aprilvalentine: (Reese and Finch outside)
[personal profile] aprilvalentine
I went to our Maryland State Fair on Saturday with my good friend, [profile] tiranog and of course we spent a lot of time talking about Reese and Finch attending such a fair, what would bring them there, what they'd be wearing and how they'd react to the rides, the food and everything. This fic is the result.

State Fair

They’d followed their current number right onto the grounds of the State Fair. John stalked purposefully through the crowds, never letting the man out of his site. Harold moved more slowly, his physical limitations slowing him down along with, John was sure, his distaste for such events. Though Harold lived in one of the most populous cities in the world, New York was his element, his natural habitat, and he was more out of place in the fair, with its throngs of young and old dressed in shorts and sandals, lugging laughing or screaming children, holding huge smoked turkey legs or giant pieces of fried dough or munching on sausages that dripped with grease, than even John was.

John, for his part, knew that his usual attire, which helped him to fit in nearly everywhere, save for the odd sports bar or laundromat, made him something of an anomaly in their current location as well. If he’d had time, he would have changed to jeans at least. And he would have been more insistent that Harold wait in the car.

“Do you see Mr. Miller?” Harold’s voice, sounding somewhat strained, came over the earbud.

“Yes,” John told him. “He’s heading for the Four-H building.” They had determined that the threat might appear at the public event, but John still thought that if someone wanted to kill a person, doing it in broad daylight surrounded by thousands of vacationers wasn’t the best plan.

He paused, fading back into the crowd when Steve Miller was met by the man they believed might be the person who wanted to kill him, Joe Barnes.

“There you are!” Barnes yelled, grabbing at Miller’s Mets t-shirt.

John’s hand automatically went to his gun, concealed under his jacket. “Finch, stay back. This could be it.”

“Joe?” Miller’s voice came over the paired phone. “What’s the matter? Your text said to meet you here. If you’re going to try to pick another fight about Angie…”

“No!” Letting go of the shirt, Barnes stepped back. John relaxed slightly, waiting to hear what the other man had to say.

“Sorry, Steve. I know we’ve had our differences, but this time, it’s good news.” Barnes stance became more open and friendly. “I know we haven’t gotten along since Julie left you and married me, but I don’t want to replace you in your daughter’s eyes. Angie’s a great kid, but you’re her dad.”

For a moment, John wasn’t sure if Miller was buying the apparent change in Barnes’ attitude. Finch had learned that Miller’s wife Julie had divorced him a year ago and almost immediately remarried, to Barnes, once a close friend of Miller’s through work. The former pals were now enemies; Miller seemingly jealous of the time his young daughter Angie spent with her mother and stepfather. There had been several physical fights, one at their construction job and Barnes had been fired. That was why, thought John and Finch, Barnes might be planning on hurting Miller.

After a few tense moments, Steve appeared to relent. “Okay. What’s going on?”

“Angie’s painting one a blue ribbon!” Barnes told him with a smile. “She wanted you to come out here and see it on display. Julie thought it wasn’t a good idea but… I knew you’d want to come.”

“Her painting? The one of the dog?” asked Steve.

“That’s right!” Barnes grinned. “First place in her division!” He clapped Miller on the shoulder. “Come on inside. I’ll show you where they are. Angie’s about to burst with excitement!”

“Joe, I don’t know what to say…” Miller looked abashed.

“Look, let’s forget it for now. Just enjoy your kid’s achievement. We’ll… talk later.”

Steve thought for a moment longer, then a smile appeared on his face. “Okay, Joe. I… I appreciate you calling me. I thought that painting was good for a sixth grader but I never thought it would win a prize.” Finally, he smiled at his friend. “Okay, let’s go fine her!”

The two men started off toward the exhibit hall. John relaxed. Apparently the danger to their number wasn’t imminent after all.

“I hope we aren’t misjudging the situation.” Harold’s voice wasn’t in his ear, but beside him.

John glanced at him. “I told you to stay back.”

“I could hear their conversation,” Harold said mildly. “So I thought the danger of being that close to our number was less than my being sold a hot tub for the back yard.” He looked singularly non-plussed.

John grinned. “You know, a hot tub might be a good idea. I get a lot of aches on the job, you know. A good employer really should think about supplying something like that.”

Finch peered at him as if he’d suggested paying for dancing lessons. “The issue isn’t the need for one, Mr. Reese. It’s that neither of us actually have a back yard.”

“There’s such a thing as an indoor Jacuzzi,” John said, unruffled by Harold’s stern tone. “How about the first floor of the library?”

“What if someone broke in? They’d hardly believe the place was abandoned if they found a working Jacuzzi in the middle of the lobby.”

John grinned. “Okay, you pick a place,” he said, loving the affronted way Finch took him so seriously.

“The basement of your apartment building,” Harold teased in return.

“I don’t want to have to go all the way down there every time I want to relax,” John said, keeping up the game. “Don’t you have one residence with a yard?”

“Hmmmm.” Finch appeared to be thinking. “There are so many of them…”

John couldn’t help laughing. “All right. You think it over and when you decide, we’ll go order one. In the meantime, I’m hungry.”

Harold looked stunned. “You don’t intend to eat… here?” He looked around as if John had suggested they go sample the food they served the pigs they’d seen in one of the barns.

“There’s plenty to eat,” John said, putting his hand on the small of Finch’s back to turn him back in the direction they’d come from. “Look, over there you can get deep fried Twinkies”

Finch’s face was white. “I thought they’d stopped making them.”

“No, they’re back,” John said, his voice as serious as if they were discussing the stock market. “They deep fry everything here. Oreo cookies, Snickers bars….”

“I don’t think either of us really needs to add to our cholesterol levels,” Finch said, his lips turned down in a hint of a frown.

“Oh, right,” John nodded. “It’s not yours you’re worried about, it’s mine. I won’t be able to run and get into fights if my arteries are clogged.”

“Very true. With what I pay you, I’d expect you to pay better attention to your diet.” Finch’s eyes twinkled despite his reproving tone.

“Okay,” John said, feigning resignation, “you pick.”

Harold stopped walking and stared around them at the various food trucks. “There’s Kiki’s Authentic Greek Food… “

“I would love a gyro,” John said. He nudged Harold in the direction of the Greek specialty truck. They both looked the menu over and Harold told John what he wanted, then offered to find them a table in the little tented area next to the truck itself, so John stood in line and waited the few minutes it took to have their order taken. All the while, the delicious aromas of Greek food wafted over him, making him hungrier and hungrier.

He carried their plates over to the table Harold had found them. It was on the edge of the restaurant’s area and as they ate, they could watch the people passing by.

Finch looked a little like he was about to undergo root canal, but when John put their plates down, he smiled. “These look delicious.” He carefully covered his table with at least three opened napkins in lieu of a placemat, and draped several more over his lap, clearly loathe to get any stains on his expensive suit. John bit his tongue to keep from remarking on Finch’s preparations.

He held out the cellophane wrapped plastic cutlery. “I think these will have to do since they don’t have any sterling silverware for us here,” he said in his lowest, most gravely voice.

Finch took them from John’s outstretched hand. “I believe I’ll survive.” He carefully opened the package and set about using the knife and fork to cut into his food.

John, on the other hand, picked up his gyro and took a huge bite. “Oh, Harold,” he managed, “this is fantastic.” Instead of the usual fast food style gyros that were made of ground meat, these were made of slow cooked lamb, crispy from just the right amount of fat, with grilled onions, tomatoes and French fries rolled into the pita bread that had to be fresh baked on the premises, it was so tender and flavorful. Their plates included a salad of fresh lettuce, tomato and cucumbers with the tzatziki sauce that also flavored their gyros.

Harold took a prim bite, chewing thoughtfully and swallowed before answering. “You are quite right,” he said, allowing a small smile to grace his lips. “Delicious. I’ve heard of this place. We’ll have to go to their restaurant some night for dinner.”

John swallowed another mouthful. “Then let’s hope the Machine gives us a number who’s Greek,” he said enthusiastically.

The finished their meal, exchanging small talk and relaxing despite the unusual location. John knew that in with their occupation, they had to enjoy the occasional evening of freedom. All too often, they spent weeks without the slightest break between numbers, going without food and sleep when they had to, all to keep the irrelevants safe.

Harold sat back, draining the cup of iced green tea John had brought him, his plate empty except for a few crumbs. “I wish we’d had time to dress more appropriately,” he said, loosening his tie.

“I was thinking that earlier,” John said. He looked down and brushed a few crumbs Casually, to say nothing of the idea of the proper man setting foot outside in a pair of jeans. Do they even make bespoke jeans, John wondered.

“What are you smiling at?” Finch asked, looking at him bemusedly. “I know I look a bit out of place.”

“Both of us do.” John spared a glance around them. “But nobody’s looking,” he said. “For all they know, we just wanted to stop by the fair and came straight from the office.”

“Well, since that is, in essence, what we did… I suppose we don’t look that shocking,” Finch said. “Oh, look over there. There’s a man in dress pants too.”

John scanned the crowd, but didn’t see the person Harold was referring to. “I don’t – “ he began, turning back to Finch questioningly. The look on Harold’s face nearly made John snort. “Oh, you’re pulling my leg.” His dry tone was hard to maintain; it was all he could do not to laugh out loud at the joke Finch had made. He covered by finishing his beer.

A few moments later, after John had tossed their trash, they were once again walking through the midway, John trying to cajole Harold into trying one of the rides or suggesting various desserts.

“Cotton candy? Fried dough? Ice cream?” He had removed his jacket and slung it casually over his shoulder.

Finch, who had taken off his own jacket and was walking with it carefully folded over his arm, shook his head, insisting he was too full for anything else at the moment. He looked about to suggest they leave, but John pointed to one of the rides.

“Look at that,” he said, nodding toward a platform filled with spinning teacups. Fathers and mothers sat with their laughing, squealing children. John felt a familiar pang in his chest. “We should… it would be nice to bring Leila to a place like this… wouldn’t it?” he asked wistfully.

“Yes, it would,” Harold agreed. “One of these days… we could contact her grandparents again. I would like to see her, too.”

John sighed. “She’s nearly three now, I guess.” He knew he would never be a father, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with.

“Look,” Harold said, clasping his arm. “There’s a booth that sells designer dog treats.”

John followed his gaze, appreciating the distraction from his sad thoughts. “I’ll bet Bear would appreciate some of those.”

Together they inspected the many items being offered, and Harold ended up purchasing a big bag of organic, hand made dog treats. John knew he enjoyed spoiling Bear and he secretly liked being able to indulge the dog too. If they couldn’t have children, at least they had Bear, he thought, who was like a playful kid but also a fearless protector.

Taking his change from the woman who’d sold them the dog treats, Finch sighed. “We should go.”

John met his eyes. “No, let’s stay. The number is safe for now. We should… enjoy ourselves while we can.” He longed to spend time like this with Harold. It had been months since they’d had time to take in a movie on a rainy day or even to sit quietly in the library together, Harold working on code while John cleaned his guns or read a book.

Harold regarded him, eyes twinkling. “It did cost ten dollars apiece for our tickets,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to let that go to waste.”

They wandered along, engaging in casual conversation, taking turns pointing out various booths and concessions. The air was cooling after the higher temperatures of the day. John felt good, free… safe and happy. He had Harold at his side and that made the world a good place.

“A hundred shots for three dollars,” Harold said, pointing out a shooting game. “Care to try your luck?”

John shook his head. “They’re all rigged, Harold. I bet I couldn’t even win a prize at one of these places.”

“But I wanted that huge rainbow elephant,” Harold teased back. He looked as if he might approach the booth. “You’ve said from time to time that I should learn to shoot…”

“Oh, all right,” John groaned. He stepped up to the woman calling to the crowd over a microphone. “I’ll take that gun there.” He selected one of the shotguns that didn’t look like it was too worn out, handing over a three dollar bills. He tossed his jacket toward Finch, who caught it easily, his eyes wide with delight.

“Sure, honey,” she said, eyeing him up and down. John, as usual, felt uncomfortable under the obvious gaze of an interested woman. Knowing Harold was watching, he made a show of taking his stance and aiming. The gun stuck the first time, but then he got the feel of it and in less than five minutes, Harold had his rainbow elephant.

He handed John’s jacket back to him, as he tucked the three-foot tall stuffed animal under his right arm. “I never won anything like this before.”

“I’ll bet that’s true,” John said, matching his stride to his partner’s. “Did you ever go to fairs as a kid?”

“Once,” Finch said, stopping as if he were thinking back to his childhood. There was a faraway sadness in his eyes that John ached to take away. But he didn’t say a word, holding his breath as he realized Harold was on the verge of imparting some personal information. “My father didn’t trust the traveling carnival people who put up their rides in differing cities. He was a bit of an obsessive compulsive, we’d say today. He was always afraid they’d forget one important bolt when they reassembled the ride in our town.”

“You wanted to ride, though,” John said softly.

“I wanted to take the rides apart myself and then reassemble them.” Harold smiled ruefully. “My father knew if I got too close to them, I would be likely to climb underneath to try to see how they worked.” He shook his head at the memory. “What about you, John?”

“You know I grew up in Washington State,” John replied. “We lived in a rural area so I loved the carnivals.” In fact, attending them were some of his few fond childhood memories. But he didn’t want to burden Finch with the times in his past when his parents had let him down. “I used to pretend I was Matt Dillon.” The moment he said the words, he wanted to take them back. He could just imagine the snarky comment Finch might make about that admission.

“Ah of course,” his friend answered, smiling up at him. “Even then you wanted to be the town protector.”

John felt his face grow warm. “I guess,” he said, embarrassed by Harold frank assessment. “I remember one time I begged my dad to let me try one of the shooting galleries.”

“I’m sure you were a crack shot even then,” Harold nodded, totally serious.

“Not quite. I was about six, I think. The only guns I’d ever handled were my toy six shooters. But I thought I was going to win myself a prize. I kept missing and was not happy at all.” The memory was so distant and it had been so long since he’d thought of it, John surprised himself when he continued the story. “But there was this man my dad had met who was staying at a motel down the road from our place. He came up to us while I was trying to shoot. My father was complaining, saying I was wasting money since I couldn’t hit anything. But the man – I don’t remember his name or anything, just that he looked really tall and brave to me – told my father to let me try again.” He paused, thinking about it with an adult’s perspective, how his father had probably tried to be polite to the other man when he’d rather just drag his boy away from the booth and take him home.

“What happened?” Harold asked, his hand gentle on John’s forearm.

“The man picked out another gun for me, saying it would work better. Dad relented and said okay. So I took aim at the target again.” He shook his head, smiling. “And that time, I hit every one.”

“How did you do it?”

I didn’t. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the man was standing behind me, with another one of the guns. Every time I squeezed off a shot, he fired too. It was him hitting the targets, but they let me believe I was doing it.” He chuckled, appreciating that the stranger had been so kind to a little boy who just wanted to win something.

“What prize did you get?” Harold asked, hanging on every word.

“I have no idea,” John said. “I don’t remember anything else about it. But it felt great. I was really proud. I think it was when I joined the army that my father finally told me what happened. He said, ‘I hope you’ll be a better shot now’” John glanced away.

“He didn’t… “Harold stopped as though concerned about how to phrase his question. “He didn’t tell you to make you feel badly, did he?”

John shook his head, returning his gaze to his friend. “No, I don’t think so. It was just him telling me about how that man had made me feel like a big guy, I guess. But I turned out to be a decent shot anyway.”

“Decent… “ Finch agreed. “That’s putting it mildly.”

Loud screams suddenly erupted nearby. John was about to pull his weapon, when Finch pointed ahead of them. “Oh, my goodness. Look at that ride,” he said, his face white with dread.

John relaxed, realizing that it wouldn’t have been okay to pull his gun out when the only danger was from one of the crazier rides. He followed Harold’s gaze to the “Hi Roller” ride, a noisy contraption that looked more like a torture device than a vehicle for having fun. Beneath the blinking lights that spelled out its name, there was a long curved base with seats for the riders. When they boarded the ride, the attendant closed doors down over them that to John looked alarmingly close to their bodies and heads. When the ride started, the base began pitching back and forth, more and more rapidly, eliciting screams, and with every swing, rose higher and higher until the riders were bouncing upside down. He could see braids dangling from the compartments as the ride jerked and bounced them, the screams never letting up.

“It looks like… they’re in a washing machine,” Harold was saying, obviously appalled.

“I take it you don’t feel it’s something you want to try out?” John asked, sure the answer would be no.

Instead, Harold just glared at him. The screams continued as the ride slowed and stopped. When the noisy doors opened, the riders, mostly young kids of course, staggered out, some of them looking as though they’d enjoyed it, others staggering and trying to regain their composure.

“How about this one?” John asked, taking Harold’s elbow and turning him to redirect his gaze. He nodded toward one of the more sedate Ferris Wheels.

Harold hesitated, then met John’s eyes. “That might be fun,” he allowed.

John hurried to get their ride tickets before Finch could change his mind. Never in a million years would he have imagined talking his friend into getting on any kind of carnival ride, even a Ferris Wheel. They got in line and though Harold didn’t notice, John had to smother his smile when some of the kids pointed at the elephant Harold was still carrying.

After a few more minutes, it was finally their turn to climb aboard. John took the elephant and Finch’s jacket as his friend negotiated the swinging doors of their car, then got in across from him. He settled the elephant on the floor and watched Harold as he curiously glanced all around in fascination. “This doesn’t really go all that high,” he observed. “I think it will be okay.” John nodded, thinking that the size of the one they were riding wasn’t overly dangerous or scary. They slowly ascended, each of the cars behind them discharging their passengers and letting new ones climb in.

At last, they were at the top of the Wheel. A breeze had blown up and the sky was beginning to darken. The pink and purple bulbs of their ride were blinking on and off. Harold was still in full curiosity mode, staring down at the people and rides below. “It must be like what the Machine sees,” he said in wonder. “We can see the whole fair…”

He was so charmingly happy at that moment, John thought, so removed from the driven man who was compelled to help the strangers whose numbers came up that he rarely did anything for his own pleasure or relaxation. The breeze ruffled the spikey hair on his head, brightening his cheeks and making him look younger and so alive. John’s heart felt so full, and he knew he might not get another opportunity to do so.

He leaned forward, gently grasping the loosened tie Harold wore. His friend turned toward him, eyes alight. “John?” he asked, surprised, but only slightly.

“This is very romantic, don’t you think?” John said, leaning in to kiss Harold before he could answer.

If he’d taken the time to consider the act before initiating it, he would have expected Harold to either draw back in confusion or say something snarky to ward him off. Instead, Harold’s hands came up to grasp John’s shoulders, pulling him closer. His mouth opened under John’s searching lips and it was Harold’s tongue that made the first move. They kissed deeply, John’s head spinning as Harold’s tongue played with his while they sat there high above the fair grounds.

They didn’t break until the Wheel began moving again. John sat back in his seat, unable at first to meet Harold’s eyes. Finch remained silent as they rode around another entire circuit before he spoke again.

“John?” he asked, as the car began its final descent. “I think we should head home after this, don’t you?”

John met his gaze, warmed to see that Harold’s eyes were soft, his open expression hopeful and expectant.

“Where ever you want to go,” John answered. Anywhere that he could be with Harold was home to him.