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[personal profile] laniew1
TITLE: A Bird By Any Other Name
RATING: R (for language, sexual situations)
PAIRING: Nathan/John, Nathan/Harold, Nathan/John/Harold, Nathan/OFC
AUTHOR: Melanie
Summary: Nathan has his two helper/assassins, a revolving door of TA’s and a mission, the only thing that he doesn’t have is Harold.
DISCLAIMER: I most certainly don’t own them; if I did they would have to air the show on a channel other than CBS.
FEEDBACK: Please?

Link to art will be added as soon as it's made available to me.



A Bird By Any Other Name


Their postures are mostly similar, they look bored enough to fall asleep at first glance. Nathan glances over at them from time to time, reassuring himself both that they’re there and that they’re relatively unharmed. There’s a cut above John’s right eye, one on Sam’s cheek.

Their technical analyst of the week is an idiot, but he has John and Sam and he has their two police detectives, he can’t afford to give someone else information, so their TA’s are an ever revolving door of computer geeks that coax information from a system they can’t even begin to understand.

There’s a twinge there, regret that he firmly squashes.

“She’s been in the system,” the TA says, his fingers tap, tap, tap across the keyboard.

Harold’s fingers had been mostly silent; the loudest they’d ever been was when he’d been hyped up on whatever his caffeine of choice was that week.

“Do we know what she was looking for?” Nathan asks, he leaves over the TA’s shoulder, peering at the screen as if it’ll tell him what Root was looking for.

“It looks like the same thing we are,” the TA says, he’s been here for eight days, long enough that he knows that there’s something wrong with the system. Glitches, random surges.

No new numbers.

Carter has called four times in two days, she doesn’t even understand where their information comes from, but even she knows that something is very wrong.

He’s had to stop himself seven times from picking up the phone to call Harold, demand he fix things.

Because he can’t.

“Except for this morning’s break-in,” the TA amends, Nathan doesn’t have to look back to see both John and Sam come to attention. The TA looks straight at the screen and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that he’s managed to draw and keep the attention of the two assassins lounging across the room that could kill him with the stapler by John’s hand or the heel off Sam’s shoe.

“What do you mean?” that twinge comes back, now it’s followed by worry that he hasn’t felt in years. Not since Harold’s accident and Grace’s death. Harold had walked away and never looked back; Nathan had stopped looking for him years before, tired of dead ends.

If Harold didn’t want to be found… well then Harold wouldn’t be found. Though maybe it was time to start the search anew.

“This morning she was using our system to try and find someone, when I realized she wasn’t just digging around looking at the breadcrumbs you had me plant in there I shut her out, but I think she found something.”

“Found something? Or found someone?” Nathan asks, he straightens and his hands clench into fists at his side.

Harold still owns half of IFT, though he’s never shown up for a stockholder meeting, never attended their annual Christmas Party.

He’s pretty sure they can’t be considered friends any longer, they’re not partners, they’re not anything. If he had to pinpoint where that relationship had crashed into the brick wall it would probably be about the point where Nathan drew Harold’s blood to stop him from reprogramming the machine and locking Nathan out.

He regrets that, he always has, but by the time he’d realized that maybe Harold had a point, Grace had been dead and Harold had checked himself AMA out of the hospital and flitted away like one of the birds that he’d used as his pseudonyms. Nathan had searched, he’d hunted, he’d hired people more experienced then himself to hunt and search and Harold had been nowhere to be found.

Regardless of the state of their friendship though, Harold is still Nathan’s, has been since they were young men and he doesn’t give up his things.

He’d been a very spoiled child.


******************************************************************************



The geek of the week is sent away, John doesn’t think they’ll see this one again and the next time they’re in this room, there will another, different geek sitting in that chair punching away at keys trying to decipher information that they don’t understand.

That is if the machine doesn’t shut completely down before they have the need.

“So Root is looking for someone now?” Sam asks.

Nathan runs a hand over his head, he looks… worried, with an edge of scared. For himself, for them, for this unknown person that Root now has in her sights that he doesn’t know. John doesn’t think he’s seen him ever look like that.

“She’s looking for the man that built the machine,” Nathan says slowly, like the words are being pulled out of him by force.

“I thought that was you,” John says, Nathan looks at him, that ‘are you fucking with me?’ look that he gets sometimes.

“Do I seem like someone particularly tech savvy enough to build a machine with the barest beginnings of an artificial intelligence?”

John shrugs and Sam huffs the tiniest breath of air which is her version of a laugh.

“He did blow up the microwave that one time,” Sam says.

“There was a bomb in that microwave; I don’t think we can count it.”

“Children,” Nathan snaps, his patience is hanging on by the tiniest thread. Sometimes they push just to see if they can snap it, when they snap it sometimes Nathan lets things about his past, about who he was before he was a crusader for the helpless slip.

Not that they couldn’t find out that information by googling it, Nathan Ingram is an open book, it’s just more satisfying to hear it spill from Nathan’s lips of his own volition.

“His name is Harold,” Nathan says, he slaps the picture up on the whiteboard. It’s old, grainy, it’s… “this is one of the only pictures I have of him, he destroyed the rest, or just refused to have any taken.”

“No last name?” Sam asks.

“Not any that he keeps for any length of time, he almost always uses Harold as his first name, whether that was actually his first name or not I can’t tell you. We met in college.”


******************************************************************************



They have a copy of the picture; Nathan wouldn’t give up the original which Sam guesses she can understand. It’s probably one of the only things he has left of this Harold that he’s never mentioned before but who is apparently fairly important to him.

“So who do you think left who?” she asks, John is driving because he always drives. She doesn’t care one way or another she just wants it on record that those two accidents were totally not her fault.

“Why are you assuming they were lovers?” John asks, and the fact that he jumps from that simple question of who left who to lovers’ means that John is thinking the same exact thing she is. Or that Nathan has shared more information about this mysterious Harold with John then he has with her. “They could have been just friends.”

“Please,” Sam doesn’t snort or roll her eyes; she thinks it’s unspoken how much she wants to though. “Nathan just sent us off on a wild goose chase to look for the guy.”

“And that says lovers?” John has that confused tone in his voice. If she didn’t know him so well she’d think that he’s pretty innocent for a spy/assassin.

But she does know him that well, or as well as she can considering and she’s walked in on him and Nathan fucking enough times that she knows there’s not a bone that could be called innocent left in his body.


******************************************************************************



The TA had tracked the information that Root had gotten to a little town, population 400. John blows past the Welcome To sign so fast that Sam doesn’t have an opportunity to see where the hell Nathan has sent them.

“There’s going to be cows,” John says, “I can feel it.”

He sounds really annoyed by that fact and Sam has been on enough road trips with this guy that she knows enough to hide her grin in her hand.


******************************************************************************



There’s a main street and that’s pretty much it, John steps out of the car and it smells like a small town. Somewhere someone is baking an apple pie and a couple of young kids run across the street laughing.

It’s all small town America, apple pie perfection. John hates it instantly; Sam looks completely charmed when he glances over at her.

He pulls his cell phone out and Nathan has sent them a street address.

Root is probably already here and if this Harold guy that Nathan is so worried about that he sent them to this hell is like any of the TA’s then Root’s probably already got him wrapped around her little finger.

Except Harold was involved with Nathan to some degree so he’s probably got a bullshit detector set to maximum.

“So do we kill him if we find out that Root’s already got him?” he muses. He doesn’t expect an answer.

“If we kill him I guarantee that Nathan cuts you off for the foreseeable future, and considering how cranky you get when you’re not getting sex on a consistent basis how about we make that our last resort, okay?”

Sam is scanning the street, looking for and assessing threats. Boredom is probably the biggest threat they’ll run into here.

And Root, mustn’t forget Root.


******************************************************************************



The bell dings over the door when they walk into the diner on the corner of the street, it sounds cheerful while announcing their presence to the diner as a whole.

No one looks up when they walk in, no one looks nervous or scared and John scans the tables, there’s no sign of Root, not here. If she’s in town, which if Nathan’s Harold is, he’s fairly certain she is; she’s set up her base of operations somewhere else.

“Just sit anywhere, kids,” the waitress behind the counter calls, she’s pouring water into two tall glasses with one hand and shuffling through menus with the other.

Sam raises an eyebrow but chooses a booth that at least gives them a good vantage point. They can see the front door, the entrance to the kitchen and a small dark hallway that most likely leads to restrooms.

The waitress sets the glasses down carefully, condensation already dripping down the sides of the glasses, then places the menus in front of them. Sam pulls hers to her with one finger and John just smiles his half-smile at the waitress. The waitress blushes and Sam kicks him under the table.

“Can we get some coffees while we’re deciding?” he asks and the waitress just grins at him, recovering quickly.

“You’re just a charmer, aren’t you,” she says, “take your time.”


******************************************************************************



The waitress is a sweetheart, but they don’t get anything from her. John wanders off to the restrooms, paring the waitresses’ phone as he goes.

“I have a laptop that’s making the strangest noise; do you have a computer place in town?” Sam asks.

“Oh honey, if only you’d come through about a month ago, we had the nicest gentleman that would take care of all that stuff for us, poor David’s been using Google and Ask.com to try and figure things out since he left.”

So if Harold had been in town he wasn’t any longer, Nathan had insinuated that he only ran when he was feeling trapped or threatened, she wondered what had trapped or threatened him a month ago to cause him to flee.


******************************************************************************



They call him from the car; Nathan relaxes back into his chair and taps his fingers against the edge of his desk.

“He’s not here anymore,” Sam says. “Waitress says that he left about a month ago.”

Nathan’s mouth turns down and he stares at the picture that he’d had his secretary find a nice frame for. Now it sits on his desk next to the one of him and Will.

“You pared her phone?” Nathan asks.

“Yes,” Sam says, just as John says “she’s making a call.”

They wait; he places his phone in the middle of his desk and puts it in on speaker while he taps in the number that Sam recites to him. The computer starts the search, working to narrow down Harold’s new location.

“Hello,” the voice is muffled but Nathan’s gut clenches anyway, he sounds the same.

“Harry? It’s Miriam,” the woman’s voice is tired but cheerful.

“Miriam, hello,” Harold sounds pleased, John does something to volume and they can all hear the clacking of keys. Wherever he is he’s typing at a keyboard. “What can I do for you?”

“Ingram’s man was just here,” Miriam says, the sound of typing stops. “There was a woman with him.”

“Not Root again I’m assuming,” Harold says, he starts typing again. It’s faint but quick, typing with a purpose. Nathan leans forward and tries to psychically urge the computer to search for him faster.

“No, Root was the one that asked for you by name,” Miriam says. “This was someone else.”

“Hmm, if you have John Reese in town then I’m going to assume that the female is the newest addition to their little group.”

He can hear the slightly indrawn breath from Sam that speaks to her being startled. Harold is aware of Root, is aware of all of them. John and Sam aren’t on IFT’s payroll, Nathan had created a shell company strictly for the purpose of paying them, Harold should know absolutely nothing about them.

“I don’t like this plan of yours Harry,” Miriam says. “You’re sending them all hunting for you and not doing anything, or allowing any of us the opportunity to protect you.”

“I’m a grown adult and fully capable of taking care of myself.”

Miriam makes a sound like a sniff of disdain.

“They’ll only get as close as I allow them Miriam, you have no need to fear for my safety, but the Machine needs my help and I’m not going to allow it to fall into the wrong hands. I’ve built safeguards to help me get what I need but I also need Nathan and his associates not trying to prod information out of it or trying to hodge podge some sort of fix, sending them after Root while she tries to locate me is as good as I can do on this short of notice.”

“You should have just rebooted the system and shut Nathan and by extension Root out at the beginning,” Miriam states. It sounds like an old argument. Nathan has no idea who this woman and her ‘us’ are that they are so read in on the topic of the Machine, on Nathan, on Root.

“I’m fine, Miriam, it’s all going to be fine… I’m relaxing on a beach and having a cold drink even as we speak.”

“You’re a lying liar,” Miriam laughs, it still sounds worried. “You’re in some little tiny office, probably working overtime, staring at some little tiny monitor trying to fix the problems of the world without letting anyone know you’re doing so.”

“Oh if only I could,” Harold says wistfully. “I’ll call you soon.”

“No you won’t, but you take care of yourself and when you can you come visit, you know David’s going to need his entire computer system redone by the time you come around again.”

“Good bye Miriam.”

There’s a sigh from Miriam’s end and then a click from Harold’s. Nathan looks at his computer, it’s flashing ‘number no longer in service’ at him but it had gotten as far as tracking it to New York City before Harold had shut it down.

He’s here, in their city.

“He’s in the city, come home.”


******************************************************************************



Nathan is hunched over his desk, that can’t be good for his back and Sam makes a mental note to bully him to the chiropractor once this is all over with.

“How does he know who we are?” John asks, he’s got the cool edge to his voice that’s a pretty clear indication that he’s really fucking pissed off about someone not them having more information than they do.

“He’s been in the system,” Nathan says, “probably as long as Root has, though he’s not playing god so much as playing doctor.”

Sam goes to make the requisite bad joke since it doesn’t look like anyone else is going to, but it stops dead in her throat when she circles the desk. Nathan has two monitors set up and he’s sitting there, hands folded together staring at them. On one screen code that she can’t even begin to understand is streaming along, on the other it looks like periodically someone is doing a cut and paste and replacing entire lines of code.

“What the…” she starts.

“He’s doing triage or a computerized version of it, maybe trying to buy us some time or something, I don’t know,” Nathan says, he rubs at the bridge of his nose, though his eyes don’t waver from the screens. Sam lays a hand on his shoulder and he reaches up and grips it tightly before releasing it.

“I’m not actually sure how he’s even in there doing that.”

“Do you think it’ll be enough to stop the countdown?” John asks.

Nathan waits for a second, thinking obviously, then shakes his head. “No, I think whatever is going to happen is going to happen.”

“And we still don’t know what exactly that is?” Sam asks quietly.

“Hard system reboot is pretty much all I know. Harold never went much into the way of specifics. If a virus or unknown protocol was added to the system, the Machine would wait for the system appointed Admin to remove the virus or the unknown protocol, if that didn’t happen then the Machine would begin to cycle through a series of commands leading up to a hard system reboot. I don’t know what happens after that.”

“Maybe it’s like any other computer, the system reboots, runs it’s diagnostic thing and then all systems go,” Sam suggests.

“Somehow I don’t think it’s that easy,” John says and Nathan nods.

“I agree, finding Harold is still our priority. Keeping him away from Root, keeping him safe from Ms. Shaw’s former contractors…”

Bringing him home. Sam can tell that’s what Nathan really means. And she’s not sure why, but she thinks that Nathan is going to need a bigger bed and probably that John will need to learn to share sooner rather than later.


******************************************************************************



“You know I have an actual job, right? One that actually gives me a paycheck and benefits and…” Lionel says and John doesn’t roll his eyes but it’s a near thing.

John hands him a copy of the photo, the one now framed on Nathan’s desk. He doesn’t think too closely about that, or how he feels about that. He accepts that Sam is around for the long haul most likely. That doesn’t mean that he has to accept this unknown person that’s leading them all on a merry chase.

“Old friend of Nathan’s,” John says and Lionel looks at the picture.

“Can’t he just use one of those high school classmate finder websites, or Facebook, my twenty year reunion was planned almost totally on Facebook,” Lionel says, he’s looking at the picture though, closely, brow wrinkling like he’s thinking really hard.

John would rather have had Carter on this but Lionel had answered his phone first.

“They went to college together.”

“Okay, so they probably have some sort of alumni program or something, right. I mean Ingram was pretty big news back in the day; he probably donates a boatload of money to that school, make them do the legwork.”

“Nathan thinks he was in some sort of protection program, he was apparently still getting used to his name when they started school. He changed it again right after they graduated.”

“This guy looks familiar,” Lionel says, his brow is still wrinkled, mouth frowning, John doesn’t make any outward movement towards him and Lionel still flinches.

“Just see what you can do,” John says and Lionel nods, not looking directly at him.


******************************************************************************



She can hear them from the living room; she places her keys on the table by the door instead of dropping them and walks quietly toward the bedroom. They’re normally a very pretty picture.

Nathan has got him spread out on the bed, hands clasping the frame, fairly steady moans muffled by the pillow that John has his face pressed into.

Nathan smirks at her and she leans back against the wall, he raises an eyebrow at her and she shakes her head. She’s got nothing to report and Nathan is a bit of exhibitionist.

John’s phone starts vibrating on the dresser beside her and she keeps one eye on the bed as she picks up the phone.

It won’t be long now, Nathan’s hips are moving erratically and John’s moaning has turned into one long groan, his fingers are clenching and releasing on the bedframe, which means he’s coming.

Nathan’s hands go to John’s hips and he grinds against him, groaning fairly quietly for him. She wonders idly if the neighbors had complained about the noise again.

Now that the show is over she swipes a finger over John’s phone and there’s a missed call and a new voice mail. It’ll take her more minutes then she really wants to waste trying to figure out the new passcode so she just calls Detective Fusco from her own phone.

“Are you messing with me?” Fusco demands.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, sorry, you’re not Reese,” Fusco says, there’s a pause and she know he’s looking down at the phone to find out who called him.

“Do you have something for us, Detective?” she asks idly, a glance over at the bed shows Nathan propped up on one arm, rubbing the other over John’s stomach. He’s very touch happy at the moment which could be any number of things but most of them probably have something to do with his Harold.

“Reese has got me looking for this guy…” Fusco starts.

“Harold Wren,” Sam says, Nathan is staring at her and she lowers the phone to put it on speaker, walking towards them on the bed with it in her hand so they can all hear better.

“Harold Finch now,” Fusco says. “He must have changed names again or something.”

Nathan mouths ‘Finch’ over and over again, like he’s committing it to memory.

“Did you find him Lionel?” John asks, his voice is only slightly breathier than normal, Fusco probably won’t even notice.

“Well he works for us, the police,” Fusco clarifies. “He’s in the IT Department; I told you he looked familiar. He’s not on right now, so don’t even think about rushing right over, he’ll be back in tomorrow morning at about six I’m told and I’ve put in a request for some help so we’ll see if he’s the one that answers it or not.”


******************************************************************************



John makes an early morning stop at the station to plant a couple of bugs on and around Lionel’s desk and two cameras so they can see things. The fact that no one stops him or questions him or anything is amusing if nothing else and he should probably say something to Lionel when it’s all said and done but he knows he won’t.

Nathan wouldn’t stay back at the office so they’re all three of them in his town car. Nathan sits in the passenger seat, Sam hovers over the back seat looking at the laptop screen. She doesn’t like driving the town car, it probably doesn’t have enough flash for her, so he slides behind the wheel just in case they need to leave in a hurry.

They’re in a waiting pattern and Nathan has the volume on the laptop down low enough that there’s just muffled noise coming from the station. John turns the radio in the car on low to break some of the silence, Nathan must have slid a CD in while he was planting his bugs and cameras because there’s a mellow jazz playing and that’s not anything that John would have left in the player.

“So I don’t know what happened,” he hears and that’s the first sign that their target has appeared in the station. Nathan scrabbles for volume and turns it up while John turns the radio down.

“You know you’re not supposed to download anything not precinct approved,” Harold Finch’s voice sounds disapproving through the tinny speaker of the laptop.

“It was this widget thing, right, supposed to tell you what the weather is like outside at any given time and whether or not you need to take an umbrella with you,” Lionel says. “My son uses it on his computer at home and he doesn’t have any problems with it.”

“And your son probably has about fifteen viruses just waiting for the right time to unleash their fury,” Harold says almost absently. He’s got a nice voice John decides. It’s calm and cultured, more cultured then even Nathan’s and Nathan, he knows, was born with a silver spoon shoved into his screaming mouth.

He turns slightly and Nathan is staring at the screen like he’s found god, Sam is studying it like she’s found her next target and John twists back around and stares out the front window and doesn’t do anything.


******************************************************************************



He knows it’s a trap; Lionel Fusco is almost certainly on Nathan’s payroll, even if Nathan’s not paying him.

He knows that Joss Carter definitely is.

But the call comes in and he goes, to not go would be to break the tiny little piece of normality that he has found into smithereens.

He runs a code through Detective Fusco’s computer, it’s his own code and it’ll eradicate any virus that the Detective may have purposely or accidently allowed to be loaded onto his computer.

“What are you doing now?” the detective asks like he would have any idea what exactly Harold is doing or not doing at any given second.

“Anti-virus,” he says simply, the machine hums in his ear, ‘seven o’clock’ it whispers and he twists his head slightly. ‘Nine o’clock’ it says and he bites his lip rotating his shoulders slightly.

“Detective, when I say get down,” he says.

“What?” the detective says, brow wrinkling, one of the seven bugs and two cameras the machine located prior to their arrival is almost certainly broadcasting to Nathan’s laptop and he silently apologizes for not getting to follow through on fixing things as he’d meant to.

“Down,” he says and the detective thankfully listens to him, dropping to the floor even as he reaches for his weapon. Harold doesn’t see much more than that, the bullets hit him, spinning the chair and dropping him to the ground.

He hears shots; multiple, some probably even come from the detective.

There’s noise, yelling and he focuses on breathing, one, two, three, four, five. The machine counts with him and he knows he doesn’t imagine the sound of worry that he didn’t program into its mechanical voice.

Nathan’s face is suddenly there, he looks the same, streaks of grey running through his hair and he’s still got a full head where Harold’s has been thinning over the years they’ve spent apart.

He’s the most beautiful thing that he’s seen in years.

“Harold? Harold?” there are fingers on his face, then hands pressing against his chest and he makes a noise that even to his own ears sounds like pain.

“I need paramedics, over here,” the detective is shouting and there’s movement, fast and furious. He blinks and Nathan is there, he blinks again and Nathan is being shoved out of the way by what he hopes and pray are paramedics and not people on the fairly long list of people that either want him dead or want him strapped to a table so they can examine his brain.

“Sir, I need you to stay awake, can you tell me your name?” the paramedics are talking over themselves, it sounds like one big long sentence and he bites down on his lower lip to stifle the moan that wants to be let loose from they’re pressing against his abdomen.

They press again, harder and he makes a noise that sounds like a shout and thankfully passes out.


******************************************************************************



Nathan has blood on his hands, he’s been to the restroom and scrubbed them practically raw but every time he looks down he can see blood, Harold’s blood on his hands.

Sam sits next to him, watchful and alert. John paces back and forth, eyes moving to each entranceway into the waiting room.

They don’t want him here but there’s nowhere else he can be. Not when somewhere in this hospital Harold is in surgery and if he’d just listened…

But that’s neither here nor there.


******************************************************************************



Two bullets, both through and through, no lasting permanent damage. John can see Nathan relaxing even as the doctor speaks, there are police at the desk and the doors and Lionel has been hovering, waiting for an opportunity to get him alone.

John slips away while Sam is standing guard over Nathan’s on-going argument with the nurse over Harold’s next of kin and the fact that Nathan should be it.

“He told me to get down,” Lionel says. “How did he know that…”

“I don’t know,” John says. But if Nathan is right and Harold had been the one to build the machine, maybe the machine had found its own way to warn him.


******************************************************************************



A doctor convinces Nathan that there’s nothing else that he can do while they wait for Harold to wake up so John sends Sam with him and stakes out the corridor across from Harold’s room.

There’s a doctor and two nurses that go in and come out but no one else ventures near the door. The shooter had been taken down at the station, but you don’t walk into a precinct and open fire without expecting that it’s a suicide mission and that you will most likely not make it to your next birthday.

John thinks he accomplished his mission regardless, he also thinks that there’s no way he was working alone.

Harold is out in the open and not nearly as protected as Nathan or John or even Sam if she wanted to hazard an opinion wants him to be.

It’s barely past two in the morning when the door to Harold’s room opens, no one had been in there with him, the doctor had made his last set of rounds about 1:30 and the nurses are having coffee at the desk, so John straightens and waits.

Harold peers out, he looks pale and in pain, but he also looks determined.

He looks both ways, and shuffles his way into the hallway when he sees no one coming to send him straight back to bed. John would, but he kind of wants to know why Harold is fleeing the hospital in the middle of the night after having been shot twice just eighteen hours prior.

It can’t be because of Nathan; Nathan alone isn’t terrifying enough that he thinks Harold would run.

Hide maybe, due to whatever had caused the rift between them in the first place, but not run.

Maybe Root or Sam’s former compatriots or whoever Kara had been working with.

“You look like you’re going to fall over,” he says, because as much as he doesn’t think they need any more people in their lives. Nathan is going to cling to Harold with arms and legs and probably nails and teeth to keep him from running off again so he should probably get used to him and fast.

Harold looks at him, blinking with hazy eyes that mean that whatever else he’s getting the good drugs and hadn’t managed to stop them from dosing him.

“I need…” Harold rubs a hand across his face. “There’s some place that I need to be,” he says.

“In bed I’m thinking,” John jerks his head towards the room that Harold is standing just outside of. “Because Nathan and Sam come back and you’re not in there they’re going to be looking for me dead in a stairwell.”

“You’re sleeping with him,” Harold says, he presses a hand to his side.

“Excuse me?” John blinks at him. Because of all the things that he thought would come out of Harold’s mouth (offers of money topped the list in practically all positions even though anyone who knows him and knows Nathan knows that there’s no amount of money that would cause him to sell Nathan out).

“You are sleeping with Nathan,” he says, he articulates each word slowly like he thinks that John is particularly stupid and wonders at Nathan’s intelligence. “You cannot possibly want the difficulty that my reappearance in Nathan’s life is going to bring with it.”

John looks at him and huffs a laugh.

“I think you overestimate how much say I’m actually going to have over that,” John says.

“And you’re okay with that? I can’t think that…”

“Nathan is Nathan,” John shrugs. He shares him with periodically with women that Nathan thinks that he needs to be seen with or sleep with. Women that definitely don’t deserve him and only see him for his money, at least Harold, he’s pretty sure has no interest in Nathan’s money.

He steps forward and Harold flinches back slightly but stands his ground regardless.

“I really do have somewhere I need to be,” Harold insists, he sways a bit and John takes his arm to guide him back into the room. The chairs in there are probably more comfortable anyway, he’s got a set of handcuffs in his coat pocket that he could use to secure Harold to the bed so he doesn’t try and wander off again.

“It’s 2:04 am on May 13, you have about 78 hours before the machine’s countdown hits zero. I think you can take at least 24 of that and catch a few z’s.”

Harold looks down at the hand that John has wrapped around his arm.

“Mr. Reese, you can’t possibly want me here,” he says slowly, softly.

“Nathan wants you here, I kind of like making sure that Nathan gets what he wants.”

And if Nathan wants Harold giftwrapped with a bow around his neck in their bed then John will probably make it his mission to get him there no matter that John thinks the bed is not big enough.


******************************************************************************



There’s no one at the door and John is not in the hallway across from Harold’s room.

The doctor had told him that Harold’d had a good night and was still comfortably resting. He thinks the doctor would have noticed if Harold hadn’t been in the bed or if Harold had been replaced by someone else.

When he pushes the door open, heart in his throat, cellphone in hand ready to call Sam to attention he finds that Harold is in the bed seemingly asleep and John lounging back in one of the chairs by the bed flipping idly through a magazine.

“He tried to make a break for it,” John says when Nathan notices the handcuff around Harold’s wrist.

“He doesn’t like hospitals,” Nathan says, he never had to Nathan’s recollection, though he would never explain why. He thinks it has something to do with the fact that Harold discards names (mostly last, very few times first) like tissue paper.

“He kept saying he needed to be somewhere,” John says. “I know you said that there was no way to stop the countdown to….” he waves his hand, “whatever is going to happen.”

“Hard system reboot,” Harold mutters, he pulls at the handcuff around his wrist and looks at it with narrowed eyes.

“Just making sure you stay in one place,” John smiles winningly at him. “They’ve already given him his meds this morning, so he’s nice and mellow so far.”

“What exactly does a hard system reboot mean?” Nathan asks quietly, Harold looks over at him a flurry of emotions fluttering over his face as they stare at each other. In the hospital bed, compared to John, he looks small and frail and like someone that Nathan wants to protect with his entire being.

Harold won’t ever let him do that though. He never did, forever insisting that he could protect himself and would protect himself.

‘I don’t need your help, Nathan. I’ve been looking after myself for a very long time and I think I can manage to continue to do so.’

“Harold.”

“Hello, Nathan.”


******************************************************************************



John has moved to the window, sitting on the ledge to allow Nathan to sit in the chair near the bed. They haven’t removed the handcuffs and Harold pulls on it periodically.

Not to remind himself that they are there, he couldn’t forget that they’re there. But for the jolt of pain when they pull against his skin, it helps him pull away slightly from the calm, disinterested edge that the medications that are being fed into his body are trying to force on him.

“Hard system reboot,” Nathan says again. “What exactly does that mean?”

Harold looks at him in askance, because did Nathan not listen to anything the he said when he went through the safety protocols that he’d built into the machine?

“Don’t look at me like that Harold, I know that the system is going to reboot, I know what that means, but what does it mean for us? Is it going to come back up? Stay down? Is the machine done?”

Harold takes a breath, releases it, does that several times while he thinks of how to explain what is happening in a way that Nathan and John would understand.

“A hard system reboot takes all system servers off line and locks out all current Administrators for 24 hours.”

“24 hours,” Nathan says in a breath. “That’s it? It’ll be off line for 24 hours and then it’ll be business as usual?”

Harold laughs, it causes all the places that he hurts to jolt and ache, he makes a noise that sounds pain filled even to his own ears.

“That’s not a ‘you’ve got it finally, you idiot’ laugh, that’s your ‘Nathan you’re a fucking idiot’ laugh,” Nathan narrows his eyes at him.

“When the servers go off line a phone will ring, somewhere in the city, whoever answers that phone will become the system Admin for that 24 hour period, they will essentially be god for that time period and the machine will respond to that system admin and only that system admin.”

“Well that’s not good,” John eyes him. “Is that where you were trying to run off to last night? Wherever this phone is?”

“I think we would all rather that someone who is not Root or whatever mysterious organization orchestrated this entire thing in the first place answer that phone, yes?”


******************************************************************************



Nathan doesn’t want to leave Harold in the hospital, even with guards and a private room. Sam kind of can’t blame him; they’ve already stopped three people from trying to see him.

“I can just go home,” Harold says, he sounds very earnest and sincere and Sam would believe him if he hadn’t tried, yet again, to sneak out of the hospital.

John keeps catching him, looking increasingly disgruntled (though he also looks more and more impressed at Harold’s continued tenacity) each time he catches him in a stairwell and the elevator and the last time almost out the front door of the hospital.

Sam just wants to know where the clothes are coming from. It was the first thing that Nathan did after the first time that Harold tried to leave, take all the clothes, save for the hospital gown and boxers.

“No,” Sam shakes her head. Because she’s been to the little apartment that he’s calling home and its more computers then living space and had definitely already been broken into. “It’s not secure.”

“I’ve got another place,” Harold insists, he looks antsy. Sam is sure he’s not used to staying in one place for any given amount of time.

Nathan makes a face.

“And that one’s not safe either,” John says.

“Four apartments, Harold,” Nathan shakes his head and touches Harold’s arm, squeezing gently. “And every single one of them is either compromised or a death trap. We send you back to one of them you’ll end up with gangrene or something.”

“So what do you propose, Nathan?” Harold manages to sound snarky and annoyed all in one breath.

It’s amusing to listen to because in all three of the conversations that Sam has had with him he normally sounds cultured well beyond his means and so amazingly polite that she’s always surprised when he starts butting heads with Nathan.

“I’ve got a penthouse, private security…”

“And two bodyguards willing to handcuff me to the bedframe if I even think about leaving the premises at any given time,” Harold snorts, it sounds indelicate and foreign, young in a way that neither Harold or Nathan is. He’d probably be crossing his arms across his chest and pouting like a pre-teen if John hadn’t resorted to handcuffing him to the bed rails again after the last attempt.


******************************************************************************



Nathan has a guest room in his penthouse; he actually has two though they very rarely get used and he’s not exactly sure when the sheets were changed or even put on last.

When John stays he’s normally with him, Sam doesn’t stay over though periodically she’s bled on his couch before getting bandaged up and departing with a smirk.

He’d like nothing better than to have Harold with him, but he has a feeling that Harold is only going to bend so much at the moment. There’s also the added bonus of Harold seeming to know about his relationship with John.

When they’d been together before it all fell apart; Viv had known about him and Harold had known about her and they’d had serious discussions both with Nathan present and with him not present to figure out how they were going to divide his time so that neither one of them felt like they were getting the short end of the straw and Nathan didn’t feel like they were making him choose.

He didn’t want to choose between them, and he thinks that neither one of them at the time was as sure of their position in his life to try and force him to choose.

After Will had been born Harold had backed off so fast, not willing to come between a now stable little family unit and Nathan had talked and wheedled and (though he would never actually admit to it) begged for Harold to come back.

Harold didn’t relent until Viv had talked to him, sat him down and said all words that Nathan had apparently not known and he’d come back though there’d still been this awkward space between them that Nathan had never figured out how to bridge.

When Harold had started seeing Grace, when it became serious enough that Harold was thinking about rings and marriage; Nathan had asked him if he was going to tell her about them (Nathan and Viv and their agreement) and Harold had shook his head and Nathan had dropped the subject because the absolute last thing he wanted was to hear Harold tell him it was over.

“I was sorry to hear about Viv,” he says now as Nathan presses the blankets around him and Harold focuses on John standing in the doorway watching instead of Nathan tending to him.

“I thought that you’d come back for the funeral, she would have wanted you there,” he admits, he’d hoped, even though he knew it was probably a hope that would never see fruition, that Viv’s death would be the thing to draw Harold back to him.

That Harold would know that Nathan and Will needed him.

But he hadn’t come and that had been about the point that Nathan had said enough and moved full steam ahead on his self-appointed mission to save the world one person at a time.


******************************************************************************



It’s the first time, in John’s recollection, that they’ve shared the same bed and sex was the furthest thing from either one of their minds.

“It’s called a polyamorous relationship,” Nathan says quietly, he has his fingers laced tightly together across his stomach; “we were always a kind of a little groundbreaking.”

“I take it that means that your wife knew about him?” John asks.

“Viv was the one that got him to come back after Will was born, she never told me what she said to him, they never slept together, Harold expressed absolutely no interest in sleeping with her and Viv had no desire to sleep with him, they were friends,” when John glances over at him he’s making a face with his mouth. “I think they used to get together and talk about all my bad habits and what to do to break them, they both certainly thought I drank too much and neither one of them made any point of hiding that fact.”


******************************************************************************



John waits until Nathan falls asleep to leave the room, stationing himself in a dark corner by the front door, they have less than 48 hours before the countdown ends, Harold doesn’t need to do anything but lie in bed and heal while they wait. John and Sam will get him to the phone on time.

“Go back to bed, Harold,” he says when he hears the door to the guest bedroom open, Harold shuffles forward and he looks tired and pale in the little bit of light coming through the windows.

“I need to…”

“You have 48 hours until the countdown ends,” John says, “we’ll make sure you and Nathan get to where you need to be.”

Harold sighs, it sounds long-suffering, like he’s used to dealing with stubborn military types.

“You don’t even know where I need to go.”

“I’m sure you’ll share when the time comes, either that or you’ll repel out the window and we’ll follow you and it’ll be all good.”

“I’m not sure what kind of antics you and Nathan get up to in your spare time, but I’m certainly not young enough or fit enough or adventurous enough to be repelling out a window.”

John just looks at him. Because not adventurous enough? He’d been in some sort of polygamist relationship with Nathan and his wife when being labeled as gay or bisexual meant getting the crap beat out of you.


******************************************************************************



Harold’s not sure exactly what John Reese is up to. If Harold had been in his position he would have looked the other way when the first opportunity to flee had presented itself.

Instead he keeps stopping him, and putting him back into a bed, sometimes with a handcuff attached to some unmovable object. It’s annoying and Harold can’t figure him out.

Harold doesn’t like things he can’t figure out.

He knows that Nathan and John are together, Nathan may have given up looking for him but that didn’t mean that Harold had given up on watching over him. He might not have had Nathan’s resources at his disposal but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have other ways to keep an eye on him.

To make sure that he was okay and alive and well.

He was all of those.

Okay, alive, well… and after Viv’s death he moved on. He found John Reese and there was a four month time period where they just worked together and then they moved into a sexual relationship and Harold tried to stop watching, to stop looking after him.

He’d never taken Nathan for an exhibitionist before, but he also didn’t know much about Nathan and Viv’s sex life except that they had one. Harold had preferred to keep their activities to the privacy of one of their homes, but maybe Nathan had been putting Viv out on display for all to see.

Nathan liked beautiful things, Harold knew this well and Viv had been extraordinarily beautiful and John was magnificent so he could understand why he’d want to show them off.

Harold mostly hid his beautiful things from the world, so they wouldn’t be stolen from him.


******************************************************************************



At the 46 hour mark Harold makes a stand, he writes an address on a piece of paper and slides it across the table.

“What happens when the phone rings if there’s no one there?” Nathan asks before he looks down. Harold just looks at him.

“I don’t think there’s any scenario where no one answers the phone, the best case scenario is that it’s one of us.”


******************************************************************************



John drives; he takes the most direct route with Sam murmuring next to him. In the backseat Nathan and Harold sit side by side. Nathan isn’t kidding himself into thinking that just because Harold is sitting next to him, means that he’s next to him.

He might be sitting there, but his mind is most certainly elsewhere.

Probably with the machine somewhere.

“I think I’ll take a vacation after this,” Harold says. His voice is quiet, Nathan isn’t sure that he was even meant to hear him.

“Vacation, are you going to relax on a beach somewhere, Harold?” Harold’s nose wrinkles and he makes a face that speaks volumes.

Nathan laughs a little bitterly. Right after Will had been born Viv and Nathan had asked him to go on vacation with them. Quiet time for the four of them, time for Viv to recuperate and Nathan to spend time with Harold and Will without the prying eyes of their family and others friends peering in and questioning their life choices.

Harold had said no, had sounded so appalled at even the idea that they hadn’t broached the topic again. Viv had spent her time recuperating in the city and Harold had been so scared of Will that the boy had been almost a year old before Harold had even touched him let alone held him for any extended period of time.

“What would I even do on a beach?” Harold asks, he sounds bewildered.

“Rest, read, spend time with the people that you went with.”

Harold looks over at him and his mouth twists into an unhappy frown, like Nathan’s putting him on the spot and Harold doesn’t like it.

“If Viv had asked you instead of me would you have said yes?”

Harold just stares at him, eyes narrowing a bit like he’s searching for something.

“We’re here,” John says and the moment of whatever is broken.


******************************************************************************



There’s pay phones littered through the city, the New York City Public Library wouldn’t have been his first choice of venues.

For one thing it’s going to be really hard to get in without being seen considering that Decima has people at each door, all armed to the hilt.

That’s not even counting the snipers that he’s sure Hersh has in place.

“Going to be hard getting in,” he comments idly, he taps a finger against the steering wheel and doesn’t look in the backseat at where he’s sure Nathan and Harold are looking at each other meaningfully.

“The machine will get us in,” Harold says, he sounds confident and close, he glances over his shoulder and Harold is leaning forward eyes fixed on the guards pacing in front of the main entrance.

Nathan is reclining in his seat; he can always manage to look relaxed and calm in the face of overwhelming odds. When Root had him for that brief time and John finally got to him he’d looked distinctly unruffled and actually slightly annoyed that it had taken John so long to get there.

“The machine is barely operational,” Sam murmurs under her breath, Harold huffs a breath and sits back. Waiting, patiently, for the machine to do what it will.


******************************************************************************



“Are those guards leaving?” Nathan asks, he can hear the disbelief in his voice and it doesn’t even annoy him, much; because he can hardly actually believe his eyes, the two guards that had been pacing in front of the front entrance are hurrying away at a fast clip going around the side of the building.

He gawks for a moment then realizes that Harold is not in the car any longer, and he scrambles for the door handle.

John reaches Harold first, hand going around his arm; he already has his gun out. Sam his mirror image though she stays by Nathan’s side.

“How ‘bout we all stay together,” John suggests in that tone of voice that indicates that it’s not a suggestion but more a warning that he will handcuff them together if he needs to.

“We need to hurry,” Harold says, “before the snipers get new orders.”

“Right.”


******************************************************************************



“Have you been here before?” Nathan asks. He thinks it’s a valid question as Harold walks with purpose towards the second floor. He knows where he’s going definitely.

“There were four phones that could have been the one,” Harold says, he’s rubbing at his shoulder, probably time for another pain pill but Nathan knows that if he says something that he’ll get hit. Instead Nathan places a hand low on his back and just lets his hand rest there. Harold stiffens slightly then relaxes when John doesn’t just shoot him in the head.

“So how do you know this one is the one?” Sam asks in a tone that sounds like idle curiosity but is probably not.

Harold just looks at her, eyebrows raised slightly in an arch that Nathan remembers fondly from school. That’s Harold’s ‘are you fucking with me?’ look, if they arch just a bit further up it would become ‘are you fucking kidding me?!?’ look.

The phone is sitting just sitting there, hanging out against a wall looking old and dated in this day and age of cellphones and computer IMing. He thinks it probably doesn’t even get used, probably doesn’t even work.

“So we just wait?” John asks, he’s making a circuit around the area, keeping all of them within his eye line.

He’s loops until he’s closer and closer, “Root’s here,” he says in a barely there murmur. Under his hand Nathan can feel Harold stiffen in alarm

“Movement?”

“Just waiting.”

Nathan makes a point of moving his hand from Harold’s back, instead looping it over his shoulders, pulling him into what he hopes is the protective curve of his body instead.

“How much time?” he whispers, to Root it probably looks like he’s kissing Harold’s temple while John and Sam look on in amusement.

“Minutes,” Harold says, he twists slightly until he can see Nathan and Nathan can see the ‘what the hell?’ query in his eyes.

He hopes his own send some form of ‘give it a minute’ in response.

“I think,” he hears and Harold flinches under his arm

“Ms. Groves,” he says, he keeps Harold tucked where he is, even though Harold is giving every indication of trying to push him away.

“My name is Root,” she says, her hair is tied loosely back from her face, from the circles under her eyes she doesn’t resemble the well put together sociopath that had kidnapped him seven months earlier in any way.

The most alarming thing is the gun though, the one that she has her hand clenched tightly around, even though the gun is shaking and she looks as though a gentle breeze will just topple her over.

“Let him go,” she says, she may look like she hasn’t slept but her voice is full steely determination. She thinks she’s right and everyone else is wrong, she could have been Harold if Harold hadn’t had him and Viv and Will and whoever else had helped him stayed connected to the world in some fashion after their split.

“No,” Nathan says, Root snarls wordlessly at him. “I just got him back; there isn’t much that would make me give him up at this point.”

“I’ll put a bullet in the middle of your forehead,” Root says, she says it matter-of-factly, like there’s no other real option for her.

“And then I’ll put one in yours,” John says quietly from right behind her, “you still won’t get what you want.”

John and Sam both have guns trained on her; Nathan doesn’t fool himself into thinking that Root couldn’t still do some serious damage.

“You want to free the machine,” Harold says, he’s looking at Root, that earnest look that he gets sometimes when he’s really trying very hard to convince someone of something that they can’t even begin to fathom.

“It deserves to be free,” Root spits, “It’s screaming for help, and you’re not doing anything, just letting them keep it under lock and key and not even able to fully comprehend what it can do.”

“What on earth makes you think that I’m not doing anything to help her?” Harold asks, Root just stares at him, Nathan could tell him that trying to reason with Root is like trying to reason with a bullet that’s already been fired, not very possible. “Also you claim to think of her as a person, yet you still refer to her as an ‘it’.”

The phone begins ringing, echoing loudly through the empty room. Harold is the only one that doesn’t seem to startle.

“Let me finish what I started,” he says and Root just looks at him with uncomprehending eyes. The phone continues ringing and Harold walks, slowly, towards the phone.

He picks up the receiver and he doesn’t say anything, just holds it to his ear. The expression on his face is something that Nathan hasn’t seen since the first time that Harold held Will in his arms of his own volition.

“I hear you.”


******************************************************************************



Nathan has a room with a series of terminals and a computer already set up.

“TA of the week,” John murmurs once and Harold looks at him with what he hopes doesn’t read to anyone else as confusion, John’s not looking at him though, he’s looking at Nathan while Sam smirks from her position perched in the window. “Are we keeping this one?”

Nathan looks at him and there’s that possessive look that Nathan never managed to actually hide when he was looking at him or Viv, or he guesses John now since Nathan looks at him in the same manner.

“Oh yes.”

“Do we need to have the person versus property debate again?” Harold asks.

“Only if it’ll make you feel better.”

Harold turns back to his monitors and rolls his eyes, they know he’s doing it but they can’t see him so they can’t exactly call him on it.

“When can we expect to get numbers back?” Nathan asks, he rests a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently.

“Numbers will start again when the machine has sufficient data with which to work, probably 24 hours at the most.”


******************************************************************************



Root has been committed, Nathan would feel something akin to sorrow at all that knowledge and technical skill wasted if he didn’t also know that if Root was still out there that Harold would never actually be safe from her.


******************************************************************************



“So how exactly is this going to work?” John asks, he’s lying on his stomach beside him on the bed and Nathan runs a hand across his back.

“How do you mean?”

“You, me,” John looks at him, “Harold, I see the way that you look at him.”

“He’s one of my oldest and dearest friends,” Nathan says, the face he makes means Nathan knows he sounds pretty fucking ridiculous, so John snorts his disbelief.

“I’m fairly sure you don’t look at all your ‘oldest and dearest friends’ in that way, if you did you wouldn’t have any time for me in your bed let alone time to actually run your company and do what we do.”

“If nothing else,” Nathan says, “I’d like it if you and Harold could at least get along. It makes things…” his mouth twists a bit and he inches closer, enough so that John can feel the heat of him along the right side of his body. “It makes them easier.”

“I like Harold,” he says, it’s not even a falsehood; Harold is brave, if not a bit foolish in regards to his own personal safety. John plans on working with him on that.

If that leads to other stuff, then John’s not necessarily opposed to that either.


******************************************************************************



The room that Nathan has set aside for his ‘saving people’ thing has too many windows. The first thing that Harold does it switch rooms, commandeering the janitorial staff plus whoever else he can get his hands on to move everything that he wants moved.

“If you wanted a cubicle…” Nathan says, he’s making a face at the four walls and no windows. Harold’s not exactly opposed to sunlight, but he finds it easier to lose himself in his programming if he can’t look out the window and see direct evidence as to how long he’s been doing it.

Nathan knows this; Harold knows that he knows this, so he doesn’t say anything.

“I thought maybe we were robbed, but I see now that we just moved into a cave instead,” John says from the doorway.

“It won’t be bad once you put some pictures on the wall,” is Sam’s input.

They’re comedians, the lot of them, it’s like they don’t know that Harold could send their lives into complete and utter disarray at the press of a button.

“If you all are quite finished,” Harold waits patiently; he has a picture in his hand. Nineteen year old female in an abusive relationship, she’s had just about enough and has begun quietly making plans to kill her abuser.

“You have a new number.”

Someday it might be ‘we’ but for right now it’s ‘them’.


******************************************************************************



Harold fits seamlessly into their day to day operations. Sam didn’t think that it would be possible, thought that at the very least that John would balk at this new person in their lives. Instead he seems to have adopted him and if Sam had anyone to bet with she’d put a hundred bucks on John, Nathan or both of them having Harold in bed by the end of the month.


******************************************************************************



John lives with Nathan, it takes Harold a few days after they start settling into their new roles to figure that out. But John never goes anywhere else, and even if he doesn’t leave with Nathan he ends up at the penthouse with takeout from some restaurant or other.

“I could go back to my apartment,” Harold says one night, it’s just him and Nathan relaxing on opposite ends of the couch. There’s some inane TV show on the TV but Harold stopped watching about eight minutes in.

“I’m sorry but your building has been condemned,” Nathan says solemnly, he has one arm draped over the back of the couch, fingers tapping to some unheard beat against the back. If Harold were to move over just eleven inches he would be able to curl up against Nathan’s side.

“I have other…”

“Leases have been bought out; buildings condemned, noise complaints, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”

“Don’t be a bully, Nathan.”

“Your space is still here, my friend, it never went anywhere.”

Harold looks at him.

“John is aware of how things stand,” Nathan says. “He’s…”

“You’re in love with him,” Harold says softly, quietly. He feels a twinge, the same one he thinks that he felt when Nathan had told him of Viv, of how he loved her and wanted to keep her, of how he wanted Harold to like her as well.

Harold had always felt like he’d failed Nathan in some way, because he couldn’t feel for Viv the same way that Nathan did, she was a beautiful, lovely, giving woman, but there was no desire to take her to bed. She was like a sister to him and he’d loved her as much as he’d been able.

Grace had been the only woman that he’d felt any sort of desire for. Until Nathan, and then Grace, he’d thought he would spend his life alone.

John, on the other hand. Harold thinks that if he were to allow himself, he could feel affection, desire, possibly even love for him.

Nathan is looking at him, like he knows exactly where Harold’s thoughts have strayed.

“He’s a good man, loyal, caring…”

“He’s yours, Nathan; don’t go trying to share him without his input.”

Nathan smirks, reaches across the couch to kind of haul Harold over, Harold allows him to do that because of all the things he missed, this had been one of them. Cuddling with Nathan on the couch. It takes his body just a moment to remember how to curve into Nathan’s.

“I’ve had this conversation with John,” Nathan says, chin resting against the top of Harold’s head. “Though maybe not this exact conversation…”

“If you don’t say the words out loud, the conversation never happened.”

“John likes you, I think he actually likes you more then he liked me at the beginning,” Nathan muses.

“Did you try to take over his life? Because that tends to put some people off, you know that.”

“I gave him a purpose,” Nathan tugs him the tiniest bit closer; Harold gives himself permission to relax and turns his face into Nathan’s chest. He’d missed this, the feeling of safety, of contentment.

“I missed you,” he says softly, muffled by Nathan’s shirt. He’d think Nathan didn’t hear him but Nathan sighs a little and rests his cheek against the top of his head.


******************************************************************************



John is a sweaty, miserable mess when he gets to the penthouse. It’s quiet and he thinks everyone must be in bed so he tries to not throw anything.

Deborah Twilliger is in a safe place and she’s agreed to counseling, though he’s more frustrated by the boyfriend (ex now) managing to land a last punch before he and Sam got there.

There’s a TV going in the living room and it takes him a moment to realize that there are actually people on the couch, Nathan is leaning back, holding Harold tightly, like the other man might flee if he gave him just an inch of space to move.

John knows Harold, he would.

Nathan is sound asleep, Harold has turned his neck and is blinking at him owlishly, he looks slightly disgruntled. It’s the most adorable thing he’s ever seen and it makes him grin despite his mood.

He makes a detour by the couch and touches fingers to the tops of their heads. Nathan sleeps on, but Harold looks at him with tired eyes and gives him a little smile.


******************************************************************************



The only explanation, Harold thinks, is that John has decided to eliminate the competition by actually killing him. He breathes and runs through escape scenarios as John runs him through what he calls basic self-defense and what Harold is calling a thinly veiled attempt to murder him.

His back is twinging in places that there shouldn’t be twinges and he aches in places that he hasn’t ached since the car accident that took Grace from him and the four subsequent surgeries that took his ability to run in any marathon over a mile.

“Why don’t I just hire a body guard?” he says, he’s very proud of the fact that he doesn’t sound as winded as he feels. “Or I could just never leave the office, there’s a bathroom with a shower in the executive area and I’ve slept worse places then a cot in the corner of my workspace.”

John looks at him, lips pursing and then shakes his head, “I don’t want to know, because if I know I’ll tell Nathan and if I tell Nathan well…”

Harold shakes his head in return, “yes, let’s not tell Nathan.”

John grins at him, it’s wide and slightly disarming, Harold blinks against it and wonders if just flinging himself out the window would count as suicide if John is trying to kill him anyway.

“It’ll be our little secret,” John says and Harold breathes out, “as long as you show me you can throw a punch without breaking all your fingers.”

“You’d rather I break your nose instead?” Harold queries, John laughs at him.

“If I was worried about you being able to land the punch I wouldn’t have offered my face up, I would have Sam up here teaching you how to throw one.”

Harold throws his fist out, keeping his fingers tucked like John had shown him and John easily catches it in his hand and does a twist thing that has Harold tucked up against him arm locked across his chest.

“Right then,” he says and John laughs, he’s really quite close to his ear, a hairsbreadth closer and his lips would be touching him and, well, Harold counts to 1000 in prime numbers while he breathes.

“I’m surprised that you made it this long without someone teaching you how to defend yourself.”

“I didn’t need anyone to defend me, I had Nathan,” Harold says, like that explains everything.

“Well considering that Nathan can’t throw a punch either the two of you must have spent a lot of time bruised.”


******************************************************************************



Nathan has taken to spending his time in the security room, guards sent away during the times that John manages to drag Harold away from his computers and attempt to teach him to defend himself.

“I can’t decide if you’re just amused by the fact that your boy can’t throw a punch or if you’re waiting for them to end up fucking on the mats,” Sam says from behind him. He doesn’t turn, he just watches the monitors.

John has Harold pressed up against him, arm locked across his chest and he can’t hear what’s being said but he doesn’t miss the smirk that John shoots at the camera either.


******************************************************************************



John likes the set up they have now, they’re on their seventh number and Harold’s voice is still in their ear pieces feeding them the information they need when they need it. It’s comforting and familiar.

He does the job that Nathan pays him to do and then he goes home and sometimes Nathan and Harold are sitting at the kitchen table eating a quiet dinner, a plate set aside waiting for him. Sometimes he’s later and they’re curled up together on the couch sleeping. Like they’d waited up for him and fell asleep while doing so.

He thinks that one might be wishful thinking.

He knows that Nathan hasn’t pulled Harold into bed yet; either theirs or the one that Harold has claimed in the guest room that would normally be Will’s when he comes to town.

He’s not exactly sure what Nathan’s waiting for and he’s not sure what his own response will be if he comes home and they’re in bed together.

Will he climb in on the other side, or will he go the guest room that smells like Harold and let them have the happy ending they maybe should have had originally?


******************************************************************************



The numbers make sense, she feeds them to him and he in turn, makes those numbers into names and people and accidents or atrocities waiting to happen.

Then he gives those names to John and Sam and Nathan and lets them do what they do.

Make sure those accidents or atrocities don’t happen to the innocent people that would either be harmed or harm others.

People don’t make sense to him.

Sam is an easy read; she’s just vastly amused by all of them. He believes she must have a significant other in the city somewhere, she always comes when he calls looking well-satisfied and he’s sure that neither Nathan or John or scratching any of her particular itches.

John and Nathan on the other hand.

He’d thought, from his one tired conversation with Nathan on the couch where he’d said he still had a place by Nathan’s side that maybe Nathan would make the first move.

God knows that Harold had made the first move originally; he thinks it is actually Nathan’s turn to put everything on the line.

And then there’s John, they’ve had 14 ‘self-defense’ lessons, the last three were identical to set-ups for truly awful porn that he’d had the misfortune of seeing when Nathan was going through that ‘we need to see if we’re missing something awesome’ phase that had lasted two weeks right after they’d begun their relationship.

They weren’t missing anything, they had the basics down and the sex got better as they got more comfortable with each other.

It never goes anywhere though, Harold doesn’t get tossed down on a mat and if there’s sex happening it is sex that doesn’t involve him.


******************************************************************************



The status quo seems to be that John comes home, finds Harold and Nathan cuddling on the couch waiting for him. Harold gets shuffled off to his bedroom, which John continually hopes is soundproofed in some fashion and then Nathan takes him to bed.

“You could just sleep with him,” John says, his voice is muffled by the pillow because he’ll move, but he needs a moment or five, Nathan is dragging a lazy hand over his ass. Probably rubbing come and sweat into his skin. Nathan is a caveman in the ways that are signaled by him marking his territory.

It’s really why John is just surprised that he hasn’t walked in on them fucking by now.

Nathan doesn’t say anything, just dips his hand lower until his fingers are brushing over his entrance. He twitches.

“Really, you weren’t this much of a gentleman with me,” he says. They’d been fighting, arguing over something that he can’t really remember and back then John had always checked his baggage and training at the door so as to not hurt the guy that was giving him a chance. There’s about five minutes he doesn’t really remember but had ultimately ended in kissing and then fucking on the floor of Nathan’s office.

That was well before Sam, before they knew about Root hovering in the background.

“Harold is…” John peers over his shoulder at him, Nathan is making a face that John’s never seen before and John narrows his eyes at him.

“Is this your really crappy way of trying to, I don’t know, court him or something? Because honestly at this point, if someone doesn’t take that man to bed he might just leave you a fuck off and die letter and fly off into the sunset by himself.”

“I want to do things right this time,” Nathan mutters against John’s shoulder, it should probably piss him off a bit that they’re talking about the other guy while Nathan is still pressing warm, naked and kind of sticky skin against him and John’s body is still pleasantly humming with satisfaction.

But it doesn’t.


******************************************************************************



John is gone in the morning, though he’s helpfully left his robe at the foot of the bed and a yellow sticky note on his phone.

kiss him or I will

Nathan thinks that would be a pretty picture, John wrapped around Harold, lips moving together. Harold had always been sort of tentative aside from that first kiss; John would have to take charge of it right off.

He lies back on the bed and wraps his hand loosely around himself, John would have to take charge he thinks, he strokes himself, long, even strokes, not enough to get him off.

Harold had never been one for being on top, he’d do it if Nathan insisted, which was rare but not unheard of; he was really more of a fan of being fucked then anything.

It would be a beautiful sight, Harold on his back, legs drawn up, John beneath them. Nathan would be there, of course. As much as he likes showing off the things that he considers his, he likes watching the things he considers his be appreciated by others as well. That normally hadn’t extended to his people, but mostly because Harold and Viv had never expressed any interest in going to bed with one another, or seeing the other in any other fashion besides impeccably clothed.

The thought of Harold and John on this bed, of them fucking or making love or whatever they would do when it came to that time, of Nathan sitting in that uncomfortable chair across the room or lying in the bed beside them, touching them both as they moved or came. Of them touching him in return…


******************************************************************************



Harold is making a cup of tea; Nathan has a fairly extensive selection, most of Harold’s favorites in fact and for a man who was never to his knowledge been a tea drinker to have them…

Well he doesn’t think too closely because he’d heard them in their bedroom as he’d gone to get a glass of water, unable to sleep any longer.

He stirs in the sugar, one, two, three and long arms cage him in as he’s gazing at the cup unseeing. He turns slightly and Nathan is right behind him, still in his bathrobe, hands on the counter.

He rests his chin on Harold’s shoulder and it sends an ache of familiarity panging through him. Of mornings just like this, in a different kitchen with Nathan pressing his body against him.

He’s hard against him, and on a different morning, long ago, Harold would turn and let Nathan press his back to the counter and be kissed breathless and then possibly allow himself to be taken on the kitchen table. Or drop to his knees and open Nathan’s robe and suck him hard and fast the way that he likes.

But this isn’t a morning long ago, this is now and Nathan is John’s.

“Nathan,” Harold says, he pats his arm, pressing down as he twists. Nathan doesn’t let go, just looks at him, eyes dark and this might have been a tactical error because Nathan crowds closer, pressing his back to the counter and Harold doesn’t have anywhere to put his hands that aren’t the counter or Nathan’s body.

“I missed you,” Nathan says softly, it’s barely a breath and Harold can feel his mouth dropping open, his eyes widening. “I missed watching you make your tea and stand at the counter and I missed touching you in the morning when everything was still soft and hazy and you hadn’t put your armor back on yet and you would touch me like you loved me.”

“Nathan,” he says helplessly. If there was one thing that hadn’t been missing between them it had been love.

Nathan kisses him. His lips are soft and he’s obviously made a stop in the bathroom because he tastes like mint when Harold opens his lips on a sigh.

When he turns his head away there’s a twinge of regret, Nathan brushes his lips against his cheek, lets them linger there.

“John,” he says, it’s a reminder that Nathan has someone that has filled the holes that Harold and Viv had left in their wake.

“Yes,” he’s answered and it’s not Nathan who’s holding him tight. Harold startles and only doesn’t slam his head into Nathan’s chin because Nathan looks in the same direction.

John is standing there, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest and smirking. He’s not flying into a rage and using the many sharp implements available in the kitchen to kill him. He’s not storming out in a fury.

He’s just standing there. Smirking.

Harold is very strongly overtaken with the urge to either punch him or kiss him, he’s really not sure which would be worse.

Or better.


******************************************************************************



When they kiss it’s like a fight, Nathan striving to hold his dominance, John striving to take it from him. They’re always battling for it because they’re two very strong-willed men and the fact that they’ve managed to last even this long is a miracle that Nathan doesn’t look too closely at.

He thinks they both bend where they need to.

Watching John and Harold kiss is what he would imagine watching John kiss that long ago girlfriend probably looked like. It’s soft, sweet, John’s not pushing.

John has one hand cradling his face, the other low on his back. Harold is making those noises that he used to make before he grumbled and started trying to take control from Nathan and force things harder, faster.

Harold only does gentle and slow for so long before he wants things now, now, now.

Nathan could say this; instead he bends his head down and focuses his attention on making a mark on Harold’s neck. Something that will scream that he was here since Harold has always very firmly said absolutely, positively not, at the idea of a tattoo or something else permanent stating ‘property of Nathan Ingram’.


******************************************************************************



Sam thinks, from the expression on John’s face, from the self-satisfied one on Nathan’s and Harold’s very relaxed posture that maybe she should handle whatever the next number is by herself until they get past their honeymoon, everything is rosy-fucking-red phase.

“Well…” she starts and John raises an eyebrow at her, it screams ‘I will fuck you up’ at her, though Harold stiffening stops her from saying anything more than that.

John doesn’t scare her, most of their spars end in draws which is why they don’t really spar together anymore.

They both like to win and to have a tie more times than not…

Not acceptable.

“Are you guys going to carpool in? You know conservation of our environment starts with the small things.”

“Harold’s a morning person,” John says, Nathan nods his head once though he’s also moved closer enough to Harold that he’s got one hand on his shoulder, thumb stroking along the side of Harold’s neck.

“Well I could bring coffee in the morning,” she says.

“I’m a tea drinker, though the offer is appreciated.”


******************************************************************************



Harold pulls the information for the number together, sets it in a tidy packet to the side of his desk. Nathan is still touching him, taking full advantage of the closed room and the fact that Harold will let him touch him because of such.

“I think she knows,” Harold says, he’s not sure how he feels about that. The first attempt at this Harold, Nathan and Viv had been the only ones who knew anything of importance in regards to their relationship.

“I’m pretty sure if she had any friends besides John that they would have been betting on it.”


******************************************************************************



It takes a while, weeks, almost a month for a routine to be established.

Harold likes routines, he likes schedules and Nathan’s mission doesn’t really lend itself to being scheduled. She sends him numbers when she sends them.

The relationship between the three of them, well it just settles. There are nights when John slips into bed after they’ve already gone, wrapping cold arms around him, it always wakes him. John pressing warm lips to the back of his neck, Nathan stirring next to him.

There are nights when they are all three there for dinner; Nathan will pull out a bottle of wine and John cooks dinner, Harold’s only requirement is to show up at the dining room table without his laptop. On those nights, rare as they might be they all go to bed together. Someone pressing someone else into the bed that is maybe starting to feel like he has a place in it.


******************************************************************************



“Harry,” Miriam says, she sounds happy to hear from him. “I hear you let Ingram and his young man catch you.”

Harold huffs a laugh, “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

“Just tell me that you’re good, that you don’t need me to send one of the boys in to rescue you and I’ll let you be.”

“I’m good,” Harold says. “I’m… have you ever felt like you were missing something, and then once you got it back it was like you never left in the first place?”

“No,” Miriam says. “But I’ve always known where I wanted to be. I think you still needed to figure it out.”

Harold thinks about that while they say their goodbyes, while Miriam reminds him that if he ever needs anything to let her know immediately. He doesn’t tell her that to someone who doesn’t know her that she sounds like she’s referring to a ‘family’ instead of just a family.

He’d been part of that family for a while, an outer fringes, once every two year reunion member, but family regardless.

He’d been scared of it before, when it had been him and Nathan and Viv and little tiny Will. Keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground, trying desperately to not take flight; being responsible for not only his own safety and happiness but for Nathan, Viv and Will’s.

This family, John and Nathan, Sam. They can all protect themselves, or John and Sam can and he thinks that John would gladly step in front of bullet for Nathan if it came down to it. He and Nathan are protected in a way they weren’t before and he thinks if the desire to flit away comes upon him…

They’re his family, they would follow him.


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