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Be Not Afraid

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Finch blinked myopically when John pulled back, his tongue darting out to taste his lips almost hesitantly. As though checking quickly that he had, in fact, been kissed. This close, cupping his hand around the man's neck, John could feel the raised bumps of metal beneath the skin, the nuts and bolts that held together a surprisingly capable man.

"Mr Reese," Finch breathed. Very carefully, his hand ghosting up to touch tentatively at John's sleeve, still blinking absently. Shorted out, John thought, with some amusement. Misfiring. "Mr Reese, what ..."

"It's called a kiss, Finch," John smiled, brushing his thumb over the hairs at the nape of the man's neck. Enjoying, a little, the responding shiver. "I'm sure you've had a few, over the years?"

Finch blinked, his eyes sharpening now, his spine stiffening as his chin came up. John felt it, felt the affronted strength straightening the damaged bones under his hand. A flash of compassion swept him. Another, behind it, of admiration.

"I know what it was," Finch snapped, his hand grabbing hold of John's sleeve properly, now. Bunching the material. "I meant why, Mr Reese."

John shrugged amiably, a tiny lift of one shoulder and a twitch of his mouth. Keeping his hand carefully where it was, cupped around the base of Finch's skull. "Why not?" he asked, and it was light, yes, but he meant it too. After all this. Why not.

Finch blinked. His glare faltering, stuttering in the face of whatever he saw in John's eyes, whatever calm, unperturbed thing John hadn't bothered to hide.

"... the risk?" Finch asked, almost hesitantly. Staring at John now, in confusion more than anything. Hope, maybe. Some tiny bit. John carefully resisted the urge to smile, to pull him back in, contenting himself instead to keep up the steady stroke of his thumb.

"There is no risk," he said, gravely. Carefully. Smiling a little when Finch's eyebrow bounced up incredulously, shaking his head to keep the man silent a moment longer. "We'll die eventually, Finch. We won't be fast enough. But ..." He felt his eyes crease, the rueful smile curling the corner of his mouth. "We've done that already, haven't we. You died two years ago, and I was dead when you found me. So there's no risk, is there."

Finch blinked rapidly, his eyes darting a little over John's face. Panic, John thought. The stretched pull of mental muscles that didn't quite remember how to move. Concepts neither of them had allowed themselves to entertain in ... quite some time.

"If I thought it would put you in danger, I wouldn't suggest it," John continued. Quiet and careful, rational. Always rational, for Finch. "If I thought you would put yourself in danger because of it, I would have stayed silent. But you already did that, too." He let the smile creep out, faintly awed even still. Faintly wondering. "You've already put yourself at risk for me. Walked under the gun." He shrugged, with that strange lightness in his smile and in his chest. "No point staying silent, when you'd do that regardless."

"John ..." Finch breathed, his chin tucking down, suddenly, his neck curving under John's hand as his head dropped. Pain, and maybe shame. John felt his hand tighten a little reflexively. Felt himself twitch automatically in rejection. "I don't ..."

"I'm not safe," John interrupted. Watching, feeling the flinch. The tremor. "You knew that when you hired me. You knew that when you decided I was the one who could do this job." He dipped his head, hunched slightly to catch Finch's eyes, to force the man to look at him. "I was never safe, Finch. That was never your responsibility."

And there. A flash of anger, finally. Not shame, not fear, but temper. A slow thing, Finch's anger. But impressive, when roused.

"It is now," Finch snapped, taking a sharp step backwards, as though to break John's hold. John simply followed with him, and didn't allow it. "If you think I will risk this, all of this, just for ..."

"For what," John cut across him. Never let the argument get up to speed. Never let the doubt find ground behind conviction. "For happiness? Why not, Finch?" He shook his head, dropped his shoulders in a silent exhale of frustration. "You would risk yourself anyway. You've already proved that. I've been risking myself from the first moment. It's my job, and you," he cut across the pained protest, "you don't get to take it, Finch. Not now. Not after all this. You don't get to take that from me."

Finch's face screwed in pain, his attempt to look away causing a spasm in the tense muscles of his neck. His breath hitched as the muscles jumped, the pain for a second shorting out his ability to speak, and John stepped fully into his space in an instant. Pulling Finch to his chest with one arm, his hand trapping and soothing the screaming muscles in Finch's neck.

Taking advantage. He'd been trained to do that, too.

"Why not, Harold?" he asked, very, very softly, while Finch gripped desperately at his shoulders. "It won't change what we do. It won't change how we do it. And it won't change how we die. All it will change is how much happiness we have first. So ... why not?"

Finch drew in a shuddering breath. Straightened his spine carefully, drew himself up and together in the same moment. Anchoring himself, drawing in to stand ground as he stepped back, just a half-step, from John. Enough to look up, enough to meet John's eyes with that narrow, defiant gaze.

John stood his own ground. Met Finch, with nothing but soft conviction, and not a second's doubt.

"I've listened to a lot of people die," Finch said, with pain in his voice, but no flinch. No hesitation. "A lot of deaths. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to listen to yours."

"If I have anything to say about it," John agreed. It wasn't the right answer, wasn't the right response to the pain in the man in front of him, the man who'd sat in a hotel room with John's rage, and listened to a recording of a woman's death. Not the right answer. But the only one he could give. There was no way John would ever let Finch die first.

Finch stared at him for a second. Met the calm, serene confidence in John's eyes, for all of a minute. And when he dropped his own, it was to gather himself again. John saw it. Felt it. The strength gathering under his hand, the courage that had startled him so much when he'd first met the man.

"Then," Finch said, very quietly. "Then ... You had better make it worth my while. Hadn't you, Mr Reese?" He looked up, with the tiniest of shaking smiles, the slightest tinge of hope and surrender in a man John had never seen do either.

It made the moment John's smile met his, the moment Finch finally let John pull him in, that much the brighter.