Chapter 1: Cooking Together
John doesn’t have any particular facility for cooking. He’s been in the service for too long—an endless stream of mess halls and the occasional bleary, blinking free weekends where the only respite was another anonymous motel with another anonymous Denny’s serving breakfast next door. His skills run toward the utilitarian. He can cook well enough not to starve, but this—
Harold stands at the stove, shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows and a neat white apron covering his clothes. The rich scent of onions and aromatics wafts through his loft in a cloud of steam, the high ceiling seeming only to amplify it somehow, and it’s all John can do to bury his nose in his wine glass and drink.
He feels sweetly overwhelmed.
“What’s cooking, Finch?” he asks.
“Broccoli cheddar soup,” Finch answers. He slides a bowl of neatly chopped florets into the heavy-bottomed pot, whisking, whisking.
Harold doesn’t cook like anyone else John has ever known. Instead of the hastily chopped, crowded cutting boards of his youth, Harold has neatly diced and portioned ingredients all in bowls. The shredded cheddar looks so starkly yellow in its neat glass dish, and John is struck by how elegant it all is.
He wonders if any part of Harold expected John to use this—the large, spacious kitchen; the little glass dishes; the heavy-bottomed, stainless steel pots. He must have known that John wouldn’t. Harold is a smart man. He’s seen John’s service records, and he would have made the necessary connections, even if he hadn’t hacked into more personal surveillance feeds, which John finds doubtful. He wonders, with a flush of warmth that feels illicit, whether Harold knew he’d one day be standing here, cooking for John.
John sits on the firm suede couch, shoulders pulled at attention through force of habit, and slowly, by degrees, finally starts to relax.
“It smells delicious,” he says honestly, because it does.
Harold hums, pleased. He sets about gathering the dishes while the pot on the stove simmers, and now John protests. The sight of Harold cleaning, let alone in his house, fills him with a kind of vague, unnamed panic.
“Just leave it, Harold. I can take care of it later.”
“It’s much easier to enjoy a good meal with a clean kitchen, Mr. Reese.”
Harold piles things in the sink, turning on both taps and adjusting them until he’s pleased with the temperature of the water, and now John starts to get up. “Let me take care of it, then.”
Harold waves him off. “Drink your wine, John.”
The command pulls him up short—of course it does, in a body trained to obey.
John fetches his wine from the low coffee table but comes back to the kitchen because Finch didn’t order him to sit down. The sound of running water fills his usually silent apartment, and John looks over Finch’s shoulder, watching him work. His fine, thin fingers seem elegant as they work a soapy sponge around the blade of a knife. It’s a pleasure to see him absorbed in his task, an echo of the same concentration he wears when working in the library or pulling up yet another stolen file on yet another unknown number.
Finch washes dishes the way he does everything else—with the utmost efficiency and attention to detail. When he turns around, his hands are faintly reddened from the sink, and there are speckles of water on his glasses. He dries his hands on a dish towel before returning to his bubbling pot. John steps neatly out of the way and leans against the opposite counter, watching Harold whisk the soup.
“This can’t be very interesting,” Harold says.
With anyone else, John would make an effort to blend. He’d shrug or smile, wide and disarming—put the subject at ease. He might even flirt a little, depending. But Harold isn’t anyone else, which is why he’s in John’s apartment at 10 at night, cooking them both broccoli cheddar soup.
Which is why John reacts exactly the way he wants to react—by standing very still, his hip braced against the counter, just taking everything in.
“On the contrary, I find you very interesting,” John says.
Harold smiles into the soup as he tosses in the grated cheese, and John smiles at the feeling it gives him as much as the picture it makes—something warm and fragile.
“Dinner’s ready,” Harold announces, and John weaves around him to get the paper towels and spoons.
He goes to set the table, grabbing their half-gone bottle of wine on a whim, and this time Harold doesn’t stop him. John sets the table, and Harold ladles portions of soup into white bone china bowls, and it turns out they fit together here as well as they do in the field, anticipating the other’s movements, working around each other like they do it all the time—and of course, they do.
Chapter 2: A Good Morning
I wrote this one to cheer myself up after watching the finale for the first time several weeks ago.
John wakes in the library, spare pillow plastered to his face with a layer of dried spit, his dress shirt tight and rumpled. He’s alert in another second, the time it takes to clear the sleep from his head able to be measured between one blink and the next. The light that finds its way into the library is pale and anemic, and his watch informs him that it’s ten ‘til 8.
It’d been too late to bother going home. They’d saved their number but only just and hobbled back home bleary and tired at 3 a.m.
That’s funny. He wonders when he started thinking of the library as home.
John sits on the edge of the cot for a few more moments, feet planted on the rug he’s sure wasn’t here when Harold bought the place. These moments he takes are the height of luxury, a moment to breathe and stop and take stock of his surroundings for pleasure instead of tactical advantage.
His phone doesn’t ring. In the main room, Harold is already at his computer, wearing a clean, unrumpled suit in the same colorway as the one from yesterday, although it is not the same.
“Good morning, Mr. Reese,” Harold says, giving John his full attention.
This feels like a rare treat, and John takes a moment to bask in it.
“Do we have a new number?” John asks.
“Not just yet.”
The rest of that sentence is implied. Their work doesn’t ever truly end. They have momentary reprieves, nothing more.
John whistles on his way out of the library.
He doesn’t visit any coffee shop often enough to be called a regular, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a favorite. Common Grounds on 43rd Street has the kind of chocolate donuts he likes, rich and cakey and thick with frosting, and the almond croissants he knows Finch likes because he never gets the chance to try them himself. Today, he stops by. The line is decently sized but moves quickly, and the sun is just starting to climb its way into the sky by the time he makes it back to the library.
“Breakfast,” he says, depositing the box at the edge of the table and shooing Bear away.
“Thank you, Mr. Reese,” Finch says distractedly, now fully engaged in whatever it is he’s working on.
John doesn’t ask. Harold will tell him if he wants John to know. Instead, he flips open the box of pastries and eats one of the donuts standing up, demolishing it in a few neat bites. He takes a second donut and his cup of coffee and drifts over to the chair he’s started to think of as his. This one, he eats more slowly, savoring it between sips of dark, rich coffee—the other reason they prefer Common Grounds.
He closes his eyes and listens to the tap of Finch’s fingers on the keys, the soft whuffling of Bear in the corner. He finishes his donut and licks his fingers, wiping them on a napkin that he neatly pockets. It wouldn’t do to ruin the suit.
He flips open the book waiting on the side table, a Raymond Carver he’s been working his way through for the last week, whenever he gets the time. He finds his page and begins reading, sipping his coffee as he listens to the shuffle of Finch getting up, his little pleased murmur as he finds the croissants.
It’s a good morning.
Chapter 3: A Starless Night
This is the kind of night that was made for him, moonless and full dark. The fog rolling off the bay obscures the streetlights, and the clouds overhead blot out the stars. He’s been out of the Agency for years now, but he can’t strip the feeling from his bones. These are the kinds of nights made for renditions and terminations, for the type of orders that will be neatly redacted from official memos, concisely omitted from quaint tell-all books.
This is a night for killing. For killers. For things that skulk in the dark and lurk around the edges.
“Beautiful night, isn’t it, Mr. Reese?” Harold says beside him.
“Sure, Harold,” John agrees easily. “If you say so.”