One of the best things about the ridiculous luxury apartment Finch gave John is the bathtub. The bathroom is huge, because it contains a perfectly normal, excellently-functioning shower. . .and also a seven-foot-long tub.
Custom-built, it’s got to be. It’s the first bathtub John’s ever seen that’s long enough for him to get comfortable in. (Despite his offer to Carter in their shared hotel room that one time, a tub has always been the last place he’d want to sleep. He’d opt for a muddy floor with cockroaches, given the choice. At least that way, he could stand up fast if he needed to.) And Finch must have had some walls rearranged to have it installed, too, because even the most luxurious modern bathroom doesn’t normally have an unbroken wall that long.
When he was checking this place out for the first time, Finch’s key still clutched in his hand, he’d figured Finch had picked it based on his own tastes, not John’s. John’s never been into high-end anything, he doesn’t need nearly this much space, especially with how little time he spends at home, and that wall of windows is a security nightmare.
The tub was the first sign that Finch hadn’t just bought him an expensive loft. He’d picked this one, maybe even re-designed it, specifically for John.
Although, now that he’s used to the place, he finds himself stretching out into that space he can’t fill. Sprawling on the furniture. Working out in the middle of the floor where he can’t bump into anything or brush the ceiling with his fingers. Feeling the sun on his face or watching the city lights pretend to be stars, and forgetting—for long minutes at a time—to worry about being targeted. So maybe all that stuff was for him, more than he’d thought.
And then there’s the coffee machine, which is sleek and over-engineered but instead of espresso, it makes a perfect pot of plain old drip coffee, strong but mellow. The walk-in closet with shelves arranged perfectly to house John’s guns—and Finch gets twitchy just looking at a gun, but he must have looked, carefully, at some point, so he could spec out those shelves.
And a bathtub big enough for a 6”3’, broad-shouldered guy to stretch out in.
For the first couple of weeks after he moved in, John didn’t use the tub. To be honest, it didn’t even occur to him. It wasn’t like he was in the habit of taking a bath if there was a shower available, and the Numbers didn’t leave him a lot of downtime for screwing around in the bathroom.
But then there was the day that included a three-hour stakeout on a roof in the rain, rolling down a flight of stairs, and fireman’s-carrying a guy who outweighed him by fifty pounds. John made it home, after leaving the Number hog-tied for Carter to pick up along with three unregistered guns and a large bag of cocaine. He shucked off his soaked suit, shirt, socks, and underwear, leaving it all in a pile on the bathroom floor to deal with later. All he wanted was a nice, hot shower—and then his eye fell on the bathtub, and he figured, if there was ever a time when he was in the mood for a bath, this was it.
After that, he was hooked. A lifetime of movie scenes of women relaxing in bubble baths up to their necks suddenly made sense. When you’re not sitting with your knees around your ears and the water barely covering your crotch, but can actually stretch out your legs and submerge, with the hot water enveloping your body and easing the aches from bruises and tired muscles. . .yeah, that’s pretty damned compelling. Since then, John treats himself to a bath anytime he’s got a free hour where he’s fairly confident he won’t be interrupted. (He leaves his earbud in, of course, only removing it to wash his hair. In this job, there’s no such thing as truly not-on-call.)
He’s even experimented with bubbles—hot-faced, feeling weirdly embarrassed in the privacy of his own bathroom. It feels dangerously soft, a frivolity he can’t afford to get used to. But he thinks of Finch, with his fussy tailoring and his exacting standards for tea, wine, food, art—pretty much everything—but who has proved surprisingly willing to rough it when it’s necessary, to push the envelope of his physical limitations, and his emotional ones, for that matter. Finch, who, John suspects, would burn the Library and all its contents to the ground if security required it, with very little hesitation, although he’d mourn the loss deeply. Finch, who takes more quiet pleasure in a frosted donut than anyone John’s ever met. Yeah, Finch would approve of bubble bath.
Finch’s imaginary blessing doesn’t make John feel any less embarrassed about indulging, but it does ease his anxiety. He likes to picture Finch’s pleased little smile if he knew that John’s making good use of his gift.
It’s in the bath that John re-discovers the joys of masturbation.
For a long time, his sex drive was a matter of theory rather than practice. He can distantly remember the year after Jessica, after he re-upped: every night, with the fierce focus of duty hours shoved aside in the name of getting some sleep for once, alone and aching, every nerve on fire as he stripped his cock as silently as he could, knowing his bunkmates were probably doing the same but feeling like he was the only person still alive in the whole damned world. He can’t remember exactly when the ache was replaced by numbness—only that it was well before he stopped believing the work he was doing for the Company had any relationship with making the world safe for anything worth saving. And after Ordos and Jessica’s death and the rest of it. . .yeah, not so much.
But one night, when he’s relaxing in the bath after a couple of cakewalk Numbers in a row, he catches himself idly toying with his half-hard cock and realizes that he’s honestly horny for the first time in God knows how long. He squeezes the head experimentally, there in the warm water, and the soft burst of pleasure feels like stepping outside on the first real day of spring.
He fools around for a good while, remembering what he likes, trying out this and that. He paddles one hand under the water so that the current caresses his balls, which turns out to be a hypnotic combination of arousing and soothing. He massages behind his balls with one finger while squeezing the head of his cock in a gentle rhythm, and that feels so fucking fantastic he has to lay his head back in the depression built into the ledge for exactly that purpose, and let his eyes drift closed while his soft groans echo off the tile walls. He strings it out, coaxing himself up each wave of arousal, then backing off before he can crest. When he finally does come, it’s because he gets sloppy with the timing. The orgasm lights him up like the sky on the fourth of July, leaving him limp and panting.
A while later, as he’s finally toweling off his very relaxed ass, he thinks a silent, smirking thank you to Finch for this newly-discovered use of the bathtub.
Jerking off in the tub becomes a semi-regular habit. Not that he has the time for either baths or jerk-off sessions all that often: the Numbers keep him and Finch hopping. But when he catches a break, well. . .it beats going to the movies alone. It’s a simple pleasure, like Finch’s green tea. It feels better than John would have thought, to want something and then to get it, without fuss.
Tonight, though, it’s not quite so simple. Today’s Number was hard. Not physically—John doesn’t have a scratch or bruise on him tonight, and neither, God damn it, does Finch. But it’s always tough when kids are involved, and when Finch has to put boots on the ground, and when Finch ends up at gunpoint as a result, and all three of those things happened tonight. And even though everything worked out okay in the end, John’s still wired for emergency action. All wired up and nowhere to go.
It’d be easier if he could stick with Finch tonight, give his backbrain a chance to get the message that Finch’s fine. But Finch wanted to be alone, and John wasn’t going to push him on it, not with Finch rattled and unhappy and obviously clinging to his dignity with his fingernails.
So, fine. Finch’s off somewhere safe, doing whatever he does to unwind, and John’s stretched out in a steaming bath with his dick in his hand. He’s fooling around, teasing himself, trying to let the little ripples of pleasure distract him while the hot water does some good for his tense muscles. Eventually, he’ll want to come, but that’s not the goal right now. Slow and easy, no rush, nothing to worry about—there isn’t, damn it! Just focus on the spreading warm tingle, the soft lap of the water, the slowly gathering urge—
“Mr. Reese?” Finch’s voice in his ear has him halfway out of the tub before he can squash the combat instinct. He lowers himself deliberately back down into the water, though still sitting upright, on the alert, as he taps his earbud.
“Finch. What’s going on?”
“I—nothing requiring action on your part. I apologize for disturbing you at this hour. I simply. . .that is, I. . .well, to be honest. . .”
Finch is trying for casual, but his voice is pinched, with that little quaver it gets when he’s upset.
“You’re not disturbing me,” John assures him, which is not a lie. Interrupting, yes. Worrying, a little. But the opposite of unwelcome.
Finch makes a non-verbal sound that could mean acknowledgement or skepticism, or anything, really. John waits for him to elaborate but Finch doesn’t say anything.
“Yes. I’m here.”
“I know.” John smiles so Finch can hear he’s teasing. “What’s on your mind?”
Finch sighs heavily, but it’s not really an unhappy noise; it sounds more like relief, or release. Or, whoa, release, and that’s an image that has no business flashing across John’s mental movie screen. Finch, rosy-cheeked and rumpled and breathless, eyelashes fluttering a little, face relaxing into a soft smile. . .Jesus, okay, now that counts as disturbing.
And also arousing, he realizes as his dick jerks in his hand. He squeezes reflexively, his mind’s eye still serving him the picture of Finch licking his lips in just-laid satisfaction, and that feels so good he does it again, and again, pleasure shooting through him. Imaginary Finch watches him intently with heavy-lidded eyes, his wet lips curving into a small, smug smile. . .
John hears his own breath catch, which startles him back into situational awareness with a twitch and a splash.
“Mr. Reese?” asks Finch in his ear. “What are you doing?”
“Uh. . .actually, I’m taking a bath,” John admits, using the time-honored tactic of distracting attention from a secret by confessing a lesser one.
“Really?” Finch sounds surprised and pleased, like John’s offered him a treat—or an interesting piece of data to dissect.
Funny that he doesn’t seem embarrassed about catching John in the bath. John’s used to communal showers, close quarters, and makeshift sanitation; he isn’t self-conscious about nudity, himself. Finch, on the other hand, is into privacy and propriety and maintaining polite boundaries. . .well, except for the ways he isn’t. And really, once you’ve had your hands in someone’s blood as he’s bleeding out, how squeamish can you be about just the idea of him bathing?
“Yeah,” John confirms. Then, because he’s never thanked Finch for any of this and it’s the least he can do, he adds, “This is a pretty great tub, you know, Finch.”
“I wasn’t sure whether you’d prefer showers, but I thought it would be nice for you to have the option just in case.” Finch’s voice has a tentative note to it, but his pleasure comes through clearly. John knows the constrained, pink-cheeked little smile that goes with that voice. Come to think of it, that’s how John’s always pictured Finch reacting if he knew John was making good use of the bathtub. Nice to know his prediction was accurate.
“Yeah, I usually just shower and go, but sometimes. . .Where’d you find someone to make this thing, anyway?”
“Why, are you in the market for a second?” Finch asks. “That seems awfully frivolous, for you.”
John chuckles. “No, this one’s plenty, thanks.”
“Ah, well, then. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.”
This is a pretty hilarious conversation for John to be having with his boss, especially while he’s stark naked with his dick in his hand. Although, to be fair, Finch has never really been a boss in that sense, and at this point the whole “employer/employee” aspect of their relationship is basically a polite fiction.
“I am enjoying it.” John smirks as he languidly strokes himself, knowing Finch will be able to hear the smile his voice, keeping his breathing even so Finch won’t hear the rest of what he’s up to. “Even got myself some bubble bath.”
“Really?” Finch sounds shocked, no big surprise there. The fascinating-data tone is back when he adds, “What kind?”
“What, you want to know if I’m using the right brand?”
“No, no, not at all,” Finch protests hastily. “I didn’t—you’re quite right, that was a foolish question.”
“Well, it’s. . .” John checks the label, because he doesn’t know what the hell brand it is, he just grabbed what they had at the drugstore. “Dr. Teal’s Foaming Bath.”
“Hm.” Finch sure can put a world of snobbish disapproval into less than one syllable when he wants to.
“What?” John asks. “Not what you would have picked?”
“Well. . .de gustibus non disputandem est,” says Finch, but he’s barely even bothering to pretend to be polite, here.
“Why, what do you use?”
Finch’s pause makes John think he’s scored a hit, but then the silence extends long enough to make him start wondering whether he’s crossed a line he shouldn’t have crossed. He’s just about to say—well, he’s not sure what, but something—when Finch says, “Actually, I find Kiehl’s so-called Foaming Relaxing Bath gives the optimum combination of lasting bubbles and inoffensive fragrance. Though, if one is looking to economize, the Burt’s Bees product,” he adds, popping the Bs as though the name is painful to pronounce, “Is surprisingly passable for its price point.”
“Wow, Harold, I never would have guessed.” Relief warms John’s teasing tone. He can’t tell whether Finch is seriously giving him advice on bath products or just making shit up to play along with the joke, but either way, he is playing along. He’s not offended at John’s. . .presumption.
“That I have opinions about personal hygiene products?” Finch asks tartly, but the tartness is a put-on, John can hear the humor behind it. “Surely it can’t come as a surprise by now that I enjoy indulging in small pleasures?
“Yeah, no, I know.”
John grins, imagining Finch up to his ears in flower-scented bubbles, sighing appreciatively as the heat eases his sore muscles and joints. Taking a deep breath of the (carefully-chosen, inoffensive) fragrance and settling lower in the tub, relaxing still further, a sweet little smile on his lips. . .
A jolt of pleasure shocks a grunt out of him as his hips twitch, sending a wave almost over the lip of the tub and oh, incidentally, thrusting his cock through his tightened fist again. Shit. He must’ve sped up while he was distracted, thinking about—
“Mr. Reese? Are you all right?”
John freezes, his face heating. His cock throbs in his grip. He doesn’t dare move his hand, not even to let go.
“Yeah, Finch,” he says carefully. “I’m fine.”
There’s a pause, then Finch asks, in a tone John can’t decipher, “You’re sure?”
“Yeah. I’m sure. Nothing to worry about, Finch. Just having a bath. Nobody busting in here to kill me or kidnap me.”
“Yes. To be sure. And I’m distracting you when you’re trying to—I do apologize, Mr. Reese.”
“Hey, nothing to apologize for,” says John quickly, because the out-of-line behavior was all his. Joking about bubble bath is one thing, but using his partner/boss for non-consensual phone sex? What the hell was he thinking?
“You hear enough from me during your working hours, I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s okay, Finch. Seriously. I. . .I like talking with you. Hearing you talk.”
“Oh.” There’s a pause as Finch. . .chews that over? Something else? John wishes he could see Finch’s face, get a better read on his mood. “I. . .all right. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he says, hoping that Finch can hear the double meaning there. Making Finch feel welcome was the whole point of this conversation in the first place. Welcome to stay, welcome to whatever comfort or reassurance he was looking for. And, oh hell, there’s a triple meaning, as well, isn’t there? John might as well admit it to himself—hard to deny the evidence of his own dick—but that is not the message he wants to convey to Finch right now.
There’s silence on the line, long enough for John to start wondering if he missed something Finch said and it’s his turn to talk, or if Finch is reading his mind over the telephone, or. . .He’s just about to say something, when Finch speaks up, after all.
“Nothing. Good night. Enjoy your—good night.” And Finch cuts the line.
Well, shit. Now John really has embarrassed him. Or worse. John hopes it’s no worse than Finch being embarrassed by some inappropriate joking.
He wonders if he should call back and apologize, but no, that would probably just make things worse. Finch wants some space to smooth down his ruffled feathers. The last thing he wants is for John to come poking at him again, even with good intentions. Let him get a good night’s sleep. John will figure out some way to apologize in the morning.
He settles back in the tub and turns his attention to his cock, which is pretty hard by now and eager for more than teasing. He strokes it slowly, steadily, savoring the gradual build of arousal, the swirl of the water around his balls and ass—but he can’t lose the niggling worry about Finch.
He tells himself it’s ridiculous, he’s getting worked up over nothing. Finch is a big boy; he can handle a little embarrassment, and anyway, he’s the one who called John in the middle of the night and didn’t hang up when he realized he’d caught him in the bath.
Well, sure, but even so, jerking off while someone’s talking to you on the phone is. . .inappropriate, is the nicest word John can think of. And that wasn’t even what scared Finch off, it was the implication that John had been masturbating to Finch’s voice. Never mind that John hadn’t meant what he’d said to sound that way. Except. . .he probably had. At least a little bit. It was certainly more than a little bit true.
And on the other hand. . .Finch had been flustered, yes. Apologetic. Embarrassed, maybe, or nervous, or. . .well, John couldn’t tell, can’t tell, that’s the whole problem. But not angry. John’s almost positive he would have been able to tell if he was pissed off.
Before he can overthink it any more, he taps his earpiece to dial Finch.
Finch responds instantly: “Mr. Reese? Is there a problem?”
“No problem,” John assures him.
“Harold, wait,” John interrupts before Finch can hang up on him again.
There’s a pause, but the line’s still live; he can hear Finch breathing.
“What is it?” Finch asks. He sounds wary, but John can’t guess from his tone, whether he’s guarding fear or hope.
“Listen, Harold. . .” John starts, but now that he does have Finch listening, he doesn’t know what to say. He can’t just come out and say what he’s thinking, not just because he might be way off base, but because he and Finch don’t just say things straight-up to each other. Not when it’s important. “I got a situation here.”
“A. . .situation?” Now Finch sounds confused; John can’t blame him.
“Yeah. I’m out of bubble bath.”
The pause is a lot longer this time.
“You’re. . .I’m. . .sorry to hear that?” Finch offers eventually.
“So, I was wondering if you had any of that stuff you said you liked. You know, to spare.”
John actually holds his breath through Finch’s pause this time, hoping to hell that he’s played it right.
“I. . . yes, as it happens, I do have a bottle here,” says Finch at last, slowly, like the words are an obstacle course he’s picking his way through, blindfolded. “I. . .what do you. . . ?”
“Well,” says John, letting his voice go warm and lazy and promising, “I’d be happy to swing by and pick it up, but you’d have to disclose your location, and I know how you hate that. Also, I’m kind of. . .wet at the moment. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to bring it over here?”
Silence on the line.
Mentally cursing himself, John scrambles to give Finch an out. “Look, if you’re busy, or—”
“Not at all,” Finch cuts in, with the decisive tone he gets when he commits to a risky but necessary course of action. “I was just thinking, it would be a shame to make you get out of the tub to let me in, as you seem to be. . .enjoying your soak?”
There’s that lilt of humor in his voice, like when he talked about bath products earlier, Finch at play again, playing along again. Maybe even. . .well, given the context, it’s a pretty safe bet to count this as an example of Finch flirting, which, now, there’s a thought. Warmth spreads through John’s body, arousal and anticipation and. . .hope.
“Yeah, I am. But you could let yourself in.” In addition to whatever else Finch has up his sleeve, he has a key to John’s place that they both agreed was a sensible emergency precaution.
“Then I’ll be there shortly,” says Finch, with a funny little hesitation at the end of the sentence, as though maybe he had to stop himself from tacking on his habitual Mr. Reese.
John’s dick twitches at the thought of Harold standing over him, his hair and face damp with the steamy air, smiling down at him, calling him John.
“I trust you’ll find some way to keep yourself occupied until I arrive,” says Finch in his ear.
John doesn’t try to muffle the sigh that slips past his lips.
“Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.”