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when john removes his mask, harold thinks he is going to faint. his nerves have been stretched to the breaking point for days—worried about john, worried about arthur, miss shaw, himself. there has barely been time to think. at first he can’t believe his eyes, but the warmth in his chest speaks for itself and he blurts out, “mr. reese, i am inordinately happy to see you!”

their escape is a blur. harold can’t focus on anything but john’s face, on the sturdy, strong reality of john’s body, so near his own again. for the sake of detective fusco and miss shaw, he had kept up his reassurances that john would come back in his own time. privately, he had been losing sleep over whether he would see the man he loved again.

john had needed space, a need harold understands implicitly. he is surprised, therefore, at his own sudden and intense need for closeness. he wants to get john back home immediately. he does not wish to talk—not at first. first, he wants to tear john’s clothes off.

john catches harold gazing at him and quirks the corner of his mouth up. “glad to see you too, harold.”

harold’s knees go weak.

*

by the time they are home, however, harold’s feelings have become less precise. now that the immediate danger has passed, harold’s mind is racing, reflecting on how hurt he was when john left without a word. no note, no explanation, and no indication of whether he’d return. their homecoming is stilted, neither man knowing exactly how to bridge the gap between them. they stand awkwardly in the foyer for some time, john trying to cover the silence by half-wrestling bear, whose joy at seeing him is blissfully uncomplicated.

“so,” john says into the silence.

harold swivels to look at him, his brow furrowed. “yes, well. i’ve got some work to do just now.” he needs time with his thoughts, time to find a way to forgive john for leaving.

he leaves john standing where he is and seats himself at his desk. tapping away idly, harold wonders: has he misread the depth of john’s regard? has john shared himself—his body, his tender words spoken in the dark—out of a sense of charity? the thought is mortifying. another possibility: is the john who has shared harold’s bed not the real john at all? john has showed a remarkable ability to slip into the roles harold has crafted for him. has harold fallen in love with a persona? does john even know the difference anymore?

harold is shaken from his brown study by a towel-clad john, dripping from the shower. after a moment, harold remarks, “the floor is getting wet.”

john’s shoulders drop minutely. “harold,” he begins.

“no, john, i’m not ready for whatever it is you want to say.”

john’s expression is pained, which hurts harold in turn. john takes a breath and offers, “can i at least buy you dinner?”

“considering i pay you, john, it’s a bit of a silly offer.”

john’s face registers his shock. harold realizes he is wounding him, which is unbearable. quickly, harold adds, “but i accept.”

*

harold allows john to choose the scotch and the meal. both are excellent. harold remains silent, turning memories over in his mind. he is, he realizes, at a crossroads. there is nothing john can do or say to banish his fears. either he loves john, or he does not.

john lets him brood until the end of the meal, when he reaches for harold’s hand. harold deftly brings his napkin to his mouth, avoiding john’s touch and his gaze.

“harold,” says john. “please.”

the pain in john’s voice is heartbreaking, and harold is filled with sudden remorse for causing it. harold realizes he does not need to hear john’s apology at all. he just needs john here, and—harold’s heart begins to beat roughly—he needs john to know that he loves him, and has loved him for years.

harold does the bravest thing he has ever done, and looks john right in the eyes. “there’s something i need to say to you, john,” he says.

*

john’s heart falls. harold’s expression is never particularly illuminating, but right now it looks as grave as it ever has. john knows harold is about to break things off, and he rebukes himself for not seeing it coming. after losing joss, he was a mess. he wasn’t thinking. he had to get away. but abandoning harold like that had been wrong. harold deserved better than john could give. and now, john deserves to lose harold. so when harold suggests they go to the park where they had their first conversation, john agrees. it will be easier not to return home.

*

harold realizes something is wrong when john does not place his hand in its customary spot at harold’s elbow. a new fear grips him—has john come back to end things between them? should harold proceed with his plan to admit his feelings? he doesn’t wish to cause john pain. surely he has suffered enough.

harold’s mind is still reeling when they reach the spot where they had their first conversation. harold thought it would be appropriate, perhaps even romantic, though it would be the first time anyone could accuse him of such sentiments.

they stand in excruciating silence for a moment. finally, harold says john’s name.

it comes out so tenderly, they are both surprised. john moves his gaze from his shoes to harold’s face.

“john, there’s something i want to tell you.”

john nods once, clenches his jaw. “i understand. no hard feelings, harold.”

harold frowns. “i’m not sure you do understand, john.”

“it’s okay. i messed up. i left. i left you. i shouldn’t have done that.”

“i appreciate you saying so, john, but—“

“i won’t make things harder for you.” john is tensing every muscle in his body to keep the tears back. he means it: he won’t add to harold’s suffering. he’ll leave quietly and let harold live without him.

“harder? for me?”

“goodbye, harold.” john turns and begins to walk away.

in a flash, harold realizes that he has completely missed the mark. john thinks he wants him to leave!

harold hurries after john and places a hand in the crook of his elbow, reversing the gesture that is so familiar to both of them. the words burst from him: “john, i’m trying to tell you that i love you!”

*

it takes john a second to register what harold says. when he does, a smile spreads across his face. he laughs aloud at harold’s intensely concerned expression, then takes harold’s face in his hands and kisses him deeply, there in the park, right where they met.

*

harold is pleased it’s dark, as he can feel himself blushing. he can’t keep the foolish grin from his face as john leans down to kiss him again. when john pulls away, he keeps his face close to harold’s and whispers, “i love you, harold.”

*

they’ve been in some highly dangerous situations before, but nothing has inspired the kind of urgency they move with now. there’s a safe house a block away, but harold is so hard he doubts he can make it that far. still grinning, john and harold lope down the street, apologizing clumsily to a woman they brush past on the sidewalk.

they slam into the apartment and dive into each other. john buries his face in harold’s neck as he works the layers of harold’s suit off his body, and harold tips his face up and gasps—has he ever felt this good? no time to wonder; harold’s hands go to john’s belt and it’s off and they’re struggling toward the bed, half-tripping on the trousers around their ankles, kicking off shoes. harold lands on top of john, eliciting a tiny “oof” and a laugh. harold runs his hands over john’s chest, his arms. he holds john’s hands down on the bed and traces a row of gentle bites across john’s collarbone. john groans and tries to free his hands, he needs to be touching harold everywhere, but harold moves his hands up to john’s biceps and holds him down again.

“now, john,” harold says, breathless, “i haven’t quite forgiven you for leaving. so we’re going to do this my way.”

john’s cock stiffens unbearably, and harold covers it with his mouth. john calls out, but harold takes his mouth away and quirks an eyebrow. “not yet,” he breathes.

“harold,” john moans. “oh, god—“

harold puts his hands on john next, moving slowly up his inner thighs, slowing as he approaches john’s cock. by the time he gets there, john is writhing. he caresses john slowly. john rocks his hips forward again and again, but harold refuses to match his rhythm. he’s going to make it take all night if he wants.

when john starts to settle, harold enters him with one hand and takes his cock in his mouth again, increasing the pressure until john is moaning. harold is starting to wonder how much more of this he can take himself when john gasps, “right there, oh god—harold—“

harold stops moving entirely and takes his mouth away. making his voice deliberately low and gravelly, he repeats, “right there?” and twitches the fingers inside john. john nods desperately, but instead of complying, harold gently takes john’s balls in his other hand.

so gently, he squeezes.

the sound that comes from john is unhinged. harold releases him and trails his fingertips lightly from john’s collarbone to his thighs until john is trembling. for a moment he takes his hands away. he can hardly bear it any longer—he needs to come soon, he just hasn’t decided how yet—and suddenly john takes harold in his arms and places him down on the bed. harold’s breath quickens, and before he can do anything john’s hands are on him, moving with all the urgency harold had eschewed. now harold cries out, his hands grasping john’s shoulders. without releasing him, john plunges into him again and again, relentless and demanding, and harold’s mind lets go in a hot burst of darkness just as john comes, explosively, inside him.

as their breathing slows, they cover each other with slow kisses. their fingers interlock as they gaze at each other in wonder, feeling that surely morning will never come, and they will be able to lie here together forever. surely the world has been cruel enough.