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If It's Not Love

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People found him attractive. It happened enough that John didn't think much about it; it was part of the background noise. People looked twice at him; they'd ask to buy him a drink, sometimes ask for more, either outright or with smiles and sideways looks, the inviting tilt of a head or a glance at an empty seat alongside. It happened less since he'd gone into the Agency: the killer showed through, he guessed. Even so, it was still a routine thing.

Harold never asked; never even looked twice. John never registered desire from him.

Then one day he came back to the library wet and stinking and very unhappy after a chase had wound up in the sewers — the bad kind of sewers. With a fight that had involved his getting knocked down. Repeatedly. Harold looked up at him as he came in from the stairs, at first with relief and then with a sympathetic horror. "Oh, dear," he said. Bear whined, ears pinned back.

"Yeah," John said shortly, and stripped himself to the bare skin right there, throwing his clothing directly into the big trash can. The shower in the men's room that Harold had rigged up for them was pretty much an emergency measure only, but John wasn't waiting another minute to get clean. He wiped his hair off with the least stained parts of his undershirt and threw his briefs after it, and yanked the trash bag shut and tied it. "I'll toss it after," he said, and went into the bathroom.

He was preoccupied with getting the sewage off his skin, fast. Even the uneven, hot-to-cold shower felt like heaven by comparison, and he used up half of one of the industrial pink soap containers scrubbing. The door to the bathroom opened after about ten minutes and John heard Harold say, "I'm leaving you clean clothing and some extra towels."

"Thanks," John called back, but after the door closed again, his brain rewound, and abruptly he remembered Harold's eyes jerking away from him and back to his screens, faint pink color in his cheek, carefully not-looking.

John put down his hands and just stood in the shower, water running over his skin. Harold did want him.


John wasn't going to say anything. He found himself trying to spot it, though — when Harold slipped up. It didn't happen often. When John stretched enthusiastically and let his head tip back, really extended his whole body; if he groaned a little while he was doing it, that could do the trick. Harold wouldn't fluster, but he'd look a little bit too long. Once John fell asleep on the couch behind him, and he roused to Harold's hand gentle on his shoulder; when he gave Harold a drowsy smile, Harold's mouth wobbled briefly: a too-warm smile, pulled back too hard.

That one made John deeply entertained: really? He'd been drooling on the couch a little, his hair was squashed on one side, and his jacket lapel was bent double. Harold apparently had it badly.

John brought more clothes to the library and did some work on the shower to make it more usable, and started working out by the desk while Harold coded. He could tell when he was getting through because Harold would have to hit the delete key a lot. John was tempted to install a keylogger to quantify it: were pushups better, or stretching? But he regretfully skipped it; any keylogger he installed, Harold would've found in five seconds, on a bad day, while drunk.

John was getting a sense of it anyway. Harold liked his shoulders a lot, and liked him smiling, and liked him pulling a shirt off over his head and rolling his neck. John had set up a few small mirrors in effective places, so he also knew Harold checked out his ass when offered a wide-open field to do so.

He wondered occasionally what else Harold wanted. Did Harold want to fuck him? Maybe Harold wanted John to suck his cock. John wasn't going to say anything, but if Harold ever said something, asked him, John wanted to be — prepared; he wanted to know what to expect.

Two days later he managed to get some wine on his shirt. Back at the library, he peeled it off, rolling one shoulder and another out of it just a touch slow, and when he turned around Harold was staring at him, hands above the keyboard, and for one dizzying moment John thought that Harold was about to say it, Harold was about to ask him, but what Harold actually said, in a voice that sounded utterly baffled, was, "Are you doing that on purpose?"

John felt his heart thump, hard, three times. He didn't say anything. His mouth had gone completely dry.

Harold stared at him, bewildered. "You've never shown any interest. Why would — " But he stopped there and said abruptly, "You'd say yes if I asked."

John heard himself say, "Yes," his voice cracking.

Harold paused and then said, "You want me to — "

"Yes," John said, harshly. In a minute, he knew distantly, he was going to be the one asking, on his knees, begging Harold — to let him, to let him touch, to touch him. And even as he had the thought, he wanted that, too; he wanted to beg. He wanted to —

"John," Harold was saying, softly, impossibly, full of love.

"Please," John said, desperately. He didn't think he could bear it another moment. "Harold—"

"Yes; yes, of course," Harold said, instantly and infinitely generous, standing up; he took two halting and sure steps to John's side and kissed him on the mouth, warm and tender.

"Please," John said again, kissing him back, shaking. "Please, Harold, ask me — ask me for anything—"