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Surveillance – Ch. 7

Finch tried to avoid looking at his reflection in the large mirror that hung over the row of sinks in the old public restroom of the library. He had never gotten around to converting it into a proper bathroom with a shower stall – inconvenient as it sometimes was, something about having to go home to take a shower made him feel…normal – and so was forced to stand before the sink, dripping pink water on the floor as he ran his bloodstained shirt under the tap and used it to dab at the wounds and wash away the blood that ran down the front of his chest.

His movements stiff and methodical, he focused on what he was doing, detaching himself from the pain, labeling and categorizing and compartmentalizing the sensations – sharp pain and relentless burning and dull throbbing – like a stenographer taking the dictation from his raw, screaming nerves. He knew all the tricks and techniques for managing pain, and sometimes…sometimes they almost helped.

A soft knock came at the bathroom door, but before Finch could tell Reese to go away, the other man spoke. “I cleaned up the mess,” he said. “I’m going out. Is there anything I can get for you?”

“No, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, his tone clipped. “I’ll contact you when I have another number.” He braced himself for an argument, but the only sound that came through the door was that of Reese’s retreating footsteps. Finch fought the urge to call after him, to hobble out there and say…He didn’t even know what. His gaze darted up to the mirror again and he choked back a sudden sob, his hands clutching at the edge of the sink, his whole body shaking as he gasped for breath.

He couldn’t remember ever having been so afraid, not even when he’d had the accident, and the part he couldn’t yet quantify, couldn’t quite understand, was why, after everything that had happened, why had that single gunshot filled him with the coldest, blackest terror of all? A man more prone to self-deception could have excused it as the fear of Mr. Allen returning to continue torturing him, but Finch was not such a man. In that moment, he hadn’t been afraid for himself.

How had he let himself become attached to this man? He was smarter than that. As he had told Reese, this crusade would probably be the death of both of them, and he had no illusions as to which of them would most likely die first. He had fought to keep distance between them, he had tried damn hard, but Reese, with his charming smile and soulful stare and ambiguous flirting, had managed to breach Finch’s formidable defenses. And the biggest surprise of all? Finch couldn’t seem to mind that much.

Lately, as he lay awake at night, his body aching just from the effort of walking, sitting, living, he found his thoughts not filled with numbers and haunted by the faces of those he couldn’t save, but returning again and again to the one man he did save, the life he changed all on his own. What did Reese want from him? How much of his charm was honest camaraderie and how much was just a game? And how much would it hurt when Reese finally got tired of playing with him?

Finch finished washing up, a storm of tiny spasms firing in the scarred muscles of his neck by the time he had cleaned the wound on his shin. All three of the abrasions continued to weep blood, but it wasn’t life threatening, so he wasn’t going to worry about it. He opened the first aid kit he’d assembled after Reese had demonstrated his lack of self-preservation during their first few cases. Unfortunately, Reese had used up most of the large gauze pads after he’d been shot.

Finch pressed his lips into a thin line as he opened one of the last two sterile paper envelopes and liberally smeared one side of the gauze with antibiotic ointment. Not only would it help prevent infection – which was likely, considering where the brush had been used previously – but it would keep the gauze from sticking to the wound and ripping off the scab when it came time to change it. Gritting his teeth, Finch placed the gauze over the wound on his chest and gently taped it in place. He put the last pad over the injury to his arm, since blood on the leg of his dark gray slacks would be less noticeable than on his sleeve.

Hobbling worse than he had since physical therapy after the surgery, Finch made his way out of the bathroom and down the hall to the room where he sometimes slept. It didn’t have a proper closet, so he had turned the small office across the hall into one. Picking out his oldest shirt in case the dressing leaked, Finch slowly slipped it on, all the muscles from one shoulder to the other protesting vehemently against such treatment. He ignored them and focused on manipulating the tiny buttons. There was a drug store three blocks away; if he hurried, he could make it before they closed.

“Going somewhere?”

Finch had become aware of Reese’s presence only moments before the man spoke, but still long enough to avoid being startled or showing any sign of surprise. “I thought I might take a walk,” he said, trying to keep his voice neutral. He finished buttoning his shirt before turning to face Reese. “I said I’d call you.”

“I couldn’t wait,” Reese said. “I thought you might need these.” He held up a white paper bag, the top rolled down, and gave it a small shake. It rustled and rattled like pills in a bottle. Finch felt a swift rush of gratitude and relief, but he pushed it aside. The pain wasn’t that bad.

“Your concern is touching, Mr. Reese,” Finch said, moving slowly to control his limp as much as possible, “but I’m fine.” Besides, he’d built up a tolerance to over the counter pain medication; he could eat them by the handful, and while they would destroy his liver, they wouldn’t touch his pain. Reese stepped back out of the way as Finch walked past him. The strain of maintaining his normal, stiff gait was making the muscles in his leg spasm. If he didn’t sit down soon, he was going to cramp and wind up sprawled on the floor. He paused, drawing on all his inner strength as he raised his head, his neck aching, and looked Reese in the eye. “I’m fine,” he said again, “and I wish you would respect my privacy and just leave. I’ll call you.”

Not waiting for an answer and not looking back, Finch made his way into the simple bedroom and shut the door behind him. His fists clenched, he hobbled over to the bed and dropped down upon the mattress, biting back a cry as his hip seized, his leg stiffening. Gasping for breath, he lay back, jumping and twitching as flashes of electric pain radiated out from his hip, shooting down to his foot and up to his shoulder. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax, tried to will his angry muscles to unknot, but like a cruel dictator, he had pushed his body too far and now could do nothing in the face of the unstoppable revolt.

And then, as if his night hadn’t been bad enough already, Finch heard the door open.

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