John knew that after everything they had been through it wasn’t strictly necessary for him to continue searching for Harold’s home. He didn’t let that stop him though. It was a constant puzzle that was always there for him to work on no matter how good or bad the day was. A puzzle that also wasn’t likely to kill him. Over the years he’d found plenty of houses, but most of them had been devoid of any personality, never a true home. He was starting to lose hope that that would ever change. The place he was headed certainly wasn’t very promising on that front anyway. It was on a lake three hours north of the city. At best it was a vacation house.
John pulled into the driveway of the small cottage with a bench swing on the front porch. It looked clean for a place that John suspected hadn’t been occupied in years. A quick stroll around the edge of the property revealed movement sensors hidden in the bushes but they didn’t look like they were currently active. The lock on the front door wasn’t difficult to pick and John made a note that if he ever did end up here, he’d need to have it replaced. Inside, a layer of dust covered everything evenly. It wasn’t thick enough to leave tracks on the ground when he walked, but if he moved anything on the counter there was an outline in the dust.
The pantry was stocked with some canned food and the hall closet had three gun cases and enough ammo to take on a small army right next to a first aid kit to heal that small army. There were two bedrooms and a small bomb shelter basement. The real find came when he had finished opening every cupboard and he looked in the fridge and then freezer. Inside the ice maker he found a thick orange packet.
He poured out the contents on the kitchen table. A stack of papers that included the deed to the house signed by a Johnathan Turner and Harold Ibis, a set of gold rings, a marriage certificate, and a handful of pictures of both Harold and John standing close together and smiling. None of them were from any reality that John knew, though he desperately wished he did.
As he looked through it all his heart twisted in his chest. A familiar feeling of longing for his boss that he should have shaken years ago. The pictures looked almost real enough to fool him and it was nice to be able to see the fantasy laid out in front of him. It must have taken hours to get it all right, to make the marriage certificate and the two signatures at the bottom looked like they truly could have belonged to two separate people. The rings were even engraved on the inside with the wedding date from the certificate.
It also sparked some small amount of hope in him. He knew that covers were important and something that Harold took great care in, but if so much work was going to be put into one why wouldn’t Harold have told him? Why would it have stayed a secret? Harold didn’t only hand him a new alias when he needed them but occasionally, when it was deemed solid enough, he gave John the information just in case he needed a clean alias on short notice.
There was some logic to keeping a safehouse secret from as many people as possible but John had never even heard the name Johnathan Turner. It was obviously a solid cover if Harold had gone far enough to photoshop pictures together and engrave rings.
He folded one of the pictures in half and tucked it into his breast pocket before putting everything back in the envelope and replacing where he had found it. The drive back to the city was long enough for him to get his whole thought process in order and for the warm feeling where the pictures was resting to fade from scalding to comforting.
He returned the car to its rightful parking spot and walked the three blocks to the Library where he was sure that Harold was bound to still be working. Even when the Machine gave them the day off Harold never stopped.
Bear met him at the top of the stairs, confirming his suspicions and led him to Harold at the desk after the requisite amount of petting. “Good evening, Mr. Reese. I didn’t expect to see you until the morning.”
“I was headed home but then I had a question,” he said as he came around to stand at the desk.
Harold stopped typing to look up at John. “Yes?”
John pulled the picture from his pocket and placed it on the desk. “When did we get married?”
Harold’s face was a careful mix between disinterested and amused. “I believe there was a marriage certificate with this picture that could tell you.”
“I was a little distracted by our wedding rings.” John did remember what day had been on the certificate. June 24th, 2012.
“I hope that you’re not that careless with the numbers,” Harold said with a roll of his eyes before turning back to his computer. “Though I suppose we can grant you this pass. After all it is only one of your many wedding dates.”
“Many? How many times have I been married?”
“Once to me, as you found. Once to Ms. Shaw, once to Root – she found it very amusing that you were married to Ms. Shaw and decided that you should be married to her as well. Once to Detective Fusco, as well as to Ms. Morgan, and Detective Carter.” Harold didn’t quite smile but there was a playfulness in his eyes that almost made John’s lips twitch up.
“I’ve been busy.” John spoke on autopilot. The sequestered off emotional part of his mind was nursing the wound of the letdown that there really wasn’t anything special about his cover married to Harold. Harold was probably just more careful at devising and maintaining covers than the Company. The CIA had had hundreds of agents ready to replace John and Kara, but Harold would have to go to much greater lengths to replace John or Shaw. He didn’t have the room for error that the CIA had.
“You’re also divorced from Mr. Tao.”
“For his gambling habit?”
Harold nodded. “He came very close to costing you both your home.”
John smiled and ran his fingertips through Bear’s fur, who was sitting patiently with the tennis ball at John’s feet. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Finch.”
“Good night, Mr. Reese.”
Six months later John was forcing himself every day not to think about the photo that he had hidden in the go-bag that also had a few thousand dollars, a passport with a name Harold didn’t know and the picture of Jessica. He only pulled it out when he thought he deserved a reward for a good job done, which wasn’t often.
Harold had sent Shaw and John to an apartment safehouse after a number had gone sideways and they were working on regrouping. They couldn’t be sure with how safe it was go back to the library with the numbers uncanny ability to always find them first. Shaw and John while the rest of the group staggered their arrivals.
Shaw started poking around first, going to find the first aid kit to deal with the knife wound on her arm while John went to go see if there was food to snack on while they waited. It had been hours since he had last eaten and there wasn’t another break in sight.
There was a package of protein bars that had the texture of wet cardboard but tasted just like a brownie and John pulled out a second for Shaw. John opened the fridge and then the freezer, finding another yellow envelope in the ice maker. Inside he found a marriage certificate with the names John Newman and Sameen Bell. There were no pictures, just wedding rings and ID cards with a fair bit of cash.
“Our marriage certificate.”
Shaw ate the protein bar as she looked at it. “At least I didn’t take your name.”
John looked through the rest of the papers again but none of it was as specific as the cover he had found in the lakehouse. There were no pictures and the rings weren’t engraved like the ones in the lakehouse had been.
“Looking for something more?”
John considered keeping quiet but decided that Shaw was the closest thing he had to a friend. “I found a safehouse in upstate that had a few more things. Pictures and engraved rings.”
“Pictures of us?”
“No, photoshopped ones of me and Finch.”
“That at least makes sense.” She shrugged and went back to her wandering around the apartment.
“Really?” John wasn’t sure if he was asking for her to elaborate or just being annoyed by her dismissal of his internal crisis.
Shaw stared at him like he had grown a second head for a long beat. “Are you actually asking that?”
John stared back.
Shaw sighed. “It’s wish fulfilment,” she said. “You two can’t actually get married.”
The same spark of hope he had the day he had found the lakehouse came back to life. The lakehouse cover was special, it just wasn’t the marriage that was unique, it was the care.
“Figured it out, did you?” Shaw rolled her eyes and finished her reinspection of the apartment before reviewing the files for the case on her phone.
John followed her lead and refocused on the number. He would have to deal with Finch and the tiny bit of hope that was blooming in his chest afterwards.
One warehouse shoot-out and Carter arresting the number as well as the accomplice he was planning to murder it was time to call it a job well done and wait for the Machine to send them a new one. Shaw and Root left the library just as John came back from his walk with Bear. He pretended not to see the wink Shaw sent him with Root’s mocking grin.
Harold looked up at him and cocked his head just slightly to one side as he watched John. “In a moment, Mr. Reese. Is something the matter?”
Harold fixed him with another hard look, then shook his head as if to clear it. “No reason. I will be finished in just a moment.”
John nodded and took a seat on the couch. He ran over how he would broach the topic over and over in his head as he waited for Harold to finish. It had to be perfect or they’d end up just as they had always been. Too close, but still too.
Harold stood up abruptly a few minutes later and pulled on his jacket when he finished and looked to John.
“There is one thing, Harold.”
Harold nodded once for him to continue.
“You put a lot more work into the cover at the lakehouse than into Shaw and I’s.”
Harold nodded. “The cover for Ibis and Turner has existed much longer than Newman and Bell.”
“Shaw has a different theory.”
“Ah, you’ve discussed it with Ms. Shaw.”
“She thinks it’s wish fulfillment.”
Harold looked at anything but John as his features schooled into something cold and detached. “That certainly explains her comments this evening.”
“What I don’t get, Harold, is that it can’t be wish fulfillment if I’m not the one who made the covers unless it’s your wish too.”
“I haven’t exactly been subtle, Harold. You know I want you.”
John stood and went to Harold, stopping a step and a half away.
“John, I –“ Harold started but cut himself off. “Ms. Shaw may have a point. Though I wouldn’t use her exact wording.”
John smiled. “What wording would you use?”
Harold was quiet for a long time. “What I would say is that I do desire you. My attention to detail for the lakehouse cover was not a conscious manifestation of this desire but it is possible that my good sense got away from me while working on it.”
John couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face. “That certainly sounds like you. I do still have a question though. Can I kiss you?”
To Harold’s credit his eyes only went the slightest bit wider. “Only if you do it this instant.”
John leaned forward and Harold met him halfway, resting one hand on John’s arm as John wrapped the other arm around his waist. John didn’t know how long they stood there but when they broke apart, they were both out of breath and smiling at each other.