“I’m worried about you, Harold.”
Harold straightens his posture, raises his head, but his eyes never leave the screen, his fingers keep typing, working out the bugs in his latest program. He makes an inquiring hum to assure Nathan that he is nonetheless listening and Nathan sighs, knowing that this is the extent of Harold’s attention he can hope for at this moment.
“When was the last time you went out? You know, to a place where there are people?”
“I believe I am the one who should worry if you’ve already forgotten that you and I went for a run only this morning.” he answers somewhat prissily, but with affection.
“Yeah, in a park, where we ran past people whose existence we didn’t even acknowledge, just as they didn’t acknowledge ours. You can’t spend your whole life working in various private offices by yourself. Humans are social creatures.”
“I’m fine, Nathan. And despite our inherent social nature, some of us find human interaction...”
“Difficult, I know. Though it might help if you were to stop calling it that.”
He doesn’t need to turn around to see the resigned but fond smile Nathan wears. This is a conversation they’ve been having for decades now now, in semi-regular intervals, trudging its familiar path once again. Harold waits for another second, and just like always at this point of the conversation, Nathan sighs again.
“I just think you deserve to have something outside all this. Find a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, maybe even start a family one day.”
“I appreciate your concern, but you know even if my… situation were to afford me otherwise, I’m hardly what one might call a family man.”
“So? Neither was I, or so I thought, and now look at me. I’m a married man and father of a rambunctious two year old. Who, by the way, has been asking me when his Uncle Harold will come to visit, so unless you have other plans that don’t consist of working, Olivia and I are expecting you over for dinner at six, so you can save us from having to deal with Will throwing another tantrum.”
There is genuine pleading in Nathan’s voice and it makes Harold huff a laugh even as he nods. “Alright. I’d be happy to do so, though I hope that means you will stop worrying about my social life now. I do want to finish this project today.”
“We’ve got ourselves a deal.” Nathan pats his shoulder twice, then turns to leave, pausing once more and turning back in the doorway. “You know, it’s not about whether you’re a social butterfly or a family man or a slightly paranoid recluse.”
The sun streams down onto the front yard of the New Jersey vacation home they’ve been spending the last month in, recovering from their injuries and the strain of the past five years, and Harold feels the flush on his cheeks despite wearing a thin, cream-coloured linen suit. Though to his relief it’s no longer as unbearably hot as it had been earlier this summer’s day and he finds himself agreeing that the weather will be quite ideal for their planned barbeque in another hour or two, even if he hasn’t quite overcome his scepticism regarding their evening plan itself. But it’s too late for any further objections, and he hopes that even with their past luck and the nature of the company he keeps, there is a limit to the scale of the disaster they can cause.
Next to the house itself, John has finished setting up the grill and already, the still faint scent of cooking fills the front yard, and Harold feels surprisingly content when John joins him where he stands at the fence, winds his arms around him and kisses his neck softly.
“Did I tell you that this suit looks good on you?” he murmurs lowly into his ear as his hands take to wandering before Harold stops them by taking them into his own. Down the street, Root and Sameen round the corner and step into their line of sight.
“Repeatedly. And thank you,” he replies drily, half-turning in John’s arms until he can raise his eyebrows at him, “but I suggest you refrain from showing your appreciation until after our guests have left.”
After kissing away John’s playful pout, he steps out of the embrace to open the door in the fence for Bear to run through and enthusiastically greet the arrivals, and he watches with amusement how Sameen lets go of Root’s hand to crouch down and thoroughly pet the Malinois while fending off Root’s attempts to spread sunscreen on her nose.
“You know I don’t get sunburns.” she snaps at her girlfriend as they make their way into the yard, but her glare is lacking genuine heat.
“That’s what you said three weeks ago when we worked the relevant number in Bali.”
“Like you were off any better after the nudist beach in Spain, how did you even get a sunburn on…?”
“Too much information, Shaw.” John interrupts with a wince.
Sameen shrugs. “Consider it payback for all the times I walked into the subway to find you and Harold making out.”
“Mr Reese, Ms Shaw, as much as I hate to cut your conversation short,” his voice drips with sarcasm and earns him three pairs of raised eyebrows, “I do believe you both promised to attend the grill tonight?”
Their bickering quiets but never ceases when they head over to do as he asked. Next to him, Root watches with an amused smile for another moment before turning her attention to him, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek.
“Thank you for the invitation, Harry. She wouldn’t admit it, but Sameen missed you and the big lug. And I missed you too, of course.”
It’s strange these days to think back to how unnerved he used to be when they’d first found themselves needing to work with Root, stranger still to think of their first meeting, even though he wears the permanent souvenir of that time on his palm. Now, he sees the kindred spirit she’d thought to recognise in him all those years ago, though it’s fundamentally different from what she’d seen.
“Likewise. As sceptical as I was, I do believe this might turn out to have been an excellent idea. Assuming of course they”, he gestures towards the two still bickering ex-operatives, pretending not to see them sneaking pieces of steak to Bear, “manage not to cause any explosions or other violent altercations for one entire evening.”
Root laughs. “ She calculates the chance of avoiding anything the like to be around 30 percent.”
“That seems rather optimistic. How long will you and Ms Shaw be stateside?”
“I’m not sure yet, she is still working on extending her network, now that there are no government assets and no more Samaritan, so the Relevants keep us pretty busy. A few days, I think.”
“In that case, you’re more than welcome to step by again over the next few days, should you find the time.”
A yelp sounding from direction of the fence, followed by John’s and Sameen’s laughter, draws their attention, Root grins and Harold too has to chuckle when he sees that in his enthusiastic greeting of Lionel, Bear has knocked the poor man over.
“I’m glad you could make it, Detective.”
“What, as if I’d ever miss out on hanging out with the bunch of nutcases who live to make my life difficult. By the way, what did I miss?”
“I was just telling Reese about the jacuzzi in the hotel in Barcelona Root and I stayed in.”
“Sameen, not at family dinner.” Root admonishes playfully, to Harold’s relief.
“Speaking of family dinner...” John gestures towards the table they’ve set up outside earlier and as the others sit down, takes the opportunity to steal a kiss from Harold, who indulges him with fond exasperation and a sense around his heart that takes him a moment to identify as peaceful contentment, glad that the slowly sinking summer sun provides a convenient excuse for the warmth flooding his cheeks when one of their guests – he isn’t quite sure who – catcalls them.
As he finally takes his seat at the table himself, he glances up at the flashing red light on the camera across the street, and smiles.
Nathan pats his shoulder twice, then turns to leave, pausing once more and turning back in the doorway. “You know, it’s not about whether you’re a social butterfly or a family man or a slightly paranoid recluse. It’s a matter of meeting the right people and letting them in. If you just let it, your family will find you."