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The Direct Approach (Love, Fur, and Rockets)

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Harold was re-reading Turing's Treatise on the Enigma, the nostalgia bringing a faint smile to his face, when the sound of footsteps alerted him to Reese's return. Bear made a questioning whine and—unusual—didn't rush out to greet John, which was enough to make Harold rise to meet him.

The sight that confronted Harold was both alarming and humorous. John's hair stood up in an uncharacteristically wild fashion, he had mud streaked on his face and what appeared to be faint scratches on his cheek, and he was cradling—

"Is that a kitten?" Harold said, shocked. It was. A tiny black ball of fluff with brilliant green-blue eyes.

Reese grunted an affirmative and shuffled off toward the back room without another word. Harold followed, perturbed, Bear trotting to join them.

"Mr. Reese, we already have a dog—at your behest, I might add. The Library is not a shelter for wayward animals."

Reese pulled a towel from the rack and spread it on the counter, then gently laid the kitten down and started wiping mud and dirt from the kitten's fur with the corner of the towel. The tiny thing couldn't be more than six weeks old, and it started to purr quietly, its little paws batting at John's fingers.

Oh, dear.

"John. We have no idea how Bear would react to having a kitten around. The books—"

"Bear wouldn't hurt a little kitten. Would you, Bear?"

Bear woofed on cue. Harold rolled his eyes.

"Nevertheless. What on Earth possessed you to bring home a kitten?"

John finally looked at Harold in the mirror. "I was doing the surveillance on Mr. Grillo; by the way, it looks like he has a poker game planned. I'm guessing someone's going to crash it and make a grab for the stake."

"That doesn't explain the creature."

John looked down at the kitten and smiled ruefully. "I was observing Grillo's apartment from across the street in Central Park, and I heard a squeak. She'd gotten stuck up a tree. She kept squeaking the entire time, so when I finished, I climbed up and got her down."

"Hence the scratches," Harold said disapprovingly. "You'll have to apply ointment. There's no telling where those claws have been."

"Up a sycamore, I'm pretty sure," John said. "Anyway, she cried for hours, but her mom never came, so what was I supposed to do?"

"There are such things as shelters," Harold said, but one look at John's gentle fingers ruffling through the thick, dark fur, and Harold knew it was a lost cause. "I suppose...most book stores have a cat. Why not a library?"

John looked up and grinned, a rare, full smile, and Harold was lost. "Fine, fine," he said. "But you have to take care of the litter. And bring in the food. And amuse her. Kittens can be a handful."

"Sure, Finch. Sure." There was subtext there, but Harold was too busy watching John's gentle hands pet the soft fur over and over while the kitten's brilliant eyes slipped shut.


Bear, of course, fell in love.

Harold should have expected it. The kitten presented far too entertaining a mystery. First, because when they brought her home from the vet, she had a soft cone around her neck, and Harold and John kept her sequestered in the crash room until she had the sutures from her neutering removed. Then, they introduced her for brief periods to Bear to acclimate the two.

At first, Bear sniffed her so hard he almost inhaled her, and the kitten tried to swipe Bear's nose with her needle-tipped claws. After a day or two, Bear endeavored to cavort with the kitten, but he quickly learned if he bounced around too much, she would go flying. On day three, Harold saw Bear pretending to bite her little paws and nudging her with his nose until she fell over. Repeatedly. Later, he seemed afraid to lie down on his dog bed for fear of squashing her, so Harold lifted the kitten so Bear could lie down, then planted her between Bear's paws. They both fell asleep, and finally, Harold could work in peace.

John engaged himself in saving Victor Grillo's poker game from the robbers. Harold heard some pointed grunts and hollers through the earpiece, and John came back looking self-satisfied and sporting a bruised cheekbone to go along with his fading scratches. Harold tsked and insisted on more Neosporin and an additional ice pack, which John bore with ill grace until the kitten stumbled over and endeavored to climb up his pants leg.

"Looks like she's settling in." John reached down with his free hand and cradled her up into his lap, his other arm resting along the top of the couch so he could prop the ice pack against his face. "She's got your eyes, you know."

"Excuse me? She has your eyes; anyone can see that." Harold turned back to his screen. "My eyes are blue."

"I meant, curious all the time. Big and curious," John said softly, and Harold sneaked a peek to see him staring down at the cat and rubbing her chin, a gentle smile on his face.

Harold swallowed. Maybe if he curled up in John's lap, he'd rub Harold's chin as well.

Oh, dear.

"You didn't tell me how it went," Harold said. "I need it for my report."

"Right." John dropped the ice pack and lifted the kitten closer, making an apologetic noise when the kitten complained. "I came in through the janitor's entrance and went up the stairs to wait by the elevator. When the doorman's cousin—and you were right, he was the leak—came out, he had a buddy with him. I took care of both of them and grabbed their radio. The doorman was on the other end of the line, asking what was up. I called in Fusco, and he arrested all three of them. Grillo never even found out about it." John flipped the kitten onto her back, and she stretched all four paws. The grin on John's face spoke of helpless enchantment, and Harold had to suppress a pang.

"It's my turn with her," he said, and John looked up, raising an eyebrow.

"I thought you had to write your report?"

"It's all but entered." Harold reached out, and John rose to his feet smoothly to put the kitten in his hands. She was all fluff and warmth, a vibrating chiaroscuro cloud. Harold felt a smile tugging at his mouth. "She seems to like me."

"Of course she does," John said, his voice very close. He leaned over Harold's shoulder, his hot cheek next to Harold's. "Touch her paws."

"Why?" Harold did as asked, delighted when the claws curved around his fingertip without scratching.

"We need to get her used to it so we can clip 'em later."

"You seem to know a lot about this."

John shrugged. "Had some when I was a kid."

"Ah." Enjoyable to learn something new about John, something not recorded as useful data. John had pets. John knew how to raise a kitten.

John knelt next to him and watched him pet the kitten with a fond expression. Harold bent his head, hiding his blush. "We had kittens, too," Harold found himself saying, and bit his lip.

"Oh?" John hid his curiosity poorly.

"Yes." Harold didn't say more, but he knew that revealed plenty. The farmhouse used them for pest control, not as pets, and Harold never grew close to any single one in particular. He was too busy with his birding, and in fact, held cats to be a natural enemy.

"Feral and outdoor cats are terrible to the environment," he said now. "They're the leading cause of death to birds in the US. They kill over two billion a year."

"Then I guess it's a good thing we took in little Vinnie here."

"Vinnie?" Harold said, pulling her away from John's petting fingers. "You can't seriously be considering 'Vinnie' an appropriate name for this pretty little miss."

"I found her while surveilling Vincent Grillo. You could say he saved her life."

"That's ridiculous." Harold stared in disbelief at John's smirk.

"And we saved Vinnie's life in turn, so it's a nice reminder," John said, rising to his feet to retrieve his ice pack.

Harold blinked, mulling it over as John went to the kitchenette. When he returned, Harold said, "You may have a point. But... 'Vinnie?'"

"Vin?" John smiled. "It'll grow on you."

Bear pawed at Harold's knee, begging him to put the kitten down so they could play.

Harold sighed.


Harold appeared to have engaged in a battle of wills with Reese, all unknowing. The name of the game was "who can bring home the best toy?" and the ultimate prize was Vinnie's affections.

Harold, of course, was winning. How could he not? John went out most of the time to do surveillance or actively pursue the numbers, while Harold sat in the Library tasked with information gathering, strategizing, asset coordination, and playing keep-away with the kitten. On the occasions when he did go out to take out a security system or adapt a shredder into a scanner, he would return to the office with yet another mouse on a stick.

Or the current favorite, a skunk-bird. Or perhaps it was a zebra-possum. Honestly, Harold didn't know what the designers intended the creature to be, only that Vinnie enjoyed tossing it in the air and kicking it with her back claws before licking it incessantly.

"Where did you find that?" John said. "I thought I'd already cleaned out the pet store on 34th."

"I have my sources, Mr. Reese. And aren't you supposed to be helping Detective Carter gather evidence on Mr. Skomer?"

"Skomer turned himself in. Pled out," John said with satisfaction.

"Hmm. What a coincidence."

"Yup," John said, pulling something bulky out of his pocket and flicking open his knife to cut the plastic off.

"What is that—another toy? Honestly, John. We're spoiling her rotten, you do realize it."

"She's a growing girl. She needs mental stimulation," John said sagely and separated the toy from the packaging.

"Is that a laser pointer?"

"Yup." John aimed it at the floor, and Vinnie went on point, her ears quivering, her tiny tail lashing back and forth, and leaped from between Bear's paws to go tumbling after it.

John laughed out loud, his voice husky and delighted, and Harold's heart cartwheeled in his chest.

"She's ridiculous," Harold said, but he was looking at John, at the grin on his face. The man so rarely laughed, but then, neither did Harold. Right now, though, they both chuckled openly at Vinnie's antics, and the way Bear pranced as she tumbled around.

The laser clicked off after a while, and Harold looked up to find John staring at him, his eyes soft.

"What?"

John shook his head. "Don't want to wear her out."

"All right. I...was planning on ordering dinner, if you don't mind picking it up."

"Of course. Whatever you like, Harold."

Harold blushed for no reason whatsoever and turned quickly to gather the sheaf of menus from the filing cabinet.

"Indian, I think, Mr. Reese. Perhaps a nice Channa Madra, and I know you like Tikka Masala. Paneer or chicken?"

"Paneer," John said. Harold heard him opening the closet door to get his coat and the familiar rustle of him swinging it on. The long coat was one hundred percent cashmere, an extravagance Harold was only too glad to lavish on Reese soon after meeting him.

By the time John returned with their order, Harold had set the table with their few dishes and silverware and put out some bottled water. Vinnie was asleep between Bear's paws on their bed, a picture that, by now, Harold had taken countless photos of and sent to their small circle of friends, and yet he couldn't resist taking one more.

"This smells great," John said as he finished opening their take out and sat down. He was right; it smelled divine. They both set to eating, steeped in spices and sauce and the delicate combinations of flavors.

"They seem happy," John said eventually, nodding to Vinnie and Bear.

"They are. Quite the pair," Harold said. "Although, I'm not sure Vinnie realizes how lucky she is Bear is such a patient fellow."

"Oh?" John raised an eyebrow, napkin halfway to his lips. "You don't think Vinnie is testing him on purpose?"

"Yes! She's provoking him. She keeps doing things she knows will annoy him."

"And he takes it," John said, a faint smile on his lips.

"I'm not sure I'd take having my tail pounced on with such aplomb," Harold said, then frowned when John laughed and stole the last of the naan.

"I dunno; you're a pretty tolerant guy, Harold," John said. He nibbled on his bread with even white teeth.

Harold scoffed. "I can be quite passionate when provoked."

John coughed, and Harold said, "Be careful! Don't choke."

"I'm fine, fine." John drank some water. "I know you're a dangerous man, Harold. It's part of why I like you so much." John flashed a grin.

"Oh, now you're just teasing."

"Not at all." John leaned forward. "I like that you're dangerous, and that you care, and that you've dropped off the grid to devote all that you are to people no one else cares about." He looked away, clearing his throat, while Harold stared. "I guess I should call it a night," John said. "Thanks for dinner; it was great." He stood and started gathering up the empty containers.

"John..."

"I'm trying Vinnie on a new kibble, so if her stools go soft, let me know." John went to the kitchen, Harold following wordlessly behind.

"Good night," John said when he finished cleaning up and put on his jacket.

"Good night," Harold said and watched from the gate as John strode away. Harold then went back to the couch and plucked up Vinnie and sat down. Bear immediately came over to rest his chin on Harold's knee. Harold rubbed Bear's ears with one hand and Vinnie's with the other.

"Well," Harold said. "That was interesting."

Vinnie started cleaning his thumb in response. Harold let her tongue rasp against his knuckle for a while before tugging away his fingers to tickle her belly. He asked her seriously, "Do you think I'm a fool?"

She stopped kicking at his hand and looked up at him with John's blue-green eyes.

"No, that's true," Harold acceded. "And he's been here almost every night since you arrived, even if there isn't a number. So there's that." Harold ruffled the every-so-soft fluff just behind her ears.

Bear whined, and Harold said, "Very well." Bear jumped onto the couch so he could rest his head on Harold's good leg and stare at Vinnie, who licked his nose.

Harold ventured, his voice hushed. "I don't know what he's thinking; I'm hardly a prize."

Bear yawned widely and nudged him for petting. Harold obliged, rubbing Bear's soft ears between his fingers.

"In any event, it's in his lap."

Vinnie closed her teeth around his thumb.

"Stop that." Harold tapped her nose. "Violence is never the answer. Or, seldom." Harold sighed. "I suppose it's my turn to say something. I just...feel like a coward."

Vinnie purred under his palm. Bear had fallen asleep.


Eleanor Pheng, their new number, lived in an artist's loft in Red Hook nowhere near any public transportation, so Harold was rewarded with the sight of John in full motorcycle leathers as he traveled back and forth between the Library and Pheng's neighborhood.

He returned from one such trip carrying a brown paper-wrapped package that he dropped on Harold's computer table like a dead bird. When Harold unwrapped it—much, much later, after John once again took off on a lead—it was to find it was, indeed, a bird. A beautiful, impressionistic painting of an American goldfinch sitting on a branch. The work was by Pheng. John had probably acquired it while nosing around the artist's enclave in Red Hook.

Harold held it up to show Vinnie, who looked distinctly unimpressed.

"You have no appreciation for art," Harold said, carefully walking the painting around to find a strategic spot for it. Perhaps over by the window, it would catch some natural light. Yes, perfect. He'd ask John to put up a hook when he returned.

"I suppose you might be right after all," Harold said as he sat down to his tea. "He brought me a gift." He took a sip. "Of course, I give him gifts as well." Harold coughed in surprise. Perhaps he was an idiot. "Well, that puts a different spin on things, doesn't it?"

The idea held excitement, but a great deal of trepidation as well. Harold had no romantic skills to speak of.

"Should I buy him a new motorcycle? I think...no, he seems to enjoy the one he has. Or perhaps some new leathers." Harold's face heated at the thought of seeing John trying on new leather chaps for him, modeling each pair while Harold watched. "That's...a possibility. I'll offer anyway."

Bear gave a reproachful whine.

"Is it time for our walk? Well, come on." Harold got out Bear's leash and attached it, then worked Vinnie into her tiny harness. She squirmed a little but put up with the contraption with good grace. Together, they all went downstairs. Harold carried Vinnie through the rough parts of the street until they got to the dog park, and then he released Bear to play and gave Vinnie her paces on the leash. A curious Weimaraner came over to sniff Vinnie, but she arched her tiny back, fluffed her tail, and hissed, and he quickly decided to go elsewhere.

"Good girl," Harold said with satisfaction. Harold's phone chirped, and he tapped his earpiece. "Go ahead, Mr. Reese."

"Finch." Oh, my. John's voice sounded very hoarse. "Ms. Pheng's stalker turned out to be Jay Boyd, just like you suspected. Fusco is taking Boyd into custody as we speak."

Harold overheard Lionel saying, "Fusco is laughing his ass off at Wonderboy, is what he's doing."

"Thanks, Fusco," John said, dry as ever. His voice dropped. "I'm coming back to HQ. Would you mind laying down some newspaper by the front?"

"Newspaper." Harold shook his head.

"Yeah. I'll explain when I get back."

Though Harold burned with curiosity, he let it go, instead of doing as John asked and spreading some old newspapers at the back entrance to the Library. After putting some fresh towels in the bathroom, Harold sat in the downstairs break room with a slim volume in hand—Verne's From the Earth to the Moon—and commenced to read with one ear on the hallway. He quickly lost himself in the adventure, and it seemed but a moment before he heard a step in the papered doorway and then the clunking of locks. Harold rose and stepped into the foyer just as the security measures beeped, and John appeared.

"Oh, dear. Mr. Reese." Harold was quite speechless. Brilliant violet paint coated John's face. It splashed diagonally across his leather jacket and white shirt, over his neck, right cheek, and into his hair. He looked both utterly ridiculous and strangely compelling, like an artwork come to life.

His eyes, always brilliant, glared green at Harold from beneath the bright purple, daring him to laugh.

"Thanks for the newspaper," was all John said, and he started to strip.

"Ah," Harold said. He felt glued to the spot, watching the leather jacket and pants drop to the newspaper, followed by the white shirt and undershirt until John stood there in nothing but a pair of boxer-briefs and a splash of purple paint.

The paint made such a lovely contrast to the natural brown of John's skin that Harold stood utterly entranced. It was also his first time seeing John fully undressed since the CIA tried to kill him. It was evident how well John was doing, physically. He was in beautiful shape.

"Harold?" John said, his gruff voice sounding awed. Harold looked up and met his eyes, warmer even than they were when observing Bear or Vinnie.

"I'm so sorry; you must be cold," Harold said, and stepped out of the way to wave him past. Harold saw John's expression go stiff and winced inwardly. "I've set out towels and soap in the downstairs bathroom."

"Thanks," John all but growled. Harold was unable to stop himself from watching as John passed him with bare feet, his muscular thighs flexing as he stalked away.

Harold slid his book into his jacket pocket and slowly made his way upstairs. Bear greeting him at the gate, and Harold rubbed his head and offered him a treat in thanks for the warm welcome.

"I'm glad you're happy to see me, at least," Harold said, stroking his soft ears. "Where's Vinnie?" Harold went over to the couch and found her curled up on the cushion. He touched her fluffy stomach fur, and she made a soft questioning sound before rolling over to her back to stretch, her small paws splaying like starfish. "Oh, that's adorable," Harold said. "You stop that right now." Pulling out his book, he allowed her to climb onto his lap, her claws making pinprick warnings through his woolen slacks.

"This is a brand new Nick Torres," Harold remonstrated. "Please mind the claws." He touched the pad of one of her paws and marveled at the soft fur between her toes and her implicit trust. "We'll have John trim them later like he does Bear's."

At hearing his name, Bear lifted his head then suddenly sat up, directing his attention to the doorway.

Harold glanced over to find John watching them. His expression was perfectly neutral, but his eyes were soft with a look that made Harold's heart race.

"Hello, Mr. Reese," Harold said. "Care to join us?"

"I don't want to interrupt you," John said. "You seemed to be having an important conversation." The corner of his mouth lifted slightly, and how Harold wished to see that broad, delighted smile of his, so often hidden.

"We were discussing the all-important subject of personal grooming," Harold said haughtily.

John coughed a laugh, lifting a hand to his mouth. "I'll buy some clippers," he said, his eyes twinkling. He came over and sat down, choosing the low chair just opposite Harold, where Harold could see him comfortably.

It was typical of John to accommodate Harold's disability wordlessly and in ways both big and small. For example, fetching him his tea in the winter so the cold wouldn't exacerbate the stiffness in Harold's spine and hip. Or offering an arm at just the right time or dropping it quickly on the occasions when Harold ignored it. And helping Harold set a pillow under his legs and bringing him his laptop table so he could keep functioning despite the pain on his worst days.

And then one fateful time, Harold was in so much pain that John offered to rub his sore neck. Root had kidnapped Harold and drugged him, so he supposed extreme measures were appropriate. She'd also bruised, cut, and battered him, and he'd ended up on the cold floor of a train station.

John took him to a secure location, drew a hot bath, and turned his back so Harold could disrobe. John then offered a hand in lieu of the support bar Harold would have preferred, but the haven of hot water was worth the embarrassment. Harold was beyond caring.

Afterward, John offered him some over the counter pain killers with a shrug of apology, and said, "I can get you some ice. Or give you a rub down with some Tiger Balm."

"Oh, that—" Harold stopped himself just in time, but John raised an eyebrow, inviting him to finish. "That would certainly help," Harold said.

John nodded, looking as calm as ever, but he failed to meet Harold's eyes while Harold took off his robe and settled on the armchair in nothing but the pajama bottoms the hotel provided.

"Tell me how much pressure to apply," John said. Harold could hear him rubbing his hands together briskly with the motel lotion. It smelled faintly of sage.

"Oh, I will, I promise you," Harold said, and heard a huff of laughter.

John's warm hands rested on his neck.

To be truthful, Harold remembered very little of that back-rub. He remained in a state of heightened awareness throughout, his nerves tingling, his body yearning. He heard John breathing harshly a time or two, and his own body tightened in response, but this was neither the time nor the circumstance to pursue such a possibility, so Harold relaxed as best he could, and enjoyed the inherent implications.

He'd enjoyed them a great deal in the privacy of his room over the time since, but now, looking into John's fond expression, his soft, imploring eyes, Harold found himself paralyzed.

"John." "Harold." They spoke simultaneously, and then John said, "You go ahead."

"No, you, please."

"What are you reading?"

"An old favorite." Harold tilted the cover so John could see. "From the Earth to the Moon. Jules Verne."

"Is that the one where the guy builds a space gun to shoot himself to the moon?"

"Impey Barbicane, yes. More like a cannon, actually."

"I liked his direct approach," John said, an ironic smile on his face.

"Well, I examined Verne's calculations for the charges back when I was in college, and he wasn't far off."

"Genius," John said softly, and Harold fought a blush at his look.

"You said you'd explain the paint," Harold said, changing the subject. He stroked Vinnie's silky fur. She slept so deeply she didn't even purr.

John leaned back. "I worked the building across the street from Ms. Pheng. That's where I met the artist I commissioned your goldfinch from." John smiled, and Harold smiled back, startled. "It gave me an in for being around the building."

"It's a lovely painting. I don't think I thanked you properly." And a commission for him. Of course. Harold felt his face redden.

John nodded. "Anyway, I clocked three wireless cams facing the windows to her apartment. So, I used the app you gave me to trace the wireless signal back to Jay Boyd, another artist living in her building." John scratched at his head. He still had some faint flecks of purple trapped in his hair and eyelashes, but Harold didn't say anything.

"I take it he resisted when you went up to talk to him."

John shrugged, his fingers tapping on his knee. "I just wanted to ask him his views on peeping Toms. He happened to be mixing paint at the time."

Harold suppressed a smile; not well enough, because John scowled, saying, "I liked that jacket. "

"I could buy you another."

John ducked his head. "You've given me plenty, Finch. I'll take it to the cleaners; maybe they can get the paint out."

Harold let it lie. He'd simply find out what size and brand and buy John a replacement.

"I suppose I should get going," Harold said regretfully. "Are you taking Bear and Vinnie tonight, or am I?" He'd need to call one of his drivers if that were the case.

John looked up. The vibrant blue-green of his eyes momentarily arrested Harold's thoughts.

Then John licked his lips and said roughly, "Maybe you could take all of us home."

Harold's breath stopped, his heart racing to match his thoughts. "Mr. Reese, I don't know what you mean."

"Don't." John raised his hand. "Please, Finch. I can't keep pretending."

"I'm not asking you to," Harold said stiffly.

"Aren't you? At first, I thought I was kidding myself. But I'm not, am I?"

"John, I can't..." Harold started breathing hard. "I don't find it facile to respond in situations like this."

"No, I understand. Me, either." John laughed shakily. "I've been a coward at heart when it mattered most. But I'm trying to change. And I'm a patient guy; I can wait. I'm just hoping for a reason to." He swallowed, his expression pained. "Just tell me to wait, and I will."

Harold's heart turned over painfully while his mind raced through a dozen panicked scenarios. John knew so little about him. He couldn't risk it. But, oh, how he wanted to. His throat locked between the two possibilities.

After a long moment of silence, John dropped his eyes and rose to his feet. Bear gave a questioning whine as John headed to the doorway.

"See you tomorrow, Finch," John said and left.

Covering his face with his hands, Harold took a sobbing breath. What had he done? If he'd only spoken. What a coward he was. He'd ruined everything. All for want of a single word.

"Wait," he said finally, choking on it. "Oh, please, wait."

"I will," John said.

Harold raised his head painfully fast. John stood in the doorway holding Bear's leash.

Harold flushed hard. "I..."

"Like I said: I'm a patient guy, Finch." John smiled painfully.

"I don't want to be patient," Harold replied, his blood rushing. He gently displaced Vinnie, to her faint protest, and stood up. "I'm not a patient man, John. Just a foolish one."

John came forward. "I don't blame you for being cautious, Harold. I'm not a good risk."

"Oh. Oh, my dear." Harold's chest was painfully tight. "I'm not worried about you. The opposite, in fact. You're everything that is true."

John's expression, usually unreadable, was achingly open. "Then, why?" He reached out for Harold's hand, and Harold was helpless to refuse him. John's fingers were strong, his palm calloused. His hand defined security for Harold. It had for a long time, whether it held a gun or Harold's hand.

"To tell you the truth, I don't know what I feared," Harold said. He squeezed John's hand, and John drew him closer. "Ghosts, I suppose."

"Ghosts aren't real," John said. "You should know that."

Harold raised his other hand to touch John's cheek, right at the spot where a dimple appeared during one of John's rare smiles. "I do know that," Harold said. And even if they did, he supposed John would slay them for him.

John leaned in and kissed him then, his mouth warm and gentle as if he feared to show too much passion. Harold clutched the back of his neck and pulled him deeper, and John responded with satisfying alacrity. His arm curved around Harold's waist under his jacket, brushing tantalizingly low, and he plunged his tongue into Harold's mouth.

Harold groaned deep in his chest, his nerves afire, his heart pounding with excitement and longing. It had been too long since he'd felt this—too long since he'd let himself. From John's deep sounds of pleasure, the same was true for him.

Bear woofed.

"It's all right, Bear," John said, pulling back a bit. John's face was flushed as he said, "He's worried I'm hurting you."

"I'm fine, Bear," Harold said, leaning his head on John's shoulder and giggling a little.

John laughed too, sounding as nervous as Harold. "Maybe we can take this to the other room," John said.

"An idea with merit." Harold paused. "Or...I could do as you suggested and take you all home with me."

John released him, taking a step back. "Are you sure? I told you I'm willing to wait."

"But I'm not." Harold tugged down his vest and straightened his collar. "If we are to fail, let's begin now."

"That's the spirit," John said, smiling, his dimple in full evidence.

"You don't believe we'll fail?" Harold turned and gathered Vinnie from her nap.

"I believe in you, Harold," John said.

"I know, but..." Harold put Vinnie in the little carrier bag they kept next to the couch.

"What?" John said. Bear was leashed and seated at his feet when Harold turned. Harold handed John the bag and took the end of Bear's leash, and together they headed toward the stairs.

"Your faith in me is appreciated but may be misplaced," Harold warned. "I do have ghosts."

John offered his arm on the stairs, and they descended slowly. "Considering everything else we've dealt with, what are a few ghosts?"

"Your optimism continues to alarm me."

"Your pessimism is half of your charm."

"I dread to think what you imagine the other half is."

"You'll have to wait to find out," John said, taking Bear's leash so Harold could set the alarm. "But at least part of it is your love of animals."

Harold turned and gave him a stare of disbelief. "Nonetheless, this had better be the end of our particular menagerie."

"Oh, I don't know, Finch," John said, once again offering his arm as they stepped down into the street.

"How do you feel about birds?"

 

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February 22, 2020
San Francisco, CA