He opened his eyes, blinking upwards for long moments. He could just barely make out a roof, the sun filtering dimly through high windows; a warehouse, maybe. There was a dull ache in his hip when he sat up, and a bright, pulsing pain in his head. A man was lying next to him on the floor, slumped limply against the wall, his suit crumpled and stained with blood. Oh God.
He leaned over to check the stranger for a pulse, his hands shaking. The man's skin was warm, the pulse strong and steady under his fingers. He drew in a shaky breath of relief that caught on a sickly-sweet smell hanging in the air. He looked up.
A drug lab, probably, except it looked like someone had set off a bomb in the middle of it, equipment scattered about. Several vats were leaking fluids into a multi-colored puddle on the floor. God knew what kind of toxic substances they were inhaling right now. They needed to get out of here. The man was tall, solidly built; how on Earth was he supposed to move him?
He took hold of the stranger's arm, and the man's eyes snapped open. The man moved, quick as a striking snake, grabbing him by the vest and pinning him down to the floor, arm against his throat. He gasped, scrabbling at the restraining arm with both hands, trying to push it away. He wasn't any match for the man's strength. "What did you do to me?" the man said, low and dangerous.
He tried to twist his head away and was brought up short; his neck wouldn't move that way. "Nothing!" he said sharply, trying to breathe through the instinctive surge of panic – why couldn't he move? "I don't know what happened to you, I don't even know you-"
He didn't know where he was, he realized. He didn't know how he'd got here, or why he had some crazy stranger trying to choke the life out of him, or... or anything. Good God, he didn't remember anything.
"I don't know what happened," he said again, his voice hitching. He didn't remember his own name. "Please, we need to get out of here."
The man was looking around, taking in the destruction around them, staring at the noxious puddle on the floor. After a moment, the man let him up. "Come on," the man said, and then he was being towed along by the upper arm. He tried to tug himself free, but the man's hold on him was unyielding. He swallowed hard, rubbed his aching throat, stopped fighting.
Outside, he took a deep breath of the crisp fresh air. His head felt clearer, the headache subsiding, but his memory didn't seem to be returning. He felt sick. The man let go of his arm. He backed off a few steps, putting some distance between them.
The man took a deep breath. "So you don't have any idea what's going on here, either," he said. He was watching him intently, gauging his reaction.
"No," he said. He shifted back another step, putting his back to the warehouse wall. Not that it would help much if the man decided to attack him again. His stomach twisted anxiously at the memory of how quickly the man had moved, how strong he was.
The man seemed to believe him, this time. He stopped staring at him and started looking through his pockets. "No wallet, no ID," he said with a sigh.
There was a wallet in his own jacket. He took out his driver's license. The man in the picture was a stranger. Receding hairline, thin wire-rimmed glasses, a faintly startled expression. Was that him? He looked around wildly for a mirror or some kind of reflective surface. "Is that me?" he asked the man, who came closer to peer at the picture.
"Yeah. Harold Weaver, huh." Harold. The name didn't feel any more familiar than the face. "That's a terrible picture of you," the man added, one corner of his mouth twitching up.
"Well, that's a relief," he - Harold - said, relaxing a bit at the hint of humor. He gave the stranger a tentative smile.
He was also carrying a set of keys, and a phone with a call list full of names he didn't recognize, one of which he'd apparently called multiple times a day for the last few months, at all hours of the day. Harold hit the call button, sighing with relief. Whoever this John was, they must be close to each other – a friend, a family member. John would know who he was.
Next to him, the stranger's phone started ringing.
The address on the driver’s license was easy to find. As it turned out, he lived on the second floor of an old brownstone with no elevator, which seemed a little masochistic; the stairs were hard on his aching hip.
The second key he tried worked. Harold took a cautious step inside and then froze at the sight of a worryingly large dog racing towards him. He took a nervous step back. Maybe they shouldn't have split up. It had seemed more efficient at the time, both of them checking out their own apartments, but then he hadn't been expecting big aggressive canines inside his own home.
But the dog didn't jump on him. It butted its big head against his hip, but carefully, like it knew that Harold wasn't too stable on his feet.
He knelt down to scratch behind its ears. "Guess you're mine then," he said bemusedly. He would have figured himself for more of a cat person. "So what's your name?" he murmured, reaching out to check the tags on the collar.
Bear dogged his heels while he explored the apartment. Worn, comfortable furniture, lots of books, computer equipment - Senior Software Developer, AZA Enterprises, the business card in his wallet had said. His wardrobe held a row of cheap suits much like the one he was already wearing. He took a step back, then hesitated. Something about the wardrobe's dimensions felt weirdly off, although he couldn't have said what it was; it certainly looked perfectly normal. He ran his fingers along the inner wall, feeling vaguely silly, until something gave under his touch, and a panel swung smoothly to the side. Harold stared. He had a secret compartment inside his wardrobe. A secret compartment in his wardrobe, and he was hiding suits inside it. What on Earth?
Unlike the ones in plain view, these suits were clearly bespoke. Bolder colors, expensive fabrics. Harold ran his fingers over a soft woolen sleeve. Well, he did seem to have some taste, even if he apparently felt the need to hide it.
His computers had finished booting up while he'd been exploring. His work was all there, in neatly labeled folders. He opened the first file a little nervously. What if he didn't understand it? After all, if he didn't remember learning to code, then surely he shouldn't know how to code. But no, the minute he looked at it, the knowledge was there. This was Ruby, and that was Java, and none of it was any harder to understand than English had been.
The code was, in fact, very easy to read. There was something almost condescending about it. Oh, of course it was only sensible to properly declare your variables and add some explanatory comments; but this was over-explained, as if he'd expected it to be read by idiots. Harold guessed he didn't have a very high opinion of his co-workers' intelligence.
Actually, reading this, Harold was starting to think he'd over-estimated his own intelligence. The work was really very… mediocre. Acceptable, certainly, but he could spot three bugs just on a quick read-through, and he could have saved himself three days of work if he hadn't badly re-implemented some code he could have imported as a library.
He looked through the rest of his folders. Work-related emails, tax returns. His salary wasn't much to write home about, and certainly didn't explain how he'd been able to afford those suits.
Really, apart from the dog and the designer suits, everything about his life seemed aggressively mediocre. The job, the apartment, his boring everyday clothes. He couldn't help but feel that he should be able to do better than this.
His cell phone rang. "Hello, John," he said.
"Can we meet?" John said. It was hard to tell, with John's low, soft voice, but Harold thought he sounded tense. Worried. Apparently John wasn't happy with whatever he'd found out about his life, either.
There was one last thing left to examine here before he went to meet John. Harold took his time undressing, getting out a hanger for his suit jacket, and then another for his shirt, even though they were sweat-stained and rumpled, and would need cleaning anyway. And then he abruptly lost patience with his own stalling, dropped the rest of his clothes in a careless heap on the bathroom floor, and turned to face himself in the full-length mirror.
The damage was about as bad as he'd expected. There was a neat surgical scar on his left hip, and a thick, ugly one down the length of his spine, as if some Frankenstein had bisected him down the middle and then stitched him back together. Both of them were pale, faded, years old.
He'd been hoping that the sight might jog loose some memories, but there was still nothing but blankness.
He hesitated in front of his closet. Feeling defiant, he grabbed one of the designer suits. If he was getting a reset on his boring life, why not start it up right this time?
They met in the park. Bear, who'd been a model of restraint on the leash so far, suddenly perked up when he saw John, his tail wagging like crazy, pulling towards him. Harold gave him some slack, and Bear happily danced around John's feet, nudging his hands with his nose.
"I guess Bear knows you," Harold said, which was putting it mildly. Bear clearly loved John.
John was petting the dog affably enough, but his face was grim. "Yeah, that's what I was afraid of," he said. "Walk with me."
"What is it?" Harold said. Whatever John had discovered at his home, it was apparently worse than some substandard code and a wardrobe full of bad fashion choices and mysteries. After the way John had knocked him around in the warehouse, Harold figured him for a man who liked to be in control of his environment. Their ignorance couldn't sit well with him. But this seemed to be more than just that. John’s steps kept quickening, and he repeatedly had to rein himself in to adapt to Harold's slow pace.
"I went to the address you gave me. I found - hell, maybe I shouldn't be telling you any of this." John rubbed his hands across his face, made a disgusted sound. "I have a multi-million dollar loft, and a whole stack of fake IDs, and a closet full of guns. Harold, I think I'm some kind of criminal."
"Oh," Harold said, stunned. He found he was edging sideways a little, putting some distance between him and John. Bear sensed his nervousness and came closer to press comfortingly against his thigh. "Maybe you really shouldn't have told me that." If John really was a criminal, he wouldn't be pleased that Harold knew his secret when he regained his memory.
"And I wouldn't have, except that's not all of it. Sorry. You're probably not going to like this."
"You've already told me you're a criminal." How much worse can it get? he thought, but didn't say, because he did know better than to tempt fate. Fate apparently heard him anyway, and possibly John did, too, judging by the mocking curl to his mouth when he said:
"I think we're dating."
Harold blinked at him. "I don't understand," he said, and then wished he could snatch the words back when John's expression got just that little bit more smug. He might not like the situation either, but he clearly enjoyed having flummoxed Harold.
"And what on Earth led you to that conclusion, Mr. Roberts?"
John shrugged. "Breakfast dishes left over from two people, dry cleaning in two different sizes - a couple of suits a lot like that, actually," he said, flicking the lapel of the suit Harold was wearing."And I found this." He handed Harold a camera, grimacing a bit, as if he didn't quite like handing over this particular piece of the puzzle. Harold turned it on, and realized why John had been uncomfortable when he started looking through the pictures. It was a slideshow of Harolds. Harold walking through the park, drinking tea, talking to people. Harold asleep on a sofa, Bear's head in his lap.
"These do seem to point towards a certain level of -" Obsession, he'd meant to say, but John cut in with "Affection?" and there was truth to that, too. He didn't look like he'd been aware of the camera when those pictures were taken, but all of them showed a certain care in the composition and timing. Several of them had caught him smiling.
Well, it would certainly explain who'd paid for those suits. Maybe it explained the shoddy work he seemed to do for his company, too; maybe he was distracted, playing kept man to a rich, handsome criminal who liked to gift him with expensive clothing.
"I'm sure there's another explanation," he said firmly.
John raised his eyebrows. "Let me know if you think of one," he said in his soft, mocking voice. "Why don't you come back to the loft with me, and -"
"There they are!" someone yelled from behind them. John whirled around, yanking Harold behind his back and pulling a gun out from under his jacket. Harold gasped.
A group of men was running towards them. Harold stared wide-eyed at the rifle in the first man's hand. Oh God, they were going to be shot. "Get down!" John snapped. "Bear, stay!"
The man was lifting his hand. The world narrowed down to the barrel of the gun, pointing right at them. Harold heard his breath rasping in his chest. He was going to die. He couldn't move, couldn't think -
A shot rang out, and the man collapsed with a scream, clutching his knee. John was standing in front of Harold, taking down one man after another with quick, precise shots, one, two, three, four, as calm as a man at a firing range. Harold took a tiny, cautious breath – John had this, John knew what to do. And then the gun gave a weird dry click and the sounds of shots stopped. John swore and slapped the gun hard with the palm of his hand, but it didn't seem to do anything.
Harold looked around wildly. Only three of their attackers had been armed with guns, and John had taken them down first. But there were still four men left, all of them holding knives.
"Stay behind me," John said. That was easier said than done, considering that the men were starting to circle around them, but John was trying his best to keep his body between Harold and the threat, Bear at his heels, crouched low, whining with anxiety. "Bear, go!" John said, and the dog fairly exploded forwards. That hadn't been anxiety, that had been eagerness, Harold realized in horror, watching as Bear launched himself at the nearest attacker. Seventy pounds of determined dog took the man down as effectively as a gunshot. The man swiped at him with the knife - "No, no, no," Harold heard himself whispering, "Oh, no, Bear -" but Bear dodged the strike and grabbed the man's forearm between his teeth, growling deep in his throat.
John had started moving at the same time as Bear, and almost as quickly. He dodged underneath one man's wild strike, jabbed a hand into his throat, and whirled around in one fluid motion, impossibly graceful, slamming the gun against the second man's head. Both of them dropped like sacks of flour. Harold stared.
The last man was already backing off, knife held protectively in front of him. John smirked, a predator's show of teeth, and came after him. A second later, it was John holding the knife, his other hand clenched in the front of the man's jacket.
"Who are you working for?" he growled.
"I don't know - I don't, I swear!" the man yelled, his voice rising in panic as John pressed the knife against his throat. "We only talked over the phone, she said her name's Miller, she had a bike courier deliver the cash, that's all I know! Please, we weren't going to kill you, we were just supposed to scare you off! She said to tell you, 'Stop digging!' and then we were supposed to rough you up some, that's all, I swear! I don't know anything else!"
The sound of sirens was quickly coming closer. John swore and shoved the man hard to the ground.
"Come on, we have to go," John said, reaching for Harold's arm. Harold flinched hard at the touch. John's voice gentled. "It's okay, you're safe now. Come on."
He let John guide him through the park, away from the sound of sirens. He felt numb. Bear was a warm weight pressing against his leg, the only spot of warmth in his entire body. John pressed the trailing leash into his hand, and his fingers clenched tightly around it.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled. "Sorry, I should have done something, I was useless back there."
"That's okay," John said gently. "You froze up. It happens. Even trained soldiers sometimes choke in a fire fight, and you're not trained for this."
John was trained for this, that much had been obvious. John had known exactly what to do, and even if he didn't remember, he must do things like this a lot. That kind of skill and control under pressure didn't come without regular practice.
John checked them into the first hotel they passed. He gently pushed Harold down to sit at the foot of the bed and sat next to him, so close their shoulders touched. Bear nudged his head into Harold's lap, whining anxiously. His muzzle was smeared with blood. He left a stain on Harold's pants, a match to the one John had left on his sleeve. Something in Harold recoiled from the sight. But they'd gotten bloody protecting him. He took a deep breath, dropped his hand on the dog's head and ruffled the bristly fur of his neck.
John was sitting quietly, staring down at his bloody hands. "We should split up," he said eventually. "I don't know what the hell I'm involved in, but you'll probably be safer as far away from me as possible."
"You can't know that," Harold said. "We don't even know what's going on."
"Don't we?" John said. He dropped his voice into a low, threatening register. "What we know is, I'm very good at killing people, and somebody's paying me a lot of money." He paused, added a little more gently, "You're a good guy, Harold. You don't want to be involved with this."
"You don't know that," Harold said again. "She told us to 'stop digging'. That must mean we were investigating something. You might be law enforcement - CIA, NSA. Some sort of undercover assignment -"
"Yeah, sure," John said tiredly, plainly humoring him.
Harold wondered uneasily what he was sensing about himself that made him so sure he was the bad guy in whatever was going on. But then, Harold's own instincts about himself had been wrong, wrong, wrong. He hadn't expected the dog, or that boring apartment, or… John, whatever John was to him. Maybe their perception of themselves had been shaken up just as much as their memories.
John's first priority in that fight had been Harold's safety. He'd shielded him with his own body. The idea that maybe the two of them might be involved didn't seem quite so inconceivable anymore. If they were, did he knew what was going on in John's life? Did he know, and had he made the decision to stay with him anyway, despite the risks involved? Was that the right decision to make now?
Suddenly it seemed unbearable not to know. Few things in his life had felt familiar so far, but maybe this would. "John? May I try something?"
"Of course," John said. Harold twisted on the bed, turned John to face him with one hand on his cheek, and pressed their lips together. John made a startled sound, but he didn't move away. His stubble was rough and bristly against the edges of Harold's mouth, but his lips were soft, and his body was warm and alive everywhere they were touching. He'd only wanted the one kiss, just to try, but suddenly his hands were clenching desperately in John's shirt, pulling them tighter together. John let him, let Harold lick into his mouth and bite at his lips, made a soft sound when Harold put his hands under John's shirt to touch his naked back, a low moan that sounded almost pained.
Harold fell backwards onto the bed, tried to drag John down with him.
"Don't, I'll get blood on you, don't," John whispered urgently. But he wasn't fighting, and when Harold didn't release the grip on his jacket, he let himself be pulled down. He stretched out on top of Harold, careful, his weight on his arms, one hand curled gently around Harold's shoulder. He really was getting blood on Harold's shirt, and Harold didn't give a damn.
Harold was vaguely aware that he was kissing him too hard, that his grip was probably leaving bruises on John's shoulders. John wasn't complaining. He was kissing back, but gentler, slower, and some of his calm was sinking into Harold along with the warmth from his body. After a while that desperate, urgent feeling passed, and he was able to relax his grip. Then John bundled him onto his side and wrapped himself around him, holding him tight to John's chest while he shook.
Coming up from that felt almost like waking up from a deep sleep, or coming out of a trance. He was slowly becoming aware of his body again, of all the places John was touching him. He wasn't hard at all, he realized, surprised. He'd felt so desperate. It was very strange to think that none of that desperation had been sexual at all.
He untangled himself from John's hold, sat down at the very edge of the bed with his back to John, tried to straighten his rumpled shirt. "I apologize," he said, staring straight ahead at the wall, embarrassment a tight knot in his chest. "I don't know what came over me."
The sheets rustled as John got to his feet. From the corner of his eye, Harold could see him shrugging, casually unconcerned. "Adrenaline can get you like that. Don't worry about it."
Harold heard water running in the bathroom. When John emerged, he looked like a respectable citizen again, his hands clean of blood. The sleeve of his jacket was still wet and sticky with something more than water, but on the dark fabric you had to look very closely to notice. When he pulled on his coat, even that last sign of what had happened disappeared.
They took a cab most of the way back to John's loft but walked the last couple of blocks in mutual, unspoken paranoia. Harold still felt skittish, shaken up. He kept looking behind them, startling at the sound of cars, footsteps, the ring of a public telephone. Bear was sticking close to him on one side, John on the other, and he felt torn between gratitude and embarrassment at their quiet protectiveness.
The third time it happened, the ring of the public phone they were passing stopped him dead in his tracks. "What is it?" John asked, instantly alert, his hand going to his gun.
"I think that's for us," Harold said. His heartbeat was picking up speed again. He looked around, but he couldn't see anyone watching them, and from the way John's eyes were darting around the place, he couldn't pick their pursuer out of the crowd, either.
He picked up the phone, John shifting to block him from view as far as possible. "Hypnosis, Romeo, Romeo," said a jumble of synthetic voices, and Harold blinked in confusion. "Stenographic, Tango, Golf. Passion, Lima, Kilo."
"Wait," Harold said. "Wait, I don't understand, what does that mean? Who are you?" But he was already speaking to the dial tone.
"Pen, I need a pen," he muttered to himself, and to his surprise, John actually pressed one into his hand. He looked around for something to write on, and then, for lack of anything better, yanked off his cufflink, shoved up his sleeve and scribbled the words down on the inside of his forearm.
"What is it?" John asked, grasping Harold by the wrist and turning his arm until he could read the words.
"I don't know. It appears to be some kind of code."
"Do you know what it means?"
"No," Harold said absentmindedly. He freed his arm from John's grasp, stared down at the words. Hypnosis, RR…
"So we’ll look up Code Breaking 101 on the internet. Come on, we're almost at the loft." Harold followed him automatically, still thinking.
Hypnosis, RR… Oh. "They might be books," he said, fumbling for his phone. John took his arm and towed him a few steps further. Harold dimly realized he'd been standing in the middle of the crosswalk, but mostly he was busy flicking through web pages, cursing his phone's small screen. Some connection between the subject matters? No, that wasn't right… Publishers, authors? No… Number codes? Tapcode in the ISBN? No, that was gibberish. Oh, of course.
"The Dewey Decimal System," he said out loud. "It's a number, a -"
"New York social security number," John said, watching over his shoulder as Harold wrote the number down on his arm. "That was fast. Good work, Harold." John had a way of speaking that always made it sound like he was having fun at your expense, but Harold thought he could detect sincere appreciation under that faintly amused tone this time.
"I think I may have invented this particular cipher," Harold said, looking away, hoping John wouldn't notice the way his cheeks were reddening. "It feels… familiar."
The loft was huge and airy. John hadn't been exaggerating about the estimated price of this place. Harold looked around curiously. Those really did look like his suits, still in the plastic sleeves from the dry cleaners, and, oh dear – John hadn't been exaggerating about his weapons collection, either. Harold slowly backed out of the walk-in closet.
John was booting up his laptop, one hand held out to the side so he wouldn't get blood on the machine. Harold froze. John had washed their attackers' blood off in the hotel. "Let me see your arm," he said.
"It's nothing," John said, turning away, half shielding his arm with his body.
"Don't be ridiculous, John. Let me see," Harold said sharply, tugging John back around with a hand on his elbow. He unbuttoned John's cuff and carefully eased his sleeve up. His forearm was wrapped with a hand towel, the thin fabric already soaked through with blood. Harold carefully unwrapped it, revealing a long gash, still welling sluggishly with blood. He swallowed hard and looked away, bracing himself on the edge of the desk. He felt suddenly light-headed, cold sweat gathering on his face.
"It's okay, Harold. I can take care of it myself," John said gently.
"Yes, I can see you've done an excellent job of that so far," Harold snapped. He gritted his teeth and made himself inspect the wound.
"That needs stitches," he said.
John shrugged. "No hospital, remember?"
He was right, of course. "At least let me put a proper bandage on it. Where's your first aid kit?"
John's first aid kit wasn't so much a "kit" as three drawers crammed full of medical equipment. Rolls of bandages, needles, instruments in sterile packaging. Looking at it, Harold discovered yet another unexpected skill: he knew how to stitch up a wound.
He stalled a little over the preparation, setting out his instruments with fussy precision. He knew exactly how this worked, all the steps of the task lined up neatly in his head, but he still got dizzy if he thought about it too much. But there wasn't anyone else to do this, so Harold would just have to manage. He took a deep breath. "Sit down and hold still," he said, and made himself begin.
It was a grisly task, but he found that the nausea was manageable if he concentrated. It helped that John was being stoic about it, watching him calmly, no visible sign of pain on his face, although sometimes Harold could feel his muscles tensing.
"Thanks," John said when it was done, inspecting the neat row of stitches. "Not bad."
"Well, at least that's one question answered," Harold said. "Whatever it is you're involved in, I must be aware of it." This wasn't a skill he'd learned in the IT department.
"I'm glad," John said. "Bad enough I'm dating a civilian at all. At least you probably know the risks."
Neither of them was trying to deny the "dating" hypothesis anymore, Harold realized. He suspected it meant that John, too, had noticed how natural it had felt when they'd kissed, how easily their bodies had fit together. His body had remembered John like it had remembered code, or how to work around the limits imposed by his damaged joints.
John's laptop had layers and layers of security. It took Harold half an hour just to get to the point where he could use the browser on the thing, and he still couldn't access any of the files. He might not have been able to get through at all, if the structure hadn't felt so very familiar. Like the cipher earlier, he thought this was probably a product of his own brain, and unlike the mediocre code he'd turned in for his day job, this was clever work.
Harold still didn't like to think of himself as the kind of person who produced substandard work just because he was bored – surely if a thing was worth doing at all, it was worth doing well – but it was reassuring to know that at least he was capable of better if he tried.
John came out of the shower damp and clean-smelling, and came up to watch over his shoulder.
"I do hope you didn't get those bandages wet," Harold said, leaning back in his chair until the back of his head was almost, almost brushing John's chest. The scent of John's cologne was soothing some agitated lizard part of Harold's brain that was still gibbering about the fact that just a few hours ago they'd been attacked by a dozen men with guns.
"Wouldn't want to undo all your hard work," John said, holding out his arm for inspection with a little smirk that preemptively mocked Harold for fussing.
Harold didn't let it stop him. He undid John's cuff, rolling it neatly up his arm. It felt unsettlingly intimate, even though, of course, he wasn't undressing John as such. Harold gently ran his fingers around the edge of the bandage, as dry and neat as he'd left it, and then hesitated for a moment, John's arm still cradled in his hand. John had tanned, muscular forearms, big calloused hands, but his wrist was surprisingly delicate. Harold wanted, helplessly, to kiss the soft skin there, wanted to pull John down and kiss him for real.
Maybe the adrenaline wasn't quite out of his system just yet. Or maybe their surroundings were stirring up something in the suppressed part of his memory. They must have spent time together in this place, had probably had sex on that big bed many times.
"Made any progress?" John asked, breaking the moment. His voice was raspy and low, intimate. But then of course he always sounded like that. It was really quite distracting.
Harold had found the woman their number belonged to, a Lucy Benton, 35 years old, Wall Street analyst; none of it rang any bells, so he'd kept digging. Her credit report painted an ugly picture. Credit cards maxed out, a six figure medical bill from Mount Sinai Medical Center in collections. The hospital's record had been easy enough to hack, and gave them the other half of the picture: leukemia. Three cycles of chemo and a bone marrow transplantation adding up to almost two hundred thousand dollars in charges, only half of which appeared on that credit report.
"She may have turned to some less scrupulous lenders," Harold said.
"And now they want me to extract their pound of flesh," John said grimly. "We have to get close to her. If they've hired more than one person for the job, she's going to need protection."
For all they knew, they'd been alerted to this woman to be her protection. But they'd had that discussion already, and if John insisted on thinking himself a killer, Harold wasn't feeling in a good position to argue with him right now. Even he had to admit that it didn't add up. If the police or one of the government agencies wanted this woman protected, they'd take her into protective custody, not send an undercover agent.
Lucy Benton didn't look much like the picture in her driver's license, which showed a smiling woman with a cascade of blonde curls. She must have dropped thirty pounds, and her hair was only just beginning to grow back in stubbly patches. There was a haunted look in her eyes, and she kept looking over her shoulder.
"Looks like she knows something's up. I'm gonna talk to her," John said. Harold stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"She's already skittish. Let me talk to her." A small man with glasses and a limp would be far less intimidating than John, with his aura of grim determination and visibly bruised knuckles.
It was getting late, and the street was almost deserted. Not the best place to approach a scared woman if you wanted to gain her trust. But showing up at her apartment wouldn't be any less intimidating.
She was walking quickly enough that it took some effort to catch up with her. Harold put on his most harmless smile, trying to ignore the stabbing ache in his hip from moving this fast. He was still trying to think of a way to start the conversation that wouldn't frighten her off immediately when someone else caught up with her first.
He was a big guy, but quick. One hand grabbed her arm, the other clamped down over her mouth, and he dragged her behind a big wall of plastic sheeting into a construction zone so quickly and smoothly, Harold didn't think anyone else on the street had even noticed.
He froze, caught between conflicting impulses, his body straining forward with the urge to help at the same time he was suddenly horribly aware of his physical limitations. He wasn't John, he couldn't take on an armed man with his bare hands. But John was three blocks away, watching them through binoculars. There was no time to wait for him. Harold ducked into the blocked-off zone, hoping the darkness and the labyrinth of poles and equipment would be enough to hide him.
Luck was with him. The guy was standing half turned away from Harold, his attention entirely on Miss Benton. She'd looked small and scared out on the street, but now, with a gun in her face, she seemed to be fiercely angry more than anything. She was glaring, her shoulders squared. "No," she snapped, her eyes bright with anger. "You're not fucking doing this to me. I just got my life back. Tell your boss he'll get his money, I'm working again, he just needs to give me a bit more time!"
It wasn't going to work. The gunman's face was uncaring, almost bored. Everything about his body language screamed that he had his orders, and he wasn't going to deviate from them. Harold was sweating through his shirt, nauseous with adrenaline. His breath was rasping in his ears, so loud he couldn't imagine how the man didn't hear it.
Benton was going to die if he didn't do something.
Harold launched himself at the gunman's outstretched arm. He grabbed the thick wrist in both hands and shoved with all his weight behind it, forcing the gun as far away from Benton as he could. The impact spun them both around, Harold still clinging fiercely to the man's arm. If he were John, he'd know how to do something, to force the man to drop the gun or incapacitate him somehow. But all Harold could do was hang on with a strength born of sheer terror, and try to keep the gun pointed away from the both of them.
The man grunted and slammed him back into the wall. Agony exploded out from the point of impact. Harold screamed. His vision whited out, but he didn't let go, turning himself into a limp weight on the man's gun hand, dragging it down down down.
Benton was screaming, too. "You fucker, you goddamn fucker, you're not doing this to us!" She was pounding her fists into the man's chest and side, over and over, wheezing with exertion. He was fending her off with his free arm, looking startled more than pained. Any second now he was going to recover from the surprise and realize that he was dealing with a crippled nerd and a ninety pound woman recovering from her latest round of chemo, and then they'd both be dead.
And then John was there. "Oh, thank God," Harold whispered as John yanked him and Lucy off the man, shoving them both safely behind him, and rammed his fist into the man's solar plexus with brutal force. The man collapsed, wheezing.
Next to Harold, Benton was gasping harshly, both hands pressed over her mouth. "Fucking hell," she said, muffled, and burst into tears.
Harold stared at her helplessly. Comforting upset people so very much wasn't his area of expertise.
Her tears were streaking make-up down her gaunt, blotchy face. Harold pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and hesitantly edged closer. "It's all right. You're safe now," he said, cringing internally. What could you possibly say in a situation like this?
She tugged the handkerchief from his hand and wiped it roughly over her face. "I'm okay!" she said. She sniffled loudly, blew her nose. "I'm fine, fuck, sorry." Her voice was shaking. She sounded anything but fine. "Fuck. Just gimme a moment." She curled in on herself, hiding her face, and drew a few hard, shuddering breaths.
Harold was shamefully grateful when his phone rang, giving him an excuse to turn away and give her some privacy. Detective Carter, the caller display told him.
"Hello?" he said cautiously. He really didn't like the idea of having to talk to the police with no idea what was going on.
"The hell is wrong with you two?" Carter snapped. Her tone was familiar, if sharp; this wasn't an official inquiry of an officer to a suspect. "You can't just leave a dozen bleeding thugs lying around the park! I swear to God, if I didn't know the two of you save more people than any six good cops, I'd hang you out to dry."
"I apologize, Detective," Harold said, put off balance. He simply didn't know enough to feel equal to this conversation. So they were working with the police then? If so, in what capacity? And why had Carter called him? Even if John was, indeed, an undercover agent, surely he himself wasn't. "There were… complications," he said vaguely.
"Aren't there always, with you two," Carter said, sounding resigned. She sighed. "That's not why I'm calling, anyway. I ran a trace on Miller like you wanted, but I got nothing. That woman's a ghost. Anything new on your side?"
Miller, the mystery woman who'd sent the men after them in the park. Apparently they'd been hunting her before the explosion in the warehouse. "Well. Not apart from the fact that she sent half a dozen thugs to scare us off her trail," Harold said, deciding on a whim to be honest. The detective did appear to be an ally.
Carter sighed. "Thought that might have been related. Great. You guys take care, will you?" Her voice sharpened again. "And next time you two need someone arrested, don't just leave them lying around somewhere. Call me."
Harold looked down at the would-be assassin, who was still struggling weakly in John's hold. "Well, as a matter of fact, Detective…"
He tucked the phone back into his pocket with a sigh of relief. That could have gone worse.
Behind him, Benton sniffled loudly and then said, in a determined tone, "Okay, fuck, I'm good." When he turned back to face her, she did indeed look slightly more composed, although her face was still stained with tears and make-up. She held out her hand and gave him a watery smile. "I'm Lucy. Shit, you saved my life and I haven't even said thank you."
"Don't worry about it," Harold said quickly. "I'm Harold, this is John -" He twisted a bit to nod his chin at John, and winced. John had the man pressed up against the wall, his arm twisted behind him at an unnatural angle. He was leaning close, hissing something in a low, dangerous voice; presumably trying to extract the name of the loan shark who'd ordered the hit. John waggled his fingers at Lucy in a casual wave while hoisting the man's arm yet higher with his other hand, startling a shaky laugh out of her and a yelp of pain out of the man. Harold sighed.
"So it seems we do indeed work with law enforcement," Harold said, when he'd finished relating the call to John. At the sound of approaching sirens, they'd left the would-be assassin tied up for Detective Carter to find and were walking back to the loft.
"Yeah," John said. He was smiling, an actual smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. Harold hadn't entirely realized how much John had been burdened by his conviction that he was a criminal, a killer, until he saw him with that weight lifted off his shoulders.
John tilted his head. "NYPD, huh. You think I'm an undercover cop?"
Harold contemplated John's closet full of oversized guns, his deadly martial arts skills, his ludicrously well-stocked bank account. "No offense to New York's finest," he said. "But…"
"No, doesn't seem very likely, does it," John agreed.
They were walking close together, sharing a smile from time to time when their shoulders bumped. They'd stopped a murderer, saved a life. It was exhilarating.
Bear pounced on them the minute they opened the door to the loft. John crouched down and scratched him roughly behind the ears while Bear shoved enthusiastically into his hands. John grinned up at Harold, his eyes bright, his cheeks dimpling, and Harold gave in to a sudden impulse, pulled him to his feet, and kissed him.
John surged into him, his entire body pressing tightly to Harold's, kissing him back with fierce delight. Bear nudged them a few times, trying to regain their attention. Harold hardly noticed. He ran his fingers through John's hair and cupped his cheek. John nuzzled into his hand, smiling, and Harold had to kiss him again. He felt entirely suffused with affection for the world in general and John in particular.
John went smoothly to his knees. Harold's breath caught. "I like you in that suit. You look like a bossy millionaire," John said, low, teasing. He kissed Harold's stomach, the sensation muffled through Harold's shirt and vest, then ducked his head and started pulling at Harold's clothes, trying to get to skin.
"Maybe I am," Harold said, keeping his voice even with an effort when John shoved his shirt up and kissed his naked stomach, biting a little, looking up at him with his eyes crinkling mischievously. "You don't know, do you, John? I might be a secret software tycoon. Maybe I was the one who bought you all those nice things."
John laughed, but there was a shiver running through him, too, and his eyes were dark; he looked… interested, and so Harold made his voice a littler sharper, said "Maybe you should make it worth my while," and John groaned quietly and yanked his belt open.
Apparently this, too, was a skill their bodies remembered. John sucked cock like he knew exactly what he was doing. Harold gasped and let himself fall backwards against the wall, wincing when he was abruptly reminded of his bruised back. John wrapped an arm around his hips, taking some of his weight.
He had his other hand down his pants, stroking himself. Harold tilted his head, trying to see, and abruptly this wasn't enough anymore, both of them still fully clothed, up against the wall next to the front door. He wanted to take his time, to touch… to be touched.
"Wait," he said. "John, wait. Would you like to fuck me?"
John groaned, curling in around his hand on his cock. "Warn a guy, Harold," he said with a low laugh, which Harold supposed was a yes. John didn't stop immediately, though. He put his mouth back on Harold's cock and went back to sucking, slower than before, savoring it. Occasionally he made a content little noise to himself. It was really very… very distracting. Harold clung to John's shoulders and watched him, the little dimple in his cheek that meant he'd be smiling if his mouth wasn't otherwise occupied, his eyes, half-closed in pleasure.
It took an effort of will to make himself pull John up, although it was powerful consolation to get to undress him. Harold ran a hand over John's tanned, muscular shoulder. John pushed into the touch with his whole body. He was wonderfully responsive.
John pushed Harold's jacket off his shoulder and then hesitated, holding it in his hand as if he was seriously worrying whether Harold would be annoyed if he dropped it on the floor. Harold took it from him and tossed it aside, and John's eyes got a little darker. He wasn't anywhere near as careful with the rest of Harold's clothes, yanking his shirt open impatiently. Harold was reasonably sure he lost a button in the process.
Harold hesitated with his hands on the hem of his undershirt. Even now, he didn't like the thought of exposing his scarred, mangled skin. It wasn't the fact that the scars were ugly, although that was also true. It was that they felt private, evidence of some past tragedy. They invited pity or concern, neither of which he wanted, and worse, a curiosity he couldn't answer.
But he knew he was being ridiculous. They were a couple. John had seen his scars before, even if he didn't remember right now, and they wouldn't tell John any more about what had happened than what Harold himself knew, which was precisely nothing.
John had plenty of scars of his own for that matter; thin white lines on his arms from knife slashes, and a silvery starburst on his stomach, a scar from a bullet that must have come very close to killing him.
"Leave it on if you want," John said, his hands curling gently over Harold's hesitant ones, and if he couldn't trust this man, how could he trust anyone? Harold smiled a tight smile and pulled the undershirt over his head.
John gave him a quick once-over, his sharp eyes taking in the scars with almost clinical interest, and then just as quickly seemed to lose interest in them. He went easily when Harold pushed him backwards onto his bed.
Harold should have felt virginal, he supposed; it wasn't like he remembered ever being fucked before. But he didn't. He didn't feel clumsy or nervous. He knew he liked this, and he knew how to make it happen, how to breathe and relax into it.
John didn't seem to feel the same certainty. He was a little overcautious, a little fumbling; still, it got them there. They took a simultaneous deep breath when John finally slid inside him, John startled, Harold satisfied; it felt just as good as he'd known it would.
"Oh," John said, sounding shocked, undone, like he hadn't expected it to feel this way. His voice was shaking a little.
Neither of them lasted very long after that. John collapsed heavily onto the bed when they were done, breathing hard. Harold turned onto his side to watch him, smiling a little when John immediately curled into him. He'd expected John to be a cuddler, and he'd expected to be annoyed by it. It was very clear to him that he was a man who liked his personal space. He was surprised to find that he didn't mind it; it was peaceful, John's warmth, the weight of him against his side, the rhythm of his breath beginning to even out into sleep.
"Do you think I sleep here a lot?" he asked idly. That might explain how strangely devoid of personality his own place had felt, at least.
John laughed quietly. "I really don't think I bought this place just for myself. Can you imagine knocking around all that empty space by yourself? I'd go crazy."
It didn't seem so bad to Harold, having some space to yourself. But there was something to the idea that maybe this was a place John had chosen with him in mind, maybe even a place they'd picked together.
Harold Finch awoke all at once. There was no blurry rise out of sleep, no slow dawning of memory. He was awake. He knew who he was. He knew what he'd done.
John had been sleeping with his head on Harold's shoulder, a warm, relaxed weight; his leg pressed intimately between Harold's thighs. He must have felt Harold tensing up. He snapped awake, yanking a gun out from under his pillow – good Lord, had that been there all night? – and sitting up in a crouch. Harold could tell the exact moment realization hit him by the way he stopped casing the loft for intruders; his face went blank and still.
They looked at each other, both of them entirely at a loss for words. John looked pale and drawn, horrified. He was avoiding Harold's eyes. Harold had an entire life's worth of memories now, stretching all the way back to his early childhood days, and yet he couldn't remember ever having felt such a level of mortification. It was unbearable. What could you possibly say, after you'd accidentally slept with a friend you'd never once looked at in a romantic light? A friend who'd never given any indication of interest? There weren't any words.
He remembered Friday with perfect clarity, now. He’d spent Harold Weaver’s business meeting programming an algorithm to track Miller’s whereabouts, and had come to John's place straight after to wait for the alert. John had been cooking breakfast when Harold had walked through the door and had silently put out another plate for him; Harold hadn't given it a second thought at the time. What an assumption they'd made on hardly any evidence at all. The depth of the misunderstanding was almost incomprehensible in retrospect.
They’d gotten a hit on the tracker halfway through breakfast. They'd followed the GPS coordinates to the warehouse, and that's when things got blurry. Harold vaguely remembered the explosion, John yelling, a fizzing sound that had abruptly gotten very loud; nothing after that until the moment he'd woken up with his memory gone.
He shifted uncomfortably. The insides of his thighs felt sticky, and his leg muscles were sore. Last night, John had fucked him in this bed. How was he supposed to look him in the face now?
"It would probably be best if we didn't speak of this again. We were quite literally not ourselves," Harold said. His voice was brittle and too tight; his face burned. He desperately wanted to be anywhere but in bed with John right now, but he was painfully aware that he was naked underneath the thin sheet, that his clothes were strewn on John's floor. Wrapping himself in the sheet would have left John exposed on the bed. But he couldn't make himself stand up naked, either.
So of course it was John who did the chivalrous thing, leaving the sheet for Harold when he got out of bed. He walked naked to his wardrobe with a dignity Harold didn't think he could have mustered without the armor of his clothes. But then John had spent half his life in barracks. He was used to being naked in front of other men. Still, he was blushing, blotchy red on his face, spreading all the way down to his chest and back. And even now, Harold's eyes were helplessly drawn to John's body; his broad shoulders, the naked back of his thighs. Harold yanked his gaze away before John could catch him looking. The situation was mortifying enough.
John took his change of clothes to the bathroom. Harold breathed a sigh of relief when the door finally closed between them. He gathered his clothes with shaking hands. They were wrinkled beyond recovery, of course. Last night, he hadn’t cared in the least. Now it seemed impossible to face John in his rumpled jacket, in the pants that John's hands had pulled off his hips.
He took the coward's way out and left before John got out of the bathroom.
They didn't talk about it.
The first few days were the worst. Harold had gotten in the habit of leaving the comm link open between them more and more. Partly for safety's sake – it meant they were both instantly aware if something went wrong on the other's end – but partly because he simply liked the company. Not that they talked that much. They both had jobs that demanded their full attention. Still, he'd liked knowing he could talk to John whenever he thought of something to tell him.
Now, John kept the comm link off when he wasn't reporting in, which he did every hour on the hour, giving crisp updates on the state of their number and then signing off again. Of course, there wasn't a reason to talk. They had a run of easy, straightforward cases - a plumber trying to poison his business partner, a murderous ex-husband, five housewives conspiring to take out a con man. Not at all the kind of things that required Harold's input.
Harold should have been grateful for the space. He found he could hardly look John in the face these days, and John seemed to be suffering from much the same problem. Instead, he felt a fierce, aching loneliness that confounded him with its intensity. Surely he'd been more alone than this before John had come into his life. He'd been entirely on his own then. Now he had a friend in Bear, and a pair of allies, however reluctant at times, in Carter and Fusco. He had John, someone he could trust, someone who had his back. The new distance between them didn't change that. And yet he was suddenly aware of his own isolation in a way he hadn't been after Nathan's death, when he'd still been half numb with grief and guilt and dealing very badly with his new physical limitations.
Harold broke their pact of silence exactly once. John had called to tell him he was wrapping up his surveillance for the night. "Heading home now," he said, and it was the casual way he called the loft "home" that did it. Because it wasn't, was it? How John must hate that place.
Harold knew John had spent time in captivity, and that's what he'd been thinking about when he'd chosen the loft. He'd wanted to give John a place that was as far from a prison cell as possible, someplace light and airy, with plenty of space to move around. But now that he was seeing the loft through John's eyes, it was obvious how badly he'd chosen. The wall of windows, the lack of hide-outs....
Can you imagine knocking around all that empty space by yourself?
"If you'd like a different apartment…" Harold said tentatively, aware that he was crossing an unspoken boundary.
"No, thank you," John said, in a voice that effectively ended the conversation and forbade any further discussion of the subject.
For all that they didn't talk about what had happened, it was always there between them, lending a new awkward dimension to every interaction.
Harold kept hearing the thing he'd said to John that night, the thing he'd spun out as a sexual fantasy, half joking at the time: Maybe I gave you all these nice things, he'd said. Maybe you should make it worth my while. It had seemed funny at the time, when he'd still thought John was the one with all the money and all the power.
Was that what he'd been doing? Indulging in a sexual fantasy, asserting power? He'd been enjoying himself so much in the role of John's generous benefactor, hadn't he. Dressing John in clothes he'd chosen, picking his apartment for him, his tech, everything down to his goddamn underwear. How could he not have noticed how bizarrely he was acting?
Everything seemed twisted, looking at it in this new light: The proprietary pleasure he'd taken, seeing John sharp and handsome in the suits he'd bought for him. The way he'd felt when he'd handed over that first birthday present, the way his breath had caught at the startled look of happiness on John's face. When he'd woken up in John's bed, with his memory newly returned, he'd been telling himself he'd never looked at John in a sexual way. In retrospect, it was obvious that he'd been deluding himself.
He wondered whether John had known. John wouldn't have said anything if he'd noticed. Harold knew how grateful John was to him, how indebted he felt; much more than he should be, given that John had saved Harold – had saved himself – as much as Harold had ever saved him. John wouldn't embarrass him, not if he could help it. He'd always indulged Harold's eccentricities and flaws.
Harold was uncomfortably aware of how little he'd probably have to push to get what he wanted. John was grateful; John liked him very much; John’s body was a tool to him, and it was a tool he'd already put at Harold's disposal. If he asked, Harold thought, John might well indulge him in this, too.
There was a ring of keys locked in a drawer of Harold's desk: the keys to all his private safe houses, a little cardboard tag with the address attached to every one. Before the explosion, Harold had been meaning to give it to John. He’d never been able to fully trust anyone, but he’d found he trusted John. He’d wanted to make sure John knew that.
John had always liked to test the boundaries of their relationship, push at the barriers Harold put up to protect his privacy just to see how far he'd give. With him giving this far, he knew John would consider it as good as an invitation; that he'd look up from his computer one day and find John leaning against his living room wall, a challenging little smirk on his face.
Obviously he couldn’t give to him now. The gesture had become all twisted. It would look like a plea instead of an invitation, like an attempt to cross the lines between them.
He really should take that key ring out of the drawer. Its mere existence was a security risk. The keys needed to be separated, the tags burned; it didn't matter that he wanted John to have it. Things were different now. He was going to get used to that any day now.
They couldn't avoid each other forever. Their next case ground to a halt when John tried and failed to break into their number's laptop. He brought it back to the library, the first time he'd been there in days. Harold took it from him, both of them still carefully avoiding each other's eyes.
John had already spent quite a bit of time trying to crack the encryption. He wasn't a hacker by any stretch of the imagination, but the CIA had taught him the basic skills, and he'd learned a few more tricks from Harold. One didn't need a computer science degree to exploit a buffer overflow.
Harold looked at the record of what John had already tried. It was solid work, all the obvious angles of attacks covered. John had tried very hard to make this work without having to talk to him. Harold didn't bring up the fact that he could have done all this in a fraction of the time.
As it turned out, the information they needed wasn't on the laptop anyway. They'd have to hack the company's mainframe, which couldn't be accessed remotely. Harold ended up spending an aggravating hour talking John through the necessary coding over the comm. The worst of the strained awkwardness between them dissipated after a while. Harold found himself smiling, halfway through correcting John's placement of a bracket for the hundredth time, hearing John grind his teeth with frustration on the other end; the first real emotion John had allowed him to see in two weeks, the first thing that wasn't distant politeness and bland, professional friendliness.
And then John's voice cut out on a pained groan.
"John?" Harold said. There wasn't anything he could physically do to help, but he found himself on his feet anyway, his hands clenching around the back of his chair. Faint sounds of scuffling answered him. John's breathing sounded bad, harsh and pained. Harold listened in helpless impotence, his heat beating in his throat, the old familiar terror rising up to choke him. It never got any easier, those long moments with nothing to do but wait and hope and fear.
There was a dull thump, and then finally, John's voice, low and faintly amused at the concern that had surely been obvious in Harold's voice: "I'm fine, Finch."
As Harold had learned to his chagrin, "fine" from John could mean most anything, including a non-fatal gunshot wound. "Are you injured?" he asked.
"Just a couple bruises," John said, which meant he'd be black and blue under his shirt tomorrow.
They had the data they needed. Harold didn't really have anything to contribute at this point, but he couldn't bring himself to cut the connection. John wasn't signing off, either. For long minutes, Harold couldn't bring himself to do anything at all but sit there and listen to the sound of John's steady breathing.
Miller’s trail had grown cold while he and John had been stumbling cluelessly through the city, but he still had the tracking program looking for her. The facial recognition software finally gave them a hit when they were in the car on their way back from a night of surveillance. Harold braced himself against the dashboard when John jerked the car into a tight, barely-controlled turn and sped towards the new location.
It was raining, water coming down in sheets, and not yet light outside; they raced right through the perimeter Miller's guards had set up around the new warehouse without even seeing them there, and the first warning they got was the car window shattering under a hail of gunfire.
"Get down!" John snapped, hitting the gas, and Harold was busy unbuckling his seatbelt with fumbling fingers when the tire blew. The car skidded and lurched, hit something in the darkness, and spun out of control. There was a dizzying moment of weightlessness, and then a sickening impact.
Harold lay there, stunned, blinking rainwater out of his eyes. He'd been thrown clear of the car in the crash. Dimly, he was aware that he should be moving, should be doing something. The sound of gunfire seemed to be coming from very far away. He felt numb. He'd been lucky he hadn't gotten hurt in the crash, he thought. He hoped John wasn't hurt.
The gunfire noise was finally stopping. Harold smiled dizzily up into the rain. John was all right, then. John was very good at making people stop shooting. And then John was there, bending over him, his face all twisted up with anxiety.
"I'm fine!" Harold said quickly, and John gave him an awful, shaky smile and said "Yeah, you're gonna be fine, Harold," in a horrible tone of voice. Harold blinked at him, confused, and then he followed John's gaze down his body. "Oh," he said.
It was a scene out of a horror movie. His shirt was completely soaked through with red, and there were rivulets of blood and rainwater running down his body to collect in a growing puddle beside him.
John was very carefully straightening out his arm, arranging it on top of Harold's body. "Don't look," he said, shifting to try and shield Harold from the view of what he was doing. So of course Harold looked. "Oh," he said again. He swallowed hard and forced his eyes away with an effort. "I think my arm is broken," he said.
"Pretty much," John said. He was still trying to smile. "Sorry."
Harold closed his eyes, let John arrange him as he liked. It felt almost peaceful, lying there, John taking care of him, even as he was starting to shiver a little, soaked to the skin from the icy rain. It hit him suddenly that there'd been a reason they'd come here. "Did you get Miller? John? Did she get away?"
John had torn a strip of fabric off his shirt and was carefully tying Harold's arm to his chest. He didn't look up at the question. "I really don't care right now, Harold," he said, and Harold really meant to protest that. And then John picked him up, and the pain hit him like a sledgehammer. He heard himself make a sound, and then John's voice, saying "Sorry, sorry," as if from very far away.
Things got blurry after that. He didn't remember the ride to the hospital, and nothing but dizzy snatches from the emergency room. People kept shining lights into his eyes and trying to make him answer questions until John snarled something in a low, dangerous voice; and then, surprisingly, some more after that, too. The doctor didn't sound very impressed by John. For some reason that seemed rather funny at the time.
It took three screws and a plate to put his arm bone back into place, and he was still going to be wearing a cast for a month. He was also covered in cuts and scrapes over every square inch of his body, none of them very deep, despite how copiously they'd bled. Hardly any of them even required stitches.
Harold spent the day after the surgery almost entirely out of it, drugged and dizzy, surfacing occasionally to listen to long-winded explanations he couldn't seem to follow. "You were very lucky," the doctors told him repeatedly, while his arm throbbed and the cuts stung and his stomach roiled from the morphine. Doctors really were a very annoying species of people, overall; Harold had always thought so.
He woke up for real to John hovering by his bedside, looking anxious. His hand was resting on the bedspread, inches from Harold's own. Harold, still swimming on a fuzzy tide of morphine, badly wanted to reach for it.
"Good morning, Mr. Reese," he said instead. John smiled, his eyes suspiciously shiny.
"It's four in the afternoon," he said gently, and then, "You'll be fine, Harold."
Harold's right arm was draped across his stomach, dead weight in a blue cast. He'd broken his arm once as a child, and he still remembered what it had been like, the helpless indignity of it, how many everyday tasks had suddenly required help. The thought made his teeth grind.
John took him to a safe house. Harold’s own keys had gotten lost in the crash. John had to pick the lock. Harold watched him unhappily. The ring of keys was still hidden in his drawer. This was supposed to be a safe space for John, too; it was ridiculous that he had to break in.
Harold stretched out on the sofa, wincing with every movement. John hovered, quiet, unobtrusive, helping out when needed. Just for the first day, Harold told himself, and then, Just while we're taking care of this number. He really needed to stop taking advantage of John's generosity. He told himself so every day.
But John was so very good at it. He wasn't condescending or overbearing in his helpfulness; he'd leave Harold to button his own damn shirt without trying to butt in, even if he did take forever over it with only one functioning hand. Most of the time, John kept himself busy, reading, working out, training with Bear. But every time Harold found himself stumped on a two-handed task, he'd turn around and find John standing behind him, ready to help. Harold hardly ever had to ask, and John was casual about it, acting like it was nothing; Harold had expected it to be unbearable, living with the broken arm, but he found that it was hardly a problem at all. Neither of them talked about it, how the whole careful distance between them had suddenly shrunk to nothing.
Harold had been limping worse since the car crash. His damaged hip ached with every step, and the stiff, twisted way he walked so he wouldn't jar the broken arm was hell on his back. The muscles all along his spine were cramped into a single string of tension; a prickling, burning pain radiated outwards from the center of his back.
Harold rubbed at his shoulder, but he couldn't reach far enough to get at the actual source of the pain. What he needed was a massage therapist. He really should make an appointment one of these days, he thought, knowing perfectly well he wasn't going to do it. The thought of a stranger's hands on his scars made his skin crawl.
"Hey," John said quietly from behind him, startling him. He hadn't even known John was there. Harold quickly put his hand back on his keyboard. Even now he didn't like letting people see him in pain. Not even John, not even knowing John wasn't going to pity him.
He'd expected John to gracefully ignore his moment of weakness, the same way he always did. He flinched hard, startled, when instead John stepped up behind him and put his hand on the source of the tension, his thumb resting lightly against the worst of the knots.
He wasn't squeezing, wasn't doing anything to make it hurt more, just letting the heat from his hand soak slowly through Harold's shirt, his thumb rubbing lightly against that tight, unhappy spot.
Harold was going to pull away. He was going to get up, square his shoulders, say something coldly polite; make John aware that he was crossing a boundary. They didn't do this.
And yet, he was still sitting there. John wasn't even really doing anything yet, but Harold's entire body wanted to curl towards his hands at the promise of even a little bit of a release of tension. Harold closed his eyes and let his head fall forward, tacit permission.
John started working his hands against the tight muscles, gently at first and then firmer, edging up to the threshold of real pain but never quite getting there. And then he tugged very lightly on Harold's shirt, pulling it just a little way out of his pants, hesitant.
This was when he needed to tell John to stop, the last possible moment to preserve the fiction that this was nothing but a meaningless little neck-rub between friends.
He stayed silent.
And then John was touching his bare skin, where no one had touched him since Harold Weaver had gone to bed with John Roberts, and no one at all for years before that.
John left one hand resting on his shoulder, keeping him in place while he stepped closer to the desk, fishing the hand lotion out of a drawer. Somehow it was even worse after that, more intimate still, the warm slick glide of John's hands against his skin.
Harold was shocked to find himself suddenly, horribly on the verge of tears. It was a natural reaction of course, explicable; the release of the pain, being touched by another human being when one had been deprived of touch for a very long time, oxytocin and endorphins; knowing the theory didn't make it any less embarrassing.
Harold squeezed his eyes shut, desperately grateful that John couldn't see his face. He wasn't making noises, he could control himself that far. But he knew he had to look a mess, curled awkwardly over his desk, his shirts bunched up above John's hands. He was hard, but it hardly registered.
And then John gave his shoulder one last friendly squeeze and stepped back, and Harold's hand shot out, snagging John's sleeve. "John," he said, wretchedly, giving too much away; asking, when he'd promised himself he wouldn't ask. John's eyes went wide and startled.
"So you do want this," John said. Harold blinked at him. Was John really surprised? He was wearing a suit handmade by Harold’s tailor to Harold’s specifications; cufflinks Harold had taken perhaps too much pleasure in personally choosing for him. In retrospect, Harold thought he’d been rather obvious.
John gave him a smile, an almost shyly pleased expression, like an animal prepared to startle back at a harsh word. He turned Harold to face him with a hand on the arm of his chair and knelt down in front of him, bringing their faces almost level.
"We shouldn't," Harold said.
John quickly shook his head, squeezing his hand. "No, Harold, it's okay. I get it. Just this, okay? Just let me," he said, and then he was leaning in for a kiss, and Harold had no self-control left.
Kissing John was familiar, but the angle was not. John had to tilt his face up a little in this position. And in any case, Harold Finch had never been kissed by John Reese. It was the most extraordinary sensation.
John's hands went to the button on his pants, working quickly. Harold was just about to point out that there was no hurry, and then John – John, who never asked for anything – said "Let me. Please," and Harold snapped his mouth shut.
John sucked him hard and fast, eager. Harold leaned heavily against his chair, letting his head fall back, gasping, hanging on to John's shoulders with both hands. The broken arm gave a warning twinge. He hardly felt it.
John was stroking himself. Harold could feel the rhythmic movement of his shoulder under his hand. He wanted to tell him to wait, wanted to bring John off with his own hands, spread him out on a bed, take care of him properly. But he could barely think enough to form a coherent sentence, and anyway he couldn't ask John to wait when he himself couldn't wait one more minute.
He came quickly, hard, with his eyes closed, and even through the almost overwhelming sensation of it – coming in John's mouth, John's hands tight on his hips – he was listening to the quiet little sound John made when he got there himself. He basked for a moment with his eyes closed, letting himself feel; his heartbeat slowing down, the sluggish, contented thrum of his muscles, the warm lassitude spreading through his body.
He opened his eyes to John sitting at his feet, his long legs tucked beneath him, his entire body loose and relaxed. He was resting his head on Harold's thigh, his eyes closed, smiling a little; he looked as content as Harold had ever seen him. Harold looked down at him with a dawning sense of wonder. He gently carded his fingers through John's hair, ran his thumb along the curve of John's ear. For a moment, John pushed into the caress like a cat. And then his body stiffened. He ducked out from under Harold's hands, standing up.
"You should go to bed, Finch. It's late," he said, in a blank, neutral voice, all the easy relaxation gone from his posture.
Harold blinked at him, reached out a hand. "Come with me, then," he said. Surely he couldn't have been that wrong. John had wanted him; John had been happy.
"Don't," John said, in the amused, gently chiding voice he always used when he thought Harold was fussing too much. "I told you, I get it. You're not Weaver. You already have someone you love. And I'm not…" he laughed a little, low, no actual humor in it. "You know a lot of things about me that you didn't know about Roberts. Harold, I'm not asking you to date me."
Harold stared at him. He did know things about John; he knew everything about John. How could John think… Oh, but he knew what to do now. He fumbled the little key out of his pocket, unlocked the desk drawer with his hands almost shaking with urgency, suddenly desperately grateful to have something tangible he could give.
The key ring clattered softly when he pulled it out of its hiding place. "You should," he said, pressing it into John's hand, closing John's fingers tightly around it. He watched John look down at the keys, watched the expression on John's face when he understood what he was holding. Harold drew a deep breath; he was sure about this, more sure than he'd ever been about anything, and he let John hear it in his voice. "You should ask me for anything you want."