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Damaged – Ch. 12

After paying for an upscale hotel room with one of the credit cards Finch had supplied him with, Reese drove across town to a seedy, flea-bag motel and paid cash. Finch was going to hate it, but at least the room had two beds and free wifi. A glance into the bathroom made him frown, but if the bathtub bothered Finch, he could survive without a shower for a couple of days. Reese even killed some time by picking up groceries at a local market – green tea, canned soup, bread, sliced lunchmeat – but eventually he had no choice – he had to go back for Finch.

He circled the hotel several times before driving into the parking structure. He found a space close to the elevator and made his way to his room, laptop tucked under his arm again and his hand resting on the butt of his gun. Perhaps it was his own flavor of paranoia, but experience – along with the CIA – had taught him that the best time to ambush someone was when they felt safest.

Even after he closed the door behind him, he couldn’t fully shake the tension, the worry. He needed to get Finch to a secure location, then he’d be able to relax. Maybe. Reese took a step toward the main room, but stopped, suddenly struck by the silence, and the image of Finch hiding in the closet sprang to mind. After what he’d been through, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable.

“It’s just me, Finch,” he said, waiting a moment for the man to extricate or otherwise compose himself, but when he received no response, another, more alarming thought occurred to him. What if Finch left? How angry would he have to be to go wandering the streets in wet shoes and borrowed clothes, without his glasses or cell phone? How angry did he think Reese was? Maybe he thought Reese wasn’t going to come back for him.

Reese stepped into the room, expecting the worst, and was relieved to see the older man stretched out on the bed, sound asleep. Of course; he’d be exhausted. Reese regarded him for a moment. They needed to get moving, but he looked so peaceful and relaxed. Reese hated to wake him.

Moving quietly, Reese crossed the room and set the laptop down on the table, emptying his pockets of all of Finch’s things before shrugging out of his coat and settling it over the back of a chair. He stood beside the table for a moment, trying to weigh his options and plan his next move accordingly, but all he could think about was Finch, his soft breathing, his warm body. Reese teetered on the edge of indecision. He needed a plan, a strategy to reach the endgame, but he wasn’t even sure what the endgame was. The operative in him hated this, hated going into a mission blind, but the part of him that was still human found a strange sort of satisfaction and comfort from it. This was what living was supposed to be, yearning and not knowing and mistakes and fear and loss and triumph.

Finally, he toed off his shoes, moving quickly and surely to the far side of the bed. Fuck the endgame; this was what he wanted now. Trying not to disturb Finch, he crawled onto the bed and settled down behind him, just shy of letting their bodies touch. When Finch didn’t wake, Reese eased closer, resting his foot against Finch’s, laying a hand on his shoulder, fitting his body against Finch’s like a matching puzzle piece. Slowly, he slid his hand down Finch’s arm, to his side, savoring the warmth and softness beneath the thin T-shirt. Wrapping his arm around Finch, Reese drew a long, deep breath, his nose tucked into the crook of Finch’s neck, and closed his eyes as he let out a contented sigh. If Finch knew how good this felt, how right, he wouldn’t question Reese’s sincerity.

Reese didn’t really sleep, he couldn’t, not with Mark out there looking for them, but he was able to rest, his muscles relaxing, the day’s spent adrenaline leaving his system, his heart rate slowing, his mind wandering. He wasn’t sure how long they lay there, but it didn’t feel like long enough when Finch drew a sudden, loud breath, his entire body tensing. Reese didn’t move, except to open his eyes, the pale scar on the back of Finch’s neck too close and out of focus. He could feel Finch’s heart begin to pound, beating beneath his hand.

“Mr. Reese?” Finch asked finally, his voice strained.

“Yes, Harold?” Reese murmured back, relying on his training to keep his tone calm and even.

“What- Why-”

“Don’t bother,” Reese said, careful not to let himself sound angry or bitter. “You won’t believe my answers anyway. Let’s just take this moment at face value and enjoy it while we can.”

“Really. You’re enjoying this?”

“Very much so. You’re not?”

Finch hesitated. “I’m not sure. Maybe, if I could understand your intentions, I would.”

“I told you my intentions,” Reese said. “You called me a liar. Let’s not go there again.”

“So you’re going to stick to that story, even though I don’t believe you?”

“It’s the truth.”

“That you’re attracted to me?”

“Yes. Why is that so hard to believe?”

Finch tensed. “I think the answer to that is staring you right in the face, Mr. Reese.”

“I don’t follow,” Reese said, frowning at the back of Finch’s neck.

“All right, I’ll make this simple,” Finch said, his voice hard and honed sharp as a knife’s edge. Reese raised his head as Finch reached down, pulled the shirt up, and shoved the sweats and briefs off his hip, exposing the thick, gnarled scars that carved ruts and gouges into his flesh. Reese studied the damage, then looked back down at Finch, his face as closed and guarded as Reese had ever seen it. After a moment, Finch jerked his pants back up and started to pull away. “Now, if your curiosity has been satisfied, I suggest-”

Reese slid his arm more securely around Finch’s chest and pulled him back close, letting his breath fall against the back of Finch’s head. “Do you think that bothers me?” he asked. “Do you think this-” He bowed his head, placing an open-mouthed kiss on the scar on the back of Finch’s neck, making the smaller man shiver. “Bothers me? I have scars, too, Finch.”

“Yes, but yours were earned in battle,” Finch replied, speaking fast, his voice half an octave higher than normal. “You got them saving people, protecting people, serving your country, doing what you thought was right. You weren’t a victim, helpless as a lamb at the slaughter.”

“Is that what you see?” Reese asked, lightly mouthing the back of Finch’s neck in lieu of punctuation. “Because I don’t see a victim. I see a survivor. I see strength. But when I look at myself, I don’t see a hero, I see mistakes, I see bad decisions, times I was too slow, too weak, too young, too trusting. I see every one of my failures written in my skin.”

Finch was trembling, but he made no move to pull away as Reese relaxed his grip, slowly sliding his hand back to Finch’s injured hip. When his fingertips met the elastic waistband of the sweatpants, he gently eased them underneath, hesitating just a moment before working his hand into Finch’s underwear, warm skin and hard scar tissue pressed against his palm.

“Scars are very personal things,” Reese whispered. “Ours mean much more to us than they do to anyone else, and yours…do not…make me want you any less.” He stressed his words with a soft caress over Finch’s injured hip, drawing a strangled gasp from him.

“Mr. Reese…”

Reese closed his eyes, waiting.

“You can’t convince me,” Finch said, and even though Reese had been expecting it, his words were like a shot in the gut. Reese couldn’t breathe, his chest tight, his skin cold. But Finch wasn’t finished yet. “There is no argument that you can make that I could not find fault with… So I’m just going to have to trust you.”

Reese blinked. “What?”

“I promised you that I would never lie to you, so I do not make this statement lightly, but if you give me your word that this is not just some game or angle you’re working, I will believe you.”

“It’s not,” Reese said, his heart suddenly pounding. “Oh, Harold, I swear it isn’t.”

“I believe you,” Finch said quietly.

Reese took a shuddering breath through the tightness in his throat, his eyes sliding shut, staggered by how much those three words meant to him. “Thank you,” he whispered, withdrawing his hand from its place on Finch’s hip and wrapping it around his chest once more, just holding him close. Slowly, Finch relaxed against him, taking a deep breath and letting it out in a long sigh.

“Nice as this is – and it is – don’t we have more important things to do?”

“I suppose,” Reese said, but he didn’t move, reluctant to let Finch out of his arms. He hesitated. “Do you feel like talking about the kidnapping?” He cursed himself as Finch tensed again.

“For what purpose?” Finch asked. “Information, curiosity, or therapy?”

“All of the above,” Reese admitted. “But mostly information. I know Mark, and what he did, what he said, could tell me a lot about what he knows and what he’s planning to do.”

“All right,” Finch said, taking a bracing breath, his tone very controlled and factual when he began recounting the events. “I had just hung up talking to you. I was about a block and a half from the library, and I noticed a man in a suit standing outside the building…”

Reese listened, occasionally asking a question for further clarification, but Finch was doing a fine job remembering the details, better than a lot of soldiers and agents that he’d helped debrief over the years. Until he got to the torture part, and then his body began to shake, his voice growing hard as he fought to keep a tremor out of it.

“They put tape over my mouth an- and the hood over my head, and they carried me into the bathroom and put me in- in the tub.”

Reese wanted to stop him, to not make him relive the experience again, but he knew that talking about it would help. He pressed his body closer to Finch, wrapping his arms more securely around the smaller man, wishing he could just enfold him completely, a shield against all the pain and horror and ugliness of the world.

“The water was so cold,” Finch said, his voice falling to barely louder than a whisper. “It made everything hurt and I couldn’t catch my breath, and breathing hard just made me inhale more water. It felt like hours, but Snow came back and said it had been ten minutes, and asked if I wanted to see what half an hour felt like. I figured I was dead anyway, so I didn’t bother trying to lie to him anymore. I said I’d never tell him where you were. Then he said, ‘Do you really want to die for him? He’s not worth it’ and I said…I said, ‘Yes, he is’. And then they- John?”

Reese squeezed his eyes shut, unable to stop the stinging tears that slipped free, his whole body shaking as he drew a noisy, shuddering breath. He swallowed hard past the lump in his throat, trying to get control of himself. “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said finally. “Please, go on.”

“They just turned the water back on and Snow left to get coffee, and a while later you showed up. Are you all right?”

Reese took another shuddering breath. “I appreciate what you said, but…I’m not worth it, not if the price is your life. Of the two of us, I am replaceable.”

“That’s a matter of opinion,” Finch said.

“No, it’s a fact. You’re the only one with access to your Machine. That makes you irreplaceable, and I want you to promise me, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, that you will not hesitate to trade my life for your freedom.”

“John…”

“Harold, I’m serious. Promise me.”

“No. I won’t.”

“You’re being irrational-”

“Of course I’m irrational,” Finch said, pulling away and sitting up, twisting his upper body around until he could look down at Reese, a frown darkening his pale eyes. “This is your life we’re talking about. You can’t make me care about you and then tell me to stab you in the back at my earliest convenience. I won’t do it.”

“I’m not asking you to stab me in the back.” Reese said, a ghost of a smile tugging at his lips. “This is only if you wind up kidnapped again, which isn’t going to happen. I won’t let it.”

“Then there’s no need for me to make promises regarding events that aren’t going to happen.”

“Harold…”

“Oh, fine,” Finch said with a sigh. “If I’m ever kidnapped by the CIA again, I promise to hand you over so they won’t kill me. Happy?”

“Yes,” Reese said, letting his smile have free rein, “because you admitted you care about me.”

Finch rolled his eyes. “Of course I care about you, and I don’t care what you say – to me, you are irreplaceable.” He paused, a subtle change in his expression making him suddenly look younger, more at ease. Reese lifted his head, meeting Finch halfway as the older man leaned down, resting his hand in the middle of Reese’s chest as they kissed. Reese closed his eyes, fighting that tightness in his throat again as Finch kissed him, Finch’s hand roaming over his chest, Finch’s body shifting closer, initiating contact. Reese’s hands slid up Finch’s back, wanting nothing more than to strip him out of his clothes and hold him tight, but they had already lingered too long.

After a minute, Reese pulled back. “We really should get moving,” he said, letting his reluctance be heard. He didn’t want Finch to think what Finch was obviously thinking as he regarded Reese – that Reese had changed his mind, or that he had never really wanted Finch in the first place. Then Reese watch Finch mentally shake himself, chasing the suspicion out of his eyes.

“You’re right,” Finch said. “The world does not stop turning just because we…” He stopped, as though unable to define the change that had occurred in their relationship. Reese wasn’t sure he could, either. “What did you do while you were out?”

“Oh…” Reese said. He’d hoped Finch wouldn’t ask so he didn’t have to lie. “I got us another room – paid cash – and picked up a few things for you.”

“Clothes?”

“No. It’s a little hard to carry laptop, garment bag, and my gun at the same time.”

“I’m not even going to ask where you stole a laptop from,” Finch said, only a trace of mild disapproval in his tone, “nor will I point out that without my glasses, a laptop isn’t really much use.”

“Which is why I didn’t bother to steal one, I swung by the library and got yours and your glasses-”

“You got my glasses?” Finch said, rolling over and lunging to his feet. “Where are they?”

“On the table,” Reese said, sitting up, his body cold without Finch’s warmth. He watched Finch limp across the room and grab his spare glasses, putting them on and gazing around the room with obvious relief. Reese couldn’t begin to imagine what it must be like, to be so helpless, so dependent on two small pieces of glass and a few inches of wire.

Finch turned to him and frowned. “I thought you said it was too dangerous to go back to the library.”

“I said it was too dangerous for you to go back there,” Reese said. “And I was right.”

“The CIA was there?” Finch looked stricken.

“Not in the building,” Reese assured him, climbing off the bed. “They were spread out over a four block radius. I don’t think they connected you to the library.”

“Small favors,” Finch muttered, pulling out one of the chairs and sinking into it as he opened the laptop and turned it on. While it booted up, he glanced back over at Reese. “How did you get past them?”

Reese busied himself with putting his shoes back on. “I created a distraction,” he said. “While I was in the library, I shut off the generator and disabled it, just in case, and I pulled the hard-drive out of your computer. I figured better safe than sorry.”

“Good thinking,” Finch said, picking up the hard-drive off the table and turning it over in his hands. “Most of the data I have compiled is stored in my personal server network – there’s not much on here, but you’re right – better safe than sorry.” He set it back down and logged onto his laptop. “I need your phone.”

“I grabbed a spare one out of your desk,” Reese said, motioning to the cell on the table.

“Thank you, but I’d like to see that text you were sent. I need to know who is helping us and how they knew.”

Reese pulled his cell out of his pocket and walked it over to the table. “Is this going to take long? We really should get going.”

“Two minutes,” Finch said, taking the phone and opening Reese’s inbox to call up the text. “Blocked number – of course – but you can’t hide from me,” he muttered, punching buttons on the phone. Suddenly, he frowned. “Wait, that shouldn’t be there. What…?”

“That string of alphanumeric gibberish? I saw that,” Reese said. “What does it mean?” Finch didn’t answer, he just stared at the phone. “Finch?”

“It’s…It’s a secure wireless transmission code,” Finch said finally, a strange look in his eyes as he glanced up at Reese. “I get the same thing when the Machine replies to my texts when I’m checking for numbers from the irrelevant list.”

“The Machine is government property now,” Reese said. “Can we assume it’s a government network that it uses? That would suggest whoever sent me the text is also government. Who did you say you built the Machine for? The NSA?”

“I didn’t say,” Finch said, “and it doesn’t matter, anyway. You’re not understanding. This code isn’t for a network, it’s for a single…entity.”

“So you know who it is?” Reese asked.

Finch nodded, a tiny, jerky movement. “It’s the Machine,” he said. “I told you, I get this same code when I access the backdoor of the Machine.” He leaned back in his chair, running a hand back through his hair. “This is…incredible. I taught the Machine to gather the data, to make the connections, but I never taught to act on the information. I have to access it to get the numbers, it doesn’t send them to me. I mean, it would have recognized that I was in danger – that’s what it does – but it shouldn’t have texted you, it shouldn’t have been capable, because I never programmed it to do that.

“And no one else could have-” He stopped at the dirty look Finch gave him. “Right, stupid question.”

“It’s so heavily and thoroughly encrypted, even I couldn’t change the programming now. This is something it learned how to do on its own. I mean, what it did isn’t that remarkable – it has access to all the surveillance in the city, and all the cell phones, and it recognizes relationships between groups and individuals, so it would know that you would be the one to contact in an emergency-”

If you had programmed it to do that,” Reese said. “So, that makes the Machine what? Sentient? Alive?”

“No,” Finch said with a snort of amusement. “I taught it self-preservation, to monitor the people who knew about it, to defend itself against unauthorized access, to erase and alter data that could prove its existence. It’s possible that it was protecting itself by preventing me from revealing information about it while under duress. Not that I would have. That doesn’t make it alive, just…more complicated than I thought.” He sighed and shook his head. “I wish I could see what it was thinking at that moment…Oh, well. You said we needed to go?”

“Probably should,” Reese said, nodding. “I’ll get my things together. There’s an extra garment bag in the closet – we can put your wet clothes in it and drop them off at a dry cleaner’s on our way.”

“All right,” Finch said, his fingers dancing over the laptop keyboard. “Just give me another minute…” Reese shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips as he walked away. Geeks and their toys. He pulled his duffel bag out from under the bed, lifted the mattress, and proceeded to pack all his weapons away. He cleaned out the drawers in the dresser – again, mostly weapons and surveillance equipment – before heading into the bathroom for his toiletries.

“Good Lord, John!” Finch suddenly exclaimed and Reese cringed.

“I didn’t have any choice,” Reese explained as he emerged from the bathroom, hands full of toothbrush, shampoo, and deodorant.

“You put seven people in the hospital!” Finch scowled at him. “You could have killed someone.”

“I know. I could have killed Snow, I had the shot, but…”

Something in Finch’s expression changed, a sharp edge to his anger that hadn’t been there before. “Why didn’t you?”

“Because I wanted to,” Reese said, going back to packing. “I wanted to kill him for what he did to you-”

“What he did to me? You almost died because of him.”

Reese shrugged, his back still turned to Finch. “I brought that on myself, what I was, what I did. I’m not that man anymore, which is why I didn’t kill him.”

“Well, then I’m glad you didn’t,” Finch said, but there was still something in his voice…

“Do you wish I had killed him?”

Finch hesitated. “No. And yes. But mostly no.”

“I understand,” Reese said. “C’mon, we need to go.”

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