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Surveillance – Ch. 9

It had taken Finch two days to find Reese, but only because he’d sulked for a day and a half before he started looking. And yes, he was man enough to acknowledge his stubborn fit of pique as sulking. Reese had no right to just disappear, to abandon their work, to leave him on his own to shoulder this great burden again. He had every right to be angry, but, Finch supposed, so did Reese.

It was easier to pretend it was you. No longer addled by narcotics, Finch replayed that last conversation in his mind a hundred times, analyzing and dissecting Reese’s words, his tone, his silences, his posture. Thanks to the drugs, he couldn’t be sure he was remembering correctly, but he was fairly confident that he had handled the situation poorly, which was one reason why he couldn’t let it end like this.

He limped down the long hotel hallway, ignoring the pain in his wounds as his suit pressed against the bandages. The healing was progressing as expected, so he couldn’t really complain. Stopping outside Reese’s room, Finch pulled a blank hotel key card out of his pocket and slid it into the slot. To anyone watching the security footage, it would appear that he had paused to check his messages, instead of activating the decryption app he had written. His cell sent a wireless pulse to the key card and the door unlocked.

Slipping inside, he quietly closed the door and stood in the dark hallway, acutely aware of how potentially dangerous the situation could turn. Reese was a trained killer, after all, and it was reasonable to assume he would not be happy to see Finch. However, judging by the surveillance footage Finch had hijacked from the liquor store down the street, it was also reasonable to assume Reese would not be conscious at this early morning hour. Knowing that Reese had slipped back into the bottle filled Finch with an uncomfortable mix of sadness and guilt.

Making his way past the bathroom and into the main room, Finch found Reese sprawled across one of the two beds, a half-empty bottle of cheap whiskey in one hand and his pistol in the other. Finch forced himself to stand there and take in the scene, to acknowledge the tragedy he had almost caused. Living with this memory would be his penance.

Finch considered taking the gun or the bottle out of Reese’s hand, but he imagined that a surprised, hung-over Reese would shoot first and ask questions later. Limping over to the unoccupied bed, he sat down to wait.

Finch slowly opened his eyes, his neck stiff and aching. He had only meant to close his eyes for a moment, but a sleepless night, his rest unaided by pain pills, had caught up with him. Struggling not to grimace, he sat up, adjusted his glasses, and glanced over at the other bed. It was empty. Finch stared at it for a moment, then sighed.

“What do you want?”

Finch jumped, startled, his neck giving a painful twinge. Sitting motionless, he waited for the sharp pain to ease back to a bearable ache.

“I’m assuming you didn’t go through all this trouble just for a nap,” Reese said when he didn’t respond. Finch tried to ignore the hostility in that normally soft voice, but he couldn’t ignore the way it made him feel.

“I came to apologize,” Finch said, slowing rising to his feet and turning to face Reese. He could only make out his form, standing in the entrance of the hallway, the room dark, curtains drawn against the morning sun. He couldn’t tell if he was holding the bottle or the gun; he couldn’t see them anywhere else in the room. “I didn’t react as well as I could have.”

“I thought we weren’t talking about that,” Reese said, his voice cold as he stepped out of the hall, walking past Finch and across the room.

Finch tried again. “I brought you your phone-”

“Keep it,” Reese said. “I’m done working for you. I quit.”

Finch felt his anger rising and fought to keep his voice steady. “Why? Because you pump me full of narcotics and then don’t like what comes out of my mouth, now you’re going to abandon all those people, people who need your help-”

“Not all of them need my help,” Reese said bitterly, clearly thinking about Elias, “and it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Reese, please-”

“Leave me alone, Finch-”

“No!” Finch said, his fists clenching. “I can’t do this on my own. Damn it, John, I need you!” His words hung, echoing in the silent room, unretractable. Squaring his shoulders, he ignored the resulting pain and said it again. “I need you.”

“You need a mercenary,” Reese said, his voice thick with that bitterness again. “It shouldn’t be too hard to find someone else with the skills and the training to do your dirty work.”

“No, it wouldn’t be,” Finch said, growing frustrated and a little desperate. “I had a long list of candidates, but you were the only one I asked, the only one who needed this job as much as I needed you, the only one who would care about the people and not just the paycheck. You’re not a mercenary, John, you’re a hero-”

“Stop calling me that!” Reese gritted through his teeth as he stalked across the room, his expression hidden by the darkness, but Finch didn’t imagine he was in a hugging mood. Finch tensed, taking an involuntary step backward as Reese neared him, grabbing him and shoving him back against the wall. Finch stiffened, drawing a sharp breath as he choked back a cry. Gasping, he stared up into Reese’s dark blue eyes, filled with so much anger and pain. “You have no idea how many times a day I wish you’d call me John, but you never do, you have to keep that professional distance, because the fucking world would end if you ever showed the slightest hint that you might actually like me, and now you brandish my name like a weapon to break down my defenses, because that’s all you know how to do – watch and learn and manipulate people into doing what you want-”

Finch brought his arms up and planted both hands in the middle of Reese’s chest, shoving with all his strength. To his surprise, Reese let go of him and stepped back. It felt like a barracuda was gnawing on his vertebrae, but he did his best to ignore it, smoothing down the front of his suit jacket and straightening his tie while he composed himself.

“I assure you,” Finch said, avoiding any moniker for the moment, “I was doing no such thing. And I do like you, which is a rather…foreign emotion and not altogether welcome, to be honest. In my experience, the more you care about something, the more it hurts to lose it.”

“That’s the human condition,” Reese said quietly, all the fight seeming to have gone out of him. “The only people who never lose anything they care about are the ones who don’t care about anything, and that’s no way to live. Trust me.” They regarded each other for a moment, then Reese took a small step toward him. “I hurt you; I’m sorry.”

Finch started to shake his head, but the movement made him wince, so he stopped, glad of the darkness to hide his pain. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said. “I woke up stiff.” He usually did some light stretching before he lay down and after he got up, but he’d been distracted.

“I can help,” Reese said. “Take off your jacket.”

Finch licked suddenly dry lips. “Really, that’s not necess-”

“Please, Finch,” Reese whispered. “I just want to help.” He reached out, and Finch made no move to stop him as he unbuttoned the charcoal gray suit jacket. Trying to keep his breathing even, Finch stepped stiffly away from the wall and allowed Reese to slide his jacket off. Reese lay it on the nearest bed, then turned back to him. “On second thought, take it all off.”

“I beg your pardon?” Finch said.

“The vest, the tie, the shirt,” Reese said, walking away. “Take it off. I need to see what I’m doing.” He went to the window and drew open the curtains, letting the clear morning sunlight pour into the room. Finch squinted and blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted, and then he noticed that Reese was barefoot, his slacks wrinkled, his shirt unbuttoned, exposing his bare chest. Finch quickly averted his gaze. His face was also unshaven, his hair uncombed, and he smelled like a barstool, but that hardly mattered.

Finch’s hands trembled as he unbuttoned his waistcoat, his mind filled with reasons to leave, excuses to go, potential hazards, but all of that data was rendered null and void by one overriding thought – he wanted to stay. Reese was right, drifting through the world like a ghost, never caring about anything, was no way to live.

Reese took the waistcoat from him, laying it beside the jacket and smoothing the cloth as he waited for the next item of clothing. Finch handed him the silk tie, then began working on the tiny buttons on his shirt. Finch expected Reese to try to help, but he didn’t, he just stood there, waiting, and for that Finch was grateful. He’d not let anyone undress him in a long time, longer than he cared to remember.

He winced as he shrugged out of the shirt, automatically turning his face away from the light so it wouldn’t show. More than a little self-conscious, he stood stiffly, his gaze shifting to Reese’s dark skin and toned muscle. Finch kept himself in decent shape, but he didn’t look like that.

Without a word, Reese motioned for him to have a seat and he sank down on the edge of the bed, his back ramrod straight, his hands pressed flat against the fronts of his thighs. He waited for Reese to comment on the scar, but maybe the light wasn’t good enough to see it, because Reese said nothing as he sat down behind Finch. Closing his eyes, Finch braced himself, fighting to keep his breathing steady and even as warm hands ghosted over his shoulders.

“Is there any place that I shouldn’t touch?” Reese asked.

“Probably,” Finch said, annoyed at the slight hoarseness of his voice. “I’ll let you know if you find one.”

“All right, I’ll be careful,” Reese said, beginning to apply light, steady pressure between his shoulder blades. “Just try to relax.”

That was easier said than done. Without the influence of pain medication and the convenient excuse it provided, Finch found himself repressing the little gasps and moans that had escaped him the other night, his body taut as his mind raced, analyzing all possible meanings behind Reese’s actions, trying to predict his movements, and – perhaps most importantly – trying to determine his motivation. Was he simply repentant and trying to help? Was he angling for more personal information? Or was he after something else, an outcome Finch hardly dared consider because it scared the hell out of him just how much he wanted it?

“So, this surgery,” Reese said after a few minutes, and Finch felt a swift stab of disappointment, followed by grim vindication as his suspicions were confirmed – all Reese wanted was information. “Did they weld plate steel to your back? Because I think I’d have more luck rubbing a dent out of your car.”

A joke. Finch sat in stunned silence, not sure how to respond. It would have been so much simpler if Reese had been after his secrets. “I have three fused vertebrae,” he heard himself say. “Titanium rods and pins hold my neck together.” He wasn’t sure why he said it – to reward Reese for not asking, perhaps. It didn’t matter.

Reese didn’t respond, except to shift his body a little closer, his attention switching from a targeted exploration to a more generalized behavior, his strong hands sliding down to the small of Finch’s back before rising again, more like a friendly back rub than a clinical massage.

“Do you trust me?” Reese asked, his voice soft.

Finch hesitated. He would not lie. “I want to,” he said.

“Do you think I would ever deliberately hurt you?”

“You quit,” Finch said after a moment, uncertain if that was the kind of hurt Reese meant.

“But I didn’t do it to hurt you,” Reese said. “I couldn’t go back to the way things were, pretend that everything was all right, when I knew what you really thought about me.”

“Which is?” Finch didn’t see how Reese could know, when he himself wasn’t sure. Especially of late, his opinion of the man was in a constant state of flux.

“What I said, about pretending it was you, that came out all wrong.”

“I know,” Finch said after a moment. He should have known it would be something as simple as a miscommunication.

“The alley was just convenient,” Reese continued, his hands gliding over Finch’s skin. “It’s not how I would really do it.”

Finch hesitated, his mouth suddenly dry. “Do what?”

“Make love to you.”

Finch gasped as Reese kissed the side of his neck, warm lips, warm breath sliding across his skin, the touch of another so foreign a sensation that it made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end and sent a resounding shudder through his core. He let his eyes close, let his breathing grow harsh and ragged, let his hands curl into fists- For one selfish, self-indulgent moment, he let it happen, but as with all things, especially things that were too good to be true, it had to end.

Finch sat forward, pulling away from Reese’s touch. He took a moment to compose himself, then rose to his feet. Slowly, he turned to face Reese, still sitting on the bed. “Why are you doing this?” he asked.

“Because unlike every other time that I’ve thought about doing it,” Reese said, “I’m currently still drunk enough not to stop myself.”

Finch thought he’d been prepared for any answer that Reese could give. He was wrong. “But…why me?” he asked finally. Reese was so handsome and charming, he could have had anyone he wanted. Why settle for a broken-down, middle-aged computer geek who had more in common with machines than he did with other human beings? Reese could do better, so much better.

“Why?” Reese repeated, arching an eyebrow. “No particular reason, I suppose, except that you’re brilliant, and honest, and brave, and kind; you make me smile; you saved my life, you gave me hope, gave me a purpose; you’re strong, stronger than I am, more determined, more resilient; you never let anything stop you, never back down, never give up; you’re just as alone in this world as I am, you need someone just as much, and you’re the only person who could ever understand what it is that we do.”

Finch was rendered speechless. Not just at a temporary loss for words, but utterly speechless. He stared at Reese, trying to decipher the meaning behind his words, trying to see the angle, the ploy, the con, the endgame, but he might as well have been looking for the meaning of life in his tea leaves.

After a minute, Reese stood up, regarding Finch with an open honesty in his eyes that Finch envied – but of course his expression was too carefully guarded to ever let it show. “I’m going to go take a shower and finish sobering up,” Reese said. “If you’re not here when I get out, I’ll understand. Leave the phone and call me when you have a number. I’ll be waiting.”

Finch wanted to ask what would happen if he was still there, but instead he said, “I thought you quit.”

“I changed my mind,” Reese said, heading toward the hall and the bathroom. “I realized that working for you is the only thing keeping me alive.” He disappeared into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. Finch waited until he could hear the shower running, then he turned to stare down at the bed where his clothes lay. Slowly, he raised his hand to his neck, his fingertips brushing the spot where Reese’s lips had been, then he reached into his pocket and pulled out Reese’s cell. No matter what he did, nothing was ever going to be the same again. He held the phone for a moment, then set it down on the corner of the bed and picked up his shirt.

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