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When We Finally Kiss Goodnight

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A torrent of massive snowflakes whipped through the empty street, and for the third time in significantly fewer minutes, Harold had to yank his hat back down on his head.

"Think Lance'll make it back in time?" John shouted over the whistling wind, steering Harold around a patch of ice on the road.

"I'm not sure." Harold gripped John's arm tighter, practicality winning out over pride and propriety. It was getting harder to see the treacherous pavement beneath the growing coat of white, and while he was, for once, wearing boots with good traction on their soles, there were some things even the best shoes couldn't compensate for. "We won't make it back home until this is over, though, that's for certain."

Greg Peterson's number had taken them on the road. Thirty-seven, historical romance novelist, lived with his doctor husband Charles far outside of Harold's and John's usual stomping grounds. Had Harold been given any say, they wouldn't have left the city until the latest so-called "Storm of the Century" was nothing but a memory. The Machine, though, as usual, waited for no man. With a blizzard just days away, it had given them the number, and, of course, they went.

If Mr. Lance had made his move hours—or, better yet, days—ago, maybe they could have made it back to the city. News outlets had been blasting warning after warning about the system churning inexorably closer for days. Anyone who tried to cross it would be a fool. A sensible person would have planned accordingly.

But it was the tenth anniversary of Michael Lance's breakup with Charles Peterson. Lance had wanted to kill the doctor's husband at the same time his own heart had been, in Lance's words, "shattered," weather be damned.

Harold feared he never would understand people.

The Peterson case ended without any injuries. Both husbands were rattled but unharmed. There had been a moment where Harold thought he was looking Death in the face, but in the end, it turned out that Death needed somebody to listen to him.

Lance had agreed, at Harold's and Dr. Peterson's insistence, to seek therapy to finally process the breakup. No charges would be filed, and now Lance's pistol was a heavy weight in the pocket of Harold's coat. He imagined its chill against his hip through the layers of wool and—regrettably—denim he wore, and wished he'd immediately handed the thing over to John.

No matter. He'd be rid of the wretched weapon soon enough.

Then he would analyze the case, take it apart in hopes of increasing their efficacy in the future. The man had been unfazed by John's obvious deadly competence, and, later, John's display of quiet compassion. But something about Harold had struck a chord with him. Harold would try to figure out what upon further analysis.

For now, he needed to focus on walking.

The distance between their temporary headquarters and the Petersons' home had been short hours ago. Now, it stretched endlessly on. Thick snow obscured his vision, and the slick street whispered promises of devastating injury with every cautious step. And the cold. The cold devoured him, sinking its fangs through layers of thick fabric and thin skin down to the marrow if his bones to spread its venom. Harold ached, badly. But they were close. Two houses away, then one...

It was hardly surprising when his foot skidded on a patch of ice. Before he could fall, before he could hurt, strong arms were around him.

"I've got you," John said, holding him up, pulling him close. "It's okay."

As John closed the embrace, Harold abruptly became hyperaware of the strength of John's body, and the blissful warmth of it. John kept him upright with ease, steady and stable. His hands were big on Harold's back, splayed gently, grip unwavering. He stood between Harold and the storm, his tall, broad frame shielding him from the blowing snow and filling his vision and other senses with warmth and reassurance.

It was difficult to imagine anything mattering but John. Though Harold found the idea clichéd in literature, for a moment, it was as though they were all that existed: John a steady, immovable force of nature, Harold protected by his might.

There were snowflakes caught on John's absurdly long eyelashes, Harold noticed. He couldn't resist the temptation to brush them away. John's eyes fell closed, and he smiled very slightly.

"Thanks," John said, softly, before asking, "You okay, Finch?" with concern, not pity—never pity.

Harold prided himself on his ability to pretend not to be affected by a great many things. It had served him well throughout the case, throughout most of his life, and hopefully would continue to do so while they remained trapped together. His voice was perfectly normal, perfectly composed, as he replied, "Yes, Mr. Reese. Thank you."

The wind made another attempt at stealing his hat, and he let out a yelp, earning himself a cold mouthful of snowflakes as he held down the fedora. "Oh dear. I believe that must be our cue to get indoors."

"I think we missed our cue hours ago."

"Quite." Harold disentangled himself partially from John's arms, letting him hold on just enough to provide stability. Then, with feigned sternness, he added, "And I'm afraid I must ask you to refrain from a second attempt at carrying me across the threshold."

John had been very careful that day, very gentle. Very amused, and smug as he'd swept Harold up in his arms, flashing an outwardly-innocent grin that was anything but.

"Does John Raymond-Mallard seem like the kind of guy who wouldn't carry his new husband over the threshold, Harold?" he'd teased.

"You didn't carry Ms. Morgan over the threshold," Harold grumbled, before settling in with a resigned sigh, ignoring how good John smelled, how pleasantly solid and strong he was. How he seemed to know how to support Harold's battered old bones just right.

How he'd gotten himself into this damn mess by giving John permission to do "anything to support the cover, Mr. Reese" during the long car ride out of town.

"Bringing up the fake ex-wife? I'm hurt." John had no trouble carrying him up the steps and inside—another fact Harold vehemently ignored. The more he pretended that John's strength didn't affect him beyond its effectiveness with the numbers, the happier he'd be. "Besides, I'm pretty sure Zoe would've killed me if I'd tried."

John cast a glance through the open door, and said, "The neighbors are watching, so I'm going to kiss you. That okay?"

And Harold found himself with yet another thing to ignore: the part of his brain whispering, "Oh no."

"As I said earlier," Harold replied, his heart skipping beats, "anything for the cover."

"Anything for the cover," John repeated. Then, soft and feather-light, his cool lips brushed the tip of Harold's nose.

Harold's breath caught, and his cold cheeks went hot. To his own dismay, he found himself biting back a smile. It would have been easier, he suspected, to withstand John doing something lewd. But this was gentle. Sweet.

Oh no indeed.

"Anyway," John said, his cheeks pink as well, and Harold couldn't remember if they'd already been colored by the chill air or not, "you don't like violence."

More annoyed with himself than with John, Harold glared, and sharply said, "Keep me up here much longer, Mr. Reese, and I may be reevaluating my stance on the subject very soon."

Once he was on his feet, Harold looked outside as John closed the door. He didn't spot anyone watching, but that didn't mean much. Who would want to stay outside for long in this weather?

It hadn't been the last time John kissed him, either. There were very few buttons of Harold's that John wouldn't push, especially when Harold gave permission. John had stuck to chaste kisses on the cheeks mostly, especially after his second attempt at kissing Harold's lips was met with a scowl and Harold whipping out a tube of lip balm, tutting, "Honestly, John, how many times am I going to have to lecture you on the importance of moisturizing?" before swiping the balm across John's chapped lips.

"Probably about as many as you're gonna have to lecture me on tying bow ties," John had shot back, before licking his lips and murmuring, "Vanilla. Nice."

"You sure you guys have only been married three weeks?" Greg Peterson had asked, and Harold had visions of their covers falling apart before he realized Greg was amused. "You two are like an old married couple. It's so cute."

Harold had thanked Greg for the compliment, twisting the ring on his finger and pretending he didn't feel the familiar ache of longing in his chest.

"No promises," John said, dragging Harold back to the icy night, cracking another tiny smile that quickly turned serious. "Don't let go. It'll be easier that way."

"I don't intend to." Harold wrapped his arm more tightly around John's waist.

They made it inside the house without further difficulty. The tidy little two-story building he'd dismissed as "unoriginally-designed, bordering on tacky" was now a welcome sight. Harold quickly cast off the pall of Lance's gun, telling John, "Deal with this, please, Mr. Reese," as he handed it over, and started to think of more pleasant things.

Like the gas fireplace in the living room. It was a bit unnecessary—the house had a central heating unit—but was one of the more beautiful examples of gas fireplaces Harold had seen. He was eager to take advantage, to settle in with a book and a cup of tea, now that the case was done.

As they both removed their soggy accessories, Harold gave the idea further thought. Maybe he'd finish one of their number's novels, which he'd started reading for research first, then enjoyment. Greg Peterson's works would likely never be classics or bestsellers, but they were quite entertaining.

And he could give in to Bear's pleading eyes in front of John just this once, too, and allow him on the couch beside him. It was a terrible habit, but letting a dog on the furniture was hardly the worst of vices. Usually, Bear would lie at his feet, staring at him with pleading brown eyes, until Harold moved over to the couch and invited Bear to join him "one last time—I mean it; this is it." Then he'd read aloud until Bear fell asleep with his head on Harold's lap.

Perhaps he'd skip reading aloud.

Bear would likely enjoy it, too. He was whining eagerly on the other side of the door, barking and whimpering with excitement.

"Someone's happy we're home," John said, with a grin. And then stripped off his sweater and his undershirt.

Harold's brain crashed. He stared, in a manner that was utterly unbecoming of anyone, until he caught himself and turned his attention to his own clothes instead.

It was hardly the first time John had undressed in Harold's presence. He'd seen John's bare skin like this countless times—John was far more blasé about nudity than Harold had ever been, even in his youth. Whether that was the nonchalance of the knowingly-beautiful or just a result of John's past, Harold couldn't say. But seeing John partially—or fully—nude should not have been remarkable anymore.

Three days of pretending to be husbands came with unexpected side effects, apparently. From a side of himself he'd thought he'd suppressed.

John was the quintessential example of history written upon skin. Little of his long, lean body had been spared from some sort of mark. Scattered streaks and blots of of faded cream and angry pink scar tissue, yellowing clouds of storm-dark bruises, a white strip of taped gauze very low across his abdomen all told stories of the brave, wounded protector he was. His muscles stood out in carved relief beneath flesh that was firm in most spots but with a healthy softness, flexing visibly as John undressed with his usual easy grace.

Good heavens, was John attractive.

"We need to get out of these wet clothes, Finch," John said, catching sight of Harold's open-mouthed expression and hopefully misinterpreting it. "Can't let you catch a cold on my watch."

This was a dangerous path for him to let his mind explore. John was too dear to him, his friendship too important, their working relationship even more so. If he showed too much, or if he acted, he would be placing everything at risk. Especially with them on the brink of spending an unknown amount of time together.

He'd already nearly lost John so many times. When the CIA caught up with him, when the FBI and Kara Stanton did, when the HR situation came to a head and almost claimed John and Carter. When numbers went sideways and left Harold with echoing silence on his end of the line. John simply leaving after all of that, because of him? It would be better than the alternative, yes, but still unbearable.

Gathering as much of his dignity as he could, Harold said, "Colds don't work that way, Mr. Reese." His voice wavered slightly when John dropped his jeans, but Harold was able to hide his inappropriate interest by turning to hang up his sodden coat. "I believe I'll change in the bathroom instead of the foyer." Raising his voice pointedly, he continued, "Like a civilized person."

John, the infuriating menace, chuckled. "Suit yourself." Then, when Harold turned back around—resolutely looking at John's face, not his torso or other tempting areas—John gave Harold's attire a once-over and added, "Or sweater and jeans." It was hardly the best of John's terrible puns, but it broke Harold from his mood. He chuckled softly over it, making John look far too pleased with himself.

John seemed quite amused by Harold's sartorial choices since starting the case. Harold Mallard did programming work from home, and favored far more casual clothes than his usual choices. Like the now unpleasantly damp, oatmeal-colored cashmere sweater and the dark, soaked jeans Harold was eager to remove. The sweater was more than a little unflattering on a man with his abdomen, he suspected. With the way John kept looking at his clothes, he wondered if John shared that sentiment.

"Something interesting, Mr. Reese?"

"Hm?" Then John shook his head, and said, "Nothing important. Go get changed, Finch," with a pained smile and an odd note in his voice.

Harold had no objections to that idea. Dry clothes, perhaps a hot shower first—yes, that would be better. He announced his intention to John, who called it a good idea, and, after giving Bear the greeting he deserved, Harold made the laborious trek upstairs.

It was a shame how unkind the cold was to him these days, he thought, pausing at the bedroom window to rest and take in the scene outside. Winter used to be his favorite season—the quiet peace of a snow-coated world, the softening of even the roughest edges, the forced slowing of everyone's frenetic pace. Others saw death in the dormant, leafless trees; Harold used to see the world giving everything a moment to breathe.

Now, he wasn't sure what he saw. The holidays brought out the curmudgeon in him. The start of the year brought back memories of Grace, of ice cream cones and fleeting happiness. And the cold was physically painful.

But maybe...maybe he could still see some of the beauty in a cold January night. Snow plummeting in the darkness like falling stars, glittering in the amber streetlights, painting everything white. It was astonishing how tiny crystals of frozen water could throw everything into such disarray, and how they could look so picturesque at the same time. Nature was a marvel.

He saw John's reflection in the window before the man himself came up beside him, silent. Their eyes met briefly on the shining glass, before they both turned their attention to the snow.

Across the street, Harold spotted someone else watching the sky, the Petersons' elderly next-door-neighbor Mrs. Bohn, presumably, sitting in a window seat. He smiled to himself. It was nice to know someone else enjoyed the sight. So many complaints about the weather—most of them valid, to be sure; snow and ice were dangerous, and the cold hurt and killed. But that wasn't all that a snowstorm had to offer. He was glad someone else saw it.

He wondered if John did. John stayed quiet beside him, a contemplative look on his face. Was John seeing the beauty, the danger, or the harsh memories of assignments? Was he watching the snow or searching for threats, or perhaps a mixture of both?

John's mind fascinated him. Clever, sharp, rarely missing anything. People underestimated John—a regrettable, grave mistake. They saw either a pretty face, a mindless weapon, or a heartless killer. Harold wondered how many people looked at John and saw the man.

Harold liked to think he saw. He couldn't see everything, of course, despite his proclamations of near-omniscience, but he very much liked the man he did see—the one who took great pains to be kind to him and others, the one with a massive heart that had been deeply wounded but was (hopefully) healing, the man who gave and gave to help people. The one whose hurt was as chronic as the ache in Harold's bones, but had run much deeper for longer.

But there were so many things Harold didn't know. Like what John thought of the coating of white outside. Can you see the beauty in it, too? he wanted to ask. Do you still see the beauty in things? though he was fairly certain the answer to that one, judging by the way John's eyes lit up every now and then, was yes. Do you ever think of me in some of the ways I think of you? Do you know how I see you?

"It's lovely," Harold said, "isn't it?"

Voice quiet and rough, John replied, "Yes." Then, with more of his usual amusement, he added, "Pretty big pain in the ass, too, though."

"Right?" Harold chuckled. "I'm guessing there are a great many things you'd rather be doing than being stuck here with me, Mr. Reese."

"I don't know about that," John said. "It's a lot better than the last time I got stuck in a blizzard."

"I'm sure."

"Spent a few days in a cave in the middle of nowhere. Kara and I kept hearing these godawful scraping noises down deep in the dark, like nails down a chalkboard but worse. Sounded like something out of a horror movie.

"Two of the CIA's best agents," John continued, "and neither of us was brave enough to check out some noise in a cave. Kara said she signed up to kill terrorists, not demons, and we should just shoot whatever the hell it was if it came after us. I agreed."

Harold shuddered. "What was it?"

"Turned out to be the guy we were after. He thought if he scared the hell out of us, he'd live. You don't want to know what happened next." John sighed, and nodded toward the window. "I'd rather be here. Better hideout, better mission." He turned and gave Harold a small smile. "Human company's a lot better here, too. I'm glad it's you I'm stuck with this time."

The obvious sincerity of John's words left a small glow of happiness fluttering in Harold's belly. "I'm pleased to hear that, Mr. Reese. Thank you. And, I must say, you are excellent company as well."

John's faint smile widened slightly. "Thanks." He pushed away from the window and wandered off toward the dresser. "Go change, Finch. It's cold."

It really was. Standing next to the window had done nothing good for the dampness of his clothes, but it had lifted his spirits. Perhaps winter was still his favorite season. And perhaps being stranded here wouldn't be bad. They both joked about taking vacations every now and then. For as long as they kept working the numbers, this was likely the closest either of them would get to one. It might get unpleasant, and they might get stir-crazy, but as long as Harold didn't let his inappropriate feelings bubble over, the interpersonal relationship wouldn't suffer.

And they were adequately prepared to face the storm's fury. Almost comically prepared, actually, he mused, as he gathered his pajamas. The sheer number of survival supplies they'd unpacked days ago had, after a while, turned into something of a running joke. He'd brought enough food and water for the both of them and Bear to last for a very long time. So had John. He'd brought equipment for cooking during a power outage, in case they couldn't get the gas range or generator to work. So had John. He'd brought batteries, chargers, an array of communication devices, plenty of tools, and damn near anything else a winter survival situation would require.

So had John.

"It's not paranoia if Old Man Winter really is out to get you," John had said, with a wry grin, as they'd pulled identical navy blue wool blankets from their respective cardboard boxes.

Almost the only thing they didn't have in duplicate was a generator, though they did have twice as much propane as they would likely need. They didn't need it yet, thank goodness, but it was hooked up and ready to go if they did.

Unless something truly catastrophic occurred, they would be safe and sound for at least a month, probably longer. By then, he would run out of his pain medication, and their stay would become truly unpleasant for him, but not fatally so.

For now, Harold would enjoy the unnecessary comforts while they lasted, like standing near the bathroom's heating vent as he got out of his clothes, then taking full advantage of the home's water heater. He turned the water up to just a few degrees shy of unbearable, and he reveled in the pleasant sting on his skin as it banished the chill and loosened the tight muscles in his back.

And if his mind drifted to John as he touched himself, slicking his cock up with soap, stroking himself until he was biting back a moan and coming in spurts down the drain, well. That was between him and the hot water, wasn't it?

John would never—could never—know.


Harold had almost been shot.

Less than an hour ago, there was a gun aimed at Harold's chest. At Greg Peterson's chest first, until Harold stepped between him and Michael Lance. Then the Glock was pointed at Harold, at Harold's chest, at Harold's goddamned heart. And if Lance had pulled that trigger...

John tried to force the image from his mind as he slipped into a pair of sweatpants. He couldn't. On the other side of the bathroom door, Harold was there, Harold was fine, uninjured and taking a shower. But all John could see was what had almost happened.

There'd been a gun aimed at Harold's chest. Harold had almost been shot. Harold stood between their number and their perp, and one wrong word, or one accidental twitch of a finger had been all that stood between Harold and a bullet. And while Harold acted like he was okay with the whole thing, John was not.

With every blink, he saw what hadn't happened. Lance's finger depressing the trigger. The slow-motion trajectory of the fast-paced bullet. Blood. Death. Harold's death.

All that kept John from putting his fist through something was being trained not to. But it was a damn near thing.

It wasn't how their cases were supposed to go. Harold wasn't supposed to almost get shot, wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the line of fire. It happened, had happened before, would probably happen again someday. "No such thing as a risk-free life," "Sooner or later, both of us will probably wind up dead," countless other times Harold stated his acceptance of his unacceptable fate and placed himself in danger, and it was still something John couldn't get used to. Fuck.

Harold was supposed to be at the Library, guiding him. Not almost getting shot. Not almost dying.

Once John tied the drawstring on his pants, he forced himself to take a deep breath, then focus on replacing the gauze on his stomach. Another new scar to be proud of, a knife slash from protecting a scared teenage girl from her asshole older brother who thought drug money was more important than family. Harold's neat, tidy stitches hadn't been disturbed, and the deep cut was healing well.

He always seemed to take better care of the wounds that had been treated by Harold than the ones treated by doctors or himself. Keeping them clean and dry, replacing the bandages frequently, trying not to strain the injuries unless he had no choice. It wasn't that he felt like Harold gave him permission to take care of himself, exactly. It just felt...disrespectful, he supposed, to not be careful with Harold's hard work.

If Harold heard him say that, he would've had a fit. Like John was doing over Harold.

A badly-maintained Glock 17 lay stripped on the dining room table downstairs, under Bear's watchful eye. John couldn't stop seeing it in one piece and pointed at Harold. Couldn't stop picturing the round entering Harold's body, leaving him bleeding all over that damn tan sweater he didn't belong in, and—

John finished taping down the fresh gauze, and ran a hand over his face. Dammit, he'd been trained out of this, too. The sight of a gun pointed at him, his partner, anyone wasn't supposed to get to him anymore. It didn't matter that Harold was special, that the world needed people like Harold Finch in it, that he needed Harold in it. He'd been taught not to be affected like this. Not to need anyone.

"Just another day at the office, dear," Kara had told him once, while recovering after a sword—a fucking sword, of all things—punctured her lung. "That's all any of this is—another day at the office. You take all this...sympathy, this concern—or is it affection, ugh—" She'd said the words like they were dog shit on the bottom of her shoe. "—and you get rid of it. Understand?"

"I do," he'd replied. Now—more so than he had been then—he was sure he'd been lying. To himself, if no one else.

"Good," she'd said. "Because your feelings? They will get you killed out here."

He was pretty sure she'd been right. His sympathy, his concern, his affection, his feelings for Harold would one day be the death of him. And instead of them getting easier for him to deal with, they were only getting worse. He'd be carrying around the massive storm of feelings and emotions he had revolving around Harold Finch for the rest of his life.

Harold was fine. The shower was running, and every now and then, John heard the thump of a bottle being set down through the thin walls, steps in Harold's meticulous and ridiculous grooming routine. Eventually, Harold would come out in a cloud of steam, smelling of nothing but himself since he, too, recognized the value of not having a noteworthy scent unless a cover required cologne. He'd be wearing pajamas, dark blue and green plaid, thick and warm and as soft as that damn sweater.

God, those sweaters. Those damn things had been driving him crazy all week. There was something about seeing Harold in something other than a suit that always threw him off, but the sweaters were in a class of their own. A dark blue one the first day, the same jewel blue shade as the blue in Harold's pajamas. A deep brick red one that had felt like a cloud under John's rough hands when he'd kissed Harold and got swiped with vanilla lip balm. Today's tan one.

Harold looked softer in a sweater, somehow, vulnerable and undefended. They hugged his body in a way John found oddly appealing. It was easier to see the real person beneath the armor in the sweaters. Easier for his eyes to follow Harold's shape, from the gentle curves of his shoulders to the lines of his torso to the roundness of his belly to the dip where his back gave way to his ass—an ass that was even easier to see without a jacket interrupting the view.

When you're thinking about someone's ass, he thought, you know you have a problem.

John yanked on his shirt, and headed back downstairs.

He had never really looked at guys before, was the thing. Whether it was because he didn't care or because he didn't let himself do it out of fear of fucking things up during combat, he wasn't so sure anymore. But men were friends at best, foes at worst. He liked women, loved one woman so much it nearly killed him. But he'd never felt that way about a guy. He'd never had a reason to consider men for anything other than friendship.

He'd never had a reason to consider a lot of things until Harold came along. It had taken some time to start feeling something, and then time to feel something other than misery, but working the numbers, working with Harold, had awakened parts of him that he'd thought were long gone. Funny what having a purpose and having someone give a damn about your well-being could do.

It had awakened parts of himself that he hadn't even realized were there, too, apparently.

When he'd first caught himself watching Harold, he'd thought it was a fluke, an unexpected side effect of taking a few bullets and having someone come to save him for a change. He'd been doped up on painkillers and was resting as comfortably as he could with healing holes in his gut and his thigh, on a nice bed with obscenely soft sheets, in a penthouse with an amazing view of the city and no other personality whatsoever. Harold was changing the dressing on John's leg wound, then the light hit him just right, and something inside John's head shifted.

He knew then that there was something different about how he felt about Harold Finch, something bigger than friendship, bigger than his ongoing fascination with the man. Bigger even than the brotherhood he'd had with fellow soldiers. He'd already known Harold was special. You couldn't work that closely with someone like Harold without figuring out that he was incredible, that he was brilliant and kind and fascinating as hell underneath that prickly, secretive exterior. John wanted to touch that brilliance more closely, more intimately, wanted to kiss him and feel him and see if some of that wonder would rub off on him.

In the opiate haze, he'd reached out and stroked Harold's face, smiling at him. For the briefest moment, Harold's eyes had fluttered shut and he'd turned his cheek into John's palm, like he hadn't been touched kindly in forever either. Then Harold came back to himself and pulled away, and it hurt more in that moment than the GSWs.

Just to be sure there was more to it than deep friendship, he'd tried a few things, too. Tracking a number led him into a sex shop one day, and he'd made a few purchases of his own. Silicone and vibration probably couldn't compare to the real deal, but being fucked was definitely something he'd be interested in. And once he started taking a closer look at men, being fucked by a man was something he was interested in, too. If he hadn't been so damn busy saving numbers and dodging disasters, he might've tried it. At the end of the day, though, John usually only had the energy for someone convenient, and his wanting centered around only one guy.

He didn't want some random hot guy. He wanted Harold. And he wanted so much more than a quick fuck.

Harold was definitely into men. That didn't help. When he'd been following Harold early on, he'd seen Harold go out with a man once, watched them flirt and kiss before spending the night at the guy's apartment.

Then the guy called Harold "Kind of boring" in a conversation with a friend a few days later. John had bristled at that even then—who the hell would think Harold Finch was boring? Even the fact that Harold had probably been deliberately dull hadn't lessened John's indignation on Harold's behalf.

John might've been a little biased. Maybe more than a little. Dammit.

It was possibly the stupidest thing John could have done, letting himself fall in love with Harold. And he would know—he'd made a hell of a lot of stupid decisions over the years.

He would never act on it. Harold was special. And he couldn't risk tainting that with his poison. Harold might call him a good man, might treat him like one, might trust him as much as Harold was capable of trusting anyone, but John knew better. John knew who he was, what he was.

That man didn't deserve Harold.

But he was good at blocking parts of himself off, at pretending he didn't feel certain things—or so he'd thought. It kept leaking out. When Root took Harold, when Harold was hurting more than usual, when Harold did something so brilliant that it was nearly unbelievable, when Harold was in danger. When Harold was Harold.

Someone pointed a gun at Harold's chest. Harold kept wearing sweaters. And John was a complete goddamn mess.

His stomach told him he could be a complete mess later. Right now, it was time to eat.

Bear perked up as soon as John got downstairs, and grew even more excited when John headed for the kitchen. The dog had figured out the first day which room the food came from in the unfamiliar house, and, unsurprisingly, kept a close eye on his people whenever they went near it. He trotted close behind John, tail wagging, and John chuckled.

"You already had your dinner. Now it's our turn." But the fact that he'd already been fed before they'd headed for the Petersons' house didn't matter. Bear's ears still perked up at the word "dinner." He was a bottomless pit. A bottomless pit who deserved a treat, John thought, snagging the jar from inside a cabinet and tossing one to Bear.

They'd been invited to the Petersons' house for the evening, part of the couple's campaign to welcome them to the neighborhood. Thanks to Lance, they hadn't been able to actually eat. There was still plenty of beef stew left over from the night before in the fridge, though, and part of Harold's experiment with the Raymond-Mallards' new bread machine that still needed to be eaten.

"I can teach you how to do that properly, you know," John had said, as he'd pulled the machine from its box. He'd never had any use for one, had always used his own two hands whenever he bothered with homemade bread.

"Who says I don't already know how?" Harold asked, then looked at him askance. "You just enjoy having an excuse to beat a lump of dough, don't you?"

John shrugged. He couldn't deny it. "It is fun."

John cleared away the pieces of Lance's gun, then got to work on heating up dinner, stopping along the way to press the button on Harold's futuristic-looking electric kettle so Harold could have his tea later. Stew in the microwave, bowls and silverware on the table, loaf of wheat bread beneath his sliding knife—all mindless tasks. He quickly found his thoughts drifting back to Harold. Harold's blue eyes alight with happiness, Harold's smile. The genuine pleasure in his voice when he'd tasted each of the dishes John had served since they'd started working the number, and the delight when his own bread came out tasty.

What would it be like, John wondered, to do this for Harold every day, without pretending? To dish up the results of weeks of practice making eggs Benedict and sencha tea in the mornings, on their own shared table instead of the Raymond-Mallards'. To hold hands and munch sandwiches on park benches during shared lunches. To kiss after elaborate and expensive dinners at Harold's favorite spots, or simpler fare at John's favorite holes-in-the-wall, tasting sweet desserts on Harold's tongue.

Or kissing Harold in the mornings in the Library, starting out light and affectionate with a little peck to the corner of Harold's mouth, then deeper and hotter. Harold would laugh and protest that they had a number, Mr. Reese, and should really get to work, but would kiss back just as hard anyway. Holding hands in front of Carter and Fusco and everyone else, because Harold would want the real kisses to be private, just for them. Slipping up and getting caught every now and then.

Would Harold ever let him pick him up again? He couldn't forget the feeling of Harold scooped up in his arms, the warm weight of him nestled against his chest. He'd felt like he belonged there, heavy but not unpleasantly so, and good. He'd smelled good, like clean skin and winter air and a hint of green tea. Then John had kissed the cool tip of his nose, and Harold's cheeks had turned a lovely shade of pink.

The bread knife's blade hit John's finger, then skimmed off and thunked loudly on the wooden cutting board. He swore under his breath. It hadn't broken the skin, but Jesus, he was off balance. If this was what happened when he thought about kissing Harold, then what would happen if he got to do it for reasons other than the job? Would he get one of them hurt, or killed? What if the one he got killed was Harold?

So much of his life was connected to Harold—the fact that he still had a life at all, even. Without Harold, he would be long gone. No "maybe" about it, no "probably." He couldn't risk losing that, not when he was just starting to live again. If he made a move, he'd lose Harold. If he made a move, and it didn't drive Harold away, it would hurt much more later if he lost him.

Best not to risk it.

Harold came in as he was finishing up, face shining with whatever cream he'd used, hair damp and fluffy. He looked—god, John could hardly believe he was thinking it—cute. Cute and relaxed, and it made John's heart thump painfully, the feeling worsening when Harold gave him a friendly smile on his way to the table.

Forcing himself to smile back, John said, "Hey, Finch," and slipped the sliced bread from the cutting board to a plate. "Good shower?"

"Yes," Harold replied, but despite how at ease he looked, he still let out a tiny, relieved sigh as he sank down in his preferred chair.

He'd been giving John the one closest to the door since they'd moved in—same with the side of the bed he'd picked—and John wondered if it was in deference to John's inescapable paranoia or Harold's own. Or did Harold truly prefer those sides of the furniture? Either way, he was still getting to see intensely private Harold Finch with some of his guard down, in casual clothes and pajamas instead of sharply-tailored suits. Not hiding when he sometimes needed to sit, letting John see glimpses of his evening routine. It was hard not to feel a bit powerful from that, knowing that Harold trusted him enough for those peeks into his personal life.

"Although," Harold said, choosing one of the thicker slices of bread, "I hope you weren't intending to take a shower of your own, Mr. Reese. I don't know how anyone can tolerate the capacity of these water heaters. They're appalling."

"Small town plumbing not meeting your high standards, Harold?" John teased. Any other rich guy grumbling about luxuries not meeting his expectations would've pissed him off. With Harold, it was somehow amusing and endearing.

"Not particularly." Harold's hand went briefly to his neck, but he caught himself, and let his hand fall back to the table instead. "Except for the weather and the plumbing, tonight went rather well, don't you think?"

A gun. Pointed at Harold's heart. John's stomach turned, but he forced a smile, and replied with a tight, "Sure."

Harold heaved a sigh. "It is inevitable that my life will be on the line at times, Mr. Reese." He reached for the butter dish, and John pushed it closer, earning a soft, "Thanks." As Harold buttered his bread, he spoke again. "We both knew going into this that this profession isn't exactly safe."

"Doesn't mean I have to like it." As John said it, the microwave beeped. He slipped on his green oven mitts and retrieved the food, setting it in the middle of the table.

"No. No, it doesn't." Harold paused for a moment, then gently said, "He didn't shoot me, John. Nobody was injured tonight, nobody arrested. The number and his husband are safe. This case went well." He ate a bite, and once he'd swallowed, added, "We should be proud of ourselves, and trying to figure out how to duplicate this result, not dwelling on what could have happened."

What "could have happened" was Harold's death, the most unacceptable outcome of any of their cases. John slammed the microwave door, and muttered a half-hearted, "Yeah."

Harold closed his eyes for a moment, looking pained. "John, this was a victory. This was a good case. We succeeded. I for one, am quite pleased with the way this one went. Did I enjoy having a gun aimed at my heart? Heavens, no! But the important thing to remember here is that Mr. Lance did not fire it."

"He still pointed it at you."

"He did," Harold said. "But he didn't fire it. I know what you've probably been picturing, what alternate outcome you have been imagining, and it did not happen. I am fine. A little rattled, yes, of course, but otherwise, I am unharmed."

Harold cocked his head slightly, a contemplative look on his face. "Would you like some more tangible reassurance?" Then, he extended his hand to John. "You're welcome to check my pulse, if it would help."

It was an odd thing to offer, John thought, but perhaps it would be a relief. He cradled Harold's warm upturned hand in his, forcing his attention not to linger on the pink scar Root had left across his palm. Nor did he trace the paths of the blue veins that stood out so vividly beneath Harold's delicate, pale skin, though he was tempted. God, he was so tempted. There was something profound about touching Harold's hands, his wrists, something that stole the breath from John's lungs. Like getting close to magic—magic that could be so easily stolen. Harold's hand, though not small, felt small in his. Fragile. It would be so easy for someone to ruin him through his hands.

But, no. Not ruin. Harold had a solution for every problem. If someone broke those important fingers, if someone shattered his wrists beyond repair, Harold would find a way around it. John was certain. He probably had a contingency plan already developed, like he did for everything else.

John was also certain he would destroy whoever tried to take Harold's magic away from him. No kneecaps. No mercy. He would tear them apart, and it would hurt.

The lights started flickering. Both of them ignored it.

Carefully, John pressed his fingers to Harold's wrist, seeking his pulse. He found it easily, and the sickening knot in his chest let go. There was Harold's heartbeat, steady and strong, thumping through Harold's body. Healthy, alive, safe. John didn't feel happy, but he felt like he could breathe.

"Nobody threw any punches," Harold said. "Nobody fired any bullets. Nobody was stabbed, or hit by a car, or anything else. This case went well. And now, the weather is forcing us to take a break." Harold smiled at him again, and pried his hand from John's grasp, then gestured toward a chair. "Have a seat, John. Take a moment to breathe, and then help me figure out how we can duplicate some of the better results of this case."

John did as he was told, sitting down and taking a slow, deliberate breath. Harold's smile turned pleased. Nobody had been hurt. Harold was alive, his heartbeat a sense memory still tingling in John's fingertips.

"Lance seemed to like you," John said, and Harold exhaled. "Found you nonthreatening. Both of you were nerds." John forced a smile that quickly fell flat. "And you listened to him."

"I got the feeling no one had done that for him in quite some time," Harold said, "which is why I also suspected he'd do better with counseling than imprisonment. If more people decided to talk to each other, I suspect we'd nearly be out of a job." Harold finally spooned a healthy serving of stew into his bowl. "But that would mean they'd actually have to talk about their feelings." Harold gave an exaggerated shudder.

John let out a small laugh. "Right. Like that'll ever happen." God, all the things he'd say to Harold, if only he were brave enough. Sweet little things like how much he liked Harold's crooked little smiles and his blue eyes and his brilliant mind. Bigger ones like, You saved my life, and one day I am going to pay you back, like it or not, or, I don't know what will happen to me if I lose you, but I don't think it will be anything good, or even, I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you, and it hurts, and I'm sorry. You deserve better. So much went unsaid, out of fear of what might happen if Harold actually listened.

Harold could walk away anytime. John was in too deep.

Expression softening, Harold leaned forward. "Mr. Reese—John. We've been through a great deal together. If you ever find yourself in need of a listening ear...I'm available."

"Likewise, Harold," John said. Then, with a smirk, he added, "Though I know you'll never take me up on it."

Harold laughed softly. "Probably not. But I will keep it in mind, just in case."

They focused on their food for a while, John gradually remembering how long it had been since he'd last eaten. As they ate, the lights flickered, staying off longer and longer every time. Harold took advantage, casting exaggeratedly surreptitious glances at him as he slipped chunks of beef off his plate and into Bear's waiting mouth when the lights blinked. John bit back a grin.

Harold, caught out, caught him back. "What?" Harold said, defensive, and John chuckled.

"Nothing, Finch." John couldn't help smiling. "Nothing at all."

"He's part of the family, too, husband dear."

"What ever happened to him being 'that distraction you adopted,' hm?" John teased. Then, he tilted his head, considering, and something occurred to him. "I bet you let him sleep in the bed with you, too."

Harold straightened up, expression prim. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking a—"

The lights went out.

"—bout. Oh, dear."

"Was wondering how long 'til that would happen," John said.

"Indeed. But the generator should kick on any second."

They waited quietly. Outside, the wind howled. Inside, it stayed eerily silent, save for the sounds of their breathing. No hum from the refrigerator, no rush of air from the heating vents. No noise from the generator in the basement.

The lights stubbornly refused to come back on.

The scrape of Harold's chair backing away from the table seemed unnaturally loud. So did the uneven scuffing of his slippers on the linoleum. When he pulled out his phone, the glow from the screen was too bright.

"Where did you put—a-ha."

John watched as Harold found a flashlight on the counter and turned it on, illuminating the whole kitchen with its white light. He pushed away from the table himself and went to Harold's side.

"Maybe you hooked it up wrong," John suggested, though he didn't think that likely.

Harold let out an indignant huff, and set the chunky blue flashlight down, facing upright. "I have set up countless generators over the years, Mr. Reese," Harold said. "I didn't hook something up wrong. Something must be wrong with it."

"Can you fix it?" John asked, grabbing another flashlight, a slender silver one.

"Most likely, yes," Harold replied. "There are some things I may not be able to repair without a new part, but hopefully it's not one of those."

John grabbed his gun, and flashed Harold a grin. "Well, let's get to it, then."


You could always count on Harold Finch being prepared.

Once they'd both tried pulling the generator's starter cord, to no avail, Harold headed for his tools. The kit he'd stashed in the basement was impressive, a towering red thing on wheels filled with everything from standard wrenches and screwdrivers and hammers to tiny computer parts. It made the toolbox John brought look like something belonging to a kid. Harold seemed to know where everything was, too, plucking tools from the massive set of drawers without effort. They were all older, well-used—well-loved—a set that might be more at home in a mechanic's workshop than a billionaire hacker's.

"You've had those for a while, haven't you?" John commented.

"Yes," was Harold's simple reply, too distracted by his contemplation of his tools. Then he shook his head slightly, and set them back in the drawers. "Roll that whole thing over there, would you? Thank you."

Harold headed for the generator, and John followed, pushing the heavy toolbox along. When he reached it, Harold was eying the generator, saying, "What's wrong with you, hm?" before patting the top of the machine.

John bit back a grin.

With a small groan of effort, Harold levered himself down to the floor. "Let's find out, shall we? See if we can make you better."

John held the flashlight steady as Harold slowly, methodically took the generator apart, piece by piece. Each part was studied carefully, turned over and around in Harold's hands, Harold's fingers feeling their edges. When finished, Harold set each piece down in the order it came out. He murmured to himself as he worked—the names of parts, or an occasional, "Not that, either," between huffs and sighs of frustration or tiny grunts of exertion.

It was strangely mesmerizing. The way Harold's pale, competent fingers moved like a caress over every piece, so sure of their welcome and his knowledge. The determined set of his mouth as he teased apart the puzzle before him. The raptor-sharp aim of his eyes. How he recognized every piece—how it worked, where it belonged, and what could have been wrong with it.

If not for being grossed out by blood, Harold would've made a damn good surgeon.

John wondered what it would be like to be the subject of that intense focus, to be stripped bare and taken apart in other ways by clever, clever Harold. How those fingers would feel on his skin. On his cheeks, smooth and warm and soft over the rasp of his stubble. The pad of a thumb brushing feather-light over John's chapped lips. Blunt fingernails scraping against his scalp. Nimble fingers sliding along the length of his cock.

John shivered, and it had nothing to do with the growing chill of the air.

Or maybe Harold's arm wrapped around him, a confident hand splayed on the small of his back, pulling him close. Or Harold's hot palm cupping the back of his head, guiding him in for kisses that tasted of sencha, grassy and green. Harold's hand cradling John's cheek or his jaw. Harold's fingertips sliding down the ever-bared line of John's throat.

God, he wanted Harold to touch him—to want to touch him—so badly. To hold him, to press his soft and compact and reassuring body against John's tall and sturdy frame. To do all the things that made John's chest and stomach ache, kisses and caresses and exploratory strokes, firm instructions, fond pats. And he wanted to touch Harold right back, to see if Harold's skin was as smooth as the occasional contact led John to believe, to know if Harold felt as good—as right—in his arms as John imagined.

He wanted Harold—all of him—from the silliest programming jokes to the most hidden secrets whispered in the darkness of cold winter nights.

Harold's voice interrupted his thoughts, an annoyed, "Oh, I hope it's not—damn," as he removed a visibly broken part.

"Problem?" John asked.

"I'm afraid so," Harold said, studying the part with narrowed eyes. "Probably damaged during shipping, I suspect. Unfortunately, I can't just fix it." He set the broken part down on the floor with the others. "I'd need a replacement, and I don't have one. I'd have to order it."

"Guess that means we're roughing it," John said.

"Indeed." Harold sat up and stretched his back, and his barely-disguised grimace and quiet, pained, "Oh," twisted in John's chest. "So long as we ration our usage carefully," he continued, voice slightly strained for a moment before evening out, "I have enough equipment to keep our laptops and phones charged for several days."

"Ration carefully," John repeated. "So I'm gonna get behind on my shows."

"Well, luckily Grey's Anatomy and all of your sitcoms are still on winter hiatus at the moment," Harold said. "You could fall a tad bit behind on your soap operas, however, and miss a few episodes of The Price is Right and Let's Make a Deal."

"Too bad." He wasn't surprised that Harold knew his TV viewing habits, nor was he ashamed of what they were. So many days spent recovering from serious wounds with nothing else to do had left him with questionable taste, and he got enough serious drama from everyday life. Sometimes, he needed something a little melodramatic to unwind, or something silly or mindless. "You'll find us a way to watch Jeopardy, though, right?" They'd been doing that every day so far, after the number went to bed; Harold seemed to like guessing the answers, and John liked the little glimpses into the sheer breadth of Harold's knowledge.

And it was fun when John guessed the answer first.

"Of course." Harold slowly got to his feet, biting his lip around a groan.

John stepped forward and offered a hand—usually, he deferred to Harold's pride, but the cool air had been making his own body ache all day, every little old break calling attention to itself. His were easy enough to ignore, but if he was feeling it, then the ice cold concrete had to be hell on Harold's body.

Harold held up a stalling hand of his own. "I'm all right," he said. "Just give me a moment."

"I'll go clear the upstairs, then," John said. He doubted it was necessary, but he'd ambushed targets in the middle of bad weather himself—blizzards, hurricanes, hell, even a massive tornado once. If something happened to Harold because he was careless...

Best to play it safe.

"When you're finished," Harold said, "we need to turn off the plumbing to the upstairs bathroom, and perhaps consider moving the mattress downstairs. I know the latter's inconvenient, but..." He grimaced.

But Harold needed a bed, John guessed. Like him, Harold could sleep anywhere, but that didn't mean he wouldn't regret it in the morning. "How 'bout you take care of the pipes, and I'll take care of the furniture?" he suggested. He'd rather take on all of it, but Harold hated feeling useless as much as him.

Harold relaxed slightly, like he'd been expecting John to protest. "That sounds reasonable," he said.

Not wanting to leave Harold alone in a dark basement for too long, John quickly cleared the house. He'd double-check everything once Harold was settled upstairs again, but for now, he was satisfied that the place was still as secure as a nearly rural house could be.

Bear agreed. He was still stationed in the kitchen, face buried deep in the stew dish, the bowls clean and the bread untouched. John would never admit that he'd skipped the onion and garlic in the stew for Bear's sake. That didn't mean he wanted Bear to eat all of it.

"Guess we've gotta find something else, huh, boy?"

Bear turned to him with a shameless doggy grin, tongue lolling out of his mouth. John couldn't find it in himself to be annoyed. He pointed at Bear, and, in a stern tone, said, "Next time, you're cooking dinner."

Bear yipped in acknowledgment, though he likely didn't understand any word but "dinner," and turned his attention back to his stolen meal. Shaking his head, John had Bear follow him, then went to fetch Harold. He left Bear stationed at the top of the stairs with a quiet command telling him to stand guard, and headed down.

Harold greeted him at the bottom of the steps with a wrench in hand and a wry smile. "Vanquished all our foes, Mr. Reese?"

"Most of them." John smiled back, and Harold started up the stairs, gripping the railing tightly. "There was a pretty scary beast in the kitchen, but he just wanted some meat."

Harold paused mid-step. "You didn't satisfy the beast too much, did you?"

"Asks the man who lets him sleep in his bed and fed him first," John shot back, amused, and Harold huffed. "Anyway, he satisfied himself. If you're still hungry, you're gonna have to find something else."

"Oh, I really thought he was getting better about stealing our food." Harold heaved a sigh.

"Discussing boundaries doesn't count as training, Harold," John teased, earning another annoyed huff.

"That's not—" John cut him off with a skeptical look, and Harold glared. "Yes, yes, fine, we're both terrible dog owners."

"Or the best. Depends on who you ask."

"And by 'who,' you mean Bear."

"Who else matters?" John shone the light around the dark basement, keeping the beam pointed away from Harold's face. No one present but him and Harold. Good. "Anyway, place is clear, but I still want to do another sweep later."

"Weatherproofing is the first priority," Harold said. "I'm sure neither of us wants to deal with leaking water. When everything's rearranged, I'll check on the cameras, and you can check the place again."

While Harold took care of the pipes, John rearranged the living room. Harold finished first, and apologized for not being able to help with the heavy lifting. John shrugged it off with a, "You disarmed a gunman tonight. You've earned a break."

Harold didn't look satisfied. Probably felt like he wasn't pulling his weight, John guessed, especially with the generator failure. But Harold relented, and stood back to watch the proceedings.

At one point, John swore he caught Harold checking out his ass. Surely not, but just in case, he made a point of bending over in front of Harold again. This time, Harold's gaze didn't flit away fast enough, and John's heart skipped a beat, a warm glow that started in his chest filling him from head to toe.

Huh. Harold liked his butt. John grinned to himself. That was awesome.

What wasn't awesome was maneuvering a queen-sized mattress down a flight of stairs almost solo. Harold guided him down from the bottom of the steps, but the mattress flopped along the darkened staircase, bumping repeatedly into the wall and the railing. "Good thing we didn't hang up any pictures," John commented, the fifth or sixth time.

"Right?" Harold said. "If we're ever in this situation again, let's just leave the mattress in the living room instead, shall we? Let the movers think we're weird."

"We are weird," John pointed out, and Harold snorted.

"True enough."

John got the mattress situated in front of the fireplace, and Bear promptly flopped down in the middle of it. John shared an amused look with Harold, who said, woefully, "I created a monster, didn't I?"

"Yes." John nudged Bear over with his foot, and dropped down beside him. He wasn't tired, exactly, but the bed felt good, and he'd earned a break, too.

"I'm going to go check the security feeds," Harold said. "Are you planning on going to sleep, or would you like me to bring in one of the gas lanterns?"

"Lantern," John replied, though his eyes were dry and heavy, falling shut almost without his permission. Maybe he was tired.

"Get some rest, John," Harold said, fondly, gently. "I'll be in bed later."

John hummed in acknowledgment, and let his weary eyes stay closed, drifting as Harold bustled around. It was nice, he thought. Comfortable. The warm glow of the fire, Bear's soft breathing, Harold's familiar footsteps. With his eyes closed, they were just two guys—two husbands—seeking refuge from the cold with each other.

That was something he couldn't let himself think about for long, not even in the sanctuary of his own head. For fuck's sake, it would take way too many hands for John to count on fingers the number of assignments he'd had like this.

Pretend to be a couple. He and Kara had done it many times. Husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, exes—they'd done it all. Him and Zoe, once. Him and Mark Snow, on a few rare occasions that had been painfully awkward for them both. Even him and Harold once, at the vet's office. So, really, there was nothing unique about pretending to be Harold's husband. He'd figured it would happen again eventually, as Harold became more and more involved in field work.

So why the hell did it feel so different? Why did feelings make it so difficult?

That was what he'd wondered, at first, as Harold handed him the box holding the gold and silver ring back at the Library. "I thought the Petersons might respond better to a fellow same-sex couple than they would a heterosexual one, Mr. Reese," Harold had said, oblivious to the way John's stomach was doing twisting somersaults as he watched the weak light catch on the ornate ring. "Or should I say, Mr. Raymond-Mallard."

"If we're married, shouldn't we be on a first-name basis, Harold?" John teased. His timing was a little off. Harold didn't comment on that. He still got that annoyed, pinched look on his face that John liked best, though, which was something.

It was so much fun to rattle Harold, usually. But that damn shift in his head after getting shot, that moment he looked up and knew what he wanted, who he wanted? That was the kind of thing that fucked with your brain. Especially on assignments like this. And as he thumbed at Harold Mallard's ring on his finger, he wanted. He wanted so much it hurt, a sharp and nagging ache in his chest.

But he could keep wanting. Harold Mallard might've loved John Raymond, but Harold Finch didn't—shouldn't—want John Reese for more than a good fuck.

Harold's footsteps drew closer, and John opened his eyes. He couldn't see Harold's face over the bundle of blankets in Harold's arms. It looked heavy, and sent a pang of guilt through John's chest. "I could've brought those down," John said.

Harold startled slightly, but recovered quickly. "Oh! Sorry to have woken you, Mr. Reese," he said, kneeling down slowly, then setting the stack aside. "It was no trouble, really."

"You didn't wake me up." As John spoke, Harold unfurled the top blanket, John's olive green one, over him. "I can do that."

"I know," Harold said, spreading the dark blanket along the length of John's body. John helped, shaking and stretching parts of the blanket until the whole thing extended all over the bed, before helping cover the bed with the other two—their identical navy blue ones. Bear let out a happy sigh and settled further.

As they made the bed, Harold spoke again, saying, "Three of the six cameras outside are down, and a fourth was wobbling rather ominously. Two of the indoor exterior cameras are obscured by snow. I'll move those once I'm finished here."

"Still got good visual on the perimeter?" John asked. In this domestic cocoon of warmth, it was hard to believe that they might have enemies who'd brave a snowstorm to find them. But they did. The government, God knew who else. That was enough to make John sit up.

"Not really," Harold said. "The weather is...chaotic. Even someone standing outside with a light wouldn't have good visual on the perimeter at the moment." He paused. "Do lie back down, please, Mr. Reese. You need your sleep."

"Are you going to sleep anytime soon?"

"Why would I?" Harold sounded like he thought John was being absurd. "It's not even midnight."

Because you always look so tired, John wanted to say, but didn't. Because you deserve to set the weight of the world down for a while. Because it's cold and dark, and the bed is warm, and I want to know where you are.

Instead, John reluctantly slid out from under the blanket and got to his feet. "I need to do that second sweep," he said, and stretched his whole body, raising his arms until his fingers nearly brushed the low ceiling, arching his back until it hurt. "I'll take care of the indoor cameras then."

He thought he caught Harold watching, keen eyes skimming over his body, lingering on the sliver of briefly exposed skin at John's belly. But when John finished his stretch, Harold had already schooled his features into that perfect mask of neutrality he'd perfected.

John's half-empty stomach demanded attention with a growl, and John added, "And I need to find dinner, apparently," casting a glance at the Bear-shaped lump under the blanket. Bear snored, oblivious.

"There's some soup on the stove," Harold said, standing up as well. "Baked potato with bacon—canned, of course. I lack your skill at turning random ingredients into a palatable meal."

So the stove still worked, even without electricity. Good to know. "You've got better taste in canned goods than I do," John said. "Both our detectives okay? And Shaw?"

"GPS data placed both of the detectives at home. Same with Taylor Carter and Ms. Morgan. Ms. Shaw has destroyed her latest phone, but with her, that means nothing. And Mr. Tao is trying his questionable luck in Vegas at the moment—and is most likely in mortal peril of some sort, knowing him, but he's not in danger from this storm."

And the most important person of all was standing next to him, inches away, safe. Snug in thick pajamas and fleece-lined slippers, his whole body gilded by the orange glow of the fire. It would be so easy to step closer, John thought, to gently turn Harold toward him and kiss the amused quirk of his lips.

He only realized he'd been staring for too long when Harold's face fell into concern, and he said, "John?"

John stepped back, and said, with forced levity, "Leon will pop back up eventually. He always does."

"Yes, I'm sure he will," Harold said, eying John curiously. "Is everything all right?"

Something in John's chest softened at the concern in Harold's voice. "Everything's fine, Finch," he replied, giving Harold's arm a brief, fond tap, before moving away to start his sweep. "Nothing a cup of coffee won't fix, once I'm done."

"It's a bit late for coffee, isn't it?" Harold said.

"It's not even midnight, Harold." John bit back a grin, and Harold sighed.

"Touché."

Hoping to turn the attention from himself, John asked, because it seemed like the right thing to do, "Where's Grace?"

Harold let out an audible breath. "Visiting family out of state. One of her younger cousins just had a baby the day before Christmas. I'm assuming she's gone down to help them out."

That answered a question John hadn't even realized he was asking. If Harold was still keeping such close tabs on Grace—but, no. Harold kept close tabs on everyone. Hell, he even knew Leon's whereabouts, for God's sake. But he talked about Grace with so much affection and pain in his voice.

There was still love there—a lot of it. John had no hope of competing with that. So he forced a smile and said, "Good. I'm gonna go do that check now."

The check of the house turned into making more preparations, doing the tasks Harold couldn't, like hanging up blankets to hold the heat in the living room. When he'd finished, it reminded him a little of blanket forts he'd built as a kid, on a larger scale. And with more hammering.

He did the same for the dining room, which was connected to the kitchen, then the laundry room. Harold had put one of their little cabin heaters in each, probably because of the plumbing. So the laundry room became Bear's room. John lined the floor with absorbent pads for Bear to do his business and brought in Bear's bed, with plans to show Bear later.

A few windows seemed to be letting in too much air, and he marked off which ones would need to be blocked. Harold had already made his mark on a few of them, leaving members of his flock of tiny cameras set off to the sides. John eyed each one critically when he found them, then attached them to the tops of the windows.

He had a lot of time to think as he worked. Thanks to Harold's insistence, he forced himself to push aside visions of Lance's Glock aimed at Harold's chest, and instead thought about Harold himself. Harold had been watching him. Not only in his usual suspicious, Haroldian way—though that was certainly part of it; Harold could no more turn off being paranoid than John could—but also..."appreciatively" was the best word John could come up with.

Harold had been checking him out. The looks at John's ass had been the most blatant—and most flattering—but the others were starting to add up, building into a picture John found unbelievable. But he knew the signs of want, had been trained in how to spot and exploit them, though that duty had always gone to Kara when the mark was a male.

Only he couldn't exploit this, he thought, screwing a camera into place with excessive aggression that worsened when the beam of his flashlight caught on the ring that was a reminder of everything he wanted but could never have. He should've taken it off. Harold had removed his, leaving it lying on the counter in the upstairs bathroom. John just...couldn't do it.

But, dammit, there was a big difference between lust and love, and he was pretty sure of which one Harold might feel for him—and which one he definitely felt for Harold.

People like him didn't get happy endings, especially not with people like Harold. If Harold ever acted on that attraction, John would have to say no.

The screw went in crooked. John cursed under his breath and started over.

Harold could have that life, he thought. Harold could have a happy ending with the person he loved. There had to be a way for him to safely go back to Grace and have a good life with her.

Probably without John. John's presence in people's lives was antithetical to their safety, and Harold would know that. Before he went back, Harold would say something about valuing the time they spent working the numbers, valuing the friendship they had, then say they could never see each other again because of the risk. If John somehow lived that long.

And if he did, John didn't know how he'd deal with that.

When he got done, he found Harold perched in front of a lantern at the dining room table, deeply engrossed in code, a green hot water bottle draped around the back of his neck, another at his back. Dark purple fingerless gloves—something he never would've pictured Harold wearing, but they seemed practical—covered part of his hands, leaving the pale tips of his fingers free.

John stood in the doorway, watching those hands fly over the keyboard, the rhythm familiar from days spent in the library, though the sound of the laptop's keys was lighter than the clicks of Harold's usual keyboards. It settled something inside John, the ever-present stress in his chest and his gut and his brain. He hadn't lost Harold yet, neither to death nor to a happier life. Even if he couldn't have Harold, as long as Harold was safe, all was right in his world.

He made sure his footsteps were audible as he approached, not wanting to startle Harold. It was fun sometimes, but not when he knew Harold's back was acting up from the cold. The patter of the tapping shifted slightly, then settled, and John knew he'd been heard.

"Building the next Machine, Finch?" he teased, and gave in to the temptation to lay a hand on Harold's shoulder.

"Hardly." Harold paused for a sip from a white owl-shaped mug—a gift from John. He'd bought it secondhand without knowing it was some Harry Potter thing until Harold told him, and had been slightly surprised that Harold even read kids' books. That was before he'd learned that Harold would read soap bottles with the same intense focus as an Asimov novel, and that he had Opinions on them all.

Plus, Harold's delighted, "Oh, Hedwig!" had been pretty cute. And seeing Harold still using the damn thing? John couldn't help but grin.

The air smelled of coffee, but the liquid in the cup was much lighter—green tea. "I'm putting together a database for one of my covers. I haven't technically been assigned the task just yet, but my boss—"

"Meaning you?"

"—meaning me, yes—will pass the assignment along in a few days, once this storm has passed. So I thought I'd go ahead and get it out of the way."

"Sounds...fun," John said, dubious. "Surprised that kind of thing doesn't spring from your forehead fully-formed, though."

Harold scoffed. "I'm not a deity, Mr. Reese, thank goodness."

No, you just kind of built one, John thought, and was struck again by how impressive the man sitting before him was. He knew he didn't fully grasp the capabilities of The Machine, probably never would, but he'd never forget how that damn thing listened to him, how it understood him when he was trying to save Harold from Root. Harold had somehow built that.

"I don't know about that," John said. "You'd make a pretty good god."

"Mm, no. I've never wanted that kind of power." It was the kind of open honesty Harold rarely gave him, and it warmed John to hear it.

"The world could do a lot worse than you, though."

With a small sigh, Harold said, "The world could do a lot better, too," in a quiet tone that made John ache.

He gave Harold's shoulder a gentle squeeze, leaving his hand atop the warm curve. If he called Harold a good man, Harold wouldn't believe it. They were very much alike, in that way, both men who'd made too many mistakes along the way to fit the average person's definition of "good." If Harold wasn't still so much better than him, John might've said they deserved each other.

"Are you warm enough?" John asked. "Or do you want me to get you a blanket?"

"No, I'm quite all right, thank you," Harold said, then gestured toward his lower back and his neck. "I have hot water bottles. And tea. I should be fine for a while. Now go. Eat. Drink coffee. Entertain yourself in ways that aren't—" He waved a hand. "—fussing over me."

He couldn't think of more to say, so he went to the kitchen for food. Dim light filtered in from the dining room, but John didn't need much. Harold had made it easy for him to grab his late meal. The soup was bubbling lazily over a low-burning flame, a clean bowl and spoon sitting nearby, and there was hot coffee waiting for him, too, along with a red mug. He went for the coffee first, pouring it into the mug, and he took an experimental sip.

Once again, Harold impressed him. For a tea drinker who allegedly lacked skill in the kitchen (something John had his doubts about), Harold put together some surprisingly good coffee in John's battered old moka pot. It was rich and smooth, neither too weak nor too strong, with a complex taste that his own lacked. He wondered if Harold had hit up the internet for tips, the way he'd done when he learned of Harold's preference for sencha. He doubted Harold had downed cup after bitter cup of badly-brewed liquid like John had in his quest to master the perfect cup of green tea, though.

Wrapping his cool hands around his hot mug, John turned to watch Harold through the door. It was a great opportunity for some quality Finch-spotting, and John wasn't going to miss it.

Chapter Text

Busywork was the best distraction. That was the beauty of simple projects. Harold could bury himself in them easily, lose himself in the flow of code from his brain to his fingers. A database? Simple. Child's play. Letting himself get into the work would be the perfect way to avoid his inconvenient thoughts, usually.

This time, however...Harold sighed heavily.

The close quarters were doing terrible things to his self-control. Far too many times, he'd caught himself ogling John. A few of those times, he was certain John had noticed as well. The way he'd bent over...

Harold's face heated up, and he tried to drown his embarrassment in another drink of tea and another burst of typed SQL.

His behavior was horrendously inappropriate. Watching the fluid motion of John's strong body as he'd rearranged the furniture, the graceful confidence of each movement of his long limbs. Catching that tantalizing glimpse of the bared skin of John's abdomen as he'd stretched. And, good heavens, he hadn't been able to resist looking at John's ass, twice.

That...moment in the shower had been a mistake. So much of how they—no, how he—had handled this case had been a mistake. One grave error of judgment after another. His control was slipping, and badly.

If it had been mere lust, the whole thing would have been easier. He had a great deal of practice in lusting for people he couldn't have, in staring at beautiful companions and wondering. From his crush on classmate Lisa Gordon as an adolescent to his years-long infatuation with his high school art teacher Mr. Harlan, and the multitude of others that had followed, he'd become adept at suppressing his frustrating urges, acting only when he was certain the risks associated with rejection were low.

Like with Grace. It would not have been devastating if Grace had rejected him when he'd first introduced himself. His observations had left him quite fond of her, certainly, but the stakes had been low. She didn't become an important part of his life until later.

John was already a vital part of Harold's life. Not just with the numbers. The friendship they'd cultivated, the level of trust John had earned. John was deeply, deeply important to him.

Rejection from John would be devastating. Oh, he would survive, certainly. Romantic rejection was old-hat to him. But it would hurt.

That wasn't taking into consideration what would happen if John accepted his advances. The ethical concerns were considerable. John was an employee, but that wasn't all—there was no doubt in Harold's mind that John felt indebted to him. He'd pulled John from the gutter, had cleaned him up, and had given him something to believe in, a purpose. Despite John's formidable will, Harold knew that there was little John would deny him. How could he ever be certain that he was what John truly wanted?

But surely John's sense of indebtedness didn't extend in that direction. And at this point, they had gone from employer and employee to partners. So maybe that particular concern was unwarranted.

No, the whole damn internal debate was unwarranted, the perfect embodiment of something unwarranted. John had never once indicated any attraction to a man, Harold included. Harold had found him physically attractive since the beginning—since before, even, if he was honest with himself. John was devastating strength in human form, caring and compassionate, a survivor, and, yes, aesthetically pleasing. And he'd become even more so since their acquaintanceship began, now that he'd been given something to live for.

But John's preference seemed to be for women. Zoe Morgan, a beautiful and powerful force of nature. Joss Carter, perhaps, with her striking face and formidable moral compass. His beloved Jessica. Even the terrible, terrifying Kara Stanton. All gorgeous, all female.

Not once had Harold seen John look at a man with romantic or sexual interest. They'd saved a lengthy list of men Harold thought were incredibly good-looking, several of them single. John had shown no signs of finding any of them attractive himself.

If John didn't find them intriguing, what hope did a man who looked like Harold have?

Harold wasn't insecure about his appearance, exactly. But he was a realist. Even before he'd sustained his injuries, he'd been what one might call an "acquired taste," neither handsome nor ugly. Average at best. He didn't dwell on it. His looks weren't some secret source of terrible angst or shame. He looked how he looked, and that was that. Sometimes that complicated romantic matters. Sometimes it didn't. With someone who looked like John, someone who had their pick of partners, however...

"Oh, do stop being ridiculous, Harold," he muttered.

Mentally shaking his head at his own folly, Harold tried to steer his thoughts back to his code. The new client database for one of his smaller software companies was coming together nicely—too nicely for Harold Sparrow, as usual. His distracted state had caused plenty of convenient bugs, he found, as he skimmed through his work. Excellent. Less for him to add in later.

He took a moment to stretch his back, grateful to whoever invented the hot water bottle and to John for having the foresight to turn on his kettle. Then, he had another sip of his cooling tea. As he drank, he caught John watching him from the kitchen. His stomach flipped. The light was too dim to interpret the nuances of John's expression, though Harold doubted even a spotlight would help him see the answers he sought.

Why was John watching him? Seeking more untoward behavior in hopes of quashing it quickly? Attempting to learn more about him? Or was it just John looking out for him, waiting to see if there were any needs to be met?

For now, there were none that were pressing. His stomach was pleasantly full, his clothing was warm, and the aches in his spine were being soothed nicely by his trusty old hot water bottles. Electricity would be good, but there was no telling when that would return. A fresh cup of tea would be necessary soon, but not immediately.

John's company would be lovely. Perhaps they could watch a movie? He checked the battery gauge on his laptop, which boasted a welcome 94%, with several hours left. Oh, yes, that would be more than adequate, especially with his backups. "Would you care for some entertainment, Mr. Reese?" he called out. "I was thinking we could watch something."

The wind slammed violently against the kitchen window. Harold jumped, heart pounding though he recognized the sound. John whirled around, gun out and aimed. From the living room, Bear let out a low growl.

"Get down," John ordered, as another loud bang came from the window. Bear bolted in, barking. The window panes rattled.

"It's just the wind," Harold called out.

John cast a stern glare over his shoulder. "Just in case," he snapped.

"Mr. Reese, it's been happening all evening." Not so loudly, admittedly, but sporadic rattles had been a soundtrack to his work all night nonetheless. "I doubt that our friends from the government would be so damn noisy." John's stare didn't waver.

Just to ease John's mind, Harold sank down on the floor, taking cover from nothing beneath the table. At John's quiet, "Bewaken," Bear came up beside Harold, standing guard, and Harold buried a hand in the dog's thick fur.

"Braaf, Bear," Harold murmured, scratching him gently. "Good boy." To John, he said, "I assure you, this is completely unnecessary."

Out of his sight, he heard a rustle of fabric as John opened the curtains, then again as he closed them.

"Nothing out there," John said. "Just some really bad weather."

"I could have told you that." Harold tried not to let any annoyance build. "I did tell you that, actually." John was overprotective out of legitimate worry, and the sort of government operatives that were always looking for them wouldn't stop for anything short of orders or the apocalypse. But a lack of irritation wouldn't negate the fact that getting up again would be unpleasant. He'd spent far too much time on the basement floor while failing to fix the generator. Perhaps he could just stay under the table? Yes, that was a good idea. Then he wouldn't have to take cover again the next time the damn wind blew.

John's footsteps approached, and his socked feet paused by the table. "Need a hand?" John asked, his tone free of judgment as he dropped a hand in Harold's line of sight. "I know this cold's hard on you."

"Mm, no, I think I'm going to stay down here forever, actually," he replied, airily, but started crawling out from under the table anyway. Once he was free, he accepted the proffered hand, and let John help him to his feet. "Throw a cloth over the table," he continued, voice strained, "and give me my laptop and some pillows, and I should be quite cozy."

Threat apparently neutralized, Bear wandered off, presumably back to their bed.

"I used to do that when I was a kid," John said, settling a hand on Harold's lower back once they were both fully upright. "Without the laptop, of course."

"Oh, it's vastly improved by a laptop, Mr. Reese," Harold said. John's hand was slightly cool through the fabric of his pajamas, but its broad, steadying presence felt very good. Before he could enjoy it too much, it was gone. Harold resisted the urge to sigh. Instead, he saved his work and closed IFTSQL, and shut the laptop lid. "Or a phone. You should try it sometime."

"It'd definitely be better than what I did last time I was under a table with a tablecloth," John said. At Harold's inquiring hum, he added, "You don't want to know."

Harold grabbed his computer and tucked it under his arm. "I'm guessing somebody did not survive that encounter."

Grimacing, John said, "Stabbed him in the leg with a needle full of poison." Harold stared, horrified. "He was a weapons dealer, among other things. Human trafficking. Drugs. A really bad guy." Then, softly, John added, "Wish I could say that about all of them."

So did Harold. But they both knew better. The people John had been ordered to kill were not always terrible, and they did not all fare as well as Daniel Casey.

Gently, Harold said, "I'm sorry I brought it up."

"You didn't, really. But it's fine. At least now I get to do something good." His eyes met Harold's, huge and sincere, the blue filled with black from the muted light around them. John had such beautiful eyes. "Thank you."

It never failed to knock the breath from Harold's lungs when John thanked him. "You're welcome," he said, soft and sincere. "And thank you for agreeing to work for me. You're very good at this, and, I must admit, I quite enjoy working with you."

Barely a whisper, John said, "Thanks." There was the faintest flicker of a smile on his face at the praise, and Harold let one of his own show briefly as well.

He didn't know how long they stayed like that, quiet and solemn, just standing in each other's presence. It was long enough for the weight of the laptop under his arm and the usual aches in his body to begin calling attention to themselves.

"Anyway," Harold said, "that movie I mentioned. Would you care to join me?"

John exhaled, and Harold noticed the tension leaving John's shoulders. "Sure," John said. "What are we watching, and should I make popcorn?"

Harold turned down the popcorn, but once he'd moved the laptop to the living room, he went to the kitchen and made some more tea instead, while John finally dug into the soup.

"You don't need a thermometer for that?" John asked, as Harold heated a pan of water on the stove.

"I don't, Mr. Reese," Harold replied. "Not if I keep a close eye on the bubbles in the water. When they're roughly the size of shrimps' eyes, it should be around the right temperature for a delicate green tea. It's something the Chinese came up with, I believe, though it's also perfectly applicable to Japanese teas like sencha."

"Huh," John said. "That actually works?"

"The technique has served me quite well the rare times I've needed it. Better than having to dig out a thermometer or crossing my fingers and hoping the water is the right temperature."

"Or waiting," John said, and ate a bite of potato, with an indulgent little smile on his face.

"Or waiting, yes." Harold gave an exaggerated shudder. "Having to wait for one's tea is bad enough. Having to wait for the water to become sufficiently cool to start the brewing process? Unthinkable! Who wants to wait for their caffeine in the morning?"

John chuckled, and the look he gave Harold was unmistakably fond. Harold found himself smiling back. "No one," John said, and took another bite of soup.

After eating quietly for a while, John spoke again, saying, "I know you're probably not going to answer this, but why sencha?"

"Looking for some deeper meaning in my beverage choices, Mr. Reese?" Harold asked, with a faint laugh. "I'm afraid you won't find anything here. I simply enjoy the taste. Just like a pipe is sometimes merely a pipe, sometimes a preference is merely a preference."

"Sure it is," John said. "But preferences come from somewhere. Like Japanese tea."

"Indeed they do," Harold said. "But this story's not particularly glamorous or interesting, I'm afraid. I've traveled to various Asian countries on business, Japan among them, and I discovered a drink I greatly enjoy along the way. That's all."

Even so, John looked pleased and grateful, like Harold had shared some big secret. Though, for him, it was possible that counted as one. He'd shared so little so rarely, after all, that the insignificant likely seemed significant to John. Most of the secrets John knew had been unearthed by John, but there was a significant difference between secrets one uncovered themselves and secrets freely given. Harold knew the distinction between the two, and no doubt John did as well.

And Harold was starting to find that he did not mind John learning his secrets. If John was going to destroy him, he wouldn't need tidbits from Harold's past to do it. The secrets hidden in Harold's heart would take him out quite easily. Especially the one that had him so tempted to share.

But with the way John kept looking at him when he did, well—could he dare to hope that his feelings were returned?

When the tea was made, Harold used the leftover water to refresh his hot water bottles, then headed for the living room, John trailing closely behind with his coffee. Along the way, they debated what to watch, John advocating most strongly for "nothing with subtitles...or snow," Harold objecting to kung fu movies and anything involving blockbuster action sequences.

"Showgirls?" John suggested, and Harold turned to scowl at him, only to be met with an amused smirk. "Twilight?"

"You are a menace, and I am going to pretend I do not know you from this point forward," Harold said. But that teasing little smile helped Harold settle on the idea of something light-hearted—that and the fact that they both needed copious doses of humor in their lives.

Bear had indeed returned to their bed, and burrowed most of the way under the blankets, leaving his rear end uncovered. John stopped to pat the dog's butt and cover him fully.

"Comedy, I think," Harold said, as he reached the couch. There was a narrow strip of floor between the mattress and the couch, and he set his mug down on the crooked end table, away from his laptop, before navigating the small space.

"Sounds good," John said, slipping around the other side of the couch, while Harold settled in with his bottles and a relieved sigh. "Can we watch something that's not black and white, though? Maybe...maybe those snake guys—the British ones?"

"Monty Python?" Harold asked, and John nodded. "That is acceptable."

John swiped the top blanket from the bed and sat next to Harold, pressed closer to his side than ever. "Body heat," he explained needlessly, before draping them both with the blanket and snuggling up against him. What Harold felt of John's skin did feel chillier than his own, so Harold allowed the contact without protesting. Much.

"Taking plenty of liberties, are we, Mr. Reese?" he said, keeping his tone light.

"Just trying to keep you warm, Finch."

"Me?" Harold chuckled, balancing his laptop on his lap, then starting a search on his hard drive. "Or you?"

"Mm, little of both." He sounded amused, and incredibly smug.

Not for the first time, John reminded Harold of Nathan, and Harold felt a deep, painful squeezing in his heart. The fond teasing, the film choice, even the cuddling. At least John wasn't pressing his cold body parts to Harold's skin. So many times, he'd wound up with Nathan's ice cold hands on his belly or neck or back, or Nathan's frigid feet against his legs. Then Nathan would have the audacity to proclaim that he was just trying to warm Harold up, and Harold would glare, and Nathan would laugh, and—

"You okay, Finch?" John asked, sitting up a little straighter.

At some point, Harold's eyes had shut, and his hand was hovering frozen over the touchpad of his computer. He drew in a shaky breath, and forced open his eyes. "I'm all right."

"Did I hurt you?" John sounded unbearably nervous, and Harold reached over to pat his cool hand.

"No, of course not. You're fine. I just..." Harold sighed, and waved his hand toward his head. "Thinking too much, as usual." He wanted to say more, but his throat clenched tight. After a moment, he managed to get out, "Old memories."

"Nathan?" John asked, gently, and in the sanctuary of the moment, in the dark and strange house, before the warm fire, it felt safe to nod. "I'm sorry."

"Sometimes it just...comes out of nowhere," Harold quietly admitted.

"Yeah," John whispered, and it hit Harold then—truly hit him—that John understood. He'd known that John had lost a great many people who were dear to him, but knowing something on an intellectual level and on a soul-deep level were two different things. "Never know what's gonna set it off," John continued. "One minute, you're fine. The next, you're...thinking too much."

Harold swallowed hard. "I've never been terribly good at this," he said. "I've had plenty of practice with grieving, but I'm afraid I just..."

"It's never enough," John said. "The practice. It's never enough."

"No," Harold said. "No, it's not. I miss him. I don't know if I've said that aloud to anyone but his son since...that day, but I..." He swallowed again. His eyes were starting to burn. Oh, goodness, he did not want to talk about this anymore. Before his emotions could overwhelm him, he changed the subject. "And now I think I could desperately use a laugh. Holy Grail, Life of Brian, or Meaning of Life?"

John gave Harold's leg a pat, and grabbed his coffee before settling against Harold again. "Grail, I think," and Harold was pleased that, for once, John wasn't deferring to his usual anything you want is fine mentality. It felt like progress. "It's sillier."

Harold had seen the movie many times over the years, and wound up focused on John instead. The small chuckles and huffs of laughter, his sheer, uncomplicated delight. John's happiness was a joy, warming Harold further with every little laugh. What he wouldn't give to see John like this always, relaxed and comfortable and as close to happy as John ever got. He'd hand over all his money, all of his possessions, if he thought it would please John, but it wouldn't. He'd hand over his secrets, but too many of them would bring anger and pain, not joy.

He'd hand over his heart, if John would take it.

Then this could have been a regular part of their lives—sitting next to each other on a couch, perhaps cuddling properly next time, watching movies together. Or maybe him reading a book with John lying with his head in his lap. Evenings with the two of them simply resting together, quietly enjoying each other's company between numbers. Sweet tastes of normalcy in their chaotic world.

Would it be so terrible if he gave in, he wondered. If he ignored the sticky ethics of the situation, if he ignored his own profound inadequacy. If he simply asked John if his feelings were shared. Surely love wouldn't be enough to drive John away. Not even learning of Harold's role in the Ordos debacle, or learning that he'd known about Jessica and failed to save her had run John off.

Perhaps he should, at the very least, consider acting. Not yet, though. Not while they were stuck together. When they returned to the city, maybe. When one of them could escape if Harold had misread the situation terribly.

John finished his drink and set his empty mug back on the other end table, then slipped his hands under the blanket and shoved them between him and Harold.

"Still huddling for warmth, Mr. Reese?" he asked, with a bit too much affection in his voice.

"Mm, you're very warm, Finch." John didn't move his hands. They were slightly cool against Harold's side, but, thankfully, John did not slide them under Harold's shirt. "Like a heater."

Harold always had run hot. For once, he didn't mind. Suppressing an indulgent smile, he said, "I have bought you countless pairs of gloves." Gloves that inevitably wound up in the possession of someone who couldn't afford them; same with scarves. "I pay you more than enough money to purchase some for yourself and some thicker clothes." How often did John actually buy something for himself?

"I know." John stretched his long, long legs, and Harold watched, entranced, until John's socked feet were peeking out from under the cover. With a soft sigh, John settled further, tucking his feet back in again. "You're a lot warmer, though."

Harold's heart did not miss the pleased tone of John's voice. His brain did not miss the soft fluttering in his own chest. Letting John stay so close to him now was a terrible, terrible idea. John's body felt too good next to his, not invasive and intimidating like some. It was grounding. Soothing, even. The way his firm and lengthy frame aligned against Harold's softer, more compact one. The smell of him so close, soup and coffee and the familiar combination of scents that added up to John Reese, dear and trusted. It set something inside him at ease, knowing John was beside him, safe from the storm, unwounded and warm.

It relieved much of the loneliness Harold pretended he didn't feel.

They shouldn't have been doing it. Harold shouldn't have been allowing it. But he wasn't cold, and he wasn't hurting, and a significant contributor to that was John.

He decided to give one last token protest. "You do realize that the assignment is over, don't you, Mr. Reese? You don't have to pretend to be my husband anymore."

With an amused lilt to his voice, John said, "Maybe I'm practicing for next time. Who knows when we'll have to be newlyweds or 'concerned dog owners' again?"

Well, then. Harold sighed, and gave up, letting John stay so wonderfully, painfully close. A terrible sadness tightened his chest and stomach. He wanted John so badly, so much that he should have pushed John away. He didn't. At heart, he was too weak to resist.

He stayed where he was, unable to focus on anything but John, forcing himself to laugh whenever John did. He'd been down this road before, he reminded himself. At his age, shouldn't he have broken himself of the habit of loving the unattainable long ago?

"Sure you're gonna make it past midnight?" John asked, the rumble of his voice interrupting and enhancing Harold's thoughts all at once. "You seem tired."

So John had noticed his forced laughter. Harold didn't know why this surprised him. Very little escaped John's notice. But fatigue was as good an excuse as any to hide his melancholia, so Harold played along with the fiction. "Yes, it has been a rather...trying day, hasn't it? I suspect once this is over, I'll be making good use of our bed."

And, once again, sharing it with John. They'd been keeping a wide, respectable gulf of space between them for the past few days, sleeping like the friends they were rather than husbands. He'd enjoyed it more than he should have. The rhythm of John's breathing lulling him to sleep, the concrete proof of John's safety keeping his usual nightmares at bay, the thrilling but unlikely possibility that John might breach the gap between the two of them...

"You should lie up next to me," John said. "Body heat. Keep your muscles from getting cramped up."

Harold suppressed a wince. The idea sounded like torture, in his present state of mind. Practical, yes, but torturous all the same. But if he rolled over in his sleep—rare, but it happened—and accidentally exposed his back to the cool air, it would have painful consequences.

"That's a good idea, Mr. Reese," he said, with feigned cheer and a writhing stomach. "I hadn't thought of that." Because it was completely inappropriate. A good idea, to be sure, but also a terrible one. Having John that close as he slept...

"I promise I won't get fresh with you, Harold," John said, in a teasing tone. There was an odd note in his voice that Harold couldn't interpret—suppressed irritation, perhaps? "Your virtue's safe."

Harold nearly scoffed. His virtue hadn't been intact in decades. But that wasn't the subject at hand. "You don't have—"

"I don't want you in anymore pain."

They almost never discussed his disability, his pain. All of John's predecessors had, at least once, asked him why he was in a wheelchair, or why he had a limp once he was out of it. John hadn't. It had never been the most intriguing mystery about him to John.

Oh, there was no doubt that John wanted to know what had happened to him—or perhaps he'd even figured it out already. But he'd been respectful where others had been intrusive, treated him like a human instead of a cripple, pushed him out of his comfort zone like he was anyone else. Never too far, though. John recognized his limitations, but didn't act as though he was only limited. To John, Harold suspected he was seen as someone as capable and competent as anyone, perhaps even more so.

Above all, John always seemed to want him to be healthy. Cared for. As pain-free as possible.

It was a matter of deciding which would hurt most, this time. The physical pain of cold air eating away at his broken places when a preventative solution was at hand, or the emotional pain of being so close to the man he couldn't have in the vulnerable and private state of sleep. Taking care of the physical would be the most practical. If they had to find a way to flee and his body refused, it could get the both of them killed—no, likely would, because John would not leave him behind. While he'd accepted the reality of his own imminent demise long ago, John's death was infinitely less acceptable.

"If you're certain you don't mind," Harold said, "then I accept. Thank you, John."

Softly, John said, "You're welcome, Harold."

Though John had been the one to comment on Harold seeming tired, John was the one who drifted off. Toward the end of the film, Harold realized John had gone quiet, his breathing slow and even. Asleep again. Harold smiled. It pleased him immeasurably to know that John trusted him enough for this, that this deeply-wounded, oft-betrayed soul was willing to cast off his burdens for a moment and rest beside him.

And, it was an immense relief. John was there, still safe and whole. They were in the middle of such horrendous weather, but Harold knew the whereabouts of the most important people in his life. He was especially glad that John was beside him.

He wondered if his own safety and presence was as much of a solace to John as John's was to him. Most likely yes. John worried so much about the people he cared for, and Harold was high on John's list. To have him there, at John's side, must have been an immense relief, especially after the earlier scare.

Oh, he'd been hoping not to think of that again. He sighed heavily. It was getting easier, being in mortal danger, having a gun pointed at his vital organs. Not easy yet, but he had almost adapted. Such a short time ago, it would have been all he'd be able to think about all evening—the cold black of the pistol, the certainty that if it was fired, he would die. It was still frightening, yes, but it was a familiar fear now, one that was easy to distract himself from with work and the puzzle of John.

John helped. Part of him, Harold suspected, had been convinced that John would save him before Lance fired. That sort of faith in a person did not come easily, and was not simply discarded the moment the danger had passed. These days, John meant safety and security to Harold's unconscious mind, the sight of him, the sound of his voice, the towering broadness of his presence enough to calm the quivering of Harold's anxious lizard brain. Nobody else had ever managed to do that.

Was it any wonder he'd fallen in love with John?

He let John sleep, even after the movie was over. It was peaceful. Everything here was peaceful. Somehow, the darkness was protective, concealing them instead of harboring secret foes. The blankets muffled the sound of the wild storm. The fire cast comforting shadows instead of frightening ones. It felt like they were in another world, tucked away in some cozy little corner, safe and warm and together.

As Harold enjoyed the silence, he downloaded a basketball game that John would probably want to see, and he worked. He caught up on some of his many email and bank accounts, double-checked the status of their associates and allies—all where they had been earlier, save for Leon Tao, whose signal had moved from the hotel casino to a room; Harold didn't dare check audio, the thought alone making him cringe—and acquainted himself with a few tricky firewalls.

Midway through a battle with a credit card company's vigorous cyber security, John said, "You never stop, do you?" with clear amusement, his voice rough with sleep.

"Technology changes every day, Mr. Reese," Harold replied, wincing as the software swatted him down again. Time for another approach. "I have to keep up."

"Have to sleep, too." John yawned, exaggerated and loud, and slipped out from beneath the blanket. "You're going to bed in a few minutes."

Harold's eyebrows shot up. "Is that so?"

"Yes." John got up and stretched, full body again, arching himself even further than he had earlier in the evening. Harold risked a glance, not letting his gaze linger on the small sliver of exposed flesh for too long, though it branded its image on his brain all the same—golden and scarred skin, the faintly soft plane of John's muscular belly, the subtle jut of a hipbone. What Harold wouldn't give for permission to slide that nearly-too-short sweatshirt all the way up and touch John's skin, to hold those hips in his hands, leave proprietary bruises with his fingertips.

Something about the accidentally exposed skin was far more tantalizing than nudity. The suggestion of it, perhaps, the whisper of things that could only be imagined—never mind that he'd already seen them. And, oh, what glorious things he had seen.

"So you should go brush your teeth," John said, tugging his shirt back down, "and put on the rest of your...face stuff while I check the perimeter again."

Harold huffed. "Skincare is greatly important, Mr. Reese." Not everyone had genes that made them as beautiful as John, especially in their later years, and winter was not kind to sensitive skin. "Don't knock it 'til you try it."

Greg Peterson's amused words replayed in Harold's head: "You two are like an old married couple. It's so cute."

They were bantering like they'd been doing this routine for years, weren't they? John poking fun at his skincare regimen without fear of causing true offense, Harold equally unconcerned about John's reaction to any retort he might have made and completely unbothered by John's teasing.

Like an old married couple, affectionate even when bickering, both of them secure in the knowledge that every interaction stood upon a firm base of mutual care and trust. Was it a sign that there was something else between them, too? A sign that, perhaps, his romantic fool of a heart was right?

Suddenly, he felt as though everything was about to change. Never mind his plans not to act until they were home. Before they left the house, something between them would be different.

John stayed in place, giving Harold a pointed stare, crossing his arms when Harold didn't immediately give in to his orders.

"And if I have no desire to go to bed?" Harold shut down his programs before calling up the camera feeds one last time. All of the exterior cameras were offline, but John had apparently moved the indoor ones that had been obscured. They didn't have much of a view in the dark, of course, but come daylight, they would be more than adequate.

He shut down his computer, and his heart started to pound with anticipation.

John's lips curled into a satisfied smirk. "Too bad." Then, expression softening, he reached out and nudged Harold's shoulder. "C'mon." He nodded toward the mantle clock, which proclaimed that it was after twelve. "It's way past time for birds to go to bed."

"Where do you think the term 'night owl' came from?" Harold snapped the laptop closed and set it on the table.

"Finches aren't owls, Finch," John retorted. "Should've said your name was Mr. Owl if you wanted to act like one."

Oh, John looked unbearably pleased with that one. "Yes, yes, you're very funny," Harold grumbled, without much heat. "But very well. If you insist." There were worse things than turning in early with someone he loved, even if they were someone he couldn't have.

"I do insist," John said, and briefly reached out like he wanted to offer a hand, then, to Harold's relief, seemingly reconsidered and pulled back.

He was still standing close when Harold heaved himself to his feet, impossible not to collide against. Harold let out a startled, "Oh," and John caught him before he could even wobble, hands gentle on his back. A shiver ran through him. His breath caught. Like earlier, on the street, he immediately became hyperaware of every inch of John, the strength of him, the closeness, his skin tingling everywhere John's body touched his own.

The air hung heavy between them, tense, crackling with something undefined and electric. Tilting his head back as far as it would go, Harold found John looking down at him, blue eyes wide and dark, pink mouth damp and slightly agape. Harold stared back, unflinching, and heard John's breathing stutter.

It would be so easy to bridge the gap between them, to do something deliciously reckless. The steps unfurled in his head: He'd stand on his toes, slide a hand around the back of John's neck, tug gently until they met halfway. Their lips would collide, soft and lush and sweet, and Harold would tell John everything he felt without saying a word. And with the way John was looking at him, he was certain John would kiss him back.

He started to lift his hand.

"Finch," John whispered, and he let go and stepped back, taking a chunk of Harold's raw heart with him. It felt like getting kicked hard in the gut, a brutal and breathtaking blow to the center of his being. "Go get ready for bed."

Reeling, Harold closed his eyes, and gave John a clipped nod. "Of course, Mr. Reese," he said, proud of how little his voice shook. With a deep breath, he collected his dignity, and let his eyes meet John's again. "I shall go do that, then, I suppose."

John opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, Harold made his retreat. Inside he quietly begged John to speak again, call his name, call him Finch, anything. Any word—to him, to Bear, to anyone—would have made Harold turn around. John said nothing.

Harold slipped into the sanctuary of the bathroom, locking the door behind him. The room was warm, thanks to the small heater, but Harold barely felt it. He sagged back against the door with a gusty sigh. The light of the candle on the counter wavered and died, plunging the bathroom into darkness, leaving it smelling of smoke and vanilla.

For the longest time, he stood there, held upright by the door, not bothering to move.

Well. That was it, then, he supposed. He had his answer to his unspoken question. If John returned his interest, he would have acted. Harold could hardly have conceived of a more perfect opportunity—the glow of the fire, the close quarters, the edges of John's defenses softened. If John wanted him, he would have shown it then.

He hadn't.

The rejection manifested itself as a wrenching physical ache. Harold's chest hurt, his stomach hurt, a tight knot of pain radiating from beneath his breastbone to the lowest depths of his core. Goodness, he needed to get a better grip on his emotions, he thought, wrapping his arms around himself. Rejection shouldn't have hurt so strongly—it never had before. Not even Nathan saying no all those years ago had hurt so badly. Shouldn't age and practice have brought wisdom and resistance?

Instead, he felt as though they'd damaged him deeply, eroding a vital piece of the armor he'd long kept around his heart. He still felt John stepping away keenly—the displacement of air as the gap spread between them, the retreating warmth, the use of a distancing "Finch" instead of a more familiar "Harold" hitting like a physical blow.

"It's better this way," he told the empty room and himself, and began feeling around on the counter for the book of matches he'd left. "Easier." They could maintain the status quo, and, eventually, Harold would remember how to cope. They'd once again be Finch and Mr. Reese, and everything would be fine.

His hand closed around the matchbook, and he said, "Just fine." He merely had to keep his feelings to himself until they were able to leave.

Everything would be fine.

John was waiting across from the bathroom door when Harold finished his routine, standing tense as a bow string against the opposing wall. Resisting the urge to avert his eyes, Harold said, "The pipes haven't frozen yet, Mr. Reese, though the water is terribly cold."

"Good to know," John quietly said, with a pained half-smile. "Thanks."

There was so much more Harold wanted to say. He wanted to shout, Why did you stand so close to me? to snap, Why did you kiss me so many times? to scream obscenities and countless demands, like someone significantly younger and less mature than him. He, of course, did none of it. He started down the dark hall toward the bright living room, steps leaden, half-hoping John would reach out as he brushed past him, would call his name, would do something to stop him, to prove him wrong.

He didn't. He let Harold walk wordlessly past, and the traitorous organ in Harold's chest cracked a little more.

If he didn't do something to, well, crush his inconvenient crush, the rest of their time stuck together would become a living Hell. And he had until quick, efficient John finished his nightly routine to do it.

Good god, he didn't stand a chance, did he?

While John took care of himself, Harold slipped beneath the covers. He was tempted to urge Bear in between them, but he was weak at heart, and his body hurt, and John had already arranged his pillows for him. Once he'd gotten as comfortable as possible, he closed his eyes, and pretended to be asleep when John slipped in behind him.

"Goodnight, Harold," John whispered, settling a hand on Harold's aching hip. Harold thought he felt John's lips brush against the back of his head—but, no, surely not.

He didn't fall asleep for a long, long time.


Neither did John.

Between saying "Finch" and "Go get ready for bed," he'd fucked up. One step backward, one attempt to keep from giving in and kissing Harold after "taking liberties" so many times, and he'd fucked everything up.

The look on Harold's face. Jesus. It was like he'd punched him, slugged him right in the solar plexus with his fist. All John had wanted was to keep from seeing the disgust and pity he deserved on Harold's face, and he got pain instead. And Harold hadn't said a damn thing that meant anything since.

But everything else that he'd said...

"Taking plenty of liberties, are we, Mr. Reese?"

"I have bought you countless pairs of gloves. I pay you more than enough money to purchase some for yourself and some thicker clothes."

"You do realize that the assignment is over, don't you, Mr. Reese? You don't have to pretend to be my husband anymore."

Dammit, John thought it all meant Harold wasn't interested, that Harold was just humoring him, tolerating John and his stupid crush and his clinging. But Harold didn't tolerate things he didn't like, did he? Harold didn't let just anyone that close to him, either.

John had read him all wrong.

The hollow "I shall go do that, then, I suppose." The emotionless "The pipes haven't frozen yet, Mr. Reese, though the water is terribly cold." The look in Harold's downcast eyes, like the light that had been there most of the night had been kicked out of them.

But there wasn't much John could do about it now. Harold was asleep when John crawled into bed, or was a lot better at faking it than most. Like hell was John going to make things worse by waking him up. Cautiously, carefully he sidled up against Harold's back—body heat, they'd agreed sharing body heat would be good for Harold's back, and fuck John for suggesting it—keeping his groin far away from Harold's ass, just in case his cock betrayed him in the night.

It was easy to touch Harold like this in the near darkness, to splay a protective hand upon Harold's bad hip, to kiss the back of Harold's head after whispering goodnight. And then John stayed like that for what could have been minutes or hours or decades, breathing slowly, grateful for his training in remaining perfectly still and faking sleep.

He should have stepped forward. Should have given Harold a kiss that actually meant something, instead of leaving him with the playful ones they'd shared throughout the case. God, so many kisses. He'd taken full advantage of Harold's "anything for the cover" rule, pecking Harold on the lips and cheeks whenever he got the chance, just because he wanted to. And he'd wanted to kiss him properly, had been given a damn good chance, and didn't.

Another addition to the collection of mistakes he'd been building since the day he was born, he supposed.

It was easier for words to leak out now, too, with Harold sleeping and the world still. "You don't know how much you mean to me," John whispered. "How much I love you. God, I'm such an idiot. But I love you so much it's killing me, and I just..."

Harold tensed. And in a quiet, tentative voice, Harold said, "John?"

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck...

John calculated the avenues of escape. He couldn't leave the house, no, but maybe he could hide out somewhere. He was very good at hiding. But Harold was very good at finding him. Dammit, it was a rookie mistake. Never assume someone's sleeping, even if they're snoring.

He knew better. He should've kept his damn mouth shut.

Harold's partly-gloved hand wrapped around John's wrist, and in a frightening instant, he knew Harold would pull it away. "Don't," he said. "Harold. Please. Don't."

"Excuse me?"

"Don't," John repeated. "Just give me a minute. Please."

After a moment, Harold nodded and let go, laying his hand atop John's instead. The wool of his glove was soft on John's skin. "All right. However long you need, John. You can."

"Harold," John rasped, and buried his face in the curve of Harold's shoulder. Then Harold reached up and ran his fingers through John's hair, his hand trembling. With a soft sigh, John closed his eyes and breathed.

They stayed like that for a while, John with his senses surrounded by Harold—the warmth of him, the soothing smell, the firm strength of his cushioned but firm shoulder. Harold stroked his hair, wavering little scrapes of blunt nails on John's scalp that grew steadily more confident, that felt so unbearably good, that went straight to John's racing heart and twisted. John breathed him in, basking in the bland scents of his soap and detergent, and the wonderfully real and rich scent of Harold himself.

He wasn't content, exactly. It was like a false contentment, like a held breath, like the quiet before a raging storm. He lingered in that liminal state, until words broke free from him again. "I couldn't...Harold, I can't..."

He couldn't get the words to come. Nothing seemed right. Can't lose you, can't keep hurting you, can't hurt you worse, can't let you do this to yourself, can't do this, can't, can't, can't—which should he choose?

Harold let out a slow, tremulous breath. "I know the feeling," he said, not stopping the slow glide of his fingers through John's hair. "You have no idea how much you mean to me, either. And this..." He swallowed audibly. "I've wanted this for a very long time, but I thought if I tried for it...you are not someone I can afford to lose."

"I didn't think I could still feel like this about someone," John said. "That I'd ever want someone again." He felt like his heart had been scraped raw, like he was bleeding into his chest. And he was terrified—a deep, visceral terror that went straight into his guts and hollowed them out, that sapped every last bit of warmth from the parts of him that weren't touching Harold Finch. "Then you found me."

"I did." With his free hand, he took hold of John's, and entwined their fingers together. "And I am...beyond pleased to have found you, John."

Something uncoiled in John's chest, finally filling it back up with the warmth that he lacked, wrapping itself around his frantic heart like one of their matching blankets. "I want you," he whispered. "Anything you want to give me, I want."

"Yes," Harold said. "Yes, of course." He rolled over onto his back, his bare blue eyes huge and astonished. "I never thought you—I mean, me? Out of the billions of people out there...me? I cannot fathom why you would choose me over someone else."

He said it with such disbelief that John would have laughed if he hadn't known the feeling so well himself. "There's no one out there like you," he said, leaning closer, so Harold wouldn't have to strain his neck. He wanted to touch Harold again, so he risked it, trailing shaking fingers along Harold's cheek. The skin was warm and soft.

Harold let out a small, pleased sigh, and the tiniest smile started to form.

"You're the best person I know," John continued. "The smartest, the most interesting. You're one-of-a-kind, Harold—who else would I want, after meeting you?"

"I can certainly think of a few people," Harold replied, his smile vanishing. "Ms. Morgan, Detective Carter, perhaps that lovely woman who teaches your yoga class—or perhaps young Mr. Pierce, who seemed quite enamored with you, if you suddenly have an inclination toward men..."

"No." John cut him off with a brush of his lips to the corner of Harold's mouth. "None of those people are as important to me as you."

"Yes, but do you realize what you are getting into with me?" Harold sat up, and faced him with earnest eyes, and John sat up, too. "I am not an easy partner to be with. I'm secretive, I'm ornery, I'm—"

John did laugh at that. "Tell me something I don't know."

Harold winced. "I have other issues. I...I am not always able to perform. The pain, the medications—John, I'm old. Sometimes...sometimes certain things do not work the way they should."

His heart clenching, John leaned in and kissed Harold's mouth again. "Speaking of secrets," he said, and moved in even closer, to murmur, "it happens to every guy," against Harold's ear.

"Yes, but it happens to me disproportionately more often than most."

"And I'm sure we can find something else to do when it does." John nuzzled Harold's sideburn with his nose, and pressed a kiss to it. "Your body's great, Harold." Harold scoffed, and John kissed him again. "It's yours, so I like it. I like your brain." He kissed Harold's temple, as he splayed a hand on the curve of Harold's middle. "I like your belly."

"Right," Harold said, that one word dripping with disbelief, as John ran his hand over Harold's wonderfully warm stomach, letting it roam. "You don't have to pretend—"

"You're right," John said. "I don't. Because I like your body." He stroked Harold's leg, following the rigid line of scar tissue hiding inside his pajamas. "It's got someone pretty damn special living in it. And what I like best about it—" He moved on, sliding his hand up to Harold's chest. "—is your heart."

Harold's breath hitched beneath his touch, and Harold placed his hand atop John's again. "I'd no idea you were a romantic," Harold said.

Shrugging a shoulder, John said, "Figured if anyone would appreciate it, it was you."

"I do," Harold said. "I appreciate it a great deal. Even when it's halfway for pretend." He glanced toward John's hand. "Did you ever look inside our rings?"

John shook his head, and immediately went to pull his ring off. It was hard to make out the delicate inscription inside in the dim light. When he did, he read it aloud. "'Listening always.'"

"I know," Harold said. "It is, perhaps, a bit...much. I honestly couldn't think of anything appropriate for our cover stories, but the jeweler kept asking and asking and asking about inscriptions, and it was the first thing that popped into my head, so. I just...I hoped that if you did not return my feelings, you would think nothing of it, and if you did...that you would recognize the significance of what I had not already told you."

"Harold..." John was speechless. He'd never had someone do something like that before.

He liked it.

"It's not a proposal!" Harold hastily added. "In case that idea worries you. If I were proposing, I wouldn't pick silver. I just...I'm very fond of little details like that."

Grinning, John slid the ring back on, and kissed Harold's cheek again. "I know. Kind of figured that out the first time you tailored one of my suits yourself. Those cuffs shivering on the shoe..."

"Details can make or break a good suit, John," Harold said, sounding much more like his usual long-suffering self than tonight's nervous mess, "just as easily as they can wreck a good cover. For instance, I thought for a bit that our close relationship was going to blow this cover."

"When Greg said we were like an old married couple?"

"Indeed."

"Yeah, you looked a little panicky for a second." He took Harold's hand in his, and was mildly annoyed by the gloves, wanting to feel Harold's skin against his. But as long as they were keeping Harold warm, he'd tolerate them. "Think he saw something we didn't?"

"I think that's exactly what happened." Harold glanced down at their joined hands, then tugged off his gloves and set them aside. He took hold of John's hand and turned it over, palm upturned, and idly drew patterns upon John's skin with a finger. "I suspect our feelings for each other came out without either of us realizing what we were seeing. I know mine certainly did."

"This was a tough one," John admitted. "I kept trying not to show everything, but I just...I wanted to kiss you. All the time."

"And I wanted to kiss you." Harold entwined their fingers together. "I think making the Raymond-Mallards newlyweds was a great miscalculation on my part. I focused so intently on hiding my feelings that I neglected to consider the depth of our friendship. We should've played a couple that jumped to marry the instant gay marriage was legalized here in New York."

"You didn't do a very good job hiding your feelings this time," John said, and, with a wry smile, added, "and neither did I."

"No, we didn't," Harold agreed. He paused for a moment, then softly said, "I have had feelings for you for a while now. I believe...I believe that I first fell in love with you when you went to such great lengths to find me after I was kidnapped, actually."

"I had to," John said. "I needed you."

"No, you—"

"Harold," John firmly said. "I needed you."

Harold nodded once. "Well, words cannot express how I felt when I saw you standing there in that train station, looking for me—me!

"I knew you were a good man, a kind man who would stop at nothing to save people, especially the ones he cared for. I just didn't expect that to extend to me, that you would one day care enough about me to come find me. But you did—of course you did. In retrospect, it was foolish of me to think you would do otherwise. And I was...elated to see you. I was so happy, so relieved. And as you were checking me for wounds so carefully, I just...something changed. And it was no longer just immense relief that I felt, but also a great deal of fondness. Of love.

"You came for me. Not because you needed me for the work. Not because you are someone who saves people. You came for me because you wanted me in your life."

"Not wanted," John corrected. The distinction was important. "Needed." He cupped Harold's cheek, staring deep into Harold's eyes. "I need you, Harold. That's why I backed up tonight. I thought...but I was wrong."

Harold's hand found its way back into John's hair. "Thought what? John?"

"You said you couldn't imagine me wanting you. I could've said the same thing about you wanting me."

Harold's face fell. "Oh, god, John..."

"I'm not a good man," John insisted. "I've done...so many bad things." Carter's words when they first met drifted through his head. "Evil things. You probably know about most of them. But...how can you look past that? How can you even...Harold, you know what I am."

"I do," Harold said. "I do know what you are. I think I may know what you are better than you do."

John clenched his eyes shut and turned away. "Harold..."

"When I look at you," Harold said, "I don't see a monster. I don't see a killer. I don't see someone who has done terrible, terrible things while following orders. I see a man. A man who has made many, many mistakes, and who still feels every single one of them."

John let out a breath that was close to a sob.

"The distinction between you and a simple killer, John, between you and someone who is evil is that you did not derive any pleasure from taking lives. You did not kill people for the sake of greed or hate or any other vice, and you feel remorse. You were following orders, trying to do the right thing, trying to keep your country safe."

"That's no excuse."

"No, it's not," Harold said. "But it is a better reason than most. And you have taken great pains to make up for what you did, to be a better man. You speak of my heart—" Harold pressed his hand to John's chest. "—but I'm afraid you've missed the beauty of yours.

"I look at you, and I don't just see a beautiful, broken man who has done some terrible things, John. I see a good man. I see a man who is exceptional, and exceptionally dear to me. And I can only hope that you see the same when you look at me."

"Fuck, Harold," John whispered, voice as shattered as he felt. He buried it in a kiss—and, fuck, it was easier to kiss Harold than it had been to resist.

His lips joined Harold's in an effortless slide, soon guided by Harold's hand at the back of his head. Like with most things, he let Harold lead, let Harold show him the best way to kiss Harold Finch, how to work with Harold's body in a way that Harold liked. Harold slowed John's frenzied rhythm, tempered his desperation, until everything went slow and soft and achingly sweet.

It was like the gentle glow of the fire on their skin, not the crackling and frenetic burn of the flame. Tingling heat spread from the contact of their mouths, filling John's blood with a comfortable, non-urgent arousal. He wanted to strip Harold bare, yes, wanted Harold's hot skin against his own, wanted to know how it felt to touch and be touched by Harold's competent hands and comfortable body, but he was in no hurry.

And he had nothing to hide anymore. Harold knew everything, and somehow wanted him anyway.

Harold was a damn good kisser, as curious and responsive and, above all, confident in this as in all other things. He tasted of vanilla mint toothpaste and something even better underneath—the taste of Harold, real and mundane and extraordinary. His earlier hesitation seemed to vanish the moment their mouths met, in a haze of clever tongue and slick lips.

Harold kissed like he knew exactly what he was doing, exactly what he wanted, exactly what John wanted. John wasn't used to being kissed, was used to kissing, but Harold was in a class of his own. John would've gladly spent hours letting Harold kiss him and kiss him and kiss him, until he was a senseless and boneless wreck.

Hell, it might not take hours to get him there.

Harold broke away, breathing hard. "Oh," Harold said, panting, and John rested his forehead against Harold's as he caught his breath himself. "Oh, goodness, John. That was...that was appallingly overdue, wasn't it?"

"Bit of an understatement there, Finch," John said, with a small laugh.

"Indeed. Whew." Harold was smiling, broader and brighter and giddier than John had ever seen, his white teeth on full display. "For the record—and I don't mean to be presumptuous," Harold continued, "but that issue I mentioned earlier, with performance? I do not think it will be a problem tonight."

That sounded great—and also terrifying.

Some of his nerves must have shown on his face, because Harold's expression turned concerned. "Is something wrong?"

"Not really," John said. "I just..." Might as well rip the Band-Aid off. "I've never had sex with a guy before."

"Oh! I suspected as much." Harold gave him a soft smile. "Well, you needn't worry. Some of it's not that different, and the stuff that is?" He stroked John's cheek, and gazed at him with huge, earnest eyes. "I promise you, I will take very good care of you."

"I know," John said, wondering how he could have doubted, even for a second. Harold would take care of him. Of course Harold would take care of him. Harold always took care of him.

"I've been practicing, though," John added, and Harold's smile turned dirty.

"Have you now?" Harold asked, voice gone low and intrigued, sliding his hands down John's back. "And how have you been practicing?"

"Fingers," John rasped. "Toys."

"Oh, I bet that was an incredible sight," Harold said. "And what, precisely, have you been practicing for? I believe specificity may be quite important here."

Or maybe Harold just wanted to hear what he had to say next. With a sly grin, John said, "You. Fucking me."

Harold inhaled sharply.

"I think about you a lot," John continued, reaching for the top button on Harold's sleep shirt, sliding it open, then another, and another, revealing a smooth and pale throat. "It's kind of been a problem this week. Those damn sweaters..."

Harold's arousal turned to confusion. "The sweaters?"

"Yeah. Turns out I'm really into you in a sweater." Except, no, that wasn't quite all. "And really into you."

He kissed Harold again, slow and honey-sweet, and Harold moaned into his mouth. John swallowed it eagerly, drank down every other beautiful sound spilling from low in Harold's throat, savored every single one.

Then Bear rolled over with a loud groan.

John and Harold broke apart, both laughing breathlessly, and Harold said, "I don't believe we thought this through very well, did we?"

Mocking Harold's formal tone, John said, "I'm afraid I don't recall using a great deal of cognitive functions, Mr. Finch."

Harold chuckled again, and John's heart skipped a beat. Harold looked so happy—so purely happy, with his cheeks flushed pink and his teeth showing and his eyes bright. "There is a couch," he said, gesturing over John's shoulder, "over there."

"Yep. Bear!" The dog startled awake, and John directed him onto the couch with a few curt commands. Then John tossed one of their blankets vaguely in Bear's direction. "There. Now the kid won't bother us. Better?"

Harold grimaced. "Upon further thought, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with having him present for the events that are about to occur."

"You think too much." John sighed heavily. "He's a dog. He doesn't care."

"Well, I do."

Rolling his eyes, John relented. "Fine," he said, and he kissed Harold's nose and got to his feet. "I'll put him in the laundry room. But I'm going to make sure you know what you're missing first."

With a wry smirk, Harold laid back down against his mountain of pillows. "I've seen you naked before. I know—"

His words died off as John stripped out of his clothes with brisk efficiency, and tossed them aside without caring where they went. Harold watched with wide, darkened eyes, gaze almost palpable as it followed the length of his body from bottom to top and back again, like Harold wanted to take in every inch of him at once. John turned around slowly, blatantly showing off.

"My goodness," Harold whispered. "Turns out there's a difference when you are actually allowed to look. And you are...incredibly hot."

It was such a small word for Harold to use that John couldn't help but chuckle. By the time he turned around, he'd calmed down, and managed to keep a straight face as he said, "Now, you'd better be naked by the time I get back, Harold, or I'm going to be very disappointed."

"Well," Harold said, shoving the blankets aside, and he reached for the buttons on his shirt, "we can't have that, now can we?"

Grinning wider than he had in a long time, so wide his face hurt, John took off to deal with Bear, making sure to give Harold a good view of his ass along the way. Excitement burned brighter than the lust in his gut, joy threatening to bubble over and spill effervescence everywhere. Harold was his, and he was Harold's. He hadn't felt this damn good in years.

Along the way, he stopped to snag a condom and some lube from his first aid kit. Would he need them? Hell if he knew. But he did know he wouldn't want to find out the hard way.

"I've been meaning to ask," Harold said, as John approached. "How's your injury?"

"Injury?" John stepped through the gap between two of the blankets. "What—"

Harold was nude, waiting for him. John stopped at the foot of the bed for a moment, drinking him in. He was perfect, all softness and pale skin that begged to be touched, and John couldn't wait to do it.

"Your stomach," Harold said, and nodded toward the gauze on John's belly, acting like he wasn't lying there naked and gorgeous and shorting John's brain out. "Is it healing all right? And your bruises?"

It took a moment for John to remember how to speak. "Yep," he managed, around his dry mouth. God, Harold was naked, and John was somehow supposed to think of something that happened forever ago? "They won't be a problem."

"Good," Harold said, and eyed the supplies with a smile. "I see you came prepared, too."

"Haven't come yet," John said, earning an amused huff that sent a thrill through him.

"Hm, not your best pun," Harold said, as John moved closer, voice going slightly breathy. "Bit clichéd, really. Try again."

With a chuckle, John tossed the stuff on the bed next to Harold, then joined Harold himself. "I always carry condoms with me," he explained, slithering up along Harold's other side, dropping kisses up the length of his body. "And lube." His hairy shin, his plump thigh, the white scars running from his hip down his leg. Harold tried to draw away at that, and John petted him until he settled, then kissed it again. "Tampons, too. Never know when you're gonna need something to carry a little water or you'll run out of gauze or something."

"Oh," Harold said, sounding intrigued. "That sounds very—" John kissed Harold's balls, and Harold groaned, finishing his sentence with a strangled, "—practical."

"And you like practical things." He kissed Harold's cock—the dry shaft, the wet head, which left a new and slightly salty taste on his lips. He licked his lips, testing it out. Not bad.

"I love practical things," Harold said, ragged and fond, as John moved to straddle his legs. "But you're hardly a thing, are you? You are an incredibly extraordinary man, and I am thrilled to have you with me."

John kissed Harold's belly, the soft and silvering hairs running down the middle, the smooth skin nearby, a faded appendectomy scar, everywhere across its surface. Dipped his tongue into Harold's navel. Moved on to Harold's ribs, dotting kisses over each cushioned bone. Kissed all over Harold's surprisingly hairy chest. Pressing his lips to a nipple made Harold's breath catch, made him forget himself and arch up against John, rubbing his cock against John's body.

It was good, tangible proof that Harold was as into this as him, hard and hot against John's skin, so he teased Harold's nipple, teased both of them, licking and sucking gently until Harold was squirming as much as he could and holding John down against him and murmuring John's name in words of praise, then cursing it when John moved on.

Kissing him over his heart quelled Harold's frustration, made him sigh and murmur, "John," quiet and happy.

"You're amazing," John said, against his collarbone, and scattered kisses across one of Harold's shoulders. "Harold. You're amazing."

"I fear you may be placing me upon a pedestal I am quite unworthy of being on," Harold said, reaching up to stroke John's hair again as John buried his nose against Harold's throat, mouthed at the smooth skin of it. An accidental graze of teeth made Harold gasp softly, and John made a mental note to explore that later. He felt the vibrations of Harold's quavering words beneath his lips as Harold spoke again. "Will you join me on it? I think you are quite wonderful as well."

"Anywhere you want me." John pressed kisses down the length of Harold's throat, licked a broad stripe up the line of it, from collarbone to jaw, tasting salt on his tongue. Then he kissed the little dimple in Harold's chin. "Even if I don't belong there."

"You do, though," Harold said. "You do."

John's lips met Harold's again, kissing him deep and dirty. Harold cupped the back of his head, guiding him like before, like always. Anywhere Harold wanted him to go, he'd go. Anywhere Harold wanted to lead him, he'd follow.

As they kissed, Harold's other hand slid down John's back, finding John's ass. John felt it keenly, all the way through him, electric and good. Harold gave the flesh a promising squeeze, and John grunted into his mouth, earning a throaty chuckle. Fingers roamed over the cleft, slipped between his cheeks, maddeningly light, touch going straight to the heat in John's gut.

Harold pulled back from the kiss, a smug grin on his face as John tried to push back on those wandering fingers, craving more like a damn drug. "Is there something you want, John?"

John sucked in a loud, long, shaky breath, just enough to manage a weak, "Please."

There wasn't much talking after that. Harold let go of him long enough to slick up his fingers, and then he was pushing in, a slow, sweet stretching burn that was easy to take and wasn't enough but was good. He seemed to know that John could take him, and soon John was filled, each dexterous finger thick inside him. John fucked down on Harold's hand, needing more of that hot, exquisite stretch, his own body working hard enough that Harold barely had to move his hand.

But Harold did, hand thrusting, fingers finding a place inside John that left him gasping and swearing under his rushing breaths. They found a hot, delicious rhythm easily, pulling apart and sliding together at the same times, meeting each other halfway until John's control started to slip and he needed more, god, everything, and lost all his words beyond "fuck me" and "Harold" and "please."

Harold didn't make him wait, rushing to prep himself and push inside John, and it was so much better than anything John had tried, so much hotter and sweeter and so fucking good. Especially the look on Harold's face, gaping and stricken and wonderfully lost as they both adjusted to the joining of their bodies.

"Dear god," Harold somehow managed to whisper. He was flushed down to his chest, his skin shining with sweat, his mouth red, and seeing that was so much better than anything Harold could've done to him, until they found that good rhythm of theirs again.

John could feel him inside him all over, the exquisite burn of it running through him like an electric current of need. He needed to move, needed to feel, needed to thrust down to meet Harold's body and have Harold pushing into him. Air didn't matter. Time didn't matter. All that mattered was this, was getting closer and closer so fucking close to the edge, was being fucked, was Harold—the sounds he was making and the things he was doing and everything else in between and beyond.

Which was kind of normal, but magnified.

With a fumbling hand, Harold took hold of John's cock, and the air fled from John's lungs like he'd been punched in the chest. If all hits felt like this, he'd take more of them, he thought. The best word he had for the feeling of it, for all of it, was good. Everything was good. He was good, Harold was good, sex was really good, thinking was something that wasn't so good but that didn't matter much anyway—Harold was a genius. He could do the thinking for John, because John was close, almost there, so fucking close...

"Come on, John," Harold said, stroking John's cock in erratic jerks of his tight fist. "Come on."

John did. With one last shout, he was coming so hard he saw sparks behind his abruptly closed eyelids, probably shooting come all over Harold's chest, but Harold asked for it, Harold told him to come. And he did.

Through the haze, he heard Harold murmuring something, John's name and, "Oh, goodness. Oh, god," before he suddenly stilled with a ragged moan.

When he was spent, John was grinning, smile faltering just long enough to gasp at the too much sensation of pulling off of Harold. He collapsed on the bed beside Harold in a lazy sprawl, loose-limbed and relaxed and so fucking happy he felt unreal, untethered. Then Harold's hand found his, and Harold intertwined their fingers, and that unmoored feeling settled. John wasn't just grinning anymore—he was beaming.

He was with Harold. Harold was with him. They were both where they belonged. And John was happy.

Outside, the storm blew on. Inside, everything was good.