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walk beside still waters

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Gasoline singes his nostrils, another minute and Harry thinks he’ll pass out. Or maybe he’ll just asphyxiate; die here and now, and wouldn’t that be convenient? He’s been doing so many jobs for the mob, he might as well do this too.

“Gonna make an example outta you,” says Luca, half hidden in shadow. Even with his head swimming, Harry can still feel the mobster’s eyes piercing him. The hatred digging into him like a hot knife.

A few days ago, Luca would never be so brazen. He’d be waiting for Harry to take the lead, or looking to Jean for approval. 

But Luca’s not the one with two guns pointed at him; Harry reasons being on the winning side would make anyone confident.

Harry tips his chin up. "You're making a mistake, Luca. I’m not your guy."

“Nah.” The cigarette bobs, teasingly loose between Luca’s lips. “You made the mistake, pig. You’re the only asshole who knew about the plan. How the hell did the RCM know we were gonna hit that bank?"

Harry takes a deep breath. He thinks he tastes bitter gasoline on his tongue, and tries not to gag. "The pigs have been wanting to take us down for a while. Of course they’ve got eyes on us, Luca.”

“Yeah, asshole, I think you’re their eyes.”

“How…” Harry wheezes. The handcuffs binding him to his chair are painfully tight around his wrists, cutting skin and circulation. His vision swims from the fumes, and when he focuses, it's to two handguns pointed at his chest. Discomfort and panic speed up his heart rate, melting into a burst of energy clamoring for self preservation.

Harry wants to run, he wants to scream and flail and run his mouth until his throat is hoarse or he stumbles upon a combination of words that will get him out. But a small voice tells him to sit tight; he needs to be calm.

So Harry takes another deep breath, chokes on it, and tries not to cry.

"How was I gonna get all the details to the RCM in eight hours, Luca? C'mon, I'm your guy - I was with you since the robbery was planned. When would I even talk to the pigs?"

Luca huffs; an angry noise he makes when he doesn’t know what to say. The mobster glances to his right, where Jean has been quietly observing from the shadows. Harry doesn't need to see him to know how tense and unhappy he is.

"It is a lot for one person to coordinate," Jean agrees coolly. Then, in a firmer tone, he asks, "Maybe the pig wasn't working alone?"

“Maybe,” growls Luca, as if his mind wasn’t already made up, as if he hadn’t spent the past several months letting Harry and Jean think for him. There’s a short silence, then Luca shifts in place and turns to Jean, waiting for direction.

“Should we make sure, boss?” Jean offers, and Harry stifles a snort because Jean’s tone reminds him of all those times Jean was done humoring Harry’s stupidity, but had to pretend otherwise. “I'm thinking he had to have had an accomplice to work with the RCM. Maybe we should question him."

“Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm thinking,” says Luca automatically. The mobster stands a little taller and nods to his men. “Louis, Russell, make this guy talk."

The men lower their handguns and Harry feels the knot in his chest loosen. He sinks his weight into the chair, relieved, and tries to steady his breathing. His eyes are starting to water from the fumes, from how badly his throat aches gasping for air, but-

This won’t be so bad, he thinks, he can handle a few punches.

Then the mobsters step into the low, bright lights and Harry sees metal knuckles.

God, this is going to suck.

Jean’s grand plan is to stall, and Harry’s going to get the shit beat out of him while they wait for the RCM to storm the place. Judging by the muscle, he’ll have some cracked bones, spit out some teeth, worst case, lose a finger or two. Still, it’s a million times better than getting burned alive. Better, if it’s-

“Wait, don’t,” Harry gasps, as an idea dawns on him. Maybe this was Jean’s plan all along, and if not, well - his partner has always been good at working with his bullshit. He’ll figure it out.

“Luca, I know who the rat is. It's this fucker, right here." Harry glares at his partner. "He's obviously playing the both of us.”

“You're a liar,” says Jean, before Luca can respond. A threat edges in his voice, but there’s something else too. Jean knows, and he’s on board.

“Go ahead, shitkid. Lie again. I dare you.”

Harry grits his teeth, braces himself as he raises his head and says, defiant, “Luca, are you gonna let this fucker play-”

There’s a flash of motion and Harry cries out as pain bursts over his jaw. Hurt radiates from his lips, his cheek, and Harry tastes blood, feels it trail from his lips and trickle to his jaw. He has a second to gasp for air before Jean is running his fingers through his hair, grabbing a handful and just barely pulling. Harry groans and goes with the motion, feels his gut drop when his eyes finally register what he’s seeing.

The look on his partner’s face hurts more than the punch. 

I'm sorry, Jean . It's not the first time Harry’s had the thought. It won't be the last. Harry’s been saying it so often lately, he feels like that's all he’s good for. 

Now he's asking Jean to hurt him. And Jean would do it, is doing it, because Harry’s brought them into a situation where getting beat by his partner is somehow the best option.

Harry forces himself to meet Jean’s eyes, to meet the guilt and self-disgust there, and wonders if there will ever be a point where Jean will wash his hands of him. When, like Dora, Jean will realize that Harry is an anchor, doomed to drag everyone down to his level of crazy.

"Well?" Jean asks, tone demanding, but his fingers are gentle against his scalp.

“You look good, man.” Harry tastes iron as he licks the corner of his mouth. “Nice seeing you decked in all this gold. Sucks you’re gonna have to give that shit back. You know, when you crawl back to the pigs.”

Seeing the hit coming doesn't make it hurt less. Pain bursts across his jaw, and he sucks in air, feels his throat burn as the pain on his jaw turns white hot and stinging. His skin feels ripped, torn apart, and Harry can’t help it, he sobs. For all his composure, Harry's always had a low pain threshold. 

“My face-” Harry cries, before he catches himself and bites his lip.

Distantly, he registers Jean turning away, barking orders to the mobsters. "It fucking reeks. Move him out of the gasoline."

Harry’s head swims as he’s tipped back, dragged over bumpy, uneven floors, and thrown forward. He sucks in air, hoping to cleanse his lungs, and chokes on a breath as Jean steps into the light with a hammer in hand.

“Leave,” says Jean. “Go guard the doors.”

It’s a sign of their influence with Luca that the two men follow without question.

“I would prefer to do this alone, boss.”

“Yeah, and I’d prefer to watch,” Luca ribs, stepping into the light. “You always get shy when you play with your food - I wanna know how you get results.”

Even Harry can see it coming. Despite their cover, Harry and Jean aren’t killers. But Luca is, and the mobster catches the swing, half-powered and calculated to incapacitate instead of kill, coming for his chest.

Luca grabs Jean’s wrist, quickly wraps another hand around it, and bends it forward until it cracks . Jean cries out and drops the tool, swearing and stumbling back as Luca scrambles for the hammer.

“Fuck,” yelps Harry. “No. Get the fuck up, Jean, watch out!”

“You fucking-” Police sirens cut off Luca’s words and Jean tackles the mobster to the ground in the split second of confusion. They both go down as a bullhorn screams, “The RCM have you surrounded. Drop your weapons and step out of the building.”

Good luck , Harry thinks, because the building’s staffed with six armed mobsters, including the two Jean just sent out. Harry watches Jean punch down, hears it land against skin, and knows from Jean’s deep sigh that Luca is gone.

Harry swallows. “Is he…?”

“Alive,” Jean confirms, sitting back on the mobster’s thighs. “Piece of shit’s just out cold.”

Harry laughs, a broken sound that’s more to relieve the tension in his chest than anything. “You’re so soft, man,” he says, voice cracking.

Jean glares at him as he fishes through Luca’s pockets with his good hand. His right hand is definitely sprained, broken maybe, with its odd angle and the way Jean is cradling it to his chest. 

“Sit tight,” Jean says, raising two small keys into the air. 

"I don't really have a choice," Harry jokes, grinning. He feels like laughing until he cries; can’t think of a jab as Jean struggles with fitting the key into the cuff’s locks. His partner’s hand is shaking too much.

It’s okay. Take your time , Harry can’t say, not while his body is catching up with reality and he’s crashing from the rush of adrenaline. Harry lets his weight fall into the chair, lets his partner work as he listens to his heartbeat ringing in his ears. 

The air tastes fresher, the ache in his jaw hurts a bit less, and Harry’s chest feels like it’s been hollowed out and filled with something effervescent. Outside the walls, a gun goes off, too loud and too close for Harry to know which side it belongs to. He doesn't care. They're alive. 

They won. 

When the second handcuff comes off, Harry can’t help but wrap his hand around Jean’s and cling to the warmth there.

"We might be here for a while,” Jean says softly, pulling him up. Jean doesn’t let go, either, just leads Harry towards the door, lets Harry slowly slide to the floor with his back against the wall.

“Do you think Pryce and Gottlieb will let us take off for a joint mental breakdown?” Harry jokes weakly.

“We used up our mental breakdown for the year,” Jean responds, and he slides next to Harry, pressing against him like a support.

They’ll get tonight to rest, maybe. Word travels fast, and the RCM will need to move faster than the mob. They’ll probably have to report as Gottlieb is treating their wounds. Then tomorrow, Jean will police with one hand and Harry will lead Major Crimes looking like he gets into back alley fights. 

He knows in his bones that he’ll have nightmares of this night. Even now, Harry smells gasoline, still feels the burn of it in his lungs. It'll be days before the smell scrubs off, and longer still to stop flinching at the scent. When he blinks, Harry sees guns pointed to his chest, his wrists choked in too-tight cuffs, and the look in Jean’s eyes as they desperately stall for time.

He’ll chase peace from the bottom of a wine bottle. Just for tonight. 

He deserves it. He’ll drink to forget the smell, and the fear, and inevitable, sinking realization that he would’ve died as some sad, lonely, forgettable fuck.

How long, Harry wonders, until he pulls both of them into another situation like this? 

And why the hell did Harry think they could pull this off without getting hurt?

“I’m happy,” says Jean, after the silence between them drags. On the other side of the wall, someone yells through the bullhorn, screaming to drop weapons once again. “We never have to work for this dumbass ever again.”

Harry swallows. Nods.

I almost died, he wants to scream. He presses into his partner’s shoulder and tries to calm his thoughts. I'm so happy we’re okay. I’m so happy Luca didn’t smash a hammer into your face. I’m so happy you didn’t get hurt.

Like lightning, Harry remembers Luca twisting Jean's wrist. He glances at Jean's right hand, the unnatural angle of it; Jean is barely resting it on his lap, jaw clenched, trying to control his breathing to keep from moving, and-

Fuck. God, Jean, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, this was all my idea. It's all my fault, I'm sorry.

Bile burns the back of Harry’s throat, twists his gut, and he isn’t sure if he should swallow or throw up.

Jean elbows him. “Relax, Harry. I can hear you thinking. You should talk. You’ll feel better.”

After a long, silent moment, Jean elbows him again. “Talk,” he insists.

“I’m- Thanks,” Harry manages.

"What?"

"I said thank you, Vic," and because he’ll vomit if they have a serious conversation, Harry presses his skull to the door and adds, "You know, for fucking up my face."

"Seriously?" Jean gestures towards Luca's immobile body, then to the patch of concrete stained with gasoline. "You're fucking welcome for saving your life."

Harry smiles, weak and hollow. "And you couldn’t have saved my life without backhanding me? Look - your shitty mobster bling scratched my face."

"You ugly cried after I punched you,” Jean retorts. “Thought I'd change it up." Jean turns to him, and Harry hates how Jean’s expression drops. He hates the guilt and the sadness. The way Jean’s eyes trace his jaw. "I'm so-"

"I need new shoes," says Harry abruptly, because Jean shouldn't apologize. He should never apologize; it's Harry's fault that they're in this situation. It's always Harry's ambition, and Harry's hunches, and Harry's words that gets them in trouble.

He doesn't have the willpower to drive away the few people still in his life, but Dora had taught him, at the very least, to own up when something is his fault.

So Harry quickly taps his partner’s shoe with his own; wiggles his toes through the cheap, fake leather. "I think these are shot from the gasoline."

Grey eyes flicker towards his feet, assessing, but the guilt doesn’t leave Jean’s face. "Yeah. I'll buy you new ones."

"Man, I don't think you can afford the shoes I have in mind," Harry says smoothly. 

It feels good pretending everything is fine; putting his energy into cheering up his partner. It helps the knot in Harry’s gut loosen without making him feel like he’s going to retch.

We almost died. We almost died. We almost died.

Harry swallows. Then with faux seriousness, Harry tells him, "If my destiny is to get burned alive while tied to a fucking chair, I am going to spend the rest of my short, sad life looking like Le Million.”

Jean snorts, smiles, and Harry catches some of the tension leaving his shoulders. It’s enough to make the corners of Harry’s mouth tip up. Outside, the gunfire starts.

“Were you thinking about this on the chair?” Jean asks dryly.

"You’d be surprised what triggers a midlife crisis,” says Harry. It’s easier, too, to talk when he pretends that everything is fine. Like they’re just relaxing at the Precinct after a slow, uneventful day. “Anyway, I’ve decided I’m going to look like a goddamn superstar - so if you’re gonna get me shoes, they better be high heeled, green, snakeskin, uh, loafers."

"Alright," says Jean, with a thread of playfulness. "But you better fucking wear them."

"Oh, I’ll wear them," Harry promises. "You sure you’re not gonna mom me about being ‘unprofessional’?"

"No." Slowly, Jean reaches over and catches Harry’s jaw. He presses a finger to the cut, traces it gently, too soft to hurt. "I’ll give you a pass for the shoes. You're going to need something working for you, Harry.”

Harry would never tell Jean, but it’s always a little easier to breathe when he’s this close. It’s nice. Dora is gone, and Harry goes home to a dark apartment filled with half-empty wine bottles; it’s comforting knowing that someone in the world cares about him. Worries about him. Doesn't mind being so close to him. Sometimes, Harry can convince himself he’s not doomed to a freefall. The nightmares become a little easier to stomach.

Harry presses into the touch, just a little. “It’s cause you fucked up my face, right?”

“Sure,” says Jean, eyes narrowing with fond humor. “Let’s go with that.”