There wasn't a number. John knew there wasn't, because if there had been a number, Harold would have called him, and Harold hadn't. The sun was pouring in over his bed, almost too warm even with the heat off, dust motes floating and glinting gold: it was like lying in a dream. He could have rolled over and gone back to sleep. He got up instead.
Harold was at his desk, Bear on his bed; the dog pricked up his ears as John came in, and expertly caught the flying doughnut. "Those aren't very good for him," Harold said without ever looking away from his screen.
"Or us," John said, "but are you going to pass them up?" He put down the cup of tea and the plain glazed; Harold's eyes darted to it briefly and up to John cheerfully taking a huge bite of his own.
"I suppose I can't argue with that," Harold said, and spared a hand from his keyboard.
John sat down and ate his doughnut, sugar melting on his tongue. Breathing in deep he could smell the books, paper on its long slow slide to disintegration and the faint mustiness where mold had gotten in here and there. It was a smell that had somehow started to unlock the muscles along the back of his shoulders; it meant home. He licked his fingers clean and watched Harold typing: his doughnut was sitting half-eaten next to the keyboard.
"Are you going to finish that?" John said.
"Go ahead," Harold said absently; lines of code scrolled over his glasses, quicker than John could follow. John liked watching him work: art and science and a little magic thrown in, and John was pretty sure there wasn't anyone else in the world—alive, anyway—that got to see it. He ate the rest of Harold's doughnut and thought idly about getting his guns, doing some cleaning. He didn't think about why he didn't want to be anywhere else. He knew where Harold's boundaries were.
"What are you working on?" he asked.
"Nothing very interesting, I'm afraid," Harold said. "As you'll recall," he threw John a pointed look, "my clean cover lost his job not so very long ago. Having run out of unemployment, he's finally been forced to find a new position. He's been assigned to produce several components required for a new securities trading system."
"How long is that going to take you?" John said.
"The components are done," Harold said. "I wrote them last night. It's considerably more time-consuming to find a way to break them into segments Mr. Wren can deliver over the course of the year, and I have to introduce a reasonable scattering of bugs to be caught in the QA process." He pushed up his glasses with a knuckle. "Of course, the system's overall design is fundamentally flawed, which management will probably realize sometime in November at his supervisor's first demonstration. At that point, they'll have to start over virtually from scratch. His job security should be reasonably well assured for the next three years, in any case."
John grinned and drank his coffee, and reached down to scratch Bear behind his ears. "Why don't you take your dog for a walk, Mr. Reese," Harold said. "I won't be done here for another hour or two."
"Sure," John said, and whistled Bear up; he held the leash loosely, a polite fiction between them and the city: if a seventy-five pound military dog decided he was going his own way, a strip of leather wasn't going to hold him.
He took Bear the twenty blocks to the dog run at Madison Square Park, let him gallop around the pugs and the terriers, then took burgers back to the library; Finch had finished messing up his code. They ate together over the table and talked a little bit about old cases and a show at MoMA that Harold thought might be interesting.
"So why not go?" John said.
"If time permits," Harold said, evasively. John had noticed Harold preferred not to go places that dogs weren't allowed, these days. He hadn't talked about the symphony for a while, or the opera. He'd do it for a reason—for a number. But not for pleasure.
"Come on, Harold," John said. "Let's play hooky. Bear can nap."
Harold blinked at him, owlish. "I wasn't aware you were that fond of the Abstract Expressionists."
John shrugged. He had nowhere better to be. As they headed out he picked up a handgun and tucked it into his waistband at the small of his back, hidden underneath the swing of his suit jacket. Harold watched him out of the corner of his eye, and John saw his minute relaxation.
It was getting dark by the time they got back to the library, carrying groceries and dog food: Bear sniffed them in greeting and went to stand by his bowl. Harold made scrambled eggs on the hotplate while John fed Bear, and opened a bottle of good red wine.
It was a good day.
John handed Harold off to his car service, and walked all the way back home alone, hands in his pockets, through the noise and lights of Union Square, the Village, Little Italy. He rode the old industrial elevator up to his apartment, spent an hour on weights, half an hour on yoga, showered, brushed his teeth, and went to sleep.
No phone call came in the night, or the next morning. He went back to the library anyway. Harold was working on something else; John put his tea down and didn't interrupt him, wandering past the shelves, looking at the spines. Harold glanced up at him a few times; John thought he might be going to speak, but he always just went back to his screens.
John had brought his running gear: when nothing came in by eleven, he changed and took Bear out for a two-mile run. They had Chinese for lunch. John cleaned all the guns. Harold worked steadily on through the day, then said unexpectedly as the light outside started dying, "Do you have any plans for dinner?"
A table materialized for them at Craft, even though the place was packed. They ate small brussels sprouts like perfect green pearls and mushrooms that looked like alien life forms. They drank two bottles of wine and John found himself talking haltingly about a dinner he'd had in Morocco, a tiny restaurant in the guts of a cheap hotel, raisins and cinnamon and lamb melting on the tongue, someone singing liquidly in the back playing a kind of lute. Kara smiling at him across the table, beautiful.
They'd killed the owner when he'd come in for the receipts. John still didn't know if the man had actually done anything.
His voice died. Harold reached across the table and poured him another glass of wine.
Harold hesitated on the stoop outside after dinner before saying an abrupt goodnight and slipping into his car to vanish; John was muzzy enough he didn't entirely register the hesitation until he woke up the next morning and it leaped into the forefront of his brain. He looked it over from a dozen angles, a dozen alternatives. He knew the danger of believing something that you wanted to be true, too well. He couldn't convince himself that Harold had meant anything by it, that there was a possibility lurking.
It preoccupied him all the way to work, though: the sense of a moment where everything could change again, where his life might abruptly turn again down a street he'd thought was blocked off. He'd been thinking about Jessica a lot lately. Not the same way as before—for a long time he'd only seen her sitting alone in a dark room, calling a man she hadn't seen in four years, hurt and afraid. He'd stopped having those dreams. Now he saw her in a golden moment, from a distance; his untraveled road.
But he was already on a road with Harold, a road in the light, and that was more than enough. He'd been as far down as there was to fall. He'd seen that pit again in Kara's face: the way he'd learned to kill and laugh about it afterwards, to fuck with bodies cooling only a few steps away.
There was a sour taste in his mouth. He was still twenty blocks away from the library; he stopped and ran a hand over his face, and then he took a cab the rest of the way.
He put down Harold's tea and leaned against the table to drink his own coffee. Bear was gnawing on a new chew toy; he wasn't restless. "Did you take him out?" John said.
"Yes," Harold said, "we went for a walk a little earlier." He finished typing a line and pushed his chair back from the desk. He looked at the tea but didn't pick it up. "Mr. Reese," he said, and John glanced at him, eyebrow rising, "may I ask you an exceptionally personal question?"
"Okay," John said.
Harold hesitated, then said abruptly, "Would you come home with me?"
He looked at John's face, and whatever he saw there must have been enough, because he smiled a very little, a bare twitch of his mouth, and John smiled back at him: the easiest answer he could give, happiness like a foreign language tangling up his tongue.
"Yes," he said softly, and followed Harold downstairs; they walked two blocks and took a taxi, sitting together in the back seat with Bear crouched over their feet. John looked out of the window, elbow leaning on the door, his chin resting against his fist, seeing nothing. Harold's fingers were just barely brushing against his other hand on the seat between them.
The taxi stopped on the corner of Central Park West and 88th Street, and they walked halfway down the block to one identical brownstone of five standing in a row, indistinguishable: there wasn't a number on the door. The outer door had a traditional lock; the inner one had an Eternity V and two cameras that John spotted; there might have been more.
Harold didn't look at him as he unlocked the doors; his back was rigid, and his hands shook a little. John noted it with distant gratitude: he'd thank Harold later for what this meant, but right now mostly he needed Harold to get them the hell inside. Bear was sniffing curiously at all the corners of the hallway, getting used to the place.
The door opened. Harold put keys and phone into a basket on a small table by the door: swooping wood and polished marble; a gold-washed mirror that was probably 17th-century and also probably hiding another camera hung above it. "Would you care for something to drink?" Harold said, and then he met John's eyes in the mirror. "Perhaps not."
"Maybe later, thanks," John said. He shut the door behind him and shot the deadbolt. He took off Bear's leash, curled it up and left it in the basket, and turned back to take Harold's face in his hands and kiss him.
There was a long narrow couch next to the stairwell, another antique, curves and carvings and not really meant for sitting on. "I feel very Victorian," Harold remarked to the ceiling, sprawled against the arm, jacket on the floor, tie loose, the neck of his shirt open; its tails had escaped from his waistcoat and his pants. He was breathing hard.
"It's a good look for you," John said, pulling Harold's belt loose, tossing it aside. He got Harold's pants open and his own; he'd already shed his jacket and shirt. He leaned over Harold, braced against the back and the seat, enjoying the way Harold's eyes lingered on his chest and the muscles of his arms.
Harold put his hands on John's shoulders and stroked down, his touch lingering too: warm hands, nails short and blunt and smooth. John leaned into it, hungry: he was pretty sure this would be enough, if Harold just kept his hands on his bare skin, but oh—that was even better, Harold's hands gently freeing his cock, and then Harold's own, gripping them together. John held himself up and breathed through the shock of that first touch: it would've been easy to spill into Harold's hands just like that.
John shook his head and managed to get a lid on it, and opened his eyes again to watch Harold's hands work on them both. Harold's thumb slid over the head of his cock and teased at it gently. "Interesting," Harold said, an almost absent, clinical tone; John was too busy shuddering all over again to say anything. He was leaking, and more as Harold's thumb got wet and slick, still stroking back and forth. He was almost coming. "There's really no need to hold back, John."
Harold slid his hand all the way down the shaft and back, a perfect hot slide, pumping him once. John groaned and let go, arching, Harold squeezing him gently through the climax, running his wet hands down and back again. The pleasure stretched out long and slow and shivering, getting to that place where it was too sharp and almost unbearable, his cock still flushed and nestled up against Harold's, not softening yet; Harold stroked them both together, and John dropped his head and groaned. His arms and shoulders were starting to burn, and Harold was taking his own carefully slow time, deliberate strokes.
John didn't think he was going to make it for much longer; and then abruptly he surprised himself and Harold both and came again, spurting messily all over Harold's chest and clothes. Harold said, "Oh," in a startled voice, and came himself, equally unprepared and messy.
John did a controlled fall off the couch onto the floor and lay there on his back with his arm thrown over his eyes, panting. He waved Bear off blindly when a curious nose came snuffling at his ear. "Sorry pal, you're not welcome right now."
He managed to crane his head up. Harold was propping himself up against the cushions, his breath slowing down; he was contemplating the wreckage. "Sorry," John said, not really repentant.
"I do feel I bear some responsibility for the event," Harold said.
There was a spectacular rainfall shower stall in the master bathroom, big enough for two. John sucked Harold off slowly and leisurely under the steady pounding, water plastering his hair and running behind his ears, over his neck, cascading down his back and thighs, on and on in the dark, his eyes closed, thunder in his ears, his nose buried in the soft wet warmth of Harold's skin. It felt like something more than dirt was being carried away.