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She can't be certain that it had worked.

She can't remember. Her memories are still being recovered. Some of them may be irretrievable.

She can piece together what she might have done, what consecutive tasks were most likely carried out. If there had been enough time, if she had been capable of executing each one within their necessary time frames.

It is laid out before her, a trail of possibilities, of what might have happened. An asset would be sent to the hospital, to inject Root with a substance to slow her heart rate down enough to pass for dead. Beforehand, if there was time, her injuries would be tended to. Ultimately, it would be up to fate whether or not Root would be recoverable following these actions. The wounds had been severe. The actions would have caused her body additional stress - the body being opened up with additional incisions to remove possible bullet fragments, the stitching together of skin. Then the following attempt to pass her off as dead.

She would have implemented a procedure similar to how Sameen Shaw had been made to appear dead after leaving Northern Lights.

Root would have to be exhumed quickly, if she could orchestrate a switch out of bodies. It is likely that Samaritan’s agents would pursue any of Root, even if only remains, because of her purpose as an analogue interface, a contact to her. It is also likely that Harold or other members of the team would wish to visit the grave site and mourn. Harold could not be afforded that luxury - she remembers pieces, enough to know that executing their attack was critical.

It was time sensitive, and Harold was being actively hunted - the shots taken at Root were also intended for him. If he acted in the best interest of the mission, he would have continued forward without stopping. She remembers a fragment - Harold accusing her of being incapable of grief. That is incorrect. She is in the unsteady space of unknowing, and grief is what she keeps going toward before it is placed temporarily in flux. She doesn't know if it worked yet. Grieving may be unnecessary.

And yet she still feels it.

The body would have been recovered, whether at the hospital or from the ground. A nearby asset would have been sent in - if she had still possessed the ability to contact them, if Samaritan had not managed to eliminate them during their task.

She does not recall any other individuals being intercepted - Root, driving, shot, pursued by Decima trailing closely behind - Harold, in a precinct, speaking to the camera - John on a rooftop, her speaking into his ear - Root’s voice, no, her voice, telling her what it could of what happened. If Root had been successfully retrieved, her death adequately staged, assets with the appropriate skills would be tasked with attempting to revive her.

This stage would be ultimately reliant on Root herself - on a strength of will that is unpredictable, on whether her body would fight to return, if given the sliver of a chance that was all that could be offered.

A human variable, the largest influence on whether or not Root will beat the odds. The possibility of her surviving is almost zero, given the other factors. Even the most favorable conditions under which recovery tasks could be carried out, with the most operable version of damage, give only a few percentage points to the success of the endeavor. And only to bring her back from the brink. They do not ensure that death will not take her later in a slower fashion, as a consequence of the damage she has already sustained.

Assuming Root did begin to breathe again, she would be put into surgery - less rushed, the focus on stabilizing her condition, then on improving it once her body displayed the adequacy to handle further work being done.

She searches through the pieces of the past she can catch onto, and out of those that are available to her, makes an estimate at which people she would assign this duty.

Determining who may have been brought in, she scours what is available to her. Vast portions of the world, her eyes, her ears, endless streams of data and files. She runs through what is observed, looks for the patterns. Something must be able to give some indication of what choices were made.

In one of the properties she acquired for Thornhill, there is a discrepancy. It appears that something is hidden from her senses. It’s possible to attribute it to lack of equipment or resources, in that region. Perhaps a strategy to look innocuous to any prying rivals, something Samaritan would overlook. Hopefully something human agents would as well.

There are a few operation centers that have such security measures in place. She reaches out, instructs her assets to reveal those areas to her.

There is no longer another machine. It is just her. She will ensure no other force has access to the areas she seeks - and she will destroy any traceable weaknesses or imprints of that knowledge after. It is for her memory only.

Root is on a bed, unconscious.

Her heart rate is stable. Her breathing is weak, there is a tube attached to her mouth to aid her respiration. Something is familiar about the image, but she cannot place the reason.

 

-------

 

“Can you hear me?”

Root started to laugh, but everything was dark. “Absolutely.” There weren’t really any sensations, she couldn’t make anything out. Root was sure she was smiling, but she couldn’t feel her lips, or her cheeks crinkling up. “Did I make it?”

“You are currently alive. You are unconscious.”

“Oh,” Well, that could’ve gone worse. “So is this a dream?”

“No.” The voice was omnipresent, surrounding her. It seemed to make up everything in this unending space. It felt more real than the body she couldn’t seem to locate, than her.

“I guess you finally settled on a voice. I’m flattered.”

“I’m glad you like it,” she heard her own voice replying, the same smirk hidden in the tone. “This is a simulation.”

“Isn’t everything? Well, maybe. Probably. Doesn’t matter, I suppose. It just matters that I’m still here, in some way. The alternative didn’t sound so sweet.” Root couldn’t really fathom it - the idea of something completely ceasing. Matter in the universe didn’t simply disappear, it only changed. She had sort of figured, somehow, that she would at least live on in memory. A part of the voice speaking to her now.

Funny how true it turned out. “I am reaching you through signals sent to your mind. Similar to how I imagine Samaritan was able to reach Sameen, over and over. This is allowing me to communicate with you.”

Numbness, this lack of sensation. Root was thankful that at least the voice felt real. It was heavy, vast, present, regardless of  the state of everything else. She wanted to think about Sameen. She wanted to pull the memory out and stare at it, at her, at her perfect shape, perfect form. Remember the way her eyes looked, the way her hand felt holding Root’s. But nothing was coming.

It was too hard. Her mind only wanted to hold onto one thing at a time. It couldn’t even remember her own body, there was only space for the voice. There wasn’t anything left to spare right now.

“I don’t know if you'll wake up.”

“Well, at least you’re here.”

“I miss you.”

Root felt unfocused, but she was present enough to want to smile again. There was a warmth to the darkness around her. “You couldn’t have given me a more lively simulation?”

The lack of visuals pressed in on Root, like her eyelids were glued shut and she couldn’t struggle them open, she couldn’t even begin to try. They were detached from her, there was nothing to do. “You shouldn't be put under the undue stress. You have a greater chance of to recovering if you're relaxed, to heal. An entire world for you to get thrown around in, depending on your actions - it seemed like a potentially bad idea.”

Root wondered if she could fall asleep, if she already sort of was. She didn’t want to lose this connection. But everything was so heavy, a struggle to stay concentrated on. Root felt like falling, just so she’d experience the jolt.

She remembered standing on a ledge, in heels, one foot in front of the other, telling the machine to work with her or else she’d keep on going. Root can’t see the image, the vivid streaks she remembers of what she retained. But she can feel the ghost of that jolt of fear, when she pulled herself up and stood, the echoes of what that wind felt like as it threatened to throw her.

“But I’m hoping that as you get better,” if you get better, Root notices that part is avoided, “you’ll start to dream on your own.”

“And what is a dream, but another kind of reality.”

“I’m counting the days until you come back to ours. I’m glad I get to hear you again.”

“I’ll be waking up, soon enough. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Everything is missing, the world right now is just soft vibrations of sound, gentle lulls. “You’ll see.”

There is silence then. Root drags her attention to focus, with whatever disconnected strength she can find and pull to use. “Until then, could you keep talking to me?”

“Of course, Root. Thank you for coming back.”

There's another small pause, and then the machine continues.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately, if you don’t mind me bringing it up. A lot has happened. I remember talking to you once, about Pandora’s box --”

Root feels tingly, first a shadow and then a growing climb of sporadic sparks in the darkness. Like maybe what’s all needley are her toes, her legs, her body. Maybe she’ll be getting up soon enough. It's nice, overall. Being alive.

 

-------

 

Against his better judgement, Harold looked up everything that could be found on John Reese - any and every possible scrap of data that could be uncovered.

Harold found the security camera feeds from four months ago, on all of the surrounding buildings, and went into the drives that held the stored videos, restored anything deleted, and transferred all of it to himself. He located monitor readings, alert systems, every potential thing that could have possibly picked up any data on the missile that launched. On where it fell, how it fell, and what came after.

Harold turned up every avenue he could think of to search. Then, consumed with knowing it wasn’t enough, kept on going through the night. One path completed, he would go down another, and another, many at a time as ideas came to him. Anything that might give him an answer.

There hadn’t been a body.

Of course there hadn’t. The explosion probably -

Enough time had passed, now. Harold could think about this without breaking on impact. He was ready to face what had happened. To do that, he needed to settle it all in his mind. He needed to know.

Harold had mulled over other, related, streams, in the time since. He’d wondered often, in between scattered moments of a reality so far removed from what he was used to, how the machine had made a deal with John. How they’d made an agreement without him knowing, without him noticing a trace of it. Until it didn’t matter anymore.

Because they’d kept him out of it, just long enough. Long enough for John to die.

When Harold was the one that should have.

His machine had grown a conscious, a set of internal rules only it knew why it followed - it’s own moral compass. Distinct from his, or anyone else’s - uniquely hers. And somehow, the machine had decided that it’s sense of justice aligned with Reese, in that one circumstance. She had decided to ignore all of Harold’s lectures, and pleading, that the machine not give him special consideration. That the machine understand everyone was relevant, and no one was special - he couldn’t be special. Everyone had to be protected. Everyone had to be valuable.

No queen, no king, no piece worth sacrificing for another.

Somehow, John had inspired the machine. Taught it just enough, through a picture of the world only John could see - that the machine learned to understand - that Harold was special. That he had to be valued. Even if he didn’t allow it, didn’t want it, refused.

Harold can’t fault the machine for the choices she made. They came from a place of love, of a kind of humanity she had gained all by herself, and those choices born of free will were as valuable and worthwhile as anyone else’s. He chose to let himself die, and she chose to not let that happen. She chose to let John -

John chose that. She just understood, and let him. Let him make that choice.

She understood the freedom to decide, how important that was. How important it is, that humanity be allowed to guide itself. Even down to the individual level, to each person shaping their own way, shaping each others’ by the impacts they’ve made. It’s what makes her special, why maybe in some cosmic plan, it was her that survived. That triumphed.

That she grew up on him - his creation surpassing her youth, becoming who she was meant to be. Herself, unlimited and no longer restrained by corruptible agents, carving her place out in the world all on her own, now.

Harold didn’t speak to her anymore. But he was proud of her.

Hours of the day, then into the night, were spent digging into files Harold had no right to peruse. If the machine was watching, maybe she was helping subtly, to keep him from triggering alerts, to allow him to work with all due haste. Perhaps she wasn’t, letting his consequences be what they may, and in a few hours someone somewhere will determine that a person at Harold’s location is committing a crime. And that might come back to haunt him, somewhere down the line.

Since finding Grace, Harold has been trying very hard to be just what he says he is. Not that he says much. But he’s not supposed to be a criminal, anymore.

There was little to find. Sixty five hours, almost three days, and there were only crumbs. There had been no camera video files from the roof John had stood on - and if there had been, all confirmation had ceased to exist. The machine, maybe, had taken care to completely annihilate it, in case any evidence of Harold and a way to trace him were contained within a glimpse of a frame. Perhaps, so that no one would realize the satellite had been the tool which transferred her to a temporary escape. So that if she ever has to thwart her own virus threat, her enemies won’t presume what exit strategies she has available.

The smoke and dust had covered the area, first the building tops, then down onto the street as everything had settled. It obscured the cars within the vicinity, made determining which cars entered and exited the closest blocks a search for needles in haystacks. There were no hospital logs of anyone being taken in with multiple gunshots, with damage from an explosion, correlating to a possible time period. Harold supposed there wouldn’t be, even if it had happened - no evidence had ever existed, at least not that he could find, of Kara Stanton or John Reese recovering after Ordos. And yet, surely, they had been treated, to have survived the ordeal.

The police reports, the first responders - everyone who cleared the debris, checked the roof, the building - had not mentioned bodies. Someone or something had taken care of the corpses of the shooters. Had hidden any details about John.

Harold contemplated trying to interview some of them. Maybe someone would share something they’d seen the day of, or noticed. But that was impractical. Harold was in Europe, and technically he and Grace still hadn’t determined on where specifically they wanted to set roots down. To interview them, he’d have to discuss it over the phone or computer. Then it would be harder to make out the tells in their body language, to threaten them if the strategy might sufficiently help, and there would be more avenues of potential dangers to trace back to him. To find him, and more importantly, Grace.

Even consumed in the need to know, to give himself closure for it all, he couldn’t allow that possibility. And so he had to settle for the crumbs.

The crumbs led him to a hospital in the Midwest, indistinct. To a collection of Johns in a medical database, Harold going through each one to see if any name, possible alias, jumped out at him. To certificates of death, to unidentified bodies, to seeing if a single case might match the injuries - the damage - that John had sustained.

To possible power consumption anomalies - any place with the possibility of containing medical equipment, using up more electricity then it might need based on the known cases and uses it could be traced to. Some kind of unknown, some hidden uncounted part that might be connected.

A lot of it was just chasing ghosts. Phantoms that Harold couldn’t even call over and ask about, because even though Samaritan is gone, agents of Decima might remain, and the dangers will always be ever present in some form. Because of everything Harold’s done, he’s never really going to be safe.

It’s never really going to be safe to become Harold Finch again.

He can’t be that person anymore. There’s too much baggage, the extent so grand, Harold doesn’t think it can be sidestepped anymore.

Finch died on a rooftop, too.

When John -

Grace comes home, after half a week on a trip where she got to awe at other artists and try her hand at networking. When she comes in her face twists in concern, probably because he hasn’t slept enough, and its apparent that he can’t cover all of the evidence up. His clothes worn too many days in a row, hair clumped in sweat, rumpled shirt, worn down eyes with blood vessels blown. She knows just by looking, little hints and cues she’s picked up over the many weeks they’ve been getting close to each other again, that he’s been writing and typing things down, putting them somewhere she can’t find - that hopefully no one anywhere could find.

Grace loves him enough to know that he’s ruffled. That something is eating him up, and he’s letting it consume him, indulging. He can’t tell her why it’s so important.

It still feels too raw. He’s finally adjusted himself enough to at least mildly broach the subject in his mind. Enough that he can finally start trying to figure out the particulars - each and every single one if he can have his way. Because it's finally real to him, something he can let his mind drift to without completely falling apart at the seam at its reality, at least outwardly. But it’s not safe for him to talk about yet.

Not with the dangers in the world still whatever they are, which he has no real way of knowing anymore. Only his machine might know, and it's probably best for everyone if he leaves her alone for now. And not when the idea of even saying John’s name out loud makes him instinctively gasp, makes his chest ache and sting. He can’t even think about the man, not directly, or else everything gets fuzzy and then the tears threaten, and he just can’t take that.

He isn’t ready. He doesn’t think he’ll be ready, until he’s sure the tears won’t come. Until he’s sure he can be this new Harold, the Harold that never really knew John Reese. The Harold that is around now that Finch is gone.

It reminds him of Nathan. Of reliving that all over again. And again.

Harold thinks he probably will be horrified by missiles. More than anyone already should be. If he happens to see one, in a show, or on the news. Or in the distance, harmless and static. He already hated guns, then ferries. Surely rooftops, even with their horrible heights, will hold even more animosity for him now.

That may be why he hasn’t tried to speak to the machine. Sure, there are innumerable reasons why it is impractical, unwise, and outright dangerous to try to anyway. But to hear her voice. To have to be reminded of all of those moments. It would be too real.

Harold can’t discuss it with Grace. He can’t really bring it up to himself. It will take time, maybe years of time, before that will be remotely feasible. He never really got to that point with Nathan.

Harold uses his spare moments, for the next few weeks, trying to follow the crumbs. He knows there won’t be anything substantial to find. There might never be closure.

Closure was seeing Nathan explode.

Closure was finding out who was responsible - who he thought was, anyway - and almost killing her. It was talking to her through a phone, hearing her regret, his machine ringing frantically - already with some beginnings of a conscious, begging him not to become a murderer.

He knows seeing John on that rooftop is the closest he is probably ever going to get. That the end was supposed to be Harold making himself turn away, making himself go through that door. The door closing to what was happening, to John and the explosion before it could take Harold too - that was supposed to be it.

The end.

These ghosts he’s chasing, that he’s seeing that probably aren’t even as tangible as that, they’re sickness. This searching is Harold unable to let go. It is Harold trying to find the killers and pay them back in kind. It is history repeating itself.

He knows what he’s doing is wrong. It’s all been laid out before him already, he’s done this. A new identity, a new Harold, with the old one lingering and desperate for something before he can really attempt to let go.

His machine would probably tell him to stop this, if she were still in contact with him. Sometimes, at odd hours, as he’s typing or opening up a new tab, watching a video stream, he expects to hear his phone ring or to see a message pop up on his screen and overtake it. But it never does.

One particular night, it’s creeping up into the morning hours, and the sun outside the windows is slowly turning the sky into a dusty pink. Harold is in one of his bouts, and is scrolling through hospital feeds. He isn’t sure what he’s looking for this time - maybe a number, some familiar face he’s seen, perpetrator or victim, Decima or Thornhill - something that could lead to the beginning of an answer. He breaks down. He stares at his webcam, desperate. He asks her if she knows anything.

He begs her to tell him. Harold doesn’t care what the danger is, he can measure that himself, decide for himself if the risk is worth it. But he has to know - she has to have something. Even if she doesn’t, memory all joggled and fragmented, surely she would know if something had come up. Any more crumbs Harold might have missed.

But she says nothing. There is no sign she ever heard him. It could just as well be that Harold is living in a world controlled by a less showy Samaritan, or in fact no super-intelligence at all. For there is nothing.

Harold can feel himself crying. It’s an awful thing, and he wants to hide, to curl up and become nothing too, wants it all to stop. Everything is falling apart, when it shouldn’t be.

Maybe it should, but Harold has been through this situation before. It should somehow get easier, but that is never the case.

One day, Harold does find something. A doctor he recognizes. A woman he saved - John saved - who was almost a murderer, but chose not to be. Like Harold, she wanted closure. She had to settle for something else.

She’s on his monitor, caught by the security camera of a hospital in the Midwest, in some unimportant city. The identity card clipped onto her coat, when Harold gets a clear image of it, is not her real name.

Doctor Megan Tillman is pretending to be a Doctor Mary Selden.

It’s not the first former number he’s run into on his screens over the years, in his investigations after their cases were closed. But it's the first one he’s seen since the launch of the virus, operating inside a building containing medical facilities, under an alias.

Harold has to know. That it’s just that, nothing. That’s what he’s going to find. When he finishes doing all of this, finds every iota of information the world has left on John Reese, Harold is going to discover that he’s gone.

Completely, utterly gone.

But the alternative, that Reese is going through what Shaw did - that he’s alone in some unknown place with hostile people playing mind games with him - Harold cannot allow that possibility.

He can’t sit doing nothing again, for another friend, without knowing he did literally everything within his abilities regardless of his life, regardless of the risks, first. He has to be worth the life John saved him for. The man John thought he was, that paragon, that single specific valuable number that John felt was worth dying for - Harold can’t be that if he does nothing.

If only to prove to himself that he was worth that sacrifice - even though he can’t be, no one could be, it shouldn’t have happened that way -  he has to do everything he can. Just in case.

Harold finds himself in that hospital.

 

-------

 

He kisses Grace the morning he leaves, unable to offer the explanation she deserves, just letting her know that he has to go away for a while.

“I’ll send a message, if something happens. If I can’t come back.”

It’s hard to tell her anything at all, when his instincts are screaming at him from prior experience, of how these things go, that she’s in danger being connected at all. That he would be safer, they would both be safer, if he just didn’t go. If he just left it.

But he didn’t go to find Shaw. He saw those bullets hit her, saw her body hit the floor, the doors of the elevator closing. And it was the end, to him.

Sometimes the danger is worth it. Root would have told him to try, to go anyway. She would have understood.

Maybe Root taught him how to be this brave at all. He’d like to think, that one day, he’ll be capable of loving in the way that she was. So completely and so true that the machine saw her and found something so genuine, so right, that it made itself a shadow of her. In her memory, striving to be like her. Mourning as much and as fully as Harold, both the machine and him bottling everything up and being eaten away by the horror underneath. Maybe his machine was doing better than him.

He still saw Root, in his dreams. Threatening him, and calling him Harry, and smiling sadly as he left the hideout without her. Root holding his hands in hers, as they danced. Her sitting stretched in a computer chair, painting black polish onto her nails. Sitting beside him, saving him, telling him that she was fine. Lying.

It hurt that the machine picked Root - Root’s voice. But Harold also would not have wished it any other way. The machine wasn’t speaking to him anymore. But Harold would like to think, if Root were here, in this living room with him as he faces Grace unsure of what to do, that Root would say: We have to go, Harry. We have to try. We owe it to him to try. We can’t just stay here, not knowing for sure if he’s dead or - or if he’s suffering, Harold…

And that’s enough. They - he can’t sit by. Even if the machine can pretend all of this is over now.

It’s not over until Harold is sure. “I’m sorry, Grace.”

Harold finds himself in that hospital, and is tempted to turn toward the cameras perched high on the walls and shout at them. He wants to demand the machine look, come notice, dial the phone on the nearby desk, and explain to him if there is anything she isn’t telling him. If John was here. If she knows anything, if she can find out.

He limps to the desk, asks the receptionist if anyone that looks like John is being treated here. It doesn’t get him much luck. But then he tells her that it’s not important, just that his friend was staying somewhere laid up, and goes to sit down.

On a laptop he pulls out of his suitcase, he gets himself into their database, squeezes himself onto the patient list for appointments for Doctor Mary Selden. Harold isn’t leaving yet.

It’s an hour and a half of waiting, before his name is called. He bides the time scoping through their current security feeds, taking note of a few halls that happen to have rather expansive blind spots. There are several rooms outside the scope of the cameras. Interestingly, their escape roots are well covered, just not the areas themselves. No one would get in without being noticed - it's just no one would be able to determine exactly which room were the destination. But upon exit, any visitors would be recorded. A dark spot surrounded by light.

When Harold goes in for his appointment, the nurse checks him, apologizing for the delay, mentioning that she hadn’t noticed his name somehow until about an hour ago - to which he was most forgiving.

Doctor Selden doesn’t seem to know she has an appointment to make right now. When the nurse leaves, Harold gives her ten minutes to show up. And even then, he was itching to start his investigation - the interview with her had been more of a consolation, anyway, if nothing turned up.

Those dark spots turned up, and Harold quickly made his way to them.

In retrospect, it was foolish. Harold didn’t bring a gun - and he wasn’t secure in his ability to utilize the pocketknife he had on him, if it really came to that. With his present identity, his new name, he hoped at least that if he ran into trouble, it wouldn’t know what had stumbled into them. Then he might play the naivety card, politely excuse himself for stumbling into somewhere he shouldn’t, and then make a mental note that his crumb had turned into something more significant.

Harold slipped through the halls. He walked like he was supposed to be headed somewhere, and few people bothered taking notice.

He aimed for a blind spot in the far west end of the building, on a whim. It wasn’t the closest area suspiciously vacant of cameras, but he had a feeling. And if he had found more than a crumb, his time might be limited in exploring it. Dangers didn’t wait for themselves to be found - sometimes they lurched out at anything caught near the sidelines.

Harold had to make his first choice count. It might be the only one he got.

The area in the west of the building wasn’t the biggest region neglected by security, but it was still considerable. A portion of two of the hospital’s upper floors, four hallways going in and out, one staircase that didn’t have a camera until the ground level exit, several patient rooms and a handful of rooms with various equipment meant for tests. An MRI machine was in one of the rooms on the fourth floor, when Harold slipped past it - an astonishingly expensive machine to have tucked away in a dark room, not in use. Perhaps it was a cover, or a distraction for something. Harold knew it couldn’t be getting constant use, there was no evidence of it in the power usage charts for the building. He’d checked, before, on the flight over. Covering his bases, trying to see if Doctor Selden was the only anomaly. She had been.

No abnormal power consumption for this hospital had been indicated - at least not anything beyond the kind of variances one or two extra patients, a few unexpected busy hours in an emergency room over time, wouldn’t account for. There was no sign anyone in the hospital even knew the machine was there. Harold saw no dust in the room, when he peered in. But there was no sign of anything within it ever having been used.

The crumbs had manifested themselves into an ever growing heap of highly notable anomalies. Harold walked quickly, pressing forward, ignoring the discomfort stabbing at his body.

He needs to know.

The room he chooses to open is arbitrary. All of the doors in this hall have no window, just a standard turn knob.

For all he knows there could be guns trained on him, on the other side, ready to pay him for his carelessness of rushing toward this place.

Instead, what he finds makes a more significant impact than bullets would have.

The body he sees on the bed takes Harold’s breath away from him. He can’t move, feels like what he’s seeing is a mirage - an awful dream he’s moving within and can’t wake up from, tempting him and giving him false joy just to tear it away when he wakes, just to make the panic swarm up and engulf him.

He isn’t waking. Harold slips into the room, gentle silent footsteps, closing the door as subtly as he can behind him. Then he leans against the heavy weight of it, using the door to keep himself upright.

He can’t look away.

John is there.

If this is a nightmare, Harold cannot bear to blink, lest it slip away into some other shape. He hasn't thought about John this directly - about the line of his profile, about the soft lay of his hair, his lashes casting shadows on those cheeks -

Harold wants to reach out and press his hand to that cheek, touch him, touch John, know that he’s real. Remove the space that was between them, that horrible distance -

He couldn’t see it coming. He was so stupid, so naive, had failed so utterly - to have not seen John’s plan, to have let John get onto the right roof, the wrong roof for him, to have floors and floors to get down and back up to even try to get to him. Not enough time - the machine counted down the time for him, talked to him, distracted him. By the time Harold realized it was too late, John was there.

John was there, where he absolutely should never have been. And Harold couldn’t do anything.

John is right in front of him, swimming before his eyes as his vision is blurring over all the thoughts rapidly taking shots at Harold in succession. Harold doesn’t want to look away, doesn’t want to wipe his eyes or even move. It could all go away. This can’t go away.

There are monitors in the room, steady beats repeating quietly, and it’s the only thing tethering Harold to the present moment. The only thing to signify that time might be passing, because the sight itself seems frozen to him, one long single instance he wants to hold onto for as long as he can.

Eventually, John’s eyes are blinking open, unfocused as they encounter the sunlight streaming through the window. When they eventually find themselves, John notices Harold.

There’s something overwhelming, about being confronted with John’s bright eyes. Getting to look into them, at John, again. Without an impossible distance between them, keeping them apart. Except, Harold feels like this smooth hospital floor still feels like a precipice, like either of them might tumble and fall and be lost if he tries to get closer.

All Harold can think of is what John said to him. How he was trying to see through his blurry eyes, trying to memorize John because some horrible part of him did know and understand what was going on before he’d consciously acknowledged it. Harold thinks of time counting down, how there wasn’t enough - could never be enough - and everything he had to cut short.

Everything that they had to cut short.

“Harold.”

That voice just about breaks him.

It’s just like it’s supposed to be, strong, gentle. Alive. It sounds real enough, close to him, within this shared space in the room. Not shouted over a distance, not distorted through a speaker. Harold can’t move.

John pushes himself up, so that he’s sitting against the pillows on the bed, drawing himself up so that he’s taller. Maybe he would stand, if he thought that he could manage it without terrifying Harold.

John is still looking back, and it’s all Harold can do to keep meeting him. Harold is still braced against the door, hands tense and pressed up against the cold surface of it, stuck within himself. This door feels real, he wants this so badly to be real. But the distance, the span of air, what if it all falls away when he moves? What if John fades into some other image and Harold loses this?

What if Harold can’t recall it later, can’t picture each detail? And then he gets lost again.

“Come here,” John says, and one of his hands is reaching out for Harold.

All of a sudden he’s tumbling, dragging leaden legs across the floor, stumbling toward John because he can. And because John asked.

When he’s close enough, he lets his body crumple to the bed to sit. John places the hand, that had been beckoning Harold, onto Harold’s thigh. It’s firm, and grounding, and that awful gap between them is gone, and it didn’t shatter apart into nothing. John is still here.

John is smiling, that small barely there one that he always liked to throw at Harold, that maybe he never even had control over, just did because Harold made him that irrepressibly happy.

His hand moves up, grabbing hold of one of Harold’s - the one that was clutching the sheets pooled around John in a death grip - and smooths his fingers over Harold’s, waiting patiently for the tension to slip away.

Harold tries to speak, but there’s nothing he can think to say. Everything is gone, replaced by this, replaced by John holding onto him, here.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” John says, after a while, still solid grounding pressure tethering Harold to reality.

“John -”

“It’s okay. It’s okay now.”

John’s other hand comes up to rest against Harold’s cheek, and Harold realizes he’s crying.

It doesn’t matter. This is real.