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Cold Days

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John watches Finch rub his neck absently as he walks into the library. A man like Harold didn't let himself have habits, really; the mannerisms that a regular person wouldn't even think about are carefully controlled, slightly altered for each of his personas, but John's been watching him carefully enough to know by now that that little gesture is a sure sign he's having a bad day, that he's in pain. There are always more of those in winter when, despite their best efforts to fight the cold with space heaters and thicker clothes, the library is always freezing cold.

It doesn't help that it's Christmas Eve, and the holiday season seems to be their busiest time for new numbers, jealousy and anger all reaching their peak around this supposedly happy time of the year. They rarely get more than a few minutes between solving one number’s problems and moving onto the next, most of them overlapping completely.

John has managed to get his head down for a few hours, both of them determining that there wasn't much else they could do for their newest number just yet, but it doesn't look like Finch has left his desk. John isn't sure that Harold has been home, wherever that actually is, all week. He hasn't left the library unless it's been a life or death situation, as far as John knows, not since it started snowing, claiming it was because of all their numbers that needed researching and tracking. John isn't convinced; Finch's reluctance to leave is more likely to be due to the treacherously icy sidewalks. He isn't exactly sure-footed at the best of times, and even John is having to be more careful than usual.

“Good morning, Finch,” he says softly, instead of pushing the issue. “Any developments on our numbers?”

Harold glances up at him then stands, even more stiffly than usual, and walks over to the board where their two numbers are pinned up. “It appears that there might be a connection between Mr Jenkins and Mx Foley after all…”

 


 

It doesn't take John long to finish up with the threat on Jenkins and Foley; it turned out to be an enemy of their employer who was out for revenge wherever he could take it, not something domestic (and if John's honest with himself, Jenkins had the same sort of look in his eye that John usually only sees in the mirror, he probably could have taken care of it without John's intervention). He gets back to the library just as the snow clouds give way to weak December sunlight.

John doesn't miss the empty packet of painkillers in the trash as he pads back towards Finch’s desk, where John would have sworn he hasn't moved from all afternoon if it wasn't for the wrapper. Bear trots up to greet him, licks his hand as he leans down to pet him, then they both head over to Finch again.

“Jenkins and Foley are safe,” John pauses and tilts his head slightly. “Although I wouldn't want to be their boss when they get back to work after the holidays. Any more numbers come through while I was gone?”

“No, it seems like we're finally being given a moment of peace.”

John smiles. He hasn't really celebrated Christmas in years, but after the last week of work he's looking forward to finally getting a break. He watches Harold start to tidy away the papers from the board, then go back to his desk to start closing down his computer. John heads over to the shelf where the book he'd started reading the last time they had some down time lived so he'd have something to do over whatever time they might have before the next number.

John finds the book quickly but takes a moment to watch as Finch rolls his shoulders and grimaces in the reflection in his computer screen. Even after everything they've been through together, he and Harold aren't always too open with each other, but he's genuinely concerned now, with that show of weakness so close to where John is stood. He steps back towards the desk.

Finch glances up at him. “Something else, Mr Reese?”

“Are you okay, Finch?” John says gently, leaning closer and resting a gentle hand in Harold's shoulder.

He flinches slightly, even at that light contact, then freezes, still looking up into John’s eyes, trying to read his intentions. When John doesn't let his concern waver, Finch quickly looks back to his monitor and lowers his hand back down to the keyboard.

“I'm perfectly alright, Mr Reese,” he says flatly, refuses to turn back to face him.

John lifts his hand from his shoulder and leans against the desk.

“You know, Harold,” he says conversationally. “When you hired me, you told me you'd never lie to me.”

Harold's eyes flit away from his, unable to make eye contact. He seems almost embarrassed for a minute, staying silent, then, carefully choosing his words, says: “The cold at this time of year… doesn't always agree with me,” he pauses and his hand goes below the desk to rub his hip . “The weather isn’t making it any easier.”

“When was the last time you went home?”

Finch didn’t answer. He’d promised not to lie, he’d never said he wouldn’t answer. A lot had changed between them since they first met; they’d been through too much together to be as distrustful to each other as when they first met and they were friends, not just employer and employee, but they still had boundaries.

John smiled. “You don't have to tell me where you live Harold. We can both go back to my place.”

Finch raises an eyebrow, putting more into that gesture than anybody else John had ever met. “Are you propositioning me, Mr Reese?”

John freezes. Shit . He hadn’t thought this through, he’d just been worried and he’d taken it too far… Then he saw the smile glittering in Harold’s eyes and realised that his sarcasm seemed more affectionate than biting.

He offered Harold a hand up from his desk, which he took without much reluctance for once and a slight hiss of pain as he stood. John let him set their pace and followed him to their coats. Harold wrapped his scarf around his neck silently and pushed his hat onto his head hard enough that it wouldn’t blow off. John adjusted his collar to shield his face and neck from the cold.

The wind still hit John like an unexpected wave as they left the library, even though he’d been out in it so recently. Finch move slightly closer to him, although John couldn’t tell if the movement was conscious or reflexive.

They walked close together through the snow towards the ice of the sidewalk. Finch raised his hand slightly and John let him loop an arm through his. Finch was too proud to ask for help aloud, but he knew what he needed. John wouldn’t have insulted him so much as to offer more than Harold requested.

The most difficult part of their journey turned out to be finding a cab; the weather was forcing most people out coming out on the street to try and call one down, but once they found one it didn’t take long to get back to John’s apartment. Finch was noticeably flagging as they got into the lobby even, blinking hard to try and keep his eyes open and leaning into John’s shoulder in the elevator. When they reached the apartment, he hung up his hat and coat, then immediately headed for the sofa.

“You still haven’t changed much in here,” Finch observed, looking around.

“Well, the old owner had good taste.” John called to him as he padded to the sofa. “Want something to drink to warm you up a little?”

“A cup of tea would be lovely, if you have any, Mr Reese.”

John carefully didn't mention that he kept a box of sencha green in one of his cupboards specifically for if Harold came over. So far that had only happened once since he moved in, but John was beginning to remember how it had felt to be an optimist before all hope goït beaten out of him. He got some coffee out for himself and put the kettle on the stove to boil. Harold didn't say anything else, and their silences were comfortable, John didn't feel the need to try and fill it. He just leaned back against the counter and let the steam from the kettle warm up the air around him, trying to banish the rest of the cold.

“Tea,” John said as he got closer, then stopped. In the time it had taken him to boil the kettle and make them both hot drinks, Harold had already fallen into a deep sleep. He smiled down at him affectionately. He put the mugs down on the table.

Finch barely stirred as John lifted him from the sofa as carefully as he could, being sure to support his head. It wasn’t a long walk to the bedroom, and John lay him on the bed gently, tugging off his shoes and leaving them at the other end. As Harold hummed lightly in his sleep and shifted into a more comfortable position, John wondered if he’d have let himself be this vulnerable in front of him even just a few months ago. They’d been just as busy last Christmas, but this was still the only time John had ever seen Harold asleep, aside from the time he’d fallen asleep at his desk when they’d only just started working together, the first time he'd realised that his new boss probably worked too hard.

 


 

Harold woke up preparing for the worst. The last he remembered, he'd been on John's sofa waiting for John to bring him tea, then he'd closed his eyes for a second and fallen asleep. He was anticipating his spine to be completely locked up, or even more pain than usual to hit now he was awake. It didn't. All he got was the normal, terrible but mostly bearable pain, better than he'd felt in at least a week after sleeping at his desk in the freezing library. He opened his eyes slowly and realised that he wasn't on the sofa anymore, that he was in John's bed, so that meant John had to have moved him when he was asleep. Finch gave a small smile; John had not only known but cared enough to move him here. Finch still stifled a groan as he sat up in bed and glanced around for his shoes, though.

John didn't comment about him falling asleep the way he had the night before, nd Harold was grateful. He was embarrassed enough as it was. The sunlight he could see through the window had to be mid- to late-afternoon.

“How long I as I asleep?”

“A while. You looked like you needed the sleep,” John smiled. “And don't worry about the numbers, I went out this morning and nothing tried to call.”

Finch limped over to the window. It was much nicer than the day before outside, sun finally breaking through the clouds, and he could see from John's window that a lot of the snow had started to melt.

“D’you want to head back to the library anyway?” John looked thoughtful for a second then grinned. “Or I could drop you off at your place.”

Harold smiled back. “Actually, I was wondering if you had any clothes i could borrow. You were right, Mr Reese, I do need the sleep.”

 


 

It was dark when they left John's apartment again, and even now just for take out. No phones rang as they walked past, and there was barely anyone else on the street.

Harold stepped closer to John again as they got outside.

“The snow's nearly gone now,” John said with a small smile.

Finch nodded stiffly, but didn't move away, just slid his arm through John’s like he had the day before. John smiled. He could get used to this.

“Merry Christmas, Harold.”