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Alley

“It’s quite late, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, lifting his overcoat off the peg and easing into it, the stiffness in his shoulders not lost on Reese. “You should think about getting some rest.”

“I’m almost done here,” Reese said, sitting behind one of the small, spare tables in Finch’s library, the one he’d begrudgingly been allowed to clean his weapons on. The surface was stained with a few spots of grease and gun oil, but he’d tried to be careful. He was just cleaning the last magazine and almost ready to reload the clip and call it a night.

“Don’t forget to lock up,” Finch said, heading down the corridor.

“Watch your step out there,” Reese called after him, aware that such concern would probably not be appreciated, but decidedly not caring. “It was starting to freeze when I got here this evening, and all that snow from yesterday is just so much gray slush now.” If Finch replied, he didn’t hear it. Wondering if there was really a point in even bothering, he turned back to his gun.

Fifteen minutes later, Reese grabbed his coat and headed out, turning up his collar as he stepped out into the cold, dark alleyway between the buildings. Here, sheltered from the weak winter sun and bypassed by the majority of New York traffic, the snow still lingered on the ground, heavy and wet, with a thin crust over the surface and patches of ice beneath. He nearly lost his footing twice, bracing one hand on the library façade to steady himself.

He was almost to the mouth of the alley when a dark shape lying on the ground caught his eye. For a moment, he thought someone had dumped their trash outside the building, but then his eyes picked out a familiar profile rendered in deathly pale skin. Reese pulled his gun, glancing up and down the alley as he rushed to the fallen man, slipping and sliding in the icy slush. Easing his fingers in under Finch’s collar, he felt for a pulse, panic filling his chest as he found the slow flutter beneath Finch’s skin.

He checked the alley one more time, then shoved his weapon back under his coat and gathered Finch up in his arms, agonizingly slow, careful steps taking him back to the library. Once inside, he practically ran up the stairs and down the back hall to the small office that had been converted into a makeshift crash room. He started to lay Finch on the bed, but the man’s coat, his suit, everything was soaking wet. Placing him gently on the floor, Reese shrugged out of his own coat and began peeling Finch out of his clothes with the same single-minded efficiency that he would use to fieldstrip a rifle. Shoes, socks, trousers came off and were tossed aside, Reese laying his coat over Finch’s legs to try to conserve what little body heat he had. The glasses and tie were cast aside quickly, but the jacket, waistcoat, and dress shirt took some finesse.

Lying there in just his undershirt and boxer shorts, Finch looked so pale and still and fragile, Reese had to stop and feel for a pulse again, just to reassure himself that he wasn’t already too late. A quick survey of the unconscious man did not reveal any blood, although he had one hell of a knot on the back of his head. A mugging? Surging back into action, Reese lunged to his feet, peeled back the covers on the bed, and lifted Finch off the floor, discovering that a puddle had formed beneath him, getting his underclothes wet as well. Reese hesitated just a moment before laying Finch on the end of the bed and stripping off his shorts.

He tried not to look, to give the man his privacy, but he couldn’t help but stare. Long and thick, the scar on Finch’s hip ran a jagged line down the outside of his thigh, dark and stiff-looking, sometimes a ridge, sometimes a puckered indentation. No wonder he limped. Tearing his eyes away, he peeled off the wet shirt, dropped it to the floor, and shifted Finch into the middle of the bed, pulling the covers up over him.

Reese stood, shivering in his own clothes, now wet from carrying Finch, and stared down at the man, as if he could will him to wake. When Finch didn’t stir, Reese ran a hand back through his own hair and glanced around the room. Logic said he needed to wrap Finch up and get him to a hospital – he surely had hypothermia, possibly a concussion, which could mean swelling or bleeding in his brain – but Finch was such a private man. If there was nothing wrong…

He’d give him an hour. That seemed reasonable. Unless there was a change in his heartbeat or breathing. And if he- when he woke up, he’d need something to drink, some hot tea. That would warm him up. Reese hurried down the hall, into the lounge area, and filled Finch’s kettle, placing it on the hotplate to boil. Returning to Finch’s room, he checked his pulse again, his skin still so deathly cold. Reese turned up the thermostat, but it just wasn’t warming the room fast enough. Finch needed to get warm now.

Survival training kicked in and Reese stripped off his damp clothes without a second thought, down to his underwear, and slid in under the covers with Finch. Careful not to jostle his neck or press against his damaged hip, Reese placed his body over Finch’s, holding himself up on his knees and elbows, applying just enough weight to the unconscious man to convey his warmth into the frozen flesh beneath him. He pressed his cheek against Finch’s, letting his warm breath fall into the crook of Finch’s neck, then shifted to the other side and did the same. Anything to warm him up.

Sliding his hands beneath Finch’s back, Reese rubbed his palms up and down, over skin both smooth and scarred. It was evident that Finch had survived something truly terrible, something that probably would have killed a lesser man. So there was no way a little hypothermia was going to stop him.

“C’mon, Harold, wake up,” Reese whispered. He glanced over at the clock on the wall, watching the hour he’d given Finch be eaten up. He shifted positions, rubbing his hand up and down Finch’s chest, trying to rub the life back into him. His color did seem better, the blue leaving his lips and a faint pinkness returning to his cheeks. Reese stopped and checked his pulse again, letting out a relieved breath to feel it beat determinedly against his fingertips. Now, if he’d just open his eyes.

Shifting his weight back to both forearms, Reese carefully insinuated one of his legs in between Finch’s, shivering as those cold thighs pressed against either side of his. He slid his arms beneath Finch again, holding him close as he buried his face against the side of Finch’s neck, breathing hard on the carotid artery to warm the blood going to his head.

Reese jumped as Finch took a sudden, noisy breath, his entire body stiffening in Reese’s arms. Raising his head, Reese looked down at him, relieved to find his eyes open. “Oh, thank God, you scared the hell out of me-”

“Stop it!” Finch shouted, and Reese drew back, startled as Finch shoved at him, trying to scramble away, a look of absolute panic in his eyes. “Don’t touch me!”

Frowning, Reese climbed off the bed as Finch nearly fell off the opposite side, pulling the blankets off and wrapping them around himself. “Harold, it’s all right,” Reese said. “It’s just me. It’s John.” That was the only explanation he could think of, that Finch hadn’t realized it was him. Understandable, considering he had a head injury and wasn’t wearing his glasses. Speaking of which…Reese stooped and picked them up off the floor, holding them out as he stepped toward Finch.

“Stay back!”

“Jesus, Harold, would you calm down? What the hell’s the matter with you?”

“Calm down? Calm down? You son-of-a-bitch, I trusted you!”

Angry and confused and more than a little hurt, Reese tossed Finch’s glasses down onto the bed between them. “I didn’t do anything to you,” he said, grabbing up his clothes and stalking toward the door. “Except for save you life.” He left, slamming the door behind him. Damned paranoid head-case.

Storming into the central hub of the library, he dropped his clothes into Finch’s chair, grabbed his trousers, and pulled them on, ignoring the cold, wet material that chafed against his skin. He struggled into his shirt and pulled his shoes on, stuffing his socks into his pocket in favor of getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible. Scooping up his sport coat and overcoat, he headed for the stairs.

A high, thin whistle reached his ear and he paused, listening to the shriek of the kettle. His first thought was go dump the kettle into the sink and let Finch heat up his own damn water, but he didn’t like the way it made him feel, like he had something cold and slimy in the pit of his stomach. He turned and made his way into the lounge, turning off the hotplate and staring at the steaming kettle for a moment before dropping his coats onto the back of the nearby sofa.

As the anger bled out of him, that left only confusion and hurt, and a nagging sense of worry. That was strange behavior, even for Finch, but whether it was a result of the head injury or something else, Reese didn’t know. And probably never would, knowing Finch. Mr. Privacy. But regardless, the man was still his boss – and his friend, whether Finch liked it or not – and his core temperature had to still be dangerously low.

Reese measured the loose leaf tea into the tea strainer, wondering why the man couldn’t just buy teabags like everyone else, and slowly poured the steaming water through the aromatic leaves, letting it steep for a minute before setting the strainer aside and picking up the mug. He didn’t expect Finch to let him back into the room – he wasn’t even going to try – but he could leave the mug outside the door.

Turning, he was surprised to find a very distraught-looking Finch hesitating in the doorway, still wrapped in his blankets. He was holding his glasses in the hand that clutched at the blanket, his gaze downcast, as though he didn’t want to – or couldn’t – look at Reese.

“I slipped in the snow,” Finch said, a distant, factual quality in his trembling voice. “I think I hit my head on the side of the building. Thank you for helping me and I’m sorry for what I said and did.”

“It’s all right,” Reese said, taking a slow step toward him, relieved when Finch didn’t tense or draw away from him. He held out the mug of tea. “You should drink this. I’m sure you’re still freezing.”

“Yes; I can’t stop shivering.” He extended his empty hand from beneath the blanket, his shaking obvious as he took the mug and raised it to his lips. He took a sip, making a bitter face before quickly schooling his features. “Thank you.”

“I think I forgot the sugar,” Reese said, reaching out to take the mug back.

“No, it’s fine,” Finch said with a small shake of his head. “It’s hot – that’s all that matters.”

An awkward silence descended between them as Reese searched for something to say. “You should probably go lie back down,” he said finally. “You might have a concussion.” He frowned as a thought occurred to him. “People with head injuries should be watched closely for twenty-four hours. Maybe you should go to a hospital-”

“No. No hospitals.”

That was what Reese had figured. “Do you have someone who can check on you?”

Finch stared down into his tea, his glasses still in his other hand. “You’re all I have,” he whispered, startling Reese with the confession. But Finch wasn’t finished. “In college, I was almost the victim of a sexual assault. I was at a party and this guy that I had a bit of an infatuation with brought me a beer and started talking to me. I was underage and I didn’t like the taste of it, but I wanted him to like me, so I drank it. And he got me another. And another. I started to feel sick and I went to find a bathroom. I think I passed out. I woke up in a strange bed with him on top of me, trying to- trying to-”

Finch took a shuddering breath, his voice shaking so much that he had to stop. After a moment, he continued, “I told him to stop, I tried to push him off, but he was tall and strong and athletic and I was weak and helpless. I yelled for help, but I didn’t really know anyone at the party that well, and he quickly covered my mouth. I thought…Luckily, someone heard and he came in and pulled the guy off of me.”

Reese closed his eyes, a weight in his chest making it hard to breathe. “Harold, I’m so sorry…”

“It’s all right, John,” Finch said, still not looking at him. “You don’t need to apologize; you didn’t do anything wrong. I was just trying to explain why I acted like I did, because you didn’t do anything and I’m sorry that I yelled at you, that I thought, for even a moment, that you would do something like that, because I do trust you and- and I don’t want to discourage you from getting into bed with me in the future if you’re ever so inclined.” He gave his tea a startled look, as though he hadn’t meant to say the words out loud.

Reese didn’t say anything, he just stood there regarding him, so small and pale and fragile, wrapped in his blanket and clutching his glasses and tea. Reese stepped close to him and reached out, gently taking the glasses out of his hand. Without a word, he dried the lingering water spots from the lenses and settled them in place on Finch’s face, his fingers tentatively brushing along Finch’s jaw, trying to coax his head up. After a moment, Finch looked up, pale blue eyes meeting Reese’s gray ones.

“I have a feeling that’s just the head injury talking, so I’m going to do this before you come to your senses,” Reese said with a small, crooked smile. He leaned closer, stopping before their lips touched, giving Finch the chance to pull away if this wasn’t what he wanted, too. Instead, cold, trembling lips pressed against his own and his eyes slid shut, his chest so full he could hardly breathe.

After a moment, Reese drew back. “All right, now back to bed,” he said, his lips tingling. “I’ll wake you every couple of hours to make sure you haven’t slipped into a coma.”

Finch didn’t answer, his just took a long drink of his tea, almost draining the mug before setting it down on the counter. “Well, as long as you’re going to be here anyway,” Finch said, “you might as well come keep me warm.” Reese raised his eyebrows, but didn’t resist as Finch reached out and took his hand, leading him down the hall and into the bedroom.

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