Disclaimer: nothing you recognise belongs to me. Big spoilers for "Bad Code".
"Sorry. Whoever wiped this really knew what they were doing; I'm not even getting data fragments." Wesley's tone is apologetic and Zoe does her best to smile at him. It's not his fault that whoever had kidnapped Harold was some sort of computer genius, and giving him the laptop she'd taken from Caroline Turing's office was a long shot at best. Root was clever, probably smarter than she was, Zoe acknowledges. After all Root had stayed off the machine's radar until she wanted to be found and that's not something she herself could claim.
"I could... Shit." The young man runs a hand through long dirty blond hair and shrugs in defeat. "Really Zoe I wish I could help but there's nothing here to work with."
"It's alright, thanks for trying." Zoe shifts a little on the bed she and Wesley are sat on. The kid definitely needs to get to the laundromat, she thinks. Most of the floor of his tiny bedroom is covered in t-shirts with eighties band logos and Manga comics featuring cartoon women with gravity defying breasts. It definitely didn't look like the home of a college student with a terrifyingly high IQ and an unfortunate propensity for hacking into government data bases. "How's school?"
The blond shrugs and offers her the laptop. "Easy. Boring. Since you got me out of hacking you took a lot of the fun out of things."
Zoe gives him the side-eye and doesn't take the proffered computer.
"But since I don't want to spend the rest of my life wearing an orange jumpsuit and I'm into women rather than scary men in prison who want to make me their bitch I'm living crime free," Wesley adds. He waggles the computer at her. "Don't you want it?" There's the unmistakable hint of flirtation in his voice. At any other time Zoe would put him in his place with a single sharp quip. It's a familiar dance they do and her lack of interest in sparring obviously concerns the young man that she considers a friend. Albeit a friend who could be a serious threat if he was allowed a couple of spliffs and an incentive to crack the nation's security codes.
"You really want to find this guy?" Wesley's brow furrows. " Are you two, Y'know?"
No, she didn't know. Didn't know where Harold was, didn't know how to define their relationship, didn't even know if he was alive.
"He's a friend. You can keep the laptop." Zoe rises from the bed and picks her way over the detritus strewn over the floor. "I'm amending our agreement. If you want me to keep paying your tuition then there's a mandatory once a week laundry stipulation. This place is a pig-sty."
"The laundrette is like half a mile away," Wesley whines.
"It's in the next block," Zoe says firmly before shutting the door behind her. Getting the last word in with a twenty-one year old isn't something to be proud of, but at the moment she'll take any distraction she can get. The files she had taken were a bust; essentially photocopies from a template with the names changed before they were given new numbers and tucked into the filing cabinet. John and Carter were off to Texas on a lead and not answering their phones.
There are thousands of square miles in Texas alone and apparently somewhere within them is Harold. The thought that she is the one sitting passively and waiting for news does not sit well, but she's run out of options.
When Fusco shows up at her door with a dog in tow Zoe raises an eyebrow and takes it so that he can get back to his job. Apparently "Wonder Boy", Lionel's words not hers ( there is nothing boyish about John, either physically, or mentally, but Reese's history and problems are Carter's to unravel now. And good luck to her) has acquired a dog.
A dog called Bear.
It's not remotely bear-like; neither shaggy nor badly behaved. Zoe has seen dogs like him before and wonders why it is so happy to be around her. Either security or military trained, she thinks. It wags its tail when she gives it the steak that is almost past its sell by date from the refrigerator and lets her pet him tentatively, but she's not stupid enough to dismiss it as a cute, cuddly new friend. Neither John nor Fusco would have kept it if the dog had been truly dangerous though. When she takes him to the library she lets him run around and get excited about all the different smells. It rips up a couple of books obviously chancing it's luck but she stops him with a firm "no"before the dog can destroy the encyclopedias.
There's nothing to do, no way to bring Harold back. Every avenue of investigation has been exhausted. All she can do is wait for John or Joss to contact her. Curling up in the worn leather chair in the library, Zoe pushes away the memories of the last time she felt so helpless. Bear brings her a slightly chewed first edition and she smooths his ears and ignores the drool. Harold would be pissed but she can live with that. Better him saying something snarky about her letting a dog turn his precious library into a chew toy than saying nothing at all.
It's sort of nice that the dog leaps up and growls when the door downstairs opens. Reaching for her purse Zoe checks the chamber of her Glock and takes the safety off. Marilyn Monroe might have thought that diamonds were a girl's best friend but Zoe knows better – calibre is better than carats, at least in her line of work and she can buy her own damn jewellery.
The two people entering the library are familiar; Bear wags his tail, if she had one then she'd probably do the same.
Mr Tall Dark and Handsome and Him.
She's fairly certain that she said something to John and he said something back to her but really all that matters is that Harold is there. Alive, perhaps not particularly well, but there.
Bear trots off behind John when he makes his excuses and leaves, but that's alright; they were both substitutes for the company they really wanted. Zoe makes a mental note to keep some spare beef in the freezer and she's pretty sure that the dog will be friendly the next time that they meet.
"I see you've turned my library into a petting zoo in my absence. One with expensive tastes." Finch eyes the half chewed book that Bear had abandoned. "Should I be prepared for goats in the bathroom or Llamas in the.."
"Shut up." It only takes Zoe three steps before her arms are around his neck and her cheek is against his. He smells a bit. Sweat and fear, she knows the fragrance. His jawline is scratchy but she rubs her cheek against it anyway. "Are you okay?" Tears threaten to escape and she bites her lip to stop herself from crying.
"I am now." He nuzzles her neck and one hand comes up to smooth her hair. "I missed you."
"Missed you too." The words come out in a choked sob and Zoe gives up trying not to cry. Harold is going to have to change anyway so it probably doesn't matter if she gets snot and tears all over his jacket. Actually if she hides all his clothes then he wouldn't be able to go anywhere at all ever again. She dismisses the thought as soon as it occurs. Might make things a bit awkward when John or Fusco visit. Wiping her face with her sleeve she's pretty sure that her mascara is smeared over her cheeks and she looks ridiculous.
"Hey." Harold's voice is so soft that she wouldn't have heard him if she wasn't so close. When he gently pushes her back it takes Zoe a moment to remember to untangle her hands from the fabric clutched in her hands. When she looks at him there's something in his eyes that makes it impossible for her to breathe. "I love you Zoe."
Well there you go,woman, Zoe thinks. You're completely and totally fucked. It feels pretty wonderful.
"I love you too." The words are trite – if this had been a movie scene she wouldn't have much respect for the writers, but it's the only thing that seems honest to say. Playing hard to get seems a bit pointless when she's trying not to collapse at Harold's feet in a puddle of emotion. "You need a shower." It's a half hearted attempt at being snarky, but he smiles nonetheless.
"I might need a hand with that."
She laughs and pulls him forward for a kiss. "I'll give you more than just a hand."
A/N: Thanks very much to everyone who has been reading and reviewing this story. Thanks very much guest reviewers (heh, yes I think that after this I'd call Harold and Zoe a relationship ;)). Just one more chapter to go I think.