the night joss dies, harold stops moving. he stands frozen in place. he counts the number of times the stoplight changes. he promptly forgets the number.
when he can move again, he walks toward john. slowly. this isn’t happening.
blinking back tears, he bends down and places a hand on john’s shoulder.
john shakes his head violently. he holds joss’s body tighter, fists clinging to her leather jacket. harold knows john is ready to fight death. if anyone could win such a fight, it would be john. the thought makes harold’s heart swell. but flashing lights are intruding on their private hell, and john is still sitting on the sidewalk. harold recognizes john’s mood: if the EMTs try to take joss from him, it will get ugly, and it will only hurt john. and it won’t bring her back.
harold whispers, “john.”
john’s face, always so cool, crumples. “no. no, finch.” his voice breaks.
harold’s heart breaks. a memory from a better day surfaces: john telling harold in his most irresistible tone, “the sooner we’re done the sooner we can go home.”
that’s what they need now: home.
harold places his hands on john’s face. “john, come home.”
john finally looks up at harold, his face helpless. so carefully, so slowly, so gently, harold helps john lay joss’s body down. he takes john’s hands and helps him stand. he places john’s arm over his own shoulders, and wraps an arm around john’s waist. firmly, but slowly, he helps john walk.
bear is waiting for them at the library. ever watchful, he can sense something is very wrong. he doesn’t fret over john and harold, but stays close by, his side pressed against john’s leg as they move toward the bedroom. after harold gets john onto the bed, bear sits at attention near john’s side, his gaze unwavering. to think harold didn’t want the dog at all at first. not for the first time, harold chides himself for lack of foresight.
tears course down john’s face. harold knows there is no comfort for this loss, nothing words can do to ease john’s suffering. he places his hands on john’s face again, more firmly this time, and kisses his forehead. john puts his hands on harold’s waist. their lips meet, somber and hungry and in need.
when they separate, harold wipes john’s tears with his thumb.
“let me make us something warm. will you be all right for a few minutes?”
john nods mutely. he takes harold’s hand and presses it against his face. “i love you, harold.”
“and i you, john.”
harold comes back into the bedroom with two mugs of sencha green tea. john has acquired a taste for it—of course he had to try it when he realized it was harold’s drink of choice. john’s insatiable curiosity about harold is another thing harold has had to get used to. like bear, he found it irksome at first. but john’s gentle, ineffable persistence broke through long ago.
he places a mug on each bedside table. john is staring at his hands. harold’s stomach clenches as he remembers the days after the ferry, stricken and alone, the grief making the smallest tasks impossible. not a proponent for change at the best of times, harold allowed no variation in his routine for weeks after losing nathan, unwilling to allow time to move forward and take him away from the man he’d so loved. an irrationality, but one harold could accept given the extremity of his circumstances.
what a wonder that he can sit next to john, and love him, and remember that after the ferry he vowed never to love again. harold isn’t the type of person to love easily or frequently, so the vow was not accompanied by pomp or dramatics. it was a simple decision, made for the safety of all involved. it was why he held john at arm’s length for so long, even after their mutual feeling had become obvious. someday—likely someday soon thanks to their line of work—one of them would die. love would complicate the matter infinitely.
gazing into john’s desolate face now, harold makes a silent wish that whenever that day comes, they die together. he cannot spare john the grief he carries now, but let him be spared a second loss of this magnitude. let them never have to live without each other. if he had miss groves’ confidence in the machine, perhaps he’d address this silent prayer to her; for now, he is glad of the privacy of his thoughts.
harold realizes john must still be wearing his vest—the one that would have saved joss’s life if she’d been wearing it. he rushes to john’s side.
“john, will you let me make you more comfortable?”
at first, harold thinks he will decline, but john nods before leaning into harold to kiss him again. gently, harold eases john’s jacket off and lets it fall to the floor. he unbuttons john’s shirt and carefully removes it, one arm and then the next, moving gingerly so as not to brush against john’s bruised ribs.
there is just the vest left. harold places a hand on john’s chest. john bows his head and puts a hand over harold’s. then he nods, and harold removes the bulletproof vest that saved his life and casts it aside.
harold can’t help but gasp when he sees the bright bruises blooming over john’s heart. he is infinitely grateful john was wearing a vest at all. but he will never get used to the damage bullets can do, even if precautions are taken.
john’s kiss this time is more demanding, and his fingers are working at harold’s bow tie.
“bear?” harold says, and the dog cocks an ear attentively. “bedtijd.”
once the dog has pattered away, they undress quickly, seeking the comfort they can only find in each others’ bodies. john moves over harold, then winces, his hand going to the bruises on his chest. he sits back on the bed. harold quickly sits up next to him.
“are you all right?”
“i’m okay, harold. sorry. maybe if we—“
“don’t worry. here—“ harold arranges the pillows at the head of the bed. “lie back, john.”
john’s grief makes him want to curl in on himself, but harold’s touch brings ease with it. when harold puts his mouth on him, john feels relief, followed quickly by bliss. harold slides his hands underneath john’s ass, gently kneading his flesh in rhythm with the movements of his mouth. john grips the sheets in his fists. he’s close, and harold knows it, so he pauses. john groans, full of desire, but harold makes him wait before taking him in one hand. harold caresses him slowly, maddeningly, while the fingers of his other hand find their way inside him. john arches his back and gasps, and harold moves so that the tip of him is just at john’s opening. the rhythm of his hand increases until john can hardly bear it, and at the last moment harold plunges into john again and again, deliberately at first, then faster and more insistent, until they both come, the hot explosion of their orgasm enveloping them both.
they lay together for several minutes before harold gently pulls away. he moves around john until he is laying behind him, one arm around his waist. harold kisses a line across john’s shoulder, trying to put all of the love he is feeling into them, all of the sorrow for joss. dark days are coming. but john sighs once, and falls asleep, and harold rests in the knowledge that they will not have to face them alone.