort of ergonomic chair, already kitted up with -- Harold had to grin -- a cushion. It wasn’t the donut-shaped style that he’d gotten John after his encounter with the CIA, but rather a full-sized piece with a wedge cut out of the back, just under the tailbone. Perfectly what he needed.

But the chair hadn’t been here when he’d first arrived. Which only made him wonder how many new contraptions would be materializing in his house during the course of his recovery.

Still, it felt wonderfully relieving to sit down and feel the chair’s back offer its support.

Then John pulled over a little folding tray, and Harold remembered to be annoyed again even before Shaw brought over a small, bright pink smoothie and a dessert-sized bowl of cottage cheese with diced tomato on top.

“You don’t need to eat the whole thing,” she said, in response to his glare, “but you’re gonna need twice the normal calories while your body recovers. And a berry smoothie has a lot of fiber to begin with, and I added the greenest banana I could find, which ought to help with--”

Thank you,” Harold said, cutting off that line of conversation with a tone approaching that of the iceberg that had sunk the Titanic.

Shaw shrugged and headed back toward the kitchen. “Anyway, gonna set you up with a lot of meals you can easily reheat, and a few you can eat cold. I’ve stocked the freezer with ice cream -- like five different types of vanilla, and a bunch of vanilla pudding pops. Prune juice, apple juice, and dried fruits in the pantry, lots of canned soup but there’s also some homemade cream of chicken in the fridge… there’s a canister of protein powder here, so just add a scoop to smoothies or soups if your appetite is low. You really do need those extra calories right now.”

“Yes, Miss Shaw, thank you,” Harold ground out, half wanting to knock the smoothie onto the floor in protest. But (setting aside that he wasn’t a toddler) that would just make John quietly clean up the carpet, and he didn’t want to cause any of them more work. They were already doing too much work on his behalf.

A loud beep startled him, before he remembered that this was set up as a safe house, and that meant being aware whenever anyone approached. John had his hand on his gun while checking the surveillance feed, then relaxed. Which meant that it was--

“Brought you a present,” Root said cheerfully, as though she hadn’t just picked her way in faster than John could answer the door. “I didn’t wrap it, because that’s an additional bother you don’t need right now, but--”

You’re an additional bother I don’t need right now, Harold didn’t say, and tried to tamp down his irritation as she placed an arm-length metal stick on his lap. He remembered those infernal contraptions from his first bout with major surgery, and the surge of anger was surprising in its strength, especially since he knew (objectively) that he wasn’t mad at the device, but at the inherent implication that he was too incapacitated to even use his arms.

A gripper was useful, but he didn’t want to have to use it.

John was looking a little put out himself, and Harold realized, with a flash of insight, that John -- who had thoughtfully kitted out the house for every other possible need -- had intended to be the device that got Harold anything he couldn’t easily reach.

“All right,” Harold said tightly, “it’s time for you to leave now. All of you.”

“What?” John said blankly, just as the alert beeped again and John’s body went rigidly tense as he went to check the feed. Who now?

Instead of staying on alert, or relaxing due to a false alarm, John’s posture turned to one of confusion. There was a knock at the door, and John reluctantly headed over to answer it.

“What are you doing here, Lionel?” John’s voice held an understated threat, that of an apex predator warning other creatures away from its territory.

“Some welcome,” Fusco said as he stood there in the doorway, holding Bear’s leash. Bear was too well behaved to strain against the leash, but he stood tensely, as far forward as Fusco would let him go. “You didn’t send the text, then?”

“What text?”

“Told me to bring the dog to this address.” He glanced around John. “Was that you, Cocoa Puffs?”

“Not me,” Root said with a grin, “but she says Bear was getting a bit worried after not seeing his master in so long. Let him go; it’s fine.”

After Fusco unhooked the leash, Bear vaulted across the room to nose at Harold’s hand and cavort around the chair, wriggling happily, and several times butting his head against Harold’s legs. Giving in, Harold let his arm hang down and began petting Bear as soon as he felt the fur.

“You’re telling me the Machine revealed our safe house’s location to Fusco?” Shaw asked, still stirring some concoction on the stove. “For the dog?

“He’s part of the team,” Root said with a shrug. “Fusco too. And now that Samaritan’s dealt with, I guess there’s not as much need for secrecy as there used to be.”

John did not look particularly happy with that assessment, but he didn’t counter it. It was a miracle that they’d all gotten out alive, and had the kind of relative peace and freedom it took for Harold to have even considered restorative surgery on his lower back. That, of itself, was a blessing.

“So I take it you’ll be holed up here for a few weeks?”

“Unless more people start showing up,” Harold said petulantly. “In which case, I might just investigate the possibility of moving to a private island somewhere. While redefining my understanding of the term ‘safe house’.”

“You could probably afford one, too,” Fusco said, undeterred by the bite in Harold’s voice. “Anyway, I picked you up a gift, and it’s been camped out in my back seat for a few days, so… back in a minute.”

A private island was looking more enticing all the time.

By the time Fusco returned, Bear had gotten his fill of being petted, and had flopped down next to Harold’s chair, far more comfortable with his surroundings than Harold was. Fusco set the heavy box on the counter and opened it up.

“Back when I got that bullet cut out of my ass, I didn’t want to be limping into the kitchen any more than I had to. Borrowed the mini fridge from work” -- he hefted out a sleek black unit -- “and it was handy enough that I saved up and bought my own, but I figure you don’t want a hand-me-down, so…” He pulled the plastic protector off the front. “Want me to set it up in the bedroom?”

“Detective…” Harold began, then found himself surprisingly at a loss for words.

“You can keep snacks in it, obviously, and beer… although I suppose you don’t drink beer… and there’s a little shelf in case you need to keep your medicine refrigerated, and the freezer’s not all that big, but I figure it’s enough to hold a couple ice packs-- oh! I left the ice packs in the car.”

While he ran back out to the car, Harold shut his eyes and tried not to feel ungrateful. At Fusco’s pay grade, a purchase like this was hardly a trifling matter; the man still wore the same coat that he’d been wearing five years ago, and his car wasn’t exactly new. But he’d gone out of his way to pick up a gift, something pragmatic but not very obvious, days in advance of knowing whether it would be useful or even accepted.

When he returned with a small assortment of ice packs (the soft gel kind, easily molded, in a few different sizes) and heat packs (reusable microwavable ones), along with an electric blanket, Harold finally cracked a smile and gave in, resigning himself to accepting their help.

As Fusco toted the fridge into the back bedroom (and Harold made mental notes about how to pay him back for such a hefty purchase), Root came over and smiled down at him, sympathetically.

“I know it’s a bit of an overload, Harry, but we really do want to--”

“I know,” he said, with a sigh. “And I know I should be more grateful for this. It’s just… well…”

“Intrusive?”

“That. And…”

“You’re a really private person?” John ventured. With no more reason to be on full alert, he had taken a seat on the floor, and was giving Bear a good, thorough massage.

“Even more so when I’m injured,” Harold conceded.

“It’s natural to retreat when you’re vulnerable,” Shaw called from the kitchen. “Avoid showing weakness. Make sure the predators don’t find you.”

“That explanation might make sense if I thought that any one of you would actually use this situation to take advantage of me. You’re my teammates, my closest allies… my friends. We’ve been through hell together, sacrificed so much for each other; it doesn’t make sense to feel this way about any of you.”

“The brain isn’t that logical, Harry. It just knows that you’re hurt and vulnerable, and it’s trying to protect you. Besides, you’re right that we’re your friends. That means we’re willing to put up with a little cost and inconvenience to help you out… even knowing that you’re just gonna be grumpy about it.”

“I suppose I should count my blessings, then.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Finch,” Shaw called again. “We haven’t gotten to the physical therapy yet.”

Eyes narrowed, Harold huffed. If he wanted to be as mobile as possible -- which had, after all, been the reason he’d agreed to the surgery -- then he would have to do more than just attend sessions once or twice a week; he needed to hire a specialist to come into his safe house, just to keep John from taking that duty upon himself (and the thought of John, or any of the others, becoming his de facto physical therapist made him want to put all his quills up). And since he needed to walk, and would probably be resistant due to pain and physical exhaustion and general obstinacy, he could already see them each finding a different creative way to get him on his feet, even when he’d rather just sit in his chair and be miserable for a while.

The irritation was slowly giving way to a sense of amusement at his own reactions, which was just as well. Unless he missed his guess, his friends were going to be underfoot for weeks, and he couldn’t see chasing them off successfully without doing something he’d later regret. So he could spend that time being irritated, or spend it being thankful. He’d have to put up with a certain amount of indignity, certainly; a bit of invasion into his privacy… but, after all they’d been through? Half the team had already assisted him with his biological functions (Root while she’d been holding him captive, and John during a stakeout one time). John and Fusco had cared for him while he was drugged; John and Shaw had helped him deal with panic attacks. Each of them, even Fusco, had helped him break the law, on multiple occasions, and each had taught him skills (from lockpicking to improved first aid). He’d never find a closer set of friends.

Glancing over at the tray of food, he yielded, and picked up the little bowl of cottage cheese. “Miss Shaw,” he called, “if you wouldn’t mind, I believe I’ll take one of those pudding pops.”